Thursday, March 29, 2012

DVD Review: Clown Hunt

Text © Richard Gary/Indie Horror Films, 2012
Images from the Internet

Clown Hunt
Written, produced and directed by Barry Tubb
Seminal Films, 2010 / 2012
70 minutes, USD $19.95

Q: Why don’t people eat clowns?
A: They taste funny.

Actors become directors for a number a reasons. Generally speaking, and not discussing level of talent, the A-list actors have a creative need and/or can find the money because of who they are and they’ve also been paid outrageous fees for their services (e.g., George Clooney, Madonna). This becomes vanity projects for many to various levels of artistic success. For the B-list actors, it’s can be hard to have a career, so why not direct your own films as a showcase, as well as something to do while waiting for a paid part to come in. For the C- and D-list, well, most likely the only way they can find a part is DIY.

Barry Tubb as Wolfman

Barry Tubb falls directly into the B-list category. He’s been a semi-regular on a number of television fare, such as Friday Night Lights, Hill Street Blues, the Lonesome Dove franchise, and in the excellent Temple Grandin; he has been in a number of high-profile films, including Mask, The Legend of Billie Jean, and Top Gun (as Wolfman). But rather than being up where he belongs, his somewhat stalled career has led him back to his own state of Texas, and directing (as well as appearing in) his own film. This one is recorded in Tubb’s home town of Snyder, ‘bout a hundred miles southeast of Lubbock.

And what better way to get some directing steam off than with a horror comedy, such as this one? The thing about this sub-genre is it leaves lots of room for both social satire and broad comedy, and this particular release has plenty of both. In fact, it seems like it can’t make up its mind which one it should be, but to tell the truth, when you’re talking about something like clown-hunting safaris, that’s okay.

The premise is simple: a group of guys (and a cute gal who mumbles an awful lot) get together and go huntin’ for clowns in Texas. Apparently, they run in the wild, and one can obtain a license to hunt them (happy clowns only in the first week, then sad clowns after that). Of course, the real question is who is the real clown, those in make-up or these buffoons?

When the humor is at its broadest, the silliness comes out, such as having the television station reporting on the expedition be KLWN, or the hunt taking place at the Chuckle Ranch. The clowns, however, live in (as the sign states) “Giggletown, USA.” Sometimes, there are actual jokes, such as the one at the start of the review (which is said twice), or someone asking what were Elvis’ last words, being “Corn? I don’t remember corn.” But sometimes it’s quite witty, such as a bumper sticker that reads “Got Clown?” or the clowns pooping jelly beans. One of my favorites (and also repeated more than once) is the mention of the clown hunting magazine, Big Shoes Big Guns.

As for the social commentary, well, sometimes I wasn’t sure if it was making fun of things like the huntin’ mindset (as stand-up comic Eddie Strange once pointed out, is different than “hunting”), racism (“they don’t want to be called clowns anymore, they want to be called Comical-Americans”; or one of the characters being a “closet clown”), Texan fear of socialism (mocking of the Austin Communist Nation newspaper, where out of context one of the hunters shoots the movie critic, surely a personal wink-wink of Tubb’s), or social activism (protestors have signs like “Hunt Clouds Not Clowns” and “Save the Sillies”). For the latter, I was expecting some kind of PETA-style acronym, like “Clean Land of Wandering Ninnies.”

A sort of subtle possible nod at that huntin’ mentality, at least for me, is when the hunters shoot up an outhouse. I’m not sure if this is a regular southern thing, being the Yank that I am, but I do remember driving along Skyline Drive, in the mountains of western Virginia, and nervously seeing the door of a woman’s outhouse at a rest stop full of buckshot.

Another inconsistency is the clowns themselves. Sometimes they are seen as freewheelin’ and carefree (and apparently horny), and at other times conniving and intelligent, such as the mastermind Albino Willie (any reference to Texas’ own Winter brothers?; Willie, who is played by Trick Kelly, also acts as the lead sad clown). Apparently, none of them can talk and most just wander around like the humans in the first Planet of the Apes (it would not surprise me if that was the reference).

While there are lots of shootings in the film, there is very little blood or gore. Most of the hits are in the distance, but if someone is shot in the head, for example, there’s just a smudge at the entry site. In this frame of reference, this is a comedy rather than a Texas Chainsaw Massacre… come to think of it, that film was actually not very bloody either, if you look at it again, but was certainly a lot more gruesome than this one. Also, there is no real nudity to talk of, despite the three sex scenes, including the rape of a hunter by Albino Willie, played for laughs. Another moment is the less-than-subtle homo-erotic skivvy-donned male hunters who mud wrestle.

Despite all the groaners, this is a fun distraction that can appeal on a number of levels. Of course, if you have Coulrophobia (the fear of clowns) there are also two ways this can be taken: either it will be a joy to see clowns being killed, or, well, there are many, many clowns!. You’ll have to let me know which side of the coin you fall on in this situation.

The acting level is pretty good for an indie film, including a cameo by fellow one-time Patrick Swayze look-alike, B-to-C-actor David Keith. There’s definitely some scenery chewing, but nothing on a John Lithgow sit-com ac-ting level.

There are only two things that actually annoyed me about the film. First, and the least of the two, is the really bad rap song, “Killin Clowns” by Lil Endnz, which is played during the credits. Even for a rap song, it’s pretty awful. One would think that since we’re dealing with some good-ole-boys, there would be a bad country tune instead. The second is the very end shot, which makes no sense to me. Perhaps it is a reference to freedom? Freedom lost? I’m not sure, but I’m not going to go into detail and ruin it. ‘Nuff said.

The only extra is a “Slideshow” of behind-the-scenes stills from the filming. A commentary track by Tubb to explain his motivation of how to look at the social context would have been appreciated, or even including the trailer.

Still, this was a nice job. Not Clooney or Eastwood level, but a fun project nonetheless, surpassing other comedy horror films I’ve seen lately, such as ThanksKilling. An enjoyable diversion on a rainy weekend afternoon that is worth a giggle.

Bonus Video (A film by Trick Kelly, who also plays this character in Clown Hunt, as well as the lead anti-hero, Albino Willie):

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

DVD Review: House of Flesh Mannequins: The Director’s Cut

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2012
Images from the Internet

House of Flesh Mannequins: The Director’s Cut
Directed by Domiziano Cristopharo
Elite Entertainment, 2009 / 2012
96 minutes, USD $19.95

During the 1980s, there used to be a term for films like this, often associated with the likes of Richard Kern and Nick Zedd (who coined the phrase): Cinema of Transgression [Here]. While this particular one may be on the borders of that idiom, as it usually refers to pictures made in New York on cheap cameras, the philosophy is similar: push the envelope way past the point of the mainstream until it becomes its own object of synergy.

Filmed in Los Angeles with a mostly American actors and a crew from Italy, House of Flesh Mannequins dances between reality and the mind, sometimes mixing them both, and not always coherently, but never failing to be interesting.

The basic plotline of this supposedly true story (though no information to that effect appears on search engines) is that 30-something Sebastian Rhys (Domiziano Arcangeli) is a freelance photographer who had survived a twisted childhood thanks to a scientist father who used him as an experiment in sleep deprivation. Now he films bloody accidents and snuff films for an underground audience. Still living in the family building that has since been turned into apartments, Sarah Roeg (the incredibly lovely Irena Hoffman) and her father (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) move into one of the flats. Sarah, way too young for Sebastian (we are introduced to her at her 18th birthday party), pushes herself on him, not knowing toward what his life is directed, but you know she’s bound to find out by the conclusion.

Meanwhile, Sebastian casually slips in and out of reality while watching violent images (that he has filmed) and of home films of his own childhood tortures (recorded by his father), most often while listening to Italian operas, such as Paligacci. A segment of the film is a(n obvious) extended dream sequence where he walks through the titular House of Flesh Mannequins, in a peep-show theater, where people are viewed in various forms of disfigurement (one leg, dwarfism, etc.) or in the process of being mutilated.

Right on the DVD box, it states clearly, “Warning: This film contains scenes of an explicit sexual nature, torture and gore.” Yes, it does. Mind you, this is not the first “straight” film to have full explicit sex in them (e.g., Tinto Brass and Bob Guccione’s 1979 Caligula, Vincent Gallo’s 2003 Brown Bunny and John Cameron Mitchell‘s 2006 Shortbus), in this case including intercourse, oral, masturbation and even a money shot, but they are all very quick takes and highly (and intentionally) unerotic, though somewhat unnecessary, other than to add to the transgression I mentioned earlier (note that none of the main actors in the story are involved directly in these actions).

The film achieves its goal in that’s it is extremely disturbing. I’m not saying it all makes sense, and first-time director Domiziano Cristopharo tries a bit too hard to be a giallo leaning towards Dargento-meets-Fulchi (more to the former than the latter in style, though in the proto Four Flies on Grey Velvet period, around 1971). In this fashion, the film actually moves at a slow pace, with close-ups, quiet conversations, extreme gore, weird angles, and a series of quick cut bits (usually the more transgressive moments, such as the snuff films) mixed into long scenes with minimal edits. Take out the oddities, and this could be a BBC-snail pace piece, but please keep in mind that it is never, ever, dull, despite it’s usually minimalist shots.

Domiziano Arcangeli
Much of the acting also fits into the low-key giallo framework as well. As you can see by the trailer (below), Arcangeli goes from expressionless (in most scenes) to extreme emotion, especially after he cuts off his beard in the last act. Archangeli, as with many of the actors in this film, have quite the resume, including many in the horror genre, such as Orgy of Blood, Waiting for Dracula, Silent Night Zombie Night and Werewolf in a Women’s Prison; he was also in one of my fave recent indie movies, the western The Scarlet Worm [HERE]. Before 2000, he appeared in numerous cinemas Italiano.

Giovanni Lombardo Radice
Likewise, Radice (aka John Morghen), whose character smokes while having a tracheal stent in his throat, manages to be very menacing, even while being monotone and demonstrating restraint in movement (one of the reasons he won best actor in the 2009 E Tempo di Cultura festival in Rome). His resume includes many classic period Italian horror films, such as City of the Living Dead and Cannibal Ferrox, and was also in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. Despite his slim build, he looks like he could easily tear you even more than a second one).

Irena A. Hoffman
Hoffman, looking much taller than her 5’9” frame (probably thanks in part to her co-star’s height, or lack thereof) goes between lighthearted to concerned until the end when thing become clear to her. She actually seems the most comfortable in her role in the film, and appears the least to be ac-ting. She’s been in a few indie films, ranging from the acclaimed Moonlight Sonata to the comedic Transylmania, and even made an appearance on Two and a Half Men.

Many of the other actors, however, do some pretty terrible line readings, such as Hollywood legendary memorabilia collector Randal Malone, or Iggy Pop-looking Murrugun the Mystic, though their characters are more peripheral, albeit pivotal.

While being hard to watch in its extremity, the film is also quite beautifully shot, with minimalist sets, bright colors, primary hued lighting, and a sharp sense of contrasts (both color and black & white, and shadows. Oh, and wetness, lots of various types of wetness. It doesn’t surprise me that it’s won a bunch of awards, such as the 2010 Independent Spirit Award at the A Night of Horror International Film Festival (held near Sydney, Australia).

Director Domiziano Cristopharo
This is the Director’s Cut, but not having seen the earlier incarnation, I have to go by this one. A bit different than a number of other films that glorify the hardcore of different types, such as Hostel (2005) or A Serbian Film (2010), there is an artistic bent that goes beyond what is happening in the story, bringing it into the giallo subgenre similar to the ‘70s, but with present sensibilities.

There are a few extras worth noting. One is called “It’s Just Flesh,” which shows some of the F/X prosthetic designs and applications. There are a bunch of intermingling “Interviews” that is quite enjoyable, but I would have liked it better if there was some captions telling who was whom in the crew. The “Behind the Scenes” piece was decent, but nothing earth-shattering. First up, though, are the complete five snuff films that the Sebastian character watches / taped. They are interesting works, but quite honestly, I couldn’t watch the last one, which appears to be a real video of extreme S/M, including someone hanging by their flesh from hooks in their back, a practice that does not interest me at all. When they pulled out an electric drill, I turned it off. For myself, I don’t mind if it’s realistic, but I am bothered by the real.

Is House of Flesh Mannequins a bit pretentious? Yes. Gratuitously violent? Yes. Pornographic? Yes. Powerful? Yes. Interesting? Yes. Definitely art house material and certainly not for the squeamish, but if you have a high tolerance for the winceful, you may be surprised by its beauty, as well.

Friday, March 9, 2012

DVD Reviews: Three films by indie director Sean Weathers

Text © Richard Gary/Indie Horror Films, 2012
Images from the Internet

Guyana-born / Brooklyn-raised Sean Weathers is one of the rare low-budget, indie African-American directors. And even more unusual is his output of different genres of horror, including ghost stories and Italian giallo. In the films represented here, Sean covers Blaxploitation, Violent Revenge, Gangs, Sexploitation, and Tropical Island Prison Camp sub-types. Yes, these are all real, though rarely seen in major studio releases. Those below are reviewed in order of date of filming. Perhaps a future one will be Philippines horror, common in the early ‘70s, the kind usually staring John Ashley (RIP, 1997)?

They All Must Die
Directed by Sean Weathers
Black Sun Productions, 1998 / 2011
85 minutes, USD $14.95

Generally, there are two subgenres in the rape  revenge genus, one being the revenge by others, e.g., The Virgin Spring (1960) and its updated remake The Last House on the Left (1972), and the other where it’s the victim enacts vengeance, such as Sweden’s Thriller: En Grym Film (1974), Demented (1980, co-starring Harry Reams!) and Day of the Woman, more commonly known as I Spit on Your Grave (1978). Along the way in this subset, you just know it’s likely one of the perpetrators may have his junk removed.

Note that there are no credits before or after They All Must Die!, so there is no mention given to any of the cast or crew. There are also no extras on the disk.

Borrowing liberally from I Spit…, the story places a white writer named Wendy out of her element, this time in the heart of rough, tough Bed-Sty (where the film is shot), rather than in some remote hamlet. I worked in the neighborhood for a few months in 1980, nearly 20 years before this film was made, and it was no picnic; it is quite a bit more gentrified now, which is good or bad, depending on how you look at it.

The other characters are a fan-obsessed landlord, who does a Fraiser (from the Cheers years) by kicking out his mate, the only other female in the film (which is more of an extended cameo) in mere hope of striking up a relationship with Wendy, in a case of reverse jungle fever. The others are three kinda stereotypical and cliché smalltime gangsta-wannabes (hanging out and selling drugs, which they mostly consume themselves, apparently) who hang out across the street from the Brownstone where she is staying. They are all definitely not in danger of being confused with rocket scientists. Here is a typical piece of their dialog: “Get some motherfuckin’ water and splash it on her motherfuckin’ face, man” (shades of Snakes on a Plane!).

As for Wendy, well, she’s no prize either. Ignoring the fact that this Midwest white girl looks Latina and has a thick New York accent a la Jennifer Esposito, she has a personality that is grating and more than a bit better-than-thou. In other words, a nasty piece of work, herself. For someone who is supposedly writing a book on the Black male experience, she certainly doesn’t seem to have any interest in co-mingling with her topic. She is constantly insulting, putting people down, using racial epitaphs, and being unfriendly to everyone she meets.

Because of this, she angers those around her, and things get out of hand. Okay, I have to be clear, at no point am I even implying that she “gets what she deserves.” No one does who is physically abused. And it’s pretty obvious from the beginning that the dumb druggy trio is up to no good, with the biggest hitting on her as she is moving in. Even though rebuffed by his advances, he doesn’t take no for an answer and brags to his pals that they’ll be up in her apartment and using her space before the day it out.

As actors go, most are pretty good if just a little stiff, but the leader of the trio, Nissan (“like the car”), is the best of the males, and the rancor of Wendy shows that she is not only a decent performer, but what she goes through – even though it’s a scene in a film, albeit a very long and drawn out one – shows she is brave to push the envelope.

Of course, after the long and brutal events which last a third of the film’s length, I really believe I’m not giving anything away in that they have their comeuppance at her hands. But here is what irked me just a bit: after being brutalized for such a long time by these men, which is displayed pretty graphically and detailed, her retribution is very short and hard to distinguish. I wanted to see them suffer, as well, knowing that their end was coming and who it was giving it to them, and most importantly, why. This was an opportunity for the story to show a bit of karma, not just payback. A good example would be a film like Mother’s Day (1980), another vengeance tale where two psychos (and their mother) torture and kill, but they are done away with usually in equal brutality by their victims, which is also shared with the audience, sometimes in close-up.

While I would recommend this film, especially to other filmmakers to show how well a film could be made for very little funds, I do so hesitantly, in the same way I would for any other film in this genre. The point is to be horrified by the actions, but I’m afraid there will be the group (especially young males, I would think) who will whoop and cheer at the dastardly deeds portrayed. This should be more of a cautionary tale than just an excuse to see some violent sex. It’s not just graphic sadism, such as in films like Hostel (2005) or The Hills Have Eyes (1977; yet another in the revenge genre), it needs to have a more satisfying conclusion for the audience.

In a Pulp Fiction (1994) way, Weathers takes the linear story and breaks it into four, taking the third part and putting it at the end. There is also a sharp break at the conclusion, leaving what happens to the viewer’s imagination. This is nicely done.

I haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere else, but throughout the film, there are actual photographs of murdered blacks in the south, usually surrounded by white men, including lynchings and burnings, shown nearly subliminally in quick flashes. If you blink, you will miss them (they seem to last about a half second). Most likely this release is Sean’s commenting on gentrification and re-colonialization of black (and other) neighborhoods, a practice that was especially enforced by Mayors Koch and Giuliani (and now Bloomberg, who destroyed an entire neighborhood in the borough to build an unnecessary sports complex that will be visited mostly by those not living in the area, similar to what happened in Atlantic City).

I’m not sure why, but the box states that this is “An Unauthorized Film by Sean Weathers.” What does that mean? I’ll let you know when I know.

The Unfinished Works of Sean Weathers
Directed by Sean Weathers
Full Circle Filmworks, 2003-2004 / 2011
90 minutes, USD $7.95

This is an interesting, almost documentary look at some of Sean Weather’s directorial method, even though the focus is actually on three failed projects that had been filmed over a period of a couple of years. Much as the behind-the-scenes Lost in La Mancha (1992) focuses in on Terry Gilliam’s attempt to film The Man who Killed Don Quixote,, Weathers lets us see some of the footage that was shot, but never made it to any final product. Well, almost any…

The first we are shown is probably the worst of the batch, The Erotic Adventures of Samson and Delilah. In the late ‘60s and ‘70s, there were a number of “Erotic Adventures of…” films, including …Pinocchio (1971), …Robin Hood (1969), and …Zorro (1972; these are just the ones I remember off the top of my head). Now, before the reader gets all excited, on the commentary track for this 25 minutes segment, which cannot be turned off, Weathers and producer / cameraperson / collaborator Aswad Issa repeatedly say that this is a “dud,” and they don’t know what they where thinking at the time; in retrospect, they posit, this is a project that should never have been mounted in the first place, because it’s so bad. And they are right.

The first two the three clips for this part are detailed, ‘70s-style softcore sex scenes, both with couples that are about as interesting as a nut and bolt. The first, an interracial coupling, has her looking really bored and him looking uncomfortable. The second grouping has Issa using the word “awkward” to describe it, though this dude has a schlong that would have Ron Jeremy saying “bravo” (this actor was also in a previous Weathers film, Lust for Vengeance), doing full frontal. Weathers discusses him derisively, saying things like “He was just very sensitive and moody; it was like dealing with a chick.” He is also wearing white socks in the whole scene. Throughout the first shoot, there is some kind of metal pole distractingly blocking part of the shot. In this second, the woman seems stoned out of her mind (can’t get a straight piece of dialog out of her), This time it was shot through the door of a closet, with the edge of the doorframe blocking about a third of the camera’s view most of the time. This time, Weathers self-depreciatively mocks himself for shooting it this way, trying to be arty.

The third and final scene has a couple spouting dialog (over which Weathers and Issa make comments), and is both badly written and really, really badly acted, especially the woman who can’t make it though a single line without flubs. Then again, the lines she’s reading sound like an old Italian gladiator movie, such as “You speak lies.” I really wish that this set was at the end of the DVD’s collection, rather than first; not a complaint, just an observation.

The second group is from the unfinished / unreleased Gangz vs. Cults. It’s a bit hard to make out the premise from the 18-minutes of clips, but essentially this appears to be essentially Boyz in the Hood (1991) meets Blood Feast (1963), as a street gang tries to stop a blood-thirsty (although apparently led by a coward) cult.

There are a number of scenes, some of the gang - led by the ironically beefy “Cult Snake” (Weathers’ regular Glenn “Illa” Skeete) - and some of the murderous cult. I had a couple of really good laughs at the dialog, not sure if this was intentional or not. For example, at one point Cult Snake whines, “I ain’t got no friends.” However, my favorite is when he’s spotting someone who is lifting weights, and he counts out, “Gimme 10; one… two… seven more to go!”

Another possibly unintentionally funny moment is when two of the gang (yes, including our anti-hero, Cult Snake) is attacked on a deserted back street by four members of the cult, which leads to a fight scene where fists miss by miles (but still gets impact reaction), in a Keystone Kops manner.

Other scenes include a human sacrifice on an alter, and possibly the most gross (and hilarious) projectile vomiting scene eh-vah.

For this section, the commentary can be turned on and off, and I suggest off, because while the other two mini-films’ remarks by Weathers and Issa are quite informative and interesting (albeit occasionally sexist), here, they are mostly laughing at themselves and what they’re seeing, and that doesn’t translate as well as a process descriptive. There are also a couple of outtakes, which are also available on some other Weathers’ films, including Hookers in Revolt.

The last portion is scenes from Escape From Bloodbath Island. Again, for this segment, the commentary can’t be turned off, which is fine, as they let you hear most of the dialog anyway. Besides, this is certainly the most interesting annotations by Weathers and Issa of the three films here, as they go into some detail about the location shoot, the cameras, the actors, the script, technical problems, etc. Speaking of locales, the entire shoot was done outdoors in what looks like a deserted island, but actually was Floyd Bennett Field, in Brooklyn. They mention the constant airplanes flying overhead (from JFK Airport), and motorized model planes that the viewer can easily discern on the soundtrack.

The first five minutes of the film is of a guy totally in white who looks very hipster running through the foliage (and sometimes, it appears more than once around the same spot). Of all the Weathers films I’ve seen, this one is apparently the most racially diverse, which is a nice change. We see couples and groups of people sitting on beaches and talking, though between the waves, the model planes, the distance, quality of mics, and the commentary, the dialog is occasionally impossible to make out, which is fine, because, as I stated earlier, Weathers’ and Issa’s observations are quite enjoyable and informative.

The last scene is two women discussing their problems with their male partners, when suddenly it turns into a pretty graphic Sappho connection, which not only seems out of context, but doubly so when one considers that the scene was inexplicitly injected into Weathers’ Lust For Vengeance. Oh, well, c’est la vie.

I know it sounds like I was putting this down a bit, but actually, I’m glad Weathers’ put this release out, because it gives a clearer picture of who he is, and his processes. Yeah, some of the scenes are clunky, the dialog WTF and actions sometimes laughable, with others borderline porn, but when a viewer is dealing with an independent artist (such as Sean Weathers), one is foolish to be expecting later, big-budget Peter Jackson rather than early, low-budget Peter Jackson. Putting out an admittedly sub-par, work-in-progress is a brave thing to do, and I salute you for this, Sean Weathers.

Hookers in Revolt
Directed by Sean Weathers
Full Circle Filmworks, 2006 / 2011
112 minutes, USD $14.95

Okay, I’m going to just use the cliché and lay the cards right on the table: despite the arguably purposefully salacious title, this is by far the best of the five Sean Weathers releases I’ve seen (and reviewed). Flawed? Sure, but as there is no such thing as a “perfect” picture, this is a large leap over the previous ones, including those listed above.

Using the ‘70s-style gangster blaxploitation genre as a foundation, he has taken his interpretation of George Orwell’s 1945 novel Animal Farm (based originally on the Russian revolution of the early 20th Century), and used it as a brush. But I’m not saying anything here that isn’t on the box (see image above). That book was one of my favorites when I was in high school (read it three times back then), and I clearly see where Sean was going. He replaces the power-structured humans from the book as the male pimps, and the animals who seize control as the titular hookers, a couple Bad Lieutenant-style cops and a politician.

While this film is blaxploitation, there are some changes from the style’s heyday, none of which are earth-shattering, but rather placed in their own time. In the 1970s, films such as Coffey, Foxy Brown, Superfly, Slaughter, especially Black Caesar, and the most famous, Shaft (dadedum dadedum dadedum daaaaaah), it was usually poor African-Americans battling rich white villains (mafia, cops, politicians, big business, etc.), though the films were usually written, produced and directed by white dudes (and more often than not, by my fellow Jews). Here, Weathers takes back control by writing, directing and (co-)producing the film himself, and a cast with barely a melatonin-lacker in the batch.

Most of Hookers is a flashback, with a frame of where the story is heading (with the pigs walking on their hind legs, metaphorically speaking), where the Chief of Police (played by Weathers, whose his character’s name is Gene Simmons), his partner, the mayor, Cleopatra (the head Hooker, no pun intended), and her toady.

In this very first section, we get some great dialog, which continues to occasionally crop up throughout the film, some of it meant to be intentionally funny, others not. Here are some of my favorite examples:

Mayor: “By show of hands, who [in the room] hasn’t killed someone?”

Delilah, who sets out to extricate the hookers from their pimps: “How much longer are we going to accept being second-hand [sic] citizens to our male counterparts?”

Coco (a hooker): “Crystal, what the fuck is we doin’ here?”

Hooker to Cleopatra: “What the fuck is your problem. Haven’t you ever heard the phrase, ‘It’s easier to catch bees [sic] with honey than with vinegar’?”

Cop to pimp: “Time to visit the big watermelon patch in the sky, pimp!”

La’Dante (a pimp) to a hooker: “When you fuck wid me, you fuckin’ wid the real, motherfuckin’ pimp!... You dig what I’m sayin’ bitch? You know what I mean ho? Y’know, you need to break yourself, bitch. Bow down to a real, muh-thuh fuh-kin’ pimp! Beotch!”

A curious exchange occurs during a meeting led by Cleo, who sets their rules for governance, one being that all men are bad, and another that all women are equal (and, as Orwell showed and is posited here, some are more equal than others). However, when some in-fighting happens, one of the women states, “Fuckin’ Martin Luther King, people!” Last I heard, he was male, but I’m just sayin’ (with a gentle smile across my face).

There are three pimps here, all nastier than the previous, so it’s no surprise that the hookers under their thumb decide to strike out on their own. When a power-mad crack-whore (Cleo) maneuvers her way into power through chicanery and murder (after reading the ancient Chinese classic, The Art of War), both directly and through hired thugs (those two cops).

As this is a Sean Weathers film, of course there are a number of sex scenes, including a lesbian one (most of his films have this, or hints at it). Unlike some of the coitis in his previous releases, these are a bit less explicit (e.g., sometimes parts are covered, though all of his scenes are softcore). The most detailed one actually stars Sean, himself, showing that he will not ask any actor to perform what he won’t execute himself. And, may I say, the dude is muscular, with a solid six-pack and guns.

There are quite a bit of scenes shot outdoors in Bed-Sty, both as dialog and b-roll (including an amusing mural of Malcolm X that was taken more from the Denzel Washington portrayal than Malcolm himself). Sean is definitely expanding his palate, and obviously this film is the better for it.

Some of the actors here that have appeared in a number of Weathers’ films, such as Buddy Love (not a very imaginative stage name; I’m assuming he’s named after the Eddie Murphy role, rather than the original Jerry Lewis one), and Glenn “Illa” Skeete, both of whom play pimps. Illa also plays some of the larger musical rap pieces (he is listed as musical director) on the soundtrack, while Sean handles the incidental score with his magic (electric) organ. Yep, he’s a man of many talents. The women in the film, I’m pleased to say, are nearly all played by actors with a degree of craft, including Olivia Lopez as Cleo, Nefra Dabney as Coco, the lovely Melissa Gimmond as Kitty, and especially Osas Ighodaro as Deliliah, though they are certainly not the only ones in this largely female-dominated cast.

Speaking of characters, I was happy to see that when the final credits roll, we are presented with the actor’s name, the role they play in the film, and the character they are based on in the book (for example Cleo is based on Napoleon, Crystal on Moses, and Delilah on Old Major).

As is similar to earlier Weathers releases, the film is grainy and has a bit of a time-worn look to it (and there is some obvious post-shooting digital zooming), but the night scenes are viewable, and wisely cinematographer Aswad Issa chooses some interesting angles and effects, such as during the murderous scenes that are completed off-camera, there is a red hue.

There are quite a few extras here, some of which appear on other releases, some distinct. included are wardrobe fitting photos for some films to yet be released, outtakes (from other productions than this one), and a couple of trailers. Also, there is a link to Sean’s podcast, where he discusses his – and others – films.

I know there is a new Weathers film on the break of being released, this time in HD. I’m looking forward to that, if this film is any indication of his direction. It’s exciting to anticipate what the future brings for Sean Weathers’ work.

Monday, March 5, 2012

DVD Review: Bong of the Dead

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films Blog, 2012
Images from the Internet

Bong of the Dead
Written and directed by Thomas Newman
MVD Visual
90 minutes, 2011

Okay, so a meteorite falls out of the sky (shades of The Blob, 1958) bringing a zombie plague from outer space (Night of the Living Dead, 1968). What do you do? Dude, what do you do, dude? Well, if you’re the two main characters of this amusing film, you sit back and light a fatty. A lot.

But grass takes such a long time to grow. User and experimenter Edwin (Mark Wynn) explains to his stoner compadre Tommy (Jy Harris) that by mixing mushed up zombie brains with H20 and using that “green goo” as a fertilizer, it produces not only instant hemp plants, but also a form of superweed for which Harold and Kumar would eat brains (personally, I’ll stick with the White Castle, but I digress…).

The government, however, has cleared most of the land of the flesheaters, keeping them isolated (28 Weeks Later, 2007), in what’s known as the “Danger Zone.” With the pot smoked and no patience to wait for a plant to grow with the brownish tap water (effective visual piece of humor there), our heroes decide to take their beat up car and drive the however many miles to the Zone, so they can get some new fertilizer. Actually, now that I think of it, that’s quite a poetic turn, with the living guys looking for zombie braaaaains. After all, as the film’s tag line states, “There will be bud” (not to be confused with C.H.U.D. II’s subtitle of “Bud the C.H.U.D.” [1989]).

Thankfully, only a small segment of this is actually a buddy travel film, because that’s been done to death (puns intended) more than the derm-chompin’ zombie flick. Along the way they run into this really nasty zombie, Alex (Barry Nerling), who, for an unexplained reason, keeps his consciousness, so he can think and talk (he’s the only one). He wants to raise a zombie army and take over (he wears a modified Gestapo uniform at one point).

Our potheads also run into a lovely and resourceful woman, Leah (Simone Bailly), who is on her own; her family ran the town garage, and she is both fierce and mechanically inclined. Plus, now she had to put up with these two losers. She builds some weapons to fight off the zombies, such as one based on a weedwacker, a car with spinning blades to chop up the zombies (Dead Alive, 1992), plus a set of retracting blades in arm-length leather gloves (Blade, 1998).

Will she join forces with these guys (and more importantly, why would or should she?), and help them get to the Danger Zone to get zombie brains to grow some additional weed? Well, one thing about these kinds of films is that plausibility needs to also be checked at the door.

Director, Thomas Newman
The Zombie genre seems to lend itself well to comedies, as some previous ones have shown, such as Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Aaah! Zombies!! (2007; aka Wasting Away). Same with horror bong films (yes, I went there), such as Evil Bong (2006), Evil Bong II: King Bong (2009), and, I kid you not, Evil Bong 3-D: The Wrath of Bong (2011). Seems only natural someone would combine the two together, especially with the success of the Harold and Kumar franchise.
When one considers the logistics of this film, it is quite an amazing feat in itself: Director Thomas Newman also wrote the film, shot it for $5,000 in 15 days on a single camera, and then took two years to do all the post-production graphics (CGI, etc.) and editing on a single MAC computer in his basement. Plus, he managed to score quite the cast for such a low budget production.

Simone Bailly
As the quick-witted and hard drinkin’ Leah, Simone Bailly (who has a sort of Eva La Rue vibe going), has a long resume, including film and television. She’s been on numerous cult shows, including some recurring characters, in the likes of Battlestar Gallactica, Stargate SG:1, The L-Word, Smallville and DaVinci’s City Hall. Leah is possibly the only sane one in the whole film, though I’m not sure about her judgments. And, happily, her shower scenes aren’t gratuitous.

Dealer-turned-stoner Edwin is played by Mark Wynn, who has a bizarre sideburns-beard combination going on, and a joint nearly always within reach. Wynn has also been in numerous (mostly) television programs in smaller roles, including Smallville, Fringe, and the TV film The Boy Who Cried Werewolf. Edwin is the smarter of the two roommates, but that’s not saying all that much. Without the constant pot intake, he may have gotten somewhere. That is if that annoying little global zombie breakout didn’t happen, of course.

Jy Harris, Mark Winn
His stoner-stayed-stoner roomie is Tommy, portrayed by redheaded standup comic Jy Harris [standup is HERE]. Tommy is an annoying character, honestly, like an unhousebroken puppy you can’t control, but Harris gives him some warmth and sympathy, thankfully.

Barry Nerling
Actor and stuntman Barry Nerling plays the lead evil zombie, out to rool de verld…I mean rule the world. As with many villains, even in grade-A films, he hams it up to a John-Lithgow-sit-com-acting level, showing off his yellowed eyes and big teeth as much as possible. Of course, it’s a comic role, and he is both menacing and funny at the same time, so kudos.

Considering that Newman did all 355 effects by himself is by itself stunning, but the fact that they look that good is astounding. We see meteors fall out of the sky, explosions, bridge stanchions knocked over, and let’s not forget the exploding heads, etc. On a rare occasion, the F/X is clearly unreal, such as the fake-looking smoke coming out of the duo’s car, but 98 percent looks as good as a big budget bonanza (Bong of Independence Day?). Mix in Mike Fields’ make-up and prosthetics, and you have a powerhouse production on a shoestring.

For an area that has been cleared of zombies, there are thankfully a lot of them in the movie, including face-chewing (and topless) lesbians and a pregnant woman (and hence a zombie baby, a la, once again, Dead Alive) among the throng. Of course, there would need to be to keep the action exciting, and this certainly fits the bill.

Andres Santana
There are a couple of nits here and there for me, as there nearly always are: right off the bat, you notice that the voices don’t always skew up to the players mouth motions. Ah, I thought, overdubbed voices. Sure enough in the end credits, in an act of full disclosure, Thomas admits that no sound in the film is from the original shoot, but foleyed afterwards by sound producer Andres Santana. This makes the film sound a bit flat, as everyone in every situation is at the same level. But to his credit, as well as the actors, the film’s principals all dubbed in their own voices, and probably were paid the same rate as the shoot itself (I’m guessing $0, as tends to be on this type of project of love).

Also, there are a number of inconsistencies / anachronisms, such as one character saying that after the plague, the television went dead, and then the radio. Yet, at the garage, Leah listens to a song on the radio. Another, Leah and the boys are supposed to check the generators every four hours, but they’re all drunk or stoned and sleep heavily through the nights. Okay, then there is that blood always pouring out of a zombie’s head and into someone’s face (and therefore their mouth), yet they don’t change (but once bitten…). Last one I’ll mention: to protect them, they armor a vehicle, including netting over the front windowframe… but wait, there is just the grating and no window. How is that safety? Anyway, you get the idea. Nothing earth shattering, but noticeable.

The only extra on the DVD is the trailer.

As a non-stoner, there probably was a bit lost on me here and there, humor wise (the aforementioned White Castle and Manhattan Special Espresso Soda are my drugs of choice), as similarly was Cheech and Chong growing up, but there is a lot to recommend here, including decent acting, effects, and story.

Newman’s main work is in the field of make-up (e.g., Millennium, X-Files, Lake Placid), and this is his first – and so far only – film, so when one considers the lack of experience matched by the quality of the work and look for the film, I’m looking forward to more. The end of the film leaves it open for a sequel (actually, it promotes it), though Newman’s next film tentatively scheduled is Deadsville, a 1880s-based “Western/Action/Horror Zombie“ film. Either way, based on Bong…, I’d like to see it.