Wednesday, June 18, 2008

DRAINIAC (2000) d. Brett Piper

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Let us start this deeply intellectual review of DRAINIAC by expanding or refining our vocabularies.
Concept (noun) 1. A broad abstract idea or a guiding general principle affecting perception and behavior.
Execution (noun) 1. The style or manner in which something is carried out or accomplished.

It is essential to begin with such information, because it is the dichotomy between the essences of these two words that is at the root of understanding the phenomena that is DRAINIAC. The truly successful and iconic film is able to blend both concept and execution so it is both compelling in nature from the start and a satisfying experience by the end. DRAINIAC, first released in 2000 but digitally remastered in a widescreen format in 2008 has a very enticing concept, but its execution is far from satisfying or successful.

DRAINIAC is the story of Julie Ashbrook, her tragic and dysfunctional family and her friends Lisa, Jake and Tanya. Julie is the teenage daughter and domestic work unit of her cruel and lunk-headed father, who compels Julie to help him resuscitate old houses that he hopes to sell for profit after they’ve been “fixed up”. In addition to suffering under an uncaring father and plagued by memories of her mother’s death, Julie is haunted by grotesque dreams of slithering, inhuman monsters. Julie’s dreams seem to be coming true when she is forced to scrub down a wreck of a house that not only looks bad, it smells bad and sounds bad. Even after her friends come to keep Julie company, things go from bad to worse as a twisted townie causes trouble, and terrifying tentacles begin to sprout forth from the plumbing. Before long, the teens are battling for their life against an unholy malevolence bent on slaking its unending thirst with their blood.

On the surface, DRAINIAC would appear to have some things going for it. The concept of something sinister lurking in the pipes is always fertile ground for some good scares, despite the fact it has been used before. Making the entity in the pipes a demon from the abyss isn’t a bad thought either, for the concept of people trapped inside a haunted house and fleeing the Powers of The Infernal Master is another fruitful field worth harvesting, even though the thresher has gone over that ground too. While some recoil at the gruesome nature of rampaging tentacle-beasts snacking on simpering stoops and sluts, I will always raise my hand eagerly when someone asks for a volunteer to watch such fare. Perhaps that is why I am a fan of Stuart Gordon’s work. He brings the tentacles on in force. So you’ve got slime-slicked pipes, a many-armed monstrosity animated by the forces of the Underworld and there are teens, three of them girls, two of them attractive, and one who gets naked, what more could you want from a movie? How about effective execution? Without that, DRAINIAC turns out to be a disappointment to say the least.

What makes it disappointing? First of all, when the “actors” who “starred” in DRAINIAC did this film, they were rookies. While Georgia Hatzis (Julie) and Alexandra Boylan (Lisa) have gone on to do other projects and have probably gained some experience and honed their talents, most of this cast were not actors then, are not actors now and if they are, their lack of expertise in 2000 showed. Not only is there is a distinct lack of acting talent, the cast is unable to build any chemistry. While there is probably some fault that can be spread around to the producers who couldn’t afford “real actors”, in the end the craft of an actor is to deliver lines and to affect actions that help to effectively develop an engaging story. The cast of DRAINIAC is unable to do this. What is worse, most of the characters are totally unappealing and there is no opportunity for the viewing audience to identify with them. While they are not hateful scumbags like those of the torture porn film CARVER, you just don’t care about them, at best, or at worst they are unlikable. Even the comedic arrival of the character “Plummer” played by Phillip Barbour is not enough to stem the tide of disdain and the poor acting keeps the good concept from being fully realized.

In addition, DRAINIAC’s story is pretty weak. Just because you have an interesting idea for a story doesn’t mean it is deep enough or compelling enough to create a feature-length film. The myths that have grown up around this film since its original release and the whispers through grapevine say that its initial run time was somewhere around 50 minutes and that “padding” was needed. Anyone who has ever seen ROCK & ROLL NIGHTMARE understands that no amount of padding saved that cinematic anchor from its slide to the murky bottom of the film pond. DRAINIAC has too many pointless moments of character interplay that feel like dialogue for the sake of dialogue. There are scenes of cars moving along roads for a few too many seconds or Julie jogging through prettily colored autumn lanes, but the loveliness isn’t used as juxtaposition with the ugliness of the haunted house or the demonic drain creature. Many of the séance scenes and the struggles with the monster at the end went on far too long and lost any and all dramatic intensity they may have had. A horror film must have scary moments. There are some fine gory scenes at times with just enough blood, slime, turgid water, filthy pipes and dripping tentacles to catch someone’s attention, but that attention is not able to be maintained. Much like the long lost and unlamented turd THE ASTRAL FACTOR, a good seed idea for a story must be carefully fleshed out with complex twists and turns, character development, and drama. A few good action scenes do not a fine film make.

Finally, credit must be given where it is deserved. This is a competently shot film. I did not say it was “superbly shot”, just competent, and it utilizes an interesting mix of special effects combining some low budget but effective CGI, puppets and/or stop-motion animation reminiscent of Ray Harrihausen, exotic make up and tried and true props, but even these strengths did not produce any impressive atmosphere. Being a native New Englander, I was thrilled to see that DRAINIAC had been shot in New Hampshire, but despite being filmed in Pelham and Derry, NH it just wasn’t a moody or atmospheric film. Sometimes, if the look of a film is impressive enough, it can overcome story or acting weaknesses. For example, just ask Dario Argento about INFERNO. Dario had loads of cash on hand to make INFERNO look amazing, and Brett Piper didn’t. In the opening credits, he gives producer/friend Paul Costley credit by referring to the production as Not-So-Costley Productions. A film doesn’t have to be expensive to be good, but it has to at least look like a lot of energy and thought has been expended. DRAINIAC doesn’t quite feel that way and in the end it is too bad. I really wanted to like this flick.

One great surprise was the somewhat thin extras menu. In most cases, dvds released through the imprints of the PopCinema universe like Shock-O-Rama are usually crammed with goodies. With the exception of an interesting audio commentary with Brett Piper, Greg Conley and Michael Raso, and the excellent liner notes booklet by Greg Conley, there is a massive trailer vault and that is it. For a supposedly serious re-release of this film, I would expect there to be a little more. Interviews with the cast might have been nice and/or a documentary of the film’s production. While the booklet does cover this subject matter and I do like to read, most people watching a dvd are video-philes and would probably prefer to view the extras.

DRAINIAC is not a terrible film and I did not feel like the life had been sucked out of me as I have on so many occasions when watching other fare. It had a good concept and due to extremely restricted finances, Brett Piper had to be inventive with what was available at the time and what became available in the years after its release and before its remastering. People who like modern B-movies will probably enjoy DRAINIAC. I realize that I am prejudiced and a relic of the past, but I prefer my B-movies to be products of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. For some reason, past the point of about 1982, my criticisms of films are harsher and possibly not totally objective. Be that as it may, all film critics have their prejudices and none of us are objective. We all have an axe to grind. I did not take an axe to DRAINIAC, rather I hit it a few times with an old rusty frying pan. I enjoyed elements of the film and wished whole-heartedly that it was better. Great B-movies are an acquired taste, and I am willing to give Mr. Piper another try with some of his other films done for PopCinema.

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