God bless Glenn Danzig. He’s always been fully committed to his own idea of art, whether that’s been the full-steam-ahead punk rock of Misfits, the heavy metal of Danzig, or the extremity of his comic book company Verotik, a portmanteau of “violence” and “erotic.” But all of that has clearly been a prelude to his true calling: making one of the most batshit ridiculous horror anthology films ever put on screen. Within the first 60 seconds, a narrator pokes out a woman’s eyes with her fingers, and it works all too well as a metaphor for what this movie puts the audience through.
Tonight was opening night of Chicago’s Cinepocalypse Film Festival, a horror genre fest that traffics in the gleefully disreputable, much to the delight of its dedicated fans. But this year, no one was prepared for what awaited them. The fest kicked off a few hours ago with the debut of Danzig’s first feature as a writer and director (among many other credits—he did the score, too). Verotika, based on his comics of the same name, played to a packed house, all of whom were eager to see what the frontman for several of the most iconic names in punk and metal had to offer the world of cinema. But within 10 minutes, the howling began. It was a deeply, powerfully, almost worryingly funny film, a misfire of the highest order—and as a post-screening Q&A with the director demonstrated, none of that was intentional.
“You guys laughed in some of the places I wouldn’t have, but that’s cool,” Danzig said when he took the stage. (This may be a slight paraphrase—I was rushing to write it down in the gleeful aftermath of this apparently accidental comedy.) This wasn’t quite the willful misunderstanding of a Tommy Wiseau, but it wasn’t far off. Danzig has made what, in his mind, is a deeply serious tribute to the horror anthology films of the ’60s and ’70s; he name-checked Mario Bava in particular, which was apt, as it often felt like Verotika was a Christopher Guest-level attempt to send up the operatic horror of that era. From the first frame to the last, the poor acting, comical staging, and delightfully bad camerawork suffuses every moment with unintentional comedy.
How to do justice to something so poorly made, but with such obvious passion and care—a joy for all the wrong reasons? How to pay tribute to the porno-esque production design, so pronounced that one might spend each of the three sequences in this triptych of macabre tales waiting for a pizza delivery guy to enter the frame and say, “Well, if you don’t have any money, how are you going to pay me?” How to properly applaud the straight-faced, comically protracted shots of actors staring into the distance? At one point, a woman looks into a mirror for minutes on end, while the camera zooms in...then out...then in...then out...then in...and so on. A guy in the row ahead of me started laughing so hard, it drowned out several of her lines, which was fine. The mix wasn’t so hot to begin with.
Let’s start with the first story, which finds a woman with eyes in her nipples (this is never explained) going to sleep and unleashing a vengeful id, a spider who has grown to massive size and become humanoid after her tears fall onto it. (Don’t ask.) The acting is of the hilarious “smell the fart” variety made famous by Joey Tribbiani. The staging, meanwhile, is wholly incompetent, with the images cut together with the abruptness of a VHS cassette that’s been taped over one too many times. During one scene, a random woman has a conversation with a man in a darkened alley, and then the camera pulls back to reveals she’s having a casual chat with an eight-armed spider creature, who then snaps her neck. Cut to the news anchor describing the scene, and saying the killer is being called “The Neckbreaker.” It’s spectacular.
The second tale is less ridiculous, but equally dumb. It features the adventures of a mysterious woman (boldly called “The Mystery Girl”) who dances in a strip club with her face shrouded, but who cuts off other women’s faces at night to place over her own deformed visage. (Why she would bother to steal faces when she just keeps them covered is a question no one thought to ask.) Highlights of this story include too-good-to-be-true moments like the cops, standing over the body of yet another woman with her face cut off, saying, “The killer’s motive is clear: He cuts their faces off.” (Again, this might be a slight paraphrase; I was scribbling fast and often.) Some of the standout acting here includes a role for Courtney Stodden, the former child bride of reality TV fame. She gets—you guessed it—her face cut off. Her performance is bad, in the best possible way.
But the last segment may be the worst (read: best) of all, a period piece about a medieval queen who bathes in the blood of virgin girls she executes to stay youthful. It resembles low-rent cosplay, below even what you see in Syfy movie-of-the-week tripe, and features scenes that go on so long, you wonder if it must be a joke. Then Glenn Danzig comes onstage after the credits roll and assures you it’s not. “I don’t wanna direct some Academy Award piece of shit,” he tells the crowd, and he clearly means it.
God only knows if this movie will ever see the light of day outside of a few film festivals. I sincerely hope it does; everyone should get the chance to see what Danzig’s ego hath wrought. I don’t even want him to be dispirited: This may not be the reaction he was hoping for, but it’s so much better than I could ever have imagined. This is funny on a level that most comedies can’t achieve. It’s that rare fusion of painstakingly expressed love and total lack of ability that deliver the best of bad cinema, and he should be proud. The director of Birdemic wishes his intentions were this pure. All I want to do is watch this movie again, with as many of my friends as I can assemble. Glenn Dan-zigged where he should have Dan-zagged, and for that we should all be profoundly grateful.