Few things are sadder than a filmmaker who debuted with a unique, creepy, and haunting little thriller making a piece of cinematic--actually, straight-to-video-matic--rotten oatmeal twelve years later. (I say oatmeal because it has the bland, thick, and generally hard-to-get-through texture and feels akin to a film that just sits in your stomach without a single bright spot of tastiness.)
Netherworld is such a bowl of emptiness, a 1992 release from Full Moon Entertainment, directed by Tourist Trap and Puppet Master’s maestro David Schmoeller. It’s an aggressively dull little “horror” that seems determined to squander any potential it builds. I imagine the filmmakers began the process by reading about Netherworlds in some mythology textbook, thinking them interesting and a ripe concept for a film, then falling asleep for three years and waking up on set in the middle of production to say “Oh. So we’re making this, eh?”
Quick Plot: A geeky young virgin buys his way into a Louisianian brothel, leading us through a dank maze inhabited by the world’s fugliest Marilyn Monroe impersonator. The real story, however, moves to a saucy prostitute getting raped by a nonpaying customer until security--in the form of a disembodied hand with carnivorously phallic fingers--violates his face.
It’s actually a decent start but sadly, the five minute prologue is as good as the film could possibly dream of being. We’re soon introduced to Corey Thornton (Michael Bendetti), a young man of apparently no past personality save for the fact that he’s the “crackling image” of his long dead father. Corey arrives to stake his claim (I guess) on Pops’ sprawling N’Orleans estate, eager to read an old journal while drooling over the new caretaker’s underage daughter. Dad’s diary soon reveals that he’s been trapped in some sort of death dimension (a netherworld, perhaps? mmhmhmhm?) and Corey must visit a local hooker Pops used to shag to get him out.
Now. I’ve never sought out a film for its sexual content and could generally care less if an unrated direct-to-video thriller utilizes its lack of a rating, but I do believe Netherworld features the lamest, tamest, and most incredibly awful sex scene I’ve seen in quite some time. For starters, it involves Bendetti, an actor who seems like the rejected older brother of the London twins who was busy watching paint dry while mid 90s audiences tried to decide who was Jason and who was Jeremy. His costar, Denise Gentile, exudes a mild spritz of heat, but since she’s previously been introduced as “the most sensual woman in the world,” are we supposed to buy that she’d keep her robe strategically covering her girly parts and use her flat early ‘90s perm to catch what’s left? Her biggest move is to softly touch Corey’s thigh. His signature is the boob cup. And whoa, the guardian of hell is named Delores? No offense to any Delori out there, but such a name calls to mind a bowling league captain before an erotic pinup girl.
Oh, and did I mention the tepid kissing/sort of nude/not hot scene is cut with elevator style smooth jazz and a slow motion slow dance between Delores--dressed in a puffy white fringed Dallas inspired gown--and Corey’s 60 year old father? ‘Cause that’s what most witch guardians of hell fantasize about when rolling an ice cube over young men’s thighs.
Yes, there is an ice cube. And no, it does not melt. That’s the amount of heat generated here.
The biggest problem with a film too blah to even have good problems is that there is absolutely no reason for the audience to actually watch it. Bendetti is a tall pretty boy with the charisma of a DMV employee trying out for a community theater (and possibly named Delores), and yet we’re instantly supposed to follow him into an ill-defined underworld. The central romance is, I think, between the slick Corey and a character introduced as jailbait, so it’s nearly impossible to offer the would-be couple any sort of blessing, not to mention the fact that their chemistry is less kinetic than what happens inside a can of flat seltzer. Dialogue gets as exciting as this:
Delores: I’ll teach you everything I know. About your body. Your mind. Your soul.
Corey: I’ll do anything, as long as you teach me what i need to know
Delores: I’ll teach you. I’ll teach you everything
Quentin Tarantino, watch your hunched-from-years-behind-a-video-store-counter back. This banter is hotter than dry ice.
I did dig a graphic, if makeup effects-y face ripoff in the film’s center. If only I had any reason whatsoever to care about the victim (or anybody else in Netherworld)
As someone with thesaurus.com bookmarked, I’m impressed by Schmoeller’s ability to use about 73 different adjectives to describe “mystical” in Thornton’s journal entry
The only thing good about Michael Bendetti is that he has the kind of name you could hear a husky voiced trailer narrator reading off in a slightly menacing way
Why does a film like Netherworld feel the need for a two minute opening credits sequence when there’s nothing but a black screen to show? Even The Devil’s Rain found a few stock photos to toss under the names, giving us something to look forward to. Maybe it was the movie’s way of setting a blackened tone before we got remotely excited
The souls of bad people are stored in birds. Perhaps we should reinstall the tradition of throwing avian stomach-exploding rice at weddings once more
The neatest thing about having sex with your father’s prostitute mistress is that you’ll earn a colorful feather in your ear
Grabbing the breast of a 16 year old southern belle will summon all sorts of inner strength
Why I rented this is foggy, but the day after my email informed me of its Netflixed delivery date, I came upon the badass blogger T.L. Bugg’s (of The Lightning Bug's Lair ) spot-on review of just how awful Netherworld was. With a heavy sigh and a hearty serving of pumpkin ale, I soon learned no amount of seasonal beer could make it better. And worst of all, Netherworld isn’t your so-bad-it’s-good Fear of Clowns or campily weird Demonic Toys. It’s just a bad, lazy, and dull 87 minutes that has no right to be seen, much less made by a director capable of so much more. When your best performances involves a filmmaker cameo demonstrating a neat party trick and an animatronic parrot on loan from Disneyland’s Enchanted TIki Room, you know your film needs a good old fashioned burial.