Saturday, March 01, 2014

The Horror Of...Netherbeast Incorporated

Well, it looks like sickness is putting me behind on getting to my horror. But with what last...two weeks back Friday was...Wait? How many weeks? ...Oh, well.

Still, I am not to heartbroken to fail to get this next movie presented to you sooner. I had thought of it as a romance of sorts, with a horror thread to it. But in looking at it, the romance aspect isn't as strong. It is there, but it's a b-plot. ...Maybe that's too strong. What it isn't a Twilight or Love at First Bite, okay?

Yet it is a film you likely don't know. Blood. Cubicles. Limbs. Paperwork. Stakes. Productivity Consults. Magic rocks. President Garfield.

Oh yeah. It's time to invest in...

Netherbeast Incorporated

The story of this movie begins back in 2004. That year Ronald Brothers Films (Dean Matthew Ronalds and Brian Ronlads) produced a short that was shown at AFI/Dallas Film Festival. It was written by Bruce Dellis.

The Netherbeast of Berm-Tech Industries, Inc.

It's the story of a manager at a tech firm that claims to have learned that there is a vampire at the firm. We follow a worker, played by Brian Ronalds, who comes in to find a staked coworker and a boss who seems relatively nonplussed at doing the staking. (The boss is played by Bob Rue who returns in the feature film in another role. Brian Ronalds also returns in the feature film in another role.)

It's a nice bit of dark humor and horror. So it's easy to see why the short film struck a nerve with viewers.

So, in 2007, we got a longer film from the short...

As you can see in this trailer they more or less play out the key part of the short. And that makes sense, people hearing about the movie will likely learn of the short, and see it. No reason to be coy.

It also reflects the quirky and "independent" nature of this movie. Not to worry, I know nothing about film, so I'm thoroughly abusing the word independent. But when I see trailers that start showing me clips with music playing over it and text, I get tetchy. Luckily I saw the movie first, and loved it. So hopefully I've learned a lesson.

The trailer lays out the basics as we should know. We are dealing with vampires who are trying to live a normal existence. Cubical denizens. Wage slaves. But how will that balance out over a feature movie?

Pretty well.

Particularly with an interesting cast to entertain the audience.

For a small movie, we are offered a cast with some actors we hopefully all recognize.

We get Darrell Hammond, who is an older alium, but a long loved one, of Saturday Night Live. There he was able to shine slipping into caricatures of famous people, like his on point Chris Matthews and Bill Clinton. He's brilliant at his craft.

In this movie, he's Turner Claymore. This is the chief executive at Berm-Tech, the company at the center of the movie. As with the character in the short, he starts the movie having killed the character of Mike, who he says is a vampire.

We can talk more about the plot later, but in the movie he is actually a vampire as well (which is a twist on where the short went). The trouble is that he seems to have started suffering from a form of vampiric Alzheimer. So he seems to have suddenly lost track of the fact he's a vampire, and supposed to be protecting his employees/kindred beings.

Hammond plays this role quite well. He doesn't often get to create his own character. But here he's created a classic boss. Full of speeches, analogies, and zeal to get the job done. He's been brilliant at his job for over a century, but now he's slipping. Hammond's take has him go into a conversation than start slipping off lost in thought or confusion.

We also have Steve Burns in the movie. It was never my show (though I knew well enough of it), but he was the star of Blues Clues. (He's the one that wasn't an animated dog.) He's moved on from that life.

He's playing Otto Granberry. Otto is our protagonist for the film. He's very much an average joe, low key, ready to chat or joke, and optimistic about the job.

He really comes off as a guy you'd expect to find over your cubical wall at work. It's quite easy to sympathize with his situation in the film (even if he's a vampire. Hey! He doesn't sparkle!).

He helps sell the idea that the vampires of the film are overall quite normal beings. Though I can't fail to notice that they make an effort to never show Otto drinking blood or eating flesh. At most you see a redish cocktail sitting in front of him at dinner. I guess they decided it would be harder to sympathize with his story if he was being too much his vampy self.

"So you're saying I won't get to meet Scott Thomas?"
I of the top managers at the company is played by Dave Foley. He's someone that I hope you know from Kids in the Halls, or NewsRadio. (Okay, he was in Vampire Sucks. But too many comedy talents have popped in those dreadful parody movies.)

He's playing Harry Welby. He's the third most senior manager, but he's always walking around in a short sleeve shirt and a mug of...something. So between that and being in an office setting, Dave Foley is really in a comfort zone for acting (He just doesn't get to play a woman in the film. Or get beset by Andy Dick and Joe Rogan. So it balances out.).

He's a good friend with Otto, both relying on the other. He seems to be a bit softhearted, and as they deal with Turner's mental decay is trying to find a way to not just remove him.

Also in the movie we have Robyn Allen. Unfortunately she doesn't have many movie or TV roles to her name. It's odd as she feels familiar. It's also sad as I do enjoy her work in this movie.

She's playing Rebecca Sibley, the manger directly under Turner. She really feels like the most competent person at Berm-Tech. Granted, we aren't seeing Turner at his best in the movie.

Rebecca is interesting. She's a former gangster moll, who was originally killed in a gun fight. Then she got her second life and rose to near the top of the corporate food chain.

From the short, we get Bob Rue. Here he's playing another of the managers. He's a little stiff and formal, feeling very much like a corporate suit trying to connect with the workers. I feel like I've known a number of executives like him.

There's also Robert Wagner. Yeah, he's also in this movie. He's playing President James Garfield. Yeah, that one.

We can get more into that later.

On the more human side of the story, we have Amy Davidson.

She's playing Pearl Stricklett. When Mike "died", Turner made the decision to go ahead and just hire, without telling anyone, an outsider. And that's an awkward situation for a building full of vampires that are avoiding any attention.

She's played as being a very sweet and earnest person pleased to have the job. We can all relate.

She gets put with Otto early on, as he's the top expert on their company's systems, and can get her prepped to work.

They need to get rid of her, but have to keep her on for so many days, due to company policy. Everything comes back to the business. Then she shows some interest in Otto, which is a problem. It's not a matter of interoffice fraternization,  the company is quite open to that. They just don't allow ties to the outside.

They gave her some odd qualities. Like the fact she once got engaged to a ventriloquist when she was young and then got dumped. Did you know ventriloquist have groupies? (I'd joke about hating Jeff Dunham more, but...I already really don't care for him.)

Then we have Judd Nelson. Breakfast Club. St. Elmo's FireCabin by the LakeNew Jack City.Suddenly SusanTransformers: The Movie.

He's playing Steven Landry, a productivity consultant. He was called in my Turner, in his addled state, to look at ways to make the company more efficient.

He's another human meddling in the vampire's world. And he might suggest that some of them get fired to. He comes off as the disarming sort that would get sent into your office to slim it down.

The rest of the cast is made up of other interesting actors that help give the movie further character. This includes Jason Mewes, of the Kevin Smith oeuvre, playing Waxy Dan. Also, Cathy Rankin as Jewel Hightower, who mans and watches the offices front doors. She makes for an enjoyable and interesting part of the vampire community.

As I mentioned, the movie opens much like the short and takes up through that scene. Otto comes in an discovers that Mike is no longer living

Yeah. If people keep making  Office Space jokes, this is bound to happen.
Worse, Turner seems to be ignoring the matter , and talking on the phone casually. It really creates a sense that Turner has snapped and murdered someone. Granted, he has just done that.

But he casually explains that he'd worked out that Mike was a vampire, and decided to take care of him.

This leads Otto to head out to his coworkers, and give them the bad news. Also he suggests they not let Turner see them eating body parts and drinking blood.

And this is why we aren't allowed to eat at our desks anymore.
"..and why do we own CGI fire?"
And this is where the short ended. But in the movie, Turner has Otto help him take Mike to the office incinerator. And while they incinerate, Turner wonders why they have one big enough to burn up bodies.

Obviously, for this lot that could be useful.

As the movie continues we are, at times, offered up a slideshow, given by Otto, to explain certain aspects of what company is and why they are all together.

Otto makes the point that they aren't monsters, or Hollywood vampires. Yes, they drink blood...and need to eat the bodies of dead humans...but they aren't caricatures, damn it.

They also have for centuries tried to call themselves Netherfolk, hating to be called vampires. Though once upon a time the term that was used by humans was Netherbeasts. Hence the title of the movie.

But Otto does admit that they don't really like garlic. It seems some forms of garlic are actually toxic to them. And by toxic I mean that they start sweating, steaming, bleeding, and...then they just explode...

"...On the plus side, he won't have to deal with garlic breathe..."
They also don't actually love sunlight. They can go out in it, but it hurts them. For a long while they would try to cheat the problem with big hats and long coats. ...But that only lead to them learning about just what the sun does to them. Osteoporosis to the EXTREME!

As a result, management tries to limit the amount of time any of them spends outside.

Now what makes them what they are is an oddity of their biology. They were all born with an extra gland. When they met an unnatural death (killed, accident, etc.) they pop back up again.

If the gland is working, and they eat flesh, they can go on living for quite a long time. Though their regenerative abilities have limits in how much it can fix, and it all requires their hearts to be intact.

Simple enough, almost scientific. But for the gland to work, they need something to activate it. Netherstone. It's an unknown rock that they've apparently had access to since one of the kingdoms of Egypt.

If they stay close enough to some of the stone, they get the benefits of their biology. But if they are away from the stone, or cut off, it's bad news for their existence.

Hence, why they all stay in a company together. They long ago amassed a store of the stones, and having it secure in the building keeps them going, and the stones safe.

And now we have the rules of these...Netherfolks existence.

Going back to President Garfield, he was one of the Netherfolk. During his time, a plan was formed.

When Garfield was almost assassinated, he was revealed to his human staff to not be so human. He would not be allowed to continue.

Alexander Graham had been called in beforehand to help. (And this is actual history here.) He had invented a metal detector, and was going to use it to find the assassin's bullet in Garfield. The trouble is that Garfield was lying on a steel coiled bed. The metal detector couldn't work. (And that helped lead to the actual death of an American president, along with surgeons working on the president who refused to wash their hands.)

Knowing his time was ending, Garfield asked Bell to help him and his people. Bell agreed.

So they stored the stones together, and Bell formed a subsidiary of his new Bell phone company. Berm-Tech. And from there, they bounced around the country, trying to avoid discovery. They finally ended up in Arizona. (Coincidentally, that is where they actually filmed the movie. What luck,)

And they set up a nice system. This collective of Netherfolk all have access to the stone power, so they can live safely. They have some anonymity to live in peace. And they have a system long set up to bring in fresh bodies and blood to feast on. No one has to get hurt. They don't have to hunt or scavenge.

"Bob? Do you ever wonder why we deliver bodies to the telephone company? "Ned. They don't pay me enough to
wonder about that."

It's very nice and comfortable.

Then Turner had to loose it.

And suddenly, they are dealing with outsiders. They had a nice system to limit contact and access. But now they have to deal with a disturbed leader and two "first lifers".

Strangers seeing how how they are. Seeing how they might not seem to fit in to a modern world.

As it is, they have TV and movies. And they go outside at times. But they don't socialize with humans. They are insular. They've grown comfortable being out of time.

From a guy in love with the 80's (and not Brad Jones) to a man that loves mimicking Elton John. They start looking odd to Otto, thanks to having to see them though the eyes of an outsider. I mean, one of the managers bought a dog so it could be killed and taxidermied.

That's not to say that Otto is revolted by them. He's not one of those vampires...Netherfolk that opines for being human again. He's happy with his life. He just sees that they all do stand out, and that's risky.

Heck, Jewel has trouble. She knows that Pearl is a perfectly nice person. But she is terrified about having to talk with her. She hasn't had to talk with a living women for decades. She doesn't really remember what it was like, or how modern women are. It scares her that she can't pull off seeming human.

But they are stuck with the situation. Humans are coming. So they start putting up the act. Out goes the water coolers of blood and the vending machines of tasty vitals.

And they even have to start making some food actually meant for human consumption. (And not the consumption of humans! ...Huh?! ...I thought that was funny.)

Wow. Those European regulations are getting strict.
But things can't go smooth, can they?

Eventually, it has to get out. Pearl will see her boss nibbling on someone's a light snack. Then what will she do?

"Stop judging me!"

How will she handle it?!

But we've seen things like this before, right?

Like I said, her discovery and interest in Otto is not the center of the movie. So, it's not all that is happening. Netherfolk start disappearing. One by one, workers are vanishing. Are they leaving? But to where then? Or, is someone hunting them down? But who? Has someone turned on them?

...Other than Turner.

So we have a mystery.

"Case closed. It was you who's been using the computers
to look up porn during business hours."
And soon a conspiracy against the company, and the Netherfolk community. It could mean death to all.

And the movie, I think, does a good job of showing people in half heard conversations, and off screen when bad things happen. It helps create uncertainty about who we should see as trustworthy, or safe. Who is plotting? Who is on the side of the...Netherfolk, I guess.

It won't be until the end that we see what it's all about...though it makes sense it ties back to those magic stones.

Everything that makes a Netherbeast what it is.

Overall I know this movie is not for everyone. The humor will either connect with you as the movie proceeds, or it will loose you. At times the humor is dry. At other times it goes a but juvenile. For me, the drier humor works better.

But the movie has heart. They take the idea of putting vampires into the constraints of an office environment, and have fun with it. It also holds onto a macabre sensibility. It takes time to give you moments of the Nethfolk having gruesome ends, and blood will tun. But the balance works well for me.

We do get a sense that the Netherfolk have worked to settle into a peaceful existence. And it is clearly implied in comments and ancient drawing that the Netherfolk were once hunting and eating humans. And in meeting humans they often have a way of viewing them as a finished dish of food. They are predators, but most of them are willing to trade being that for guaranteed comfort. And is that the corporate dream?

I hope you will seek this movie out and give it a chance.

The movie is thankfully available from a few sources. Most of note, there is a DVD on the market! (That's nice it's a pain to find some of the horror movies I want to cover.) So I hope, if you are interested you will check out the DVD.

Of course, if you'd like peruse the movie now...

As well, a number of the Behind the Scenes docs are online. Check them out to learn more about the movie, production, crew, and cast.

Behind the Scenes videos:

So please check out the movie. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have, and then share it.

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