Monday, January 16, 2012

Review: Hack Job

In my early 20’s, I spent a lot of time, probably an unhealthy amount truth be told, in a place I like to call The Video Fringe. I got that term from a book called Video Trash & Treasures by L.A. Morse. That book changed my life. Anyway, The Video Fringe is a place on the far reaches of the cinematic world where Hollywood, and even respectable indie flicks, fear to tread. It’s where the cheap, obscure, home-made, self distributed, idiotic, bizarre, off beat, off the wall, deviant, eccentric and unnaturally entertaining flicks live. During my first three years of college, I worked at a chain video store, but I lived within driving distance of three independent stores. These were the kind of places that were far more concerned with their shelves being full than what they were full of, so they stocked anything and everything. Films that will never see a DVD release, films that were sold to the store by the filmmakers themselves, movies as far removed as possible from the mainstream, and films that blew my mind all resided in those dusty aisles. I would leave these stores, sometimes with 5 videos, sometimes with 10, sit in my dorm room, bong in hand, and slum it in The Video Fringe. I was like a drug addict shooting and snorting everything he can find in search of a new high. I was like a sex addict trolling progressively sleazier clubs in search of dirtier and more depraved action. These movies were terrible more often than not, but this was true independent cinema, and I loved it. Every time a movie made no sense, had bad effects and lighting, made me laugh at its stupidity, or was just plain freakin’ weird, I was a happy man. While I don’t know the guy, I would be willing to bet that James Balsamo, writer and director of Hack Job, has spent quite a bit of time slogging through The Video Fringe also. How do I know? I know because only another fringe flick junkie could make a flick that emulates that style so perfectly.

In Hack Job, Beelzebub himself gives a script to two wannabe film directors named James Argento and Mike Fulci (get it?). It contains a trilogy of stories. In the first, Nazi archeologists disturb a mummy’s tomb, awakening an ancient curse. In the second, an alien invades a small town, leading to a showdown at the Battle of the Bands. In the final story a man is…um…I’m not entirely sure what’s going on in the last part, but it has something to do with a guy who has blackouts going on a mission to kill a drug dealing televangelist. To tell you the truth, the synopsis really isn’t important. There is a framing device about the boys trying to get the film made, but the move is more like a series of skits with the 3 main stories being the longest. In addition to the stories and framing scenes, we get concert footage, fake commercials, real commercials, a cop show spoof starring Toxie and Kabukiman, a random shower scene, sock puppets, psychedelic interludes, and all kinds of other randomness. It reminded me a bit of movies like Amazon Women on the Moon or Kentucky Fried Movie that may have a loose narrative, but are really a series of barely related comedy vignettes.

Simply stated, this flick is a hell of a lot of fun. I’ve seen other reviews go on and on about how bad the movie is. They apparently missed the point. Of course it’s bad. It’s supposed to be. Traditional “quality filmmaking” isn’t the point here! It’s called Hack Job. Hello? The whole film is basically a love letter to Troma. Need proof? Lloyd Kaufman plays himself and Troma stalwart Debbie Rochon has a cameo. Need further proof? Appropriately, the scene with Kaufman, which takes place in the Troma offices by the way, quickly devolves into a long shit joke. See, the dude knows his Troma. In addition to Uncle Lloyd and the always beautiful Miss Rochon, Dave Brockie and Lynn Lowry add to the impressive cameo list. When Oderus Urungus from GWAR shows up to fight off a giant alien, you know things are about to get both awesome and ridiculous. If you’ve ever seen GWAR live, you’ll understand the ironic humor of the role reversal at the end of the scene.

Hack Job has everything you could ask for in a low budget cheese and sleaze fest B movie. The acting achieves the cornball quality that it aspires to. The humor ranges from the truly funny to the downright silly. The gore effects are all practical, and they’re all done pretty well. Some of the deaths are pretty creative. I mean, have you ever seen vertebrae torn out through an eye socket? Didn’t think so. We are also treated to lots of gratuitous nudity. The proceedings never go on for very long without showing us some boobs, which is always a good thing. So we have juvenile humor, blood, tits, monsters, a wacky all-over-the place story, and cameos from B movie icons. In other words, Hack Job is a movie that truly knows its audience.

The other aspect of this flick that I loved was the music. What a soundtrack! The Bloodsucking Zombies From Outer Space, one of my personal favorite bands, contributes an original theme song. That in and of itself is enough to win my horror punk heart. In addition, The Creepshow (another personal favorite), Calabrese, The Brains, The Koffin Kats, Psychocharger, and plenty of others contribute songs. I’m used to being the only person who has heard of some of these bands, so hearing them in a movie was cool. This is probably the best horror movie soundtrack (not score, soundtrack) since Demon Knight.

I do have two issues with this flick. The first is the unevenness of the audio mix. There are times when you can barely hear what’s being said, then it will return to normal just about the time you crank the volume. It appears that a few different camera types were used throughout the film, so that might have something to do with it, but a little more tweaking of the audio levels would have been nice. Considering that the flick was made very cheaply (60 grand according to imdb), I can forgive some technical issues.

My other issue, however, is unforgivable. I cannot turn a blind eye to it, no matter how much I liked the movie. As many of you know, I am a bit of a Grammar Nazi. True, I don’t always use the best grammar on the blog, but that’s because I want the blog to read the way I speak. The misuse of homophones, however, is my favorite pet peeve. You know, like the difference between their/there/and they’re. That kind of stuff. During the credits, there is a “follow the bouncing skull” sing along. The line “If your a gore geek, then you should take a peek” scrolls across the screen. Yes, it’s spelled YOUR in the movie. YOU’RE is the correct word. They used the wrong f’n you’re in a finished, commercially available movie! My head nearly exploded. For the love of all things unholy, get someone to proofread your text before you put the movie out! We all learned the difference between your and you’re in second damn grade! Why do people do this to me? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh! Ok, breathe Nathan, breathe…ok, I’m cool now.

RANDOM THOUGHT: Hack Job drinking game: drink every time an actor or actress momentarily can’t maintain a straight face and looks like they’re about to burst out laughing.

RANDOM THOUGHT 2: How could you not love a flick that uses a brutal Balls Mahoney chairshot in its promotional videos? Danny Danger, you are either an idiot or a braver man than I. Probably both.

I’ve said many times that the two things an independent horror filmmaker has to have to make a successful movie are a passion for the film they’re making and love of the genre. It’s obvious that the makers of Hack Job have both. In truth, aside from the celebrity cameos, there’s not a whole lot here that you couldn’t do yourself with some of your horror geek friends. I love that aspect of low budget DIY filmmaking. You COULD, I COULD, but few ever DO. James Balsamo and crew DID and I, for one, am damn glad they did. Hack Job is not for everyone. Some people need big budget gloss to enjoy a flick. If you're one of those horror fans, Hack Job doesn't give half-a-damn what you think of it. It wasn't made for you. If you have a taste for cheese and a movie that celebrates “Video Fringe” flicks by capturing their essence sounds good to you, then you’ll dig it as much as I did. One and a half severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.


Kev D. said...

College was all about the Video Fringe for me and my roommates, and Troma took up a lot of our time, for better or for worse.

I can fully relate to the pet peeve of 'your' vs. 'you're'... that would piss me off to see that on screen. I think i hate 'to' instead of 'too' the most.

We may both be grammar Nazis... but do you know who rules the beaches?

Surf Nazis.

WYLL A MINA said...

Grammar Nazi strikes again :) Seriously, dude, you should be an editor ;)

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