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

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Creedence and Ivy's Eco-Terrorist Revue

When it comes to environmentalism we're pretty short-sighted...we shout save the old growth! Save the endangered species! Make sure at least a handful of a certain frog endures and these few trees don't get cut, and then let the corporations do what they will to the rest. Man, it's way too complex to simply do a Noah on the outdated biological responses to gone environments. Watch it all from a plane, swooping over a city at night and you see the world on fire with electric light overcrowding, a cancer. Unchecked population growth and all its needs, its power and food addiction is turning us into Earth's fatal tumor.

But nature can be a bitch, too. It ain't very nice. Five minutes with a nature show will teach you that. Plants and they're pollenating bugs are nice and all but sometimes even they can kill you. And maybe they should. Who has a better right?

Two hot babes in critically panned but so-bad-their-good 90s camp films made a bold attempt to spin us around and face the triffid, as it were. Dark funhouse mirrors to each other, they eloquently bracket the entire tree-hugger experience via nerdy horticulturists who become dangerous but sexy eco-villains by night, their powers stemming from witchy herbalist savvy.

In TROLL 2 (1990), Deborah Reed plays Creedence Leonore Gielgud, bottle cap glasses-wearing, hair-in-a-bun horticulturist by day, sexy purveyor of drugged popcorn cobs by night. And when it's time to feed the kiddies, a wild-eyed witch with a dangerous mission: facilitate the transformation of a bunch of puny human visitors into plants which her trolls can then eat without getting tummy aches.

In BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997) Uma Thurman plays a bottle cap glasses-wearing horticulturist who winds up killed and buried in a bed of chemically-enhanced plant neurotoxins after she spies her boss creating Bane from her carefully assembled potions (with his inflated muscles, he's way more fun than Tom Hardy). When she rises up, as if from a lonesome coffin, it's no longer as a bottle cap glasses-wearing horticulturist with a shady agenda, but a super sexy purveyor of drugged plant powder which she blows into her foe's faces so they will do her bidding.

Her mission: 'greenify' Gotham by eliminating its pesky human residents.

In both films these sirens represent the malignant, understandably misanthropic flip side of plants. They are both gorgeous (Reed is pretty even in her ugly make-up). Smitten males cannot resist them. They are beautiful and have a sense of humor. We're not necessarily encouraged to root for the idiots they slaughter, turn to troll food, or seduce into servitude. Certainly the directors make no attempt to make the good guys relatable vs. the bad. We can easily see where the hearts of the directors lie but the critics--a notoriously reactionary lot--  hated on both these films, missing the camp delight in their gonzo precepts, and the way a filmmaker might secretly root for the bad guys in their films. See them on a double bill and imagine these two lovely eco-terrorists working together! An unstoppably sexy eco-terrorist force! Imagine if Nolan had kept Poison Ivy for DARK NIGHT RISES! Played by Angelina Jolie, aided by a flock of third world child soldier flunkies? Our lives today would be completely different.

BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997) was poorly received in its initial theatrical run but, later, catching it in a Sunday afternoon stupor on cable, and having since seen TROLL 2 twice and most of BEST WORST MOVIE (the celebration of TROLL 2's cult audience, both are on Netflix streaming), it all finally made sense. Director Joel Schumacher's film simply fooled fans expecting more of the dark crusader who scowled through the Burton films and the BATMAN RETURNS kinkfest. But Schumacher turns out to be a fan of the original 1960s camp TV show more than the Gothic gloom of the Burton films. But, like Burton he's got a penchant for referencing past horror classics, only in this case it's not AIP Poe and CALIGARI but the classic weird Hollywood pre-codes like the 1934 Edgar G. Ulmer-directed horror classic THE BLACK CAT. Poison Ivy's big centerpiece charity auction attack also involves a clear homage to Dietrich's "Hot Voodoo" sequence in BLONDE VENUS (1932 - below). Tellingly, in each of these two influences, the 'good' people are boring and/or petty - we root for the ostensible villains, the shamed housewife (Dietrich), the smooth Satanist and the strangely allied Lugosi.

Like Black Cat's Karloff and Lugosi team up to to trap David Manners and Jacqueline Welles, here Ivy teaming up with Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to freeze zee world kill all the people and but leave Ivy stretches of spare earth to grow on free of the concrete-pouring human apes. Gleefully shouting such lines as "Ice to see you!" in his comical accent (as per the similarly accented Otto Preminger in the TV show), stealing diamonds for his freeze ray, and keeping his ill wife floating in a see-through tank, he's a diabolical tribute to coolness. When Uma comes onto the scene she lifts him out of his gloomy romantic funk and they stage a big set piece that involves Uma's referencing Dietrich's "Hot Voodoo"number during the tacky Ventures guitar instrumental version of "Poison Ivy,"  slowly slinking out of a hot pink gorilla costume, and hypnotizing all the men with lascivious dancing and pollen dissemination. Thurman's clearly having fun, looks great and adds to the pre-code resonance by adding a Mae West impression, with double entendres ( "my garden needs tending" and "some lucky boys are bound to hit the honey pot") to her holistic Dietrich chemical combo (she could be the love child of their alleged lesbian relationship during their shared stint at pre-code Paramount).

Like so many of the films and TV shows, Batman lives and dies by his villains: Jim Carrey saved the previous entry as the Riddler; DARK KNIGHT RISES would be lost without Anne Hathaway; the 60s show would have been nothing without the super sexy Julie Newmar. In BATMAN ROBIN, the black light graffiti awfulness is saved by Uma, who captures some of Newmar's litheness in addition to West's sashay and Dietrich's de-evolution.  Rolling her eyes and carrying on about the plants of Mother Nature having their day, and her plans to rid Freeze and herself of the feathered and furry caped crusaders, Thurman is at least in on the joke as well as exhibiting some sign--lacking in all the other cast members--that she's actually seen some of the films Schumacher is referencing. Bane is ten times more fun in this issue as a hulking, mute inflatable Mexican wrestler under her control instead of a musclebound Marxist professor, and her plan for world domination is ten times cooler, if you'll forgive the expression, than Mr. Freeze's. It's actually something we could root for, for a change.

Alas, the 'good' end of the cast is a mixed bag: Clooney's a one-note Batman, fussing like an old queen over Robin's impetuous risk-taking (DC's buzzkill obsequiousness in evidence) and as Batgirl, Alicia Silverstone is exhibit A in why sometimes you need those special 'slimming' amphetamines in the picture biz (you think Josef von Sternberg wouldn't have kicked Dietrich off his set if showed up looking that dumpy? Instead Schumacher's abashed PC tact falls just short of designing a bat mou-mou). But at least Arnold does recall Otto Preminger, who brought Teutonic menace aplenty to his Freeze on the 1960s TV show, and his melancholy over his chilled wife Nora is palpable; tears freeze as they form on his cheeks in an echo of Bela's melancholy over his suspended animation wives in THE INVISIBLE GHOST, VOODOO MAN, CORPSE VANISHES and THE BLACK CAT (below).

But in order to savor all that high strangeness you have to embrace those Day-glo cityscape colors and huge shrugging Atlases that span hundreds of stories, skyscrapers placed atop skyscrapers with thin little roadways between them, like some kid is combining all his toys into one huge bi-level mixed-scale battlefield that starts on his bed, slides down books and strings and ends in his little sister's room along the cliffside of an armless plastic Shogun Warrior, like an art deco Mount Rushmore sculpted down to the shoes --and if the little sister got day-glo black light paint for X-mas and vandalized all the toy sets.

In fact, Wayne manor is the only place in Gotham not lit by green glowing fire pots, and occupied by lounging thugs too colorful (electric lime and magenta) to be threatening. So what is there left, sans menace? There is only Miss Ivy -- Uma's best work, and that bookend to....

Creedence Leonore Gielgud in TROLL 2

Creedence and her troll underlings have a strict diet and the preparations for this constitute the bulk of their eco-terrorism. Rather than just wipe out humanity they long to turn them into superfood. Why that's so complicated a process is merely one of the facets to this inexplicably beloved 'best worst movie'. Caught in a weird ironic limbo wherein they only eat humans but are strict vegans, these trolls have to turn the humans into plants before they can be properly digested, a long process involving getting the humans to eat some bright green food coloring, which causes them to quickly sprout branches and roots. And so the plant word has its revenge here, too,cand we deserve it a few times over. Creedence then is a bit like Magneto in the first X-MEN when he turns Senator Kelly into a mutant so he can see what it's like to be the hunted. Creedence turns humans into plants for, partly, the same reason, so they can see what it's like to be treated as an object--harvested, burned, smoked, made into newspapers and/or fried or boiled (like some kind of 'super carrot.') While meat may be murder, veganism is anti-human. Aren't most apes, after all, plant eaters? Think of the sprouts!

Keep your eye on the cob, human!
The best part of the film by a mile is Deborah Reed as the troll mother, Melora. Va-vooming the roof off in three different incarnations, she's the librarian with bad teeth and Anne Bancroft shades; the wild-haired witch with even worse teeth and a from-the-diaphragm acting approach even Toshiro Mifune might find excessive; and the hot-to-trot TV movie seductress (with great teeth, all the better to castrate you with, my dear) who appears on the last living lunkhead's mobile camper TV screen as he sulks alone, parked way out in the middle of nowhere for no clear reason. It's like any lonesome teenager's fantasy has come true: babes are literally coming right out of the TV screen to 'do it' with him in his trailer. Now all he has to do, he thinks, is keep perfectly still... It's like getting a tattoo or getting a deer to come closer... He just stands there, terrified, and no doubt aroused, trying not to make eye contact while Creedence musses his hair and...

Not so fast. Creedence brings a phallic corn cob in her garter, which she shoves into the mouth of this doltish bro (his lack of response even to this is hilarious) prefiguring his conversion to vegetable and calling the whole issue of phalluses and penetration into turnaround (especially if you read any Faulkner). Luckily the corn is not green, if you'll forgive the expression. And--especially since the rest of the film is so aesthetically ugly. when Creedence turns hot and displays that stunning thigh (above) you swoon like you're sixteen and frozen in desire mixed with fear, to the point you feel that any word or action on your part will blow it for you --so you keep still, like trying to catch a rabbit, or Jeeter Lester going after a bag of turnips.

In another great scene, one of the other bros is potted by Creedence and placed amidst the other foliage in her bookstore lobby. In other words she seems to have made a lot more headway in her eco-terrorism campaign than Poison Ivy, who clearly made a mistake hooking up with the frigid Mr. F. Creedence thinks and acts locally, showing love for her monstrous children and ensnaring one dumbass human at a time, while Freeze is determined to wipe out all life, for no clear reason, a project so abstract it's doomed to failure.

Like poor Ivy in BATMAN AND ROBIN, Creedence too may lose out to the human species for the nonce, but there's no doubt whose side we're on as viewers. Though Reed's acting varies from subtle to hysterics, wild and tame in alternating words, it hardly factors in our mounting admiration: She's a genius, in her way, lacking perhaps Thurman's training, but less burlesque show hammy and more genuinely insane. She doesn't know how to fake it, so she just becomes it.

Neither film ends with any kind of peace or happily ever after for our eco-terrorist heroines, as one might expects, but at the same tim each has a final opened-up ending approach gives us hope rather than despair. Poison Ivy is locked in a cell with Mr. Freeze, which seems very inappropriate for any jail system, even a co-ed supervillain asylum like Arkham. Does Schumacher even know how jailes work? But they both are resourceful so we don't doubt they'll get out asap.

And TROLL 2 ends, well, I shan't spoil it, but there's nothing to worry about either way. Just see it and eat your green jello and drink your green beer and smoke your green herb; peel off your pink ape skin and stay awhile, dearie. Be rooted. Mi sofá es tu tierra.


  1. I have always been unconvinced of the mass hatred of batman and Robin, if only for the exquisite reveal of Uma Thurman slithering out of the gorilla suit with "Poison Ivy" tawngling behind her. Nicely done, yet again.

  2. Pretty brave of you to stand up for Batman & Robin, though most people will say you place it in good company in your article. I didn't like it but that never compels anyone to agree with me. The hate for B&R largely stems from the perceived homoeroticization of the heroes, but isn't that something you have to be looking for, and have to know what you're looking for, to see? I just thought the film was dumb, but dumb isn't everything. It's probably time some people learned to laugh at Batman again.

  3. Thank you Samuel... I agree on B&R having walked out on it for the first time, but just kind of checking it out accidentally on 'FX' or wherever, and presuming how bad it is in advance really helped. Bad film appreciation is a dish best served sideways, if that makes any sense. And you're so right about homoeroticism being a where you find it kind of thing.

    and thanks johnny! Uma's brilliance was unfairly ignored in the face of all the outrage and confusion and I think at the time there was a big backlash about overly synergized product tie-in enriched mega-blockbusters.


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