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Gouge Away (15)

Director: Jeff Frumess
Screenplay: Jeff Frumess, Matthew Ritacco

Starring: Matthew Ritacco, Jacob Trussell, Jeannine Frumess

Review: RJ Bland

Covid-19 screwed up a lot of things – we don’t need to tell anyone that. Aside from the horrific death toll and social isolation, pretty much every industry suffered too. The film industry was no exception. Films set for a Spring 2020 theatrical release were forced to go straight to streaming. But worse yet, film-makers prepping to make something (or who were part way through the process) just had to put everything on hiatus. There’s no easy way to make a film when people are in lockdown, unless you come up with a zoom-based horror concept (Host). Director Jeff Frumess (Romeo’s Distress) is only too aware of this, having begun production on his newest film Wash Away literally days before the Coronavirus shit truly hit the fan. The film had to be shelved. However, adversity forces creative types to think outside the box and a year on from production being halted, Frumess began working on a sequel-of-sorts to his unfinished project. This film, called Gouge Away, premiered last year at the Genreblast Film Fest at the Alamo Drafthouse where it won the Genreblast Forever Independent Spirit Award. We checked it out to see if it was worth the wait…


The set up to Gouge Away is quite straightforward. Thirty something Tony has just got back into town and meets up with the ex-girlfriend of one of his best friends, Stanley. It’s the first time they have met but the circumstances are far from ideal. She gives him a mask that she’s had lying around the house. A weird black and white papier mache construction that most people would have probably just tossed into the bin. But it’s the last possession of Stanley’s that she owns and she’s failed in her efforts to return it to him. Knowing that Stanley is Tony’s mentor, she asks him to take it. He accepts but is troubled by the radio silence from his old friend, who isn’t answering calls and doesn’t appear to be home. Tony calls in a few favours from some of his associates from his former life as a thug-for-hire and soon discovers that Stanley was mixed up with a mysterious hallucinogenic drug called ‘EEHEE'. Some trippy shit ensues.


A shirtless dude crying over a little miniature Zen gravel garden, shots of various Buddhist paraphernalia, a sink covered in blood, a little shrine adorned with candles and bottles of whipped cream, a guy who looks like Game of Thrones' Jon Snow in a white vest doing yoga in his garden. These are all images we are presented with within the first 100 seconds of Gouge Away. A combination that leaves you simultaneously feeling intrigued yet rather discombobulated. And it’s how you may well feel for the majority of this madcap exploitation flick. It’s a unique blend of absurdist comedy, sci-fi, crime and Troma style violence that undoubtedly won’t be to everyone’s taste. It’s an idiosyncratic cocktail after all. But if you like your arthouse films to be grimy, garish and a bit outré, then Gouge Away will tick a lot of your boxes.


The plotting may be simplistic and nothing you've not seen before, yet we somehow go into every scene unsure of how it’s going to play out. Think David Lynch but on acid. The scenarios our hero gets into and some of the people he meets are straight out of left field. When your character list contains names such as Lord Fungus, Pickles Zanetti, Uncle Faceneck and The White Hotdog, you know you’re in for a bit of a trip. Characters come and go at a rapid rate and it's fair to say that we don't really get to know any of them in any real way. But they all certainly make an impression. Frumess's debut feature, Romeo's Distress, featured a somewhat endearing central performance (by Anthony Malchar) which helps navigate that particular quirky plot. Whilst Matthew Ritacco gives us something a bit more understated in Gouged Away, he also acts as something of an anchor, something to cling to amongst the bedlam.


The inclusion of title cards marking out segments of the story as individual chapters helps when it comes to trying to make sense of the chaos though. Without these, there’s a chance that the scrambled narrative may throw you completely as the lurching from over-the-top violence to crackpot comedy to whimsical flashback is admittedly a little bamboozling at times. Getting a firm grip on the story is not easy and for some, the tone may well a bit too scattergun. However Gouge Away never takes itself seriously and there’s some real fun to be had - from the potty-mouthed old lady gangster boss called Bad Nana, to a hilarious slow motion chase scene involving a guy wearing a dressing gown and a seemingly never-ending gang fight that takes place complete darkness. Gouge Away has no sense of pretension. It’s a colourful indie exploitation flick and on that front, it delivers pretty much everything you could want.

Gouge Away is solid exploitation cinema. A heady blend of irreverent comedy and schlocky violence and it’s all lensed in Frumess’s trademark lurid style.
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