When Glenn Danzig formed the Misfits in 1977, he carved out his own little macabre corner of the rising punk scene. Like their peers, the Misfits released singles that were loud, fast and cheaply recorded. However, their lyrical content had little interest in social unrest, suburban malaise or getting high. Seminal Misfits tunes like “Astro Zombies,” “Teenagers From Mars” and “Die, Die My Darling” were littered with imagery about UFOs, the undead and ritual sacrifice. Even after Danzig left the band in 1983, he continued to make a career out of his ghoulish fixations with solo albums, comic books, and now — nearly 40 years later — he’s released his first feature film: Verotika.
Verotika is just as gruesome as fans of the artist would expect. But even Danzig’s most ardent followers might tie themselves in knots trying to defend this virtually unwatchable attempt at a horror anthology. The film is composed of three segments, each containing more gore and nudity in 20 minutes than most slashers do in 90, but the majority of that running time is spent watching a variety of adult film stars mug for the camera or simply just sit there in mock horror as someone gets their face ripped off or is raped by a human-spider mutant.
Each short is introduced by host Morella, whom we meet gouging out the eyes of some nameless woman she has chained to a wooden stake. This framing device (a clear callback to vintage B-movie horror hostesses such as Vampira and Elvira) is one of the many influences Verotika flaunts. The most obvious, however, would be Italian giallo horror of the ’60s and ’70s. Danzig poorly emulates every one of the genre’s touchstones — fetishistic closeups of knives penetrating flesh, abundant nudity, pervasive fog and cheap production values. Unfortunately, having good taste in horror movies doesn’t equate to a knack for filmmaking.
On paper, Verotika’s first story (to use that term loosely) actually sounds like it could be a hoot. It opens with a thirtysomething guy and a pink-haired woman briefly engaging in oral sex before making out for a very, very, very long time. However, each time the man tries to lift up this girl’s shirt, she pushes him away. When her shirt finally does come off, we see why this young lady may be a little self-conscious, and that’s because she has eyeballs where her nipples should be. Yep. Just a couple of fully functioning eyeballs. I say fully functioning because soon her eye-nipples begin crying, and one of those tears lands on a CGI spider crawling on the ground below her. Naturally, this spider morphs into a walking, talking, rubber-suited arachnid man who then goes onto rape and murder a few women.
That sounds … potentially hysterical if, like me, you enjoy terribly produced sleaze. But Danzig inexplicably finds a way to even make that idea feel interminable. The editing throughout Verotika is unforgivable, as every shot is nearly double the length it should be; an actor will read a line for the camera to then just linger on their wide-eyed expression for another 20 seconds or so. Any spider-man action is second to pointless closeups or lengthy sequences such as the one where a woman sits in a café, orders coffee and abruptly leaves before drinking anything.
There are intermittent spurts of hilarity, such as the occasional baffling line delivery, and a couple of deaths are mildly amusing in their eagerness to cross the line. But there’s so much waiting in between those moments that your best bet is to watch the inevitable highlight reel that inevitably shows up on YouTube in a couple months. For a musician who’s no doubt spent decades consuming and obsessing over all things horror, Danzig’s grand statement on the genre seems to be little more than “I don’t know where my homemade giallo ripoff ends and my awkwardly staged, softcore porno begins … and that’s how I like it!”
Several critics have touted Danzig’s writing-directing debut as a monumental feat in enjoyably terrible filmmaking, going so far as to make direct comparisons to Tommy Wiseau’s pièce de résistance, The Room. Let this review dispel those silly notions now: What Verotika may share with that movie in production values, it lacks in any of the entertainment value.