Making a film so terrible that it somehow twists around on itself to become a work of art often takes an outsider’s total lack of skill, inability to direct actors, and brazenly bizarre decisions in the editing room and morphs them into a world of surreal delight. Your Samurai Cops and Miami Connections seem to exist on a different plain, in an alternate dimension where the rules not only don’t exist but have been inverted. They’re rare, single-minded works crafted by isolated crews who have no idea what the differences between good and bad are. The results can be something akin to an auteur’s masterwork reflected through a funhouse mirror.
Heralded as The Room of horror movies, Verotika has all the markings of a such a trashterpiece: the vision of a single man, a shoestring budget, and a complete lack of understanding as to how to write, shoot, or edit a film. Does that mean it succeeds at becoming the midnight movie atrocity, the derelict dumpster spectacle its premier embedded in our imaginations?
Director: Glenn Danzig
Release: February 25, 2020 (VOD) March 3, 2020 (Blu-ray)
Verotika is an anthology film but with each section written and directed by the same dude--former Misfits frontman Glenn Danzig. Based on comics he published in the 90’s, each story attempts to fuse violence and eroticism--hence the title. Does that sound like something a teenage boy would scrawl in his notebooks during class? Absolutely. Does that mean it has to be bad? No. Is it bad, anyway? Yes, very much so.
Like most anthologies, Verotika is a work of diminishing returns. The first tale of the trio is the one for which the film’s generating all its buzz and is by a country mile the most watchable of the collection. The story concerns a young woman who has an albino spider--and also a pair of eyes where her nipples should be. While getting funky with a dude on a couch, she tries but fails to stop the horndog from lifting her shirt. When he makes contact with the boob-eyes, he shouts and runs away. Then, the woman is left to cry. Her breasts cry, as well. Is this some extended riff on Danzig being annoyed that women always tell him, “My eyes are up here?” No idea. I also have no idea why the woman’s albino spider turns into a giant muscly dude who has sex with women and then breaks their necks when the boob-eyed girl sleeps. The French media dubs him Le Neck Breaker, because that’s the kind of cleverness we’re dealing with here, and he continues his killing spree unabated. These murders apparently represent the young woman’s inner desires, but I have no idea why. Maybe she’s just jealous at all the women who don’t have areolas with pupils. It’s never explained, like a feature-length script is being compressed to fit an episode of Tales from the Crypt.
Because of this, the short’s kind of a blast and exactly everything Verotika‘s anti-hype was building toward. The editing is bizarre, focusing long enough on the actors that they start to look around for direction before the scenes switch. Danzig constantly zooms in on everything, slowly, normally zeroing in on an actor’s head, but sometimes a banister or wall will suffice. Cuts are bizarre with actors switching positions and the rules of reality being distorted before our very eyes. In the second piece, concerning a face-stealing stripper, a police officer shoots forward while the stripper is cutting his face off from behind. The shot switches, and suddenly not only has the officer shot our face-cutting pole dancer multiple times, but she’s also run away.
It makes me wonder (and Verotika leaves plenty of time for contemplation) if these scenes were more shot to look like comic book panels. The lighting and use of dark sound stages without a background would suggest that. Maybe all of his weirdly lingering shots and abrupt cuts are Danzig’s attempts to invoke the low-budget exploitation of the 70’s. Maybe these are all meaningful nods rather than hopeless flailing. Even under the most generous assumptions, however, I couldn’t imagine how anyone would consider Verotika anything but ugly and oh so very boring.
After the first short, all of Danzig’s worst qualities are played to their worst effect. The second and especially third tales have almost no scripts to work with. When a facially deformed stripper named Mystery Girl isn’t cutting the faces off halfheartedly screaming young women, she’s working the pole. This affords Danzig about half the short’s length to film strippers dancing to hard rock. You’d think Danzig has been in the industry long enough to figure out how to shoot strip club montages like music videos, but of course he hasn’t. He sets the camera down, so sometimes strippers dip out of frame. They also dance slowly under static lights, so the high-energy rock comes off as almost-but-not-quite-comical.
The finale features an Elizabeth Bathory type who spirits village virgins to her castle only to spill their blood and bathe in it. This is Danzig’s 120 Days of Boredom. How long can you watch a woman fawn at herself while wading in a bath of virgin blood while the camera barely moves and slowly zooms in and out? How long can you then watch her fawn over herself in front of a mirror while the camera barely moves and slowly zooms in and out? There’s no plot to speak of. It’s just that. There are some throat-slashings, a beheading, and even a heart-eating, and yet Danzig has found a way to make it all so painfully dull. He lingers forever. Even scenes of walking up stairs or down hallways are cobbled into their own drowsy eternities. You can’t be a midnight movie if you’re putting your audience to sleep.
After watching something like The Room, there’s this hope, this fantasy that in a parallel universe no one would let Tommy Wiseau know that what he made was super terrible, that he was lead to believe that he was a great dramatic filmmaker, and that he spent decades making increasingly bizarre films until his death. You want them to not be in on the joke, so they’ll keep feeding you punchlines.
As far as Verotika is concerned, I’m glad Danzig knows his movie is bad, and I’m not all that thrilled at the prospect of anything new from the musician-turned-filmmaker. It’s no glorious assault on the senses, just a slog for the soul. If you want a good booze-and-buds horror movie, there are at least a thousand more satisfying choices cast throughout the universe. Even labeling it as The Room of horror films makes no sense. We are already have Troll 2, Death Bed: The Bed that Eats, House, Godmonster of Indian Flats, Manos: The Hands of Fate, Berdemic, Nicolas Cage’s The Wicker Man, Silent Night Deadly Night: Part 2, Maximum Overdrive, Spookies, Mystics in Bali--You get the idea.
We don’t need more Verotika, and we don’t need more films out of Danzig--unless it’s an adaptation of his comic series G.O.T.H. (Government Operation Total Hate). That is perhaps the only way he can save himself, now.