The Ugly (1997)

Director Scott Reynolds
Writers Scott Reynolds
Starring Paolo Rotondo, Rebecca Hobbs, Roy Ward
Genre Psycho
Tagline The Ugly - It's not a pretty picture

Talk us through it

Simon Cartwright is a confessed serial killer who can not stand trial due to his current state of mind, read he has a whole mob of Roos bouncing around the top paddock. Simon seeks to be re-evaluated telling anyone who will believe him that his inner demons have left, possibly on the back of bounding Roos. Enter Dr Karen Schumaker who has made a name for herself in a previous murder trial and has been specifically asked for by Simon.

Dr Marlowe, who runs the asylum that is Simon's current abode, warns Karen not to believe anything Simon has to say. Admittedly Marlowe himself isn't the full quid and his employees look like refugees from a post apocalyptic movie. A series of interviews between Karen and Simon ensue. Can Karen get behind the mask Simon has created for himself or will she fall prey to the manipulations Simon is ready to unleash. A disturbing psychological portrayal ensues.

Ready to meet "the visitors"?


"No, you said, 'Did you see them?' What have you seen?" - Dr Karen Schumaker

Scott Reynolds, The Ugly is his debut movie, uses a slim budget and a limited cast of actors to full advantage in presenting a psychological horror movie that rivals Silence of the Lambs in it's depiction of a killer who is beyond normal understanding. Like Hannibal Lector, Simon Cartwright can be at times chilling, often charming, but is always mesmerising as he plays mind games with those around him. In both cases the serial killer is portrayed as having high intelligence and to be beyond the understanding of even the professionals trained to deal with them. Scott Reynolds with The Ugly asks us what is real, what is make believe, and what resides in the minds of those drawn into orbit around Simon. The audience will have to work that out for themselves as the Director/Writer isn't making a definite statement on anything. Can the serial killer movie work as art?

Right from the opening scene Director Reynolds indicates that we are not about to sit through a run of the mill Hollywood big budget outing, but are going to get something a whole lot different. What has to be the most under funded asylum in New Zealand, there's even paint peeling from the walls, is presented in stark surrealistic detail. A prisoner is being chained to a chair in a sterile room by a couple of guards who wouldn't look out of place in a torture movie. Talk about your brutal side kicks, I was surprised one wasn't called Igor just to underline what we are seeing. The guards are brutal, take delight in tormenting the inmate who we very quickly learn is Simon, and seem to be egged by the fact that Simon has put a previous guard into a wheel chair. Surprisingly, and we are already noticing Reynolds has a firm hand on what he is trying to achieve, the audience will sympathise with Simon Cartwright rather than the guards who are painted entirely black with no redeeming qualities.

Dr Karen Schumaker makes her entrance to the well lighted and picture perfect asylum reception area totally drenched by monsoon like rain. We quickly learn Karen is self confident, believes she can get through to Simon, and has a touch of self promotion motivating her. No one is innocent or truly noble in The Ugly. Initially Dr Marlowe does not want Karen having anything to do with Simon, who he simply believes is beyond help, but is forced by circumstance to allow the evaluation interviews to go ahead. Marlowe knows Simon is not to be trusted and is beyond Karen's abilities, this is reinforced later when Marlowe holds back his henchmen for a couple of minutes while Simon gets physical with Karen in the interview room. Marlowe follows proceedings throughout from the cover of a one way mirror.

Reynolds doesn't so much present a serial killer movie as a blank canvas that he careful colours to effect.

When Karen first meets Simon the audience still have not seen his face. Firstly when Simon is being lead to the room and chained to the chair he has a mask over his head circa the Jason one in Friday the 13th Part 2, when it is removed Simon simply stares down ward at his lap. Karen gradually talks Simon into looking at her face. Director Reynolds has carefully been doing some manipulation of his own with the audience wondering exactly what they are going to see when Simon finally looks up, the movie is called "The Ugly" after all. When we finally do get a chance to see Simon's face it is with some relief that we are confronted with a normal looking bloke, with almost angelic like features. You can readily side with Simon after the brutality handed out to him by the guards, who you have a sneaking suspicion wont be coming out of the movie unscathed when the final credits roll.

Reynolds has a number of shocks, supernatural and otherwise, coming at you but is at pains to pace his movie to achieve the ultimate impact with each revelation building on what we have seen previously. The art here is in the Director/Writer being able to present Simon's fantasies, real happenings, and manipulations in such a way that the audience are left to ponder what is real and what is simply a part of Simon's mind games as he continues to worm himself into Karen's psyche.

We learn Simon was an only child and lives with his mom in some unnamed suburban street. Simon's father has left and is fighting for custody of the boy, a fact Simon's mother is at pains to hide from him. Since Simon can't read beyond "The Ugly Duckling", the book is a crucial plot point, he lives under his mother's whims, and as we find during the course of the movie mom is at best a harsh mistress, at worse a freaking sociopath herself. So Simon is the loner, bullied by his peers, and with no male role model. Anyone else spying the standard background a number of real life psychos lived through? If Rob Zombie had of gone to this sort of detail in his remake of Halloween then that movie might have worked a whole lot better than the redneck jamboree we got. Assuming of course you really need Michael Meyers explained away in the first place. Scott Reynolds's Simon Cartwright is a whole lot more convincing as the young psycho in training than Zombie's portrayal of Meyers. And of course the kick inside here is that the whole background could be Simon manipulating Karen by giving her what she expects to hear. Scott Reynolds wraps an enigma in a camouflage of ideas and visuals.

Right through the middle parts of the movie Reynolds focuses on Simon and his apparent calmness, indicating subtly that all is not as it would seem. Simon comes up with the idea of his "visitors" apparently from Karen's visitors pass, and the indication is that he is playing with the Doctor in a similar fashion to Hannibal Lector's mind games. Did anything that Simon tells Karen really happen, or is Simon handing Karen what she expects to hear? Director/Writer Reynolds leaves it to the audience to decide for themselves.

As the movie draws towards it's shattering conclusion, Simon really is a psychopath, the Director starts to let us into Simon's mind and in the process introduces a supernatural element that is generally not expected in a serial killer movie. Currently I'm reading the excellent novel Slights by Kaaron Warren and in both the movie and the novel supernatural forces become predominate, maybe it's a Down Under thing, we need something slightly more from our fictional serial killers. Must ask Amanda Howard her thoughts on the idea. Simon perceives himself to be "the ugly", and in reflections his face is heavily scarred. Of course that's only apparent to Simon, and underlines his psychosis. The supernatural element in itself is unnerving, especially when Karen starts to see Simon's demons. It really is a new dimension to the serial killer sub genre that had me howling at the moon. They can keep this sort of stuff coming morning, noon, and night.

Through out the film Scott Reynolds uses primary colours effectively, with a M. Night feeling to proceedings that had me grinning like Paris Hilton at an all you can drink cocktail party.

Paolo Rotondo (Simon) is pretty solid as our resident Dexter and adds just the right amount of normality to his role to have the audience believing. Talk about your average guy next door. Rebecca Hobbs (Dr Karen) manages to match Rotondo scene for scene and slices it just right. And Roy Ward (Dr Marlowe) was simply excellent at the slightly deranged asylum head who seems to know more than he lets on.

T&A is reduced to a single sex scene and not much more. Take it or leave it, Reynolds is trying to make art here not exploitation.

Victoria Kelly turned in an outstanding score that matched Scott Reynolds almost David Lynch like visuals. Kelly has an eye for detail and can go sinister when required.

Summary Execution

The Ugly is quite rightly viewed as a classic of New Zealand horror cinema, the movie invades your senses and pulls you in. Director Scott Reynolds is absolutely superb behind the camera and dives and weaves through out the film constantly forcing the audience to try and keep up with his plot. At no stage did I feel comfortable with The Ugly, a good thing when it comes to horror, and I would rate this movie on the same level as Session 9 for it's ability to keep the atmosphere and tension at the forefront. One of the best movies I've seen in 2009, show cases Down Under talent has nothing to feel second rate about.

I got a copy of The Ugly from a reader, and judging from the wrapping it arrived in the movie was purchased via Unfortunately the film is not available in region four, as that would be promoting our own industry, but is readily available from North American DVD online outlets. Be sure your player is multi regional before purchasing, or simply Google to find out how to switch regional encoding off.

Full recommendation on The Ugly if you don't mind horror that asks you to think and isn't handing out the answers in easy to digest chucks. Scott Reynolds offers us a trip into the nightmare world of a psychopath but doesn't offer any guidance as to what is real and what isn't. Slice yourself some cinematic goodness today and go grab a copy for ultimate viewing pleasure, it could get ugly otherwise.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

Almost the perfect psychological horror movie, a must watch.