Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Census Bloodbath: Jesus Loathes Me, This I Know

Year: 1981
Director: Charles Reynolds
Cast: William T. Hicks, Harris Bloodworth, Deborah Bloodworth 
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: N/A

Although 1981 slashers never went as crazy as their late 80’s counterparts eventually would, we’ve been through a lot this year. We’ve met ghost cowboys, been haunted by scarecrows, and battled kids, demons, giant puppet spiders, and even mad scientists. But all that could never have prepared me for our penultimate slasher of the year: A Day of Judgment, a period piece Christian morality tale that could – without controversy – be screened at a church movie night.

I mean, I suppose it’s at least minimally more fun than a sermon.

Set in the late 1920’s, (on a budget presumably less than $1920), A Day of Judgment tells the story of a small town whose citizens have turned away from the church. Although we spend a good ten minutes with the dismayed, potentially violent Revered Cage (Charles Reynolds) – who looks like he was prepping to audition for the Aaron Eckhart role in Erin Brockovich - he literally vanishes from the movie when a hooded, scythe-wielding figure comes to town to extract the souls from the town’s sinners.

These unholy men and women, as depicted in Love, Actually-style criss-crossing vignettes, are Mr. Sharpe (William T. Hicks of Death Screams), the wicked bank manager who cheats people out of their money but – even worse – refuses to stop working on Sunday; Charlie Milford (Brownless David), a ranting drunk who exacts violent revenge on the man who fired him (Harris Bloodworth); George Clay (Toby Wallace), a young man who tricks his parents into signing a form that allows him to sell their business and put them in a home; Mrs. Fitch (Helene Tryon, also of Death Screams – side note: I’m starting to get pretty nervous about Death Screams), an old shut-in who hates the children who live in her neighborhood; and Ruby (Careyanne Sutton), a gold digger who married the owner of the local department store but is dallying with his star employee Kenny (Larry Spinkle, who shared the screen with Gene f**king Simmons in Trick or Treat).

By far the most exciting fact about this movie.

I do understand that the slasher subgenre is fundamentally about punishing sinners, but there’s something about interacting directly with that theme that makes A Day of Judgment deeply unpleasant. First off, instead of intoxicated, libidinous teens, our character set is a handful of Prohibition-era assholes who speak like they watched one episode of Masterpiece Theatre and decided they could take it from there. The ensemble approach prevents you from engaging with the story through the arc of an actual protagonist, and each of the six sinners is such a loathsome, abhorrent piece of pestilential garbage that their chaste, blood-free death sequences just don’t make up for the ingloriously long time we’re forced to spend with them. We’re condemned to suffer with these degenerates for 100 minutes, a run time a slasher just can’t sustain, especially one that’s as poorly constructed as this.

There aren’t even any kills for the first half hour, so we’re forced to watch dozens of people pootle around town doing everyday activities like dancing the Charleston and talking about penny candy in between being miserable sods. Mrs. Fitch literally poisons a goat! It’s a hideous combination of tedious and repugnant and only two deaths are worth mentioning at all (a man is decapitated in the film’s only bona fide gore effect, and Mrs. Fitch is dragged into Hell by hands bursting from the Earth, which is admittedly pretty cool). A Day of Judgment is the barest wisp of a slasher film, perhaps holding even less claim to the genre than Road Games, and that film only features one onscreen kill!

In fact, A Day of Judgment half-heartedly evokes a lot of genres. In any given moment, it can switch between erotic thriller, corporate espionage, wacky redneck adventure, period drama, and Grapes of Wrath-esque misery porn. There’s about 19 different movies jostling for attention in this slasher, and the only thing they have in common is that they all suck.

Am I making my point clear enough? I hated this movie.

The easily distracted script that shoves so many different genres in here is also responsible for some of the most egregious subplot erosion this side of The Room. The film spends an inordinate amount of time setting up elements that will literally never come into play, like the aforementioned Reverend who was pretty clearly gearing up to be the killer before his position is usurped, three old women in black who lurk in the background of every first act scene like an elderly Greek chorus who likewise vanish without a trace, and then the opposite – a subplot that bursts out of nowhere, fully formed, in the third act as if we’d been watching it this entire time. The timeline can’t even keep itself straight, with scenes haphazardly flipping between day and night so abruptly and so frequently that I’m pretty sure the movie technically takes place over a calendar year.

Yeah, A Day of Judgment is a mess. It’s poorly acted, interminably plotted, spectacularly unfocused, and packed with insufferable characters. And then it has the audacity to [SPOILERS, but who cares] 1) Reveal that this has all been a dream, having its characters emerge fully converted like a sextet of pious Scrooges, cavorting about and smiling like saps at the people they’d screwed over or murdered literal minutes before, and 2) close on a title crawl of the 10 Commandments, as if we’d learned an important message from watching this godforsaken movie. You know what? F**k A Day of Judgment. Toss this one to the lions.

Killer: The Devil? (Fred Roland?)
Final Girl: Yeah, no.
Best Kill: The decapitation is actually pretty great, but nothing beats a good, old fashioned dragging to Hell.
Sign of the Times: A car that falls to the bottom of a gulch immediately explodes because, period piece be damned, this was 1981.
Scariest Moment: A figure with glowing red eyes appears behind Mr. Sharpe.
Weirdest Moment: An out-of-his-mind, vengeful Charlie forces a newspaper photo to drink beer.
Champion Dialogue: “I remember the things you told me in the barn after the lightning had struck the oak.”
Body Count: 10
  1. Noodles the Goat is poisoned.
  2. Mrs. Fitch is dragged to Hell.
  3. Morgan shoots himself.
  4. Harvey falls and hits his head.
  5. Mr. Sharpe is locked in the icehouse and killed by the camera rushing at him.
  6. Sid Martin is shot.
  7. Grace is shot.
  8. Ruby and
  9. Kenny die in a house fire.
  10. Charlie Milford is decapitated with a scythe.
TL;DR: A Day of Judgment is a tedious, hateful quasi-slasher with almost no redeeming qualities.
Rating: 2/10
Word Count: 1132

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