Sunday 31 March 2013

Decadent Evil

Director: Charles Band
Writers: 'August White'
Producer: Charles Band
Cast: Phil Fondacaro, Debra Mayer, Raelyn Hennessee
Country: USA
Year of release: 2005
Reviewed from: R1 DVD

From the man who brought us all those great straight-to-video Empire movies in the 1980s and all those great straight-to-video Full Moon movies in the 1990s, comes the first title from his new straight-to-DVD company, Wizard Entertainment. (I must just say that, while 'wizard' probably isn't an adjective in the States, here in the UK this company sounds remarkably jolly and delightfully exciting: "I say, you chaps! This entertainment is absolutely wizard!" Anyway...)

Decadent Evil is a curious title to lead with. It's not really typical Charles Band fare, lacking both killer dolls and flying heads, although it does have a sort of puppet monster. Three other films are in post-production as this one hits the streets - Doll Graveyard, Dead Man's Hand and The Gingerdead Man - and all sound more like what one would expect (the last one seems to have been shot pretty much back-to-back with this film as the crew is largely identical). But of course, each film has to stand or fall on its own merits.

The other curious thing about this movie is the way that the publicity and packaging play up the character of 'Marvin the horny homunculus', who is really a subplot in the film itself, and make little if any mention about the main story which involves vampires and would, one would therefore think, be more marketable. There are plenty of Dad-can-I-borrow-the-camcorder 'films' out there which have shown that some people will watch any old piece of crap so long as it features a sexy woman with fangs.

In this case we have three such women: Morella (Debra Mayer: Prison of the Dead, Hell Asylum, The Gingerdead Man, Voodoo Academy) and her two acolytes Sugar (Jill Michelle) and Spyce (Raelyn Hennessee) who both work at a lapdancing club in LA. At the club, Spyce picks up Bruce (Roger Toussaint) and his rather reluctant girlfriend Tami (April Gilbert); Bruce can't believe his luck when Spyce takes them back to a big old mansion and it looks like he's in for a threesome, then when Morella appears his eyes go wide as dinner plates and for a moment he is the happiest guy in the world - until she rips open his throat and drinks down the spurting blood.

Although Spyce is a nasty, nasty girl, Sugar is quite sweet and has fallen in love with Dex, the appropriately named DJ at the club (played by Daniel Lennox who starred in the US/Thai co-production The Black Magic). Such a relationship does not meet with Morella's approval of course and it also raises a bunch of moral questions that are never touched upon. Presumably Sugar also requires human blood to survive and therefore her only chance of happiness with Dex is to continue as a serial killer and make him her accomplice. However, at the moment Dex is unaware of his girlfriend's haemavorous habits because her fangs only become visible when she gets hungry.

According to vampire lore (we are told), the most important blood is the first spurt of arterial blood after the victim's throat is slit, the 'primal blood.' Any vampire who consumes 10,000 spurts of primal blood will reach a new level of being which will make them not just immortal but actually indestructible. Over the past century or so Morella has consumed 9,997 primal blood spurts - she keeps them listed in a damn great book - so after Bruce and Tami she needs just three more to win the prize. Spyce later meets up with a guy she met in a chatroom although typically 'studboy' turns out to be an overweight, middle-aged guy (John F Schaffer, who was in a great-sounding martial arts movie called All Babes Want to Kill Me and also had a bit part in the Garfield movie!) rather than the hunky young athlete which he claimed to be. Spyce doesn't care because all she wants is his blood but when Morella tracks them down and discovers that she has missed out on the primal blood she is none too happy, although Spyce makes up for this by bringing home a hooker to be victim number 9,998. (The idea of drinking down spurting fluid has an obvious sexual connotation which isn't explored at all, though that may be a good thing.)

The other interesting aspect of Morella is that she keeps a homunculus in a bird cage - you see how much of the story we have covered before 'Marvin' becomes relevant? This is an ugly little red humanoid, about 12-18 inches tall, wearing a sort of sacking smock, who grunts a lot; he is described as "a tiny, prehistoric human, half-reptile like all men." Marvin is a rather stiff and immobile rod puppet, although he does have blinking eyes, created by (and voiced by) Christopher Bergschneider (Witchouse, Blood Dolls, Voodoo Academy, Totem, Bram Stoker's Legend of the Mummy 2). He was, we learn, Morella's former lover but she is such a man-hater that she turned him into the form we see now (apparently you can make someone a homunculus using homunculus blood - this will become relevant later).

Into this situation comes Ivan Burroughs, played by Band regular Phil Fondacaro (Troll, Ghoulies II, Dollman vs Demonic Toys, Addams Family Reunion) in a wide-brimmed Fedora. He played a vampire in The Creeps but here he's working for the other side, lugging around a bag full of garlic powder, wooden stakes and other assorted vampire-hunting paraphernalia. Fondacaro really is one of the best short actors out there. Like Warwick Davis or the late David Rappaport, he's an actor who happens to be short rather than a short guy who acts. His presence in any cast is always a bonus.

Burroughs explains to Dex what Sugar really is and the two of them head over to the mansion. Dex wants to sneak his girlfriend away, Spyce wants to curry favour with Morella and Morella wants a brace of kills to hit that magical number - and Ivan and Dex will do nicely, thank you. Complicating matters slightly is the fact that Ivan recognises Marvin as... well, I'll leave some plot for you to find out yourselves.

For a movie shot in six days, Decadent Evil isn't bad. The direction, production design (by the brilliantly named Elvis Strange: Puppet Master: The Legacy, Dr Moreau's House of Pain) and cinematography (Keith J Duggan: Delta Delta Die!) are all competent without being exceptional - and in these days of shot-on-video cheapies competency is a major plus-point. The blood effects are pretty good and there is one digital effect towards the end that stands out because, well, you would expect more of them in a Charles Band picture. All the actors acquit themselves well apart from the wooden actress who plays the hooker. James Sale (Deathbed, Dr Moreau's House of Pain, Haunted) provides the music; as orchestrator/conductor he has worked on Rugrats Go Wild, The Hitcher II, a Lord of the Rings video game and Herbie: Fully Loaded! Hell Asylum/Deathbed director Danny Draven handles editing duties.

The main problem with Decadent Evil is that there really isn't very much of it. The running time is 70 minutes but that includes a staggering eight minutes of very, very slow end title crawl which is really a bit of a cheat, especially as there is no additional footage woven into it or tacked on the end as a bonus. The film starts with about five minutes of voice-over and stock footage from The Vampire Journals explaining how the vampires got to LA, but that is entirely superfluous to the actual plot. Without the prologue, nobody would be saying "Wait a minute... vampires in LA? How the hell did they get there?" The opening titles run for about three or four minutes and the opening scene in the strip club is about five minutes of 'atmosphere' with a few lines of characterisation from Bruce and Tami. Writer/director C Courtney Joyner (Trancers III, Lurking Fear) can be spotted in some of these shots.

What all this tots up to is that very, very little actually happens before the 15 minute mark and the movie wraps up at 62 minutes, giving us an actual 'film' not much long than Frankenstein Reborn! (and incorporating several brief stock shots of night-time LA, at least one of which is repeated as a distinctive car drives past). With a tight budget and only six days to shoot the piece, presumably the script - by 'August White' (a pseudonym for Domonic Muir: Critters), from a story by Band - was deliberately kept down to about 45-50 pages but it's still a bit dodgy to market a film this length as a feature. On the other hand, the DVD format gives plenty of room for extras including a short 'making of' - talking heads and a little behind-the-scenes footage - directed by Jethro Rothe-Kushell (associate producer on the feature) and entitled, in defiance of punctuation rules, Blood, Sweat, and Fears.

There is also a message from Band himself in which he explains about Wizard Entertainment and his plans for the rest of 2005, which he cheerfully admits might slightly confuse people buying this DVD a couple of years from now. (Curiously this consists of a mostly static shot of Band in front of two posters depicting a range of Full Moon titles, but there are a couple of close-ups that were obviously shot separately because there is a reproduction poster for The Mummy visible behind him. That's a really trivial thing, but if the word 'Karloff' is in frame, people are going to notice!)

There are trailers for this film, the compilations When Puppets and Dolls Attack! and Monsters Gone Wild! and Band's six-DVD Cinemaker 'how to make films' package. Plus there is a 'blooper reel' which is really just some unused takes; I imagine that there's very little time to joke around when you're shooting a movie, even a shortish one, in less than a week. And there is a brief look at the in-production Doll Graveyard.

So there's plenty of stuff on the disc, but I can't help feeling that some viewers would prefer slightly more of it to constitute the actual movie. Why not at least stick the blooper reel and/or the preview of the next Wizard movie in among the end credits to make them worth sitting through?

Full Moon fans will probably enjoy Decadent Evil, especially as it is loosely connected to the popular Subspecies series via The Vampire Journals. But bear in mind that this was shot in less than a week on a minuscule budget. This is no Trancers, Dollman, Castle Freak or Puppet Master - frankly it's not even a Trancers 5 (although it is, mercifully, not a Bad Channels). It does at least have a story, it isn't packed with tedious softcore sex scenes and Fondacaro is as great as ever. But it's hard to see this movie converting any new fans to the work of Charlie Band. Then again, maybe it's not intended to. Band has been making movies long enough (and has made enough of them!) that he knows his audience and the freedom of internet distribution means that he can target them directly and accurately.

As for the marketing emphasis on 'Marvin the horny homunculus', that is probably due to his imminent appearance as an action figure. His 'horniness', presumably derived from years of sexual frustration in his cage, only really comes to the fore in the final gag shot and in a sequence when he escapes from his cage and finds the hooker strapped to a bed. Shots of this creepy puppet licking the girl's nipples are the only real 'horror' part of the story. (An unfortunate continuity error in a conversation between Marvin and Ivan means that the homunculus' hands, which are fixed to the cage, are positioned differently in the forward and reverse shots.)

On the whole Decadent Evil (subsequently released in the UK as Decadent Evil Dead!) is a reasonable start to Wizard Entertainment and I'm still very much looking forward to Doll Graveyard and the other titles. Let's have some killer toys, some flying, disembodied heads, maybe a few stop-motion effects and about ten minutes more of actual footage in each film please.

MJS rating: B-
review originally posted 22nd July 2005

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