It's the end of an era. Chris Seaver is moving on. While not completely abandoning the weird ass Low Budget Pictures universe that he's created over the last 15 years, the determined director of such lo-fi classics as Mulva: Zombie Ass Kicker, Filthy McNasty and Carnage for the Destroyer is moving away from the outrageous horror comedy that has filled his filmic oeuvre and is striving for a more 'mainstream' approach. Years of pimping his product through companies like Tempe and Troma have lead to a crazed cult of devoted fans, as well as some personal disappointment. Seaver has his sights set beyond the adoring convention circuit. While his first attempt at such so-called straight filmmaking may never see the light of a legitimate release (the '80s music filled farce The Karaoke Kid) we now have Destruction Kings, his last look at two of his most beloved characters. And as with most LPB productions, it's a crafty combination of the crude and the clever – and a wonderful celebration of Seaver and LBP's first phase.
All is not well in the city of Bonejack Heights. Dracula, the Wolfman and Funkenstein have recently arrived and people are disappearing left and right. It is up to the local Paranormal Investigation Agency (the PIA, for short) to discover the ghouls' secret lair, and destroy them one by one. Special Agents Teen Ape and Bonejack are assigned to the case, much to the chagrin of envious co-workers Budnick and Thunderball. Yet the daring duo also have their own issues to deal with in the persona of rookie wannabe Brandy Kaufman. With all clues leading to a local strip club, it's a race to uncover the evidence and stop the fiends before they can get their hands on a magic amulet that will bring about the end of the world. Naturally, a trio of horror obsessed teens end up getting involved in the macabre machinations. All they really wanted was to uncover the whereabouts of the PIA headquarters. But just like any Goonies-style adventure, they end up playing Destruction Kings with Teen Ape and Bonejack as they all come face to face with the trio of terror titans.
It's Ghostbusters meet The Monster Squad as LBP favorites Bonejack and Teen Ape team up to fight the oncoming supernatural apocalypse in Chris Seaver's supposed swansong (at least for these characters), Destruction Kings. With a terrific title, a pair of certified outsider icons as stars, and the usual level of Seavage sensationalism, this can't miss movie is an amazing reminder of why the anarchic auteur is one of the guiding lights in the realm of homemade cinema. Always marching to his own distinct drummer (which is usually banging out ska or fantasy metal) and relying on his geekoid obsessions as a frame of reference, Seaver's films frequently act as mirrors of our past and present pop culture clutter. Mixing the mindless media offerings of the '80s with healthy doses of post-millennial irony, he can find the wit in washouts like John Stamos, or discover a new or novel way to work Star Wars into ANY situation. Destruction Kings, which would frankly make an incredibly clever – and fabulously foul-mouthed – continuing series, reminds us that Seaver has shaped his own sensational universe with his films, an oddball arena that often plays like the sex and slang obsessed science fiction written by angry A/V Club members. We see the reality behind all the ridiculousness, but this witty writer/director also wants to deconstruct our desires, showing fandom for the freakish novelty it truly is.
The first thing you notice in this near masterpiece is how consistently clever it is. Each of the three opening sequences (introducing the Destruction Kings, the Monsters, and the Teen Geek Squad, respectively) are so perfectly executed, so brilliantly realized as archetypes of the genres they emulate that you can completely forgive the occasional stylistic stumbles. Seaver has never been big on look and aesthetic. He's more into the words that waft from his actors' mouths - and the bizarro ideas that usually result – than mise-en-scene. Some claim his kitchen sink approach, riffing on every- and any- thing with a recognizable notoriety is tiresome and tedious, but for the true culture whore, Seaver is like a fart-fixated John Waters. He uses the useless trivia of our previous junk heritage to mine mirth and meaning, taking trash and turning it into comic cash with an ease unmatched by most outsider moviemakers. Once we've met our competing cosmic forces, Destruction Kings expertly balances their storylines. Just when we think there is too much of Teen Ape's booty obsessed banter, we switch over to the trio of teens who want to kick some monster ass. Since he uses a cast made up of friends, fans and family, Seaver always seems to find players who are perceptively in tune with his whacked out wavelength. This results in performances ranging from good (newcomer Travis Indovina as wolfman Eddie) to the groovy (A.J Stabone as the porn fanatic Monster Squad leader) to the great (a shout out to Henrique Couto as the loveably loathsome Budnick).
As a matter of fact, the only individual seemingly lost in all this joking juvenilia is Tempe temptress Arianna Albright. She more or less sleepwalks through her role as rookie PIA agent Brandy Kaufman, leaving Teen Ape and Bonejack to take up most of the creature cracking slack. It's not that she's bad, she' just out of step with what Seaver is shooting for. It seems to happen whenever the director employs people outside his own creative clique. Also new to Seaver's cinematic situation is a clear and concise narrative drive. Whereas in past films he often let the plot drift to compensate for tangential time outs, now he finds ways of incorporating everything he wants into his straightforward storyline. Teen Ape wants to regale Brandy with some of his classic perverted poetry? It's now included in a scene about a mysterious talisman that the monsters are after. The meek Mowgli, the most reluctant member of the Monster Squad, has a hard time holding in his bowel when discussing adventures with ghouls? It's now part of his personality, something that will be used later on in the climatic battle. Where once concepts appeared scattered and random, Seaver streamlines things, making his movie that much more memorable in the process. Indeed, Destruction Kings, like previous opuses Mulva: Zombie Ass Kicker and The House on Bonejack Hill, are wholly realized films, not just a series of sketches held together by Seaver's brutally blue language and abundant cultural quips.
And if this is indeed the last time we will see Bonejack or Teen Ape, then Seaver needs to also be celebrated for that rarity in independent cinema – the creation of clear and concise icons. In essence these two characters represent Seaver's fascinations. Bonejack is the favored facets of the past, the Jell-O Pudding commercials featuring Bill Cosby, the hooky heroics of all the '80s action buddy comedies combined with the standard statements of human philosophy and fecal foolishness. Over the years he's gone from outlandish ethnic slur to sensational symbol. Teen Ape, on the other hand, is all libido and lust, the pure adolescent longings that an obvious genre nerd like Seaver must have experienced during his youth. Where once our salacious simian was a symbol of sexual savagery, he has mellowed over the years, becoming a farcical facet of waning male machismo. It's not enough that Seaver savages the whole buddy comedy cues. It's more than just the brilliant bashing of the Goonies/Monster Squad style of teen adventure. By bowing to the classic creatures of the past while mixing in his own insular reality, Seaver does what so many of us horror hounds long for, yet never get the ability to do, and never have the guts to try. He is putting his own demented dreams on screen for everyone to see and is doing so in a bravely brazen manner. While those who pine away for the perverted pandemonium of his previous efforts may feel cheated by this move into the mainstream, it's nothing more than the standard maturation of any artist. And if Destruction Kings is any indication, this filmmaker won't stray too far from the insanity that makes his movies so iconic.
A new camera means a new, more cinematic look to the Seaver canon. Colorful, crisp and loaded with detail, the 1.33:1 full screen image of Destruction Kings is excellent. It also contains some of the best framing and composition that Seaver has ever attempted. Scenes where Teen Ape and Bonejack strut down the halls of the PIA, or of the teen adventure trio wandering through a graveyard have a real cinematic scope that is usually lacking in an LPB joint.
At this point in his career, Seaver can count several of his favorite ska bands as LPB fans, and they all contribute to the rank and skank soundtrack offered here. The Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix captures the songs perfectly, and even with a standard internal mic recording conceit to the dialogue, the conversations amongst the characters are captured in more or less crystal clarity. Over the years, Seaver has really improved in the technical end of homemade movie making and the Destruction Kings is one of his best attempts at professionalism ever.
Tempe delivers a nice selection of added content here, beginning with a full length audio commentary featuring Seaver and his Teen Ape co-star Casey Bowker. Once they get past all the production problems (Destruction Kings was originally written as an "epic", which naturally had to be revised once the no budget reality of the shoot came crashing down) they spin a few good yarns, act bored, and try to explain the reasons behind this so-called swansong for the beloved characters. While it's not the greatest alternate narrative track in the LPB canon, we still learn a lot here, and that's all that matters. In addition, there is a nice collection of outtakes, a weird retrospective of Debbie Rochon's work in Seaver's films (including a very tongue in cheek interview with the b-movie scream queen) and an image gallery featuring two songs written especially for the film. Along with a collection of trailers, this package provides a decent selection of supplemental material.
Some will say that Seaver is nothing more than a juvenile jerk who couldn't make a movie if he had an entire Tinsel Town crew catering to his every filmic need. Others forgive everything he does, using the LPB banner as their own personal salve for his occasionally awkward efforts. The truth however, is something far more fascinating. In an arena where very few people find an audience, let alone a cult, Seaver stands alone. He has made dozens of films, collected a supportive company of cast and crew, and has slowly infected the world of independent cinema with his quirky, idiosyncratic ideas. As part of his growing legacy, Destruction Kings is another undeniable success, and easily earns a Highly Recommended rating. Not only is it a funny, clever parody of the films that inspired Seaver to pick up a camcorder and make his own damn movie, it's a sensational send-off for two of the characters that made this director a faux franchise among outsider artists. It will be interesting to see what this gifted guy has up his sleeve. His next move may mean the end of LPB as a brand, or the start of something far more successful. We just have to wait and see. Until then, we have the entire catalog of past Seaver efforts to enjoy – and what a weird, wicked and wanton world it is.
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