Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Grim Truth of NATURAL ENEMIES


Sometimes you don't want grim, you don't want utter, hopeless darkness, but sometimes you do, you're ready -- at last -- to take the plunge. For those times, there's Jeff Kanew's NATURAL ENEMIES starring the wonderful Hal Holbrook.

Made in '79, at the end of an era when films like this got major studio support, this is a (still) very timely piece about a family man (Holbrook) who tells us at the film's outset that he's going to kill his wife, kill his young children, and kill himself. "Every man thinks about killing his family at some time," he says, pretty much setting the tone for what's to come.

The events of the film take place over eight to ten hours. 

Holbrook, a magazine publisher in a marriage polluted by mental illness, fills his day lamenting -- in voice-over and with colleagues -- the rotten state of his marriage, his career, and a future he can't perceive as anything but terrible. From these laments and ruminations emerge existential vomit trails that no intelligent viewer could fail to relate to. In fact, the film does a knock-up good job of covering pretty much every dark corner of the human journey, and offers enough food for thought to fill the cranial belly.


Holbrook takes an afternoon detour into group sex and extracts some female perspectives from naked females before returning home to meet with a concerned wife (Louise Fletcher in top form) who's made a discovery that may or may not impact on her longevity. You'll have to watch the film to find out.

The film's tone, nihilistic narrative, and rigid, formalized compositions reminded me of Buddy Giovinazzo's COMBAT SHOCK, Richard Mahler aka Roger Watkin's MIDNIGHT HEAT (with Jamie Gillis), Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER, and Gasper Noe's I STAND ALONE.  The way the film presents a society that is becoming more and more aware of its own inevitable destruction is a great deal more honest than today's portraits of a world too busy tapping cell phone keyboards to know or care about greater issues. 

This is one powerful movie from the director of EDDIE MACON'S RUN,  REVENGE OF THE NERDS(!), TOUGH GUYS, and TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL (TV series).

Based on a novel I must read by Julius Horwitz.


Thanks to Mark at Soiled Sinema for the recommendation.

4 comments:

  1. Minor correction - while Columbia's home video division put out the VHS, this was not a project they were responsible for. This was one of the last films released by former arthouse heavyweight Cinema V, who had previously handled the U.S. releases of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, SWEPT AWAY, SEVEN BEAUTIES, and other crossover favorites, and who, at the dawn of home video, licensed their titles to Columbia for VHS and laserdisc. The copyright line on the box credits Almi Pictures, Almi being the company who absorbed Cinema V and went on to mix up their releases, doing arty fare like I AM THE CHEESE with exploitation like HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY.

    Most of the hits have reverted back to the producers, but First Run Features in NY I believe now has the Almi library, so maybe this is in their vaults somewhere.

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  2. I checked and my library has the novel. I'm going to place a hold.Sounds bloody interesting!

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  3. This sounds excellent, and I just bought the Horowitz novel. Thanks for the review!

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  4. Marc -- thank you for the corrections and information. Cinema V put out a lot of amazing stuff. Would be nice to have the film on BluRay, wouldn't it?

    Bob -- definitely let me know how the novel is. I've ordered it, too.

    RT -- It's as good as it sounds. Really fresh. Enjoy the novel.

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