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There’s a fine art to making a “good” bad film, almost a recipe, if you will. You need to begin with tons of energy: lack-luster, anemic B-movies are more commonly known as “terrible films” and you’ll very rarely find any cults dedicated to them. You need a really crazy idea, something that you just wouldn’t find in a movie with more…I dunno…taste? If you’re Troma, you might do something like zombie chickens at a fried chicken place that turn people into other zombies…or you could get really weird. Perhaps this is just me but a “good” bad film really needs to be stuffed to burstin’ with outrageously bad taste: the more offensive, the merrier. Troma, again, seems to get this right more often than not, although there’s still only so many squished heads, dead baby jokes and vomit that one person can take. Another great way to make a “good” bad film is to fill it with songs. Nothing helps a rough film go down a little easier than a few choice, hilarious, original songs. I’m probably in the minority of people who actually liked Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008) in toto but I like to think that almost anyone could have found at least a song or two to hum on their way out of the theater.

There are all kinds of ways to make a bad film “good” but there’s one common thread to all of them: despite how craptacular the film ends up being, there has to be at least one (preferably more but let’s be generous) aspect to it that is genuinely enjoyable. Otherwise, you’re just left with an amateurish, silly, disposable production, rather than the bad films that become truly legendary, like Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) or Troll 2 (1990). When a bad film is really fun, energetic and batshit crazy, it can be the best movie-watching experience ever. When a bad movie, especially one that sets out to be quirky and batshit crazy, fails, however, we’re brought back to the sobering reality that it’s a very fine line between stupid and clever (thanks Tap!). The Moleman of Belmont Avenue (2013), despite its best intentions, is a pretty awful film…and not in the “good” way, either.

The Mugg brothers, Marion and Jarmon (co-writers/directors Mike Bradecich and John LaFlamboy), are landlords who could, most charitably, be described as slumlords. Their building has no heat or gas, very few tenants and precious little hope of new ones. This might have to with the fact that the Muggs are complete idiots, but it could also have something to do with the murderous Mole Man (Justin DiGiacomo), who has turned the remaining residents’ pets into his personal buffet line. These residents are…well…let’s just say they don’t do much to class up the joint. We have aging lothario Hezekiah Confab (Robert Englund), doddering old lady Mrs. Habershackle (Mary Seibel), a bunch of idiotic, interchangeable stoners, a reclusive hermit named Dave (David Pasquesi) and a dominatrix named Eliza (X-Zanthia). None of these are particularly interesting characters and Eliza seems to exist solely to walk around topless: were this a truly transgressive film, they would have had ol’ Mrs. Habershackle and the “girls” but this opportunity, alas, is a wasted one.

In short order, Marion and Jarmon are on the trail of the Mole Man: at first, they hope to stop it but, later, seem to be happy just to placate it. When the apartment building runs out of pets, however, the Muggs have to head out for replacements. When that doesn’t work, they decide to pick up a drifter (Police Academy’s Tim Kazurinsky) and see if the Mole Man will accept some delivery. When that doesn’t work, it’s time to suit-up, head into the basement and go mano-a-mano with the mysterious, blood-thirsty and pet-hungry monster. Better grab your super-shovels: shit’s about to get average.

It’s hard to really put a finger on what worked the least for me in Mike Bradecich and John LaFlamboy’s debut feature but right near the top of the list would definitely have to be the two writers/directors/lead actors. To put it bluntly, the two have no chemistry together whatsoever, which is pretty much items 1-5 on the attributes list for best buddies in schlock films. It’s hard to buy that these two were ever really friends, let alone actual brothers, which requires more constant suspension of disbelief than the film warrants. It’s kind of like the shields in old Star Trek episodes: the more energy expended trying to protect the ship from asteroids, the more vulnerable the ship becomes, in the long run. You waste so much energy trying to convince yourself that Bradecich and LaFlamboy “work” as a comic duo that there’s no energy left for deflecting things like the bad acting, Poverty-Row production values or staggeringly unfunny comic scenarios. For Pete’s sake, this is a film that attempts (and “attempts” should never indicate “achieves”) to posit that listening to Robert Englund make disgusting sex talk is hi-lar-eye-ous simply because he was Freddy Krueger. Poor Englund has acted in so many non-Nightmare on Elm Street-related productions in the last couple decades that I’m pretty sure most actual genre fanatics (the exact audience I would assume this is pitched at…what “normal” people would care about a goofy, ultra-low budget horror-comedy?) don’t automatically assume he’s playing Freddy whenever he’s on-screen but, hey…maybe they do and I’m the weirdo…who knows?

Another massive problem with the film is that, for a comedy, The Moleman of Belmont Avenue is startlingly unfunny. I have a pretty broad, fairly tasteless sense of humor (those aforementioned dead baby jokes? I laughed at most of ’em) but there were still only two points in the entire film that made me actually laugh out loud. The scene where Marion keeps dropping things on Jarmon, culminating in Jarmon getting hit in the crotch with a lantern, is a complete winner and the most effortlessly funny thing in the film. It’s stupid humor, to be sure, but it works great, proving that there’s no comedy stand-by quite like the old “kicked in the nuts” gag. The second genuinely funny moment comes in the scene where the Muggs go to get Mole man-fighting gear and wind up with “super shovels.” This bit was smart and pays off in another nice gag later on (so three funny moments, if you want to be technical). Other than that, the movie is a veritable wasteland of silly mugging, pratfalls, idiotic montages (filmmakers mocking the traditional “suiting-up” scenes in horror/action films have started to become as ubiquitous as those damned “bullet-time” scenes were after The Matrix blew up) and toothless attempts to be “edgy.” As far as “edgy” goes, we get a pair of truly obnoxious cops, a dominatrix neighbor who walks around topless and a gag involving a box of kittens that gets left in the trunk of a car for too long. Compared to something truly transgressive, The Moleman of Belmont Avenue is about as in-your-face as a white-bread-and-mayo sandwich with a side of sawdust.

If it means anything, the cast all seem to be having a pretty good time (or they fake it well), so Bradecich and LaFlamboy must be pretty okay guys. As such, I feel a little bad for savaging their film: after all, is it really as bad as something like The Last Rites of Ransom Pride (2010)? You know, in its own way, The Moleman of Belmont Avenue is as bad as The Last Rites of Ransom Pride. Maybe it’s not as weirdly tone-deaf as that bizarro-world “Western” but it’s just as lifeless, sloppy and brainlessly kinetic. The Moleman of Belmont Avenue reminds me of that one drunk guy who always tries to tell you a joke at a party: he’s loud, he’s sloppy, he’s belching stale beer into your face and spitting all over your eyelids whenever he talks. It takes him a good 10-15 minutes to get the joke out, mostly because he keeps forgetting elements and going back to add them. Finally, he gets to the very end…and forgets the punchline. At this point, you could wait patiently for the whole mess to play itself out again (even though you’ve already heard this knock-knock joke a hundred times) or you could just fake a laugh and vanish backwards into the crowd. If you need me, I’ll be over by the door, trying to avoid that damn drunk guy.