Reviewbr> "You haven't called me in like two years, I guess your grades should be stellar" - Marcus
Archaeology student Ben Rutherford receives an 18th century mechanical device as the last remaining item of his deceased father's estate. Ben has no idea what the device, known as "Le Vaudo Mort", does but shows it off to a group of his friends following an end of year drinks party. Naturally the device is missing the next day when Ben wakes up hung over, but he figures one of his friends "borrowed" it.
Marcus, Ben's estranged brother, arrives on the scene at about the same time as Ben's friends start meeting their demise, one by one, in particularly gruesome fashion. Seems Ben's inheritance has a shady pass and a supernatural power that someone is taking advantage of. With Marcus's help Ben has to work out who has the infernal device before more of his friends fall prey to whoever is manipulating the contraption behind the scenes.
Director Soto hits a classic 1980s formula, the slasher movie, but allows other influences to seep in climaxing in something unique, a twist of the cog to produce a new dimension in one of the horror Parthenon's newest exhibits. Arguably, and I'll be making this argument during the year in a series of articles, the whole concept of the slasher movie can be traced from such diametrically opposed works as Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, the Hitchcock classic Psycho, through Italian giallo cinema, right up to Bob Clark's definitive Black Christmas. Sure it would take Carpenter and Ritchie to define the sub-genre, but the elements had been percolating prior to Halloween and Friday the 13th.
Soto begins his movie in traditional, can we say that yet? - slasher fashion via the "meet the meat" approach. We get to meet the victims and are already deeply involved in determining what order they are going to die in and who the antagonist might be. However unlike traditional slashers Soto is not so interested in having a masked killer stalking the grounds of St Mary's campus, rather he is allowing some giallo influence in terms of setting up a real mystery as to who the killer might be. Equally Soto avoids the early pitfall of having the cardboard cut out college student characters that seem to populate the slasher world. While we might get the jock and the intelligent outsider, we don't get the slut and the good girl tropes coming down the garden path. By avoiding the stereotypes Soto makes it bloody hard to work out who's been naughty and who's been nice. Oh and to add a bit of fuel to the fire, we're not really talking a final girl here either. One of the things that most serious students of modern horror discard at the earliest convenience is Carol J. Clover's final girl schlock that doesn't hold up under even the most minimum study of the slasher movie. Clover had an agenda, and I'm shocked by the number of people who have been caught hook, line, and sinker, by her snake oil sales pitch. Hey I've got a harbour bridge to sell over some swamp land yo! Soto demonstrates he has a firm grasp of the concept of the slasher movie and isn't fooled into cookie cutter plot developments.
It might fit into the slasher box. but Director/Writer Soto redefines what that box is.
If you are starting to think that Needle might not be your traditional slasher flick than you are on the right track neighbour. While we have the cast being whittled down in particularly gruesome fashion, gorehounds are going to be in their element here, Soto takes an interesting detour from the straight and narrow. Le Vaudo Mort is one infernal device, add a photo of your intended victim, some hot wax, some blood, and you have an instant voodoo doll ready to go. It's like one of those microwave burgers, except you can heat needles and torture someone before finally punching their lights. Director Soto, and no spoilers here really the trailer gives it away, slowly exposes what the machine does during the course of the movie, which is actually aimed at one scene during the end of the movie. I particular dug how the victims could hear the metal cogs grinding away while no one else can, and the light bulb explosions as the voodoo hits the fan. Nice touches adding to fun times at Central High. Soto ekes out every minute of tension in his death scenes, which after all are a high point of a slasher opus.
I already mentioned we don't get a masked killer wielding various kitchen utensils right? - Soto goes one step beyond with a huge wink at the giallo meanderings of Directors such as Argento. Hey if the gloves fit right. All we get to see of the antagonist is some glove hands as the dastardly device is put through its paces. This serves not only to paying homage to a solid hunk of dark genre history, we actually reviewed a giallo yet? - while also keeping the Audience wondering just who our antagonist may be. No surprises I didn't guess the identity of the gloved fiend, it will come as quite a shock when we get the typical slasher unveiling and explanation as to the shenanigans going down. Soto even has the discovery of the bodies toward the end, you know like people do in those F13th movies. So yeah we may be talking slasher but we're not talking a cookie cutter adherence to the slasher tropes. If you like to go a bit Scooby Doo on your horror, then dial in, regardless of what people are claiming on the interwebs Soto keeps it all in his pants till the final act.
Also worth mentioning is the references to the peculiarly Parisian theatre of Grand Guignol, perhaps another forerunner to the modern slasher flick, Soto once again showing he has his dark genre mojo on.
The other vital ingredient of slasherdom, T&A, doesn't really get a look in, this movie is clearly aimed at yank teenagers of the PG13th movie going variety. We do get some hot lesbian action, unfortunately well away from the bedroom, but that's your lot for the night. I should also mention in passing that Needle will not only work for the teenagers in your dubious care, my son loved it and as he's in the intended demographic so that's a win, but also for us older folk who grew up sneaking off to the movies to watch the latest Jason Voorhees outing. Actually Needle very much has that 1980s slasher vibe happening, mixed in with some giallo, and sprinkled with modern sensibilities.
Behind the camera, running well out of room here, Director Soto shows he's definitely getting the hang of this movie making gig. His previous movie, the teenage orientated Crush, showed Soto has the interior shots down pat, with Needle he takes the circus outdoors and proves he's adept there as well. Look for some Raimi style track cam during the first murder scene, and some very solid use of locations and frame. Needle is strikingly professional and shows what someone with a bit of talent can do with a decent budget in this Country.
About the only criticism I had of the movie was some of the sub plotting that either comes out of nowhere or goes nowhere. Ben Mendelson's Detective Meares is one angry corn feed, but the character is completely underutilised. There's enough screen time given to Mendelson, no bad thing, to have the Audience expecting some more involvement that never comes. Similarly Michael Dorman's Ben Rutherford is shown to be rather a big girl's blouse during the final block of the movie but this is never hinted at during the course of the film. An extra tad of editing was needed there in my honest opinion, but hey when you have local genre fav John Jarratt stealing scenes all is forgiven. Jarratt once again shows why he keeps cropping up in dark genre flicks.
In the wash up, damn this review has been all over town, Director/Writer Soto sends a 1980s orientated slasher our way with some real original twists in the tale. I dug the murder mystery going down, the horror pedigree in evidence, and the whole look and feel delivered on my plate. While the movie isn't going to hit classic status it's still solid enough to get a nod of approval from my end of the couch, full recommendation, about time we got us a return to an original slasher with some surprises.