Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fangs for Nothing: NIGHT OF THE CHUPACABRAS (2011)

In the realm of legendary creatures such as vampires, werewolves and even monsters that may or may not be in possession of a soul, composed of body parts salvaged from executed prisoners, they all tend to date back into the days when stories were used to frighten children and explain away inconveniences like serial murders. Hell, even Bigfoot dates back to the 17th century, probably earlier as it was perhaps an imported version of the mythical Yeti of the Himalayas. So where is a monster for our generation? We don’t want hand me downs! This is the “me” generation, and we demand our own ridiculous superstition! In 1995 that wish was granted by Puerto Rican farmers who were looking for an explanation of why their livestock was being found drained of blood from two wounds. It only made sense that a bipedal, spiny lizard that has the face borrowed from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, was sucking the blood out of goats. Yep, no other explanation. Soon the sightings of chupacabras were being reported in South America, Mexico and, of course, Texas because they need another reason to be elitists.

So now that we have our very own monster for our generation, how should we exploit it? Well, by making crappy home movies, that’s how! The first, to my knowledge was EL CHUPACABRA (2003), a DTV effort set in Los Angeles, that one viewer described as “89 minutes of mental violation” and BLOODTHIRST: LEGEND OF THE CHUPACABRA (2003). Following that in 2005, we had another DTV effort, CHUPACABRA TERROR (2005) which featured John Rhys-Davies in a role that won’t surprise you, and then we have the Brazilian SOV film NIGHT OF THE CHUPACABRAS. I was thinking that we may finally see something entertaining done with the creature that has become the butt of jokes on every prime-time animated show ever, but then I discovered it is from the “creative” team that brought us BLACK MANGUE (aka MUD ZOMBIES; 2008). Oh jeezus, what have I gotten myself into?

Set in the rural parts of Brazil, a barking dog wakes up a farmer (Markus Konká) who discovers his goat dead, he is certain it was killed by the devil and sets his dog loose on it, as dogs are well known for their power to stop corporeal manifestations of fallen angels who are the embodiment of all evil and who have nothing better to do than to kill a goats in the middle of nowhere.

After his city-slicker son Douglas (Joel Caetano) and his pregnant fiancée Maria-Alicia (Mayra Alarcón) come to visit, we get to meet his slightly deranged family, the Silvas, who have been feuding with the neighboring family, the Cavallos. While the father rambles about the devil, Douglas’ brothers decide to disobey their father’s wishes and bury only the dog, saving the goat to sell to the local tavern. Well, I say “tavern”, but it is simply a shack with some rickety tables that makes The Slaughtered Lamb look like Le Cirque. All of this inaction is accompanied by the flattest dialogue imaginable that appears to have come from asking 100 middle-schoolers what their favorite cuss words were. At least MUD ZOMBIES left you utterly confused by the lengthy passages of nonsensical dialogue. At least then, if you were so inclined, you could contemplate the possible meaning behind the rambling verbiage. Here it's pretty obvious that there is none.

After an inconceivably long scene of the brothers haggling with the owner, the Silva brothers silently drink in the tavern. Suddenly the Cavallo brothers take the other table and start drinking. Uhhh, yeah, it was about that exciting in the movie too, except they used a bunch of close-ups and dramatic music to heighten the tedium. Of course since the goat has been rotting for a day and has been bitten by the still unseen chupacabra, when everyone eats it, they suddenly transform into giant mutant chupacabrae and go on a rampage that… Oh no, sorry, that’s what I really wanted to happen. What does in fact happen is that the Cavallos commence to projectile vomiting streams of green liquid that is obviously not coming out of their mouths, but from the side of their heads. If you are the kind of person that thinks several long minutes of cheap vomit gags are hysterically funny, this your movie. Naturally the Cavallos use this as an excuse to start a brawl which literally takes up the next 70 minutes of the 100 minute movie. Two things here. One, I thought this movie was supposed to be about chupacabras and two, why in christ’s name does your low-rent SOV movie need to be just shy of two hours long? Just because you don't have to pay for filmstock, doesn't mean you should produce Oliver Krekel-esque epics.

The four-minute long brawl spills out of the tavern into the jungle and finally ends up back at the Cavallo house where the groups of brothers get into an extended shoot-out that leaves most of them dead and half of the audience asleep. To break up the monotony of the toy-gun fire-fight, the Cavallo women are suddenly attacked by a chupacabra! I know, who’d have thunk it? There must be a shortage of goats in the area. The fire-fight is particularly tedious due to the fact that the filmmakers didn't bother with foley work. The guns sound like they are powered by bang snaps and even the pop of the squibs are left in. Clearly nobody is really paying attention or they are trying to play it off as an intentionally "bad movie". Near the end of the shootings the Cavallos are sorting out what weapons they have left and one says "I've got a shotgun with two shells," even though he is clearly wearing a bandolier that has at least a dozen in it! Did he accidentally grab his Spencer's Gifts costume bandolier on his way out of the house?

When only a few people are left alive, we get another non-sequitur scene in which Douglas, bloody and wounded, is captured by a giggling lunatic who practices black magic and cannibalism to keep a youthful appearance. No really. Then suddenly he’s dead and it’s back to the fighting! Finally in the last 10 minutes the chupacabra joins in the death-struggle between the last two members of the families. Oh and there is a stinger ending that makes no sense in the context of what we have seen already. The real shame of this is that director Rodrigo Aragão actually sports a few nice camera angles this time out, but for the most part directs completely flat except when he's giggling the camera around during fight scenes. He also has a couple of cool latex effects that, once again, he completely obscures with darkness and a camera that can't stay still. An odd and annoying contrast to the rest of the movie.

If you have seen MUD ZOMBIES, then you will be pleasantly surprised by the upgrade in production values. This is not to say that they are particularly good, but MUD ZOMBIES was barely a notch above your garden variety German back-yard zombie video. That sense of good will rapidly diminishes when you see that Aragão does a 180 from his so-dark-you-can’t-see-anything cinematography of ZOMBIES and opts for a completely flood-lit approach that not only makes the digital medium look bad, but results in everything looking cheap and fake. Then again, nothing will help those embarrassing cap-gun-esque shoot outs. Worst of all, when they do finally bring out the chupacabra, this bright lighting highlights the flaws in what is a great looking latex costume for a low-rent SOV movie. With some more dramatic lighting, a shorter running time and oh, I don’t know, a script that made the monster the central focus, this could have been a real sleeper.

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