VEROTIKA (2019)

Note: Lately, my reviews have been showing up on a new site called FILM HORDE, but because nothing is normal these days, that site is on temporary hiatus, and I’m posting my reviews back here again — for now. Here’s the latest one.

VEROTIKA (2019)

Review by LL Soares

(Warning: Review contains spoilers!)

WTF!!

Every once in awhile you see a movie and wonder how did this get made? What was the director thinking when they made it? And that’s exactly what I thought when I saw Glenn Danzig’s new movie, VEROTIKA, which got a brief theatrical release a few months ago before it came out recently on DVD and Blu-ray from Cleopatra Entertainment. If you’re a fan of bad movies, then you’ll have to add this one to your list.

Look, I’m a fan of Danzig’s music, from his days in the Misfits and Samhain, up to his albums with the namesake band Danzig, and when I heard he was going to make a movie – and a horror movie at that – I was excited. I’d heard that the movie would be based on some of the stories from his Verotik line of adults-only comics, which meant there might be some incredible visuals – depending on the budget – because the one thing Verotik is best known for is the art, by artists like Liam Sharp, Simon Bisley, and Tim Vigil, and its generous use of nudity, especially well-endowed women. I guess, in picturing the movie before I saw it, I imagined a live-action version of HEAVY METAL (1981), with lots of nudity and gore.

Let’s say the movie fell a little short of my expectations.

VEROTIKA begins with a woman in chains (an image that is used several times throughout the film), who is confronted by Morella, a goth-looking woman with upside-down crosses under her eyes, who gouges out the chained woman’s eyes, while cracking a joke. Morella is also our hostess for these little adventures. She is played by adult film star Kayden Kross (also in SAMURAI COP 2: DEADLY VENGEANCE, 2015).

The first segment is called “The Albino Spider of Dajette.” In it, a girl named Dajette (Ashley Wisdom, REPRISAL, 2018, and the short film GOOD GUY WITH A GUN, 2020) is getting frisky with a guy, but she won’t remove her top. When he pulls it off, we see that her nipples are replaced with eyeballs (which is never explained and doesn’t add much to the plot – sadly, they also don’t move, so they never seem fully animated). The guy runs away, and Dajette cries. Her tears fall on an white spider that is crawling on some flowers, and the tears transform the spider into a weird-ass monster with eight arms (Scotch Hopkins, GANGSTER LAND, 2017, and BLOOD CRAFT, 2019), who comes to life in the real world whenever Dajette goes to sleep. Kind of an arachnid Freddy Krueger. Of course, when the humanized spider is around, he goes on a killing spree, killing prostitutes, just like Dajette, including some of her friends.

The police are trying to stop the serial killer, while Dajette alternates between being sad because no one loves her, and guilty over the horrors that happen she goes to sleep. The spider-man tries to encourage Dajette to sleep more, so he can come out and play. Eventually, she tricks him into a vulnerable situation, so he can be stopped.

Despite the fact that this one makes the most sense of the bunch, in a dream-logic kind of way, there’s still not a lot that redeems it. Sometimes the monster is free to roam around when Dajette sleeps, and other times he’s in the same room with her (with no explanation why). And what about those nipple eyes? What’s the story with those?

And everyone in this segment speaks in awful French accents. I guess it’s supposed to take place in Paris, but after awhile, with more and more characters trying to sound French, it just becomes laughable. The acting isn’t very good (I guess that’s an understatement, although Hopkins, as the spider, stands out just because his character is so odd), and the effects aren’t all that amazing either (the spider-man’s extra arms are clearly plastic and have no perceivable life of their own).

Our next segment is called “Change of Face,” and this is the one I have the most questions about, because very few of the plot elements make any sense. A stripper known as “Mystery Girl” (Rachel Alig, also in BIKINI SPRING BREAK, 2012, and OFFICER DOWN, 2013) dances around the stage with a hood, with her face hidden, because she has scars. When she’s not dancing, she’s off attacking random women and slicing off their faces with a big knife. Even though this doesn’t sound like it would kill the women, most of them die due to “shock and blood loss.” Why is Mystery Girl so obsessed with taking other women’s faces? At first I thought the idea was that she would put the faces on over her scars and look like someone new each time she stripped. This wouldn’t make much sense, but in the goofy logic of the movie, it would work. Instead, she just hangs them on the wall around her mirror. There are all these fleshy sheets tacked to the wall, for seemingly no reason. She just likes to collect them! What a waste. There’s no deeper purpose. If she’s going to be ugly, then those beautiful women she steals the faces of are going to be ugly, too!

Meanwhile, the police, led by Sgt. Anders (Sean Kanan, who amazingly has had recurring roles on the soap operas GENERAL HOSPITAL and THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL) try to solve the mystery of the face stealer.

This one was also weird because even though it takes place in a strip club, there’s not much nudity. Girls either wear string bikinis or black tape over their nipples, or fishnet tops. And nobody gets completely nude. What kind of strip club is this? Especially based on the nudity-abundant Verotik comics?

Aside from the fact that this story makes no sense, there are other reasons why it’s bad. The acting is atrocious (even more so than the Albino Spider story, even though no one has to pretend to be French in this one). Some of the line readings are just cringe-worthy, and no one acts like a real human being. The dialogue is sometimes hilarious. At the end, I just wasn’t sure what the point was.

By the time we get to the third segment, “Drukija, Contessa of Blood,” the bad writing takes a turn. Instead of giving us a plot that doesn’t make any sense, “Drukija” just dispenses with the plot altogether. It’s really just a retelling of the story of Elizabeth Bathory, the subject of the movie COUNTESS DRACULA (1971), and several other films. A noblewoman bathes in the blood of village virgins to stay young. Instead of Countess Bathory, we have Contessa Drukija (Alice Tate, of SNOWBOUND, 2017, and roles on the TV shows JEAN-CLAUDE VAN JOHNSON and THE KOMINKSY METHOD), who spends her time doing two things: going around the village to check out the virgins, and bathing in virgin blood after her young victims have their throats slit. That’s it. We never really see what she DOES with her youthful vigor. Maybe because she just doesn’t do much else. Her only real relationship is with Sheska (Natalia Borowsky, SO, YOU WANT TO BE A GANGSTER? 2018), who acquires the virgins for her and makes sure the Contessa is kept happy. There are hints that Sheska is in love with Drukija. And since Drukija is an aristocrat, there are no police coming for her, no punishment on its way.

At least this one has a lot of nudity (compared to “Change of Face”) and the acting is a little better (Tate and Borowsky stand out only because they aren’t completely awful). But it’s just the same thing over and over, with no plot development.

The interstitial scenes of Morella don’t add anything. She just presents each story, but doesn’t have one of her own, sadly.

The thing is, despite the fact that they adapted stories by Edward Lee (“Grub Girl”) and Nancy A. Collins (“Sunglasses at Night”), two horror mainstays, the Verotik comics line was known more for the art than the stories, and this movie just continues that theme. Written and directed by Danzig himself, there’s not a lot of drama, suspense, or real horror here. Throughout the film, I kept wondering why the stories didn’t go in more interesting directions, and yet they were so odd (and often pointless) that it added to the overall strangeness. This is the kind of movie where you’ll be amazed how bad it gets at times, but I have to admit I also laughed more than a few times. I really don’t think it was intended to be funny, but it’s such a misfire that there’s a strong sense of campiness, even though all of the actors (no matter how bad) take their roles seriously (if they’d been more self-aware and winked at the camera, it probably would have been worse). The production values also leave a lot to be desired.

One plus, however, is the soundtrack. Since Mr. Danzig is involved, this comes as no surprise. The soundtrack includes songs by Danzig, Ministry, and Switchblade Symphony, to name a few.

So I’ll admit, this is a bad movie, but I also found is strangely entertaining in its own way. I thought Glenn Danzig might be the next Rob Zombie (i.e., musician turned successful horror film director), but I guess he’s more of an Ed Wood Jr.

If you’re housebound with the coronavirus situation, this one might be a good double feature with Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM (2003), or Wood’s ORGY OF THE DEAD (1965). Hell, make it a triple feature!

Word has it that Danzig is already making a follow-up movie, described as a “vampire spaghetti western” and it will actually have some recognizable actors in it. In a weird way, I’m looking forward to it to see if Danzig actually improves as a filmmaker, or if he gives us more “so bad it’s good” chills and thrills.

© Copyright 2020 by LL Soares

 

 

 

HER SMELL (2019)

Review by LL Soares

Some movies, you just take it for granted, should be a great time. I’m a big fan of actress Elizabeth Moss. You might know her from the TV shows THE WEST WING, where she played Zoey Bartlet from 1999-2006; MAD MEN, where she played Peggy Olson from 2007 – 2015; and THE HANDMAID’S TALE, which she is currently starring in AS Offred/June. She’s also a movie star, having appeared in movies like Jordon Peele’s US (2019), HIGH-RISE (2015), GET HIM TO THE GREEK (2010), and the fascinating THE ONE I LOVE (2014). She’s the kind of actress who leaves a big impression, and it’s easy to believe that you’ll love just about anything you see her in.

I’m also heavily into music, especially punk rock, and Moss plays a punk singer in her new movie HER SMELL. One modeled after singers like Courtney Love and Patti Smith.

Elizabeth Moss as an out-of-control singer in an all-girl punk rock band? It should be a home run, right? Strangely, it’s not.

HER SMELL has Moss playing Becky Something, the lead singer and guitarist of the band Something She. Her band mates are drummer Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin, also in the Netflix series GLOW and the movie THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, 2017) and Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn, CLASH OF THE TITANS, 2010) on bass. Becky has a daughter who she brings on tour with her sometimes (at first, I thought she was Ali’s daughter) named Tama. Her entourage (some willing, some not) includes her “shaman” Ya-ema (Eka Darville, JESSICA JONES), who follows her around and burns candles, her always-frustrated manager Howard (Eric Stoltz, MASK , 1985 and PULP FICTION, 1994), her mother Ania (Virginia Madsen, CANDYMAN, 1992, and SIDEWAYS, 2004 ), and her husband Danny (Dan Stevens, of the shows DOWNTON ABBY and LEGION, and the movies THE GUEST, 2014, AND APOSTLE, 2018) a radio disc jockey who keeps bringing divorce papers with him that Becky won’t look at, much less sign.

The movie opens with Something She performing (just one song!) and then leaving and going backstage, in one long, rambling scene where Tama gets passed from person to person, and Becky whines a lot. In fact, whining seems to be Becky’s superpower. For a singer with adoring fans (not sure how that happened!), she’s very insecure (of course, nothing new) and consults with her shaman on every decision she makes (mostly bad ones), as he follows her around constantly, and she bitches at everyone about how they’ve let her down. She’s also heavily into alcohol and drugs (of course). Poor Dan just wants to get the hell away from her, but he’s linked to her because of Tama.

Next, we go to a recording studio, where Becky won’t leave, even though their time is up, and no one has the guts to kick her out (why not just call the cops? I’m sure she’d love the publicity). Along comes The Akergirls, a young band that obviously reminds Becky a lot of her own band when they were just starting out. The Akergirls consist of Roxie Rotten (Ashley Benson of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS and SPRING BREAKERS, 2012), Dottie O.Z. (Dylan Gelula, CHASING LIFE, 2014-2015) and drummer Crassie Cassie (model and actress Cara Delevigne, who always gives a fun performance, and who you may recognize from PAPER TOWNS, 2014, VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS, 2017, and SUICIDE SQUAD, 2016). They’re the new discoveries of Howard, who is trying to get their debut album recorded, because it’s clear that he’s not making much money off Becky anymore and he desperately needs a hit. The new band idolizes Something She, especially Becky, and feel honored just to be in the same studio with them. When Becky’s bandmates take off, completely fed up with her behavior, Becky uses the new girls’ adulation to manipulate them into being her new backup band in the studio, much to Howard’s chagrin (now she definitely won’t be leaving anytime soon).

Later on, at a big gig where the Akergirls are opening for Something She, Becky loses her shit completely and makes a scene, which ends up with her running out on stage, bloody and dazed. This will lead to a hiatus, where Becky tries to get her act together and make a comeback.

The big meltdown includes Becky showing up two hours late, with an impromptu camera crew in tow, and includes more whining until she breaks a bottle and cuts herself and Ali. The bottle cutting seems to pop up because up until then Becky is just annoying as hell, and it’s like the filmmaker suddenly thought, “Hey, I have to actually give her an edge.” The movie is written and directed by Alex Ross Perry, who also gave us LISTEN UP PHILIP (2015) and QUEEN OF EARTH (2015). Oddly enough, he was also one of the writers of the screenplay for the recent Disney film CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (2018).

There are things I liked about HER SMELL, mostly the supporting roles by the members of Becky’s band (Rankin and Deyn are terrific), and The Akergirls. Dan Stevens, always a good actor, is pretty much wasted here as the sad ex who wants to be free from Becky’s psychodrama, but can’t get away.

Moss, who is normally terrific, is mostly irritating here, which is what she’s supposed to be, I guess. But the movie is an endurance test that never really ever making it worth our while. It just doesn’t amount to anything. We’ve seen this kind of movie too many times before: the out-of-control rock star whose life spirals out of control. (Hell, we just saw it in Bradley Cooper’s A STAR IS BORN last year). The thing is, Moss’s Becky offers absolutely nothing new to the equation. She’s not different or interesting in her “out of control” behavior (which is more aggravating than anarchic). Hell, even her band’s songs are kind of boring (and definitely forgettable). I can’t really blame Moss for this. She clearly gives the role her all, in a performance that has been labeled “fearless” by some critics.

My problem here is with Perry’s script, which never once convinces me that Becky Something is someone I should care about. She’s not a profound musician, she’s not a fascinating human being, she’s just an annoyance that people put up with only because they either need her for some reason (employment, motherhood) or are somehow misguided enough to be her fans. If her performances were truly incendiary, then I could see the appeal. But they’re not. Moss tries like hell to make this woman real, but I had a hard time accepting her as a believable character. Whether in total chaos mode or, later on, sober and seemingly reflective, she just never really seems “genuine.” She seems more like a rock star caricature than a true source of drama.

Amber Heard (of DRIVE ANGRY, 2011, and Mera in AQUAMAN, 2018) also appears as Zelda, a bigger star who knew Becky back when they were both starting out, and who tries to help her out. Becky treats her like a hanger-on, and resents any help that’s offered, even though it’s clear Zelda is successful and talented, and frankly, she doesn’t have to waste her time hanging around Becky’s “I’m gonna fall apart all the time” shtick. I’m sure she has better things to do.

So did I.

In something like A STAR IS BORN, Cooper and Lady Gaga were convincing as rock stars, her on the way up, him spiraling down. Not once did I find Becky Something convincing. And that’s really too bad, considering the talent involved in this movie.

I give it two knives.

(c) Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives HER SMELL ~ 2 knives

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