Exit 33 (2011) – By Cary Conley

Ike is an avid hunter and owner of Ike’s Last Chance Gas, a small convenience store and gas station that serves as a final bridge between civilization and the wilderness of northern Michigan. Ike is haunted by the ghost of his dead wife whom he accidentally shot after a night of hunting and drinking in the woods. Passed out against a tree, his hunter’s senses hear a cracking twig and he pulls the trigger before coming fully awake. Alas, Ike finds that instead of a deer he has shot his wife–who is pregnant with their first child–clean through the eye, killing her instantly.

Most of the year, Ike keeps trying to move forward, pumping gas for the occasional customer and selling his famous venison jerky to the locals as well as a few strangers passing through. But business always picks up during hunting season, bringing a minor economic boom to Ike’s store as well as plenty of unsuspecting customers for Ike to slaughter. Pushed by the one-eyed ghost of his wife, he is always in search of the perfect eye to replace the one he destroyed; the mute young boy who is Ike’s constant companion is also in on the goings-on and Ike trusts him to pick which customers might have the best eyes for the picking.

But this hunting season is about to get very busy as plenty of customers stop by Ike’s, including outsiders going to a high school reunion, an ex-cop, an angry goth chick who is trying to escape her past, and some friendly hunters who come to Ike’s every season. Not everyone is chosen by Ike as potential eye donors and victims. It seems that some lucky customers manage to escape, unscathed and blissfully unaware of the danger they were in. But if a customer pisses Ike off or the little boy likes someone’s eyes, then Ike sends them to Pump 9 for gas. Pump 9 is nothing more than water, so it doesn’t take long for a customer’s vehicle to mysteriously die along the lonely country lane that runs by Ike’s place. Ike will then come around with his tow truck and the grateful but clueless victim is pleased to see Ike until they notice the tire iron in his hand. Of course, Ike isn’t just looking for pretty eyes. In the best tradition of the lone mountain man, all parts of the carcass are used, producing the best-known "venison" jerky in the entire region. You had to know that was coming….

Exit 33 is a cross between a ghost story, a psychological study and torture porn. The first half-hour is totally bloodless even as the goth chick is subjected to some eyeball mutilation, which happens off-screen. But in the middle third of the film, the gore quotient is raised substantially as we see victims’ eyeballs removed in loving close-up and bloody detail and others get skinned and filleted alive to produce Ike’s jerky. One man, about to discover Ike’s carefully guarded secret, is eviscerated, his entrails dumped onto the gravel drive of Ike’s store. I was impressed with the eye removal scene as well as the gutting of the hunter. These effects were well-done and suitably gross. But the removal of one victim’s back skin and subsequent slicing of the flesh, while bloody and gruesome, wasn’t of the same quality. Similarly, Ike’s loving handling of the various eyeballs goes on too long and suffers due to this length. It quickly becomes apparent that the eyes aren’t real. A bit of editing in these scenes might help the realism the film was going for. In these cases, less could truly mean more.

While the ghost seems to be real–there is a scene where she warns Ike of a customer that Ike is unaware of–the boy is a bit of a mystery. We assume the boy is Ike’s son, born shortly after the death of his mother, but in a bit of a twist, during a flashback that describes the events leading up to the ruin of his family, we are shown an empty baby crib even as a baby’s cries are heard on the soundtrack. The ending further clarifies that the baby was never born and the mute son is nothing but a figment of Ike’s deranged mind.

The film is technically well-done, with workman-like direction, cinematography, and scoring. The acting ranges from being a bit cheesy to decent but is overall merely average. Kane Hodder, as Ike, is certainly the high point of the film in terms of acting, but his performance is limited to the stereotypical quiet, lumbering giant by director Tommy Brunswick. The film as a whole isn’t bad, but there’s nothing here even the casual horror fan hasn’t seen a million times already. There are a few unexplained plot holes or scenes that seem a bit contrived, as is the case with many mystery/horror/slasher films; for instance, while Ike ensures his victims are tied up well, he never gags them. This oversight, which could be explained away if the killer were a novice, naturally allows for the inevitable discovery of the victims by no less than three different customers, who are then all summarily killed. You would think that a skilled killer like Ike would be a bit better prepared, but even if he mistakenly forgot to gag one victim, would he really make that same mistake every single time he captures a new victim?

One strength of the film is that the filmmakers don’t take it too seriously. Writers Mark Myers and Norman Koza insert both some black humor as well as acknowledging other classic films Exit 33 steals from. For instance, one hunter has to use the bathroom and we get to see–and hear–him as he empties his bowels in the world’s dirtiest bathroom. Between his grunts and groans and other bodily noises, he reads his dirty magazine. The scene is darkly humorous and almost so real, you can smell this guy’s body functions. When he realizes there is no toilet paper, he has to choose his least favorite pages from his magazine, apologizing to the women–"Sorry, hon"–as he wipes. Classic potty humor, no pun intended. In another scene, one character makes a comment about Farmer Vincent’s fritters, a pointed homage to the classic horror flick Motel Hell, about another crazed family that processed human flesh and sold it as farm-fresh meat.

While Exit 33 isn’t the best of these kinds of films, and isn’t sure what kind of film it really wants to be, it’s a fun and cheesy B flick with plenty of bloody effects that are perhaps just a notch above the classic H.G. Lewis gore movies. If you are a fan of films like 2001 Maniacs, The Rage, or Zombie Strippers, then you might enjoy Exit 33 with some popcorn and beer. The film is being released on August 2 by Vicious Circle Films, part of the Breaking Glass Pictures family of labels. For more information, go to http://www.breakingglasspictures.com.