“Excuse me! WTF is a crinoline head?” ~ Janet
Good %#@&ing question, Janet! That’s exactly WTF I asked when I saw the first Crinoline Head movie, back in 1996. (Just kidding; it was last week, really). But, seriously! Crinoline Head is a doll-loving, ax-packing, 80s-style slasher with a sense of humor, wearing his dead mother’s crinoline dress around his neck. So, crinoline around his head makes him a “Crinoline Head.” “Oh, I thought you were going to say he wore the dress like a drag queen,” you’re thinking. No, he doesn’t; the real drag queens in the movie do a much better job of that! What he does is more than enough to be different, with even more skeletons in his closet–literally. (He ate his own mother, for God’s sake!) As Crinoline Head survivor Paul Donner says, “Sometimes it’s better to forget the past and just move on,” as it seems best here. But, sometimes it’s better to move on, taking some of it with you. “Why?” you ask. “Such a twisted mental mess should surely be best abandoned,” you say? Well, it just makes a better horror film too; that’s why. Yes! Dorchester’s Revenge: The Return of Crinoline Head (the latest film from director Tommy Faircloth) is a modern-day slasher with all of what we love about the oldies, carving its own bloody niche for the genre’s new generation. Bring on that crinoline, Dorchester!
“So let me get this straight. He likes dolls and he wears a skirt over his head?” ~ Reggie
YES, Reggie! That’s exactly right (as you will soon find out yourself)! Crinoline Head killed six college students back in the summer of 1996. They went to a lake for a weekend of fun, alcohol, likely sex, and sundry debauchery (as all slasher victims do). Only two were lucky enough to escape, bloody but alive. The movie ended with the camera following footprints from the lake to the back of a car, being driven away by the doll lover himself. Yes! Back in 1996, when the original was released, a Dorchester sequel was already set. Now, in 2014, it’s here! “Crinoline Head must be a closet cross dresser as well as a serial killer,” you digress secretly? Who knows, and what damned difference does it make anyway? He ate his own mother, for God’s sake!
“…the scene was a disturbing and sickening sight–to pull a son from his mother…a rotting half-eaten corpse, like he couldn’t bear to be separated from her.” ~ Paul Donner
Seriously, and on with the review, our homage to 80s horror begins again at the beginning, showing us what the original did not–Mary Stewart, at the lake house of legend, finding her son returning from outside, alone, his absence unbeknownst to her earlier. As the story goes, Dorchester’s mother dies of a heart attack in front of him. He is forced to spend the summer alone, eventually eating his mother to survive. Yes, I did say that! “Eating his mother.” No, we don’t see the matronly meal prepared or consumed by the child (thank God!), but the details, as we hear them, feed the mind more than fully. A rich backstory, strengthened by a review for newbies, makes the movie easy to follow, even without having seen the original. For those of you who avoid the sequel to a prequel you haven’t seen, worry no more. Dorchester himself may be all you need to know…and fear!
Is there hapless slasher fodder here, filled with angst and foolish bravado, ready to risk it all for us? Will they trespass in the home of the killer himself, all for the fun of a sequel? Oh, yes! Just as there are endless movies of the kind, the coed kill list is equally full. But, here, unlike in most such films, each victim (would-be or actual) is more than another tree in the lake-house forest. Personalities are well developed, with actors well chosen for the roles. Performances stand out, making everyone more than a throwaway death. These seven co-eds, thanks to their colorful character, raise the bar of Dorchester’s Revenge above the rest. Viewers get to know all; whether likeable or not, their presence is quickly missed.
Christian James (David) plays the lead guy and suspect hero. Kirsten Ray (as Shelby) is the girl with a crush on the hero, smarter than anyone as a double tapper and voice of reason. Gunner Willis (James McDonald) is the nice-guy looser, with hopes to win the girl here. Leah Wiseman (Donna) is the Ellen Ripley hopeful, (we wish) transformed, for better or worse. Cameron Turner (Reggie) is the token pothead with a piñata (Yes, that pinata has a purpose!); and Nicholas Sweezer (Scott Sawyer) is the auxiliary tough guy, jock and, with his weight-lifter body, the eye candy for the ladies. Yes, there’s something for everyone here! Come one come all!
Last, but first on the coed list at SJR, is Elizabeth Mears who must be spotlighted here! In Dorchester’s Revenge, Mears is Janet, the annoying red-headed hottie we love anyway, no matter what (a parallel to Trish in Crinoline Head #1). Mears is the irreverent flirt with a potty mouth/humor combo that hits the spot every time. She’s the sexy, sassy, spirited tease all such stories need, stealing the show in every scene; as bonus, a booty dance to remember (more than once, with rewind) is the true crinoline in Dorchester’s Revenge. As a stereotyped siren typically forgotten, Mears delivers, instead, a nuclear performance, melting down reactor rods to critical mass. With the force of her acting, she propels a secondary character to primary status, easily…and naturally. And, don’t all such movies need a Janet? Of course they do! Without a Janet (and an actress so perfect as Mears), slasher films suffer; worse, they can die a mid-movie death. With Mears as Janet alone, multiple viewings are a must, if not cause for a purchase! Her sarcastic one liners and true talent as an actress will satisfy everyone–yes, even the women! Dorchester’s Revenge would survive alone, but with Mears it thrives! SJR looks forward to seeing all else she does in the future; from what we see here, that will be a lot!
Speaking of slasher death scenes, it brings me back to Janet, without complaint. Thanks to Crinoline Head’s scatology for slashing, Janet experiences an injury now famous at Space Jockey Reviews (and, as far as we know, galaxies beyond). It makes the list of most disturbing and gruesome on our best scene list–already one of the most memorable moments in slasher/gasher history, literally. Janet, as she says, “pops a squat and drops it like a hot.” Oh yes, did that knife ever go in the wrong spot! (Director Tommy Faircloth is a master of off-screen horror; here again he does it, painfully well!) And you must (I repeat MUST) see the scene with Janet’s tampon! Is it as bad as it sounds, in a bloody good way? Yes! It’s another number one on the list of most unexpected, shocking scenes in a movie. Here, a menstrual cycle moment makes a movie NOT mediocre! Try saying that three times fast!
“Come on! You’re not going to let a little blood bother you, are you?” ~ Janet
In another performance to remember is our demure, girl-with-a-crush turned heroine, Kirsten Ray (as Shelby). The unlikely shotgun-toting siren springs to life, when death prevails and all else fails. With a transformation to convince, Ray is a surprise badass to match her would-be killer. She even drops jaws double tapping, warning the less intelligent among her—such as to NOT go in the killer’s lair and NOT take his favorite toys. He will, no doubt, come looking (and killing) for those! ”Seriously, Don’t open that. You don’t know what’s in there,” warns Shelby. Indeed, you don’t! In slasher films, we rarely see such wisdom; but, here we do. Transcending the genre is achieved again, and Ray’s performance makes the success!
“…if he is alive and staying here, I think you should leave the box. He could come looking for it.” ~ Shelby
Leah Wiseman (as Donna) has the difficult task of making an abrupt transformation of character believable and humorous. She begins as a Freudian superego personified, a “good girl,” ending up a libido on steroids. As Donna’s alter-ego, Wiseman reveals the full range of her talents as an actor and a richness of personality for any role. Between the two extremes (particularly in the tête-à-tête with Betsey) is a humanness with which we can identify. What could have been a failure handled by the wrong actor becomes a success with Wiseman. She is genuine and real, as someone we know. She has fun with the role, and with her, viewers have fun too! What Donna says to Reggie (or so she thinks), as she’s sprayed with beer (or so she thinks) is the height of double entendre, and Wisemen delivers it well.
A welcome addition is horror icon and A-list scream queen Debbie Rochon. She owns her role as Betsy, the real-estate company’s caretaker of lake property that won’t sell. Wearing an oversized T-shirt with the words “Saigon, Vietnam,” and an American flag bandanna around her head, Rochon rivals the best of sailors. Hamming up her role to perfection, with a backwoods accent and off-the-charts innuendo, no man is safe from Betsy. “I got somethin’ else that you can vandalize, and it ain’t property,” she says…and she means it! The rest of that quote maxes out the raunch meter at SJR, but in the movie it’s a hoot (as are numerous others)! Rochon’s unexpected language, more than once, is an ironic addition to the movie that actually elevates it; she’s a shot of adrenalin delivered at just the right moment, when things could lose steam. Rochon makes Betsy believable, authentic, and real–a character with depth and dimension…and a heart for those who deserve it. No actor could have played the part of Betsy better! SJR is sure of that! A knockout performance from Rochon, gives Dorchester’s Revenge just the punch it needs, with all contenders down for the count! Could Dorchester be her victim as well? Or, could she be his? Only seeing the movie will tell.
Jason Vail is Paul Donner, one of two survivors from Crinoline Head’s attack in the first movie. I have seen Vail previously in Elias Ganster’s Gut and Tommy Faircloth’s horror short The Cabin. Vail’s even, natural force delivers, as always, convincing viewers that all is real, regardless of how ordinary, bizarre, or surreal things may be. His performance in Dorchester’s Revenge is no exception. Vail’s character teases us, hiding a sinister secret we see in the expressions on his face and his suspect body language. Sly glances suggest something amiss, and in a movie like this, anything is possible. What’s beter, and more impressive, is that Vail leaves a larger footprint on the film than his limited screen time should allow. Exceeding the limits is what great actors do, and Vail does it again! Could Paul be Dorchester himself—perhaps an obsessed victim turned copycat killer? As sure as I don’t wear a crinoline skirt, I’m not telling!
The first difficult task a movie in a cliché-ridden genre has is to overcome exactly that—the clichés. Anytime a movie achieves that, in any way, its success is exponential. Dorchester’s Revenge is a movie that not only achieves success, but also uses the genres clichés to get there. Instead of being predictable, it isn’t. Almost anyone could be the killer, and anyone could be a victim.
What’s different? How’s the fresh blood spilled here? First of all, Dorchester’s Revenge is a horror comedy that is truly funny. (Yes, belly laughs abound here!) In every scene where humor is intended, it works. Witty one liners, (particularly from Elizabeth Mears, as Janet) are spot on, with just the right sarcasm to hit the punch line every time. An extended road trip with a trio of crossdressers is hilarious, dropping gutbusters every second at a point. I could quote a few, but most are not ready for prime time and best heard from the actors. What’s more is the movie knows what it is. Never too serious, never ridiculous, it always strikes the right balance. Is there still more? Lots! A doll-loving psycho who wears a dress on his head and, yes, eats his own mother is more than a “tongue in cheek” mouthful. The undercurrent of humor as a contrast to Dorchester’s deadliness is ironic and most effective!
Second (and not in true order of effect), are the inventive ways that death is dealt to the victims. With every psycho murder already committed in movies before, this one manages to kill again with originality. Yes! An 80s-style slasher gives us something different in 2014, following the formula! The popping and squatting Janet, along with human piñata strangulation by intestines, are just a couple of things that “pop” in Dorchester’s Revenge.
Speaking of murders, the gore is mostly subdued or totally off screen, but all the more effective in being so. More than once, kill scenes fade to black with a scream and the sound of a weapon piercing flesh or hacking limbs. (Yes, imagine that!) A well placed squish or a juicy slosh paints the picture as well as images on screen. As mentioned earlier, director Tommy Faircloth is a master of subtlety. The success of an off-screen murder by ax in Faircloth’s short film The Cabin is repeated in Dorchester’s Revenge with equal success…and flying feathers! Few directors can make such ellipted effects feel complete, but Faircloth does again.
“It’s Crinoline Head. He’s here, and he’s pissed.” – David
Pearls of cinematography jumping out are subtle but powerful, and far from ordinary. I couldn’t help notice and love the real fly buzzing across the screen more than once. (Yes, that really happens, but it’s rarely seen in movies.) A blurred faucet in the foreground, with an amped up drip, further catches viewer attention with great effect. I like the smaller things that often go unnoticed, as a director’s calling card discreetly placed. Even if the fly is coincidence, taking advantage of the moment is the charm.
As a great connection to Dorchester’s past, I recommend checking out the first Crinoline Head film from 1996. It nails everything about the 80’s from beginning to end, right down to the 4:3 aspect ratio, typical of big-box VHS films from the time. Yes! If you like that sort of thing, it’s all there. From the start, Faircloth’s witty, original script humor dominates, just as it does in the sequel. As a bonus, Janet’s parallel character Trish (played by Cathy Slaminko) adds the same sutry siren who gets what’s coming; a death to match her potty mouth again steals the show, like her character. Faircloth’s consistency in all ways (especially here) is welcome fan service. RIP, Cathy! In Dorchester’s Revenge, you are remembered well. Memento mori!
Speaking of parallels, there are others worth mentioning and repeating, particularly the roadside drag queen, from left field but effective (again for the humor). And of course, Elizabeth Taheri (as Robyn, the girl who goes because she has a crush) is there again, reborn here as Shelby (Kirsten Ray). Shelby is an homage in more ways than one, and I’ll let you make the comparisons. As for parallels that weren’t, oh how we wish the lake house hadn’t burned down; those Amityville widows sure were creepy!
Dorchester’s Revenge is a horror comedy drawing fresh blood from the genre; it’s a needed IV for a horror niche anemic and cluttered with cliché. As an homage to the 80s, it delivers the goods and the gore, no less off screen in the mind. Splashed with style and humor, a taste of nostalgia tops it off. Faircloth hacks and slashes his way to the screen with a body count. Michael Myers, Freddy, and Jason lookout! Crinoline Head is here…again!
“Some people think he’s alive. Some people think he’s dead, and that’s how legends become legends.” ~ Paul Donner
Dorchester’s Revenge: The Return of Crinoline Head stars Debbie Rochon, Jason Vail, Christian James, Kirsten Ray, Gunner Willis, Leah Wiseman, Elizabeth Mears, Cameron Turner, Nicholas Sweezer, Michael Tabakian, Charles Starks, Patrick Keenan, Suzie Haines, Andrew Wicklum, Morgan Monig and John Kap as Crinoline Head. It’s Produced by Robert Zobel and Tommy Faircloth, written and directed by Tommy Faircloth, with music by Kevin Macleod, and special effects makeup by Michael R. Smith.