We critics have said it several times by now, but it still bears repeating - instead of turning cinema into a marketplace of fresh and full formed ideas - the digital revolution has twisted the artform into a quagmire of competing redundancies and efforts of suspect quality. For every valuable work by outsider artists, there are hundreds of half-baked hackworks that can barely stand on their own subject matter. Naturally, the single element that separates the moviemaking men from the befuddled boys is aptitude. Many wannabe filmmakers couldn't find talent if their local 7-11 sold it in cans right next to the nachos and Vault-flavored Slurpees. Richard Griffin has the kind of motion picture acumen to overcome the technological limits of working beyond the mainstream. Necroville, Seepage, and Feeding the Masses proved this. Now comes his latest, Splatter Disco, and once again, he solidifies his stance as one of independent dread's leading lights.
Thanks to the efforts of some narrow minded moralizers, Kent Chubb's fetish nightclub Den O' Iniquity is under attack. With his father (and co-owner) Skank ailing, and his wife disapproving, it looks like things are at their worst for the earnest entrepreneur. Then, a psychotic killer targets his club, and one by one, starts picking off his clientele in decidedly gruesome ways. As the Mayor and his mean spirited mother plot to take down the Chubbs, it looks like it's up to a pair of unlikely lovers, a drug-loving hippie attorney, and the club's closeted bouncer to uncover the truth and save the Den from destruction. But who is the mysterious masked killer, and why does he want to kill the Chubbs' customers?
When a fright fan hears a title like Splatter Disco, the mind starts to free associate on all manner of devilish delights - leisure suit wearing stiffs being slaughtered by the Studio 54 version of Jason or Freddy; lots of metronomic beats and babes shaking their can-cans; mirrorballs and Me Decade decadence; and blood, Blood, BLOOD!!! Oddly enough, none of that exists in Richard Griffin's inventive little comedy. Instead, he subverts our expectations to offer up an ode to outsiders, misfits, and unappreciated individuals everywhere. For a horror spoof, the terror is kept in check. For an example of arterial spray, the gore is limited and never truly showcased. And in typical slasher fashion, the killer's ID is kept secret until the last act reveal - but by then, we really don't care. You see, not only does this film function outside the box of your typical homemade macabre, but it strives to mine heretofore untapped territory within the genre realm. And it does so with style, wit, and skill.
The first obvious area is fetishism. Griffin goes John Waters one better, using the various perversions of his characters (as Mr. Pink Flamingos did in A Dirty Shame) to offer up some keen interpersonal insights. The most prominent perversion on display is "furry-ism" - the desire to dress up like sports mascots (or amusement park characters) and get it on. Griffin handles the material in such a matter of fact way that after we get over the sight of actors dressed like giant rats and pandas, we begin to understand the attraction. There are other proclivities featured - voyeurism, bondage and discipline, leather, etc. - but Splatter Disco doesn't exploit their inherent sleaziness or abnormality. Instead, the fetish crowd is compared to the always undermined geek - a misunderstood social outcast just looking for someone who won't judge them. It's an interesting undercurrent for a horror comedy, and one that Griffin uses to wonderful effect.
The second, and most fascinating, facet is the relationship between Kent Chubb and his ailing father Shank. As played by former Troma icon Trent Haaga and Dawn of the Dead god Ken Foree respectively, the scenes between these actors are just outstanding. There is a genuine warmth exhibited, something that goes beyond mere professional respect. We really sense that Haaga and Foree are family, even if one is a young Caucasian male and the other is a maturing African American idol. During their exchanges, we wonder what a movie featuring Kent and Skank exclusively would play like. Add in the always delightful Debbie Rochon as Haaga's no nonsense wife, and you'd have an intriguing indie drama. The rest of the cast is equally appealing, especially Lynn Lowry as the Mayor's manipulative mother, and William DeCoff as said put upon city official. Even our onscreen lovers generate a nice amount of amateurish chemistry. Indeed, everything about Splatter Disco defies expectation. We want it to be a blood soaked slap in the face of a failed musical genre. Instead, it's a weird combination of character study and slice and dice that finds a way to work through its occasional insignificant flaws.
Presented by Pop Cinema and Shock-O-Rama in a wonderful 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image, Splatter Disco is tightly directed and well shot. The cinematography tries to avoid the homemade horror movie look, while the occasional musical numbers (that's right - Griffin even offers up some song and dance here) have a nice directorial flow. Sure, there are signs of the movie's lo-fi roots, but overall, the DVD transfer is terrific.
Naturally something which uses lesser technological tweaks to capture its aural elements will keep things well within the standard Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 dynamic. The songs come across well, and the score by Daniel Hildreth is very atmospheric. Besides, the dialogue is easy to decipher, and that's really all that's important.
The good thing about low budget horror films is that, for the most part, the cast and crew can't wait to participate in the post-production DVD bonus features. The added content here includes a full length audio commentary featuring Griffin, Lowry, actors Jason Witter, Jason McCormick, Jason Krangel and producer Ted Marr. It's a casual affair, loaded with information and camaraderie. There are also two 'alternate' scenes including a second take on the opening musical number, as well as a gruesome murder in a graveyard. Finally, a nicely fleshed out Making-of gives almost everyone in the film a chance to comment on their contribution, as well as to offer thoughts on how difficult it is to be part of the independent scene. Toss in some trailers, and you have an excellent selection of supplemental materials.
Part of the reason Splatter Disco works is that it defies the potential that comes directly from the title. Instead of offering up gore-laced lament to the Brothers Gibb and other boogie oogie oogie, director Richard Griffin creates a full fledged freak out and then turns the anarchy up to 11. Easily earning a Highly Recommended rating, this is the perfect fright flick for anyone looking for the unusual, the odd, the surprising, and the skilled. As he continues on in his career along the fringes, Griffin continues to solidify his above-average indie dexterity. If all you want is standard slasher with more arterial spray than invention, Splatter Disco will disappoint. But if you give this original effort a chance, you'll discover the delight of something that stands outside the norm and is damn proud of it.