Archive for July 5, 2017

Between 2003 and 2008, Rick Popko and Dan West of Bay Area “comedy-horror” production house 4321 films got busy : not only did they make sure that they’d have a lot more money to work with (a cool $500,000 if IMDB is to be believed) when they got behind (and in front of) the cameras for Retardead, the sequel/follow-up to their earlier Monsturd,  but they also honed their craft and conspicuously updated their equipment. The end result? Something that looks a whole hell of a lot more professional than their debut effort, yet somehow manages to hang onto all the low-grade “charm” of its predecessor despite the obvious quantum(-ish) leap in production values. In my book, that’s a fairly impressive achievement in and of itself right there even if this film were to somehow manage not to get anything else right.

I’m happy to report that such is not the case, however, and to be honest I have no idea how and/or why Troma never secured the distribution rights for this one (like Monsturd, it’s available on DVD from Brain Damage Films, and with a significantly larger quantity of extras), because it’s actually several orders of magnitude better than most of what Lloyd Kaufman’s outfit has been dumping out onto the public for the last several years. Oh well, guess they missed the boat — again.

The premise for this one is as follows : quintessential mad scientist Dr. Stern (Dan Burr reprising his role) is back at it, this time “armed” with an intelligence-enhancing serum that he’s using on the residents/students of the Butte County Institute For Special Education, a haphazardly-administered center for the intellectually challenged (barely) overseen by a nameless director played by Michael Allen. The side effects of this miracle juice are pretty severe, though, it must be said, given that it first kills its less-than-lucky recipients and then causes them to rise from the dead as flesh-and-brains-craving zombies. So, hey, there’s some work to be done before it can be mass-marketed, obviously.

So, anyway, zombies everywhere is what this one’s all about, and most of ’em are roughly akin, appearance-wise, to those of Romero’s original Dawn Of The Dead, while the spilling innards and gut-munching are pure Day Of — all the way. A handful (or, perhaps more appropriately, a stomach-full) of Tom Savini’s more memorable effects sequences are re-packaged/re-purposed to great effect here, albeit with a fraction of the cash, but what of it? If sheer originality is your bag it’s doubtful you’d ever find yourself watching a flick like this in the first place — you’re on this ride to see how well they do what they can with what they’ve got, and by that standard, Popko and West acquit themselves very skillfully, indeed.

Meanwhile back in what passes for the plot, the local cops (Paul Weiner’s Sheriff Duncan, Popko’s Deputy Rick and West’s Deputy Dan) are busy trying to track down a public masturbator who’s flaunting them at every turn, but when their new and bigger problem hits, FBI agent Hannigan (Beth West) is called back in, along with some extra backup, most notably a broadly-caricatured “G-Man” named Russo (Tony Adams), and in fairly short order juvenile, dare I say retarded, semi-hilarity with blood and guts to spare unfolds non-stop on your TV screen/computer/whatever, all of it as hopelessly lame as it is hopelessly addicting.

Do you wish you weren’t the sort of person who finds laughing at the unfortunate to be humorous? I know I sure do. But there’s plenty of other absurd shit on hand here that you don’t necessarily have to feel guilty about chuckling at, including an attack by a half-dozen gyrating zombie-babes, a random-ass LSD trip, a visit to an old-school porn shop, and some super-cheesy trailers for non-existent horror films featuring staple characters like Jack The Ripper and Frankenstein, most played by Popko and West themselves. Throw in a bit of voice-over narration at the beginning from none other than “Godfather Of Gore” Hersechell Gordon Lewis himself (the spiritual forefather of all the deliciously grisly practical FX this film is drenched in) and a cameo from the still-awesome-after-all-these-years Jello Biafra as the local mayor (a job he actually ran for in San Francisco himself once) , and this is a film that’s pretty much pre-programmed to hit all the right notes for trash cinema lovers like me and, presumably, you. Of course Retardead isn’t a good movie — it’s a horrible, lousy, tasteless, stupid, irredeemably bad movie. But it’s a great one, at that.

When you’re a low- (or no-) budget film production outfit, you’ve gotta live by three simple words : never say die.

Seriously, even if you mange to hustle up enough funding to get your flick “in the can” (not the greatest choice of words given the movie we’re about to discuss, but —), often times the real work is only just beginning — you’ve gotta promote your work both relentlessly and endlessly. Case in point : 4321 films, the brainchild of northern California-based writers/director/producers/actors Rick Popko and Dan West, is still hard at work getting the word out about their two feature-length films, Monsturd and Retarded, even though the former came out way back in 2003 and the latter in 2008. I know this because, in modern parlance, they “reached out” to me via twitter only a couple of weeks ago offering a couple of “screeners” of their flicks for review. I sad “sure,” and just a few scant days later “legit” copies of their DVDs, released under the auspices of Brain Damage Films and complete with cover art, extras (what few there are) etc., showed up in my mailbox. No email link to a Vimeo account. No plain-wrapper “sleeve.” These guys do it old-school, like everyone who wanted their movies reviewed way back when I started this blog used to do it, and I appreciate that. But would I appreciate their efforts both in front of and behind the camera as much?

I watched ’em in chronological order, and aesthetically speaking, it’s gotta be said that Monsturd looks every bit like the $3,000 production it is. Essentially a series of one-take scenes strung together with “wipe” transitions of the sort you (or anyone) can master in a matter of moments with the old Windows Movie Maker program, it nonetheless has quite a bit going in its favor for fans of Troma-esque “insta-cult” trash : psychotic serial killer Jack Schmitt (played by Brad Dosland) is on the run from the law after having made a daring jailbreak, and finds himself chased into the sewers of Butte County (yes, all the jokes really are this lame and obvious — would you expect anything less? Or more?) where, unbeknownst to him, evil scientist Dr. Stern (Dan Burr) has been pumping the contaminated waste (including the corpse of a recently-deceased colleague) left over from his dastardly experiments for the Dutech chemical corporation. Jack gets covered in all this sludge, as you’ve no doubt already surmised, and ends up a grotesque half-human/half-shit monstrosity who still can’t let go of his burning need to kill. In fact, it seems to have grown even more pronounced. So, ya know, let the  antics begin.

One unwritten rule of so-called “B”- movies is that law enforcement always has to be totally incompetent — even more than they are in real life — but it’s a sort of “fun and harmless” incompetence, free of the kind of devastating consequences that the families of Philando Catsille, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, etc. are all too painfully and tragically familiar with.  Sheriff Duncan (Paul Weiner) is the head “Keystone Kop” trying to bring shit-man to justice in this one, with his faithful deputies, Dan and Rick, being played by — well, there’s no way you don’t have that one sussed out, is there? FBI agent Susan Hannigan (Beth West) is the closest thing to somebody who actually has a handle on how to do her job, and she knows Schmitt best because she spent years on his tail, so the situation isn’t totally hopeless — just hopelessly stupid. Hijinks ensue, run-arounds become the order of the day,  at some point you may just want to flip on the commentary track on the DVD because it’s actually reasonably informative and engaging and you can pretty much predict all the dialogue you’d be missing out on, anyway.

Which is really sort of the point here, isn’t it? Purposefully ridiculous horror-comedy hybrids like Monsturd are in the business of offering the familiar : don’t tax my brain, don’t surprise me, just give me a healthy dose of exactly what the fuck it is I knew I was letting myself in for — and in that regard, Popko and West perform their task admirably. Both direction and acting are as deliberately over-the-top as one can imagine, the plot is rote and unimaginative stuff, and the turd-monster him/itself — the real reason you’re even watching this thing in the first place — is a very cool and suitably repulsive piece of dime-store practical FX wizardy that would make the late, great Don Dohler proud. They obviously blew their entire budget on this creature, and that’s exactly as it should be. Top it all off with some fun fairy tale-style narration from Hannah Stangel and a groaningly absurd ballad that plays out over the end credits, and you’d have to be a really hardened piece of shit to walk away from this flick with anything less than a smile on your face. There ain’t much blood, and there are no boobs, but everything else you’re looking for (presuming this even is the kind of thing you’re looking for) is present and accounted for.

Lastly, if you’re as tired of misleading and duplicitous cinematic marketing as I am, rest easy — Monsturd doesn’t pretend for a moment to be anything other than what it is : an absolute pile of crap. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.