Starring Angel Vargas, Vera Yell, Lee Marks, Dee Dee Austin, Jamal Grimes, Corey Hampton, Rani Goulant, Napiera Groves, Arthur Burghardt, William L. Johnson, Penny Ford, Carl Washington, Dionne Rochelle
Directed by Craig Ross Jr.
Expectations: Low, but if it’s a series, there has to be something good about it, right?
On the general scale:
On the B-Movie scale:
Going into Killjoy I knew nothing of the plot or what to expect. All I knew was that on every DVD cover I’d seen there was a scary clown with a wild look in his eyes. Full Moon’s modern series have been real hit or miss with me, so I expected the worst from Killjoy. Perhaps it was these tempered expectations, but Killjoy kept me entertained, made me laugh and horrified me at the same time; it was a resounding success. If you dig B-Movies and Blaxploitation films, then Killjoy is a low-budget entry you should definitely check out.
The film opens with the mild-mannered Michael asking Jada out to the prom. Jada and her friend Monique laugh him off, but when Jada’s boyfriend, the gang member Lorenzo, arrives with his homies, they beat the shit out of Michael for his transgression. Michael retreats home and resorts immediately to black magic, hoping to summon Killjoy from the depths to aid him in his revenge fantasy. While this is obviously not Pulitzer Prize material, Killjoy is well-written, if a bit clichéd, and its short runtime promises a film that never gets boring. In the world of low-budget horror, that counts for a lot.
Shot for a modest budget of $150,000, Killjoy looks a lot better than it has a right to. I attribute this all to director Craig Ross, Jr. He has since gone on to make a number of low-budget films and has also directed some episodes from series such as Bones, Numb3rs, and NCIS. He shoots Killjoy with a lot of skill, spirit and invention, taking what easily could have been a total piece of shit and crafting an incredibly fun horror film. His other films aren’t horror, but based on the ability shown here I’d definitely like to give them a spin.
Killjoy is also something of an anomaly among Full Moon’s catalog in that it’s actually a traditional horror film. Full Moon’s films usually have a unique quality that’s somewhere between horror and comedy, but never quite horrific or comedic enough to be considered a true horror/comedy film. So I was very surprised and excited when I realized that Killjoy was shaping up to be a real horror film. I expected something like The Gingerdead Man where the killer is the main character and he goes around spouting dumb, supposed-to-be-funny lines that only succeed in bringing out my best groans. Instead Killjoy is much more horrific and terrifying, while still being over the top and funny at times. They struck a good balance, with the tone leaning heavily into the horror with only dashes of comedy to lighten the mood.
One of the best examples of Ross’s inspired direction and the increased focus on traditional horror is the introduction of Killjoy’s character. Never mind that the box art is plastered with his yelling, maniacal face, the reveal of Killjoy in the film is handled with mystery and clever shots, slowly allowing the audience to see only parts of his face and thus building the mystery around the character. It’s always scarier when you can’t see the monster, and this section of Killjoy was really well done. And then, when his face is finally revealed, it’s fantastic. Angel Vargas is the man behind the mask, and his face is so wildly emotive and full of vigor that it injects an incredible amount of life into the character. I was sad to learn that he does not reprise the role in the Killjoy sequels, but I will have to reserve my sadness until I see them. Perhaps the replacement does a good job, but based on Vargas’s performance here, I can’t imagine they were able to capture the same feel.
Killjoy’s makeup is the star of the show, and it looks remarkably well done. His face looks both human, and inhuman, and it was impossible for me to tell where Angel Vargas’s face ended and the facial appliances began. Maybe his face is just that long! In any case, the makeup is fantastic and easily ranks as one of the best examples of facial makeup in the Full Moon catalog. The rest of the FX don’t fare so well sadly, with most everything else (except for some bloody wounds) being really poor computer FX. But this is low-budget horror so that’s not really a problem, and the CG FX provide us with a number of laughs all to themselves. The best was when one of the gang members blasts about twenty bullets from his six-shot revolver at Killjoy, who then spits the bullets back at him rapid fire. The gang member shakes as if he’s being riddled with the bullets, and these wonderful blotches of red CG blood flash in front of his chest. There’s no makeup or actual blood on the set, so it’s more like flashing red lights than anything else. It’s hilarious, and the poor quality only added to my enjoyment. No matter how ugly it may look, it gets the job done.
The acting is hit or miss, but most of the performers are actually quite impressive. I thought William L. Johnson was especially good as Lorenzo, and Vera Yell did a great leading lady as Jada. It’s basically Killjoy’s film though, and Angel Vargas was just fantastic. I’m still reeling over the fact that he’s not in the sequels! I can’t imagine it. Jamal Grimes also turns in a believable portrayal of the bullied Michael, and adds an emotional heart and ambiguity to the film that I enjoyed. Because I initially identified with him, the first half of the film was something of a triumphant revenge with Killjoy taking on the villains that had done Michael wrong. The film takes a turn when Killjoy becomes unstoppable and starts to assault those beyond that initial circle, and while I liked it better when Killjoy was fighting for the meek of the Earth, the second half is still a lot of fun.
In addition to going after traditional horror, Killjoy also attempts to be a modern Blaxploitation movie. Against the odds, it really does feel like one and I’m not just saying that because most of the cast is black. It’s hard to describe, but it contains something of the feel of the Blaxploitation horror films I’ve seen, where gritty street problems get amplified by the supernatural. I would highly recommend Killjoy to those that are similarly minded to me and enjoy themselves some low-budget horror cinema. I can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy it as much as I did, but it moves quickly and it’s rather short, so even if you hate it, it shouldn’t overstay its welcome. It feels like a cross between Candyman and Stephen King’s It, with a dash of Blacula on top for good measure, so if that sounds like a good thing definitely give it a go.
Next time I’ll be checking out the even lower budget Killjoy 2: Deliverance From Evil!