B.C. Butcher (2016)

It’s generally not the best policy to judge a movie based on its context instead of its content, but it’s nearly impossible to avoid doing so while discussing B.C. Butcher. Written by a 15 year old and directed in her dad’s (beautiful) backyard when she was 17, B.C. Butcher has a distinct teens-goofing-off vibe that makes a huge impact on its production value limitations and reasonable audience expectations. As young as she was, filmmaker Kansas Bowling did talk a big game in her promotional interviews for the film, citing names like Doris Wishman, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and Lloyd Kaufman (who distributed the film under his Troma brand) among her influences, names I didn’t know or care about until I was well into my 20s. Growing up in L.A. will do that for you, I guess, and Bowling is equipped with enough ingrained schlock history to know how to turn a small, unassuming camp film into a minor success. Shot on 16mm and coming in under an hour in length, B.C. Butcher looks & feels authentic to its trashy drive-in roots. This vibe carries over to the advertising’s David Friedman-esque claim that it’s the “world’s first prehistoric slasher film.” This isn’t the type of work that would normally bowl people over with excitement, but given the context of its production its’ difficult to shake the feeling that we may have another budding Anna Biller on our hands in Bowling: a young schlock historian looking back to old modes of B-picture filmmaking for new, interesting takes on since-stale genres.

In the year 1 million B.C., “before dinosaurs took to the skies,” a tribe of young prehistoric women are terrorized by two outside threats: a gross caveman who individually seduces members of the tribe only to cheat on them & an even somehow less gross monster that murders them one by one, slasher film style. The B.C. Butcher at least has a motive for his crimes against the tribe. He kills the girls as retribution for the slaying of his undead bride, who torments his nightmares with commands to kill! kill! kill! The caveman Casanova has no such excuse, driving the girls apart with his grotesque, predatory seduction merely for his own pleasure. The film boasts two “big name” actors: Kato Kaelin of O.J. fame plays the pantsless caveman loverboy and Kadeem Hardison, best known for portraying Dwayne Wayne on A Different World, is the off-screen narrator. The “plot” doesn’t get much more complicated from there, except maybe in the climactic moment where The B.C. Butcher sheds a magical tear, which was one of the film’s biggest laughs. That kind of slight, straightforward storytelling again feels true to Bowling’s schlocky roots and one of the smartest decisions she makes as a filmmaker is in limiting the runtime so that the story never really outwears its welcome. If it were actually released in the 60s or 70s it would’ve been the exact kind of throwaway junk that padded out a double bill at the drive-in. I mean that with love.

As something that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s seen a modern teen’s Tumblr or Instagram account, what B.C. Butcher excels at most is aesthetic. In the opening credits, girls pose in leopard print dresses, furs, and boas to a Coasters-type novelty song. In-between the film’s lightly gory kills, the same kids goof off while a punk soundtrack that sounds like it was provided by Burger Records, with band names like Vicky and the Vengents and The Ugly Kids, provides a pleasant aural backdrop for a mildly horrific version of playing dress up. These are, honestly, the best moments in the film. My favorite scene overall might be the mid-movie music video where The Ugly Kids mime one of their tunes on watermelon instruments. Bowling has a great eye for pure aesthetic, a saving grace that elevates her debut high above similar micro-budget horrors like Shark Exorcist & Desperate Teenage Lovedolls. She stumbles a little in a few stray decisions (it’s a little alarming that the only to black characters in the film are a killer ogre and a blind mystic), but there’s more than enough solid humor to be found in her gleefully schlocky details: character names like Anna Conda & Neandra, stock footage dream sequences, casual inclusion of plastic water bottles disrupting the prehistoric setting, etc. B.C. Butcher is a delightfully silly debut with a fascinating pedigree and even if the film itself doesn’t wholly satisfy every trash-gobbling viewer, it’s hard to imagine anyone walking away incurious about where its teenage director is headed next.

-Brandon Ledet