Tag Archives: Low budget

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: HOLY TRINITY (2019)

DIRECTED BY: Molly Hewitt

FEATURING: Molly Hewitt, Theo Germain

PLOT: A dominatrix finds she’s able to speak to the dead after huffing cans of new age air freshener, but her newfound viral celebrity threatens her relationship with her submissive partner.

Still from Holy Trinity (2019)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The plot involves a dominatrix speaking to the dead after huffing air freshener, so they would really have to drop the ball for this not to catch our attention. Spoiler alert: they don’t drop the ball; in fact, the movie comes awfully close to earning the coveted “” rating.

COMMENTS: The character in the Marge-Simpson-sized fishnet hat stuffed with pink balloons wearing two-inch lashes with lime-green eye shadow only gets a couple of lines. She is not a sideshow freak in Holy Trinity‘s strange world, but just a regular background character1)She is, in reality, the Imp Queen, a Chicago-based trans woman drag performance artist of some notoriety., like the pattycake-playing human kitty cat or the big bearded medium in lavender robes with flowers in their hair.

By contrast, Trinity, our friendly orange-haired dominatrix protagonist, and her sweet submissive slave, the shaven-headed Baby, are almost “straight” characters. Their relationship is tender, despite the fact that Trinity keeps Baby tied on a leash about ninety percent of the time. They exist in a flipped fantasy world where alternative culture and sexuality is the norm, and normality is nowhere to be found. The giant Glamhag corporation supplies all this world’s needs, from diet sodas to Orixaoco spiritual air freshener. Every living room looks like it was conceived and designed by a drag queen art major while tripping on ecstasy. TV sets are draped in decorative foam. Everyone spends two hours a day putting on makeup and selecting their wardrobe just to go to the corner grocery store. The bananas aesthetic reaches its height at Sunday “church” service, where the local weirdos all gather for a weekly bacchanalia that’s a cross between a Halloween pride parade and a makeshift disco set up at a school cafeteria held on “come-as-a-sexy-nun” night.

Besides all that, there’s visions of the afterworld, a big butch angel, discussion of the ethical implications of psychic powers on the consensuality of bondage and discipline sessions, and shots at the hypocrisy of religion (typified by a priest who’s a big Madonna fan). Also, although everyone in the movie speaks like an American (with the exception of one character who speaks subtitled Portuguese), they pay for everything with Euros. That currency choice is one of the least strange features of Holy Trinity‘s universe, but it strikes me as a good reminder of how far the movie goes to ensure that absolutely everything is off-center.

is the obvious influence here, but instead of the witty misanthropy and satirical ugliness of his early years, or the campy nostalgia of his later works, the movie sets a sunny, optimistic tone of triumphant intoxication and celebration of eccentricity. Holy Trinity‘s universe is a sex-positive, kink-positive, freak-accepting psychic utopia.

Holy Trinity makes its debut at the Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ  Film Festival tomorrow, July 19. I have no doubt it’s an appropriate and welcoming venue. But while there are plenty of obviously gay and lesbian characters in the film, the central relationship explored here is heterosexual (although ultra-kinky). Holy Trinity is “queer” in the original sense of the word, but I’d hate to see it pigeonholed as an LBGTQ special interest film: like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or the works of John Waters, it speaks to all free spirits and outsiders, even the straightest among us. If, like me, you’re the kind of person who relishes the opportunity to tell casual acquaintances “I saw this movie about a paint-huffing dominatrix who talks to the dead the other night,” you’ll want to prioritize this one.

References   [ + ]

1. She is, in reality, the Imp Queen, a Chicago-based trans woman drag performance artist of some notoriety.

CAPSULE: SHE’S JUST A SHADOW (2019)

DIRECTED BY: Adam Sherman

FEATURING: Tao Okamoto, Kihiro, Kentez Asaka, Marcus Johnson

PLOT: The matriarch of a prostitution empire, married to a violent pimp, leads her gang against a rival band of yakuza while a serial killer preys on her girls and one of her lackeys is caught in a love triangle.

Still from She's Just a Shadow (2019)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This super-stylized, candy colored exploitationer with a couple of precognitive hallucination scenes feels like a budget version of Kill Bill insistent on earning an NC-17 rating. It’s well off the beaten path, but still only on the outskirts of the truly weird.

COMMENTS: A movie that opens with a serial killer binding and tying his nude victim to train tracks and then pleasuring himself as the locomotive approaches is a movie that knows the audience it’s after. She’s Just a Shadow gives you all the perverted thrills you could ask for—sushi served off naked hookers, constant coke-sniffing, an infirmary full of shot-up whores —all wrapped up in a slick, arty package with professional lighting, elaborate costuming, and acres of nudes.

Shot mostly in the neon-lit night or carefully controlled interiors, Shadow is a great-looking film, but unfortunately loses points due to acting that is not up to the professionalism of the cinematography. Former Ralph Lauren model Tao Okamoto has had major roles in Hollywood superhero movies I haven’t seen, so I can’t say she’s an amateur, but she could have fooled me with her performance here. Her line deliveries are almost completely drab and inflectionless; the lack of emoting reminds me of nothing more than Madeleine Reynal’s deliberately blank performance in Dr. Caligari. She smokes a lot, so her long drags off her thin black cigarette help explain the frequent pauses in her delivery. Making his acting debut as a flunky whose main duty in the syndicate seems to be drinking and sleeping with a pair of the girls 24/7, J-pop musician Kihiro is a little better, but not quite ready to be a leading man; his role requires him to be strung-out and exhausted most of the time, partly compensating for his lack of passion. With the two leads being so laid back, it’s left to a bodyguard named “Knockout” (Marcus Johnson) to bring the most energy, though only in a small role. Main bad guy Kentez Asaka can act, but not without a distracting accent sported by none of the rest of the cast (some of whom speak the Queen’s English despite playing Japanese gangsters).

The screenplay, too, is not up to the standard set by the visuals. Shadow‘s characters can be insultingly dumb when it advances the plot. The dialogue treads a line between cliched and risible. Trite ideas are rendered in eyebrow-raising prose: “Both Jesus and the garbageman wanted a little more time when they were carrying their loads up their separate hills,” muses one character. Later he gives us the even cringier observation, “Women… no matter how human they seem, they’re not. They’re just shadows. But on the other hand, aren’t we all?” Lines like these give Shadow an extra layer of unintentional (?) camp, something that doesn’t work entirely against the film—and will likely be overlooked, anyway, by those looking for cheap thrills.

Despite its handicaps, Shadow will slay many with its over-the-top grindhouse audacity. Director Adam Sherman has clearly absorbed a and flick or two, and while the acting is bland and the dialogue may elicit some chuckles, the wild and colorful visuals are up to his influences, and he goes all out to give the audience what they crave, with little filter on the stylish sleaze and depravity. If you’re a fan of modern yakuza exploitation flicks, you’ll probably dig this.

She’s Just a Shadow opens in New York City (and possibly elsewhere) this Friday, July 19; it will probably find a more natural home on VOD soon after.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…exploitation bliss; unfiltered and pure and injected straight into your putrid pupils via a dirty needle.”–DanXIII, Horror Fuel (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska

FEATURING: Sylvia Soska, Jen Soska, Rikki Gagne, C.J. Wallis, Loyd Bateman

PLOT: Two young druggies and two young churchies find a dead hooker in their trunk and set out to dispose of the body while pursued by a serial killer and other slimeballs.

Still from Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not one of the all-time strangest movies out there, though it’s OK as a first timers’ take on a low budget exploitation movie with a feminist slant—one that is weirder than it had to be.

COMMENTS: Absolutely faithful to the exploitative promise of the title, but still not exactly what you’d expect, Dead Hooker in a Trunk is a nihilistic feminist punk black comedy with an absurd script and experimental tendencies. It plays out in a comic book reality that’s halfway between a modern Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and a film. It may also take place, as the character known only as “Junkie” suggests, in Purgatory (which, perhaps unsurprisingly, looks a lot like Vancouver).

En route to scoring some “shit” for her bestie the Junkie, the Badass agrees to pick up Goody Two Shoes from his church youth group at the request of her sister, The Geek. Leaving the church, they immediately smell the dead hooker in their trunk, and after minimal debate about calling the cops, they decide instead to dispose of the evidence. So the quartet goes on the lam, checks into a sleazy motel, and has to deal with cops, drug gangs, a serial killer, and a cowboy pimp. Along the way they encourage necrophilia and meet God (in a cameo); characters lose eyeballs and arms, but emerge little the worse for wear. They also engage in a gruesome and fatal tooth-pulling torture session, lest you think this is all just innocent fun and games.

The Soska sisters indulge in some experimental aesthetics: for example, flashback scenes have dark lighting and rounded shadowy edges around the frame (sometimes with the sound of a projector running in the background). Most of the film is vérité style shot-on-video, particularly obvious during action scenes where the camera swerves around to catch the action, as if a documentary crew is filming the carnage live. Some people seem to enjoy the indie/punk soundtrack, which features several original songs, although I found it merely functional. I must say, however, that the filmmakers did a great job with makeup, and not just with the corny gore effects. Besides one symbolic moment where a teardrop tattoo appears and disappears, you never get confused as to which of the identical twin sisters is the Geek and which is the Badass; in fact, you might not even guess that the actresses were related.

Dead Hooker‘s rowdy screenplay emits a theme of female empowerment, in that the women (particularly the Badass) triumph over men who are driven to violence by sexual inadequacy. The main problem I had with the film, however, is that I never liked the characters the way the script wanted me to. The two “good” characters put up only token resistance to the criminality of the two “bad” characters. Although the foursome bonds with each other through their trials, I wouldn’t want to spend much time with any of them. The group makes an appeal for sympathy with the adoption of an abandoned dog, but then they blow all that goodwill with the tone-deaf torture/revenge scene. Getting audiences to root for reprobates is always a hard sell; it’s only the pitiless antiheroes who never show any sign of remorse or goodness (like Tura Satana in Faster Pussycat) that come off best. By not caring whether we like them, they make us love them, whereas Dead Hooker‘s antiheroines can come across as too desperate for our approval.

The Soska sisters moved on to bigger budgets after making this debut film for a reported $2,500 (!) Dead Hooker was re-released on a limited edition Blu-ray in 2019, although given its low-fi origins, it’s hard to imagine the picture benefits much from a high definition presentation. The disc does contain a commentary track from the sisters, not available on previous releases. Next up for the twins: a remake of fellow Canadian ‘s Rabid, due out in late 2019 or early 2020.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“As cheap, meretricious and disposable as its titular character, this countercultural road movie may be a puerile mishmash of low-rent clichés and in-your-face transgression (with just a smattering of Weekend at Bernie’s), but it is just about knowing enough to get away with it – as long as you approach it with the right (which is to say lowered) kind of expectation.”–Anton Bitel, Projected Figures

CAPSULE: THE SIGNAL (2007)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry

FEATURING: Anessa Ramsey, Justin Welborn, A.J. Bowen, Scott Poythress

PLOT: A mysterious signal broadcast through television distorts people’s thinking and turns an entire city into a horde of homicidal maniacs.

Still from The Signal (2007)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Signal is a tough call, because does get increasingly weird (especially at the end). On the whole, however, its experimentation puts it more on the outer edges of the apocalyptic horror genre than firmly inside the weird movie genre.

COMMENTS: You might say that a movie looks like it was directed by three different directors to criticize its lack of continuity or coherence. In The Signal‘s case, however, it’s actually, literally true, and it’s an asset rather than a liability. Working from a script they co-wrote together, David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry, and Dan Bush each direct one of the movie’s three acts sequentially, with each section taking the perspective of a different character affected by the homicidal signal. Although the Atlanta-based trio has continued to work in the horror scene, none of them have achieved this level of success in their solo work.

Bruckner’s opening segment covers the advent of the mysteriously broadcast signal, which manifests itself as psychedelic fractals on TV that speak telepathically to viewers and prey on their weaknesses. It introduces protagonists Mya and Ben, who are having an adulterous affair but seem like basically good kids. When Mya returns home to the apartment she shares with her husband Lewis, she observes that everyone in the city is acting oddly. Their behavior gradually changes from eccentric to outright psychotic, as hubby Lewis flies into a fit of violent jealousy, while another neighbor is in the hallway outside killing people with gardening shears. It’s the most straightforward and conventional bit of filmmaking, which is the necessary approach to establish the premise. Gentry’s second act takes the movie into grisly black comedy territory, shot from the POV of people suffering from signal-induced delusions and hallucinations at the most awkward New Year’s Eve party/massacre ever. Although it contains some of the most gruesome horror moments, including dastardly uses for pesticide sprays, this segment is the best and most memorable. It features a couple of sly comic relief victims: a kitschy party hostess who doesn’t realize she’s killed her husband, and a horny male guest whose single-minded dedication to getting laid blinds him to the carnage around him. It’s fortuitous that this only a third of the film—there wouldn’t have been enough jokes for feature length, but a half hour of palette-cleansing comedy is about perfect. Bush wraps things up with a denouement that’s perhaps a bit weaker than the other three, focusing on Ben’s attempts to fight the signal off by sheer willpower. This section contains a lot of “is this really happening or is it just a hallucination?” montages and dream sequences.

Though generally innovative, The Signal settles for some horror movie clichés and credibility stretches. People take what should be fatal amounts of physical abuse and come back later brawling like Ali vs. Foreman. And I’m pretty sure you can’t kill someone by shoving a plastic balloon pump into their jugular. These lapses are partly covered up by the hallucinatory nature of the proceedings, but at times they feel like a typical horror cop-out. Nonetheless, The Signal is a successful experiment, one that leaves its message about media oversaturation implicit rather than hammering it into your poor skull.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“An outright horror film that nonetheless veers on occasion into surreal black comedy, The Signal (a favorite at last year’s Sundance and SXSW Film festivals) takes Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement ‘the medium is the message’ to extremes not explored since David Cronenberg’s seminal, frighteningly prescient Videodrome in 1983.”–Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “bannanar,” who said ” that one blows my mind… good good stuff.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: THE TEXTURE OF FALLING (2018)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Maria Allred

FEATURING: Julie Webb, Patrick Green, Maria Allred, Benjamin Farmer

PLOT: Some millennials with plenty of time and money skirt around different affairs with each other before it’s revealed that we’re watching a movie about some millennials with plenty of time and money who skirt around having different affairs with each other.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It pitches itself as “unlike any film that you’ve ever seen”. That is true: never have I seen something so bold in its combination of earnest pretentiousness and skull-sagging tedium.

COMMENTS: Recent experience suggests that among today’s millennialist youth, the trend of making movies that end up being about making movies is growing. Perhaps the would-be artistes grew up watching them and thought, erroneously, “That looks easy. I bet I can make something that impressive.” Flustered as I am at this moment, I just had the horrible realization that I wish I had just re-watched Paris Is Us instead of this one—and trust you me, I am fully aware of the ramifications of that errant thought.

The drama begins in Portland, Oregon—definitely not Seattle, Washington. Louisa (Julie Webb) is an aspiring film-maker and “love-skeptic” who finds herself, against her will, falling for quiet-but-blandly-hot pianist-composer, Luke (Patrick Green). In a parallel story, not-so-happy-with-his-wife Mike (Benjamin Farmer), an architect, is beginning a bondage-lite affair with a woman whose character was so hard to pin down I can only confidently refer to her by the descriptor “Blondie” (Maria Allred). As love chatter goes back and forth and up and down, each of the leads makes various compromises (?) and claws blindly toward an actual plot.

On at least two occasions I wrote in my notebook, “Big question: is this going anywhere?” And this was twice during a movie lasting a blip of an hour and a quarter. While watching various characters I had absolutely no interest in putz around and make emotional and social idiots of themselves, I was nearly relieved to find that I was watching one of them there “movie” movies. Turns out Louisa is writing a script, and lifting her lines from her interactions with Luke. But wait! No, it turns out that she’s actually fallen for the moody pianist (who is married, with children) on whom she’s basing a character. But wait! Louisa is just the role played by a character who seems to be an assistant to the real driving force behind this mess.

Maria Allred: I understand that making a movie is a very difficult undertaking. Furthermore, that your credits list includes, but is not limited to, director, writer, editor, producer, costumes, casting, designer, and art department forces me, despite my complete dismissiveness, to give you some respect. But perhaps you should take on a lighter workload next time. The Texture of Falling is, technically, a well put-together movie. But it is, almost objectively, a boring mass of bad dialogue, superfluous meta-twists, and somnolent acting. If your next Kick-Starter1)Kickstarter was mentioned on no fewer than 3 occasions. campaign is for a movie with an actual plot, consider me on the hook for at least a one-hundred dollar donation.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“How are these people connected? What’s real and what’s fantasy? But again, I run the risk of giving the impression that The Texture of Falling is compelling, which it is not. It’s 74 minutes of mediocre actors giving meek, low-energy performances while reciting clumsily written, faux-philosophical dialogue.” –Eric D. Schneider, Portland Mercury (contemporaneous)

References   [ + ]

1. Kickstarter was mentioned on no fewer than 3 occasions.

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND (1981)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Steve Brodie, Cameron Mitchell, Katherine Victor, (?)

PLOT: A crew of hot air balloon travelers land on a remote desert island and encounter the great-grand-daughter of Dr. Frankenstein presiding over an assortment of natives and other random people.

Still from Frankenstein Island (1981)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: An extreme low-budget B-movie director of legendarily bad productions, Jerry Warren is no stranger to our pages here. Frankenstein Island stands out as his only color film, a movie he made after a 15-year hiatus, and his final film. In spite of all that, it manages to out-crazy everything else he ever done, not to mention being the most deranged film with the name “Frankenstein” in its title, a major feat in itself.

COMMENTS: Move over, Plan 9 From Outer Space, Manos: The Hands Of Fate, and even The Room:  we have a new contender for “so bad it’s hilarious!” If Frankenstein Island (1981) isn’t a candidate for “worst movie ever made,” that’s only because it’s too crammed full of jaw-droppingly bonkers scenes to be not-entertaining. As is typical for a Jerry Warren experience, count on muddled story structure, random stock footage inserted into the plot, extreme budget sets, abrupt day-night transitions, wooden acting, and new lows in filmmaking incompetence all around. What follows is a stalwart attempt to convey what’s going on, to the best of my ability; please be advised that in-movie continuity errors and contradictions make some details hard to pin down.

Four men and a dog fly in a pair of hot air balloons on a little-explained recon errand (later said to be a balloon race). They end up on a desert island because they ran out of stock balloon footage, and start exploring on a quest to build a raft to escape—despite leaning on a rubber dingy while discussing this plan. In due order, they encounter (1) a tribe of Amazon natives in leopard-print bikinis, (2) a cult of zombie-like/robot-like men in black shirts, who kidnap natives and get up to other mischief, (3) a mad prisoner in a cell who raves in Edgar Allan Poe references, (4) a jolly drunk in an eye-patch who can not stop laughing and acts as the men’s guide, while guffawing “HAR HAR HAR HAAAAAR,” and finally (5) a woman, Sheila (previously referred to as “Xira”), wearing a pile of wigs, who claims to be the great-grand-daughter of the original Dr. Frankenstein. Her invalid husband Dr. Von Helsing is there too. Sheila Frankenstein carries on some kind of mad science research in a suspiciously modern and well-furnished mansion and laboratory on an island where everybody else lives in shanties. The black-shirt thugs are her minions, the natives were there when she got there, she’s on a quest to cure Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND (1981)