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‘Bitch Ass’ Review: The Black Slasher Canon Gets an Amusingly Gruesome New Entry

SXSW: Bill Posley fabricates a highly entertaining homage to the Black horror of decades past.

“Bitch Ass”

SXSW

Invoking an oft-overlooked canon, actor turned director Bill Posley fabricates a highly entertaining homage to the Black horror of decades past with “Bitch Ass,” a slasher picture set in 1999 aiming to become the heir of cult classics the likes of “Blacula” or “Bones.” Posley’s genuine fondness for his predecessors in the genre is first visible in the perfect casting of Tony Todd, who played the title part in the original 1992 “Candyman,” as a TV horror host — think the famed Elvira, the Cryptkeeper from “Tales from the Crypt,” or Mr. Simms from “Tales from the Hood” — to introduce his amusingly gruesome cautionary tale.

Reveling in an appropriately malevolent laugh, Todd describes Bitch Ass as “the first Black serial killer to don a mask” and then immerses us into his world through an old television set and a VHS tape. Right off the bat, Posley announces his murderous protagonist’s fascination with games of all kinds via a title sequence choreographed to the gyrating movement of a Rubik’s Cube. The sound of the pieces rearranging, which simulates that of gears rotating, is a strong motif. When Bitch Ass (Tunde Laleye) first comes on screen, Posley instantly conveys the particularities of this character, wearing a suit and a black, masquerade-style mask, acting prim and proper even when bludgeoning a victim and dragging them to his “Game Room.”

Spade (Sheaun McKinney), the leader of local gang 6th Street has tasked his teenaged minions to rob the house where Cecil (the killer’s real name) lives alone now that his overprotective and wealthy grandmother has passed. But the group’s smartest member, Q (Teon Kelley), sporting a period-appropriate flat top haircut, hesitates. While he fears for his college prospects, Q knows his strict mother Marsia (Me’lisa Sellers) could use the financial help.

At midnight, they enter the home but — expectedly — most of them won’t come out alive. As the slaughtering commences, we learn Bitch Ass’ MO for disposing of his trespassers is all part of his lifelong enthusiasm for boardgames and their fair rules. Each new hostage has the option to play a deadly version of Operation, Connect 4, Jenga, or Battleship. The contraptions, a bit precarious in their production value, call to mind the murder devices in the “Saw” franchise.

Although Steven Parker’s cinematography reads rather flat in its use of light, Posley does harness the lo-fi nature of the works he’s honoring to his advantage when it comes to ingenious, though not particularly grotesque, depictions of violence and gore without expectations of realism. Because of the darkly humorous tone established from the onset and the overall scrappy aesthetic of “Bitch Ass,” one can easily play along with its lapses in logic.

Nevertheless, we are often too conscious that this movie is modern pastiche and wish the filmmaker had attempted to pair the narrative nostalgia at its core with the visuals, even if that entailed just a filter to give “Bitch Ass” the scratched look of an old tape to further the illusion of an urban legend from another time.

On the flip side, what Posley’s execution does with his current sensibilities is add touches that appear close to a video game interface, most notably the consistent use of split screens in the cinematic language or a title card that announces which “players” are out of the game or remain in play. This note is updated accordingly as more characters enter Bitch Ass’ realm.

As with the works that inspired him, Posley includes social commentary in “Bitch Ass,” but prevents it from overpowering the fun brutality. Flashbacks to the 1980s point to young Cecil (Jarvis Denman Jr.) enduring abuse at home and bullying at school. Despised for being different, a nerdy kid passionate about games, and given his more privilege economic background, Cecil only found friendship in a young woman, but that too ended badly.

Performances vary in quality, even within the parameters of a film designed to not take itself so seriously all the time, with some of the young cast members in supporting roles being noticeably weaker than their leading counterparts, such as the excellent Kelley.

But when the emotional gravitas is needed, Me’lisa Sellers’s performance as adult Marsia shines above the rest for her fearlessness to defend Q and stand up to the men that want to take him away from her in one way or another. Part of that personal mandate is her aversion for the criminal life of the man she once loved, and her determination to give Q a chance at higher education which mirrors, to a lesser degree, the perfection his grandmother demanded of Cecil.

As an artifact of admiration for Rusty Cundieff, William Crain, and other Black storytellers — both in front and behind the camera — who carved their own niche within the predominantly white horror space, “Bitch Ass” does right by them. Within his means and interests, Posley continues the legacy explored at length in the must-see 2019 documentary “Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror,” while still experimenting with original elements that expand its possibilities.

Grade: B-

“Bitch Ass” premiered at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.

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