Had Andy Kaufman had been a child of the late Eighties, it’s pretty safe to say Tony Clifton would’ve been a different beast altogether. A Borscht-belt insult comic made a lot of sense as a vehicle with which to vent against a lazy entertainment culture for a kid who grew up on Long Island in the Nineteen-Fifties. Sadly, whatever relevance that kind of figure once had is now relegated to distant nostalgia and shitty roast specials on Comedy Central.
Had Andy been a child of the late Seventies, perhaps he would have turned his wrath into a savage exploration of our culture largesse through satire of infomercials and lo-fi cable access shows, such as Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have with their Awesome Show/Tom Goes To The Mayor/Check It Out! mini-empire on Adult Swim. Yet, had Andy Kaufman been born in the early-to-mid Eighties, just old enough to remember the world as it was pre-internet, but young enough to have spent since his early teens completely immersed in the world of the wide web, it is almost doubtless how his ire would have manifested…
…as a satire of the goddamned “wacky” micro-celebrity vlogger.
As a deconstruction of one of those millions of aching lost souls on the blips, and the youtubes, and the twitches, and Christ-knows-what-elses—convinced that making reviews of bad movies with nostalgia value or his every fart and twitch while playing Grand Theft Auto, was to be his Lana Turner at the drug store moment that would pull him out of his parent’s attic and into a stratosphere of minor fame and free money, comp-ed trips to film premieres as long as he promises to say GODZILLA was awesome, and fanboys at comic-cons shouting catchphrases at him, then giving his kickstarter fifty dollars each for an autographed copy of a DVD of things they could already get for free on youtube…
You know what I’m trying to say. Anyway.
Andy would probably come up with a character just as vicious, disgusting, and backward-thinking about the world as his character Tony Clifton was. He’d be as ugly, weird, and catchphrase-lousy, sloppy and obsessed with selling out for the free money that most of the vlog-bandwagon-jumpers seem to be deep down. But, under all that, the character would have actual deep analyses of the horrible nostalgia fodder and cheap hipster-cult ephemera that he reviewed.
Actually knowing what he was talking about under the scum would be the joke within the joke—that even this shambling monster of a persona would know better than to make the Star Wars prequels star a clumsy lizard-bunny racist caricature that likes to step into the poopie. In other words, Andy would’ve come up with Mr. Plinkett.
You, of course, should know who Mr. Plinkett is. You’re on the internet. It’s just a given.
He’s the triggery, over-the-line accidental break-out star at Red Letter Media, a small video production team that had been toiling away at interesting low-budget stuff in Milwaukee for a while. Red Letter only got on the larger map when an in-joke spiraled into the film reviews of Harry S. Plinkett, a decrepit, drunken, gambling-addicted serial killer of hookers from suburban New Jersey. The weird guy crawled into our hearts, explained to us all the things we vaguely knew but couldn’t quite put into words about what went wrong with genre pictures, and left the insides of our hearts covered with blood.
Someone else’s blood. Maybe his dead wife’s blood.
No, no that one, the other one. Her blood.
What you may not know is that Harry Plinkett had been banging around in their heads for a long time, long before the reviews, and was actually a character shared between two of Red Letter Media’s creative forces Rich Evans and Mike Stoklasa. He was kind of a voice and running gag for a debauched drug-addled old man character the two had been riffing on for a long time. He had shown up in shorts by Mike Rich and the third member of the main Red Letter Media triad, Jay Bauman, a handful of times. This was long before the Plinkett reviews went viral, even before the Plinkett review of Star Trek Generations spawned the Phantom Menace review.
Near as I can tell, just being a jerk on the internet with a lot of time on my hands, the Plinkett character debuted in a short film where he is some kind of split personality that manifests in Rich following over-exposure to Olsen Twins direct-to-video cash-in tapes. It happens to the best of us.
These days, Mike seems to handle the Plinkett voice when reviewing films directly as the Plinkett character, and Rich performs the character when he’s needed to be seen full-form on camera. He appears in their side-projects and the Half In The Bag review series, in which Mike and Jay are the main reviewers and Harry is simply a side character in the wrap-around segments.
It isn’t all that different than Andy Kaufman and his writing partner Bob Zmuda sharing the Tony Clifton persona for maximum comedy, even handing it off to Kaufman’s brother when it was too obvious that Tony had to be Andy OR Bob.
Which, long-windedly, brings us to Red Letter Media’s direct-to-DVD horror farce, Feeding Frenzy. Harry S. Plinkett (Rich Evans’ slightly-more-slapstick interpretation of the character) is what could nominally be called the main antagonist of the story… but it turns out this was not actually any attempt at cashing in on the success of Plinkett’s Star Trek reviews as the Feeding Frenzy project was started before the feature-length Phantom Menace review gained popularity. Serendipity, I believe they call that. Unless that’s the next Firefly movie. Anyway.
If you like the idea of the Mr. Plinkett/Half In The Bag guys making a low-budget homage to the crappy puppet Gremlins rip-offs — Ghoulies, Critters, what-have-you — you’re going to like this movie. You’re going to like it a lot. It really does capture a not-entirely-ironic lover of that particular strain of VHS rental store fodder. It is not the kind of “oh those movies were so terrible, here’s a terrible movie” Snarknado hipster bullshit that you might have feared they were making.
It’s not laughing at those movies. It’s laughing with them, which makes all the difference. It is… lovingly goofy, we’ll say.
If you’re watching an homage to goofy horror movies for their production values, you are a terrible person and really shouldn’t be reading this review at all — go drive your goddamned fixed gear to Local Dive Bar for a PBR you mustachioed douche-hole, but for the… few grand it appears they put into it, it’s done about as well as you can do on a shoestring budget. For a movie where the crew is obviously two guys and whatever actor is off-screen holding the boom, it’s a good looking little film.
The plot, such as it would ever be in this sub-set of films, is almost beside the point. Jessie Camp can’t get a girl because he’s an idiot-loser who works in a hardware store. When the monsters in his boss Mr. Plinkett’s basement run amok, he might stumble into a way to save and impress the lovely Christine after all. That’s… about the plot, really. There’s a party slaughtered by tiny monsters, a self-consciously gratuitous pillow fight, and masturbating to Oprah Winfrey along the way, but the plot is ultimately a skeleton upon which to hang a love of late Eighties/early Nineties VHS schlock. If that sounds like a fun idea to you, you will probably like this.
If that idea sounds boring to you, again, you are more than welcome to play Mumford and Sons on the jukebox while talking about Miley Cyrus instead.
You do what you do, son.
Some of the ad hoc effects are surprisingly effective, the low-rent latex monsters look pretty much exactly as they should for the kind of film they’re referencing. There are some uses of camera and framing that suggest that these guys do have a visual plan and they follow through on it where they can. You get the feeling that’s an artifact of their budget, not a sign of cinematic laziness, and that’s about all you can ask for considering the resources they obviously had at hand.
None of the performances are bad, even if some of the actors are clearly not trained actors, just the filmmakers and their buddies. The creative team seems to know their limitations and work with them instead of being unconscious of them and just going with it. Rich Evans, for example, as Mr. Plinkett is probably a character actor at best, but he plays those few notes well and the story knows how to use those note just right.
The ersatz protagonist Jesse Camp (love the name) is imbued by Ron Lipski with the sort of earnestly bland and slightly-dim desperation of nearly all the cheapie male horror leads of the time. While that is again, perhaps a little one-note, they know how that note fits into the genre and they use it well. The directors Bauman and Stoklasa are similarly not fully trained actors, but they know where and how to use their improvisational skills well and which tropes of Eighties horror cheese to play out with their various roles. Stoklasa’s particular skill with strange voices and accents work very well in a few short scenes as well.
Oddly for this kind of independent film, what really shines through is the strength of the female performances. Listening to the commentary, it seems like they fell into this not entirely intentionally, but their female lead and a good chunk of the female smaller roles seem to be the entirety of the more classically trained acting in the piece. So many movies on this level seem to be stuck casting largely untrained actresses, often the producer or director’s girlfriends or simply the most attractive woman they could find in their small town and went with it. Feeding Frenzy thankfully doesn’t fall into that trap.
Gillian Bellinger as the female lead, Christine, really should end up a star somewhere. She’s able to flesh out her role as Jesse’s love interest who does not care to be Jesse’s love interest about as much as one possibly could. She adds as much realism and soul to that somewhat stock role as one possibly can. She is incredibly funny as what comes closest to the straight-man role in this film.
Similarly, Tina Krause and Jocelyn Ridgely both bring a reality to small roles as two hookers that fall afoul of the madness with the monsters, Mr. Plinkett’s mad scientist scheming, and Jesse Camp’s general schmuckiness. You could easily play these kinds of roles as gum-snapping hard-edged whores, somehow they both make them feel like they are fully developed characters from some other movie about the difficulties of the prostitute’s life, if that makes any sense. Even in the incredibly small role of a weird emotionally-abusive Russian housewife, Lora Story kills it. The cut scenes on the DVD of the strange Eastern European couple are made by her truly disturbingly funny performance.
The commentary track is, in some ways, the best part. I don’t mean it as a backhanded compliment; the commentary track is what commentary tracks really should be, it is honest about the film’s drawbacks, enthusiastic about the film’s strengths, and gives more pointers about how and how not to make a low-budget film than you’d probably get out of three semesters of film school.
They discuss pretty extensively the difficulties with lighting, the shifting sands of production when you don’t have all your actors all the time, the process of throwing together special effects on about a dime and the problems of shooting with very little money in general. The tidbit that the film’s genesis was an idea for a forty-five minute shower scene framed by rubber monster gore illuminated the whole thing in a number of ways.
In essence, I liked it. I liked it a lot, it was worth paying for it legally. Some person you do not know on the internet just wrote 2,300 words about how much he mostly liked it. If you are a film nerd of a certain age, you will quite like it and the DVD bonuses are genuinely worth watching. If you’re not into that genre of horror movies, you’ll probably still like it a good deal, it’s reasonably funny film even outside of the context of the homage.
If you’re a geek for Eighties cheapie flicks, it’s a buy. If you just like movies in general, it’s at least a rental.
Check it out at redlettermedia.com after you’ve caught up on all of the Plinkett reviews because you should do that because that stuff is awesome and you’re awesome, aren’t you?