Friday, November 27, 2015

Worth Mentioning - Drive-In Freak-Out

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody spends some time with a troubled anthology.


The horror/comedy anthology movie Chillerama was initially conceived as a film project to tie in with the popular genre magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. It was the brainchild of filmmakers Adam Rifkin and Tim Sullivan, who wanted the anthology to consist of four segments, each story a spoof of films from a different decade of horror, from the 1940s to the '70s. Even though they weren't able to make the Famous Monsters connection official, they continued developing the idea, gradually changing it into something else. The Chillerama variation came into being when directors Adam Green and Joe Lynch joined the project, the story ideas got more outlandish, and one (Werewolf of Alcatraz) was abandoned.

The four directors each took a segment for themselves, with Lynch's also serving as the wrap-around story.

The title of the wrap-around is Zom-B-Movie, and it begins the film with a scene that very strongly establishes the type of humor you're going to be dealing with throughout the running time. It's not rare for horror anthologies to have a comedic edge, Tales from the Crypt and the Creepshow movies had a great dark humor to them, but Chillerama is quite different from those. Its humor is very over-the-top, scatological, and juvenile. It doesn't work for me all that well, I often find it to be kind of grating. The humor in the opening scene is especially awful.

Shot in black and white, the opening scene is set in a cemetery, where a drunk man has dug up the corpse of his wife, a woman who put him through "ten years of misery". When he threatens to get back at her by performing some necrophilic acts on her corpse, the dead woman springs to life and chomps down on his genitals. As he punches the zombie's face in to make her release him, she bleeds glowing blue liquid, bringing the first bit of color into the picture.

Rather than go to the hospital to get his mutilated privates tended to, the man reports to work as usual. He works at the Kaufman Drive-In, presented in full color. The drive-in has been sold and is slated for demolition, and for its last hurrah owner Cecil Kaufman (Richard Riehle) is putting on an all-night "Chillerama" marathon of four feature films: Wadzilla, I Was a Teenage Werebear, The Diary of Anne Frankenstein, and Deathication. Kaufman owns the only prints in existence of these four lost gems.

Riehle's performance cuts through the goofiness surrounding it, as he makes Kaufman a very sympathetic character, a man who has been beaten down by life. He has lost his wife, now he's losing his business. But he's going to give his loyal customers a good show before it all ends.

The first movie in the Chillerama marathon is Adam Rifkin's '50s sci-fi horror spoof Wadzilla, which stars the director as Miles Munson, a man who suffers from an extremely low sperm count. When Miles is prescribed an experimental drug by his doctor (Ray Wise), things go disastrously wrong. The drug strengthens his sperm and enlarges them to gargantuan proportions, causing Miles a great deal of pain... and when he ejaculates, he unleashes these little sperm creatures into the world. Soon New York City is being terrorized by a stray sperm that grows to a Godzilla/kaiju size and is looking for a mate.

As puerile as the concept is, Wadzilla is a lot of goofy fun. Rifkin successfully pulled off a balancing act with the concept - it very easily could have been off-putting, but (unlike that earlier "dead head" scene) this one somehow manages to have a rampaging sperm without feeling like it has gone too far... at least until maybe the ending. It's jaw-droppingly dumb, but entertaining.

Wadzilla runs 23 minutes, which is something a more serious minded viewer could nitpick. The Kaufman Drive-In is showing these segments as features, but we're only seeing them as shorts. The people at the drive-in get to see forty minutes to an hour of Wadzilla that we don't get to see! The set-up feels a bit odd to me because of that. A drive-in wrap-around seems more fitting to a Grindhouse-style double feature than a multiple story anthology.

Before each segment, we spend some time with the characters at the drive-in, primarily a pair of guys who have trouble letting their feelings be known to the girls they have crushes on - for one of them, it's the female friend who has come to the marathon with them, for the other it's the girl who works the concession stand. When they're not fumbling over their words, they're being major movie geek dweebs, even playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Party like it's 1995!

These scenes at the drive-in are also setting up the Zom-B-Movie climax this is all building to. Getting his pieces chewed up hasn't killed the libido of that one scumbag employee, who continues to drag the film down with his disgusting antics. When he uses butter flavoring as masturbation lube, that glowing blue liquid ends up being added to the popcorn for the patrons to consume.

Tim Sullivan's segment was initially supposed to be I Was a Teenage Vampire, a Teenage Frankenstein and Teenage Werewolf type of tale. It morphed into something much more unique by the time it reached production. Set in 1962 California (never mind the anachronisms), Sullivan's I Was a Teenage Werebear is a gay coming-of-age story told through a spoof of musical beach party movies. Gay porn star Sean Paul Lockhart stars as Ricky, a young man who is struggling with his sexuality, especially now that a gang of leather-wearing tough guys have moved into his beachside community. After the leader of the pack bites Ricky on the butt during a wrestling match, he finds himself undergoing some strange changes.

Ricky is now a werebear, which isn't all that much different from being a werewolf. Just imagine if The Wolfman had been a gay guy in leather and only became the beast when aroused.

My reaction to I Was a Teenage Werebear is basically the same as my reaction to Chillerama as a whole - it's not very good overall, but it's mildly entertaining while it's going on. Werebear provides an enjoyable 25 minutes, with Lockhart giving a fine performance in the lead and Gabby West (as Ricky's unfortunate girlfriend) and Thomas Colby (as the lead werebear) standing out to me as the entertainment MVPs.

In the years following Chillerama's release, it has been made obvious that there was some kind of falling out among the filmmakers over I Was a Teenage Werebear. Exactly what the issue was isn't clear, whether it was something that happened during production or the fact that Sullivan sold an uncut version of the segment as a standalone release the following year or something else entirely, but when Green and Lynch talk about Chillerama on their podcast The Movie Crypt you can tell they're not all that happy with how the project turned out, and Werebear seems to be at the center of their issues.

There's a quick segue into Adam Green's segment The Diary of Anne Frankenstein, which is the shortest one of the bunch at just 19 minutes. Unlike Wadzilla and I Was a Teenage Werebear, Anne Frankenstein was a concept that had been part of Rifkin and Sullivan's plan since the beginning, and the story presents the idea that Anne Frank was the granddaughter of the legendary Doctor Frankenstein. She has Frankenstein's diary in her possession, and it's stolen by Hitler - played by Joel David Moore as an incompetent, gibberish-speaking buffoon - once the Nazis find her family in the attic hideaway.

This segment is meant to be entirely in German, but Moore is not really speaking German, as you'll notice when his sentences contain references to things like Laverne & Shirley, Boba Fett, and Goldie Hawn.

With a cleavage-baring Eva Braun (Kristina Klebe) by his side, Hitler uses Frankenstein's journal as a guide to build his own living dead creature, using the body parts of concentration camp victims. The result is Jason Voorhees / Victor Crowley performer Kane Hodder as the very Jewish Meshugannah, who rebels against Hitler's orders.

It sounds very offensive, and could be for some viewers, but I found it too dumb and silly to be upsetting. In fact, I would say that it's easily the most entertaining and least crude stretch of the movie. Plus it gives Kane Hodder a chance to murder people with a dreidel and a menorah.

At the Kaufman Drive-In, the infected popcorn is starting to turn patrons into lascivious Day-Glo zombies, but the show must go on. The last feature is introduced: Joe Lynch's Deathication.

Deathication is really just a fake-out. It stars Lynch as the ridiculously named filmmaker Fernando Phagabeefy, who for the widely banned Deathication has assembled 87 minutes of visuals designed to cause the viewer to soil themselves. Thankfully, Deathication only lasts 4 minutes, but within those minutes is a lot of disgusting imagery of feces. Bowels being released, feces being eaten, painting with diarrhea, people smeared with poo... We have broken through the bottom of the barrel.

The screening of Deathication is interrupted now that the horny zombies have taken over the drive-in, leaving the last 16 minutes of the film to bring an exciting, action-packed conclusion to the Zom-B-Movie wrap-around. Sexual shenanigans and headshots of all sorts ensue.

Chillerama isn't a particularly good movie, but it also has a certain level of charm to it. Of the filmmakers who directed segments, I'm primarily a fan of Green and Lynch, and although I would say that this is the worst film they've been involved with, it's watchable in a way. At 2 hours it's a long time to spending watching some exceptionally stupid stories play out, but it's tolerable if you break up the viewing a bit.

This isn't a movie that I would directly recommend to anyone, because the odds that they would hate it is very high, but if it sounds interesting to them and they seek it out... Maybe they'll have fun with it.

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