Matty takes a look at what’s arguably the strangest film in The Asylum’s arsenal.
Back in 2002, The Asylum were still a few years away from their patented ‘mockbuster’ formula. Instead, they were mostly producing and distributing regular B-movie horror content for the burgeoning DVD market. Of their early output, their biggest hits were the first two Scarecrow flicks, Scarecrow (2002) and Scarecrow Slayer (2003), the latter of which was directed by one of The Asylum’s founders, David Michael Latt. A third instalment, Scarecrow Gone Wild (2003), was made away from the company by franchise co-producers York Entertainment. Connectivity between Scarecrow and Scarecrow Slayer was minimal. Tethering between them and Scarecrow Gone Wild was, understandably, non-existent. Curious, then, that nestled among the pictures The Asylum made before they found their groove with the ambulance-chasing likes of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (2005), Snakes on a Train (2006), and The Da Vinci Treasure (2006) is a sequel to their barely-seen debut feature, Killers (1997). The original film all but vanished following its brief festival run, at least domestically and here in the U.K. However, it clearly turned a profit somewhere and was held in enough regard by someone to warrant Latt and his fellow inmates, David Rimawi and Sherri Strain, tardily assembling KILLERS 2: THE BEAST — a sequel that, unlike the Scarecrow add-ons, maintains great fidelity with its predecessor.
Six weeks after the events of Killers, sole survivor Heather (played once again by the excellent Kim Little) wakes up in an all-girl psychiatric hospital. A Kafkaesque hellhole, the staff are either useless or repugnant. Heather’s wunderkind doctor (voice artist/Asylum regular D.C. Douglas) is insufferably arrogant, and the worryingly male-heavy body of nurses and orderlies delight in terrorising the patients. Returning to the director’s chair, Latt twists the suspense screws with gusto, lacing this nuthouse shocker’s form-governed scenes of electro-shock therapy and corridor creeping with a cruel sense of humour and an ambience even more suffocating than the nightmarish atmosphere he conjured in the first film.
Splicing Killers 2 himself, Latt’s jittery, Jacob’s Ladder (1990)-style editorial effects dovetail with his stronger emphasis on drama and psychological horror. Written by Asylum stalwart Paul Bales (taking over from Steven Ramirez who, incidentally, cameos here and receives a “character material” credit), Killers 2’s script adds a few new wrinkles to Heather that Little sinks her teeth into. The most harrowing is a terse telephone conversation with her aloof father that veers close to Lynchian levels of surreal discomfort. At its core, Killers 2 is about mental disintegration — specifically, the horror genre’s current hot topic, trauma — and much of the film is marked by the kind of adroit gamesmanship typical of its loony-bin setting. Obviously, Heather is haunted by what’s happened. But is she well and truly crazy? Or are the murderous goons she crossed in the last movie really coming back to finish the job?
Latt and Bales show their hand sooner than they should have done (spoiler alert: the film devolves into a disappointingly simple-minded remake of its forebearer by the back-end) — but, for much of its duration, Killers 2 is a solid character study that overcomes narrative sloppiness and the odd bit of technical ineptitude (dodgy blocking, murky photography) thanks to its wickedly nasty attitude and Little’s compelling performance.
USA ● 2002 ● Thriller, Horror ● 87mins
Kim Little, D.C. Douglas ● Dir. David Michael Latt ● Wri. Paul Bales, character material by Steven Ramirez