Online – Fangoria – HorrorHound – GoreZone
Imagine you are going through a box of VHS tapes at some garage sale – nevermind why you prefer unmarked mystery VHS tapes to bluray – and you seem to gravitate towards one particular one. Sure they are all the same unmarked black plastic cages to who-knows-what kind of insanity – but this one is CALLING you. You feel around in your pocket for a quarter and flip it towards the odd gentleman that runs this Popsicle stand.
“Keep the change” you say, half trying to be cool, half wanting him to stop staring at you with that creepy smile…and who the fuck wears a suit to their own garage sale?
Eager to see what power has summoned you, you blow two stop signs on the way home and forget to put the car in ‘P’ before you try to turn off the car.
Once inside your hovel, you close the blinds, dim the lights, and grab your favorite bottle of lotion.
“Here we go” you say out loud, unable to tame the beast within you.
The TV flickers and you witness the closest thing that resembles Evil that you have ever seen…
…Well, everybody’s first time seeing August Underground is different – some see it through a friend – “Dude you GOTTA see this!” and others see it Charlie Sheen-style at a party and have NO idea what they are watching. [Backstory: Charlie Sheen saw Flowers of Flesh and Bloodat a party and thought it was real snuff and launched an FBI investigation] Also, if the above scenario is your first time (everybody remembers their first time) then perhaps EBAY can be your new friend as you have a very rare first-pressing of this underground cornerstone.
So what is August Underground? My short answer would be a tool for making you appreciate life – for after enduring the trilogy in one sitting you really start to see the beauty of everything…
…and the long answer?
Let’s break it into thirds shall we?
“The sickest film ever made?”
Back in 2001, when August Underground started being circulated in the world of underground film, NOBODY knew what they were in for – for this was a film that would shock even the most proclaimed gore-hounds right to their blackened souls.
The movie starts in the middle – just like any other home-made tape – and we (and the cameraman) are led downstairs by a smiling young man with the promise “You are going to love this!” We see a nude woman tied to a chair, rotten apple-core gag in her mouth, shit coming out from behind, and her left nipple missing. “I cut it off!” – The young man says laughing hysterically. A quick pan of the basement showcases the rest of the carnage – a man lies in the bathtub, deceased, with his penis completely cut off and multiple stab wounds visible, it is revealed he is the boyfriend of the girl in the chair. After a sadistic session of the young man tormenting her with a fresh apple and shoving fecal matter into the wound of where her nipple used to be, the guys get bored and leave.
What follows is a 90 minute look into the world of these sociopaths – and not just their triumphant kills, no, we see them driving around, touring a slaughterhouse, and even having a night of fun with some prostitutes. This is a slice of their lives – exciting, boring, riveting, vile, and disgusting.
Many who will see August Underground – especially not knowing much going in – will have a hard time reminding themselves what they are viewing is indeed fabricated. Fred Vogel, Jerami Cruise, and the entire Toe Tag team went ALL out and created the most realistic faux-pas snuff film one will ever see – so much so that Fred has stated that to this day, clips of the movies still end up on murder sites (more on that later). It is that insane realism combined with the extreme sadism – the maniacal laughter of these guys ‘just having fun’ that makes even the most jaded person’s blood pressure rise. These films are made for a select audience, and somebody who just dabbles in mainstream horror would probably have a mental breakdown after just 15 minutes of August Underground – could you imagine if a politician got their hands on this?
This, the first of the trilogy, has a very child-like feel to it. The characters are akin to Alex and his droogs in A Clockwork Orange – having fun at the expense of somebody else’s pain. They giggle and laugh and make fart and poop jokes as they go on with multiple murders – children that they are, these maniacs are on the rise to something far more sinister…
“…A malignant seething hatework that may be the most abhorrent masterpiece to ever slither from the underground.”
If August Underground was the child of the series, then August Underground’s Mordum is definitely the angry father of this dysfunctional family. Gone is the cameraman from the first installment (did Fred murder him?) and instead, we are introduced to Crusty – Fred’s girlfriend, and new partner in crime. (How the fuck did THEY meet?!) It is with Mordum that EVERYTHING gets turned up to 11 – especially the sadism – “CUT IT OFF!” one screams as a man bound in a wooden coffin is forced to cut his penis off with vanity scissors.
Mordum continues the rise of Fred Vogel’s character named Peter – he is never named in the series, but those in the loop know that before the series was called August Underground, it was going to be called Peter, but, ultimately, it was too close to Henry (Portrait of a Serial Killer) and it was changed. Peter and Crusty have a tumultuous relationship, one that is full of anger and violence, but they are in love…trouble is, Crusty also has a penchant for screwing her brother, Maggot. This entry follows the three of them as they slice and dice multiple people – from an excruciatingly long vomit-play scene (vomit all over you and leave you for dead) to a decapitated, maggot-covered baby in a trashcan, to the climax with Maggot having sex with a dead little girl in a bathtub – one thought comes to mind…these people must smell SO bad. Mordum sets the bar at the top, and given Fred and team perfected what worked from the first entry, this film, still to this day, is at the top of MY “Sickest Films Ever Made” list.
Mordum is definitely the power-house of the trilogy, with top-notch performances and top-notch effects; it still out-performs any faux-pas snuff film today by miles. The addition of a female character into the circle of killers helps further the fact that this could be anybody – your neighbors, your distant cousins, or even your fuckin’ mailman. These are not famous people, these are not luxurious people, no, these are everyday people who exist everywhere. They don’t need a mask, they don’t care about who sees them, they are monsters, and they are here to do the Devil’s work, that is until…
“Today is the day that our sins are over…”
August Underground’s Penance was released in 2007. It had been four years since we left Peter, Crusty, and Maggot in the basement. Four years since Maggot slit his own throat. Four years since we saw how bat-shit insane Crusty is (and how she can vomit on command). Four years since Maggot fucked the intestines of a disemboweled woman. Four years since our minds were assaulted, raped, and blown away with August Underground’s Mordum, so what could POSSIBLY come next?
Penance has a VERY different, but totally welcome feel to it. Gone is Crusty’s crazy punk-rock appearance and instead is a beautiful girl-next-door look, and even Peter starts off with a nice button-up shirt. What happened to these maniacs? (“I was cured alright!”) Also gone is the grainy found-footage look and we are given the first August Underground in High Definition! Exciting, right?
After following these two on a road-trip in the intro, we see a different, peaceful side of these two lovers – it is surreal, like seeing Hitler playing hopscotch with little girls and eating cotton candy. Could Penance really be a reformed, cured, and happy couple movie?
Penance showcases some of the vilest and disgusting acts of these two coupled with the downfall of their relationship – one big ball of seething anger and depression that just festers in both of these characters until they both explode. We follow Peter and Crusty as they encounter a homeless man (played by Toe Tag fan Fuctup who won a contest for the role, another reason Toe Tag is one of the most fan-friendly studios out there) as well as a stomach-turning Christmas Eve home-invasion scene in which an entire family is tormented and murdered. We also see what could be the cause of the demise of their relationship – the disemboweling of a pregnant woman by Peter (Watch after the credits for the final clue on that one – Crusty appears to have had a miscarriage, and is filming the fetus in the toilet.)
The fantastic thing about the trilogy is that, after viewing it as a whole, a definite story can be gathered from bits and pieces scattered throughout. This isn’t just random clips, there is an underlining story and character development – especially in the last two entries. Another beautiful thing about all three August Underground movies is the ambiguity. It’s the fact that you are watching home videos – something that was never meant for you to see – that feeds this ambiguity. What happened to the girl that escaped at the end of August Underground? What happened when the police car chased Peter after the supermarket attacks? How did Peter and Crusty meet? Who was the little girl in the bathtub? Did Crusty die at the end ofPenance? Did Peter? – You tell me viewers, I have my own theories.
The August Underground movies, many years from now – though it is happening now, too – will most assuredly be seen as cornerstones in the world of independent cinema as well as underground horror. The extreme realism of these films can only be topped by the actual thing – Fred and Toe Tag created a monster with these films, and that monster is only tamed by the viewer’s emotions – is it beautiful art, or is it sick, vile trash that should be destroyed?
The August Underground movies change many people after viewing – for it is that same rush of endorphins after a really intense roller coaster that is felt with the combination of a SEVERE appreciation for life and one’s loved ones. I remember after watching the first two at a party and the very next day I called both my parents and also some other family members, just to say hi – and how wonderful it was to hear their voices! August Underground is NOT a weapon as it would appear on the outside to many, no, it is a TOOL. The intense violence exists to show us just that – real violence is UGLY. This is not some stylized John Woo film with some guy duel-wielding Uzi’s, or some Saw-type torture porn, there is no stylized violence here – what you are seeing is violence at its purest – the August Underground films NEED to exist to show the rest of the world how ugly real violence can be.
The August Underground trilogy can certainly be seen as a metaphor for modern society’s fascination with capturing EVERYTHING on camera or video or even Twitter. Everybody feels the need to document everything – I’m an ordained journalist damnit! – so much so that going to any event – concerts, sporting events, even going to a theater has to documented extensively to the point where people are watching the screens instead of the event…so why can’t impulse-murderers do the same? Surely the “thrill of the kill” can be documented and shared too, right?
We are the first real generation to have death and murder OnDemand – for at any second, one can pull out their iPad, laptop, or even their 3-yeard old cell phone with the cracked screen, and go to any of “those” sites, like Goregrish and DocumentingReality, and watch hundreds of real videos of people getting killed in accidents, executions, suicide bombings, and even torture and murder – in 1080p HD for fuck’s sake!
It is these death sites than one can see two of the ‘most famous’ death videos – the Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs (AKA ‘3 Guys 1 Hammer’) and the Luka Magnotta (AKA ‘1 Lunatic 1 Icepick’) tapes. Both of these videos showcase extreme violence towards helpless victims and could easily be “deleted scenes” to the August Underground movies.
Now, did August Underground set the stage for all of this? Of course not, BUT Fred knew it was only a matter of time before his trilogy was seen as a pre-cursor, but in a sociological way, not in a “if this, then that” way. It is only now, 2012, that we can look back and say “He knew this hurricane was coming.”
The real danger of August Underground is not the malicious sadism coming from the demented characters, no, it is the camera – the unblinking eye – capturing all the atrocities for repeat viewings and distribution, for it is in those repeated viewings that the individuals get tortured and killed repeatedly, which is exactly what the death sites do.
Toe Tag fans are some of the nicest and friendliest people one could ever meet, and Fred himself has been called a big teddy bear by many that know him – so where does this drive for seeing the demise of others come from? Simply put, Toe Tag fans are the best kind of horror audience because they will not compromise – they know what they want, and in that, it challenges the Toe Tag team to give every movie all they got – the absolute best kind of symbiotic relationship one can have in the world of entertainment.
It’s been a good ten years since the first installment dropped, and still, to this day, it remains at the top of multiple “Most Extreme, Most Vile, or Sickest Movies Ever Made” lists…
All hail the king.
A Conversation with Fred Vogel
I had the privilege of speaking with the maniac behind all of the August Underground movies – Mr. Fred Vogel in early August, here is what went down –
BrundleFly– There is a definite character arc that I noticed in the August Underground trilogy – I see August Underground as the sort-of rise of Peter, Mordum I saw as the apex of depravity for Peter and Crusty, and Penance was kind of the downfall of their relationship and their sanity – was this intentional, or did it evolve with the series?
Fred Vogel – It was intentional, absolutely. I mean, when we were making the [first] movie and the characters started to evolve, we didn’t really know where it was going to go. But once the movie was finished, I knew that I wanted to go back and direct the third one and bring the characters down to where they need to be – the bottom of the barrel.
BF– I remember back in the day, between Mordum and Penance, there were rumors that Gunnar Hansen was going to be Peter’s father, is there any truth to that?
FV – Absolutely. Gunnar is a really good friend of mine; he is somebody that I really considered. I talked to Gunnar about it and he was totally down for it, and he was like, the perfect guy, because he was like 6’4, I’m six foot three, and we kind of look alike a bit. You know, we are both really big guys, kind of baby-faced, even though he’s got that beard. When it all came down to it, the main reason Gunnar didn’t end up being in it was The Redsin Towerwas made. The whole reason why Gunnar was going to be in it was because I was going to mix the way the movie looked with half of it shot on video, and half like a movie-movie. TheAugust Underground movies need to be that fucking raw, intense, real cinéma vérité style of film making, and I didn’t want people to recognize him and be like, ‘Hey, that’s Gunnar Hansen!’ As with all the August Underground movies, you don’t know who these people are, you’ve never seen them before, and that’s really what makes them work. As much as I would have loved to have one of my heroes and icons in horror in one of my movies, it just didn’t work – but it was the right thing to do, and Gunnar agreed. There was this huge script written forPenance, and the whole reason I wanted to do it in the first place was I didn’t want people to think I was this one-trick pony who just made these snuff movies, you know, I didn’t set out my career to be that guy at all, I wanted to make more traditional-style films and when making the August Underground movies, it had to be that way because in 2001, shot-on-video movies looked like shit – anybody that tried to make it work, it always looked really bad, and I didn’t want to fall in that category either. Because of financial reasons I had to shoot on video, but maybe if I stylized it a little bit and make it not look traditional, maybe I could get away with this new style, and I think I did pretty good.
BF – I’m sure you’ve heard of the infamous Charlie Sheen story concerning Flowers of Flesh and Blood [Sheen saw it at a party in the early 90’s, thought it was genuine, and got the FBI involved] Was there any similar reactions to August Underground like that? I mean, it’s genuinely a couple notches above the Guinea Pig movies in terms of realism, as it’s much later down the road. Has anybody thought it was full-blown real snuff?
FV – I’ve heard a lot of people, after the fact, say that they thought it was real when they were watching it, but nowadays you can research everything. I think when the Guinea Pig movies came out, it’s not like you had the internet where you could just type it in and be like ‘What is this?’ When I released August Underground, in 2001, you know, September 11th had just happened, so that screwed with my plan of dropping copies off in public places, like courthouses, and shit like that. I didn’t want that to backfire and I go to prison. I told people the truth, this is a movie, it looks real, but this is 100% fake, and I think that kind of softened it, to credit the movie it still pops up on some of those real death websites where people think it’s real. It was shot to look as real as possible, so I’m glad it did that.
BF – I was watching August Underground earlier this week with the commentary on, and you mentioned that one of the twin brothers towards the end – who is an actual amputee, you were actually going to do some sort of leg-amputation, which would have definitely added a couple more layers of realism on top of everything, as it would be hard to rationalize that as being fake if you didn’t know he was already an amputee. Is there any one specific scene in the entire trilogy that people pick out more than others as being the most realistic or is it all just kind of clustered together?
FV – I think each one of the movies has its own ‘top scene’ – in the first one, when I’m chopping up the body and throwing up in the toilet, lots of people liked that, then of course the final scene in Mordum with the child in the tub, and then in August Underground’s Penance, the Christmas scene [a brutal home-invasion on Christmas Eve where Peter and Crusty visit and kill an entire family] is always one that gets the most attention as well. The Christmas scene was always one I wanted to do for years, it’s just that if you come off campy at all, it would ruin it, and we wouldn’t have put it in the movie. When we did it, it was so rough and so real it was intense.
BF – That scene always gives me goose-bumps, especially when Crusty says, while Peter suffocates the child, that she “Wants to see the life go out its eyes.”
FV– And that’s the thing with these movies, sometimes that little bit of dialogue that we say can be very haunting.
BF – Yea, again in Mordum with Maggot having sex with the dead child in the tub and where Crusty, again, says something along the lines of “You don’t have to worry about growing up now sweetheart!” I mean that seriously took it up like 20 notches man!
FV – [Laughs] Yea.
BF – Since Penance came out and closed off the trilogy, has there been any ideas that have come in your head between now and then that you wish you would have put in?
FV – Not really, I mean, when Penance came out, I was so happy with making that movie, Crusty and I were in a different place, a happy place, which is funny when you think of such an evil movie. It was a totally different atmosphere then we made August Underground’s Mordum. The first one was great because I had the location of the house, the second one was all about ‘let’s just go everywhere we can find a place to shoot,’ and in the third one, once again I had access to a full house – it was actually a home for Peter, and that helped mentally.
BF – You mentioned in the pseudo-documentary S&man that when you witnessed one of the actual beheading videos online, you instantly thought that Toe Tag could do it better – a ‘more human than human’ style claim. Do you watch modern day horror films now and still think that?
FV – I do watch modern day horror, I mean, I love horror, it’s one of my favorite genres, and I’m always looking for something to affect me. Unfortunately there really hasn’t been much – however I am really happy with some stuff that has recently come out like The Bunny GamesAdam Rehmeir is an amazing film-maker, I loved it. There are a few guys on the block that I respect that are really doing it, but unfortunately the mainstream doesn’t pick up on any of that shit, you know they just want to keep re-making and force-feeding us bullshit –
BF – PG-13 bullshit!
FV – Yea man, and that is not what it’s about. Like, I grew up in the hay-day of the video tape man, and there were SO many horror movies there at that time from brutal horror to horror comedy, and nowadays, everything just looks the same, everything sounds the same, everything is the same cookie-cutter thing and there is no originality behind any of it – and that really sucks because there are so talented people in Hollywood, but some people don’t care anymore, and it’s all about a paycheck.
BF– Hence the PG-13 rating, so they can market to that teenage market.
FV – Yea, I’ve never been about that, that’s why we do things totally different at Toe Tag, and I’m so happy with the way that we decided to do it – and that kind of came out of necessity, because nobody would release August Underground, so I had to put it out there myself. Now, as a result, we’ve built this underground little company that puts out our own movies and nobody says what we can or cannot do. On top of our films we also have our own clothing line, anything we can do for the fans to give them something different, and something fresh. If you like it, awesome, if you don’t, so be it – keep watching that mainstream crap.
BF– What films do you consider extreme now, you mentioned The Bunny Games – and there’s other stylized extreme films, like Serbian Film and Tom Six’s Human Centipede 2 – what makes you say ‘Holy shit!’ out loud?
FV– Nothing really. [Laughs] You know, I’m so desensitized when it comes to things. When I made August Underground, I wanted to do something that you never saw before. I remember when watching Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer that home-invasion scene, how powerful that was – that was the most brutal part of that whole film. That’s the part that hit me, when that movie was over I kept seeing it over and over in my head. That’s the shit that real horror is about. When it comes to the movies that I want to make, I want that tone, I want to make people feel the way I felt when I watched something like that.
BF– If I may get a little personal, you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to – I’ve been following your career for some time now and I remember hearing about what happened to your cousin, Andrew. Did his murder affect you in terms of wanting to call it quits at all, or did that drive you to go even further?
FV – Both, actually. When it first happened it definitely made me want to quit. It was really fucked up, I had just finished writing a scene where Becky gets hacked up with an axe in The Redsin Tower and literally a couple hours later, my father called and told me what happened. It was just so fucked up, and the first thing that goes through my mind is ‘Holy shit, did somebody see my movies?’ When you are an artist and you put your work out there it is so open to interpretation that anybody can do whatever they want. You lose your art once it is out there. Maybe it’s the monster in me, or maybe I’m the doctor creating this monster, I don’t know. When I heard that Andrew was killed, I just really thought, ‘Some fucking psycho saw my shit and did something horrible to my family.’ I found out the story, what happened behind it, it really showed me how fucked up people can be. Him and his girlfriend were at a bar, hanging out, and they met some guy who said ‘Hey, you wanna come back to my house, you know, we’ll smoke some weed, maybe do some blow or whatever, have a good time.’ Normally you would be like “Yea, totally’ but you wouldn’t think you would be found then next morning stabbed multiple times and dead. It’s just so fucked up man. So I go to New Jersey to attend the funeral, the whole time I’m thinking ‘This really sucks, because I have all the money, the financing, to make this movie The Redsin Tower and I’m really ready to call it a day.’ I talked to my uncle, and I told him how I felt about things, then I decided, I need to keep the violence as true as I can in my films and keep people aware. I never put violence in my movies just to shock; it’s there for a reason. Violence is nasty, and violence is real, and that is why I think Toe Tag works so well is because we don’t skim on the violence, we try to make it as real as possible.
BF – What’s next for Toe Tag Pictures- any word on the Boris Karloff Frankenstein movie?
FV – Well, right now, we’ve been doing more work as special effects artists, which is really cool. We just did a movie in New Orleans with Adam Gierasch, who did the remake of Night of the Demons, we did some really great stuff for that, real brutal shit. I have moved closer to the Frankenstein movie that I’m trying to make. I am writing the next Toe Tag movie, so that’s where I am at right now. We also have Murder Collection Vol. 2 floating out there, we are doing different stuff with that and we will be putting out The Redsin Tower on Bluray, and of course the August Underground boxset, which there isn’t a day that goes by where people don’t ask about that. I just want to set the record straight – it is coming, but it won’t be out for a while because it’s such a beast, and there’s so many people that want to do interviews for it. There’s also going to be a Dutch commentary from a film festival that Toe Tag frequents called “B-Movie, Underground and Trash Festival,” and I’m trying to make it the greatest that I can, I don’t want to compromise that. I could totally just put it out and be like ‘Here it is, shut the fuck up, here’s the boxset,’ I really want to make it super, super special for everybody and kind of just close that chapter.
BF – One last question for you, where is Peter today, and is he still wearing a shirt with his picture on the front?
FV – I don’t know – where is he? Some people think he is dead, some people think he is in the basement, and some people think he died at the end of Penance. That’s the beautiful thing about these movies – they are very ambiguous, your imagination will just run away with you, that’s what is really scary – what happened to these people?
A VERY special thank you to Fred Vogel and all of Toe Tag Pictures.