"The Hard Cut Double Feature" tells the stories of two men who become tangled in a web of murder, satanic rituals and a lost exploitation film. In "The Hard Cut", Detective Roddy is hired by a mysterious and sultry woman to find a copy of a movie called "Catholic Cheerleaders for Satan". Not a big deal until Roddy uncovers why this movie is so desirable and why there are people out there who are willing to kill for it. Then in "I Woke Up Screaming the Day I Died" we see the same story told from the perspective of Rocky, a hitman-for-hire who gets caught up in the fight for the film after his boss sends him after Roddy.
I feel as though I only reviewed Patricio Valladares' "Curriculum" for the sake of closure. However, there is a lot more than closure going on for me as I held a copy of "The Hard Cut Double Feature" in my hands. I don't know when Vince D'Amato began production on "The Hard Cut" and "I Woke Up Screaming the Day I Died", but it's another movie that feels like we've been talking about it since the beginning of Film Bizarro. Unfortunately the movies fell into a limbo state for a couple of years but now both movies are finally out there for the public and I couldn't have been more ecstatic to sit down and watch "The Hard Cut Double Feature".
In "The Hard Cut", shady detective Roddy (Rob Carpenter) is given a rather bizarre case when he's asked to track down a rare workprint copy of a '70s drive-in exploitation movie called "Catholic Cheerleaders for Satan". Something that doesn't seem too difficult when Roddy happens to know the man who owns the rights to movie. Tracking down the movie proves complicated as Roddy learns that there is lost scene within the reels of "Catholic Cheerleaders for Satan" that relates to an old cold-case involving the murder of a young girl. Nobody knows if this is true or not but there seems to be plenty of people who are willing to kill to get their hands on a copy of the movie with this scene intact. Soon Roddy finds himself dealing with crazed strippers, gangsters and a Satanic cult.
Then in "I Woke Up Screaming the Day I Died" we get to see an alternate perspective from Rocky -- a gun-for-hire thug who gets mixed up in the craziness of people trying locate a forgotten explotation movie. Sparked by a seemingly random event of a guy, Death Angel, walking into a bar and taking a stripper hostage. The situation leads to a gift of Rocky's being destroyed and in an attempt to replace it, Rocky finds himself on the same bizarre and winding path that Roddy is on and the unlikely people they both have to deal with as a result.
I've actually had this review sitting on the back burner for a few weeks because while I thoroughly enjoyed "The Hard Cut Double Feature", I was struggling to figure out what it is that I wanted to say about the movies and what I wanted to talk about. Then, on top of that, I wasn't sure how to review it since they are two different movies but at the same time, you have to watch both to get the full scope of the story and characters. So do I review each movie or review it as one movie? I'm still not sure what the right way is or was but hopefully by the end I'll have given you enough of a reason to check out "The Hard Cut Double Feature". Which I whole heartedly encourage you to do, regardless of my review.
Anyway, from the first time I came across "The Hard Cut" it was being labeled as a noir movie but the trailer screamed exploitation to me and until I had watched it, I was still expecting it to be an exploitation movie. Turns out it's both. Actually it's noir, exploitation and with a bit of horror and comedy as well. I know that may sound unappealing by being one too many genres and ones that are seemingly polar opposites of one another. It works and works well in "The Hard Cut" and gave the movie a bit more life had it been nothing more than the classic noir setup. You know, the one that features a downtrodden detective getting involved in a dangerous case because of a woman. In this case, a woman who is aptly nicknamed The Looker. And it seems like there are a number of noir based movies coming out lately but "The Hard Cut Double Feature" does feel different because of the exploitation and horror aspects. I mean, I can't recall the last noir film, new or old, that I saw that had scenes of Satanic Catholic cheerleaders eating hearts, or a nake woman beating the living crap out of the main character while he's tied to a chair.
Suffice to say "The Hard Cut Double Feature" has the sleaze of an exploitation movie down pact and I would go more into the horror aspect of it but that would require spoiling the movie. Besides, I'm sure you heard all you needed to hear when I mentioned heart eating Catholic Cheerleaders who worship Satan.
However, there was one problem I did have with "The Hard Cut" and that's because I struggled a bit in the beginning of the movie as it has a non-linear structure where the timeline jumps around. First you're watching Roddy investigating people who were involved with the movie "Catholic Cheerleaders for Satan" and then cuts to a scene of Roddy being tortured by the same woman who hired him to find the movie. This erratic timeline is off-putting initially because it's hard to keep up with the characters and where we are in the story and why certain things are happening. Somewhere though the confusion turns into a renewed interest because you want to see the missing pieces of the puzzle. It might be something that could still be potentially off-putting for viewers but I think it helped to keep "The Hard Cut" from feeling tedious and works to keep the viewer actively engaged to what's going on. You're not just sitting there and waiting for the ending to reveal the big mystery and connect all the dots.
Then again, if you expect to have all the answers by the end of "The Hard Cut" you'll be left disappointed as it remains rather ambiguous with certain details. That is until you watch "I Woke Up Screaming the Day I Died". If I were to give Vince D'Amato credit for one thing it's that he knew how to keep "The Hard Cut Double Feature" from ever being dull as we switch from exploitive-noir to what I can only think to describe as a buddy-cop movie. If you were to replace the cops with hitmen thugs, that is. The shift in genres works because we're exploring not only an entirely new character but seeing a different perspective to the story that we just watched. Where "The Hard Cut" is dark and sleazy, "I Woke Up Screaming the Day I Died" is almost comedic. And sleazy too, of course.
Where the mystery was the key to "The Hard Cut", I would say the characters -- more specifically, the character of Rocky -- is the key to "I Woke Up Screaming the Day I Died". Our brief interaction with him in "The Hard Cut" makes it seem like he's nothing more than a scumbag bad guy. We get to see the complexities of Rocky though and realize there is more to him than a gun and a quick temper and it's a rather surprising. Since this movie is more straight forward and is more focused on Rocky, it's Rocky's character and his interactions with other characters that carry the movie. Thanks to Vince's writing and an outstanding performance by Jason Beaudoin -- who seems to be channeling his inner Lebowski -- it's all that's need. And while the movie is relatively lighter by comparison, it's just as good, if not, better. "The Hard Cut" had my intention with intrigue but "I Woke Up Screaming the Day I Died" won me over from being entertaining and indirectly capturing the vibe of a '70s crime flick.
"The Hard Cut Double Feature" truly is two sides of the same coin. It's admirable to sit back and see what Vince D'Amato -- along with his cast and crew -- created: two very different movies in terms of style and story but have the same plot-point. The two movies compliment each other very well to a point that you can't have one without the other. "The Hard Cut" sets up the story and characters where "I Woke Up Screaming the Day I Died" expands on both while filling in additional pieces of an ever growing puzzle. In some ways it feels as like the two movies shouldn't be able to mingle together as well as they do. You have one movie with a non-linear structure where the other is a bit more typical for its genre. One is darker in nature while the other keeps things a bit more light and comedic. Even the rolls of the characters change over the progression of both movies: Roddy (while generally regarded as anti-hero in nature) is the protagonist in the first movie where Rocky is an antagonist and is rather secondary in his role. Then when you watch "I Woke Up Screaming the Day I Died" suddenly Rocky begins to feel more like the protagonist where Roddy seems rather sleazy and scummy.
Looking at this on paper, it seems like this double-feature should not work but somehow it does and does so very well. There are faults to be found, of course, mostly in regards to the ending of "The Hard Cut" where the details are intentionally vague and the story appears to switch to that of the horror genre. It's what the movie(s) wants from the viewer though -- to have questions with no real definitive answer to be found in-between both movies. It might not be clear that's what the intentions are though. I know I didn't catch it the first time through and was still confused by the end of the second movie. Overall though, "The Hard Cut" does an excellent job of keeping up the mystery and adding more twists and turns to the story as it went on. I certainly can't say I was ever bored watching it because it actively kept me engaged without ever feeling tiresome. Not to mention "The Hard Cut Double Feature" has more people eating hearts than any other noir film you'll see.
I guess I'm most impressed with "The Hard Cut Double Feature" from more of a technical standpoint because Vince took a store that could have been told in one movie, broke it up into two, had both movies have different styles with different focuses yet it feels like you're watching one whole movie. "The Hard Cut" feels like it's one of the sleaziest noir films to come out while staying true to the genre's roots and keeps up the mystery of the plot. While "I Woke Up Screaming the Day I Died" was more entertaining, it was a great companion piece that succeeded in expanded on the story and making what seemed like unimportant characters very memorable. I know I'd be all for watching another movie about the character Rocky, even if that's not possible. Hell, I'd even take a movie dedicated entirely to the character Death Angel. But that probably has more to do with the fact that I want to see a movie where Dan Ellis runs around with a mullet.
Note: The screen grabs used for this review do not represent the quality of the release in any way. I do not have the means to take screen grabs from a blu-ray so I had to rely on taking them from an online trailer. I apologize for being technologically impaired.