Release Date(s)2008 (April 28, 2020)
Studio(s)Plotdigger Films (Unearthed Films)
- Film/Program Grade: D-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: C+
- Extras Grade: C
Whether it’s an homage to 80s slasher flicks or a purely exploitative gore picture, Gutterballs is certainly unforgettable with its hateful, over-the-top characters, elaborate kill scenes, and a screenplay that seems to revel in the worst attributes of human nature.
Two groups of young people have been allowed by the janitor of the Xcaliber bowling alley to compete against each other after closing. We’re introduced pretty quickly to the characters, who are more horror-film stereotypes than actual individuals. A fight breaks out over jealousies and resentments, beer is swilled, insults are exchanged, bottles are smashed, heads are kicked, and fists repeatedly pummel faces. Finally, the janitor, shotgun in hand, throws them out, saying they can continue their bowling match the following night. Lisa (Candice Lewald) returns to retrieve the purse she left inside, only to find the guys haven’t left and are waiting for her. We see her gang-raped repeatedly, in graphic detail. The next night, the bowling continues and even Lisa returns. One after another, the members of the group meet violent, bloody ends.
Every character in this low-budget Canadian film is so reprehensible in one way or another that when they are killed off, we feel little emotion. Though supposedly friends, they intentionally hurt each other’s feelings by homing in on weak spots and appear to delight in sadistically tormenting one another. Why would they agree to come together for a bowling match? That’s the first preposterous point we’re supposed to believe. And why would the janitor allow such a loud, unruly lot to have the bowling alley to themselves late at night?
Of course, the bowling emporium provides a massive space for a mysterious murderer to lurk, isolate his victims, and dispatch them in horrible, gut-wrenching ways. Director Ryan Nicholson, who also wrote the screenplay, relies on disgusting images, prolonged death scenes, and a 9-minute rape scene as linchpins for this sordid tale.
More repellent than horrifying, Gutterballs is exploitative and appeals to prurient tastes with its abundance of nudity, gore, and profanity. Though not technically pornographic, it definitely straddles the fence. It attempts to mirror the carnage and intensity of such horror cult classics as I Spit on Your Grave and Maniac. Those films aren’t exactly paragons of good taste, but at least they took themselves seriously. Nicholson seems to be both parodying such slasher movies and attempting to top their special effects.
Featuring 1080p resolution, Gutterballs is presented on Blu-ray by Unearthed Films in the widescreen format of 1.85:1. The look of the film suggests low-budget indies of the 1980s. The color palette tends toward darker tones, so Lisa’s pink miniskirt stands out. Scenes in the bowling alley feature wide background expanses of heavily shadowed lanes with a deep blue cast. When we face the bowlers from the alley side, the lights from the bar, vending machines, and ceiling give the expanse an “alive” look. At one point, the lights are turned off, plunging the bowling alley into complete darkness. When a couple of characters emerge into the daylight, the brightness contrasts dramatically with the gruesome happenings in the building. The kill scenes don’t all involve blood, but the ones that do feature deep wounds with red viscous gore gushing out. Images of evisceration and horrifying deaths may be too intense for viewers not used to graphic horror.
The English 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack features some obvious foley work, including footsteps, body parts being squished, punches, and incidental ambient noise. The footsteps stand out, since they are unnaturally loud. Because the actors shout and talk over each other as they deliver their profanity-filled dialogue, some of their lines aren’t clear. The simplistic dialogue, more laughable than plot-driven, relies on a particular four-letter word as a substitute for clever, sharper writing. Spoken or screamed hundreds of times, it eventually becomes tiresome. Patrick Coble’s original score sounds like the cheesy soundtracks of scare films of the 80s—and it’s loud, with the volume begging for attention rather than artfully building suspense.
Bonus materials on this unrated Blu-ray release include an audio commentary, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an extended edition of the film, a photo gallery, and several trailers.
Audio Commentary – Writer/director Ryan Nicholson discusses the facilities of the Xcaliber bowling alley in British Columbia, Canada, that made it an ideal location. The bloody kill scenes were filmed as pick-up shots in a studio to avoid excessive damage to the bowling alley. He speaks of the devastation of sexual abuse and says he filmed the rape in such lengthy and graphic detail so as not to shy away from the horror of it. He tells how the various kill scenes were filmed, with pride in the originality of a few of them. He defends nudity in motion pictures, even if it’s exploitative, noting that he feels the human body is beautiful. He wanted to make the characters as awful as possible so that the audience is glad to see them dispatched in terrible ways. He aimed to make Gutterballs over the top and tried to incorporate a very dark gallows humor into the homicidal mayhem.
Behind the Balls: The Making of Gutterballs – Actor Trevor Gemma (who plays Patrick) introduces this featurette. Ryan Nicholson, key crew members, and the actors introduce themselves. The actors come off as far more likable and intelligent than the characters they play. Unrelated shots appear with no explanation. Nicholson made Gutterballs after his first film, Live Feed. He liked the setting of a bowling alley because it offered many ways a person can die. He notes that the film is “not a realistic portrayal of human interaction,” but more like “a cartoon for adults.” The film was shot in the summer of 2007 in a two-story bowling facility, which had “tons of eye candy.” The cast is typical of 80s slasher films. The brutal rape scene sets in motion the events that follow.
Pin-etration Extended Cut – The extended cut of the film includes lengthier kill scenes, shots that were deemed too disturbing for the audience, and a few scenes that slowed the pace.
Photo Gallery – In a series of still photos, accompanied by excerpts from Patrick Coble’s score, we see the crew working, actors having make-up applied, the director looking at the script, and cast members smiling and chatting between takes.
Trailers – Five theatrical trailers are included: Collar, Gutterballs, Famine, Nightwish, and The Song of Solomon.
– Dennis Seuling