I love that Dead Hands Dig Deep is part of Monster Fest. I love that there wasn’t a caveat placed on it that only allowed serial killers and torture porn.
The debut feature from filmmaker Jai Love is no less horrific just because it’s a documentary. On the contrary, it’s a bleak look at the human psyche that is easily more terrifying than hockey masks and chainsaws.
Dead Hands Dig Deep is a documentary that focuses on Edwin Borshiem who was the lead singer in a rock band called Kettle Cadaver. In effect from 1995-2002, the band’s shtick was to self mutilate on stage, even going so far as to perform sexual acts on a dead coyote. The doco is less about the band though, instead spotlighting Edwin and how he still deals with the effects of the life he once lived.
The documentary opens with Edwin facing the camera, telling the audience that he has daydreams of walking into traffic and firing a weapon until your whole family is dead. Not knowing much about the band, it’s difficult to pin down whether he is being facetious or deadly serious. An hour and a little later and I tend to lean toward the latter.
Minimal time is spent chronicling the bands origins and journey – the other band members don’t feature much at all, save for a couple of interviews. This truly is an exploration into Edwin’s brain and his unwavering ambition to be as “real” possible. He didn’t want to lend another voice to a music scene symbolising pain, he wanted to physically show you pain. And he is candid and extremely comfortable unveiling his dark past which include his failed marriage, drug abuse and unhealthy obsession with extreme violence.
He zig zags through diatribes, seemingly getting lost in his own train of thought, but is always well spoken and occasionally even humble. It’s so conflicting, watching a man talk about visions of kids being cut down by gunfire and then hearing him reveal his respect for his stepfather, despite their hostile relationship. There is a dichotomy to Edwin’s persona that suggests that underneath all of the angst and clear mental health issues, he has a heart but is unsure of how to use it. This much is all but posited throughout the film.
My favourite scene involved Edwin’s mother. I won’t go into too much because it would be unfair to rob people of arguably the rawest and most heart aching scene of the film, however it provides a telling look and who Jai Love is as a filmmaker. He conducts these scenes with impartiality and asks you to decide who the real villain is in this story.
Be warned though, Dead Hands Dig Deep doesn’t only draw its horror tag from Edwin’s life. It’s very literal at times, showing uncensored footage of the things Edwin would do before getting on stage. Things like lacerating skin and nailing penises to boards may make even the most hardened horror fan wince.
They’re all just strokes that are part of a larger painting, all converging to create a portrait of a man who is haunted by demons and tries his best protect others from seeing them. Dead Hands Dig Deep is hard to watch at times and it isn’t even be because of the violent imagery. More than anything, watching a man battle himself, accepting that something may be seriously wrong but still trying to care about people is the most gut wrenching part of it all. This is a must watch – a harrowing memoir of a tortured soul.
Film Review: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Dead Hands Dig Deep screened at Monster Fest in Melbourne over the weekend.