Legend tells of the first screening of The Room: a night where nobody knew what they were about to see, and where later, nobody quite understood what they’d seen. By all accounts, that was a screening where something special happened. Its audience can say they were there when The Room transformed from the film its director thought it was into the film the world knows it is. As a moviegoer, you live for screenings like that.
Cinepocalypse’s world premiere of Glenn Danzig’s Verotika was one of those screenings.
Based on the former Misfits frontman’s Verotik comics, Verotika (a portmanteau of "violence" and "erotica," not that the film reflects that) is nominallyv a love letter to 1970s horror anthology films: three stories, linked and presented by a host, made to disgust, frighten, and provoke. Verotika does none of those things. It’s a work of complete ineptitude on every level, to an almost unbelievable degree; a pouring-out of Danzig’s weird proclivities without an ounce of skill. And it’s absolutely fucking glorious.
Verotika’s three stories all revolve around women, which sounds surprisingly progressive until you realise all the women in the film are prostitutes, strippers, virgin sacrifices, or beauty-obsessed murderers, and played mostly by porn actors. The first story tells of a woman whose alter ego, a human-spider demon of sorts, murders people when she falls asleep. The second, a female murderer who cuts faces from her victims to cover up her burns. Rounding out the trio is a medieval tale about a Countess Bathory type bathing in virgins’ blood to stay young. None of them make sense.
Danzig made a big point in his introduction that he wasn’t interested in making “PC shit,” but rather “some fucked-up shit,” and while Verotika certainly isn’t PC, it’s not that fucked-up either. So extreme and pervasive is its misogyny that it becomes a running gag, amongst the audience only. The best gore gag comes within the first minute of the film; otherwise, the violence (and the sex) are incredibly tame by modern standards. This, too, became a running gag in the room: Danzig keeps trying to shock, but comes across as a kid who's just learned their first swear word and thinks they're real clever.
The actual content is almost secondary when it comes to the entertainment value Verotika presents. Every line of dialogue in Verotika is abysmal, delivered with the flat, emotionless drone of the talky bits of porn movies (save for one actor, playing a cop, who seems to be having fun with it). Every shot is overlit and garish, with Danzig clumsily paying homage to Mario Bava and the like via the use of primary-coloured lighting gels. Every plot point is completely illogical, every character dumb as a brick, every set like something out of a second-year film school project. There are so many weird, terrible choices in this movie that to list them would be to describe the film almost frame-by-frame.
The editing of Verotika deserves special mention. In Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, there’s a joke that episodes of the show-within-a-show were running under time, so they filled them with slow motion to make up for it. Verotika probably contains a maximum of thirty minutes of material, but it’s ninety minutes long. Shots go on and on for minutes at a time, with actors visibly running out of material, waiting for “cut,” or responding to offscreen direction by Danzig. Filmmakers often talk about the freedom digital affords them to just keep rolling between takes, but only Danzig uses that material in the final film. Accordingly, we end up as confused as the actors obviously are.
If you were to parody bad editing, it still wouldn’t be this bad. Sequences drag and drag, then cut to an alternate angle completely unmotivated, then cut back to the original angle for more dragging, fading out in seemingly arbitrary places. At one point, Danzig’s Bathory-alike bathes in a virgin’s blood, and it’s like watching someone take a nice long bath, in realtime. Verotika should be the most boring film ever made, but its editing is so consistently terrible, and bafflingly so, that even audiences unfamiliar with editing conventions will find it captivating and hilarious.
At the premiere, Danzig - who seems completely sincere about the movie he’s made - railed against Hollywood filmmaking, which he sees as inauthentic. I’ll give him this: Verotika is an exceptionally authentic film, insofar as it presents an unfiltered glimpse into the psyche of Glenn Danzig, Film Director. Irrespective of the results, Danzig made exactly the movie he wanted to. One gets the impression he isn’t watching the same movie the rest of us are, but the movie is indisputably his, with all the comical-level excess you’d expect and hope for. It’s just hard to see the film as intentionally bucking the rules, as it doesn’t appear Danzig is aware what the rules even are.
In Verotika, Glenn Danzig has truly made horror’s answer to The Room. The movie is so packed with idiosyncratically poor filmmaking that at the premiere, it generated wall-to-wall laughter even amongst an audience of die-hard Danzig supporters. Perhaps an even closer comparison point is Final Flesh, an anthology film by PFFR wherein consciously surreal scripts were sent to budget porn houses to be produced, but Danzig doesn’t have the ability to write material as exquisitely bizarre as that. It’s strange purely because of how blandly transgressive it is, in a way only Danzig would make it.
The Verotika theatrical experience is rather special. Movies this comprehensively awful, by someone this comprehensively egomaniacal, are a once-in-a-decade occurrence. Within about five minutes, our audience had completely turned on the movie, yielding near-constant laughter for the entire remaining running time. Verotika is one of the absolute worst movies I’ve seen open a festival - and for perspective, I was there when Machete Kills opened Fantastic Fest - but it’s probably the best opening-night screening I’ve attended. Don’t miss it.