Verotika (2019)

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Verotika is the cinematic debut of punk rock legend Glenn Danzig. With his anthology film, Danzig comes full circle; from his music, most noticeably with the Misfits, being massively influenced by old school horror, he now turns director! Using his own comic as the source material, he adapts three stories of sleaze with a pulpy, horror focus.

Through this anthology film we’re guided by Morella, played by porn star Kayden Kross – a performance which, despite its relatively short screen time, ends up being the best in the whole thing. In the vein of Tales of The Crypt, Morella bookends each story, and leads us into the next with some wise cracks, and winks to the camera.

Opening up, and the first of the three is “Albino Spider of Dajette”, which sets the film off to a pretty weak start. The story opens with a couple in the throes of passion”. Right off the bat, the video quality, as well as the set dressing, makes it automatically look like bad porn.

The guy begins to push things too far, and after some resistance, takes off the woman’s (Dajette, played by Ashly Wisdom) top to reveal she has two eyes where her nipples should be. If you think this is important to the plot, don’t worry, it’s not, and will barely come up again. After he leaves in disgust, an albino spider which featured in the background of this scene comes to life in an 8-armed humanoid form (Scotch Hopkins)!

The man’s desire for the woman is so strong that he begins to kill the people around her, but only while she sleeps. As a concept this is interesting; essentially becoming a reverse Nightmare on Elm Street, and as it continues, begins to show some aspects of a moral dilemma that Elm Street never touches on, because the person of focus isn’t the one in danger.

The problems with this story arise from the use of some horrendous special effects, with this easily being the worst looking segment of the bunch. From an audio stand point, there are strange quirks, like cars in the background of dialogue sections being way too loud, which makes you wonder if this was a choice made to remove any awkward silence, or if cars were genuinely driving by when shooting and the sounds were never removed. Visually, its reminiscent of an old monster of the week show, something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But its never a good sign when something produced in 2019 can be visually compared to a 90s tv show. In the current day there are films shot on iPhones, which look far more professionally produced. Which makes you wonder how this even happened.

Next up we’ve got “Change of Face”, which focuses on a facially disfigured woman who stalks people at night, stealing their faces to add to her collection with the implication that she uses these in her routine as a stripper under the name “MYSTERY GIRL”. Carried over from the first story are some sketchy effects, with the face removal looking more like someone removing a slice of ham from their face rather than skin.

Unfortunately, story wise there’s not really much beyond this. There’s a subplot about the police chasing after her, but this never really comes to any conclusion; such open-endedness maybe works in a comic strip, but on film creates confusion more than anything else.

The main attraction to this story is, of course, the stripping scenes. Change of Face features an EXTENDED stripping dance sequence which takes up far too much room. You can tell this is where a decent section of the money went as its easily the best-looking part of the film so far. It’s here that Danzig’s score becomes more apparent; the soundtrack is great, which is something you’d completely expect from a musician making his own film. This also of course gives you something to listen to while much of the screen is taken up by huge fake breasts.

Closing off our journey, we have “Drunkija Contessa of Blood”, and despite having the coolest name, it’s probably the weakest story of the bunch. Set in the medieval period, it follows Drunkija, who is abducting peasants from a nearby village to bathe in their virgin blood in an effort to maintain an everlasting youth. And that’s pretty much it.

Huge portions of the story are dedicated to total pulp-fest – the glorification of this woman covering herself, naked of course, in pools of blood. This happens in what seems to be the only portion of the film with original sets, which, while still bearing signs of poor quality, don’t look as bad as the other stories, and is at least for the most part consistent in its visuals (ignoring one glaring issue with a greenscreen so horrific, the effect breaks, and you can see the green through her cape).

Ultimately, there’s so little happening here that it becomes apparent that all of these sections could have been music videos; their concepts are so shallow that there’s not really much to fill in the time with.

The movie has received a lot of negative attention – a lot of it deserved, some not. Its trailer even focuses on the potential future success of it as a midnight movie. Maybe this is to mitigate damage, or pretend that a campy final product was the plan all along, but it just doesn’t feel like a good sign. The negativity attached to it is due in part to the special effects being shockingly bad, most of the actors seeming very inexperienced, and the sets in a lot of places being crummy. But I got enjoyment out of Verotika. At its core there are some cool ideas, especially story wise, however never fully realised. I theorise this is due to mismanagement of money, and inexperience. Although having an estimated budget of $1,000,000, there are films with much lower budgets that have been pulled off more successfully than this, which is frustrating because you can see the good in what ultimately feels like an amateur production.

Recognising this leads me to believe that the suggestion often made to this being horror’s equivalent of “The Room” are overexaggerated. This is by no means to say it’s a great film, but unlike The Room there’s a clear vision within Danzig’s stories. There are cool ideas behind some of the stories which sadly aren’t fully realised, and if that’s a remnant of the comic source material or the product of bad adaptation, I’m not sure.

I feel as though if this film was made under the right circumstances it could have been amazing. What I can confidently say is that this is a textbook cult horror film, without a doubt. At the end of the day the statement “a visually low budget, horror film by Glenn Danzig” alone will mean something, and be appealing to a lot of people (myself included) and if it does mean something to you, that means you’ll already have some idea of what to expect. And in that case its 100% worth a watch, preferably drunk, and with some friends.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆

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