December 17, 2011

Blu-ray Review: Chillerama

I must admit that I was really looking forward to this. A horror anthology featuring four directors, including a couple whose films I have enjoyed? Sure thing, count me in. So, here I am on the opposite end of the starting line, feeling rather let down. I went in clean, I did not read up on it, nor did I see the trailer. It is not that I went out of my way avoiding such things, they just never crossed my path and did not bother to look for them. I kind of wish I did, perhaps I would have been better prepared for what I was to experience.

Now, it is not all bad. Chillerama is not without its moments, but at the same time it feel as if this quartet of old school horror loving chums tried a little too hard to emulate that which they loved from the past. The idea they came up with is a great one, and certainly one that I salute and respect. They are clearly lovers of drive in cinema and grindhouse excess. They have decided to make an anthology that pays homage to that era. They do this by creating a lovesong to its dying days.

The movie is set within a drive in that is shutting down. To mark its closure, the owner is putting on a night of unearthed grindhouse titles sure to please the masses. As it opens we are introduced to the proprietor, and a few cars and their occupants. They get settled in and prepare for the movies.

The first movie is called Wadzilla and is directed by Adam Rifkin, who doesn't have much in the way of horror to his name (probably best known for movies like Detroit Rock City, Small Soldiers, and Underdog) but shows that he is more than capable. Well, sort of. Rifkin also stars as the mild mannered Miles in what is revealed to be a 1950's era monster movie. It is not your typical monster movie as Rifkin takes it right over the top, you see, his creature is a giant sperm. Yes, you read that right. Miles is given experimental drugs to help his lack of said cells, but the side effect is that it grows to monstrous size.

I admit, it is kind of funny, and some of the early bits made me laugh, particularly with the doctor, played by Ray Wise, and on his blind date, played by model Sarah Mutch. Overall, however, it felt a little too forced and I could never get an in with it. It is interesting to note that the sperm monster was created by the Chiodo brothers, who brought us a true cult classic in Killer Klowns from Outer Space.

The second film within a film was directed by Tim Sullivan, who brought us the entertaining 2001 Maniacs and the awful 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams. His entry is called I was a Teenage Werebear. Now, where Rifkin's film targets the '50s, Sullivan's goes after the 60's beach movie. The story centers on Ricky who is struggling with his latent homosexuality, which becomes even tougher when he meets local tough Talon. One day, Ricky gets bitten on the butt by Talon and, much like a werewolf bite, is turned into a werebear. This is not a case of a bear instead of a wolf, it is a bear in that he gets big and hairy and dresses in leather. Yup, that kind of bear. So, we follow Ricky in between song and dance numbers as he comes to grips with his reality.

I found this bit to be a touch insufferable. I was never a big fan of those surfer/beach movies and this isn't going to change my opinion. That said, it is an interesting way to tell a story of some one learning something about himself and dealing with said something. In that regard, it does not make light of it, which is a good thing.

The third film within a film is called The Diary of Ann Frankenstein and is probably my favorite of the bunch. I could actually see myself revisiting this segment again. Adam Green is the man behind this piece, he has previously delivered us Hatchet, Hatchet II, and Frozen. It is a tasteless mash up of Ann Frank and Frankenstein.

The Frank family is hiding in the attic and young Ann learns their real name is Frankenstein and the notebook she is reading contains her uncle's notes on creating life. Well, before long Hitler (Joel David Moore) shows up, gets the book, and proceeds to make his own creature (Kane Hodder of Friday the 13th fame), with unexpected results.

This piece is in German and subtitled, that is except for Moore. He doesn't know the language and is left to spout increasingly bizarre banter in a bad German accent (at one point he exclaims "Boba Fett!"). On top of that, it is also shot in black and white. Quite entertaining.

Following the last short we return to the drive in to continue the wrap around story which has been developing before and between the other shorts, directed by Joe Lynch. It is a zombie story that finds patron turning on patron as the place erupts into a zombie orgy of a sort. Again, like everything else in Chillerama, has its moments, but nothing I couldn't have done without.

I do like the idea of revisiting the drive in and grindhouse style, but this feels forced. I do feel these four directors had the best intentions and truly had a blast making it, it just doesn't really come together for me.

Oh yeah, we do get glimpses of one more short at the end. It is called Deathication and it is, quite literally, shit. If you like number two in explosive fashion, watch this. As for me, I found it disgusting, not funny, and unnecessary.

Audio/Video. The movie is presented in a ratio of 1.78:1 and offers a pleasing high definition image. With that said, it is one that is not your traditional presentation. As this is an attempt to somewhat recreate old films, there is some artificial processing done on some of the films. For example, Wadzilla is made to look like an aged three strip Technicolor print and is pretty successful at it. As for Diary of Ann Frankenstein, it is made to look like an old black and white era film, it does make it halfway there. It may be more successful as showing how nice digital cameras can simulate old school black and white film with its rich shadows. I was a Teenage Werebear is the least affected and is filled with bright heavily saturated colors, it really does a god job of replicating those old beach blanket films. The wrap around bits are the most realistic and natural looking as they are meant to be the real world.

At no point will you believe you are watching an old film, but the looks work. As a whole this is certainly a successful transfer that won't disappoint, so long as you understand what they were trying to accomplish.

The audio, a DTS 5.1 track, is treated much the same way as the image. The wrap around tale makes nice use of all channels, primarily during the conclusion when the zombies are scaring up screams all around the drive in. As for the shorts, there is very little surround work as they are simulating the old rushed films of the grindhouse era, with all the dialog and sound centered in the front. There are also some audio tricks such as syncing issues in Werebear and the illusion of rushed ADR leading to a slightly detached feel to the voices of Wadzilla.

  • Commentary. This track is presented picture-in-picture style with all four directors talking about how the project started, their influences, and other notes about the production. It is a pretty good track.
  • The Making of Diary of Ann Frankenstein. This is a near half hour look at the development of the story and the shoot. It is actually pretty interesting, especially the bits on Joel David Moore's German experience. Definitely worth a watch.
  • Deleted Scenes from Wadzilla. Six-minutes worth of bits.
  • The Making of I Was a Teenage Werebear. Clips and interviews about the making of the film.
  • Deleted Scenes from I Was a Teenage Werebear. Fourteen-minutes of cut clips.
  • Zom-B-Movie Deleted Scenes. Cut bits from the wrap around story.
  • Famous Monsters Comic-Con Interview. This is a short interview with the four directors.
  • Comic-Con Interview. Another interview with the quartet.
  • Trailers. Included trailers are Chillerama, Diary of Ann Frankenstein, and Wadzilla.
Bottomline. I love the idea, but the final product I found less than inspiring. I still like these guys, but I did not find enough to latch onto here. It is a recreation with some inspired bits of lunacy surrounded by a mediocre morass.

Not Recommended.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Chillerama on Blogcritics.

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