Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast, Universal Monsters Cast and Land of the Creeps horror podcasts. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.
Writer / director Mickey Keating’s Carnage Park is a throwback in more ways than one, fusing the flashy cinematic techniques of the Tarantino-esque ‘90s with a very ‘70s tale of terror. It’s an unusual combination, to be sure, but Keating somehow makes it work to the film’s advantage.
The year is 1978. Scorpion Joe Clay (James Landry Hebert) and his partner Larry (Michael Villar), both of whom recently escaped from prison, rob a bank in a small California town. But the heist goes very wrong; Larry is shot in the gut, and to help them get away, the duo take a hostage, Vivian Fontaine (Ashley Bell), who they toss in the trunk of their car before speeding off. In an effort to lose the pursuing cops, Scorpion Joe veers off the main road. Unfortunately, his little detour cuts straight through some land owned by Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy), a reclusive Vietnam veteran who, to put it mildly, doesn’t take kindly to trespassers.
When the smoke clears, Vivian finds herself all alone in the middle of the desert, and if she’s to have any hope at all of surviving this terrifying ordeal, she’ll have to travel across Wyatt’s property, knowing full well that the psychotic Wyatt is watching her every step of the way.
There’s more to Carnage Park than the above synopsis would lead you to believe, and some notable stars turn up in supporting roles, including Alan Ruck (Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) as Wyatt’s brother, Sheriff Moss, who is torn between duty and family loyalties; and Larry Fessenden as Travis, one of the many poor souls who wish they’d never wandered onto Wyatt’s land.
As for the main cast, James Landry Hebert delivers a bravura performance as the slightly deranged Scorpion Joe, and both Ashley Bell and Pat Healy are strong as the film’s two leads (Bell is especially good as Vivian, who, though an unwilling participant in the whole affair, proves time and again that she’s a survivor).
Stylistically speaking, Carnage Park borrows heavily from Reservoir Dogs and (eventually) Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (Kudos to Horror Movie Podcast’s own Jay of the Dead, who pointed out this very connection on Episode 93). The Reservoir Dogs influence is evident early on, when Scorpion Joe and the bank robbery take center stage (there’s a scene set inside a car that’s sure to remind you of a similar moment in Dogs), and the flair that Keating brings to each and every scene (the non-linear structure, random slow-motion, snappy dialogue, over-the-top violence, etc.) was also inspired by Tarantino’s debut feature.
Then, once the action shifts to Wyatt’s little corner of the desert, Carnage Park takes on a ‘70s vibe, with Vivian stumbling upon one horrific sight after another as Wyatt watches her from afar (much like the mutated killers do to the Carter family in Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, which, coincidentally, was released in 1977, a year before Carnage Park is set).
Taking into account its cinematic influences, as well as the straightforward nature of its central story, one might argue that Carnage Park is an exercise in style over substance. But that style, which owes a great deal to the films and filmmakers that went before it, is itself enough to make the movie a worthwhile experience.
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