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The Ugly (1997) March 30th, 2021

The Ugly is a low budget thriller from New Zealand taking place over a two day period. Dr. Karen Schumaker, presumably a behavioral psychologist, interviews a local serial killer named Simon who’s famous for slitting his victim’s throats with a straight razor. Hence the hardcore cover art above.

Through their conversations we discover Simon had a traumatic childhood including being beaten and abused by his mother and school bullies. One brutal after school beating left an open wound on a side of Simon’s face. His mother saw no problem in bandaging the injury with a large sanitary pad, a seemingly deliberate act of humiliation. A series of more humiliating and painful memories play out as Simon relates them to Dr. Schumaker. A significant portion of The Ugly takes place in these flashbacks as Simon recalls the personal traumas and murders leading him to his incarceration and these sessions with Dr. Schumaker. Many of the flashbacks show young Simon in public with the super absorbent pad taped over his left eye like a menstrual Lisa Lopes.

The flashbacks add context to Simon’s psychosis as they jump around his timeline but add only the slightest novelty to a boring and derivative film. The Ugly is so clearly inspired by The Silence of the Lambs it’s a wonder these interviews didn’t take place in a plexiglass cell. I can tell the people who made The Ugly tried their damndest to make it as good as they could and of that they should be proud, but it’s far from a good movie.

The Ugly was one of the 25¢ VHS movies I bought from Goodwill for my wife in Christmas 2020. Cue the pat “Sounds like I overpaid!” followed by a rimshot and crickets. In reality The Ugly is both a low budget movie that looked like a lot of fun to make, and a nearly unrecommendable generic yawn. It’s only nearly unrecommendable, so if you’re really into New Zealand film, watch The Ugly. If you’re into bad edgelord movies, watch The Ugly. If you’re a person who bought the VHS for a quarter and thought “Why not? What am I going to watch The Night of the Hunter, Psycho, The Last Picture Show or any number of shrink-wrapped classics sitting unwatched on your bookshelf instead?”

No, you’re not, here’s why. Everybody knows those movies rule, it’s expected. I can’t talk about how great they are without hating myself for walking a well worn path. You know what happens when you watch a classic, you enjoy it or you question the hype. Those are the only two options. You know what happens when you watch a movie like The Ugly? You see the shameful failures of several passionate artists that society’s hidden in the shelves of second hand stores. You find weird Easter eggs like the shirtless orderlies with random words tattooed across their bellies beating Simon unconscious and then spitting in his food. Guys that look like they were cast after being kicked out of a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert. Characters whose presence in the film forces me to wonder “What kind of place is this? What kind of doctor wouldn’t question the validity of this institution’s credentials based on the quality of its employees?” These try-hard goons are hilariously over the top and they steal every scene. I take back all my criticism, watch The Ugly for them alone.

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