[CFF Review] 'Killer Queen' is a Grainy Descent into Madness that Calls Back to the Days of Grindhouse Cinema at the Drive-In
If you’ve ever been a fan of the legendary and now often controversial Drive-In cowboy and horror film critic extraordinaire, Joe Bob Briggs, then you’ve probably heard the phrase “the Drive-In will never die..."
...And it’s true. For as long as there are fans like you and me, and filmmakers like Canadian director Ramin Fahrenheit, making his feature debut with Killer Queen, which just played at the Chattanooga Film Fest this past weekend, the Drive-In will live on.
As this goddamn pandemic rolls on and the very fabric of America unravels, glimmers of light have shined through the dark cracks in America’s soil. One of those is the fact that Drive-In theaters have become popular once again. Horror fans desperate for the theatrical experience and unable to crowd into soulless, sticky-floored cinemas have found a warm, welcoming home at Drive-Ins, where they can watch films in safety from their own car, accompanied by the fresh smell of the Spring air and whatever mind-altering drug they’ve chosen to accompany them. It’s an experience that has caused films like witchy scare-fest The Wretched to explode in popularity, and a place that Fahrenheit’s Killer Queen would be right at home in.
A DIY feature that harkens back to the grimy, roll up your sleeve and get dirty days of cinema, Killer Queen, as described on IMDB, sounds pretty simple: “Girl meets Boy, does drugs and kills.” Not exactly going to hook you, but that’s accurate. And really, what more do us grindhouse fans really need?
Killer Queen follows our unnamed Girl (Fatima Maziani), a troubled woman whose reality is slipping day by day and filled with visions of murder that she (and we as the audience) aren’t all that certain are real. She does meet Boy (Ramin Fahrenheit). They do indeed do drugs. And it isn’t long before Girl actually does begin to kill, in savage, bloody fashion.
In a lot of ways, Killer Queen reminded me of John McNaughton’s unforgettable descent into madness, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Queen isn’t nearly as chilling, depraved, or unwatchable in certain moments, and there’s a noticeable lack of Michael Rooker. Killer Queen is the prettier but still pretty damn mean sister to Henry. Aside from the fact that they both follow the development of a killer, Queen just has the same vibe as Henry. That down and dirty, deep in the mud feel. Grain so thick you can feel it gritting between your teeth. An unblinking look at violence and insanity that most filmmakers aren’t ballsy enough to dive into.
Shot on Super 8, if I didn’t know better, I could swear Killer Queen was made in the late 80s. Like the indie heroes of grindhouse past, this is a true DIY endeavor. Fahrenheit not only wrote, directed and stars in the film, but the guy also produced, shot and edited this vicious little beast, and his passion shows throughout.
As our anti-hero Girl sinks deeper and deeper into the sort of nasty throat slitting violence that the look of the film doesn’t just suggest but requires, like some gluttoness god demanding sacrificial flesh, Fahrenheit assaults us with Girl’s state of mind. Sounds and voices warp and grow louder, piercing almost, like a constant nightmare. Edits often rip us from moments and into another without warning, keeping us off balance and feeling as frantic and confused as Girl.
Oddly enough, Maziani doesn’t portray the sort of deranged killer you’d expect, but is instead a sad, tragic figure who is doing everything she can to hang on and keep her mental state afloat, despite being trapped in a self-destructive mind distorting everything around her. We learn that she’s recently been released from a mental ward, and if anything, Killer Queen speaks to society’s utter neglect of the people who need help the most. Girl is a woman ruled by the trauma of her past, haunted by a faceless Shadow (Bruce Hayward) and the blood-thirsty need to kill. Maziani pulls us in, and then Fahrenheit doesn’t allow us to leave, allowing very little light into the film, often overwhelming the lens with darkness.
From beginning to end, we’re trapped in Girl’s nightmare with her.
Despite an applause-worthy performance from Maziani and an unrelenting, dirty style from Fahrenheit that will leave you feeling like you need a tetanus shot, Killer Queen stumbles in its inability to create a satisfying narrative. The relationship between Girl and Boy comes off as vague at best, which greatly lessens the impact of later scenes. Most unfortunate though is Fahrenheit’s inclusion of a character that sports a shamelessly fake beard and a stuffed white rabbit on his shoulder. Thankfully there’s only a couple scenes with this laughable maniac, but for a film that is so hell-bent on making us uncomfortable and without an ounce of humor, these moments yank the viewer right out of the experience and come off as amateurish in an otherwise admirable effort.
Imperfect as it is, that’s what us Drive-In fans love about movies like Killer Queen. We’re in it for the grime, the nasty, the blood, and the overall experience of unsettling madness. All of which Killer Queen delivers in spades. I don’t know that it’s the kind of film that’s going to find much of an audience in the mainstream world, but it’s exactly the sort of thing us mutants climb out of the sewers to get a taste of, and it would fit in perfectly in a double feature on Joe Bob Briggs The Last Drive-In.
Keep an eye on Fahrenheit. With his sort of obvious passion for putting tears, sweat and all of the blood he can manage into a film, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more from this modern film rebel soon.
By Matt Konopka