Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 107 minutes
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Lloyd Kaufman, the high-energy, motor-mouthed madman behind Troma Films, has always come across as indie-cinema’s answer to Bill Graham. Graham was the legendary rock promoter behind San Francisco’s Bill Graham Productions, before his untimely death in a 1991 helicopter crash. The gruff legend established a candid, abrasive, larger-than-life mystique during his business and entertainment ventures (fearlessly reading the riot act to Sid Vicious, Keith Moon, James Hetfield, and other on-tour troublemakers who might intimidate more sensitive souls). It would seem that “Punk Rock Holocaust” co-producer Kaufman, another fearless pop culture maverick with a comparably cranky demeanor, carries Graham’s temperamental torch.
The scenery-chewing father of “The Toxic Avenger” inhabits this spiritual rock ‘n roll brother in “Punk Rock Holocaust,” playing an evil, hotheaded record executive named Belial. Filmed in front of a Hades-red filter, Kaufman uses his dapper, shades-and-tie appearance to great effect as he barks into a telephone and browbeats associates (think Al Pacino in “Devil’s Advocate”). He’s got a lot on his mind – Belial’s stable of high-decibel bands has been shrinking since a muso-slashing killer started hacking label talent into CD-sized pieces. The scene of this beastly bloodletting? The 2003 Vans Warped Tour, where cranium-imploding, facemelting music collides with limb-shucking, gore-hurling chaos.
With its adrenaline-inducing fusion of punk rock to extreme sports, the true-life Vans Warped Tour has long been associated with extreme sensations. But “Punk Rock Holocaust,” produced by Backseat Conceptions, truly turns the amps up to eleven in a way that Spinal Tap would never have dared. Alongside Kaufman’s satanic record-label bigwig, the DVD also follows Kevin Lyman, who founded Vans Warped Tour and has watched it thrive for ten successful years as other, similar “event” tours (Lollapalooza, Ozzfest) have waned in popularity. With his short hair and spectacles, Lyman looks like the anytown owner of some indie record store (think “Ghost World” or “High Fidelity”), as he deflects the suspicious interrogations of a persistent reporter (Heather Vantress) bent on solving the mystery of who’s murdering and mutilating musicians and moshers.
Does Lyman know who the machete-wielding sicko is behind the goggles and checkered bandana? And why is tour security so lax, even as dozens of band bodies and crew carcasses pile up? Until this secret is unearthed, viewers can revel in the sight of performer Andrew W.K. and a stageful of fans twitch and jerk – not from an overzealous spell of head-banging, but from a mass electrocution.
Other bands, including Pennywise, Face to Face, and A Simple Plan endure face gougings, poisonings, beheadings, and other Troma-style demises (there’s even a head-run-over-by-equipment-truck, using Kaufmann’s reliable ol’ cantaloupe-stuffed-with-cranberry-sauce effect). Fans on a rock-climbing wall plunge to their doom, a guitarist is impaled by his six-string instrument, and the crew unknowingly partakes of a cannibalistic, “Fried Green Tomatoes” style backstage barbecue.
“Punk Rock Holocaust” is a reasonably well shot digital video production. Each scene is introduced in the form of a comic strip illustration, complete with written captions scribed beneath. This attempt to present the film as a live-action comic book is successful, lending itself to the hammy acting, gallons of gore, and other excesses that follow. The bands appear to be having fun, and scenes of backstage goings-on have a reality TV, documentary feel that’s rarely shown in rock ‘n roll movies. When a weary-eyed tour accountant named Doug Goodstein (one can only assume that all cast members are using their real names) cradles his face in his hands and moans, “This tour is costing so much fucking money,” it’s easy to believe this was caught in the moment, and not staged.
Fans of Warped will crank up the lavish collection of live performance videos included as an extra feature, and comedy collectors will chuckle over three separate versions of the director’s commentary, recorded as “Sober,” “Trashed,” and “Passed out.”
“Punk Rock Holocaust” joins “Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park” and “Rock ‘n Roll High School” as a party favorite for fans of video viscera and savage sounds alike.
Posted on October 28, 2005 in Reviews by KJ Doughton
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