Tag Archives: Misogyny

CAPSULE: BLOODSUCKING FREAKS (1976)

AKA The Incredible Torture Show

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Joel Reed

FEATURING: Seamus O’Brien, Luis de Jesus

PLOT: A sadist who runs a Grand Guignol off-off-Broadway show as a cover for his white slavery ring kidnaps a theater critic and a ballerina to design his greatest production yet.

Still from Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: I don’t think Bloodsucking Freaks is all that weird, although I have trouble convincing my maiden aunt of that fact. The problem is one of definition: many people out there identify “immoral” or “shocking” as “weird,” while I consider shock films to be a distinct, if occasionally overlapping, category from weird movies. Essentially, Bloodsucking Freaks is just cheaply made, misogynist, grindhouse soft porn, peppered with some intentional and some unintentional comedy, a bit bizarre only because it goes to the absurdest extremes in its quest to shock the viewer.

COMMENTS: A naked girl has her hand cut off with a hacksaw and her eye pulled out of its socket while a live audience chuckles at her. A naked girl has her teeth pulled out one by one with pliers. A naked girl has a hole drilled in her skull, then her brain is sucked out through a straw. That’s pretty much all there is to Bloodsucking Freaks; there’s a thin plot tying these violations together, and torturers Sardu (the tall, fey one) and Ralphus (the smelly-looking dwarf who can’t act) make bad puns in between atrocities (“I bet you an arm and a leg…”). Still, the film obviously exists for no other reason than to show naked women humiliated, tortured and dismembered. But, it’s a comedy, so that’s OK. (Seriously, this is people’s defense of the film: it’s intended as comedy, so we shouldn’t be offended. These same fans would presumably champion a Ku Klux Klan white supremacist screed, if it’s presented in the form of a humorous monologue). The problem with Bloodsucking Freaks, of course, is all one of attitude and context. Nudity isn’t controversial, graphic violence isn’t categorically offensive, and even mixing the two doesn’t automatically create offense. Freaks’ sin is that its main purpose is to give men who watch it an erection from watching women being tortured. The movie’s constant parade of nude, nubile victims have no personalities; they rarely object to the torture, or plead with their captors, and never hint at having jobs or families or any existence outside of the dungeon. For the most part their cries of pain are indistinguishable from a porn actresses’ faked orgasmic moans. When a woman is tortured via electrocution administered through nipple clips, her writhing appears to come from a sensation very different from agony. Male arousal isn’t a matter of free choice or will; being exposed to sexual images causes the male libido to click into readiness, and Freaks’ main calling is to relentlessly associate that stirring in the loins with expressions of wanton cruelty. I’m no politically correct critic who searches out nude scenes so I can howl about the “objectification” of women, but when Sardu eats dinner using a naked woman as a table or tosses darts at a bulls-eye painted on a lass’ backside, it’s hard to argue that there isn’t some slight, perhaps unconscious objectification of women going on here. But the most offensive issue with Bloodsucking Freaks isn’t its pornographic nature, but its refusal to own up to its own obscenity. The movie contains witty black jokes: a box of white slaves marked “fragile,” Sardu and Ralphus’ grossed-out reactions to the doctor’s brand of “elective neurosurgery,” and the unforgettable line “her mouth will make an interesting urinal.” But the purpose of putting such gibes into the script at all is to provide an excuse to watch scenes of women being symbolically punished and brutalized. Men can claim to watch Bloodsucking Freaks for the comedy the way that they used to pretend to read Playboy “for the articles.” The movie is in self-denial; it holds itself at arm’s length and pretends its images don’t mean the things they quite obviously do. In the opening moments of the movie Sardu congratulates the attendees at his off-Broadway torture show on their “courage” in watching a nude blonde’s fingers crushed in a vise, then argues “this is just a theatrical presentation, a show, which offers no reality, not a fraction of reality, and just allows us, you and me, to delve into our grossest fantasies…” That’s writer/director Reed speaking directly to the movie audience, preemptively disowning his own vile tableaux by arguing they have no power or meaning, granting viewers permission to indulge the most loathsome parts of themselves. More perceptive, however, are the lines he wrote for the theater critic: “No true actor would submit to engage in such trash.” In advice I wish I could follow, he continues, “If I were to review your so-called show, even badly, I fear some of my readers might come just out of curiosity.” I have no doubt that many of you will want to see Bloodsucking Freaks after reading this review. Watching a truly filthy movie is something of a rite of passage, and it won’t turn you into a rapist. It’s not my job to tell you not to see it, just to give you fair warning that it’s reputation is not exaggerated: this movie can scar your soul, and you will see things you may wish you could forget. But if you don’t mind watching something Ted Bundy probably masturbated to, then by all means, have at it.

Many people believe Entertainment produced Bloodsucking Freaks (they did not make it but only distributed it, buying the rights and re-releasing the movie to drive-ins in 1983 with a brilliantly cynical campaign that included tipping off “Women Against Pornography” on what theaters to picket). Troma is responsible for the special edition “director’s cut” DVD, however, with an audio track provided by torture porn impresario Eli Roth. Roth’s sarcastic commentary, which compares the movie to Taxi Driver and muses about the symbolism of the caged cannibal women, starts out amusing, but the mockery wears thin (just how much trash should the director of Hostel be talking, anyway?) Roth’s insincerity is a typical approach to Bloodsucking Freaks, though: cover up a guilty erection with the lowest form of wit.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a boffo presentation is arranged out of Busby Berkeley, Hi, Mom! and Theater of Blood, borrowing Herschell Gordon Lewis’s electric organ while building toward the image of the chained reviewer kicked in the mouth by the topless ballerina… a manifesto for an immoral cinema…exists in that disconcerting crossroads of loathsome exploitation and annihilating art.”–Fernando F. Croce, Cinepassion.org

(This movie was nominated for review by Lee Townsend, who said “this distorted my mind many years ago and let me realize what weird really was.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

92. A BOY AND HIS DOG (1975)

“I’ve been offered 25 films since then. I haven’t directed another picture. Once you’ve done A Boy and His Dog, everything else kinda pales.”–Director L.Q. Jones

Also released as Psycho Boy and His Killer Dog, and on video as Mad Don (to cash in on the unexpected celebrity of Don Johnson and the success of Mad Max)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: L.Q. Jones

FEATURING: , Tim McIntire (voice), Susanne Benton,

PLOT: Vic roams the post-apocalyptic desert wasteland with his telepathic dog Blood, who has the ability to sense the presence of human females.  Blood finds a woman for Vic in an underground bunker; as Vic is about to rape her, a band of marauders come upon them, and Vic and Blood fight them off.  The woman gives herself to Vic willingly but later sneaks away; Vic follows her to her strange underground world, leaving the badly wounded Blood behind on the surface.

Still from A Boy and His Dog (1975)

BACKGROUND:

  • A Boy and His Dog was adapted from Harlan Ellison’s novella of the same name.  Ellison began the screenplay but ran into writer’s block, and director Jones and producer Alvy Moore completed the script.
  • Jones wrote the film’s infamous last line.  Ellison has gone on record as “despising” the final dialogue.
  • Director L.Q. Jones was better known as a character actor (usually a heavy) in westerns, appearing in small roles in five films by Sam Peckinpah among his 150+ acting credits.  This is one of only two feature films he directed.  He appears as a cowboy in the film-inside-the-film.
  • Blood, the dog in the film, was played by Tiger, who also portrayed (in one episode) the family pet in the “Brady Bunch” television show.
  • Ellison continued the adventures of the post-apocalyptic pair in the (now out-of-print) graphic novel Vic and Blood: The Continuing Adventures of a Boy and His Dog .

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The setting and ideas of A Boy and His Dog are more memorable than the imagery, but the clown-faced residents of underground Topeka worm themselves into the memory.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A Boy and His Dog gives us two weird worlds for the price of one: a scorched earth surface roamed by sarcastic, hyper-intelligent telepathic dogs, and an underground society of impotent totalitarian mimes.  Either vision on its own might have been weird enough to get this movie onto the List, but put them together and you’ve got something radically unique.


Trailer for A Boy and His Dog

COMMENTS: A Boy and His Dog may be the weirdest “buddy” movie ever made, thanks to the Continue reading 92. A BOY AND HIS DOG (1975)

72. ANTICHRIST (2009)

“If Ingmar Bergman had committed suicide, gone to hell, and come back to earth to direct an exploitation/art film for drive-ins, [Antichrist] is the movie he would have made.”–John Waters, “Artforum Magazine”

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: William Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg

PLOT: He and She (the characters are nameless) are making love when their child tumbles to his death out of a window. She falls into inconsolable grief, and He, a therapist, unwisely decides to take her under his personal care. When He discovers the root of She’s anxiety and irrational fears centers around a woodland retreat they call Eden, He forces her to go there to face her fears; but when they arrive, nature itself seems determined to drive them both mad.

Still from Antichrist (2009)

BACKGROUND:

  • Von Trier says that he was suffering from extreme depression when he made Antichrist and that working on the script and the film was a form of self-therapy. Von Trier was still depressed at the time of screening and sometimes had to excuse himself from the set.
  • In the title card and much of the promotional art, the “t” in “antichrist” is suggested by a figure combining the Christian cross and the symbol for “woman.”
  • The therapy He employs in the film is called “exposure therapy” (where an anxiety-ridden patient is gradually exposed to the source of their irrational fear); von Trier had undergone this treatment for his own anxiety problems, and thought little of the practice.
  • The idea for the fox came from a shamanic journey taken by von Trier.
  • Besides this film, British cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle also shot Slumdog Millionaire, for which he received the 2009 Academy Award, in the same year. Of the two, Antichrist, with its extreme slow-motion photography, was the more difficult and magnificently shot film.
  • Von Trier dedicated Antichrist to Andrei Tarkovsky, which caused jeers at Cannes and gave critical wags the opportunity to take deserved, if obvious, potshots (Jason Anderson’s “we now know what it would’ve been like if Tarkovsky had lived to make a torture-porn movie” was a typical dig).
  • The film’s Cannes reception was tumultuous, with audience members reportedly fainting, and hostility between the press and von Trier (who proclaimed himself “the world’s greatest director.”) Charlotte Gainsbourg won “Best Actress” for her brave and revealing performance. The film received a special “anti-humanitarian” prize from the ecumenical jury (a Cannes sub-jury with a Christian focus), who called Antichrist “the most misogynist movie from the self-proclaimed biggest director in the world.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Without doubt, the searing image is of the encounter between Charlotte Gainsbourg’s intimate prosthetic and a pair of rusty scissors. However indelibly gruesome this scene may be, however, it comes out of von Trier’s shock toolbox rather than from his weird shed. For an image with a power to make us do more than squirm, we turn to the scene where He and She are copulating in the woods, with her head resting on a bed of roots from a massive oak tree. The camera slowly pulls back to reveal a number of disembodied human hands sticking out at various places from between the oak limbs.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Though the graphic torture-porn (and plain old-fashioned porn) elements have stolen the headlines and alienated viewers, at bottom this is von Trier’s spookiest and most mysterious film, a trip deep into the heart of darkness, and one the viewer may have as difficult a time returning home from intact as the characters do. The irrational horror of von Trier’s vision is only magnified by the sense that you aren’t so much watching a story of madness as watching a director going insane in real time, before your very eyes: he seems to lose control of his story as it progresses, turning the climax over to his internal demons for script-doctoring, before reasserting some measure of control of his material in a surreal epilogue.


Trailer for Antichrist (WARNING: contains non-explicit sexual content)

COMMENTS: Lars von Trier deserves to be roundly criticized for burdening Antichrist with four Continue reading 72. ANTICHRIST (2009)

LIST CANDIDATE: ANTICHRIST (2009)

Antichrist has been promoted to the List of the 366 weirdest movies of all time. This page is left here for archival reasons. Pelase go to 72. Antichrist for more in-depth coverage of the film and to make comments.

DIRECTED BY: Lars von Trier

FEATURING: William Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg

PLOT: After the death of their only child, a therapist takes his grieving and anxiety-ridden wife to a retreat in the woods to face her irrational fears; when they arrive, nature itself seems determined to drive them both mad.

Still from Antichrist (2009)

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE:  Actually, von Trier’s troubled and troubling Antichrist is almost a shoo-in to make the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies.  Though the graphic torture-porn (and plain old-fashioned porn) elements have stolen the headlines and alienated viewers, at bottom this is von Trier’s spookiest and most mysterious film, a trip deep into the heart of darkness, and one the viewer may have as difficult a time returning home from intact as the characters do.  The irrational horror of von Trier’s vision is only magnified by the sense that you aren’t so much watching a filmic depiction of madness as watching a director going insane in real time, before your very eyes: he seems to lose control of his story as it progresses, turning the climax over to his internal demons for script-doctoring, before reasserting some measure of control of his material in a surreal epilogue.  While worthy of consideration, Antichrist finds itself in the same situation as the Coen brothers A Serious Man; we’re not going to officially certify it for the List until it receives its home video debut and we have a chance to scrutinize it more closely than is possible in a cinema.

COMMENTS: Lars von Trier desreves to be roundly criticized for burdening Antichrist with approximately four transgressive, shocking scenes: not because such sights should never be shown, but because these tasteless displays dominate our experience and force every viewer (and reviewer) to deal with them first and foremost.  Their sole artistic function are to serve as obstacles to appreciating the grim beauty of the remaining film.  Whether their inclusion is a calculated act by a prankster director, or a lapse in judgment resulting from psychological impairment (von Trier claims to have written the script as self-therapy to help him deal with a crippling bout of depression much like the one suffered by Charlotte Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: ANTICHRIST (2009)