Category Archives: 366 Underground

366 UNDERGROUND: HEART ATTACK! THE EARLY PULSE POUNDING CINEMA OF KELLY HUGHES (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Kelly Hughes

FEATURING: Betty Marshall, Ernest Rhoades, James Peterson, Sarah Katherine Lewis

PLOT: We are introduced to the work of Kelly Hughes, the creative guru behind the assaultive public access series “Heart Attack Theatre,” through the words, experiences, and memories of the cast and crew who worked with him.

Still from Heart Attack! The Early Pulse-Pounding Cinema of Kelly Hughes

COMMENTS: Kelly Hughes is an underground director who hails from Seattle. He established his prominence through “Heart Attack Theatre,” a series broadcast on public access airwaves from 1991-1993 that most bourgeois viewers would dismiss as trashy, reprehensible, or simply “shock for shock sake.”

I resent that last tautology the most. When pinned on an artist’s work, the cliche is frequently used to imply that the artist’s work is disingenuous, exploitative, and that the labor and the blood and sweat that they invested in it wasn’t meaningful as anything other than a cheap novelty to amuse a select few.

As the first interviewee, Ernest Rhoades, says as he recollects his experience working for Hughes’ “Lucky Charms Productions,” some artists simply create ugly and nasty things from pure love and passion. Some artists are just destined to be dismissed as ugly misfits. Despite being penniless, starving, and painstakingly filming under what most professionals would deem as intolerable conditions, they still work because they truly believe in what they are creating. I strongly emphasize with that warrior-like commitment.

And I’m sorry, Kelly Hughes, that you never were able to create the explosive-laden, cacophonous action film that you secretly always wanted to create.

But I do appreciate that you made something.

Heart Attack! gives us glimpses of the lo-fi, brazenly transgressive style of Kelly Hughes’ brief filmography. Obviously, the initial comparison that emerges is to the early films of  (though to be honest, I think that comparison is just inescapable for a lot of low-budget filmmakers like Hughes, as pointless a criticism as when people carelessly fling around the descriptor ian when reviewing weird films). Anyone familiar with the filmography of   will definitely notice the strange effect that Hughes gets from lo-fi VHS recording tape technology, the grainy texture and subtly abstract, impressionistic colors that making the visual aesthetic as tenuous and degenerative in form as the perversely grotesque content on display.

Though if we’re going to spend this much time pretentiously discussing art, I say let us recall the words of transgressive art’s intellectual forebearer, Antonin Artaud: “No one has ever written, painted, sculpted, modeled, built, or invented except literally to get out of hell.”

Here is a brief listing of some of the films featured within Heart Attack!‘s breezy hour-long survey of Hughes’ lo-fi inventions in the public-access television medium:

• “Shot In Hughes’ kitchen”: A woman and a man stare in horror at the open kitchen cabinet. The man crawls inside it. It inexplicably consumes him. The woman screams.
La Cage Aux Zombies: An “upscale Grapes of Wrath lady” (played by a very handsome man) stares out of a rusting, dilapidated door window. S(he) has a cartoonishly shrill groan and an amputated arm, and salutes Hitler fashionably. More happens, but it is challenging to say where the other clips fit into the larger narrative. Looks cool, though.
• “Say My Name Before I Die”: A nude man and woman stand in front of a bathroom mirror. They are discussing monetary concerns. They begin to copulate lovingly.
• “An Inconvenient Whore”: A nude man stretches over the edge of a bed, moaning. A woman leans over his face and informs the strapping young prostitute that there is another client waiting. Moaning resumes.
• “Gut Reaction”: A grizzly man in the middle of the woods wields a chainsaw. His potential victim screams in terror. Hilarious Benny Hill-esque antics ensue. The woman escapes and is picked up by a good Samaritan driving a dingy pick-up truck. The grizzly man appears and straddles the truck, blocking the view of the front windshield. She admits that she previously had an affair with her gynecologist. We discover that the man chasing her was her former lover. And then there is dismemberment. Afterwards, she spontaneously gives birth to a gigantic lime-green toy serpent. Then her snake baby chases them off.

From what I saw of Kelly Hughes’ films, I genuinely liked them. The ensemble didn’t act poorly, either, for being mostly unrecognized and technically amateur by conventional standards.

But I won’t say anything definitively on Hughes’ cinema until I actually watch his films. In their entirety.

Because as a fellow misfit, and as a young reviewer, I believe he deserves my respect when I approach his films.

So until that day I see his films, I consider any opinion on the early cinema of Kelly Hughes as merely tentative.

Heart Attack! The Early Pulse-Pounding Cinema of Kelly Hughes is exclusively available online at vhx.com. Watch Heart Attack! The Early Pulse-Pounding Cinema of Kelly Hughes ($3.99).

366 UNDERGROUND: BATTLE AT BEAVER CREEK (2014)

DIRECTED BY: Bryan Taylor

FEATURING: Matt Brown, Sheldon Graham, Corky McMechan

PLOT: In the near future, a volunteer travels to the Yukon border to fight with a militia against unknown invaders.

Still from Battle at Beaver Creek (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s really just a very elaborate home movie, and not a particularly weird one at that.

COMMENTS: Every single person who appeared in Battle at Beaver Creek—every soldier extra glimpsed from a distance for a half-second, every motionless corpse—gets a video credit at the end of the movie, with a closeup  and their name in big letters. It’s both amusing and endearing, and reveals the kind of production this was—a bunch of guys out in a field together, making a movie! And, to their credit, they did make a movie—a coherent one, with a beginning, middle and end, a few nice ideas, and creative effects given the budget. Unfortunately, while that achievement is impressive, that doesn’t mean that you, as a member of the general viewing public, are going to be interested in seeing the result.

This is one of those movies where nothing much really happens, and you still can’t figure out exactly what’s going on. Introductory text explains that we’re 100 years in a pseudo-post-apocalyptic future, and the American government has developed mind control technology known as WEFI. We then see Chinese office workers turn into suicidal zombies for reasons that are never explained. TV tells us that an unknown force, possibly Chechens (?!) are gathering on the Yukon-Alaskan border to invade Canada, and a local militia is forming to oppose them. Our protagonist, who seems to be some sort of retired intelligence officer or something (his backstory is never explained) goes to join them at Beaver Creek, where he encounters mind control warfare.

The movie has a vision of the future that’s fairly plausible, and a few interesting moments (when an omniscient being appears in the sky, delivering lines like “I am your Lord God. You are an American projection”). But the downsides are formidable.  Essentially, as is so often the case for movies funded by credit card, the project’s ambition outstrips its resources. There are no professional actors in the cast; they can’t even find anyone to convincingly play an emotionless zombie. The use of stock footage can be distractingly bad (apparently, one hundred years from now, the U.N. Secretary General will be a dead ringer for former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). Although the futuristic setting which mixes high cybertechnology with a fossil fuel shortage is rich, the script is still confusing, and it’s difficult to tell what exactly is at stake and at times even who’s who. The dozens of available extras are not enough to create a believable battle scene.

Most of all, there is simply not enough material here to create a feature film. The solution is to pad the film with endless walking scenes. Our hero begins walking to Beaver Creek at the 18-minute mark and does not reach the first plot point until the 27-minute mark. The fact that the Yukon scenery is beautiful and the cameraman experiments with different digital grains and arty dissolves does not change the fact that nothing is happening except a guy walking. And, after he finally does meet another character and they exchange a few minutes of additional exposition, it’s time to start marching again. The eighty-minute runtime seems interminable. Well-intentioned but, unfortunately, flat-out boring, Battle at Beaver Creek cannot be recommended to anyone but other low-budget filmmakers looking to copy the few good ideas here, and avoid the many pitfalls.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one of those weird, cultish independent films that you may not think you’ll like, but eventually will.”–Amy R. Handler, Film Threat (contemporaneous)

366 UNDERGROUND: DEAR GOD, NO! (2011)

DIRECTED BY: James Anthony Bickart

FEATURING: Jett Bryant, Madeline Brumby, Paul McComiskey, Olivia LaCroix, John Collins, Shane Morton, Nick Morgan, Rusty Stache, Nick Hood, Jim Sligh, Rachelle Lynn, Jim Stacy

PLOT: The Impalers are a vicious motorcycle gang rampaging across the land indulging in drug trafficking and other antisocial behavior, like rape and nun killing. After a shoot-out in a strip club, they top off the party with a home invasion, whereupon their paths cross with a mad scientist, his daughter and associate. They plan a night of fun, with humiliation, rape and murder on the menu… but the scientist has something unexpected in the basement. Meanwhile, there’s something in the woods that’s killing animals and quickly working its way up the food chain…

Still from Dear God No! (2011)

COMMENTS: Dear God, No! (official site) is another throwback to the grindhouse flicks of the 1970’s, when political correctness didn’t exist. It goes balls to the wall with the 5 B’s of Exploitation Movies – Bikers, Bullets, Boobs, Blood, Beer – all of which are in ample supply… and adds another ‘B’ to the party – Bigfoot. Like most of the neo-grindhouse films, there’s lots of loving homage on display, and most of it is done very well. Unfortunately, DGN! falls into the same trap as most other trash throwback films do, that of overkill… everything is intentionally over the top, way too much to take really seriously or to really get offended by. There’s no real sense of transgression, which most of the actual 70’s grindhouse features actually had; and, most of the comedy and acting here is really labored. That said, on the technical side of things it’s good, solid low-budget work. It’s a fun ride, and it looks like the real thing—arrested adolescents will bow down in praise, feeling ‘bad’ and ‘dirty’ for over an hour. Afterwards, they’ll be wanting something a bit more substantial. So will you, probably.