After a night of drinking that ends in breaking a bottle over the bar owner’s head, a struggling and internally conflicted rock band kicks out the cancerously unhinged and troublesome member before their rise to stardom. Unfortunately, all the talent went out door along with the excommunicated band member, forcing the band to impress with an extravagant music video shot on Universal’s iconic backlot, sponsored by their agent and the lead singer’s girlfriend’s music mogul father. Instead of intense pyrotechnics and scantily cladded female groupies dancing on their crotch, the band, their girlfriends, and the crew find themselves caught in the gloomy, labyrinth-like movie lot, housing spooky interior and exterior sets, unaware the lurking murderous manic taking them out one-by-one.
By far a polar opposite polished genre film than the sadistically raw brutal rape and murder extravaganza that was “Chaos,” writer and director David “The Demon” DeFalco dabbles in the early 2000’s revival of the slasher genre with his 2002 released feature “The Backlot Murders” in the wake of the widespread success of the “Scream” franchise. In much of the same way “Chaos” came to fruition derived from “Last House on the Left,” DeFalco, once again, finds inspiration in the form of cult horror director Wes Craven. However, DeFalco strays away from the meta-horror and trope-reversal techniques and replaces it with a satirical façade of the music industry where glam is more important than meaningful substance. The slasher-comedy carves up nods to Van Halen, Pearl Jam, Aerosmith, and even Elvis Presley with a horrendously skewed mask version the killer wears. “The Backlot Murders” were co-written by Paul Arensburg and Steven Jay Bernheim with the latter writer serving also as co-producer with DeFalco in association with Dominion Entertainment.
A contributing factor to “Scream’s” success was the diverse in career cast that clicked together as well as twisting archetypical roles into atypical whammy that veered audiences to the edge of their seats. “Scream” shocked audiences with the immediate death of a well-known actress right out of the gate, nabbed “Friends’” star Courteney Cox, “SLC Punk” and “Hackers” actor Matthew Lilliard, teen heartthrob Skeet Urlich, one of the Arquettes with David Arquette, and, perhaps, would have guaranteed Neve Campbell a slab of concrete for the Hollywood Walk of Fame along with an already cemented label as a scream queen and a final girl. The same eclecticism could be transfixed by “The Backlot Murders’” acquisitions but on a more obscure scale with a cast from all walks of life that includes the Roger Rabbit voice actor himself, Charles Fleischer, “Three’s Company” star Priscilla Barnes, 1997’s Playboy Playmate Carrie Stevens, and the late Corey Haim (“The Lost Boys”) as the band’s guitarist in a role that seemed below his fame stature. Most gaps are plugged with interesting characters treated with some backstory buildup that becomes more stagnant than footfall companions in order to get to know them better before their demise, but their persona conductors include Brian Gaskill (“The Bloody Indulgent”), Tom Hallick, Jaime Anstead, Dayton Knoll, Lisa Brucker, Ken Sagoes (“A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”), LoriDawn Messuri, Angela Little, and Tracy Dali.
“The Backlot Murders” didn’t set out to revolutionize the slasher genre, but only relished in the after success and donned a more satire effort that purposefully retreated back into the conventional tropes to form an entertaining run of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll gags, but the one thing missing, and it’s a doozy, is the actual killer presence in the film who is treated as an afterthought of slim importance and chucked into a insignificant plot twist that forces DeFalco’s hand to become a routine hack’n’slash lemming. One positive aspect of “The Backlot Murders” is the extremely high body count that produces a continuous stream of nixing off a slew of characters with their own death scenes inside the renowned confines of a Universal backlot backdrop that’s not only good-humored irony but also a sizeable effort by the Bernheim/DeFalco producing team. Yet, despite the high body count, the kills and gore felt sorely uninspired and underwhelming, rehashing into homage death scenes from “Friday the 13th” and “Scream” with a few forgettable approaches to call its own, until DeFalco breaks the damning goreless streak with a gruesome Columbian necktie effect that goes for the throat. I make “The Backlot Murders” seem unenjoyable and heartless when, in fact, the early 2000 slasher-comedy is immensely funny with a Charles Fleisher gold recorded, laugh track amongst the relentless mocking of the music industry from a far in this true to form slasher accessorized with a high body count kill dozer of a villain.
When things are quiet on set, “The Backlot Murders” evoke the slasher spirit on a new-to-Blu Blu-ray release in the U.S. from Dark Force Entertainment and Code Red with MVDVisual handling distribution. The 1080p, hi-def release is presented in an anamorphic widescreen from a brand new 4K scan of the original 35mm negative. The cool contextual colors render nicely amongst the shadowy gloom and foggy backdrop that’s reminiscent of a softly lit late 90’s and early 2000s slasher. The textures are sharper than the Razor Digital DVD release; the tactile feeling of asphalt when a bluish white glow hits the pavement or the gritty backlot sets vibrant with an ominous glow strike powerful chords of a lively presence from the transfer. There doesn’t seem to be any cropping, edge enhancing, or any other manipulation to the transfer present. The English mono track, which leans away from the LFE, has the opposite, lackluster appeal with a single channel blockade that doesn’t project the bands pyrotechnics, the screams of being chased, and settling for limitations on other wide range of girthy resounding audio. However, the dialogue is clear, unobstructed, and in the forefront. Bonus material includes a new audio commentary with director David DeFalco and Code Red’s Banana Man plus three new and very bizarre interviews with Carrie Stevens lingering from effects of the #MeToo movement to making home fudge, with Charles Fleisher and dissociative disorder or madman genius insight, and ending with a fairly regular interview with Brian Gaskill recollecting the film and his career through a tough industry standard. The Fleisher and Gaskill interviews end with a video op with The Demon himself, David DeFalco. “The Backlot Murders” had forefront potential of systemic slasher films of the time period, but pitter-patters for levity and a sweeping kill count that reconstructs the dread into death and comedy.