Thursday, August 25, 2016

Review: Model Hunger

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

Model Hunger
Directed by Debbie Rochon
Penny Spent Productions / Rebel Idol Films /
Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
84 minutes, 2016

I first became aware of actress Debbie Rochon, as did many, in Tromeo and Juliet (1996), but by that time, she’d been acting since the cult classic Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1982). Most of her films have been schlocky and sexy indie horror. But what made me sit up and notice was a dramatic turn she did in Richard Griffin’s Exhumed (2011). Man, she can act! Since then, I’ve paid more attention to her work. From everything I knew, she was intelligent (more than the roles she tended to play), and as soon as I learned she was about to direct her first feature, Model Hunger, I wanted to see it.

Lynn Lowry
The main character is Ginny, played by the wondrous, ethereal and underrated Lynn Lowry, who stunned many of us with her beauty in Shivers (aka They Came from Within; 1975), The Crazies (1973) and I Drink Your Blood (1970). In Ginny’s youth, she had aspirations to be a model and actress, but was deemed unworthy in a business demanding perfection. This turned her into an angry, psychopathic cannibal, with a touch of misguided Second Wave Feminist rhetoric [if I may digress here for a moment, modern Feminism is much more accepting and inclusive, and has come to accept that men are just as much culturally under pressure as are women; I respect that]. Ironically, she is as angry at women she perceives having issues with their own body images, overly positive or mistakenly negative, that she does not see her own trappings in the Other mind-set.

Of course, no matter how course or humorous (or both), some of the best films also have some very sharp social commentary, such as this one. The obvious one is the playing with cultural body image and how mass media dictates “beauty,” but there is more. One example is a look at what is commonly known as the male gaze, which if featured more than once here: for example, toward the beginning of the film, a man on a park bench (Michael O’Hear, who will later be realized as a recurring character) who is looking at a little girl in a playground (to me that was one of the more uncomfortable moments in the film), and a nosy neighbor, played by the iridescent Michael Thurber (who has shared some credits with Rochon, including Exhumed), who is seen looking at women (among others) through binoculars out his window.

Ginny’s favorite show is called “Suzi’s Secret,” an access cable-type shopping show hosted by an overweight women (model and genre actress Suzi Lorraine in a weight suit), that sells sexualized clothing using mostly heavy male models in lingerie (including drag queen Babette Bombshell doing things you can’t unsee). At one point Ginny comments how men don’t watch the show because they want skinny models, but we also see a bunch of men viewing in male gaze mode, unlike the women, who watch it for acceptance of their impression of their own body images.

Although filmed (mostly) in Buffalo, it takes place in Fishkill, NY, a town near the Hudson River, about two hours north of New York City. Now, here are two fun facts about that town: first, the word “kill” is Dutch for “river” so it actually means “Fish River.” Obviously they liked the name for it’s English connotation, which brings us to the other fact, that PETA tried to get the town to change the name a decade or so ago due to its same English “kill” counterpart; they lost. And now back to our show…

Tiffany Shepis
Moving in next door is a couple, Sal (played by Carmine Capobianco, who was the lead in 1987’s Psychos In Love, and has been having an acting renaissance in a number of indie features) and Debbie (fellow Troma queen Tiffany Shepis, who co-stared with Rochon in Tromeo...) who have a troubled yet loving marriage. Debbie, with a history of mental issues, hinted at by Sal’s question whether she’s taken her medications, is also starting to watch Suzi’s show. In another male gaze moment, a bare-chested and overweight Sal (sorry dude, had to say it, not that I can talk…) makes disparaging remarks about Suzi being heavy without seeing the irony. A pointed mirror- contemplating moment.

The kills are masterful, and the gore is plentiful and well done. It builds beautifully in degree throughout the picture as Ginny goes further and further off the edge. And with Debbie next door having her own issues, there is a fun time to be hand in the old town tonight, my friends. I must say, giving nothing away, that I had imagined the ending being totally different, but I have to say it was amazingly satisfying by the conclusion. I’m also grateful to be wrong about the possibility of it to be yet another modernized telling of the Elizabeth Bathory story.

So how did Ms. Rochon do on her first outing of a feature? Bueno. Molto Bene. Bien. No matter what the language, it’s actually quite accomplished. Sure, there are rough edges here and there, and I’m guessing down the road on her fifth or sixth film, she may look back and think “I should have done it that way,” but on the whole, it’s a joyful work to watch.

Director Debbie Rochon
Part of the reason is that Rochon (I’m going to consistently use her last name here since the main character share’s “Debbie”) has worked with many of these actors before, including some that are Troma-related, and the rapport shows. Also, she’s been in umpteen films at this point, and has seen the best and worst at the helm, and I find in life you learn what to do from both, and also importantly what not to do.

Lowry is a gem. Her work here is the best I’ve seen to date. Just the minutest movements of her mouth or eyes convey exactly what she wants us to feel about her character. It’s also an extremely brave performance, considering some of the things Ginny does and says. She definitely gives it her all. And the same could be said about Shepis, who runs the gamut from stressed, to depressed. She has a particularly touching scene where she melts your heart. Thurber also gives a much nuanced performance; it starts off kinda creepy, but over time, he somewhat wins you over.

There are lots of lovely extras included. First and foremost is the director’s commentary, which she shares with David Marancik, who was part of the crew and played one of the police officers. Fortunately she does most of the talking as it’s her project, and he wisely lets her thoughts flow. This is exactly what a commentary should be, telling the thoughts behind some of the action, as well as anecdotes about the performers. There is also a goose-egg track that highlights the music behind the dialog. Along with the trailer there is a synth-heavy music video that features Rochon by the Autopsy Boys titled “Song for Debbera.”

On a second page of extras is a 20-minute webcam show, “Lair of Voltaire,” which features musician / filmmaker Aurelio Voltaire, who is also one of the cast (he usually goes only by his last name), where he answers questions about being on the film. It is quite amusing, and a nice advertisement for his own vlog series. Then there is a short (not short enough) of Babette Bombshell eating hotdogs salaciously that, well, for me it was the ickiest thing on the DVD (slobbering in general is something I personally find not to my liking). Last up is a couple of deleted raw scenes with Rochon herself, and Troma head Lloyd Kaufman (I was expecting to see him in the film at some point). In both these cases it was right to not include in the film, but just as right to keep them as extras, because they are hoots as they both portray separate door-to-door sales people (a recurring theme within the story).

So it was months between first learning about the start of the project and getting it into my own anxious hands. Was it worth the wait? Hell, yeah, Rochon done good. Real good. And here’s the thing: if she continues, it’s pretty obvious she’ll only get better. Thank you, Ms. Rochon, for taking the chance and grabbing the reins. The end result was worth all the effort. Now, let’s see it win some well-deserved festival awards!

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