If you’re anything like me, besides having my sympathies, you’ve probably sat through a countless number of movies in your life and thought to yourself “I could make something better than that.” And it’s true — even with no particular background in filmmaking or any sort of technical knowledge required to do the job, you, dear reader, could probably come up with something better than, say, current box office champion The Vow. Not that I’ve seen it, but that’s beside the point. And before I lose said point here entirely —
A native Chicagoland area resident named Wally Koz had that same thought back in the 1980s (you know, before the sprawling exurban soul-dead wasteland outside of Chicago forced the nauseating term “Chicagoland” into existence in the first place — apologies to any and all residents of places like Schaumburg who might be reading this) but, unlike archair critics like you and me, he fucking did something about it. Wally was (the past tense being appropriate here, unfortunately, as he passed away a few years ago now) a guy who, besides having one of the most instantly-ready-for-cult-status names in the history of the world (“Dude, you’re a Wally Koz fan? Me too!”) also had a few thousand bucks in the bank and some friends and family members (counting the number of people with the surname “Koz” listed in the credits would make for a pretty good drinking game — the most notable being his brother Roy, who wrote the script and also “acts” in the movie) who were game to play along with his mad scheme. The end result? 1988’s shot-on-video, direct-to-VHS horror mini-epic (okay, invoking the term “epic” here in any sense might be a stretch) 555.
Like many of us, our guy Wally spent a lot of time and money in the 80s watching SOV/DTV horror movies like Blood Cult, Cannibal Campout, The Ripper, and Video Violence, and was dismayed at how infrequently most of these backyard numbers well and truly delivered the goods (well, okay, Video Violence is an exception to that and probably doesn’t belong on the list — maybe we should substitute Revenge or something instead), especially in relation to their always-lurid box cover art. Figuring (correctly) that most of the folks behind these homemade flicks had no more aptitude for the job than he did, he thought he’d just go ahead and make the kind of SOV horror that he wanted to see, since nobody else was making them. It would be violent in the extreme. Gory in the extreme. Tasteless in the extreme —
—and, in fairness, for many long stretches dull in the extreme. But hey, he shot this thing on 1″ videotape and from my understanding that stuff was a real bitch to edit, so looooooong, lingering takes without much necessearily, you know, actually going on are to be expected, as seasoned viewers of 1980s SOV are well aware. But apart from that one minor quibble more forced on 555 by dint of necessity than any sort of intentionally bad creative decision-making, by and large I think we can congratulate Mr. Koz (and his friends and family) on a job at least reasonably well-done here.
The plot revolves around a killer dressed as a hippie who has this habit of killing couples mid-coitus, hacking them up in whatever gruesome fashion strikes his fancy, and then getting a little post mortem lovin’ from the ladies. Rather than shying away from the nastier elements of this set-up (well, okay, all the elements in this set-up are inherently nasty), Koz positively revels in this shit. You want to see corpse-fucking? You got it. Decapitation? It’s in there. Red -Karo- syrup-blood flowing like a river? Got that too. In short, nothing’s left to the imagination, and while many of the plastic-torso-and-dime-store-fake-innards effects are, admittedly, seriously lacking, some are actually pulled off pretty damn admirably (the lopped-off head on the VHS, and now DVD, cover pictured at the outset here being a notable example).
With the cops, who it must be said occupy the most sparsely-appointed police precinct office you’re ever likely to see (Wally’s garage, anyone?), the media (in the form of a would-be-hot-in-a-real-movie-with-a-budget-but-isn’t-here reporter who’s more than willing to spread her legs to get a lead), and a cheeseball supposedly young(ish) hot-shot DA on his tail, the killer’s MO is quickly (well, okay, not so quickly) discovered — every five years, he kills for five straight nights during the fifth month of the year. Hence the title.
Suspense during the “investigation” is minimal to put it kindly, with lots of scenes of the cops (particuarly one Sgt. Connor) sleeping on the couch, getting up to make coffee, drinking said coffee, then sitting back down on the couch again, etc., and the acting on the whole is pretty atrocious (although hialriously so in the case of the aforementioned Connors, played by Greg Kerouac (I’m assuming no relation to Jack), who’s quite obviously having the time of his life chewing the hell out all the scenery, minimal as it usually is, and spits out epithets and profanity-laced dialogue with the kind of relish with which a starving person might undertake, say, a $10,000 shopping spree in a grocery store), but give the Koz clan credit — when it comes to those kill scenes, they’re all-in.
Look, I won’t kid you, by the time we get around to discovering who the killer is and the incredibly convulted and overwrought reasons for why he’s doing what he’s doing, you won’t (or at least shouldn’t) much give a shit. If you’re here for anything more than seeing how one guy can see his admittedly not-for-all-tastes (hell, not for many tastes) cheapo vision come to life, then you’re watching 555 for the wrong reasons. But if you’re into low-rent production values, ham-fisted acting, gleefully over-the-top grisly slaughter, and have no problem sitting through some of the most unintentionally-nearly-sublime stretches of nothing whatsoever of consequence going on, then you’ve just found one of the best ways to spend just under 90 minutes of your life.
Massacre Video have recently seen fit to finally release this admittedly small-cult obscurity on DVD, complete with a faithfully reproduced version of the nauseating pink-and-yellow-dominated cover that stared out at us from the racks of horror sections at so many video rental shops back in the day. Extras are minimal, consisting of some profesionally-enough-done interviews with some surviving cast and crew members and a selection of trailers for some forthcoming rather, uhhhhhhm, interesting-looking Massacre titles, but the full frame picture has been remastered pretty nicely and looks about as well as this thing probably ever could, and the sound quality (by the way, be on the lookout for the same canned scream being used in every single one of the murders of members of the fairer sex) is likewise about as good as we’re gonna get given the technical unevenness of the source material. They also have a deluxe version that includes a full-sized poster (put that up on your wall and have guests over immediately) and there was a very limited edition VHS reissue of 50 copies(!) that sold out more or less immediately.
No one involved with 555, either in front of or behind the camera, ever worked on anything else again. This is their one credit, across the board, without exception. But Wally Koz, with a little help from his friends and family, saw this thing through to completion, got a video distribution deal, and apparently at the end of the day he even came out ahead on the whole thing by a few bucks. That’s worth no small amount of respect right there, as is the obvious gusto with which he went about regaling home viewing audiences with some of the most grotesque and tasteless bloodbath scenes ever committed to videotape. All in all, that’s proven to be more than enough to ensure that we’re (well, some of us, at any rate) still talking about this thing nearly a quarter-century later. It’s not the most auspicious legacy any moviemaker has ever left behind, fair enough, but it’s a damn sight more than most of us will ever achieve.