This pure-pulp thrill ride jumps between past and present as it pieces together the puzzle of a shocking crime. It's 1978 and a bank robbery gone wrong leaves Vivian (The Last Exorcism's Ashley Bell) the hostage of two criminals on the run. But things go from bad to off-the-rails berserk when she and her captors wind up on the sun-baked desert outpost of a deranged ex-military sniper (Pat Healy), who ensnares them in his deadly game of cat and mouse. Rising horror auteur Mickey Keating (Pod, Darling) directs this gritty, grisly homage to the glory days of grindhouse cinema.
“How far does a scream travel out here, Wyatt?”
Grindhouse inspired flicks are a dime a dozen these days. Glance across any bargain bin at your local big box store or even scroll through your favorite streaming service and you’ll see that budget-friendly filmmakers and studios are cranking out endless throwbacks. For every ‘Bounty Killer’ or ‘Nude Nuns With Big Guns’ there is a ‘House of 1000 Corpses’ or a ‘Wolf Creek’. How these films can excel is in a new interpretation to the old material or providing such a blatant homage that you’ll run out to see those old flicks they’re ripping off so well. ‘Carnage Park’ tries to attempt the former but lands squarely in the latter.
The film opens on the arid brushlands of 1978 California. Wyatt (Pat Healy) offers a tense monologue which details his position as an ex-military sniper needing to exact revenge with his rifle. A revenge fueled by the sidelining of veteran benefits and the casting aside of those who “bled for God’s country”. We cut to amateur bank robbers Scorpion Joe and Lenny racing out of town after the job goes south. The hope to reach Mexico before the authorities catch them. Tied up in the trunk is their hostage Vivian played by seasoned horror actress Ashley Bell. Down that dusty road is a threat far worse than the cops. You see Wyatt’s revenge comes at a steep price. “God don’t pick no favorites” he says attempting to justify the killing of dozens who pass by his property. Using a few shots he strands the amateur robbers and their hostage in the desert far from civilization. ‘Carnage Park’ then expertly shifts from a heist thriller to a horror survival flick in just a few bloody moments.
Writer/Director Mickey Keating uses ‘Reservoir Dogs’ as a template for the bank robbery scenes with some success. His use of slo-mo and a cool Vietnamese rock tune make the bank robbery scene one of the better Tarantino rip-off’s in memory. Keating then abruptly shifts the tone with a few well placed gory effects. Thankfully Keating knows how to balance the tension and horror effectively. The camera moves quite a bit and incorporates a number of genre specific tropes to remind us what we’re watching. At times I felt you could make a drinking game of spotting the horror homages. Given the detailed production design and the attention to specific imagery from films like ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, ‘My Bloody Valentine’, and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’ the film becomes a fun thrill ride for horror fans.
Keating’s attention to horror fuels the narrative and from it he gets some solid performances from the cast and a great looking film to boot. Pat Healy is pitch perfect as the deranged psychopath Wyatt. With tactical military gear, wire rim glasses, and a slick back comb over Wyatt resembles the kind of good ‘ol boy you don’t trespass against. Horror veteran Ashley Bell commands every scene as Vivian with a controlled intensity that keeps her from being the typical “damsel in distress”. I did catch myself screaming DON’T GO IN THERE VIVIAN! one time during the film’s wonky third act. With small roles from Alan Ruck and Larry Fassenden ‘Carnage Park’ has a solid and committed cast of players who bring the twists of the film’s unpredictable narrative to life.
I had so much fun watching ‘Carnage Park’! My expectations were completely shattered from start to finish. Going in I was expecting a low-budget ‘Rambo’ ripoff with maybe some interesting horror elements given the “Scream Factory” pedigree. I pleasantly surprised, but it’s unfortunate that the film never feels grounded. Sure the shifting from one homage to another is awesome, but it leaves this gritty film a bit lost at times. Between Keating’s passionate melding of classic 70’s horror tropes and a cast willing to carry them out ‘Carnage Park’ is a dark horse in the Scream Factory catalog.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘Carnage Park’ arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Scream Factory. The film is pressed onto a BD25 disc housed in a standard keepcase with reversible artwork. The disc opens with logos for IFC Midnight and Shout! Factory before a trio of trailers and then the static Main Menu.
“Carnage Park’ is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. Even though this film incorporates a sharp degree of color grading into the yellows and browns reminiscent of 70’s grindhouse horror, the film an an amazingly clear and detailed image. Detail is sharp throughout the feature from dust particles on rusty cars to the fabric patterns on costuming. Black levels are deep and solid. Colors are washed out in conjunction with the film’s aesthetic but deep reds tend to pop during bloody effects sequences. Skin tones are consistent with the film’s color grading leaving most people appearing washed out.
Available on ‘Carnage Park’ are DTS-HD MA 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio tracks. The 5.1 sound mix is remarkable considering the film’s low budget appeal. The eclectic scoring combined with clear detailed effects and generous use of the surround field make this audio mix a true highlight of the film. Dialogue is clear and clean. I recommend keeping the volume at a mid range or higher to take advantage of the experience.
Trailer (HD) (1:46)
‘Carnage Park’ feels like a mixed bag but its visual execution and narrative unpredictability nearly obscure the film’s shortcomings. Instead of putting their efforts behind complicated effects or silly action sequences Keating and company made a neo-grindhouse horror flick of yesteryear while lacing it with wartime themes that are as present in 1978 as they are today. ‘Carnage Park’ may seem to be less driven than other horror films of it’s class, but it’s overall aesthetic and homage make it a fantastic ride. With a great A/V presentation Scream Factory’s Blu-ray is a must see for grindhouse horror fans. Recommended.