Dying to Kill (2016)

Dying to Kill is a little indie film that received a brief run on Hulu in late 2016, but otherwise, I don’t think it’s available anywhere, so if you want to see it, maybe you can make a flip book of drawings based on my description to get a sense of what it’s like. The film’s promotional materials describe it fairly aptly as “Misery meets The King of Comedy” (the Martin Scorsese film, not the Kings of Comedy concert film, although that wouldn’t be the worst comparison either).

It revolves around Shafer Jones (Dwayne Perkins), a standup comic who made a bit of a splash early in his career for having a ton of potential. When that potential didn’t translate into fame and fortune, however, he descended into a rut and has since resigned himself to performing at little clubs for little money telling cheesy, low-brow jokes that pander to the basest desires of the crowds. When one heckler calls him out on his mediocrity, Shafer attacks him, and his career really hits the skids.

His manager Jeff, wife Tracy and friend Jenna all encourage him to make a comeback by returning to the more insightful, personal nature of his early material, but when he gets on stage, he chickens out and falls back on the dick and vagina jokes he knows will get a laugh.

However, someone’s not laughing. A masked figure is keeping tabs on Shafer and decides to kidnap him and chain him to a stage, forcing him to tell a joke that makes his captor laugh. For every joke that bombs, the kidnapper brings out one of Shafer’s loved ones and kills them in front of him. So, the pressure’s on for him to deliver, or the blood will be on his hands.

Like Perkins himself, Dying to Kill has a likability, even if the material doesn’t always land. It’s literate, with a good cast (although Perkins is better at standup than at acting) and has a good-natured, heartfelt script about the value of family and friends and being true to oneself, but given this is supposed to be a horror movie and not the Hallmark Channel, those qualities don’t necessarily translate.

As a horror movie, it’s pretty bland and derivative, with a killer who resembles a cut-rate Ghostface from Scream with the voice of Jigsaw from Saw and the modus operandi of Annie Wilkes from Misery. The gore is tame, and the scares are nil. But in its defense, Dying to Kill doesn’t feel like it’s really committed to being a horror movie. It’s just as much a drama, a thriller and a comedy — and while it’s competent at each, it never truly excels in any genre.

It actually feels kind of like its target audience is standup comedians, or entertainers in general, encouraging them to tap into their creativity and not “sell out” — which would make its appeal fairly narrow. Although race is not addressed a ton (Shafer is black and his wife is Asian, so there are a few mentions.), his go-to material about eating p*ssy is certainly familiar to those who’ve sat through some hacky black standup acts (think Dave Chappelle’s parody in The Nutty Professor).

In the end, Dying to Kill is like a decent standup set; it has a few nice moments where you might find yourself chuckle, but you probably won’t remember it in the long run.

A scene from the horror movie Dying to Kill
Claude claimed selfie defense.
A scene from the horror movie Dying to Kill
“Banana! Oregano! Fandango! Damnit, what’s the safe word?!?”
A scene from the horror movie Dying to Kill
“I am the Ghost of IT Support Past.”
A scene from the horror movie Dying to Kill
Normal Activity
A scene from the horror movie Dying to Kill
Death hung up his scythe in favor of something more practical.

What do you think?