Written by: Daniel McDonald
While waiting for some new releases to arrive on the big screen, I have been perusing overlooked, underrated genre pieces that are available to T.V.F.T.T.P. readers while we all wait for some late Winter/early Spring Cinematic sustenance. THE BYE BYE MAN has been basically vilified or at best, tolerated as the perfect January release (most studios dump productions that have been poorly received at advance screenings, or they have little to no faith in). This is not always the case, and some surprisingly successful (critically, financially or both) efforts have been a “pennies from Heaven” experience for their creators, producers and release houses. This, however is definitely the exception not the rule.
So, I’ll catch THE BYE BYE MAN (which I must admit had my expectations apparently much higher than they needed to be) beginning with that “uh oh…I don’t know…” PG-13 stamp of insecurity for horror films, when it’s at a second run house and perhaps talk about it then.
This cinematic curiosity (hence the title of this piece) has an interesting, somewhat tragic pedigree and history. Originally titled THE KITCHEN SINK (as in EVERYTHING BUT…) a less provocative, but completely appropriate to this “where are Seth Rogan, James Franco et al?” uneasy mixture of horror, humor, hormones and Happy Days pretty much everything but the… well you get the idea.
On HALLOWEEN 2015, a friend called and asked if I wanted to see the new horror film that just opened called FREAKS OF NATURE? Now being the “up on all things Horror – past, present and future” dude in our crew I immediately questioned the validity of this because I had not seen or heard ONE SINGLE PIECE of promotional information on any such film. He read a slight description from Facebook that called it “a hilarious, horrific tale of a small town besieged by Zombies, Vampires, Werewolves and Aliens.”
Partly out of lack of knowledge frustration, fan curiosity and it being HALLOWEEN, I said “HELL yeah, let’s hit it. Immediately my mind went to ridiculously low budget, no funding for promotion, no recognizable names, the worst of the worst, bottom of the barrel cinema.
The story of Dilford, a small middle American town, populated with three factions living an uneasy existence of hierarchy, the Vampires are the elitist top rung, normal(?) human beings somewhat in the middle and Zombies, put-upon, mistreated, bottom of the food chain scapegoats. The juxtaposition of a 1950s feeling everyday simple small town existence with the off handed, casual way the Supernatural aspects are worked in plot-wise lets the viewer know this is either a “fold your arms and snort with smug detachment” or open your eyes, mind, notice the roster of comedians in supporting roles, and surprisingly substantial make-up, pretty terrific practical and CGI FX, and recognizable names in leading roles, deal with some low level comedy that morphs into sophisticated very funny satire at times, you, like I, will be quite pleasantly surprised. Now, as I said this takes a fairly hefty suspension of disbelief, but I, as a cinaphile have always believed that agreeing to have faith in the creative team and “go along for the ride” before forming an opinion, is much less self-defeating than denying any entertainment value or use for the project from the very start. That seems (to me anyway) to be paying 10 dollars and ensuring that elitist, subjective, pre-judgmental attitude guarantees you’ll have a bad time.
The plot (summarized) involves three teenagers (vampire, Makenzie Davis, human, Nicholas Braun and zombie, Josh Faden – all very good, particularly Faden who has and is hilarious fun as the nerd sidekick) that have typical Breakfast Club experiences, relationships and connections, the film utilizes nods to previous teen comedies (Ed Westwick has and is a blast as an Edward/Robert Pattinson super slick Vampire).
The supporting cast of Comedy Gold teachers, parents etc. (Joan Cusack, Bob Odenkirk, Keegan Michael Kee, Patton Oswalt) bring loopy charm or deadpan (pun intended) energy that one expects from a project that becomes more over the top every moment. In two featured roles, Stoner/Sexy Vampire (Vanessa Hudgins) and an eerily dead on town leader who has a very Trump-like presence (Denis Leary) manage to shine and have what seems to be a wonderful time.
As the relationships in town are already (sometimes wonderfully, sometimes confusing silly/stupid for funny) strained, the arrival of Independence Day worthy Spaceships and Aliens pulls the town together to a moderately funny/gross finale that I won’t spoil here, but I will say as uneven as the script can be, it had me involved to the point where a “could’ve been disastrously false” moment of poignancy works very well.
The surprises about this project kept on coming. Columbia pictures giving it ABSOLUTELY no promotional support, the Russian Roulette of Producers (originally Jonah Hill which explains it’s THIS IS THE END feel) a creative team fairly well unknown Director Robbie Pickering, writer Oren Uzeil handed a 33 million plus dollar budget, explaining quite a bit about the film’s crisp cinematography (Uta Breizwits) frantic but sharp editing (Craig Alpert) and much more than expected makeup, FX (the gore level is comedically high at times, some intense violence and drug use). By the way with Columbia’s complete lack of support FREAKS OF NATURE returned a whopping $71,000 on its $33 million dollar budget… OOOPS!!
I’m just saying…