From Great to God-Awful: Two More Troma Titles
While they do tend to go for the sensational and the salacious, the indie icon also know that nothing sells cinematic subversion better than having a good time.
It seems like, for the moment, things have settled down for Troma. Uncle Lloyd and his 'art for art's sake' strategies have paid off in a continuing stream of new releases, yet another new generation of confirmed independent cinephiles, and a strong political bent that sees the horrified head honcho taking on everything from Internet neutrality to that latest Hollywood hucksterism - 3D. Yet when it comes right down to it, Kaufman and his cohorts are still obsessed with bringing film fans the best, brightest, and ballsiest genre titles from around the world. Recently, efforts like Pep Squad, A Nocturne, Dark Nature, and Bigfoot have shown that, while slow in bringing their own productions to the masses, there's still a vast untapped resource of other people's work to wade through.
Of course, consistency remains an issue. There are times when it does look like Troma releases almost anything, from some film student's snooty idea of a sex farce to some grade schoolers concept of splatter. There is rarely middle ground with their titles, Kaufman clamoring that all media should strike a chord within people - good, bad, but definitely not indifferent. That is particularly true of their most recent DVD offerings. In one case, the good old days of the company's oddball dynasty are alive and well, covered in leather and studded metal wristbands. In the other, the monster movie is further defiled by a group of foreign fans who believe shoddy effects and even worse camera tricks bring back the glory days of US drive-in dominance. They couldn't be more wrong.
A young man named Ace is given a birthday gift of the famed crystal guitar of a notorious rock and roll murderer. When the axe starts "speaking" to him, our uncomfortable dweeb turns into an undead hero, wrecking vengeance on Mrs. Delicious and her all girl gang of Ms. mobsters. He better take down the crime boss quick, since she plans on blowing up the local battle of the bands, and destroying heavy metal in the process.
Hat's off to Hartman for finding the right balance between reverence and the ridiculous. You can tell by the basic setting for the story - a guitar shop called Detroit Rock City - that the man knows his metal. Even when the eventual concert and performance footage fails to live up to the purest levels of the musical type, the film reinforces its hand signs and headbanging purpose. Similarly, the all gal crime angle is a very nice touch. It's unusual to see girls giving men a piece of the antagonist action, but these viable villainesses can really meter out the punishment. And then there is the acting. While most homemade horror films boast levels of amateurism worthy of celluloid novices, Hartman populates his effort with all manner of polished performers. Sure, some are still a tad mannered in their delivery, but for the most part, we enjoy the earnest energy.
Still, Heavy Mental does have a couple of drawbacks. First, the gore - while plentiful - is kind of pathetic, definitely from the red Kool-Aid school of blood flow. Morbid Melvin does get a gut shower that's quite impressive, but for the most part, the blood and splatter are slightly subpar. Similarly, the movie is a tad overlong. At nearly 105 minutes, Hartman is clearly padding. He could easily cut a quarter hour or so out of his narrative (unless we really needed all those 'walk the streets' scenes) and made the movie leaner and meaner. Thanks to its humorous homage mentality, it's do or die for the genre chutzpah, Heavy Mental ends up succeeding. It may not be the scariest, or most secure exploration of the whole death dread musical ideal, but it's still a whole lot of campy, crappy fun.
DEAD EYES OPEN
A group of culturally suspect teens head out into the German countryside so they can "rough it" for a while (read: party like US frat boys). Little do they know that the surrounding wooded area has been quarantined by the government. Seems a viral outbreak is starting to spread, turning the recently deceased into the walking dead. If they're not careful, these kids will become fodder for these hungry, haunting cannibalistic corpses.
Then there is the acting. ARGH! Apparently, the best way to express emotion in the new Germany is to sit around and discuss how well you party while passing around a single bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon - not that are wholly novice thesps would know what to do with anything more complicated. They are line readers at best, sitting back motionless and inert until time to spew another "everyone's dead" denouement. From direction that can kindly be described as "confused" to a storyline that would only make sense to a stoned seventeen year old, there is nothing interesting or inventive here. Then, to make matters worse, the production drags out George Romero (clearly captured during some Comic-Con convention setting) and dubs in his voice as a "expert." There ought to be a law.
Indeed, Dead Eyes Open argues for one of Troma's lingering problems - the championing of choices that clearly don't match the entertainment ideals of Kaufman and Company. While they do tend to go for the sensational and the salacious, the indie icon also know that nothing sells cinematic subversion better than having a good time. Sure, there are honorable subtexts to many of their movies - feminism, environmentalism, anti-consumerism - but they are almost always bathed in Joe Bob Brigg's "Three 'B's" - blood, breasts, and beasts. Here, we get nothing but dullness, dumbness, and dreariness. If Heavy Mental is everything great about Troma, Dead Eyes Open is everything god-awful about the otherwise reliable distributor.