HOMEGROWN HORROR Or: A Screw Loose In Screw City

A review of "RAYMOND DID IT"

By Dr. Abner Mality

All my life, I've crawled in and out of Rockford, Illinois. I was born here and will probably die here in this hardscrabble Rust Belt town. Besides being the headquarters of Wormwood Chronicles and the hometown of the Good Doctor, what else is Rockford known for?

It is the home of venerable power pop artists Cheap Trick, creators of "Dream Police" and "Surrender". It's the birthplace of 80's porn princess Ginger Lynn, whom I was lucky enough to buy a couple of records from when she worked at Music Land in the Machesney Park Mall. It's the home of actresses Barbara Hale (Perry Mason's secretary) and Susan St. James. It's where the all-women baseball team the Rockford Peaches strutted their stuff. It used to be the "Screw Capital" of the world before the city fathers decided retail sprawl was a better bet than old-school manufacturing.  It also is a regular feature on many dubious "Bottom 20" lists of urban failure.

And now, Rockford can claim a homegrown horror film, "Raymond Did It". Yep, this low-budget shocker features a slew of local landmarks and is a virtual tour of "The Forest City". Will the shocking tale of Mr. Raymond Rourke join Cheap Trick and Ginger Lynn as a perennial indicator of Rockford's greatness? Let's take a look...

The movie makes no attempts to be anything other than what it is...a tribute to the classic 80's slasher film. Now, as I'm sure you're already aware, the Good Doctor is quite the horror aficianado, but the genre of mean teenagers getting punctured by some fiendish goof has never been my favorite form of entertainment. In fact, I view the "cookie cutter" nature of most slasher films as a real detriment. It takes a special twist, something different, to make such a film appealing to me.

"Raymond Did It" has all the cliches you've come to expect from a teenybopper flesh-ripper including nasty teens, gory and inventive deaths, hot topless babes and minimal, creepy soundtracks. But it also has something else that elevates it a bit beyond just a slasher film...and that is pathos. There is some real tragedy and emotion going on amidst the mounting body count.

I also gotta admit, it's damn cool seeing local Rockford landmarks as well as some people I actually KNOW in a movie. The streets and houses are cozily familiar and during the cemetery scenes, I was looking for recognizable names on the headstones. Characters wore T-shirts from local institutions like the Rockford Icehogs hockey team, Culture Shock and punk band Burntside. The party scene featured The Avatars in action and Lizard Skynard was on the closing credits. All in all, it was a real trip seeing familiar sights in a "big screen" movie.

That only accounts for so much enjoyment, though. What about the story itself?

It starts six years in the past, as brothers Bryce and Raymond Rourke seem to be living a fairly pleasant small town existence. The huge Raymond is an amiable, mentally challenged teenager with the reasoning ability of a five or six year old while Bryce is younger and completely normal for his age. Raymond gets picked on mercilessly by neighborhood kids for being a "retard". This word is hammered home so many times during the movie that it becomes uncomfortable. I know it's used by the "bad" kids but it gets kind of monotonous...and it becomes a real problem when we see Raymond later committing acts of bloody murder. Let's put it this way, "Raymond Did It" won't be used to raise funds for The ARC or be shown at Special Olympics functions anytime soon.

Anyway, Raymond tags along as Bryce runs into his kid friends at a local park. They include the ruthlessly bitchy Paige, Tim, Edgar, Jayme and the friendly Tammy, who is the only one who seems sympathetic to Raymond. When Bryce and Paige get into a fight, it leads to Bryce being killed in a completely unbelievable and awkward scene. Scheming Paige gets the idea to blame the death on Raymond..."Raymond did it!"...while she and her buddies are off the hook. The other kids, even Tammy, agree.

These early scenes are filmed in a color-saturated style that gives it a garish, overlit look. None of the kid actors here are too great in their roles, but the movie now swings to "Six Years Later"...and really starts to get down to business.

The kids have grown up physically but not much emotionally. They have matured from mean-spirited, foul-mouthed pre-teens obsessed with sex and dope into mean-spirited, foul-mouthed teens obsessed with sex and dope. Much as happens in real life. Tammy is still disturbed and unhappy about what happened with Raymond, but the rest of the gang seems willing to let the whole thing drop. There's a pool party scene where the characters mingle that makes me weep with envy, because my own pool parties never featured live bands, girls doing stripper moves and weird aquatic fume-huffing devices...oh, the missed opportunities!

On the sixth anniversary of Bryce's death, unwelcome news is heard: Raymond has broken out of the mental institution where he was sent after his frame-up and he's PISSED! He's gotten bigger and a whole lot meaner during his stay in the bug-house and in classic slasher tradition, he's out to get even! Now is a good time to mention that Kyle Hoskins is really good as Raymond. He projects both the child-like pathos and innocence necessary to make the character sympathetic as well as the sheer brute force and unstoppable violence that keeps him fearsome. If you remember the early 70's schlock classic "The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant", you'll recall big John Bloom as the simple-minded hick who gets the head of a maniac stitched onto his shoulders. Hoskins reminds me a lot of Bloom's portrayal in that movie. A lot of monsters ranging from Frankenstein to Michael Myers and Jason seem to be boys who never grow up and Raymond is a purer version of that same idea. I just have a lot of trouble with a retarded character committing bloody murder even if he is getting even.

Once word gets out to our characters, panic immediately sets in. Super-bitch Paige  tries to take command, seconded by her brain-dead stoner boyfriend Simon, who spends most of his life on a bong (appropriate considering what happens to him later). We get a lot of hateful dialogue about doing in "the big retard" and cat-fights between Paige, Jayme and Tammy. As the "grown-up" Paige, Elissa Dowling is the embodiment of every nasty trailer park Goth chick you've ever met...she's pure evil and you can't wait to see her get what's coming. Jessica Palette is plenty hot as the blonde sexpot Jayme and she gets the obligatory nude sex scene that will keep male interest elevated...ahem...even though you KNOW what sex always leads to in a movie like this.

One of the big attractions of a slasher flick is the inventive and absurd nature of the killings. Lovers of crazy gore won't be disappointed once Raymond starts his rampage. One character gets a curtain rod shoved up one end until it comes out the other, leading to the movie's best line of dialogue: "He got impaled by a curtain rod like a rotisserie chicken!". Another is folded in half and jammed into a working dryer, In the most disturbing and over the top scene, Raymond straps a character to the floor and cuts through him with what looks like a bicycle chain attached to a lawn mower! Tim and Simon try to take the attack to Raymond and think they've done their tormentor in, but Raymond seemingly has the durability of his movie brethern Jason and Michael and lumbers out of the Rock River in an impressive scene.

I was told by director of photography Tim Stotz that 25 gallons of fake blood was used during the film and you certainly get to see it all in play!

What we have so far is a low-budget gore flick based on a rather tasteless premise. But there's a bit more to "Raymond Did It" than just that. In the movie's most affecting scene, Raymond pays a visit to his childhood friend Tammy and the two have a genuinely touching discussion where we get to see Raymond as he was before tragedy struck...a simple, innocent child who has been terribly hurt by others. Lindsay Felton gives a very sympathetic performance throughout as Tammy...she's known all along who's right and who's wrong. Plus, she is really cute in the slasher movie tradition. I felt this scene between the two is really the core of the movie and takes some of the edge off of Raymond's nasty deeds.

Also want to tip the hat to actress Jean Cieslik, who is very good as Raymond's suffering mother. She does a fine job of going from a happy, sunny mom in the early part of the movie to a bitter, drunken wreck in the second half. The last confrontation between her and Raymond is also a strong moment.

If you don't have sky-high expectations and are a fan of 80's slasher films, "Raymond Did It" will likely satisfy. It's not going to give "The Shining" or "The Ring" competition, but then, that's not the point. Will we see more of Raymond Rourke in the future? That's up to you, the public. Tim Stotz told me, if this makes one dollar of profit, Raymond will be back.

Put Raymond right next to Cheap Trick and Ginger Lynn in the Rockford Hall of Fame! Kudos to writer/director Travis Legge, photography director Tim Stotz, editor Robert J. Williams and the rest of the crew for pulling this off.