'Reality Kills': The Slasher Movie Gets House-Broken

This attempt to cross The Toolbox Murders with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is every bit as bad, but not nearly as funny, as it sounds.

Reality Kills

Director: Jonathan Williams
Cast: Jen Weissenberg, Geoff Tate
Distributor: High Fliers
Rated: 15
UK DVD release date: 2013-03-04

Given its reliance on effect to keep its audience satisfied, the genre that probably has the most in common with reality TV is horror.

As early in cinema history as Conrad Veidt staring-down the viewer in Dr. Caligari, scary movies have never had a problem with taking a brain-flecked sledgehammer to the fourth wall. At the same time, the horror film's exploitation of its audience's latent voyeurism means that it's always going to occupy a ghetto roughly adjacent to its hidden camera cousin. Invariably, fans of both want it cheap, they want it anonymous -- relatively well-known faces but no stars -- and above all they want it messy.

This is something that both film and TV producers cottoned on to quickly, and in the last decade or so we've seen any number of crossovers, from Halloween: Resurrection to Ghost Hunters. To be fair, none of these have exactly set the world on fire, presenting as they do the very image of form over content. However, very few can have been as bad as Reality Kills (aka The Burningmoore Incident).

Taking the form of a faux true crime documentary, the film centres around James Parrish, a family man who, five years before the 'show' in question, murdered his wife and children before seemingly disappearing into the aether. Via a series of interviews, we learn of his apparent lack of motive other than an obsession with Greek mythology -- something that, prior to the killings, had found its most obvious expression in the word Moros tattooed on the back of his head.

With the background exposition safely out of the way, the action moves to the property in Queens, where the original murders took place. It's been standing derelict for five years, giving a TV company the opportunity to move in and film an episode of their home makeover show Gettin' Hammered. This, rather inevitably, turns out to be a mistake. James is still sniffing around -- and as a local creepy homeless guy says, it's never stopped being his house.

There are two of massive and linked flaws in Reality Kills. The most apparent problem is that beyond a vague god complex, we never learn enough about James Parrish to make him interesting as a villain.

Director Jonathan Williams has said that when it comes to horror, what fascinates him is when 'real people' do bad things out of the blue, which is fair enough. The x-factor that makes his obviously-favourite films so compelling though is the way they poke around in their monsters' respective psyches. In Reality Kills, Parrish stands in direct contrast to Hannibal Lecter and John Doe -- characters of such psychological depth the audience actually struggles not to empathise with them. (It doesn't help that Parrish -- inexplicably played by Geoff Tate out of Queensryche -- is generally shown via camera shots so long or grainy you can barely even tell that it's him).

The lack of meaningful context in relation to the murderer is reflected elsewhere. The pre-credit warning to the audience is clearly a nod to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre; the next scene -- a couple murdered while about to go at it in the abandoned house -- a less than deft pastiche of Friday the 13th. By the massacre at the end meanwhile, you're looking at an awkward cross between The Toolbox Murders and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. In other words, rather than building a convincing narrative, the movie attempts to fly held together with little more than a string of arbitrary references.

The dangers of this approach are obvious. Parrish notwithstanding, it's difficult to feel much for any of the characters, given that none of the victims are any less of a cipher than he is. This in turn inevitably has a knock-on effect on its success as a horror film, because if you don't care about the people on screen at all, it's difficult to feel that much dread at the prospect of their not-nearly-bloody-enough demise.

Reality Kills is pretty much terrible, which, given how interesting it could have been is rather a pity. With a bit more imagination, the reference to doom deity Moros could easily have been something through which to look at, say, Nietzschean self-determination in a godless universe. This is no Manhunter or Natural Born Killers though, and here it's merely a convenient device, deployed for want of a proper back-story.

There’s also a missed opportunity in the way it could have explored narrative. The 'found footage' conceit has worked particularly well in helping to explore different ways of looking at genre, most recently in End of Watch. In Reality Kills' attempt to collapse horror into lifestyle TV, maybe we could have seen the house itself pushing back against attempts to give it a makeover. That, if nothing else, would have been fun.

Ultimately, the greatest shame is probably that such obvious enthusiasm for the genre has gone into making something of so little value. A quick look on IMDB suggests that there are no plans to make a follow-up, with Jonathan Williams now seemingly sticking to the TV work where he made his name. Viewers of Reality Kills will probably react with a mixture of mild relief alongside a complete lack of surprise. Purchasers of this disc meanwhile -- not to be confused with the 2002 slasher movie of the same name -- will be dismayed that there are no special features at all.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.