It's not that uncommon for rock musicians to dabble in the world of horror filmmaking, Dee Snider did so with Strangeland, Jonas Åkerlund with Lords of Chaos, and of course, Rob Zombie, the most recognized rocker-turned-genre filmmaker. Sometimes their talents translate effectively, others... well, not so much.
Punk rock legend (Misfits, Samhain, Danzig) has now turned to directing with a feature film adaptation of his popular Verotika comic characters, which just made its World Premiere at the opening night of Chicago’s Cinepocalypse Film Festival. Danzig took the stage to present the film, stating influences such as Mario Bava's Black Sabbath and the Karen Black-starring Trilogy of Terror, while also overly expressing his hatred for Hollywood blockbusters. The horror anthology of sorts played to a packed house of horror and punk fans alike, all eager to see what the iconic frontman had to offer the world of cinema, and within the first few scenes, the laughter began.
After a rather convincing, practical eye gouge scene that took obvious influence from Fulci's Zombie, we're introduced to our "hostess", a woman named Morella (Kayden Kross), who introduces us the first of three stories contained in the film. The first segment, "The Albino Spider of Dajette", is set in Paris and follows Dajette (Ashley Wisdom), a woman with eyeballs for nipples (this goes unexplained) who falls asleep and conjures a massive, humanoid spider (played by actor Scotch Hopkins) that has an unhealthy obsession with breaking necks, earning him the title of, wait for it... "The Neck-Breaker". Brilliant! The acting is hilarious (complete with cartoonish French accents), scenes are abruptly spliced together, and a prostitute casually has a conversation with a six-armed man-spider in an alleyway. Yeah, it's pretty fantastic.
In the second story, "Change of Face", which is loosely inspired by Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, a disfigured stripper (Rachel Alig) who cuts off and collects other women’s faces to place over her own deformed mug. Oddly enough, while our face-ripping mystery woman (called "The Mystery Girl") dances, she keeps a veil over her face. Why she bothers with stealing faces just to keep them covered is a mystery in and of its own. While not as ridiculous as the first story, this one features many of the same too-good-to-be-true qualities. Hokey acting, clumsy staging, and stripper scenes that go on for way longer than they should. Once again, spectacular.
The third and final segment is possibly the worst of all, in the best possible ways. Titled "Drukija Contessa of Blood", this story is a take on the Elizabeth Bathory legend, and follows a countess (Alice Haig) who bathes in the blood of virgins in order to remain her youthful appearance. It features low-rent cosplay, below what you'd see at your local LARP-fest, uneven performances, and once again, scenes that drone on for far too long.
After the screening, Danzig returned to the stage for a post-screening Q&A, and immediately stated that the audience had " laughed in some of the places he wouldn’t have", seemingly unaware of the accidental comedic elements of the film. It's apparent that Danzig attempted a deeply serious tribute to the horror anthology films of the ’60s and ’70s, but the result is basically the horror anthology version of Tommy Wiseau's The Room. And to be honest, the stories themselves aren't the problem with Verotika, it's how they are presented. The ideas behind the stories are perfect for a horror anthology, they're dark, gory and feel like they are straight from the pages of the source material. Unfortunately, incessant editing, uneven performances, porno-esque production design and several instances of unintentional laughter prevent the film from reaching its expected levels of greatness.
I will say that the practical effects are quite impressive for a film of such low-budget roots. Throats are slashed, a woman is beheaded and a heart is ripped out, and it all looks fairly believable. Plus, I'll always give props to films that choose to go with practical gore over CGI. The lighting and camerawork (Danzig was his own DP) were also somewhat impactful, taking distinct inspiration from Bava and Dario Argento films. I even sensed a bit of Abbott and Costello meet the Universal Monsters regarding the film's tone, although, much like the multitude of laughs that echoed throughout the legendary Music Box Theatre, this was probably accidental. Verotika's score (Danzig composed as well) is also effective and full of catchy punk rock tunes.
In spite of all of Verotika's unfortunate shortcomings, the audience reaction at Cinepocalypse suggests that most everyone had a good time, myself included. Danzig blatantly told attendees that he "didn't want to direct some Academy Award piece of shit", and he clearly meant it. Who knows if Verotika has a future outside of a few festival screenings, but I sincerely hope it does. It's easy to see what Danzig was going for with Verotika, and I admire his effort, and even if he didn't get the reaction he hoped for, I don't want him to be discouraged. This film is a very rare mix of rigorous passion and the lack of ability to deliver the best of substandard indie cinema, and Danzig should be proud of himself for creating a bona fide cult hit in the same vein as The Room and Birdemic. If Verotika ever sees the light of day, assemble all of your friends and give it a watch, there’s plenty of amusement and plenty of laughs to be had with this one.
On a side note, you should ask yourself. Are Rob Zombie's films really as bad as everyone makes them out to be?