Producers: Andrew Kappel and Timothy Nuttall   Director: Aaron Wolf   Screenplay: Timothy Nuttall and Aaron Wolf   Cast: Timothy Bottoms, Graham Greene, Aaron Wolf, Sandy Danto, Emily Peachey, Max Perlich, Nicole Alexandra Shipley, Tiffany Shepis, Stuart Stone,  Liam Grace and Dani Fernandez   Distributor:  1091 Pictures

Grade: D

Watching “Tar,” about a monster that arises from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, one wonders whether it was originally designed as a straight horror movie—it certainly doesn’t boast a lot of scenes that are genuinely humorous—but elicited such derisive laughter in early screenings that the makers decided to rebrand it as a horror comedy instead, hoping that would help sell the thing.  In any event, this effort from actor Aaron Wolf, who co-wrote the script and directs as well as assuming one of the leads, works neither as a horror picture nor as a comedy–or as a mixture of the two.

Wolf plays Zach Greenwood, an ordinary Joe who works with his father Barry (Timothy Bottoms) at a repair shop in an office building near the Pits.  He’s helping his dad pack up the place, since the building owner (Stewart Stone) is demanding that they vacate the premises by the next day. Zach has a nice girlfriend named Rose (Emily Peachey) and a best friend named Ben (Sandy Danto), a doofus co-worker who’s supposed to be amusingly randy but is incredibly annoying instead.

On their way to the office they regularly encounter Carl (Graham Greene), a homeless fellow who sits outside the gates of the Tar Pits and tells the tale of their history to anyone tossing a quarter into his hat.  Ben is fascinated by his stories, and can barely tear himself away. 

That night all hell breaks loose in the building.  Ben is hoping to get lucky with Barry’s ditzy secretary Marigold (Tiffany Shepis), who’s into astrology and tarot cards, but he’s also infatuated with the only other tenant in the place, the sultry Diana Dunder (Nicole Akexandra Shipley). Whose small accounting business has one assistant (Dani Fernandez).  Meanwhile dreamy Barry remembers how his father Alfred (Max Perlich), the founder of the business, told him scary stories about the area when he was a teen (played in flashbacks by Liam Grace).

Suddenly the power goes out, and the building is invaded by a murderous creature that appears to be made out of tar, into which it can transform at will.  (Such murderous creatures are apparently freed from the depths of the Pits whenever the ground is disturbed, as it has been by a nearby constriction project.)  The thing begins attacking the characters, who are increased by the presence of Carl; he has a habit of taking refuge in the basement at night.

What follows is predictable—lots of chases through hallways, close shaves and bloody deaths as the giant, hooded creature stalks the group down.  There are moments that are supposed to be goofily funny—like a juxtaposition of Barry listening to a record of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” with some anxious attempts at lovemaking between Zach and Rose in a supply closet, and Ben’s attempts at convincing Diana to have at it with him—but they fail miserably.  No better are the shock scenes, which are edited to death by Simon Carmody (one of the fellows who plays the monster under mounds of rubber), presumably to disguise the cheesiness  of the makeup.  But at least they include a couple of cases where really irritating characters bite the dust.

There are also periodic inserts of one of the characters, bruised and bloody, talking directly to the camera about what’s happened to them all.  These too are shot in a jerky, spasmodic style by cinematographer Aashish Gandhi , but they come across as simple filler.  The cheesiness of the picture is also reflected in the shabby production design of Vincent Albo.  Conor Jones’s score tries to add some energy and tension to the mix, but it’s pretty much a lost cause. 

As to the cast, one has to feel some sympathy for veterans like Bottoms, Perlich and Greene, who struggle to invest their trite material with some modest substance.  The younger cast members are barely adequate, with Danto and Stone faring worst because they try much too hard.  As for Wolf, one can only hope this has gotten the auteur instinct out of his system.

Because—and you know one can’t resist saying it—this movie is the pits.