It’s closing night at Kaufman’s Drive-in, a retro drive-in theater frequented by cinephiles of all ages and one of the last of a dying breed in the age of on-demand movies, Netflix Instant and increasingly expensive multiplexes. Owner Cecil Kaufman has a quadruple feature planned for his drive-in theater’s final outing that’s to die for.
So begins “Chillerama,” an adoring tribute to cinema that straddles the line of good taste and pays homage to all genres and time periods in the shape of a horror anthology film. With vignettes directed by independent horror directors Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Tim Sullivan and Adam Rifkin, “Chillerama” seems set on celebrating the films of yesteryear in a glorious fashion, especially the no-budget B-movies and exploitation films of the ’60s and ’70s.
From the opening title sequence, which relishes in its Edward Gorey-like animation and a score that would make “Tales from the Crypt” envious, “Chillerama” kicks off this celebration of cinema in the manner of past anthologies such as “Creepshow.”
We’re first introduced to a detestable man digging through his wife’s grave in an effort to make up for her cold and unloving manner when she was alive – in other words, indulging in the act of necrophilia.
When his wife awakens to bite him, most fans of films such as “Dawn of the Dead” have a pretty good idea of where this is heading and as the man begins to deteriorate, he decides to shuffle his way to his projectionist job at Kaufman’s Drive-In. It’s safe to say the patrons of Kaufman’s establishment are in for more than a few ridiculous films.
First up in Kaufman’s arsenal is “Detroit Rock City” director Adam Rifkin’s “Wadzilla,” an homage to monster movies such as “King Kong” – only this time, Rifkin plays a womanizing neurotic who is capable of producing killer sperm. It should be stated that “Chillerama” isn’t afraid to throw all taste out the window.
“Wadzilla” is enjoyable enough as a ridiculous send-up of movies about monsters destroying New York City and features accomplished puppetry of the giant, toothy killer sperm by the Chiodos Brothers, who have handled stop-motion and puppet effects in films such as “Elf” and “Team America: World Police.” Rifkin’s segment is worth a few laughs, even if it goes a little too far off track of being tastefully ridiculous.
Next, “2001 Maniacs” director Tim Sullivan offers what’s easily the film’s most personal segment, “I Was a Teenage Werebear.” Unfortunately, this ode to ’50s beach party movies such as “Beach Blanket Bingo” is also the worst segment and is practically unwatchable.
Sullivan, an openly gay director, has the basis for a compelling tale with a teenage boy who’s fighting to keep his repressed homosexuality a secret from the girls that are literally throwing themselves at him. He begins to open up about his feelings through song and dance, and eventually falls in love with a leather jacket-wearing greaser that could’ve shared screen time with John Travolta in “Grease.”
Sullivan’s previous films, much like this one, have always attempted to be satirical but they continually lack wit. When the lead character finally “comes out” as a Werebear, there’s already been enough off-key singing and pseudo-erotic bits that the audience will lack any interest in the personal and potentially admirable message Sullivan has.
After the major derailment by Sullivan’s segment, “Chillerama” slowly finds its way back to the fun-loving celebration of cinema it started off as. “Frozen” and “Hatchet” director Adam Green’s “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein” is a charming, “Monty Python”-like take on Hitler’s obsession with building the ultimate man, steeped in period appropriate production value.
It’s a joy to see actors such as “Avatar” star Joel David Moore playing Adolf Hitler as a complete dolt, and cult horror icon Kane Hodder as the Jewish Frankenstein who begins to resent his creator for his murderous ways. It’s tasteless, but Green tends to lean away from offending the audience too much, providing the most laughs of the film up until this point.
Finally, “Knights of Badassdom” director Joe Lynch briefly teases the next segment to be “Deathication,” a supposedly feces-filled cinema experience that Cecil Kaufman has acquired from the pretentious trash auteur Fernando Phagabeefy (Lynch himself in an exceptionally funny role). However, this segment turns out to be a hoax, as the story introduced in the opening scenes with the potential zombie outbreak turns into a full blown “Night of the Living Dead” at Kaufman’s Drive-In.
Lynch’s “Zom-B-Movie” forms the wraparound story for “Chillerama,” as it subtly takes place at Kaufman’s Drive-in between each of the segments, and it’s easily the most enjoyable segment. The plot follows a pair of film-loving, hopeless romantics spending what may be their final night alive at Kaufman’s Drive-in on the brink of a zombie apocalypse.
Richard Riehle steals the show as the movie quote-spewing Kaufman, who practically announces the reason “Chillerama” exists in a speech concerning the audiences’ seemingly lost adoration for the moviegoing experience, all while speaking to a poster of legendary “Citizen Kane” director Orson Welles.
It’s a heartfelt and inspired moment in a film filled with gross-out humor and purposely shocking homage to cinema. “Chillerama” claims to be “The Ultimate Midnight Movie” in its tagline, and that’s probably how it will live on from this point.
“Chillerama” is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Image Entertainment.