Kristy Swanson used to be a looker, that’s for sure. But in her latest film, the passably stitched together if somewhat dubiously plotted psychological horror picture Living Death, she’s shot tightly to frame her in the most flattering light. The contours of the face and upper arms don’t frequently lie, though. It’s one of the things your mind occasionally wanders to during the movie, which otherwise trots through obligatory paces in its story of a philandering, vindictive wife and her psychotic, unhinged husband.
The story centers around Victor Harris (Greg Bryk), a twisted, trust-fund millionaire who’s used to getting what he wants — both in matters of finance and kinky sex. When we first meet him, he’s busy cheating on wife Elizabeth (Swanson) by putting the moves on a random skeezer and taking her… to his meticulously gloomy attic torture chamber. Her resultant crippling injury is settled by Victor’s dutiful lawyer Roman Arbogast (Josh Peace), who’s also carrying on an affair with Elizabeth. Together the two hatch a plan to knock Victor off, using an allegedly undetectable drug that paralyzes him. When Victor comes to in the morgue, however, and suffers a bunch of medical students poking at him, he’s understandably pissed off, and sets off on a campaign of brutal revenge.
That all of this leads to a climactic showdown in which Victor and Roman square off against one another, with Elizabeth rushing into the breach to get her piece of the action, is certainly fated, and not necessarily amazingly rendered in Leo Scherman’s story. But director Erin Berry works up a few good effects shots (arms being ripped from a torso, for instance), and smartly keeps his cast all on the same page regarding the tone of the material. (The medical students are especially funny, and nicely given a small bit of some fleshed-out dimensionality.) There’s nothing really too special here — this is your typical calling card-type film for the below-the-line and behind-the-scenes folks, and a quick payday for actors you mostly haven’t heard of — and the gore factor isn’t high enough for genre diehards, but for fans of Raising Cain who are irked that film never spawned a direct-to-video franchise, this one’s for you.
The film is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, with an accompanying English language 5.1 Dolby digital soundtrack. Nicely, there’s a 21-minute making-of featurette, which includes jokey, good-natured, on-set interviews with the principal cast and a bit of behind-the-scenes material. The first seven minutes, though, consist of director Berry, who talks about the movie’s rootedness in real-life, and how the original script wasn’t as much of a revenge picture, but rather had a more sympathetic version of Victor. Berry then half-jokes that the character was reworked to incorporate more of his own personality traits, and to make him “a complete asswipe.” This segment is compelling in its differentiation from most stuffy interviews with would-be auteurs; Berry comes off as a bit smarmy, and not particularly erudite, but kind of funny and endearing nonetheless. C (Movie) B- (Disc)