The place to visit when you’re dying for a break in the woods.
Making independent movies is hard. For starters, filmmakers have to work with next-to-no money, limited resources, spontaneous weather conditions, unpaid actors and inexperienced crew members, who, let’s be honest, probably don’t know what they’re doing half the time. Given all of this, it’s always a treat to see a local filmmaker release something new.
Enter Daniel Armstrong, a Melbourne-based writer-director-editor who’s spent the better part of the last five years crafting his own kinda do-it-yourself genre flicks. 2013 saw Armstrong’s company (Strongman Pictures) drop MurderDrome, a retro homage to women’s roller derbies, while just last year, we saw the release of the gleefully silly Sheborg Massacre, a tribute to ’80s-90s sci-fi, cyborgs, killer robots and technology gone haywire, à la Robocop (1989), The Guyver (1991) or Nemesis (1992). His latest offering is Tarnation, an ode to the early days of schlock satanic horror — think The Evil Dead meets Troma.
Tarnation follows Oscar (Armstrong regular Daisy Masterman), an Aussie-British punk chick who’s kicked out of her second-rate band and dumped by her boyfriend all on the same day. In order to lift her deflated spirits, her promiscuous roommate Rain (Danae Swinburne) asks Oscar to join her and her fiancé (Joshua Diaz) for a raunchy weekend getaway at a remote cabin in the woods — coz nothing bad ever happened at a cabin in the woods. Once they arrive, it’s all fun and games until Oscar (and her buddies) are attacked by a demon unicorn (yes, you read that right) who’s part of a devilish cult that’s hellbent on devouring their souls. As the blood-soaked anarchy ensues, Oscar finds herself punching, kicking, smashing and singing (?) her way out of the devil’s playground as she tries to flee the lodge and vanquish the evil that resides there.
A madcap ride from start to finish, Tarnation never takes itself too seriously, the flick opening quite strongly with a knockout performance by Oscar’s (soon to be ex) rock outfit, this immediately followed by a couple of amusing quips by a hilarious Mitchell Brotz. Proceedings shift into overdrive once the hellions are let loose with Armstrong staying true to his zany idiosyncrasies, our feisty protagonist (later) exchanging blows with a boxing-glove-wearing zombie kangaroo that’s re-animated via some glowing-green urine — yep, it’s that kind of a film, folks. Needless to say, Tarnation relies heavily on practical gags, gore and FX, the picture destined to satisfy those VHS-era enthusiasts who have (surely) grown tired of today’s CGI-laden horror shows, Armstrong’s budget constraints never limiting his imagination; the shaggy filmmaker using shoddy-looking prosthetics and puppets that spoof Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II (1987) — several reminiscent of that spooky bewitched moose head.
Production-wise, Tarnation is a kooky kaleidoscope of colors, its hyper-real aesthetic really enhancing the narrative’s surreal-type quality, its visuals best comparable to Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy (2012-14) or even Danny Perez’s Antibirth (2016). The cast, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. While Daisy Masterman is fine and a couple of her co-stars — namely Emma Louise-Wilson, Utopia (2014-17) who plays a wheel-chair bound wanderer named Wheels — are solid, Danae Swinburne, Cat Sick Blues (2015), lets the team down by overplaying her role as Oscar’s possessed friend Rain. Elsewhere, the soundtrack by The Daisy Kills is, well, pretty killer, the aforementioned a faux-band (formed solely for the movie) consisting of actress Masterman who joins The Mercy Kills — Jen X, Mark Entwistle, Nathalie Gelle and Josh Black — for lead vocals. Heck, we’re even treated to a random infernal riff-off that sees our blonde heroine spar against the cloven-footed Beelzebub, this sequence one of the picture’s more inspired moments.
This scattershot pace, however, does give way to confusion, as proceedings do, unfortunately, get a little lost along the way; certain plot elements don’t add up while others aren’t wholly explained, the narrative fairly unfocused as a result. And, in terms of genre, is Tarnation a comedy, a horror, a musical or, just like Troma’s Poultrygeist (2006) (which I absolutely adore), a hybrid of all three? — I’m honestly not quite sure. But, given the nature of Armstrong’s influences/ sensibilities, Tarnation was always going to be esoteric, the movie clearly not aimed at general multiplex crowds; still, those who enjoy cross-genre type entertainers will surely revel in the scatty smorgasbord that’s splattered on the screen.
At the end of the day, if you’ve wasted time reading my incessant rambling, I’d say give Tarnation a go and support those who create for passion rather than profit, along with those who still believe in the magic of bargain basement goodness!
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie