Tag Archives: Body horror

CAPSULE: ANTIBIRTH (2016)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Meg Tilly, Mark Weber, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos

PLOT: A hard living party-girl finds herself pregnant, without remembering how.

Still from Antibirth (2016)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Antibirth is satisfying for horror fans looking for a few surreal thrills, but it’s more of an announcement of what Perez might be capable of in the future than it is a current achievement in weirdness. In the end, despite some bizarre plotting, Antibirth resolves itself as standard scare fare.

COMMENTS: Antibirth is a stoner version of Rosemary’s Baby, with a touch of Cronenbergian body horror and a dab of hallucinatoriness (and maybe a bit of Jacob’s Ladder in there, too). Disquieting dream sequences, paranoia, peeling skin, and a grossout birth highlight the horror; but what is perhaps even more surprising is that the film almost works best as a character study. When you’re in your twenties, wasting your weekends on joints, pills and whiskey at all night raves is adventurous. When you enter your thirties and you’re still chasing that buzz every day, it’s clear that you’ve given up on getting anything more out of life—including a family. This is where Lou finds herself, when she puts down the bong for five minutes of self-reflection. Hedonism has become a pleasure-free hassle for her, a hazy daily obligation. She takes the news that she might be pregnant with the resignation of someone who thinks she might be coming down with the flu. The news has no effect on her smoking, toking and drinking decisions, though perhaps some effect on her snacking choices.

Natasha Lyonne was absolutely the right choice for Lou; her defiant, almost principled refusal to take responsibility for the life growing inside her holds the film together while the plot is simultaneously spinning out of control and spinning its wheels. Traditional thinking might have been to cast the more glamorous Sevigny as the victim, putting the quirkier Lyonne into the wisecracking sidekick role; but having the heroine and the comic relief inhabit the same body works better in this context. Half of her dialogue is delivered while trying to hold in pot smoke, and she gets off some good lines: “I don’t talk about aliens when I’m getting high. I have a strict policy.” As Sadie, Sevigny gets a couple of involuntary zingers, too: “We need to accept this, every pregnancy is different,” she offers, when Lou’s already full-term after a week’s gestation.

The dream sequence featuring furry purple Teletubby mutants with expressionless porcelain faces presiding over an alien insemination is Antibirth‘s take-home vision, but there is enough oddness—a cleft-palette Russian urine slave, and the plethora of public access weirdos glimpsed briefly on antenna TV stations—to put the timid mainstream viewer off long before that pièce de résistance arrives. Overall, Antibirth is uneven, but highly watchable thanks to the compulsive trainwreck bad behavior of Lyonne’s anti-heroine. Some people just shouldn’t procreate.

We first met Danny Perez with 2010’s Oddsac, the psychedelic, feature-length “visual album” for freak-folkers Animal Collective. It’s something of a surprise that he had to wait six years before giving birth to his first feature; the material may not be mainstream, but the result is accomplished.

It is a complete, but happy, accident that this review is originally published on Labor Day.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Weird, messy and oddly fascinating, this low-budget horror movie parlays its ‘Rosemary”s Baby-to-the-nth-degree premise into a gross-out fever dream aimed at fans of the way, way out.”–Maitland McDonaugh, Film Journal International (contemporaneous)

211. SOCIETY (1989)

“It was so weird… it was probably one of the weirdest movies ever made!”–Devin DeVasquez reflecting on Society

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards, Charles Lucia, Patrice Jennings, Ben Meyerson, Tim Bartell, Ben Slack, David Wiley, Connie Danese

PLOT: Despite being a star basketball player and candidate for president of Beverly Hills High, Billy feels like an outcast in his own high society family. He misses his sister’s coming out party due to a basketball game, but her creepy ex-boyfriend plays him a very disturbing recording from the event that causes him to investigate his own family secrets more closely. It seems that there is a secret society of upper-crust residents in Beverly Hills which even privileged Billy is not (yet) a part of; his investigations lead him to a secret party where the elites engage in a practice they call “shunting”…

Still from Society (1989)
BACKGROUND:

  • Brian Yuzna began his filmmaking career as a producer, teaming with director Stuart Gordon in 1985 to launch the hit Re-Animator series. Society was his first credit as director. To convince the producers to allow him to direct, Yuzna promised to make two movies, the other being the pre-sold sequel Bride of Re-Animator.
  • Makeup expert Screaming Mad George used paintings (specifically “The Great Masturbator” and “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans“) as inspiration for constructing the “shunting” scenes.
  • Although it saw some mild success overseas, the climax of Society had to be cut by four minutes in the U.S. to secure an R rating, and the film was not released to American screens until 1992, when it disappeared from theaters quickly.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Something—anything—from the last 20 minutes, a non-stop body-morphing orgy that would put off his lunch. If forced to whittle down the choice to a single image we’d have to go with “butthead,” a creation both juvenile and frightening.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Twisted sister; hair eating; “shunting” in general.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Brian Yuzna’s mixture of horror, satire, and teen sex comedy is clumsy and unsure at times, and bizarre in both theory and execution, but the drawn-out finale, a masterpiece of Dali-esque designs rendered in rubbery goo, puts it far over the top.


Original trailer for Society

COMMENTS: As satire and allegory, Society is obvious; but I believe Continue reading 211. SOCIETY (1989)

154. VIDEODROME (1983)

“My early drafts tend to get extreme in all kinds of ways: sexually, violently, and just in terms of weirdness. But I have to balance this weirdness against what an audience will accept as reality. Even in the sound mix, when we’re talking about what sort of sound effects we want for the hand moving around inside the stomach slit, for example; we could get really weird and use really loud, slurpy, gurgly effects, but I’m playing it realistically. That is to say, I’m giving it the sound it would really have, which is not much. I’m presenting something that is outrageous and impossible, but I’m trying to convey it realistically.”–David Cronenberg on Videodrome

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Jack Creley, Sonja Smits

PLOT: Searching for the next level of violent and pornographic entertainment, CIVIC-TV president Max Renn discovers a pirate broadcast called “Videodrome” that depicts the torture and killing of nude men and women in an undisclosed location. Renn is thrilled by what he sees as the future of television, a savage show with no plot, characters, or budget, but his interest in in the program becomes more personal than professional as he watches it with radio personality Nikki Brand and develops his own taste for sadomasochism. Meanwhile, Renn explores the origins of “Videodrome” and its connection to media prophet Professor Brian O’Blivion, whose lectures about the relationship between the human mind and televisual media suggest “Videodrome”’s influence over Renn goes much deeper than he realizes.

Still from Videodrome (1983)

BACKGROUND:

  • David Cronenberg’s inspiration for Videodrome came from his childhood experiences of watching televisions pick up distant, distorted signals after the local stations had gone off the air. He imagined what it would be like to see something obscene or illegal on the screen, and he wondered whether he would turn away from the sight or keep watching.
  • CityTV, a Toronto-based independent television station that controversially broadcast softcore porn movies late at night in the 1970s, was the inspiration for Videodrome‘s “Civic TV.”
  • Special makeup effects designer Rick Baker began work on Videodrome shortly after winning the Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup, the first award ever given in that category. He was awarded for his work on the film An American Werewolf in London.
  • The character of Professor Brian O’Blivion was loosely based on Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher of communication theory. McLuhan is famous for coining the phrase “the medium is the message,” echoes of which can be seen in Videodrome. Cronenberg may have been a student of McLuhan’s at the University of Toronto.
  • Videodrome was a box office bomb, earning only $2 million at theaters (it cost $6 million to make). It has since become a cult film.
  • At the time of this writing Universal Pictures lists a Videodrome remake as “in development.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Videodrome is full of unforgettable scenes, from Max Renn inserting a gun into his stomach to Barry Convex’s death by cancer-inducing bullets, but it is Renn’s sexual encounter with his television that best captures the hallucinatory, philosophical, and disturbingly erotic aspects of the film. After watching footage of Nicki Brand strangling Prof. O’Blivion, Renn is drawn to his television by Brand’s playful but insistent voice, as her lips grow to fill the screen. Soon, Renn is close enough to reach out and touch the device, which throbs and grows veins under his fingers like an engorged organ. Between rasps and sighs, the television says, “I want you, Max,” as Renn caresses its frame, becoming more aggressive and aroused. The screen begins to bulge under Renn’s groping hands as he leans forward, his face disappearing into the screen’s disembodied lips while they slurp and moan in ecstasy. Though Brand initially seduces Renn, by the end the television has become the willing object of his lust. Renn is not a passive observer of the screen, nor is his television a lifeless machine. Rather, Renn’s craving for the television enters the device and animates it, infusing it with so much desire that it is able to desire Renn in return. This giving of life to the mechanical captures Videodrome’s most salient theme, the idea that technology is not separate from humanity but instead represents an expansion upon the human form, a “new flesh” that may either subjugate or liberate us all.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Videodrome[1] is weird from the moment it introduces its titular snuff program, not just because of the violence it depicts but also because of the characters’ casual acceptance of that violence. Renn and Brand’s unreserved fascination with the “Videodrome” broadcast places them in an alternate moral universe, one where murder is simply the next step for television; the viewer is displaced from his or her own ethical reality.

That disorientation only increases as Videodrome takes hold of Renn, inducing horrible visions that further loosen his and the viewer’s grasp of what is real. In those hallucinations, Renn is subjected to brainwashing and disfigurement that warp him on a mental and physical level, shaking the sense of himself that is his most basic link to the real world. In one scene Barry Convex forces a videocassette into the vaginal slit that Renn has grown on his stomach, adding overtones of surrealism and rape to the story. It is an assault on not just the body and the mind but also on reality, an experience that shatters the protagonist and the viewer in a way few other films can match.


Original trailer for Videodrome

COMMENTS: Near the beginning of Videodrome, a talk show host asks, “Don’t you feel [violent and sexual] shows contribute to a social climate of Continue reading 154. VIDEODROME (1983)

  1. Videodrome is used in three senses in this essay. When italicized (Videodrome), the word means the movie directed by David Cronenberg. “Videodrome” is placed in quotes to signify the pirate broadcast Renn watches. When not in quotes or italics, Videodrome refers to the abstract entity or idea of the Videodrome. []

LIST CANDIDATE: ANTIVIRAL (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Brandon Cronenberg

FEATURING: Caleb Landry Jones, , Joe Pingue,

PLOT: Syd is in the business of supplying fans who pay good money to be infected with a herpes simplex virus extracted from their favorite celebrities, but when he samples the blood of the world’s hottest model, he unwittingly injects himself with a fatal virus.

Still from Antiviral (2012)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Doomed protagonists peering into mysteries they’d be better off not finding the answers to, painful hallucinatory bodily transformations, beautiful women with hidden gynecological deformities: Anitviral‘s got that genuine Cronenberg phenotype. Brandon, the son of , ensures the family’s weird gene will live on.

COMMENTS: Antiviral is simultaneously science fiction, a satire of contemporary celebrity culture, a psychological thriller, and a body-horror fever dream. Trying to juggle that many balls takes the kind of hubris that only a first-time director can summon. Antiviral is generally up to the task, although it does start to drag as it runs its course; but its strange concepts and its chilly style should be enough to keep you hooked to the end. Antiviral imagines a world of the near future where celebrity obsession has become literally pathological: people pay top dollar to achieve “biological communion” with beautiful people by being infected with their personal diseases. This highly profitable market naturally invites corruption, including viral piracy by unscrupulous bug mules willing to serve as human incubators. To protect their intellectual property, pathogen peddlers have derived a bizarre copyrighting system that somehow uses facial imagining technology to give unique, distorted human features to each individual virus. The pop-microbe trade isn’t even the sickest way this society exploits susperstars’ cell structure; I won’t spoil that nauseating revelation. Caleb Landry Jones plays Syd, a top Lucas Corporation viral technician who’s wan-looking even when he’s healthy; he has few facial expressions, but seems like he was cast for his sickliness. On the other end of the spectrum is luminous Sarah Gadon (who, with roles in A Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis and now this is fast becoming the Cronenbergs’ go-to actress), the “more than perfect, more than human” supermodel whose cold sores are the Lucas Corporation’s top sellers. When Syd inadvertently contracts a fatal infection—one which, thankfully for the audience, includes inducing traumatic Cronenbergian hallucinations as a major side-effect—the race is on to find an antidote. The young viral entrepreneur will find out how deep the underground bio-celebrity trade goes, and how far the pathologists who work there are willing to go to keep their business model healthy. The future created in Antiviral is eerie and repellant. Like one of the movie’s copyrightable virus visages, which look like smartphone snapshots that have been run through a cheap face warping app, the culture here is distorted but recognizable. Cronenberg’s constant white-on-white color scheme can be heavy handed at times, but it generally reinforces the movie’s tone: artificial, otherworldly, and coldly antiseptic. While Antiviral runs out of steam before it reaches classic status, there are moments in the film that will make you both physically and morally ill. As a debut, it’s a promising start. Another generation of Cronenbergs is a savory prospect, and while not quite a masterpiece, Antiviral is a promising indicator of unsettling things to come from Brandon.

Antiviral‘s central premise—that people would willingly infect themselves with the flu, or herpes, just so they could feel closer to beautiful strangers—is too absurd to be believed, a satirical exaggeration. Then again, within our society exists the rare but real subculture of bugchasers. God help us.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If weirdness was all that mattered… ‘Antiviral’ would be a must-see.”–Matt Pais, Redeye (contemporaneous)

91. TETSUO: THE IRON MAN (1989)

“One of the most memorable screenings in the early years of Midnight Madness, Tetsuo so stunned the attending crowd that few noticed the print had no subtitles.”–Toronto International Film Festival

RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Shinya Tsukamoto,

PLOT: A man who collects scrap metal (identified as “fetishist” in the credits) slices his leg open with a knife and inserts a metal pipe beside his thigh bone, then runs into the street when he notices maggots in the wound, where he is struck by a car driven by a salaryman and his girlfriend.  The salaryman leaves the scene of the accident, and later finds a piece of sharp metal growing out of his cheek; as the days go by, his entire body begins to transform into a machine.  Many hallucinations later, the fetishist, still-alive and also half made of metal, returns to do battle with the now almost completely mechanized salaryman.

Still from Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director Shinya Tsukamoto honed his craft working in an experimental underground theater group, and Tetsuo originated as a play.
  • Tsukamoto is also an actor.  Besides playing the fetishist in Tetsuo, the IMDB lists thirty-six acting credits for him, including a major role in Takashi Miike‘s Ichi the Killer (2001).
  • The Iron Man was followed by two sequels: the less surreal, more action-oriented reworking Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992) and the just-released-on-DVD as of this writing Tetsuo: The Bullet Man (2009).
  • While Tetsuo has become a cult favorite over the years, it was not well-received on release, perhaps simply because it was too strange and underfunded to find its way onto many screens.  It won only one major award, “Best Film” at the Fantafestival in Rome (an event that has since disappeared).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Shinya Tsukamoto must have spent hours creating elaborate landscapes full of battered scrap metal and wire, and painstakingly animating sequences where the fetishist zooms through urban streets at the speed of amphetamine-enhanced thought; but no matter how much work the director put in to any effect, it’s the simple picture of the salaryman sporting an unbalanced, rotating drill bit penis that no one can forget.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDTetsuo is a carefully patterned, but effectively nonsensical, barrage


Short clip from Tetsuo: The Iron Man

of images of industrial dehumanization.  Men and women extrude cables, wires, gears, drills, threaded pipes, and miscellaneous machine parts from their skin, in glorious showers of blood.  Nightmare visions in grainy black and white flow at a breakneck pace to the pulsing beat of an industrial soundtrack.  It’s a square plug of a movie forced into the round connector of our cinematic expectations, and it emits dangerous sparks.

COMMENTS: Attempts to describe Tetsuo: The Iron Man to the uninitiated run up against a Continue reading 91. TETSUO: THE IRON MAN (1989)

56. TAXIDERMIA (2006)

“Just as the body is overcome by desire, so naturalism is overcome by surrealism…”–György Pálfi, director’s statement to Taxidermia

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: György Pálfi

FEATURING: Csaba Czene, Gergö Trócsányi, Marc Bischoff

PLOT:  Three short stories exploring three perverted generations, beginning with an extremely horny soldier in the private service of a lieutenant.  His illegitimate child grows up to become a sport eater on the Hungarian national squad.  The grandchild is a socially inept taxidermist who cares for his grumpy, obese father and his caged cats.

Still from Taxidermia (2006)

BACKGROUND:

  • This was Pálfi’s second movie, after the just-as-weird but much gentler Hukkle.
  • The first two segments of the film are based on short stories by writer Lajos Parti Nagy.  Pálfi wrote the third episode himself.
  • While working on Taxidermia, Pálfi won the 2004 Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award, a $10,000 grant intended to be used to help the filmmaker create his next project.  The grant includes a promise for Japanese distribution for the completed film (estimated value: $90,000).

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  A man ejaculating a torrent of flame.  (Don’t worry, you won’t have to watch long to catch this sight).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  By itself, the middle section of the triptych of stories—


English language trailer for Taxidermia

concerning the competitive eater with Olympic dreams—would have made a decidedly odd movie.  Flank that tale with stories of a WWII soldier with a hallucinatory libido and a taxidermist with demented aesthetics, stir with surrealism and garnish with grotesquerie, and you have one of the 366 Weirdest Movies of all time.

COMMENTS: Taxidermia will almost break the needle on your “I never thought I’d see Continue reading 56. TAXIDERMIA (2006)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: MEATBALL MACHINE (2005)

DIRECTED BY: Yûdai Yamaguchi and Jun’ichi Yamamoto

FEATURING: Issei Takahashi, Aoba Kawai

PLOT:  Alien parasites infect human hosts, morphing their bodies into bio-combat machines who then fight each other to the death; shy factory worker Yôji and Sachiko, the lonely girl he fancies, soon find themselves caught up in the struggle.

Still from Meatball Machine (2005)


WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINEMeatball Machine‘s alien gladiator-parasite setup is bizarre, but the movie never really tries to top its strangeness.  Rather, the weirdness pretty much stops at the premise, as the producers instead spend their energy indulging their true loves: gore and special effects.  The result is a movie that’s well within the weird genre, but not an outstanding example of it. (NOTE: upon further reflection, Meatball Machine was upgraded to “Borderline Weird” on 7/5/2010).

COMMENTS: To say that Meatball Machine‘s storyline is thin would be an insult to the relatively dense scripts of Michael Bay. In fact, the entire last half hour of the movie is nothing but an extended melee that persists long after the dual directors have run out of combat hooks.  To keep us emotionally involved in between (and during) the fight scenes, the plot takes a perfunctory stab at a touching love story between two losers; viewers will have to buy into this romance on their own, as neither the script nor the actors sell it.  But though Meatball Machine might be light on depth, what the movie does have going for it is unforgettable costume design and a few endearing oddnesses; and, of course, buckets of gore, for those who consider that a plus.  The alien parasites who populate this film thrive by inserting themselves inside humans and mutating the host body to create an ever-evolving arsenal of extremely implausible organic weapons, among which are biochainsaws, bioflamethrowers, and, for the necroborg who has everything, a visor complete with a windshield wiper to keep blood from splashing into his Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: MEATBALL MACHINE (2005)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: IN MY SKIN [DANS MA PEAU] (2002)

DIRECTED BY:  Marina de Van

FEATURING:  Marina de Van, Laurent Lucas, Léa Drucker

PLOT: Esther is a nice yuppie girl who enjoys her office job.  She also enjoys dismantling

Still from In my Skin [Dans ma Peau] (2002)

and consuming her own body.  After disfiguring her leg in an accident, Esther develops a necrotic fascination with herself and begins to self-mutilate.  She engages in auto-cannibalism while having hallucinations of limb disassociation.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: In My Skin is a different kind of horror movie. It plays on those grisly nightmares about things like inexplicably sudden tooth and hair loss, parasitism and other subconscious fears centering on uncontrollable bodily damage. There are no phantoms or monsters in De Van’s film, no outside threat. The horror comes from within as a woman sinks into insanity and demolishes her body.

COMMENTSIn My Skin is a study of morbid preoccupation with the physical nature of the human condition.  It explores dissatisfaction with body image, and the finding of a decadent delight in its destruction.  The lead character seeks a deep psychological satiation through bodily deconstruction and self-consumption.  She tries in vain to attack inexplicable and inexorable anxiety via the demolition of the human vessel.

Esther (De Van) falls on some construction debris in back of a friend’s house and gashes her leg open.  Oddly insensitive to the pain, she does not sense the severity of her ghastly injury.  She discovers the extent of the damage later, but even then, she goes to a bar before seeking treatment.  When she finally does obtain medical assistance, she perversely declines measures to prevent disfigurement.  At this point, her psyche undergoes a sinister change.

In My Skin is reminiscent of a Ray Bradbury story entitled “Skeleton” (one of two he wrote Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: IN MY SKIN [DANS MA PEAU] (2002)

CAPSULE: ELEVATOR MOVIE (2004)

NOTE: Elevator Movie has been promoted to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made. Commenting is closed on this review, which is left here for archival purposes. Please visit Elevator Movie‘s Certified Weird entry to comment on this film.

DIRECTED BY:  Zeb Haradon

FEATURING:  Zeb Haradon, Robin Ballard

PLOT:  A socially maladjusted college student and a reformed slut turned Jesus freak are elevator_movie

trapped in an elevator together–impossibly, for weeks on end.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Quite possibly, Elevator Movie will make the overall list of 366 movies; I reserve the right to revisit it in the future.  By mixing Sartre’s “No Exit” with an ultra-minimalist riff on Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel, garnished with large dollops of sexual perversity, writer/director/star Zeb Haradon has created one of the weirder underground movies of recent years.  Unfortunately, in a demanding two character piece that requires top-notch, nuanced dramatic performances to succeed, Haradon’s acting talent isn’t up to the level of his imagination and screenwriting ability.  The resulting film looks like an “A-” film school final project: it tantalizingly promises more than it’s capable of delivering. 

COMMENTS:  Zeb Haradon is definitely a writer to keep an eye on.  The script of Elevator Movie, though not perfect (it misses a few precious opportunities to ratchet the tension and drama up to stratospheric levels), is far and away the movie’s greatest asset.  Haradon takes a very threadbare set of motifs (most notably, infantile Freudian sexuality) and pushes them as far as he can.  This two-character, one setting drama could have been intolerably boring for the first few reels as it builds to its crashingly surreal climax, but Haradon manages to keep us interested by slowly revealing new facets of the characters and keeping up a reasonable tension as Jim and Lana struggle to reconcile their need for intimacy with their complete incompatibility and diametrically opposed agendas.  This could have been a masterpiece, had the actors been able to carry off the monumental task the script sets up for them.  Robin Ballard is passable in the easier role of Lana, but Haradon is almost unforgivably subdued as Jim.  Jim is passive, so some of the wimpiness of the characterization is intentional, but when he needs to project a menacing, seething passion subdued under a calm exterior, he can’t pull it off.  Therefore, at times the inherent dramatic conflict tails off into a bland “OK, OK”, just as Jim’s voice does when Lana once again rejects his advances. 

The images in Elevator Movie, largely scatological and sexual but also involving some brief animal cruelty, are not for the meek.  That said, some of these shocking images, and the surprising but perfect ending, can resonate a horrid fascination for a long time afterwards.  That’s what makes Elevator Movie come so achingly near to being a great weird movie.  Even with qualifications, it’s definitely worth a look for the Eraserhead set.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“As a champion of ‘Eraserhead’, ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’, ‘Naked Lunch’, and ‘Back Against the Wall’, all fine films that downright bask in their toxicity to the homogenized masses, I found Haradon’s film to be unique and fascinating and a most worthy addition to the midnight movie circuit. Just don’t ask me to spend any longer in Haradon’s mind than I have to in any one sitting. It’s very likely I’d never make it out!”–Daniel Wible, Film Threat (contemporaneous)

11. JACOB’S LADDER (1990)

“Something weird is going on here.  What is it about us?  Even in ‘Nam it was always weird.  Are we all crazy or something?” –line in original screenplay to Jacob’s Ladder

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Adrian Lyne

FEATURING: , Elizabeth Peña, Danny Aiello

PLOT:  Jacob Singer (nicknamed “Professor” by his army buddies due to his glasses and Ph.D.) is wounded in Vietnam after a harrowing, disorienting battle.  While he is on duty in Vietnam, his young son dies; years later, he works in New York City as a postman and has a sexy new girlfriend, Jezzie.  Jacob begins suffering flashbacks of the day he was wounded, along with hallucinations in which everyday people take on demonic forms—catching brief glimpses of tails, horns, and howling faces with blank features—and eventually discovers that the other members of his unit are experiencing similar symptoms.

jacobs_ladder

BACKGROUND:

  • The script for Jacob’s Ladder shuffled between Hollywood desks for years, impressing executives but not being viewed as a marketable project.  The script was cited by American Film Magazine as one of the best unproduced screenplays.
  • Before he asked to direct Jacob’s Ladder, British director Adrian Lyne was best known for sexy, edgy, and profitable projects such as Flashdance (1983), 9 1/2 Weeks (1986) and Fatal Attraction (1987).
  • Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (who later wrote Ghost [1990] and other commercial properties) says that his script was partly influenced by The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
  • Adrian Lyne states that some of the hellish visual cues in the film, including the whirring and vibrating head effect, were inspired by the woks of grotesque painter Francis Bacon.
  • Lyne deleted scenes and changed the ending after test audiences found the film to be too intense.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  A blurred, whirring human head which shakes uncontrollably from side to side at tremendous speed, seen several times throughout the film.  The effect looks mechanical, as if the head were an unbalanced ball attached to an out-of-control hydraulic neck.  It was achieved by filming an actor casually shaking his head from side to side at four frames per second, which produced a terrifying effect when played back at the standard twenty-four frames per second.  The technique has been imitated in movies, video games, music videos, and even a porno flick since, but has never since been used to such fearsome effect.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Like many psychological thrillers, Jacob’s Ladder strives to keep the audience disoriented and off-balance, wondering what is real and what is false. The movie achieves this effect wonderfully, but what gives it it’s cachet as a weird movie are two intense hallucination sequences: one at an horrifically orgiastic party intermittently lit by a strobe light, and one where the protagonist lies helpless on a hospital gurney as he’s wheeled down an increasingly bizarre and alarming hospital corridor. Both scenes are difficult to forget, equal parts creepy surrealism and visceral body-horror.

Original Trailer for Jacob’s Ladder

COMMENTS: I can’t watch Jacob’s Ladder without comparing it to Alan Parker’s Angel Heart.   The similarities are obvious: both were psychological thrillers with supernatural Continue reading 11. JACOB’S LADDER (1990)