Saturday, August 10, 2013

Gore Galore: ADAM CHAPLIN (2010)

When it comes to shot-on-video movies, I can seem as grouchy as an old man who just ran out of Gold Bond and Tucks, but there are some that I don't need any Cialis to get all worked up about. No matter how wearisome the zombie genre has gotten these days (oh, it so definitely has), there's always room on my plate for Perecles Lewnes' genuinely hilarious and super-splattery REDNECK ZOMBIES (1988). Olaff Ittenbach's THE BURNING MOON (1992) has a special place in my spleen for raising the gore effects bar in a SOV movie to professional heights that few, if any, have been able to match. There are a couple of others, but it looks like there is a new one to add to this very short list.

Out of the wasteland in 2011, a low-budget Italian SOV flick called ADAM CHAPLIN hit festival circuits, but even though it garnered some praise, not much was made of it on-line or in print. Flash forward a couple of years and somehow the damn thing managed to sneak on to DVD and blu-ray in Europe with a forthcoming US DVD titled "ADAM CHAPLIN: VIOLENT AVENGER" (I can't help but wonder how long it took Autonomy Pictures to come up with that title). Now, suddenly, people are sitting up and taking notice.


Written, directed and starring Emanuele De Santi, ADAM CHAPLIN is set in the near future in which a disfigured, mask-wearing mad scientist, named Denny (Christian Riva), rules the underworld with a, not so much iron, but veiny, fleshy fist. When a young woman (Valeria Sannino) can't pay back the money she borrowed, the creep sets her on fire, burning her to a crisp. Despondent due to his loss, her lover Chaplin (Emanuele De Santi) sets out on a path of ultra-violent revenge with the help of a small demon that lives behind his shoulder in a festering wound in the shape of an upside-down crucifix (Giulio De Santi). While sorting through the scum of the earth, Chaplin's eyes roll back in his head and he becomes capable of throwing flurries of punches that tear through flesh and bone like wet toilet paper making for some extremely graphic confrontations that spray, splash and dump literally gallons of blood across the sets.

After setting out on his rampage the corrupt police decide to recruit a serial killer to take out Chaplin before he can get his revenge. Of course, this really doesn't go as well as the cops' had planned and everything boils down to a massive confrontation between the crooked cops, the criminal kingpin (who has his own chemically induced powers) and a seriously pissed off Adam Chaplin.

Combining what is essentially a live-action adaptation of FIST OF THE NORTH STAR with western-style dystopian future influences of "Judge Dredd" and BLADE RUNNER (1982), ADAM CHAPLIN should be good just with that: some extreme gore and cheap but effective CGI, but  it has much more to offer. It's not just gore that ADAM CHAPLIN uses prodigiously. CGI is used to blend miniatures, modern buildings and re-purposed technology into the futuristic landscape. Granted, it's not the CG that turned Johannesburg into MegaCity1 in DREDD (2012), but remember we are talking about an amateur movie that certainly must have cost a fraction of DREDD's craft services budget. Plus, almost all of the CGI is used in ways that are not only ingenious, but dare I say groundbreaking. There is a scene in which the killer hacks up a transient's face with a meat-cleaver and they use CGI to make the head's eye blink. Most of these little details happen so fast that it takes a second viewing to pick them out, but it is shockingly effective.

So yes, there is gore, sci-fi and special effects, but I think what really raises this head and shoulders above most of the SOV pack, if not the entire DTV pack, is that it's surprisingly well written. Sure, it's not Tom Stoppard, but the plot of CHAPLIN is not handed to the viewer on a plate. Like a high-brow mystery, it unfolds piece by piece making what is the most basic of revenge plots seem fascinatingly complex by effective use of non-linear storytelling. Add to that some extremely effective atmospheric moments, such as one using nothing but flickering lighting, latex and a brick wall, and you have a low-budget, first-time effort that will knock your socks into the next room. For example, when Chaplin assaults a petty criminal in the sewer (clearly nothing more than two walls and a fluorescent light), the criminal starts freaking out that there is a ghost behind Chaplin. This moment sets up a serious "WTF" factor that totally pays off when, in a later scene in a police station, the "ghost" reveals its head in the darkness. It is quite possibly the most creepy and effective set-up and pay-off I've seen in a SOV movie this side of an Ivan Zuccon production.


Looking like the chiseled bastard child of Weird Al Yankovich and Sean Penn, Emanuele De Santi does a fine job as a stoic loner with deadly power. The other actors vary in their effectiveness with Giulio De Santi, his pattern-shaved haircut and waxed eye-brows, badly standing out as one of the police detectives, who is for no perceivable reason, blind. Combining a gamut of other creative influences without actually plagiarizing them (in itself something to be applauded), Emanuele De Santi throws so much at the viewer that some stuff sticks and some goes a bit wide. While not every element works perfectly, ADAM CHAPLIN is definitely marks the arrival of an amazing new talent. It almost feels like the cinematic equivalent of Black Flag's "Damaged" LP. Even if there are wrong notes scattered throughout the work and Gregg Ginn completely butchers the very concept of a guitar solo, that's not just something you'll over look due to the general coolness of the work as a whole, but is actually an integral part of its charm. I have to say, I'm really looking forward to seeing what Emanuele De Santi's next project is, I can't imagine what this guy would do with a budget!

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