Written by: Terry Lofton
Directed by: Bill Leslie, Terry Lofton
Starring: Rocky Patterson, Ron Queen, and Beau Leland
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
"Now, now, you really shouldn't fall to pieces... over me!"
Nail Gun Massacre is a lesson in efficiency. Letís be real: unless youíre a big, burly manchild like Leatherface, you donít really want to tote around an unwieldy chainsaw if youíre going to butcher a bunch of people. Better to haul around something thatíll do all the legwork for you, like a gun capable of spitting out dozens of nails in seconds. Plus, if the movieís tagline is to be believed, itís also cheaper than a chainsaw. Iím not going to google for confirmation because I donít want to end up on a government watch list. One thing is for sure, though: Nail Gun Massacre is most certainly cheaper than The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Where Tobe Hooperís 16mm nightmare ushered in a new era of American cinematic bloodletting, Bill Leslie and Terry Loftonís low-budget take arrived a decade later, when everybody was hatching backyard splatter opuses.
But, to their credit, Leslie and Lofton at least started with their weapon of choice instead of a holiday, giving us a glimpse of that alternate universe where more slasher movies riffed on the power tool titling convention instead of just painting holidays red. (Also beamed in from this dimension: Meatcleaver Massacre, Microwave Massacre and The Blobís Garden Tool Massacre.) This wrinkle aside, though, Nail Gun Massacre can hardly be considered inventive unless youíre willing to assume its utter disregard for narrative and pacing conventions to be an intentional act and not the byproduct of an amateur cast and crew winging it.
Nail Gun Massacre opens with a half dozen guys brutally assaulting a young woman, tastelessly and clumsily setting up the main story, which finds someone in biker gear using a voice modulator knocking off folks with a nail gun in rural Texas. And whoever it is isnít just content to nail the guys involved with the rape, either: anyone who crosses their path is fair game, whether itís innocent bikers rolling through town or people working at a nearby construction site. Itís the sort of thing that just isnít supposed to happen in this small town, damnit. Like an elderly storekeeper wistfully recalls: ďremember when you could sit outside and not worry about the mosquitoes and the killers?Ē Sheís right, you know. Itís just a damn shame that we canít even leave our homes without dealing with bugs and asshole maniacs with nail guns.
Itís also a damn shame we donít get more movies like Nail Gun Massacre anymore, where people who had little business in front or behind a camera somehow stumbled into enough money to make a whole-ass slasher movie for all the world to see--well, so long as the local video store carried it, anyway. Yes, there were tons of these in the 80s, and Nail Gun Massacre isnít really much better or worse than most of them. It does have the good sense to be funnier than a lot of its contemporaries, though, both by design and by chance. Some of the dialogue is hilarious in a juvenile, often inappropriate sort of way, and is only made funnier by the wooden (but totally sincere!) performances. A pair of lovers in bed argue when the girl, desperate for sex, wants to ďplay doctorĒ all day long because the guy promised her an ďorgan transplant.Ē The killer has more one-liners than Freddy Krueger in the later Elm Street sequels, his ridiculous dialogue accented by a warbling, echoing laugh track that feels like it was coaxed from a cut-rate Casio. A high-strung sheriff and a too-cool-for-school doctor sift through the carnage, totally befuddled by the chaos. ďYou know, it seems like someone's just gone plum loco with a hammer and a box of nails,Ē the cop says, showing off his sharp detective skills.
But to be fair, the killer has no clear motive or pattern: their goal is to eradicate just about anyone who wanders into the frame of this shaggy, meandering slasher. The way characters shuffle through the proceedings only to be swiftly axed (er, nailed) becomes a comical routine in its own right. If you didnít know any better, youíd swear Leslie and Lofton were trying to make a hangout splatter movie. Something tells me that might be giving them too much credit, though. After all, this is a movie where the cop proudly claims there are no hooligan bikers in his town just before introducing a crew of hooligan bikers in the next scene. You love to see it, especially since you know they arenít long for this world. Our killer doesnít tolerate anybody, much less bikers fucking in the woods. My favorite interlopers are the couple who shows up at a Dairy Queen until the guy remembers his ex works there, effectively ruining a date where the highlight would have been the $2 grilled cheese and fries combo. The only downside is how repetitive this eventually gets: the killer does his little stand-up routine before filling his (often nude) victims full of nails, authorities discover the body, then the cop and doctor agonize over the ordeal until the killer plugs someone else. Eventually, the story does circle back around the opening gang rape thatís obviously inspired this killing spree, but Nail Gun Massacre is gratuitous in piling up a body count even by 80s slasher standards. You canít knock the killerís ambition, thatís for sure.
Their creativity could use some work, though: unfortunately, Nail Gun Massacre tells you everything you need to know about the gore, which largely amounts to shots of nails crudely shoved into the actors with a smattering of blood. A chainsaw provides some additional carnage in one scene, which only proves that Hooper and Kim Henkel had it right when they called it The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and not the Texas Nail Gun Massacre. Just doesnít have the same ring to it, in my opinion. Leslie and Lofton do try to compensate with an outrageous climax that ends with the killer unmasked following a foot chase in a construction site, where we learn that the townís most obvious suspect has been operating right under everyoneís noses. Call me crazy, but if Iím in this situation, Iím immediately suspecting the guy named Bubba who drives a hearse. Instead, the doctor and the sheriff spend the entire movie suspecting the unseen Mrs. Bailey, whose good name is impugned simply because she owns some nearby land where the bodies keep turning up. I hope she sued their asses, whoever she is. I guess an actor to play the main suspect just wasnít in the budget.
Somehow, shooting on 16mm was in the budget, and the result is an uncanny valley slasher that has the warts and all sensibilities of all these homespun slashers hiding beneath the illusion of competence. The film stock might look nice, but youíre still dealing with a script that can charitably be called threadbare, actors whose technique can be described as ďtryingĒ as they flub or exaggerate lines, and gore effects that would feel at home at your local Halloween haunt. Itís one of those movies where almost nothing works in a vacuum, yet somehow everything works anyway when it comes together because it turns out that homemade slasher movies must be a form of alchemy. Itís a scene that encourages bad or misguided decisions because just having the sheer audacity to make one is nine-tenths of the law in this unruly frontier, where awkward sex scenes, unfunny comedy, and crude splatter make magic. You donít have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre, indeed. Sometimes, nails get the job done just fine.
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