Posts Tagged ‘fred borges’

The unfortunate few still dim-witted enough to romanticize the Reagan era talk about 1980 as the year everything changed — and they’re right, though it wasn’t in any positive sense. “Morning in America” had arrived, no doubt — if you were rich and not afflicted with too strong a conscience. For the rest of us, though, the process of essentially farming the middle, working, and lower economic classes that continues unabated to this day really began in full swing with the election of “Uncle Ron,” and while terms such as “yuppies” and “leveraged buyouts” were still a good few years from entering into the popular lexicon, Long Island Super-8 auteur Nathan Schiff was one of the first to see the ugly new writing on the wall  and his sophomore back-yard horror effort, Long Island Cannibal Massacre, captures the angst with which many were greeting America’s supposed “return to glory.”

Granted, there’s only so much political allegory one can fit into a flick with a $900 budget, and those who choose to willfully ignore the anti-elitist subtext on display here can do so pretty freely and just kick back and watch a particularly nasty piece of homemade gore cinema. Schiff’s socio-political sermonizing isn’t exactly subtle by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s always going to come in second on a “things I noticed about this movie” checklist when we’ve got stuff like lawnmowers running over heads, faces and bodies being torn into bare-handed a la Herschell Gordon Lewis, and five-minute chainsaw duels commanding our attention.

Nevertheless, you can’t really deny that there are some pretty obvious to parallels to then-contemporary (and, frankly, still contemporary) reality in a story that revolves around a rich clique of Long Island “high society” elitists that have returned from a big-game-hunting expedition in Africa carrying a new and highly powerful strain of leprosy that has stricken them with an insatiable taste for human flesh and blood and who then hire some of the island’s more “undesirable” elements, including a couple of disaffected bikers, to procure food for them by any means necessary from amongst their own lower economic “caste,” can you? Didn’t think so.

Now, whether or not Schiff chose to really — and I do mean really — up the ante in the gore department over his debut effort, Weasels Rip My Flesh, as a way of  displaying in the most stark and unforgiving terms possible the economic violence being perpetrated upon the lower classes by the wealthy, or he did so simply to show off how much better (relatively speaking, mind you — it all still looks pretty damn fake, and around here that’s a compliment) he was getting at these DIY effects is an open question, so it’s possible that he may have furthered the less-than-disguised political allegory in his script essentially by accident just because he felt like pulling out all the stops on the blood, guts, and innards scale.  Nevertheless, whether he intended to or not, he’s certainly delivered what more or less amounts to a no-budget primal scream of deep-seated anxiety against the formative stages of America’s new “me first” mindset.

Oh, sure, there’s still plenty of shit going on here that makes absolutely no sense — why the leader of the cannibal clan has evolved (or maybe that should be de-volved) into some sort of monstrous creature, why his son, Jack (Schiff regular Fred Borges) is so eager to help his old man out, why lawnmowers can run over human heads without jamming up, and why the character of ex-cop-turned-private-investigator James Cameron (yes, really! ), the “head honcho” when it comes to sleuthing out these cannibal murders,  changes so completely and without explanation about 2/3 of the way through the film (then again, maybe that’s just down to the always-less-than-capable acting of fellow Schiff “stock player” John Smihula), but hey, just because ol’ Nathan has chosen to inject some political commentary into the proceedings doesn’t mean we need to go and start over-thinking things too much, does it? The key order of business here is still stupid, lower-than-low-budget fun, after all.Still, it’s nice to see a guy of Schiff’s considerable pluck decide to marry something of a message to his blatantly obvious madness, and thanks to the folks at Image Entertainment, this early piece of decidedly gruesome extremely-early-Reagan-era-nervousness has been preserved for posterity on DVD. The remastered full-frame picture is still incredibly grainy and choppy and the remastered stereo (if you can even believe that!) sound is often wildly uneven, but hey, that’s par for the course (Schiff would probably kill me for using that golf analogy) for super-8 films shot for less than a thousand bucks. For extras, we’ve got a Schiff interview that runs about 15 minutes, a Smihula and Borges interview of about equal length, a feature-length commentary track from Schiff that’s occasionally a bit tedious but mostly pretty interesting, and trailers for this and the other two Schiff titles available under the “Cult Cinema Collection” banner. Given that the actual movie itself runs a full 92 minutes, easily making it the longest of Nathan Schiff’s super-8 less-than-epics,  on the whole you get a considerable amount of bang for your buck here.

For those who think I might be reading just a little too much into things here, rest assured, Nathan Schiff’s next cinematic venture into the Long Island wilds, 1985’s They Don’t Cut The Grass Anymore, only reinforces, with less plot and even more gore, the themes he explores here. By then, the “yuppie era” was in full swing and our guy Nate was even more pissed off about the whole thing. But as an early slice of homemade “rage against the machine,” Long Island Cannibal Massacre ain’t half-bad stuff. It’s nonsensical and incompetently-executed on the whole, sure, but it’s also inventive, honest, completely unpretentious, and frankly even a little bit ahead of its time. I’m not saying Schiff’s a modern-day Nostradamus or anything, but he could read the tea leaves and see which way things were heading, and he was one of the first to stand up and say “hey, wait a minute here, these rich SOBs are ripping us all off.” The fact that he chose to slather copious amounts of ultra-cheap gore on top of his rather prescient message is just a nice little bonus.

Try showing this movie at an “Occupy” meeting — it’ll probably be quite warmly received. Hell, if you’re part of the Long Island chapter, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Nathan Schiff himself was even a member.

As a movie viewer, there’s a certain kind of moment that I absolutely live for. It’s not a “damn, this is incredibly good” moment, although those are okay, too. And it’s not a “holy shit, this is awful!” moment, although I’m partial to those, depending on my mood, as well. No, friends, what I prize above all, and it happens all too rarely, are those “dear God, what the fuck am I watching???????????” moments. You know what I mean — those instances where a flick is just so ineptly realized, bizarrely thought-out (assuming it’s thought out at all), or utterly incomprehensible that you feel the person or persons responsible for said film are  either a) brain damaged, b) transported here from not just another planet but an entire other dimension , c) haven’t even seen, much less learned anything from, any other movies, or d) any combination thereof. Rest assured — Long Island zero-budget autuer Nathan Schiff’s 1979 super-8 debut feature,” Weasels Rip My Flesh, is jam-packed with more of these type of instances than any and all known laws of science would dictate that its meager 67-minute runtime could possibly allow for.

Where to even begin? Well, how about some background on Schiff himself. At the time of this film’s amazingly slapdash, flying-by-the-seat-of-its-pants production, he was a high school senior whose sole “qualification” — not that any are necessary — for directing a monster movie was that — well — he loved monster movies and had a super-8 camera. And, apparently, if the title of his little opus is any indication, he was a pretty big Zappa fan, as well. I guess that never hurts, right? Proceeding with (a whole lot) more balls than brains, he cast friends and relatives in all the parts,  made some papier-mache creature costumes, and headed out to his parents’ back yard and other nearby locales to shoot a story about — radioactive slime from Venus that crashes to Earth in a space probe and infects a rabid weasel that turns into a huge mutant creature with a taste for flesh n’ blood.

Oh, sure, there’s more to it than that — but not much more. Two government agents are investigating the case, a mad scientist is experimenting with the weasel’s blood, the sidekick-type agent gets some of said weasel blood injected into him by aforementioned mad scientist and turns into some kind of half-man/half-weasel thing that really looks more like a walking carrot, before it turns mutant the weasel bites a local madman-type who proceeds to assault a drunken college girl — but shit, none of that matters. What matters here is watching how Schiff uses his total budget of $400 (yes, you read that right).

We’ve got a lab that doesn’t look anything like a lab, a couple of monsters that would get laughed off the stage at a special education elementary school production, props haphazardly assembled in extremely — uhmmm — creative ways (look for syringes in a beer stein among other delights), all in service of a script that was completely ad-libbed (characters appear and disappear without explanation in several instances). It all looks — and more importantly feels — like the product of some desperate, lunatic mind with no awareness of its own inabilities or limitations.

All of which means, of course. that I love it to pieces — and yet if Schiff had his way I’d probably never even have seen it. In his defense, he knew he was just making stupid, outlandish stuff here. The whole idea was to show the finished product to the very same friends and family who helped him make it and they’d all sit back and have a good laugh. But somehow, just somehow, a good 30-plus years before YouTube or other “viral” video sensations, this thing got around. It started being shown at regional horror-movie and science fiction-geek get-togethers (they didn’t even really call them conventions or film festivals back then) around the East Coast at first, and from there it just sort of took off. VHS dubs of the original 8mm print made their way westward in the early days of home video, word of mouth about this (admittedly minor) cult phenomenon spread,  and Schiff himself eventually managed to negotiate an (again,admittedly minor) distribution deal for an official videotape release. And rather than shy away from what you or I might consider a youthful cinematic indiscretion, if not an outright embarrassment, our guy Nathan just sort of ran with it for awhile. He would go on to make two other super-8 oddities, 1980’s Long Island Cannibal Massacre and 1985’s They Don’t Cut The Grass Anymore, both of which we’ll take a look at here in the next few days. The “stars” of this film, Fred Borges (the mad doctor) and John Smihula (the lead investigator) would form the backbone of his “stock company” of players. And whaddaya know? 33 years later, here we all are, still talking about this thing.

All of which isn’t to say that Nathan Schiff is an especially good filmmaker or anything of the sort. His movies, this one especially, positively reek of amateurism at best, utter cluelessness at worst. And yet there’s an authentically mad vision here that just plain can’t be denied, as well as an earnestness that adds a welcome dash of charm. This is moviemaking on nothing but gumption alone, and if you can’t respect that, then I got no time for ya.

Image Entertainment released Weasels Rip My Flesh, as well as Schiff’s two subsequent efforts, on DVD in 2003 under their “Cult Cinema Collection” banner. It’s presented full-frame (of course) with mono sound, and while both video and audio have been remastered to what I assume is the best extent possible, it still looks pretty damn grainy and you can still hear the camera running in the background fairly frequently. Extras include a hastily-assembled “trailer” for the film, a decent 15-or-so-minute interview with Schiff, a selection of some other super-8 short films he shot, interviews with Borges and Smihula, and a feature-length commentary with Schiff that’s actually pretty interesting despite the fact that he speaks in almost painful monotone. All in all they do a nice job of padding out what would otherwise be an admittedly paltry release, and you definitely get your money’s worth by the time all is said and done.

You may not end up seeing the entirely accidental grandeur of Weasels Rip My Flesh, it’s true. To say it’s not for all tastes would be an understatement of almost criminal proportions. Yet even if you just can’t get past the ineptitude of its homemade severed limbs and copious amounts of red Karo-syrup blood, its premise is so mind-numbingly weird, and its execution so aggressively incompetent in all respects, that even if you just have no heart at all and hate this thing, you’ve still gotta admit that it’s like absolutely nothing else you’ve ever seen — even if, like me, you think that you’ve pretty much seen it all. Whether it’s “good” or “bad” almost doesn’t even matter. Nathan Schiff’s $400 went further than he ever could have dreamed.