Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. After seeing his parents murdered outside his church, a grieving priest named Doug heads to China and chances upon a mystical, claw-shaped stone. Soon enough, Doug cuts himself on the trinket and starts having blackouts, during which time he transforms into a velociraptor. While initially wanting to wallow in self-pity, he quickly gets convinced by a doctor/lawyer/prostitute to use his newfound dinosaur powers to fight evil, and Doug eventually goes up against a gang of drug-dealing ninjas. This is the premise of VelociPastor and, somehow, it’s not the worst movie ever made. Far from it.
Writer, director and editor Brendan Steere has somehow managed to transform his utterly outlandish and unique idea into something quite special. Taking cues from the schlocky B-movies that inspired Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse, VelociPastor makes for a wonderfully bonkers love letter to the likes of Sharknado, Samurai Cops, and Black Dynamite. You’ve definitely stumbled across this type of movie before, either on a drunken movie night or as part of a so-bad-it’s-good film festival.
So, how did Steere come up with such a ridiculous premise? No, not hallucinogens, but an accidental typo.“The idea came from an auto-correct on my phone,” he explains. “This was back in 2010. Grindhouse had just come out and I'd been watching a lot of Trailers from Hell, so I was just being inundated with these kinda B-horror movie titles, and it just jumped out to me. It sounded like a movie. You have to be open to taking inspiration from the most random places.”
The next step for Steere, after writing the script, was to find funding – something that initially proved difficult for the filmmaker. “We tried crowdfunding a few times, and it never really worked,” he says. “I'm not very good at crowdfunding – it's like running a business for a few months and I've never been very money-minded, so it's no shock that it didn't work out.” Instead, Steere sought to make up the modest $35,000 figure through other means, and, after a friend’s mother got in touch with someone who might be interested in the project, the movie was quickly financed. “The money came through into my bank account three days later,” Steere recalls. “I've never met the woman who funded it.”
VelociPastor, then, has all the makings of a lucky break doused in Lucky Charms with an extra slice of luck on the side. However, even with all these Godsends, the finished product would have been a messy cinematic flop were it not for Steere at the helm. The movie is a well-meaning, meticulously-constructed homage to B-movies, one that’s “coming more from a place of celebration” as opposed to being a parody that points and laughs.
The opening scene sets the tone: the larger-than-life pimp Frankie Mermaid, who chews more scenery than any dinosaur, clergyman or otherwise, murders Doug’s parents. Their car blows up and, instead of a raging fireball, a mere text description replaces the vehicle on-screen, reading: “VFX: Car on fire.” It’s simple, cheap, and very, very funny – and nearly surmises just why fans are flocking to festival screenings and comic-cons in their droves to watch VelociPastor, something Steere says he is “completely overwhelmed by.”
The film continues at a scattergun pace and is at its best when reassuring viewers that it’s firmly in on the joke. Erratic zooms, stray boom mics, stilted dubs, absurdist jokes and nonsensical twists are all present. These aren’t well-disguised corner cuts, either. The relatively modest budget didn’t cause too much of a concern, with Steere admitting that “the real place the low budget cost us was in time. One or two days of the shoot were kind of rushed because we had to wrap the whole thing in a little less than two weeks.”
Then, of course, there’s the D-word. The dinosaur doesn’t crop up too much due to the limited budget (though did account for the movie’s most expensive scene, with “$300-400 of effects makeup” on Doug during the first dino-reveal), but eventually reveals itself properly during the third act in the shape of… a man-sized dinosaur suit.
Yup. With CGI out of the question – and only used once in the movie during the ludicrously-entertaining left turn of a random Vietnam flashback – it was left to the rubbery dino suit to fight tooth, nail, and nunchuck with a series of seemingly never-ending ninjas in a grandstanding finale. Without going into too many spoilers, it involves a lot of blood and serves as a fitting ending to VelociPastor’s tight 72-minute adventure. The story behind how the dinosaur suit ended up in the movie is just as entertainingly fortuitous as how the entire project came together.
“Back in 2008, I was the head of our 'Film Club' in high school, and we made a movie each year, usually with myself directing,” Steere says. “One year the school actually gave us a budget, and we decided that we were going to remake the 1977 movie The Last Dinosaur.
“The adviser to the club, a teacher, contracted the suit for us, and I was storing it in my house when the high school told us we couldn't shoot The Last Dinosaur ‘because the script was too violent.’ It was disappointing, of course, but they never asked for it back! When I ended up making the 2011 short film version of The VelociPastor, it was a no-brainer to use the suit because it meant we didn't have to pay for one. When the feature rolled around, I just loved the thing so much that it only seemed right to use it again. To this day I have no idea how much it cost. It's still in my parent's basement.”
Now, with VelociPastor behind him, what’s next for Steere (aside from dodging calls from his old high school about a certain missing suit)? “I'd love to do a sequel, honestly.” Steere reveals. “It's already outlined, and I'm probably going to start writing the script this week. Whether or not that's the next film we make, we'll see. It's always difficult to get funding, so whether that's the next project someone wants to fund or if that's a different script… I’m very ready to get working on the next project, though.”
Whether a follow-up eventually happens or not, VelociPastor’s blend of tongue-in-cheek humour mixed with the filmmaker’s clear love for the genre means this B-movie could have the legs (and tiny arms) to stand alongside its cheesy contemporaries long after thoughts of a sequel may subside. After all, how could you top a dinosaur priest adventure with anything but another dinosaur priest adventure?
The VelociPastor is available to buy now on DVD and digitally through Amazon.