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Tuesday, Oct 31, 2006

As someone who tried to figure out things that were way over his head at a very early age (in elementary school I tried to build a working ATM machine from post-it notes and paper clips), I have a romanticized notion of autodidacticism, of the fortifying rigor of trying to teach yourself things not for anyone’s approval or for good marks or for career advancement but for the sheer expression of curiosity, which will then have become something like a pure expression of the life-force. Having balked at becoming a professional academic, I also have a vested interest in imagining that being in graduate school for a long time with no degree to show for it is a badge of honor, proof that I was in it for the love of learning, that I wasn’t going to sell out by finishing that dissertation. I think some legitimate gripes can be made about professionalization—it distorts the incentives behind performing various kinds of research, for instance—but these are no excuse for a full-scale retreat from the conventions of knowledge certification. Communicating ideas and having them ratified by the attention of others is integral to learning anything. (That’s largely the reason why I write this blog.) Without that one plays at going through the rituals of learning in order to foment pleasing daydreams—about mastering electronics, about being able to build furniture, learning Hebrew, programming in Java or whatever.

The Internet has ushered in something of a golden age for autodidacts, because it provides both the free information and the sheltered universe necessary for autodidacts to thrive. Autodidacticism does not purify education; it’s just self-protection. And it easily slips into dilettantism, where one explores a subject only up to the point where it requires some discipline. Autodidacticism is probably as much about miserliness and fear as it is about curiosity—it’s often an attempt to amass a kind of theoretical power from knowledge while preventing oneself from ever having any occasion to test it. It’s an expression of a fantasy about knowledge—that it is not socially created but is instead laden with inherent value, like gold, and can be possessed and cherished in isolation. Autodidacts withdraw knowledge from the social circuits and contexts that make it useful and meaningful—that facilitate the exchange and syntheses that produce knowledge—and hoard it, using it to seal themselves off completely from the judgments of peers.

At 3 Quarks Daily, Justin E. H. Smith, a philosophy professor, shares a saddening exchange he had with a self-taught crank, in which he makes many insightful remarks about the plight of the autodidact. He prefaces the exchange with this apt question: “Why, oh why, would anyone choose the parasitic social role of the self-trained loner philosopher, who enjoys none of the social capital of the professional, and who inevitably will be unable to communicate with anyone whose opinion carries any weight at all in society, never having learned the appropriate behavioral and lexical cues that make communication possible? What are the social factors that make these men (and they are always men) possible?” (I’ve ventured my answer above—you begin by wanting the illusion of authority without the danger of failure and end up in the hermetic world of the outsider artist who has invented his own language and mythos and who mistakes incomprehensibility and obscurity as proofs of superiority—call it the Gaddis conundrum.) Here Smith highlights that influence (or recognition) rather than information mastery alone is the typically the point behind education, and professionalization is the means by which influence is organized —influence is a form of capital, subject to scarcity, and there’s an economics to its management. Influence is produced, distributed and consumed according to socially constructed rules; but the dream of the autodidact crank is a short-cut around those rules: the power of the novel idea is supposed to trump all social processes by the sheer explanatory power of its insights, yielding the lone genius the resepct of society without his having to build the coalitions to give his ideas currency. Once again, for the crank, ideas are not currency and their value is not contingent—they are inherently valuable and precious, like gold or diamonds.

After Smith is insulted by his correspondent—who wrote that Smith’s refusing to entertain his radically comprehensive ideas about the nature of civilization was a “failure to uphold truth” and “a betrayal of your duty, your community, and yourself”—he replies with some bitter medicine: “It is not at all surprising that no one has been interested in ‘refuting’ what you have to say. What you have to say seethes with outsider frustration. It is a call for attention, not an invitation to dialogue.” To needlessly extrapolate: When one spirals too far into autodidacticism, one’s yearning for recognition can become totally distorted and all-consuming. The crank becomes fixated on getting recognition precisely for ignoring the accepted methods for procuring it, and the pursuit obscures the possibility of actual communication. Everything becomes personal, yet the autodidact believes he is transcending petty problems like personalities and networking and so on.

Naturally, the crank did not take this well, and Smith made a final attempt to reach the crank by holding up a mirror to him, describing him as “the autodidactic outsider who retires from an intellectually undemanding career in which he was never able to cultivate stimulating idea-based relationships, and at some point gets it into his head that he has something far more important to say than he in fact does.” This is a fate I personally fear, and one of the reasons I’ll periodically return to Marx’s idea of importance of meaningful work as the basis for human fulfillment. Many jobs are in fact designed to prevent idea-based relationships, while the jobs that do foster such relationships seem to be increasingly held by a clique, which only intensifies the outsider feelings that produce cranks like Smith’s interlocutor. At some point the gap between those with the ability, the social/cultural capital, to work within the system to procure social recognition, and those without becomes unbridgable, despite the enormous opportunity afforded by the Internet for communcation among people of different levels of professional qualification. Internet-assissted autodidacticism seems as though it would permit sincerely interested people find the conversations that could enrich them, and certainly it does that, but it also becomes another forum in which the self-obsessed can glumly experience their neglect and pyrrhically revel in the absence of conversation—it permits the illusion of communication without requiring a writer to make any efforts to obtain an audience; it allows one to be ignored on an even grander scale.

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Monday, Oct 30, 2006

In an arena as thoroughly subjective as the scary movie, how does one even begin to come up with a list of the artform’s very best? In the hierarchy of horror, things change so rapidly (and frequently) that, at any given moment, one category of creepy - the Devil films of the ‘70s - will give way to an entirely new fear fad - the slasher films of the ‘80s. This means that, as the genre shifts, trends taper off and subcategories flourish, one man’s terror quickly becomes one filmmaker’s trash. It’s the same with opinions on what is and is not petrifying. Dread is indeed a personal propensity, difficult to discuss in terms of absolutes and universals. Yet whenever fans get together and share their experiences with the cinema they love the most, conversations typically turn toward the defining films that began their affair with fear in the first place. Though they may not always agree, it is clear that there are certain films that stand out amongst the throng, that argue for their place as not only good grue, but expert cinema as well.

This is what the SE&L list strives to uncover, the true masterpiece and milestones of post-modern horror. Again, there are certain caveats to this non-definitive Decalogue that should keep the obsessed and the angry in check, hopefully avoiding most call-outs and complaints to a minimum. Several sensational films from the myriad that many would consider crucial just missed the cut. They include current offerings like Silent Hill, Shaun of the Dead and Hostel, as well as deserving efforts from decades past like The Howling, Hellraiser, Prince of Darkness, Ganja and Hess and Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead. In addition, classics from the Golden Age – films featuring the likes of Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman – were also discounted, given their already important place in the overall history of horror. As we live in a contemporary world, a place that prides itself on rediscovering and then reconfiguring the past to fit its current concerns, the movies SE&L selected are all indicative of the era. They manipulate their ideas with various analogous elements, creating films that function as both macabre as well as a mirror on the modern world.

Some will still argue that favorite films are missing or seated too far down the roll. They will dismiss any compendium that does not contain their idea of fear flawlessness and belittle any attempt to praise some perceived hackwork over what they feel is a true shock landmark. Nonetheless, SE&L stands by its choices, using decades of film knowledge and years seated firmly in front of the TV (with VCR/DVD hook-ups providing the product) to make its final determinations. Sure, there are gaps in the analysis and forgotten efforts that missed the list based solely on their ‘out of sight, out of mind’ situation, but this does not take away from the ten titles found below. Each one stands as one of the genre’s best conceived and executed expressions. Authoritative? Perhaps not. Arguable? Most definitely. Ten terrific examples of terror? There is absolutely no doubt about it. Let’s begin right at the top:

1.The Exorcist

The darkest dream of America circa 1973, a country out of control with the generations gapping so viciously it seemed almost supernatural. While the connections to other universal elements (the onset of puberty, the familial fear of separation and divorce) added heft and depth, the combination of William Peter Blatty’s narrative and William Friedkin’s irrefutably great direction creates an experience that is remarkably frightening. But more than this, The Exorcist also asks the hard spiritual questions, exploring elements of faith, love and the lack thereof. With perfect performances and F/X that still manage to chill the bones, fear doesn’t get anymore flawless than this.
Classic Moment: A late night visit to Regan’s room reveals a disturbing message.

2. Evil Dead 2

It is safe to say that Sam Raimi literally revived old fashioned horror – twice. The first time was with his original brazen Book of the Dead extravaganza. But when the tide in terror started to turn away from fright and more towards the funny, Raimi reinvented his own initial film. Presented as a sort of requel (a combination sequel and remake), Part II forever cemented his stature as one of fear’s maddest hatters. This is the one fan’s remember most – Bruce Campbell’s bumbling badass, the Three Stooges inspired severed hand fight – and with good reason. It is a benchmark in cinematic diversity and delirium. 
Classic Moment: Ash replaces his severed hand with a chainsaw – Groovy!


3. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Thanks to the uneasy iconography of its formidable fiend – the human skin masked homunculus named Leatherface – Tobe Hooper’s original Saw story has been marginalized and mocked over time. But some 32 years after its initial release, this vile journey into the heart of a grisly American Gothic is still the most disturbing cinematic experience ever. Between the oppressive opening somewhere in the Southwestern wilderness to the dinner table standoff between actress Marilyn Burns and her cannibalistic captors, we find ourselves lost in an unrelenting world of anxiety and abomination. And then it gets worse…much worse.
Classic Moment: Leatherface’s ‘dance of death’ in the light of a Texas dawn.

4. Suspiria

Dario Argento’s fractured fairytale is an outrage-filled trip into a world where beauty is obliterated and the friendliest façade hides sharp, salivating teeth. From the moment Jessica Harper’s Suzy Bannion arrives at the creepy Austrian ballet school, the chaos of a massive thunderstorm foreshadowing the torment she’s about to be put through, we realize we are in the hands of a full blown cinematic genius. Then the first murders occur, and a whole new sense of sublimity arrives. Like a dream peppered with poison, or a nightmare dressed in lace, no one uncovers the gorgeous inside the grotesque – and visa versa - better than this able auteur.
Classic Moment: Suzy discovers the truth about the Tanzakademie.


5. A Nightmare on Elm Street

Reading the terrifying tea leaves of early ‘80s society – Regan in the White House, children cherished as biological trophies by ever-wayward parents, his favorite genre overrun by slice and dice silliness – horror hero Wes Craven reintroduced the monster back into the monster movie. Using a newspaper account of a boy who was “killed” by his dreams, the man responsible for Last House on the Left created a creepy cult symbol in Freddy Krueger - killer of kids both in reality and in the far more vulnerable world of their dreams. Though later reduced to a cloying comedian, this is Mr. Finger Knives coming out – and its unforgettably frightening. 
Classic Moment: Freddy reminding us just who ‘God” is.


6. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

The master of the modern zombie film finds yet another novel way of mixing scares with social commentary as he investigates America’s growing consumerism while upping the atrocity ante. This time, everyone’s favorite suburban cathedral – the shopping mall – is transformed into the setting for a strange lesson in situational sociology. It’s a battle between the haves (the survivors), the have nots (the roaming biker gang), and the flesh-craving caretakers of a land slowly subsumed by both sides inability to work together. Add in Tom Savini’s autopsy-level make-up work and you have one of the most memorable visions of internalized Apocalypse ever created.
Classic Moment: Flyboy ‘returns’.


7. Halloween

John Carpenter was not setting out to start a trend. As a huge fan of both Hitchcock and Argento, the filmmaker wanted to fashion a tribute to the suspense epics he adored as a young film student. The result was the beginning of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s slasher age for genre cinema, and the rebirth of the yearly calendar call of ‘Trick or Treat’ into a night of unspeakable evil. While both this fine first feature and its creator have fallen on hackneyed hard times of late (the numerous lame sequels haven’t helped the frequently floundering franchise) no one can deny the precision and potency of Carpenter’s original vision.
Classic Moment: Michael Myers stands in awe of his horrifying handiwork.

8. The Fly (1986)

How Canadian auteur David Cronenberg pulled this off is still one of the movies’ most powerful mysteries. Given the task of revamping the hoary old creepshow standard from the ‘50s – the human transformed into insect – he instead created a combination geek show and love story. Along with stellar performances by a cast who took the horror as seriously as the more heartfelt material, he managed a masterpiece that gave astonishing depth to the entire palette of fear. When a filmmaker can have you weeping at the end of his creative creature feature, you know there is more going on here besides your standard scares.
Classic Moment: Brundlefly requests to be put out of his misery.


9. The Thing (1981)

Looking for a way to reinvent himself (his post-Halloween efforts had been more or less ignored) John Carpenter again traded on his past, and his love for the 1951 ‘classic’, to craft this claustrophobic paean to paranoia. Mercilessly slammed by critics as being nothing more than an offal-spewing orgy of special effects and grue, time has definitely tempered opinions. Along with Kurt Russell’s sensational star turn, what once was seen as a technical triumph without a lick of cinematic soul now stands as one of this director’s trio – along with Halloween and Prince of Darkness - of undeniable triumphs.
Classic Moment: The Thing makes itself known inside the camp’s dog kennel.

10. The Other

As the primer for all the ‘twist’ ending experiences that would fill the latter part of the ‘90s this amazing 1972 movie is a tone poem to terror. Using the stuffy standard revolving around twins (one evil, one easygoing) and hints about hidden horrors within the fragile family unit, actor turned novelist turned screenwriter Tom Tyron mapped out a nostalgia laced vision of countrified calm, and then exposed the menace lying below the surface. With amazingly natural performances from the Udvarnoky brothers and scenery chewing choices by acting legend Uta Hagen, this is a fright flick as noted for its mood as its ghastliness.
Classic Moment: We finally learn what Holland “did” with the baby.

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Monday, Oct 30, 2006

Maybe I’m missing the point, and I know it’s just a dumb article about marketing, but it seems like this NY Times article seriously wants us to consider the inclusion of women in shopping focus groups as “the first step to a matriarchal society.” The article’s opening gambit is about how women were able to bring their domestic sensibility to revise a Calgary builder’s home plans with such touches as a better laundry room and kitchens with windows that permit maximum surveillance of children. Bravo! It’s woman’s world after all! Men design and build the houses and make the money from selling them, but because women have been asked what they think of these houses, we’re supposed to herald the fruits of the female-centric revolution.

Never mind the insuting propositon that purchasing power is an equivalent to social power (the organizing ideological tenet of the consumer society that consigns a populace to perpetual fits of fruitless desire and ceaseless identity-building lifestyle projects.) The idea that women do the shopping—that “women are running their households like purchasing managers”—is an old one, is one of the pillars of the home economics conceit that would segregate women from “real” economics and entrepreneurial activity. The time-honored stereotype is that men earn the money and women spend it, and this article only tweaks that narrative slightly: The women now earn money (fancy that!) and they may be involved with buying some traditionally male products like electronics gear. But the overriding tone remains one of mild astonishment at women’s presence in the economic realm. “Market researchers are now embracing women as much more than domestic divas. They recognize them as buyers with their own careers and fattened pocketbooks, who are finding plenty to do and plenty to buy outside the home. Over the last several years, a cottage industry of consultants and authors, all offering advice and analysis, has sprung up around the pervasiveness of women in the marketplace.” (Note “much more than”—because all women are at their root “domestic divas,” hypersensitive shrews preoccupied with inconsequential household trivia to boost their self-importance. And note the pejorative “fattened pocketbooks,” and women’s “pervasiveness” in marketplaces, as if stores were just clotted with women.) We’re still expected to react as if this were a radical departure from their accustomed place in the home, sheltered from the hugger-mugger world of commerce.

With the ultimate aim of arguing that hotels are becoming more amenable to crucial women’s needs (like storing jewelry and having better places to put their makeup in the bathroom) the article offers an anecdotes of women giving stereotypically male behavior the feminine touch: “When they arrived, the hotel gave them gift bags containing OPI nail polish that they swapped among themselves, based on their color preferences. They dined in the hotel’s restaurant and then returned to their suite for a private Texas Hold ’Em lesson from a poker expert, while the hotel sent up a steady flow of cocktails and snacks. ‘We really had a good time,’ Ms. Krause said. ‘We played a round of blackjack, and craps, too.’ ” A whole round of blackjack. Very exciting, very matriarchal, not at all patronizing.

Also shoehorned into the piece is the tenuously related concept of special tourist packages designed for women to allow them to get together and shop unimpeded by men and thereby bond.

Ms. Biringer also arranges travel shopping trips for small groups of women to places like Los Angeles and New York. “Some of us end up in Prada, some of us in Century 21, but we always have a blast and, yes, ring up the purchases,” said Barbara Travers, who also attended a Crave Party in Seattle in August. “I’m usually the one dragging us into four-star restaurants and wine shops; they’re usually dragging me into Henri Bendel and Saks.”
Group events like these are tailored to women’s interests, Ms. Biringer said. “We need to get away from it all and be with our trusted friends,” she said. “Despite what people think, we don’t really pamper ourselves that much. When we do, we’re really happy, and men appreciate that.”

Women’s interests: shopping, conspicuous luxury spending, “trusted” friends, but not too much self-pampering, not that much. This article is truly breaking new ground in discovering what women “really” want.

The article wraps up by returning to the home-builder anecdote, and lays the emphasis not on how women produced award-winning designs, but on how women’s nagging bogs the process down: “Mr. Wenzel says that Shane Homes now takes about five times longer to design a home than it did just a few years ago. ‘It’s critiqued once, twice, three times,” he said. “It’s a longer process, but we end up with better designs.’ “

In all the article is a fine example of how journalists lean on gender stereotypes to structure their evergreen lifestyle articles, to make them smoothly familiar for readers, reinforcing comfortable but slightly outmoded stereotypes while pretending to challenge them. Readers can have their fears of the real threat (actual feminist progress; shifting responsibilities among gender lines) assuaged by the phony narrative the story supplies interstitially, wherein the yearned-for past is presented as the oncoming inevitable future.

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Monday, Oct 30, 2006

... and other body parts.  An interesting story crept up from the Drudge Report about how NBC and CW turned down ads for a documentary about the fallout from the Dixie Chicks’ dissing of Bush, Shut Up & Sing: see the Dixie Chicks’ coup.  As the Alternet article notes, it turns out to be a good publicity move for the film, stirring up yet more controversy and getting more recognition.  Also, as the article notes, it provides more fuel to the film’s argument that the media does indeed fearfully frown upon Bush-bashing.  As the leaked NBC memo says, the network “Cannot Accept These Spots as They are Disparaging to President Bush.”  But is that the whole story?

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Sunday, Oct 29, 2006

Dead Alive

It’s really ironic, when you think about it. Very few of the so-called post-modern horror films celebrated by critics and audiences actually strive to be different from the classic Gothic companions that they pretend to separate themselves from. Sure, many re-envision their stalwart subjects in various newfangled lights, and try to contemporize such graduated folktales. But in the end, the results are still the same. Vampires continue to suck blood, monsters are made out of grave-robbed body parts, and a full moon produces a plethora of wolfmen, each one wearing their joyless gypsy curse on their hirsute human pelts. Maybe this is why Bill Gunn’s esoteric exercise in terror, the sadly forgotten Ganja and Hess, is so striking. When we hear it was supposed to be a combination of blaxploitation and bloodsucker, we settle in and expect the worse – or perhaps Blackula Part 2. Instead, we get a devastating art film that raises more intriguing philosophical questions than hairs on the back of one’s neck.

Part of the reason for the movie’s minor present day status stems directly from the reaction it received when first viewed by distributors, and then completely unprepared New York audiences. When they hired the off-Broadway actor and accomplished screenwriter Bill Gunn to helm their horror film, newly formed Kelly-Jordan Enterprises were looking to break into the urban market, a seemingly endless cash cow triggered by Melvin Van Peeble’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. With the success of black-themed horror, an idea was hatched. Combining the elements of exploitation being used to foster the ghetto films with a bit of Bram Stoker, Gunn’s instructions were simple. Meld the two concepts and deliver a commercial script. What the company got instead was a surreal story about a rich doctor whose stabbed with an ancient blood cult’s ceremonial dagger. It leaves him immortal, indestructible, and addicted to blood.

Much to Dr. Hess Green’s horror, his stature in life allows him the almost legal, leisurely pursuit of his particular natural narcotic. When potential victims aren’t merely inviting themselves into his house, they proposition him in bars or on street corners. Once fed, the high minded scholar with an erudition beyond his urges looks for ways to curb his cravings. When the wife of one of his supply sources turns up asking questions, Hess senses someone capable of sharing his secret with. But this means he will have to turn Ganja Meda into what he’s become. In the interim, a battle of wills ensues, with Ganja’s money grubbing ways running roughshod over almost everything in Hess’s life. He seems to love her, but this could also be a cautionary move to keep her close – and confined. She, on the other hand, has never once fended for herself. Instead, she relies on the kindness of suckers – and Hess has got the closet skeletons to settle her accounts quite nicely.

Reluctantly, Kelly-Jordan approved the storyline, and soon Gunn was helming his first feature. But, as a bad Borscht Belt comic might say, a final thing happened on the way to the final cut. Inspired by the collaborative process he was experiencing with Producer Chiz Schultz, actors Duane Jones and Marlene Clark, Director of Photography James E. Hinton and Editor Victor Kanefsky, Gunn decided to completely reimagine his movie. Gone were long passages of exposition, unnecessary moments of clichéd horror, and anything obvious or overt. In their place, Gunn imagined a “Ingmar Bergman” style experience, with arcane symbolism and complex themes. He would twist certain subjects – sexuality, addiction, religion – into intricate statements of subtle surreal purpose. He would then add to the context by purposefully messing with the rigid requirements of cinema. Not only would he deliver a fright film unlike any ‘70s audiences had seen before, he would attempt to rewrite the language of film as well.

For the most part, he succeeded. Ganja and Hess is more a meditation on spirit and suffering than a sinister sampling of some notorious neckbiters. Gunn made his movie a crisis of conscious rather than a full blown exercise in fear. There are no big scenes of bloodletting, no moments of cryptic commentary about “the children of the night” or fluttering fake bats. Certainly, the sensuality surrounding the vampire legend is more or less intact, given a daring homo/hetero sexual connotation all throughout the film. There was even a suggestion, mentioned by both Victor Kanefsky and Chiz Schultz on the recent DVD bonus features (a very fine release from the always reliable Image Entertainment) that this was really a ménage a trios gone grisly. Hess entertains both Ganja and her psychologically fragile husband George, and there are moments where the men seem more than mere co-workers. Still, in keeping with this movie’s motives, nothing is spelled out or explained.

Gunn also included a couple of creative elements that keep the audience constantly off guard. Hess has a butler named Archie, and when he’s not storming around the estate in a series of ritualistic maneuvers, he’s giving and getting a hard time from his employer’s new live-in lady. Similarly, Hess also employs a local minister as his chauffer, a right minded man named Reverend Williams who is constantly calling on God to right the wrongs of the world and support the righteous while smiting the wicked. We keep waiting for the stereotypical moment where the man of the cloth uncovers the evil right underneath his eyes and does his Christian quack voodoo to set everything right. Oddly enough, this doesn’t happen. Instead, both Archie and the preacher play their parts perfectly, merely minor catalysts in the film’s final, flummoxing denouement.

Without the fright formulas in place – the standard cheap shocks, the nods to cinematic scares from decades past – Gunn created a true post-modern masterwork. And like any artistic effort, it was embraced by some and slighted by all the rest. Indeed, upon witnessing the commercially worthless effort Gunn gave them, Kelly-Jordan halted the release (the movie played for less than a week in one NYC theater), hired a new editor and savaged the director’s vision. Utilizing material from the original script that Gunn shot and then rejected, the resulting revamp was indeed more like the concept the company had contracted for. But the newly named Blood Couple was equally unliked by audiences, left to play the dying drive-in circuit to earn back its budget. Gunn would sort of have the last laugh. Taking his original version to Cannes (it is this delightful director’s cut that Image now offers, thanks to the efforts of All Day Entertainment), Ganja and Hess won a standing ovation – and a great deal of critical respect – from the French film aficionados.

It definitely does deserve the praise. In an era (the ‘70s) known for cinematic invention and motion picture experimentation, the avant-garde nature of Ganja and Hess makes it an initially off-putting experience. Sadly, this is our fault as an audience, not that of the film itself. Indeed, one needs to wipe away all preconceived notions before entering this movie, and it’s not just the ideas about blood sucking vampires and supernatural shivers. No, a new pair of eyes and a reconfigured eerie ethos are needed to really appreciate what Gunn was doing. He is making a movie of thoughts instead of plots, visualizing his meaning in stark, surprisingly passionate particulars. He wants you to feel the disconnect of the characters, to sense Hess’s growing hatred of his personal predicament as well as the spiritual battle for his soul. In addition, he attempts to mimic the way in which true macabre would function in the modern world. That’s why scenes seem half completed, conversations merely overheard or lacking clear context.

The result is a real surprise, one of the genre’s fiercest forgotten gems. Taking so many unexpected twists and turns that it literally leaves the viewer breathless, Gunn gives the Nosferatu notion the contemporary tweaking that so many well meaning moviemakers simply avoid. By purposefully placing his narrative in a minority arena, the director delivers a more human and heartfelt aura to his approach, and the acting by Dwayne Jones and Marlene Carter is incredible, pushing the possibilities even further. When she tells Dr. Green that his driver can’t possible miss her – she’s the ‘most evil’ lady around, it’s not just a threat, it’s a promise. And at the end of the story, we sense our good doctor was played from the moment Ganja arrived. Sadly, Gunn’s desire to see his original resonate with an audience had to go mostly unfilled. He died before work on this DVD even began. Still, for a storyline so strongly attached to both the supernatural and the soul, the newfound affinity for Ganja and Hess is probably making its creator very proud. Even posthumously, he and his film deserve it.


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