Release Date(s)1994 (June 27, 2023)
Studio(s)McGuffin Productions/WAVE Productions (Saturn’s Core/Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: D
- Video Grade: D
- Audio Grade: C-
- Extras Grade: A
Hung Jury is a long-winded mystery that adds to its whodunit tale lots of blood and gore as well as young, buxom women in distress. “Creative” murders are the highlights of this bare-bones production offering some of the least credible acting ever to make its way into a movie.
The opening shows a drug-addicted parolee drowning a voluptuous neighbor (Michelle Caporaletti) in her own swimming pool. Immediately after this lengthy aquatic struggle, he faces the hangman’s noose and vows revenge on those responsible for his sentence—the prosecutor, judge and jury.
Nearly twenty years later, two actresses are hired to take part in a murder mystery weekend on an island off the New Jersey shore. Alecia (Christine McNeilly) and Karen (Shelly Deuber) are suspicious of the cloudy details of the assignment but, needing the work, take the job.
Guests for the weekend include a scuba diver (Dave Castiglione), stockbroker Philip (Tom Beschler), psychiatrist Dr. Shannon (Shama Peterson), Col. Nathan Blackstone (John Peterson), businessman Joseph (Joseph A. Cedatol, Jr.), teacher Melissa (Melissa A. Curnew), and Jenna (Sharon Hawkins), an “entertainment business” entrepreneur. Once all the guests have arrived, several sexual encounters occur while a murderer is on the loose, methodically killing one guest after another in horrifying ways.
One of the major problems with the movie is its convoluted story with characters that are hard to keep track of. The male characters are generic and make little impression. The women do not wear bras, change their clothes frequently, and favor 1980s-style big hair. Many scenes linger on female characters in wet, revealing T-shirts and short-shorts. And the key element required of any mystery but totally absent from Hung Jury is suspense.
The movie is so poorly acted, poorly lit, and poorly edited that the viewer can’t help but focus on the ineptness of the filmmaking rather than the plot. Director Gary Whitson keeps scenes going too long and seems unable to elicit even halfway decent performances from the cast, who deliver their lines flatly and emotionlessly, as if reciting the times tables by rote. The opening drowning involves endless splashing around intended to represent a woman fighting for her life. Instead, she appears to be helping her male co-star simulate a struggle. By keeping the camera going without cuts, the director leaves it to the actors to make the scene look authentic, and they fail dismally. Other scenes are similarly padded, bringing the running time to 114 minutes. Pace could have been improved by considerable trimming.
According to information in the enclosed booklet, talent mainly came from modeling agencies, and the film was shot on location at Fort Mott in New Jersey. Acting is uniformly wooden, and there are occasional on-camera errors in delivery. The location does have a creepy vibe, which often overshadows the performances.
The murders include asphyxiation by carbon monoxide, throat cutting, electrocution in a bathtub, being nailed to a wall, and slaughter by axe. The most original, jaw-dropping demise involves a woman beaten to death with the severed arm of her boyfriend. The murders are staged sloppily and unrealistically, thanks to bargain-basement special effects and the director’s evident inability to understand the concept of editing. In one scene, lasting four minutes, what passes for dialogue is a character yelling “What are you doing to her? Leave her alone, you sick people!” over and over and over. Hardly whip-smart writing. Victims writhe and scream and moan long after they should already be dead, which adds a surrealistic note to the proceedings. Since the clearly exploitative murders are the intended draw, shouldn’t greater care have been taken with them?
Hung Jury fails as both a murder mystery and a horror film. I never wondered who the murderer was because little suspense was built and the acting was amateurish. Because the characters are more caricatures and generic types, it wasn’t possible to empathize with them. The women characters are the cliched brainless sexpots commonplace in cheap horror flicks with lazy writing.
Hung Jury was shot and edited on video using Super VHS cameras and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. A note on the Blu-ray case warns that “the transfer quality is confined by the limitations of the format.” Because the original source material is VHS tape, the movie has a retro look. Overall quality is poor, with a yellowish hue in many scenes due to improper illumination. Interiors are dark, often making it difficult to see actors clearly. Washed-out yellows and bright reds (for blood) are dominant hues. Brief underwater scuba diving scenes are bright green. Little attempt is made for atmospheric lighting to amp suspense. Editing is inconsistent and downright sloppy, with actors awkwardly pausing before speaking. A brief flash at the gun barrel suggests the actual firing of a prop gun. Shots are held far too long and include awkward moments of actors improvising.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Optional English SDH subtitles are available. Dialogue is clear, though line readings are flat and bland. Actors simply go through the motions. Even the women in grave distress or being tortured look bored and detached. An actress speaks, pauses and—knowing a phone will ring—looks at the phone moments before it rings. The sound, especially in indoor scenes, has an echo-y quality. Voices often compete with background noise. Sometimes, within the same conversation, traffic is heard in the background when one character is filmed and there is silence when the second character is on camera. In a beach scene, where there is no sight of water, the sound of water lapping on the shore is awkwardly added. Gunshots are badly dubbed in post-production, dumbing down a crucial scene.
Bonus materials include the following:
- Audio Commentary with Gary Whitson and Ross Snyder
- Alternate Extended Cut (119:10)
- The Perils of Penelope (84:08)
- The Perils of Penelope: The Hypnotic Gem (20:17)
- Saturn’s Core Trailers (10:43)
Audio Commentary – Featuring director Gary Whitson, moderated by Ross Snyder, co-director of Mail Order Murder: The Story of W.A.V.E. Productions. Hung Jury was an in-house production of W.A.V.E., a company that produced horror films inspired by movies of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. It was one of the company’s most ambitious films, with 20 principal roles. The 1974 prologue necessitated clothing of the period for both male and female characters. These vintage clothes were obtained from family and friends. Writer Sal Longo patterned the film on Ten Little Indians, with many characters who may be suspects in the series of horrible murders occurring on a movie set. The commentators discuss in detail “two of the grimmest and insanely over-the-top kills ever.” Fort Mott contained many abandoned buildings, some in ruins. Two versions of Hung Jury were made, one for a PG rating, the other for an R. To publicize and generate interest in the movie, the producers set up tables at various horror and fantasy conventions. When asked for his final thoughts about Hung Jury, director Gary Whitson notes, “I think it’s held up,” but confesses that he made the film so long ago, he’s forgotten a lot of production details.
Alternate Extended Cut – Running about five minutes longer than the theatrical version of Hung Jury, the extended version has soundtrack options for original audio or commentary by Richard Mogg, author of Analog Nightmares: The Shot On Video Horror Films of 1982-1995. Many of Mogg’s comments echo those by director Gary Whitson in the main commentary. His focuses primarily on the film’s adaptation and casting.
The Perils of Penelope – This 1992 film is an homage to episodic cliffhangers and features lots of staged action sequences. Michelle Caporaletti stars.
The Perils of Penelope: The Hypnotic Gem – This 2008 short film, written by Luis Garson and directed by Gary Whitson, is a sequel to The Perils of Penelope, and stars Elizabeth Raven, Debbie D. and Laura Giglio. The film is divided into three chapters: Bombs Away, Granddaughter Like Grandmother, and Epilogue.
Trailers – Running together as a single block, trailers include the Saturn’s Core releases Deep Undead, Backwoods Marcy, Psycho Sisters, Buck! The Carbine High Massacre, Mail Order Murder: The Story of W.A.V.E. Productions, and Burglar from Hell.
Booklet – The 28-page booklet contains a foreword by director Gary Whitson, the essay A Little Something for Everyone by Caroline Kopek, a critical review by Grace Lovera. supporting actors’ Honorable Mention, Hung Jury: The Verdict Is Sin by Taylor Heider, and several color production photos.
Hung Jury is a fusion of gore, sex, and mystery. It’s difficult to make a feature film, so the fact that director Gary Whitson was able to get a script, hire actors, find locations, and pull together enough money to get the film completed is impressive. With its bizarre dialogue, oddball characters, rambling plot, and gruesome kills, Hung Jury may be appreciated by fans of low-budget exploitation. For those seeking serious horror or mystery, look elsewhere.
- Dennis Seuling