Quantcast FIRST LOOK: 39: A Film By Carroll Mckane Bunni's review

FIRST LOOK: 39 - A FILM BY CARROLL MCKANE (Aug. 06) by Bunnie Speigelman

Meet Carroll McKane. A late twenties, early thirties white male who works in a camera store. He has a girlfriend who loves him despite his ambivalence about her. He’s a great lover. He has a good sense of humor. His boss thinks he is a great worker and likes him as a person. His hobby is making movies.

He’s also a serial killer.

And not just any serial killer. He’s so effective that he has gone completely undetected for the last ten years killing 36 people during that time.

Unfortunately, the power of killing, even killing with impunity, has lost its appeal to Carroll. He wants to be admired for what he has done, which unfortunately means revealing himself.

The idea of the serial killer who desires adulation by the public and thus orchestrates a rather dramatic and bizarre way of revealing himself isn’t new. John Doe in Seven turns himself in so that he can become the final victim of his demented morality play. In the Last Horror Movie, Max, a professional wedding videographer uses the rental of a cliché horror film to select his next victim after revealing to them his murderous hobby.

And Carroll McKane has decided to abduct a famous forensic psychiatrist and make him into a killer in order to reveal his greatness.

The script has some spectacularly funny moments like the scene in which Carroll mocks Ted Bundy a pussy for claiming pornography was responsible for his acts and admonishing the psychiatrist for not calling Henry Lucas & Otis O'Toole what they really are - “moron faggots who like eating people.”

But the greatest accomplishment of this film is that the leading actor had to manipulate 9 cameras all while staying in character. There was no camera crew except for the actor playing Carroll, Martin Cummins. During intense and chaotic torture scenes, he not only had to manipulate special effects, but also remember the detailed choreography of multiple camera manipulation and stay in character.

Despite this accomplishment, there are some problems with the film. One of the biggest holes in the script is the editing issue. Carroll’s videotapes of his kills only explain why the kills were taped, but what moviegoers see is clearly edited and in such a way to highlight Carroll’s power. In the Last Horror Film, the editing problem is explained by videotape selection process, but in this film there is no answer to who edited the film and why. There are two possible solutions to the problem.

Solution One: Simply tack on a line or two of text at the beginning of the film explaining that after the events and subsequent trial involving the murders, the films were edited in order to present to the viewing public a truly unique look into the mind of a serial killer while he is actually in the process of selecting his films and killings. Unfortunately, this undermines the title “a film by Carroll McKane”

Solution Two: In keeping with the premise of the film, that Carroll has made this entire film, show Carroll editing the footage at one point while he is outside of the room. There is a point where he is briefly shown in front of a camera claiming he is going to edit. But this doesn’t explain the final sequence unless what he does is edit up that point and then have the final sequence be one long uncut shot. In a sense, the last scene would be edited in camera.

One of the other problems with the film is that it goes on way too long without any killing or serious torture. After a while I was bored with watching the psychiatrist get kicked in the stomach and stuffed in a closet. I didn’t sign on to watch a film about a serial killer because I wanted to see a shrink wet himself repeatedly. Although I could have handled the wait, if the actual kills depicted hadn’t been such a disappointment. They were over quickly with a little bit of gore, disappointing for such an angry killer who seems bent on driving another man to murderous rage.

And as amusing and charming as Carroll is, may I ask why it is that American serial killers are so polite? Did their abusive mommies make them read Miss Manners as punishment for bedwetting? And why is it so many cinematic serial killers are into making movies these days? Doesn’t anyone go to poetry readings anymore? Karaoke night?

Scrabble tournament maybe?

Despite its flaws, however, 39’s successes far outstrip its failures. Hopefully soon horror fans will be able to meet Carroll McKane and witness his magnum opus for themselves. - Bunni Speigelman


There were two things that director Gary Sherman said during his introduction at a recent screening for ‘39: A FILM BY CARROLL MCKANE’ that stuck out while I was watching the movie.

The first – He hopes that with this movie, he’ll be bringing you, the viewer up close & personal with a person that you would never want to meet in real life.

And second – That this isn’t a film that you can enjoy, you just have to experience it for yourself.

Both statements were all I could think of as I sat silently in a small theatre in New York to witness Gary Sherman’s latest film ‘39: A FILM BY CARROLL MCKANE’ - his return to the “horror genre”.

'39' is about Carroll McKane, a serial killer who's never been caught, but after years of being undetected, wants some noteriety. So, he kidnaps a best-selling psychologist writer, and forces him to look into the world thru the eyes of Carroll as he films the entire process thru a series of video cameras. The movie we are watching is actual footage from these cameras.

Visually, it’s a really cool movie to watch because it embraces its “documentary” feel and uses that format to its advantage. If you’re familiar with Gary’s other films such as ‘Death Line’ or ‘Poltergeist 3’, you’ll know that he has a great artistic eye for where the camera should be, and how to do little tricks to make what you’re seeing on screen look really interesting.

There’s a shot at the beginning when Carroll approaches the car of Dr. Selby and we see Carroll with camera in hand in a window reflection as he first talks to his soon-to-be hostage. There’s another part a bit later where Carroll walks into the camera shop he works in and while talking to his boss stands in a position where we can see him in one of the store monitors. These are some of the little details that I picked up on and loved. The idea behind the movie - the concept is really meant to be a low-budget affair. It’s the type of thing a new filmmaker would make because of his/her limited resources or funds. But to see someone like Gary, an established director stripped down to the bare minimum to make this film is what excited me to see this movie in the first place.

I thought all of the actor’s did a great job, especially considering there were only a select few characters here with lots of dialogue. Martin Cummins WAS Carroll McKane. And it was odd… spending the duration of the movie with him, there were moments where I almost felt sorry for him. Where I thought some of the things he was saying were actually funny. And then I’d immediately feel terrible for laughing along with him. Then again, that brings me back to what Gary mentioned at the beginning of the screening. He’s forcing me to get to know a person that I would never want to, and making him… almost likable? That in itself is one of this film’s greatest accomplishments.

Sure, some might argue that at points, Martin is overacting in character, BUT I think that’s exactly how Carroll would be. A serial killer in his position who had never been caught WOULD be totally egotistical about himself and would probably go out of his way to put on a show on for Dr. Selby. After all, the whole purpose of this kidnapping was to educate Dr. Selby so he could write the definitive book about Carroll. Why not give him something to write about?

For the most part, the movie doesn’t play out like a horror movie, per se. Just think of it more as an interesting character study on the workings of a serial killer. The origins of why this person turned out the way they did. With the majority of the movie focusing on Carroll and Dr. Selby, think of it like watching a game between two very intelligent individuals constantly trying to regain dominance over the other, while we all know that Carroll always maintains control.

I don’t really see a problem with the “editing” issue that Bunni had. I never really questioned why the footage we were watching was put together the way it was. I just assumed that it was “edited” at a later date to be presented to us as if it was technically “a film by Carroll McKane”. I guess it wouldn’t hurt if the filmmakers had the chance to add a title card at the beginning setting up “the footage we are about to watch.”

Overall, I really enjoyed ‘39: A FILM BY CARROLL MCKANE’. I can honestly say I have never seen a movie quite like it. Especially one that toyed with my personal moral and emotional feelings. I recommend horror fans or even just fans of independent films check out this movie. For those whom have a strange fascination with what goes on behind the mind of a serial killer, then this movie is among one of the best to try and help us understand. –Robg.

Check out our FRIGHT excluvie interview
with director GARY SHERMAN

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