Sunday, July 11, 2010

Burndown (1990)

A series of murders and necrophiliac rapes disturbs life in an American small-town in Florida that is mostly populated by people from the British Isles.

After murder number three, medical examiner (or whatever he's supposed to be) Doc Roberts (Michael McCabe) accidentally finds out that the dead bodies of the victims show a very high amount of radioactivity, seemingly brought about through their killer's sperm.

This leads sheriff Jake Stern (Peter Firth) to the brilliant assumption that the serial killer must have a connection to the experimental nuclear power plant at the edge of town. Alas, the plant's boss James Manners (Hal Orlandini) is not very cooperative and instead sets his security guard Freddie (Graham Weir) up to secretly observe Stern's activities. The guy gets quite a show when the sheriff hooks up again with his old girlfriend, reporter Patti Smart (Cathy Moriarty), to whom he blabs everything there is to know about the case.

Surprisingly enough, Stern finds his words reproduced in the next morning's paper (one supposes Patti faxed her article to her editor telepathically while she and Stern were getting it on). That, another unsuccessful visit to the plant and some political pressure by Manners, can only lead to a nice fishing vacation for the brilliant policeman. He's not protesting very loudly.

While the sheriff's away, Manners sees to it that the corpses are burnt, reports are buried and Patti's next article shelved. But then another murder happens and he decides that it's better to let Stern and friends work again and give them Freddie as a scapegoat. Which will certainly help him a lot when the next murder happens.

Well, that was boring. Usually, one would expect a film about a radioactive necrophiliac serial killer to be rather sleazy or unpleasant, but Burndown decides to show us no sex or violence at all, instead opting for the classic facial-freeze-frame technique of bad TV movies.

Not showing anything sexy or violent is of course in itself not a problem. There are quite a few films getting by on mood, intelligence or good acting, but those films have usually been directed by creative human beings and not astonishingly bad British TV director James Allen, whose only talent seems to lie in the lovely ability to make everything dreadfully tedious.

It is of course not too difficult to make boring what the film's script contains: long and pointless dialogue scenes full of long and pointless sentences showing all the charm and intelligence of a mob enforcer. I know, talk is cheap when you don't have a budget for anything else, yet I don't think there's a rule in any filmmaking handbook that necessitates to make the talking this uninteresting.

It certainly doesn't help that all actors seem to be performing under the influence of high dosages of valium, talking, moving and even blinking so slowly that I was waiting for a plot point explaining their behaviour as the result of secret, illegal drug tests on all inhabitants of the town. Alas, that never came to pass.

Now, Peter Firth and Cathy Moriarty aren't exactly the greatest thespians on Earth, but I remember having seen both playing conscious human beings, so I don't know what they think they are doing here except getting a paycheck for looking and sounding like zombies. Moriarty is especially bad, saying every single line in a slow, throaty whisper that probably is supposed to be sexy, yet only makes one wish she'd finally let a doctor treat her throat infection. Of course, she - like everybody else on screen - is always seen with a glass of alcohol in hand, so it might be possible it's all supposed to be the product of too much alcohol, the film itself being a dire warning against the horrors of alcoholism by a director in the last throes of his own addiction. Or I might now just be making shit up to get at least something of worth back for inflicting this film on me.

Burndown's production history must have been quite interesting, though, what with it (following IMDB) a co-production between the USA, South Africa and Zaire, filmed in Florida by a Brit with mostly British actors trying desperately to hide their accents, and drown their participation in on-screen drinking. I wouldn't be too surprised if this was someone's way to reduce his or her taxes.

Well, that or just a very successful attempt at boring innocents trying to watch this to tears.



Steve Field said...


Do you know where I can get a copy of this movie?

My Grandfather (Hugh Rouse) was in this and I've been hoping to see it but it is proving hard to source.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

The version I saw was a VHS copy taken from a German cable TV channel, which won't help you much.

There is a version floating around, too, but that's as far as I can point you in that regard.

M RL said...

Looking for it too. But near impossible to find. Any luck since 2010?

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

There's nothing new in that regard that I know of. Though you never know what one of the DVD/BluRay boutique labels suddenly decides to release, so I wouldn't completely give up hope.