Color, 2014, 85m.
Directed by Matt O.
Starring Adam Boys, Kasey Ryne Mazak, Ken Tsui, Gabrille Giraud, Dwayne Bryshun
Artsploitation (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Proving there's still a bit of cinematic blood left in the old "severed hand running amuck killing people" storyline, this humorous and often very bloody Canadian film draws inspiration from its ancestors like The Beast with Five Fingers, And Now the Screaming Starts, and especially Evil Dead II, The Hand, and Idle Hands as an underground cartoonist named Travis (Boys) takes pride in his gleefully offensive publication, Vulgarian Invasions, which takes pot shots at every sacred cow in sight.
Needless to say, extreme comics aren't a great way to pay the bills, so Travis has to make do with doing architectural drawings and relying on the support of his cheerful stepbrother/life coach, Ralphie (Tsui). He also engages in banter with a potential love interest, local journalist Amy (Giraud), who's covering the aggressive tactics of local businessman Leonard Fong (Mazak) to use a ruthless Chinese street gang to drive up crime rates in a neighborhood he wants to buy out. When one of the gang members spies a copy of a comic mocking Fong, the crime lord has Travis's right hand sliced off with a buzz saw. Despondent and driven to booze, Travis decides to give up drawing and won't cooperate with the police, while Fong closes in on several gay residents who take inspiration from one of Travis's recurring comic characters, Homo Dynamus -- one of whom (Bryshun) so enamored he brings the character to life himself. On top of that, Travis is soon pestered by his own severed hand, which has taken on a life of its own and crawled back to its owner to play a constant stream of vulgar pranks. Soon the Chinese goons are getting picked off one by one, and finally goaded into taking revenge, Travis joins his severed hand, his friends, and Homo Dynamus to take on Fong once and for all.
Complete with an opening gag that somehow manages to pay homage to both Street Trash and The Toxic Avenger at the same time, Bloody Knuckles is clearly the work of a major genre fan who also delights in peppering the background with posters for unexpected titles like Cannibal Campout and Treevenge. A familiar face from the horror short film circuit, Matt O. (aka Matt O'Mahoney) knows how to pull off an effective gore set piece and has a knack for springing odd visual details like a gang member in chain mail, a living hand crawling its way out of a plastic bag, or bursts of red and blue lighting in the S&M underground sequence. Boys does a fine job as the vulnerable lead, though he and Giraud are saddled with some dialogue that veers into clunky Kevin Smith-y territory at times such as a preachy diatribe about free speech or a flat final gag involving a swastika-emplazoned dildo. The running theme through the film about the perils of limiting free speech is a solid one, though its execution is uneven, making solid points at times and feeling more like a Lloyd Kaufman rant at others. It definitely scores points for ambition though, and the fact that it succeeds the vast majority of the time is a testament to the core solidity of the story and the commitment behind and in front of the camera.
Artsploitation brings Bloody Knuckles to separate Blu-ray and DVD editions looking as sharp and fresh as you'd expect for a recent digital feature. For some reason many interior scenes are shot very, very dimly which results in too much shadowy gray areas on screen at times, but that's part of the film's visual design, for better or worse. The English audio can be played with 5.1 DTS-HD MA or Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 options (it's not an aggressive mix but the DTS one is best), and Matt O. contributes an audio commentary focusing on the production process including casting, effects (including selection of the vital hand actor), and scouting locations without permits. You also get a trio of brief, mostly inconsequential deleted scenes, a trailer, and two excellent earlier short films by Matt O. that are probably worth the price tag by themselves. "Adjust Tracking" is a fun little gory number (originally planned as a submission for The ABCs of Death) about a young gorehound who gets even with his disapproving dad, while the longer "Electric Fence" is an insane, incredibly graphic look at a man whose unfortunate encounter with a teeth-grinding prostitute coincides with the nearby death of a pedophile being pursued by the police. In the hospital he's offered the option of a penis transplant, which has unfortunate and extremely gory consequences not for the weak of heart. Matt O. also turns up for "A Hate Letter to Censorship," a 7-minute interview with Matt Garrett about all three of his films on this disc, as well as a fun 5-minute visit with Joseph Gervasi at the Philadelphia headquarters of Diabolik DVD (you'll drool when you see all these titles in one place), an 8-minute conversation with the always insightful Robin Bougie of Cinema Sewer about the publication's mission and the quirks of extreme comic publishing, and a 4-minute visit with Josh from Lunchmeat, the VHS appreciation magazine, about the enduring cultural appeal of the video format. The whole package rounds out with bonus trailers for Children of the Night, Horsehead, and Cub. Definitely a great party disc.