All posts by El Rob Hubbard

366 UNDERGROUND: THE LOS ANGELES RIPPER (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Craig McIntyre

FEATURING: Randy Tobin, Celeste Martinez, Devanny Pinn, Ava Rose, Nekromistress, Chase Monroe, Marna K., Brandon Engstrom

PLOT:  The tagline sums it up best: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer meets Van Nuys Blvd.
Still from The Los Angeles RipperDrug dealer Grahm has a side hobby of picking up women and brutally killing them. Kristy is fresh off the train from Ohio to take part in the L.A. scene. Their paths will eventually cross.

COMMENTS: Give this one points for its skeezy atmosphere and for Randy Tobin’s performance as the title killer.  Looking like a low rent Jay Mohr channeling early Nic Cage, Tobin is completely believable as a modern day Jack The Ripper, prowling about the city in his van.

It aims for a sort of ‘you-are-there’ semi-documentary quality, as it alternates between Grahm’s killings and Kristy’s arrival and life in L.A., their meeting and his obsession over her, which ends up exactly where you think its going.  The film is successful in that aspect.  It grabs onto the grindhouse vibe without any obvious self-consciousness about it (although the last third of the film, where the two main characters end up in an isolated desert hideaway, may have you thinking of similar events in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).  There’s not a lot of character development, but in this case, that may not be a hindrance.  Where the film comes up a bit Still from The Los Angeles Rippershort is in the technical department, with annoying camerawork and overbearing music being two strong flaws almost impossible to ignore.  Most early reviewers have commented on the ‘satirical’ bits of the film—I didn’t notice anything ‘satirical’ here, unless the term has been altered to now specify awkward line readings and some idiosyncratic, but effective, editing choices.

It could be better, but it’s a pretty decent straightforward ‘Modern Grindhouse’ movie.  A “limited edition” DVD release is planned soon.

Trivia: Director Craig McIntyre worked in the makeup/special effects unit on Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 3.

The Los Angeles Ripper Facebook page

The Los Angeles Ripper MySpace page

DISCLAIMER: A copy of this film was provided by the production company for review.

366 UNDERGROUND: VIXEN HIGHWAY 2006: IT CAME FROM URANUS (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Tony Watt

FEATURING: Tony Watt, Vivita, Amabelle Singson, James Taggart, John Ervin, Angela Faulkner

PLOT:  I’m not really sure…  see below.

COMMENTS:  I’m not at all being snarky in regards to being completely unable to wrangle out an explanation of the plot of Vixen Highway 2006: It Came from Uranus.  As far as I can gather, after multiple watchings, there are several strands of story involving (a) the escape of three female prisoners, (b) a female cop/bounty hunter, Divine Otaku (Amabelle Singson) who’s dispatched to capture the fugitives, all of whom have a fixation on (c) Rock legend Bobby Barzell, who’s waiting for a liver transplant to save his life and his ass from (d) Osiris (Tony Watt), an Alien Overlord who struck a bargain with Barzell for fame, money and sex in exchange for Barzell’s soul, and now who’s en route to Earth to collect.

Still from Vixen Highway 2006: It Came from Uranus (2010)Even more confusing is finding out that this film is an homage/reboot/requel to 2001’s Vixen Highway, written & directed by John Ervin (who co-wrote VH 2006), which apparently is a more straightforward version of the above storyline (probably without the alien overlord, I suspect).

Vixen Highway 2006: It Came from Uranus is a lo-budget, meth-fueled cousin of the NBK (Natural Born Killers) Aesthetic.  This movie starts at the level of overkill, and then goes balls out turning everything up to 11.  Everything is Too Much: too much on the sound fx, which goes way past cartoonish; the visual tricks, such as wipes, transitions, split screens—I think that all of the plug-ins of the editing program were used at least twice; the homaging and references, which are so thick, it’s like the filmmakers just poured everything from every grindhouse/exploitation/cult/faux-blaxploitation/mondo movie they liked into the pot; and IT’S TWO AND A HALF HOURS LONG!!

Still from Vixen Highway 2006: It Came from Uranus (2010)Some may see these as good things, I realize.  Frankenpimp (the director’s previous film) suffers from the same problems, only worse since it’s THREE HOURS LONG!!!  VH:2006 at least has that tiny, tiny bit of restraint… But Too Much for Way Too Long feels like you’re being mentally bludgeoned if you try to take it all in at one sitting.  The only way I got through both films was to take a little at a time—20-30 minute screenings.  The best way to experience the films may be in the background at a party, where you sample the film in bits and pieces and you’re not hammered relentlessly by the constant overkill, and not bothered by the slow movement (or lack of movement) of the narrative.

Tony Watt’s website

DISCLAIMER: A copy of this film was provided by the production company for review.

366 UNDERGROUND: FRANKIE IN BLUNDERLAND (2011)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Thea Martin, Brett Hundley, David Reynolds, John Karyus, Karen Sartorio, Vincent Cusimano, Tom Devlin, Damon Packard, Evan Stone,

PLOT:  Everyone hates Frank. Especially his wife Katie and his best frienemy Tommy Spioch, who asked to crash on their couch two years ago and never left.  Tommy spends most of his time lusting after Katie who seems to hate him just as much as she hates Frank. Frank’s existence is stupid.  After two possibly accidental homicides, two kidnappings and a visit from a talking spider, Frankie’s world is turned upside down as he drifts through Blunderland searching for his missing wife.

COMMENTS:  The second feature from Caleb Emerson (Die, You Zobie Bastards!), Frankie in Blunderland shows a modicum of restraint compared to the previous film—it’s a bit more structured than the ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ approach of Bastards, yet it pumps up the surrealism.

Scripted by Marta Estirado (who appears in the film and died shortly after principal shooting was finished), Blunderland plays as a post-modern L.A. hipster bounce on Lewis Carroll’s well known tale, and possibly “The Odyssey” as well.  Aramis Sartorio (The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol) plays Frank, a loser who’s not so loveable, and who, truth be told, is probably his own main problem.  Despite everything, Frankie still believes that things can only get better, even after two possible murders, and the kidnapping of his wife, which leads him to wander the Blunderland landscape (AKA L.A.) looking for her and encountering various other misfits and oddkins such as a hobo prophet (John Karyus), a Mormon missionary who may actually be a space alien ( John Christopher Morton), lesbian robots, oracle spiders (Debbie Rochon), and just plain slackers all of whom either help or hinder his search for Katie.

Blunderland would make be a good double-bill companion with Tommy Pistol, in that both are absurdist looks at life in The City of Angles (and they share some of the same actors).  It’s a good candidate for The List mainly for its visual style and cast of crazy characters, but also because it’s an anti Rom-Com that’s actually successful and doesn’t cop out at the end.


Aramis Sartario and screenwriter Marta Estirado (R.I.P.)

Official Site /Facebook

366 UNDERGROUND – RACE WAR: THE REMAKE (2011)

366 Underground is an occasional feature that looks at the weird world of contemporary low- and micro-budget cinema, the underbelly of independent film.

DIRECTED BY: Tom Martino

FEATURING: Howard Calvert, Jamelle Kent, Matt Rogers, Kerryn Ledet, Danny McCarty, Joe Grisaffi

PLOT: Baking Soda & G.E.D., a pair of misguided drug dealers, find themselves out of

Still from Race War: The Remake (2011)

customers when a new group of traffickers invade their hood with an alien form of smack. With only their friend “Kreech Da Black Kreecha from a Lagoon” at their side, the two crack heads—armed and ready—must fight their way back to the top.

COMMENTS: When I first saw the poster for Race War: The Remake, my first thought was that it was probably going to be the best part of the movie… your opinion may well vary.  But, if your taste runs towards Tromaesque spectacle and you have an ample supply of beer and bongloads to get you through the running time, then this will definitely make your weekend!

There’s some talent floating around in this bowl: Calvert and Kent make a decent pair of stoner badass heroes (with Calvert radiating a Rudy Ray Moore vibe), and the effects are decent.  Most of the other cast members hide under masks or disguises so embarrassment is not an issue here. What works against the film is mostly the past 30 years or so of Troma-type grossout humor and movies that a good portion of the audience has been exposed to.  There’s nothing new here. Which, if you’re calling your film Race War, means that a good opportunity has largely been wasted.  There’s still room for some biting racial comedy with no limits to step up and become the modern day equivalent of a Blazing Saddles or even a Darktown Strutters.

But this ain’t it.  At best, this is a group of friends screwing around on several weekends to make a party film… which, for some, ain’t bad, if there’s enough alcohol and weed around.  For others, it’s more like, ‘been there, done that”.

DWN Productions – Official site

366 UNDERGROUND: WRISTS (2010)

366 Underground is an occasional feature that looks at the weird world of contemporary low- and micro-budget cinema, the underbelly of independent film.

DIRECTED BY: John Bradburn

FEATURING: Heather Darcy, Mish Boyko, Dave Rowland, Nicola Hardman, Ellie Clemments, Rhian Green, Sean Harris, Aidan Keenan

PLOT: A woman moves in to an idyllic country house to recover from a traumatic event. One

Still from Wrists (2011)

day she rescues a man from crashing his motorbike. She becomes obsessed with him and is slowly drawn into his world in an experimental narrative that flows through reality, fantasy, fear and imagination along different streams of consciousness.

COMMENTSWrists (official site) is more successful in the experimental realm, in communicating mood, than it is in the narrative, which is pared down to the bare minimum.  There’s not much dialog to clue one in on what’s happening; the first spoken word isn’t heard until 14 minutes into the film.  It’s a novel way to immediately involve the spectator by forcing him to construct what’s going on, but it could take several viewings to get the picture.  In my own case, I was fairly certain for the first 20 or so minutes that some artsy apocalyptic disaster had occurred and that the two main characters would be the only ones in the narrative… until the first car and other character appeared.

While providing a minimum of information to allow the audience to work out things for themselves can be stimulating, it only went so far with Wrists.  Combined with its languid pace, the film was very good at inducing a nap midway through the running time.  Twice.  Your own experience may vary.

That said, I do appreciate the approach that the filmmakers took. I probably would have had a greater love for this film had it been half the length (it’s 86 minutes), or if the director had pandered more to my need for more clues to the concrete narrative, such that provided in the official synopsis below:

Wrists follows Julie as she recovers in an isolated rural cottage. Bored she wanders the countryside and tries to waste time. Hearing a noise outside she rescues a mysterious young man – Clark – from a motorcycle accident.

Slowly she becomes obsessed with him and is drawn in to his dark world. He works in a city collecting debts. Clark has never really thought of escape. In meeting Julie he way have met his saviour.

Wrists is not really that weird—the most successful element is its atmosphere and mood, which is very dreamlike due to the lack of dialog.  It’s almost like being in the minds of the two main characters.  The thing is, the characters don’t really do very much, and what action there is was more conducive to going on the nod than to engaging fully with the film—in my case.

This is John Bradburn’s second feature. His first, Kyle (IMDB), about a young man’s attempt to fit back into society after being released from prison, screened in festivals and small venues, and Wrists will apparently follow the same strategy.

An interview with Bradburn looks in-depth into his aesthetic; he also shared his reactions to Kyle‘s reception at its premiere at the Seattle Film Festival in an article for Vertigo Magazine.

A DVD of Wrists, which comes paired with a zine about the production, is available here.

DISCLAIMER: A DVD copy of this film was provided by the production company for review.

366 UNDERGOUND: SLIMED (2010)

366 Underground is an occasional feature that looks at the weird world of contemporary low- and micro-budget cinema, the underbelly of independent film.

DIRECTED BY: Eric Manche and Jeff Nitzberg

FEATURING:  Jordan Lee, Dustin Triplett, Jessica Borusky, Chris Gorges, Mewgen, Ben Powell

PLOT: Atheist park ranger Rock Rockerson is forced into an unlikely partnership with Bible

Still from Slimed (2011)

salesman PePe in an attempt to save his beloved national park, but they both accidentally discover a sinister and slimey conspiracy that threatens the entire world.

COMMENTS: This did not turn out anything like I expected.  What I expected was another clone of the Evil Dead 2/Troma-esque type of low-budget film, with nudity and pointless gore. Fortunately, Slimed turned out to be much lighter than that.  As a student project/calling card, it’s pretty OK, although at 60 minutes long it would be a much more effective film if it was either shorn about 2/3 of its running time, or had just gone for broke and added 15 more minutes or so to make a full feature.  A good portion of the film’s midsection (where the super-villain and his plan are revealed, leading to an escape and battle with child minions) goes on for far too long, time which could’ve been spent in more escapades with the main characters.

The highlights in terms of weirdness: there’s a magical gateway to a corporation guarded by a depressed wizard cat, the evil super-villain is a puppet mouse who believes he’s human, and his corporate minions are children who have the ability to fly like bats and who explode upon impact.  Additionally, the performances are deliberately skewed and exaggerated, but it comes from trying too hard, rather than any sort of intrinsic weirdness.  It’s like a would-be cult film looking for its cult members, but it’s definitely on the borderline of being a weird film.

Slimed official site

366 UNDERGROUND: THE GRUESOME DEATH OF TOMMY PISTOL (2011)

366 Underground is an occasional feature that looks at the weird world of contemporary low- and micro-budget cinema, the underbelly of independent film.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Aramis Sartorio, , Vincent Cusimano, Kimberly Kane, Camilla Lim, Karen Sartorio, Gia Paloma

PLOT:  Struggling actor Tommy Pistol isn’t much of a success, but he doesn’t let that hinder

Still from The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol

his dream of becoming a star, even when his wife and child leave him.  Left alone with hot dogs, porn and a penis pump, Tommy dreams his dreams of success and stardom, but even in dreams, things don’t turn out as he hopes.  And his reality is just about to get even worse…

COMMENTS:  It’s not inaccurate to call TGDOTP a Troma-esque grossout horror-comedy anthology, but that description leaves out quite a lot. It’s also a cautionary tale about obsession, fame and filmmaking in Los Angeles with autobiographical elements.

Unfolding as a series of dreams, the first, “Snuff Said,” has a young Pistol fresh off the train, answering an ad on a web site to act in a movie.  It turns out to be a snuff film, but Pistol, not being the sharpest tool in the box (so to speak), thinks that it’s just extremely realistic special effects.

The second dream, “10 Minutes of Fame”, sees Pistol sneaking onto a location set of a major film and gradually worming his way to become the assistant of the star—Arnold Schwartzenegger!  He accidently kills Arnie and takes his skin, which gives him the ass-kicking skills to take out the rest of the crew.

In the last dream, “Attack of the Staph Spider”, Tommy is a porn director whose lead actress is bitten by a radioactive spider in the alley just prior to the shoot.  Things do not turn out like “Spiderman,” unfortunately—the actress develops boils and starts leaking addictive fluids, which end up infecting the crew.  Meanwhile, Tommy’s biggest problem is getting the makeup person to make her presentable so the shoot can go on.

The humor is pitch-black; as in most of the Troma-esque lot, the grossness factor is pushed pretty much past the hilt, then doubled.  All of the characters in the dreams are, at their best, amoral to immoral; but in a satire about fame and filmmaking, that’s probably an accurate portrayal.  It also helps that the movie’s pretty damn funny.

What raises TGDOTP a notch above most of its cousins is that the grossness isn’t merely for the sake of grossness—there’s actually some substance behind it.  “Tommy Pistol” is actually Sartorio’s nom de porn when he was acting in adult films such as Repenetrator, The XXXorcist and Neu Wave Hookers.  Deciding to branch out, he made “Staph Spider” as a short, then pursued other opportunities as a struggling actor in Hollywood.  Although his wife did not leave him, many other elements in the film—being late for auditions, getting fired from ‘real’ jobs and dodging creditors—Sartorio probably knows all too well, as well as the other side of Hollywood: sketchy characters willing to do anything to anyone; narcissistic actors; and the desperation and self-delusion of everyone in town, especially those attempting to find their big break.  It may be exaggerated, but there’s a definite sense that there’s some personal experience involved.  The best example is a scene in the first dream, which mocks the aside to camera in JCVD, but also functions in the very same fashion.  And surprisingly, the movie ends in a sad and strangely graceful place, something completely unexpected, and also appreciated.

The acting is strong—better than you would expect in films of this ilk; and tech is pretty good, especially in the effects.  The humor is not going to appeal to everyone, obviously, but those who ‘like it black’ will enjoy it, especially the segment about Schwarzenegger.

Ultimately, it’s not a weird film, despite the over-the-top humor.  Most reviewers have been calling this Troma-esque, and Troma, especially “balls-to-the-wall, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink grossout humor Troma” is just not “weird” anymore.

Even calling it a “horror-comedy’ isn’t quite correct, but a “horror-comedy” is a much easier sell than a “pitch-black Hollywood satire.”

The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol facebook page

DISCLAIMER: A copy of this film was provided by the production company for review.