"If you think you're free, there's no escape possible" - Ram Dass

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Netflix of the Witch: ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE, THE CRAFT, THE PUNK SINGER

Conjuring-from top: Fairuza (The Craft); Kathleen Hannah (Punk Singer);
Sianoa Smit-McPhee (Cheerleaders)
I summon thee, Netflix, unholy ghost streamer.
The Craft and now All Cheerleaders Die wait within you. 
Teenagers sleeping over and swapping blood, giggling over the Ouija, 
love spell chanting and stiff-as-a-boarding.
Magic of entrained hormonal unconsciouses--
north, south, west, east - hands high 4 the money spell - 
Ra Ra Ra.
"It" soon vibrates beyond the girls' control. 
Sometimes through summonings true to the ancient Mothers 
or false to shady Aleister,
sometimes through babble banged out by L.A. hacks
too fussy for the musty tomes.
Goaded by lying boys, and traffic lights,
If no one else, 
this will scare 
your mom.


Director Andrew Fleming,
you made THE CRAFT and BAD DREAMS!
Andrew Fleming,
you seem respectful of women!
Hail to thee, Andrew Fleming! 
Solid and semi-trippy thou, if a tad flat and pedestrian.

 Director Lucky McKee,
you made ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE, MAY and SICK GIRL!
Anxiously feminist and brazenly misogynistic, 
Do you still insist, Lucky, that there's a difference?
Don't both overestimate woman's power? 
Don't both underestimate women's power?

Woman's power is nature's power.
Destructive beyond your male characters' fathoming,
Darkness in light! Kali in Shiva! Destruction in creation!
Inhale now the embers of my burning math book sacrifice.
We'll burn all the algebra out of her!
Every suburban mama's frat boy litter
shall be cleansed by blood-rag torch red fire
of her tidal elevator Overlook-ed Period.



Kathleen Hannah:
your 'music' is like love-hate tattoos on Kali's iron fists.
You're Hopi from Love and Rockets in your riot grrl cuteness.
Rail on against the murphs, frat boys, douches, and dickheads.
Retaliate against their ugly and unconscious urges. 
You're hot enough that they have to listen.

Kathleen Hannah!
Sans bitterness, sans pedantry,
sans food co-op meeting sanctimony,
but with fierce tribal howling, smite them!
Kathleen Hannah, make slam dancing safer for women! 
Kathleen Hannah, inspire legions of xeroxed fanzines.
Flinch not as the AOR vultures circle,
or as the jerk-off nuts out from woodwork creep,
 even as nervous exhaustion hides 
a wrongly-diagnosed disease.



Smite your enemies with thy shrill feedback screams, Kathleen Hannah!
 Let your documentary move me to sensitive new age guy tears. (It did)
Guide my hand in smiting too the women-hating wallies,
the backwards baseball-capped unconsciously self-entitled douchebag tools of America.
Deafen them, Kathleen Hannah!
We are with thee, streaming The Punk Singer!
Praying, Chanting for your Re-Rising!

THE CRAFT
(1996) Dir. Andrew Fleming
***
Andrew Fleming hasn't made many films but he has a rare gift of getting the ambiguity of hallucinations exactly right: the way snakes seem to be writhing in every shadow as the underlying reptilian cortices of the DNA serpent-tongue universe entwine and unwind within your fever or alcohol-or-opiate withdrawal or mushroom-overdose or lack of sleep. Little turkeys with straw hats dancing in the shattered scream-filled shadows of Bellevue's alcoholic ward, the rats and the bats in the walls, Bim. Terrifying but soothing compared to the convulsions... lost my train of thought. Fleming never does!

The Craft's photography is a little flat, as was the style for teen films of the era, and still is, alas, with the L.A. locations (lots of homeless) throwing the girls into relief against a wall of disappointingly straight-lined moral justice. The swim team black girl (Rachel True) wishes the blonde racist taunter Christine Taylor's hair to fall off, but her ensuing anguish makes True more sensitive to her past taunts and she apologizes, so True feels bad; Neve Campbell's horrible back scars magically disappear so now she's smokin' hot but turns vain and obnoxious; poor white trash punk Fairuza Balk gets rich but her mom wastes the money on a jukebox, etc. Before new girl Robin Tunney showed up they were just three outcasts goofing around with spell books and stolen candles and getting nowhere. Since Tunney's a real witch, descended from her witch mom who died in childbirth, she gives them a magick power boost which they're too immature to handle.


For her wish, poor Robin Tunney doesn't think to wish for deliverance from her crippling phobias and instead indulges her masochistic attraction to one of those backwards baseball cap wearing rapey tools (Skeet Ulrich). Later she lets Balk walk all over her with snake 'glimmers' and some Voodoo god of everything named Manon (pronounced Manos, as in Hands of Fate). Apparently the witchery consultant didn't want them to invoke a real spirit, lest they offend a Wiccan or two, or encourage young girls to summon things they wouldn't be able to control, the way the proliferation of Ouija boards in the seventies led to a glut of summoned demons still keeping investigative ghost shows busy to this day.

With a tight script that never wastes a word on pointless chit-chat, and a stable cast rounded out by Pedro Almodovar regular Assumpta Serna as the white witch new age bookstore owner, there's some troublesome stretches of Tunney running around her house whining and puling, and believing in the snake and bug hallucinations, wherein we root for Balk's then-deranged stalker; and the almost DC comics-level morality hanging under all the karma has a troublesome subtextual implication that teenage girls can't be trusted with any kind of real power, presuming they'll throw it away on petty revenge, vanity, financial gains and douchebag boys. Maybe that's true, but it's not why we're here. We want to see the douchebag boys get thrown out of a second story window, and to see Fairuza tear it up (and she does; she's a real witch in real life and her summoning scenes have a solid orgasmic power). We don't want to see Tunney trailing after the mayhem in judgmental horror, so girls watching will know that taking occult revenge against snickering date rapists is wrong, since you might hurt their feelings. In other words, while it's not quite as grrl-empowering as Night of the Comet, it sure beats Tank Girl!

-----------
****
-----------
THE PUNK SINGER 
(2013) Dir. Siri Anderson
****
A labor of love from some chick named Siri Anderson, The Punk Singer is an adorable little scrapbook-style montage of the life, bands, and illnesses of Kathleen Hanna, the original riot grrl, who wrote "Kurt smells like teen spirit" on Cobain's wall thus inspiring the big #1 track of 1991 and triggering a seemingly random cold cocking by Courtney Love backstage a little later. Cobain was enamored of her smart mix of sexual provocateur (strutting around stage in her underwear) and angry feminist ranting (about the evils of the male gaze). Critics argued that combination sent mixed signals, which was missing the point: just by being attracted to her, we (men) became part of the performance, target and the subject,. like shining a mirror in the face of Bro-Medusa (Brodusa?) and turning him to stone. We had the same eerie frisson listening to rap at the time, which was also coming up in the world in 1991. In a world of pop culture aimed right at us 18-35 year-old straight white males, bands like Bikini Kill, NWA and the Geto Boys gave us a new thrill - that of being the target of justified rage. Endangered, threatened, exposed, even from across the new medium called CD, we drove to or our pharmaceutical corporation mailroom temp jobs, blasting our cassettes and feeling like a horror movie was forming just ahead, women and minorities out to rip us apart, and we loved it.


Hanna had some fame as the founder of the riot grrl movement via her many 'zines, her bands Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, the Julie Ruin, and so in the film we learn how Hanna's fearless, raw, fuck you attitude was truly empowering to women and the anemic ectomorphs who love them. She'd get in the face of the mesomorphs who'd come to punks shows to mosh and stand in front of the stage to leer at her sexy bod, ordering them to the back so girls could come up and dance in safety. Eventually she married Beastie Boys' Adam Horovitz and is currently recovering from Lyme disease, which was misdiagnosed as exhaustion from her hectic touring schedule. The documentary's pretty short, too, and never repeats itself or wears out it's welcome. Hanna's in good hands with Anderson, and Horovitz seems a very compassionate husband. Their home, by a riverside is modern yet homey. Can the pitter patter of little feet be far behind? That's a joke, son! Power to the childless, for they can say fuck you to maternity's conscripted gender bondage!


ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE
(2013) Dir. Lucky McKee
***

That alt-emo quasi-feminist horror maven Lucky McKee (May, The Woods) and less-successful writer /director Chris Silverton (I Know Who Killed Me) be at it again in this bigger-budgeted remake of their 2001 shot-on-video Pretty Little Liars for the the Deathdreamers joint. It's a year after the accidental death of the cheerleader squad captain, and high school hierarchy is still in disarray, upended by a weird 'not in this reality' bizarro world where the late girl's beau, the narcissistic football captain, aptly named Terry Stankus (Tom Williamson), swears a vendetta against scheming lesbian hottie Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) due to the alienated affection of a pretty blonde (Brooke Butler). Maddy's own ex-girlfriend Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) is a witch who mopes along the sidelines as the alpha dog and hottie lesbo square off. Smash car and a few cuts later, Leena's fishing the cheerleaders out of the lake and bringing them back to life. Now they're cold zombies with different colored gems in their bodies who feel each other's orgasms and blood lusts. But Leena's so stupid she leaves the key to their immortality hanging in an unlocked school locker rather than wear it around her neck (the equivalent of leaving your roll of thousand dollar bills safely on the bathroom floor rather than your pocket where it might fall out).

Parts are more successful than the whole: the blood is tacky cartoon CGI, the glowing colored rocks are corny and there's an excess of all the wrong people getting hurt (Stankus does a lot of really abhorrent stuff yet dies only once, long after our hate of him has turned to indifference to the lot of them). But the whole thing has a nearly Russ Meyer-level of gonzo recklessness--we never know quite what's going to happen next--and Maddy lets loose such a brazen stream of insults at Stankus once can only be reminded of Russ Meyer classics like Supervixens. Too bad he wreaks six pounds of misogyny to every wreaked vengeance ounce (the only approximation to the imbalance would be the South African diplomat in Lethal Weapon 2 and Scorpio in Dirty Harry 1)  and even the murders are undercut in intensity due to the blood's Tex Avery elasticity, making it seem like this movie at one point wanted to court a teen market rather than the Alamo Drafthouse crowd.


Despite the cartoon blood, the disproportionate misogyny ratio and some vaguely skeevy undertaste to the hot girl-on-girl action (unsurprising considering it was written by two dudes), there's some sharp insight to lesbian trials and tribulations, such as how if you're a lesbian you can swoon for a hot chick you see walking by at the gym before you realize it's just you in the full wall mirror, and just as you cannot escape your reflection you can never escape your exes, or her ex, and so on into a long daisy chain of former-lovers peering sullenly over each others' shoulders, or hooking up with each other to get back at you or your current girlfriends, all at your own dinner party (as the lesbian subgroup is loyal and supportive to each other over and above current lovers). In other words, same gender equals double the problems of conventional boring ass straight relationships, in addition to the comforts. And Leena makes a lot of twisted witchy faces which--with her pale skin, black hair, and inch thick black eyeliner--make her quite the future camp horror icon-in-pupae form, despite her 'killing people on school grounds is wrong' ethos, which is sooooo the worst part of Heathers (a clear formative influence on this whole subgenre).

I like a lot of stuff about this energetic film--such as great roving camera that is seldom in the right place at the right time--and look forward to 'part two.' if any. But in the anticlimactic retribution relative to the rampant misogynistic violence makes this a bit like disproportionate payback to the abuse in Jack Hill's Foxy Brown as opposed to Jack Hill's awesome Coffy; another drawback is the ridiculous slow-mo CGI blood, and if the film is way better than the average found-Netflix dreck, it;s still dreck, and very unsteady on its feet as it tries to serve too many demographics at once. So Lucky, hail to thee but in the future don't be afraid to get a woman co-writer, like Deborah Hill on  Halloween or Gale Ann Hurd on The Terminator, or Karen Walton on Ginger Snaps. That way we won't have to pretend to be appalled by your male gaze eye candy, in case Kathleen Hanna is watching us from her crystal oculus. That little hottie really has our number, but McKee, you're still just a very sick girl.

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