Heartstopper (2006)

First a word of caution: this Heartstopper should not be mistaken with the classic 1992 vampire flick of the same name directed by John Russo and starring gore guru Tom Savini. Instead, this is a new movie recently released straight to DVD. Bearing no relation whatsoever to the older flick, Heartstopper faithfully follows the basic conventions of the notorious slasher genre. That is, Heartstopper features a brutal serial killer that viciously eviscerates his victims, and a troubled teenager that survives the onslaught to become the fabled “final girl”. With its generous amount of the usual blood and guts and its countless references to other horror films, Heartstopper fails plainly in the originality department.

Heartstopper stars no other than Robert Englund, Freddy Kruger himself, as the obsessed Sheriff Berger. Clearly, Englund seems to be the cornerstone of the advertising campaign of Heartstopper, and some horror hounds may actually celebrate his presence in an otherwise forgettable film. However, Englund’s unremarkable role in this film confirms once more that he must be struggling to find rewarding acting jobs since the irrevocable collapse of the Nightmare on Elm Street series.

As Heartstopper begins, we are told that Sheriff Berger recently managed to capture Chambers (James Binkley), a nasty serial killer notorious for eviscerating and removing the hearts of his victims. Waiting for his execution in the electric chair, Chambers is certain that he will be able to cheat death. His confidence is based on his bizarre tattoos that freely move across his skin, which eventually are revealed to symbolize his alliance with a powerful demonic entity. As in many entries of the slasher genre, Heartstopper takes the easy way out, relying on supernatural phenomena to explain the violent behavior of the vicious murderer, instead of acknowledging the effects of complex social and psychological forces upon the killer’s psyche.

After his execution, Chambers is taken to the local hospital where his autopsy is to take place. However, the ambulance that carries his body runs over Sara (Meredith Henderson), a suicidal teenager who is mistreated by her high school peers. Sustaining only minor injuries, Sara is taken along to the hospital. But once inside the ambulance, Chambers’ weird living tattoos are transferred to her skin.

Right before being carved by the coroner, Chambers resurrects with a rather bad mood. After fiercely killing the doctor, Chambers realizes that he needs to transfer his soul to Sara’s body, so he can continue with his gory killing spree. Even though Sara has the main traits of the resourceful “final girl”, she comes up as a troublesome heroine that at times resists audience identification. For instance, she could care less when Chambers sadistically slaughters her mother. In any event, it is a shame that this film blatantly failed to explore her transition from suicidal to survivalist, which could have been an interesting discourse.

In order to fulfill his wicked goal, Chambers proceeds to lock all doors in the building, and then goes slaughtering anybody that crosses his path inside the hospital. Needless to say, the ensuing carnage is extremely wicked and gory. But then again, this is to be expected from a flick that features no less than three special makeup and visual effects credits in the main titles. But the graphic imagery in Heartstopper never feels painful or disturbing. This is in strong contrast with classics of the genre such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974) and Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978), which in spite of their minimal gore content provide a far more brutal and visceral viewing experience.

Undeniably, such a difference is the result of directorial techniques rather than the amount of blood and guts. In the case of Heartstopper, Bob Keen directed without flair a rather bland and uninspired script. The cinematographical technique behind this movie feels completely perfunctory and superficial. And truth be told, in spite of the claustrophobic locale, most of the scenes lack tension and suspense.

This is perhaps surprising, because as most horror connoisseurs know, Keen is not an outsider to the genre. As a matter of fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Keen is one of the most renowned special makeup effects artists in the UK film industry. Keen came to fame during the ’80s by virtue of the grizzly visual effects he realized for classic horror films such as Lifeforce (Tobe Hooper, 1985) and Hellraiser (Clive Barker, 1987). Considering that his creative talent for gory monsters and bizarre transformations is quite unmatched in the horror community, maybe he should stick to what he does best.

In any event, perhaps the most interesting thing about Heartstopper is viewers will feel compelled to identify the dozens of films referenced by Keen and scriptwriters Vlady Pildysh and Warren P. Sonoda. Just to name the most obvious, Chambers surviving the electric chair to become a more terrifying slayer is similar to the ways of Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi) in Shocker (Wes Craven, 1989); the hospital locale is reminiscent of Halloween II (Rick Rosenthal, 1981); Chambers’ desire to transfer his wicked soul to a new body recalls Child’s Play (Tom Holland, 1988); and the implausible finale is right out of The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939). In the frivolous interviews that make the sole extra feature of the DVD, even Englund acknowledges that Heartstopper‘s multiple allusions were the main reason he liked working on this film.

What makes Heartstopper a bit perplexing is the fact that the exact same version of the film is being released with two different DVD covers. One of them appropriately features a hand squeezing a severed heart, while the “family friendly” version shows a flat line in an electrocardiogram machine. Considering that only hardcore gore fans will be interested in watching this film, it appears that this marketing campaign is a strategy to make the horror aisle in the video store less offensive. Now, this is really scary.

RATING 5 / 10