For the Sake of Vicious on Shudder a horror hobbled by lack of ambition

For the Sake of Vicious (Shudder, 81 minutes). 1 star

Raymond Chandler wrote, "When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand."

He was talking to fellow pulp mystery writers, but the essential idea is often used in many genres, including horror.

Lora Burke in For the Sake of Vicious. Picture: Shudder

Lora Burke in For the Sake of Vicious. Picture: Shudder

Canadian writer-directors Gabriel Carrer and Reese Eveneshen certainly employ it here, taking their story in a different - and bloodier - direction.

After an ominous prelude, we meet our heroine, Romina (Lora Burke). She's a nurse and single mother going home from work.

She plans to pick up her daughter, who's with grandma, but first goes home.

Once inside, she is confronted by the wild-eyed Chris (Nick Smyth). He's no ordinary home invader, though.

Chris has beaten up Romina's landlord Alan (Colin Paradine) and has him in the kitchen.

Alan was acquitted of the rape of Chris's young daughter but the angry father is convinced Alan is guilty.

Romina was the daughter's nurse when the girl was in hospital, which might seem a rather tenuous connection, but Chris wants to force a confession out of Alan and then wreak revenge (he's brought some tools for the occasion). He wants Romina to help keep his victim alive.

Alan, not surprisingly, protests his innocence and Romina is caught between the two of them, not knowing which one is telling the truth.

There's one darkly funny moment when her daughter calls. Romina holds the phone in one hand, talking calmly to the child, while tending to Alan's wounds with the other. She's obviously a multitasker.

So far, what we have is an almost theatrical three-hander with a premise vaguely similar to the play and film Death and the Maiden, though not as highfalutin, a little like how Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left was admittedly inspired by Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring.

Things take a turn when Alan manages to make a phone call. He's not summoning the police though: it seems our guy is a bit of a shady character and wants some other dubious types to come to his rescue. But he doesn't quite get what he was expecting.

Instead, Chandler's dictum is obeyed, albeit with a twist. Some guys in Halloween masks and motorcycle helmets enter - and their intentions towards Alan are not benevolent. And, of course, Chris and Romina aren't in for a happy time either.

For the gorehounds, this is the point at which the really violent stuff starts. Some unorthodox improvised weapons - like the heavy top of a toilet - are used and a pair of scissors and some crushed glass cause particularly nasty ocular trauma.

The action is often convincingly messy, not slick and overchoreographed.

This low-budget piece of Canuxploitation has some promising ideas and elements but the filmmakers are too uninventive.

They seem to have invested a lot of their creativity (and budget) into the bloody effects and while these are good, the film could have been more than merely a bloodbath.

For the Sake of Vicious makes more a bit more sense than its title but leaves a few threads hanging and has some story holes - why doesn't Romina call the police or run away when she has multiple opportunities to do so?

The score, by the busy Carrer, who was also production designer - is sometimes atmospheric but often sounds distractingly like helicopters or flatulence.

More attention to the script and direction of the actors - who seem talented but ill served - would have helped.

This story Horror hobbled by lack of ambition first appeared on The Canberra Times.