STUDIO: ThinkFilm
MSRP: $27.98 (!)
RATED: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 78 Minutes

• Filmmaker commentary with Director Scott W. McKinlay and Producer Vince Marinelli
• Deleted scenes
• Alternate ending
• Behind the scenes of Gag
• Exclusive Music Video
• Photo gallery

The Pitch

“We came, we saw Saw, we copied Saw.”

The Humans

Brian Kolodziej, Gerald Emerick, Vince Marinelli, Scott W. McKinlay, Amy Wehrell, Trent Haaga

The Nutshell

Madman tortures people. What more do you want from me? This movie’s only 78 minutes long.

Don’t be so melodramatic. Your movie’s not that bad.

The Lowdown

“If it looks like shit, and it sounds like shit, then it must be shit.” – Jack Horner

Poor Jack Horner couldn’t keep amateurism from ruining porn, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before the same thing happened to torture porn. After all, it’s a genre that’s especially tailor-made for low budget filmmaking: if you have a camera, a few actors, and a dirty basement at your disposal, you too can direct your very own Saw knockoff. With this in mind, filmmakers Scott W. McKinlay and Vince Marinelli have given us Gag, yet another cinematic exercise in sadism, and while this DVD release might technically make them professional filmmakers, the movie is amateurish in every sense of the term. Camera shadows and electrical cables are clearly visible in dozens of shots. Tripods are left in plain sight, in places where a tripod should not be found. During one take, you can actually hear the director’s voice from off-screen, giving direction. Granted, you don’t expect a low budget horror flick to be polished to a dull shine, but Gag isn’t just rough around the edges; it’s rough all over. As I watched our characters being tortured with sharpened sticks and superheated currency (Go pennies! Help the puny psychopaths who need you!), I felt like I was under assault myself, an assault of aggressively shoddy filmmaking.

Still, being amateurish doesn’t necessarily preclude a film from being great. There have been plenty of fantastic movies in the past that were directed by talented amateurs, and if Gag had even been remotely entertaining, I might’ve been willing to overlook its glaring imperfections. Unfortunately that’s not the case. Even at 78 minutes the movie feels ponderous, as the movie stretches its material far thinner than it has any right to. Gag has the feel of a short film that was desperately padded up to feature length: The first thirty minutes serve absolutely no purpose other than setting up a nonsensical and ineffective plot twist, and if you add a ten minute dream sequence that’s turns out to be a complete non-sequitur, and five minutes of credits, you’re left with barely a half-hour’s worth of actual story.

“It looks like the Burlap Bandit is setting up the Wife-Beater Kid for a snap-suplex, Mean Gene!”

That story, what little there is, opens with two professional thieves (played by McKinlay and Marinelli) breaking into a swanky-looking house, obviously searching for something in particular. But when they don’t find what they’re looking for, they decide to check the dilapidated old guest house out back, where they discover a bruised and beaten man, gagged and bound to a box-spring. Naturally it isn’t long before the two of them are taken prisoner themselves, by a sadistic madman with a fondness for using loose change as a torture device. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a plot twist about thirty minutes into the movie which not only makes the first half-hour completely pointless, it’s built around a misunderstanding that is so implausible that even in a horror movie, it’s hard to accept that a person could be so blindingly stupid. At the risk of spoiling it, we learn in hindsight that earlier in the movie, the madman had actually been completely disposed of, and one of his victims was free to go as he pleased. If this person had simply walked out the door and called the police, the entire ordeal would’ve been over. But of course that doesn’t happen, simply because the filmmakers don’t want it to happen.

Logical peccadilloes aside, one of the biggest flaws in this material is its choice of location. Most horror films of this type go out of their way to create a palpable sense of isolation: Either the characters are in the middle of nowhere, or they don’t know where the hell they are (or both), but in any case they’re completely trapped. It’s the knowledge that they can’t possibly escape that makes the experience that much more frightening. But in Gag, not only is there a huge mansion less than fifty feet away from the guest house, but our burglars’ car sits parked on the street just outside. Not to mention the fact that our characters have numerous opportunities to escape – one of the burglars is Houdini-esque in his ability to pick handcuff locks, and manages to escape his chains on three separate occasions: once by picking the lock with a safety pin, once by picking the lock with a syringe, and once by cutting through the lock with a razorblade. I don’t know where this killer gets his handcuffs, but he ought to consider shopping elsewhere.

It might come in handy if you, the master of unlocking, take this safety pin with you.

And that’s another thing: the movie’s hero Tony is established early in the film as a master lock picker. In the film’s opening scene, we see him using a lockpick to break into the house they’re robbing, and knowing what kind of movie I was in for, it didn’t take very much for me to put two-and-two together. This is a torture movie. No doubt Tony will be in shackles at some point. He has this lockpick. You didn’t have to draw me a diagram. But then something astonishing happened: Later in the film, Tony is handcuffed to a wall just as expected, and as I was waiting for the lockpick to triumphantly emerge from his pocket, Tony delivered a line that completely took me by surprise. I quote: “If only I had something to pick this lock!” Huh? What the hell happened to your damn lockpick? The movie never mentions it again. No “If only I could reach my lockpick” or “If only I hadn’t dropped my lockpick in the house!” Nothing. It’s as if the filmmakers had completely forgotten about the item that they had so carefully established at the beginning of the movie. Yet they didn’t forget the fact that he was a kickass lock picker. Very strange.

It’s exactly this sort of absence of forethought that dooms Gag. Nothing in the movie seems very well thought-out, from individual shots to entire story points. The torture scenes, what little there are, couldn’t be any less frightening, mostly due to the fact that the madman’s torture methods are so completely uncinematic. Placing red-hot pennies on a person’s skin might be excruciating in reality, but on film it doesn’t look all that painful. And I haven’t even touched on the killer’s tube-of-gastrointestinal-distress. If I was a screenwriter trying to think of interesting ways to torture people on film, internal bleeding would probably be way, way down on my list. Just saying.

He doesn’t look any crazier than your average Famous Dave’s patron.

The Package

It’s a shame Gag is so terrible, because based on the bonus materials on this disc, actor/director Scott McKinlay and actor/producer Vince Marinelli seem like nice enough guys, incredibly enthusiastic about the film and very good-natured about its flaws. The two of them spend the vast majority of the track pointing out continuity errors and production mistakes, which is never a good sign. McKinlay and Marinelli have no pretense about them, which is endearing; they know their movie isn’t perfect, and they’re happy to discuss why. Mostly they lay the blame at the film’s budget, and while I’m sure a larger bankroll would’ve resulted in a better movie, the budget doesn’t explain everything. Picking up that tripod and moving it out of the shot doesn’t cost a dime, fellas:

I suppose even maniac killers own tripods, right?

After listening to their commentary track, I wish I’d liked their movie more, mostly because their ability to get this movie made through sheer force of will, with no money and no resources, is admirable. I just get the impression that the two of them bit off a little more than they could chew: Neither of them had any real filmmaking experience before Gag (McKinley has a Producer’s credit on Toxic Avenger IV, though it’s anyone’s guess what that actually means), and they were obviously learning on the job. I hope they get a chance to make another film, because I get the feeling that they won’t make the same mistakes twice. Just be sure you have a better screenplay next time, guys.

The commentary is the main extra here, but there’s also a six-minute behind the scenes featurette, which is mostly McKinlay talking to the camera about the making of the movie, which is superfluous if you’ve listened to the commentary. There’s also a music video for the movie’s theme song (co-written by McKinlay), a few deleted scenes which, in all, total less than a minute of footage, and a bizarre alternate ending that I, or one, can’t make heads or tails out of. Last is the photo gallery, which is nice if you were a member of the crew. Otherwise I don’t know why they include those things.

Sadly, no gag reel. What a missed opportunity.

2.8 out of 10