Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Barber of the Kill: "The Barber" (2002)

Malcolm McDowell is Dexter, your typical elderly small town Alaskan barber who is put out a bit when his latest murder victim is discovered before the spring thaw.

Revelstoke, Alaska has two hundred and fifty people and almost complete darkness in the winter. A seasonal disorder afflicts the population, who self-medicate with booze and banging Lucy, the local town slut, in the back of her taxi cab. Lucy disappears with her husband's best friend Hawkins. Then two drunken morons, Levi and Buffalo, discover Lucy's body out on the tundra. Local police chief Corgan (Jeremy Ratchford) is immediately called in, and immediately over his head, with a murder investigation.

Cool FBI agent Crawley is then called in, and begins investigating the murders, as another local girl, Sally (Brenda James) turns up dead. Hawkins' body is discovered in another town, so he is out as a suspect. Cecil (John Destry), Lucy's older and clueless husband, is locked up for a while, but his prints do not match.

Corgan's relationship with Lucy is discovered, as Crawley begins letting the town get to him- he's drinking and dallying with the police secretary Jewels (Erin Wright). Corgan is suspended, and he begins his own investigation of the murders. Crawley is convinced that the killer is really the Green River Killer of the Pacific Northwest who has moved on to new territory.

And who sits in the middle of all of this, clipping hair and keeping quiet? Dexter, the barber, who is in fact the killer. This is no spoiler, Dexter freely admits to the killing spree in his narration. The film's suspense comes from Dexter trying not to get caught, but also trying to keep his homicidal rage under control- it has a tendency to rise through his calm demeanor once in a while. The entire film is a cat and mouse game between the cops and Dexter, and the cat has no idea who the mouse is. There are no onscreen murders, just crime photo aftermaths, and this heightens the tension.

McDowell is always good, and does a great job here. Ratchford plays Corgan as kinda dumb, but kinda smart, too; he never turns him into a backwoods idiot. Garwin Sanford as Crawley is all anger and business until he starts living like local townspeople, and begins to slide. The rest of the supporting cast are full of stereotypes, as all Alaskan women are loose and lonely and all the men are drunk and lonely.

Bafaro shot this in Revelstoke, British Columbia, so the snowy setting is authentic. There is just one daytime scene, the rest are night, and the cinematography is great. The script does take a few too many conveniences at the clever finale, as Dexter plans to move on to more fertile killing grounds. This should have ended five minutes before it did.

If you are looking for something along the lines of Corbin Bernsen's goofy "The Dentist" series, look elsewhere. "The Barber" is not a typical slasher film, even has a couple of laughs, and is strongly anchored by some good acting. (* * * *) out of five stars.