11.04.2010

Worst of Netflix: Karla/How to Be Serial Killer

Oof. I guess I should have eased myself back into reviews after the beating my mental health took during The Human Centipede, but for you, dear readers, I sacrifice myself. Here are two movies about sociopaths.

I chose Karla to review because it would give me a chance to introduce you to the Laura Prepon Game. I don’t remember who pointed this out to me, but Laura Prepon is a terrible actress in a very, very subtle way. My friend said, “Just watch an episode of ‘That 70s Show’ and really pay attention to her. You won’t be able to notice anything else once you see it. It’s like a Magic Eye print, or how you can’t stop poking a mouth ulcer with your tongue.” She was right. She’s almost hypnotically awful, but you have to find it first. Every one of her lines has that same tired, annoyed cadence, the speech pattern of a seen-it-all lot lizard trying to make breakfast money. “Eric. I want a beer.” “Eric. I need money for an abortion.” “Eric. I’ve sacrificed our child to Tanit, child-devouring demon-goddess of Carthage.” Blah BLAH blah blah. Yes, she’s very pretty, but why do pretty girls with no vocal modulation have to be actresses? Why can’t they be makeup models or Avon ladies or just really pretty insurance adjusters?

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Karla: Director Joel Bender's disquieting psychological drama stars Misha Collins as Paul Bernardo and Laura Prepon as Karla Homolka, a notorious husband-and-wife team who abducts, sexually abuses and kills three young women. Unfolding from Karla's point of view, the film -- based on a true story -- explores whether she was a willing accomplice to the crimes or merely a victim of Paul's influence. The supporting cast includes Tess Harper.

In the sort-of-true Karla, Prepon “stars” as Karla Homolka, Canada’s most notorious female serial killer. (No, really.) You can find the details easily online, but for those of you who read this blog surreptitiously at work, here are the bare bones: Karla Homolka apparently helped her boyfriend, Jean Belmondo, rape and kill several young women in the early 90s. Their first victim was Karla’s own younger sister, Tammy. She turned Queen’s evidence in exchange for a lighter sentence, was released after eight years, and granted a new identity. According to the internet she first moved to Quebec “because people there are more accepting” (of hygiene lapses, maybe, but I don’t think they’re as forgiving of serial rape and murder) and then, once her identity was revealed, moved to some Caribbean island with her porn-star boyfriend and their new baby. Talk about landing on your fucking feet, although the boyfriend does have the over-groomed eyebrows of a homosexual or a Puerto Rican lady.

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Karla is framed around Homolka’s stay at the Regional Psychiatric Center in Saskatoon, where she was evaluated for parole after serving eight of her twelve assigned years in prison. This is easy to forget, because the whole damn thing is a herky-jerky flashback. Probably the only thing more distressing than a rape scene is a rape scene interrupted by a plump, bearded psychiatrist asking one of the perpetrators how she feels about it.

I thought Laura Prepon trying to play a real person would be funny, but I was terribly wrong. She and her co-star, the handsome and wooden Misha Collins, approach the project with the same unemotional matter-of-factness most people use when eating hashbrowns. Early in the movie, after Homolka and Belmondo fall in love at what appears to be a Howard Johnson’s restaurant, they have kinky sex that is supposed to foreshadow their upcoming descent into madness and murder. What we get is:

“Put these handcuffs on me.”

“You want me to fuck you?”

“Fuck me.”

“What if I were a rapist?”

“That’d be cool.”

That’s the movie in a nutshell. Belmondo rapes and kills, Homolka goes along with it, and it’s all done with a horrific blandness. What they were trying to do – I think – is show you that they were so deviant that these crimes just were everyday things: go to bank, walk dog, dismember corpse. Fine, but that’s not a movie. The characters have no depth. Belmondo is evil just because, and Homolka goes along with it ostensibly because she loves him so much, but really, one suspects, because there’s nothing in theaters she particularly wants to go see. The supporting cast is the same – their friends seem to have been rented from “Acme Party Guests.” The script is weak to the point of being insulting:

“Hey, babe.”

“Where ya been?”

“Just raped a girl.”

Me Tarzan, you Karla. There’s a “stealing ketamine” pseudomontage, and they’re wearing shorts and sleeveless blouses in the (snowless) Canadian winter. I could go on, but it’s not worth it. If it weren’t a true story, it would be merely a bad movie, but since it’s based on fact it crosses the line into travesty. Taking this story and making it art would be one thing, but Karla barely qualifies as entertainment. It was selected for several film festivals – I can only imagine it’s because they thought it raised questions about “the problem of evil” and whether Homolka was a genuine participant or under the sway of Belmondo. These are interesting questions, but they’re raised by the case itself, not this movie. This kind of movie can be done well, and has been: Longford tells the story of the relationship between eccentric anti-porn campaigner the 7th Earl of Longford and convicted multiple murderess Myra Hindley, and is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Rent that, and give Karla a miss.

I ducked out early on Karla and popped in How to Be a Serial Killer, and was immediately greeted by a preview of Karla. Oof. The next preview was for something called The Cry, about a ghost that steals children. The voiceover announced that it was “based on the legend of La Llorona,” which is a weird selling point. Like Mexican legends? Hate kids? Have a job reviewing bad movies for a blog? It had quotes praising it, but they were all from the same Angelfire movie review site. Angelfire! Remember your crappy eighth-grade Angelfire page that succeeded your crappy seventh-grade Geocities page?

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How to Be a Serial Killer: Meet Mike Wilson (Dameon Clarke). He's charming. He's smart. He's a serial killer -- and a very happy one, too. Determined to share the secrets of his satisfying career, Mike enlists sad-sack video store clerk Bart (Matthew Gray Gubler) as his star pupil. Mike enlightens Bart on the finer points of body disposal and other tricks of the trade, but it's not long before Mike's girlfriend catches on to his very odd job in this hilarious dark comedy.

How to Be a Serial Killer is bad in a kind of cute way. They had some good, if not terribly creative ideas, and they did make a coherent movie with a linear plot. The movie is structured around a series of imagined seminars given by the main character, serial killer Mike Wilson. (You can tell this movie is better than most of the ones I review because the characters have names and aren’t Middle Centipede or Not Black Girl.)

We start with a brief talk from a psychiatrist with some LOL JEWISH name like Saul Goldberg. He pops up every twenty minutes or so to yammer some pleasantly boring psychobabble about the motives of serial killers – Zak Morris has time outs, and this movie has Jew Breaks. We go on to an infomercial advertising the serial killer seminars the movie is built around. It’s an infomercial. It’s supposed to be funny that it’s advertising a serial killing seminar, but they play it too straight, and it comes off as… an infomercial.

So, in the first scene scene, Mike the serial killer guru goes to the video store (remember those?), where some guy is being kind of an asshole to the clerk. Remember the stoned guy in high school you thought was hot, but didn’t actually want to touch? The clerk looks like that – sort of a masculine Jason Mewes (which is still not very masculine.) Mike and the clerk, Bart, strike up a conversation, and Mike works his way around to “So, what would you do to him if you could?” Background music starts to build, and it’s way, way porny.

“What would I do to him?”

“If you could do anything.”

“Anything?”

Anything.

This is the point in a porno where Bart would pull down his pants and say, “I guess I’d use this… got any ideas?” but since it’s a comedy, they go out back and shoot the asshole. (No, “shoot the asshole” isn’t code for anal sex. They just kill a man.) They have a conversation where Mike tells Bart that if he’s “in it to win it” he can be Mike’s protégé and learn to be a serial killer. Bart agrees, and Mike tells him, “Just follow my lead, and soon you’ll be selling your victims’ blood-soaked clothes on eBay.” Your call: is it weirder to joke about doing something that would so quickly lead to your arrest, or to assume that there’s a market for bloody, gunshot-hole-ridden clothes? (Although, to be fair, Meg’s friend Alex and I did need a bloody wifebeater and a bloody oversized sweater for our briefly considered Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard Halloween costumes. Can you believe his parents named him Skeet?)

Next, we have a brief interaction between Bart and the camera, as in The Real World. He talks about his feelings a little. These pop up from time to time, so in addition to Jew Breaks we have Bart’s Feelings Breaks.

Cut to the seminar. LESSON 1: Don’t kill children, retards the developmentally disabled, animals, the handicapped, the armless, the legless, the blind, the insane, and don’t rob or rape. If you kill people and steal, you’re just a thief. Mike rambles on about how a lot of people deserve to die, and who knows, if he’d been in Vienna at the turn of the century, he might have killed Hitler… Assuming that by “turn of the century” he means 1900 and not 2000, Hitler would have been eleven years old, and therefore an off-limits child.

A lot of sudden cuts in this movie. Now we’re driving down the street with Mike and Bart, when they see a fussy man being kind of an asshole to his Boston terrier (listed as a pug in the credits, for some reason). He orders it to poop, and calls it a cunt when it doesn’t.

“Did he just call his dog a cunt?”

“Let’s get him.”

That’s the new tagline of the blog. “2 Birds 1 Blog: Did he just call his dog a cunt?” If there’s a moral to be drawn from this movie, it’s “Don’t call your Boston terrier a cunt in public, or a passing madman will break into your house, find your dildo, and then crush your head with a cinderblock before taking the Boston terrier to the no-kill animal shelter where his girlfriend works.” It may not be Aesop but it works.

Jew Break, and then three lessons in quick succession. LESSON TWO: Pick your weapon features a montage of popular methods; LESSON THREE: tells us to be nice to our friends and significant others so they feel safe around you, and don’t mind as much your sneaking around having what they assume is an affair; and LESSON FOUR is some bullshit about spending a lot of years in school.

We catch up with Mike and Bart having lunch. MIKE TALKS LIKE THIS and Bart talks like this as they discuss deciding to be a serial killer instead of an astronaut. There’s an empty-calorie scene in which Mike talks a co-worker into slashing a third man’s tires, and then it’s implied that Mike kills the slashee. Later that night, Mike shows Bart how to load a pistol, and they almost get caught by Mike’s girlfriend Abigail, a Default Girl with the same sweet blandness as tapioca. There’s some implication that Abigail will begin to suspect that they’re asshole buddies, but this never gets developed.

LESSON FIVE: PERISTENCE and DEDICATION, or “P ‘n’ D.” A serial killer, like a single mother, a long-haul trucker, or a high school student, must “keep on keepin’ on.” They go to the beach to find a victim and have a long conversation about whether or not to kill homeless people. The answer is no, “they’re already victims of society,” so they off a tailgater on the way home.

LESSON SIX: Mike wanders around behind six dangling nooses and blathers some feel-good Oprah applesauce about being in touch with your core desires. Mike and Bart are in the car talking about some unidentifiable piece of equipment that turns out so be a video recorder you strap to your head. Mike strangles some woman, and then they have a chat about how slow the police in Los Angeles are. Get it? Los Angeles! The movie isn’t bothering to show or tell us why the victims deserve their fates anymore, which is a huge missed opportunity for humor. Remember Serial Mom (featuring Matthew Lillard)? Beverly Sutphin killed people for hilarious reasons; Mike is killing people because the title of the movie is How to Be a Serial Killer.

LESSON SEVEN: Don’t kill people you know. Oops! Abigail found out about the whole “killing” thing, so Mike killed her. He sits on the couch and has emotions while Bart cleans up. Bart eases his way toward the corpse with a sponge and a bottle of Clorox – she was considerate enough to die on the tile – and dabs at it. They take her body to the car to dump it at Mike’s hiding place in the desert. About three people come out of their apartments and see them, and Mike shoots them. This is supposed to be farce, but it’s just some guy shooting his neighbors, as all apartment dwellers have dreamed of. They prop the bodies that won’t fit in the trunk up in the backseat, hoping they’ll look asleep or drunk. Mike and Bart:

“Are we fucked?”

“We’re fucked.”

“How fucked?”

“Pretty fucked.”

“Are we fucking fucked?”

Eventually, it stops being swearing and starts to sound like they want to fuck. They move from sex to love, and Mike reminisces about how much he loved Abigail.

LESSON EIGHT: It’s a pain in the ass to dispose of bodies. They get to the desert hideout and bury the bodies, then pop back into town to see if the police are onto them. They are, so they go back to the desert to get their (LESSON NINE: always have an) escape kit, which is three fake passports and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide for emergency blonding.

Bart: “You look really dangerous! Like the lead singer of a punk rock band!”

Mike: “Yeah, I guess the police won’t be looking for Billy Idol.”

Dangerous = punk band = Billy Idol. I’m not on board with this algebra. The police show up and there’s a shootout. At one point, Mustache Cop tells Hispanic Cop to “put your fuckin’ balls on,” which is my new phrase. Bart hides in the cupboard for while, and Mike shoots him without killing him to make it look like he was a hostage. We cut to Mike in jail, where he meets with the psychiatrist of Jew Break fame. They say a lot of dumb wrapping-up stuff about “life” and Mike eats his last meal, which appears to be two big slabs of carrot cake. Not his worst decision. He’s executed by the state of California (if we didn’t already know this was fiction…) and the last scene is a Bart’s Feelings Break where, predictably, we learn that Bart is now his own serial killer.

You know how most movies have two or three deleted scenes? This one has nineteen. Mike’s parents appear in these, and Mike, Abigail, and Mike’s mother all have Feelings Breaks. Mike and his mother sing “La Marseillaise,” not the words just “bum bum bum” to the tune, which makes no sense until we meet Mike’s angry “French” father, who sure has a New England accent for a Frenchman. There are also a few badly filmed “optional” murders set to music, which probably got cut because they couldn’t get the rights to “Nowhere to Run To” or “Red Right Hand.” They’ve also compiled a list of statistics, a lot like the old drive-in totals from Joe Bob Briggs’ Monstervision. 35 deaths, 23 methods of murder, so-and-so number of squibs and scenes and locations…

Don’t call your dog a cunt, and if you make a movie about a real-life serial killer, do a good job. They may not be the most useful moral lessons, but we’re teaching them all the same.

32 comments:

Laylapalooza said...

Man. I kind of want to watch Longford now.

My suggestion for Worst of Netflix - Stalking Laura, (also titled I Can Make You Love Me) which stars Brooke Shields as Laura and Richard Thomas a.k.a. John-Boy Walton as her stalker.

He bakes her bread. (The secret is in the lemon zest). But also goes on a shooting rampage (spoiler alert). And since it's based on a true story, it's legit creepy.

Anonymous said...

Any particular reason Paul Bernardo became Jean Belmondo for the entire post? If the goal was to make his name hilarious to add a bit of comic relief to the terrible movie - goal achieved, sir.

kristyn said...

Regarding Laura Prepon being a terrible actress: yes. Not only does she deliver every line totally flatly, she also CLEARLY breaks character pretty often. Like when Topher Grace is being a real actor and says something funny.

Anonymous said...

These movie reviews are tough. It's hard to get into them if I haven't seen the movie. Sorry, TC.

Candace said...

HILARIOUS!! I intend on using "Did he just call his dog a cunt?” in everyday conversation. Bravo sir, Bravo.

Ali said...

I'd like to suggest Sharks in Venice for Worst of Netflix, since one prominent character is Billy Baldwin's Nipples. (it might actually be Stephen Baldwin. or some other Baldwin. not, you know, the main one.)

Anonymous said...

She is the perfect example of why the Canadian justice system is rather pathetic.

and she moved to Quebec b/c there was less media coverage in francophone communities.

Anonymous said...

"This is the point in a porno where Bart would pull down his pants and say, “I guess I’d use this… got any ideas?” but since it’s a comedy, they go out back and shoot the asshole. (No, “shoot the asshole” isn’t code for anal sex. They just kill a man.)"

aaaamazing.

Meredith said...

I do like "Worst of Netflix," but is there a way we could do more really bad comedies like the Jenny McCarthy ones and not movies about the twisted minds of human beings? It's just that you can only make serial killers so funny before you remember that "Oh. People do this shit to each other for realz/fantasize about doing it to other people." Maybe it'ts just me, but something a big lighter would be pleasing to my palate. Thanks.

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I saw a human centipede Halloween costume fashioned using a man in a bandage diaper and two attached blow up sex dolls at front page in dc this weekend. It may or may not have been the crowning achievement of my life.

Anonymous said...

i'm with meredith.

Erica said...

In How to Be a Serial Killer in my head the movie may be better if Robert Downey Jr. were the master of the serial killers. Or maybe I just imagined him flailing and such!

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