Wicked Little Bugger: Daddy’s Girl (1996)

Matty takes a look at an amusing time-killer and ponders its place within its maker’s small but satisfying directorial resume.

Martin Kitrosser has some interesting stripes.

To horror fans he’s best known as the writer of Friday the 13th Part III (1982) and the polarising Friday the 13th V: A New Beginning (1985) — the latter of which I consider a highlight of the iconic slasher series. To more mainstream-leaning cineastes he’s a vital member of Quentin Tarantino’s regular crew, serving as script supervisor on every single one of Tarantino’s features. In addition to Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994) et al, Kitrosser’s script supervisor resume includes: Wes Craven’s Deadly Blessing (1981); James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), and the Farrelly Brothers’ Dumb and Dumber (1994) and Dumb and Dumber To (2014). However, between all that, Kitrosser has also dabbled in directing, shepherding a quartet of watchable — if never wholly successful — B-flicks.

After impressing producer Brian Yuzna while overseeing the continuity on manga adap The Guyver (1991) [1], Kitrosser was tasked with the picture that stands as his directorial calling card, Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1992). A hugely enjoyable entry in the holiday hackathon saga, Silent Night, Deadly Night 5’s reputation increases with each passing year — and within the context of Kitrosser’s subsequent work as helmer, it contains several licks that he’d return to across The Fiancé (1997), Living in Fear (2001), and, most prominently, this: his sophomore offering, DADDY’S GIRL.

Daddy’s Girl’s similarities to Silent Night, Deadly Night 5 are striking. Both are centred around a traumatised child; both involve a fractured or fracturing family that an outsider (of sorts) steps into in order to help save the day; and both contain struggling toy inventors in their almost identically structured narratives. Like portions of The Fiancé and Living in Fear, a suburban setting and characters with a desperate need to belong are also key ingredients in Daddy’s Girl and Silent Night, Deadly Night 5, and all four of Kitrosser’s domestic psychodramas are united by a shared mood that Daddy’s Girl typifies. While not scary or suspenseful by any stretch of the imagination, Daddy’s Girl is a decent time-passer and the ultimate representation of the appealingly strange and uneasy atmosphere that seems to be Kitrosser’s default. It’s an alluring vibe that’s part soap opera, part dark fairytale, and part tacky horror comic — and here it’s bolstered by M. David Mullen’s quietly stylish cinematography.

In a clever bit of visual design, Mullen — who’d reteam with Kitrosser and Daddy’s Girl’s producer, Pierre David, on The Fiancé — positions the majority of his shots from a child’s eye view, gently tilting the camera up at everyone bar the eponymous moppet. A subtle and unnerving effect, it enhances the general quality of Daddy’s Girl no end, aiding Kitrosser in papering over the script issues that do a great disservice to the energetic lead turn from the film’s ten year old star, Gabrielle Boni.

Boni is Jody: a recently adopted mini-serial killer with a disturbing fixation on her new father (William Katt). Managing to avoid the expected Bad Seed (1956) shtick, Boni cuts a memorable figure with her fiery red hair and scowling, freckled face as she tear-arses around on a bicycle with a little turtle backpack, murdering those she believes to be in the way of her and her doting papa — killings that, crucially, don’t bring the film’s credibility into question (they feel as though they could be committed by a child). Alas, the clearly very talented lass’ wooden line delivery already leaves a lot to be desired, and it sounds even more painful when coupled with Steve Pesce’s dreadful dialogue. It’s a real shame as the veracity of Boni’s performance — her escalating sense of crazy — and the mechanics of Pesce’s plotting are actually excellent. Due to their age and experience, the adult cast — Katt, Michele Greene, and Roxana Zal — fare slightly better but, again, they too are let down by the rubbish they have to spit.

USA ● 1996 ● Horror, Thriller ● 95mins

Gabrielle Boni, William Katt, Michele Greene, Roxana Zal ● Dir. Martin Kitrosser ● Wri. Steve Pesce

[1] As Yuzna’s former producing partner, Gary Schmoeller, once told me: “Brian loved to nurture talent, and he just fell in love with [Kitrosser’s] professionalism and creativity and thought he’d be a good director.”

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