Tag Archives: Camp

CAPSULE: ENTER THE DRAG DRAGON (2023)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Beatrice Beres, Sam Kellerman, Jade London, Samnang Tep, Mark MacDonald, Phil Caracas, Natalia Moreno

PLOT: A kung fu proficient drag-queen detective investigates a missing dog, which leads to a hidden treasure, an Aztec mummy, and zombies.

Still from enter the drag dragon (2023)

COMMENTS: In a movie so silly that the lead is played consecutively by three different actors—Crunch gets a drag makeover and a whole new look each time she awakens in the hospital after a trauma—it’s hard for even the anti-wokest viewer to take offense. (The film’s disclaimer that it was shot on land stolen from the Algonquin and Kanein’keha:ka Nations may raise some colonist ire, though).

Detective Crunch and roller-skating delivery girl/hot cis chick Jaws live in an abandoned (and haunted) movie theater owned by Fast Buck, where they screen old kung fu flicks 24/7 for training purposes. They are opposed by F.I.S.T. (Fearsome International Spies and Thieves), a cabal of ersatz Bond henchmen led by Gorch. There’s also an ancient Aztec mummy to deal with. The story may traffic in occasional immorality, but not amorality; it’s irreverent, but too goofy and harmless to be offensive, and it’s surprisingly chaste when it comes to sex. The heroes are loyal and determined, and the villains all reap the rewards of their infamy. Take off the drag, lose the dildo wipes, and tone down the gore and nudity, and it’s a wholesome adventure the Hays Office would gladly pass. (Instead, the poster informs us, it was “rated X by an all straight jury.”)

This is, if you haven’t guessed yet, an extremely silly movie. There’s lots of Z-movie gore—the kind where zombies pretend to yank intestines out of their victim as the actor plays dead, or people get telescopes slammed through their eye sockets. There are a handful of cheesy kung fu battles, which actually look like the choreography has been slowed down rather than sped up. There are minor cult cameos from ,  and from pal . We also get musical numbers, poison bosoms, laser hula hoops, a character named Dick Toes, and lots and lots of deliberately lame jokes, many involving dildos or kicks to the nuts. The location manager found some really keen outdoor locations to exploit, with mossy cliffs, waterfalls, and shallow caves, and our heroes even get a skydiving scene (in drag, of course). No one in the large cast can really act, or shows much interest in trying to. In other words, Lee Demarbre (best known for 2001’s similarly campy and transgressive-adjacent Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter) throws everything he can think of at the screen without breaking the bank, having a blast in the process. The results are in the vein, but with less mean-spiritedness or jagged satire. It’s woke trash, to be sure, though perhaps not as woke as it pretends to be. Drag Dragon does fully deliver the trash, however, just like a drag queen delivers a nunchuck dildo upside a bad guy’s head.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…high camp where comparisons to the work of John Waters are apt, especially when logic is dropped for gags and the performances have an awkward stiltedness to them.”–Addison Wylie, Wylie Writes (contemporaneous)

366 UNDERGROUND FROM THE READER SUGGESTION QUEUE: BHONER: THE MOVIE (2013)

Bhoner: The Movie is available to watch for free on Vimeo.

DIRECTED BY: and/or (Frank Anderson & Colin Shields)

FEATURING: Amolia Shells, Mellīza Verǎnda, Angel Gabriel, Taylor D’Andrew

PLOT: Sheltered ingenue Kisses, who lives in fear of the killer who murdered her father, is sent to a public summer school where she runs afoul of various cliques, and possibly the serial killer as well.

Still from Bhoner: The Movie (2013)

COMMENTS: In a Facebook post, the directors of Bhoner offered a simple invitation with a clear expression of their overall goal: “Help us offend a wider audience.” It honestly couldn’t be simpler. With a movie the filmmakers themselves describe as “vulgar, ugly, and stupid,” you can settle in for a straightforward effort to push the boundaries of good taste. 

The feeling from the outset is a satire of afterschool specials or parent-scare films along the lines of Go Ask Alice. The very first scene of the film shows purported innocent Kisses immediately turning to witchcraft in order to cope with the loss of her father and the restrictive atmosphere created by her holy roller mom (director Anderson in a camp drag routine). That should tell you right off the bat that none of this is to be taken seriously. No one in the cast looks remotely like a high schooler. Summer school seems to be held in one section of the cafeteria, with no teachers; students have lockers and the run of the entire building. A rich-kids-go-shopping montage takes place entirely at a thrift shop. It’s all deliberately silly. 

Along those lines, it’s only in this film’s opposite-day-logic that a child falling in with the wrong element would be sent to public school. But that development allows an introduction to a student body in the form of a parade of overinflated stereotypes, including dimwit cheerleaders, too-cool bros, and the occasional student who walks around in fetish gear. The acting runs at one of two speeds: you have a choice of either hugely low-key (such as the pair of jocks who declare they might be gay with all the enthusiasm of a light beer review) or raucously over the top (best exemplified by Verǎnda’s gratuitously evil head cheerleader Dimple). The one consistent trait is casual nastiness, snarkiness, and spouting the title word as every conceivable part of speech, a la Gretchen Wieners trying to make “fetch” happen.

The film’s greatest achievement is Shells pulling off dual roles as guileless Kisses and goth troublemaker Poppy, aided by judicious use of mascara and, ironically, haphazard edits that ensure they’re never quite in the same shot. I’m still kicking myself for how long it took me to recognize the stunt. Shells is no Tatiana Maslany, but she manages to give each of character their own spirit.

The vibe is further enhanced behind the camera, where Anderson and Shields’ directorial technique can be summed up in two words: Dutch angles. They are passionately in love with the tilted camera, and you can find one in very nearly every scene in the movie. That said, they’ve clearly never met a Dutch angle sharp enough for their tastes, so the image is constantly slanted to such an extreme that you half expect cast and props to go sliding off the edge of the screen. Their method is abetted by Gil Turetsky’s score, which consists of three or four cues which initially drop into a wryly cynical groove before becoming infuriating through endless repetition. This happens a lot in Bhoner: The Movie: an idea is treasured for being wild or unorthodox, and then the film piledrives that idea into the ground.

In a description provided for a screening at The New School, co-director Shields outlines very large ambitions for the Bhoner: The Movie. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, he talks in terms of Biblical allegories and mocks the idea of the conservatively minded cautionary tale. The filmmakers want to meet over-the-top storytelling with even-more-over-the-top storytelling, but without even an ounce of subtlety to sell it, it loses any context or grounding at all. Think , but without any of the love he feels for his ridiculous characters. Instead, the film feels like a project put together by a sketch group where everybody is competing to be the most outlandish person in the movie. It’s exhausting, and not terribly funny. Bhoner: The Movie is limp.

(This movie was nominated for review by Frank—most likely co-director Frank Anderson. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: DICKS: THE MUSICAL (2023)

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Dicks: The Musical can be rented or purchased on-demand.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Josh Sharp, Aaron Jackson, , Megan Mullally, Bowen Yang, Megan Thee Stallion

PLOT: Craig and Trevor, two alpha male salesmen, discover they are identical twins separated at birth, and scheme to get their eccentric parents back together to form a family.

Still from Dicks: the Musical (2023)

COMMENTS: If you’re offended by a portrayal of God as a foul-mouthed gay Asian who’s cool with incest, you’re Dicks: The Musical‘s target audience. That is to say, director Larry Charles is targeting you, the way Ron DeSantis targets a Disney princess drag queen elementary school read-along. With consent jokes, vagina jokes, on-screen gay sex jokes, and (lots of) jokes mocking straight white men, Dicks finds ways to shock in this unshockable age.

Dicks‘ desire to transgress is its strength and its weakness. There’s a place in the cinema universe for mid-budget midnight movies in the “I really shouldn’t be laughing at this “mode, and they don’t come around that often. (Rocky Horror made a lot of grandmas blush in its day; the 1999 South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut is probably the last major release with a similar traumatize-the-squares strategy.) On the other hand, it can be tiresome to watch a movie that’s this in-your-face all the time. At some point, my face got tired of having Dicks in it. I can’t say I laughed out loud too often, but I did gasp out loud at one grossout scene near the end (I suspect you’ll know which one I’m referring to when you see it). The funniest bit—perhaps tellingly—is a tongue-in-cheek post-credits sequence where Nathan Lane wonders how his showbiz career has come down to him spitting chewed-up lunch meat at puppets.

Despite not looking that much alike, stars Sharp and Johnson are indistinguishable, both to each other in-movie sense and in the function of their characters. They really are two men playing one character: well-endowed (or so they loudly sing) alpha male salesmen who score with the babes but are not-so-surprisingly repressed homosexuals. The real fun to be had here is in watching Mullaly and Lane as outrageously inappropriate parents who would (or at least, should) embarrass NYC’s most shameless narcissists.

Surprisingly, Mullaly is a great singer; equally surprisingly, given his long Broadway career, Lane is not (although he makes up for it with ace comedic timing). The songs are mostly amusing and perfectly serviceable, with Megan Thee Stallion’s “Out Alpha the Alpha” rap (which features her walking men on dog leashes) serving as the show-stopper. With its sneering Black-girl swagger, “Alpha” sounds just like a regular Megan Thee Stallion hit (I assume; can’t say I’ve ever heard a Megan Thee Stallion song).

The movie’s weird credentials come in the form of a pair of running-joke parental eccentricities: Lane’s pet “Sewer Boys,” two troll-like creatures he keeps in a cage and feeds masticated ham, and Mullaly’s detached vagina, which “fell off” one day (and walked away!) but which she now keeps in her handbag. We see it. It ain’t pretty. But Dicks ain’t about pretty, except for “that’s pretty gross.”

Dicks: the Musical is a strange project even for A24, which is now reportedly pivoting to more mainstream fare after the Oscar success of Everything Everywhere all at Once. This outrageous niche release buttresses their image as the studio willing to risk money on bizarre projects, but it’s ultimately a loss leader: the poorly attended theatrical release (a gross of a little over a million against its twelve-mil budget) will be followed by a much sooner than average appearance on VOD starting November 10.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a decidedly big swing and a genuinely weird take on the musical that has its moments, but also feels a bit stretched too thin given its concept. There are absolutely highs to this weird wonderland of genitals and Sewer Boys—especially with that third act—but for a comedy that needs to build and build to this idea justice, Dicks: The Musical too often relies on the same jokes told over and over again with a narrative that can’t continuously build the absurdity.”–Ross Bonaime, Collider (festival screening)

37*. TEENAGE TUPELO (1995)

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“Everything Revealed! Nothing Explained!”–tagline for Teenage Tupelo

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: D’Lana Tunnell, Hugh Brooks, Wanda Wilson

PLOT: Voluptuous D’Lana Fargo is knocked up by local Tupelo singer Johnny Tu-Note. Her mother sets up an adoption, and Johnny wants her to get rid of the baby. D’Lana falls in with a group of “Man Haters” who are fans of stripper/sexploitation filmmaker Topsy Turvy, who is the spitting image of D’Lana.

Still from Teenage Tupelo (1995)

BACKGROUND:

  • Teenage Tupelo was the first (and only) original production released by Something Weird video. It was released directly to VHS but never made the transition to DVD, going out of print and becoming unavailable for decades.
  • Produced by legendary exploitationeer David Friedman, a longtime collaborator of who also produced such oddities as The Acid Eaters (1968) and Ilsa, She Wolf of the S.S. (1975).
  • The film was shot on Super-8 for $12,000.
  • McCarthy’s adoptive parents appear as extras in the diner; their younger alter-egos are played by actors.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Almost certainly, you will remember the birth-of-a-baby scene (borrowed from the 1948 roadshow shocker Because of Eve). Even if you’ve seen a live birth before, it’s still shocking to see this sight casually shuffled into a narrative film context—and, accompanied by a tinkly music box rendition of “Frère Jacques,” it comes across as decidedly unwholesome. Viewer beware!

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Battered Johnny Tu-Note serenades vixen; chainsaw devil tattooist

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Teenage Tupelo plays like director McCarthy took Something Weird Video’s entire vintage VHS catalog, ran it through a woodchipper, and used the resulting pulp to sculpt his own phantasmagorical autobiography. It’s utterly unique, history’s first postmodern grindhouse film.

Trailer for the soundtrack release of Teenage Tupelo

COMMENTS: Not too many exploitation films open with an epigraph—even if it does come from a fortune cookie—but Teenage Continue reading 37*. TEENAGE TUPELO (1995)

CAPSULE: FP 4EVZ (2023)

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FP 4EVZ is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

Recommended*

*Frrlz

DIRECTED BY: Jason Trost

FEATURING: Jason Trost, Tallay Wickham, Ryan Gibson, Leigh Myles, Mike O’Gorman

PLOT: The wet shit threatens to 187 the FP, and so JTRO and CHAI-T must B.E.A.T. into the futuredoo with their daughter to save the nowsies.

COMMENTS: Let me be abundantly clear: there is no reason for this movie to be this good. No, we are not talking love-child of and Harron—that’d be a real masterpiece. FP 4EVZ, a passion-continuation of Jason Trost’s lifelong FP passion-project, is not high cinema, or even middle cinema. But it’s a refreshing blast to the face, made in the difficult style of haute stupidité. The premise is idiotic—as it has been, it seems, for over a decade now; for those of you not in the knowsies, Trost has been exploring the intersectionality of dystopian living and DDR (re-named in this universe “BEAT”, probably for legal reasons, but also because “Balance/Expeditiousness/Aggression/Tempo” is a delightfully silly sum-up of that whole arrow-stomp-dance nonsense) for his entire professional career.

I have not seen the first three parts of the FP franchise, but that’s okay: this chapter begins with a thorough recap of the machinations so far. Space Ducks once lorded over humanity, which was saved by a visitation from a cosmic entity who brought with it a comet-ful of booze. Civilizations have risen, and fallen. Humanity—or at least, sober humanity—is hanging on by its finger-nails. JTRO, the scion of a BEAT bloodline, is married to the warrior queen CHAI-T, and their daughter CHAI-LATTAY is the chosen one. Chosen to what? Dance. Dance at the direction of flying neon arrows.

There are many flying neon arrows. And countless examples of dum-dum “modern” speak rips and dialogues. No other framework could allow a destiny child be praised as having “the body of a mortal—but the blood and soul of a duck.” Or for a long-dormant thinking machine to not only insist on being referred to by name (“Monsieur Computer”), but sport a stupid beret on its Frenchie AI head graphic.

I eventually gave up on scribbling down the saga-style exposition, the pun-soaked quips, and the genuinely heartfelt speeches, all of which were crafted in an hilarious pastiche of idiotic slang from the past decade. It was all delivered ably—and delivered in all seriousness. And that is the main reason why FP 4EVZ works as well as it does: it never winks at the audience. All the DDR combat, the plot-twists, the CGI desolation: never once did I disbelieve. So take my recommendation with a few grains of salt, perhaps, but Trost’s latest outing is something to revel in—preferably, as they themselves advise before the feature, with at least a few drinks in you.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…Z grade in the best of ways. Damn near every shot takes place in front of a green screen, with some cheap After Effects to populate the space. But it’s clear they’re going for a certain aesthetic. It’s all cheese, all the time. There are never any weird elements fading in and out; the effects are well-executed, just a little strange and cheap.”–Tyler Nichols, JoBlo (contemporaneous)