'Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires': Film Review | Annecy 2018
Director Mike Mort pays homage to the sights and sounds of 1980s B-movies in this stop-motion animation feature that world premiered at Annecy.
If Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger were all 12 years old again and given an unlimited supply of toys, latex, corn syrup and blatantly corny dialogue, the result could be something like Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires.
A gonzo stop-action throwback to the best and worst of ‘80s shoot-'em-ups, this not-safe-for-children animated feature from writer/director/producer Mike Mort has cult potential written all over it, even if it can sometimes be too trashy for its own good. Made on a purported $20 million budget, with oodles of intricately crafted, extremely gory set pieces, it’s sort of like Team America: World Police without any political context, paying satiric homage to the oeuvre of Cannon Films and other B-grade studios. After a world premiere in Annecy, France, Chuck could find slots in midnight programs, although its VHS-ready aesthetic will make it most watchable on the small screen.
Chock-full of snappy one-liners and ultraviolent action, the story follows badass buffed-up cop Chuck Steel (voiced by Mort) on his mission to thwart an invasion of the titular Trampires — which are not, as one would suspect, prostitutes with fangs, but homeless people with a dual thirst for blood and alcohol. A dumbed-down version of Die Hard’s John McClane or Stallone in Cobra, Steel uses his fists way more than his brains, busting heads — or nuts, in a recurring gag involving smashed testicles — as he tries to save his city from oblivion. He’s aided in his quest by Trampire hunter Abraham Van Rental, whose name joins a host of other goofy monikers such as Captain Jack Schitt or Steel’s temporary Swedish partner, Ingrid Klutz.
There's an undeniably childish quality to a lot of the humor here, and the film's seventh-grade antics can grow a bit tiresome as Mort doubles down on the sexism and penis jokes, even if such jokes are meant to ironically reflect the macho attitudes of Reagan-age action heroes. Yet when Steel’s ex-girlfriend and Achilles' heel, Lucy (Samantha Coughlan), refers to the killer cop at one point as a “misogynistic Neanderthal asshole,” you can only agree with her, and as much as it’s fun to watch the meathead in action for a few reels, doing so for an entire feature is another story.
But if you’re willing to just sit back and enjoy all the nods, winks and over-the-top violence, Chuck Steel is a rather fun ride, with Mort and his animation team faithfully re-creating the slick and sleazy aesthetics of bargain-bin action and horror flicks. Production designer Bridget Phelan does a particularly good job with the decors, channeling an L.A.-on-angel-dust vibe filled with smoky alleyways, neon lights and skyscrapers at night. All the animated gore is also impressive, with every blood splatter, decapitation and dismemberment hitting you right in the guts. A certified cheesy soundtrack by Joris de Man further sets the pace, with one song accompanying a vintage montage sequence that would make Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme proud.
Venue: Annecy International Animation Film Festival (Out of Competition)
Production company: Animortal Studio
Cast: Mike Mort, Lauren Harris, Paul Whitehouse, Samantha Coughlan
Director-screenwriter: Mike Mort
Producers: Joseph D’Morais, Rupert Lywood, Mike Mort, Randhir Singh
Cinematographer: Laura Howie
Production designer: Bridget Phelan
Composer: Joris de Man
Animation supervisors: Jody Meredith, Darren Thomson
Art director: Phil Lewis
Puppet supervisor: Sam Holland
Sales: Animortal Studio