Machined (Craig McMahon, 2006)
Can someone please explain to me how it is that Machined, the latest entry (well, by the time you read this, I'm sure eighty others will have arrived) in the microbudget-indie-horror wars, got picked up for distro by Lion's Gate while such infinitely superior offerings as Deadbirds and Shallow Ground have major-label distribution overseas but almost nothing here in America? I'm really starting to get that whole "hell in a handbasket" thing.
Machined is a movie that has a great concept, some good acting, and nothing else-- it's badly-plotted, badly-directed, badly-shot in places (while, oddly, gorgeous in others), and in desperate need of a script rewrite. It is, for the most part, tasteless in all the wrong ways. All of this is exacerbated, unfortunately, by what might have been.
First off, the good things about this movie. Most of them can be summed up in three words (okay, two words and an initial): David C. Hayes. I'm not sure where McMahon came up with this guy, who's new to me, but a quick IMDB check shows he's been rattling around in horror's bargain basement for about a decade. If his performance here is any indication, I'm going to be hunting down as many of those other films as possible. David C. Hayes will make you want to take a shower after watching this movie. He takes his character, known as Motorman Dan, and makes him such a sleazeball that you'll be Windexing your TV screen to get the scuzz off it. (It probably doesn't help matters that he both looks and sounds like at least three people I have known over the years, all of whom were-- at least, I assume-- not serial killers.) Motorman Dan is a harmless service station owner in the California desert with a tastes for collecting serial killer memorabilia and a fetish for inflatable love dolls. The opening scene of the movie, where we get to know Dan, is perverse in so many ways I'm not even sure where to begin. It does suffer one problem, that it's followed by a scene that should have come before it (the scene immediately following shows where he got the knife he wields in the opening, and reversing the order of those two scenes would have strengthened both considerably; this is one example of the flaws I was talking about above), and so the viewer is a little less disturbed than he would be given a little more disclosure. It does get the point across, though-- this guy is on the edge and ready to snap. He gets the chance when he's involved in a road accident with Ryan (McMahon regular Jose Rosete, who should be familiar to fans of the Quiroz Brothers as well). The only thing Dan's serial killer collection is lacking is a serial killer, so he takes Ryan's broken body back to the service station and, through a mysterious process we see only piecemeal, turns him into a serial killer cyborg.
And pause for a moment here to think about this. How cool could this sequence have been? Here's a creepy guy taking the innocent victim of a car accident and both physically and emotionally destroying him, making him into a bloodthirsty half-machine. Were this a book, we'd spend at least five or six chapters on the transformation. In this movie, we get a few minutes, all from Ryan's perspective (and we know Ryan is drugged during the whole process, as about half the quick cuts here involve Dan holding a hypodermic needle). Did you ever see that Far Side cartoon with the big equation on the chalkboard, and in the center there's a big space that just says "and then a miracle occurs"? That's what this entire scene is.
Once there, the movie devolves into a typical serial killer flick, with hapless, unsuspecting people showing up and getting killed. Here's where some of the great camerawork comes in, as Dan's place is dimly-lit and Ryan's got some nifty light effects built in (though you have to wonder how some of his unsuspecting victims didn't see those lights behind them), so we get a succession of interesting stalking scenes; the problem is there's no bones holding up this skin.
A moderately interesting, if unfulfilling, way to kill an hour and a half. **