Nightmare Sisters (1988)

Maybe the trick to becoming a genuine, enthusiastic fan of David “A Talking Cat!?!” DeCoteau is to watch as many of his low-budget, low-effort novelties as possible, even if you don’t especially enjoy them.  Individually, each DeCoteau film I’ve watched to date has been a disappointment, failing to live up to the full camp potential of their absurd premises.  And yet, I’ve become fonder of the horndog galoot with every subsequent letdown.  If nothing else, I’m in awe that he’s managed to direct 174 features over the past four decades despite never showing any detectable passion for his craft.  DeCoteau conveys none of the unflappable zeal for filmmaking that you’ll see from other underfunded but manically persistent auteurs like Matt Farley, Don Dohler, or Ed Wood.  He’s become most infamous in genre schlock circles for his profound laziness, filming his modern straight-to-streaming novelties in his living room & backyard with no attention paid to changing up the décor to suit the setting of individual productions.  It’s an incredibly frustrating dispassion to encounter in a relatively famous horror auteur at first, if not only because it’s the exact opposite quality I’ve been trained to expect and appreciate in my outsider-artist genre filmmakers.  And yet, the more times DeCoteau disappoints me the more my affection & admiration grows.  I’m starting to love that he gets to make his stupid little anti-effort genre comedies from the comfort of his luxuriant home, that he’s been lazing about on the payroll of notoriously hard-working schlockmeisters like Roger Corman & Charles Band.  If nothing else, it’s just nice to see someone live the dream.

The best way I can track my reluctantly growing appreciation for DeCoteau is to compare my recent reaction to his topless novelty horror Nightmare Sisters to my reaction to his near-identical topless novelty horror Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama just two years ago.  Both films use an uncomfortably racist caricature (in this case, an Indian palm reader) as a launching pad for nudist shenanigans among a coterie of low-level 1980s scream queens in sorority drag.  Whereas Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama torments its VHS-cover babes with a wisecracking puppet, Nightmare Sisters transforms its spooky pin-ups (Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, and Michelle Bauer) into the monsters themselves.  They start the film as nerdy sorority sisters who can’t land dates, but a run-in with a cursed crystal ball transforms them into topless bombshell succubi who bite off frat boys’ dicks.  It toes the same thin line between horror comedy & softcore porno as Slime Ball Bowl-o-Rama, but it’s a lot more honest & upfront about what it’s doing – staging its most memorable scene in a clawfoot bathtub so the horned-up succubi have an excuse to monotonously scrub each other’s bodies while giggling at nothing in particular.  The film is by no means great, but it is often adorably quaint as a VHS-era nudie cutie with a soft Halloween theme.  It’s got all the exact highlights and lowlights of Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama, except this time around I found those details cute instead of annoying, something I can only attribute to my growing affection to the goofball behind the camera.

Besides his trademark laziness, DeCoteau’s calling card as a schlockteur is his cutesy, sexless brand of homoeroticism – which usually just amounts to casting twinks & chiseled-abs jocks in ostensibly straight roles, giving each film the feeling of a gay porno that just never fully came together.  Because Nightmare Sisters is a Reagan Era comedy aimed specifically at teen boys’ libidos, it’s unsurprising that the frat boys villains’ go-to insults for the nerdy pledges under their thumbs are an unimaginative barrage of homophobic slurs.  Those jocks are punished for their crimes by having their dicks bitten off by the anti-heroine succubi, whose sorority house is decorated with tighty-whitey beefcake postcards of celebrities like Tom Selleck flexing their hirsute muscles.  More to the point, Linnea Quigley’s big song-and-dance number when she transforms into a punk-rocker succubus is a love tune in which a woman pines for a gay prostitute, directly contrasting the straight-boy sex appeal of the flesh on display with the much more substantial homoeroticism flowing just beneath the surface.  The central conflict of Nightmare Sisters is that the frat boys & sorority girls can’t have sex without magical intervention, because they’re just too nerdy to admit what they want or to go for it.  Considering the girls’ and boys’ mutual disinterest in each other and the much more pronounced tension of the frat house hazing rituals that get in their way, their problem might be that this tits-and-blood horror comedy is just too gay to allow them to hook up.  It’s all so campy and insincere that it makes the heterosexual mating rituals of the American college student feel like retro kitsch.

Like with Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama, my favorite parts of Nightmare Sisters were its opening credits (including a rockin’ song with the lyrics “Suck you, suck you, succubus” from a band called Haunted Garage) and its A+ poster.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that the two films share so many merits and faults, since they were apparently filmed the very same week with most of the same cast & crew.  What is surprising is how much more fun I had watching this lazily tossed off DeCoteau novelty when its better-funded, slightly more effortful predecessor left me so cold.  Maybe if I watch a couple dozen more of his shameless, passionless frivolities I’ll even get around to calling one “good”.

-Brandon Ledet

Episode #129 of The Swampflix Podcast: Talking Cats!?!

Welcome to Episode #129 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Britnee, James, and Brandon discuss so-bad-they’re-great children’s comedies about talking cats, starting with the Citizen Kane of the genre: David DeCoteau’s A Talking Cat!?! (2013).

You can stay up to date with our podcast by subscribing on  SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherYouTube, or TuneIn.

– The Podcast Crew

Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama (1988)

It’s a shame that the David DeCoteau horror-comedy curio Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama couldn’t live up to the glorious sleaze of its A+ title, but what movie possibly could? From the hot pink comic sans & video game keyboards score of its opening credits to the Porky’s-level slimeballery of its nerds-desperate-to-get-laid rising action, everything about the film’s opening act plays like an attempt to undercut the expectations set by that wonderful title. It almost worked too. Once I adjusted to the limited scope of its horny teen-boy sexuality & no budget DeCoteau shapelessness I started to have fun with the film as a low-stakes Full Moon Entertainment acquisition (the exact VHS genre territory that encapsulates the entirety of the Canuxploitation schlockteur’s catalog). Unfortunately, it was the Full Moon calling card of a pint-sized monster puppet that interrupts the film’s party-time sleaze and sours the mood past the point of enjoyability.

Three virginal nerds escape the boredom of their college dorm by spying on a sorority pledge initiation ritual: a softcore display that leans heavily into girl-on-girl spanking erotica. Once inevitably caught in the act, the boys are paired off with the pledges they spied on for a much less titillating hazing ritual: being dispatched to break into the bowling alley at the nearby shopping mall. As you would expect, this transgression releases a demonic puppet known as an “imp” who lives in an enchanted bowling trophy. The imp then tortures the college-age bimbos of both genders by granting a series of backfiring monkey’s paw wishes. Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama is half sorority-initiation spanking erotica (which is admittedly fun for what it is) and half a goofball creature feature centered around this itsy-bitsy-cutie demon, who actively ruins the mood. It’s not that his design or his kills aren’t passably amusing. It’s that he’s inexplicably voiced with a minstrel show-level racial caricature, which is a deeply ugly impulse the film never recovers from.

The one saving grace of this picture as a cult curio is that it managed to collect an impressive gaggle of 1980s scream queens – The Slumber Party Massacre’s Brinke Stevens, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers’s Michelle Bauer, and all-around Sleazy Slasher goddess Linnea Quigley. You can see that exact trio share the screen in other titles like Nightmare Sisters, however, without having to suffer the “comedy” stylings of this film’s racist puppet. Only Quigley breaks through the tedium of the script with a notable performance, playing a no-fucks-to-give biker who hates the other character’s guts just as much as the audience does. Otherwise, the only exciting character work here is in the light kink teased in the sorority sisters’ prurient enthusiasm for spanking new recruits. Their horned-up declaration that “It’s better to give than it is to receive” frames them as young lesbian dominatrices in training, which the movie can’t help but accentuate with some leather fetish gear when a wish goes awry in the tiny, racist hands of the demon imp.

It’s a shame that this film never fully veers into genuine softcore porno, since that’s where its heart truly lies. A few occasional stunts like a car flipping over, a victim being set on fire, and a human head being substituted as a bowling ball justify its designation as a horror comedy, but it’s foremost a sorority-set spanking video that’s unfortunately hosted by a minstrel show puppet. I suppose there’s some novelty in seeing that kind of genre territory poke around a bowling alley setting and I highly doubt this is the worst specimen in DeCouteau’s expansive catalog of cheapo oddities, but there’s still not much to recommend here beyond an A+ title & poster:

-Brandon Ledet

The Hatred (2017)

Sometimes a movie comes along that’s so awful, you wonder why anyone even tried, or how anyone who watched the final product could have ever signed off on its release. The Hatred is such a film: a bargain basement haunted house flick about four young women and a little girl being terrorized by the apparition of the long-dead daughter of a Nazi war criminal via a mystical object that induces hatred. It’s as nonsensical as it sounds.

The film opens with an overly long sepia-drenched prologue showing the day-to-day rural “1950s” life of Samuel Sears (Andrew Divoff, aka the title character of the Wishmaster series, and definitely someone who deserved better than this), an escaped Nazi higher-up who now lives a life of simplicity on his “farm” alongside his wife Miriam (Nina Siemaszko) and daughter Alice (Darby Walker). Samuel receives an ugly iron cross talisman along with a personal letter of thanks from Hitler himself for his service, both of which he boards up inside his Nazi paraphernalia room. Alice, ignorant of her father’s past, wants to start going in to town and open herself up to being courted by local boys, but Samuel keeps her locked away in their home. One day, however, his anger is so great that he drowns Alice in a water trough and hides her body. The local police are unable to locate her body and assume that she has run away. Miriam eventually kills Samuel and leaves the home herself, never to appear in the film again.

In the present day, Regan (Sarah Davenport) is en route to the home of a family friend/professor, to babysit his daughter Irene (Shae Smolik) for a period of time. My apologies if this is vague, but so is the screenplay. Along for the weekend (?) are her friends (Gabrielle Bourne, Bayley Corman, and Alisha Wainwright). After a couple of run-of-the-mill scares and the occasional bump in the night, the ghost of Ashley enacts revenge and picks the girls off one by one until the film concludes with Generic Horror Ending 3.01A: Final Girl™ and Precocious Innocent Child™ escape from Haunted House™.

This feels like a movie that fell through a portal to a parallel dimension where David Decoteau makes films for a straight male audience. Decoteau, for those not in the know, earned his stripes directing B-horror fare like Creepazoids! and sequels to various Full Moon properties, like Puppet Master and Prehysteria. In the late nineties and continuing into the new millennium, however, he took up directing direct-to-video in-name-only horror flicks starring young actors and underwear models looking to break into the industry. His filmography is largely composed of fare like The Brotherhood and its five (!) sequels, Boy Crazies, Haunted Frat, and other homoerotic “movies” that exist primarily as vehicles for long, static scenes of nubile white twinks with only one film credit showering and running around the woods in their briefs. Also, sometimes Alexandra Paul is there.

With the rise and spread (no pun intended) of the internet, the demand for softcore not-quite-porn subsided, leading Decoteau to new heights of laziness, churning out family fare like A Talking Cat?! and An Easter Bunny Puppy. This isn’t meant to be a dig at Decoteau; the man got his start working for Roger Corman after all, and movies like Beastly Boyz are an important part of DTV film history even if they’re no longer relevant. And the man obviously learned a lot from Corman, seeing as he managed to release seven films in 2011 alone. The problem is that it’s painfully apparent that he’s not even trying anymore. He just shoots all of his movies in and around his house now, with no attempt to hide his apathetic approach to cinema (there’s a couch made out of the back of a VW Beetle that appears in every single film).

The Hatred is in this same vein. The midcentury “farmhouse” that is the setting for the introduction (which takes up over a quarter of the film’s runtime and is, despite its laziness, still the best part of the film) is obviously a modern home, in spite of the half-assed attempts to disguise this with set dressing. It’s not out of the question that the Sears family would have a wicker loveseat or ornamental mirrors, but they probably wouldn’t have been the kind you can see at your nearest Target, or have been awkwardly placed in the background in such a way that it was obviously covering a modern electrical outlet. The sepia is so omnipresent that you get the feeling you’re watching a film set in the 1800s, not the 1950s, and the dissonance of that visual rhetoric makes it impossible to take it seriously, even when Divoff, Siemaszko, and Walker are giving decent performances (regardless of truly atrocious dialogue).

This is a movie that’s coming apart at its (very visible) seams at all times. The location is never established in the dialogue; there’s a shot of the North Carolina flag early in the film, but when Regan’s gaggle of gal pals is giving her a hard time about her decision to move to “the country” from “the city,” we’re never given a clear picture of where either of these places are supposed to be. Is “the city” Raleigh? Is “the country” Louisburg? The lines as written and recited paint a picture of Regan as a NYC gal moving to some distant backwater. There’s an ineffable haziness to the whole film that would be notable if the filmmaker was creating a timeless dreamlike Everywhere, but it’s not–it’s just lazy. As further illustration, in the same scene where this “expository” dialogue is spoken, the girls express appreciation for “hot cowboys.” The audience does not see these cowboys in a reverse shot, nor did the director stick an extra in a flannel shirt and jeans and have him pass between the women and the camera; it’s just the four of them looking off-camera and exaggeratedly waggling their eyebrows. Lazy, lazy, lazy.

What separates this from being a true alternate universe Decoteau film, however, is the overall lack of any impropriety. One of the girls (Stock Character 40A.4™) is killed by the vengeful spirit while talking her boyfriend out of phone sex, which is so scandal-free it’s almost laughable. There are no shower scenes or long tracking shots of Regan and a friend slowly walking down a hallway in their bleach-white undergarments. All of the girls are quite pretty and are perfectly suitable as the gender-bent equivalents of Decoteau’s stable of twunks. In fact, I would dare say that they’re all far more talented than any of the one-and-done “actors” from Decoteau’s films, giving performances that range from passable to decent, although the lead actress feels a little insincere, like an overly-kind waitress that you recognize is being nice to you because she has to (here’s a tip, boys: she’s never flirting with you; she’s working).

Normally, even if a film is objectively bad, we here at Swampflix can still find something nice to say about it, or advise that there could be a specific audience who could glean some nugget of joy from a mess. Not this time, I’m afraid. To call this film “half-assed” is to betray an ignorance of fractions; I’d be surprised if even a quarter of an ass was used in the making of this film. There’re too many great movies, streaming and not, to waste your precious time on this stinker.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond