The Squeaky Reel

An outlet for my thoughts on film, music, books, and various off-topic ramblings.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Friday the 13th is over...

...and I never watched a single one of the flicks in that series.
It's not that I don't have some amount of affection for them, mind. It's just that I've seen 1-6 enough times to last me for a while, and the ones that followed don't do much for me. (Though I do kind of have a soft spot for the silliness of Jason X and the monster-mash team-up of Freddy vs. Jason.)

For the record, I like the even-numbered entries in the series up through 6. 1, 3 and 5 just don't work for me. (Though admittedly I haven't seen 3 in 3-D; I might change my tune otherwise.)

Now that *that* is out of the way...

More quick notes on a recent viewing:

I've mentioned the misanthropic nature of Fulci's horror work. But I don't believe that another movie can actively *hate* quite like the late Roger Watkins' Last House on Dead End Street. The movie is fueled entirely on speed and anger. It eschews the fantastic or surreal aspects of Fulci's work, and instead creates as "real" a world as possible. However, it holds its audience at arm's length, refusing to let the viewer identify with anyone within the film's world. The constant voice-over work and detatched tone of the recording (there is *no* room tone in this, just varying levels of echo), continually remind the viewer that he or she is watching a movie. But this doesn't really give the audience any respite. It actually puts the viewer in an extremely uncomfortable position, given the subject matter of the film (Terry Hawkins, a recent release from prison, helms a series of filmed murders in order to seek retribution on those who had wronged him previously). Constantly reminded that we are the audience, and that we sought out this film in the first place, we have to ask ourselves: are we as depraved as the audience Terry believes exists for his "horror film?"

Now, there is generally nothing I hate more in film than a director who believes himself to be better than his audience. For instance, Michael Haneke's Funny Games or Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust. Both films seem to be saying, "you see these horrible things I'm filming? It's your fault -- I wouldn't be filming this stuff if it weren't for you sitting out there demanding this on your cinema screens." (Haneke's film doesn't sidestep the issue -- it tells you this quite literally, in to-the-audience addresses from the film's protagonist. Deodato may be ham-fisted, but at least he ain't *this* ham-fisted.) When Deodato closes his film with the line "who are the real cannibals?", he's not implicating himself in anything. Watkins doesn't play that game. He's not claiming to be above the audience. He's questioning his own relationship with the material at the same time he's questioning ours. Casting himself as Terry Hawkins was a stroke of brilliance; when he delivers lines like the almost-chanted "I'm directing this fuckin' movie!!!" or "you bet your ass this is for real!", he's blurring the line between himself and Terry to an almost unbelievable extent. He's just as responsible for what is going on as anyone, and he knows it. But he wants you to be just as aware of your role in this.

The film eventually becomes something akin to a magickal ritual, with shifting identities, invocation of godforms, release and banishment. And by that, I don't mean that the film is simply depicting something akin to a magickal ritual -- the film itself becomes that. To what end, I am not sure, though I suspect that it is a kind of catharsis via psychodrama. We are being made to recognize the Terry Hawkins existing within us, and when we are finally implicated in this and asked to share the burden, we banish him into the darkness. The constantly-shifting identities (accomplished by the brilliant use of masks being exchanged among the cast members) call into question exactly who is whom, and who is doing exactly what. Are we the protagonist or the victim in this game of role-playing? The answer is both: we are Terry, and the Terry within us will destroy us if he is given free rein. By the time that the closing sequence is completed, with the violation of the eye (and by extension, the audience; the final shot forces us to share the POV of the final victim), we have been made complicit in the acts we have seen, we are shown that we are the final victims of this misanthropy made flesh, and the rite is done. Despite the added-on postscript (in which a voice-over tells us that Terry and his pirates are serving 999-year sentences for their acts, a bit of narration added by the film's distributors after the fact and without Watkins' approval), the implication is that Terry is still out there; or, more to the point, Terry is still *in* there, and we're all tainted by his presence. No one is innocent; we are all guilty; we are all Terry and Terry is all of us.

Oddly, I wore my LHODES t-shirt to Whole Foods the other day, and was asked about it by employees *twice*. Never been asked about it before, but there it was, twice in one day. Dunno what that means, but I figured it was time to watch it again.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Closing in on MALATESTA!!!

Thanks to Lang Thompson over at the Mobius Home Video Forum, I finally have info on the production of and reaction to the amazing Malatesta's Carnival of Blood!!! There's a brilliant little writeup on the film in the Philadelphia City Paper. If you're even a quarter as obsessed with the film as I am, or even if you've only just considered watching it in the first place, you'll want to check this out. Thanks to Lang for bringing this to my attention, as it answered more questions than I even knew I had!


Monday, June 02, 2008


"Step right in, ladies and gentlemen. Step right in. No, no, no -- don't be afraid to bring the children. We have special treats for children. Just five tickets to see the world's only living two-headed giraffe. He won't be alive much longer. Or see the Siamese twins wiggle and swim in their big blue bottle. Don't be afraid. They can't get out. See Gilda the bearded giantess waltz with Bobo the dwarf! Or simply try your luck at...try your luck at...try your luck at...try your luck at..."
--- Mr. Blood

I admit it. I have a tendency toward hyperbole. I get caught up in the moment, and tend to overstate my enthusiasm. I recognize this as a fault of mine, so it is with this present in my conscious mind telling me that I must avoid blowing things out of proportion that I share this bit of info with you, dear reader...

Malatesta's Carnival of Blood is one of the most brilliant things I've ever seen.

I have no idea where it came from. The film's website doesn't offer much in the way of production history, aside from the fact that it was distributed on the Southern drive-in circuit (MAN, I wish this had played at the Hi-Way and that I could've caught it at some point...then again, I was three at the time, so maybe it wouldn't have worked out) and was considered lost for years until a print was found in an attic and taken to Zoetrope Studios (!!!) where it was mastered for DVD release.

None of what I typed above matters, though. What matters is that the film exists, that it's readily available for viewing, and that it should be seen by anyone with a taste for the surreal.

Its low-budget origins and rough-around-the-edges appearance may give you the impression that this is another "so bad it's good" drive-in offering, but don't be deceived. This is a film that knows what it's doing, and does it with a good deal of panache. I can't imagine what initial audiences made of it -- it's a hell of a lot closer to Eraserhead than Macon County Line, so the drive-in circuit was probably not the best place for this to land. I can tell you what my reaction was, though: this film probably captures the feeling of a nightmare better than any other film I've seen. And I've seen a lot of movies that people consider "nightmarish" or "dreamlike". It's almost as if the film isn't really trying to aim for this effect, either.

Let me give you a rundown of what happens in the first 30 minutes or so...The first shot we see is of a cartoonish display statue of a policeman with his arm extended in the "halt" position, with a whistle blaring. This should be a warning to all involved. We're immediately taken to a gypsy psychic's reading room, which is spinning around on its center axis (and it's not the camera that's moving -- it's either the floor or the walls; our perspective doesn't allow us to see precisely what it is that's moving in relation to the other, but it's clearly not just a perspective trick), as the psychic (played by a man in drag) offers up a doom-filled reading for a new female employee of the carnival. We jump outside to see the girl's parents being escorted around by Mr. Blood, who is an assistant to Malatesta, the carnival's owner. We're introduced to the ubiquitous Mr. Bean, who pops up in different places for no good reason. (LOTS of things happen in this movie for seemingly no good reason.) We're introduced to the Davis family, and given another couple rounds of gender confusion: after the drag queen psychic, we're told that the Davises have a son; the child is instead a daughter. When the daughter demands a "dead chicken" (one of the rubber chickens used as a prize in the Norris' shooting gallery), Vena Norris' new male acquaintance Kit offers the daughter one; the mother replies "look at what the nice lady has for you!" Then, Kit gives the Davis family a complimentary ride on the Tunnel of Love (which he operates), and nobody comes out. He goes inside to find an incredibly bizarre set design which seems to be primarily constructed out of bubble wrap, the father's glasses, and a good amount of blood. BANG, we're in the Norris' trailer, where Mr. Blood explains that he is on a restricted diet and has been cheating death because of it, and after he leaves, we find out that the Norrises are there to...well...find someone. We're not entirely sure why they're there. Are they there to prevent something from happening? To seek revenge because of something that *has* happened? We just don't know. Just as in dreams, motivations are in flux, and adapt as new elements arrive. Just go with the flow. Two drunken revelers appear on the scene (and they just might be the only customers this carnival has ever had, even though it obviously seems to be after business hours), and one loses his head on the roller coaster operated by Mr. Bean. His partner seeks answers from Mr. Blood, and is directed to the gray-faced groundskeeper, "Sticker," who kills him. His body is delivered to a bunch of ghouls via some insane process of transport (more bubble wrap is involved), where they feast upon his flesh while being serenaded by a trio of ghouls singing a lullaby.

Do you see what I'm getting at? I can't really explain what *happens* in the movie any more than I can explain what happens in David Lynch's most abstract works and expect to have my description make linear sense. Just like in dreams, linear storytelling isn't important. Things just happen, details are fixated upon almost arbitrarily. A dream sequence begins but does not end so that you'd notice. People on the run take bizarre detours through carousels or take random roller coaster rides. Sets are constructed out of junked Volkswagen Beetles and hot dog wrappers. Hervé Villechaize appears to offer dire warnings and guidance, but we don't know whom he serves or why. A huge mass of ghouls watches silent movies somewhere in the carnival. Mr. Blood might be a vampire, or he might just think he's a vampire, or he might just be playing the part of a vampire; we're not sure. Characters appear and disappear from the story with no warning. Some scenes are drenched in a milky haze, while others are crisp and clear, so it's impossible to tell via visual clues what might be real or not; it's never clear if what we're seeing happen is real or imagined, or if there's any difference whatsoever.

And what's more is that the film contains some of the most striking and inventive visuals you'd ever expect out of a horror movie with such an obviously low budget. Director Christopher Speeth delivers a remarkably accomplished-looking feature film (as far as I can tell, it's his only feature-length work, which is a crying shame). The set design is incredible, the shots are consistently inventive, and the SOUNDTRACK...Created by Dr. Sheridan Speeth (I have no idea what relation he might be), it successfully creates an aura of foreboding and a sense of creeping dread, while also escalating the sense of disorientation brought about by the bizarre visuals.

I can't recommend this movie higher. I've watched it five times in the past three weeks, and I'm still finding new aspects of it to appreciate. MAN, I wish I had decent computer software that'd allow me to do some screen captures of this thing. This would read so much better with visual accompaniment. You'll just have to buy your own copy. It's available at Amazon, Xploited Cinema, and Diabolik DVD. Get to it!!!

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