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The Tattooist (2007)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 6/24/2008

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/24/2008

I've mentioned in other reviews that I'm a fan of Asian horror, although I'll be the first to admit that I don't always understand the movies. I've had to learn a thing or two about Asian culture in order to comprehend some of the more subtle aspects of the films, especially those which deal with religious and spiritual customs and beliefs. (A lot of 2002 was lost on me the first time that I saw it.) Given this, it seems perfectly fair that other countries and cultures can present their particular cultures in horror movies. The Samoan culture comes to the forefront in the New Zealand horror film, The Tattooist.

Jason Behr stars in The Tattooist as Jake Sawyer, an American tattoo artist who is working in Singapore. Jake was once an up-and-coming tattooist in the U.S., but he was accused of stealing designs, so he went to the Far East. He has created a practice where he provides tattoos which has medicinal powers. While at a tattoo expo, he meets some Samoan tattooists and is taken with Sina (Mia Blake). But, he's rebuffed by the Samoan's and when he leaves their area, Jake steals one of their tattooing tools. Jake accidentally cuts his hand with the tool, and he then begins to have odd visions. Jake travels to New Zealand, where he gets a job with his old friend Crash (Michael Hurst). He also finds Sina and her family. Jake wants to return to tool to Sina and apologize, but the customers which he decorates soon begin to die horrible deaths -- ink oozes from their body. Sina helps Jake learn more about Samoan tattoo culture. As Jake begins to grasp the spiritual nature of the Samoan's, he realizes that an evil spirit is working through his tattoos.

The Tattooist is the first film to come from the Ghost House Underground home video imprint of Ghost House Pictures, which is operated by Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert. With that in mind, the following is purely conjecture -- Robert Tapert is married to Lucy Lawless, who is a native New Zealand. I believe that Lucy convinced Robert to bring this New Zealand film to the U.S. as a personal favor.

Why would I fabricate that story? Because it's the only explanation as to why anyone would want to release this remarkably bland movie. The Tattooist reminded me of the horror movies which I would stay up late to watch on HBO in the 80s -- they were all talk and no action. It takes nearly an hour for the horror elements to arrive in the movie, and when they do, they are decidedly vague. It's not until the third act that The Tattooist officially becomes a horror movie, and by then, many viewers will have given up. Well, it sort of becomes a horror movie. Actually, in the last 15 minutes, it becomes a murder-mystery, which doesn't really help with the narrative flow of the film.

The script for The Tattooist is full of problems and the above identity crisis is the least of them. The movie really wants us to learn all about Samoan tattoo culture, which is fine, but it so dominates the film that there's room for little else. The makers of The Tattooist would have been better off either making a documentary about Samoan tattoos, or showing the film only to those who know about Samoan tattoos. Understanding this culture is a prerequisite for understanding the film, but the movie doesn't explain it in a concise manner. After all of that, the story involving the evil spirit doesn't completely make sense, and it almost feels as if this part were tacked on. While character development is not a strong point of this movie, Jake's character is woefully underwritten and his motivations are difficult to discern.

In the first scene of The Tattooist, this exchange takes place: Jake: He needs a doctor. Man: No, he needs a tattoo! Any film which is willing to put those lines near the beginning is going to be difficult to take seriously. And the movie does little to improve its standing from that point on, as the first half of the film is merely people discussing tattoos and it takes too long for the horror elements to arrive. In all honesty, this is somewhat of a shame, as the idea of haunted tattoos is an interesting one and the scenes in which the dying characters bleed ink are impressive. (A shot of ink filling an IV bag is the high-point of the film.) But, the idea is mis-managed, making The Tattooist a candidate for laser removal.

The Tattooist permanently affixes itself to DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures HOme Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. I'm not sure what medium was used to shoot the movie, but the image here is very sharp and clear, making me think that it may be HD. The picture shows no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look great and the image is never too dark or bright. The transfer shows a nice amount of depth and detail as well. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This track provides some nice surround and stereo effects during Jake's "visions". We also get an ample amount of subwoofer during the rap songs played in the film.

The Tattooist DVD contains a few extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Peter Burger and star Jason Behr. Behr remains fairly quiet throughout, while Burger comments on the actors and locations. Burger also draws our attention to the film's color palette (see below) and he seems to be especially proud of these ideas. The DVD contains 3 DELETED SCENES which run about 5 minutes. One shows the after-effect of the film's opening scene, and another tacks on a needless, but interesting epilgoue. "The Tattooist: Behind the Scenes" (12 minutes) contain clips from the film along with comments from the director and the actors. We learn a bit about how the actors approached their characters and some more about the Samoan elements of the story. "Behind the Tattoo Designs" (2 minutes) is an interview with the tattoo art designer on the film who descrbies the influences on the art in the movie. "The Colors of The Tattooist" (2 minutes) is an interview with Director Peter Burger who describes the use of colors in the film to help set the mood. "Real Life Samoan Tattoo" (3 minutes) shows a man getting a tat'au done in the traditional Samoan style. "Becoming a Chief" (2 minutes) shows that Burger was made a Samoan chief.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long