As hard as it may be for some of us to believe, it’s now been a full decade since Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse first opened, and, as I’ve discussed at length elsewhere, the big-budget box office flop wound up having a far greater cultural impact than anyone could have anticipated at the time. No, QT and RR did not single-handedly bring grindhouse exploitation cinema into the popular consciousness, but they did raise its profile significantly, to the extent that neo-grindhouse (if you want to call it that) has become a prominent subgenre in the indie/genre scene this past decade: on top of Grindhouse spin-offs Machete, Machete Kills and Hobo With a Shotgun, we’ve had Black Dynamite, Bitch Slap, Time To Kill, All Hell Breaks Loose, Run! Bitch Run! and Nude Nuns with Big Guns, to name but a few; but to my mind there’s no question that the big daddy in this field was James Bickert’s gleefully debauched 2011 bikers-versus-Bigfoot movie, Dear God No!
I’ll admit I wasn’t completely sold on Dear God No! when it first came to British shores. The post-grindhouse approach invariably hinges on a degree of artifice which is always going to leave a bad taste in the mouth for some viewers. However, with time and further viewings, not to mention holding it up alongside similar films that have been made since, it became clear that Dear God No! had a sincerity, a certain purity of intent (believe me, I’m well aware how wrong it seems to imply there’s anything ‘pure’ about it) that held it up as almost certainly the best film of its kind to emerge this past decade. As such, when Bickert announced plans to shoot an even more ridiculous sequel in Frankenstein Created Bikers, damned if I wasn’t anxious to see that right away, to the extent that I happily donated to the film’s Kickstarter fund – hence my contributor copy Blu-ray arrived at long last this past weekend.
I should stress right away, I can’t provide a synopsis of Frankenstein Created Bikers without also giving away substantial spoilers for Dear God No! – so if in doubt, don’t read on…
After an opening sequence which could have come direct from any number of first wave slashers, in which Ellie Church (Time To Kill, Harvest Lake) hitches a ride on a sun-drenched country road whilst barely contained in her denim cut-off short-shorts, it isn’t long before a monstrous Sasquatch shows up and the mostly-naked bodies start bloodily hitting the floor. However, who should then show up but those brutal bikers the Impalers, once again led by the mighty beard of Jett (Jett Bryant). Those familiar with Dear God No! may be forgiven for being just a little taken aback by this, given that by the climax of the previous film Bigfoot had brutally slaughtered every last one of them, but it soon becomes clear that the mad Dr Marco (Paul McComiskey, also returning from Dear God No!) has somehow been able to bring all of them back from the dead by means of some shady science, and continues to grant the Impalers life on the condition that they assist in his macabre research, wrangling both Sasquatches and human subjects for experimentation. However, the Impalers have other things to worry about than bloodthirsty super-powered man-ape missing links, as a figure from their past named Val (Tristan Risk) – a one-eyed explosives fetishist with an appetite for destruction which matches that of our biker boys – is hot on their trail with revenge on her mind, and to this end she’s rustled together a posse which includes a chainsaw-wielding priest, a transgender martial arts master, and, of course, a bunch of topless women in masks with machine guns. As you might have guessed, by the final reel it’s very much one of those ‘who will survive and what will be left of them’ scenarios.
Of course, in these days of digital photography, ‘final reel’ is usually just a figure of speech. Not in this case, though, as probably the key selling point of the Frankenstein Created Bikers crowdsourcing campaign was their steadfast intention of shooting on 35mm film (a step up from Dear God No!, which used super-16mm). Indeed, they went so far as to declare it might very well be the final 35mm horror movie – although, in the interim, Anna Biller’s 35mm-shot The Love Witch arrived to considerable aplomb, bursting that bubble just a little. I’m really not the person to ask as to whether or not 35mm is as good as dead, but I certainly hope not, as both Bickert’s and Biller’s movies demonstrate how damn good the format still looks, and how, despite advances in the field, DV still can’t quite capture that same organic quality.
Another key selling point on which Bickert and co have undoubtedly delivered was their plan to make a bona fide exploitation epic – and, at 125 minutes in length (a good 40 minutes longer than Dear God No!), Frankenstein Created Bikers certainly is something of an epic. It’s in this, I think, that the film is most likely to divide opinion. For myself, I’ve said time and again that films which stretch beyond the two hour mark often taste my patience, and I’m afraid to say FCB is no exception. If it was literally two hours of wall-to-wall carnage, nudity and absurdity, that would be one thing (yes, I’m a man of simple tastes), but Bickert’s script squeezes in a somewhat surprising amount of plot and character detail that wasn’t so much at the forefront in his earlier film, and this is frequently conveyed via lengthy dialogue scenes which at times prove a bit extraneous. Between ‘Frankenstein’s experiments, his fractured relationship with his Igor figure Klaus (yet another indie horror icon, Laurence R Harvey), Klaus’s secret plot against his master, Risk’s Val, her plot for revenge and her rather messed-up relationships with her father and brothers, the Impalers and their struggles to adapt to the undead life, Jett’s burgeoning romance with Edna Marco (the returning Madeline Brumby) who is now a severed head kept alive The Brain That Wouldn’t Die-style, plus Ellie Church’s Candy plunging into a horrific odyssey in her struggles to escape, and the local cops trying to figure out what’s going on before falling victim to Val’s ubiquitous car bombs… you get the point. There is a hell of a lot going on in this movie, making the whole endeavour a fair bit slower-paced than we might like for an exploitation B-movie, and I daresay a fair chunk of it could have been left on the cutting room floor without the film feeling any weaker for it.
Even so, this is not to say FCB doesn’t still deliver on the X-rated pleasures exploitation lovers expect. Again, the opening sequence sets the tone pretty well with an abundance of retro-flavoured gore and nudity playing out to old school party metal, and there’s plenty more where that came from as the action rolls on. Still, in some respects things are a little tamer than Dear God No!, particularly as – a few threats aside – rape is left almost completely out of the equation this time around. But this is not to say we don’t have some brutal sequences here: Ellie Church’s character in particular is really put through the wringer, forced to endure some genuinely unpleasant ordeals. For the most part, though, Frankenstein Created Bikers really revels in its fucked-upness for the sheer fun of it; I’m not going to spoil the best bits, but rest assured there are some wonderfully transgressive moments which are sure to spark either gasps of horror or barks of laughter (and I know which side I fall on there). And, in common with Dear God No!, Bickert again proves he’s a walking profanisaurus, filling the mouths of his actors with reams of the most creative and colourful vulgarities you’re ever likely to hear.
This feels a fairly redundant statement at this point, but obviously Frankenstein Created Bikers was never going to be to all tastes. If you didn’t like Dear God No! and you don’t like grindhousey films in general, then quite clearly this is not one to put on your to-view list. For everyone else, there is clearly a lot of fun to be had with this sequel, even if it may somewhat outstay its welcome.