Thanks to the Internet, the relatively inexpensive nature of filmmaking technology, the de-mystification of the post-production process via software, and two decades of readily available home video entertainment, there is a new breed of independent auteur on the pop culture scene. These film fans - most geared toward the macabre - bring new meaning to the notion of homemade b-movie madness. Faces of Schlock Vol. 2 represents the second go-round for Freak Productions anarchic anthology series, and unlike most outsider cinema, this is a wonderfully wacky collection of clever comic shorts.
Faces of Schlock Vol. 2 uses an Elvira meets groovy Goth gal set-up to sell its omnibus leanings. Our quirky hostess - the saucy Slutpira - offers commentary and quips about the films being presented as we quickly move through a quartet of corny, creative offerings. The plots for the four pieces are as follows:
Psycho Vixens (directed by Andrew Shearer)
A coven of zaftig Satan Worshippers makes life miserable for their nerdy next-door neighbor, a work-at-home computer dork.
Songs in the Key of Satan (directed by Henrique Couto)
A geek girl attempts to make a pact with the devil to learn punk music and avoid being beaten up. Jesus steps in and screws things up.
Numb Skulls (directed by Chris LaMartina)
The local woods are haunted by a killer skull. A group of sex-obsessed teens soon discovers its deadly designs.
A Fetal Mistake (directed by Justin Channell)
A bumbling pair of babysitters accidentally kill the infant they're in charge of. It is revived via black magic and becomes a diaper-wearing zombie!
As they did with Faces of Schlock, Freak Productions recruits friends and filmmaking associates and comes up with one incredible comic gem. While each of these movies wants to explore some facet of the fright flick (devil worship, murderous spirits, zombie babies), this is salacious humor at its most South Park/Family Guy/ Farrelly Brothers-inspired best. It is a rare gift for a young moviemaker to be able to create characters and situations that are truly hilarious (not just shockingly crude and profane), yet each one of these films is filled with unforgettable - and FUNNY - individuals and circumstances. It is perhaps best to focus on the films separately to get an idea of what is encompassed in each witty, wanton offering:
Psycho Vixens: (Score: ****1/2)
Like a cartoon come to life, Andrew Shearer's bow to the buxom babes of Beelzebub is a wonderfully warped little film. It's nice to see "normal" looking girls in a film, not the overly skinny stick figures that Hollywood insists exhibit the height of glamour and sexuality. In this critic's opinion, the round, Ruben-eque gals of this movie are far more symbolic of current cultural reality than the cookie-cutter bimbettes clogging up the mainstream. Add in the noxious nerdiness of Stuart Balls as the most hopeless housebound loser in the history of geekdom, his porn loving Irish buddy (complete with crazy comic accent) and a lot of uproariously nasty Satanic prayers (and one outlandish gross out feminine hygiene inspired ritual), and you've got one outrageous and entertaining farce. Even the horror nods work well within the twisted context of this fun-filled short.
Songs in the Key of Satan (Score: ****1/2)
Proving that potent acting chops can be found in even the most obscure of outsider locales, Hernique Couto's wonderfully weird smack down between Moloch and the Messiah is a triumph of concept and creativity. Using punk as the bully's inspirational music is a masterstroke, and having Jesus pimp for hip-hop is another extremely clever conceit. Couto understands the language of cinema, using the camera and cutting to establish a rhythm for his performers, a true sense of comic timing, and a remarkably accomplished filmic style. While the girl vs. gang scenario is good, the movie goes manic the minute Shawn A. Green and Bob Hinton show up as Satan and Christ, respectively. Their entire sequence is goofball gold and really helps elevate the movie to amazing heights of humor. Add in a nice, novel finale and a couple of gratuitous gore shots, and you've got a near perfect little short.
Numb Skulls (Score: ***)
Here is the only problem with Numb Skulls (and it's not Dave "It's Saturday" Hong and his "What, Me Act?" thespian attitude). It is just too damn short. For such a delightfully dimwitted idea (a small plastic skull inspires untold horror in the local woods) there is not enough narrative nuance here. The story is simple (girl meets masher in woods, the skull seeks revenge) and doesn't really pay off. Still, the Raimi-esque camera work from director Chris LaMartina, along with the incredibly arch acting style of his cast (Hong's seduction lines are side-splitting) means we end up with something of a 50/50 proposition here. Had there been more to this macabre merriment, the short would have easily matched the others in this superb set. But since it is so brief in its bedlam, Numb Skulls can only come up a close second in the Faces of Schlock running.
A Fetal Mistake (Score: ****)
As he did with the remarkable Raising the Stakes, Justin Channell proves once again that he has a true handle on how to make movie comedy. Along with stalwarts Zane Crosby (essaying a wonderfully weird animal control officer) and TJ Rodgers and Josh Lively (as the baby killing cretins who start the whole zombie brat business) we are instantly swept up in a world of slapstick, silliness and gratuitous nods to outdated video game systems (ColecoVision ROCKS!). The special effects are of the small yellow school bus variety (the doll as living dead infant is a total hoot) and the single sequence of a Pop-Tart eating kitten is enough to earn these cinematic savants a place in the hearts of animal lovers everywhere. While it too could have been a bit longer (any excuse to see a plastic toy attack people is well worth the price of admission), Channell and his chums earn high marks for originality and creativity. This final film ends Faces of Schlock on a wickedly whacked-out note.
Perhaps the best way to centralize all four films here is to create a new subgenre classification for all this moviemaking mayhem. It is obvious that these films are inspired by a love of independent horror (specifically the direct to video variations of the 80s and 90s), numerous trips to conventions (where other outsider filmmakers hock their self-styled wares) and a deep, disturbed understanding of the entirety of popular culture (from other movies to music and TV). Much like Chris Seaver and his LBP pictures, or the gang over at Splatter Rampage (the geniuses behind Midnight Skater/Demon Summer), these are hardcore home movies made with a loving attention to detail and design. Therefore, Faces of Schlock represents the first time this newly created 'DAuTeur' categorization will be used. As an example of camcorder creativity at its most anarchic, this compendium of shorts is absolutely fabulous.
Proving that, with time comes increased technological advances, all four of the films here look incredibly good. Some have occasional issues hampering their 1.33:1 full screen imagery, but almost all are professional and presentable. A Fetal Mistake does attempt a faux-letterboxed presentation (around 1.66:1) and Psycho Vixens has a tendency to "white out" during indoor to outdoor transitions, but overall, these are some incredibly accomplished and good looking short films.
On the sound side, everything here is equally acceptable. The unknown/unsigned band element is kept to a minimum, the Dolby Digital Stereo captures the dialogue and effects clearly, and overall, the movies have very little of the camcorder mic recording we've come to expect from most no budget offerings.
Divided up between individual commentaries and outtakes/gag reels, the added content on this DVD speaks well of Freak Productions desire to flesh out its titles. Each filmmaker - along with various friends and crewmembers - steps up for an alternate narrative track and the results are rather hit or miss. The only time these conversations fail is when everyone tries to speak at once, or buddies fall off into completely insular inside jokes. Since Henrique Couto is the mastermind behind the series, he acts as a kind of bonus feature MC, walking us through the Slutpira material (which he created) and introducing each filmmaker.
Andrew Shearer (along with Jimmy Pinkfinger, Ava Montgomery and Matt "Stuart Balls" Comegys) explains the real life basis for Psycho's coven vs. creep extravaganza. Chris La Martina and Adam Lewis lament the problematic Dave Hong. Justin Channell (who yaks it up with co-stars Zane Crosby and Richard "Nips" Crosby) discusses the problems with making a movie without his favorite boom mic, while Couto complains a lot about being tired. Still, for what they've accomplished, these commentaries give us great insight into the dedication and designs of these up and coming indie filmmakers.
The rest of the added material is a riot. Psycho Vixens and Songs in the Key of Satan offer a huge amount of bloopers (including lots of forgotten dialogue) while Numb Skulls delivers a bizarre look at the pissed off Asian antics of Hong. Constantly drunk, belligerent to the point of violence, and always antagonizing his director/friend, a whole documentary could be made about this semi-dangerous dude and it would be mesmerizing. Along with a collection of trailers of other Freak Production treats, this is one excellent DVD presentation.
So here's the deal - if you are expecting serious low budget horror done with professionalism and panache, you're barking up the wrong bush here. If you expect smart, satirical comedy with a cruel cutting edge, go dig up a copy of Spy Magazine. If you're hoping for lessons in how to make the most of your fragile financial issues when making your own damned movie, you're probably asking the wrong people. Instead, the devious minds behind Faces of Schlock Vol. 2 just want to deliver their individual takes on the concept of horror humor - and they do so magnificently. This DVD is Highly Recommended, and is well worth your time. The people behind Freak Productions, as well as all the films included in this admirable anthology, should be proud of the work they do. It puts the efforts of other DauTeurs to shame.