A nameless photographer (Sven Garrett) leads a double life as a Nazi-obsessed serial killer, secretly abducting beautiful girls whom he rapes, tortures and dismembers. His girlfriend Charlotte (Valerie Barber) is completely clueless, but her kid sister Jade (Jade Risser) remains suspicious. When he isn’t violently sodomising victims in his grimy dungeon, our hero arranges tacky, nude photo-shoots, prowls the streets of Las Vegas for strippers and prostitutes, and delivers rambling, idiotic monologues. “I’m just a regular guy looking to blow off a little steam. Maybe a little self-esteem.” Amidst hallucinations and flashbacks to his whorish mother, the psycho continues killing, until the disappearance of a close friend prompts Jade’s descent into the basement.
Murder Set Pieces is so bad it could almost be called funny, if not for the nauseatingly explicit scenes of rape and torture. Wooden, Schwarzenegger sound-a-like, Sven Garrett is a woefully inadequate lead, but the biggest offender is the pompous, mock-philosophical posturing of Nick Palumbo’s script. Between murders, Garrett’s Elvis haired, Nazi voyeur/rapist/serial killer (any boxes left to tick?) is prone to brain-addled conversational asides like: “Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, the Al-Qaeda bombers are all my pen-pals in hell” and “Are we serial killers or surreal killers.” Palumbo previously helmed the appalling Nutbag (2000) - name-checked here as a snuff movie - memorably described by critic Kim Newman as: “the kind of film shit looks down upon”. Murder Set Pieces represents a slight step up. The killer’s ménage a trois with two gorgeous blondes he razors to death mid-coitus displays a modicum of visual flair, but this is such a smug, hateful movie there isn’t much to admire. The gore scenes are gruelling stuff, but disjointed storytelling robs them of any power. There is no explanation for how Garrett’s killer keeps getting away with it (he leaves trail of evidence Inspector Clouseau could follow). Nor why Charlotte sticks with him when he ignores her during sex, makes wisecracks about menstruation and lovingly strokes pictures of Adolf Hitler.
Scenes of Sven pumping iron recall American Psycho (2000), but the attempts at satire are wafer-thin. Palumbo borrows ideas and images from genuinely intelligent horror films like Deep Red (1975) and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1987) and plays to the gallery by casting genre favourites like Gunnar Hansen and Edwin Neal from Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1973), Cerina Vincent (Cabin Fever (2001)), and Tony Todd (Candyman (1992)) (in one of the most ridiculous scenes you’ll ever see). In the absence of genuine wit, he indulges in trite shock-tactics: a blowjob from a severed head, real footage from the 9/11 attacks. It amounts to little more than nihilistic chic. Away from the dross, young Jade Risser shows some promise, portraying a believable child heroine even though her subplot is ineptly handled. Her final face-off with the killer is awkardly staged, but nightmarishly effective. The conclusion is a strained attempt at ambiguity that satisfies no-one. Palumbo apparently cast real Vegas strippers as the murder victims. A handful of striking beauties prove surprisingly good actresses - they scarcely deserve being splattered in sickening detail. Maybe that’s the point. Murder Set Pieces is so in love with its misogynistic asshole anti-hero it has zero empathy with his victims.