Tag Archives: Ewen Bremner

LIST CANDIDATE: THE ACID HOUSE (1998)

DIRECTED BY: Paul McGuigan

FEATURING: Stephen McCole, Maurice Roëves, Garry Sweeney, Jenny McCrindle, Iain Andrew, Irvine Welsh, Kevin McKidd, Gary McCormick, Michelle Gomez, , Jemma Redgrave

PLOT: A grotesque, genre-bending trio of tawdry, disturbing stories about squalor, decay, excess, perversion, stupidity, and altered states.THE ACID HOUSE (3)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LISTNot only is The Acid House unconventionally filmed, using an insect point-of-view and other unusual camera angles along with non-linear plots, etc., but the stories themselves are strange, surreal, and unsettling.

COMMENTS: The Acid House is funny, grim, unsettling, revolting, and… well, a lot of fun if you like that sort of thing! Another in a series of surreal, underground British Isles films, The Acid House immediately reminded me of Pat McCabe and ‘s bizarre Irish effort, The Butcher Boy (1987), and the somewhat less eerie, but equally strange, Disco Pigs (2001).

Like The Butcher Boy, The Acid House explores the seamy side of working class culture: in this case, Scottish rather than Irish. It follows demented characters who pursue debased agendas under circumstances which are at once supernatural and decidedly sleazy. Writer Irvine Welsh (“Trainspotting”) dramatizes three plots from his raunchy book of short stories, “The Acid House.” Given Welsh’s imagination and penchant for depraved characters, decadent circumstances, and just plain rotten motives and outcomes, a creepy movie with totally grotesque content is the inevitable result.

In the first story, “The Granton Star Cause,” Boab (McCole) is a loser who puts as little effort into making love to his girlfriend as he does into his rugby performance. Expelled from the team, dumped by said girlfriend, and kicked out of the house by his parents, Boab seeks solace in the bottom of a pint glass at the local pub. There he meets God, in human form, who informs Boab that he created Man in his own image. God then informs Boab that he (God) is lazy and pathetic, and that since Boab shares these traits, he hates Boab for reminding him of his own worst characteristics.

To express his hatred for Boab, as well as his own self-loathing, God dooms Boab by turning him into a common housefly. Now an airborne insect, Boab puts a literal twist to the expression, “a fly on the wall.” Spying on his family and friends’ sleazy private lives, Boab discovers the depth of their secret perversions, before exacting revenge upon several tormentors.

The second story in The Acid House isn’t supernatural, but it’s just as disturbing. In “The Soft Touch,” the village doofus, Johnny (McKidd), marries the town whore, Catriona (Gomez), with predictable results. Yet Johnny accepts responsibility and attempts to be good father and husband, while his new bride continues doing what she does best. A bad situation worsens when Catriona involves herself with the couple’s insane upstairs neighbor Larry (McCormick), who begins systematically to dismantle Johnny’s life. Too soft to take decisive action, Johnny becomes a helpless victim until the nutty neighbor turns the tables on Catriona.

In the third segment, also titles “The Acid House,” Coco (Bremner), a mindless hooligan, and Jenny (Redgrave), a middle class pregnant woman, are simultaneously struck by lightning. Coco, who is on an LSD trip at the time, switches bodies with the newborn infant. Visiting Coco’s adult body in the hospital later, his friends chalk up his new level of infantilism to having finally fried his brain with too many drugs. Meanwhile, Coco, as a grotesque infant, delights in breastfeeding and not so subtly manipulating his new “mother” into indulging his atavistic desires.

The Acid House is outrageous, over the top, and offensive. It will never be accused of being too clever or subtle. In fact, from a literary standpoint, Welsh’s treatment of his subject matter is akin to performing a CPR heart massage with a sledge hammer… then vomiting in the patient’s mouth while administering artificial respiration. Despite the supernatural premise of two of the three stories, the horror in The Acid House is not the traditional “ghosts and goblins” type. Rather, it stems from a deep dread of entrapment, from awful bodily metamorphosis, and from an exploration of the abysmal depths of the debased human condition.

The Acid House is a must-view for all fans of campy, disgusting occult movies.

THE ACID HOUSE (4)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“McGuigan has the tendency to overindulge in some banal psychedelic editing, but, for the most part, he’s picked the right style to get as close as possible to the emotional intensity Welsh’s ferocious writing promises. It’s Welsh who lets him down, whose dips into deranged flights of surreal fancy fly smack into a brick wall of triviality.”–David Luty, Film Journal International

CAPSULE: JULIEN DONKEY-BOY (1999)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Evan Neumann

PLOT: Scenes from the life of schizophrenic Julien and his bizarre family.

Still from Julien Donkey-boy (1999)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Made between his startling debut Gummo (1997) and his acerbic comeback movie Trash Humpers (2009), Julien Donkey-Boy is the Harmony Korine experiment that falls through the cracks. Sure, it’s got its fertile weird moments—Korine puts Werner Herzog in a gas mask and has him swill cough syrup—but its indifference to narrative or structure makes for a lot of dry patches, resulting in a frequently dull movie that’s of interest to hardcore Korine-ophiles only.

COMMENTS: Switching from familial underwear wrestling matches to hidden camera thrift store excursions to snippets from a freakshow talent contest, with all the footage apparently shot by a drunk and edited by a psychotic, the movie Julien Donkey-boy is as schizophrenic as its protagonist. Julien himself is ably, if unpleasantly, portrayed by Scottish Ewan Bremner, who drools and slurs ridiculous monologues from behind a grill of gold teeth (presumably the source for the “donkey-boy” title reference). Julien’s brother is an aspiring wrestler; his sister practices ballet in her room at night, but she’s in her third trimester. Lording over this motley brood is pop Werner Herzog; he swigs cough syrup (from a slipper), listens to Dock Boggs and occasionally wears a gas mask. He has given up on Julien and his sister and focuses all his hopes and attention on their athletic brother. We absorb these relationships slowly as the movie weaves from one improvised incident to another. Julien spies on his sister dancing, then takes a bath and gibbers out a prayer, then the family has dinner and Herzog discusses the false-teeth cleaning habits of famous people, and so on. Other scenes are simply impressionist camera experiments, with out-of-focus, seasick handheld shots and experimental lighting. Korine keeps up his obsession with grotesqueries and freaks, finding ways to shoehorn a dwarf who plays drums with his feet, a rapping albino, and a human ashtray into the story. One bizarre, disconnected scene shows a nun masturbating. The deliberately undisciplined technique of stitching together sketches shot in various styles is carried over from Gummo, but the collage approach doesn’t work as well for painting a portrait of an individual as it did for a town. By repeating words like mantras and babbling nonsense syllables to fill in the empty spaces in his monologue stream, Julien’s speech resembles a real schizophrenic. But, like a real schizophrenic, although you feel sorry for him, you also don’t want to spend a lot of time with him. The character manages to be simultaneously irritating and boring, which are not the defining characteristics you want in a movie protagonist. In a key scene, Julien proudly recites a poem at the dinner table: “morning chaos eternity chaos midnight chaos noon chaos eternity chaos…” It goes on for several stanzas before Herzog interrupts, explaining he doesn’t like the poem because it’s too “artsy-fartsy.” He then describes the climax of Dirty Harry as his idea of great art. Korine seems to be mocking the public preference for meaningless exploitation over artistic ambition, but the irony is that anyone would consider Dirty Harry a greater achievement than Julien’s nonsense poem. Julien Donkey-boy emerges as the least interesting of Korine’s experimental features, which is a shame because it’s also his most humanistic pictures, and the only one where he seems to truly like his characters (Julien was based on Korine’s uncle). The scene where Sevigny pretends to be Julien’s dead mother while talking to him on the telephone is unexpectedly touching, and the shots of the pregnant blonde meandering through a golden field of sunlit grain while singing hymns counts as the most legitimately beautiful thing Korine has ever filmed. It’s too bad these few sympathetic moments are drowned out by a cascade of babble.

Julien Donkey-boy starts with a certificate (signed by ) proclaiming that the movie was produced in accordance with the Dogma 95 movement. Dogma was a set of rules set forth by von Trier and other Danish filmmakers intended to make filmmaking more naturalistic: i.e. there should only be handheld cameras, no music added, only natural lighting, etc. In practice, almost no Dogma film ever followed all of these arbitrary rules (although, as Armond White incisively pointed out, almost every amateur porn movie did). Julien Donkey-boy includes a non-diegetic musical score and lots of optical trickery that should have precluded it from being certified as a Dogma film.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…Korine emerges more clearly this time as a filmmaker exploring the territory where the circus sideshow meets the avant-garde.”–Janet Maslin, The New York Times (festival screening)

(This movie was nominated for review by Eric SG, who rhapsodized that it was “frickin’ weird… Korine’s finest/weirdest accomplishment to date.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)