Chillerama is the latest ode to the drive-in B-movies of old. Like the higher profile 2007 Grindhouse, this movie is a series of short films from four different filmmakers celebrating the exploitation spirit of schlock cinema. Cecil B. Kaufman (Richard Riehle) is closing his drive-in theater, and for the final night of operation he’s showing four movies never before seen: the killer sperm movie “Wadzilla,” the unexpected lycanthropy romance “I Was a Teenage Werebear,” the black-and-white monster movie “The Diary of Ann Frankenstein,” and a final fecal-filled adventure into the abyss, “Deathication.” However, during this final night the drive-in is also ground zero for a new zombie outbreak, a disease spread through sexual fluids. Tobe (Corey Jones) has to navigate through the sex-crazed corpses to save his crush, Mayna (Kaili Thorne), and escape the drive-in- of death and maybe lose his pesky virginity.
Given its vignette nature, not all of the segments will be equal in quality. The absolute highpoint is indisputably “The Diary of Ann Frankenstein.” I laughed long and hard during this clever, cock-eyed satire. The absurdity of its premise and the assured demented sense of comedy of its creator, writer/director Adam Green (Frozen, Hatchet), had me laughing until I was in physical pain. The Frank family (formerly Frankenstein) is found by none other than Hitler (Joel David Moore, embracing the silliness with gusto) who dispatches them and steals the family journal. In one of the movie’s funniest lines, Hitler tosses a journal to a Nazi cohort and instructs: “Here, write some depressing stuff in this. We’ll say the girl wrote it and make millions after the war.” Hitler creates his own Jewish Frankenstein-like creature, though a missing film reel reveals his true motivation for reanimating this corpse (and he sings!). Green’s sense of comedy is evident in the pacing, construction of layered jokes, and genre spoofing. There’s one point where the monster is locked in the laboratory and just walks around the set, breaking down the fourth wall. Green even has the entire segment subtitled, though if you listen closely you’ll notice only about 10 percent is German. At one point Moore is screaming “No!” for a solid minute but he says a different word or phrase every time, including “Goldie Hawn!” at one point. The segment is so good that you may not even notice that joke at first glance. “The Diary of Ann Frankenstein” is wickedly hilarious and too tacky to be taken as a serious offense.
The other vignettes falls somewhere in the middle. “Zom-B-Movie” is the slickest looking movie, set in the present, and is a lot of fun. It adds a twist to the crowded zombie genre by adding in a sexual element, making the zombies a sex-crazed orgy (expect nudity that makes you feel funny). There are plenty of solid gross-out effects, and several sequences of penile endangerment, and there are some ingenious camera angles to match the segment’s electric energy. It’s the most self-aware segment, as characters openly discuss horror movie conventions and their own place in the movie Scream-style (“I’m the Final Girl,” one guy declares). A good percentage of the dialogue is comprised of movie quotes and catch-phrases brilliantly placed in this incongruous setting. During the climax, Riehle (Office Space) shoots round after round into the bands of zombies, ripping off like 20 anachronistic movie quotes as if they were action movie quips (“Nobody puts baby in a corner!” he yells and then shoots a zombie in the crotch). I was flabbergasted that the segment actually quoted Billy Madison, and well. The self-aware humor and the overall feverish energy, plus some characters we’ve been investing with in between the earlier segments, makes for a fun and satisfying sendoff for the whole trashy enterprise.
The first two segments rely more on base humor and seem to run out of gas midway through. “Wadzilla” is a one-joke segment about a man whose single sperm grows to monstrous, man-eating size. The cartoonish tone and low-rent visuals feel like a Joe Dante (Gremlins) homage. The segment does feature one truly inspired, wacked-out image: the giant sperm fantasizes the Statue of Liberty stripping out of her cloak and shaking her green goods (I think this segment just gave birth to a brand new fetish). But the overall concept is weak and the segment relies far more on shock value than wit. It’s more like a rejected Troma flick, though helped immensely by the presence of Ray Wise (TV’s Reaper). “I Was a Teenage Werebear” takes the 1950s beach blanket bingo teen films and gives it a gay twist, and to boot it’s a musical (territory covered well in Psycho Beach Party). The storyline of guy-meets-werebear doesn’t provide enough material to hold together the segment. Many of the actors cannot sing either, which adds to the joke but also makes the film more punishing to watch. The pacing is poor and the gags feel like they were the first things conceived. There’s not enough thought on display; the segment just peters out and becomes tiresome. The fact that Chillerama opens with “Wadzilla” and then “I Was a Teenage Werebear” makes it harder to appreciate the finished product.
Chillerama is certainly going to have a restricted audience interested in campy homages celebrating the trashy nature of cheesy low-budget, exploitative B-movies. Unlike Grindhouse, this collection lacks big names but it makes up for it with a cracked sense of humor. The segments all run about 25 minutes in length, which means even if you dislike one it’ll be over soon enough. The four segments vary in quality, though each has its moments. “The Diary of Ann Frankenstein” is easily the standout of the bunch, elevated by droll, absurdist, demented humor that’s skillfully constructed and deconstructed. “Zom-B-Movie,” the culmination of the film’s connecting characters, is a fun blast to conclude with. Chillerama is a messy, uneven, crude, occasionally brilliant, but most of all it’s a great way to spend a Saturday night with some friends and a supply of popcorn. Just watch out what’s in that butter topping.
Nate’s Grade: B