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It wasn’t surprising when Night of Something Strange won Best Horror Feature at the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival because it was the one that had the buzz. The Cruel Tale of the Medicine Man was different and enjoyable but everyone was talking about this one instead, whether because they loved it, they hated it or they just couldn’t believe what they had just seen.
I talked to quite a few people in each of those categories, but along with The Greasy Strangler, which wasn’t in competition, it was the film on everyone’s lips this year and it won’t take much to explain why. In fact, I can just explain some of Wayne W Johnson’s role as Cornelius and you’ll get the picture. He’s not the star of the movie, though he is the first person we see and he continues to show up throughout. He’s just the actor who gets to do the most outrageous things, even without a heck of a lot of screen time. I can’t think of another part in any movie that does as much, even if we don’t correlate to time on screen. If we do that, he’s in a league of his own.
Let’s start at the beginning. This film kicks off with a necrophiliac rape and only digs a deeper hole from there. Yes, that’s Cornelius in the morgue getting his rocks off with a Jane Doe. He should have read the card, because this unknown naked chick died of a virulent STD and, next thing we know, he’s back in his trailer with burning junk, raping his wife. She knocks him out with a heavy phone then sticks him with a kitchen knife, but he rips out her uterus and eats it. At least, I think it’s her uterus. It’s possibly a foetus and I wouldn’t put it past writer/director Jonathan Straiton. By sheer coincidence, he and actor Michael Merchant were sat immediately in front of me and it was fascinating watching them watch the audience and laughing at their disbelieving faces. Let me highlight that we’re about five minutes in at this point and we’ve had two rapes, one of them of a corpse, and an ingestion of the female reproductive system. This film clearly isn’t going to hold back and it’s really only just getting started.
While Cornelius reappears at points to do something else utterly outrageous, as if he’s determined to be a drinking game, the movie couldn’t sustain its impact if that was everything that happened. So, we shift back to school and meet a host of characters who will soon leave for Spring Break and end up running in to Cornelius and/or his zombie STD creations. If we hadn’t realised Straiton’s influences already, we can’t miss them in the names of the five kids who head out to the beach together. There’s Carrie and her dorky cousin Jason. There’s her boyfriend Freddy and her friend Christine. The only one not named for an iconic horror movie character is the token black guy, Brooklyn. Skipping out of class early to leave before them is Pam, whose boyfriend Dirk shows up in a black muscle car blastingMean Motherfucker Blues by Angry Johnny & The Killbillies. No, this movie isn’t interested in being subtle but thanks for the heads up about that band, folks. How have I never heard of these guys before?
Everyone ends up at the Redwood Budget Motel and, well, here’s where I’d usually say that you can write the script yourself but… I have to be a little careful this time out. No, there’s no attempt made to twist the tried and tested formulae of zombie flicks and slasher movies into something clever and original. We get what we expect to get on that level: good looking teens with their little relationship dramas aiming to get laid when the apocalypse hits and kills them one by one. However, Straiton ratchets up the ick factor with the delight of a pixie. While he succeeded in making the sort of picture that he wanted to both make and watch, I honestly believe that his true joy is in sitting back at a festival and enjoying how much it grosses people out. And to say that it grosses people out is an understatement, though I do wonder how many of today’s kids will be freaked out more by the brief appearance of a clown than anything else. Highlighting that this could be called Freddy vs Jasonis guaranteed to make anyone who’s seen the film cringe.
And, because of all that, everything keeps on coming back to Cornelius. Sure, Dirk’s really the hero of the piece but he’s only the hero just as Pam’s the nympho and Jason’s the dweeb and Freddy’s the clown. It’s Cornelius who’s going to show up on most of those YouTube shares because he gets almost nothing to do except prompt us to ask, ‘Oh my God, he’s not going to do that?’ and then do exactly that. Over and over again. Straiton spoke well about his film but I want to read an interview with Wayne R Johnson about why he chose to do this and what he sees his legacy as being. I should also call out Michael Merchant here, as he gets some similar moments as Freddy, including one set that took him three days to shoot in, shall we say, rather trying conditions. His dedication to do that deserves our respect and his ability to stand up in front of a sold out screening and talk about it deserves even more. ‘This is the worst Spring Break ever!’ he cries after one fantastically wrong scene. ‘Well, second worst.’