Glenn Danzig's "Verotika": A Different Perspective, Part 1
Updated: Oct 7, 2019
For those who haven't been following the publicity, Glenn Danzig (the force behind the original Misfits, Samhain, and his current band, Danzig) recently directed his first film, Verotika. It's a Horror anthology based on stories from his mature-themed line of comic books, Verotik (= "violent + erotic"). Verotika had its World Premiere at Chicago's Cinepocalypse festival on June 13th. The majority of the subsequent online commentary has been derisive, comparing the film to Tommy Wiseau's "The Room" and/or Ed Wood's "Plan 9 from Outer Space." The West Coast Premiere at the Montalban Theatre in Hollywood met with a similar response. I was at that screening, and I'm writing here to share my insights. I have to call this a perspective rather than an official review, because circumstances forced me to miss the last 30-ish minutes of the film, along with the Q&A session that was scheduled to follow. I did, however, see more than enough to develop an informed opinion.
I work for Another Hole in the Head (SF IndieFest's Genre Film Festival, for those not reading this on our website). A big part of my job involves watching about 500 films a year (both shorts and features) and deciding which ones are the best fit for our festival. This does not necessarily mean the films with the highest production values, or tour de force performances. I am always willing to meet a film at its limitations, and judge it accordingly. If the acting wasn't perfect, did the performances still feel sincere? If the special effects were less than realistic, did they at least evoke the ideas they were designed to convey? If the dialogue had rough spots, did the story still move along? Overall, did this film move me, amuse me, or otherwise entertain me in any significant way? If the answers are more “yes” than “no,” there’s a decent chance I’ll program it. This esthetic isn't mainstream, but it's hardly unique; it's the foundation that cult film is built on.
I've never seen The Room, nor am I likely to--for one thing, it just isn't my genre of preference--so I can't speak to any comparisons there. I have seen Plan 9 several times, and I laugh as hard as anyone at lines like "Inspector Clay is dead--murdered--and somebody's responsible!" But as someone who has also seen The Creeping Terror, and Curse of the Headless Horseman, I can say that there are far worse films out there. Considered within the context of Wood's budget and the criteria I mentioned above, Plan 9 succeeds far more than it fails, despite its reputation. And though I think Verotika is a much better film than Plan 9, that seems to be the territory it's falling into, including the undeserved reputation as a disaster. "You guys laughed in places I wouldn't have, but that's cool." Danzig laughingly told the audience after the World Premiere. I’m glad he feels that way, because I have a feeling the die is cast, at least where theatrical screenings are concerned. The majority of the audience at the Montalban seemed to be having a contest to see who could laugh the loudest with the least provocation. That phenomenon, by the way, is the other reason I'll probably never see The Room. I love the original Mystery Science Theater, and I've been to my share of Bad Movie Nights, but there's a difference. The most enjoyable MST3K episodes used films that had been on TV so many times that the jabs felt more like ribbing an old friend, and BMN's are at their best when they're roasting big budget studio flops--kind of like the way satire is only valid when it punches up, rather than down. There are often a few points where I find unintentional humor in any low-budget film, but I just don’t get the appeal of watching something purely for the joy (?) of deriding it.
Before I discuss the individual segments, I'd like to point out a couple of things about the film in general. Danzig closed his introduction to the Hollywood show by assuring the fans of his comics that the film is very faithful to its source material. I've never read anything from Verotik, but I can vouch that Verotika is a bona fide comic book film, right down to the scene composition--as if each shot was framed as an individual panel. Some have noted that many of the film's more curious elements feel like deliberate decisions on the director's part, rather than the glaring signs of ineptitude claimed by its detractors. If composing the film to echo the printed page was a conscious move, then Verotika deserves to list Art/Experimental among its genres, along with the more obvious Horror and Giallo. Only Danzig can say whether or not this is accurate, but since he's unlikely to read or respond to this blog, I will tell you that most of what I found problematic fell right into place once this idea occurred to me. Something else reviewers have mentioned about the editing, is the frequent fading to black to end a scene, and the tendency to hold a shot after the action has stopped. Anyone who’s seen the work of Jess Franco and his European contemporaries will recognize this as homage. I didn’t see any actors floundering for direction, and I didn’t find it tedious.
The anthology's segments are bookended by Morella (Kayden Kross), a Verotik character in her own right. She begins the film by performing an act of graphic mayhem on a shackled victim, and the special effect is superb, if you can stomach it. Morella is no campy Elvira clone. Though she does indulge in the kind of wordplay originated by EC's Crypt-Keeper and other pioneers of the genre, her delivery is sinister and deadpan, a welcome alternative to the gleeful "I crack myself up" style common to horror hosts these days. After a brief introduction, we segue into the first story, “The Albino Spider of Dajette." Dajette (Ashley Wisdom) is a fetish model with a disastrous love life, owing to a bizarre physical defect--she has eyes where her nipples ought to be. Abandoned by her latest would-be lover after he makes this discovery, Dajette weeps dejectedly. As tears from her second pair of eyes fall upon a small white house-spider, it transforms into a six-foot-tall man/spider creature (Scotch Hopkins). Whenever Dajette falls asleep, the creature acts on her unconscious resentment of those more fortunate, by raping and breaking the necks of beautiful women. Another reviewer described this segment as a "fever dream," and I think that's valid; it works fine in that context. Weird fantasies like this one don't need a backstory or much justification for events as they unfold. Just enjoy the ride. There has also been some criticism of the French accents used here, but nobody sounds like Pepe Le Pew, and the one actor who can't seem to make anything sound even vaguely French is mercifully gone in about 10 seconds. Accents are a time-honored device for setting location whenever budget or the medium itself (such as audio drama) precludes more elaborate means. At least we weren't treated to a view of the Eiffel Tower through a fake window, so I'm counting my blessings.
Following another brief appearance by Morella, we move on to "Change of Face." This Giallo-esque segment follows "Mystery Girl," a disfigured exotic dancer who murders a series of women and collects their faces for her own use. This segment frankly isn't as strong as "...Dajette," and benefits most when viewed through the comic book lens. Rachel Alig portrays Mystery Girl in a dreamy, "more dazed than crazed" manner, and her activities are juxtaposed with lengthy scenes of business as usual at the club where she works, and the melodramatics of the bumbling cops who pursue her. There isn't much more I can say about this one without spoilers, except that the score (which includes "Eyes Ripping Fire" from Danzig's Black Laden Crown album) really shines here.
As I've mentioned, I was unable to see the last half hour or so of the film. The show was scheduled for 8 pm, but due to significant numbers of people still straggling into the theatre until after 8:30, Danzig asked the management to hold off until everyone was in. It's a call I've made countless times during festivals, but unfortunately for me, it meant that the last segment was just starting at the time I needed to run to catch the last bus home. I did get to see a few minutes of "Drukija, Contessa of Blood," which is loosely based on the legend of Elizabeth Bathory, the 16th century countess who is said to have tortured and murdered hundreds of young girls, bathing in their blood to preserve her youth. I caught the opening scene of Drukija giving herself a kind of bloody facial, followed by an outdoor scene where she inspects a group of suitably cowed peasants from horseback. Alice Haig shows tremendous charisma in the title role, and I was seriously tempted to stay for the rest, but while I'm crazy enough to take an 8-hour bus ride from SF to LA just to see a movie, I'm not dumb enough to wander the streets of Hollywood all night, alone and unarmed. Since rumor has it that Fathom Events is planning selected screenings of Verotika in San Francisco and a few other markets, I intend to finish what I started when it comes to town.
[Part 2 can be found here: https://www.ahith.com/post/glenn-danzig-s-verotika-a-different-perspective-part-2 ]