THE JACKHAMMER MASSACRE is much more and unfortunately much less than its title. Aiming to be more than your run of the mill horror, it's prime entertainment for nihilists... if nihilists truly want to be entertained that is. It's a film so filled with drugs, hopelessness and decay that you feel like you need a shower afterwards.
The main character is named Jack ( as in Jack "Hammer?" Ooooh! ), a semi-reputable businessman with a good career, a new Dodge Viper and a bit of a drug problem. He joins his friend who takes him to a new dealer's pad, the type of place that doesn't have maid service, but it does have topless junkie girls everywhere you look. The two sit down and get a new batch from the punker dealer, who tells them its different than the usual stuff and will really send them into orbit. If orbit meant the afterlife, he was right. After snorting and injecting the stuff, Jack's friend overdoses and the two are kicked out before they draw any unwanted attention. Jack calls 911 and really provides all the information the emergency workers would need. Still, he's unsuccessful and unwilling to risk getting caught with hard drugs in his system, Jack leaves him to die on the pavement. When Jack returns to his home, there is a message from his boss asking him to come into work and a message from the cops asking him to come down from the station. Unable to deal with the pressure, Jack instead gets high and starts his journey into oblivion. He never does return to work.
A year passes and everything has been flushed down the toilet. The job is gone. The car was stolen a long time ago. Jack has cut off contact with everyone around him. He eats out of garbage cans. He rides a bike that he may not have even paid for. Not that he goes anywhere, as it only takes him to and from drug connections. He spends most of his time sleeping and getting high in a run-down machinist's shop where he has been hired off the books as a security guard. He is now unable to even pay for the drugs that circulate through his system 24-7. A dealer comes by the shop demanding his money, which Jack doesn't have. He is injected with a cocktail of speed, PCP, heroin and other lethal doses of hard drugs, with the aim of bringing on a heart attack. There is no logical reason why Jack shouldn't die right there. Instead, he gets up stronger than ever and eradicates the dealer's face with - yes, a jackhammer.
Up to this point the film had not been entertaining but it was a very gritty and somewhat depressing film about the dangers of drug abuse. Many SOV films have dismissed a "just say 'no'" message. THE JACKHAMMER MASSACRE would want us to just say "no, no for the love of God, no!" The imagery is so intense, it would be hard to imagine this not being the case. Director Joe Castro (TERROR TOONS, THE HAZING) uses dirty realism and low-grade video effects to show a trip down the sewage canal typically not seen outside of the literature of underground greats like Burroughs. It is intense and nasty stuff and will likely turn your stomach if you're not prepared for it. The preparation and injection of drugs is shown in graphic detail. We are introduced to a white-collar guy who isn't the straightest arrow out there. But in less than a year, he is reduced to urinating on himself and injecting his own puss and drug filled blood back into his infected arms just to sustain the high. It all sounds like stuff that should be embraced by the right wing, except it's told in a straight-forward no bullshit manner that would never appeal to that puritanical crowd.
Now, while the film has been a practice in gritty realism, what it has not been up to this point is a horror film - at least not in the traditional sense of the word. That all changes once Jack kills his first victim and that's also when the film goes straight to hell. All of the sudden, Jack begins having delusions as his dead friend pops up over his shoulder and starts telling him the DEA have been watching him. His friend keeps feeding him these paranoid fantasies, telling him monsters and drug agents are coming to infiltrate the building and do away with him. To stop them, he has to kill again and keep killing after that.
Unfortunately, this is an unusually busy time for the shop. It has just been sold by the owner, who comes by to hand Jack his walking papers, followed by the investors and the movers. Jack's sister also stops by with her girlfriend in tow when she senses something horrible has happened to her brother. All of them find someone who has long since gone beyond the realm of rational thought. Jack is now a pale killing machine, given to super strength, hallucinations and a murderous rage that comes in handy with all the tools that are laying around.
With a title like THE JACKHAMMER MASSACRE, we sort of know what to expect. The film's tragic flaw is that it does give us the massacre of the title and much less. We wait for nearly half the film's running time for it to turn into a horror film. Be careful what you wish for. Once Jack starts his killing spree, nothing can prevent the film from being an ultra-gory but very pedestrian slasher film.
Jack's friend who keeps telling him to kill is a hokey and unwelcome plot device that we have seen before. Every time he popped up, my heart sank as I knew it was just going to be more frantic shouting by this hallucinogenically-based enabler. The film starts out as a heavy-hitter whose imagery nearly slips into the realm of cinema verite. But it ends up a by the number horror film. There is not one scene that generates any kind of scares. Attempts to build up suspense only feel like padding. The actual killings are quite boring as we've seen similar things in many other indie slashers. People make stupid mistakes when they should be running. They try to reason with Jack when they should know there is no reasoning with someone that insane. And you know, if you slip in a pile of guts that used to be your friend, maybe you should hop in your truck and get out of there. It's the most tired and haphazard execution you can imagine in these scenes, right down to the bullshit ending.
Even the innovation of using the jackhammer as a murder weapon is a letdown. The machine gets more than a passing glance, sure. But it actually makes for a pretty lame weapon. It's too clunky to be sexy. It's a blunt instrument that does not allow for any kind of grace or creativity beyond its own presentation. Plus, it runs on electricity. Indeed, Jack plugs in what must be an amazingly long extension cord. He is able to run all the way around the inside and outside of the shop and yet, the thing never gets unplugged except when the plot calls for it. For some reason, the device also has some sort of camouflage as the cord is never visible to any of the potential victims wandering around the place until Jack leaps out of the shadows and starts hammering. And how can he run the thing when the power is off half the time anyway? What he plugs into sure didn't look like a generator to me.
The first half of the film isn't great, but it does do right what the film seems to get wrong in it's final 45 minutes. It would have been nice to be introduced to Jack a little more before his fall from grace. We see him chat with co-workers for a few seconds before heading off to get high with his friend. This does not give us an appreciation of who Jack was before he destroyed himself. We especially don't really know anyone from Jack's life save for the friend, who takes a lot of drugs and verbally abuses his girlfriend. In fact, the film gives us no one to root for until Jack starts killing. At that point, they bring in a few sympathetic characters to serve as jackhammer fodder. It's as if Castro had sensed that if he limited to victims to dealers and gangsters, no one would care. If a junkie kills a dealer or vice versa, who really cares? It's when they bring in the fresh meat that we start to take notice. In a nice touch, one of the characters is a recovering junkie who knows the tell-tale signs of drug-induced paranoia and insanity. It's a shame these flourishes only make their way into the inferior second half instead of the superior first. Even one scene with Jack's sister could have sealed the deal, but the film only introduces her when it comes time to put her in jeopardy.
This is all a shame. Castro shows some real promise and does try to bring something new to the table. The problem is that while his drama is somewhat effective, his horror isn't. This is surprising since horror is primarily where Castro's background lies. I have not yet seen another Castro film, but I have a couple laying around here and I would like to see him make a complete success. It should also be noted that the acting is a thousand times better than what we typically see in SOV cinema. Each person has a definite character and projects that persona onto the screen effectively.
THE JACKHAMMER MASSACRE isn't a complete wash, but it is too flawed to recommend. The film starts out as a troubled but well-intentioned production and then descends into abject stupidity. The film pulls no punches, but you get the feeling that with a little more focus and a lot more balance, the film could have been a lot better. Instead, this film that combines THE TOOLBOX MURDERS with REEFER MADNESS is hard-hitting, but less entertaining than either one of those films.