To help the future happen, mira! A collection of films evoking the coming liberal dystopia that can only result when a woman is or isn't elected president. My 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. There'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
Hell (Roddy) is furious, for some reason no sensible male in the audience will quite understand. He resists but he's given exploding underwear chastity belt that will shock his nuts if he tries to escape, so soon he stops trying and off they go into the wasteland, headed to the legendary Frogtown, a combination abandoned oil refinery and R-rated version of a STAR WARS cantina.
If your misogynist radar hadn't already gone off for the scene where Spangle (Bergman) abducts--and then drugs--a wild fertile woman of the wasteland and compels Hell to mount her, well, it will when she goes undercover as a bondage slave. Hell plays her abductor, their cover story being he's there to sell her into the harem of the Frog warlord. That said, your feminist higher power won't complain too much, since the women are for the most part super capable and assertive, more physically agile and gutsier than Hell, and though they drive in a pink 'Medtech' station wagon, there's a badass chick (Cec Verrell) on a .50 calibre sunroof mounted machine as his 'bodyguard.' In other words, rather than affirm male dominance, the film deconstructs sadomasochism, dominance, harem-keeping, reptilian sex slave mind games, and "dance! dance!" warlord cup banging, as pathetic attempts to reclaim the phallus from mighty Woman. Hell's junk is at the mercy of Spangle and he's expected to 'perform' while his two captors/guardian women watch with detached curiosity, ready to zap him at a moment's notice. In other words it's a 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 their property.
The most pleasant surprise is Piper, surprisingly sweet and tender in his softer scenes. When he's expected to play the sexist dingus, he comes off a bit broad and flat, but it's not easy conveying a character who feels he's 'too good for this shit' without coming off like an actor who feels he's too good for the film, so if he falls into the latter camp at times please forgive him. His tender side makes up for it (he's the most emotional character in the film). A frog with a fez doing the Sidney Greenstreet schtick at the requisite strip club (the main set) is a little too twee, but ain't squat twee about Rory Calhoun, wearing his good store teeth as a uranium miner. When he's dying with his head in the laps of one of the young liberated pacifist concubines in the backseat as they're pursued by the frog warlord in his armored car you realize suddenly - holy shit! This scene was lifted wholesale for Mad Max: Fury Road, which just swapped out Rory's gender! Considering Frogtown is one of that slew of post-Road Warrior 80s apocalypse road trip movies, the influences come full circle!
Why Hillary: One look at the face of the odious frog king and you'll be reminded of a certain second 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 harem are the women voters of swing states looking askance at the brutalizing Handmaid's Tale future awaiting them under The Fog 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). 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.
(1979) Dir. David Cronenberg
***1/2If you need a map through this genuinely strange, disturbing picture then I'd say watch SCANNERS first. That's a zippy mind-expander with solid acting, exploding heads, Michael Ironside in his best role (his facial expressions when he's scanning are off the hook); 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 bouncy and a lot more strange and horrible. No drugs this time, just a kind of gestalt externalized therapy at a strange clinic for 'psychoplasmics,' a method of externalizing rage that involves causing the body to break out in spots... or worse. Oliver Reed is Dr. Raglan, the mastermind psychiatrist who runs the place. Working deep into strange therapies with his patients, including a very unhinged Samantha Eggar, whose deep into regressive therapy and the doc won't let his concerned husband see her. Their child, on the other hand, is brought in for weekends, but comes home traumatized and bruised. I don't want to spoil the thing, but there's a kind of post-feminist version of the Monster from the Id going on. The hair weird hirsute sissy actor in the beginning demonstration is very unsightly - he's the most disturbing part of the film for me. In fact, hey, man, if it's too much, watch SCANNERS instead. Yeah, maybe you should just watch SCANNERS. 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 the most outrageous and deeply disturbing scene in all of 70s horror. Dude, there's always SCANNERS.
PS - My new favorite stealth character actor, Robert A. Silverman, the Dick Miller to Cronenberg's Corman, is great as a previous patient of the clinic preparing a lawsuit, wearing a white towel on his neck to cover an awful mutating psychoplasmic affliction. He's so good here and as Hans in NAKED LUNCH (above), and the artist in SCANNERS well, he just knocks them all up a notch. Why only Cronenberg seems to know of his genius is beyond me. Is it that he doesn't want to leave Canada? He should just go to Vancouver, the B-movie capital of the world!
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, a mix of the long lines of Old Testament-style marching lines of desert laborers from STARGATE x PHANTASM, but with deep red and blue filters; a lot of care and love (if not money) went into these early scenes, making good use of color filters and other budget-saving tricks but in a clever, DIY way that works to create a weird, cool mood right off. Angela Featherstone stars as the young, wistful demoness Veronica who dreams of seeing the surface of the earth, though it is forbidden by her abusive sputtering over-acting demon father (Nicholas Worth, the "psycho's psycho" in DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE 14 years earlier). Once above ground she tears the spines and hearts out of rapists and racist cops and feeds their hearts to her dog Hellraiser (like Osiris tossing the heavier-than-a-feather hearts to Ahmet for ye of the ancient faith). She gives the rapist's spinal cord to his rattled victim as a souvenir, intoning "look upon this to allay the memory of this night." Oh man that's awesome. Shacking up with a handsome sweet-souled doctor named Max (Daniel Markel), she wanders by night (while he's on ER duty) to kill sinners, 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.
Like some Satanic bible school instructional video, this might not be for all tastes, but I dig Featherstone's low-key performance and find the dreamlike grungy fairytale threadbare quality endearing in a Guy Maddin meets Val Lewton in Ed Wood's basement kind of way. Featherstone isn't the greatest actor in the world but what she lacks 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 "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 and be sexy (and come off campy), imperious (and come off bitchy), mean (and come off sour) or tough (and come off laughable), but Featherstone's assertive confidence and deadpan demeanor is so despite-itself sexy she gets away with murder. "I don't require the blessing of the one true church to engage in sexual relations, Max" she says as a rationale against marriage, and when she unfolds her true form--wings, horn, tail--after orgasm it's not goofy, 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 level of skill at commanding both adoration and fearful respect in in East German science fiction film female characters from ELEOMA and IM STAUB DER STERNE, but never in Americans.
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 drawing cop protests for her 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; and she cannot enter a church as she "would surely combust' --that's so Hillary!
All in all it's my favorite of the Charles Band Full Moon label, I've seen it five times, so it figures it's also the only one that doesn't have any sequels, though as the title indicates it's clearly built for them. Figures we'd get eight snickery dickery GINGERDEAD MAN and EVIL BONG sequels instead. Seeing their ugly ass covers plopped right there amidst the Criterion art movies on Hulu is funny for five minutes, but then it's just depressing.
(1985) Dir. Lamberto BavaIn the land of Trump, it's all about the nuclear family, be it ever so "humbly" nouveau-riche. From the giddy era when such swinging was the norm instead-- the 80s--comes this Italian film shot in Berlin to critique those norms, summing up life after the Axis fell for both nations. It's the story of a demonic theater showing a film about a silver mask triggering a demon outbreak that actually causes a demon outbreak--ala MONSTERS CRASH PAJAMA PARTY. If you saw it in the same theater as the film's set in, with the actors all in the theater with you, then man you'd hope you were dreaming because shit that meta will freeze your hard drive--just ask the Axis, or the folks at the advance screening midnight show of DARK KNIGHT RISES in Aurora, Colorado. Produced and co-written by Dario Argento, asst. director Michele Soavi (STAGEFRIGHT) and 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, for what it's worth. Thus we learn that genius is fleeting even in the best of us.
|Michele Soavi - showing his good side|
As the action occurs in a theater mimicking the film onscreen about a demon outbreak tied to a demonic mask (a signifier to papa Mario's first horror film THE MASK OF SATAN), there are also a few priceless and ingenious meta moments that make it more than just dumb dirtbag fun, but something nearly Antonioni-esque, as when the first victim in the film within the film and the first killing offscreen match up in their anguished noises, and a giant close up of a flashing blade on screen seems to be cutting the (normal size relative to the audience) dying girl's head off. Then those things kind of fade in favor of typical demon attacks, and flat close-ups of green food coloring raining out of grinning fangs and pustules.... lots of pustules. And best of all, thanks to Hulu you can watch it on your phone where the screen is too small for any demon to climb through. That you know of.
Asst. director Michel Soavi would use even more ingeniously self-reflexive post-modern variations on the 'trapped all night in an empty theater' motif for his recommended 1987 STAGEFRIGHT, which used to be on Hulu but now is not for some ungodly reason. Don't be fooled by the 18 other films with that title, the 1987 Soavi is the one to hunt, like the giant white owl hunts die mädchens!
(2001) Dir. Stuart Gordon
***1/2If we of the Lovecraft cult (if you'll forgive the expression) have become quite used to being disappointed by big screen adaptions. 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. Seeming to cohere out of the electric blur behind our eyelids, they urge us forward through Lovecraft's prose, as if his writing had its own dark Necronomicon-ish power, so that not even saying the words aloud we feel the behemoths stir at our reading of their names, before returning to their slumber in the timeless ocean depth 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. Corman made a decent stab at it, but the results weren't quite up to his Poe. Luckily there's Stuart Gordon; he keeps the events and tentacles flowing in something like real time, a single night or weekend of rattletrap madness. We get no 'third eye' complete picture, but just the impressions of our fleeing protagonists being chased along progressively more surreal avenues. And that's just what the stories are like. Gordon's FROM BEYOND and RE-ANIMATOR both had big long climaxes in and around a single attic or basement--mixing macabre humor and kinetic momentum--while DAGON runs amok through a small ancient Spanish fishing village over one long rainy afternoon into late rainy evening, capturing the strange disorienting nightmare of trying to procure help for your companions on a sinking yacht offshore in a strange Spanish town where no one speaks his language, and when they do it's in a fish-like croak. Substituting Spain for New England is a surprising but effective touch. as the language barrier adds a nice gateway frisson. In the terror and confusion of panic in a weird town, the locals may very well start to resemble fish monsters. When in Rome, bro. When in Rome.
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). The ending suggests the future depends on the Democratic ability to adapt vs. the Republican resistance to change. As with the other films on this list it's ultimately about a sort of high Precambrian matriarchy and the plethora of Spanish speakers of course 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 as the red kidney things hop inside from any old orifice, the film's a 'careful what you wish for' example of 70s singles swinging rather too successfully. Ask yourself: is this how the red states really think we behave up here? 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. Shot as grungy as a 16mm instructional film, it really should be shown in every high school health class. 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 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