Torture me no more (DVD)

How about torturing ME no more?

After being framed for his brother’s murder, computer hacker Santos (Justin Leibig) escapes from the police and embarks on a search to find the real killer. This quest takes him to underground clubs, and into contact with all kinds of scum. Along the way, Santos meets Delilah (Kristina Doran), and the two of them embark on a vigilante spree against serial killers, child molesters, and the like, all while gathering clues to the murderer’s identity.

This zero-budget indie alternates between gory thriller elements and over-the-top comedy elements so frequently, it took me a while to really understand just what writer/director Francis Xavier DeGennaro was going for. And then it hit me—whether it’s shooting for laughs or scares, what this movie wants is to shock you. Every scene has to have some sort of shock value moment filled with weird crap, in the hope that jaws will drop will people see it. For example:

• Weird Crap Moment #1: The Downstairs Neighbors
The first indication I got that something was “off” with this movie was when Santos’ two wacky neighbors debuted. These two guys are every lame gay stereotype you can think of. Sure, you could argue that they’re making fun of the stereotype itself. Whatever. They’re just not that funny. It’s the first example of the filmmakers saying, “Look at how offensive we’re being! Look at how much we can get away with!”

• Weird Crap Moment #2: The Lady Cops
Two female cops pursue Santos on his various misadventures. One has an English accent that sounds kind of strange. If it isn’t phony, then the actress must be some kind of nut. The other cop, though? Not even sure how to describe her. In some scenes, she’s depicted as an idiot who only got the job because her father pulled strings. At other times, she’s the horny one, who gets her sexual thrill on by interrogating suspects. And there are other scenes in which she’s the bizarre one, throwing out gross jokes and random jokes whenever it suits the setting.

• Weird Crap Moment #3: Puppy Love
About a third of the way through the film, there’s a scene in which the killer, who has a thing for small animals, takes a dead dog out of a sack and uses it to, uh, “pleasure” himself. We don’t actually see the deed, thankfully, because the camera stays on a close-up of the guy’s face. But that’s almost as bad, because seeing his various facial expressions as he’s, um, “in the moment,” just made me feel embarrassed for the actor.

• Weird crap moment #4: German Transvestite Search Engine
This is pretty much where the movie lost me. Santos goes to one of those internet cafés and pulls up a search engine on his computer. What he sees on his screen is a guy in drag with an awful German accent. This weirdo then magically provides all the exposition Santos needs to get to the next scene. I thought Santos was supposed to be a hacker, and yet he finds all the info he needs from a search engine? I guess it’s easier to be hacker than I thought.

• Weird Crap Moment #5: The Last Temptation of Fachio
After all the attempted humor of the previous scenes, the film then takes a left turn back into thriller territory when we meet the oddball pornographer Fachio. We, the audience, are treated to an extended sequence in which he attacks and rapes Delilah, all while spouting Christian rhetoric and proclaiming himself to be a “king.” Sure, Delilah gets her vengeance later on in an equally disgusting way, but it doesn’t change how the filmmakers are just trying too hard to make Fachio scary. He’s supposed to be bone-chilling evil, but all I could think is that we’ve seen this kind of serial-killer-type bad guy in a dozen other movies.

There are plenty of other weird crap moments that occur as the movie goes on, but I think you get the idea.

Seriously, though, let’s take a moment to discuss the nature of shock value and storytelling. Just how does a filmmaker know when to make with the gross-out gag and when not to? Consider, by comparison, the “basement scene” in Pulp Fiction, in which the character Butch finds himself in a very bizarre predicament. The difference is that by the time we get to this scene, we’ve already spent time with Butch. We’ve seen him chat with a sexy cab driver, hang out with his girlfriend in their hotel room, and be threatened by a crime boss. We’ve also seen a telling flashback to his childhood. Because of all this background, the audience has built up an emotional investment in the character. When he winds up down there in that creepy basement, we can’t believe he’s in such a freaky situation, and we wonder what awful acts are about to happen. Now, let’s look at the scene in Torture Me No More where Fachio attacks Delilah. We’ve never seen either character before, and within minutes of meeting them both, he’s already hitting her and sexually abusing her in a disturbing and unnatural way. Is this shocking? Yes—but it’s shock without context. The filmmakers have jettisoned plot, character and dramatic tension all for the sake of throwing as much grotesque imagery on the screen as possible, and the film suffers for it. Rather than take viewers on a truly disturbing and offbeat journey into that dark place of the soul, the film instead leaves viewers to say, “Well, that was gross,” and move on.

The picture quality reveals the movie’s low budget roots, and is often grainy and hazy. The sound quality is just a mess. It’s hard to make out what the actors are saying at times, yet whenever the script calls for someone to scream or for the rock music to kick in, suddenly it’s unnaturally loud. Included on the disc is a short film, I Should Get Mugged Every Day, which is more of the same kind of gruesomeness seen in the movie, and a dull special effects demo set to guitar music.

Am I being too harsh on this film? In other reviews, I’ve championed low-budget indie filmmakers for taking risks, pushing envelopes, and doing whatever it takes to tell the stories they want to tell. But the goal of this film is not to tell a story, it’s to develop a reputation by stringing together a series of macabre scenes. If you’re looking for a sleazy midnight movie, you can do better.

The Verdict

Guilty. Off to the torture chamber with you.

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