What’s legitimate exploitation? It’s a weird question, because by its very nature exploitation is illegitimate - we’re talking about movies made simply to cash in on some trend or a specific audience. But when we talk about exploitation movies, we’re usually talking about a strange golden age of time when film financiers threw money at filmmakers to shoot whatever they wanted, as long as there were enough breasts and enough violence to populate an amazing trailer. The resulting movies - in the best cases - were weird, personal, fetish objects that weren’t always technically competent but were always insights into the oddballs who made them.
So when I say Nurse 3D is legitimate exploitation, that’s what I mean. This is a movie that approaches its fetish subjects not just from a financial angle of selling tickets but from a personal angle of fulfilling the offbeat sexual fantasies of its creators. It’s got medical fetish, it’s got domination stuff, it’s got lots of underwear and stockings, and it’s got plenty of lingering butt shots. Lots and lots of butt shots.
Paz de la Huerta is Abigail, a nurse who, in her free time, serially murders men who cheat on their wives. Weirdly this is not the actual premise of the movie, it’s more like a character detail, like instead of having a Hummel collection she kills guys. The actual premise of the movie is that Abigail is mentoring a new nurse, Danni (Katrina Bowden), and becomes too enamored with her. Abbie roofies Danni and has a threeway with her, but when Danni sobers up she is horrified and rushes back into the arms of her fiancee (High School Musical’s Corbin Bleu). Having been rejected, Abbie begins turning her murderous rage on the object of her desire.
If Brian De Palma had directed Nurse 3D it probably could have been something amazing. In the hands of Doug Aarniokoski it’s more of a campy delight. The film straddles the line between serious and silly in all the right ways, never being tongue-in-cheek but also not taking itself too seriously. The film was inspired by the photography of Lionsgate’s chief marketing officer Tim Palen, and every now and again there’s a composition so striking and so well-done that I wonder if Palenlent his eye on the day. A scene where Abbie watches Danni in the hospital shower is perfectly shot, as is one where two characters run down a spiral staircase. Many of the scenes between these gorgeous set pieces are flat (and like, really flat, a problem with a 3D movie), lit with garish reds and blues like Creepshow.
But the movie is a blast. It’s absolutely over the top, and while it has real slow spots (like every single legit exploitation movie) by the end it is so crazy - Abbie goes on a pointless killing spree in the ICU during a chase - that you’ll be clapping and hollering, just like a grindhouse crowd in 1974. This is definitely a film to watch with a crowd (or at least some friends; the 3D is so useless that seeing it at home will make no difference. Also, it’s only playing in a handful of theaters), and it’s definitely a movie that could have a future as a midnight staple.
The key to the film’s wonderful badness is de la Huerta. She delivers what is surely the worst lead performance in a studio movie in decades, if not ever. There is not a line that comes out of her mouth that sounds natural; she’s constantly speaking as if she’s an alien who has no understanding of humanity. The best part of that is every character interacts with her like she’s a real human being, never seeming to notice her stilted, bizarre line deliveries or the static, glowering look that passes for emotions. In comparison even the fairly poor actors surrounding de la Huerta come across like Laurence Olivier Award nominees, but more than that the disruptive nature of watching normal bad actors engage with this extraordinarily bad actor is thrilling. It’s like a prank.
Abbie has a voice over; it’s the most knowing part of the movie, and it’s what slides Nurse 3D into camp. It also feels like it may have been added later; Abbie kills a guy and the VO tells us this was how he was finally able to give her an orgasm, but de la Huerta is just standing there with even less acting than usual. A large chunk of it sounds like someone other than de la Huerta recorded it. It’s truly magical.
A couple of real actors have wandered into this one; Kathleen Turner shows up for one scene, and I don’t know what the point of that was. Judd Nelson plays a skeevy doctor who gets his comeuppance in a way that will surely delight submissive men in the audience, and he’s so clearly just showing up for craft services that it’s fun to watch. There’s a certain kind of dismissive performance I appreciate, and Nelson has perfected it here.
There is no way to claim Nurse 3D is a good movie, but it’s exactly the right sort of bad movie. It’s sleazy, but often without being sexy (de la Huerta walks around naked from the waist down so often it loses any impact). Still, it’s truly sleazy, and it’s ridiculous, and it’s occasionally so well shot that you’re actually jarred by the transition to a shitty set-up in a generic alley, lit like garbage. It’s the kind of bad movie that a certain type of discerning connoisseur longs to discover.