Nov 14, 2015

Gator Green

Leave it up to underground artsploitation auteur Jim Van Bebber (Deadbeat at Dawn, The Manson Family) to direct a film featuring a deranged drunken Vietnam War vet that refers to his pet alligators as “gooks” while feeding them the dismembered remains of an ex-Marine who committed the sin of seeing no action during the war. Indeed, such is the sickly sweet and sometimes strangely hypnotic scenario that plays out in the alcohol-addled outlaw auteur’s latest but unfortunately not greatest celluloid offering Gator Green (2013) starring Van Bebber himself in the lead role as a rather rowdy and always ruthless renegade redneck bar owner with a psychopathic sense of humor that moonlights as the leader of a sort of a killer cult made up of disgruntled war vets that spend their free time feeding pussy hippies and other (sub)human rabble to bloodthirsty alligators. Like the angrier, drunker, and more intemperately nihilistic bastard brood of Sam Peckinpah on acid, Van Bebber is a rare modern American filmmaker with big balls and an untamable spirit that is quite apparent in every single one of his films, including the hyper-kitschy horror fetish music videos that he directed for the death metal group Necrophagia. Unfortunately for cult horror cinephiles everywhere, Van Bebber also happens to be one of the most seemingly accursed and, in turn, uniquely unprolific auteur filmmakers of his era as a man who has only managed to complete two feature films and a handful of shorts over the course of over three decades despite conceiving countless different projects over this period of time.  For example, it took Van Bebber nearly two decades to complete his modern cult classic The Manson Family (2003), which the director partly funded by regularly donating blood as well as working at the drive-thru window at a Wendy's fast food restaurant.  Indeed, aside from the countless projects that never left the pre-production stage (including a young Al Capone flick, which Dark Sky Films ultimately cancelled the funding for), Van Bebber has released a couple films that are essentially unfinished works, including the 4-minute Chunk Blower trailer (which was shot in 1990 on 35mm and was intended as a promo to inspire a potential investor to contribute $1 million dollars to the rather ambitious slasher production) and the ultra-violent Gein-esque 15-minute serial killer piece Roadkill: The Last Days of John Martin (1994). Unfortunately, the 15-minute short Gator Green, which was shot on 16mm and thankfully does not feature any digital special effects, is more or less what survives of another prematurely aborted Van Bebber feature. A promotional short that was Kickstarter-funded and apparently adapted from a sequence from the middle of Van Bebber's feature-length script, the film certainly wets one’s lips with the promise of a gorgeously grotesque neo-psychedelic white trash monster flick of the pleasantly politically correct sort, thus it is almost disheartening watching the flick and realizing that it will most likely never be created. Like Tobe Hooper’s much maligned third feature Eaten Alive (1976) meets Buddy Giovinazzo’s aberrant art-shocker Combat Shock (1984) with a tinge of Luis Buñuel's The Young One (1960) aka La Joven, Gator Green was partly inspired by real-life Texas serial killer Joe “The Alligator Man” Ball who, like the lead character portrayed by Van Bebber, was a whacked out war vet that owned a bar and purportedly fed women to his beloved pet alligators. Although a work that clearly suffers from being a mere random fragment of a projected full-length feature, Van Bebber’s film ultimately manages to effortlessly capture the neo-retro exploitation aesthetic and essence that both Tarantino and Rodriguez tried in vain to channel with their decidedly dumb double-feature Grindhouse (2007).  Set in 1973, Gator Green is much like Van Bebber's arguable magnum opus The Manson Family (2003) in that it manages to bleed and cum the particular zeitgeist it depicts without seeming like the misguided masturbatory fantasy of an autistic fan-boy who wants to pay hyper-conscious to some totally worthless 1970s exploitation flick that no one cares about. 

 Beginning with a pleasantly politically incorrect title sequence that includes real stock footage of captured Vietcong gooks and multicultural American GIs, the film then features the following prologue: “Captain Jack Andrew has completed the construction of his much-ballyhooed tavern, ‘The Gator Hooch’. Jack has hired his dabbled assistant door gunners from the Vietnam war, Harry Moore and Bobby Mackinaw. The three combat veterans have all committed atrocities in the war and have an unholy empathy for each.” After the prologue, the film cuts to an outdoor shot of a goofy alligator-shaped bar superimposed with a title reading, “Sunday, June 17, 4:15 AM.” Naturally, in the next shot, the viewer is taken inside the bar where discernibly deranged antihero Captain Jack Andrew (Jim Van Bebber) berates his old used up slut barmaid Lynette Taylor (Maureen Allisse) for doing nothing but “sittin’ around here” and “drinking all of my booze.” At the command of Captain Jack’s wheelchair-bound comrade Bobby ‘Bob’ Mackinaw (Rogan Russell Marshall)—a crazed cripple with an impenetrable psycho stare and overall comically creepy persona due to the fact that he speaks through an electrolarynx—bar slut Lynette calls her similarly used up, chubby, and slutty looking daughter Chi Chi (Betanya Grant), who is the girlfriend of a preposterously arrogant longhaired blond hippie dope dealer named Hank Williams (played by Scott Gabbey, who also appears in American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore (2014), which was shot by Van Bebber and directed by Gator Green co-producer/Unearthed Films owner Stephen Biro). Lynette sets up a drug deal between Captain Jack and Hank for four lids of weed that is scheduled to take place at the bar around noon the next day. Unbeknownst to Hank and his perennially glazed girlfriend, Captain Jack is more interested in procuring fresh human-grade gator meat than cheap Mexican marijuana. 

 It is quite obvious that Captain Jack has no plans to actually carry out the drug deal when the bar owner’s black pimp comrade Harry Moore (portrayed a white dude named Troy Grant, who hilariously sports feces-colored blackface makeup) puts an electric meat cutter to Lynette’s throat shortly after she gets off the phone with her daughter Chi Chi. Additionally, Captain Jack violently attacks and drowns his personal bar bitch Steve Buckner (co-producer Biro), who the antihero deeply resents because he is an ex-marine that never saw real action in the Vietnam War. As the viewer later learns, Steve is actually a buddy of Hank and the drug deal would probably not even be going on were it not for their somewhat unfortunate friendship. The next morning, Captain Jack strips Steve's corpse naked, dismembers the body like a dead pig with a machete, and then feeds his fatty body parts to his pet alligators. Rather fittingly, about two dozen vultures watch on while perching on a dead tree as Captain Jack turns fat boy Steve into low-quality gator meat. While happily throwing Steve’s dismembered limbs to the gators, Captain Jack says to his pernicious pets while maintaining an expression of sadistic glee, “Eat your Gook food” and “American flesh…your gook food,” thus demonstrating the savagely sadistic antihero’s perturbing degree of posttraumatic stress as a result of the multicultural horrors he experienced during the Vietnam War. Of course, Captain Jack is just warming up for campaign of carnivalesque cracker carnage that he will carry out later that day when hippie Hank and his homely hoe Chi Chi finally arrive. 

 Captain Jack may be a murderously malicious maniac that almost seems to derive sexual satisfaction from murdering and dismembering people, especially when his green gator pals are involved, but he is also a rather refreshing no bullshit man’s man who hates hippies and other pussies and even has portraits of masculine Hollywood figures like Humphrey Bogart, Lee Marvin, and Marlon Brando hanging on the walls of his bar. Naturally, a prissy pot-peddling hippie bitch like Hank will ultimately prove to be rather grating to Jack’s sensitive psyche. When Hank and Chi Chi, who made the mistake of taking LSD before the drug deal, arrive at the bar in an exceedingly effeminate baby blue Volkswagen Beetle, they immediately become uneasy upon being less than warmly greeted by Captain Jack and his mostly silent pal Bob, especially since their comrade Steve is nowhere to be found. After serving the dildo dope-dealer and his lady friend some ‘Gator Green’ wine in shot glasses that was supposedly fermented with snake poison, Hank acts quite rude and complains that he wants to get the drug deal over with because he and his girlfriend supposedly have somewhere else to be. Of course, Hank’s lack of manners enrages Jack, so he naturally decides to fuck with the seemingly pathologically passive-aggressive hippie by asking him, “What’s your fucking problem, man? […] Did you serve your country in ‘Nam?” Of course, being an effete bohemian bitch that would probably cry hysterically if he got a small stain on his fancy proto-metrosexual cowboy outfit, Hank managed to dodge the draft as a result of supposedly receiving a 4-F classification, which was primarily given to people with muscular and bone malformations, hearing and circulatory ailments, mental problems, hernias, and certain STDs. Indeed, like the insufferably whiny weasel scumbag that he is, Hank goes to great pains to dubiously explain that he has advanced Lateral epicondylitis, arrogantly stating in a insufferably passive-agressive fashion, “I don’t expect you to know what that means, but it’s kind of like a bad case of tennis elbow.” At this point, Captain Jack becomes completely delusional and accuses Hank of being one of the hippie protesters that supposedly flung feces at him when he returned to the United States after the war, stating to the pot-peddler in a hysterically hostile way, “you remind me of these jokers that met me at the airport. They threw fucking dog shit at me […] You guys called me babykiller…You motherfuckers.” Meanwhile, Bob makes his comrades laugh by aggressively shouting at Hank with his unsettling electrolarynx voice, “draft-dodger.” Not surprisingly, things get even more tense when Captain Jack states, “You wanna’ know where Steve is?” and high yellow negro pimp Harry brings out a bloody basket with a blanket covering the top of it. When Harry uncovers the basket, Hank and Chi Chi are in for quite the surprise to see their buddy Steve’s dismembered head, as they naturally sense that they are probably next to be butchered. 

 When Chi Chi panics and attempts to escape, high yellow negro Harry puts a pitchfork to her throat before she can even reach the door while Captain Jack manages to knock out pussy hippie Hank with a single blow to the face. When Hank eventually wakes up, he finds himself outside with his faced covered with war paint and his beloved Chi Chi, who has been stripped down to her underwear (notably, her beaver bush is so large that it protrudes out of her panties, thus demonstrating Van Bebber’s commitment to making a truly retro 1970s era film), gagged and tied to a tree that is hovering over a algae-covered pond full of hungry alligators. Meanwhile, Bob rolls out Chi Chi’s mother, who is also only wearing underwear, in his wheelchair. In a demonstration of his sick and sadistic sense of humor, Captain Jack hands Hank a handgun and declares, “Alright, draft-dodger, let’s see how that 4-F arm works in combat,” but when the hippie proceeds to pull the trigger the only thing that comes out of the pistol is a flag that says “bang.”  Indeed, the joke is on Hank and of course deranged dipsomaniac Captain Jack is laughing hysterically. When Hank tries in vain to defend himself by throwing a weak punch at Jack, the antihero blocks his fist and reacts by swiftly chopping the hippie’s arm with a machete and then proceeds to throw both the dismembered limb and its half-dead owner to the gators. While the gators are gorging on Hank’s body, Jack hilariously yells to the dying hippie, “Peace and love, peace and love…now what?!” Annoyed with Chi Chi’s hysterical screaming, Bob shoots her about a dozen times from the comfort of his wheelchair while the girl’s petrified mother is sitting in his lap. In the end, Gator Green comes full circle by concluding with classic stock footage from the Vietnam War.

 Somewhat hilariously, before Gator Green was ever even released, a curious small-time guido actor named Vic Noto, whose greatest claim to fame was playing a redneck biker that gets shot by Michael Imperioli on The Sopranos, began an almost disturbingly pathological one-man smear campaign against both Jim Van Bebber and horror journalist Heidi Martinuzzi. Indeed, Noto, who seems to believe he is the true mastermind of the film despite the fact that he had nil actual creative influence on it (apparently, he wrote a script for a ostensibly serious drama called Scales about a World War II Bataan Death March survivor named Ray Scales who owns a gator-farm-themed tourist trap), has apparently attempted to sue both Van Bebber and co-producer Stephen Biro. On top of that, Noto has gone to the patently pathetic effort to stalk Van Bebber online and leave incredibly loony and highly libelous comments on virtually every YouTube video and article about the filmmaker. In fact, the only reason I know about Noto is because I came upon many of these oftentimes unintentionally humorous comments by happenstance. Of course, the fact that Van Bebber could enrage someone so much is also probably the same reason that he is such a great filmmaker as one of only a handful of contemporary horror directors that can be described as an auteur as opposed to a mere hack or artisan. While Van Bebber might direct films that are described as ‘exploitation’ or ‘artsploitation,’ he is anything but the typical exploitation hack as a man that lives and breathes the movies he makes and the characters that he plays.  After all, only Van Bebber would dare to utilize blackface and bushy beavers in a fashion that is not ironic. While the average exploitation hack makes films that feature cheap sex and violence as a tasteless gimmick that is utilized for the sole purpose of attempting to receive a large monetary profit, Van Bebber makes the films he does solely because he wants to and has, hence why he alienates so many viewers with his biting savage wit and uncompromisingly artfully nihilistic approach to sex, death, and ultra-violence.  As he demonstrated with his classic short My Sweet Satan (1994), Van Bebber is probably the only living filmmaker that is able to give a certain absurdist poetry to smoking bowels in tribute to Satan, which is certainly no small accomplishment.

 Certainly, if there is a filmmaker that makes genuinely artistically merited genre trash with both heart and spirit, it is Van Bebber. Indeed, I think the auteur summed up his own personal cinematic philosophy and approach to filmmaking when he stated in an interview with John Szpunar featured in the book Xerox Ferox: The Wild World of the Horror Film Fanzine (2014) when asked what puts “high art” and “low art” on an equal playing field, “Well, I’m looking for passion. And a lot of great art films have the same passion as THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. You can tell that Fellini was fucking throwing himself full-bore into his greatest work, and the same can be said for Welles and the rest of the greats. I could give you the whole laundry list, but I consider TEXAS CHAINSAW and EVIL DEAD as high art. And I think that the people who dismiss horror films as being base don’t really have an open mind.” Speaking of Welles, it seems that he and Van Bebber are sort of kindred spirits in a sense as perennial rebels that burned many bridges and failed to complete many dream film projects during their rather rocky careers. In that sense, Gator Green is like Van Bebber’s own equivalent to Welles’ aborted Around the World in Eighty Days adaptation, albeit thankfully at least part of the film was released.  When asked by Szpunar what we can expect from the film, Van Bebber stated, “I can't really compare it to anything.  Maybe people will see a little bit of Tobe Hooper's EATEN ALIVE drifting around.  Maybe a little bit of FROGS.  But at the same time, it's more like if the Coen brothers made a nasty fucking horror film.”  While I find the Coen brothers comparison somewhat dubious, I can safety say that I found the 15-minute Gator Green promo more enthralling, creative, and idiosyncratic than all 91-minutes of Eaten Alive and I say that as someone that has never been particularly found of the whole killer animal horror subgenre.  Indeed, I have about about as much as interest in killer gators as I do Turkish folklore, so that just goes to show why I think Van Bebber is a sort of carny celluloid alchemist as mensch that is able to turn genre shit into gritty cinematic gold.  While I would not be surprised if it took another decade before we saw another Van Bebber flick, a documentary about the filmmaker's life and struggles entitled Diary of a Deadbeat: The Story of Jim Vanbebber (2015) directed by Victor Bonacore was just completed, so hopefully some independently wealthy eccentric will see it and decide to give the auteur funding so that he can once again bless the world with another piece of merrily misanthropic movie mayhem before he drinks himself to death in some dilapidated junky-infested Floridia apartment complex.

-Ty E

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