Friday December 19, 1997
Cindy Sherman's Hollywood-puncturing "Untitled Film Stills"--photos recently sold to the Museum of Modern Art for Hollywood-style money--feature their maker in a variety of counterfeit movie poses intended to evoke the irony of the familiar, the seductive glamour of the superficial. As a work of art, they're a one-joke routine. But they're also funny, at least in the fleeting light of first impression.
With "Office Killer"--an ostensible sendup of the exploitation-horror genre that never rises above anemic homage--Sherman joins the ranks of those she would parody. It's almost, ironically, ironic: Her post-Modernist photography is about pop-cultural packaging and presumptions; "Office Killer," showing tonight through Christmas at the Port in Corona del Mar, is about selling the people and the product and making the work nearly incidental.
It's the first in an announced series of arty horror films from the people of Good Machine (the New York company behind Ang Lee, Hal Hartley and Edward Burns, among others), and its producer is the maverick Christine Vachon ("I Shot Andy Warhol," "Kids," "Stonewall"). The co-writer is director and Vachon associate Tom Kalin ("Swoon"). Todd Haynes ("Safe," "Poison") contributed dialogue. Elise MacAdam, a Columbia University student of Good Machine's James Schamus, wrote the original script.
Thus armed and loaded, "Office Killer" bears an acknowledged debt to Dario Argento ("Suspiria") and unacknowledged ones to George Romero ("Carrie," "Dilbert").
Dorine (Carol Kane), a gray, besweatered functionary at the struggling Constant Consumer magazine, lives for her job and is one of those dinosaurs through whom many publications avoid embarrassment: the one who knows how to spell, how to write, where goes the semicolon.
As overlooked as she is valuable, Dorine is put on part time as part of the downsizing campaign of the ferociously ambitious editor's assistant, Norah Reed (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and, after accidentally electrocuting the office creep, Gary (David Thornton), goes a tiny bit haywire. Systematically killing off co-workers and hiding their rotting corpses in the house she shares with her nagging invalid mother (Alice Drummond), Dorine gets in touch with her muse, which is Death.
The actors--who also include Michael Imperioli as what passes as the hero and Fassbinder favorite Barbara Sukowa as the magazine's chain-smoking, Eurotrash editor--are barely directed. And MacAdam's script paves no new ground: The characters are types, whom one expects to be perverted for purposes of such arch comedy but who are caught up in a salad spinner of confounding sensibilities and purposes.
"Office Killer" would at least have been fun had Sherman gone for pure camp, rather than letting the film morph into a quasi-topical morality tale. As it is, there's more to chew on in one Sherman still than in 81 minutes of her not-so-moving picture.
Office Killer, 1997. Unrated. A Good Fear production, released by Strand in association with Good Machine and Kardana/Swinsky Films. Director: Cindy Sherman. Producers: Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler. Executive producers: Tom Carouso, John Hart, Ted Hope, James Schamus. Screenplay by Elise MacAdam, Tom Kalin, additional dialogue by Todd Haynes. Cinematographer: Russell Fine. Editor: Merril Stern. Costumes: Todd Thomas. Music: Evan Lurie. Production design: Kevin Thompson. Art director: Ford Wheeler. Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes. Carol Kane as Dorine Douglas. Molly Ringwald as Kim Poole. Jeanne Tripplehorn as Norah Reed. Barbara Sukowa as Virginia Wingate. Michael Imperioli as Daniel Birch.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times