Seen at the Sydney Underground Film Festival
In 2002, Robert “Willy” Pickton was arrested on suspicion of two counts of first-degree murder. By the time his trial began in 2006, the number of charges had gone up to 27 and by the time he was convicted, Robert Pickton would confess to the murders of 49 women and said he would’ve made it to 50 if he hadn’t gotten sloppy. His murder spree is absolutely horrific, he’s one of the worst serial killers in Canadian history so it’s kinda only natural that someone was going to inevitably use this horrific story to make some form of horror film… did the film have to be this terribly tasteless? Well, yes because the actual case is pretty damn tasteless too but it doesn’t help that the film isn’t great.
Pig Killer pretty much tells the story of Willy’s spree, from two separate POVs. The first one is obviously Willy (Jake Busey), who is running his farm, dealing with some serious legal issues that keep him from hosting big parties on his property… oh, and picking up assorted women from around the town and brutally raping and murdering them, sometimes in front of his prized pig Balthazar, before dismembering the corpses and feeding them to his other pigs. The other POV is that of Wendy Eastman (Kate Patel), a drug addict who just got out of hospital who might possibly be Willy’s last victim if she can’t get out of this predicament
Back in the late 80s to early 90s, Pig Killer is the exact kind of film that you would find on a damaged VHS tape on the back shelf of the seediest video rental store in town. Hell, with a little bit of grain added, you could’ve probably convinced a lot of people back then that this was a snuff film for how weird and depraved the whole thing is. Maybe if Pig Killer came out then you could look back on this as some kind of weird cult horror classic that was pushing the boundaries of taste… but it’s not from that era, this is a 2022 horror film and it’s not so much pushing the boundaries of taste as it is being intentionally tasteless without understanding the seriousness of the subject material.
To get the compliment section out of the way, Jake Busey is actually pretty damn good in this. He was asked to play a complete scumbag and he delivers on that, every time you see him you just want to take a shower and get the grime off you that he somehow put there. He just looks like he smells of pig shit and it works for the character. You’re meant to be repulsed by him and damnit, you will be, which is absolutely fine. You almost wish he was in a better version of this movie because this is someone who is giving his all to be this depraved character and it would be great if it felt like that was the entire tone of the piece, instead of just Busey being way better than the material he’s working with.
It also can’t be ignored that the effects work here is top-notch, there are a lot of intense gore moments that require a lot of skill to look as good as they do on the low budget that Pig Killer clearly has and every one of them is genuinely impressive. There are some genuinely shocking moments that only work as well as they do because the effects people pulled magic out of their asses to make some great effects work happen. There’s also a particularly hilariously fucked up looking gun with a dildo on the end of it (a dildo being ridden by a pig because we have a pig motif and we’re going to use it) that I hope is sitting proudly on someone’s mantel because it’s gloriously fucked up… here endeth the compliments.
The main problem with Pig Killer is that it’s based on the real murders of Robert Pickton, meaning every time you want to enjoy the tacky shit this film constantly throws in you remember that this is based on a real murder and you can’t enjoy it. Sure, the horrific stereotyping might have been understandable in a shitty 90s slasher film made by a bunch of idiots with a VHS recorder because that’s just what people did back then because they were dumb… not OK now, especially not OK when the cliche Asian sex worker (who I swear to god says “love you long time” at some point) is based on a real murder victim who undoubtedly has still living relatives who might see this and see their loved one reduced to a horrific shitty stereotype. It’s a little hard to get into the specific headspace needed to enjoy sleazy tasteless horror movies when you know this is all meant to be based on reality.
When I say Pig Killer is sleazy, that’s an understatement. It’s chock full of every bit of depravity you can think of, from incest to necrophilia to rape and murders of all kinds and it doesn’t play them subtly either. There are so many shots of disgusting exposed rapist dicks being forced into dead or dying victims that it shoots beyond dark and into depressing… until a pig wanders in and the rapist starts oinking like a pig and you can’t help but laugh at the sheer insanity of how tasteless this shit had gotten. Pickton was pure evil, no doubt about it, but if you have your film villain make barnyard animal sounds while raping a corpse then it’s kind of hard to take that seriously and this subject should absolutely be a thing to take seriously.
It’s a wild tonal problem to have, because of the story in question Pig Killer was going to have to be dark and tasteless no matter what but there is a way to do that which could make for something genuinely compelling. Instead, this feels like a cheap gonzo Texas Chainsaw rip-off made to ride a trend, living in that world of straight-to-VHS schlock that can be fun if done right… but this isn’t done right, It’s 2 hours of almost unrelenting depravity with an unintentionally hilarious final act. Seriously the final act is just hilarious, with a band playing at a party even while cops turn up to arrest a potential murderer. They even tack on an end credits scene which is Pickton’s confession, infamous because he confessed to his cellmate who was an undercover cop… yeah, something that major is an end credits scene because why not.
Pig Killer is honestly kind of repulsive and not even in the fun way. You can absolutely make shocking tasteless repugnant horror films that are still enjoyable on some demented level, those can be a lot of fun in their own unique way… but when you’re dealing with a real murder case and real victims you have to at least try to have some tact and Pig Killer has none. It feels like someone skimmed the Wikipedia page about Pickton’s murders and worked from their half-remembered notes to make a slasher with their mates. It’s just not a fun watch, even if you’re into gloriously sick horror trash.