Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, October 8, 2020

Halloween 2020: October 8th

Glenn Danzig, metal icon and horror-punk pioneer, has always endeavored to be as much brand as frontman. The man used the influence lent to him by the Misfits' early success to launch several other musical projects, the biggest of which bore his own name. Over the years, he's also spread his particular style into fashion, acting, and comics. That last one is especially notable. In the mid-nineties, Danzig would start a publishing company called Verotika, which released comic books described as adult, erotic, gory, and dark. Perhaps jealous of protegee Rob Zombie's successful transition into filmmaking, Danzig would choose to adapt these comics for his feature film debut. Following a festival premiere last year, where it was greeted by choruses of laughter, “Verotika” has already passed into so-bad-it's-good cult movie infamy. And now it is time for me to experience “Verotika.” Let's prayer and then get started. 

A devil-horned sex kitten named Morella presents three stories from the comfort of her torture chamber. In “The Albino Spider of Dajette,” a fetish model can't keep a man because she has eyeballs where her nipples are suppose to be. Heartbroken by the end of another relationship, she dreams about a white spider becoming a humanoid spider-monster. Whenever she sleeps, the creature appears and kills the nearest naked or semi-naked woman. In “Change of Face,” a nameless stripper with a mildly scarred face slices the faces off other strippers, sometimes to wear them and sometimes just to hang them on her wall. An incompetent detective pursues her. In “Drukija, Contessa of Blood,” a countess in 16th century Europe kills virgins and baths in their blood to preserve her beauty. 

Measured by the barometers of traditional film criticism, “Verotika” can only be described as a fiasco. From its opening minutes, “Verotika” makes it very clear that Danzig – who wrote, directed, photographed, and scored this film – doesn't know much about the traditional rules of filmmaking. Actors often move out of frame, the camera frantically swinging around to keep up with them. On multiple occasions, the camerawork visibly shakes, drifts to the side, or goes off-focus. There are so many lens-flares that I refuse to believe it was all intentional. The acting is nothing less than stilted and awkward. Performers often look directly into the camera. The first segment has everyone speaking in ludicrous French accents. The special effects are painfully crude. Every minute of “Verotika' makes it clear that this was an amateur production.

Just as Danzig didn't let his obvious lack of skill stop him from making “Verotika,” you shouldn't let the film's clear lack of objective quality keep you from enjoying it. The film is often utterly hilarious. Danzig cooks up some truly bizarre dialogue for his talent-deficient actors to speak.  The spider monster's interaction with a prostitute or a waiter's pronunciations of “Le NECKBREAKER” had me rolling with laughter. The detective in the second story is such a belligerent asshole, and his dialogue so colorfully profane, that I think at least some of his scenes are meant to be funny. Actors having their faces sliced off express, not agony, but mild discomfort. Fake blood is either goopy or watery and corpses are frequently spotted breathing. The editing is shotgun blunt, screaming faces slamming right into title cards establishing that several months have passed. And sometimes the segments abruptly end without any real conclusion at all. It's inexplicable and, more often-than-not, hysterical exactly for that reason.

The pacing throughout "Verotika" is usually nonexistent. Danzig will skip pass explanations for why people or monsters are doing these horrible things, but devotes extensive screen-time to strippers shaking their asses to loud rock music. Yet “Verotika's” sense of freewheeling dumbness and enjoyable lack of competence eventually hits a brick wall. The final segment, “Drukija,” is totally unconcerned with narrative. It's almost completely devoted to shots of bored looking naked women playing with fake blood or rubber organs. (Some of the actresses are, unsurprisingly, more experienced in porn.) The constant gore is sadistic enough to be off-putting and senseless enough to be boring. Much like the second story, “Drukija” also ends without any resolution whatsoever, making you wonder what the hell the point of that was. It fucks with my bad movie buzz enough to bring the whole enterprise down a grade.

Danzig clearly barreled ahead with making “Verotika” despite a complete lack of experience. (The film even bumbles in the one field of expertise Glenn has, as the soundtrack is also pretty weak.) He cites Bava as an influence and the film occasionally makes good use of color. Otherwise, this is as bad looking as it is dumb. Reportedly, the rock star responded to the audience's bemused reaction with all the self-awareness you'd expect from someone who used to decorate his front lawn with piles of bricks. I do not foresee a Tommy Wiseau-style post hoc rationalization that “Verotika” was always meant to be funny, because Danzig doesn't believe he failed. And maybe he didn't. If it wasn't for that fucking shitty last segment, “Verotika” would be a consistently entertaining ninety minutes of pure trash, full of dumb-ass thrills and unintentional hilarity. I hear he's making a vampire spaghetti western next? Satan forgive me but I say bring it on! [6/10]


If it wasn't readily apparent by now, Brazil's exploitation movies were usually pretty sleazy. After all, a subgenre with the word “porno” in its name would dominate Brazilian theaters throughout the seventies. Jose Mojica Marins' previous films often featured violence against women, frequently of the sexual variety. So perhaps it was only a matter of time before the country's most prominent exploitation director would take a shot at the rape/revenge movie. Mojica was so upfront with what his entry into this disreputable subgenre was about that its original Portuguese title, “Estupro!,” literally translates to “Rape!” Most releases of the film settle for the slightly less depraved title of “Perversion.” As you'd expect from Coffin Joe himself, Mojica would have his own particular take on the formulas and cliches of this type of story. 

Vitório Palestrina is a Brazilian millionaire who grows his fingernails long as a symbol of individuality. His favorite hobby is to invite poor girls into his mansion and then sleep with them, usually humiliating them in the process. While in a particularly nasty mood, Vitório rapes a girl named Sylvia. He concludes the assault by viciously biting her nipple off. Sylvia takes the man to court but he uses his power and money to get the case dropped. Vitório is vindicated by the press and Sylvia is mocked by everyone. The millionaire, meanwhile, shows off the girl's severed nipples at parties. Soon afterwards, the rich man meets a girl named Veronica. Her pure-hearted love gets the Commentator to change his ways... But not everything is what it seems.

There's frequently been an element of social commentary in Jose Mojica Marins' films. “Awakening of the Beast” and “Bloody Exorcism of Coffin Joe” mocked censorship and those who confuses correlation with causation. Yet the social critique in the director's other movies have often been blurrier. The early Coffin Joe movies might've criticized religion but also re-enforced a certain moral code. What “Perversion” is trying to say, at the very least, is pretty clear. This is a movie all about how the rich and powerful can get away with anything. Vitório brags about his crimes in the most perverse manner possible, with many applauding him for it. People even put up with his shitty taste in plays, just because he's rich. This is a theme that was relevant in 1979  and remains relevant in 2020, because capitalistic shit-lords will never change. Honestly, the idea of a rich rapist using his money to publicly shield himself from his crimes while privately bragging about them couldn't be more relevant to the modern world. 

Whatever social consciousness the film might've sought aside, “Perversion” is still an extremely slimy exploitation movie. Mojica's cameras linger on his actress' naked bodies even as they are being tormented. There's more than one shot of the director's infamous clawed hands squeezing a girl's naked ass. The sex scenes are greasy and lengthy. You are going to see way more of Jose Mojica Marins' naked body here than you probably ever wanted to. While an exploitation director as sleazy as Marins could never be applauded for his treatment of women, he at least acknowledges here that women are right to be disgusted by behavior such as this. That scumbag rapist deserve every bad thing that happens to him. “Perversion” is exactly as gross as you'd expect but there is, at the very least, a degree of moral relativism to its nastiness. 

“Perversion” touches upon a lot of the same ideas as “Hellish Flesh,” in that it's a simple tale of revenge. Both films begin with one outrageous act of violence and end with another. However, after the doldrums of that movie and “Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind,” the director has gotten a little better at stretching a thin story out to feature length. “Perversion” definitely includes its fair share of padding. A long scene set in a health spa has little to do with the plot. Several party scenes introduce Vitório's friends, few of which contribute to the story. An earlier attempt by the millionaire to seduce and humiliate a poor girl is superfluous. Yet Mojica isn't relying on repeating scenes or sounds anymore, so it's an improvement. I was even amused by the movie's copyright-skirting soundtrack, which includes soundalikes of  the themes from “Live and Let Die,” “The Man with the Golden Gun,” and “Bridge on the River Kwai.”  

This deep into my Coffin Joe marathon, you've probably figured out by now if Jose Mojica Marins' antics are for you or not. “Perversion's” mixture of low budget camp, disturbingly vivid sexual violence, grindhouse sleaziness, and sappy romance most definitely will not be for everyone. The way the film asks us to relate to its villain's potential redemption at the hands of true, pure love after showing us what a son-of-a-bitch he is was definitely an odd writing decision. Yet “Perversion” is still an entertainingly brisk, and brutally nasty, piece of work. Those with a stomach for this kind of thing will likely find it a rewarding experience. [7/10]

The Twilight Zone: The Shadow Man

In 1985, a full-blown revival of the fantasy anthology show would begin. “Twilight Zone: The Movie” was mired in controversy but did prove that there was still public interest in Rod Serling's classic series. Two years after the movie, CBS would launch a new iteration of “The Twilight Zone.” Also surely a factor is that Steven Spielberg – who was involved in the movie – was prepping a much-hyped anthology series of his own for NBC's 1985 season. Even if the new “Twilight Zone” was created primarily to beat a rival show to the air, the revival did gather up some impressive talent. Such as Joe Dante who, not coincidentally, directed one of the best segments in the movie. Dante's “The Shadow Man” is widely regarded as one of the 1985's series best segments. 

“The Shadow Man” follows Danny Hayes, a nerdy thirteen year old boy. Danny is often bullied by Eric, the local jock and the boyfriend of Liana, the girl Danny likes. After one especially humiliating episode, Danny is awoken in the middle of the night. A shadowy entity in a hat emerges from under his bed and promises to protect him. Afterwards, Danny's enemies begin to be terrorized by a mysterious attacker. As more of his foes are frightened by the Shadow Man, Danny begins to feel sure of himself. Once challenged by Eric, Danny invites him to a fight in the park, sure the Shadow Man will protect him...

Joe Dante clearly brings his aesthetic to “The Shadow Man.” Despite ostensibly being set in the modern day, the episode is awash in nostalgic signifiers: The suburban setting, to the dinner the kids gather in, to the sweaters the pretty girl wears, to the decidedly old-fashion bully/jock dynamic at the story's center. All of these are the kind of boomer hallmarks that Dante celebrates and mocks in his films. There's even some of the horror references the director likes, since Danny's bullies dress up as Leatherface. The scenes with the Shadow Man are genuinely creepy, the unnerving figure being fittingly otherworldly. The twist ending is extremely easy to predict. Obviously, once Danny goes from being the bullied tot he bully, an ironic punishment is forthcoming. Still, this is a strong episode. While the titular entity was likely inspired by pulp superhero the Shadow, this episode has since gone on to inspire the Hat Man sleep paralysis phenomenon/urban legend. [7/10] 

Forever Knight: Jane Doe

Here's another one of “Forever Knight's” socially relevant episodes. “Jane Doe” begins with a black woman being viciously killed, her body left hanging in a tree. At the same time, controversial author, manslaughter, and white supremacist Jordan Manning is publicizing his book. It's a first-person account of a serial killer. Captain Reese put Manning away the last time and is convinced he's responsible for a string of racially motivated killings, including this latest one. As Nick and the captain attempt to dig up some evidence on Manning, Tracy works with Natalie to identify the dead woman. The events remind Nick of the time he and LaCroix encountered a German soldier obsessed with racial purity in the 1900s.

Considering how awkward “Forever Knight's” previous attempts at social relevance had been, “Jane Doe” works fairly well. Jordan Manning is a fittingly despicable villain, not just because of his racism but also because he's a snotty, pompous prick. While stories like this – about cops personally motivated to take down crooks – are obviously copaganda, you can forgive Captain Reese for disliking the guy so much. The downbeat ending continues the bleak atmosphere of “Forever Knight's” third season. The episode is, if nothing else, a display for Blu Mankuma's acting ability. The autopsy subplot actually had me liking Tracy more, once again proving she works better in strictly a supporting role. The flashback scenes are comparatively hammy, as the audience immediately knows who that German soldier is the minute he appears. How many times have genre TV shows done the Secret Hitler twist? [7/10]

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