Monday, July 26, 2010

Serbian Movie

Several months ago, Srdjan Spasojevic's Serbian Movie started to circulate at festivals. aintitcool's Harry Knowles wrote a histrionic review that placed it on the must-see lists of hardcore horror fanatics. Other scribes discussed its extreme nature and went batshit hyping its taboo-breaking content. Some even questioned its reason for existing.

The usual cliched response to films with inflammatory intent is Why do we need to see this? It's a stupid question because the answer is we don't. Then again, we don't NEED to see Disney movies, either, or TV shows about crab fishermen risking their lives. We NEED to eat, sleep, drink, and breathe. Everything else is secondary.

Hysterics aside, Serbian Movie was clearly made to shock and provoke because it doesn't offer too much else. 99.9% of humans will find it objectionable and offensive (without even seeing it) and will stay away. The rest, like me, will let their curiosity get the better of them.

The film is technically polished. The compositions and lighting are on par with any American horror film in the Hostel budget range. The acting is decent, too. The film's lead (Sergej Trifunovic), who plays an ex-porno actor lured back into the business, bears a strange resemblance to Euro porn actor/director Christophe Clarke, and has a laconic, laid back manner that works well for his character. The film's villain (Srdjan Todorovic), a philosophy-spewing porno "artist", looks like a younger, better manicured Coffin Joe. The lead's wife, who is accepting of her husband's profession, is played with quiet authority by Katarina Zutic. Finally, the couple's son, who plays quite a special role in the film, is particularly impressive as an unfortunate young victim of demented minds.

Some of our favorite horror films are notable for extreme set pieces. Emmanuelle in America has a doozy, as does Salo, Cannibal Holocaust, and In A Glass Cage. Serbian Movie definitely deserves to be placed alongside these, if only for its extremity and perversion. One set piece in particular, involving a newborn, is the film's most harrowing. Clearly, no real infant was harmed, but the single angle and sound effects create a very disturbing ninety seconds you won't soon forget. Other horrors include an eye socket being penetrated with an erect penis and two unidentified bodies being carnally assaulted.

Horror in its purest sense allows us to confront the unspeakable in the safe environment of the cinema or home. Serbian Movie definitely dishes up the unspeakable and does so with style and solid craftsmanship. Although you will find material such as this in the literary works of authors such as Edward Lee, Marquis De Sade, Samuel R. Delany, and JF Gonzalez, filmic representations are, not surprisingly, not as common.

Unfortunately, the Serbian Movie script is rather undercooked, and its depiction of organized perversion amongst the elite is not believable. The villain, who not only looks like Coffin Joe, spouts philosophy like him, too. In this case, it's porno philosophy. This nutbag sees 'newborn porn' as the future of the genre, and carries on up the Khyber about love, art, and blood ad nauseum. Perhaps expressing the filmmaker's view, he says of Serbia: "...this is no country for real art." On porn, he offers: "(it exists) so those who can't get laid can come." Without a doubt, his most salient observation is: "'Victim sells." No horror fan can dispute that.

What separates Serbian Movie from a true masterwork such as Augustin Villaronga's In A Glass Cage are several things, the primary one being substance. Although its montages of public porno culture suggest sexualized commercialization is out of control, this thesis is not explored beyond a headline, and it's a stretch to link sexually provocative billboards to horrors such as baby rape and the fucking of beheaded women. The gulf between the two is vast.

Ultimately for the viewer, the film is an exercise in waiting for the next shocking set piece that will up the perversion ante. The bits between these are not of zero interest, but they're not exactly vital, either, and there's some narrative confusion in the final quarter as the lead character lurches about in a drug-induced haze.

Even after the final shocking revelation, a closing slice of dialog takes the perversion even further, bluntly re-stating the film's ultimate intentions.

As my brain cooled hours later after the experience, I felt like I'd eaten very greasy, slightly poisonous junkfood. This contrasted with my initial reaction to John McNaughton's Henry - Portrait of a Serial Killer, another flick notable for its shocking content, but appreciated equally for its solid scripting, amazing performances, and characterization. Henry left me with the feeling that I'd seen something very special. Serbian Movie didn't feel special, but it sure felt like raw, unchained cinema.

Another Serbian movie, Life and Death of a Porno Gang, is worth checking out, too, and I will discuss it shortly.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Killer Inside me

There's a lot wrong with Casey Afleck's lawman character in The Killer Inside Me, but there's little wrong with the film itself. Coming to cinemas accompanied by mostly scathing reviews, the type typically reserved for films in which violence against women is depicted graphically and realistically, this Michael Winterbottom adaptation of a great Jim Thompson crime novel is a work of uneasy, exquisite poetry.

Afleck is a quietly spoken lawman with some issues. In fact, he's all issues, but that doesn't stop him from doing his job (even if that job involves investigating his own murders). When his murders attract the attention of his colleagues, he's forced into defensive mode, and that's when the film gets really interesting.

The key to sucking something substantial from this film is the title. Afleck lives with a killer inside him, a killer partially spawned by a childhood rife with abuse, but, thankfully, the film doesn't attempt to psychobabble the issue or reach for groundbreaking revelations regarding his condition. As a result, the fascination level is high.

In subtle ways, the film reminded me of John McNaughton's Henry - Portrait of a Serial Killer. Although Afleck's killer hasn't achieved anything of serial proportions (as far as we know), his acceptance of the sociopath within parallels that of 'Henry'.

Afleck, who is always strong, wears this character like a bloody cocoon, and manages to convey the boy next door, a sweet charmer with a crooked smile.

Casey's lady friends, played by Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson, don't fair well when the drama's done and it's quitting time. Both take beatings that, filmically, are on par with the sudden and terrible violence of Once Were Warriors. Blood is spilled often, and there is a persistent tension that imbues every frame.

American reviews of this flick have been (mostly) negative and British reviews have seen past its extremes and into its frightening beauty.

I'm definitely with the Brits on this one, even though they once incarcerated my kind and sent us to the hell that used to be The Land Down Under. Memories like that ruffle the feather of the convict inside me.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Ugly Truth About The Enchanted Cottage

Open Letter to the Makers of The Enchanted Cottage:

Although your movie has been hailed as a romantic classic by some, it has some very serious flaws which gravely undermine its effectiveness.

Yours is the "tragic" tale of an Ugly Spinster who falls in love with an Ugly Soldier who's been disfigured by war.

Fine. I like that. I like Ugly. I like the idea that two Ugly people will find each other, make Ugly Love, have Ugly Children, make Ugly goo-goo eyes, and come to believe that their Ugliness is, in fact, Beauty.

Great idea. Old idea. So bring on the Ugliness.

Problem is, you didn't. You fucked up. You screwed the pooch.


Lots of reasons, but Vanity is the big one. You got scared. You opted to protect your actors and spare audiences True Ugliness because you were a bunch of fucking pussies.

Well, damn you all to an Ugly hell!

Dorothy McGuire, who plays the Ugly Spinster, is not ugly. You give her a crappy hair-do, light her in an unflattering way, and smudge black around her eyes. Big deal! Do you think we're blind? She's not Ugly. Far from it.

Then there's Robert Young. Je-sus Christ. He's a handsome chap, that's for sure. And it's fine that he's introduced as a handsome chap with a fine dame on his arm and ambition in his eyes. He's lit like a leading man and he behaves in that confident, Leading Man way. Fine. No problems there.

It's in the next development where you fuck up like a pedophile at a child care center.

Young returns from the war. He checks into the Enchanted Cottage of the title and sulks about. He hides his face, which we know is scarred, and he talks about wanting to die and wanting to be left alone because he's so horrible and he's lost the use of his tennis hand. His dame has left him, too, because he's so damn Ugly now, and he refuses to let his own mother see him because, shit!, he's probably scarier than John Merrick, the Elephant Man, with his Ugly mug.

Great. Love it! What a tragic fellow Young has become. Our sympathies are with him.


They are... until we see him.

Crikey, what a fucking whining pussy-boy. That so-called Ugly scar he's complaining about is more like a thin line drawn with an eyebrow pencil. The bloke's eye is slightly off, sure, but it's no big deal if you squint a bit or don't focus on it exclusively while listening to him lament his sorry state.

Because the producers decided to de-Uglify the Ugliness, they destroy any sympathy we have for Young. Now he's a handsome bloke with a small scar complaining about how Ugly he is.

Well, pal, there are a lot of men out there in the audience not even 10% as good looking as the Ugly version of you. So pull your fuckin head in and stop complaining like a little girl. You're like Howard Hughes screaming about the price of milk.

Why the producers of this fraud didn't go the whole hog and give Young the full Quasimodo treatment is beyond me. THAT would have been my kind of movie, and it would have been a much better movie than the half-ass thing it is now.

In this nonsense, we're supposed to feel that McGuire is some kind of saint for accepting Young and his Revolting Ugliness. Yeah, she's a saint for agreeing to shack up with a handsome leading man with a pencil line down his face. Please, canonize this charitable bitch right now.

Guys, if you want to make a movie about Beauty and Ugliness and its relative relationship, at least have some faith. It's like you didn't have enough faith in the conceit that an Ugly Woman would really fall for an Ugly Man, so you cut the hands off your make-up man and emplyed an eye pencil to do your job.

Of course, it's the cottage that's really responsible for the "magic" that occurs here, so there was no reason to not depict your actors as Godawfully Hideous freaks that only Todd Browning would love. Having that contrast was so important, but you went for the stinking middle ground instead.

Shame on you.

Enchanted Cottage? More like Cottage of Pussies.

Saeki Toshio's ONIKAGE

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I love the mind-bending work of Saeki Toshio.

In the most peculiar and surprising ways, he sings my song.

Clearly, he sings the songs of others, too, because he is somewhat of a cult phenomenon.

His latest collection of previously unseen work, Onikage, has been published by San Francisco-based Last Gasp. It is a stunner. Also stunning is the size (it's huge) and the low price.

I'm not home much lately, but when I am, I eat my my morning oatmeal with blueberries and bee pollen crystals while leafing through these enchanting works of a deeply fertile imagination.

This image above, which echoes Todd Browning's Freaks, is one of my favorites for what it suggests and what it celebrates.

These scans are merely sections of larger pieces. Due to this book's size, it is impossible to fully scan the pages with a standard scanner. I only include these here to give you a taste of the magic to be discovered when you purchase a copy of this sensational book.

There is a rare interview with the artist and several overlays which illustrate his unique working methods.

"In the modern world, where one rarely stops to think about the truth behind the moment, you might enjoy it if you take a peep at my mysterious and strange illusions. To those who frown at them, I want to place the drawings right in front of your face and ask if you really disapprove. I'm always thinking how wonderful it would be to give shape to psychological pictures which everyone hides and holds deep within them."

Saeki Toshio
March, 2009

Thursday, July 1, 2010

My New Feature Is Rolling in LA

Posts recently have ground to a halt as I am concurrently shooting a TV reality show and directing/DP'ing my newest feature, The Cloth Dagger.

Dagger is a psycho-sexual drama starring Jim Van Bebber, Renae Boult, Michael Tierney, and Kristen Condon.

Renae Boult previously played a dominatrix in my film Sensitive New Age Killer and was my very first choice for this role.

I worked with Kristen Condon on an aborted 'roughie' in 2009.

She also starred recently in the Australian feature The Beautiful and the Damned.

I see big things ahead for her.

It's been so great working with Jim Van Bebber on The Cloth Dagger.

An extraordinary director in his own right, Jim is also an extraordinary actor, and he's been blowing me away with his take on a very dark character. Jim has brought an unexpected humor to the role of 'Rolf', a poster boy for guys your mother warned you about.

The shoot is taking place in the darkest and dirtiest corners of Los Angeles.

The Cloth Dagger will be hitting the road in 2011.

Kristen Condon, PhantomofPulp, Renae Boult, and Jim Van Bebber