“Carving” out some time for a new post…

After a lengthy absence, I’m back with another review of a straight-to-video film I found on Amazon Prime. For your consideration today, I present Carver, a 2008 release written and directed by Franklin Guerrero Jr.

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No, not that Carver.

If you follow this blog, you’ve probably noticed that my reviews tend to be fairly upbeat; I usually write about films I’ve enjoyed in spite (or sometimes because) of their flaws, and I (generally) focus primarily on their positive aspects. Unfortunately, Carver is one of those rare films I actively disliked. It has little going for it in terms of entertainment value; it might be the first film I’ve reviewed that falls short of my usual 39¢ movie standards.

Big Mike

Not that carver, either.

That’s not to say that Carver didn’t have the potential to become a fine film. The locations, costuming, and effects are all quite good. The actors’ performances, though not particularly memorable, are competent. Writer/Director Guerrero even manages a fairly fresh take on what’s becoming a tired trope: a horror movie about making a horror movie. So what was my problem with Carver?

For one thing, Carver offers very little in the way of character development. At best, our cast members are one-dimensional clichés; at their worst, they become annoying or wholly unlikable. It was difficult for me to muster up any concern for their welfare. The script failed to create a convincing feeling of suspense or a satisfying backstory for the events portrayed in the film. Similarly, it made little attempt to establish a motive for the killer’s actions. Significant plot holes and logical inconsistencies challenged my suspension of disbelief at multiple points in the narrative. Finally, as a photographer, I was bothered by several practical errors in Carver’s portrayal of the photographic process; admittedly, this last point probably wouldn’t trouble most viewers.

What the film does provide – in abundance – is stomach churning, gore-splattered violence. The killing scenes are unnecessarily graphic and (in my opinion) overly long. Two scenes in the film provide flimsy excuses for the filmmakers to detour into juvenile, gross-out bathroom humor. Just to make sure all bases are covered, Guerrero throws in some drunken projectile vomiting about half way through the movie. While I’m not opposed to a bit of violence, disgust, and gore (I’m a big fan of both Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci), I find it difficult to appreciate a film that offers nothing else. My advice: Carver is not worth your time or attention. You’d be better off alphabetizing your DVD collection instead.

The Bat (American, 1959): When it flies, somebody dies!

Not to fear – Lieutenant Anderson has the situation well in hand!

I tend to enjoy anything starring Vincent Price; he possessed an urbanity that often helped his films become more than the sum of their parts. The Bat is no exception, even though Price’s part in the film is more of a supporting role. The real star of The Bat is Agnes Moorehead – best known as Endora on the television series Bewitched. An interesting aside: Moorehead made her film debut in Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane (1941).

Here Moorehead plays mystery writer Cornelia Van Gorder, who (coincidentally) rents an estate where a million dollars in stolen bank securities is hidden. The mansion also happens to be the favorite haunt of an enigmatic, vicious killer known only as “The Bat.” It’s nice to see a mature actress like Moorehead in this role; it would have undermined the character to cast the part for youthful sex appeal rather than acting ability. As played by Moorhead, Van Gorder is a bit imperious yet she remains likeable; she also has good screen chemistry with her maid, Lizzy. Their scenes together have a believable yet comedic tone that suits the story well.

The plot has some issues – characters that come and go for no apparent reason and a potentially interesting (but ultimately unresolved) subplot about a handsome, wrongly accused bank vice-president. The script casts our suspicions on three candidates for the killer: we learn early in the film that one of these is already a murderer, unbeknownst to the rest of the characters. Another can’t possibly be the killer – though his profession provides him ample opportunity to slink around unobserved. The third suspect admits a previous run-in with the law, though he also insists he was wrongly accused. Curiously, one of these possibilities is prematurely eliminated 15 minutes before the end of the film, putting a bit of a damper on the suspense.

Memorable visuals: Lighting and cinematography are handled competently throughout the film. The final confrontation scene is especially well executed.

Sci-fi cred: Absolutely nil – but that’s not much of a concern in this case. The film is one of several I’ve viewed from Mill Creek Entertainment’s Sci-fi Invasion set that has little or no connection to the genre; The Bat is, however, a fine little whodunit with a capable cast and plenty of atmosphere.

Is it worth 39¢: Certainly. In spite of the few flaws I’ve mentioned, The Bat an enjoyable film that I’d watch again.

Find it here: The Bat is also in the public domain and available from multiple distributors on DVD, including Mill Creek Entertainment.

Or watch it here on YouTube.