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By Phil Hall | September 6, 2007

Pete Jacalone’s “Beef – You Are What You Eat” is a startling surprise: a low-budget slasher movie that is genuinely original, wonderfully creepy, perversely amusing and rich with fine performances.

The concept here is a reverse of the traditional slasher genre. Rather than have a bunch of nubile young ladies fall under the slasher’s knife, the victims are male bodybuilders. The culprit behind this mayhem is Drew, a photographer who is burdened with a life of being bullied and cursed by a genetic inability to put on enough muscle mass for him to be the next Arnold. Thus, the very big boys get cut down to size (literally) when Drew puts down his camera and begins swinging his axe.

The film’s odd set-up pays off a hundredfold, thanks in large part to Matt Weight’s stunning performance as Drew. He plays the role of the bloody killer straight, staying away from the too-safe confines of camp by creating a character who is truly warped by his jealousies and unsettled emotions. Even as Drew devolves into cannibalism (check the title to see what happens to the slain musclemen), Weight wisely tones down the grislier aspects of his roles by keeping the character in the grey zone between pathetic and monstrous. By doing this, Drew emerges as an enigmatic psychopath rather than a broad parody, which keeps the film’s horror level at a high notch (you’re not cheering for Drew, but at the same time you are not totally revolted by his tragic actions).

But that is not to say the film isn’t without humor, albeit of an off-kilter variety. Surprisingly, the laughs come from the bodybuilders themselves in their good-natured poke at the stereotype of musclehead cluelessness. The best of the group here are Anthony Catanzaro as the cocky Lothario who incorrectly sizes us Drew’s physique with the notion that no harm could be generated by the slender photographer and Adam Reich as the too-eager calendar model who implores Drew for a photo shoot with a Bert Lahr-worthy comic delivery.

Kudos are also in store for Gina Capano, who handles her brief but crucial role as Drew’s ex-girlfriend with sexy style. Capano is the sole woman in the midst of the muscular mayhem and her presence adds a nice balance to the mix.

Jacalone, a veteran of the low-budget horror cycle, keeps the action moving at a swift and steady pace, and his denouement is a true shocker that brilliantly caps the effort. Jacalone includes a quickie tribute to Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” but that wasn’t entirely necessary since “Beef: You Are What You Eat” stands on its own merits as a classic of contemporary horror filmmaking.

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