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Scrapbook   A-

Wicked Pixel Cinema

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Eric Stanze
Writer: Tommy Biondo
Cast: Emily Haack, Tommy Biondo.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Violence is everywhere in movies, but rarely is it ever captured on-screen with true honesty, in a way that shows how ugly and painful it can be. When it's shown in an unflinchingly honest way, as in Wes Craven's 1972 shocker Last House on the Left, people get upset. They don't want to see it that way. It's unsettling, and they write the movie off as sick and depraved. They'd rather have the stylized bloodshed of John Woo or the body count aesthetic of any run-of-the-mill slasher movie, since that kind of violence doesn't hurt.

Eric Stanze's Scrapbook is not for those people. It hurts like hell.

A young woman, Clara (Emily Haack), is abducted by a backwoods serial killer named Leonard (Tommy Biondo) who forces his victims to write about their ordeals in his scrapbook. Throughout the movie, Clara is repeatedly raped, beaten, and put through such mental and physical torture that most viewers will probably have the urge to stop the tape less than 30 minutes into it. I had that urge. At first, it all seemed pointless. A half hour in, I was wondering why I was subjecting myself to this bullshit -- and better yet, what exactly was the point of all this? It seemed like it was violence for violence's sake, a hollow exercise in sickening sexual brutality.

But shortly thereafter, it hit me. There's a scene where Leonard leaves his filthy farmhouse to take care of some business and Clara is left locked in a room. Now that he's gone, there's a chance to escape. It was then I realized how much this film was affecting me on an emotional level. I wanted Clara to find a way out. Even though Clara had barely spoken a word so far, I cared about her and was rooting for her. I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I didn't know if I could stand to see Clara suffer any more. Of course, I was in for it. Oh, boy, was I ever.

Scrapbook doesn't play around. It presents its violence honestly -- most of it sexual in nature -- and doesn't cop out and cut away. It makes us suffer with Clara, so that it's nearly impossible not to empathize with her. It's tough, almost unbearably brutal. This movie doesn't shy away from full frontal nudity, either -- both male and female -- but the nudity here is anything but erotic. It's nasty and degrading, the kind that makes you feel sick and guilty.

Directed by Eric Stanze, one of the most electrifying and talented filmmakers currently working in micro-budget cinema, Scrapbook is often as brilliant as it is brutal. There's a short flashback to Leonard's childhood at the beginning -- shown completely from his point of view in one unbroken take -- that's pulled off with breathtaking aplomb. There's also a scene where Leonard rapes Clara in the shower and videotapes it; the "home video" footage integrated into this scene is extremely disturbing and realistic. And though this is basically a two-character drama, things never drag. Stanze keeps the intensity at a fever pitch, but kudos must also be given to his two leads. Tommy Biondo and Emily Haack are both terrific here, in two of the most daring and unflinching performances I've ever seen. Sadly, 26-year-old Tommy Biondo, who also wrote the script, died shortly after Scrapbook was completed. He never saw the finished film.

Through it all, though, Scrapbook has a very dark sense of humor. The way Leonard toys with Clara, mocking her agonized cries and mugging for the video camera while he rapes her in the shower, is surely disturbing -- but the twisted black humor is there. Think about the pitch-black humor of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and you might have a good idea of the darkly comic tone of Scrapbook. No, it's not funny, nor should it be. But it does give the film a raw, nasty edge all its own. And while Scrapbook falters near the end -- the finale seems kinda hokey -- it's impossible to deny its raw power. This is the kind of movie that gets under your skin and stays there... whether you like it or not.

Like Ice from the Sun (Eric Stanze's previous film), Scrapbook is ultimately about survival. Ice from the Sun had a female lead who had given up any will to survive, but through the course of the picture she grew stronger and her will to live resurfaced. Scrapbook has a female lead who's strong from the start and is put through such hell that most people would beg for release through death. It's brutal, but it can't knock Clara's will to survive.

Well, does she? I wouldn't dream of giving it away.

Review published 06.20.2001.

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