Studio: The Orchard
Director: Tyler MacIntyre
Writer: Chris Lee Hill, Tyler MacIntyre
Producer: Aaron Webman, Ethan Webman, John Negropontes, Jason Klein
Stars: Tory Stolper, Tracey Fairaway, Maria Blasucci, Eric Edelstein, Craig Anstett, Mark Hapka, Seth Cassell, Corey Sorenson, James Phelps
Three women inexplicably trapped inside the same body track down the mad scientist responsible for stitching them together.
Tightly-clenched career girl Jennifer is a classic cliché. Her married boyfriend/boss is too busy lying about leaving his wife to properly blow off her birthday. Two reluctant revelers make more of an effort to turn up for Jennifer’s self-celebration, but still can’t be bothered to watch her blow out a cupcake. Jennifer is so caught up in keeping up appearances that she doesn’t even realize her false friends are a fantasy.
Bar star Ellie sells herself short as a bubbly bimbo. Conditioned to believe trendiness equals status, her social agenda is based around being arm candy for the most vapid lawyer, businessman, or wannabe film producer Vic’s Bar has on hand. When that doesn’t work, turning into the main ingredient in a potential frat house sandwich seems like the next best way to become the center of attention.
Mousy Madeleine has self-esteem issues. A nip here, a tuck there, and maybe she could be someone more distinguished than the wallflower no one notices. All three women are thoroughly unhappy with who they are, although Madeleine may be the only one who consciously realizes it. All three women could also use a kick in the pants to rebuild their identities, and that’s exactly what is coming in the most unlikely manner imaginable.
Respective evenings end with a bat to the head, a speeding van to the torso, and a suspicious nighttime abduction. But morning finds all three ladies in similar circumstances when Jennifer, Ellie, and Madeleine wake up inside a different body than the ones they went home in. Impossibly, that body happens to be the same one for all of them. It’s a good thing the head on this feminine Frankenstein’s monster has room for all three consciousnesses, because they are going to need every bit of brainpower to figure out what happened to them and why.
Brimming with black comedy and macabre mad science, “Patchwork” owes more than a small debt to the masterwork of mentor Stuart Gordon, deserving every letter of his “Very Special Thanks” credit here. But it would be foolish to dismiss the movie as a mere “Re-Animator” copycat. “Patchwork” is its own original monster, built with equal parts beauty, brawn, blood, brains, and heart.
More sassy than silly, the weird blend of intentionally unbelievable logic, offbeat humor, sensational splatter, and classic low-budget charm has “Patchwork” capturing the style of 1980s horror without relying on nostalgia, crimped hair, or a Rubik’s cube prop. “Patchwork” isn’t attempting to ape a retro feel or even to pay homage. It is emulating the cinematic spirit of what made oddities like “Basket Case” and “Frankenhooker” so wonderfully wild, and it succeeds through content that is entertaining and a personality that is undeniably unique.
“Patchwork” is the kind of movie Troma might have been able to make if they took themselves seriously while retaining their irreverent edge, and spent their limited pennies on things that actually matter. With one or two zeroes less in the bankbook than producers undoubtedly would have liked, and only 12 days to film, director Tyler MacIntyre and company make up resource shortfalls purely through passion and creativity. What shows in the way the movie is designed is their full confidence that tone and intent will translate into fully frightening fun for the audience.
“Patchwork” literally and figuratively begins and ends with Tory Stolper playing dual roles as Jennifer and as “Stitch,” the unofficial/official name for the three-person hybrid. Stolper has Jennifer’s cold corporate pantsuit persona down pat, yet that frost comes with a sympathetic vulnerability making her transformative arc one worth championing. Jennifer is a deliberate stereotype, all three women are, but Stolper plays her as a person with much more than one note making up a multi-layered character.
Tory Stolper also excels at executing the lumbering physicality of an uncertain mind operating an unfamiliar body while two other people pull it in different directions. She also does it while avoiding Three Stooges slapstick. Stitch comes across as a person instead of a Keystone Cop bumbling for banana peel gags. Applause also goes in the direction of solid sound work accompanying Stitch’s movements with assorted creaks and cracks putting even more painful stiffness into each tortured limb.
Stolper’s co-Stitchmates Tracey Fairaway and Maria Blasucci as Ellie and Madeleine are just as fun and just as funny. Fun fact: the three leading ladies are named for three actresses noted for having played “The Bride of Frankenstein:” Madeleine Kahn of “Young Frankenstein,” Jennifer Beals of “The Bride,” and of course Elsa Lanchester.
Tyler MacIntyre stages certain scenes like “Herman’s Head” (how’s that for a dated reference?), with the chaos in Stitch’s mind visualized as all three women pushing, pulling, arguing, etc. juxtaposed with singular Stitch operating in the same space. It works, and it is a terrific way to realize the concept inexpensively. There’s rarely a confusing moment when it comes to following what is happening inside Stitch’s head and outside Stitch’s body simultaneously, even though each scenario paints different pictures.
The real reason “Patchwork” earns its place as a memorable standout in genre entertainment is that it is a combination of classic monster and revenge movies where empowerment is a main attraction. It isn’t an empty “go get ‘em girls!” attitude motivating madcap murder and madness, either. Yes, the main trio is made up of women, but whatever wisdom the movie has to impart as commentary isn’t necessarily exclusive to gender. “Patchwork” features intelligent themes about body image issues. Only by becoming someone else can these three women understand who they are as well as who they want to be.
Having more meaning than most lends an endearing intelligence to “Patchwork” not often found in this kind of film. Equally genius about the presentation is that none of the messaging is heavy handed. There is enough subtlety that subtext can be ignored if one chooses, and the meat of the movie can be enjoyed as unadulterated horror humor no matter what.
Incredibly sly and energetic, “Patchwork” is a movie that works on multiple levels, with copious comedy and carnage always front and center. I just hope “Patchwork” becomes the kind of cult classic that inspired its creation, if only to see throngs of people at midnight movie retrospectives twenty years later all lovingly clad in “Release the Owl-Cat!” t-shirts.
Review Score: 90