"REALITY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER"The Fine Art is the second film from St. Louis director Eric Stanze. Stanze is most well known for his later efforts like Scrapbook and Ice From the Sun, while typically his first efforts Scare Game and The Fine Art have gotten lost with age falling into the obscurity that many low budget films from the VHS era succumbed to. His first two flicks were relatively short and got chopped up and released as a compilation tape which seems even harder to come by these days than the individual releases. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a copy of this a year or two ago but unfortunately still haven't managed to track down a copy of his first release.
The movie kicks off with Julie bugging her painter friend Val to go on a blind double date. Julie and her boyfriend back out leaving Val on her own to date the stranger. Luckily for Val despite her fear of how things will go the two of them hit it off very quickly. Before she knows it he is proclaiming his love for her and she is feeling much of the same. Things couldn't be more perfect, hell they even share a love for painting! Soon the two spend a romantic night together. Val wakes up before her new man and decides to venture through the house. She stumbles upon some of his paintings which consist of intense violent images of women freshly murdered.
Val reports back to her friend Julie and describes one of the paintings. Once she mentions one displaying a woman tied up to a road sign it rings a bell that shakes both of them to the core. About a year ago there was a local serial killer that was never caught. One of his victims was found hanging from a street sign on a nearby highway. The two hatch a plan to have Val sneak into his house while Julie keeps him busy at work. They've read up on the murders and upon breaking into his house all the paintings seem to match up perfectly. Val discovers that he has some loopholes to his murderous ways. Phil has his "rules" for these killings and he has them dialed down to a fine art. An art that in his mind simply cannot be broken. Now all Val needs to do is beat him at his own game.
Stanze would later become well known in horror circles for his very visceral style with titles like Scrapbook. Although it is far from fair to call him a one trick pony as a director. Over the years Stanze has managed to show off a wide variety of skills in tackling films with heavy atmosphere, gore, and strong surreal moments. The Fine Art is very low on gore. In fact, aside from the paintings gore in the film is nearly nonexistent. That being said the lack of on screen violence is completely made up for with a healthy dose of suspense. Surprisingly for such an early work in his career (apparently a student film according to the behind the scenes) this may very well be Stanze's most suspenseful movie to date. The plot is fairly simple but kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Most of the tension that kept me from drifting off into boredom can be attributed to the acting. Don't get me wrong there aren't any award winning performances present here but the small cast does a pretty damn good job.
Overall The Fine Art is a great flick that really shattered my expectations upon first viewing. The few people I had spoken with over the years that had seen this always have the complaint that it is VERY slow. While I can see why some people may feel this way I'd have to disagree. The plot trots right along pretty quickly and there isn't much unnecessary downtime. The runtime is a swift 54 minutes and it really flies by. I'd imagine most who didn't enjoy the film had more of a problem with the overall lack of gore rather than the pacing. I can recommend The Fine Art to anyone out there into low budget films and specifically Eric Stanze fans. I've always been a big fan of these shoestring budget horror flicks from the early 90's and this one is no exception. GET IT IF YOU CAN!