Saturday, October 10, 2015

Review: Extreme Metal Retardation

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Extreme Metal Retardation
Directed by Bill Zebub
Bill Zebub Productions
120 minutes, 2009 / 2012

When he isn’t making comedy/horror films like The Worst Horror Film Ever Made: The Re-Make (2008) and ZombieChrist (2010), New Jersey-based director Bill Zebub makes metal-related documentaries.

Now, his docs are not your typical talking heads’ “What got you into metal?” kind of deal, his questions are from left field and catch the bands off guard, even though they obviously know him from past experiences.

One of the more interesting aspects of this is trying to guess whether the bands are going to get really pissed off at the audacity, or laugh really hard at the moxy. To me, which side the band falls on tells a lot. If you’ve seen any of Zebub’s large canon of work, both fiction and non-, he is an instigator. He likes to get a rise out his audience, but also from whomever he’s talking to at that moment, including his cast and crew. Well, that he uses the word “retardation” in the title shows he is a gladiator against what he deems as PC, which also includes words that are both gender and racially sensitive, and bandy them around. Y’gotta love him or hate him for that.

The original Metal Retardation was first released in 2009, and there have been four in total now. So, I’m going to admit right at the onset that I don’t know crap about death metal or its cousins. I’m first wave punk, and the closest I come is liking bands like Adrenolin OD (saw them play a couple of times in the ‘80s), Chesty Malone and the Slice ‘Em Ups (saw them a few times, too, but more recently) and arguably the Ramones (who I probably saw easily more than a dozen times between 1975 and 1980. So how will I approach this DVD? Well, sort of the same way I handle going to professional sports games, which I apparently know more about through cultural osmosis than enjoy following any particular team. I’ll be looking at it for the surroundings, the tone, the personalities, and how it all falls together.

The joyfully lopsided ride begins with an extended interview with drummer Fenriz, of Darkthrone. It takes place at 2:30 AM when both he and the interviewer are drunk. It’s a fun, rambling mess. I did laugh when he put on some vinyl of “Rock’n’Roll Gas Station.”

There are many bands interviewed here, such as Alestorm, Arch Enemy, Arkona, Borgir, Dimmu, Enslaved, Ensiferum, Enthroned, Huntress, King Diamond, Kreator, Primordial, Septic Flesh, Tyr, and Voivod.

The humor level definitely runs from deft to daft. For example of the former, after someone asks Voivod about their influences, Bill interrupts and asks the band, “How original are questions about your influences?” As for the latter, he asks Sharlee D’Angelo of Arch Enemy, “How important is penis size to a Scandinavian?” In the first case, the band found the question very enjoyable with a knowing laugh, with the second, he seemed kind of confused.

Bebub is helped along the way by a few interviewers such as Layla (if I got the name correct), a metal fan who usually asks some decent questions along the way, but is not afraid to put her own sense in, or to ask questions that has some bands scratching their heads (e.g., about pirates). She is a good yin to Bill’s yang as he handles the camera, because his questions are totally out there, such as asking what someone will wear for Halloween, or inquiring Jill Janus of Huntress if she was ever a man; another good example is when he asks D’Angelo if he’s ever been known to say “I love my Good & Plenty?” What makes ridiculous questions like these so interesting is (a) odds are these bands who have had multiple interviews have never been asked these questions before so do not have set answers, and (b) it completely catches them off-guard, even when they don’t understand the question (for example, the answer to the Good & Plenty one was an honest, “I don’t know; have I?”). D’Angelo says it best when he refers to these innately inane questions as “Zebubisms.”

Though some from the US and Canada, most of the bands interviewed are from Europe, such as Greece, Germany and Russia; most of them, however, are from the Scandinavian Bloc, arguably the epicenter of  Black Metal. Sometimes, because of that, part of the joy of this pure silliness is sometimes there is a language barrier, but the questions are just so out there, that even with that, the band members seem to be having a genuinely good time, and that tends to flow over to the other side of the screen to the viewer.

For the observer watching this, it’s important to have a bit of a thick skin because it seems like Zebub's whole existence, be it in his documentaries to his fiction-based films, is to get a rise out of, well, everyone. This is part of why I have said more than once that I’m guessing he is either a gas to hang out with or a complete asshole (perhaps both). Questions are often in complete bad taste, such as calling something “gay,” referencing swastikas (not the ideology behind it, though), or inviting bands to smack Layla.

It’s a lot of fun, and to take it from another perspective, it would have been easy to have made this all about Zebub in a reign of Zebub, but even though the queries are completely ludicrous, the film still mostly manages to make this about the band’s reactions more than about Zebub’s questions. I’m kinda relieved about that. It also makes for a much more interesting documentary. Sure, he’s part of it rather than impartial (though, of course, there really isn’t anything as objective, no matter what the Ayn Randites believe), but he doesn’t dominate (okay, he occasionally does); he’s more the moat around the medieval castle.

Mixed in with all the interviews is music by many of the bands represented here. Some are live and some are professionally shot band videos. What I especially appreciate is that most are them are complete, rather than just snippets. The one thing I did find a bit disappointing was the lack of credits for the nearly half dozen interviewing personnel in the main feature. .

The extras are an additional, 37-minute single-camera interview with King Diamond of the band – er – King Diamond, and a complete film, reviewed directly below.

Am I converted metal fan after watching nearly 4 hours of the feature and both the extras? No, and yet I still enjoyed the package.

Metalheads: The Good, the Bad and the Evil
70 minutes, 2008
As always, Bill Zebub plays Bill. He’s kind of a one note actor that way, but on the other hand, he plays himself well, probably because he’s playing himself (or some version of it).I’m trying to say this actually in a positive way. He’s kind of a man-child, as if he were mentally stuck at age 15: horny, daring, and obnoxious as all get out.

His girlfriend, Elaine (Emily Thomas) is both charming and abrasive at the same time. A scene where she has taken some acid and is completely paranoid is (or should be) a classic. On the other hand, she’s is nagging Bill because he is perpetually jobless and doesn’t have a car to take her out, or to go on dates. On the third hand, I kinda agree with her; both parties should try being self-sufficient in a relationship.

Bill wants Elaine to marry him; however, tired of Bill’s attitude (and supposed small genitalia, a running joke [?] through his films), Ellaine first hits on Bill’s bestie, Rich (Tom Goodwin). This opens a possible floodgate for her, Meanwhile, Bill has started to hang out with a tough guy with a brilliant New Jersey accent (Carl Williamson, credited only as “”Evil Metalhead”), who is violent, super macho, and thinks being a bully is being a man (I grew up with the disco versions these kinds of guys in my neighborhood of Bensonhurst). In an uncomfortable scene, he gets an underage girl (though the actress, Kathy Rice, is not) drunk and de-virginizes her off-screen. There are lots of scenes of nudity and masturbation by various characters, but not any detailed onscreen sex.

While most of the dialog seemed ad libbed, it was pretty funny and scripted. For example, during a fight with Elaine, Bill yells, “I’m gonna have a girlfriend who doesn’t listen to KISS, like you do, because the only time a metal band should have the word baby in a song is if it’s about killing babies.” Later, the bad dude tries to egg Bill on with, “You’re living with the volume turned down. I’m gonna show you how to crank it up.”

Despite the comedy level of most of the film, it does not end on an upbeat, so be warned. Still worth watching if you’re into a micro-budget, metal focused story.



Unrelated, bonus video:


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