film review by: Witney Seibold
Roger Ebert once observed (in his review of “Punisher: War Zone,” I believe) that one could trust bad movies to look and sound bad; These days, you see, many bad movies have huge budgets and look fantastic and are often released by major studios. Even your run-of-the-mill straight-to-video cheapie is now made with slick digital cameras, making for (somewhat) professional-looking photography on all manner of corny gore-fests and cheap sexploitation thrillers. Films that here once reserved for seedy grindhouses, projected using shoddy machines, through scratched and milky film stock, and onto ripped screens, I an environment of drug-addled and slightly dangerous joyous abandon, is now available on the bottom shelves of your local Blockbuster Video, or is set right next to top-quality films on a randomly generated list of recommendations through an instant-view digital service, available for consumption in your home, where you can hide in the dark with your shame.
“Grim,” the latest film from the good folks at Troma, is a spiritual cousin to the cheap-ass grindhouse films of yore. It’s just as cheap, just as gory, just weird enough, and certainly bad enough to be set alongside any film played in a 1970s drive-in. The acting is clunky, the story is difficult to follow, the screenplay is oddly constructed, and it was clearly made by a passionate filmmaker. Adrian Santiago took up his camera, assembled a group of friends, collected a gang of dangerous-looking septuagenarian biker toughs, filled vat after vat of red Karo syrup, and headed out into the wilds of Texas to film a weird-ass, pseudo-post-apocalypse thriller. It feels very cheap (the camera, for instance, zooms in and out somewhat randomly, and the cameraman clearly let the camera slip out of his hands in a few scenes, invoking an early John Waters milieu), but it is all in a charming sort of way. Here is a film that was made in 2010, and looks like it was made in 2010, but feels like 1973 never ended.
The story follows the young Nicholas Grim who, at the film’s outset, watches his parents get murdered right in front of him. The murderers belong to something called the UAB, which we will later learn is a loosely-knit gang of biker thugs, hellbent on starting their own rural government in the backwoods of Texas. The UAB is led by the wicked Atticus Miller (Scott A. Mollette), who looks more than a little bit like Lemmy from Motörhead, and who gets to calmly and frequently exposit on the state of the world; evidently this is the future, and the economy has gotten so bad that these militia-like groups are everywhere in the world. We don’t see this, but it’s an ambitious conceit nonetheless. The young Nicholas is left alive (for some reason), and is found by a kindly farmer and his wife (Todd Farmer and Mary Winchester), who raise him into a peaceful agrarian loverboy (and played by Christopher Dimock, complete with floppy hairdo and soulful blue eyes).
Pretty soon, though, the UAB charges through and kills Nicholas’ new parents as well. He vows revenge, and starts tearing through UAB underlings ones at a time. There’s the hickish clean-up man who looks like a young James Hetfield (Everitt King) whose fingernails Nicholas pulls off. There’s the goofy, sword-toting womanizer Romeo (Niko Red Star) who seems to own some sort of ultimate fighting club. Eventually Nicholas has to team up with a freed sex slave Celina (Brandi Price) and her Sandinista brother Destino (Jason Ramirez) to take down the UAB compound. The finale is predictably bloody. Indeed, when anyone gets shot in this film, a Monty-Python-like spray of bright red fluid geysers from their bodies, dousing everyone in the vicinity. I admire that commitment to gore.
The fall of the true exploitation movie has been blamed on several things: Proper grindhouse theaters have closed, drive-in theaters have contracted in popularity (although there are still many in operation), mainstream Hollywood has adopted the violent genre material once felt verboten, and the internet has brought sexual material to the overpacked eyeballs of scores of teenagers. It’s heartening to know, then, that there are people like Adrian Santiago out there, and that Troma is still thriving, still plugging away, providing the cheap-ass thrills to people who may not know any better, and others who can take a charmed thrill in seeing an earnest effort.
In a weird way, I am recommending “Grim,” despite it’s terrible acting, weird dialogue, and horrid cinematography. It seems to be the grandchild of a long-retired showman, trying to carry on his grandfather’s show biz legacy, despite dwindling audiences and a clear shift in paradigm