[NSFW THEATER] NAIL GUN MASSACRE (1985)

 

 

There have been flashes of brilliance that disappeared as quickly as they arrived; career defining films of first time directors that stand alone, without further additions to the filmography. Herk Harvey may have worked on dozens of industrials and educational videos but the only feature he ever made was CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) which managed to go from an obscure low-budget horror film to a respected piece of art, earning it a spot within the Criterion Collection. The award for most well known one-and-done film of all time belongs to Charles Laughton’s NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955). With its fusion of fairytale horror with noir crime drama, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER has earned a place in film history by entering both the Criterion Collection and the National Film Registry as well as influencing David Lynch, Martin Scorsese and the Coen brothers. Despite being the only film that Charles Laughton directed, it wasn’t the only film that he worked on, having acted in over fifty features (including Dr. Moreau in 1932’s ISLAND OF LOST SOULS). The same can not be said about Bill Leslie and Terry Lofton, the brain trust behind NAIL GUN MASSACRE (1985).

 

 

The first of NAIL GUN MASSACRE’s many mistakes comes with its attempt to place itself within the slasher tradition. When John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) pulled in a worldwide gross of $60,000,000 off of a $300,000 budget, it inspired a slew of copycat productions — some great, some not-so-great — that flooded the market with boobs, blades, and blood. Because of the low budgets expected of these films, and the hoped for large return on the investment, the slasher film quite often attracted new talent to the industry and served as a proving ground for the want-to-be filmmakers. Contemporary scholarship buts the decline of the subgenre at ‘85-’86; the established series’ — HALLOWEEN; A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET; FRIDAY THE 13TH — continued to come out, slowly, but for the most part the subgenre capsized due to taking on too much weight, too quickly. It was into this declining subgenre that NAIL GUN MASSACRE was released — first in Spain in 1985, then in America in 1987, missing the slasher window entirely. The fact that the filmmakers couldn’t identify the decline of the subgenre — and, by result, the smaller chance of making their money back – demonstrates the first of many errors of judgement that plague — and enhance — NAIL GUN MASSACRE.

 

 

The plot of the film is simplicity itself, when boiled down — there is a massacre that is perpetrated with a nail gun; it’s the details that complicate things. We cold open with a gangrape, an assault on good taste immediately, only to transition to the weirdest murder setpiece. A lady and her child hang clothing outside of the homestead while the husband yells angrily at her for not having any clean shirts; a cameo dressed, motorbike helmet wearing figure shoots and murders the husband with a nail gun, sprouting the world’s worst one-liners. The figure is gone by the time the victim’s wife finds the body which only serves to demonstrate another fault of the film: it completely lacks an understanding of distance and sound. Let me demonstrate by looking at a scene later on in the film; a young couple are off having sex in the woods, the killer stands directly next to them and shoots and kills the man. His dead body slumps against the lady and she wonders what is wrong with him and, despite the fact that if she opened her eyes she would see the killer, never acknowledges the sound of the nail gun going off. But the friend that they left behind, outside of the woods, 150 feet away — there is a lot of distances spoken about in the dialogue – hears the shot and panics in fear. In a movie that features almost zero continuity, the weirdest doctor/patient sex game, a failed PSYCHO (1960) bait-and-switch, and the line “I’ll go ahead and dump my computer into your system,” it’s the failure to understand the basic concept of sound that stands out.

 

 

There are clues throughout the narrative that point towards the sheriff and doctor, working together for some odd reason, being the main characters but apparently the movie forgot to tell us; instead of having a character to hang your interest on, the film gives us an ensemble of rapists and mental defectives and asks us to pick our favorite from them. In part, it’s a case of a first time screenwriter; as well as a first time director; and first time editor; oh, and first/only time actors. But I will say this of the filmmakers: they knew how to pick a title and a poster; the title tells you everything you need to know going in, and the poster is the kind of badass that we lost with the end of the 1980s.

 

 

NAIL GUN MASSACRE unfolds like a film made by space aliens. Thanks to the good people at Synapse Films, it has managed to survive into the present day and while I’m not sure if you can say it’s so-bad-it’s-good, I definitely can say it’s so-bad-it’s-fascinating. Whether you watch it to learn how not to make a movie or to enjoy a trainwreck, NAIL GUN MASSACRE is an unforgettable — unforgivable? — experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zack Long

Zack Long is an independent film historian with a focus on horror, an aspiring filmmaker, a cat owner, and host of the 'Paths of Glory; or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Shlock' podcast. When he isn’t working on something film related, you can find him ‘enjoying’ an overabundance of caffeine, or playing roleplaying games with his friends. Check out Paths of Glory at soundcloud.com/pathsofglorypod!

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