Tuesday, January 10, 2012

REVIEW: Chillerama (2011)

Anthology horror films seem to be making a minor comeback, with a slew of them released last year, and mega-anthology The ABCs of Death currently in production now. Creepshow is without a doubt one of my all-time favorite movies, so I'm glad to see these coming back. While I don't like Trick 'r' Treat to the level that some seem to, it definitely seems to have been the spark that rekindled interest in the anthology format. Chillerama sounded like it was right up my alley, and boasts the talents of Adam Green (Hatchet, Frozen), and Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2). So guys... what happened?

It makes sense to talk about the segments in the order they're shown. There are three main shorts, all framed and bookended by segments whose characters are watching the three films along with us in the final late-night show of a dilapidated drive-in theater. Let's start.

First: Wadzilla. This chapter comes courtesy of Adam Rifkin, whose previous work I'm unfamiliar with, but seems to span mostly mainstream comedy/family films as of late. Family-oriented this part is certainly not, as Rifkin chooses to shoot a story in the vein of a giant monster movie with a giant killer sperm as the antagonist. That self-explanatory piece of info is essentially all you need to know about the plot. The first half or so of this short is entertaining, and has some really nice (and gross) creature effects to help show how the monster is, er, born by way of some anti-impotency drugs gone horribly wrong. The colors are ultra-saturated, and the camera angles exaggerated, giving it a nice sort-of comic book / Raimi feel. It falls apart in the second half though, mostly because Rifkin allows the plot to disintegrate and the characters to become lame stand-ins for jokes. As the monster grows in size, the nice creature effects are marred by sloppy green-screen work. I get the impression that this was intentional (more on that later), but I'd have preferred a little consistency. Overall, goofy, and not awful, but forgettable.

Next: Tim Sullivan's I Was a Teenage Werebear. This seems to be the segment that's getting the most flack in reviews that I've read. While I'll agree - it's bad - compared to the other segments, I can't say it's worse. The central concept of a gay-themed werewolf coming-of-age story would have been more than enough material to fill a short, but Sullivan also forces it into a beach/surf-movie context which drags along a gaggle of really unfortunate musical numbers. The story focuses mainly on a closeted teen's encounters with a gang of gay werewolves, excuse me - were-bears, who beckon him to join their gang. Think Lost Boys with the subtext brought to center stage. There's just too much going on here for it to work well, and the result is a garbled mess. The music is bad, and the actors don't have the vocal talent to pull it off. The beach setting is jarring and reduces the sets to just a series of outdoor locations, even though it's supposed to be set largely inside a high school. Am I missing a reference here? Did this genre need to be spoofed? The jokes are beyond lame, in particular the recurring gag about the main character's girlfriend, who's hit by a car early in the film and returns again and again, brain-damaged and mumbling. This segment was when the film started to get tough to watch.

Third: Adam Green's The Diary of Anne Frankenstein: I was hoping this one would salvage the wreck that this film was fast becoming, and trusted Green to do it, since I enjoyed both of his Hatchet films. This short is a different animal though, and mocks the old black-and-white studio horror pictures of long ago. Get the pun in the title? It's a Frankenstein story set during World War II, where Hitler steals Anne Frank's "diary" (here an ancient Jewish spellbook) to create a gigantic monster made from the parts of dead Jews. It sounds far more offensive than it actually is, mostly because Green treats it as the lightest of comedies, filled with slapstick and Mel Brooks-style jokes. Joel David Moore hams it up to the max as Hitler, and doesn't speak a word of authentic German in the entire short. Like most of the jokes, it's just too over-the-top for me. When someone tries really hard to be funny and fails it just makes me uncomfortable. I was checking my watch during this one.

Finally, we return to Zom B Movie, who has been trudging along between the previous films. This was actually my favorite segment, as it takes its time between the other shorts giving us reasons to relate to its movie-nerd characters. There's also a hint of nostalgia as they attend the last-ever show at their beloved drive-in theater. We also get to know Cecil B. Kaufmann (Richard Riehle) as the owner and projectionist, who's reluctantly closing the doors to his theater as the drive-in era is ushered out by more modern forms of entertainment. Meanwhile, a local necrophiliac has contracted a sexually transmitted zombie virus that's slowly spreading through the drive-in, using the popcorn butter as its main vector of contagion. Don't ask how it happened - it makes sense, mostly. By the time we're through the first three shorts the fourth (Deathification - which I won't spoil) is interrupted by a full-scale sex zombie outbreak, and our fellow moviegoers are thrust into the roles of protagonists in their own real-life horror film. Of all the segments, this is the one that I can honestly say I enjoyed. Although it falls into zombie-movie cliches relatively quickly, I was invested enough in the characters to actually care. Good job Joe Lynch - you remembered to do the one thing that the rest of the shorts didn't.

As a whole, I can't recommend Chillerama. The humor is too overplayed for my taste and drowns out any of the horror elements present. While some of the ideas had potential, particularly Sullivan's, the execution is sloppy. What's more of a turn-off for me is that it appears to be deliberately sloppy, with the excuse that the directors are "poking fun" at the unintentional cheesiness of the horror movies of yore. Sorry, but this is something I'll never let a film off the hook for. I don't mind homages to older styles of film making. In fact I enjoy them when they're done well, particularly when they adopt a lot of the things that older films did right. But basing your film around laughing at the shortcomings of older material is not something that's fun for me, and what's more, it's a lazy technique used to excuse bad, sloppy filmmaking. There's none of the lack-of-self-conciousness that you'd find in an old Troma flick - this film is ultra-aware of what it's doing, and it's convinced that it's extremely funny. What it's missing is that while there is a subset of people who enjoy laughing at the faults of old "bad" movies, there's an equally large audience that respects these films for the edge they had and their willingness to push beyond the limits of their budget to make a great film despite their shortcomings.

Sorry, but this shit just isn't that compelling. Chillerama tries to be deliberately "so bad it's good," which is a strategy that very rarely works. If you're fond of goofy, irreverent humor, and cheap laughs that aren't entirely earned, you might have a great time here. If you're looking for something like Creepshow, which was an effective homage as well as being a film that stood on its own merits, you'll have to keep looking.

2.5 / 10 = Avoid it

If you have to sate your curiosity, Chillerama is available to watch via Netflix Instant.

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