Alright – a few words before I really get into things here. First of all, there’s a good amount of Adam Green and Joe Lynch’s work I really like. Hatchet, Frozen and Wrong Turn 2 included. I’m looking forward to Lynch’s Knights Of Badassdom and his Everly project sounds interesting as well. These guys are going to continue to grow as filmmakers and I’m excited to see where they go. So as much as it bums me out to write this review, I’m glad Chillerama is the one-off experiment that it seems to be. As far as Adam Rifkin goes, he has the best segment in the film. He had kind of fallen off my radar a bit and I’m glad to have him back on it.
Most importantly – the vignette I have the harshest criticism for is Tim Sullivan’s “I Was A Teenage Werebear.” It’s gay themed, and that is not at all the problem I have with it. The werewolf myth has always had a sexual metaphor component, so to use it in this context is perfectly appropriate. Especially when you consider the fact that werewolf films often feature a protagonist struggling to come to terms with the true self emerging from within – I actually feel that it’s an especially apt device for examining the process of emerging from the closet and coming to terms with one’s own sexuality. Unfortunately the piece is tone-deaf and inarticulate. I’m not anti-gay, I’m just anti-bad.
Chillerama starts off promisingly enough. The first segment of Joe Lynch’s “Zom-B-Movie” (which is a wraparound device that threads the story together thematically – and provides the film’s climax) plays out nicely with a wistful nostalgia for drive-in movies and a love of cinema. I was engaged and actually found myself having a surprising bit of sympathy for Richard Riehle’s Cecil Kaufman. A guy who’s lost his wife and is about to lose his drive-in theater. His main companion is his Orson Welles poster – the guy’s a relic and he knows it. It all works, at least initially.
From there we head into “Wadzilla”, a riff on 1950’s atomic monster movies which is actually kind of a blast. Adam Rifkin stars (in addition to writing/directing) as a decent guy with an extremely low sperm count. Ray Wise is great as his chain-smoking physician and the entire ensemble is more than able to carry the 1950’s camp tone throughout. I already had the image of a giant sperm attacking the Statue Of Liberty in my head and suspected this was going to be my least favorite segment – but it’s funny, gross, and good-natured. The story is well rounded and satisfying and it gets Chillerama off to a great start.
Then we head back into “Zom-B-Movie”. I’m still digging it. The different dynamics of the people in their cars at the drive-in still work. Cecil’s story still works. I bring this up because – since “Zom-B-Movie” keeps unfolding throughout Chillerama – I’m kind of wondering if I should be using it as the barometer for how the film works ‘pre’ and ‘post’ “Werebear”. Kind of like how you might define your life in terms of ‘pre’ and ‘post’ 9/11 or how your parents might talk about the way things were before Kennedy was assassinated.
“I Was A Teenage Werebear” is an unmitigated disaster. It’s inarticulate, incompetently shot, stupid and ugly. It is pure ego unleashed upon the screen with no filter. You know how sometimes you’re glad people like Paul Thomas Anderson don’t have anyone to hold them back? They either get their financing or they don’t – but if they do – they make their f*cking movie. This is the other side of the coin. It has a of couple interesting themes that it drives into the ground with such careless repetition that it feels like a toddler with OCD is shouting the same thing into your ear for almost half an hour. After she’s hit by a truck poor Gabby West is stuck playing the single worst recurring joke I have seen in recent memory. I single her out because she’s such a good sport about it and plays it with such commitment. Gabby, it does get better.
“Werebear’s” beach-party conclusion is so awfully staged I found myself zoning out. There is no sense of geography to any of the action and the way the villain of the piece gets his comeuppance is totally consistent with Sullivan’s primary interest – making a splash instead of making a film. Egregiously, it’s the longest segment in the film by a noticeable margin.
Then we head back into “Zom-B-Movie.” I’m no longer in the mood. The same characters in the same setting with the same story that I was enjoying well enough before. But now the air has totally been let out of the balloon. Everything seems flat. It’s extremely hard to tell if Lynch’s segment actually drops off in quality or if I’m just so beaten down by “Werebear” that I’ve lost the will to embrace celluloid. Chillerama was never intended to be a masterpiece but what was once tasty cinematic junk food has turned to ashes in my mouth.
There’s a brief uptick when we head into Adam Green’s “The Diary Of Anne Frankenstein.” Perhaps brought on by the fact that it’s in black & white and I no longer want anything to do with colors after “Werebear”. Joel David Moore and Kristina Klebe are funny as Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun and Kane Hodder is game as the Frankenstein monster, Meshugannah. But, fun as it is in places, it’s an intentionally slight effort. It’s the tamest piece of the film and I almost would have preferred to see it closer to the beginning of Chillerama so there was more of a sense of escalation. Green is a funny guy and the whole thing is well put together – but it’s too little too late.
Back to “Zom-B-Movie” – the film reaches its climax with Riehle’s Kaufman mobilizing our two young heroes to action. There’s a lot of cool zombie kills (I especially liked the bioluminescent bodily fluids spraying everywhere) and a lot of famous one-liners. The very last moment is a nice – and I think honest – shout out to what most people should be doing when faced with imminent death. I should have been laughing and cheering. I could have been laughing and cheering under other circumstances. But, instead, I was spent.
If I break it down, how does Chillerama stack up? I don’t know. Rifkin comes out aces. Green and Lynch’s pieces certainly have their moments but don’t live up to their prior works. Though again – I literally cannot tell how much context has to do with it in this case. You could show me John Carpenter’s The Thing after ‘Werebear” and I really don’t know what I would have to say about it.
As the experience that it currently is, I just can’t recommend Chillerama. I believe “I Was A Teenage Werebear” is 26 minutes long and I’d be willing to take another look if it were exactly that many minutes shorter. It still wouldn’t be my favorite movie of all time (or even my favorite of the talent involved), but it would become something I wouldn’t mind watching again over a few beers.