Scary Movies (and Super Creeps) – Neighbor

Every week Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a horror movie worth checking out. Today: Won’t you be my neighbor?

Neighbor, the 2009 film from Robert A. Masciantonio, is one of the foulest, goriest films I have seen all year — a year in which I’ve watched A Serbian Film, Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever and The Human Centipede. Neighbor isn’t a great film. It is, however, really kind of good — and the perfect late-night entertainment for anybody who has ever touched themselves while reading a copy of Fangoria.

Neighbor is a film carried entirely on the back of America Olivo. As the mysterious female psychopath terrorizing a small suburban neighborhood, Olivo is a real treat — filling the role with the right amounts of deft black humor, lurking menace and gleeful childlike intensity.

One moment Olivo’s unnamed character will be drilling holes in the legs of her victims and attempting to shove earthworms down their new orifices and the next she’ll be making herself a hip new skirt out of their leather jackets. Olivo’s character is never given proper motivation for her actions; she seems to kill because she feels an unquenchable thirst for carnage. You can actually see the character begin to twitch when too much time has passed since she last snuffed the life out of a victim.

On the surface, there is not much that separates Olivo’s character from the two murderers in Open House, another home invasion film I watched recently. All three characters are introduced to the audience without any backstory and they prey on their victims with a mixture of seduction and sadism.

What separates Olivo’s psychopath from Open House‘s home invaders, though, is the little quirks that Masciantonio gives his character. Between her frequent quoting of serial killer films such as The Silence of the Lambs to the gleeful way she invents new ways to off people with whatever tools she finds lying around the house, Olivo is an unsettlingly quirky killer.

Her damage goes deeper, though. In one scene, while handling a knife, Olivo’s character accidentally nicks her finger — sending the woman into a wave of hysterics as she pulls at her hair and desperately rushes to apply a band-aid. This behavior reminded me of my sister — a woman who can watch the goriest films on a non-stop loop but if she is shown her own blood she faints. I’m pretty sure my sis isn’t breaking into people’s homes and murdering them, though.

The ying to Olivo’s yang is Christian Campbell as Don Carpenter, a musician who finds himself the unwilling obsession of his new neighbor. While I enjoyed Campbell’s work in Reefer Madness: The Musical, I couldn’t really stand his acting in Neighbor. Masciantonio crafted some pretty witty dialogue for his killer but he provides the rest of his craft with some downright stale, cliché-ridden prattle. When delivered by Campbell, the dialogue is grating to the extreme. This put me in the weird position of actually rooting for Olivo’s character — something I normally hate to do with horror movies.

I’m one of those old school horror fans that prefer their monsters and their heroes cast in black and white. I don’t like the idea of cheering for a serial killer who slaughters the innocent. Olivo’s charisma combined with Campbell’s lackluster performance reminded me of the similar situation I was put into by Cary Elwes incessant mewling in the original Saw movie.

Besides Don, Olivo’s character gets her kicks offing a procession of unlucky victims as they wonder in to check on their friend in preparation for a party he is supposed to be throwing. The manners of death Olivo’s character dispatches her victims with is varied — the one thing they have in common being their extremely bloody nature.

It’s obvious that Masciantonio was proud of Vincent Guastini’s special effects work. In the unrated cut of Neighbor that was recently released on DVD, Masciantonio really spotlights the blood-soaked special effects Guastini congers up — possibly to an unfortunate degree.

Most practical special effects work well because they are seen in fleeting glances. While Guastini certainly did an admirable job with the dismemberments, disfigurements and unspeakable acts performed on male genitals, the extreme close-ups and lingering shots of the special effects actually hurt some of their believability.

For horror fans who specifically get off on extreme gore, Neighbor offers the goods — and then some. For everybody else, though, Masciantonio didn’t need to linger so much on the graphic details of the torture. In fact, the most memorable scene — one involving a swizzle stick being inserted somewhere god awfully disgusting and then snapped in half — is only partially shown on screen. The sound effects that accompany the act carry the scene far more than anything shown.

The movie’s first twenty minutes begin slow with scenes of Don and his friends that seem to drag on longer than they really are — due to the sub-par acting of everybody who is in the film and not named America Olivo.

There are some good bits throughout the film — especially for those who enjoy the torture porn genre. Olivo’s character is highly memorable — reminiscent of Robin McLeavy’s Lola from the 2009 Australian film The Loved Ones.

As a gory slasher film, Neighbor does a great job getting audiences to squirm in their seats. As a horror film, it fails to pack any real scares — instead relying on gross-out tactics to make up for its lack of atmosphere or tension.

Like this review, Neighbor is a bit disjointed in structure. Close to the second act, the film suddenly switches gears and attempts a bit of high-concept audience mindfuckery. Unfortunately, this effect is done halfheartedly and leaves audiences cold and a little pissed off. I could appreciate what Masciantonio was trying to do with the plot device but by abandoning it before it had time to sink in, it felt like wasted wankering — shameless pandering done in an effort to give the film a bit more class than it deserved (or needed).

Neighbor is forever switching tones — leapfrogging from a retro ‘70s grindhosue feel in some scenes, achieving an early John Carpenter tone with a retro musical score by Kurt Oldman and than finally succumbing to the ’00s trend of extreme violence shown for violence sake.

Neighbor is not a great film but it doesn’t need to be. It gets the job done in what it sets out to do — take audiences on a butt-wiggling nerve ride through some of the most disgusting special effects to be put in front of a camera in the last few years. What more can we really expect from a film like Neighbor?

Robert Saucedo suggests that if a sequel to Neighbor is ever made, the filmmakers follow the trend of Aliens and Predators and name the new film Neighbors and hire Robin McLeavy and America Olivo’s roommate. Dun-Dun-Dunn! Follow Robert on Twitter @robsaucedo2500.

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