Only a horror film can get away with having a film based around two groups of friends that decide their differences by playing one another bowling. Seriously, just the thought of that is absurd, and it fills my head with other lame ideas like street gangs settling their beef by dance-offs. But this is a horror film, remember? Weird set-ups like this almost scream to be viewed for the sheer fun of it. So it’s good to see that Gutterballs, the film that indeed has the aforementioned premise, for the most part does deliver on the hilarity the basis hints at.
Two groups of friends, rivals with one another, apparently enjoy bowling a hell of a lot, as they’re allowed to come to a local bowling alley after hours and spend their evenings playing against each other. One night, no sooner than they all arrive, a fight breaks out between them, which is broken up by the janitor, forcing them all to leave. On the way to their car, one of the girls named Lisa realizes she’s left her purse inside, and returns to retrieve it. She doesn’t find it where she thought she had left it, so she goes up to the arcade to look for it there. Upon arriving, she finds the rival group, led by Steve, Lisa’s former boyfriend, holding onto her purse. They proceed to assault and then brutally rape her.
The next night, the two groups return to the bowling alley to pick up the game they weren’t able to finish the night before. Lisa apparently hasn’t told anyone about what happened the previous night, as no one seems to be the wiser. As the two teams register their names on the scoreboard, an unknown entrant using the initials BBK, is added to the board. Each of the teams thinks it’s the other screwing around, but they couldn’t be farther from the truth. Soon, the bowlers begin being picked off one-by-one by a killer that wears a bowling bag over his head, and every time he successfully scores a kill, he scores a strike on the scoreboard, and before very long, he’s outscoring both the teams.
Gutterballs is the definition of excess; every single element that can be exploited is done so to the nth degree. First of all, the film is full of sex much more graphic than I could have ever expected. The rape that triggers the events of the film is extremely hard to watch. Owing a lot to I Spit on Your Grave, the scene is unflinchingly in your face, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns a lot of people off. Of course, scenes like this are what the squeamish have a fast-forward button for. What makes the scene so damn effective is that what comes before is humorous, and most of what comes after is rather tongue-in-cheek. It’s an abrasive, disturbing 5 minutes in an otherwise schlock-filled, over-the-top affair (which is made clear with scenes such as a guy saying “Dude! What happened to your head?” when he finds his buddies decapitated body), and it’s obvious that director Ryan Nicholson wanted it to stick out and have viewers sit up and take notice during it. He whole-heartedly succeeded. The sex doesn’t end there however; there’s numerous other sex scenes injected throughout the film, although these are of the consenting sort. They’re explicit themselves, bordering on XXX fare. The camera never shies away from showing naughty bits and sex acts. The overload of sex becomes redundant after a while, but it but if you're a teenage horror fan, Gutterballs is your wet dream put to film.
Complimenting the copious amount of sex and nudity is the equally ample violence and gore. The film skimps a bit during the first half, choosing to go with some originality with the kills rather than drench them all in the red stuff. In a film chock full of so much sex, it makes sense to incorporate a kill into one of the scenes, and we get so in amazing fashion: death by 69. Apparently someone didn’t know that when “choke on it” is said during sex it isn’t supposed to be taken literally. As the body count rises, so does the level of raw, violent insanity. There’s some sick stuff to be seen, from bowling pins up asses and down throats (although not with the same pin, that would just be unsanitary), bowling balls smashing skulls, ball waxing machines waxing off faces, faces being bludgeoned with bowling pins à la Irreversible, and a sex-change operation that will cause phantom pains in every male viewer. All of this works so well because the FX work is incredible; for a low-budget horror film, the FX are some of the best I’ve ever come across. All involved should be commended for their work with the practical gore FX, and these are the guys that Hollywood should be using, not a CGI program.
Alas, excess in all areas isn’t always a good thing. I believe during the films 96 minute runtime, I heard the word “fuck” more times than I have in my 28 years on Earth. I think that if they had just been able to squeezed the word in there one more time, a demonic dragon would have been called forth from Hell and the apocalypse would have been upon us (hopefully you watch South Park.) I understand wanting to write dialogue naturally, as people speak in life, but I've never met a person who uses the word so often. If I ever heard anyone walking down the street saying things like “Fuck! This fucking thing fucking sucks, motherfucker!”, I would have to slap them, and I'm one of the least violent people I know. If there’s an award for how many times “fuck” has been used in a film, Gutterballs is easily the winner.
Gutterballs is ultimately an homage to 80’s horror flicks such as Happy Birthday to Me and The Slumber Party Massacre, and it does so rather winningly, pitfalls and all. While we’re never told when the film takes place, many of the characters look like they were pulled straight out of the early years of MTV; the girls especially look like they’re Tiffany groupies. The characters are of the standard archetypes you’d usually find in these films: the dick, the jock, the nerd, the slut, the transvestite, the crazy dude, and so on. Likewise, the characters are all as dumb as their 80’s counterparts. Has someone disappeared? Go send someone to look for them. Did that person never come back? Go send another person. It’s not until there’s 3 people left that they even start to think something weird is going on! The look and sound of the film helps create the 80’s vibe as well; the lighting and camera work has a Grindhouse feel to it, and the soundtrack is full of keyboards and synths (and some music from 80’s Canadian band Harlequin).
Certainly not a film for everyone, Gutterballs is a fun romp through 80’s Slasher nostalgia that has enough going for it to warrant a look. The gratuitous sex and the uncompromising rape scene is sure to turn many off, but for those willing to stick with it, there’s a lot to appreciate, especially in the second-half of the film. While it’s not a strike, Gutterballs definitely picks up the spare.
Gutterballs has recently been released under TLA Releasing’s Danger After Dark label, and they've delivered a very good package for an indie feature such as this. The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and it looks sub-par at best. Surprisingly though, it adds to the 80’s vibe the film is shooting for. There’s lots of grain and some shots look pretty bad, but it’s fine for a film like this. The sound gets the 5.1 Dolby Digital treatment, but it’s generally underused, with the surround only kicking in for music. The recorded audio is a little spotty at times, due to the budget restraints, and some dialogue is hard to make out.
The main feature on the disc is a 43 minute making of featurette entitled “Behind the Balls”. It’s shot in a sort of music-video style, with lots of behind the scenes footage inter-spliced with interviews from the cast and crew, some of which are quite entertaining. The disc is rounded off with commentary from director Ryan Nicholson, a stills gallery, and the films teaser trailer.
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