Dec 30, 2011

PANZRAM


A part of me wishes I could have met Carl Panzram…preferably with an inch of steel or reinforced glass between us. He was a dark man—some might say evil—and the world is probably better off without him.

Despite that, I can honestly say I’ve never read about anyone so intriguing. He was a man without emotion, empathy, or reason. He existed only to bring torment to those he felt deserved his wrath. But he was, also, a shattered end result of a broken society—physically abused by almost every person that was supposed to bring him love, guidance, and attention. 

Panzram spent time in and out of jails and detention centers like most folks take vacations. But all throughout, he was continually mistreated by those in power positions. He was chained to pillars, his arms and legs stretched to painful extremes; he was even placed in a tub of water and methodologically electrocuted.  And it was because of this that whatever thing festering inside Panzram infected his mind—any human semblance within him simply vanished. He had finally decided: since he was unable to hurt those who had hurt him his whole life, he would hurt others, instead. In a mad paradoxical moment, he decided that society's insufficiency in preventing people like Panzram from committing evil acts was the very reason people like Panzram even existed—that there was no karma, no God, and no reason for anything. The world was chaos' playground, and Panzram would gleefully play. This was something he stated in his memoirs, Panzram: A Journal of Murder (originally released as Killer: A Journal of Murder), a collection of diary entries written by Panzram himself, and pieced together with objective recreations by authors Thomas Gaddis and James Long. Panzram was a murderer, pedophile, rapist, arsonist, robber, con artist, and all around bitter-barn curmudgeon. 
“I don’t believe in Man, God, nor Devil. I hate the entire human race, including myself.”
Though the man will never be cited as a positive role model in anyone’s life, one can’t help but lend a little respect to the man’s tenacity. As far as his hatred towards everything in existence went, he was exceedingly unflinching. He did terrible things—deplorable and perverted and sick—but he never made any apologies for who he was. In this day, if someone cracks an off-color joke, or says something crass without realizing their microphone is on, public apologies are then offered, and poor, sympathy-reaching reflections on a misspent childhood are brought up. When Michael Vick was charged with cruelty to animals—with hanging dogs by their legs and slicing their throats—he fell back on the whole “I wasn’t raised any better” defense, instead of him just outright stating his truth: “They’re just dogs and I don’t care. They have no value to me.” But he did the dance society demanded of him—he made apologies and paid his fees and served his time. And now he is an extremely well-paid athlete. Would his life (and finances) currently be the same if he had just told everyone the truth? Of course not. People like Vick memorize these apologetic lines and look forlorn because society demands they do. Carl Panzram—though he hated himself more than people hate their own worst enemies—never faltered in that. He never broke down and he never whined about the injustices he endured in his youth. He never outright said "I blame my family for abusing me and for the institutions for not raising me right." He blamed society, as a whole, altogether. He blamed my ancestors and yours. He blamed the intangible face of The Man, who in his eyes, was responsible for all the wrong in the world. He blamed every living thing that's ever taken a breath. If a surfer gets bit by a shark, he blames the shark—not the ocean. But Panzram did. He merely accepted that those injustices shaped who he became—and since no one person could be blamed, neither could he be for his own actions.
“When I was sitting there, a little kid about twelve or thirteen years old came bumming around. He was looking for something. He found it, too. I took him out to a gravel pit about one-quarter mile away. I left him there, but first committed sodomy on him and then killed him. His brains were coming out of his ears when I left him, and he will never be any deader.”
There is neither apology nor sick glee present in his words. He merely recounts what he did to the poor child. He makes no excuses, and panders to no easy scapegoat. Arguments could be made that the purpose of his bluntness is to shock—for sensationalistic reasons only—but those making that argument truly do not understand what kind of man Carl Panzram was. He didn’t want to shock you. He wanted to kill you. And he would have, if given the chance.

After a temporary scheme in which Panzram "hired" ten men for assistance upon his recently purchased yacht (bought with stolen cash) and eventually killed them, he was finally charged with murder. Wanting nothing more than to have his life ended, he warned the jury that decided his verdict: “If I live, I’ll execute some more of you.”

He was then sent to Leavenworth, where he was to live out the rest of his days. Upon arriving, he told the warden, “I will kill the first man who bothers me.” That first man turned out to be a guard named Robert Warnke, who Panzram later beat to death with a lead pipe in the laundry room. He was charged with the murder, and in defiance to Kansas State Law—which had previously outlawed capital punishment—he was sentenced to execution by hanging.

When the Society for Abolishment of Capital Punishment caught wind of this sentence and fought to have it overturned, Panzram literally looked through his prison bars at them and said, “I wish you all had one neck…and that I had my hands on it.”

To ensure his state-sanctioned demise, Panzram even went so far as writing letters to President Hoover, explaining that in no way was his death sentence to be overturned, and for no one to intervene in his favor at the zero hour. Not just according to his own wants, but in conjunction with everything society had always preached, he deserved death, and would not let anyone stand in the way of that.

Interestingly, Panzram’s drive towards death was not just due to his own misery in life, but also because he believed justice would not be properly served unless he was dangling at the end of a rope—and this is something he also states in his book several times. If he were to go on sucking air, it would only showcase the weakness of the judicial system. If anyone were to deserve death, it was he—and if that did not happen, then the system was flawed.
“I have no desire whatever to reform myself. My only desire is to reform people who try to reform me. And I believe that the only way to reform people is to kill 'em.”
On September 5, 1930, Carl Panzram was hung by the neck until dead. His last words were to his executioner: “Hurry it up, you Hoosier Bastard! I could hang a dozen men while you’re fooling around!”

His last will and testament stipulated that his earthly remains be left to a dogcatcher in his native Michigan…and a curse bequeathed to all of mankind (which I'm sure Panzram wrote with a wry smile.)

A film based on the book/Panzram’s life was made in the mid-90s called Killer: A Journal of Murder, starring James Woods as Panzram and Robert Sean Leonerd as Henry Lesser, a guard to whom Panzer spoke, confided, and eventually handed over his journal scribblings that would soon become his book. While the film is not bad in any sense, most of the more lurid details from his exploits are omitted. His crimes against children are mentioned just a single time, and his claim of 1,000 acts of male sodomy is never mentioned at all. Much of Panzram's original writings are repeated by Woods almost verbatim, but so much was excised that the very thing which gave the book its power—Panzer's own voice—wasn't as prevalent in the film; thus, it never had the chance in being as equally harrowing. The filmmakers might have been afraid of making a movie focused on an unlikeable and unrelatable monster. If that's the case, why even bother making it into a film in the first place?

Over time, Panzram: A Journal of Murder has grown to become my favorite book. Not because of the lurid murderous details that appeal to my fascination win the ugliness of humanity, or Panzram's wry fashion in recounting them, but because it presents proof positive of the bond that developed between two very unlikely people: a murderer convict and a prison guard. For a long time, Carl Panzram was inhuman—a man whose human attributes stopped at his inherited anthropomorphism. But the respect he develops for Henry Lesser—perhaps even considering him a friend—proves that perhaps even the most hardened man isn't beyond redemption. Perhaps it's not possible to entirely kill off a person's humanity.
“In my lifetime I have murdered 21 human beings, I have committed thousands of burglaries, robberies, larcenies, arsons and, last but not least, I have committed sodomy on more than 1,000 male human beings. For all these things I am not in the least bit sorry. I have no conscience, so that does not bother me.”
Further excerpts from his memoirs (thanks to Serial Killer Central for the transcriptions):
"It is the nature to be deceived very easily by those who wish and have the power and the intelligence to do so. People believe what they want to believe. Truth isn't liked .. Torquemada, chief inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition, was known as the world's greatest torturer ... I have been to Spain and while there I have visited their museums and big cathedrals where some of those old-time implements were on view. I looked 'em all over. I have read many books which told of the methods then is use. The rack, the wheel, red hot irons to burn out the eyes, pinchers to pull off parts of the body, fire to burn and water to drown ... Everything I have ever seen or read on this subject makes convinced that, though time and methods have changed, men are the same and the actual results are the same ... Torture, pain and agony is a relative thing. When pain reaches a certain point, then it has reached the limit and can be no worse ... The history of mankind goes back only for a few thousand years, but men lived an died on this earth for uncounted thousands of years before the dawn of history as we know it today. Yet in all these thousands of years men have learned little. The men of the world today are doing the same things that their ancestors did ages ago. Men have always had intelligence which has never increased. Only knowledge has kept advancing."
...
"In my life time I have broken every law that was ever made by both man and God. If either had made any more, I should very cheerfully have broken them also. The mere fact that I have done these things is quite sufficient for the average person. Very few people even consider it worthwhile to wonder why I am what I am and do what I do. All that they think is necessary to do is to catch me, try me, convict me and send me to prison for a few years, make life miserable for me while in prison and then turn me loose again. That is the system that is in practice today in this country. The consequences are that anyone and everyone can see crime and lots of it. Those who are sincere in their desire to put down crime are to be pitied for all of their efforts which accomplish so little in the desired direction. They are the ones who are deceived by their own ignorance and by the trickery and greed of others who profit the most by crime. Much depends upon the point of view of the persons who express themselves on the crime question. Those who roar the loudest and are therefore the most heard are the writers, judges, lawyers, and would-be expert criminologists. All of these people make a nice, soft living out of crime. Therefore, they are directly interested in the subject. They don't produce a damn thing. All they do is shoot off their mouths and push a fountain pen. And for doing this they live nice and soft. They wear good clothes, eat the best foods, live in nice homes, have the best of everything the world produces. They have a nice, soft graft, and they know it, too. They are not a lot of chumps like the criminals. Don't think for a minute that they are going around really meaning to do as they say they wish to. Put down crime. Not a chance. There will be no pick and shovel for that sort of people. That's what would happen to them if they really did put down crime. There is two sides to every question. My point of view is just as plausible and a damn sight more probable than all of the hot air that has been published about this question. Others who have expressed their ideas in print on this subject have all been either directly or indirectly interested in receiving some sort of profit or benefit of some kind from what they say or write or do about this crime question. Some have good jobs which they want to keep or perhaps they are trying to get a better one or perhaps they are merely incensed and prejudiced against criminals because they or their friends have been robbed or murdered. I, on the other hand, have not a single thing to gain by writing this. My life and my liberty are forfeited. I cannot gain a single thing in any way for writing this."

Dec 23, 2011

SHITTY FLICKS: SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT: PART 2

Shitty Flicks is an ongoing column that celebrates the most hilariously incompetent, amusingly pedestrian, and mind-bogglingly stupid movies ever made by people with a bit of money, some prior porn-directing experience, and no clue whatsoever. It is here you will find unrestrained joy in movies meant to terrify and thrill, but instead poke at your funny bone with their weird, mutant camp-girl penis. 

WARNING: I tend to give away major plot points and twist endings in my reviews because, whatever. Shut up.


The first Silent Night, Deadly Night is an unremarkable, yet fun and unapologetically gimmicky slasher movie whose late-1980s presence at theaters was very brief; lame parents with lame ideals protested the movie’s depiction of a killer Santa offing “naughty” people and had the movie successfully banned from all theaters. The victorious parents then turned their protesting to the local gay (probably). For a long time, SNDN was a mirage until it was released on VHS years later and became a cult favorite.

Silent Night, Deadly Night isn’t groundbreaking in any way, and compared to today’s standards, where we’re able to see testicles ripped off a man and fed to wild dogs in theatrical films (preceded by commercials for Fanta), the idea of a man in a Santa costume offing people doesn’t just pale in comparison—it’s become its own punchline.

A few years down the road, morons decided that Silent Night, Deadly Night—the movie that no one saw—needed a sequel, anyway. And with an entire first film from which to haphazardly pluck footage, a lazy and monotonous wrap-around story was written so audiences could see the original movie that disappeared from theaters, but in a new way.

Our story begins on Christmas Eve with Ricky, a young man currently residing in a mental institution. He smokes, casts hard glares, and makes black men nervous.

Dr. Bloom, a man who looks eerily similar to the dad from "7th Heaven," sets up his tape recorder and introduces himself.

“Fuck off, doc,” Ricky snarls, and with this first line, the acting for the movie is already pitiful.

“Who killed your parents, Ricky?” Dr. Bloom asks.

Ricky’s eyebrows dance all over his face as he smiles and answers: “Santa Claus.”

And we hit our first flashback.

"Say, Ricky...I don't mean to sound jive, but, gee whiz,
why not pray to Christ?"

Ricky, merely a baby in a car seat, and his older brother, Billy, are on their way to visit the kids’ grandfather. Billy, who is disgustingly adorable, looks precious and asks kid-like questions about Santa Claus. The parents play along until they come across Santa Claus himself in the middle of the road. Santa waves the car down, and when they pull up next to him, he pulls out a gun and shoots Dad in the face. Billy runs off into the bushes as Santa Claus makes Mommy’s boobs tumble out of her sweater. Then, for good measure, he cuts her throat. Ricky bawls in the car as Billy loses his shit in more ways than poop.

The boys are shipped off to an orphanage, where Billy can’t help but get himself into trouble by drawing pictures of an evil Santa, and I can’t help but notice that Billy goes from being an adorable five-year-old to a slightly older boy who looks like his face was fucked by a lawnmower.

Billy is carefully watched over by two nuns: Mother Superior, whose idea of growth and development is to dispense justice, and Sister Mary, who fears that Billy’s mind has been ass-fucked by the massacre of Christmas past.

The boy is punished for his bad drawing of Santa, but Sister Mary frees him from his room and coerces him to go outside and mingle with the other children. On the way there, Billy hears fucking, so he does a bit of spying through a keyhole. He sees tits, freaks out, and fleas. Mother Superior later catches up to Billy outside and tells the boy that what he witnessed was naughty. She tells him that people like that must be punished—that “punishment is absolute.” Then she whips him on the ass with his belt, even though he didn’t do anything.

“Do you dream, Ricky?” Dr. Bloom asks.

Ricky turns and glares. “I DON’T SLEEP.”

Well then.

Billy’s time at the orphanage isn’t the best time anyone’s ever had. Not only does Mother Superior constantly pick on him, the other children inexplicably tie him up at night and beat him with stuff, a la Full Metal Jacket. On Christmas Day, Mother Superior forces Billy to confront his demons and sit on a visiting Santa’s lap. Well, Billy cold-clocks Santa with an admirable right hook, sending Santa sailing to the floor.

Say what you will about Paul Walker, but he's always ready to party.

When Billy turns 18, he leaves the orphanage and works at a job that Mother Superior found for him: Santa Claus at a local toy store. Yeah, she's a dickhead like that.

Billy threatens each child that sits atop his lap, and he handles them with great zest: “You’re being naughty. I don’t give toys to naughty children. I punish them. Severely.”

Later that night at the employee Christmas party, Billy smells sex, and he follows two employees to the warehouse where he spots another tit.

“Naughty!” Billy screams, strangling one of them with a string of Christmas blinkies. “Punishment good!” he shrieks, stabbing the other in the stomach.

The store manager, hearing the disturbance, enters the warehouse and immediately has his head caved in by a claw hammer.

That Billy works fast!

He then grabs a bow 'n' arrow and shoots the last employee: an old bitty woman who attempts to smash the front windows of the store and flee.

We flash forward again to even more titters, where Billy amusingly dispenses justice to a girl with a pair of deer antlers before strangling a dude and tossing him out the window.

Later, while fleeing from the cops, Billy stumbles across two sledders who are just asking for it. He takes their heads and leaves, having fulfilled his expectations for this scene.

Thanks to the help of Sister Mary, the cops make it to the orphanage before Billy does. A cop dashes out of his truck, takes aim at a Santa Claus reaching out to the children, and shoots him.

“One problem,” Ricky says. “It was Old Man Kelsey, the janitor" (although according to the first film, it was actually Father O’Brien).

Billy unsurprisingly pops up and barely farts out “punish!” before killing the cop. He also kills a snowman, because my god, Billy really hates Christmas.

A stupid kid unlocks the door and lets Billy in as Mother Superior stands her ground. “There is no Santa Claus!” she bellows, as Billy raises his axe. Another cop shows up just in time and they’re finally able to shoot the real Santa. (Well, you know.)

“You’re safe now,” Billy says to the kids. “Santa Claus is gone.” And he dies right in front of Ricky, who then says, “naughty.”

Ricky continues his story, which is finally new material.

Soon after the massacre at the orphanage, Ricky is adopted by a Jewish couple who obviously don’t celebrate Christmas. Out on the street, Ricky’s simmering madness flares at the sight of a red drape in a store window, as it reminds him of Santa’s suit.

Five years later, Ricky’s stepdad dies, leaving just Ricky and his mother. After the funeral, he wanders off to be alone where he, just like his brother, effortlessly stumbles across breasts.

“I never told anyone this before, but, HERE IT COMES!” Ricky promises directly to the camera, his eyebrows quivering.

He creepily watches the couple for a few minutes until the man becomes a bit demanding. He slaps her and goes to his jeep for some more beer. Ricky figures he’ll do a solid for the poor girl, and so he drives the jeep over the man, over and over, until it becomes ridiculous.

“Thank you,” the girl stammers, not at all afraid or upset, and stumbles off into the woods.

RICKY FACE # 1: Angry + Found Some Money

Dr. Bloom scrawls

RED CAR!

in his notebook.

“Good point!” Ricky says, spying over his shoulder.

“My old lady couldn’t afford to send me to college,” Ricky bitches. “So I got a JOB instead!” The amount of disdain present in this statement either reeks of genuine disgust or severely tepid acting.

Dr. Bloom gears up for another round of Ricky’s over-acting, but Ricky promises him, “You’ll like this next part, Doc. It was like a squirrel getting its nuts squeezed.”

During this job, Ricky spies one man accosting another over some owed money in a back alley while taking out some garbage. The man after the money takes out a red handkerchief and wipes his face, thus setting off Ricky’s rage. He finds a random umbrella in a trash pile and runs it through the man, snarling “naughty” and opening up the umbrella to punctuate this newest murder.

Dr. Bloom whips out a photo and throws it across the desk. “Who is this?” he asks.

Ricky turns and sees the photo of a reasonably attractive blond, a former flame of his. “Jennifer. She was a knock-out. I never wanted to lose her.”

And so we flashback again so we can meet Jennifer, who has a laughable car accident with our unfortunate lead, and the two kids immediately rub skin. After a tepid love scene, comprised only of side-boob, they go to the cinema to see a film. That film? The first Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Why—oh.

The movie begins, but a rowdy movie-goer in the back row gets on Ricky’s nerves.

“Faggot!” the rowdy man shouts at Ricky.

“Well, we know that’s not true,” Jennifer retorts, as if Ricky might have actually been worried about his sexuality for a moment.

“What’s this movie about, anyway?” Ricky asks.

“Oh, it’s great. It’s about a guy who dresses up as Santa Claus and kills people.”

“What?!” Ricky shrieks and quickly becomes enraged.

Why would you go see a fucking movie without knowing what it is, Ricky, you dickhead?

Ricky then beats the living shit out of the rowdy man.

After the cancellation of Arrested Development,
Executive Producer Ron Howard just couldn't deal.

In his absence, one of Jennifer’s previous lovers, Chip, an extremely unnatural blond fellow who presents himself as the generic cocksure rich boy we all know doesn’t have much time left on Earth.

The next day, while taking a walk, Ricky and Jennifer run afoul of Chip, who immediately oozes with douchebag residue. Chip acts the cock, makes a reference to his “red” car to set up his death, and then has his face melted with the aid of a car battery.

Jennifer shrieks at Ricky that she hates him and tries to flee, but Ricky makes quick work of her with a car antenna.

“Uh oh!” she unrealistically yells before meeting Elvis.

And thus begins the best sequence ever shot for a movie that starred Ricky as the lead.

A cop rushes in, gun in hand, to take care of the murderous Ricky, but he soon has his own brains blown out with a quick flick of Ricky’s wrist.

Now armed with the cop's gun, Ricky strolls down the street, shooting a man who comes out of his house, demanding to know why all the noise. “Motherfucker,” Ricky mutters, and laughs.

He then spots a hapless man putting out cans of trash.

“GARBAGE DAY!” Ricky shouts, shooting him in super cool slow motion.

Ricky continues his stroll down the street, and after allowing a moment to capture the entire film crew in the shot...


...he meets a little girl with a red ribbon in her hair. Despite the red, he lets her go, even smiling at her. And since the movie is making up its own rules, Ricky figures he’ll shoot randomly at a car coming at him until it overturns, crashes, and explodes. In what is actually a legitimately cool stunt, and in a single take, the car flips and narrowly avoids hitting Ricky by seriously only a few inches, had it not been for a quick turn of his body.

Ricky giggles in his typical Ricky self and then continues on with the massacre, or at least tries to. But alas, his murdering was not meant to be. Ricky eventually hits a road block of cops and tries to turn the gun on himself. A look of disappointment crosses his face when he is greeted with an empty click.

"JOKES AND DREAMS COME FROM MY IDEA BALL."

Ricky, it seems, is done reminiscing, since at some point during this story he has opted to murder Dr. Bloom, yet keep talking, anyway. He then flees the hospital to see to some unfinished business… to rent Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Or...

Sister Mary tells the cops that Ricky is most likely going after Mother Superior, now wheelchair-bound thanks to a stroke and living in isolation.

Ricky finally dons a Santa suit for the first and only time in this movie, but sans beard, and calls Mother Superior to let her know “Santa’s back.”

She nervously hangs up and wheels her puny body over to the TV and watches the Christmas parade and babbles typical Christian “Bah, blasphemy!” remarks at the big balloon animals on the screen.

Not too long after, Ricky begins to chop his way through Mother Superior’s front door (which is unsubtly numbered 666) and chases her from one room to the next, smashing doors and delivering really bad one-liners.

RICKY FACE # 2: Angry + Lemons

Mother Superior, who is clearly played by a different actress than the woman in the first movie's footage, wears prosthetic scars on her face that are allegedly caused by strokes. She gets booted down the steps, somehow survives, and escapes in yet another wheelchair.

She grabs a knife from the kitchen and then suddenly grows a pair of nun balls. “You must be punished,” she screams. “You are being very, very naughty!”

“Naughty this!” Ricky nonsensically screams before delivering an admittedly satisfying, yet off-screen blow to Mother Superior’s nun head.

The cops enter and spy Mother Superior sitting motionless, her back to them. I bet you a sawbuck she’s just aces.

A cop gently shakes her and her head falls off a very cleanly cut neck, even though Ricky’s ax thrust was a downward blow. Sister Mary (who is there for some reason) screams at the head and falls down and almost becomes Ricky’s next victim.

The cops shoot Ricky, who is so insane at this point that he can't even feel bullets. One more blow to the chest does the trick, however, and sends Ricky flying through a glass patio door.

“He’s gone, sister. It’s over,” says the cop.

And then Ricky’s eyes open as Sister Mary screams at a head.

Please, no head jokes. A real nun has died.

Ricky further continues his adventures in Silent Night, Deadly Night 3, where he is brought back to life by a mad scientist, and suddenly played by Bill Moseley.

God bless us, everyone.

Dec 22, 2011

BEWARE THE CHILDREN

God said, "Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” But image does not mean outer image, or every statue or photograph would be man. It means the inner image—the spirit, the soul. But what of those in our midst who do not have individual souls? Or spirits? They have one mind that they share between them—one spirit. They have the look of man, but not the nature of mankind…


Dec 21, 2011

MEMENTO MORI: PART V

I will not ask where thou liest low,
Nor gaze upon the spot;
There flowers or weeds at will may grow,
So I behold them not:
It is enough for me to prove
That what I lov'd, and long must love,
Like common earth can rot;
To me there needs no stone to tell,
'T is Nothing that I lov'd so well. 

- Lord Byron, And Thou Art Dead, As Young And Fair





Dec 19, 2011

UNSUNG HORRORS: RAVENOUS

Every once in a while, a genuinely great horror movie—one that would rightfully be considered a classic, had it gotten more exposure and love at the box office—makes an appearance. It comes, no one notices, and it goes. But movies like this are important. They need to be treasured and remembered. If intelligent, original horror is supported, then that's what we'll begin to receive, in droves. We need to make these movies a part of the legendary genre we hold so dear. Because these are the unsung horrors. These are the movies that should have been successful, but were instead ignored. They should be rightfully praised for the freshness and intelligence and craft that they have contributed to our genre.

So, better late than never, we’re going to celebrate them now… one at a time.

Dir. Antonia Bird
1999
Fox
United States

"Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster…"
- Friedrich Nietzsche
"Eat me."
- Anonymous

I’m not sure how a movie like Ravenous ever received a wide release. It surely wouldn't today – not even with more immense star power. The film’s budget was a moderate one, being estimated at just twelve million (in late 90s terms), and despite the relatively low budget, the film was a box office disaster upon its release. It received warm notices from critics, notably Roger Ebert, who called it “clever in the way it avoids most of the clichés of the vampire movie by using cannibalism, and most of the clichés of the cannibal movie by using vampirism. It serves both dishes with new sauces.”

I applaud FOX for releasing the film, for today they are a studio known as troublesome and bullying; they have gained a reputation for meddling in the productions of some of their tent pole films, neutering some of their harder franchises (Alien, Die Hard ) for the PG-13 crowd, and for being unreasonably fan unfriendly. How a movie like Ravenous ever managed to slip past their radar I’ll never know, but I’ll be forever grateful it did.


Ravenous was one of Guy Pearce’s immediate post-L.A. Confidential roles, and it was certainly a bold one to take on. There is very little dialogue for his character (he does not utter a full onscreen line of dialogue for nearly the first third of the movie), and his role as Captain Boyd, the disgraced war hero of the Mexican-American War, did not stand a chance against Robert Carlyle’s truly maniacal Colqhoun. The role of Boyd is understated and unorthodox – for much of the film he is a weakling coward, and then later, something comparable to a drug addict desperate for a fix.

But make no mistake – this movie belongs to Robert Carlyle. Had Ravenous received more attention upon its release, Carlyle would have certainly been nominated for Best Actor/Supporting Actor (and why couldn't he? Another famous cannibal was honored just eight years prior). His portrayal as the two-faced Colqhoun alernates from helpless and terrified to downright bloodthirsty and savage. Trainspotting’s Begby (another Carlyle role) does not hold a candle.

The rest of the cast is comprised of recognizable and respectable character actors (another detractor in the weird world of cinema, where money talks and bullshit walks). Jeffrey Jones (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off ) plays Colonel Hart (ho ho), the even-tempered and fatherly leader of the U.S. Army outpost where the bulk of the film takes place. He reads world literature, eats walnuts, and has graciously accepted his niche as keeper of a bunch of misfits. This role could have easily been written as the typical overbearing army superior fuckhead, but it wasn’t, and Jones bring a real humanity to what could have been a one-note role. Jeremy Davies (Saving Private Ryan ) plays Private Toffler, a possibly autistic, God-loving ball of nervousness. Neal McDonough (Minority Report ) plays Private Reich, and despite his short crop of screaming blonde hair, he fits right into the role of the soldier with far too much testosterone and very little reason. Finally, David Arquette plays Private Cleaves, and despite being fresh off the success of 1996’s Scream, his part is minor and perhaps underwritten.


Our plot is a relatively simple one: During the Mexican-American war, Captain Boyd fakes dying during battle in order to spare his life. He is thrown into a pile of dead bodies – at the very bottom – and has no chance at escaping, due literally to the dead weight piled above him. However, blood from his commanding officer’s “half shot-off head” leaks into his mouth, and he gains the strength to crawl out from under the dead and take out several enemy soldiers. He is hailed a hero, but military superiors know the truth of his cowardice. He is banished to Fort Spencer under the guise of being promoted, and here he remains with the above-mentioned characters until someone comes calling late one night – someone with tales of wintry survival and inhuman appetites.

A strange man named Colqhoun collapses just outside the fort’s main cabin, freezing from the cold, and ready to drop dead from malnourishment. He is brought inside and cared for by the fort’s occupants. He soon awakens with quite a story:
We left in April. Six of us in all: Mr. MacCready and his wife, from Ireland. Mr. Janus – from Virginia, I believe – with his servant, Jones. Myself. And our guide: a military man, coincidently. A Colonel Ives. He professed to know a new, shorter route through the Nevadas. Quite a route that was. Longer than the normal one. Impossible to travel. We worked very, very hard. By the time of the first snowfall we were still one hundred miles from this place. That was November. Preceding though the snow was futile. We took shelter in a cave. Decided to wait until the storm had passed. The storm did not pass. The trails soon became impossible, and we had run out of food. We ate the oxen. All the horses. Even my own dog. And that lasted us about a month. After that, we turned to our belts, shoes, and roots we could dig up... but, you know, there's no real nourishment in those. We remained famished. The day that Jones died I was out collecting wood. He had expired from malnourishment. And when I returned, the others were cooking his legs for dinner. Would I have stopped it had I been there? I don't know. But I must say. When I stepped inside that cave... the smell of meat cooking... I thanked the Lord! I thanked the Lord!
He goes on to explain that the consumption of human flesh gave him almost supernatural strength…and unnatural appetites. These words give Boyd pause, as he remembers his own experience on the battlefield — when all seemed lost until dripping blood from the corpses above him gave him unnatural strength…

Colqhoun, we soon come to realize, is not who he seems, and when the men trek to the cave to search for survivors, he reveals his true face. With the help of a buried dagger, he picks off the men one-by-one, leaving Boyd for dead. Out of desperation, Boyd slices off some of Private Reich’s dead flesh, gaining enough strength to make it out of the wilderness and return to Fort Spencer. As does Colqhoun…under the guise of Colonel Ives, one of the alleged murdered. No one believes Boyd’s wild stories about murder and cannibalism and he is shackled.


One of the fort’s occupants, Martha (a Native American), warns Boyd that the only way to defeat a wendigo – an evil force that devours men and absorbs their spiritual and physical strength – is to “give” … because all the wendigo does is “take.”

At movie’s end (this should come as no surprise, but, spoiler), Boyd and Colqhoun battle to the death by falling into an awaiting bear trap, which snaps them both together, six-inch spikes stabbing into their flesh. Boyd is victorious, having “given” his life to stop Colqhoun from “taking” further lives. Before he dies, Colqhoun challenges Boyd: “If you die first, I am definitely going to eat you. But if I die first, what will you do?”

What Boyd chooses is ultimately left ambiguous, but I think it’s safe to say he opts to fast.

At the end of the day, the plot of Ravenous is gleefully and unashamedly stupid – it amounts to no more than a bunch of men stabbing each other, getting blood all over pretty much everything, and eating human flesh. The movie really just wants to have fun, and that it does. Director Antonia Bird knows the movie’s true strengths lie in the atmosphere that can be created – that of a stark winterscape draping across a barren military outpost. Despite this – and as unusual as it may sound – none of the murder and the mayhem ever feels mean-spirited. If made today by a different director, the movie would be a bloody show set in dingy basements or laboratories. Men would be locked into rooms and forced to eat each other. And there would be no humor in the proceedings at all. And this is where Ravenous truly shines.


The onscreen events are horrifying – not just the notion of death, but of your earthly body being consumed after you check out – but director Bird keeps the levity going. And she was smart to. (Credit must also be given to screenwriter Ted Griffin, who would go on to write more straightforward comedies like Ocean’s Eleven, Tower Heist, and Rumor Has It…) Most of the humor comes from the wry dialogue between the characters, but also from the film’s score by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn (a rare foray into film music from the frontman of Blur and Gorillaz). Hillbilly fiddles play as Colqhoun chases Private Toffler through the woods with a dagger, ordering him to “run;" poorly performed military music squeaks in the beginning of the film, during which a hundred men sit down to their post-war meals of bloody steaks, showing just how ridiculous it all really is. The musical score utilizes found audio, native vocalizations, and wildly diverging tones to create one of the most frenetic (and frankly, best) film scores I’ve ever heard. It effortlessly rotates between goofy, to dreamlike, to pulse pounding, to downright creepy.

And creepy the movie is.

Colqhoun’s descent into newfound madness, and his frenzied digging at the dirt where his dagger is buried; the rapidly increasing cuts that begin when Boyd and Reich descend into the cave; the close-up shot of Reich's dead and dirt/blood-covered grinning face, tinted blue under the light of the moon – it's all incredibly and effectively unnerving, even on repeated viewings.

As for the movie’s “moral”? Take your pick: During the film, Colqhoun muses on the idea of manifest destiny—of the infant country’s citizens as they expand across the land with their voracious appetites. And while they are consuming the natural resources of the country, in the end, it is the country that is consuming them. Meanwhile, the backdrop of the movie is set against the Mexican-American war, yet another conflict involving stolen land and the United States, who in an effort to consume even more territory and grow stronger, killed a lot of their own men in the process. And lastly, there is the Native American element (two of whom live in Fort Spencer), and worn of the “wendigo.” Interesting that this warning would come from them, being that it was their people who were displaced when our ships first breeched their shores so many years ago – in an effort to consume, dominate, and grow stronger.

"McDONOOOOOOUUUUUUUGH!!!!!!"

Most importantly, however, is that Ravenous is just a great movie, whether or not you want to dig beyond the surface and examine the themes below. It boasts great performances, great atmosphere, and amazing music. The red stuff flies, as do limbs and bones. The chemistry between the cast is pitch perfect, and it's truly a shame this movie was not more appreciated upon its initial release.

Dec 15, 2011

THEIR STRICT ATTENTION


What sick ridiculous puppets we are
and what a gross little stage we dance on.
What fun we have dancing and fucking.
Not a care in the world.
Not knowing that we are nothing.
We are not what was intended.



If we don't, remember me.

Dec 13, 2011

GHOST PHOTOGRAPHY: PART II

“Then away out in the woods I heard that kind of a sound that a ghost makes when it wants to tell about something that's on its mind and can't make itself understood, and so can't rest easy in its grave, and has to go about that way every night grieving.”
- Mark Twain







Dec 12, 2011

SHITTY FLICKS: FOR YOUR HEIGHT ONLY

Shitty Flicks is an ongoing column that celebrates the most hilariously incompetent, amusingly pedestrian, and mind-bogglingly stupid movies ever made by people with a bit of money, some prior porn-directing experience, and no clue whatsoever. It is here you will find unrestrained joy in movies meant to terrify and thrill, but instead poke at your funny bone with their weird, mutant camp-girl penis. 

WARNING: I tend to give away major plot points and twist endings in my reviews because, whatever. Shut up.


In 1957, a legend was born; a pint-sized legend that rocked a white suit, triumphed against adversity, and wooed the ladies. His hair was as black as squid ink, his smile glinted like the afternoon sun, and his nipples were the size of silver-dollar pancakes.

He came, he saw, he littled. And in 1992, he died of bad crab.

But in between those two history-changing years, he became an action-star sensation in his native homeland of the Philippines, and his presence in the film community carved a never-fading presence and laid root to his still-celebrated career.

Weng Weng: He's armed, dangerous,
and fits into most overhead storage compartments.

1981’s For Your Height Only would be one of two (possibly more) films in which Weng Weng would play a fun-size James Bond-ish super spy known as Agent 00. This role would continue in 1982’s The Impossible Kid (as well as in 1981’s Agent 00, which may or may not exist).

For Your Height Only begins with a montage of the main Weng in action, grasping weapons, jumping off rooftops, and being an all-around tiny bad ass. Once the montage ends, the plot picks up with the kidnapping of the brilliant Dr. Kohler by a Filipino mob for nefarious purposes, namely his formula for the A-bomb. Details of the kidnapping are relayed to Mr. Giant, the shadowy leader of the crime syndicate, by his number 2, Mr. Keiser. They speak through a special blinky mirror/intercom thing, leaving Mr. Giant faceless and mysterious (and with perfect voice dubbing).

Meanwhile, Weng Weng lounges by the pool, wearing a yellow terry-cloth robe and far-too-large sunglasses. His secret spy watch strapped to his tiny doll wrist begins blinking, so he leaves his bikinied company behind him.

On his way through the parking lot to wherever he is heading, he spies the attempted assassination of Irma, a local beauty who states that her refusal to join Mr. Giant’s crime syndicate for purposes of prostituting herself and peddling drugs has led to multiple attempts on her life.

After sending the assassin scurrying, Weng Weng and Irma begin an everlasting partnership for the next 82 minutes.

Weng Weng pumps his mini legs over to the syndicate’s crime compound and begins his assault of little kicks into the knees and genitals of many henchmen. Irma, however, prefers to go for the Adam’s apple, which she does frequently with many men.

Apart, Weng Weng and Irma are soldiers on a quest for justice, but together, they are a force to be reckoned with.

Together, they also equal about ¾ of an actual human man.

They corner one of the henchmen and demand to know where to find Columbus, one of the bosses of the syndicate.

"Talk, or you’ll eat lead!" orders Weng Weng, his dubbed voice akin to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s take on Truman Capote.

Having been told of Columbus' whereabouts (at a nearby hotel), Irma enters and pretends to offer herself to him. During this womanly deception, Junior Mint-sized Weng Weng crawls in through her legs and slides across the floor, out of view of the boss. Columbus, a bald, Morgan Freeman-looking fellow, gets up from the bed, his gun drawn, ready to shoot Irma. Weng Weng suddenly kicks himself across the floor in a glorious slide and takes a single shot, killing Columbus and knocking his own head on the wall behind him.

"Ow, my tiny head!" cries Weng Weng, grasping his softball-sized skull.

Too little for a regular bed and too big for a doll bed,
Weng Weng was forced to sleep on the floor.

Later, Weng Weng goes to see a peer at his spy agency, who shows him a series of “new gadgets” to add to Weng Weng's arsenal: a gold ring that detects ALL poisons, a necklace tracking device, a very tiny machine gun, an Uncle Sam hat that ejects a dangerous blade, an ordinary-looking pen that fires bullets, a belt-buckle filled with various tools, and lastly, X-Ray sunglasses.

"I like the way you pay attention," he oddly states to Weng Weng, as he continues to tediously explain each weapon and what it does, trying best to remember all of his lines for this long, uninterrupted scene.

On his way out, Weng Weng tries out the X-Ray specs on the two cute receptionists, getting a good giggly look at their privates. Weng Weng is both a super spy and pervert. Do not bring him home to mother, unless you need the chimney cleaned.

While Irma successfully infiltrates the crime syndicate as a new member (and I have no idea how this was possible being that both Weng Weng and Irma had previously stormed their compound and killed one of the bosses), Weng Weng meets with a random woman on whom we have no information at all.

"I like ‘em little," states the woman as Weng Weng smiles. As his head is turned, the woman dumps poison into his Coke (Weng Weng’s drink of choice), and leaves him. Luckily, Weng Weng’s spanking new ring detects the poison immediately. Not caring that he was almost killed, Weng Weng drinks his remaining Coke from the bottle, and does not apprehend the woman that tried to poison him.

Say, what was that all about?

No time to explain; it's time for Weng Weng’s shirtless scene!

Ladies, clench those legs!

Irma spots the syndicate’s plot to smuggle bags of cocaine out of the country hidden in loafs of bread.

"There’s lots of dough in this dough! The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker!" Mr. Keiser emphatically exclaims, sounding like a hard-boiled private eye from the American 1930s.

Meanwhile, Weng Weng follows Irma’s tracking device necklace to their location and hides under the table. As the men continue their drug-smuggling operation just mere inches away, he hammers on their feet, and the men make extremely over-the-top gorilla “ouch” faces. Weng Weng then springs into action and very lightly hits each of them on the head with a bread pan, knocking them out.

Later, yet another boss, Cabbie (whom I have taken the liberty of naming myself, because I’m pretty certain the movie did not), demands to know how that "little midget" grew wise to their scheme. Someone suggests that a spy might be in their gang, but that idea is quickly and thankfully discounted for absolutely no reason.

The next afternoon, Weng Weng and Irma walk through the park hand-in-hand as she relays new information to him.

"I worry for you," says Irma in a motherly tone. "Maybe we should work together to infiltrate Mr. Giant's hideout." And then she wonderfully adds: "But you’re such a little guy, though; very petite, like a potato."

"Let’s go," Weng says, cutting her off immediately, the movie’s awful editing making it seem like he does not care for the analogy.

That night, the syndicate sweats a local businessman out of his collection of gold at one of their hideouts. The businessman, dubbed by a smarmy Frenchman, sits nervously on a crate.

Weng Weng, again following the lead from Irma, tosses a gas bomb and takes care of all the henchmen, freeing the businessman easily.

Another plot foiled by the half-pint super spy!

Spotted by members of the crime syndicate, a chase gives way in the street as Weng Weng flees in itty bitty terror. Weng Weng tosses his special hat, which hovers around the henchmen and scares them all off. The hat returns to its owner and drops on the smiling head of Weng Weng.

In yet another scene where one would assume that Irma’s cover was blown, her and Weng Weng flee from several of the henchmen following her.

"I’ll meet you later at the discothèque!" Weng shouts as the two separate. He then serves up a kid’s meal of whoop-ass, elbowing and kicking and stamping genitals like he was born to do.

Weng Weng's favorite defensive move: The Kickstand.

Weng Weng goes back to his apartment, but runs afoul of an assassin waiting in the lobby, a gun hidden in his umbrella. The assassin is easily defeated by Weng Weng, but his team of henchmen pursue him. As some of the assassin’s henchmen run up a stairwell, Weng Weng suddenly launches at them from off-screen and impossibly high, obviously being thrown by some off-camera grips. His football-sized body somehow hurtles the men to the floor, and he punches them into darkness with his fists of fury.

Weng Weng then bursts into a random room in which a hot little thing lies relaxing on the bed. Before planning a masterful escape from her balcony, he runs over to the bed and lays on this complete stranger a very intoxicating kiss. It’s so hot that they both keep their eyes open the whole time and stare at each other, as the girl’s hand delicately caresses Weng Weng’s teensy head. He then jumps off the balcony of the apartment, and using the assassin’s umbrella, softly floats to the rooftop of a jeep below.

On the way down, and shot from afar, we are treated to the sight of a very fake Weng Weng dummy attached to an umbrella as it floats to the ground, the "body" swinging haphazardly this way and that.

As promised, Weng Weng and Irma rendezvous at the discothèque, and upon exiting, attract the attention of some of the henchmen.

"Where’s that little midget?" asks one of the men.

"Probably hiding in her handbag," answers one of the men.

You laugh (or not), but it’s entirely plausible.

After getting dropped off by a taxi, Irma is kidnapped by the henchmen, apparently FINALLY seeing that it was her leaking the information about their shady dealings, and she alerts Weng Weng via the tracking device in her necklace. The boss, spotting the blinking red light in her necklace (good one, super secret intelligence agency), rips it from her neck and orders she be taken to Mr. Giant.

The boss uses the tracking device in a trap for Weng Weng and corners him in a warehouse.

"Where’s Irma?! TALK!" Weng Weng shouts, although it sounds an awful lot like:

"Where’s Irma?! FUCK!"

Weng Weng is tied up and one of the henchmen amusingly places Weng Weng very carefully in a tiny box as if he were the newborn Jesus.

Mr. Keiser communicates via blinky mirror with Mr. Giant, who sounds like he was dubbed by a middle-aged British man, and Mr. Giant says he would be pleased to have an interrogation session with Agent 00.

Not one to give up, Weng Weng uses a handy tool from his belt buckle that burns an escape hatch in the side of the box, and he easily dispatches the henchmen guarding (read: sitting on) his box.

One by one, henchmen are punched, kicked, and/or have poison darts blown into their throats, as Weng Weng gets closer to JUSTICE.

"He’s as slippery as an eel! How do you hold onto an eel?" Cabbie demands to know. "I declare war on that little stinker!"

Weng continues to cut a swath of justice on his mission to free Irma, masterfully shooting each henchman with a single bullet. He finally crosses paths with Cabbie, three times sliding across the floor and firing his gun. Out of bullets, it looks like Weng Weng may be visiting that tiny men's suit store in the sky, but as Cabbie continues to balk, Weng slides his not-so-ordinary pen into his hand from his sleeve and quickly shoots Cabbie.

The next day, Weng Weng infiltrates yet another crime compound and continues his no-holds-barred assault on the axis of evil. Weng Weng literally grabs a henchman’s gun and beats him to death with it, before firing the gun itself at a nearby guard tower’s henchman and being blown back by the gun’s trajectory.

Get it?

Cuz he’s got the stature of a baby.

Weng Weng’s tiny machine gun serves up a cold dish of MURDER to each henchman unfortunate enough to cross his path. The magic gun fires automatic rounds as well as tiny bombs, and makes short work of the way-too-many henchmen. One of those men stalks slowly down a walkway, waiting for Weng Weng to show his face...who then surprisingly does, bursting out of some bushes!

With a BOOO-I-I-N-G noise to punctuate his appearance, "kind-of-a-boner" Weng Weng shouts "here I am!" and shoots the man.

CUT TO THE DISCOTHEQUE!

Weng Weng rendezvous with another agent named Anna, also dubbed with a British voice, and collects information on Mr. Giant. During their meeting, Anna’s very rude male companion drunkenly orders her back to their table. Weng Weng then slaps this rude man into unconsciousness for close to a half hour.

"Well, hello there, little one. From what
summer camp do you hail?"

Later, at Anna’s apartment, she thanks Weng Weng’s chivalry with a bit of nookie. In a scene that must have been over-dubbed while the sound technician's supervisor was on vacation, the following exchange takes place:
Anna: You’re a great person, you know.

Weng Weng: [very rushed] You know what they say, it ain’t the size, it’s the way you use it.

Anna: Maybe, but are you a sexual animal?

Weng Weng: I dunno.

Anna: I’m crazy about you, Agent 00. Why? I dunno. Maybe it’s the way you strut your stuff. Sex is like tequila. Take one sip, and you’re a goner.

Weng Weng: Shall we get it on?

Anna: Yes, darling. Bare your bod.
Seriously, there’s no way that was ever in the original script, despite how goofy the movie has been up to this point. That’s just too weird.

Sound technician whose supervisor was on vacation: I applaud you.

After the coitus, Weng Weng slides on his snappy Uncle Sam, blade-emitting hat, breaks into yet another secret location, and finds a map detailing the location of Mr. Giant, Irma, and… Dr. Kohler!

You COMPLETELY forgot about him, didn’t you?

So did I!

Weng Weng infiltrates Mr. Giant’s secret hideout on an island with the aid of Weng’s newest gadget: a jetpack! As Weng Weng wobbles back and forth on his way over the crevice and onto the island, one wonders how these genius filmmakers were able to make the strings attached to the jetpack only kind of visible, instead of obnoxiously visible.

Weng Weng FINALLY meets the infamous Mr. Giant, another midget who is still taller than Weng himself. The two midgets throw wee punches and little kicks, before the fight ends with little-person grappling and a puny gun firing mini bullets into Mr. Giant’s not-so-giant torso.

MINI DANCE PARTY!!

Meanwhile, Weng Weng’s unit storms the location and kills hundreds of henchmen all dressed in red-crested sweaters and matching berets.

Weng Weng frees Irma and Dr. Kohler as the henchmen continue to easily catch bullets in their bellies.

Know who else catches a bullet in the belly?

Irma.

"Irma!" Weng Weng shrieks, struggling to lift her heavy body to him. She dies, her last words being, “Mission accomplished!”

The movie ends with Weng Weng saluting a grave that’s assumed to be Irma’s, but whose name is blocked by flowers because they were most likely filming guerrilla style in a local cemetery.

Weng Weng may have loved and lost, but his fight isn’t over. He has many more enemies to overcome, ladies to bed, and tiny to be, and his presence in film history has only just begun.