Saturday, January 08, 2005

Back from Hell (1993)

Best line:
Fr. Aaron [to devil-worshipping assassin]: "I've got a message for you. Tell Satan to kiss my blacks ass!" [shoots guy in chest with shotgun].

You might have seen this film under its alternate title, Demon Apocalypse. But probably not. The short story goes something like this: wannabe actor (Larry DuBois) sells his soul to Satan, welshes on the terms of the deal, and is pursued by the wrath of Hell in retribution. Simple, right? WRONG! The very same week that the forces of darkness are trying to avenge this particular case of diabolical cold feet, Satan himself is planning the end times battle royale to take over all of earth. It's like feuding with your girlfriend, landlord, local law enforcement, and atomic terrorists all in the same week.

Jack (DuBois) is not alone, though. His childhood friend Aaron (Shawn Scarbrough), now a priest, starts the movie on his way to fulfill Jack's mysterious request to confess. Upon arriving at an abandoned farm building on the outskirts of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Father Aaron is subjected to perhaps the most horrifying, spectacle that the infernal fires could create: stilted, flat dialogue from the sulfurous pits of lameness itself. Jack describes direct contact with the devil, human sacrifice, multiple murders and the looming apocalypse with less energy and emotion than the average person uses ordering a drink. On the cinematic vice front, however, he does smoke a couple of cigarettes and take swig from a plastic half gallon bottle of cheap vodka, so at least MADD and the American Legacy Foundation think the movie is truly evil.

After sleep-walking through the backstory and shooting a couple of possessed cops, Jack and Father Aaron decide that cooling their heels in a building full of potentially reanimated corpses is not the best plan of action, especially when evil is making a play for control of the planet. They jump into the father's sensible ride and head out through the Michigan countryside.

Along the way, Father Aaron decides to stop at his aunt's house to make sure she hasn't fallen victim to the burgeoning minions of evil in the neighborhood. Upon arriving, they confront a heavy-set weirdo wearing a tight-fitting orange t-shirt (who I swear is an uncredited Horatio Sanz), subdue him with heavy objects and poorly-knotting rope, and settle in to await the return of the missing aunt.

While Jack is occupied with raiding the fridge for frozen microwave appetizers and a stray can of Coors banquet beer, Father Aaron is seeking inspiration from the Bible on his aunt's living room table. Leafing through, his face is suddenly palmed by a black-nailed demon hand thrust straight out of the pages of the Bible itself! He wrestles with the hand, still sticking out of the holy pages, blundering back and forth across the room. Keeping its metaphorical eyes on the prize, the demon hand works its way down from his face to his neck, then saucily to his crotch. The Father grimaces in agony as the taloned claw twists his junk all out of priestly shape. Aaron briefly considers a nearby knife as a weapon, but wisely reconsidering chooses a wooden meat tenderizing mallet instead. Wisely because, just like in a Tom & Jerry cartoon, the hand lets go and falls away just as he brings down the mallet on his midsection. Bastard devils! Cut to the Father still grimacing, as he and Jack bond over pilfered booze while they watch the accursed book burn in the fireplace.

There's no rest for the contractually wicked, however, so our star-crossed duo is soon back on the road, making their way to the exact location where Jack signed his original blood. They soon pull up and being walking through an open field to the special spot. Upon arriving they discover a Satanic altar bristling with deadly weapons and realize: It's on. What follows is a disjointed series of attacks by anonymous assailants clad in black clothes and face masks, each bearing a different weapon, each repelled by Jack (knife) and Father Aaron (chainsaw) in turn. Severed limbs, spilled guts and a seemingly endless stream of squirting blood flash across the screen in an exquisitely unconvincing parade of gore. Somehow the flow of blood always seems to hit them directly in the eyes; these guys get more bodily fluid sprayed in their faces than a dozen porno actresses.

Having dispatched the oddly ninja-like foot soldiers of darkness, our heroes repair to their original destination and find Jack's old friend Azzagras, the High Priest of Satan (Matt Hundley) standing in the doorway of yet another dilapidated farm building. He's here to fill Jack in on current events and give him a little career counseling relevant to the impending new Luciferian world. Of course we all know how superstitious High Priests of Satan can be, so he demands that Father Aaron skeddadle while the big boys talk among themselves. Having been unceremoniously dismissed, a suddenly weary Father Aaron wanders around the back of the building and slumps against the wall for a quick nap.

The good father falls into a fitful sleep, conjuring up disturbing dreams of negative exposure stock footage. Imagine you're having the same dream: It seems you're wandering through the woods, except the sky is black and the trees are white! Could this be a vision of an evil new world, or a simple matter of checking the wrong box on the film lab order form? With a budget as low as this one, either could be equally terrifying.

Jerked out of sleep by his nightmares, Father Aaron begins to wander away from the building, looking for...something. He soon reaches a small bridge over a swift-slowing muddy river. As he gazes into its swirling eddies, his reverie is shattered by yet another ninja/devil minion. They battle, they wrestle. Father Aaron spots a conveniently placed shotgun at the end of the bridge, only to get his calf sliced into by his assailant's machete. Limping now, he finally makes it and levels the pump action into place, uttering the line above. Ka-blammie. Relieved at his triumph, the Father limps back to the middle of the bridge where the dying attacker leans precariously against the railing. He reaches out and pulls off bad guy's hood only to reveal...I'll let you guess (Hint: there are only two main characters in this movie, and Father Aaron is not looking at his own face). Fin.

Strangely, neither of the two leads seems to have done any other film work, before or after. I suppose that someone with any experience whatsoever would had to have been better than these guys, while once you've been in a movie this bad, there's no point in trying to top it. Writer/director/"Maniac with Ax" Matt Jaissle, however, did go on to such projects as 1997's The Necro Files, for which he served as producer, director, editor, cinematographer, composer, special effects supervisor, and the voice of Frank the police dispatcher. In case you're wondering what that one was about, let's just note that the working title was Psycho Zombie Love Butcher.

Back from Hell may have been an amateurish bore festooned with cow intestines, but at least it stayed true to its Michigan setting: a copy of the Detroit News with a fake headline and an empty can of Faygo orange soda are shown in the opening scene sequence. Recommended to residents of 8 Mile, Juggalos, and Catholic priests who have discovered that spiritual power, too, can come from the barrel of a gun.

The Movies That Were 2004

Inspired by Dennis, I've tried to reconstruct a list of all the movies I saw this year. Unlike him I wasn't keeping track as I went along, so the list will be a little sketchy. Re-viewings are marked with an X:

10 Things I Hate About You X
28 Days Later
A Dirty Shame
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Alien vs. Predator
American History X X
American Pie X
Attack of the Giant Leeches
Behind Enemy Lines
Beyond Evil
Bikini Med School
Birth of a Nation
Blade Runner X
Cecil B. Demented X
Children of Dune
Clue X
Cruel Intentions X
Dangerous Beauty X
Desperate Living
Devil's Advocate X
Devil's Nightmare
Die Sister, Die!
Divine Trash
Donnie Brasco
Election X
Female Trouble
Gattaca X
Get Real X
Getting Wasted
Hairspray X
Harold and Kumar Go to Whitecastle
High Plains Drifter X
Horror Hotel
Incoming Freshmen
Kids X
Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels X
Logan's Run X
Magnum Force
Mallrats X
Mean Girls
Minority Report
Motel Hell
Murder by Death X
Napoleon Dynamite
National Lampoon's Van Wilder
National Treasure
Never Been Kissed
Not Another Teen Movie
Office Space X
Pale Rider X
Pecker X
Pink Flamingos
Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Pitch Black X
Polyester X
Project Vampire
Pump up the Volume X
Red Dawn X
Reign of Fire
She's All That
Shrek 2
Silicon Towers
Sisters of Death
SLC Punk X
Spider Man
Spider Man 2
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace X
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones X
Star Wars: A New Hope X
Supernova X
Taxi Driver
Teenage Crime Wave
The 13th Floor X
The Apostate
The Big Lebowski
The Harrad Experiment
The House at the Edge of the Park
The Matrix X
The Perfect Score
Titan A.E.
Toga Party
Wing Commander