TheUglyPretty good nineties horror from New Zealand, with style, decent acting and gore a ‘plenty!  Appearing in 1996, it was the first film by writer-director Scott Reynolds, who apparently had help from New Zealand’s top filmmaker Peter Jackson. THE UGLY made a minor splash in its day, winning a couple prestigious awards at Rome’s Fantafestival and garnering praise from Fangoria and Variety. It was released in the US with a fair amount of fanfare (though not a lot of success) in 1998 by the late Trimark Pictures. Since then, however, it’s largely disappeared from view.

Simon (Paolo Rotondo) is a deranged serial killer confined to a secluded insane asylum. He’s requested the services of Karen Shumaker (Rebecca Hobbs), a famed and quite attractive psychiatrist who favors black nylons and short skirts. The two undergo several intense psychiatric sessions in which Simon reveals the details of his horrific childhood.

As a youth Simon was picked on by the neighborhood bullies and abused by his uncaring mother. Eventually he hacked up his ma and tried to burn down the house. This was the beginning of Simon’s killing spree, motivated apparently by his past victims, who appear to him as bloody phantoms who won’t leave him alone until he commits another murder.

Karen initially can’t decide whether Simon is ready to be released or not. But after a couple days of psychoanalyzing Simon she becomes fed up and provokes him into physically attacking her–and in that brief time she can actually see his bloody victims in the room with them. Karen subsequently dismisses this as an effect of shock and takes her leave, not realizing that Simon has escaped from the asylum–and is heading straight for her house!

One odd thing about this movie: although writer-director Scott Reynolds has an evident fixation with the color red (on the walls of Simon’s room and a dress worn by Karen), all the blood in this film is black–and blood is something there’s plenty of (in the unrated version, at least). A concession to the censors, perhaps?

Beyond that the film is a solid one. It’s well photographed and cleverly constructed in its intercutting of past and present, which builds up a great deal of suspense. The acting is also above average for a low budget horror movie, particularly from the alluring Rebecca Hobbs as Karen.

Of course you could argue that all this is window dressing for a not-very-inspired narrative. The story is for the most part a pretty standard psycho killer programmer that appears to be building up to a twist ending that never arrives. Still, THE UGLY is an enjoyable enough watch, even if it never attains the brilliance that might have put it over the top.

Vital Statistics

Trimark Pictures/Essential Films

Director: Scott Reynolds
Producer: Jonathan Dowling
Screenplay: Scott Reynolds
Cinematography: Simon Raby
Editing: Wayne Cook
Cast: Paolo Rotondo, Rebecca Hobbs, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Roy Ward, Caelem Pope, Paul Glover, Chris Graham, Darien Tackle, Cath McWhirter, Sam Wallace, Beth Allen, Vanessa Byrnes