Thursday, October 12, 2017

Hubrisween 2017 :: G is for Gorilla Interrupted (2003)

On a not so quiet street in suburban Chicago, Ray Grawboski (Evans) storms over to his neighbor's house to complain about the unholy racket coming from within. Inside, in the offending house’s basement, a punk rocker with thee worst English accent of ever named Sid (Stoklasa) is currently testing out a nuclear powered guitar that was kit-bashed together by a nebbish scientific genius named Dex (Bauman), whose basement they are currently occupying. Here, Ray’s timing kinda stinks as he bursts in just in time to take the full brunt of Sid’s sonic blast, knocking him on his can. And then Sid make sure he stays there as he and his drummer vacate the basement without paying Dex for the guitar.

After the thugs leave, Dex apologizes to the foul-tempered and hard-drinking Ray for all the noise. Asked why he lets Sid bully him around so much, the introverted and socially-blunted Dex shrugs, changes the subject, and shows off his latest invention to his not very interested audience. And so, Ray gets the rundown on Dex’s new Battlepack; essentially a practical mobile laser rifle that’s powered by a hi-tech backpack, which the inventor claims can melt diamonds. Truth told, Ray seems actually impressed by this accomplishment, especially since it was built by some uber-nerd who lives in his mom’s basement -- only to be told Dex’s mom is dead, and he lives with his abusive dad. Who beats him. A lot. And it hurts. A lot.

Meanwhile, somewhere in orbit, a flying saucer circles the Earth. At the helm, the alien commander completes his scan but can’t locate the Battlepack, which, apparently, already ranks as one of the most powerful weapons in the universe, which the aliens want to steal and use to conquer the Earth for … reasons. Now, despite the radiation this thing emits screwing with their sensors, these aliens have managed to narrow the search radius for the Battlepack down to one square mile. And unfortunately for Ray, they decide to check out his house first and abduct him to drain his brain and probe his anus. But Ray wakes up before the deed is done and manages to break free; but during the confusion, he accidentally triggers an alien DNA Resequencer, which splices gorilla DNA into his own. And while the machine starts to overload, the panicking aliens teleport Ray back to Earth.

Meanwhile, meanwhile, Dex is having trouble expressing his true feelings to his childhood crush, Julie (Renley); and his attempts are so pathetic, and so full of sci-babble, she winds up stabbing herself in the head with a fork to pass the time. And as Dex despairs over this blown opportunity, Sid swoops in and starts hitting on Julie, talking her into attending his next gig. Meantime, Ray wakes up in a forest, violently rolls down a hill, somehow survives, and then stubs his toe, causing him to lose his temper, which triggers something in his scrambled DNA and transforms him into a gorilla. This draws the attention of Jacob Spaulding (Gilchrist), a bumbling big game hunter, who wants this man-beast's head mounted in his trophy case; and so, duly obsessed, he follows the ape home where all kinds of shenanigans ensue. Some funny, others not so much.

Meanwhile, meanwhile, meanwhile, those aliens have repaired their ship and can continue the search for the Battlepack. Now having narrowed the search radius down to Ray and Dex’s houses, they prepare to attack. Meanwhile, meanwhile, meanwhile, meanwhile, Sid is back in Dex’s basement, ready to test his nuclear guitar again. And when he starts wailing, this pisses Ray off, who Apes out just as the aliens attack. Across the yard, after his drummer is disintegrated by an alien death-ray, Sid is able to use the guitar to hold the aliens at bay until Dex can suit up and don the Battlepack, triggering a battle royale between man, mutated monkey and aliens...

Back in 2009, amateur filmmaker and videographer Mike Stoklasa released The Phantom Menace (1999) review video online, a scathing, hilarious, and don’t forget, very insightful indictment on George Lucas’ massive clusterf@ck, which quickly went viral, became a bit of a phenomenon, and officially put Red Letter Media on the map and helped establish a mini-review empire on the web with Half in the Bag, Best of the Worst, re:View and Previously Recorded. And if you were ever curious to see, well, not exactly where it all started but more like congealed -- maybe make that forged over one hellish week, into what we see online today, get yourself a copy of their reamastered Gorilla Interrupted (2003) DVD, which contains a delightful making of documentary, How Not to Make a Movie (2013), which chronicles the haphazard making of Gorilla Interrupted and reveals the true origin of Red Letter Media as we know and love it.

Seems Stoklasa and Rich Evans had known each other since high school and would shoot short home movies together in each other’s basements under the banner of GMP Pictures mostly for the own amusement -- and mostly Stoklasa’s, as he made Evans “constantly embarrass himself” for the camera. They met Jay Bauman (Blanc Screen Cinema) and Garrett Gilchrist (Orange Cow Productions) on an online message board for amateur filmmakers, exchanged tapes, and forged a bond over a love of schlock and irreverent stupidity over the pretensions of other filmmakers on the board. They made crap. Knew it was crap. And never tried to pass it off as anything but. And by 2002, Stoklasa, Evans and Bauman had already collaborated on several shorts. And then, Stoklasa got the idea that all four of them should collaborate on a feature together: a sci-fi musical comedy were-gorilla alien invasion love story extravaganza. Also, Satan. Who fights a were-gorilla.

They only had one shooting week, a camcorder with a built in mic, and a budget of zero dollars to get Gorilla Interrupted in the can and, as the documentary recounts rather bluntly, it was not a happy shoot. Realizing quickly the scope of the story might’ve been a tad too ambitious, things were then derailed further by creative differences, onset injuries, massive property damage, and a virulent plague that reduced everyone’s voices to nicotine-scarred rubble, making everyone less and less interested in finishing the film as the week progressed and more interested in just surviving the ordeal.

And once by some miracle filming wrapped, Stoklasa stated he was so disheartened by the shoot, which he called a terrible mistake and a disaster, he almost abandoned the whole thing but eventually wound up editing it together and finishing it. From there things get a bit sketchy as the film first got out through a bootleg of a rough-cut that could be traced back to Gilchrist. And while Gilchrist gets a lot of grief for his spastic performance in this film I think he is genuinely funny in a few spots; it’s just that his refugee from a Marx Brothers movie doesn’t quite jive with the narrative. (And his komedy wasn’t the only one to misfire.) And you can sense it on screen, too; the chemistry between Stoklasa, Evans and Bauman but it just isn’t there with Gilchrist. And while I don’t know the whole story, there was some tension between Stoklosa and Gilchrist behind the scenes during the shoot but this was apparently resolved as Stoklasa was in Ghostbusters 3, a film directed by Gilchrist a year later. And as far as I know, Gilchrist is still making films and has a YouTube channel.

Anyhoo, despite the drama and the trauma of the shoot, as the years went by Gorilla Interrupted kinda went from a disaster to an interesting misfire by those who participated in it. Thus and so, the decision was made in 2013 to take another crack at it for a remastered edition, which was re-edited, re-scored, and received a massive F/X overhaul. And while I have never seen what the original version looked like -- aside from the opening credit sequence, I think a lot of the original version still shows through, resulting in a film that was both cheap, improvised, and nonsensical as well as inventive, creative, and dare I say kinda charming in an errant puppy's first encounter with a slide-whistle sense.

What struck me the most while watching Gorilla Interrupted was that despite the lack of budget, the limitations of the equipment, and the haphazard nature of the production is how ambitiously shot the whole thing was for what is essentially a glorified home movie. (I mean, they improvised a green screen with just a blue sheet for crap’s sake -- and it worked!) Stoklasa and Bauman definitely have an eye for shooting an action sequence, getting several different angles for one scene instead of the usual amateur standby: the static master shot. (A lot of it looked handheld, and I liked how they just made it work within their limitation -- the camera and crappy mic.) And this shows through in their editing, as well, as there’s some real ingenious stuff going on here. And the cheap props, cardboard sets, and improvised settings are really clever. (I’m thinking of the mattresses for the impromptu meditation chamber.) And, good lord, that poor house. But that’s a story I will leave from them to tell on the DVD. It’s also interesting to see how much they’ve matured, on a technical level, as the new F/X are better but are still grounded in the style of schlock that sprung it.

As for the acting, well, Evans fares the best as the foul-mouthed and quick-tempered Ray. Always in the scene, and always ready to do whatever is needed. (And how that guy is still alive after some of the stunts he pulled is just baffling.) Stoklasa has his moments as the equally foul-mouthed Sid, while Bauman is kind of adorable as the socially-retarded misfit, Dex. And since we already covered Gilchrist let's move on to our last player, Lisa Renley. Like Evans and Stoklasa, Renley had known Bauman since high school and had appeared in a number of his short films. (She also had the best line in the whole making of doc.) And while her character, Julie, doesn’t have a whole lot to do, she is pivotal to the plot as the aliens, after they were routed in the first battle, kidnap her to force Dex into turning the Battlepack over to them, which they then use to amplify their own weapons system and start razing Chicago.

And as our four heroes rally to try and save her, the aliens break off the attack, teleport them all aboard, and apologize for attacking the planet even though they were on the verge of victory. Why? Well, seems Satan has stolen both the Battlepack and Julie from them, who plans to use the weapon to punch a hole between hell and the Earth. And after the aliens dump them on some guy's couch before vacating the galaxy, our defeated heroes are about to give up until they get a pep-talk from a reasonable facsimile of Jesus. (Nope. Not making that up.) And so, once more, Dex rallies the others to invade hell and save Julie.

Thus and so, I found Gorilla Interrupted to be a helluva lot of fun -- and more fun that it probably ever had a right to be given it’s chaotic origin. It’s a smart and snappy piece of nonsense that barely last an hour -- but you kinda wish it would’ve kept going. It’s not everyday you see a movie where a gorilla with anger management issues fights Satan. And as far as I’m concerned, any movie that can pull that off should never, ever, be considered a mistake.

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween. And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage to keep track of the whole conglomeration of reviews for Hubrisween right here. Or you can always follow we collective head of knuckle on Letterboxd. That's seven down with 19 left to go! Up next: Abominable? Hardly.

Gorilla Interrupted (2003) Red Letter Media / P: Jay Bauman, Rich Evans / D: Mike Stoklasa / W: Mike Stoklasa, Garrett Gilchrist / C: Mike Stoklasa, Jay Bauman / E: Jay Bauman, Mike Stoklasa / M: Matthew Baamonde / S: Mike Stoklasa, Jay Bauman, Rich Evans, Garrett Gilchrist, Lisa Renley

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