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Review: Glenn Danzig’s Verotika Makes an Indelible Mark on Cinema

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The best bad movies exist at the intersection between passion and incompetence. That’s why a lot of the cynical cash-in “so bad it’s good” attempts like the Sharknados of the world fall flat. They’re missing that personal investment; the filmmaker’s desperation to realize their vision. You need to see them reach for the stars before they slip on the banana peel of their own limitations.

Glenn Danzig’s feature film debut, Verotika, is one of those films. It’s a longtime passion project of his, an adaptation of three stories from his Verotik comic imprint. And it sucks.  I almost feel bad trashing such a jaw-droppingly misbegotten venture — it’s like punching down. It reminds me of a quote from The Venture Brothers, when villain The Monarch breaks into the lab of his archenemy, Dr. Venture, and witnesses the shambles of the man’s career: “What can I do to this guy that life hasn’t already?”

What makes this so bad it’s good (and also kinda sad)? The blame lies with the writer/director/composer/producer himself. His desire to adapt his vision to the screen, no matter what, led to some baffling decisions — decisions so bizarre that they go beyond just wrong and into heretofore unexplored regions of suffering.

HORROR BUSINESS

The film starts like so many before it: with a leather-clad demon wench poking out the eyes of a chained-up woman. That wench is Morella (Kayden Kross, star of a truly impressive amount of pornos), our hostess. She has plastic horns, plastic boobs, weak makeup, and one-liners so lazy they barely register as jokes. She gives the viewer a good idea of what they’re in for.

The first segment, “The Albino Spider of Dajette,” tells the tale of a Parisian bondage gear model (Ashley Wisdom) with eyes instead of nipples whose breast tears transform an albino spider into a six-armed Jigsaw-looking man-spider (Scotch Hopkins) that comes to life when she’s asleep and snaps the necks of prostitutes. Pretty standard stuff.

This segment takes place in Paris. Danzig didn’t have the money to shoot in Paris. That’s a solvable problem. There’s no in-story reason for this to take place in Paris. Some filmmakers would recognize that obstacle and change the locale. Instead, he tried to substitute downtown LA for Paris. It’s not very convincing: Dajette goes to a porno theater that literally says “Los Angeles” in bright neon letters on the marquee.

Most of the actors are either soft/hardcore porn performers or Danzig’s fellow directors/producers from the zero-budget horror world. They can’t even act in their normal voices. Some filmmakers would hear their attempts at French accents and go, “You know what? Let’s lose the accents.” Not Danzig. Every actor in the sequence speaks in a voice that would put Pepe le Pew to shame. It does help distract from the risible dialogue (at one point, the man-spider tells a prostitute he wants to fuck her in the ass and she replies that ass-fucking is her specialty), but goddamn.

There’s not much in the way of story structure here, but the next segments make this one seem as airtight as a Billy Wilder script.

TIRED OF BEING ALIVE

After a quick visit to Morella for another almost-joke and some cheap gore effects, we go into the second segment, “Change of Face.” This one focuses on the Mystery Girl (Rachel Alig), a stripper with a scarred face who cuts off other girl’s faces so she can cover her deformity. It’s actually not a terrible idea for a movie killer. The execution, on the other hand…

Here’s how this sequence goes: A goth lady kills an airhead and cuts off her face. A cop (soap veteran Sean Kanan, the only actor who knows what movie he’s in) drinks coffee and makes fun of the body. There’s an endless scene of the most unerotic stripping ever put to film, culminating in a masked girl with skull pasties (the Mystery Girl) swishing a cape around to shitty bar rock. Mystery Girl admires her latex face collection. Repeat.

A serious lack of cause and effect kills any build to the story. The cop looking into the case doesn’t make any progress with each subsequent kill, each subsequent kill does nothing to move the Mystery Girl towards some sort of goal, the endless stripping scenes mostly make the audience feel gross. The investigation is literally resolved when a totally random, heretofore-unseen woman in a gravity-defying shirt finds a business card for Mystery Girl’s strip club next to one of the victims.

And yes, Mystery Girl dances to a Danzig song at one point.

HOW THE GODS KILL

The third and final section, “Drukija Contessa of Blood,” is where the movie broke me. It’s basically a series of vignettes where a Countess Bathory-like figure, Drukija (Alice Haig, who pronounces “virgin” as “virkin”), kidnaps nubile young girls, murders them, and bathes in their blood. There’s so little meat to the narrative that the editor (Brian Cox, whose only other credit is a Hollywood Undead video) resorts to just using every single take of a shot to pad out the run time. If you want to see a woman rub blood over her arms or look in the mirror slightly different ways six times in a row, have I got the movie for you!

It wasn’t even one of the more egregious moments that caused me to burst into uncontrollable, manic laughter. It was an endless sequence of her riding a horse through the forest from slightly different angles. The madness of what I was watching hit me and I broke down. Look, I love watching bad movies. I’m a multiple-viewing veteran of Birdemic, Troll 2, A Talking Cat!?!, and Miami Connection. I special-ordered a DVD of Science Crazed from Canada to experience that piece of cinemasochism. The only other time this has happened to me was during Manos: The Hands of Fate, maybe the worst film of all time.

But Glenn Danzig did it. Damn him, he did it.

LONG WAY BACK FROM HELL

None of that even touches on the filmmaking itself. You can almost see how, with a decent artist, some of the compositions might look cool in a comic book. I can picture the page where the man-spider talks to the prostitute: the prostitute leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette, while the man-spider talks to her from a shadow-shrouded alley. In this, it just cuts from the prostitute leaning against the wall to a fully-lit shot of the man-spider standing like a muscle bro in the alley behind her.

Danzig claims Mario Bava’s usage of color and lighting in films like Black Sabbath influenced him, but Bava knew how to use the contrast between bright colors and shadows. This is lit like, well, a softcore porno. And shot like one, and written and acted like one, and has as many gratuitous boob shots. Actually, that’s maybe a little generous. The people that make those films are professionals. This is more like a softcore porn student film.

Hell, even Tommy Wiseau hired professionals to shoot The Room.

I’ll give Glenn Danzig this, though: he succeeded at creating something special here. There are hundreds of zero-budget horror flicks churned out every year that make no impact on the world. It may not be in the way intended, but he created something memorable. At least, it’s burned into this reviewer’s brain forever.

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