Showing posts with label drugs are bad. Show all posts
Showing posts with label drugs are bad. Show all posts

Jun 30, 2020


The drug film is a hard film to watch--at least if it's done the right way. For modern audiences, the most gut-wrenching experience to come along in quite a while is likely Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream, a film which saw drugs tearing apart four different people in different ways, rendering their shared relationships obsolete and their futures cut very short. The Panic in Needle Park traverses the same ground, only it did so thirty years prior. Above all, its story focuses on the doomed romance (aren't they all?) between Al Pacino's Bobby and Kitty Winn's Helen, who meet randomly at a drug deal of sorts and who begin, unexpectedly, a savage and passionate romance that will see Helen fall victim to the same drug habit that Bobby claims he doesn't have. As you can imagine, it doesn't end well.

Director Jeffrey Schatzberg, who battled in getting this film made, has no romantic notions about New York City, or more specifically, "Needle Park" (a nickname for Sherman Square) where drug users were known to congregate and trade tips about who is holding, and where, and who might have the bread to get off. Settings like these, or broken-down tenement buildings, or prison-like apartments, are where the bulk of the story take place. (Ironically, the only scenes that contain any brightness at all are during Helen's pre-drug addiction scenes spent in a flat or a hospital bed where she is both temporarily recovering and suffering side effects from a botched abortion, respectively.) But as Helen follows Bobby down his drug-addled rabbit hole, the lights around them dim. Their romance changes face from idealistic, to hopeful, to dreadful.

In Al Pacino's film debut in a lead role, his Bobby is a tough-talking street hood defying authority at every opportunity while smacking gum or chain smoking cigarettes (sometimes both) in an effort to keep his mind off the fact that he hasn't used in a while and, well, he really really wants to. But the real showstopper here is Kitty Winn as Helen, whose slow transformation from innocent/fully naive to hopeless addict of both heroin as well as her boyfriend (and on-again/off-again "fiancé"), is where the sucker punch really takes place.

There's a disarming documentary quality to The Panic in Needle Park, where people interact with awkward sincerity, and where there's no happy ending in sight. Schatzberg has no qualms about letting the camera get in close to see Bobby, or Helen, or an array of the dead-ends who surround them, stick that needle into their veins and slowly inject themselves. For minutes at a time, the viewer has no choice but to watch. There's nothing else on screen they can use to momentarily affix their gaze while they wait for the needle nastiness to disperse. Schatzberg shoves this image into your eye-line because it should be shoved there. He also doesn't want his audience to escape from the ugliness, so when there isn't explicit drug-use on screen, he instead relies on the film's environment to convey that ugliness. The Panic in Needle Park takes place in the scummiest rooms and alleys and rooftops of the scummiest areas in New York City. Every interior features peeling paint or wallpaper, painted in a sickening green or a flat gray. Outdoors, we're treated to graffitied walls and litter-strewn streets. There is no escape, no matter where we go, and no matter what characters are on screen. 

Like Requiem for a Dream, The Panic in Needle Park is a film that effects rather than entertains, hewing closer to life than our happy-ending-wanting brains have come to expect, which is what makes it such a visceral experience. One could argue that the ending is a happy ending of sorts, if only for our characters and no one else. No matter the trials and tribulations they each experience, and no matter the depths they'll plunge, they always come back, and they always end up in each other's arms. Whatever battles they have to overcome, they'll find a way to do it, and they'll do it together. They are doomed, that's for sure, but doom is in the eye of the beholder.

The Panic in Needle Park is a tough film to watch, as any well-made film about drug abuse should be. And it's worth watching for two reasons, both similar and very disparate: the first would be to see Al Pacino in his film debut, who hits the ground running in an explosive performance and who is still celebrated today, but the second would be to see Kitty Winn, whose performance has been even more heralded, but who slowly disappeared from the world of acting after her turns in and The Exorcist (and its deplorable first sequel). As film's end, you won't be left feeling good, but being that was the intention, The Panic in Needle Park is a success. 

Mar 26, 2020


If David Cronenberg had a sense of humor, he would be Frank Henenlotter. The quirky New York-based director of a very quirky filmography (the Basketcase trilogy is likely his most well-known offering) has built a career on exploring maladies of the body and through what circumstances they turn the kinds of mutantness, corrupted, or gooey that usually befall his lead characters. But during all this, Henenlotter is never not going for laughs. And he’s always been successful – so much that his early ‘70s tale about two brothers (one of whom is a freak of nature the size of a bowling ball with the appearance of a meatball found under the stove three years after it went missing, and which dwells in a large wicker basket carried around by his “normal” brother) managed to spawn a series – a series! – of films, with more and more freaks being added to the lineup with each sequel.

Brain Damage has the distinction of being Henenlotter’s most broadly entertaining film while also being the most direct about its message: drugs suck and ruin your relationships.

That’s about it.

It’s not a complicated message, and one that’s easily decipherable right off the bat, which works to the film’s advantage, because it allows the entire conflict to play out without constriction, enabling easily earned humor derived from the sheer absurdity of the plot. 

Every appearance of Elmer is funny, thanks to his turd-like shape and beady, friendly eyes, as well as the completely unfitting voice work by actor and Halloween horror host John Zacherle (who appeared in Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker, and who unfortunately passed away in 2016). Putting aside for a moment that such a loony concept would have ever existed outside of the imagination of Frank Henenlotter, one would see Elmer’s design and be tempted to give him a guttural and whiskey-soaked voice akin to Danny De Vito or Tom Waits. But no, Zacherle’s voice – and by extension, Elmer’s – is calm, smooth, and pleasant in a grandfatherly way, with abrupt articulation and diction. The aesthetically pleasing voice which comes out of Elmer makes the choice a complete 180 from what would be expected, but which makes it that much more amusing.

Like Cronenberg (early Cronenberg, anyway), Henenlotter has been pretty uncompromising when it comes to the films he wants to make, avoiding the studio system whenever possible to make sure the sheer insanity which emanates from his imagination goes from page to film without dilution. Brain Damage is kind of nuts, but in all the ways that make it great, and even if the film is about a purple poop parasite that feeds off human brains and injects goo into the back of its host’s neck to get them high, it still carries with it a message of value. Like all the best horror films, Brain Damage is a morality tale, but it’s also one that has a hell of a lot of fun conveying its message.

Frank Henenlotter doesn’t have a very expansive filmography, but where he may lack in quantity, he certainly makes up for with a collection of titles that are 1oo% imbued with his identity and his sensibilities as a filmmaker. Good or bad (many would probably argue bad), there is no simply mistaking a Frank Henenlotter film. From the grimiest of New York streets to the body horror aspects that pervade every frame of every film, he has successfully put his stamp on the horror comedy, and has managed to make it work time and time again. Brain Damage remains at the top of his filmography.

Nov 28, 2013


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.

If you've ever wanted to see a film in which a man does drugs, eats diseased meat, and turns into a chicken, then, sorry, you're barking up the wrong tree here. Blood Freak is actually about a man who does drugs, eats diseased meat, and turns into a turkey. 

Sure, sure, some of you may argue "tomato tomato" (if you pronounce that second tomato differently), but there is a huge distinction. I mean, would the camera still shake a lot, and unintentionally? Would the acting still be so hideous as to be non-existent? Would the audio still drop out whenever it damn well pleases?

To all of the above, yes.

Then what's the distinction?

All that fucking gobbling, I'd say.

As for the film...

In the world of Blood Freak, drugs are bad, but pot is a-okay. 

"Please don't do any other drugs while you're here," some broad says to some dude at a party before he even takes off his jacket. SHE looks like Peggy Bundy, and HE looks like Elvis. Apart, they're just two people, but together, they are two people really really frightened of the hard stuff. And HE rocks an awesome pompadour. 

She (Angel) leaves and he (Herschell) is left alone with the siren of the party. She compliments him and calls him handsome. "Don't you have a boyfriend?" he retorts. Then he calls her a tramp, because this film is, like, super moral.

Later, Herschell hangs around outside with a bunch of girls who speak like they've just woken up from a coma-dream in which they were sorting periodicals. It's a wild scene, man. They also talk about the Bible a lot.

In fact, I think this whole movie is about the Bible. This movie called Blood Freak.

Pretty far out!

From time to time, The Most Interesting Man In The World, your narrator, shows up to wax philosophic about the events which have transpired so far. Or, you know, whatever he feels like. He has a magical power, which is to look like every father everyone has ever had. He also hearts leisure suits.

"Welcome to my Rec Room of Philosophy."

But then he vanishes into a wisp of haughty air and it's back to the movie. Try to guess what our characters are saying to each other - losers get to keep watching! (Winners go home and fuck the prom queen!)

Herschell mumbles his way into a job at Angel's father's poultry farm, but for the time being the pool is calling him! While there he is mercilessly hit on by Ann, who keeps a Band-Aid tin filled with drugs on her person.

Look out, Herschell! You're at a crossroads! 

"I can do without it, thank you," he says about her pot.

"How could such a big hunk of man be such a damned coward?" she inquires.

Peer pressure has never been so textbook. He accepts the marijuana and filters it through his circulatory system. They pass the joint back and forth several times without saying a fucking thing. And THAT'S when the laughter begins.






Then sex happens. It's about as hot as you might expect, considering this was 1972 and Herschell looks like Johnny Cash face-pummeled by oil-covered hammers. But mm, boy, do we get to watch it...minute by minute.

"And then he's all like, 'I've got BINDERS full of women! '"

After their tryst, Herschell is back to his own curmudgeonly self. He hops on his motorcycle and metals on over to the poultry farm. All the cocks are gobbling and he likes to get right up in there, finger them, and gobble back. 

Inside, Herschell meets two scientists doing turkey experiments. One of them, a large and in charge fellow named Dr., I dunno, Huge, is clearly in love with Herschell from the start. They explain that Herschell is to do some odd jobs around the farm, and even make a little more money by eating experimental turkeys to "see if there are any side effects," which is something no one would ever ever agree to.

"Okay, it's a deal," says Herschell.

Shit-kicker music soon starts and Herschell finds himself right at home feeding the turkeys and randomly throwing them around. Soon after he's tuckered out and appears violently ill. Ann grows concerned and calls Guy, who is this huge drug guy who likes drugs and has drugs a lot. He brings drugs right over and Herschell goes nutty for them. He smokes and smokes and soon his sweats and shivers go away. But he grabs Guy and threatens to "break every bone in his miserable body" if he doesn't keep him supplied with drugs, since Guy's the one who got him hooked in the first place (even though it was actually Ann).

Ohhhh, I get it. Angel and Ann! Angel didn't want Herschell to do drugs, but Ann did! Ann as in Sat-an!

How subtle!

Later, Herschell eats experimental turkey meat RIGHT in front of the living turkeys because he is a fucking sadist.

Then the following happens:

Herschell falls into a bush.

Herschell has a seizure. 

Herschell temporarily stops having a seizure. 

The scientists discover Herschell suffering from the turkeyhigh and they "dump him" somewhere. Afterwards, they all have a meeting about what they're going to do. Watch as everyone flubs their lines but forges ahead, anyway.

Their plan is: do nothing. 

Time passes, night falls, and Herschell is still having that seizure. It just may be the longest in history. It also kinda looks like air guitar. 

Later that night, I guess, Herschell goes to Ann's house to knock shit off her tables. Then it's revealed that Herschell has a goddamn fucking huge turkey head now. Ann, not the least put-off by his new bird head, immediately begins describing the future they could no longer have, since Herschell is now Turkish. The longest one-sided conversation in history then occurs until it's implied that Herschell and Ann make turkey whoopy, and he gobbles as they touch beaks.

--"I know I asked for some Wild Turkey, but this is ridiculous!"
--"Shut the fuck up, Barry."

Ann calls an emergency meeting with the Allman Brothers to show them Herschell's new look. Herschell enters the scene, shocking music plays, and then I'm...not quite sure what happens, because it cuts immediately to him walking around outside in his big stupid turkey head.

Herschell ends up at some chick's house, so he grabs her from the car and carries her away as she frantically kicks her feet in fear...without making a fucking sound. It's...the most awkward thing I've ever seen. 

Back at the Herschell Intervention where Herschell isn't, Ann and the Allman brothers talk shit out. They bemoan the fact that it was Guy's drugs which made Herschell an addict and that basically this was all Guy's fault.

"The only thing Guy was ever good for was always having drugs," Duane Allman says, apparently completely missing the point of the conversation he's a part of.

"Smoke pot?"
"Well, all right."

"It's not just Herschell's physical appearance that worries me," explains Greg Allman. "It's his head."

"Maybe later, man, I've gotta run to the sto--"

Meanwhile, with Herschell, he hangs up the broad he kidnapped to stick her, bleed her out, and drink her drug-addled blood, which he is now addicted to. Another broad happens upon this and hilariously screams the exact same scream, over and over. Apparently the editor only had one scream on file, and so he used it nine fucking times in a row. 

He then discovers a couple in a car doing some unsubtle heroin. The dude giving the chick the injection never even pushes the plunger, but she gets hiiiiiiiiiigh anyway. She immediately becomes Herschell's next victim and we're treated to that same scream again two more times. And since this chick is wearing an American flag pattern blouse, now covered in blood, all I can think is, "Yeah, maaan. America is like...a dead drug addict being sucked off by a mutant turk-man...maaaaaan."

An old guy stumbles upon this scene of a dead American girl, strung upside down and covered in her own blood, and is clearly, openly, obviously smiling. He is soon killed by the giant turkey that is Herschell. 

THEN some overweight dude that must have loved that old man hardcore stumbles across his dead body, flips his shit, and then attacks Herschell, only after repeating some of his own screams. I guess Herschell survives this fight, because after a cut, we see him wandering around a field looking disoriented. 

Meanwhile, Guy must be super terrified of Herschell's threat of bodily harm, because he's meeting his dealer to score some drugs. Once Guy and his dealer meet to make the trade, Guy comes up short because he's a dead beat, so he tells the dealer her can just have Ann, since she's there. The dealer agrees and goes immediately for the tits, to which Ann objects. The dealer runs away in fear and runs afoul of a giant turkey named Herschell, much like we all will when our time is up. The dealer ends up on a table saw and Hershell cuts off one of his feet. As Herschell sits below the stump to be douched with the dealer's blood, and as the dealer screams the same scream over and over, I have to confess that this is probably the most amazing thing I've ever seen in film.

This guy loves the cock.

The film pre-ends with Herschell getting his head cut off by the Allman Brothers, which is substituted with an actual shot of a turkey being beheaded. Because, ya know, we needed that.

And then the film actually ends with the revelation that it was all a dream! And Herschell learns a valuable lesson: It was wrong of him to take recreational drugs in addition to the prescriptions he was receiving at the military hospital after his experiences in Vietnam. They must play Blood Freak at every Congressional hearing as a reminder of what could happen if marijuana were ever legalized nationwide. Better just limit our drugs to prescription only, which, as we all know, has never killed anyone.

At film's honest-to-gosh end, Angel tells Herschell to pray to God and ask Him to increase his faith. And he does. But does God answer?

Probably not, since there's no such thing. 

P.S. At the tail end of the Most Interesting Man In The World's final monologue, you can clearly hear the director call "cut."

That's a good idea!