Tag Archives: 1994

187. NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994)

“The ancients had visions, we have television.”–Octavio Paz (quote cited by Oliver Stone as one of his inspirations for making Natural Born Killers)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Oliver Stone

FEATURING: , , Tom Sizemore, Tommy Lee Jones, Rodney Dangerfield

PLOT: Mass murderers (and lovers) Mickey and Mallory stalk the Southwestern U.S., slaughtering innocents who cross their path but always leaving one victim alive to spread their legend. The television show “American Maniacs” tracks their adventures, and they have a large cult of followers. The pair are finally apprehended, but a live television interview scheduled to air after the Super Bowl gives them a narrow window to escape.

Still from Natural Born Killers (1994)
BACKGROUND:

  • Natural Born Killers was based on a screenplay written by , who was an unknown when the script was optioned for $10,000. By the time Oliver Stone was finished rewriting the script, so little of his original concept remained that Tarantino disassociated himself from the project. In the original script, “American Maniacs” host Wayne Gale was the main character, not Mickey and Mallory. Tarantino publicly stated that he was not disappointed with the direction Stone took the script, but simply felt that the finished project represented the director’s vision rather than his own. According to Jane Hamsher’s tell-all book about the production, Tarantino was upset that he was not allowed to purchase the rights back after he became a hot Hollywood commodity and tried to get the project scuttled behind the scenes, going so far as to tell and Tim Roth that he would never cast them in anything again if they accepted a role in the film.
  • Stone originally conceived of the project as an action picture, a simple movie that he could produce as a break from his serious works of social realism, but the script turned much darker as he worked on it.
  • Shot in only 56 days, but editing took almost a year. The ultra-fast pacing required almost 3,000 edits.
  • According to Oliver Stone. 155 cuts were imposed on the movie by the MPAA in order to receive an “R” rating (a crucial imprimatur for commercial purposes, since many newspapers at the time would not advertise NC-17 or unrated movies). All of this material is restored in the director’s cut. Despite the large number of total cuts, the restored footage only amounts to about 3-4 minutes of screen time.
  • A number of murders, mostly committed by teenagers, were said to be inspired by the film. In 1995, convenience store clerk Patsy Byers, who was paralyzed for life after being shot by a pair of young lovers who had dropped acid and watched Natural Born Killers all night on a continuous loop, instigated a product liability lawsuit against distributor Time Warner and Oliver Stone on the grounds that they “knew, or should have known that the film would cause and inspire people […] to commit crimes…” After a series of court hearings, the case was finally disposed of in 2001 on First Amendment grounds.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Natural Born Killers is about the power of images, making isolating a single frame from this nonstop barrage of psychedelic American carnage quite the challenge. Nonetheless, we located one picture which encapsulates the movie’s theme perfectly. Since Oliver Stone is not exactly noted for his subtlety, he garishly splashes his key insights over his characters’ tight tank-tops when a Navajo shaman sees the pair through spiritual eyes: words appear on Harrelson’s torso announcing him as a “demon,” then, even more tellingly, reading “too much t.v.”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As if the story was being viewed through a remote control with a stuck channel button where every station is fixated on telling the story of celebrity killers Mickey and Mallory, the visual style of Natural Born Killers changes every few seconds. Disorientation, the substituted and enhanced reality of manipulated images, is the baseline reality of this ever-shifting nightmare vision of an America trapped inside a banal, violence-obsessed TV tube.


Original trailer for Natural Born Killers

COMMENTS: There is no way to reasonably discuss Natural Born Continue reading 187. NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994)

CAPSULE: IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994)

DIRECTED BY: John Carpenter

FEATURING: , Julie Carmen, ,

PLOT: An insurance investigator investigates the disappearance of a bestselling horror novelist whose books have the power to drive men mad.

Still from n the Mouth of Madness (1994)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: In the Mouth of Madness has an ahead-of-its-time, and slightly weird, premise, but the movie’s execution doesn’t live up to the promise of the insane scenario.

COMMENTS: A throng of maddening ideas writhe within In the Mouth of Madness. A horror writer whose books turn susceptible readers into psychopaths. A New England town, not marked on the map, inhabited by characters and places from the writer’s fictional stories. A world where the insane gradually come to outnumber the sane, and mental asylums become a refuge from the madness of the world outside. These elements conspire to make Madness an intriguing proposition, but unfortunately the movie sports an equal number of gaffes that keep it from reaching its potential. Madness‘s initial budget of 15 million was cut by more than two-thirds, which perhaps explains some of the unevenness on display. Some of the special effects, especially the ones devised by Industrial Light and Magic such as the sequence where Prochnow peels his face apart and it turns into the ripped pages of a novel, are up to 1990’s snuff. But some of the non-scary rubber makeup effects belong in a movie from a decade earlier; for example, a scene where a circus contortionist wears a mask meant to convince us she’s another character is more likely to elicit chuckles than shudders. The acting, too, is all over the map in terms of quality. The first speaking part goes to a bow-tied asylum administrator whose campy, overly-precise delivery doesn’t inspire much confidence going in. Sam Neill is fine here as the somewhat bland hero, Prochnow has the proper face for the otherworldly novelist, and it’s nice to see Charlton Heston in a small role as a publisher (he probably enjoyed working with Carpenter for a couple of afternoons in the kind of a low-stress cameo accomplished actors can afford to indulge in the twilight of their careers). Julie Carmen is wooden as the female lead, however, and shares little chemistry with Neill; her character serves little purpose and the movie may have benefited if she’d been cut out. Despite having an original premise, the script leans on horror cliches too often, with jump scares, a “fake wake” dream sequence, and an expository wraparound that doesn’t make a lot of story sense (who does the doctor who’s interviewing Neill’s character work for, why is he interested in this patient, and what exactly is he trying to learn?) Given those drawbacks, which are the kinds of flaws that usually sink mid-budget horror attempts, it’s a testament to the strength of the ideas here and to Carpenter’s direction that the movie does manage to keep our interest–and has even become a cult item in some people’s minds. Although the name of the novelist—Sutter Cane—is a blatant sound-alike for Stephen King, the style of horror here (both in this story and in Cane’s fictional universes) is more reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft, with its emphasis on insanity brought about by forbidden knowledge and on unseen, indescribable monsters from other worlds who seek to invade ours. (The movie’s title even suggests Lovecraft’s novella “At the Mountains of Madness”). Those addicted to Lovecraft’s influential style of occult horror—a universe where the Old Gods slumber uneasily, waiting to be awakened by foolish mortals so they can assume their rightful dominion over our world—will appreciate this occasionally clever tribute to the perverse imagination of “the gentleman from Providence.”

In the Mouth of Madness is a pioneering example of meta-horror, by which I mean not just a horror movie that is “self-aware” (as in a parody) but in which the nature and craft of diabolical literature itself plays an essential part in the story. Another example from the very same year of 1994 was Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, in which actors from the Nightmare on Elm Street series find that the fictional creation Freddy Kruger is clawing his way into the real world. The best recent iteration of this interesting mini-genre is last year’s The Cabin in the Woods.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…confusing, weird, and not very involving.”–James Berardinelli, Reel Views (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Kevin, who argued that Madness is “the best of John Carpenter’s 90s films, and the weirdest in his catalogue.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

SATANTANGO (1994)

Bela Tarr’s Satantango (1994) is a seven and half hour long, glacially paced, acerbic adaptation of László Krasznahorkai’s novel. It is the second of four films in which Tarr has collaborated with Krasznahraki as writer, beginning with Damnation (1988) and most recently The Turin Horse (2011).

Tarr is frequently and aptly compared to . Like Tarkovsky, Tarr’s films require intelligence and patience. At this length, Tarkovsky may seem hyperkinetic, particularly to Western viewers. Yet, patience reaps a rich spiritual reward. Indeed, Tarr may be the most spiritually intuitive filmmaker since Tarkvosky, Bresson, and Dreyer.

In certain ways Satantango is comparable to composer Morton Feldman’s six-hour string quartet. Dissonance, pauses, and silence, mixed with humor and desolation cast a shimmering, hypnotic spell. The monochromatic humor of Satantango lingers on in the consciousness, demanding viewer concentration. Despite, and because of, its challenges, it is best viewed in a single setting.

The opening is akin to a prolonged overture: a ten minute, continuous tracking shot of cows wandering aimlessly through a barren village, setting the bleak, avant tone. The film is broken down into twelve episodic movements: the twelve steps of a tango. Savage canines, unrelenting rain, wretched peasants and magnetic charlatans are the town’s muddy occupants. Never has mud seemed so simultaneously visceral and ethereal. Never has a tango been presented as so relentlessly static.

Still from Satantango (1994)In one of most unsettling moments in the entirety of cinema, a young girl (Eirka Bok) torments and poisons her cat (yes, it was staged) before she samples the poison herself. Architectural facades and soaked, dilapidated concrete slabs adorn the film like mildew from relics of Christmases past.

Much of Satantango is filmed in long, continuous takes in real-time. A five-minute tracking shot follows two characters besmirched with trash from a blowing wind. Tarr’s camera envelops seven sleeping characters while the narrator describes their dreams. The devil’s tango is “plodding, plodding, plodding” like a hysterical, whimsical apocalypse homing in on the dying breaths of Hungarian communism. Its denizens face their slide into oblivion with an inebriated stupor, moving like the overture’s lethargic herd. Tarr’s camera details “the logic of life” with gorgeous precision, memorializing the villagers’ moribund aimlessness. They will go down scheming, defiantly mocking western capitalism’s attention deficit disorder.

There is tension aplenty in the arrival of a resurrected messiah, and so the film is indeed as much about its duration as it is about narration. Thankfully, Tarr keeps his narrative structure diaphanous. Opacity would have rendered it lifeless. Everything is caught in Tarr’s courageously mundane odyssey: buzzing flies, raspy coughs, and repetitively ticking clocks are beautifully preserved in celluloid amber. The Jonah-like prophet (Mihaly Vig) proves to be as dubious a hope as the political systems Tarr so mercilessly parodies.

The final shot, of the doctor boarding up a window, methodically removing every vestige of light, is replete with multifarious meanings. Satantango has an innovative texture. It is experiential rather than narrative. It is also startlingly visionary and postmodern, reminding us that the medium of film is a relatively young one with boundless potential.

114. CEMETERY MAN [DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE] (1994)

“Michele Soari gave me the script. At first I didn’t understand anything, because it was really strange. It’s a horror movie, it’s a sex movie, it was really strange…”–Anna Falchi

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Michele Soavi

FEATURING: Rupert Everett, Anna Falchi, François Hadji-Lazaro

PLOT: Together with his nearly-mute associate Gnaghi, Francesco Dellamorte is a groundskeeper at a cemetery; his most important duty is to blow out the brains of the zombies (“returners”) who rise from their graves after seven days. Weary of his life as a zombie-slaying gravekeeper, Dellamorte is reinvigorated when he falls in love with a beautiful young widow. Things grow stranger when he hears the voice of Death speaking to him, suggesting another approach to his job…

Still from Cemetery Man [Dellamorte Dellamore] (1994)

BACKGROUND:

  • Cemetery Man is adapted from the novel (or possibly graphic novel) “Dellamorte Dellamore” by Tiziano Sclavi, who went on to enormous popular success in Italy with his “Dylan Dog” comic book series about a supernatural investigator with a Groucho sidekick.
  • In Italian “della morte” means “of death” and “dell’amore” means “of love.”
  • Michele Soavi has had an odd directing career. He apprenticed under Italian exploitaion impresario Joe D’Amato, and later worked as a second unit director for both Dario Argento and Terry Gilliam. Given the opportunity to direct his own features, between 1987 and 1991 he produced three solid but relatively conventional horror films (Stagefright, The Church, The Sect), but nothing suggesting he would produce anything as demented as Dellamorte Dellamore. Despite the fact Dellamorte was a domestic and critical success in Italy and eventually became a cult hit around the world, at the peak of his acclaim Soavi retired from both horror and feature film making, choosing to direct movies in multiple genres for Italian television instead.
  • Soavi has talked from time to time of possibly making a sequel. In 2011 fellow Italian director Luigi Cozzi informed Fangoria magazine that Soavi had started on the script and planned to make the film in 2012, but there’s been no further news on the project since that notice.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: An honorable mention must go to the eerily erotic midnight interlude when Everrtt and Falci make love in a Gothic graveyard lit by spermatozoa-shaped glowing will-o’-the-wisps. It would be a crime, however, if the movie’s most indelible moment didn’t involve Cemetery Man‘s two weirdest characters, the mute child-man Gnaghi and his girlfriend, an underage severed head (buried, for some reason, in a bridal veil) whom he keeps in the broken shell of his television set. You won’t forget what happens when she unexpectedly reveals that she can fly…

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It’s a film criticism fallback cliché to describe an outrageously eccentric movie using the following formula: “it’s [insert name of familiar movie or genre] on acid!” I’m not above recycling useful boilerplate, though: Dellamorte Dellamore is a George Romero movie on acid. The world’s only surrealist arthouse zombie black comedy is too unique (and too poetic) to leave off the List.


Clip from Cemetery Man [Dellamorte Dellamore]

COMMENTS: The typical zombie-movie enthusiast will find Dellamorte Dellamore strange and Continue reading 114. CEMETERY MAN [DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE] (1994)

CAPSULE: OBLIVION (1994)

DIRECTED BY: Sam Irvin

FEATURING: Richard Joseph Paul, Andrew Divoff, Jimmie F. Skaggs, a parade of C-list all-stars

PLOT:  Many years from now, on a faraway planet, a one-eyed alien villain comes to the frontier outpost of Oblivion to raise a ruckus and murder the sheriff in cold blood.  It’s up to the sheriff’s empathic, violence-shunning son to assume his father’s mantle and save the day.

Still from Oblivion (1994)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A sci-fi/Western mashup has an inherent level of oddity, and the casting is genuinely off-the-wall, but in the end, Oblivion is really just a Western rehash dressed up with some futuristic elements in an effort to make it seem more unusual than it is.

COMMENTS: Years before Cowboys and Aliens would take up the task of blending, um, cowboys and aliens, Oblivion would stake its claim, opening with a magnificent beauty shot of a familiar looking Western landscape, into which zips a nifty flying saucer. Once a snake-skinned alien emerges and kills a creature that looks like the furball from Captain EO just to make a point, we’re well on our way.

The town this villain stalks into sure looks like the Wild West: dusty streets, men in long coats and Stetsons, a stockade in the middle of town. Make no mistake, it’s the future, with such touches as a robot deputy, laser pistols, a rare and powerful substance called draconium which has reduced gold to a pittance, and giant scorpions roaming on the outskirts of town. Oh, and ATMs. ATMs of the Old West.

Exploring one genre through the conventions of another is a time-honored tradition, but that’s not what Oblivion is up to. This movie is really just a Western with science fiction elements pasted on to make it feel different. But having done that, all the clichés are still the same. For example, when the sheriff lays down his poker hand before a showdown, it can only be aces and eights–a dead man’s hand. The fact that you’re seeing the cards on a handheld LCD screen doesn’t reinvigorate the cliché. It merely dresses it up in new clothes. Much of Oblivion is like this: something outwardly strange, but quickly revealing itself to be something quite ordinary.

If the movie’s not as weird as it wants to be, that’s not to say it isn’t odd. It’s just that the bulk of the strangeness seems to have originated in the office of the casting director, where a Continue reading CAPSULE: OBLIVION (1994)

CAPSULE: GETTING ANY? [MINNA YATTERUKA!] (1994)

DIRECTED BY: Takeshi Kitano

FEATURING: Dankan, Takeshi “Beat” Kitano

PLOT: A horny loser tries his best to get laid. He decides his main goal is to have sex in a car

Still from Getting Any? (1994)

and when that doesn’t work, he embarks on various escapades to gain money or notoriety; he even goes as far as becoming invisible to get some action.   Absurd situations and mistaken identities lead to one disaster after another.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It is slapstick comedy Japanese-style. While much Japanese humor leans toward absurdity, this film misses the mark completely. The ending comes off as slightly weird, yet the pointless and unfunny comedy bits which lead up to the finale make the ending just another misguided joke that falls flat (or in this case, splat).

COMMENTS: For as many movies I have seen in my life, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never seen the classic films by acclaimed director Takeshi “Beat” Kitano.  Films such as Hana-Bi, Sonatine and Violent Cop are all considered masterpieces in the yakuza films genre. Getting Any? is a straight-up slapstick comedy farce and is probably not the best place to start in exploring Kitano’s works.  His yakuza films are noted for their subtle use of deadpan acting and humor nestled snugly within the violent action.  If that is the case, Getting Any? acts as the polar opposite.  The humor is in your face with infinite gags and subtlety is thrown out the window with some goofy sound effect.  It is nonsensical, amateurish, juvenile and above all else… not funny.  The film satirizes iconic Japanese pop culture such as the Zatoichi films, Lone Wolf and Cub and even Godzilla pictures.  It also takes a stab at Western pop culture, although the references (Michael Jackson and Ghostbusters) were relevant 10 years prior to the release of this film.

The lead character Asao (Dankan) is a middle-aged man desperate to find just one woman to have sex with him.  He is a perpetual daydreamer who constantly fantasizes about an alter-ego who is always lucky in this department. In Asao’s mind, there must be a surefire way to get women to easily bare their breasts and succumb to his sexual advances.  His first inclination is to get a car because that seems like the most opportune place to do the deed. Continue reading CAPSULE: GETTING ANY? [MINNA YATTERUKA!] (1994)

ED WOOD (1994), TIM BURTON’S GLORIOUS SWANSONG.

In 1980 , two years after Ed Wood‘s alcohol related death at 54, film critic Michael Medved and his brother published “The Golden Turkey Awards” and gave Wood the award of being “The Worst Director of All Time” and naming his film Plan 9 From Outer Space “The Worst Film of All Time.”  The forever constipated Mr. Medved must had the biggest bowel movement of his life when he discovered that he and his brother unintentionally put the wheels in motion for the cult celebrity status of Wood who, to Medved, was little more than an object of derision.

Quite simply, Ed Wood was an outsider artist, whose medium was film.  He managed to create two highly personalized “masterpieces” of naive surrealism; Glen or Glenda (1953) and Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) with “star” Bela Lugosi, who was clearly at the end of his tether.

In between these two films Wood made Bride of the Monster (1955) , also starring Lugosi (the only one of the three Wood films in which Lugosi actually ‘starred’), but that film was more of a concession to the genre and lacked the pronounced Woodian weirdness found in either Glen or Glenda or Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Fourteen years after Wood’s cult status rocketed out of the pages of Medved’s book, Tim Burton produced his valentine to Eddie.  Clearly, Ed Wood was as personal a film for Burton as Glen and Plan 9 had been for Wood.  Burton faced immense difficulty in mounting the project and was given what, for him, was a small budget.  Artistically, the endeavor paid off and even did so financially, in time, although it took Touchstone years to realize the film’s cult potential for the DVD market.
Still from Ed Wood (1994)
In 1994 Tim Burton was the perfect artist to bring Ed’s story to the screen.  Burton, recognizing a fellow auteur and genuine oddball, treated Wood, not with derision, but with the respect he deserved.  Before Ed Wood, Burton, although trained at Disney, was still an outsider with Hollywood backing, which makes him (in that regard) a kindred spirit to Stanley Kubrick.  Burton’s first big budget feature effort Continue reading ED WOOD (1994), TIM BURTON’S GLORIOUS SWANSONG.