Contrary to what Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez would have us believe, the essence of exploitation cinema lies in the filmmakers’ reckless abandon, not their hipster irony. I’ve argued so in my review of Patrick Lussier’s B-movie throwback Drive Angry (2011), but now I have a legitimate modern-day example: Gordon Price’s indie splatter fest Music Store Massacre (2014). You won’t find this lurid ball of excess on late-night cable or in DVD bargain bins. No, this thing’s so underground you’ll have to bid on eBay to get your hands on it. Be warned though: films of this kind are an acquired taste, one that, to be blunt, I haven’t acquired yet.
Filmed in black-and-white with a budget of roughly fifty thousand dollars, Music Store Massacre comes across as a perverted, hyper-violent version of Clerks (1994) in which all those random passers-by shooting the breeze spew out racist, misogynistic propaganda, rather than comic book references, and then die horrible deaths. Every graphic splatter shot is displayed in full colour, by which I mean bright red, sort of like in Sin City (2005). It’s a neat trick, and special effects designer Jim Choate deserves a lot of credit for making the most outlandish dismemberment look eerily believable.
I dig the premise too. Music Store Massacre tells of a possessed guitar that feeds on our corruption and pushes whoever holds it to commit mass murder. The instrument only work its dark magic on scumbags, which is to say all but three characters out of a whopping cast of seventy-six. The damned thing goes through a lot of owners, to say the least, prompting Price to separate each of their stories with ominous title cards like “Suffer Little Children” and “Reap What You Sow”. I’m not opposed to the device, but it does get a bit much when the movie splits a subplot of no more than four minutes and a half into two distinct chapters (“The Meek” and “Control through Fear”).
I suspect Music Store Massacre might have been better off picking out the strongest of its twenty-plus vignettes and relegating the rest to the DVD special features. I mean, did we really need a chapter called “The Good Samaritan” wherein drug dealers keep misusing the expression “Good Samaritan”? Granted, the thread pays off nicely later, but I sure could’ve skipped the sanctimonious exchange in which Detective Young (Dave Meadows) explains that, whereas his partner (Diane Sokolowich) sees all African Americans as criminals, he sees them as underprivileged folk who’ve turned to crime because “they probably come from broken homes”. Uh, buddy, you’re still associating black people with delinquency. That’s not awesome.
I’m also tickled by the irony of Music Store Massacre preaching for less hatred in the world, all the while reveling in bloody gunshots and severed appendages. I understand Price’s outrage, mind you. According to the trailer, he based most of his screenplay on real newspaper headlines, and, yeah, it’s hard not to feel sometimes like the world’s going to hell in a hand basket. A scholarly poet may capture this emotion with four-syllable words and complex alliterations, but there’s nothing wrong with a more visceral fringe artist expressing it with innumerable splatter shots, incessant cussing, and gratuitous nudity.
Seriously, a woman can’t go more than five minutes in Music Store Massacre without taking her top off. Two minutes later, you’re likely to see her get violated by a crazed maniac or six, justifying the credit “Rapist Number Three” in light of most of the other dozen rapists having proper names. I admit to having major misgivings about this. On the one hand, Price clearly disapproves of sexual assault. On the other, I fear less discerning viewers might confuse unflinching depiction for sick titillation.
Look, they wouldn’t call it fringe cinema if it were made for everybody. Here’s a simple test to determine whether this sort of film appeals to you. Whenever the guitar entrances people into a killing spree, they repeat over and over again, “Death to thou who hates”. I’m unclear whether that means “Death to you who hate”, “Death to he who hates”, or even “Death to they who hate”, but, grammatically speaking, they should at least be saying, “Death to thou who hate”. If this sort of detail bothers you as well, then please, for all our sakes, skip this movie. If, on the other hand, reading this last paragraph made you want to bash my head in with a blunt object, you should probably give Music Store Massacre a try.