Monday, December 2, 2019

“I Just Automatically Think of Mosquitoes” - Fatal Exposure (1989) - Film #163

There are times when a filmmaker takes a risk by combining multiple genres, and the result is a refreshing step above the limitations of any of its genres. Such is the case with director Peter B. Good's Fatal Exposure (1989), a shot-on-video mixture of late-night soft-core antics and gore movies.

While some critics in your universe appreciate the film, others do not. For example, reviewer Chouty writes, "If you want to see a bunch of cheap Special FX with no class, rent this movie. But I wouldn't waste my $2.00 on it." And reviewer JimInDC writes, "Photographer kidnaps and kills models while his dense girlfriend procures more victims without having any clue as to what he is doing. Made on a $1.59 budget."

Read on for an appreciation of the many charms of Fatal Exposure...

Fatal Exposure begins with what might be dismissed as a standard slasher film beginning. A young man with a mullet and a young woman make out in a pickup truck while a sinister figure lurks outside in front of a bright, almost Spielbergian, klieg light.

As the couple strips naked, the camera follows the mysterious figure’s shows and then reveals he is holding a wood-handled icepick, which might bode slightly ill for our blonde-haired couple.

“I heard something,” the woman says. “Would you go check it out? It’s scaring me.”

The man puts his shirt on and walks quickly away from the truck, believing one of his friends is playing a prank. However, his friend is nowhere to be seen.

At the truck, the woman thinks nothing of allowing a mysterious hand to come through the window (which she has not rolled up) and caress her shoulder. She kisses the hand, but remarks that it is cold. Seconds later, she finds out why the hand is cold: her boyfriend slumps into frame, the icepick in his neck.

She screams and runs from the car, dressed only in lacy underpants. (She is, indeed, fatally exposed.) After a few minutes, she is grabbed by the mysterious man and threatens with an icepick (either the same one that was in her boyfriend’s neck, or perhaps a fresh icepick). The man asks her a series of questions. “Are you obsessed with dying?”

She says, “I don’t want to die.”

“Second question: What do you think about when you hear the word blood?”

“You’re hurting me,” she says.

“Have you ever considered murdering someone?”

“Never, I swear!”

“That’s too bad,” says the killer. “Those are the wrong answers, MaryBeth."

Cruelly, he stabs her in the mouth with the icepick and she dies.

The credits roll, accompanied by a song with the chorus, “You can’t run from the Law of Desire.”

Later, during the day, a couple drives up a driveway. The wife, Maggie, explains she promised she would invite the resident of the house to church. “He’s a photographer,” her husband, Jeff, says. “I mean, those people are kind of strange, aren’t they? We don’t even know if he’s the church-going type.”

“Well, honey, if he’s not a Baptist, we’ll just have to help him become a Baptist.”

They park in front of a big mansion. When nobody answers her knocks at the door, Maggie snoops through a window, but what she sees shocks her: a man attacking a woman with an axe.

Of course, the axe is fake, according to the man, as is the subject of the attack. The man explains as much to the churchgoers. “I’m a photographer, and I was just staging a photo layout.”

Then he introduces himself as Jack Rippington, certainly a common, everyday name that would never engender superstition.

Jeff and Maggie have tea with Mr. Rippington, where they invite him to church, as well as to join the softball team. Mr. Rippington laughs at the irony of their invitation and the fact he almost scared Maggie to death.

“Right now, I’m doing a article for Perspective Magazine,” Jeff explains, “and it’s a layout on the art of murder. And it’s my job to come up with different ways that people have been murdered over the years.”

“That sounds morbid,” Maggie says.

“No, no, actually it’s fascinating. It’s great. I keep on running into problems. You saw for yourself. The mannequins, they just don’t look real. I’ve got to come up with a new concept.”

Surprisingly, Maggie suggests, “Why in the world don’t you just use real people?”

“You know, Maggie,” says Jack Rippington, “that is a great idea.” He wants to use Maggie and Jeff as his victims/subjects. Of course, they agree immediately.

They adjourn to Jack’s photo studio, which is filled with torture implements as well as a wicker chair. While Maggie goes to change her dress, Jeff sits in a stocks, only mildly concerned when Jack locks the stocks and cleverly tapes Jeff’s hand to a shutter release remote. “I’m going to be busy cutting your head off,” Jack says, and he does just that. As Jeff’s hand clenches, the camera takes the murder photo.

Unaware of her husband’s demise, Maggie walks into a different photo studio, where she drops her sweater to reveal seductive lingerie. She has also completely changed her hairstyle.

“Where’s the dress?” Jack asks.

“I just thought I might wear something a little bit more...interesting.”

“I see you decided to change your wardrobe,” Jack says unnecessarily, having already remarked on her clothing. He kisses Maggie on the neck.

“Where’s Jeff?”

“He went out to get some cigarettes.”

“But Jeff doesn’t smoke.”

“I do.” Maggie kisses him, unconcerned about her husband. He ties her up in a chair, preparing to photograph her. Ominously, he asks, “What do you think about when you hear the word blood?”

Of course, like most people would, she says, “I just automatically think of mosquitos.”

Her answer is wrong, so Jack stabs her with a needle, injecting her with some sort of acid or a flesh-eating virus.

As she dies, Maggie quips, “I guess this means you won’t be going to church.”

At this point, the filmmakers reveal another ace in their sleeves. Jeff works in his darkroom and he directly addresses the audience. “My great-grandfather was an artist. He created works that influenced the entire world.” He continues, “He was known by many names, some obscure, some more popular. But the best known of those names was Jack the Ripper. That’s right. Jack the Ripper was my great-grandfather.” He tells us about the day Jack the Ripper set him down and told him, “It’s blood that makes a man a man.”

He walks into the next room and drinks some of the blood he’s collected from his victims because blood keeps a man sexually potent.

Coincidentally, the sheriff drops by seconds later, hoping Jack, as a photographer, will help the sheriff’s office out with their annual, whatever that is. In a series of comic mishaps, the sheriff smells and hears something burning, which Jack takes care of by going into the room with the dead bodies and picking up his cut full of blood (we never see anything burning). Next, the sheriff takes a swig from Jack’s cup of blood, declaring it strong stuff and then driving off.

After the sheriff leaves, Jack buries Maggie and Jeff in the cemetery next door. The caretaker, for some reason, finds a man wheeling a wheelbarrow through the cemetery suspicious, so he confronts Jack with a shotgun.

Jack talks his way out of this problem, then stumbles across two young women, Erica and Gretchen, ghost-hunting in the cemetery (cleverly, they overhear Jack speaking to us, the audience, about what he plans to do with the caretaker).

“Do you ever shoot people?” Erica asks.

“Every chance I get,” Jack replies. “Come up to my studio, I’ll be happy to shoot you.”

After killing another attractive young woman and burying her, Jack explains to us that he asks women three questions because he’s looking for the perfect woman to give him a son, Jack Junior.

When Erica arrives for her photo shoot, Jack notices she looks just like his great-grandmother.

“It’s a pretty weird coincidence,” Erica says.

Jack asks her his questions. She answers that she has been obsessed with death and dying, and that the word blood turns her own. “You know...sexually.” She also admits that she has thought about killing someone. Because she answered all the questions correctly, Jack takes her to his bedroom, complete with a polar bear-skin rug, to make love to her. For a long, long time.

In an interesting turn, Jack recruits Erica to help him out by traveling to the city, finding models secretly, and paying them in cash. Of course, Jack has more than just modeling on his mind. He also makes the rather Gothic request of Erica to never go into his darkroom—never to even open the door.

While Erica is at work, Jack invites her friend Gretchen to his house so they can get to know each other better. Perhaps the eagle-eyed viewer can guess that his intentions are less than pure, as he has a bottle with the subtle label “CHLOROFORM” on the coffee table.

Jack abducts Gretchen, dresses her in a purple nightgown, and straps her to a table. Using a handheld circular saw in a scene to rival the blood-soaked antics of Herschell Gordon Lewis and Roger Watkins, the safety-conscious, goggle-wearing Jack gorily dismembers poor Gretchen,  dumping her parts in a trash can.

Jack’s plan continues efficiently, as Erica (ignorant of his murderous side) drives to the city and hires models to come to Jack. Then he kills them in creative ways, such as electricity, and he dumps them in the cemetery with his wheelbarrow.

He shows Erica his photographs, but tells her the models are good actresses (capable of creating their own gore makeup, perhaps). He continues to drink the models’ blood to ensure his own potency and fertility, and he continues to make love to Erica, hoping to create Jack Rippington, Jr. Finally, as they lie on the polar bear rug one night, Erica tells Jack she is pregnant.

“You’re pregnant?” he says. “Is it mine?”

Not everything goes so well, however. The cemetery caretaker discovers the bodies Jack has been burying, so Jack is forced to shoot the man in the head.

Erica stumbles across a news story (the paper is shown to her by a lady named Mrs. Kubrick, possibly as a nod related to the similarity of the names Jack Rippington and General Jack D. Ripper from Dr. Strangelove) about one of the models she recruited, which sparks her suspicions. Jack explains the disappearance by saying the model said she wanted to give up and start over in California.

Jack later kills the sheriff by spiking his beer with acid (helpfully kept in a brown bottle labeled “ACID” next to the chloroform). As everyone knows, ingesting acid causes blood to squirt from one’s ears.

When Erica hears a radio news report about additional models disappearing, her suspicions flare up again and she drives to Jack’s house. She runs inside as the sheriff is expiring in the foyer. “Erica,” Jack says, “I think we need to have a little talk.”

After strangling Erica into unconsciousness, Jack explains himself when she wakes up. He imprisons her in the house, waiting until the baby is born.

In a surreal and artfully Gothic sequence, Erica wanders through the house, finally stepping into a warm bath before Jack sneaks up behind her and slits her throat. Of course, this is simply a dream, and Erica is still confined in her room.

Erica proves herself to be quite resourceful, however, as she fakes her own suicide by hanging and stabs Jack with a shard of broken window. He chases her through the house and she finally breaks into his darkroom, where she finds the acid and throws it in his face.

Finally, for good measure, Erica hits him in the head with a hammer.

In the film’s chilling coda, Erica applies makeup to her face while wearing a massive white wedding gown. Then she takes photos of Jack with the final line “Say cheese, Jack.”

(Sadly, there is no follow-up about her baby. What an irony it would be if Jack Rippington, Jr. turned out to be a girl.)

Among its many interesting qualities, Fatal Exposure could be seen as a proto-torture porn movie (this is made even more clear by the film's alternate title, Mangled Alive). Although film historians can trace torture porn back to Blood Feast (1963) and earlier, Fatal Exposure is, in several scenes, as mean-spirited as the torture movies of the mid-2000s. The initial murder is quite brutal and unforgiving, and one of the high points of the film is Gretchen's dismemberment by saw. Director Peter B. Good, who also made The Force on Thunder Mountain, leavens the grisly mean-spiritedness with some light-heartedness and even comedy, giving the film a balance that is lacking in many similar films.

In the end, Fatal Exposure is a film that knows exactly what it wants to do, made by filmmakers with the confidence to pull it off. Although it was shot on video with what must be a minimal budget, Fatal Exposure can only be described as a "ripping" success.