It’s hard to discuss what’s so amazing about Richard Bates Jr.’s offbeat teen horror picture Excision without talking about what happens at the end, which is predictable, but in the best way. The last five minutes or so of Excision is the gory, appalling, Vault Of Horror eight-pager that the entire film has been building to, and pays off all the weirdly beautiful gore effects that Bates has previously strewn throughout the film’s stylish dream sequences. Yet what makes Excision such an original is what precedes that payoff. AnnaLynne McCord (in a gutsy performance, at once monstrous and sympathetic) plays a pimply, gawky high-school senior who has sexy fantasies about mutilation and spends her spare time researching ways she can help her sister Ariel Winter, who suffers from cystic fibrosis. The whole movie is as body-conscious as its heroine, watching with real fascination as McCord pierces her own ears, sniffs her used tampons, and imagines herself crawling across naked men and women so that she can submerge herself in a gore-filled bathtub. Long before Excision turns into the story of an adolescent mad scientist and her sick scalpel skills, it’s already been a celebration of viscera.
And yet the bulk of Excision is just a crackpot domestic comedy, as McCord tussles with her uptight mother (played by Traci Lords) and makes plans to lose her virginity to the most popular boy in school. There are elements of grotesquerie throughout: McCord gets her first lover to go down on her while she’s having her period, and she drinks ipecac so that she can vomit on a classmate she hates and get out of going to cotillion class. But there are moments of sweetness, too, when McCord bonds with Winter, or when she acts like a typical high-school rebel. Bates stages the action unusually, using still shots at odd angles, and he fills the small roles with offbeat actors, including John Waters as a minister, Ray Wise as the school’s principal, and Marlee Matlin as the cotillion instructor. But through all the dripping plastic fetuses and corpses with half-missing faces, Excision remains surprisingly familiar, as both a teen flick and a creepshow. It’s a lot like Stephen King’s Carrie, in fact, except that this version of Carrie is on the offensive, looking to soak her classmates in blood rather than the other way around.
Key features: A cheerfully frank commentary track by Bates and McCord.