Saturday, August 20, 2016

Cinematic Pieces of Sheets Part 4: Sorority Babes in the Dance-A-Thon of Death & Zombie Rampage

Holy shit this is the longest, most punctuated drawn-out a-thon ever. Watching these movies... I had to take a step back, take some time for myself to examine my life and figure out what the hell I've let happen here. But I've got to persevere. Onward! So, here I am again, trying to piece together from my inebriated scrawlings what exactly I watched last night. I was not looking forward to this one: Sorority Babes in the Dance-A-Thon of Death. The title alone was off-putting as I couldn't help conjuring images of shit with A-Go-Go in the title. Groan. Turns out it was a non-issue as there was no dance-a-thon in the entire film. Whew! Dodged a bullet!

So what was it like? Wow... that's 70 minutes I'll never get back. The beginning was unimaginably dull. So dull in fact it made me nostalgically long for Goblin. Yeah. At least Goblin had stuff happening in it, albeit the confused mess that it was. So plot: Girl goes to antique store and old woman sells her a crystal ball that turns out to be incarcerating a demon the girl then accidentally releases at a party séance. The kids at the party spend the night being possessed, killed by, and running from the demon, meanwhile the owners of the antique store try to hunt down the crystal ball and put an end to the mayhem.

What can I say, it's got the same cast and same set of problems as the other Sheets movies, except this one is really fucking boring. I kind of liked the song during the credit roll, though. It's kind of plain, but in a fair and just universe I could see Hocico taking it and doing something quite dashing with it. And they used that one freaking song that's been driving me nuts! I still haven't identified it, and it's been used it in every single one of his movies that I've seen so far. It's going to drive me crazy!

Dance-A-Thon gets better during the last fifteen minutes or so. While the rest of the film was washed out and kind of phoned-in looking with bored, dead-on shots and nary a dramatic angle to be found, the camera work and lighting suddenly become quite decent. It's like everyone realized they were almost done with the freaking thing, and this caused them to suddenly get so happy they started having fun and enjoying what they were doing. If you're going to bother with this one, seriously, skip the first forty minutes.  

Also watch the credits. You get the special thanks to Jesus Christ and all that, but then there's a special “Rot in Hell” section in which he lists those who've done him wrong, among whom is a priest who apparently didn't like his art and some distribution companies who shared this sentiment.

Just how many people accused them of making porn?

Anyhoo... The last stop on our drunken bad movie marathon: Zombie Rampage-- Director's Cut.  I don't know if there's another cut out there. Either way this is supposedly the pinnacle of Todd Sheets' career. This is it. Of the 40 freakin' movies this guy's unleashed on humanity, this is the one he's apparently most known for, according to the places on the internet that I checked. [citation needed]

This opens with a fight scene between two rival gangs, and don't bother thinking I got the names. The fight scene was decent, choreographed, well executed. I was not expecting it, and I was pleasantly surprised. The cops come to break it up, and for a moment I thought they actually got a squad car and maybe even a real cop to extra in their movie. When the same shot of the cop exiting his car was repeated, I realized they did get a real cop! He was there to break up the filming, presumably.

There's also a serial killer about, but I had a feeling, which turned out to be correct, that he was just sort of an aside who they'd forget about and maybe make do something at the end because they suddenly remembered him.

The trouble starts when one of the gangs' leaders decides to try and raise all the dead members to build an army of zombies to settle the gang war. He even got a double his money back guarantee on the efficacy of the book! I like the idea that the instructions to raise the dead are available in a book, a paperback book that's been in distribution for who knows how long, but long enough it's even ended up in a used bookstore... and no one's tried to do it until now. This lowly criminal is apparently going to premier the technique.

So they raise the dead, and surprise! It goes wrong and the zombies obey no one and start killing everyone. Now we've got people dying three or four times before they finally have their screen death, and more groping through indistinct white animal matter. So the gangsters run into a bar where earlier we saw ta tas (with pasties), but they weren't really ta tas we wanted to see (sorry lady). In the bar girls are crying about it being the apocalypse with someone in the background who apparently missed out on the news dutifully wiping down tables.  

 That guy has the best work ethic I've ever seen! I mean, it's the apocalypse, but this guy's still on the clock, and his shift isn't over until 2.

Maybe it's the dark, maybe it's the tracking lines and grainy picture, but some of the zombies look pretty good, which is probably why they're a staple of no-budget horror: they're easy to make look good.  

I was a bit confused about what season it was supposed to be set during. The dead raising scene in the graveyard looked pretty summery with leaves on the trees and such... but then later we're shown an exterior of a house with at least a foot of snow on the ground.

Behold the tree and it's foliage!

And later that day:  Winter

Aaaaand I found where all that spliced in footage from Goblin came from. I forgot to mention it in my post about that movie-- because I forgot it happened--- because I was drunk, ---but there was this scene at the end of Goblin where all of a sudden fucking zombies were attacking, and characters I'd never seen before were defending against the attack. The movie up to that point hadn't had anything at all to do with zombies, but I was too sloshed to be confused by it. I just accepted, and immediately forgot it.

… Until I saw this and it all came slamming back to me. This! This was in that other thing!

The thing about these movies seems to be that Todd Sheets is worried about them not being long enough, and he really shouldn't be. They're plenty long. Too long really. But his insecurity about his, *ahem*, film length has resulted in seemingly unrelated extra footage being added in after he's finished a project just to pad the running time. I swear at least one of these movies I saw was nothing but cobbled together bits of stuff he'd shot.

The serial killer eventually comes back and ends up with the survivors until he just can't go another minute without stabbing a guy and gets himself shot. Everyone gets picked off as their barricades are breached until they're down to 4 survivors in an elevator shaft. 

From an earlier scene, so you don't think my DVD skipped.
Wait, is that a real elevator shaft they're playing around in? Anyway, they go in the elevator shaft and... one girl gets out on the street--? I tried to follow the progression from elevator shaft to street and figure out what supposedly went down during the cut. I even rewound it a couple times, and there was just no accounting for the other people. They went in... but only the girl comes out. And how'd she get out of the building? One minute elevator shaft, next girl on street screaming and surrounded by zombies being stared down by a gurning mime??? 

 This leaves me with far more questions than answers.

Bonus: there was a boom mic!  Overall, I can see why this is his most acclaimed project.  It was the most coherent (minus the mime), the most audible, the most visible, the most movie-like of his films.

There's more in Todd Sheets' filmography, but I'm stopping here for now since these are all the ones I have and I'm not really sure how far I want to pursue and spend on watching more of them.  

In conclusion one might ask:  Why am I being mean to these movies? What's the point of taking the piss from these things?  What'd they ever do to me anyways?

Well, I've been kind of wondering why they exist.  That they've been created and have made it to market where people can buy and watch them...  It's as anomalous as finding a retarded bird with half a wing having made it to adulthood in the wild:  by all logic it shouldn't have happened.  I keep thinking about cheap crap from China. Things that merely look like can openers and portable game consoles and battery chargers, but don’t actually do anything aside from take your money and punish you for being cheap, or worse... detonate when you try to use them. And there is so much of it out there. How much of the things manufactured are actually just garbage? Please don’t send me links to infographics.  I have a feeling, but I really don’t want to know the actual scope.

It's hard to feel okay making that kind of comparison to someone's artistic endeavor and expression. It doesn't seem fair, and art is one of my sacred cows. But I kind of want to ask, why didn’t you demand more from yourself? And if that wasn’t enough and this was simply done because you enjoyed it-- fair enough--but why did you offer it up as a product for sale and distribution if you yourself don’t even respect it?
He knows what he's done.

For the price you kind of know what to expect. If you pay a dollar for a can opener you can expect it not to open cans and the knob thing that you turn to fall off. If you buy 500 full-length movies you've never heard of for $20 bucks, you can expect a bit of a treasure hunt. But you feel somewhat justified shitting on it when the creator themselves proudly denounces their product as “trash.” Calling it trashy and admitting up front the amount of effort that was put in on the surface looks like a sort of apologetic disclaimer to warn the audience what they’re in for, shrugging off criticism before anyone has the chance so if anyone bothers after the fact you can just shrug and say, “Yeah? And...?” You have defensively just been invited to hate it. If you criticize it, you're the one that doesn't get it. Duh! It’s supposed to be awful! Expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed. Proudly brand yourself as incompetent and no one is allowed to be disappointed because you've delivered exactly what you promised. And at least people are talking about you.
This looks almost like a designed form of capitulation in which a certain measure of success was out of reach, so here's some crap they shot with an VHS camcorder.
Except he is successful. He has an IMDB page. There are people he's never met who know who he is. You can Google his name and get a motherfucking autofill by the 8th letter. He's done what he wanted, what he loved, and he's shared it with the world. He didn't give up. And that cast that was in every freaking shitty movie he made... that's a group of friends man. They had to have had fun working on these projects with him and helping him realize his vision, or they wouldn't have done it over and over again and offer themselves up as an easy target for the ultra-serious stick-up-their-assed, snarky pretentious assholes ...and people who need something to criticize... like me, you know, for CONTENT.
Inexpensive, high quality recording devices and free professional editing software weren't ubiquitous, and YouTube wasn't a thing when these movies were made, so large-scale free distribution wasn't available in the way it is now. If you wanted to make something and share it beyond a small circle and maybe find your way into bigger and better things, you needed a distributer, and I'm speculating Sheets and his crew saw very little of the money his movies actually made. I get that making a movie isn't an easy task. It's hard fucking work and a zillion things can go wrong, and these kinds of movies are a testament to that. Given what he's accomplished despite all this, I should be asking him for life advice. I should be following in his footsteps because all the things I wish I had and think of as markers of true success: a network of friends, fans and genuine supporters of creative pursuits... he has.  
Finding what's wrong with his films is easy. They're like a tacky gag gift, accomplishing the opposite of their goal, which causes them to paradoxically... accomplish their original goal. I guess this insults the sensibilities of the serious because it shows, going back to the cheap can opener, that you don't have to be good at what you do to prosper from it.  You can give consensus and generally accepted practices the finger and still make it alright.  All the more unfair when the prosperity is derived from flouting your failure and disdain like honoured decorations while many who are truly talented and skilled are criticized for not being talented and skilled enough when trying to adhere to tradition and technique. To be able to shill a product simply because of how bad it is, refusing to participate in the collective striving toward perfection and instead proudly holding aloft your turd and shouting, “It's SHIT! Who wants some?” and have people actually buy into it... I can see how some who've tried and failed might feel cosmically slighted somehow. Maybe they're just bitter that they didn't think of being the first to say "fuck it" before it was cool, and if they try to do it now, not only are they admitting their work is garbage-- and possibly failing to meet that new low standard-- but they'd risk looking like poser-sellout-copycats too, just trying to be trendy and make a buck.  So they're just mediocre.  Not the best, not the worst.  Not remarkable in any way.
Though I don't quite want to celebrate what Todd Sheets has done and that he's been able to do it against fairly reasonable standards, I might be better off if I apply the lesson in my own life and see what I can make with and learn from it.
If my review has intrigued you and you just have to see for yourself how bad these movies are, you can find them in the Bloody Nightmares 100 Movie Pack along with many other terrible no-budget horror movies and some not so terrible ones.
And Mr. Todd Sheets, if you read this for some reason, please, for the love of all that is holy and sacred, tell me what that goddamned music is from.

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