Tuesday, November 15, 2011

DVD Reviews: ThanksKilling and The Night Shift

Text © Richard Gary / FFanzeen, 2011
Images from the Internet

I reviewed these two independent films together because they both set out to achieve some comedy along with the horror. Plus, I get to mention the Fonz, either directly or indirectly, in both. Peter Griffin  must be smiling somewhere…

Directed by Jordan Downey
MVD Visual, 2009 / 2011
66 minutes, USD $16.95


According to the commentary track with director Downey and co-writer Kevin Stewart, the purpose of this $3,500 film, shot in 11 days back while they were both in college, was not to make a horror film per se, but by aiming towards the “so bad it’s good” (SBIG) category, rather make it a comedy with horror elements. It is true that when one goes for SBIG, usually horror is the genre on which to point.

From the box alone, you know the territory is going to be no-prisoners: make the viewer laugh at any expense, no matter how low, no matter how silly, no matter how forced. And have they achieved their goal of making a comedy and the worst horror film ever made? Well, yes and no. Let’s discuss…

As promised on the box, the first shot in the film is of a naked breast, apparently that of a healthy and hefty pilgrim running topless through the woods, played in cameo by older adult star Wanda Lust (nee Shelia Hansen). She is fleeing something raised by the Indians (this film is intentionally not PC, so I won’t bother with the terms Native Americans or First Nations) to kill the Pilgrims on the first Thanksgiving. Let’s stop there a moment and ponder. Totally realizing that there is an abnormally large need for suspension of disbelief, let me say that if this had happened, we certainly wouldn’t be celebrating the holiday, would we? But as far as stretching credulity goes, this is one of the minor ones, relatively speaking. Again, though, that’s part of the point. It’s important to keep remembering that, going forward.

After the pilgrim prologue, we meet five high school students (okay, there goes that credulity thing again in my head…easy now, brain, this is just the beginning of the ride) who are going to be both heroes and victims of… well, it’s pretty obvious from the box, so I don’t think I’m revealing anything by saying it’s the killer turkey, imaginatively named Turkie (if they really wanted it to be scary, it could have been named Tofuerkie). I must say right now that for a killer puppet turkey, Turkie looks pretty good. Kudos guys. Perhaps they could pair up with the makers of The Puppet Monster Massacre, as both these films are sequel bound? Or perhaps even Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead? But I digress…

So, the teens are totally (and purposefully, according to the commentary track, which I highly recommend if you’re going to watch this… ha, bet you thought I was going to say “turkey”!) cinematic clichés, including Johnny, the jock with a heart of gold (Lance Predmore), his goofy hick pal, Billy (Aaron-Ringhiser-Carlson, doing his best Tyler Labine impression), Billy’s nerd hanger-on Darren (Ryan Francis, who in “real life” is the drummer of the female-fronted Ohio punk band Overated , as Huge Euge), good girl Kristen (Lindsey Anderson, whose only previous notation was in Troma’s Terror Firmer, 10 years before this), and bad girl Ali (Natasha Cordova, in full John-Lithgow-sitcom-overacting style, coming closest to what the commentary states they wanted).

The five set off on Thanksgiving break (yeah, I know and the writers acknowledge in the commentary) to go camping. Of course, they run into said Turkie in the woods, who was resurrected by the pee of the dog owned by a hermit named Oscar (as in “the Grouch,” played well by General Bastard, who is the singer of his own punk-garage band). 

Of course, this meeting of late-twenty-year-old teens and Turkie turns into a battle that takes it back to town, where Turkie does away with a bunch of townsfolk, including relatives as well as some of the main cast. While Kristen’s dad, the town sheriff (Chuck Lamb, who has made a mini-career out of playing dead bodies in films and television), may have the fakest looking moustache in recent cinema memory (though it works for his character, and I’d like to say Lamb did well in his rare speaking role), probably the goofiest moment is when Turkie disguises himself as the sheriff by putting on a hat and a plastic Groucho glasses / nose / moustache, so not even his daughter can tell them apart. It is one of the few moments that I actually laughed out loud, in sheer audacity. Well played, Jordan Downey.

One of the two most infamous scenes, though, is Turkie disguised as a woman, and then getting picked up as a hitchhiker who is obviously aroused, thinking he’s a (human) girl. Let’s just say it doesn’t end well, especially for the audience. The other is when Turkie has his way with someone (“You’ve been stuffed,” he states after), though it should be noted that it was done safely (at the scene is found an extra small condom, gravy flavored).

As with Freddie Kruger, Turkie gets a whole bunch of groaner puns to state at specific times that, yes, I have to admit, are memorable and I’m sure repeatable at some time or another in life (though, I can’t think of anything needing a “Gobble-Gobble Motherfucker,” except for it’s own sake; hey, it’s even on the box).

So, is this the worst movie ever made? No, of course not, because it doesn’t take itself seriously, and tries too hard. For a film to be truly bad, it has to be done straight, such as Plan Nine From Outer Space, Cape Canaveral Monsters, or Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. But again, even as an acknowledged bad film, such as Bill Zebub’s The Worst Horror Film Ever Made, there is more a sense of either general goofiness or laziness than planned direction. That’s what is wrong with films like Epic Movie or Date Movie, in that they try too hard in a way that Fonzie kept trying so to keep his cool that he actually wasn’t.
The viewer has to be careful how to approach a film that intentionally tries to be bad. For example, I watched this the first time with a group of people who are a bit older (i.e., around my age), and even though they knew they were in for something bizarre (they did read the box, after all), they found it kind of silly more than anything else. I must admit, I appreciated it more after listening to the commentary by the director and writer (shame there were no captions because it would have been great to do both). Obviously, the demographic the film is aiming for is high school to college kids who either like inanity for inanity’s sake (hey, I’ve been there), or the alcohol and weed stoners who will laugh at a fart joke.

For me, the film definitely had its moments, and I was glad to watch it a second time by myself and actually see it (as opposed to in a talk-back crowd), and then, dare I say it, a third with the commentary. Waste of time? Sure. Sorry I saw it? No. While it may not have been the worst movie (I’m with Elaine about the film The English Patient, a book I thoroughly enjoyed, though), nor even a great comedy, it was a fun way to waste an afternoon.

Meanwhile, I’ve got my bag of popcorn ready for the nuker when the sequel (with a budget of $100,000) comes around.
Trailer below

The Night Shift
Written, produced and directed by Thomas Smith
Fighting Owl Films / Distributed R-Squared Films, 2010
126 minutes, USD $19.95


No, this is not the Ron Howard-directed film starring Michael Keaton and Henry Winkler (1982), nor any of the other recent productions with similar names, but rather a new horror comedy. At first, from reading the treatment on the box, I was wondering if it had anything to do with the wonderful 1994 Italian film, Dellamorte Dellamore,  but I was mistaken (though there are some similarities).

In a lovely landscaped cemetery, where all of the action takes place (filmed in Mobile, ‘Bama), there are two shifts (12 hrs each?) of caretakers. The first, during the day, is unconventional beauty Claire Rennfield (played by Erin Lilley, who is also producer, and did sound, art, make-up, has a history in opera and dance – and did I mention she’s also married to the director?; her character is named after Renfield, in Dracula), who works during the days, and is the intermediary between the residents of the cemetery and the mysterious people who run it. The night shift is run by custodian Rue Morgan (as in Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” portrayed by Khristian Fulmer), who died in 1929, a week before the Great Depression. As official custodian, he does not rot along with the rest of the residents. Oh, yes, the other residents… well, I’ll get to them.

Because Rue is mort and Claire is vive, there is sexual tension betwixt ‘em, but she won’t have anything to do with him because, well, he’s dead, and will never age. What to do, what to do… Rue talks it over with his best friend, a limbless and dressed up skeleton named Herbie West (voiced by Soren Odom, who is also the assistant director, cinematographer, and wrote the music; any horror fan will recognize the character’s name as coming from Re-Animator). Herbie, played by a skeleton puppet, is a smart ass and adds further comic relief.

While they all try to figure out this complicated relationship, there’s shenanigans afoot. Apparently, the cemetery is connected to another, rival one, and by connecting the two, it will cause a rift that will cause the apocalypse (nah, didn’t make sense to me either, but I’ll go with it). Who is the enemy here? Is it the teen werewolf (modeled, of course, after Michael Landon’s I Was a Teenage Werewolf, including pompadour)? The Rebel officer from the Civil War who is Rue’s biggest nemesis? The demon who shows up unexpectedly that Rue must distinguish? Perhaps the higher-ups themselves are behind it all? Honestly, 20 minutes in, if you can’t figure it out, hang your head.

Along with the questionable characters, there are some nice guys, too, such as the preppy guy who’s entire make-up is a pastel blue on his face who acts mentally slow, or a teen who was obviously killed when hit in the head with a baseball (it’s still lodged there), among others.

Apparently, it’s no big whoop to have the dead roaming around all night from either Claire or any of the others who sneak in. Rue’s job is to keep the residents in at night, and visitors out. Rue is dressed in suspenders and loose cap, looking and talking like a Bowery Boy (sans New York accent), but gee, that’s swell. Claire is a bit of a hard-ass, but one might even consider her harassed by this dead compadre who keeps hitting on her (though I doubt that came across the thoughts of the writers).

There’s no great special effects that happen, and just about no blood, with any violence shown (other than an intentionally humorous sword fight), this is actually less scary than, say, The Pirates of the Caribbean.

While some of the acting is stiff (pun intended), such as Jonathan Pruitt’s Reb captain Roderick, whose line reading is, well, awful (though he’s not the only one), there is still a positive feel to the production. Shot for an estimated $10,000, the film has a good look to it.

For a first (and so far only) full feature by director Thomas Smith, it really is a encouraging starting point. Hey, it even won Best Fantasy Feature at the Shockerfest International Film Festival 2011. 

If you are squeamish and have problems with some of the blood, gore, and sexuality of most of the (especially) indie films out these days, this is a safe place to start.

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