Director Charles Cullen gives an intro explaining the film. He looks like Marilyn Manson. There’s lots of distinctively un-Manson music in this film. It’s like a bad joke. Of course, that’s how we roll when we run with Night of the Bums.
So, the movie starts out of kind of artsy, flickering in and out between black-and-white and color. At first I believed this to be some attempt at a real “art film” look, but it turns out quickly this is just an arbitrary accident. Then, we cut to a forest—“Haunted Hill”—where some people are laughing. I guessed wrong—this isn’t a gaggle of teens, it’s a trio of witches, making a potion that apparently has “lizard piss and frog skin” in it. They plan to whip up a potion that they’ll disguise as wine to turn the local “bums” into rampaging zombies. And, it succeeds. The zombies, with only a plastic-rat-with-bat-wings (yes, it’s supposed to be a rat) as their ally, are against some stiff competition—the Mayor and his squad of cops and scientists. And his, erm, “wife”, who is quite the seductive “woman”. It’s obvious just jotting this down that this is gonna be comedy, in the vein of such “funny” movies as Troma’s Redneck Zombies. This isn’t about anyone versus zombies. This is about man versus movie. Mudman versus movie.
How does it handle? Well, there are jokes and there are “jokes”. The jokes include the Mayor slicing his thumb off literally out of nowhere, and the killing of a bizarrely robotic baby. The “jokes” are stabs (ha!) at the ineffectuality of cops checking for drunk drivers, and a scene involving a crappy radar with locations and objects taped on. There’s a fairly equal balance of the two substances. A lot of times I did really laugh, but I’m not sure I was supposed to. Overall Cullen’s scales (which are mind-bogglingly three-parted) are very off, and the balance between comedy, horror, and art is very skewed. We get some John-Carradine-in-Demented Death Farm Massacre-ish narration from a priest, who shoots Bible quotes about homelessness and charity. That’s arty. There’s also a “hilarious” old-man narrator who drinks and smokes a bong. That’s comedy. (No quotes, don’t worry.) And then finally we get the baby-killing scene, a slow blue-shift that seems to take its sweet time striding across the room to a sickly altar that only ends in tomato-soup blood and horrible death. That’s horror. Sometimes all three seem to stick together to form a logical, though shambling mass. Other times we get the impression of Cullen as a lunatic barely aware of his own actions. Case in point comes across when a pillowcase-hooded man shows up to help the Mayor in the final battle: the “Texas Hangman”. He kills a few zombies, then packs up and leaves without explanation. I feel like there’s more there—another movie, perhaps? Clarification would be nice. I’ll leave the scene with the demented “Puppet Man” Henson-thing up to your viewing. It defies art, it defies horror, it defies everything.
Though Cullen does not necessarily defy what makes a movie good or bad. This is a weird one, natch, you’ve gotta have that with that title, but this is something where you get the impression it shouldn’t have not been taken so seriously. Okay, that sentence was terrible, but I hope you get the idea. Basically, this movie is way too clownish for its own good—barely flying as a comedy, too silly to be scary, and too gory to be artsy. (Though, I must confess…most art films I see have about as much blood as Night of the Bums. And Night of the Bums has a hell of a lot of blood.) I understand why some people who are official or unofficial weirdo film historians claim it all stops at 1995. After the digital age it’s all bad comedies (really bad comedies) and cheap CGI blood. There’s something lost. I get the vague idea that maybe Night acts as kind of a bridge between pre-1995 and post-1995 trash, but again, it’s so swept in its own conceptualization of funny that it drops deader than the zombies that we see shot. It’s like a bad YouTube comedy. That’s what so many of these post-1995 movies are like.
But not Dead Clowns. Dead Clowns was amazing. Go watch Dead Clowns. It’s awesome. It’s on Netflix. You have no excuse.
Yet this isn’t Dead Clowns. This is something else. Night of the Bums isn’t really a whole different animal, it’s more like a mule—part something, part something else. And that mule, when mixed together, can’t reproduce even in its own species—it’s a little defective and drags itself along slowly, and people use it as a synonym for someone who’s a little dumb (okay, maybe pushing it). Overall, it’s your decision. Like Dead Clowns (Dead Clowns!!), this is also on Netflix. Take a chance and make a choice. I’m not sure what else to say.