Color, 2005, 100m. / Directed by Justin Paul Ritter / Starring Helene Udy, Taylor M. Dooley, Lee Perkins, Nicole Jarvis, Todd Gordon / Heretic (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD2.0 (16:9)

Though the title might lead one to expect another low-budget yarn about a rampaging serial killer, the ambitious (and awkwardly-titled) KatieBird* Certifiable Crazy Person is actually a prolonged, gruesome excursion into the mind of a disturbed young woman, all told to a literally captive audience awaiting an exructiatingly sadistic fate. The basic structure finds psychopathic Katiebird (Udy) recovering from her father's funeral by confessing her disturbing personal history to her shrink, Dr. Richardson (Gordon), whose expectations of a one-night stand instead turned into a nightmarish ordeal shackled to a bed. In fragmented flashbacks we see our protagonist (played by Udy and in younger days by Dooley and Jarvis) as the victim of her serial killer father (Perkins), whose murderous indulgences in the family barn became the training ground for the young girl. Demonstrating a particular aptitude for dental mutilation, she grows more unhinged with each passing year, escalating her violence to unbearable levels.

This labor of love springs from former Z-movie underling Justin Paul Ritter, who understandably decided to forge out himself and make his own damn movie. The results are impressive and work almost entirely throughout; apart from a few thespian hiccups here and there, he maintains a sure hand both as screenwriter and director. The decision to tell most of the story using varying degrees of visual split-screen effects will alienate a lot of casual horror viewers expecting an easy-to-swallow serial killer story, but the approach is often striking and emotionally surprising; coupled with a wonderfully saturated color palette, the effect is rather like Peter Greenaway at his most caffeinated tackling a Takashi Miike script. The film also benefits from very strong performances by the actresses playing KatieBird; without them, the story simply wouldn't work. The rawness, ferocity, and affecting vulnerability are beautifully conveyed, with Dooley doing the heaviest lifting as the adolescent psycho-in-training. Daniel Iannantuono's wild, genre-mashing score also ladles on the poetry and unease in heavy doses.

A good example of how word of mouth can build up a film's reputation even without a big budget, KatieBird is certainly one of the more shocking and effective attempts at a modern female serial killer tale, and even though it won't shake anyone up quite as much as, say, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, it's not for lack of trying. Heretic's DVD presents the film in a nice, colorful, anamorphic transfer, though not surprisingly it's difficult to nail down a consistent aspect ratio. The entire film has substantial black bars on the left and right sides to keep most of the image visible on TVs regardless of safety area, while the compositions usually hover in the 1.85:1 range but occasionally get chopped up a little higher and lower depending on the scene. Saul Bass certainly would've loved it. The stereo audio also sounds fine, with dialogue and music coming through quite clearly.

Given the pretentious title, it's nice to see that Ritter comes off as a committed and grounded guy on the disc's many supplements, with a nice, casual, but informative commentary track in which he's joined by Udy, Dooley and Perkins, all of whom have good tidbits to relate about the film's tiny production crew. He also steps in front of the camera for "Movies NOT Excuses," a didactic but effective featurette in which the filmmaker and other participants explain how hard the film was to make and the degree of commitment necessary to pull it off. Also included is a quick second featurette, "Misa Does Make-Up," showing the behind-the-scenes creation of some grisly effects near the end (don't watch it before the main feature!) as well as a trailer, promos for other Heretic titles, and some Easter eggs for the devoted hunters among you. The first 5000 copies also include a soundtrack CD, which is quite unnerving by itself and should be played back-to-back at full blast with Synapse's bonus Blue Sunshine soundtrack for maximum neighbor annoyance.

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