NOW ON YOUTUBE! Come on out for all the shades of tarnished in the zero-budget animated feature Teenage Warhead by filmmaker John Churchill. Chuck is a young teenage redhead getting over the death of his dad. His high school buddy Miguel doesn’t know what to make of Chuck’s existential gloom. Miguel’s solution to the bleakness of existence is smoking fatties and getting his pipe wet, hobbies Chuck doesn’t share. Chuck’s mother is concerned and sets him up to be seen by a doctor.
It turns out the government pays the doctor Chuck sees to develop a secret formula to weaponize the human mind with telekinesis. The doctor shoots up the boy with a needle of the s**t. Suddenly Chuck can start fires with his mind. He starts small with apples. Then he moves up to incinerating a non-binary customer at the coffee shop he works at after intentionally pissing them off by getting their order wrong. Soon he finds he can start fires anywhere, and America starts to burn. Something tells me the government is gonna have something to say about this.
At the very least, Teenage Warhead proves that the squalid offspring of the notorious Poverty Row studios that existed in the shadows of Golden Age Hollywood is alive and well. Churchill brands his work as zero-budget independent animation on his Youtube Channel, so he is already brandishing his badge of impoverishment to justify the quality of the work. Nothing wrong with that. It’s better to be cheap upfront instead of decoying with easily broken surface promises.
“…Chuck can start fires with his mind.”
However, one of the aspects of such a bargain basement production is computer-generated voices instead of human talent. The results are insanely distracting, as no matter how far we get into the future, we still have computer voices speaking in the same intonation as the Speak ‘n Spell from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The flat artificial canter turns simple scenes into violent acts of excruciation. On top of that, the animation style is functional but unappealing, lacking the minimum charm needed to draw anyone in. The endlessly ran-through facial expressions range from creepy to ghoulish. Churchill’s script is a gas tank full of water, not going anywhere.
The couple of times during its hour-long runtime when Teenage Warhead is funny are purely accidental. The jokes don’t produce humor so much as eradicate all traces of laughter. It has the same level of the wit found in 1970s theatrical hardcore, enriching the final product here just as much as it did then. Also, starting fires with your mind is pyrokinesis, not telekinesis: wrong Stephen King novel, boyo.
The only thing this film has going for it is a flicker of possible brilliance in fleeting moments of profound dialogue. You feel Churchill is trying to do a riff on the Snoopy holiday cartoons, where Charlie Brown and Linus start getting heavy. The reflections on existence carry much more weight than the floating turds in recent Oscar-winning animated shorts. There is also a splinter of goddamn real storytelling in the middle when we discover more about Chuck’s dad.
While this is Churchill’s first feature, I hope it’ll not be his last. Also, the zero-budget animation restrictions can be utilized for grand cinematic calamity. By making everything more outlandish, from dialogue to visuals, this style could become not just bearable but likable. Think of the most twisted, f****d up things you could get a computer to say, just like we used to with the Speak ‘n Spells. Put those weird eyebrow-raising effects on someone’s a*****e. Also, the filmmaker needs to drop all attempts at humor in order to get really funny because here it is a trough full of winces. Teenage Warhead will not detonate for you, but I hope for some actual mushroom clouds from Churchill in the future.
"…the zero-budget animation restrictions can be utilized for grand cinematic calamity."