Wednesday, June 23, 2010
When I first saw the name of this movie, I feared the worst. "Trasharella" initially sounded like the kind of low-budget dreck that a studio like Troma would release as a bad, sexed-up parody version of "Cinderella" but with even less chance at cult status than any of the other "-ellas" already out there ("Barbarella", "Cadaverella", "Vampirella", "Stripperella"... the list goes on). But, when I saw that Rena Riffel was not just the star of this but also the first time director and producer, I was intrigued enough to give it a chance. I'm glad I did too.
In case you've never heard of Rena Riffel, she was Lena in "Candyman: Day of the Dead" (1999) but is best known for playing Penny/Hope in Paul Verhoeven's "Showgirls" (1995). She's also hot, uber hot, and there's a damn good reason why she has often been referred to as having the best body in Hollywood. Rena has done a lot of topless roles over the years and I always find that a good thing when it comes to actresses.
Really if you are going to watch a bad movie then it's pretty much a necessity to have a lot of eyecandy to keep your interest and with Rena Riffel in a movie you can be sure that all your hopes there will be taken care of even if she keeps her clothes on. She's also one of the sweetest people you could ever hope to meet and that part of her personality shows through in every character she plays. To watch her is to love her in ways that you'd probably only experience from watching old Audrey Hepburn movies. Rena is perhaps more of a Marilyn Monroe than an Audrey but I'm sure you'll agree with my point once you go back and familiarise yourselves again with her previous roles.
So when I put the "Trasharella" screener into my DVD player, I have to admit that an element of bias crept into the equation. For that reason, I didn't even read the synopsis and certainly no other reviews. I knew that I was going to like watching the beautiful Rena but I had to clear the playing field of anything else that would influence my viewing pleasure. With a pie in one hand and the remote control in the other, I was free of all distractions and ready to devour not only the pie but every frame before me.
The movie begins in black and white with occasional added digital effects including some faux film scratches and a grainy look to make everything look more "grindhouse". Cinematography is generally very good thanks to Dave Edwards. It's not done perfectly, but you can see what was intended and it isn't too distracting. Some useful "Zombie Walk" extras show off their make-up briefly just to make sure that everyone knows that this is going to be a horror fairy tale.
It's during these scenes that we learn the origin of a vampire curse on Hollywood starlets which began 75 years ago during one of Helena's past lives in France. Everything turns into a silent movie for a while and it's a clever idea. My only real criticism of this section, taking into account the low-budget (and avoiding mentioning the sparseness of the sets), is that technically it needed to be a bit blurrier and darker to make it look more authentic. Everything was a bit too sharp which undermined the other effects used to make it look like old footage. Rena looks great though as an aspiring silent movie actress and hams it up nicely.
Then we're back to the present day and things switch to colour. Rena's red wig and green dress really stand out. Everything stays grainy though and saturation levels are changed from time to time to slightly posterise the look of what now turns into a live-action comicbook adventure. It's hardly going to be another "Blade" since Trasharella's enemy is none other than the comedic Count Smokula.
In spite of the presence of this stereotypically Jewish vampire Count, there's nothing too horrific in any of this apart from a lot of the obviously improvised dialogue. Some aspects of this work better than others and there are some good lines, but they are few and far between. What set this out of the ordinary though was when Rena suddenly burst into song. I really wasn't expecting that at all.
The songs in "Trasharella" wouldn't be out of place in a bigger budget Hollywood musical though they are equally camp enough for fans of Rocky Horror too. Rena Riffel has a beautiful voice which sent shudders down my spine during the very catchy "Perfectly Imperfect". There's another catchy yet not quite so memorable song by Count Smokula in the middle but the final number, which I think is called "Beauty is Pain", performed again by Rena Riffel, reminded me a lot of Blondie. Yes, the musical numbers really are that good! The full 2-DVD set also contains a couple more music videos it seems, but I was suitable impressed by the ones contained within the movie itself. "Trasharella" has a lot of hidden gems and not just the ones inside her magic lipstick (but more about that later).
While not being entirely a "girl power" movie, there's a definite female empowerment message at the heart of "Trasharella" and some not too thinly veiled satire/social commentary about Hollywood in general. Count Smokula comes across as representing male oppression through the ages while the starlets themselves are forced to become sleazier and trashier to succeed. It's not giving too much away to say that, when Helena transforms into Trasharella with the aid of a Betty Page wig, magic lipstick, and magic pumps to conquer the vampire's curse, it's not without severe consequences to her own psyche. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it but the whole film could be considered a warning that if a girl wants to succeed in showbusiness then the necessity of becoming trashy will be detrimental to her mental health. It's a good job that Rena only does these wholesome G-rated movies then, isn't it? Yes, I probably read too much into it. It is supposed to be a comedy after all.
Tom Challice has the most memorable comic performance for me as Helena's psychiatrist, Dr. Simon Fieldsgoodman, when he turns himself into a Red Injun brave while taking notes of her problems. I know I should find Count Smokula more amusing than I do, but I also found him to be a bit too sinister to carry the comedy off. Maybe I'm just jealous that he got to have Rena as his slave even if it is only acting.
Other notable things about "Trasharella" include some fine naked boobage on display from Mary Carey (as Lucy Les Rue) and Rena herself. An amusing laundry room tease had me thinking that Rena was going to keep her goodies covered up for the whole film, but thankfully she didn't. There's some almost erotic lesbian sexual tension between Helena and Lucy but it doesn't really come to anything. A tiny girl to girl kiss much later (involving sharing the magic lipstick with Jade Paris as Becky Bardot) is also over far too quickly. There are no sex scenes as such though because, quite simply, they wouldn't add anything to the plot one way or another. It's all just a bit of a burlesque tease which again is a clever way of tying "Trasharella" back into "Showgirls" and "Striptease" for Rena Riffel worshippers everywhere.
I also have to mention the TV Batman-style fight scenes with onscreen "Kapows". I wish that they had gone on longer mainly because I could watch catfights like this all day especially if they involve Jade Paris. I know from Rena herself that a lot was unfortunately edited out because the movie was getting too long. The whole thing now runs for 102 minutes.
With all its flaws, "Trasharella" is firmly entrenched in the "so bad it's good" genre and only falls short slightly from having a guaranteed cult status. I can still see a cult following of convention girls wearing nothing but dresses made of black plastic bags, maple-heeled pumps and buying "magic lipstick" replicas complete with Austrian crystals inside the cap. Actually even if it never happens that little excursion into the realm of my imagination was a special moment.
If you are into Ed Wood then you'll love "Trasharella". Comparisons to the British "Razor Blade Smile" (from 1998) can also be drawn as Trasharella is an equally iconic character to Eileen Daly's Lilith Silver but without the vampiric elements. Perhaps if Trasharella had become a leather-clad vampire rather than a trashbag-wearing vampire slayer then she would have been even sexier. Maybe there's an idea for a sequel... "Pleatherella" perhaps?
"Trasharella" definitely needs a sequel as the ending really didn't go the way I expected it to. Count Smokula seems to be indestructable in spite of being "killed" twice in this movie (once with a Barbie doll "crucifix" of all things) and would certainly benefit from a repeat performance as Trasharella's nemesis. Anything that gets Rena Riffel to cover her chest in fake blood again has to be a good thing, right?
There are no big special effects other than some blood spatter but boobs and blood are usually the only elements needed to please me even if a movie lacks in most of the qualities that normal people (and I use that term very loosely) need to justify the amount of entertainment they derive from it all. The fact that one of the pairs of boobs here belongs to Rena Riffel is the most special effect of all. Did I mention how Rena looks so beautiful in every scene that it makes you want to lick the TV screen? Well, I have now.
Apart from her physical charms though, Rena shows that she has a considerable amount of talent. In truth, she's a Jill-of-all-trades and most of her creativity is yet to be tapped but "Trasharella" is very much a step in the right direction. It not only makes me wonder what Rena would do with a bigger budget, but also how much success she could achieve if she were to pull things up a couple of notches and continue to direct other less Rena-centric, projects.
It's no secret that, in spite of watching a lot of bad movies, I'm hardly the biggest fan of this genre, but to be fair, "Trasharella" is simply the most refreshing low-budget, independent movie that I've seen for a long time. I recommend it, and I'm quite pleased to have it in my collection. It's not much of a horror movie and is certainly not going to win any mainstream awards, but you won't be disappointed if you like bad movies which are intentionally made to be that way.