This digitally shot dimestore epic is the tender story of a lonely young man and his pet dog Lucky. The only thing is the young man’s a psychotic slob and the dog a malevolent telepath with murder in mind. Nasty, funny, kinetic and furiously inventive, this sickie is truly the state of the art in budget-lite horror.
The “Based on a true story” claim at the head of LUCKY—a festival favorite since its 2001 completion, although it wasn’t commercially released until three years later—is an extremely loose one: the infamous “Son of Sam” killer David Berkowitz seems to have been the inspiration. Berkowitz, you’ll remember, was the nut who killed a number of NYC residents back in the seventies, reportedly under the direction of his pet dog. Screenwriter Stephen Sustarsic adds some interesting touches to the tale (profiled in Spike Lee’s underrated SUMMER OF SAM, which might make for an interesting double bill with LUCKY), such as making the Berkowitz character a frustrated screenwriter. Sustarsic and director Steve Cuden are both experienced screenwriters (the latter for episodic television programs ranging from X-MEN to THE PINK PANTHER), and any one who’s ever attempted that profession will note the details of the central character’s slovenly life are not far from reality!
Millard Mudd is an overweight cartoon writer living in a filthy, garbage-ridden house. His career has floundered, he has no friends and his agent is dumping him. All appears to be lost, and his spirits aren’t helped when he accidentally runs over a dog he can’t revive. He’s quite surprised, then, when the dead animal springs to life one day and telepathically speaks to him. It seems the dog, named Lucky, has an unnatural interest in Mudd’s welfare, and soon Lucky’s got him writing furiously, putting his stalled career back on track, and even gets him a girlfriend.
Unfortunately, Lucky turns out to be quite a control freak, and his hold over his master quickly turns fascistic…and twisted. Equally nasty are Mudd’s fantasies, which increasingly feature tortured and mutilated young women. Soon Mudd is parading around in bikinis before Lucky, at least when he’s not stalking and murdering unsuspecting ladies. Worst of all, he forces a prospective agent to humiliate herself and then curtly dismisses her. His life, in short, is more out of control than it was prior to Lucky’s arrival, and there’s only one solution: he’ll need to rid himself of Lucky for good.
Energy and imagination are director Steve Cuden’s greatest assets. The roving handheld camerawork, with its constant off-kilter angles (it’s a rare occurrence when the camera isn’t tilted in some manner), is quite impressive, and matched by furiously kinetic editing. The digital photography helps immeasurably in this regard, allowing the filmmakers a fluidity that works well in imparting a story that takes place largely in its main character’s head. It also takes some of the edge off the constant narration, a device that is usually always, for me at least, an annoyance. Here, even when we have an all-knowing voice obnoxiously explaining things for us step by step, the visuals are inventive enough to keep the story moving on their own.
Equally crucial is the tone, which hovers somewhere between ARSENIC AND OLD LACE style dark comedy and HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER-esque nihilism. The nudity and gore are presented in a graphically intense manner that will doubtless turn off many viewers (in other words, wimps need not apply!) and Cuden and his cast wisely play everything straight, with few attempts at intentional comedy. In this way the material’s inherent outrageousness is allowed to shine through undiluted by lame slapstick. The eponymous canine (performed by “Sidney”, a veteran animal performer previously seen in DUDE WHERE’S MY CAR?) gamely plays along with this directive, delivering a performance every bit as memorable as those of its human co-stars.
Director: Steve Cuden
Producers: James C. Ferguson, Steve Cuden, Michael Emanuel, Stephen Sustarsic
Screenplay: Stephen Sustarsic
Cinematography: Byron Werner
Editor: Timothy Stepich
Cast: Michael Emanuel, David Reivers, Piper Cochrane, Jillian Bach, Frances Kelly, Carrie Barton, Maureen Davis, Cheryl Francis Harrington, Dianne Cohn, Gina Francis, Virginia Stone, Julia Lewald, Mel Bellah, Dorian Davies, Molly Beck, Molly Shea, Alisa Chandler, Sue Rasmussen