Has it really been five years since the first Faces of Schlock? Has it really been half a decade since this critic wrote the following: "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." Though significant time has indeed passed, the personalities behind this outrageous mock fright anthology have changed very little. Wandering through their latest installment of the series (promising to highlight "Boobs and Blood"), it's clear that, while the calendar says 2010, these filmmakers are flitting around like its 2005 - or 1995 - or 1985...
For Faces of Schlock Vol. 2 we got the Elvira meets groovy Goth gal Slutpira and the saucy wench is back for more - more commentary, more quips about the films being presented, and more razzes aimed at the filmmakers involved. There is also a lewd linking narrative involving director Justin Channell and his efforts to get a willing babe to go bare bodkin for the camera. It's all very light hearted and fully in the spirit of an exploitation romp. As for the compilation of scary shorts, we are treated to the following plots (in summary):
A put upon Goth gals conjures up the vengeful spirit of a dead sorceress to help her get back at her evil elephantine roommate.
Mike Wuz Here
The employees of a local movie theater must deal with a sullen slacker ghost, and their own prickly spectral intolerances.
One Foot in the Grave
A dancer losers her foot to physician malpractice, and uses black magic to get it, and those who wronged her, back.
An abandoned high school girl learns that all is not sugarplums and fairy lights on this particularly bloody Christmas Eve.
As they did with Faces of Schlock I and II, Freak Productions recruits friends and fellow filmmaking associates and comes up with yet another funny and inventive comic gem. In the transpiring years, the creators have grown, matured (mostly) and found new outlets for their always outrageous ideas. Some want to focus on female troubles. Others have a whole new way of looking at prejudice and supernatural bias on their mind. All are very clever, with some just being a bit wittier than the others. Looking at them individually, we can see what efforts score well, and which ones come up slightly behind:
Blood Witch (Score: ***1/2)
In what has to be the biggest test of an audience's bad taste tolerances ever, director Andrew Shearer starts off this bizarro horror romp with a full on shot of a menstruating woman masturbating. While not graphic, and all implied (it's behind underwear, after all), it's still a pretty sickening way to introduce our heroine. From there, our director piles on the pratfalls as his war painted witch unleashes her murderous lesbianism on anyone who gets in her way. There's a fun bit involving a perverted bug man, and the supernatural she-hag's call of "Juanna" (always misheard as "wanna") makes for some interesting narrative twists. While the ending comes far too quickly and seems unfair to the plotpoints before, it still shows that Shearer understands the Tales from the Crypt style of comeuppance.
Mike Wuz Here (Score: ****)
Working with his partners in satiric slime Josh Lively and Zane Crosby, Channell comes up trumps while deconstructing workplace "issues" in the process. The main storyline sees a new movie house manager having to deal with his anti-ghost bigotry, seeing that there is an ex-employee (the title character) still hanging around, wanting someone to pay attention to him. But he's not the typical spook, and Lively, Crosby and Channell are not your typical fright filmmakers. They're more into the dark humor of the situation, milking their obvious physical and personality shortcomings of the characters for pure comic gold. Just like Crosby's angry punker who doesn't trust anybody who doesn't like Tang, this critic can't cotton to someone who can't see how witty and weird this trio is. Mike Wuz Here is a real winner.
One Foot in the Grave (Score: ***)
Killer body parts have been around forever. All you need is an EC comics level of ludicrousness in the set up (dancer loses limb to bumbling medic with a secret) and then bring on the possessed appendage. In this case, director Chris LaMartina exploits the missing foot for all it's worth. You just know there will be visual gags involving butt "kicking" and testicle "smashing" as part of this project. What's wholly unexpected - and doesn't quite work on the whole - is the voodoo/witchy woman stuff. Perhaps it's the lack of a reasonable understanding on the motives involved. The acting is fine, but the objectives often appear cloudy and unclear. Maybe, we just want to see more stop motion shots of a zombified foot getting medieval on people. Whatever the case, this is still a delight. It's just not as weird, wonderful, or wanton as it could have been.
Slay Ride (Score: ***1/2)
As the mastermind behind Freak Productions purpose, Henrique Couto is a rare bird indeed. He can take on almost any artform - motion pictures, music (he plays a mean rock ukulele), performance - and make it wholly his own. Sure, you can see the homages left and right, but in the case of Slay Ride, there's nary a Black Christmas or Silent Night, Deadly Night to be found. Instead, Couto is riffing on those old '70s stalwarts the "slow" kid and his potential as a chainsaw ripper. With Ruby LaRocca running around as a pseudo damsel in distress and some unique character combinations, what it lacks in aesthetic and ambition, Couto more than makes up for in oddity and originality. It stands as a clear representation of the man's talent both behind and in front of the lens, as well as his uncanny ability to channel his rarified Id all over the screen.
Taken in total, the four films that make up this omnibus all suffer from ambitions the no-budget backing can't contend with. They also have various levels of amateurish acting marring their frequent magnificence. Of the quartet, Mike and Slay are the most successful, though Witch and Foot aren't very far behind. There are a couple of additional caveats that have to be considered as well. None of these films are scary - not even to the most novice of horror movie fans. They are meant to be funny first, horrifying a far off distant second. Next, don't expect a pure gore fest. While Zane Crosby is a fine F/X artists, money clearly dictated the level of arterial spray present. Finally, the "boobs" part of this presentation are all natural, slightly squishy (at least, from appearance), and adorned with more body art than Ray Bradbury's Illustrated Man. You got to love your ladies on the far side of organic to enjoy the bodkin bounty here.
We get a 1.78:1 anamorphic image for each of the short films offered and some make better use of the panoramic picture than others. Witch is so filled with close-ups it doesn't really matter, while Mike manages to enhance its compositions thanks to the letterboxing. Foot and Slay are both highly cinematic, though neither is a fully "filmic" experience. Colors are crisp even if details tend to disappear once in a while. Overall, the visual presentation is good, if not great.
Almost exclusively recorded from the camcorder microphone's frame of reference and often hard to hear, the sonic situation is acceptable, if not first rate. This is especially true with titles like Mike Wuz Here and Blood Witch. Still, the Dolby Digital Stereo mix is maintained with an eye on polish and professionalism, and it almost always delivers - just not definitively.
Each short gets a commentary track. Couto and producer Jeff Turner discuss the work of Ms. Slutpira and the rest of the wrap around material. We are also treated to outtakes, behind the scenes featurettes, some interesting animation, gag reels, as well as a World Premiere EPK and a look at Cinema Wasteland 2009. Toss in a music video and some web links and you've got more supplements that something like Faces of Schlock probably deserves.
As they struggle along the fringes of filmmaking, as they pray that some ditzy distributor calls them for exclusive rights to their latest homemade horror spoof, the creative clan behind Faces of Schlock: Boobs and Blood Edition keep pumping out the chaotic comedy. It won't tickle everyone's fancy, but if you give it a try, you'll be more pleased than pissed off. Receiving an earnest Highly Recommended rating, it would be interesting to see what each one of these amateur auteurs did with a big budget and a mainstream production. Granted, some of the charm from the DIY approach would be lost, but it's easy to see of them rising - significantly - to the challenge. Until then, Freak Productions keeps chugging along. As long as they are offering sweet cinematic ale like Faces of Schlock, you'll be more than happy to imbibe.