Thursday, October 11, 2012

Nail Gun Massacre (1985) dir. Bill Leslie, Terry Lofton

Logline: Some motorcycle-helmeted, The Wraith-inspired maniac is driving about town in a hearse and shooting nails into the soft, tubby bodies of various (and numerous) construction workers. It's up to the local sheriff and doctor to stop all this home improvement madness.

Crime in the Past: Linda (Michelle Meyer), a female lumber yard worker, is brutally gang raped one day by a large group of men at a construction site. 

Bodycount: 16, with enough nails to build that house you've been dreaming of.

Themes/Moral Code: It's made clear to us in a number of ways that Linda, the victim of the gang rape, is attacked because she's chosen to work out of her prescribed "element." Linda is a lumber yard worker, and when we see her in the opening scene she's decked in flannel, jeans, and a hardhat-- a decidedly "masculine" wardrobe. She's doing "a man's job" and asserting her physical equality. In retaliation for this brashness, she is literally taken down and humiliated by a conglomeration of men representative of the general male outrage that a woman would presume to step into their realm. The fact that seemingly none of these men are forced to face the criminality of their actions only attests to the fact that society agrees: Linda was stepping out of bounds, and deserved to be taken down a peg.

Being a peculiar entry in the rape-revenge genre, Nail Gun Massacre doesn't buy into this assessment: what those men did was a horrifying crime, and if the law won't step in then vigilante justice is required. Moreover, we, the audience, will enjoy seeing these lowlifes beg for forgiveness. (As at least one of them does, trying to escape his fate with the excuse of non-participation: he only watched it happen). The killer becomes a sort of bloody champion for the fair treatment of women. In the first murder scene, a slob is yelling at his wife for not doing the laundry (as she's doing the laundry outside)-- the killer sneaks inside the house, promptly nail guns the husband, and leaves, having created an arguably happier life for that woman. Maybe it's not a graceful solution, but it's a solution nonetheless.

It's also worth noting that the film is still quite exploitative, besides its unexpectedly feminist leanings. There are long, silly sex scenes and several naked women-- these women, somewhat problematically, suffer the same nail-ridden fate as the men. By Nail Gun Massacre's moral code, to debase yourself through any wanton sexuality is grounds for capital punishment. This isn't exactly sex-positive stuff. (Curiously, Linda, our victim, is not revealed nude to the camera at any point during the opening rape scene-- she remains pure, and hence an acceptable hero).

Killer's Motivation: The killer is killing all of the misogynist construction workers who raped Linda, plus a handful of the women who choose to associate with them. When one of the victims attempts to reason with the killer by offering him/her money, the killer lays it out straight for us: "It's not money I want; It's revenge, asshole. Muhahaha." The symbolic import of his/her choice of a nail gun as the murder weapon should be sort of obvious, but if you're still stumped why not read this tagline for the film and then slap yourself over the head: "A Very Penetrating Story!"

Final Girl: There's no typical final girl as such, but it's worth talking more about Linda, who survives the film, because her involvement (or lack thereof) adds another interesting layer to the film's general thematic concerns. It's hinted throughout the film that Linda may be the killer, which in a rape-revenge scenario has a certain sort of obvious justification. However, Linda isn't the killer-- it's actually her brother Bubba (Beau Leland), looking to take revenge for her-- to step in and do the "man's job" of fighting pointlessly for a woman's honor, something which Linda herself found no need to do. Now this is a neat twist. On one hand, it takes agency away from Linda by making her uninvolved in her own revenge, but considering the agency here is "murdering people," that's sort of a complicated and crappy agency to possess anyway. And on the other hand, it means that Linda has moved on from her experience-- she is no longer traumatized, doesn't feel the need to seek bloody revenge, and, heck, she hasn't even gotten out of her profession. By remaining strong, by not crumbling and resorting to the same sort of violence that the men who raped her had, Linda demonstrates that male resistance cannot deter the female resolve for equality. This is a bizarre, unexpected, and welcome argument for a trashy slasher to make. It presents a more responsible vision of attaining gender equality than most other rape-revenge films do by making it perfectly clear that rape is horrible, but revenge is pointless and destructive.

The Good, the Bad, & the Cheese:  Putting aside its atypical thematic content, Nail Gun Massacre is more likely to elicit chuckles than nail-biting or appreciation. It's all-around lousy: senses-shattering performances from dreadful non-actors, a paucity of story and plot development, cheapo gore effects replicated ad nauseam, and a villain spouting lame quips through a synthesized voice with the same regularity as Mr. Freeze. But... there's also something sort of appealing about it all. It's sleazy, low-budget filmmaking that is amiably sleazy and low-budget. Nail Gun Massacre has a certain flair to its proceedings that is absent in much of the slasher genre-- it's happy to be garish and goofy while not quite dropping the mask of seriousness entirely (in contrast to, say, Night of the Demon (1980)), and it never seems disheartened over being pathetically inept from a technical standpoint. With sixteen deaths in only eighty-five minutes, the film's pacing rarely leaves you for longer than five minutes without a good dose of nail gunning to keep your eyelids from fluttering. (Nail Gun Massacre has you beat, The Prey (1984). How can you live with yourself?). It's the sort of lowbrow, straight-to-video horror from that blip of time in the mid-to-late '80s when the genre resembled a demented juvenile's toybox. Fittingly, it's a weird, twisted, morally questionable, but ultimately lighthearted film from a time in horror that could boast all the same adjectives. An old lady in Nail Gun Massacre asks in passing, "Do you remember the time when you could sit outside and not worry about mosquitoes or killers?" If she's referring to a time when mosquitoes weren't an issue because we spent our time inside in front of the VCR and killers were no big deal because they were all as preposterous pieces of cinematic make-believe as this one, then yes, I can, ma'am, and I miss it.

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