Author Archives: the mentaculus

Armchair cinema savant. Short form fact poet. Wannabe samurai. Life goals: direct a movie, and see a UFO.

A Month Of Horror On the Fringes (Day 23): The Damned House of Hajn (1989)

When times are gone, they are not old, they’re dead. There aren’t any times but new times.

That line comes not from Jirí Svoboda’s gonzo gothic Czech horror The Damned House of Hajn (1989), but Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, which was in my mind nearly the entirety of the picture. What do we have in both but a crazy mother, an imprudent lover, and old aristocracy on the verge of collapse from their misplaced whims and whimsy. Ghosts reappear and madness takes their place in the recesses. The house of Hajn is truly a house of the damned, because it is a house in stasis; like the Ambersons, it is not moving with the times, but stuck in the past. They have so diluted themselves, that when the past comes up to bite them in the ass, they wonder why all the pain is behind them.

After a magnificent, scribbly and mad, title sequence (of a kind with von Trier’s Antichrist, something of a kind with this film) we are introduced to the House of Hajn through the eyes of Petr (Emil Horváth). Bathed in blue and yellow light from unknown sources, the Hajn’s can only be found behind deadbolted lock-and-key; a place beyond, and kept away. When the camera first interacts with our protagonist, he looks directly at it – and it retreats, as if in fear, or playful banter, back up in to the woods. We hear a dislocated voice: What is he looking for? Happiness! it cackles in mockery. The windows of the mansion shatter, and a dove flies forth. Which is to say, something else, besides happiness, succeeds where he will fail.

I cannot begin to describe just how exquisite – and brilliant – Emil Horváth’s cinematography is in this film. Horváth bathes the screen in primaries, then forces them into darkness, a constant violence that adds passion to the movie’s themes. In saturated reds, blues, and yellows, we clearly enter a demented world (like the similarly hued Suspiria) where reality itself must surrender to some furios logic outside our immediate perception – it can only be seen in exaggeration. Meanwhile, the filmed events are often forced against the camera in close-up and ultra wide-angle, but the canvas is larger than that, extending into the background and infinite distance. The events are directly in front of you, and then recede. Like waves crashing on a shore, one is caught in the cadence, but it has a weathering to it. After a while, it is exhausting, and the audience has to concede to what the film’s visuals have to say.

A Month of Horror on the Fringes (Day 22): Taxidermia (2006)

I first saw Taxidermia nearly a decade ago during its all-too-brief theatrical run, and it’s always been in the back of my mind – frankly, it’s not an easy film to shake. A Gilliam-esque comedy full of Jodorowsky symbolic musings, unsimulated sex, and the most vomit seen outside of Team America: World Police – but for a worthy cause. Its surrealist leanings are bent towards telling the history of Hungary from the Second World War on to the present: its sober message is of a once fertile land perverted by economy, affected by lies, and fallen into irreparable decay. Ultimately, Hungary has become sterile, both in the present and the future tenses. It has embalmed itself – into a kind of waking death.

The film takes the form of a narrative triptych – the first portion begins around the War, in a barren, fog-filled land. We are introduced first to the young soldier Morosgoványi in the dark, with flames coming out of his erect penis. (Immediately, we know it will be that kind of film.) We soon learn he is under the thumb of his superior officer, a stern man with a wife and a temper. To retreat from this living hell, he uses his imagination – he dreams he’s sleeping with the lieutenant’s wife, but he wakes up having made it with the corpse of a pig (both fantasy (?) and reality (?) are shown in unsimulated fashion). The lieutenant shoots him for the grotesquerie of it all. The lieutenant’s son is born with a pig’s tail. This is cut off in hideous detail.

The pig-son, Kálmán, in the second section of the film, becomes a master eater. It has become a sport of national pride – our character Kálmán comes in second in a national contest – he professes his love for his sweetheart Aczél during a post-gorge vomit session. He is sweet on the female champion, and together, after a period of wooing and a short subplot of Kálmán’s getting lockjaw during a speed-eating bout with a Soviet champion, they have a son, Balatony.

Balatony is introduced as a bird defecates on the screen – he is a taxidermist by trade. Balatony is so gangly he’s almost vampiric. His father, the once-great Kálmán, has become an incomprehensibly fat, bloated version of himself – like the fat immortal in Blade, muttering to himself about eating and vomiting technique to his cats and the television. The reconstruction period of Kálmán, the time of plenty, has eaten everything and receded into video and entertainment, leaving nothing for the generation of Balatony, who is uniquely consumed with the idea of death. Kálmán looks down on his son for being skinny – after all, he had a vomiting technique to his name! – while Balatony has done nothing… Eventually, his gluttonous father’s stomach explodes. I’m pretty sure he eats a cat. Now left alone, Balatony accomplishes his life’s work: embalming himself alive, with the help of an apparatus he built. This is an unbearably long, 10-minute sequence of Balatony cutting open his stomach, removing his bowels, and filling himself with chemicals – before, at the very moment of death, his machine chops his head off. (Try seeing this in a theater, where everything is blown up 100 times large.) As the film ends, a museum audience looks blithely upon Balatony’s creation in awe – a taxidermied corpse of his own body, before the camera retreats through his navel.

For which to say the film is working on a different sort of operating table. It is a horror film, sure, if not for its extended periods of gore and general repulsiveness. But it is beautiful in its disgust – framed elegantly, shot acutely (it was entered into the 2006 Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival). But it is easy to see why it has never achieved a DVD distribution deal in America. Taxidermia is superbly unrelenting in its distorted visual correspondences on the social and political horrors it addresses. I would need a PhD in Hungarian post-war history to understand it to its fullest – but that doesn’t necessarily mean I need it. One is able to grasp its themes without being spoonfed, because it is all-too visceral at times.

Taxidermia is particularly transcendent in its use of visual analogy – an emblematic cinema tool of Griffith, Eisenstein and Kubrick – to get its philosophical and political points across, with the juxtaposition of images instead of words. The result is a unique magical realism that marries the true-to-life situations, and the fantasy it presents as this truth – of a kind with Bunuel and Pasolini. It may also be a perfect film, in so far as its images and themes match each other in repulsive harmony. Taxidermia is ripe for critical appreciation and rediscovery – at least, among the certain kind of crowd wiling to risk its sordid rewards.

 

Each day all through October, I’ll be writing my two cents on 31 horror films from the dark alleys, lost highways, and unexpected corners of cinema history. Here’s to the fringes!

A Month of Horror on the Fringes (Day 21): The Testament of Dr. Cordelier (1959)

Fun fact: the primal tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde arose from a true story. In the late 1700’s, a woodworker of impeccable craftsmanship, one young furniture maker by the name of William Brodie, rose to such professional esteem around his hometown in Scotland, he became Deacon of his local guild – and a man morally untouchable. His honor was in such high standing, local leaders entrusted him with the keys to their estates, so he could go in while they’re gone and touch up the furniture. But Deacon Brodie was also a talented locksmith. How strange was it, then, when their stuff started disappearing under cover of night. This was, as it turns out, thanks to Brodie’s talent for copying keys, and an insatiable coveting of his neighbor’s wares. He was eventually hanged in 1788 (they say, on the gallows he built). Brodie’s was a double life: one of aristocracy by day, and orchestration of nefarious plots with a cadre of miscreants by night. He was a bit of Dr. Mabuse, a pinch of Professor Moriarty. And Robert Lewis Stevenson was aware of the story: as a young boy, an ominous cabinet sitting in his bedroom was crafted by none other than the same villain, Deacon Brodie.

The origin for Stevenson’s novella, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, is a bit of this history, and a hint of the legend, but intermingled in a nightmare. Stevenson once told a reporter the idea for the story came to him during a dream, where “all I dreamed about Jekyll was that one man was being pressed into a cabinet when he swallowed a drug and changed into another being.” In the same alchemy by which coal, under enough pressure, can be transformed into a diamond, man, left to his own devices and with enough pressure, can find himself transmutated into another state. It is a curious thing that Stevenson dreamt of a cabinet, and that probably Brodie’s cabinet: an internal hiding place for a person’s external items; a holder of trinkets that can, visually, transform a man naked into a man of means. The source of the Jekyll and Hyde story is an agent built to perpetuate propriety, built by a criminal.

This elemental angle to man’s internal states is what no doubt inspired Jean Renoir’s take on Stevenson’s narrative, with his television film, The Testament of Dr. Cordelier (yikes, remember that Dr. Mabuse name drop, from before?). In other filmed versions of the classic tale (I am thinking primarily of the Barrymore version), the evil in Jekyll personified in Hyde is almost an external force of nature – a demon invited into the heart by weakness in man’s soul, and let loose in the property – the Evil is not, ultimately, his fault. In the aforementioned silent version, Hyde is set upon the sleeping Jekyll as if by a spider casting its web – Jekyll is merely a fly caught in a larger intrigue attacking his spirit. But Renoir gives us no such moral safety net. His Jekyll, Dr. Cordelier, is eventually revealed (in his Testament) to be as despicable as his Hyde, Mr. Opale. Renoir’s version becomes a means to explore the inherent state of human Evil; but here, the pressure, the drug, the catalyst, is social propriety’s suppression upon men, and the violent expression that this eventually reveals. Evil begets evil. The evil in society begets the evil in men.

Renoir’s film begins with Dr. Cordelier (Jean-Louis Barrault) revising his will to leave his inimitable estate to an unknown character – and new assistant – by the name of Opale. Cordelier’s lawyer, Joly (Teddy Bilis), is an old friend so does as he says, but is baffled by this turn of events. Smelling a blackmail attempt, Joly inserts himself into his friend’s plot to save his friend’s reputation, and unravel the relationship between this new assistant of his and the Good Doctor. Within only a few minutes of tailing Opale, the strange, apelike Opale picks up a young girl off the street and beats her with his cane. The brutality of the sequence, really does, come out of nowhere. Which is kind of the point. The tailend of this scene is a chase through the streets, leading straight to Dr. Cordelier’s residence. In the most French propriety moment possible, the lawyer Joly covers for his friend’s assistant – and scandal to Opale’s employer – by paying off the beaten girl and placating the crowd. They see this as virtuous: a girl was beaten, but at least a scandal was averted! “He did a good thing,” says a member of the incensed mob.

Joly eventually comes to one of Dr. Cordelier’s “colleagues”, one emotionally volatile Dr. Severin, who has fallen out with Cordelier over the nature of his experiments. Cordelier’s aim is to unlock consciousness – and change the soul – by introducing an outside agent, allowing his patients to literally change any deficiencies in their preterconscious character. Severin believes consciousness and the soul are one and the same; while Cordelier believes the soul lies somewhere else, and moreover, can be mutated. In a beautiful reversion of dialogue, Severin tells Cordelier he should be “burned at the stake” for “blaspheming” against Claude Bernard, and Charles Darwin, and sophist moralism. Cordelier’s belief offends the gods of science, but not necessarily the Gods.

How little do both the scientists actually know of the eventual transformation from Cordelier into Opale. Renoir’s Hyde is not a man torn in two between Id and Ego, but a perverted harmony between the two. In a tape-recorded statement that frames the second half of the film, after Opale is discovered as Dr. Cordelier by Joly, we learn the whole sordid tale. Dr. Cordelier is a self-hating hypocrite. In a flashback, he rebukes one of his patients from sleeping with the family Maid; but Cordelier is in a love affair with his own. He scolds his colleagues who take advantage of the young girls under their care, but eventually, he succumbs to this temptation (the result hints of rape). His experiments with drugs, hoping to heal these deficiencies in his soul, actually release the part of it in hiding for so long.

Cordelier actually has some unholy agency in his Opale disguise, and it’s this revision of the Jekyll and Hyde story that is most shocking. His slimy charade is merely a physical mask he can use to not get caught for the satisfaction of his innermost, deplorable, state. (At one point we are introduced to Joly’s favorite whorehouse, and what is left unsaid is quite a grave silence for a television film. “He’s a monster,” the girls say.) Opale is not a demonic reflection of the man; just a reflection. Perhaps a reflection through a cleaner mirror.

Renoir made use of minimal sets and a traditional lighting setup for this film, so The Testament of Dr. Cordelier relies instead on the strengths of the moral fable at hand, and the actors to tell it. It took me two viewings to realize Barrault was both Cordelier and Opale, which is a deficiency in my own viewership, perhaps, but also a real compliment to his work. Opale’s physicality, however, is quite troubling – he has a Chaplinesque Tramp buffoonery, but a look that has the subtext of an immigrant caricature. This would not be surprising for a popular production, but it comes from Renoir. So giving the benefit of the doubt, something more is at play. The music cues that fallow Opale on his rampages may be considered humorously out of place, but again, this is Renoir we’re talking about. Perhaps Opale is a bumbling correlative for his society’s worst and most childlike impulses. Regardless, at the end of the film, Barrault gives his Opale a sympathy reserved for a sick and dying dog, one you know you have to put down to save it any more pain.

But there is no such sympathy for Cordelier, and this is probably Renoir’s purpose. It is a clear indictment of the state of society that confines men to untenable standards (a running theme from Renoir works including, Boudu Saved From Drowning, The Grand Illusion, The Crime of Monsieur Lange), but also an indictment of society’s disposition toward leaving the dark corners of men’s spirits unchecked – merely pressing them down into the cracks and recesses, instead of ever truly healing them. Like Jekyll against Stevenson’s cabinet, if you keep pressing, eventually, a man’s true character is revealed.

Each day all through October, I’ll be writing my two cents on 31 horror films from the dark alleys, lost highways, and unexpected corners of cinema history. Here’s to the fringes!

A Month of Horror on the Fringes (Day 20): The Body Beneath (1970)

Apparently the word auteur gets kicked around a lot when it comes to writer-director Andy Milligan. It’s true that his films have a signature vision, and there are similarities between his films that echo a singular creative impulse – at times, resembling festering neuroses that only filmed drama can appropriately express. But, to echo Milligan’s biggest fanboy, writer-director-Milligan collector Nicolas Winding Refn, Milligan’s films are distinguished “first by their crudeness, and then by how difficult it was to sit through them.” The Body Beneath is possibly one of the crudeness-est, and difficult-est, to sit through of the fringe cinema that Milligan has come to define. It’s quite probably an impossible film to view without drifting into unrelentingly bored distraction; then ennui, then mild contempt. It’s the kind of film that leads you from the first to the third person – encouraging you to drift out of your body. Soon you’re seeing yourself seeing the film, transcended, and wondering just what about it made you escape your body.

It’s remarkable just how little actually happens in The Body Beneath. In the prologue, a young woman is set upon by three vampires in blueface in a graveyard. At the same time, we are introduced to the Reverend Alexander Algernon Ford (Gavin Reed), a man whose clear disdain for others is matched only by the length of his family tree – “Did you know the Fords go back to Roman times? 98 B.C. in fact,” he says with a nasally sneer. “I know everything, Dear Boy.” He is a priest who does horoscopes – and can guess one’s planetary alignment with pinpoint dismissiveness. It’s apparently a source of pride to pigeonhole others so readily into neat, little, tiny boxes. Reverend Ford has come back to town to reopen All Soul’s Church (of course) and Carfax Abbey (doubly of course – a place that only exists in Dracula texts), but it’s clear from the get-go there’s more to his story.

Or at least you hope there is, but we’re thrust into a love scene just when a plot starts to appear. Now it becomes clear that Milligan is more comfortable shooting characters with their clothes off than on. In the throes of passion we are introduced to Susan (Jackie Skarvellis) and Paul (Richmond Ross), two young lovers without too much to go on (I suppose Susan kind of has an Amy Winehouse vibe). Susan is kidnapped by the Reverend for reasons first unknown, and Paul has to save her.

It turns out Reverend Ford is a vampire, and the blood they need can only come from “pure” blood from within the family – rather incestuously so. Over the centuries, the purity of the Ford blood has been diluted through inbreeding. I think. The plot is preposterous, and it doesn’t help that it’s often couched in nonsensical dialogue. Here’s a token piece of narrative fidelity: The Reverend tells his prey at one point, “Words mean nothing, my dear. ACTIONS speak louder!” The very next sentence, he segues into his evil Seven Point Plan! (Like an evil PowerPoint presentation, and just as dull.) There’s a hunchback named Spool who tries to help Susan escape, but he’s discovered and crucified in the garden. The end of the film is a yearly meeting of the Ford souls, including a Caesar, probably in the basement of the Abbey, where they muse about going to America, since the curfews in London don’t encourage their stalking for prey. Spool is fed to the spirits. Susan wakes up a vampire, infests Paul, and they embrace.

It is hard not to see The Body Beneath outside of Milligan’s is-there-isn’t-there homosexuality. I also think it’s safe to say Gavin Reed completely owns the picture with a camp performance that could best be described as a self-hating gay man, whose contempt for others is a thin veil for his own internal loathing. He sees others as a means to an end, parasites; but he’s the vampire. The Reverend acts out a part (much like being a Reverend, now that I think of it) but hasn’t come to accept himself . Even the “courtroom” scene at the end is a kind of trial for Reverend Ford to act out his leadership in the Ford vampire community, and his proposal to exile to America feels half-baked. But if it’s read as a refuge for their status as outsiders, and the filmmaker’s own outsider sexual status, a subtext is found:

“But to go to America?! What is America? What is it made of? Pimps, prostitutes, religious fanatics, thrown out of England but a few short centuries ago. They are the scum of the earth!…”
“Look around you. All of this may end if we do not leave to this new continent. Our relatives living in Canada and America are remarkably healthy specimens. We cannot exist another 100 years unless we bring them into our family.”

But to get back to Refn’s point, this is all accomplished with such cruelty of cinematic form one can barely get to this point without ambivalence. Visuals are collected from dregs of better films, while the narrative propels itself on fumes, according to expected motions. Milligan’s focus was not on making a film that could, through even accidental quality, conceal and augment his own subversive aims – but to give the audience what was expected, and complain about it during the telling. The way it rails against a system, pick one, was the message. So, much like the viewership itself, when you find Milligan’s films angrily screaming against their lot in life, this is probably when they’re most honest.

Each day all through October, I’ll be writing my two cents on 31 horror films from the dark alleys, lost highways, and unexpected corners of cinema history. Here’s to the fringes!

A Month of Horror on the Fringes (Day 19): Incubus (1966)

 

Incubus is a film lost to time. For a while, this was quite literal – from 1966 or so to 1996, no print was known to exist (it was eventually found with forced French subs in the archives of the Cinematheque Francaise, after enough prodding). The story takes place in a mysterious provincial town, Nomen Tuum (looks like Latin, quacks like Latin), wherein there is a well whose water is said to grant youth and beauty. Nomen Tuum could very well be a rural European town now, or 1966, or 1936, or 1636. Inescapably, Incubus is spoken in the intellectual, artificial language Esperanto – so we have no hints of cultural dialogue or inflection. It sounds vaguely Latin, while the whole film looks vaguely Swedish. All we know as an audience is this is a preternatural world is filled with God and demons, malevolent woods and empty churches. The world of Incubus may as well be Atlantis – primal, mysterious, and surrounded on all sides by myth.

Its enigma makes it a perfect vehicle for a simple moral tale. We are introduced to Kia, a succubus and servant of Darkness lurking by Nomen Tuum’s well, looking for stray and desperate souls, leading them to death instead of extended life. Hers, we come to discover, is a forlorn existence – she is unsatisfied only leading the ugly souls to Hell. What about the virtuous and pure? Would the Dark One not prefer to receive an uninvited guest? (I’ll never forget what a film professor, once a Jesuit understudy for the priesthood, once said of the matter: The souls of the Faithful yield the ripest fruit.) Kia’s succubus sister Amael absolutely forbids it – the truly virtuous have an uncontrollable power, Love, that can destroy the naive demonic. Of course she pays no heed, and on her search for a saintly man, stumbles across William Shatner.

People often forget Shatner was an understudy of Lawrence Olivier, and a young Shakespearean actor of promise (did he not reach it?). He had a memorable role in a true filmed masterpiece, Judgment at Nuremberg. Heck, many Star Trek Original Series season one episodes (The Conscience of the King, Balance of Terror, Court Martial) show remarkable restraint for a man known to many now as a cartoon of himself. And Incubus is pre-Star Trek – and therefore a kind of pre-Shatner (if you can’t tell by now, I’m an apologist). His presence is overwhelming to the film now, because Shatner is such a youthful force, but here without that characteristic self-awareness that currently defines him. I’m no Esperanto enthusiast, though, so whatever mistakes he does make (apparently, “native” speakers hate this film) fade into that archetypal cadence of his. It works. Shatner succeeds as a leading man, of one so selfless within his surroundings, his integrity becomes the moral wellspring of the movie.

 

It only takes one extended encounter for Kia to fall in love with Marc (aka Captain Kirk), so her sister has to pull out the big guns by summoning an incubus in the dead of night to revenge her now sullied depravity. The pithy yet dense dialogue, inverted to call attention to the perversion of perversion, is a standout – full of all the subtleties of great moral myth (and Bergman films, from which Incubus unapologetically apes). So, Milos Milos rises from the ground as our titular character, and soon, Hell breaks loose on Marc and his poor sister, Arndis. Incubus is most difficult at this point, because its Satanic Black Mass, involving the unsuspecting Arndis, is so despicable and potent it detracts from the major themes of light and darkness found throughout the film. There’s so much beauty, Hell appears as a confusing aside.

Here the themes come into greater focus. Kia begins as a blind servant of the Lord of Darkness, but by the end, proclaims, “I belong to the God of Light!” in her own struggle with Hell’s minions. Meanwhile, Arndis begins in the light but, after looking at an eclipse although told not to, loses her sight and becomes more comfortable seeing in darkness (alluding to her fall, which is fairly callous since it has no moral grounding. Like Kia’s turn, it is derived from superficiality and naivety). Marc is driven to murder in self-preservation against the incubus (not self-lessness), while the incubus has to feign failure in order to succeed. It is a lot of subtext for a short, subtle picture, supported by keen black and white cinematography by none other than the legendary Conrad Hall (In Cold Blood, Cool Hand Luke, Fat City). The film’s short shooting schedule inspired quite a bit of visual inspiration – one of its more striking moments is Kia knocking down the camera in her haste out of a church (the kind of thing later picked up by Darren Aronofsky, who explores similar themes). The first murder by Kia of a wayward soul, pressing his face into the sea before burying him with one hand sticking ominously out, is striking. She is like a child, building a sandcastle; but a child of death, not yet come of age. It also reeks of The Seventh Seal.

The isolated plot, place, and space is no doubt the doing of Leslie Stevens, Incubus‘ director and the creator of The Outer Limits. At times it feels like the Fantasia for the man behind The Zanti Misfits – of a kind but aiming for a much higher artistry. There are many detractors of Incubus – its Esperanto’s not quite right, it came after Milos Milos’ scandal and death, it’s too copycat, it has William Shatner – but gosh darn it, I like this movie. The unapologetic simplicity of it all, with no special effects of note, no gruesome gore, no scandalous monster (just a goat head), fits just right. Film economy goes a long way. And 50 years on, its economy is refreshing.

Each day all through October, I’ll be writing my two cents on 31 horror films from the dark alleys, lost highways, and unexpected corners of cinema history. Here’s to the fringes!

A Month of Horror on the Fringes (Day 18): The Demon (1978)

I’m drawn to genre film because I am often terrified by chamber dramas. Nothing is more awkward – and direct – like a room full of people with malice and selfish motivations, fueled by desire, setting to destroy one another in the banalist terms. Polanski’s Carnage, for example, I could barely sit through (but two days ago, I sat through BoardingHouse!). The focused intensity of everyday experience is terrifying for me – it is immediate, yet so within the realm of possibility. So when it comes to horror cinema, there are the everyday subgenres I am completely accustomed to by now, such as the Horror of the Apocalypse (“End of the World”), the Horror of the Mind / Psychological Horror (“End of Oneself”) and the Horror of the Others (“End of Others”). But what of the Horror of the Everyday (“End of Existence”)? I can barely handle it. Without monsters, zombies, occultists, slashers, terrorists, ghosts, spectres, witches, demons, haunts, or aliens, what terrible outside force can we appropriate horror to, and then easily dismiss? The shortest answer is, we have only look to ourselves for evil, and these works force us, as best we can, to transcribe the Hyde we see in the mirror to the Jekylls we are. It is a terrible proposition. So although The Demon is not what could be called a horror film per se, it is one of the undiscovered masterpieces of horror, because it is a masterpiece of everyday horror – a horror on parenthood, and on children not as the object of horror, like a Bad Seed or an Omen, but its subject. It is the kind of horror you see in the park or at Disneyland, at a restaurant or on the bus or (heaven forbid) with your friends, when you witness the release of Id onto the impressionable psyche of children, and pretend you don’t see. Because social propriety says that’s none of your business. It was once said it takes a village to raise a child, but The Demon makes the saying fade deep into impossible mythology.

The Demon begins with Kikuyo, a clearly exasperated single parent with three young children – an older, rambunctious boy Riichi, a young daughter, and small toddler. She is on the search for something in a strange, unknown village. We come to find her at the steps of the Takeshita Printing company – a small mom and pop operation in the shadows of a burned building. Under the cover of night, she storms the place with the three kids in tow. Soon, we get the backstory: she is the mistress of the owner of the place, Sokichi (Ogata Ken). Sokichi and Kikuyo have a row outside, but Oume, Sokichi’s wife, invites her inside. To Oume we get the backstory – Sokichi has been meeting Kikuyo on the side for seven years, the three children are probably his, the hush money / child support stopped flowing her direction, and she can’t take care of their kids any longer. As they stay the night, Sokichi tries to plead and/or have sex with Oume but she pulls a knife on him. Kikuyo leaves as if a spectre from some traditional Japanese ghost story, and the unhappily wedded couple are stuck with the kids. Kikuyo is never seen again.

There is a brief period where the couple tries to care for the three children, but this doesn’t last long. Oume starts to personify her hate of the mistress onto the three kids, in particular the oldest, Riichi. “He’s evil,” she says to his face. “He looks just like his mother.” She takes to beating them mercilessly – during one beating off-camera, even the hired hand says, “That’s like living in hell.” The whole while, Sokichi does nothing and subjects his children to this abuse. Eventually, out of hate for her situation, Oume ends up force feeding the toddler, and he’s hospitalized. But at least he’s out of the way. The reprieve gives Oume an idea… her gaze later turns from the sleeping toddler in their home, eating and sleeping away their precious funds, to a blanket she’s putting away. There are moments of intense pause, intercut with scenes of Sokichi’s printing business failing. Soon the youngest, the toddler, has suffocated in his sleep.

At this point you know where the film is going although you really hope you’re just making it up. As the two surviving older kids water their younger brother’s grave, the whole gravity hits you. Children are remarkably resilient, brave, and resourceful. Adults are frail, weak, and cowardly. Oume has become a kind of Evil Godmother, and the three kids are the three fantastical trials of legend… that must be overcome. To save their finances, their sanity, and their marriage, Oume and Sokichi spend the rest of the film wrestling with – and removing – the two remaining children from their lives. It is done from their perspective in all its Hitchcockian perversity. The Demon’s director Nomura Yoshitaro is not well-known in the West, but is very much so in his native Japan, where he ended up making a name for himself in very Hitch-esque mystery thrillers like Zero Focus and Castle of Sand. The Demon may be his most accomplished piece, though: a hat-trick of audience manipulation, and domestic, awkward terror. Nomura lets his leads (especially the incomparable Iwashita Shima as Oume; the same Iwashita of Harakiri, An Autumn Afternoon, Silence and Himiko, among distinguished other works) and Ogata wallow in self-imposed pity and self-righteous hatred in a manner that scares the bejeezus out of us because we’ve seen it before. When Sokichi finally results to violence to rid himself of his eldest son Riichi, you’re not at all surprised. And that scares you deep down.

But like Abraham and Isaac, this sacrifice is spared miraculously, but there is no supplemental Lamb – eventually, the game is up on the gangly Sokichi. Here, Ogata looks twenty years older here than he would in the rather contemporaneous Vengeance Is Mine, where he plays a more overt force of pure, Biblical evil. It’s a true salaryman nightmare, and behind his every gaze are a thousand lost opportunities. It is a performance of grace, covered in blood and dirt and hate. The performances carry the picture, but Nomura’s framing and use of middle-and background is equally impeccable, building tension in harmony with the dialogue in front. Sound design is confined, as if trapped in the wall of the screen – the children’s innocence, meanwhile, is kept personified in a music box from their mother – the only real gift in the film. Its tinkle sounds like Grieg’s Peer Gynt, just a few notes off. Now, it sounds most like Williams’ Harry Potter theme song, which is way, way worse.

On that note, the Demon of the title is never quite explained – but that could be because it is a subtle mistranslation. The kanji “鬼畜” for the title is not necessarily the overt “demon” we Westerners think of as demons, like Oni (鬼), although the symbol is certainly involved. But it is only one of two characters. The Demon, or the Kichiku, translates to something more of a brutal sadist – it is the character of the demon/oni combined with that of livestock, herd, cattle. The demon in all of us.

At the police station, the detective tells the now-profoundly abused boy, on his way to the orphanage to cheer him up:

“The place where you’re going is filled with children like you.”

The Demon The Film now becomes a mouthpiece of Japanese social ills: there is a recapitulation scene of some grander moral psychological message, blah, et al. No one’s listening at this point – it’s like trying to explain away Norman Bates’ state of mind after he’s caught in Psycho. We’ve seen all we need to see – any scholarly explication is an insult to our intellignce.

So we get one. On his way to the orphanage, the child care nurse tell the young boy, “You’re a man, be strong,” and the irony sticks in the back of your throat like sandpaper. He’s strong, but he’s no man. Where he’s going, there is no return. The nurse waves like she’s seeing a friend to the airport. Every life has been ruined, and the boy cries – there is no adult to save him from his future. His coming reality is far, far worse than where he’s been.

Each day all through October, I’ll be writing my two cents on 31 horror films from the dark alleys, lost highways, and unexpected corners of cinema history. Here’s to the fringes!

A Month of Horror on the Fringes (Day 17): The House of Seven Corpses (1974)

The House of Seven Corpses has one of my favorite horror movie beginnings, and one of my favorite endings. The beginning is legitimate; the ending is purely a matter of personal taste. As the title credits roll, we are introduced to the ghostly denizens of some unknown estate – a zoom into their portraits before each character’s grisly murder. Then we find an empty canvas, ominous music, and a black candle illuminating Gayle Dorian (played by Faith Domergue – one of Howard Hughes’ former flames). She says some random words that are tangentially esoteric and/or spiritual. Ah, yes – a satanic ritual. The candles disappear and then reappear (an effect I do not believe was intentional). Domergue really gives it her all, screaming and stomping on some unseen demon’s face. The scene runs entirely too long. Right before she blows her brains out, a voice from out of frame: “That’s not how it happened. Put that down. Cut the scene!”

This is one of the first forays into meta-horror I can think of (here, a film crew accidentally conjures the dead while making a film about conjuring the dead), with an almost whimsical tone that has no place for little things like facts. Those random words during the seance? These are merely cobbled together from not-scary sources. The whole instigator of the plot, the Tibetan Book of the Dead (aka the Bardo Thodol, ‘Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State’) is apparently what causes the shenanigans in the first place, but anyone who’s read it (including myself) knows full well its purpose is not to resurrect the dead. Far from it. When the characters in The House of Seven Corpses read from it, they read Latin chants and Hebrew names, which is so patently hilarious it reaches a point that is disarming, and hell, practically charming.

In this way the film is almost a love letter to cheapo programming fare, knowing exactly what it’s gotten itself into. The film comes at a turning point in horror cinema, well after independent distribution came off the rails but just before the home video revolution opened the floodgates. It’s like a last breath of a certain style of horror cinema. But one made in a way that isn’t scary much at all. And this passing of the torch is led by the film’s three leads: the director-within-the-film is played by John Ireland, the proprietor is none other than John Carradine, and the aging star-lover is of course Domergue. (Apparently, Ireland smoked marijuana nearly the whole production; Carradine, in dapper form, would put on a suit and tie after the day’s filming and drink himself to sleep at the bar, telling the crew Hollywood tales of yore.) The relationship between Ireland’s director and Domergue’s lover-actress is fraught with this tension of fading movie stars, better times, and lost opportunities. The casting is a coup. As Ireland says skimming the Tibetan Book of the Dead left on the premises: “Well, it’s garbage, but it’s better garbage than what the writers gave us.” The film succeeds in these quieter moments, because the extra-cinematic weight of the leads is heavy, indeed.

Once the lights go down, members of the set start to get picked off, as well as the actress’ cat. The film makes no functional distinction between the horror onscreen for the film-within-the-film – with its slight mugging and camp – and the actual film we are watching. The music cues are very much the same, the jump scares fall in line. When Domergue discovers the remnants of her now-dead cat, she’s on camera in a scene (her scream will most definitely make it into the final cut). A real, important death happens concurrent to the death of a dumb, fake one – and when the actor begins to bludgeon one of the actresses for the shot, we are left with some anxiety as to whether a character died for their Hammer ripoff. It is almost as if the director is orchestrating the real horror, while the real horror takes over the production. We’ve gone passed the point of truth or fiction.

Director Paul Harrison does an admirable job wrangling the meta-logic of The House of Seven Corpses while leaving the usual stuff (gore, frights) by the wayside. The film makes great use of color and darkness (not unlike the Hammer films it mocks), thanks to the rather spacious and objectively odd locales of the Mormon Church’s Historical Society as its backdrop (!!). But the bombastic music really sets the tone. It’s outrageous. For me it seems to purposeful, as if it’s a form of humorous self-mockery.

The ending is a personal favorite of mine simply because the nonsensical reveal of the true villain is directly related to my own family history. As the name of the evil character and last of the seven corpses (or whatever) is finally revealed, I immediately had to message the person under suspicion. You finally found out! he replied in text. Then the film’s director gets killed with an Arriflex.

Each day all through October, I’ll be writing my two cents on 31 horror films from the dark alleys, lost highways, and unexpected corners of cinema history. Here’s to the fringes!

A Month of Horror on the Fringes (Day 16): BoardingHouse (1982)

Early on in BoardingHouse (aka The Hoffman House) there is a moment where some random dude we don’t really care about starts to writhe because of some supernatural horror guided by an unknown hand, and all of the sudden his guts miraculously appear on the outside of his body. He holds them knowingly to the camera (which, I suppose, is totally something I would do if I saw my guts all of the sudden) before collapsing ever-gingerly backwards. It’s so funny, I found myself laughing out loud. Pretty soon, there are women in bikinis prancing about a pool like they’re in either a sitcom or a porno, while the house is starting to kill people with poltergeist activity, and a sleezeball executive tries to keep them all together. Leave it to a film like BoardingHouse to make me revisit Linda Williams’ seminal essay, “Film Bodies: Gender, Body and Excess.” To both butcher and summarize Williams’ thesis, there are three ‘body genres’: pornography, horror, and melodrama, and each of these fantasies is acted out to varying degrees of bodily response (cumming, bleeding, and crying, respectively) in order to perpetuate and release tensions related to gender/sexualized anxieties. So they’re all of a kind, but accomplish their sensations at different stages of emotional release (“on time”, “too early”, “too late”, ideally, er, I mean respectively). BoardingHouse made me both reflect and perhaps even question this thesis. There is no doubt that the film is absolutely all three of these genres thrown into the blender of cinematic no-budget invention. But BoardingHouse made me do one thing Williams never mentioned: laugh. To laugh is always the correct audience response to the unsuspected, the outlandish, and the unknown – a response common to elements found in all three of the above. Perhaps laughter is hidden beneath all these of these body genres, and keeps them united. I don’t know what else possibly held BoardingHouse together – a film of such rare confusion laughter seems the only appropriate response.

It starts off well enough. BoardingHouse uses… wait for it… Horror Vision! As the announcer says, when you hear this sound or see this image, something too gruesome for words will appear! This is for the safety of the theater owners and distributors, they say. It’s for your health, they say. Sure, you say with a knowing smile. Then we get the background of the story from a talking computer like we’re plugged into the terminal in Verhoeven’s Robocop. Some famous occultists owned a house and committed suicide in said house, and then people started dying when they move in. I wonder why. And, it begins with my own personal worst fear: a hand pureed in the garbage disposal.

This whole attitude, when combined with its old-school, impetuous title card, is dare I say charming. It’s a charm that lasted about 45 minutes in, then something else started to happen. By then we get our cast of characters: the new owner of the establishment, Jim (writer/director/man of mystery with four credited names John Watergate/Johnn Watergate/Hawk Adley/Hank Adley), a student of Trump-era business tactics, real estate, and taste in women; the mysterious Gardner (see: Jim), a Vietnam vet with a peevy eye; and a bunch of girls. I truly wish I could tell you the characters’ names, but frankly I don’t think the film cares that much. Two rise to the top: let’s call her the Blonde, who is the initial love interest and has a unique pull to the house’s powers; and the other one the Brunette (played by Kalassu/Kalassu Kay/Mrs. Watergate), who then takes an interest in the owner Jim and starts to develop powers of her own. I almost forgot, Jim is developing some telekinetic powers, and at his prompting, the Brunette rents some books from the Los Angeles Public Library and starts to get pretty good at it, too.

The BoardingHouse starts to attack people by dropping electronics in bathtubs and causing hallucinations of pig heads and bloody showers and eyes poking out. In the meantime, the girls plan a party and sleep around and rub down Jim by the pool. Frankly, I was bored (in a way, I still am) but that’s because BoardingHouse doesn’t really have characters or a narrative to latch onto. Call it an anti-narrative. The film forgets whole people and places and thoughts it once had. That doctor who holds his entrails at the beginning? My days consist of watching films and I could not tell you what he’s doing in this movie. I’m fairly certain BoardingHouse even forgets to add the shock image and sound when people die. So it is also an anti-aesthetic. I would say it’s half-baked but I’m pretty sure that’s precisely what they were when they made this. It’s almost talented how this movie can be put together in a way where the audience’s remembering of scenes – during viewing – make them question their present reality.

The director’s cut is almost three hours long, and I was simply not brave enough on my first go to fall into that much of its wacky wonderland of woe. Much of it is visually and musically offensive (ah, 1979). The score sounds like it was crafted when a guy passed out on a keyboard and his cat ran across the keys. The film’s no-budget background (the first horror film shot on video, apparently) and, let’s call it, laissez-faire approach to cinematography, direction, acting and story, lends BoardingHouse that feeling of watching a porn director’s evening home movies, shot ad hoc while rehearsing for a horror film after the working day was done. It is, literally, a bunch of scenes strung together, almost tenacious in their banality. It is horror film on a bender, revealing a happy drunk. I laughed, I cried, a jump cut worked, and the whole time, I was trying to figure out just what the heck was going on. If that was the goal, it succeeded with commendations.

Each day all through October, I’ll be writing my two cents on 31 horror films from the dark alleys, lost highways, and unexpected corners of cinema history. Here’s to the fringes!

A Month of Horror on the Fringes (Day 15): Frailty (2001)

Nothing so clearly discovers a spiritual man as his treatment of an erring brother.
-Augustine

Frailty may be the best-released of the films covered in this personal series, but I believe it has never been given proper due. A horror film with God’s wrath as a theme, nostalgia as a backdrop, and kids having their innocence shattered with a series of grisly murders is already a difficult proposition. And being a horror film released two short months after the 9/11 terror attacks is an almost impossible burden. There was little reason for most audiences to reach out to Frailty’s fairly unsettling depravity; the world was already overwhelmed with it. There were a dwindling few positive reviews. Roger Ebert gave it a fairly rare 4 of 4, praising its obstinate vision (“Perhaps only a first-time director, an actor who does not depend on directing for his next job, would have had the nerve to make this movie. It is uncompromised. It follows its logic right down into hell”). But a quick pass at aggregate sites and other reviews take the film to task for two main reasons: placing children in such a brutal and unforgiving mindscape; and its third act theological reveal. The latter is precisely why I praise Frailty; the former makes this a palpable vision. Frailty takes a cold, dead look at the farthest extent – the tenuous edges – of faith and the nature of sin (and therefore, evil) in daring ways that makes everyone uncomfortable with its conclusions.

In an idyllic Texas suburb, young brothers Fenton (Matt O’Leary) and Adam Meiks (Jeremy Sumpter) live a quiet life with their father (also the film’s director, Bill Paxton, in his only directorial credit), an auto mechanic of modest but not poor means. Without warning, in the middle of the night, he wakes the two kids with an extraordinary tale: God, by way of an Angel of the Lord, came to him in a Vision. He has set the family on a path of righteous vengeance. Their task: to kill demons, hiding behind the guise of everyday people, set onto the Earth by Satan to prepare for the coming Judgment Day. The slightly older Fenton is immediately skeptical, and clearly scared of his Old Man’s twisted word choice. The younger and (possibly) more impressionable Adam believes his Father in fawning reverence. “So we’re like superheroes?” he asks Dad. There is a pause.

“That’s right. We’re a family of superheroes who are going to help save the world.”

“So, what are our superhero powers?”
“Well… we can see the demons, when other people can’t. And the Angel told me that God would be sending us three weapons to destroy them with.”

Paxton reads all such lines with a peculiar melancholy that is difficult to shake (even Moses was reluctant with his Call). But whether you are Christian or not, his words do not pass the smell test. God asking a modest family with two young boys to kill, I mean, “destroy” demons? But is God not Love? We soon see that these demons look like humans and die like humans. The three weapons are two garden gloves, a steel pipe, and an axe. Their task is to hack these demons to death.

This holy war is principally “off” for Christians for a few glaring reasons. Principally, aforementioned: God is Love, a refrain repeated in both the Hebrew (Exodus 34, Psalm 89, Daniel 9, Micah) and Christian (nearly all of 1 John, Galatians 5, the very nature of the Gospel) scriptures. The worldly appearance and violent dispatching of the demons is a direct contradiction to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms). So Biblically, it doesn’t make sense (admittedly, from a certain point of view). If you are not a believer, the above doesn’t have to apply. There is no Christian God, no Vision, and no Demons. This is sociopathic killing hiding behind religious fervor – a theme, perhaps, too easy to grasp and understand.

Involving children. This is, again, where the film loses people. Adam and Fenton are implicated at all times in his father’s actions, and witness his ‘destruction’ of these demons in the shed behind their house. Before he sends them back to Hell, the father Meiks is supposed to lay hands on them – this reveals their true sins and heinous acts, giving him the strength to chop their heads off with his axe. The boys are used as bait during the demons’ ensnaring, and are witness to this hand-laying ritual as well as the destruction of these wretched souls. It is later revealed that the young Adam can see these visions alongside his father; the older Fenton cannot. His lack of faith has blinded his powers. During one of the Angel’s appearances to the father, the Angel said that Fenton is also a demon, and the father needs to kill the son (see: Abraham and Isaac). Instead, father Meiks tries to turn his son back to the true faith by locking him in the cellar. This doesn’t turn out so well, when Fenton fakes his newfound faith, going slightly mad with hunger and hate, and turns against his Dad with terrible consequences.

All of this is technically flashback – Frailty takes place in the present day, recited by the now-adult Meiks (now Matthew McConaughey) to FBI agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe). McConaughey believes his adult brother is the “God’s Hand Killer,” a serial killer whose modus operandi sounds strikingly similar to all of the above. The flashback framing device, set against the use of visions and even a hallucinogenic state or two, plants a powerful seed of unreliability in the audience. Things are left curiously unsaid by McConaughey; sometimes, he knows too much. The plot twists to a conclusion that angers everyone…

…that the events in the film are really guided by God. While the unreliable perspectives of the camera can be interpreted to be logically falsified and dismissed, there is one crucial moment near the end of the film (punctuated by a Dolly zoom, better known as the Vertigo effect) that says, without a doubt, that the Meiks were truly protected by God, all the murders were Divinely sanctioned, and the film’s gruesome events were part of a larger Holy Mission. Here we are back to a believing audience and the non-believing audience: if you call yourself Christian, this is deeply disturbing, bringing a host of questions about the character of God and the nature of faith to surface. If you do not believe, well, Frailty just told you you should. And this can be infuriating.

It’s a similar (but not identical) conclusion to those drawn in God Told Me To and Knowing – that the spiritual powers working behind the scenes in the film can no longer be dismissed. They must be addressed. But addressing these issues plainly and without emotion can be trying – especially when presented as a bait-and-switch in a horror movie. The vehicle of the message is so unsuspecting, I could empathize with those who never wanted to be asked these questions in the first place. But Frailty goes there, all the way there, whether you want it to or not.

This hurts all the more because Frailty is such a carefully crafted film – the young leads are empathetic the entire way through, and the camera placement and movement is often beautifully understated (in the scene where Dad reveals his Vision to his two sons, the camera slowly pulls back from Fenton’s point of view, although he is stationary in bed. He is drifting spiritually and emotionally apart from his family – a subtlety better left unsaid). In crucial early moments, you realize the kids are literally surrounded by churches and Bible schools and Christian iconography, hiding in plain suburban sight. In one scene, when Fenton enters the house after a day of punishment, his father and brother are surrounded by darkness in the living room, yet bathed in a single stream of “holy” light – from the television. The use of browns and reds at night surrounded by black, in contrast to cool and steady daytime scenes, are used to invoke a real Hell, now visible to the initiated. Or hiding from those who simply do not wish to see. And this truth is what Frailty really understand about cinema, which often goes unsaid: what you see is what you get. Film’s gaze is literal. If you see a dream, it happened in the mind. If you have an unreliable narrator, this is their subconscious at work. When you see a Vision from God – God has spoken.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
-John 3:36

Each day all through October, I’ll be writing my two cents on 31 horror films from the dark alleys, lost highways, and unexpected corners of cinema history. Here’s to the fringes!

A Month of Horror on the Fringes (Day 14): God.com (1998)

A couple years ago I went through a prolonged, impulsive Anthony Chau-Sang Wong period bordering on delirious obsession. It is easy to do. One minute you’re watching him as a steady, virtuous police captain in Infernal Affairs, then you’re seeing him freewheel into his comic supervillain routine in Heroic Trio. Before you know it, you’re watching him as a demented serial rapist spreading ebola and cannibalism in The Ebola Syndrome or as a god come to life in the best gonzo cameo I have yet witnessed in the criminally underrated Jiang hu: The Triad Zone. It can happen to anyone. This was a deep rabbit hole, though, given the rather prolific nature of Hong Kong cinema production – soon I strayed ever further away from Johnnie To’s gangster film classics into a darker and dirtier back alley of a more insipid breed of film. Be warned, intrepid explorers. Anthony Wong is the only reason I ever found myself to God.com. The title was a bonus – delightfully enigmatic and indescribable. How disappointed I was to discover not only is there no website – or Internet – at all in God.com, but it wasn’t even scary. Heck, it’s hardly a movie.

Not that it doesn’t try. The title sequence sets the film off to a running start – of a mysterious man arrested, as he chips away with a knife in flash cuts at an Icon of Christ, who bleeds until a ribcage is exposed (!!). Then it tries to have a plot, which is its greatest failing. Officer Chan (Louis Koo, apparently slumming it before his big break) is on the case of a Doomsday cult of sorts – the typical kind, you know, with a clearly nefarious, charismatic leader who local people follow blindly while he siphons their personal savings and they get to look forward to the End of the World. He calls himself the Pope and his church is The Church of the True God. There are moments of surrealism alluding to his mystical hold over people – he may be using animal magnetism, it may be hypnotism. Whatever it is, it is not explained fully enough to be anything other than infuriating, a device used by the plot to get itself out of a jam when it confuses itself.

See, it turns out Officer Chan’s parents died along the same lines of the current victims, which are now linked to The Church of the True God. When of course, he is placed in charge of the investigation into the group suicide linked to this cult, he enlists the help of the person in charge of his parent’s case, the eccentric Officer Chiu (our Anthony Wong), an “expert” in the “occult”. With his few books and posters and lines of indecipherable dialogue, he comes off as more of a Youtube disciple of Fox Mulder than an expert in the paranormal. As a matter of fact, he mostly insults people instead of contributing to the story in any meaningful way. Chan also turns to the leader of the previous cult (the Pope was his disciple) in a kind of advice mode clearly Hannibal Lecter in overall approach. He also seems to have an obvious conflict of interest.

Instead, a roommate of one of the current victims, Blonde Ying (actress Grace Lam – whose IMDb is mostly mid-tier smut like Emmanuelle in Hong Kong and Tortured Sex Goddess of the Ming Dynasty) is persuaded by Officer Chan to help by… infiltrating the cult to uncover the Pope’s dark secrets, and becoming his confidant. It is a rather tasteless move, because whatever respect you are trying to have with either character is thrown out the window. Chan appears heartless, throwing her into the lion’s den, and Blonde (what a name) will of course be hypnotized/brainwashed to become one of the Pope’s sexual playthings. Chan now has to save her. It’s like Notorious without feeling.

The film really falls off the rails here. I’ll even forgo the fact that God.com seems blissfully ignorant of Christian iconography and its appropriate use – even in horror cinema. The beginning of the third act is one extended sex sequence or such poor taste it is mind-shatteringly repulsive. So goes: Chan enters The Church of the True God, Chan falls under the Pope’s weird, never-explained spell, Blonde is crucified on a cross, Chan finds himself having sex with Blonde against both their wills; then Blonde turns into his mother mid-coitus after some throat-cutting. It’s one thing to allude to Freudian impulse in movies – film is full of it, of course – another to just show it, especially with such callousness. While you’re trying to recover from the Ew, we get even more scenes of sadism and orgies. In the end, there is a montage of stock footage and the world ends. The soft-porn seance and eventual mass-suicide caused the end of the world, since the Pope was some kind of Chosen One. Yay?

Outside of one or two ideas that never quite take off, a slam-dunk title sequence of heresy (which, let’s face it, is a fluke given the use of Christian imagery in the remainder of the film), and some expressionistic lighting, little here is worth a recommendation. And if you’re here for Anthony Wong, Hong Kong’s Nic Cage, this is his equivalent to Season of the Witch – a dry and embarrassing montage of better films (here, Fallen and Silence of the Lambs and definitely Se7en, which came out the year before. How is it God.com looks 20 years older than Se7en?) strung along to satisfy a director’s worst impulses. God.com doesn’t even have the accidental charm of Drive Angry. Hell, I may just watch that now, to scrub God.com from my brain.

 

Each day all through October, I’ll be writing my two cents on 31 horror films from the dark alleys, lost highways, and unexpected corners of cinema history. Here’s to the fringes!