LIST CANDIDATE: THE ACID HOUSE (1998)

DIRECTED BY: Paul McGuigan

FEATURING: Stephen McCole, Maurice Roëves, Garry Sweeney, Jenny McCrindle, Iain Andrew, Irvine Welsh, Kevin McKidd, Gary McCormick, Michelle Gomez, , Jemma Redgrave

PLOT: A grotesque, genre-bending trio of tawdry, disturbing stories about squalor, decay, excess, perversion, stupidity, and altered states.THE ACID HOUSE (3)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LISTNot only is The Acid House unconventionally filmed, using an insect point-of-view and other unusual camera angles along with non-linear plots, etc., but the stories themselves are strange, surreal, and unsettling.

COMMENTS: The Acid House is funny, grim, unsettling, revolting, and… well, a lot of fun if you like that sort of thing! Another in a series of surreal, underground British Isles films, The Acid House immediately reminded me of Pat McCabe and ‘s bizarre Irish effort, The Butcher Boy (1987), and the somewhat less eerie, but equally strange, Disco Pigs (2001).

Like The Butcher Boy, The Acid House explores the seamy side of working class culture: in this case, Scottish rather than Irish. It follows demented characters who pursue debased agendas under circumstances which are at once supernatural and decidedly sleazy. Writer Irvine Welsh (“Trainspotting”) dramatizes three plots from his raunchy book of short stories, “The Acid House.” Given Welsh’s imagination and penchant for depraved characters, decadent circumstances, and just plain rotten motives and outcomes, a creepy movie with totally grotesque content is the inevitable result.

In the first story, “The Granton Star Cause,” Boab (McCole) is a loser who puts as little effort into making love to his girlfriend as he does into his rugby performance. Expelled from the team, dumped by said girlfriend, and kicked out of the house by his parents, Boab seeks solace in the bottom of a pint glass at the local pub. There he meets God, in human form, who informs Boab that he created Man in his own image. God then informs Boab that he (God) is lazy and pathetic, and that since Boab shares these traits, he hates Boab for reminding him of his own worst characteristics.

To express his hatred for Boab, as well as his own self-loathing, God dooms Boab by turning him into a common housefly. Now an airborne insect, Boab puts a literal twist to the expression, “a fly on the wall.” Spying on his family and friends’ sleazy private lives, Boab discovers the depth of their secret perversions, before exacting revenge upon several tormentors.

The second story in The Acid House isn’t supernatural, but it’s just as disturbing. In “The Soft Touch,” the village doofus, Johnny (McKidd), marries the town whore, Catriona (Gomez), with predictable results. Yet Johnny accepts responsibility and attempts to be good father and husband, while his new bride continues doing what she does best. A bad situation worsens when Catriona involves herself with the couple’s insane upstairs neighbor Larry (McCormick), who begins systematically to dismantle Johnny’s life. Too soft to take decisive action, Johnny becomes a helpless victim until the nutty neighbor turns the tables on Catriona.

In the third segment, also titles “The Acid House,” Coco (Bremner), a mindless hooligan, and Jenny (Redgrave), a middle class pregnant woman, are simultaneously struck by lightning. Coco, who is on an LSD trip at the time, switches bodies with the newborn infant. Visiting Coco’s adult body in the hospital later, his friends chalk up his new level of infantilism to having finally fried his brain with too many drugs. Meanwhile, Coco, as a grotesque infant, delights in breastfeeding and not so subtly manipulating his new “mother” into indulging his atavistic desires.

The Acid House is outrageous, over the top, and offensive. It will never be accused of being too clever or subtle. In fact, from a literary standpoint, Welsh’s treatment of his subject matter is akin to performing a CPR heart massage with a sledge hammer… then vomiting in the patient’s mouth while administering artificial respiration. Despite the supernatural premise of two of the three stories, the horror in The Acid House is not the traditional “ghosts and goblins” type. Rather, it stems from a deep dread of entrapment, from awful bodily metamorphosis, and from an exploration of the abysmal depths of the debased human condition.

The Acid House is a must-view for all fans of campy, disgusting occult movies.

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WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“McGuigan has the tendency to overindulge in some banal psychedelic editing, but, for the most part, he’s picked the right style to get as close as possible to the emotional intensity Welsh’s ferocious writing promises. It’s Welsh who lets him down, whose dips into deranged flights of surreal fancy fly smack into a brick wall of triviality.”–David Luty, Film Journal International

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