Piece of advice: If you're ever driving west to Oregon, don't take the small local roads. Don't plan to enjoy the local color until you get to the coast. And if you get scared and the road darkens before you like a dream, turn back around and floor it back to the main thoroughfare.
In 1989 my girlfriend and I were driving out west to Seattle, up on Highway 90. We gave ourselves two weeks so we could dally in the valleys and see the sights.
Central Oregon was the very definition of desolate: twisting crumbling two-lane blacktops snaking around gnarled tree trunks, deserted plows, empty pastures, collapsed barns, boarded-up feed stores and closed motels. We saw caved-in mailboxes that looked like they hadn't seen mail in decades, smoke-blackened trees, unlit neon bar signs, lingering decorations of holidays long past or yet to be, all out of whack --Christmas and Halloween blurred together like a sad K-Mart close-out. No life --not even a chicken or bird or even a horse looking at us through a barbed wire fence. And as the sun set the road seemed to be pulling us forward into the sheer blackness of the next turn like a twisting yellow line jellyfish, like the dark of the forest closing in on us until the road seemed to shrink into two dimensional dreams. Something waited for us in the darkness, in some dilapidated parking lot, waiting with inhuman patience to spring on us like a coiled redneck cottonmouth to flash its genitals at my traveling companion, or humiliate me in front of her, or abduct her and force me to spend panicky hours asking for help in a high, crackly voice as I navigated The Vanishing or And Soon the Darkness-style scenarios. Never before had a landscape so resembled Hollywood's own rurally twisted nightmares: I imagined seeing a lone person on the road just looking and laughing at us, mirthlessly, toothlessly.
I've looked back on the map to see if I can remember the road number while writing this post, but I can't, and my traveling companion has long gone... but the memory of that dark thing waiting around the next bend, breathing deeply through endless asphalt cold shadow lung yellow lines, lingers on. I still remember the twisting leaves and clouds blocking the black hole sun, and this several years before that song was written. Soundgarden was still opening for WASP back then. Cell phones, GPS signals, all unmanifest... so the only chance was to fucking just turn around, and get the hell back to a freeway.
Sharing my experience of central Oregon as a Lovecraftian sinkhole, apparently, is Calvin Reeder, who has blown some festival circuit minds recently with The Oregonian (2011). A landmark debut of high 16mm strangeness in the Alice in Wonderland / limbo / post-apocalyptic / dream world / experimental mode, it joins the ranks of works by David Lynch and Herk Harvey in the nightmare pantheon. It's the film Lynch would like to make but has too much bourgeois clout to not have craftsmen muddling in (i.e. Inland Empire). The Oregonian--with it's droning electric guitar score and refusal to explain itself or offer any stable reality to warp--returns to the groundless ground of Eraserhead and then goes deeper down into the mucky muck, attacking along the fault lines between avant garde 'le bad cinema' and psychedelic Xtreme horror, waking reality and nightmares, and a grunge-tinted road movie. Put this on a bill with Dementia AKA Daughter of Horror if it took place in the wilderness of Oregon instead of the city; Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me if it was on a Plan Nine budget; Carnival of Souls put through a Mark Frost psychotronic spice grinder; if Alejandro Jodorowsky directed Easy Rider 2, wherein Captain America flies back down into his body while the Byrds play in reverse. And it's on Netflix streaming.
The characters include: a blonde hippy-ish smoker enduring the insanity of a break-up at an isolated Lama ranch in the middle of nowhere; a creepy stalker fueling her boyfriend's jealous insanity, the boyfriend passes out drunk, so she bails; suddenly she's waking up in a car that apparently crashed into a father and son who were having a picnic by the side of the road in the dead of night. Now they're lying dead, and her forehead is covered in blood, but no one is around anywhere to help as she staggers down that lonesome road. There is no phone to call the cops and the desolation stretches for miles; the few folks she meets stare and smile insanely. Her only friend becomes a degenerate in a big frog costume, and later she hooks up with a bunch of weirdo musicians who drink gasoline.... Luckily she finds a shotgun, and a few guides who advise her to just relax and, as Martha advises in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, "sink into it."
I love that Reeder refuses to pick a side, to explain the madness, to have some root answer to whether it's all a nightmare or Phantasm-matic inter-dimensional death drive film school experiment. Unlike few other films, it maintains it's madness with the patience of a gardener. For my money, The Oregonian is way better than a lot of over-praised existential stuff like Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive (though Refn's awesome Valhalla Rising compares well).
That sound good? Light up a cigarette and laugh all the way to the burn in the celluloid. Your dirty shower curtain will never look the same, nor will the sound of people laughing behind you on the street Just do me a favor and if you're driving west to Eugene, stay on the highway. I don't want to lose you to the genital-flashing darkness.