Long, Hard, and Full of Semen
As a writer/director, the benefit of making movies outside the Hollywood studio system is that you can put whatever you want on film and not worry about studio notes or censors messing with your vision. The drawback is that there's not a lot of money out there in indie-land, especially for funding horror movies. Which is why Chillerama is such a cool idea. Four creators with varying degrees of Tinseltown success and pretty solid track records outside the mainstream pooled their resources to make exactly the kind of grisly, depraved, and over-the-top splatter picture I'm sure they wish would roll into multiplexes every weekend.
These rare situations are win-wins for everyone involved--except, often, the audience, who must trust that the auteur(s) knows what they're doing. As evil and uncomfortable as studio notes can be, sometimes it doesn't hurt for an impartial voice to ask the big questions, like, "Is this gallon of fake semen one too many," or, "Will people get just how bad the zombie outbreak is if I trim the undead stump-screwing orgy?"*
Such is the case with Chillerama. Adam Rifkin (Small Soldiers), Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2), Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs), and Adam Green (the Hatchet movies) join forces to pay the ultimate tribute to the dying drive-in-movie experience, as well as the B- and Z-grade entertainment that defined an era. The directors take turns creating mini movies bookended by teenagers attending the last night of Kaufman's Drive-In. Put-upon widower/owner, Cecil Kaufman (Richard Riehle), oversees his beloved theatre's final marathon, unaware of the fact that his projectionist has become infected by an STD he picked up while attempting to bang his zombified wife (yep, I just typed that).
The evening will devolve into a limb-ripping orgy of horny zombies and screaming patrons, but first we have some fake movies to watch:
We begin with Rifkin's Wadzilla, a clumsy and only intermittently interesting take on Godzilla, in which the antagonist is a mutated, skyscraper-sized sperm. Set, I guess, in the 50s and filmed with the cheesy sensibilities of no-budget, 1980s junk, Rifkin's entry mistakenly assumes that using stop-motion puppetry, rear-projection, and cornball acting is entertainment enough for twenty minutes. It barely holds together twenty seconds. And were it not for Ray Wise and Sarah Mutch, who play the physician and would-be girlfriend of the schmuck with the monster-making testes (Rifkin), there would be absolutely nothing to recommend here.
After surviving Wadzilla, I checked the time counter on my Netflix Instant player and saw that I still had an hour-and-a-half left to go. It was almost too much to take, especially since I was still fighting a cold. Fortunately, Sullivan's entry perked me right up.
I Was a Teenage Werebear is a twisted, beach-blanket musical set in 1962. Sean Paul Lockhart stars as Ricky, a surf-loving, all-American innocent who falls prey to the cooler-than-everyone charms of bike-riding bad-boy, Talon (Anton Troy). This isn't a simple case of hero worship; no, Talon's Brando-esque powers of seduction bring out a side of Ricky that he'd never allowed to be expressed--much to the dismay of his steady girlfriend, Peggy Lou (Gabby West).
The film is essentially a retro-remake of The Lost Boys, with gay werewolves subbing in for vampires of questionable sexuality. Ricky spends much of the story fighting his strange, new urges, while Talon wrestles with either killing all the small-minded haters in his town or working towards acceptance of his (truly) alternative lifestyle. I Was a Teenage Werebear is preachy, hilarious, uplifting, and really fucking weird. And Troy's cool demeanor and matinee idol looks had me questioning some things--I'm not gonna lie.
Chillerama's strongest chapter is the third entry, The Diary of Anne Frankenstein. As the title suggests, the movie takes place during World War II and concerns an alternate-universe (or perhaps just alternate-history?) version of the doomed Frank family. Young Anne (Melinda Y. Cohen) discovers her grandfather's diary, which contains notes on re-animating the dead. Before her father (Jim Ward) can get rid of the book, Adolf Hitler himself (Joel David Moore) barges in and confiscates what will become the blueprint for his greatest soldier. Too bad for him, the resulting experiment yields an ultra-Yiddish golem named Meshugannah (Kane Hodder), who has plans of his own for the Fuehrer and his ultra-slutty wife, Eva (Kristina Klebe).
To be honest, I thought for sure that Adam Green was responsible for Wadzilla, and not Anne Frankenstein. This is the best thing he's ever directed, and shows a flair for the comedic, tasteless, and cheesy that his other work certainly does not; his homage-heavy attempts to be ironically entertaining have always turned me off, but this zany, profane short out-Mel-Brookses Mel Brooks. It helps that Moore is fantastic as an insecure, bumbling maniac, and that Hodder lets loose in ways I never imagined possible after watching him play Jason Voorhees for more than a decade.
The final movie gets cut short by a full-on zombie invasion. Following a pretty funny introduction by dubious medical specialist Fernando Phagabeefy (Lynch), Deathication plows full-steam (or "steamers") ahead with montages of various people explosively emptying their bowels. Mercifully, the chaos at the drive-in halts the screening, plunging us back into Lynch's wrap-around segment, entitled Zom-B-Movie.
A literal orgy of the damned, peppered with Dawn of the Dead references and two love-struck teens who quote movie lines while fighting their way through hordes of ghouls, this stretch feels obligatory rather than thrilling. Lynch does his thing well, and he has terrific, fresh-faced leads in Corey Jones and Kaili Thorne, but compared to the out-of-the-box thinking on display during most of the drive-in movie segments, this pedestrian fight to the death fits snugly inside the box. I must give him credit for the ending, though, which is kind of a touching downer.
It's a shame that Chillerama isn't as consistently funny and entertaining as parts of the film suggest it could have been. At two hours, it nearly buckles under the weight of its own gooey gratuity. But one thing it gets right--which goes a long way in helping us see the thing through to the end--is holding the schlock-horror era in reverence, while also parodying it. In an odd way, this is as much a well-written love letter to B-movies as Joe Dante's Explorers, but with a thousand percent more boobies and jism.
The film had home-run potential, but the giddy, juvenile sensibilities of its directors, I think, allowed the party to run a bit too long and get a tad out of hand. Kaufman's drive-in could have just as easily shown a triple feature on its last night, thus excising a good chunk of the movie's missed-target humor (I'm lookin' at you, Wadzilla). But that's the price we must pay for dreaming of filmmaker autonomy: circle-jerks are a great time, unless the audience is left holding the mop.
*This issue isn't unique to the minor leagues: think of how awesome the Star Wars prequels might have been, had someone smacked George Lucas across the face (literally or figuratively--it's your fantasy) at the first mention of "Midichlorians".