Written and Directed by: Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Adam Rifkin, and Tim Sullivan
Starring: Richard Riehle, Adam Rifkin, Lin Shaye, and Kane Hodder
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
The ultimate midnight movie!
As far as anthologies go, Chillerama has one of the best hooks. In an age where nostalgia is leading horror fans by the hand as they retrace their steps through video store aisles and the sticky floors of grindhouse theaters, four directors have gathered to take us back to the other revered horror haunt: the drive-in theater. Set at the fictional Kaufman Drive-In’s last night of operation in a world being absorbed by soulless multiplexes, the film finds the weary proprietor (Richard Riehle) dusting off some “lost” short films to send it out in a marathon blaze of glory. In a remarkably poignant moment, he holds a conversation with his Orson Welles poster as he sets his projector to thrill audiences one last time; old-school cineastes will eat it up, and it’s the rare, straight-laced lifeboat in a sea of scatological humor and genital mutilation. However, it shows that these pack of madmen have their hearts in the right place, even then they’re flinging fecal matter and sexual fluids all over the screen.
In fact, one of the drive-in employees gets his penis ripped off by the reanimated corpse of his ex-girlfriend (whom he intends to get a belated blow-job from) in the first scene, so it really doesn’t take them long to announce their intentions with Chillermama, which gets off to its rollicking, proper start with Rifkin’s “Wadzilla,” which finds Miles Munson (played by Rifkin himself) taking an experimental drug on the advice of his doctor (Ray Wise) to raise his sperm count. Instead, it only makes his sperm grow in size, so when he blows his load, he actually gives birth to a giant semen monster intent on devouring everything it its path. Following are Sullivan’s “I Was a Teenage Werebear,” a tale of sexual confusion and teenage boys becoming ravenous bears, and Green’s “Diary of Anne Frankenstein,” which concerns Hitler’s attempt to craft his own monster to win World War 2. Finally, Lynch puts on the finishing touches by having a zombie horde attack the drive-in patrons with the aptly-titled “Zom-B-Movie.”
Chillerama’s demented approach is both its best and worst aspect, all at the same time. While many of its concepts are the work of some kind of mad genius, some elements (such as a bizarre interlude that plays as an ode to defecation) fall flat. Sometimes, it feels like a bunch of middle school kids have gathered together for some playground improv, with many of the “jokes” really just being a succession of one trying to outdo the other. “Oh, you ripped a guy’s dick off? Watch this--I’m going to have a giant sperm monster munch on a vagina!’ That’s the sort of discourse going on here, and, admittedly, it mostly works. I laughed early and often at the sheer splatstick absurdity of it all, and some of the humor even transcends the low-brow most of the film is aimed towards. It’s often silly and stupid, but it manages to spoof the drive-in spirit while also capturing it perfectly by inundating us in its bygone culture between the film segments--the snack bars, the horny couples in the backseats, the vintage promos.
We get movies to match it too, and there’s really not a weak one among the bunch, which provides a vast array of modes. From giant killer monsters to the undead, Chillerama offers up a particularly deranged take on the typical horror tropes, plus tosses in some slick gore and gooey, gross gags for good measure. This is basically Grindhouse by way of Troma, which should have been obvious given the name of the drive-in where the film is set. While the segments compliment each other tonally, each is rather distinctive, with Sullivan and Green’s films separating themselves from the bunch a bit. “Teenage Werebear” is an especially inspired take-off of both the 50s films that inspired its name and the 60s teen/beach films, so we not only get leather daddy werebears, but also singing leather daddy werebears. I think Frankie and Annete would be proud, and modern horror audiences will enjoy that it takes the piss out of Twilight a little bit. The sexual confusion at the center make it a somewhat brilliant re-appropriation of werewolf movies into an allegory for homosexuality, as all of the denial and self loathing typically reserved for wolfmen rings even more true in that context.
Green’s black and white “Diary of Anne Frankenstein” is the most gleefully inappropriate film here. It imagines that the famous teenage diarist’s name was actually shortened so her family could distance themselves from horror’s most famous mad scientist. The real Frank diary didn’t really contain her day-to-day musings, but, rather, old family secrets that Hitler himself steals after barging in with his Gestapo; afterwards, he orders his men to scribble down some stuff in the girl’s journal just to screw with future generations. Clearly, Green is unabashed and unafraid to go to some darkly comedic places, which he does often. His biggest coup is turning Hitler (Joel Moore) into a raving, gibberish-spewing lunatic (the extended joke being that said gibberish is perfectly subtitled) who hates Jews but loves puppies, and it’s very, very funny. He’s matched by his wife, Eva Braun, played by Kristina Klebe, who makes for a wicked fraulein--if there’s ever an Ilsa remake, she’d be perfect for the title role. There’s also his unholy creation (Kane Hodder), who eventually goes on a rampage and treats audiences to dismembered Nazis galore. I suppose the mash-up here (and Chillerama is nothing but a gob of mash-ups) is classic Universal with 70s Naziploitation, two things no one could have ever anticipated being married in such effective fashion.
Rifkin and Lynch’s segments make for fine bookends. The appeal of “Wadzilla” is rather obvious as a concept alone, but it makes good on it by finding some sick gags and cool creature sequences (brought to life by the still reliable Chidos Brothers). It also features the most ingenious use of The Statue of Liberty since Ghostbusters II. Lynch’s “Zom-B-Movie” actually isn’t a proper segment like the other three, as his storyline runs through the entirety of Chillerama, starting with that ill-fated employee who finds himself dickless; he still reports to work (so it’s pretty obvious off the hop that this movie isn’t in any way operating with any sort of reality), where he manages to infect the concessions. We’ve followed some of these patrons, such as a teenage trio and a husband and wife who gab between the three features, and the film culminates in all of them fending off the sexually charged walking dead. Assisting them is the shotgun-brandishing Riehle, who spouts off about a dozen lines from other movies while spraying their guts all over the place. It feels kind of familiar, but it’s enjoyable in a delightfully unhinged sort of way.
The final segment feels like a culmination in more ways than one; obviously, it’s the narrative climax, but the movie really shoots off its fanboy load at this point, spraying audiences with one glib call-back after another. Having already been trickled with references throughout, to everything from Citizen Kane to Billy Madison (which is obviously most representative of the type of movie this is), viewers are eventually soaked with soppy nostalgic residue constantly reminding them of other things they liked. Much of Chillerama is driven by its retro aesthetic, from the beat-up film prints to the missing reel that unfortunately makes us miss a musical number from Hitler. In this sense, the Grindhouse comparison is even more apt; however, whereas Tarantino and Rodriguez formed a seamless pastiche of homage and simulacrum, the four guys here cobble together a lumpy bit of cinematic alphabet soup. They sometimes come across as film students looking to impress audiences by all of the movies they’ve seen, which would maybe seem a little tacky if it weren’t so earnest.
In the end, that earnestness wins out; like a frat pack that’s invited you to a party, the entertainment they offer is a little juvenile and gross, but they’re committed to it and are self-aware, so much so that they don’t even stop short of taking a poke at themselves in the end. Unlike a lot of these film festival darlings, Chillerama has made it home pretty quickly courtesy of Image Entertainment, who will be releasing it on DVD and Blu-ray on November 29th. The high definition presentation is very strong, revealing a vibrant color palette and vivid detail; the 5.1 DTS-MA track is a bit of a mix bagged, as the dialogue channel’s mixing is a little drowned out during one of the segments. Otherwise, it’s fine and loud and still pretty much audible. Image has packed the disc with supplements, too, including video commentaries from the directors, deleted scenes, making-of features for “Anne Frankenstein” and “Teenage Werebear,” deleted scenes for each segment, director interviews, and trailers for both Chillerama and the individual segments. This is a nice package that’ll keep you busy for quite a while after you’ve digested the main feature, which is 2 hours long itself. Chillerama is the latest in a long line of recent nostalgia baiting flicks, especially in the horror genre, which lends itself to it more so than others for whatever reason, and its hits outweigh its misses. Buy it!
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