Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Film: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Director: Joseph Zito

Starring: Corey Feldman, Crispin Glover

Written by: Barney Cohen

Of all the Friday the 13th films, this, the fourth and not even close to final chapter in the series, is undoubtedly my favorite.  I get so pumped about the greatness of this film that a friend and I once drunkenly made a joyous theme song to celebrate it.  If you can sing the words “Friday the 13th: Part Four” in C major, then mention the two stars listed above, and then hit repeat for about ten minutes, well, congratulations, you’ve learned and mastered a new song.

This is one of the best horror flicks ever made.  The story’s pretty standard: a group of perved-up teenagers set up shop in a cabin on evil Crystal Lake, and Jason comes looking for blood.  For some reason, there’s a single parent family next door to the party, and the family’s two kids end up being the heroes as the other kids get picked off.  Yet there’s a lot going for this film which sets it apart from the usual hack and slash.

It’s got a brutality that is genuinely disturbing rather than gory slapstick, most notably thanks to the effects work of the great Tom Savini.  It’s infested with hormones like a rat has fleas, but Jason Voorhees’ horny victims are so well fleshed out that the heroic amount of tits and ass in this film doesn’t feel like it’s there to obscure bad acting or a poor story.  My main criteria for judging a horror film’s quality is whether the victims’ deaths leave a void in the film’s world, if there’s a sense of humanity that lessens with each demise.  Part Four easily passes this test.

Three characters in particular stand out.  A very young Corey Feldman serves as the brilliant Lil’ Tom Savini who soon gets unhinged and heroic.  Displaying both adorable glee and seething fury, Feldman is just captivating in every scene he’s in, and it was probably clear at the time that he was gonna be huge.  Feldman’s dog Gordon is also pretty awesome, and he is easily the smartest character in the film.  When the bodies start piling up, this strangely named canine randomly hurls himself through a second story window and is never seen again.  Gordon had clearly had enough of that shit.

However, the very best thing about Part Four, the thing which has earned this film its place in Bizarro film legend, is the performance of Crispin Glover.  He plays the teen group’s awkward dweeb who morphs into a ladykilling dancing machine.  Glover’s biggest moment ‒ perhaps of all time ‒ is his titanic dance scene, set to the dulcet tones of the same hair metal band which wailed out the theme song of the old, cartoon Transformers movie.  Watching Glover move is like watching a majestic (twitching, flailing, avant-garde) eagle soaring on film.  Only Napoleon Dynamite could spazboogie so well.  As the story goes, Glover took no direction here; he simply busted out the same dance moves he was already using in Hollywood clubs.  Crispin Glover, a dancing weirdo genius?  Perish the thought.

The only letdowns to this film and its inevitable, non-final sequels is that Feldman’s character, who ends Part Four as a cracked survivor, doesn’t put on Jason’s hockey mask and unleash his own bloody rampage as was teased.  That, and they didn’t make an entire movie about Crispin Glover tearing up the dance floor.  Nonetheless, Part Four is glorious, worth every drunken song created in its honor.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Danny Roane: First Time Director

 

Film: Danny Roane: First Time Director

Directed by, starring, and written by: Andy Dick

 

 

I’ve never made any secret of my opinion that Andy Dick is a comedic genius.  His old TV program, The Andy Dick Show, was a great display of sketch comedy which treated the world to such gems as Pebop the Death Row Clown, Christina Aguilera’s ugly cousin, and Marilyn Manson playing Mary Poppins.  Unfortunately (I think), Mr. Dick is better known for being a drugged-out creeper who menaces the world with his dong and then rides the rehab train.  In his directorial debut, Dick does a little of both, which works pretty well.

Danny Roane combines Mr. Dick’s weirdo comedic sensibilities with his adventures in being a lush.  Danny Roane the character is little more than a fictionalized Dick, a recovering boozer who once publicly peed on Frankie Muniz from Malcolm in the Middle and who now, in true matroyshka narrative style, is making a film about his harrowing experiences with drugs and alcohol.  Of course, the second a drop of alcohol hits his tongue he’s back off the rails, and his film’s production becomes a spastic fever dream which ends with him slapping a lady at a Jewish women’s film convention while Hitler prances about onscreen.

My favorite part of the film is when the director shows his prior performance as a slutty Cleopatra who humps the asp which does her in.  Dying, his Cleopatra sneers “What an asp!” which may be the best last words I’ve ever heard.

The surrounding cast is pretty great, with Roane’s cast and crew attempting to rein him in and not torpedo their careers.  Of special note are the director’s behemoth best friend who has to pull Roane out of many embarrassing situations (including a really creepy scene involving Maura Tierney’s dog), the gung-ho assistant director who has a yen for shaving his cast, and Roane’s set designer, a beady-eyed little man who tends to find himself shrieking for help in the midst of adversity.  The latter’s combination of sad bastard hope and spazzy irritation makes him a great character to watch.

The movie star cameos, all playing themselves, are a mixed bag.  Obliviously supportive James van der Beek shows up for a while, and he gets his hinder shaved and wears a bloody butt rag.  After Danny Roane drunkenly changes the film’s format to a musical, Anthony Rapp from Rent takes over, barfs a lot, and sings a weird song about drugs.  Jack Black plays a stoner God with clear disdain for the film he’s making.  The silver lining about Ben Stiller’s sedately disturbed cameo is that one gets to see that ridiculously manly painting of his character from Dodgeball wrestling a bull.

Yet this is entirely Andy Dick’s show, which is as it should be.  I’d have liked to see more of Dick’s weird sketch comedy sensibilities in the film and not so much of the main character stumbling around dead drunk, but there is enough invention to make this not entirely feel like a documentary about Dick’s triumphant substance tolerance.  That said, Dick does know how to play an awesome drunk.  He’s certainly had the practice.

 

The Designer’s Drugs: Haruki Murakami – 1Q84

 

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Haruki Murakami ‒ 1Q84

 

It’s possible that I’ve never been as frustrated with a book as I was with 1Q84.  Maybe if the book wasn’t so massive, I’d at least be less irritated about the trip through these dense woods.  Unfortunately, this would-be epic fairy tale’s length draws out the story’s primary and lesser flaws so far that they become almost intolerable.

Ultimately, the worst thing about 1Q84 is that it should be amazing.  This story of a parallel world has so much going on within it that, had Murakami focused more on its fantastic elements instead of jettisoning all of that colorful landscape in favor of making the book little more than an elaborate goddamn teenage romance, I’d have stood up on my textual soapbox and praised this book as a work of genius.  Instead ‒ and I don’t give a shit about spoiling this ending, because fuck this book’s ending ‒ the world is literally cast aside and thrown out the second the two main characters find each other.  All the big metaphysical questions are suddenly given the finger and ignored; it felt a lot like watching someone get born again and then deny that their life to that point ever happened.  I got the explicit message that the parallel 1984 world meant nothing to Murakami, that it served merely as a shiny backdrop for his mooning young lovers to have some bullshit Disney happily ever after moment.  After almost a thousand pages of investment, this sort of ending is a ridiculous letdown.

I’ll refer to the two main characters as Boy and Girl, since Murakami seems downright miserly in giving out even the most trivial details such as people’s names.  They begin as moderately interesting characters.  Girl is an assassin of wife-beaters as well as a weekend warrior swinger.  Her wingwoman in the latter is a really insipid character, but Girl’s spectrum of murder and sex creates some interesting contradictions.  Boy is a part-time math teacher, “older girlfriend” banger, and aspiring novelist who rewrites a mysterious girl’s novella into a bestseller.  This book, which initially only runs the risk of being exposed as a semi-fraud, soon creates metaphysical consequences which lead a cult to hunt down the authors.  Meanwhile, Girl is hunting down the cult leader, and soon Boy and Girl’s interests cross.

What makes these two characters implode is the revelation that Boy and Girl were classmates when they were ten, and one time they held hands, and ever since nothing else in either goddamn world they inhabit has mattered.  They’re thirty.  Despite their interesting and sordid lives, their entire reasons for living are soon exposed as finding each other despite not having seen each other for twenty years.  This quickly becomes as one-track and grating as watching a child throw itself on the ground in a toy store and hold its breath until it gets the toy it wants.

Interestingly enough, the third part of the story introduces another point of view, the welcome perspective of an insectlike private detective hired by the cult to track first Boy and then Girl.  He’s a great, pathetic character whom nobody likes, which combined with his extensive knowledge makes him the story’s most compelling voice.  Problem is, it just seems like he’s there for Murakami to grudgingly give up some more plot details, after which he’s tossed into the trash.  In a story filled with underutilized side characters, he’s the prime victim.

I really wanted to like this book, but no, I don’t.  The neat, supernatural elements are delightful but ultimately treated as unimportant.  The sordid sexy bits, perhaps owing to translation issues, are badly written with a very odd sort of technical euphemism.  And the main characters ‒ besides that sad, scuttling detective ‒ lose all their allure as they become all fucking doe-eyed.  I can’t say that 1Q84 was a total loss, but there’s no way I’d recommend this long, pointless journey to anyone else.

Y Marks the Spot: It’s Not Always that Simple

 

So here’s a story from my life which has ultimately determined everything else.  It’s a good example of my view that absolute morality does not exist.  The cores of this story are childbirth and abortion, which at their mildest are divisive issues.  I have strong opinions on both; I’m very pro-choice, though my rationale is more based on population issues over women’s rights.  There are now seven billion humans on Earth.  There are now seven billion creatures which devour and shit all over everything in their paths.  My species is an intelligent plague.

My attitude is that if we don’t get control over birth, we’ll soon lose control over how we live and how we die.  We’ll simply drown in each other.  I think birth control should not only be encouraged but mandatory from adolescence until sometime in one’s twenties.  Though I don’t have much good to say about the Chinese government in general, I’m very behind its One Child Policy, especially in the context of a country with over a billion citizens.  Unfortunately, humans think they’re exempt from Bob Barker-style reproductive responsibility, and even in the most civilized, technologically advanced places where manpower is obsolete, people still baby-crap out units with the greatest of autopilot.  In such a world, I view abortion as a very necessary evil.

Still, there’s a problem I’ve come across as an occasional nihilist.  One has to exist in order to believe in the possibilities of nothing.  In that same contradictory vein it’s kind of illogical and self-centered for living people to actively deny a real future person the sort of existence that they enjoy (or at least get to experience).

But in the end, being pro-choice is about ‒ or at least it damn well should be about ‒ subjectivity.  Beyond its immediate social issue, the position should be an acknowledgement that existence is not one size fits all.  That’s why it’s not called pro-abortion.

In that vein, allow me to share my own conflicted, one in a million slice of existential subjectivity that led to me being alive today.

 

I’ve always known, even when I was a baby, that I’m incredibly lucky to be alive.  One of my earliest memories involves the knowledge that my mom was at the hospital getting a big deal doctor’s appointment as a result of my birth.  I may have been around two or so at the time, and for some reason I had the notion that she had always been in that hospital and never left it since I was born.

As a general rule ‒ though there are several huge exceptions that I’d learn about later in life, one of which serves as the focal point of this story ‒ my family has never concealed any knowledge from me.  Some of that, I’m sure, has to do with one of my sisters being ten years older than me and eager to teach me about all the world’s profane secrets.  Thanks to her, I could proficiently swear when I was three years old, and I’m probably one of the few humans who can say that they were a party to car theft while strapped into a car seat.

But it goes further than having a rebellious older sibling.  For example, my parents made sure I knew, very matter-of-fact, that I had another older sister who lived somewhere else with her mother.  I didn’t meet her until I was eighteen ‒ on an Oktoberfest day which ended in a car crash ‒ but I’ve always known she existed.  In fact, I knew about her before she knew about me.

If I had a question about anything, no matter how uncomfortable or gross or weird, my mom would do her best to give me a straightforward answer.  Thus, my family was always pretty up front about the fact that my birth wasn’t something that should have happened.

Without going into the gory details, certain cancerous complications led to the removal of some of my mom’s parts, and the only thing that kept me strapped in and carried to term was a tumor blocking the exit.  I am a tumor baby, the barely born son of a professional gambler.  Both of these facts are pretty goddamn appropriate.

The medical improbability of my birth was better explained to me later on, but even as a little kid I knew that I’d be the last child my mother would have.  After I emerged onto the scene they scraped her out, which ultimately led to an awesome scene in a crowded Christmas movie theater where I loudly asked my mom if Santa was going to bring her a new uterus.

Most times during my crappy adolescence and twenties, times when I was knuckle-deep in terrible jobs, creative frustration, romantic devastation, and many different forms of self-violence, I’d think about the sheer unlikelihood of my existence and wonder why they even bothered.  Like most things, life tends to be least valued by those who have the most of it, even if that person was a miracle baby.  Thankfully, I survived the terrible shit and have become a reasonably functional human being, glad to be alive.

People like to romanticize about living in the past or some sanitized era of predetermined life, but the stone cold fact is that I wouldn’t have even made it to childhood were it not for the medical technology of the 20th century.  Even better, I was born deformed.  My ribs curve inward, giving me the great ability to eat cereal out of my chest.  It’s a generally benign defect, but I can’t help thinking that in any other era ‒ especially in that manly Spartan age so balls-cuppingly praised by noir-redneck Frank Miller in 300 ‒ I’d have been deemed retarded at birth and thrown onto the mountain of baby skulls.  I suppose I owe my life to the fact that I live here and now, in a society which questions the disposal of unwanted babies.

Of course, this isn’t the only side to the story.  As I recently found out, my existence also owes a debt to someone else’s death.

 

My mom and I can talk for hours, and in these rambling, philosophical conversations secrets come out.  The last time this happened was last spring, back when I was still putting my life here in Washington together.  Having no job and nothing better to do, I’d call my mom and kill time lurking on the staircase and ranting about asshole Wisconsin Republicans.

I think the information I’m about to discuss came out because one of my cousins had just gotten pregnant.  (Appropriate to this story of life and death, she ended up giving birth to her son days before my grandma died.)  The talk of new babies led to talk of old babies and my birth, and by the way, says mom, you knew that I had an abortion before I had you, right?

If the fleas in my old run down house were shaped like giant question marks, one of those itchy sons of bitches would have jumped onto my head at exactly that moment.

My parents were married five years before I was born, and I’ve had the vaguest of overviews of their lives in the 70s.  The first thing my single realtor mom saw of my single realtor dad was his crotch in whatever tight disco pants he had on at the time.  Apparently those pants were a hit.  I was recently treated to my tipsy dad bragging that he banged my mom a lot in those early days, one part of a weird conversation in which he also pondered what life would have been like as a gay man.  Good to know, dad.

Mom already had a kid.  Dad had a kid whom he didn’t meet until I graduated college, yet he began to view my mom’s kid as his own.  (This has led to some awkwardness among us neglected biologicals.)  Dad really liked playing poker, so much so that he’d go pro around the time of my birth, and mom accepted it.  So things were going okay, I guess.

After being together for a while, mom and dad discovered that they were going to have a kid together.  The problem was that the same cancerous complications which made my birth so unlikely were entrenched well before I was the gleam.  The pregnancy of my older brother ‒ and when I think about this potential sibling, he’s always my brother, mostly because I’ve never had one ‒ was so malignant that there was a very real chance that my mom would have died if she tried to carry him to term.  So she didn’t.

My dad can’t deal with real problems.  His reaction to my mom’s trauma was to awkwardly joke that at least she wouldn’t lose her figure.  They broke up.  They got back together, obviously, but there was a point where their genetic swords were unlikely to cross again, leaving the potential me out in the void.  That’s another part of the story I like to creep myself out with.

I don’t know what made my fetushood any different.  I haven’t heard that part of the story yet.  Yet somehow I made it out, and I made it up, and I’ve made it to now.  I have no idea why that is.  Fuck it.  It doesn’t matter.  I’m here, and I’m not leaving.

 

As a result of these revelations I’ve developed a weird complex, not quite guilt, but an acknowledgement that someone actively had to die so that I could be born.  I suppose that this is true for anyone who has ever eaten a hamburger, but it feels different than that.  It’s just another case of a human pretending that humanity and one’s own circle are exempt and special, I suppose.  But still.

So yeah.  The moral.  The morality.  The subjectivity.  I owe my unlikely life to one abortion happening and to another one not happening.  But you know what?  I’d rather err on the side of choice.

As an adult I’ve helped an ex-girlfriend who found herself pregnant and unready through the process of abortion, and I’ve supported someone else whom I loved intensely for years through a pregnancy with someone else’s child.  Even now, life offers no easy, consistent, universal answers.

Then again, how many easy answers are worth knowing?

 

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Red State

 

 

 

Film: Red State

Director: Kevin Smith

Starring: Michael Parks, John Goodman, Michael Angarano

Written by: Kevin Smith

 

 

I imagine that the two main public reactions to the idea of the creator of such verbose yet straight-scaring comedies as Clerks, Mallrats, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno switching gears and coming out with a horror film about a murderous version of the real-life homophobic troll preacher Fred Phelps have been morbid curiosity and outright dismissal.  My own curious reaction to the proposal was a bit kinder.  Kevin Smith has mixed blood and religion before, and 1999’s Dogma was great.  I imagined Red State would be a serious, bloodier and less fantastic version of that film.  Maybe the Phelps surrogate would chase deviants through flickering florescent hallways and dispatch the unlucky with gory panache, but the ideas behind the darkness would be sound.  While I was very right about the film’s quality ‒ Red State is amazing ‒ I was fairly wrong about the premise.

The most important thing to note about Red State is that, despite all hype, this isn’t really a horror movie.  Sure, there’s blood and death and chases through those dimly lit subterranean passages, but most of the action would be considered G rated by gore geeks.  What’s interesting is that most of the real horror in Red State happens after it abandons all slasher pretense and becomes a story of domestic terrorism, a game of cops and cultists.  At this point, every character ‒ besides maybe the dirty white boys who get lured Porky’s style into the madness, and a Daisy Duke cult defector ‒ is laid bare as monstrous.

Despite expectations, Kevin Smith doesn’t turn Fred Phelps into Freddy Krueger; if anything he turns him into David Koresh.  Ultimately, this is a hell of a lot more frightening.  This is entirely because the villain isn’t played as a frothing redneck caricature.  Instead, we get a calculating, charming fiend.  Michael Parks is just brilliant in the role of Mr. Phelps-Koresh, a character who can defy filmmaking logic and turn a long, long sermon about the just malevolence of God into the film’s centerpiece.  Parks is so goddamn charismatic in the role that he makes you understand how rational people could blindly follow such psychotic demagogues.

John Goodman heads up the opposing side, serving as the head of the ATF force sent to subdue the cult with extreme prejudice.  Let me get this out of the way: John Goodman looks old.  Here, he looks like he’s had the life sucked out of him, which works in the context of the story.  His agent is a low-rung agent who gets hideous orders from his superiors, and though he may be the story’s most admirable character, he becomes a monster as he struggles to obey them and keep his humanity. In the resulting firefight, there arises a fascinating question of whom, if anyone, the audience is supposed to get behind.  The fact that Smith can elicit even the faintest possibility of human sympathy toward a cult of murderous, bigoted zealots is remarkable.

It’s got its flaws ‒ the most notable being an inclination toward claustrophobic shakey-cam action shots ‒ but appropriately enough, Red State is easily Kevin Smith’s most magnetic, dynamic film since Dogma.  You know what?  I’m going to go even further and say that Red State may be the best film that Kevin Smith has ever made.