Sunday, 20 March 2016

Sunday Feast

The second part of Robert Rodriquez’s unforgettable From Dusk Till Dawn saw the diverse patrons of an infamous Mexican strip–club under vicious attack by a horde of vampires. Starting with FEAST (2005), John Gulager’s trilogy of monster movies pays homage to that schlock classic, as it’s also set in a bar. The bartender is played by the director’s dad Clu (best known for Return Of The Living Dead), and Feast’s family team-up for neo-auteur John’s debut film (prompted by winning season three of TV series Project Greenlight) doesn’t end there, as the filmmaker casts wife Diane Goldner in a significant role as buxom ‘Harley Mom’.  

Viewed in hi-def (yes, I first watched this on HD-DVD!), this is a rare treat - so full of magnificently demented fun and grotesque furies that it’s consistently entertaining. The characters have cool or clunky monikers instead of proper names, helpfully explained by the thumbnail–biography freeze-frames, but rendered wittily, without reducing them all to cyphers:  

Bozo (Balthazar Getty), motivational–speaker Coach (Henry Rollins, Black Flag front-man), disabled Hot Wheels (Josh Zuckerman), blonde – though not necessarily a bimbo – Honey Pie (Jenny Wade), and nameless widow ‘Heroine’ (Navi Rawat, Thoughtcrimes) are among those registering most strongly. Clearly, this is a tavern frequented by rednecks, and yet there’s a genuine pathos that enhances the predicaments of characters when the quartet of slime–spewing beasts (which vaguely resemble the creature of British video hit, Split Second, 1992) arrive, wearing animal hides so they seem like cross–breeds from Critters and Aliens 

Navi Rawat in FEAST
A refreshingly subversive screenplay engages with pulp genre conventions, presenting master–class lessons in how best to sabotage or break the rules and principles, keeping viewers guessing with an unpredictable schedule of who/ how/ when ‘exit’ scenes. However, chaos and bedlam are tightly choreographed, edited for maximum visual and visceral impact, ensuring this slick and sicko entertainment has plenty of heart amidst its soulless triage of shocks, twists, and escalating levels of spectacularly gruesome action. You know it’s something different when throwaway lines such as “The monster’s cock is stuck in the door!” are both riotously funny and queasily unsettling in the self-same moment.  

Goldner returns as Harley Mom’s twin sister, vengeful Biker Queen, in FEAST II: SLOPPY SECONDS, leading her gang of lesbians into ‘Small Town’ rumbles, aided by surviving crusty Bartender, on the trail of a suspected killer, increasing the scale of its predecessor’s thrills into a more ambitious milieu, but with no loss of production values or innovative quality. Again, we have the sub-textual notion of walls being torn down leaving no safe place to hide from the monsters, whose origins remain unknown. With the whole town under attack, used–car salesmen, the boss’ adulterous wife, and (wait for it!) a tag–team of midget Mexican wrestlers (also handy locksmiths) join the first movie’s walking wounded, and even the most bizarre characters or weird cameo roles (including the walk-on-and-die batch of new heroes) have a well–rounded appeal.

Monsters attack in FEAST 2
Feast II becomes a recognisable fusion of Larry Cohen’s extraordinary character studies with Rob Zombie’s trademark gross: despite outrageous imagery, the stories are focused entirely upon the interactions and development of appealingly–flawed characters, enduring gratuitous and often misogynistic violence, with relentless sleaze and splatter in soiled settings. From puke–fest to ‘alien’ autopsy, where vomit–worthy biology is reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste (1987), this is indie horror at its finest, eschewing all the moral sensitivities of Hollywood’s feel–good sentimentality. A stray cat is abused and impregnated. The crying baby (third–generation Gulager, of course!) is bait for rescue heroics, but then discarded as a quick breakfast for hungry monsters. While a rooftop catapult–building montage plays out, the wrestlers’ granny rots away to a sack of slush left in the corner.

You’ll flinch, laugh, and weep at vicious black comedy, and astonishingly surreal pandemonium, which takes no prisoners. Blood pools across the screen to drown scurrying ants and blot out a blue–sky view, as the end credits roll. We are in hell. Closing act, FEAST III: THE HAPPY FINISH is anything but a safe–and–sound conclusion. The Bartender and Biker Queen are back on Armageddon’s chopping block with infamous baby–killer, ex–philanderer Greg (Tom Gulager), now joined by ‘psychic’ Prophet (warding off ‘demons’ with his squawky hearing–aid), and various superhero types rewarded for their bravery only by quick/ horrible, purely arbitrary displacements from allotted guest-spots, whether by ambush or accident.
Hybrid mutants arise and ferocious assault splits the city–bound survivors into seemingly random team–ups; one grouping stalked through storm drains by puke–infected sewer–zombies, while the others are even less fortunate. Biker Queen’s favourite hammer–girl is butchered in quite horrendous fashion. A strobe–lit frenzy of battle in a cavernous basement evokes the snapshot visual style of comic–book frames. Howling mad, we are stuck in hell and without a map. Any fans of Rodriquez’s Planet Terror will enjoy these delightfully absurd, fervently stomach–churning movies.

These 3 reviews first appeared in my 'Blood Spectrum' column for BLACK STATIC #10 (April 2009). That issue of the magazine also had coverage of other horrors:

Mutant Chronicles
Max Payne
Saw II
Saw V
The Children
Hansel & Gretel
Boogeyman 3
Watch Me When I Kill
Babysitter Wanted
They Wait
Red Sands
Vacancy 2: The First Cut
Undead Or Alive 

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