OCTOBER 7, 2011
Oddly enough, I watched Late Fee in pretty much the exact same position I was in just two hours previous when I got a wisdom tooth removed: reclining, staring at a TV (my dentist’s office has TVs – they’re not usually on though), and wishing like hell it was over. But the dental procedure actually managed to be the better experience; my dentist finished his work much quicker than I thought, whereas Late Fee ran ten minutes longer than the time promised on the Netflix envelope (gotta love that Novocaine – I thought he was just scraping away at something for extraction only to see my tooth already laying on his little table – I put a pic on Twitter if you want to see!).
What I’m saying is that the movie sucks. The concept was fine – a couple looking for something a little off the beaten path to enjoy on Halloween is goaded into checking out a pair of “banned in America” movies from the very strange owner of a video store that is also hosting a Halloween party. The title refers to the fact that they sign a contract stating that they’ll return the movies by midnight or else face the consequences. So, obviously, the movies are the segments, they’ll miss the deadline, and there will be a darkly funny Tales From The Crypt style ending. Should be fun, right?
Well, it’s not. Not in the slightest. The movie is tone-deaf from start to finish, trying to be funny one minute and extreme the next, and failing at every turn. The fact that not a single person in the entire movie can act is bad enough, but that they’re all on different pages with regards to their non-acting just makes it unbearable. Some of the actors play it straight, others go for camp, while others just basically act like they’re in pornos or something. It’s as if no one on the production ever bothered to discuss the film with anyone else.
And what the hell kind of anthology only has two stories? Well, I guess there’s three if you consider that the second segment is seemingly haphazardly edited together from two different movies, but still – if you’re going to fuck with tradition at least make it worth our time. The first is the best (by default), if only because what seemed like a story about a hooker and a john who both planned to kill the other ended up being about a hooker that turned into some sort of half Lovecraftian monster that tears the guy’s dick off while riding him like a champ. Points for novelty, I guess. But the painful acting, obnoxious faux porn music, and grating “manager” character keep it from ever being even slightly amusing – ultimately the only good thing I can say about is that it’s better than the other one.
“Damnation” is the bafflingly convoluted tale of a girl having a very bad day, I guess. Over the course of a half hour she is imprisoned, kidnapped, made to look like a whore, filmed during an attempted rape/snuff shoot, at which point the guy who kidnapped her shoots everyone else and takes her away. Meanwhile, back at the prison, the warden and his head guard (an Ilsa type named, wait for it, Elsa) engage in weird sex games only to be interrupted by a cannibal who has escaped from the evil scientist running experiments in the prison basement. In other words, it’s a smorgasbord that might be too much even for a feature film, but compressed into a half hour or so just becomes an unbearably pointless and confusing endurance test.
Oh, and half of the actors in it are played by the people in the first story, and a chunk of it takes place at the same hotel, making it even more confusing. The great thing about anthologies is that it gives you license to cast a bunch of folks to come in to play central roles in short stories (which is why theatrical anthology movies tend to have great casts), so why they’d double up on performances by people who can’t act in the first place just baffles me. Wouldn’t surprise me if the two segments were produced separately and then later on someone decided to film a wraparound to repackage them as an anthology (it would certainly explain the lack of a third story - perhaps they didn't have anything else laying around?).
Oddly enough, that’s how I felt about Screamtime, which was another anthology that revolved around people watching rented videos. But at least that one had a decent story or two, and didn’t feel so half-assed across the board. However, for both movies I have to wonder about the internal logic: are we seeing the entire “movie” that the wraparound characters are watching? Or are these people renting 25 minute movies without any fuss? I guess it’s just a stupid concept (this bothered me in Chillerama as well, for the record).
Because they hate me, Shriek Show has included some bonus material, further extending the time I had to spend with this awful movie. A making of largely focuses on the filming of the she-monster part, which is probably the closest thing to entertainment on the entire disc since the actress is making casual comments and suggestions about her fake vagina. Then there’s a confusing collection of public access/local channel promos and such, ending with a National Anthem “sign off” (and color bars!) that I’ve never actually been lucky enough to see for real (do they even do it anymore? Infomercials air all night on every channel, right?). There’s also a trailer reel and some stills, which will hopefully satisfy the appetites of all those Late Fee fans who might bemoan the lack of a commentary or deleted scenes.
One of the trailers is for Wicked Lake, a film that is also name-checked in the movie itself. I later learned that John Carchietta and Carl Morano (the writer/directors of this thing) produced that equally abysmal movie, so they are hereby placed on the “avoid” list with Nick Palumbo and Mike Feifer. Life’s too short for people with this much contempt for their audience.
What say you?