Archive for March, 2013

Posted: March 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

My newest piece for Through The Shattered Lens website takes a look at the latest offering from Harmony Korine, “Spring Breakers.”

Through the Shattered Lens

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So, we’ve finally discovered what it takes for Harmony Korine to go mainstream — a couple of  established stars, a little T&A, and hey! — he’s in the club. Hell, he can even manage to get himself invited onto Letterman outta the deal — although apparently he can’t stick around for long. Still, the fact remains — long (hell, decades) after you’d given up on the very notion it would ever happen, Hollywood has opened its doors to the guy who gave us GummoJulien Donkey-Boy, and Trash Humpers. And truth be told, he didn’t have to dumb down his sensibilities all that much in the process.

Okay, yeah — Spring Breakers is full of Girls Gone Wild-type footage of hot young flesh parading around in bikinis (or less), muscle-heads partying in jock straps, beer bongs being poured on impossibly tight stomachs, impromptu lesbian make-out sessions…

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Posted: March 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

My newest piece for Through The Shattered Lens website looking at Fred Olen Ray’s forgettable “Alienator.”

Through the Shattered Lens

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Give Fred Olen Ray credit — the guy’s a survivor. While his name has never been attached to a genuine B-movie classic — although Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers definitely has its fans — he’s found a way to remain, if not exactly relevant, at least employed for decades now and has , according to official IMDB totals, written 56 films, produced 80, starred in 143, and directed a staggering 128! Granted, directing 128 movies isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds when most have two-or three-day production schedules, but still —

Anyway, Fred seems to be settling comfortably into the tail end of his career now helming SyFy network made-for-TV numbers and “Skinemax” fare such as Busty Housewives Of Beverly Hills, but back in the late ’80s/early ’90s the straight-to-video market was  wide open territory for low-budget mavens such as himself and he was more than willing to help blaze…

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By my reckoning, it’s been at least a month since we set our sights north of the border around these parts, so you know what that means — time to look at another ’80s Canadian slasher flick lest we don’t make our entirely unofficial quota.  And one that I’ve definitely been remiss in not covering previously is director Paul (Prom Night) Lynch’s reasonably-regarded 1982 effort Humongous, a film that certainly isn’t hailed as a classic by any means, but definitely has its partisans out there and seems to have generated a bit more buzz around it within the last year or so given its first official — and uncut — DVD release from Scorpion at part of their “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” series. But more on that in a minute, let’s have a gander at the movie itself first —

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So, the story goes — and we’ve got the opening flashback scene to “prove” it! — that back in the late 1940s, a wealthy young socialite-in-training was savagely raped outside a party her family was throwing on their private island. Eventually one of the family’s rabid-looking dogs shooed her attacker off, but by then it was far too late to save our damsel’s virtue — but not too late for the island to get itself a new name out of the deal, and it’s been referred to as “Dog Island” ever since. Fast-forward to the then-present day and five completely obnoxious asshole rich kids, who are staying on another island nearby, are out getting wasted on one of their daddy’s boats when said boat runs aground on the other island where the (surprisingly quite long and brutal) earlier sexual assault took place. What’s it called again? Oh yeah, Dog Island!  Needless to say, the scions of privilege soon begin disappearing one by one under mysterious circumstances even though the mansion and all other grounds as far as the eye can see look to be, for all intents and purposes,  completely abandoned. They sure do hear a hell of a lot of barking and wailing though —

Okay, if all of this sounds more than a touch derivative, I guess it is, but Humongous definitely has more in common, both thematically and stylistically, with exploitation fare from its own country — Rituals in particular — than it does with, say, Halloween  or Friday The 13th, and it’s not afraid to bend — or even break! — some of the standard slasher tropes, such as with its decision to portray all of its principal characters, even “final girl” Sandy Ralston (Janet Julian, who turns in a far more credible acting performance than her peers, who struggle mightily in the credibility department almost from start to finish) as completely unlikable, unsympathetic, spoiled-beyond-belief brats, and Lynch makes a curious about-face maneuver when, after a pretty harrowing opening sequence, he opts to go the essentially bloodless route when the story shifts to the here and now ( again,circa 1982, mind you).

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As you can not-so-plainly see from the image above, though, one of the aspects of this flick that actually isn’t all that interesting — in fact, it gets pretty old pretty fast — is how goddamn dark everything is. It’s almost as if the lighting was handled by a crew of hopeless amateurs (which, for all I know, maybe it was). It works out okay at first in terms of establishing a foreboding atmosphere and all, but when it comes time for heads to roll and limbs to break, it would be nice to at least partially be able to see what the hell is going on, and this aggravation is compounded by the fact that when we can tell what’s happening, cinematographer Brian R.R. (no, that’s not a typo) Hebb’s camerawork is actually quite moody and effective. Who knows what cool stuff we’re missing out on?

Needless to say, it turns out that it’s not wild dogs doing in the rich little shits, but something far worse — what that “something” is I won’t spell out too explicitly in case any of you haven’t seen this thing, but again, once the killer is (semi)-revealed, it really is a shame we can’t see more of it/him, because it/him seems to be pretty decently realized, especially for a two-million-Canadian-dollars feature.

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Still, as far as gripes go, that’s about it — on the whole Humongous is surprisingly entertaining slasher fare that manages to stick to the rules closely enough to be credible, while breaking them with enough frequency to genuinely keep you guessing. I’m not planning a trip to rural Ontario anytime soon, but if I were this film packs just enough of a punch that I might think twice about it. No mean feat for a story marred by some pretty lame performances and that’s so dimly lit  you can barely  make out what’s going on half the time.

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Now, about that Scorpion Releasing DVD hosted by Katarina Leigh Watters I mentioned at the outset. It’s pretty damn good. The widescreen transfer seems fairly solid given the, shall we say, challenging source material, the mono sound does the job just fine, a rather worse-for-wear original theatrical trailer is included, we’re graced with Watters’ standard intro/outro bits, and the former WWE “diva” hosts a very lively and entertaining full-length commentary track with Lynch, screenwriter William Gray, and DVD Delirium author (and Mondo Digital webmaster) Nathaniel Thompson. A brief alternate version of the pre-title sequence rounds out a fairly comprehensive little package.

I certainly wasn’t blown away by Humongous or taken aback by its unexpected awesomeness or anything of the sort, but I did find myself silently nodding my head in appreciation on several occasions and certainly never got bored even if the pacing is a bit on the deliberate side. It’s definitely one I can see myself popping in the player every once in awhile when the right mood strikes me, and that’s a solid — if modest —accomplishment in and of itself, so there ya go.

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Give Survivor credit — they only had one hit (at least that I can remember), but they sure did milk it for everything it was worth. For a good few years there, “Eye Of The Tiger” was absolutely everywhere, wasn’t it? Rocky III was only the beginning — the song went on to appear in countless commercials, it was on the radio all the fucking time (peaking at number one on the Billboard charts, where it remained for a good couple of months), and in 1986 it even got itself a movie written around it a la Convoy and Take This Job And Shove It —a jaunty little Death Wish/Walking Tall -style revenge number starring Gary Busey and directed by Richard C. Sarafian of Vanishing Point fame.

That’s a pretty solid record of accomplishment for a song that, let’s face it, sucked. But we’re not really here to talk about the song, are we? So let’s get down to bid’ness.

Tough-ass-but-kind-hearted Viet Nam vet Buck Matthews (Busey, in fine form here as you’d probably expect), having just done a nickel upstate for justifiably killing a man in self-defense, returns to his hometown only to find it overrun by a sadistic motor cycle gang that is cooking up crack on the outskirts of town. His parole officer, the local sheriff who sent him away on his bogus beef in the first place (Seymour Cassel),  just so happens to be on the take from the gang’s leader, one OTT hard mofo who goes by the handle of Blade (William Smith, veteran of pretty much every AIP biker exploitation flick), so even though Buck’s seething with rage at the injustices happening to his townsfolk on a daily basis, he’s gotta keep himself outta trouble. Still, when he “steps out of line” by saving a young damsel from being raped by a rowdy n’ randy handful of Blade’s men, the psycho bikers and their kept cop figure it’s time to teach ol’ Buck a lesson.

You can guess the rest, I’m sure — they bust into his house, kill his wife, traumatize the shit out of his daughter, and Buck swears to bring ’em all down. He’s gotta get some help, of course, and fortunately “good cop” J.B. Deveraux (the legendary-for-good-reason Yaphet Kotto) is willing to lend a hand in bringing down his boss and the “wild riders” who pay him to not only look the other way, but provide them with protection and even chip in with their law-breaking when necessary.

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Still, two against dozens is a pretty uneven fight, but before you go and figure that mathematics isn’t exactly one of Eye Of The Tiger‘s strong suits, rest assured — Buck’s former cellmate, a Miami drug kingpin, is willing to help the fellas out by providing all the heavy-duty ordnance they could ever possibly need, and while you might be tempted to scratch your head over not only the morality but the logic of utilizing the ill-gotten gains of a massive drug-running organization to bring down a much-smaller-time drug-running organization, rest assured that the ensuing mayhem — which includes piano-wire biker decapitations and burying a bad guy’s head in a pile of cocaine — will entertain you so much that you won’t be worrying about such pesky little details.

On the plus side, this is a well-done, stereotypical blue-collar revenge flick with some terrifically-shot-and-paced action sequences, fun cardboard characterization (Buck’s impassioned speech about his days in ‘Nam delivered at a bingo hall is a personal favorite moment), and plenty of kick-ass murder and general violence. The actors are all having an obvious blast delivering their corny-as-shit lines and Sarafian does a great job of keeping the proceedings light while obviously still being concerned about delivering a quality product.

On the minus side, the theme song is played over and over again incessantly. But what the hell — you made it through 1983 and 1984, when you couldn’t even get through a day without hearing snippets of it at least a dozen times even entirely by accident, so you can sure as shit do the same thing here. Eventually it just kind of harmlessly blends into the background of the film, just as it kind of  harmlessly blended into the background of life itself for awhile there.

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Eye Of The Tiger is available on DVD a couple of different ways — either as a stand-alone release from MGM that features a nicely-remastered widescreen picture and mono sound with no extras or, better yet, as part of Shout! Factory’s “4 Action-Packed Movie Marathon” two-disc set that just came out last week. B-Movie fans are all over this one (even though it’s also a bare-bones release with the same picture and sound specs) for a couple of reasons, one being that it retails for under ten bucks, the other being that it finally marks the long-awaited release of Exterminator 2 in a post-VHS format. Needless to say, buy this now or you’re an idiot.

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I suppose at this point that you might be thinking to yourself — quite understandably — that this flick essentially sounds like Death Wish 3 on steroids, and you know what? You’re exactly right. That might sound kinda unoriginal and hackneyed to the sophisticated cineastes of the world, but to me it sounds like a recipe for guaranteed awesomeness.

You got a problem with that?

Posted: March 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

My latest piece for Through The Shattered Lens website, on Ray Dennis Steckler’s “The Las Vegas Serial Killer.”

Through the Shattered Lens

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As we painstakingly established around these parts a few days back, The Hollywood Strangler Meets The Skid Row Slasher was not exactly Ray Dennis Steckler’s finer hour (okay, hour and ten minutes). It’s a definite head-scratcher of a movie, to be sure, but as mind-bogglingly weird as Steckler’s idea to shoot a silent slasher flick on a budget of $1,000 in 1979 was, that decision seems positively logical in comparison to his decision to actually make a sequel to said silent $1,000 slasher flick seven years later!

Still, in 1986, for reasons known only to the the pseudonymous “Cash Flagg” himself, that’s exactly what he did. Sort of. I think.

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The setup here is, as you might expect, something of a puzzler in spite of its simplicity. Pierre Agostino is back as our strangler, but he’s called “Johnathan Glick” rather than “Johnathan Click,” and his stomping grounds have changed from…

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Posted: March 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

My latest piece for Through The Shattered Lens website on Ray Dennis Steckler’s “The Hollywood Strangler Meets The Skid Row Slasher.”

Through the Shattered Lens

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Sometimes, it’s almost impossible to know where to begin. Watching cult auteur Ray Dennis Steckler’s less-than-no-budget/dual-slasher mash-up The Hollywood Strangler Meets The Skid Row Slasher feels like a step back in time to the late 50s/early 60s, when ultra-cheap productions like The Creeping Terror and The Beast Of Yucca Flats were shot not only without sound, but with what sound was dubbed in later in post-production coming primarily in the form of voice-over narration, since the producers were too stingy and/or lazy to match up dialogue with actors’ moving mouths and only wanted to have to hire one person to tell their “story” anyway.

There’s just one wrinkle — Steckler (under his often-used “Wolfgang Schmidt” pseudonym) made this thing in 1979, hoping for a quick cash-in on the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween and the fly-by-night slasher genre that was then burgeoning in its wake! Honestly, by this point…

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“The word is necrophilia — We’re quite normal people, we just have different — passions.” — Funeral Director Fred McSweeney (Timothy Scott), from 1973’s Love Me Deadly

Honest to God, it’s hard to think of any form of aberrant sexual behavior more frowned upon, ridiculed, and just plain loathed by society at large than corpse-lovin’. Somebody into animals, little kids, being pissed on, shit on, stepped on, or even eaten alive is likely to get more respect than your average necrophile, and yet ya gotta ask yourself — as far as weird ways of getting your rocks off go, what could be more harmless? Talk about a truly victimless crime — the “person” being “violated” is already dead,  what the fuck do they care?

All of which is not to say that your humble host is in any way suggesting that necrophilia is healthy behavior by any stretch of the imagination — it’s pretty damn creepy and incomprehensible, and weird as it may sound, to the extent that there are any actual “necros” out there, my first inclination is to feel profoundly sorry for the lot of ’em. It’s gotta be the most lonely, desperate sort of sexual need imaginable. Plus, your “lovers” usually aren’t gonna smell to good. On the plus side, however, awkward, post-coital “small talk” isn’t a skill you need to worry about perfecting.

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Naturally, in the free-wheelin’, anything-goes days of 1970s exploitation cinema, any subject this taboo was bound to be one that some enterprising B-movie maestro would latch onto in the hopes of wringing a few bucks from an always-shock-hungry public, and in 1972  first (and, as it turns out, only)-time producer Buck Edwards got together with first (and, again, only)-time writer/director Jacques LaCerte (who was actually, believe it or not with a name like that, from Arkansas) to indulge the curiosities of the most morbid cineastes of the day with a little shot-in-13-days-on-$42,000 number called Love Me Deadly that would make its way into the grindhouses and drive-ins our nation was still blessed with in January of the following year.

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Beautiful young (although hardly 18, as the poster claims, but whatever) trust-fund baby Lindsay Finch (Mary Wilcox) has a problem — she’s got an extremely unhealthy father-fixation that obviously veers well into incestuous territory. She’s tried to have normal relationships with other southern California wealthy layabouts, most notably the Ken Doll-esque Wade Farrow (Christopher Stone), but nothing ever works out. These guys just can’t measure up to daddy dearest. There’s just one problem  — well, okay, one problem in addition to the fact that the guy she’s in love with is her own father : daddy’s dead, and has been for a long time.

Lindsay has recently taken it upon herself to do what, I guess, anybody in her situation would — she’s begun to troll the newspapers for funeral notices and spend her days hopping from one memorial service to another, waiting for everyone else to leave so that she can spend a private moment alone with the deceased. One of the more amazing things about this flick is seeing how she dresses for her “funeral dates” — all in black, of course, usually with a veil and hat, but her dresses are short and form-hugging, almost as if she’s trying to impress the guy in the casket. Yes, friends, it’s fair to say that in the entire history of emotionally-confused female movie leads, Wilcox’s Lindsay ranks right up near the top.

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One day, though, while at a complete stranger’s wake, our forlorn young semi-heroine meets a real, living, breathing human being who awakens something within her — art gallery owner, and brother of the deceased, Alex Martin (popular “young buck” Lyle Waggoner of The Carol Burnett Show and Wonder Woman fame). Alex doesn’t spend too much time grieving over his loss, as he’s too busy pursuing Lindsay, and soon she’s shuffled poor ol’ Wade to the back of the deck in favor of this suave n’ charming newcomer.  To his credit, Wade doesn’t seem to take it too hard (hey, it’s Lyle Waggoner, how ya gonna compete with that?), as in one of the film’s numerous “musical-montage” sequences he’s seen double-dating at a Benihana with another girl with Lindsay and Alex on the other side of the table, but he never can seem to get the haunted-by-he-knows-not-what blonde socialite out of his head completely. Little does he suspect that the real reason Alex has won the rather open competition for her affections is because he reminds her of dear, dead dad.

Wade’s continued low-level obsession with her will prove to be his undoing, though, as in between all those quasi-romantic, dialogue-free montages (keep in mind that this is a movie that has its own, I shit you not, love theme) Lindsay has made some new friends. Mortician Fred McSweeney (Timothy Scott) has noticed her showing up for a lot of his viewings and, figuring she might be a kindred spirit, he takes the plunge and invites her to join his local necrophiliac cult. Hell, in the letter of introduction he mails to her, he even invites her to bring a friend along to their next “meeting” if it would make her more comfortable!

Fred’s a bit of an odd case, it must be said, even for a corpse-fucker — it seems that when he hasn’t got enough fresh meat in the freezer at his funeral home, he’s not averse to going out and getting some! In one particularly memorable — and, frankly, shocking — early scene we see him picking up a young male hustler, bringing him back to the (for lack of a better term) office, tying him down to a morgue slab, and pumping him full of embalming fluid while he’s still alive and kicking! This being 1973, of course, you could explicitly show one of your characters being a necrophiliac, but you’d better not even hint that he’s queer, so later in the film we see Fred, or “Greg” as he calls himself when he’s out on the prowl, cruising the strip for female flesh as well. It appears, then, that he’s an equal-opportunity necro, and he’ll take a crack at anyone, male or female, as long as they’re dead.

Lindsay’s shocked and sickened by her own desire for cold, clammy, lifeless flesh at first, but she soon finds herself drawn back to more corpse-bangin’ conclaves at the back of Fred’s funeral parlor (even though all these people really should wise up and pick a new de facto group leader because McSweeney always leaves his front door unlocked!), and when Wade discreetly tails her care one evening and finds her there, he quickly finds himself next on the slab of carnal pleasure.

Again, though, he needn’t take it too hard — a few montages and a quick marriage later, Lyle Waggoner makes the same mistake. Intercepting a registered letter for his new bride from McSweeney’s Mortuary (as opposed to Quarterly Concern — raise your hand if you got that reference) he examines the contents of the envelope and decides to surreptitiously follow the Mrs. to this “meeting” mentioned in the missive. Lindsay’s been as unresponsive as a , well, corpse in bed and Alex figures she might be stepping out on him. Little does he suspect, of course, what she’s really up to in her spare time —

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On the bright side, by film’s end Lindsay does, finally, meet the man of her dreams — and in a nod to traditional values, it turns out that it’s the guy she’s already married to!  On the minus side, at least for Lyle Waggoner, he’s dead. After rudely — but, let’s be honest, understandably — interrupting his wife mid-coitus, McSweeney dispatches him just  as his lackeys did Wade, and then “prepares” his body for Lindsay’s — uhhmmm — enjoyment. For reasons I absolutely can’t fathom, he’s trying to cut one of Alex’s fingers off when Lindsay approaches her marital bed  — this time with considerably more spring in her step than when hubby was, ya know, alive an’ all — and gets a statue busted over his head for his trouble, but apart from that, in between the (yet more) flashback montages that finally show why Lindsay’s so obsessed with her father’s passing ( an actually effective little plot twist) it appears that she and Alex are finally ready to live — and die — happily ever after. She’s found her husband, father figure, and dream lover, all wrapped up in one perfect, unbreathing, unfeeling, unliving package. She curls up next to his corpse and coos like a little girl as the credits roll.

To their credit, LaCerte and Edwards certainly aren’t squeamish about their subject matter here. The title credits on both versions of the flick’s theatrical trailer — included as a DVD extra  (along with a fairly fascinating full-length commentary from Edwards that he recorded shortly before his death in 2007 where he reveals, among other things, that all of the extras in the film were members of the Los Angeles area Church of Satan, and were recruited into the production in exchange for a “small donation” to their organization) on the original Code Red/Media Blasters/Shriek Show joint release of the film (it’s since been re-released by Code Red as part of their “Maria’s B-Movie mayhem” line hosted by former WWE starlet Maria Kanellis, where it’s paired with The Curious Case Of The Campus Corpse — both versions feature a pretty-nicely-remastered widescreen picture and solid mono sound, and both mark the only complete and uncut home video iterations of the film, but the double-bill doesn’t have the extras) state, in no  uncertain terms , “Love Me Deadly — A Film About Necrophilia (The Sexual Desire For A Corpse),”  but to their discredit (although it’s probably fair to say that most of the blame here lies with director LaCerte), they have absolutely no idea how to play this material.

You would think — as Jorg Buttgeriet did the next time any movie had the balls to tackle this subject, well over 20 years later — that necrophilia would be pretty fertile ground for either genuinely grim psychological horror or a completely OTT horror-comedy hybrid, but in Love Me Deadly it’s presented as Lifetime Movie Of The Week or ABC After School Special material! The aforementioned trailers invoke Hitchcock’s Psycho, but in a movie overflowing with flowery montages and a repetitive love theme, it’s pretty clear that LaCerte’s biggest stylistic influence here was Love Story, with the only difference being that one of the lovers isn’t dying — he’s already dead!

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The end result, as you can well imagine, is a pretty incongruous affair — morbid exploitative subject matter played out as bog-standard 1970s doomed romance is certainly nothing that’s been tried anywhere else before or since — but it’s also an unforgettable one, despite LaCerte’s dull point-and shoot style and the script’s insistence on going back to the same well in more or less exactly the same fashion for both its principal murders. I can certainly see why contemporary audiences were shocked shitless by this thing, and why modern ones continue to be. It’s simply entirely unlike anything else ever made, and despite the director’s best efforts to wrap a velvet glove over his subject matter’s iron fist, it still packs one hell of a punch. It’s about a lonely, desperate necrophile, for Christ’s sake — there’s no way you can make it very “cozy” and ‘warm” no matter how hard you try. If you’re in the mood for a genuinely unforgettable — and, yeah, unpleasant — movie experience, you need to see this as close to immediately as possible. And if you’ve already seen it but it’s been a few years, now would be the perfect time to give it another go and remind yourself  exactly why it blew you away in the first place.

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Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw taught us that “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” In Love Me Deadly, Mary Wilcox and Lyle Waggoner teach us that the perfect lover is one you never have to say anything to at all.