Science fiction can tell you a lot about a society’s aspirations and anxieties; horror is an inside look at what a culture dreads and holds dear in equal measure. That extends to b-movies and low budget affairs too: don’t let anyone tell you THE EVIL DEAD isn’t art. Because I think film’s worth is democratic, I keep my selections eclectic and don’t stand on ceremony about propriety or provenance. My willingness to experience films from all corners means that friends periodically send me stuff to watch. And while I’m always grateful to get DVDs and Blu-rays in the mail, my criteria for enjoyment don’t always align with someone else’s idea of a good time off the cinematic grid. And so, we come to DEATH-SCORT SERVICE.
Before I watched this, I was a little puzzled by its reviews. While Letterboxd and IMDb offered some impressions, the only people talking about this at any length were on gorehound sites. Much as I love the horror genre, I don’t frequent those because too many exist in a state of uncritical fandom intertangled with publicity for the films they talk about. Those work at cross purposes to impartiality and thoughtful analysis. The reviews I could find made excited non-statements amounting to, “if this is the kind of film you like, then you’re gonna love this!” Swap out the blood, murder, and boobs for puppies and sports, and it’d be the same guy breathlessly raving about an Air Bud sequel. I wasn’t encouraged.
Nevertheless, I’d gotten a film as a gift and representative sample of micro-budget Florida horror. I’d be a fool to turn down the chance to experience it. So please believe me when I say that I walked into this with an open mind. But DEATH-SCORT SERVICE manages the hat trick of being dull, eye-rolling, and seemingly endless in all of 79 minutes.
Discussing the plot in detail isn’t necessary, but it revolves around working girls being hunted by a serial killer. Let me start by saying this is smutty in a way that isn’t fun or interesting. There’s a lot of explicit nudity here, even for a film centered around prostitutes in peril, and it’s nearly always presented before some combination of hokey sadism, screaming, simulated violence, and corn syrup gore. The film’s major moments comprise a series of events designed to tickle the pleasure centers of gross, misogynistic people. What’s portrayed doesn’t hang together in a satisfying way, and it’s boring as hell. I’m fine with savage butchery, but there’s no cold fury conveyed in its violence. This feels grimy. Moments intended to deliver the goods are artless and leering. Anyone defending that as a hallmark of some exploitation cinema is not necessarily wrong, but they are lumping a lot of daring, transgressive film in with this underachiever.
Between a tiny budget and the call for exposed flesh there’s a reason so many of the cast were pulled from local Florida porn industry talent. I can’t fault their enthusiasm, but casting a theater student or two may have improved things. What’s more certain is that setting the action in Las Vegas when DEATH-SCORT SERVICE was shot for a budget of $1500 in Florida was silly. What harm would it do to lean into the local setting? Is it more or less likely that a serial killer would descend upon a small town in the Deep South with inferior law enforcement and greater prejudice against sex workers? Even if that hadn’t been bungled, the filmmakers missed a chance to expand upon the villain’s psychology in a way that was clever. Internalized misogyny in a slasher could be a great angle to explore. Unfortunately the characterization of its antagonist is handled with the same incurious cruelty as the rest of it. Finally, the music is awful, and unattractive cinematography and lighting design make it hard to look at after a while.
I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more horror this year. But that doesn’t mean I want to make a habit of watching stuff in this register. And I don’t ever wanna be thought of as the DEATH-SCORT SERVICE guy just because I went to the trouble to pan it at length. If you run into a moviegoer who’s snobbish against slasher movies because they consider them witless, sex-negative dreck, this is what they’re afraid of.