Monday, October 01, 2012

The Modern Grindhouse Part 1: FATHER'S DAY

A little over a year ago I said - if in not quite so many words - that Hobo with a Shotgun was, easily, the best Troma film 1987 never made. In much the same time frame Jason Eisener was single-handedly teaching us to love bullshit 80s splatter films all over again, Darren Lynn Bousman - the guy who made a total of three SAW sequels solely to, I've heard it suggested, greenlight his personal dream project, Repo! The Genetic Opera - was finally giving the public their first taste of his 2010 take on one of Troma's better known titles, MOTHER'S DAY. I'm honestly not a huge fan of the original film myself, finding it all rather tacky and even a bit dull for most of the runtime, but I'm aware enough of the general cinematic landscape of 1980 to understand why it was such a shocking blow to the audience that would bother to find it; it showed a filthy, lewd, and eerily familiare side of the American Ideal of a mother who supports her doting sons no matter how far off the rails they got, all with a biting degree of sarcasm and brutal, squirm-inducing rape fantasies played out by characters who appear to be literal mental retards.

Naturally, with the original film of some note having been a black-comedy spoof of I Spit on Your Grave, some asshole with liquified dick for a soul - quite possibly Lloyd Kaufman himself, but I'm splitting hairs there -  said "That sounds like the PERFECT vehicle to make a dead serious home-invasion thriller!" By all counts, Bousman made a competent and nasty little hostage movie, but why they even chose to play it off as a remake of a goddamn Troma flick about backwoods morons who played rape-themed versions of Red Light Green Light, I haven't a clue. Clearly, this left other people equally perplexed - angry, even - and while most douchebags like me just have a burrito, drink some cheap wine, watch reruns of Family Guy and go to bet, there was one collective of natural-born madmen who just weren't going to take that bullshit lying down.

Leatherface did it better, but still... well played.

Independant Canadian film collaborative ASTRON-6, an improbably named group of five Canadians with a penchant for making trailers of things that don't really exist, decided to try and create the most repulsive, shocking and absurd thing they could come up with... the results were a violently reactionary faux-trailer available HERE, which they lovingly called the "Father's Day Foreskin". It impressed the higher-ups at Troma that they cut them a check and told them to come back with a goddamn movie... they were happy to oblige.

FATHER'S DAY might be the most recent title in this ever-growing cycle of throwback schlocky exploitation films, and also may represent the closest thing to a return to relevancy that Troma has in a world dominated by no-budget internet shorts, making their cheeky brand of B-movies all the more irrelevant to the pop culture landscape as time wears on. I love Toxie as much as anybody, and I'd probably punch my own mother in the teeth if if it'd convince somebody to release Surf Nazi's Must Die on Blu-ray, but the void those films and other ultra-low budget schlock like it filled has been met by bullshit on YouTube and [adult swim]. Their last "Troma Team" release that wasn't licensed from a separate independent, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, was simply a not-especially funny mess... and shit, why do a feature length sequel to Black Dynamite when someone's willing to make it for a tenth of the cost in flash? The world of B-movies has changed dramatically with the advent of the internet, both for better and worse, but I suppose that's a discussion for another day...

Still, relevant in the 21st century or not, Astron 6 took their micro-budget of $10,000 US and produced a complete 98 minute feature, which got an extremely limited festival-fueled release in 2011, and a somewhat more recent DVD/BD/CD COMBO PACK - limited and numbered to 5,000 units! As always, I make no money on these links, so feel free to pick it up at a local Fry's for fifteen bucks and change, like I did. I'm not going to do a full dissection with screenshots, because I've got a few other movies I want to talk about this month, and I simply won't have time to do my usual OCD nonsense. In contrition... here's a cute bum?

Unfortunately, the "Special Edition" status of this release has come into question for a number of reasons. First of all, the version included is the unrated 2011 Theatrical Cut, not the 2012 FINAL CUT which added sound effects, corrected a mistake on the end credits, fixed some visual effects, included tweaked color timing, and supposedly inserted even more gore. The TC is actually about 13 seconds longer than the FC, but of course that doesn't make it better by default. The fact that Lloyd Kaufman's intro on the bonus features disc calls it the Uncensored, Definitive Director's Cut doesn't really make it so, and for reasons I'll get into shortly it's impossible to say if this was an intentional decision or not...

While we do get a handful of fun bonus features on a separate DVD, including a pair of deleted scenes, two charmingly honest "how to make shitty special effects for no money" examples, various cuts of the original faux-trailer (now dubbed the FATHER'S DAY FORESKIN), and best of all, a pair of previously unreleased Astron 6 shorts, including LAZER GHOSTS 2: RETURN TO LASER COVE, which is literally about the ghost of Einstein coming back to haunt humanity into extinction. That goddamn short was worth what I paid alone, and actually excites me more about these young, aspiring, and clearly pansexual film-makers more than the feature itself... but more on that in a minute.

So what's to complain about? For one thing, the promised audio commentary wasn't included. My guess is that said commentary was made for the Final Cut, and thusly it's exclusion had something to do with them releasing a Beta version of the film to start with. For another, Kaufman directly calls Astron 6 out on that intro of questionable honesty for not having given them the "Making Of" bonus features ("despite it saying in the contracts that we'd get one!" he insists), but goes on to say that he hopes they can include it on a later release of the film, and respects them as artists enough to release their film how they want to see it released... the irony of which reaches sub-atomic levels when you remember that we're getting the 2011 Theatrical Cut.

Make no mistake, there is indeed a feature length documentary by the name of NO SLEEP NO SURRENDER which details the making of Father's Day, but according to Astron 6, this is a wholly separate entity and they offered it to Troma, but were told they weren't interested in paying more, despite the fact that the documentary is about as long as the film itself! So, Astron 6 is taking their ball home and has promised to release it themselves as a stand alone feature.

Everyone on set in this clip clearly died.
This "documentary" is a hilarious snuff movie.

If this all sounds a bit convoluted and petty... well, you're right. Word is that Astron 6 became increasingly upset with Troma for doing things like selling DVD-R bootlegs of their independently owned short films at screenings of Father's Day (something they witnessed only after paying out of their own pocket to go to the premiere!), and insist that despite having given them the Final Cut 6 months prior, Troma screwed the pooch and released an unfinished cut out of sheer incompetence. There's also the issue of whether or not NO SLEEP NO SURRENDER "belongs" to Troma or not; the fact that they've released this set without it - and a "Date Modified" of July 9th - suggests to me that Kaufman and pals know they don't have a leg to stand on, but who knows? The drama behind the scenes is likely more convoluted than we'll ever know publicly, and without hearing more I don't want to paint either side in a potentially unfair light. Suffice to say, Mommy and Daddy are fighting about Father's Day.

The storyline is perhaps the most absurd thing about the whole proceeding: Ahab, a one eyed shotgun toting vigilante, has been released from prison after having murdered a man he believed to be Chris Phuckman, the infamous Father's Day Killer. He's gone into hiding after the shame of having let Phuckman escape, but when mysterious murders start popping up, the Catholic Church urges Father Sullivan to find him, and put an end to his devilish ways. Along with Ahab's stripper sister and a hustler named Twink who lost his old man to the revived Phuckman, this motliest of crews bands together and gets sweet, satisfying revenge... but is Phuckman really just a man, or will they have to break the barriers between our world and the next to put a stop to his evil father-raping ways once and for all?!

I'm actually a little sad that the film didn't blow me away half as hard as the short trailer, but the fact is, stretching the premise of "Vigilante Ahab seeks revenge against Chris Phuckman, the Father's Day Rapist Killer!" is the sort of idea that works better as a 5 minute gag reel than as a 98 minute film. All the ingredients for a great exploitationgasm are there - middle aged forced sodomy, Skinemax quality incest, the lighter side of suicide, Final Fantasy VII inspired cross dressing, demonic resurrection cults, stop motion animation, and even commercial cutaways to Late Nite cable features in Amazing VHS Quality - but the execution falls flatter than it should. One of the film's best moments is when Ahab gets bloody satisfaction - it's so sudden, so asinine and so over the top and jovial that you can't help but laugh at every sticky, mean spirited moment. It's fun watching revenge that involves floppy-legged dummies, no question about it. The stop motion effects in the final act especially take what could have been a green screen nightmare and make them so uniquely cheap and honest to its no-budget roots that they become awesome in their own right, and elevate what could have been a forgettably sad element of biting off more than it could chew and breaks the reality of the film itself down on terms that still make sense in context.

It's sadly not all about puppets and penis mutilation, though: The lengthy scene where Ahab and Sullivan talk about syrup-related metaphors? The shattered romance angle that looks like a setup for Ahab's last battle with Phuckman and then never goes anywhere? The travelogue scene literally ripped out of ROBINHOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS? THAT'S the kind of shit that drags the film down. I'm convinced that a leaner, meaner 70-odd minute version of the film probably would have kicked it from "Fascinating Misfire" to "Decent Splatter Comedy". Astron 6 have created a unique aesthetic that's reminiscent of stuff like Tim and Eric Awesome Show: Great Job!, and when the film is taking itself kinda seriously, it's really goddamn funny. You can't fake low-budget spectacle, you just have to have the right kind of insanity and let it flow from you like so much funny piss; don't ASK them to be funny, ask them to take their heavily compromised resources and not let it affect their vision. THAT'S HOW THIS KIND OF STUFF HAPPENS. At the end of the day we're really looking at a parody of splatstick, but only a few directors have ever made splatstick itself work over the years - and frankly, some of those guys seem to have only made it work by accident. Astron 6 has a good sense of humor, but the whole joke here is how offensive and vile the proceedings are, and when that's their goal, it usually works to one degree or another. The shitty vaudevillian stuff just doesn't stick in the universe they've tried so carefully to construct, and it's a real shame that they couldn't focus on the stuff that was legitimately amusing and leave more of the stuff that wasn't on the cutting room floor.

Still, we're talking about a collective of broke Canadians who made a feature film for less than the price of a car that'll run for three years. If you don't feel at least a swelling of pride that they finished what they started... you're kind of an asshole. It delivers exactly the schlocky good times it's promising, I was just a little disappointed that it didn't find a way to go above and beyond its own excess. For my money, the best single film in this cycle of throwback exploitation films is still Hobo with a Shotgun, though if this cavalcade of tasteless hit-and-miss humor winds up being the worst, hell, I'm not going to complain much. Take it for what it is and don't expect anything more, and I think even the most jaded of fans will find something commendable buried amongst the stuff that doesn't work.

The most subtle one-sheet I've found yet!
Remind me to commission a FORCED ENTRY poster later...

Masterpiece or not, let's talk about the film's visuals. Shot digitally in High Definition, the film has an impressive level of detail and bold, often insanely boosted color, recalling the neon glow of the era it's good-naturedly mocking. The bulk of the film has a clean, almost sterile look that'll be familiar to fans of independent films made in the last decade, but it will switch to a stained and scratch appearance during certain scenes, either to impress a "snuff film" vibe during an especially gross sequence, or just to pretend that there were reel changes at some point. It's a bit distracting to a nerd like me that the print damage "sticks" for 3 frames or so at a time, but by far the most damning issue at play is the presence of framerate conversion artifacts...

See, Father's Day was shot at 30 frames a second using typical North American video framerates, but the final master is 24 frames a second, the same as film. That means that every 6th frame has been deleted, and motion now has a bizarre, uneven "stutter" that's especially easy to see on slow camera pans. Why would they do that? Either because they were told that 30fps isn't standard for theatrical exhibition, or (more likely) that the only way to release a 30fps movie would be to list it as "1080i" on the box. Whatever the reason, the dropped frames are a problem on literally everything but the final graphics found on the end credits... odds are you'll either notice the stutter or you won't, but if you're sensitive to this sort of stuff, grit your teeth and get ready to be pissed.

And yes, Troma used the now dated MPEG-2 'legacy' codec, but the bitrate is a strong 29 mb/s, and as there's very little blocking or mosquito noise on the rapid-fire animated montage, I'm willing to believe that the majority of the digital artifacts you'll find on close inspection is the result of this having been shot on cheap digital cameras, and likely edited using consumer grade software. Could the film have looked better on a BD50 with an AVC encode? I'd wager that it could, but not by enough to complain.

The audio is a similarly middling affair in the form of a 256 kb/s Dolby Digital stereo track. I'm surprised this didn't get a 5.1 mix to be honest, but like the visuals, the audio... well, it is what it is. Fans who know what they're getting into will understand the limitations of the source, and while a lossless mix would have been appreciated, I doubt the real-world difference in fidelity is all that massive. Odds are this will see a couple international releases in the future, and they may include a higher-bitrate transfer and lossless audio... but

I can't say I disliked Father's Day, merely that it feels a bit like the creators, earnest as they may be, were crushed under the weight of their larger than life premise. Fans of independant madness, schlocky good times and horror-comedy mashups in general should certainly take the plunge and decide for themselves what to make of it, but I bet there's a better Modern Grindhouse film kicking around somewhere...

See 'ya next week with Part 2! (Maybe!)


Anonymous said...

Hobo with a Shotgun was made for literally over THREE HUNDRED TIMES the budget of Father's Day. Say it with me - 300X! And it somehow has MORE gore/violence/nudity than Hobo.

Demon said...

I haven't seen Father's Day yet, but I want to. I have seen Manborg and it is awesome.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

No time to read your review/post, Kentai, but gaddam I love Father's Day. Such a flippin' awesome flick, on par with Hobo (which has more similarities to Street Trash than Troma, I'd say) in my opinion.

The 1980 Mother's Day is also great and I'm placing my order for the Blu-ray now.

Hope Father's Day sees the final cut and documentary released on (Region A-friendly) Blu-ray.

Greg M said...

I was geared up to buy this until Troma released the unfinished cut. I'll wait until they, or somebody else puts out the proper director's cut. I find it harder and harder to support Troma when they keep acting like they don't give a fuck.