Sunday 20 June 2021

Father’s Day (2011)

Directors: Astron-6
Writers: Astron-6
Stars: Adam Brooks, Matt Kennedy, Conor Sweeney, Amy Groening, Mackenzie Murdock, Meredith Sweeney. Brent Neale. Garrett Hnatiuk, Kevin Anderson, Billy Sadoo, Alcon van der Baek and Zsuzsi

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

If Mother’s Day, the 1980 Troma movie, may not have actually been set on Mother’s Day, at least we’re in no doubt that Father’s Day, the unrelated 2011 Troma movie, is indeed tied to Father’s Day. In fact, it makes the point so crystal clear in the opening scene that it’s almost deliberately trying to make up for that odd omission over thirty years earlier. It’s an icky start. The bed is bouncing, but not for the reasons you think. Someone’s carving someone else into little pieces. Oh, and having sex with his bloody skull, so maybe it is what you think. This is a Troma movie, after all, even if it was made by the Canadian filmmaking collective known as Astron-6, and it’s more outrageous than Mother’s Day in almost every regard. Our gay necrophile doesn’t have long, as someone struts down his corridor with gun drawn. The pervert killer does escape out of the window but he’s promptly shot, run over and shot again just to be sure. “Happy Father’s Day,” our new killer tells the old one, looking down from a rakish angle with his one good eye.

This is Ahab and he’s our lead, even if he doesn’t show back up again for a while. I should clarify that it’s really only fifteen minutes but it feels like a lot longer because the script doesn’t seem to know what it wants to tell us and it throws everything but the kitchen sink into these opening scenes. It’s also very gay and I do mean that literally, not as some stupid politically incorrect insult. Within the first ten minutes, we’ve witnessed a cannibalistic gay necrophile indulging his vices; been introduced to a young gay man called Twink, who doesn’t really work at a pizza joint, as he tells the cops, but robs men he’s sucking off in the street for his pimp, Walnut; and watched Twink’s tormented father raped and set on fire by a fat man. That’s pretty gay stuff. Even the cop who wonders about Twink, because the last time he saw his dad was when he picked him up from the police station a day earlier after being questioned about being found in a room with a buggered dead man, slaps him on the tush and tells him that he’s watching his ass.

Beyond clearly trying to subvert the slasher genre from its usual obsession with female sexuality and cheap T&A, this film has little idea what it wants to be. Much of it is a throwback to the grainy extreme content of the seventies, with music to match, but the title credits are Tarantino-esque throwback exploitation and the rest is dark slapstick comedy, as if this isn’t Tarantino re-exploring the seventies but an episode of The Benny Hill Show going hardcore. For instance, Fr. O’Flynn, a blind Irish priest on life support, has Fr. John Sullivan track down Ahab, to finish what he started so long ago, but Sullivan’s montage search through every biome the Earth has to offer is quintessential Benny Hill, merely shown at normal speed and without a laugh track. This is all overplayed straight too, as if Astron-6 are wanting to give new life to clichés by making them more stupid, which is a rather odd approach, especially in the unlikely genre of gay rape-revenge movie. But hey, why not? Troma are equal opportunity when it comes to being offensive.

Like Mother’s Day, this isn’t just rape-revenge but rape-revenge delivered by proxy and we gradually learn the story. A serial rapist and murderer, Chris Fuchman, pronounced exactly as you think, especially in O’Flynn’s Irish accent, has racked up ten victims by the time he’s caught, all of them fathers, leading to the moniker of the Father’s Day Killer. However, he’s released on a technicality and the rapes and murders naturally continue. One further victim is Ahab’s father, so he dedicates himself to vengeance, succeeds in tracking him down at his latest crime scene, and receives a ten year sentence for his vigilante killing of the wrong man. That’s a special category of dark irony and I found it hard to reconcile twisted moments like that one with ridiculous scenes like Twink and Ahab escaping from the latter’s sister’s place under the eyes of the cops by throwing on red dresses and blonde wigs. Did I mention that Ahab has both a beard and an eyepatch? How dumb is Det. Stiger, who still believes that Ahab is the Father’s Day Killer?

I don’t think I’ve even mentioned that Ahab had a sister, but then Chelsea never told her stripper colleagues that she had a brother. Frankly, given that we don’t even see a member of the fairer sex until the twenty minute mark when Ahab shows up at the Low Life strip club, it’s perhaps understandable that we’ve forgotten that they even exist. Frankly, even perky boobs in oversaturated colour don’t do their usual job when every other scene contains something that will make all men in the audience cringe. Twink and Ahab may escape from Chelsea’s place, but they leave Walnut behind. In quick succession, Chelsea stands on his balls to make a point and Fuchman pulls out his wedding package and bites it in half like a spring roll, dribbled gobbets of grue dangling like bean sprouts. I’d suggest that even the most highly sexed straight man isn’t going to be thinking about Chelsea’s poledancing after that. Instead he’s going to focus on her research into Fuchman and her ballsy insistence to Ahab: “Don’t make this some bullshit boy’s club.”

Frankly, this is perhaps the quintessential example of the polarising movie, unless you throw out something as arthouse extreme as Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. The people who are going to hate this are going to unequivocally despise it with vein pulsating passion and they’re probably not going to get past the first scene. Any that do are probably so literally shocked by content that their fingers refuse to obey their brains by pressing stop on their remotes and they’ll be Tromatised for life. The rest of the audience are going to adore this film. because it visits a whole atlas of subversive places that they may never have seen in movies before and pays for the house specials. Most of them are so painful they’re cringeworthy, including a whole variety of acts that should never be done to the human penis, on or off screen. Many of them are soaked in gore, like when Fuchman massacres his way through the entire Low Life strip club, including Sleazy Mary, Ahab’s ex, who runs the place. Some are hallucinogenic, thanks to Ahab’s toxic berries.

Oddly, given how outrageous and exploitative this film is, not to mention how often it looks deliberately cheap, there are some real shots of beauty that stand out even against their context. For instance, Ahab standing in front of the cross over his dad’s grave is an archetypal western shot and it’s perfectly framed. Sure, we promptly discover that the grave really contains guns, but still. There’s a distance shot of the three leads on a viaduct that’s neatly done too. Sure, it’s right after Ahab throws Fuchman off it, but still. The last shot of Sleazy Mary is one of my favourites, as her hand slowly morphs in death into one final middle finger to Ahab. How soon does rigor mortis take to kick in? These all stand up in stark contrast to scenes of an obese gay rapist getting his jollies in front of an array of hooded cultists or oversaturated scenes of the aftermath of a strip club massacre, let alone awful rear projection shots and the hilariously inept trailer for Star Raiders, playing on Astron-6 at 3.00 am, after Father’s Day.

In other words, it’s a really ugly movie that knows how to be beautiful when it wants to be. The same goes for the music, which has moments of ugliness in its jarring synths but moments of beauty in snippets of Adagio for Strings or songs like Vickie O’s Blue Angel. It can walk both sides because, for an hour, it’s outrageous grindhouse cinema, gleefully ignoring all the rules that it’s supposed to embrace and embracing all the taboos it’s supposed to ignore. Then, for my money, it gets interesting. Fuchman, the clear villain of the piece, is dead and at Ahab’s doing, providing him with the sweet vengeance he sought. However, Chelsea is still in his hands, in Hell, so our trio of leads decide that they have to follow him there in order to rescue her, and this gets really weird. Never mind the film’s depiction of Heaven, with Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman as God and all the dead strippers from the Low Life as a topless string of angels willing to do whatever Fr. Sullivan wants, Hell is a truly trippy place, right down to the stop motion animation.

Roger Ebert famously hated Mother’s Day. He gave it a zero star review, explaining that he would have walked out after the first five minutes if he didn’t have such dedication to see how the rest of the Saturday afternoon audience responded to it. He called it a geek film, presumably referring to the carnival meaning, in which a geek is a freakshow performer who bites the heads of chickens, then ending his review with the question of “why anybody of any age would possibly want to see this film”. Ebert died in 2013, so there is a slim possibility that he saw Father’s Day and I’d dearly love to know what he thought of it. The closest I’ve found is this: “Father’s Day is a brainless feature-length sitcom with too much sit and no com,” but that’s the 1997 movie starring Robin Williams and Billy Crystal. Ebert didn’t hate every Troma movie he saw and the company offered up tribute to him at Cannes in 2013, Kaufman taking a glance at the heavens and shouting, “Roger, even if you did hate Mother’s Day and you liked Home Alone 3, we still love you.”

I just think that a movie should have something more to offer up in its own merits than setting itself up to be hated by Roger Ebert. I’d have liked this a lot more if it had ditched the sophomoric humour and concentrated on making this a gruesome grindhouse trip beyond what the most outrageous grindhouse directors could have conjured up in the seventies. I didn’t find it funny, but I did dig a lot of where it went, from gruesome baby demon stomping to the awkwardly telling scene with the devil that follows it. I thought that, from a filmmaking standpoint, it showed a lot of promise, and indeed I enjoyed Astron-6’s next feature, The Editor, which is an atmospheric homage to giallo cinema, far more. But, if I’m brutally honest, my chief pleasure here was watching Troma annihilate yet another mainstream consumerist holiday. Hilariously, Father’s Day is actually older than Mother’s Day, because, of course it is in an abiding patriarchy, but it was founded by a woman, Sonora Smart Dodd, in 1910.

Most countries celebrate it on the third Sunday in June, which also happened to be the Summer Solstice in 2020, as I write, and I’m a little bit happy to see that nobody much really does anything of longstanding tradition. It’s a day to buy greeting cards and try to pretend that you like your dad. Sure, some Roman Catholic countries tie it to the the Feast of St. Joseph, the “legal father” of Jesus, given that his wife actually got knocked up through divine intervention, but, ironically, it’s traditionally a day for abstinence when families avoid meat. The Russians tie it instead to Defender of the Fatherland Day in February and call it Man’s Day, just because it sounds tough. However, the Wikipedia section on Father’s Day in the United States, where it was founded, struggles to say anything of interest, eventually stooping to the level of retailers adapting to the holiday by promoting gifts of electronics and tools. It might have just plumped for “propane and propane accessories”. Please, Troma, keep skewering these pointless holidays with overkill.

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