“Dear God No!”-- James Bickert’s tribute to the golden age of bottom-of-the-barrel ‘70s regional drive-in exploitation fare is also this particular director/writer/producer/editor’s personal shot at total independence as a filmmaker and distributor, after an allegedly bitter experience at the hands of Troma Films, the U.S indie titans who put out then buried his last film “Dumpsters Baby” way back in 2000. Bickert and a small crew of Southern friends and fellow genre aficionados put this tarnished little gem together in just eight days: a one take wonder, shot on limited stocks of super 16mm fuji film and lovingly contrived to recreate in minutest detail the super-saturated aesthetic textures of yesteryear, as well as all the awkward performances, missing frames and lurid out of focus boob shots that came as part of that deal back in those days. The aim of “Dear God No!” seems to have been to actually try and produce something that really lived up to the promise of all those lurid drive-in trailer reels with their amusingly hyped up claims. During its blood soaked journey into oblivion Bickert’s demented biker flick makes numerous roadside gas stops to pay homage not just to all the usual classic exploitation check points like “Last House on the Left”, etc., but seemingly every single lost drive-in obscurity or cheap euro-dross import that’s ever been immortalised on celluloid since the sub-genre’s heyday in the mid-sixties – and it’s a subject about which Bickert appears to have amassed a level of detailed encyclopedic knowledge that would make even Tarantino blanch.
Mention of the ‘T’ word inevitably brings us to consideration of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s own previous big budget Grindhouse double bill tribute, released back in 2007, whose approach provides the signpost for Bickert’s much brasher, trashier, and decidedly much cheaper (in every respect) effort. This is probably the release that first drew mainstream attention to a trend that had already been apparent to genre fans for some time by then, and which was being demonstrated in the numerous efforts by a burgeoning slew of filmmakers of a certain age who set out painstakingly to recreate the look and feel of what had been in most cases a bunch of scuzzy no hope flicks from the sixties and seventies that no-one was very much interested in at the time, until they found their audience on video. It’s a trend which has developed in subsequent years to the point where recent releases such as “Hobo with a Shotgun” have arguably turned it into a fully-fledged, nostalgia fuelled sub-genre all of its own. The horror genre in particular has seemed increasingly unable and unwilling to forgo this navel gazing urge to immerse itself in the romantic rose-tinted glow emanating from its own much hipper past, resulting in the release of misconceived remake after remake of ‘70s classics and new filmmakers such as Ti West and Rob Zombie demonstrating a talent for revisiting, recreating and reclaiming a rapidly vanishing heritage of ‘70s horror, as though recognising a need to preserve it, as this way of making films becomes more and more threatened by the convenience now afforded by our cheap and soulless, off-the-shelf age of digital video led, do-it-yourself film-making.
The phenomenon is no doubt largely driven by the fact that the seventies was the decade in which most of today’s thirty-something to forty-something filmmakers grew up -- remembering the era, with the clarity of nostalgic hindsight, as the site of the formative years in their discovery of film. Even if they actually grew up in the eighties, the appearance of home video meant that quite a bit of the previous decade was suddenly available to be discovered all over again, in bad quality prints on VHS that already came pre-packaged with an air of disreputability. This whole explosion of interest in Grindhouse and ‘70s horror is really all about reminding one-self of that privileged state of grace which existed for a brief period during one’s youth, when even the most hackneyed, inept or fumbled exploitation cheapie held the promise of the forbidden and the allure of the unacceptable. “Dear God No!” begins with a bunch of long-haired, denim-clad biker killers from the deep South called The Impalers, led by the hirsute Manson clone Jett (Jeff Bryant), recuperating after slaughtering and raping a bunch of nuns at a drive-in theatre, and thus setting the infantile tone for the comic book level of screen shock and depravity to come from the get-go! This is a gang that hangs out at a local sleazy titty bar run by their Neo-Nazi dad (who snorts his lines of cocaine in the shape of swastikas!) and take their liquor with the barmaids used tampon soaking in the shot glass. After The Impalers' father demands they abstain from killing and raping anyone who strays across their path since it’s threatening his arrangement with the local law, Jett and the gang murder him in a pique of outrage and go off to pursue their only true love (‘we wanna be free … free to bang life in the ass!’) … namely roaming the sun-dappled highways of South Georgia, killing, torturing, terrorising and raping decent law abiding citizens where ever they find them.
Bickert’s film recreates the sleazy tonalities of every two dim exploitation flick ever made with remarkable verisimilitude. This, at times, really does feel like a lost seventies biker film that’s been scooped up off some filthy cutting room floor and lovingly restored for DVD. The use of 16mm film beautifully recaptures the fuzzy colour textures and faded celluloid of exactly such cheapie fare, the rich saturated tones achieved by directors of photography Jonathan Hilton and Dave Osborne competing with the grimy, sleaze-stuffed content to elicit exactly the required nostalgic glow of shocked queasiness from any viewer who’s familiar with the apposite period. Jett and his leering band of biking killers (John Collins, Nick Morgan and Shane Morton) dispose of the entire clientele of their dad’s bar and its troupe of machine gun-toting topless go-go dancers (named ‘Nixon’s Vixens’ because they sport joke shop masks of ‘Tricky Dicky’), then roam the highways killing men, women and children indiscriminately with a casual disdain for life. Things soon go slightly awry when The Impalers turn up at the isolated forest home of anthropologist and genetic tinkerer Dr Marco (Paul McComiskey) and his strange sulky daughter Edna (Madeline Brumby) and stage a Last House-style home invasion in pursuit of some sickly violent rape action. The Marcos are being visited at the time by two of the doc’s former undergraduate students, Laura (Rachelle Lynn) and Todd (Billy Ratliff), who are now married with Laura expecting their first child. That’s not going to stop this mad gang of drugged-up bikers indulging themselves in a psychedelic orgy of low budget, cheaply staged rape and violence, though ...
This is the point at which the film becomes somewhat problematic. Bickert’s set-piece ideas and their genre-based references often seem to flounder slightly when it comes to the tone of their execution, lost between being an appropriate tribute to the drive-in films they attempt to recreate in spirit (throwing in obscure references to minor nudie films and naming cans of food after Jess Franco, etc.) and parodying them by going to even farther extremes of excess than any film from the period in question would have ever dared. The earlier topless go-go dancing scene, for example, seems to drone on for about five minutes solid, during which time the camera rarely strays from mimicking the prowling, voyeuristic gaze of a Harry Novak flick, lingering on bouncing boobs and naked flesh to the exclusion of all else for a comically absurd length of time – indeed, far longer than most of the nudie films it apes would have -- thus affectionately parodying exactly this kind of exploitation sequence. Bickert often deliberately sacrifices pace or action and lets dialogue drag on too long on purpose, because the kind of films being mimicked here were usually unevenly paced themselves and might lag interminably between the crude gore or the prurient nude scenes. The performances of the various cast members, too, also tend to parody the wooden, stilted acting found so often in many of these flicks -- although there seems to be no set acting style in place here, everybody pitching it ever so slightly differently.
Nobody’s playing it straight exactly, but it’s often hard to judge the level of parody the film is meant to be aiming for, especially as so many different genres of exploitation are being mixed together (often in tedious, incoherent, hallucinogenic inserts) by the final act that in attempting, for example, to provide for real the levels of sleaze only promised by most period sexploitation films, the misogynistic violence tips into such a heightened realm of unpleasantness that the film ceases to be amusing and just ends up seeming childish and pathetic. There’s an uncomfortable forced striptease in which Madeline Brumby’s repressed daughter is required to dance nude for Jett in the Marco household’s very seventies, beige décor living room, that accurately recreates the grimly unglamorous female nudity frequently found in similar cheap exploitation, but the talking point sequence in which one of the gang (played by Bickert himself) rapes the heavily pregnant Laura on the kitchen table while simultaneously stabbing her in the stomach with a kitchen knife, then cuts the foetus from out of her, casually tossing bits of intestine and stomach lining into the sink, is neither as powerfully disturbing as such a sequence actually should be, nor reven emotely funny in a gross out Troma humour kind of a way. It just seems pathetically ghoulish, silly and trite. Ditto a sleazy incestuous rape scene between daughter and mother (the mother, played by Olivia LaCroix, being a sex crazed mutant kept locked in the basement after becoming perverted by Dr Marco’s experiments). The film is saved by a last reel appearance by none other than Bigfoot (Jas M. Stacy) who lumbers out of the autumnal forests (the setting perfectly recreating that of the forest rape scenes from “Last House on the Left”) to bring a spot of “Night of the Demon” action to the mix, thanks to an excellent Bigfoot costume that recreates in appearance the heyday of the Sasquatch episodes from “The Six Million Dollar Man”. Enjoyably goofy elements such as this, and a great score by Richard Davis and local rock band The Forty Fives among others, helps restore some sort of amiable cheer to proceedings after the sour taste left by the film’s relentlessly jokey misogyny; but ultimately, “Dear God No!” is far more successful in trailer form than it is as a full length feature. That trailer, in concert with the fantastic retro illustrated poster art painted by Thomas Hodge (who seems to be the go-to man for ‘70s themed poster artwork these days) provides all the authentic seventies charm of the piece without the unnecessary, ramped up modern-day nihilistic misogyny that otherwise lingers on too long and ruins the fun of it.
This 2-disc DVD edition from Monster Films comes with two commentaries included with the original cut on disc one (by writer-director James Bickert and composer Richard Davis; and cast members Jett Bryant, Madeline Brumby and Shane Morton) both being relaxed affairs featuring lots of anecdotes about the making of the film. The first disc also includes the UK theatrical trailer. Over on disc two we get an UK exclusive ‘Grindhouse Cut’ of the same film, in which the print has been artificially manipulated to make it look even more like an old unrestored ‘70s film with tram lines, sprocket jumps and scratches on the neg as well as crackles and pops added on the soundtrack. There’s also a redband trailer; a behind the scenes gag reel; poster and still slide show; festival advertisements for the film done in the style of a torture porn and zombie film; Vlog the Magnificent interviewing cast and crew at the film’s world premier; an animated short featuring two of the characters from the film (another UK exclusive) and various Easter eggs. In this regard “No God No!” definitely provides its audience with value for money on DVD, but that audience is likely to remain limited to the hard-core connoisseurs of period sleaze and cheap gore flicks. It doesn’t transcend that crowd and, to be fair, doesn’t appear remotely interested in doing so.
Read more from Black Gloves at his blog, Nothing but the Night!