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Movie Review: Help Wanted

Zombie woman with blood dripping out of her mouth

Laughing at the grotesque is a good way to deflect our psyches from the harsh reality of the fragility of our corporeal bodies. However, the disturbingly hilarious short film Help Wanted by Waylon Bacon is an entirely different kettle of fish. A fetid kettle of rotting, decomposing fish, that is.

While Bacon’s films, in general, have a terrific sense of humor about them, that humor does not come from the easy place of most other horror comedies. Help Wanted is a physically gross film, featuring rooms literally stacked with corpses, and Bacon shows us these horrifying sights in a desperately serious, deadpan tone. Yet, the overall context in which these visions are presented is so outrageously absurd that it’s nigh impossible not to laugh at them.

James (Justin Lamb) is a clean-cut, earnest young man interviewing for his first real job as an adult. After a quick sit-down with the sweaty, thin-haired boss (Mike Fordyce), he’s given a walk through the warehouse where he’ll be working by another young, but already jaded, slacker (Joseph Banks).

Initially, it seems as though James will be performing the typically demeaning work that comes with most first serious jobs. He’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the prospect of working, but in due time he’ll slip into the same mindset as his slacker tour guide. And, as the tour progresses, the terrible reality of what this warehouse actually stores comes into stark, nauseating focus.

The warehouse is a processing facility for the bodies of people killed by contract killers bumping off society’s undesirables: Prostitutes, immigrants, hobos, etc. In the loading area, about a half-dozen killers drive up, haul corpses out of their car trunks and backseats, and dump them at their designated spots where the bodies can be counted before being taken inside.

In most other movies, hit men usually either take a special glee or serious business-like approach to their jobs. But, in Help Wanted, these killers are haunted by their chosen profession. Literally. The ghosts of the recently deceased prowl the premises, painful reminders that murder is a serious business.

In Bacon’s view, though, this is a source of great comedy. Stony-faced killers become bug-eyed scaredy cats popping tranquilizers to keep their consciences in check. And the decaying specters ooze pus out of their eyeballs just in case we didn’t get the point that their mere presence is supposed to be disturbing.

Then, at last, Bacon delivers the coup de grace of grossness. The corpses are separated into rooms based on what their status was in life. In the dead prostitute room, another emotionally-void worker named Dog (Alex Koll), instructs James to haul one of the bodies up and hang them by a meat hook in a tense, although uncomfortably funny, scene that recalls the meat-hook hanging scene in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Visually, Help Wanted is a walk through a cold, emotionless, almost sterile walk through the depths of hell. Except for the corpses, the warehouse looks like any other grungy old storage facility and the camerawork, by Marcia Ong, is appropriately sterile and matter-of-fact. Rather than calling special attention to the disturbing imagery, the camera lets it all play out as if this warehouse is just like any other place of business.

Although both funny and frightening, Help Wanted doesn’t easily get classified as a horror comedy. That’s really just a genre shortcut term to best describe a film that’s actually quite difficult to describe. More accurately, the film is both a nightmare and a dare.

First, the film plays out like a real nightmare: A good mix of the mundane and ordinary with a hefty surreal and disturbing vibe slathered across its body. And, it’s a dare, because unlike most other horror comedies, which actively invite their audiences to laugh at their grotesqueness, Help Wanted shows us death and gore in all its depraved and depressing glory and dares us to laugh at it all.

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