“I have heard this insensible and necrophilous oath, ‘¡Viva la Muerte!’, and I, having spent my life writing paradoxes that have provoked the ire of those who do not understand what I have written, and being an expert in this matter, find this ridiculous paradox repellent.”–Miguel de Unamuno
FEATURING: Madhi Chaouch, Núria Espert, Ivan Henriques
PLOT: Fando is a boy growing up in Spain in the early days of the Franco regime, raised by his mother, about whom he has sexual fantasies. One day he discovers that his mother turned his father in to the authorities because of his “dangerous progressive” political views. In between fantasies, Fando decides to go searching for his father, but his quest is interrupted when he contracts tuberculosis.
Like the father in Viva la Muerte, Arrabal’s own father was imprisoned by the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War (one report claims it was for an assassination attempt). After five years he escaped from custody and was never seen again.
The title refers to a quote from the Fascist General Millan Astray: “Down with intelligence! Long live death!,” a line barked during a political debate with philosopher Miguel de Unamuno.
The movie is an adaptation of Arrabal’s 1959 novel “Baal Babylone” (which does not appear to have been translated out of the original French).
The sadomasochistic torture sketches first seen in the opening credits are by Arrabal’s fellow Panic movement member Roland Topor (for more on the Panic movement, see the background information section of I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse).
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Fando’s papa, buried in the sand with only his head showing, and a quartet of riders fast approaching.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A howl of protest at the horrors of the Franco regime, as well as an autobiographical attempt to exorcise some serious mommy issues, Viva la Muerte uses surreal vignettes as a savage expression of personal outrage.
PLOT: A woman is rushed to the emergency room; flashbacks explain the troubled relationship between a psychology professor and a free-spirited younger woman that brought them to this pass.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Extremely subtle weirdness + adequate Nic Roeg representation on the List already + shrinking available space (only 85 slots left at the time of this writing) make it a bad time for Bad Timing to come along. Had this review been written earlier in this site’s existence, this movie’s layers of mystery might have convinced us to shortlist it, but now we have weirder candidates waiting in the wings.
COMMENTS: Nicolas Roeg shows excellent, if somewhat deceptive, timing with Bad Timing. He feints that he’s about to give us a bittersweet meditation on a failed love affair, but instead probes ever deeper into a psychology of paranoia and obsession, using a subtly dislocating style to keep us off guard. Opposed dualities appear everywhere: male vs. female, rational vs. emotional, East vs. West, law vs. crime. The setup is classic amour fou, pairing successful academic Dr. Alex Linden with the hard-drinking, free-loving Milena. As the relationship is slowly revealed in flashbacks, we see the power balance between the two shift back and forth, as both parties become mired in an increasingly destructive relationship, in different ways. Alex appears coldly rational—Milena bitingly advises him to try to love her instead of trying to understand her—but his advanced training doesn’t inoculate him from human frailty; he’s as subject to jealousy as the next man, and when he falls from his logical perch, he falls hard, into a churning id.
Paranoia and second-guessing are the rule in Alex’s world. The ever-present Cold War background, which is seldom explicitly mentioned, aroused more paranoid associations at the time than it does now. Alex lectures his Intro to Psych students about how everyone is a spy, starting with children peeking on their parent’s lovemaking; later, it appears that the psychiatrist himself is being analyzed by the detective, whose intuition and experience may lead him closer to Alex’s essence than Freudian methodologies would. Alex’s nemesis is a source of mystery and paranoia, too. Harvey Keitel’s obsession with investigating what on the surface seems to be an open-and-shut suicide attempt is itself obsessive, and seems almost unmotivated (until a last minute revelation). Wearing a greasy mullet, Keitel doesn’t make the slightest pretense of being Austrian; I don’t think this is bad casting, but deliberate dissonance, a clue that his character is pure metaphor.
Art Garfunkle, on the other hand, really is bad casting, and his presence damages what could have been an unqualified classic. Roeg’s good taste in casting David Bowie as an alien The Man Who Fell to Earth doesn’t carry forward here. Not only is Garfunkle a stiff in the acting department, but we’re asked to view him as a suave sex symbol, someone whose magnetism would ensnare the heart of a young woman who could have her pick of any stud in Vienna. Fortunately, an excellent, brave performance from the underappreciated Theresa Russell blows through Art’s inadequacies in their scenes together.
The finale is truly shocking, but well-earned. Also of note is the excellent soundtrack, featuring hits from Tom Waits, Billie Holiday, The Who, and Keith Jarrett. The difficulty of re-securing the rights to all of this music for home video release put Bad Timing out of circulation for many years. It was released to mixed reviews and big controversies: it was rated “X” in the U.S. (a commercial death sentence), and the U.K. distributor called it “sick” and had its logo pulled off prints. Although the film is better appreciated today (even receiving a Criterion Collection release), the furor over Bad Timing led to a perception of Roeg as box office poison. After starting his career off with five memorable films, the director’s career fell off precipitously in the 80s, with 1990’s Roald Dahl adaptation The Witches marking a brief comeback to relevance.
FEATURING: George Shannon, Hachemi Marzouk, Emmanuelle Riva
PLOT: Accused of killing his mother and stealing her jewels, Aden Rey flees to the desert. There, he discovers a mystical dwarf shepherd named Marvel who offers him refuge. They develop a friendship verging on romance, and Aden decides to take the innocent nature boy (and his favorite goat) to see the big city.
Together with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roland Topor, Fernando Arrabal founded the Panic movement (named after the Greek satyr god Pan). Starting in 1962 in Paris, the Panic movement staged disruptive live public “happenings” and plays that included (reportedly) live animal sacrifices, Jodorowsky being stripped and whipped, nude women covered in honey, and a replica of a giant vagina. The movement was inspired by the idea that Surrealism had become too mainstream and lost its power to shock the viewer; Jodorowsky officially dissolved it in 1973, after the three principals had already gone their own ways.
I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse was Arrabal’s second film as director (after 1971’s surreal fascism satire Viva la Muerte). He may be best known to 366 readers as the screenwriter for Jodorowsky‘s 1968 debut Fando y Lis, which he adapted from his own play.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The most unforgettable image in I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse is one I actually wish I could forget: Aden and Marvel silhouetted in the sunset, squatting back to back, defecating. If you need something less repulsive (and we do, for illustrative purposes), go with the dwarf making out with a skull so fresh that bits of meat still cling to it.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Synchronized pooping; cross-dressing skull-birthing; butt-flower eating
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: With its sharply dressed, on-the-lam hero wandering the streets of Paris as the cops close in, I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse plays at times like an exceptionally strange nouvelle vague crime flick—as if Jean-Luc Godard failed to show up on set and Alejandro Jodorowsky seized control of the project, firing Anna Karina and installing a dwarf as the love interest. Oedipal, mystical, scatological, blasphemous, surreal, and still shocking even today, Crazy Horse is crazy indeed.
DVD release trailer for I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse
FEATURING: George Segal, Ruth Gordon, Trish Van Devere, Ron Liebman
PLOT: An attorney’s life is upended by his abusive, senile old mother, and he casts about in vain for a path that will allow him to find romance without resorting to matricide.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:Where’s Poppa? is outrageous, running head-first into boundaries with glee and a subversive sensibility. But it’s a very calculated enterprise, with rules broken mostly for the satisfaction of breaking them, rather than for any larger artistic vision.
COMMENTS: The prospects for weirdness in Where’s Poppa? are pretty high at the outset. After a lengthy take of George Segal waking up to the mindless drone of a tedious morning radio show, he cleans himself up and calmly dresses in a gorilla suit for the purpose of scaring his mother to death. It doesn’t work, and he leaves her propped up in front of Sesame Street with a breakfast of orange slices and Lucky Charms topped with Dr. Pepper.
George Segal’s hangdog expression and exhausted rage (at one point, he manages to combine a desperate plea with a profane threat in a uniformly pitiful tone) go a long way to selling the misery of his character’s hopeless situation. After all, Ruth Gordon may be her usual rough-hewn, taboo-ignorant self, and her character may be frustratingly senile and casually cruel (even through her forgetfulness, she remembers that Segal isn’t her favorite child). But in the annals of awful parents in film, she’s pretty tame. What she is, is Jewish. She is the ultimate iteration of the henpecking, disapproving Jewish mom. Not for nothing does critic Dennis Schwartz call Where’s Poppa? “the mother of all Jewish-mother joke films.” (An alternate ending carries this joke to its ultimate, taboo-pulverizing conclusion.)
So there’s your conflict: Segal is either going to get rid of his mom or he’s not. And the filmmakers know that once we have seen the answer, the movie is over. So we get a lot of playing for time, with Segal by turns smitten and pleading with would-be love interest Van Devere (they make a cute couple), and enduring endless humiliations at the hands of his mother. (The advertising team was particularly delighted with a scene where Gordon yanks down Segal’s pants and kisses him on the posterior; a witless suggestion that the scene had been commemorated on a postage stamp is repeated in numerous trailers for the film.) But after that, there’s not really anywhere else to go.
So director Reiner and screenwriter Ron Klane (whose credits include the more charmingly black Weekend at Bernie’s) go outward. It turns out that everyone we encounter is some level of insane. A football coach is a child kidnapper. An Army general proudly recalls his cold-blooded murder of surrendering enemies, while a peace activist advocates for his cause through maiming. A bridegroom indulges himself in a scatological fashion on his wedding night. The insanity of these characters and more appear to be infectious, as Segal’s grip on reality only becomes more tenuous and lapses into Walter Mitty-style fantasies, such as his mother’s demise at the hands of a dog, or Van Devere beckoning to him in a wedding gown while he himself sits astride a horse in full knight regalia.
Of course, the most insane of all may be Segal’s schlemiel brother, the subject of an agonizing subplot that exists primarily to deliver “hilarious” jokes about African-American thuggery, gay panic, and rape. It’s tempting to suggest that these are jokes which have aged poorly, but there’s so little joke to be had in the first place (for example, the rape joke seems to revolve primarily around the repetition of the word “rape”) that it seems hard to believe the sell-by date was anytime in the 20th century. This is not to say Where’s Poppa? is without laughs, mind you. For example, a scene where a man in a gorilla costume gets the cab that would not stop for an African-American woman has real bite. But the movie’s throw-it-against-the-wall approach to humor allows for no polish or refinement, so the jokes that bomb do so catastrophically.
Where’s Poppa? has the courage of its convictions, but in the end has no real convictions, other than an overwhelming desire to be shocking. That goal is met fairly often, but like a feast of cotton candy, it’s not very filling when the meal is over.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a terrifically acted, unevenly directed, wild, absurd comedy-fantasy that is hilarious one moment, amusing the next, and foolish the moment after that.”–Danny Peary, “Cult Movies”
PLOT: Baltimore rebel Dawn Davenport runs away from home, gets knocked up by a rapist, and turns to a life of crime to help pay for the daughter she hates. After a brief and disastrous marriage, Dawn is scarred for life after her ex-husband’s Aunt Ida throws acid in her face. Transformed into a freak celebrity by a salon-owning couple, Dawn embarks upon a murder spree before an inevitable trip to the electric chair.
Shot on a $25,000 budget, Female Trouble is puke poet laureate John Waters’ riotous followup to his midnight cult hit, Pink Flamingos. Waters capitalized on the previous film’s surprise success and advertised Female Trouble as having the returning cast of Pink Flamingos. It is the second entry in what Waters later called his “Trash Trilogy,” which begins with Flamingos and ends with Desperate Living.
After acting in Waters’ films for twelve years, this was David Lochary’s last screen appearance. He was cast for 1977’s Desperate Living but bled to death as the result of a fall while under the influence of PCP shortly before filming began.
Waters’ tagline for Female Trouble was “A high point in low taste.”
Divine based part of her portrayal of Dawn on her nightclub act, during which she threw mackerel at the audience and claimed to be a mass murderer.
Female Trouble was dedicated to Charles “Tex” Watson, of the Manson Family, who partly inspired the film’s theme of “crime is beauty.” The wooden toy helicopter in the film’s credits was Watson’s gift to Waters after a prison visit. (Waters later said that he regretted the dedication).
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Dawn jumping up and down on a trampoline, wearing a mohawk and a sparkly pantsuit, at her big performance art showcase.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Divine rapes Divine; chewed umbilical cord; Auntie in a birdcage
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: An expressionistic nightmare set in the hell of East Coast suburbia highlighting the rise and fall of a 300 pound transvestite mass murderer, Female Trouble reaches its first climax of lunacy when Dawn chops off Aunt Ida’s hand, locks her up in an oversized birdcage, and goes Joan Crawford on her daughter for joining the Hare Krishnas. A second bouncing-off-the-wall climax follows when Dawn murders audience members as performance art before going down in a blaze-of-glory finale that could compete with Cody Jarrett blowing himself up or Tony Montana rat-a-tat-tatting away after being riddled with bullets. Accompanying all that is a beauty myth from the bowels of a white trash hell that would send Naomi Wolf screaming for sanctuary. Female Trouble is even more subversive than Pink Flamingos.
FEATURING: Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Umberto P. Quintavalle, Aldo Valletti
PLOT: Four Italian fascists kidnap dozens of young boys and girls and imprison them in an isolated villa to sexually torture them in bizarre rituals of sadism.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There are a lot of words that can be used to describe Salo: disturbing, intense, perverse, depressing, extreme. “Weird” is pretty far down the list. (I did not find any critics who used the word “weird” in discussing Salo). So many of our readers have nominated it for review that I am forced to confess that it may be found lurking somewhere in the outermost penumbra of the weird—but if you want to see a truly weird treatment of the same source material, look at how Luis Buñuel ended L’Age d’Or with a Surrealist reference to the same de Sade novel adapted in Salo. Casting Jesus Christ as Duc de Blangis is less obscene but far more provocative than anything Pasolini could depict in his literal rendition of the book.
COMMENTS: “Although these crimes against humanity are historically accurate, the characters depicted are composites… and the events portrayed, have been condensed into one locality for dramatic purposes… We dedicate this film with the hope that these heinous crimes will never occur again.”
Salo, The 120 Days of Sodom may seem stranger to someone who comes to the movie with no foreknowledge of the source material, the Marquis De Sade’s “120 Days of Sodom,” than it does to someone who knows the backstory. De Sade, of course, is the 18th century writer whose name inspired the now commonplace words “sadism” and “sadist.” He was an aristocrat devoted to literature, philosophy, and pornography (not in that order), and he produced some genuinely accomplished works. His most powerful books, such as “Philosophy in the Bedroom” and “Justine: the Misfortunes of Virtue,” mix shocking depictions of sexual cruelty with virile intellectual monologues wherein the characters philosophically justify their depravity and smash moralist objections.
“The 120 Days of Sodom” was not one of those books. It was De Sade’s first major work, written while was imprisoned in the Bastille (for a string of crimes including the beating of a prostitute and consensual homosexual sodomy). “Sodom” is an obsessive catalog of perversions, with almost none of the philosophical speeches that would add meaning and value to De Sade’s later work, arranged according to a mathematical progression: 30 days of orgies in each set of four escalating perversions, moving from “simple” passions (such as urine drinking) to “murderous” ones. The novel was probably intended for De Sade’s own sexual gratification. The result is the Continue reading CAPSULE: SALO, THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975)→
Henri Xhonneux and Roland Topor also make far stranger references to the book in their twisted De Sade biopic, Marquis. [↩]
“The 120 Days of Sodom” was unfinished and the ending only sketched, so it is conceivable De Sade would eventually have inserted philosophical reflections later. [↩]
PLOT: A documentary about secret hobbies in which Austrians indulge their basements, including a man with a shrine to the Nazis, a woman who cradles creepy lifelike newborn dolls, and multiple S&M devotees.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: As we have often pointed out, due to their very nature—which requires them to be rooted in reality—documentaries have a much harder row to hoe if they aspire to weirdness. In the Basement tries to strangen things up, formally speaking, with cut-and-paste editing and awkward minimalist tableaux; it still doesn’t make it all the way to “weird,” though.
COMMENTS: In one of the opening scenes of In the Basement, a man (whom we never see again) silently watches as his pet python stalks a helpless bunny rabbit crowded into the corner of a plexiglass cage. My immediate thought was, there’s no healthy reason for him to be watching this. In the Basement is built around the idea of watching what you shouldn’t. It takes us into the private demesnes of a tuba-playing Nazi sympathizer, a woman obsessed with creepily realistic baby dolls, and a hairy man who cleans his mistress’ toilet with his tongue, among others. To add to the alienating feel, the editing seems purposeless, bouncing back and forth between the film’s subjects at random. To generate further discomfort, establishing shots are held for much longer than is necessary. The director scatters snapshot moments where the subjects stand posed stock-still and stare at the camera without expression at several points throughout the film. Sometimes these are the main characters, and other times they are people who did not make it into the film proper, like the middle aged women who stand arranged around a washing machine as it runs through a noisy rinse cycle. The carefully posed amateurs staring affectlessly at the camera from gray rooms invoke the absurdist spirit of Roy Andersson.
Rarely are the subjects asked to speak about themselves or their hobbies, with the noteworthy exception of a masochistic woman who, standing nude except for the thick ropes ritually wrapped around her, confesses the personal history that brought her into the subculture. It’s In the Basement‘s lone moment of obvious insight and humanity.
While it engenders a morbid fascination, there are some serious downsides to Basement. For a while, the documentary earns extra thrills just from the fact that you don’t know what new kink is going to be introduced next. But eventually it runs out of surprises. There aren’t enough weirdos willing to go onscreen, so director Seidl ends up filling up space with redundant S&M devotees (who probably get an extra kick of humiliation from being exposed to the public). The amount of time devoted to these six, plus the wince-inducing detail involved in their explicitly detailed torture sessions, makes you wonder if maybe Seidl should have abandoned Basement‘s ostensible thesis and just made a movie about the S&M lifestyle instead. More upsetting, however, is the revelation that some of the scenes were, basically, faked. Although Seidl’s M.O. lately has been blurring the line between fact and fiction, narrative and documentary, that technique doesn’t seem fruitful in this context. Does Basement say something about the contemporary Austrian soul, or is it just a carefully curated compendium of grotesques? Although I believe Seidl intended to make an artistic statement about social and psychological repression, in practice the movie plays more to the latter interpretation. When Jacopetti and Prosperi did this kind of thing, they did not drape it in obscuring Art.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“It’s in more conventional observation and confessions to camera that the film really delivers its strange, melancholic universe.”–Lee Marshall, Screen International (contemporaneous)
PLOT: A two-plus hour “mixtape” of video clips, some rare, some shocking, a few weird, arranged with a minimum of editing.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The “mixtape” concept is easy to attempt, hard to master. This one contains little of interest and much that’s in terrible taste, with extremely irritating editing experiments as the rancid topping on an unappetizing pie. Few will be able to watch it to the end; many could not make it five minutes into this “movie” without giving up. For aficionados of 2012 only.
COMMENTS: Way back in the VHS era, tapes of rare video material—embarrassments taped off public access TV, censored news footage, forbidden clips from video nasties, strange home videos found in thrift shops—circulated among collectors who would often edit them into anthologies or “mixtapes.” In the age of the high-speed Internet, when everything has been uploaded and we are able to select our own clips with a mouse click, watching a video mixtape is like being trapped inside someone else’s YouTube playlist. Unless you invest your compilation with some sort of thematic coherence—like the Everything is Terrible! ensemble, who elevated the genre to an actual artform with Doggiewogiez! Poochiewoochiez!—-there is no reason for anyone to watch it. Just stringing together stuff you think is cool is no longer sufficient.
“The 2012 Aficionado DVD Zine” falls into the “stuff the editor thinks is cool” school of mixtaping. If you don’t agree this stuff is cool—and most adults won’t think much of it is—then you’re not going to be interested in sticking with it through the bloated 2-hr. plus runtime. The “original” source material seems to be videotape, and the images are blurred and fuzzy, which adds more eyestrain than charm. Time stamps are frequently visible, particularly when some editing experiment is being done (in an attempt to add some artistic input of his own, the compiler is fond of looping the material so that the playback repeats and stutters, which becomes highly irritating—see below). There is only occasionally any kind of logical flow to the material—at one point, a George W. Bush speech segues into an anti-capitalist Afropop music video, which is about as close to a creative statement the assembler makes. Most of it is a random stream of fuzzy Bollywood dance scenes, evangelical propaganda videos, animated softcore porn, homemade amateur punk/rap/metal videos, a puppet singing about unrequited interracial love, John Kilduff’s public access exercise/painting program, exploding anime heads, Japanese softcore porn, a slo-mo version of “Soul Train,” a homemade sex tape of a furry making love to an inflatable dolphin, and so on.
It’s not as much fun as it sounds. First off, there is the horrible video quality and the fact that there is no flow to the clips. Second, there are several objectionable Faces of Death-type atrocity scenes added merely for their offensiveness and rarity. The clip of cat abuse (it is still debated how much of this scene was achieved through special effects) comes from the Hong Kong exploitation film Men Behind the Sun. Even more tasteless is the footage of combatants being eliminated by drone strikes, and a film purporting to show a man being burned alive without a trial by a vigilante mob. Since the mixtape provides no political context to these scenes—we aren’t even told what country the immolation occurs in—this is pure snuff entertainment. Finally, as if all that wasn’t enough to turn you against the project, there are the aforementioned irritating editing experiments, culminating in a one second clip of Pokemon characters yipping that is looped to run for—I kid you not—nine minutes. When I reached that point in the tape I had to turn it off and finish it the next night. You don’t have to go that far in; you never have to watch any of it at all.
I don’t understand how “the 2012 Aficionado DVD Zine” is, as it advertizes itself, “the first ever zine in DVD format.” A zine was an underground magazine composed of original material written or drawn by hobbyists. It did not consist simply of unauthorized reprints of other people’s work. Other than the ill-advised edits, nothing here was actually created by the person who assembled it. Still, it’s available here, along with five more episodes which are also each over 2 hours long. Some of you will doubtlessly be tempted to try this—but don’t say you weren’t warned.
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.
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 Jacopetti and Prosperi (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.
PLOT: A collection of grotesque video oddities, crazy b-movie clips, fetish porn, shock pieces, and public access embarrassments.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Even if it weren’t primarily focused on the sick instead of the weird, there isn’t a high enough percentage of original material (maybe 10-15%?) in this mixtape to qualify for the List of the Weirdest Movies ever made.
COMMENTS: In my review of Sweet Movie I wrote, “…no one wants to see Sweet Movie for its political philosophy. We want to see beautiful women writhing nude in liquid chocolate, gold-plated penises, and uninhibited orgies that go far beyond our deepest desires.” Retard-O-Tron embraces that shortsighted anti-philosophy wholeheartedly, and to prove it they include, among other atrocities, a clip from Sweet Movie‘s food fight/orgy with bald anarchists spitting pasta on each other and puking while pretty Carole Laure watches on in a catatonic daze. This mixtape isn’t pitched so much as a movie or an artistic endeavor as it is a dare, like peeking at a hobo’s rotting corpse discovered under a bridge. For those who think they’ve seen everything and can’t get it up for regular sleaze anymore, here’s your chance to gaze at humanity at its filthiest and most debased, with puke porn, geriatric porn, midget porn, scat porn, fake bestiality porn, stupid people being exploited for your amusement, and general nastiness. Although it’s XXX-rated, the explicit fetish parts are generally hit fast rather than lingered over, because the movie aims to arouse your disgust, not your lust. Granted, it’s not all bad: a good portion of the offerings are actually absurd/weird rather than sick/depraved. Alongside Sweet Movie, readers of this site may also recognize surreal body horror clips from Funky Forest and insane eyeball-kaiju battles from Big Man Japan among the cooler, tamer bits. B-movie madness is also a big running theme; there is out-of-context oddness from Indonesian fantasy movies, and I recognized scenes from Lou Ferrigno’s Hercules, the golf-cart chase from Space Mutiny, and some “gotcha!” scenes from Night of the Demons 2 amidst the debris. One of the most unintentionally nightmarish segments comes courtesy of notorious Christian scare-film preacher Estus Pirkle (If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?), who describes paradise in ridiculously materialistic terms (he claims the heavenly city is fourteen-hundred times larger than New York City) before trotting out a dwarf woman confined to a wheelchair who belts out a surprisingly assured (if high-pitched) gospel number. The depressing, washed-out color, bizarre theology, and wide lapels on a powder blue suit mark this sermon as something that seems like it could only originate from the alternate reality of 1970s post-late show UHF filler. Although some of the video is edited into montages or otherwise altered (the wittiest bit is an anus superimposed over Tom Cruise’s face), for the most part the material is presented as is, in apparently random order. Although the anarchic flow of the material may be intentional—it keeps you off guard, and you’re always dreading that the next clip will come from a snuff film—it makes you long for the artistry of more artistically inclined found-footage specialists Everything is Terrible!, who arrange their edits thematically and with a satirical vision in mind.
Besides porn and B-movies, the other major source of footage is cable access TV clips; these often fall flat (how many bad soul singers or Christian folksingers can you tolerate?) But public access also lends Retard-O-Tron III its most problematic segments, those featuring mentally disabled chef Merrill Howard Kaelin, who hosted an unhygienic amateur cooking show where he ruined dishes while muttering to himself and occasionally drifting off into deranged impressions and childlike bouts of giggling. That wouldn’t be too bad or offensive in itself, if Kealin were just left to do his thing and we were left to observe him as a case study in eccentricity. What’s upsetting is the sarcastic introductory narration supplied by the Retard-O-Tron staff: “Buried below the pedestrian boob could be found an underlying seething fury, a fury focused at the very curse of living and all that it had done to wrong and frustrate his character. There is soul, grace and power in each deliberate movement, in each syllable…”. Was this ironic commentary added because the mixtape makers really think it’s funny and the natural reaction to Kaelin’s antics? Or did they feel that the audience needed permission from an authority figure (the eloquent narrator) to allow themselves to lighten up and laugh at the disabled? Or did they think that just the Kaelin footage alone was insufficiently shocking, and it needed to be punched up with the taboo-breaking outrage of mocking the mentally deficient? None of the possibilities are flattering, and the inclusion of this commentary (which happens six minutes into the movie) reveals a hopelessly callous attitude that poisons everything that comes after. The entire project is thereafter infected with a heartless, sociopathic tinge that goes beyond the merely juvenile persona they hope to project. The essential problem with getting hooked on the shock aesthetic for its own sake is that once you’ve liberated yourself from the irrational “bourgeois” social restraints, you’ve got no way left to get your kicks except by shattering the necessary and rational ones, like respect for the less fortunate. Retard-O-Tron III‘s unthinking rejection of basic human empathy is what earns it its “beware” rating. With a few snips, it might have been a compilation 366 could endorse, if not champion; but although I can overlook (if not forget, dammit) the scene of a pretty Japanese woman vomiting dinner up all over her date’s upraised face, I can’t condone adolescent cruelty masquerading as wit.
Retard-O-Tron III can be bought from Cinema Sewer. It’s understood that the description above, and the “beware” rating, will tempt many of you to try this out. Hey, it’s your soul—you want to kill it, it’s none of my business.