One such time came when he screened the 2000 film “Vulgar” from writer/director Bryan Johnson and producer Kevin Smith.
The “clown getting raped by hillbillies movie,” according to Stern, lived up to its title. The movie has quietly gained a cult following since then … and a bit of notoriety for its brash nature.
“Vulgar” was a cheap grindhouse picture when initially thrown into the planning stages. With the help of small bits of financing from Smith and Miramax, Johnson filmed “Vulgar” in just 26 days.
The story follows a down on his luck clown named Will (Brian O’Halloran of “Clerks”) as he ventures into new opportunities to pay his bills. That includes being a gag performer for bachelor parties.
He calls himself Vulgar to retain his anonymity.
His first adult party ends up being for three psycho hillbillies straight out of a David Lynch nightmare. Vulgar is beaten and raped.
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After hesitantly performing at a children’s birthday party much later, he saves a kid and wins press attention and public adoration. He’s rewarded with a television show and the success he always wanted.
The dream comes crashing down when he’s blackmailed by a certain tape of a certain crime he wouldn’t want exposed for all the kiddies and their parents to see.
There’s a reason “Vulgar” stupefied Stern and fought a strong battle with the MPAA. It pushes boundaries and can be jarring at times. It’s filled with lines like, “I’m gonna make hate to you.”
It’s a truly divisive film.
Viewers will either leave shaken like Stern or fascinated and intrigued. Bucking the conventional revenge plot, “Vulgar” is an exploitation film peppered with surprisingly poignant themes about victimhood and Karmic retribution.
FAST FACT: Bryan Johnson and Kevin Smith confirmed in a recent Facebook livestream that a sequel is being written. Johnson is currently writing, and Brian O’Halloran will return as Vulgar.
It’s a flick that would have fit perfectly on a double bill at a drive-in theater once upon a time. It’s the kind of forbidden gem you find hidden on late night cable while the rest of the world sleeps.
The main highlight of “Vulgar” is a nightmarish performance from Jerry Lewkowitz, portraying the main antagonist. Sometimes spitting venom straight into the camera, he feels all too authentic.
O’Halloran proves his worth as well in the lead role. He’s a lovable loser like in “Clerks,” but he also gets a chance to display PTSD in very striking ways.
DID YOU KNOW: Bryan Johnson hosts the long-running “Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave” podcast on Kevin Smith’s Smodcast network.
What makes “Vulgar” unique is the way Johnson handles the story. While most exploitation movies go for tongue in cheek or over the top bits, “Vulgar” steeps its characters and dilemmas in a sometimes uncomfortable level of realism.
That’s not to suggest there are no laughs. There’s a dark comic mind behind the camera, and you can find yourself chuckling as often as you are gasping.
If you haven’t seen “Vulgar,” do yourself a favor. Bad, good, offensive, brilliant, trash -- “Vulgar” is one of a kind.