Apocalypse Later Empire



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Also announcing the 2nd annual Apocalypse Later International Fantastic Film Festival!
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Sunday, 22 April 2012

Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury (2011)

Director: Garrett Brawith
Stars: Kevin Sorbo and Danny Trejo

While Garrett Brawith may still be best known for his starring role in the Bud Light Magic Fridge commercial, which aired during Superbowl XL, that's far from the only thing he's done. Not having ever watched a Superbowl, even for commercials, I didn't discover him until this year when I screened a festival submission called Empress Vampire in which he both acted and did stunts. It's a bad film but it is at least highly memorable, as it's about a cute, nymphomaniac, bisexual, very flexible Chinese female vampire with a thick accent, floor length hair and a large collection of wild costumes, played by a Chinese police news anchor turned porn star and long hair fetish model. Given that the latest phase of Brawith's versatile film career, working for Ross Patterson's Street Justice Films, included directing this one, I wonder if that flavoured this. After all, this isn't really about making a bad film, it's about making a bad film memorable.

The gimmick is that Poolboy is supposedly not a new film, it's the reappearance of an old one, the surviving half of a lost pair of action features from 1990. Poolboy: No Lifeguard on Duty was never released, as it was accidentally destroyed by an angry whaler. Poolboy II: Drowning Out the Fury, however, is seeing the light of day again because of an internet petition. A neat touch is that these legends of bad cinema were made by a gonzo filmmaker called St James St James, who was ten years old at the time. Having seen the trailer as well as FDR: American Badass!, the next picture for both Patterson and Brawith, I had a rough idea what to expect and I didn't miss by much. It's almost as fast paced and it's just as full to the brim with outrageous gags, political incorrectness and wild imagination. It isn't as consistently funny and the actors don't nail their parts quite as well, but it's close. It certainly works on its own but is even better as half of a pair.

Brawith's movie, Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury, stars Kevin Sorbo and Danny Trejo, with a few other faces you'll recognise, such as Jason Mewes, Robert LaSardo and Richard Karn. St James's movie within a movie, of the same name, has a cast that would have been even more familiar to viewers in its imaginary universe. Sorbo, in what may be a career redefining role on the level of Leslie Nielsen's in Airplane, is Jan Van Hammer, an action film legend, as Vietnam vet Sal Bando, who comes home from the war (and a long alcohol fuelled but numerically challenged recovery period) to find that California is full of Mexicans. 'What's happening to America?' he asks. There's even one in his house, banging his wife, and when Bando takes offence and steals Eduardo's poolboy company van, Eduardo responds by murdering Sal's wife and son in cold blood, leaving them as motionless mannequins, floating in his pool.

Now, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you, so we're gifted with some sort of conspiracy that would render this film required viewing for anti-immigration nuts. The leader, who Bando naturally feels he has to hunt down with extreme prejudice, is Caesar, played by Tijuana Maxx, played in turn by Danny Trejo. Eduardo was one of Caesar's brothers but he has many more to throw at Bando, who is now taking back California one pool at a time. You can write the rest of the story yourself, of course. There's Capt O'Malley, the old war buddy working the murders who unwisely trusts him not to start a war with the Mexicans. There are action scenes with bad lines, bad puns and bad choreography. There are gunfights, leading to my favourite line of dialogue: 'I never want to die in stock footage, homes.' And there's a man in the shadows behind Caesar, who may just be the most outrageously wrong villain of all time.
Needless to say, the story is familiar, full of snippets from other movies, most obviously Forrest Gump, but mostly it borrows from the tones of the action sub-genres referenced, overt in the names of St James's actors: Littlerock Clydesdale, Toco LaGuitara and Bucktown Sweetback the most outrageous. The other main influence is apparent from the opening credits, as St James lands more credits in a row than even Tommy Wiseau. Sure, it begins like a Cirio Santiago film but it doesn't take long for The Room to manifest itself. The reason I'm a devotee of The Room is because it's the best textbook available on how not to make a movie. It isn't merely that Wiseau made every mistake that could be made, it's that he did so archetypally and he still can't figure out what he did wrong. They're so fundamental that finding 'Room moments' in other films is a solid illustration of what they did wrong. They're absolutely everywhere here, deliberately so.

Thus we get characters who change inexplicably over the course of the film, inconsistent lighting that blurs night and day, even a recasting of a character partway through. The bad facial hair in Nam must be a tribute, as must the gratuitous sex scenes during the ninth inning stretch. Going back to those Filipino action movies, there's also bad dubbing, repeated stock footage and visible prop guys. There are plot conveniences everywhere. There's a great shot where a door closes and we see the boom operator in silhouette, another where a corpse moves on the news. My favourite goof apparently wasn't deliberate, though I have to take that with a grain of salt. Mark Curry, playing Capt O'Malley, forgets his dialogue, so calls 'Line!' A script girl reads it and he repeats it, never leaving character, and the scene moves on undaunted with no cuts. The genius is in the editor's decision to leave it in untouched. It's priceless, even if it was a set up.
Patterson always keeps a large part in the films he writes for himself and this is no exception, as he plays the gonzo filmmaker St James St James as an adult. He sits back in his castle, adding reminiscences to proceedings, and he's a gem. One neat touch to these scenes is that he has an eyepatch, but hey, that worked for John Ford and Nicholas Ray. A better one is the presence of stand up comedienne Edi Patterson as Peters, presumably his personal assistant with benefits. She's really only there to add flavour to these scenes, but she's absolutely awesome. I'd watch this entire movie again just to see her antics, very possibly improvised during filming, but much of the joy may be in the improvisation and thus lost on a repeat viewing. Maybe there's more of her in the made for TV short, St James St James Presents: Delirium Cinema, in which he looks at the 100 worst movies of all time, all of which he made, without any realisation that they're awful.

This is awful too, but in a very specific way, and how awful it is amounts to sheer genius. As with Empress Vampire, it's memorably bad. Patterson throws so much energy and so many ideas into his scripts and Brawith keeps them moving so quickly that by the time you finish laughing at one gag there are two more to take its place. It's like a cinematic hydra and by the time it's over you may have a dozen things to remember and reenact at school the next day. Personally, I love how well they understand what makes good bad movies good (say that ten times fast) and how well they translated that onto the screen. Watching carefully to locate each deliberate goof should be a drinking game. Wanting to watch The Room on the big screen with these guys is now top of my Christmas list. Some may love the recurring gag of Bando's war buddy's arm, for example, blown off in the explosion that killed him and which he brings home. I liked that it kept changing colour.
As with FDR: American Badass! this is a film you're either going to love or hate. If it isn't your cup of tea then you're going to be hurt and offended, then you're going to tell everyone you know how objectionable it all is. If it is your cup of tea, then you're going to be entertained massively, then you're going to tell everyone you know how objectionable it all is. Either way, it's going to help build the word of mouth publicity that Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury is already reaping the benefits from. Street Justice Films doesn't have much money to play with, but they know how to use it and they're prolific enough that each distribution sale is going to swell their coffers so that they can make another one. If they can keep that momentum going, they're going to be a force to be reckoned with. The worst thing fans can do is run out of Ross Patterson movies to watch. Fortunately this film and 2010's Screwball: The Ted Whitfield Story are both on Netflix.

As I mentioned in my FDR: American Badass! review, it's hard to place that film in the context of American film comedy and it's just as hard to place this one too. It really feels like Patterson is carving out a new niche for himself, where he's already becoming his own comparison. What's this one like? Well it's like a Ross Patterson movie. Comparing each of the three films I've seen thus far, the constants are energy and offense, so maybe like an Abrahams/Zucker/Abrahams movie written by the Monty Python team and directed by Mel Brooks. Poolboy has a lot more of the Spinal Tap mockumentary vibe too, as does Screwball, but Patterson pulls in so much else that it's somehow unfair to build a description of his work only through comparisons. If anything, the most accurate would be to a Saturday Night Live skit, or maybe half a dozen or more of them, expanded to feature length. The catch to that is that Patterson's movies are funny.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

FDR: American Badass! (2012)

Director: Garrett Brawith
Stars: Barry Bostwick, Lin Shaye, Bruce McGill, Ray Wise and Kevin Sorbo
This film was an official selection at the 8th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Scottsdale in 2012. Here's an index to my reviews of 2012 films.
After seeing the trailers for Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury and FDR: American Badass!, I knew I had to see these films, a rare sentiment for me given that modern American comedies are more likely to have me curling up in a ball and pretending the outside world is a figment of my twisted imagination. Having opened up my Phoenix Film Festival experience this year with the latter, I realise what drew me to them and I wonder if I've stumbled into one of those game changing moments in film history that can only be truly acknowledged in hindsight. The key player is Ross Patterson, a former stand up comedian and small time Hollywood actor, who may just become a household name if he can keep the momentum he's building right now. Through his production company, Street Justice Films, he's using modern technology to generate publicity and build a fanbase, then following up in old school ways, making cheap movies and keeping them coming.

It's a gamble but it's one that will surely pay off for him. While Hollywood is spending more and more money to make tired movies with tired stars who believe they're still funny, then raising ticket prices and suing their own customers to maximise their profit potential, Patterson is going the other way. He's spending less money on his films, writing and shooting quick B movies on standing sets with Roger Corman's efficiency and a dash of Ed Wood's confidence that the audience won't care about the goofs. There are few stars, but some talented people we already recognise and some we will in the future. His tongue is firmly in his cheek as he throws enough wacky ideas at the screen to ensure that at least some of them will stick. Best of all, he has his actors play their ludicrous parts delightfully straight. He understands comedy in ways that the big studios don't. If he understands business too, It may just make him the next Mel Brooks.

Now, FDR: American Badass! is certainly not for everyone. It's lewd and crude, more politically incorrect than anything I can remember, and it revels in slaying sacred cows. It's knowingly and outrageously over the top, as much so as any Troma movie I've seen. It's utterly irreverent, not just playing with history but with actual historical figures with wild abandon. There's everything the moral majority finds offensive: not just foul language, sexual innuendo and great gouts of violence, but gags about cripples and gas chambers too. There's even more period sexism than in the campaigning during this year's Republican primaries. In short, it's pretty much guaranteed to offend everyone, but how it offends is the key. A lot of people may walk out of this film, but I'd bet money they'd all walk out within the first five minutes. Anyone who lasts that long won't be able to leave for laughing so hard and Patterson never slows down enough for you to stop.

In the year that's going to bring us a big budget adaptation of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, Patterson has already brought us an even more sacrilegious mashup that Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov surely can't top, even though they have $69m to play with. You all know FDR: the 32nd President of the United States, the bringer of the New Deal, the most famous polio survivor of all time. But do you know what gave him polio? How about a Nazi werewolf? That's Patterson's take on things and he opens up with the scene where it happens. In and amongst the historical anecdotes and foul language, all made up of course, Gov Roosevelt's hunting party is attacked. One of his friends is eaten alive, with gore galore. FDR takes down the werewolf but doesn't have silver bullets so has to follow up with his fists. 'Shit goblins,' he says. Waking up in hospital, he feels like 'a bag of dicks at a lesbian convention.' No, this isn't a documentary. Honest.
One of the biggest successes of the film is that it never lets up. It grabs us by the throat, well, the legs, from moment one and keeps the crude laughs coming. Another is that the characters never fail to take their lines seriously, however ludicrous they get. The cast here is impeccable, Barry Bostwick and Bruce McGill nailing the parts of FDR and his right hand man with aplomb. Lin Shaye is amazingly straight faced as the long suffering Eleanor Roosevelt, though Ray Wise can't stop from breaking up as Douglas MacArthur. It can never hurt a comedy for us to grasp that the cast were in stitches when they made it though, however many takes it took them. Patterson keeps a major role for himself, as he tends to do in his scripts, and each of his roles confirms to me that he's a truly funny man, not just someone who can write good jokes. They should fire everyone else on Saturday Night Live and have him play all the parts himself.

The downsides to the film are relatively minor. Some of the jokes are more than a little forced but the gags come so hard and fast that missing a few is no big deal. The sexual innuendo tries for the Family Guy approach of beating the joke to death until it rises again as a zombie joke that's funny all over again and it doesn't always succeed. A few scenes are just plain wrong, but then just plain wrong is what Patterson does and he does it very well indeed. After the screening he told us that some of these, including FDR's celebration after being elected president, were improvised or extended by the cast, even beyond what he'd written for them. Yet I'm finding that in hindsight, even the scenes I didn't appreciate at the time, such as the ketchup and mustard orgy with the secretary, still stick in the mind. It's a cardinal sin of a comedy to be forgettable. Here, you can't even forget the bits you want to, which then turn around and make you smile.

Most obviously, we can never ignore the low budget because we keep wondering why there are so few people on screen. Yet the picture transcends that one too, as so few other films with that problem manage to do, outside of Monty Python movies. While we watch leaders of four nations plan their war efforts, those nations are conspicuously absent. Hitler just has a buxom fraulein to play beer pong with and a messenger to shoot; Mussolini and Hirohito only the messengers. So we're treated to gloriously insulting three way conference calls in split screen instead. That can't help elsewhere though. Here the Mafia is three New York Italian werewolves in a warehouse and the US army only contains eight privates and two generals, with Albert Einstein in reserve, but I laughed my way through those scenes anyway. It's been a couple of weeks and I can play them in my head. I can even remember a lot of the lines. They're that iconically over the top.
Patterson wrote this script in ten to twelve days and director Garrett Brawith shot it in under a month. The process seems to be to conjure up as much surreal comedic insanity as is humanly possible within set parameters and then let the cast run wild with it. None of the three Patterson movies I've seen thus far are entirely consistent, but they're funny as all get out and he's only getting more outrageous as time goes by. His 2010 mockumentary, Screwball: The Ted Whitfield Story, seemed almost tame but only because I'd worked backwards from FDR: American Badass! through Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury. If I'd found it first, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have found all the jokes about necrophilia, child abuse and bestial rape particularly tame, but everything is tame after this film. Somehow Patterson finds stepping over the line so natural that it even happens accidentally: the werewolf Hitler audition was inadvertently held on Rosh Hashanah.

It's hard to picture how this film fits into the world of American comedy. Sure, it's easy to see a link, no pun intended, to the lowest common denominator toilet humour of the last few decades, but that's just one facet of this film. The fact that the cast plays everything straight means that it has much more in common with National Lampoon's Animal House than Dumb and Dumber, for instance. There's a lot of wild imagination here too, far more than I've seen since the glory days of Mel Brooks and Monty Python in the seventies. Surely Patterson was massively influenced by both of those names, this picture containing much of the relentless boundary pushing of Blazing Saddles and the surreal silliness of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. There are overt nods to the sixties Batman TV series, not only but most obviously through transition effects between scenes. The lack of extras brings up Saturday Night Live comparisons, as does the Bon Jovi skit.

Yet the combination seems somehow new, something reenforced by seeing some of his other films, as the sheer energy and incessant ideas are as palpable there as here. There's a great deal of care given to keep the characters consistent and some of the funniest parts of the film are generated when unlikely characters meet. As much as history is rogered senseless, there's also attention paid to the period, especially in the sexism of the day. There's lots of effort given to shutting women up here, along with winking at nurses, overt homophobia and capable buns sashaying away from the camera. 'Grown men conversing,' FDR reminds his wife at one point. 'Seen not heard, Eleanor.' Patterson apparently set up Street Justice Films because he was fed up playing bullies in bad Hollywood comedies. It may be the best decision he's ever made. I wonder if in a decade we'll all remember our first Patterson. FDR: American Badass! was mine.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Chaisson: Rise of the Zerad (2010)

Director: Kevin Ulrich
Stars: Bryan Forrest and Robert Daymond

The world is full of first time filmmakers and many of them begin their careers with short films. It makes sense, after all, to start small and grow big, to figure out the filmmaking process with only a condensed story and a barebones cast and crew. Well, Kevin Ulrich began with a short film too, this one, but it's hardly a small picture. It's 28 minutes long, for a start, which is a third of feature length so really isn't that short. What makes it really surprising is that it's an epic fantasy set in a fully realised world that unfolds entirely through stop motion animation. Even as stop motion it's nothing if not ambitious. Ulrich stages frequent battle sequences, sometimes with sixty or more characters, each with fifteen frames of movement a second. Just the animation alone took him eight months of work at ten hours a day, six days a week. This is not the usual slasher film shot in a back yard with a bunch of mates in Hallowe'en masks. Talk about patience and dedication!

The film starts as it means to go on, with a battle scene full of action and fire, elves fighting over the bodies of the slain and being thrown into stunts. Can we call them stunts when the stuntmen are made of clay over paper clips, sculpted into place and baked in a toaster oven? Well, I'm no animation guru, but given that every move has to be done frame by frame, brandishing a sword has to be a lot easier to stage than tumbling down a hill, so I'll stick with stunts. Ulrich and his younger brother, Brian, drew character design for a world called Chaisson even as kids and that world stayed with them as their skills grew and they got to the point where they could make this film. We're thrust right into that world at the usual point in high fantasy stories, when everything has hit the fan on a grand scale. It's a time of war, with race fighting race, alliances forged and broken, and a trio of new monsters, the Zerad of the title, to keep things really interesting.
In this slice of Chaisson history, the Elves of Enderen are attacked by the men of King Marduk of Nimbus. He has unleashed the Zerad to serve his will and built intrigue to provide the validation. Caught in the middle are the wolfmen, who are being slaughtered in the crossfire without much understanding of what's really going on. We arrive as Prince Elrane comes into his own as leader of the elves, with the help of a wolfman called Nentha. They battle and grow together, so he can lead his people to safety at a legendary hidden city called Ankoria. We realise that this is but a small story taken from a much bigger one, but that's always the case with the best high fantasy just as with the best history. It has all the components it needs to engage: not merely a world in conflict but characters in conflict too, with each other and with themselves. We're drawn in so effectively that we can't help but want more but those 28 minutes race by amazingly quickly.

Perhaps because stop motion takes so long to make, the follow up, Chaisson: Quest for Oriud, scheduled for release this summer, is live action. The trailer looks impressive but it'll have to do a lot to surpass this beginning. Ulrich only had to work with the voices of actors, so could build everything else exactly how he wanted it all on his own. His many years of amateur films, from Lego animations at the age of eleven up to this one, taught him the cinematic language and he uses it well. Characters are placed exactly where they should be, looking and moving the way they should. The choreography is impeccable and the camera movements follow suit. One shot in particular had me grinning like an idiot, as a giant berserker called the Brute unsheathes his weapons. The sound design and music are both players and the voice acting is solid. Then again, I think the Ulrichs had this in mind when they were in single digits. That's a lot of rehearsal time.

I was surprised to find that I recognised one of those actors, Robbie Daymond, who plays the lead wolfman, Nentha. He impressed me in a supporting role in Office of the Dead, a feature that blended horror with comedy, and then impressed me again in Recollection, a much more serious horror short, released the same year as this film. This is a complete change of pace but he does a fine job with only his voice. Most notable on the voice front, I think, has to be Steve Hahn, as he gives birth to some truly amazing vocal sounds, including a glorious Zerad shriek that's like a ringwraith/raptor hybrid on steroids. Bryan Forrest does a solid job as Prince Elrane, but he can't compete with Hahn's shrieks. At the end of the day though, this utterly belongs to Kevin Ulrich, mostly as the animator supreme but also as director and co-writer. I'll happily watch the live action sequel but I really want to see more glorious Chaisson claymation. Old school rocks.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Zone of the Dead (2009)

Directors: Milan Konjević and Milan Todorović
Stars: Ken Foree and Kristina Klebe

Lately I've been fascinated by horror films made in countries you wouldn't expect, and you'll see a lot more of that at Apocalypse Later this year. It isn't only that I can't resist movies with names like Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre, it's that slices of exotic culture often shine through the material so familiar stories can carry a new edge. This is a Serbian film (no, not A Serbian Film), with financing from Spain and Italy, so it carries an Eastern European flavour that's more than welcome, except when it extends to the accents. That wouldn't have been a problem if it had been shot in Serbian but for some reason, perhaps to better target a global audience, almost the entire film unfolds in English, heavily accented English, even when dubbed. Fortunately this gets better with time, for the characters who survive are mostly played by native English speakers like Ken Foree, the star of the show, who landed an associate producer credit too.

It's pretty obvious from reviews that a lot of viewers took the broken language to be bad acting and in a few cases it is, but mostly it's a poor, albeit well intentioned, decision by the production company. I hope it paid off for them, but I know I would have enjoyed it much more in subtitled Serbian, a better dub or even as dual language. The other bizarre decision taken was with the title. This is a zombie flick, so no prizes for guessing the last three words, but the rest of the title keeps changing. It's Apocalypse of the Dead in the opening credits, Zone of the Dead at the end. In Germany it's Apocalypse of the Living Dead. In the US it's 2012: Apocalypse of the Dead, even though it was was shot in 2009 and released there in 2010. Maybe Americans get Serbians and Mayans confused. The follow up is supposedly Island of the Damned, formerly Wrath of the Dead and, inevitably, Zone of the Dead 2. It's no spoiler to say Foree may return, with Jenna Jameson.

Outside the confusion of titles and language, this is a steady zombie movie with high points and low points. It begins well except for the accents, in a brief origin story. It's 1985 and we emerge neatly from a grave to discover that the three hundred year old Turkish skeletons inadvertently dug up by builders had died of the plague. A workman who cut himself on a bone died before the ambulance could arrive, but no prizes for guessing that he quickly rises as a zombie. After the title sequence we fast forward to the modern day. We're still in the Industrial Zone, but Pančevo is now a town in Serbia not Yugoslavia. One drunken scuffle there between a trio of soldiers and a train station security guard during a military exercise leaves a bullet hole in a chemical tanker and toxic green mist overwhelming the station. I wonder what effect that might have... well, how many zombie movies have you seen where the beginning wasn't utterly predictable?
Fortunately it improves quickly. Thus far the acting and delivery has been poor, but the action has been capable. The camera moves well, often in broad sweeps, and it has the courage to try for a little style as we're introduced to the various subplots. When Agent Mina Milius picks up a mysterious prisoner with no name from the state prison in Vrsac, the camera jerkily follows the fun he has with his former guards. Don't worry if you hate handheld stuff though, because it's quick and far from motion sickness inducing. In fact I quite like the concept of having the camera stay smooth for the live characters only to shift to jerky, handheld footage when the zombies are in frame. In between, the jerkiness increases with the tension and feels appropriate. It enhances the urgency of the situations but never gets to the point of causing motion sickness. It's worth mentioning that what Americans may see as a low budget is really a high budget in Serbia.

The main subplot ties to Milius and the prisoner she's charged with transporting to somewhere or other. She's on her debut mission and still green, so along to assist is Agent Mortimer Reyes, a living legend at Interpol who has presumably got too old for this shit, and his partner and friend, Insp Dragan Belic. 'If there ever was an easy assignment, this is it,' says Reyes, but if that was the case we wouldn't have a movie, and so they drive into Pančevo and the zombie apocalypse. Mostly we stay with these stars as the other subplots gradually connect in. The second begins at the train station, where a quiet professor survives the gas but still has the zombiefied soldiers and guards to deal with. It quickly merges with a couple of other subplots: three kids who break down in exactly the wrong place and a crazily dangerous character, subtly named Armageddon, who has been patiently waiting for the End of Days in exactly the right place.
Everyone ends up at an abandoned police station, which should ably highlight the most overt inspiration for the story: John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13. There's a neat loop of influence here, as Assault on Precinct 13 was Carpenter's take on Rio Bravo, but instead of a western he shot it as an urban thriller with its abandoned police station attacked by gang members inspired by the zombies in George A Romero's Night of the Living Dead. That's why they didn't speak and they just kept on coming, no matter how many of them were gunned down on the way. Zone of the Dead merely plays it without the metaphor, so its police station remains a police station and its zombies are, well, zombies. The prisoner played by Italian actor Emilio Roso is lifted straight out of Assault on Precinct 13 but with a hint of Clint Eastwood's man with no name too. There's also a decent nod to Dawn of the Dead, still Foree's best and most famous picture.

The setup is a bit muddled, but the story follows capable directions to get to the recognisable territory. There's a neat shock moment as our leads arrive in Pančevo, which actually causes a fair amount of shock in the characters for a change. Unlike most zombie movie cops or soldiers, these guys obviously haven't gone through specific training on how to deal with an outbreak of the living dead. They figure it out, of course, with the usual dumb mistakes, but the initial shock that hammers them for a little while is very much appreciated. The effects are also excellent, as these zombies look and sound exactly as they should, the brain munching extras doing a much better job than the living ones at the beginning of the movie, including one who's fresh from the shower. The names of a few early victims highlight how much a priority the effects were: Agents Savini and Bottin don't last long enough to get any dialogue. That may be a blessing.

In fact, the film looks very good indeed, far better than it sounds. Scenes with zombies pressed up against glass doors or zombie kids emerging from pipes are beautifully shot. When we find a finalé of sorts, the lead zombie makes for a great visual, like a bloody steampunk clown. There's a gauntlet run that's a little freaky weird but I liked it, very easy on the eyes. There are quite a few neat shock moments dotted here and there to pause the action. Yet somehow it can't resist utter cliché on occasion: at one point the prisoner does a sexy action leap that is so gratuitous that it made me cringe. As good as the visuals get, the focus is on character throughout, which is admirable but not as much as it could be: these may be fleshed out characters but they're hardly surprising ones. The dialogue is decent, though the delivery is far from consistent. The one real exception is Armageddon, whose lines are as laughably over the top as his name.
Ken Foree is certainly getting old but he does a pretty good job as Reyes and it's always good to see him in another picture. Veteran Serbian actor Miodrag Krstović looks a lot older, though he's two years younger than Foree. That doesn't help our belief in their back stories but they're not a hardship to watch. Foree plays close to what we might expect him to play, but Krstović is known in Serbia as a character actor usually on the unpleasant side, more often a criminal than a cop. Kristina Klebe is a versatile multilingual actress who's let down by her character, who is far too green to have been given the mission we're supposed to buy into. It would have helped a little if she could have kept her shirt tucked in. That can't be regulation. Best of the leads in my eyes was Emilio Roso, who is notably cool under pressure as the mysterious prisoner, very patient and very capable. I liked his approach, like Lou Diamond Phillips playing Antonio Banderas.

All the leads are there as developing characters, who have action thrust upon them. By contrast, Armageddon is there entirely for the action and he feels like a reject from a Tarantino picture, jarringly out of place. He's fulfilling a prophecy, an outrageous action hero who kicks arse for the Lord and almost everything he says is a biblical reference. A bizarre mix of David Beckham and the Rock, I'm only surprised he got such a small part, given that he's played by Vukota Brajović, who co-wrote and produced the film alongside the directors, Milan Konjević and Milan Todorović. This very obvious role really has no place in the film and could only have been written in as an excuse to give him outrageous things to do. While Zone of the Dead stumbles frequently under the weight of heavy accents and familiar storylines, there's a decent zombie flick underneath it all that occasionally makes it out. With appropriate restraint and less Brajović, the sequel may well be interesting.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Legend of the Shoe Man (2010)

Director: Joey Skidmore

This is apparently a true story, though you know how that goes in low budget horror movies, especially when they're narrated by people as apparently deliberately over the top as director Joey Skidmore. The Shoe Man is an American eccentric, who lived near the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri and cultivated things like a cup tree and a shoe fence, which are precisely what you think they are except they're really big. One of the characters interviewed explains that there are 1,436 pairs of shoes on the shoe fence and 1,500 missing people in Missouri. I say characters because while many, if not all, of these folks are apparently real, they're as eccentric as the character they talk about in this documentary. Is this supposed to be really true or is it playing on the fact that most viewers would believe anything of folks from the Ozarks? Some of these characters are just too out there to be remotely believable but hey, it's the Ozarks, right? Pull out the banjo, someone!

Certainly Skidmore plays up to our expectations of backwoods hicks, treating us to no end of outré characters. We get a psychic, a musician, a bartender. We get a big bearded guy in a lumberjack shirt who seems to be retarded. We get a store owner with a big white beard and a huge puppet. There's a Waffle House manager with a notable cleavage and a guy with a metal plate in his head who fertilises his watermelon patch with his own excrement. There's John the Angry Plumber and the Rev Monte Python, preaching to us around a fire with snakes wrapped around his wrists. Sheriff Stephen 'Quick Draw' McGraw comes complete with eyepatch. Wolf the Bounty Hunter talks while sharpening his knives. Jim Dandy, lead singer of Black Oak Arkansas, now has truly scary teeth. All these folks tell us ghost stories about the Shoe Man, while we get deliberately overplayed comedic fantasies or reenactments of the stories. 'I'm gonna get me that shoe man,' Wolf keeps saying.

The biggest problem with the film is that it has no clue what it really wants to be and I still haven't worked out what Skidmore aimed at. As a documentary, it pokes so much fun at itself that it's impossible to believe a word, even when we know at least some of these folks are real. Come on, we get Betty Jo and Betty Lou in a haystack together telling us they're cousins, and when they kiss add that they're more like sisters. How serious can we take it? Yet as a comedy, it's inconsistent because it seems to go serious on us when we least expect it. There seems to be real folklore here or least believable folklore and, to be honest, the one springs from the other. As a drama, it sucks, but at least there's a consistency there to cling to. I ended up looking at it as outsider art. I have no idea what to think of it but I can immerse myself in the exhibition of bizarreness that Skidmore collected together to put in front of his camera. On that front it's an experience.

Friday, 13 April 2012

I am Bish (2009)

Director: Dave Bishop
Stars: Dave Bishop and Siobhan Dow-Hall

You have to love a feature which begins by openly admitting that it was made by an idiot. It may be that writer/director Dave Bishop made the film entirely as a pitch to land the lead role in a remake of Magnum, PI, but he has fun doing it. He sees himself as the love child of Han Solo and Mad Max, because the spirit of Jimi Hendrix told him that in a peyote trance, and it's tantamount to the man's skill that he manages to get all this out without cracking up. He's seen Uncommon Valor 17 times but he's never seen Dirty Dancing. He's a romantic who has phone sex over VOIP with foreign women in foreign languages. He's a philosopher with night vision, weapons and an internet connection that never fails, even after the zombie apocalypse arrives. Yes, this is another zombie movie but it's unlike any other zombie movie out there. By the time we wonder where the actual zombies are and when they're going to arrive in Perth, the film introduces a countdown to arrival.

Initially this is a documentary about Bishop's life, shot as his graduating project at the Perth Film School. He wouldn't have done too well, given that he devotes quite a bit of time to chatting up his lecturer, Miss Carson, rather than actually revealing anything of substance. We listen to a host of comedic ramblings about science, religion and Star Wars, because Bishop's most obvious influence is Kevin Smith. To be frank, I much prefer Bish, as much as he often loses the plot and he labours a few points for too long. Sure, Smith's gore effects and animation work are far superior but Bish is willing to take on zombies with a weedeater and a leafblower. He fights flying zombie fish with a machine gun. He has fun with an autographed cricket bat. He even takes out the living dead with a silencer on his rifle because he's finally found a living woman (on an MMORPG) and he doesn't want to wake her up. He's dying for some but she's not going to put out because he's an idiot.

It's thoroughly refreshing to watch a movie in which the comedic element is more than happy to put himself down. Kevin Smith just stands there and looks cool while Jason Mewes acts like an idiot. Bish gets to play both parts at once and he's so much more fun to watch. His pop culture monologues are wide ranging and often clever, right down to the 'image not available' when he talks about Allah. He illustrates how small Perth is by explaining how few skyscrapers Spider-Man has to swing between. He sets up less than professional animations that include Sean Connery playing Gandalf, Stephen Hawking doing his nurse in the closet and the Millennium Falcon failing to reverse park. After pointing out that TIE fighters have wings made of solar panels he explains, 'You can say what you like about the Empire but at least they're environmently friendly.' I loved the enhanced attacks the screen announces he receives after reaching a hundred zombie kills.

The story leaps around all over the place. From a Project Greenlight documentary, an exercise in storytelling and character, it turns into a zombie flick, courtesy of some sort of neutron emissions, partly found footage and partly more documentary style, given that after 99.9% of the populace turns into the living dead, he realises that now his life is finally almost worth documenting. We still leap around, through footage obviously shot at completely different times, along with animations, fake newspapers and an apparent video date tape in which Bish talks about being afflicted with a romantic nature while interrupting his monologues to click at Mkotkobekee, his Kalahari Bush Angel. He can fake foreign languages pretty well. For a while it's just him, but eventually he finds Sarah with whom he can share the film and hopefully a sexual encounter or six. Throughout he keeps poking fun at himself. One fake newspaper has a headline reading 'I am Bish sucks ass.'

This is far from highbrow culture but it's a fun flick, a cross between a zombie picture, a stand up comedy routine and an opportunity for Bish to expound on anything he likes. Beyond auditioning for Magnum, PI, he serves as a tourist commercial for the western Australian coast and bitches at the government bodies who concern themselves with Aussie cinema. Given the eighties animation and the obviously added on gun and blood effects, the budget can't have been huge, especially as almost the entire film rests on the shoulders of Bish and Siobhan Dow-Hall, who plays Sarah. 'No way I'm doing the sequel,' she mutters at one point. Yet I'd rather watch this any day than the big budget zombie movies that seem to be everywhere nowadays. Most of the imaginative takes are coming from indie filmmakers, from Gay Zombie through Cupcake: A Zombie Lesbian Musical to Rising Up! The Story of the Zombie Rights Movement. This is likely to become a favourite.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Kid Crimson and the Bearded Wonder (2010)

Director: Decker Slowey
Stars: Nicholas Giombi and Seth Blackstone

I'm finding microbudget cinema more fascinating as time goes by, as the ever decreasing entry cost into feature length moviemaking means that it's possible nowadays for people to spend next to no money on a picture and yet still have it turn out vaguely watchable. This one has the usual microbudget flaws: the sound is a little too quiet on occasion, some of the shots are a little dark and the music is a little inconsistent, but then the frickin' thing cost $6,000. That's a tenth of what Ed Wood spent making Plan 9 from Outer Space over half a century ago. Based on that comparison just making it through 112 minutes ought to be an achievement and it turns out to be a pleasure. Admittedly it's a flawed pleasure as it certainly could have benefitted from some more severe editing, but the acting isn't bad at all, ranging from decent amateur up to capable professional, there are some decent transitions and the setups are well thought out. It has a lot of promise.

The credits suggest something not far off a two man show, because the names of Nicholas Giombi and Decker Slowey are everywhere. Giombi was the director of photography, he composed music, assisted with editing, choreographed fights, designed special effects and wrote the story. Slowey wrote, directed, edited and produced, cast the film and edited the sound. Both were executive producers. If this really did only cost $6,000, and any claims along those lines can't help but bring back lessons learned from Joe Queenan's book, The Unkindest Cut: How a Hatchet-Man Critic Made His Own $7,000 Movie and Put It All on His Credit Card, then these guys are doing something very right. No, it doesn't look remotely like Transformers or Avatar, but let's thank the stars for that. The lack of budget is obvious, especially in the bit parts where actors are recycled frequently, but its heart is very much in the right place.

Giombi is also half of the title double act. He's the Crimson Kid, a surprisingly young assassin who wears shades because it's obvious that he dreams of being Tom Cruise and can't resist referencing movies at the drop of a hat. He's Snake Plissken. He's Alex Murphy. He won't say what his name really is, at least until he's about to die. He has a cute boss and he's willing to take on a two million dollar job to assassinate a priest. This probably wasn't intended to be a commentary on Hollywood but I couldn't take it any other way as he's the hip one of the pair. The Bearded Wonder is Brother Breaker, a hitman for the church, of all things, who is hired by his archbishop to take care of some zombies. The church dresses it up as 'necrotic reanimation', but there's something unholy going on and they want to shoot it in the head. He and his initial partner Agent Oliver are God's weapons. 'Go with Christ, my son,' his bishop tells him, 'Give those heathens Hell, boy!'

So the Crimson Kid is Hollywood hip and the Bearded Wonder is on a mission from God. They end up together because Agent Oliver was the Kid's target but is turned into a zombie before he can even locate him. It's an interesting setup, ambitious enough to add a strange opening sequence pitting a young boy against a blurred man that naturally comes back later to add some irony, but the style trumps the substance. The dialogue is good, notably so for a microbudget film, though the delivery can't live up to it throughout, Giombi having more skill behind the camera than in front of it, at least at this point in his young career. Luckily he's partnered with Seth Blackstone, who is a surprising gem. As the Crimson Kid is cool, the Bearded Wonder is uncool, so much so that when he's taken down by a tranquiliser dart, Agent Oliver can't even move him because he's not a small man. The obvious comparison is to Jay and Silent Bob but I hate those guys.
The mismatched buddy movie framework is a good one. The Crimson Kid is all about style and movie references, the Bearded Wonder is all about efficiency and God. The Kid is introduced to us through a sniper hit from a rooftop in which he's half Tom Cruise and half Chow Yun Fat. Brother Breaker shows his skill in spaghetti western style, more like a serious Bud Spencer, shooting the card of Judas from out of the hand of his assistant: six shots, all through the head. Blackstone, who also served as chief grip, firearms expert and assistant DP, has much better delivery than Giombi but his voice is sometimes a little too quiet. Blackstone gets the better lines, but the Kid thinks he does and he acts accordingly. 'I'm trying real hard to ignore all the nuggets of morondom that come out of your mouth,' Brother Breaker tells him. Later he clarifies: 'Get this straight. We aren't friends. We never have been. I'm a man of Christ and you're a jerkoff.'

All this is proof that Silent Bob is just too damn silent. If he'd conjured up lines like these at the end of Clerks, we could have missed out on a lot of pain. Fortunately Blackstone doesn't stay silent and he proves to be a fascinating actor to watch. There are clumsy points here, inconsistencies of tone and oration, but he's hardly expecting to pick up an Oscar. He has the potential to succeed on the lines of someone like Bruce Campbell: he has the voice, he just has to develop the charisma and if he can live up to that, there could be a couple of decades of interesting genre material ahead. He's far more interesting to watch than Giombi, who is patently too young for his part and would be far better as an acting coach than an actor. The Kid is fun mostly because of his charm, the Bearded Wonder because of depth. He wants to be a good guy, to stop the bad guys, but he isn't really sure which side he's actually on. He wants a black and white world, where concessions aren't needed.

While the film eventually falls down through being too long and too ambitious for its budget, it does a lot very right. I love the way the filmmakers play with movie clichés, to the degree that I'm not sure whether some things are goofs or deliberate errors. When the Kid introduces himself to Brother Breaker as either Kid Crimson or a used tampon, it's because he has a white suit jacket that has been half drenched in blood after he rode his motorbike into a deer. The bloodstains periodically change side. Was this deliberate or am I just reading too much into the filmmakers' obvious love of cheesy movies? The bad guy organisation is called Hades and I can't help but imagine that being an acronym, though no full name is given. The machine gun effects are right out of Bad Taste and some of the comedy too, which is a sure way to reach my heart, though it's not done with quite as much panache. Some of the shots are even phrased from the same angles.

Another success is the zombies. Without the budget for quality zombie make up, the effects guys are forced to switch to imagination instead. As a fresh zombie, Agent Oliver looks like he's been drenched in oil. The first batch of attacking zombies include Santa Claus, a mummy and a guy in a Nazi helmet. Later there are zombies in balaclavas. The leader is Jackson Liedl playing Maestro the mummy, and he goes joyously over the top with his lines. He could easily be a Saturday morning cartoon villain with dialogue like 'Dance, my puppets! Play my symphony of death!' As our heroes take down zombies with atomic leg drops and Maestro pronounces, 'I love the smell of carnage in the morning,' we're either going to be laughing or crying. I moved from the latter to the former by the boss battle finalé. This is fun stuff and I wish it all the best. However I'm looking forward to the next film these guys come up with even more.

Since my review, the folks behind Kid Crimson and the Bearded Wonder have reedited the film and made it available to watch for free at their website. Watch through the trailer for their next feature, Lion in the Rubble and it'll appear.

Caine's Arcade (2012)

Director: Nirvan Mullick
Star: Caine Monroy

After The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol, I thought it appropriate to add a unicorn chaser in the form of Caine's Arcade, a ten minute documentary short. After watching it, you'll feel better about life. After reading up on what it's achieved, you'll feel better still. The filmmaker is Nirvan Mullick, who only has three titles listed on his IMDb page: two short films from a decade ago and the remake of Willard, on which he apparently directed the title animation but wasn't credited. Until this week, his fame rested on a collaborative art project called The 1 Second Film, which combined one second of animation with an hour of credits, each of the 24 frames of animation being a painting nine feet by five painted by hundreds of people. He began it in 2001 while a student at the California Institute of the Arts but made the front page of YouTube in 2006 and raised $7,000 in four days. Looking back, he must see his 2006 achievement as amateur.

He stumbled onto this project by accident, while visiting an auto parts store to buy a door handle for his '96 Corolla. What he found inside the store was Caine's Arcade, imaginatively designed and built out of cardboard during a summer vacation by the owner's son, nine year old Caine Monroy. Unfortunately this back street gem was entirely unknown, given that Smart Parts Auto is stuck in an industrial zone in East LA without much in the way of walk in traffic. Even his school friends didn't believe him when Caine said he had an arcade of his own. And so Mullick became his first customer, buying a 500 turn fun pass for two bucks. Endeared by Caine's imagination and enthusiasm, Mullick decided to shoot a short documentary film about his arcade, with the subtext of making the boy's dreams come true. The power of the internet soon manifested itself into what Caine called 'the best day of my whole life.'

Actually it's become the best week of his whole life because what happens in the film is only the start and Mullick surely must expand this well constructed and heartstring-tugging ten minutes into a feature length documentary, because in many ways the story only began when the film ended. There's a website, of course, where you can watch the short online, embedded from Vimeo. On Monday, almost 2,000 people watched it. On Tuesday, it went viral and half a million others caught up. By today, it reached a million and a half views. Over 44,000 people have liked the Facebook page. Most importantly, Mullick set up the Caine's Arcade Scholarship Fund to help Caine afford to go to college and it reached its target of $100,000 in a mere three days. It's pretty obvious that there are a lot of people who have been touched by this story and want to see it progress. The only question is whether we can wait for the full length feature.

If you haven't seen this yet, you can find it at the Caine's Arcade website.

The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol (2010)

Director: Aramis Sartorio
Star: Tommy Pistol

On first viewing, The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol plays out like a Troma film that merely wasn't made by Troma, to boldly search for new extremes that have never been sought before, to elicit some sort of response from an audience so deluged by them that it's become jaded. Yet there's something more going on here. There's substance, each of the three themed acts aiming satirical commentary at the underground film industry in California and often hitting the mark, perhaps unsurprising given that the writer, director and star has a lot of experience working in it. Mostly though there's a decidedly twisted sense of dark humour that begins in the framing story and only gets deeper as we delve into the film proper, reminding very much of bizarro fiction. If you've ever read anything published in that strange literary genre, you'll recognise this film as its cinematic equivalent, something most such readers probably thought they would never see.

The man behind it all is Aramis Sartorio, something of a Renaissance man of the darker depths. Piecing together his background, he seems to have started out as a comedian, working sketch comedy with a troupe called Cheese Theater for over a decade. However he found his way into the blue movie business, where AVManiacs called him 'a total goofball that happens to be the funniest man working in porn'. He's best known for XXX-rated parodies of everything from Taxi Driver to Hogan Knows Best via Family Guy. No, I'm not kidding. More relevant to this film is the hardcore horror niche he created with alt porn actress and entrepreneur Joanna Angel: unholy couplings of gore flicks and hardcore porn, resulting in titles like Re-Penetrator, The XXXorcist and Evil Head. He's also an underground movie buff, the singer for hardcore band AmoreA and now an indie film writer, producer and director, winner of a few awards at Pollygrind last year.

Given all this background, I wonder how much of this film is sourced from real life. Watch with that in mind and the first act may well scare you, while the third act will... well, let's wait a little before we get into that. Tommy Pistol is Sartorio's porn alter ego, the star of all those hardcore spoofs, but he isn't afraid to make him look like a total douche here. This Tommy Pistol isn't in porn but he wouldn't mind being because it would at least earn him some money. He's not good at earning money, or much else it seems, though he has dreams of being an actor, a big star. He has auditions, but he doesn't show up on time. He has jobs, but he loses them. He has a wife and kid but they give up on him and leave. Given that his screen wife is played by his real wife, who berates him for being a terrible actor with terrible dreams, I wonder how many takes they shot to make it through without breaking up laughing. Their toddler steals the whole scene.

And so a year passes and his fortunes fall further. He sets a hot dog to cook for twenty minutes rather than twenty seconds then falls asleep in front of a porn movie with a penis pump happily pumping away. This Freudian scenario triggers three dreams that simultaneously reflect his subconscious and the reality around him that he no longer seems to be quite connected to. How much of what we see constitutes each of those and how much is Sartorio roasting his porn alter ego is all open to question, but it's surely a combination of all. I love the relationship between Sartorio and Pistol. They maintain separate pages at IMDb, but not just to separate the porn from the indie filmmaking as they split credits on this film too: Pistol in front of the camera, Sartorio behind it. Pistol seems to be only a character to Sartorio, but Sartorio can't write a story without it filtering through Pistol's subconscious. I guess you're never alone when you're a schizophrenic.

What we end up with is a heady mixture of deep introspection and fart jokes, the neatly surreal and the pointlessly inane, the cleverly constructed and the obviously cheap. It's so inconsistent in its approach that there's absolutely no way that it isn't deliberate. Either that or Sartorio is a trickster genius who made the film entirely to mess with the minds of reviewers. I wouldn't put it past him. The deeper question speaks to how much he's deliberately satirising and how much is conjured up by the personal experience of the viewer. For that, we may never find an answer. It wouldn't surprise me to find that Aramis Sartorio is as much a pseudonym as Tommy Pistol and we really have someone else playing a character playing a character, like Sacha Baron-Cohen on a Möbius strip. Let's suffice it to say that this isn't remotely safe viewing for anyone you might deem impressionable, yet it contains what may be the first fart joke I laughed at since I was four.

The first act is purest Troma. In this dream, Pistol channels Pee Wee, I think, but he comes across more like Adam Sandler playing a retarded Mormon. He travels from New York to LA on an empty train, where he's abused by the ticket clerk; he makes it to a seedy motel where a big Indian wants to film him masturbating ('If we do not touch, we are not gay,' he's told); and he leaps into bed only to be stabbed in the back by a host of discarded needles, waking up in his own vomit to a call to be on set in fifteen minutes. This is the classic Hollywood dream turned horror story, just a little more graphic and a little less polite than the silents used to show it. The shoot underlines it, Pistol so caught up in his future fame that he can't see what he's got himself into. He blindly goes along with every bizarre request they have of him and I do mean bizarre. He answered their ad through fuckedbydeath.com. Subtle, they aren't. By the way, it's not real. I checked.

Initially I thought the main producer looked like a bald Quentin Tarantino, but maybe he's more like Carlton Mellick III, given the bizarro nature of the subject matter. His office contains floggers and S&M mags. The set is a torture chamber. The crew are comprised of a producer, a weapon master, a cameraman and a gimp. 'Anyone at home that's going to miss you?' is as far as the interview goes. 'After today your life is never going to be the same,' the boss tells him. 'You're going to be a star.' Actually he tells him a bunch of stuff but that's all Pistol really hears. He doesn't hear, 'You'll definitely be eligible to be arrested,' for example. And so to the shoot, which unfolds just as you expect it to, if you have an imagination twisted enough. I doubt you do. Does that set it up appropriately? Well, there's also a fourth wall monologue half an hour in that rings as true as the one in JCVD. It's the dark resonating underbelly of the hollow Hollywood dream.

I won't go into what happens here, but it isn't remotely pretty. If you seek out this film based on the last two paragraphs, you deserve to be surprised. It's completely stupid. It's inappropriate to the max. No doubt, it's utterly demeaning. Somehow though, it's funny as hell. Some might be a little concerned about Sartorio's state of mind, but somehow he manages to combine satire with slapstick and pretty much every level of humour in between. It's the manual of comedy mashed up in a blender and spat out as a fever dream. It may say as much about my state of mind as it does Sartorio's but I loved it. It's so wrong in so many ways that it comes out so right but it can't be described, only experienced. The water wings are a touch of genius. If only the entire movie was as solid as this first act. Unfortunately it isn't. Acts two and three are just as bizarre and, if anything, they're even grosser but they're never as wildly imaginative and they're a lot cheaper.

While the three acts are unrelated except for the lead character of Tommy Pistol, they do carry on a theme, which is fame. Act I is about pursuing the Hollywood dream, about how to become a superstar. Once you've made it, Act II explains how fleeting it all is and how hard it is to make it back to the top. Act III tells us that it won't happen, that the system will grind you down until you won't believe where you end up and what you'll be doing when you get there. These may sound like lofty aspirations and they are, but they're shot cheaply and with an insane sense of humour that isn't about to allow us to take any of it too seriously. So Tommy Pistol takes notably surreal aim at the cult of the celebrity then descends into the depths of the indie porn industry. Each act is easily summed up with a single selected line of dialogue. For Act II: 'Hey, that guy killed Arnold Schwarzenegger and he's wearing his skin!' For Act III: 'I wanted to stab my eyes with Lysol.'

Unfortunately these acts aren't remotely up to the standards of the first one. There's little other than the subject matter to recommend the middle one, though Camilla Lim has fun as Lynn, who fights Fake Arnie without a clue how to fight. The choreography is gloriously and deliberately inept and I loved it. Like the other actors, who have no doubt done better work elsewhere, she has trouble keeping a straight face. That's even more of a problem in the porn section, where the crew obviously gave up reshooting scenes because the actors cracked up laughing and just tried to work around it as best they could. Laughter is the only way to deal with how gross this part of the film gets, because it may just be the grossest thing you've ever seen. And of course that's the point. I wonder how many viewers make it through. Maybe if they've survived the first two thirds, they'll survive the last one. Maybe not.

The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol is absolutely not for everyone. Sharing this with family will get you disowned, cut off and unceremoniously kicked out on the street. Sharing it with friends will lose you a lot of friends. But if you pick the right friend, you'll bond forever and a whole new world will open up for you both. Suddenly you'll condemn Lloyd Kaufman for his huge budgets. Instead of following Caleb Emerson, the snuff boss from the first act, to Troma movies like Die You Zombie Bastards and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, you'll follow Sean Cain, who voices the spirit dog in Act II, to Creep Creepersin movies like Vaginal Holocaust or Caged Lesbos A-Go-Go. Yes, those are real movies. So are Werewolf in a Women's Prison, Incest Death Squad and Warning!!! Pedophile Released. He was in those too. He also shot Silent Night, Zombie Night, which features many of the cast members of this film. Welcome to the rabbit hole, Neo.