Biehn There, Wish I Hadn't Done That
THE VICTIM ISN'T GRINDHOUSE, IT'S JUST BAD
Steve Bessette, Entertainment Editor
For a movie to be posterized as a grindhouse flick with buxom heroines and an axe-wielding leading man, as The Victim was, it needs to come off as a campy terror that will continually wink at the camera (so to speak) to really show you, “yes, we know it’s bad, but we did it on purpose.” That’s not what this is. No matter how many times actor/writer/director Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Tombstone, Aliens) said it was “fun” and compared it to 80 minutes of “cotton candy” in the post-screening Q and A in the Beach Auditorium, it seemed like a crutch for a poor product. Just because you call it an exploitation film that inherently needs blood and boobs to fit into the subgenre doesn’t mean it is an exploitation film and its flaws should be excused. B-movies, whether they be grindhouse, exploitation, or what have you, fall into a few categories. The ones that are “so bad, they’re good” seem to be excused usually with the aid of hindsight. Ed Wood Jr. was trying so darn hard and was so earnest, but his movies are so extraordinarily bad that they are enjoyable to watch. ’70s B-movies have similar side effects, but also the clothing, music, hair, and cheap film grime has become a signature package in and of itself, which led to the impetus for Tarantino/Rodriguez’s Grindhouse Double Feature in 2007. Those guys saw what was both insane and important about these genre films and took it to the nth degree, and it worked because both of them are more-than-competent filmmakers, to say the least. As a genre progresses through time, eventually it gets to the point where both the films and audiences are aware of the elements, making it easy for directors like Tarantino to really harvest and exploit those elements for the purpose of recreation or parody. Even further than that are movies like Piranha, being marketed with self-aware shoddiness. If this was the case for The Victim, it would have been fine, but it was far from fine.
The Victim has a completely tropeish story. Biehn plays Kyle, a grizzly man with a grizzly past who lives in a backwoods cabin. Jennifer Blanc plays stripper Annie, who runs across Kyle’s cabin one night when escaping rogue cops, one of whom snaps her other stripper friend Mary’s neck while doggy-styling in the opening scene. As she and Kyle try to ward off the cops, there is also a tagged-on subplot about local girls going missing, which comes up as something that might intertwine into the main plot (it doesn’t really). Since Mary dies in the first scene, most of the exchanges between she and Annie are through flashbacks, where the two casually talk about stripper outfits, cocaine, hot bods—you know, girl stuff. These are the ingredients that are reused throughout the movie to infuriating lengths—goofy violence, weird sexual situations, and character back story that doesn’t go much further than what’s given at face value. Another thing that makes some B-movies so enjoyable are the characters that are so outlandish, they’re actually pretty cool (Black Dynamite). None of these characters are cool and the actors, who seemed to be trying, couldn’t find cool if it walked up and backhanded them. For an actor who’s been in the business for at least 30 years and worked with quite a few established directors (i.e., James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez), Biehn couldn’t have been any more wooden than a marionette with rickets. Any finely shaped actresses could have played Annie and Mary, since all they had to offer was T and A.
Wait, Biehn said this movie was “cotton candy” entertainment and shouldn’t be “taken seriously.” That still doesn’t excuse the terrible filmmaking when you were obviously trying to be earnest about it. The film was made for peanuts, but don’t remark about how low of a budget you had and then go on to say how you filmed on the Red camera, as Biehn mentioned. A high quality camera is also the opposite tool you want to use when making a so-called grindhouse. I understand that Biehn cast friends who helped finance the film, but that doesn’t always lead to a great product, unlike Tom Decillo using the same technique in his amazing Living in Oblivion. Cinematographically, most of the scenes occur at night and sure, the projection affects the lighting a bit, but still the night lighting was too murky, especially for the multiple action sequences. Biehn mentioned he learned a technique called “shooting day for night” from some director and used it here. That means they shot during the day but filtered it to look like night. It doesn’t work. He even said he likes to arrive early at theaters screening the film so he can work with the projectionist to adjust the brightness. That shouldn’t happen. At times there was also no sense of eye-line with the actors or spatial continuity to the point of being visually disorienting. The music, poppy-country for the emotional scenes and girly Katy Perry-esque stuff for the girl talk scenes between the strippers, was strangely both on the nose and also out of place. It was annoying and jarring at the same time. And they didn’t make it like that on purpose, because during the Q and A Blanc asked the audience if we liked the soundtrack. When someone made an approving remark, they were satisfied.
Anchorbay Entertainment, a group that’s released a lot of terrible movies, but also titles including My Week with Marilyn, City Island, and The King’s Speech, picked up The Victim for distribution.
The only victim here is the audience, and the only ones exploited were us as a college audience, taken as passive dummies who’ll accept anything if plopped in front of them free of charge.