Offerings

Film review by Thomas M. Sipos

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Offerings  (1988, dir/scp: Christopher Reynolds; music: Russell D. Allen; cast: Loretta Leigh Bowman, Elizabeth Greene, G. Michael Smith, Jerry Brewer)

 

 

 

Here's an original story: A young boy is abused by his mother: a trashy, boozy, foul-mouthed, chain-smoking harridan. The boy endures her daily insults in silence. He never talks. Not to anyone. Not since dad "disappeared" (rumors vary). But at least Quiet Boy has a hobby -- he tortures small animals.

The neighborhood kids think Quiet Boy is retarded, and so they relate to him in the time-honored tradition of how children deal with the mentally handicapped: they tease him. They play pranks on him. And then ... one of those pranks "goes wrong."

Flashforward ten years.

Quiet Boy has spent the past decade institutionalized in an asylum, horribly disfigured from that childhood prank. Doctors think he's a vegetable. Never talks. But one night a nurse doesn't sedate him on schedule. It never mattered before. But on this, the ten year anniversary, Quiet Boy escapes. He treks forty miles to his hometown in search of his former tormentors (who've all blossomed into stunningly attractive high school seniors, looking too old for high school) and ... the body count mounts!

Of the many slasher films "inspired" by Halloween (1978), Offerings is both a latecomer and one of the most slavishly unoriginal. Its ominous piano score sounds identical to John Carpenter's. And its killer is an Überpsycho, a dark avenging angel of superhuman strength and endurance. With one hand, he lifts a struggling victim off her feet. He tosses a noose around another victim and hauls him up the side of a house without trouble. He is shot several times, but continues relentlessly. A sign warns Danger! High Voltage, yet he grips the electric fence and climbs over.

(I coined Überpsycho in my essay, "But Is It Horror? Defining and Demarcating the Genre" to distinguish the indestructible post-Halloween "horror psycho" from the vulnerable "suspense psycho" of such earlier films as Frenzy. For a fuller, more up-to-date analysis, see my book, Horror Film Aesthetics.)

 

 

(Blooper: the electric fence stands isolated. Aren't all "live" fences positioned between dead fences? Otherwise, innocent passersby, on either side, might mistakenly touch it.)

There are some clever deaths and attempts at black humor, and director Reynolds can stretch a low budget. One victim is dragged under bed, his legs flailing, then shuddering, then the blood. That's one way to save on effects: hide the mayhem under bed. Another cost-saving method is to show a screaming head set to be split, then cut to its shadow as it's finally cracked. We hear only the head split, and see blood spattering the shadow. Not necessarily great art, but journeyman competence.

As in Halloween, there's the requisite good girl, Gretchen (Loretta Leigh Bowman, who is pretty but lacks Jamie Lee Curtis's range and intensity). As a child, Gretchen was the one neighborhood kid who defended Quiet Boy. As an adolescent, Gretchen honors her parents, and says "no" to the boys.

Quiet Boy remembers Gretchen's kindness. As he butchers and slaughters his former tormentors (Gretchen's friends), he leaves their body parts on her porch -- his "offerings" of gratitude and love. (Don't worry: he doesn't just kill his former tormentors, but anyone in his path, so the body count is generous.)

Attempts at black humor include a finger eaten by a dog and pizza topped with human flesh. (A joke too stale to be funny.) Reynolds's broad range of levity also encompasses masturbation and porn jokes, and mocking the boob tube (another old film conceit). One dying boy flails outside the window as his parents watch TV, laughing at cartoons. Elsewhere, teenagers watch a horror film on TV, commenting on the characters' stupidity.

Playing off this "in joke," the characters in Offerings are just as dumb. After being knocked out, one teen awakes strapped upon a tool table, his head clamped in a steel vise (not very convincingly). He asks: "Hey, is this a joke? Very funny, guys. C'mon, at least loosen the straps."

Yeah, sure it's a joke. My friends are always braining each other, then strapping themselves under drill presses and before circular blades.

Despite following the Halloween blueprint, Offerings suffers from structural sloppiness. Quiet Boy is said to have cannibalized his mother (hence, the pizza toppings?). But when might he have eaten mom? She was fine before the prank, immediately after which Quiet Boy was institutionalized. Quite a plot hole.

Also, it's nighttime in Oklahoma when Gretchen's parents phone from Hawaii. Considering the time difference, and assuming it's May or June, the airport in "Hawaii" still looked too bright for evening. The shadows were long but distinct, and the sky was too bright. It looked like mid-morning in Hawaii and midnight in Oklahoma.

As in much low-budget exploitation indie fare, the lighting is flat, rather than atmospheric. And the no-name cast gives a mostly stilted performance (apart from two hams -- a gravedigger and a deputy). However, Offerings went the extra mile to offer night-for-night photography, always a plus in horror. And in addition to its Carpenter-like piano score, Offerings also has generic spacey musical effects, at times sounding like a 1950s sci-fi film. A peculiar choice, but nicely eerie.

 

 

 

The end credits indicate that Offerings was shot with some assistance from the University of Oklahoma's film department, and indeed, some of the film is shot on campus. Maybe this was a film school project? Offerings is woefully unoriginal compared to some of the work produced at the more prominent film schools at NYU, USC, UCLA, and AFI. Still, it's nice to see a film school take an interest in a feature length slasher film.

Choosy audiences will wish to decline these Offerings, but aficionados of low- budget indie horror should be more forgiving. Offerings delivers what it offers ... a generic but serviceable Überpsycho body-count film.

Review copyright by Thomas M. Sipos

 

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