Sawed Off is the second in a series of nine screeners I’ve agreed to watch for Horror Obsessive—which means you lucky, lucky people get to read my insane ramblings every day for around the next week or so—and after the glorious trash cinema that was Croc!, I went into this wondering what kind of delicious b-movie mayhem lay in wait for me. According to the blurb that accompanied Sawed Off it is:
In the vein of ‘The Evil Dead meets Groundhog Day,’ the movie centers on two hunters, friends for years and vying for the affections of the same woman, who find themselves on cursed land and keep killing each other and coming back to life.
Which to me is a couple of pretty bold claims. Evil Dead is easily in my Top 20 Favorite Horror Movies Of All Time and Groundhog Day is, well, Groundhog Day. It’s one of Bill Murray’s best-ever roles, what’s not to love? So sitting down with a nice cup of tea I decided to give Sawed Off a chance to impress me, but could it live up to its self-hype or not?
Straight off the bat, I need to take umbrage with part of the description that accompanied Sawed Off. This isn’t a story about two men vying for the same woman’s affection. In fact, Frank (Trae Ireland) even goes as far as to straight out tell Jon (Jody Barton) that he doesn’t care what’s happening between him and Marjorie (Eva Hamilton). So that bit of the blurb is a lie. But outside of that, the claims that Sawed Off is in the vein of the Evil Dead and Groundhog Day are spot on.
Sawed Off has at its heart a very well-written story that Jody Barton, Hunter Johnson, and Chuck Wagner can and should feel very proud of. It’s one that draws you in with tales of fractured friendships and cursed lands and keeps you glued to it through a series of brutal murders while cranking up the will they or won’t they escape the madness that they find themselves trapped in tension. It’s so brilliantly put together that I even forgave it for telegraphing the end at the beginning, as I wanted to see how they’d get to the payoff, even though I had pretty much figured out what it was.
I also think that writing for a small cast must be more difficult at times than writing for a large one. For example, if you have a fair few people to spread the story around then it’s easier than having to make your audience care for and invest in a core dynamic. If you have ten and one of them isn’t “on,” then you’ve got the other nine to fall back upon, but if one of your smaller collection of actors doesn’t quite hit their mark then the whole movie is thrown out of whack. Fortunately, Sawed Off doesn’t suffer from this in the slightest as Jody Barton, Eva Hamilton, and Trae Ireland all give fantastic performances.
Jody Barton’s portrayal of Jon is of a man that ran away from his past, only to find himself dragged back into it for reasons he can’t explain. He still pines for his old flame Marjorie, but there is an undercurrent of darkness that lives inside Jon that eventually comes to the fore in some incredibly bloodthirsty ways. Eva Hamilton’s Marjorie is—at first—a seemingly happy-go-lucky kind of lady, who wants to spend time with her two exes, but as Sawed Off picks up pace, becomes more and more drawn to the unexplained horror that is happening around her…plus, she looks great with a chainsaw. While Trae Ireland’s Frank is just there for the hunting, but when he loses his s*it, boy does he lose his s*it. In fact, while all three of them make Sawed Off a hell of a movie, it’s Trae Ireland’s performance as Frank that really stood out for me. He slips from loyal friend to violent psychopath to comedy genius so easily that you forget that ten minutes earlier he was trying to embed an axe in Jon’s head. And that’s not an easy thing to do. I’ve seen many movies where they’ve tried this formula, but have fallen short. Either the violence takes over and the comedy seems as if it was inserted into the script to just give us some breathing space between the next gore-soaked bloodletting, or the comedy becomes so obvious that it makes the whole film seem absurd. Sawed Off gets the balance of this spot on.
The friendship between Jon and Frank is the main selling point for me. Here are two childhood friends who have drifted apart, both have been in love with the same woman, and that might have just killed their brotherhood quicker than a shotgun shell to the face. Yet through it all, and the horrendous things that Jon and Frank do to each other, they can still find time to see the funny side of the nightmare they’re in.
I don’t watch new horror movies, as a rule. Haven’t done so since around 2004 when SAW came out and every other film that followed decided that it had to be torture porn. I usually focus on the old school with a cut-off date of the year 2000, and if it wasn’t for my offering to take on these screeners to help out, I still wouldn’t be watching new horror movies. This would be a shame as I’d have missed out on Sawed Off and I absolutely adore this film.
Sawed Off has everything I love. It spins a wonderful tale, has three perfectly cast leads who all deliver, and has more blood, guts, and intestine than you could shake Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead at. I cannot praise it enough and urge anyone who even has a passing interest in an Evil Dead meets Groundhog Day horror/comedy that actually lives up to that hype to check it out as soon as they can. I promise you that you won’t be disappointed.