Murder Set Pieces DVD Review
Written by Daniel Benson
DVD released by Fright Flix Productions
Written and directed by Nick Palumbo
2004, Region 1 (NTSC), 90 minutes, Unrated
Sven Garrett as The Photographer
Tony Todd as The Video Store Clerk
Gunnar Hansen as The Nazi Mechanic
Jade Risser as Jade
Valerie Baber as Charlotte
A nazi-obsessed photographer, played by Sven Garrett, stalks the streets of Las Vegas, finding his prey in the shape of prostitutes and exotic dancers. After a little persuasion, they accompany him home to be photographed. All they can look forward to is rape, torture and, if they’re lucky, a quick death.
Yet, The Photographer has a completely different side; enigmatic and philosophical when with his girlfriend, Charlotte (Valerie Baber). He is even nice enough to run her younger sister Jade (Jade Risser) to and from school each day.
Jade, however, is having none of it. She sees right through the façade and is completely creeped out by her older sibling’s beau, constantly confiding in her best friend about how weird he is.
Can she convince her older sister of what she knows? Or will Charlotte be the next visitor to The Photographer’s torture chamber?
The internet hype surrounding Murder Set Pieces has been immense, partly due to the involvement of the ToeTag Pictures special effects team, and partly due to well-placed members of the “ToeTag Street Team” planted in various horror communities across the web. When the movie finally started to surface at festivals, opinion was polarised between those who were expecting a ride as rough as August Underground, and those who love the film for what it is; an awesome serial killer flick. Ironically, there has been a vitriolic backlash against the makers of the film, simply because their marketing has been so effective.
Reading the reviews of MSP, one finds a common criticism; it’s a bunch of gory death scenes held together by the flimsiest of plots.
Wait. Reality check.
When were serial killer movies known for rich subtext and deep character development? Most of them exist for one reason: to satisfy the viewer’s bloodlust with a few, choice, death scenes. While the teen slasher movies present two-dimensional characters, who quickly meet their fates in a variety of inventive ways, MSP completely flips the coin and makes a lingering study of the most horrific suffering. The victims, for the most part, don’t even make it to two-dimensional — they are one-dimensional objects, meat mannequins to be raped, bludgeoned, sliced, nailed, and left to rot by misogynist in the extreme, The Photographer.
Nick Palumbo went knocking on the door of the adult film industry to source the actresses who play the victims. Apparently, due to the extreme nature of some of the scenes, porn-stars were the only ones who could cope with filming such material. The result of this is all the girls are hard-bodied, silicone breasted dolls who are very pleasing to the eye, but don’t convey a real life picture so well.
The rest of the cast fare much better for their varied times on screen. Sven Garrett as The Photographer carries the movie well, casting a foreboding sense of menace across every scene in which he appears. His character is such a rampant psychopath, you never know if a simple conversation will degenerate into violence, or if Palumbo will sucker-punch you by cutting directly from a seemingly innocent scene direct into the middle of the most sickeningly brutal rape.
Tony Todd (Candyman, Final Destination 2) makes a guest appearance as the clerk of an adult video store, in a scene that is the campiest in the movie. The Photographer visits the store looking for “a snuff movie called The Nutbag”. Palumbo’s debut feature was a DV shot serial killer movie entitled Nutbag. Elsewhere, Gunnar Hansen (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers) cameos as a Nazi obsessed mechanic who provides a gun to make The Photographer’s “I need to shoot some girls” statement ring even truer. Hansen’s performance brings little to the movie, other than a prominent genre name for the cast list.
The real standouts for this movie are two-fold. First off is Jade Risser, who plays Jade. This young actress holds her own among a cast who average more than twice her age and emerges as a true survivor during the killer’s bloody rampage across Las Vegas. Secondly, there is the astounding effects work by ToeTag Pictures. This is the first time, I believe, that their work has graced a crystal clear 35mm movie. Anyone who thought that the fuzzy, poor quality camerawork of August Underground and Mordum hid any shortcomings in their skills, is wrong. So very, very wrong. These are old school special effects, taken to the max and the result is utterly disgusting. You will not see anything so extreme in any movie of a similar budget.
There are some scenes that push the boundaries just too far. About halfway through the film, the killer develops a penchant for killing kids. While I don’t deny that a serial killer as unhinged as The Photographer wouldn’t discriminate his victims by age, it just seems to happen for no reason. For the first 45 minutes of the film, he’s merrily slicing his way through hookers and models then all of a sudden it’s open season on school age girls. It’s like the filmmakers got to a point and said “Right, we’ve done enough whore gore, what can we do next to shock the viewers?”. The other scene that was the most distasteful, for me, was when Garrett kills a mother while her baby is in an adjacent room. This child is about 18 months old. The Photographer spares the child, after picking her up from the cot, but the terror in her face is evident as she toddles through the apartment to her mother’s bloodied corpse. A child of that age can’t be directed how to act, her fear is most definitely real. The baby girl is the daughter of MSP cinematographer, Brendan Flynt and the ‘dead’ mother is her real-life mother. That kid may have issues in later life.
Despite its failings, Murder Set Pieces is shocking, sickening, misogynistic, brutal, and gory. Every horror fan should see it at least once.
Video and Audio:
Presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this director’s cut of Murder Set Pieces looks absolutely stunning. The transfer from the 35mm negative is superb, with no signs of any picture faults throughout. Brendan Flynt’s cinematography is, in no small way, responsible for how good the film looks.
The running time is 90 minutes, somewhat less than the IMDB stated 105 minutes. This is due to the fact that the original cut of the film, which had a short festival run, was not the version Palumbo intended. This version is his vision, and has been edited down for much tighter pacing, as well as having more gore scenes added.
The included DD5.1 Soundtrack is superbly clear and accompanies the movie well. During the torture chamber scenes, the screams of the victims echo around the walls, placing the viewer in the most unlikely place they’d ever want to be.
- Special Introduction by Writer/Producer/Director Nick Palumbo
- "Gallery of Outrage" – Production Photos
- Commentary by Nick Palumbo and actor Sven Garrett, moderated by "Ultra Violent" managing editor, Art Ettinger
- Deleted Scenes
- Theatrical Trailers
The deleted scenes give a good idea of how much the pace of the movie has been tightened up. There’s absolutely nothing there that should have been included, it’s just needless padding. It was an excellent decision to remove these scenes.
The “Gallery of Outrage” is a reasonably interesting selection of stills and behind the scenes pictures. There are two trailers for both MSP and Nutbag, and a five-minute trailer-cum-promo-reel for Sinister, also starring Jade Risser. There’s also a hidden Easter-egg trailer for August Underground.
The Commentary track is an interesting listen, and gives away a lot of information about the movie. The only downside is that Art Ettinger often asks questions which take the conversation away from the on-screen action. This can be quite irritating when you are interested in a particular scene.
The biggest thing missing from the extras is a documentary on the Toe Tag special effects. They are what make the movie, and the lack of any further information leaves a gaping hole that needs to be filled.