Wednesday, June 26, 2019

VEROTIKA (2019) Movie Review - CINEPOCALYPSE 2019

Verotika (2019) d. Glenn Danzig (USA) (90 min)

Festival filmgoers are adventurous by their very nature, oftentimes experiencing movies that have never screened before (or for very limited audiences). As such, it’s not buzz or marketing driving butts into these particular seats. Viewers are instead choosing to experience a particular film based purely on the director, star, plot description, or because they are excited to see which features the programmers have chosen to populate the festival, assuming that – in order to have been selected – said features must be something special indeed.

Never has that last statement been truer.

It seems hard to believe that it’s already been two weeks since former Misfits lead singer Glenn Danzig’s Verotika had its world premiere at Cinepocalypse 2019, because it’s still as fresh in my mind as if it had just happened. It’s easy to understand why artistic director Josh Goldbloom might have chosen the punk rock icon-turned writer/director’s feature debut to kick off the week-long genre festival, knowing Danzig’s longtime public fascination with horror and the macabre. The man is dyed-in-the-wool fright fan, one of the tribe, an aspect that has frequently shown up in his musical efforts, as well as his twisted “sex ‘n’ blood” comics released under the Verotik banner. An anthology film based on stories pulled from the latter, with The Man Himself serving as the driving creative force, must have seemed like a slamdunk.

While the evening might not have gone as Danzig had planned, it turned out to be one of the most memorable evenings I’ve ever spent in the Music Box Theatre, and I’ve had quite a few over the past few decades. We didn’t know what to expect, but we sure as hell weren’t expecting what we got, nor could we have anticipated the audience’s spontaneous collective response would elevate the proceedings from mere “opening night film” to “Historic Filmgoing Event,” complete with “I was there the night Verotika premiered” bragging rights.

The packed house was populated by a good many hardcore fans, based on the multitude of Misfits and Danzig-related wardrobe choices, as well as the thunderous applause that greeted the man upon being called to the stage to introduce his film. Full disclosure: I had entered as a relatively blank slate, neither a lover nor a hater, being almost wholly ignorant of Danzig’s sonic output.
Having heard fleeting references to his egomaniacal tendencies, I noted that, in spite of these reports, the newly minted auteur seemed genuinely eager to share his creation with his target audience, and there was a palpable sense of wanting to please.

He briefly talked about following his singular artistic vision with no interference, how there was none of that “Corporate Hollywood shit” in his movie, how he had been inspired by classic portmanteaus like Mario Bava's Black Sabbath and Roger Corman's Tales of Terror… and that a few close acquaintances had already seen the film, people who were used to seeing “twisted stuff,” and found themselves shocked by how “fucked up” it all was.

These bold declarations elicited several rounds of applause from the receptive audience, which is what they seemed designed to do. Even so, I turned to my trusted co-pilots Jon Kitley (Kitley’s Krypt), Bryan Martinez (The Giallo Room), and Jay Kay (Horror Happens Radio) and said, “Wow, he seems like a nervous first-time director, right?” I genuinely felt for the guy and hoped, for his sake, that we would enjoy picking up what he was putting down.

90 minutes later, we had indeed been thoroughly entertained. But not in the manner that I suspect Mr. Danzig was hoping. As Kitley dryly observed afterwards, “Well, the opening credits were pretty good.”

Verotika is an unqualified failure on every dramatic level. The dialogue is clumsy, and it is clumsily spoken by obvious non-actors in scenes that drag out endlessly to the point of absurdity, with decidedly not-special special effects punctuating the non-action. The performers in question, most of whom are female, have clearly been hired for their exaggerated, artificially enhanced physical assets as opposed to any profound ability to communicate the inner emotional struggle inherent to the human condition.

There are efforts to create a sense of “style” within the clearly limited production values (i.e. some scenes are bathed in Bava-inspired colored gels, uncredited Rob Zombie alum Wayne Toth’s “Bathory Tub” is undeniably impressive, and costume designers Lisa Catalina, Kit Scarbo, and Cleopatra Slough certainly had a few connections), but it’s all in service of an inert narrative – or rather THREE inert narratives – with editor Brian Cox apparently asleep at the switch or, more likely, locked out of the editing suite by his boss.

The trio of stories includes “The Albino Spider of Dejette,” featuring a young woman (Ashley Wisdom) whose problems with sexual intimacy stem from having a pair of eyeballs where her nipples should be. Following her most recent failed attempt at coupling, a monstrous man-sized eight-legged creature spontaneously appears and begins randomly stalking the streets claiming random female victims. The police and the audience are confounded.

“Change of Face” sees an adult dancer, Mystery Girl (Rachel Alig, The Cleaning Lady), randomly stalking the streets claiming random female victims, slicing their faces off and hanging them on her wall as trophies and captive audiences to her mundane monologues. The police and audience are confounded.

“Drukija: Countess of Blood” is Danzig’s version of the Elizabeth Bathory tale, with the sinister titular monarch (Alice Haig) randomly selecting random female victims and slicing them open to drink or bathe in their blood. There are no police this time around, so the audience is left to be confounded by its lonesome.

The three stories are each introduced by a character from the original comics, the luscious Morella (adult film actress Kayden Kross, reprising her role from the Danzig-helmed episode of Shudder’s series The Core), although the term “introduced” is generous, since she essentially wanders in from Nowheresville, emotionally and dramatically disconnected from the onscreen action, mumbles the name of the next story in a breathy monotone presumably intended to be mysterious or alluring or… something, and then the scene (slowly) fades out again.

Each one of these installments is devastatingly inept on its own, peppered throughout with memorable missteps: the Outrageous Franche Akksents of the Parisian-set “Spider,” Sean Kanan’s barking police sergeant in “Face” (“It’s obvious what her motive was! She wanted their faces!”), Haig’s soporific blood-bathing sequence or her endless preening before a mirror (pausing to lean in and inspect her reflection at least eight times).

The cumulative effect of these WTF moments was extraordinary to behold, first eliciting titters from the audience that soon evolved into snickers, guffaws, and finally full-on gales of laughter as the inanity persisted. Had Danzig not been present in the room, I have no doubt that unchecked MST3K-style heckling would have ensued. There’s a reason the film is already being hailed as “the horror version of The Room.”

"Um.... yeah. So... any questions?"


During the exceedingly uncomfortable Q&A that followed, Danzig tried to play off the less-than-stellar reception by equating the audience’s mirth to when he and his childhood friends used to attend horror films and “laugh at the kills,” later referring to us as “twisted motherfuckers.” He also explained his preferred technique of shooting with three different cameras simultaneously so as to have plenty of coverage to choose from, which only confused us more, because the notion that he had a CHOICE of cutting to a different camera angle and deciding instead, “No, this extended take where nothing happens is exactly what I was going for,” is a little difficult for those of us not sharing his unique brain-space to comprehend.

(The aforementioned scene of Countess Drukija examining herself in the mirror calls to mind the iconic “You talkin’ to me?” Taxi Driver sequence, with the viewer imagining Danzig telling his actress to just keep repeating her movements, because clearly he’s only going to use one of these takes… right?) Also, why would Danzig set his story in Paris when none of his actors can do a French accent? But thank god he did, or we might never have the waiter’s (Chris Sapone) infamous “It is… ZE NECK BREAKAHHHH!!” line reading.

It was announced last week that Cleopatra Entertainment will be giving Verotika a VOD release sometime in October, which should provide some very worthy group-viewing opportunities to ring in Halloween. Unlike the multitude of self-aware, ready-made “cult movies” that seem to show up every other month, Danzig’s effort possesses that perfect cocktail of sincerity and inadequacy, and that is what makes it magical.

Don’t watch it alone, but don’t miss it.


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