Channel 99: Joe Sherlock Day
Dir. Joe Sherlock (2021)
An anthology tale based around the fictional Channel 99, Joe Sherlock again explores the short film as part of a whole.
Channel 99 is an anthology movie with a collection of stories that appear on the fictional Channel 99. This is where Sherlock is at his strongest, because he’s excellent at producing short stories that don’t need to follow a general, over-arcing narrative. Where some of his longer films break down over time as they struggle to conform to the narrative structure, these “short stories” are performed well, coherently, and progress logically within their own storylines. That doesn’t mean that everything here is perfect: the film still struggles from the standard problems of ultra-low-budget films, and is self-referential to the extreme. That’s not a bad thing though, and as previously discussed, you can’t really criticize an ultra-low-budget film for having an ultra-low-budget. It’s low-hanging fruits and it’s not really a fair criticism. You have to view the film on its own merits and not those you would expect from other movies you know and love. This is different and must be viewed as such.
Like, it's real different.
Self-reference is a tool that has been used time and again through different genres of films, sometimes for the better and often, unfortunately, for the worse. When I watched Murder-Set-Pieces, I heavily criticized director Nick Palumbo for referencing his own work as if he was a god of filmmaking. It was obnoxious purely because it was such a ridiculously glowing review of his own work. Sherlock knows that his movies are “crap,” and he leans all the way into it so that he comes out the other side of the self-criticism. It’s a fine line to walk, and, quite frankly, he walks it perfectly. It is totally acceptable to self-reference as long as you don’t pretend you’re the best thing to happen to horror since Stanley Kubrick. That’s where Palumbo falls devastatingly short and Sherlock hits a home run. Sherlock knows his shit is weird, and he owns it in an incredibly endearing way. He even has a couple of the characters who come across his other films describing them as “weird,” and that they’ve “never heard of them.” That’s the kind of tongue-in-cheek self-awareness that is necessary in films like this.
One thing I definitely appreciated from this film as opposed to his previous anthology film is that it titles the individual segments rather than waiting for the credits to reveal the individual movies as what they are. It’s not a bad idea either way to be honest, but the way some of the shorts blended together in Beyond the Wall, it can be difficult to tell when one ends and another begins. Perhaps that was the effect the director was trying to achieve, but it often resulted in more confusion than is necessary for an anthology film. Another thing that I appreciated in this film was that it did not lean so heavily on the nudity. Beyond the Wall definitely had some nudity, don’t get me wrong, but it left out a lot that could’ve been thrown in within various scenes, and a lot that was included felt forced rather than applicable to the storyline. If you’re watching low-budget shorts, there’s no reason to leave out scenes that will increase the watchability of your film, but it can also harm the overall tone if you include nudity just to keep people interested. Sherlock walks this tightrope as well, and he handles it perfectly. There were also a few borrowed actors from the other films I’ve watched, but they weren’t all recycled, which was a nice change of pace.
But enough of the exposition, let’s get down to the actual film. The first short was essentially a lesbian vampire/haunted house tale, in which a woman stays in a house that may be haunted by a dark-eyed naked vampire. It worked appropriately, it was a little creepy and weird, which is exactly the type of mood that needs to be invoked before embarking on the rest of the film. It was perhaps longer than it should’ve been, but it wasn’t terrible and had some interesting visuals.
The second short was a werewolf story called Scratch that opens with an attack on a man walking around his neighborhood. The story revolves around a man whose girlfriend, with whom he previously broke up, has returned to the house. He is confronted by a detective who is investigating a recent event, which happens to be the attack that we saw in the beginning of the entry. This is followed by a random neighbor who shows up and hits on the man and is fended off by the girlfriend. Turns out, the werewolf is just now showing up because the girlfriend just came back around! Surprise surprise! Even more surprising, the girlfriend’s change into the werewolf was not anywhere near the worst transformation scene I’ve ever watched. I mean, it wasn’t great, but she looked kinda like what a werewolf would probably look like if werewolves were a thing that happened. She takes her werewolf-self and goes to pay a surprise visit to the woman who was hitting on her man. It’s basically an episode of Maury, just with at least 12.5% more werewolf. After she dispatches her rival, she goes on a werewolf-spree and terrorizes several local people. Eventually, the man returns home because he forgot his lunch to walk in on his weregirlfriend.
Next up is a super-short, a commercial for a show coming up soon on Channel 99. It’s for a new science fiction movie called Escape from Ape World, and it has roughly the same special effects quality as Flash Gordon. Actually, it may be a little better. The next regularly scheduled program takes us to a woman who is inexplicably listening to a tape player. For our younger fans, this was a thing that you could listen to music on before there were CD’s. Sigh, ok. CD’s were like DVDs that played music when you put them in a special player designed to play the discs. What the fuck, really? Ok, DVDs were like blu rays that weren’t as high of picture quality. Goddamnit, fine. Blu rays are basically 4K with lower quality, but you didn’t notice near the difference switching from blu ray to 4K as you did when you switched from DVD to blu ray. So basically, tapes were like music 4k discs that used to be awesome way back in the day. We got it covered? Moving on. Anyway, she’s in her house when she gets accosted by some aliens. This blends perfectly with the segment of the film that we saw in Odd Noggins, wherein the lady is, well… abducted by aliens. It’s a different movie, though. You can tell because the actress in this scene is different from the actress in the other scene. It’s basically the same, though. She ends up opening her shower curtain and finding a disemboweled body in perhaps the best actual instance of special effects in any Sherlock film we’ve watched thus far. Then she goes to a party where everyone leaves her with the guy that she has the hots for. Shortly thereafter, the guests start dropping like flies. Turns out, the realtor for the house is Mr. Birch, the alien dude from the other films! He’s got quite a racket, renting the house out and then murdering the occupants so he can rent it out again. Pretty good gig if you can get it, I’d say.
Plus, he later has a ninja fight with a robot woman, which is badass.
The next short is called A Day in the Park. It starts with two of the women that we’ve previously met on our adventures driving along in the park. They start hiking but they are being watched by a mysterious presence that is actually a zombie, or, rather, a whole pack of zombies. While the effects in this short weren’t amazing, they’re easily on par with Romero’s original zombies, and they actually look a good bit like them too. They’re saved by a man in a gas mask. Well, kinda saved, because one of them turns into a zombie and bites the other. Pretty interesting little short, and it’s only a couple of minutes long. I won’t go into all of the rest of the shorts in this anthology film, but I will say it’s definitely worth a watch if you’re into this kind of cinema. They’re well-produced and the camerawork is decent as well. I don’t know that it’s as good as Beyond the Wall of Fear, but it’s definitely not bad and worth a look. The acting was as decent as Sherlock’s other films, which is plenty good enough for the purposes of the film. The shorts are generally short enough that, even if you don’t like the one you’re on, it’s worth sticking it out to get to the next one.
Who this movie is for: Short film lovers; Anthology film lovers; People who think Joe Sherlock is the best thing since sliced bread
Bottom line: They’re well-produced and the camerawork is decent as well. I don’t know that it’s as good as Beyond the Wall of Fear, but it’s definitely not bad and worth a look. The acting was as decent as Sherlock’s other films, which is plenty good enough for the purposes of the film. The shorts are generally short enough to appreciate, and you can easily get to the next one. I got one more Sherlock joint to go, and I’m looking forward to closing out this pentalogy (?) of films!