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By Michael Muzerall | July 6, 2004

If 28 Days Later didn’t complicate matters enough, now we have “Binge & Purge” which further blurs the lines between cannibal pictures and zombie cinema. The movie centers on a trio of government trained agents turned private eyes who unravel a plot by an international modeling agency to foster a race of cannibals that stay young and vibrant by eating human flesh. Or they might be zombies, since some of the victims start eating flesh after they’ve come back from the dead. Yet, the models seem lively enough and don’t look like corpses (i.e. they don’t appear to be human coat racks for designer clothes). Then again, their potent vomit has the ability to dissolve victims, so for all I know, they’re part Brundlefly, too. The film really doesn’t elaborate on the exact nature of the growing threat other than it is pretty damn threatening, gruesomely depicted in the gory attacks by the supermodels dinning on a nice cross section of street bums, fanatical groupies, and journalists.

The film obviously wants to mix satire with its horror, and to a certain extent, they achieve this. Plots centering on supermodels with eating disorders are for people who watch Lifetime disease-of-the-week flicks. Plots centering on supermodels with a disorder that makes them eat people just comes from a lifetime of watching diseased flicks. Everything from “Cops” to “Martha Stewart Living” to “X-Files” gets skewed along the way. The one element that never really gets razzed properly is the whole modeling agency angle, which has so much potential. The deepest it goes is naming the clothing designer Helfringer. Since none of the actors are really that good, the characterizations come out flat. If you’re laughing more for the bad performances than for the spoofing of the modeling industry, the satire doesn’t stick. It’s funnier in concept than in its actual presentation. That’s a major stumbling block to overcome, but the film does have ingredients that work. As the film progresses, Brian Clement’s direction actually becomes more assured and creative, which gives the shot-on-digital production a more cinematic feel. At this point, “Binge & Purge” becomes a game of name-that-movie-reference. The concept of cannibalism as a contagious disease was exploited as satire in Antonio Margheriti’s “Cannibal Apocalypse” starring John Saxon. The models’ attempt to recruit a new member echoes the promises made in the “Body Snatchers” films. Look close, and you’ll see an attack patterned after Sonny Chiba’s x-ray skull basher in “The Street Fighter”. Halfway through the film, the detectives have been framed for various murders and are on the run. Just when things look their bleakest, a group of rag tag rebels swoop in; ready to strike back at the upper class elitists that are planning to exploit mankind for their own greedy ends. Excellent, the movie just turned into “John Carpenter’s They Live”! And it goes without saying that any movie that mixes zombies and social satire has “Dawn of the Dead” on the brain. The make-up effects are decent enough, pretty much a series of close ups of intestines getting munched on. Some nasty sight gags work well, like a birthday cake carved out from a dead body severed at a swank gathering. What really gets under the skin is the sound effects. It conveys the sick sense of gorging that you get from watching those Carl’s Jr. hamburger ads, where the meal seems to drip from everywhere, including the person’s mouth, all the while playing THX-enhanced audio of food being chewed up. On the subject of audio, “Binge & Purge” uses some weird synthesized Christmas songs to help bring out the Yuletide backdrop of the film while at the same time making it all the more unsettling. Be warned! “Binge & Purge” contains the most gratuitous scene of a penis being separated from its wino master since “Street Trash”!

The film has all the right factors to be the next big thing in cult movies, but it lacks the feverish style or the ripping wit to cement the deal. Regardless, does the film ever answer the question: are they cannibals or zombies? What do you care? Either way, people will get eaten and that’s what you’re paying for. If you like your movies to go splat, then I think we have a winner here.

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