Posts Tagged ‘midnight movie’

"Trash Humpers" Movie Poster

So, anyway, Haromony Korine’s back. The former enfant terrible who gave us Gummo and  Julien Donkey-Boy before alienating a lot of fans with the almost-like-a-real-movie Mister Lonely has returned to his roots, so to speak, with Trash Humpers, a shot-on-VHS-camcorder-and-blown-up-to-35mm pseudo-found-footage extravanganza that literally screams “look at me! I’ve still got it!” and, annoyingly, sort of proves he does.

Following the exploits of three elderly vagrants (actually three younger actors in disturbingly-well-realized latex masks, one of whom is the “writer”-director’s wife, Rachel Korine) around the streets of  Korine’s new adopted home of Nashville, Tennessee (gosh, he really is still hip as hell, isn’t he?), Trash Humpers contains really no linear narrative whatsoever, and is essentially comprised of a series of vignettes featuring our erstwhile trio humping piles of garbage and trash cans, as the title suggests (okay, flatly states); humping trees and fellating their branches; humping mailboxes; peeking in the windows of homes; taking shits in people’s driveways; teaching kids how to hide razor blades inside apples; taking their wheelchair through a carwash; ignoring dead corpses lying in ditches; dragging a talking doll on a rope behind a bicycle; hanging out with a series of non-actors who either are, or should be, mental patients;  setting off firecrackers; and occasionally killing somebody.

If you give a shit about who these vagrants are or why they do what they do, you’re watching the wrong movie. Korine’s point, to the extent that he even has one, is, as ever, merely to document — all interpretation is left up to the viewer.

And that element of honesty is really what keeps me from hating this pretentious twit’s guts.

The trash humpers doing what they do

I really can’t find much to disparage in the film itself aside from the fact that we’ve seen all this done before, and better, by Korine himself — Gummo kind of set his modus operandi in stone and subsequent efforts haven’t really been able to top it, but this movie is, in fact, still interesting — just a lot less groundbreaking. The shitty VHS camcorder work is certainly appropriate to the material and adds a new stylistic touch to Korine’s repertoire, but beyond that, if you’re familiar with his shtick you pretty much know exactly what you’re getting here and, to its credit, the film delivers. But I’m not sure Korine can really shock us anymore — and despite his protestations to the contrary, it’s clear that he still desperately wants to do so.

Our "protagonists"

I offer as evidence of this charge a scene wherein our three trash humpin’ heroes are visiting the house of two local eccentrics who go around wearing a sewed-together double-hat and matching backless hospital gowns. They all sit down for a pancake breakfast with dish soap in place of syrup.

Okay, fair enough. The usual Korine weirdness-for-its-own-sake thing, right? But Jesus, how they go on about it. They spend a good few minutes making damn sure us folks out there in the audience understand that they’re gonna eat dish soap. “You mean syrup? ” “No, soap!” “Here we go, eat that soap!”

Okay, we get it already. One of the things I hated most about Juno was how Diablo Cody just had to rub the supposed “coolness” of her characters in our faces — Juno doesn’t just have a hamburger phone, for example — she takes a call and lets the person on the other end know she can’t hear them so well because she’s talking on her hamburger phone ! News flash, we can already see that!

Needless to say, the same principle is in effect here, with the key difference being that Korine’s work actually is outre, instead of providing the kind of safe, sanitized version of “out-there” hipsterness that Cody’s made the bedrock of her career. If a teenager got pregnant in a Harmony Korine film — well, that did happen, in Julien Donkey-Boy. And it wasn’t played for light comedy. But geez, Harmony, all I’m saying is trust us a bit — we know this shit is weird, you don’t need to hammer us over the head with a reminder of just how weird it is while we’re watching it. Let the material speak for itself.

Would you invite them to your next family picnic? It might liven things up

The other thing that’s lessening the impact these little slices of almost-aesthetic-terrorism Korine lobs out every few years — and this is no fault of his own — is the internet. There was an air of disrespectable danger surrounding Gummo due to the fact that the pretentious legions of “officially licensed” film snobs were nearly unanimous in their denunciation of that film as being pointless and exploitative of its freak-show subjects. Now we’ve got a secondary legion of semi-officially licensed film snobs, the “superstar bloggers,” if you will,  best exemplified by the likes of the insufferable and hideously pretentious Karina Longworth, who cheerlead for Korine’s films as genuine examples of guerrilla cinema and profound works of art. Personally I liked his stuff better when the critics just hated it. It just loses some of its charm when there’s not a big scarlet letter of disapproval stamped on it by the powers that be.

A moment ago I mentioned the freak-show aspect of all this, and that’s really what makes the proceedings here tick — it’s not so much the random and thoughtlessly violent (Korine has described this movie as “almost an ode to vandalism”) actions of the trash humpers themselves that provide the interest here, but the endless succession of truly disturbed people they come into contact with. Let’s face it — after the first trash-fucking scene and first tree-fucking scene, subsequent ones are going to lose their impact, even if one of the humpers is screaming “get that trash pussy!!!!!!!!!!!!!” And after the fiftieth time one of them intones their unofficial motto of “make it, make it, don’t fake it!” or sings their unofficial theme song that goes something liek “three little devil went out for a walk,”  you want to punch their fucking lights out. After you see one of them taking a dump outside on a driveway a subsequent scene where one of them is blowing out birthday candles on a cake while sitting on the crapper with the female THer telling him “you’ll pass it” seems pretty punchless. But the menagerie of sub-marginals on display never ceases to amaze, from the wanna-be-conjoined twins doing a sock-puppet-theater rendition of the lives of Yang and Chang, the original Siamese twins, to the shirtless overweight loser who sings songs about his penis on his guitar to the sub-moronic redneck cracking racist and homophobic “jokes” that have no punchline to the obviously disturbed older dude who “exercise regimen” consists of laying on his bed and lifting his chin up for 60 seconds at a time to the transvestite poetry reciter — God help me, they all kept me glued to my seat long after the whole garbage-fucking thing had played itself out.

Will you be my friend?

I caught Trash Humpers at a midnight screening (it’s being distributed around the country in limited-release by music distro outfit Drag City after garnering something of a reputation at SXSW and other film festivals) at the Uptown Theater here in Minneapolis over the weekend, and the primary audience reaction was laughter — the scenes meant to shock and horrify, or even to just make you go “what the fuck?,” seemed to fall a bit flat — and I think that’s evidence of the fact that the main “problem,” if you will, here, is one of diminishing returns. A viewer unfamiliar with Korine’s previous work would probably find this to be the most appalling, inexplicable, atrocious, and downright indecipherable thing they’ve ever seen. But for those of us who have seen his other films, it’s all kind of been done before, and better. even the ending, with the female THer making off with a baby from someone’s house, is a watered-down version of  Julien stealing his sister’s dead baby from the hospital right after we learn that he’s the father in Julien Donkey-Boy.

Still, in terms of doing what it sets out to do, Trash Humpers comes through. Korine has said that he wanted this movie to have the feel of a video tape found in a ditch or the bottom shelf of a VHS rental shop or in an old dresser drawer or the attic of an abandoned house, and to have the viewer pop it in the VCR without knowing what to expect and get an accidental glimpse into an unfamiliar parallel reality — one that they knwo to be real, but have no experience of. On that score, it succeeds admirably. But he’s proven in the past that he’s capable of much more.

Still, in spite of the fact that this feels like a watered-down rerun of previous efforts, and the fact that this flick has become something of a cause-celebre for the self-appointed hip, there is an honesty here underneath all the “look at me, I’m still cool and transgressive!” messaging of this film. I may not care much for the aging- former- hipster-still-desperate-to-be-relevant persona of Korine himself, nor the fact that he’s treading on familiar ground and “giving the punters what they want” rather than pushing himself in new directions, but I can’t take issue with all his motivations.

Some filmmakers put out a movie to make a buck, others to make a statement. Korine doesn’t seem too terribly interested in either. In the end, Trash Humpers feels like a movie he made just because — well, he could. And while that’s probably not praiseworthy in and of itself, it’s not really deserving of criticism, either. It just — is.

Kinda like Trash Humpers itself.

"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.

"Gone With the Pope" Movie Poster

Do you believe in miracles? I don’t. But the fact that this film even exists, much less finds itself making the rounds of the surprisingly resurgent (with new cult favorites like The Room, Birdemic, The Human Centipede, and Troll 2) midnight movie circuit these days (it recently played the Uptwon theater here in Minneapolis and did pretty brisk business — hopefully enough to bring it back from a return engagement sometime in the not-too-distant future, since I’m betting that a DVD release is pretty far down the road at this point) is about as close to one as you’re ever likely to find.

Perhaps a brief (not that brevity has ever been my strong suit) explanation is in order for the doubters among you . Bob Murawski, editor of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films and recent Academy Award winner for The Hurt Locker, and Sage Stallone (Sly’s kid) operate a specialty DVD and theatrical distribution “boutique” outfit known as Grindhouse Releasing. Their specialty? Well, given the company’s title,  you don’t even need to ask. In recent years, they’ve been responsible for the DVD releases and midnight screenings of films such as Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, Juan Piquer Simon’s Pieces, and Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox.

In 1999, Stallone and Murawski got turned onto a movie we’ve reviewed previously on this blog, Palm Spring lounge singer -turned-writer-director Duke Mitchell’s little-seen Massacre Mafia Style. Making contact with Duke’s son Jeffrey, they arranged for a DVD release of this ultraviolent, ultrasleazy, ultrafun exploitation curiosity. And as is the custom with Grindhouse Releasing, we’re still waiting for it (thankfully, the younger Mitchell has recently seen fit to issue the film on DVD in a private limited edition, ordering details for which can be found in the film’s review here on TFG) — but at last they have agood excuse.

You see, Jeffrey turned over to Murawski all he had of his father’s second film project, Gone With the Pope, another singular exploitation oddity that Michell the elder shot primarily in 1975 but that remained a work in progress right up to his death in 1981. A rough — -very rough —work print of sorts existed, and of the 17 reels Mitchell shot, 12 were in his son’s possession, with the other 5 missing and never found.

Enterprising sort of guy that he is, Murawski set to work in what little spare time he had assembling a cut of the film that would make some kind of coherent sense, and added in the occasional bit of modern rock-and-roll soundtrack music along the way, coming up with the closest thing possible to a definitive version of this mid-70s ultra-low-budget Mafioso crime thriller/comedy/philosophical treatise/Mitchell ego-fest. In a very real sense, it’s a brand-new ’75 exploitation flick — not a new movie aiming to capture the “spirit” or “style” of the grindhouse, as has been attempted so often to varying degrees of success, but the genuine article —a mid-70s grindhouse classic that had never been seen before.

Clocking in at 83 minutes, Gone With the Pope delivers the exploitation goods to the umpteenth degree — mindless violence, uneven (to put it kindly) acting, cheap production values, haphazard plotting, cornball dialogue, gratuituous nudity —all wrapped up in a surprisingly visually accomplished package that includes tremendously well-composed location footage of “golden age” Las Vegas and Rome, among other astounding locales. It’s no exaggeration to say this flick is a visual treat, and when one considers that the entire movie was shot guerrilla-style without permits, and on short ends at that — well, again, the “nearest thing to a miracle” comparison seems pretty apt.

The man, the myth --- nay, the legend! Duke Mitchell in "Gone with the Pope"

Okay, so the idea here is primarily to give Mitchell a chance to showcase his talents. He gets all the best lines (in fact, the only good ones), and the rest of the cast, non-professionals to a person, are completely overshadowed by his performance. But here’s the rub — as with Massacre Mafia Style, Mitchell is so confident, assured, and literally at home in the command he has of his character that he would hog the limelight even if surrounded by high-priced Hollywood “talent.” The guy is just that good. He knows it, too.

The story is designed to put him not only front and center, but to literally place him in the driver’s seat in front of the camera as well as behind it.  It’s all pretty seamless, really — watching Mitchell on screen, there is simply no doubt that he wrote and directed this thing as well, and the man himself becomes literally inseparable from his work — Duke Mitchell is Gone With the Pope and Gone With the Pope is Duke Mitchell.

His character, Paul, a mid-level mafia hood just getting out of prison, might as well just be called Duke. Everybody in the joint loves the guy and they’re downright tearful to see him go. Some of his best buddies, though (generally even older than he is, probably no accident as far as casting goes) are soon to be granted their freedom, as well, and Duke — err, Paul — has a plan : he’s got  a rich lady on the outside, a woman he’s loved since they were teenagers but who chose to marry a wealthy philanthropist while the man of her dreams was in stir. Now widowed, he rekindles his romance with the lady in question, Jean (played by Jeanne Hibbard, who is obviously reading directly from cue cards the entire time), and finagles her into loaning him her late husband’s yacht so he can take his aforementioned, and now released, prison buddies on a cruise around the world so they can work away their bitterness and anger at the world (his “sales pitch” to her humanitarian side on this matter being one of several philosophical soliloquies Mitchell writes for himself to establish the fact that he’s more than just a dumb ex-con himself).

With his cast of often biblically-named (Luke and Peter being among them) old-time prison buddies in tow, Paul sets off on an ocean voyage that will take them to Mexico, Panama,  Sardinia — and finally, to Rome.

But fist he’s gotta fulfill a contract he’s been hired out for to whack seven guys in Vegas and Hollywood. He takes care of the three in Sin City and subcontracts his buddy Girogio to do the four in Hollywood. Then it’s off with the cash, the boat, and his buddies for the trip of a lifetime.

Duke Mitchell sets sail with a heartfelt message to the people of the United States

Paul’s been dreaming of getting out on the open water for a long time. Just before being let out of prison, he tells one of his inmate friends about how you can be “totally free” on the ocean because there are “no cops, no judges — all you gotta worry about is some fucking maritime asshole.” And, as can be seen in the photo above, he delivers a philosophical diatribe to our society upon raising anchor and heading out to sea : “People of the United States — judges, cops, all the law — I got a message for ya —I want you to take this —” (grabbing his crotch) “and stick it up in your mother’s twat!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Where else but Gone With the Pope, my friends, are you ever likely to hear a line of dialogue like that?

It isn’t until we get to Rome, however, at about the 2/3 mark of the film, that the scheme referenced in the film’s title is revealed by Paul to his erstwhile co-conspirators — in short, they’ve come there to kidnap the Holy Father himself and hold him for ransom. And what, pray tell, do they want in exchange for the Pontiff’s safe return? A dollar from every Catholic in the world!

Well, okay, in fairness, Paul lowers the ransom to 50 cents per Catholic when he finds out just how many of them there are — call it another chance to show his human side.

Okay, so the actual method by which they kidnap the Pope is so lame that it’ll test even the most seasoned exploitation veteran’s credulity, and the fact that it actually works is even more outrageous (as is the fact that the Pope seems to be a native English-speaker) — and the garbled philosophy really does take over in the film’s final 20 minutes or so, with Paul’s friends turning their backs on him in some sort of ultra-predictable religious conversion brought on apparently just by being in the vicinity of anybody so — -well, holy — and Paul himself offering as his justification for the audacious scheme some sort of revenge for what the church did to the Jews in World War II (not that he’s Jewish himself, mind you, or that he even mentions a word about them prior to his “here’s why I did it” moment), but along the way there are so many quintessential and downright perfectly-executed exploitation movie moments that you can’t help but be downright awed by the spectacle on display here.

And it’s those “along the way”-type moments that you see a movie like this for, anyway. Maybe it’s the stunning nighttime visuals of Duke Mithcell walking down the now-bulldozed-and-replaced-by-corporate-megacasinos Vegas stripe, cigarette dangling from his mouth; or Duke and his buddies hurling (good-naturedly, at that) racial epithets at a black prostitute for a good five minutes before she offers to sleep with him anyway; or the searing proto-Tarantino balls-to-the-walls slaughter of the guys on Duke’s hit list; or the musical numbers sung by Mitchell himself; or the ultracool sight or Duke in a black stetson taking out a crime lord at a racetrack; an extended and downright surreal sequence featuring Duke and one of his pals pretending to — or maybe genuinely planning on — banging a morbidly obese woman before getting cold feet, resulting in her literally breaking down a door and coming after them; a slow-motion fight scene not actually shot in slow motion but rather featuring the actors slowing their movements down;  or the footage of super-lame fifth-rate Vegas “entertainment” acts like this one —

You probably won't find this bunch playing the main room at Caesar's anytime soon

— whatever you’re into this kind of movie for, you’re going to find it, and then some. It’s not about where you’re going so much as how you get there, and Gone With the Pope gets you there in searingly authentic grindhouse style.

But in the end, this movie isn’t about either the voyage or the sights along the way, in spit of what I just said — it’s about the captain of this zero-budget ship. Mithcell crafted the script as a starring vehicle for himself, and if he couldn’t carry the load, this whole enterprise would have gone nowhere fast. As he proved beyond a doubt, though, with Massacre Mafia Style, he’s more than capable of the task. Mitchell in a singular screen presence quite unlike any other — by turns heartless and heartfelt, despicably cruel and charismatically engaging, he’s never less than electrifying and commands your attention like a black hole sucking in the rest of the goddamn galaxy around it. And if no major Hollywood studio could see that and Mithcell had to craft his own projects from scratch to show off just how fucking good he was, so much the better. Unencumbered by the burdens of compromise or even, for that matter, consideration of anything apart from getting his film in the can, he’s as free to do his own thing as the character he portrays.

You just can’t conceive of Duke Mitchell doing things any other way that his way, and while he may not be responsible for the final edit of this film, you can’t help but think that the superb job Murawski has done assembling this from essentially a haphazard collection of random short-end reels has resulted in exactly the kind of movie he’d have made himself — or rather, was in the process of making when he died.

Gone With the Pope works on a variety of levels, then, simultaneously — as a quintessential-yet-curious relic of a bygone era; as a distillation  yet also, strangely,  almost spoof-like exaggeration of all of said era’s indulgences and foibles; as a tour-de-force showcase vehicle for the creative force at the center of the project both behind and in front of the camera; and as a labor-of-love tribute to that man and his raw dynamic power and sheer screen presence.

If you’re lucky enough to have this film come through your area, don’t miss it under any circumstances.

And hey, how about that poster? Dear God, that is cool!