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Saturday, 15 November 2014

Kiki Meets the Vampires (2014)

Chrissy Mountjoy-Collette, John Tomelleri, Dale Hilton, Amber Lodge, Shawn Mock, Rev Dwight Frizzell, Lionel Dekanel, Paxton Von Kruger, Eric 'Kiki' Clam and Krystal Heib
The biggest perk that stems from being a film critic, reviewing at Apocalypse Later the sort of films that most critics don't review, is the feedback I get from filmmakers. It's the best feeling in the world when an actor, a writer or a director gets in touch with me from the other side of the world because they've found my review of their film and they want to let me know that I got it. Well, one film that I'm still not sure that I've got yet is The Legend of the Shoe Man, which I first saw as a festival submission. It's a short piece of folk art which builds something mythical that may or may not have been real. It might be a documentary or a fairy tale or an anthropological study or a fireside yarn or an experiment to build an urban legend out of thin air using an odd mix of interviews, stock footage, comedy, exploitation, music video, sermonising, reenactment and outsider artistry. Well, I reviewed The Legend of the Shoe Man and Joey Skidmore, the man behind the film, found it and kindly sent me a copy of Kiki Meets the Vampires to review too.

Now, if The Legend of the Shoe Man was offbeat, Kiki Meets the Vampires is a wild glowing portal into the Twilight Zone. It's about everything that Hollywood isn't and, while it refuses to explain itself, it's easier to figure out than Skidmore's first film. It just took me a while to get there and until I did I'm not sure if I was embarrassed, entertained or embarrassed about being entertained. My better half didn't like it at all but I couldn't keep my eyes off it. I found a peculiar charm to it that suggests that it would play well at a party, not just once but looped over and over, in the right company of course. And that's going to be the key, as this is far from a movie for everyone. The more open you are to the unconventional, the more you might just get a kick out of this movie, because it's less of a narrative story and more of an odd collage of odd characters shoehorned into an odd hour. The closest I can come to summarising the film is by suggesting an episode of Scooby Doo, as cast by Ed Wood and directed by Mack Sennett.

To describe it properly, I have to explore it through its characters. It begins with Krystal Heib portraying a vampire queen like her life depended on it. Scantily clad in lingerie and a fur coat and backed by stained glass, she writhes in ecstasy in an antique chair to the music video for La Guinguette by les Fossoyeurs, a French punk band. Using an outrageous Bela Lugosi accent and enough emphasis for a dozen mimes, she cries to her entourage, 'Him! I vant that one! Bring me Kiki!', referring to the lead singer of the band, also one of its three saxophonists. When did you last hear a punk band with three saxophones? It might have been the same time you last saw a punk band switch to jazz via traditional chanson and even include a whistling section through which they do-si-do. Les Fossoyeurs (or the Gravediggers) aren't your regular punk band, that's for sure. Krystal Heib isn't your usual vampire queen either; surely most don't have a bald bongo playing vampire stooge in a purple velvet smoking jacket. This is all about wild coolness.
If Heib and her minions constitute the vampires, it's time for us to head over the pond to meet Kiki, and so we do, watching les Fossoyeurs eating dinner, jamming in a local club and surviving vampire attacks without apparently noticing that they're even happening. I was never quite sure if the vampire girls with their corpse paint and transparent pursuit tactics are supposed to be invisible or not, but they're easily foiled through such timeless tactics as banana peels and farts. Then again, being French, Kiki's farts are probably lethal to vampires because of the garlic. Maybe all French vampires should emigrate to Kansas City instead. After a succession of scenes both legitimately or inexplicably in French, les Fossoyeurs hop Stateside for an American tour, grounded as the whole film is by the newsreading of a French DJ. French news is comprised half by coverage of 'the biggest band in Europe' surely about to break North America and half by the mysterious murders spreading across the continent.

What's clear thus far is that most of the people in the film can't act but that all of them are clearly having a blast making it. Also, just as Ed Wood cast non-actors who were fascinating people (psychics, wrestlers, horror hosts etc), Skidmore cast this film from the eccentrics and fascinating characters around him (and given that he's been a musician for decades, there are plenty of them). Some return from The Legend of the Shoe Man like Wolf the Bounty Hunter (now Vampire Slayer) and John the Angry Plumber. Others show up at this point, like the Rev Dwight Frizzell or the bikers with flaming swords who arrive at the finalé. The key to getting into a Skidmore film appears to be the ability to do something either bizarre or unique, like walking across a kitchen floor on your hands to attack someone with your feet, or to actually be someone bizarre or unique, whether through size, shape or character. Then he can shoot you doing something cool and edit your respective footage together into something that vaguely resembles a story.
Most of these folk only have bit parts though, what might be fairly described as cameo appearances if a debut screen appearance could be called a cameo. The thrust of the narrative follows three set groups of characters. Two are represented in the title: Kiki and the French punks in les Fossoyeurs and the vampire queen and her minions. The third are not and they're later arrivals in the film but they do become just as prominent, in fact far more important to the film and its tone. The realisation that they're a parody of the Scooby Gang brings everything into focus and suddenly it all makes sense. Why was Betty reading in the bath, while Chrissy played with her bubbles? Why do the pair of them have a pillow fight and frolic on the bed for no apparent reason? Well, because they're really Velma and Daphne and who didn't grow up with that vision in mind whenever they watched Scooby Doo? Now Tom and Stoney make sense. Now the twin for Wolf makes sense. Now the Reverend makes sense. Now it all makes sense!

Daphne, I mean Chrissy, is the most prominent, as Chrissy Mountjoy is a tall drink of blonde water with a short purple dress and a lime green boa. She's acted before, generally in lesbian horror films like Dream Witch and Christine's Addiction, but surely her finest moment here is after the credits when we watch her try repeatedly to pronounce 'les Fossoyeurs' in the outtakes. Amber Lodge is much better as Velma, erm Betty, even though this is her debut on screen. Her fact filled Nosferatu monologue needed retakes but otherwise she was surprisingly strong as an actress. John Tomelleri appropriately gets little to do as Tom because, after all, Fred never did much in Scooby Doo, right? However Shawn Mock doesn't get any more as Stoney, because Shaggy always needed Scooby and this film had no budget for an animatronic hound. Maybe that's why the vampires nabbed Chico, the old turnip farmer's dog. Like Lodge, neither Tomolleri nor Mock have acted before and their chance may come in the next Skidmore movie.
If the Scooby Doo parody defines most of the tone of the film, at least some of it is phrased through old school slapstick instead. There was a lot of that in Scooby Doo too, but here it seems to be separate from that side of the film so I wonder if it was just a separate influence. It's mostly apparent as vampires try to obtain Kiki for the vampire queen and in another apparently random picnic scene in the park. That has a pair of 1950s teenagers who clearly aren't teenagers any more, Boner living up to his name and wanting more than his Christian girlfriend wants to give up. The joke is that she's a rather buxom lass, innocently topless by the time the vampires show up, but they end up chasing after Boner instead. This is less like a Scooby Doo gag and more like what Mack Sennett might have written, had he included bloodsuckers and boobs in his silent pictures. Given the lack of consistency of tone, this scene could even have been shot in black and white and with intertitles instead of sound and worked just as well.

And that inconsistency, more than anything else, is what's going to challenge potential audiences. Many people have no problem with bad acting, or Nicolas Cage wouldn't have a career, but they don't want to be challenged by the movies they watch, content instead to be drawn along by a smooth progression of inanity. This is far from smooth, so it'll challenge people. It's an English language film but its main stars only speak French and other characters do likewise. There are so many people in the film that nobody is ever really focused on, so we jump back and forth continually trying to figure out where we're going and eventually realise that the film is always in the moment not in the flow. The humour is often juvenile, as is appropriate with Scooby Doo and slapstick comedy influences, but there are moments with full frontal nudity too, both male and female, often entirely out of the blue and for no apparent reason. And, it's a mere hour in length, including the music video in the middle and the outtakes at the end.

So there's frankly no way that Kiki and the Vampires is ever going to go mainstream. You're not going to see this in your local multiplex or reviewed in your local newspaper. However, it really doesn't care as it's hardly what it's aiming for. It has to be said that as a filmmaker, Joey Skidmore is a damn good musician (and the film's insanely catchy theme tune opens up his excellent new album, Joey Skidmore Now!). His editing and cinematography are hardly sophisticated and his writing is far from linear. He can't maintain a tone or a theme without wanting to throw something else in there for no better reason than it happens to be cool. I'm sure they'd kick him out of film school but, frankly, is there anything more punk than that? The people who don't hate this are going to love it because it's an unholy collage that plays out like the cinematic equivalent of a punk zine, with Skidmore, the editor with a passion, writing about all the cool things he's found, pasting in images of the sacred and the profane, xeroxing it at work and selling it at gigs for beer money. On that front, it's a cult film that will be watched over and over.

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