Friday, June 4, 2010




By Brian M. Sammons

So you think you’re the ultimate hardcore horror bad ass? You were reading FANGORIA when you were eight. You can watch the splinter in the eye gag in ZOMBI without wincing. You laugh when Captain Rhodes gets pulled apart in DAY OF THE DEAD. You’ve even gone deeper than those “kiddy” films. You’ve pulled some strings to see all the Japanese GUINEA PIG flicks and ICHI THE KILLER made you giggle like a school girl. You’ve even watched the “real” stuff like both FACES and TRACES OF DEATH. Yes, indeed, you are one jaded, hard to shock horror loving psycho. But then you come across a little something with the innocent sounding title of: AUGUST UNDERGROUND and everything changes.

You might have heard some whispers about this movie but come on: how bad can it really be? The words: “horror”, “death”, “blood” or anything so related are not even in the title. And how frightening can the month of August be? So you tracked a copy down on the internet and ordered it. Thinking that it was going to be as shocking as MY LITTLE PONY, you popped the DVD in and hit play.

The movie starts without fanfare. There’s no opening credits, no sound track, just a raw video feed. The words “raw” and “video” are accurate because this flick was shot on what looks to be someone’s cheap, handheld camcorder. This means that the picture goes in and out of focus, is jittery, grainy, and sometimes annoying to watch. You just start to wonder, “What the hell is this?” when the camera is taken down to the basement of some frenetic oddball and you see something that stops you cold: a young girl, stripped completely naked, tied to a chair. She is covered in blood, urine, and feces and it soon becomes clear that one of her nipples has been cut off. This is only the beginning of this girl’s abuse and the horrors that this innocuously named movie will show you.

Cue the eviscerated and castrated guy in the shower. Cue the girl who’s picked up by maniacs, raped and brutally beaten to death right before your eyes. Cue yourself crying your eyes out, wondering what sort of sick snuff film you got by mistake and when are the Feds going to kick down your door and take you away just for watching it.

That, my friends, is the power of AUGUST UNDERGROUND. If you ever wanted to see a real life snuff film...then you probably need professional help. But besides that, if you ever tried to see a real snuff film, then you found out just like Nick Cage did in 8MM that finding the real deal is all but impossible. Well, the good news is that AUGUST UNDERGROUND isn’t a real snuff film. There, you can breathe a bit easier now. The other good news (if you’re sick in the head or just want to push your tolerance for witnessing cruelty to the limits) is that AUGUST UNDERGROUND is the closest thing to a real snuff film that you’re ever likely to see. Trust me here folks, I have seen a lot of sick shit and this flick puts them all in the dirt. Simply put: you have never seen anything like this.

Oh, and this was just the first movie that writer/director/ and star of the show, Fred Vogel and the rest of the maniacs over at Toetag Pictures made. Since then there have been two AU sequels (MORDUM and PENANCE) and three other splatter-packed flicks. More on them in a moment, but first here’s more about the movies that put them on the map, the AUGUST UNDERGROUND pseudo-snuff flicks.

As stated before, these films have no opening credits and the video and camera work is pretty bad, however this was done intentionally for effect. In this day and age it is actually easier to make video look better than it is to make it look this bad. Why the crappy video and lack of credits and soundtrack? Simple: to draw the viewer into the twisted world of our psychotic protagonists. If Jeffrey Dahmer had videotaped his gory games do you think it would have looked and sounded good? No, it would have been exactly like this.

Next there are the stars of the show. The main killer is played by director, writer, and all around sick bastard who thought this up: Fred Vogel. Mr. Vogel is a former instructor at Tom Savini's School of Special Makeup Effects and man, does he put those amazing FX skills to good (read as: horribly disgusting) use here. Fred also plays one of the most convincing serial killers ever captured on film, or in this case, video. He is not a suave, super genius like Hannibal Lecter or all the incredibly devious Lecter clones that have become the new horror cliché in Hollywood. This guy is a childish-acting idiot who just so happens to love to torture, rape, and kill for fun. In latter films of this sinister series Fred Vogel will be joined by some other maniacs, including some lethal ladies, but Fred always remains the star of the show and for good reason, he is just so damn creepy.

Vogel and Co. always seem as real as it gets simply because they are so silly, stupid, and brutal. They are more frightening than a dozen Jason Voorhees, a gaggle of Lecters, and a trio of SE7EN’s John Doe. Why? Cause while it is a pretty safe bet that you don’t know any real life unkillable maniacs, or murderous MENSA members, you probably know at least one odd, strange, or downright bizarre guy. A guy you don’t really know. A guy that keeps to himself, doing God only knows what. A guy that could very well be your neighbor, a co worker, or someone you pass on the street everyday. In today’s horror films most psychos are fascinating or funny antiheroes. Even when they do bad things the audience secretly roots for them. People go to see the countless HALLOWEEN films for Michael Myers and all the SILENCE OF THE LAMBS sequels and prequels to watch Hannibal do his thing. They are rockstar psychos. The same thing cannot be said about AUGUST UNDERGROUND sickos. They are completely depraved and utterly unlikable. They are the embodiment of human monsters.

In short, they are the most convincing serial killers ever portrayed on film. Considering the acting credentials of those who played some of the most memorial Hollywood murderers (Christian Bale, Anthony Hopkins, Kevin Spacey, etc. all) that is really saying something.

So is this a sick exploitation flick that should be shunned by all, or a brutally honest film that should be applauded for its courage and creativity? Well my friends that is a question to be debated by those with stomachs strong enough to sit through these films. However in an attempt to get some of my questions about these films answered by the main madman behind, it I tracked Fred Vogel down and put the questions to him. Imagine my surprise when he was very amiable and not the least bit blood splattered.

1. The first question has got to be: "Dear God, why?" I mean, AUGUST UNDERGROUDN is so sick and violent, what were you thinking about when making it? What was the original idea behind it?

FV: I wanted people to say just that "Dear God why". Movies don't give us that feeling anymore so AU had to be the movie to show the most realistic side of a serial killer. I wanted you to feel like you were watching the killers’ home video.

2. Are you not the least bit afraid that in our over litigious society that if someone gets busted for anything, hell jaywalking, and they have a copy of your film in their house that you can become a Judas Priest-like scapegoat?

FV: Not at all. It's a fucking movie. I know that a guy in Australia had his house raided for owning my films and if he had to go to court or something, I would fly down there and defend him and my work.

3. Do you have any opinion on the: "violent movies and video games make people violent" debate and if so, how does AUGUST UNDERGROUND fit into that?

FV: No. Some people are just violent. AU and AUM (the sequel: AUGUST UNDERGROUND’S MORDUM) and AUP (AUGUST UNDERGROUND’S PENANCE), the final entry in the series are anti serial killer movies. The characters in the movie are meant to be the scum of the earth. Nobody should want to be like those people and if you do then you’re sick in the fucking head.

4. Ok, someone comes up to you and says that you are a sick man and that your films are nothing but horrific, exploitative, tasteless garbage: how would you reply to him?

FV: Thank you! I guess my movies got to you. GOOD that's the point. When a movie gives you emotion, especially a horror movie, nowadays that's a complement.

5. This film really weirded me out the first time I saw it, have any fans of your films contacted you (through email, letters, the pone or in person) that really creeped you out in some way?

FV: Everyone who contacts me is usually pretty cool and understands what I was trying to do with the movies. I think I probably creep them out in some way.

6. Has anyone in the horror community (as who gives a shit about the rest of the world) told you that you went too far with the AU movies or has anyone actively come out against you?

FV: Not really. I live for the horror community and try to go out and meet the fans. Toetag (the production company behind the AUGUST films) is usually at most of the horror cons on the east coast spreading the sickness. I know some people don't like the movies and think they are a little too much but respect what we are doing and that is bringing fresh blood in to horror.

7. Why call it AUGUST UNDERGROUND in the first place?

FV: The name comes from the month we were shooting in, and that this movie is made for the underground. When I first started showing the movie to some big shots they all said that I should change the title...good thing I didn't.

8. In many of your bios it says that you taught at Tom Savini's School of Special Makeup Effects. Do you still teach there? Were you taught by The Master, by someone else, or self taught. Do you still do makeup FX today in films other than the AU series?

FV: Yes I used to teach there. No I haven't taught there since 2001. I went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 96' and got a job at the Savini School a week after I graduated but I was never taught by Tom. He and I are still good friends. I still do make-up. I did make-up for Nick Palumbo's MURDER-SET-PIECES and I still love doing FX when I can. When I am directing I try not to do any effects and leave it to the best FX man I know; Jerami Cruise who did all the FX for all of the Toetag movies.

9. What's next for you and Toetag Pictures?

FV: More movies, I am in pre-production on a few movies right now but next up from us is a film called SELLA TURCICA. We also just started a clothing line as well.

See what a nice man Fred is? Then again whenever a killer is caught and the TV reporters interview his neighbors, the first thing they always say is; “He was always such a nice, quiet man.”

Moving on from the infamous AUGUST films, Toetag has made three other insanely bloody and violent horror movies to date. Two are variants of the AU theme. MASKHEAD is about a lesbian couple who make snuff films for profit. The titular character of Maskhead is the star of the ladies’ videos, a large man in a weird mask who tortures and kills people on camera. This is probably my least favorite of the Toetag films as there really isn’t much more to it than that. However fans of the ultraviolent AU pics will still find lots and lots of pain and red stuff here to savor.

MURDER COLLECTION: VOLUME 1 has a bit more of a story, but not a whole lot more. It’s about an insidious internet site that showed clips of real death and murder back in the 90s until it was raided by police. The webmaster of that site has now returned after a long silence with a whole new collection of snuff vids for his eager fans. Again, only the thinnest framework of a story is used as an excuse to show off depravity and death. Again, if you are one of the many fans of Toetag (hmm, Toeheads?) then you’ll love this movie as well.

Easily my favorite Toetag movie, other than the original AUGUST UNDERGROUND which I both admire and never want to see again (more on that in a sec), is THE REDSIN TOWER. It is easily the best written, directed, and acted of all of their films and has a strong narrative beyond bad people doing bad things to other people. Also there are actually characters in this movie you can relate to, other than the usual torture victims. On the surface this movie is about a lovesick stalker-ish boyfriend and the lengths he’s willing to go to get back the object of his desire who had just dumped him. The ex-girlfriend and her buddies go up to the local “haunted house”, the titular tower, to party, drink, and screw the night away. You know, what teens and twenty-somethings always do in horror movies. Enter the stalker boyfriend with a knife and just when you think you’ve got this picture pegged, it does a 180 and introduces something completely new and unexpected in a Toetag movie; elements of the supernatural. I won’t say any more than that, other than that I liked this movie and I really hope that Toetag makes more films like this with strong plots, characters, and yes, the trademark Toetag gruesome gore scenes as well.

While many viewers will dismiss the Toetag movies as crass exploitation, I'd have to disagree. Exploitation films rely on the audience's desire to see violence and kinky sex and they usually end up glamorizing these taboo subjects in the process. In these films the violence and sex (read as: rape) are presented so realistically in all their abhorrent ugliness that it's tough to imagine anyone being entertained or aroused by it. The gore and depravity in these films isn't supposed to titillate, be black humor, or even give you a quick, safe shock. These flicks are a sucker punch in the guts and go a long way to un-romanticize the modern fascination with serial killers. As such, these films are unparalleled in success. Furthermore, if one aspect of horror movies is to horrify the viewer then these films are masterpieces. They get under your skin, make you feel bad, and like it or not, that means they are effective as all hell. So if you are looking for safe, not-really-scary horror films then look elsewhere. If you are looking for a grueling cinema experience like no other, then these films might just be right for you.

With all that being said: I don’t think I’ll ever watch these films again. Well, maybe THE REDSIN TOWER. As for the rest, watching them once was more than enough for me. That’s not meant to be a comment about Toetag Pictures’ lack of quality. On the contrary, it is a testimony to their power and effeteness. These films sickened me, but since that was their purpose, I have no choice but to admire their revolting success. Casual fans of horror movies should avoid AUGUST UNDERGROUND and the other films by these madmen (and madwomen) like they were the plague. Trust me here folks, these movies will scare and possibly scar you. However if you are a fan of ultra intense horror, have a strong stomach, and are looking push the limits of what you can stand to watch then give Toetag’s movies a try.

For more information about these sick films or to (God help you) order copies for yourself you can find Toetag Pictures on the web here:

But let me say now that I take no responsibility for what happens after that.

You’ve been warned.


--Brian M. Sammons
(THE BLACK GLOVE wants to sincerely thank Fred Vogel for his time and effort)