As another year comes to an end, it’s time once again to look back and ask, “What was the best horror movie of 2018?” Well, if you’re an unrepentant gorehound, creature feature fanatic, or exploitation film addict, you might be surprised to find that this year’s best horror movie wasn’t actually a motion picture at all. It was a comic book.
The first completely original title from Eibon Press, the same publisher behind the recently released comic adaptations and continuations of grindhouse classics Zombie, The Gates of Hell, and Maniac, Bottomfeeder is as explosively cinematic as it is unrelentingly grim. From artist Pat Carbajal’s detail-packed widescreen panels to the all-star cast of cult film actors (more on that in a moment) right on down to the three-issue run echoing a movie’s three-act structure, the only way Bottomfeeder could feel more like a big screen (or at least straight-to-video) motion picture is if it was published as a flip-book.
None of this is surprising when you take into account that Bottomfeeder was originally penned as a screenplay by Stephen Romano (writer of, among other things, the Phantasm: Overminds comic and the Masters of Horror episode “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road”), which was left unproduced for years due to its extreme content.
Where the translation from script to film likely would have limited Bottomfeeder’s scope and left its nastiest bits on the cutting room floor, the choice to reimagine it as a comic book allows Romano and the Eibon Press crew to be as filthy, gratuitous, and exploitative as they want to be. Unburdened by the limits of a filming budget, their imaginations are limited only by what Carbajal can draw. And can Carbajal can draw a lot.
Indeed, one of his most striking skills is his ability to render lifelike portraits of real people, something that Bottomfeeder takes full advantage of. Rather than being just another fictional face dreamed up out of thin air, main character Joe Angell is “played” by actor Joe Pilato (most famous as the sleazy Captain Rhodes in George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead). Some editions of the comic’s various issues come with extras like download codes for audio files featuring Pilato himself reciting Angell’s dialogue in-character.
Other members of Bottomfeeder’s “cast” include Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Clu Gulager (The Return of the Living Dead, Feast), Trent Haaga (Killjoy Goes to Hell, Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV), Zoe Lund (Ms. 45, Special Effects), Joe Spinell (Maniac, The Last Horror Film), and even Italian child actor Giovanna Frezza (The House by the Cemetery, Demons).
When we first meet Pilato in the role of crooked cop Angell, he’s drinking on the job, snorting coke off his hand, taking bribes to look the other way while toxic waste is dumped into the bay, and coldly murdering a co-conspirator for trying to double-cross him. A true blue hero, this guy ain’t. Instead, Angell is a drain-circling scumbag with a talent for creative vulgarity and a weakness for hard drugs and prostitutes. He’s also a disillusioned, self-loathing war veteran traumatized by the loss his child to a psychotic kidnapper.
A complex character, one that is hard to sympathize with but also hard not to; it’s hard to imagine a character like Angell making his way to the silver screen without some producer demanding he be “softened.” Ultimately, though, the title of Bottomfeeder refers as much to him as it does the tendril-swinging, acid-spewing monster that’s terrorizing the hellhole city of San Lucifer, California.
Oh yes, there is a monster.
Bottomfeeder’s promotional material frequently refers to its story as “Bad Lieutenant meets Humanoids from the Deep.” Angell covers that first part quite nicely, while the second part comes in the form of a hulking amphibious mutant that turns every scene it’s in into a chunkblower Jackson Pollock painting of blood splatter and flying viscera. Undoubtedly, if there’s one thing that Carbajal does even better than realistic portraiture it’s extreme gore.
Shattered bones jut out of mangled bodies as disemboweled torsos vomit out loops of intestines, all in hideous, horrible, gleefully grotesque detail. Spawned from the very same pollutants Angell himself turned a blind eye to, the monster cuts a swath through the city in pursuit of its savage, primal impulse to reproduce, turning both men and women and even animals into suffering, desiccated hosts for its growing young.
Of course, there’s more to Bottomfeeder than just a tale of man versus monster: Government corruption. Ghostly hallucinations. A depraved mayor with a dark secret. An apocalyptic mad-science master plan that riffs on H.P. Lovecraft’s Deep Ones. And a shockingly hard-hitting, surprisingly philosophical ending that ties it all together with one final bleak, lyrical note. But the most important thing Bottomfeeder has is balls. Big, swingin’, sweaty, ugly, gross, hairy balls. And the willingness to teabag you in the face with ‘em every chance it gets.
As mainstream news outlets trip all over themselves with fawning praise for the recent upswing in “elevated horror,” Bottomfeeder offers an uncompromising indulgence into raw meanness for those who still like their horror stories grisly, shocking, raunchy, and disturbing. It’s the hardest of hardboiled noir nihilism mixed with the most exploitative of exploitation film hedonism, not a love letter but a lust letter to the films of Abel Ferrara and Roger Corman, and to comics like Gore Shriek and Verotika.
It’s not for everyone, and it revels in that fact. But if you’ve ever lamented not being around for the golden age of the 42nd Street grindhouses, Bottomfeeder drips with enough filth, jizz, blood, and grime to give any NYC porno theater a run for its money. It’s an experience that will make your skin crawl, but you won’t forget it any time soon.