Two unemployed Vietnam vets spend their time abducting, raping and torturing women, training them to be their slaves until they grow tired and move on to their next victim. One of the men is married; when his wife reveals an erotic fantasy she has about a young woman she knows, they unwisely choose the girl as their next target.
Amerikan Holokaust chronicles the exploits of a couple of seriously twisted serial killers, who capture all their hideous acts on tape. That’s right – we’re back in found footage territory, a genre that has become so flooded with entries from all over the world in recent years that it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish the latest offering from the rest of the flood. So what’s new about this one?
The most immediate difference is the age of the characters. It’s no surprise that most of the victims are young, voluptuous women – but the killers are way beyond the typical age group for this kind of depravity. Michael appears to be in his 50s, while his partner in grime, Antwan, is well into his 60s and sports a fluffy white beard, glasses and flat cap. But rather than spending his days sipping prune juice surrounded by grandchildren, the opening shot of the film shows Antwan leading a woman into the room on all fours, before disrobing completely and pulling on his meatstick with eager anticipation (it’s time for his massage). Folks, meet the real Bad Grandpa.
The basic structure of found footage movies incorporates a kind of drop-the-needle-at-random system, where scenes often begin and end right in the middle of the action – or when nothing significant at all is happening. The tension (or tedium) this generates is heightened by the low-fi audiovisual quality and unstable, kinetic camera movement, which replicates the realism and clumsiness of a home movie – where, in less technologically advanced times, editing was achieved simply by stopping the camera and starting it up again the next time there was something to film. All this is nothing new, and despite (or perhaps because of) the growing number of found footage movies in release, many viewers have become turned off the genre completely.
Amerikan Holokaust bends the rules in interesting ways that detract from the overall realism yet add to the intensity. Every now and then a shot of one of the killers screaming at the camera jumps out from the ongoing action, a la Natural Born Killers. During the many confessional monologues addressed to the camera, there is also a lot of crosscutting to illustrate the character’s thoughts. Ironically, this detracts from the authenticity of the “found” footage, but adds some spark to a well-worn formula. Also somewhat unusual for a found footage film, the soundtrack offers a varied palette, as pieces of music ranging from avant-garde piano to dissonant noise (layered on top of the image rather than being part of the recorded events) shade the sadism and sleaze in different ways.
A major departure from the degrade-rape-slaughter-repeat format is the periodic inclusion of, for lack of a better term, social commentary. Rants and diatribes against the government (bureaucracy, sky-high taxes, the criminalization of prostitution), the president, the oppressions of capitalism, corporate entertainment, yuppie scum, cell phones, hair gel – these guys are seriously jaded, longing for a return to the lawlessness of the jungles of ‘Nam. They cannot be tamed.
While this half-assed commentary is shoehorned in rather conspicuously, it eventually becomes clear that these sickos are acting as the mouthpiece for a couple of guys we don’t see on camera: writer/director Chris Woods and cowriter John Miller, working with a crew that number no more than the fingers on one hand and a budget that barely cracked four digits. Woods and Miller are the creators and presenters of a no-frills internet talk show called The Sleaze Box, which focuses on the best and worst of cult and grindhouse cinema. So when the characters in Holokaust spew their bile about art and freedom – “This is my art, and no one has a right to regulate how I can express myself” – you can be sure that it all amounts to one big, angry, bloodsoaked, shit-stained, vomit-encrusted middle finger to Hollywood and the stranglehold of capitalist and commercial evils. They want you to know that there is but one true God, and he lives in a grindhouse.
So if you like grimy, homemade faux snuff where the filmmakers are trying like hell to get away with as much as they can, and rub your face in it every chance they get, your wet dream starts now. The very nasty but ultra-crude gore effects might even induce flashbacks to the benchmarks and trendsetters of the golden era of grindhouse, like Snuff (1976) or The Last House on Dead End Street (1977). Let’s face it – the image of a naked old dude jerking off with a woman’s freshly eviscerated innards (“I’m gonna make a little turtleneck for my turtle!”) is not something you see every day. Amerikan Holokaust can even be seen as an extension of a certain notorious fake snuff trilogy; in keeping with the spirit of exploitation film marketing, I can imagine an alternate title some unscrupulous foreign distributor might tag it with – August Underground: Pensioners.