• August Underground (Toetag Pictures) DVD Review

    Released by: Toetag Pictures
    Released on: September, 2005.
    Director: Fred Vogel
    Cast: Kyle Dealman, Casey Eganey, Fred Vogel, Dan Friedman, Aaron LaBonte, Ben LaBonte, Alexa Iris, Victoria Jones, Andy Lauer, Peter Mountain, Allan Peters, Steven Vogel
    Year: 2001
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    August Underground – Movie Review:

    Like a lot of people, I first heard of Fred Vogel, Toetag Pictures, and August Underground through an article in Rue Morgue Magazine. If you're curious, it was the February 2003 issue with House Of 1,000 Corpses on the cover. The article in question, written by Mike Watt, did a damn fine job of ensuring that I really never wanted to see this film. Quite simply, it sounded nasty. Well, a few years have passed and the film's reputation has begun to precede it. When A less than legal copy of the film found its way into my collection back in 2003 and I check it out - Rue Morgue was right. August Underground is a nasty film, but you know what? I'm glad I saw it after all as it's a stellar example of underground, low budget horror in its meanest, most cut-throat form.

    The premise is very simple and in fact, it's not much of a premise at all but it is partially the sheer simplicity of the 'story' that we see unfold before our eyes that makes the project so effective. When the movie starts, we see a naked woman tied to a chair, her nipple hacked off, blood and shit all over her. She's in the basement of a home, surrounded by pornographic pictures torn from men's magazines and plastered on the walls around here. Someone is holding a video camera and taping her, but they're not alone. There's another man in the room, he's the one that did this to her and the man behind the camera is his accomplice.

    We later find out that the girl's boyfriend is sitting in the next room in the bath tub, but he's no use to her now. His cock his been hacked off and he's been left as a corpse to rot in there.

    Then the two depraved souls head out to get some fresh air. They pick up a woman on a lonely back road and pay her to flash her tits and pussy at them. They later coerce her into giving the man without the camera a blowjob. She obliges, and he kills her for it. This begins their little spree, which later finds them getting into a fight at a concert, killing a couple at a convenience store, knocking down and killing an old woman, and finally picking up a pair of hookers and taking them back to their abode for the piece de resistance. Before all that, they also find the time to go get a tattoo and check out a slaughter house.

    I'm not going to give away the ending. You'll probably see it coming, but you won't get the full impact of it all until you see it for yourself.

    While Vogel would take Toetag Pictures to the next level of depravity with the follow up film, August Underground: Mordum, this earlier project is the more effective film. Mordum has better and more realistic effects but the premise behind this one is a little more frightening and a little more believable. This results in a scarier picture that really does get under your skin the same way something like Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer does.

    As the events unfold on screen before you, don't be surprised if you start questioning your reasoning for watching something like this. It is, at times, an exercise in brutality that sometimes comes across as nothing more than an atrocity exhibition - shock for the sake of shock. But there is a layer to the movie that makes it all the more stressful and difficult to endure. The reality of it all is that there is absolutely nothing in this movie that could not happen in real life to you, me, or your mom.

    I won't be so presumptuous as to claim that the filmmaker's had that thought in mind while they were devising the prosthetic sliced nipple effect or the missing cock corpse. Let it be said, however, that it is something that kept coming to the forefront of my mind as the film played out while I sat in my pajamas, all comfortable on my couch while drinking beer and eating candy. The irony, or more aptly, sheer fucking weirdness of the situation I realized I was in at that point was not lost on me. It did make me question my morals, my standards and even my own sanity to a lesser extent. Being a well-grounded and compassionate human being even at the worst of times, why was I watching this? How could I sit there and scarf back Wild Cherry Pepsi and Mike & Ike's, while watching a man fuck a hooker from behind while beating in her head with the ball of a hammer?

    In the end though, I rationalized it the same way I rationalize my appreciation for the Guinea Pig films or my love for Waterpower - it's only a movie. Wes Craven taught us to keep repeating that and it's a valuable lesson that comes in handy any time you want to distance yourself from the reality of the fact that you and I, as horror movie fans, watch some fucked up shit.

    The direction is simple. The performances are basic but effective and fairly well grounded in the reality of the human condition. The gore effects are well executed and freakish in their originality and creativity, and the mixture of raw sexuality with primal and hard violence is an ugly combination. But as a film that plays out as a 'found' tape, something you might find in an alleyway or dumpster and take home to check out for the sake of curiosity alone, August Underground is very well made.

    Previously issued only as a very limited VHS release, this two disc set, originally released in 2005, marked the first official DVD release of the movie.

    August Underground – DVD Review:

    How do you give a fair evaluation to something that is supposed to look like crap? Let's face it, this movie is honestly supposed to look like an Nth generation VHS tape because that's how snuff footage probably would look if you were to ever come across any of it. The colors are all over the place, there's pixelation throughout the feature, the black levels vary from true black to an ugly gray and the reds bleed all over the place but you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way. August Underground should look like this. It should be ugly and looking like it came from a very dubious source indeed. The fine detail is pretty much lost as this material was shot on MiniDV but that gives the effects a more realistic look (if you watch some of the behind the scenes footage where things are seen with a little more clarity you'll notice that the gore effects don't look as realistic whereas here the video tricks you into not knowing any better).

    The audio for the feature is on par with the video in that it is definitely intentionally degraded to replicate the feel of a found video cassette shot under the conditions portrayed in the film. That being said, you can understand everything that everyone is saying just fine and without any problems, even if there are numerous instances of uncomfortable levels popping up in the read and a certain unevenness to the mix. It works, and it fits the tone of the movie nicely.

    Toetag has absolutely packed this two disc set with extra features and as such, they've had to spread it all across two DVDs.


    The main features on this disc come in the form of three commentary tracks. Let's take a look...

    The first track is a director's commentary with Fred Vogel. He gives us some pretty solid background information on where the idea for the film came from, why they went as far as they did with the project, how they worked within the confines of their small budget and what it was like working with some of the actors. There is some dead air here and there and Vogel does have a tendency both on the commentary tracks and in the video featurettes to 'umm' and 'you know' a lot, but that doesn't really diminish the value of having the opportunity to hear all from his side of the camera.

    The second commentary track is Vogel again, this time joined by Aaron LaBonte and Ben Labonte both of whom appear in the film and who worked as producers and as effects technicians. This second track is a little more lively and while it does have a bit of cross over with the first commentary, the two LaBonte's add a different dynamic to the discussion and because of that there is quite a bit of new information to be gleamed from this track. This time out they cover things from a producers side and also go into some detail on the effects work, as well as what it was like working on the film in front of the camera and taking direction from Vogel.

    The third and final commentary track is exclusive to the Snuff Edition of the DVD. For those not in the know on these types of things, Toetag has issued two different releases of August Underground on DVD - the Regular Edition, and the Snuff Edition. The differences between the two are the cover art, the fact that the Snuff Edition comes autographed by someone involved with the production (Vogel signed my copy, not sure if he did all of them or not) and this third commentary track from 'The Killer.' This is an interesting and morbidly humorous touch - the premise behind it is that the killer from the film finds a woman watching one of his films which just happens to be the main feature we just sat through. As he makes her his next victim, he relives some of his memories from the exploits that were captured on the video tape she is watching with him. Is it technical or fact filled? Nope, not at all, but it adds a different dimension to the usual commentary track and if you were into the movie, you'll want to spend the time with this one for sure as it's more of the same albeit with a slightly humorous tinge.

    Aside from the three commentary tracks, there's also a trailer for the feature.


    The second disc, before you get to the menu, starts off with a brief introduction from Vogel. From there we jump into Hammer To The Head: A Closer Look At August Underground. This featurette is over an hour in length and it examines the making of the film from the perspective of many of the principal people involved in the production. Vogel starts off talking about how real life serial killers influenced the film and how he wanted to portray the real life brutality of their actions in his film. He gives us some background on why the film is as harsh as it is, how he tried to show their lives both with the knife in hand and without, out there having a good time like normal people do, going to concerts, etc.. Vogel also admits that yes, part of him is in the character you see up there on screen, and how it still puts him off a bit whenever he sees the movie. He also goes into detail about the budget (it was shot for under two thousand dollars) and some of the casting decisions and production details.

    From here the featurette is chopped into two parts, the first of which is August Underground: On Location. In this half of the featurette, Vogel takes us back to the house that was used as the main set on the film. From there we're hit with a bunch of clips and stills from the film. We also get to check out the store that was used as well as a few other spots where the crew shot as Vogel fills us in on details such as where some of the bit part players came from and how they ended up in the movie. This segues into the next section which is entitled August Underground: Behind The Brutality. In this portion, we're treated to interviews with a lot of the effects technicians who worked on the film as well as a couple of the actors who were subjected to the trials and tribulations of having latex applications put on them, gore make up, etc..

    The next documentary is called August Underground: An Outsider's Perspective. Shelby Jackson discusses how she was hired to take still shots for Rue Morgue to use in their article on the film, and she discusses her initial apprehension with the project but how the sheer realism of it all impressed her. Crusty Whiles, who works as the Toetag art director is up next, she talks about how she hooked up with Vogel and company and how they got her on board to do some design work, which lead to her seeing the movie. Following Crusty is an interview with Tony Simonelli from Xploited Cinema! He explains how he met Vogel at a panel where Roger Watkins from Last House On Dead End Street was speaking. From there he got a tape of August Underground and the follow up film, Mordum and the effect that they had on him. Killjoy, lead grunter/singer from Necrophagia (may he rest in peace) gives his take on the film next, he too discusses how it had such an impact on him.

    Nick Palumba who directed Murder Set Pieces talks about how Rod Guidano of Rue Morgue introduced him to the film and how it in turn made him flip his lid. Billy Hellfire of Duck! and Andy Kopp of Mutilation Man fame both discuss how they found the film and their initial impressions of it all, Kopp freely admitting that he didn't want to like the film at all but how he came around to appreciate it and now likens it to the work of Jack Ketchum. Art Ettinger of Ultra Violent Magazine is next, and he follows suit by explaining his introduction to the film and how he appreciated the technical brutality of it all. A few other people give their thoughts on the film as well, notably Alana Sleeth of Ultra Violent Magazine and August Underground Mordum, Mike Watt of Film Threat, Amy Lynn Best of Happy Cloud Pictures, Jovanka Vuckovic of Rue Morgue Magazine who tells how a tape of the film showed up at the office with no label on it and how she was pretty taken aback by it.

    Ed Long and Damien Gloneck of Living Dead Dolls, Gerry Chandler of Synapse Films, Joe Knetter of Splatbooks, Ken Kish of Cinema Wasteland, Andy Gore of Satan's Sideshow (who likens it to seeing an H.G. Lewis film for the first time), some guy named Rob Steinbruegge (who is apparently Rod The Superfan), Bryan Truex of B-Headed.com, and the director of the documentary round the interviewees. Once the end credits roll on this hour and forty minute beast, keep watching for a nice little grisly surprise.

    While the content of both documentaries is quite good and about as exhaustive as one could really hope for, the editing could have been better and hopefully next time out they'll think to be more creative with their shot set ups and their locations for the interviews as the talking head stuff gets old after a while. A minor complaint, but as a reviewer isn't that what I'm supposed to do? Complain about minor things? I thought so.

    Rounding out the extra features on the second disc are a slideshow, featuring a ton of images from the film including many behind the scenes shots, and an Easter Egg that shows an August Underground tattoo being given to a guy in a Danzig shirt - the results are pretty damn impressive, the artist, Danny Dice, did a nice job. A second Easter Egg reveals a trailer for Murder Set Pieces.

    August Underground - The Final Word:

    Well, say what you will about the movie, there's no denying that August Underground very definitely accomplishes what the filmmakers intended to accomplish when they started the project. This is a grisly, nasty bitch of a film and it doesn't hold anything back. At times it's too realistic to be really enjoyable, that is a back handed compliment in that there's an unnerving authenticity to the whole thing that makes it an ugly and vicious experience that you won't soon forget. Toetag have stacked this DVD release with a ton of extra features that add a lot to the release and if you're a fan of the film, don't hesitate to pick this up despite the high price tag as there's a lot of added value packed into this set.