The ramifications of killing for art’s sake have long been fair game for film treatment, especially in movies that tap the horror-comedy vein, whether the target of the humor is the reception of the resultant artworks (Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood gives it in the neck to Beatnik poseurs) or else their inspiration (Herschell Gordon Lewis’s sanguinary variation on the theme, Color Me Blood Red). And now, shambling in from the snowbound Canadian hinterlands, there’s Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal, an initially clever and sporadically amusing mélange of both trends. Writer-director Boris Rodriguez’s feature-film debut starts out reasonably well, sketching in the principal characters and rural setting with broad but compelling strokes, even doling out some perceptive laughs, before the narrative loses steam when it bogs down in repetition and predictability.
“You can’t wait for inspiration,” a radio announcer intones, quoting Jack London. “You have to go after it with a club.” And that’s precisely what Rodriguez proceeds to do in the film’s first and funniest scene: En route to his new teaching gig at the Koda Lake Art School, washed-up painter Lars (Thure Lindhardt) hits a deer with his car, injuring the animal but not killing it. Lars decides to put the creature out of its misery by bashing its brains in with a rock, a feat that proves easier said than done; in the midst of this act, a prowl car pulls up behind him, and out steps Officer Verner (Paul Braunstein), the supercilious, somewhat xenophobic deputy who eventually emerges as Lars’s nemesis. Braunstein, incidentally, delivers most of the film’s funniest line-readings. The scene works as well as it does because of its unabashed admixture of the ludicrous and appalling, unsparing in its gory cutaways to the deer’s remains. It also signals Rodriguez’s thematic preoccupation with good intentions and their inadvertently awful consequences.
With a film of this kind, it’s not surprising that the premise tends toward preposterousness, precipitously saddling Lars with hulking mute Eddie (Dylan Smith), nephew of the school’s benefactress whose will provides for Eddie’s care in exchange for continued funding. (Not for nothing, the profit motivation is thus established.) Eddie presents a peculiar case history. Due to a childhood trauma involving a freak lawnmower accident (shades of Frank Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker), he has trouble sleeping. He also gets rather…well, famished is probably the word, and it isn’t only those ubiquitous boxes of Yummy O’s that he wolfs down. Initially, at least, Eddie’s uncontrollable urges prove a godsend for Lars, seeing as how carnage is his muse. The situation also invites a modicum of moral quandary: Upon whom will he unleash Eddie? And what have they done to deserve it?
But Rodriquez isn’t particularly interested in this line of inquiry. Though he runs the murder/inspiration routine into the ground, Eddie’s victims never possess more dimensionality than stereotypical bullies and sexist pigs; by the climactic mass slaughter, they’re guilty of little else than being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Likewise, the notion that Lars can fuel the school’s expansion through murder is glossed over, dispensed with in one or two token scenes of backslapping and clinking champagne glasses. Because the film clearly aims for satire, Rodriguez isn’t entirely guilty of indulging gruesome spectacle for its own sake. Yet the film suffers from a resounding lack of subtext; in fact, it’s nothing other than text, a point that’s made clear by the relentlessly reiterated counterpoint of those radio announcements. What’s more, the epilogue’s mercenary twist-within-a-twist lands with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.