In The Bloody Truth, Calhoun Kersten looks at the deeper meanings within one of film’s most subtext-heavy genres — horror. Warning: Spoilers ahead.
No good can come from a movie starring Melissa Joan Hart. I should’ve known that. Things are made even worse when the title offers up an uninteresting, vague threat like Nine Dead. The only thing that comes to mind is that hope against hope that Sabrina the Teenage Witch will be one of the casualties. I know, harsh words for such an innocuous aging 90s icon, right? Well, Melissa Joan Hart is more than meets the eye…but I’m still not sure if that’s such a good thing.
Hart, the undeniable star of Nine Dead, may have left the family-friendly days of love potions and magical mishaps behind her, but she has tried her best to remain as relevant as ever. Unfortunately, for us, that means her unsolicited political opinions. That’s right, a woman who has remained relevant mostly because of her gay fan base was a Mitt Romney supporter. But she’s entitled to her opinions, just as I am mine. I’ll do my best to not hold her bigoted, close-minded views against her…until she writes them into a movie. Then we have a problem. You know, for somebody who came from the loving home of two lesbian witches, you’d think Sabrina would be a little more tolerant, but Nine Dead shows just how antiquated values are a hot property in shitty straight-to-DVD horror movies.
It’s difficult to know where to begin with a movie like Nine Dead, the tale of nine strangers who’re locked in a room by a sinister figure and forced to figure out the common reason why they’ve been abducted. Should we start with the lisping pedophile who lives to perpetuate the idea that all gays are rapists? Or perhaps the Chinese woman who speaks in Mandarin throughout the entire movie, except to utter the word “nigger” for a cheap laugh? It’s difficult to tell which characters are more offensive, honestly.
Don’t get me wrong, we get it, these are “bad” people who must believe that their actions have consequences…except they aren’t all bad people. Mrs. Chan may feel strongly about her fellow captor, who is truly defying stereotypes by being a drug-dealing, gun-selling gangbanger, but when Nine Dead finally reveals its convoluted plot, she really did nothing wrong. She mistook someone who pistol-whipped her for someone else. Honest mistake. Sure, it led to an elaborate chain reaction, the likes of which Rube Goldberg has never seen, but she didn’t mean to do it.
That’s where the creators come in. They meant to make this movie. This POS happened on purpose. Considering the writers of Nine Dead spend the bulk of the movie feeling morally superior, it’s weird to see how the film plays out. The “flawed characters” aren’t so much fully-formed people that you invest in, but rather Republican archetypes that are used to demonize, well, just about anything besides white, heterosexual males. As previously noted, there’s the gay pedophile who, conveniently, contracts AIDS. There’s the black man, because evidently, there’s no greater offense than being black. Or maybe the point was that all black people are criminals? I’m not sure on that one. Then there’s the immigrant, the adulterers, and many more. True, they’re arguably all bad people, but Nine Dead handles these characters with a heavy-handedness that leaves one more baffled as to why the film exists than what did the characters do to deserve this fate?
However, arguably, the greatest addition to Nine Dead is Melissa Joan Hart’s character herself. Her innovative go-getter Kelly is willing to do anything to get her man! This, of course, includes using her married cop lover to tamper with evidence and gun down any remaining survivors to make sure her terrible secret remains hidden. Oh, did I also mention that she’s a baby mama, knocked up by her married cop lover? It’s easy to forget that information, considering it has almost no relevance to the story, except when Kelly brings it up as a bargaining chip. Luckily, the masked killer is as offended by this gesture as I was, but it just further demonizes the single mother/former adulterer. I’m sure Melissa Joan Hart may have thought this would be an “edgy” role to get her out of her Melissa and Joey slump, but instead, Nine Dead just makes her look bad. Part of that is the unflattering lighting of the film, but I’m pretty sure it’s mostly because her character is an ill-conceived and poorly-acted mess.
Nine Dead plays out the typical religious right fears in the most obvious and clumsy manner. At least slashers had the decency to offer up a little bloodshed in exchange for the overzealous preaching. Instead, Nine Dead leaves us with a lot of talking and an occasional, relatively bloodless gunshot. Not nearly enough to satisfy the blood lust or justify this propaganda posed as entertainment. Instead, Nine Dead wallows in its self-righteousness with no real saving graces.