The new horror anthology Chillerama certainly has admirable intentions. Meant as a kind of mash-up of the horror anthologies of the '70s and '80s and the back catalogue of Troma films (whose mastermind Lloyd Kaufman gets namechecked here), Chillerama is defiantly removed from the contemporary horror scene. That's a tactic that's becoming increasingly common in the indie horror world, where the shallowest, least deserving works have been pillaged by the mainstream and the leading lights, a couple of whom take part in Chillerama, continue to remain relatively unknown. But it's also a large part of why Chillerama mostly fails to live up to its potential, as the chronological sampling that takes place often feels forced and ill-fitting.
Beginning with an introduction that merges Universal monster movie sepia tones with the kind of bitter male vengeance story that would have fit right in with EC (complete with an O. Henry finish!), Chillerama soon shifts into a more modern, hi-def look, with neon bodily fluids and overly self-aware dialogue. Despite the ridiculous clarity of the Blu-ray, it's a clear sign that ultra DIY schlock studio Troma is the horror outfit that will be getting the most use here as an influence, even as the shorts veer wildly between eras and styles, but the first short to be shown makes that even more apparent.
Titled "Wadzilla" and directed by Adam Rifkin, a figure perhaps best known for Detroit Rock City, various works for Disney and the Charlie Sheen vehicle The Chase, "Wadzilla" looks like a '50s giant monster movie but has the sexual maturity and humor of lesser Troma works. It's also stupid as all hell, like an update of the giant monster breast from Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex where a killer sperm replaces the aforementioned giant breast and all the characters are mouthpieces for barely conscious dick jokes. There is a cheesy appeal to the aesthetic of "Wadzilla," particularly in the hideously bright color correction and the design of the sperm itself (though I'm not sure why a sperm would have shark teeth) but it's not enough to move this short beyond its single note status. The Blu-Ray treatment here also works against the film, calling attention to the shifts in production values that happen every time the killer sperm shows up. One minute you're looking at a sassy girl in a poodle skirt in 1080p and the next that freakish sperm has appeared and everything looks like a 4th generation VHS copy of the film.
Rifkin's Detroit Rock City producer Tim Sullivan veers closer to success with his '60s beach movie homage "I Was a Teenage Werebear," which would stand out regardless, simply because it's that rarest of breeds, the musical horror work. Looking like what might happen if Gregg Araki was asked to write and direct the Twilight episode of Glee, "I Was a Teenage Werebear" is a grotesque hybrid that attempts to stay true to its campy Beach Party Bingo roots all while putting forth a message of sexual tolerance. The film doesn't quite work as a mission movie, and the songs are a little too forgettable to survive on their own, but Sullivan does show off some of the cheeky style that made his 2001 Maniacs such a cult hit. Rifkin's short also makes the most of the hi-def, despite being a cheap beach movie in style; all the actors have a fitting, unnatural orange glow and the blood and gore is so over the top in its brightness it looks like cherry pie is going to shoot out of your screen.
"I Was a Teenage Werebear" also functions well as a lead-in for the true star of Chillerama, Adam Green's hilariously tasteless "The Diary of Anne Frankenstein." While it's not nearly as offensive as you would think based on title alone, there's no denying that half of the fun of "Anne Frankenstein" comes from knowing that you should feel extremely bad at everything you're laughing at. Shot like a lost film from the '40s and subtitled (all the actors are speaking German, except Hitler, who is speaking gibberish), "Anne Frankenstein" is a demented twist on the likes of Young Frankenstein, where Hitler himself (played to absurd perfection by prior Green collaborator Joel Moore) raids the hiding place of Anne Frank and her family and seizes the journals of their ancestor, one Dr. Frankenstein. Green is one of the most promising of the new wave of American horror directors thanks to his Hatchet series, but too often his comedic background is forgotten.
Luckily, "Anne Frankenstein" serves as a healthy reminder that Green is funny as fuck, tossing out quotable lines at a furious pace ("Write depressing stuff in this as if the girl wrote it. We'll sell it after the war and make millions") and putting an entirely new spin on perhaps the most overdone story in all of horror. It helps that Green has assembled the best cast out of all the Chillerama films and Moore's performance as Hitler alone makes it essential viewing. Green makes use of his budgetary limitations as well, playing up the cheapness of the effects even in the grizzliest scenes and turning Kane Hodder's Frankenstein into a hideous, sardonic joke all its own. Simply put, "Anne Frankenstein" is one of the best short films this year and is absolutely necessary viewing.
Unfortunately, "Anne Frankenstein" is followed up by one of the worst films of the bunch, Joe Lynch's "Zom B Movie." Functioning as the buffer material for the anthology, "Zom B Movie" struggles with identity, jumping from a generic "watch these pretty teenagers we barely introduced die" modern horror film to a wonky "watch these pretty teenagers turn into sex zombies" picture. It doesn't help that its finale gets a lead-in from a fake-out Mondo/Pink Flamingos combo called "Deathification," which features nothing but people pooping. Chillerama's other participants at least all tried to do something different, but with the exception of the sex angle (though that shares more than a passing similarity to Garth Ennis' similarly creatively bankrupt series Crossed), "Zom B Movie" has nothing to differentiate it from the hordes of other anonymous zombie films appearing these days. Hell, it even has a requisite badass old man shouting out other films' famous one liners while going all Hobo with a Shotgun on the baddies in case you didn't get that there is absolutely nothing new or interesting going on here.
But this being an anthology, that's not exactly surprising. As fun as Chillerama's basic premise is– let's get some horror directors of varying degrees of talent together and make a movie!– it's to be expected that there would be dips in quality. But even so, the hit to miss ratio here is pretty underwhelming and doesn't inspire a lot of hope for future horror anthologies. Really, all it does is make me anxious for Adam Green's next film to come out.
Extras and Special Features:
If you need your fix early, the disc even offers up a making of for "Diary of Anne Frankenstein,&
quot; as well as director commentary and interviews. There are the usual unnecessary deleted scenes for the other films, and trailers for half the films, and it's clear from the behind the scenes footage that everyone involved had an immense amount of fun making this work.
The "Diary of Anne Frankenstein" making of is undoubtedly the highlight, particularly with Adam Green's insight into how he approached this film after being assigned the title as well as Joel Moore and Kane Hodder's interview segments, where they speak lovingly about Green and his crew. The detail Green and company put into their absurd short is amazing and it makes it easier to understand why it's such a standout. In fact, watching it and the other bonus material makes it easy to get jealous of everyone taking part in Chillerama because regardless of the end product, this was an obvious labor of love for them. This is one of the few films where the behind the scenes features are almost mandatory viewing for better understanding the work and to a lesser extent understanding why not all of them click. And hey, you even get to see a song and dance number from Hitler.
When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.