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Plot: in a post-apocalyptic wasteland two starlets seek a sacred stag reel.

John Michael McCarthy is probably the closest America has come to having a Josh Collins. Collins was the master of ceremonies behind Pervirella (1997) (with Emily Booth) and Superstarlet AD is cut from a very similar cloth. Pervirella (1997) was a Victorian steampunk cosplay extravaganza with enough boobage and bounce to make Jim Wynorski proud. Superstarlet AD on the other hand is a monochrome tribute to the Russ Meyer and John Waters repertoire, 1950s science fiction, and 60s drive-in exploitation fare (delinquent youth, nudie-cuties, roughies, various countercultures) complete with colored The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) campy musical numbers and comedic interludes, striptease routines, and lesbian histrionics. In other words, Superstarlet AD is a mostly forgotten nouveau retro antecedent styled after Barbarella (1968) pre-dating Anna Biller’s exquisite feminist manifesto The Love Witch (2016) (with Samantha Robinson) by over a decade and a half. It premiered on the 2001 SXSW Film festival alongside Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros (2000), Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000), and Lukas Moodyson’s Together (2000) and it was part of the seventh annual Chicago Underground Film Festival at the Fine Arts in Michigan in 2000. Since then it has become a beloved cult item no matter how much of an obscurity it might be.

Shot alternating in color and black and white in and around Memphis in just 16 days on a miniscule budget of $16,000 and promoted with the tagline, “when man turns to ape woman turns to womanSuperstarlet AD is a curio even in cult circles. Like Eraserhead (1977), Begotten (1989) and 964 Pinocchio (1991) it’s pervaded with that cold industrial feel of stark alienation and dystopian desolation. The cast consists of enthusiastic amateurs with Kerine Elkins, Gina Velour, and Michèle Carr in the principal roles. All three ladies fill their bras more convincingly than their roles, although nobody can be accused of not bringing any gusto, vigor, and enthusiasm to their respective parts. While there are planks of wood with more acting talent the trio throw their all into the roles, most of which are dialogue-heavy with Velour providing near-constant narration. Despite, or rather in spite, of obvious budgetary limitations Superstarlet AD is very artsy and quirky at times. For a no-budget indie it’s custodian to number of beautifully composed shots and frequently looks far more expensive than what it cost. Very much like Galaxina (1980) before it this is a spoof that plays its humor completely straight.

After an unspecified extinction level event simply referred to as, “the Cataclysm” has reduced to the world to a smoke-shrouded barren post-nuclear wasteland and what little remains of the male population has literally reverted to Neanderthals. As the “homosexual” fashion industry was obliterated during the Cataclysm ammunition, clothing, and lipstick are in short supply. This is Apocalypse Meow. The women of this wasteland have flocked together in a make-shift gyno-centric society always on the brink of war. “Beauty cults” or violent gun-toting all-girl gangs of a specific hair color and dress code roam the streets. Three major gangs have emerged from beneath the remains of yesterday’s world. First, there are the Satanas (modeled after Tura Satana) presided over by Verona (Michèle Carr, as Michelle Carr). Then there are the Phayrays who fashion themselves after Fay Wray and Mamie van Doren and are led by Ultramame (Rita D'Albert). Lastly, there are the treacherous Tempests (as in burlesque dancer Tempest Storm) who congegrate in the Replay Lounge and worship a sewing machine that they don’t know how to operate. Velvet (Katherine Greenwood, as Odessa Greenwood) is the only of the clan who can, but she adamantly refuses. Not even a good whipping from resident dominatrix Cathy X (Kitty Diggins) can sway her. Jezebel (Kerine Elkins) is the 13th mistress to rule the gang. All three engage in open war and territorial disputes are commonplace. The Phayrays and Satanas desire nothing else but to topple the power-hungry Verona and claim her crown and its attendant power as their own.

In the abandoned city of Femphis dark-haired Naomi (Gina Velour) and her platinum blonde girlfriend Rachel (Alicja Trout) set out on a perilous quest raiding every movie theatre they come across in hopes of finding her grandmother’s sacred stag reel or some dye converts. During one such excursions the two find subversive, hot rod-riding, clothes-wearing redhead Valentine (Katherine St. Valentine, as Kate St. Valentine) - apparently an actress from the 1950s who was comatose when the world ended - and is understandably confused in and by the present day. Naomi is the pacifist leader of a new beauty cult, the Superstarlets, where hair color is of no importance. When Naomi learns from Valentine about a place called Retro Metro, the last in Femphis where dresses can be found, a turf war seems imminent. The Phayrays desire to recruit Rachel into their ranks and Valentine’s knowledge furthers the interests of the Satanas. Jezebel is wise enough to put her petty dreams of dominating all gangs aside and let the encroaching chaos do her dirty work for her. Negotiating a truce between the Satanas, the Phayrays, and the Tempests will clear the path for her future usurpation of all power and their fragile coalition will last long enough to destroy their clear and present problem, the dissident Naomi. In a world "gone nudie-cutie, Armageddon style,” and in a war waged by mostly by hair-pulling and jiggling over-sized busts will there be enough stockings, garter belts, suspenders, and vintage bustiers for things to come to a peaceful resolve?

All of the women are pretty enough, although they might not appeal to those not into that whole underground punk/retro pin-up aesthetic. Admittedly, we’re no fans of some of the thicker make-up that Kerine Elkins can be seen wearing either but other than that there’s very little to complain. The biggest and obvious references on that front are Bettie Page, Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren, Wendy O. Williams, Kitten Natividad, Betty Brosmer, Uschi Digard, Monique Devereux, and Tura Satana. Or full-figured, healthy-looking women who weren’t afraid to showcase their wealthy, natural curves and whom - at least by some of today’s unrealistic and unforgiving beauty standards that seem canonize the sickly and skeletal thin above all else - would either be described as plus-size or plain fat. As near as we can tell most of the cast seem to come from either the Velvet Hammer burlesque troupe, exotic dancer, or the underground punk pool. It does raise one question: why were the Julies, the late great Strain and K. Smith, not in this? Superstarlet AD was something right in their wheelhouse, boudoir, or lingerie closet rather. Strain had taken her top off for lesser filmmakers and on scanter budgets in those unrewarding post-Sidaris years. Those who love vintage lingerie will get an absolute kick out of Superstarlet AD as these gun-toting belles brandish more than enough stockings, garter belts, suspenders and such to satiate anyone’s craving. With that in mind, this is probably the greatest monochrome post-apocalyptic sci-fi Andy Sidaris and Jim Wynorski never made

Nostalgia. That most addictive of drugs. That’s indeed what propels Superstarlet AD forward. Pinpointing when exactly the nouveau retro movement started is anyone’s guess. Superstarlet AD is probably a good place to start. American horror was firmly in the post-modern grip of the self-referential and the meekly comedic, and Asian horror (specifically Japan) was experiencing some of a resurgence.

If something like this were made today it practically begged for curvaceous cuties as French Instagram sex bomb Green Cat From Hell, French-Canadian alt model Ardaeth, American go-go dancer and devil-do-all Toriikills, Ukrainian belly dancer Diana Bastet, Icelandic booty babe and Playboy Playmate of the Month (September, 2014) Arna Bára Karlsdóttir, Australian-British OnlyFans sensation Leah Wilde, or American adult stars as Natalie Monroe, Kayla Kiss, or Reya Reign, to name just a few. Karlsdóttir, Wilde, Kiss, Reign, and even Green Cat From Hell (despite the obvious language barrier) could very well pull it off considering the roleplay they all frequently engage in. With nostalgia stronger than ever before and the longing for simpler times the question is whether there would an audience for such a thing. It is another discussion entirely who would be best qualified to helm such a feature. Wynorski descended into caricature and parody around the time this came out, and it’s safe to assume he’s a lost cause at this point. Unless by some divine intervention he regains his composure suddenly. That leaves the younger generation to meet the demand. Benjamin Combes, Neil Johnson, and Rene Perez have all shown an affinity and knack for such a thing.

Plot: alien lifeform rids the Earth of politicians, lawyers, lobbyists, and corporatists.

Everybody’s favorite delusional Las Vegas Christian geek green-Marxist is back, and he’s now more unhinged and volatile than ever! Neil’s done playing nice. No more warnings, no more second chances. Our favorite “visionary” filmmaker of “controversial” and “thought-provoking” cinema refuses to compromise, to negotiate, to mediate. Breen gave humanity a fair and final warning in Double Down (2005), and a last second chance in I Am Here…. Now (2009). Neil’s a man of action and a proponent of denim. In Pass Thru he steps up his game by dressing exclusively in denim and advocating for the extermination of 300 million people, no less! This time around Neil has no time for the womanfolk, and Breen’s love interest is a complete nonentity. Pass Thru is fringe cinema at the utmost extreme. A barely coherent screed from a director who has clearly lost all touch with reality and probably most of his marbles…

Pass Thru is not your average Neil Breen film. No. It’s a greatest hits of sorts and a partial remake of both Double Down (2005) and I Am Here…. Now (2009). It kinda-sorta-but-not-really is a Breen take on the Robert Wise science-fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Like Breen’s 2009 feature Pass Thru is drenched in intentionally opaque Native American and New Age mysticism. Of course it’s full of Neil’s patented blunt force symbolism, and it’s historic for being the first of two Breen features produced during the Trump presidency the second being Twisted Pair (2018). Times, presidents, and political climates may change – but that doesn’t mean that old Neil does. The surge in anti-intellectualism, fundamentalist religious fervor and - persecution, as well as the untethered bigotry and corruption that has pervaded every branch of government was unprecedented at this point in recent history. Never has Breen’s message sounded more socially relevant than it did here. If there’s ever a frightening prospect, it’s Breen resonating with the times….

In the Nevada desert somewhere near the Mexican border callous human traffickers have established a make-shift commune where they hide their captives. One day a heroin-addict (Neil Breen) shoots up and passes out. Around the same time Amanda (Kathy Corpus) and her niece Kim (Chaize Macklin) manage to break out of captivity and come across the addict and his rundown, garbage-infested trailer. He offers the girls shelter for as long as they need. He calls himself Thgil (“light” spelled backwards, because Breen's messiah complex and celestial pretensions haven't lessened in the slightest) and claims to be an A.I. of superior intellect from the far future. Amanda initially puts no stock in what he says, but he shows telekinesis to substantiate his claims. Thgil can bend space, time, and matter to his will – and he has returned to this primitive earth to eliminate 300 million “bad” people. “The Cleanse,” he says, “has begun!” Thgil will first whet his genocidal appetites with the human traffickers and liberate the immigrant commune from bondage. From there he will move on to the actual scum and villainy that are corrupt politicians, lawyers, Wall Street brokers, CEOs, and press officials.

Meanwhile, a boy (Abraham Rodriguez) and a girl (Taylor Johnson) who share the common interest of music and astronomy have discovered alien activity. They have alerted their aging and ailing professor (James D. Smith) to their plans to travel deep into the Nevada desert to pinpoint the location. While that is happening Thgil uses his vast intellect to insinuate himself into high society cocktail parties where he erases presidents of banks (Adriane McLean), insurance (Brad Thomte), and media (Judy Thomas) out of existence. He then moves on to senators (Charles Updergrove) and corporate execs (Phil Graviet, and John Marchitti). He then overtakes an international press center by disintegrating its news anchors (Nicole Spitale, Steve Brito, and Audra Wilson) and delivers a condemning speech to the remaining survivors on Earth. Kim has gone missing leaving Amanda a quivering husk. Thgil finds Kim in a cave where she’s being threatened at gunpoint by a deranged veteran (Jason James). Thgil cures the veteran by simply saying, “You are now free… of PTSD.” As Thgil prepares to depart for his homeworld Amanda and Kim are shot by Amanda’s abusive ex-husband (Mike Kelly). He resurrects both and erases the perpetrator out of existence. Corruption has been ended, the guilty have been punished, and all is right with the world again…

Pass Thru comes a decade-plus after Double Down (2005) and old Neil has actually managed to get worse. Breen has always worked with a skeleton crew but this rings especially true for Pass Thru where he mans every position himself. To the surprise of absolutely nobody it looks terrible in every department. A few aerial drone shots notwithstanding Pass Thru looks worse than the short features that Alex Chandon shot on home-video some two decades earlier. Everything that doesn’t feature Breen flying solo feels underrehearsed, hastily staged, and come across as needlessly messy. A lot feels and looks as if it was improvised on the fly. The camera work is shaky and uneven, and there isn’t a single good looking shot to be found anywhere. The editing, by Breen and John Mastrogiacomo, is probably some of the worst, even by his own very forgiving standards. Not every penny was on the screen, obviously. Oh, no. If there’s anything Neil’s known for it’s for elevating corner-cutting to an artform. There are discharged firearms, and explosions – but who needs pyrotechnics and weapon experts when you can superimpose cheap looking muzzle flashes and Windows 95 sprites? Why scout for locations that heighten the production value when you can just green-screen them? Why location scout at all? Just go into the Nevada desert and shoot to your heart’s content.

A Breen movie wouldn’t be complete without socio-political commentary, and Pass Thru primarily seems to be about immigration and the treatment of refugees. As with his other movies Neil’s an environmentalist and here he also pushes his agenda of sustainable, renewable energy and putting a stop to depleting Earth’s resources and destroying nature and biodioversity for shortsighted greed. Also worth noting is that Pass Thru marks the first time Neil choses for an ethnic minority love interest with Kathy Corpus. Not that she’s his typical lost Lenore, or that her romantic subplot is in any way developed or explored beyond its very, very basic contours. Even Breen’s romance with Joy Senn in I Am Here…. Now (2009) was written better. Apparently the romance with Jennifer Autry in Fateful Findings (2013) was a one-time thing. Amanda gets exactly one line (“We have to keep running! Your mother’s my sister. She was murdered. I swore to God I’d take care of you. You’re my niece. We have to keep running!”) that is supposed to pass for character development, and that’s it. Oh yeah, and then there’s that scene where Kathy throws a rock at Neil’s face. Priceless.

Speaking of Lohan School of Shaolin alumnus Kathy Corpus, a black belt in kung fu and tai chi. Kathy has a corpus to die for, and that corpus is a finely-toned weapon. Kathy’s an accomplished Las Vegas martial artist and stunt performer, and like Tara Macken she’s the kind of talent America has far too few of. Rene Perez would know what to do with her. Arrowstorm Entertainment would die to have someone like her. Hell, even Neil Johnson would put her to better use. Not Breen, though. No. All the master of traumatic arts allows poor Kathy to do is walk around aimlessly and shout her lines aggressively. The great majority of characters will never even be named – and none of them (not even the leads) will be given an arch. The B-plot features three kids, but only two of them are identified as “astronomers” in the credits with the third curiously missing. If the professor’s hospital room looks familiar that’s because it’s the same as in Fateful Findings (2013), the interiors for the other kids were probably the same house too. The medal-studded blue denim jacket from Double Down (2005) also makes an appearance. It’s entirely possible that the deranged war veteran is supposed to be a nod towards Aaron Brandt from Breen’s debut. Who knows? Surely a new cinematic low point has been reached when I Am Here…. Now (2009) and Fateful Findings (2013) can retroactively be considered the gold standard in all things Breen.

Suffice to say Pass Thru is stunningly bad. Not only from a technical standpoint, the writing is probably the most skeletal and thin it has ever been. You’d imagine that after ten years in the trenches Neil would pick up a book to better his craft, but no such thing seems to be the case. In 30 years Alex Chandon made a handful of shorts, and three full length features. Neil has made 5 movies in 10 years, and shows no apparent sign of improving on any front. Pass Thru actually manages to look worse than Alex Chandon’s rough-and-ready Chainsaw Scumfuck (1988). Why is Neil still filming on home video? Aren’t High-Definition and Red One (4k) cameras the de facto industry standard now? Neil has always been an auteur but Pass Thru is probably the most egregiously written of the bunch. The feeble and slim chance of Breen actually becoming better with time has been clearly refuted by this point. To see the comedy of errors known as Double Down (2005) was fun at first, but to see no progress over ten years later is something else. It makes you feel sorry for old Neil. Maybe he did lose his marbles making these no-budget paranormal epics in the blazing Nevada sun. Any way you slice it, Pass Thru is a cry for help. A mental health professional should review old Breen’s case. Right now.