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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

THE BLOODY APE -- DVD review by porfle

Just so I don't give you the wrong impression, I want to say up front that this is a favorable review. I had loads of fun watching THE BLOODY APE, writer-director Keith J. Crocker's affectionate homage to the drive-in trash of yesteryear, and will enthusiastically recommend it to people who come knocking at my door trying to sell me a satellite dish or invite me to their church.

Now that my disclaimer is out of the way and we can speak freely, I'll try to describe this surreal cinematic artifact to you. Imagine a cross between LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, BLOOD FEAST, and your dad's worst home movies. Whatever your mind comes up with, this is worse. Though filmed in 1997, it looks as though it were shot in 1967, buried, and then dug up by somebody's dog in 1997. It makes PINK FLAMINGOS look like it was directed by Terrence Malick. In fact, it makes almost literally every other movie ever made look good in comparison, unless, of course, Billy Crystal is in it.

All of this, however, is simply part of THE BLOODY APE's makeshift charm. Crocker, a devoted grindhouse film aficionado who for several years published the popular fanzine "Exploitation Journal" with his pal George Reis, eschewed the "shot-on-video" look of much of today's indy titles and went instead for the more traditional look of actual film. Super 8mm film, that is--exactly the same stuff that all of us pre-home-video auteurs used in order to make our own geeky home monster movies back in high school. Except here, Crocker managed to shoot a feature film and get it released, so you gotta admire him for that.

It's this homespun ingenuity and love for moviemaking that help make THE BLOODY APE such a strangely fascinating experience. The gleefully bizarre screenplay by Crocker and Reis is another factor. Loosely inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue", it's the story of a carnival barker named Lampini (after George Zucco's character in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN) and his beloved performing gorilla, Gordo. After being screwed over by an abusive garage mechanic and a crooked rabbi, and then rejected by his girlfriend Ginger while he's proposing to her, Lampini decides to use his ape as an instrument of revenge.

Taking a cue from Bela Lugosi's diabolical aftershave murders in THE DEVIL BAT, Lampini mails Ginger some of his special homemade banana cream soap. This lures Gordo to Ginger's apartment, where he kills her roommates in a frenzy of fake blood and banana-scented soap suds. In one scene, we get to see what would've happened in PSYCHO if Janet Leigh's shower had been interrupted by a crazed gorilla instead of Norman Bates. Then Gordo chases another naked roommate around the livingroom couch a few times before squeezing the life out of her as she looks into the camera and laughs.

Rabbi Rabinowitz and Vic White, the incredibly racist garage mechanic, are next on the list, having been given bunches of bananas by Lampini beforehand. I don't want to spoil too much of the intricate plot, but this is where Gordo rapes Rabbi Rabinowitz' wife and then disembowels her. Although this sounds horrible, the fact that the victim is giggling through the whole ordeal tends to soften the heinousness a bit. Gordo's reign of terror then goes on to include car theft--he drives around until stopped by a cop, whose head he pulls off--and the murder of an ill-mannered video store clerk, which is justifiable. Equally shocking is the scene in which a hippie is furtively taking a leak in some bushes when the confused ape mistakes part of his anatomy for a banana, and...

During all of this, an incredibly racist police lieutenant named LoBianco (Reis, who also plays Gordo) is irrationally convinced that the whole killing spree is the work of an innocent black man named Duane Jones (after the lead actor in George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD), which is a whole other subplot. With his ridiculous hair-helmet wig and fake goatee, Reis is as over-the-top hilarious as everything else about this movie. And as mechanic Vic White, Larry Koster is like a Jerky Boys character come to life. The early scene in which he browbeats the incredulous Duane (Chris Hoskins) out of the garage simply for wanting his car fixed sets the goofball tone for the rest of the film.

Acting honors, however, must go to Paul Richichi as Lampini. With his dopey porkpie hat, cane, and Dracula cape, the ever-cheerful Lampini is a delightfully absurd character brimming with memorable quotes, as during his romantic dinner with Ginger: "The sky has never been bluer, the grass has never been greener, and Japanese sports cars have never been smaller, ever since I laid my head between your breasts," he gushes over a plate of Spaghetti-O's. "My love for you is as deep and as wide as the expanses of your vaginal cavity." To which the nonplussed Ginger responds: "What's the matter with you tonight? You're acting like a crackpot--like one of those self-proclaimed medicine men from the days of yore." Later, regretting his callous treatment of Gordo, he laments that he has become "so overwhelmed with repugnance for my enemies, that my love for my ape completely disappeared."

Now, this is where I usually mention stuff like image and sound quality, but we'll skip that part and go on to the bonus features. The audio commentary is an entertaining gabfest with Crocker, Reis, Richichi, and Wild Eye DVD's Rob Hauschild, who directed the informative "making of" featurette, "Grindhouse Gorilla." Next is a Crocker short film, "One Grave Too Many", which boasts a crude sort of creepiness. Lots of other miscellaneous stuff is included: a gallery of covers from the "Exploitation Journal" 'zine, trailers for THE BLOODY APE and BLITZKRIEG: ESCAPE FROM STALAG 69, a pressbook, original VHS cover art, lobby cards, stills, and other related art.

If you've read this far, you already know whether or not you should watch THE BLOODY APE as soon as possible or avoid it like the plague. It's loaded with exploitation goodies--nudity, violence, badly-done gore, bizarre situations, extreme characters, weird comedy--and done in such an unabashedly crude way that it radiates its own strange kind of fascination. As a Poe adaptation, George Reis accurately comments: "If you're running down the films based on Edgar Allan Poe, it's--one of them." As a study in miscommunication, as Crocker describes it, you couldn't find characters that are more miscommunicative. As cinema, it's like some kind of Super 8mm folk art whose worth can only be measured by each individual who watches it. As for me, I found it to be one of the funniest and most entertaining comedy-horror films that I watched yesterday.

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