Archive for March, 2012

Here’s the difference between the people you know and the people I know — the people you know are talking about The Hunger Games; the people I know are talking about The Burning Moon.

Oh, sure, German writer-director-gore FX man Olaf Ittenbach’s shot-on-video splatterfest originally came out on VHS back in 1997, and was actually lensed even a bit earlier than that by most accounts, but it never made it into anything like widespread — or even less-than-widespread — US release, and internationally-issued copies of it on tape and bootleg DVD were a prize possession for the few hard-core gore-hounds fortunate enough to track them down.  The rest of us were just plain SOL when it came to this SOV, and its well-nigh-impossible-to-findness (I just made up the longest compound word ever, yay for me!) caused this flick to develop a reputation as something of a “Holy Grail” of the grotesque.  Electronic word-of-mouth had it that this was the one movie so shocking, so repulsive, and so unhinged that it had the power to disturb and unsettle even the most jaded of horror fans. You only thought you’d seen it all until you saw this, the grapevine assured us.

Well, now thanks to Intervision Picture Corp. (the Severin sub-label that’s given us such long-lost, no-budget, bottom-barrel-dwellers as Sledge Hammer and Things in recent months), The Burning Moon is finally available on DVD (presented full-frame with stereo sound and a 47-minute “making-of” featurette) and the rest of us — hell, most of us — can finally see what all the consistent, if admittedly low-level, hype was about.

The “plot” — and to be honest I wasn’t even sure that this movie had one, all I’d ever heard about was how gory it was — centers on a 20-something, antisocial, drug-addicted loser, played by Ittenbach himself, who still lives at home and gets stuck babysitting his kid sister one night. To lull the little shit to sleep so he can get back to shooting up smack or whatever other delinquent crap he’s into, he tells her a couple of bedtime stories — but, unabashed creep that he is, he decides to scare the kid half to death by telling her two truly twisted tales that give our guy Olaf the chance to show off all his homemade splatter-effects wizardry.Our first drug-fueled fable, “Julia’s Love,” centers around a fun-loving single gal who meets the guy of her dreams, only he turns out to be an escaped killer/mental patient who has a really different idea of a good time. She figures out who he is pretty quickly, but by then it’s too late as their one date has convinced him that his best course of action is to brutally murder her entire family and then take her for his wife. And really, what girl could resist a charmer who whispers sweet nothing like “I want you to take all of my love juice” in her ear? Needless to say, the “story” here is pretty minimal and is essentially just a threadbare line for Ittenbach to drape his gallery of ghoulishness over.

Next up we’ve got a little number called “The Purity,” about a village priest/closet devil-worshiper who gets his rocks off raping and killing in order to achieve some kind of “next level” of Satanic power or something. The locals blame his crimes on a bachelor farmer that none of them like, the priest decides to kill himself, aforementioned locals hire out some thug to kill aforementioned bachelor farmer, and aforementioned bachelor farmer rises from the dead to take his revenge by dragging the guy who killed him, and the folks who paid him to do so, down to Hell with him.It’s in this last ten-or-so-minute sequence set in Hell where, I think , The Burning Moon really earns its reputation. Up to that point, truth be told, I was feeling more than just a little bit underwhelmed by the whole thing, and there really wasn’t much to distinguish “The Purity” from “Julia’s Love” apart from some inverted crucifixes and other garden-variety Satanic imagery that’s always popular with the kids. Oh, sure, on the whole the flick was gory in the way other SOV features like Video Violence and 555 were, albeit without either’s emphasis on pesky details like a narrative that made any sense, but there wasn’t much to differentiate it from its blood-soaked contemporaries apart from its complete and utter lack of anything even remotely resembling a sense of humor about itself (you know those Germans — they take everything they do so seriously) . Frankly, I was starting to feel I’d been had and that maybe this movie’s rarity alone was the source of most of its legend — after all, everything’s pretty cool, unknown, and mysterious until you actually see it, right?

But I have to give Ittenbach credit — he really pulls out all the stops for his big finale. The assembled stills accompanying this review, any of which could be captioned “Oy!!!!!!!!!!!That’s GOTTA hurt!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!,” are testament to the unfettered dime-store brutality that he unleashes on us in this majestic crescendo of explicitly-detailed, unforgiving violence; this budget-free symphony of psychotic and sadistic destruction. Ittenbach proves himself, with his soaring finale, to be Don Dohler without a conscience — a guy making a movie just to show off the cool shit he can come up with in his garage, but rather than the nifty space alien costumes and laser-beam guns that Baltimore’s backyard Spielberg went for, he’s into showing us bodies ripped to pieces, eyeballs gouged out, intestines squirming on every corner of the screen, and organs ripped from their still-writhing hosts.  None of it makes much sense, but then, that’s not what we’re here for, is it? We’re here to see a movie that well and truly delivers the gore-soaked goods, and even though The Burning Moon waits until the very end to do so, it comes through in spades. This really is everything that your mother had ever warned you about — if the old bat could ever imagine anything so truly vile, shocking, and remorseless.

Something awful has happened, but we don’t know what it is — that’s the basic premise behind director Lynne Ramsay’s latest effort, the much-lauded psychological thriller We Need To Talk About Kevin, a move that throws us in right at the deep end and never lets us up for air.

Confusion reigns from the outset, as we see a woman wrapped in the throes of some sort of ecstatic, celebratory feast that apparently involves a huge throng of revelers and lots and lots of  stomped and smashed tomatoes. Or something. Truth be told, we’re never fully informed of exactly what is transpiring in this beautifully shot opening sequence, but we do come to learn that the woman the camera eventually fixes on is one Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton), a hugely successful travel writer and editor who apparently finds herself involved in these kid of unorthodox situations pretty frequently.

Or, should that be, found herself involved in these kind of unorthodox situations pretty frequently, because in the very next scene we see Eva alone in a dilapidated house, waking up in a cold sweat to find that someone has thrown red paint all over her front porch and her car. There’s obviously quite a convoluted line that leads from situation A to situation B here, and the unraveling of that thread forms the film’s central narrative premise, with the remainder of the movie alternating between scenes involving the present-day Eva, quite obviously a broken, spent shell of a woman who punches the clock at a dingy storefront travel agency by day while studiously avoiding so much as even eye contact with any of her neighbors or fellow townsfolk during her off-hours, and the Eva of the past, a vivacious, globetrotting free-spirit who’s slowly, inexorably drawn earthward due to a vicious, self-defeating-spiral of a relationship with her eldest child, Kevin.

To be fair, Kevin’s not an easy child to raise from the get-go, as he cries constantly in Eva’s presence, to the point where she stands near jack hammers just to drown out the sound of his bawling. As he grows into toddler-hood, he proves increasingly uncooperative with her, while forming an almost-instantly-manipulative relationship with his father, Franklin (John C. Reilly), who alternates between thinking the sun rises and sets on his little boy and willfully ignoring his obvious behavioral problems (like wearing a diaper until near-adolescence) in the hope that they’ll simply go away. As the more youthful version of Kevin, played with disarming complexity given his years by Jasper Newell, gives way to a more transparently antisocial, perhaps even downright evil Kevin, played after the onset of puberty by Ezra Miller with a mixture of pure malevolence and the devious charm of the truly psychotic, we see his relationship with his mother grow more and more unhinged — yet also, perhaps conversely and perhaps not, more intertwined, to the point where both of them seem to need the conflict between them in order to survive, even though they both suspect only one of them is going to make it out alive since it’s clear that Kevin’s only goal in life has gradually become bringing  Eva’s entire world crashing down on her.

Obviously, at some point he succeeds, as Swinton’s deservedly-ballyhooed, multifaceted performance shows. The Eva we see now isn’t even a shadow of the Eva we see in flashback, as a shadow bears at least some resemblance to the person casting it. And while nagging questions dog at the back of our minds throughout — most notably where are Kevin’s younger sister and father in this present-day scenario — it’s Swinton’s turn as Eva, in both the then and the now, that keeps us glued to the screen. From her physical mannerisms to her speech patterns to her social interactions, everything we see in the present day is a 180 degree turn from the way she acts, talks, even thinks in the film’s past-tense scenarios. Rarely does an actor display so much range in the space of a single film, and Swinton does so with an unforced naturalism that both grounds the movie in her character’s obviously tragic arc and increases its almost oppressive sense of mystery and foreboding as events play out and we find ourselves more and more drawn into needing to know just how the hell this amazingly brutal transformation could have occurred.

While I’m sworn to secrecy when it comes to giving away the final act that Kevin commits that absolutely ruins his mother’s life (just as he’d planned), I will say this — it’s both amazingly, audaciously vicious, and entirely believable. We’ve seen it play out on the evening news too many times to count by this point, but realizing, as he’s doing it, that his ultimate intended victim is not the people he’s doing it to but rather his own mother makes it all the more unconscionable, as the point is driven home that he views more or less the entire rest of the world as pawns in his unending power struggle with her, one that he’s determined to “win” at all costs.

It goes without saying that We Need To Talk About Kevin is anything but an easy film to watch. It’s a tragedy in the truest sense of the term, one portrayed in such detailed, intimate terms that we’re not even given the option of looking away. It raises the eternally uncomfortable question of nature vs. nurture — Kevin’s a “problem child” right from the start but Eva isn’t shy about letting him know that she’d rather be galavanting around the globe than be stuck at home with him — and thrusts it right into the forefront. And of course, in the end, there are only victims,  no real survivors. Like the best dramatic fiction, it forces us to confront the darker corners of the human condition and examine how we would react given the same set of circumstances in our own lives. There are a lot of Kevins out there in the world, and whether  of them ourselves. or we actively help create them, or we merely aid and abet them by not caring what’s happening in millions of families across the country and around the planet, to one degree or another we’re all guilty. There’s plenty of blame to go around, and Lynne Ramsay isn’t about to let any of us off the hook —nor give us easy answers to the difficult, but necessary, questions her film raises.

I’m reminded of a classic line from Penelope Spheeris’ punk-rock coming-of-age opus Suburbia — “everybody knows families don’t work.” We Need To Talk About Kevin certainly proves that statement correct — but they’re also all we’ve got. Go rest easy now, if you can.

Can any film possibly be as sleazy as the title for veteran exploitation director John Hayes’ 1977 “coming-of-age” Z-lister Jailbait Babysitter suggests? The answer to that is, unsurprisingly, “of course not,” and frankly this flick doesn’t even try to be — but it earns a few marks for never taking itself very seriously and for being almost disarmingly upfront with its intentions to in no way deliver on the “promise” its lurid advertising campaign suggests.

17 (so we’re told, she looks more like 30)-year-old Vicki March (Therese Pare) is a high school student and part-time babysitter who we are told, first thing out of the gate after opening crdits roll, won’t — ahem! — serve up the goods to her dork boyfriend, Robert (Roscoe Borne), or any of his slightly-older (the script claims they’re around 21) friends. In one of many awkward make-out scenes, when he’s trying to put the moves on her while they’re on a couch, she tells him “you can just cool off!,” to which he memorably replies “you can just go fuck yourself!,” but little spats like that aside we’re led to believe he’s generally a good-hearted, harmless guy.

One night while babysitting, her infant charge asleep upstairs, Robert’s stoner friends show up and throw an impromptu Roman-style toga party figuring they’ve got a few hours to spare until the “lord and lady” of the house come home, and we get one of the very few glimpses of nudity in the film as the revelers take their act into the bathroom for some kind of dull group shower (and the film’s ultra-low-grade production values really show here as the entire five-or-so-minute scene unfolds without synch sound and with the same annoying boogie-woogie, not-quite-disco recording looping endlessly while the “action” unfolds). One of the older cats gets the hots for Vicki, who’s still downstairs having taken a pass on the communal shower, she fights him off with a fireplace poker, a hutch full of supposedly expensive knick-knacks gets knocked over in the altercation, she flees into the night, and while the other kids are left scrambling when the couple who actually owns the house they’re “partying” in shows up early, the randy older fella gives chase to Vicki, who’s on foot, in his van.She’s eventually rescued from her ordeal by a woman passing by in a car , who we later learn is named Lorraine (Lydia March), an apparently good Samaritan who takes it upon herself to pull a gun on the horny “van man” — who promptly gets the point and fucks off. Lorraine takes Vicki into her home, fixes her dinner, offers her the run of the place, including use of her Lincoln Town Car, and Vicki, to no one’s surprise, likes the set-up and decides she’s gonna stick around. She apparently never even calls her parents to inform them of her new supposedly high-class living arrangements.

Come to find out, Lorraine’s a high-price hooker (and here I had her pegged for a lecherous lesbian — damn!), and she has a Pygmalion/My Fair Lady-type “home finishing school” scenario in mind for our supposed 17-year-old, with Vicki in the Eliza Doolittle role. She teaches her how to drink Irish whiskey (Vicki’s first solo attempt at imbibing it in a fancy restaurant ending in disaster), takes her shopping, and takes her out to something called the “Mulholland Tennis Club,” where Robert just happens to be working his new gig as a ball boy and notices his (now former, at least in her mind) gal pal associating with the hoi polloi. While at the club, our  intrepid heroines make the acquaintance of two “gentlemen,” one of whom takes a very keen interest in young Vicki (for the record, she tells him — and Lorraine, for that matter — that she’s 19), and even though Lorraine doesn’t want Vicki to enter her chosen profession, she consents, for whatever reason, to let the older creep take the “jailbait” home with him.

After a little bit of lame smooth talk — which, to Hayes’ credit, he plays more or less entirely for laughs — Vicki decides that she’ll surrender her virginity to this bald, old dude, but when he tries to slide the snake into her, he ends up having a hear attack! Fortunately, Robert has tailed her from the tennis club to the sort-of-john’s place in his new van (talk about a romantic at heart — when he’s showing off his wagon to his older friends and they decide to try to start balling in the back seat, Robert throws them out, letting them know in no uncertain terms that “this van is for me and Vicki!”), they’re able to phone the cops, medical help arrives in time, and Vicki has learned her lesson and decides it’s time to go back home and settle for Robert after all.

Things aren’t quite done yet, though, as we get an out-of-nowhere-competently-staged Halloween party, complete with fog machines, interesting camera angles, and generally- pseudo-creepy  atmospherics, and at said party, while Robert makes time with another chick absolutely out of the goddamn blue after pining after Vicki inconsolably for the previous 99% of the film, fireplace-poker-boy makes another run at Vicki’s virginity by force, Robert arrives just in the nick of time to fight him off, Vicki finally gets it on with Robert in his snazzy new pussy-wagon, and the happy couple drives off into the sunset, her 48-or-so hour run at a supposedly “better” life now a distant memory.

If all of this seems like a rather toned-down version of Malibu High, it is — the girl here is a prude rather than a cocktease, and she almost becomes a hooker rather than definitely becomes a killer, but the morality-play set-up is essentially the same, as is the inherent message — accept your station in life, kids, and don’t try to break the mold, or you’ll be flirting with disaster. While the posters and ad campaigns for flicks like this promised risque hijinks, in truth this kind of story was a moralist’s wet dream, and frankly probably appealed a lot more to the parents of the teenagers this movie was marketed to than to said teens themselves, who probably found the whole thing pretty dull and preachy. As for the pervs who showed up at the box office hoping to see some ripe “jailbait” flesh — well, normally I’m not one to stick up for this crowd, but they really should have been given refunds.

Jailbait Babysitter is available paired with SuperVan as part of Code Red’s “Exploitation Cinema” series of double-feature DVDs under their “Saturn Productions” label (which they generally seem to reserve for flicks they’re less than proud to have their main brand name associated with). It’s a horribly shitty-looking looking direct-from-VHS transfer (the tracking’s even off in spots) that’s so blotchy and washed-out  that you can barely make out John Goodman’s cameo in this, his first film appearance (SuperVan, by contrast, looks great, in case you were wondering). Sound is mono and pretty crappy as well, and the only extras are trailers for some other Code Red titles.

Marketing what’s essentially a tired and conservative “lesson” in morality as a scintillating and downright prurient skin-flick is an old grindhouse trope and I certainly don’t hold that against Jailbait Babysitter. What’s refreshing, though, is how brazen they are in admitting the switcheroo they’ve pulled on their audience almost from the get-go, and how director Hayes steadfastly refuses to take any of it very seriously. It’s certainly in no way a “step above” most other films of this ilk, but it’s pleasingly self-deprecating and harbors no illusions about being anything other than the seen-it-a-million-times-already crap that it is. Not worth seeking out by any means, but if you’re bored  at home on an uneventful weeknight, it’ll do in a pinch.

I respect any movie that can’t live up to its own self-generated hype. Not because short-changing customers at the box office by not giving us our hard-earned money’s worth is in any way admirable behavior, mind you, but because it usually means that the hype is soooooo good. And as far as hype goes, you really have to hand it to director William Crain’s 1976 blaxploitation “monster thriller” Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde, because its promo lines are among the very best. “The Fear Of The Year Is Here!” “A Monster He Can’t Control — Has Taken Over His Very Soul!” “Don’t Give Him No Sass Or He’ll Kick Yo’ Ass!” Honestly, is it even right to expect any film to live up to the level of pure awesomeness such sensationalist pitches suggest?

Needless to say, Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (recently re-issued on DVD by VCI Entertainment in a so-called “35th Anniversary Special Edition” that doesn’t seem all that “special” at all because it contains no extras to speak of apart from a few weirdly-assembled promo trailers for other VCI titles — props on the film restoration though, the widescreen transfer, though still grainy in spots as you’d expect, looks great, and the mono soundtrack is serviceable-if-unspectacular) doesn’t even really come close. But it’s still a pretty decent little slice of cinematic nostalgia that wins a few extra points for positively reveling in setting a few tried-and-true Hollywood cliches on their rear ends.

The always-reliable Bernie Casey stars as Dr. Henry Pryde, a UCLA biochemist driven to develop a serum to reverse the effects of cirrhosis of the liver because it killed his mama, a hard-working maid at a whorehouse who died from the disease (oh, and none of the “ladies of the evening” would help her out in her death throes, thus engendering a psychotic hatred of prostitutes in young Hank, not that we learn any of this until about halfway through the film, by which point he’s already killed a couple of them — but whoops, I’ve gotten a little bit ahead of myself, haven’t I?) and left him a broken-hearted, and apparently quite determined, young man. Dr. Pryde is assisted in his researches by his faithful colleague, and part-time lover, Dr. Billie Worth (Rosalind Cash), and it’s a good thing he’s got some help because he seems to take a few hours off from the lab every day to go  down and help out at the — I’m not kidding here, folks — Watts Free Clinic and Thrift Shop (he’s apparently a good old-fashioned regular MD as well as a big-shot biochemist), where he befriends a rather striking-looking young(ish) hooker named Linda (Marie O’Henry — funny, she doesn’t look Irish) and is soon wining her, dining her, taking her for spins around Watts in his Rolls Royce, and generally treating her a lot better than most of her back-alley johns probably (okay, certainly) do. What’s our guy Henry got in mind — just a piece of action on the side, or is he after something more?If you said “something more,” award yourself exactly no bonus points on our movie trivia scale (that doesn’t even exist anyway) because, of course. that’s the way this shit always works. He wants her to try his new test serum out, to be a “human guinea pig,” if you will, and he desperately needs one because the real guinea pigs (and rats, and mice) that he’s been trying his miracle-liver-cure on in the lab have turned into ferocious beasts that rip apart and devour all their fellow caged creatures. Oh, and he tried it on some old dying woman at the free clinic and it killed her, too. Not that he has the decency to inform Linda of this.

She’ll do it, but there’s a catch — he’s gotta try it on himself to first to prove to her that it’s safe. Sounds reasonable enough, right? Doc Pryde plays along — and you can probably guess the rest: he becomes a vicious albino killing machine who can’t be stopped. She back-tracks, quite wisely, on her previous offer to give the serum a go, runs off into the night, he gives chase for awhile, and then, when he can’t find her, goes on a killing spree through Watts, specifically targeting practitioners of the world’s oldest profession.

Come daytime, though, it’s back to normal for the not-so-good doctor, and he’s blissfully unaware of his nocturnal activities — although little things like blood on the headlights of his Rolls clue him in that something nasty must have happened. Still, might as well keep pumping the serum into your arm every night, because you’ve got no specific memories of anything bad going down. And so the nightly rampages continue apace for a few evenings, until Linda finally confronts Henry during the day and threatens to go to the cops herself if he won’t turn himself in. Naturally, getting anyone down at the precinct to believe her story about a black doctor who turns white and evil at night and kills hookers is a pretty tough sell, but for reasons that are never even attempted to be justified by the script, one Lieutenant Jackson (Ji-Tu Cumbuka) buys her tale and sets about tracking Dr. Pryde’s nighttime alter-ego down.

If you don’t know where all this is headed, give me back those points you didn’t earn anyway in our trivia game that doesn’t exist. Pryde’s a dead albino duck by the time it’s all over. Nothing unusual about that. What is weird, though, is how director Crain seems to waver in his feelings toward his protagonist (Casey, for his part, keeps his performance pretty consistent throughout depending on what the script calls for — affable by day, enraged zombie by night). At first, we’re quite clearly supposed to like the guy. Then, we’re supposed to be shocked by his amorality in roping unwilling test subjects into his web of human experimentation. Then, we’re supposed to be suspicious of his anti-hooker motives. Then, we’re supposed to be appalled at his cold-blooded murder spree. And finally, when the cops gun him down, we’re supposed to feel sorry for the guy. That kind of directorial schizophrenia is a rare thing, and frankly, while it doesn’t make for good filmmaking according to any generally-accepted definition  of the term, it’s certainly an interesting thing to see play itself out, and combined with the completely unsubtle upturning of the old (and nauseating) “white is good (even down to hats and costumes, but especially when it comes to skin color), black is bad (even down to hats and costumes, but especially when it comes to skin color)” silver screen cliche, it ensures that Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde is a more memorable — and, frankly, fun — viewing experience than its strictly by-the-numbers script would suggest.

The final crime report from the desk of Lieutenant Jackson reads : Robert Louis Stevenson literary classic makes a trip to the ghetto and, for the most part, emerges unscathed.

If your daughter ever brings home a guy named either David Schwartz or Ari Levin, throw the bum out of the house and lock her in the closet for the rest of her life for her own protection.

Okay, wait just one second before you go and assume I’m on some sort of anti-semitic tirade here. I should be clear and state that I’m referring to a couple of very specific monsieurs Schwartz and Levin here — namely, the writer-director (Schwartz) and star (Levin) of the truly unhinged 1989 shot-on-video sleazefest Las Vegas Bloodbath. I’m sure there are lots of perfectly nice David Schwartzes and Ari Levins out there who will treat your daughter like a princess. She’s free to date, or even marry, any of them — so cancel my invitation to any neo-Nazi get-togethers you might be planning. But if she brings home a David Schwartz or an Ari Levin from Las Vegas, seriously, follow my advice — send the guy packing and never let  her out of the house again.

Why would I say this about the guys behind a movie I’m going to spend the next 2,000-plus (at an early, and very conservative, guess) words at least conditionally praising, you may ask? Because, dear readers, these two fellas have some issues. And that’s putting it kindly. I’ve spent literally decades now sifting through the absolute bottom of the horror and exploitation barrel, searching for that ever-elusive holy grail of truly wretched low-budget moviemaking, and last night, I think I just may have found it. The “perfect storm,” if you will — that rare, dare I say even alchemical mixture of overwhelming technical incompetence, complete disregard for anything even remotely resembling good taste, unrestrained — nay, pathological! — misogyny, wretchedly obscene homemade gore effects, unintentionally hilarious dialogue, and offensively risible acting. I’m here to report that Las Vegas Bloodbath has all of that in such excessive quantities that viewing it is a positively Bacchanalian experience.Oh, sure, I’d read about this online before here and there over the years. I knew about infamous lines like “maybe he doesn’t like daytime whores !!!!!!!!!!” and “one for me, and one for this bitch !!!!!!!” — but nothing I’d read had adequately prepared for me the sheer inglorious spectacle that unfolded before my unworthy eyes last night. I figured, as far as 1980s SOV efforts went, that it couldn’t top 555 for gore and tastelessness, and that it couldn’t match the likes of Splatter Farm on the bad acting front. Frankly, the whole thing sounded like just a middling DIY-on-Sony-Betacam affair, and I never gave it much thought. It wasn’t until I picked up the Pendulum Pictures/ Mill Creek Serial Psychos six-movie, two-DVD set (before you even ask, Las Vegas Bloodbath, like every other flick on offer in this public-domain collection is, as you’d expect, presented full-frame, with mono sound, on a direct-from-VHS transfer with no extras whatsoever — in other words, in tried-and- true Mill Creek style, and honestly, would you have it any other way?) , which I freely admit I purchased for under five bucks solely for the purpose of finally having Don Dohler’s Blood Massacre in my home video library,  and later decided, on an absolute lark, to watch some of the other shit included along with it because I was bored, that I discovered how completely and unforgivably negligent I had been in always passing up on this flabbergastingly unheralded gem of sickening, beyond-prurient, sub-gutter trash before now. David Schwartz, please forgive me. But stay away from all my female friends and acquaintances just the same.

As far as basic set-ups go, there’s nothing too remarkable going on here — travelling businessman Sam Butler (Levin, who looks vaguely like the bastard offspring of a Nicolas Cage/Adrien Brody/Scott Baio threesome, if such a thing were biologically possible) comes home to Las Vegas to find his insanely big-haired, and supposedly pregnant,  wife in bed with an off-duty sheriff’s deputy (who looks like a moonlighting porn star — come to think of it, so does she), shoots them both dead (not that we see a bullet coming out of the gun, or even any smoke, we just hear a canned shot as Sam points the revolver in their general direction), and then goes and hits the Strip, informing no one in particular apart from the audience along the way that all women are the same, they’re all whores, they all deserve to die — you know the drill. He then comes to the conclusion, again talking out loud to nobody else, that he’s going to teach a lesson to the next slut he sees walking the streets.

This being Las Vegas and all, his search doesn’t take too long, and soon he’s got a hooker (listed in the end credits as “The Hooker”) in the car with him. He berates her for a while but she’s a good sport and takes it (when a passer-by gives the two of them an ugly look and she asks “what’s his problem?” we get the aforementioned “daytime whores !!!!!” line), and even agrees to let Sam tie her up to what I assume is some sort of outdoor power-transformer thing behind a sleazy motel in broad daylight. Sam kills her, of course, thrusting a knife up through her throat and out her mouth (again, we don’t see the actual act of murder itself, but we do see the end result), then ropes  her corpse to the rear of his car by the leg, drives off — and rips her leg off rather than, you know, dragging her entire dead body behind him as logic would no doubt dictate (actually logic would probably dictate that he goes nowhere at all since “The Hooker” is still tied to the electricity-meter-or-whatever-it-is, which is secured to the building).After all that hard work, it’s time for a cold one, and Sam and heads for his favorite watering hole for a beer. Not content to merely be dragging a ripped-off body part behind his car, Sam also has his (now former, if we wanna be technical about it) wife’s head with him in the front seat (again, we never actually seem him decapitate her, but her mega-coiffed noggin is a constant companion to our Sin City psychopath for the rest of the flick) and brings it into the fucking bar with him! He orders two beers, we get that “one for me, and one for this bitch !!!!” line, and our guy Sam shoots the bartender in the head before he even fills the glasses. So much for that refreshment.
Next, things take a really bizarre turn, even by this movie’s warped standards. We’re thrust, out of nowhere, into the middle of a baby shower for a pregnant member of an apparently-extant-at-the-time traveling nightclub act known as the Beautiful Ladies of Oil Wrestling (BLOW, get it? Sure ya do), and the next 20-plus minutes of a barely-over-80-minute movie are spent watching, and listening to, these dull, interminably gossipy, for- the- most- part -decidedly-less-than-beautiful oil wrestlers. What do they do? What do they talk about? To be overly generous here — nothing and nothing. They have beer and donuts. They talk about how they can’t wait for their pre-recorded TV appearance from New York to come on in about an hour. They play the most mind-numbingly uninteresting game of “Truth or Dare” I’ve ever seen. A few of them try on bikinis — including the pregnant one (yes, you read that right — and just in case you were wondering, she actually is quite pregnant, unlike Sam’s wife, and yes, she’s listed in the end credits as “The Pregnant Woman,” even though she’s referred to by her name — Barbara — several times, so even the fucking credits in this movie have a decidedly misogynistic spin to them), they talk shit about “The Pregnant Woman” when she’s out of earshot (apparently she doesn’t know who the father of her baby is because she fucks every guy she meets — oh, they also call her fat, one of the girls even going so far as to say “somebody needs to harpoon that whale,” and evidently they all want to kick her off the team when she gets back from her maternity leave), they order a pizza, they watch themselves on TV when the show (finally!) comes on — all in all it feels like the movie’s been hijacked for about 1/3 of its total run time by a promotional video for BLOW — and not a very good one, at that. Most of the dialogue is quite clearly ad-libbed and it’s all so hopelessly tedious that it borders, albeit quite unintentionally of course, on the sublime.
And then, bang! Just when you’ve more-or-less-completely forgotten about him, Sam’s back in the picture. He ties the girls up and kills them one-by-one in true Richard Speck style, but Speck never had a flair for the dramatic like this! First up is “The Pregnant Woman,” and honestly, they should have saved her for last, because her murder is by far the most abominably spectacular. Whatever you convince yourself Sam’s not gonna do next, he does. You don’t think there’s any way he’s going to force her to strip out of her bikini, and yet he does it. You don’t think he’d possibly paw at and maul her pregnant tits, and yet he does it. You don’t think the idea would even occur to him to cut her swollen stomach open, and yet he does it. You don’t think he’d be twisted enough to pull the fucking fetus out of her, and yet he does it.  And finally, sick and twisted as this sorry fuck so obviously is,  you don’t think even he would then go so far as to throw said (and now dead) fetus against the bedroom wall, and yet he does it. Friends, in the whole sordid history of on-screen slaughter and mutilation, this scene takes the cake. This is the one that can’t be topped. This is the one that, blatantly unrealistic as it all is (and I guess the fact that the bedroom walls are coated with straight-from-the-ream rolls of heavy-duty paper rather telegraphs from the outset that things are gonna get pretty messy) forces you to just sit back in your chair and say to yourself “what the fuck am I watching here and why did they make it???????????” This isn’t just the bottom of the barrel, this is the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the barrel. You’ll never be the same, I promise.
How do you top that? Well, you don’t, and the movie’s subsequent murders, when they’re even shown, are pretty tame by comparison, although the very last one merits special mention for one reason and one reason alone, and it’s for this reason that I said that not just David Schwartz, but Ari Levin should be avoided like the plague by all members of the female of the species (I trust that the reasons for avoiding Schwartz are crystal-clear by now). Up to this point, Levin’s pantomime-level over-the-top scenery-chewing has been, shall we say, an interesting thing to absorb. Like writer-director Schwartz, it’s pretty clear he has no actual ability to perform his job (neither ever worked in the movies again after this, in case you were curious) — he just rants and raves to a quite-often-curiously-positioned camera. It’s really not even fair to call what he does acting since he quite obviously can’t act, which leads any rational viewer to wonder — just what the hell is he doing this for? It’s damn sure not the money. It’s not because he thinks it’ll launch a career for himself, unless he’s delusional. Could it be that he, as is apparently the case with Schwartz, whose more casual employment of downright nonchalant,  off-hand misogyny (think back to “somebody needs to harpoon that whale”) leads one to suspect that he’s well and truly not fucking kidding when he goes OTT with it as in the cutting-open-the-pregnant-chick scene (not to mention the fact that this is the only movie I know of where two pregnant characters, one supposed and one actual, are killed — the Manson family only killed one and we’re still talking about them) just plain gets off on this kind of twisted shit?
The answer, friends, is yes, and the final murder proves it. We start with Levin stripping down to his Zuba-style way-too-tight bikini briefs. Then we get the murder itself (I can’t even remember how it’s done). Then we have Sam setting his wife’s decapitated head next to the corpse. The we have him defy all known laws of science once again by merely ripping the poor unfortunate girl’s arm out of its socket. Then he licks the bloody stump-end of the arm and smears blood over his face and body. Then — moment of truth time — as Schwartz gives us a long, lingering, mid-range shot of the head on the bed, we see, off to the side, that there’s a bulge in Levin’s Zuba-shorts! And it ain’t prosthetic effects here, people, because a) that would cost money and b) trust me, you’d make that hard-on bigger. And that’s what makes both Schwarz and Levin, and ultimately Las Vegas Bloodbath itself, not just stupid, not just inept, not just tasteless, but downright sick. I sincerely believe that these two probably-friends are acting out some of their most twisted inner desires here. The proof is in the Zuba-briefs. I have no doubt that this movie was never “banned in over 20 countries!” as its decidedly homemade promotional poster (which makes me wonder if this thing wasn’t actually screened somewhere! Oh how I wish I’d been there, but honestly I don’t even remember ever seeing this on any video store shelves!), and in fact it probably hasn’t even been seen in 20 countries, but these guys might just belong on the Interpol “most wanted” list regardless.
The rest of the movie plays out in a fairly slapdash manner — a guy shows up at the door to help for who knows what reason and gets killed, a Jehovah’s Witness shows up and Sam lobs his head off by slamming it between the door and the frame in our final physically-impossible-but-for-some-reason-not-presented-in-a-tongue-in-cheek-manner murder, and then a cop (in street clothes since there was clearly no wardrobe department,  and who looks like another off-duty male porn star) breaks in and tries to save the day only to find blood, guts, and limbs spread all over the apartment, that dead fetus from a couple of scenes back lodged in the toilet, and Sam laughing his head off in a bathtub full of blood — then Sam shoots the supposed “cop,” closes his eyes, opens them again, looks directly into the Sony Betacam, and the credits roll.
If you’re not in a state of utter disbelief at this point, then you need to  check your pulse — as in, to make sure you still have one. This is twisted-beyond-the-ability-of-mere-words-to-describe DIY/SOV no-budget moviemaking at its most uncompromising. What Schwartz lacks in technical ability (and that’s a lot) he more than makes up for in sheer, unclean intent. While a couple of the effects guys who worked on this went on to do the same for Ted V. Mikles with The Corpse Grinders 2 (probably more due to Mikels’ proximity to the Las Vegas area than any actual skill on their part), there’s nothing  that is in any way even passable, much less believable, on offer here. It’s so incredibly poorly paced, with such rancid dialogue and acting, and shot in such a haphazard manner, with a script that makes more or less no concessions to conventionally-accepted notions of taste, morality, or even to actual physical reality itself,  that the only conceivable reason it could have been made is not because Brian Schwartz thought he could make a movie, but simply because he wanted to. And this is what he wanted to make.
  And God help me, that’s why I have an overwhelmingly queasy sense of admiration for this flick. The brazen temerity with which Schwartz  very publicly airs his psychic dirty laundry is an amazing thing to behold. Everything about his movie is sick and wrong, and he flat-out just doesn’t seem to give a fuck. With Las Vegas Bloodbath  he’s delivered a genuinely psychotic opus that doesn’t just push the envelope, or even rip it open — it denies its very existence and dares you to meet it, waaaaaay out here in the cold, unforgiving, wide-open expanse of its own reality,  where simple rules of right and wrong, even good and evil, no longer have any meaning. It represents the outermost limit. Beyond its blood-soaked marker lies only the empty void of nothingness and unexistence. This is the last cinematic frontier.
I urge you to explore it both immediately and at your own risk.

Are you having a rough day? Well, stop complaining, because Dennis Twist (Rick Crawford), the lead character in Portland-based indie auteur Christopher R. Witherspoon’s 2010 debut  shot-on-HD feature Rage is having a much, much worse one.

Dennis is a bit of a douchebag, and in addition to having a rather annoyingly disappearing-and-reappearing Scots (I think, maybe it’s Irish) accent, he’s been stepping out on his old lady, Crystal (Audrey Walker) with the admittedly-fetching-but-not-worth-risking-your-marriage-over Dana (Anna Lodej).  Still, today he woke up determined to do the right thing — he drove downtown, accidentally stole the parking spot of a guy dressed entirely in black riding a motorcycle, met up with his paramour, and called it quits, telling her that he still loved his wife. As well he should since, as we find out in a frankly atrociously scripted info-dump scene a bit later that takes the form of a conversation between Dennis and his best buddy who also happens to be his therapist, the Mrs. is basically supporting his ass while his once-promising-looking writing career slowly stalls out. Dana takes things pretty hard at first, but seems to come around rather quickly — perhaps too quickly — and Dennis is soon off to have that info-dump conversation and then head home and start treating his gal Crytal like the saint she quite obviously is.

Needless to say, things don’t quite go as expected, though, or else we wouldn’t have much of a movie here. That pissed-off biker (played by writer/director/videographer/editor Witherspoon himself), his face obscured underneath his black-tinted helmet, soon starts mercilessly harassing Dennis. It starts slowly enough, with tailing him at close range, slashing his car exterior with a rather imposing-looking knife, pulling up next to him at stop light and revving the engine — all the usual shit you might do to somebody for whom you’ve developed an instant and intense dislike  (or maybe that’s just me). Things quickly escalate, though, to the point where Dennis finds his fuel line’s been fucked with while he was inside eating. Then the biker beats the shit out of him. Then he follows him home and parks on his lawn. Then he breaks into his house. Then he beats the crap out of him again. Then he forces him to watch while he rapes his wife.

And then, of course, our brutalized-yet-still-intrepid couple manage to turn the tables on Mr. Asshole Motorcyclist and kill him. Roll Credits. Admittedly, the story itself here is a pretty straightforward re-hashing of Steven Spielberg’s classic Duel (a debt which Witherspoon pays homage to by having a couple of characters waiting around in the mechanic’s shop Dennis has brought his car into discussing the film) albeit on a much more intimate scale, and with a lot more bite (things really take a turn for the unexpectedly gory and frankly sadistic towards the end), but Witherspoon generally makes it all work — he utilizes inventive camera angles, his rapid-fire editing is confident and assured (and delivers a few genuine jump-out-of-your-seat moments), and he gets pretty solid performances out of an admittedly amateur cast. Overall, the high quality of the production values on display here are enough to convince you that this thing must have cost a lot more than its IMDB-reported $100,000 budget to make. And yet —

On some levels, there’s still no mistaking that this is pretty much a DIY effort (not that we consider that a bad  thing around these parts, quite the contrary). The most notable less-than-polished element in Rage is, unfortunately, the script itself. As mentioned previously, some of the dialogue is straight out of the “thank you for tuning into K-PLOT radio” school of scriptwriting, and while that can certainly be forgiven, the overall structure of the story itself is a bit more problematic and, for some, might even come across as being offensive. Early on Dennis comes to the conclusion that the guy on the bike must be Dana’s ex-con ex-boyfriend, who’s either taken to harassing him merely because he doesn’t like the fact that he’s been shagging his girl, or perhaps because she put him up to it as revenge for dumping her over her lunch break (never a classy move). Of course, the fact that we can never actually see the guy’s face is supposed to make we, the armchair geniuses in the audience, suspect that it’s probably someone else altogether, the problem is that there are really no good “red herring” candidates in the cast. As the biker’s attacks become far more personal and life-threatening, we’re naturally led to believe that this is somebody who hates Dennis’ guts for very deeply-held reasons, but without  any suitable characters to fill that role apart from Dana or Crystal themselves (and as the biker is quite clearly male, they’re out of the running), the whole “who the fuck is this” pseudo-mystery falls a bit flat.

Where things really gt questionable, though, is at the end — when the biker is raping Crystal, Dennis begs and pleads for him to leave her alone, as any right-thinking guy would. He also gushes about how sorry he is that he messed around with Dana, thinking of course that the biker just has to be her ex. Fair enough. ‘Bout time he developed a conscience. Yet when Dennis gets a call on his cell-phone, after their intruder has been — uhhhmmm — dispatched, informing him in no uncertain terms that it’s not her unnamed former lover because that guy violated his parole and is back in the slammer, this is treated as the film’s major “shock revelation.” Sure, it’s bad when some random psycho who, as it turns out, doesn’t know you at all and is just ruining you and your wife’s lives because you stole his parking space (and truthfully the film’s title telegraphs this “surprise” from the outset, since “rage” denotes  more a sort of random psychosis than a well-thought-out revenge scheme perpetrated by somebody with, at least in their own mind, a good reason to hate you — in that case the flick would probably be called Revenge) brutally rapes the woman who has devoted her entire life to your sorry, two-timing ass, but when you confess you’ve been having an affair to her when, as it turns out, you really never needed to do so — well, that’s apparently when your goose is well and truly cooked, it seems.

Look, I know story structure is a tough thing for first-time filmmakers, and I want to be clear that on the whole I think Rage is a well-thought-out, well-executed effort. I applaud Witherspoon’s obvious, and numerous, technical abilities. But any ending that asks us to have some degree of sympathy for a guy who, as he comes to see it, unnecessarily reveals he’s been having a fling to his wife after she’s the one who’s been raped, fer chrissakes, is one that maybe could use, dare I say it, a little bit of sensitivity training or something.  I know we suffer from an over-abundance of the, shall we say, phallocentric, viewpoint in the cinematic world, especially in the horror/thriller genre,  but this takes “telling things from the guy’s perspective” to a whole new (and, in Witherspoon’s defense, quite likely unintentionally, as this strikes me more as a byproduct of screenwriting amateurism rather than any purposeful misogyny on his part ) tasteless extreme.

 Still, on the whole, that admittedly major quibble (and, okay, a few minor ones) aside, Rage  is definitely a movie that shows a more-than-likely-quite-promising young talent honing his skills right before our very eyes.  It’s tense, at times surprising, capably acted, gorgeously shot, and a lot more professional than it probably has any right to be. It’s available now on DVD from Witherspoon himself, who’s doing a crackerjack job of promoting it all over the internet, and definitely deserves to be seen by all fans of truly independent, low-budget cinema. Find out more about it at http://ragethemovie.net, you’ll be glad you did.

One of the most stunningly beautiful films in recent years on a purely aesthetic level, Argentine director Lisandro Alonso’s 2008 offering, Liverpool, is the kind of film that many viewers will frankly find straight-up impenetrable due to its near-clinical austerity, yet it seems to linger in the mind for days, if not weeks, after you’ve seen it, and I freely confess to finding my own thoughts returning to it several times a day recently. Indeed, the spell it casts has me actively wondering if Alonso and company weren’t performing a cinematic act of ritual magick here, whether intentional or not, and while it couldn’t have less in common with the work of, say, a Kenneth Anger, it performs via means of  its minimalist subtlety a much more profound occult (in the strictest sense of the term) working than painstakingly outre fare of the Invocation Of My Demon Brother ilk.

The central character of the piece, a hard-drinking merchant sailor named Farrel (Juan Fernandez) deports his cargo vessel in Ushuaia, a port nearest-thing-to-a-city in Aregntina’s remote, almost-polar Tierra del Fuego region (Ushuaia is officially listed as the southernmost city in the world, I checked), and after spending an evening in town partaking in drunken debauchery, heads out to a distant logging camp to visit his ailing mother, who he apparently hasn’t seen in many years. As the trappings of the civilized world fall away, the parallels between Farrel’s interior and exterior journeys couldn’t be more apparent — he’s going further into his past, and by extension into himself, the further he goes out into the frozen, mountainous wilderness —but Alonso approaches his craft with such a precise sense of intentional distance, both visually and thematically, that you never feel like he’s drumming the point into your head, or even coming anywhere close to telling you what to think of his protagonist and the situation he’s immersing himself into, much less explicitly stating why.

This distance is something that I have absolutely no doubt many viewers are sure to find at the very least challenging, if not downright off-putting, and the film’s lack of dialogue (only The Artist has had less in recent years), lengthy, static takes (there are less than 80 shots total in the film), and insistence on filming everything at either medium or, more frequently, long range only compounds this sense of alienation from the central goings-on — so consider yourself duly warned : Liverpool is a film that quite literally dares you to get inside its hermetically-sealed interior universe.

Once Farrel arrives, he reacquaints himself, by a combination of both drunken accident and design, with a man named Trujillo (Nieves Cabrera), who has an undefined, though apparently quite close, relationship with Farrel’s aforementioned mother, and a severely mentally challenged young woman. While Alonso never specifically spells out just who this young lady is, and by this point you’re certainly not expecting him to, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out, nor to discern why she was born with her obvious developmental handicaps, and the implications are certainly less than pleasant — let’s just say that there aren’t too many women around at Tierra del Fuego logging camps and leave it al that. Still, the urge to cast  judgment is downright alien to this film, and Farrel is just shown going about his admittedly rather dubious activities through a sense of directorial detachment that’s both quietly, and breathtakingly, admirable.The film stages a rather dramatic, at least by its own starkly minimalist standards, turn when Farrel leaves and Alonso shifts his focus to the lives of the people at the camp and away from the guy who we thought this whole thing was about, but it’s certainly an effective transition, and fits in well overall with the film’s naturalist aesthetic — indeed, this feels much closer to unforced realism than anything I’ve seen in a long time and sometimes you have to actually remind yourself that this is a scripted story (albeit with probably a less-than-20-page screenplay) rather than a documentary, and when the movie ends with a lengthy take that finally reveals the source of its apparently-incongruous title, you’re left with all the questions you’ve had as the story progressed answered, even though Alonso never addressed any of them in anything like a direct fashion — frankly, to do so in a work of this nature would probably feel like an enormous cheat on his part, and there’s no need to worry on that score since if there’s one thing any viewer, whether they love this flick or hate it, can discern about his work, it’s that he certainly approaches it with a consummate level of , just to sound nauseatingly pretentious (go ahead, say it — again) for a moment, artistic integrity . The working complete, the spell is now cast, and I absolutely dare any thinking viewer to keep Liverpool (available as a bare-bones DVD release from Kino International with superb widescreen picture and 5.1 surround sound, and also, I’m told, in a more-recently-issued Region 2 version that does contain a selection of extras of some sort that I can’t fairly comment on not having seen it)  very far from their minds after having seen it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it never forces its way inside your head, it just happens, much like the film itself seems to, and its primary impact is well and truly felt afterwards rather than during its running. Like the most skillful of boxers, Liverpool lands punch after punch without you feeling it much at first, but three days later they throb and sting like hell and leave some extremely tender, sore, and swollen bruises. Its every-shot-suitable-for-framing visual beauty wraps the iron fist in a velvet glove, as the old cliche goes, but its tremendous impact is in no way lessened by its almost painfully graceful delivery.