Tag Archives: Drug abuse

69. FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998)

This entry was originally published Nov. 3, 2010, but lost in a server accident. The version here was recreated from scratch and re-published on Oct. 24, 2012. Eric Young contributed to this article.

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“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”–Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl”

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: ,

PLOT: Journalist Raoul Duke heads to Las Vegas with his attorney (“Dr. Gonzo”) and a suitcase full of exotic drugs to cover a motorcycle race. Somewhere around Barstow, the drugs start to take hold. The mission changes into a quest to find the secret of the American Dream, an excuse for an orgy of hallucinogenic hedonism and dangerously antisocial behavior as the pair tromp through the unreal neon wonderland of Sin City.

BACKGROUND:

  • ‘s novel “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream” was published in 1971 and became an instant counterculture classic. Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone each hoped to adapt the novel to film, but plans fell through.
  • The character of Dr. Gonzo, played by Benicio Del Toro in the film, was based on Hunter S. Thompson’s real-life friend Oscar Zeta Acosta, an attorney/activist. Acosta mysteriously disappeared three years after the publication of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” in 1974 while traveling through Mexico and has not been seen since.
  • The original script for the film was written by Alex Cox and his colleague Tod Davies, but differences between Cox and the producer Laila Nabulsi, as well as open disdain of his treatment by an unhappy Hunter S. Thompson, led to the script being dropped. This left only a few precious days for Terry Gilliam and screenwriter Tony Grisoni to write a new script to begin production with. Gilliam and Grisoni allegedly finished their script in only eight days, with two additional days for rewrites.
  • Featured heavily in the opening of the book, the Rolling Stones track “Sympathy for the Devil” was going to be the opening theme that set the tone for the rest of the film, but Allen Klein, former manager of The Rolling Stones and owner of a sizable chunk of their early library, demanded an exorbitant $300,000 for the song. As this would have devoured half of the soundtrack budget, so Terry Gilliam opted for the more fiscally reasonable “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” as the closing track.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We’ll go with the scene where Duke, who is peaking on acid while checking into the Mint hotel and has already seen the carpet climbing up a cowboy’s leg and hotel clerk Katherine Helmond‘s face stretching like Silly Putty, suddenly sees the denizens of the hotel bar transformed into a tribe of literal lounge lizards.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Master fantasist Terry Gilliam brings Hunter S. Thompson’s semi-autobiographical satirical novel about a degenerate journalist and his equally debased attorney companion whose idea of a good time is to sniff ether and scarf mescaline before striding into the whirling carnival of the Bazooka Circus casino to howling life. Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo’s increasingly deranged pilgrimage to the Mecca of American venality turns into a grim and perverse endurance test for both them and the viewer, as the pair see how far they can push the limits of decency without losing their lives, freedom or sanity.


Original trailer for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

COMMENTS: When Terry Gilliam was promoting Fear and Loathing Continue reading 69. FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009)

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DIRECTED BY: Werner Herzog

FEATURING: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes,

PLOT: While investigating the slaughter of an immigrant family, a pill-popping and coke-

Still from Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

sniffing New Orleans cop’s penchant for gambling and for rolling his escort girlfriend’s clients gets him into deep trouble with his department and with dangerous men; to save his life, clear his name, and crack the case, he must pull off several double crosses while strung out and sleep deprived.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Watched with a doggedly literal mind, this version of Bad Lieutenant could almost be seen as a straightforward thriller/police procedural, but most who check out this flick will come away with the nagging feeling that there’s something exceptionally strange afoot in NOLA these days.  Less than a handful of hallucinations dog our drug-soaked antihero through the port, but the visions that do appear pack one hell of  a wallop.  Cage’s jittery, over-the-top performance and the enigmatic, dreamlike ending Herzog supplies notch two more points in the “weird” column.

COMMENTS: In 1992 underground auteur Abel Ferrara made a notorious movie about a corrupt New York City cop who shoots heroin, smokes crack, molests teenage girls, shakes down criminals for bribes, and tries to solve a case involving a raped nun while hallucinating and dodging a bookie he owes an unpayable debt.  Bad Lieutenant was an overwrought, magnificent Christian parable that sought to demonstrate God’s infinite capacity for forgiveness by presenting a character that audiences couldn’t forgive.

In 2009 renowned German auteur Werned Herzog made a movie about a corrupt New Orleans cop who snorts heroin, smokes crack, molests young women over the age of 21, rolls johns for drugs and money, and tries to solve a case involving a murdered family while hallucinating and dodging a mobster he owes an unpayable debt.  Herzog defiantly claimed never to have heard of Ferrara or the first Bad Lieutenant movie, but screenwriter William M. Finkelstein notably kept his mouth shut.

It’s a good thing that Herzog, who apparently wanted to title the film Port of Call New Orleans, Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009)

CASPULE: TRASH [ANDY WARHOL’S TRASH] (1970)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Holly Woodlawn

PLOT: All the women (and the men dressed as women) want hunky Joe Dallesandro, but he’s impotent from shooting too much junk; he lives with a woman who furnishes their hovel with castoff items she finds left on Manhattan curbs for trash pickup, and the two dream of getting on welfare someday.

Still from Andy Warhol's Trash (1970)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Though Trash is about weird people and has its “off” moments, it’s not quite weird enough for the ListTrash was cutting-edge in style, concept and subject matter when it came out in 1970.  But in the forty years since its debut, the sad lives of lowlife junkies and social outcasts have been tapped many times, and Trash‘s casual, near-documentary approach (accurately) makes a drug addict’s life seem painfully banal most of the time.  Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol have collaborated on weirder projects.

COMMENTS: Told in a pseudo-documentary style with partially improvised dialogue, on one level Trash is a gritty and realistic slice-of-life drama about deadbeat druggies on Manhattan’s lower east side.  It glides from meaningless episode to meaningless episode; Joe Dallesandro searches for his next fix and can’t get an erection no matter how many ladies try to seduce him; Holly Woodlawn keeps searching through the neighbors’ trash for stuff she can use, but she never finds any hidden treasure.  Their dreams are pathetically small but still far beyond their grasp, and by the end the conjoined losers end up exactly where they started.  Fortunately for us, plenty of weirdos drift into their lives in the meantime—a go-go dancer, a rich girl looking for an acid connection, an out-of-his-depth high school student, Holly’s pregnant sister, a welfare bureaucrat.  A few of these encounters are completely naturalistic, but most have an absurd edge to them.  Trying to turn Joe on, the go-go dancer breaks into a song and dance number, backed by swinging strands of Christmas lights on the stripper’s stage she has in her living room. The welfare functionary can’t approve a junkie for the public dole, but he’s willing to strike a fairly Continue reading CASPULE: TRASH [ANDY WARHOL’S TRASH] (1970)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: LIQUID SKY (1982)

DIRECTED BY: Slava Tsukerman

FEATURING: Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas, Otto von Wernherr, Bob Brady

PLOT: Tiny aliens land their flying saucer on the roof of a New York City penthouse and begin sucking the brains out of sex-addicted New Wave beatniks.

Still from Liquid Sky (1982)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Tsukerman’s filming style is free-form and unconventional. Liquid Sky‘s visual footprint is every bit as avant-garde as its story about drug addicted extraterrestrials is bizarre.

COMMENTS: Aliens come to Earth in search of a heroin rush. It seems the little green, er, ah, terrestrially challenged ones don’t have the requisite opposing thumbs needed for handling a set of works, so they enjoy their smack the next best way: by telekinetically extracting the gray-matter of heroin addicts whose brains are flooded with opiates. Wonderful though it may be, heroin turns out to be only a gateway drug for the saucer-jockeys. While some human poppy-heads may find death to be the ultimate narcotic, the aliens soon discover that the endorphin rush in a juicy human brain during orgasm is the ultimate high, and they reset their priorities accordingly.

Now the gnarly little starmen seek out fornicators and harvest their orgasms for the best buzz. Still guided by the scent of smack, the space-meisters dock their star-buggy on the roof of a penthouse shared by a drug dealer and her lesbian fashion model lover. Their apartment contains a large amount of heroin, but better yet, is the locus of a lot of degenerate sex.

When the two gal pals aren’t waxing philosophic during their performance art exhibitions and dance routines at a local New Wave club, they are attracting a steady stream of addicted customers, androgynous jet trash, and depraved sex fiends back to their pad. The astral hop heads make the most of the situation and suck hapless guests dry when they sexually relieve themselves. Of course this kills each guest, but no matter. A few dead bodies are an almost normalizing factor at these two girls’ crazy, drug-addled, day-glo, non-stop New Wave penthouse party.

A Berlin scientist who has been studying the aliens makes the scene and tries to rescue the girls before the little neuron nibblers absorb their whacked-out noggins as well. The situation becomes a bit sticky when he discovers that the fashion model has plans of her own for the moonmen junkies.

Liquid Sky is a terribly dated, low budget film that is imaginatively colorful and oh so avant-garde. While it looks pretty campy now, 1980’s hipsters affirm that at the time of its release, Liquid Sky was considered to be the coolest thing by New Wave standards since “smart drinks” and those wraparound mirrored “spectrums” Devo used to wear.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one of the weirdest films you’ll ever see… The film redefines weirdness and randomness as it jumps back and forth between seemingly unimportant scenes in clubs where our characters, like deer stuck in headlights, dance away and fight off the advances of others.”–Ed Gonzalez, Apollo Movie Guide (DVD)

50. GOTHIC (1986)

“I passed the summer of 1816 in the environs of Geneva. The season was cold and rainy, and in the evenings we crowded around a blazing wood fire, and occasionally amused ourselves with some German stories of ghosts, which happened to fall into our hands. These tales excited in us a playful desire of imitation. Two other friends (a tale from the pen of one of whom would be far more acceptable to the public than anything I can ever hope to produce) and myself agreed to write each a story founded on some supernatural occurrence.  The weather, however, suddenly became serene; and my two friends left me on a journey among the Alps, and lost, in the magnificent scenes which they present, all memory of their ghostly visions. The following tale is the only one which has been completed.”–Mary Shelley, preface to Frankenstein

DIRECTED BY: Ken Russell

FEATURING: Natasha Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands, Myriam Cyr, Timothy Spall

PLOT: Romantic poet Percy Shelley takes his lover, Mary, and her stepsister Claire to visit Lord Byron and his biographer, Dr. Polidori, at the poet’s sprawling Swiss estate.  The fivesome spend the evening playing games and drinking laudanum, until the topic of conversation turns to ghost stories.  They decide to hold a seance to materialize their worst fear, with unanticipated success: or, are they just having a group hallucination?

Still from Gothic (1986)

BACKGROUND:

  • The meeting in the film between Percy Shelley, Byron, Mary Godwin Shelley, Dr. Polidori and Claire Clairmont did take place, though the party actually spent the entire summer of 1816 together, not just a single night. Mary Shelley (then Mary Godwin) did conceive the idea for her novel “Frankenstein there, after Byron suggested that each member of the party write their own supernatural tale. Many other details of the character’s backstories are accurate: Byron did impregnate Claire, and Mary did bear a stillborn child by Percy.
  • The story of “Frankenstein”‘s genesis was mentioned in the prologue to The Bride of Frankenstein, and similar stories of the meeting between Byron and the Shelleys were told in the movies The Haunted Summer (1988) and Rowing in the Wind (1988).
  • The painting which hangs over the mantelpiece in the guest bedroom, which is recreated in live action in a dream sequence, in is based on John Henry Fuseli’s “The Nightmare.”
  • The movie was the first major feature produced by a division of Virgin Media (known for producing and distributing their pop music). Many of the technical crew had a music video background. Virgin shut down its motion picture production and distribution operations after 1990.
  • Julian Sands came to Gothic fresh off a prominent role in Merchant-Ivory’s Oscar-winning A Room with a View. After this role he wound up specializing in horror films like Warlock (1989) and its sequels.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Breasts with eyes.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  After setting up its premise, Gothic becomes a series of phantasmagorical set pieces that allow Ken Russell to indulge his penchant for perverse visuals and excessive Freudian symbolism.


Trailer for Gothic

COMMENTS: For better and worse, Gothic‘s hallucinatory structure allows director Ken Continue reading 50. GOTHIC (1986)

CAPSULE: SATAN HATES YOU (2009)

DIRECTED BYJames Felix McKenney

FEATURING: Don Wood, Christine Spencer, Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, Debbie Rochon, Michael Berryman, Larry Fessenden

PLOT: In this re-imagining of the “Christ-sploitation” films shown in churches and

Still from Satan Hates You (2009)

probably a few Southern gynecologists’ offices of the 60s and 70s, we follow a young man and woman who make all the wrong choices in a haze of drugs, alcohol, and rock music while unknowingly under the influence of two demonic imps.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Satan Hates You, while initially very jarring in its lack of self-explanation, is a satisfying experience in terms of its Troma-esque shock horror and its acute satirical edge.  But its freaky imagery leans too often on a bland naturalistic style that mars its individuality and chokes the weirdness out of the movie.

COMMENTS: Satan Hates You is a very hard film to place.  Being a satire, a dark comedy, and a horror film is no ordinary pedigree, and Satan Hates You maniacally shifts from one of these genres to the next every few minutes.  It is a wicked send-up of those fear-mongering Christian PSA films that pop into existence every generation about the dangers of doing ungodly things like having abortions and doing drugs.  But it honestly doesn’t hit you that way when you watch it if you don’t do your research.  The first time watching it, I felt this to just be a dark, meandering horror-comedy about two idiots who make a lot of bad choices.  Director James Felix McKenney doesn’t really go out of his way to make this idea pop out at the audience with staples of the “Christ-sploitation” genre, like cheesy acting, an oversimplification of right and wrong, and loads of self-righteous condemnation.  We are instead tossed quite objectively into these people’s lives, full of sex, murder, and self-sabotage, and don’t get dropped many hints that we’re supposed to be in on a joke.

Once one understands the idea, everything falls into place a little more, and it does Continue reading CAPSULE: SATAN HATES YOU (2009)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: NOWHERE (1997)

DIRECTED BY:  Gregg Araki

FEATURING: James Duval, Rachel True

PLOT:  Shallow L.A. teenagers take drugs and have kinky sex all day in preparation for the party of the year, while a rubber alien reptile occasionally stalks and abducts them.

nowhere

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  As an attempt at a contemporary update of Repo Man by way of Clueless, Nowhere is weird, but only in the most superficial way possible; ultimately, it lacks the emotional and thematic chops to earn itself a more dignified adjective than “silly” (although less dignified adjectives like “self-indulgent,” “pretentious” and “annoying” do spring to mind).

COMMENTS:  It begins with the portentous pronouncement “L.A. is like… nowhere.  Everyone who lives here is lost,” voiced with emotionless fervor by “Dark” (Keanu Reeves impersonator James Duval) as he masturbates in the shower.  (This should be your first hint that you might want to skip this movie: do you really want to spend 82 minutes watching an inferior version of Keanu Reeves?)  In the course of a day, the film introduces us to such lost characters as bulimiacs, drug addicts, vanishing valley girls, a “Baywatch” hunk/rapist, and teen dominatrices, all of whom are at bottom indistinguishable but for their preferences in body piercings.  Their chief defining characteristic is a lack of character.  What little character development there is involves Dark’s doomed search for true love and his fruitless attempts to convince bisexual gal pal Mel (Rachel True) to stop sharing her nubile body with every Tom, Dick and Mary.  Too occasional chuckles come via the vulgar and exaggerated teen slang. (A three way cameo conversation between val-gals Traci Lords, Shannen Doherty and Rose McGowan about potential beaus to take to the big party who are not gay, dead by their own hand, or under-hung is an engagingly braindead highlight).  Any lighthearted satirical momentum the film may muster, however, is destroyed by the intrusion of ugly realities like date rape and teen suicide that belong in a non-joke movie that would treat these topics with respect.  Writer/director Akari aims his wit at an incredibly easy target—vapid Hollywood teenagers—but he hardly appears less shallow than they are; whenever the script veers dangerously near something that looks like a real human emotion, as in the climax, he’s quick to deploy predictable Gen-X irony to turn the scene into an absurd joke before his skill at eliciting genuine empathy can be tested.

The teens’ irresponsible “empty” hedonistic lifestyle of drugs, partying, and humping hot bodies actually looks pretty appealing, if only the company didn’t totally blow.  The flick may be enjoyed by smart teenagers (even though director Araki seems to have nothing but contempt for teens), but impressionable young minds should be steered towards better adolescent angst comedies like Heathers if it at all possible.  Not currently available on DVD in North America.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This live-action cartoon might be described as a surreal ‘American Graffiti’ crossed with a kinky ‘Beverly Hills 90210,’ as imagined by a punked-out acolyte of John Waters or Andy Warhol…  If it weren’t so overpopulated and desperate to shock, ‘Nowhere’ might have succeeded as a maliciously cheery satire of Hollywood brats overdosing on the very concept of Hollywood.”–Steven Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)