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Thursday, December 1, 2011

CHILLERAMA -- DVD review by porfle


When a group of monster-fan filmmakers get together and make an anthology flick that they say is inspired by their love of such things as Forry Ackerman's "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine and movies like TALES FROM THE CRYPT, it instantly gets my inner Monster Kid's attention.  But when the result is as uneven as CHILLERAMA (2011), the Kid has to give it one thumb up and one thumb sorta wavering between three and six o'clock.

Directors Adam Rifkin (LOOK, DETROIT ROCK CITY), Tim Sullivan (2001 MANIACS), Joe Lynch (WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END), and Adam Green (HATCHET) certainly show their love for the horror genre and "B" pictures of the 50s and 60s in particular with this parade of comedy carnage that's a send-up of the stuff we used to watch at the local drive-in.  The wraparound segments even take place at one--the Kaufman (as in Troma's Lloyd Kaufman, one of the film's many in-jokes), which is putting on one last all-night marathon of ultra-rare horror films before being torn down by Blumpco Industries. 

The boys do a good job of capturing the flavor of an old-fashioned night at the drive-in, with giddy film fans snuggling in their cozy cars in front of the big screen (which shows vintage trailers and refreshment bumpers) or hiking to the festive concession stand to stock up on junk food.  Familiar character actor Richard Riehle plays owner Cecil B. Kaufman, who spends the evening in the projection room pining over old times while toying with the idea of blowing his brains out.  Among the audience are good-natured hunk Miller (Ward Roberts), who has a crush on cute concession stand girl Desi (Laura Ortiz), and teens Tobe and Mayna (Corey Jones, Kaili Thorne), who have a crush on each other.



So far, so good, and the first movie on the menu is the best--Adam Rifkin's deliriously whacky "Wadzilla", the story of nebbishy business exec Miles Munson (Rifkin) seeking medical help for his fertility problem.  It seems that instead of producing lots of sperm cells, Miles can only manage one, so Dr. Weems (Ray Wise, "Twin Peaks") suggests a new, untested drug called Spermupermine.  Unfortunately, the drug only increases the size of Miles' one sperm cell which, after he's forced to "eject" it during a blind date with sexy Louise (Sarah Mutch), grows to monstrous proportions and begins to terrorize the city. 

Rifkin is surprisingly hilarious as Miles and displays a real talent for physical comedy while grappling wildly with the slippery creature during its early development.  Its rampage through the city streets, reminiscent of THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and similar giant monster flicks (including Woody Allen's EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX) is rendered with intentionally cheesy SPFX by the Chiodo brothers, including lots of stop-motion and puppetry, and comes to a climax (yes, yes, that was intentional) when the humongous sperm meets the one woman big enough to handle it--the Statue of Liberty.  Eric freakin' Roberts makes a welcome appearance as the frantic General Bukkake, who gives the order to commence "Operation Money Shot" before the sticky finish.

The bad thing about "Wadzilla" is that when it's over, CHILLERAMA has pretty much shot its wad and most of what comes after it suffers in comparison.  Tim Sullivan's "I Was a Teenage Werebear" tries really hard but this gay-themed spoof of troubled teen dramas, beach party flicks, and GREASE-type musicals never comes together as crisply as this sort of thing needs to in order to be effective.  The story of sexually-confused high schooler Ricky (controversial gay-porn star Sean Paul Lockhart) being seduced to the "dark side" by bad boy Talon (Anton Troy) and his werebear gang ("bears", incidentally, are big, hairy, leather-clad gay guys) is colorful and frenetic, yet most of the frat-level gay humor falls flat and the musical numbers are amateurish.



Sullivan, who is gay himself, does a nice turn as Ricky's burly gym coach, while Lin Shaye of KINGPIN and THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY isn't up to her usual standards in a take-off of the Maleva character from the Universal "Wolf Man" films.  The segment ends with the werebears attacking a beach concert and causing some HORROR OF PARTY BEACH-type chaos while Ricky, who has succumbed to the werebear curse himself, pleads for peace and understanding between the gays and straights.  While well-meaning and energetic, with a couple of funny scenes here and there, "I Was a Teenage Werebear" never really clicks.

Adam Green is up next with what is clearly the most eye-opening title, "The Diary of Anne Frankenstein."  Here, we discover that the Franks, a Jewish family hiding from the Nazis in a cramped attic in World War II (which, of course, really happened), are actually the Frankensteins and that young Anne possesses the diary of her grandfather, Dr. Frankenstein (which, I'm assuming, is made up).  Suddenly, Hitler himself and some Nazi goons bust the door down and, after a few comedy antics, gun down the Franks and steal the diary, with which Hitler and his sexy girlfriend Eva then create a hulking patchwork creature (out of "work camp parts") who resembles a cross between the Frankenstein Monster, Popeye, and a Hasidic Jew.

Whew.  Well, needless to say, this is some pretty wild and potentially offensive material, but Green attacks it with enthusiasm and creativity and so does his cast.  Shot entirely in subtitled German and in 30s-style black and white with a faux-ravaged look, this richly-photographed film is positively inexorable in forcing us to accept its comedy premise and laughing along with a crazed, screaming Hitler as manically played by Joel David Moore (AVATAR, HATCHET) in full mad doctor mode.

There's so much unrelenting wackiness going on here that much of it really is pretty funny if you let your defenses down, especially when Kane Hodder's one-of-a-kind monster comes to life--he's wonderful in the role, subtly expressive through a ton of incredible monster makeup and proving himself a talented comedian as he reacts dubiously to Hitler's insane rantings.  Eventually realizing his origins, he turns on his creator in an orgy of Jewish-revenge-porn violence (making this sort of a companion piece to INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) that's filled with chocolate-sauce blood, god-awful gore effects, and fourth-wall breaking.  And as if that weren't enough, Kane Hodder even gets to dance. 



A fourth film called "Deathication" begins to unwind upon the screen before its non-stop barrage of extreme scat jokes and visuals is mercifully cut short when CHILLERAMA's actual final segment, "Zom-B-Movie" (directed by Joe Lynch), takes over.  As seen in the film's prologue, drive-in employee Floyd (Miles Dougal of Rifkin's LOOK film and TV series) has become infected with a zombie virus after some graveyard necrophilia with his dead wife goes wrong, and he somehow spreads it to the theater patrons via an open can of popcorn butter. 

Thus, our heroes Miller, Tobe, and Mayna, along with the redoubtable Mr. Kaufman, find themselves in the middle of an undead sex-and-cannibalism orgy that invites comparison to better films such as Peter Jackson's DEAD ALIVE and Sam Raimi's EVIL DEAD trilogy and is packed with endless references to other flicks as well.  Stuffed with as much action, gore, and zombie makeups as the budget would allow, the sequence is fun but not particularly inspired, and becomes somewhat tiresome before it's done. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Bonus stuff includes a commentary with all four directors, "Wadzilla" deleted scenes and trailer, "The Making of 'The Diary of Anne Frankenstein'", "I Was a Teenage Werebear" extras (making-of, deleted scenes, and trailer), "Zom-B-Movie" deleted scenes, director interviews, and the film's trailers.  The marathon closing credits crawl also features a lot of extra footage including a kickass music video for Young Beautiful In a Hurry's "I Don't Want to Die a Virgin" by Brendan McCreary.

Despite the fact that it isn't as perfect as I wanted it to be, CHILLERAMA gets goodwill points just for being what it is--a love letter to the Monster Kid in all of us.  It's worth watching for its good parts (especially "Wadzilla") and the overall atmosphere of nostagia it evokes for a time when going to the drive-in to watch a few cheap horror flicks was just about one of the most fun things you could imagine doing.


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