Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Eric Stanze
Writer: Tommy Biondo
Keywords: horror, boobs
Country: USA
Actor: Emily Haack, Tommy Biondo, Todd Tevlin, Elizabeth Hammock, Sam Maiden Jr., Angelia Sanderson
Format: 95 minutes
Website category: Horror modern
Review date: 22 February 2013
Horrifically unpleasant, with imdb reviews that burned a hole in my computer screen. If you want to call it torture porn, go ahead. I eventually thought it was impressive, although you'll need endurance to make it far enough to agree.
I know what you're thinking, but no, it's not Japanese. It's an American indie.
Apparently it's based on real events. The writer and lead actor, Tommy Biondo, researched them over a five year period. (He also died at the age of 26, before this movie came out.) The film even tells you up front that it's a true story, but you'd need to be some kind of freak to be able to remember this 95 minutes later. Everything else you've seen will have driven it from your mind. Depressingly, the claim is all too believable.
It's a two-hander, with very occasional cameos from other actors. Tommy Biondo plays a man in his late twenties who for fifteen years has been kidnapping, raping and murdering women. Emily Haack plays his latest victim. She's covered in blood down there after the first rape, so presumably that's her first sexual experience with a man despite being in her mid-twenties and so my guess is that we're meant to assume she's a lesbian. She also has a super-short haircut and tattoos. However none of that matters in the slightest, of course. Any life she used to have in the outside world is history. Now she's Stanze's plaything.
Most of the film is merely horrific. It doesn't feel as if it has any point except to shove your face in brutality. I don't know if I'd call it horror, since it's not usually trying to scare its audience and instead is capable of being almost dull, but the razor in the shower scene had me squirming and you can rest assured that the film's both disturbing and disturbed.
What's mildly surprising is how little we get to know Haack's character. You'd expect the victim to be the viewpoint character of a film like this, but of course it's easy to understand how this kind of film might fall in love with its monster. Haack hardly even talks. We know nothing about her. What was her job? Does she have any friends or family? She gets lots of screen time, but it's largely mute as she either sobs, screams, suffers violent abuse or watches Biondo with a gaze that should be drilling a hole through him. It's a brave performance. The film's going further than you might expect with the sex and nudity, including unsimulated mouth-on-penis, and shooting it must have been hell for Haack.
To be honest, the scariest times are when we think Haack might escape. It's as if we ourselves have Stockholm Syndrome. Haack in captivity is semi-safe. Biondo's a monster, but at least most of the time he's a known quantity. Trying to escape will annoy him, though, and it seems likely that Haack (and hence we) won't enjoy the consequences.
This is not a healthy attitude to take in this situation, but it happens in real life and the film's managing to do it to us.
Biondo on the other hand never stops talking and even gets a childhood flashback to help us understand him. Young Psycho (with teddy bear) has a big sister who wants his hands on her naked breasts, after which she does something that if gender-reversed would have half the audience screaming for the death penalty. A young man finds them together and is unhappy. I think we'd all be. The chosen punishment for this transgression is anal rape of the son. More unusual. Daddy also has a habit of luring boys into the cellar, so it's possible that serial rape and murder is a family tradition.
Anyway, adult Biondo has a scrapbook. It's bulging. He loves this scrapbook, in which he keeps polaroids and diary entries about his victims. He has newspaper clippings like 'Decapitated girl knew her killer, investigators say'. What's more, I think he plans to show his scrapbook to the world one day as proof of his importance. "People will see that I am a powerful man." He expects Haack to be excited to have the chance to be a part of this and he can't stop talking to her, as if he's trying to sell her his worldview. Mind you, she's probably more struck by the severed finger on the table and the fact that his reaction to sobbing is to masturbate in her face.
You get the idea. The whole film's like that.
What makes the film interesting, I think, is the way it shows this abusive relationship evolving. Halfway through, Biondo calls Haack "darling". He brings pizza. None of this will stop him using farm implements on her, obviously, but it's still a pointer to what's going on in his head. There's black comedy when one day he can't get it up while raping her, which I'm going to guess might be related to his warped view of sex and the fact that they've got to know each other better. I'm speculating, obviously, but Biondo's sexual development is clearly the most important thing in this film. That childhood flashback scene is all-important, as are his freaked reactions towards the end when things start breaking the mould of how he thinks the world should work. The finale isn't just extreme for its content, but also for Biondo's psychological journey. The latter is staggering and I think it's outrageous (although understandable) to let oneself get blinded to the film's character work by the sheer nastiness of what's on-screen.
Meanwhile Haack may or may not be experiencing that Stockholm Syndrome I was talking about. She's clearly leading him on, but by that point she also seems genuinely broken and it says a lot that Biondo doesn't get his manhood bitten off on forcing her to perform fellatio.
The gore effects are realistic, by the way.
I don't know how or why Biondo died. He's also in a 2003 short called The First Time, according to imdb, but I'm going to guess that that had sat on a shelf for years before release. Reactions to Scrapbook have been varied. The reviews I've seen tend to be apocalyptically hostile, but the film was named Best Independent Movie of 2001 by Rue Morgue Magazine and has won prizes at genre film festivals. Biondo posthumously won both Best Screenplay and Best B-Movie Villain at the 2001 B-Movie Film Festival, although I realise that's hardly the BAFTAs. However it's also been attacked for its sexual content (surprise surprise) and the BBFC ordered cuts of 15 minutes and 24 seconds before giving it an 18 certificate in Britain. Wow. A quarter of an hour. Was anything meaningful left of the film afterwards?
Is it fun? Hell, no. That might be its chief crime in the eyes of many gore-hounds, in fact. However I defy you to find any mainstream film with even ten per cent of what this film's saying about its serial killer's psychology. It's capable of being oddly uninvolving, though.