Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Review: Caesar and Otto’s Paranormal Halloween

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

Caesar and Otto’s Paranormal Halloween
Written, produced, directed and edited by Dave Campfield
Fourth Horizon Cinema / R and Productions / Wild Eye Releasing
89 minutes, 2015

This is not your father’s Caesar and Otto. Let me ‘splain.

The Caesar and Otto franchise is like the Abbott and Costello collection (and I certainly am not the first to make that comparison) in that they are a series of films about the same two characters; here, they are half-brothers who share a dad, and have a deeply conflicted love-like-hate relationship.

Caesar (Dave Campfield) and Otto (Paul Chomicki)
In previous films, Caesar and Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre (2009) or Caesar and Otto’s Deadly Xmas (2012), Caesar Denovio (Dave Campfield) was pretty unlikeable, kind of like Stinky Davis (a pre-Three Stooges Joe Besser) character from the “The Abbot and Costello Show(1952). The character also had a weird, halting, annoying voice. Well, here’s the change: Caesar has matured – a bit – and some of what made him so criticized has been taken away. He’s not as one-dimensional and shallow, he’s not as mysteriously girlish (despite the opening sequence), and he’s definitely not as mean. Don’t get me wrong, Caesar’s not a guy you necessarily want to hang out with, but Campfield has done a spectacular job revisioning him as a fuller, more realistic character, and occasionally likeable, which makes it easier to identify with him without taking away what makes Caesar Caesar. Oh, and that voice is mostly gone. From the commentary, that also works well with/for Campfield.

Less is changed about Otto Denovio’s (Pau Chomicki) slovenly demeanor, but he is also softened a bit. He was always likeable, but here he becomes more of a big, smelly (wash that orange shirt already!) teddy bear, still looking for love, or for this film, his long-lost, thought-to-be-dead mommy (Beverly Randolph, one of the leads in 1985’s The Return of the Living Dead). One thing that hasn’t changed I’m happy to say is that Otto’s voice, or rather his Lon’Gyland (aka Long Island) accent, is still front and center.

With many horror comedy films, you can view this as just plain silly, but if you are wise to the ways of indie spoof horror, you will recognize just how smart a film it actually is; definitely the strongest of the series to-date. I may be giving away too much too early, but I enjoyed all of this film.

One of the smartest things about the premise, which I’ll get to shortly, is that Campfield breaks down the fourth wall to make many meta comments, such as the fact that in most of the Paranormal Activity franchise, nothing happens, until the very end, the rest being dull. But the meta part is the indication that like reality television, the found footage subgenre is actually a sneaky way to make inexpensive films with little crew (e.g., no camera people because it’s either the actors who are doing the shooting, or the cameras are just mounted on walls), yet tend to bring in decent bucks.

Another finger to the side of the nose is the in-jokes that follow through all of the CandO films, such as Avi K. Garg’s Police Chief character getting seriously hurt but being okay, and losing limbs that are just resewn on again and agan (his “Oh, come on!” line reading is hysterical; oh, and shhh, check out the Easter Egg commentary by him). Additionally, there is the main villain, the nearly Satanic Jerry (Ken MacFarlane) and his minion, Roberta (Samantha Barrios), who return from previous CandO excursions. Also, CandO themselves have some shticks they repeat, such as jumping out of a moving car when mad (it’s a humorous bit).

JamieLee Ackerman
The plot is, well, bizarrely fun and a bit all over the place, as is almost always true in spoof comedies because there is so many references (more on that later). Our hapless bros and their scene-stealing father, Fred (Scott Aguilar) take a job housesitting for Jerry’s mysterious mansion for the season, where lots of weird and Ooo-WEE-oo (hear that as played by a Theremin) paranormal activity seems to be happening. There are also two servants, one a lovely lass gardener named Gilda (Josephine Iannece, aka JoJo, aka Campfield’s real-life girlfriend), and the other a quiet and kind of scary chef, Kyla (JamieLee Ackerman, posessing a lovely Irish lilt), who always seems to be carrying something sharp. Next door to the abode are a couple of high IQ’d retired Playboy bunnies, Jamie (Troma queen Tiffany Shepis) and Judy (Stef Barkley).

Like most of the CandO franchise, it always feels like it’s a mix of horror and a kind of twisted 1930’s farce in that the action and the dialog happen really fast (thus I recommend more than a single viewing since I had noticed things all the times I watched it). It’s important to pay attention, because things come and go so quickly around here. This is true of the especially subtle bits, such as someone getting slapped and the sound is off-sync’d, or words and hints that are written in the background with magnetic letters.

Some of the references are pretty obvious (Halloween [a mix of 1978 and 2007], Paranormal Activity [2007], The Shining [1980], etc.), but picking out some of the hopelessly obscure ones are also fun. For example, and I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, the half-circle openings on the porch reflect nicely on the “eyes” of the house in The Amityville Horror (1979), also referenced within the story. Adding a clip from the Campfield short Piggyzilla may also reference the pig seen in the window of the original Amityville. Perhaps I am overreaching?

Brinke Stevens and Brinke Stevens (check your pants)
Every opportunity is taken to inject some humor with a nod and a wink, such as some title cards; for example a church called Our Lady of Low Production Values. Most of the dialog is filled with nuggets: Jerry mentions that previous caretakers at his house went crazy from isolation (sound familiar?), but when we see the house, it’s just on a suburban street. Or there is a brief commercial for stronger deadbolt locks, reflecting on an earlier, funny gag. Another throwaway bit, again about previous housesitters, is mentioning “that guy who resembled James Brolin and tried to kill his whole family, and then married Yentl.” Then, as the Fred tells Otto, “…Your mother died a couple of years before you were born.” Did I mention that two grave diggers are named Lenny and George (no mention of rabbits, though)?

There is also a very sly bit with an exorcist priest named Fr. Jason Steiger, named after two horror priest actors, Jason Miller (d. 2001) of 1973’s The Exorcist and Rod Steiger (d. 2002) of The Amityville Horror (joyfully played by CandO regular Deron Miller), where he’s turn over to the “Vatican Police” by a fellow priest named Jude (John Thomassen) for $30. These lines are spoken so fast, it’s easy to miss some of these gems. And if you think I have said too much, I have barely put my paddle to the water.

Maximo "Frank" Sorrentino and Felissa Rose
An additional gem is the maaaaaany cameos that show up frequently. To name drop just a few, there is the ever lovin’ Debbie Rochon (too many great films to credit just one), Andre Gower (lead kid in The Monster Squad [1987]), Sean Whalen (Twister [1996]), Vern Wells (the main mohawked villain of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior [1981]), Brinke Stevens who is one of foremost scream queens of the modern VHS-and-beyond era (as a twin wallet-stealing ghost; again, too many credits to pick), and Paul Guay (creator and co-writer of 1987’s Liar, Liar). In a really nice and thoughtful placement as a media-minded married couple who deal with psychic interactions, are Maximo “Frank” Sorrentino (of the TV show “The Sorrentinos,” and brother of “Jersey Shore’s” “The Situation” Sorrentino) and  Felissa Rose (actor / producer of indie films). Why is this so exquisite? Because they were both together in the early slasher classic Sleepaway Camp (1983); Rose was the lead.

There is some well-done gore (e.g., head smashed under a car wheel) as well as some cheesy stuff (a mannequin head, for example, in a fantasy sequence). For nudity, as is consistent with a CandO film, there is a single acknowledgedly gratuitous topless generic scene (in Deadly Xmas, it was in a shower, here it’s at a strip club). Doesn’t matter, it’s the story that still keeps you in your seat.

Now, let’s talk about some of the extras on this loaded disk. First, there is an interesting commentary with Campfield, Iannece and Ackerman. A second commentary has a number of cast and crew, including Chomicki and Aguilar; it gets a bit hectic telling who’s who, and there is some talking over each other, but there’s lots of good info, as well. The viewer also gets a short Blooper Reel, a Facebook promo video with Campfield and Ackerman, a really nice tribute to the late cult actor Robert Z’Dar (d. 2015), a 50+-minute on-set audio podcast interview with Campfield and cast members (including Rochon), and the complete “Son of Piggyzilla Trilogy (commentary available), which lasts 6 minutes. Of course, this being a part of Wild Eye Releasing, there are a number of cool trailers, some of which I’ve had the pleasure to review.

For everything I whined like a little bitch about the last film, that’s how much I liked this one. It is a really good laugh, a well-researched film, and an attention keeper – especially for those genre geeks – from the first second to the last. There have been plenty of horror spoofs, such as the Scary Movie franchise, A Haunted House (2013; the sequel was in 2014) and Vampire’s Suck (2010), with the exception of the first Scary Movie (2000), they all fall to the wayside in comparison.

So make sure you stick around for the final credits, as always with a CandO film, and I’m looking forward to the reported next film in the franchise, Caesar and Otto’s Spring Break of the Living Dead.

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