It can be either somber or silly, insightful or innocuous. Whatever the case, the horror send-up has become prevalent within the genre, so much so that it probably demands its own sub-categorical classification. Let’s just call it the “scare-tire” for short. Within this vast potential wasteland of talent and trepidation are all the standard suspects – the homage, the rip-off, the copycat, the creative reinterpretation, the straight forward reinvention, the comedy, and the craven gore extravaganza, just to name a few. We’ve also see brilliant social commentaries, weak-willed slapstick, high minded deconstruction, and just about anything else that doesn’t fit comfortably into the standard slice and dice supernatural splatter spook show. Of course, by definition, almost any horror film could be considered a scare-tire, since many like to take on subtexts that subvert the original shock and terror intent.
Troma has been one of the leading lights in this category, using their own Toxic Avenger as well as hundreds of independent works of art (which they willingly champion and distribute) to argue for the continuing viability of the lethal laugher. Again, not all of these film are funny. Sometimes, the dread is buried beneath an aura of political or psychological unrest. Take the two films featured in this installment of Over the Transom. One is a genuine attempt at a 1984 like allegory, complete with a full blown future shock scenario. The other wants to party like its 1989 and doesn’t care which iconic elements from the Reagan years it rips on. Both offers blood and guts, but only one really focuses on the fear. The other wants to be weird Walking Tall combined with every tainted Teabagger philosophy intact. In the end, both also argue for the continuing viability of the type, even if enjoyment is often surpassed by execution.
In a dystopian future USA where the economy has completely collapsed, rural areas of the country have created mini-militias to protect themselves. These have, in turn, mutated into micro-banana republics with despotic leaders running ramshackle over the populace. One day, young Nicolas Grim watches his parents get systematically butchered by one of these gangs. Later, as he grows up under the tutelage of a survivalist adoptive father, he vows revenge on the heinous UAF and its leader, Atticus Miller. Luckily, his childhood training has him ready to read his enemies the bloody riot act.
Grim has a lot going for it – and a few major failings. On the positive side of the cinematic scale, director Adrian Santiago creates a viable alternative universe where small town politics transform into life or death dictatorships. We can easily see something like this happening and the scary scenario offers up a certain level of inherent suspense. The locations and barren vistas create a brilliant atmosphere of desolation and despair, and the cast all looks the part. Among the negatives are the acting. While naturalistic and appropriate for the material, it can be awkward and amateurish at times. Some of the turns – Miller, Christopher Dimock as the older Grim – walk the fine line between wholly successful and strangely ineffectual. It’s the outlying players, including a right hand man character named Romeo (Niko Red Star) that keep things centered. They get the lo-fi features of the film and perform directly to them.
Where things really get uneven is in the inclusion of a Hispanic outlaw type and his gang of rebellious desperados. Riffing on spaghetti westerns and the whole Italian take on rustic American justice is one thing – to make it rather dull and dead-ended is another thing all together. We know Grim needs help and cannot take down Miller and his gang by himself, but one of the great things about a revenge film is watching the hero hack and slash his way across the screen as judge, jury, and executioner. Adding another element here robs us of this possibility, as well as mucking up the storyline with a whole new group of individuals that we have to acknowledge and appreciate. While it all comes together in the end and Santiago finds a fresh and inventive way of making all the material work, Grim is a better concept overall than fully realized creation. Sure, budget and ability are factors here, but so are execution and entertainment value.
It’s the mid ’80s and a pair of purported ladies men – Craig and Teddy – are desperate for a little wild weekend companionship. Hoping to pick up some honeys at the local convenience store, they run into Laura and Rachel. The former has to look after her brother while her parents are away, but she’s also got cash in hand ($30!!!) and a need to get drunk. Along with the little kid, the quartet decide to head out to a local campsite and “have some fun.” Little do they know that the location is right next to an abandoned factory that once housed a deadly accident, and is now home to the murderous maniac known as the ‘Blood Junkie’.
All throughout the first half of Blood Junkie, we feel like we’ve walked into a surefire spoof of the standard direct to DVD horror film of the Greed Decade. Writer/director Drew Rosas realizes the style and the strangled seriousness of the premise perfectly, and the actors he chooses come across as era-appropriate with just enough tongue in cheek irony to let us know they “get” the joke as well. All the while, our story keeps reminding us of a gas mask wearing maniac who captures and drains the blood from his prey. Even the ghost story campfire tale comes off as a necessary evil to our eventual enjoyment of what’s coming next. Within such a meta setting, Rosas mixes the stupid with the sublime, keeping us anchored in the period without going wholly overboard with the details. In fact, it works so well – cheesy dialogue and all – that we can’t wait to see where the movie goes from here…
And then Blood Junkie starts to disappoint (and know, we don’t mean the glimpse of full frontal nudity we get from one of the actresses). The minute our monster attacks, taking his prey back to the abandoned factory, the movie becomes an exercise in calculated cat and mouse. We realize that our victim fodder has to get picked off, one by one, and the setting offers up a nice level of terror. But Rosas shows his hand more than hiding the horror. Any time a character is suddenly alone, able to truly fend for themselves, we know the killer is going to appear at some point. Once we get to its lair, things pick up again, but not in the same vein as the rest of the film. For the most part, the first half of Blood Junkie is a clever scary movie satire. The ending is all over the map, finally settling into the standard macabre machinations before delivering a “twist” that’s both telling and a bit baffling.