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Captain Z

D: Steve Rudzinski / 80m

Cast: Zoltan Zilai, Steve Rudzinski, Madison Siple, Aleen Isley, Seth Gontkovic, Ian S. Livingston, Cerra Atkins, Josh Devett, Scott Lewis, Joshua Antoon

1714, the town of Riverwood, Ohio. Having taken possession of some of the townsfolk, a band of demons attempt to raise the dark god Leviathan using an amulet and the sacrifice of a redhead. With their victim about to be offered up, the infamous pirate captain Zachariah Zicari (Zilai) comes to her rescue and kills the demons’ human forms but in the process the demons and the captain are absorbed into the amulet, which ends up at the bottom of the nearby river.

2014. The Toy & Train Museum is celebrating the three hundredth anniversary of Captain Zicari’s triumph over the demons, an event that has come to be thought of as more of a local legend than historical fact. Under the auspices of museum head Mr Kincaid (Lewis), the staff there, intellectually challenged redhead Heather (Siple), inappropriate J.T. (Antoon), abrasive Samantha (Atkins) and Kincaid’s son Neal (Devett), all have their roles to play in the upcoming celebrations. The arrival of a paranormal researcher and author, Glen Stewart (Rudzinski), who’s come to investigate the legend and maybe find the amulet, prompts the museum staff to help him with his research.

Meanwhile, by the river, two of the locals, Jake (Livingston) and his son Judd (Gontkovic) are fishing. Jake lands the amulet and they take it home with them. Judd’s sister, Bobbie (Isley), looks it over and finds there’s writing on one side. She reads it aloud; this releases the demons – who promptly possess Bobbie, Jake and Judd and the rest of their family – and Captain Zicari. The Captain fights his way out and takes the amulet with him. Further along the river, Glen, Kincaid and Heather are pondering the possibility of the amulet being found when Captain Zicari appears. Although he tells them about the demons, it’s not until proof is provided by the arrival of one of Bobbie’s family (who kills Kincaid by ripping his heart out), does anyone believe him.

Killing the demon’s human form, Glen and Heather bow to the captain’s wishes and head for J.T.’s place, where he’s having a party. While the captain indulges in sex and rum, the demons trace him there and try to retrieve the amulet. The trio escape, and head back to the museum. There they bring Neal and Samantha up to speed on what’s happening, but before long Bobbie, Jake and Judd (now called Vepar, Barbatos and Bune respectively), turn up and various showdowns ensue, which lead to Barbatos and Bune being killed, but Vepar getting away with both the amulet and Heather. Now it’s up to the captain and Glen to stop Vepar from completing the ritual to summon Leviathan, and save the world… as we know it.

Captain Z - scene

Every now and then, a movie comes along that aims to spoof a particular genre or sub-genre of movie. Usually, those movies are pretty dire – anyone who’s seen just one of the Scary Movie series will know what I mean – but sometimes, on even rarer occasions, the spoof movie proves to be inspired, and well worth tracking down and watching. Such is the case with Captain Z & the Terror of Leviathan.

Be warned though: this movie looks incredibly cheap (the set representing Bobbie and her family’s home wouldn’t look out of place in a Seduction Cinema release). The opening scenes in 1714 are woefully acted, directed, shot and edited, and some viewers may think, “Uh uh, no way I’m watching any more of this”. But that would be the wrong idea, because with its extra-ropey prologue out of the way, the movie can begin to flourish, and its true purpose becomes clear: it’s an amateur production that wants to look even more amateurish in order to raise quite a few laughs – and intentional ones at that.

What Rudzinski and co-writer Zilai have done is to take the accepted style of a low budget horror movie, with its lame dialogue, low production values, and low rent special effects, and make these very drawbacks the whole point. This is a movie that knows it’s bad, and the great thing is that it’s all been done deliberately, from the terrible CGI to the rickety sets, from the arch, often over-ripe dialogue to the mannered, stereotypical performances; it’s all done with an absurdist air that helps make the movie far more enjoyable and self-reflexive than the viewer has any right to expect.

Throughout there are nods and small homages to other movies, and in-jokes that bear witness to the movie’s knowing attitude. At one point, Glen revs up a chainsaw and says he’s always wanted to say this: “Groovy!” And there’s a scene where Zicari and Neal share an emotional moment that ends with Heather saying it’s like in a comedy or action movie where it has to get real for a moment. It’s at times like these that the true intention behind the movie shines out, and any accusations that Captain Z & the Terror of Leviathan is low budget trash or completely unredeemable, crumble away to nothing. Sure, the sets look shoddy, and sure the framing usually has trouble fitting in more than two people in any given scene, and sure some of the editing looks to have been done with a pair of blunt scissors, but it truly does add to the charm of the piece, and makes it a lot more enjoyable.

Rudzinski and his cast and crew clearly know what they’re doing. The basic plot is silly and stupid, the characters act and behave as if they’ve never interacted with real people before, the dialogue is clumsy and leaves the characters looking like English isn’t their first language, the cast cope “awkwardly” with said dialogue, and despite all this, the movie just plain works. There’s a knowing attitude here, an approach that invites the audience to join in with the gag, that this movie is so bad it’s actually very good, that what the viewer sees has all been planned ahead of time and thanks to Rudzinski’s confidence in the material and the way in which it’s been put together, it provides more entertainment than anyone could envisage.

However, it should be noted that there are times when the in-jokes and the laughs aren’t as effective as they should be, and while some of the performances may seem as bad as they’re meant to be, a couple really are that bad, particularly Devett and Antoon. Siple is maddeningly good as the bubble-headed Heather, and in a role that often confounds the viewer: is she really this bad, or is she just really good at being bad? You decide, but anyone who can deliver the line, “I learned how to talk to cats today” in such a guileless way as Siple does, deserves to be congratulated rather than condemned. Elsewhere, Zilai isn’t the most convincing of pirates, while Rudzinski is obviously having too much fun to care. It all adds up to a movie with a definite agenda, and one that has clearly been achieved.

Rating: 7/10 – with some wicked moments of unforced hilarity in amongst all the superficial “errors of judgement”, Captain Z & the Terror of Leviathan is a Z-movie fan’s dream: continually witless, defiantly odd, and apparently awful; if you see only one spoof movie this year, make sure it’s this one, or the captain might just have something to say about it.