Journalist turned filmmaker Staci Layne Wilson’s Fetish Factory reviewed
Those of you who regularly peruse horror film culture and news sites and leaf through what’s left of the genre print mags out there no doubt know the name Staci Layne Wilson, the now veteran scribbler for Fangoria, Dread Central and many others. But outside of her many accomplishments applying her passions to a profession, the coolest secret handshake in respect to Lady Wilson is that she is the daughter of surf rock superhero Don Wilson, co-founder of the legendary band The Ventures.
Why does that matter? Because every artist is a product of the world they are reared in. What you are exposed to when you are at your most open and impressionable is key to the essence of who you are and what you create. So it goes with Wilson, whose style and tastes reflect a passion for ’60s art and trash and pop art and counter-culture kitsch. All these things are leaking out of the many seams of her first feature film, Fetish Factory. While we aren’t sure when the movie will be released as of this writing, we are sure of one thing: Fetish Factory IS Staci Layne Wilson.
The unashamedly microbudgeted film stars Wilson’s pals and indie darlings Carrie Keagan, Tristan Risk and Jennifer Blanc-Biehn (who also exec produced with her husband, actor and producer Michael Biehn) as Burlesque performers hanging out at the tit(ahem)ular quasi-Bordello, a secret house where men can come and watch the girls shake their ample, pretty rumps and flash their eye-rolling wit. From the first frames, with its old school exploitation noir voice over and almost theater like staging of the girls’ backstage antics (not to mention the killer new song by The Ventures that opens the picture), we feel like we’re locked securely in retro-world, like David Friedman might be lurking ’round the corner giving his thumbs up. The acting is broad, the actresses are having a blast being silly (Blanc-Biehn is hilarious as the leader of the group) and the vibe is corny, campy and maybe accidentally surreal. Arcane pop culture references fly from characters’ mouths at a rapid pace and you just know Wilson had a ball blasting out doses of her most useful useless trivia out of the mouths of these sassy Bettie Page clones.
But for most of the film, Fetish Factory does not feel like a send up or an homage. It’s doesn’t feel forced or ironic. It feels organic. You sense that Wilson is genuine in her attempt to just make a movie and the fact that it ends up looking, feeling and tasting like the cupcake that it is, happens because again, that’s just who Wilson is. By the time Montreal-based fetish model Richard Cardinal shows up playing himself, you feel like you’re not even watching a film, rather you’ve been invited to an awesomely lewd private party. And when the ladies start their act, it’s cheap and charming and likely wholly improvised. Even the cut-aways to the sparse crowd of overacting, drooling, heart-eyed dudes feel like something out of a Tex Avery cartoon.
Over 40 minutes go by before the zombies show up (that’s right, Fetish Factory is also a zombie film) but in truth…I wish they didn’t. It’s such a pleasure to watch this tacky, vaudevillian “show” that the ghouls are a bit of a distraction. Like most of the classic exploitation pictures of the ’60s (the kind that Mike Vraney and his Something Weird label ate, slept and breathed), the horror or “plot” such as it is, is shoehorned-in to give the movie a purpose. Like Monsters Crash the Pyjama Party or something. Suddenly Wilson is forced to be a bit more conventional, with ghoul attacks and Bulry Queens turning bloodthirsty. It’s still fun, in a kind of genre gear-shifting From Dusk Till Dawn kinda way, but man, I would have loved it if those pesky cannibal corpses would have stayed outside. Or better yet, pulled up a chair to watch the bum-shaking, tassel-twirling delirium too.
I really do believe Fetish Factory to be Wilson’s own fetish film and I think it’s a kind of auteur film. It’s messy as Hell (and the non-climax is odd) and will probably alienate many horror fans but it’s a genuine and sincere work. Unlike some pictures that strive for “cult” status, Wilson’s will probably – and should definitely – just become a cult film on its own. It’s a breezy, fleshy, funny and cheerfully cheap slab of gaudiness and the world needs more honest indie movies like this.