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Cult Club

The Cult Club: Wet Hot American Summer (2001) Awkwardly Flirted Into Our Hearts (and Pants)

Jul 31 // Hubert Vigilla
In a lot of ways, Wet Hot American Summer is a cult movie made by the generation that grew up watching cult movies and cult television. Picture this sign on the treehouse: "The Wet Hot American Summer Cult Club--No Boomers Allowed... Unless You've Seen Zapped with Scott Baio... or Sledge Hammer!" The film takes place in one day at Camp Firewood, the final day at Camp Firewood, the only one that matters. And into this day is poured multiple teen movie cliches: telling your crush you're into them, virgins trying to get laid, bad boys being bad to good girlfriends, exuberant montages, demented staff, friends trying to get their virgin friends laid, a talent show, telekinesis, hidden romances, nerdy kids saving the day. So much happens so quickly that logical notions of time and space have no meaning. An hour-long trip seems to cover a weekend of events, a one-minute training montage seems to cover a week of exercise and self-discovery, a single day carries in it a month-long trajectory of emotions. And that's the whole point. Wet Hot American Summer takes place in a film version of time and space since it's a movie about the culminating plots of other movies. Beneath that meta-layer, there's perhaps a wistful tinge of nostalgia as well--as a kid, summer seems to go by so fast, like the entire summer is just a single day. Mostly it's just funny if you think about it, but also if, in a smart and detached way, you really don't think about it too much. Even though the movie is about the culminating stories of other camp movies, Wet Hot American Summer isn't constructed with a single narrative thrust that climaxes and wraps up neatly. The movie stops and starts as title cards note the passage of in-story meta-movie time. A potential Bad News Bears-style showdown in the middle of the film seems like the big set piece we've been waiting for, and yet it's self-consciously avoided. A camper says that the cliche of the big game is trite, and the counselors agree, because ultimately it is trite. Summers, whether a day or an entire season, rarely have that kind of shape with a solid conclusion. Instead, Wet Hot American Summer is more like a feature-length sketch show that just ends when camp ends. The final shot of the film is suitably unceremonious. [embed]219652:42516:0[/embed] I think Wet Hot American Summer is alive today because some Gen-Xers got the joke--were in on the joke--and are now in power at Netflix.  From their streaming thrones, they're able to dole out the filthy original-series lucre as they see fit. (And good for them.) I can't help but stress the whole Gen-X angle, which bleeds into a millennial attachment to the film. It may also explain why film critics of the time (who were predominantly Baby Boomers) just couldn't get into it. The Boomers weren't really in on the joke; some didn't even get the set-up or that the set-up and punchline were sometimes one in the same. Like other cult followings, there's a sense of exclusivity. When Scott Tobias wrote about Wet Hot American Summer for the AV Club back in 2008, he identified the makers of the film as well as many of the cultists: Here's a movie from 2001 that doesn't concern itself with yesterday's box-office hits, but with a sub-sub-genre of comedies from the late '70s to the mid-'80s, starting with Meatballs and its sequel, and including other disreputable standards like the TV movie Poison Ivy (with Michael J. Fox and Nancy McKeon), SpaceCamp, and the non-gory scenes in their slasher cousins like Friday The 13th and Sleepaway Camp. But it doesn't stop there: WHAS is pitched specifically to Reagan-era latchkey kids who grew up watching these movies on television, and have a certain generalized nostalgia about the fashions, hairstyles, graphical elements, and other minutiae that seeped into their wood-paneled family rooms. Tobias, a Gen-Xer like that first-wave of classic AV Club writers, is a Wet Hot acolyte. (Gooble gobble.) The comedy is so videostore and VCR-based, drawing on a shared cultural memory not just of middle-class summer camp experiences but about movies-about-summer-camp and teen-sex-movies and slashers-at-camp-movies and that-one-joke-I-saw-on-late-night-TV; and maybe to a certain degree, the movie is also about people trying to model their real-life summer camp experiences to match the things they saw in films and TV. The time-space weirdness of the movie seems to suggest that it's impossible to make real life work like the movies; further, if real life worked out that way, it would make reality trite. Wain and collaborators Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, Ken Marino, and Joe Lo Truglio were all members of MTV's sketch show The State, which is one of the cultiest cult shows that ever did cult-show. A lot of the fondness for Wet Hot American Summer comes from an attachment that many had to The State and the projects that the cast embarked on following The State's cancellation. (Maybe a question to consider in all this: at what point does fondness become nostalgia?) The State was at the forefront of that cult sketch comedy canon, along with The Kids in the Hall, Mr. Show, The Dana Carvey Show, and The Ben Stiller Show (of which camp director Janeane Garofalo was an alum; ditto a brief stint on Saturday Night Live). Thinking about it, you really can't have sketch comedy without grounding that in the improv tradition. Think of places like Second City, The Upright Citizens Brigade, and The Groundlings. These were the places where SNL and SCTV found their players. Improv is often built on discrete scenes with a common theme, all of which abide by a "yes and" mentality between performers in order to keep a joke alive and to enhance it. The "yes and" at the heart of improv might be the adult collaborative equivalent of a child using "and then" as a conjunction while telling a story that they're really excited about. [embed]219652:42519:0[/embed] The State's comedy tradition and the film's roots in home video explain the varied nature of Wet Hot American Summer's humor--a series of personal experiences by way of movie cliches joined together by strange "and then's" with lots of "yes and's." It's also why (again, if you're in on the joke) a lot of the comedy hits. The characters at Camp Firewood are rendered broadly from a collection of tropes, as if hewn from a sketch team's writing room or from an improv team's regular house show. Each character is dropped into situations that play to their strengths as comic figures, and it just keeps going--and then, and then, and then until the end. Beyond that, there's the awkward interpersonal comedy, mostly having to do with flirting and attraction. There's slapstick. There's quotable non-sequiturs mostly from Christopher Meloni as the 'Nam-addled camp cook. The visual gags are there too (e.g., why are they wrestling behind the line for corn?), and ditto some audio ones (e.g., Wilhelm scream). Wet Hot takes its lessons not just from improv and sketch, but also from Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker at their best: keep the jokes coming fast, from different angles, and don't just rely on one type of humor. The Wet Hot American Summer series on Netflix is a prequel rather than a sequel. A sequel would have made logical sense since they tease a 10-year reunion in the film, a snippet of which is seen after the credits. And yet it's a prequel show about the first day of camp rather than the last, and most of the cast looks their age (i.e., comfortably into their 40s). Come to think of it, they're following up a 90-minute movie about the final day of camp with eight half-hour episodes about the first day of camp. But that's the joke. Wet Hot American Summer continues its own tradition of operating in a pocket of movie-space and movie-time, and the set-up and punchline are one. Its driving comedy imperative of yes's, and's, and then's hopefully still abides. [embed]219652:42518:0[/embed] Next Month... We're taking a look at one of the odd moments in American film and popular culture: the time in the 1970s when pornography went mainstream. Known alternatively as prono chic and The Golden Age of Porn, Flixist will focus one of the seminal (now, now) films from that era: 1972's Deep Throat. In addition to looking at Deep Throat, we'll consider the rise and fall of The Golden Age of Porn (blame home video), how the clash over porn led to a division among second wave feminists, and how the ugly side of this pornorific era in American culture was depicted in films such as Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights and, more recently, Lovelace starring Amanda Seyfried. Yup. Porn. I'm sure putting that Philosophy degree to work. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING ON THE CULT CLUB Repo Man (1984) Putney Swope (1969) Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) The Last Dragon (1985) Tromeo and Juliet (1996)
Wet Hot American Summer photo
"I'm gonna go fondle my sweaters"
David Wain's Wet Hot American Summer is one of the least likely movies to inspire a follow-up of any kind. The film was savaged by critics upon its release and barely made a dent at the box office; Universal even denied the m...

The Cult Club: Repo Man (1984) is a Punk Rock Commentary on the Crappiness of the 80s

Jul 27 // Hubert Vigilla
"We're gonna have a TV party tonight! / We're gonna have a TV party all right! / We've got nothing better to do / Than watch TV and have a couple of brews!" The opening minutes of Repo Man introduce a couple different stories, like you're flipping the channels and every new show is somehow linked to the last. There's the first scene in which a highway cop gets disintegrated by the glowing contents in the trunk of a Chevy Malibu. We then meet Otto (Emilio Estevez), a disaffected LA punk who loses his supermarket job, his girlfriend, and his best friend in the same night. Otto helps a low life named Bud (Harry Dead Stanton) steal a car for $25, which leads to a new gig working as a repo man. We're then back in the desert where the cop got zapped, the area swarming with government agents hot on the trail of the mysterious Malibu. The film continues in a series of vignettes that reveal their interconnectedness. At first it's visual cues, like recurring pine tree air fresheners, smiley face pins, campaign posters, suspicious G-men, foods and beverages with generic labels (e.g., "Popcorn," "Beer," "Yellow Cling Sliced Peaches"). A lattice of coincidence becomes a series of hilarious contingencies played out like comedy sketches. Not everything can be explained by the end of Repo Man, but those frayed edges are part of the appeal and what make the movie so rewatchable. In one of the film's most inspired scenes, the wigged-out repo man Miller (Tracey Walter) talks about cosmic coincidences, and how UFOs might actually be time machines. He mentions the inexplicable significance of the phrase "a plate of shrimp" and how that might correspond with something in your head. That "plate of shrimp" he planted in your brain? It comes back later as a sight gag that most people catch only on the second or third viewing of Repo Man. "I wouldn't be without my TV for a day—or even a minute! / Don't bother to use my brain anymore—there's nothing left in it!" There's an early scene in Repo Man that's grown in significance each time I've watched it. Following Otto's disenchantment, he's sitting on the railroad tracks drinking. He shouts the lyrics to Black Flag's "TV Party" to combat the silence and loneliness. The song's about the vapid passivity of couch potatoes: we'll have a party where our friends get together and watch TV, because all we care about and talk about is TV, and we barely leave the house anymore. The surf rock score kicks in, and the guitars seem chilly, sad, distant, maybe even self-pitying. The next day, Otto's alone again, shuffling around a shitty neighborhood kicking a empty tin can—trash is the city's tumbleweed. This is what the spiritual desolation of consumer culture looks and feels like. But even still, Otto's better off tuning out of TV land. TV at its worst is a kind of tranquilizer. It presents a model of the world that's not necessarily the way it is or even the way it ought to be. The aspirations are often conformist because television (again, at its worst) is a vessel for selling people crummy products and crummy lifestyles, and if viewers buy into the pre-packaged normal way of life, they can be controlled and the status quo can continue uncontested. (John Carpenter would explore similar territory in 1988's They Live!) Otto's pimply friend Kevin (Zander Schloss) can't dream big about life, probably never has. In his introductory scene, he enthusiastically sings a 7-Up jingle to himself. Kevin probably never realized he could dream bigger since success in TV land meant buying into the myth of endless mobility from the very bottom. "There's fuckin' room to move as a fry cook," he says while he and Otto browse the want ads. "I could be manager in two years! King! God!" "Saturday Night Live! Monday Night Football! Dallas! Jeffersons! Gilligan's Island! Flintstones!" It's not just disaffected youth burned by TV and its perpetuation of compliance. When Otto returns home to con his folks out of money, he finds them on the couch watching a televangelist. Otto's folks are still decked out as hippies, and they've tuned out of reality. That hope of the 60s? It's been vaporized after political assassinations, murder, and a failure of counterculture idealism; a decade of severe disillusionment (aka the '70s) didn't help. The most that the bummed-out Boomers can aspire to is sending Bibles to El Salvador via the tube. That's why they've given their extra cash to the TV church, including the money that Otto was honestly going to con them out of. (During this scene Otto eats a can of "Food." It's unclear what kind of food "Food" is. Later, Bud buys two four-packs of "Drink.") This all seems to be part of the California Bummer, which is the reality underlying the California Dream (and really the American Dream). So many people went west in search of fortune during the Gold Rush, fame with the rise of Hollywood, free love with the 60s, good money during the rise of dotcoms. As noted in Penelope Spheeris' LA punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, they wound up west and the air sucked. The dream wasn't the real thing—just a crummy show. The real thing was disappointment, limitation, swindles, outsourcing, burst bubbles, drought. We were sold on The Beach Boys singing "Wouldn't It Be Nice," but what we got was The Beach Boys singing "Kokomo." So angry teens rebelled and became punks to be part of a community. The LA punks weren't really on the dole or victims of a major economic collapse. Many were middle-class suburbanites who felt weird and were looking for a way to release their aggression. That anger may be rooted in the California Bummer and the dawning knowledge that it's eternal. Life in Reagan's America was perpetual "Kokomo." No wonder LA punk is so nihilistic. "We've got nothing left to do / Left with no TV, just a couple of brews / What are we gonna talk about? I don't know! / We're gonna miss our favorite shows!" When Otto takes up with the repo men, it's not just because he can make a quick buck and he can do a bunch of speed. There's an excitement to the gig rather than suburban ennui—"The life of a repo man is always intense!" Hell, it's like playing cowboys in the concrete wild west. There's also a scuzzy community among repo men. There's an ethos, a code, as well. Bud talks it up as Otto does some blow. There's an oath, some do's and don'ts for decorum. Of course, the code gets broken eventually. All codes do. That was something pointed out in The Dissolve's forum discussion on Repo Man. Everyone in the movie makes some kind of compromise in the end. They sell-out or they sell their principles short, but they seem fine with that because they realize it's all an act and it's just part of getting through life. As Otto's best friend dies, he wants to blame society for what he's become, and wants to elevate his existence as a symbol for the world that's done wrong. "That's bullshit," Otto says. "You're a white suburban punk just like me." His friend has been sufficiently kneecapped for his silly self-aggrandizement, yet he replies, "Yeah, but it still hurts." The truth often does. But even if it's just a pose, being a shitty punk or a low-life repo man is still better than being normal. (One more time, with feeling: "Ordinary fuckin' people—I hate 'em!") The punks and the repo men know that the TV land version of normal life is bullshit, and that the normal folks buy into it without question. Some of the punks and the repo men know the lives they're living are bullshit as well, but at least they're aware, and they get a little further through the negation or subversion of the compliant normal. That's something that might drive aspirations a little higher; somewhere above the bottom to the lower-middle, a place beyond "Kokomo." Knowing is half the battle, even when you're losing the war. [embed]219456:42429:0[/embed] Next Month... Because we were so late with this Cult Cult, we're doing double duty this week. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day at Camp comes out on Netflix later this week for your binge-watching enjoyment. Cult Club will look at the film that spawned the Netflix prequel, Wet Hot American Summer (2001). We'll also be doing a first here at Flixist, expanding beyond our traditional film coverage. Following our look at Wet Hot American Summer on The Cult Club, tune in next week for a review of Netflix's original series Wet Hot American Summer: First Day at Camp. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING ON THE CULT CLUB Putney Swope (1969) Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) The Last Dragon (1985) Tromeo and Juliet (1996) Samurai Cop (1989)
Cult Club: Repo Man photo
"Ordinary f**king people. I hate 'em."
Alex Cox's Repo Man is one of the key films in the cult canon. Defying traditional cinematic taxonomy, Cox's debut offered a social critique in the guise of a genre-mash: LA noir, LA punk, Cold War paranoia, drive-in sci-fi, ...

The Cult Club: Putney Swope (1969)

May 31 // Hubert Vigilla
Some people come up to me and say, 'You the guy that made Putney Swope?' And I'll say, 'Yeah.' [And they say], 'Well, you really changed my life!' And my answer is, 'I'm sorry. You might have been better off without it.' -- Robert Downey, Sr., 2008 Reelblack interview The surreal anarchism of Putney Swope is established in the first minute, with contradictions played for laughs and all things intentionally off-balance, free-floating, a potential set-up for a punchline or a punchline per se. The film opens on a vertiginous, spiraling aerial shot of New York City interrupted by a dissonant piano chord. We see an older biker in a helicopter descend. A Jolly Roger and a Confederate Battle Flag flap in the wind. The chopper lands at a pier, and the biker steps out with a suitcase secured with a length of chain. On the back of his denim vest, "MENSA." The music is impending and sinister as he approaches a stooped-over square in a suit. They slap each other five and on comes a triumphant 60s groove, as if to say, "Yeah, we cool." In the board room scene that sets the plot in motion, the chairman of an ad agency dies while delivering a spiel, stuttering on his last word. The execs treat it like a game of charades. The nasaliest of boardroom weasels asks constantly, even after the chairman's clearly dead, "How many syllables, Mario?!" The other execs pick the corpse's pockets--ugly capitalist vultures. With the corpse on the table, the board votes for a new leader. The only stipulation is that they're not allowed to vote for themselves. And so they accidentally elect the one person they figured no one else would vote for: the company's token black guy, Putney Swope (Arnold Johnson). (Downey dubbed in his own voice for Swope's since Johnson purportedly kept forgetting his lines.) That's just the first 12 minutes. Revolution and selling out ensues. There's a gritty DIY-ness to Putney Swope that's in service to its irreverence and popular revolutionary vibe. It's at once a kind of guerrilla filmmaking and guerrilla sketch comedy. Anything is possible in the weird world of the film--a midget in a hard hat is POTUS, and bags of money are passed and hookshot off the backboard into an open-top case. Louis CK said he was inspired by Putney Swope's confident nonsense when he hosted a screening of the film in LA late last year. (Excerpts from the event and Q&A with Downey, Sr. can be read here on The Moveable Fest). CK had just moved to New York and bought a VCR, and he found a copy of Putney Swope at the videostore. According to the WTF podcast, Marc Maron was there with him when it happened. CK's early short films such as Hello There and Hijacker have Swope written all over them, as do the stranger segments of his show Louie. The jokes of Putney Swope come in various forms and with different targets. Downey delivers visual gags, verbal gags, quick gags, long-form gags, slapstick, and gallows humor. There are the one-liners, which seem like the stuff of the Marx Brothers and even A Hard Day's Night. I also can't help but hear shades of Dr. Strangelove's "You can't fight here--this is the War Room" in Swope's oft-repeated "Brothers in the black room" line. The zany, all-over-the-place approach is like those early Woody Allen movies as well, or perhaps those edgier 90s sketch shows like The Kids in the Hall and Mr. Show. The sex humor is gleefully vulgar (if The Guardian is correct, this is the first movie to use the word "jism"). The race jokes, sexuality jokes, and gender jokes are built on stereotypes being broken down, reaffirmed, or forced into an uneasy dance of doing both. The grittiness of the picture plays into the film's gritty, unwashed brand of comedy. The film critic for the New York Daily News in 1969 gave Putney Swope a negative-one-star review and wrote, "Vicious and vile. The most offensive picture I've ever seen." Putney Swope isn't just offensive. It's also politically incorrect, though political incorrectness isn't an end in itself, and nor should it be. These days many jagoffs use political incorrectness as a self-congratulatory badge of honor for tastelessness, but they wear the badge without acknowledging that political incorrectness takes many forms. Context is key since not all political incorrectness is created equal. The healthy, beneficial, and most complicated strand of political incorrectness is the satirical kind. I don't know if it's necessarily about punching up or punching down because legitimate targets and topics for satire come from all levels of social strata, but maybe effective satire that's politically incorrect is more about an awareness of what's being punched and why it deserves to be. Maybe that's the point. Maybe humor has a higher function. In other words, the offensive joke that someone tells makes you laugh, and if your politics are progressive or you care about your fellow human, you reconsider why you laughed and whether or not you should have laughed, digging into the real cultural meaning of the gag and the mindset of the culture as a whole. The satirist telling the joke, similarly, isn't just laughing at himself or herself. There's more than self-amusement at stake. The joke isn't just a bit of offensiveness--a fart in church that people will politely suffer through and forget--but a meaningful conversation with the culture, its makers, and its members. There's a predictive element about Putney Swope that seems especially important given its place in 60s counterculture. There's an assassination attempt on Swope, which recalls the biggest political assassinations of the decade (JFK, RFK, Martin Luther King, Malcom X). Yet as Film Crit Hulk points out in his appreciation of Putney Swope, the person who tries to kill Swope bears an uncanny resemblance to Mark David Chapman, the man who would shoot and kill John Lennon in 1980. (In another bizarre coincidence, Downey joked in a LIFE Magazine profile published November 28, 1969 that the only book he'd ever read was J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Chapman, after shooting Lennon, sat down and read a copy of The Catcher in the Rye.) [embed]219426:42415:0[/embed] The primary prediction by Putney Swope, however, is an eventual shift that the counterculture of the 1960s made, transforming from activists and political idealists into the members of the self-absorbed "Me generation." The transition might have been expected, an inevitable comedown after the decade of love ended with such painful disillusionment. Sometimes it's not about changing the world since that might be impossible. The heroes have been killed, the hippies have cannibalized themselves, and now the whole enterprise seems like bullshit. Sometimes it's just about getting paid, and that's the most you can hope for. We see it in Putney's own desire to not just rock the boat but sink it, which he hopes to do by refusing to advertise cigarettes, alcohol, and war toys. What else, though, is more quintessentially American than the Marlboro Man, Kentucky bourbon, and G.I. Joe (aka my first military-industrial complex)? Swope's whole enterprise is doomed from the start--he's an ideological terrorist armed with only truth and soul. To use the words of Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty) from Network, "You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Swope." When he spoke about Putney Swope late last year, Louis CK said, "This was made in 1969--it's that way a movie can be like a note in a bottle, this beautiful thing that just stays [the same]." The film captures its era, and yet I think it's also timely because the primal forces of nature, those larger political systems and corporate systems, also stay the same, and will stay the same. The system can't be dismantled, and the boat ain't sinking. Hell, it can barely even get rocked. That sounds hopeless, I know, but the good thing, at least, is that Putney Swope and other satires help you find a better deck chair on this awful ship we're on. [embed]219426:42414:0[/embed] Next Month... June 30th marks the DVD/Blu-ray release of Penelope Spheeris' critically acclaimed Decline of Western Civilization trilogy, a landmark trio of documentaries on the Los Angeles punk scene, metal scene, and the plight of homeless youth. All three films are going to be available for the first time ever on DVD/Blu-ray. To coincide with the release of The Decline of Western Civilization, we're going to look at one of the seminal cult movies of the 80s that's rooted in the ugly aggro-nihilism of the 80s LA punk scene. Yup, we're finally doing Alex Cox's classic Repo Man (1984). PREVIOUSLY SHOWING ON THE CULT CLUB Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) The Last Dragon (1985) Tromeo and Juliet (1996) Samurai Cop (1989) El Mariachi (1992)
Cult Club: Putney Swope photo
"How many syllables, Mario?!"
New York Times film critic A.O. Scott, in one of his signature recurring gags, wrote that Mad Max: Fury Road was rated R because it featured "A ruthless critique of everything existing." The same might be said of Putney Swope...

The Cult Club: Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

May 08 // Hubert Vigilla
Hubert: Salo is one of the grandaddies of extreme cinema, and anyone who's curious about notoriously disturbing movies will eventually encounter Salo at some point of his or her life. But Salo feels like it comes from a different pedigree than other films frequently seen on "Most Disturbing Movies" lists like Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust or the Guinea Pig series. Salo is an art movie from hell, so painterly in its unpleasantness, so carefully composed; it has more in common with Ken Russell's The Devils (though not as manic) or the work of Lars Von Trier than I Spit on Your Grave. Maybe Salo's best contemporary unit of comparison is Srdjan Spasojevic's A Serbian Film, but even that movie's extremism is so different in tone. There's something about Pasolini's use of long shots during most of the sadism that gives the events of Salo a sense of absolute spiritual death. There's also a philosophical rage in its content which can be read as anti-fascist as well as anti-capitalist--both have a tendency to reduce humans to functions or mere objects. Where would you situate it in the cult canon and the canon of extreme cinema? Alec: It's hard to disagree with your assessment there. Salo stands pretty much apart from everything else. If I were to choose a direct comparison, I think The Devils is probably the best. Because whereas most extreme cinema feels gratuitous for the sake of it, The Devils feels gratuitous because the world that it takes place in is gratuitous. (That film is pretty high up on my re-watch list, by the way. I got about halfway through a second viewing a couple months back and had to turn it off, but it's been on my mind ever since.) Salo is the same sort of thing. But what makes Salo so intense is both its use of long shots and also wide shots. It's filmed from a distance, with everything you could possibly want (and much, much more) in the frame. And as such, there's rarely any "immediacy" to the "action." Your blood doesn't get pumping. There isn't any sort of sensory overload. You're acutely aware of who is doing what to whom when and how. It's voyeuristic in a very different way from most extreme films. In a way that is more fundamentally horrible, because you are a passive observer. It's more documentarian than experiential. It's like an anti-found footage film, in that regard. (Though that's an odd comparison to make, since it predated the found footage concept by several years.) Hubert: That distance may be what makes viewers feel so helpless, like all they can do is watch these teens get degraded and tortured. There's one moment a little before the "Circle of Shit" title card comes up, signaling the next ugly chapter of Salo and a further descent into hell. One of the girls says, "I can't take any more" like she's giving up her will to live. And you feel it. It's a phrase synonymous with "I want to die." But things are only going to get worse. And at that moment, watching the movie again, even knowing the end, I got this sad chill through my body. I was struck by this terrifying realization that no one was going to save the day, there's no hope of fighting back, and that all I could do was watch these victims be destroyed. There's that one scene later when it seems like one of the kids will at least be executed quickly with a pistol, but it's not even loaded. One of the libertines gets in the boy's face and says, "You must be stupid to think that death would be so easy. Don't you know we intend to kill you a thousand times? To the end of eternity, if eternity can have an end." The idea that death might be a release is turned on its head--there is only death, over and over again, and no escaping it. And all we can do is watch. Absolutely chilling. Though on the note of that scene, it's the disgusting punchline to a contest to decide who has the best ass. Salo is full of so much sadistic and perverse humor or amusement, or at least from the point of view of the libertines. How did you feel about its fascistic comedy, like the jokes that keep getting told? Alec: On some level, I think it could be argued that Salo is the darkest of comedies. I remember reading an IMDB trivia that said that some of the actors were absolutely shocked when they saw the final product, because the experience on set had actually been relatively light. I don't know that that's true, but rewatching the film I can see how (at least in parts) it might be. Certainly there is a lot of laughter by many of the characters. Early on, there is laughter during the stories, and the libertines and their accomplices laugh throughout, telling (terrible) jokes and just generally feeling pretty good about the whole thing. (Especially Lazy Eye, less so Combover.) To them, this is pure entertainment, which is absolutely and entirely horrific, but it brings up the question of perspective. You're seeing these actions at a distance, but you spend most of your time with the fascists. Obviously it's not a pro-fascist film, but they are the central characters, not their victims. Their victims are there to be actors in the the play that the libertines have created and can engage in at will. For us and the victims, it's a horrorshow, but for them it's the best sex-comedy imaginable. And the constant jokes and the levity just makes the whole thing far more unsettling than if it was deadly serious. Actions speak louder than words, but the words in context with the actions make for a particularly disturbing combination. Hubert: There's such an ugly flippancy to what the libertines do and how they do it. If torture and humiliation without reprisal weren't enough, the ability to laugh in the face of the hell they're creating for these victims might be the ugliest demonstration of their power. Though on the note of what you said about the fascist point of view, Salo is so effective of tapping into that mindset in which anything is permissible against the powerless. Do you remember how or when you first heard about Salo? For me it was probably 1999, and I was just starting college and really into extreme cinema and finding VHS bootlegs of stuff. (This makes me sound so old.) Salo was completely out-of-print back then, and the initial Criterion DVD release was selling on eBay for something like $250. I first saw Salo on a degraded pan-and-scan VHS around 2002 with some friends, which wasn't so unnerving, but watching it a second time a few years ago, it was much more unnerving and effective, like I finally understood Pasolini's filmmaking grammar. Alec: I imagine it was during my extreme cinema phase. There was a period of a few years where I would look up lists of the Most Disturbing Films Of All Time. I look back on that now with a bit of disdain (which we discussed in our, um, discussion of cinematic garbage), but I imagine that I learned about it around the same time that I learned about Cannibal Holocaust and the others. That was probably mid 2000s, but I couldn't put an exact date on it. I know that I saw it for the first time after I had entered college, because I distinctly remember watching it. More specifically, I distinctly remember how little I felt while watching it. I had gone through A Serbian Film and Cannibal Holocaust and the August Underground films at that point, and I was expecting something to beat them all. It wasn't. I remember eating Pad Thai during the coprophagia scene and thinking, "This is probably disgusting." But the entire thing was so detached that it didn't phase me at all. It was horrible, but the effect was kind of numbing. And it took me a while to realize just how brilliant that was. I'm going to compare it to The Act of Killing, actually, because that film is about how mundane these horrible things are. Salo is the same way. It's so relentless and so evil and so clinical that you just sit there, munching on Pad Thai and looking at some of the most awful (yet artistic) images ever put to celluloid. Hubert: The Act of Killing is a great point of comparison. Salo and The Act of Killing are movies about the banality of evil, and every act of depravity, while shocking, also has an air of a common ritual or business proceeding--this isn't murder, it's an undertaking; this isn't murder, it's an act of killing. In Salo, the days have a schedule, there's a structured repetition of stories and meals, and this sense of order allows these acts to be carried out with a kind of boredom on the part of the libertines. They can make jokes because this is like another day at the office, and maybe the most chilling aspect of that is that this could be yet another round of commonplace depravity, just the latest set of teenagers that fascistic libertines murder a thousand times over to achieve a sadistic pleasure that is never sated and continually slips into boredom. The libertines say they're the ultimate anarchists, but this adherence to order and structure reveals them to be the ultimate fascists. When I interviewed Joshua Oppenheimer about The Act of Killing, he mentioned how normal everything seemed to the killers he encountered. One of the anecdotes Oppenheimer shared is something he caught on camera, and it appears toward the end of his follow-up film, The Look of Silence. It's two men recounting their killings in the place where they slaughtered hundreds of people, and then they do something so normal that it's terrifying. ( The Look of Silence comes out later this. I saw it at last year's New York Film Festival, and it's probably going to be my pick for the best movie of 2015.) One of the most aphoristic lines in Salo: "Nothing is more contagious than evil." History proves that. Evil is contagious and unstoppable. Alec: To that point, it's sort of interesting that Pasolini was murdered just before the release of Salo. It would have been fascinating to see how he reacted to the reaction. But more than that, I want to have seen the follow-up. The film was apparently intended to be the first in a three part "Trilogy of Death" following up his "Trilogy of Life." To think that Salo was the start of something is simultaneously revolting and amazing. It's entirely possible that had he lived, we would be talking about a different film entirely. (I cannot imagine what that might have been.) But perhaps we should go back to this idea of art. What really fascinates me about Salo is the fact that it is a part of The Criterion Collection. I can't imagine A Serbian Film or Cannibal Holocaust or any of those other horrific films getting the same level of recognition. More than anything else, that is a statement about its worth as a film. Honestly, being chosen for the Criterion Collection is about as bold a statement as can be made, at least in a certain sect of cineaste circles. All of the films are pretty much equally revolting in terms of content (maybe), but Salo stands apart. I wonder, though, if it's a function in part of the filmmaker behind it. Pasolini was a respected director who had a history of making films that were not Salo, so his decision to take on that project makes it even more unique. Do you think that if the exact same film had been made by a newcomer with a twisted mind, it would have the same impact on the art film community, or do you think it would be written off sort of like A Serbian Film as something that's just grotesuqe? Hubert: On the idea of a "Trilogy of Death" as a follow-up to his "Trilogy of Life," I wonder if the other two Death films would have also been inspired by classic works of literature. The Trilogy of Life is blossoming with eroticism and a joy about the body, and Salo is the negation of all that and the reduction of the body to an orifice/instrument/commodity. Nearly all sex is sadism in Salo. The two exceptions being secret trysts like brief escapes from hell, but even those end badly soon after they're discovered. These reprieves from hell are only discovered because the other victims are willing to rat out others to save their own skin. The fascists have broken any sense of solidarity and humanity among their victims, which may be their most awful triumph. I'm trying to think of what other books might have been part of a Death Trilogy, which would also play into Pasolini's disillusionment with capitalism. Voltaire's Candide? George Bataille's Story of the Eye? Titus Andronicus? Oedipus? Maybe Mein Kampf? I think Salo's cachet is precisely because it was made by Pasolini. Had a no-name newcomer made the same film, it probably would have been written off by its then-contemporary audience as crass obscenity with pretensions of being called art. And yet had a newcomer made the same film, I still think it would be discussed in the future (assuming someone rediscovered it) since there's an artfulness to the perversion that suggests a grander thesis. It's an approach that's much different than A Serbian Film (the most obvious modern-day heir to Salo) since Salo stands back from the horror rather than getting up close, as we mentioned. That distance that makes the evil mundane is also what makes the film more effective and more artful in what it's trying to accomplish. If someone other than Pasolini directed it, it wouldn't be in the Criterion Collection, that's for sure. I remember you mentioned a while back that you feel like A Serbian Film belongs in the Criterion Collection. For you, how does A Serbian Film (which is a metaphorical version of the decade of real-life horror that followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia) compare to Salo? Alec: The thing about these films (Cannibal Holocaust too, actually) is that once you know what the point is, you sometimes feel like it's screaming the point in your face. Admittedly, it's probably impossible to be simultaneously shocking and subtle, but there's not a lot of subtlety in the presentation of their ideas. I think both subscribe to the belief that enacting any kind of social change requires you to shock the masses out of complacency, even if that means that every so often The Point Of The Film leaps out of the screen and screams in your face. A Serbian Film is far more guilty of this than Salo, but they both have it. But what I think makes A Serbian Film so compelling in context with Salo is that they both refuse to let up on the viewer, but they do so in nearly opposite ways. Even as A Serbian Film uses closeups and shaky camera movements and all of that, you're never left wondering what, exactly, you're seeing. You always have enough to understand just how fucked up the entire thing is. But it's a modern version of that. It's like the difference between The Raid and an old Jackie Chan film. The camera in those films did almost nothing. Everything was on the actors and choreography. The Raid has excellent choreography, but the camera is a part of it too. You are a part of it and not just a passive observer. This is the exact same thing. Had the film been made in 1975, I think it probably would have looked more like Salo (and I think if Salo had been made in 2010, it probably would look more like A Serbian Film). I think both are products of their time, taking the cinematic language and twisting it to create an affecting experience. And that's why I think in the long term A Serbian Film will be a significant film like Salo is, because it is a representation of current cinema taken to the most extreme of extremes. Hubert: Without getting too sidetracked on martial arts movies, I think the first Ong-Bak is the most Jackie Chan-like movie that we're going to get post-1980s in terms of camera placement and movement in the frame. (One day we should do a Cult Club about a seminal 1970s kung-fu movie.) But yes, Salo and A Serbian Film are products of their time and their region, and their respective aesthetics are defined by that. Still, I think even just one feature film in, Spasojevic is a very different kind of filmmaker than Pasolini, but he seems more thoughtful about cinematic transgression than someone like Tom Six (The Human Centipede) who's out to upset without trying to say something substantive. Before we talk about the final scenes of Salo, one last digression. It might be worth addressing the elephant in the room, which is extreme cinema as an artform, of which Salo is one of the exemplars. There's the political dimension and aesthetic dimension to good extreme cinema that shows a social value and artistic merit that can transcend mere shock, but I wonder if there's also a kind of cinematic machismo to it. In other words, are certain movie fans playing a game of chicken with extreme films and extreme filmmakers? I mean, seeing Salo on a list of disturbing films felt like a dare to me when I was a young man. Unless something's changed that I'm not aware of, these sorts of movies still tend to appeal to the curiosity of teenage males and men in their twenties more than other groups of movie watchers. Is it the thrill of the forbidden, maybe? If these movies are crossing the upper limits of contemporary good taste to explore a taboo outland, are they also a proving ground for personal limits regarding bad taste? Alec: I think this gets a bit into that discussion we had back in the day about what I deemed cinematic trash. Films that show up on Most Disturbing Lists are being sold to a very specific audience. Cannibal Holocaust and August Underground are being sold to a very specific audience. A Serbian Film is a little bit different. Salo is more different still. But I think you're guessing high. It's not men in their 20s. It's kids in their teens. I was a teenager when I found the list that convinced me to watch a Cannibal Holocaust and August Underground. And though I was in my 20s when I saw Salo and A Serbian Film, those seeds were sown well before (and, as we've discussed, have withered quite a bit in recent years). But Salo's spot on those lists should come with a huge asterisk, because it's not a film for teens. Not just because the content is a bit much, but because the context requires, well, context. And without the context, the film's reputation precedes it. It is not nearly as "shocking" as many other disturbing films, despite being so disturbing, for all of the reasons stated here. This is where Salo "standing out" becomes particularly relevant. It doesn't have the fucked up appeal of Cannibal Holocaust. It's not something that you can really watch with a bunch of friends and laugh about. And I think that makes it a perfect litmus test, actually, along with maybe Irreversible, because they're art films with a hardcore edge. But if you get through all of Irreversible, that says a lot more than if you just see the first few scenes and turn it off. If you actually experience Salo and feel it and wrestle with it, then that's something different. The people who go into those films looking for sick thrills will either come out underwhelmed or transformed. They'll see that ultraviolence can be used to provoke something more than just a reaction, which is what so much of extreme cinema wants. It doesn't even matter what the reaction is, just that there is one. But Salo wants more than that. It wants a specific type of reaction, one that results from a very specific mindset. And with that, I think it's time to talk about those final scenes. Hubert: As if the feast of human shit wasn't infamous enough, there's the torture-filled finale. Watching Salo again, one of the striking things about that last sequence is where it's held and how it's depicted. It's on that estate somewhere, but it's in a place distinctly lacking the lush vegetation that's seen elsewhere outdoors. It's this lifeless enclosure of dirt and brick. And we're viewing these final acts of degradation silently and from an added distance, shot from the POV of a libertine at a high window using binoculars. After the descent through the Circles of Mania, Shit, and Blood within this wretched estate, we'd arrived at the deepest circle of hell, or its deepest pit, but we're overlooking this place from a window. Pasolini's use of space in these final shots is unnerving, and sound as well. (On that note, those war planes that groan in the background of some scenes are more ominous than any score.) We don't hear any of the screams of the victims, but just the radio in the room and the occasional voice of the libertine who's watching. And course, the creepiest of the libertines tells a joke about death since that's been his gimmick this entire time and a cavalier display of his power. We talked about jokes earlier, and I think Pasolini winds up making laughter one of the most terrifying sounds in the film. We never get to see what happens after this ritual of torture and murder is completed. The libertines on the ground do the can-can in hell, but there are still more tortures and more victims. There's no clean up, no departure from the estate, no sense of the libertines exhausting their desire for murder. Instead, we have a dance between the young guards to the song that opens the movie. I once thought there was some glimmer of hope in that final shot, but I've come to realize that this is a movie without any hope. The movie is its own circle of hell containing these other circles. The libertines succeed, the center of hell is just outside the window, and the future dances without doing anything about it. Alec: The image of the young man with his tongue being pulled by pliers is one of the most recognizable from the film, I think (primarily because it was featured on the cover of Criterion's original DVD release), but it's hardly the most grotesque image in that sequence. After a film of horrific actions but relatively minimal violence, the bloodletting comes as a particular shock. You see a cut throat and some bullet wounds, but nothing particularly gory. It's matter of fact and then it's done, even if the camera lingers on that cut throat for quite some time. But in that finale, the punishments come and they come hard. As the libertines watch from the window through their little binoculars, we are treated for the first time to the real closeups of violence that the film has never given us. But it's also the most overtly voyeuristic sequence. I mentioned before that the detached nature makes you feel a bit like a peeping tom, but in this sequence the rules change. For the first time, you are a part of it. You see through the eyes of the libertines as they revel in the torture and death of these kids. For once, you're complicit. As an aside, I find it fascinating that the one libertine who we see a more depressed side of throughout the film is the one who does not get to enjoy the sights from the comfort of the throne. He's always in the thick of it. All of this is an assault on the audience, though, the moments that truly hope to shock them out of complacency. The ending, in its apparent hopefulness, is the same. It's resigned to failure, to the belief that the battle against fascism has been lost. These kids get to dance, as do the libertines, while the unwashed masses lie dead and dying in the dirt. They get to think about their future, about going home to their girlfriends. They get to have a future, and there will be no punishment. Even worse, you get to see them revel in it. To quote your review of Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse: "Just how bleak can it get? None more bleak." Later This Month... You're going to get a double dose of The Cult Club this month since we had to push Salo back for the Tribeca Film Festival. And this time we're going with much lighter fare. With the fifth season of Louie winding down on FX, we're going to look at a cult movie that was extremely influential to Louis CK: Robert Downey Sr.'s 1969 satire Putney Swope. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING ON THE CULT CLUB The Last Dragon (1985) Tromeo and Juliet (1996) Samurai Cop (1989) El Mariachi (1992) Six-String Samurai (1998)
The Cult Club: Salo photo
"All's good if it's excessive"
Peir Paolo Pasolini's final film, Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, is one of the most notorious arthouse movies ever made and frequently cited among the most disturbing movies of all time. Inspired by the Marquis de Sade'...

The Cult Club: The Last Dragon (1985)

Mar 23 // Hubert Vigilla
The Last Dragon begins at the end of our hero Bruce Leroy's (Taimak) primary martial arts training. His name's really Leroy Green, but he's such a Bruce Lee wannabe that people call him Bruce Leroy. His teacher sends him on a quest to find Master Sum Dum Goy in order to achieve the golden glow, a kind of spiritual martial arts perfection that allows a true master to generate light from his or her body (i.e., going Super Saiyan). During this quest, Bruce Leroy is challenged to a duel by the hulking Sho'Nuff (Julius J. Carry III) and winds up embroiled in a kidnapping/music video extortion scheme involving TV host Laura Charles (Vanity) and Napoleonic arcade tycoon Eddie Arkadian (Chris Murney). Though Bruce Leroy goes on his quest alone, there's a Wizard of Oz vibe in his journey for Sum Dum Goy, making The Last Dragon the second NYC-based Wizard of Oz movie I can think of (the other is The Wiz). It makes the New York of the film a kind of fantasy setting, one that features roving gangs of costumed goons like Sho'Nuff and his posse (who wouldn't be out of place in The Warriors), and jive-talking Chinese dudes at a fortune cookie factory who, like Bruce Leroy, simultaneously subvert ideas of black and Asian identity (more on that later). The coming-of-age angle in The Last Dragon is equally fascinating. Despite his skill as a martial artist, Bruce Leroy is basically a socially inept nerd. He's spent his life dedicated to a niche interest, so much that he doesn't have an identity outside of Bruce Lee idolatry. You get the sense that he's lived entirely in his own head with little social interaction outside of his family and the dojo. When he meets Laura Charles and begins to have feelings for her, delayed puberty hits him like a spinning back kick to the gonads. (This is what David Cronenberg described in his audio commentary for The Fly as "the sexual awakening of a nerd.") Bruce Leroy's younger brother, Richie (Leo O'Brien), is more than happy to oblige his older brother with some birds-and-bees talk, which is another one of the film's switcheroos when it comes to character expectations and outward appearances. The primary narrative scaffolding for The Last Dragon is the arc of classic kung fu movies. There are the outward nods, of course, like Bruce Leroy in a the yellow Game of Death tracksuit or Sho'Nuff's red glowing hands a la King Boxer/Five Fingers of Death by director Chung Chang-Wha. (Both the Game of Death tracksuit and a sound cue from King Boxer/Five Fingers of Death would make appearances in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films.) But the structure of the kung fu movie is more important than the garnish. A lot of kung fu narratives, broadly, depict a hero on some kind of journey, a refusal or failure to meet a specific challenge, the escalating repercussions of this failure, a recognition of one's own faults (sometimes in the face of imminent defeat), and an act of problem solving that leads to triumph. The ultimate victory is the problem-solving moment, like when Jackie Chan gives up being macho and learns to love the feminine form of drunken boxing in the original Drunken Master, or when Bruce Lee metaphorically destroys his own ego in the hall of mirrors in Enter the Dragon, or when Gordon Liu creates a new weapon and wants to go beyond the 35th chamber in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Bruce Leroy's problem-solving moment is also the culmination of the Wizard of Oz fairy tale and the coming-of-age story: Bruce Leroy's got to grow up and be Leroy Green, his own man, forging his own identity unique from Bruce Lee, becoming his own master just like the heroes in kung fu films, and finally participating in the world outside. Bruce Leroy's journey is so internal, which makes Sho'Nuff the perfect villain for the film. Calling himself The Shogun of Harlem, Sho'Nuff is martial arts badassery externalized with no philosophical grounding. For Sho'Nuff, martial arts is a way to do things, but not a way of life that invites self-reflection or self-discovery. That tends to be a distinguishing characteristic of lots of martial arts villains, whether it's a heavy played by Hwang Jang Lee or those goons from The Cobra Kai. They're proficient in a fighting style, but limited by the idea of the style as an end in itself (i.e., "My tiger claw can beat your snake fist technique!" Nevermind that the hero has one-upped the baddie by combining snake style and crane style by the end). The Bruce Leroy/Sho'Nuff difference is made all the more apparent in the casting. Taimak is a real martial artist, and according to Wikipedia has black belts in in Karate, Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun, Hapkido, Jujutsu, and Tae Kwon Do. Carry, by contrast, had no martial arts background at all, but damn if he doesn't look like a supreme bad ass. (Carry even looked awesome as Lord Bowler, a supporting character in the Bruce Campbell vehicle The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., which aired for a single 27-episode season on Fox in the early 90s.) The most external part of Bruce Leroy's character calls attention to racial stereotypes and cultural identity, which even today seems pretty novel. Here's a young African-American man who lives in Harlem in the 80s, but he dresses like a coolie and speaks in a measured, contemplative, downright Buddhist tone; he even eats popcorn with chopsticks. The jive-talking Chinese guys I mentioned earlier are essentially the guards of Master Sum Dum Goy's fortune cookie factory. They make their first appearance in the film dancing in Chinatown with a massive boombox. The trio makes fun of Bruce Leroy's outfit and demeanor before dismissing him. It's a meeting of two different stereotypes that are upended, which calls into question, even in a small way, what it means to "act black" or "act Asian." Bruce Leroy is "acting Asian" yet seeing "blackness" reflected back to him in the guise of three Chinese guys, who are probably experiencing a similar and inverted moment of reflection. This cultural identity issue isn't just in that first scene with the Chinese characters. Later in The Last Dragon, Bruce Leroy tries to change his voice and "act black" in order to disguise himself and infiltrate the fortune cookie factory. He does this by mimicking his younger brother Richie, repeating the lines "Hey, my man, what it look like?" in different ways, including a Michael Jackson falsetto. (Just think of the complicated racial/cultural implications there.) The characters at the fortune cookie factory don't buy the act, but they think they can use Bruce Leroy's blackness in order to learn how to play craps properly, as if all black people know how to shoot craps. [embed]219059:42295:0[/embed] In another scene that comes earlier, one of the Bruce Leroy's students, Johnny (Glen Eaton), wants to exploit his Asian-ness as a martial artist by essentially "acting more Asian." Johnny claims he wants to take the art of fighting without fighting (another Bruce Lee nod) one step further. "I mastered the art of fighting without knowing how to fight," Johnny says. "You see, people are afraid of oriental dudes. Give them a little move, a little scream, and lots of attitude." Johnny makes like Bruce Lee with a stance and a scream, then he gets kicked in the head. Being a true martial artist takes work and isn't just about what people see on the outside, and maybe the same can be said about becoming yourself completely, whoever you are. These little moves and little gestures in The Last Dragon acknowledge that our cultural identity is far more fluid than fixed. Who we are isn't necessarily predetermined by outward signifiers because there's a certain ability to define oneself in a way that feels comfortable and also authentic. It's about personal identity as the three-section staff, the 36th chamber, beating Mr. Han in the hall of mirrors. Or, maybe thinking about it another way, it's like Bruce Lee put it: Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend. [embed]219059:42275:0[/embed] Next Month... Alec Kubas-Meyer and I discuss Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975). Banned in several countries upon release, Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo is one of the grandaddies of extreme cinema and consistently on lists of the most disturbing movies ever made. Salo is notorious for its graphic violence, sexual depravity, depictions of coprophagia (i.e., feces eating), and pervasive sadism. But is it art? PREVIOUSLY SHOWING ON THE CULT CLUB Tromeo and Juliet (1996) Samurai Cop (1989) El Mariachi (1992) Six-String Samurai (1998) The Warriors (1979)
Cult Club:The Last Dragon photo
Kiss my Converse!
The Last Dragon is a sort of time capsule. It's so era-specific with its plot elements--early music videos, a Soul Train analog, arcade culture, grindhouse cinemas, a song by DeBarge--that it couldn't be anything but an 80s m...

The Cult Club: Tromeo and Juliet (1996)

Feb 13 // Hubert Vigilla
Narrated by Lemmy from Motörhead in the first of his Troma cameos, Tromeo and Juliet follows Romeo and Juliet semi-closely. The Ques and the Capulets made low-budget skin flicks together, but their partnership ended poorly. Our star-crossed lovers (Will Keenan and Jane Jensen) live in Manhattan, though it looks more like Long Island City and Brooklyn since the Manhattan skyline figures in the background of many shots. Schlock ensues. Before going to work for Troma, Gunn received a creative writing MFA from Columbia. He purportedly tried to write Tromeo and Juliet in iambic pentameter before giving up, which is just the sort of unnecessary yet amusing formal constraint that an MFA student would attempt. There's a smattering of actual Shakespeare in the film, and used sparingly it's oddly effective. The meet-cute between our heroes culminates in a touching recitation of the "holy palmer's kiss" exchange. The couple spins on a Lazy Susan in front of a chintzy backdrop of stars, and the camera rotates in space, and for little money and textual faithfulness, Tromeo and Juliet captures the vertiginous joys of love at first sight. Ample bad taste is used to reconfigure much of the familiar story. The balcony scene takes place in a black box sex dungeon that Juliet's father has used to punish his little girl since childhood. Instead of biting thumbs, they flip birds. Instead of dueling with rapiers, one guy has a tomahawk with Hitler's face on it. The apothecary's drugs work differently--less like death, more like The Toxic Avenger. Bawdy puns are placed throughout, and also classy fart sounds and sophisticated boings. In Act V, the attempt at Shakespearian verse sounds more like Dr. Seuss. And there's loads of sexual repression in Juliet's bad dreams, which features a bizarre use of popcorn that recalls Troll 2. [embed]218947:42221:0[/embed] I noticed that Tromeo and Juliet hits some of the same notes as Gunn's later film Super. As Tromeo spends a lonely night looking at pornographic CD-ROMs, he cries as he climaxes over a fantasy of domestic bliss, repeating "I love you" as he hyperventilates. Later in the film, Juliet is so taken with her passion for Tromeo that she dials a phone sex line, her operator played by the morbidly obese and dispassionate Michael Herz. Herz sends her into ecstasy while he, bored and possibly hungry, eyes a Famiglia pizza box on his desk. That ugly yet honest desperation is all over the place in Super, with Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page as two psychotic and lonesome goofballs looking for approval and acceptance, sublimating their desire through grim vigilante justice. Super might be the most enjoyable Troma-esque movie in the last decade or so. Tromeo and Juliet could technically be counted as Gunn's first work as a director. According to an interview on Gunn's official website (not updated since December 2012), he associate directed the film while Troma's leader Lloyd Kaufman was the credited director. In an odd inversion of job duties, Kaufman handled the camera and the extras while Gunn got to work closely with the actors and supervise sets and special effects. If Gunn's fingerprints are on the performances like the screenplay, he gets a good amount for what he had, which was very little. Both Jensen and Keenan are fine as leads, Keenan especially since he has such a strange squirrely look to him. The best performance, however, is William Beckwith as Cappy Capulet. He vamps around, devouring scenery, shooting stuff with his crossbow, and he plays his role like Robin Williams on crack trying to be Shakespearian. Beckwith was a "real actor" (i.e., SAG), so he worked on Tromeo and Juliet under a pseudonym in order to get around union rules. Comparing Tromeo and Juliet to later Troma films like Terror Firmer and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, there seems to be a shift in overall tone. Given, I haven't seen Terror Firmer or Poultrygeist in a long while so I may be off on this, but Tromeo has the attitude of a snotty, sex-starved 15-year-old boy while the Troma movies that followed have the creepy demeanor of a dirty old man. That tension might be present in Tromeo, with the younger Gunn's writing merging with but ultimately succumbing to the sensibilities of Kaufman. Tromeo doesn't gross out or indulge in T & A as much as later Troma entries either, though some of the sex scenes run a bit long, and in my mind I picture some obnoxious 15-year-old boy getting uncomfortable while watching this on VHS--the maturing moment when something that was once hot becomes suddenly uncomfortable. At least the scenes are tasteful for Troma, for what that's worth. I tend to come back to the idea of misfit love stories since those are the best kinds of romances and the most meaningful. Rather than having two lovely people just like everyone else, the misfit romances have two oddballs against the world. That sense of opposition is obvious here in Tromeo and Juliet (even in the snotty and youthful demeanor it projects), though maybe it's also what's at play in Super and Guardians of the Galaxy. These are all misfit movies, with misfit relationships, and misfit characters, and all of them, in their own ways, are shown in opposition to the world that doesn't get them. Troma is, even still despite a sense of decline, a misfit company, and Gunn has remained faithful to Kaufman even now, giving the man who gave him his start cameos in his own films. Maybe the path from Tromeo to Guardians isn't so unlikely after all. Who better to make a movie about misfits than someone who loves misfits so much? [embed]218947:42219:0[/embed] Next Month... Am I the meanest? Sho'nuff! Am I the prettiest? Sho'nuff! Am I the baddest mofo low down around this town? Sho'nuff! The Last Dragon (1985) turns 30. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING ON THE CULT CLUB Samurai Cop (1989) El Mariachi (1992) Six-String Samurai (1998) The Warriors (1979) Funky Forest: First Contact (2005)
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Shall I compare thee to a penis monster? Thou art more lovely and covered in less slime.
[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pa...

The Cult Club: Samurai Cop (1989)

Aug 21 // Hubert Vigilla
In Samurai Cop, there were moments of remarkable cinematic disorientation that made me question the motives of writer/director Amir Shervan. I assume that he wanted to make a decent macho cop film, but he failed spectacularly. Time and continuity are in constant flux throughout Samurai Cop. During a gunfight, goons seen at noontime on a clear day fire their uzis at a cop who stands before a dim and overcast sunset. Car chases seem to take place at different hours of the day, from vehicle to vehicle and from shot to shot. The varying light quality is a giveaway, and so is the occasional wig donned by our wooden hero, Joe Marshall (Matt Hannon). ("Wooden" describes his performance as well as his mahogany tan.) Hannon must have cut off his Samsonesque locks at some point during production. Locations and basic spatial relationships aren't fixed either. One moment we're at a beachfront mansion where Joe tries to woo Jennifer (Jannis Farley) at the water's edge, the rocks around them wet and lapped at by the waves. She's a nubile restaurant owner who inexplicably carries a bikini with her when she goes to church just in case she needs to be seduced in proper beach attire. And then Joe and Jennifer wind up in a backyard pool. This is supposed to be the mansion, but it's obviously shot at a modest suburban home; the sensual whisper of the ocean has been replaced by the sound of nearby traffic. Bad guys infiltrate hospitals but then exit from chintzy apartment complexes. Fights start in an abandoned lot, but the combatants will then teleport to the hills (on goes Joe's wig), and then to a lush backyard, and finally return to that abandoned lot (off with Joe's wig). Samurai Cop violates fundamental laws of space and time. It is from some strange, dangerous, alternate dimension that is not fettered by reason. [embed]216232:40588:0[/embed] And there's more incompetence to enjoy. Every scene is a treasure of blunders. Color temperatures and image quality fluctuate wildly. The bullets in Samurai Cop will only draw as much blood as paintballs and ketchup packets, and they sure as hell won't puncture the chassis of a Cadillac. There's the collection of bizarre reaction shots too. Some of them are framed in a way that recalls a severely drunk Ozu, though most of them simply begin too early and look like a bad take, or linger too long like some sort of bad smell. The incompetence extends into the writing, but as with the technical matters, the magnificent level of incompetence somehow elevates the material. It's like a bad poem: intentionally bad poetry is never as enjoyable as awful poetry that aspires to be great. The story: Joe and his partner Frank (Mark Frazer) take on a Japanese gang in LA called Katana. Pretty much no one in the gang is Japanese. And that is all ye need to know. We're told that Joe's well-versed in the martial arts, and that's demonstrated through flailing hooks and a few choice wristlocks. Joe's also supposed to be fluent in Japanese, though I suspect he may be a bit rusty. If not rusty, maybe he's just a dim meathead. Frank asks, "What does 'katana' mean?" Joe replies, "It means 'Japanese sword'," with the straight-faced surety of Leslie Nielsen. (Okay, technically right, Joe. Technically.) Of course, he doesn't speak a word of Japanese throughout the rest of the film, and Joe even manages to bungle the name of the leader of Katana. [embed]216232:40589:0[/embed] I mentioned earlier that Samurai Cop makes for great unintentional comedy. When it tries to be funny, it tries too hard and winds up being hilarious for trying. Take the above scene in which Joe flirts with a nurse. There's no subtlety whatsoever, and Frank's facial expressions help coax out the unintentional laughs. The result is like tapdancing in a room full of whoopie cushions--I cannot not laugh. There are other sex jokes that are just as hokey throughout the film, like when Joe hits on his fellow cop Peggy (Melissa Moore). He keeps telling her to "keep it warm." A loyal horndog/would-be love interest, she smiles at him as if to say, "Sure thing, stud!" and "Oh you, tee-hee!" Most of the potential dead zones in Samurai Cop are thankfully and dutifully filled with gorgeous bare breasts. Shervan also throws in some full frontal nudity for good measure. The other thing that Shervan got right was casting cult movie actor Robert Z'Dar (Maniac Cop) as the second baddie in command. Z'Dar's an actor that audiences may not know by name, but they'd know him by his face: his jawline and chin are so prominent that he resembles a Dick Tracy villain. In some ways he's the Rondo Hatton of the late 20th century, and no-budget cult films are better for Z'Dar simply being. Z'Dar's performance is the best one in Samurai Cop by far. (Fellow genre movie veteran and recognizable "that guy" actor Gerald Okamura is all right too even though he's not given much to work with.) I've always found Z'Dar solid in films even when everything else around him wasn't. In Samurai Cop, his general competence is a kind of fixed point; his distinct face the North Star. Sometimes in movies that are so bad they're good, a base level of competence is required. It's something that the audience can anchor itself to while the squall of "what the fuck" swirls through the rest of a film. For all its 96 minutes of bafflement, I at least felt certain that Z'Dar would be okay and that I'd see boobs at least three times. These may be universal laws. There are so many other things to love about Samurai Cop for the discerning trash cinema enthusiast. The awful lines wind up being so quotable. The police chief has the best lines in the entire film, and if you watch the movie's trailer below, you can hear him recite the line to end all lines. (The chief also tells a lawyer to go to hell and get a job, and I can't stop laughing having just typed that.) Samurai Cop is borderline racist but completely oblivious to it like an older relative; and it's obnoxiously chauvinistic but is proud to flaunt it like a freshly oiled pair of bulging pectoral muscles. And then there are the little details, like a quirky side character who has no reason to be so quirky, or a bit of room decor that winds up becoming a scene stealer. It made me wonder if Shervan and his actors were at least a little bit aware of how ridiculous this all was. There were times I wasn't sure if I was pointing and laughing at Samurai Cop or pointing and laughing with Samurai Cop. Shervan passed away in 2006, and Hannon passed away last year. I'd like to think I was laughing at the movie but maybe laughing with them at it. Too many times, people approach movies that are so bad they're good with irony, as if ironic detachment is the only kind of justifiable enjoyment for shoddy material. While I usually don't believe there's a wrong way to watch movies, I think ironic detachment is the wrong way to love anything. All things should be enjoyed for the pleasure they cause, even the trashiest and cheesiest of movies. If Samurai Cop made me laugh, it's because its daffy spirit was infectious and I bought into it. Samurai Cop deserves to be shared and spread with friends. Sincerely. [embed]216232:40590:0[/embed] Next Month... Check back with The Cult Club in September for Philip Ridley's The Reflecting Skin (1990), which combines a strange vision of rural Americana with the ugly side of childhood. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING ON THE CULT CLUB February: El Mariachi (1992) January: Six-String Samurai (1998) December: The Warriors (1979) November: Funky Forest: First Contact (2005) October: Casino Royale (1967)
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There's sheer incompetence and then there's glorious incompetence
It's been a long while since the last installment of The Cult Club here on Flixist. As a lover of kitsch, trash, and strange but wonderful things, I figured today was as good a time as any to resurrect the feature. So, welcom...

The Cult Club: El Mariachi (1992)

Feb 11 // Nick Valdez
Now I'm now the most aware "cult movie" guy, so I'm not really sure what qualifies a film as a "cult" film. As far as I've known, a film achieves cult status when it turns out to be really good, but is widely ignored for some reason or another. Whether or not that definition holds true, it's what I'm going to reference with Mariachi. Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi is a Western film through and through. It just happens to have a few Mexican herbs and spices. It starts off with a man with no name, simply referred to as "Mariachi" (Carlos Gallardo, who has sadly become a member of "I'm here too you guys!" club) who wanders into the small town of Acuña, Mexico and quickly finds himself caught inbetween a rivalry between a drug lord, Moco (which hilariously translates to "Booger" in English), and Azul, the hitman with a guitar case full of weapons. With that synopsis, the film should sound familiar. Guitar case full of weapons? Where else has that happened?  If you're unaware of El Mariachi, you might at least know its spiritual successors Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Those two feature the same Mariachi character, but greatly differ from the original film. For one, the Mariachi is played by Antonio Banderas (probably because money), and the tones for the two films greatly emphasized absurdity over Mariachi's mysterious, subdued characterization. And it's important to note that before Rodriguez became obsessed with fantastical levels of gore and camp (leading to lines like, "Are you a Mexi-can or a Mexi-can't?"), he wanted to tell a great story with as much heart as possible. It's like Mariachi's low budget forced it to get the greatest return from as little investment as possible.  El Mariachi is deceptively simple, with its simplicity ultimately becoming its greatest asset. To once again get back to the "Western" thing, no one in the story has a last name or "true" name. Each character, from Mariachi to his love interest Domino, has a nickname that's meant to give them the tabula rasa characterization. This works most of the time (someone like "Domino" could have both a light and dark side), but ultimately serves a greater purpose. To be a truly great legend and form a mythic hero, a story that bypasses concrete definitions in any media, you have to be able to retell it. It's much more interesting to say "some Mariachi came in and shot some dudes" than "Fred shot some dudes." Now which one of the two sounds like a better story? The one with the mariachi (and if you answered with "Fred's" I hate you).  Beyond the names, the film evokes a Western image. Nameless man with a single characteristic (the Mariachi/the Cowboy/the Fastest Gun in the West) wanders into a town run by a single corrupt White man (which is odd in a Mexican inspired film, but says a lot when the White man's abuse of the Spanish language is far more noticeable than it should be), is mistaken for another due to his visual characteristics (there is a mix-up when "a man in black" is all the bad guys define him by), and then leaves the town at the end of the film as both the town and the hero change in its wake. And most of all, the Mariachi himself is a genuine badass.  As I've mentioned earlier, El Mariachi helped re-inspire me. It's ultimately what set me on my academic path. El Mariachi is a traditional hero's journey though and through. But the difference is that it's not an average man who becomes a hero, it's the hero who becomes a myth. Even though the Mariachi equates himself to a turtle in the beginning of the story, he possesses certain skills. Despite fighting for his life in a haphazard fashion, he manages to kill four of Moco's men. He demonstrates a hero's skill, and since we know so little about him (and because of the initial confusion that likened him to the hitman Azul), there's no true way to define him one way or the other. When he finally drives off into the sunset, with  nothing but a bulldog, the memory of his love, and his guitar to keep him company, he becomes a legend.  El Mariachi's hero's journey, and it's deceptively simple mythic quality, motivated my once dead dream. I wanted to tell a story just like this. I wanted a character that could inspire others, I wanted to use a low budget to my advantage, I wanted to make a film that isn't an embarrassment to Mexican culture, and I wanted my own El Mariachi.  It's a shame that no one else did.  Next Month... Are you a marijuano? Do you like to partake in the occasional herb brownie every now and then? Alec Kubas-Meyer tells you why that's a bad idea with Reefer Madness (1936). PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB January: Six-String Samurai (1998) December: The Warriors (1979) November: Funky Forest: First Contact (2005) October: Casino Royale (1967) September: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
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"Lo que quería era solamente ser un mariachi como mis antepasados..."
[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pa...

The Cult Club: Six-String Samurai (1998)

Jan 11 // Hubert Vigilla
There is a very short distance between high art and trash, and trash that contains the element of craziness is by this very quality nearer to art. -- Douglas Sirk Douglas Sirk was referring to melodrama when he said that, but I think the same holds true for cult movies, and even a lot of postmodern art and writing. Whether it's the childlike anarchy of Nobuhiko Obayashi's House (Hausu) or the surreal Mexico City of the mind in Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre, the crazy elements are essential to the art of the cult movie -- sometimes the cult movie is an argument for the art of craziness. So many cult films are set apart by their willingness to do what many other films are unable or unwilling to do, and in this excess and exploitation is a kind of ecstasy. In Six-String Samurai, it's all about bringing things together into sort of Mulligan stew version of alternative history. (A Mulligan stew is something hobos used to make, basically throwing whatever they could into the pot for flavor: beans, chicken, vegetables, boots. It's a crazy concoction, like the childhood potions I used to make out of whatever was in the refrigerator.) Alternate history stories ask an essential question, and I think there are two in Six-String Samurai. The first: what if the Soviet Union used nukes on the United States in the late 1950s? The second: what if Buddy Holly didn't die with The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens and then became a supreme stoic badass in the style of Ogami Itto and Mad Max? Though it's never explicitly stated this is Buddy Holly we're watching in the wastelands of America, the glasses and the clothes heavily imply it. For a long time I wondered where his Stratocaster went since he's carrying a semi-hollow in the wasteland. Now I just assume he traded in his Strat for a katana after the bomb fell because it would be more useful; the hollow body he must have taken from the bucko who broke his glasses. In the world of Six-String Samurai, the last bit of proper civilization is Las Vegas, renamed Lost Vegas after the nuke. Elvis, that former King of Rock and Roll, has died and left the throne empty. Buddy (Jeffrey Falcon) is en route to Vegas to claim his destiny, but he winds up having to care for a recently orphaned boy simply known as The Kid (Justin McGuire). The Kid is mostly inarticulate, which I assume is partly out of PTSD from seeing his parents killed and partly out of affectation since it's a kooky conceit. On Buddy's trail is Death himself, less like Bengt Ekerot's Grim Reaper from The Seventh Seal and more like Slash from GNR. I wonder if Death's already taken out Valens and The Bopper; I hope Jerry Lee Lewis gave that son of a bitch hell; I dream that Roy Orbison fought like Zatoichi until the bitter end. Written and directed by Lance Mungia, Six-String Samurai is a hodgepodge of Americana merged with post-apocalyptic ideas. You have a bit of narration provided by Wolfman Jack (or at least someone who sounds a lot like him), there are weirdos in astronaut suits, a cannibalistic nuclear family, the coonskin cap is a holdover from the Davy Crockett craze, there are bowling team buddies who no one messes with. But on top of these quintessentially American things are little touches of internationalism that were en vogue for cineastes who came of age in the 80s and 90s, the era of home video, cable movie shows, rising interest in cult entertainment, niche film clubs, etc. There's obviously a lot owed to Lone Wolf and Cub and the Mad Max movies, but the added flair comes from the surf rock soundtrack by The Red Elvises -- think Dick Dale hanging ten on the Volga -- and the martial arts choreography by Falcon himself. Falcon had played bit parts in Hong Kong movies (most notably some films with Cynthia Rothrock), and Buddy's fights are done with the style of a Hong Kong flick of that decade. This blend of everything is an example of that time capsule and time machine aspect to Six String-Samurai. This is the epitome of the 1950s frozen in a state of peachy keen fashion and Cleaver family values following the explosion of a bomb, but it's also tying in heavy metal, a music genre that wouldn't have reached its fetal state without the 1960s. There's a meta level to all this as well since the movie is so much an object of its decade while reflecting a warped version of decades past: Six-String Samurai has all the flash of 90s indie filmmaking (think Robert Rodriguez) as well as the referentialism (think Quentin Tarantino, who would make his own Mulligan stew with Kill Bill). In a sense, post-apocalyptic films are all a little bit fantastical in a strange way even if they technically have science fiction roots. Each story opens with an implicit, "Once upon a time after the world ended..." It sounds like a post-apocalypic Spaghetti western waiting to be made. We're asked to fix a time given the surviving artifacts and bits of culture that we're shown, but we're also asked that the storytellers be given some wiggle room since they're using whatever pieces of culture they want to present a world that comes after the one we know. Maybe in addition to being time machines and time capsules, post-apocalyptic movies are like assemblage works of art: you take a bunch of junk and refuse and put them together in an interesting way, like Robert Rauscheberg or a Joseph Cornell. (Mulligan stew at MoMA.) In this case, the Cornell box contains Buddy Holly, samurais, and loads of visual style to keep things moving. Or, given the crazed, childlike quality of the storytelling, maybe it's like destroying the world and peopling it with your favorite action figures. Everything about Six-String Samurai feels like a hyperactive kid's weekend spent in the sandbox. (I still think if they ever made a sequel or spiritual sequel to Six-String Samurai, it would have to star the noisy Japanese punk band Guitar Wolf; it would also have to be a post-apocalyptic western as part of some American/Japanese cult movie exchange program. Maybe they can call it Once Upon a Time After the World Ended.) But in addition to the action and the bizarre assemblage of 1950s stuff and 1990s stuff -- the movie seems like it'd be king of the Island of Misfit Toys if it was an action figure -- what makes Six-String Samurai so enjoyable is the handful of quotable lines, which have needled their way into my brain since I first watched the movie on VHS. Knowing the context or not, there's just something hilarious about the line, "Only one man can kill this many Russians"; ditto the flatout goofiness of, "Nice tuxedo. Nice tuxedo to die in!" My own personal favorite: Mesh-Head: If I were you, I would run. Buddy: If you were me, you'd be good-lookin'. That's as smooth as the action on Buddy's semi-hollow. Ever since seeing Six-String Samurai, I've been waiting for a moment to say that line. It hasn't happened yet. Six String-Samurai seemed forgotten for so long even though there's so much craziness that makes it memorable. It was a festival darling of the 1990s, a peculiar indie oddity in a decade full of them, but for a while it felt like I was the only person I knew who saw it, dug it, and pushed it on friends. (When I was in college, I once heard a film studies professor champion the movie after class. In that warped way that litmus test movies work, this incident made her seem 20 times hotter even though she was really attractive to begin with.)  I was happy to hear about the nod to the film in Fallout: New Vegas, that's damn snappy, but I wasn't all too pleased with the less-than-happy fate of Mungia's and Falcon's film careers. Six-String Samurai had a budget of $2 million, and despite the buzz it got from lots of online reviews, the movie was a total bomb at the box office. Mungia has only one other feature to his name: the 2005 direct-to-video sequel The Crow: Wicked Prayer. I haven't watched it, but I was contemplating seeing it prior to writing this piece. I just ran out of time, unfortunately. Maybe it's for the best given its reception. The Crow: Wicked Prayer currently holds a 2.8 on IMDb, and I doubt it's done with the same goofy glee as Six-String Samurai. For Falcon, Six-String Samurai was his final film credit. Accounts online say he started living in China after the film, though his last known whereabouts as of 2005 was working at an airport in Los Angeles. It's a little sad what happens after the end of the world, at least in actual history. In an alternate history of our world, I'd like to imagine Mungia got to do a few more crazed bits of assemblage, and Falcon got to be a decent cult star. But in actual history, I think they can both be legitimately happy, even with the box office drubbing. Six-String Samurai still has its devotees; it survived the box office apocalypse. Like Hunter Thompson said of Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (another bomb): There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die. That's my Buddy. Hail! Hail! Rock and roll! [embed]214031:39440[/embed] Next Month... You boys like Mexico?! That's where Nick Valdez is taking you for El Mariachi (1992). PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB December: The Warriors (1979) November: Funky Forest: First Contact (2005) October: Casino Royale (1967) September: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) August: Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002)
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If you were me, you'd be good lookin'
[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pa...

The Cult Club: The Warriors (1979)

Dec 11 // Sean Walsh
Let me break it down for the uninitiated: Loosely based on Xenophon’s Greek epic “Anabasis,” the movie follows the nine members of titular gang The Warriors as they and every other gang in New York City assemble in Van Cortlandt Park at the behest of Cyrus (Roger Hill), the ultra-charismatic leader of the city’s most powerful gang, the Gramercy Riffs. He tells them that they outnumber the city’s cops five-to-one and if they were to all join together, they could take the city over. Things go real bad real quick when Luther (David Patrick Kelly) leader of the trouble-making gang The Rogues, shoots Cyrus, sending the gangs into disarray. Luther then proclaims that the Warriors shot Cyrus, which pretty much marks them for death. The Warriors quickly find themselves hunted by every gang in the city as they desperately try to make their way to their home turf (approximately twenty-five miles away, according to Google Maps). They will face cops, guys with painted faces and baseball bats, punks on roller skates, and treacherous ladies as they make their long trek home. One thing I remember most about the first time I saw The Warriors was being captivated by the movie. Everything about it oozed with awesome. The electric soundtrack seeped deep down into my system, the gangs were ludicrously colorful and each had their own gimmicks that would be silly to hear about but were, in practice, pretty badass (if you told me a bunch of dudes in karate gis were the most powerful gang in the movie before watching it, I would’ve given you quite the look), and the plight of the Warriors played out much like a video game: go from point A to point B, beat these dudes up while you do it, and don’t die. I think that might be the magic of The Warriors. It’s basically Beat’em Up: The Movie, despite coming out half a decade before the first beat’em ups, and ultimately became an excellent last-gen beat’em up itself, where it greatly expanded on The Warriors canon. While several of the cast members went on to have decent careers, the most famous is likely to be James Remar, who you might recognize as Harry, Dexter’s late father and constant hallucination on Dexter. Remar plays the Warriors’ resident meathead jerk would-be rapist, and one of the most memorable characters in the film due to his crude behavior and aggressive streak, and has said that he owes his career to The Warriors. Almost ever scene in The Warriors is memorable, but there’s several lines and characters that have gone down in cinema history, and even those who haven’t seen the film might recognize them: “Caaaaaaaan yooooooooooou diiiiiiiiiiiig it?” has popped up here and there, and while I can’t swear to it, wrestler Booker T may have gotten his one-time catchphrase from the film. The most iconic, “Warriors, come out and plaaaaaaaay-iayyyyyyy” and its accompanying bottle-clinking, has popped up in numerous places, including the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Shame on a Nigga,” Twisted Sister’s “Come Out and Play,” and by Puff Daddy at the start of the remix of Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear.” The Baseball Furies are arguably the film’s most iconic gang, and years later, a very similar gang of thugs popped up, appropriately enough, in the Streets of Rage games. If you haven’t seen The Warriors, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of the Director’s Cut. It takes something that was already nearly perfect and makes it even more awesome. The Warriors is one of those really great pieces of cult cinema because it’s pure badassery at its finest almost from the word ‘go.’ References pop up here and there and whenever you hear them, you’re sure to grin because you’re in on it. That’s ultimately what cult film is all about, right? Being in on it? And any movie that has a video game adaptation made (even decades after the fact) that actually comes out good? Well, I think we all know that’s saying something. [embed]214010:39285:0[/embed] Next month: Be sure to tune in when one-time Electric Eliminator Hubert Vigilla takes a look at the classic post-apocalyptic rockabilly action-comedy Six-String Samurai. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB November: Funky Forest: First Contact (2005)  October: Casino Royale (1967) September: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) August: Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002) July: Batman (1966) June: Surf Nazis Must Die (1987)
Insert your favorite "Come out and play" reference here.
The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pac...

The Cult Club: Funky Forest: First Contact (2005)

Nov 13 // Jenika Katz
[embed]213637:39119[/embed] Funky Forest is so incoherent that, when asked what it's about, it's easier just to describe a scene than give a basic plot outline. The movie is a series of vignettes using the same actors that sometimes are and sometimes aren't the same characters they acted as previously. The scattered bits of story are mostly linear, but intertwine with each other so gently that it feels like a surprise when one character knows another. One story line follows the pseudo-romance of Takefumi and Notti, a student and her former teacher that are kind of dating, but not really. Takefumi would like to date her seriously, but Notti is reluctant to admit her true feelings to him and get in too deep. In case that sounds a little too normal for this movie, Takefumi has two uvulas and believes he was abducted by aliens, and both express their feelings through elaborate dreamworld dance sequences. Another branch follows the Unpopular With Women Brothers. Masaru, known as Guitar Brother, pops up the most often. He is either an anime artist or a high school gym teacher, perhaps both, and he plays the guitar very poorly. There's Katsuichi, the traditional Japanese brother who loves kabuki and hot springs. Their younger brother, Masao, is a fat white child who only learned enough Japanese to awkardly stumble over his few lines, and he is constantly shoving a Snickers bar in his face. The connection between stories is faint, and seems almost coincidental. One section entitled Babbling Hot Springs Vixens, which focuses on three very talkative saleswomen in a hotel telling each other stories, shows the women running into Traditional Brother, mentioning offhand that they are friends with Takefumi, and bringing up a fictional tale about an alien named Piko-riko that comes up in a later, completely separate section. The women never show up outside of their segment, but they seem to know everyone. One of them also looks a bit like Japanese Aubrey Plaza. It's hard to say anything cohesive about Funky Forest without just giving a blow-by-blow of each scene. Many scenes feel like a collection of events happening with no apparent reason, and even careful analysis of each scene and the order they fall into does not yield any more answers about an overall theme. Perhaps there is a connection between a comedy duo that nods to the Three Stooges and school children playing sexualized alien instruments, and it's just too difficult to read. There's something happening at every moment, and it is usually incredibly bizarre. Even the more normal sections of the movie are shot or edited in a way that inspires an entrancing sort of discomfort. Disconnected, intentionally messy edits with long sections devoid of any audio or video mingle with long still shots of a character doing something incredibly banal. There's always the anticipation that the whole scene is about to explode, and when that expectation is not met, it somehow becomes worse. Funky Forest is not a musical, but the prevalence of song and dance numbers heavily toes the line. The dance numbers themselves feel less bizarre than the rest of the movie, perhaps because choreographed dance has a way of taking the reality out of a scene on its own, but one involves a character dancing with an animated titty monster so it's not like it becomes momentarily sane. The music itself is catchy, ranging from heavy guitars and screaming to soothing electronic with elephant noises. If you're interested in experiencing the absurdist roller coaster that is Funky Forest, the movie is available online, but it's really worth getting on DVD. It's best experienced when sober. The movie is a two-and-a-half hour drug trip on its own, and you really shouldn't cross-haze with this one. Seriously. You'll go insane. Next month: The Cult Club expands when Sean Walsh asks The Warriors to come out and play! PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB October: Casino Royale (1967) September: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) August: Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002) July: Batman (1966) June: Surf Nazis Must Die (1987) May: The Apple (1980) April: Santa Sangre (1989)
One of Japan's finest instances of insanity.
[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the...

The Cult Club: Casino Royale (1967)

Oct 11 // Matthew Razak
Casino Royale actually could have been a legit Bond film. Before Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman grabbed the rights to the Bond books and started producing them under their production company Eon, Ian Fleming had made a deal with two producers for Casino Royale. Eventually those rights were bought by producer Charles K. Feldman. After Bond became a mega hit Feldman obviously wanted in on the action so the original idea was that he would team up with Saltzman and Broccoli and make Casino Royale an official Bond film. However, as we'll find out, Feldman was not an easy man to work with and the partnership did not work out for a variety of reasons (Broccoli and Saltzman had already been burned by co-producing Thunderball with Kevin McClory). So Feldman decided to make his own Bond film and set about doing it. But after Sean Connery, who had recently quit the Eon films, demanded $1 million to star in Feldman's Bond, Feldman was convinced he couldn't make a straight Bond film and would instead have to make a satire. What ensued was a story of massive budgets, epic controversy and a lot of gigantic egos colliding. It is quite literally not a pretty picture.  The cast of Casino Royale was made up of pretty much anyone who wanted to be in the movie. There are cameos so small that you wonder why the big name star even bothered to show up. But the main cast is beyond impressive including David Niven, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Ursula Andres, Woody Allen and Deborah Kerr. It all started out so promising too with Academy Award winning screenwriter Ben Hecth drafting up some more serious takes on the character until Feldman decided to satarize the story. Even then Billy Wilder was brought in and hope remained that a quality film could come out. After all, with everyone and their mother chomping at the bit to be in a Bond film and a proven screenwriter how could things go wrong. Of course that was not to be, and it was mostly Feldman's fault. No one got along with anyone on this film except David Niven, because everyone loves David Niven. Feldman seems to have been universally hated by everyone involved as he would constantly change the screenplay and goals of the film, Sellers, also dealing with personal issues, eventually walked off the set as he and Orson Welles didn't get along, and the movie ended up with six different directors by the time the film was done. While the multiple director gag was eventually adopted as part of the whole concept of the film it hardly worked and left the sixth director Val Guest, who refused to be called a director of the film for fear that it would sully his name, with a big mess to piece together. Obviously things did not go well for this film, and you can read the full history elsewhere as it's both long and I've only got so much space. The internet doesn't go on forever, you know. What's most striking about Casino Royale is how completely separate the six director's sections are. Despite all of them actually being accomplished directors (Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish and Richard Talmadge) none of them seem to have any idea what is going on. There is almost no attempt to connect anything together. It's almost as if they were working in a cocoon, which is entirely possible since most of them left the film upset. Take Ken Hughes' work on the film, which involved most of the scenes shot in Berlin where James Bond's daughter goes undercover. It's shot and designed like a German Expressionist film and at no time even attempts to play nice with the rest of the directors. Huston on the other hand goes straightforward with his scenes with David Nevin, though by the time the screenplay got to him he was directing a story that made absolutely no sense. You can almost hear him wearily shouting cut every time the film changes scenes. And then there's poor Val Guest who was handed the disconnected work of five other directors by Feldman and told to make a movie out of it. The fact that the film even has a a plot is a strong argument that Guest is actually the greatest director ever. What's really astonishing about Casino Royale is that it gets better with age. At the time of its opening it was universally panned (thought it made a tidy sum), but in hindsight it becomes far better. Part of this is simply because the back story makes it all the more fun to watch, but despite it's incoherent rambling from one director to another it actually comes across as charming in a psychedelic sort of way. If you stop thinking about it as a Bond parody and start thinking of it as something completely different from anything else ever you start to get intrigued by what will come next. There's also no arguing that Peter Sellers isn't one of the greatest actors ever (despite what Orson Welles evidently thought). There are times in this movie where you seriously consider Sellers as a legitimate actor to play Bond, and other times where you seriously consider actually laughing at the absolutely horrendous jokes he's forced to deliver just because he's that good.  No, really the jokes are terrible. Despite some of cinema's funniest people working on the movie's screenplay they almost all fall flat. They're miss-timed and when they aren't they're just plain bad. Add to that the fact that Orson Welles demanded he do magic tricks for some reason and someone thought that was hilarious, and you can see how unfunny this movie gets. Want to take a guess as to whose fault that is? That's right: Mr. Feldman. Evidently the man had the comic timing of an unconscious buffalo, but didn't realize it. Many of the directors simply gave up trying to stop him from meddling and thus almost every joke in the film was reworked into an unfunny mess by the producer himself. It's sad that Feldman's life obsession was this film and yet he was the one who ended up ruining it.  Casino Royale is a movie that needs to be experienced because there really is nothing else like it out there. No other movie has imploded on itself like it did and kept on going. That's the crazy thing. It's clearly falling apart and yet it keeps on going only to end in a giant, cameo-filled action sequence that obliterates the entire plot. It's as if to say, "There's no way to end this but to blow it up." You don't have to like Casino Royale, you don't have to enjoy watching it, but if you like movies it's just one of those movies you have to see. In the end you may wind up enjoying it anyway. 
A train wreck unfolding before your eyes
[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from t...

The Cult Club: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

Sep 10 // Hubert Vigilla
The Man Who Fell to Earth was Roeg's third solo outing as director, and it's easily one of his best, right up there with his eerie masterpiece Don't Look Now (1973) and his debut Walkabout (1971), the latter of which helped fuel my teenage obsession with actress Jenny Agutter. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, the film follows Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien who comes to Earth in order to send water back to his drought-stricken planet. To fund the rescue mission, he becomes the head of his own international company, World Enterprises, and then unwittingly turns into a reclusive celebrity. In the process he loses sight of what brought him to Earth in the first place. The memory of Thomas's wife and children is always there, but they become less real and more ghost-like as the film progresses. In Thomas's visions -- some are memories, others may be bleak glimpses of the present or just Thomas's own conjecture -- his family waddles through sand dunes with large, cat-eyed, forlorn expressions. At points they simply stand bereft beside their home, a mix of work shed, monorail, and sailboat. While Thomas himself is a fascinating portrait of someone who becomes all too human, it's the supporting characters of The Man Who Fell to Earth that help make it memorable. There's Mary-Lou played by Candy Clark (Roeg's girlfriend at the time), a housekeeper at a New Mexico hotel who eventually becomes Thomas's lover. She's a simple down-home girl who turns into the complicated, uneasy partner of a business mogul. There's college professor Dr. Nathan Bryce played by Rip Torn, just a few years after he tried to kill Norman Mailer in Maidstone (linked video NSFW). Bryce picks up coeds and fucks them silly, eventually sublimating his urges for 18 year olds by working for World Enterprises. And there's attorney Oliver Farnsworth played by Buck Henry, who does his best to protect Thomas and his World Enterprise holdings throughout the course of the film. Watching each of these supporting performances play out holds The Man Who Fell to Earth together. The film is about mood and time rather than plot, and both are conveyed through people. Clark is especially good, her broad smile eroding as she and Thomas retreat from the world to their Japanese lake house. All the supporting characters age while Thomas remains the same. The make-up has held up nicely, or at least it's more believable than Prometheus. The older Dr. Bryce looks a lot like an older Rip Torn, and ditto the older Fransworth like an older Buck Henry. Clark's age make-up is harsher -- think Lea Thompson at the beginning of Back to the Future, but the alcoholic bloat is nowhere near as kind. She wound up aging more gracefully in real life, kind of like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). While Thomas is ageless, he grows just as world-weary as the supporting players -- his soul is what gets older and more pathetic rather than his body. The movie is mainly a showcase for Bowie, and Thomas is a great vehicle for him to inhabit. With the Ziggy Stardust and Thin White Duke personas, Bowie was able to explore notions of rock and role idolatry, the cult of celebrity, and artistic reinvention as a kind of self-discovery and self-alienation (personality as art; personality as phenomenology?). It was Bowie playing an outsider as a critique of the culture at large for those in the know -- the hip-to-it crowd who saw celebrity for the the bullshit it was but loved the bullshit too. This sort of shtick would be adopted in different forms and for different reasons by people like Klaus Nomi, Marilyn Manson, and Lady Gaga. Thomas gets Bowie's shock of red hair -- something quintessentially Ziggy -- and the chic of The Duke. He's a hybrid Bowie: both a stage presence as a screen presence. Bowie was always acting throughout his career, but this makes it big-screen official. The rise and fall of Thomas Jerome Newton seems to find expression in lots of Bowie's music before and after The Man Who Fell to Earth. There's "Space Oddity" (1969), a correspondence both obvious and coincidental. The song's spiritual sequel "Ashes to Ashes" from Scary Monsters (1980) might be a better expression of the character by the end of the film: "Ashes to ashes, funk to funky / We know Major Tom's a junkie / Strung out in heaven's high / Hitting an all-time low." There's lots of Aladdin Sane (1973) in there as well -- a fractured personality, panic, paranoia, mental deterioration filtered through a chaotic piano solo, a sense of a person's life being torn up by the rigors of celebrity. The sex, drugs, and rock and roll of "Cracked Actor" seem to suggest the coming of The White Duke and the fall of Thomas, where the only things that are real are sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Then we get to "Fame" (1975), that overt essay on the bullshit of celebrity. David Cronenberg once said that he doesn't think of his movies as thematically connected through time but more like autobiographies -- he thinks of them in terms of what happened on a given day of shooting. Bowie seemed to take that approach to his performance in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Coked out of his mind, Bowie would simply show up on set and read his lines the way he was feeling that day. And it worked. What better way to play a celebrity space alien with a substance abuse problem than being an alienated celebrity with a substance abuse problem? So while Bowie is playing a role and a synthesis of his music personas, he's also being completely himself (albeit a lost soul). The concerns of The Man Who Fell to Earth were the concerns of Bowie the man. Bowie intended to score The Man Who Fell to Earth but Roeg opted for different music -- songs that were folksier, with occasional sound textures made of dissonant chimes, blips, and whale song. Parts of Bowie's unused score would inform the album Low (1977), the first of the Berlin Trilogy with Brian Eno. The man, the music, the movie -- all connected, no bullshit. With drugs and rock and roll out of the way, it's time for the sex, and The Man Who Fell to Earth has a good amount of it. Sex is an essential part of being human and an essential part of the narrative; sex is a supporting character, conveying mood and time just like Clark and Torn and Henry. When we see Dr. Bryce romp with coeds, it's aggressive, hedonistic, caveman wrestle-fucks -- sex as physical conquest, it's meaningless but it's lively. In one scene (restored in the director's cut), a coed grabs Dr. Bryce's flaccid dick and says to it (not him initially), "You know, you're not at all like my father." At first it's like she's speaking into a microphone, but she's talking to him through the only part that she cares about. They've come to a mutually agreeable reduction of each other: he's just old cock who can up her grades, perfect for an undergrad getting through lower div; she's just young pussy with daddy issues, perfect for a guy going through a mid-life crisis. Ain't we got fun? But Dr. Bryce gives it up to work for World Enterprises, and so much is said (maybe more than his accompanying voice over) when he turns down a willing coed with a simple, paternal touch of the shoulder. There's even a character arc to Mary-Lou and Thomas's relationship told through sex. It starts idyllic, the sort of thing you'd see on the cover of a romance novel if they favored actors of slighter frames rather than models of heaving bosoms. Their next sex scene is one of alienation, with Thomas in his true form and Mary-Lou frightened out of her life. And yet she's curiously drawn to his prone figure in bed -- it's the lonely, disenchanted state of their relationship. In an interview for the out-of-print Criterion release of The Man Who Fell to Earth, Clark said she and Bowie felt uncomfortable with the nude scenes and felt a little icky about doing them. This ickiness is all over this scene. The final sex scene between Thomas and Mary-Lou is ugly. It's sex in desperate squalor by two drunks, one of them unflatteringly older, both crueler; the graceless Dr. Bryce scenes without the youth or the joy. What's remarkable is Roeg's cross-cutting, which harkens back to Don't Look Now. In one of the most famous sex scenes of the 1970s, we watch Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie make love (supposedly for real) while also watching them get dressed. The Man Who Fell to Earth goes beyond that. Dr. Bryce and a coed are intercut with a kabuki theater battle; Mary-Lou and Thomas's first scene is intercut with shots of domestic bliss; during the alienating sex scene, we get images of extraterrestrial mating, and it could have been something out of Ken Russell's Altered States (1980) -- a psychedelic freak-out full of cottage cheese and milk. The final sex scene has choice snippets from earlier in the film to remind the audience just how ugly these lives have gotten. By doing this, Roeg takes an outsider view of sex and offers a cynical evaluation of human relationships -- even intimacy falls, like Thomas, like Mary-Lou, like Icarus into the sea. And no one seems to notice. Everything's drying out or collapsing or decaying in some way, and Roeg's conveying a lot of this through his collisions of imagery and sound. These correspondences also create a wigged out vision of the America bizarre. There's something heightened about outsider views of American culture, where all the good and bad of the country's rhapsody are underlined, italicized, and bolded. Think Vladimir Nabokov's take (via Humbert Humbert) in the novel Lolita or Jim Sheridan's semi-autobiographical vision from In America (2002), ditto Paul Verhoeven's satirical take in RoboCop (1987) or the hopes and disenchantments of Billy Wilder's movies. I mentioned the score filled with blips and whale song, but there's also radio static, presses printing, telegraph communication, traffic. The world is filled with a kind of unending cultural static. Even the pastoral areas seem packed with lives lived. During one scene, Thomas suddenly catches a glimpse of a pioneer family who, in turn, sees a limo on the dirt road. Even those open spaces are inhabited by unseen information. The images continue, with Thomas seeking answers to life on Earth through television. He watches several at the same time, addicted to the glass teat just like he's addicted to gin. It's a parallax view that leads nowhere since there's no truth to most television, just the stuff on the surface. Thomas laments to Dr. Bryce at one point that the problem with television is that it shows you everything about life on Earth but all the true mysteries remain. His mind is rotting from facts without answers, but the TV is a palliative so he can't help but watch junk. It seems to anticipate lyrics from the Talking Heads song "Crosseyed and Painless," a kind of alienation through information overload: "Facts are simple and facts are straight / Facts are lazy and facts are late / Facts all come with points of view / Facts don't do what I want them to." Thomas's plans to save his planet get diverted, and he deals with the pain of failure with TV and Beefeater. He's too out of it to realize what's happened. He's become one with the Auden poem "Musée des Beaux Arts" and the Breughel painting the poem's about, "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus." The painting depicts the wax-winged boy as a body mostly submerged save for thrashing legs. Life around him carries on. In the Auden poem, "everything turns away / quite leisurely from disaster"; Thomas's mission viewed by the people of the Earth: "not an important failure." (In a William Carlos Williams poem about the same painting, the fall is described as unnoticed and "unsignificant.") Going back to "Space Oddity," peeling a memorable line out of context, Thomas's predicament boils down to a helpless statement of fact: "Planet Earth is blue / And there's nothing I can do." We're all in the same boat. Maybe the only other people who could have played Thomas Newton are David Byrne or Brian Eno, but it would be a different iteration in a different era, and it may not have been the film for Roeg. And that's why I think that The Man Who Fell to Earth really isn't a movie ahead of its time but of its time. The failure to notice the fall of Icarus and the death of a dry planet is about the failure of the me generation to step outside itself -- the sex, the drugs, the rock and roll, and the greed -- and understand its own bullshit. The Man Who Fell to Earth is of its time because Roeg was at the height of his powers and doing things uniquely outside the mainstream; because Bowie, who tried to stand outside of celebrity culture and comment on it, was at the perfect point of his career to play both himself and an alien; it's a movie whose sense of weirdness and narrative experimentation (it hops through time briskly without signposts) is so linked to the 1970s. The 70s might be the last era that a film like this could get made since they don't make them like this anymore. Similarly, we don't have a Bowie-like figure because there could only be one Bowie and his time has past; and we don't have another Roeg because he's an artifact of the era. Almost all works considered ahead of their time are really just perfect reflections of their time -- it just takes a decade for people on the inside to sober up and realize what the outsiders noticed all along. The Man Who Fell to Earth calls attention to something in our skies as well as something kicking its legs and slowly, helplessly drowning. [embed]212410:38820[/embed] Next Month... It's time for a little campy Bondage with EIC Matthew Razak as he takes us on a trip through Casino Royale (1967). PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB August: Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002) July: Batman (1966) June: Surf Nazis Must Die (1987) May: The Apple (1980) April: Santa Sangre (1989)
David Bowie's big screen debut was Nicolas Roeg's tale of alienation, sex, and the human condition
[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pa...

The Cult Club: Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002)

Aug 10 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat tells the story of Fuad Ramses III (J.P. Delahoussaye), the grandson of Fuad Ramses I, the killer from Blood Feast. One day, Fuad III finds out that he is now in possession of his grandfather's old catering building, so he shows up to claim what's his. Immediately upon arriving, he is interrogated by Detective Michael Myers (Mark McLachlan), whose father was on the police force during the Fuad Ramses murder case way back when. Fuad III, obviously, knows nothing about the exploits of his murderous grandfather, and continues on his way. Soon he gets his first (and, as far as the film is concerned, only) catering job: a wedding for Tiffani Lampley (Toni Wynne), although all of the preparations are run through her horrible mother (Melissa Morgan). It starts off simple enough, but Fuad III soon finds a statue of the Egyptian goddess Ishtar in a locked room in the back of the building and is brainwashed. It is time for him to complete the sacrificial Blood Feast for Ishtar that his grandfather never could.  But the story's not important. It's all about the violence and nudity, the things that made exploitation films what they were. The films in The Blood Trilogy, while certainly violent, lacked any real nudity. There was some almost-nudity at times, but none of them were as explicit as many of his other films were. Blood Feast 2, on the other hand, is very explicit indeed. Although there is no full frontal nudity, anyone expecting to see breasts will not walk away disappointed. They are there, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are horrifyingly still while in motion (implants are really creepy looking) while others are perfectly natural. Variety is the spice of life, as they say. And speaking of spices, this is a movie about a caterer, so there's quite a lot of food. Detective Myers's partner, Sam Loomis (John McConnell), is constantly eating. Almost every shot that he's in there is some kind of food in his hands or his mouth. It's a running gag that as he's finishing one snack/meal, he complains about hunger and asks Myers if he wants to go get something else. Realistically, he's not fat enough for that to mirror his actual eating habits, but it's not like he's Christian Bale in The Machinist or anything. But Fuad III's dishes are a bit more disturbed than donuts or tacos. Instead, he takes livers, eyes, or whatever else his cookbook (entitled How to Serve Man, of course) tells him he needs. The blood flows primarily from Tiffani's bridal party, including such characters as Misty Morning and Candy Graham.  It's possible that this all sounds dumb to you, and I will readily admit that it is a little dumb, but anyone going into a film called Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat with expectations of intelligence really needs to think about their priorities in life. But even though it's dumb, and there are a lot of jokes that are silly for the sake of being silly, it's not always so simple. Some of the jokes require at least a little bit of thought, and every once in a while the jokes stop being so juvenile. If you saw the original Blood Feast, there are some wonderful in-jokes for you. My personal favorite, and one that gets me to this day when I just think about it deals with the very nature of Ishtar. Beyond the joke itself (which is pretty awesome), it's very telling about the state of H. G. Lewis's films in the early 1960s. I won't spoil it, but believe me when I say it's a fantastic moment, and you will know it when you see it. As a piece of so-bad-it's-good cinema, Blood Feast 2 finds itself in an interesting position. Unlike Troll 2, Birdemic, or other films of that sort, it is entirely self-aware, as Lewis's films always were (at least somewhat). Usually this leads to a film that is inherently broken. Making a film that you know is bad in the hopes of striking comedic gold is the easiest way to make a film that is legitimately bad and nothing more. It's like anything Tommy Wiseau could do now. The House that Drips Blood on Alex had its moments, but it didn't compare to the beauty of The Room. But Tommy Wiseau is not H. G. Lewis. The only other director I can think of working today who could match his exploitation pedigree would be Roger Corman, and Corman has stayed away for the camera for even longer than Lewis has; he's just a producer now. So Lewis has a reputation for films that are so bad they're good, and now he wants to take it to the next level.  If The Gore Gore Girls and Blood Feast and all of his other films were horror with a tinge of comedy, Blood Feast 2 is comedy with a tinge of horror. At every moment it's looking at the camera and telling you that it knows exactly what's wrong with it, but it harkens back to a time when people didn't. When the scenes are shot day-for-night (shot during the day but with a dark blue filter to simulate nighttime) it's ridiculous because that's how it used to be. The occasionally awful audio dubbing (e.g. in that first day-for-night shot) serves the same purpose. These are some of the more cerebral jokes, but they're more about the familiarity and nostalgia. If you know what things used to be like, seeing them used in a modern context is bizarre and wonderful. Yes, technology has made leaps and bounds, but staying firmly in the realm of the unbelievable and basking in it makes Blood Feast 2 unique. But even if the severed heads and cut bellies are clearly fake, the things inside are a bit more real. Back in the day (I say as though I was alive then), H. G. Lewis would spend excruciatingly long periods of time with closeups (or even extreme close ups) of the gore in a given scene. A killer would remove an organ and then stroke it for ten, fifteen, twenty seconds. They wouldn't do anything else with it. It was all for the audience, always for the audience. I always felt it was a bit excessive, but who am I to judge? Blood Feast 2 gets the right proportion of time. There's plenty of intestine pulling and stroking (not a euphemism), but it doesn't get annoying in the way that it was. I should note that there are two versions of this film, one which runs about 93 minutes, and the other (director's cut) version is 99. Having never seen the cut version, I can't say what the differences are, but I can't imagine they did anything other than make the film less amazing. Regardless, I expect no matter what version you get, this film is not for anyone with a weak stomach. Long gone is the bright red paint of the original three in The Blood Trilogy. I haven't seen a liver, but I have no doubt that's what it looks like. I have no doubt that all of those organs belonged to some kind of animal previously (probably a pig, since that is the animal they popularized 4 decades ago). They look very real, and even if some of the important organs (like the heart and lungs) don't seem to be anywhere in the meat-caverns that are Fuad III's victims, doesn't mean the illusion isn't effective. What really makes Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat so brilliant, though, is its complete dedication to its parody. This is again why having H. G. Lewis at the helm makes the film so unique. Exploitation and other intentionally-so-bad-they're-good films have been on the rise in recent years, but they're mostly from filmmaking newcomers, frequently people who were born after the golden era of exploitation films (1960s and '70s, for those of you unaware). Maybe they grew up with drive-ins, but it wasn't their stuff on screens. They parody those films from a very different mindset. They parody other peoples' work. H. G. Lewis parodies his own. Admittedly, that could completely and utterly fall apart, but it doesn't. It really doesn't. Also, John Waters plays a pedophile priest. And, really, that should be enough for you. [embed]212391:38676[/embed] Next Month... The man in a hat Hubert Vigilla will rock your freaking faces when he looks at David Bowie's first starring role in Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB July: Batman (1966)June: Surf Nazis Must Die (1987)May: The Apple (1980)April: Santa Sangre (1989)March: Tideland (2005)February: House (1977)

[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pa...

The Cult Club: Batman (1966)

Jul 16 // Matthew Razak
In 1966 the Batman TV series premiered starring Adam West as Batman/Bruce Wayne and Burt Ward as Robin/Dick Grayson. Forgoing initial plans for a more serious show based on the comic, which had recently turned more serious itself, the producers went camp and they went camp hard. In fact if you think of camp these days you're probably thinking of Batman. The show was like nothing else on at the time. It's comedy wasn't just slapstick, but satirical and oddball to the point of absurdity. Even Get Smart, the nearest show in tone and genre to Batman, was miles away in its humor, relying more on hilarious slapstick and site gags. Of course Batman had both of these, but its real genius comes from its randomness; a kind of comedy that is far more prevalent today than it was in the 1960s. The show was a hit, but that actually wasn't the reason the film was made. Originally the movie was to premiere first to generate excitement for the television series, but 20th Century Fox decided that it would cost too much for them to make the movie and went straight into the TV series with plans to make the film after the first season ended and release it before the second. This gave the film a notoriously tight schedule to shoot on as they basically had one summer to put the whole thing together. Yet come together it did, with all the main villains from the TV series making an appearance along with a Bat-copter, a Bat-boat and every other thing one could stick the word bat in front of. But enough of the history lesson, let's get this Bat-post moving. The film centers around the show's four most popular villains joining together as the United Underworld in a quest to kidnap the World Organization's Security Council by dehydrating them using a dehydration gun. Batman and Robin must ride to the rescue in their hilariously awesome spandex. This little set up allowed for such things as exploding sharks; Bat-shark repellent; heroic, almost human porpoises; foam rubber helicopter landings and a submarine with penguin flippers. It also let the satirical mind of screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr., whose humor must have flown over the heads of a lot of people, take a pretty nasty swipe at current world events. His parody of the U.N. is none too friendly, though plenty funny and the use of Polaris missiles to launch all of The Riddler's riddles into the air was surprisingly topical for a movie where onomonapia fly across the screen. Still, the central idea behind the film was to be sublimely ridiculous. This is clearly the case throughout the film, but the opening action might be the best way to demonstrate just how stupidly smart the film is. Batman, hanging from the Bat-ladder that is suspended from the Bat-copter, is attacked suddenly by a very plastic shark. As it dangles lamely from his leg he punches at it and yells up to Robin, who is flying the Bat-copter, to throw him down the Bat-shark repellent to which Robin turns to a set of spray canisters all labeled with different sea creature repellents. It's the kind of ridiculous humor that you find commonly in today's more "random" YouTube/Family Guy era, but that Batman was making nearly half a century ago. The Simpsons (along with almost every other pop culture show) made a gag about it attempting to parody what was already a parody in and of itself. The thing is, the scene from The Simpsons and the lines uttered in it would not be out of place in the Batman film. This is a movie that played camp and satire perfectly, which is a rare feat. It helps that both Adam West and Burt Ward knew exactly what they were doing. West's Batman is hilarious even when delivering expository dialog, and his penchant for crossing his arms awkwardly like a bat would cross its wings is one of those details that just make a camp movie work. Even better is his horrendously awkward romantic night and kiss with Catwoman, which I am almost positive is one of the best worst kisses ever to be captured on screen. Ward, meanwhile, is simply a master of playing it straight. Most would have taken lines like, "Holy marathon! I'm getting a stitch, Batman!" and pushed them over-the-top, but with Ward it's like listening to someone who would actually say that. Of course, Batman's pitch perfect response of, "Let's hope that it's a stitch in time, Robin, that saves nine - The nine members of the United World Security Council," easily shows the kind of humor and absurd logic behind the film and its screenplay. Even worse (in the best way possible) are the completely random logical leaps behind The Riddler's riddles. Then there are the villains. The TV show itself was actually driven by the villains, and while the film gave Batman and Robin a lot more play it's still the four bad guys who steal the show. What's so great about the villains of Batman is that they're all played by well respected actors who are clearly having the time of their lives in these roles. The Joker was played by Cesar Romero, who famously refused to shave his mustache off to play the character. Instead of casting someone else the creators decided it fit perfectly with the camp of the show and simply painted it white with the rest of his face. Romero's Joker is nowhere near as disturbing as Heath Ledger's or Jack Nicholson's, but there's a certain insanity to him that's more than just fun to watch. Unfortunately in the movie he's stuck as a fourth fiddle to the other three villain's larger roles. More impressive is the fact that Burgess Meredith played The Penguin. Meredith waddles around the screen with a purple top hat and cigarette holder delivering a Golden Age Penguin ripped straight from the comics (with a bit more humor, of course). Frank Gorshin on the other hand takes The Riddler up about 100 levels of insanity until he's almost a giggling fool. It's clear to see the influence of Gorshin on Jim Carrey's take of the character in Batman & Robin, but Gorshin does it so much better. There's a restraint that's missing from Carey's performance and Gorshin can simply ham it up more seriously (a contradiction, I know) than almost anyone. Finally, Lee Meriwether took over the role of Catwoman for Jule Newmar who had other obligations at the time. Sadly, Meriwether didn't have the bombshell aesthetics or the camp sentimentality of Newmar and as such her Catwoman is more something pretty to look at than fun to watch. Still, she does throw a cat at Batman forcing him to have a lengthy fight scene while holding the cat in one hand. It's the kind of fight PETA would go crazy over these days. Adding to this mishmash of satirical writing, camp acting, and great performances is director Leslie H. Martinson's absolute refusal to do anything subtly. The camera is as manic as the people its shooting, and Martinson refuses to scale anything back. When the villains are in their lair hatching plots he doesn't just skew a few shots to make things seem off-kilter. Instead he tilts the camera almost 45 degrees for almost every shot, tilting the entire set and all the actors like a fun house mirror. The infamous bomb scene where Batman is running around Santa Monica pier with a large, round bomb over his head was originally supposed to be a few simple shots of Batman running. Martinison stretched it out into a groan worthy gag that to this day cannot be challenged for sheer absurdity. The bomb scene ending in a pitch-perfect delivery of the line, "Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb." It even goes further than just playing for camp and laughs. Despite the fact that Batman filmed on location Martinson at one points films West and Ward running in front of a screen with moving background even though the same shot could have been easily accomplished for real. In the twisted world of Batman logic, however, any scene of Batman and Robin traveling needs to be in front of hilariously fake screens. It's hard to actually say that Batman is anything more than camp, because it isn't. It is exactly how you make camp, though. Far ahead of its time, Batman actually strove for camp and nailed it. With camp being almost a genre unto itself these days and very few people actually able to master it, it's a lesson in how to play for laughs while taking everything seriously. From the Ka-Pows to the ridiculously illogical riddles everything about Batman is horribly cheesy, and yet it all works. While Nolan's Batman films may truly be masterpieces it is amazing that the character of Batman has this almost completely opposite film that is just as masterful in its own way. I'd like to conclude with a simple statement: Best Batmobile Ever. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB June: Surf Nazis Must Die (1987)May: The Apple (1980)April: Santa Sangre (1989)March: Tideland (2005)February: House (1977)January: They Live (1988)

[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pa...

The Cult Club: Surf Nazis Must Die (1987)

Jun 11 // Liz Rugg
Surf Nazis begins by showing the destruction of the greater Los Angeles area by a giant earthquake and we follow as an older black woman moves reluctantly into a retirement home after her home is destroyed by the quake. We quickly end up at the beach, though, and are soon introduced to a gang of Neo-Nazis calling themselves the Surf Nazis. Lead of course by Adolf, with his woman Eva and his right hand-man Mengele, and followed by other lowly Nazis like Hook (who has a hook hand, of course) and the bleach-blonde Smeg. After some glory shots of Adolf surfing, and of Eva's swimming suit-clad body, we learn of Adolf's evil plan to take over all of "New Beach" and eliminate all of the "inferiors" - like left-footed surfers. In the first part of the Surf Nazis' plan, Adolf and Eva invite all their rival gangs to an abandoned warehouse and try to convince them to unite with the Nazis for total control. When this doesn't work, the Nazis decide that they must take over the beaches by force! While causing havoc on the beach (stealing old ladies' purses, knocking other surfers off their boards, stealing and eating other people's watermelons) Adolf and his crew run into Leroy, the son of the sassy woman we meet earlier in the movie. When Adolf and his racist ways offend Leroy, Leroy tries to start a fight with Adolf, but soon realizes that his Nazi crew is there to back him up... The next shot we see is Leroy's mama Elanor identifying her son's body and attending his funeral. Unsatisfied with her living situation, lonely, grieving and with nothing left to loose in this world, Leroy's mama sets out on a quest for ultimate revenge, and that's when the real fun in this movie starts! Surf Nazis Must Die's dystopian Californian landscape and surprisingly perfect mismatch of surfing and Nazism draws people into its spiraling out of control, nonsensical world. A sort of wonderfully low-fi late 80s homage to both California surf culture and punk aesthetics, Surf Nazis is scene after scene of themed insanity. However, for a totally silly surfing horror/thriller, Surf Nazis brings up a lot of weird racial undertones. The N-word is dropped repeatedly, and the idea of a sassy Black mother beating up white Neo-Nazis is so stereotypical and hilarious that it carries the entire movie. The thing that Surf Nazis actually gets the most maligned for is for not being crazy enough. Despite being distributed by Troma, Surf Nazis only has one main sex scene and the real gory fight scenes don't happen until towards the end of the movie. If you're expecting a typical Troma-esque nonstop over the top action movie, Surf Nazis might seem a bit slow to you. However what Surf Nazis may lack in action, it makes up for with absurd odds and ends, like the watermelon stealing scene, or lines like "There's no room for Jesus on the New Beach - and that's our Final Solution!" Surf Nazis is so much fun to watch though, and part of that is perhaps because it gets oddly slow at some parts. It's like they were trying to make a WTFTroma movie and failed at that, even. Surf Nazis Must Die's impeccable silliness, terrible acting, and poor quality in every way lends itself to cult movie sensibilities and is an excellent addition for anyone looking to broaden their cult B-Movie horizons. It's the time of year when people are flocking to beaches all across the Northern Hemisphere, so what better to watch to get you in the mood for a beach day than SURF NAZIS!? [embed]210612:38390[/embed] Next Month... Matthew Razak will bring out the big guns with the 1966 Batman movie, starring Adam West and Burt Ward! So tune in next month - same cult-time, same cult-channel! PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB May: The Apple (1980) April: Santa Sangre (1989) March: Tideland (2005) February: House (1977) January: They Live (1988)

[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favorite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from th...

The Cult Club: The Apple (1980)

May 10 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]210032:38194[/embed] The Apple is set in 1994, a place beyond Orwell. The world of The Apple is controlled by Mr. Boogalow, the head of a gigantic music corporation. His power is so great that he dictates what people should wear and listen to. Sub Pop and Matador never existed to give the world grunge and indie, Factory was likely dismantled, and SST and Dischord were probably squashed in a bloody government crackdown that would have made for a great punk song. Boogalow's influence is so widespread that he also requires all citizens to engage in mandatory exercise to its pre-approved songs from the band BIM. Orwell had his Two Minutes Hate, The Apple has its Two Minutes Jazzercise. Boogalow is a sound salvation; Boogalow is cleaning up the nation. But trouble comes to Boogalow in the form of Alphie and Bibi, an AM radio folk duo hailing from Moose Jaw, Canada. (Moose Jaw is a real place; on a related note, Alphie's jeans are so tight that another part of a moose's anatomy makes an appearance in the film.) At the World Vision Song Festival, Alphie and Bibi's "Universal Melody" almost dethrones BIM's song "BIM" (seen above), causing the anesthetized audience to feel a brief but genuine happiness. Rather than shutting up Alphie and Bibi for good, Boogalow wants to sign them and turn them into his tools. And so begins a tale of small-towners facing the machinations of the power elite. Alphie -- whose accent sounds part Irish, part Dutch, and part Scottish rather than Canadian -- is skeptical about the whole deal, but Bibi is the eager young starlet with dreams of fame. Beware the savage lure of 1994. I first saw The Apple in 2004 when it was released on DVD for the first time. The movie was especially interesting to a friend of mine because it was from The Cannon Group, who put out some true classics of trashy 80s action cinema, including: American Ninja Invasion USA Death Wish III Delta Force Cobra Missing in Action Bloodsport Beyond the action films, Cannon had an eclectic output of cult classics. Both Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo were from Cannon, ditto Lifeforce, Over the Top, and Masters of the Universe. The company even dabbled in superheroes with botches like Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and 1990's Captain America (J. D. Salinger's son played the title role); they even tried but failed to bring Spider-Man to the big screen. There were a handful of respectable Cannon films, like Barfly, The Assault, and Othello, but the company was built on the bloodshed of Michael Dudikoff, Chuck Norris, and Charles Bronson. The Apple marked a turning point for Cannon. It was directed by Menahem Golan, and released in 1979 in West Germany under the title Star Rock. By the late 1970s, Golan and cousin/business partner Yoram Globus became the heads of the company. Under the flag of Golan and Globus, Cannon sailed into its golden age, relatively speaking. [embed]210032:38195[/embed] A while ago I was talking to our own Alec Kubas-Meyer about classic movie musicals, and how the films essentially did their best to construct a plot around a few select tunes. When it works, you don't even notice that the plot is meant to bridge gaps between the numbers. What we get with The Apple is a work of startling unpredictability, a sort of fever dream rock musical that doesn't make much sense but doesn't seem to care either. Everything is so randomly placed that it's hard to tell if the plot came first or the music did, and if the plot was rushed or the music was, or both. Before Alphie and Bibi meet with Boogalow, they wait in a building lobby and encounter some strange and besequined circus/ballet. The room erupts into a musical number called "Showbizness." The song has a sort of even thump to it as they talk about selling out, but the chorus seems to be stripped from another song entirely -- the rhythms don't really match, the delivery of the vocals is off, the tempo is all slippage. Everyone seems to trip getting into and out of the chorus, which goes: "Life is nothing but show business in 1994 / We pine for the spotlight / We kill for encore." But the best line in any song in the film is in The Apple's title number (seen above). It sums up the whole attitude of randomness and assemblage -- like a weary "Let's just get through this, guys," but done with the moxie of an old-timey musical. Dandi, the lead singer of BIM, seduces Bibi in a Bosch-like vision of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (Dandi looks like Roger Daltrey Lite with half the testosterone of regular Roger Daltrey.) In his oil and his loin cloth, he brandishes a comically large prop apple, half-red and half-green, and growls: "It's a natural, natural, natural desire! / Meet an actual, actual, actual vampire!" [embed]210032:38227[/embed] The film's songs were written by the Hebrew stage musical team of Coby and Iris Recht. One of the film's bit players, George S. Clinton, helped translate and fine tune the lyrics since the Rechts spoke very little English. This may explain the sheer randomness of the vampire line. Clinton went on to become a prolific film and television composer. The Rechts may be lacking in terms of songcraft, but in a way, this lack of deftness is made up for in the conviction of the stars. Dandi can only sing in bold text and exclamation points, with the occasional triple exclamation point thrown in for emphasis. Mr. Boogalow lets his malevolence flow through his thick French accent and the smooth elocution of every word he sings. Even through the schmaltzy numbers of lost love, both Alphie and Bibi belt it out like they mean it. At the heart of every successful camp work is some kind of sincerity. Rarely can you half-ass your way into making a true cult classic. Someone has to care, someone has to commit, there needs to be some kind of belief in the work. But there is one song in particular that was meant to be clever. It's called "Coming" (seen above), and the double entendre is so blatant it can't even be considered a double entendre. But it's a hilarious nontendre, and Pandi, the other lead singer from BIM, does her best to sell it, or at least fake it like she means it. Few things date a movie more than its vision of the future; the exceptions to the rule usually involve retro visions of the future that are heavy on art deco. Rather than give us a glimpse of the world to come, The Apple essentially underlines and italicizes the fashion excesses of the late 70s. The collars are glider-like, unbuttoned shirts are unbuttoned an extra button, the metallic hologram rainbows seem extra colorful. The most 1994 thing about The Apple may be the shoulder pads, which are almost as big as the shoulder pads in Rob Liefeld comics. All that in mind, Mr. Boogalow's right-hand man Shake wears the coolest garment from any era in one scene: an Amazing Stories bathrobe. There are a few strange connections between this late 70s vision of the future and the not-too-distant past. All of the cars in The Apple look like The Homer from the "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" episode of The Simpsons. Zapp Brannigan from Futurama may have gotten some fashion tips from Ashley, one of Mr. Boogalow's many lackeys. Dress up the BIM dancers as aliens and Santa Clauses and you basically have a Vegas version of a Flaming Lips show. There's even something that looks like a chrome Segway in the film, and it looks embarrassing to use even back then -- 100% accurate. It's this collision of dated futurism, random mayhem, schlocky filmmaking, and reckless earnestness that has helped The Apple live a second life after it died at the box office. I'll admit that I didn't like the movie the first time I saw it, and the reason for that is right below: a little musical number called "Speed." If "Showbizness" is a number that stumbles into and out of its chorus, "Speed" is a song that makes you actually dread the impending refrain. It's repeated over and over again, creeping up on you, and when it arrives it's like an ice pick twisting in your ear. [embed]210032:38196[/embed] And yet somehow after my ears were assaulted, I returned to the movie. It's grown on me and I've even come to like "Speed" even though I cringe when I hear it. This is just madcap fun. The Apple is pure, unbridled kitsch coming at you, speeding forward like a tricked-out moped seen through star filters, shimmering like some gaudy outfit too wide at the shoulders and too tight in the crotch. The Apple may not have predicted the horrible fate of 1994 with any accuracy, but it did feel like a futuristic peek into the bizarro 80s. This is the terrifying world we'd live in if disco won the war. As for where the film goes storywise, you won't see its finale coming. It's pretty normal up until you meet Gandalf the Groovy and the Fellowship of Bombadils, and then there's a deus ex machina. Putting it that way probably makes it sound a lot cooler than what really happens. When the end comes, you'll find yourself asking, "What the hell just happened?" Maybe it's working on Golan's private symbolism, or maybe when he got  to page 70 of the script, Golan just sighed and said, "Hell, I don't know... Let's just get through this, guys." This is one of love's great mysteries. The time is right for The Apple's midnight revival. It's the future now: 2012, post-beyond Orwell. Rocky Horror is a well-established staple of midnight showings, Troll 2 has been anointed to the hip end of the cult canon, and people are actively in search for oddball dreck like The Room and Birdemic. We should all gather somewhere dressed in tinfoil. We should all pop power by the hour. We should all get worked up to 150+ heartbeats. Let's find the actual vampires. Somewhere, comrades, at midnight, let's all do the BIM together. [embed]210032:38197[/embed] Next Month... Hang ten and catch some waves with Liz Rugg as she looks at the Troma classic Surf Nazis Must Die. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB April: Santa Sangre (1989) March: Tideland (2005) February: House (1977) January: They Live (1988) December: Jingle All the Way (1996)

[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pa...

The Cult Club: Santa Sangre (1989)

Apr 10 // Hubert Vigilla
Technically my first encounter with Alejandro Jodorowsky came by way of Eddie Murphy. A line from Santa Sangre appeared in the song "Whatzupwitu," a 1993 duet with Michael Jackson. "The elephant is dying," says a sad clown, and in thumps that 90s bassline groove. In the Jodorowsky film, the line is one of many potent declarations of childhood's end. In the Murphy song, it's just a bit of preface to a hackneyed declaration of earth's renewal. ("Party All the Time" this is not.) There's also a shot in Pulp Fiction that's very similar to one in Santa Sangre, and it was probably intentional. It's all so fitting. There's the poison of Jodorowsky's rusty knife working its way into various veins, sure, but there's also this play of disparate ideas and how they influence each other. A lot of what's going on in Santa Sangre is a series of collisions and references. The Boston Globe likened the movie to Luis Buñuel remaking Psycho. There's a moment in which James Whale's The Invisible Man is recreated while it plays in the background. There's a murder scene that perfectly evokes the work of Dario Argento, from the stark colors to the shots of the killer's hands. (Claudio Argento, Dario's brother and frequent collaborator, produced Santa Sangre.) The movie's soundtrack is a mix of mambo hits, organ grinders, and synthetic orchestras. It's an Italian production filmed in the seediest parts of Mexico City, dubbed into English mostly by Italian voice actors faking Mexican accents. The film itself was born from a run-in with a notorious Mexican criminal. While in a cafe in Mexico, a man named Gregorio Cárdenas Hernández went up to Jodorowsky to tell him he was a fan of the weekly comic strips he was doing in a local paper. Hernández was a real-life serial killer who murdered four women, including his girlfriend. He had been successfully rehabilitated by the Mexican prison system, which made him a bit of a celebrity. It's the idea of murder and forgiveness that's at the heart of Santa Sangre, easily Jodorowsky's most coherent film. But Jodorowsky gives the story his own stamp, creating a madcap a circus of the deadly and surreal. You will get your fix of freaks, deformities, sex, derring-do, and spirit. The film centers on a shell-shocked man named Fenix, played by Jodorowsky's son Axel. At the beginning, he's perched naked atop a tree inside a large room in an asylum. He eats a raw fish and spaces out. What follows in the next 40 minutes is a remarkable flashback. It's not as crazy as the introductory section of The Holy Mountain (few things are), but it's emotionally wrought and filled with compelling weirdness. We learn about Fenix's childhood in the circus, where he's played by Axel's younger brother Adan. His mother (Blanca Guerra) was a trapeze artist and religious fanatic who worshiped a blasphemous armless saint. His father (Guy Stockwell), a knife thrower and drunk, owned the circus and fled from America after killing a woman. When he's not waddling in a daze, he's ogling the tattooed lady (the imposing and stunning Thelma Tixou), who is eager to bend over and present to him like a dog in heat. One night, Fenix watches his parents murder each other in a fit of rage and jealousy. It's the sulfuric acid and arm cutting scene I mentioned earlier. His young mind breaks from the violence. We're back in the asylum again. Fenix hears his mother's voice out the window. She's somehow alive. She stands there on the street, armless like her saint. Fenix escapes and becomes her arms. She's completely domineering, controlling every aspect of his life, even accessing all of his thoughts. (Whenever Fenix stood behind his mother in the film, Guerra had her arms behind her back with her hands gripping Axel's testicles. Perfect!) [embed]208538:38046:0[/embed] Rest assured, I haven't really spoiled anything. I think that's one of the great appeals of Jodorowsky's films for me. I'm never quite sure what will happen next, but whatever it is, it will usually blow me away. In The Holy Mountain, for instance, we watch a woman bring a giant robot to orgasm with a seven-foot dildo. There are plenty of weird detours and alleys in the story of Santa Sangre, and like Mexico City, the side streets are dark, sketchy, sometimes nightmarish and always dreamlike. One such unexpected street is the elephant funeral. It's one of the most unforgettable things I have ever seen in a film. (And clearly Eddie Murphy thought so too.) There's a procession comprised of the entire circus. Even the clowns are dressed in somber black, some of them with powerful streams of tears shooting from heir eyes like novelty squirting flowers. There's a massive coffin hauled by a truck, and a black and white American flag. This is capped by a moment so cartoon-like and unexpected that it goes from mere oddness to something like poetry, albeit dusty, brutal, desperate poetry. Following this funeral for childhood, there's a bloody initiation into the world of man. It really needs to be seen rather than described. And then there's the tandem pantomime between Fenix and his mother. Jodorowsky was a student of Marcel Marceau, and wrote this routine for him to perform. Axel was also a student of Marceau, and his hands undulate like ribbons caught in the wind. It's a moment of memorably strange beauty, part of Jodorowsky's attempt to make images that cannot be disregarded. Again, maybe it's silly at first, but there is such a poetry to it. It speaks to me in this odd way that isn't intellectual. Watching Santa Sangre for the first time as a teenager, I experienced the kind of perplexed awe that you get from watching a magic show. With each odd trick, I thought both "How did he do that?" and also "You can do that?" Jodorowosky called Santa Sangre his first emotional picture. He's claims to have always made films with his testicles, but he considers El Topo and The Holy Mountain heady. They're steeped in the tarot, mythic ideas, and religious/spiritual symbols. He feels Santa Sangre is a heart movie by comparison. It's still heady, of course. There's some blatant Freud in there and the usual spiritual concerns, but it's a film tied to memory and childhood. Jodorowsky's own father worked in the circus, and bits of autobiography likely slipped in, even if veiled in metaphors. All the torment of growing up is fuel for the 40-minute flashback. It also provides direction for the remainder of the film, which is all about repression, revenge, and the possibility of redemption. Santa Sangre is also a movie about family relationships and his bond to his children. Four of Jodorowsky's own sons appear in the film. In addition to Axel and Adan, there's Brontis in a small role as an asylum doctor. As a boy, Brontis played the title character's son in El Topo, which mostly involved him walking through the desert with his dad, naked except for a hat. There's also Teo Jodorowsky as a pimp. It was Teo's only film role. He died not long after the making of Santa Sangre, and the pain of the loss made Jodorowsky avoid any viewings of the film for years. It's Jodorowsky's most personal film in another way. In numerous interviews, he's said that making Santa Sangre made him less of a narcissist and less of a misogynist. I wonder if any of it had to do with his practice of psychomagic. Psychomagic is a type of surrealist psychotherapy that states that the unconscious mind takes metaphorical acts as a factual ones. At a lecture Jodorowsky gave in New York City, he said that if you had issues with your father, one therapeutic approach would be to stomp on a watermelon and send him the mushy remains. It's a blend of convulsive art and emotional sublimation, which is maybe just another way of describing what Jodorowsky has been doing his entire career. Though I don't subscribe to the idea of psychomagic, I can at least understand its potency on some level. (It sounds silly, but, you know, silly things have the potential to become poetic.) Images are extremely important to us, as are various kinds of symbols. To see such resonant things play out on screen or on in a book or in a song moves us in an uncanny way. We get a little chill of recognition, like something inside has been stoked. It's not like we're just receiving stimuli, but we're in this silent conversation with the work which reflects something of ourselves back to us. I mentioned that watching Santa Sangre for the first time was like watching a magic trick. I tend to feel that way about any work that speaks to my own sensibilities. It just happens that those sensibilities involve things that are strange but genuine, because that's what our winding, unpredictable emotional and intellectual lives are like. Watching Santa Sangre all those years ago, I felt the same feeling I did when I started reading Clive Barker in middle school or Italo Calvino in college -- that I wasn't quite so alone in the world, and that an act of creation can bring a sense of personal relief. That's a little bit of psychomagic, maybe. And while making me feel reassured, Jodorowsky was simultaneously planting new obsessions in my mind that have metastasized over time: elephants, magicians, circuses, flexible women built like Raquel Welch, and so on. Watching the film again and again, I find more of his fingerprints on my imagination, as if he's some kind of surrogate creative father. It's like he'd enfolded me into some great paternal hug and ushered me out of high school into adulthood, and only as I'd pulled away did I notice that the son of a bitch had stabbed me repeatedly. But that's what happens when you wander at night through the Mexico City of the mind. [embed]208538:38050:0[/embed] Next Month... We'll have a look at The Apple (1980), the Citizen Kane of kitschy, future-dystopia rock musicals. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB March: Tideland (2005) February: House (1977) January: They Live (1988) December: Jingle All the Way (1996) November: The Blood Trilogy (1963-1965)
The rusty blade of Alejandro Jodorowsky's imagination
[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pa...

The Cult Club: Tideland (2005)

Mar 09 // Xander Markham
Gilliam's introduction may limit possible readings of the film, but is an understandable step to have taken considering scathing reviews suggested widespread misunderstanding of what the director was trying to achieve, almost to the point of poisonous misrepresentation. Critics seized on the horrific world which child protagonist Jeliza-Rose (played by the astonishing Jodelle Ferland) must navigate, from preparing her father's heroin shots to a pseudo-romantic relationship with man-child Dickens, as evidence of Gilliam cynically exploiting controversial subject matter. In truth, the movie's grim Southern Gothic trappings are an instrumental part of an intimate work of rare bravery, turning the traditional cinematic representation of children as defenceless and vulnerable on its head. Here's Gilliam's introduction to explain it in his own words: [embed]207412:37909[/embed] "I suggest you try to forget everything you've learnt as an adult," Gilliam says. That detail is undoubtedly what the movie's detractors were missing in their misreading of Gilliam's intent. When adults watch Jeliza preparing drugs for her father (Jeff Bridges as a viciously twisted variation on his Dude persona), the adult reaction is to be horrified, even though the girl herself, who has known no other life, sees it as nothing more than a part of her everyday existence. The second major point of contention, her 'relationship' with Dickens, is more complex, but I'll get to that later. Tideland is not a film about a child suffering, or even enduring hardship. It is a paean to a child's imagination as a defence mechanism, perhaps the most subtle and brilliant in existence. This is a long way from an egregious purple dinosaur gargling out corporate-approved ditties about bringing marketable objects to life with the power of a young brain and a long-suffering adult's spending power. It's about imagination's power to protect an unprepared mind from the horrors of the real world, providing a safe place to hide until things take a turn for the better. Children of Jeliza-Rose's age are in a constant state of processing the world around them, determining what they will need to do to survive into adulthood: who will protect and feed them, who will cause harm, where it is safe to go and where it is dangerous. This is simple for most, who have loving parents and carefree existences. The process is still at work, though, even within the safety net of happy family homes: the dark, for example, remains unknown and scary, so the mind fills it with brat-devouring monsters to stay any ambitions of venturing in until the risk can be properly understood. If the imagination is protecting even in relative safety what happens when a child is born into a world consisting only of darkness, where there is no light for protection? Adults are mentally frail enough when it comes to even the most mundane of 'hopeless' situations ("I've lost my phone! OMG!"), so if we're to understand the popular interpretation of children as weaker and more dependent, growing up in a life of drug abuse and death should be enough to drive a young mind to the most extreme forms of insanity. It doesn't, though, because where adults deal with threats by analysing them against the experiences of a rational mind, a child's survival instinct is the ability to redraw the danger in a manner providing just enough comfort to prevent total collapse. This ability weakens with age and experience, forcing us to come to terms with the difficult realisations accompanying the onset of maturity. "Children are strong, they're resilient, they're designed to survive," explains Gilliam. If they haven't got strength or speed or knowledge on their side, what can a child do but turn that innocence into strength? To give a brief outline of the plot, Jeliza is taken by her father to a dilapidated house in remote Texas farmland after her mother dies of an overdose. Her father, too, soon dies of the same cause, and Jeliza goes exploring the outside world, contextualising what she discovers through conversations with the doll heads she keeps on the end of her fingertips. She soon comes across a weird family living not far away, consisting of a half-blind woman named Dell and her mentally handicapped younger brother, Dickens, who seems as deeply engrained in his imaginary world as Jeliza is in hers. Jeliza's friendship with Dickens, a grown man with a child's mind, caused a lot of controversy when the film was first released, because while nothing but a few childish kisses ever transpires between them, her behaviour towards him certainly moves into heavy flirting. As much as it appalled critics at the time, anyone who has seen the way a little girl acts around boys, particularly older, will understand what is going on. Many adults, particularly these days, are barely able to distinguish between affection and sex. If Jeliza is playing husband and wife or exchanging pecks on the cheek with Dickens, it's assumed Gilliam is suggesting something unhealthy is going on. For the record, Dickens is strongly implied to want something more, but as with many interactions between young girls and boys, the girl is the more mature and always in control of what is allowed and what is not. Where Jeliza might, in a normal family, have got what she needed through the occasional adorable look towards her father, those instincts are forced to adapt to a different set of rules in Tideland's Grimm farmland. She identifies Dickens as someone who can understand and protect her in the way her father should have, were he not sitting dead in the drawing room chair. To gain Dickens' compliance, she needs to act differently around him than she would a male to whom she is related. To her, it's all the same, though: innocent flirtation. Sex has nothing to do with it. She selects Dickens because they share enough of a bond - their mutual dependence on fantasy - to establish a connection, then does just enough to keep him around to look after her and help make sense of her surroundings. If Jeliza uses Dickens as a means of safely coming to terms with the outside world, her imagination allows her to handle her inner questions through a series of conversations with a set of doll heads, each representing a different part of her psyche. Since her mind is not yet developed enough to understand the full implications of what is going on around her, dividing up her thought processes allows her to interpret everything she's seeing and experiencing in a manner she can handle, building a set of links that will eventually, with the right guidance, coalesce into an adult mind. When one of the dolls is threatened, so too is her entire ability to make sense of the world. Through Dickens and his family, she grows into someone capable of interacting with others. Through her dolls, she finds a way of piecing herself back together. It's not a perfect film, with the invocation of Alice In Wonderland an appropriate if obvious touchstone, and an ending which broadly fits Gilliam's themes but is the only moment threatening to merit the accusations of exploitation. Looking back, even had it received the distribution and appropriate marketing (poster tag line: 'The squirrels made it seem less lonely.' Seriously?!) it deserved, the film's reception probably wouldn't have been much warmer. For anyone who has suffered in childhood, it's an elegant and even heartening parable about a child's ability to find strength and a path to safety in even the most terrible of circumstances. Tideland is a tribute to that strength, heartening to those who have been forced to draw on it, but utterly alienating to the many who have thankfully never needed to and mistakenly see all children and frail and breakable. Tideland is in many ways the film Gilliam appears to have been trying to make all his career, incorporating the 'child making sense of a big, scary world' motif from Time Bandits (right down to the lead character being orphaned); Brazil's conceit of imagination as freedom; 12 Monkeys' questioning of the nature of insanity, and just a little of The Fisher King's character arc from tragedy to recuperation. It's the ultimate cult entry in the canon of one of modern filmmaking's most naturally divisive and opinionated directors, a film seemingly made to be appreciated only by those few to have stood on that melancholy tideland, all littered with the flotsam of hopes and dreams. Next Month... Hubert 'King Of Cool' Vigilla takes you down Mexico way with Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre. PREVIOUS SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB  February: House (1977) January: They Live (1988) December: Jingle All the Way (1996) November: The Blood Trilogy (1963-1965) October: Dougal & The Blue Cat (1970)

[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the...

The Cult Club: House (1977)

Feb 10 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]206970:37801:0[/embed] In order to get the full effect of what I am going to be telling you, you need to listen to the song from the above video while you continue reading. If the song stops, restart it. If it begins to grate on you, restart it. If you start to hate me and everything I have ever done, restart it. Because that’s what the film does. You will hear that song and variations of it through almost the 88-minute run. It’s simple, obnoxious, and unacceptably catchy, but it is the best thing I can do to help you understand what House is without you actually watching it. Speaking of watching House, it is a truly surreal experience. I honestly do not know if there are any films quite like it. I suspect there are, though chances are they haven’t been localized, but I want to believe there aren’t. I want to believe that House is a truly unique experience, that it stands alone as a testament to someone’s drug-fueled psychosis. The film opens with the above image. If you have watched silent films, you might recognize the technique at play here: tinting. It’s something that disappeared with the introduction of sound in the early 1930s, but if you go way back, you will see it everywhere, setting the mood with colors instead of sounds. Now I can’t honestly claim to be a fan of tinting, especially when the tints rapidly shift from shot to shot, but since the film is neither silent nor black and white, it becomes clear immediately that you are in for something unlike anything you’ve seen before. I should put a disclaimer here: I don’t like experimental films. They’re boring. I’ve seen a few, studied them, and come out the other side liking them even less. Especially the works of Stan Brakhage. Words can barely describe how much I hate Dog Star Man. I say all this, because it’s clear that much of House is experimental. The cuts, the shot compositions, the bizarre use of green screen, all of these things add up to something that has the mask of an experimental film. There is a key difference, however, and that is the existence of a narrative. Experimental films, by their very definition, lack narrative. They can be enjoyable to watch (I think Bruce Conner’s A Movie is pretty fantastic), but they serve no purpose for people like me, who are not particularly interested in what goes on deep below the surface of the film. I will never seek out an experimental film. I will, however, seek out an experimentally-charged narrative film. Which is what I would call House. If you have made it this far without saying, “So what’s the movie actually about?” Good for you! For the rest of you, sorry about that. Kind of went on a tangent. House is about seven teenage girls: Gorgeous, who is supposed to be pretty (but really isn’t); Kung Fu, who is a martial arts master; Mac, who is fat and eats a lot; Prof, who is scientifically literate and questions any and all supernatural occurrences (and thus the majority of the movie); Sweet, who is really nice; Fantasy, who is prone to fantasies; and Melody, who plays the piano. During their summer break, all of the teens head out to Gorgeous’s aunt’s house, because why not? It becomes clear almost immediately that things are amiss, and the young girls start being picked off one by one. It’s like an old-fashioned slasher flick in a way, except the deaths are so much crazier than anything Jason Voorhees or even Freddie Krueger could have come up with. [embed]206970:37801:0[/embed] [It's quite possible that the song has finished by now. Here it is again, so you don't have to scroll up and lose your place.] The film, interestingly enough, came about from a desire to have a Japanese response to Jaws, which, as you might know, was pretty popular back in the day. Some members of the Japanese film company Toho decided that Obayashi should be the man to take it on. He didn’t want to simply ape the idea and do some kind of Japanese remake, though. He wanted to make something completely different. With the belief that adults are kind of boring, he turned to his ten year old daughter who could give him inspiration, and inspire she did. She gave him the idea of a story about a house that eats girls, and many of the deaths contained in the film were based on her childhood fears.  This childishness also defines the film’s visuals. House was shot entirely on a sound stage, which means that all of the sunsets, trees, mountains, and everything else in the background are some kind of painting. They are often gorgeous paintings that look just a little bit wrong, and it furthers the film’s surreal nature. Now, I used the word surreal before, and while I often try to find synonyms for descriptors when I write, I think it is probably one of the single best words that can be used to describe House. It has much more in common with Luis Buñuel and Salvador Salvador Dalí’s Un Chien Andalou than it does Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon. There are no eye-slittings, but what there is may be even stranger and, perhaps, a bit sillier. Perhaps an argument could be made that surrealism and childishness are not dissimilar with House as the thesis. Obayashi makes extensive use of strange effects throughout the film. There are a lot of weird partial freeze-frames, things float around and bob up and down. He slows time, speeds it up, reverses it, and generally takes advantage of what film allows him to do. It’s all completely fantastical and child-like, and it’s wonderful. Blue screen effects are used heavily throughout the film (as you may have guessed from the stills), and he takes advantage of the technological imperfections that he had to deal with. The first time that a blue screen can be seen around the edges there’s a bit of an “Ugh” moment, but it quickly fades, and you learn to love it. It adds to the film’s charm. It’s almost as though he was unable to keep his crayons inside the lines. Even so, what the team was able to accomplish without the aid of computers is quite impressive. It is the absolutely bizarre editing that truly turns House into something unlike any other film I have ever seen. I’m not just talking about effects, although those play into it. I’m talking about a man loudly eating noodles suddenly appearing on the left side of the screen while girls scream in order to cut to a noodle shop. I’m talking about the decision to transition from close-up to close-up of people sitting right next to each other rather than panning or moving the camera. I’m talking about the seamless shift from a picture-in-picture into a normal frame. These are techniques that make House stand out. Sometimes the transitions make sense, and sometimes they don’t. Either way, it’s always an experience. You don’t expect this film. You can’t. It’s an entity all to itself. And it’s wonderful. It’s probably impossible for text and a couple of stills to really convey House’s magic. I don’t think I have done the film justice. I don’t really think there is any way to do it justice, except perhaps some kind of hilarious commentary track that you played while watching the film. I hope, however, that I have made you curious. I hope that you will go seek out a copy of House (or watch it on Hulu+ if you have an account) and see what all the fuss is about. I hope that what you have read, heard, and seen makes you into the next person to be sucked in by what is one of the strangest films ever made, and perhaps one of the strangest films that will ever be made. Also, Noodle Bear. [embed]206970:37804[/embed] Next month... The much beloved Xander Markham returns with The Cult Club's most modern film yet: Terry Gilliam's 2005 insta-classic Tideland. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB January: They Live (1988) December: Jingle All the Way (1996) November: The Blood Trilogy (1963-1965)  October: Dougal & The Blue Cat (1970) September: Top Secret (1984)

I don’t know what it is about Japan’s culture that makes them a cult film factory, but they really are. When a Japanese films turns towards the bizarre, there is nothing stranger in the world of cinema. Case in po...

The Cult Club: They Live (1988)

Jan 10 // Sean Walsh
The film begins with the title over black, which transitions into the same title as graffiti on a classic 80’s graffiti wall. We’re then introduced to Piper’s nameless drifter, “Nada,” a man who just wants to put in a hard day’s work and get what he has coming to him. In the world Carpenter shows us, it’s no easy job. On a construction site he meets Keith David’s purple tank top-clad Frank, who invites him to the shantytown Frank and dozens of others are living out their lives in. One thing leads to another, and Nada quickly discovers that everyone is being brainwashed by subliminal messages everywhere they look by vaguely human-looking aliens that live amongst the general population in disguise and only special sunglasses can give them away. “What?” you may be asking. Let me assure you: this movie is absolutely fantastic. Having met Rowdy Roddy at Wrestlemania III, Carpenter knew that the man was just the kind of rugged badass he needed for the nameless protagonist and wrote the role specifically with Rowdy in mind. Similarly, having previously worked with David on The Thing, Carpenter knew that the man could provide just what he needed in an atypical sidekick: sheer, unadulterated Keith David-brand badassery. As such, Frank was tailor-made for David. The dynamic of the two actors, initially, is like oil and vinegar. Nada is, despite all odds, a fairly easy-going optimist and Frank is a pissed-off mother who is mad as hell and is just short of not taking it anymore. It doesn’t really matter in the end, because once Nada gets the sunglasses and discovers that everybody’s being brainwashed by horrid creatures, ‘easy-going’ turns into ‘shooting non-people with a shotgun in a bank.’ Once he comes back for Frank after his brief but newsworthy killing spree, the two engage in one of the finest street brawls in the history of cinema as Nada simply tries to get the man to try on the glasses and see the real world for what it is. Now, let’s talk about the ‘real world’ of They Live for a second, in case you’re unfamiliar. Billboards featuring your favorite products? Pop on those fancy sunglasses and you’ll see they say things like ‘Obey’ and ‘Consume.’ Pull the money out of your wallet. What does it say where George Washington should be? ‘This is your God.’ Pick up this month’s issue of Hustler and it will tell you to ‘Marry and reproduce.’ Go visit your local grocery store butcher and you might notice something a little off about his complexion, along with half of the people in the store with you. Also, they all have watches that also function as not only communicators but also teleporters. Oh, and if you throw in with the invaders, they’ll almost double your income and you can live the sweet life in exchange for betraying your entire race. It’s grim, it’s not subtle, and it’s beautiful. That’s John Carpenter for you. This satire on the rampant consumerism and commercialization of the 1980’s is a result of Carpenter turning on the TV and not liking what he saw. “I began watching TV again. I quickly realized that everything we see is designed to sell us something…it’s all about wanting us to buy something. The only thing they want to do is take our money.” Buying up the movie rights to sci-fi writer/propeller beanie inventor Ray Nelson’s short story Eight O’Clock in the Morning and a short comic based on it, Nada, from the comic Alien Encounters, Carpenter got to work. While he wrote the script, he credited himself using the alias “Frank Armitage,” a nod to H.P. Lovecraft’s character from The Dunwich Horror, as he felt the common element of ‘the world underneath’ in Lovecraft’s work had everything to do with They Live.  After eight weeks of shooting and $3,000,000, They Live was unleashed upon the unsuspecting masses on November 4th, 1988 and sat in the #1 spot at the box office for three weeks. They Live is one of those movies that you don’t see much of anymore: stupid fun without sacrificing its own brand of (albeit questionable) quality. Who didn’t feel the pathos of a dying Nada, having accomplished his mission of destroying the signal transmitter on top of the roof of Cable 54, flipping off the now-revealed aliens in the helicopter above him? Who didn’t wonder with a tongue firmly in their cheek how, after jumping into the blue, glowing hole in the ground that opened up, Nada’s machine gun turned into a pistol? Who could do anything but grin as they realized that the devices the aliens use to track humans are repurposed PKE meters from Ghostbusters? Who would be unable to find the alien makeup endearing, with the mouths that don’t entirely match what they’re saying? This movie is classic in its quirks. The legacy of this film is a fun one. Graffiti artist Shepard Fairey was partially inspired by They Live for his “OBEY” campaign. South Park recreated a large portion of the epic brawl between Nada and Frank in the episode “Cripple Fight.” Duke Nukem borrowed (and slightly tweaked) Piper’s famously ad-libbed line, “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum.” [embed]206386:37671[/embed] With lines like “Brother, life’s a bitch…and she’s back in heat,” “Mama don’t like tattletales,” and “This world needs a wake up call, gentlemen. We’re gonna phone it in,” visceral fights and tense shoot-outs, treacherous dames, and more machismo than one can shake a stick at, They Live is that perfect blend of action, science-fiction, humor, and social commentary. Talk of a remake has floated around, but this is one movie that does not need it. For all its flaws, They Live is only more endearing because of them. And really, nobody can shoot a little UFO out of the sky with a shotgun like Rowdy Rider Piper can. If you’ve never seen They Live, it’s on Netflix Instant Queue. It’s only an hour and a half long, but you’ll wish it was longer. [embed]206386:37672[/embed] Next month... Cub reporter Alec takes on House, the sensational 1977 Japanese horror film that will  blow your mind with its weirdness. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB December: Jingle All the Way (1996) November: The Blood Trilogy (1963-65) October: Dougal & The Blue Cat (1970) September: Top Secret! (1984) August: Battle Royale (2000) July: Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991)

[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favorite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pac...

The Cult Club: Jingle All the Way (1996)

Dec 12 // Matthew Razak
[embed]205941:37538[/embed] Jamie: Arnold is probably the most successful action movie star of all time. There’s nothing better than watching him kill people in Total Recall or evade the predator in... Predator. By the same token, there’s nothing funnier than seeing Arnold playing a regular guy, capable of spite and jealousy, as well as other normal human emotions. Then there are moments when his character will go completely off the spectrum of believability and into the territory of the demented. There’s one scene where he's in a toy store trying to outrun a mailman named Myron (who I will hereby refer to as 'Sinbad') for a Turbo Man doll. When Sinbad gets ahead of him, Arnold commandeers a remote control car from this Asian kid and trips him up with the car. Arnold then exclaims, “YEAH!” excitedly, which would be funny enough, but then he has the nerve to run over to Myron, look down at him and say, “Aw, poor baby...” after which we get a brief glimpse of Arnold’s crazed smile as he runs off to get the Turbo Man doll... Genius. Matt: The entire marketing campaign for Jingle All the Way was based around Arnold and his star power. It's obvious that the movie was sold as a Schwarzenegger vehicle, but it sure as hell wasn't written for him. Yes, it's fun to see Arnold out of character, but this out of character makes no sense and not in the good this-is-funny way, but in the bad pulling-your-hair-out-because-its-so-idiotic way. Sure his acting doesn't lend any help to the character and he doesn't really fit into any scene in any way, but when the end of your film is dependent on your main character's son not recognizing him, a thick Austrian accent pretty much destroys any enjoyability an already dumb movie had. It's so ridiculous it could be charming, but the film doesn't actually have any charm to make an idiotic ending fun. It's just so obviously a casting to get people into a terrible holiday movie. Jamie: The late funny man, Phil Hartman, basically plays a decidedly perverted version of Ned Flanders from The Simpsons. Hartman’s character bates Arnold throughout the entire movie, showing him up at every turn as the better father figure. That would be harm enough, but since Hartman’s Ted is single, he even tries to horn in on Arnold’s wife, which has to be #1 on the list of Top 10 Things To Piss Off Arnold Schwarzenegger (the first being NOT getting into the chopper). What’s great is that Hartman seems to be channeling a cooking show host, being as nauseatingly hospitable and helpful as possible. Then, he’ll occasionally show his true colors by intentionally mocking Arnold over the phone as he eats his wife’s cookies in one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen. It has to be seen to be believed. Phil Hartman, thanks for giving us the last laugh... Matt: Hartman's character is a perfect example of why this movie shouldn't be any kind of cult film. Hartman is hilarious because he somehow makes a terrible character funny, but he plays it like he's in a dark comedy and no one else in the film is on the same page. The film would have been brilliant if it had gone darker (more on that when talking on the ending), but it didn't so Hartman's perverted character is just disturbing. It's just another case of not a single part of this movie actually fitting together. Sometimes disjointed movies like this can be so bad that they are good, but in this case it just makes for an incredibly awkward film that gets less and less enjoyable as it goes along. Jamie: Sinbad befriends Arnold quickly as they relate over trying to find a Turbo Man doll. This would be a great bonding experience in some kind of drama or serious movie, but instead, Sinbad goes on an endless and loud rant about highly personal, familial and even sexual problems for everybody in the crowd to hear. Talk about going postal (nyuk nyuk, nyuk). At one point, he even seems to hallucinate as he tries to choke out a semi-elderly woman. Later on he tries to hold up a radio station with a fake bomb (or at least one he thinks is fake) in order to get his hands on a Turbo Man doll. He’s completely insane, and he’s one of the best examples of how to do crazy right in a comedy. He’s not without glimpses of humanity, though, which makes him that much more believable... and that scares me. Matt: Really? I have to sit here and explain why having Sinbad in your movie isn't a good thing? That's especially true for a cult movie as Sinbad is the biggest flash in the pan comedian in years and the idea of him being in anything with a cult following makes no sense. His character is insane, but it's not funny, it's disturbing. He actually threatens the life of a child for a toy. That's not funny and it's not entertaining; it's down right troubling and not very enjoyable to watch. The fact that the movie had to escalate to that level by the end only goes to show how overboard and idiotic his character already was. It's hard not to sit there and wonder why anything in the movie happens, but Sinbad's character's actions are even more troublesome than the rest of the film put together. Jamie: Jim Belushi’s role in this movie is short but ever so sweet. He plays a pre-Billy Bob Thornton bad Santa as a double-dealing businessman who tries to sell Arnold a Turbo Man doll back at his factory. On the way there, Arnold starts asking too many questions, to which Jim Belushi cops an attitude and asks a bunch of questions ad nauseum, “What are you, Dan Rather? What is this, 60 Minutes? What are you, the Question King? Huh? Chill!” When they get to the factory, Arnold sees that all the workers are dressed as Santa (to conceal their identities, since they’re obviously doing illegal activities there). After Jim Belushi tricks Arnold into buying a bogus Turbo Man doll that speaks Spanish, Arnold then fights a barrage of Santas including a ninja Santa, a huge Santa and his “little buddy” (a little person also dressed as Santa... What did you expect?) and an elf with a taser. To top this scene, once the cops arrive to arrest everybody, the elf goes, “It’s the Grinch! Scatter!” It’s one of the craziest scenes I’ve ever seen in a family film and deserves some kind of award for sheer lunacy. Matt: This is the kind of bad comedy that leads Sinbad to almost kill a child at the end of the film. The thinking goes that you have to top an already unfunny Santa fight scene, and thus you need to kidnap a kid and almost kill him to be funny. Jim Belushi also falls into the same "should never be celebrated" category that Sinbad does. This scene is even odder because it's so outside of the rest of the film's story. Sinbad doesn't play into it and it's never really a factor again. I think they finished writing the film and decided they needed ten more minutes and a Santa in it to both make it a good length and also reaffirm that it's about Christmas. Jamie: The final battle sees Arnold as Turbo Man and Sinbad as Dementor as they duke it out for the special edition Turbo Man doll. It’s a pretty funny scene, but what’s really great about this scene is actually what happens right before it. Arnold is mistaken for an actor with a similar build who was set to be in the Christmas parade as Turbo Man. He’s getting suited up in the Turbo Man outfit (apparently immobilized by seemingly dozens of groping hands) and it cuts to a first person perspective where the PA tells him about the poor sap before him who wound up in the hospital and how he was "starting to show some brain activity... That’s a really good sign.” His facial expression and the way he adjusts his glasses seems to denote that he's some kind of healthcare professional... which is then immediately debunked as he offers up a cheesy smile and a thumbs up before shoving Arnold off. He then sees his co-star, Booster, a chain-smoking, grizzled guy dressed up in a furry, pink, saber-toothed dog costume (Curtis Armstrong). Upon seeing Arnold in full Turbo Man gear, he says, “Where the hell have you been?! I've been sweatin' like a dog in a Chinese restaurant waiting for you to show up!” He then stamps out the cigarette and puts on his Booster helmet. I just love the meta statement that most entertainers who dress up for kids are these hateful, cynical people who are clearly not doing this for the kiddies. Matt: The end of this movie would totally jump the shark if the film hadn't jumped the shark within the first ten minutes as Arnold answers phone calls attempting to show how good a business man he is. After this it's just one more ridiculous scene after another that could easily make a great cult comedy if they were actually funny at all. That's what's really surprising. All the elements of an enjoyable cult comedy are there. It could be slightly dark; it could be so-bad-it's-good; it could be funny in its terrible casting; it could have an ending that is so unbelievable that you buy into it. Jingle all the Way could quite easily be a cult film, but it isn't because it's just a bad film. There's no reason to see this movie once, let alone dive into it multiple times because it's a cult favorite. Any film that has Arnold Schwarzenegger punching a reindeer in the face and squanders that opportunity for greatness doesn't deserve a cult status. Jamie: That may be, Matt, but I've still got one last bit of fan service for the Jingle All The Way fans out there. Check the photo gallery for a little comic I did a while ago that showcases much love for Arnold's past movies. Yes, even Jingle All The Way. NEXT MONTH... Flixist's Sean Walsh will be discussing John Carpenter's They Live. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB November: The Blood Trilogy (1963-65) October: Dougal & The Blue Cat (1970) September: Top Secret! (1984) August: Battle Royale (2000) July: Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991) June: Cannibal Holocaust (1980) [Manly Guys Doing Manly Things via Kelly Turnbull aka Coelasquid]

Welcome to a very special holiday edition of Cult Club. Why is it special? Well, for one we're talking about a Christmas movie. But for two, we're doing things a bit differently this time around. See, this month's Cult Club f...

The Cult Club: The Blood Trilogy (1963-65)

Nov 10 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
BLOOD FEAST[embed]205505:37368[/embed]NOTHING SO APPALLING IN THE ANNALS OF HORROR It is impossible to think back to a time before Blood Feast. Gore is so ubiquitous in modern cinema that imagining a time without it is ridiculous. But it had to start somewhere, and it started right here. With that trailer. It's a truly amazing trailer, because it perfectly demonstrates the way exploitation films were marketed. It features nearly every act of violence in the entire film condensed into about two minutes. In fact, the trailer actually adds a few shots of organ removal not found in the theatrical version. The film tells the story of Fuad Ramses, an aging caterer/author with a severe limp who is in the middle of a major killing spree. He is called upon to cater a party, and intends to use it as a way to bring the evil Egyptian goddess Ishtar back to life. This requires him to murder and sacrifice young women for their organs and limbs so he can create a Blood Feast, the likes of which has not been seen in 5,000 years (a point he makes a number of times). In order to prepare this sacrificial "Blood Feast," he must mutilate a number of young women for organs and limbs that will be feasted upon. Don't think about all of the technical problems in that image. Just think about what it contains. Three years earlier, rapid shots of a maybe-naked woman being kind of stabbed in black and white shocked and appalled audiences. Now look at it again. The knives, the severed head, the cuts and lashes, the dripping blood, all in vibrant color. The quality, frankly, is irrelevant. It's the mere presence of the horrors that matters. The film features tongue removal, brain removal, eye removal, leg removal, and heart removal, among other things. My personal favorite is the scene where the woman above is whipped to death. Whereas more modern films would cut from the whip to the bloody back and give the impression of violence, everything in Blood Feast takes place in one shot. The whip hits the actress in the back, and creates a relatively authentic-looking cut. What gives away the trick is where the top of the whip lands. Rather than hitting the actress directly in the back, the whip ends up against the red curtains found in his chamber. Looking closely, you realize that, despite the curtain's coloring, it's getting a little bit redder and a little bit wetter with each hit. It's really kind of ingenious (especially since you don't see any paint on the whip ends themselves), and seeing the way these old effects were utilized is kind of charming. Also charming is the general lack of any kind of production values. The score is mostly a simple, slow drum beat (heard in the trailer) which signals someone's death. Occasionally there is other music, but that's a rare, mildly exciting occasion. The violence itself makes no noise, however, and is instead played over by something which sounds kind of like an organ. The film was shot silently and dubbed afterwards, and this happens with differing levels of success. Some scenes you can't tell that it was done after the fact... but there are just as many where it is oh so clear. The acting, both visual and vocal, is horrifyingly bad. The police captain (whose line "This man is uncanny!" is among my favorites in the film) alone drops Blood Feast to the level of movies like Troll 2. Rather than having a proper screenplay, the production ran off of a 14-page "script," which served as the barest of outlines for the film. The point of the film was violence first, story later, and it shows. The most notable failure is a flaw so incredibly simple that it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that no effort whatsoever went into its writing. I will not tell you, however, because its reveal in 2002's Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (which is required viewing if you want to be my friend) is a truly beautiful moment in cinema history. Regardless of the film's quality, it drew in incredible crowds and started a revolution. It also made booking later films far more difficult. Whereas Blood Feast was played all over the country (receiving the widest distribution of any of Lewis's films), the rest of his work (and of the other exploitation directors ready to emulate him) was put under much harsher scrutiny. TWO THOUSAND MANIACS![embed]205505:37369[/embed]AN ENTIRE TOWN BATHED IN PULSING HUMAN BLOOD! MADMEN CRAZED FOR CARNAGE! Instead of making a direct sequel to Blood Feast, Lewis and Friedman decided to make something far more disturbing. With Lewis now writing the screenplay, the two created Two Thousand Maniacs!, a film that is far more interesting on pretty much every level. It actually cuts down on the body count (only four people are killed), but the murders themselves are far more memorable. Seeing the change in marketing from one film to the next is also very interesting. "It still features that opening which dares the viewer to see the film, but whereas Blood Feast's trailer was mostly music, this one features a narrator who won't stop talking. As expected, there are still extra shots of violence not found in the actual movie, but this trailer is far more sensationalized. It also flat out lies about how many people are set to die (as I mentioned, it's only four) in order to get people to come see it, and that's exactly what an exploitation marketing campaign should do.  Two Thousand Maniacs! is about six northerner tourists who are tricked into coming into the southern town of Pleasant Valley during their centennial celebration. The year is 1965, which means they are celebrating something that happened in 1865. Any American history buffs know the significance of that year? Why, it's the end of the Civil War! It's also the year that the inhabitants of Pleasant Valley were slaughtered by Union soldiers. Now they're out for Yankee blood, and the unsuspecting tourists have plenty to give.  The centennial is celebrated with a series of events featuring the Guests of Honor (the northerners). And what events might these be? Barbecue, Horse Race, Barrel Roll, and Rock Drop. By tricking the various characters into situations where they are alone, the maniacal townsfolk are able to easily murder their victims (in inventive ways, mind you) without raising much suspicion from the others. Tom, a teacher, realizes what's going on around the time the Barbeque is set to happen, and is already looking for a way to escape by the time the Barrel Roll is set to happen. Those who don't make it are subjected to some pretty messed up endings. Since I have to choose a favorite, I will go with the Barrel Roll. Of the deaths in the film, that is the one that horrified me the most. In stark contrast to Blood Feast,Two Thousand Maniacs! is actually not a bad film in its own right. There are plenty of moments  to laugh at, but the poor acting actually helps the film's surreal quality rather than hinders it. Everything about the town and its inhabitants is off in some way or another, and the film's technical failings make the whole thing even creepier. This changes a bit near the end due to some truly horrendous acting. A young boy named Billy, who is first seen wrapping a noose around a cat's throat and pulling, is played so incompetently (and his dialogue is so obviously dubbed) that it becomes truly laughable. When he becomes a significant part of the plot, the creepiness just falls apart. It does lead to a truly funny moment later on though, during a pseudo-chase sequence.   It may not have the significance of Blood Feast, but it's got a different intent. With the actual centennial of the Civil War's end happening the following year, the market was flooded with stories about it, and it was very much in the public consciousness. It was a time when some northerners were scared that exactly this sort of thing could happen, and Lewis wanted to capitalize on that. Unfortunately, the film didn't get nearly the kind of showings that Blood Feast would get because of the increased pressure put on extreme violence by censorship boards. It primarily played at Southern drive-ins, where it did very well. By making his films specifically for the people who were more likely to see them, he did exactly what an exploitation film director should do. COLOR ME BLOOD RED[embed]205505:37370[/embed]A BLOOD-SPATTERED STUDY IN THE MACABRE. IT WILL LEAVE YOU AGHAST! I think that the above trailer is probably the closest to what people generally think of when they hear the term "grindhouse" or "exploitation" trailer. First up, it opens with the narrator telling you, "You must keep reminding yourself: 'It's just a movie. It's just a movie...'" This phrase would later be stolen for the marketing of other exploitation films such as Wes Craven's 1972 film Last House on the Left. Even more than that, though, is the fact that the film's name is said six times in less than two minutes. Once again, it features extra gore not found in the actual film, and it completely misleads the viewer. Color Me Blood Red tells the story of Adam Sorg, a failing painter in search of the perfect color for his newest creation. When his incredibly unpleasant girlfriend accidentally bleeds on his canvas, he decides to use her (and then his own) blood to color it. After his girlfriend takes it one step too far, he stabs her in the face and uses her to finish the coloring. The painting is a huge success, and he is asked to make one just like it. After spearing and running over a man with his motorboat, he captures and eviscerates a young woman and uses her blood to color the second painting, which is received even more highly. Then, after spending weeks without painting anything or even leaving his house, a group of four young adults come to the beach nearby. He lures one of them (coincidentally the daughter of Sorg's most enthusiastic customer) into a modeling job, where he ties her up. Just as he's about to kill her with an axe, her friends show up and his reign of terror ends. The majority of the film is not about those things, however. There are several scenes features those four young adults (two of whom say obnoxious things like "Holy Bananas!") and many take place at the art gallery where Sorg's work is shown. The killing is a relatively insignificant part of the film. Would you know that having watched the trailer? Absolutely not, and that's the beauty of marketing. Color Me Blood Red is the least violent of the films, but the violence it does have is better than ever. My favorite moment? When he milks blood from some exposed intestines. If you have seen Roger Corman's 1959 film Bucket of Blood, the premise should be familiar. That film centers around a failed sculptor who finds that murdering people and then plastering over them brings him huge success. In fact, Corman even took from a little bit from himself with the 1960 classic The Little Shop of Horrors, using blood to keep the plant alive because of all of the attention and success it's bringing him. Color Me Blood Red exists as a sort of combination of those two premises, but there's little doubt of the film's inspiration. Although still common today, this kind of idea thievery was everywhere in the heydays of exploitation. The very point of exploitation was to capitalize on a market, and when a film was successful, dozens if not hundreds of copy-cats would come out of the woodwork to make films just like it and attempt to sell it as the next big thing. The vast majority of these films disappeared without a trace, but Color Me Blood Red did just enough with Corman's premise to still make a film worth watching. Near the end of Color Me Blood Red's production, Lewis and Friedman had a fight which ended their partnership. Despite this, The Blood Trilogy lives on as a cinematic landmark. They may not be directly related to each other, but each film capitalizes on the success of the last and epitomizes exploitation filmmaking in a different way. Without these films, cinema today would be a very different beast. Some people might say it would be better, but that doesn't matter. Blood Feast showed the world something it had never seen before, Two Thousand Maniacs! took it and capitalized on the thoughts and fears of the era, and Color Me Blood Red kept it going. They may not be masterpieces, but these films are incredibly important, and you owe it to yourself to see them. They are available on Blu-ray and DVD. Although the DVD is quite a bit more expensive, it preserves the film's original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. If that matters to you, definitely go with that version. If not, I'm sure the Blu-ray is fine too. Whatever your medium of choice, the collection is absolutely worth your time and money. Just for fun, here is the trailer for H.G. Lewis's 2002 film Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat. It's available on Netflix Instant Play, and it is one of my favorite movies ever. [embed]205505:37367[/embed] NEXT MONTH... Flixist's Editor-in-Chief Matthew Razak will be bringing the Christmas cheer with Jingle all the Way. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB October: Dougal & The Blue Cat (1970) September: Top Secret! (1984) August: Battle Royale (2000) July: Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991) June: Cannibal Holocaust (1980) [Author's note: Much of the information from this piece came from the book Down and Dirty: Hollywood's Exploitation Filmmakers and Their Movies by Mike Quarles. If there are any major factual inaccuracies, blame him.]

[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favorite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pac...

The Cult Club: Dougal & The Blue Cat (1970)

Oct 10 // Xander Markham
One of the things that would have significantly increased the fear factor for anyone exposed to Dougal & The Blue Cat at the time of its release is that it was based on a popular children's television show, The Magic Roundabout. Anyone who has seen it will know that Roundabout is not exactly the sort of material from which nightmares are woven: it largely consisted of stop-motion animals interacting in softly-spoken voices around the eponymous roundabout. The colours were bright and cheerful, with barely the faintest hint of danger. Each episode was only five minutes long and worked mostly on the basis of offering the chance to reconnect with a beloved cast of characters, especially the shaggy Skye Terrier, Dougal, rather than trying to tell any sort of story. The Magic Roundabout's world was a safe and comfortable one. Children tend to divide real life up into safe places and scary places, such as hiding under the bedsheets to get away from the monsters in the wardrobe. The idea of a safe place being invaded by something from a scary place is about the worst thing imaginable and in 1970, a blue cat named Buxton arrived in the very safe world of The Magic Roundabout. One of the film's cleverest tricks is that it only reveals its hand gradually. It starts with a cheery theme tune and grumpy Dougal, wearing an excellent yellow night cap, being woken up by a cuckoo clock. He thinks something strange happened the night before, but his visit to all his old friends is a reassuring sign that this is the same old safe Roundabout world that children remember. It's not, though. Dougal goes back to bed and is awoken by a strange voice, leading him to an old factory that had long since been abandoned. The shift in tone from light and jolly to suspenseful and sinister happens quickly and doesn't last long. Like Dougal, the immediate reaction is to wonder whether it really was just a dream. Yet the next morning, there is a new visitor to the Roundabout world: a blue cat, the same colour blue as the landscape from Dougal's nightmare. His name is Buxton (there's a joke in there about his regional accent). As children often are when faced with a newcomer, Dougal is jealous of the attention the cat receives. Yet where children learn to socialise and define boundaries with people in real life, Buxton slowly starts to take away not only the attention that Dougal so adores, but his friends and safe places as well. Remember how I mentioned children hiding in their bed? Well, guess what prized possession of Dougal's Buxton takes for his own in an almost sinisterly happy scene. The film does not telegraph its horror with violent music or imagery, but lets it slowly seep in below the surface of a world that still seems so carefree from the outside. [embed]205121:37232[/embed] Eventually, Dougal's friends are even repeating Buxton's slogan: "Blue is beautiful." There has been a great deal of debate as to what this means. The idea of blue as representing an oppressive force was a common feature of British productions at the time, most notably also turning up in The Beatles' Yellow Submarine (1968) in the shape of the Blue Meanies. This has been widely linked to the fact that the nation had a Conservative government at the time, whose policies were strictly antithetical to the prevalent youth culture of drug-induced psychedelia. One of Dougal's first lines in the film is a shocked call to 'Vote Conservative!' when awoken suddenly and assuming disaster is on the way. It is rather telling that an inhabitant of a tie-dyed world that includes a stoner rabbit would associate a centre-right political party with impending doom. Being of centre-right political persuasion, the Conservatives were also associated with the power structures and hierarchies which the hippies were determined to break down - or, at least, loosen up. When Buxton first receives his calling to the Blue cause, he is made to go through seven tests (in possibly the film's most famous and outwardly scary sequence) which grant him a new title with each one he passes - Sir Buxton, Baron Buxton, Lord Buxton, all the way up to King. In case it isn't already obvious, the Conservatives are also the party most closely linked with the monarchy. It is also surely no coincidence that the 'Blue Voice', which functions as the film's primary antagonist, speaks in cut-glass aristocratic tones. [embed]205121:37233[/embed] There are many other possible readings, though, which take the story in quite different directions. At first, Buxton is just a scraggly, slightly weird cat whose otherness makes him fascinating to Dougal's friends. He becomes entranced by a voice convincing him that his colour is beautiful and best. England at the time was struggling to reconcile itself with a massive influx of immigration that had literally brought new colour to British streets, which was still seen with hostility and suspicion by many. Buxton's Yorkshire accent also hints at the British North/South divide, which was as much a political split - North being the more left-wing working class, South being middle-class and typically Conservative - as cultural. The 'British New Wave' film movement that had started in the early Sixties was very much concerned with such ideas. On one level, the film is a story about a scruffy dog having his world taken over by a devious cat; on another, about children's worst nightmares coming true; on yet another, about the divides tearing a post-Colonial Britain apart during the transition to a more modern culture. As an adult watching now, the film seems to be suggesting that the greatest evil comes through ideas of conformism and losing identity, which were seen by the hippies as represented in political form by the governing Conservative Party. Even though its slow pacing and low-rent animation will make the film a challenge for modern children raised on the thrill-a-minute likes of Disney and Pixar, Dougal & The Blue Cat is fascinating not only for the nostalgic value of revisiting a film that, intentionally or accidentally, caught onto the very things that define fear in a young child's mind and made for a terrifyingly formative experience for all who watched it, but also as an artefact of its time, representing in eerily abstract form the fears of a country fighting through an era when it was fiercely beset by cultural, political and territorial divides. While those who champion it are relatively few in number these days - the most well-known among them being the acerbic British film critic, Mark Kermode - its influence can still be spotted in the most unusual places today, such as the journey to the moon undertaken by Wallace and Gromit in their first adventure, A Grand Day Out, which borrows a number of visual cues from Blue Cat. As one of the scariest children's films ever made, a political polemic disguised as creepy psychedelia and a fascinating cornerstone in the history of British animated film, there's only one thing left to say about it. Blue is beautiful. Blue is best. [embed]205121:37234[/embed] NEXT MONTH... Flixist's exploitation expert Alec Kubas-Meyer guides you through the Blood Trilogy. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB September: Top Secret! (1984) August: Battle Royale (2000) July: Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991) June: Cannibal Holocaust (1980) May: Troll 2 (1990)

[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favorite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pac...

The Cult Club: Top Secret! (1984)

Sep 12 // Jenika Katz
Top Secret! focuses on totally-not-Elvis rock musician Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer). After Leonard Bernstein cancels, the American government sends Rivers to perform at the East German cultural festival, bringing live rock and roll to the country for the first time. Despite Rivers' cultural insensitivity, things are going swimmingly- until, of course, he meets Hillary Flammond (Lucy Gutteridge), a member of the Resistance. His sense of chivalry ends up landing Rivers in the middle of a battle for independence. That synopsis may sound dull, but this movie is about World War II spy movies in the same way its predecessor is about flight disasters. Top Secret! was made by the same people who created Airplane! four years earlier, as might be evidenced by their love of exclamation points in titles. The movies have a very similar feel to them, and they both hold up incredibly well due to their reliance on slapstick rather than cultural references. What Top Secret! lacks in Leslie Nielsen and memorable quotes, it makes up for with Val Kilmer and great visual and audio gags. [embed]202135:37134[/embed] Everyone in the extended cast has at least one great moment, and even the characters that just show up for one gag don't feel extraneous. That said, Val Kilmer is absolutely phenomenal and completely steals the show. Not only was Top Secret! his first feature film, but he also performs all the songs himself. His voice is awesome and he does a great Elvis impression, right down to the dance moves. And, let's be honest, I don't think I've ever seen a guy look that good in skinny pants. Mmm. I mentioned the visual gags, and they pop up all over the place, but the audio gags are really fantastic. Several jokes are completely off-screen, without the characters even acknowledging that they're happening, which just makes them that much better. The sound effects both on- and off-screen are absolutely perfect. The movie uses music pretty well, too, even beyond the Elvis spoofing. The music swells dramatically during very undramatic moments and is wonderfully cheesy the rest of the time. Then again, everything about the movie is pretty cheesy. [embed]202135:37135[/embed] For a movie set during World War II with the Germans as the bad guys, the humor isn't terribly malicious. Yes, the government is portrayed as evil, but most of the jokes are centered on cultural references and are mostly just silly. There are a lot of pronunciation jokes, with Rivers' fans holding up signs that say, “We love you, Neek!” A lot of the “German” is actually Yiddish, and what actual German is present is usually gibberish. A problem I have with a lot of modern comedies is that they all seem to have a serious section somewhere in the middle where they focus on character development instead of laughs. Sure, character development is nice and all, but it shouldn't be at the expense of the rest of the film. The laughs in Top Secret! don't stop for an instant. Every new shot has a new gag. It's true that we don't get to know the characters as well as we might, but it's more fun to be shallow once in a while. All serious conversations are still full of jokes and portrayed in an absolutely ridiculous manner. [embed]202135:37136[/embed] The best thing about Top Secret! is that it's impossible to catch all the jokes on the first viewing. I was (too) young when I saw this for the first time, so about half of them went over my head, but I'm still finding new ones to this day despite owning the DVD and pushing the movie on all of my friends. While a lot of the jokes are on the nose, there are plenty of subtle ones, and things are happening in the background in almost every shot. In fact, I noticed two new background jokes in this viewing that I hadn't seen before. When you check this out (because you have to or else I won't be your friend anymore), see if you can spot the intriguing book, Lesbian Bars of North Carolina. It's surprisingly long considering the subject matter. [embed]202135:37130[/embed] Next month... Xander will return with Dougal and the Blue Cat. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB February: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! March: Django (1966) April: Alice in Wonderland XXX May: Troll 2 June: Cannibal Holocaust (1980) July: Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991) August: Battle Royale (2000)

[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favorite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pac...

The Cult Club: Battle Royale (2000)

Aug 11 // Geoff Henao
Battle Royale is a Japanese action film adaptation of the manga of the same name. Due to an increasing unemployment rates and growing dissent amongst its teenagers, the Japanese government decides to enact the Millennium Educational Reform Act, also known as the Battle Royale Act. Under the new law, a random junior high class is sent to a deserted island where students are forced to kill each other within a three day time frame. The last survivor is allowed to escape from the island, but if there's more than one survivor remaining after time is expired, then everybody dies. What. To complement the premise are the various archetypal characters that any anime fan would find familiar. A large majority of the 42 students get sizable screen time, allowing some back story to help shape their individual narratives. For example, Mitsuko Souma (Kou Shibasaki) is depicted as a vindictive, psychotic bitch until you find out her Mom attempted to sell her into child prostitution at an early age in an unsettling flashback scene. Battle Royale also casts Chiaki Kuriyama as one of the students. Most of you might remember her as Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill. Do I even need to explain why she gets to be singled out in her own paragraph? Mmm... Of course, an amazing premise wouldn't mean anything without the film actually living up to its potential, and Battle Royale doesn't let down. Each student is given a survival kit with a random object to assist them in their battles. Of course, not every object actually proves to be useful. Main protagonist Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara), for example, receives a pot lid. While it does help him on one occasion, let's be honest: Nanahara is no Captain America. Real weapons and guns are distributed amongst the students, leading to lots of bloodshed... no, "bloodshed" is too much of an understatement. Like any good cult/exploitation film, blood simply sprays out like an exploding juice blood from every wound inflicted, dousing both victim and assailant in crimson. However, as the characters are students and seemingly inexperienced with battle, they wield their weapons awkwardly and tend to stumble either into or out of sticky situations. In one scene, for example, an homage to the Mexican standoff plays out with three female students awkwardly wielding their weapons at one another, resulting in blood showers, uncontrollable body writhing, and school girl underwear shots. Battle Royale is the kind of film you'd watch with your friend to show off how much more violent Japanese films are than American films. Some of the film's death scenes are amongst my favorites, such as Kuriyama's Takako Chigusa repeatedly stabbing a prospective rapist in the penis. It has garnered a large following, especially amongst the Japanophile crowds; it's like a real-life anime film (but actually good). Quentin Tarantino himself has gone on to call Battle Royale his favorite film to be released since his directorial debut in 1992. Furthermore, Battle Royale served to be the US' first taste of the extreme Asian cinematic style. Considering the Columbine shootings happened just a year prior to its theatrical release, you can imagine the kind of controversy it'd have received had it gotten proper American distribution. The depiction of overt teenage violence also fueled backlash against the film, as well as the overarching theme of adult distrust. Upon its release, Japanese Parliament labeled the film "crude and tasteless." If you haven't already seen Battle Royale, you can rent it out from Netflix or find one of a handful of Japanese import stores. Anchor Bay Entertainment is rumored to release the film in 3D this year for the US' first official release if you're into 3D conversions. Whatever the case, I implore you to catch this film, if not for the blood-filled violence, then for the basketball flashbacks/montages. [embed]199544:36984[/embed] Next Month... jolly kid Jenika Katz will cover Top Secret! PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB March: Django (1966) April: Alice In Wonderland XXX (1976) May: Troll 2 (1990) June: Cannibal Holocaust (1980) July: Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991)

[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out fro...

The Cult Club: Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991)

Jul 11 // Liz Rugg
First off, the dubbing in the English version of the movie is absolutely horrendous. I don't think there's any instance in any scene where dialogue looks like the character is actually saying it. This atrocity instantly undermines any sense of quality about the movie because it's such a blatant distraction. You can't get involved with any of the characters or themes even if you wanted to (not that there's much there anyway). Throughout the entire movie, you are reminded by the horrible dubbing that you are watching something low-budget and silly that is trying desperately not to be. The beginning of the movie sets the stage with a narrated text informing the viewer that in the year 2001, capitalist governments (this is a Chinese movie, after all) have privatized the prison system, and we quickly learn that the prison is separated into four quadrants: North, South, East and West. Each of which are essentially governed by a lead-badass prisoner who are known collectively as The Gang of Four, and the Warden and the Assistant Warden are in control of the whole place. The first time we meet the fabled Ricky is as he is being admitted into the prison. After it is announced that he is serving time for manslaughter, he sets off a metal detector in the processing room. Thanks to a conveniently located, upright, chest-x-ray machine, we learn that Ricky has five bullets embedded in his torso. No Big Deal. Ricky says they are his “souvenirs”. Ricky's troubles with the other inmates start soon after he is admitted, when a small gang of thugs skin an old man's face in the bathroom - I told you it was gory. Ricky trips the leader thug causing him to fall on a piece of wood with some nails sticking out of it(?), which punctures through his hand and into his eye. The gang leader that Ricky tripped soon sends a really fat convict after Ricky in hopes of killing him and this leads to the first real fight of the movie. You have to understand that the fight scenes of Riki-Oh are gloriously awful. They have been mentioned on countless “Best Worst Fights” lists and for good reason. The special effects in these scenes not only look incredibly fake, but they're also choreographed to be so violent that you often cringe even though you're laughing hysterically. Riki-Oh ends up being an unusually drastic juxtaposition of horror and campiness. [embed]199552:36861[/embed] Around the same time as the fat guy is being destroyed by Ricky, the old man whose face was pared was bullied so much that he hung himself (in the hallway for some reason.) Ricky is very upset by the loss of his (apparent) friend and goes on an all out screaming and punching rampage alone in the rain. (Seriously.) From that point on, Ricky decides to become the champion of justice in the prison, using his super-human strength which is eventually revealed, in a flashback, as the mystical Qigong (pronounced Chi-Kung) fighting style. We also learn that Ricky's uncle taught him Qigong by tossing gravestones at him and had Ricky punch through them. Yes, really. Ricky's new-found cause upsets the prison's Assistant Warden (who, if you look closely, keeps an extensive porn collection in his office) and he sends Oscar, the leader of the North Cell to fight Ricky. Watch this clip from the fight below, it will blow your friggin' mind. [embed]199552:36860[/embed] After the fight with Oscar, the Assistant Warden sends bigger and tougher enemies after Ricky, who becomes almost like a rebel leader for the rest of the prisoners ... for some reason. Ricky causes more and more trouble for the Gang of Four and the Assistant Warden, until at the end of the movie the Warden himself faces off against Ricky and it becomes an all-out blood-flood. This may sound ridiculous, but there is really no better way to describe it.  Riki-Oh has become infamous because of people sampling parts of the movie's outrageous fight scenes, and Riki-Oh clips have frequented outlets such as The Daily Show and the website YTMND in the past. The way that I heard about Riki-Oh was actually through The Angry Video Game Nerd – it's one of his top favorite movies. One of the things about this movie that makes it so damn entertaining is how serious it takes itself. Fan Siu-wong, the actor who plays Ricky, plays his character with an enormous amount of over-emphasized passion and focused intensity, but he tries so hard that he ultimately gets laughed out the door. The same can be said about the rest of the movie. It tries so hard to be a scary and thrilling "real" movie, with a lot of work being put into the sets and effects (laughable as they may be) and there are adult themes that are addressed in the movie such as drugs, opium, rape, suicide, revenge, and prison corruption. But none of this adds up to a successful movie by standard thinking. However willfully the creators tried, Riki-Oh is doomed by terrible English dubbing and gore on par with a junior-high school play trying to be like a horror movie. But of course, that is precisely what makes the film so absolutely enjoyable to watch. You can't watch Riki-Oh without laughing and flinching. It will surprise you with its entertaining, though completely unintentional, absurdity. I really can't emphasize enough just how much fun it is to watch Riki-Oh!  If you are a fan of poorly-made and needlessly bloody movies that still manage to be hilarious and full of unexpected twists, you have to give Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky a shot. It is truly a cult classic that is worth your time. I haven't even really scratched the surface of all the insane stuff in this movie. I left plenty of surprises! If you ever get the chance to watch Riki-Oh, DO IT. Below is a collection of clips from this masterpiece. Enjoy. [embed]199552:36862[/embed] Next Month... Geoff Henao becomes embattled in Battle Royale! PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB February: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) March: Django (1966) April: Alice In Wonderland XXX (1976) May: Troll 2 (1990) June: Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from th...

The Cult Club: Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Jun 10 // Andres Bolivar
Directed by Italian director Ruggero Deodato in 1980, Cannibal Holocaust follows the story of Alan Yates and his film crew who have gone missing after they set out to the Amazon in hopes to capture footage of Yanamomo, a cannibalistic tribe that no man has ever seen and lived to tell about it. Being two films in one, the first half follows anthropologist Harold Monroe (played by Robert Kerman who also starred in famous porno flick Debbie Does Dallas) and his quest to recover the remaining footage. The second half comprises of the “found footage," known as the Green Inferno, as we follow Yates and crew wreak havoc upon the indigenous tribes of the area and committing heinous acts and passing it off as the actions of the tribes in hopes of boosting their ratings. What happens in the end is… well… not a good time. Cannibal Holocaust is one of those films that people use to test their threshold for all things horrible. Similar to the reason why anybody would watch such films as The Human Centipede or A Serbian Film, they provide a scrupulous amount of brutality and sensationalism disguised by social commentary and heavy-handed messages. For a film made in the 80s, the caliber of sheer brutality does not falter as it is chock full of scenes of rape, mutilation and even animal cruelty.  Want to see a dick get chopped off? How about a brutal rape with a stone dick? How about just seeing scary brown people touch a former porn star’s dick? Well you’ve come to the right place. What sets Cannibal Holocaust apart from the shock and awe films of today is that, at one time, the viewing public thought it to be reality. Borrowing heavily from the Mondo film genre, director Ruggero Deodato created an intricate folklore about the film, leading most to believe that the Green Inferno portion of the film was actual footage of death and massacre. It had gotten to the point that Italian officials confiscated the film negatives and Deodato was indicted for the murder of his actors. Of course, all this was cleared up quickly when the actual actors testified, but it only added to the allure of the film. I even remember as a child being told about this film where the director actually killed his actors so he can get an authentic scene. Watching the film now, it all seems rather silly that people actually thought these people died on film, but not too long ago people were arguing the authenticity of The Blair Witch Project. Since Cannibal Holocaust (and even The Blair Witch Project), a slew of found footage films have popped up to a point that we get a sh*tty Paranormal Activity movie every year. Still, none really matched the seriousness that was Deodato’s situation. Other than the lore of actually murdering his actors, Cannibal Holocaust is also famous for pissing off animal rights activists by killing so many animals on screen. By my count, Deodato killed a muskrat, a snake, a monkey and a pig all for the sake of the shot. It’s brutal, yes, but none of it compares to what they did to that poor defenseless turtle: [embed]199241:36756[/embed] Now, I’m not any kind of animal activist; by and large, I believe animals were put on this Earth for me to eat. I have been pestered by those stupid people in New York who try to show you what actually goes on in these meat processing plants and all it did was make me hungry for a burger. Still, seeing them actually rip apart that turtle rocked me to my core and is possibly the only time footage has ever made me really queasy. I realize it's very hypocritical considering there is actual footage within the film of genocide and firing squads, yet nothing really stuck to me much like seeing that turtles insides bubble as its decapitated head was still snapping. Other than the brutal nature and extreme violence, the one thing that truly rubbed me the wrong way is the heavy handed message. Going for the whole "Modern Society are the real cannibals" message, Deodato tries way too hard to warrant such visual atrocities with social commentary. While the thought of a film crew raping and murdering indigenous people for the sake of footage is an interesting concept, the constant allusions to Vietnam and the news media begin to over-saturate the film. The film goes to ridiculous lengths, such as gang raping a poor tribeswoman, putting her on a pike and passing it off as the brutal actions of devolved cannibalistic tribe. When the film culminated to a gratuitous sex scene in which two of the film crew have sex on the charred remains of the village they just burned down AS THE VILLAGERS WATCHED, I nearly lost it. It’s apparent that subtlety isn’t a thing that exists in the world of Cannibal Holocaust. It’s a good message, yea, but for the love of god, stop beating me over the head with it. Since Cannibal Holocaust, Ruggero Deodato has for the most part fallen off the face of the earth. Whispers of a sequel or a reboot were running the rumor mills for awhile, with the likes of Eli Roth and Rob Zombie attached to direct. In the end, Ruggero himself decided to head up the project, but due to a problem with funding the project was cancelled almost immediately. Still, at least he got a cameo in Hostel Part II out of it. When it’s all said and done, Cannibal Holocaust remains an integral part of film history. Its controversial nature, the fact that it was accused of murder and the sheer level of exploitative brutality makes for one of those experiences people seek out that is sure to rattle their core. I, in no way, think this is actually a good movie, but if you’re anything like me, it’s one of those necessary stops in the tour of f*cked up movies to watch. If you ever do want to watch it, good luck finding it, as Best Buy and your neighborhood Wal-Mart definitely aren’t carrying it. Still, you could always try and ordering it straight from the official website: Tune in next month where our very own cannibal Liz Rugg will cover the epicness that is Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. Allow me to say, that movie is all kinds of f*cking awesome. I’m sorry I cursed, but there’s really no other way to describe it. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB February: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1964) March: Django (1965) April: Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Comedy (1976) May: Troll 2 (1990)

[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favorite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the ...


The Cult Club: Troll 2 (1990)

May 11
// Liz Rugg
The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favorite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the ...

The Cult Club: Django (1966)

Mar 11 // Xander Markham
Among spaghetti western aficionados, director Sergio Corbucci is known as 'the other Sergio'. What sounds like a slur is actually a reference to two careers that mirrored each other surprisingly closely, albeit with Leone going on to mainstream success and widespread acclaim, while Corbucci remained the cult favourite. A Fistful Of Dollars is often cited as the film that kicked off the spaghetti western boom in 1964, but like many great inventions, Corbucci and Leone had the same idea at the same time, specifically to relocate Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo to an Old West setting. (Ironically, Yojimbo was itself a Japanese relocation of Dashiell Hammett's American novel Red Harvest). Leone got his film into cinemas first and claimed the glory for establishing a new tone and look for the genre - as well as walking straight into a lawsuit by Yojimbo's producers - but Django, released two years later in 1966, went on to have no less significant long-term impact. Just make sure you don't end up watching any of the myriad Django films that followed, which stole the name to cash in on the popularity of Corbucci's film but bear no ressemblance to it whatsoever and are uniformly dire, even the 'official' sequel Django Rides Again, which stars Franco Nero but is more a lousy Rambo knock-off than proper Western. Corbucci's Django is the trashier cousin to Leone's gritty but artistic approach to the Western. If Fistful's most notable contribution to the genre was blurring moral boundaries between the good and bad guys, Django operated in a similar grey area but amped up the violence and sadism to levels that saw it banned in several countries, including the UK. Leone's West is a place of gangs, thieves and outlaws battling for supremacy, but handled with an ironic and artistic touch. Corbucci has no such restraints: his West is a filthy, cruel place where there is no victory without suffering and the weak are mercilessly sent to the slaughter by the strong (no more horrifyingly realised than in his later film The Great Silence). When Leone's characters dance with death, it is presented in elegant and meaningful images. In Django, death is no more than the zero-sum game of one man's continued existence at another's cost, a brutal spectacle that ultimately signifies nothing. Corbucci's cynical approach to on-screen violence remains his most tangible legacy outside his cult fanbase, with which later revisionist Westerns (arguably including Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven) share more in common than Leone. That isn't to say Corbucci is a director without nuance: his opening image of Django is a perfect symbol of the burden of death weighing on the shoulders of the people populating the film. After inviting audiences to speculate as to what is in the coffin that Django drags behind him, Corbucci reverses expectations at the big reveal in one of the film's most notorious sequences. The man who once seemed unable to escape death instead becomes its harbinger. Leone's protagonists may be closer to their antagonists than in the films of John Wayne, say, but Corbucci takes it a step further, suggesting that they are one and the same. His 'heroes' are delineated for being more successful bad guys than the others. Django has a little more respect for women than most, but treats the wanton taking of life with an indifference that few villains could match. Though life and death may be meaningless in Corbucci's world, in contrast to Leone's determinedly apolitical landscapes, Django is a film very much the result of a political mindset prevalent in Italy at the time, causing some critics to deride it as 'anti-American'. The lust for money and power that is the downfall of the film's main characters has a strong stench of Marxism about it. Django, as a weapons trafficker, is a character whose existence is defined by capitalism, yet is repeatedly betrayed by his greedy impulses: it is hinted that his trade left him too far away to defend his wife (whose murder becomes his motivation in the film), while he later almost dies after diving into quicksand to recover stolen loot. It is telling of how little stock Corbucci puts in the concepts of heroes and villains that Django's protagonist appears to represent ideals that the director seems to despise. Anti-American accusations were no doubt further fuelled by the decision to portray one of the gangs in dress identical to that of the KKK. In a post-Civil War setting, the image has a ferocious potency: the South may have been defeated, but through Corbucci's camera, the new rulers of the land are no more tolerant of strangers than the old ones. The ruling class, represented as Civil War military survivors, are sadistic and corrupt, while the working poor are the ones who suffer worst for the battles between them, such as the gravedigger who doesn't get paid for his extensive labour or the prostitute whom Django takes it upon himself to save. If you're looking for a second interpretation of the film, the prostitute is named María and it has been speculated that Django himself is an analogue for Christ. Religion certainly doesn't get a clear ride from the film: a priest is revealed as a spy (make your own reading of that) and subject to a fate that Tarantino borrowed in less graphic form for Reservoir Dogs. Having later made a cameo in Takashi Miike's Sukiyaki Western Django and now reportedly called upon Nero for his latest production, there can surely be no doubt as to how much of an influence Corbucci's film has had on Tarantino's work. Yet for all the analysis and potential readings that can be made of Django, its success in becoming the most (in)famous of the Spaghetti Westerns outside Leone's oeuvre is down to it being, pure and simple, an enormously exciting and engaging film. For Leone fans, Corbucci's work represents the grimier side to the Italian West. What it lacks in the grace and cinematic scope of the Man With No Name trilogy, it makes up for in raw exploitation viscerality, a case in point being Django's final showdown in the cemetary contrasted against the climax to The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. For those who find Leone's pace too measured (blasphemy!), Django is a more action-packed entry point into the genre. Star Franco Nero's physical similarities to Clint Eastwood betray the fact that he is playing a very different character. No Name is a neutral figure in emotional and political terms, where Django is revealed as more tragic and of a distinct political persuasion, with Nero giving a terrific performance sadly undermined in the English version by an horrific dub  - as usual, there's no reason not to stick with the subtitled Italian original. Meanwhile, as Corbucci is to Leone, so too is Luis Bacalov's score to the work of Ennio Morricone: broader and less experimental, but with a dark and melancholy heart beating beneath its trashy exterior. Django is a fascinating parallel take on the same Yojimbo source material by two directors with much in common, yet producing films very different and often in direct contrast with each other. When I say Sergio Corbucci is the second best Spaghetti Western director you can find, it's a statement that has to be suffixed with the fact that Sergio Leone is in my consideration the greatest director who ever lived: no-one mocks Jesus for being second best to God, after all. He's the greatest kind of B-movie director, who can combine the exploitation delight for violence and quick-fire thrills with a marked directorial signature and intelligence. Although it's a toss up between Django and the Klaus Kinski-starring The Great Silence for his masterpiece, don't overlook Navajo Joe (starring a young Burt Reynolds), The Hellbenders, The Mercenary or Compañeros either. Leone might be the celebrated face of the Spaghetti Western around the world, but it's the other Sergio who has all the right Cult Club credentials. [embed]198300:36368[/embed]   PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB February: Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the ...

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