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

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Tantrums and Tarantulas: THE EDITOR, DEATH LAID AN EGG, EVE OF DESTRUCTION

THE EDITOR
(2015) Dir. Adam Brooks
***

 In the beginning there was just the poster. with a lot of strange fake names like Ally Gunning and Ahab Bricks and an image of a moviola running a reel of segmented human intestine or spine or something through the sprockets, it was a kind of EC Comics final twist panel for a movie as yet unwritten. Commissioned for a Canadian "Nonexistent Film" poster art show, the poster was intriguing enough to commission a trailer, and then, finally, a feature was commissioned from the trailer. That order may seem strange but the crazy horror genre is used to it; Val Lewton famously was given the titles for his films by RKO brass, then had to write a film to go with them --and today they're all classics! And now, comes to DVD/Blu-ray, THE EDITOR.


A zippy, blood and nudity-primary color drenched satiric whirlwind that makes Rodriguez' PlANET TERROR seem pretentious and talky by contrast, its frenetic pace, along with inextricable layers of cinematic self-reflexivity and metatextual breakdown, can make for quite a blurry ride until repeat viewings bring it all into focus, sussing out split personality nuance and allowing room to savor the Argento's INFERNO-esque colour palette, the 70s-80s bedroom racing stripes of a thousand Canadian-present-merging with-Italian yesterdays, and the irresistibly old school analog synth score. Will you make those multiple trips to the Astron-6 quadrant? Will you take my hand, and return it to its rightful owner?

The weirdest thing about this final 2014 film of THE EDITOR perhaps is that it's almost as much a satire of the post-giallos made today as the old ones made yesterday that have become classics and been largely forgiven and absolved from charges of misogyny (charges I too once levied). As DVD and HD widescreens have given visually and aurally psychedelic color-saturated Italian giallos from the 70s and slasher-horror from the 80s a second life--making their films demand re-evaluation by once-sneering critics (such as myself)--they seem newer than most 'new' stuff being churned out today. So it stands to reason there'd be an emerging slew of imitators, just as there were back then. And so Moloch bless us everyone, in our glorious Blu-ray age, great companies like Blue Underground, Code Red, Scorpion, Synapse, and Scream Factory make 70s-80s Euosleaze, giallo, and horror films seem like miracles that still carry a nostalgic jouissance-tingling currency for a generation too young to actually see the originals at the time, but too old to not remember, and be traumatized by, the TV spots and second-hand synopsizing from adventurous babysitters. Those brief glimpses into the fiery sex-death bowels of weird older adults-only horror movie frisson cut our soul deep, like initiatory tribal scarring. So now we watch our DVDs of them over and over, half out of a warped obsessive-compulsive disorder, half out of cargo cult-style reverie. Naturally now we want to make our own totemic effigies, just to feel that childhood thrill of terror again, or at least hear some colors and see sound.


So lo and behold, a whole new breed of horror film is erupting, the post-giallo thriller--either straight, artfully fragmented (Peter Strickland, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani - as seen in my curated Netflix festival entry, Post-Giallo Nightmare Logic ala Netflix) or--as for THE EDITOR--respectfully satiric. Canadian 80s-obsessed filmmaker collective Astron-6 use fake mustaches, intentionally "off" macho dubbing, too-watery blood and a layered post-modern style that incorporates such eye-popping post-modern sights as a man climbing out through the screen of a moviola. The vibe is heavily misogynistic but no more so than BOARDWALK EMPIRE, and it has the Asia Argento-Jennifer Tilly hybrid of the moment, Paz de la Huerta (above), who does batshit busted ass crazy pretty well. She would make a grand Martha in a horror movie update of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF or SCORE! Here she plays the sexually supercharged and big-lipped wife of the star, the titular editor, Ray Ciso (director Adam Brooks) and she makes Edwige Fenech seem like Annette Funicello.

Whoa, is that reference too inside? You don't know Fenech from Funicello? Then you may be the wrong audience for THE EDITOR. Best you go home and watch CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS and BEACH BLANKET BINGO in alternating DVD chapters until they bleed together as CASE OF THE BLOODY BLANKET or BLOOD IRIS BINGO. We'll wait.... right here, with our massive finger collections drenched under grueful kliegs.



Back? Good. Now you can love THE EDITOR, to a point. I forgot to tell you to see THE BEYOND while we're at it. But how can I tell you to see something I don't particularly like? I love about 1/2 that film but after the third minute of watching unconvincing gore close-ups of tarantulas pulling at skin-colored latex, well, it cheapens my love of the genre. Once gore loses its punch, its shock value, what the hell good is it? It's just abstraction. But I do love those white eyes on that girl in the middle of the road with the dog, the overall oppressive vibe, the contrapuntal score, and the existential ending. I'm not surprised the Astrons so clearly know THE BEYOND by heart: its strengths and weaknesses are theirs as well: pure dream logic sensationalism at the loss of coherence; gleeful reveling in ugly excess that eventually deadens its effect; a mirror reflection whirl of gruesome splatter, unconsciously puritanical sex, overwrought abstraction and 80s aerobics, BUT I love EDITOR's Franco Nero mustaches, and the Negaverse' alternate shadow reality populated by ghosts of the slain, severed fingers, FROM BEYOND-esque air eels, and swirling black mists. Man have to be blind not to love that. Though having been to some similar places in my 'ahem' travels, I assure you one thing: the real DMT-verse has more spiral fractals, and the FROM BEYOND-esque air eels are endlessly intwining in a double helix that encompasses the breadth of your now widened third eye perception! Deal with it.

From top: The Beyond (1981); The Editor (2011)


There's only one real main flaw, for me, that undoes some of the good: the tawdry misogynistic strip club brazenness (and by misogyny I don't mean the great scene where the cop shows up at his quarry's table during an argument to slap his wife for him--that's hilarious) that's at odds with the more laid and repressed-but-sexier Italians of the era depicted. In other words, I feel fine showing SUSPIRIA or TENEBRE to a hipster feminist, but wouldn't feel comfortable showing her THE EDITOR. Maybe I'm just the prude, I feel the same way about GAME OF THRONES and most of the other shows on HBO everyone seems to love. And I can't help but feel all those layers being peeled here should produce a feeling of disoriented self-reflexive paranoia the way it did in THE STUNTMAN or MULHOLLAND DR. But hey, aside from that, good on ya, mate, cuzza Kier!!

The marvelous Udo


-----------------------
The gorgeous Jean-Louis Trintignant and gorgeous Ewa Aulin in Italian Guilo Questi's qua giallo
DEATH LAID AN EGG
1968- Dir. Guilio Questi
***

While sensitive souls wait for the day that factory farming is regarded as one of humanity's worst atrocities, for writer-director Giuliu Questi (Django Kill, If you Live... Shoot!) and co-writer Franco Arcalli that day came back in 1968, the same year as Argento's groundbreaking Bird with Crystal Plumage. With weird dialogue that sounds like some kind of enigmatic code --the way Belmondo and Karina sometimes talk in that half-recited way in Pierrot Le Fou ("Moi aussi, Marianne")--there's something kinda magic about DLAE. The underlaying weird horror subplot concerning the accidental production of a headless chicken, a hoped for mutation (ala 'Mike') guaranteeing the horrified coop owners a heftier profit margin (and the occasionally conscientious Marco (Jean Louis Trintignant) a nervous breakdown) is just the nadir of an already twisty morass of lofty scheming of the bed and boardroom. A kind of glorified trophy husband (he's never been more beautiful), Marco vents his frustrations at being under the sway of his older woman chicken magnate wife Anna (Gina Lollobrigida) by cutting up prostitutes in a secret hotel room and covering scarves with Zodiac-esque symbols. Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin, Candy herself) is Anna's hot secretary, and it's implied she might be having an affair with Anna as well as Marco, and whomever else wants to go for the seven minutes in heaven during one of their cocktail party games. During their regular cinq-a-septs Marco keeps pressuring Gabrielle to run away with him, filling her jaded ear with petulant declarations. She worries he'd too broke to keep her in scarves without access to Anna's pockets. "What different does that make?" he asks. "We can always steal, can't we?" Ever the Lorelei Lee, our Gabrielle cautions him: "Love is a luxury." But Trintignant's playing an Italian, and they don't like to be put off their feed, so he takes it out on the prostitutes, but even he draws the line at the headless chickens created inexplicably by the accidental introduction of Anna's wrong-stepping dog into the seed grinder. "This is the beginning of those mutations I've been working for!" says the scientist, taking credit where it ain't or maybe is just partially due. "It will bring radical changes to production." Even if the chickens don't turn homicidal like the cats in The Corpse Grinders, the monstrosity of it all drives Marco into progressively more desperate, quasi-humane fury!



Questi's seemingly benign tale is rife wtih weird flashbacks, twists, and ragged editing of an almost Bill Gunn-style sideways termite-Eisenstein off-the-cuff brilliance. Bruno Madera's patchwork soundtrack plunges down in the atonal piano mash abyss one scene and sashays up in bossa nova and Anton Karras zither the next, with shoutings in German over Brazilian violins during the lovemaking, adding to the off-kilter vibe. Bruno skulks around the all white henhouse, the office, the boudoir. There are egg-related objets d'art-decorated offices and plenty of real eggs in rows. Gabrielle and Anna start dressing up like whores and frequenting Bruno's secret haunts to try to get to the bottom of his mysterious tomcatting. Or do they?


Made before--or concurrently with--Argento 'animal trilogy', Egg follows its own pre-giallo boilerplate, neither Louis Malle or Chabrol style nouvelle vague noir nor Argento/Bava candy-colored killer roundelay, so hey man, just roll with it and let it's clever rearrangement of soon-to-be familiar tropes lead you far afield. Enriched with the kind of narrative feints that crack the facade of the 'red telephone' boardroom-to-bedroom Dolce Vita shell (there's even a sexy parlor game for the decadent bourgeois revelers at Anna's party) it seeps with glistening honey traps that throw us off the scent with masterful twists and then it... kind of just stops on a gotcha. The Streaming on Amazon Prime cut is reasonably decent quality for non-HD (I took the above the screenshots therefrom), which makes it worth seeking out if you've high on an early pre-giallo kick and already re-watched all your Argentos and Fulcis like so many reps on your quads. 
-----------------------------------------------

Once upon a time there was much variety in action movies and then.... there was Beverly Hills Cop, which made so many dump trucks full of money it became the only kind of movie Hollywood would ever make again. That's why in every post I've ever written I talk about the post-BHC and the pre-BHC era. And in the post BHC era, i.e. the 80s. There was also The Terminator, and Robocop, and there was Lethal Weapon... and of course, Flashdance. And so, it was natural to come along and quadringulate the four - the cool fast-talking black guy, the buddy cops who hate each other at first, the killer automaton, the Jennifer Beals getting wet in spandex and fuzzy legging while hoping to be a real dancer: together they made more money than Hollywood ever knew existed. So they heeded the words of the Italian drive in Cannonball Run, "what's behind me... is not important."

Once again from the top: Murphy, Beals, Gibson, Schwarzenegger. And if you want to get technical, Jennifer Jason Leigh's half-sister Jamie Lee Curtis in the willfully forgotten misfire Perfect (1985 - above left). This was the 80s, and if those involved with it have their way, you will never see Perfect in your lifetime. To crunch the above trip tick tom cat tome boy bull roster, consider this as an alternative... even if it is made 10 years too late:


EVE OF DESTRUCTION 
(1991) Dir. Duncan Gibbins
**1/2

There's an out-of-sync with its era vibe to this 'cool black cop and MILF engineer vs. amok lady android' genre entry: can it be explained by knowing that its director died two years after it came out while trying to rescue his cat during the 1993 California wildfires? Not that such tragedy should affect our affection (or lack of) for such a flatly filmed but fascinatingly proto-Carol Cloverian thriller about a chick robot, who--as in all terribly written Robocop clones-- finds street crime wherever she goes, forcing her to kill and/or get a robotic concussion which disrupts her neural network, sending her on a one woman vendetta against all the men who wronged her sexy maker (who made her women's brain carry her same childhood memories, the way Tyrell gave Rachel his niece's in Blade Runner), while trying to shake her feeling of existential confusion and amnesia.



On the other hand, no one is more existentially lost here than Gregory Hines, whose 80s tap dance career somehow qualified him for leading a SWAT team against indestructible irrational chick robots. Here's an actor who's not about to stick his neck into the wildfire by embracing a dumb action movie cardboard character, i.e. uploading his sense memories, making him seem real other than a compendium of cliche. Remember, Gregory, there are no small roles, only small actors! And man, he fits the bill, which begs another question: why was he even cast? Oh yeah, he's black, and people know his name already. Beverly Hills Cop being part of the holy 80s quadrangle hitherto mentioned, if this film's about a white chick it demands a black male star counterpoint, and Hines was once the new Sammy Davis Jr., the way Savion Glover would now be the new Hines (there can be only one... at a time). A footloose and fancy free tap dancer with a trim beard and a face that looked like someone pulled his nose way way out and then snapped it back so it hangs down all Droopy Dog, to top off his already bizarre face and diminutive stature, here Hines rocks a weirdly oversize 90s suit, like a giant's robe upon a dwarfish thief. His berating a bunch of hardcore military mesomorphs after they botch a hostage rescue training exercise is a real hilarious highlight of the film. Shouting at the top of his lungs, voice barely cutting through the thick testosterone, Hines sounds more like a fussy choreographer rather than a drill instructor. Is not cracking up part of his team's SWAT training? Like 110th Street, that's a hell of a tester; the amok Eve VIII (Renée Soutendijk) should be easy to find and wrangle after that. All Hines has to do is tell his SWAT guys where to shoot and follow her down the traumatic memory lane of her 'image and likeness'-style designer, also played by Soutendijk and named Eve. Too bad his men can't shoot for shit, so EVE VIII ends up decimating entire ambush parties with a single Mac 10 clip. Next time you want to train some inept SWAT guys, better call R. Lee Emery.

Soutendijk, a Dutch actress, was in some Dutch Paul Verhoeven films neither you or I have probably seen, but probably want to (they're OOP in R1).  She's the girl holding the scissors in that Fourth Man poster (left). She makes a pretty solid Nexus 8 model and, as she's a single innocent robot suffering from PSTD going up against an array of supposedly competent armed men and sleazy studs, it's pretty cathartic when she blasts them all to hell. And this time there's no "Humans Killed: Zero" statistic on her retinal screen like in the same year's T2. Verhoeven would be proud.

I admit I recently bought the Blu-ray of EVE, mostly out of loyalty to a drunken half-remembered night when my brother and I caught it halfway through on cable back in 1991. It's not quite as good sober in 2015, but what is? Still, if you're craving a witless so-cliche-it's-classic Terminator-Robocop-style pre-CGI 80s flick from the early 90s, look no further... than Dark Angel (1990).

If you're still hungry after that, pour on the Hines. And PS: Going back into a raging inferno to rescue your cat? One hundred percent badass, regardless of the outcome. Badass.

Hines, with tired eyes that wonder 'how did I get into this shit?'

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