Smash Cut!

It would be unfair of me to spend a lengthy article criticizing Smash Cut – the film is clearly intended as both an homage to the (largely inept – but entertainingly so) films of Herschel Gordon Lewis, as well as a satire of the moviemaking process itself. So I’m not going to go blow-by-blow here, although the film makes enough poor choices that such a decision might well be warranted… All I want to talk about is the very opening of the film, which proves so profoundly wrong that I couldn’t help but scoff at it, and question everything the filmmakers did afterwards.

The film opens with a scene from the film-within-a-film that the main character, ‘Abel Whitman’ is premiering at Ottawa’s Bytowne theatre. It’s a standard killer toy parody, featuring a tiny clown doll that murders a psychiatrist in her office. The scene works comedically, especially considering the size of the prop-

What doesn’t work is the reaction of the audience. They absolutely hate the film. They talk derisively about its lame effects, hurl invective at the screen, followed by popcorn and empty paper cups. Why is this reaction so profoundly out-of-place, when the film is so terrible? Simple – because no one in the audience is laughing. The scene is built around the audience reacting with contempt when they really ought to be finding it hilarious.

The strange part is that everything about the film suggests the proper reaction. Check out the audience:

These are people who dressed up in wigs and makeup to see a film called Terror Toy, whose tagline is ‘There’s nothing funny about this clown!’

And whose poster looks like this:

People don’t go to a movie like that to yell abuse and walk out in disgust halfway through. They go to have a good time.

So why weren’t they laughing? Obviously the filmmakers thought that the film bombing was key to Abel’s motivation – people hate his movie, so he wants to make a better one, and is (spoiler alert) driven to murder in order to produce the best movie he can. Which is all well and good, except for one thing: given that motivation, laughter actually works better than jeers. Having the audience treat the film as a joke would be more injurious to Abel’s ego – how could they laugh? Didn’t they know that he profoundly MEANT the movie? Then he could realize that a horror film with bad effects always comes off as funny, which would drive his desire for the most realistic effects possible, leading organically into killing for his art.

But if the audience just yells hateful insults, the motivation gets muddled, not to mention the fact that the loss of any faith the audience has that the filmmakers understand basic human behaviour.

So why was it so important that the audience boo, rather than laugh? I don’t know the filmmakers, so I won’t wildly guess as to their motivations, but a scene later in the film certainly makes a clear suggestion:

This is the film critic who regularly savages Abel’s films. He’s come to her office to murder her as revenge for the poor notices. Am I saying this is the filmmakers fantasy crime against the philistines who have failed to recognize the genius of the ‘Harry Knuckles’ series? Not necessarily. But I do suspect it, and that kind of resentment is just the sort of thing that would lead filmmakers to portray their antihero’s work as derided rather than mocked – although I couldn’t confirm this without tracking down reviews of their other films, which I’m basically unwilling to do. Since it’s 4AM right now.

Also, and even though I’m sure it was intended as a joke, it annoyed me when the critic refers to Abel’s plan to kill her as ‘finally, an original idea’. It seems the actress failed to play up the sarcasm necessary to make it funny or the filmmakers missed the irony inherent in the statement – either way, just twenty minutes in, I was convinced that I was watching a profoundly bad film.

Nothing the film proceeded to do for the rest of the duration changed that impression one bit.

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