Tag Archives: Christine Spencer

CAPSULE: SATAN HATES YOU (2009)

DIRECTED BYJames Felix McKenney

FEATURING: Don Wood, Christine Spencer, Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, Debbie Rochon, Michael Berryman, Larry Fessenden

PLOT: In this re-imagining of the “Christ-sploitation” films shown in churches and

Still from Satan Hates You (2009)

probably a few Southern gynecologists’ offices of the 60s and 70s, we follow a young man and woman who make all the wrong choices in a haze of drugs, alcohol, and rock music while unknowingly under the influence of two demonic imps.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Satan Hates You, while initially very jarring in its lack of self-explanation, is a satisfying experience in terms of its Troma-esque shock horror and its acute satirical edge.  But its freaky imagery leans too often on a bland naturalistic style that mars its individuality and chokes the weirdness out of the movie.

COMMENTS: Satan Hates You is a very hard film to place.  Being a satire, a dark comedy, and a horror film is no ordinary pedigree, and Satan Hates You maniacally shifts from one of these genres to the next every few minutes.  It is a wicked send-up of those fear-mongering Christian PSA films that pop into existence every generation about the dangers of doing ungodly things like having abortions and doing drugs.  But it honestly doesn’t hit you that way when you watch it if you don’t do your research.  The first time watching it, I felt this to just be a dark, meandering horror-comedy about two idiots who make a lot of bad choices.  Director James Felix McKenney doesn’t really go out of his way to make this idea pop out at the audience with staples of the “Christ-sploitation” genre, like cheesy acting, an oversimplification of right and wrong, and loads of self-righteous condemnation.  We are instead tossed quite objectively into these people’s lives, full of sex, murder, and self-sabotage, and don’t get dropped many hints that we’re supposed to be in on a joke.

Once one understands the idea, everything falls into place a little more, and it does Continue reading CAPSULE: SATAN HATES YOU (2009)

CAPSULE: AUTOMATONS (2006)

DIRECTED BY: James Felix McKenny

FEATURING: Christine Spencer, Angus Scrimm

PLOT: The lone survivor of a devastated nation lives alone in an underground bunker.

Still from Automatons (2006)

Her only companions are the voice recordings of a long-dead scientist and the robots she sends out to do battle with the enemy on the planet’s poisoned surface.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Much of the underground hype regarding this 2006 indie from James Felix McKenny and Glass Eye Pix likens Automatons to a cross between Eraserhead and Ed Wood, with Guy Maddin‘s name bandied about for good measure. There is nothing remotely arthouse or surreal about Atomatons, however, and the only identifying aesthetic McKenney might share with Maddin is an obsessive love of a genre. Maddin’s love of baroque silent film expressiveness hardly compares to McKenney’s hard-on for 1950’s sci-fi kitsch. That’s the problem with hype; it usually tends to be a disservice and is here.

COMMENTS: Automatons is not weird or surreal. That is not to say it does not have merit or is a film without interest.  Is it a thought-provoking, intelligent film, worth comparing to some of the better, more compact Outer Limits episodes?  No. The post-apocalyptic scenario of a lone survivor is a really, really old one that has been around since Robot Monster and repeated in Omega Man, Mad Max and countless James Cameron movies.

The robots themselves look like they just stepped out of an old George Reeves Superman TV episode, but without the awkwardly quirky personality of those 50s tin types.  Angus Scrimm (Phantasm) is the professor who instructs heroine Christine Spencer through a series of pre-recorded videos. The biggest problem here lies in Spencer’s flat acting, which fails to project the necessary charisma needed in this type of project.

Where Automatons takes an admirable independent risk is in its lethargic pacing, which, despite the plot and acting, creates a hypnotic milieu.  Long, static takes, along with the much repeated Scrimm transmissions, are, at first, odd, then oddly compelling. This is the one surprising, indeed endearing quality about AUTOMATONS.  It refuses to cater to commercial pacing. Some have mistaken that for an arthouse quality or made predictable, banal comparisons, such as to Eraserhead. Automatons does not possess that organic, wistful Lynch quality. It is grounded in the love of its genre.  The later battle scenes and the gruesome deaths have a certain grainy style derived from its 8 mm source, but this is an often utilized stylistic ploy in genre indies and is not what gives Atuomatons its original flavor.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
Automatons is what happens when Eraserhead and Tetsuo the Iron Man bong themselves into oblivion and collaborate on a minimalist avant-garde sci-fi cheapie shot in a toolshed… Robot radness acheived!”–Nathan Lee, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)