[22 May 2012]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
As of this month, May of 2012, I will have been a “professional” film critic for a grand total of ten years. Ten years. I can remember the first reviews I ever wrote, my entrance into the biz built on the back of Something Weird Video and their desire to bring old school exploitation to the early Ought masses. Initially hired (somewhere else) to be “Mr. Sh*t”—a title given to the writer in charge of all the bad films found in the site’s inbox—my responsibilities eventually broaden toward more mainstream (read: quality) fare. I still maintained by connection to the grindhouse, but soon realized that I had entered the fray just as the format, DVD, was coming into its own. Like a window on a world I had never known before, the influx of outsider titles, as well the changes in technology, meant almost anyone could make a movie…and it showed. Often.
Over the years, I have been lucky enough to watch the growth of several significant artists. I’ve also experienced the flash in the pan passing of many should-have-beens. With the anniversary on my doorstep, I decided to go back through my 3,000-plus reviews and pick 10 movies I really need to revisit. Oddly, I had started this process at the beginning of the year and realized more times than not, I was right in my original fawning praise (or instantly dismissal) of efforts I hadn’t seen in a very long time. Listed in alphabetical order, here is a collection of seven strange and three mainstream movies that I need to personally go back to and reevaluate. In each case, my reaction was strong, instantaneous, and powerful. Rarely does an opinion change upon review, but when you’ve stayed this course as long as I have, nothing is ever set in stone.
So, without further ado, here are my choices for 10 Proposed Pieces of Cinematic Art That Require Revisiting (with many more in the mental firmament):
Released on DVD over six years ago, I was introduced to this film quite by accident and it was quite a lucky mishap indeed. As one of the first times I witnessed real vision in a completely outsider effort, musician Cory McAbee campy black and white space musical was like kitsch David Lynch. From the glorious songs to the handmade special F/X, the film had it all. Now, more than a decade after it was made, it would be interesting to see if this piece of performance art still works as cinema, or if it’s just an actual calamity.
It’s not what you think. Not by a long shot. Though the title suggests some sappy horror film, this is actually a tasty denouncement of that cliched concept—running away to Hollywood to make it as a… well, you fill in the blank. In this case, a former A-list director turns to murder in order to make movies ‘his way.’ The results become a combination of satire and straight ahead fright farce. I remember it being hilarious and quite insightful. It’s lack of a legitimate home video release suggests something more complex.
As a horror buff, I am always looking for the next great spook show. Sometimes, you get the amazing [REC] franchise. In other instances, you get badly made-up zombies stalking some guy’s backyard. Then there is the foreign arena, with France gaining two entries on this list. The first is a terrifying tale of suspense revolving around a transplant couple, their rotting Romanian home, and sinister sounds in the night. The payoff, as remembered, was unbelievably dark and defiant. Now, with a wealth of international dread to deal with, one wonders how this bloodless thriller would hold up.
Our second title from France is one of the most disturbingly gory splatterfests ever made. Once you hear the premise, you’ll understand why. A young woman, several months pregnant, is tormented by a deranged female stalker who insists that the unborn child in question belongs to her… and she has various sharp objects at her disposal to try and ‘claim’ it. Thus begins a bloodbath of incalculable proportions. Even by the standards of something like another choice on our list—1987’s Nekromantik—this was disgusting, entertaining, but disgusting. One imagine a few years having little impact on that assessment.
Long before American Splendor turned him into a quasi-household name, Cleveland VA worker Toby Radloff was known as the “Genuine Nerd”. From MTV to local news stories, he was cast as a nutty New Age sear, celebrating geek culture long before it became fashionable or cool. As part of that process, buddy and promoter Wayne A. Harold teamed up with co-director Mark Steven Bosko to turn Radloff into the world’s first slasher dork. Taking his rage out on the people who persecute him, this effort was long on laughs and decent scares. Hopefully, it hasn’t changed much.
At the time, I considered this a masterpiece. I remember saying that to call it genius would be an understatement. As Quentin Tarantino piles up the publicity for his upcoming spaghetti western comedy (at least, according to the reports from Cannes), you can still find copies of this competing treasure trove. Like Jodorowsky and Leone mixed with a music video viability, the storyline is simple, but the visual aplomb by which it is approached is undeniable. Still, it’s been over five years since I last laid eyes on it. Maybe it’s not the masterful manipulation of the medium as I originally thought it was.
Before they broke up, writer/director James Gunn and then wife Jenna (The Office) Fischer found time to create this amazing faux documentary about the pitfalls of being a Hollywood power couple with no real charity to champion. After all, how can you be taken seriously in Tinseltown if your name is not associated with some manner of ersatz altruism. The pair’s idea? Give homeless people lollipops with motivational messages on them. Brilliant! Though it came from those titans of tacky, Troma, this was one of 2004’s best. Eight years later, the duo’s marriage is over. Here’s hoping the movie they made is not.
As one of the main water cooler movies from the initial boom in home video, this Jörg Buttgereit atrocity was often cited - along with City of the Living Dead and Zombi - as one of the most nauseatingly graphic films of all time. Dealing with the subject of a sick husband and wife team who steal corpses so they can have sex with them, the visuals are not the most upsetting thing. No, the fact that Buttgereit builds in a level of legitimate emotion makes the dead body diddling all the more offensive. Time has probably not tempered such a sickening subtext.
We critics see hundreds of homemade horror films in our lifetime. It’s perhaps the easiest genre to work within when all you have is chutzpah, a group of gullible friends, and a handy video camera. This Argentinean bombshell, still one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had as a writer, was eye opening. This movie (and its equally amazing sequel) had real scope and mythology. They even mixed in nods to westerns and professional wrestling. I was so enamored of these efforts that I wrote an essay for an (unpublished) book about movies you shouldn’t miss. Hopefully, that sentiment is safe.
This was the one that started it all. This was the film that first introduced me to the Jean-Luc Goddard of the Double Wide, Giuseppe Andrews. I knew him as an actor. With this weird amalgamation of found actors and Jokes from the John dialogue, it was as if a whole new realm of cinematic possibilities were opened up to me. Since then, I have seen everything this amazing man has ever made, and been part of his website as an unofficial-official commentator. There’s even talk of taking part in a documentary on his filmmaking approach. Perhaps I need to go back and see if I still feel the same about this initial foray into his ‘art.’