These It Came from the DVR articles are going to be a little bit different. As an early Christmas present to myself, I picked up a festival pass to the Toronto After Dark film festival. So the first difference is that these are new movies, on the big screen, instead of old ones and niche programming on the small screen. The second difference is that these are going to be short. I’ve got eighteen films to see in seven days (as well as dressing up for the annual zombie walk), so I’m not going to have a whole lot of time to write, and I want post these while the blood is still fresh.
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration, but most of the films it showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid. I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.
A co-production between Canada’s up and coming, indie film collective Astron-6 and the infamous Troma studios, Father’s Day is the story of vengeance obsessed, one-eyed Ahab and his search for his father’s rapist and murderer, serial killer Chris Fuchman. Fathers are the exclusive target of Fuchman’s depravity – hence the title of the movie. Ahab is joined on his quest by his estranged sister Chelsea (now a stripper), male prostitute Twink (his own father a recent victim), and neophyte priest Father John Sullivan. Gore, nudity and mayhem ensue.
Over the top, retro exploitation
I will admit up front that this movie was not my cup of tea, but I don’t want anyone who reads this to give the film short shrift, because I know there are people who are absolutely going to love Father’s Day. What the movie does, it does brilliantly; I just happen to not really be a fan of the exploitation sub-genre, so most of the work was lost on me.
The Astron-6 guys did an amazing job of capturing the feel of late seventies/early eighties grindhouse pictures, from the look of the film stock (even though it was shot digitally) and minimalist electronic score to the gory special effects (even the movie poster looks like it came from that period). While much of the humour in those older films was unintentional, the laughs in Father’s Day are no mistake.
Since I wasn’t that into other aspects of the film (the torture for instance), I appreciated the comedic bits, which had me laughing out loud. The jokes in the film are a strange (and contradictory) mixture of witty and stupid, often poking fun at many of the horror genre’s unquestioned staples (there are a couple in there I absolutely loved: a kiss for the dying, hallucinogenic berries, the aftermath of the dam fight and the movie’s ending stand out).
Special mention should be made of the gore, which was appropriately over the top. In the Q&A after the screening, the filmmakers described the process they used to prepare the guts of eight pig carcasses for the effects – which had to be done in their own bathtub (a horror show itself). Gore hounds can be rest assured that Father’s Day delivers (including some pretty gruesome genital mutilation).
There was also some funky stop-motion animation thrown in there, which was nice to see, and a hilarious commercial for a Star Wars rip-off halfway through (the film is set up as though it were playing on late-night television).
What I think makes Father’s Day stand out from other recent efforts at retro exploitation is its willingness to subvert the genre (while still clearly enamoured of it). I’ve already mentioned the humour, which works well to this end, but I think the most subversive element of the movie was Astron-6’s choice to make the serial killer rape and murder men (graphically). In horror films (and especially exploitation films) there is a tendency to present women as fetishized objects of sadomasochistic fantasy. I think that modern horror filmmakers too easily swallow this ‘tradition’ without question (no disrespect intended, but I was thinking about Rob Zombie when I wrote that), and perpetuate it. As hard as these scenes are to watch in Father’s Day, I appreciate the point that Astron-6 was making by inverting the convention.
I can honestly say that this was the best Troma movie I have ever seen (which isn’t exactly glowing praise I guess). Father’s Day is recommended for fans of grindhouse exploitation. If you liked I Spit on Your Grave, or Hobo With a Shotgun then this movie is for you. If these kinds of movies aren’t your thing, then Father’s Day isn’t going to change your mind, but at least you’ll get a few good laughs.
I like to think that I can draw inspiration from any source, but the subject matter of this movie makes it difficult, to say the least. I would be completely creeped out if my DM ran an adventure based on Father’s Day or statted up the Fuchmanicus for my character to fight, so I won’t be doing either. There was, however, a plot point in the movie that I’ve often thought about incorporating into a campaign…
SPOILER ALERT (seriously, it’s a big one)
In the film, the heroes, in their quest to destroy a demon, must journey to hell to confront it (which immediately reminded me of the 1e D&D convention regarding demon lords and arch devils being destroyed on their home plane). Unfortunately, the only way the heroes can think of to get to the underworld is by committing suicide. In the movie this is played for laughs, but it got me thinking about character death in rpgs.
What if character death were a part of the plot of the adventure, rather than something to be avoided and bypassed (through raise dead)? Now I’m not talking about self-sacrifice (jumping on a grenade to save the party, or hurling yourself into Mount Doom with the One Ring), which I think is common enough in tabletop games. I’m talking about death being the way to overcome an in-game obstacle, like travelling to the lower planes (or the Shadowfell in 4e).
I can think of two D&D products that used character death in this way. The Ghostwalk campaign setting for 3e had dead PCs return as ghosts. Since living characters and ghost characters each had their own strengths and weaknesses, it was advantageous for a party to include both (and not inconceivable to design encounters and obstacles that could only be bypassed by one or the other). The cult classic videogame Planescape: Torment also included a plot point where you could kill yourself to access sealed off areas of the Dustmen’s mausoleum.
Both examples have one key element that I think is important – character death is not final or immutable (because you wouldn’t really be overcoming an obstacle if you were permanently dead would you?). So in our hypothetical campaign where the PCs have to travel to the Shadowfell to combat the forces of Orcus, perhaps at the end of the adventure, as a reward, the Raven Queen can return them to the world of the living.
Alternatively, I think it would be interesting to have death be a side-trek adventure all itself. If a PC dies he or she must complete a small quest in the underworld to return to life (similar to the cliché of challenging Death to a game of chess), assisted by shadow versions of the rest of the party, conjured from the hero’s subconscious. Prophecy is often associated with near death experiences, so instead of treasure and experience points, this kind of adventure can reward the PCs with clues and information about the current campaign. This prize might even be enough to tempt desperate PCs…
Of course this only works if death is relatively rare in the game you are running. Having to run a side trek every other session will quickly become distracting and annoying (not to mention a lot of extra work).