Dir. David Schmoeller
Written by “Billy Chicago” (David Schmoeller) and Charles Band
Starring Michael Bendetti, Denise Gentile, Holly Floria, Alex Datcher
Well, when you see that Full Moon Video logo on something, it might as well be a warning label, we all know that. But I dunno, sometimes you just need a wild hope. Full Moon founder Charles Band did produce a few decent movies while he was still with Empire International Pictures, including director David Scmoeller’s mild but ingratiating PUPPET MASTER. And he produced RE-ANIMATOR. OK, he also produced about a million other horror movies which are so dull and low-rent that they’re unwatchable even by my standards. Me, the guy who watched THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR. The guy who made it all the way through SHAKMA. The guy who routinely defends the STAR WARS prequels. I mean, if you can’t even get me to stick around for 80 minutes (including credits) of EVIL BONG, you may have officially reached rock bottom. What market could there possibly be that will go where even I destain to tread?
1992, though, was on the cusp, I thought. I mean, he was still producing terrible sub-moronic no-budget z-grade monster flicks, but at least they seemed like real movies as recently as the late 80’s. He did CASTLE FREAK with Stuart Gordon as late as 1995. And of course, David Schmoeller was fresh off PUPPET MASTER and CRAWLSPACE, and only a little over a decade away from his indisputably classic debut in TOURIST TRAP. Plus, this one has Alex Datcher, who I liked so much in JOHN CARPENTER’S BODY BAGS and was itching to see in something else. I thought there was a chance. When you’re a horror fan, you gotta be an optimist about these things. Somewhere out there in video movie land, there is true forgotten treasure, and you’ll never find it unless you sift through some questionable rubble. Maybe, just maybe this was some kind of overlooked masterpiece that got lost in the shuffle of GHOULIES sequels and never got its due.
|I'll have what she's having.|
Alas, in this case the blatant warning signs did not steer me wrong. This is not the lost classic I was hoping for, in fact it’s inarguably just as crappy, incompetent and listless as you probably feared it was. But it’s not entirely without redeeding qualities. As cheap as it is, it’s full of effort and interesting details. Creepy symbolism and unexplained, dreamlike shit abounds: there’s a mysterious flying hand that zips around an underground labyrinth and murders people like the silver balls from PHANTASM. There’s some sort of hellish bordello, where you can hook up with the likes of Mary Magdalene or Marilyn Monroe. There’s a generous serving of bird imagery (like, in every single scene), these weird green drinks they call Taffia, two sets of witches both with ambiguous motives, hookers with strange masks (one from TOURIST TRAP, I think?) a weird ultra-creepy hooker with a spinning-head mask. Despite the 90’s milieu and what must have been a punishingly low budget, Schmoeller was definitely putting in some effort, legitimately trying to make something unique and good.
The plot, such as it is, involves a wealthy young man (blandly handsome Michael Bendetti, absolutely nothing of relevance) inheriting his estranged father’s estate. Dear departed daddy has left him instructions on how to use black magic to revive the late patriarch, which doesn’t seem to surprise him or even motivate him as much as you might think it would, but I guess I should mention that this is all set in Louisiana, so maybe that’s just par for the course down there. Ugh, what a hassle, now I have to live in my estranged Dad’s opulent plantation mansion with his sexy mother/daughter tag-team caretakers and use black magic to bring him back. Who has the time these days? There’s some nonsense about an evil bar which may be a portal to hell or whatever, who knows, it’s kinda hard to explain and the plot seems to give up trying after a while.
|Believe it or not, this is a big part of the film's climax.|
A good bit is pretty dull and water-treading, a bunch of hazy exposition that’s way too impenetrable to add up to anything. Schmoeller’s efforts are occasionally rewarded by some cool images, but they look painfully chintzy in that ubiquitous crappy 90’s lighting that made everything look like a sitcom filmed in a Wal-Mart. The music is straight up terrible and despite a few sets and effects which convey a mild feeling of effort, on the whole the production is dispiritingly amateurish on almost every level. I’m definitely the kind of guy who would be into the languid, dreamlike New Orleans vibe it’s trying for, but alas there’s just not the kind of production talent here to pull it off. Oddly, the movie’s secret strength is the very light strand of offbeat humor running through it. I couldn’t decide at first if it was honestly meant to be funny or if it was just humorously incompetent, but then there’s this scene where our hero is being threatened in a bar. A cool, macho-looking guy gets a flourish for an introduction, walks up to his aggressor and confidently challenges, “ if you want someone to pick on, pick on me.” And then he just gets absolutely decked, falls to the floor, and is never mentioned again. That’s gotta be intentional, right? And there’s another bit where he’s experimenting in black magic and kind of drifts off to sleep and goes into your ubiquitous out-of-body-vision. He floats dreamily through the house and into the bathroom, where the camera pervs out on the showering housekeeper/love interest. But then she suddenly screams -- she sees him! This isn’t some sort of out-of-body dream, he just walked in there! And he seems as surprised as anyone else! And this has to be one of the few horror movies I am personally aware of where the male lead has a trying-on-different-outfits montage. (by the way, this is what he settles on:)
A few more funny bits like those might have gone a long way to making this one more appealing; in fact, you can almost see it working as a kind of laid-back mix of dreamy horror and oddball comedy. The proportions aren’t quite right for it here, though; too much slack, too little whammy in terms of either horror or comedy. But there’s some bits to like here. I liked them. I sure do wish the dreamy horror was executed well enough to work better, because there are real good ideas here. I really wanted to like it more than I was able to, but it’s at least intermittently interesting. The cast is pretty iffy with the majors mostly played by bland disposable white people, but the supporting cast isn’t as bad as you’d think. Its nice to see Alex Datcher in here (she plays “Mary Magdalene, which has gotta look funny on her filmography) and she’s far and away the best actor in the film, though she doesn’t really have a ton to do. And if that’s not enough to sell you, you can look forward to an extended white-blues rock sequence which features a band that looks and sounds a lot like a crappy Edgar Winters band, and then also turns out to be actually them. That’s weird, right? Why Edgar Winters has a musical cameo in 1992’s NETHERWORLD is a question for future generations to ponder, but you gotta admit, not too many horror movies can claim that honor.
I honestly could not really tell you what the deal with the end is. There’s definitely something that happens, but what precisely it is or why I could not say. However, it’s worth persevering for, because if you can make it to the end of the film you’ll be rewarded with one of the weirdest, funniest final shots ever to grace the silver screen. I can’t spoil it for you but the thing it most evoked for me was this Weezer/gopher hybrid from the Pork and Beans video:
Schmoeller himself is in there as the bartender who does a cool bottle-spinning trick, so he must have believed in this film at least a little. That’s nice to see, but it’s also not a huge surprise that this was more or less his last full-length film until 2012. He’s quoted on his IMDB page saying, “The reason I like horror films is that they're very cinematic, and I like to think of myself as a cinematic director. Other genres are not necessarily as cinematic; you can do so much with horror.” Makes sense, actually, especially since it also says he studied theater in Mexico with Alejandro Jodorowsky and was mentored by Luis Bruñuel. Unfortunately here he was only able to do so much with his love of the cinematic, and it can’t quite get him where he wants to go. The Full Moon production definitely hurts, and of course let’s not forget that he had recently worked with Klaus Kinski* and may have still been working through the resulting psychological trauma. But NETHERWORLD isn’t a complete disaster. At times it sort of resembles a real movie, and even fitfully evokes genuine interest, which by Full Moon standards makes it basically a masterpiece. You kinda hate to damn a talented, ambitious guy like Schmoeller with such faint praise, but hey, at least it’s better than DEMONICUS or DOLLMAN VS DEMONIC TOYS. You could do worse.
*A harrowing experience he describes in his appropriately named 1999 short film PLEASE KILL MR. KINSKI.
|2's the best I can do, but it's on the verge of 3. Call it C-|