One of the great joys of psychotronic film is the way that one gem leads to another. That was the case with my recent discovery of Michael Kallio.
At least once a year, I put on My Name Is Bruce (2008). It’s one of those films that always makes me smile when I’m feeling down. Mark Verheiden’s screenplay is so funny and knowing and Bruce Campbell is fearless playing his idiot alter-ego.
One of the many wonderful characters in it is the director of a low-budget horror film Campbell is starring in called “Cave Alien II.” In one of the featurettes on the DVD is a documentary about the making of “Cavealien 2.” The director, Mike Gg, is interviewed and he insists that it is pronounced “cav-ALL-eon.”
I decided that I had to find out who the actor, Michael Kallio, was. And I learned that he’s written, directed, and produced about 50 films — most of them short. And lucky for us, Kallio has put many of them on YouTube.
Short Films of Michael Kallio
His short films tend to be pretty funny. The first one I saw was Ash vs Evil Dead: Auntie Linda’s Bake Off:
It is not just a loving homage to the series, it fully captures its essence. As fun as Ash vs Evil Dead was, there wasn’t much to it that isn’t in Auntie Linda’s. And Kallio certainly understands the Raimi style.
The Texas Chainsaw Manicure
Another homage is The Texas Chainsaw Manicure. It’s very silly with at least three strong laughs. And it makes a good argument for proper tipping.
(According to Kallio, there is a short film by Bill Mosley — Bill Moseley? — with the same name. I found part of it online. It is about Leatherface as a topiary artist. It is certainly as silly as Kallio’s opus.)
Curse of the Monkey
Another good one is Curse of the Monkey. It is one of many that Kallio shot when he was much younger but only recently finished. But it’s clear what’s there now is what he always intended. It’s got a great silent comedy sensibility with lots of modern references. I love the break in the gorilla suit. And the fight scenes are both realistic and funny.
Michael Kallio Feature Films
Based on this, I looked for Kallio’s feature films. It turned out to be harder than it needed to be because of Amazon’s “profit over usability” search function. But I did succeed!
Hatred of a Minute
I found Kallio’s first feature film, Hatred of a Minute. There’s an irony with loving low-budget films: they usually cost a lot more to get on disc — when they can be had at all. So while I can usually get the latest superhero film for a buck, this one was $19.95. But I wasn’t disappointed.
Unlike the short films I saw, Hatred of a Minute is pretty serious. That isn’t to say that it isn’t filled with sly little jokes. But they come out much more on the second viewing.
The film tells the story of a man’s descent into serial murder along with lots of flashbacks to his childhood. After seeing his step-father physically abuse his mother, he comes to see murdering women as an act of mercy. There’s also a minor B plot that is a police procedural.
But what really makes the film work is its structure. The frame of the story is Eric (played by Michael Kallio) and his drive with a bound woman in the back of his car. Within this, we see Eric as he is just a young man haunted by his past to a full-blown psychopath. As part of this, we have spectacular scenes that go on inside his head. These are thrilling by any measure. They use the full palette of tricks available to writer, director, photographer, and editor.
Despite the film being low-budget, the acting is first-rate. I assume they are mostly people who do industrial work because they don’t have a lot listed on IMDb. The principals are Tim Lovelace (Legion of the Night), Tracee Newberry, and co-writer Lisa Jesswein. Of particular note is Gunnar Hansen (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) as Eric’s abusive step-father.
When I first searched for Koreatown, I didn’t find it. It was only when I was searching for “Michael Kallio” that I found it. It isn’t helped that Amazon has no image for it. But it is at least largely due to my own scattered nature.
It tells the story of a former cop who has just been released from prison after 15 years. He was not innocent but nonetheless set up by a pimp who also killed his girlfriend and kidnapped his daughter. The cop spends the film looking for his daughter — along with vengeance against the pimp.
This sounds simple enough and it does have a Frank Miller graphic novel feel to it. But it is also very much a Kallio story. The lead character is not very effective. He bumbles his way through the first two acts getting people killed and getting himself beaten up and humiliated a number of times. He only survives because the pimp wants to finish him off himself.
Koreatown is highly episodic. This may be intentional or the result of the film being created over many years. Regardless, it gives the film more of that comic book flavor. No one really cares about the beginning of the film as long as we make it to the badass finale. And we do!
It also features a couple of laugh-out-loud sequences. The most notable is when a young man tries to rob the main character. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
I’m eager to see more of Kallio’s work. Back in the early 2000s, he made two other features: Survive! and Memory Lapse. I haven’t found out anything about the latter other than IMDb’s description, “A drug dealer with too many morals tries to bail out of the ‘business’ but, is sucked back in when a black-out leads to the corpse of his dead girl friend, and he’s to blame.” That sounds like it could be somewhat like Koreatown.
Survive! seems to have been released on VHS — but I have been looking for it for over a year and have never found it for sale at any price. Kallio has, however, released a trailer for it. It seems that he wrote the story but that the dialog is improvised. It looks fun:
More recently, Kallio has been producing a lot of stuff for television. That makes a certain amount of sense given those last three features were shot on DV. (Hatred of a Minute was shot on 16mm film.)
More Michael Kallio
These days, he seems to be doing rather well in Hollywood — including making a number of oddities such as Untitled Radioactive Chicken Heads Documentary. He also seems to be doing stuff along the lines of Larry Blamire (The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra) featuring Orton Z Creswell, a Criswell parody:
Although finished, I’m not sure the film has been released. And there’s much more including three episodes of Paranormal, Burbank, about two nerdy ghost hunters. And there are documentaries like Heart of Dorkness, which is part of the extras on My Name Is Bruce.
The truth is that Michael Kallio does a lot of stuff. And he hasn’t seen nearly the attention that he deserves.
Image of Michael Kallio based on his image on his twitter account under Fair Use.