Judge Gordon Sullivan has five bucks in his pocket. He's gonna make a movie.
He'll Kill for Rock 'n' Roll
The continued popularity of The Phantom of the Opera can probably be attributed to the fact that, deep down, most of us have felt like an outcast at some point. Though the "phantom" of the title isn't generally portrayed as a nice guy, he's only one in a long list of "monsters" who are ultimately far too human and sympathetic to dismiss, along with Frankenstein's monster, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. Of course, most people know The Phantom from either Lon Chaney's vivid portrayal or Andrew Lloyd Weber's famous stage musical, but it's a measure of an idea's potency when it filters far outside of mainstream. In the case of Phantom of the Opera, we can call it a success now that it has been the subject of a low-budget horror reimagining in the form of Phantom of the Grindhouse. Those familiar with Chris Seaver's demented brand of Low Budget Pictures might get a kick out of this particular combination of cheap jokes and cheaper special effects, but it's not a film for mainstream viewers.
A group of young people want to save their ailing theater. They get the bright idea of hosting a twenty-four-hour horror movie marathon. What they don't realize is that a masked madman has taken up residence beneath the theater, and he'd rather it stay cozy and unused. As the horror movie marathon approaches, the Phantom is willing to go to great lengths to keep the theater closed.
Like pretty much all Seaver-helmed horror-comedy hybrids, Phantom of the Grindhouse has all the usual earmarks of the Low Budget Pictures brand. First, you get the faux trailers and VHS-era feel to the film. On pressing play, we see three trailers for fake films that play out as cute homages to different genres, from the possession flick to the creature feature. Then we get an "introduction" by the grim reaper-looking Warlock, who tells us about the feature we're about to see in the style of old-school horror hosts of days past. Together, these two aspects cover 12 or so of the 65 minutes the "feature" runs on this disc. The next 55 or so minutes are taken up with the narrative, which unfolds pretty quickly through a handful of scenes. Expect the usual goofily acted moments of foul language, allusions to sex, and crazy euphemisms, as well as low-budget death and gore.
Though I can't say I've seen all of Seaver's numerous films, there does seem to be a closer relationship between the film and its music this time out. Usually the soundtrack to Seaver's films feature indie bands, usually of the punk and ska variety. That's true here as well, but instead of just having music at a party or during a montage, we get characters sings or miming the music for character development. It's far from a full-blown musical, but if Troma can do it with Poultrygeist, I think that Seaver could head down that road eventually with some success. As it is here, the music is a pleasant diversion from the usual stuff we've seen before.
Also as usual, Phantom of the Grindhouse gets a decent DVD release. The film's 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer does the shot-on-HD image proud. Detail is fine throughout, with colors that are well-saturated. Black levels aren't really deep, but they're consistent and generally free of noise. The set's stereo audio keeps the dialogue clean and well-balanced with the film's music. Extras kick off with an audio commentary with Chris Seaver, Josh Suire, Andrew Baltes, Clint Kelly, and Meredith Host. It's a gang commentary where the group reminisce about shooting the film, discussing everything from their inspiration to the gaffs on set. They keep it light by cracking jokes, but I can sometimes get a bit difficult to hear a point because of overlapping voices. We also get almost 10 minutes of "bloopers" and a trailer vault that sadly doesn't contain a trailer for Phantom.
There's very little to redeem this low-budget horror comedy. The acting is pretty bad, the story lifted from elsewhere (and told in fits and starts) with no production value and not nearly enough spectacle to entertain many viewers. Those looking for low budget horror-comedy would be better off with the Seaver-helmed Sexsquatch.
Phantom of the Grindhouse puts a decent musical spin on Chris Seaver's brand of low-budget horror/comedy. For fans of his work, this is a worthwhile rental, but those unfamiliar with the Low Budget Pictures world should probably steer clear.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Alternative Cinema
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