Saturday, February 12, 2011

SHADOWS RUN BLACK (1986) - maybe the worst shot-on-film slasher ever made, or Kevin Costner's hidden pile of shame

If you thought this movie might be totally irredeemable and worthless, this still of Barbara Peckinpaugh seems to state otherwise.

Shadows Run Black is probably the most misleading title in the slasher canon, but not because it specifically promises delights that are omitted. It’s common practice in exploitation films to have a misleading title or poster, and the astute viewer accounts for this phenomenon. When the movie "The St. Thornyville Convent Beheadings" pops up at the local shithouse theater, you know going in that only two nuns are getting beheaded, and one’s probably gonna happen off screen. Rather, the title Shadows Run Black gives off the impression that what you are about to see is not a big giant piece of shit. In fact, in sounds like something Claude Chabrol would’ve made if he had a Val Lewton period in him.

The movie opens with one of those couples making out in a car. The girl presumably gets decapitated with the hood of the car, but I guess the “filmmakers” would rather you do the heavy lifting. Mostly, I’m just distracted by the photography. Is it supposed to be daylight segueing into day for night? Is all of it supposed to take place at night, but they were running out of light? Was it one of those “night for day for night” deals, where they try to shoot day for night at night because it was the last day of shooting and they couldn’t afford an extra day? Honestly, I have no fucking idea.

The film mostly revolves around our somnambulist heroine (and not somnambulist in a cool Dr. Caligari way; I mean fucking asleep) and the piggy detective’s search for the killer, and the oh-so tangled web between the three of them. I tend to look at the movie as one vaguely brilliant centerpiece surrounded by moldy styrofoam padding, including the elongated end credits that look like they were made on a VIC-20.

You see, porn actress Susanna Britton (real name Barbara Peckinpaugh, no relation to the genius blow fiend director) is struggling. Money’s tight, and she’s gotta provide for her baby and an unemployed fat lesbian roommate. Her problems escalate when she is prematurely forced out of the shower to check on this roommate, and has to investigate the house completely in the nude (this after an earlier female was killed while doing the dishes in the buff).

She resultingly finds herself being stalked by a black gloved maniac in the most awkward of manners. The results are a somewhat decent nude cat and mouse struggle (she’s nude, not the cat), as she eventually finds herself in the bathroom, bleeding profusely. Of course, the scene is cut short and her fate is left up in the air, but at least in this case we have something to spur our imagination on (and a gratuitous beaver shot doesn’t hurt).

Poor Susanna/Barbara would later commit suicide, but not before achieving a couple of other cinematic milestones. For one, she was an extra in Body Double, possibly the greatest film ever made. She also starred in one of the great porno movies, Blonde Goddess, which is sort of a surreal comic book version of Walter Mitty (when people aren’t fucking, that is). Her final major role was in Roller Blade, Donald G. Jackson’s threadbare masterpiece of post-apocalyptic roller skating weirdness that must be seen to be disbelieved (oh, it also inspired 7 or so sequels). Barbara probably thought it was a piece of garbage (hence the suicide), but time will show otherwise, I’m sure. I’ll eventually post a review of it containing corresponding visual stimuli to satiate all the mutants out there.

Lost in all of this is the fact that Kevin Costner has a role in the film, that of the twitchy sleazebag red herring. His interrogation scene is a virtual bad acting clinic, comparable to a Keanu Reeves method improv seminar. The movie was made in 1981, but not released until 1986 to cash in on Costner’s role in Silverado. If not for Costner’s success, it might have rotted away on a shelf somewhere, at least until the great Roller Blade franchise revival of 2032, when Shadows Run Black can be viewed in proxy historical terms.

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