You’d think anthology movies would be making something of a comeback. We can barely sit through a movie without texting someone, checking email, or recording an auto-tuned single. Don’t like one of the segments? Wait a half hour and there will be a whole new one. Little bite sized nuggets of horror, washed down with a little irony. Pacing can be a bit off, since by the third segment, things usually begin to drag. I love anthologies. Some of it is pure nostalgia, the defining trait of my generation. Some of it is my auto-tuned pop career (My new song, “Lunchtime!”, drops next week). Some of it is the lower stakes: no one expects them to do well, so filmmakers can go nuts. In Chillerama, they don’t just go nuts. They go full on batshit Michelle Bachmann masturbating to old issues of Guns & Ammo nude gator wrestling crazy.
When fellow Show-contributor Rob described Chillerama one afternoon over burgers at the Oinkster, I knew I had to see it. Four indie horror movie directors making the most obnoxious and offensive horror-comedy shorts they could think of? I’m in. Then I heard the titles of the segments. Boy fuckin’ howdy. It sounded like a movie I’d make with a bunch of friends out of the weird ideas we kick around when everyone is a sixer deep and the word “fuck” becomes a shimmering protean bullet of ultimate meaning. The first: “Wadzilla.” I laughed, figuring at least a ballpark of what the movie might be about. The second: “I Was a Teenage Werebear.” Didn’t get that one immediately, despite my love of that particular pun. “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein.” Fuck yes. Because let’s be clear: a pun that good, at the expense one of the people you’re never, ever supposed to joke about? I couldn’t wait. And I thought I would have to until it made the slow march to DVD. Then I found it on Netflix Instant and cued it up.
The film doesn’t fuck around. The wraparound (“Zom-B-Movie,” directed by Joe Lynch) opens with a man digging up his dead wife for the purpose of violating her corpse, but she turns zombie and bites his balls off. So you know instantly what kind of movie you’re dealing with. Don’t want to see the kind of movie where testicles are mere Swedish meatballs to be hucked at the nearest tombstone? Probably should walk out now. “Zom-B-Movie” establishes the other stories as a quadruple bill on the final night of a beloved drive-in movie theater. The castrated man from the beginning ends up infecting the fake popcorn butter with zombie-juice, turning the patrons into sex-crazed ghouls, or, if you prefer, the Fucking Dead.
Adam Rifkin’s “Wadzilla” is pretty much what the title implies, which in itself is a wonderful thing to say. A man with a low sperm count (as in, he only produces one at a time), tries an experimental new drug. Unfortunately, it causes the sperm to grow to giant size, wreak havoc on the city and unleash a series of puns that I probably shouldn’t find so funny at my age. It’s a giant monster movie and a dick joke all rolled into one, and features Supermarket favorite Ray Wise as a scientist.
I don’t know if you noticed or not, but The Lost Boys is super, super gay. On a subtextual level, the whole thing is about a dude drinking another guy’s… fluids… and being “converted” into a new life of transgression. Tim Sullivan noticed, and he made “I Was a Teenage Werebear” as a parody remake. Instead of the ‘80s, he’s made an early ‘60s beach film about a young man who prefers the company of men. Along the way, he gets bitten on the ass by a werebear, and changes. Into a hairy, somewhat overweight, leather-clad… monster?
The third and best segment, Adam Green’s “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein” sold Chillerama to me, and it doesn’t disappoint. Turns out the Frank family shortened their name after their ancestor committed crimes against nature. Hitler (Joel David Moore. Seriously.) kills them and gets his hands on Frankenstein’s journal, where he creates a golem (Kane Hodder. Seriously.) which turns out well for the world and not so much for Hitler. Pay attention to the “German” Hitler speaks.
Unfortunately, there’s a good twenty minutes of running time by the time “Diary” ends. This is split between the “Deathication” short, which doesn’t really land, and the wrap up of the “Zom-B-Movie” storyline, which takes too damn long. An anthology movie should never exceed a hundred minutes. Fatigue is bound to set in, and with the final story it’s hard to muster up the enthusiasm for another setup. “Zom-B-Movie” is the weakest installment by far, unfortunately causing the film to run out of steam. Twenty minutes of running time are all that stands between this movie and cult immortality.
It’s hard to look for meaning in stories about undead orgies, giant sperm, carnivorous gay awakenings, and Nazi hijinks. All the stories are preoccupied with sex, and other than “Deathication,” stay away from poop humor (which is one of the reasons it feels like such a bizarre misstep). “Zom-B-Movie” echoes, intentionally or not, the 1975 David Cronenberg oddity Shivers. Instead of the faceless conformity that zombie films usually rail against, this is more about a concern with too much sexual liberation. But while Shivers was afraid of this, “Zom-B-Movie” adopts a slightly more ambivalent attitude, having certain characters throw their arms up and surrender to an undead fuckfest. “Wadzilla” and “Werebear” hew closer to Shivers, since both warn against unchecked sexual desire. And, you know, giant sperm.
Beyond sex, these films are fundamentally about movies themselves. The story exists as a film festival in a drive-in theater that is about to be closed to make way for a mall. The shorts each acknowledge that they’re films: the rear-projected background in “Wadzilla” breaks down, “Werebear” features multiple song and dance numbers, and there’s a point in “Diary” where the film skips reels. Much of the dialogue in the wraparound story consists of movie quotes, even to the point of incomprehensibility (“Rosebud, motherfuckers!” isn’t really a battle cry, no matter how much you love Orson Welles). A character comes up with a plan because “it’s the only thing he remembers from the movies that makes any sense.” Movies are how we communicate, how we think. They’re a shared culture in an increasingly impersonal world. Movies are who we are, something suggested in the final twist. As “Zom-B-Movie” comes to a close, the camera pans out, revealing that this was all being watched onscreen by the four directors. It’s a level of diagesis unseen since The Company of Wolves.
But really, who cares? At the end of the day, is Chillerama worth it? Did reading the words “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein” make you laugh? Then yes.