"Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives" is the worst Merchant/Ivory film I've ever had the displeasure to sit through.
OK, so it's not a selection of high art from cinema masters, but a seedy low-fi bit of brutality, bundled up tightly as affectionate camp, performed by a cast eager to devour the joke. It's broad, silly, and repeatedly violent, but the heart of this Grindhouse-inspired effort remains in a happy place, committing to the screen a new breed of exploitation cinema vixen and, believe me, they're packing more than just knives.
A go-go dancer with a heart of gold, Bubbles Cliquot (Krystal Summers) has come to work with a black eye, hoping to hide her trauma from her fellow dancers. However, nothing gets past Pinky La'Trimm (Kelexis Davenport), who encourages pals Rachel Slurr (Willam Belli), Tipper Sommore (Jenna Skyy), and Emma Grashun (Erica Andrews) to protect Bubbles from her troubles. The monster in question is Boner (Tom Zembrod), a particularly loathsome hayseed who feels he received a raw deal with Bubbles's gender, looking to finish the job by killing her. Coming close to achieving his goal, Boner is faced with a fierce response, as Pinky and the ladies suit up for a night of revenge, bringing along their trusty blades for emphasis.
A chewed wad of disco ball-flavored bubble gum collected from the filmmaking mouths of John Waters and Quentin Tarantino, "Ticked-Off" makes quite an impression from the very start. It's a severely low-budget feature, so no genuine cinematic electricity is generated, but writer/director Israel Luna pushes his pennies around creatively, erecting a loving ode to the B-movies of the 1970s that merges madcap encounters with bodily trauma, collected under a moderately winky tone that wisely avoids blinding the viewer with yuks to play a touch more sly.
Good-natured and occasionally quite funny, "Ticked-Off" doesn't offer a direct punch of unrest. Luna isn't riding a runaway train of cheap thrills here, taking his time building the barbed interaction between the dancers. The pace is slack, lacking a hearty filling of taboo distractions, but the payoff is a nice hold on the personalities involved in these crimes. It's a goofy film, but a patiently throttled affair that permits the ensemble to work their chemistry to the fullest extent, making the threadbare design of revenge here feel rather significant, despite limited filmmaking resources. The cast is having a blast here (Belli steals the picture as the wisecracking Slurr), filling out the material further, digging into the glitter-thwacked, high kicking atmosphere with palpable glee. The cast makes the feature fun to watch, providing the necessary shotgunned glamour and incessant cattiness Luna requires to push his vision.
Broken up into chapters and riddled with artificial film scratches and breaks, "Ticked-Off" makes a game attempt to find an exploitation ambiance (modeled after "Kill Bill"), hitting its stride in the third act, where the ladies assume the upper hand and commence a night of gruesome anal play Boner and his Mexican pals will never forget. Luna demonstrates confidence with the more grisly aspects of the script, delivering the clunky action with a special spark, allowing his cast to fully bloom as outrageously eye-shadowed revenge sistas armed with blades and one-liners. Finally assuming its midnight movie purpose, "Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives" finds a sweet splattery spot of grotesquery and skintight fashion awareness that one can only hope will be streamlined and accentuated in the eventual sequel.
The anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation handles the low-budget nature of the film surprisingly well. Colors are strong and separated comfortably, with the costuming and club interiors looking vibrant and purposeful. Skintones are obviously accelerated, but remain stable, while black levels are comfortable, helping the grindhouse aesthetic find its full potential.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix is a competent sonic experience, supporting the film with a hearty sense of music and violence. Directionals are limited, but some of the locations provide compelling atmospherics, best with crowd sequences that present a fuller sense of life. Dialogue is always clean, easily understood and pronounced. The track isn't the most sustain home theater effort, but it keeps the movie alert, emphasizing the danger and camaraderie at hand.
The feature-length audio commentary with writer/director Israel Luna, producer Toni Miller, and stars Krystal Summers and Willam Belli is mostly played for laughs, with the group poking good-natured fun at co-stars and locations. True production information is available, but clearly not the priority, with Belli spending much of the track launching effective one-liners. Luna reveals a few tricks and inspirations worth hearing along the way, but this is more of a party atmosphere, providing laughs over education. Funny stuff.
"Behind the Scenes" (26:00) is actually a highly detailed peek into the production effort, with a vast amount of BTS footage corralled to showcase the cast and crew in the thick of the things. It's amusing to see the colorful ensemble at rest here, talking up the filmmaking experience in sedate interviews. The crew's presence is also valued, with the gang spotlighted as a way of spreading the love.
"The Missing 'Chapter 4'" (8:45) is a deleted segment from the film (cut for time issues), which introduces a few new characters while providing backstory for others. Good performances here, but the subplot is superfluous.
"The Nacho & Chuey Show" (14:43) is a bit of BTS horseplay, with two of the actors staging in-character interviews and adventures around the set. It's very odd stuff,
"Bloopers" (12:57) is an enormous amount of mix-em-ups, offering an explosion of flubbed lines, giggle fits, and general silliness.
A Trailer has not been included.
At the very least, it's the second-best ticked-off trannies movie around, placing just below "Showgirls."