Originally written June 12, 2006
Texas Chainsaw lookout! The Maryland Chicken House Massacre has made it to the silver screen, but instead of a psychotic serial killer chasing after victims with a rotating blade, a drunken lumberjack hunts down a huge ravenous gorilla with a wooden axe.
Young director Eric B. Walter, with a Zucker brother type of charm, shoots to re-create the 1960's B-movie horror films that, if they weren't meant to be horror, would be considered comedies by today's standards. But his 2006 THE LUMBERJACK OF ALL TRADES is probably the cheesiest, corniest, most ridiculous thing I've seen so far this year... and, I loved it!!!
In terms of style and structure, Walter's second feature film most resembles 1977's KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, which based on a friend's recommendation I was able to see last week via NetFlix, though Walter's movie unlike the John Landis directed flick is more focused than just series of random skits. The movie, which some might say is a box within a box, would have you believe that you're not watching a modern-day movie but in fact some wayward TV program of yesteryear replete with faux TV commercials. But, while the Zucker brothers had their Scot Free board game and their Zinc-Oxide PSAs, Walter has Bury Beer and lawyer TV ads.
"Bury" Beer is of course an in-joke for Walter's friends and co-workers, including myself who receive our paychecks from Delmarva's self-proclaimed news-leading TV station based in Salisbury, a job whose employees require at times a Turbentine-based beverage like Bury Beer, which may actually end up being the next flavor at the Dogfish Head.
But, before I even get into what the movie was even about, I have to stop to mention another in-joke played out in the film's commercial breaks, and that was the weather report by Dan Doppler performed by none other than WBOC's own Brian Keane.
Now as far as I'm concerned, Brian Keane stole the show. After his scene, I was literally bent over about to fall out my chair and onto the floor dying of laughter. It was that hilarious! Keane's Dan Doppler looked like he was probably a rejected candidate for Ron Burgandy's ANCHORMAN team. With an exuberance and blindingly bright white smile while delivering the most mundane or at times most horrendous weather forecasts, Dan Doppler comes a half-inch or perhaps a character generation short from running off set and bitch-slapping his "director" Ken.
And, even though Eric let me in to see the movie for free, which premiered at Salisbury University last Friday on June 9th, I would have happily paid full price if just for that one scene alone. I'm serious.
But, regardless, Eric did give me the script about a year ago to read when I still worked the morning show, and I have to say that from page 1 all the way to the end, I laughed my ass off and absolutely couldn't wait to see how he was going to visualize it.
First off, the movie is set in Townsville, Md., which looks like it's actually the Townsville that time forgot. It's one of those scary-movie-type, small, creepy towns where development was all but abandoned, where maybe it could pass for Mayberry, but where you're always a stone's throw away from a human cannibal's slaughterhouse, which may accurately describe all of Delmarva's small, backwoods towns. Townsville is also strangely populated by characters more apt for a spaghetti Western or who might be related to the Beverly Hillbillies.
The movie stars Ken Johnson, who plays Mark the Lumberjack. Mark's constant beer chugging, scruffy beard, and, wearing of an eye-patch may make him part-pirate. But his brute aggressiveness, low intelligence, and catchphrase of "Oh, Yeah" may make him the re-incarnation of the Macho Man Randy Savage.
For everything unattractive about this character, Johnson's performance endears viewers to the point where they don't want to take their eyes off Johnson's Paul Bunyan-esque form. That's even when that large frame is standing in his underwear and the elephant in the room becomes the thick bulge that is Johnson's johnson, largely dangling between his legs center screen, which Johnson finally deflates the laugh bag by scratching himself.
Mark the Lumberjack, after drinking all but one bottle of his beer, decides to go to the store. His mother whose shadow you only see and who Mark refers to as "Me Maw" yells at him to pick up some groceries but her deafness doesn't avail him to the location of the car keys, so Mark has to drive the lawnmower to the store. While there, Mark meets an Old Prospector who's on the hunt for gold. We're then paraded through a series of clichés both in dialogue and in dramatis personae. But the campy nature of the whole thing, even as we watch the Old Prospector camp out in nature, did bring the occasional smile to my face.
I will say there were some scenes that dragged, and that maybe went on a little too long. But any pacing problems fall to dust after the hairy creature bursts onto the scene and starts unleashing the gore and violence. From then on, it's just an insane roller coaster ride. And yes, tons of blood are unleashed. The screen and the cast are by the end covered in buckets of it, deluged not only by the beast itself but also by our axe-happy lumberjack.
There are moments of fluidity like when Mark goes to a card game. The editing is so slick here and the emotion is so energized and quick that it straddles MTV-like nauseating, especially with its loud music, but ends up being so rich and colorful that it breeds enthusiasm.
Walter also proves his potentially good cinematic eye with several exterior shots, which utilize different aspects of the sky, which looked like they were probably PhotoShopped, such as one vista boasting a mountain backdrop and another heralding a big full moon. There were also several time progression shots, which are attention-getting only in their contrasting beauty.
But, dare I say I'm a little jealous at Eric for doing what I can only e-mail or blog about, though I am appreciative because I have seen several movies, even this year, that were low-budgeted, mini-DV produced features. I've even met some of their directors and of them all, hands-down, Eric has been the only one to have and to have had a passion that I hope has ne'er waned too much, almost as if he's still having fun.
All the other directors I've met have gotten so jaded and bitter, but I get the sneaking suspicion that Eric still gets a kick out of the process because at its heart this movie is a parody, but all parodies, all good ones, come not from bitterness, the sincerest form of flattery and all that, and I feel like that's where Eric and his movie come from, a mocking yet nostalgic true film fan.