Psychedelic Film Criticism for the Already Deranged

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Through the Woodsman: DOG SOLDIERS, THE FINAL TERROR, WITHOUT WARNING, THE HALLOW

The woods --alternately intriguing and tired, a 'free' way to draw value from trees that's less damaging than clear-cutting. Shit in the woods = archaic. Lost in the woods = easy to happen. Conclusion: shit in the woods and only the bears hear it. I got lost just trying to get across the upper wild swaths of Central Park NYC once, which if you've been up there you know how creepy and forlorn it can get, and how fast; I wound up going in a big ass circle. Nothing more heartbreaking than walking ever more quickly with a mild panic generating in your stomach only to find you're right back where you started, still no one in sight, except some snooty squirrel that stands there staring, mocking you. Blair Witch Project is still the high benchmark for that kind of unease. Those kids might have literally been a mere half mile from a highway and never known it. That's the real maddening thing, and why the woods will always have the power to unnerve us.

DOG SOLDIERS
(2002) Dir. Neil Marshall
***

You think it's easy to be a straight white male, age 11-55, when it comes to movies, TV, and commercials? Watching a movie on Syfy like Underworld: Awakening for the 100th time, and still not liking it, but sticking with it because it quenches some weird fanboy desire for monsters, sex, violence and car crashes, a need catered to with pandering directness, punctuated with bro-demo-angling commercials for fantasy football gambling sites and chips flavored to taste like bacon. And then the movie itself, Kate Beckinsale all smokin' crystal blue eyes in a skin tight leather catsuit wielding twin .45 automatics. It's all for us, for our stunted adolescent minds.

Neil Marshall hopes for better. His first feature is the male version of his later, better-known DESCENT (2003): it's a gory, riveting but slightly cheeky werewolves vs. British infantry squad on maneuvers tale, a kind of SOUTHERN COMFORT meets the first 1/4 of AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, but like THE DESCENT it ends with an all-out stay alive brawl, dwindling down the numbers, until only the true toughies remain. The cast is great though, while they last, especially the cool-in-a-crisis, Max von Sydow-esque Pvt. Cooper (Kevin McKidd) and the bullet-headed badass Sgt. Harry Wells (Sam Pertwee, who's like Michael Caine, Jason Statham, and Bob Hoskins bolted together with oily lug nuts). Their manly rapport gives the film an adrenalin savagery-switchpoint boost where survival instinct and maximum de-civilized aggression provide an outside-the-box survivalist enlightenment. There's some great dialogue, like Wells' coaching of the lads in his squad: "I expect nothing less than gratuitous violence from each and every one of you!" We know the shifty MI-6 guy (Liam Cunningham) they stumble over is bad because not only did he shoot a dog, he kicks the guy who wouldn't out of his elite squad. Considering the shoddy treatment of dogs in horror films, I thought I should mention that. The bastard gets his comeuppance believe you me.



Right off the beginning it's clear that Marshall knows his small Hawksian ensemble dynamic, and takes advantage of the strengths of 'the group of professionals,' with fast, tight, believably rehearsed acting, a group who've clearly trained together, in ways we get from Kenneth Tobey and company in The THING but never quite got in Carpenter's all-male THE THING remake/update or anywhere else. There's even a Hawksian woman (Emma Cleasby - top), a local who takes the boys home to the rustic soon-besieged cabin. The thick old growth of mountainous Scotland makes ideal territory for the maneuvers, the sun ever setting behind thick moorish clouds, Marshall's camera swooping over all.

DESCENT Fans will already have seen and loved this movie--hopefully on the great Shout Blu-ray released last year, with the new cover art and a commentary track from Marshall; the HD pic quality is beautiful and cinematic but also perfectly retro analog - with just the right peppery grain in the darkness. These fans should note that in spots David Julyan's orchestral score sounds so much like his work in THE DESCENT that we'd have to think he was stealing motifs from himself, or paying homage. Either way, Julyan's one of the better modern orchestrators, though it's like pulling canines to get him to use his Carpenter synths for the next title on the Marshall oeuvre, the underrated DOOMSDAY, which seemed to have drained Marshall's DESCENT money with its big budget and scant earnings. So he's had to start over, with BBC TV and his only film being the forgettably familiar CENTURION, all fights and terrible bangs. In case you can't tell, I've got my eye on 'im.


WITHOUT WARNING
(1980) Dir. Graydon Clark
**1/2

There's a few things we need to get straight right now: this film has the worst excuse for woods in the entirety of horror. This barren stretch that constitutes the pre-Predator alien hunter's ground--an alleged woodland which includes lame hunters and innocent cub scouts on maneuvers--looks like the rough / water trap section of some LA golf course. In other words, if you watch FINAL TERROR (reviewed below) right before it as I did, with its great old growth and beautiful stark photography, the thoroughly second rate look of WITHOUT WARNING can be a tough adjustment. Carpenter cameraman Dean Cundey does deliver the decent Steadicam shots, but the L.A. scrub does not a convincing woods make, one can't imagine why on Earth scoutmaster Dick Van Patten would think it's an appropriate place for a long hike. And while David Caruso is one of the early-killed teens (killed during sex, that old schtick) his death is mostly off camera for some moronic reason. The script includes enough anti-hunting oratory to convince you someone on the script team doesn't like their conservative NRA father, embodied here in an unbearable and unconvincing hunter dad played by Cameron Mitchell like a blue collar Brooklyn goomba with a grudge against grouse, or grouse against grudge, or something, and possessed of some notion that dragging his peacenik son along on will make a man out of him. Apparently, it's grouse season, even if the landscape looks like all it might yield is a stray golf ball or trash thrown out a passing car.

But hey, top drawer B-list stalwarts like Ralph Meeker and Martin Landau hang out the requisite bar of colorful drunk and eccentric locals who refuse to believe the outlandish story of our frantic college boy hero. Jack Palance is the big game hunter who's been waiting for this chance thoug; he stalks the alien that's stalking them in a who's-hunting-who duality. He makes the picture. And the bar, an old standard stretching back to THE BIRDS, is well etched.

The real liability (or strength depending on your frame of mind) is the utterly terrible acting of Christopher S. Nelson in the lead. The way he'll fall into the swing of a scene and be doing a good job but then catch himself and try to correct it by 'acting' makes him a great lesson to all would-be movie actors in the importance of 'being' instead of trying. It works though when he's supposed to be hysterical with fear and inaction, as his nervous confusion and hesitancy--as if needing to remember his line and say it beforehand in his head before speaking it--works for the emotional disorientation he's in after his van is attacked by flying Corman-esque bat creatures.

Things pick up once night falls: David Caruso is safely dead; the power goes out; the bartender lady lights the lamps and Landau starts telling lurid war stories with his face all illuminated from below by the lantern, all ghost story proper. The monster is cool, pre-dating PREDATOR in its murky motivations, and is held back from view awhile to drum up interest, as is proper and fair. All in all, if you're into this sort of thing, ignore the mediocre rating I give this. And just think of my reviews like alcohol blood percentage for ideal viewing, or other. Or other other... or other until all otherness has suffused the corners of your hauntologic memory. Many of this film's fans caught it on late night cable at an impressionable age. I never did. But I can pretend.


THE FINAL TERROR
(1983) Dir. Andrew Davis
**1/2

To get into Without Warning (above) you need to forgive the paltry emaciated 'woods' and that the climax seems to occur in a backyard by a garden shed and just savor its Corman-like deadpan wit and devotion to the beloved tenets of monster movie formula. It's just the opposite with Andrew Davis's The Final Terror: One must let go of any conventional slasher film expectations and just soak up the brilliance of the outdoor photography, which turns a lush Northern California forest into a haunted house even as it refuses to follow the Friday the 13th -via- Ten Little Indians mold. It’s the tale of a camping trip up in the wilds of Northern California that turns mighty violent, with the chief suspect being a religiously uptight local boy played with the usual zest by Joe Pantoliano. But is that just red herring?

I can't spoil the events further except to note that the real modus operandi here seems to be that no slasher or slashers can stand a chance even in their home woods if the campers stick together and some of them have been in combat and/or basic training. Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) directs and does the cinematography and in each role he lets the woods cast its ominous enigmatic spell.

The campers include eerily familiar faces like Lewis "Perfect Tommy" Smith, Rachel Ward, Daryl Hannah, and Mark "Is that a pledge pin? On your uniform?!!" Metcalf. But the real notable is John Friedrich as a vet who winds up kind of in between the good and the bad once he avails himself of too many psilocybe cubensis mushrooms he liberates from a mysterious cabin. I don’t want to give too much away, but you know that, queasy feminist that I am, if I love a film in this disreputable subgenre it’s because there’s no sexual assaults, unnecessary cruelty or shitty dialogue. And this does not have those things... in spades. Of course it has little else either but the old growth woods look literally dark and deep, the killer's camouflage leaf jacket blends so well into the surrounding vegetation it’s startling when a filthy hand emerges to smooth a sleeping girl's hair, and Susan Justin’s weird piano and atonal synth score hits the right notes every time except one.


THE HALLOW
(2015) Dir Corin Hardy
**3/4

Irish horror has been having a bit of a  tonn nua in low budget state-funded cinema, drawing on the weird treeless landscape and rich history of Gaellic folklore to craft small chamber piece dramas where naturalistic art direction and low key lighting obscures the limitations of digital film and cast/crew sparsity. Newly stationed in one of the woodsy places in Ireland (I thought it 'twas all rolling treeless hills of moss and rocks punctuated by castles and hooligan-packed pubs), state-employed botanist Adam (Joseph Fawle), his wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) and their baby move into a house at the edge of a forrest that the locals advise him not to wander in. There's fairies in there and if you intrude on their home they'll intrude on yours, warns the locals. And sure enough, ere long, that happens. With venom like the malignant cells in the 1981 THING, and full of tricks like swapping human babies with weird changelings, they're a weird bunch. But who believes auld legends these days? While the wife takes all the weird iron bars off from around the windows by day, to let in what passes for sunshine in Ireland, she's putting them back up by night, to keep out a relentless tribe of vindictive creatures, who in the Lovecraft tradition abduct children and turn them into their own, and vice versa.

In other words, there's a reason they said not to go into those damn woods, ya bómán! Ye Leathcheann! 

The feature debut of Corin Hardy is not quite the resounding announcement of 'I am here, I am now!' horror genius we got with Jennifer Kent's BABADOOK or Robert Egger's THE WITCH or David Robert Mitchell's IT FOLLOWS, but it's only one tier down instead of the usual sixteen. It's the Charles Band to their Corman if that makes any sense (and it should since Band's team riffed on similar themes in a more direct Lovecraft, THE LURKING FEAR --unearth it on Hulu, home of the Charles Band Full Moon oeuvre!)


The monsters are interesting fusions of trees and people (like the 1951 THING), and the idea of the changeling is very subtle and creepily represented, as Clare must decide if her husband (mutating from woodland fairy venom infection), or the baby she dredged up from the bottom a lake in the middle of the night, is the same loved one from just hours ago. Despite semi-strange interludes toward the end (which decency forbids me to explain) everything is fairly believable and all fast moving in the kind of tight kinetic 'all in a single long afternoon-through-to-dawn' momentum that I'm always citing as the key to good horror. You might come away on mildly plussed when all's said and done but I know it kept me watching avidly, and isn't that the point? I didn't get up to refill my drink or have a slash once! So what if it doesn't leave you blown out of your socks if it keeps you from paddin' around in 'em? The lighting is moody (see above, right), the woods mysterious, dark, and deep, and the acting is terrific - I mean Novakovic and Fawle are committed, and at times they're more terrifying than the monsters crawling through their vents. And there's no gibbering rapists, claustrophobic abductions or general cruelty, all which I'm bloody sick of and easily traumatized by and go out of my way to avoid. I'm traumatized plenty just from walking down the street! Our world is bloody hell all on it's own. No wonder the trees want to leave. But in Ireland, aye, the trees seem to be coming back at last... le bhfeice!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Pineal Express: FROM BEYOND, LUCY, SPECTRE, THE MAGICIANS


Whenever someone like Warner Herzog starts talking about dreams there's a kind of stale bourgeois abstraction to the word, like some doctoral declawing of what is in 'reality' a vivid brutal fiction. Such declawers studiously miss the big picture, that it all begins and ends in a single chemical, DMT, made by a weird little gland in the center of the brain, the Pineal. Beyond the reptilian cortex and the higher mammalian functioning empathy, it's beyond even the reptilian-mammalian combo that is humanity's core, beyond DNA life itself. It's the third eye, and it's long been calcified due to the infiltration of our precious bodily fluids.
"...the pineal gland has become calcified due to fluoride in our water and toothpaste to "Dumb" us down and sever this divine connection. Our exclusive Pineal Gland Tuning fork is designed to vibrate at the frequency of the pineal gland, loosening that calcification and strengthening the Divine Connection!" - Soma Energetics
"Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face.." - General Ripper (Dr. Strangelove
"The waves from that thing are waking a thousand sleeping senses in us; senses which we inherit from aeons of evolution from the state of detached electrons to the state of organic humanity. . . . You have heard of the pineal gland?... That gland is the great sense-organ of organs — I have found out. It is like sight in the end, and transmits visual pictures to the brain." - H.P. Lovecraft ("From Beyond")
“If I accept the idea that this world has no invisible entities, this would mean that I’m agreeing with a single culture only a couple hundred years old and disagreeing with almost every other known culture that has ever existed on the planet. I’m not particularly convinced that we, among all the cultures of the planet, have discovered that these entities don’t really exist." -- James Fadiman (Teeming Brain)
Fans of Lovecraft know two things: 1) His visions of the alternate dimensional elder gods are so on point he was either schizophrenic or a psychedelic drug using shaman, either way, his pineal gland was really de-calcified. 2) Unlike Poe's, there are very few good film adaptations of his work. Maybe it's just that his descriptions are so outlandish it's as if they tap into a deeper well of imagination than the one tapped by most horror fiction authors. To cast normal horror fiction in our brain we use a basic set of archetypal faces, but Lovecraft calls for us to reach back into the basement depths for the old dusty box of ancient images we didn't even know were there. If normal fiction like Stephen King is Candyland or Monopoly, Lovecraft reaches back in the closet and pulls out this game, that you'd swear wasn't there before:


In other words, Lovecraft's fiction is 'true' beyond our normal conceptions of both truth and fiction, and maybe he had some unique gift to activate his own pineal gland via electrified tuning forks, as seen in Stuart Gordon's FROM BEYOND (1986). In it, a deranged sadomasochistic (impotent) scientist Dr. Pretorius (Ted Sorel) and his assistant Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs) create a machine that amplifies the frequency of the pineal gland, allowing them to see the monstrous creatures in the parallel dimensions, including eel like creatures swimming through the air, and giant worm type beings, one of which bites off the mad scientists' head, sending the assistant running from the house screaming, a gibbering madman. His sexy psychiatrist Dr. McMichaels (Barbara Crampton) at the clinic feels he needs to recreate the experiment to find out what happened to the older man's head. The result is the older man comes back, having merged with the worm thing and brought his kinky sadistic sex dominating fantasies to bear (he has a closet of bondage gear and a pillory in his room). As he keeps turning the machine on from his alternate dimension, Tillinghast's pineal gland becomes a sentient monster craving brains to eat and he goes on a rampage, and McMichaels gets all into the bondage stuff. Amongst the effects of the pineal stimulation is enhanced sexual loosening; inhibitions are shed and tactile sensation is amplified.

What's funny is that now years later, the pineal tuning fork and amplified pineal-activating soundwave systems are a real thing. I have both, and activated the shit out of my gland and found the is in in conjunction with salvia divinorum, deep meditation, and drone music.

THE UNRAVELING of the Self:
the Void- white noise; Buddha- TV station;
your pineal gland: TV antenna (a guru would
themselves between your pineal gland and Buddha)
What happens afterwards, you need to be resolute, and trust in a higher power to act as a kind of 'no place like home' life raft, or in my visualization, one of those Nerf footballs kids clutch to their chests in order to float better in the deep end. This will occupy your conscious mind, distract it and center it so you don't panic as your entire construct of self, of id-ego-superego is unraveled, like a ball of twine, until there's nothing of 'you' left at all, just that Nerf football, which then lifts up without you holding onto it, and the pool vanishes and it goes up and up and you're still with it somehow, faster and faster and right through the monsters at the gates as if they were just papier mache animated miniature golf hazards (for no monster can maul empty air) and into the true paradise of the undifferentiated self, you realize at once that 'up' here, beyond time and space, there are very few other souls. You sense a few other consciousnesses bopping in--Buddhist monks, hippies like yourself, god helmet wearers, their activated kundalini pineal glands all like fleeting little fireflies in the electrified darkness. But there are a few full figures materialized up there. The one I 'saw' was a giant meditating motionless Buddha in the center of an overflowing fountain, the water running slowly through a network of capillary like grooves down into my forehead (as well as anyone who could tune his frequency in; I knew that he wasn't making the energy so much as forming it, like a Ben Franklin lightning kite, so the key in our hand (the pineal) would electrify; rather than just the blinding white noise of pure oneness/the void (Dharmakaya), of being struck ourselves by lightning and obliterated. But there are other 'kites' up there, not all of them 'good.' The breakthrough can be quite insane and painful on a psychic level as your third eye (which is experienced mostly in vivid dreams, as during bad fevers or sleeping with a nicotine patch on) full opens and you feel what some have termed 'the baby teeth of the dragon' unzipping you from you psychic cocoon like a vacuum cleaner bag, your impurities and soul dust being electrified and zapped away as your construct of self is unraveled, and it feels like above your eyes in the center of your forehead is a small burning electrode struggling to escape out of your forehead.



The worst most terrifying one for me was the gigantic rotating Medusa head planet, its fiery mouth a giant hellish furnace, bloody sharp and full of fire all at once, the Kali demoness at her most staggeringly terrifying, slowly revolving toward me as I floated, hovering in place above the surface, as the rotation of the planet passed below me, knowing that the mouth revolved underneath where I floated, not just the mental and physical portions of myself, but the 'Whole Self,' soul included, would be be devoured in flames; and that is a terror vastly beyond the ken. But I prayed and then felt the clouds of reality part behind me and a giant glowing electric hand of god or an angel reaching through to touch me on the shoulder as I sat there in my lotus position, and all was electrified with love and trust and I was saved /cured/ awake. I knew there was a God because there He was, hand on my shoulder. Of course I tried to share this in AA, minus the salvia part but they thought I was crazy. Why wouldn't they? Later that god turned out to be a trickster, sneering in contemptuous sadistic laughter after I got shut down by this girl and took the wrong direction on the subway.

Crampton as Dr. McMichaels (post-pineal activation)

These days, having had my rebirth moment already, the unfolding of my constituted reality until I'm back in the womb of the undifferentiated self, I've lost completely the old desire, that spiritual yearning I used to have. It was like I knew there was a crazy movie out there I wanted to see, a movie most people denied existed. But I tracked it down and finally saw it, three or four times, and now have no desire to ever see it again. My whole self quest is over. I know where I'm going after death, it's as certain as Alma's certainty she'll marry Karl Henrik, in PERSONA. Whether I'm right or not is irrelevant. Yesterday I thought I was dying - I couldn't breathe - thought I had lung failure. Today it's raining and I'm fine. Conclusion: allergies. Cigarette regimen, resume... cautiously. My cigarette break buddy Sean's getting an artificial heart valve. Baby, that death drive ain't no joke. Then again, I only feel that way when it's breathing down my neck, Medusa's hellmouth slowly revolving below me as I float in perfect stillness of motion above the planet, and I guess in grand Munchausen style I'm hoping for another last minute god hand before that mouth swallows me. I can't even remember the spiritual terror of that hell devouring moment -a kind of deep level of existential dread I've never experienced in real life, not since childhood nightmares. It's not the hellfire though, it's the feeling of being cut-off from the feeling of it. We need to ignore death to function in the world, but if we ignore it too well we piss it off, and it comes gunning.

BATAILLES: take it to the Limit-Experience"

Let me now tied in all that with HELLRAISER and those kinky-ass Cenobites, the sadosmasochistic pleasure pain principle tapping into notions forged in the heated French brain of Georges Batailles and finding fruition in the strange, feverish clued-in mind of Lovecraft and later Clive Barker. My old roommate who loves cocaine also likes 'gonzo' porn, and misogynistic horror movies. I've demanded he weed out lyrics like "shot the bitch on down," and I learned from studying to be a drug counsellor that cocaine addicts are often very intensely into bondage porn, ordering vile shit off the internet in the dead of night and forgetting about it, and then getting packages from bondage sites a week later and not remembering ordering it or even seeing the site, and then feeling horrified when they open it, like their cocaine binge self is a perverse amoral Mr. Hyde shopping the dark alleys behind Amazon. Cocaine removes the mammal empathy impediments to our inner reptilian objectifying sex monster, one imagining vast enslaved harems forced to kneel before him in chains etc. - Shit I used to fantasize about as a kid actually, up until around the age of ten, when my sense of empathy began to kick in. Now I wonder if my deep feminist repulsion towards any display of this kind of sick reptilian cortex sadism is just a long con version of that cocaine fiend's horror at getting the package.


Then there's this idiotic new feature length men's fragrance commercial disguised Bond movie called SPECTRE, which has a pretty great train fight, a smokin' hot babe (Léa Seydoux) in nice dresses, perfectly mussed blonde hair over black turtlenecks against a snowy white background (j'adore) and a glum attitude of defeatism where the chips are so stacked against our Mr. Bond that he rides right into the dragon's den, has his arch enemy Stavros (Christophe Waltz, yet again) display how the entire purpose of this vast chain of human misery since the dawn of time has been to keep that sinewy ever-clenched jaw muscle on Daniel Crag's face frowning with woe. The bad guys know all 007's secrets but of course aren't bright enough to remove his trick watch when they strap him to the torture chair. One well placed shot later and the whole entire complex is up in flames. And lucky lady and lucky shot Bond are off to another designer boutique parfum ad tableaux. Not to say there's not some great chases, fights, and vistas, but really... the chain of logic is so wearying, so insulting, it's the most un-Bond Bond ever, as if having gone back to basics in SKYFALL, director Sam Mendes wanted to just scrub all the mythos and turn into a remake of a 70s conspiracy thriller like THE PARALLAX VIEW as well as functioning as a full page Esquire spread for some high end watch. More depressing even than QUANTUM OF SOLACE it posits the entirety of the world as so dumb they'd turn over their national security to a shady private contractor at the first sign of trouble, like a cowardly grocer paying off the Black Hand.

Fight corporate synergy in affordable style and comfort
In short, the writers love to set up plush high end noir Bildenberg conspiracies for Bond to be challenged by, but he's so comfortable in the 'top ten percent of the top one percent' spending arena we can't help but wonder how we can root for him to fight the power. And if it wasn't enough, we have to know that so much of the SPECTRE treasury is paid for by white slavery, just because you know, sexually brutalized foreign females are the new status symbol. But then those writers and corportate product positioners are at a loss how an expensively-coiffed Brit with nothing but a snub nose automatic and an exploding watch can defeat this vast conspiracy inside of the next hour. So Boom - a lucky stray shot topples the empire, sets a death star style chain reaction at the fortress without even needing to study the blueprint inside the R2 unit, and then back in London brings down a helicopter from a half mile away! Not the same bullet though. That would be unrealistic.

I know if my NRA bro was here he'd be the first to point it out: a snub nosed pistol has terrible muzzle velocity and accuracy, that's the trade-off for its easier portability! If a longer barrel didn't help accuracy, snipers wouldn't prefer rifles. But old Bond can just aim at a helicopter (from a rocking boat no less) and Bam! I remember when a Stuka would dive overhead and strafe Sgt. Rock in the old DC comics and he would just toss a grenade into the cockpit as it bottomed out. Like hitting the lottery every damn time you buy a ticket. The only interesting part is the torture device of Ernst's: a small robotic surgery needle that bores into various parts of the brain to erase memory and the ability to recall faces (so everyone looks like a stranger), and presumably bore out his pineal gland, or decalcify it so the demons get in. But hey! It doesn't work on Bond! For some reason! Is it lazy writing that we never know? Why even bother with the laborious sleazy set-up? Here are vast acres of sets and walls of monitors and all this shit we go through learning how impossible it is for Bond to escape or beat SPECTRE, but then a single well-placed bullet sends it all up in smoke. It's clear the writers would be more at home doing HOSTEL III than writing action movies - they get their vile sadism down, and Mendes loves to give old James a chance to retire to his first class hotel room to change into some new designer desert clothes. Even the old 60s Batman wouldn't rely this much on their target demo's ignorance of basic physics and firm belief that it's the expensive watch and designer threads that attract the models, and not cocaine. Though of course, if you can flip through an issue of Esquire without feeling like you're being sold on the idea of investing in a corporate white slavery ring by some synergizing pimp, then you really are already so brainwashed by the objectifying media that even a Situationist street agitprop freakout can't wake you up to your own commodification, baby. The only way the filmmakers can justify such strident product placement is to have Bond give up spycraft at the end to go show his new girl a good time with his swanky car, watch, cologne, and wardrobe all keeping her rivitedzzzz because everyone knows that's what a woman wants, a wallet on legs to dutifully cart her from one flagship to the other.

THE MAGICIANS, a Canadian-Syfy show is perfect for post-grad 20-40 somethings still trying to contextualize their sophomore year 'molly' rolls, particle physics classes, and friend-choked euphoria with the science fiction and fantasy they read as geeks in high school. In short, it's about me, man. I really related, like with "selling your comic book collection" and having to get a job, but then finding through psychedelics, and higher education, your fantasy world is still thriving--and not only that, is based on real shit, I mean real in a sense that my out of body experience in alternate realms and say Lovecraft's pineal gland monsters, are the same - we go to the same realms.


If that doesn't work for you to dig this show then just know that it's Harry Potter for people who love drugs and hate children and wish they could dropkick every last shred of fantasy film "whimsy" into a wood chopper. Take your fucking pick. I'll confess I've never gotten to into the Potters and I kind of gave up on Syfy original shows after Bo started being all high and mighty about killing people in LOST GIRL. But MAGICIANS was on in the background last week while I was polishing my previous post and it subliminally won me over when the lead brooding ectomorph Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) woke up in bed with his arch gay aesthete drunkard buddy (Hale Appleman) and his fellow rich jet set party girl bestie, and it's not weird that he did gay shit it's weird he did it while his girlfriend (Olivia Taylor Dudley) was in the other room. Meanwhile his best friend from home, Julia (Stella Maeve) has a great husky voice and got refused admission to the prestigious alternate dimension Magic school so becomes a 'hedge witch' - the equivalent of a townie meth head of magic. Dude, the world of a liberal arts major acidhead at a major university who leaves his townie best friend behind has never been more vividly mythologized!

And that becomes the problem -college isn't just for tripping, it's also where HUNTING GROUND shit runs riot, leaving powerless schmucks like me and Quentin with a lifetime violent hatred of all frat boys, or in the case of THE MAGICIANS, letting loathing for a trickster who comes to Julia in the form of a Mother Earth goddess. There's also a beloved childhood author (a kind of C.S. Lewis meets Tolkein) who turns out to be a pedophile, and a magical rite that can only be attained by drinking a jar ful of demi-god semen. Any one of those things would be disturbing enough that I'd have never half-watched it had I known, had I not presumed benevolence, especially coming as it all does after a whole season of basically non-traumatic drug metaphor magical weirdness, and underneath a cover memory of new age holistic spirituality.


That aside, the show has a sharp knowing eye for the arcane realms, there's few monters per se, but a lot of high strangeness with the dead coming back as evil beings from beyond (ala the home of the elder gods in Lovecraft), I do love the split that goes on between the first visit to the magical dimension known as Fillory, rich with beautiful sights, but then a snap of a wand and 100 years have passed and its become a toxic wasteland. "Your childhood fantasy's a great big magical Dacchau," Lucy notes. It's like Frodo going to sleep after saving Middle Earth and waking up to see old evil ---- has already won and left a scorched Middle Earth. I've had the same thing happen over two nights of astral traveling back in '03. The first night I accessed a divine realm with the help of an angelic spirit guide. The next night I came back and the realm was a hellish wasteland, the spirit reproachful - I'd left a hundred years ago and allowed this to happen. I guess that's a not uncommon one-two punch - maybe a combo metaphor for our own slow killing of the planet and my own slow killing of time, distraction, drugs and daily gallons of Diet Coke. It's been in lots of fantasies and visions, it's like maybe I'm not 'experiencing it' like a pineal psychonaut but reliving a trauma in a stone tape loop, witnessing the primal scenes of our planetary past like a holographic waxworks.

Still, I did not like the sudden terrifying harshness, including one brutal trickster visitation / rape, two goddess jism things / brutal slaughter / child molestation / the way molesting creates monsters; the price of cover memories etc to leave me as a viewer feeling pretty brutalized myself. I mean, we have to wait far too long for a resolution to such a grisly cliffhanger to such a regularly 'fun' show. I don't know about you, but I didn't binge watch my Sunday away just to be have the shit kicked out of me by some Syfy show that suddenly decides it wants to emulate who betrayed we all felt when our beloved childhood Cosby turned out to be a date rapist super-creep last year. I'm not saying it wasn't brilliant, fractal-like and meta and getting at the core of some profound truth. Maybe all consciousness is a cover memory.' Visions of angels with white wings landing beside us just the brain's way of handling being raped by Zeus in disguise as a swan; or owls at the window the brain's way of handling being probed by aliens. And don't get me started on that bear in the Overlook


Besides, I've ending became like the trickster who uses human's faith against us, takes advantage and first gives us all sorts of insights and truths, three usually, and then for the fourth they play us like Robert Shaw got played in THE STING; mine just sat opposite me on the subway and laughed hysterically as I sat in shock, humiliated and confused, misled on his/her advice, this all-knowing spirit (this being in the same era of the above 'one day it's paradise, the next it's a wasteland' spiritual journey) just rolling in the aisles while never losing his mocking evil laughter; I never saw him again. Later, a feminine spirit came, my last visitation, and said journeying into this area is like dialing random numbers, you can hope you get a friendly voice, but there are a lot of tricksters amid the angels. Ask any cult leader: faith is the easiest thing to abuse. You can work that to your advantage via suspension of disbelief in a film like LUCY. Or me with my months of having auric tentacles. Was I just hallucinating or really morphing my aura into tentacles, Castaneda-like assemblage point anchors. I prefer the latter option, and frankly worry for those who prefer the bland 'all in your head' pat answer, the urge to stomp out magical thinking like a forest fire always about to consume their frail logic hut.


Luckily, for every vile trickster there's a couple of angels, like Scarlett Johansson and Luc Besson who came riding to my traumatized rescue with LUCY (2014), on (what else?) HBO (home of 'the rutting'), to help me recover from that brutal cliffhanger. Hilarious, fuzzy logic-packed and unrepentantly trippy, I liked it even better than I normally would because all the angry science geeks and self-righteous bourgeois pundits hated it, loudly condemning the film's anti-science idiocy (the 10% of the brain thing, they say, has been disproved). Moron says what?  Sure it's dumb in a lot of ways - so was LIMITLESS ("One pill makes you Corporate") or any other film where some designer drug makes a gullible slacker superhuman and he goes up against gangsters who want the drug but are too dumb or chickenshit to take it themselves and outfox him. It's the ultimate Adderall speed fantasy: it makes you feel smarter and brighter than everyone else in the room, but not smart enough to know everyone else feels the same way, and the more you feel yourself smarter the more insane you sound. What pissed off the critics of course, is that they consider themselves the smartest guys in the room to start with, and no movie starlet with a deep Hawks-does-Daria voice is going to outsmart them, no matter how many drugs they do. If some nerd with a pocket protector can't feel at least smarter than an actress of Scarlett's beauty, then they literally may as well be dead. I agree: free up some mastheads for real writers who can make points sans smarm! Those insecure left brain bourgeois suck-ups don't deserve this film. Luc Besson is too cool for them! You can tell he makes films that he wants to see. I love directors like that -- they're not chasing some trend to make a bundle, they're not hacks, they love movies and trust their instincts, no matter how nuts those ideas are. If critics hate this goofball movie just for its stoner premise and idiotic plot, then they don't deserve it. Let them return to their STAR TREK chat rooms and bourgeois smugness committees. Luc Besson will be out doing acid with French supermodels and rewriting the action film book (as he did with LA FEMME NIKITA back in 1990). Who cares if an idea makes sense? It's a goddamned action movie not a science fair, you ('scuse me while I take a sniff) insignificant cocksucking low down client stealing, trend chasing, kowtowing, sniveling, self important jackasses. LUCY, Luc and I will fuck you up!

Been there, boy

Me, I admire Scarlett's reckless film choices, her range, her willingness to go all flat and unemotional as the part demands, her moving in as the grand miss of post-modern meta age, the sturdier edition of Naomi Watts in the 00s (even playing the first babe of post-modern meta, Janet Leigh, in HITCHCOCK). Like Depp's benevolent AI in TRANSCENDENCE, Johansson's Lucy makes the quantum jump like she's achieved a human version of the 'technological singularity.'' She's been turned into a super-super computer by an overdose of a designer drug that duplicates the brain boost in human mother's milk, amplified to limitless power. She finally ends in a technological leap on a magical next gen flashdrive handed to Morgan Feeman. Let the meltdown between man and machine begin. As her Lucy finally merges with the ether to pervasive all consuming oneness via using '100%' of her brain's capacity, creating humanity by going back in time to act as a Kubrickian monolith -by-way-of the Sistine Chapel). To me, that's badass -- I don't care that there's really no story there (outside of the high end dealers gunning for her after she narcs them out --and I like the deadpan way the cop just rolls along with the weirdness. Dude, you can tell old Luc Besson's a fan of Adderall or meth or whatever that drug is Watsisface takes in the far smarmier LIMITLESS and this is his valentine to it, and right or wrong you know I approve that message, because it's both right AND wrong, and when you're beyond duality, there's no differnece. What I find unbelievable is that we're a species able to solve a problem like ourselves only by avoiding it with escapism.

That's my bad maybe for thinking that the two would never intwine so maliciously that I could never totally wall the vileness out. I've been trying to 'stop the voices' as that 'psychopharmacist' (Patrick McGoohan) in SCANNERS says, with a mess of walls and film projections,  but there's tricksters even in the hologram empire of dust. Even deep in my pro-feminist sci fi geek cocoon they've found me. And they'll never stop tormenting me, us, not until we lose all hope even in the 100% brain babes we create to protect us from the crippling urge to protect them. My brain has been violated by transdimensional tricksters, same as anyone's, and I've been delivered by angels, as has everyone. And now I know to keep my pineal gland on 'low' because demons in the dark realms only see the burning pineal glands swimming in the ether and they're drawn to them like bats to fireflies. Let your pineal stay calcified, covered in camouflage, for the good of your trickster-free mise-en-scene! Only the thrill-seekers, drug cowboys, and madmen seek those devouring bats: Dr. Pretorius in FROM BEYOND, Frank in HELLRAISER, Hunter S. Thompson in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS and (a different) Lucy in THE MAGICIANS, and maybe me, up until a few years ago.

If you just got to try to light that shit up and bats be damned, then heaven help you. Maybe it won't be heaven that comes at all, but that old devil Medusa, or some dumb sophomore kid with $20 in his hand, a shakiness in his voice, hoping you'll 'hook him up.' Don't do it, Lucy... it's just me, on a loop, repeating over and over that fateful decision to eat some of that Edenic apple, remembering I already long ago opened that weird gold box, I struck that tuning fork and let my third eye blaze like a lantern in the dark: baby's first ass-slap scream into the fifth dimension echoes eternally - and all else that comes after cannot be heard above its white noise din.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Take out the Kids and Tuck in the Trash: #HORROR (2015)




















An ICE STORM of constant cyber-bullying and vaporwave orgiastic trances, a John Cassavetes version of GOSSIP GIRL after he'd just seen SUSPIRIA and thought it was a video art installation by Matthew Barney, #HORROR chronicles the damage wrought at a winter slumber party worth of 'in-crowd' super-rich 12 year-olds (many played by the children of hip NYC artists and producers) engaged in an endless back and forth of narcissistic gossip and self-hating ridicule, driving each other (and critics apparently) quite mad. Laden with a whole Whitney Biennale of contemporary art pieces, all perched around the glass windows looking out into barren snowy woods of the Connecticut money belt (Greenwich even sounds like Midwich) and occurring in proper tick-tock momentum across one late afternoon into evening, it's got a real spontaneous, improvisational loose feeling.... most of the time. Each room the girls explore seems to be about to evoke some mood or other film, wearing all gray dresses they dance to an old hauntologic 30s song on an old victrola echoing Caretaker-style across the surface of the pool but before you can even think "Overlook" #HORROR's writer-director Tara Subkoff sends in the tidal blood surges, like she's haunted by the need to add one last finishing straw to the back of the camel. 

I'm if rushing sorry to be seen art attempts all defiance criticism linearity, by which I mean #HORROR has a lot of good ideas and places it wants to go, and no time to let a moment land; is it an artsy experimental avant garde video art installation or a home movie Subkoff shot of her daughter's slumber's party, or they're all waiting around like Cassavetes or Jarmusch for the movie to write itself out of awkward pauses and sudden lurches of realness. At moments I was quite moved by the innocence and commitment with which these startling young actresses played mood-altered rich girls practicing their bitchy claw swipes (if they survive the night they could grow up to be Norma Shearer and her posse in THE WOMEN). At other times--not unlike visiting all the downtown art galleries--I got that Emperor's New Clothes feeling. Subkoff's married to a famous Swiss sculptor, all the work on display is I'm sure by their friends, but that's no excuse for not using it to say anything relevant beyond some words about how the rich husband of Chloe uses the pieces as stocks, which I've always thought to, that these pieces are all just poker chips or bonds to these collectors; they just like buying and selling so they're constantly buying the same things from each other at higher and higher prices. All of which is much more interesting than the constant flashes to some kind of hit 'count video game the killer is playing, hashtags slashing the screen with loud ripping sounds, cartoon inserts, and meme captions under instant freeze frame photos blaring at each other makes one a tad irritable after awhile. The spell of the freeze frame from the killer camera angle was fine in the 60s, PEEPING TOM and BIRD WITH CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, but it was eerie largely because we didn't know the women. We were 'with' the killer instead, put in the outsider perspective so the very act of filming them seemed dirty and wrong. It's hard to capture that in the Age of the Selfie, especially with a pack of wild girls playing diva with mom's jewelry. 





That all said it's still got some worthy things going in, and yet as if some extension of its characters' constant sniping and stabbing and constant deriving, #HORROR has earned hostile reviews, getting 3.6 on imdb and a 17% w/ audiences on Rotten Tomatoes. I mean good lord, it's not Argento but even Argento ain't Argento anymore; that's way too harsh for such an original, stunningly filmed, constantly fluid and relentlessly bizarre, beautifully scored piece of Harmony Korine meets Sophia Coppola experimental rich kid icicle disco ball psycho breakdown dreckitude. As I recall, critics and irate parents all charged against the electrified fences to decry KIDS when it came out. THIRTEEN drew the same ire, a kind of knee-jerk revulsion; their insistence kids didn't behave that way was more telling about the power of denial than about the film. After all, if the shoe fits, you must wear its golf spike puncture wounds in stoic grace or be labeled a boorish philistine.


The main umbrage I have with #HORROR is the same umber I have with 90% of contemporary 'conceptual' art: it may be well made and have some meaning or make some statements, but from an aesthetic point of view, it's bupkis. Who wants to look at it day after day? As I once famelessly said to Damien Hirst, contemporary 'conceptual' art wastes valuable wall space that could be better left blank, to contemplate the infinite (see also: Godard and the Urinal). I was adamantly refusing to go around to every bar in the city, collecting cigarette butts for 'his' latest sculpture, a gigantic ashtray. So apt. mid-90s Anecdote #2: My boss was showing art to another very rich collector/dealer in his apartment one afternoon, and the maid had left this giant vacuum cleaner sprawled in the middle of the floor.  "Oh," said the other dealer kicking it lightly, "is this a real Jeff Koons?" mid-90s Anecdote #3: There was this super rich apartment I'd bring paintings to or take from - in the Trump tower, everything gold and glitz and gorgeous--you walk in there to the living room it looked like the Swiss Family Manson had been through there: the giant Basquiat looking just like a wall of graffiti, ugly cumbersome sculptures that looked like a deranged homeless man made them out of junk he found in the trash--which is probably close to the truth, this godawful serial killer mental institution worth of ugly ass disturbing art. While of course the actual child living there could have drawn a perfect Cubist masterpiece in crayon and his dad wouldn't even deign to put it on the fridge or if he so much as drew a mustache on the scribble piece of crap Dubuffet I brought over, that kid would have been whisked to boarding school for the rest of his life. You don't even want to know how much that Dubuffet went for. Decency forbids me showing it to you, or quoting a price.

Now your child's intense alienation itself belongs to the ages!
#HORROR could easily have fallen down numerous artsy rabbit holes and become insufferably pretentious instead of just missing a lot of opportunities as it spazzes around, but there great stretches in the middle of the film when you feel the girls' collective isolation, up until Timothy Hutton starts prowling around as a nervous dad of great adventure, veering from ignoring his daughter to running around the woods in a blind panic screaming her name. I kept hoping she'd lead him into a giant wicker man or tie him to a tree and set him on fire, but at least he's there, frothing at the mouth, for minutes on end. I was so impressed I had to fast forward through the second half of his endless tirade of threats against the rest of the girls at the slumber party.



As the lead 'final' girl --the relatively sweet if totally cracked Sadie Seelert--is so good, the camera always searching her out amidst the cacophony of girly malice, that you feel intensely for her (yet she was totally mean to her cool mom in the beginning, so what the fuck) and Subkoff's camera captures all sorts of odd moments of beauty, so it's sad that the farther along it goes, the more Subkoff's narrative style starts to fail her, as if she noticed how nihilistic her film was so she tacked on a commentary on the jadedness of the internet age. But there are so few nihilist deconstructions of human nature, the Lord of the Flies-style fundamental ambivalence humanity has about its own apathy towards its own ambivalence, the amorality of children cliques, that Subkoff would have been better off letting it alone to find its own abyss. She was doing okay with the whole 'pretty sixth graders dying as grand modern art spectacle in their glass house frames, that when she lobs it into the collective 'apathy' of the media punditry infield instead of trying to smack it out of the park into genuine dangerous territory, it elicits a shrug, like honey, you're rich and successful, part of the jet set world of successful working artists; why not try and say something about that, about what is art vs. photography, the parameters of human vision, pornographic art vs. Joycean aesthetic arrest, the way rich kids' lives are measured and devalued by the shitty art that surrounds them rather than just be one of the 'social media horror' stories being cranked out nonstop around the world. To say that our craving for gossip and diversion is now so instant and keyed into itself that the slightest aberration of behavior is irreversible, well - it's true, but is it art?

from top: Chloe w/ egg face (#Horror) 2015;
bottom: Chloe w/ "Elevator Panel" (Kids) 20 years earlier
Word is that Subkoff spent seven months editing this #HORROR and it shows not in a good way. The ominous, hypnotic spell created by EMA's wondrously ominous synth score gives the slow porch position pans across the barren tree frost a 'Wendy Carlos through the Rockies' sense of foreboding that's completely undone by sudden intrusions of crass Candy Crush Saga point-racking, bouncy emojis and hit counts, every interesting shot disowned via flash-meme-freezes, as if the film itself can't stop checking its 'feed' or taking selfies any more than the children. (Not that the latest film from Helene Cattet and Bruno Forlani, THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY'S TEARS, didn't have the same trouble). And I'm a huge EMA fan, as I had a spiritual experience watching the suicide scene in the 1953 A STAR IS BORN with the sound off listening to her "The Grey Ship" after seeing THE TREE OF LIFE and learning via phone call right before the movie started that my dad was dying. 


A lot of foreshadowing strangeness with the art and the children promises a lot: a table full of eerie masks by the front door seems to invite a kind of junior varsity Illuminati masquerade that comes off only via a trippy dance scene; after they're ostracized bully Kat keeps sending them all mean-spirited texts, the girls all decide to lock up their cell phones in mom's safe, so they can talk freely without worrying their conversation is going to go viral from some poisonous betrayer of confidence's secret recording. BUT their conversation is going viral thanks to the black gloved Argento-esque killer prowling outside; s/he's got quite a microphone on that thing, and a talent for invisibility (how anyone can hide in the middle of the day in leafless woods and not be seen by everyone in the glass house is the least of Subkoff's problems). Then the night falls, so the film is harder to see, lacking beauty, and so the killings all occur near  light, like from a heated indoor pool which glows at night through the blinds to create a very Eric Fischl-meets-Edward Hopper effect, or lighted enclosed tennis court; and the pool of abusees shrinks until all that's left is the fat girl stuffing cupcakes into her mouth in a tightening noose of self-loathing. Even without the phones and Kat's malice, the girls eventually start bullying one another, as if unable to stop. But when they find a cell phone under the couch and see how jammed it is with Vines of their missing friends being murdered, that's a good opportunity for suspense that's never really developed... cuz then the battery runs out - how convenient!



You might think I'm anti-rich kid counter-snob, but nothing, monsieur, could be from ze truth further--I'm fine with movies about rich kids made by rich kids about rich kid problems - those are universal. And approximately 80% of my friends are rich kids. I do object to the reverse - rich kids with self-important tears in their eyes filling us in on what the imagine it's like to be poor, or about that one time they volunteered at a soup kitchen and met an old woman who changed their life blah blah. We'd know if Tara Subkoff was trying to tell us about ourselves- the 'little' people -in say some Sullivan's Jet Set Travels neorealist sermon. But she's not, until the end, of course --this is about the kids of those kids in KIDS (1995), a hard-to-believe-it-was-20-years-ago.org burst of street-eye smashtercult that I personally watched over and over for months, amazed at its prescience in capturing clique dynamics in my own circle of (older) debauched libertines, right down to the same hang-out spots, but taking it one step beyond. And now... her character is a wearisome cuckolded wife dressing in godawful clothes so ugly they must be tres expensive, made up to look like one of the evil harpy wives from BRAZIL, but I still like her, because she's going to AA, which means she's trying. And from the angle we see her outside the AA meeting having a smoke, Chloe's cool sponsor looks just like my old lesbian sponsee, so that makes me a grand sponsor of Chloe Sevigny, which is very reassuring. Also reassuring: the way Chloe brushes off Hutton's maniacal attack, his spittle-flecked accusations. He may reduce a pack of girls to tearful hysterics but to Chloe his manic threats rate little more than a chuckle. 


I guess this film as a whole is kind of the same - its overwrought 'artsy' kid-killing may drive the mainstream critics and audiences into unctuous rage (they watch movies like this to avoid having to listen to the vain prattling of their daughter's sleepover friends). These same critics wouldn't dare attack any art they saw at MOMA (where #HORROR premiered), they're too afraid of bucking critical consensus, of seeming boorish, but everyone's invited to throw stones at a horror movie--whole TV shows (like MST3K) make an art of it. I guess it's not profound anymore to note that the only difference between art and trash is the right signature, apparently (since that's all some of these artists do, show up at the end to sign it) but I support any film that tries to apply that same harmful arbitrariness to children. If I had to grow up bowing and scraping before some piece of incoherent scribble on the wall worth six figures that would rate an 'F' from my first grade art teacher, I'd be homicidal, too. All children are born sadistic megalomaniacs, we only grow out of it if there are ever negative consequences to our actions, that there is in fact, some order to the universe where it pays to be nice to others with dividends, sooner or later what goes around comes around, etc. The art world, tied as it is (in NY especially) to designer labels and cocaine, on the other hand, is the reverse. There is no scale of order or justice, no real merit, skill, vision, or craft measurable in what makes one white canvas worth a million five and one just like it worthless. The only way to make your name bankable is to inflict yourself like a wound into the world. Throw your enraged tweets at Tara Subkoff all you want. She's rich, hot, and full of the dickens, and she just inflicted.



Thursday, March 31, 2016

5 Awesomely Psychotronic films on Amazon Prime can Prepare YOU for the coming of TRUMPMERICA!


Even casual Americans will soon be called to bear witness to what promises to be the most bizarre elections in the history of our democracy, the battle between the mighty Donald, his hair Reichstag-fiery as he struts before his throng, and a woman. How did America get to this? The drive-in knows. That's where it all started, whatever it is, and it's been slithering up from those tawdry mosquito-covered screens, across the abandoned strip mall Blockbusters and up through Amazon Prime, waiting, for you! Presuming you have it (and if not, you should), will you walk tall, sit proud, and watch the skies... in HD?

Switch it off or turn to STONE!
These five films remind us that feminism was once called women's lib and didn't preclude gratuitous unsafe sex, that diversity was once called black power and didn't preclude pimp strutting, and peace peace activism was once called a lot of radical hippie nonsense. Groovy, groovy times man.

I curated this list from Prime it's got the most and coolest niche pyschotronic cast-offs, even if 90% of their vast library is crap, cropped, or corny. It's worth digging anyway, if you have the right guide, some madman who likes to sink his hand into the muddy mire, but has a jeweler's eye for hidden sparkle and would only recommend things in anamorphic ratio!

(PS - All screenshots on this post taken directly by me from Amazon Streaming)


1. ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE
(1967) Dir. Roger Corman
****
Never one to miss a chance for collateral production value, Corman utilized still standing Hello Dolly! period piece sets, docudrama procedural storytelling, punchy vibrancy, and a wryly iconic narration from the great Paul Frees. What a cast: Alex Rocco, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, John Agar, and Studs "Lloyd the bartender" Turkel in bit mobster parts; Jason Robards, way-too-tall to be Capone, but plenty feral; Ralph Meeker a good-natured, slightly slovenly Bugs Moran; George Segal, a key provocateur in heating up the war between the North and South sides. The sexy Jean Hale (below) is the only major female character-- and her knockabout brawl with Segal is a funny, over-the-top centerpiece that provides a nice break from the boardrooms and hit planning without dragging on forever. And of course... there's Dick Miller. The print Amazon's been streaming is HD perfection.

Trump FactorCheck Robards' eyes in this shot above, as he prepares to 'fire an apprentice.'





2. GAS-S-S-S
(1971) Dir Roger Corman
***
Corman's final film as a director, it's a countercultural 'comedy' (written by George MIAMI BLUES Armitage) wherein a military poison gas kills everyone over thirty, lifting the world out of the button-down conservative repression of the older generations and into some kind of San Francisco guerrilla theater troupe / Firesign Theater post-apocalyptic wild west. Across this wasteland and empty Main Streets wanders a ragtag love-seeking group in search of a thriving commune they hear about on the radio, in Mexico! They run into all sorts of tangles and 60s sociopolitical roadside attractions as they bop their way across the great Southwest. The most successfully realized episodes involving a deranged but charismatic college football star quarterback who's dissolved the already flimsy difference between a college football team and a bunch of rape-and-pillaging thugs; and a pack of bikers who have taken over a golf course/country club and turned it into a microcosm of bootstrap economic hopes and dreams. Edgar Allen Poe and Lenore and their pet raven watch from high on the hill making lofty comments, as does God (offscreen) in a New York Jewish accent. Oy vey!

You can hear Johnny Depp stirring in his day care center nap room.
What really dates GAS-S-S badly though are the Country Joe and the Fish music-set montages of dune buggy chases (the kind Keystone Cop crap the Beatles did in HARD DAYS NIGHT and THE MONKEES did every week on TV)  and the soft focus light show coupling, which were quite old hat, and almost square, man, by 1971, and especially as the lead 'lover' is not very charismatic, so the sexual freedom thing just casts a skeevy vibe. Or maybe I'm getting old.

That all said, the Biker golf club and football marauder sections expertly straddle the difference between CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Firesign Theater's WAITING FOR THE ELECTRICIAN OR SOMEONE LIKE HIM, and Terry Southern-style savagery-as-American-policy deadpan jet black pep talks ala DR. STRANGELOVE (which GAS-S-S clearly emulates with its alternate title "How it became necessary to destroy the world in order to save it.") and CANDY (1968). Like ORANGE, the football rape and loot practice sequences are genuinely anarchic, far more so than, say, the doctors shouting "Kill! Kill!" during their own game in the much more favorably reviewed M*A*S*H (1970). If it stayed at that dark comic level, Corman's film would fit right next to Godard's WEEKEND (1967) or Malle's BLACK MOON (1975) in its absurdist assault on the cinematic conventions of bourgeois patriarchy. It might be blind to its own (what they called back then) male chauvinism, but it's also realistic about the difficulty of staying peaceful and nonviolent when your community is threatened by an invading malevolent force. (BILLY JACK had made a tidy bundle that same year) and actually finds a solution far more radical than just kung fu or hiring seven samurai.

Trump Factor: Several of the eccentrics the gang run into on their journey pontificate in political bluster underneath which you can read plenty of gangster-like insanity. The "free-spirited independents trying to make peace with those still clinging to the crumbling mantle of hetero-white-Christian-male authority" aspect is more relevant than ever (if we're to believe TV). Based on all those Trump rally disruptions, it's a lesson the once-loving left has clearly forgotten, if indeed they ever learned it all, outside of that hippie chick who put that one flower in that guard's gun in that picture...




3. UNHOLY ROLLERS
(1972) Starring: Claudia Jennings. 
**1/2
An early roller in the 70s' lady roller derby phase (Raquel Welch's KANSAS CITY BOMBER, from the same year) this is a fine example of what I've just now termed 'libsploitation,' i.e. relating how much sexual harassment a hot mess athlete has to put up with in the lowdown world of bloodsport while at the same time taking full leering locker room privilege. Luckily super brawler Claudia Jennings was always up for both aspects. When the violence and hypocrisy gets too much, she bashes the team owner over the head with her trophy and goes on a parking lot rampage. Anyone who was a kid in the 70s has a 'soft' spot for this type of film, for it's drive-in gold- w/ a plot you can follow just by listening in at the next car's speakerbox while trying to find your way to the snack bar after ten whiskies. And I love badly choreographed fights, where it's clear everyone's pulling their punches, the way I used to fight with my brother and neighborhood kids, where if someone throws a slow motion punch at you, you're duty bound to react (exaggeratedly) as if you'd been socked hard for real, also in slow motion. For we had grown up watching BATMAN after school then running out to the yard to play fight and shout BAM! BIFF! POW!


If that kind of thing doesn't grab you, there's more going on: Claudia Jennings once again brings the glint of genuine madness to her feral character, and rolls with the orgiastic vibe all the way into legend.

TRUMP-Factor. - Crass, blunt, effective and all about turning a public event into a shouting match for the sake of ratings and whipping up the blood frenzy in rowdy audiences. Claudia Jennings character says and does anything she feels like and her managers can't argue since her outrageous behavior gets her in the news, i.e. no such thing as bad publicity. As her momentum builds her rivals become more and more abusive, and the crowds more and more infused with bloodlust.



4. TERRORVISION
(1986) Dir. Ted Nicolau
***
Good natured mid-80s MTV/New Wave/mall culture/punk horror/sci fi comedy in the vein of EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY, NIGHT OF THE COMET, REPO MAN, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, and BUCKAROO BANZAI, it's the story of an ugly but hilarious blob-crab-style alien materializing via a state of the art satellite TV newly installed in the home of a looney upscale Malibu family. Cult icons Mary Woronov and Gerritt Graham are the swinging parents; Diane Franklin their Cyndi Lauper-ish teen daughter; Chad Allen the tow-head gun nut child under the tutelage of his crackpot war vet grandfather (Bert Remsen). TV horror hostess Madame Medusa (Jennifer Richards); a pair of fellow swingers (Alejandro Rey and Randi Brooks), and Jonathan Gries as the daughter's metalhead boyfriend, show up as delicious guests. The whole cast is on the same page sitcom-from-Hell overacting-wise which makes it all click together deliriously. Underneath the gross-outs and decadence lurks a loving spirit that situates it all up on the same cloud as John Waters, Tim Burton, and Roger Corman (I kept expecting Dick Miller to show up as a cop or salesman). 

Trump Factor: I could make some parallel with the TV-erupting all-devouring monster and Fox News (and Hillary as the benevolent alien trying to clean up the mess and get the family's attention but not being heard over the din), but I'd rather just consider it a pleasing reminder that the American nouveau riche family in the 80s weren't all insufferably materialistic or rabidly conservative. Zeroing in on the macabre heightened reality in the cracks of mall culture rather than just being 'quirky,' TERRORVISION brings back memories of the early days of VHS when whole families would get together to watch X-rated movies they'd rented from the appliance store. I'm always wondering if it was the dispiriting fall-out of that sudden ceaseless onslaught of video smut and gore that turned middle America into the panicky prude it is today, or whether we're just trying to get our innocence back so we can once again have fun losing it. Trump is a creature from that earlier time of Plato's Retreat let-it-all-hang-out city freedom, and would fit right in at the Caligula-like marble jacuzzi room of this crazy family, despite his half-assed nods to the conservative Christian sect. His popularity now, is proof that America will never be fully Fox News square; it will always will be ready to party with the devil and say fuck it to the buzzkill hypocrite pulpiteers. We might forget how hard we rock sometimes, but it's only 'cuz we rock so hard. (Filmed in Italy)


5. THE VISITOR 
(1979) Dir. Giulio Paradisis 
***
The crowning plume on Italy's The Omen / Close Encounters imitation helmet, this tale of a telekinetic devil child caught in a bidding war between ancient alien forces has nearly everything that made the 70s great. John Huston plays God (AKA Jerzy Colsowicz) coming to Earth to round up evil Katy (Paige Conner) for his heavenly astral kindergarten. And since its a 70s devil movie it's packed with an ensemble cast of aging stars and future cult icons: Joanne Nail (who rocked it so very, very hard in Switchblade Sisters) is Barbara, the mom with the cosmic womb; Lance Henriksen is her boyfriend, pressured by his Satanic board of directors (headed by Mel Ferrer) to get her pregnant again because it was still the 70s so the antichrist couldn't be a woman. Glen Ford is a suspicious detective killed by Katy's peregrine falcon familiar; Shelly Winters is the astrology-guided housekeeper; Sam Peckinpah (!) Nail's abortionist ex-husband. When Barbara resists Henriksen's pro-marital overtures, the Illuminati arrange an alien abduction to artificially inseminate her! Man oh man! Nick Redfern must love this movie! If that wasn't 70s enough, there's video pong on a projector TV, car crashes, malls skating rinks, ferns, gymnastics, and kids using curse words (Kaity tells Ford to go fuck himself, but haltingly, like a real kid would in the 70s when foul language still had some mystical power).


Most 70s of all is its use of ancient alien theory, Gnosticism and Buddhism rather than the usual Catholic iconography to underwrite its high strangeness. If you've read my 'other' blog, Divinorum Psychonauticus, you know I support that decision. Franco Nero with his electric yellow hippie wig makes a great Jesus, and Franco Micalizzi's funk-galactic score effectively conjures memories of 2001 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind as re-imagined by Meco! (How the fuck was that ever a hit?)

Trump Factor: A scheming CEO being pressured into a virulently pro-life position by Satanic illuminati benefactors, Raymond lacks only Trump's questo cazzo to up his polls. Hillary could be the ex-husband abortionist and America is poor Barbara. And maybe that's the message we come away with: No matter how persistent and bluntly the devil woos us, even if he arranges 'accidents' to make us dependent on him, we needn't vote for him. God aka Lord Enki (alias Jerzy aka The Visitor) is pro-choice, but picking his side means having your selfish malice ripped from your soul by cleansing bird swarms aka paying higher income tax.

Have you paid yours yet, dear reader? Capone didn't. Does he look worried?  Salute!