All posts by Giles Edwards

Film major & would-be writer. 6'3". @gilesforyou (TwT)

366 UNDERGROUND: THE OTHER DIMENSION (1992)

L’altra dimensione

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DIRECTED BY: Fabio Salerno

FEATURING: Francesco Rinaldi, Maddalena Vadacca; Luigi Sgroi, Nadia Rebeccato, Piero Belloto; Marco Monzani, Giorgia Chezzi

PLOT: In this horror anthology, a man plots abduction of the woman who’s left him, another plots possession of a woman who’s leaving him, and a third plots incorporation of a woman who’s no longer living.

COMMENTS: Three short films await us, projected in a dingy, dark room. Dust-covered sound equipment, cobwebbed film reels, and a menacing tinge of green fill the narrow screen, as an unseen entity inquires, “How many of you have found yourself the subject of incredible stories?” The Other Dimension spools out like miniature theater event: two shorts preceding a near-feature.

Salerno kicks off with “Delirium”, a fun variant of the “Bluebeard” folktale. Simply constructed, the segment features clever lighting, with the unearthly sparkles of the protagonist’s whiskey and glass capturing the titular condition, and giallo greens exuding organic menace. The film’s frame is put to compelling use as our angular stalker’s and victim’s fates collide. Most troublingly, Salerno manages an abstract, and impressively brief visual metaphor for rape, whose beauty left me quite unnerved. Closing with a shot of three heads by a bottle of Pepsi, Salerno wraps up the action and we are quickly brought to the squabbling exes of “Mortal Instinct.” The title is a bit heavy-handed, but the second short (the weakest of the three) goes by quickly enough. But not before it makes some remarks on machismo by way of Black Magic—with a bodily destruction sequence that may not appear realistic, but somehow manages to be ickily convincing nevertheless.

The main course of The Other Dimension, “Eros e Thanatos (Love & Death)”, shows off Salerno’s talents about as far as his means could allow. Some fifty minutes in length, its story of decayed love rotting into aberrant obsession left me, against considerable odds, wishing for a happy ending to fall upon the quiet protagonist. Judicious montage, narration, and, once again, a keen eye for lighting simultaneously showed how cleverly this was made—and how inexpensively. The lead actor, Marco Monzani, never plays a note wrong, whether he’s awkwardly paying the cabbie to get his ex-girlfriend moving on her way, or taking her by the hand as she emerges from the grave. “Eros e Thanatos” lies somewhere between Angst and After Hours, and its action, though scant, floats by on gusts of a sickly-sweet breeze.

Stumbling into this experience with no information beyond “low budget”, “Italian”, “horror”, and the IMDb filmmaker overview’s sole blurb, “Died 1993 · Milan, Italy (suicide)”, I really didn’t know what to expect from this, but it was certainly not that The Other Dimensions would have such impressive flashes of on-screen poetry. To the best of my knowledge, Fabio Salerno is a name known only to a small subsection of horror buffs. This final offering, completed not long before his death at the age of thirty-one, clearly shows that the world of cinema lost a promising voice far too soon.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[I]t’s a heck of a wild ride if you love scrappy homemade horror.” — Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital (Blu-ray)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: QUANTUM COWBOYS (2022)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Geoff Marslett

FEATURING: Kiowa Gordon, John Way, Lily Gladstone, Patrick Page, , , Alex Cox

PLOT: After three years in prison, Frank reunites with his pal Bruno to affirm that a murdered musician is alive; meanwhile, Colfax and Depew pursue increasingly desperate measures to remove themselves from a simultaneously occurring time-loop.

Still from Quantum Cowboys (2022)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Good times, looping and otherwise, await the viewer in this multivariously-animated adventure, with its scattered reality monitored by an all-observant supernatural entity, his recording crew—and his cat.

COMMENTSQuantum Cowboys plays like the fun-time menace of The Endless fused with the philosophizing of  Waking Life, with a story unfolding in the late 19th-century Arizona Territory. If that comparison doesn’t do it for you, I got others. While director Geoff Marslett hasn’t made a wholly new phenomenon, in the manner of igneous rock spewed from cinema’s core, he has through precedent and pressure forged a metamorphic rock, squeezing genres, tropes, and ideas into a film different from what has come before. And all its inner weirdness is coated with such easygoing charm that only upon reflection does the viewer realize a whole lot of odd stuff just happened.

Four layers of narrative interact and interlay as Quantum Cowboys unfolds. A pair of nobodies—sly Frank and honest Bruno (Kiowa Gordon and John Way)—shovel horse droppings as a band plays to a small crowd at the opening of a railway station. Mischief leads to tragedy when a US Marshall pursuing Frank for petty robbery shoots the band leader. Meanwhile, the traveling salesmen Colfax and Depew (David Arquette and Frank Mosley, the latter looking like a dead-ringer for a younger version of the former) attempt to make bank by importing ideas from the future to sell to the past. Looming in the background is the charmingly earthy Linde, whose ambitions include land acquisition by way of matrimony with a white man. Looming over everything is Memory, who attempts to fuse these various observed paths into a coherent, single reality.

Frank is our reluctant hero, pulled into the time travel nonsense triggered by Colfax and Depew, our reluctant villains. Frank didn’t experience personal growth during a three-year prison stint for robbery, but his release, and the unlikely events immediately following, set him on a path toward maturity—but one that can only conclude happily if he can engineer an outcome that doesn’t leave everybody dead. Scattered amidst his journey are plenty of alt-country music luminaries (such as Neko Case), as well as Alex Cox as a preacher only somewhat anchored to any given timeline. Bruno, with his simple outlook and honorable ways, gives Frank—and the film—a focal point; Frank needs his friend for direction, and his friend needs someone to direct.

I could easily tell that everyone involved had a good time, from the the sanguine trio serving as Memory’s recording crew to the multi-roled John Doe, who has no time for the other John Doe’s tuneless musicianship and coolly shoots up John Doe’s tavern to silence an unpleasant cacophony. Geoff Marslett and co-writer Howe Gelb (an Arizona-born singer-songwriter) let their animation team do their thing, making for a visual style that’s a coherent variation on being everywhere at once. The music rocks with a twang, the performers ooze charm, and the action gyrates to a delightful finale of friendship triumphing over obsession. As Linde observes the day after her nuptials, “Nothing’s meant to be. Especially this.” Quantum Cowboys probably shouldn’t exist, but, thankfully, here it is for our enjoyment.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“May I be the first to crown Quantum Cowboys the new king of the psychedelic western? Visually it beats El Topo to the draw. It makes your brain slide further across the theater floor than Greaser’s Palace.” — Michael Talbot-Haynes, Film Threat (contemporaneous)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: KATERNICA (2023)

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DIRECTED BY: James Edward Newton

FEATURING: Fran St Clair, Paul Richards, Annabella Rich, Anna Fraser, Tony Mardon

PLOT: A theater student discovers a forgotten one-act play; its production triggers mysterious disturbances in the lives of both her sister, an aspiring actress, and a washed-up thespian attempting to resurrect his career.

Still from Katernica (2023)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Alarming theatrics—both narrative and cinematic—couple with puzzling body horror, resulting in a baffling and unnerving foray into the improbably verité realm of stage-on-screen.

COMMENTS: Fill me in out-of-focus nougat, dip me in close-up chocolate syrup, and call me an Art House Bar. Katernica is a film about a play about madness, and it could only fall deeper into somber-sweet pretension if it were French instead of British. But mysteriously, this languidly jumpy beast keeps your interest. The characters are broadly relatable and interesting; the coat hanger plot frame holding up the story is quirky; and there’s an undercurrent (and over-current) of something strange—and even more so, it introduces one of the most bizarre characters I’ve ever seen on screen.

With a cast of five, everyone’s at least a little bit interesting. Esther shows an academic’s pluck in decrypting an obscure little play. Her sister Eve fascinates with a mysterious pregnancy and similarly mysterious emotional history. Jerry elicits both sympathy and disdain as a washed-up director. The doctor (named, I should tell you, “Katernica”) turns the knob from coldly unpleasant Eastern Eurotrash archetype to something neat to behold. These four are the main movers and shakers in the story, ticking events forward to a mid-film bit of nastiness and the final scene: a monologue delivered at Art House amped to eleven.

But then there’s Mister Case. This guy… the only (admittedly poor) comparison I can make is to the post-encounter Edgar from Men In Black. We first hear him, painfully expressing the importance of saving Eve’s baby, then see him in a blurry close-up. With every line of dialogue, with every movement, it looks as if he wants to rip out of this suit of human skin that so obviously pains him. He has a very shadowy ambition (which comprises the second of the two interesting and weird things about Katernica), and enlists the aid of the doctor—and the unwitting aid of the pregnant actress. As both a role and a performance, Mister Case is unfailingly, and fascinatingly, creepy.

Katernica has its shortcomings. From my modest encounters with theater, I know that Katernica is accurate—but I simultaneously feel that as a genre it’s best avoided on film. But, of course, sometimes a little rough-cut gem happens. James Edward Newton, the director and co-writer, puts before us something both flashily mundane and obscurely menacing—not unlike an unlabeled box of mixed confectionery.

Katernica [Blu-ray]
  • A mysterious play envelops the lives of an ambitious drama student, her actor sister, and a washed-up director in a surreal nightmare.

 

CAPSULE: ALTERED PERCEPTIONS (2023)

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DIRECTED BY: Jorge Ameer

FEATURING: Oran Stainbrook, Matt Fling, Danny Fehsenfeld, Vincent Giovanni, ,

PLOT: Pandemic, violence, and sedition threaten to destroy the United States; a father and son embedded in opposing political organizations are its last hope.

COMMENTS: Like most movies, Altered Perceptions ends with the standard notice, “This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.” I’m going to go ahead and ignore that. With characters like slimy Senator Ted DeMarcos, bigoted Governor Ron San Diego, and an obvious George Santos look-alike as a spineless henchman (sportingly portrayed by director Jorge Ameer himself), it is clear just which politico goons the filmmaker is referencing. Indeed, the protagonist’s name—Alex Feretti, son of Dr. Feretti, a Whitehouse disease big-wig—echoes a certain Dr. A. Fauci of pandemic fame.

And what a pandemic! Sure, Covid was bad enough, but it seems that the vaccines and boosters for it trigger a nasty mental deterioration coupled with homi- and suicidal violence in many who received it, especially blacks and HOMOsexuals (emphasis mimicking DeMarcos’ singular pronunciation). This leads to chaos in the country, which a gallery of secessionist goons take advantage of, ultimately requesting that all Blacks and HOMOsexuals who have received the vaccine voluntarily check in to observation facilities in America’s South and Southwest. And oh yes, it affects the elderly, too (cue not-at-all-President-Biden being called on to step down); and what with the pre-eminent disease guy (aforementioned Doctor F̶a̶u̶c̶i̶ Feretti) being a prominent homosexual, it’s all looking very bad for various put-upon groups.

The paragraph above is ill-wrought, so as to better give you an idea of the narrative flow of Altered Perceptions—and I haven’t yet even touched upon the fully-frontally nude time traveler who is desperate to enlist the help of Alex Feretti, who is not only the son of the nationally known doctor but also the top aide to Senator DeMarcos. These shotgun blasts of social commentary, interspersed with interludes of well-intentioned guesses at what a gay relationship is like, crackle over the course of two hours as we watch society collapse from both macro- and micro-focus. And before I forget, there’s a strange plot from North Korea brewing as well.

Jorge Ameer kept my interest throughout, it is true. But much of that stemmed from the constant crinkling sound I heard as the plot unfurled. The screenwriter is a neuropsychologist, and while axes are ground, its never clear what they ultimately end up swung at. Ameer is obviously earnest, but his technical (and storytelling) proficiency is only a few notches above Tommy Wiseau’s. The acting ranges from C- to B+, with son Feretti scoring the former and father Feretti the latter, rendering their interactions one-sidedly stilted. And while I don’t hold clunky special effects against anyone, others do—and are so warned.

Still, I much prefer a film’s reach to exceed its grasp than vice versa, and while I could reel off any number of further quibbles, I’d feel petty doing so. Ameer takes a stab at making a Big Movie with Big Ideas under the restraints of a low budget. If you will allow the use of a crummy double-metaphor, Altered Perceptions is like a slice of Swiss cheese: there are plenty of holes; but also like a slice of Swiss cheese, it holds together just enough to make it a notable addition in the greater Sandwich of Cinema.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… this is a glitchy, channel-surfing trawl through recent American history, where the dialogue is stylised and repetitive, the characters dumbed down, and the narrative unbelievable to the point of surrealism. Yet this is part of the point: for here, as in a Neil Breen film, artifice is foregrounded, the medium is the message, and ultimately it is the viewer’s perceptions which are altered, as Ameer – who also plays one of DeMarcos’ aides – infects us all with the maddening irrationality of America’s contemporary culture wars.”–Anton Bitel, Projected Figures (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: JOBE’Z WORLD (2018)

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DIRECTED BY: Michael M. Bilandic

FEATURING: Jason Grisell,

PLOT: A rollerblading courier is given the task of delivering a bespoke drug to his favorite actor, and his tenuous grip on survival is violently wrenched when the thespian overdoses.

Still from Jobe'z World (2018)

COMMENTS: You’re clearly in a bad spot when staring down a three-barreled bazooka wielded by a PTSD-stricken drug user, particularly when he blames you for the death of his all-time favorite actor. But either through mellow disposition—or mind-numbing desperation—Jobe takes this turn of events in reluctant stride. His evenings all kind of suck anyway, having landed a career of sorts as a drug courier, rollerblading his way around downtown New York City, supplying various oddballs with their various fixes.

Jobe’z World unfolds with a grim breeziness, beginning with a foray in the further-flung cosmos as the protagonist regrets existing in the one tiny pocket of the universe where anyone cares. He’s a chill guy, or wishes he could be. And his journey through a momentous NYC night is lit with shadows, through a camera which overlays a plastic, off-colored palette. Writer-director Michael Bilandic creates a world slightly unmoored from time, and sets his protagonist on a gauntlet through minor terrors and once-removed personal tragedy.

The MacGuffin here is a fading actor in the tradition of Orson Welles, who would have been considered a relic thirty years prior. For drug users and washed-up celebrities, perhaps time becomes meaningless (the actor greets Jobe with the line, “What’s your name? You know, like that Depeche Mode Song”—managing to make a dated, obscure reference out of a dated, obvious one); and for Jobe, a drug dealer, time shrinks and stretches, always in the opposite direction he would like.

This is a small-gauge film, with small tragedies, small perils, and almost a hiccup of a conclusion. By the end of Jobe’s trial-by-night—New York style—his lingering earnestness is lathed away. While this might be viewed as unfortunate, it is, at least, easier. Around halfway through we learn that Jobe peaked some twenty years prior, having burnt his chances at professional rollerblading. Like the actor he’s blamed for killing, he is better off fading into the hazy background alongside the motley burnouts to whom he delivers drugs.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Writer-director Bilandic fails to infuse the painfully thin proceedings with any narrative momentum or comic flair, resulting in an oppressive weirdness for weirdness’ sake.”–Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)