Review: ‘Murder-Set-Pieces’

Aptly titled "Murder-Set-Pieces," writer-helmer Nick Palumbo's second feature offers over-the-top horror imagery as a Las Vegas serial killer dispatches one victim after another. Evincing only the slightest interest in narrative or character, pic distinguishes itself via sheer extremity of gore, sadism and tastelessness.

Aptly titled “Murder-Set-Pieces,” writer-helmer Nick Palumbo’s second feature offers over-the-top horror imagery as a Las Vegas serial killer dispatches one victim after another (30, according to press materials). Evincing only the slightest interest in narrative or character, pic distinguishes itself via sheer extremity of gore, sadism and tastelessness. Its success on that level alone will inevitably result in home-format cult shelf-life among certain mondo movie fetishists. Theatrical prospects look marginal; pic unspooled in Los Angeles on a single screen Christmas Eve, and New York City gig follows Jan. 7.

The Photographer (Sven Garrett), a brawny twentysomething Teuton with a boyish look and permanent glower, yells German epithets at the bar pickups, showgirls, strippers and prostitutes who comprise his victims. (Filmmakers boast myriad roles such as “Basement Girl #6” and “Hooker #3” were played by real-life practitioners of those trades, plus a couple adult film stars. Arguably, the usually naked, blood-drenched, screaming actresses would have been less degraded by a porn flick.)

Though Photog leaves a mile-wide trail of incriminating evidence and bodies, neither the public nor police notice. Sole person with suspicions about him, in fact, is 11-year-old Jade (Jade Risser), who takes an immediate dislike to older hairdresser sister Charlotte’s (Valerie Baber) creepy new “boyfriend.”

During an uncomfortable dinner at the Photog’s home, Jade notes a family photo of grandpa standing proudly next to Hitler. After Photog drops the inexplicably distraught Charlotte, Nazi ubermensch stalks Jade and her friends.

Only suspense comes when Jade sneaks into the villain’s house following the disappearances of both her sister and best friend. (Pic has no compunctions about depicting graphic violence against children.)

Only desultory pauses occur between “set-pieces” wherein young, mostly blonde, body-beautiful women are raped, tortured and killed in myriad ways. It’s a relief when the movie digresses to an adult-bookstore massacre involving trigger-happy robbers.

It would require heavy mental lifting to make a case for “Murder-Set-Pieces” as a critique of a violent society. Its female victims are painted as giggly, teasing and vapid. No insight is given into the Photog’s diseased mind except for a few vague childhood flashbacks and the declaration “I am the bastard son of a goddamn whore!”

Pic’s nastiness is so insistent, one-dimensional and excessive it risks self-parody. Yet the filmmaking is too literal-minded to approach the surreal satire toward which “American Psycho” nudged similar content.

Still, one must give Palumbo credit for showmanship. Determined to offend as much as possible, he includes not just gratuitous 9-11 footage, but also a sequence featuring a crying, hysterical toddler clutching Mommy’s savaged corpse.

Perfs are adequate to amateurish. Horror genre in-jokes include cameos from Tony “Candyman” Todd as well as the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s” Gunnar Hansen and Ed Neal. Tech aspects on purported $2.2 million production rep a big upswing from Palumbo’s $50,000 vid-shot debut 2000 “Nutbag” — which was also about a Las Vegas serial rapist/slayer (and which is aggressively plugged by the protag here).

Vegas Strip locales provide welcome interludes of color in Brendan Flynt’s pro lensing.

For the record, makers boast they were turned down for processing by two major film labs. Management for Cerina Vincent (in a nudity/gore-free role toward the end) has purportedly denounced the finished product. Los Angeles opening was supposed to be picketed by a Christian group, though their announcement bore suspicious signs of a publicity stunt. In what one assumes is a delightful jape, executive producers credited include “Herman Goering.”



A Blackwatch Cinema release of a Fright Flix production in association with Q-Vest Ventures. Produced by Nick Palumbo. Executive producers, Thomas Quinlin, Erlich Livingston Directed, written by Nick Palumbo.


Camera (color), Brendan Flynt; editor, Todd Ramsay; music, various; art director, Nick Zito; set decorator; Ethan Alred; sound (Dolby Digital), Ben Zarai; special makeup f/x, Toe Tag Pictures; casting, Palumbo. Reviewed on vidcassette, San Francisco, Dec. 22, 2004. Running time: 105 MIN.


Sven Garrett, Jade Risser, Valerie Baber, Katie Richards, Tanja Grupp, Gunnar Hansen, Tony Todd, Ed Neal, Sherrie Winings, Cerina Vincent.
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