by Jason Coffman
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Trent Haaga is perhaps best known to hardcore horror fans as the writer of the notorious Deadgirl, one of the most controversial horror films of the past decade. However, before penning disturbing stories about undead sex objects, Haaga paid his dues working at Troma, the legendary independent film company known more for playing undead sex objects for laughs than for anything else. Chop, Haaga’s directorial debut, is a jet-black comedy that harkens back to the gleeful absurdity and gore of Troma, and may be something of a shock for anyone expecting bleak and unsettling like Deadgirl.
Chop’s storyline is as simple and unpretentious as its title: Lance Reed (Will Keenan) is stranded by the side of the road and picked up by a stranger (Timothy Muskatell). The Stranger asks Lance a couple of odd questions before Lance is knocked out and wakes up in a room where the Stranger has Lance’s brother tied to a chair. Lance can either kill his brother or the Stranger will unleash a ghoulish assassin on Lance’s wife Emily (Tanisha). Once Lance makes his decision, the Stranger returns Lance to his home with the understanding that he can never tell anyone about the Stranger, or he will make Lance’s life extremely difficult.
Unable to restrain himself, Lance inevitably slips up under the Stranger’s watch and, true to his promise, the Stranger begins to make Lance’s life very unpleasant. Unless Lance can remember what it was he did to the Stranger and sincerely apologize, Lance’s situation will not improve. As Lance wracks his brain to figure out who the Stranger is, unwelcome guests from Lance’s recent drug addict past are tracked down and brought to him to exact their own revenge. Will Lance figure out who the Stranger is, or will he end up a head on the Stranger’s mantle?
Chop cleverly plays with audience expectations and takes several very nasty twists on its way to its hilariously anticlimactic finale. While Lance starts off as a victim, the more the audience learns about who he really is, the more the Stranger’s revenge makes sense. This constant undermining of appearances is Chop’s biggest asset, along with great, funny lead performances by Will Keenan and Timothy Muskatell. Haaga keeps the film moving at a brisk pace, and with a running time of just over 80 minutes Chop is certainly never boring. It is perhaps inevitable that whatever Haaga did to follow up Deadgirl would be something of a disappointment, and in that respect Chop is a bit of a letdown. However, it’s still more than a cut above most other independent horror/comedy efforts, and it is definitely worth a look for horror fans with a taste for the unexpected.
The Collective released Chop on DVD on 27 December 2011.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org as well as contributing to Fine Print Magazine (www.fineprintmag.net).
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