Submitted by Absolute Horror panelist, Legion
Society in chaos...black and white 35 MM film footage, shot by editor Brendan Flynt, of NYC on that terrible day in September almost five years ago...is the apropos image to begin one of the greatest horror films of all time, perfectly titled MURDER SET-PIECES. Not since William Friedkin's masterpiece of horror THE EXORCIST has a film captured the essence of the terrifying and the profane. Filmmaker Nick Palumbo's simple tale about an anonymous photographer slaughtering beautiful women in the seamy city of Las Vegas enraptured me from the first horrific frame of a bloodied, nude, semi-conscious woman strapped down in a torture chair all the way to the end credits.
Nick Palumbo pays homage to the horror films that came before MURDER SET-PIECES and then takes the horror genre to a whole new level of depravity. With opening and closing odes to Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" Nick Palumbo also manages to evoke horror and non horror films in between while maintaining a sense of originality. The dream-like flashback sequences with their haunting music and creepy images of a doll turned sexual fetish object is reminiscent of Dario Argento's "Deep Red." The colors in MURDER SET-PIECES pop (especially the red and blue flashes of light in the menage a trois motel scene) which adds another Argento-esque quality to the film.
The character named "the photographer" would fit perfectly with "the driver" and "the mechanic" of Monty Helman's "Two Lane Blacktop." During the second motel scene, a prostitute dances for the photographer which instantly brings to mind Bill Lustig's "Maniac." The major difference in this scene, however, is that the photographer orders the escort to undress as opposed to Lustig's maniac who tells his hooker to keep her clothes on. Where Bill Lustig stopped from crossing the line into sexual violence Nick Palumbo obliterated it with his graphic and realistic portrayal of the sexually violent nature of serial murder. "Murder-Set-Pieces" even surpasses "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" with its absolutely brutal scene in which the photographer saws a screaming young woman's head open while she is trapped in the photographer's basement abattoir. Soaked in her blood, his feral eyes bulging with arousal the photographer truly looks like a demon from Hell.
Nick Palumbo went even further by graphically depicting the murder of children in MURDER SET-PIECES. While the horror of child murder has been explored in dramatic films like Fritz Lang's "M" the horror genre has shied away from this taboo subject, because the glorification of a child killer would be considered obscene. Yet the glorification of a teenage killer is fine so long as he has a witty repartee ala Freddy Krueger in Wes Craven's "A Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise. Nick Palumbo exposes this hypocrisy by juxtaposing the murders of succulent young women with the equally savage killing of a little girl in a restroom.
Sven Garrett's performance as "the photographer" is intense and fearless. Sven Garrett instills the photographer with a real sense of menace and madness. The sexually violent nature of the role would intimidate lesser actors, but Sven immerses himself completely in the role thereby enhancing the performances of his fellow actors. To be honest, at first I didn't think much of his acting. Then, I realized it is the personality of the photographer that I did not like. The photographer is the antithesis of the charismatic Devil's advocate type of villain that audiences have become accustomed to watching in horror films. The photographer is more similar to real life serial murderers, and once I realized this fact I came to appreciate his performance a whole lot more.
MURDER SET-PIECES is a traditional horror film with the heart of a snuff film. A snuff film depicts the sexual act culminating with real murder as tantamount to reaching orgasm which is the actualization of sexual violence. While MURDER SET-PIECES sexual violence is simulated, Nick Palumbo has crafted such realism to the film that the confrontational scenes reach a level of disquiet rarely reached in cinema. In the ménage a trois scene, the soundtrack rhythmically pulses throughout the scene, never changing even after the photographer has sliced the throat of one prostitute and then throttles another prostitute. This equivocal delineation between arousal and horror is incredibly transgressive and surpasses the intimations previous horror films have made between the two emotions. Only the cinematic flare of auteur Nick Palumbo in scenes such as the childhood dream like flashbacks or the nightmarish visions of the photographer remind the viewer that he is watching a work of fiction. This affect on the viewer is incredibly potent, and it is quite an achievement for a horror film to have the disturbing soul of a snuff film.
In MURDER SET-PIECES maestro Nick Palumbo has composed and orchestrated a magnum opus suffused with sensuous carnage that pushes the boundaries of horror in cinema. Nick Palumbo has created a depiction of serial murder on such a visceral, truthful level that previous filmmakers have never dared approach. By confronting audiences with the horror of violence, provocateur Nick Palumbo has forced the audience to examine our own blood lust. MURDER SET-PIECES, like the '72 Plymouth Barracuda driven by the photographer, clicks on all cylinders from the directing, acting, special effects, soundtrack, etc. Nick Palumbo takes cinema into the absolute heart of darkness with his visual depiction of the union between sex and death...violence and erotica. To paraphrase Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" Colonel Kurtz, " MURDER SET-PIECES. The horror. The horror."
RATING: **** (out of four)