FrightFest 2011 Review: Chillerama
Directed by: Adam Rifkin, Tim Sullivan, Adam Green, Joe Lynch
Starring: Joel David Moore, Ray Wise, Lin Shaye, Richard Riehle
Review by: Ben Bussey
The drive-in is about to close down. The locals pile in by the car load, and owner Cecil Kaufman (Riehle) plans to give them a final night to remember, with a quadruple bill of the most obscure and outlandish movies he has in his possession. However, little does he or the patrons know that something very peculiar and dangerous has found its way into the concessions stand, and before the final reel of the final movie things may get even weirder offscreen than on.
It was no accident that this collaborative anthology movie made its British premiere at FrightFest in the midnight slot on Saturday night. That attending directors Green and Lynch expressed a hope that the audience had already been drinking and suggested that more drinking be done should underline further the kind of movie this is. Clearly, Chillerama is not a film intended to be discussed at length over coffee, with much pontification on themes and stroking of beards involved. Rather, this is movie which invites the audience to pour as much beer as possible down its throat, then some more over its head, and urges all and sundry to scream “YEAH!” and laugh like rabid hyenas. It’s an entirely self-conscious exercise in low brow and bad taste, and at the same time a love letter to several relatively neglected cult subgenres, and as Lynch in particular has repeatedly emphasised it’s a eulogy of sorts to what he calls the “dying art form” that is drive-in culture.
This at least is the intent, and I don’t doubt that all four writer-directors are sincere in this. As to whether or not Chillerama delivers; whether it is the hilarious, irreverent, wip-smart lampoon/homage it wants to be… well, there’s a bit of a question mark hanging over that one. For a movie that aims for fast and funny, it’s pretty long and slow with some really quite dull stretches, and a lot of gags which just fall flat. And I say that as someone who did indeed consume a bit of alcohol at showtime.
Each movie-within-the-movie has an amusing premise, and boasts their share of belly laugh moments (mostly of the gross-out variety), but without exception they all outstay their welcome and rather hammer the joke into the ground by the end. Adam Rifkin’s Wadzilla is probably the lightest offender in this regard; starting out as a relatively down to earth evocation of 50s New York (think Mad Men on a microbudget), it escalates into a monster movie as an atomically enlarged sperm goes on the rampage. It boasts a few fan-pleasing cameos, plenty of innuendo-strewn dialogue and a most memorable use of the Statue of Liberty, building toward a somewhat messy climax if you know what I mean and I’m sure that you do. All good fun, and probably the highlight of the film.
Tim Sullivan’s I Was a Teenage Werebear comes next, and is probably the hardest sell so far as many horror fans are concerned given that is an explicitly homoerotic take on 60s beach party films, centring on a star high school athlete who finds himself strangely drawn to the new leather-clad bad boys in town. Oh, and it’s a musical to boot. Loaded with absurd performances, chintzy tunes and terrible singing (all self-consciously so of course), it starts out amusing but ultimately outstays its welcome somewhat, carrying on regardless once it’s pretty much said and done all it has to say and do.
Adam Green’s The Diary of Anne Frankenstein is much the same. An Ed Wood-ish black and white Nazi melodrama/Univeral horror homage, it centres on Hitler building a Jewish Frankenstein monster. It goes without saying that this is a provactive premise, but it’s again so knowingly and deliberately silly that it’s hard to imagine it offending anyone but the most obsessive stickler for political correctness. Unfortunately, it just isn’t that damn funny either. This segment was previewed in its entirety at FrightFest 2010 when Green and Lynch first publicly announced that Chillerama was in production, and while it has been trimmed and fine-tuned a little (Hitler’s big musical number has been relocated to the end credits, presumably under the reasonable assumption that the audience would be suffering from showtune exhaustion after Sullivan’s entry), it still runs out of steam long before the end.
Joe Lynch is left with perhaps the biggest responsibility; not only does he provide the final, though significantly shorter drive-in movie (which I won’t go into detail on, in the hope of preserving some element of surprise), but he also provides the bridging scenes between the shorts. Unfortunately, these are perhaps the most ill-concieved moments of all. It goes without saying that an anthology movie already has a lot going on, but not content with this Lynch gives us lengthy dialogue scenes between numerous characters, building toward a finale that sees the drive-in go pretty much straight to hell in a handbasket; that his segment is dubbed Zom-B-Movie should tell you all you need to know. The biggest problem is that these segments by and large eschew the lampoonish tone of the shorts in favour of a fairly straight contemporary horror comedy aesthetic, with dialogue that’s bursting at the seams with film geek quotes. Yes, Chillerama is aiming for deliberate excess, but sometimes too much really is too much. Matters are not helped by a distinctly smug and self-congratulatory final scene which leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth.
It’s fitfully amusing, and perhaps having a bit of the running time shaved off would boost its charm, but ultimately Chillerama falls short of its goals. While it may have been concieved as a cast-iron crowd-pleaser, when all is said and done it’s overlong, isn’t funny enough, and smacks of having too high an opinion of itself. A shame.