[review by JA Kerswell]
|Don't answer the door WHEN THE TRASH MAN KNOCKS.|
Christopher Wesley Moore is consistently one of the best genre writer/directors in low-budget filmmaking today. WHEN THE TRASH MAN KNOCKS is perhaps his most affectionate tribute to the Golden Age of the slasher movie to date. Less issue-driven than his previous films, this tale of a long-dormant maniac returning to a small town for another murder spree is beautifully constructed and skilfully shot. In many ways, it is a love letter to John Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN (1978).
Almost 30 years ago, a young boy called Crispin slaughtered his father and the father’s mistress and stuffed their severed body parts in trash bags. His mother, a child psychologist, tried to reach him in the asylum where he was placed after the killings. Eventually, she gave up. However, nearly ten years later he escaped whilst being transported between facilities and returned to his home town, where he killed another 12 people before vanishing into the night. Legend has it that he dismembered his victims because he wanted to “Make a new family, piece by piece.” Legend also says never answer the door if you hear three knocks, as it’s the Trash Man calling.
|Caroline (Jo-Ann Robinson) must overcome her fears to escape when the Trash Man comes knocking.|
Forward to today and, ahead of Thanksgiving weekend, the townsfolk still talk of the Trash Man in hushed tones. Caroline (Jo-Ann Robinson - who appeared in Fred Olen Ray's supernatural slasher SCALPS back in 1983) and her son Justin (director Christopher Wesley Moore) have a connection to that bloody night back in 2003 that isn’t immediately clear. Caroline is a chronic agoraphobic who hasn’t left the house in years and hides knives under the bed in case Crispin returns. Her life is lived in a state of high anxiety - made worse by the voice of her dead mother constantly berating her. Justin is also struggling. A barely functioning alcoholic, he is juggling a secret affair with his co-worker Leo (David Moncrief), the pressures of his job at a local restaurant and the guilt of contemplating leaving his mother to start afresh elsewhere all play havoc on his state of mind. He is also haunted, like his mother, by ghosts of the past.
As Caroline continues to try to overcome her agoraphobia, her worst fears come true when the Trash Man returns to town and starts a new bloody rampage …
Previously, Christopher Wesley Moore’s slasher movies have dealt with larger social issues such as unhinged abortion activists in BLESSED ARE THE CHILDREN (2016) and the dangers of so-called conversion therapy in CHILDREN OF SIN (2022). WHEN THE TRASH MAN KNOCKS deals with more personalised matters such as guilt, addiction and mental health conditions such as PTSD. It is very likely his most accomplished movie to date. Moore and Robinson give remarkable central performances; giving the kind of depth not usually seen in horror movies of this budget. Robinson plays a completely different character than she did in CHILDREN OF SIN and shows great versatility. Overall the performances are variable - as would be expected for this level of production - but are mostly good.
|Paige (Moore regular Meredith Mohler) plays one of the teen victims-to-be in WHEN THE TRASH MAN KNOCKS.|
Expectations may need to be tempered a little due to the sometimes evident constraints of the $20,000 budget. However, compromises are minimal. Moore shoots this with the care afforded a much high-budgeted movie - and for the most part, it looks great. He also has a way with dialogue. It’s sharp and quirky and again elevates the film above its micro-budget roots.
Moore is clearly referencing John Carpenter’s famous slasher throughout. But this isn’t a rip-off, but rather a loving tribute. The framing of the Trash Man - glimpsed just to the right of the frame - is very Carpenter. More explicit references include a recreation of the POV of a knife taken from a kitchen draw and the way this boogeyman melts into the shadows. The Trash Man himself is also like a boogeyman of yore - silent, hulking and deadly. He is dressed in work dungarees (a shade of Jason from FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981)) and wearing a scary, slit-mouthed clown mask (the original idea was for Michael Myers to wear a clown mask before they settled on the altered William Shatner one). There are also shades of Laurie Strode in Caroline; given that the film’s villain appears to have come home to finish what he started 20 years previously. Whilst not an absolute gorefest, the film doesn’t skimp on the red stuff either and has some great practical effects.
Given his budget, Moore has once again delivered a remarkable movie. They say that genre fans shouldn’t make films, but this director breaks that rule consistently. Hopefully one day he will have a budget to hand that can fully realise his vision.
female: 4 / male: 7
1) Male found chopped up
2) Female found chopped up
3) Male beaten to death
4) Female bkilled with cleaver (off screen)
5) Male stabbed repeatedly
6) Female slashed to death
7) Female stabbed in stomach with scissors
8) Female hit repeatedly with iron
9) Female stabbed with a knife
10) Male whacked with a cleaver
11) Male repeatedly bashed with rock and decapitated with cleaver
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