I am a horror fan. I am a big defender of horror. It is the most denigrated genre outside of films made specifically for females. I often have to defend the heights the genre can soar to. But today I will not talk about those.
Instead I will ask what is the worst film you’ve seen? And how bad really was it? I have in my time both at genre festivals and through my involvement in independent film seen some no budget movies that are incredibly bad. So bad you will never see or hear of them. No budget horror films that have near deserted screenings on the Sunday night of a horror festival, perhaps attended by family of the cast and crew but more not.
Sometimes the low budget wilderness yields a diamond in the rough – Paddy Murphy’s The Perished, Mark Sheridan’s Crone Wood – but I have watched projects that barely constitute a film, that fail to establish even the most basic narratives, that have inaudible dialogue. Films where I walk out and think “fair play they did something I haven’t done but I should not have been charged money to watch that”. Most of these may have a screening or two; some may limp on to DVD or prime. I’m not naming these films because Ireland’s too small but also because I don’t want to shit on small efforts that do no harm. The difference with Verotika is that it is currently the flagship exclusive of Shudder, the horror streaming platform, and it is just as much not a film as any of the homegrown efforts I discussed.
Verotika – the title itself a portmanteau of the words violent and erotica – is the directorial debut of one Glenn Danzig. Danzig was the original singer with The Misfits. The Misfits – despite the ubiquity of their grinning skull logo on t-shirts and merchandise are not a clothing brand like I thought they were in my pre-teens. They were in fact a seminal horror punk band. Danzig’s distinctive singing voice earned him the nickname “Evil Elvis” and basically spawned the Psychobilly genre.
He left the Misfits to form the metal bands Samhain and the titular band Danzig (Full disclosure: I really don’t care about any of this music except for the undeniable banger Mother). One thing to understand about Danzig is that despite an appearance on Portlandia he has no discernible sense of humour when it comes to himself. His grimdark aesthetic has never changed. He complains in interviews about “PC culture” and “Hollywood bullshit”. I will come back to his lack of self-awareness later on.
Verotika is based on stories from his Verotik horror comics. The film opens with a woman having her eyes impaled by our host Morella. Morella is played by Kayden Kross most famous for her work in adult films. Most of the cast are porn performers. I’m not going to be nasty and suggest sex workers universally cannot act (I was very much a fan of Traci Lords playing against type in the film Excision, and there have been Sasha Grey type crossovers) but the porn performers in this film certainly can’t and its pretty clear why Danzig cast them. Morella is meant to ape horror hosts like Elvira but these segments are – like the rest of the film – rubbish, and it’s not like she has any cool crypt-keeper style one liners.
The first segment is called “The Albino spider of Dajette”. It is set in Paris but a Paris obviously filmed in LA where everyone speaks English. We know it’s Paris because everyone does Allo Allo accents (in fact the police say “allo allo” when knocking on a door). A young woman makes out with a man. He keeps trying to force her to pull up her top but she doesn’t want to. He pulls up her top. She has eyes for nipples. He is disturbed and leaves. She says “not again”.
I’ll just leave that there for a moment.
She weeps a tear from her nipple eye on to a terribly animated albino spider. Said spider turns into a giant humanoid man spider. This man spider represents her Id and goes around breaking necks. The killer is dubbed “Le neckbreaker”.
I’ll just leave that there for a moment.
There is potential in this story for the spider to get revenge on misogynistic men and to make some kind of statement here. But no: Le neckbreaker kills other women including a prostitute who specialises in “fuck” which I suppose gives us a clear indication of Glenn’s sexual politics.
Segment two is called “Change of Face”. It’s a rip off of Les Yeux sans Visage and follows a stripper who steals other women’s faces by cutting them off. It spends an interminable amount of time showing us women stripping. It is about as erotic as a Covid test.
The third segment “Drukija Contessa of Blood” could charitably be described as the best because they could afford some horses and a wolf. It’s a straight up version of the Elizabeth Bathory myth following a Contessa who bathes in peasants’ girls blood to revitalise her youth.
That’s it. There’s no tension about if these girls will escape or any empathy for the victims. They are just drained of blood and Drukija ubs blood all over her breasts for what feels like forever. Again I don’t know how this is boring but it is. Troma director Kansas Bowling shows up as a victim. She was cast as a Manson girl in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood so this is below her.
Then we’re back to Morella. She says goodbye. Then there is an awkward pause. Then credits roll.
This film is awful and amateurish on nearly every level. The editing is reminiscent of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. Despite the fact it was clearly filmed on a decent modern camera the camerawork is terrible. The acting and dialogue is, as you may have gathered, dreadful. The sets, props and special effects are wholly unconvincing even when there is a special credit for Drukija’s bathtub. The music is unremarkable.
If you have read this and think “Oh hey it sounds so bad it’s fun” it is definitely a singular work and one that intrigued me enough to watch it but it is not fun. Films made by the aforementioned Troma are often similarly ramshackle but they have a self-awareness and sense of humour that makes their shoestring effects and execution endearing. It’s hard to pick holes in something that is aware how rough and ready it is and with a light touch this could have at least been fun. As an intentional parody it would be outrageous. This film however is executed with the painful earnestness of a teenage emo’s livejournal.
What Danzig is aiming for is obvious. The aping of the gothic horror of Mario Bava is clear. The horror anthology format of the film is most readily associated with the Hammer and Amicus films of the 70s. However, with its heavy metal star association and anthology structure the film brought to mind Alex Chandon’s Cradle of Fear, a rough and ready vehicle for Dani Filth of UK black metal act Cradle of Filth (Black metal purists don’t come for me).
Released around the turn of the century it was filmed on video giving it an aesthetic that unfortunately brings to mind Eastenders. It had a similar lack of logic. Verotika may have a girl with eyes for nipples with no explanation but Cradle… had Dani Filth meeting a girl in a goth club who he has sex with, impregnating her with a spider demon because…no one really knows why. Chandon’s film, like Verotika had terrible attempts at CGI. Chandon’s film however was made nearly 20 years ago, didn’t have clout like Danzig’s behind it and has its own charms with one fantastic final segment. Compared to Verotika it’s a masterpiece.
The obvious model for a heavy metal star pivoting to directing is of course Rob Zombie. Robert is a controversial figure in horror circles with some fans feeling like he is the scourge of modern horror because he dared make some film’s they didn’t like but no one can deny that Danzig’s effort makes Zombie look like Orson Welles.
Danzig rails against political correctness and the modern horror landscape but if he thinks this is better than recent genre greats like Midsommar or Bliss it is clear that he is an old man yelling at a cloud, deciding, much like Seymour Skinner, that it is in fact the children, not he, who are out of touch.