Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Lasagna Cat - Sex Survey Results (2017) [Part 2]

From http://old.daps.tv/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/lasagna-cat.jpg


[Part 1 can be read HERE]

Three Colours: Yellow (07/27/1978)
The one moment Lasagna Cat overcomes its flaws isn't actually the Sex Survey Results, but 07/27/1978. The second longest of all these videos, at an hour, it stars actor John Blyth Barrymore (half-brother of Drew Barrymore) as a man who read a very early strip in Garfield's existence, before it had the titular cat as the more cartoonish figure we know him now, stealing and smoking John's pipe. Set to Philip Glass' score to Kundun (1997), which causes a copyright issue but works nonetheless, said obsession became religious when now, as an older man, he can monologue for an entire hour about how the strip led to him finding the meaning of life.

It's absurd, but it's the one moment in all of Lasagna Cat where it transcends into actual good art. Barrymore's performance, a one take with the graphics behind him in green screen, is exceptional both in how complex and long the material is to both remember and give emotion to, but also how much conviction he puts into said material. What begins as a series of coincidences, leads to strange circumstances and finally spiritual profundity is found in his monologue, arguably as much a feat from Fatal Farm in making the script compelling but especially through his acting channelling it.

It is entirely about a simple strip, merely three panels - John reading (First Panel), John asking "Now where could my pipe be?" (middle panel), and Garfield smoking it in the yard (last panel) - but dissects it in the background from its illustrations to dialogue to the point a simple gag newspaper strip is cherished even if you find the idea of it being profound ridiculous. It helps the central text from that middle panel, "Now where could my pipe be?", is so succinct that the script can lead it through Barrymore's search for meaning. Talking of all the research he did from the strip's origins to whether a cat could actually smoke a pipe (which it couldn't and the tobacco would kill it), all of which is intentionally heightened, intentionally absurd, but built in performance and script to suggest that he could indeed become an environmentally conscious, Zen-like old man nonetheless, better as a human being passing this message onto the viewer. In fact it builds, sincerely, to any tale of an abrupt enlightenment, where a person is transformed to become a better human being due to a strange phenomena, only the enlightenment (and the humour) to be through a Garfield comic book strip. And set the Glass' incredible music, it manages to succeed with meaning and be hilarious as a result.

From https://i.ytimg.com/vi/NAh9oLs67Cw/maxresdefault.jpg

Here with 07/27/1978 there's an attempt at an apology for the maliciousness of some of Lasagna Cat's humour too. There's an issue throughout the work what exactly Fatal Farm think of Jim Davis himself and his strip. As they have admitted in interviews, they've come to admire him whilst admitting the materials' not necessarily their cup of tea, or else they wouldn't have spend so many resources on Lasagna Cat in the first place. Most of the series, including Sex Survey Result, however dangerously belies an obnoxious cruel streak against Davis and Garfield, doomed (especially in Sex Survey Results) to be immortalised through Garfield and its middlebrow humour in a two dimensional view of how people view the character. 07/27/1978 however is the one moment where it prevents itself from becoming a bitter taste in the mouth, because Barrymore's character goes on to an alternative view that, in hundreds of years after him, Davis' Garfield strips will still be read by children and preserved even when the Earth is no more. It's a sweet conclusion in itself and, honestly, should've been that conclusion than Sex Survey Results wasn't. The actual conclusion proves an overindulgence but 07/27/1978 itself would've been the perfect conclusion on Lasagna Cat.

From https://i.ytimg.com/vi/jznLSp1KnGs/maxresdefault.jpg

Three Colour: Orange (Sex Survey Results):
Sadly that wasn't the ending, and the build up to Sex Survey Results, [including splitting this review over two blog posts to avoid it being too much to read at once], is needed both for context and to also exorcise having spent nearly two months on the entire Lasagna Cat series. I openly confess it too two weeks to finish Sex Survey Results in its entirety, with an accident where I forgot a thirty minute piece and had to go back to watch that missing passage just to be a completist. The idea is compelling even if masochistic. Beginning with John sitting in his armchair, a knock is at the door where a mannequin (male or female) is outside, allowing one of the phone messages from a fan to be played with a text bubble showing it in text, a person's name, the number of sexual partners, and any other details they include. Then it becomes the strip in a newspaper Garfield is reading, a knock on the door and a mannequin, becomes a newspaper strip Odie is reading and a knock on a door etc., returning back to John in a cylindrical form. What is such a simplistic thing on the screen turned out to be so technical, the creators had to invent a method to make this work, with the potential effect for the ouroboros structure.

There are gag calls. Fake names. Women as well as men making up numbers of sexual partners. Max Landis as himself. People claiming to be Adolf Hitler, claiming to be Saddam Hussein, claiming to be Donald Trump, made up name and other comments directly to the characters including desiring to hook up with Garfield. There are also a lot of fascinating calls, who will gladly give their full names and details of their sex lives frankly. Alongside the distressing number of depressed and suicidal entries, depending on whether they are all real or mocked, it has to be asked how this bizarre project managed to open people up in speaking of their intimate lives, just by offering a phone number to call. One figure named Raymond is a fascinating caller just by himself, appearing in multiple messages and using the phone line to exorcise his past, including a snapshot of early internet sex chat rooms, where as he explains men posed as women and Raymond himself role-played a man eating plant for women's vore fetishes.

In premise, whilst an endurance test, its sound. Structurally in practice, it's a failure. It feels too much like the end credits for contributors to a Kickstarter project, too many of the calls just the barest minimum. Having tried to please everyone undermines Fatal Farm's point, as few would actually watch the whole film even if in chunks like I did, a pointless endeavour for me to watch it within hour chunks like I originally planned to, and pointless in the long run. There is some structure - John gets many of the awkward phone calls, Garfield the ones to get the most sarcastic reactions from or about him, Odie difficult names to mangle in his dog woofs - but it feels arbitrary how you have to slog through over hundreds of calls. The attempts to keep the experience interesting, having the mannequins distort more and more as it goes from day-to-night in full time, gets tiresome as well, to the point the most memorable and scene stealing figure is a very loud ice cream truck halfway through.

From https://pbs.twimg.com/media/C5ZECGXU8AAaxSt.jpg

Then there's the final ten minutes. The culmination of two months worth of viewing, four hours and thirty minutes of knock knocks jokes, and it feels like I have been ripped off. All the talk of it being shocking, profound and "screaming at the void" like a profound nihilistic track as one Letterboxd review suggested, and its kindergarten transgression feels tame, all of its shock value from other better productions. Fatal Farm sited 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and The Holy Mountain (1973) as influences, neither really felt at all. A graphic birth scene, whilst shocking with a prosthetic prop, is not as emotionally complex as witnessing an actual birth recorded by Stan Brakhage for Window Water Baby Moving (1959). Neither is the use of Polish, reminiscent of INLAND EMPIRE (2006), especially when the translated dialogue is the worst kind of clichéd, dark dialogue meant to be profound about a curse, laughable when now I know the context whence it came.

 [Spoiler Alert]

It also causes further issues about where Fatal Farm's view of Jim Davis are even if unintentional. Set up by the original trailer when John rings the phone booth, the last knock knock joke involves answering himself, only to shut him out. From there it is of Old John who is meant to go through death and reincarnation, turned into worms and reborn in a school toilet by a Polish schoolgirl, Garfield in some form (be in taxidermy animal or actual orange cat) always there besides him. It tries too hard to be suddenly nightmarish when even the series' most transgressive moments, from shampoo bukkake to Odie's suicide, had a deliberate silliness to them. The use of Jim Davis' words from an interview, discussing the creation of Garfield, is meant to reflect the images but feel incongruous. It also feels offensive, a cheap gag that Davis is doomed to be known for the strip when 07/27/1978 was a more positive form of this character's longevity.

[Spoiler Ends]

The only compelling moment is when Old John Arbuckle meets a curious man in the desert. A portly, large man who is completely naked barring tribal jewellery and body paint in the colours and pattern of Garfield. In an evocative desertscape, I realised that Sex Survey Results should've been referencing Werner Herzog films instead of what we got, with John Arbuckle doing a Klaus Kinski. If the Jim Davis narration had to stay, it could've had a dash of Terence Malick narrative as Davis had autobiographical details in the character. Instead what you get is no way near as interesting. Just when it manages to become something profound, in segment 07/27/1978, Lasagna Cat however falls back into the style of the original 2008 videos and go for the cheap joke.

Abstract Spectrum: Avant-garde/Grotesque/Psychotronic/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None

Personal Opinion:
Having never heard of Lasagna Cat until this year, I came to Sex Survey Result in the midst of a binge, completely against the natural progression of content fans had. And I'll admit to being an outside to this type of online video, which means I'd easily be dismissed. But with the weight of expectation for a bizarre and bold artistic project, one at over four plus hours longer than some legendary films, having such a mild attempt at shock tactics in the end is a terrible way to have ended a video which in itself didn't justify its length either. One which misses out a lot of comic potential for parodying Garfield or even in terms of its idiosyncratic way of interacting with fans. Just as I was getting into Lasagna Cat through the other shorts, when they hired John Blyth Barrymore, it ends on a sour note.

From http://bh-s2.azureedge.net/bh-uploads/2017/04/Lasagna_11a.jpg

Lasagna Cat: Sex Survey Results (2017) [Part 1]


From https://i.kym-cdn.com/entries/icons/original/000/022/199/lasagna-cat.jpg

Directors: Jeffrey Max and Zachary Johnson

Synopsis: In 1978, cartoonist Jim Davis created an orange cat who hated Mondays and loved Lasagna. Skip forwards to the 2000s and two men who would found Fatal Farm, Jeffrey Max and Zachary Johnson, would find a ghastly looking Garfield costume and, inspired by its discover, decided to replicate old newspaper strips for a YouTube parody series in 2008. Time passes without any new content until 2017, with the curious request for fans to call a number and provide their name and number of sexual partners.

From https://3m3cna178rlp1rclw43v482p-wpengine.netdna-
ssl.com/images/garfield.jpg

Prologue (01/14/2008):
Your eyebrows will be raised high at that title. Some will even cry blasphemy as, (gasp!), this is not a film I'm covering but a web parody series found on YouTube and its own official sight. That poses an issue, as it uses copyrighted material and digital preservation is a fraught idea online despite its advantages in uncovering obscurities. (More so when one has to worry about litigation or new copyright laws attempted to be passed for online sites). Yet I am covering this work alongside the entirety of the material that came before under the belief that, part of the idea of moving images in general as with cinema, web videos deserve a chance even if this will become a historical chronicle of my viewing experience.  

And Garfield is a character iconic enough to have a parody. It effectively immortalises a figure when, alongside the infamous The Disneyland Memorial Orgy poster first published May 1967 in The Realist, among other examples, a parody exists which takes a character and does transgressive material about such a figure. (That Garfield's copyright owners have been okay with Lasagna Cat baring one video is itself an advantage as, unlike other attempts to censor such parodies, it makes a company look great). Jim Davis' creation is one everyone to this day probably recognises, even if they've never read the original newspaper strips. We have live action films where the character is voiced by Bill Murray, animated series and specials, and merchandise like a picture I owned, in a blue frame, of Garfield being a bastard and using a chainsaw on John Arbuckle's computer. There is enough knowledge of the orange cat to make such a parody work for many.

On the same day, 14th January 2008, Season 1 was all uploaded at once on YouTube. An actor, who I will compliment in recreating the character perfectly, plays John Arbuckle, matching blue shirt and black trousers, another actor in an adult size Garfield costume, and they recreate original newspaper strips titled after the day they were originally published. Canned laughter is played over the end of each strip, followed by the original newspaper comic for comparison. Garfield is usually superimposed as smaller in a cheap effect, the aesthetic and backgrounds meant to fully replicate the original strips. Garfield's actual costume is creepy, a head like a partially rotting Jack-o-Lantern, but the actor doing the voice does a commendable replication of his sardonic voice. Odie, the yellow dog, is very shortly introduced with an adult sized costume you could credibly sell on the high street without scaring children. For one short, out of the entire two seasons, they briefly have the character of Liz, played by a young woman, for one strip about Garfield eating her handbag.

From http://www.joeydevilla.com/wordpress/
wp-content/uploads/2008/01/jon_and_garfield.jpg

If Lasagna Cat had only been the original 2008 videos I wouldn't have reviewed any of this. How it turned into a Twin Peaks and abruptly returned in 2017, after nearly ten years, with a four hour and forty minute conclusion is when the series gets interesting. The original 2008 videos aren't. The videos are average parody videos which are antiquated already. I believe videos uploaded to YouTube have the potential to be art, or at least preserved for future generations, but we can slide the conventional parody videos like this alongside all the Let's Plays which aren't about obscure videogames with interesting hosts narrating. There's little to the humour that's actually successful. The music videos that follow after each recreation, to conclude each video, are mostly tedious for me, between an extended piss take of Garfield the Movie (2004) as a masterpiece to a compilation of Americana images set to Alan Jackson's Chattahoochee not sustaining a lot through them even if there was an occasional chuckle. The use of licensed music, from Johnny Mandel's Suicide Is Painless to the Jurassic Park theme, can be inventive but it's not enough, alongside the obvious issue that, whilst they include the name of the artists always as part of a "Jim Davis Tribute Album", they are fraught for copyright problems. [As of 2018, the only original video pulled from their official YouTube page has Desperado by The Eagles. The fucking Eagles to quote Jeffrey Lebowski.]

The mocking nature of these videos to Jim Davis, whose picture appears at the end of each video, is an issue that crops up again and again throughout Lasagna Cat. Unexpectedly, whilst Season One is entirely about viewing Garfield as utterly unfunny, the recreations are the best moments of the entire series of videos. Yes, one about John accidentally brushing his hair with the cat brush is not a comedy classic, but a) these are family friendly strips made per day of a newspaper, which would suck the creative juices dry, and b) making the parodies like Arbuckle in Goth makeup trashing around to Head Like a Hole by Nine Inch Nails, as in that example are incongruous to the strips themselves.

There's also the fact, knowing their autobiographical nature from Davis, that he was already predating the anti-humour, weird parodies long before they came, some of the strips replicated here being worthy enough in their live action remakes themselves without any mocking humour. John's generally strange behaviour, like cheering each time the toast pops out (12/03/1991) or being daring by sleeping with his socks on (08/14/1986) already have enough weirdness to them, and that's before you get to a couple where John's viewed as a lonely, desperate man, predating the Garfield Minus Garfield parodies where everyone else is erased baring John off original strips, suggesting he's in the midst of psychosis. The irony is that half my humour was found in Davis' work re-enacted, not through Fatal Farm's original material itself.

From http://splitsider.awlnetwork.com/
wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/02/lasagna_cat.jpg

Three Colours: Blue (02/06/2017)
Time passes, nearly ten years in fact. Jeffrey Max and Zachary Johnson build a reputation professional working on Adult Swim programming, working on segments for Key & Peele and their infamous contribution to -- fan remake of Our RoboCop Remake (2014) where they went far and beyond the bar expected from them with additional exploding penises. They had worked on segments on Lasagna Cat during this gap only for them to be gathering dust on a hard drive (hard drives?), decided it was now or never to release them or not. They planned it out with promotional trailers on the 6th February 2017 only to then release a more bombastic trailer on 9th February 2017. The noticeable increase in production value was immediately seen, money invested into material that Fatal Farm cannot gain profit from, such as which means a huge sacrifice was done for the project to have actual camera movement, special effects and budget even for a one scene Terminator joke with Garfield with a glowing robot eye.

Some of these new videos are memorable. Most of the Lasagna Cat entries, before Sex Survey Results, are family friendly but a few aren't. One of the 2017 entries, following a strip where John is going to try every shampoo he has in his arms, parodies a Japanese bukkake video. For those too innocent to know what that term means, imagine John knelt between Japanese actors in a paper walled set who have shampoo bottles, censored, placed in a very specific place by their crotches whilst shaking their contents out on Arbuckle, who coquettishly talks in Japanese. I wonder what it is was like to be one of those Japanese extras having to even act out this segment, the look of bafflement mid-take as they were taking par. It has to be asked, as is an issue with the entirety of Lasagna Cat,  to what ends for humour or more the video is actually getting at, but its memorable in a life scarring way as much for being funny.

From https://1835441770.rsc.cdn77.org/splitsider.com/
wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/02/lasagna_cat-1.jpg

Unfortunately, as with the original videos but worse due to the higher cost involved, most of the Season Two videos are undercut by their humour merely being pop cultural references without any further joke or a substantial enough one. As back as Season One, the first ever video a Final Fantasy parody, most of project especially in the 2017 videos is scuppered by the fact that, without the reference recognition, they are entirely without anything else to latch on to. The first of the Season Two videos underlies this major issue immensely, in that it's a full replication of a scene from the pilot episode of Miami Vice (1984-1990); whilst it tries to connect back to an original strip of Garfield mistaking Odie in a picture frame as his own reflection, it's a convoluted six degrees of separation from Michael Mann's eighties TV series to a parody involving Garfield and Odie and Crockett and Tubbs, with an off-key rendition of Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight, and if you don't get the joke it makes less sense even for intentionally nonsensical humour.

Most of the humour is, aside from the references, the same type of "wacky" music videos as Season One only with a budget and a diverse soundtrack between Kraftwerk to the videogame EarthBound (1995). One video worked - Odie's rise as a fashion icon due a paper bag over his head, set to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance, with a tragic ending of celebrity scandal, suicide and Hell full of John Arbuckle/scorpion hybrids. Some are amusing - Kenny G soft jazz over shots of sunshine and John on the phone. Some waste production value above them - the one video Garfield's rights owners asked to be pulled, because it includes their address and they didn't want to be hassled, has an elaborate model suburbia entirely made from breakfast food, with John waving to his bagel neighbour, only for a cheap joke about Deep Blue Something's Breakfast at Tiffany's having lyrics changed to being about Garfield. Many just vanish from memory or never succeed.

[Continue on to Part II]

From https://i.ytimg.com/vi/o0Lv8irN66U/hqdefault.jpg


Friday, 13 July 2018

1000 Anime Link: Psychic Wars (1991)

From https://cdn.mydramalist.info/images
/titles/15772.jpg

"Throw a pebble into the water and you'll hit an obscure OVA. Some of them managed to linger into even the DVD era, the likes of Manga Entertainment licensing titles from the video era and repackaging them into trailers sound tracked with The Mad Capsule Markets. As a result, among the obscure Psychic Wars is pretty known for an older anime fan or the curious who dig second hand bins. Enough to warrant a permanent place on the Anime News Network worst-of list, voted by all its users, alongside being generally pissed upon. It's strange as, less than an hour long and amongst some true duds in Japanese animation, I have suffered through worse. Although that could be bias as I've inexplicably bought second hand DVD copies more than once of the fifty minute anime."

For my full review, follow the link HERE.

From https://wavemotioncannon.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/
psychic-wars-feat-e1510241187550.png?w=1324

Monday, 9 July 2018

The ABCs of Death 2 (2014) (Part 2 of Review)

From https://i.ytimg.com/vi/PugqJgYFgyc/maxresdefault.jpg


[To read Part 1, follow the link HERE]

M is for Multinational
The anthology starts to build momentous when its international directors start to appear, having a greater impact on this sequel as much because many aren't household names, coming from far afield in national cinemas obscure still for many viewers. Ironically, cult audiences have the same curiosity as art film fans do in how we are as fascinated with other cultures, making a horror film from a place like Turkey to Serbia, not necessarily known for such films in the wider public knowledge, more appealing. Arguably, there are points where cult fans go further than even art house fans in their desire to learn of other cultures whose cinema is not as known, probably having more knowledge from their willingness to dig out the obscure likes of Nigerian cinema to bizarre Filipino rip-offs of James Bond as they are internationally promoted titles.

Where else do you have an obscure Filipino director, Erik Matti, stand equal among bigger names with I, his Evil Dead-like tale of a mother who just refuses to die, or for that matter Austrian filmmaker Marvin Kren, whose R I cannot spoil when I reveal its full name is R is for Russian Roulette as that doesn't give away how that turns out. Sadly it's not all beds and roses, even if its merely one segment, as Argentine director Alejandro Brugués lets the non-English language contingent down. After the interest in Juan of the Dead (2011), his immediately follow up here with F is a botch, a Gilligan's Island tale of romantic triangle with a sour tasting "bros before hos" conclusion.

T for Thoughtful
Thankfully you also have Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushadomaking, the directors of Rabies (2010), making F which is an example common this anthology series where directors I have had cold feelings towards, as I didn't like Rabies, nonetheless show virtues that win me over. A tale of a female Israeli soldier stuck in a tree, with a young Palestinian male on the ground below with a rifle, it emphasises that unlike the prequel film, where there was a few attempts, more directors within the sequel are tackling real life subjects, the drama here (not horror) balanced and the death pure accident. Brazilian director Dennison Ramalho for J follows a gay man being forced to "turn" straight by two preachers, starting as an extreme but potentially profound take on gay spirituality as, even with the violence and torture involved, it brings in literal metaphysical as the victim starts seeing the preachers as horrifying demons and stigmata is involved. Sadly Ramalho brings in revenge angle which undermines the morality, an immense shame to witness. More elusive and effective is female Lithuanian director Kristina Buožytė who, co-making K with Bruno Samper, presents a curious but memorable segment of a young woman witnessing mass murders suddenly take place in the next tower complex next to her, the meaning of the ending as her menstrual blood mixes with an alien black liquid up in the air, but striking as the whole segment feels like a dream in structure.

P is for Personal Favourites
One I was the most interested in was L, directed by one of the first Nigerian "Nollywood" directors, the magnificently named Lancelot Oduwa Imaseun. Maybe its bias on my part, aware the editing's choppy and there's the very fake CGI of many Nollywood productions, but it was profound to seen an African director, probably with a budget higher than some of his features, direct a segment with international availability. One showing local Nigerian actors, dressed in traditional dress, for a tale (in an unknown period) where not following through with a blood sacrifice is a very bad idea. One with folklore, even if simplified, you rarely get in wide distribution in a location rarely seen. In itself the ABCs of Dead 2 was a success just for this cultural communication...that and I like the cheesy Nollywood CGI as shown here, especially the heart ripping moment.

And there's X, another pair of directors in Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo I haven't liked the work of, hating Inside (2007) in the day and not fond of Livid (2011), redeeming themselves. Despite a premise of a grandmother snapping which could be seen as offensive, because it involved a small child, they make one of the best segments just for casting Béatrice Dalle and relying on her acting without words. It is not to insult any performance in the segments, very strong in most, but Dalle is a legitimately cinematic icon with a magnetism to her, able to act out this segment without dialogue and give it depth just through her facial expressions.

From http://cdn2us.denofgeek.com/sites/denofgeekus/files/styles/
main_wide/public/d_is_for_deloused.jpg?itok=R8zOi34D

J is for Japan
If you look back to the original ABCs of Death, the most divisive additions were the Japanese one. All from Sushi Typhoon, who were a trend back then, the shorts reflecting Nikkatsu's desire, who set it up, for marketing to the West a perception of Japanese cult films being intentionally strange and full of elaborate, gory and sexually perverse moments. Many of these productions were not very well structured as cult films, instead a series of wacky events, and it led to a flood of releases that dissipated in a short time space.

I liked those shorts in the first ABCs of Death, but no one would deny the two Japanese entries here, whilst they are as eccentric, are some of the best shorts from the sequel and are definitely the superior set to last time. O by Hajime Ohata is rightly praised, though it deserved to be a longer short away from the anthology, of a zombie outbreak where medical technology has allowed the undead to gain their minds back, deciding to set up kangaroo courts to punish the living for killing their own, in some ways the defendants deserving the punishment when they gleefully killed said undead rather than for the sake of protecting themselves. Y by Soichi Umezawa is underrated and my favourite of the two, and not just because Asuka Kurosawa from A Snake of June (2002) stars in the segment, a tale of a young teenager girl living with her abusive mother and step father going through all the things she has had to endure, depicted in the same crazy prosthetic effects like Sushi Typhoon but with greater purpose and imagination, before she decides to put her foot down. It's a bitter sweet segment, again emphasising that this sequel is openly including non-horror shorts, whilst it also works for cult film audiences still because of the bizarre sights within it like a man eating burger or a person turning into a dog.

W is for Weird
Sadly, unlike the prequel, there are fewer abstract entries. Thankfully the two that are here are some of my personal favourites. P by Todd Rohal will be hated by many. It should be the kind post-internet, post-surrealist comedy I'd hate yet inexplicably I do like it immensely, probably because of how utterly peculiar it is, Rohal visibly influenced by the kind of pre-sixties comedy that few people would take reference from, which he turns into this odd duck of a short. Following three escaped prisoners in a black void, in comical stereotype prison uniform and exaggerated prosthetic noses, it's a melding of the antiquated with the strange as they meet a man with a baby. Oil lamps are blown out, there's tap dancing and creepy digital distortion of faces. Most will find it perplexing, and yet I love it so after multiple viewings.

The other short, D by animator Robert Morgan, cannot be argued as anything else as a living nightmare. He's an idiosyncratic choice to include as few would know of him, but it was because of this short I discovered him, an English animator who produces one of the most disturbing segments. To describe his aesthetic style, alongside Bobby Yeah (2011) [REVIEWED HERE], is that of grotesque stop motion with tactility used to skin crawling detail. Body horror, possibly from the same camp as Screaming Mad George rather than Cronenberg, with his obsession with infected forms and dream logic found. Morgan, in his tale of a humanoid getting revenge from the dead only with a price involved, has an additional freakish factor in his work that he uses materials usually seen as "cute" in other contexts. Bobby Yeah crosses uncomfortably phallic meat shapes with pink furry walls, D with a panda-head eater hybrid with giant denture teeth that would traumatise children if they were to see it on a shelf outside the animation studio. Again, I had never known of Robert Morgan weren't it not for his inclusion in this anthology, a success on the producers part for bringing attention to these figures selected. Whether he'd ever move to feature filmmaking I have no idea, but I wish he was more well known just for the fact he already has a style as an animator entirely of his own.

C is for Climax
Finally, whilst the Z of the prequel was memorable, Yoshihiro Nishimura's entry in the prequel is a random mess, done with the excuse of being deliberately offensive and getting away with material Japanese censorship wouldn't allow in terms of full frontal nudity. Whilst it had Japanese Dr. Strangelove, a character I will always remember from that prequel, it's a segment looked down upon with understandable reason. No one could argue Chris Nash's Z in the sequel wasn't the superior ending short, a period Americana tale that leads to moments which are so uniquely horrifying, with an image or two you've never seen in other horror films, that it's a perfect way to end the film and arguably one of the best shorts of the whole anthology.

Abstract Spectrum: Dreamlike/Grotesque/Psychotronic/Surreal/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None):
D (Dir. Robert Morgan): Medium
P (Dir. Todd Rohal): Low

Personal Opinion:
As with the prequel, mileage will vary in whether you like The ABCs of Death 2 or not. Which is the best between the two? If these are the last two, baring ABCs of Death 2.5, than I'd still go with the original for its energy. That's not to dismiss the sequel, which for me is an anthology which stands out the most for its multicultural involvement of very unique and idiosyncratic filmmakers from around the world, the international contributors providing a great deal. Their importance, alongside the willingness to include animation, are really the most rewarding aspects of The ABCs of Death films, for any faults always defendable because they had this concern of showing the span of cult cinema globally. Noticeably, whilst I lament the loss of The ABCs of Death, The Field Guide to Evil (2018) which reduces the number of segments, gives them more time to make a story within, and emphasising the international directors chosen with native folk stories their subjects, rose from the ashes and kept this virtuous flag flying proudly.

From https://dailydead.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/
10/L-is-for-Legacy-1024x576.jpg

The ABCs of Death 2 (2014) (Part 1 of Review)

From https://i.ytimg.com/vi/eU6Nv7fH3UQ/
movieposter.jpg


Directors: Various
Screenplays: Various
Cast: Various

Synopsis: As with The ABCs of Death (2012), twenty six directors from around the world are assigned a letter of the alphabet, asked to conceive a short based on a death surrounding this letter, with complete artistic freedom as a result.  

[Note: Due to the length of this review, it has been split into two posts for ease for reading. The link to the second part will be at the bottom of this one.]

After the original ABCs of Death, trumpeted as a major event but also having a lot of divided opinion on the anthology in terms of quality, a sequel came not so long after. Issues from the original were ironed out by the producers. One of the most amusing was that, after the number of shorts that dealt with the subject previously, toilets and bodily functions were made verboten despite creative freedom still being encouraged in any other subject. The other was that, whilst Sion Sono was promoted as working on this sequel but never appears within it, and there are still a few recognisable names within what we got, most of the known and very popular cult and genre directors had been included in the first. This time there's a sense of a very different tone to the sequel because of the obscurer names involved and the general sense of going its own direction from the first film.

A is for Anti-climax
Many have viewed the sequel as actually a better film, but for me it's entirely subjective. The first is a wild, if utterly messy, rollercoaster of the ridiculous to the sublime. I completely understand people who hate most of it, but having watched the first multiple times by now, even the "bad" segments have gained charm. The sequel, in one flaw to its name, doesn't have three opening segments as strong as A, B and C last time, when three Latin American directors helmed them in a cluster and all of them had energy to them. Yes, Cheap Thrills (2013) director E. L. Katz uses A to show the illusion of air ventilators being remotely usable for an assassination attempt, but it's not as bombastic a start. Likewise C from Julian Gilbey is a pretty generic mob rule story with predictable results. Out of them three, B is the most rewarding if only because of its by The Mighty Boosh alumni Julian Barratt, emphasising how British he is by directing a tale of a nature programme host who is an arsehole (played by himself ) and an irradiated badger.

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E is for English
There's a noticeable tonal difference between the anthologies, many more of the segments serious with fewer comedic ones like Barrett's. Noticeably as well the intentional nature of the directors helming the films is also more pronounced this time, so much so that for me most of the English language entries are actually sidelined by the international ones, usually of higher quality or greater interest. You have solid entries, don't get me wrong. Larry Fessenden's N is a tragic tale of an ordinary accident, slowly built to, on Halloween day. V by Jerome Sable is inventive use of webcam, emphasis on modern tech being implemented to tale new stories, where a boyfriend's adventure in a foreign land proves horrifying to witness for his off-screen girlfriend. Vincenzo Natali's U is a potential film within itself on a world where that which is not "beautiful" is gruesomely dealt with. Director of Room 237 (2012), Rodney Ascher, manages to find a way to do Q well in spite of the fact that I think Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett's take on one of the most awkward letters in the alphabet is superior completely.

It would be insane not to champion these sorts, especially not one of the best segments, Juan Martinez Morenoby Juan Martinez Moreno, which uses split screen to create a disturbing tale full of twists. Juan Martinez Moreno, by Astron-6, is one of the few humorous entries which is yet one of the most perverse, imaging a fantasy land (effectively He-Man and the Masters of the Universe) as the hell it'd probably be, two young boys regretting being transported to their toy set's world if anything just for Fantasy Man, whose inherently creepy name is enough to suggest how black the humour is.

It also means, sadly, you have Jen and Sylvia Soska's T, ironically a piece of interconnection as with fellow Canadians Astron-5 they appear in each others segments. It's not a nice feeling when you want to celebrate two young female filmmakers who are as idiosyncratic as they, two twins who love horror and genre filmmaking, but found Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009) bad and couldn't understand the critical praise for American Mary (2012). Their tale of a woman (Tristan Risk) taking revenge on evil, misogynistic porn filmmakers is as heavy handed and slight as the premise sounds. Whilst the highs of the prequel anthology were great, I will admit that there's a higher percentage of solid entries within The ABCs of Death 2, which makes the fact that the Soska Sisters' segment one of the few bad ones really sting.

C is for Competition
Following on from the prequel, where one of the letters was assigned to a competition winner, this time for M, Robert Boocheck's tale of slow motion carnage is a very well made entry, as well made as most of the professional ones within the same anthology. (And yes, the punch line works perfectly even on multiple viewings). To the series' credit neither of the competition winners were bad in either film, and were among the most praised even for those who found the anthologies bad. Whether ABCs of Death 2.5 (2016), collecting the other M entries together as its own anthology film, would work is an entirely different matter, but I admire the interest in trying to bring up new talent in cult cinema through it.

D is for Diversity
One of the other curiosities, prominent here, is how there are explicitly filmmakers who have never made horror films who were chosen, a few I have brought up already. More so, as a snapshot of its time just from the names chosen, that you see future voices cross paths with veterans. The future director of The Greasy Strangler (2016) Jim Hosking makes a peculiar tale of a granddad who hates his grandson for G. It does feel awkward and perplexing to see, but was more than likely a dry run for what he would be doing later. For a veteran, despite not being a genre filmmaker in the general sense of the term, you have the unexpected inclusion of legendary American animator Bill Plympton with H. His work, especially his features, are not easy to find, but as a small child I vividly remember some of his advertising work alongside an interactive piece of PC software, both of which involved two older men taking cartoon physics to an extreme by disintegrating each other's bodies in various ridiculous ways. He is a director who has unfairly been neglected in the present day in spite of his work's so completely unique and once very popular, so his inclusion was a pleasant surprise. That famous duo are effectively recreated this time only in a literal gender war between a man and a woman, a maligned figure in Plympton allowed to wave and be thankfully recognised in one of only two animated features, the inclusion of which itself alongside live action another of the series' virtues.

For Part 2 of the ABCs of Death 2 review, follow the link HERE.

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Wednesday, 4 July 2018

1000 Anime Link: Armageddon (1996)


"If one ever wanted to see, in CGI of the time, giant sperm entering a vortex in space and (by intentional suggestion) give birth to a giant dinosaur head sticking out in space, and then a primate head, than this is the film for you..."

For the full review, beyond that out of context quotation, follow the blog link HERE.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Tales from the Quadead Zone (1987)



Director: Chester Novell Turner
Screenplay: Chester Novell Turner
Cast: [Bookend Story] Shirley L. Jones (as the Mother); John W. Jones as Daryl; Richard Tanguy as 1st Police Officer; Dan Kugler as 2nd Police Officer; Patrick D. Tanguy as Bobby's Voice; Jamar E. Bankhead as Bobby

[Cast of Baloney Sandwich segment] W.J. Rider, Doug Daverport, Johnnie Tanguy, Chris Calloway, Kim Nichols, Tammy Nichols, Jeff Miza and Ronda Rider

[Cast of Brothers segment] Keefe L. Turner as Ted Johnson;  Larry Jones as Oscar; Lawrence R. Jones as Moby; William Jones as Fred Johnson; Tommy L. Miller as the Man in Coffin

Synopsis: A mother (Shirley L. Jones) begins to read stories to her ghost child. One is of a bizarre dinner ritual of a white Southern family, and how eventually one of the sons snaps. The other is of an African American man taking revenge on his recently deceased brother. The mother's own issues with her husband, however, come forth.

That Tales from the Quadead Zone as a title suggests four stories, because of "Quadead" represents four, but only has two and a bookend it itself the perfect introduction to this off-the-beaten-tracks production. Regardless of my ultimate opinion on the hour long video, which I will get into, the story of Chester Novell Turner is fascinating, a figure who deserves to be included in Shot-On-Video Cinema's encyclopaedia entry, with a portrait of him among a few others. An African American man who desired to make films, in love with cinema and the likes of the Twilight Zone, he had access to video recording technology as many did back in the eighties, alongside the advantage that, as that new technology also needed product for the VHS players, he could have his distributed as part of the constant need for new product.

Unfortunately his career (as of yet) consists of only two films. Black Devil Doll From Hell (1984) was taken away from his by distributors who re-edited it against his will, whilst Tales from the Quadead Zone itself was a self released title. Quadead in particular had such a low print run of his own distributed tapes that an original copy was on sale on eBay for $700, that same copy sold later for $1,300. The story of how he was tracked down by Massacre Video founder Louis Justin is itself a wonderful ending, the fear that he had passed away unknown thankfully not the case, found by Justin and gaining a fan base who he embraced with happiness as much as that fan base to him, alongside the fact his films were now known in cult circles and available to actually see.

And noticeably, when there is an inherent concern that the fan base for SOV (shot-on-video) films are predominantly white, there is thankfully no sense of irony or so-bad-it's-good attitude for a black independent filmmaker who shot in his native Chicago. These films are notoriously odd, but the appreciation for Turner even went as far as a New York Times article explaining his history and the search to bring back his two films for public consumption. Even if Quadead Zone is a peculiar experience with its technical limitations and unconventional personality, none of this reappraisal has a problematic moral to it in the slightest, especially as Turner clearly loved the rediscovery and appreciation of his creations. That we can even see the films is itself meaningful beyond irony.

With this in mind, Quadead by itself would lose a lot of its weight without the background detail behind it. Stripped away, it's not the incredible discovery its growing reputation has, especially when you compare it to the Canadian shot-on-video film Things (1989), the zenith of bizarre homemade filmmaking. Instead its  curious little no-budget production, built around three segments where Turner's ideas for creepy tales are very adult psychodramas rather than monsters and scares. This contrasts the opening credits - star (and Turner's girlfriend at the time) Shirley L. Jones contributing intentionally comic book haunted house art, the minimal synth music (by Turner himself) with high pitch vocals about chills and frights - whilst the film beyond it belies this set up immensely. Built from local participants and what he can access, the biggest virtue is not that the film really works even in a psychotronic way, but that he managed to make a film which touches on themes more grim and realistic even through the absurd, exaggerated ways.

The first segment is definitely the strangest both in structure and conclusion, in which a large religious family gather around a table everyday and have to be the first to eat a selection of baloney sandwiches, not enough for them all and thus leaving whoever is the slowest hungry. Even when circumstances reduce the number of family members at the table, the number of sandwiches will always be less than enough to feed everyone, leaving this segment to have an intentionally inspired absurdity to it. In fact, because of this strange but perfect little detail, it's the best and most memorable segment for myself due to its surrealist nature. Like the introduction with actress L. Jones and the ghost child that leads to this segment, you are aware how low budget the production is. Being shot on videotape produces a sharp contrast to conventional, higher budget filmmaking. Locals from the region, minimal framing and camera movement, the border between our everyday lives as the viewer and the film's only separate now because the eighties is a decade in the past. Onscreen, eighties computer text explains what happens to the family after one of the sons snap, with the term "on the hog" repeated more than in any film I've seen. The story, whilst brisk and crude, is perversely watchable. In fact, in all seriousness, you could adapt it by itself into an absurdist short, like a bastard offspring of Jan Němec's A Report on the Party and Guests (1966), without the political satire but that same closed in world of nonsensical (but strangely logical) behaviour, the kind of story better if you imagine there would only be one baloney sandwich even if there were three people at this table, always infinitely less sandwiches due to a cosmic will outside this family's grasp.

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The second segment is where Quadead's quirks really appear. The story of a man who, unable to kill his older brother because he has already died, still has the body stolen from the funeral to get his revenge. It emphasises, whilst scenes can linger on and on beyond what is necessary, and the audio for the dialogue is difficult to hear at times, that Turner's on the side of dramatic horror that the likes of his interest in the Twilight Zone has clearly left a permanent mark on him. Premise wise its eventually a good one at for the middle of it, even if in terms into a generic undead revenge tale by the end, as when unable to murder his brother the antagonist's still going to rob him of his grave by burying him in the cellar. Asking why he decides to dress the corpse in a clown costume is pointless, especially as questioning one of the memorable aspects of the entire anthology would mean we wouldn't have these quirks of Turner's onscreen. That and who the hell would bring a pitchfork at the bottom of the cellar to dig an improvised grave. It introduces another of his tricks in terms of depicting ghosts visibly, using a hazy primary coloured superimposition of an actor to interesting effect. Less appreciated, even if charming, is robotising the voices of the dead so you can barely make out dialogue admits the buzzing, more so when music will play over the dialogue at the same time.

The bookends of the Quadead are the most fascinating in terms of an actual film. Whilst I prefer the segment with the baloney sandwiches, the actual meat of the film is with Shirley L. Jones playing a working class mother with a ghost child. A bookend to this feature's credit with invisibility effects,  seats being compressed under a form and one floating mug, probably more effective and practical than all the CGI used in the likes of Hollow Man (2000). Even the ghost's way of speaking to his mother is memorable, where L. Jones's long hair is blow back from a hair dryer off-screen with ghostly whispers, because it feels like the most unconventional shampoo commercial you could watch. The segments with these two characters, before the finale after the stories in-between, remind me that the SOV cinema (unintentionally) was a violent rebuttal of glamorised cinematic aesthetic. Whilst it was used to make films like this, the same technology was also used to film home movies, meaning they eliminated the barrier of conventional cinema by having normal people in front of the screen rather than stars, the real decor and furniture of real rooms rather than sets, a prop book of the tales of the Quadead put together as a Blue Peter project than a Hollywood production designer. All whilst creating on a medium, VHS, which is a fraught and fragile material to preserve, fuzz mixing with a wobbling picture quality at the top and bottom of the screen that becomes hazy in image.

What you don't expect from said bookends is a grim ending involving the husband believing she is unstable after losing their son, a domestic abuse scene which turns uglier, and the bloody aftermath having a depressing conclusion. Even if it ends with the ghost superimposition effect and robot ghost voices, somewhat of a happy note, its sobering with the film's reputation within the crazy, strange world of SOV films that it concludes with someone committing suicide and a bleak tone. Material that could happen in a regular drama, even with the ghost child still part of the narrative, which says a lot about Turner's choices as director-writer-producer when he could have made gore or monster film, but instead chooses real life topics with supernatural edges added to them.

Is Quadead zone abstract? Not really. Calling it weird is in danger of trivialising Turner in itself, and bluntly its more appropriate to call Quadead strange. We blur the lines between "strange" and "weird", which I admit to having done in writing for these sorts of films, but here the term strange is apt and the only right choice of word. Something unfamiliar due to the stylistic choices and limitations involved, not "weird" as that has always implied something more extreme for me going further than that, the context something utterly understandable but the method Turner had to make the film, even how the film because a prized treasure going for insane amounts of money for the original and scarce videotape, bringing something out of the ordinary to the results. As a production, I couldn't call it "abstract" as it plays very straightforwardly with the shot-on-video aesthetic stripping away the potential weird mood needed. Even my beloved baloney sandwich segment, whilst abstract in premise, is made pretty conventional in mood because of how its presented.

Abstract Spectrum: Eccentric/Psychotronic/Strange
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None

Personal Opinion:
A fascinating production. It is, frankly, not the one-off and one-of-a-kind artefact of weirdness it has been described as. Instead it's a fascinating example of filmmaking on very little budget, a cultural artfact, which has thankfully gained appreciation in the 21st century.

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