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Saturday, Jan. 22, 2000

Serial-killer flicks give new meaning to 'bit part'

Serial killers now make up one of the biggest genres in cinema, which has taught us a new word: profiling. Profilers spend their working hours determining the exact personality of a felon by the type of ax he uses on his victims.

Meanwhile, the victims themselves have never been so visible: lavishly mutilated, elaborately displayed, lying under droll slogans written out in blood while forensics cameras flash all around.

So many bodies. Ever think of the poor actors who have no lines, no actions, nothing to do except lie in a bathtub splattered with fake blood, eyes staring out at nothing? No doubt they're extremely professional and (one hopes) handsomely paid, but I always worry about the effect such scenes have on their loved ones.

So here's Joe Smith, five years out of his college drama class and working as a waiter in L.A. He finally lands a part in a big-budget film and calls his mother. "Mom! I did it! I get to do a scene with Brad Pitt in an awesome new movie!"

His mom is thrilled. "Oh honey, I'm so proud. I'll call grandpa and let him know." And after mom has told about a million friends and relatives that her Joe is on his way to stardom, they discover that Joe appears for about 30 seconds and is totally unrecognizable since the right half of his face has been blown away.

Call me morbid, but such were the thoughts provoked by "Resurrection," the latest serial-killer pic to terrorize Tokyo theater screens. Much of it is well-trodden territory, staked out by the definitive "Seven" four years back.

"Seven," by the way, is to murder films what "Bladerunner" is to sf: the picture everyone aspires to, by featuring stuff like heavy rain, eerily lit corridors, pitch-dark alleys and Bible verses. "Resurrection" has all of that, plus a collection of the most horribly and painfully mutilated corpses to date.

Russell Mulcahey ("Ricochet," "Shadow") helms this gruesome picture, which grows a little bit more terrifying with every minute, like a winding staircase. Who would want to guess what awaits at the top? Your resources are exhausted midway.

John Prudhomme (Christopher Lambert) is a Cajun cop newly transferred from New Orleans to Chicago. His partner Andy (Leland Orser) is amused by Prudhomme's superior French ways, but the other detectives in the department don't agree and hate him like poison.

Personal distaste is set aside when they go out to investigate a particularly brutal murder: A man was first attacked with a stun gun, then had his arm sawn off and was left to die. More corpses turn up in what become known as the "numbers murders": All missing digits are placed near a written sign consisting solely of roman numerals.

With the aid of FBI profiler Windgate (Robert Joy), Prudhomme figures out that the killer is after 33-year-old males with the names of Christ's apostles. The numbers turn out to be bible chapters, referring significantly to the Resurrection.

One thing is for sure, these screenwriters (in this case Brad Mirman) do know their Scripture. You realize, too, that there's a lot of violence in there, often so brutal it's hard to imagine how the underlying message can be about peace and love.

Still, there is a message, as one of the fathers in Sunday school used to say. In "Ressurrection," that side is never mentioned, not even by Prud-homme's neighborhood priest (played by David Cronenberg of all people). At this rate, kids will grow up thinking that the Testaments are some kind of behavior manual for deranged minds.

In any case, now that the year has changed and the end-of-the-worldness has faded out, maybe a new genre in horror pics will emerge (if it hasn't already with "The Blair Witch Project"). The serial-killer formula is wearing a bit thin.

Still, "Resurrection" and others like it will get under your skin precisely because of the formula. Is there an agency that specializes in dead bodies? Corpse.com? Do makeup artists study the trade by visiting morgues and murder scenes?

The studios should open a therapy center for virtual trauma victims and their real-life families who have to watch all that on screen.

"Resurrection" opens today at Cine Palace in Shibuya and other theaters.

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