Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Virgin Viewings: Repulsion Now, Repentance Later

The Sinful Dwarf (1973)
(aka. Dvaergen)
directed by: Vidal Raski
written by: Harlan Asquith

It's the most disgusting movie Viggo Mortensen has ever seen. That deserves credit for something, at the very least a DVD pull quote. If we're to believe the marketing by Severin films, who've done noble work in bringing this Dwarfsploitation from Denmark "classic" to American shores, this tale of a scandalously small - and yes, sinful - manchild is worth our curiosity. The Sinful Dwarf is the type of exploitation trash long since left to the sticky floors of 42nd Street cinemas and prints cut with bonus hardcore penetration shots. Not that we need to get all nostalgic about grimy stories of rape and the white slave trade, but there's a teary-eyed charm to the absolute smut peddled here and in kin like Thriller: A Cruel Picture, or something as visually vomitous (but far less wondrous) as the early works of Herschell Gordon Lewis and John Waters.

The opening scene is justifiably classic. Our dastardly dwarf himself, Olaf, rounds the corner to see a twenty-something woman playing hopscotch by herself in the street. Olaf hobbles closer and sets down his toy pooch. Awkwardly entranced, the woman persists to pet the toy dog as if an actual pulse existed in place of its Duracell battery. Olaf easily lures the woman away to his home where he has "more toys... upstairs!" Still fascinated by the dog and still petting it furiously, Olaf leads her into his attic with the rest of his prostitutes, injects her with heroin, and sets out looking for a respectable john.

Torben Bille, who plays the small in stature and big in fucked up Olaf, was a children's TV host before and after making the film, even with his mad, bulbous eyes and devil grin that would scare most adults. It's especially shocking to consider this once you've just witnessed Olaf shoving needles into slave prostitutes in his attic/hotel/brothel with the heroin he smuggles via teddy bears from a man named Santa at the "Santa Claus Toy Store." Even moreso once we've watched Olaf lash his girls for the pleasure of his drunken madame of a mother, who is inspired to sing showtunes. But most of all after having seen Olaf violate women with his walking cane with the same joy elicited toward his wind-up toys.

It's sick, disturbed, but not entirely shocking. The boredom during long stretches numbs any glimmers of horror, as does the unintended comic relief found in the drug-addled "performances," drunken ramblings, screeching musical numbers, and sinfully innocuous screaming. It's directed without a shred of good taste, and that includes its pace and editing. It might appear of the same scuzzy serendipity of John Waters, but it lacks any of the knowing wit and genius. With its mind in the gutter, it may as well have been filmed in one, amidst all the used needles, condoms and soiled mattresses. And yet I recommend The Sinful Dwarf to the very small audience who, like me, thinks that repellent description has its merits. For those few sinful persons, I say watch it now and atone for it later. If it's bad enough for Viggo Mortensen, it's good enough for me.

Mausoleum (1983)
directed by: Michael Dugan
written by: Robert Barich, Robert Madero

Susan Farrell is afflicted with the Nomed family curse ("Nilbog is goblin spelled backwards!") in which only a mythical crown of thorns can stop her impending demonic possession - which includes acts of levitation, gardening utensil mutilation, exploding heads, and mall theft.

If The Exorcist's possessed Regan were once a Playboy playmate, dressed like a character from Dynasty, had breasts that resembled oozing demon heads, shoplifted mall art, and still danced to disco in the mid-80's - you'd have something similar to Mausoleum. Susan, played by the busty Bobbie Bresee, is supposed to be thirty but appears to be of her buxom mid-forties, Marjoe Gortner as the hubby is as bland as his name is ridiculous, and the rest of the film is as shoddy and spectacular as one could ever hope from an obscure horror title like this one.

There are so many unexpected and embarrassing charms here. Like when the "great googly moogly" maid, Elsie (LaWanda Page of Sanford & Son), takes racism to wonderful comic highs and depressing minstrel show lows. She says thinks like, "No mo' grievin', I'm leavin'!" and, "There's some strange shit goin' on in here..." followed by a music cue that would have been baffling and shameful decades earlier. Then there's Susan's gardener who takes her suggestive cues as a means to go nap and do yardwork, before returning hours later to make his illicit advances. Nonsense. Inexplicable, magnificent nonsense.

Mausoleum is what happens when a filmmaker attempts to cash in on a popular premise (demonic possession) years beyond its popularity, and decides to up the ante with nudity and gore effects - both of which are laughable, cheap and unappealing. Still, there's something majestic in its audacity and willingness to go absolutely anywhere/nowhere with its tawdry tale of slutty telekinetic socialites. Its terrible qualities are far more seductive to me than its leading lady, and the film possesses far more cringe-induced laughs than it does busty blondes. Artistic merits be damned, Mausoleum is bad movie heaven.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Little Ladies Love Retro Posters!

Giant gross men, little bodacious women.
It's a motif.

Both sexist AND sizeist...
And that's just Mickey Rooney!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cult Oddities: Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) may have been one of the laziest slasher films ever written -- potentially done so with a power drill during the act of slumber. What leaves a lasting impression is that the sleazy affair was written by a woman (Rita Mae Brown) and directed by one as well (Amy Jones), yet is admirably just as sexist and degrading. Amidst the perpetual changing of tops, showering and mutilation, there hardly seems a clever perspective behind the otherwise obvious sexual metaphors involved in a male killer using a drill on scantily clad schoolgirls. It's most surprising then that its sequel is relatively inspired. No less inane mind you, just more joyously so. It's also been written and directed by a woman, Deborah Brock, with the intention of making something akin to Rock N' Roll High School meets A Nightmare on Elm Street. With Slumber Party Massacre II (1987) it's all about pillow fights and power chords, and the first one to fall asleep gets their bra frozen!

We enter the film during Courtney Bates' scintillating sex dreams of her shirtless crush Matt catching a football - all sunlight, smiles and sweat. Her sportsmanlike lust is startlingly interrupted with images of red hallways, a sanitarium and dead birds, and is made all the more disturbing with flash-cut reminders of the first Slumber Party Massacre. Courtney (played by Crystal Bernard - best known as Helen Chapel from the TV sitcom Wings) survived the power drill slaughter at the tender age of twelve years old, by the strength and savagery of her sister, Valerie, who viciously put an end to the killer's life via machete. When we first met Courtney in the original film, she was stealing Playgirl magazines from Valerie's mattress and perusing them over bananas and lollipops.

Much has changed. Where once she kept flaccid penises, she now keeps news clippings about the crime spree that still haunts her dreams. Now tucked beneath her mattress are scrapbooks composed entirely of news clippings oddly enough all from the same newspaper, all on the same news page, all from the same slow news day.

Courtney's now quite the prude, and she now has a vaguely Southern accent. She's also in a rock band with her girlfriends when she's not suffering constant, psychotic dreams about a death rocker who wants to love her and dismember said girlfriends. Her sister Valerie is now in the mental ward, while Courtney grows more skeptical of her own visions crossed with 80's music videos. The dreams grow progressively more vivid and sexual as the Dream Rocker (known officially as The Driller Killer) wails on a guitar/power drill-combo, groping Courtney and screaming things like, "Rock never dies!"

"I'm you and you're me, until we make it all the way.
Hey, baby... Love the one you're with!"

Courtney decides to relieve stress and head off to the condo owned by the parents of her bandmate Sheila, to celebrate her birthday weekend away from her depressive mother and institutionalized sister. It begins quaintly enough as the girls anticipate the arrival of their boyfriends and discuss plans for college. Things quickly turn understandably tawdry over champagne and corn dogs, ending in a rousing (some would say inevitable) topless pillow fight.

Perhaps the champagne's to blame, but soon Courtney's visions begin to blur with her reality. As her friends become distracted by their braindead boyfriends, Courtney's distracted by the ever-more real presence of the Dream Rocker and the potential murder of her friends. She'd probably be less bothered by the bloodshed if she were aware of the next song being written for their band by the drummer, the sweet and slow-witted Sally:

"I want a silver Caddie with a landau top.
I want a sugar daddy with a candy shop.
I want a lotta things that money can't buy,
But what I want most is a pie in the sky.
What I want most is a pie in the sky!"

The dreams themselves are cryptic enough to keep Courtney (and the viewer) a tad critical. She has visions of a bathtub overflowing with blood, hands in her hamburger (a handburger, if you will), and fears being viciously attacked by poultry!

Courtney tries desperately to convince her friends that Dream Rocker is nearby and that her visions are the truth. She has a difficult task ahead of her when Sally's persistent complaints over a nonexistent pimple has Courtney envisioning Sally with a massive oozing and exploding pustule that demolishes the side of her face.

Courtney thinks Sally is dead and somehow randomly stuffed in the trash compactor downstairs, but rather than check, the gang decides to call the cops and let Courtney babble her mad tale of death by acne. (Homage alert! The bastard officers are names Kreuger and Voorhies -- misspelled to feign authenticity? Courtney Bates (!) also mentions her survival from Trisha Craven's (!) house.) The cops aren't convinced, especially when Sally reappears at the front door, having merely gone out to the store to stock up on Oxy 10.

Matt, Courtney's crush from the film's early football fantasies, arrives to console her with birthday cake. He quickly detours Courtney's ramblings over blood and zits into the perfect foreplay. Matt and Courtney's passions ignite while the gang rocks out downstairs, oblivious to the fact that Courtney's virginity was the real threat all along. Guitar wails unsettle Courtney's mind as she confesses to him, "Matt, I've never--" But Dream Rocker and Courtney are so close now that he can complete her sentences, "--Gone all the way!" He laughs maniacally as he power drills through Matt's chest during a solo, and finally manifests himself outside of Courtney's dreams!

Dream Rocker is to leather and fringe what Freddy is to the red and green sweater. He replaces those snappy puns with inappropriately quippy song lyrics as he decimates Courtney's friends via drill: "This is dedicated to the one I love!" - "I can't get no satisfaction!" While he perhaps uneventfully pulverizes the entire group's chest cavities with the end of his guitar, Dream Rocker's true skill is performance.

He dance kicks, pops his collar and wags his tongue suggestively at Courtney as she leads friends astray through the suspiciously abandoned neighborhood. Of course her pals barely have time to blame Courtney for the crime spree as Dream Rocker offs them all in such an efficient, timely manner. Courtney, the sole psychotic survivor, torches him with a flamethrower as he rocks out ironically, "Come on, baby, light my fire!"

More bizarre than equating Courtney's untapped sexuality with a slaughterhouse is equating it with an 80's rock guitarist. The morbid events that transpire are largely funneled through Courtney's sex-starved psyche, but to what end? Her lethal lust can barely be contained like power ballads bursting from her loins.

Slumber Party Massacre II rocks! Even as it rolls dramatically downhill... Courtney, like her psycho sis Valerie, is now a head case ripe for the mental ward. But she'll certainly have a more exciting sexless existence in the sanitarium if there's a smoke machine involved.

Monday, February 15, 2010

All the Singular Ladies

A little love for the ladies happening over at Film Experience. I've collected some brief details on the latest from my favorite female auteurs. Salivate with me over new films from the likes of Lynne Ramsay (over eight years since Morvern Callar), Nicole Holofcener, Kelly Reichardt, Sofia Coppola, and rumors of a sequel to Julie Delpy's 2 Days in Paris!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"Valentine's Day is no joke..."

Skinner: Sending your chick a valentine, eh?

Johnny: Yeah.

Skinner: Johnny... Johnny! JOHNNY!!!!!

Club Silencio wishes you
a Happy (flashback-free)
Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Pondering Ponyo

Ponyo (2009) is the closest thing to watching The Little Mermaid on shrooms as watching The Little Mermaid on shrooms.

Hayao Miyazaki's latest may seem more superfluous than his last, but certainly no less delightful or psychedelically spectacular. His use of color and fluid animation (Ponyo's traipsing across the tidal waves is a true feast for the eyes), his truly oddball character choices, the unabashedly childlike story that could very well have been constructed by a child; there's an inexplicable charm here that I love only a bit less than Ponyo loves ham.

It's among many things a variation on the Hans Christian Andersen tale, but in the most bizarre way imaginable -- a trippy free-for-all rendition of the Disney classic as well. This time Ariel isn't a bodacious mermaid, but a homely, human-faced goldfish obsessed with pork products, who uses her escape from the ocean as a chance to wedge herself into a little boy's life, and his mother's refrigerator.

Instead of Ponyo having a "part of your world" lusting for a Prince Eric-type, it's almost like Ponyo's parents are behind the pairing of their emphatic, shapeshifting daughter and this five-year-old boy, Sosuke, so as to spare themselves her constant neurotic screaming about things she loves ("Ponyo loves Sosuke!" - "Ponyo loves ham!" - Ponyo loves third person). Ponyo's mother, Gran Mamare, is a a majestic spiritual presence that floats along the ocean tide. Ponyo's father, Fujimoto, of whom Ponyo got more of her unfortunate genes, is a stringy, wild-eyed human who became sickened by humanity, who one day decided he wanted to become king of the ocean and thus did. His home in a solitary bubble at the bottom of the ocean is the most normal thing about him. Imagine the conception process for these two... As awkward to visualize as Ponyo herself.

By the time Gran Mamere asks Sosuke to kiss Ponyo and make her a lifetime promise to care for and love her, it almost feels like a cautionary tale: be careful who you bring home to meet the folks. It's possible Ponyo's parents were just washing their hands clean of their eldest daughter, as much as they were trying to calm the natural balance she upset by leaving the ocean. Fujimoto has always been critical of the humanity that Ponyo desires, and she's certainly not a looker. Even more painful for the couple is that her thousands of sisters are mournfully identical.

Either way Sosuke will forever regret taking that funny little goldfish with a human face home to play. Their sweet, childlike friendship becomes a confusing arranged marriage of sorts, even if at this point she does have the appearance of a (relatively) normal little girl. For as much as she declares, "Ponyo loves Sosuke," Ponyo herself seems less interested in lifelong love as she is a lifelong buffet of HoneyBaked products at her beck and call.

Eternal love could sustain you, but so could ham. Delicious, nutritious ham.