By Matt Smith
It’s difficult to approach a film like Dear God No! objectively. In the vein of recent pastiches of neo-grindhouse films like Grindhouse, Hell Ride, Machete and Hobo With a Shotgun, it does a respectable job of handling less-than-appealing subject matter with humor and outrageousness, which is the point, I suppose, of this revival movement of drive-in B-movie glory. But objectively, the films that comprised that era of American cinema weren’t all great to begin with, and some of the new ones, particularly Hell Ride and Hobo With a Shotgun, fail for being entirely humorless about its subject and content, or, as is the case with the latter film, for having only that humor to stand on, providing a shabby little pedestal that threatens to collapse at any moment and send me away, screaming in horror at the waste of my existence. Thankfully, the filmmakers behind Dear God No! get enough right about their roots and their methodology that it eventually gels into a cohesive, mostly well-thought out expression of pure sophomoric and adolescent glee.
The film was produced in North Georgia for a small budget, and shot on 16mm film, which gives it an authentic look and feel that just isn’t possible with higher grade film stocks. It also features some heavy southern-style rock that keeps the proceedings rolling right on down the path of degradation and inhumanity. It is thus a highly stylized affair the calls frequent attention to its artifice, down to the violent set pieces themselves, which I’ll discuss in a bit more detail below.
Utilizing a multi-faceted approach to story, the film follows a biker gang called The Impalers as they rape and murder their way across the mountains of northern Georgia. The characters all have names, but those are less important than the types they play, which are all variations on traditional gang movie tropes: the ultratough leader, the couple of crazy party boys up for anything and everything (usually also the two most deranged kindred spirits in the group), and the druggie. There’s not much beyond these characterizations and a whole lot of raping and killing, but really, what more does one need in a biker exploitation flick? Not much more.
After a shootout at a strip club (where the girls are all dressed in Nixon and Carter masks a la Point Break and carrying automatic weapons) in which the bikers sever ties with the parent M.C., the boys make their way into the woods to evade anyone who might be looking for them, and come upon a doctor and some of his students who have been seen discussing some strange creature in the woods, viral strains, and mutations. Once the bikers get to this house, the film opens up into something different altogether, more demented, more depraved, and more outrageous in its titillations. We are subsequently introduced to a strange woman in the basement, a DNA-laced bottle of wine, and some of the trippiest, out of left field murder scenes I’ve ever seen. But that’s not even the icing on the cake. By the time we make it to the end of the film, we have seen Bigfoot arrive to kill everyone in the movie, preceded by a dream sequence/hallucination that makes random references to all the B-movie go-to stocks of Nazis, mad scientists, incest, monsters on operating tables, drugs, and much much more. But admittedly, it’s all pulled off with a little bit of fun and style despite the darker elements that come before and after it.
There are long stretches in this half of the film where the only outrageous things happening are the words spoken between characters, which serve the purpose of alluding to all the horrible things they have done and the horrible things they have yet to do. For better or worse, the audience gets to bear witness to the latter. And it’s kind of brilliant in the way that it keeps getting more and more demented, perverse and twisted. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, and to illustrate this, I want to discuss one of these moments and why exactly I think that what it does isn’t simple trash, and is not only emblematic of the style of film being paid homage, but also why I think it works in comparison to some of the more sickening moments in a film like the recent hit Hobo With a Shotgun. Bear with me a bit – this is going to be a bit rough at first.
Late in the movie, a couple of the bikers, who have been engaged in a contest to see who is the “sickest,” most degenerate of them, are involved with the rape of an innocent woman they stumble upon at a house in the middle of nowhere. She is also pregnant. The scene begins, actually, alongside a more problematic pair of rapes – of the aforementioned strange woman in the basement who seems to really really want it, and her daughter. As it turns out, the woman is the professor’s wife, and thus the girl’s mother, and she is crazy because of a test of a serum made from some monster’s DNA. These rapes aside, which factor into the more traditional tasteless and matter-of-fact presentations of such scenes in these types of films, the pregnant woman is undeniably the focal point, because of how over-the-top it gets. More precisely, the unborn baby is the focal point.
Long story short, the baby ends up being cut out of her stomach by one of the men while he is having his way with her, and is then followed by a cut to them later in this sequence emerging from the kitchen, the same man licking his fingers. The audience is left with the implication that he ate the baby. Why is this not simply sickening, unlike the supposed comedy of comparable scenes in Hobo With a Shotgun? And how does this work toward the project of the film when compared in the same manner?
I think it speaks to the strengths of this film and its filmmakers that they outwardly project the intended outrageousness of the whole affair. In Hobo it is an unspoken credo, and thus we are left floundering about trying to figure out what is going on. That film makes the fallacy of actually trying to be the outrageous film we all imagine grindhouse cinema to be. The undeniably sick minds behind Dear God No! have taken the opposite approach. By pointing out how awful these films were to begin with, and by constantly calling attention to how “sick” these men are, yet retaining their affection for trash cinema, they have broken through one of the barriers necessary to legitimately understand something as a comedy, and thus allow us, the audience, to laugh at the truly horrific stuff being shown on screen.
I’m not trying to make a case here for trash. It has its place, and many people will not enjoy themselves watching this effort. I make no apologies, and shouldn’t have to. No, rape is not a joke, and no, the filmmakers don’t make a joke of it here. The rapes themselves are presented as horrific, and simply put, I don’t find them as problematic tonally as I do in Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. But, that’s all beside the point. The film makes an effort to emulate and criticize actively, by showing us how unbelievably perverse these men are that have been the main characters in the film, and when something as disturbing as the rape of a pregnant woman who has her baby ripped out of her happens, it remains disturbing. It’s comedy of horrors, not comedy of actions.
In any case, that’s what I got out of it. There are problems, it shifts tonally from time to time, but remains pretty brutal and disturbing throughout, and there really are no characters to identify with. As a pastiche of drive-in movie garbage (and more than a fair smattering of nods to the current “Tokyo Gore” scene – the baby scene particularly), it’s one of the more successful examples of the aesthetic, mostly because of how dark it gets while retaining the ability to be campy. Maybe that’s the difference between Dear God No! and Hobo: camp isn’t the surface, it’s the substance. One is all gloss and one is all content. And the former manages to rise above itself, ever so slightly. It’s not a great movie, and I certainly won’t recommend it for the faint of heart or easily offended, but I’ve wasted two hours in worse ways than hanging out with friends and drinking a beer and soaking in debauchery.
No star rating – I found the film too subjective an experience to be able to justify rating it in this manner.