When the husband and wife writer / director team of Victor and Jessica Mitchum (Justin Dray & Stephanie Sanditz) receive the go-ahead to stage a new theatre production, Victor doesn’t want to fall back on one of his old scripts. He wants to create something new, something about the lure of fame and fortune, a musical about the apocalypse and a singer who sells her soul to the Devil inspired by his favourite song ‘Goodnight Irene’.

The first auditions are a disaster until the mysterious Annie Lorraine (Ashli Haynes) arrives and her rendition of ‘Goodnight Irene’ has them hooked. But stranger than that, her singing is weirdly hallucinogenic, accompanied by pulsating lights and unnerving electronic shrieking that comes out of nowhere.

And then it passes.

Vic and Jess must have been imagining it.

Meanwhile, in a bizarre underground world somewhere in L.A.’s Chinatown, the sinisterly alien-like theatre producers Bob and Ken (Maria Olsen and Eric Michael Kochmer) are hatching plans to make Victor and Jessica an offer they can’t refuse, for a world-wide tour that could probably wipe out humanity.

Yes Ladies and Gentleman, the worms have been downtrodden long enough. It’s time for them to rule the Earth.

‘Way Down in Chinatown’ is produced in association with MOnsterworks66, the film company owned by actress Maria Olsen. Maria and I have kept in touch since I interviewed her last summer about ‘Another’, the film that was my favourite movie of 2014, and when I heard ‘Way Down in Chinatown’ had been released on DVD in the US I was very keen to take a look particularly since a release date still hasn’t been fixed for the UK. I hope that changes very soon. In the meantime, with a very small proviso, I’d urge you to click on Amazon US and buy a copy immediately (you’ll find a link at the bottom of this review).

But before you do, here’s the small proviso – ‘Way Down in Chinatown’ is very different from most films you’ll ever see and unless I fall back on that old cliché of ‘it’s a bit like this… crossed with this… with a little bit of that’ it’s going to be impossible to describe. So here goes:

Imagine if 1970s-era David Cronenberg teamed up with Lewis Carroll and FW Murnau to make ‘A Chorus Line’ and then threw in an alien invasion subplot and several characters who dress like ‘The Blues Brothers’ but sound like ‘The Coneheads’?

Give me a second to read that back.


Yep, that’s about right.

I don’t know if ‘Way Down in Chinatown’ came out of something else, some kind of Antonin Artaud / German Expressionist-‘Rocky Horror Show’ inspired piece of experimental theatre Eric Michael Kochmer devised (I’ve just asked Maria about that and she tells me, as far as she knows, the film just grew like topsy in Eric’s imagination) but I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘WDiC’ could have started life on the stage because this feels like a film few people would have had the nerve to get behind simply on the strength of its exceptionally weird screenplay. This is ultra-surrealist relationship drama / body-horror / black comedy and silent horror movie homage all thrown together and twisted up into a genius package, the kind of balls-out filmmaking that is rarely seen and can only come out of truly brave and passionate independent cinema.

Writer, director, actor Eric Michael Kochmer has done a fantastic job patchworking this wonderful insanity together and his cast don’t let him down. Justin Dray and Stephanie Sanditz (‘Kate & Leopold), whose characters’ happy marriage quickly collapses as soon as the ‘Downtown Chinatown Theatre Company Underground’ get their wormy little hooks into them, are terrific to watch and sell every scene they’re in perfectly. To carry the ‘Rock Horror’ analogy a step further, they’re like the anti-Brad and Janet – Sanditz, especially, is outstanding. And Tara Samuels and Ashli Haynes, as the alien seductresses who independently pull Vic and Jess’s world apart, might even convince you that being overtaken by worm people might not be such a bad idea. Nancy Wolfe, who was fantastic in ‘Another’, has a great cameo, as does Lisa Loring (Wednesday Addams from the original ‘Addams Family’ TV show) who picks Vic and Jess up in her car, slugs back booze from a hip flask and shoots at worm people nobody else can see. And last, but absolutely not least, Maria Olsen and Kochmer himself make a hypnotically unsettling and oddly funny double act as Bob and Ken, sinuously regaling Vic and Jess with sing-song temptation, telling Vic he will be the King of their new avant-garde while Jess will head the arts program for the new civilisation.

And if you’re familiar with Hank Hervey’s ‘Carnival of Souls’, Kochmer’s make-up might remind you of somebody. (Actually ‘Carnival of Souls’ is another film ‘WDiC’ evokes, especially in the final scene)

Technically, the film does well with what must have been a very low budget. You won’t be surprised to hear it is shot completely in black and white (with the exception of some very brief colour filters) on a handful of very small sets but the claustrophobia and grainy monochrome are all excellent and (WARNING) if you didn’t know the song ‘Goodnight Irene’ before watching the movie, you won’t be able to get it out of your head by the time the film finishes.

There are no doubt a dozen ‘subtextural themes’ you could dig out of ‘WDiC’ if you really wanted to examine it hard enough – let’s face it, all the best horror and sci-fi’s are really metaphors for something else and there’s some very black satire in Kochmer’s screenplay that’s impossible to miss – but that would take all the fun out of everything.

‘Way Down in Chinatown’ is a marvellously-strange-curiously-mesmerising-B-horror-movie-fever-dream of a film and if you don’t see it you deserve to be sent down to the bottom of the garden to eat some worms. And trust me, you really don’t want to do that…


DVD Review: Way Down In Chinatown
5.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)

About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white