American filmmakers have been riffing on the 1970s-era horror genre for so long that these collected facsimiles have become a genre onto themselves, with their own tropes and patterns. Call it faux-’70s horror. The master of this terrain is Rob Zombie, who has taken his love of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in addition to others, and cross-pollinated it with the harshly lit, rapidly edited, and close-up-rich aesthetic of his music videos. Zombie has arrived at a sensibility that’s so emotionally violent, tormented, and obsessive it’s original through sheer force of will, but he’s an exception to the rule, as most imitators are logically in the business of producing imitations.
Mickey Keating’s Carnage Park is such a film, a forgettable faux-’70s horror entry that covers The Texas Chainsaw Massacre by way of Zombie, Quentin Tarantino, and Ti West, offering nothing more than a catalogue of stale and self-conscious stylizations. Two characters can’t simply approach a bank they’re about to rob, for instance, as they must walk in slow motion while theoretically hip retro music plays over the sequence, as in Reservoir Dogs. Lest we miss the point, when a woman leaves the bank, she’s also accorded a similarly superfluous aria of desperate, too-cool-for-film-school formalism.
The allusions to other films are never-ending in Carnage Park. Keating often aims the camera straight up toward a pitiless desert sky so as to underline the unblinking, godless amorality of life in the extremes of the uncivilized world—a device more effectively utilized by Zombie in The Devil’s Rejects. Keating pumps the soundtrack up with shrill metallic screeching that complements the unsurprisingly washed-out imagery, signaling the heat of the atmosphere as well as the hopelessness of the protagonist’s fate, as in, yet again, The Devil’s Rejects—as well as in both versions of The Hills Have Eyes and several versions of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Like most faux-’70s horror films, Carnage Park has themes that belong to that earlier era, though they can too easily accommodate the financial turmoil and war hangover that grips contemporary society, as America is always at war. After dispensing with an anticipatable red herring in the first act, the narrative settles on Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy), a lunatic Vietnam War veteran who hunts people on his vast stretch of desert property, clad in combat fatigues and gas mask, and who, of course, keeps a collection of corpse furniture in his dankly lit lair of bottomless evil. When we first see Wyatt, he spouts pseudo-gibberish loosely concerning the Bible, establishing him as an extreme incarnation of a red-state paranoiac. Draft dodging is mentioned later, and so is a receding economy that’s indifferent to farmers and ex-soldiers alike.
As offered, these details are resonant merely in an obligatory “just add water” fashion, as Keating’s only interested in them for their place in the tradition of the films from which he’s cribbing. Watching yet another of these karaoke covers of 1970s-era grindhouse cinema, one wonders what precisely compels younger filmmakers to so relentlessly mine such over-plundered territory. These artists are too busy fetishizing comfortable antiquity to face the anxieties of the now, damning their work to irrelevancy and tedium.