Saturday, July 28, 2012

Blue-Eyed Butcher (Silver Screen, Sony, Lifetime, 2012)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After But the Flesh Is Weak I stayed up and ran a movie I’d recently recorded off Lifetime: Blue-Eyed Butcher, a true-crime story about Susan Wright (Sara Paxton), a hot young woman in Galveston, Texas who’s working as a stripper but has aspirations to be a nurse, who meets and falls in love with hot, sexy stud Jeff Wright (Justin Breuning) and marries him — only, as any inveterate Lifetime watcher could tell you, any genuinely hot male in one of their movies turns out to be the villain, and Jeff is no exception: after lots of hot shots of his bare chest (his nipples not only shown but actually highlighted — yum!) and some good soft-core porn of the two of them having sex, once they get married he turns out to be neurotically possessive, jealous and convinced that she was lying about using birth control so she would get pregnant and “hook” him into marriage. He’s got a good job but he starts staying away nights and burning through their money on booze, drugs and visits to strip clubs — it seems that once her doctor tells her she should abstain from sex for four months after giving birth, that’s all the excuse Jeff needs to seek other women he can get his rocks off with — and when he is home he beats her regularly, though director Stephen Kay and writer Michael J. Murray are awfully reticent about showing this. Eventually, five years and two children — sons Andrew and Cody — into this hell of a marriage, Susan just snaps: having used the last of their money to buy him a chicken dinner and doll herself up so he’ll want to have sex with her again, to which he responds by coming home late, drunk and coked up to the gills, and passing out in their bed, she ties him to the bed, gets a kitchen knife and starts stabbing him, stops when her son Andrew approaches the room, puts him to bed, then gets another knife from the kitchen and continues the job — but, at least according to the script (inevitably, given that this is a true-crime story, there’s some doubt as to whether she was as mentally discombobulated as she and her attorney portrayed her at trial), she has some weird idea that even though she’s inflicted so much injury he’s obviously dead, he’s going to recover and come out of the crude grave she’s put him in (a hole he had previously dug to install a fountain on their lawn, which she covers with potting soil — only she’s found out when the family dog digs through the soil and uncovers his remains) to terrorize her all over again.

Had the film been shot with a more straightforward time sequence Blue-Eyed Butcher could have been a domestic-violence exposé film on the level of The Burning Bed (essentially a similar story but with far better actors, Farrah Fawcett as the abused wife and Paul LeMat from American Graffiti as the husband who terrorized her until she killed him by, as the title suggests, setting their bed on fire with him passed out on it) or Black and Blue, but instead Kay and Murray decided to intercut the scenes of Jeff’s and Susan’s marriage with sequences set during her trial, thereby breaking the chain of terror in which she was enveloped by her husband and allowing the actors playing witnesses at the trial to tell us about their relationship and its master-slave (a term actually used in the dialogue!) aspects when we should instead have been shown how he was terrorizing her into total submission and why she would grab the chance to fight back and do it so violently and intensely. Still, it was certainly weird after watching But the Flesh Is Weak and its frank acceptance of violence against a woman as an acceptable way of wooing and keeping her to be seeing a modern version of the story in which the husband is a sexy but otherwise pathetic rotter and the viewer’s moral sympathies are clearly supposed to be with the wife despite the intensity of her revenge — and in some ways the most interesting character is the prosecutor, Kelly Siegler (Lisa Edelstein), who at first is disposed to be sympathetic towards Susan until she realizes she didn’t report the crime for a week, she walked around as if Jeff was still alive and reported his abuse to the police after she’d killed him, all of which convinces her that Susan was faking the whole thing, she wasn’t abused at all and she killed hubby for the $200,000 life insurance policy he’d just bought her. One gets the impression that she’s prosecuting the case to the nines precisely because she’s furious that Susan’s lies (as she sees them) will just make it harder for real victims of spousal abuse to come forward and be believed. Blue-Eyed Butcher, a movie Lifetime really hyped heavily (they showed it no fewer than four times in three consecutive weekends), is a film that could have been considerably better than it was, though it still had its moments, and it helped that it was well acted: Sara Paxton has the right combination of (seeming) innocence and willful poutiness for the role, and Justin Breuning burns up the screen with charisma (his main gig these days is as a male lead on the soap opera All My Children, and apparently he fell in love for real with the woman who played his partner on the show and married her), makes it believable that Susan would find him charming before their marriage from hell, and also credibly charts the character’s descent into drugs, alcohol, cheating and abuse.