Director: Bill Zebub
Stars: Michael Nastri, Jessica Mazo, Bill Zebub, Adam Kuligowski and Steve Nebesni
Index: Weird Wednesdays.
With a title as outrageous as this, there’s no doubt that Bill Zebub (geddit?), the underground auteur who made this film (filling what might just be every role in the crew there is), was aiming for a reaction. When indiemoviemaker.net described it as having ‘the most WTF moments in movie history’, he got the one he was surely aiming for, because that quote shows up wherever the film is mentioned, including the cover of the DVD. He’s also clearly not aiming for a multiplex run or a review from Rolling Stone, though some of his sixty plus films have made it to mainstream outlets like Blockbuster, FYE and Netflix. He’s a prolific creator but always in the underground where things are done only for the love of it. Nobody ever started a fanzine to get rich, but Zebub’s death metal zine, The Grimoire of Exalted Deeds, is almost a quarter of a century old and still going strong. He even hosts a weekly radio show on WFMU delivered in character as Professor Dum Dum: Scientist of Music and Human Behavior.
Of course, it’s his movies for which he’s best known, because you can’t make sixty movies with titles like this and not get noticed. He has a strong fanbase, as suggested by the fact that the limited edition DVD of his crossover of nazisploitation and jungle cannibal movies, Holocaust Cannibal, was 250% funded on Indiegogo. Just browsing the titles of his films highlights his career themes. There are Jesus movies, such as Jesus, the Total Douchebag, Zombiechrist and Jesus, the Daughter of God. There are rape movies like Rape is a Circle, Frankenstein the Rapist and Forgive Me for Raping You. There are metal documentaries, such as Black Metal: The Music of Satan, Death Metal: Are We Watching You Die? and Metal Retardation. There are movies about movies, like Assmonster: The Making of a Horror Movie, Indie Director and The Worst Horror Movie Ever Made. When he gets inspiration, he even merges themes like with Jesus Christ: Serial Rapist, up there for the Most Offensive Title award with Loving a Vegetable. Oh, that was his too.
Now, nobody’s going to accidentally find themselves sitting down with the extended family after stuffing themselves at Thanksgiving to watch Antfarm Dickhole. Zebub does point out on his website that he gets a lot of 1/10 ratings, but I find it hard to believe that anyone could be surprised by what they see unless their DVD was mislabelled 101 Dalmations. However, he also gets a lot of 10/10 ratings, because there’s a sizeable audience for Z-grade movies that may not deliver good acting, good stories or good anything, but do at least deliver on what they promised. In case you’re scared to imagine what a movie with a title like Antfarm Dickhole actually promises, it features a young man who discovers that an army of ants has made a home in his urethra and his immediate reaction, after they eat his girlfriend to death while she’s giving him head, is naturally that they seem like the perfect way to find revenge against the bullies who have plagued his young life: he traps their girlfriends, then whacks off some ants to eat them alive.
Nothing controversial here, right? Well, actually, I have to admit that this wasn’t quite what I expected. I do see odd movies like this with outrageous titles and plots but they tend to be horror movies, as indeed you might expect this to be from the brief synopsis I provided, but this one really isn’t. It’s not horror and it’s not porn either, even though almost every female cast member was clearly hired on the grounds that they had no problem with full frontal nudity rather than that they could act. It’s actually a comedy, which was my first surprise, and a funny one in its way, which was my second. The story is your standard bully story, as written by an imaginative metalhead high schooler on drugs and abuse, but all the cast are too old to think about school and I’m pretty sure a few are older than me. This makes the experience jarring, a word that Zebub likes a lot. Just to jar us even more, the comedy is a wild mix of childish wordplay and weird philosophising about things like evolutionary psychology.
No, you didn’t read that last line wrong. Let me provide a fresh synopsis with character names. Our lead is Ant-Drew, who’s talking with his friend, Ant-Thony when he’s pushed over in the park by a bully. When he gets home, his unnamed girlfriend strips and gives him a blow job but ends up dead because clearly they thought she was an anteater! They leave her a skeleton, even eating her labia ring. Walking to the police station to report this, Ant-Drew is accosted by another bully, gets wedgied for the second time in ten minutes and out come the ants to defend him once more. And so Ant-Drew realises how he can plan revenge on all his bullies because, hey, if he can’t have a girlfriend, they can’t either! I lost track of who was who, because they aren’t all introduced properly, but there’s Ant-Gela, Ant-Tonette, Ant-gelica... He traps the first in a car and humps its tailpipe, sending ants into the vehicle to eat her. The second takes a shower at home (in her panties, no less), so he climbs up to whack off through her bathroom window.
So this is hardly rocket science (the scientist here is Ant-Drea, a buddy of Ant-Thony, who looks things up on the anternet), but instead of actually following the story, we’re drawn into all sorts of surreal humour. Ant-Drew’s reaction to seeing the skeleton of his girlfriend is to ponder on the consuming powers of the amoeba. Ant-Thony is an incorrigible grammar Nazi. ‘You think I like correcting grammar?’ he asks. ‘It’s a burden!’ Then again, he’s an ant-achronism because he doesn’t watch TV. He says so, in a scene right in front of the TV. Continuity is not a strong point here. One woman shows up a few times reading Richard Dawkins on her couch (in a bikini, no less). We wonder who she is, until Ant-Thony visits and we discover that she’s an antomologist. Their entire conversation is built from philosophical puns, centering around Freud and Jung. There’s philosophy everywhere here, mostly for comedic effect, and no, I wasn’t kidding about the evolutionary psychology angle. Just what you expect from a character called Ant-Thony, right?
I’ve played up the comedic angle because it’s by far the best thing about the film. I didn’t laugh at all the jokes, which are often deliberately lame for effect, but I laughed a lot. The dialogue is not at all natural, a surreal Z-grade movie take on Kevin Smith if Kevin Smith could talk about something outrageous for a full ninety minutes and not bring up Star Wars. Never mind Tusk, this is what Smith would make if he had ten bucks for a budget and no equipment worth speaking of. There’s enough material here to pick favourites; do I go with, ‘Torturing serial killers is thirsty work’, ‘No matter how gently you touch my penis, the ants would still see you as an intruder’, ‘Army ants are evil and they’re making you evil’ or ‘I’m waiting for you to get used to the pain of your dick exploding before I cut off your balls’? Clearly I should find some way to use these in everyday conversation at work. Hey, how are you today? ‘I found the dick who killed my bitch!’ Yeah, that’ll be a challenge for sure.
The rest of the film lags notably behind. Antfarm Dickhole looks pretty terrible, but as it fits towards the end of the Prosumer Days of Zebub’s filmography, it’s likely to look notably better than the seven which he shot on VHS and the seven shot on camcorder. The lighting is terrible and colour correction is absent, meaning that sometimes people’s armpits are orange and roads can be yellow without any Oz metaphor being intended. The camerawork isn’t good, with some shots even cutting off the tops of people’s heads. The editing is awful, with many of the characters unintroduced and some showing up before they’re part of the film. It’s about Ant-Drew’s ant-laced masturbatory revenge until, well, it isn’t; suddenly it’s about some chick getting raped by a giant spider. The effects are almost non-existent; the ants are plastic ants from a dollar store and Ant-Drew’s stunt dick surely didn’t cost that much. The music is varied but cheap and underground. One song used twice has a spoken word bit that gets in the way of the film’s dialogue.
It could be argued that all those technical aspects are still better than the acting, because that’s utterly inept. Surely none of these people are actors; certainly most of them haven’t appeared in anything that wasn’t made by Bill Zebub. Many scenes needed retakes that never happened, including most of those featuring girls who were hired for their willingness to shed clothing. A few behave as they should; most grin their way through their entire performance as if they can’t believe they’re doing anything quite this awesome. The lead is Mike Nastri, who has never acted before and delivers all his lines as if they’re just conversation, apparently unable to comprehend the occasional need for emotional investment, such as when he discovers the skeleton of his girlfriend, killed while sucking him off. Most charismatic is Zebub himself, playing Ant-Thony. He’s done this long enough to know exactly how he wants things timed and he can deliver that even if nobody else can. Well, him and the scenestealing cat.
There’s precious little to counter any of this. The subject matter is neatly outrageous enough to be one and Zebub’s surreal wit leads to amazing things like an ant-POV shot of a banana being carried back to be stuffed down Ant-Drew’s erect stunt cock while he sleeps in the park. Zebub’s dialogue is certainly another, as it’s by far the best thing on show and I‘ve grinned my way through this review because I’m still remembering some of it. I should mention sound because, of all the technical aspects, it’s the only one that works; we can at least hear almost everything we’re supposed to. Choreography isn’t needed much but there’s a slo-mo fight scene that’s actually choreographed pretty well. The poor soundtrack is enhanced by the presence of Shooby Taylor, the Human Horn, which came out of nowhere for me. If I’d ever really thought about which movie might feature him scatting all over Stout Hearted Man, I’d never have plumped for this one, but it’s there while Ant-Thony steals an anteater, and again later. Respect!
Above all, though, even beyond the willingness of so many young ladies to shed all their clothing for art, there’s Zebub’s willingness to make films like this. He must enjoy the process, or he wouldn’t have made it past those first seven shot on VHS flicks. Now he’s preparing to make a seventieth movie, an amazing achievement for someone making big bank from this stuff but especially for someone who probably isn’t grossing in the nine digits per feature. Clearly he makes this sort of material because he wants to and it’s fair to say that there’s no better reason to make movies. As horrible as much of this was, it left me with a strong respect for Bill Zebub. I was expecting to see ninety minutes of outrageous gore but found an odd comedy that avoided gore in favour of female nudity and wild subject matter. For anyone stunned by the American penchant for fetishised violence but puritan sex, this might start to redress the balance. It’s as healthy as a deliberately offensive film can be. And that’s one reason I’ll look for some more Bill Zebub.