Saturday, March 30, 2013

Pictures Taking Pictures: MYRA BRECKINRIDGE (1970) and the Misandric Hollywoodophile

"Myra Breckinridge was born with a scalpel and don't you ever forget it motherfuckers, as the kids all say," Raquel Welch--as post-op woman Myra-- narrates in the unre-member-rabble mess/tear/racy-piece MYRA BRECKINRIDGE. That scalpel in old John Carradine's mitt will, you feel, definitely cut off something, and it's not Bunny's member. No, "ma'am" --it's the end of the 60s and the last vestige of hetero-studliness associated with the counterculture's orgy mentality has fishtailed out into a 'Joe Buck on the Deuce'-style gay orbit. MYRA B. is--as the kids all say--one truly awful film, but it's pretty fascinating nonetheless, as a truly anti-Hollywood Hollywood production, and even better, a rare example of a mainstream film that's truly misandric (the kind of thing Valerie Solanis might dream up after too much pruno). "My purpose in coming to Hollywood," Myra announces early on, "is to destroy the American male in all its forms." Count me in! As long as the film focuses on this aspect, draws heavily from an array old film clips to create the feeling dead actors are watching from the screen, and lets Raquel Welch spout pro-40s camp Hollywood anti-doctrine, it's pretty badass. But --as such a film might indicate, the self-sabotage is off the chain. For some unbeknownst reason, Michael Sarne--a Brit actor, singer, and flashy gent with no discernible know-how--was given the directorial reins. If nothing else, the film really needs a Yank directing; only an American could really understand Hollywood and its twisted sexuality in the way needed. While the script is cutting on many levels, Sarne's camera is almost too polite; he forgets to leer down Raquel Welch's dress and he cuts away right when a tirade is getting interesting.

Sarne's album, once again trying to cut short a sexy tryst
But first, historical Hollywood context: in 1970, Fox--MYRA's parent company--also released BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. Both used film critics either as actors or writers and then passed the project to directors unused to working with big budgets (Sarne and Russ Meyer). Apparently anyone--as long as they were coming from outside the system--could get a major studio movie made in the late 60s-early 70s. Studios were dying right and left and the old guard was clueless in the face of the psychedelic / feminist / black power / anti-Vietnam revolution generation. They were so clueless they were even able to admit and grasp at straws, but their grasping strategy was born from their old guard derision for what was 'selling tickets.' If they hadn't done drugs themselves, they either hired someone who had (maybe even their pool boy) or just threw some breasts, loud music, and strobe lights on the screen and hoped for the best. Damned hippies wouldn't even notice, the desperate bigwigs assured each other, those kids were too high from smoking acid and snorting reefer to realize the movies were just big expensive shitshows. This was the reasoning. So people like Bob Hope, Peter Sellers, and David Niven rode out their contracts bedding young girls in flowery miniskirts while Top-40 bands of the day wailed on the soundtracks.

They reasoned wrong. Even the farthest gone of the freaks could sense--like a shark sensing a wounded seal--the flailing micro-vibrations of a square's desperation in the waves, but they weren't biting. In fact, they swam the other way as fast as possible. Narcs were everywhere, man, and worse, horny balding idiots who'd heard about all that free love being given away on the Haight --big burly old dudes in Beatle's wigs looking to 'connect' - they made a hippie watchful and a whole lot of paranoid.

But the studios had to try something. As early as 1966, a glut of over-priced, star-studded, psychedelic imagery-and-song-filled counterculture-satirizing (and aping) bids for mainstream success crawled desperately along the nation's marquees like dollar-starved junkies. The story they told was almost always the same: some average, middle-aged white collar square who feels trapped in his plastic existence (Bob Hope, Peter Sellers, George C. Scott) leaves his nagging wife behind, to shack up with a young free spirit hippie chick (Goldie Hawn, Joey Heatherton, Julie Christie) and finding themselves, or at least getting their freak on, in some form (in the darker versions, he kills her, due to his latent prudery). There was: CANDY (dir. Christian Marquand); CASINO ROYALE (dir. Ken Hughes); BLUEBEARD (dir. Edward Dmytryk); SKIDOO (dir. Otto Preminger); I LOVE YOU ALICE B. TOLKAS; WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT? and THERE'S A GIRL IN MY SOUP (all w/ Peter Sellers); HOW TO COMMIT MARRIAGE (w/ Bob Hope), PETULIA (dir. Richard Lester), to name just a few.

We're not a big fan of 'eaters' here at Acidemic

Some of these bloated midlife crises went perhaps too far into the freedoms wrought by the psychedelic era, and grew careless with them as if they were merely the next wave of crappy symbols for sexual intercourse and perversion. The idea that LSD had created a kind of post-modern melt-down was lost on an older generation for whom the notion of 'freedom' began and ended with the free sex with luscious young hippie girls they'd read about in the Times Sunday supplement. Those little chipees were just giving it away, strutting around with their painted midriffs, according to the gospel. How was he supposed to go home to his dour middle-aged wife and not groan in torment? He'd think about the ease with which he'd score if only he wasn't married.

Thus these old dudes of the dying studio system masked their one-track minds in what we call 'terminal quirkiness.' They'd hire a handful of already has-been flower power bands for the album tie-in / soundtrack; get some B-roll of the girls of the Haight on a groovy summer afternoon; show a middle-aged guy with paste-on sideburns and a giant peace sign medallion getting it on with a lovely ladie in a fringe mini-dress, threw the whole thing on the big screen and hoped for the best.

But the youth didn't want old comedians leering over their cleavage. Thrusting themselves into the modern world and making it up as they went, the youth were goal-free; it wasn't about the orgasm, man, it was about being in the moment. Hollywood reared back on its haunches like a spooked lion at that idea, lashing out at the very things the youth thought important, baring its fangs and ready to burn down the studio and laugh maniacally like Lionel Atwill or Joan Crawford rather than surrender the reins to some young turk who wouldn't appreciate a dirty Billy Wilder-esque punch line.

Hollywood had labored too long perfecting a system of satire to understand its sense of satire itself was now under satiric attack. It couldn't understand there was no way out but to feign death gracelessly and play the ogre. Trying to be anti-establishment (ala the Guy Debord concept of recuperation), the establishment ended up only anti-youth. I get it now that I'm (a member of Generation X) am too old to go to any party young enough to interest me: the mix of prurience, jealousy, and legitimate concern I feel when hearing about 'bracelet parties,' for example. The fact that we can never really never know for sure if those bracelet parties are real or not without going to one is enough to make us crazy with a constantly shifting amalgam of jealousy and concern.

Which brings us to MYRA, the talked-about adaptation of Gore Vidal's seminal, fluid novel. Raquel Welch came aboard early, mainly--as she puts it in the DVD commentary--because she was supposed to (and wanted to) play both Myron and his post-op female counterpart Myra --kind of how Ed Wood played both Glen and Glenda. She rightly considered it an acting challenge. And if the filmmakers had stuck with that idea it might have been a great film (or less bad). Sarne insisted on casting Rex Reed instead. Urgh. One of the worst casting choices in the history of movies, Reed's air of defensive snootiness sabotages what little chance the film had. (No offense Rex, you doe-eyed minx).

What made MYRA a hopeful buzz generator was the sex change angle coupled to the image of Raquel Welch as an American flag-waving dominatrix. She had been made an international star before her breakout film ONE MILLION YEARS BC (1967) had even been released, just from the poster! No shit, Sherlock - look at this image at left - them gams. No boy or man of any age can remain unmoved. But she had another thing going for her too: an in-person air of take-no-prisoners imperiousness, the kind of thing that might make her come off as stringent (but seems more akin to self-defense considering all the pawing he's surely had to endure) that made her perfect for Myra.

But alas.

The fatal flaw of the film is right there in the opening bit: John Carradine plays a mumbling doctor performing the gender reassignment in what is presumably a psychedelic dream sequence "You realize once we cut if off it won't grow back," Carradine says, trying to talk Myron out of it. "How about circumcision? It's cheaper."

Now, that's in itself hilarious and Carradine rocks, but if you start a story already in a dream sequence, and never really come out of it, then there's nothing ventured, no risk, no reason to care what happens through the whole rest of the film, unless it contrasts at some point with a recognizable reality. Carradine's warning that "it won't grow back" has no weight since we don't even know Myron has one to begin with, AND either way it does apparently grow back. As soon as Farrah Fawcett hints she'd sleep with Myra if she were only a 'he', Myron backs out of the whole damn movie.

This is intended to be very clever but it only reflects male-dominated mainstream cinema's still-unresolved castration anxiety, an anxiety which clouds its vision to the point of myopia (even films that tout their castration angles, like HARD CANDY and TEETH back out at the last minute, with sew-it-back or 'just kidding' cop-outs). No way Farrah would sleep with a pisher like Rex Reed, we hope! But Myra is awesome. We want to see Farrah and Raquel hooking up, but no one wants to see Rex hooking up with anyone. It's the most irksome homophobic cop-out in film history.... at least until Blake Edwards' SWITCH (if you've seen that film, you know the scene I mean, it will make you hate Blake Edwards forever, VICTOR/VICTORIA or no).

Huston on a horsie ride
So, my caveats emptied, I'm going to go out on an already severed limb and defend MYRA anyway, because, even with the cop-outs, it's one of the few truly misandric films ever to come out of Hollywood.

Misandry: the hatred of men; an understandable feeling for anyone who loves movie stars and hates the cigar-chomping little midlife crisis sleazionaires--the pimps of the ephemeral--who molded their leading ladies from virgin clay into sexually-assailed golems of gorgeosity-made-flesh. In the context of MYRA, misandry is the desire to (as Myra puts it): "facilitate the destruction of the last vestige or trace of the traditional man... to realign the sexes in order to decrease the population, thus increasing human happiness and preparing humanity for its next stage."

Baby, you read my mind.

The problem is, while some of the film's dialogue does attain this dizzying height of cinematic savvy, it also betrays a very short attention span. In parts it seems like Sarne checked his watch, realized the film had played long enough that it could stop and still be considered a feature, and so made a 'wrap it up' gesture and immediately departed for rehab, leaving MRYA caught between the zipper of gender studies exhibit-A and a "hard" place limbo. Feints at validating the lifestyles of queers, commies, nymphos, hippies, and the semi-condoning of punking out of dumb "I'm straight!"-pleading studs (ala SCORE!) all adds up to zilch if it all ends up merely being the prelude for the same old vindication of boy-meets-girl establishment wonkiness, the old 'we had a lot of fun here tonight boys and girls but remember, gender straitjackets are there for your protection!' switch and shuffle.

Maybe what MYRA's makers subconsciously seem to fear isn't so much rejection of its message but the idea of Hollywood without censorship to rail against. A film like MYRA can't break walls if there are no walls left, and MYRA is terribly afraid it has nothing else to offer besides wall-breaking. So it knocks a few glory holes in the drywall, and then rushes to quick patch them up before dad comes home. Or another metaphor: the little boy dancing on the top of the dam, screaming that its about to burst, and kicking at it with his little churchy shoe, and then whipping out his dick when no one pays attention and, when no one pays attention even then, pretending to cut it off. And when that doesn't work, stepping down off the wall and going back into the church. Rex Reed's well-known hatred of the film is telling it that sense. In his little three minute film reviews on TV, Reed's snootiness was rawther droll, but this is a real movie, and no snootiness stays droll longer than, maybe, five?

Sadly, for all that, Rex might have been right. As with so many movies with 'queer' characters in that less-enlightened albeit more heterosexually-liberated era, the 'ick' factor is camped to the point of gauchery, and so all that's left of substance is Myra's knowing but bizarre love of 40s musicals. She's horrified that the dumb acting student hunk she aims to deflower never heard of the Andrews sisters, for example. In her scenes as an educator of Hollywood acting classes, Welch is superbly authoritarian and uber-confident--making these parts the real highlight of the film, as when explaining-- with just a touch of mock wistfulness--that they "really did roll out that barrel... And no one ever really rolled it back." When she socks John Huston during class she explains that she's using the fighting style of Patricia Collinges in THE LITTLE FOXES. And TARZAN AND THE AMAZONS (1945, below) is, she adds, a "masterpiece." Myra also explains that, "The real Christ can't compare with either actor in King of Kings," And the only one now to compare oneself with is James Bond "who inevitably ends up with a blow-torch aimed at his crotch." All this is very, very welcome and taken, no doubt, straight from Vidal's lips to hers. Carrying her points along, ld movie footage of giggling Richard Widmark from KISS OF DEATH and Marlene in Navy drag from SEVEN SINNERS comes rolling in like a welcome reprieve and apt commentary, as if the history of gender-bent Hollywood was looking down from a thousand screens as an omnipresent Greek chorus.

Tarzan, w/ Amazons
Continuing the more-is-less-but-what-the-hell philosophy and upping the camp level are scenes involving the geriatric bacchant Mae West. Her sultry comic timing still makes even lame double entendres ("Ah, the pizza man! When do you deliver?") and ultra-subtle come-ons ("I don't care about your credits, as long as your oversexed") come off clever, especially when interspersed with gay-themed musical numbers ("Hard to Handle!") and vagina dentata Busby banana circles (from THE GANG'S ALL HERE). As a bonus diva, however, West's presence never really pays off. She provides the haughty Myra with an equal and they share some properly jovial and queenly laments about the states of their men, but then she fades away, able to find no real anchor to hold her in place. Still, if you think she's an embarrassment, being so old and still stuck on vibrate, well fuck you! She's an intrinsic part of the film's value as a phallic rhinestone time tunnel ramming up Hollywood's golden age, right past the dams set up by the angry Catholic censors, for whom West's whole schtick was once the direst threat facing America.

And then there's the main reason to see the film: the awesome sequence in which Myra takes a stud's anal virginity, and Welch's dominatrix acting style finds its ultimate expression of howling vengeance. Wearing, finally, a stars and stripes bikini and (unseen) strap-on. Myra explains her validation for the approaching violation was when she declared earlier to her acting class that "every American woman secretly longs to be raped." We may not agree, but you have to admire her brazen insanity-- and then, before she invades Rusty with a strap-on she consoles him by saying "Your manhood's already been taken by Clark Gable and Errol Flynn; I'm merely supplying the finishing touches." Those lines are intercut with footage of a bucking bronco ("who's never been rode before" a cowboy actor warns) desperately trying to escape his stall; Clark Gable leering down from a poster like a leering peeping tom.

If nothing else, this scene can provide Hollywood devotees with whole new ways of reading their favorite MGM stars' enigmatic grins.

But the picture's meta-Eisensteinian leering doesn't end there. Welch's orgasm alone, for example, is crosscut with (I wrote them all down): a damn breaking; Jayne Mansfield; 30s dancers cavorting in a studio rain, waving umbrellas as jump ropes; Welch on a flower swing ala the opening of SCARLET EMPRESS; a roller coaster; a mushroom cloud; rich 30s socialites laughing from their swanky balcony; Laurel and Hardy covering their eyes; a ballet dancer in a split bowing forward; Welch riding a broom and wearing a witchy hat; tinted silent footage from MACISTE IN HELL (the same footage used in Dwayne Esper's MANIAC and my own 2007 film that climaxes with a Kali-esque goddess anally assaulting a helpless hetero-bro --QUEEN OF DICKS - my homage to this moment). Best of all, Welch whoops it up with great abandon. The only other actor to match her for America-encapsulated yee-hawing is Slim Pickens on his H-bomb in STRANGELOVE. Yeeeee-Haw!

The cumulative effect (even if the Shirley Temple milking the cow footage was excised on her request [though we do see her sloppily eating creme puffs]), is a rupturing of the historical fabric of film history -- like this strap-on represents the the return of everything 40s Hollywood repressed and coded into abstraction. And it is pissed, and pissing, and ahhhh

It's a great moment but its not long after that we're burdened with sulky Rex Reed again and his eyeliner-ed Richard Benjamin mystique, sneering his way nostrilly through party scenes where actors barely notice him, either because he doesn't really exist, or because he's so busy masking his self-consciousness with an air of haughty disdain that he plum forgets to notice anything around him, including that he's making people very uncomfortable. You know, that guy who spends the evening looking at your bookshelf and not talking and you're not sure why but you wish he would leave?

And it gets worse! Once Myra has Farrah on the third base line, Farrah cops out of the lesbian tryst: "Oh, if only you were a man!" So Myra decides to switch back to Myron. Turns out it was all a dream. Aww. He's still a man after all--Farrah Fawcett is just his nurse, and Raquel is on the cover of some gossip magazine and did he have a car accident like in the book or is he just recovering from a vasectomy?  Urgh! FUCK YOU SARNE!

I'm sure our flaky, second-guessing director Sarne would say he meant this cop-out as a challenge to preconceived notions of sexual hierarchy, i.e. that masturbation fantasy is somehow just as relevant as actual fornication within the fantasy of a film. In the book, apparently, Myra's sex change is never completed and after she gets in a car accident she winds up in the hospital, and that may have been the original reason for ending the film there, but any hep person knows that when you try to make it real you have to show some balls and stick to your gun. When that doesn't happen, we come away with a bad taste in our mouths. There were times in this film where the level of madness made it hum like electricity, like the best part of Russ Meyer's (similarly problematic) BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, only with intellectual gender-bent discourse instead of robust cleavage.

Someday, maybe, we shall have both.

To avoid the hetero cop-out end, stop watching when you see this image
and imagine they live happy ever after, 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

CinemArchetype 23: The Wild Child

So often kids in movies are insufferably nice, or else no-neck monsters with no real awakened soul power, just dumb glazed-eyed obnoxiousness. The fact is, until they are socialized, most children are monsters.  Pregnant women are often kept away from the crops and gambling tables in indigenous tribes because children are considered to be demonic (bad luck) until old enough to be initiated into the tribe and thus recognized as actual people. The only equivalent we have today to those initiations is christening, frat and sorority hazing, and circumcision - but they guarantee nothing, and even if empathy is developed it can often be stunted, intentionally or otherwise. There are those grown ass adults who only care about themselves and their family, and 'God,' and every other living organism is either food or an enemy. At the other extreme is me, crying in the meat aisle at the carnage no one else seems to see. Or so I used to. Hardened hearts endure, my friend..

The list below rounds up an array of 'wild' children: the ones who either refuse to be inducted into any society which attacks them or else where never invited; casual drug users whose word is never believed if it conflicts with even the shadiest of parental authority's second-hand opinions; and those form whom no adult society even exists to offer induction; or the adult supervising them is her or himself an outcast with no urge to socialize anyone into a world they have rejected. (The Piano, Paper Moon). Bop! Bop!

No matter what the root of it, we secretly thrill to see amok children. We harbor lingering childhood resentments against the adults and older kids who symbolically castrated us--teachers, cops, parents, neighbors, bullies--we have a secret stash of inner savagery just waiting to come out, as evinced by the amount of young men with arsenals of automatic weapons, locked and loaded on the off chance civilization crumbles. Until then we're expected to lay down our arms and surrender to a system that, in the end, expects us to follow rules it itself doesn't follow, to be truthful even though it itself isn't, and to make no fuss or argument when our basic human rights are stripped away in the name of our own 'safety.'

But these archetypal children embody much more than ballsy reckless freedom. We exorcise and exercise our repressed inner child vicariously through them, and the result is both cautionary and exhilarating. Like our previous entry, the Outlaw Couple, we go along for the ride like nervous but excited virgin in the back seat of some older kid's Trans Am, eager and dreading our first taste of the holy ganja. Afterwards we know one thing: a society that outlaws this simple stoner joy is not a just society, and as Americans it's our duty to disobey such stupid laws, just as they did Prohibition in the 20s. We're on our way. So you see, mom: these children are not all vicious or violent, but all are 'free' of the confines of the social order. They either openly attack, exploit, or avoid the adult world that has rejected or failed them. They live out our secret wish to blow things up before guilt, empathy, and a dawning sense of responsibility sours the thrill of being alive.

1. Student body of New Grenada - Over the Edge (1979)

It's important to note that OVER THE EDGE changes the usual math of the parent-kid divide by siding itself with the kids... all the way, and encouraging us to exult in their little moments of true rebellion, even if such moments are ultimately pointless, or worse: Richie (Matt Dillon) standing on the hood of Doberman's car as he tries to haul off Claude (Tom Fergus) for a gram of hash on a pointless bust; the retribution against the Leif-y narc who sold Claude the hash in the first place; the kids locking the parents in the PTA meeting, etc. --it's all cathartic as hell, but then as the cars in the parking lot erupt in flames and the kids rage Lord of the Flies-like we start to become afraid of ourselves for the primal inner wild child joy of seeing the school--the kid equivalent of a soul-deadening prison-- destroyed in an ultimately pointless orgy of amok vandalism. We fantasize about blowing up the school, but when we actually blow it up, we see the ugly core that drives that fantasy. We devolve along the Hawksian axis all the way out of ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS and find ourselves in MONKEY BUSINESS, with the drugged Cary Grant as the painted savage preparing to roast his rival. By then it's too late to save the baby in the boiling bathwater, the wild chaos of death and anarchy tails childhood idealism like a dogged detective and the reactionary rabble roll over everything like a tide, shedding the old skin of the country as they come ripping through the amber waves like a sloppy zipper. (See: Vandal in the Wind -2011)

2. Tatum O'Neal as Addie (1973) - Paper Moon (1973)
Anna Paquin as Flora - The Piano (1993)

In these two examples the 'only' child travels an alien landscape with an unhinged single parent: Flora is the translator of her weird mom's sign language and though mom has a hard time adjusting to the stark oddness of the wild swampy New Zealand plantation and the inarticulate self-righteous fumblings of her repressed husband, Flora becomes--with the help of some amateur theater fairy wings--a diminutive Ariel / Caliban of the forest, finally even bonding with the repressed father and ratting her mom out about her affair with Harvey Keitel to demonstrate her heedless ambivalence as far as consequences to her own jealousy. Like Keitel's character (with his Maori face tattoo) she takes on a Hearts of Darkness-style 'going native' quality, but fits in with the white world too, as needed.

Con artist Addie hooks up with her dimwit father and moves through the landscape with similar ease while he struggles and flails. It's great to see her smoking in bed and listening avidly to Jack Benny on the radio.

O'Neal played a similar character, a few years older / later to drunk dad Walter Matthau in our next choice...

3. The Bad News Bears (1976)

As a kid I was always picked last for teams at gym and recess, a daily humiliation, and my scars still haven't healed. For all I suffered, the Bad News Bears would be my chosen team and I would be avenged. It's pretty cool how many of them have the same long blonde hair, like an army of Viking rejects. A couple of ringers almost win the big game for them, but then coach Walter Matthau says fuck it and lets the bench warmers take a turn; who cares if they win? The beers that continually flow along with the curse words help keep the game in cosmic perspective. Robert Aldrich might have directed this with a little more vitriol, but in its own sloppy way, the film is just about perfect and these snarling little ragamuffins are like a slightly less violent version of the Over the Edge bunch; rather than compete for the acceptance of a society that has rejected them they prefer to reject society a priori. When Tanner (Chris Barnes) says 'take that trophy and shove it up your ass!" at the end of the film, I still feel a fighting thrill. Every kid in the theater I saw this with back in 1976 let out a triumphant whoop at that line; we never forgot it. (for more - see Walter Matthau - Great 70s Dads)

 4. Harvey Stephens as Damien - The Omen (1976)

Linda Blair in THE EXORCIST never quite counts for this CinemArchetype as she is fully socialized and 'normal' prior to her possession; indeed her possession seems to be triggered in part by puberty or the onset of menstruation, which can lead to one's entering a whole new realm of archetypal force (the demon is her equivalent to Carrie's telekinesis). When a child is socialized, she loses her cachet in the world of the abject, of the chthonic and unassimilated wild. The demon possesses her, while here its the other way around. Damien is never assimilated, and remains an evil blank slate. We only see him when either of his parents are present, and then they're half the time rushed out of the nursery by his big black dog or servant of Satan maid. Recalling the tribes who won't let pregnant women near the crops, everywhere Damien goes his lack of socialization causes calamity. He can't even get near a church, or a baboon.

5a. Emil Minty as the Feral Kid - The Road Warrior (1982)

Though never speaking except in grunts, the Feral Kid becomes a pretty vivid character in George Miller's influential classic. Cutting off fingers and killing bikers' punked bitches with his razor boomerang, grinning uninhibitedly at the sound of a simple music box, he becomes the focus of the picture when it all boils down to him reaching across the massive hood of the speeding truck to retrieve Max's fallen shotgun shells. In his relative benign savagery and loyalty to the enclave around the tanker, the Feral Kid shows that the wild child in and of itself is not evil. It takes an evil parent (or guardian, like in THE OMEN), or a gang, to turn them rabid. And in a wilderness where the law of the outback reigns supreme, the Feral Kids' wildness is simply what is needed to survive, like our next entrant:

Carrie Henn as Newt - Aliens (1986)

Unlike the Feral Kid, Newt starts out (in the Extended Cut), a normal girl, part of a fortune hunter mining family sent by Burke (Paul Reiser) to investigate Ripley's alleged downed craft. Next time we see her she's resorted to a Feral Kid-style savagery, living in the compound air ducts, though fortunately Ripley is able to pull her out of it with her patience and mother instincts. Still it shows how quickly a socialized child can revert when separated from all other human contact and forced to stay in hiding from the creatures who killed her parents and everybody else on the planet. 

 5b. Jean-Pierre Cargol as The Wild Child (1970)
 "Taking The 400 Blows to another level, François Truffaut's 1970 feature considers a child who is literally wild, with the filmmaker himself starring as an 18th-century country scientist molding his charge in civilization's image. Shot in neat black-and-white by Néstor Almendros, the historically based movie is measured out by Dr. Itard's orderly account of the experiment, even as his momentous study finds an opaque mirror in the near-mute boy, never truly knowable. Shaggy Victor (Jean-Pierre Cargol) starts off not fierce but blindly wriggly, like a penned-up puppy, before assuming more control and becoming a piece of silent cinema under the reserved scientist's direction. (His solitary learned word is emitted in an unforgettable squeak.) He's both pure—communing with rainfall, unexpectedly showing affection—and something incomplete, a tension echoed in the film's regimented path of discovery. All is fodder for Itard's journal transcriptions (a remove later tweaked for comedy in Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me). Rather than present a clichéd fall from grace, Truffaut elicits ambivalence by closely tracking the Enlightened scientist's optimism; after the fascination, our inchoate sadness seeps in." - Nicolas Rapold - Village Voice
6. Patty McCormack as Rhoda Penmark - The Bad Seed (1956)
"..How we love to hate little Rhoda. And for some of us (myself included), how we love to love her…she’s just too damn full of vicious personality. I even go so far as to nearly (I say nearly) champion her actions and wish she would invoke more harm (film wise) before her inevitable demise.

Living with her mother Christine (an understandably neurotic Nancy Kelly) and mostly absent father (William Hopper -- Hedda Hopper's son) Rhoda's life is one of privilege and attention. When kissing her father goodbye he asks “What would you give me for a basket of kisses?” Rhoda coos back: “A basket of hugs!” Landlady and supposed expert in psychology, Monica Breedlove (Evelyn Varden) dotes on Rhoda, applauding her out-moded manners and showering her with presents -- one being rhinestone movie star glasses that Rhoda, of course, loves. As she prattles on about Freud and abnormal psychology, the rather ridiculous Breedlove cannot see the freakish behavior in front of her. She's blinded by all that bright, beauteous blonde." (Kim Morgan - Sunset Gun)
7. Macaulay Culkin as Henry - The Good Son (1993)
Henry: I feel sorry for you, Mark. You just don't know how to have fun.
Mark: What?
Henry: It's because you're scared all the time. I know. I used to be scared too. But that was before I found out.
Mark: Found out what?
Henry: That once you realize that you can do anything... you're free. You can fly. Nobody can touch you... nobody. Mark... don't be afraid to fly.
Mark: You're sick...
Henry: Hey, I promise you something amazing, something you'll never forget. 
8.a. Leo Fitzpatrick and Justin Pierce as Tully and Casper - Kids (1995)

"Virgins, I love 'em!" Tully narrates, with a mouth gone to mush from endless deep tongue kissing and cunnilingus. The film follows him and his buddy Caspar over the course of a long summer day and night and they're a terrifying duo - one a half-asleep alcoholic date rapist, the other an HIV positive, anti-condoms smoov-tawka who's always fixin' to deflower yet another 14 year-old virgin. He'll never run out of them, because these kids are always recruiting new kids to their clique; all the parents in New York are never around so the kids raise themselves; the old teach the young how to roll blunts and boost 40s from the city's countless bodegas.

My buddy Max. and I watched this film constantly as we were very similar in our dynamic to Tully and Caspar. We still talk in some of Tully and Casper's comedic rhythms. Max was the driven seducer (though avoided virgins, wisely) and I was the Caspar (though feminist and with a hatred of frat boys, if you know what I mean), more concerned with getting fucked up than sex. I often woke up at big keg party like the one in this film, and like Caspar, on the couch, the floor, the sump pump areas -- and immediately start seeking more booze and a cigarette, and if that meant fishing half-smoked butts out of the ashtrays and finishing half-full beers, no shame in that. After seeing Kids I even did this once while singing Caspar's theme song.

that's a foamy 40, not milk, playa
Parents didn't like having this movie around, so producers felt obligated to contextualize it as a "wake-up call to the world." Truth is, these kids aren't evil, they've just been cut loose into the jungle like the kids in Lord of the Flies. Except here it's the city, and there's drugs, girls, AIDS, cabs, crabs, and idiots who talk trash and need a skateboard to the lid, kid. Director Larry Clark captures something far slippier than lightning in a bottle: these kids grow and change before our very eyes; we see the way ideas and energy spread among them like fire; the way a couple of girls kissing in a pool can almost create a wilding gangbang riot; how a group of ten year-olds can turn each other onto grass and lingo and suddenly begin to grow into looking like each other, talking and sitting the same way, as if there's some Satanic group mind that entrains them into itself like coke through a straw. Sure it's disheartening.... it may not even be 'real' - but its awesome to see, and its never really been seen again. Except with...

8.b. Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed in Thirteen (2003)

The merits of Kids can really only be gauged by another film in its class, and the only one besides Larry Clark's other masterpiece, Bully, is this film written by Nikki Reed, in which she co-stars as a bad influence friend on the impressionable young Even Rachel Wood. Director Catherine Hardwicke shows why she was the perfect choice to direct the first Twilight, and why that series suffered from her later absence; she gives teenage girl angst the rare combination of operatic emotional validation and escape velocity it deserves. Thirteen received an even more alarmed outcry from parents than Kids did. Worried moms demanded someone tell them that Reed had made it all up, that she hadn't actually done any of those things in real life, that it was all a dream. Their concern said more about the modern approach to parenting than any genuine compassion for the kids. Absentee parents don't want their guilty conscience attacked, rather than step up their game they'd just prefer you lie to them so they can sleep at night.

What really bugged them, of course, was that Hardwicke neither demonizes nor celebrates the girls' 'bad' choices -- she merely tries to film the exhilarating feeling of going from outcast to insider in one giddy methamphetamine headlong rush; what it's like to be suffering from depression that's so bad you cut yourself just to feel something, then a few hours later you're off on an extended manic spree. If there was no giddy thrill then there would be no emotional investment at all and the film would be little more than an after-school special. But Hardwicke never judges, even as Wood proceeds to burn down every last trace of good will, rushing into sex and drugs at a dizzy-from-anorexic-hunger speed.

9. Daniel and Joshua Shalikar as Adam -
  Honey I Blew Up the Kid (1992)

This weird Disney film deals with a very interesting issue involving the pre-empathic state that we all spend the bulk of our infancy in, where the world is a candy store, and only the mom's nearness matters --all else is but a dream. If such a being is put in a position of total power, look out: they can destroy it all just because they're grumpy and need a nap. As the great Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote of the film:
" Credibility is strained by the safe bet that no one will get killed, even though the near deaths are so plentiful that the plot comes to resemble a tricked-up theme park ride. Still, the allegorical possibilities of infantile innocence run amok (particularly as a view of this country in relation to the remainder of the globe) are amusing and potent," 
And this from EW's Ty Burr:
  "Judging from the reactions of the kids in the screening theater, it's clear that they see what happens to Adam as a power trip of primal proportions: He plays when he wants, he sleeps when he wants, he goes where he wants — and if mom and dad don't like it, he puts them in his pocket and toddles on. By the time he rips the 85-foot-tall neon guitar off the facade of the Las Vegas Hard Rock Cafe and starts playing it, they're with him completely, screaming in anarchic delight."

10.  Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)
Children of the Corn (series)
Suddenly Last Summer (1959)

The unease created by movies such as Who Can Kill a Child?, the Children of the Corn series, the wild-running orphans in Logan's Run and that gang that shouts "bop! bop!' on that one Star Trek episode hinges on two elements: 1) we're hard-wired to not kill children; 2) as adults we're expected to bring them around through strong leadership and mature nurturing. If we fail, it makes us look bad. Who can kill a child? Only a monster, like us. Kids are, at heart, sociopathic, until they learn empathy. If we can't teach them that empathy, what good are we?

I learned empathy at around six years-old while torturing Japanese beetles. They were a genuine plague in the 70s. I used to get paid two dollars for every jar of them I collected (we'd drop them  in soapy water-we'd pull them off of trees and bushes that they would just devour otherwise). When bored, my friend and I would torture them. And I still remember seeing this poor Japanese beetle dragging itself along the driveway on its last leg, leaking black blood, I suddenly felt sick to my stomach, ashamed, sad, and confused. I stopped playing with the other kid immediately, and never hurt a beetle again, except to kill them swiftly and mercifully.  Yeesh, kids are nightmares. But there are levels of developmental empathy that make them human. That beetle moment was the turning point for me. But if you doubt lack of empathy exists, just go to your local supermarket some time and hang out in the meat section; none of those shoppers give a shit about the organic beings that were butchered; there are no sad cow faces hanging above the steaks. Kudos to stores like Whole Foods for buying only from free range sources, but the bulk of our meat still comes from places where to say the animals are tortured, overcrowded and deprived for the entirety of their lives, is putting it mildly. Out of sight, out of mind, okay - but then to judge the kids who kill animals right there in the neighborhood seems awfully hypocritical.

My offhand diagnosis is that empathy is a 'luxury' in brain chemistry, a sophisticated neural upgrade the mind kicks into when it feels it can relax and trust the people around it. From an evolutionary perspective, it pays to operate as a tribe rather than a single entity against every other single entity. But once the empathy kicks in it can never go away (except on cocaine or in an emergency) so the brain doesn't want to bust it out too soon if it might be a hindrance, as in war, or survival (ala Newt in Aliens). But sociopaths tend to be loners, so what you have with a gang of unsupervised kids is fascism, mass hysteria, the desperation to connect and strengthen tribal bonds leading one away from compassion, to kill all outsiders without conscience lest one be branded outsider next. But like that old saying goes, when no one else was left to come for, they came for me.

The rhythm of this phenomenon is apparent in all group human interaction. I've witnessed and been caught in three different riots over the course of my life, and I'm fascinated by Stockholm syndrome, which I feel is not an exception but the rule underlying all of human interaction. Not mine, though. I never could catch the insane spirit of those riots. I hurried away, embarrassed, like I just didn't fit in, too self conscious and fearful. The cops and the rioters had more in common with each other than with me; it was like I was intruding on their very private meeting.

The most highbrow of the above-listed films in this list entry isn't really a horror movie, the events are mostly described by a progressively more hysterical Elizabeth Taylor; we don't see any gore. It's pretty clear just the same that these crazy kids have eaten their cruising tourist sugar daddy in a fit of mass hysteria, hunger, and anger over being sexually abused by him for money for pan! pan!

11. The Children (1980), The Children (2008)
Emily in Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The No-neck monsters in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
The Brood (1979)

I love this post from Brenda Tobias about the changing attitudes towards children and the eternal power of the no-neck monsters to horrify:
Just imagine the shock of the 1950s adult (children did not attend the theatre) audience upon seeing those no-necked monsters. Those grating little characters were hauled out and scattered like confetti on a parade. There they are playing Dixie at the airstrip to greet Big Daddy (who reacts with the same horror/disgust of the audience.) There they are “performing” at Big Daddy’s birthday party to which adult friends have been invited. (Big Daddy voices our wishes and asks for an intermission.) There they are barging into bedrooms and demanding adults engage in play. And there they are repeating hateful remarks to their aunt. It’s enough to evoke a gasp. That it still does that today is remarkable. 
The Brood (1979)
Children are not sequestered today. In fact if anything the world has become theirs and adults are seen but not heard. Adults can often not be heard over the din of children in restaurants, theatres, museums and funerals. Babies and children are not so much integrated into adult lives, as adults are integrated into the lives of children’s. We’ve created retail empires for babies and children. Broadway has discovered the steady income stream of children and the white way is dotted with flying people and talking teapots. Infants and children unfamiliar with the term “indoor voices” are dining out at 7:00, 8:00 and even 9:00 PM. They don’t shy from the highest end restaurants either. A simple dress code of: No Pull-Up Pants would put an end to that; but we digress. The point is that the world has changed tremendously since Mr. Williams created those no-neck monsters. Yet they still have the power to horrify. That is partly due to the scenic background of their terrorizing. They are clearly in an adult environment. The house in which they are running rampant is stately; there is no great room, there are no toys. It is clearly adult space. (more) 
12. Jack and Co. -  The Lord of the Flies (1963)

The original, the classic, written by William Golding, is based on his own WW2 experience and a report from a teacher about how allowing his students total freedom in a debate led to a violent altercation in class. Peter Brook's film adaptation uses scintillating black and white photography to create a naturalistic mythopoetic beauty wherein you could see how the ambivalent strangeness of unbridled nature acts on the boys' vivid imagination; fear of a half-dreamt demonic figure in the woods overriding Piggy and Ralph's common sense and enabling Jack's Hitler-esque rise to power. It's funny how our current situation in this country hasn't changed overmuch from this sad dichotomy - the Republicans (Jack) whipping up things to be terrified about and sounding the war drum while the Piggy/Ralph democrats try to keep things calm and rational (which often means boring and myth-less... so they lose).

The main issue of course is that people gravitate to the figure they're afraid of. Fear is a high, and it makes you feel secure in your mass mind panic / hate contingent as you continually find straw dog enemies to attack - Piggy (and the wild boars on the island) all come to represent the Lord of the Flies by proxy, and so are sacrificed to keep the Lord appeased. The trouble is, the enemies have to keep coming to keep up the facade of Jack's despotic power.

The arrival of the adults at the very end brings a presumed end to the madness and it's interesting to note the similarity of the ending with that of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto. I'm sure Mel doesn't mean us to read it as the reverse of his intention. A confirmed Catholic, his film implies that the Spaniards are there to educate the savage Mayans and protect the neighboring tribes from being wantonly sacrificed. What we know is that the Spaniards wiped out hundreds of thousand of Mayans via disease, enslavement, and religious persecution and destroyed most of their books and records. Nice going assholes! The Mayans (and Aztecs) were woefully unprepared to deal with things like canons, STDs, and muskets but they could have repelled the initial landings of Spaniards easily had they not been expecting a visit from the 'white' gods and thought these were them. It's a good moral and one that repeats throughout history, never trust the voice in your head! We live in a huddle by the fire, still, wondering who we can trust, our urge to be rational and compassionate fighting the urge to blindly lash out, wondering whether to vote for Jack's conservative kill the different worldview or Ralph's let's go talk to the natives and make friends approach. Flies is a reminder we have not progressed too far from the savage, and maybe never should.

13. The children of The Village of the Damned (1960)

When there is an invasion of otherworldly evil it is common for the main character to have some sub-Freudian link with it, some barely tangible connection that only the weird old, cackling old woman at the bar can see. It was the boiling over sexuality of 1950’s teenagers that caused the giant insect attacks in all those old bug movies; Melanie Daniels intruding on the domain of icy mom Jessica Tandy launches The Birds, etc. In Village of the Damned, Gordon's desire for a child so late in life indirectly creates this invasion and so he cannot reconcile the reverse-Oedipal urge to kill his kid with the buried suspicion that his wishing brought the stork of Satan down upon them all. So rather than admitting he made a mistake, he wants to find some good therein. He starts arguing that the Midwich spawn are not inherently evil, but just at that pre-empathic stage of all infants; there is good to be found in them, and fun things to study and learn about the human mind.

Gordon's brother-in-law is concerned: “What if we can’t put the moral breaks on them?” This is a legitimate worry—if they know you can never spank them, why should they ever listen? And Gordon’s unwillingness to condone their extermination distinctly sets the field of science/eugenics up against humanity’s own survival. The sense of taboo that resulted in the Intuit and Mongolian children being killed at birth doesn’t exist for the civilized man, who has to wait until the children have grown so big powerful only nuclear strikes will do the trick (which becomes the fate of two other damned “civilized” villages). In this context, Gordon becomes his own bad guy, like Dr. Carrington in The Thing (1951) shouting: “You’re wiser than we are, you must understand!”  The comic book/movie series X-Men follows a similar tack, with the mutants finding refuge at a school operated by a master of mind control. It’s that misunderstood teen fantasy of letting all the freaks go live together since the adults hate them so much. Like some pint-sized biker gang, the Hitler Youth or a rock band, they “all want to dress alike,” and walk around the streets like they own the place. They are part of a new movement, the dawn of the eugenic-counterculture.  At one point Gordon even asks them; “What do you kids want?” The kids reply: “We want you to leave us alone!” This request which would later become immortalized in Pink Floyd’s The Wall, a 1982 rock film chronicling a fascistic rock star’s childhood in post-war England. And as in that film, the adults simply cannot leave their little Nazi progeny alone. When faced with a higher or different intellect than themselves, the parents must try to understand, meddle and control and failing that, destroy them rather than be made irrelevant. Can you blame them?

"If you didn’t suffer from emotions, you would be as strong as we are,” son David says to Gordon at one point, indicating that what the adults see as their “humanity” is something the Midwich children have transcended. Or as P. Floyd put it “if you want to find out what’s behind these blue eyes/ you’ll have to claw you’re way through this disguise." It has long been a source of fascination with UFO theorists that if humans could access our entire DNA, we would be able to recognize and harness powers which we now think of as “alien.” Some go so far as to speculate that alien-manipulated “DNA dampers” are what keep that other 90% of our minds inactive, like a cable TV child channel lock-out. When David’s “real” extra-dimensional father last pulled his “induce sleep and artificially inseminate” business it may have been with apes at the dawn of time. He made sure to lower the wattage of our alien chromosomes, so we wouldn't be able to tell Him thanks, to send him a Frank Booth-style love letter but for this next go-round, He’s turning the dimmer switch up to “bright” because He's tired of us. Gordon notes that the children’s’ power has no limit, any more “than there is a limit to the power of the human mind.” We are still bound by our own compassion as human viewers, and any compassion we had for these “different” kids is compromised when they start killing more and more innocent people, justifying the British military's response and making Gordon's compromises seem like associative guilt... We may not like the townspeople, but these lovely, weird blonde children are the very devil - and they won't let us in. Unlike the X-Men or the Cullen clan in Twilight, we don't feel welcome, don't feel it's like we're part of the young outsiders team. We're excluded even as viewers, so we need to destroy them. (see Acidemic #5 here)

See also: WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD (1933)
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