Joshua Hull's films focus on ordinary lives interrupted by otherworldly mayhem. To some degree, they're a reflection of his own life. Like the characters in his films, Hull is a Midwestern everyman who thrusts himself into adventures larger than life in Indiana, dealing with cinematic chaos involving zombies, superheroes and serial killers.
His new film, Chopping Block — premiering at the Hamilton 16 Friday, Feb. 27 at midnight — follows five corporate cogs who decide to kidnap their boss's daughter (Haley Madison) after getting the ax at work. Led by the sleazy, spiky-haired, Donnie (Michael Malone), this fiendish group of friends is much like the gang from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The film finds them in the sort of scenario you'd see on that dark sitcom — trying to collect ransom money for a girl who turns out to be the long-time survivor of a serial killer akin to Michael Myers.
As the film seamlessly segues into slasher territory, viewers may sense that some of its comedic material should have been left on the chopping block. While the ensemble exudes comic charisma, the comedy lacks the energy of the film's horror elements. The kidnappers' lewd locker room talk lingers and drags, but the slasher subplot moves at an alluring fever dream pace. A particularly hypnotic scene sets classical music to a tracking shot of a blood-soaked girl shambling down a suburban street. An entrancing echo of grisly "final girl" imagery in the vein of Halloween, it’s also a rousing reminder of the wonders Hull can work when his characters shut up for a minute. This scene is the most exciting evidence yet of his great promise in the horror genre.
Bathed in a blood-red haze of horror nostalgia, the Chopping Block poster shows where Hull's heart lies — in late '70s, early '80s slasher films starring masked bogeymen. It looks like the pulpy artwork you'd find on a VHS box in the sort of underground mom-and-pop video store that introduced Hull to horror. (He fell in love with the genre after renting every horror video available from Pendleton's old Video to Go.)
Chopping Block effectively inhabits the genre, especially in the gory third act, which is set in a seedy warehouse evocative of the squalid settings in the Saw series. The blood-spurting special effects are a devilish delight. The film leaves you hungry for more horror, focusing more on serving up laughs than frights.
But Hull has already shown his sharp comedic chops, collaborating with acclaimed stand-up comics like Josh Arnold and Michael Malone, who will attest to Hull’s talent when he appears on WISH-TV’s Indy Style Friday at 9 a.m. to talk about Chopping Block. In addition to attending the film's premiere, Malone will be performing at the Strand Theatre in Shelbyville Saturday night at 8. He's worth keeping an eye on, especially in this film, which he anchors with raw comic energy.
Chopping Block is a breezy, charming slasher comedy that foreshadows even finer, darker horror material from Hull in the years to come.
You can catch Hull among his horror influences at this weekend's Days of the Dead: Culture Shock (Feb. 27—Mar. 1) convention. He will be in attendance at the screening of his film, The Impersonators, there on Saturday at 1 p.m.