Like lots of aspiring filmmakers, Richard Griffin has found an interesting niche within the new world order of easily available technology and low budget b-movie objectives. In love with all things macabre and the cinematic visualization of same, he has struggled to make a name for himself among the various icons of outsider independent cinema. Now, DVD distributor Shock-O-Rama has decided to gather up four of his films (three of which are excellent) and bring them together as the Feeding the Masses Horror Collection. Within you will find zombies, beasties, ghouls, ghosts and that most terrifying of all creatures - man. But there is also a tinge of sadness here. While studio grunts like Shawn Levy and Dennis Dugan turn out mediocre pabulum, artists like Griffin are wiling away in obscurity. This set may not change that, which is a shame. Sometimes, the most inspirational ideas come from the most intriguing, off the radar realms.
If you click on the title of each film in this box set, you will be sent to this critic's full length review previous published at DVD Talk. Indeed, this is a compilation of formerly available movies, though the presentation this time around is lacking some of the frills offered initially.
Feeding the Masses (Score: ***1/2)
The world has been overrun by flesh eating zombies. A local Rhode Island TV station has been on the story for days, but now the government has stepped in. In place of hard news, the Feds want to mislead the populace. Hoping to combat the powerful propaganda machine, cameraman Torch, field reporter Shelly, their military escort Roger and in-studio technician James take to the streets, hoping to give the public the real story.
Creature from the Hillbilly Lagoon (Score: **)
While delivering some radioactive slop to a local swimming hole, a goofball backwoods worker gets covered in genetic goop. He turns into a ferocious fish beast and begins terrorizing a small, dullard infested area. When corporate goons from the local medical lab responsible for the spillage start spraying the countryside with bullets, it's up to the local yokels to fight back.
Necroville (Score: ***1/2)
Jack and Alex are lifelong friends. Living in the dead end New Mexican burg of Necroville, they spend their days working at a local video store, their off hours battling various craven creatures of the night. You see, this city has a zombie/werewolf/vampire problem, and the locals have learned to live with it. When the guys lose their job over a misunderstanding, they end up at Zom-B-Gon, a company specializing in metropolitan monster eradication.
Splatter Disco (Score: ***1/2)
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 stated before, each one of these films has been reviewed here at DVD Talk. Instead of going into detail with a second review, this critic will try to paraphrase each film in a single paragraph. Links have been provided above for additional reading.
Feeding the Masses
It's tough coming up with a new angle on the zombie film. Like the Western in the 60s, or the action film in the 90s, the living dead have been literally done to death. So hats off to writer Trent Haaga and director Richard Griffin for finding what is perhaps the last novel way of dealing with flesh eating fiends. Take a little bit of Wag the Dog, a helping of Robocop, toss in some completely indirect nods to Network, and cover the entire concept in shades of Romero and Fulci, and you've got something that is both scary and satirical, fabulously funny and yet fraught with some significant flaws. While Feeding the Masses doesn't measure up to other cannibal cinema the filmmakers have been involved in (including Griffin's work on the excellent The Stink of Flesh) there is still a lot here to love. After all, it's not every zombie apocalypse film that has the nerve to make jokes at the expense of both the heroes and the horror.
Creature from the Hillbilly Lagoon
Stifled by its own stupidity and feeling twice as long as its 90 minute running time, Creature from the Hillbilly Lagoon is something derivative done rather poorly. Perhaps a cowering Cold War audience, unable to fully wrap their brains around the notion of nuclear annihilation, could appreciate the concept of a murderous fishman stalking the suburbs. But in 2007/2010, when similarly looking monstrosities are given fame whore celebrity (right Paris and Lindsey???), such scaly scares just don't cut it. Of course, it doesn't help matters much that Griffin found the only amateur acting cast in the entire Western Hemisphere that couldn't concoct a decent cracker accent (they sound more Southern Boston than Southern belle) and a plot that tries for both the gory and goofy at the same time. Equally upsetting is the lack of standard exploitation elements. If you're going to push for some aesthetic link to the drive-in fodder of decades past, you better have your grindhouse gears good and juicy.
Imagine Clerks combined with Ghostbusters, toss in a few riffs from the Evil Dead school of creepshow cut-ups, accent with some amiable performances, and you've got a pretty good idea of how Necroville plays out. This lightweight terror tale, purposely encased inside a solid slacker universe, suggests there is more to the genre than gore, guts, and godawful direction. The brainchild of buddies Bill Garberina and Adam Jarmon Brown (who also star as pals Jack and Alex), this pseudo Shaun of the Dead derives a lot of its pleasure out of simply watching characters interact. Sure, we get the standard undead shuffle, some frightening (and fanged) Goth kids, and very limited lycanthropy. In between are the kinds of conversations that Kevin Smith excels at, curse-laden exchanges where individuals hide their inner angst via mutual sarcasm and slams. As our heroes, Garberina and Brown are wonderful, eliciting a cool chemistry that's rare, even for a mainstream movie. Whether it's girl or guy trouble, these men make us care about such lumbering leads.
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.
Everything is 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks damn good for a collection of homemade horror films. Griffin has a strong eye, an attention to detail, and some decent post-production facilities. Feeding and Splatter look especially good since their scope is a bit larger than the others. While it's a hackneyed effort, Creature also offers some excellent visuals. Only Necroville maintains its Clerks like level of point and shoot stylizing.
Each film is offered in a Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix that's engaging, polished, and balanced. Musical scores occasionally overwhelm the dialogue, but that's to be expected. Overall, the sound quality is good and often adds a lot to the ambient mood of the movie.
Of previous DVD versions of these films, Feeding and Creature represent mere porting over of the original disc. For some reason, Necroville and Splatter are smashed onto one DVD, removing many of the excellent bits of added content in the process. Specifically, here is what you will find.:
Feeding the Masses:
The biggest bonus is the full length audio commentary with director Richard Griffin and actor Billy Garberina. A combination of self-deprecating criticism and glowing back slapping make up the majority of this alternate narrative and it's a really enjoyable listen. Every actor gets their props, production nightmares are readily discussed, and occasional narrative continuity errors are explained away with a decided nod to the limited budget. Similar sentiments flow from the Making-of documentary. Following the film from Day 1, we see how certain shots were captured, where improvisation was needed to save a scene, and how CGI was used to create convincing gun effects. Add in some trailers, a recap of Shock-o-Rama's release year, and two unrelated short films by Duane Graves and Justin Meeks (Voltagen and The Hypostatic Union) and we have a complete little package.
Creature of the Hillbilly Lagoon:
We are treated to deleted scenes (all of which focus on a dopey character narration that was eventually rejected) and a selection of trailers. Equally compelling is a commentary track from director Griffin and his producer pals Ted Marr, William Decoff, and Don Foley. While these guys have far too much faith in this film, their behind the scenes anecdotes and numerous production insights are a pleasure to listen to.
None - though the previous release offered a commentary from Garberina that's loaded with blow by blow production detail, a series of deleted scenes and outtakes, a look at Necroville's Visual F/X, a talk with actor Mark Chavez (Clarke), two terrific short films (Legend of Aeereus Kane and Cum-uppance) and a trailer vault. All of that is missing here.
Of the many bonus features available previously, all that remains is a nicely fleshed out Making of. All other extras, including a full length audio commentary featuring Griffin, Lowry, actors Jason Witter, Jason McCormick, Jason Krangel and producer Ted Marr and two 'alternate' scenes including a second take on the opening musical number, as well as a gruesome murder in a graveyard, are MIA.
With one mere misfire and a couple of near classics, the Feeding the Masses Horror Collection is a good introduction to Richard Griffin's serio-silly comic take on the icons of terror. Sure, the films are uneven and often overshadowed by issues of amateurism and other production pitfalls. Still, as an example of something far enough off the beaten path to provide a modicum of amusement, at least three of the movies deserve a Recommended rating. Only Creature from Hillbilly Lagoon pales in comparison. Be warned, however. Both Necroville and Splatter Disco have stand-alone discs that offer the kind of explanatory added content efforts like these mandate. Without them, the anthology appears incomplete. Still, for what's here, the Feeding the Masses Horror Collection is well worth a look.