The Nostril Picker (1993)
THE NOSTRIL PICKER
WRITER: Screenplay by Steven Hodge
DIRECTOR: Mark Nowicki
STARRING: Carl Zschering as Joe Bukowski
Edward Tanner as Vince Armstrong
Laura Cummings as Jennifer Armstrong
QUICK CUT: A strange loner runs into a man who teaches him how to change his looks through magic. Joe uses this ability to turn into a girl so he can stalk girls and kill them. Yes, this is actually the plot.
Joe - Joe is your typical reclusive loner with bad fashion sense, zero social skills, and more than a few mental problems to begin with. The magic changer spell doesn't help any.
THE GUTS: After doing something so recent with such a high budget and a big studio behind it, Trisk really needs to swing back in the other direction. And so I find myself sitting here, staring at a very unknwon, very no budget, very indie, very skeevy piece of trash cinema from the late 80s/early 90s, known as the Nostril Picker.
Or The Changer in some circles, as it is on the DVD. I came across this movie in one of my many rabbit hole searches where I'd start out with one movie, see recommendations, or other movies, and keep going deeper and deeper until I had no idea which way was up. And I found this. The Nostril Picker. A nothing movie with zero budget made by three guys one weekend that somehow managed to actually become one of Britain's infamous Video Nasties.
The only downside is, it turned out that this had never been released in the US on DVD, which is my necessary form for reviews, because of the way I work. And let's face it...what are the odds that this unknown movie would ever come out? I was probably the only person clamoring for it, because it looked like THE perfect Trisk movie. I wanted to do it SO badly. But couldn't. But I still jotted it down on my want list, with the notes that I'd probably NEVER get to do it
Until one day earlier this year, I decided to take one of my regular pokes around and see if it had popped up, and OH MY LLOYD it did. There is was. It was on disc. I COULD GET IT. And it took me a little bit to find the opportunity to grab it, but I got it, I watched it, and here we are. Finally. So, one of Trisk's white whales has finally been seen, and your Captain Ahab is ready for this carnival cruise.
Let's do this.
We dive right in and meet Joe, who garners zero empathy from the audience whatsoever as he creeps on a young girl as she's walking home, until she confronts him. The cops also roll up to make sure she gets away safely, and give Joe a warning, since he looks like he's a loser with issues of his own. Oh, if you only knew.
As he's walking away, Joe gets accosted by some homeless guy who Joe tries to escape from. Yeah, how does it feel, Creepy McCreeperson?
The hobo asks Joe if he's ever heard of morphosynthesis. No! No he hasn't! It's a made up word!
"It means changing your appearance!" No! It does not! I am highly dubious of your claims already!
"It's something I learned in Vietnam!" You did not!
"With this chant, you can change yourself into anybody! Even a woman! If...that's what you want." ...Go on.
Anyways, since it's important to the spell, the hobo asks Joe what his favourite tune is, and Joe says London Bridges. Yeah, more like what's your favourite public domain song we don't have to pay for.
Oh, and a few ground rules; if you do it too much, it will drive you crazy, and if they take your picture, you'll appear as you really are, not how the spell makes you look because reasons. And so the deal is complete, and Joe gives the dude some booze and heads back to his cheap rathole of an apartment.
After spending too much time in his apartment proving he's a loser, Joe heads off to a gazebo to do the little song and dance he needs to do to transform. And it is something to behold. I can't even begin to describe it. But it is so damned absurd, it's almost not worth doing for chance of death by embarassment.
Unfortunately, Joe seems to be unaffected by the change, and grumpily wanders off to buy porn. On the downside, he's still Joe. On the upside, it only cost him a few swigs of gin and a little awkwardness in the park.
But when Joe goes to the counter, the cashier calls him 'miss' and says he can't sell those kinds of magazines to minors. Well, holy crap, it actually worked, and Joe looks like a girl now! We get a few brief moments of the girl the world now sees him as, but the movie largely sticks to showing us Joe still. Imagine Quantum Leap style depiction of body changes.
Which is hilarious in its way, watching the cashier tell this middle aged has been that they can't sell things like that to kids and yelling at him, and even watching Joe try to act younger.
So, what does Joe do with his new found powers? Will he become a world renowned spy, and solve crises around the globe? Will he use his powers to become a different person and escape his life of dreary nothingness and homeliness?
NOPE, he goes and hangs out at the local tennis courts to watch the girls play in their short shorts and not look like a 40-something guy ogling teenagers! JOE BUKOWSKI everyone!
The girls are immediately accepting of the newbie and chat with her, ask her who she is, is she new, has she started school yet, etc. And Joe proves his creativity by naming his girlself Jo.
A teacher shows up as the girls head off to class, and asks Joe where he...she...uh...hurm. Pronouns are gonna be hard here. Um, she asks Jo where she should be, and helps get the new girl enrolled in classes...which Joe immediately uses to wander through the girls' locker room.
Which leads us into a high school activities montage. Yes, I am serious. We get to see Joe going back to classes, reading Cliff Notes, cheating off tests, and wandering around, looking completely out of place because WE see Joe, not Jo.
It's hilarious that Joe has it no easier in high school the second time around. He's very clearly portrayed as not the brightest bulb around.
Oh, we also see Joe picking his nose briefly, which is the ONLY reference to the title of this movie. The Changer is way more accurate.
It grinds the plot to a halt, but it's silly, it showcases the weirdness of the situation, and...I actually find the music weirdly catchy. But so very 80s
Oh, and there's also moments of Joe perving and peeking at girls over bathroom stalls. Which...is creepy if he's Joe OR Jo, and should still get him in trouble, but the movie just slides right on by that.
Joe finishes up a day at school as Jo, and heads home with his new friends. The group splits up, and he walks with one of the girls, who invites him over to help babysit over the weekend. Ahhh, Joe has made friends, found a place in the world, and this could be a happy ending! Ahahahaha, no, that's not gonna happen.
Oh, and just because it tickles the horror nerd in me, the place they'll be babysitting at is on Elm Street. Please oh please let Freddy Krueger show up.
So, Joe heads over to the Bensons, and the girl is sitting down to watch a horror movie she says is pretty good when you're high, but they'll have to see how it is while sober. Wait, what's the name if it? That sounds Triskworthy to me.
Anyways, Joe gets hungry and heads to the kitchen to heat up some pizza, where he whistles his favourite song they could afford and changes back to his normal schlumpy self.
Because remember that warning about going mad? Apparently its taking effect because Joe decides to kill his new best friend. And it is hilariously bad. The acting is bad, the editing is bad, and the effects...actually aren't terrible.
After she gets her fingers sliced off, she stumbles away pretty unconcernedly. Honestly, she doesn't even scream, and Joe catches her pretty quickly and finishes the job. Finally. After stumbling around at school for far too long, things do happen.
The cops show up, and we learn that not only did Joe kill her, but he raped her, and ate her. So, um, the magic drove him into the way overboard type of insanity, I see. If this is Joe's first kill, how badly will it escalate from here??
And just to complicate matters and make it somewhat personal, the lead detective recognises the girl as a friend of his daughter's.
The girls chat later about how awful their parents are being with bugging them to be safe, and Joe learns that Jennifer's dad is the detective on the case. Just think of what he could do, if he used his spying power for good?
Anyways, they split up again, leaving Joe with soon to be victim #2, and she agrees to sneak out and break curfew with Joe to combat boredom at home. Yeah! Stick it to the man! Fight conformity! Die horribly!
Joe waits behind a bush as Tracy sneaks out of her house, and immediately kills her right on the lawn. So, not wasting any time with this one then? Not gonna get her away from parents, or onlookers, or...okay then...
Jennifer's dad gets involved, and asks his daughter some questions, since both victims were her friends. She mentions Jo, their new friend, the last person to see Tracy alive. Oops.
Meanwhile, Joe's off looking for hookers, but forgets he looks like Jo, so tries to convince the hooker that she's trying to pick up some fun for her dad.
He gets her back to his apartment, and reveals that gasp! There is no daddy around, and the hooker tries to leave. Joe is Joe, and grabs at her hair, pulling off a wig, and revealing that she is a he and oh the irony there.
And also, I dunno how he didn't pick up that she's a man, baby, yeah! But Joe also reveals his own gender fluidity, and this is just weird. A guy who can turn into a girl trying to pick up a guy who he doesn't realise is also a girl that doesn't realise the girl is a guy and...
They run around in circles for a bit, until the hooker cracks Joe over the head with a frying pan, and runs off to the cops. Unsurprisingly, the cops don't believe her.
I gotta say, this movie probably isn't intending to be a comedy, but the entire scene of the hooker trying to explain her experience, and the cop trying to keep a straight face, may be a comedy classic.
So the detectives end up meeting Joe for an entirely unrelated event. It's still not Jen's dad though, so there's still some pieces to fall into place.
Joe knows his rights though, and won't let the cops in without a warrant, nor will he really answer any of their questions, and he sends them off.
And just to drive home that Joe is losing it, he goes all Norman Bates and starts to see his dead mother telling him he's been a very bad boy.
Oh, if that didn't drive it home, he also sees the two girls he killed, dressed in lingerie, and covered in blood. Because things just weren't sleazy enough already.
Joe meets up with the last two girls of the group for lunch the next day, where they talk about the case, and he starts to get really grumpy when the girls say the killer is crazy. He gets all indignant about it. Jeeze, Joe, did you think you were *normal* with the killing and the raping and the eating?
While Joe lures Crissi off to be killed later, the cops get a phonecall from the hobo from the start of the movie. I am honestly surprised he turned back up. Not like the cops are gonna believe his story, but here we are, bringing back a guy to tell the cops about a magic chant.
"You're looking for a guy who can change the way he looks, any time he wants!!" Yeah, that's helpful. Might as well say he was wearing a shirt.
Joe shows up at the baseball diamond that night to do in Crissi, and he didn't even bring the pot. Instead, he shows up as Joe, with a knife. Well, Crissi would surely be disappointed if she wasn't dead.
And ugh, I hate to do this. The movie gets artsy for a moment. While Joe stabs the girl, they cut in, very briefly, flashes of her being stabbed, but it's photographs of the deed being done, and it actually comes off really well. They stay focused on the fence behind Joe as he stabs, the knife peeking into view as he swings it up, but then flash to the bloody body in still photography form. This movie should not be pulling off that level of trick.
So, the cops show up to another body dump, and so do the reporters and a bunch of kids. Detective Armstrong interviews the kids, trying to find out what happened to Crissi. But oh wait! He's talking to Jo! And the movie sloowly pans around to the camera's video tap, and we see the real Joe is being recorded. Plot point! Plot point!
The cameraman calls in Armstrong back at the studio to show him the footage, and no one remembers seeing the schlub at the park. And it's weird that the detective calls him Miss. Oh, and his voice got recorded as Jo's. So...visually the trick can't be filmed, but audibly it can? Random magic rules!
Armstrong obsessively watches the film, trying to make sense of it and why the president's head snaps back and to the left, not willing to believe the story of a crazy hobo with bad fashion sense. But that's when the other detective who questioned Joe about the hooker shows up, and says that's the same guy!
I don't really know HOW any of this would be admissable, or get a conviction, or really be any grounds to question the guy about these cases, but hey, it's a movie, and it's as close as logic as we are gonna get, isn't it? I mean, sure, I can follow the logic of the cop going yes, there's a lotta weird stuff here, but there's not quite the necessary connective tissue, besides a guy no one remembers being in the park, and sounding like a girl.
Still, it's not the weakest case tried in the court of Trisk.
Armstrong calls Joe's psychiatrist and finds out just how messed up the guy is, all stemming back to Joe being raised by his tyrannical mother and aunt, giving him serious mommy issues, which led to him being put away for psychiatric help. And honestly, he should not have been released, but they let him go for overcrowding.
Oh, and they explain the cannibalism too, since his mother locked him in the basement when he was bad. The last time she did, she died, and when he finally got out four days later, he went full on Hannibal mode on her. But with far less fashion sense.
The psychiatrist tries to tell Armstrong that you can't judge Joe too harshly because of his past. And before I can say, "Cool motive, still murder," Armstrong calls bullshit on it, since he's killed, raped, and eaten three girls. Now see, this is the kind of information the plot needed, both for Joe, and for Armstrong's case.
So the cops show up at Joe's place searching for evidence and the plot, and find a poster with the three dead girls slashed out, locks of hair, and Jennifer all set to be the next and final victim.
I also really like that the other detective even points out they don't have any real evidence. This movie is absurd, it's bad in many ways, but the procedural stuff is surprisingly good.
Of course, Armstrong doesn't care about that, and he's perfectly willing to just end this, to protect his daughter. He calls in uniforms to comb the neighbourhood, puts out ain APB, and gets some men to watch his daughter. He is not screwing around. We're talking Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive level of obsessively pursuing.
Joe ducks into a bar, but forgot he looks underage right now, and the bartender tries to shoo the girl off. Joe tries to turn on the feminine wiles and hide out by trying to say she's in trouble, but he won't listen to the girl.
He ducks out of the bar, and has the absolutely worst run of luck ever. He leaves the bar, and who does Joe run into? The same hooker from before, who recognises Jo, and calls for the cops, who are right across the street.
Joe quickly slashes the hooker's throat and runs away, but the cops aren't far behind. Armstrong chases Joe in another unintentionally hilarious moment. How else am I supposed to describe a schlubby middle aged guy in a shiny silver shirt being chased by an equally schlubby middle-aged detective in a trenchcoat, kinda sorta running through the alleyways of some city in Michigan?
The chase continues into a parking garage, and then a stairwell, as both surely exhaust themselves running up flight after flight of stairs. Fortunately, Joe can take a break when he finds the locked exit, so he's going nowhere.
Armstrong comes around the corner driving Joe and himself behind a brick wall, so all we hear is a gunshot go off, and keep going off, as the movie smash cuts out with each echo of the shot. It goes from inside the stairwell, to outside the door in the parking garage, to elsewhere in the parking garage, another shot further away in the parking garage, boom! just outside the parking garage, bam! a little bit further outside the parking garage, bang! a wide shot of the parking garage, boom! a very wide shot far away from the parking garage!
CAP: The shot heard 'round the parking garage
...Seriously, I am not exaggerating at how far out they go. I was expecting it to just keep going and going, further and further back, until we were looking down on the planet Earth from the moon, with this tiny little squeak of a gunshot in the far, far distance.
Armstrong returns home, so clearly he killed Joe! He finds the cop sent there to watch Jennifer, but does not seem to remember sending him there! That's mighty odd! He must be traumatised from killing a man! I mean, what other reason would he have to be acting so strangely, as he sends the cop away?
So, Papa Armstrong checks in on his little girl, and tells her that she's safe, and we don't have to worry about the killer anymore. Yay, a happy ending! Justice has been had! The bad guy is dead, and Jennifer is safe, and we can all ride off into the sunset!
Jennifer remembers how her dad used to sing her lullabies to calm her down before bed when she was anxious, and the detective starts to hum to her...wait...is he...he's humming...London Bridges??
Oh no! No it cannot be! What a twist!
Yep, Joe didn't get shot, was actually SMART and changed into the cop, so he could get close and kill Jennifer. So much for a happy ending, we just went full on darkness and the bad guy wins, probably even escaping to kill again! Hooray for nothing resembling a conclusion!
Video: I erroneously had it stuck in my head that this was shot on video, but the creators insist they use film, and I have no reason to doubt them. Which doesn't mean it doesn't look bad. It does. But it could look worse. It's grainy, and dull coloured, and just kinda blah overall.
Audio: Not bad, all things considered. Nothing shiny or special, but it works.
Sound Bite: "Let me get this straight; you went home with a teenaged girl, once at her place, she turned into a middle-aged man, and he tried to kill you? Is that right?"
Body Count: It's a small movie, with only a handful of characters, so the body count is small. But percentage-wise, it's impressive.
1 - 24 minutes in, Joe slices and dices his first victim, Brenda.
2 - Tracy gets stabbed and eaten behind a bush.
3 - Joe kills Crissi on the baseball diamond. And she never even made it to first base...
4 - Joe kills the hooker in an alley as the cops chase him.
5 - Detective Armstrong gets killed off camera in an increasingly distant wide shot from the location.
6 - Jennifer dies as the movie ends.
Best Corpse: The first one remains the best one, because we get some good FX with the fingers being removed, and a good gag of her remains in a small bag.
Blood Type - B-: It's got some blood to it, most of it covering the girls in Joe's visions. But the finger slice gag is decent, and a highlight. Still, for a video nasty, it's not that bad. I've seen WAY bloodier, way more violent, and way more skeevy. Which isn't to say this movie isn't all those things, but a lot of the worst stuff happens in dialogue, and not in actual blood on screen. And I just remembered the scene of Joe snacking on girl pieces, and bumped it up from C+.
Sex Appeal: It stays away from the worst of it, but if girls in lingerie and covered in blood is your thing, hey!
Drink Up! Every time Joe whistles London Bridge.
Video Nasties: Wanna change how you look and risk mental instability? Well, just watch this video and you too will learn the trick Joe uses!
Movie Review: Y'know, this coulda been a LOT worse. Nostril Picker's biggest crime is being cheaply made with zero production value. The acting is bad, but it's workable, just ever so barely. It has an actual plot, the procedural stuff is actually rather well done, especially on the budget. There's a logic buried back there, to all the cop stuff. And it feels genuine. The dark humour is fun, which is always a plus to me. From everything I'd seen and read about this before actually seeing it, I thought this movie was going to be one of the worst things I'd ever seen. But it's actually quite watchable, if you don't mind something that couldn't even afford the shoestrings on their shoestring budget. Three out of five public domain songs.
Entertainment Value: I genuinely wish this was a little worse. It's bad, it's cheesy, it has some hammy acting, especially from Joe as he starts to lose it more and more, but it's never quite THAT bad. Still, the movie will leave you laughing, and amazed that something like this got made, with its mish-mash of weird magic chants, high school montages, and cannibals. Very strange and entertaining, but could've been so much more. Three out of five trips to the baseball diamond.