Posts Tagged ‘david cronenberg’

AxFrWlU

 

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, it’s probably safe to say that David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is one of your favorite films of all time. You probably watch it several times a year and can recite lines from it by heart the way most people — well, okay, some people — can with Star Wars. It really is just that fucking good, isn’t it? I mean, when I think of a movie that I can never get bored of, and that I’m sure to pick up something new from every time I watch , I think of Videodrome (and a few others, sure, but that’s beside the point). Anyway, we all agree it’s a great flick, right?

Now — if you’re not a regular reader of this blog, or you are and, somehow,  haven’t seen it, Videodrome is the movie where James Woods plays an amoral cable TV executive who gets hooked on watching a pirated satellite show from (he thinks) southeast Asia that features nothing but torture and punishment. Little does he know the signal’s really coming from Pittsburgh, the broadcast is going out on a frequency that triggers hallucinatory impulses in the mind of the viewer, the people behind it are planning to use Woods and his cable station to essentially take over the world by hooking the populace on the frequency and then ushering in a new age of barabrism,  his girlfriend (played by Blondie lead singer Deborah Harry) is somehow involved in the whole thing (if she’s even real at all), and oh yeah — along the way he grows a vagina in his chest that has a gun hidden inside it, and his TV set grows a mouth and lips and starts breathing.

Okay, okay — there’s a lot more to it than that, but a brief recap is all that’s in order here because this review isn’t about Videodrome at all. There’s a line in it, though, that definitely strikes a chord when it comes to the movie we actually are here to talk about, though — when a TV show sales agent named Masha tries to warn Wood’s Max Renn character away from the whole Videodrome operation, she tells him “it has something which you do not, Max — it has a philosophy. That is what makes it dangerous.”

Which brings to mind the question — what if a filmmaker who had no philosophy decided to make a Videodrome-style movie about evil that emanated from a satellite TV signal? Well, that’s something we needn’t ponder over for too long, because it’s already been done — ladies and gentlemen, I give you 1986’s TerrorVision, a slapstick farce about a mutant trash-eating alien that accidentally gets beamed to Earth, ends up getting nabbed by a wealthy dysfunctional family’s new satellite dish, and ends up coming through their TV set and causing all sorts of mischief.

Symmetry-isnt-his-thing

What’s all this got to do with my “no philosophy” query, you ask? Easy. Whether you love David Cronenberg, hate him, or are indifferent to him, it’s safe to say that the mind behind not only Videodrome, but seminal works such as ShiversRabidThe BroodThe FlyDead Ringers and A History Of Violence — to name just a few favorites of mine — definitely has a philosophy. And it’s equally safe to say that Charles Band — the  ultra-low-budget producer extraordinaire  behind not only TerrorVision but such films as The AlchemistMetalstorm : The Destruction Of Jared-SynSubspeciesDollmanTrancers, and Puppet Master (again, to name just a few) doesn’t. Unless we’re counting ” get in, get out, try to get it all in one take, and whatever you do come in under budget!” as a “philosophy.” Which, I dunno, maybe it is — in which case Charles Band is one of the most “philosophical” minds Hollywood has ever produced.

TerrorVision 11

 

The story’s pretty much as I described it — the well-to-do-but-hopelessly-fucked-up Putterman clan, consisting of swinger parents Stanley (Gerrit Graham) and Raquel (cult icon Mary Woronov), rebellious teenage daughter Suzy (Diane Franklin), “good son” Sherman (Chad Allen),  and their survivalist nutcase/prototype Tea Partier grandpa named, well, Grampa, have one of those hopelessly huge-and-ostentatious early-’80s satellite dishes and they have no clue in the hell how to work the thing. Meanwhile, far off in space, an advanced alien civilization has come up with an innovative method for disposing of its garbage that we probably ought to give serious consideration to here on Earth sometime in the near future — they zap it down into pure energy and beam it off-world. There’s just one hitch in their latest — uhhmmm — “shipment,” though : they accidentally atomized (or whatever) a giant, garbage-eating mutant monstrosity along with the rest of their payload, and the beam he was zapping around the cosmos in got picked up by the Putterman’s dish.

Now, it’s going going to fall on this Ordinary People-on-crack family, together with Suzy’s metalhead boyfriend, O.D. (Jonathan Gries) and a low-rent Elvira knock-off named Medusa (Jennifer Richards, who certainly has the “real” Elvira —errrrmmm — “topped” in one department, if you can believe that) to save the Earth from the monster that came through the TV! Add in the obligatory “hijinx ensue” line and you’ve pretty much got TerrorVision wrapped up in a nutshell.

terrorvision medusa

 

Obviously, the only way to play this kind of thing is strictly for laughs (a phrase that’s always made as much sense to me as “this is funny stuff — I’m serious!”), and writer-director Ted Nicolaou — who would go on to helm all three Subspecies flicks for Band’s Full Moon Entertainment — does just that. This is sabsolute, OTT , farcical nonsense of the highest order, mixing equal parts dumbshit humor, fourth-wall-busting pantomime acting, and inventive-on-a-budget creature effects for a finished product that is by no means innovative or distinct, but sure is a lot of good, stupid fun. In fact, if you’re drunk and/ or stoned off your ass, I might even go so far as to say that this movie’s flat-out hilarious —but really, you needn’t be to enjoy it. I watched it sober as a judge last night and had a damn good time, even though I really should (okay, really do) know better.

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TerrorVision was just released on a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack from Shout! Factory’s new(-ish) Scream Factory imprint, where it’s paired with 1987 cult favorite The Video Dead. The remastered widescreen transfer looks phenomenally good, the sound is 2.0 stereo, and there are lots of special features (at least on the Blu — I can’t speak for the DVD as I haven’t popped that in the player yet), including a nice little “making-of” featurette, a full-length commentary track featuring writer/director Nicolaou and actors Franklin and Gries, and a fairly comprehensive poster and still photo gallery. Scream Factory, as we’re quickly coming to expect, has outdone themselves once again.

TERRORVISION

 

So, then, to take us back to our original question (or at least a convenient-for-the-purposes-of-my-wrap-up variation on it) : is there a philosophy behind TerrorVision? Abso-friggin’-lutely not. And that’s the best thing about it.

"Stigma" Movie Poster

In 1972, hot on the heels of his little-seen-at-the-time-but-now-recognized-as-the-undisputed-horror-classic-that-it-is I Drink Your Blood, a tale of a Manson Family-esque hippie clan that contracts rabies, writer-director David E. Durston was approached by then- fledgling producer Charles B. Moss, Jr. (who would go on to oversee the mood-horror masterpiece Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, among other films) to do another “viral outbreak”-type film, only this time to de-emphasize the more lurid elements and place the story on more firm socially-conscious ground.

In short, Moss wanted to do a serious film about an epidemic on an exploitation budget.

Durston went away to think things over and, spotting a back-of-the-page newspaper story about new strain of syphilis that appeared to be resistant to penicillin, decided that sounded like fertile ground for just the type of movie that Moss was looking for.

The result is Stigma, another fine entry in Durston’s all-too-short cinematic oeuvre that, like I Drink Your Blood, excels in the areas of mood, atmosphere, and characterization, and features some surprisingly fine acting from its (at the time) little-known cast.

In the lead role of  Dr. Calvin Crosse we have Philip Michael Thomas, who just over a decade later would go on to major television stardom on Miami Vice. Durston discovered Thomas playing a supporting role on Broadway and cast him immediately — a fortuitous decision as it turns out that he possessed the natural charisma and screen presence to literally carry this film on his shoulders.

Dreaming of the future and a co-starring role with Don Johnson

Our guy Dr. Crosse has just been released from prison, where he served a couple years for performing an illegal abortion (this was 1972, after all), and is on his way to Stilford Island, off the coast of Maine,  where his medical school benefactor, one  Dr. Thor, has sent for him to come and assist him with some mysterious project he’s been working on but can’t say too much about.

The good Dr. Crosse doesn’t seem to have much luck thumbing rides (again, this was 1972, and he’s black) though, until he meets up with a GI just returned from Viet Nam named  Bill Waco (Harlan Cary Poe), who just so happens to be from Stilford and is heading back home.

Stand-up guy that he is, Waco loans Crosse his extra army uniform and the two are soon offered a lift to the ferry they need to catch to reach the island, where Bill receives a hero’s homecoming and Calvin finds a bunch of local yokels who won’t even give a black guy directions to the doctor’s house.

When he does finally get there, though, he’s in for a second ruse surprise (the first being the inhospitable treatment of the natives, racism being a constant undercurrent in this film). Dr. Thor is dead, and Calvin’s essentially conscripted into taking over his practice and studying this mysterious outbreak he hints at in his notes and tape recordings.

In short order Calvin gets on the wrong side of the local redneck sheriff (appropriately named Whitehead and played with maximum relish by Peter Clune) and learns that the viral outbreak that his late instructor had discovered was a new strain of VD, namely a kind of super-syphilis, that’s showing up in some unlikely places — not only among the teens and twenty-somethings, as you’d expect, but also in the crazy old alcoholic lighthouse keeper!

Just how randy are the folks on this island, anyway?

We now pause to present a good old-fashioned VD scare film

It’s a testament to just how absorbing a sense of time and place Durston has created here that the movie can essentially take a breather at the halfway point for about five minutes to present an educational 16-mm VD scare film hosted by famed New York top 40 DJ “Cousin” Brucie Morrow and pick right back up where it left off with no loss of interest on the viewer’s part. So well-rounded are all of even the most minor characters that we still give a shot about what happens here despite the interruption — and anyway, it is actually a necessary one in terms of plot advancement.

Dr. Crosse naturally suspects that the source of the outbreak is the country whorehouse run by grizzled old madam Tassie (Connie Van Ess), but why does the sheriff’s promiscuous daughter (and Waco’s flame) D.D. (Josie Johnson) pay a midnight visit to Dr. Thor’s house? Why is the sheriff so determined to obstruct Dr. Crosse at every turn? And just how did that crazy old alcoholic lighthouse keeper come down with the disease?

Stigma plays its hand pretty close to its vest until the film’s riveting final act, when all is revealed in the lead-up to a very satisfying conclusion. Along the way we’re treated to plenty of gorgeous location footage of the Massachusetts coastline (sorry, there really is no Stilford Island, Maine), a downright compelling performance from Thomas that showcases a multi-faceted and highly skilled actor well worthy of the TV superstardom that was in his future, and believable and dare I say even intriguing turns from one and all of the supporting cast.

Stigma isn’t exactly a horror film per se, although one can’t help but think it had a marked influece on a very young David Cronenberg who would go on to mine similar terrain in his early films Shivers and Rabid, but it’s  certainly got enough gratuitous nudity to make it an easy sell to grindhouse audiences (although distributor  Cinerama did a crummy job of marketing it upon initial release and it probably didn’t turn much of a profit) and touches upon enough hot-button social issues to make it something of a “message” movie.

All in all, though, this critic would have to say that Stigma resembles, genre-wise,  a “medical thriller” above all, as its subdued atmosphere and strong characterization really do put a damper on the more obviously horrific elements of the story and the film instead accentuates the inner lives and working of its characters and their community. It’s a thoroughly satisfying viewing experience in every sense, unless you’re looking for another I Drink Your Blood.

Which certainly isn’t a bad thing to be in the market for, but Stigma isn’t it. And why should it be? Durston had been there and done that — with this film he proved his stylistic versatility by tackling similar themes in a completely different, but no less gripping, way.

"Stigma" DVD from Code Red

Stigma has just been released on DVD from Code Red, who have done their usual excellent job in terms of presentation and extras. The newly-restored anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer looks superb, with only minimal graininess in places, and the mono soundtrack is crisp and clean.  For supplements we’ve got an 18-minute on-camera interview with Durston, the theatrical trailer, a TV ad spot for the film, a selection of previews for other Code Red titles (under the heading “movies you probably won’t buy” — guess business has been even worse than I thought), and best of all, a feature-length commentary with Durston moderated by Jeff McKay and hosted by Code Red head honcho Bill Olsen.

As with his commentary on Grindhouse Releasing’s I Drink Your Blood DVD, Durston proves to be a gregarious and engaging raconteur, and while his memory is foggy in places and he obviously gets just flat-out confused from time to time, he’s still a lively and energetic storyteller and it’s a joy to hear his recollections, whether crystal clear or foggy.

Sadly, David E. Durston passed away at the age of 88 shortly after recording his extras for this DVD and missed won’t be here to see a new generation of exploitation fans turned on to this, his second-most-well-known work. He couldn’t ask for a more fitting tribute than the loving resotration that Code Red has brought to this film, though. It’s definitely one of 2010’s best DVD releases to date.

"The Human Centipede (First Sequence)" Movie Poster

There’s no getting around it : the premise of Dutch writer-director Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is enough to make any right-thinking person feel physically ill.

Hell, it’s enough to make any batshit insane person physically ill.

Those who experience this latest midnight movie phenomenon (also available through IFC On-Demand in both regular and high-definition on most cable systems as we speak) seem to fall into two camps : those who are revulsed by the movie’s premise of a mad doctor, known for separating conjoined twins  but who has apparently taken a turn later in life toward the additive, rather than the subtractive, side of  the human biological equation and now wants to attach three human beings together into one long centipede-like (hence the title) joined organism with a single gastric system, and those who find it so completely outrageous that they literally end up laughing at what they’re seeing unfold before their eyes.

Then again, they say laughter can be a pretty effective defense mechanism. And I can see why a person would want to erect some sort of psychological barrier between themselves and the events taking place in this flick. Because if you do, in fact, take the story seriously, it’s beyond unsettling —it’s downright nauseating.

Sure, on paper there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before — body horror is nothing new, in fact David Cronenberg made it a staple of his early career, and of course the whole mad scientist thing has been done a thousand times over.

But no mad scientist was ever quite as thoroughly, viciously evil as this film’s Dr. Heiter (portrayed with superb menace by German actor Dieter Laser), and even Cronenberg at his most sever and unrestrained never came up with a body horror concept quite so — well, quite so fucking horrific.

Simply put, if you find anything bout this movie to be actually enjoyable, it’s time to seek professional help immediately. Which is not to say it’s a bad film — it’s well-acted, superbly shot, economically paced, and exudes an air of controlled menace throughout. It definitely achieves what it sets out to do.

It’s just that what it sets out to do is so genuinely unpalatable and revolting that you hesitate to pat Six and his cohorts on the back for a job well done, even if it is just that.

I mean, where do we draw the line here on congratulating someone for achiing what they set out to do? “Good job killing that guy, the cops will never find a trace of evidence,” or “nice job on that rape, she won’t be conscious again for a week and there’s no way she’ll ever be able to identify you” aren’t exactly compliments, per se, are they?

And yeah — comparing The Human Centipede (First Sequence) to a murder or a rape might be taking things a bit far, but it’s definitely a full-fledged assault on your sensibilities, taste, and even morals. It’s an extremely confrontational piece of filmmaking that doesn’t offer to meet the audience halfway on anything — it essentially just dares you to keep watching.

Dieter Laser as the mad Dr. Heiter

As mentioned already, Laser is quite simply superb as the madman-du-jour of our story, Dr. Heiter. From the very first scene showing him looking at photos in his car of a single-file group of dogs sniffing out each other’s butts, you know something is just plain wrong with this guy, and the more Laser reveals about his character, and his character’s motivations, the creepier he becomes. I can’t imagine him at the end of a day’s shooting not wanting to take a shower first thing after spending eight hours or more inside this guy’s head.

The other characters are standard horror-movie tropes — Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie  as Lindsay and Jenny, respectively, are two good-time college girls partying away their summer in Europe who end up having their car break down on a stormy night and (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) stumbling upon the mad doctor’s home near the German black forest on foot in search of a telephone to use to call the European equivalent of AAA.  The bizarre conjoined-twin artwork adorning Heiter’s walls is enough to convince them that something is up with this cat, but before you know it they’re drugged and wake up as the middle and end sections of the evil genius’s titular human centipede, with the “lead” section occupied by stereotypical screaming ultraviolent Asian-student-also-on-holiday-who-can’t-speak-a-word-of-English Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura).

Vould you like somesink to dreenk?

It’s gotta be said that all three performers, though, raise their game to the next level, to employ a sickeningly overused sports cliche, when they find themselves centipede-ized (or whatever the word is) — with kneecaps busted, and mouths sewed onto the person in front of them’s anus, you automatically become a brave performer in my book. You’d think just about any agent worth his or her salt would advise their client to turn these roles down, but they all tackle the strange physicality required to move as a conjoined creature with an admirable amount of chutzpah and portray the shockingly debased creature they’ve become with sickening effectiveness.

The less said the better

And yeah, as I said before, The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (its follow-up —ummmm—segment, the Full Sequence, is now in pre-production) is definitely effective. This is a genuinely horrific work of cinematic fiction (thank God) that does everything that it sets out to do. Six’s skill as a screenwriter and director, and his actors’ ability as performers, is never in question here.

What is in question is exactly what we, as an audience, are really supposed to take away from this thing.

I know there are several indelible concepts and images here that I still can’t shake out of my head and probably never will. If that was Six’s goal — to provoke an immediate physical reaction followed by a lingering, perhaps permanent, psychological scar, he’s certainly achieved that. If he was aiming for anything other than that, though — well, he’s set up such a vicious assault on the senses (and sensibilities) here that attempting any further goals with the story is just plain impossible. It takes the film’s entire running time just to absorb the shock of what we’re seeing, and as I mentioned, even afterward it lingers in the mind — and quite unpleasantly at that.

In short, the “feel-good movie of the summer” this ain’t. But if you want to push your own limits as a viewer to what are, more than likely, their utmost fringes, this is definitely worth — shit, I dunno — subjecting yourself to.

I can’t say I’m actually glad that I saw The Human Centipede (First Sequence) — but I certainly won’t be forgetting it anytime soon.