Eldritch, USA wears its miniscule budget and make-shift mentality with a gleeful pride over the course of its 108 minutes. Its limitations are obvious, but there’s a certain scrappy charm to it all that you can’t help but be a little taken by its ambition and camp B-movie mindset; there’s a certain Little Shop of Horrors-ness to it all.
A musical-horror-comedy hybrid from the H.P Lovecraft-obsessed mind of Ryan Smith, Eldritch, USA enjoys its own ridiculousness as it sets up the eternal sibling rivalry between the sweetly-inclined Geoff (Graham Weldin) and his egotistical brother, Rich (Andy Phinney), a “kind of a big deal” newscaster who seems to have everyone enamoured by his charm and success; and if they aren’t, he’ll tell you so that you believe you are.
As Rich seems to work his way through every woman at the newscasting station – and Phinney not exactly being the most traditionally handsome, and his character being the epitome of egotistical, makes the joke of his apparent irresistible charm even funnier – the arrival of intern Jill (Aline O’Neill) adds another layer of contention between the brothers. Geoff is smitten, Rich is determined, and Jill, to the latter’s horror, actually prefers the humble Geoff, and when the film detours into a more horror-minded temperament, she becomes significantly important.
Said horror-minded detour is yet another bizarre chapter in Eldritch, USA‘s quirky book, where musical numbers are utilised throughout – often, as is the case with most traditional musicals, extending the inner thoughts of each character – and the news story coverage of a “cult” of sorts, headed by Clyde (Westan McNew, a demented, kooky riot), injects the narrative with a neat hook regarding bringing the dead back to life. Clyde, as it would be, has seemingly dabbled with the dark arts and conjured a method that brings back the deceased from their eternal slumber, because, of course.
Through an amusingly dark circumstance Geoff requires Clyde’s expertise, and from hereon writer/director Smith has an awful lot of fun in just what can go wrong when trying to cover up an unintentional sinister act, and how important words (and tone) are when reciting the necessary sentence to bring the dead back to the land of the living.
Smith shows immense promise as a genre director, and McNew and Phinney in particular are comedy gold as they throw themselves wholeheartedly into the ridiculousness of their characters, but Eldritch, USA doesn’t always overcome its limited budget. It’s difficult to entirely criticise the film given its budget, and the campiness adhered to is evidently deliberate – at least, we hope it is – so “bad acting”, questionable make-up, and audio variabilities aren’t quite as damning, but the film feels its length at times (and just over 100 minutes isn’t even really pushing the time tolerance) and there’s inconsistencies in how some performers attack the material, with a seriousness and a winking knowability layering the ensemble throughout.
Darkly comedic and wonderfully weird, Eldritch, USA is a further example of how interesting and varied cinema can be when creatives are given a chance to flex their artistic muscle. A product of the kickstarter-funded frame, Smith’s eccentric hybrid may not be to everyone’s taste, and those with a more standard, mainstream-minded look at film will see it only for its amateur faults, but seen through the eyes of cult-ready cinema, a visit to Eldritch, USA proves unforgettable in all its unnatural peculiarities.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Eldritch, USA screened exclusively at The Alamo Drafthouse between April 28th and May 3rd, 2023. It will next be screened at the Gen Con Film Festival in Indianapolis in August.