Tuesday, November 11, 2008

SPLATTER DISCO (2007) d. Richard Griffin

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Horror films and musical motion pictures came into the cinematic world roughly about the same time during the earliest days of “silent pictures”. Both became regular staples of movie theaters and yet one of the most interesting aspects of their seemingly unconnected stories is that while musicals were king for a time in the 1940s and 1950s, horror flicks have outlasted the musical feature. Musicals began to decline in popularity during the late 1960s, which became a full-fledged free-fall by the 1980s. Despite some attempts to revive musicals in recent years with motion pictures like MOULIN ROUGE, CHICAGO and ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, the musical seems as dead as a corpse from a John Carpenter movie. Or is it? Director Richard Griffin and Shock-o-Rama Cinema, the duo that brought us the wacky horror-comedy NECROVILLE, have teamed up again to create a horror-musical-comedy-satire called SPLATTER DISCO, which sounds like it would be an appalling pile of misery and a heartrending viewing experience, but it is actually the epitome of a very good bad movie.

SPLATTER DISCO is the story of the town of Westerly and the divisions ripping it apart between God-fearing right-wing conservatives on one side and the kinky deviants who just want to have their own brand of fun on the other. Shank Chubb and his son Kent own and run the fetish nightclub “Den o’ Iniquity” where all manner of hi-jinks and lewd behavior occurs. Mayor Rusty, whose political strings are manipulated by his shrewish and licentious mother, aim to shut down “The Den” and force all of its naughty patrons back to their seedy, deeply closeted ways. All the while these cultural and social skirmishes are happening, a costumed killer is on the loose and he is thinning out the population of “The Den’s” impish and gleeful perverts. It is only when Echo and Danni are able to find some evidence of political wrong-doing and Mayor Rusty finally stands up to his mother that the “Den o’ Iniquity” is saved from the municipal chopping block.

SPLATTER DISCO could have gone horribly wrong, but it does what NECROVILLE was unable to do. It went for broke right out of the gate, created some fun characters that were easy to laugh at and enjoy and it was sleazy and lurid without being abnormally base and crass. SPLATTER DISCO combines overwrought melodrama with cultural-war satire and mocks both by taking absolutely no prisoners. Every character and their actions and words are fodder for being lampooned, and even though most of the inexperienced actors and actresses struggled with poor performances caused mostly by overacting, it really didn’t hurt this movie for it fit the silly and sarcastic style of the narrative. Most of the characters were foolish caricatures of deviant young people out for kicks and if that sounds familiar it should be, because for much of the movie I was strongly reminded of A DIRTY SHAME (2004). At times I was also reminded of the punky, urban musical elements of STREETS OF FIRE (1984) and the Ken Foree in the white tux on the dance floor scene had a strong ALL THAT JAZZ (1979) feel, but neither of these was a serious attempt to recall either of those flicks. SPLATTER DISCO owes its debt of gratitude to A DIRTY SHAME, and while its inspiration was a far better film, SPLATTER DISCO had a lot of its own strengths too.

Throughout SPLATTER DISCO we are treated to goofy costumes of all shapes, sizes and sinful styles, even goofier musical numbers shot and choreographed to be ludicrous and yet somehow they were charming, and then exceedingly goofy story quirks, dialogue and references. At no time did this film overtly take itself seriously and that is why it succeeded. The only serious quality was the very unsubtle and yet not terribly potent anti-Religious Right Wing message and the attempt to lay bare the heart of conservative hypocritical attitudes/behaviors. What was also serious was the attempt to make this a colorful film that was reasonably well shot and looked good on many levels. It didn’t hurt that PopCinema finally added some attractive girls as window dressing and in some of the larger roles. Another immeasurable strength was the presence of some screen veterans who added a degree of professionalism, charisma and legitimacy to the movie. Ken Foree repeatedly stole the show from the youngsters around him but did it in such a modest manner that his aura of cool helped to ground SPLATTER DISCO in his personal magnetism. Seeing exploitation icons Lynn Lowry and Debbie Rochon in their roles also added points to SPLATTER DISCO. Ms. Lowry was always an underrated actress and is able to bring an indefinable air of charm to any film she has ever graced. While never a stellar performer, Debbie Rochon knows her way around a set, can give a solid performance and still has a mesmeric beauty that is of benefit to any production. Juxtaposed nicely with these professional strengths are the sleaze-factor qualities of SPLATTER DISCO that also make it a modern example of exploitation cinema. While not loaded with nudity, there is just enough disrobed pulchritude to add some titillation, and there are even more mischievous costumes and lascivious behavior to tickle most people’s fancies.

The greatest weaknesses of SPLATTER DISCO are its overall lack of the slasher component. Fairly infrequent deaths occur in a film that has “splatter” in the title, which may disappoint those who reach for this flick hoping for a bloodbath. The kill scenes are reasonably gory, but there just aren’t enough of them, probably because the writers tried to actually put together a story with some honest character development. While the “club scenes” were attractively constructed and then fairly well shot, most of the exterior and interior sets were comparatively simplistic and unimpressive. As a result, while SPLATTER DISCO has a reasonably comedic vibe and it is attractively lit and idiotically (in a good way) scored, there isn’t much of a truly horror atmosphere to this film. In the end, it really wasn’t a major loss. Anyone reaching for SPLATTER DISCO and seeing the prominent label “The First Slasher Musical” and was hoping for a Lucio Fulci film must be a master at self-deception. Go into this film with your eyes wide open, knowing you are going to get something a little smarter and slicker than truly sophomoric humor and some ham-handed but effective satire.

SPLATTER DISCO has a sizable extras menu, which is not to be wondered at when dealing with Shock-o-Rama. In addition to an audio commentary with actress Lynn Lowry and director Richard Griffin, there is a 37 minute “behind the scenes” featurette that I enjoyed. There is five minutes worth of two alternate scenes that were interesting and of course the always loaded Shock-o-Rama previews and trailer vault. While the extras on PopCinema discs may not be as cerebral as some of the bonus goodies on dvds produced by Euro-sleaze purveyors like Severin Films or No Shame Films, at least Shock-o-Rama makes the effort to add in some tidbits of interest that make any dvd-lover smile.

One of the most joyous experiences in life is the “pleasant surprise” and having your expectations exceeded. I have learned that I am almost always disappointed by a film when I go in with high expectations and am often pleased to see how much I like a flick when those same expectations are kept as low as possible. I went into SPLATTER DISCO expecting very little and as a result, it turned out to be a smirk-fest with the occasional softly modulated giggle. That is a good thing because horror-comedies can be miserable failures and painfully bad when they are mishandled. SPLATTER DISCO doesn’t try to be something it’s not, it uses what little cash it had wisely and goes after an audience that it knows will probably like its fare and does so with a startling degree of success.


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