Throughout his lengthy career, Tom Holland has established himself as a horror legend. In addition to writing and directing the original Fright Night (Which alone is plenty to forever immortalize him among genre fans), he directed the first Child’s Play film, wrote the script for the surprisingly solid Psycho II, and is responsible for cult horror films such as Thinner. In the case of Rock Paper Dead, Holland finds himself coupled with screenwriter Victor Miller, who penned the iconic slasher Friday the 13th and is credited with creating Jason Voorhees and his mother, so audience expectations from anyone who possesses knowledge of these genre heroes are understandably high. Those lofty expectations, though, only serve to worsen the sting of how frustratingly mediocre the film proves to be.
Co-written by Miller and Kerry Fleming, Rock Paper Dead follows Peter “the Doll Maker” Harris, a serial killer who is released from a hospital for the criminally insane when he’s considered to be cured. Harris returns to his family home and is haunted by the ghosts of his victims and the memories of a painful past that led him down a disturbing path in the first place. Not long after he returns home, a young woman named Ashley moves in across the street and attempts to establish a friendly relationship with Peter, citing the book she’s hoping to write about him as to why. Little does Peter know, however, that Ashley is hellbent on revenge.
Unfortunately, even with all the talent involved, which includes veteran actor Michael Madsen as a detective, there’s hardly a saving grace for Rock Paper Dead. Luke Macfarlane gives his all as the Doll Maker, but his attempts to be sinister or scary feel absurdly out of character. There’s something about his presence that detracts from the serial killer aspect of the film. Where he shines, though, are in the moments of pain when he’s forced to confront the memories of his troubled past. The expression of torment and mental anguish that Macfarlane manages is far and away the highlight of the film, as it’s the only aspect that truly had the potential to be something greater.
In addition to Luke, Jennifer Titus appears to be trying her damnedest as Ashley. The character has been toughened by life, and Titus exudes the necessary strength to convincingly portray her. The script, however, frequently weighs her character down with silliness. We find out about her own troubled past in one swift kick as Titus essentially names off a list of things that her character has been through. Rather than giving Titus the opportunity to convince us of Ashley’s pain, this maneuver (laughably) comes out of left field, making Ashley’s torment more complicated to connect with. Ashley also mentions that she’s been training her entire life to kill Peter, which was a questionable line that I was caught up on and incredibly curious about. How have you been training, Ashley? Funny enough, the training is revealed to be karate (She’s a black belt), and she actually uses the training near the end of the film. Yikes.
Apart from Macfarlane and Titus, however, everyone appears to be phoning it in entirely. I love Michael Madsen and he’s capable of fantastic work, but his performance in Rock Paper Dead lacks enthusiasm and doesn’t come close to showcasing his talent. The script is a mess that finds Fleming and Miller writing themselves into a corner time and time again. The writers want us to sympathize with Peter, and they effectively establish that at times through the performance of Macfarlane and the horrendously demented backstory of his character, but each time that you begin to feel his pain, the script calls for him to do something awful, which detracts from any sympathy that the character may have otherwise gained. The film also features a final-act twist about an imaginary friend that I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around.
Not even the legendary Tom Holland could save this one. Go play Rock Paper Scissors for 90 minutes. You’ll have more fun.
You may also like: