Archive for October 23, 2011

And in the “not to waste any time” department, we’ll move right into the other 1986 Super-8 straight-to-video release from the Arkansas (again, I think)-based producer-director team of Matt Devlen and Max Raven (for the record, “Raven”‘s real name is Bret McCormick (he also wrote the screenplay for this one under the name of Bando Glutz), and Devlen’s is — well, I’m not sure, it might actually be Matt Devlen for all I know), this time with Raven/McCormick assuming directorial duties for The Abomination.

I’d love to know which of these was made first, or if in fact they even have been made concurrently, as several cast members appear in both films, and they both bear all the hallmarks of genuinely part-time efforts, but it has to be said that The Abomination is probably the more polished (relatively speaking, of course) of the two. Again, if Muther Video had bothered/been able to include some commentaries on their “25th Anniversary Special Edition” 2-DVD set, but alas — ( I will give credit, once again, to Muther for doing a nice job with the full-frame transfer on this as well as the stereo sound, however, and who am I to really complain since the fact that these have even been released at all is something of a minor miracle).

Anyway, the plot here is a bit more complicated/convoluted, being the story of a young southern loser named Cody Lee who still lives at home with his mom, a religious fanatic who spends all her time in front of the tube watching some charlatan televangelist named Brother Fogg (played with absolute relish by Rex Morton in the only acting performance worth singling out for praise in either this film or Ozone!). I remember that the idea that these TV preachers were a bunch of money-grubbing phonies was just entering into the public consciousness on anything like a large scale in the mid-80s, so I guess Brother Fogg’s readily-apparent phoniness is this film’s nod to then-topical issues and what have you. fair enough.

So Cody’s mom loves her some Brother Fogg and can’t get enough of the guy and furthermore becomes convinced of his amazing healing powers when the good preacher actually faith-heals her right through the TV set by forcing her to cough up a nasty tumor that’s been growing inside her. There’s just one problem — this is no ordinary tumor, it’s some kind of crawling, sentient, toothy thing that immediately hides under her son’s bed, waits for him to come home, and plants itself inside him violently in order to grow and, get this, issue telepathic commands to him to kill folks (including his own girlfriend) in order to feed it as well as to produce other spores that begin to grow to unseemly proportions the more blood they’re fed.

If it all sounds more than a little bit like Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage, that’s because it is, but keep in mind that this came out first and that Henenlotter’s film is more of an overt comedy while this flick, admittedly played for laughs more or less throughout itself, doesn’t feature things like witty banter back-and-forth with the tumor/creature, etc. In short, while I hesitate to say that The Abomination is the more subdued effort —- well, it is. Then again, anything’s more subdued than Brain Damage, don’cha think?

As with Ozone!, pacing is a bit of a problem here, with most of the bloodbath not really ensuing until the second half of the film and the first crawling along at something of a snail’s pace, but whatever, once the carnage really gets going it’s pretty fun, and the large-size creatures, which have a habit of popping up under sinks, in cabinets, etc. are pretty effectively realized in a Deadly Spawn-sort of way, if not quite that good (and let’s remember that The Abomination probably had a pathetic fraction of The Deadly Spawn‘s budget, which was insanely tiny in and of itself).

A couple of annoying little strikes against this flick, though —Raven/McCormick re-uses several of the same shots over and over (and over) again, and while I understand that money was short and he needed to pad his run-time, it really does begin to grate after awhile. And secondly (if admittedly along the same lines), the montage of scenes that accompany the opening credits give away a lot of the great homemade gore effects to come (often more than once), and so a little of the “hey, that’s fucking cool!” factor is lost once they actually take place in the story.

But enough with the gripes. On the whole, the above-mentioned minor quibbles aside,  The Abomination is, like its sister production, a movie that knows its limitations and incorporates them into the overall proceedings rather than trying to shy away from them. Unlike Ozone!, though, this flick sometimes adds the added element of actually exceeding your limited expectations for it on occasion, particularly in the creature effects department, and little things like better-synchronized sound, a smidgen more fun chewing the scenery on the part of Morton as Brother Fogg than any of the actors in Ozone!  manage to project, etc. make this the slightly better of the two efforts in this reviewer’s opinion. Both are definitely worth your time and money, though, and you can’t go watching them back-to-back as a double-feature at home. Set your expectations realistically low, grab a beer and something to snack on, kick back, shut your brain off, and have a good time.

Our annual survey of the cinematic horror landscape wouldn’t be complete without a few nods at some of the homemade horrors that made it into (somewhat) wide circulation during the VHS boom years, and given that the pseudonymous producer-director team of Matt Devlen and Max Raven have just seen their two mid-80-s efforts, 1986’s Ozone! The Attack Of The Redneck Mutants and The Abomination (from the same year, apparently), released as a DVD combo pack from Muther Video (sans extras, it must be said, although the remastered full-frame transfers and stereo sound are both about as good as you could possibly hope for given the Z-grade source material) these seem like as good a place as any to start down the homemade moviemaking road this Halloween season.

Ozone!, as you can probably guess, features incredibly over-the-top semi-competent “acting,” an equally OTT plot, and plenty of fun, if completely unconvincing, gore effects. I’ll give Devlen (who sat in the director’s chair on this one while Raven produced) credit here — he didn’t aim for too much, like many backyard horror auteurs  seem to have this thoroughly misplaced compulsion to do, and set his sights squarely on what could be accomplished. He wasn’t out to prove that he could outdo Herschell Gordon Lewis with his first effort, but he wanted to make a film heavily influenced by Lewis’ non-stop array of blood, carnage, and viscera,  and that had its tongue just as firmly planted in its cheek.

The end result is unprofessional in the extreme, to be sure, wildly uneven in terms of tone, performances, and quality of effects, slow as molasses in places, and transparently, even jubilantly, juvenile. The goal of Ozone! isn’t so much to compensate for, much less hide, its numerous shortcomings, but rather to include a rather overt acknowledgment of them as part of the fun.

Look, the initial premise of a chemical leak at a toxic refinery causing local yokels in Arkansas (I assume, since I’m pretty sure that’s where this Super-8 spectacle was shot) to turn into hideous, melting, vomiting, killing, cannibalistic monsters due to said chemical leak not directly mutating the rednecks but burning a hole in the ozone layer right over the backwater environs they inhabit (remember, knowledge of how all this global warming stuff worked was pretty limited at the time) isn’t one begging to be taken seriously. Throw in a nosy college-student environmental activist who’s teamed up against her will with the son of the owner of the chemical (or is it oil? the script seems to want it both ways) company to get to the bottom of the problem, a plethora of wildly stereotypical hicks, and no money and you don’t have Oscar bait bait (or even anything like it) on your hands, but you do have the recipe for a fun, stupid night in front of the TV.

That’s all that Ozone! The Attack Of The Redneck Mutants promises, and by and large it delivers. Sure, you most definitely have to be willing to go with the flow and not let things like a wildly out-on-synch audio track (the soundtrack being recorded separately and laid down later in true no-budget style), preposterous hamming by most of the cast, shots with literally no composition to them apart from point-that-fucking-camera-and-shoot, and the kind of effects you could probably come up with yourself if you had the time and/or inclination not only not detract from your appreciation of the proceedings here, but rather form the backbone of it, but that’s never been a problem around these parts.

I’m not here to tell you that Ozone! is must-see viewing, or that it’s even a spectacular example of DIY moviemaking. It is, however, a good example of what you can achieve what a backyard filmmaking team can achieve when it sets out to do something squarely within its means — not much, to put it kindly, but the kind of “not much” that’s done with enough passion, heart, and balls that it ends up having its own kind of demented, but thoroughly watchable, charm. There’s no need to take any of it even remotely seriously since the filmmakers didn’t either, but there’s no need to feel guilty or stupid for finding most of it thoroughly entertaining, and frankly even endearing, nonsense.