Thursday, February 3, 2011

my thoughts on.... the 'August Underground' trilogy

what can be said about these films that hasn't already been said....? they set the bar for indie gore-fests.... and Fred Vogel set the bar so high that no one has been able to top him.... i've spent years hearing about them and avoiding them like the plague.... i've never been a fan of gore, only in small doses.... ie: i've dabbled in it here and there.... however, as a student of film i feel that in order to be well rounded and able to critique a film, you need to have a firm base.... i mean, you can't honestly have an unbiased opinion if you haven't seen it from all sides.... that's what finally brought me to watch these films.... that and a recent viewing of 'Srpski Film aka A Serbian Film'.... which has been reviewed with the same vile love and seething hatred that the 'August Underground' series has been reviewed.... the only difference is that 'A Serbian Film' has some high production values and some obvious money behind it.... Fred Vogel had none of that when he started making his films.... (i also enjoy watching the same types of films, so that i can get as many examples as possible of a genre under my belt.)....

in case you've never heard of or seen anything about these films, let me give you a short primer.... Fred Vogel is a guru of special F/X and was hired as an instructor at Tom Savini's school right out of college.... but his love was making films.... his love was film in general.... specifically horror.... and it all started with James Whale's 'Frankenstein'.... oh wait, who's Fred Vogel....? he's the star, writer, producer and director.... the all around brainchild behind the 'August Underground' series of films.... now the films themselves are based on the premise that serial killer movies glorify the killing.... but they don't show the reality of it.... how messy it is.... how horrifying it truly is.... it's all just a big show.... remember the scene in 'Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer' where they videotape their crimes and re-watch it later.... that's the catalyst for the design of these films.... because that one scene stands out in that movie as truly terrifying.... it's all too realistic.... and therefore it hits WAY too close to home.... and what Fred Vogel did was to take that concept and expand on it.... to create the ultimate 'snuff' film.... by using videotape to film the 'August Underground' series, it tears down that safety wall between you and the charaters on the screen.... it brings them right into your living room and it's almost like you're watching your own home movies, but with a lot more death.... the films aren't just all about killing, they also show the day to day life of those who kill.... it makes them even more real.... because the're just like you and me.... granted, some of their day to day stuff is a little 'off', but they're still just flesh and blood people.... but once the killing starts, you see the other side of humanity.... the sickest, cruelest parts.... and the original film was so realistic that it was believed to be a true 'snuff' film at one point.... i suppose that's enough information to give you an insight into what to expect....

the basic premise of the stories involves our main character, played by Fred Vogel.... he's never given a name, he's just our lead.... in the original film, the only oher lead character is the man filming the entire thing and he's never seen or named.... in 'Mordum', Fred is joined by a brother and sister duo and our original camera man does not return.... Fred is dating the sister, but the sister and brother have a 'special' relationship.... in 'Penance', Fred and Crusty (the sister from 'Mordum') are the leads and carry us out until the series ends.... all three films are tied together by Fred and a loose storyline.... and by loose, i mean it's like watching home movies.... you can only gain so much information by listening to the dialogue between people.... that's kind of the scary part.... there isn't much of a motive other than the killing is fun and they like to do it a LOT.... regardless of that, you still become attached to the characters and want to see how their lives will play out.... (or at least i did.).... all three films are snippits of these people's lives.... the day to day, the goofing around, the concerts they see, the homes they live in and the people they murder.... and it's all edited in such a way that it honestly feels like a home movie.... a lot of people find that boring.... others find it that much more intriguing because of the fact that it's hard to seperate fact from fiction....
the killings are what got these films the reputation that they have.... and make no bones about it, they live up to every bit of hype you've heard.... the actors in this film pull no punches and give Oscar worthy performances.... if you sat someone down who'd never heard of, seen or cared about these movies and told them they were real, they just might belive you.... now i'm not one for spoilers, so i won't get to in depth in the murder part.... but there's lots of blood, guts, maggots, nails, duct tape, a saw, a hammer, screaming, nudity, filth, humiliation, Christmas presents and (i hate to say it) rape.... this stuff will punch you in the gut and keep coming until you either throw up or keep watching.... this is the deep end of the pool, kids.... if you think you've seen horror because you've watched 'The Exorcist' or Alexandre Aja's remake of 'The Hills Have Eyes', you ain't seen nothing yet.... the funny thing is that Fred doesn't glorify it.... in my opinion he makes it so animalistic and brutal that you can't help but feel dirty for watching it.... but that base instinct in you keeps you in your chair just to see what happens next.... you can't believe what's playing out in front of you.... but then suddenly when you think you can't take anymore, it cuts to something from daily life.... and you can breathe again.... that's part of the genius of these films.... and i hate to use that term in regards to such vile fodder, but it's true.... regardless of the potential backlash and disapproval i may hear from this review, these films stand alone as part of film history.... and i don't mean that they're the stuff of tributes during the Oscar's or something you're proud to have in your DVD collection.... i mean they're like the 'Blair Witch Project' or 'Paranormal Activity' or even 'Open Water'.... they provide something that hasn't been seen or done before.... they're original.... he took a concept and ran as far with it as he could.... and if it wasn't for the brilliant special effects, the charisma of the actor's and the sheer balls to make these films i don't think they'd stand out.... it'd just be another crappy indie movie shot on video and fed to the masses....

i want to end this by saying that these films are NOT for everyone.... hell, they're not for a lot of folks.... but if you've said, "I've seen it all and there's nothing new out there anymore.".... maybe these are for you.... maybe you're like me and you like to expand your horizons and being a lover of film, you want to see it all.... perhaps you're just a freak who wants to see how far the envelope can be pushed before it breaks.... maybe you're just the slightest bit curious about all the ultra-violence.... who knows....? i just felt inclined to say something about this series.... after watching them all in two days, i've dwelt on them ever since.... trying to wrap my head around what i saw.... feeling kind of icky and perverted for enjoying the ride, but at the same time feeling satisfied that i took it.... despite my fear.... you may not feel the same way.... you may hate me or Fred or even yourself for these films.... therefore, go into them with an open mind and a strong stomach.... and don't say i didn't warn you.

i'd give them 4 out of 5 stars.... with 'August Underground' being the strongest, followed by 'Penance' and 'Mordum' being last.... only because it seemed to focus the most on the gore and not the characters....

other movies like these....? 'Srpski Film aka A Serbian Film' perhaps....? these really stand alone as a genre in and of themselves.... "serial killer home movies"

trailer for 'August Underground':

trailer for 'August Underground: Mordum':

August underground's mordum

trailer for 'August Underground: Penance':

1 comment:

  1. Steven F. HoneycuttMarch 13, 2011 at 3:49 PM

    I totally agree with you, man. I just watched all three over the course of a few days. I had heard and read about the movies and decided to take the "challenge". But after seeing them, I hate to reduce these movies to just a "challenge". Yes, they are the sickest films I've ever seen, but after watching Penance, I realized that they also are the most genius films I've seen in a long time. They made me squirm, hide my eyes, swallow my saliva repeatedly. Its been awhile since a movie could draw that reaction out of me. And, after watching the bathtub scene in Mordum, I felt a small piece of my soul die. But you are right. Penance was heartbreaking to watch as Fred and Crusty deteriorated before our eyes, both physically and mentally. Kudos to a well written review, sir. Stay sick, buddy.