Friday, September 30, 2011

Coming in October...The Horror Movie Darwin Awards!

It’s the mooooooooooost wonderful tiiiiiiiiiiiime of the yeeeeeeeeeeeeear! ♫

Yes Cellmates, Halloween season is upon us. First of all, I’d like to apologize for my sparse posting throughout September. October is going to be extremely busy for three main reasons, which I’ll get to in a second. Therefore, I had a lot of things I had to get squared away before the Halloween insanity could begin.

First of all, I’m going to be working at Netherworld, the #1 haunted attraction in America. Click on the name to check out their site. I’ve been at this haunt a long time, and believe me, it’s bigger, scarier, and more intense than ever. I’ll be there every night except 3. If you’ve got the guts...and the nuts, come experience the terror. I’ll most likely be at the door of the downstairs house, Raw Meat. Here’s the 2011 commercial.


Second, I will be participating in HALLOWEEN HORROR MOVIE MARATHON MADNESS: THE HACK & SLASH EDITION. My buddy EKG, aka Cavepearl, has put together a contest that involves points being awarded for watching horror movies. Sounds like my kinda competition! While Netherworld leaves me without a hell of a lot of movie watching time, I plan to come out swinging and bring the pain! The main category is slashers, so I do believe it’s time to dust off the VHS collection and kick it old school. Use the link up there to check it out and follow along.

Finally, the part that involves the blog and therefore you, the wonderful readers. Way back before Son of Celluloid was even an idea, every year I enjoyed reading the Halloween countdowns on blogs, Particularly X-Entertainment. A few years back I discovered the official site where all of the blogs doing these countdowns congregate. You see that nifty little picture of Dr. Phibes on the left that says “Cryptkeeper 2011? That will take you to the site. Go there tomorrow and click around. You’ll find a bunch of cool sites hosting Halloween blog events. When I decided to start this blog, one of the things I said I wanted to do from the beginning was participate in the site and the countdown, so that’s exactly what I’m doing.

All throughout October, Son of Celluloid presents The Horror Movie Darwin Awards. If you’re not familiar with The Darwin Awards, they were started in 1985. According to their website, “In the spirit of Charles Darwin, the Darwin Awards commemorate individuals who protect our gene pool by making the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives. Darwin Award winners eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species' chances of long-term survival.” Since then the concept has spread to calendars, books, a movie, and many other venues; celebrating great moments in dumbassery.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that people in horror movies aren’t exactly the brightest crowd. Often you’ll find yourself yelling “What are you doing you idiot” at the screen. These are the moments that I’ve assembled into the ultimate compilation of cinematic stupidity. I will be counting down the 31 dumbest thing anyone has ever done in a fright flick. These are specific scenes from specific movies, not a tired list of clichés. We’ll start with #31 tomorrow and work our way to #1 on Halloween. I’ve worked hard putting this event together, and I hope you enjoy.

That’s what’s coming in October. Follow along and comment on the countdown. Enjoy the idiocy. Come get the hell scared out of you at Netherworld and say hi to your favorite horror blogger. While I won’t be doing a lot of posting outside of the countdown, I’m sure I’ll be checking in from time to time. So folks, from all of us here at Son of Celluloid, meaning me, Happy Halloween and enjoy the countdown.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Interview: Dear God No! director James Bickert Part 2

Here's the second part of my interview with James Bickert, the director of Dear God No! (REVIEW) If you missed part one, CHECK IT OUT HERE. What are you thinking? Why the hell would you start reading part 2 first? Come on now. I swear, sometimes I wonder about you people...

SOC: All of the actors looked pretty comfortable on those bikes. Were they bikers turned actors or actors turned bikers?

JB: They were dirtbags turned bikers. They were mainly musicians. A lot of us had experience with motorcycles just because we’re goofballs who grow up in trailer parks and drink a lot of beer and hang out at drive-ins. Jett actually dressed like Evel Knievel and jumped a bunch of flaming bags of popcorn at one of the Drive-Invasion’s (get info about that event here). We did get lied to by one of our actors who said he knew how to ride a motorcycle and hadn’t ever ridden one. He learned that day, and luckily we had insurance and he didn’t kill himself or anybody. The one guy who had the most experience was the only guy who dropped a bike.

SOC: I’ve been involved in shooting a rape scene and sometimes it’s hard to get the actors and actresses to give you the intensity necessary to make it believable. Was the rape scene in Dear God No hard to shoot in that respect?

JB: No, the only way that thing was really hard to shoot was that we were exhausted. That was our longest shooting day. I think we shot for 20 hours. That was a brutal day. The whole point of us shooting 20 hours that day was that we didn’t want to go back to that set, so we just had to get it done that night. By the time we were shooting that we were all loopy as hell, and I think that added a lot to it. It was kinda like the stories from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the dinner scene where they were all going nuts because it was such a long day and it was hot and they could smell the pet crematorium next door. So the actress started thinking they were really going to kill her. We just wanted to get the f**k out of there at that point. I think the women were like “Yeah, rape me, please, do anything, just say wrap!”

SOC: One of the times I laughed hardest in the film was at the Corman’s Malt Liquor. Are there more of those type of homages that viewers will catch on subsequent viewings?

JB: Yeah. I’m a graphic designer, so I filled the film full of little subtle things like that. In the Larry’s office scene there are these boxes that say R.A. Meyer Bra Company like they’re stock left over from one of Russ Meyer’s films or something. The bait store had a ton. There were cans of Jess Franc-O’s on the shelf. (He told me about quite a few more, but it just wouldn’t be any fun if we gave them all away now would it?)

SOC: After you finished shooting, you took to Kickstarter to raise your completion funds. How did that work out for you and would you recommend it to other indy filmmakers?

JB: Yeah I would. It worked out great, we raised it really quick. It kinda slowed us down because we raised the money in, like, 10 days and then we had to wait 45 days to get the money because of that. We could have gone into transferring the film into digital a lot faster if we could have known we’d get that kind of response.

SOC: The poster is amazing. That’s another thing that’s becoming a lost art in the movie industry. How important is a good poster?

JB: It’s very important. We did a trailer and got a huge boost across the internet, but when we got Thomas Hodge to do that poster and that thing got released, man, the whole thing just went ape shit. It went f**king nuts. It’s ridiculous when you look at modern movie posters. One thing I don’t get that I noticed they started doing about the mid 90’s is they’ll have a photograph of, say, four actors, but their names won’t be in the order of their faces. They’re in some weird order. What the hell is that all about? You understand this, what lured us in and got our money was VHS boxes and the old one-sheets that were geared towards drive-ins and grindhouses. It’s like David Friedman said, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Well, we’re trying to give you the sizzle and the steak. We need to give you the sizzle with the poster so you’ll eat our steak. Yeah I think it’s a lost art and I think that’s a shame. I mean, even the McGinnis James Bond posters that were so amazing. Now they’d just rather have some pretty boy up there pointing a gun in a photograph. Man, f**k photography and I’m a photography major. I collect movie posters. I’ve got a huge collection. I really like a lot of Belgian movie posters. They would have their own artists in Belgium doing these posters, and they wouldn’t be based on the American artwork. The same with some of the Italian Localinas. If you see some of the Polish ones they’re f**king insane. They look like some US ad campaign for recycling or something from the 70’s if someone dropped a bunch of acid. I love it. I’m a huge fan, especially the AIP stuff. It’s a big part of a film. It’s huge.

SOC: Now that the movie is done and out how happy are you with the finished product?

JB: I’m ecstatic. I think we pulled off something really terrific and I have no complaints about it. It came out perfect. It’s just what I wanted and the response has been great. The people I’ve been working with are fantastic. I just want to make more, and we’re going to.

SOC: In the past few years grindhouse/drive-in/exploitation films have had a big resurgence in popularity. Why do you think they’re becoming so popular again?

JB: Because Hollywood’s remaking everything and they don’t have any ideas. They’re just redoing the same things. There’s also this thing where everything is getting so hi def that they’re losing some basic elements of what drew people to movies to begin with. Old movies, especially from that late 60’s and early 70’s era, they had it. I go to movies to see what I can’t see on TV.

SOC: What is the difference between a grindhouse movie and a drive-in movie?

JB: With a grindhouse movie you look over your shoulder, you wear a raincoat, you go and jack off, and you slink away. With a drive-in movie you take a bunch of buddies and your girls and a cooler full of beer. You get drunk as hell, you raise hell, and you have a good time. The only way a drive-in movie can fail is by being boring. I’ve learned a lot from bad movies, but I don’t learn anything from boring movies.

SOC: Other than almost burning down the drive-in, because I already told that one, give us a good story from the shooting of the movie.

JB: The day with the squibs was the most fun on set. You would squib all of these extras up, they’d go off, and they’d all start clapping. Unfortunately because of how long it was taking to film they were waiting in the rain outside of the bar because at first the girls didn’t want to be naked in front of strangers. Then we started giving them booze, and they were all like “Alright! Let all the extras in!” I didn’t want the extras to get drunk and rowdy. The way I curbed that was that I made all of those Corman’s Beers. They were all Yuengling Light, but we left them all out in the sun. They were all hot as f**k. So I said “free beer”, it was out on all of the tables, but this shit was so hot you couldn’t drink it. You couldn’t get it down. So I knew they would be manageable. I’ve been on a film set where they gave free beer away, and it got way out of control. But anyway, they would get squibbed up and they would all go off and it didn’t matter, everyone was so happy.

SOC: When will the movie be available on DVD?

JB: I’m hoping the beginning of the year. We’re making screeners and adding all of the special features. I don’t want anyone coming back to me and saying “Well, it’s going to take this much money to put it together” when I can do that shit myself. Then I’ll have a total package to go on blu-ray or DVD. We’ve gotten a ton of offers. First I want to see if we have any big American interest, but if we get somebody really big then they’re probably going to want the foreign territories, but I’m going to try to talk them out of it. I finally got an entertainment lawyer. I learned my lesson after the debacle with that other company.

SOC: You’re getting ready to start hitting festivals. Where can people see the movie?

JB: Arizona, Las Vegas, Ottawa, Mobile Alabama, that’s what we’ve got cooking so far. Toronto, come on! What’s wrong with you? You know you want it!

SOC: What’s your next project going to be?

JB: What I want to do is the sequel to this because this was so much damn fun. I’ve got a bunch lined up that I want to do after this. I was thinking that this would be the end of it, but I had so much fun doing this. I know how to make a sequel that will totally freak people out. I want it to progress a people of years in style too. I want to progress in style up to maybe the early 80’s; have it progressing in production value and music and everything. Like you’re watching a chain of sequels that start in 1973 and make their way to 1985 or something. I’ve got so many scripts written and so many ideas. One thing I’m dying to do is a women in prison film. They’re an obsession of mine. (To see how much of an obsession, check out his site bigbustout.com)

SOC: Do you have any last words for the readers?

JB: Stay tuned for Frankenstein Created Bikers. For this one I want to go Naschy on it, and I want to go a little Philippino on it too.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Interview: Dear God No! director James Bickert Part 1

This is actually the second interview I’ve conducted with James Bickert, the director of the new bikers vs. Bigfoot Drive-in classic Dear God No. If you missed it, you can read my review HERE. The first time I talked to him was at the after party following the world premiere at the Plaza Theater. It was a great interview. I now believe that copious amounts of alcohol should be involved in every interview I do. The only problem was that apparently we were too close to a speaker or something, because when I tried to play it back it sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher interviewing herself. So we met again back at The Star Bar in Little 5 Points, during the day this time, to try it again. As the evening progressed and more alcohol was imbibed, we were joined by Richard Davis, who was responsible for the film’s outstanding score, along with Brian Malone and Dusty Booze, who both performed on the soundtrack. We talked about VHS collecting, obscure drive-in movies, Gene Simmons playing a transvestite, James’ animosity over being screwed over by a generally loved genre icon, George Carlin, why we hate guys named Todd, Kitten Natividad’s legendary endowments, Filipino movies (he has a Vic Diaz tattoo!) and anything else remotely related to exploitation flicks you can imagine. These guys love this stuff just as much as I do. I’m not transcribing the whole afternoon, however, as I wasn’t recording it on the grounds that I didn’t want any incriminating evidence. Without further ado, however, here’s part one of my interview with James Bickert.

SOC: For those not familiar with the flick, tell us about Dear God No.

JB: Well, it’s not an homage, it’s a lost drive-in movie.

SOC: Where did the inspiration for the story come from?

JB: Well, it came from having a daughter for the first time. There’s this underlying theme of selfishness and whether I should make my wife happy or be a complete selfish bastard, and a lot of it is all the fears that come with this newfound responsibility of fatherhood. But, there are other inspirations, which are everything I love as an exploitation fan, the biker genre especially. I like the obscure stuff. I mean Wild Angels was definitely an influence, but more the stuff that happened at the tail end of the biker heyday where they would just merge stuff together like Werewolves on Wheels. I love when a genre is about to die and they just mix in a bunch of stuff. Then there are also influences from the drive in, like I Drink Your Blood, there’s a lot of that in there. Then there’s a Canadian film which I’m just in love with which goes by, well, one of the names is Last House on the Left 2, but it’s also called Death Weekend and House by the Lake. It stars Don Stroud, who I just think is the ultimate badass. The aspect of a bunch of degenerates getting into a situation that easily gets out of control and beyond what they’re expecting was influenced by that. Then there’s some high falootin’ elements with the lead actress which would be more like Kate Chopin's The Awakening. She’s named after that. There’s also influence from Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and that whole turn of the century literature with women trying to find their place and it keeps getting worse and worse for them, that kind of thing. Yeah, there’s a shit load of elements that go into the themes, but the main thing is just a beer drinking movie that’s fun. I love drive –in movies and I love discovering a new film that me and my buddies can sit there and drink beer and laugh to. But it’s got to have those elements every 5 or 10 minutes where your jaw’s agape, or you’re hooting and screaming. That was basically the blueprint, it had to have more to it, but keep being what it is, which is nothing but a good f**king time and be respectful to the genre. I love the genre. I’m not in it to make money; I’m in it to be a part of the genre. That’s ultimately my goal is not to get rich, but to get to keep making stuff that I’d want to see.

SOC: The film was shot on 16mm and you used 70’s era technology. Why did you decide to go that route and what challenges came with it?

JB: Well, I don’t think there were that many challenges. We didn’t have a video monitor so that eliminated anybody saying “Oh, that didn’t look too good” or “You need to change that shot,” so that solves that problem right away and saves a hell of a lot of time. Because we didn’t know what we were going to end up with, we could shoot as fast and furious as we wanted. There was really no technical stuff except for loading the camera.

SOC: How important was the authenticity of making the flick seem like it actually came from the 70’s?

JB: That was everything. The one thing I stewed over for the longest time is the scene at the drive in. It shows at the bottom the FM channel you could dial in to get the radio frequency. They didn’t have that until the 80’s, it was all AM until, like, 1983. I sat there and beat myself up and I could have fixed it in after effects, but it would have taken me a f**king week with all of the motion tracking. So, hopefully that will slide. That’s the only thing I can think of where somebody might say “That movie IS NOT from the 70’s.”

SOC: What were some of the extreme lengths you went to with your attention to detail to ensure the period accuracy?

JB: One of the most extreme was in the scene where Jet pops open a beer. We actually got a 70’s PBR can that a beer can collector had opened from the bottom, washed it out as best we could, filled it with beer, and duct taped the bottom so he could pull the pull tab even though you can’t even tell it’s a pull tab on screen. As Jet said it was very “tinny” tasting, and it was the only beer the poor bastard was allowed to have.

SOC: Of course in the first interview, for that question you mentioned…

JB: BUSH! Totally. I couldn’t believe (name withheld just to be safe) had that unshaved bush. She actually asked my wife if she should shave it and my wife said “hell no!” No body had Hitler moustaches in the 70’s. I kinda miss big bush. It was like a headrest. It was some place you could just nod off for a while and fight your way back through the forest and keep going. (Note: At this point a long, hilarious conversation about why the EPA should have an advocacy group to protect the crab louse’s natural habitat ensued.)

SOC: Speaking of that, one thing Dear God No has that is sadly lacking in most movies these days is gratuitous nudity. Why do you think today’s filmmakers shy away from it?

JB: It’s a bigger taboo than you think. I don’t know why puritan values have struck such a chord, but apparently they have. Yeah, that’s really sadly missing. There are a lot of Something Weird elements, and a lot of Russ Meyer, and a lot of Orgy of the Dead in it. When I’m drinking and watching shit outdoors, my go-to’s are Mondo Topless and Orgy of the Dead, and I can sit there and watch Something Weird trailers from dusk ‘til dawn. There are parts of Dear God No where yeah, I know the nudity goes on too long. I even had somebody tell me about a rough cut “You know, the nudity is going on a little too long” and I purposefully added more nudity because that’s what I want to see. You throw shaking hips and tits onscreen with damn tassels, and I’m mesmerized. Jess Franco knew it. Hell, that’s three fourths of his running time.

SOC: The film was all shot locally in Atlanta area. What are some of the locations that local readers might recognize?

JB: We shot around Dick’s Creek, which is great trout fishing.

SOC: The strip club scene was the Tucker Saloon, right?

JB: Yes. There was a whole big thing going in there that got overblown where we were told that we had to meet with a biker in order to film there. I got the impression that it was one of the Outlaws or something like that, some guy named Mad Dog. It was this whole big deal. So we go to meet with Mad Dog to get permission to shoot there and this guy is the biggest sweetheart you ever met. We’re buying him PBR’s and I dunno, I guess he just wanted to hang out. We ended up putting him in the movie and shooting him, so that was pretty cool. There are stickers in there that say “Outlaws Territory” and John Collins, who is in the movie, was in a chapter of the Hells Angels like, 10 years ago and he got all paranoid. I told him “Dude, you shouldn’t be worried about the Outlaws, my first night in that place I saw a UPS man in a UPS uniform beat the shit out of a guy. Be afraid of UPS.”

SOC: You’ve said that you wanted the film to have a “Georgia flavor.” What do you think making it here adds to the flick?

JB: A lot. It’s like all of these regional drive-in movies made where they would load the prints in the trunk of their car, go to the theater, screen them, grab them off the projector, throw them back in the trunk and get the hell out of dodge before the crowd rioted on them. Most biker flicks always have this LA flavor to them with custom choppers, scenes at the beach, the music; everything is so California. The ones that don’t are some of my favorites, like Werewolves on Wheels and Northville Cemetery Massacre, which was shot in Michigan. Man, it has the authentic flavor of Michigan. A lot of people have compared this (Dear God No) to it, and I think that’s right on because those were rat bikes and rat guys doing the extreme thing. It didn’t have any good looking Peter Fonda or anything like that. Georgia didn’t have a biker movie. Texas does, Michigan does, Florida does, but we don’t. I think it’s about time we got one.


Come back tomorrow to read the second half of the interview, and be sure to check out the Official Dear God No! Website.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Heads Up! Cheap Horror Movie T-Shirts At Wal-Mart.

Just thought I'd share this with you guys. If you're anything like me, cheap horror swag is definitely something to pique your interest. Wal-mart usually has a couple of cool Halloween shirts mixed in with the cheesy "jack-o-lantern face" and "forget the candy, give me beer" crap. I've found some there over the years that I still wear often. So, while on a run for super glue, ice cream, syringes, a note pad, vitamin c tablets, and a hammer (don't ask) I decided to have a look at this year's selection and saw these...


Yeah, I know, those aren't the best pictures, but I was in a hurry. The shirts are pretty sweet though. The Freddy vs. Jason one is cool, but probably the weakest of the 3. I really dig that Friday the 13th one. The Nightmare on Elm Street one stopped me cold for a second. I knew I had seen that particular image of Freddy before, but I just couldn't put my finger on it. Then it hit me....


It's the title screen from the Nightmare on Elm Street Nintendo game, with the bus from part 2 thrown in for good measure. Awesome! Anyway, check your local store, as some Wal-marts have these and others don't. They're only $7.50 too, so grab them while you can. Just a friendly word of advice though, these shirts are by a different company than the one who produces their other shirts, and they run small as hell. Buy a size up from the size you normally wear. If I see more Halloween badassery lurking on the shelves of various stores, I'll let you know. Oh, and one last thing...

♫ 40 days 'til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween, 40 days 'til Halloween, Silver Shamrock. ♫

Monday, September 19, 2011

Review: Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2

When I left the theater after first seeing Saw 4, my thoughts were “I just saw some cool stuff, my bloodlust is satiated, but what the hell just happened?” This is exactly the same thought that went through my mind after watching Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2. I loved Laid to Rest, so I have been excited about this movie since it was announced. Chromeskull is still a cool character and the gore in this flick is excellent. The script, however, is, shall we say, lacking. It introduces elements that completely change the universe that the franchise takes place in, and then doesn’t explain a damn thing about them. As Joe Bob would say, there is WAY too much plot getting in the way of the story here.

The film opens in the convenience store moments after the first one ended. As Princess (no longer played by Bobbi Sue Luther unfortunately) and Tommy drive away, a black van pulls up to the store to retrieve Chromeskull’s body. Yeah, he seemed pretty friggin’ dead to me too, but apparently they can rebuild him. They have the technology. It seems unlikely that after the events of the first film he could be salvageable, but you really can’t take inexplicable villain resurrection to task in slasher sequels. I got two words for ya; Jason Voorhees. Anyway, at this point I was hooked in, as I couldn’t wait to find out who these mysterious people, led by none other than Brian Austin Green (hereafter referred to as BAG) were, why they had a stake in Chromeskull’s survival, and just exactly what C7 protocol was. Unfortunately, that would never happen. BAG then tracks down and kills Princess. No, that’s not a spoiler. Promo shots of her sliced up face are all over the place.

Then we fast-forward three months. Thomas, the raver kid who survived the first flick, is doing the whole “mentally shattered” thing. Chromeskull has been saved and is being nursed back to health by Spann, played by Danielle Harris. Preston (BAG) has taken charge of this organization’s mission, whatever the hell that is, in the big guy’s absence. The “mission” must continue though, so a new murder spree is planned, new weapons are made, and a new victim is chosen, seemingly at random. This time it’s Jess, played by Mimi Michaels. She has issues with her eyes, and is keeping a video diary as she gradually goes blind. She is abducted and taken to the warehouse that is now serving as Chromeskull’s headquarters. Can Tommy help the police find Allie in time? Will Preston cede the throne back to Chromeskull now that he’s back on his feet? What’s up with Danielle Harris’s eyebrow? Does any of this make the slightest bit of sense?

Let’s start off with the positives. The violence and gore is extremely strong. That’s really why we watch slasher flicks after all, isn’t it? With the exception of one kill near the end, which looks like crap, all of the effects seem to either have been done practically or with minimal CGI enhancement. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen the first one. Director Robert Hall is also an effects artist, so it’s fitting that the red stuff takes center stage in this one as well. Gorehounds, you will enjoy this.

Chromeskull, simply put, is a kick ass character. His “all black suit, shiny silver skull mask, shoulder mounted camera” look is unique and works perfectly. He’s a classy slasher. When you’re trying to create an enduring horror character, looking cool goes a long way. Plus, the sequel adds the extra element of his severely disfigured face, which looks sufficiently nasty. I also love that he has an iconic weapon. His knife is as much a part of the character as Freddy’s glove is for him. That knife is just plain vicious looking. The vast majority of the kills in this movie are knife based. The organization’s weapon makers have devised some new toys, but they are almost all variations of the original knife. I really want one of those.

The acting is a mixed bag. In the first film, the core group of victims that we followed were all likable characters. In this one, the good guys fall flat. Question: How could we possibly not get behind Jess, the poor nearly blind girl abducted and taken to Chromeskull’s wonderland of mutilation? Answer: Cast Mimi Michaels as said victim. It’s not that she’s necessarily bad, but she’s undeniably generic. Generic look, generic acting, generic scream, generic everything. Quite a step down from the talented (and oh my god sexy) Bobbi Sue Luther in the first one. Thomas Dekker as Tommy does his best “traumatized but still must fight to survive” act. Why, out of all the good characters in the first one, did the obnoxious raver kid have to be the one to survive? We spend a good chunk of the film’s running time with the detectives investigating Allie’s disappearance, and they are also pretty generic. The one exception is Angelina Armani as Holland. She does a good job. I can absolutely see her doing well on a cop show. She’s also a porn star doing her first mainstream movie role. I knew she was an, ahem, “talented on-screen performer,” but apparently she can act too.

The bad guys are the ones who shine here. Nick Principe as Chromeskull continues to be great. He brings a nice physicality to the role, and always seems like he’s enjoying his murderous work. BAG as Preston is also great. Yes, I did have to use that picture. It's just funnier that way. Anyone who has ever been middle management and thinks that they could do their bosses job much better than they do will identify with this character. ***SPOILER ALERT*** I think it was a big mistake to kill him off, as the “dueling Chromeskulls” idea could have played out nicely in the third movie, which they obviously set up for. I hope they’ve got something grand up their sleeves, ‘cause they threw away a compelling story there. ***END OF SPOILERS*** Danielle Harris is perfect as Spann. Her character, while not getting a lot of screen time, is a highlight of the film. We’re used to seeing Harris in victim roles, but watching her rocking that business suit as a villain was fun. I hope Spann figures prominently into any future sequels for this franchise. That’s one of those rare ideas in the slasher genre that hasn’t been done to death, a sidekick for the killer.

The organization itself was my big problem with this flick. It’s populated with interesting characters, but who the hell are they? I’m not a stickler for revealing everything about everyone’s backstory in a film. Hell, in the first LTR we didn’t get the whole story of what was going on. That was fine because the movie was structured to where we didn’t have to. If you are going to introduce a story element as important and convoluted as this, however, you have to at least explain some aspect of it. In this one, they were obviously going for “mysterious” but got “maddeningly vague.” We get no hints as to where they get the money to have all the high tech gadgets, maintain their swank headquarters, or fly in surgeons from Switzerland. Apparently their network is vast, well funded, and powerful. WHO THE HELL ARE THEY THOUGH? An even better question is what are they doing. They keep referring to “the mission” and “the plan”, but what grand scheme is being furthered by kidnapping and stalking these girls? What is their objective? It seems like the filmmakers just want to throw in as many elements at us as they can, and just say, “We’ll explain later.” I’m not OK with that! If your entire story is about an Illuminati type group, their internal power struggles, and their torment of a single victim, leaving every last detail about them out is not a good move. If you’re going to leave their motive in the dark, give me at least a little clue as to who they are. If their identity is secret, at least give me a vague explanation of their objective. As it stands in this movie, there are just far too many new concepts introduced without a shred of information to make them plausible. I get leaving the audience wondering, but the way it’s done here is more infuriating than intriguing. At the end of the credits, there is a scene that adds yet another element to Chromeskull’s story. It raises more questions than it answers too. Dammit!

Random Thought #1: It sucks that Bobbi Sue Luther wasn’t in this one. Allison Kyler looks enough like her that I was fooled at first. In fact, I was ecstatic that Bobbi finally did a nude scene. Then she screamed and I realized that it wasn’t her. Booooo.

Random Thought #2: It takes a true horror aficionado to be able to tell actresses apart by their scream. Just sayin’.

Random Thought #3: When the cops are outside of the warehouse talking over their entry plan, there are clearly 4 of them. Two seconds later they kick in the door, and five cops run in. Um, what?

Overall, Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2 has…hey, wait a minute! Hold on, I think I’ve got the whole thing figured out. So Chromeskull is the leader of this vast underground criminal organization. He conceals his identity behind a metallic faceplate. His cronies do all the setup work, and he gets the credit. I’ve got it! Chromeskull is Cobra Commander! It all makes sense now! Lets see, that would make Preston Destro and Spann the Baroness. Wait, no, Spann fawns over Chromeskull, not Preston, so I guess Preston would have to be Dr. Mindbender or some weird combination of Tomax & Xamot. Honestly Chromeskull Commander, stalking and killing young pretty girls isn’t going to help your plans for world domination one bit. Sorry. You’ve had much better schemes than that. I mean hell, Cold Slither was a better idea. You know, maybe I shouldn’t have gone off on that tangent, because now you all know what a geek I am. Oh well. Knowing is half the battle.

Anyway, as I was saying, Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2 has great violence, some good characters, a couple of good performances, and a great killer. You’d think that would be enough for me, right? Well, no. The story is just so muddled and unexplained that I found myself more frustrated than entertained at the end. In the first Laid to Rest, which is a modern classic in my book, it really didn’t matter that the story didn’t make a lot of sense, because the emphasis was on the “stalk and slash” aspects. The sequel, while still providing that visceral thrill, beats you over the head repeatedly with what you don’t know. It’s like when a TV show introduces a world changing plot point two minutes before the end of the season and leaves you with that unsatisfied “Really? THAT’S how you’re leaving it?” feeling. Movies can leave loose strings for the next one, but they should still work as a self-contained story too. That being said, I must have fallen for it, because of course I will be watching Laid to Rest 3. You might want to wait until the next one comes out and watch them back to back so it makes more sense. That is assuming the next one isn’t headache inducingly inconclusive too. One severed thumb up. Nathan says check it out. It will be available tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review: Dear God No!

A couple of weeks ago, in my review of the killer flick Dead Hooker in a Trunk, I talked about how the thing missing from a lot of the “grindhouse/drive-in/exploitation” throwbacks coming out lately is authenticity. I’m talking about authenticity in look and spirit. I’m talking about movies that understand that those flicks are about more than digitally added grain. Hobo With a Shotgun came close, but it still looked too much like a throwback instead of the genuine article. Dead Hooker in a Trunk didn’t go for the vintage look, but it had the spirit nailed down. Well folks, over the weekend I attended the world premiere of a flick that successfully captures both. It has the look. In fact, it was shot on film with vintage cameras. Does it have the feel? Well, when you see a biker step over an empty PBR box to kick a dead nun into the bushes within the first two minutes, I’d say it’s safe to say that you’re in for a wild ride. You want grindhouse/drive-in authenticity? I’ve got your authenticity right here. The film I speak of is director James Bickert’s bikers vs. Bigfoot opus Dear God, No!

The premiere was a blast. In a bit of William Castle style showmanship, actors from the film were handing out authentic locks of Bigfoot’s hair, skull rings (“…perfect for impressing the scooter trash at your next outlaw biker meet or gang rape”), and these certificates…

Click on the pic so you can read it. It's worth it. Then, as we walked in, something in the theater caught fire and they were handing out posters and apologizing for the smoke. Now that’s how you kick off a premiere! By the way, that poster, featuring art by Hobo with a Shotgun poster artist Tom Hodge, is bad ass. The crowd was raucous and ready to go. Only in a crowd like this will a proud papa stand up, point, and yell “That’s my boy, the fruit of my loins” while said child pisses himself onscreen. These are my kinda people.

Dear God No follows The Impalers, a violent, bloodthirsty, rape and murder crazed outlaw biker gang, or as they are described in the trailer “the 1% of the 1%ers.” Following a shootout at a strip club (where the dancers wear Nixon masks) resulting in one of their own taking a bullet, they decide that it’s time to lay low for a while. After encountering a local couple at a gas station, they track them to the cabin of Dr. Marco, a scientist who is researching Bigfoot. As the Impalers terrorize Dr. Marco, his daughter, and his two guests, the horrifying secret of what lurks in the woods, and what’s locked in the basement, threatens to destroy them all. Madness and mayhem ensues.

First off, the film looks great. I can actually call this one a film in the true sense of the word too as it was shot in 16mm. This is why it looks so much like the 70’s drive-in classics it pays homage to. Other films can shoot digitally and add grain, lines, and fake film defects, but nothing actually looks like film but film. Period. End of story. I have always been a big proponent of the idea that analog always looks much better than digital. There are those who swear that music always sounds best on vinyl. I feel the same way about movies. Film has a warmth, a texture, and a look that digital just can’t replicate. The problem is, it’s much more convenient and a whole hell of a lot cheaper to shoot digitally. It’s just not cost effective for most low budget films to be shot on film. I got different estimates of the film’s actual budget from the director and one of the stars/special effects guys, and was sworn to secrecy by both, but either way, the fact that they got this movie shot on the budget they had is mindblowing. What this low budget, on-film shooting led to was not just a return to the shooting medium of those 70’s classics, but the shooting method as well. What I heard from almost everyone involved was that almost everything was shot only once. One take and move on. This is the way those classic drive-in and grindhouse flicks were shot. The film has a great, unpolished honesty that could only come from shooting the movie cheap and fast, just like in the good old days. It also has some great, unique shots that it would have taken other productions untold takes and ridiculous amounts of time to pull off.

As far as the actual content, it definitely has the “anything goes” philosophy of the Russ Meyer, Herschel Gordon Lewis, Al Adamson, Roger Corman era. Watch for a great Corman reference in the film by the way. Bickert described his film as “imagine early John Waters directing a movie for AIP.” I will say that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie from the original drive-in era that went quite this far. I’ll try not to give anything away, but we get the repeated crotch kicking of a dead nun, multiple decapitations, lesbian incest rape, Nazis, tampon shots, children being murdered, coke-line swastikas, and anything else you can imagine. If you are at all squeamish or offendable, just say Dear God No to this one. If depraved weirdness and blood-soaked mayhem is your thing, prepare to experience cinematic nirvana. It also features more of that other beloved 70’s hallmark, gratuitous nudity, than I’ve seen in any movie in years. Yes, that includes Piranha 3d. 31 breasts in all. Kinda makes you proud to be an American, don’t it. The abundant gore is all done practically and it all looks great. It is so refreshing to see old school squibs in the shootout scene instead of the CGI blood splatter that’s so prevalent in recent horror flicks. The soundtrack is excellent, sounding like something that could have easily been released in 1976. They went all out making sure every last detail was period accurate.

While this is a flick that will appeal to the horror crowd, it’s not strictly a horror flick. It’s a biker flick with horror elements, like Werewolves on Wheels or Northville Cemetery Massacre. It starts off like a marauding biker flick. Then they invade the cabin and terrorize the inhabitants. At this point it reminded me of a flick called Fight for your Life, only without the racial overtones. Maybe a better-known example would be House on the Edge of the Park with five David Hesses. Anyway, it then shifts into a combination of monster movie, splatter flick, and acid trip cinema. It is a mashup of many different exploitation subgenres, and they all blend together into a potent and insanely enjoyable cocktail. The film has a wicked sense of humor throughout, but about halfway there is a seismic shift in tone. The rape scene that occurs is intense. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll just say that there are some complex juxtapositions going on and just when you think they can’t go any farther, they do. Then it’s right back to the tone of the first half, which is great. It makes that one scene stand out. Serious kudos are due to the actresses in this sequence. What’s impressive though, is that the movie, despite its excesses, works on different levels. It actually does have a heart. They may be buried under a lot of blood and guts, but if you pay attention there are some emotional concepts at play.

I really only have one issue with the flick. During the opening credits sequence of the Impalers riding, they continually play to the camera; looking into it, yelling at it, flipping it off, and making faces directly into the lens. None of the characters was supposed to “be” the camera. I don’t get what the point of breaking the fourth wall like that at the beginning of the film if you’re not going to call back to it later. It just didn’t make sense to me. If that is the only thing a nitpicker like me can complain about in your flick, you’ve certainly done something right.

At the after party, James Bickert told me a great story. There’s a scene in the film involving an exploding van at a drive in. After being told not to include flour in the charge, the man in charge of the stunt did just that. The result was an explosion that was much larger than expected that nearly set the entire drive-in (Starlight Six in Atlanta) on fire. While everyone was freaking out and trying to put the fire out, he saw all of the burning kudzu and decided to take the opportunity to shoot some footage of an actor walking in front of the flames that ended up being used in the film. If that’s not the epitome of DIY, guerrilla, “fly by the seat of your pants” filmmaking, I don’t know what is.

Dear God No is violent, bloody, sleazy, offensive, and in incredibly bad taste…and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s a breakneck ride to hell and back that’s got cult classic written all over it. Plus, it’s a homegrown Georgia production with Atlanta talent, and I’m all about that. The filmmakers expect it to be available on DVD in early 2012. Until then it’s on the festival circuit. Be sure to check out their website HERE to find out when it’s going to be playing near you. Those of you who miss down and dirty, pull no punches, sick fun flicks; rejoice, they’re back! This one comes with my highest possible recommendation. Is there any way in hell you should miss this flick? Dear God No! Two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review: Red State

When I first heard that Kevin Smith was going to be writing and directing a horror movie, I was expecting something satirical. Something along the lines of a slasher flick by way of Mallrats. Then, when I heard the premise, I was expecting a “teens in peril/backwoods cult” type of flick. The last thing I expected, however, was Red State. I wouldn’t even really call this a horror movie. It has the setup of a horror movie, but then it abruptly changes into something completely different. Smith didn’t go for traditional scares so much as he took two evils that exist in the world today, set them against each other, and let the fact that these people really exist do the scaring for him.

The story is pretty simple. Three teenage boys (one of whom is sporting the greatest rat tail in history) take to the internet to find some booty. They arrange to meet up for a foursome with a woman in a nearby small town. When they get there, they discover that it’s a trap and fall into the clutches of a fanatical Christian cult. Let that be a lesson to you, all those pop up ads screaming “Horny women in your area want to hook up with you TONIGHT” really are too good to be true. Anyway, the cult then comes to the attention of the government’s anti-terrorism task force, and all hell breaks loose.

The first thing that is immediately noticeable is that this looks nothing like a Kevin Smith movie. Because his comedies are so dialog driven, he rarely employs much camera movement. Most of the time he just aims the camera at the actors and lets the interplay speak for itself. This movie, however, is shot beautifully. It was completely shot handheld, which would seem to lend itself to a lot of irritating shaky cam, but it only does in a couple of sequences. The rest of the time it adds a fluidity and intimacy to the proceedings. It reminded me a little bit of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre in that it almost had a documentary, cinema verite’, “you are in the middle of the action” feel. Directors and cinematographers of the world take note, handheld and “realistic” doesn’t have to equal “make the audience seasick.” Smith has also come a long way in the action scene department. I will admit that I haven’t seen Cop Out, so I’m not sure how well directed the action sequences were directed in that one. In Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the action scenes definitely were sub par. In this film, however, they are handled beautifully.

One of the criticisms that Smith’s movies have always drawn is that the acting seems like his buddies just delivering his great dialog instead of actually giving thoughtful performances. While I think that’s an overreaching generalization, there is a nugget of truth to that. In Red State, on the other hand, the acting is phenomenal. Michael Parks as Abin Cooper, the leader of the Five Points Baptist Church, is magnificent. Personally, I think this performance might be worthy of an Oscar nomination. Of course, Smith has pissed off the Hollywood establishment way too much for that to happen, but Parks really is that good. He combines magnetic charm with cold malice in a way that’s just plain chilling. He doesn’t go for the manic evil presence some actors would have brought to the role. Instead, he plays it as understated and subtle. John Goodman reminds us just what a good actor he is as Agent Hammond. Seriously, he hasn’t been this good in years. He gives the character such a world-weary humanity that even when he makes a decision that would place him firmly in “bad guy” territory, we can’t help feeling for him. Foregoing the swagger that government agents are usually portrayed with was a good move.

These two masterful performances drive the film, but what anchors it is the supporting cast. Melissa Leo goes just over the top enough as the most devout and fanatical of the church members. Kerry Bishe as Cheyenne, a cult member who cares more about getting the children out alive than shooting it out with the feds, is very effective. We get a cameo by the always-welcome Kevin Pollack as a federal agent. Even the three boys/victims do a good job. In fact, there really isn’t a weak link. Of special note, at least as far as I’m concerned, is the presence of Ralph Garman as Caleb. Most of you probably know Garman either from his extensive voice work on Family Guy or as the host of The Joe Schmo Show, but I know him best as the pirate radio DJ in one of the towering achievements of cinematic history…SHARKTOPUS!

It feels strange saying this considering who it is, but I was really surprised at how well written this film was. I’m a big fan of Kevin Smith’s comedies, but I had my doubts about how well he could do with serious material. I expected it to be heavy on the “Smithesque” jokes and references. It absolutely wasn’t. In fact, there are only a couple of times throughout the flick that you can tell he wrote it. Jason Mewes as Jay could have delivered some of the sexual dialog between the boys at the beginning just as easily. At the end, there is a throwaway line about “coke can c**cks” that seems like Smith reminding you that it is his flick after all. These small touches bookend a story in which Smith shows maturity as a screenwriter that is impressive. Sure it gets wordy at times. For example, at one point Cooper (has there ever been a horror movie character named Cooper that wasn’t a complete prick?) gives a sermon that basically amounts to a twelve minute long monolog. This would have stopped a lot of movies dead in their tracks. Not here! This scene is riveting and horrifying. You find yourself as glued to every word he says as you are sickened by his rhetoric. It’s obvious that Smith came from a religious background, because only someone who knows how horrifying the wrong person wielding the power of spiritual leadership can be could have written that role so effectively. At other times though, characters will have so much dialog in the middle of an action sequence that it betrays the realism of the situation a little. Yes, Tarantino does do the same thing, but his films are more ultra-stylized, so plausibility really doesn’t mean anything in his flicks. Here, it’s a minor issue, but an issue nonetheless.

As I said, the film is more thriller than horror, but that’s a good thing. I’m not so sure Smith could have done “scares,” but he puts together some extremely taught, suspenseful moments. At one point near the end, something happens that is completely unexpected, and Smith lets it continue long enough before the explanation that you start to wonder if he’s really going “that” direction with the ending. Yeah, that’s pretty vague, but I’m not spoiling that moment. It’s too good. Well played, sir.

Smith, never the one to be subtle with his politics, surprisingly keeps the film non-preachy for the most part. His portrayal of both the government and religious fundamentalism speak to the evils of both. The church is a thinly veiled doppelganger of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, and the way the “Patriot Act” era government handles the situation is frighteningly and infuriatingly plausible. The message threatens to overrun the movie at times, but unlike Machete for example, it never steps over the line into propagandizing. I think Smith toed that line very skillfully. The final shot and final line, which are hilarious, have led some to say that it renders the previous tension and terrifying portrayals ineffective. I disagree. I like that Smith ends it by saying “yes, these characters, who do exist in real life, are frightening, but they’re ridiculous too.”

I have a feeling that this film will prove as divisive among fans as it has among critics. There are things about this movie, such as the heavy dialog, the parting shot, and Smith playing fast and loose with the conventions of multiple genres, that will rub some audiences the wrong way. I, however, thought it was great. If you go in expecting a straight horror flick, you’ll be a little disappointed. If you want a gritty, disturbing, grippingly dramatic portrayal of the dark side of human nature that mirrors things actually happening all around us, you’ll dig it. The film shows a lot of growth as a filmmaker from Smith, and that’s coming from someone for whom Clerks was a life changing experience. It’s a shame that he says he’s only going to make one more movie. Actually, everyone who believes that for even a second please raise your hand. I’m waiting. Yeah, I don’t buy it either. Two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.

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