Brandon’s Top Camp Films of 2015

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Yesterday, I posted my list for the best films I saw in 2015, but with the exceptions of a couple outliers like Magic Mike XXL & Mad Max: Fury Road the whole thing reads as a little too . . . stuffy, dignified. To get a fuller picture of what the year looked like, here were the 15 films I most enjoyed on the trashier side of cinema, the ones we slapped with a Camp Stamp.

1. Goosebumps – The same way films like The Monster Squad, Hocus Pocus, Witches, The Worst Witch, and (on a personal note) Killer Klowns from Outer Space have introduced youngsters to the world of horror (and horror comedy) in the past, Goosebumps is an excellent gateway to lifelong spooky movie geekdom. It strives to stay true to its half-hokey, half-spooky, all-silly source material, resulting in a film that’s genuine dumb fun from beginning to end, but still packs a sharp enough set of teeth that it might just keep a tyke or two awake at night.

2. Unfriended – This laptop-framed live chat horror flick is so ludicrously invested in its gimmickry that it comes off as kind of a joke, but the commitment also leads to genuinely chilling moments that remind the audience a little too much of their own digital experiences. As a dumb horror flick filmed entirely from the first-person POV of a gossipy teen operating a laptop, it’s both way more fun & way more affecting than it has any right to be.

3. Spy – Paul Feig & Melissa McCarthy’s latest collaboration updates the mindless excess of the superspy spoof genre (seen before in films like Naked Gun, Austin Powers, and MacGruber) with a surprisingly sharp sense of humor lurking under its crass irreverence. If nothing else, Jason Statham’s monologue in which he brags about his past adventures might be the single funniest (and most relentlessly dumb) scene of the year.

4. Furious 7 I watched all 7 Fast & Furious movies for the first time this year and can say with total confidence that this was easily the most over-the-top in its absurd disregard for physics, human nature, and good taste. What a fun, ridiculous spectacle of an action movie.

5. Turbo KidA cartoonish throwback to an ultraviolent kind of 1980s futurism that probably never even existed. It’s difficult to believe that Turbo Kid didn’t previously exist as a video game or a comic book, given the weird specificity of its world & characters. It’s a deliriously fun, surprisingly violent practical effects showcase probably best described as the cinematic equivalent of eating an entire bag of Pop Rocks at once.

6. Deathgasm – An authentic look into a metal head teen’s colorful imagination, Deathgasm is a gore-soaked, go-for-broke horror comedy about a high school metal band’s war against a zombie apocalypse. It’s delightfully gross & oddly sweet.

7. Krampus – Director Michel Dougherty’s first film, Trick ‘r Treat, was a comedic horror anthology devoutly faithful to the traditions of Halloween. His follow-up, Krampus,  thankfully kept the October vibes rolling into December traditions in a time where so many people do it the other way around, celebrating Christmas before Halloween even gets rolling. All hail Krampus,  a soul-stealing demon who acts as “St. Nicholas’ shadow”,  for bucking the trend.

8. The Final Girls – If you happen to be a fan of 80s “camp site slasher films” like Friday the 13th & Sleepaway Camp and you enjoy meta genre send-ups like Scream & The Last Action Hero, please check out The Final Girls as soon as you can. It not only participates in the trope-referencing meta play of Wes Craven’s Scream, but because of its outlandish movie-within-a-movie concept, it also adopts the dream logic of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Although the film’s main goal is undoubtedly a goofy, highly-stylized comedy, it also reaches for eerie, otherworldly horror in its central conceit.

9. Mission: Impossible – Rogue NationPretty much a repeat of what I had to say about Furious 7. I watched the entire Mission: Impossible series for the first time this year & the newest installment, Rogue Nation, easily stood out as the most over-the-top entry in the fairly silly action franchise yet.

10. Russell Madness – A family comedy “produced by” Air Bud about a Jack Russell Terrier who finds success as a mixed-species pro wrestler. Need I say more? The only flaw in its execution of what had to be the dumbest premise of the year is that they didn’t stick with what must have been the original title: Russell Mania.

11. American Ultra/Victor Frankenstein I can’t defend essentially anything I’ve ever read Max Landis say on the internet, but I can say that he wrote two of the most mindlessly fun, delightfully excessive examples of trashy cinema that I saw all year.

12. Patch Town – A horror comedy Christmas musical about an evil Cabbage Patch dolls factory, Patch Town sounds like the kind of Sci-Fi Channel dreck that would settle for a couple odd moments & a celebrity cameo, then call it a day. Instead, it milks its concept for all it’s worth. Its high-concept, low budget weirdness is calculated, sure, but it’s also surprisingly thorough in pushing that concept as far as it could possibly go & even better yet, it’s genuinely funny.

13. EverlyA scantily clad prostitute played by Selma Hayek attempts to reunite with her family and escape a life of indentured servitude through an onslaught of gun violence. Cornered in a condo, Hayek’s Everly has to shoot her way through an army of Japanese gangsters, bumbling bodyguards, and fellow prostitutes to achieve freedom. If this sounds stupid & gratuitous, it’s because it most definitely is. Everly isn’t a film where any themes or ideas are explored in new or interesting ways and the violence is a mere exclamation point. It’s a film where violence is the entire point.

14. R100 Late in the run time of this surreally campy BDSM comedy, the film addresses the audience directly by suggesting that, “People won’t understand this film until they’re 100 years old.” Even that timeline may be a little too optimistic. Directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto, the juvenile prankster who brought the world the cartoonish excess of Big Man Japan & Symbol, R100 initially pretends to be something it most definitely is not: understated. The first forty minutes of the film are a visually muted, noir-like erotic thriller with a dully comic sadness to its protagonists’ depression & persecution. It’s around the halfway mark where the film goes entirely off the rails genre-wise, dabbling in tones that range from spy movies to mockumentaries to old-school ZAZ spoofs. It’s doubtful that even 100 years on Earth will give you enough information to make sense out of that mess.

15. The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age SmackDown – What can I say? I’m a sucker for pro wrestling cinema. The dumber the better. In The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age SmackDown the unholy marriage of the title not only connects both The FlintstonesHoneymooners-style comedy and the WWE’s complete detachment from reality with their collective roots in working class escapism, it also revels in the most important element in all of wrestling & animation, the highest form of comedy: delicious, delicious puns.

-Brandon Ledet

2015’s Top Five Offerings for Christmastime Counterprogramming

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Christmastime can often bring out the saps in us, something that can be downright overwhelming if you pay too much attention to the season’s radio broadcasts, TV, and cinema. Those looking to indulge in the sentimentality certainly have plenty to choose from. Love the Coopers is the only traditional Christmas movie from this year that his the theaters (that I can think of, anyway), but there’s plenty of made-for-TV movies (seemingly all on the Hallmark Channel) & Christmas-themed TV episodes waiting to fill that void. Thankfully, 2015 has also offered plenty of Christmastime counterprogramming, consciously non-traditional works that sidestep the more maudlin aspects of the genre. The following films were my favorite non-Christmasy Christmas films of the year, each with links to their respective reviews from this site & their corresponding trailers. I hope it breaks up the routine seasonal monotony of A Christmas Stories & It’s a Wonderful Lifes for you this Yuletide season.

5. Everly

Just in case you don’t want to watch Kevin McAllister try on his dad’s aftershave for the 1,000th time, why not watch a gun-weilding Selma Hayek rock a bloody negligee for a couple action-packed hours instead? Everly is a yakuza-style shootout film featuring themes of revenge, prostitution, human-trafficking, and – you guessed it – families struggling to make it home for Christmas. It’s also quite funny, considering its endless sequences of bloodsoaked violence.

4. Patch Town

The Nutcracker is a classic Christmas ballet in which magical toys come to life when no one’s looking to dance adorably & act all magic-like or some such. Patch Town is a horror comedy Christmas musical in which an evil toy factory freezes forest-grown babies in their infantile state & sells them as Cabbage Patch Dolls until their adoptive owners outgrow & discard them, when they’re promptly unfrozen & forced to work in the very factory that extracted them from the cabbage patch in the first place. They’re about the same if you think about it, but at least Patch Town is new.

3. The Night Before

Scrooged is my all-time favorite Christmas movie. In some ways, though, its cynical drunk of a protagonist didn’t push Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol far enough into unexpected territory. Thankfully, The Night Before is here to update the narrative to include not one, but three cynical protagonists who are visited by a mystical weed dealer instead of the ghost of a cabbie AND The Grinch AND instead of sticking to just alcohol they indulge in “every single drug in the whole world.” It’s honestly the most sentimental film on this list, but it’s also one of the most excessive, so I’m willing to let it slide.

Bonus Selection: If you need an alternative to that alternative due to the seasonally appropriate sentimentality, ghosts & Christmas also mix in the very, merry un-Dickens Paranormal Activity VI: The Ghost Dimension.

 

2. Krampus

Tim Allen is a notorious reformed-cokehead comedian, so I guess in some ways the hokey Santa Clause franchise is already a subversive Christmas narrative. If you’re looking for an even-more non-traditional Santa surrogate, though, try Krampus: a soul-stealing demon who acts as “St. Nicholas’ shadow” whenever bad little girls & boys lose faith in the holiday. Director Michel Dougherty’s first film, Trick ‘r Treat, was entirely faithful to the traditions of Halloweens & thankfully he kept the October vibes rolling into December traditions in a time where so many people do it the other way around, celebrating Christmas before Halloween even gets rolling. All hail Krampus for bucking the trend.

1. Tangerine

Some of the best Christmas movies are the ones where the holiday is mere background noise, barely getting in the way of the narrative. Any rebel sticking around long enough becomes part of the establishment, though, so titles like Batman Returns & Gremlins don’t work quite as well as counterprogramming as they did 20 or 30 years ago. Mercifully, Tangerine is willing to fill that void in the here & now. Following a trans sex worker as she drags her bestie along on a revenge plot to confront her fiancée/former pimp is worlds away from the traditional Christmas narrative. It’s so committed to outdoing Gremlins’/Batman Returns’/Die Hard’s/Eyes Wide Shut‘s counterprogramming that it even forgoes those film’s snowscapes for a brightly lit/sunshiney Los Angeles that should feel mighty familiar to how New Orleans most often spends Christmas. It, of course, also helps that it’s one of the best films of the year, Christmas counterprogramming or not.

-Brandon Ledet

Patch Town (2015)

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There’s been a lot of grumbling lately about the inherent lameness of intentionally campy B-pictures aiming for a cult audience in an overtly phony way. Movies like Sharknado & Zombeavers have been derided by many schlock junkies for recreating a calculated sense of what was once felt like genuine cinematic weirdness in order to gain an instant, unearned cult status. It wouldn’t be too hard to see that same allegation being lashed at the horror comedy Patch Town, but (besides being generally more lenient on the calculated cult movie as a genre than some) I believe there’s something a little more special about the film than titles like Wolf Cop & Piranhaconda. Patch Town‘s high-concept, low budget weirdness is calculated, sure, but it’s also surprisingly thorough in pushing that concept as far as it could possibly go & even better, it’s surprisingly funny.

A horror comedy about an evil Cabbage Patch dolls factory, Patch Town sounds like the kind of Sci-Fi Channel dreck that would settle for a couple odd moments & a celebrity cameo, then call it a day. Instead, it milks its concept for all it’s worth, telling the story of a magically talented toy inventor who discovers a cabbage patch in the woods that gives birth to real-life babies. Unable to provide for every single babe he finds, he uses his advanced toy-making technology to preserve them in plastic doll bodies & sells them in stores so that little girls can mother them (real-life Cabbage Patch dolls used to come with adoption papers). Once the girls became women & left their adopted baby dolls by the wayside the (since-deceased) inventor’s evil son would snatch them up, free them from their plastic doll prisons, and force them to work in his evil doll factory where they perform grotesque cesarean section operations on the magical forest cabbages. That’s not even to mention a subplot in which one of the workers breaks free to track down the mother who abandoned him. Or the fact that it’s a Christmas movie. And a musical.

If Patch Town were made in the 1980s there’s no doubt in my mind that it would have a strong cult following. It may even just be strange enough to pull one off in the 2010s. There certainly aren’t that many horror comedy Christmas musicals about evil doll factories around these days to compete for its potential audience. I don’t think it’s an entirely successful endeavour from front to end, but it does have a whole lot going for it in terms of go-for-broke narrative absurdity & genuinely hilarious moments that feel like bizarre sketch comedy tangents (complete with a Scott Thompson cameo). I’d understand if some folks dismiss it outright based on its calculated cult following ambitions alone (especially considering how flooded that particular market is at the moment) but I believe it’s genuinely strange enough to deserve a fairer shake than that.

-Brandon Ledet