Saturday, 31 May 2014

We Await (1996) Charles Pinion

Three years after Red Spirit Lake, We Awaits is the last and least of Charles Pinion's films (so far that is, he apparently has a new one called American Mummy due this year but I'll believe that only when I'm watching it). It's punk cinema running on fumes, it really seems like it could have been hashed out by enthusiastically imaginative but less than astute students in between bong hits. But at least for Pinion it changes things up again, the plot has a kind of urban Texas Chainsaw/drug trip/religious commentary thing going on, events are the most coherent yet, there are more actual songs back on the soundtrack and everything wraps up in a sprightly under fifty five minutes. 

Things open amusingly, different biblical channels playing too loudly on multiple TV's watched by the director on a couch, with a devil mask hanging on the wall behind him. Then we get to the meat of crooked Robert Tipple who tries to fleece a couple of religious types but winds up imprisoned by a family of loons. One son is a psychopath, the other is a human dog (by choice!), no one else is normal either and they all eat green goo derived from a fungus fed by glowing crystals, causing them to hallucinate and follow a strange religion. It all seems like it should be pretty awesome, but unfortunately is just kinda watchable. The main problem is that while it sounds pretty promisingly bonkers from an outline such as above, it actually isn't. Early on some genuine cock and ball clamping is pretty cool but then things rather slack off, there are people acting goofy, a wee bit of sloppy and choppy grue, blurry hallucinations of the dime a dozen kind, green and red filters and that's about it until some memorably mental near finale shenanigans that I won't spoil. And while the idea of religious belief and ritual as a kind of fungal freak out is interesting given real reports from takers of peyote/DMT/ayahuasca etc. (and some academic suggestion that Revelations may not have come from entirely spiritual inspiration) it isn't given much weight. Still, for fans of this sort of thing that are still on the trail it moves along nicely with some amusing moments, Neurosis and Unsane are in the soundtrack and there's atmosphere that is quite effective in the moment even if the whole thing falls apart soon after viewing. So if you're still here, you should probably watch this. Only after having watched Twisted Issues and Red Spirit Lake that is, as both are better. But yeah...

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Red Spirit Lake (1993) Charles Pinion

Five years after Charles Pinion first blared through screens with Twisted Issues he returned with Red Spirit Lake. Creditably its a very different beast, the plot is inspired by nasty exploitation rather than slashers and 80's cheese, there's a heavier emphasis on sex and weirdness, the setting is rural rather than urban, it isn't full of punk rock and it wraps up in a filler free 78 odd minutes. Plus it even has a different kind of point! I'm all for film makers not resting on their laurels, for me art should never rest but ceaselessly journey into the unknown, so Red Spirit Lake gets my goodwill automatically. But alas it's actually a bit of a step down... 

The plot sees attractive young Marilyn inherit the titular property after her aunt is murdered in the opening. See, evil industrialist Diego Sardonia (cool name!) wants to get his hands on the place and the magic within, and is all about sending vicious hired goons to help acquire it. But Marilyn has some tricks up her sleeve, plus there's some business involving weirdo caretaker Mathias (Pinion himself) and his simpleton brother Thomas, who have encountered angels (or possibly aliens, the main thing is that they're painted silver and wear tin foil). And later on some friends of Marilyn rock up to get involved in the fun. There are lots of neat ideas and the odd arresting moment but things don't really stick. The biggest problem is the point that the film seems to want to make, a contrast of the grasping, ultimately impotent feral savagery of Man (a phallic tusk appears in a dream sequence) with the playful and more powerful sorcery of Woman. Basically inane, 17 year old Riot Grrl/Wicca wannabe stuff, the kind of gender politics that can just about carry a short but that become embarrassing in the long form where one has more space to think about them, and especially embarrassing coming from a grown man. But also the film making hasn't improved much, and what is charming when dealing with a killer undead skater is more frustrating than charming when dealing with rape and more seriously unhinged material. So the whole is difficult to fully appreciate, even though on paper a lot of it is winning stuff. 

Still, serious trash cult enthusiasts should dig this at least a little. No Wave notables Tessa Hughes Freeland and Kembra Pfahler appear as witches, dancing in the snow in flimsy gowns such that you figure their nipples would freeze off, and Richard Kern plays a big meanie who gets a memorable comeuppance. There are red and blue filters, a score that has a lot of blurry noise/drone and occasional passages of beating industrial, there are a few tits, a few funny lines and it is effectively bizarre and gruesome at times. So I guess it's a case of if you're still reading, this may be a film for your, Just watch Twisted Issues first to get your bearings.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Twisted Issues (1988) Charles Pinion

The first feature from teacher turned punk turned film-maker Charles Pinion, Twisted Issues has a pretty good claim to being one of the most punk rock films ever made, or at least one of the most punk rock horrors ever made, horror not being a genre notable for its serious treatment of subcultures. Initially planned as a straight documentary on the Gainsville punk scene, additional writers turned the film into a genre fiction piece, with a plot loosely focused on Paul, a straight edge skater mown down by scumbags who is brought back to bandaged zombie life by a mad scientist, then nails his skateboard to his foot and goes off in pursuit of vengeance. The slasher aspects are fun, with kills circling that weird high energy territory where ineptitude undergoes fusion and becomes sublime, they aren't quite there but they never bore and rarely frustrate in the way that these films sometimes can. Fair amount of blood sprayed about, a goofy eye gouge and even goofier severed limb, amusing stuff. Also Paul's revival is portrayed through a bunch of nasty slaughterhouse stills so people who like bolt pistolled cow heads will be pleased. 

But what really attracts is the atmosphere, a totally authentic evocation of suburban punk nihilism. People hang out, sit around or stand around, drink, smoke, skate, drive, go to shows, most of them don't even have names let alone clues and all the while Pinion himself and occasional companions watch events on TV as well as news reports, an anti skating ranter and an imposing face inviting viewers to "Say yes". There's no great underlying point, an early sequence intercutting skating footage, Reagan, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, armies, bombs and so forth illustrates the extent of the smarts on display up front. And the constant punk tunage is only intermittently more than forgettable, mostly repetitive stuff that's probably fun to see live on a skinful but becomes wallpaper at home. But the kills and the filler and the meta-cinema framing all come together with a fittingly nutty finale, painting a portrait of life that is violent and stupid and meaningless and ruled over by people equally violent and stupid, and all damned to endless repetition of being violent and stupid and meaningless without even death to end the cycle. Most times films deal with subcultures they project their own ideas and ideals and may come across as satisfying art but are laughable and even insulting treatments of their subjects, Twisted Issues is far from this and that makes it kinda fascinating to me. 

Of course most will find this pretty tough to bear, and even those few who are attracted may find that a little goes a long way (the film is a little too long, around the hour mark wearing thin for a bit but picking up for the final ten minutes odd). Technically much as you'd expect, shots that are too dark, overenthusiastic use of red and blue filters, dialogue frequently muffled by the music or by ambient noise, camera work in the crap side of verite and so on. But you know, who cares about technical accomplishment in a friggin' SOV flick as long as it does what it needs to, which it does. To wrap up, this isn't going to appeal to many even among 80's SOV horror fans but if you've read this far it might be for you so go get it watched. Buffalo.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Queens of Evil (1970) Tonino Cervi

A handsome hippy called David bikes the day away, through picturesque countryside, guitars and folksy wail, time fading to fog and forest and darkness. He comes across a older suited man by the roadside needing a tire change and the two have a free and frank exchange of views on life and society, then an unfortunate incident sends our hippy off to seek refuge, which he finds with three lovely ladies living in a house near a lake. Of course things aren't quite what they seem... 

On the face of it Queens of Evil is quite typical culture clash horror of the sort popular at the time, but there's an uncommon allure and wisdom to it that puts it way out in front of that sometimes trite pack. Nearmost everything here is attractive, house, inhabitants, surroundings. From the giant portrait photos on the living room wall, white couches, floor pillows of red and white and blue and green and one side full of yellow, to the stylishly impractical spray of cupboards on the kitchen wall, impeccable faces, fashionable wigs, rich cakes, attire of light and ease and colour and shine, the film understands the real seductive power of opulence, treating it with more than just the expected simplistic ironies. Light dappling through green forest top, clear expanse of lake, it's hard to imagine not wanting to spend time here as the film works upon the viewer much as poor David is spellbound himself. Wisely the spell is not just expedient, David is deeply flawed but realistically so, he rises above mere sap. Throughout his interactions with the sisters or other cast he is determined of his beliefs, yet just as determinedly he is contrasted with the poise of others, against this and their knowledge and standing he is shown as weak, as selfish and arrogant and a little sloppily childish. Not unlikeable but foolish, compelling anyhow. And the combination of character and place gives this an impact rather more interesting than the average hippies over their heads exploitation fuelled and crafted with nothing but cynicism. There's even underlying Biblical symbolism to dig into if you fancy, although underplayed enough to take or leave. 

Much of this comes across as erotically charged fantasy rather than horror, little real darkness in the first half. But by the simplicity of meaningful glances and edits that have time passing, things appearing and disappearing in the blink of an eye, mounting small oddities a pleasing atmosphere is woven. Many will be put off by the pace, it places the film in the more cultish realms of such as Pensione Paura or The House with the Laughing Windows, only shocking at the end. I didn't have any problem with the pace myself, finding it quite effortless. I was little put out by the absence of any notable nudity, something which might very much have contributed to the feel of sinister seduction, I also felt a use of chintzy lightning effects should have been left out and that the coda was drawn just a tad beyond optimal effectiveness. But generally this has and does exactly what I want from such a film, in fact I might even call it an era favourite after it's had a little more time to sit with me. So if you've made it to the end here and it sounds like your cup of tea, highly recommended.