Lloyd Kaufman. Loved and hated worldwide, Kaufman and his brainchild Troma Productions have been a staple in the independent filmmaking scene for over thirty years. Known for producing sleezy comedies, horror and science fiction “parables”, Kaufman has often prided himself upon his low budget background and his ability to recycle props and footage. Keeping his indie roots in mind it is alarming to see Kaufman introduce recent Troma acquisition “The Ruining” by apologizing to the audience for the film*s poor visual quality. When the king of underground cinema says he*s sorry for the visuals of what you are about to watch you know you are in for a wild ride.
A labor of love filmed over the course of ten years, Chris Burgard*s “The Ruining” is a true midnight movie. Developed using the film*s 16 mm work print with scratches and film tears included, the film wears it*s rough upbringing on its sleeve. Detailing the exploits of Cody (Christopher Burgard), his wife Sandra (Natalie Hays), her brother Dave (David Turley) and his wife Megan (Rachel Wagner) as they encounter deranged farmer Henry (David Cronenberg favorite Robert Silverman) and his feral adopted daughter Becky (Joni Justice), the film is chock full of violence, sex, rape, incest and good old fashioned family values. So the question remains, after ten long years of hell to finish “The Ruining” was the end result worth it?
As a good movie, no. As a successful cult item, yes.
At its core “The Ruining” is a dark satire on the family structure with Henry yearning to extend his family by breeding his daughter with the virile Cody (who is already cheating on his wife with the sexpot Megan). There are no real heroes or villains in the piece which adds a level of complexity to the proceedings that is surprising. Henry*s methods may be bizarre and cruel at times but he seems to be operating from his own sense of logic and seems to genuinely care for Becky in his own way. Conversely Cody comes off as a jerk but is also the one being victimized throughout most of the film.
When the film works off the city folk dealing with Henry and Becky it is successful but the problem is there is an awful lot of subplot to battle through. Three plot threads involving a ghost, Farmer Henry providing eggs that produce hallucinations and character actor Wings Hauser as Becky*s crazy grandfather are introduced but never expanded upon. While they are entertaining (especially Hauser beating up a hood who mistakes him for David Hasselhoff) they also delay the true meat of the story to the film*s second half. Once these bizarre asides are over the film finally begins to shine in its own macabre way. The sexually frustrated Dave is able to take advantage of Becky using her love of peanut butter in a truly unsettling sequence and the final fate of two timing Cody is most definitely a crowd pleaser.
While miles away from being a classic horror film “The Ruining” is oddly compelling. It is a curiosity piece and may not always be successful but is never less than engaging. Despite any of the films short comings Chris Burgard should be commended for his tenacity and crafting a work that is original in its own way.