‘68 Kill’ Movie Review: ‘Always Sunny’ Meets Henenlotter In Gory New Horror Comedy [SXSW 2017]

Queen Bitch Liza could kill all of these people. Snowfort Pictures

At it’s best, 68 Kill is like Always Sunny in Philadelphia meets Frank Henenlotter, who perfected horror hyperbole with goony characters in movies like Basket Case, Brain Damage and Frankenhooker. It rarely revs that high, but 68 Kill speaks the language of a certain breed of older Fangoria dork bred on Troma (writer/director Trent Haaga’s first screenplay was Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV, maybe the apotheosis of everything sublime and terrible about Troma) and trash — movies that are intentionally offensive and innately slapdash.

68 Kill is about Chip (Matthew Gray Gubler), a sweethearted pushover and probable dumbass who pumps septic tanks and worships his girlfriend, Liza. He loves pussy (you’ll hear that word A LOT in 68 Kill) and is too struck to realize how dangerous Liza can be, even after all the choking, slapping and bedroom gunplay. So when Liza pushes him into burgling her sugar daddy (who pays their rent) of $68,000, Chip is the very last to realize Liza’s murderous intentions. And it just gets worse when Liza’s serial killer brother gets involved.

68 Kill thrums when Liza is steering. She’s psychopathic Sweet Dee whose love of sex, money and violence makes her a perfect fit for the 68 Kill world, where every human is some combination of greedy, pervy or barbarous (excepting one unlucky motel owner). She’s all three. And once you’ve bought into the moral order of the 68 Kill universe and accepted Liza’s self-definition as Queen Bitch, it’s hard to leave her behind. AnnaLynne McCord, who plays Liza, is almost everything great in 68 Kill.

So it’s a bit of a bummer when the movie leaves her behind for a soggier middle with Chip and new love interest, Violet. One of 68 Kill’s great strengths is clearly drawn characters. They’re all big personalities — again, think Henenlotter — who want either money or sex or sadistic thrills. But Violet’s little more than Chip’s dream girl (it doesn’t end well, of course) and seeing Chip get what he wants is way more dull than seeing Chip tormented by a series of psychopaths.

It takes a trailer full of drug-fueled, southern fried gutter punks to even approach Liza’s chaotic energy and get 68 Kill roaring again. But the end is also where 68 Kill begins to feel trashiest, dipping into Troma-esque gore tableaus and implied torture-murder-rape, without the subversive dynamic of Chip and Liza’s sexual chemistry. Haaga’s stylish home invasion sequence, with its big game hunter flavor, is far behind us by this point. And throwing so many characters in the meat grinder highlights 68 Kill’s complete indifference to acting. It’s loaded with veteran TV actors, so this is on Haaga, but there are some southern drawls in 68 Kill that are outright painful to hear. It especially sucked to see Sam Eidson, who made Zero Charisma one of the most magnetic movies of 2013, bent toward the kind of role Ron Jeremy would mug through in the early 2000s.

While people love talking up the digital democratization of film, the overwhelming crush of new movies have also raised standards to an insane degree. Now even the chintziest VOD horror movie is color-graded, high concept-ed and cast with at least one big name, like maybe someone from an HBO show or something. The days of VHS horror where buckets of blood and boobs were the only metric are way behind us. 68 Kill embodies those days, in all their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes it exceeds them, like when an arm gets blown off by a shotgun, it’s tattoo swearing on behalf of the arm’s former owner. And sometimes it matches, rediscovering the awkward acting and gimcrack effects of the old ways. But if you’re the kind of sick fuck who will laugh at a serial killer and her sister watching a taped evisceration (à la Guinea Pig), the victim’s organs arrayed in bottles on a shelf in front of them, then 68 Kill will remind you of what it means to be a horror scrounger, accepting the bad to get to the good and the gore.

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