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Nutbag   C-

Fright Flix Productions

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Nick Palumbo
Writer: Nick Palumbo
Cast: Mack Hail, Renee Sloan, Davia Ardell, Megan Westendorf, Jenesses Kenny, Sally Graham, Alicia Murphy.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Oh, I can hear them now. How the media-violence-bashing conservatives would rip a film like Nutbag to shreds. They would condemn it as a vile, degenerate piece of filmmaking for daring to show us the life of a serial killer in all its ugly depravity.

This kind of criticism was heaped upon the similar serial killer drama Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer at the time of its release in 1989. All the while, others touted Henry as brilliant: a hauntingly realistic and disturbing film made all the more powerful because of its refusal to glorify death and violence. Under director John McNaughton's unflinching eye, the violence in Henry was ugly, grim, and painful. It was never presented in a strictly "body count" fashion like most slasher films; it was real. That's one of the areas where Nick Palumbo's Nutbag falters, since it's mostly concerned with how many pretty girls can wind up naked and dead in under 80 minutes.

Nutbag chronicles 10 days in the life of a Jack the Ripper-wannabe serial killer (Mack Hail) who drifts about the streets of Las Vegas in a lonely catatonic daze. The people he shares the world with disgust him, especially the prostitutes at every street corner. After slashing the throat of one female victim, he remarks (in voice-over narration), "These whores always bleed a lot." He's like Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) in the way that he's sickened by the world he lives in and the people who inhabit it. Like Bickle, he's just a lonely guy who wants to wash all the filth away.

The killer (who remains nameless) lives in a drab, pornography-strewn Las Vegas apartment with Heinrich, his pet tarantula and only friend. He talks to Heinrich and reveals the emotional turmoil going on inside that confused head of his. Yes, we're talking about a guy conversing with a spider here. But the scenes between the killer and his pet tarantula are handled with a delicate assurance and there are a few moments -- particularly when the killer is recalling the night his father killed himself -- that are actually moving. It's in scenes like this that we can see glimpses of a good, powerful serial killer movie struggling to emerge.

But, sadly, Nutbag becomes bogged down in an endless series of gruesome murders. It becomes all about the body count, one beautiful girl after another (their names don't matter, since none of the victims are given any character development). Pretty much every girl you see on-screen (including porn star Davia Ardell) will wind up naked and dead within 10 minutes of her first appearance. The murders are graphic and bloody as hell, boasting some impressive makeup effects to boot. The first murder is a real shocker, executed with bravura finesse, but most of the others that follow don't have the same visceral impact. Instead, Nutbag becomes tiresome and repetitive. While the promise of gratuitous nudity may be enough to lure in some of you exploitation fans, just remember that it isn't "fun" nudity. This is a dreary serial killer flick, after all.

In Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, at least we got to become involved in Henry's developing relationships with his roommate and his roommate's sister. In Nutbag, it's just the killer and his pet spider. Early on, he meets a pretty neighbor (Renee Sloan) who just moved to Vegas; she gives him her phone number and insists that they go out for a drink sometime. This could've turned into something. I wanted to see if this socially awkward killer could develop some kind of relationship with this girl. It had the potential to be very interesting, to make the movie go somewhere. Oh, boy, what a freaking missed opportunity!

You might think I'm being a little hard on this film. Well, let me say that I wouldn't be so frustrated with it if I didn't think it had tremendous promise. Nick Palumbo is an extremely talented director with a good eye for style and atmosphere. Though shot on video, the film looks great and certainly casts a hypnotic spell with its lyrical visuals and haunting music. And Mack Hail makes quite an unsettling serial killer -- what's more, the big guy even nails the emotional scenes talking to a spider. I'm sure Nick Palumbo has a good horror film in him somewhere. Nutbag isn't quite it.

Review published 01.19.2001.

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