James Bickert’s DEAR GOD NO! is not fun for the whole family, it’s not the feel-good movie of the year, nor is it a movie to enjoy on date night. In fact, unless you’re a member of the coveted 18-34-year-old demographic, male and in the presence of others who are likewise members of the marketers’ Holy Grail, it’s safest to watch DEAR GOD NO! alone. However, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a sucker for Budweiser commercials or you can’t resist the exciting ads for Metamucil, you’ll enjoy this flick provided you appreciate the long and storied history of the cinematically strange.
An outlaw biker gang, The Impalers (their patches recall the impaled woman in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST), go about raping and murdering the way the rest of us go to the park and toss the Frisbee around. It’s worth noting here that the first scene depicts one of The Impalers kicking a dead nun in the crotch, representing the rest of this meal in one single bite. Eventually the gang ends up at a strip club where they have a shootout with a rival biker gang. This involves several weapons, multiple sets of bare breasts, and lots of Karo Syrup and red food coloring.
Our surviving bikers, including Jett (Jett Bryant) and Randal (Shane Morton) retreat to an isolated cabin in northern Georgia, ostensibly an easy mark for a home invasion. Once inside, they encounter the venerable mad scientist, Dr. Marco (Paul McComiskey), his lovely wife Evelyn (Olivia LaCroix), and their odd daughter (?) Edna (Madeline Brumby). What begins as more of the same – rape, violence, sex and drugs, quickly turns into more than The Impalers had bargained for when some of the good doctor’s basement experiments are revealed.
Now, Horror Fans, I’m about to do more for the trend of attaching the ‘sploitation suffix to every word in the English language than has any other genre journalist, ever. So, exactly what is DEAR GOD NO!? Bickert’s mad movie is a ridiculous synthesis of just about every exploitation archetype I can think of and, yet, somehow it works. The list of grindhouse-era tropes includes Bikersploitation, Nunsploitation, Madscientistsploitation, Bigfootsploitation, a hint of Nazisploitation, all wrapped up in a little Strippersploitation bow.
The best way to describe Bickert’s envelope-pushing ode to sleaze is that it’s pure Super 16mm sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll for bad people and serious cinephiles. Other than incredibly uncomfortable levels of misogyny and rape – unfortunate aspects of many notorious exploitation flicks — the movie is a blast in all the ways one can expect. It’s hilarious, disturbing, and exhilarating in a constant loop. While films like these are difficult to analyze in conventional terms, the effectiveness of DEAR GOD NO! is undeniable. You know it when you experience it. It’s viscerally gratifying (and get your minds out of the gutter).
How can I enjoy a movie that gleefully portrays deplorable acts such as rape, you ask? Well, first of all, artists should always be allowed to make offensive art, not matter what. This is something I suspect most of you agree with. Topic and Tone are two facets of art, not disqualifications. Genres provide expectations by way of each genre’s respective rules. Obviously, exploitation movies are enjoyable for reasons that do not include beneficent morality and positive representations of civil society. In other words, one must understand the context and the intent of depicting heinous acts. And besides, the perpetrators get their just deserts, and before you even run out of popcorn.
Given the tone and aesthetic DEAR GOD NO! aspires to represent, most of its “flaws” are purposeful choices and function as “meta-homage”. The ultra-violent, over the top, projectile nature of the movie’s gore FX is both charming (to people like us) and entertaining. And the mock-poor production values are legitimately funny rather than condescending like they are in some of this movie’s larger-budgeted peers.
Moreover, the cast is surprisingly, consistently good. The weird style of acting this movie surely required from its actors is executed so well that I’m compelled to ponder whether or not their performances are strokes of genius or just accidental. In the end, it doesn’t matter; the surreal performances of this cast are exactly what are required by this strange movie. Musician-turned-actor Jett Bryant as Jett the mountain-man leader of The Impalers is one of the film’s real strengths, as is Madeline Brumby’s performance of closet freak, Edna.
Hands down, one of the very best elements of this movie is the music. It’s absolutely lights out, showcasing a variety of new Stoner Rock and all of it jams. And within the context of the movie, it loudly reinforces the aesthetic Bickert’s aiming for. In fact, he seems to use the tunes on more than one occasion to pad his running time with lengthy striptease sequences. But with music this good, it’s difficult to complain about that.
Exploitation flicks have always been considered bad movies by classic standards. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy them, I’m just saying that they’ve always been considered terrible, and that’s part of their charm. However, through the soft-focus lens of retrospection, a significant group of filmmakers has been making new exploitation flicks fueled by their reverence for what’s essentially considered inspirational trash. Over the last five years we’ve been gifted with a bevy of homagesploitation flicks — GRINDHOUSE, MACHETE, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, and DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK, to name a few. These have been made by A-listers such as Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, as well as by indie hotshots like Jason Eisener and the Twisted Twins – Jen and Sylvia Soska.
But James Bickert’s DEAR GOD NO! manages to feel distinct among its exploitation-renaissance peers. He’s managed to achieve a peculiar thing with his valentine to vile cinema. He’s made a very busy exploitation mash up, but one that functions as a cohesive story and without the overt irony or genre deconstruction that renders some similar movies into long and ponderous in-jokes. There are several elements of homage here, but few that function only as such. DEAR GOD NO! has gone down the rabbit hole of modern exploitation in earnest, and the result is a successfully entertaining and bizarrely offensive trip through cinema’s sleaziest style.