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I'm not sure how much I cotton to this new breed of direct-to-DVD indie horror. I blame the Internet, because from where I sit, many of these movies seem to focus on combining relatively explicit 'adult activity' with the jugular ripping. Not that it bothers me, it's just that the World-wide-pornorama has apparently given guys the go-ahead to expose their willies for any old person to see - such as in Gutterballs - is the world coming to an end?
Gutterballs rolls a 7-10 split (and I'm done with my bowling puns now) combining nothing but trashier-than-trashy elements with an intentional B-movie ethos. Like a 7-10 split, this type of movie is hard to pull off, (or pick up, I suppose) and for Gutterballs, the bottom of the frame finds pin 7 just missing the 10. Not for lack of trying though, as Gutterballs layers on sick gore and bounteous nudity in a sleazy package. A team of totally unlikable characters keeps viewers at arms' length, keeping this movie from picking up the spare, if you will, but it's still an impressive throw.
However, I won't spare you plot details, as ridiculous as they are. Gutterballs finds an unlikable bowling alley manager inexplicably renting out a pair of lanes, after hours, to two groups of warring caricatures. Group one consists of evilly abusive, misogynistic frat-boys, while group two consists of cute chicks, random dudes, gay stoners and a transvestite.
It's pretty clear that brains were set to stun for this endeavor, so we must suspend disbelief for as long as possible.
Everyone abuses the hell out of each other for a while before the leader of the frat-gang is brutally pummeled by a member of the 'weird' team. The only recourse is for the frat-boys to work up to a little semi-pornographic gang rape. Next night it's back to business: stupid bowling alley manager is constantly insulted, gang leader constantly screams "fuck off and get me a fucking beer" to everyone, rape-victim is acting all weird and a mysterious killer with a bowling ball bag on his head does really awful things to everyone.
Man, where to begin? In many ways, this is one of the weirdest movies I've seen. I can't come close to putting myself in the mind-set of writer-director Ryan Nicholson. But, you've got to give the man credit for making a damn fine sexually explicit, graphically violent, morally repugnant, willfully bad B-movie. On the plus side, after a 'slow' start - if you consider gang rape slow - plenty of cringe-inducing, hyper gory and disgusting murders take place, among which a super-bloody neck slash and BME Pain Olympics-worthy groin atrocity stand out. Actually, that gang rape and a later bowling-pin-to-face bludgeoning seems less to echo Terror Train and more Gaspar Noe's Irreversible. But a better trick, and far more difficult to grasp, is how Gutterballs avoids being painfully self-conscious. Most times when someone sets out to make a 'bad movie' it turns to complete crap - you can't duplicate good intentions gone wrong. Gutterballs takes its so-over-the-top-it's-corny mis-en-scene seriously. It's not a movie that winks at you, it's grabs you by the lapels, slams you into a locker, then says 'boo' as you slide to the floor. Even though it's beyond unbelievable, and its performances egregiously caustic or not-so-good, you never feel insulted - nauseated maybe - but not insulted, and that's no mean feat.
You may quickly tire of the F-word, (Scarface gets a run for its money) become filled with hate and rage spending time with these chuckleheads, blanch at all the sexual violence and gaze in wonder as a dude's face gets turned into a soup tureen, but you'll never forget Gutterballs, not you.
1.78:1 widescreen anamorphic presentation reveals the shortcomings of Gutterballs' source, but then again, it looks totally like an '80s slasher movie, which the movie strives to emulate. Not a lot of compression artifacts or other mastering problems to moan about, but the picture is pretty grainy much of the time, lending a beat-up atmosphere to the beating up going on. Black levels are nice, and much attention is given to the 'cosmic bowling' atmosphere, lots of blue and black lights making everything look very '80s and very mysterious.
5.1 Dolby Digital Audio serves a 1980s-style music infused soundtrack well. Especially with that funky bass. The mix is pretty active, creating a nice audio image, but dialog-recording deficiencies (maybe room audio) become clear, although dialog is never inaudible or hard to understand. Two other 2-channel English Audio tracks are also available.
A full length Director's Commentary Track rolls your way, during which Nicholson proves affable, considerate, intelligent and amused at the horrific atrocity he's presenting to you. He makes it well clear that we're not intended to take Gutterballs seriously, which is a relief. Between discussing pretty much every behind-the-scenes aspect you'd hope to have covered, he frequently reacts laughingly to the horrible sh*t on display - highly entertaining and pleasant, as commentaries go. Behind The Balls: The Making Of Gutterballs scores 42 minutes of interviews and behind-the-scenes snippets from a large cross-section of cast, crew and producers. There's a healthy overlap with the commentary, and not enough talk or behind-the-scenes footage of the special effects - plus aggravating death-metal music montages every few minutes - but overall expect more campy fun and laughs. The Teaser Trailer accompanies about ten minutes of other Danger After Dark Trailers - plus a barely-Easter-egg Trailer for a true slice of upcoming sleaze called Piglet. A self-navigated Stills Gallery contains 18 small stills and such - but why are these things even done anymore? Does anyone like stills galleries? Just asking. For a super-low-budget release, Gutterballs packs an acceptable bunch of extras.
Gutterballs Balls-Out Uncut Version is just that, literally (although as far as I can tell the members attached to those exposed balls are, indeed cut). But male nudity isn't the point, it's just a bit shocking - like everything else in this foul-mouthed, ultra-violent mini-trash-terpiece. Though not meant to be taken seriously, violent gang rape and death by 69 are hard to shake off, making this comedic B-Horror movie a true marvel of sincere badness. Corny performances are totally in earnest, a boatload of awful characters make you cheer for death, and blood spews like nobody's business. For sicko slasher/ exploitation fans, Gutterballs is Recommended, it's sick, sick, sick fun.
- Kurt Dahlke