Tag Archives: Grindhouse

SATURDAY SHORT: BROTHER COBWEB AT THE HOUSE OF SHADOWS

Filmed by Karl Whinnery of www.hotkarlproductions.com , this is an excerpt of our own Alfred Eaker‘s performance of his Brother Cobweb character at The House of Shadows in Gresham, Oregon. “Brother Cobweb” is the title of Eaker’s forthcoming novel.

CONTENT WARNING: Adult language.

CAPSULE: CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Ruggero Deodato

FEATURING: Robert Kerman, Gabriel Yorke, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen

PLOT: A professor launches an expedition into the Amazon searching for a missing crew of documentary filmmakers; he instead finds reels of film the crew shot depicting atrocities they themselves committed against the tribes, followed by the cannibals’ ultimate vengeance.

Still from Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Other than an unusual narrative structure and an incongruent musical score, I can’t detect much weirdness here; in fact, the movie strives for documentary realism. I think the fact that people (including critics) continually cite this film as “weird” is a case of confusion between the overlapping genres of the “shock” movie (which is sometimes, but not always, weird) and the “weird” movie (which is often shocking, but not always in a disturbing way).

COMMENTS: “I wonder who the real cannibals are,” muses Cannibal Holocaust‘s professor as ninety minutes of carnage grind to a halt. Surely, what he meant to say is “I wonder who the real savages are?” I mean, the real cannibals are clearly the ones who eat people, right? It’s sloppy, thoughtless touches like that which should tip off this film’s defenders that, despite some stabs at social commentary, Holocaust is not meant as a meaningful work of horror art. It’s a work of commercial exploitation, designed to bleed maximum receipts from grindhouse theater patrons. Because of its parade of atrocities, it is effective at giving you that dirty, nihilistic feeling that some people crave in their “horror” (although I think this type of extreme transgressive film, which isn’t really scary, belongs to another genre entirely: call it “despair porn” or, less judgmentally, “moral horror”). Director Ruggero Deodato does have a talent for moral horror, turning cannibal rape orgies into a kind of flowing sick poetry. The low-tech special effects here are excellent, especially the skulls overgrown with lichen and crawling with jungle vermin, and the impalement scene was so realistic that an Italian court brought Deodato up on charges of murder until he revealed how the trick was done. The unusual structure of the film, with a standard narrative yielding halfway through to found footage sequences interrupted by a framing commentary, serves to keep the viewer off guard.

Aside from the visceral makeup and the willingness to go “all the way” in depicting cruelty, however, Cannibal Holocaust is competent at best, subpar at worst. The acting, especially from young actors in the missing film crew, is not very convincing. Worse yet, their motivations are barely explained and cartoonishly villainous. The crew appears to conceived of as photogenic, celebrity versions of mondo shockumentarians (in a typically tasteless move, Deodato includes actual footage of villagers being executed by African firing squads that could have come from the Italians’ opus Africa Addio). The notion is that the filmmakers in the film-inside-the-film are willing to provoke conflict and stage violence (charges leveled against Jacopetti and Prosperi) to make their documentaries more shocking and marketable. The over-the-top way this idea is executed is scarcely believable, however; not only does the director here stage obscene atrocities and film his own rape scene, he is visibly gleeful when his guide has to have his leg amputated and when he comes across a woman impaled on a stake. If he could, he would tie cannibal women to train tracks while cackling and twirling his mustache. And besides the lack of credible motivation, there’s an even bigger logical problem with the movie that goes straight to the reason for its existence: although we might stretch our imagination to believe that the filmmakers might be stupid enough to shoot their own crimes, no one would take valuable time that could be spent fleeing for his life to film the cannibals’ final revenge against his friends.

Of course, the worst part of the movie, which gives it its enduring infamy, are the gruesome animal killings, highlighted by the nauseating decapitation and evisceration of a giant river turtle. So many people miss the point of the objections to the animal cruelty that it’s necessary to elucidate it again. It does not matter that most of the animals were eaten after they were killed, or that most of them died quickly and relatively painlessly. The point is that, if it was truly necessary to the story, the violence against animals could have been realistically staged, just as the violence against humans was. Deodato deliberately—and repeatedly—chose to have the animals actually killed on-camera precisely because of the effect he knew it would have on the audience. He wanted to generate shock, outrage, and—ultimately and especially—income. Animal cruelty objectionable because of what is says about humans who perpetrate it; the “cruelty” side of the equation is far more saddening than the “animal” side. (To his credit, Deodato is on record as regretting shooting these scenes).

Leave the animal killings out of the movie, however, and Cannibal Holocaust would be lost in the trashpile of Italian cannibal movies, no more remembered than Cannibal Ferox or Emanuele and the Last Cannibals. The film is an effective sickie, but it’s morally repugnant and, as many have correctly pointed out, ironically hypocritical in its insincere attack on the media’s tendency to focus on (and even instigate) violence. The thesis that modern industrialized man is as savage as the Amazonian cannibal tribe is facile at best, but the only way that Deodato can prove it is to make himself into a monster. It’s as if I said to you, “people are inherently vicious,” and then proved my point by punching you in the nose. You’d probably be more angry at me than convinced of my theory, which is how I feel about Cannibal Holocaust.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s a weird movie with an awkward narrative, which Deodato makes all the more effective with his grimy sheen of documentary realism, while Riz Ortolani’s unsettlingly lovely, elegiac score provides a weird undercurrent.”–Sean Axmaker, Digital Delirium (DVD)

366 UNDERGROUND: DEAR GOD, NO! (2011)

DIRECTED BY: James Anthony Bickart

FEATURING: Jett Bryant, Madeline Brumby, Paul McComiskey, Olivia LaCroix, John Collins, Shane Morton, Nick Morgan, Rusty Stache, Nick Hood, Jim Sligh, Rachelle Lynn, Jim Stacy

PLOT: The Impalers are a vicious motorcycle gang rampaging across the land indulging in drug trafficking and other antisocial behavior, like rape and nun killing. After a shoot-out in a strip club, they top off the party with a home invasion, whereupon their paths cross with a mad scientist, his daughter and associate. They plan a night of fun, with humiliation, rape and murder on the menu… but the scientist has something unexpected in the basement. Meanwhile, there’s something in the woods that’s killing animals and quickly working its way up the food chain…

Still from Dear God No! (2011)

COMMENTS: Dear God, No! (official site) is another throwback to the grindhouse flicks of the 1970’s, when political correctness didn’t exist. It goes balls to the wall with the 5 B’s of Exploitation Movies – Bikers, Bullets, Boobs, Blood, Beer – all of which are in ample supply… and adds another ‘B’ to the party – Bigfoot. Like most of the neo-grindhouse films, there’s lots of loving homage on display, and most of it is done very well. Unfortunately, DGN! falls into the same trap as most other trash throwback films do, that of overkill… everything is intentionally over the top, way too much to take really seriously or to really get offended by. There’s no real sense of transgression, which most of the actual 70’s grindhouse features actually had; and, most of the comedy and acting here is really labored. That said, on the technical side of things it’s good, solid low-budget work. It’s a fun ride, and it looks like the real thing—arrested adolescents will bow down in praise, feeling ‘bad’ and ‘dirty’ for over an hour. Afterwards, they’ll be wanting something a bit more substantial. So will you, probably.

LIST CANDIDATE: MODUS OPERANDI (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Frankie Latina

FEATURING: Randy Russell,

PLOT: The CIA convinces an alcoholic ex-agent to track down two stolen briefcases in return for

Still from Modus Operandi (2009)

the name of the man who killed his wife.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:The post-Tarantino/ fake-grindhouse movie is a sub-genre that’s less than a decade old, but already feels stale. Newcomer Frankie Latina, however, freshens the formula by spiking this exploitation cocktail with a shot of some sort of quick and dirty experimental hallucinogen he synthesized in his kitchen using drain cleaner, pencil shavings, and an over-the-counter hangover remedy. It’s a minor, but bizarrely entertaining, concoction.

COMMENTS: Exploding cowboy heads! Random film stock switches from black and white to Eastmancolor! Pubic hair shaving! Debuting director Frankie Latina throws everything he can think of into Modus Operandi, including the kitchen sink and whatever other plumbing fixtures he can bum off his Milwaukee pals. Bizarre bikini coke party! Authentic funk soundtrack! Time lapse shot of rotting fruit! Ideas and interruptions come fast and furious, and yet the plot is comfortingly simple to process. The missing briefcases are classic MacGuffins, and although it’s utterly preposterous, almost everything in the story tracks—except when the film breaks and VHS nude model auditions suddenly bleed into the movie. Gratuitous Alexandre Dumas quote! Strip club massacre! Danny Trejo! Ideas, you see, are free, an important asset when you’re filming a movie with no money. Latina disguises the fact that his movie has almost no action by blindsiding the audience with exploitation staples (nudity and gore) and stylistic non sequiturs at every turn. There is little of that alienating “look at us, we’re making a bad movie and we know it” jokiness in Modus Operandi; instead, the comedy in this parody arises from juxtaposition and weirdness. Senseless zooms! Snuff movies! Real life lesbian vampires! Among the film’s subtler jokes is the fact that the nominal hero and supposed ace agent, Stanley Cashay, is a middle-aged, frequently nude drunk who has no observable talent and who doesn’t actually do anything remotely heroic, or even interesting. The CIA is desperate to rehabilitate him from his stupor, but once sobered up the only thing he does is to put in a phone call to his underworld contact, Thunderbird. Thunderbird then calls Xanadu, Xanadu calls Foxy Borwn-wannabe Black Licorice, and somehow, through a confusing series of swaps and double crosses between a series of colorful agents, the briefcases eventually work their way back to Cashay. Meanwhile, Latina delivers more of what we tuned in for. Japanese torture vixens in black corsets! Hitchcock tributes! Intermission sequence with suggestive ice cream licking! As the promo for “Ayesha Ayesha,” the fake Bollywood spy babe TV show that’s a smash hit in Modus Operandi‘s universe, explains, it’s “psychedelic… razor sharp… rainbows and waterfalls… espionage… Air Mumbai… ice cold… bizarre adventures… far out!” To which we can only add: Corkscrews to eyeballs!  Split screens! Background painting of a topless woman riding a unicorn!

Modus Operandi also features fellow low-budget auteur Mark Borchardt (American Movie, Coven) in a small role. It’s “presented by” recently retired adult star Sasha Grey, for no observable reason except for the huckster logic that a porn starlet’s endorsement will sell tickets. Latina is already at work on his second feature, Skinny Dip (due out any day now), which brings back Trejo in a larger role and adds an expanded roster of acting talent including Grey, , Brigitte Nielson, and Pam Grier (now entering her fifth decade of exploitation filmmaking).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…its free-floating storytelling is more akin to the associative human mind than cinema’s traditional flow of familiar establishing shots, medium shots, close-ups, and cutaways. Like a found-footage film, Modus Operandi‘s logic is fragmented and unpredictable…”–Diego Costa, Slant (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Jason Eisener

FEATURING: , Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey

PLOT: A hobo rides the rails into a surreally depraved “Scum Town” (formerly Hope Town) and is pushed into grabbing a shotgun and sweeping the streets clean of pimps, pushers, and bum fight promoters.

Still from Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Hobo is one of the better postmodern grindhouse spoofs out there and will rate a “must see” for fans of that extremely specific genre, but—although it’s certainly bizarre in its complete disregard of non-B-movie logic—it doesn’t do enough to transcend it’s inspirations in order to earn a general weird recommendation.

COMMENTS: Hobo with a Shotgun has a real eye for shabby detail—just look at the period poster that features disheveled Rutger Hauer, teeth bared, firing a sawed-off shotgun. The artist drew in fold lines as if it was a one sheet that had been filed away in some producer’s desk and forgotten about for thirty years. As strange as it might sound in a movie that features barbed wire decapitations, flame-broiled school children, and post-apocalyptic ninja robots, what impresses me most about Hobo is that kind of subtle detail. Sure, the movie gets most of its mileage from its ludicrous levels of bloodletting—dig that chick dancing around in a mink coat and bikini as blood showers on her from a neck-geyser—but I expected that in a postmodern grindhouse revenge flick. What I didn’t expect is that the absurd violence would be served with a side of style and deadpan wit, sans jokey winks to the audience. Everyone catches on to the B-movie madness, like the land-based octopus in the villain’s lair and the human piñata smacked by topless ladies, but the truly strange touches are easy to miss: the hipster newscaster with the soul patch and earring, the Byzantine icon of Jesus on the Drake’s wall (next to a photo of the Hobo) with his eyes marked out with red paint, the way Hauer grabs a convenient bottle of vodka from a random passerby in a hospital corridor. Any notion that this movie takes place in any world outside movies is dispelled early on when the Hobo enters the town’s top nightspot—a video arcade that doubles as a murder emporium, Continue reading CAPSULE: HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011)

CAPSULE: HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (2003)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Erin Daniels, Chris Hardwick, , Jennifer Jostyn, , , , Robert Mukes, Dennis Fimple,

PLOT: Four college kids are abducted by a backwoods maniac family.



WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Because the Texas Chainsaw Massacre ripoff plot was too tissue-thin to support a movie, heavy metal musician turned debutante director Rob Zombie’s fleshed the film out with stylistic excess.  Home movies from inside the serial killers’ psyches, purposeless solarizations, classic drive-in intertitles, and clips of vintage B&W cheesecake constantly interrupt what action there is.  The effect is not to make the film weird, but to draw attention to the director– “I’m Rob Zombie, trash horror aficionado, and I’m making a movie!”–and make him seem weird.  It ends on a highly surrealistic note, but this is actually the weakest part of the movie.

COMMENTS:  Make no bones about it: House of 1000 Corpses is bad.  This movie is what happens when you take The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, drain out all the scary, and replace it with annoying.  Still, if Zombie had to fail, at least he failed bombastically rather than meekly.  If you took away the directorial flourishes from the movie and left only the plot, played straight, then this movie really would have been a nightmare (see the weirdly praised sequel The Devil’s Rejects).

The presence of trash film icons Sid Haig (Spider Baby) as the memorable sideshow Captain Spaulding (pictured) and Karen Black as the redneck matriarch adds some interest.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“As Rob Zombie’s name twitched over the seizure-inducing opening credits sequence of ‘House of 1000 Corpses’, one highly eager dude in the 1/4 filled theatre gamely raised his fists and shouted, ‘Rob Zombie Rules!’ As the closing credits rolled an unbearably slow 88 minutes later, I’ll bet that same guy contemplated raising his fists again and announcing, ‘I apologize for rushing to judgment.'” -Todd Levin, Film Threat