The word 'auteur' gets tossed around a great deal, and for many, the title fits fine. No one would argue with Hitchcock or Welles being mentioned as possible personifications of the word, and even more modern filmmakers like Tim Burton and The Coen Brothers realize the various aspects of the tag. Unfortunately, the label seems to loose its way once you get down to the world of b-moviemaking. While some might point to George Romero, John Carpenter or Kevin Smith as genre or independent examples of the title, few other outsider artists earn such a directorial demarcation. Frankly, someone like Warren F. Disbrow Jr. deserves the brand, and not just for the freakishly original films he makes. No, Disbrow exists in his own unique realm of reality mixed with the irrational. He's a creative force attempting miracles on a minor league budget. When he succeeds, his film's fly directly in the face of reason to stand out as stunning cinematic efforts. Yet even when he stumbles a little, as he does with his latest release Scarlet Moon, the results offer up hope for anyone with dreams of committing their own oddball individuality in the realm of cinema.
Using a Clockwork Orange like narrative to start the film (our lead demon vampire hitman Andreas is a perverse Alex de Large) and throwing a whole lot of stock and travelogue footage into the mix, Disbrow is determined to make an apocalyptic comedy, simultaneously dark and daffy. In a montage filled with missing scenes (including a lot of splatter effects and the killing of kids) Andreas tells us the tale of Tara, an Egyptian witch who used her knowledge of the black arts to obtain Satan's favor. After a backwards Bible full of goofy Gospel – and some outright naughty nakedness – we end up in a kind of paranormal Pulp Fiction, with Andreas and Smoke as Jules and Vincent, and Edward Crowley as a Marcellus Wallace of the REAL underworld. There's lots of loopy dialogue, scads of references to pop culture, and a note for note replay of the classic "needle to the chest" scene from the Tarantino masterwork. But just as soon as we get comfortable with the QT take, the movie shifts seismically and we're suddenly inside Disbrow's own X-Files. Featuring his father, Warren F. Disbrow, Sr. as a Mulder like meddler in all areas of the supernatural, we get a clever cameo from Famous Monster of Movieland's Forrest Ackerman as a government bureaucrat putting Papa Disbrow's Professor Hertz back on the trail of terror.
All along the way, loose ends fly free, never even trying to connect to the reality of the plot. Michael Bruce ("of the Alice Cooper Group fame" or so the dialogue constantly reminds us) is also part of this story, since he seems to want the gemstone as well. Yet we never get closure on why this aging member of a shock rocker's backup band would even want the jewel, let alone why he's important to the film. Instead, it feels like a failed idea, or one that got sidetracked by either story, or outside issues (the bonus features sort of fill us in on the truth). Similarly, the Satanya character seems scattered and unfocused. One day she's a dithering mess, lost in her locked-in living dead dimension of the '60s. The next, she is whizzing around the world, acting like a typical gold digging tart. One scene has her serving mushroom enhanced urine to Smoke. The next has her acting like an asshole over the painting of Crowley's altar. Maybe it was Disbrow's intent to have her bouncing off the plotpoints like the portly pinball she resembles, but it's really not his fault. AnnMarie Donato makes her character a confusing chatterbox, never really delivering the performance the script mandates. She's just reading lines. She doesn't commit to her character the way Dominic Gregoria does as Andreas or Colin Reynolds does as Smoke.
When we later learn that Disbrow's original cut was nearly four hours in length, we suddenly start to see why Scarlet Moon is a lesser effort in the filmmaker's canon. When looking at something like the sensational Flesh Eaters from Outer Space or Invasion for Flesh and Blood, we can see the seat of the pants invention right up on the screen. No no-budget filmmaker gets a free financial pass when making their film, and logistics often arrive from outside the project to really louse things up. But here, we don't see the same delirious dives into surreality. Certainly, if he had simply stayed with his story of supernaturals battling it out for dark dominion over evil on Earth, he might have had a better handle on his overall production. But there are times – as when Jesus makes an appearance during a dapper vampire's story of salvation – when Disbrow could have upped the anarchic ante and really let loose with his manic inner muse. Instead of making a cameo, Christ could have become a pseudo action hero, entering into the storyline just as all 'Hell" is about to break loose to kick some Antichrist ass. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen here.
Though it's better than most of the mindless trash using the technological breakthroughs of DAT and DVD to sell their substandard wares, Scarlet Moon feels like discount Disbrow. Maybe the proposed sequel/prequel will shed some light on a few of the failings found in this film. Whatever it does, it stands a good chance of being another original offering of film fandom from someone who typically knows his way around a movie camera. Love him or loathe him, Warren F. Disbrow, Jr. represents the reason independent film continues to thrive. Outside the mindless mainstream of demographically determined moviemaking, here is a man who plays by his own arcane rules and puts his own unique stamp on even the most tired of terror tenets. And if that's not the definition of 'auteur', it's hard to imagine what is.
Perhaps the best bit of added content, though, is the nearly two hour making-of documentary that highlights all the issues Disbrow had with this production. Amounting to a major mea culpa, the director discusses, and then shows us, all the locations and all the actors that ended up on the cutting room floor (or, supposedly, saved for the sequel). There is an occult shop sequence, a few concert scenes at CBGB's, lots of the missing Alice Cooper footage and an added bit with Professor Hertz. In between, Andreas himself, Dominic Gregoria conducts on-set interviews, and aside from a running joke about sleeping with Disbrow to get their jobs, the cast are all very forthcoming about their participation. Amazingly insightful and loaded with real moviemaking life lessons, this Behind the Scene showcase is excellent, and definitely increases the contextual value of the DVD. Along with Troma trailers, a music video and various other merchandising elements, this is a fairly complete digital package.