Take A Gulp Of “Savage Water” — If You Dare!

Posted: April 3, 2013 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Savage-Water

So — this is it. The film so bad that not only did it never make it into theaters, it couldn’t even manage to score a domestic VHS release during the early-’80s “home video explosion,” when fly-by-night distribution outfits were saturating the market with more flicks — especially more horror flicks — than the average human mind can adequately process, much less comprehend. Yes, friends, even the lowest of the low wanted nothing whatsoever to do with writer/director Paul W. Kerner’s Savage Water.

Why’s that, you ask? Granted, the movie’s got a shit title — what’s next, Fierce AirVicious Dirt? And yeah, the acting is a few rungs beneath even your average community theater production, the dialogue is laugh-out-loud atrocious,  the plot is peppered with more holes than a brick of Swiss cheese — but surely there must be more to it than that, right? I mean, people often refer to this as “the worst slasher film of all time,” and considering how robust the competition for that title is, that’s definitely saying something.

Confession time — until two nights ago, I’d never seen this thing. I’d heard about it plenty, mind you — some of the murkier corners of the internet that I occasionally prowl would mention it here and there, with digital scribes either more adventurous or doggedly determined than I talking about how they’d seen the French, British, or Belgian VHS releases and were still coming to grips with its abject awfulness. My curiosity had been piqued, to be sure, but it wasn’t until new-on-the-scene cult DVD label Vinegar Syndrome released it as part of their “Drive-In Collection” series (where it’s paired with the somewhat-less-obscure Death By Invitation) that I actually gained first-hand knowledge of what everybody (relatively speaking) else had been talking about.

So, now I know. It really is bad. Atrociously bad. Even incomprehensibly bad. But it’s not the worst slasher film ever made — because it’s not really a “slasher” film at all.

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Here’s the setup, before you get too confused — a bunch of pain-in-the-ass tourists book an expedition with the Wild West White Water River Boat Company (say that three times in a row really fast) to go rafting down the majestic-but-deadly Colorado River and experience the unspoiled beauty of the Grand Canyon firsthand. We’ve got a pretty motley bunch of caricatures here — a dumb, flirty blonde; a psychiatrist who could probably use some of the meds he dishes out to his patients; an annoying old racist couple; a black cokehead; a loud-mouthed janitor; a pot-smoking campfire cook; a supposedly “Arabian” sheikh played by an Indian or Pakistani actor — you get the idea. Leading this admittedly huge-for-an-ultra-low-budget-flick cast is  a grizzled white water rafting veteran (and pompous, arrogant blowhard) named Dave Savage (which I guess makes the film’s title something of a lame pun). None of the “actors” filling these roles would ever appear in anything else, so honestly, their names don’t matter — just know that they all suck, and  more than a few have a habit of flubbing their lines on a pretty consistent basis (not that Kerner ever backtracks and does a second take or anything — you get the distinct impression while watching Savage Water that his supply of film stock was very, very low). About the only other thing you need to know to get a basic handle on the story is that not everyone is gonna make it back alive.

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Still, like I said, it’s pretty hard to call this a true “slasher,” per se — even though the unhappy campers are, in fact, harboring a killer in their midst — simply because there’s really only one bona fide “slashing” of any sort on offer here. The other victims all die from things as varied as belladonna in their salad to, well, their own stupid incompetence. One poor schmuck — the cokehead I mentioned earlier — either falls off a cliff on his own or is pushed (the script’s not really helpful here seeing as how the only lines referring to his demise are “what happened?” and “the black guy fell”). Kerner doesn’t even seem to be trying to make a slasher here at all (and keep in mind said genre was actually relatively new at the time) so much as, I dunno — a murder mystery that just so happens to be set on, and along the banks of, what the movie’s low-rent Waylon Jennings-ish theme song (which, trust me, you’ve gotta hear to believe) refers to as “the mighty Colorado.”

Needless to say, everything goes, as the Brits so charmingly put it, “tits-up” before they ever reach the Grand Canyon (just as well since it was actually shot in Utah), and the last 15 or so minutes are a pretty breakneck affair of one lame “revelation” after another, all which actually has the net effect of being pretty dizzying considering the absolutely languid pace of the first, oh, 90% of the film. But no matter, by this point you’re used to nothing making much sense and no one really knowing what they’re doing. Savage Water doesn’t so much ignore or break the rules of good — or even competent — movie-making as it seems to be well and truly unaware of them. How else can you explain a film that takes breaks between murders to engage in interminably-drawn-out conversations on such topics as the importance of “staying regular” while out in the wilderness?

Savage_Water

If you’re intrigued at this point, trust me — you should be. Kerner, by dint of sheer and all-encompassing incompetence, has created a singular work here that’s quite unlike every other so-bad-it’s-good movie you’ve ever seen. Like the sick thrill of slowing down to take in a violent and bloody train wreck, Savage Water sucks you in as surely as the vicious rapids its tenth-rate cast are forced to traverse to get to a place they’re never actually going to see. This is uniquely rancid stuff that any seasoned viewer of trash cinema absolutely needs to see as quickly as possible. It shames me to think that I spent all these years knowing about it but never experiencing its unintentionally hilarious wretched ineptitude for myself. Clearly, my priorities in life have not been in order.

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As to the specifics of the aforementioned DVD itself, the print’s pretty grainy and there’s something sort of intrinsically wrong with having it presented widescreen rather than full-frame, but whatever — Vinegar Syndrome have done what they can considering what they’ve got to work with, and I’m just grateful that they put this thing out at all. The mono soundtrack is surprisingly clear and distortion-free, and the commentary track, hosted by the folks from the very fine transatlantic horror podcast The Hysteria Continues (they also provide one for the disc’s second feature) is flat-out great. So far, this is my pick for DVD of the year — even if it’s not the “worst slasher film ever made.”


No, dear readers, Savage Water is saved from that dubious honor by technicality — but it still is, most assuredly, one of the worst films ever made regardless of genre. Which means it actually provides so much more than advertised/rumored — or maybe so much less, depending on how you look at things.

Comments
  1. “uniquely rancid” great read, gonna tweet it

  2. That did not taste good… where’s your bathroom??

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