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Punk Rock Holocaust
The answer, interestingly enough, is incredibly FUNNY! Yep, that's right. In the rather recent tradition of Midnight Skater, Shaun of the Dead and Mulva: Zombie Ass Kicker, the combination of the slacker and slayer, the terrifying and the rib tickling has turned the creature feature on its head, proving that scary and silly can easily co-exist and even compliment each other. You can now add Punk Rock Holocaust to that list of amazing amalgamations. With Van's annual Warped Tour as a backdrop, and what has to be the highest body count in any movie EVER MADE, Doug Sakmann's lunatic love letter to bloodletting and mosh pitting is big, brash power chord layered across the entire DIY mentality of the music, and the moviemaking, he's championing. And the results are amazingly insane.
Founder of the Warped Tour, Kevin Lyman, has a problem. It seems that things aren't going too smoothly during the 2003 version of the punk rock festival. Bands and fans are dropping like flies, and it's not because of the sweltering heat, or tainted food service fare. Seems an unknown psycho is taking out his or her own private, perverted agenda on the concert carnival, and the promoters are powerless to stop it. Bodies are piling up like cordwood and blood is pooling in gallons all over the concert grounds. But perhaps the worst is yet to come. Seems big time record executive Belial is getting angry that so many of his acts are getting killed, and wants Kevin to supply some answers. Instead, the slaughter continues, and it's up to ace Warped reporter Heather Vantress to discover the truth behind Belial's real identity, the person responsible for the slaying, and what Kevin is really doing with the corpses at the tour BBQ.
Part surreal slasher farce, part weird Warped Tour infomercial and all 100% amiable anarchy, Punk Rock Holocaust is so much fun that you can instantly forgive some of the film's shakier bits. While the acting is mostly amateurish, and the story tends to stray toward the end, what works here is the desire to be both bloody and dumb, to mix the brash bedlam of punk rock music with the gloriously goofy excess of a gore film to create a hybrid of hilarity. And if you can get past all of the stiff thespianism, occasional lapses in logic and scattershot production issues, you'll have a pogo-ing good time. Writer/director/star Doug Sakmann has obviously suckled well from the teat of talent he's been associated with – everyone from the crazed Chris Seaver (responsible for the aforementioned Mulva, Filthy McNasty and Quest for the Egg Salad) to those trippers of the tripe craptastic, Troma. After putting in time as a bit player, crewmember and production chief, he has finally branched out on his own. And the results are stupendously stupid.
Let's face it – any movie that has the amiable audacity to feature Troma titan Lloyd Kaufman as Satan, a cross-section of 20+ cutting edge pop punk bands as victims, and the mind-boggling Kids of Widney High in a potent performance of "Doctor Doctor" (they are a rock band made up of special ed students from a California school) is obviously doing something right. Sakmann's operating modus is crystal clear – pile on as much punk and puke inducing effects as possible, and watch as the connoisseurs of such cravenness line up to lap up the results. This is a movie that taps directly into the mentality of those instantly drawn to what Warped offers, and delivers dump trucks full of said enjoyment and frivolity. No one is taking this made on tour spree as anything other than a refreshing lark, and when you can get an entire audience to "play dead" for a shot of post-zombie attack carnage, you can sense the meeting of the mob mentality fan base minds.
What Punk Rock Holocaust does best is play to the excesses inherent in both the world of power pop hardcore and extreme sports, the two areas Warped founder Kevin Lyman has used to forge a successful showcase empire. The unfettered energy expressed by the bands and their fans is funneled into this film, folded and mutilated a little by Sakmann's desire to gently tweak the entire corporate rock sponsorship angle of the modern music biz, and expelled like so much pus from a flesh wound. Using subtle asides to the audience (the constant reference to Warped's $25 ticket price, the numerous, noticeable product placements for things like Yoo-hoo and Monster Power Drink, etc.) and actually providing a little cynical commentary about the entire post-millennial punk movement (Lyman has a clever speech in which he rationalizes feeding the dead fans to the live ones in some manner of strange "circle of life" conceit), Sakmann socks us with one amazing moment after another, be it in the live arena (all the concert footage is great) or the realm of the ridiculous and repulsive.
Indeed, the music is what really sells this film. If you are into The Used, Rancid, Tsunami Bomb, Pennywise, Simple Plan, Suicide Machines, Never Heard Of It, Less Than Jake, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, MEST, Horrorpops, Atmosphere, Beret, Big D and the Kids Table, Bowling for Soup, Destruction Made Simple, Dropkick Murphies, Face to Face, Glassjaw, The Phenomenauts, or Andrew WK, this will be a dream come true showcase. Not only will you see and hear your favorites in action, but they are part of the plotting and the pandemonium as well. From witnessing Bowling for Soup guitarist Christopher Van Malmsteen "burritoed" to death to The Used lead singer Bert McCraken caught in the middle of a girl groupie orgy massacre, Sakmann seamlessly incorporates the bands into the storyline, making them the easy targets for the killer as well as allowing them to poke fun at and polish up their thespian tendencies. The result is an air of authenticity that provides a real 'you are there' sense of experience. Anyone who's ever been to a Warped stop will instantly recognize many of the facets that make this festival so fun (and successful). But this does not mean you need a working knowledge of the current music scene to enjoy this film. Unlike old school punk that pushed the limits of vulgarity and vitriol to make points about politics and society, most of this new, new wave of angry artists make pure pop for now, noise-loving, people.
For all of its homemade happenstance, for the feeling that this was a prank taken to disproportionate extremes by everyone involved, Punk Rock Holocaust is just way too much fun. Kaufman is splendid, spewing all manner of hatred and profanities during his many diatribes, creating a very believable corporate Devil along the way. Lyman trades on a kind of hippy dippy dazed persona to give his befuddlement that much more bite. As the heroine/narrator of this Warped weirdness, Heather Vantress is both natural, and kind of nervous in her performance. Both elements help us identify with and root for her.
No one here is going to win an award for acting (though, in their own element, each act is sonically sensational) but, frankly, we fright fans could care less. Sakmann mixes his merriment with mega-doses of the macabre to give us hilarious beheadings, delirious disembowelings and the gratuitous inclusion of mosh pit zombies to create a hurricane of hilarious horror. While it's true that he tends to trail off toward the end, making the finale more narrative heavy than necessary, we still get a gallery of grotesqueries matched with an irreverent disrespect for normalcy that adds up to one funny friggin' film. And it's kind of hard to ignore a 100+ person corpse count.
So if you want to see vegans choke to death on pure animal fat, have a desire to witness Simple Plan axeman Jeff Stinco impaled on his own instrument, or pray for the mass electrocution of Andrew WK and his flailing fans, Punk Rock Holocaust will satisfy said sinister urges perfectly. The fact that a filmmaker could inject himself into the Warped Tour, rally the troops and the participants to help out with his idea, and end up with something that is both true to its subject matter while slyly spitting in its eye, speaks volumes for both the punk community and Sakmann's vision. Punk Rock Holocaust is an incredibly entertaining film, giving us both the best of live bands and the greatness of gore to stimulate the gray matter in our genre-loving craniums. While it won't change the world, or point the path toward a new cinematic enlightenment, it does show how you can take the most divergent of concepts, in this case rock and roll and horror, and combine them into something astounding. The Warped Tour remains one of the last successful festivals on the circuit. Punk Rock Holocaust is a terrific testament to the people who live this life, even if it is for a few months out of every year.
Given a real cinematic feel by a faux-letterboxing 1.66:1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer, Punk Rock Holocaust is one of the few DVDs to finally understand the value of using a digital print for its packaging, instead of relying on a camcorder to film remastering and retrofitting. The results give the visuals that much more intimacy and a sense of realism. Sakmann then twists this concept by adding some amazing post-production material including comic book style dissolves, a few cartoon balloons, camera effects and a wide variety of visual sparkle to perk up and professionalize the overall look. The consequence is something both handmade and Hollywood, a clever combination of amateur and actual that works very well.
Utilizing a combination of live elements, ADR, camcorder capture and direct to mixing board recording, Punk Rock Holocaust is an amazing sonic experience. All the bands sound magnificent (with a few "recorded" tracks subbed in for missing concert performances) and the dialogue is always clean and clear. The Dolby Digital Stereo preserves all of these facets spectacularly. Along with an additional backing track of fun, frantic music (which really enhances the tone and atmosphere of the film) this is a great aural experience.
Loaded with excellent complimentary content, Punk Rock Holocaust becomes a nice multi-media DVD production. There are 10 videos taken from the concert footage, another three provided by bands featured in the film, and a collection of interesting outtakes and bloopers. We are also treated to a collection of trailers for some incredibly odd looking films, strangeness with names like 4 Days in Panties 2: Back in Straps and Live Freaky, Die Freaky (a stop motion animated version of the Manson Family story...no REALLY!).
But the best added feature is the full-length alternative narrative track by director Sakmann. While there are promises of two other versions, known as the "drunken" and "passed out" commentaries, we are only privy to the sober take (the official website for the film - http://backseatconceptions.com/bc_index_proj_prh.htm says that there will be more). Sakmann can't quite cotton to providing a discussion for the film – he finds it odd that he has to talk for 90 minutes about a movie he worked on for almost a year. We do learn some interesting facts about the production, the near 40 minutes of material that was cut (including complete live performances by bands) and how excited everyone was to be a part of this project. We discover that Sakmann was the head of Troma's production for three years, and as Lloyd loves to say, he learned everything he needed to know about filmmaking from The Toxic Avenger...literally. Together with his praise of the bands on the tour, and his candidness for facets of the film that probably didn't work, this is a nice bit of insight into how Punk Rock Holocaust came together.
Granted, Punk Rock Holocaust will not please everyone. Individuals irate with the new breed of performance poseurs will look to groups like The Ramones, The Clash or The Sex Pistols and wonder where all the true talent is within this new version of the once potent power rock. Others will wince at the notion of having their horror humored up and overhauled into a calculated concert setting. But such sentiments would be misguided, or avoiding the real issue. Specific to its generation and its genre or not, Punk Rock Holocaust is a blast, a chance to see some terrific bands amongst their die-hard and devoted, proving why their music is so popular and their fans so frantic. Gorehounds will be gratified by the buckets of blood, while people looking for a pseudo-scary movie that pokes fun at itself and its format will find equal enjoyment. Doug Sakmann's strange cinematic journey may be a literal labor of love, but the finished product more than holds its own against traditional terror fare. This is a sensational little sleeper of a film.
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