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June 2010

Razor's Ring

cast: Casey Wayne, Annie Scott Rogers, Paul Schileus, Lisa Wharton, and Nathan Duncan

director: Morgan Hampton

82 minutes (18) 2008
widescreen ratio 16:9
MVM DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
review by Paul Higson

Razor's Ring
This month I also review Resurrecting The Street Walker which was made with clear technical nous but failed on most every other score, particularly on its characters. The result was a familiar story stricken by drab dialogue and a flagging viewer interest in a slight tale. Morgan Hampton's Razor's Ring is lowly of budget too and it shows too. The cinematography is make-do. The growling, when not groaning, synth score transports one back to cheapo dreck of the 1980s and early 1990s. There are blundered sound effects and a botched CGI explosion. In the days of 16mm the filmmaker might have been forced into stricter attention to the process rather than waste expensive film stock but here as in other films now it's too easy to fire and shoot and then move on.

In comparing the two films though it is Razor's Ring that gets right the more important elements. In its characters, story and details it is very much alive with an exploitation brio and moves in and out of scenes like a Wurlitzer car on a dodgy axle. For most of the journey the viewer will be scrabbling to adjust their feelings as they try to remember how a point was reached, how differently some things could have been and where the action might go. It might even place the viewer in the awkward position of siding with villains when their evil is gazumped by others even more heinous. This is all some achievement in a low budget script it has to be admitted.

Consider the opening. Scott Warner (Casey Wayne) is a high-earner who has made the unwise move of taking himself somewhere remote for a solo jog. He leaves his car on a back road and sets off. Coming in the opposite direction is a vehicle which deliberately runs down a dog and turns in his direction. Warner immediately retreats into the trees, but with nowhere to run literally climbs one of the trees. The occupants of the car are Razor (Paul Schileus) and Julie (Lisa Wharton), a right pair of sick puppies, and when he refuses to climb into their car they pull a gun and threaten to shoot him out of the tree dead.

He takes a back seat ride and before long the psycho couple have wasted a patrol cop and are scoring one another in kill points. Next within their sights is a little girl (50 points) playing along the side of the road but Warner acts, scuppering their aim which instead strikes a man alerted to rescue of the girl by the mad swerving of the vehicle that Warner is trying to wrestle control over. The man is killed but there is no respite for Warner as he is branded as culpable with the other two and they are all beaten up and carted off for some backwoods justice. The trio must now work together to survive as a far more twisted community holds their fate in their hands.

The interest does not terminate here as circumstances change gradually and with increasing cruelty. Hope is tantalisingly dangled in front of them and then yanked away. Razor's Ring harnesses the earthy nastiness of a 1970s horror film and in so doing channels some of the spirit of John Russo. Indeed, Russo's grim 1982 horror Midnight is a near cousin to this film. Hampton's dialogue and action keeps the film moving forward and the viewer is bombarded by changing circumstances and minor surprises.

The leading players are well-cast and particularly good at delivering dialogue in a way that truly individualises the characters. Casey Wayne's Scott Warner rises above his situation with a striking air of positivity and quite brazen with it. Self-preservation is key, naturally, but he seemingly allots continuing survival down to that self-awareness and that he is the decent and honest one, qualities abandoned by everyone else involved in the current circumstances, victim or tormentor. He maintains that honesty while playing up to everyone.

Not that it pays off all the time. The fate of others, in lost digits and lives, while he survives persuades him all the more that his survival is a given. Razor and Julie are the perfect movie-land trash couple, and Paul Schileus' short-circuit rage, and Lisa Wharton's arctic cold indifference, cruelty and later vulnerability and fear (not to mention her Amazonian good looks), should here provide both with the necessary show-reel to get them exploitation film careers.

The evil matriarch, Red, whose reach goes well beyond family and homestead seemingly inculpating an entire unseen terrified township is portrayed with sly appeal by Annie Scott Rogers. A wheelchair-bound monster she has a small army of brutal relatives and a silent, muscle-set lover Fisher (Nathan Duncan) who doubles as a gizmo inventor; and you can be sure that devices that he is responsible for creating will have no market interest from Ronco.

There are a few inspired set-pieces too. Casey is not perfect and his self-preservation can come at a cost to others. In one scene Casey chances the life of the gardener Billy (Mike Morrow) who has already told him that he isn't proud of his silence but he has a family and a sick wife to be mindful of. Billy works the garden and Casey leans in to him while on the elevated porch the camera picks up on Red in her chair, Fisher behind her, unseen by the two. She leans forward in a rictus, listening in for signs of betrayal. The wheelchair is nudged ever so slightly forward and there is something frightening in the fixed evil expression and approaching menace.

There is some rich and entertaining dialogue, well delivered by the players. Razor refuses to leave the small shed in which they have been imprisoned, having already suffered horribly at their hands. "Get out!" orders the thug. "It'll be a cold day in hell!" responds Razor. To which the understated response is: "Okay. I'll just burn the shed down around you!" When, later, Warner regains consciousness following his initial ordeal, he asks Razor: "How long have I been out?" Razor responds: "How should I know? What do I look like... Big fucking Ben?" When Billy releases Warner from the shed to move him over to the big house, he comments, about time too, he'd be ever so unhappy if his tools got rusty for all this leaving them outside.

Cinema of cruelty it may be, but torture porn, thankfully, it is not. The story is so busy that it is very late in the film before one is aware that the violence is by and the large suggested and that the true horror is exacted off-screen. Budgetary restrictions may have forced the director from too many on-screen gore effects rather than a deliberate decision here, but whether or not that might be the case, it works in the films favour.

It is such a terrible pity that the film flounders as it enters its final ten minutes. The dialogue gives way to action that they cannot afford. If only some 1970s/ 1980s filmmaking principles had been employed... If only the makers had attempted a fake building front, maybe even a miniature and the explosion that rips through it had been shot in-camera. If only the fight with Fisher had been more meticulously choreographed it might have been more realistic and the eye violence more convincing. If only in returning to the scene of the crime they had attempted a matte shot of the destroyed building instead of remarking on the ruins which lie off-camera. It might have been three fails all the same but they would been noble fails and a commendable effort.

Let's hope that as the budgets on his future productions rise that Hampton continues to make the right decisions and more of them. With so many downright awful low-budget films farted out each year, a spirited and well-composed if rough gem like this is an occasional treat.

The DVD includes a bundle of trailers for other releases on the label, none of which look too interesting (though Backwoods Bloodbath seems to hold the best retro horror blood and beauties in their knickers promise), but then neither does the trailer for Razor's Ring or the MVM Entertainment sleeve art come to that.

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