Category Archives: 366 Underground

366 UNDERGROUND: DESTINATION PLANET NEGRO (2013)

Destination: Planet Negro!

DIRECTED BY: Kevin Willmott

FEATURING: Kevin Willmott, Tosin Morohunfola, Danielle Cooper, Trai Byers

PLOT: In order to flee early-20th century racism and find a new home for African Americans, physicist Warrington Avery and a crack squad of Black adventurers attempt a trip to Mars, only to have their rocket ship sucked through a worm hole which transports them into the jarring reality of modern-day America.

Still from Destination Planet Negro (2013)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The “time-traveling fish-out-of-water” story is a cinematic trope with a long pedigree. That these time-travelers are Black luminaries from the 1930s is something a novelty, but Destination: Planet Negro plays by the rules in an expected, but not unpleasant, manner.

COMMENTS: Having another socially conscientious movie be next on my to-do list could be viewed as a punishment for me by those who may have taken issue with my diatribe about Arabian Nights. However, my dislike of that movie did not stem from its progressive agenda, but from its wanting for anything remotely approaching “entertainment.” It was no small relief that Kevin Willmott’s satirical piece, Destination: Planet Negro (DPN) proved to be quite amusing and watchable, in addition to proffering some salient observations about modern and historical race issues.

My lingering frustration put aside, let me dive into the movie at hand. DPN starts right off with a sense of place: crisp black and white film sets the tone, and after opening-credits over a cosmic montage, we jump to an assemblage of Black luminaries in 1939. These top African-Americans are gathered to discuss, as one describes it, “the Negro problem.” Not finding the United States welcoming, nor being keen on moving to Africa (too much poverty), Europe (risk of exotification), or the U.S.S.R. (these gents are no commies), Dr. Warrington Avery (Kevin Willmott) informs the august crowd that he has a plan to colonize the Red Planet for the Black Man. The skeptics are assuaged by none other than George Washington Carver. However, some of the attendees inform the local police, so Dr. Avery, his astronomer daughter Beneatha (Danielle Cooper), speed-demon Captain “Race” Johnson (Tosin Morohunfola), and a clumsy robot with a cracker personality are forced to take the trip on the fly.

At about the half-hour mark, the movie changes from black and white to color, as the space adventurers crash-land on a far off planet. The joke’s on them, though: it’s the same planet and same country, just 75 years later. And so DPN moves on from historical commentary to  contemporary commentary. A run-in with Hispanic laborers in the back of a van suggests to them that slavery exists here. Observing a young black man making a purchase at a convenience store convinces them he’s a slave: no eye contact, no words from the black man to the white cashier. DPN continues in this vein, ably expounding on the many similarities of treatment, though occasionally veering into the realm of the silly. In particular, the montage involving “Race” Johnson learning how to “walk like a Black guy” shouldn’t have been included, much less gone on for as long as it did.

All told, DPN is a fun diversion for those seeking some observations about race relations. It didn’t surprise me upon researching DPN that Kevin Willmott was the driving force behind 2004’s speculative “documentary” C.S.A.: the Confederate States of America. There, too, he used the powers of humor and satire to make his point, all the while maintaining an appreciably light touch. Willmott seems aware that hitting people over the head with a blunt cinematic object can be counter-productive when making one’s point. While some more pruning could have helped it better maintain its momentum (after the crash-landing scene, the movie itself nearly crashes), that criticism could be laid against most movies. In brief: not weird, but not bad.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…highly recommended, provided you’re in the mood for a campy, low-budget sci-fi whose cheesy special effects are more than offset by a profusion of insightful social statements.”–Kam Williams, Baret News Network (contemporaneous)

LATTIE (2016, KEVIN L. CHENAULT)

There is always the risk of sentimentality for a writer, actor, director in depicting a terminally ill, or potentially terminal ill, character. The risk is even greater if none of the above have experienced the process.

Picasso once listed nostalgia and sentimentality as enemies of art, and reportedly walked out on the premiere screening of ‘s valentine to himself, the embarrassingly saccharine Limelight (1952). The younger Chaplin, unfettered by dialogue, is one of the few artists who could actually get away with overt pathos. An older, talking Chaplin could not.

As written, directed by and starring , Lattie (2016) does not entirely escape or transcend that inherent risk. Like Chaplin, Lattie succeeds most when relying on visuals to interpret his narrative. Even then, the film is uneven. At times, Chenault is almost in an experimental mode, but there are just as many vignettes that hold back and play it safe. Striking a James-Dean-lying-alone-on-the-floor posture, contemplating his condition, Lattie smokes his cigarette down to the butt, accompanied by angsty indie alt music that sounds like it cut its teeth on post-Syd Barret Pink Floyd (AKA “lesser Floyd”). Lattie receives a voice message of concern, talks to family and shrink, gets hugged.  Here, it’s paint-by-numbers filmmaking, a rudimentary sketch hampered by arthritic acting, with the exception of Chenault himself as the title character.

Still from Lattie (2016)Once done with the obligatory disease-of-the-week bullet points, Chenault trusts himself, and us, venturing into quirkier, more refreshing terrain. Lattie is catapulted into an absurdist murder mystery combining offbeat humor and visual cues: a Christmas tree, a pre-adolescent drawing on a face, an ominous Bible as a facade for a cash-stashed phone book. When overly-serious family members prod him about his impending drama, Lattie is too preoccupied to invest much time in shoulder-patting. He has a mystery to solve. Damn right. And, of course, there are the little hassles, like an uncooperative truck and stooge-like adversaries who attempt to derail the murder investigation.

Lattie is episodic in the best way, its surreal qualities conveyed in under-the-breath pacing. When it gets right to the meat of it, Lattie confirms that, for death to be interesting, there has to be a bit of funny business. The unexpected finale is welcome and queerly memorable.

Chenault’s body of work is an interesting one, with his strengths being in sublime restraint (seen at its most effective in 2011’s The Strangers). As in Chenault’s previous efforts, Lattie is well-filmed and shows a filmmaker concerned about craftsmanship, commendably unhampered by budget restraints.

More information on Lattie is available at the official home page.

366 UNDERGROUND: WINNERS TAPE ALL: THE HENDERSON BROTHERS STORY (2015)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Justin Channell

FEATURING: Zane Crosby, Joshua Lively, and Chris LaMartina

PLOT: The exploits of a hyper-low-budget ’80s horror duo are chronicled in the form of a public access television “documentary”.

Still from Winners Tape All (2015)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Winners Tape All is a cheeky dissection of the various failings (and unlikely successes) of the straight-to-VHS horror phenomenon that gripped (?) the nation back in the 1980s. While some of the fake movies “discussed” in this mockumentary would easily be Certifiable contenders, Channell’s homage to one of the stranger pop-genres stands as a straightforward, well-made, and very funny bit of fare.

COMMENTS: Today’s big-name directors would do well to learn a lesson from some of the novices that have sprung up in recent years: your movie should only be as long as it has to be. Winners Tape All stands as a testament to the fact that a movie less than an hour and a half long isn’t less of a movie for its efforts, but can be much more. This breezy mockumentary clocks in at a sweet sixty-seven minutes. It is brief, but uses every moment well, exploring the fictional history of two crummy film-makers from West Virginia in a manner that is both hilarious and, somehow, a little touching.

Within the framework of an “Eye on the Cinema” public access TV episode, Channell tells us about the Henderson brothers. These step-brothers are a lens through which Channell explores the genre. With only two movies to their credit (Curse of Stabberman and Cannibal Swim Club), they represent what cinephiles regard as all that’s wrong with amateur auteurs. The narrative, however, makes clear that guys like these were instrumental in propping up a genre that, though lacking perhaps in quality, made up for it in mind-numbing quantity. That distributors can’t be bothered to transfer so many of those shot-on-video rental horror movies with titles like Scream Dream and Mad Mutilator to cheap-o DVDs suggests that those “50 Classics of Horror” compilations out there barely scratch the surface.

Zipping back and forth between interviews with Richard Henderson (Joshua Lively), a laid-back surfer of a movie maker, and Michael Henderson (Zane Crosby), a pony-tailed gore fan with a hick accent, we also get to see snippets of the two awful horror movies that made them “rich” (Curse of Stabberman‘s popularity on the rental circuit was unexpected) and then bankrupted their distribution label (Cannibal Swim Club was more of the same coming out a little too late). Scattered throughout are interludes with perhaps the most die-hard fan ever made, Henry Jacoby (Chris LaMartina). While part of me feels Jacoby’s awkward zeal compromises the movie somewhat, another part acknowledges that he is in all likelihood an accurate representative of militant bad-horror enthusiasts.

Little jokes and asides come and go, sometimes stacking on each other. Michael addresses the phenomenon of “walk time” for Curse of Stabberman (used to fill out a movie’s time clock when plot and dialogue are wanting); later, Richard echoes the idea with “swim time” when discussing Cannibal Swim Club, giving a “see what we did there?” kind of look to the camera. I’m no expert in the genre being ribbed here, but I’ve seen enough to know that Channell’s distilled all the very worst parts of it into these guys and the two movies they made. While I’d be loath to watch either of the films from the Henderson’s oeuvre, it was a very enjoyable experience to see those two brothers done justice (of sorts)—or, more accurately, to see justice done for all those amateur directors, writers, and actors who, despite the theme of their chosen genre, were never ones to say die.

Winners Tape All is available exclusively from IWC Films.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s always fun to see straight-faced depictions of made-up things which are just plain ridiculous.”–Jesse Skeen, DVD Talk (DVD)

TORGO RISING: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID ROY OF “MANOS: THE RISE OF TORGO”

David Roy is a film director who subscribes to the cult of ‘Manos.’ So fervent is his devotion he has created his own prequel to the original film. If you haven’t yet seen Manos: The Hands of Fate, considered to be one of the worst films ever made, this fondly regarded dismal classic is in the public domain[1].

Download ‘Manos’: The Hands of Fate from the Internet Archive

In 1966, insurance and fertilizer salesman Hal Warren had a dream: to make a horror film about a cult in Texas that would make him incredibly rich. Shooting on a camera that could only record thirty seconds at a time and with no sound, instead he delivered a barely coherent, badly dubbed—if admittedly iconic and strangely unsettling—train wreck featuring inexplicably action-free sequences, clapper boards in frame, and a staccato-voiced servant with bulging knees who may or may not be a satyr.

Premiering to a baffled and frankly embarrassed audience —including stars Tom Neyman and his young daughter Jackey—Manos was screened once, then drifted into obscurity until uncovered by the bad-movie-roasting TV show . The episode featuring Manos went on to be one of the most popular episodes of the series and led to a resurgence of interest in this forgotten rough diamond.

The growing popularity of Manos has inspired a successful Kickstarter-funded restoration of the film, a video game, documentaries, a full length puppet stage play (“Manos: The Hands of Felt“), and numerous attempts at a sequel, including Jackie “Debbie” Neyman-Jones’ own Manos Returns, to be released later this year. Roy’s film will be the first prequel to the original Manos.

366 Weird Movies’ Bryan Pike spoke to Roy about his prequel Manos: The Rise of Torgo via a series of international emails.

366: How did you first come across the Manos phenomenon?

Production still from Manos: The Rise of TorgoDavid Roy: My first exposure to Manos was through “Mystery Science Theater 3000” way back in ’93. I used to watch the show all the time, and when I saw the Manos episode, I don’t know, somehow it rang familiar. The movie is the worst ever made yet it’s striking, you never forget it.

366: Before we get onto your film, can you tell me more about the cult of Manos? What other activities does the fanbase indulge in? For example are there regular gatherings for screenings of the film a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show where the audience recites dialogue and performs actions to accompany the onscreen action?

Roy: I haven’t seen anything remotely like Rocky Horror. The most I’ve seen is some cosplay at a comic convention. People love to quote the film, mostly Torgo’s lines “the Master does not approve” and Continue reading TORGO RISING: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID ROY OF “MANOS: THE RISE OF TORGO”

  1. Actually, the issue of who, if anyone, owns the copyright to Manos is still being contested. Hal Warren never put a copyright symbol on the original, film so it technically the film belongs to the public domain. In 2013 his son, Joe Warren, discovered that the screenplay had been copyrighted and believes this means the film itself is also copyrighted. However no precedent for this case exists, so the legal status of the film remains uncertain. []

366 UNDERGROUND: SPLENDOR SOLIS, HOME MOVIES 1998-2015 (2015)

DIRECTED BY:

SYNOPSIS: Compiled from footage filmed over a period of 17 years, Splendor Solis is a tone-poem celebration of cinema, creativity, play, collaboration, friendship and all of the splendors under the sun.Splendor Solis

COMMENTS:  The latest from The Underground Film Studio (who previously brought us Savage Witches), Splendor Solis is a 60 minute twin-screen presentation of odds and ends from the previous 17 years of Daniel Fawcett’s filmmaking career. While that may at first seem to be a pretty easy (and lazy) way to build a film, not to mention an invitation to boredom, Splendor Solis ends up being anything but tedious.

Combing through 17 years’ worth of “home movies”—video diaries, unfinished films, video experiments, filmed performances, behind-the-scenes footage and yes, real home movies—is a massive undertaking in and of itself. Attempting to make a coherent and interesting film out of all that material is an additional mountain to climb. Splendor Solis succeeds in overcoming the boredom trap in two ways. First, the editing by Fawcett and is crackerjack. Presenting the footage via twin screens helps immensely in using up footage and in juxtaposing segments. Second, the music and sound design play an integral part in keeping the energy level up.

The result is a playful spectacle for the eyes which also serves as an accelerated look at the growth of an artist.

Splendor Solis had its World Premiere at the 35th Cambridge Film Festival in September, 2015 and will be making the film festival circuit in 2016.

EDITED BY: Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais

MUSIC BY: Simon Keep, Jos Dow, Daniel Fawcett, Alex Lemming, Magnus Williams, Thomas Hartley

CAPSULE: HOW THE SKY WILL MELT (2015)

At the time of this writing How the Sky Will Melt can be watched for free on Nobudge.com

DIRECTED BY: Matthew Wade

FEATURING: Sara Lynch, Annika Karlsen, Michael Webster

PLOT: In the late 1980s (?), a young musician disappears and returns; her father detects something amiss about her, and when she and her friends somehow manage to summon a visitor from the sky, things slowly fall apart.

Still from How the Sky Will Melt (2015)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The movie has some astounding (and weird) imagery, as well as one of the best film scores I’ve heard in a good while. However, the amateurishness of the effort is apparent throughout, and every time the actors speak, the semblance of magic is destroyed.

COMMENTS: The opening of director Matthew Wade’s first feature quickly transports the viewer to an elsewhere. A synth score blasts an unearthly melody as drab landscapes pan by, all seen on nicely washed-out Super-8 film stock. We see a young woman in her twenties, through canted angles and disorienting close-ups. The scene jumps to a sort-of dream sequence involving brightly colored eggs in a nest by the sea. While watching this, I wrote in my notebook, “Made or broken by voice(s).” This comment, unfortunately, was prescient. At the 12-minute mark, we hear dialogue for the first time, and the dreamy atmosphere evaporates.

All that follows, I am sad to say, is largely a disappointment. The young woman, Gwen (Sara Lynch), is the leading light of a modestly popular but highly respected rock band. Back home after working on an album, she meets up with some friends from her high school days and, while smoking clove cigarettes, they carry on a series of banal meta-conversations about the banality of what normal people talk about. She also reunites with her father (Michael Webster), whose role is under-written and stiltingly acted. Somehow, though, he still comes across as likable (aided, no doubt, by his comparative lack of jadedness and pretense). Meanwhile, the 20-somethings go to a lakeside retreat. Gwen’s friend Pearl (Annika Karlsen) gets pregnant (possibly with a monster-eel thing inside her). A mushroom is found and devoured, a man falls from the sky, and… so forth. On top of this meandering string of events is the recurrence of a mask-like device that possibly has the power to show alternate dimensions, possibly just plays sci-fi audio cassettes (now with video!), and certainly has the power to kill if abused.

At this point I should reiterate that the film score is nothing short of amazing. During scenes with nothing but imagery and eerie synth music, I saw glimpses of potential. In fact, it was almost as if the director had grafted the score from a far superior ’70s cult classic onto his work—the music is much like an amped-up Popul Vol, ‘s go-to group. It was an interesting surprise to find that the director (who also wrote the screenplay and edited) was the man behind the music. If nothing else, I’d say that Matthew Wade should have a bright future as a composer.

It’s apparent that How the Sky Will Melt was a labour of love, but also apparent it’s the work of a neophyte. After watching the movie, I found myself confused, but also not interested enough in the fate of the lightly-sketched and uncharismatic characters to invest further thought. There are some beautiful, surreal montages here, and not one, but two great hooks — the cassette glasses and the ominous figure that falls from the sky. But aside from the score, I did not particularly care for this movie. However, I would love to see the director remake this in a few years with a better cast and a firmer grip on the story he’s trying to tell.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… you’re a fan of David Lynch’s more bizarre and atmosphere-driven works (i.e. Eraserhead, Lost Highway,Mulholland Drive) and perhaps early David Cronenberg or just experimental film in general, I think you’ll find How the Sky Will Melt interesting and thought-provoking.”–Jacqui Siler, Film Inquiry (contemporaneous)

366 UNDERGROUND: NIGHT AND A SWITCHBLADE

 DIRECTED BY: Ben Finer

FEATURING: Lloyd Todd Eddings, Katya Quinn-Judge, Jason Bragg Stanley, Alexandra Miniard, Nikita Vishnevskiy, William Pike, Casey Robinson, Matthew A. Leabo, Anthony Napoletano, Johnathan Meola, Saori Tsukada, Aleksander Garin

PLOT:  The new kid in town, Sandie Po, is already a Rebel Without a Cause. He’s butted heads with the local gang of toughs, some of whom wear animal masks. He’s made a friend, gone to the local sock hop and met a girl, and stabbed a cop. On the lam, he heads for the woods, wherein very strange, cryptic, sexual events bewitch everyone who enters.

vlcsnap-2015-05-06-21h33m59s683COMMENTS Night and a Switchblade‘s log line describes it as “a bizarro-noir, teen rebel movie about deviant youth and the lurid mysteries haunting a nocturnal American landscape.” Add “highly influenced by ” to that, and it pretty much pegs the film.  Unfortunately, in this case imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery.

The film attempts to go for a 1950’s patina to depict small-town American life, mixed with dark contemporary elements (see Blue Velvet, “Twin Peaks”), but the characterizations aren’t up to the task. It doesn’t help that the dialog is pretty much variations of the f-word thrown in at random. It f—-n’ may have f—-n’ seemed a f—-n’ good f—-n’ idea at the f—-n’ time, but f–k; that f—–n’ s–t just gets f—-n’ tiresome when it’s f—-n’ used all the f—-n’ time, YOU GET IT YOU F–K??!! F–K!!

Unless you’re f—–n’ . Otherwise, just f—-n’ leave that f—-n’ s–t the f–k alone.

vlcsnap-2015-05-06-21h35m25s666Also, when the surreal weirdness starts to kick in, it seems to be just empty weirdness for weirdness’ sake, so insular and obtuse, it remains a mystery. I know this accusation has been thrown towards Lynch’s work; however, I’d argue that Lynch’s symbolism, bizarre as it can get, at least has some sort of meaning behind it. That’s why he can make your flesh crawl with Frank Booth’s gas huffing and Bob’s appearing anywhere. There’s always something recognizable in Lynch. Admittedly, most of the stuff in Switchblade is pretty cool looking, and you can appreciate the effort and craft that’s been put in it, but it didn’t move me. My first viewing of the film, I bailed out after an hour, and that was more than generous. I did go back to finish out the film, but I was still completely unmoved.

The movie is substantially better when everyone keeps their mouth shut and doesn’t say a word. There is some talent on display here. Technically, it’s a very accomplished film: Blake Williams’ cinematography, Scott Rad Brown’s art direction, the costume design by Bevan Dunbar and Karen Boyer, and the shoegaze music from Color War (who appear in the film as the sock hop band Violet and the Vettes).

For me, the Lynch-inspiration/imitation just killed what could have been a great film on its own terms – visually, it’s wonderful, but I found it lacking anything substantial behind its weirdness, and it probably should have been cut into several short films instead of a feature. If you’re still intrigued enough to look for it—and it is currently up for free at the official site, remember: enter at your own risk!

vlcsnap-2015-05-06-21h41m17s586

366 UNDERGROUND: ALEISTER CROWLEY’S THE RITE OF MARS: A ROCK OPERA (2014)

Eleusyve Productions

FEATURING: Jon Sewell, Sunnie Larsen, Kristin Holsather, Richard Cardone, Leith McCombs

 PLOT: Part of a larger series of works, this installation features an ensemble of leather clad, deadpan, sexually androgynous and glittering cast members who act out Aleister Crowley’s “Rite of Mars” on a darkened sound stage as a rock opera.

Aleister Crowley's Rites of Mars
COMMENTS: Theater can be a difficult medium in which to stage ambitious concepts, especially when the form has been grossly over-saturated with trite, treacly fare targeting audiences looking for some token of tourist prestige when sightseeing on Broadway. This type of creative environment could engender creative stagnation, but due to a lack of lavish budgets, theatrical performances often rely on their own intuition and invention to flesh out their imaginative designs.

Initially, what caught my attention about this filmed performance was the sheer nuttiness of its concept: Aleister Crowley’s “Rite of Mars” re-imagined as a rock opera a la Roger Water’s The Wall or Queensrÿche’s “Operation MindCrime” (which, by the operatic vocal stylings and shredding 80’s progressive metal guitar riffs, seems to be where Rites‘ sonic influences lie). The jams can sound kind of goofy, but your reaction depends on whether you find the musical design endearingly nostalgic or insufferable (I found it amusing, yet impressive in its technical prowess).

Before I begin my critique of the recording of the performance, allow us to review the thesis of this production. The following statement of intent appears on the producers’ website:

Our goal at Eleusyve Productions is the presentation of the seven plays comprising Aleister Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis as musical theater pieces in a manner that will render them more fully accessible to a broad and discriminating audience, using music, light, dance and drama to enhance the poetry and symmetry of the original works. It is further our goal to make these completed productions available in as many formats and to as many markets as possible, in order to more widely circulate our artistic interpretations of this material.

The Rites of Eleusis (a series of invocations, penned by the most wicked man dead, Aleister Crowley) are elaborately designed to instill religious ecstasy into the audience. By its very nature, it is intended to be a metaphysical provocation to the sensibilities of the bourgeoisie, calling upon occult theology and decadent subversion to titillate and bring about a spiritual awakening in the viewer—in Crowelian terms at least.

Although the story is not conveyed directly to the audience through a conventional form, it could be described as a piece of inspired storytelling told through bombastic imagery, gestures, kick-ass guitar riffs, and Wagnerian tableaux. Militaristic motifs recur, often spliced with inspirational cues from S&M fashion design (God, do I love me some artfully-crafted sleaze).

All of this makes it all sound rather dreary and humorless, but here’s where this particular passion project delivers: it’s pretty goddamn funny.

Straddling a median between camp and deadpan, the acting ensemble should be commended for displaying a quiet sense of humility about their performance. The gender-bending make-up design was also very attractive and always delightful. The set design, bare and minimal, uses the blackened negative space to eliminate the excess layers of artifice between the audience and the performance—Bertolt Brecht’s “alienation effect,” similar to the gutted, chalk-etched set designs of ’s Dogville. A dystopian science-fiction influence is also present, and the  juxtaposition of military uniforms and violent acts with archival war footage—images of bloodshed, conquest, and advancement—have a hypnotizing effect upon the viewer.

The music ranges from interesting to very good, even kickin’ at times. For those who prefer their rock & roll with a little flair, flamboyancy and delicious kitsch flavoring those tasty tunes, you might find yourself doing air guitar while you’re alone and no one else is watching.

The performers are obviously indebted to the Crowleian experiments of , the seminal American avant-garde pariah and homoerotic poet of independent cinema (and basically the inventor of the modern music video medium); especially to the mind-meltingly trippy works Invocation of My Demon Brother and Lucifer Rising.  Both Anger and Eleusyve Productions strive to inspire a controllable chaos in their audiences and attempt to render vast esoteric mythologies and personal obsessions in a digestible form. The liberated sexuality, free-form slipstream of imagery, experimental impulses, and dalliances with rock-and-roll culture as a medium to present occult theology is also akin to Anger’s early works.

I wouldn’t say that there is anything here that is conceptually radical or deliberately offensive to Juedo-Christian sensibilities, but if you don’t mind some decent 80’s inspired jams, want to grab a beer after a long day, smoke some grass, and relax, then why not watch a low-budget rock opera? It sure beats having to watch “Cats” or some other sanitized dreck.

Follow this link for clips from Rite of Mars, and other performances in this cycle.

366 UNDERGROUND: A KILLER CONVERSATION (2014)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: David V.G. Davies

FEATURING: Ryan Hunter, Melanie Denholme, Rudy Barrow

PLOT: When Karl inadvertently invites a burglar inside his home, he has to rely on his ex, Pauline, to help him worm his way out from his rapidly escalating and increasingly dangerous predicament.

Still from A Killer Conversation (2014)
COMMENTS: So, here’s the thing: I thought this film (80 minutes overall in duration) was complete garbage by the time the stereotypical hoodlum barges into Karl’s house and begins a tedious exercise in post- crisis-scenario filmmaking. Or maybe the movie is a specially designed weapon manufactured to induce an existential crisis in the audience?

I found the casual racism explicit in not only the characterization of the burglar, but in the sheer lameness in how the film rehashes the hostage trope and depicts the hapless bourgeoisie family—which I found not only extremely offensive, but just plain uninspired and contrived. I might have been able to appreciate the dialogue and the professional lighting and idiosyncratic camera angling if the main ingredients didn’t taste so poor.

Maybe I would of been less repelled by the clever-for-clever’s-sake approach to depicting the burglar if the satire didn’t feel so disingenuous. Or maybe I would of been less aggravated by the situational dynamic if Karl wasn’t just another white domestic victim, minding his own business.

Perhaps there might be a cultural misinterpretation in the way I am viewing this. But, as an American, I’ve seen what media depictions of racial hysteria can do to fuel tension this past year. And seriously, the last thing we need right now is someone who thinks they’re being edgy and cool when handling sensitive, potentially incendiary material.

Here’s a full-breakdown of the paper-thin plot (a whitewashed retread of the home invasion trope with obnoxious post-Tarantino stylization):

A man of ebony hue bursts in the door and casually lays out the plan for Karl. This being a Tarantino clone, strained attempts at edgy banter ensue. Karl whines in a obnoxious tone. Since this is a British Tarantino clone, we are treated to pointless quips trying to underline the absurdity of the mundane elements of a domestic invasion scenario. Har-har. So we get some stupid jokes about the length of rope, and other pitiful exchanges so we, the audience, are constantly reminded just how clever and absent of responsibility the creators are for any of the content displayed. The film goes on like this for the rest of the film and just never lets up. Talking and empty threats ad nauseum ahead.

I would go so far to not only deem this film racist and misogynistic, but dangerously boring and stupid. If it was edited down to maybe 5-10 minutes, I would of been like, “eh.” But at its current length, it is unbearable to watch, and possibly a public mental health risk. If there is any stylistic contemporary to this film that I can think of, it is yet another film that I absolutely loathe: The Boondock Saints. Without further elucidating my particular distaste for that film, it made me realize something: Tarantino is dead. The sooner the independent movie scene throws off his shadow, the better. So if the filmmakers intended to offend me, then congratulations. I would just state that in light of what has actually been achieved by this short film, that it is a hollow and meaningless victory.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY

“…[an] absurd dark comedy, where the burglar and Karl philosophize about life, love, and proper manners around Karl’s kitchen table.”–Levi Anderson, Rogue Cinema

366 UNDERGROUND: HEART ATTACK! THE EARLY PULSE POUNDING CINEMA OF KELLY HUGHES (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Kelly Hughes

FEATURING: Betty Marshall, Ernest Rhoades, James Peterson, Sarah Katherine Lewis

PLOT: We are introduced to the work of Kelly Hughes, the creative guru behind the assaultive public access series “Heart Attack Theatre,” through the words, experiences, and memories of the cast and crew who worked with him.

Still from Heart Attack! The Early Pulse-Pounding Cinema of Kelly Hughes

COMMENTS: Kelly Hughes is an underground director who hails from Seattle. He established his prominence through “Heart Attack Theatre,” a series broadcast on public access airwaves from 1991-1993 that most bourgeois viewers would dismiss as trashy, reprehensible, or simply “shock for shock sake.”

I resent that last tautology the most. When pinned on an artist’s work, the cliche is frequently used to imply that the artist’s work is disingenuous, exploitative, and that the labor and the blood and sweat that they invested in it wasn’t meaningful as anything other than a cheap novelty to amuse a select few.

As the first interviewee, Ernest Rhoades, says as he recollects his experience working for Hughes’ “Lucky Charms Productions,” some artists simply create ugly and nasty things from pure love and passion. Some artists are just destined to be dismissed as ugly misfits. Despite being penniless, starving, and painstakingly filming under what most professionals would deem as intolerable conditions, they still work because they truly believe in what they are creating. I strongly emphasize with that warrior-like commitment.

And I’m sorry, Kelly Hughes, that you never were able to create the explosive-laden, cacophonous action film that you secretly always wanted to create.

But I do appreciate that you made something.

Heart Attack! gives us glimpses of the lo-fi, brazenly transgressive style of Kelly Hughes’ brief filmography. Obviously, the initial comparison that emerges is to the early films of  (though to be honest, I think that comparison is just inescapable for a lot of low-budget filmmakers like Hughes, as pointless a criticism as when people carelessly fling around the descriptor ian when reviewing weird films). Anyone familiar with the filmography of   will definitely notice the strange effect that Hughes gets from lo-fi VHS recording tape technology, the grainy texture and subtly abstract, impressionistic colors that making the visual aesthetic as tenuous and degenerative in form as the perversely grotesque content on display.

Though if we’re going to spend this much time pretentiously discussing art, I say let us recall the words of transgressive art’s intellectual forebearer, Antonin Artaud: “No one has ever written, painted, sculpted, modeled, built, or invented except literally to get out of hell.”

Here is a brief listing of some of the films featured within Heart Attack!‘s breezy hour-long survey of Hughes’ lo-fi inventions in the public-access television medium:

• “Shot In Hughes’ kitchen”: A woman and a man stare in horror at the open kitchen cabinet. The man crawls inside it. It inexplicably consumes him. The woman screams.
La Cage Aux Zombies: An “upscale Grapes of Wrath lady” (played by a very handsome man) stares out of a rusting, dilapidated door window. S(he) has a cartoonishly shrill groan and an amputated arm, and salutes Hitler fashionably. More happens, but it is challenging to say where the other clips fit into the larger narrative. Looks cool, though.
• “Say My Name Before I Die”: A nude man and woman stand in front of a bathroom mirror. They are discussing monetary concerns. They begin to copulate lovingly.
• “An Inconvenient Whore”: A nude man stretches over the edge of a bed, moaning. A woman leans over his face and informs the strapping young prostitute that there is another client waiting. Moaning resumes.
• “Gut Reaction”: A grizzly man in the middle of the woods wields a chainsaw. His potential victim screams in terror. Hilarious Benny Hill-esque antics ensue. The woman escapes and is picked up by a good Samaritan driving a dingy pick-up truck. The grizzly man appears and straddles the truck, blocking the view of the front windshield. She admits that she previously had an affair with her gynecologist. We discover that the man chasing her was her former lover. And then there is dismemberment. Afterwards, she spontaneously gives birth to a gigantic lime-green toy serpent. Then her snake baby chases them off.

From what I saw of Kelly Hughes’ films, I genuinely liked them. The ensemble didn’t act poorly, either, for being mostly unrecognized and technically amateur by conventional standards.

But I won’t say anything definitively on Hughes’ cinema until I actually watch his films. In their entirety.

Because as a fellow misfit, and as a young reviewer, I believe he deserves my respect when I approach his films.

So until that day I see his films, I consider any opinion on the early cinema of Kelly Hughes as merely tentative.

Heart Attack! The Early Pulse-Pounding Cinema of Kelly Hughes is exclusively available online at vhx.com. Watch Heart Attack! The Early Pulse-Pounding Cinema of Kelly Hughes ($3.99).