There is bad taste, and somewhere below that, there is Troma. Proudly pushing the boundaries of every taboo in the book, the company has remodeled itself in recent years in an attempt to feature movies with a slightly sharper craft, as the direct-to-DVD boom and the torture porn subgenre had stolen a bit of their thunder. And roar they do with the gleefully gross "Father's Day," a new standard in the studio's sleazy legacy. Written and directed by a collective called Astron-6, "Father's Day" fits in with the noveau-grindhouse sentiments of recent efforts like "Machete" and "Hobo With A Shotgun." But where those films felt transgressive, "Father's Day" feels genuinely diseased.
"Father's Day" is a traditional horror boogeyman picture. But instead of a Freddy or Jason, we have the vaguely Frankenstein-ish Chris Fuchman (Mackenzie Murdock). It turns out Fuchman, the Father's Day Killer, has spent his life finding fathers to torture, sexually assault, and devour. Yes, our villain rapes and eats dads. And Fuchman (if you have to ask how it's pronounced, you might not be a Troma fan) has touched the lives of three survivors: cowardly priest John, gay teen prostitute Twink, and an eyepatch-wearing hunter named Ahab. So it's pretty much exactly like "Moby Dick," if the whale was a gay rapist cannibal.
"Father's Day" sadly doesn't have the courage of its convictions to believe in its own morbid world. Unlike "Hobo With A Shotgun," which had a comedic spirit as dark as its violence and class consciousness, "Father's Day" refuses to play its morbid, ugly scenario completely straight. So Ahab, who nurses a grudge for "The Fuchman," spends his days alone in the woods, harvesting maple syrup. And Ahab's ex-girlfriend, who runs a strip club, wears a completely unnecessary, obvious white wig, because she's meant to look "aged." Grueling moments where Fuchman tears a penis to pieces with his teeth, gore oozing almost out of the frame, are peppered with cheap shot gags that wouldn't pass muster on a CBS sitcom.
About an hour in, and after a draggy second act, "Father's Day" starts to take off. What started as a common setup turns supernatural, and our characters make a strategic trip to the afterlife. It's then when the directing team goes mad with creepy hallucinations. Our characters struggle with their shame and failures in life, particularly their less-than-savory desires (i.e. incest). The humor mostly disappears during these sequences, as for once the film dares to flirt with truly spooky, upsetting personal issues.
And really, one decent sequence and a few non-embarrassing ones is all you need to make a solid Troma film. "Father's Day" lacks the topicality of their previous modern high water mark, "Poultrygeist," and it never reaches the comedic heights of "Toxic Avenger," nor does it stay serious enough to ape their pokerfaced classic "Surf Nazis Must Die." But at least it doesn't coast on its premise, going to a number of weird, upsetting places — when you doubt it will "go there," it just tapdances right in. "Father's Day," loaded with truly unforgettable, vomit-inducing scenes of depravity, mostly hits its very low mark. If you can stomach it, this morbid concoction just might be worth the gag-inducing chug. [C]
"Father's Day" opens in New York and Minneapolis this weekend and will roll out across the country. Click here to see when it will play near you.