Tag Archives: James Felix McKenney

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)

JAMES FELIX MCKENNEY’S TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES

James Felix McKenney is the director of the campy cannibal fest CanniBallistic! (2002), the ghost story The Off Season (2004), the retro sci-fi robot flick Automatons (1996), and the just-released Satan Hates You (2009), a modern Christian scare movie that plays like a Jack Chick tract brought to life (view the trailer here).  You can read up on his projects at his production company website, monsterpants.net.

A top 10 list! I love making movie lists but narrowing it down my favorite ten weird ones was a real challenge!

Films by David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky, José Mojica Marins, Guy Maddin, Ken Russell and Andrzej Zulawski should be included on EVERY list of this type, but I’m guessing that most visitors to this site already have them as part of their own top ten.  I also should have put a Jean Rollin film somewhere on here, but which one?  Lost in New York, maybe?  After eliminating these directors’ works from my list, I still found myself with over 30 movies to choose from.

Hausu should also be on here, but my colleague Graham Reznick recently included it on his top ten, giving me an excuse to trim my list down further.   Begotten, Phantasm, and The Wicker Man are among of my favorite movies in the world, but have already made this wonderful web site’s master list.  Other films that didn’t make it to my top ten were: The Last Movie (one of my favorite films of all time), Rubber’s Lover, The Flew, Daft Punk’s Electroma, Frankenstein’s Bloody Nightmare, Blood Freak, Arrebato, We Are the Strange, Zardoz, Red to Kill, Jigoku, Dementia (AKA Daughter of Horror), Gusher No Binds Me (AKA Hellevator), Abhay and Goodbye, 20th Century.

Anyway, here’s my (sort of) Top Ten.  I’m sure I’m forgetting at least one of my all-time favorites.  These are the films that make my brain hurt while putting a smile on my face.  Thanks for asking.

Deafula (1974): I used to have friends over to my house every Wednesday for a movie night.  Of all of the oddities I subjected my guests to, none ever went over quite as well as Deafula.

The awkward storytelling and bottom-of-the-barrel production values of this bizarre, so-bad-it’s-good film are almost enough to warrant a spot on any weird movie list. But when you add the fact that this is a vampire movie for the hearing impaired in which Continue reading JAMES FELIX MCKENNEY’S TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES