MK Ultra, The C.I.A. & Sex Slaves (The Ward, 2010)

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John Carpenter’s 2010 film “The Ward” is clearly not his best work. In fact, it’s pretty bad.

However, I can’t help but be fascinated by this damn thing. I’m not even 100% sure why? But I do believe there’s something interesting simmering just below its surface.

The film begins with a young woman (whom we later learn is…) named Kristen being brought (unwillingly) to a psychiatric hospital in a town called North Bend, Oregon in 1966. We just witnessed her setting fire to, what looks like, an abandoned house to me. But since it IS an act of vandalism and (perhaps? some kind of…) violent anarchy? I suppose some kind of punishment is in order! But a ‘psych ward’? Why not jail? I don’t know? they never show her being examined by a doctor, she just winds up in a ‘loony bin’! Seems a little odd, but fine, let’s go along with the story. Perhaps she’s there because of some mistake?

Before long we learn the other girls in this psyche-ward (and there are ONLY girls here, it’s like “Girl, Interrupted” in this respect, but ONLY in this respect!) seem to be ‘archetypes’ and we’re introduced to them all: the ‘baby’, the ‘nymph’, the ‘artist’ and the ‘prankster’. But there’s no real specific ‘illness’ attributed to any of them. I mean, we know they’re supposed to be ‘insane’ in some way and some of them ‘act out’ in (mildly) ‘crazy’ ways. But we get no specifics. Most of them seem like they’re there against their will.

Kristen tries constantly to fight her captors and rally her fellow patients to escape. None of them seem remotely interested in helping her, nor all that motivated to resist. Eventually, Kristen hears about a girl who was in the room she occupies and that something happened to her. Kristen can’t get anyone to even say the prior girl’s name and she then sees and is perpetually haunted by some kind of female ghoul (?) and predictably, nobody believes her, not even her fellow patients.

The nurses aren’t quite “Nurse Ratched types”, but they’re certainly not warm either. The male orderlies seem rough and vaguely like they might be sexual predators.

Throughout the film we see these very brief, short clips of a young girl (about 10 yrs. old?) chained up in a basement being tortured and sexually assaulted by…some one? One clip shows the silhouette of a man entering the basement, unbuckling his pants and approaching the shackled pre-pubescent girl. It’s clearly a ‘flashback’, but we don’t know which girl she’s meant to represent…yet!

Well, after Kristen is attacked by the ghoulish girl figure in the showers, everyone finally seems to reveal that they know what she’s talking about, but are intentionally keeping quiet about it.
That night, Kristen fakes taking her meds and attempts to escape, but is ultimately caught in the end. At this point, the (until now) benevolent ‘chief head shrinker’ of the ward, suddenly turns none to benevolent at all and has Kristen forcibly restrained and given electric shock treatment as punishment for her insolence. Afterwards the orderlies throw her, like a rag doll, on the bed in her ‘cell’…
“They should do this to all the patients!”, says one orderly to the other.

What we learn eventually, is that ALL the girls in this psyche-ward are, in fact, different personalities of the same girl. A girl named, curiously, Alice. This includes Kristen, the girl originally in her room and even the ‘ghoul girl’…they’re all fragments of Alice’s fractured psyche, which leads to my main theory of the film…

I believe the film is a metaphor and slightly veiled commentary on the government’s use of mind control programs. Perhaps Carpenter is trying to tell a story which is a metaphor for the 1950s and 60s government MK Ultra program?

I think that’s exactly what he’s doing!

We know John Carpenter can be a political filmmaker. His late 80s film, “They Live” is an absolute, barely disguised critique of society and the controlling hand of the U.S. government, through the use of a simple Sci-fi movie about alien invasion. So, I don’t think it’s a stretch that this film may be a comment and critique of the US government’s mind control programs. Only this time, within the simple frame-work of a ‘psychological horror’ theme. In fact I believe Carpenter is making a similar commentary as Stanley Kubrick did with “Eyes Wide Shut”, though admittedly not as clever or as well executed; but it’s not fair to compare any filmmaker to Stanley Kubrick, he was clearly a genius!
But essentially, I think Carpenter is displaying a similar theme?

See, this film takes place at the peak of the government’s MK Ultra program: late 50s early 60s. The main character in the film is a female (brought to the hospital in the late ’50s) which leads me to believe the film is not just about mind control, but more specifically the MK Ultra program (supposedly) responsible for creating female ‘sex slaves’ with the express purpose of ‘pimping out’ to powerful men in high office; major politicians. These gals, who’re ‘pimped out’ to politicians were known as “presidential models”. As in, they were (quite literally) used as personal sex toys to presidents. While the MK Ultra program has been admitted to by our government, not so the ‘sex slave’ angle. It’s still a controversial theory. Some say it never took place at all, others claim it happened to them personally! *For further info, read the book: “Trance-Formation of America” by Cathy O’Brien. She claims to have had sex with nearly every president and politician since Gerald Ford! The very first claim of this variety was in the late 1950s early 60s by radio personality (the Art Bell of his day) “Long” John Nebil’s wife: Candy Jones (former fashion model and radio host in her own right). “Long John” put his wife under hypnosis when she was having ‘issues’ and didn’t know how else to help her. Well, what happened was that, while under trance, she revealed this incredible story of mind control and multiple personalities (before the government even admitted they were engaged in such acts, it should be noted). She claimed one of her personalties was the ‘presidential model’. In addition, she claimed other personalities were used as a government spy, some to seduce enemy agents, others to steal covert Intel and still more to smuggle drugs and contraband into and out of the U.S. and foreign countries. All the while, she was completely unaware this had been done to her, nor did she remember what she said while under hypnosis…essentially, she was (supposedly) mind controlled to ‘please’ those in governmental power.
Seem far-fetched? Perhaps? Not so much, when you consider the U.S. Government actually admitted to doing non-consent, trance, hypnosis, drug and torture experiments on thousands and thousands of its citizens!

Many controversial and infamous figures, people like: writer (and Merry Prankster) Ken Kesey, Robert Hunter (singer songwriter, Grateful Dead pal), Timothy Leary (Psychologist and psychedelics advocate), Ted Kaczynski (the uni-bomber!), James “Whitey” Bulger (notorious Boston gangster) and even (perhaps) Sirhan Sirhan all took part in MK Ultra LSD experiments, Kesey and Hunter at Stanford, Kaczynski and Leary while at Harvard and Bulger when locked up at Leavenworth…where it’s also claimed Charlie Manson was a subject! (It should be noted here, that all of the above people mentioned, volunteered for these “experiments”…not so for many, many others!)

All the hallmarks of CIA government mind control appear in the film. The female victim of MK Ultra mind control is almost always sexually assaulted and physically tortured from a young age; as a way of inducing multiple personalties. Parts of this were admitted by our government. The use of trauma and torture to (metaphorically) split the psyche of their subject open, fracturing the mind and (attempting to…) create multiple personalities. They would then use those different personalities for various purposes and ‘secret operations’ (something like a Manchurian Candidate). This is classic ‘text book’ Mind Control programming.

Well, eventually we learn in the film that the main character, Kristen, is really the girl named Alice. Reminding me immediately of, Alice in Wonderland, which I’m told is a commonly used source material in the programming of mind control slaves. Lewis Carroll’s text, it’s said, was used by the government in the conditioning and programming process. To me, this was a clear wink and a nod from Carpenter as a direct reference to government mind control/sex slave programming.
*As an interesting (and perhaps creepy) side note, I know for a fact that Scientology also uses Carroll’s texts in (what they refer to as…) their ‘TR rundowns’ or Training Routines-which would take a whole post in itself to explain…anyway, another time perhaps?

When you group all the details here; the fact the film takes place in a psychiatric hospital, in the late 1950s early 60s no less, with a young girl who has been traumatized and tortured as a young girl (we learn that Alice was, in fact, the girl chained and tortured in the basement, the same house the Kristen part of her burned down in the beginning!) her psyche is fragmented into several different personalities-all those ‘archetypes’ she encounters as other patients-the psyche-ward’s lounge is like the interior of her mind. Rape, sexual torture, drugs and physical abuse were all used on Alice and it clearly fragmented her mind. Yet, it seems she’s continuing to be traumatized (re-traumatized?) by the very psychiatric institution she’s (supposedly) being “helped” by and here it could be stated the institution is attempting to end her mind control programming-for good! We watch as her fractured personalities (the female archetypes) are slowly killed off, ‘slasher style’ by Alice, who psychologically kills her multiple personalities off…by the use of (an additional personality) the female ghoul of the film, until eventually the character we were following as our protagonist, Kristen, is ‘murdered’ by the ‘ghoul girl’. It would seem (according to what those who’ve undergone MK programming) that Alice has out-lived her usefulness to the government (the people we see as her parents could also be-what is know as-‘handlers’, it’s said mind control ‘handlers’ are often parents; who sell their children to the government for total use of mind, body and soul) as subjects of MK programming claim girls either ‘age out’ or become risks to the program by becoming ‘psychotic’ and then get “reprogrammed” and in the film, Alice is, apparently, at this stage, brought back to the hospital for ‘reprogramming’ or to have her mind washed clean.

Towards the end of the film, the Kristen persona jumps out the window to her death while the ‘ghoul girl’ attacks her and she awakens to find she has returned to her ‘primary’ personality: Alice. It’s then that we’re introduced to her parents, who’re told by the doctor she’s been ‘cured’. Yet, the last shot of the film shows Alice (while leaving for good) glancing in the mirror and, without warning, the ‘Kristen’ persona appears in the mirror, crashes through it and grabs Alice pulling her inside. This has three separate metaphors to impart. First, it tells us Alice hasn’t been ‘reprogrammed’ properly and Kristen (the rebellious aspect of Alice’s nature) is still there, inside her. Second, the mirror imagery is an important one in mind control programming. It’s generally understood that mind control slaves are taught to stare into mirrors as a method to induce trance and bring out one of their multiples. Third and last, there’s the obvious allusion to “Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass” Lewis Carroll’s follow up to “Alice in Wonderland”. Alice has, quite literally, gone through the looking glass here.

I must discuss the ‘head doctor’ in the film, who (in my opinion) represents a real life, despicable Doctor. Donald Ewen Cameron, a Scots psychologist who was made head of a large psychiatric hospital (McGill’s Allan Memorial Hospital) in Canada by the CIA/U.S. government to torture, abuse and essentially do as he so pleased to the poor bastards at his mercy with no consent from the patients at all. Many of his victims (make no mistake, these were victims) never recovered their minds ever again and were permanently destroyed for the rest of their lives. *I saw video of one of Dr. Cameron’s former patients (a grown man) break down in uncontrollable sobbing while recounting his (brief) time in the “hospital”. And he was one of the lucky ones! Dr. Cameron used electric shock, powerful drugs, just as the doctor in the film played by Jared Harris (also of Scots descent) used similar “tools”. Dr Cameron indulged in unspeakable and insidious methods to ‘crack the mind’ of his patients, for the express purpose and use of our ‘fine’ government. This should never be forgotten and aught to be remembered as one of the most embarrassing in the annals of U.S history. We, as a nation, mustn’t forget these deeds actually took place! Doctors literally engaged in torture, sadistic, cruel and experimental (often permanent) damage to patients minds and souls! We also know that Cameron seemed to have no compunction about doing this for the last part of his professional life. Oddly, Cameron was a vehement anti-nazi, who claimed he conducted these experiments to (somehow) combat Nazism…? I’m reminded here of Nietzsche: “be careful when staring into the abyss, as the abyss may stare back at you!” Cameron clearly stared long and hard into the abyss!
In contrast to Dr. Cameron was a Dr. Sidney Gottlieb. Also hired by our government, the CIA, to (again, without consent) mind-fuck CIA agents, sneaking LSD into their cocktails (which resulted in the known suicide of at least one agent, Frank Olson, a fact that wasn’t divulged to his wife for thirty years!), prostitutes, drug addicts, the homeless, mental patients, prisoners and others without recourse. However, Gottlieb eventually (after retiring from the government’s despicable program) admitted what they had engaged in was ultimately totally useless. He seemed troubled and conscience stricken by his deeds-for he then turned humanitarian-studying Buddhism, Hinduism and retiring to an environmentally efficient goat farm in Virginia where he and his wife made yogurt. Eventually, they moved to India where he helped the sick, less-fortunate and dying, giving freely of himself until his dying day…the victim of a guilty conscience, no doubt!

Yes, our country committed these acts…and these are the ones they are willing to admit to. Can you imagine what they keep hidden?

I’d suggest watching “The Ward”, not because it’s a great movie, because it really isn’t…ignore (if you can?) the silly junk…it’s really non-essential to the point of the film anyway. Instead, watch and see if you can locate references to MK Ultra and mind control. Perhaps you’ll find much more than I did? Once I noticed the symbols, it became a far more interesting movie. Not enough to elevate my rating of the film above sub-mediocre level. However, it was exciting to know John Carpenter still has a bit of that old “Hollywood-Left” hippie, politico in him.

*Happy (belated) Birthday, John Carpenter…his birthday was in January I know, but I was so lazy and dragged my heels on this post for so long, I only finished it today. But whatever, it’s not like I’m on a deadline (or paid!)…so, fuck it!

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From Christian Worm to Satanic Butterfly (Satan’s Children)

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“…warping the mind of a generation,
teach children to worship Satan!” -The Dwarves, The Crucifixion is Now

I went to a screening, at the historic Tampa Theater, of the ‘official premier’ of “Satan’s Children”, last weekend. Originally filmed in Tampa, in 1974, by a Joe Wiezycki. This screening was, ostensibly, the first time the film had been seen since 1974 and Fangoria magazine was there to document it. Later I learned that the claim: this was the “premier” of the film, was very specious…anyway, onto the film…

‘Satan’s Children’ is an odd film, no doubt. It has the distinction of being both a film that is clearly a product of it’s time and yet, a film slightly ahead of it’s time and out of step with it. How so? Well, firstly it’s a product of it’s time by the fact that on the surface it has pretty much all the elements of your standard seventies low-budget horror film. Someone at the premiere said it was like a “Florida version of “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things”, which is pretty accurate (I think it’s better actually) but it’s also a little misleading. It’s a little ahead of it’s time and breaks with the usual tradition in B-horror films, because it has a very strange story arc, which goes something like this…

It starts with a young man, named Bobby, mowing his family’s lawn somewhere in Florida. We see he has a stern father and a peculiarly incestuous relationship with his sister. This is the first peculiarity. It’s pretty salacious really (one of many in this strange little film). The sister seems to take great delight in both sexually exciting him, then tattling on him and getting him in trouble with his father. She’s basically a tease and a bitch. Bobby’s obviously tormented and made uncomfortable by his sister’s sexual teasing and his father’s over bearing attitude towards him. His father treats him like utter shit and favors his daughter over his son. Put it this way, Bobby is a very unhappy little camper!

At supper, Bobby’s sister places her bare foot (under the dining room table) onto the boy’s crotch and softly grinds it into him (this reminded of Russ Meyer films, though I doubt the filmmakers had it in mind) and, before he gets a chance to stick her foot with his fork, she rats the poor boy out to his father about the ‘bag of grass’ (very 70s movie!) in his room. Feeling bullied and ganged up on at home, Bobby decides to leave. Well, if Bobby didn’t like being ‘ganged up on’ or ‘bullied’ at home, things are about to get FAR worse.

He wanders the dark streets of Tampa that night and winds up at a local watering hole. There he’s first approached by a porcine, unattractive, middle aged man, clearly trying to ‘pick him up’. Again, our hero is uncomfortable. But, no fear, another young man, a little older, ‘cool and tough’, kicks the ‘old queen’ out (the film has a lot of anti-homosexual angles, while at the same time a lot of homosexual references, there’s a strange duality here) and then he sets out talking to Bobby like a peer, like an equal and he seems to be very friendly to Bobby. This is the first time Bobby has been treated this way by someone he can look up to. Needless to say, Bobby is easily charmed by the guy and the dude has a motorcycle too! Our hero agrees to ride on the back of the guy’s bike back to his place. We’re now subjected to long front shots of the two driving through downtown Tampa. This shot has some of that odd homosexual reference I was talking about. Before long the two arrive at the older guy’s pad. At his place the guy offers the boy a beer and some ‘grass’. The boy accepts, naturally. However, things are about to turn real quick. For some odd reason, the ‘biker’ pulls a knife approaches the young man and forces him to undress. Things get pretty damn perverted here. Another part of the film that seems outlandish for it’s time and another strange homosexual method. The young boy is hog tied, while the biker calls his thuggish friends. His friends take the young boy out for a ‘joy ride’. Our hero is in the middle of the car, lying horizontal, his head near the dashboard, his feet in the back seat. Bobby’s naked and hogtied. Two men are in the front seats, two in the backseat on either side of the boy. The two up front take turns beating him, while the two in the back seat take turns (seemingly) punching their fists into the boy’s buttocks. All the while they drive around town laughing and drinking beers. This scene is particularly perverse. Yet the whole film has this strange feeling of perversion, it’s hard to describe, but it’s palpable. Eventually, they dump the boy’s naked, raped and beaten body on the side of a rural road. This road also happens to be the location of a strange Satanic Cult. The cult is like something between The Manson Family and…Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan? This is where the bulk of the film takes place. Things just keep getting weirder!

Before long, Bobby is found by the cult and chosen by the female ‘head’ of the cult as her lover. The two then begin to make really awkward and uncomfortable looking sex with each other (which I don’t think was the intention, but that’s how it looked). When the real leader of the cult arrives, who looks like a young Boyd Rice, he tells Bobby he’s ‘too weak’ to be a Satanist, after all, he says, “you turn the other cheek” with pun fully intended after mentioning his rape. Weird film, right? He then goes on to provoke the young man by saying he’s a perpetual victim, not at all the kind of person this satanic cult would want as a member. Also the ‘satanic cult’ leader (and the cult in particular) seems to have no tolerance for homosexuality, but wouldn’t they embrace homosexuality? Christianity is the one that vehemently opposes those acts. Every other part of this Satanic cult is pretty much a mockery or inversion of the usual Christian moral code, so I had to wonder why it was portrayed that way. Who knows?

Okay, so now comes the part that really separates this film from the rest of its ‘kind’. As its principally a story about a young man who changes from a wimpy, passive victim of violence into a perpetrator of violence on those who’ve tormented him. It has a strangely satanic message to convey, not at all the usual Christian (or humanist) moral code one finds in most of these b-horror films. I mean, our hero goes on to murder, dismember and sex traffic and we’re clearly meant to be following him as the ‘hero’ of this fiilm. Perhaps this is an early horror film ‘anti-hero’. Like I say, it’s a really peculiar film.

I don’t want to give the impression that this is a ‘lost masterpiece’. It’s not. The film has many flaws. Only one of which is a scene in the middle of the film that seems to drag on far too long. Also, the print I saw of the film, though it feels nostalgic and looks very seventies, is also REALLY poorly tattered and torn. Maybe this is the best negative of the film that exists? So I can’t really complin. It would need to garner some really heavy duty fans in order to raise the money to thoroughly restore this film. But, I suppose if this films gets around to people, I could see it developing some cult fans and there is nothing better than horror film fans; they’re a super dedicated group. Horror fans pay!

I suggest people watch this film, at the very least it’s a fun ride. I’d say it’s well worth the price Something Weird Video was selling the DVD for… ten dollars! Here’s a link to buy the DVD…satan’s children

From Art-House to Slaughterhouse (Week Four: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)

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Happy Halloween: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
(40th Anniversary of a genuine, true art-house, horror classic!)

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Now it begins…Aleister Crowley died in 1947…The Texas Chainsaw Massacre premiered in 1974…just months prior, in 1973, over-the-counter ‘cough syrup’ (more importantly the psychedelic-dissociative) Romilar made it’s ‘final bow’ from pharmacy shelves and ’70s teenagers everywhere mourned…but a new Aeon was in bloom; as the character, Pam, in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre says: “[in the summer of 1974] Saturn is in Retrograde!” Saturn, in astrology is the King of Karma and retrograde is Karma meted out…so indeed, something wicked this way comes…

Of course, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, right?
But…
Why ‘art-house’ film?
Because, quite sincerely, in my opinion: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is and always has been, more than a horror film…though it’s that too! But, the film transcends the genre and that label. I truly find it to be an ‘art film’ of the most visceral variety.

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The film resides in the Museum of Modern Art’s film archives and is lauded by such esteemed filmmakers (as far afield) as: Steven Spielberg and William Friedkin. I don’t know of one modern experimental/noise musician/artist who hasn’t cited the film’s score as an “influence” on their work. I can hear shades of the soundtrack in songs like “Hamburger Lady” by Throbbing Gristle and much of the early British power-electronics scene. But it’s not just because of the above facts, but oh so much more, that it’s clear to me the film has much more to express and offer than just really good “shock-horror”…though it has that too!

In my opinion, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is a film that’s more than the sum of it’s parts. In fact, It’s described by the film’s editor and director’s assistant Sallye Richardson as ‘being born’ when they finished the absolute final mix of the film. She states* “I got scared, I got really scared, because it became something other than what it was, it went to another dimension, it was like a spirit went into it, it became that entity that people now look at. A spirit went into that thing–it wasn’t always there, but after [the final mix] it was always there…it was that magical thing, it wasn’t just a piece of film any more–that’s when I got scared.” I can’t think of a better way of describing the brilliance of this film. It can’t be codified and any attempts to explain what makes it so effective and ‘genius’ falls apart in your hands, disintegrates before you can get a grip on it…the film is ineffable, one cannot ‘pin it down’. There’s something intrinsic to the film, perhaps there’s something ‘in’ the celluloid, as Sallye Richardson alludes to? It can’t fully be explained and I won’t even try.

I’ve stated on many occasions (and still maintain) that the Texas Chainsaw Massacre is “the best American film ever made”** not the best American “horror film” ever made, no, the best American film ever made…period! I usually avoid even naming “favorite films”, I don’t even like to compare favorite films…but the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for some strange reason, I feel I can safely say, is my favorite American film! The film is SO quintessentially “American” too. It personifies just about everything American one can think of: the break-up of the family unit, barbecue, ‘mom and pop jobs’ squashed by ‘big corporations’, youth culture, taxidermy and most importantly chainsaws!

The film has something about it that cannot be ”re-created” either. Lord knows “they’ve” tried! The number of sequels and remakes alone, make this pretty clear. The film gives people the impression it would be ‘easy’ to tap into. It seems deceptively simple to recreate…but it’s not…many have tried, all have failed. Even the director of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper, could never recreate that same level of cinematic genius. I firmly believe it’s a film that could only have been created at that time, could only exist at that particular period in history. Ironically, the film never seems ‘dated’. It exists inside it’s own universe, a universe that reflects the real world, but is distinctly separate from it. It’s what I believe the best films all contain, to one extent or another. The film also seemed to have spilled forth directly from Tobe Hooper’s “Id”, which is what makes it the ‘art-house/horror film’ I believe it to be. It’s also what makes it look like a beautiful piece of surreal art and a disciplined crafting of pure Id. I don’t think Hooper himself could tell you why the film works as well as it does? Could it be that it was created by a group of young Austin filmmakers, artists and performers heroically charged with mega-doses of enthusiasm who all wanted to help create the best low budget movie that they could? Well, we could explore all these elements and I could write about them all, but I think it would ultimately be a fool’s errand. Clearly, it’s not any of those things, neither individually nor combined, that make this film the genius work of art that it is. Plenty of other films have contained the same or similar ‘elements’ but did not produce an end product anywhere near the kind of final results we see from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

The essential plot of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is ridiculously simple (a group of young people travel to an unfamiliar locale and are killed off by a family of cannibals…that’s it! That’s the extent of the ‘plot’) as I said already, this is a film that’s far more than the sum total of it’s parts. In fact the ‘simplistic plot’, I think, helps make the rest of the film come to life and move to the fore as graphically and creatively as it does. There’s a vast amount of information, data and details packed densely, yet economically, into this rather paltry plot of a horror film. It does everything a good film is supposed to do. It puts you, the viewer, into the place of the protagonists. Makes you feel what they feel, brings their fear and terror directly to you…but subtly. It doesn’t beat you over the head (pun fully intended) with what it’s trying to express. In fact many a modern filmmaker could learn a lot from this little low budget film from Austin, Texas.

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A perfect example of what I’m talking about is when the first victim in the film steps into the decrepit ‘old house’. He stumbles, tripping, through a doorway with a blood red wall covered with horns, antlers, animal skulls, pelts and other bits of odd deathly detritus behind it. The sound of a pig squealing can be heard among the rattling of animal bones that hang from the ceiling, like primitive ghastly mobiles. Then, suddenly and without warning, a big hulking ‘humanoid’ wearing another person’s face for a mask and a bloodied butcher’s apron, just appears from behind and stands, looming, before him. A low guttural pig’s squeal is heard once again and “It” raises it’s hand-held sledge hammer, brings it down on the young man’s skull and cracks it. The body drops to the floor and lays in the doorway, shaking, twitching and convulsing…the hulking thing drags the rest of the young man’s body inside his lair and slams the sliding metal door closed with a metallic ‘kelang!’ and a harsh, dissonant musical chord thunders across the soundtrack at the same time. It’s the only bit of music in the entire scene, which expertly serves to heighten the mood and add to the creepy, stomach churning fear and anxiety of the scene. It’s brilliantly executed! Young filmmakers could learn an important lesson from this one scene alone…restraint! Restraint, which is sorely lacking from most films today.

The last scene of the film is another example of exactly why the film is sheer genius! I defy anybody to deny that Marilyn Burns doesn’t look like she has, quite literally, lost her mind while she sits, crouching and clutching manically for something to hold onto, screaming her head off in the back of that pick-up truck, as it drives her away to safety and away from the bizarre horrors she’s just endured. Leaving Leatherface, with his chainsaw swirling about in the air like a child throwing a temper tantrum, a shamanic dance in the dawn’s early light. But, it’s that look on Burns’ face in the last scene that proves to me the film exceeds it’s meager limitations and achieves a level of transcendence (?) that seems, to me, beyond B-film, beyond exploitation, beyond horror…beyond acting. It’s like: This isn’t a film “…this is really happening!”

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It is said, and I believe it to be true, that it’s a miracle any films get finished at all. After one factors in all the problems that can and do arise while making a film, it’s truly miraculous that one can even complete a film! Let alone create a masterpiece like this…

Happy Halloween…one and all!

*from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Companion” by Stefan Jaworzyn, an absolutely excellent source for all things TCM related.
**of course I’m being slightly hyperbolic, but I’d certainly say TCM is the best film of the second half of the 20th Century!

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From Art-House to Slaughterhouse (Week Three: Fat Girl)

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Countdown to Halloween: Fat Girl

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The French title of Catherine Breillat’s 2001 film is: “A Ma Soeur!” which translates to “For My Sister!”. But for some reason, it became: “Fat Girl” in America.

At the New York Film Festival in 2001, Mme. Breillat said she preferred the title “Fat Girl”. I don’t know why? but knowing a bit about Mme. Breillat, it’s probably because that title’s more provocative and to the point? That’d be my guess. Because, if Catherine Breillat can be labelled anything, it’s provocative.

The original title sounds more ‘autobiographical’ to me. Like the film really is “For My Sister!”. Why does it have an exclamation point? It makes the title feel aggressive, personal and directed at her sister? I’d love to know what’s behind that…but, I don’t think I’ll ever truly know?

This bizarre film, an odd combo of sex-education and horror film, begins with two sisters in the middle of a family holiday; somewhere in southern France. The two girls make a sort of ‘loose’ bet with each other to see who will ‘catch a decent boyfriend’ over the summmer. Like the usual ‘teen stereotypical comedy’. Naturally, the slim sister with the gorgeous face “catches” the boy. A young Italian, also on vacation with his family, and who’s French isn’t quite as sophisticated as the sisters. His lackluster French helps the young sister to be a few steps ahead of him. The older sister, however, seems just as easily swayed as if he were a native speaker. The film revolves entirely around these two young sisters, their lose of virginity and this boy. The older sister is 15, the other a year or two younger and overweight (the “fat girl” of the title) and it’s here we detect something in the film which seems to say something about female body issues. The older/’prettier sister’ is particularly focused on the body and looks (she even tries to put her new-slim-boyfriend on a ‘diet’, because, as she says: he’s “not as slim as [he] could be for [his] age”) she calls her younger sister: “lumpy”, a “fat dump” and “disgusting to watch eat”. It’s obvious the older sister is all surface, no substance. Very pretty, but intellectually and emotionally not as sophisticated as the younger one. The ‘fat girl’, on the other hand, is all substance. Her ‘beauty’ is more well rounded (no pun inteded) than her sister’s. Her’s is a case of being beautiful on the inside, rather than the obvious outside beauty of her sister.

The film’s undertone deals with weight and body issues and indicates the ‘fat sister’ character is reduced to a ‘non-entity’ because of her obesity. It’s like she isn’t ‘seen’, barely heard and because of this, is oft-times placed into role of ‘observer’/’voyeur’. First and most noticeably is when her older sister invites her ‘holiday boyfriend’ into the sister’s mutual bedroom (apparently their parent’s are strict and they cannot ‘sneak out’) here the ‘fat girl’ is almost a ‘second thought’ in the situation, she’s barely thought of. The only time she’s referenced is as an excuse for the sister to not ‘take’ the boy ‘into her mouth’, after she refuses to lose her virginity to him (though she’s already let him enter her ‘from behind’, something the younger sister-correctly in my opinion-sees as being a lose of virginity in and of itself).
The boy immediately goes into a “seduction routine” when he enters their bedroom and the younger sister pretends to sleep. Mostly, the young sister cringes and covers her face when hearing the boy’s “routine”, so full of cliche and stunningly obvious bits of heavy handed verbal pressure, it’s like embarrassing obvious soap opera. Yet, I think, most guys would have yo admit, perhaps shamefully, they’ve attempted similar talk, nearly verbatim. Fortunately, there isn’t someone ‘recording’ what’s said, thankfully, as it really is cringe inducing and this scene makes that painfully apparent. But it also makes this scene of seduction, ironically, more truthful and honest, if utterly pathetic. It must also be stated that this whole scene is shot from the point if view of the “fat girl”, so I think it’s clear how we’re meant to watch the film.

Additionally, the film has one hell of a mean sense of humor that pervades throughout. Not in a “Seth Rogen/Jonah Hill/” sort of way, not even like Todd Solondz. Instead, I was reminded more of the short stories of Flannery O’Connor. It has something of the grotesque about it. Since Breillat and the film hail from France and not the American Southeast, I tend to think this link coincidental. Perhaps, however, there’s a link with Catholicism? France being predominantly a Catholic country after all? But I tend to think that’s a stretch. More than likely, it’s coincidental? But the cruelty is there, the meanness is present.

I also found it odd how much importance these girls place on their virginity: who loses it first, to whom and to what type of boy. But perhaps this too is true and honest? I enjoy how the ‘fat sister’ declares she wishes to lose her virginity to someone whom she doesn’t love, a ‘nobody’, as she puts it. This way, she says, when her ‘first time’ is over, she won’t have any delusions that she’s been tricked, that she loves the guy, or he her. A decidedly mature resolution for such a young lady. The other sister, though a year older, is more naive. She easily falls victim to the youthful holiday romance gone afoul. Her younger sister, because of her obesity, is put into the position of ‘invisibility’ and thus can more easily observe what her sister doesn’t seem to recognize at all. She’s far less naive and far more practical too. The older sister falls, almost willingly, to the boyfriend’s ‘pillow talk’. The younger sister sees the young man’s duplicity far before her sister ever does. She tries to warn her, but ultimately allows her to go through the process of losing her virginity, even though she intuits it will end in disaster. Oddly the younger sister sobs throughout the scene of her sister’s lose of virginity (in “one deep thrust” which the boy suggests is “the best way” to do it). As if it’s she too, who is losing her innocence. In fact, I’d say it’s almost as if the two sisters exist as one. Like they are two separate parts of one girl, perhaps that’s the point?

Naturally, the older sister winds up betrayed by her ‘summer love’ and is left in tears. In fact, both the younger and older sister leave their vacation in tears as the mother drives ferociously, back to their home near Paris early, before they’re supposed to. It having already been revealed that the older sister was betrayed by her holiday lover; in front of the boy’s mother, her own mother and her sister. Again, it seems both sisters suffer as one. The two sisters seem to share in the agony.

This is where the film comes to it’s ‘horrific’ final and controversial conclusion. I don’t want to reveal everything, but I will say it involves a character which could almost be Michael Meyers or Jason Vorhees sans the all white ‘Shatner mask’ or hockey mask and involves said character taking on the role of the younger sister’s ‘dream lover’. Who takes her virginity, but with no love involved. In fact it’s with a ‘nobody’, just as the sister wanted. But at a traumatic cost. This is obviously the most controversial scene of the film. Some have stated it’s simply Breillat running out of ideas or a sloppy, silly ending. Naturally, I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced the ending is ‘real’. I think it may, perhaps, be a ‘fantasy-dream’ of the sister’s (the Fat Girl). I believe this, as this section seems to break so severely from the rest of the film. This scene is also preempted by the mother falling asleep, the “Fat Girl” encouraging her sister to do the same and the young sister going to sleep too. From there, the action seems exaggerated, unreal. It also seems the type of ‘fantasy’ this girl, in particular, would have. It fits with her ‘ideal’. The ‘type’ of male she wished to lose her virginity to. She also seems to say she thinks the ‘act’ is ultimately (in some sense) not as traumatic, as the one played upon her sister by the boy who took her virginity and betrayed her ‘love’.

A controversial, horrific and disturbing cinematic journey to be sure.
The Horror…the horror…the horror!.

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From Art-House to Slaughterhouse (Week Two: Twentynine Palms)

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Countdown to Halloween: Twentynine Palms

This is Bruno Dumont’s bizarre homage to late 60s, early 70s drive-in cinema: road film-cum-horror film. It’s so unlike the bulk of Dumont’s oeuvre. Twentynine Palms is generally ignored, rarely considered or discussed even by his fans. When put beside his other work, it’s almost like a ‘forgotten film’.

We examined Claire Denis’ foray into the realm of horror with “Trouble Every Day”, her 2001 “horror film”. But, she’s not the only French filmmaker who’s recently interested in exploring these realms. I could go into the work of Gaspar Noe, for instance, but I’d say all his work is influenced by and steeped in American exploitation, genre and horror film? Recently, there seem to be a whole clique of French filmmakers who’re making films that utilize exploitation film elements. Instead, I’m more interested in these art-house filmmakers who rarely, or barely, tread in those waters. For instance, Claire Denis and the brilliant Bruno Dumont.

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Generally, Dumont’s films deal with the sublime, the transcendent and the spiritual. They exist in a halfway house, somewhere between religious and philosophical. Some even deal with religion, specifically, as their subject matter. Dumont, an avowed atheist however, seems to be drawn to and fascinated by the spiritual experience. I wouldn’t say “Twentynine Palms” does not contain any interest in this realm, but it certainly hides it more than the rest. But, “Twentynine Palms” isn’t really one of his naturally spiritual films. Instead, it seems a meditation on America. Even perhaps, an ode to American exploitation films of the “psychedelic” period-road films and shock horror specifically.

 

This interesting diminutive film, always struck a deep chord with me. I find it to be Dumont’s strangest, most peculiar work in an otherwise consistent filmography. Most viewers, I think, didn’t know what to make of this thing? It’s clearly Dumont’s least popular work, even considered a ‘failure’ by many. In my opinion, however, it’s at least as good as his next film: “Flanders”. A film that always generated far more respect because its subject matter, the current mid-east conflict, will always generate more gravitas. Whereas a sexually graphic road film wrapped round a shock-horror core, tends to be looked upon with jaundiced eye by those in the “art-house community”. A snobby group, in case ya didn’t know (no surprise to exploitation fans, I’m sure?)? But for someone like myself, who’ll view any cinematic offering from any source, these ‘politics’ are just plain annoying. In fact, another ‘secret’ is that most exploitation/horror film fans are just as snobby. Many of them are probably scoffing right now, at this discussion of a ‘foreign/art-house film’ on a page for exploitation/horror films and think me ‘pretentious’, I’m sure?

“Twentynine Palms” begins like a standard road film. A couple drive through Southern California and finally into Twentynine Palms, California. The male lead is an American photographer scouting locations, the female half is the photographer’s French girlfriend who seems to be along for the ride as; part concubine and partially to keep him from getting lonely while he scouts his locations. I can’t help but think that this may have an autobiographical element to it? I can easily see the photographer representing Dumont himself and a girlfriend or wife as they look for locations, perhaps even while scouting for this very film? It has a strong feeling of coming from some place real and personal.

At this point the film too gets literally personal. The two main leads engage in rather graphic sexual activity across various exotic locals throughout Southern California. They engage sexually at their barren motel swimming pool, inside their cheap, tawdry motel room, out of doors, on rocky formations and atop desert mesas, in their SUV, hell, Just about every place they end up for an extended period of time. Their rutting seems to reflect a better way for them to communicate with each other, since their verbal communication seems highly problematic (he speaks a little French, she hardly speaks even a little English). Perhaps Dumont is representing sex as the one way these two can more freely and easily communicate with each other? At times, it even seems like their sexual act has distinct ‘personalities’ to it; loving and gentle, as they express love to each other. At other times, when arguing and fighting with each other, their sexuality expresses ‘hatred’ and ‘anger’. It seems Dumont is showing us the transformation from verbal to physical with scenes of sexual intercourse taking the place of their lack of verbal skills.

As the sex between the couple begins to disintigrate and decline, the film takes on a more paranoid, brutal and anxious tone. It’s here the film seems to remind one most of the 70s film, “Deliverence”. There seems to be a feeling of menace, coming from without. One can feel a palpable sense of dread, that there are ‘others’, out there and that they’re (more than likely) not benevolent. Just as it’s revealed in “Deliverance”, it’s also revealed here. In fact it is revealed in a strikingly similar way. I get the feeling that, much in the way many people in America were haunted and disturbed by what can happen in the most rural areas of the south in “Deliverance”; Bruno Dumont seems to feel the same about the United States in general? I may be wrong, perhaps he’s trying to express something else entirely, but the feeling I take away from the film is one of a certain fear of location.

The ending of the film works on one’s mind in a most shocking and transgressive way. The first act of violence blindsides us, just as the proceeding act of murderous brutality does. The first act of violence makes me sense the filmmaker gets the feeling America is chock a block with utterly warrantless, random acts of violence. While the second act of violence seems to be making a comment on the effects of the first. In reality nearly all violence is random and it’s rarely, if ever, well thought out. Violence is what happens when verbal communication breaks down. Which leads me to think the film may be about break downs in communication. First, between the couple, then by the world at large and finally between individuals. I don’t see the film as an indictment of America*. Instead, it seems to summarize the fear and paranoia inherent in open and wild landscapes and the violence that comes from the inability to articulate oneself.

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*It should also be noted that Twentynine Palms, CA also happens to be the locale of a known Marine base…there may be something to that?

From Art-House to Slaughterhouse (Week One: Trouble Every Day)

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A Countdown to Halloween:

“Trouble Every Day”, Claire Denis’ film meditation on intimacy, jealousy, lust and male-female relations in modern France. Art-house meets exploitation film. I think Denis is making a statement here about lust and death, a gory horror film as metaphor for contemporary love and lust.

The film stars the always interesting, Vincent Gallo, as a doctor flying to France with his new wife for their honeymoon. But he’s hiding a secret. He’s sick.

Another couple, a black man and a white woman. Like Gallo and his wife, the man is a doctor, but here the wife is the one sick. Apparently her sickness is further progressed than Gallo’s. Because we watch as the wife lures a truck driver into picking her up (metaphorically and literally; much of this film is a collision between the literal and metaphoric) and whom she leaves half eaten, covered in blood and dead in the grass. Her husband, buries the body of the trucker and lovingly cleans his wife’s body of the blood and gore left over and administers a mysterious medication to her. They don’t seem like a couple of young lovers anymore. Instead they’re more like an elderly couple, one of whom is senile, while the other cares for and cleans up after the other. A metaphor perhaps for that variety of true love, even if your lover happens to be a cannibal.

Gallo’s character can’t seem to find relief. The mysterious medication he takes (which looks the same as the one the wife is given) doesn’t seem to be helping much.

The whole film is about the nature of unrestrained animal lust. Both the African doctor’s wife and Gallo’s doctor character seem plagued by an illness which makes them prone to wild, abandoned sexual urges to the point where the body and flesh of the one being seduced is literally eaten and consumed by the infected one.

Gallo is apparently aware of what he may do and seems able to prevent himself from being completely unrestrained, with his wife, sexually. We even see, in a very early scene, that his wife’s shoulder has a badly bruised bite mark imprinted on it. An example, perhaps, of him earlier nearly losing control. In one memorable scene, he leaves the bedroom before he consummates the sex act with his wife, only to ‘relieve himself’ in the bathroom, while his wife pounds the door, crying. Humorously, he ejaculates a geyser of, what looks like something that would emit from a tightly clenched bottle of Head and Shoulders, onto the porcelain of the bathroom sink, rather than seminal fluid. It’s really like some somber version of that scene in “There’s Something About Mary”. I have no idea what that detail is meant to demonstrate except, perhaps, that his bodily fluids are tainted and diseased.

The African doctor’s wife, appears to be beyond the point of being able to restrain herself. It seems her disease has progressed to a point where she no longer has the ability to “withdraw” from the act? It’s probably why her husband is forced to board her up in their bedroom, nailing two by fours, planks of wood and boards like the protagonists in a zombie movie. Except In this ‘horror movie’ it’s the zombie thats boarded up, to protect us from it.

Gallo’s story concludes with a grotesquely violent sex act that resembles something between menstrual cunnilingus and some awful genital mutilation. The African doctor’s wife’s story finishes with her engaged in furious sexual congress with a youth, who seemed to be trying to save her from her ‘imprisonment’, only to wind up as her sushi meal for the night. Ultimately she winds up in a total conflagration, perhaps the only true ‘cure’ to the awful disease of the movie?

Finally, Gallo’s character, while showering the blood from his last ‘meal’ off of his body, tells his wife ” I want to go home”. We’re left to assume that he and his young wife will end up much like the African doctor and his wife. Completing the story’s cycle. But there are no absolute answers here, only concepts to ponder.

Denis’ use of horror cinema tropes to explore human sexuality, I found both highly original and far more compelling than a straight version of the same. Denis is also a master of using film to convey tactile senses, to explore and demonstrate that sense which is the hardest to convey in cinema. In this film, she really conveys the sensation of skin on skin, flesh on flesh, hands touching skin, fingers probing and exploring the dark moist areas of the human body. Her use of highly heightened sound is also remarkable, as it completes a complete demonstration of the senses.

This film is just as unnerving and disturbing (if not more so) than most straight horror films I’ve seen lately. Conversely, I also think it’s able to explore particular aspects of human sexuality far better, using a horror film template, than a straight melodrama ever could.

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These Are a Few of My Favorite Films…That Never Existed (Part Two: Cocaine)

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IMG_3108A year before German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder died: an obese, hard living, chain-smoker slumped over his writing desk with blood from his nose clotted to a script he was working on at the time, he was preparing a film based on a book by Pifigrilli during the German Weimar Republic called, Cocaine. Coincidently, it was at least partially cocaine (daily intakes for decades) that ended his just 38 years on earth (leaving a body of work of over 40 films(!) with only a scant few failures), well it was cocaine and in the end heroic doses of barbiturates (not to mention obesity, chain smoking and making more films than the number of years he lived, which probably didn’t help his body all too much either?) Needless to say however, cocaine was his true ‘love’ of choice, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that the final film he was planning had that drug as its title.
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But Fassbinder was not some dilettante here, he wasn’t going to make a film merely about his obsession with cocaine.

Fassbinder was an inveterate sadomasochist; gay leather bars, leather jackets, leather boots, military outfits, the works. In fact he lived something closer to the life seen in the film “Cruising”. Predominantly an aggressive homosexual (quasi bi-sexual as he was married to two women, whom it should be stated he was quite sadistic with; for an example of his outlook on marriage see his film: “Martha”) who took a lot of chances in his short existence (in his teen years, he was the pimp to a young Udo Kier). I’ll also add here that, personally, I believe nearly all his films were about sadomasochism, and yet they weren’t simple S&M falderal, you didn’t see films full of the usual veneer of S&M: leather, chains, whips, boots and straps. You almost never saw any of those things in his work and yet, his films were clearly and entirely about the psychological and sociological hidden events which involve sadomasochism and exist everywhere in society. He showed what sadomasochism looked like, for real, everyday and in everything; not just simple “sex play acting” and “sex games”. There were always those who called him a bastard (and no question, he could be). But he was as much a sadist as masochist, as he had not one but two lovers commit suicide on him, at least partially, due to his sadism and yet he lived for years in perpetual torment over the unrequited love for the half African-American, half German actor Gunter Kaufmann whom he cast in nearly every single film he made from his first work to his very last-keeping Fassbinder himself in a near constant state of despair. Although, even those who called him a sadistic son-of-a-bitch, bowed down to his genius and vowed utter loyalty to the filmmaker. He always had a near cult of actors, artists, musicians and technicians all ready and willing to work with him on his films.
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This film “Cocaine” he was planning to make was going to be, essentially, a psychedelic labor of love about the drug he loved, used, abused and that eventually ended his life and its effects and its use. This was not going to be some simple, easy trope on cocaine and cocaine use, with easy moral questions and answers. Certainly not going to be either a ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ drug film and certainly not an exploitation film. He seemed especially concerned in this film with displaying how a daily cocaine user makes the decision to live a heightened, more exhilarating life, while at the same time knowing it will eventually shorten it. Fassbinder himself was well aware of this fact and stated it in a number of interviews, saying he chose to live a shortened life using cocaine, in exchange for giving up depression, the mundanities of life and the utter banality of existence. He felt his choice was worth it. And as individuals do we not all have the right to make that choice? It was a choice he lived to the hilt. Fassbinder was not just a ‘talker’ of things like this, he lived it.

The film, “Cocaine” he proposed, sounded like it would have been one of his most original, interesting, daring and oddest films to date. True he had been headed more and more into areas of expressiveness rather than reality in his work. But this film sounded extremely bizarre, interesting and exceedingly different than anything he’d attempted prior. For example he talked of his plan to show the ‘freezing of the mind’ which takes place under the influence of cocaine by having the entire film depict the fogged breath of all the actors, as it would be in freezing climes even while it was warm. He was also going to show ice crystals and frost forming on all the windowpanes, as when it’s freezing outside, even when it’s not. He also gave the films that were to be his visual cue on this work; films which included the expressionistic work of Visconti’s “The Damned” and the 14th part of his own magnum opus: “Berlin Alexanderplatz” a 14 hour film, who’s final 14th chapter is a heightened and highly expressive externalization of an internal mental crack being experienced by the film’s main character Franz Beiberkopf (where during the rise of Hitler, Franz is stuck in a horrid mental asylum, tortured daily while the sounds of Kraftwerk, Leonard Cohen and various krautrock songs play in the background). Simply the most chilling and disturbing chamber-piece in the whole series!

As is always the case, with films like this, one can only imagine what the film might have been like. The book by Pifigrilli still exists, so one can read and at least gather an idea of what this film might have contained. Though Fassbinder stated his film would veer quite aways from the main plot of that book. It’s one of many films, where we’ll never know exactly what it would have turned out like. But what a wonderful and beautiful concept he had in mind…and by such a brilliant filmmaker. I can only imagine it would have been exceptional!
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