DIRECTORS: RON BONK, BRAD SYKES, TIM RITTER, SCOOTER MCCRAE
IN BRIEF: SRS Cinema unleashes a quartet of old school shot-on-video opuses.
Wrapping up my series on AMERICAN GORE STORIES, we tackle the fourth volume in this slew of underground classics. SHOT ON VIDEO is a real throwback for those of us who browsed the shelves during the video store era, finding minor gems of the SOV variety. These were the movies that did things and went places the bigger budget pictures were typically afraid to go. These guerilla DIY movies were free to roam creatively. And their low budget forced creativity on the directors (ask Robert Rodriguez sometime about the value of limited budgets; necessity is the mother of invention, after all). There’s an intriguing mix of titles and themes here and some major underground horror filmmakers are represented, including Ron Bonk, Tim Ritter and Scooter McCrae.
Bonk kicks things off with his sharp take on the stalked star motif, THE VICIOUS SWEET. The opening scene is a terrifically campy scene from a nuclear waste zombie romp which turns out to be a film within a film. Cut to the audience and we see in the theater seat the selfsame girl that was just screaming on the silver screen. Yep, it’s a screening of her latest B opus and she can’t help but giggle throughout the screening, to the chagrin of the asshole director. She’s fed up with bullshit: her bullshit career in bullshit movies, her bullshit boyfriend, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. Her life is due for a change, but not the sort of change she actually gets. Abducted by a mysterious weirdo, she awakens tied to a bed, sexual images from a projector flashing across her and the wall behind her, the light blinding her to the face of her abductor. She can only hear his voice. But what does he want? There are elements here that predict the Saw franchise, though not in the torture porn kind of way. But there is a strong similarity in terms of the psycho psychoanalysis her captor puts her through. He plows into her dark past and digs up all sorts of skeletons. The vicious push for self-realization in both films almost makes one curious about the Saw creators’ viewing habits prior to making their torture porn opus. THE VICIOUS SWEET is marked by stark stylishness and hallucinatory sequences of reality bending – literally monstrous sights manifest. The combo of quiety psychothriller and meta-textual horror sequences blurring visions and intersections of her movie life and her real life make this one of the sharpest SOV films I’ve run across in a while.
I can still remember the tag line for McCrae’s modern classic of the zombie genre, SHATTER DEAD. “God hates you.” Uber-apocalyptic, but not with big Hollywood explosions. Instead we start quietly and beautifully – but also grimly – with the image of a naked, large-breasted angel apparently engaged in sex with a woman. It’s a startling and nigh unforgettable image, iconic even. And, somehow, it represents emotively and archetypally what this movie is about. Remember that tagline? Well, it’s not so much about God literally hating us as it is a bleak, nihilistic statement on the human condition. Think Lovecraft’s attitude that we are irrelevant beings in a universe whose functioning is indifferent to us, said indifference being a sort of malevolence in its own right. Here, humans again find themselves in a universe clearly not concerned with their comfort. Humans and zombies share the landscape now, but more than just a bunch of meat-hungry shamblers, there are zombies who talk, work (as crash test dummies, etc., and boy do I wish there was an outtake of that), even beg for food or change. In the midst of this is a tough young human woman, grim and bitter and in pure survival mode. Not heartless but hard. Rather than being just a mere concept tossed in for novelty, SHATTER DEAD uses this unique zombie motif, exploring – say, through radio commentary our leading lady hears – the societal ramifications of such an event happening. Suddenly, there is this whole other population of sapient beings, demanding rights and shit. Mostly it’s the young woman’s journey but the environment into which McCrae has plunged her is thought-out and smartly constructed. It’s a culture war that has nothing to do with ethnicity, but, rather, which side of death one inhabits. A creepy preacher leading his “people” goes around claiming shit in the name of the Lord. Shit like our heroine’s car for example. Not that she’s the type to give up easily, though she’s smart enough to know when she’s outnumbered too. She reminds me of the Alien franchise’s Ripley. She even seems to hate the dead like Ripley hates the aliens, or like Captain Kirk hates Klingons. This is a quality picture that really transcends its budgetary restraints. I mean, you can tell It’s a low budget film but you can also tell that didn’t stop the filmmakers. Solid writing, good B-movie effects, tight direction, eye-pleasing cinematography and more make this a movie to write home about. Even if your family is zombified.
Then there’s the spookhouse tale THE PACT, from Brad Sykes. In this film, a young female runaway takes refuse in a house she claims belonged to an ancestor. Once there, her hoped-for independence is interfered with by peculiar shit, naturally. Or, supernaturally. What’s weird is that there’s a group of weirdos apparently connected with the house and they appear to be stalking her – but what are their motives? What’s their connection to the house? This one goes for a little more of a slow burn, which is appropriate to the genre, certainly. Some may find it slow but those more inclined toward atmosFEAR might dig it, however. It does culminate in some full tilt boogie – I mean horror. The moody, kinetic conclusion is pretty groovy.
TWISTED ILLUSIONS is Tim Ritter’s classic anthology horror film that preceded even the release to the market of the legendary SOV horror flick Blood Cult. Of the stories featured here, one is an earlier, short version of Ritter’s later (and better budgeted) classic Truth or Dare. This is about as old school as SOV horror gets. The first story pits an angry wife (with her baby) against the demands of an asshole husband/father. Her anger gets the better of her while vacuuming and she gets distracted and has a vacuum cleaner incident. That’s all I’m gonna say, except you’ll be dying to find out where it goes next. Let’s just say once she finds out what a vacuum cleaner can do – at least in this film’s reality – she goes to town, as the saying goes. Then, what happens when a couple of guys – one a beer-swilling, cigarette-smoking dude, the other a workout freak – get into a lively discussion about one’s hedonism versus the other’s health obsession. Irony ensues after a sizzling rant in which one of the two goes off pretty good on the other. Up next, we get a rednecky type working on his new cable connection while his wife, well, just gets kind of frustrated. Finally, proud of himself for figuring out the tech, he kicks back to enjoy some programming on the “Capricorn Network”. When the television programming gets personal, shit gets real. Or unreal. The network, it seems, is “more than a little upset” about the hick’s cable-stealing ways. Just wait til you see how the network breaks its fourth wall between it and the cable thief. Moving on from cable to VHS, the movie spins the yarn of a boy who finds a VCR at a trash pile in the woods. He snags it, in hopes that it works, and brings the VCR, and horror, home. There’s already a movie in the machine and, yes, it’s a pretty killer feature. Again, the fourth wall gets violated, but in a different fashion. This horror-loving kid is in for some REAL horror. As if to continue its elliptical orbit, after these two meta tales it swoops back around to our same unhealthy slob, this time craving a candy bar and arguing with somebody ELSE about his habits. The story following that commences with a scientist making some kind of breakthrough discovery. He’s developed a formula for enhancing the “growth pattern” of food plants, like, say, corn. Of course, we all know this is going to go south somehow. And it does. After all, it’s not meant for human consumption, just for the plants the humans consume. Turns out it’s not good for the plants either, so when we witness what happens to an ear of corn, we mentally extrapolate what will happen to, well, that part of the anatomy to which the formula was applied. I’m not saying what but it may – or may not – be what you are thinking. Finally, we arrive at the short film version of Truth or Dare, which starts with an unhappy I-want-a-divorce conversation. The guy, on the receiving end of the divorce convo, does not take it well. He meets a cute girl but their date goes off on a fucked up tangent. As in, the game of truth or dare in which they engage is mutilatory rather than, say, just embarrassing.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this trek into AMERICAN GORE STORIES. Maybe there will be more released in future.
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