Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

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 they'll let go of their civilized trappings, shed their veneers and get physical, fight back against their assailants and not pule and snivel. 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. Of course, that's the whole movie, isn't it, the waiting? We all want to see that but if they shed that veneer from the get-go, would it even be a horror movie?

Even so, how long must we wait 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 grotty smack-down, replete with Eliza Dushku barb-wired to the bed while our square-jawed Desmond smacks 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 single 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 all over the woods, something that always cuts tension down to a guitar pick. D.W. Griffith would rise from his grave if he knew how much of a cheap crutch 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. you don't even need a decent fight choreographer, because we never see a complete fight, just one gesture or reaction smashed into another from somewhere else. Well, some might say that's pretty sloppy. But I say to err is human, to forgive divine. Right, Spats? Bring out the cake!

I took a long time seeing THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake because I despised the implied sexual subjugation in the poster art--(above left) which I had to walk past in the subway, to and from my train to work, every day for months.  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 college 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 Wes Craven displays like a pretentious art student rationalizing his objectifying misogyny to an irate feminist studies major at a thesis crit. It's hypocritical, too. 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. A true college boy, Craven thinks such contempt 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, think of Mai Lai! As General McAuliffet said to the Germans at Bastogne: Nuts.

After all, we lost Vietnam because we were afraid to go all the way. Colonel Kurz went all the way. Never get out of the boat, absolutely goddamn right, unless you were going all the way. And he was, by golly, going all the way. And so it is: accessing the inner savage is something every man must do occasionally, and in war quite often, lest he get all soft like Tobey McGuire in SPIDERMAN or dear, dear Master Frodo. The brass, all sheltered in their mobile headquarters seafood luncheon, get weak and they have to send Willard upriver to seek the holy grail. People get weird and we need people like the Angels to keep people in line, but Angels, you don't go around bustin' people in the head. Yeah, right, Slick. 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 whole savagery point motif 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, one actually becomes more mature. Remaining dependent on the police department for any kind of help is typical behavior for a particular kind of wuss who overall is resentful of cops, shouting about human rights if a cops so much as points out a fire hydrant. Then, as soon as they feel threatened by something, they whine for the cops, girls in horror films especially tend to think if they just cower pathetically enough, help will arrive--it's a bad precedent to let them survive. As a kid who grew up terrified of slashers and depressed about their abundance on screens (see my FRIDAY THE 13TH Blogathon entry), I always had knives and blunt instruments close to hand when I was alone in the house. My inner savage was ready, bro! But never did I think to have the phone close by. Calling for help was for snitches. And cops in NJ would just blame you anyway; if you were a teenager (for it was also the height of Nancy Reagan Just Say No drug and drunk driving hysteria) you were guilty automatically.

On that note, I'll share some savagery switchpoint techniques I've gleaned over the years. If someone comes at you with a whip or axe, for example, don't strive to stay at exact cracking distance like all the simperers in horror cinema. Just wait for the first crack, then run at them, close the distance, and get right up in their face. A whip or axe is useless up close. 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, you can try to bash the person with the handle, but at close quarters you have just as much a chance of bashing them with it as vice versa. 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 or jab him in the windpipe "sweet spot" or palm his nose upwards into his brain to stun him. Then you cut off his thumbs. No thumbs = no weapons, no strangling, no threat. (Severed hands can still strangle, crawl into your car and get you at the denouement). It's the only way... be crazier than the killer/s are. And don't bother just shooting them, because killers just get up after a few minutes no matter how many bullets you pump into their chests. If you're gonna shoot, empty full magazines into the brain until their head is completely obliterated.

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 was at the register!  "Call my dad! Talk to my dad! He'll tell you! He's a lawyer!" the kid screamed, trying to shove his cell phone at the cop with a shaky, panicked hand. 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 ranting on victim mentality). I can imagine that kid trying to get Michael Myers to take the cell phone and talk to his dad right before he's killed. It's sad but there it is.

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)?

What if Burt never showed? 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 through self-sabotage, you become so afraid to die that the fear itself kills you. It takes some of the fun away when they go so meekly. 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, ala, say, Fredo when Vito gets it at the fruit stand? What good are people that, except, perhaps, as pot roast for a needy family? Or the fishes?

We all must learn to fight together, and to be kind and generous to our opponents, CROCODILE DUNDEE style, understanding that all battles are inner ones, and there is no lasting 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 to save the guy he was trying to kill mere minutes earlier. No matter what our disagreements as people, 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 but would rather have the peach... this time. 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, NRA members, cops, firemen and the US 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 are going to have to battle the mutant cannibals of your township all on your own until that rift is closed. 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: zombies aren't real --George Romero and his buddies invented that whole mythos and it's just caught on. Their zombies 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 is finally frozen in mid-blow behind the Craven credits. If Wes gives you any shit about enjoying the carnage, tell him he's next if he don't respect. In the name of Kitty Genovese, we need to make peace with our knack for violence.


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.


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