Movie Review by L.L. Soares
There is a long history of great horror anthology films: from 1945’s DEAD OF NIGHT, featuring an early version of the tale of a ventriloquist dummy come to life (starring the great Michael Redgrave); to the EC comic book adaptations from Amicus Studios for TALES OF THE CRYPT (1972)—featuring no less than Joan Collins and Peter Cushing! —and THE VAULT OF HORROR (1973); to the George Romero/Stephen King classic, CREEPSHOW (1982). There were even more of these kinds of things on television, with anthology shows like TWILIGHT ZONE, NIGHT GALLERY, THE OUTER LIMITS and TV-movies like Dan Curtis’s TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975).
So it was kind of cool to see a CHILLERAMA (2011), a new compilation film, come out, featuring several up-and-coming horror movie directors, It just recently became available on DVD and includes short films by Adam Rifkin, Tim Sullivan, Adam Green and Joe Lynch. I was really looking forward to this one after seeing clips on the Chiller channel over a buddy’s house. But is it in the same league as those other movies I mentioned above? Let’s see, shall we?
The film takes place during the final night of a drive-in movie theater, where a quadruple feature is being shown on the giant screen.
First off, there’s “Wadzilla” by Adam Rifkin. Rifkin actually made his name in the 90s, and gave us such previous films as INVISIBLE MANIAC (1990), the quirky and kinda cool (this has got to be a cult movie) THE DARK BACKAWARD (1991), and THE CHASE (1994) with Charlie Sheen and Kristy Swanson being chased by cop Henry Rollins. More recently, he wrote the screenplay for the awful live-action movie version of UNDERDOG (2007). As you can see, his output so far has been kind of uneven.
“Wadzilla,” is actually a pretty funny little flick, where a guy with a low sperm count named Miles Munson (Rifkin himself), goes to see the not exactly ethical Dr. Weems (Ray Wise from TWIN PEAKS) and is given a medication that turns what few sperms he has into gigantic, slimy monsters who leave his body in a painful exit and grow to mammoth proportions, intent on impregnating the world. With Sarah Mutch as Miles’s potential love interest, Louise (she certainly is a very understanding gal), and Eric Roberts as “The General,” who is trying to take the monster down. “Wadzilla” looks as low-budget as it probably was, and yet it does have its moments. A nail-biting (wash those hands, first!) conclusion featuring the Statue of Liberty is both inspired and repulsive. Not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, “Wadzilla” is at least a fun time and a decent way to start things off.
Next we get “I Was a Teenage Werebear,” probably the most ambitious of the collected films here. It was directed by Tim Sullivan, best known for giving us the Herschell Gordon Lewis remake 2001 MANIACS (from 2005) and its sequel 2001 MANIACS: FIELD OF SCREAMS (2010). Sullivan specializes in a kind of “wink wink” horror comedy style that I’m not normally a fan of. But more on that later.
“Werebear” is the story of high school heartthrob Ricky (Sean-Paul Lockhart, supposedly a one-time porn star), who seems to have everything, including a hot girlfriend, Peggy Lou (Gabrielle West), but who really yearns for “Rebel Without a Cause” wannabe, Talon (Anton Troy), who is always flanked by two leather boys and is always looking for trouble. Ricky’s a good boy, but the heart wants what it wants, and soon he’s snuggling up to Talon, who turns out to be a “werebear” an ursine variation of a werewolf (obviously), and whose flunkies turn into big hairy leather men (that “other” definition of a “bear”) with the coming of a full moon. Not only does the movie attempt to use horror metaphors for a story of a young man’s discovery of his sexual identity, it also does so with lots of musical numbers.”I Was a Teenage Werebear” has a lot of heart, but story-wise I found it to be the weakest of the three short films. It probably doesn’t help that I’m not a fan of musicals. But if a mix of I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF and GREASE, with two boys in love, sounds like your kind of thing, you’ll want to see this one.
The third film is “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein” by Adam Green. Green is best known for his films HATCHET (2006) and HATCHET 2 (2010), as well as the “stuck on a ski-lift during the coldest night of the year” flick FROZEN (also 2010). And, as you can tell from the title of this one, it’s an exercise in bad taste humor. In this one, Adolph Hitler himself (the tall and lanky Joel David Moore, who was also in Green’s HATCHET, and who is perhaps the goofiest-looking Hitler ever captured onscreen) steals a young girl’s diary, which shows him how to create life. His resulting “monster” is a golem-like creature called Meshugannah, played by Kane Hodder—who you may know as the guy who played Jason Vorhees from FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD (1988) up through JASON X (2001), and who also played killer/monster Victor Crowley in Green’s HATCHET films. While running amok, the creature kills lots of Nazis and pretty much wrecks the place. He even dances! Despite lots of bad taste jokes, “Diary” has the best production values of the bunch. It’s also filmed in spooky black and white!
There’s a very short fourth film, called “Deathication”(say it aloud to get an idea what it’s about), which strives to be nothing more than a complete piece of gross-out humor, which thankfully doesn’t overstay its welcome, as it gets “cut off” after about five minutes.
Linking all these films is the connective tissue of another film called “Zomb-B-Movie” by Joe Lynch, which involves the last night of a drive-in movie theater (as mentioned above), owned by Cecil Kaufman (Richard Riehle, who you’ve seen as everything from Principal Ed Rooney from the FERRIS BUELLER TV series from 1990 to 1991, to Tom Smykowski in 1999’s OFFICE SPACE, to, most recently, playing Santa Claus in HAROLD AND KUMAR’S 3D CHRISTMAS (2011)). There are also several other cars-full of characters who find love and others who just cause trouble. Lynch’s only other directing credit before CHILLERAMA is for WRONG TURN 2:DEAD END (2007), but he does a serviceable enough job tying everything together.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the last night of a drive-in theater without zombies, and a guy who digs up his dead wife and attempts to have sex with her in CHILLERAMA’s very first scene (what a great way to start things off—well, at least is establishes the tone of the film right away) , is turned into a festering zombie and when he “accidentally” masturbates into the butter for the drive-in’s popcorn (turns out he’s the projectionist!), it transforms almost everyone watching the movies on the big screen into flesh-eating ghouls who alternate between killing and having sex with everything they come across (the fact that they spew blue goo reminded me an awful lot of Tobe Hooper’s recent zombie novel, MIDNIGHT MOVIE).
I had a mixed reaction to CHILLERAMA, mostly because it gives us more of the self-conscious horror/comedy stylings that have been running rampant lately—most notably in the other films by the same directors involved in this one. A lot of these younger filmmakers were clearly influenced by late-night viewings of movies by people like Herschell Gordon Lewis and Ted V. Mikels, and yet they failed to learn an important lesson. Those older directors, no matter how goofy their films, tried to play it straight for the most part. Any laughs were mostly unintentional. They were really trying to scare their audiences—believe it or not. A lot of this new generation of horror directors try to recapture the feel of the bad old movies, but do so in a way that is very conscious of their goofiness. That’s why I call this subgenre “wink wink,” because the directors are in on the joke and want to make sure you are, too. For the most part, I am not a fan of these kinds of movies, because, by trying to be both horror movies and comedies, they often are neither horrific nor funny. And I really can’t stand a director winking at me.
That said, CHILLERAMA is better than average for this kind of stuff and actually delivered some laughs (though no scares). It was fun, in a dumb “midnight at the drive-in” kind of way, and for that reason, and because there really hasn’t been a good horror anthology film in a long time – and this one was entertaining, at least – I give CHILLERAMA two and a half knives. If it sounds good to you, you should consider renting it.
However, imagine how much better a movie like this could be if it was done seriously and really tried to scare the pants off you? I guess I’ll have to keep waiting for that one.
© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares
LL Soares gives CHILLERAMA ~two and a half knives.