Monday, October 22, 2012

DVD Review: Zombie Babies

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

Zombie Babies
Directed and screenplay by Eamon Hardiman              
Independent Entertainment           
112 minutes, 2011 / 2012  

Okay, with a name like Zombie Babies, y’just know this is not only going to be a comedy, but one of a broad nature. And yes, there is no subtly here.

I’m not quite sure when the story is supposed to take place, but I’m guessing around the time Roe vs. Wade had just passed in 1973. This sets up the premise where redneck “discount late-term abortionist” ($10 per) Dr. Burt Fleming and his less-than-able-and-not-too-bright assistant Teddy decide to fight against legit docs performing the deed, and decide to have a “Abort-a-Thon” and use the old Jewish vaudeville joke punchline, “Volume!” They send out invites to couples to visit their decrepit building, once a hotel and casino, to have their wombs vacated in a party atmosphere.

Four dysfunctional couples accept the offer. Most of the actors who play the roles have an amazing amount of credit behind them (and upcoming), most in the sexploitation horror genre (the kind of stuff in which the underrated Misty Mundae would appear; if you know who I mean, you know the genre I refer). Needless to say, though I will anyway, there are lots and lots of tats on both genders, and a number of body piercings present. In no particular order the couples are:

There is hooker supreme Capri (Desiree Saetia) and her boyfriend, pimp, and Thurston Howell III wannabe - right down to the cap and accent - Reggie (Ford Austin, who has had quite the career, having been in every genre from Happy Days [1978] and a semi-regular in Night Court [1985], to the likes of Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven [2011] and Aliens vs. A-Holes [2012]), who perhaps is named after Reggie Mantle from the Archie comics. Austin doesn’t seem to take this too – er – seriously, in that he seems like he doesn’t want to be there, and is less memorable for it. Saetia, who also chews the scenery in her role, comes off a bit better, having a nice tour-de-force performance about half-way through the film.

Another is the weighty and sweating Lewis (Shawn Phillips), who somehow managed to knock up knock-out redhead Veronica (Ruby Larocca). Of course, she treats him like a doormat, and he is desperate enough to accept that role. Phillips plays the role with just amount of whine to make him both pitiable and annoying, definite a hard and fine-line to project without delving into one way or another. He actually has a number of credits in the genre, such as Girls Gone Dead (2012) and Blood Orgy at Beaver Lake (2012). As for Larocca, well, she’s actually been in a number of films I’ve already reviewed, such as Bill Zebub’s Zombiechrist (2010), and some of the voices on the animated Where the Dead Go to Die (2012; HERE).  She was also in one of my favorite titled films that I’ve seen, The Lord of the G-String:The Femaleship of the String (2003). She is also frequently in films with Mundae. It’s not surprising her credit list is incredibly long, as she seems fearless, as well as tattooed. As with much of the cast, she also has a history of writing, producing, and directing within the genre. This may be a silly film with bizarre characters, but these are some smart-as-whips actors.

The third grouping is manipulative baseball groupie Jami Lynn (Missy Dawn) and professional athlete Jackson (Dean Stark). Perhaps by coincidence, both these paired actors have the least amount of credits to their name: Stark has this as his only listing, and Missy’s menu is three films, all by this director. Stark, despite being a bit diminutive for a pro baseball player, nails the character’s vain and aggressive behavior, even if it’s a bit stereotypical jock (and I have found many jocks in my life have this same attitude, so this is not a criticism). The wonderfully moniker’s Missy is way taller than him, and gives the right edge to someone who expected more than the Jackson character can give. However, she is also the most willing to hit the sack than of the others.

The last, and most central of the ensemble, is loser tee-shirt entrepreneur Kevin (Trent McKelvin, a pseudonym for the director, Eamon Hardiman), and the nagging (don’t really blame her; she just wants someone reliable) yet adorable Leah (Kaylee Williams). Of course Kevin is a bit of a hero while still being a zero – directors can give themselves that role – while Kaylee comes across as the most naturally accomplished and natural actor of the troupe.

And, despite the low budget and genre, this cast is actually quite strong, if goofy as all get out. Even when the occasional scenery chewing occurs, especially by the good doctor (I’ll get to that in a minute), it’s so much freakin’ fun that you just don’t care.

The – er – good Dr. Burt is played waaaaaay over the top with much glee by Brian Gunnoe, who, like most of the cast, has appeared in previous Hardiman films (including the Porkchop slasher franchise). Gunnoe portrays him with southern hillbilly aplomb, dressed in a white tee covered by a red… well, it’s either a robe or smoking jacket, I’m not sure. Though he plays a mean blues acoustic guitar, he’s not necessarily someone you would want to trust with as delicate an operation as this one, especially since he performs the procedure using the cheap type of white hangers dry cleaners give out, not even the more solid, copper-colored ones.

Meanwhile, Roy Cobb plays Teddy rightfully understatedly. Again, it would be easy to make him a complete and annoying moron, but he comes across as more dazed than deranged. That makes the character more dangerous because he’s misleading. Teddy also wears a fez, for some reason, and a white, sleeveless tee-shirt with nothing over it, with his belly hanging out under the shirt.

Oh, and did I mention that Dr. Burt was well over 100 years old (not looking a day over 40), thanks to some mystery moonshiney type of concoction that he mixes in the basement, next to the bloody pile of excavated fetuses? That’s where the story goes… hell, it’s already so joyfully off-the-wall that by the time the formula starts bringing the fetuses to murderous life, you’ve already said goodbye to any sense of levels of credibility. And rightfully so, because, well, I mean, hell, you’re watching a film called Zombie Babies.

When the fetuses become zombified, they’re not necessarily flesh eaters in the (now) classic zombie sense as much as revengeful mutilators out to kill their parents (and others) in revenge. How the parents recognize the fetuses as their own, and vice-versa, of course, is a head scratcher in itself.

The revitalized babies are way too big to be merely fetuses, even late term, and they sometimes look a bit like some of the main characters of Full Moon Studio’s Puppetmaster (1989). Two different types of puppets are obviously used, one with the hand up the back and sticks to move the arms (like most Muppets), and other times marionettes. In true DIY, indie, low budget mode, there are some joyfully sloppy moments, where the strings are digitally edited out, but the scene is also zapped, so you see some white lines where the strings were before. And in one case, you can easily see the shadow of the hands holding the sticks, while the sticks themselves were clumsily taken out. And don’t get me started on the green-screen debacle of when the couples arrive on the grounds of the abortion casino. While in a big budget film this would be terrible, in this film it’s all part of the joyous fun and woo-hoo lets-make-a-movie mode. If this was trying to be a serious film, even indie, I would be annoyed by it. But this is the kind of film you have your friends over for, to watch and yell at the screen, so it becomes part of the fun.

By far the funniest part of the film is actually a semi-serious conversation on white-on-black violence. Part of what makes it a hoot is the out-of-context-ness with the rest of the dialog, which includes the very quotable “We gonna kill us some fuckin’ babies!”

The gore level is pretty high, including garroting and beheading via umbilical cord, a hysterical gauntlet of flying zombie babies/fetuses, and of course, what would this film be without the classic baby in a blender gag?

I can see both sides of the abortion debate using this film, though probably not up there on their attention plane, as proving their point (as was done with Juno). The anti-abortionists can point out that, “See, them baybehs is ahlave. ‘N look how disgustin’ them abortionists aw, y’all! (sorry, I have to do it in a Southern accent. If I may digress, as I am wont, comedian Steve Landesberg [RIP 2010] – aka “Dietrich” on Barney Miller – once said that Southerners aren’t necessarily more racist than those in the North, it just sounds so much better to say, “hayng hym”).

As for the pro-choice, well, in a similar vein, the use of coathangers and the disgusting unlicensed abortionists also can be used as symbols of why the procedure needs to be legal (the side on which I am strongly learning, FYI).

With its high level of amateurishness (if that’s even a word… well Microsoft Word recognizes it so it must be), zany levels of gore and ridiculous plot that seems to be written during a bender, shit, I had a lot of fun from beginning to end. This just flies by between the gore effects, the gross-outs (don’t get me started on how Reggie kicks it), the ample amount of exposed and colored flesh and plot holes that are harder to put together than finding who committed the JonBeney Ramsey murder (sorry, again; I just recently rewatched ThanksKilling). What plot holes? Well, for one of thousands, the fact that just hours after having the abortion, nearly all the couples connubially combine with their significant other.

You can just tell the actors are having fun. Just that so many of them have appeared in a few other films by Hardiman shows that we are viewing a good time that extends beyond the set. Will this offend? Let me repeat slowly for ya: Z-o-m-b-i-e B-a-b-i-e-s. Get some of them buddies together and have fun talking back to the screen.

Friday, October 5, 2012

DVD Review: Terror of Dracula

Text © Richard Gary/Indie Horror Films, 2012
Images from the Internet
Terror of Dracula
Directed by Anthony DP Mann     
World Wide Multi-Media (WWMM)                      
100 minutes, 2012  

In the DIY world, if someone won’t do it for you, take it into your own hands. Can’t get a gig? Get some bands, hire a hall and equipment, and put on your own showcase. Can’t get a record deal, even from the indies? Put it out yourself. Fixated on 19th Century literature and want to make a film about Sherlock Holmes or Count Dracula? Get some likeminded friends together who need some exposure and, as they say in Canada, get ‘er done.

Oh, I may have forgotten to mention that Terror of Dracula is a Canadian film, based in the lovely (seriously) granite-capital of Kingston, Ontario, a “place I know right well” (to quote the song “Leaving of Liverpool”).

So, Anthony DP Mann, along with Bill Bossert, wrote a screenplay supposedly meant to be accurate to the original 1897 Bram Stoker novel, and then Mann added himself to the main role, and also directed the film, such as he had done with his previous two films, Sherlock Holmes and the Shadow Watchers and Canucla (aka Dracula in Canada). I have not seen these others yet, but would be willing.

As the moving picture show begins, we are presented with title cards, explaining that this release predates most the others, including the Hammer Films, and it has been restored. This is a nice touch, as this was obviously shot on digi, and just released this year. Not a complaint though; just the opposite, as it was appreciated.

With the help of the city’s local Theatre Five troupe (whom I had seen perform a few times in the late 1980s). Actually, I got excited when I saw that Dr. Seward, who runs the institution that houses Renfield, and is the father of the Count’s first on-land British victim, Lucy, is played by Dick Miller. However, it was not the Dick Miller. Oh, well, unlife goes on. Apparently, none of the other cast members have any film credits other than either this, or Mann’s previous Sherlock release.

Oh, there’s lots of other unintentionally amusing bits – and again, this is not meant as a dig, just the eye of a viewer of many indie films – such as the cell where Renfield is kept at the institution is obviously the same we Jonathan Harker’s bedroom at Castle D.

A reason I was hot to watch this film is because of its reputed loyalty to the book, one I’ve read a number of times. It really is nearly impossible, as the novel takes place in various forms of correspondence, after the fact (for example, a paraphrase may be something like, “Oh, what a horrible series of events occurred last evening, and here is why…”). Like all other retellings before this one (while Hammer was especially bad for loyalty to the original, they were usually great films), there is – and has to be – quite a bit of original input by Mann and Weil… I mean Bossert, including the unsurprising yet fun ending.

One disappointing aspects of this film is the slow pacing. In a stilted verbal manner or through chewing of scenery to express angst, the cast plays this like a stage drama, with overwrought tones and non-literal handwringing, in part due to way the cast reads the 19th Century-ish dialog, a trap that most period pieces fall into. This is not helped by the extreme and claustrophobic close-ups that are the core of nearly every scene. It’s sort of like when you watch a filmed concert, and they focus on the strumming hand rather than both that and the one playing the chords. I kept wanting more visual information that just when eyebrows are lifted. I was almost expecting the actors to turn around too fast as hit their nose on the camera (yes, Mel Brooks did perfect that).

Another is how dreadfully serious they seem to be taking the production. Truly, a low budget and a newbie cast is much better serving the audience if there seems to be some sense of camaraderie with those on- and off-screen. Sure, the tale of Dracula and his ilk deals with evil beings out to suck the world dry in high drama fashion, but even in the original novel, one could argue that Renfield and his insistence on entomophagy was a comic thread on some level. The Hammer Films versions also had moments of dark humor. Mix together the dead (pun intended) seriousness and the stilted language and acting, you end up with a product that is self-important and pretentious, even if that is not what was meant as the outcome. I’m just sayin’…

Mann plays the titular character either with static intensity or overdrawn – er – intensity. The beard looks okay, but there is no explanation of why it turns from white in Transylvania to dark in Kingst… I mean England.

While I’m at it, there were a few parts in the book that are terrific, but were left out here, I’m sure due to financial constraints, so I’m not blaming, I’m just noticing. An example is the terror aboard the Demeter, the ship that brings ol’ Drac and his many boxes filled with native soil to the UK. In the book, it is a very palpable set piece, and it is even well done in the original Nosferatu (1922), though I do have to admit it is barely shown in the more famous Lugosi-led Dracula (1930).

The rest of the cast also meanders over stilted language and emotions, as I’ve indicated above, although Angela Scott fares well as Lucy, with minimal ham-foolery. It would have been easy to do the dying character as a Camille, with arms amok, but she stays true. However, the three women who play the “wives” of the Count are jaw-droopingly overdone performances. To be fair, this is actually a hard part to play, because there’s three of them vying for notice always in the same scene, and again, there’s an overwrought level to them; even in the book, as they cower from their “master” and bound after their prey (a baby), so perhaps I’m being too hard on them.

I respect what Mann is trying to do, but perhaps he is doing too much. He needs a cinematographer who knows how to back the hell up, a dialog coach (especially if he continues to film costume dramas), and an AD who will have the balls to tell him that he needs to either ramp a scene up, or clamp it down.

Note that this film has been getting a lot of really good notices, so I may be one of the few who had some difficulty with it. The only extras on the disc are two versions of the trailer, so if you watch the VoD version, you won’t miss much. Perhaps check it out for yourself. See it… for your mother’s sake.