After spending years working on his epic indie thrill ride Ice From the Sun, director Eric Stanze sought a less complicated film for his follow-up project. Teaming up with an actor who’d studied serial killers extensively in the hopes of making a movie about one, Stanze came up with Scrapbook. Filmed in only a few days with just two main actors and a small crew, this little indie creation went on to develop a reputation as one that pushes the envelope like no other. Those who are easily shocked or easily offended will want to pass.
Clara (Emily Haack) has been abducted by Leonard (Tommy Biondo), a serial killer and rapist. He keeps her locked up in a filthy room inside his filthy home, where he unleashes all manner of physical and emotional torture on her. Leonard offers her a window into his madness by showing her his scrapbook, a collection of writings and “souvenirs” from his previous victims. By writing her own messages to Leonard in the scrapbook, Clara hopes to reach him and, somehow, escape this nightmare.
If I had to sum up this movie in just a few words, I’d choose “hard to watch.” Basically, we spend the entire movie with just the torturer and his torturee. One or two side characters do show up, but they’re tossed aside quickly so we can keep the focus on the main characters. Once it’s just the two of them, we get to see how many ways Leonard abuses and humiliates his victim. And, yes, we see everything. When he rapes her, repeatedly, we see it. Every act of violence that occurs, we see it. Every exploitative and inhuman bit of psychological torture that happens to her, we see it. The camera is an omniscient observer in this one, watching every second of deplorable human behavior as it happens. There are no “leave it to the imagination” cuts here. Stanze and his actors don’t hold back, showing all their serial killer horrors in front of the camera for all to see. Every time you think, “this movie won’t go that far,” it goes that far.
Normally, I’d dismiss something like this as shock value for shock value’s sake. But, in Scrapbook’s case, there’s something more at work here. The filmmakers’ intent is to break down barriers and go farther than any filmmaker has ever gone when depicting inhuman atrocities. Only the sickest of the sick would actually want to see a series of graphic rapes on screen, and yet here they are. It’s not so much about entertainment, but about showing more than anyone else has ever shown. Viewers will be incredibly uncomfortable watching this, but the filmmakers want them to be uncomfortable. That’s their goal, and they’ve achieved it. It’s different from mere shock value, because it doesn’t sensationalize the horrors we’re seeing on screen, but instead shows them as they are.
Another reason the film rises above shock value for shock value’s sake is the acting. Emily Haack deserves credit for her bravery here, spending most of the movie either nude or mostly nude, as someone else beats her and abuses her. Haack’s screams and tears throughout the movie come feel real, understandably so. Not many actresses would go through everything she goes through here just for the sake of a movie, and she does it with fearlessness. Biondo also throws himself into the role. The disc’s bonus features reveal just how much of a role he played behind the scenes from researching real killers to taking over the set design in the hopes of making the movie as true to actual events as possible. Although directed by Stanze, the movie is Biondo’s baby, and he gives it his all in his performance, holding nothing back. Sadly, Biondo died just as Scrapbook finished post-production, but now viewers can see the movie he worked so hard to bring to life.
Although a micro-budgeted movie, Stanze shows skill behind the camera, cleverly adding several insert shots of the often disgusting items gathered around Leonard’s house. The few outdoor scenes are color-altered to give the feeling of oppressive heat, which is then bolstered by a chaotic soundtrack. The mid-point of the film is a chase through a barn as Clara attempts an escape. This brings to mind the rough, gritty hopelessness made famous by the early indie films of Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and Wes Craven (The Last House on the Left).
The picture’s video roots show, but other than that, this digital transfer is sharp, with little no defects seen. The sound, on the other hand, suffers. Keep your remote handy, as the volume continually jumps from “hard to hear” to “deafeningly loud.” The best of the extras is the commentary track with Stanze, Haack, and producer Jeremy Wallace. All three are frank about the ugliness of what’s on screen, and yet they’re glad to have crossed that line and filmed it. There’s also plenty of behind the scenes tidbits that will be fascinating for aspiring indie filmmakers. A featurette further covers the film’s production and history, with interviews from many of those involved. There’s one deleted scene from the barn chase, and the “shower cam” scene in its entirety, almost a full 15 minutes. If you thought making it through the entire movie was tough, wait until you try enduring this. Some trailers round out the extras.
Man, oh, man do I feel bad for any sweet little old ladies who buy this movie, somehow mistaking it for a documentary about their scrapbooking hobby.
So…why watch this movie? It’s not exactly “entertainment,” but more of an exploration into the dark cruelty that people are capable of. You don’t watch it for laughs or for an adrenaline rush; you watch it to confront your own dark side.