by Jason Coffman
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As the market for independent films becomes more and more crowded, it can be tough for filmmakers to get their work noticed. In the case of Joseph R. Lewis’s Scumbabies, the writer/director Lewis decided to debut his finished film with a variety show. There were musical performances by artists whose songs appeared in the film, comedy bits, short films, and some extemporaneous carny-style storytelling about the man supposedly behind it all, Liver Boyle. Leading up to the show, Lewis had been posting short videos related to the film’s creation and guerilla marketing, as well as creating “3-D comics” art pieces that act as companions and extensions of the film’s world. When the time came to actually show the film, the audience had already gotten considerably more than their money’s worth.
Luckily, the film itself is even more entertaining and engaging than the show leading up to it. Lewis clearly immersed himself in the world of this film, and while watching every video clip and playing with all the “comics” certainly adds to the experience, Scumbabies is more than strong enough to stand on its own as a fascinating and highly unique filmgoing experience.
Tru Holliwood (Emilia Richeson) is having a Halloween party. The first surprise guest is her estranged ex-boyfriend Ash Wednesday (Paul Brindley) dressed as Groucho Marx, followed quickly by the mysterious Gabe (Brandon Lim) in a monkey mask. Gabe collapses dead in Tru’s doorway, and in a panic she decides the best thing to do is hide the body until the party is over. The situation becomes more complicated with the arrival of surly Izzy Sue (Casey Dzierlenga) and oblivious Francis Poof (Eric Peck). Rounding out the party are the twins Anne and Andy Desmond (Rachel Castillo and Tyler Jenich) and, unfortunately, Gabe’s Mom (Elle Ritchie).
The setup is traditional farce, which is clearly one of the main strands of the film’s DNA. But Lewis mixes up so many different styles of storytelling that the film comes out looking like classic slapstick as reinterpreted through the machine-gun editing of Moulin Rouge, an irrepressible “let’s put on a show!” enthusiasm, and the low-budget grit of 70’s exploitation cinema. Characters might break out into song in one scene and engage in foul-mouthed screwball patter in the next, all while bright colors pop off the screen and the quick cutting keeps the audience’s eyes glued to the screen.
Like similarly frenetic films, Scumbabies can be an exhausting watch. However, also like the best of those films, Scumbabies is also exhilarating, especially as an independent film. The cast is fantastic, especially Eric Peck as Francis, who has a couple of particularly difficult and emotional scenes that he absolutely nails. Scumbabies radiates a wild, infectious energy that few films, independent or otherwise, ever manage. In short, if there’s a Scumbabies party coming to your town, you should make it a point to attend. You’ll be in for a filmgoing experience unlike anything else out there.
Learn more about the film and see trailers, behind the scenes videos, and the ongoing “Apotheskary” series at the Scumbabies site and The Underground Multiplex. As of this writing, Scumbabies is available as a set with a DVD and soundtrack CD at Quimby’s at their Chicago location and through their online store.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org.
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