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Thursday 30 May 2013

Blood Moon Rising (2009)

Director: Brian Skiba
Stars: Laurie Love, Neal Trout, Kent Wolborn, Jose Rosete and Aaron Ginn-Forsberg
This film was an official selection at the Jerome Indie Music & Film Festival in Jerome, AZ in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
Just in case we didn't figure it out from either the film's title or poster, Blood Moon Rising throws the word 'GRINDHOUSE' onto the screen in such large letters that we can't fail to pay attention. It really is the most important word in the film, because this would be a truly painful experience if you attempted to take any of it seriously. However if you watch it with grindhouse in mind, it's a heck of a lot of fun. In fact, watching it afresh at home, I found that it's a heck of a lot more fun than I remember it being on the big screen, when it premiered at the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival back in 2009. That may be partly because I know how outrageous it is now and partly because I know even more people on the screen than I did last time through. I might just have to sit down and watch the director's cut in a couple of weeks time at the Jerome Indie Film and Music Festival. Maybe then I'll be able to locate the last few elusive zombie friends in the film.

If the reminder that this is grindhouse inspired helps us deal with the outrageous plot, which may well include more grindhouse genre elements than any other modern homage, it helps to prepare us for the faux 35mm look too. Brian Skiba, who wrote, edited, produced and directed, clearly had the feel of the grindhouses themselves in mind as much as the feel of the films that they showed. If he could have sprayed theatre seats with puke and urine and deposited a bunch of bums at the entrance to sleep off their drunks, you just know he'd have done it. Beyond some well done aging effects that artifact the screen, he goes as far as skipping a few frames here and there, removing some lines entirely so that lips move silently, overdubbing others ever so slightly out of sync, even including a missing reel so that we can only wonder what might have got left out of such a crazily busy picture. In reality, it never got shot, of course.

The opening scenes before the title are the most believable from an aging perspective. If I didn't recognise local actors like Davina Joy, I could have bought it as an early seventies movie I merely hadn't seen until now. It's set outdoors at a lively party, with all the elements you might expect: cars, drugs, tie dyed shirts, live surf music, enthusiastic tongue swapping. And fast zombies. Joy does pick the right moment to find somewhere to pee, but she doesn't make it out. Only a trio of characters make it out and only one of them alive: Sadie, our heroine, played by Laurie Love. One of the others was a vampire to begin with and the other becomes one by the time it's over. This is that sort of film. You know, the sort that starts out with zombies, only for us to realise that most of them are vampires and werewolves. It's the sort where you start to wonder what you've seen in a grindhouse movie that isn't in here somewhere too and can't quite come up with anything.
So here I need to explain how that's all possible. A few generations back, Tristran was married to Lucy, but he cheated on her with Rachel. Unfortunately for him, while Rachel was the daughter of the preacher, Lucy was the daughter of the Devil himself and she really isn't too happy when she finds out what's been going on behind her back. So she ties them up and curses them as she kills them. Tristan will live on as a vampire and Rachel as a werewolf. The locals of the town of Despair take down Lucy and bury her in the forest, but she'll return if the blood of a family member drips on the earth, she'll reopen the gate to Hell through a lost book that's written in blood and bound in human flesh and she can be stopped only by the willing sacrifice of a virgin. Now, Lucy and Sadie are both played by Laurie Love and Sadie teams up with a comic book nerd and soda jerk called Darrell, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how that will all work out.

If this story sounds a little cramped, trust me when I emphasise that it is. It's often tough to figure out which faction is which and who's really on whose side. Are the vampire bikers with the Devil's daughter or her great-great-granddaughter double? What about the werewolves? Presumably the zombies don't care. The knights are with Lucy. Yes, we have knights. We have aliens as well. I did mention that there's everything but the supernatural kitchen sink in this picture, right? And I may have missed that during a disbelieving blink. I did catch the army of demonic orcs, the dude in a skeleton mask and metal battle armour, and the swordfighting, Schwinn riding Mexican granddad. I caught Ron Jeremy too and he caught a particularly bloody facial from an exploding head that I don't even dare to riff on; you can make up your own jokes there. There's even a severed hand like Thing that scurries about and steals scenes to down home banjo pickin' accompaniment.

Darrell, the virgin of the story, puts down his comic books when this apocalypse arrives to proudly explain to Sadie that, 'I've been waiting for this all my life!' Now, I want to know what sort of comic books he's been reading to set himself up for this sort of manic monster mash. This one even has a meta level where the various characters in this film locate the town of Despair, only to discover that it's now Despair Studios, authentic western film set, where a crew is shooting a zombie flick only a hop, skip and jump ahead of the real zombie invasion. The script is less a story and more a PCP laced smörgåsbord of influences and it's that constant insanity immersion that makes it such a trip. Certainly there are so many characters to keep an eye on that it's truly impossible to keep up with all of them and we have to give up and let it wash over us like a theme park ride through Grindhouseland. The film works so much better that way when we stop trying to fathom it.
Laurie Love is most obvious by far because she plays both the leading ladies. She knew the movie well, having debuted with the 2007 short from which this was expanded. She only played one role there but, with Brian Skiba, she also wrote, produced and directed the film. In this feature length expansion, she also wrote and produced, alongside others, and even added wardrobe supervision to her list of roles. She must have really liked the idea. She clearly had a lot of fun with her double role, Sadie being a hippie chick next door who progresses from damsel in distress to take charge heroine and Lucy being a dominant demonic succubus. Her filmography looks so similar to Skiba's that it's no surprise to find that they married in 2012. Her latest picture is Crushed Velvet, which is about to receive its world premiere at the Jerome Indie Film and Music Festival in mid-June. It isn't just another Skiba movie, it brings back many of the cast members from Blood Moon Rising too.

While Neal Trout clearly did precisely what was asked of him as Darrell, a nerdy Robin to back up Sadie's Batman, I found his acting overdone even for this deliberately overdone homage. I enjoyed Kent Welborn more as Sam, the biker with outstanding mutton chops who made out with Sadie's friend Becky at the party before being turned into a vampire and getting a new lease on undeath in the process. Trout knows how to pose just right for the camera but Welborn does it even better. The rest of the cast are like a who's who of local Arizona actors. Aaron Ginn-Forsberg gets a long flashback scene as Tristan, the cursed vampire. He provides some needed grounding early on but fades away as the film progresses. By comparison, Rick Dyer is acutely painful in his early scenes as Ruddy, the old Mexican, but he becomes rather endearing. Jose Rosete, the most prolific actor in Arizona, is good fun as Sanchez, wandering around with a mini-cleaver stuck in his forehead.

Mostly though, this belongs to the creators of this sprawling mess of grindhouse influences, Skiba and Love. Perhaps the cheesiest line in the film, 'You'll never get away with this!' serves to sum up their approach. The script resembles one of the many exploding heads we're gifted with, because it feels like a bunch of outrageous ideas were splattered onto a page and then blood was poured on in liberal quantities until any connections between those ideas were lost in the grue. And you know what? That's its charm. Try to analyse this and you'll hurt your brain, but sit back and let it wash over you like a deluge and you might just have a blast. There are great gore effects, good make up work, bad greenscreen and terrible CGI, but it's surely all deliberate. Love calls it 'The Evil Dead meets Dazed and Confused' and that sounds fair. If you like grindhouse, this will be a lot of fun even without a beer but it'll be even better at a drive in with a six pack and a pizza.

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