Saturday, January 24, 2015

Autopsy (2008)

This review is part of my new Yard Sale series in 
which I try to organize a proper sendoff for all the
expendable DVDs cluttering my overflowing library.

If you don’t mind its unrefined premise, hollow characters and clumsy atmosphere, you might get a mild kick out of this unpretentious gore job. Complete with a rushed setup meant to catapult the viewer right into a seedy netherworld of dark and green, its rudimentary screenplay is swarming with formulaic tribulations roughly stitched up to knit a thin narrative canvas befit only for the crudest of archetypes and commonplaces. Fortunately, the film does find some true inspiration in the grotesque, showcasing potent splatter effects like so many carnival attractions, presented here with all the raucous showmanship and campy sensibility of those nation-building carnies of centuries past. Autopsy further appeals to our nostalgic inner children by retaining the services of genre veterans Robert Patrick and Jenette Goldstein, both in full hammy mode.

Don't be fooled; the bit brace is the star here,
not the very bland Robert Patrick.

Not unlike Adam Green’s Hatchet, Autopsy begins with a handful of careless teens enjoying the Big Easy just like careless teens would, adorning tacky plastic trinkets and greedily indulging in the French Quarters’ alcohol-drenched hospitality. But instead of taking a shady swamp tour, the present teens get into a car crash instead, then right into a shady ambulance on their way to a shady country clinic staffed by shady eccentrics. The dimly lit facade of the building actually seems to be lifted straight from the Big Book of Horror Locales and its inner workings hence hold no surprise for the savvy genre fan. We are thus left to watch with the utmost indifference as the kids are promptly processed by hysterical Nurse Marian (Goldstein) despite their obvious integrity, then left into the murderous hands of two really sketchy orderlies and bland antagonist Dr. Benway (Patrick).

At some point, heroine Emily’s boyfriend casually notices a blood stain on his shirt, which leads him to locate and remove a 6-inch glass shard from a gaping wound in his abdomen. But despite his manly handling of the situation and surprisingly bloodless gash, he is rushed into the operating room, ready to undertake the outlandish procedure necessary for Benway to extract his fluids and reroute them toward his dying, bed-ridden wife. It’s then up to Emily to track down this mangled boyfriend while coping with the good doctor and all of his dodgy henchmen in the inextricable labyrinth that is their medical lair.

Autopsy is a straightforward thematic freak show.

In keeping with the skeletal nature of its premise and utter lack of character development, the film is also simplistic in its narrative construction, alternating bland shots of bland characters walking through empty hallways with gruesome vignettes featuring all sorts of shocking body trauma. As expected from the lazy conventions to which director Gierasch shamelessly subscribes, the whole thing is bathed in a sickly green hue, with the occasional flash of lightning revealing the crooked silhouettes of random lobotomized patients inexplicably roaming through the hospital, hence escaping the piles of pickled body parts chaotically stashed in the basement. It’s all very implausible and monotonous, but then the frequent and repulsive spectacle of wanton bodily harm more than compensates for the occasional tedium, revealing Autopsy’s humble, and somewhat engrossing nature as a straightforward thematic freak show.

That said, no matter how underwhelming the repeated sight of some hospital hallway might be, there is always the spectacle of grotesque mutilations to look forward to. The casual sanding of severed hands, surgical lung removal, oxygen tank headshots, bit brace brain surgery, hollowed skulls and syringe stabbings thus find a strange new relevance here, not necessarily as novel entries in the horror lexicon, but as the ultimate raison d’être of this muscular showcase of the macabre, proof less of the genre’s narrative poverty than of its iconographic power, which is brought to strange new heights with a truly memorable finale in which the twisted fate of the heroine’s boyfriend is finally revealed in all of its gruesome glory. This scene alone actually made me want to revisit the entire film, and I must admit to having expected it with distinctly uneasy apprehension, dreading the moment where Emily would obliviously flick on the light in Bobby’s room to reveal...  

Jessica Lowndes is the all-purpose survivor girl whose
traumatic past is overshadowed by her traumatic present.

In conclusion, while Autopsy will never earn a place in the horror pantheon or wow anybody with its lazy screenplay, I must say that its heart is in the right place, namely in the careless hands of misanthropic orderlies and demented doctors. The film is riddled with crude archetypes, including tattooed drug-dealing baldies, drunken goateed rednecks, procedural mad scientists and the all-purpose survivor girl whose underexposed past is overshadowed by her uncanny ability to withstand punishment. But then, it is only so to accentuate the bizarre quality of its twisted imagery, hence allowing the film to do away with the tyranny of plausibility and celebrate the truly affective, shock-inducing nature of true horror cinema.

2.5/5 - A cheap, but effective exercise in contemporary Grand Guignol.