Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 1987

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bad Acid's Greatest part 2: The 70s Savagery Switchpoint

Every time I see a horror film with besieged campers or cowerers in closets as slashers hack away at Venetian blinds, I instinctively and fervently hope that these clingers to civilized trappings will work up the nerve to shed their veneers and get physical, to fight back against their assailants and not pule and snivel as they do so. Usually these snivelers eventually pick up a crowbar and fight back and pretty soon instead of seeing the victims react to scary noises we see the killer react to scary noises! The worm has turned! The hunter has become the hunted.

But how long until that 'switchpoint' in the 'good' character's de-evolution? How much endless whining and waiting for the cavalry must we endure before the fighting back can begin? Is this some kind of a metaphor or subtextual neo-con brainwashing or liberal artsy rationalization for lurid thrills, or what?

So I saw WRONG TURN (2003) a by-the-numbers hillbilly horrorshow with Middle Earth connotations (the scenery is beautifully photoshopped and one of the mutant inbred killers even looks a bit like the Gollum) and plenty of endearing character development. Or so somebody thought. Our handsome, straight toothed heroes run and cover a good deal of attractive West Virginia mountain country before they decide to stand up and slug it out with their mutant cannibal assailants, and at that point the picture changes to a out and out smack-down, replete with Eliza Dushku barb-wired to the bed while our square-jawed Desmond punches mutant latex with his bare knucks. Don't forget to steal the shotgun! Oops, they forgot. Too bad the editor can't just trust a shot to play out for more than half a second, and has to endlessly cut back and forth between a bunch of different fight scenes all going on at once, something that always cuts tension down to a guitar pick. D.W. Griffith would rise from his grave if he knew how inescapable crosscutting has become!

A good editor knows that it's much harder to edit within the real time of a single scene with multiple shots and perspectives--some of which may not match or otherwise suck--than it is to match one good shot in one scene right over to a shot from another scene and back again, a strategy that eliminates any need to match shots. Some might say that's pretty sloppy. But I say to err is human, to forgive divine. Right, Spats?

I took a long time seeing THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake because I despised the implied sexual subjugation in the poster art--(above) which I had to walk past to and from my train to work every day for a month or so.  It reminded me of the sleazy detective magazine covers from the 1960s-70s that have since disappeared but were genuinely misogynistic and disturbing (lots of photos of half-naked females in bondage, their eyes wide with genuine fear, a male hand with a knife at their throat, etc. For examples, take a deep breath, be over 18 and click here).

I remember the 1974 Wes Craven original HILLS from a midnight screening in the late 1980s and I remember it displaying a kind of contempt for violence in its manic-eyed freeze frame fade-out when the civilized father turns savage to defend his family with a hammer. It's a phony contempt; director Wes Craven displays it like a pretentious art student rationalizing his misogyny. If you show cathartic revenge that gets the audience cheering every slice and crunch, it's exploitation. But, if you then make the audience feel bad about it, it's art. Craven thinks such conetmpt shows he's cognizant of Vietnam when he makes a broken down camper suburban dad howl like a lunatic as he's bashing a mutant to death with a hammer! As they said to the Germans at Bastogne: Nuts.

We lost Vietnam because we were afraid to go all the way--as in insane, like Colonel Kurz. He went all the way. Never get out of the boat, absolutely goddamn right, unless you were going all the way. And going all the way--accessing the inner savage--is something every man must do occasionally, lest he get all soft and fearful like Tobey McGuire in SPIDERMAN or dear, dear Master Frodo. The kingdom gets weak and they have to send Willard upriver to seek the holy grail. Kurz would have impaled those hobbits on stakes and used them as tiger bait. As Mrs. Zombie said in THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, "it's all mental!"

And let's think for a minute of the simple cannibals who are just hunting for food and when all is said and done are truer capitalists and therefore more American than their soft suburban prey. I love this reach out to the mutant cannibal community from James Rocci (Cinematical):
The hill-dwelling radioactive mutant cannibal community has never – really – gotten a fair, nuanced portrayal in film; it's just the stereotypes you see in the movies coming out of Hollywood. ...
While the plight of the mutant cannibal community leaves me relatively unmoved, I do feel personally connected to this "switch" button point of which I speak, and the liberal need to condemn it as savage. When civilized trappings and fear -- the "waiting for mom or the cavalry to come" passivity in the face of danger -- finally disappears and is replaced by lunatic ferocity and animal cunning you actually become more mature, vs. remaining dependent on the police department like a little bitch. As a kid who grew up terrified of slashers in the slasher-filled  early 1980s (see my FRIDAY THE 13TH Blogathon entry), I always had knives and blunt instruments handy when I was alone in the house. My inner savage was ready, bro!

The trick with self-defense, I knew even then, is a swift offense. If someone comes at you with a whip, for example, don't strive to stay at exact cracking distance like all the simperers in horror cinema; if you run at them, close the distance, and get right up in their face, then a whip is useless. It's the same with crowbars, sticks, pipes and axes. Ever try to chop off a head with an axe when the person is two inches from your nose? Impossible, you need swinging room, yet what do these civilized victims do when confronted by a crazy killer with an axe? They run away or stand still at good swinging distance. No my friends, you need to run RIGHT AT THE KILLER! Then you kick him square in the nutz; then you cut off his thumbs. No thumbs = no weapons, no strangling, no threat. Break his kneecaps so he can't walk and then call the sheriff! If the sheriff is also an inbred cannibal, well, you know what you have to do.

On the other hand, if you'd rather cower away in the corner, you will just remind me of the NYU kid buying beer at my bodega the other night. This kid started crying like a little bitch when a cop confiscated his fake ID, which he was dumb enough to flash right while the cop as at the register!  "Call my dad! Talk to my dad! He'll tell you! He's a lawyer!" the kid screamed in fear, trying to shove his cell phone at the cop. Can you imagine? Yet that's what these slasher and cannibal movie victims do: they crawl to the phone or radio and plead and whine to the confused operator for help. They can't give coordinates where they are, or explain what's going on; they can only cry and moan and plead for the Big Mom in the sky to come and rescue them. (See my review of THE STRANGERS on Bright Lights for more of my A-list ranting on victim mentality). Honeys, Big momma ain't coming. Stop sniveling and pick up that crowbar! Our nation is doomed unless these kids realize they can't kill people for shit once the electricity cuts out and they can no longer play Xbox 7. They need to start practicing... now.

If I had more time I would clock the exact amount of crawling and screaming done by our sidetracked normies in all these movies, and how each movie handles the bridge between this wimpering and finally hacking back with a lusty howl. How much torture must be delivered before their inner Burt Reynolds shows up with his bow and arrow ala the original hillbilly rapist movie, DELIVERANCE (1972)?

Not everyone flips the switch. A lot of characters just stand there and cry and shake, and/or squeal like a pig until they're killed or rescued. This flummoxes any self-respecting killer since it's basically committing suicide because you're so afraid to die. It takes some of the fun away when they go so quietly. But the ones who fight back, how long does it take for them to transform, to shake off the dust and remember their hunter-killer roots? Half the movie? Can you imagine if you were bleeding to death in the street and rather than help you, your friend screamed and shook and went into shock at the sight of your blood? What good are friends like that, except, perhaps, as a pot roast for a needy family?

We all must learn to fight together, and to be kind and generous to our opponents, understanding that all battles are inner ones, and there is no death. We are all as actors in a flashy remake of C.H.U.D. Let us see beyond duality and false morality, let us be as Bruce Willis in PULP FICTION, picking up the samurai sword going back down into the basement. No matter what our disagreements, we can all come together when it comes to wreaking bloody vengeance on inbred yokels.

The bottom line is this, and it's something that LSD always illuminates: The true American is free of both civilization AND savagery, he can just as easily peel off someone's face as eat a peach --his is an America where the discordant blue and red state halves are finally aligned. I am American WARRIOR! Safety and civilization is hard won for you by an active military, home militia border patrols, cops and firemen and the coast guard. But when the shit hits the fan, those guys will all be busy battling the tentacled demons leaking out of the trans-dimensional rifts. You're going to have to battle the mutant cannibals of your township all on your own. Are you ready? Do you have pepper spray and a meat cleaver in your "go bag"? May I recommend a night of rural mutant cannibal movies to encourage just this sort of preparation? Zombie defense prep won't work: they're dead... they're all messed up. They can't hunt with bows and shotguns like our inbred cannibal brethren. After the apocalypse you'll want to seem tough so you can join the roving gang of mutant scavengers that initially accosts you. Service Equals Citizenship! But for now, when you see the cannibals coming, go for the whites of their eyes and don't stop swinging til all you see is red and your arm frozen in mid-blow behind rolling credits. If Wes Craven gives you any shit, tell him he's next. In the name of Kitty Genovese, he's next...


Collateral Torture: Vacancy
Tonight: On a very special episode of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT
The Brave One


  1. I quite enjoyed WRONG TURN and felt, much like THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, that it was a legitimate attempt to get back to the down 'n' dirty vibe of some of the 1970s horror films like TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, etc. WRONG TURN was certainly light years better than the crappy remake of SAW unless you enjoy watching Jessica Biel running around in a sweaty tank top for 90 min. But I'll take Eliza Dushku over her any ol' day.

  2. Actually, JD, I did enjoy watching Jessica Biel running around in a sweaty tank top for 90 minutes. Did you read my Bright Lights review, AN UNSAWED WOMAN?

    My problems with the Devil's Rejects are many (including its seething misogyny and perfect teeth) but I definitely respect its amoral intents and classic rock soundtrack.


  4. Ah, I forgot about that article. Heh. You are right about DEVIL'S REJECTS soundtrack. It really kicked ass.