August Underground's Penance (2007)
By: Jared Phillips on June 19, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Toe Tag Pictures (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 Mono. 85 minutes
The Movie
Director: Fred Vogel
Starring: Cristie Whiles, Fred Vogel, Shelby Vogel, Jerami Cruise, Anthony Matthews, Renee Bell
Screenplay: Christie Whiles, Fred Vogel
Country: USA
In 2001 actor/director Fred Vogel released a small underground film through his own production company, Toe Tag Pictures. That film was August Underground – a widely unknown, widely unseen horror/exploitation flick depicting extreme torture, mutilation and murder, filmed as though it was the personal home video of two killers. The camerawork was shaky and downgraded to look like an 8th generation bootleg. The August Underground films are among the worst of the worst and rightfully so – faux snuff films that push you into a corner and keep you there. Anyone who has seen either of the previous two films would know what to expect from the final long awaited film in the August Underground trilogy. For those that haven't, don't use this film as a starting point.

The film opens to the two serial killers from Mordum (the second film in the trilogy), Fred and Cristie, struggling with a bloodied victim bound with electrical tape who manages to somehow break free and assault the male killer in the face. The camera darts around the place and finally stops on the male killer. His nose is dripping blood. As the camera pans down it glances over the victim who is now face down on the ground, blood all over his back and head. *Cut* to the two serial killers driving outside on a sunny day, laughing and at ease, as though what just occurred previously has not fazed them the slightest. And so the viewer comes to realize what to expect from the final film in the August Underground trilogy. And from those of you who have seen the other two films, what to expect from the trilogy as a whole – basically scenes of pointless (or what may seem pointless), sometimes immature behavior spliced with scenes of intense brutality and torture. This style of film making has gathered a shared 'what the fuck is going on' opinion by many, including the film's fans, and in most related scenes, especially those in Mordum, this opinion is somewhat justified.

What sets Penance apart from Mordum and the original August Underground is the attention to detail and more balanced camera work which made the other two films look dizzy and nauseous. That, and the more personal level it engages the viewer in the 'down time' scenes – such as the two killers watching the 4th of July fireworks by the water, walking through the bush along old train lines, riding quad bikes, relaxing comfortably with their friends, eating pizza and drinking a few beers, feeding a couple of rats to a four foot pet alligator – the usual. The two characters engage in a more concerned, appreciated respect for each other than they did in Mordum. With the absence of Maggot, the sexually repressed psycho who can been seen with a knife to his throat in the final scene of Mordum, both Cristie and Fred display an obvious affection, and in many shots throughout the film, which are easily missed on first viewing, hint at another 'life' they themselves are only just becoming aware of.

But what about what we all watch these films for? The gore, the violence, the torture. Once again Toe Tag Pictures out-do the view of what is deemed the limit of tasteless set pieces, in Penance. For those of you who found their viewing experience of Mordum beyond tolerable (you know the scene I'm referring to), then rest easy. Penance will shock and disgust the majority but it is not as perverted as Mordum. Don't at all think this film is a piece of cake though, it's a pile of steaming pig's guts and you can only imagine the outcome when the two killers are seen forcefully entering a family's home on Christmas eve and having their sick way with the father, the mother and the young daughter. There are quite a few guttings and dismemberments, most notably the first, which has Fred dressed in only his underwear, boots, apron, breathing mask (gutting someone doesn't smell all that good) and two large 'pink' washing up gloves. The guts are obviously real and when Fred is seen puking to the side while pulling the offal from a gaping stomach wound spilling thick blood all over the place, it makes you wonder if he really was vomiting. Scenes such as this demonstrate that Penance is easily the most realistic and polished of the August Underground trilogy.

Certainly not for everyone, not even for some who consider themselves lovers of hardcore horror, August Underground's Penance is a hard-hitting, faux-snuff fest. It is also a suitably fitting end to the series with actors Fred Vogel and Cristie Whiles delving into levels of intense paranoia, showcasing a decline in mental and psychical stability while torturing and butchering nameless individuals. It strives to achieve a point of expressing the mind of a modern serial killer and although this may be lost or unappreciated by those expecting a Mordum 2, it awards the film a credibility that was certainly missing in August Underground's Mordum.
Shot on digital video at 1.85:1, August Underground's Penance is filmed in the same cinéma vérité style but is a much cleaner film than its predecessors. Whereas the original and Mordum were downgraded to achieve the bootleg aesthetic, filled with scratches and artifacts, Penance retains a crisp digital feel to it. The camerawork, while shaky at times, is nowhere near as nauseous as August Underground or Mordum and when the gore is on screen, the camera stays pretty much focused.
An English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is the only audio option available, and it's as engaging as mono can be.
Extra Features
Audio Commentary by Toe Tag Pictures (Jerami Cruise, Crisite Whiles, Fred Vogel and Shelby Vogel) – Basically what you expect from an audio commentary. Interesting to note is a scene where Cristie enters a supermarket dressed in vintage clothing including a scarf and an old wig. This is one of those 'what the fuck is going on' scenes, yet Cristie explains that it is her character wearing clothes stolen from previous victims. By doing so, she enters into a perverted joined conscious with those she has slaughtered. Such information is not picked up upon first viewing of the August Underground films. Also to hear Jerami, Toe Tag's special effects guru, talk about using different make-up to show different levels of decomposition and minor details such as reddening around an eye to demonstrate a victim who has just been slugged. The attention to detail in Penance far exceeds both of the previous two films and it is clear that Cruise is a true master of his craft and takes it very seriously. Another interesting detail is to hear Fred and the other members explain their intentions behind Penance and the other two August Underground films - to make films about serial killers that show it like it is. You aren't meant to walk away from these films feeling cheery or enlightened. These are nasty films so a nasty reaction to them is generally the most appropriate.

Audio Commentary by director Fred Vogel (SNUFF Edition Exclusive) – Basically the same as the Toe Tag commentary but on a more personal level.

Disemboweled: Behind the Bile Documentary – This is where the extra features shine. This isn't your standard documentary per se, i.e. interviews, retrospect's, etc - this documentary is a more behind the scenes showcase of special effects testing with Fred, Jerami and Cristie filmed on set discussing various different scenes and how to go about achieving certain effects. Very interesting, especially for those interested in pursuing special effects and amateur filmmaking.

Audio Commentary for Disemboweled: Behind the Bile Documentary by Toe Tag Pictures (SNUFF Edition Exclusive) – The Toe Tag crew behind the scenes talking about the behind the scenes footage, duh... It is interesting to hear another spin from the crew about their experience making the film and in particular, how they dealt with certain scenes and worked around problems with effects, filming, acting, etc.

We also get Seven deleted scenes and two extended scenes. Trailers for August Underground, August Underground's Mordum and two for August Underground's Penance. Still Gallery Slideshow. Music Videos – 'The Murderer Is Back' by Poppa Pill and 'The Locust' by RUE. Two Easter Eggs in the Special Features menu show behind the scenes footage.
The Verdict
The limited "Snuff Edition" of Penance is now sold out so you'll have to settle for the regular edition, but you are only missing cast and crew signatures and two additional audio commentaries.

The August Underground films are not great films but they are not garbage either. They seem to have gathered a reputation due to their impressive special effects and at times, offensive set pieces. Penance is nothing less and delivers on all fronts. It is no where near as provoking as Mordum but it is definitely as hateful and will still give you a black eye and busted lip just from watching the damned thing. See it for an appropriate end to the trilogy.

Finally, it was great to see longtime DR forum member Dirty Sanchez, play the victim with a nasty head wound and nails hammered into his chest and stomach. 'You peed yourself!'
Movie Score
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