It’s a fond welcome back for David DeCoteau, one of the more enduring low-budget genre directors out there. Starting off in male-based adult entertainment, he was hired by Roger Corman, then worked for Full Moon for many years, and now produces his own movies. We’ve been covering him since “Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama”; he also did three of the “Puppet Master” sequels and has, to date, directed 127 movies. He’s a “shrewd” businessman, too, and has named a bunch of entirely unrelated movies “1313” (so “1313: Bigfoot Island” and “1313: Frankenqueen”, for example) solely so they’d show up near the beginning of Netflix searches. I’m not sure you can say “shirtless guys with shaved chests doing normal activities, plus there’s usually an 80s Scream Queen in there somewhere” makes a long-running series worth naming, but one must admire the man’s chutzpah.
“Boxer brief horror” is the term coined to describe the genre DeCoteau works inside. While he does movies with women in the lead roles, he’s up there with Albert Pyun and Ed Wood as a director who’s perfectly happy to make his sexual interests the centrepiece of his work. Pyun – body-building ladies; Wood – angora sweaters / transvestitism; DeCoteau – shirtless, hairless young men. A casual glance through his filmography will reveal dozens and dozens of DVD covers which look roughly identical – between 3 and 5 bare-chested young men, all looking very serious, always photographed as if they were in a semi-circle, almost always white; occasionally a token woman in there; heavy image processing, and a looming figure in the background (either a pair of eyes or a spooky house, usually) – and if you ever spent any time in a video shop in the early years of the new millennium, you’ll definitely have seen some of his stuff.
(In fact, if you have any favourites from this particular era with a similar cover, we’ll do a review series of video shop classics)
“I’ve Been Watching You” is nominally set around the world of fraternity hazing. After seeing a pledge killed by a shadowy group, we jump right into the “action”, and meet two new students, Dan and Chris. Dan is the wet blanket nerdy type, and Chris is the jock hero (he’s got a swimming scholarship). Their introductory conversation is absolutely crazy, and a perfect summation of what’s to come. There’s negative chemistry between them, and in place of banter they do a weirdly serious fake out – like Chris will threaten to beat Dan to death, leaving an awkward pause before saying “I’m joking!” – this happens five times or so during the course of things. There’s sort of a tension there, as Chris isn’t into joining groups like fraternities, and Dan wishes he was able to join them.
The plot does get going quite quickly, which is good. Chris, while biking round campus, meets the beautiful Megan and for seemingly no reason at all, she, Chris and Dan become close friends…over the course of a day. Their conversations are beyond stilted, to the extent I’m not sure if the writer or any of the actors had heard human beings speak before. What’s perhaps most surprising is, rather than exciting horror stuff, a significant portion of the action is these young people discussing their intense feelings…when, bear in mind, they’ve known each other for a day. Megan is genuinely amazing, one of the weirdest, most charisma-free performances I’ve ever seen – that actor Elizabeth Bruderman was only in one other movie is terribly sad (if you love un-acting).
As the camera ogles Chris, stretching after a long shirtless run, we see the guys of the evil Doma Tau Omega frat. They’re obviously the bad guys, even if the movie doesn’t tell us right away – partly because they’re dressed like lunatics (one of them is wearing a PVC shirt) – and their head is Devon, a performance of brain-buggering badness from Bradley Stryker (who must have improved, as this was his first movie and he’s still working regularly in high-level products today). He says “he’s beautiful” about Chris, and while it’s difficult to argue with him, it’s still quite a curious line; we find out later his interest in Chris isn’t the normal “wow, that guy is hot” interest,but…shall I spoil it? Ah, what the hell…he’s a centuries-old vampire, and his deal is, every hundred years he has to find a new body to inhabit, and the body in question must be already corrupted. So, Chris is sucked into Devon’s orbit, and it sort of develops from there. The three amigos go to a Doma Tau Omega party, and Chris immediately ditches his two friends to go and hang out with Devon, where he gets him drunk and then indulges in a bit of mild mutual blood-drinking. This leads to one of the many genuinely puzzling scenes in the movie.
There’s the faintest whisper of chemistry between Megan and Dan, and you think they might get together. She says “let’s go get coffee”, but rather than go and sit in a nice brightly lit coffee shop, clearly because no businesses would allow them to film, so they up sitting on a park bench in almost complete darkness (this can be compared to Chris and Devon’s scene, one of the most obvious day-for-night shots in cinema history). Dan, who – again – has known Chris for maybe two days at this point, spends the entire conversation talking about his new friend rather than the hot woman who’s doing something flirting-adjacent with him. Anyway, all he gets is a peck on the cheek, at least partly because I’m not convinced DeCoteau has got any idea how men and women actually talk to or interact with each other. Dan is such a massive wet blanket.
Part of the reason Devon is doing what he does is because he wants to stay in college forever. A better movie would show how pathetic such a view would be (one gets the feeling the characters from “Twilight” are tired of having to move round and keep attending different high schools), but at least Dan eventually takes matters into his own hands, breaking into the frat and discovering their not-terribly-secret book with the details of how they’ve been around for centuries. While he’s doing this, Chris is most of the way towards accepting his vampire lifestyle, including drinking the blood of a very willing woman at a party. But even this scene is incredibly homoerotic – as Devon guides Chris, the camera angle makes it look like nothing more than he’s giving him head, and it’s all about the two underwear-clad male asses on display.
Anyway, there’s a twist which you’ll be able to spot from almost the first minute of the movie, more shockingly awful acting than you can shake a stick at, more alien-written dialogue, and plenty of very cheaply-shot scenes. You might reasonably expect me to say “avoid like the plague” and just drop that Thumbs Down, but there’s more to “I’ve Been Watching You” than meets the eye.
Well, more and less, let’s say that. It’s undoubtedly awful, a vampire movie where there’s ten times more wooden teen angst than there is vampires, where its sole reason for existence seems to be so the director could hang out with people he wanted to have sex with, but its awfulness is compelling. I wasn’t bored by it for a second, even though by any sensible analysis I should have run a mile. It’s honestly a little refreshing to have the movie not be interested in scantily-clad women at all, even if I’d rather have had some plot than the tight focus on mostly naked twinks that I got. If “Mystery Science Theater 3000” could’ve got the rights to it, it’d have made a perfect riffing opportunity for them, with lots of spaces for jokes and a weird sort of energy so everything bounces along.
So, thanks David DeCoteau, and also a minor thanks to shot-on-VHS legend J.R. Bookwalter (“Zombie Cop”) who was editor on this. And, because it wouldn’t be an ISCFC movie without it, let’s talk unusual numbering. There’s an “I’ve Been Watching You 2” (subtitled “Prom Night”, which is the reason I started down this road) but it has nothing to do with part 1, being a buy-in for the global distributors, actually made three years before this one and a comedy, apparently. In the USA, this is known as “The Brotherhood”, and to date there are 6 movies in the “Brotherhood” series, all directed by DeCoteau, all nothing to do with the rest of the series, all shirtless, all the time.
A bad movie gem, and definitely worth putting on the list for your next movie night.
Rating: thumbs up