I’ve made some really disparaging comments about Albert Pyun in the past. I just calls ’em like I sees ’em and a lot of Pyun’s movies wind up on my bad side for one reason or another. I make it sound like the guy can do nothing right, though, and that’s a little unfair. I actually like a few of his movies. He made a movie in the early 90’s called Nemesis which beat a lot of the cybperunk action movies to the punch by several years and in spite of its low budget and direct to video status, Nemesis was a remarkable picture in that the cyberpunk elements actually suggested that they were written by someone who was familiar with the genre. Most of the Hollywood ventures into the genre focused on the all the wrong elements. Also of note is Pyun’s riff on Yojimbo, Omega Doom, which puts Rutger Hauer in the middle of a post-apocalypse standoff in the ruins of a city with warring factions.
Albert has been around these parts, too. Back when I blogged about his sequel to a favorite of mine, Streets of Fire, he showed up and took the abuse on the nose like a champ. He turned out to be a humble guy who knew the value of his own stock and I can appreciate that. Since then, he’s submitted footage to me of projects in process to the site and always braces for impact, expecting me to go buck wild on his films but I don’t. Here’s something weird, though. Pyun’s flick Bulletface came out a little while back and he sent a copy my way for review. The kicker? I liked it. Quite a bit, actually. It was shocking how much I enjoyed the picture. So give me a few minutes and I’ll explain why.
Dara Marren is a DEA agent who is dragged down into the underworld of California/Mexico border smuggling thanks to her brother whom she’s always trying to protect from the world he has planted himself in. When a deal goes wrong and she kills an undercover ATF agent, she winds up in rapiest prison you’ve ever seen. A couple of years into her 25 year stint and she’s sprung for a weekend furlough by a friend and federal agent to go back into that underworld and break up a cartel that is selling a new drug made from extracted spinal fluid but Dara has other plans. Namely, she’s going to dish out some payback on her brother’s killer who also happens to be at the top of the heap when it comes to selling the new drug.
In past movie reviews, I’ve bitched and moaned about the current wave of retrofilmmakers out on the scene trying to bottle and sell that sleazy 70’s exploitation vibe. It never works, though. The end product winds up looking like a modern production of an old movie and the grindy, sleazy parts seem nothing short of forced. Bulletface, however, never set out to be one of those trashy old movies. It just happens to feel an awful lot like one of them. Bulletface, in short, is pure grindhouse.
Being a modern exploitation movie doesn’t make it good by default, though. Like its spiritual predecessors, Bulletface suffers from the usual budgetary shortcomings. Action scenes, though well shot and edited, look a little flimsy thanks to either no muzzle flash composites at all and CGI blood. There also some glitchy spots on the audio track where a hiss intrudes on the dialog. On the whole, though, Bulletface is a testimonial to low budget filmmaking. We’re entertained by a consistently pulpy, noirish script that is supported by a capable cast of folks you’ve probably never heard of. Yes, it’s cheap and it looks cheap but Bulletface is an example of the sort of movie that exceeds its limitations. Technical issues aside, it just makes sense and is the sort of bad girl movie that everyone has been waiting for. Star, Victoria Maurette, though dressed like Lara Croft through most of the picture, is pretty and tough at the same time. She’s extremely hard boiled and her enemies are the usual shooting gallery of underworld bad guys and they all live in a world where everyone is corrupted. It’s a pretty comfortable suit to wear. Bulletface also delivers some surprisingly nasty rape scenes that seem to belong in the continuity of the movie. Dara’s driving force may be revenge, but she’s also putting together the pieces to make a run for it since all we can assume of her stay in the Mexican prison of doom is that she endured a daily regimen of being choked out and sodomized by guards and inmates, alike. It’s a pretty strong motivator if I’ve seen one. Be advised, though, while they’re not necessarily as long and as agonizing as I Spit On Your Grave, they’re far more explicit than anything I’ve seen recently.
I’m still puzzled about the marginally horror genre elements in the movie. The central macguffin, a drug that turns the users’ eyes red (or rather black), gives the movie some direction but apart from the ending confrontation, it plays only a small part in the proceedings and could have benefited from something a little closer to the headlines since exploitation movies are typically time capsules of a place in society that they represent. The Red Eye subplot lends a little bit of menace to the movie since the users are often depicted as vampiric or like members of a cult but like a lot of things in Bulletface, it all seems a bit out of place. I guess that what I’m getting at here is that this movie needed to be strictly criminal rather than toss in other genre elements since they seem like stumbling blocks. Still, this is a highly enjoyable crime drama.
On the whole, though, Bulletface is a grimy exploitation movie through and through. It has all the hallmarks of the style and feels like something that oozed out of a tiny 42nd street movie theater. It’s everything that a movie like Bitch Slap (Review) should have been. Though, it’s a slow burner, usually the death knell of any given grindhouse movie, the pace never lets up, fueled by a great deal of tough guy language and a compelling plot. Bulletface is weighted down by its attempts to awkwardly tie the horror genre to the rest of the picture but these problems are easily discarded to keep up with the ongoing criminal plot. What’s more, the DVD is one of five discs in Curnan Films’ Albert Pyun collection release. Not to sound like a pitch man, but this package really hooks you up. You get two features, Bulletface, a separate commentary version of the movie, the western zombie flick Left For Dead and then soundtrack discs for both features, all for the price of a single feature.