Sunday, July 11, 2010

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 3

4 movies, so let's just jump in:

First up, the world premiere of the Christian scare film homage/parody SATAN HATES YOU. In true Christian scare film form, there's no swearing or nudity, but plenty of graphic violence and sinning. Also, there's plenty of horror icons like Angus Scrimm (as a kindly televangelist), Reggie Bannister (as a gruff bartender), Michael Berryman (as a God-fearing manager of a flophouse hotel). And it pretty much channels Jack Chick. Two cartoonish devils follow people around, urging them to turn to sin and away from God. They have a particular interest in Marc--an alcoholic with a nasty streak of leaving the Coco 66 bar with men, then murdering them when they insinuate he's gay. And they have an interest in Wendy, a wild party girl who has sex with dozens of anonymous men, eventually leading to an abortion. There's all the big sins here--drug use, murder, abortion, blasphemy, Dungeons and Dragons, Halloween parties... And ultimately it's done well enough that I have no idea if the "Good News" scenes are supposed to be serious or a parody. I suppose it's like the old saying, "Sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you've got it made." I have no idea if director James Felix McKenney is a believing, born-again Christian. I suspect not, and if I'm right, good job faking that sincerity.

Next up was a film that left absolutely nothing a mystery and absolutely no taboo untouched--A SERBIAN FILM. It's hard to talk about this movie without talking about the shocking scenes (it has been banned in its native Serbia), and I can't really do that without giving away spoilers. I'll just say the only time I've seen anything more shocking is whenever I close my eyes. It's easier to say what it's about metaphorically. It's about the Serbian war/genocide, and on a more universal level it's about how people, when they abdicate control of their lives to any authority (e.g., government, a sick film director, etc.) can be coaxed to perform horrible atrocities for which death isn't even an escape. Milosh is a retired porn star (he starred in such classics as MILOSH THE FILTHY STUD, and the movie opens with his ~8 year old son watching that movie). He has retired to family life--a loving wife and son. He...maybe? misses the old work, but he definitely misses the money. So when an old co-star (Milosh was so good that when he retired she could only co-star with donkeys afterward) contacts him with a lucrative one-movie deal that would set his family up for life, he hesitates but goes forward. The big catch--he can't read the script in advance. The director Vukmir has a vision, and it pretty quickly gets degrading. A bit of abuse in front of an underage witness is just the start. The movie is powerful, all the more so for how well made it is (narrative structure, acting, special effects, foley art, etc. are all top-notch) and especially because it very definitely has a not-very-subtle point.

And then we returned to a Holehead mainstay, crazy Japanese splatstick comedy with VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSTEIN GIRL. Vampire girl would be Monami Arukardo, a transfer student new to school just around Valentine's day. Keiko is a spoiled rich girl, her father is the assistant principal, and her love interest is Jyugon Mizushima. On Valentine's day, it's tradition for girls to give their beloved chocolates. But the stern teacher confiscates all chocolates as not classroom related and therefore contraband. But Monami hides one piece of candy and gives it to Mizushima. However it has a very strange filling--her blood. That turns Mizushima into a vampire (or at least halfway there). That's a problem for Keiko. Luckily her dad isn't just assistant principal--he's a mad scientist and heir to the legacy of Dr. Frankenstein. Wacky hijinx ensue throughout. Pretty funny, especially in the parodies of various school cliques (the cutting girls, the "ganguro" girls, etc.)

And finally, the late show was a blast from the past, THE EXTERMINATOR. Vietnam vets John Eastland (Robert Ginty) and Michael Jefferson (Steve James) are still friends well after the war. After Jefferson (who was the tougher one back in 'Nam) breaks up an attempt by a street gang to rob the warehouse where he works, they come back and get revenge, putting him in the hospital paralyzed. So Eastland seeks revenge, and finds the role of a vigilante "exterminator" fits him pretty well. Too bad the law doesn't agree. And that's that.

Total Running Time: 385
My Total Minutes: 188,419

3 comments:

Frank B said...

Re: A SERBIAN FILM --

Do you feel the end justifies the means? I haven't seen the film, and I'm not sure I really want to. But based on what I've read, it's hard to imagine how it could.

Is it more than an attempt at the ultimate shock/gross-out for its own sake? And does the primary audience (not necessarily you, since this is my first visit to your blog and I don't know your tastes) for films like this see them strictly as "can-you-take-it" endurance tests? Do you suppose the majority of them appreciate whatever nuances may exist?

Frank B said...

...and just so you know where I'm coming from, I usually find myself on the other end of this argument, trying to defend Lynch or Cronenberg against those who accuse them of being "gross" or "weird" for no good reason. But I also understand that ASF goes considerably beyond anything in the work of those two gentlemen.

I've seen a fair amount the "most extreme ever" stuff out there. SALO, Craven's LAST HOUSE, NEKROMANTIK, MEN BEHIND THE SUN, INSIDE, Italian cannibal films, ANTICHRIST. I understand the impulse to poke around in the darkest corners and put yourself through the harshest ordeals. But I think I'm losing my taste for this sort of thing.

Jason Wiener said...

Thank you for asking, that actually reminded me of something else I forget to mention in my review.

I have seen quite a few Serbian/Balkan films over the years, mostly because Cinequest (the San Jose Film Festival) has played a lot of them. It is very common for Serbian films to use dark slapstick humor as a way of dealing with horrific reality. I've noticed this and coined the term "Abserbity" (Serbia + Absurdity) to describe it. I don't feel like searching their archives, but several years ago the NY Times even did a story on the Serbian sense of humor.

That's very important to understanding this movie. It is, after all, A SERBIAN FILM, and I see it as both the logical extreme conclusion of and the antidote for abserbity.

It's hard to say that the end justifies the means, in fact it's kind of making the argument that no end justifies such extreme means, and it's the act of convincing himself that noble ends (providing for his wife and son) justify the means that leads Milosh into so much trouble.

The question of whether it is more than shock for shock's sake is easier. It definitely, definitely has a message (as I hope I adequately described in my review) and it is a very sincere, heartfelt point. And that makes it much more powerful.

I've seen a lot of the same movies you've mentioned (I never caught MEN BEHIND THE SUN), and I'm also usually defending "good" extreme movies. As a comparison, I could point out that, e.g., CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST has a "message" (who are the real savages?), but frankly that message is pretty trite. The SAW movies allegedly have a message, but I don't even believe the filmmakers believe the whole "Those who don't appreciate life don't deserve it" bullshit. Those are gross, pointless shocks that I grow bored with. A SERBIAN FILM is powerful because I really, really believe the filmmakers believe in the message of the film.

I do know some guys who watch as much horror as I do and walked out because they thought it was just pointless gross-out shocks, so I guess not everyone got the nuances. I thought the message was pretty obvious (again, perhaps because I've seen enough Serbian films to know what it's responding to), and the few people I talked to who watched and liked the film ended up talking not about the gross-out scenes but about the message. On the other hand, we were all pretty experienced and sophisticated film festival patrons, so I don't know how well we reflect the average audience.

I will end by noting that we were also joking about how we could have made it even sicker, so even if this goes further than anything I've seen (which it might well have), there's still plenty further to go. But without a point, there's no reason to go there.