Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Redeemer (1976)

I have never been to a class reunion from either high school or college (yes, I went to college).  There was one a couple of years ago for my high school class, but the details got confusing about whether it was actually happening or not, so I’ll just say that this is the reason why I didn’t attend and not my indifference to revisiting the large majority of people with whom I attended school.  It’s not that I dislike any of them.  I got along with most everyone back then (or that’s the way I remember it).  But I know that I had little in common with those people back then, and I likely have even less in common with them now, so why waste a perfectly good drinking night hanging around a bunch of people to whom you have nothing substantive to say?  

I think this is something films get right, by and large.  When a character goes to a reunion, it’s usually under protest.  Commonly, their time in school was usually hellish, and it’s the tension between their resistance and the sea of people from their past (either completely unchanged in manner, looks, et cetera or totally different from the way they were, but rarely merely matured) that keeps the narrative afloat and works for generating some laughs or drama.  By that same token, they also make a great way to gather a bunch of unpleasant lowlifes together to in order to dispatch them in gruesome fashion.  And that’s what you get in Constantine S. GochisThe Redeemer (aka The Redeemer: Son of Satan aka Class Reunion Massacre).  Mostly.

Young Christopher (Christopher Flint) emerges from a dreary river and plods along a rural (read: dirt) road until a bus stops to take him to church, where he is a member of the choir (and you thought your parents’ whinging about having to walk to school ten miles in fifteen feet of snow wrapped only in newspapers was bad) and has to listen to the priest spew fire and brimstone interminably.  Meanwhile, six jerks make plans to attend their high school reunion, and very quickly discover that there is no open bar and their miserable lives are about to close.  Enter The Redeemer (T.G. Finkbinder)!      

This film is a something of a mishmash, and it’s this odd mixture of the supernatural and body county subgenres that I think will put some folks off it.  It’s interesting to me how this works as a slasher film, considering how early in the cycle it is (post-Mario Bava’s A Bay of Blood and Bob Clark’s Black Christmas but pre-John Carpenter’s Halloween), and I think that’s largely because it relies more heavily on the “ten little murder victims” (amended for six here, naturally)/”old dark house” tropes than anything else.  There is a central location in which the characters are trapped.  This location acts as a labyrinth through which the characters must explore in order to keep the pace up, and it’s filled with dark spaces out of which the killer can emerge at any time.  The whole time, the characters are trying to piece together why any of this is happening and by whom, thus maintaining a sense of narrative that’s simply wafer thin.  

From the slasher side of the coin, the kill scenes are all interesting to some degree or another and varied enough to keep you in your seat to witness the next one.  You know who’s going to croak because they are ALWAYS the one who goes off by themselves to accomplish some task.  The characters are cardboard cutouts, none of whom one can find any reason to care about or be interested in even slightly (except for the drunkard Cindy [Jeannetta Arnette], but that’s largely because she’s so pathetic).  But there’s no reason behind any of this.  These folks were supposedly chosen because of their “perversions” and “debauchery” (one is a womanizer, one is a frigid bitch, one is a lesbian, and so on), yet they’re really no worse than a great many people walking the Earth as far as being “evil” or “sinful.”  So, why these six?  Why not the entire graduating class?  Practically speaking, the answer has to do with budgets and scope, but questions like this lingered in the back of my head the entire run time of the film.

The Redeemer also deals with the concept of masks in society.  Christopher is threatened with a knife in the church dressing room for not laughing at some bully’s joke, but he remains impassive.  He sings in a church choir, even though we know there is something iniquitous about him (he did, after all, rise up out of a body of water; if nothing else, he’s offbeat).  The six victims all wear masks of civility (some more thinly than others) which are peeled away by their deaths (not that their true selves are revealed prior to their demises since we’ve already seen their true selves in their individual introductions [all the more to condemn them], but their true selves are the reason why they are being murdered in the first place, thus their final reposes are the truth of them).  The Redeemer is most emblematic of this idea.  Each of the murder set pieces is different and inventive, and the character appears differently in each one.  One time he’s in a grim reaper outfit, complete with scythe.  One time he’s wearing some of the worst fake hair (head and facial) in the history of cinema (barring Monty Python’s Life of Brian).  One time he’s a clown (THE go to costume for guaranteed creepiness).  One time he’s some grey amalgamation of a Droog from A Clockwork Orange and John Barrymore’s Mr. Hyde.  And this all makes a kind of sense, because eventually all of these masks will be stripped, and the killer’s purpose (in as much as one is explained to us at all) will be laid bare (not that you can’t guess any of this within the first five to ten minutes).  Inside and outside the slasher archetypes, no one is who they think they present themselves as publicly (and fail), making who they are “in private” implicitly flagitious.

Make no mistake, The Redeemer is not a particularly well-made film.  The acting is amateurish, first gig sort of fare, burdened by some heinous dialogue.  The cinematography is passable at best, with a lot of blown out sunlight in shots (which may or may not appeal to you as an element of the film or as simply inexperienced photography).  The story is silly, with holes through which you could drive a Mack truck.  The supernatural facet feels tacked on in order to get some box office from fans of The Omen.  But the murders are well-orchestrated, and the special effects are decent enough.  The pacing never sags too much, and even though it’s all witless, it does have a certain set of charms.  You just have to be of a mind to enjoy them.

MVT:  The Redeemer and his costumes are the primary reason why all of this is watchable.  Had this aspect been more stagnant, the film would have been a total slog.

Make or Break:  The scene in the auditorium where the Redeemer finally reveals himself (or his persona) to his victims before dispatching another one is visually imaginative.  And the life-size marionette doesn’t hurt any, either.

Score:  6.25/10

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