“Chicago Rot” (2017): Strange Revenge Tale Will Grow on You … If You Let It

You sure do get a lot of movie with Chicago Rot: the revenge movie; the gory horror movie; the twisted fantasy film; and, the sometimes laughable ‘What the heck?’ movie. Not all the movies fit well together in a satisfactory way, but that doesn’t mean watching Chicago Rot isn’t a lot of fun.

The film stars Brant McCrea (who co-wrote the screenplay with director Dorian Weinzimmer) as a vengeful serial killer named Les, known to locals and authorities as The Ghoul. After spending decades in prison for the murder of more than 30 people, all murdered as part of his thirst for revenge against the people who murdered his mom when he as a child, The Ghoul is let out to finish his bloody work. (Your first What the heck moment happens when you aren’t ever really told why The Ghoul is let out of prison. Good behavior? Has he slaughtered everybody else in the building and just walked out? Like all the WTH moments that follow, don’t let this one sidetrack you too much. Go with the flow and you’ll enjoy Chicago Rot a lot more)

The carnage begins before The Ghoul is a mile down the road from the jail when a white van full of low life mobsters looking to off him kidnap The Ghoul  and take him for a ride. Seconds later, the mobsters are all very dead and The Ghoul continues on his way. It’s a pattern that repeats often during the movie: The Ghoul gets trapped and fights his way out over and over. Thankfully, Weinzimmer is a talented and imaginative enough director to make each Ghoul Vs Bad Guy battle more interesting — and more gruesome — than the last. The murder by marital aid is particularly vivid a should haunt even the most hardened horror movie fans long after the lights come back on.

If it simply followed The Ghoul on his path of blood-soaked vengeance, it would still be worth seeing. What makes it a must-see is the way the story diverges down different paths as the movie moves along. We hear from different characters that along with losing his mother, The Ghoul lost a part of his soul when he was a child, a trade, we assume, for the power, he willed when he grows up and starts killing people by the dozens. So, when The Ghoul is suddenly transported to a weird netherworld where he must battle a creature that looks like the love child of a wooly mammoth and a minotaur, we remember what we’ve been told and go along for the ride. It’s a bit harder to accept some of his other fantastical adventures, and not just because they are given musical accompaniment by a mariachi marching band from hell, complete with neon sombreros and glow-in-the-dark drums. It’s a hoot to watch, but it is so far off base from anything else in the movie that it just doesn’t feel right. But it’s still a hoot.

As weird as Chicago Rot can be — and that’s really, really weird at times — it’s to the credit of the cast that the film feels grounded in at least the fringes of reality no matter how bizarre it gets. McCrea is a strong leading man able to look menacing whether he’s in his shaggy just-got-out-of-prison façade or all decked out in the interstellar ass-kicker uniform he dons towards the end of the movie.  Even in the quieter moments, when he’s not up to his elbows in somebody else’s guts, McCrea shows he can deliver lines with the best of them.

Shira Barber, making her feature debut, is the perfect actress to play The Ghoul’s love interest, giving us a character that is strong enough to wait for him, and maybe even helps, as he walks his violet path. She’s more than just a foil for him to fool around with between murders, though, and Barber does an excellent job of building a three-dimensional character that, in her own way, is as strong as her man.

Dave Cartwright has the thankless task of portraying the weak and whiny Police Detective Simmons, a drunken bum of a cop who cries almost more than he speaks in the film. To his credit, though, Cartwright embraces the part with the kind of fearless performance few actors, especially first-time actors like Cartwright, could do so well.

When all’s said and done, Chicago Rot is not the kind of movie you will like immediately — it poses too many unanswered questions and interchanges themes and styles too quickly — but it is also the kind of movie you will like more and more as time passes or as you watch it for a second (or third) time. Chicago Rot will grow on you if you let it.

Chicago Rot (2017) 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

John Black
John Black still remembers his first horror movie, sneaking in to a double-feature of Horror House with Frankie Avalon and a Boris Karloff film he can’t remember the name of but will always remember for giving him his first glimpse of cinematic nudity as one of the actresses moved from the bed to the door without putting on any underwear! (Fond family memory: That glimpse, when discovered by his parents, cased John’s mom to call the theater and yelling at the manager for letting her son see ‘such filth’.) Luckily, John was more impressed by the blood and horror than the bare haunches and quickly became a devotee of the genre.

John has been a professional movie reviewer since 1987, when his first review – of a Robert De Niro film called Angel Heart – appeared in the entertainment section of The Cape Codder newspaper. He’s been writing about film ever since, primarily now as the entertainment editor at Boston Event Guide. Hardly a day goes by when he doesn’t watch at least one movie, which is how he thinks life was meant to be.