Monday, January 21, 2013

Movies: Half-way through the morning of the fourth day of the week after the 6-month anniversary of the second Tuesday after the Day of the Woman.


I Spit On Your Grave, the 1978 revanchist rape exploiter that also traffics under the somewhat deceptive label Day of the Woman, reads better than it plays. This is because, in conversation and in writing, you can filter all the problematic elements of the flick through a critical scrim that invests them with nuance, depth, and significance. In the moment, however, all vulgarity is experienced as the same thing. We can, for example, discuss how the film critiques its own violence, but before that we're all going to have to sit through a 20-minute long gang rape scene. Or, depending on your definition of "rape" and "scene," perhaps we're just watching four five-minute long rape scenes. Either way, it amounts to quite a bit of forced penetration, screaming, bruising, bleeding, and generally rapey unpleasantness. Later we can discuss themes and craft and whatnot, but the immediate experience is entirely present and needs no explanation. Later, we can cluck at the shoddiness of it all or put on our post-third wave feminism hats and deconstruct it, but the immediate experience is that we're watching a woman get raped for entertainment. The result is that ISOYGorDotW works like the opposite of a really good joke: it's better if you weren't there and somebody explains it to you.

The weirdest thing about ISOYGorDotW is that it is, simultaneously, better and worse than you've heard. The usual line for the film's defenders is that it is some primitivist feminist piece in which a victimized woman masters the very violence that subjugates her and turns the tables her patriarchal oppressors with extreme prejudice. This isn't a critical view so much as plot description with a politically correct escape hatch for those who consider themselves enlightened, but need to explain why they spent nearly a half hour of their life volunteering to watch four dudes take turns brutally raping a woman. For our purposes, the important thing about this standard take isn't its self-serving moral cowardice, but the fact that it is wrong. And not just wrong: wrong in such a way that obscures the few things worth discussing in the film.

Our main character, Jennifer Hills, a writer who has left the big city to finish her new book, is a plot device rather than a character. She exists in the story mainly to get raped by four locals - Johnny, Matthew Lucas, Stanley, and Andy - and be the conduit for their Old Testament style reckoning. Her history is a blank, her interactions with others (when not sexual or violent) are vapid, and her most characteristic expression, an affectless stare, suggests the defining shallowness of her as a concept. My initial reaction was to wonder if Jennifer's relentless nothingness was part of a larger strategy: perhaps director/writer Meir Zarchi meant her to be a sort of everywoman and thought he needed to scrub her of individual details so she could better serve as vessel of viewer identification. But that's not how the film feels to me. Compare Jennifer with the other protags: the four attackers. In contrast to Jennifer, the men have internal worlds. We see them negotiate their own emotions and the pecking-order style politics of their micro-community. They exhibit savagery and remorse, fear and desire, sexual confusion and even a weirdly primitive sense of justice. We're talking about a b-grade grindhouse flick, so I'm not saying these guys are a quartet of Henry James characters here. But compared to the not-a-person that is Jennifer, they are notably robust. To be fair, I'm willing to bet you've got furniture that exhibits more personality than Jennifer.

This imbalance reveals the wrong-headedness of the whole wishful feminist take on ISOYGorDotW. It's a movie by a dude about dudes. The story really is about four men who commit a crime and then pay for it. It isn't about female empowerment, but rather about the lines you don't cross and the fatal logic of the consequences. Jennifer is little more than a marionette the director yanks on to stage, gets dirty, and then manipulates into offing his central protagonists. This is why I prefer I Spit On Your Grave as the title: it is easy to imagine Meir Zarchi playing God an saying that directly to his flawed and transgressing creations. For Day of the Woman to make sense, a real woman would have to appear somewhere in the film.

This is why I say the flick is worse than you've heard: the feminist apology for it is pretty much BS and it is no friend to the ladies. If you were hoping for some sort of social value here, I think you're barking up the wrong tree. There's a reason exploitation cinema was called that. Let's just admit it.

So how is this movie better than you've heard? Once we get over trying to excuse it, there's some pleasingly strange things about the film. Vengeful-Jennifer is as blank as Victim-Jennifer, but she's an interesting blank. First, there's the strangely dispassionate way in which she goes about her business. You get the feeling that Jennifer is sleep walking through the whole thing, a sense that is strengthened by the increasing sense of unreality throughout the whole last quarter of the movie. Jennifer doesn't just kill her attackers, but seems to need to do so in very specific ways: for example, Jen actually passes up popping a cap in Johnny and ending it quick so that she can entangle him an unlikely sexual situation and then dispatch him. The illogic of it - forgoing the opportunity to gun him down when you've got him at your mercy in order to get into a situation where you're far more vulnerable and the whole thing could turn into a battle of strength he could easily win - is striking and never resolves into something reasonable. There's also post-rape Jen's weird use of sex as a weapon of revenge. The most common take on Jen's post-rape predatory sexuality is that she's luring her attackers into a false sense of dominance. Unfortunately, this makes no sense. The first time she plays siren, her victim is a mentally retarded man who really poses no threat to her anymore. This guy shows up ready to be her victim, the whole seduction seems strangely unnecessary. Then, in the scene in which seduces and cuts the john off Johnny, her use of her sexuality as a weapon only makes sense if you ignore the fact that she already had a perfect opportunity to kill Johnny and opted instead to get into a situation where using her sexuality would be necessary. Why? I don't have an answer. It's weird, right? Then there's the methods of murder. Jen has access to firearms, but she chooses again and again to dispatch her attackers in overly elaborate ways, often involving some heavy-handed visual pun. This tendency towards the pun is odd in that, outside of the context of the viewer watching the movie, the puns make no sense; that is to say, since nobody within the film except Jen and her attackers knows what happened (the whole film seems to take place in world without law enforcement), the punchline of these pun-based deaths would mean nothing to any other character in the film. They appear to be something Jen is specifically doing for the viewer of the film, without ever showing any "meta" awareness of being a character in a film.

Whether or not the curious way the movie spirals into a crooked semi-surreality will outweigh the unpleasantness of the first half of the film is a debate you'll have to have with yourself. I would like to propose the following though: when you watch, keep open the possibility in your mind that all of Jen's revenge is a fantasy on her part. She's supposed to be a writer, right? What if, just what if, she gets attacked, is helpless to avenge herself, and concocts a story of unnecessarily elaborate revenge killings? Her character never worries about leaving behind evidence for the police because she controls the story-world and she knows they're not ever coming. The puns behind the murders are for her, the viewer of her fantasy. Her willingness to toss aside good opportunities in favor of carrying out unnecessarily dangerous schemes makes sense if she is in charge of the story-world: she knows everything will work out for her. Finally, it explains the strange sense that the Jen we see is a sort of story-device/ghost, a tool for a story-teller to impose his/her logic on the story-world. I'm not saying this is "the answer" to the movie. Movies aren't riddles that can be solved. Not good ones anyway. I'm just suggesting it as an alternate way of looking at the flick. Let me know how that works out. I'm probably not seeing it again any time soon.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Movies: Like a little lump of coal for your hoilday horror film stocking.

 

What actress reads a script that dispatches her by rape/murder-by-snowman's-nose-carrot and thinks, "All right! This is a film a have to be part of!"? That's not a rhetorical question. The answer is Shannon Elizabeth. 

This is the only question to which the answer is Shannon Elizabeth.

Jack Frost, the '97 straight-to-video flick starring a serial killer turned snowman, is one of those films that seems to believe that you can mitigate your suckiness by admitting to the audience that you're aware of your suckiness. It's called Carsoning. David Foster Wallace once wrote a 1,700 page essay on the phenomenon and in the footnote to the 3,245th endnote in the third appendix of the second volume of the CD supplement, he defined Carsoning as preempting criticism of a creative act by overtly taking a critical stance to it yourself within the creative act. Done well, you groan before you tell the joke, before the audience does, and you've shifted the emphasis of the humor to your empathic link with the audience and you're now banded together in mutual mockery of a crappy joke, even though you told the crappy joke.

Here's the problem, there needs to be some element of plausible denial for Carsoning to work. (This is why DFW was so baffled by the phenomenon and pondered why it was almost impossible for an artist to pull off.) Carson wasn't making fun of his own jokes: he was breaking the fourth wall, revealing explicitly the work of a writing staff, and acting as if he too was this staff's unwitting victim. 

To take an example closer to the world of horror flicks, think of MST3000. The concept worked for so long because they could act like they too were victims of the crappy flicks they shared with the audience. In fact, that was even part of the framing device of the show. Now imagine a show's whose premise is that the people making fun of the movies they showed you were also responsible for making the crappy movies. The result would be tedium.

Jack Frost is just that: a Möbius strip of mediocrity commenting on its own mediocrity. You haven't been that naughty this year. There's no reason to do this to yourself.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Movies: The best worst plan in horror bad guy history.

Shark Night 3D contains more than one shark and takes place over the course of more than one single night. That's really the only sense in which Shark Night can be said to exceed expectations.

Almost nothing works in this flick. The plot revolves around a completely stupid idea and the only way to redeem it would have been to simply go gonzo with it. But, in fact, Shark Night disappoints in its lame timidity. Okay, I'm not one of those bloggers who thinks every horror flick need be some battle of endurance wherein the viewer is pitted against the red syrup budget of the SFX department. I'll take smart plotting, rich characters, engaging themes, and genuine emotional impact over schlock any day of the week. But - and let's be honest with ourselves - what did anybody firing up the streaming (ha, I originally wrote steaming!) version of SN want or expect from this flick. Ain't nobody turning to their partner and saying, "Dear, I know we intended to watch Tarr's Autumn Almanac tonight, but I've heard that Shark Night captures the spiritual malaise while pushing the project of inventing the self-conscious experimentalism of remodernism even further than Tarr by placing it within a post-Guattarian framework. Plus, it's got the dude from Grounded for Life in it. We like him."

No, of course they didn't. If they did, they got exactly what they deserved. In fact, whatever happens to somebody like that is completely deserved. Even if it is worse than Shark Night.

What anybody who watched this flick expected to see was nubile flesh, sharks, and death. See pic above.

Problem is, Shark Night is kinda afraid of girls when it comes to the skin show and it's remarkably bloodless when it comes to the killin'. It's got sharks, granted; but one out of three does not a champion make.

I will say that Shark Night does feature what is probably the most hilariously stupid villainous plan ever committed to film - or digital memory, as the case may be. I don't think you can spoil a rotten film, but if you're one of those obsessives, skip the rest of this paragraph and jump straight to the next one. Okay. They're gone. Here's the dilly. We're going to bide time here so it looks convincing that I'm dropping a spoiler on you. Then, in the next paragraph, I'm going to drop a spoiler on them right in the first sentence. Because we can. Are they looking over here? Look cool, look cool! Just act natural. Now, like, nod like I just told you all about the film. And . . . 

The sharks are in the lake because some baddies thought a good way to make money would be to catch and maintain a large stable of the world's most deadly creatures - including what appears to be two animals (great whites) that have never been able to survive captivity before - so they can make Internet shark snuff films. Oh, um. End spoiler.

The sheer awesomeness of this idea is almost enough to redeem the film. Imagine the chain of logic that led three backwater hicks to this plan. "You know what people love watching: shark attacks."

"True that. I bet you could get rich if you just, like, had a ton of recorded shark attacks to sell."

"Yeah. Shame you'd have to figure out a way to make 'em happen regular like."

"Yeah. Shame there . . . Hey, wait. Here me out. What if we, you know, bought a boat. Then tricked it out with sufficient material and tech to capture sharks live. And I'm talking big sharks. Plus, you know, we should probably all get degrees in marine biology, 'cause I understand that keeping them things alive in captivity, especially the big ticket fellas, is a serious challenge for even the most well staffed and equipped aquarium."
"Yeah. Like, even the Monterey Bay folks couldn't keep that baby great white contained and alive from more than few months."

"Exactly. That's what I'm sayin'. We'll need some real specialized skills and knowledge."

"The old boat shed probably won't cut it neither."

"Naw. And there's going to be a major outlay in underwater recording equipment."

"And we best hope the sharks just don't eat each other."

"Right. Sometimes, you just got to trust to God right? But anyway, I figure, for a several million outlay for training, equipment, labor, facility upgrades, and such, a fella stands to make a few bucks."

That, my friends, is entrepreneurial thinking.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"The lesson for everyone else: Never attempt to engage in any kind of outdoor physical activity, because traps are everywhere."

 

As a horror blogger, I don't get a lot of opportunity to link to Gawker, but said site has taken a break from its normal flow of "President Garfield still dead" recycled news and breathless speculation about the mental life of James Franco to finally post something worth linking to.

Police in Utah County, Utah, have busted two dudes who apparently booby-trapped the crap out of a popular hiking trail with stuff straight out of some "killer hillbilly" flick. The nasty bit of work shown above "was to be triggered via a fishing line trip wire; when crossed, it would send a 20-pound boulder, to which several sharpened spikes had been affixed with what looks to be just tons and tons and tons of rope, speeding at a victim's head."

Mercifully, they were complete idiots and bragged about their death traps on facebook.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Music: The Wolfgangs, "Cannibal Family"

So for the past month or so, I've been working on a entry pondering just how many people a cannibal clan would need to kill just to get the necessary calories in their diet. You'd be surprised at the amount of research that's been done on this question. While I continue to plug away, here's a song about cannibals. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Movies: The second worst thing Bin Laden has ever done to us?

What hath Kickstarter wrought?

It's possible that you were tiring of the zombie craze. Perhaps you've got no more energy for a fast vs. slow zombie debates. Maybe you think that context shifts - zombie strippers in space! - will no longer grab your attention by the shorties. "My God, just let this plague of zombie crap end!" you might cry in the long, dark lonely nights.

Well, this won't change any of that.

Somebody's made a zombie flick featuring Bin Laden as one of the walking dead.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Don't apologize and never explain.

I'm not going to follow the very good advice in the title. I'm about to become a first time father and thing are crazy absurd at work. I'll leave you to determine whether these are valid reasons for radio silence. I'll be back as soon as I can be. Thanks to all y'all that wait for me. For those that don't, godspeed, thanks for hanging.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Art: Is this a bust or something?


The It's Alive Project, currently on display at the City Arts Factory in Orlando, FL, is a show of 80 Boris Karloff busts, redesigned by contemporary artists. Some of the busts allude to Karloff's iconic roles, while others take Karloff's famous mug in some truly odd directions. Make with the link clickin' to check out a flikr set of the designs.