You can’t capture lightning in a bottle, according to the old cliché. Such electrical discharges also never strike in the same place twice, if you believe the rap. Applicable to hundreds of situations, we film critics tend to pull these maxims out whenever a sullied sequel rears its dreadful, usually unnecessary head. Almost always a clear case of cash from commercial chaos, revisiting a previous success ups the amperage for such a potential kinetic crash. Thus, the proverbial responses. Retardead, the new film from Monsturd makers Rick Popko and Dan West, wants to revisit the scatological success of that previous crap creature funny business. Unfortunately, the wit and weirdness of the first film just doesn’t translate over to a flailing zombie stomp.
Although everyone in the tiny county of Butte thinks that their fecal nightmare is over, the truth is far more disturbing. Seems the creator of the scat monster, Dr. Stern, has found a way to escape his fate, and is now teaching at the local institute for students with special needs. His goal is simple - use a hyper-intelligence serum to turn a group of mentally handicapped kids into abject geniuses. There’s just one side effect, however. After a while, these buffoons to braniacs start snacking on human flesh. It’s not long before Sheriff Duncan, Deputies Dan and Rick, and FBI Agent Susan Hannigan are ass deep in zombies - and desperate to find a way to stop the cannibal corpse holocaust. Oddly enough, Stern might have an answer for that as well.
There are times when a movie hits you in a certain way. Perhaps it’s the material, or the sort of day you had previously, but when a film that shouldn’t actually clicks, you wonder if it can happen again, and if not, what caused the connection in the first place. Monstrud, the first horror comedy from duo Rick Popko and Dan West, is this kind of non-quantifiable quackery. While cornering the market on mieda humor, it also worked as an effective bit of b-movie schlock. Of course, one is convinced that revisiting the title now would probably result in the aforementioned ambivalence. After all, the story of a killer stool sample would seem to have a limited shelf life. Still, Popko and West hope that Retardead offers up some similarly stupid fun. And for the most part, it does.
Of course, that also means there are some gaping flaws in the filmmaking reasoning. As Shaun of the Dead taught us, the living dead can be hilarious - that is, as long as you concentrate on the characters and circumstances surrounding the satiric scares. Here, Popko and West rely on our previous knowledge of the Butte County citizenry instead of reintroducing their individual quirks. Similarly, gore is rarely handled with humor. Sure, we can laugh at a particularly outrageous bit of arterial spray, but for the most part, blood letting is the perturbing pause before any other slice of slapstick. But Retardead thinks fiends feasting on spinal chords and bodies blowing apart is the height of hilarity. Sadly, sidesplitting is NOT sidesplitting.
Even worse, this is a movie that wusses out on the most important facet of their (potentially) tasteless humor - the retards. After all, if you’re going to call a movie by such a politically incorrect term, you should treat the material in an equally offensive manner. At first, it looks like Popko and West will come through. We get a rogues gallery of identifiable idjits, from the inappropriate pee girl to the oversized homunculus with a safety helmet and hygiene issues. As we are introduced to Dr. Stern’s class, each cretin getting their individual moment to shine, we keep waiting for the filmmakers to break free. Instead, they immediately jump into “Flowers for Algernon” mode, turning their punchlines into frequently unfunny props.
Still, there are some reasons to rejoice. As the most dip-sticked deputies in the history of law enforcement, Popko and West are a cunning comedy team. There is a sequence when they are sharing some porn and a beer that’s a classic of understated spoofing. Also, the technical ambitions and actual achievements are well worth celebrating. The movie looks larger, the scope matched well by the improvement in cinematic technique. Sure, there is still too much padding here (a zombie comedy shouldn’t last longer than 85 minutes - Retardead is 100), and Dan Burr’s Dr. Stern is a fairly ineffectual villain. Instead of being over the top and evil, the actor turns on the seriousness and subtlety. A movie about retarded kids turning into bloodthirsty killers doesn’t need such nuance.
In fact, it’s fair to say that most of Retardead suffers from the seminal sophomore slump. It’s too ambitious, too overloaded with feigned confidence to completely succeed. Granted, in a realm where most homemade horror movies are a single step away from being digital chum, Popko and West deliver a fun and somewhat solid experience. But they also suffer from the same lo-fi failings that most no budget efforts experience. Instead of simply doing what they do best (and did well before), they purposely try to up the ante. And just like the concept of capturing lightning in a bottle, they barely manage to make it. This is a film that should be better than it ends up being - and perhaps it’s not Popko and West’s fault. Their Monsturd was a noxious little novelty. As the old saying goes, it’s almost impossible to repeat such accidental anarchy.