Monday, October 08, 2012

The Modern Grindhouse Part 2: DEAR GOD NO!

DEAR GOD NO! might embody both the success and flaws of 70s exploitation films better than many of the recent throw-back trash films of the last five years, and while that doesn't make it an especially good movie, it does make it an amusing and overall successful venture into the dumpster of B-movie mayhem.

The Impalers, meanest bunch of biker bastards Georgia has ever spawned, rape and murder their way to a meeting with the head honcho of their little club who thinks their "no witnesses" policy is starting to reflect badly on the rest of the gang. Jett and his cronies establish how little of a shit they give, and find themselves on the road raising hell, until they cross paths with an anthropologist who's sure he's made the discovery of the century... pregnancy abuse, cop capping, ball tripping, father murdering, alcohol swigging, scientist stabbing, and a goddamn Bigfoot ensue.

Brimming with totally random Pink Eiga posters, Corman brand Malt Liquor, strippers in Nixon masks, Cannibal Holocaust-inspired insignias, a fine bottle of "De Ossorio", and opening with an assault on the Monza Monestary's recently raped and murdered nuns, the film is full of tongue in cheek moments, but it never goes the blatant spoof route and plays its grotesque and tasteless brand of biker-action with a sense of humor that clearly gets why old exploitation movies were fun without ever actually making fun of them - you know, that fine line of laughing with something versus laughing at it - which something I don't think the last title we looked at, Father's Day, quite ever came to terms with. It's clear that producer, director and co-writer James Bickert "gets it" in a way that so few people who are in charge of throwback entertainment do, and with that in mind, I can't recommend enough that you find him on eBay and go buy the movie straight from the source.

He's got a family to feed, maybe! Or perhaps he's living in a cardboard box, and the rent on those things are outrageous. I'm all for trying before you buy, renting or streaming or whatever filthy things you do with BitTorrent - I know, I know, I don't need to hear about what you do with the latest episode of Family Guy - but all the same, if you're even on the fence, do the right thing and give this guy twenty goddamn dollars. You'll waste more on the pizza and beer you'll buy when you actually sit down to watch it, and after the alcohol farts and cheesy constipation have long ebbed, the disc will be waiting to give you another equally cheesy thrill ride.

"But is it art", I can already hear some of you cry? By which we actually mean, is the film as a whole any good? Fifty-Fifty, I'd say. Remember how I said it has a lot of the same flaws as a 'real' 70s exploitation film? One of them is that the acting is pretty mediocre, with the distinct exception of Jett Bryant as the leader of the biker pack, who spits out a weary combination of spite and bemusement like he's seen it all, done it all, and really couldn't care unless if you're goddamn dead yet or not. He's awesome, and it's kind of a shame the rest of the film can't quite keep up with him. The script itself is full of cheeky class-clash dialog that fully justifies it's "Meet the .01%" poster, but the actors playing the waspy scientists are so dull that it never works, and Jett's sidekicks (particularly the two brothers) are consistently more annoying than amusing, while 'Spider' and his regular over-dubbing gets old fast. It also sticks to only a handful of locations, and it never breaks out of its own grungy comfort zone to deliver anything substantially more than its marketing ever promised - there's no actual exploration of moral ambiguity, no surprises beyond how debauched the cast gets, and with one passing easter egg that flies by on a newspaper, not much to tickle our subconscious as viewers of throwback schlock, begging the question if we're doing this out of some horribly ironic masochism, or if we legitimately love being handed a plate of raw B-movie excess on its own merits.

People less forgiving will probably call this a grotesque one trick pony. My reply is a shrug, followed with a snarky "go on..." Nobody ever promised it was a new standard in boob-filled biker revenge movies, or even suggested that it was a clever deconstruction; the fact that Bryant made a top-down exploitation film that's peppered with nods to its inspiration is just a fun Easter Egg hunt, not a promise of anything more profound. Besides, the film is quick to shift gears and with a runtime of only about 80 minutes it never really has the chance to actually get boring. Cinematography is always competent, if not exceptional, and while the extreme gore isn't especially realistic, it's certainly plentiful and almost always in poor taste. The few CG effects that litter the film aren't much worse than crap I saw on the big screen less than a decade ago, so I guess they get a pass. This isn't a style-over-substance overload, but let's face it, Karim Hussain can't lens every cheap exploitation film ever made ...or can he?

Direct something again, you crazy bastard!

Anyway, while I wouldn't even bother showing this to someone who hasn't at LEAST seen Werewolves on Wheels, Snuff, and at least one the Ilsa the Wicked Warden trilogy (which is actually four films, and no, don't ask me to explain it...), I still think the project hits more than it misses, and I legitimately laughed several times at how absurd the film was without ever feeling like it was trying too goddamn hard to make its premise work. It's a trashy movie made for trashy people, and if you think you can groove on that, it's absolutely recommended.

The only Blu-ray for this film currently available is an eBay exclusive BD-R being sold by the film maker James Bickert himself, in a handful "Strictly Limited" editions with different covers, bonus features and formats, including DVD+BD-R combo packs and even VHS tapes for the crazy folks that are convinced that's a good thing. It's reminiscent of Germany and their asinine "5 completely different covers, limited to 333 copies each!" business strategy. In any case, I got the original BD-R featuring the bad-ass original release poster by the fine folks at The Dude Designs, and sure enough, the disc came hand-numbered with the title and director's own John Hancock scrawled on top of a generic injket-top BD-R in sharpie. Nothing will quite top Albert Pyun being willing to sign his similarly super-independant release of the Captain America Director's Cut with "AMERICA! FUCK YEAH!", but this cheap-ass paper cover with excess paper on all four sides comes pretty goddamn close. I also got a "Don't Be A Todd!" bumper sticker and a pamphlet for the 2012 Atlanta Ghoul Guide, which was a nice touch. I'd happily pay a couple bucks just to get a booklet featuring all of the faux-vintage international posters they've put together, ranging from Japanese VHS to German lobby cards and back, but at least you can ogle a good chunk of them as a bonus feature... if you're clever enough to find it, anyway.

Cheap ass burn or not, I'm surprisingly satisfied with the actual quality of the disc. Much like Father's Day it comes on a single-layered disc using the antiquated MPEG-2 and Dolby Digital codecs. Shot on Super16 and mastered in High Definition, I have very little to complain about when it comes to the visual presentation; Grain is consistently course, black levels are more solid than they ought to be, and with a few passing exceptions compression blocking and banding are never really an issue at the disc's 25 mb/s average bitrate. Some of the stock footage and special effects looks a bit worse for wear, but knowing the LSD trips and moonlit stock footage would have been optically sourced garbage in the Bad Ol' Days of analog film editing, I can live with it showing some macroblocking or funky digital noise, and if I want to be a total douche I'd point out that the gamma looks elevated, leaving "total darkness" in the last 15 minutes something of a deep gray affair. The film features a brief two scenes of "grindhouse" print damage, and while both are clearly artificial they're tastefully and consistently handled. There are a handful of wonky visual effects shots - heck, I swore I was tripping balls on one shot of the cops talking in their car where the top of the screen was completely frozen, while the two carried on a conversation! - but they just add to the shoestring charm.

The only other oddity is that the transfer is 1440X1080, which is virtually unheard of on Blu-ray. Formats including HDCAM and HDV are native 1440X1080, so it's not unthinkable that the production was shot on 16mm film, transferred to one of these digital formats, and then edited from there. 1440X1080 typically has a flag to stretch the pixels out to a 16X9 widescreen format, and this is no exception, so it just means that the Blu-ray's resolution was limited by the original production methods. Nothing to get upset about, but it sure makes screenshots look strange...

The 192 kb/s Dolby Digital stereo track is... adequate? There isn't a lot of bass or obvious stereo phasing, and I was a bit disappointed to find that dialog occasionally mixes into the kitschy Southern Fried rock soundtrack, making parts of the opening scene damn near impossible to make out. That said, anyone upset that this wasn't lossless is bitching to bitch; the mix itself is simply no show stopper, and while it likely couldn't have hurt, I doubt a lossless offering would sound substantially different. With roughly 4 gigs on the disc left unused it's a shame they didn't offer an uncompressed PCM track, but again, the mix we got is what it is and I'm left with little recourse but to shrug and think of it as good enough.

The menu is actually a clunky SD monstrosity that'd be kind of crumby even for a DVD. That's actually the biggest complaint I have about the Blu-ray - which means it really isn't half bad, considering the director made this in his living room. The only advertised bonus feature on the Blu-ray  is the original red-band trailer and three commentaries, but if you play around with the menus you're sure to find five more amusing easter eggs, which later became the advertised bonus features on the DVD. The DVD included 5 more hidden bonuses, but having gotten the initial release and not the "Combo" set, I honestly have no idea what I'm missing.

Apparently there's also a "42nd Street Slut Cut" exclusively available on VHS with even more gore and a teaser for the film's upcoming sequel, Frankenstein Made Bikers. Honestly, I'd love to see what this alternate version has, but not enough to actually buy a fucking VHS tape in 2012. Sorry guys, I know you need to make money and all, but I'm so goddamn done with that tape shit... unless you're willing to sell me an original HDCAM copy, I'm out.

...unless Elvira signed it first, I guess. With her boobs.
Wait, can she do that? Can anyone do that?

I haven't said a whole lot about the film mostly because I want anyone reading this to give it a look. When it rains it pours corn syrup, and when it rapes it's probably incestuous or involves Frankensteins. The film is perhaps one-note by design, and probably won't win over anyone who isn't already susceptible to the charms of the bone-headed B-movies of yesteryear, but I don't see that as an inherently bad thing. The film knows its target audience and gives them exactly what they're looking for, right up to the final minute. I thought it was a lot of fun, and I'm willing to bet a lot of you out there in The Tubes will feel the same way I do.

What more can I say, James Bickert? You did good, you got yourself twenty bucks for it from your friend Kentai. Release that alternate version on DVD and you'll make yourself twenty more.  There's room to improve in the sequel (mostly this: find better actors), but I feel like this is a guy who's on his way to amusing my schlocky funny bone for years to come. Too bad the only other notable feature he's made is--

...wait, it's a feature film called DUMPSTER BABY? No foolin'? Fuck'n sold, man.

Bickert in his natural habitat: Directing wanton topless fury.


Kriztoffer Swank said...

I just watched this myself, about two days ago. Loved it, and the Blu-ray looks good. Scored one of those combo packs; first one musta gotten lost in the post, but thankfully when I brought it to James' attention, he sent out another right away and I got it in a couple days. Kinda jealous of your "Don't Be a Todd" bumper sticker. :< I got different goodies, though: lobby card of The Dude Designs cover art, a square pin/button with the artwork used on the VHS, a Big World Pictures sticker (with the slogan, "Quality Drive-in Smut"), and a certificate stating that the recipient survived the London, Ontario premiere of the film.

I might, quite honestly, spring for that VHS alternate cut. I guess there's something kinda fun about having a movie like this on tape.

Gurotaku said...

Did you see VISION STAINS, Karim Hussain's contribution to THE THEATRE BIZARRE? It's hardly his best work but it's still easily the best part of that otherwise wretched anthology.

Kriztoffer Swank said...


Review for Tetsuo I&II Blu-ray set. Region B-locked. VERY tempted to get a region-free player just for this.

Kentai 拳態 said...

Having seen the TETSUO transfer(s) for myself... I'm about ready to snap and buy a region free piece of hardware myself.

A shame they didn't get the delted scenes of THE PHANTOM OF REGULAR SIZE, but the transfer for the first film honestly looks better than I was ever expecting.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

I'm seriously considering getting one myself at the moment. I want this Blu-ray set. Plus, it'll be nice to finally not have to worry whether something I want will be region restricted.

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