My pick of Five Psychotronic Films on Amazon Prime for a new TRUMPMERICA post was such a hit I felt I had to balance the scale, so here it is. Evoking the coming liberal dystopia that can only result when a woman is or isn't elected president, yhere's less apocalypse and more matriarchy to worry about this time, and all in all a more inspiring future of liberal awareness, higher taxation of the rich, and massive un-deployment. With every new dead or symbolically neutered old white male voter we'll be sliding one step closer to socialism until we're so like Canada we'll forget we ever weren't.
PS - Dear Hulu: You should have a 'Resume' button - instead we have to start over every time we press stop and that's crap (at least on my Blu-ray player); also Hulu is a terrible name for a movie site. Don't try to seem playful! You've got enough dreary 50s-60s international art films on there to send even Ozu scrambling for the channel changer, and Hulu is a Hawaiian term, and some of us have never remembered to forget Pearl Harbor. So change yr name to FROGTOWN, and not just 'cuz there's so many insufferably French films on your site, but because you carry the one.. the only....
HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN
(1988) Starring Sandahl Bergman, Roddy Piper
Frankly, there's no possible way--at this point--the film could go wrong.
The standout, for me, being of sound mind and a certain age, is the still-lithe Bergman as the health officer Spangle, able to project both carnal yearning and no-bullshit feminist authority (a very difficult combo to do right). This gorgeous, sexily assured ex-Fosse dancer is still as lithe, confident, graceful, strong and open-souled sweet she was six years earlier in Conan. Alas, Rodney's character is a bit on the broad side. Apparently--for some reason no sensible male in the audience will quite understand--Rodney is furious over his enslaved stud position, and keeps trying to escape! What a maroon, as Bugs bunny might say. Bergman merely touches one of her earrings and the explosive chastity belt shocks his nuts, but still he tries. Maybe that's why the scene where Spangle abducts--and then drugs--a wild fertile woman of the wasteland and compels Hell to mount her isn't as vile as it might have been. Instead it gets so ludicrously kinky on so many wrong levels, though, you just may remember, as I did, a whole mess of prepubescent sex fantasies you used to have in the first and second grade, before you really knew anything about sex so it was all tied in with leashes and master-slave dominance (but which the average 50 Shades-style film never gets right). With Hell expected to 'perform' while his two captors/guardian women watch with detached curiosity, ready to zap him at a moment's notice, we have a very satisfying inversion of the recent real life outrage with an all male government panel on women's sexual health. Here we have an all female team considering his phallus literally government property. It doesn't make things right but it's a start!
The big surprise though is Piper's ability to convey a surprisingly sweet and tender vulnerability in his softer scenes. Coming off a bit broad and flat when he's expected to play the sexist dingus, when he finally drops his guard, he becomes the most emotionally open character in the film! He's got a heart as big all outdoors!
If all this male subjugation gets to be too much then relax in knowing the second half of the film reverses the situation. As Sandahl goes into chains as an abducted slave led by Hell on a leash into Frogtown --their cover story is that he's there to sell her into the harem of the Frog warlord. Your feminist umbrage may start to kick in its stall but just know that the majority of the women characters in this bizarre slyly-satiric film are super capable and assertive, more physically agile and gutsier than any of the men, or frogs. In other words, rather than affirm male dominance, the film deconstructs the infantile frustrations beneath sadomasochism, harem-keeping, reptilian (or amphibian) sex slave mind games, and "dance! dance!" warlord cup-banging, revealing them all as pathetic attempts to reclaim the phallus from mighty Woman.
|laugh while you can, monkey boy!|
That said, it's not perfect: a frog with a fez does a seriously terrible voiceover, there are too many close-ups (not Piper's strong suit) and it sometimes feels under-directed, but for every bad thing a good: Nicholas Worth pours on the sputtering malice as one of the frog warlords, Sandahl gets to do the 'Dance of the 3 Snakes' and lo and behold, there in the midst of the Frogtown cantina who should appear, but western character actor Rory Calhoun, wearing his good store teeth as a uranium miner!. During the big climactic wasteland car chase, when he's dying with his elderly head cradled in the laps of a backseat full of liberated pacifist concubines, a cute blonde warrior driving while a wanderer of the wasteland shoots from the passenger seat-- a horny mutant warlord in hot pursuit in his tricked-out, warrior-bedecked ride across the barren wasteland, you realize suddenly - holy shit! It prefigures the climax of Mad Max: Fury Road! Considering Frogtown is one of that slew of post-Road Warrior apocalypse road trip rip-off homages, it's almost spookily 'full circle' prescient (has George Miller seen this movie?)
Why Hillary: One look at the face of the odious frog king and you'll be reminded of a certain amphibious also-runner behind Trump. Sandahl is Hillary being sold to the Middle States ('can she dance?' asks the Frog Prince in he fez before voting/purchasing); the passive, fertile harem are the women voters of swing states looking askance at the brutalizing Handmaid's Tale future awaiting them under The Frog mutant's sway even though they've been trained to submit (one grand dame frog lady takes a shine to Piper and frees him, though it means her death -- she'd be the swing state independent female voting bloc). The matriarchy embodies the idealized Hillary future. Scruffy Roddy stands for the American midwest, reckoning the pros and cons between giving a woman control of the nation's balls, or else letting power-hungry toads run riot over our civil liberties. Some choice.
(1979) Dir. David Cronenberg
***1/2If you need a map through this genuinely strange, disturbing picture then I'd say watch his subsequent film, SCANNERS first. SCANNERS is a zippy mind-expander with solid acting, exploding heads, Michael Ironside in his best role (his facial expressions when he's scanning are beyond brilliant) and--with a voice so deep it opens up a hole in the floor--Patrick McGoohan as a revolutionary pharmacologist. Here in BROOD-land it's a little less Hitchcockian and more straight-up horrifying in a gender/menstrual/reproductive angle, via a controversial form of gestalt therapy called 'psychoplasmics,' a method of externalizing rage that causes the body to break out in spots... or cancerous tubers or worse, little homicidal blonde moppets. Oliver Reed is Dr. Raglan, the mastermind psychiatrist who runs the place (Cronenberg has a thing for private clinics operated in the wintry wilderness of his home country - they make a great setting that no one but he ever thinks to use). Wildly unhinged Samantha Eggar is his star patient. Raglan has her put her deep into regressive therapy and won't let her concerned husband see her. Their child, on the other hand, is brought in for weekends, but comes home traumatized and bruised. There's nothing the husband can do! Yeeesh! Canada.
I don't want to spoil the plot, but what's going in under the main text is a kind of post-feminist version of the Monster from the Id, making this a bit like KRAMER VS. FRANKENSTEIN. The hirsuite actor in the beginning demonstration is the most disturbing part of the film for me - he's too open and needy. The scene where a cute possible love interest Ruth Mayer (Susan Hogan with a great 70s elfin hair cut) is hammered to death by two of the monster kids right in front of her horrified kindergarten class is perhaps the most outrageous and deeply disturbing scene in all of 70s horror. Dude, there's always SCANNERS if you're squirrelly.
PS - My new favorite stealth character actor: Robert A. Silverman (above). The Dick Miller to Cronenberg's Corman, he's great as a less-hirsute former patient preparing a lawsuit, wearing a white towel on his neck to cover an awful mutating psychoplasmic affliction. He's so good in BROOD and as Hans in NAKED LUNCH (above), and the artist in SCANNERS well, he just knocks all Cronenberg's films up a notch. Why only Cronenberg seems to know of his genius is beyond me. Toronto experimental theater's gain is the cinematic world's loss?
We'd all be hammered.
DARK ANGEL: THE ASCENT
(1994) Dir. Linda Hassani
****Shot through a haze of red and blue with just the right amount of imagination (neither whimsical nor grungy), this Satanic daughter love story is like THE LITTLE MERMAID x SPECIES with a refreshing lack of qualms about killing. The story begins in Hell: an Old Testament-style marching line of desert-wandering souls (ala STARGATE x PHANTASM) head to their fates, guided by pumping ominous-but-giddy Fuzzbee Morse liturgy. Angela Featherstone stars as the young, wistful demoness Veronica, now grown up and about to take over torturing the embezzling bankers of Hell, dreams instead of seeing the surfaces of Earth and walking under the sky. Even thinking such a thing is forbidden by her sputtering, over-acting demon father (Nicholas Worth, the "psycho's psycho" in DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE). Undaunted by his furious lashes, she sneaks up to the land of men (apparently downtown Bucharest or some scenic corner of Romania disguised as Any City, USA) and immediately fathoms there is much good work to do, tearing the spines and hearts out of rapists and racist cops, feeding their hearts to her dog Hellraiser, and shacking up with a handsome sweet-souled doctor named Max (Daniel Markel). And if any homicide detective tries to get in her way, she just shows him the hellfire behind her glowing eyes while making dire announcements about the grim future that awaits mankind. That's enough to keep him from digging any deeper. Besides, the chief doesn't mind a few less rapists and racists on the streets.
Like some Satanic bible school instructional video, this confusingly-titled (there are about 100 shows and movies named Dark Angel) female-directed little miracle has become one my go-to favorites the last few years thanks to its dreamlike grungy fairytale threadbare quality, its incongruity of set and setting (everyone speaks English but it was clearly filmed in Romania), its Shelly Duvall-meets-Val Lewton-in-Ed Wood's basement mythopoetic aesthetic, its great cast and dusky red and black color scheme (ala another favorite, Ghosts of Mars). Sure, Featherstone isn't the greatest actress in the world, but what she lacks in skill anyone can learn; what she has--the ability to project complete confidence and emotional vacancy at the same time--is unteachable. Her flatline reading of dialogue like "I've always wanted to witness people coupling, Max, but I never thought it would move me so much," is so spot-on you realize better (or worse) actresses would never be able to match it --they'd either try to be sexy (and come off campy), imperious (and come off stuffy), mean (and come off buzzkill sour) or tough (and come off laughable), but Featherstone's assertive confidence and deadpan demeanor is so despite-itself sexy she gets away with the actor equivalent of murder, which is just right for Matthew Freeway Bright's genius script (full of lines "I don't require the blessing of the one true church to engage in sexual relations, Max.") And when she unfolds her true form--wings, horn, tail--after orgasm--while luxuriating out in the bed, it's somehow very reassuring, as is her matter-of-fact way with wrapping human hearts in newspaper to feed Hellraiser. I've only ever seen that kind of deadpan female genius--commanding both adoration and respect--in German science fiction film female characters from the 70s (as in STAR MAIDENS in the west, ELEOMA and IM STAUB DER STERNE in the east). It's sad America has never been able to duplicate it. Even Featherstone and Hassani had to go Romania to get there. Why there wasn't a sequel (judging from the title more than one was planned) I don't know, unless of course it's the damn patriarchy, the same one that stops STAR MAIDENS or those other films from being released.
Why Hillary: One of Veronica's first assignments down in Hell is to come up with creative ways to punish the lawyers and bankers, mirroring Hillary's promise to clean up Wall Street. When Veronica kills two racist cops after they beat up on a black guy she mirrors Clinton's support of Black Lives Matter. Predictions of a hellfire future for sinners mirrors Hill's certainty global warming will haunt the future of big oil consumers. Also, Veronica tells a nun "she cannot enter a church" as she "would surely combust' --depending on whom you ask, neither can Hillary!
|In Hell, the cinema has cold, unpadded wood seats.|
(1985) Dir. Lamberto BavaIn the land of Trump it's all about the thermonuclear family, be it ever so "humbly" nouveau-riche (I don't want much," as Groucho Marx would say, "just a little place where I can phone my wife and tell her I wont be home for dinner.") But this Italian film, shot in Berlin in the 80s, sums up life in conquered Axis countries (both Italy and Germany had to surrender to the Allies in WWII a mere 40 years earlier). It's the story of a demonic theater showing a film about a silver mask triggering a demon outbreak, and there's a promotional display silver mask in the theater lobby that actually causes a demon outbreak (when one girl tries it on and it pricks her skin and she becomes patient zero). The result are demons with green food coloring dripping out of their mouths and exploding pustules, running around in the theater ala MONSTERS CRASH PAJAMA PARTY.
If you saw DEMONS in the same theater as the characters seeing the movie in the film, with the same actors all in the theater (as might be at the premiere) then I can imagine this might freeze your hard drive with meta refraction, i.e. the folks at the advance screening midnight show of DARK KNIGHT RISES in Aurora, Colorado. But at home it's just a dumb hair metal stoner kind of good time. Produced and co-written by Dario Argento, asst. director Michele Soavi (STAGEFRIGHT), featuring sublime boom operation by Angelo Amatulli (SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS), and music from Claudio 'Goblin' Simonetti (ZOMBI 2), it's like an Argento-Goblin-Bava Jr. family affair, by which I mean nowhere near as good as 70s Argento but nowhere near as bad as 00's Argento, and still nowhere near as meta as the best Soavi.
Genius is fleeting --even in the best of us.
|Michele Soavi - showing his good side|
And give thanks to Hulu, now you can watch it on your phone where the screen is too small for any demon to climb through.
WARUM DIE HILL? Filmed in Germany, that land where a single demonic prick started an outbreak of inhuman violence, it's waiting for just the right moment to swell and burst anew upon the acne-scarred facial landscape. And, to make it all about this moment in America, a woman starts it all off by insisting on trying on the mask in the lobby (cuz ladies always be tryin' on strange display masks, am I right fellas?)
(2001) Dir. Stuart Gordon
***1/2We of the Lovecraft cult have become quite used to being disappointed by big screen adaptions. Maybe it's because the pantheon of his elder Gods like Cthulhu, Yog Sothoth and Shub-Niggurath and their hideous half-human offspring--all summonable via the unholy bible of black magic, the Necronomicon--reverberate far deeper than ordinary mind's eye boogeymen. No 2D or 3D representation can compare. Seeming to cohere out of the electric blur behind our eyelids, these indescribably leviathans urge us forward through Lovecraft's prose as if his writing had its own dark power to transcend the very limits of fiction, so that just reading the story we might waken the elder behemoths from their slumber in the timeless ocean below our archaic collective unconsciousness. Naturally no film is going to be able to capture that feeling. Carpenter's IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS was about that feeling, but didn't create it, and suffered from bad 90s clothes, hair, and acting. Corman made a decent stab at it with Vincent, but the results weren't quite up to his Poe stuff. Thank the Mad Arab, then, for Stuart Gordon, whose FROM BEYOND and RE-ANIMATOR are easily the two best Lovecraft adaptations. In each he wisely keeps the events flowing in something like real time, over a single night or weekend, so there's seldom time to get or need a 'third eye' complete picture. Seeing protagonists being chased along progressively more surreal avenues without ever stopping for a dissolve captures just what the stories are like: snapshots of Hell barely developed before they're already burning, the terror of nightmare momentum, racing across a dangling rope bridge over the yawning chasm of alarm clock death/waking.
For DAGON, Gordon adapts Lovecraft's quintessential "Shadow over Innsmouth" moving the locale from New England to an ancient Spanish fishing village, and having the action go down over one long rainy afternoon into late rainy evening, capturing the strange disorienting nightmare of trying to procure help after a freak storm rolls in and hurls a passing yacht--helmed by American investment wizard Paul Marsh (Ezra Godden)--onto a rocky outcrop, trapping him under the onrushing flood of water from the hull. Guests Paul and his Spanish girlfriend Barbara (Raquel Meroño) rush ashore to get help, are immediately separated by a seemingly friendly priest and... well, the weirdness never lets up for a moment, nor does the rain.
Wait what was that last one? Kiss me, baby, and never mind.
POR QUE HILÁRAYE K'LIHN-TOÑ: An evil fish god cult priest incites the elders to smash the iconography of the Christian church? The locals kill a Rupert Murdoch-esque yachtsman (offscreen)? Hell yeah. And the open ending suggests the future depends on the Democratic Party's ability to adapt to weird new paradigms as the only viable answer (vs. the Republican Party's resistance to change). As with the other films on this list it's ultimately about a sort of high Precambrian matriarchy. The plethora of Spanish speakers stands as a mockery to the the anti-immigrant Trump supporters who consider it a violation of their civil rights if you try to explain the difference between Spain and Mexico.
+ 5 RUNNERS UP:
(1975) Dir. David Cronenberg
***I disgust la SHIV in an oilier post but fack it. Spiked with livid, funny gross outs and a red kidney thing hopping inside any old orifice, here's a 'careful what you wish for' example of 70s singles swinging rather too successfully. As the wild orgy heats up, maybe ask yourself: is this how the red states really think we behave up here in the blue beyond? Or is it just how they would, were they not good decent Christians? Either way, you may never want to have sex again, and--on behalf of our stressed planet--thank you for that. Looking almost sex ed film crummy, it really should be shown in every high school health class, for it would chasten the louchest Hefner. The performances are deceptively brilliant; the moments of freeze frame slow motion unique and effective; the scenes of orgies breaking out in the halls and stairwells remind me of drug parties I've... heard about... on Fox News. Just thinking about Fox News in fact should answer your question why this film is 'Hillary-esque'! After it's over, you'll be grateful for all the repression that makes social order of any sort possible.
(2005) Dir. Neil Marshall
VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS
(2005) Dir. Neil Marshall
VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS
(2000) Dir. John Fawcett
(2000) Dir. John Fawcett
(1935) Dir. Merien C. Cooper