Fatal Exposure (1989)
a.k.a. Mangled Alive
A buff late 80s mullet-wearer with the pun-tastic name of Jack T. Rippington (Blake Bahner) has moved to a small town in the US South to follow in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, of whom, as Jack tells the camera, you might have heard under the name of (dun-dun-DUN!) Jack the Ripper. 80s Jack is a bit more variable in his killing methods, preferring not to use any single murder weapon twice, which of course brings out the true creative spirit in him. That’s useful, for Jack is also a photographer and really likes to take charming pictures of his dying victims. Afterwards, our hero brews tasty drinks out of his victims’ blood to keep his virility in ship shape.
For at heart, Jack wants what every homicidal maniac really wants – a girlfriend to impregnate with that treasured Rippington seed. It is of course rather difficult to start a romantic relationship when one tends to kill every woman one meets alone, so Jack, clever boy that he is, has developed a three point question catalogue to identify his perfect woman (a woman just like his great-grandma, by the way) he asks a girl before beginning a murder attempt and the whole pregnancy bit becomes physically impossible. Woman Jack just tied up “for a photo series”! Do you regularly think about death and dying? The correct answer is “YES!”. What do you think when you think about blood? Please answer with “Hot sexy times!”. And, last but not least: have you ever thought about murdering someone? Again, the answer Jack wants to hear is a resounding “Yes!”.
One might think it improbable, but eventually – quite a few dead bodies later – Jack meets Erica (Ena Henderson), a charming and friendly girl who just happens to answer random questions about death and blood a charming creep asks her the way he wants them answered. At once, romance is in the air, and there is little standing in the way of the production of little Jack Rippington Junior. But what will happen when Erica finds out about her new sex-hungry boyfriend’s hobby?
When it comes to the realm of late 80s/early 90s video schlock it doesn’t often get better (or “better”) than Peter B. Good’s Fatal Exposure. Sure, it’s a film in dubious taste, made on a shoe-string budget with amateur actors and actresses (but at least they all drop their clothes at the proverbial drop of a hat), and a script so silly it’s difficult to discern when it is consciously joking and when it is unintentionally funny.
However, Fatal Exposure is really good at doing its dubious thing, filled with an off-beat charm that is surprisingly effective when you’re like me and like your local direct-to-video horror rather peculiar. It’s – obviously – all very low-rent, but it works brilliantly as a visit in the kind of parallel world where the local sheriff can easily be killed by feeding him acid instead of beer during a private drinking game (the sheriff’s not the brightest, obviously), and where all local women are surprisingly attractive (in a late 80s direct-to-video way), and just love to be tied up by strangers who tell them they are photographers. Really, it’s a world where porn logic has drifted into the horror genre, just that on planet Fatal Exposure acting after porn logical impulses doesn’t lead to sex with the mailman but rather to you being gorily murdered. Said gore is of rather variable quality, but the blood is very red, and the murders (and murder methods) become increasingly bizarre, therefore increasingly more entertaining.
While I’m praising the film’s more bizarre moments (which, come to think of it, make up at least half of its running time), I might as well mention the number of fourth-wall breaking scenes where Blake Bahner begins to monologue right into the camera, as if the film were a more kill-happy version of a local TV ad for the sleazy but young and buff used car salesman of your choice (this is how it works in the US, right?), delivered with all the dishonest, sticky charm you’d expect. Bahner is quite good at this sort of thing too, and while he never sells his character as the horrible force of evil the film’s soundtrack attempts to suggest, he is rather good at oozing a smarmy affability that makes his success at charming and killing people not quite unbelievable – at least for the universe the whole mess takes place in. Bahner also does the most ridiculous/awesome stupid death scene imaginable. What more could I ask of a man playing Jack the Ripper’s grandson?
The rest of the acting pales compared to Bahner’s strange performance: Henderson is amateurish-cute, Bahner’s victims are amateurish-nude, and Marc “The Sheriff” Griggs is the usual movie hick sheriff who is so dumb, he does never even realize there’s a serial killer loading off ridiculous loads of corpses in a single crypt of the local graveyard (which is quite an achievement in itself seeing as all of the early victims are local). Everyone’s an amateur, yet everyone is also applying real – possibly misguided – enthusiasm to whatever he or she is doing.
Weird as the film is, Good’s direction is actually a level above what this sort of direct-to-video thing generally provides. The camera isn’t nailed down, the two or three locations in Alabama are used with a degree of competence if not style, and the film is well enough paced never to become boring; just imagine, scenes don’t even go on until somebody finally shoots the cameraman like in a lot of local and indie productions.
All these dubious charms and accomplishments come together into a film that is difficult, maybe even impossible, to resist for anyone with a heart for the peculiar, the local, and the plain silly, so there’s absolutely no reason not to watch Fatal Exposure. Well, except for that pesky good taste, but that’s an illness watching enough movies I recommend will cure in no time.
Denis Klotz contributes a regular weekly film column for ExB, and can otherwise be found kicking around on his prolific cult media blog The Horror!?