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DIRECTED BY: Nick Gatsby
FEATURING: Christoper James Taylor, Skye Armenta, Nick Gatsby
PLOT: Godlike beings direct banana-wielding “zappers” in a game to recover pieces of a puzzle in order to access a mystical skateboard.
WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: It’s low, low budget makes it a long shot, but ZAPPER! is a movie best represented by a scene where a hippie in a ski mask fires a banana laser at a flying moose head. That’s enough to keep it in the game.
COMMENTS: Let’s be upfront here: ZAPPER! was inspired by, sponsored by, and endorsed by LSD. It includes characters named “Lucy” and “Tabs.” The movie’s only bar only serves “electric kool aid.” The opening titles warn “The trip you are about to embark on contains sequences of flashing lights.” And at one point a guy (played by director Gatsby) takes a dropper full of blue liquid and drips it onto the perforated squares of a Grateful Dead dancing bear blotter, then drops it on his tongue. So ZAPPER! is not exactly subtle about its lysergic origins.
Of course, even without those nods to acid culture, you might have detected some psychedelic influence from the constant colored kaleidoscopic filters covering every frame of film. While ZAPPER! incorporates actors and a rather wild script, all the other cinematic elements take a back seat to the visuals. Nearly every frame of film has some sort of color filter applied to it, cycling through every shade of the rainbow, sometimes within a couple seconds. Layered on top of that obsessive chromatic fiddling you’ll see digital snow, superimposed images, snatches of animation, animated figures painted on live action (at one point “Persistence of Memory” melted clocks drift across the screen), lavish green screen backdrops, actual lava lamps and black lights, and local Bay Area psychedelic graffiti incorporated into the imagery. The “game master” scenes, shot in simple black and white, provide short breaks for your tired eyes. The visual twists are constant: wearisome for some, exhilarating for others, but in either case offered with tremendous love and dedication.
All of this trickery is desperately needed, because otherwise the film is just a glorified home movie. At times, the lack of production value peeks through the psychedelic overlay: you can become painfully aware of the bananas, lunchboxes and toy gun props, the public spaces and apartment locations. Acting is amateur, and Gatsby doesn’t turn the actors’ lack of glamour into an asset the way a John Waters would. The script is full of crazy ideas, which naturally don’t always work: in particular, a couple of times Gatsby deliberately shows the crew shooting the scene, which breaks the spell without adding anything thematically. Still, there is just barely enough structure to the story to keep it from totally floating off into a purple haze. ZAPPER! sells itself as a trip movie, and it is that, but it’s also a demo reel for Gatsby’s advanced design sensibilities, which have grown more lavish and assured since his microbudget debut My Neighbor Wants Me Dead. I could see him finding work as a visual effects specialist or credits sequence designer on bigger budget projects. If you’re dropping acid tonight, give ZAPPER! a spin; even if you’re not, if you’ve got a craving for cinematic adventures beyond the bounds of reality, this is a drug you might want to just say “yes” to.
ZAPPER! currently exists on Tubi and other free streaming platforms.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…exist[s] in the liminal space between needing psychedelic drugs to enjoy it and feeling like you are already half a carton of magic mushrooms on a wild trip… This may be just the wild hunt through acid-drenched technicolor weirdness you need.”–Benjamin Franz, Film Threat (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by “Thomas.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)