Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Blurring of fact and fiction: True horror in the age of youtube

What scared and fascinated me the most about the whole BLAIR WITCH phenomenon of 1999 was the way its phony authenticity worked to enhance the fear. As you may remember, the film's release in theaters was preceded by a website where the footage was alleged to have been found in a bag containing several tapes and cameras, all buried under a house in the middle of the Maryland woods.

Even "knowing" this was a publicity stunt didn't stop me--or millions like me apparently--from being scared for days by that movie. I was so scared I launched Frightened Male Monthly around the concept.

What concept you ask? The idea of a willful return to pagan superstitious ignorance! Why? because its fun to be scared. BLAIR WITCH reminded me of how close my friends and I could come to a kind of LORD OF THE FLIES Paganism, making up things like effigy sacrifices to burn to appease, say, The Goatman. BLAIR WITCH worked from the same principle: it's 100% more scary if you can pretend its true.

Youtube is now full of "authentic" footage of yeti, UFOs, aliens, bigfeet and sea monsters, the whole land, sea and sky of the "unexplained." If you can suspend your disbelief, lots of chills await, especially in these disclosure times, with NASA employees coming forth with tales of high weird strangeness.

For the discerning Acidemic reader, I've taken the time to pick a handful of my favorites, selected for their graininess and scare factor. Enjoy!:

Both these show the gravitational propulsion system commonly associated with UFO technology, so I choose to believe they are real, though I don't necessarily think I am right in my choice. I pursue Jung's conception that the truth about UFOS lies beyond the 'are they real or no't dichotomy: aliens are real, but not in the clumsy vaguely scientific way we understand "real."

For a typical human to say "If aliens are real, why don't they show themselves?" is like a dog saying "If algebra is real, how come I can't smell it?" In fact, a dog's sense of smell is far more reliable than human sight; therefore, algebra cannot exist. Tripping hard frees us from ordinary perceptions of things like distance so we can remember what it was like to have a child's eye vision - of being able to really see and taste the miles between your bed and the doorway of your room during an HO scale army man maneuver, or Dungeons and Dragons graph paper. A mile is no different than a yard to a blind horse.

Read Patrick Harpur for a clearer definition of what I'm talking about. In the meantime, bring on the bigfoots!

I like this one a lot because of the high "fearful" pitch in the kids' voices; if they're sure it wasn't a bear, I'M SURE it wasn't a bear. Kids have a mainline into the dark collective psyche, right along with acid freaks, schizophrenics, yogis, mystics, aliens, yetis and... that's right, Jesus.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Rote High School Persecution of Saint Ellen

There's something definitely original about the scattershot editing collage techniques of THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS (2007), getting a belated US DVD release after a year in Canada and the broken film festival scene. Director Bruce MacDonald delves unashamedly into the trick bags of JULIEN DONKEY BOY and MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, with every little fragment unreservedly depicting sext teen mental illness, teen girl in danger angst, familial breakdown with a father always one step from physical abuse and all that other groovy stuff that's been done before a dozen times... but not this way!

The divine Ellen Page looks here like she's trying to be a mix of Bree from Klute and DeWayne from the homeless kids documentary, STREETWISE (1984). We constantly cut back to a long monologue Page makes to the camera, wrapped in her shower curtain on the bus -all in dreadfully sincere and morose cutter girl poetry prose. The whole film has the feeling of a collage and poetry chapbook one's weird friend might show you, the sort where their sick unconscious screams in your face from behind the morose drawings and symbolism: "I need to see a therapist." But one can't ever get these girls to listen to therapists, they're too downy and cuddled up in their madness.

And if our cutter girl lash-blasting heroines are forced to see a shrink by parents or a judge, said shrinks are all one-note passive-aggressive imbeciles, as is the one here (a passive-aggressive old transvestite).

The problem is TRACEY FRAGMENTS can't let go of the "abused child" cliche lexicon long enough to dwell on Tracey's perverse desire for her own illness. A much more brave and fearless breakdown can be seen in the indie horror film JOSHUA (2007), where Vera Farmiga fondly paints red boots on herself with her own blood. You don't see that sick joy in Page's performance because she's too like a young Jane Fonda, too sincere to see the true glory and godliness that lies in insincerity, the layers revealed when you pull back from your own position. Fonda couldn't pull back, but it was okay because she blazed so insanely upon her own position that layers were revealed in the sheer wattage; she made humorlessness sexy in THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY, and she made her KLUTE prostitute painfully open. Fonda was like that friend who uses their brilliance in the service of self-limiting rationalization. Page hasn't quite made the grade; she basks in indie blankness and it works because her face is so flawless and empty, in fact her face and Fonda's are a lot alike, almost too smooth, doll-like and yet ferociously intelligent to be sexy at all despite being agonizingly pretty. They both seem underage and too old at the same time, all the time, no matter what role or age they actually are in real life, be it 17 or 56.

But the editing is really the star and in its way this film is the anorexic poetess chapbook version of MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA. The dialogue and monologues are terrible though - the dreams of academics slumming in the teenage squalor, jotting down ideas for wrong decisions they never had or made. Tracey's narration (her last name is Berkowitz, like the serial killer!) includes lines like: '"Tracey Berkowitz... Tracey Zero-itz... Tracey Forty Below-itz...", and then there's the cover version of Patti Smith's "Horses," wherein the singer imitates every inflection from Smith's recording to a montage of Tracey running and split screened in with real horses-- and a laughing black man in a bowler hat on the bus to signify alienation and urban hostility, TAXI DRIVER-style.. and a cracked-out dude who hangs on her all skeevy-like named Lance from Toronto. And the colored girls sing "Doo de doo de doo..."

FRAGMENTS is one of those films where the chips are stacked so much against the heroine that you suspect the contest is rigged; if we're supposed to see all this social persecution as Tracy's own twisted fantasy, then don't keep rubbing it in our faces like we're supposed to have these insane AND JUSTICE FOR ALL/CUCKOO'S NEST knee-jerks about the man keeping us down. It's unfair to ask for it both ways, and our director and writer and actress can't see the humor in the fantasizing about high school tauntings ("No tits" is the student's cry, which doesn't seem quite realistic). We see her led by a creepy crackhead who promises to find her brother, and when he gets in a barfight instead of fleeing while she has the chance she waves her agape mouth and horrified eyes around like she's waiting for the director's signal on when to exeunt, and the director's gone to the bathroom. There's some nice shots of a crane machine in the bar though, for all the crane machine fans out there!

You can tell this is directed by the Canuck who did HIGHWAY 61, because it's got the same outdated dress sense (Her heart's desire dresses like he's Desperately Seeking Susan) and aimless mood-building. There's a zero point progression of story here, which is the sort of thing that happens when a director spends the first thirty minutes working to rivet your attention, then runs out of idea and hopes you'll just coast along revisiting the same footage from different perspectives.

I usually try not to write long negative diatribes here, but Page deserves better than all the idle wankery she's been enduring since HARD CANDY, films made by geeky privileged film people who have no experience of the tawdry lives they long to depict. Just as JUNO-scribe Seniorita Diablo Cody slums her way through a year as a stripper and expects the world to applaud, the hyper-stylization at play here masks a very tragic inability to connect with the material beyond the mundane open mic night surface. We only get cliches of stupid parents, abusive sleazeballs, gibbering black folks, none of the frothy depth you see today from maestros who've actually clocked time with the skate set: Spike Jonez, Guz Van Sant and Larry Clark, for example. We see Tracey being persecuted in high school and it feels as if director Bruce MacDonald has--rather than felt the sting of it himself--merely seen too many high school persecution films. Tracey passes through the gauntlet of tampon-hurling cheerleaders that's been persecuting heroines of teen movies right up from CARRIE through Ringwald and Ryder and Lohan. It doesn't seem 'right' - there's no build-up or attempt to understand the 'other.'

Maureen Medved wrote the script based on her novel, and it's perhaps not totally her fault the film is as messed up as it is, but like JUNO, it leaves a weird taste of some Amateur Mendicant Society newsletter. Medved's an academic (assistant professor at British Columbia University, with a long string of plays and publications) which--in and of itself--speaks to a lack of familiarity with the nitty gritty of street life, a lack masked by a theoretical indignation that's near fascistic in its anti-fascist oomph. I'm not trying to bash her, just bemoan the ever-dwindling indie spirit of originality and writers daring to have an actual immersion in the worlds they long to depict as opposed to immersion in screenwriting workshops. It's cool to me if Tarantino bases films on the reality of other films, since that's part of the appeal, but he's not passing it off as 'real' kitchen sink drama... he gets the mythic power like no other, better even than the films he loves themselves.

Maybe I'm still mad at McDonald for all the phony quirkiness and self-awarded hipster cred in HIGHWAY 61. Here he longs to make a movie about a confused girl, but is undone by his fear of getting too close to her. So she's naked but behind a shower curtain, yet mentally as sealed up as if loaded to the gills on Xanax and texting from her cell phone...and alone... almost all the time alone - that easiest of ways to film an actress. The whole film seems to have been shot in a week, then edited for three years, ala something by George Lucas. What's up with these crazy-deficient Canadians? Being sane can be a terrible curse, if you decide to make a movie that's not.

Karina Longworth writes a good bit about the release/distribution problems hitting the FRAGMENTS here.

On the plus side, FRAGMENTS offers a good score from the Broken Social Scene, and Tracey reads Ed the Happy Clown comics!

For a real, genuinely bizarre film about a fucked up chick in Canada, can I steer you towards the under appreciated and flat-out weird tale of incest and topless boxing PUNCH? (that link is to a review I wrote in 2004).

Read another of my diatribes about Page, this one on HARD CANDY, here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

More Tentacles from the 5th Dimensional Rift

Last night I finally saw THE MIST (2007), which is based on an old Stephen King novella I read in high school. I can't remember if the biblical elements are all in the King version, but one thing I do remember, for what it's worth, is that there was a hell of a lot more drinking! The lead character in the book drinks beer nonstop all through the story. What the hell happened? The only beer drinkers in the movie are condemned as "not taking the issue seriously." Jesus Christ, people!

I don't want to spoil things, but the presence of tentacles and the concept of the military opening a hole into another dimension, and having tentacles and mantis-like monsters escape to destroy civilization has become so common - from Lovecraft, to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to Futurama (see below), to The Mist, and god knows how many Amazing short stories... not to mention the reports from those brave space cowboys who voyage into third eye realms with the aid of shamanic ritual, DMT, psilocybin, Salvia Divinorum, etc. And then there's "Revelations" in what you earthlings call the bible, and the eerie resemblance of "the Spaghetti Monster" to the transdimensional space octopus the Hebrews called "Yaweh." Call me paranoid, but it all fits together like a giant mantis claw pointed at the calendar to 12/21/2012, or what James Cameron would call "Judgment Day."

As I've said in the past, my own mystic visions have corroborated these fictional testimonies, and the recurring presence of a) dimensional rifts as signals of the apocalypse and c) tentacles and mantis-like beings issuing forth and devouring human souls and feeding off psychic energy (most commonly pain) in both fiction, visions/hallucinations, biblical prophecy, comedy, and paranoid crackpot UFO witness sightings/testimony, all seem to indicate the same horrible truth; a truth perhaps too horrible to look at straight on, (which also corroborates my vision of this devouring god as a sort of rotating space Medusa. To look at it head on is to die or turn to stone, so we can only glimpse it through the warped funhouse mirror of fiction, dream and astral projection).

Why am I risking condemnation, judgment, and perhaps mantisassination by telling you this? Because knowledge is power and actually every time I visit the space octopus/Medusa, She always first wants to know if I've preached Her word... i.e. to bring forth the glory that is the return of Medusa/space octopus onto the world! For the embrace of the space octopus is what shall save us from being devoured (your soul has to be nice and light first - for no mantis can eat the sun).

Other interesting paranoid parallels: the resemblance of the many-armed Hindu deities to the "vision" of flowing tentacles, and our own ability to feel and manipulate auric tentacles.


My Nostradamus-esque prophecy is that we will be seeing more and more images and renderings of trans-dimensional rifts, human-devouring mantis-beings, and tentacled heads rotating through space as we approach the fated date of 2012, all this as cosmic preparation for our collective journey into the fifth dimension, past the illusion of time and space. Are you ready to open your third eye and start waving hello to your new overlords with your newfound auric tentacles? You've got four years to start, my tasty human friends! And check out this crazy T-shirt!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Every once in awhile a film comes along that justifies all your own crackpot psychedelic visions. For me, such a film is FUTURAMA: THE BEAST WITH A BILLION BACKS, a feature-length animated film released directly to DVD that's light years better than most crap out there, including the FUTURAMA TV show. And it actually brilliantly dovetails into an array of metaphysical postulations and out-there conspiracy theories! Both of which I am a huge fan of.

The titular beast is voiced by David Cross and rather than a menace is actually a loving God-like diety from another dimension who takes advantage of a cosmic rift in the universe to lock his loving tentacles into the backs of the necks of all human beings, lifting us up to ecstatic union with an all-powerful benevolent other. I won't spoil where it goes from there, but this concept alone is so brilliant it taps into the fundamental needs in the human soul for love, god, and drugs, not to mention the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft (i.e. the elder gods, Cthulu, et al)

And the idea of a tentacled overlord amongst us is in fact the exact vision that more than one of us shamanistic cosmonauts have had in our astral voyages, especially as we countdown to the end of the Mayan calendar, 2012. What the bible foretells as a hole in the earth from which the creatures of the dead shall walk, including giant mantis like beings with whips of fire, some of us have witnessed past the cosmic veil as also an opportunity, for those of us with light enough density to cross over into the arms (tentacles) of our benign ruler, the one beyond good and evil, who oversees even the lizard reptillian aliens that devour the souls of the self-centered (or dense).

These multi-tentacled intra-dimensional beasties have been described and discussed since the dawn of time, witnessed only with the third eye, usually by visionary crackpots and writers like H.P. Lovecraft. The mythological creature Medusa is also one such being (my own vision of this was a giant medusa head rotating through space, on which all humanity lives, as microbes, soon washed by cosmic noxema from mighty mistress Medusa's olive green complexion.)

Sounds like a lot of cosmic bufoonery, doesn't it? And that's exactly why BEAST WITH A BILLION BACKS is such a hilarious and essential film. All these harsh cosmic lessons are perhaps too much to endure without a great sprinkling of levity. Now I've never seen Futurama--except for the original episode which I didn't like exactly, being a dyed in the wool Simpson fan, but in this humble blogger's opinion, BACKS is actually better than the Simpson movie, that is as far as laugh a minute genius is concerned, so at least add it to your Netflix list and when you get to the part with the fabled octopus, remember, this sucker is real, and when judgement day comes, the real litmus test to whether you get eaten by the mantis beings or allowed to pass into the next dimension is going to be based on your soul density-- the more selfless and outgoing and loving you are, the less dense you get, (i.e. the extension of self reduces density), while the more selfish and self-centered you are, the more dense (your self contracts inwards, small and hardened). This has nothing to do with dogmatic interpretations of Christianity, but it does have to do with being nice and not judging others, even the stupid and ugly who deserve it. This amusing and soon to be important little nugget of information, incidentally, is something the powers that be don't want you to know, which is why they've trained you since birth to react to blogs such as this with ridicule. Stay dense! Imagine Captain Crunch at the helm of his ship, urging all the little peanut nuggets under his command to stay sugary and crisp, rather than getting themselves salty and stale and unappetizing to their giant devouring Other who even now shakes the box and sends them squirming and screaming into the milky bowl of intergalactic breakfast! I stand before you, risking your condemnation, urging you to go stale and salty, and thus be passed over during the cosmic snack time that looms large in a scant few years.

PS. If you are interested in learning more about where I pick up such nonsense, may I recommend Daniel Pinchbeck's 2012: The Flight of Quetzlcoatl, and/or High Strangeness by Laura Knight-Jadczyk, or you could just find a way to go deep into the 5th dimension and learn for yourself. Seeing through the third eye is believing! Just don't believe too much, for dogma hardens fast as cement once exposed to certainty's withering sunshine.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Fireworks and the Crummily Cautious

I've been too hot and blocked to write from the acidemic heart lately, but wanted to check in. Reading one of my old influences, Pauline Kael, I came upon this brilliant description of De Niro as Johnny Boy, the reckless gambling addict in MEAN STREETS, which I would like to share:

His madness isn't explained (fortunately, since explaining madness is the most limiting and generally least convincing thing a movie can do). When you're growing up, if you know someone crazy daring and half-admirable (and most of us do), you don't wonder how the beautiful nut got that way; he seems to spring up full-blown and whirling, and you watch the fireworks and feel crummily cautious in your sanity."

Now, I never really felt that way about Johnny Boy in MEAN STREETS. I guess it's the German in me that hates to see someone be financially irresponsible (scenes seem to drag as he hems and haws about paying his debts). BUT I do feel that way about Angelina Jolie in GIRL, INTERRUPTED! I just re-watched that movie the other night and fell in love with Jolie's crazy girl Lisa all over again. And yes, Pauline, I must be still growing up because I know people like her, and I LOVE them, their insanity, their craziness, their wild sickness. It thrills me. That's why it's so painful to watch Ryder's character, who has clearly fallen in love with Lisa, enact this faux rebelliousness after they are seprated, lipping off to stoic nurse Whoopi Goldberg, singing racist camptown songs, etc.

I recognize my own ersatz "crazy daring" in Ryder, her inability either as a character or an actress to access the depths of sociopathic delirium plumbed so effortlessly by Jolie; the "imitation sincerest form of flattery but you can never pull it off because its not spontaneous enough" sort of faux daring that has led some critics to question the validity of Ryder's mannered performance. But is Ryder just not up to the challenge of the role, or is she a brilliant actress who conveys the confused narcissism and mood swinging self-indulgence of her character so well we forget they are not the same person?

Either way, it's Jolie who brings the alcohol to the party, so to speak. It's a shame she's so tied up in her starving millions that she can't afford to get down and dirty with a James Mangold type any more. But irregardless, her prime lunacy endures forever in GIRL INTERRUPTED, which I suggest you see again if you only saw it once. I know people who watch this movie over and over and over (the crazy ones). I love them. I love Pauline Kael. I love you, dear reader. So why can't I get the bugs to stop crawling around in my skin long enough to get back into writing my book?

Sunday, July 06, 2008


Put the blame on Mame, boys, for filling her widower pad with eccentric whimsy, or Frank Capra, for filling our heads full of pro-capitalist blarney, either way we're at a saturation point with "quirky" indie family comedies; anything after this and the flood will get into the basement and warp the floorboards of cinema. Hopefully this weekend's release of the tepidly reviewed "never should have escaped Sundance" LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE-cum-DAN IN REAL LIFE style quirky family comedy "about heart, about growing up, and growing old..." this Alan Alda-Matthew Broderick senile old bonding movie, DIMINISHED CAPACITY,  is the water line by which overdone cliches meant to pacify the whole extended family will now be over and done with. Presuming the poor film makes no money. I love Alan Alda, so it's a shame, who can I blame? Capra would scoff, and Mame would shudder with douche chills at this toxic level of cutesy-poo clowning.

There's a real comedy in there somewhere, maybe in a real early draft of Sherwood Kiraly's adaptation of his own novel. I mean, the pitch is great: a senile old man with a zest for zaniness heads to Chicago with a priceless old baseball card he finally wants to sell. The card is a great mcguffin, as nephew Broderick has to continually void all the bad deals the demented old man gets hoodwinked into (like swapping it for an editor's promise to print the old man's fish poetry -- don't ask). But along the misadventure-strewn way just about everything original must have been sifted from this idea and discarded; instead of an analysis of the meaning of value--an old, ugly, tiny piece of cardboard with a face of an ugly ball player being priceless, for no earthly reason--we're stuck in the mind of a senile fish poet (tell ya later), the cookie cutter mold is enforced right down to the hometown girl--divorced with clumsy child-- who Broderick leaves behind (Virginia Madsen, quietly searching for someone equally awake to do a scene with). Can you guess that the kid is a little league space cadet who keeps dropping the winning ball and it all comes down to him catching the card as it almost falls into a janitor's pail of soapy water? You can?

Luckily I was seeing this at the Sunshine in downtown NYC and so wasn't the only one groaning as quirk after tired quirk was upturned and exposed like so many bugs under rocks scored to mopey tunes off Sufjan Stevens' Illinois album.

A glimmer of blessed anti-sunshine arrives late inning in with Dylan Baker as a dealer at the Chicago baseball card convention. Playing a very serious Cubs fan, Baker lends a world-weary dignity as a guy who must continually endure the repeated failures of his beloved team. Wisely realizing Baker is really the only one in the cast halfway on the ball, first-time director Terry Kinney lets his scenes play longer than they need to, and for the time Baker's onscreen it's as if the clouds of stale cliche part and something hilarious, twisted, and true comes out. You can see the assemblage of quirky actors--Broderick, Alda, Madsen--watching him from the other side of the collector's table in awe, wishing his part started earlier and set the mood. Before Bakers' arrival, it's almost like a trading card session between two Sundance workshop veterans: "I'll trade you a quirky gag involving fish writing poetry for your 'learning to shake off your doubts and achieve greatness with your life' arc, I'll even throw in a white trash relation struggling with the first step of AA."

Of course the baseball card changes hands more times than an intercostal clavicle or secret roll of microfiche... as does Alan Alda's southern fried accent. His eccentric Uncle Rollie apparently orders his quirks from an old Sears catalog, whether baiting lines attached to typewriter keys so fish can type poetry (now you know) or drying his socks on an indoor gas grill; Ruth Gordon is probably rolling atop Harold, still screaming, in her grave. Sure Matthew Broderick has his chops, but I want to punch him even now for Bueller's interminable smugness. I don't feel sorry for him being stuck in this mess, but Alda is still way too witty and physically agile to be convincing as a coot and meanwhile the other actors all stand around looking like they can't find their chalk marks. But even so, Broderick looks mere stiff-jointed steps away from being 93, while Alda's still a breath of fresh air.

As long as it's not completely terrible, we can fall into any movie like a dream, emerging only when the credits roll or the phone rings or when we need to go to the bathroom or refill our whiskey highballs. Similarly, the spirit upon leaving the body becomes amorphous intelligence seeping into the interlocking gazes surrounding it, merging with the all-seeing I.

Who is to say, after all, that when a really good actor dies on screen, that we do not also die, or that this character is really reliving his life through us, through our eyes, the way we might look in awe at photos of ourselves as babies, the way a chimp or Hamlet studies the human skull? It's astounding, Roderick, the basis of consciousness, the mirror regarding itself into infinity. That's why a much better movie was the one I revisited after trudging home from Sunshine Cinema: ALIEN: RESURRECTION.

The astounding mirror character I am talking about here is the reincarnated/cloned Ripley character played by Sigourney Weaver. Is she the "same" Ripley who died at the end of ALIEN 3? Did her consciousness transfer via the cloning process of mad scientist Brad Dourif? The transmutation of self, of sentience, of soul, is what is the issue here. Is the soul as we perceive it really ego, and is ego really just an obsession with one particular locus of identification, with the body you inhabit at this point in time? Is ego then not a kind of imprisonment, being trapped outside the free floating locus of Polydent-ification?

The way Sigourney Weaver grasps these paradoxes is nothing short of poetry. Ripley is egoless and animal-like; sublimely sexy, languid and lolling like an already cool person taking ecstasy. I didn't like ALIEN: RESURRECTION the first time I saw it--in the theater with a backache the day after Thanksgiving visiting my girlfriend in Portsmouth, NH; but it's better with repeat viewings. There's a steady stream of redeemable moments all the way through though, like robot Winona Ryder jacking into the computer mainframe by sticking a tube in her vein like an Oxycontin IV. French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet clearly takes the time to make each outlaw character memorable and not just a few cliche'd quirks stapled onto an actor, the way they are in CAPACITY.

Another way to picture it as three different levels of identification- which brings us from movie watching to being to watching being:

First level is identifying with a character in a story; second is "becoming" other people in the cast, wherein we can still shift the locus of our ego identification from one to another; third is one amorphous intelligence that moves from individual to individual voice and mind, staging its own elaborate rituals for self discovery. To see or hear someone or something is to become the seen or heard. Ultimately isn't all that is alive or ever was just DNA talking to itself? The paint paints itself through the painter, and it sees itself through its beholders. Your eyes are the mirror in which colors comb their hair --an endless cycle of creation and destruction, the brush, the brain, the subject all along one hideous serpentine chain leading straight
up/down into the void; perception and perceived merely frets and bridge on the same instrument.

How's that for motherfuckin' quirky, Uncle Rollie? While the tired and overly cautious filmmakers carefully weed out the genuine eccentricity from their films, real life goes on all around, more baffling and phenomenal than even the looniest Frenchman's conception of science fiction.

"WHY DON'T YOU CALL YOUR INSECTS?" Thoughts at a July 5th DVD horror marathon.

Jennifer Connelly is aces in her first starring role: Dario Argento's recently re-released on DVD 1985 horror masterwerke, PHENOMENA. The better title would have been "Lady of the Flies," which is what the sinister school mistress calls young Connelly once her telekinetic bond with insects becomes public knowledge at her evil Swiss boarding school. I just saw this film for the first time, and am I glad I waited (it was around in truncated form in the US as CREEPERS and apparently choppy). The colors on the new disc are superb. Care and attention has obviously been paid and if you can move into the mindset of being at a near-deserted drive in in the middle of  both nowhere and the night, you will dig the spookshow surrealism and great wind noises (thanks to its foot-o'-the-Alps setting). It takes all the hot topics of the early 1980s/late 1970s and mashes em up with Argento's bizaarro-Italiano seasoning: we have a chimp (i.e. concurrent with Romero's MONKEYSHINES, which everyone thought would be a hit) avenging his slain etymologist master (Donald Pleasance, wondrous); THE SWARM-style bug attacks; CARRIE-esque telekenetic revenge against bratty schoolmates (replete with wind in the hair effects ala FIRESTARTER); deformed young version of Jason-like freaks, flaming lakes, a razor left in a trash can, beheadings, maggots, POV killers shots with a knife on a pole ala PEEPING TOM, etc., all scenically filmed in what wheelchair-bound Donald Pleasance dryly refers to as "the Transylvania of Switzerland."

People have written bad things about Connelly's acting, i.e. her blank expressions when she should be registering fear or revulsion. There she goes, walking around in killer's houses with an expression as if she's asleep. Well that's the point, genius! She's a sleepwalker! This is some kinda fucked-up dream that's bled into Switzerland like a spider's egg sac melting in Dario's brain while he reads a book on animal telepathy. 

There are secrets to enjoying foreign films that Americans--swathed on all sides in English like a warm cocoon, need to remember: 1) When in doubt presume everyone has amnesia; and if there are subtitles, don't read them; 2) try to decipher the dialogue like you would if you were visiting and trying to get around while not speaking the language. Just use the subtitles if you need to, like a crutch when you're almost healed. Eventually you don't even know the subtitles are there and the performances seem so much richer, and you may just pick up a few phrases to use to impress your friends. 3) Treat any lingering alienation like everything is a fairy tale you're told as a child and only half understand. PHENOMENA is in English on the DVD, so really you only need the third secret. Embrace it and Connelly's power to attract bugs and her sleepwalking blankness merge lyrically. The scenes of her, Inga (the chimp) and Pleasance together, surrounded by terrariums full of relaxed carrion flies have a great low-key warmth that makes the eventual tragic elements all the more poignant (but not at the expense of the overall surreal lightness and WTF sensory overload).

Aside from some heavily dated metal during the midnight kill scenes, the low end, ultra-ominous flanger/echo-pedal-drenched electric guitar score by Claudio Simonetti seals the deal with a thunderous deep end echo. 

Next: INSIDE, a 2007 French horror film from "Dimension EXTREME," which is a disturbing concept- a corporate branding that promises unflinching gore and cruelty. What's next? Severed head corporate logos? I for one couldn't be happier, or more worried about the fate of mankind. In that order.

The Netflix liner notes say that, in INSIDE, Beatrice Dalle "relentlessly pursues the pregnant Sarah, determined to perform a grisly brand of C-section." I think the "grisly brand" is key here, as it implies there is a non-grisly brand. The patronizing ROSEMARY'S BABY-style treatment that expectant mother Alysson Paradis receives from her mom, the hospital, and her distracted married-man boss sets the ambiguity and ambivalence meter to high right from the start. There's a refreshing lack of "sanctity of motherhood" posing in this (of course, French) film. Instead it dares to convey--contrary to the Netflix synopsis--how all c-sections are grisly, and that birth is a cruel, violent, grisly business which no amount of drugs, sanitary surfaces, and/or order-barking orderly-running-beside-the-wheeled gurney hospital hooplah can deny. Instead INSIDE gets to the meat of the matter, with rueful dark humor and a fine sense of real-time pacing. And subtitles.

TEETH on the other hand was such a drag I could barely get past the FBI warning. It's supposed to be about, you know, a vagina dentata in action, something we've all thought might make good film fodder, but instead it's much too sage and squeamish, like that abysmal cheat of a film HARD CANDY (my review here), wherein (if you'll recall)--after a tediously lengthy preparation--Ellen Page only pretends to castrate the pedophile she's picked up off the internet, or SEX AND DEATH 101, where the serial "killer" played by Winona Ryder doesn't really kill the swinger slobs she dates, but merely puts them in comas until she finds true love. TEETH stresses how you can sew that junk back on--Bobbit-style... oh thank the Lord! It's okay to disembowel whole sororities full of women, but cut off one penis and the whole world faints in outrage, apparently. Rather than hustle as a steely avenger of rape victims, our toothy protagonist merely stumbles around a typically quirk-laden small town, preaching abstinence. Any genuine penis-crunching comes only after tedious stretches of nervous filler. Jess Weixler tries to protect the schlongs of America--like the nervous Serbian virgin in CAT PEOPLE--and what's the fun in that? And you people call yourselves feminists! Harrumph!

Another thing which trying to watch TEETH after INSIDE and PHENOMENA made me realize is the importance of a good synthesizer soundtrack. Movies really are both picture and sound, and even if you're not paying attention to the plot, every event is explained full bore by the heavy metal and blazing guitar rock pulsing through Argento's canon (the score for TEETH by contrast is all exotic digeridoo cliches). Argento's friend George Romero digs a good synth score too, though, which is why to step in and rescue the evening from my bad taste of TEETH, I chose to dig up... DAY OF THE DEAD.

I hadn't seen this one since 1985, at the multiplex! God Damn. Punk-a-Billy Funkhauser and I drove all the way to some cineplex in goddamned Fort Lee, NJ to see it. I loved it of course, but didn't remember it as a classic; over the years it kind of got shuttled to the curb as too talky... the "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" of the series, if you will. But time has been kind to this film, as have popular tastes regarding cannibalism (now we don't even flinch) and the post-modern theorists like Steven Shaviro point out the neat "masochistic spectator positions" that accompany the zombie subgenre.

Now, there IS a lot of talk in the first half of DAY OF THE DEAD. And the one-note military hardheads seem to spend more time on their hair and cackling than is good for them, but there's no stimping on the gore fx, and the pace is full bore. Down in a n old military base/fall out shelter, a team of scientists deal with the issues of the day while the hopped up military guys protecting them get more and more squirrely. "Frankenstein" is the head scientist who has slowly whittled life down to a medulla oblangata ex machina... the concept of "is you is or is you aint a sentient being" is explored in myriad subtle ways; The people getting pulled apart get to contemplate this as they watch their limbs and entrails get spread out in all directions, like the rolling out of a tent.

One film that looked truly disturbing in the previews on the Anchor Bay PHENOMENA DVD was something called THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (2007) which sports a deceptively sun-dappled shot-on-digital video in real people's suburban houses look, which then gets all the more disturbing as the ingeniously edited trailer slowly moves from STAND BY ME-type nostalgia-ism to sexualized violence as kids start hurting each other and instead of condemning, mom condones, and shows the boys how to do it right (to the girls). I'm so disturbed just by the trailer that I don't think I'll ever watch a trailer again! Men may be brutes, kids may be demonic but God DAmN! cold-hearted moms is the scariest creatures of all.

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