The film’s opening scenes introduce us to Doug Jones (Greg Cohan), a young priest who witnesses the sudden and tragic death of his parents outside his church. Even in these brief moments, THE VELOCIPASTOR’s subversive ambitions shine through and will have game viewers instantly hooked. While I won’t completely spoil it here, I suggest viewers pay attention to the VFX throughout. His faith understandably shaken, Doug takes a sabbatical to China, which looks like a random hill that could be literally anywhere. However, Steere’s script makes sure to set the scene by having Doug loudly exclaim “China!” as soon as he steps into frame.
Naturally, Doug is soon granted the ability to transform into a dinosaur after accidentally being cut by a mysterious artefact. Upon returning home, his new powers save the life of a prostitute named Carol (Alyssa Kempinski) and he becomes convinced to use them for good. Cohan and Kempinski thankfully show a clear understanding of the self-awareness Steere’s vision demands, as they each nail the transitions between melodrama and awkward line readings which epitomise THE VELOCIPASTOR. For instance, Doug seems more horrified to learn about Carol’s job than when he is shown the corpse of his first victim. Likewise, the cheesy montages intended to show their characters falling for each other become a brilliant exercise in cringe comedy through the pair’s uncomfortable smiles and laughter.
Yet despite how much I enjoyed the entire cast’s perfectly suited performances, my favourite aspect of this film is how regularly Steere delivers something completely unexpected. Even within the bizarre premise outlined above, there’s somehow still room for a wartime flashback with a laugh-out-loud funny climax, a subplot about drug-dealing ninjas that disappears as quickly as it’s introduced, and a sex scene edited to more closely resemble a music video for the cliché indie rock song playing in the background (to name just a few examples). Perhaps the biggest surprise is the handful of more conventional jokes, which land just as effectively thanks to the script’s palpable confidence. Take Carol’s pimp, Frankie Mermaid (Fernando Pacheco De Castro), who we are told is named such because he’s “swimming in bitches”; I would argue this is about as close to objectively funny as screenwriting can get.
At a mere 75 minutes’ runtime including credits, I suggest anyone remotely interested in THE VELOCIPASTOR let their curiosity take over. Despite being clearly aimed at fans of the ‘so bad it’s good’ sub-genre, the sheer self-awareness and variety on display here should provide every audience with at least a few laughs. Above all, this film is a bold declaration of Brendan Steere’s comedic talent and is hopefully just a hint of what’s to come from the multihyphenate. If a chuckle-inducing pun was all it took for him to achieve such a distinct vision, I can’t wait to see what hilarious project he comes up with next.
That’s confirmed for us when Kurt Voltman, the Gaffer gets a full screen credit just before Steere’s own Director credit; when the title song, Extinction Love by Free Parking! ends with a riff from John Williams’ Jurassic Park score and when the (almost) first line of dialogue is “So your parents died, Doug. It’s what parents do.”
So, what about that ludicrous plot? Pastor Doug (Gregory James Cohan) has a crisis of faith when he witnesses his parents inexplicably murdered by a car bomb. Acting on advice from his mentor, Father Stewart (credited as Dr Daniel E Steere, to give Daniel Steere the respect he so obviously deserves), Doug goes to a place where he thinks God won’t follow. China! (in fact, he seems to drive there, but let’s not be picky). Here he encounters a strange girl (Claire Hsu) fleeing from some kind of martial arts gang. With her last breath, she slips him a dinosaur claw and tells him it must be destroyed… but too late, he’s already cut his hand on it and is now infused with some ancient power that transforms him into a velociraptor. (but only when he gets really angry, a bit like The Hulk). Not only is Doug now the VelociPastor, he’s also being pursued by the same nefarious martial arts gang. Back home, he saves Carol (Alyssa Kempinski) a ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ from her nasty pimp, Frankie Mermaid (Fernando Pachero De Castro). In fact, he turns into a dinosaur and rips poor Frankie apart. Doug is horrified by what he’s becomes, but Carol helps him see that this could be his true calling, to use his newfound primal, prehistoric powers to dispose of the worst of humanity. (she also manages to get him to wear a bright orange dress which is one of the visual highlights of the movie). And so it continues, with Doug and Carol ridding the world of bad guys while still being pursued by the martial arts gang until it all ends in a bloodbath worthy of a Greek tragedy.
This story is so silly, that it requires a particular style of performance to carry it off. You’ll note, earlier on, that I described it as ‘overacting’ not bad acting. These actors are no slouches. They know exactly what they’re doing and just how to pitch the hyper-reality of their performances in a way that stops us from scoffing at the narrative, and even convinces us to accept Doug’s terrible rubber dinosaur-suit (a costume worthy of The Gorn in the original TV Star Trek) as readily as the other characters do. In particular Cohen strikes just the right note of deadpan piety as Pastor Doug and bemusement at the blasphemous horror of what he becomes, finding a dark edged humour by playing the role with a straight bat. Kempinski is equal to the task and the two of them rise to the challenge that this movie throws at them.
In other words, Steere and his cast get the tone and style of his movie just right. It’s not without its bumps and grinds along the way, but it never apologises for its micro ($35K) budget. Instead it celebrates what it can achieve at that lowly scale, cleverly cutting its cloth according to its means. This paves the way for some pretty effective and relatively inexpensive camera techniques – some great fuzzy rear projection, some nice split screen work and a pretty funny montage as Doug and Carol get to know each other. (although, the location that’s supposed to be China falls well short of believability).
According to Steere, the idea for his funny film folly came when his phone auto-corrected the word Velociraptor to what became the title of the film. Inspired by what effectively was a mondegreen, Steere (who was still in film school) made himself a trailer for the film he hoped he would one day direct. It was a bit of an internet sensation and the rest, as they say, is (pre)history. I haven’t seen Steere’s 2013 debut feature, Animosity (made for less than half the budget of The VelociPastor!) but it’s got a decent looking trailer on YouTube so I think I’ll be tracking that down because it could well be that Brendan Steere is an emerging talent to watch (literally). Oh, and by the way, the band that plays that title song I mentioned? Free Parking!? Guess who the bass player and lead singer is? Obviously, Brendan Steere is someone to listen to as well.
When his parents are killed outside of his parish before his very eyes, pastor Doug begins to lose his faith. Seeking guidance from his senior he is told to disappear and travel to where God doesn't exist, and should God find him there, he will know his place in the world. With a backpack slung over his shoulder Doug ends up in China (aka American woodlands), only to find himself in the crosshairs of ninja warriors. When he stumbles on to a dinosaur bone he becomes infected by its curse and is pursued by the ninjas. When back in America Doug blacks out and becomes Velocipastor, a human dinosaur with a taste for blood. Look out world, Doug is on the rampage.
What ensues is an outlandish exercise in low-brow comedy that exploits itself with its tongue firmly in its cheek. Gather your mates, crack open a few beers and behold VELCIPASTOR in all of its ridiculous glory. The first impression is how cheap it looks, and you will experience the urge to turn it off... but stick with it. The second Doug lands in China and befriends a prostitute before killing her pimp, Steere's intentions become clear. Once fully metamorphosed Doug rampages across the screen looking like Barney the Meth-head Dinosaur while tearing bag guys to shreds with his rubbery mouth and bendable teeth. What a crack up!
The cast get the joke and play it well. Greg Cohan leads the show with an overacted soap-opera quality that fits the brief, while everyone else follows suite. This is not the type of movie one would critique the players performances, and so we'll leave it at that.
In all seriousness, yes, VELCIPASTOR is a fucking awful movie... but it's that type of awful movie that we love to celebrate. “So bad its good” is redefined and I am reminded of Hollywood director John Landis's first feature film, Schlock!, which boasted the same brand of humour, an equally shit-house creature-design (maybe not THIS shit-house) and a tongue-in-cheek courageousness. Landis was just lucky to have made his movie at a time of film and celluloid, whereas Steere is at the mercy of the digital era.
Join the chorus of passionate cult-movie fans and embrace VELCIPASTOR for what it is. Support its talented director and look forward to his career's inevitable upward trajectory.... am I overselling it? I don't care. It's hilarious.