Showing posts with label suicide. Show all posts
Showing posts with label suicide. Show all posts

Sep 22, 2020

DEAD DICKS (2019)


If David Cronenberg had a sense of humor, he would’ve made something like Dead Dicks. Pushing aside, of course, the obvious connection that Dead Dicks is a Canadian genre production, I’m actually focusing more on the large, otherworldly, interdimensional vagina that’s growing out of the apartment wall modeled after the opening that protrudes from James Woods in Cronenberg’s Videodrome, but which acts like Phantasm’s space gate. In the same way that the Tall Man sees his comeuppance throughout the Phantasm series and a fresh copy of the Tall Man re-enters the world through said space gate, removes his corpse, and takes over for him from there, Richard (Heston Horwin) is caught in a never-ending cycle where he’s desperate to end his own life inside his cramped apartment, but each time he does, a fresh copy of him is borne from this giant vaginal opening in his bedroom.

Written and directed by first-time feature directors Chris Bavota and Lee Paula Springer, Dead Dicks is a wild way to break onto the scene, and that it’s being distributed by Philadelphia label Artsploitation Films is both a minor victory for the filmmakers and a way of labeling Dead Dicks as certainly outside the norm. In case you’re unfamiliar with the label (and you should really dive deep into their catalog if you are), Artsploitation Films releases uncompromising international titles that defy genre conventions and will never be caught dead screening at your local multiplex. While some of their titles veer way outside normality at the expense of the story being told, their most successful titles are those that play with strange and wild ideas while infusing their stories with real, relatable, emotional backbones that make such wild ideas wholly approachable. Germany’s Der Samurai, a previous acquisition from the label, is a perfect example of this balance (and, honestly, is a favorite of my own), and Dead Dicks eagerly follows in its footsteps. A little bit horror, science fiction, comedy, and drama, Dead Dicks is obviously hard to categorize. What it very much is, however, is about something – in this case, mental illness, depression, suicide, and how those things can affect a family that’s not prepared to deal with it. Bearing the brunt of Richie’s burden is his sister, Becca (Jillian Harris), who has spent her adult life trying to offer support to her sullen brother but feels her patience running out and wanting nothing more than to, for the first time, focus on her own life. The giant vagina and an apartment filled with copies of Richie’s dead body certainly puts the kibosh on that.

Based on the collection of genres that it bandies about, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Dead Dicks’ tone gets a little schizophrenic at times, exacerbated by inconsistencies with how “serious” the characters are taking the very surreal events of the story during certain times. Through a weakness in the writing or a strange choice to convey Becca’s initial ambivalence over Richie’s shocking reveal, it’s hard to tell, and harder still, whether or not to determine if this was intentional to maintain the film’s point about a family’s failure to notice the warning signs about suicidal behavior, but once we move beyond this initial point, the amount of seriousness over the siblings’ surreal new reality begin to take centerstage, which allows for moments of perfect humor to balance out the story’s darker themes. Indeed, unlike most genre films, Dead Dicks’ second act is the most effective in the film, allowing the audience to settle into the film’s surreal concept and also allowing them to find humor in the situation. (There’s a pretty great moment when Richie looks down at one of his own dead bodies and laughs immaturely at how it looks – you’ll have to see the film to understand why.)

Horwin and Harris are capable leads, with Horwin having to do much of the emotional work. He proves himself highly capable of carrying such heaviness in his performance even in the midst of the R-rated cartoon his life has become, while Harris struggles at times to offer a consistent performance. I wouldn’t ever describe her role as being poorly presented, but she seems more comfortable with the smaller moments than the ones dependent on dramatic bravado. (Her comedic timing, however, is perfect.) Still, being that we’re dealing with low budget filmmaking, the ensemble is up to the task in ways you might not expect from reading the plot synopsis, and that goes for every performer. In keeping with the wackiness, the last few moments of Dead Dicks are, to be honest, befuddling, and I’m not sure how the ending will land with most viewers (I’m still working it around in my head), but one thing is for sure: if the out-there breakdown of Dead Dicks’ plot appeals to the part of you that’s become bored with mainstream genre filmmaking, then you’re already the intended audience and likely more willing to put the extra work into determining what it all means. If you can and do, be sure to drop me a line and tell me because I’m still in the dark.

Dead Dicks is now on Blu-ray and DVD from Artsploitation Films.

Sep 21, 2019

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1995)


It goes without saying that John Carpenter gave the world the absolute greatest horror remake with The Thing. I highly doubt you could find many individuals willing to contest that. Fourteen years later, he gave the world another remake of a classic from the golden age. Utterly reviled upon its release (much like The Thing), Village of the Damned enjoyed a fine opening weekend at the box office and made enough money to be considered a success. But unlike The Thing, most critics and fans have not done a 180 as far as Village is concerned. They hated it then and they hate it now. Their reasoning for their distaste runs rampant: miscasting, a severe lack of character development, a thinly-plotted and inconsistent script.

I can’t say I disagree with any of that. But more on that in a minute.

A quick rundown of the plot for those who have never seen it (and you should be warned, spoilers abound from here till the end): the town of Midwich falls victim to a mysterious black-out of sorts that causes everything with a pulse to pass out. For hours, all lay crumpled on the floor, or the ground (or yikes...the roaring grill). They eventually awake, unsure of what’s happened, but try to get on with their lives...until it’s revealed that all of the women in town are now mysteriously pregnant, including the virgin, or the biologically barren. The government catches wind, shows up to see what’s the what, and once there, never actually leaves again. The children are born with blonde hair and a very special skill set: they have the power to control your mind and make you do things you would never normally do - to others as well as yourself. Carnage, as always, ensues.


Even the most ardent Carpenter fan (and I certainly count myself as one) has to admit that he peaked with The Thing, and after They Live, never quite reached the same heights of quality again. (In the Mouth of Madness is the only exception.) And Village of the Damned is nestled somewhere in his run of entertaining-but-maudlin offerings of the 1990s.

Nothing against Christopher Reeve, but he doesn’t quite bring his A-game to this production, and I doubt it was an indifference to the material, considering (and not to speak ill of the dead) that he wasn’t really one of the more celebrated thespians of his generations for a reason. Still, he’s perfectly satisfying as Dr. Alan Chaffee, and from time to time even feels more at home playing the father of an evil alien leader than he ever did as Superman. Given their working relationship and lasting friendship, it’s way too easy to picture Kurt Russell in the Chaffee role - that kind of simple fan-casting has the power to make you look back on the film with incredibly different, what-could-have-been eyes. Linda Kozlowski (mostly known for the Crocodile Dundee franchise) also provides a perfectly serviceable performance as Jill McGowan, but spends most of the film looking dour and downtrodden. The only one apparently having any fun is Kirstie Alley as Dr. Vurner, the cigarette-smoking, fed-clothes wearing bitch who seems to know from the very beginning just what is happening to the town of Midwich... but doesn't feel the need to clue in anyone else until it’s basically too late. (Oh, let's not forget Mark Hamill, cheesing it up as Reverend George, just pleased as punch to be part of a major studio production again.)

The problem is there is barely any interaction between characters in this film. Reeve has scenes with everyone, but the other supporting characters barely speak to each other. Though they both have major roles, Kozlowski and Alley don’t exchange a single word to each other. Perhaps it was a purposeful choice to limit Dr. Vurner’s interaction with other members of the town, but there doesn't seem to be an endgame to support it. Much more information could have been fed to the audience; more opportunities for human drama were missed. For instance, Vurner wants to dissect the kids, knowing that they're evil. Yet, Jill's blond son seems decent and good. Right there could have been an interesting conflict worth pursuing.


The biggest flaw with the script by David Himmelstein (including an uncredited rewrite by occasional Carpenter writing partner Larry Sulkis [Ghosts of Mars] and Steven Siebert) is that it feels like whole sections were removed - either in the writing stage or the editing stage. Obviously there have to be leaps through time in order for the newborns to age, from infant to toddler to elementary-school age, but often time it feels as if important developments are also being left behind. For instance, at a town hall meeting, Dr. Vurner confirms that every fertile female in town has become mysteriously pregnant, and therefore has attracted government attention. She presents them with a choice: Have an abortion and the government will pay for it, or carry the children to term and the government will pay for that, too - along with a monthly allowance of three thousand dollars. (The catch for this second choice is that Dr. Vurner or her team of scientists would like access to the children on a weekly basis for research purposes.) After the pregnant women have dreams featuring some really bad ‘80s music-video-inspired set dressing, they all decide to keep their kids. This really fucks up Vurner’s plan to cut open one of the aborted fetuses to see what they’re made of. Long preamble aside, this is the point: All the women in town are pregnant. Earlier I described them as “fertile” women, but that’s really just an assumption. It’s never stated if it really is every woman (the young? the elderly?) or just the ones biologically capable of carrying to term. Vurner confirms that “all [the women] have decided to keep their babies.” When the time comes, dozens (dozens!) of women go into labor. There is only one confirmed miscarriage. But yet, we jump through time, and there are only nine of the special children. So what happened to the rest? Were there more? Did the others die? Were the other children born normally? If so, where are they? And why wasn’t this ever mentioned?

Speaking of the one woman who miscarried, why is so she so upset about it? At this point it’s well-established that there is something off about the kids - and that they’re kinda jerks. So why wait five or six or seven years to blow her head off? One would think she’d be relieved she didn’t squeeze out one of the little blond turds.

But hey, we’re here to defend Village of the Damned, right?


It’s no surprise that, muddied screenplay aside, Carpenter’s direction and choices manage to shine through and make some of the more absurd aspects of the film interesting. For someone who questioned his ability as an "actor's director" in the beginning of his career, his ease with successfully utilizing children - nine, in fact - is cause for celebration.

First, it's rare when the performances by a child outshine those of their adult counterparts. Lindsey Haun as Mara, the children's ringleader, is quite good. Her role is atypical, and her task is memorizing large chunks of somewhat complicated and technical dialogue while removing any semblance of emotion from her voice. She very much manages to be eerie and intimidating, and as far as evil kids go, is far more effective than the kid from The Omen

Playing the thorn in Mara's side is the young Thomas Dekker as David, the only of the children seemingly born with humanity. His role is actually surprisingly complex in a philosophical aspect. He questions himself constantly, confused by these "emotions" he sometimes feels. He questions why he mourns for someone he's never met - that of the baby which miscarried, which would have been his "partner." From the very beginning he seems different from the rest, and his mother recognizes this. Dekker is quite good as well, and would go on to have a rather successful career for a young actor, his most high profile role as that of John Connor in television's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles." (Although, to me, he'll always be the hospital-bound Bobby in the episode of "Seinfeld" who demands that Kramer tell Yankee Paul O'Neill he needs to hit two home runs.)

(As an aside, I'll mention that one of the other children is played by Shawna Waldron, best known as having played Icebox in Little Giants. She has one line of dialogue - it's not bad. The end.)

There's an especially well-constructed montage which takes place at the funeral of the young woman who opted to remove herself from earth following her miscarriage. Reverend George gives an impassioned eulogy for the departed, all the while (and it would seem, for the first time), acknowledging the evil that has plagued their small town.
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…
It's the first and perhaps only time in the film a parent attempts to reach out to the other parents and ask them, basically, "Our kids are the fucking devil. Is there anything we can do?" Juxtaposed against this scene are the children out and about, doing some single-file marching. It sounds stupid, and Hammil's monologue borders on the cheesy, but with Carpenter's eye and music, it works quite well.

The visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) is impressive. What was a somewhat hokey effect in the original Village has been re-imagined, utilizing the full color spectrum that changes in accordance to the children's level of intensity they are exhibiting, and sometimes even revealing the children's interior physical structure at key moments. Granted, what looked impressive in 1995, compared to the CGI extravaganzas of today in which entire countries are eviscerated, might seem somewhat simple, but ILM, who worked with Carpenter previously on Starman and Memoirs of an Invisible Man, does nice work here.


Ohhh...and the finale. How I love this finale. Once again, the use of Carpenter’s superior musical skills (sharing duty with Dave Davies) makes the finale incredibly affecting. From the first shotgun shell to the final explosion, the music, the quick (and quickening) cuts, and the jumping back and forth among the carnage outside - it’s all immensely suspenseful and satisfying. It gets your blood pumping and works on a very simplistic level - it appeals to what Carpenter calls “the lizard brain” the human race still possesses from our very early genetic roots; our need for destruction and domination. The finale is quite literally a race against time, permeated by the ticking clock counting down to the detonation of the explosives hidden inside Chaffee’s briefcase. And the brick wall he envisions in his head to block the children from seeing his motivations for keeping them in the old barn begins to slowly chip away. The music builds and builds and - in one of my favorite moments of any Carpenter film - finally ceases, a small choir on the soundtrack lets out a single sigh, all goes quiet, the kids look at the clock realizing this has been his plan all along...and quite literally, the roof is blown off the place. It's the stuff of film boners.

I remember reading at one point that Wes Craven was attached to this remake, a stipulation of his current contract with Universal Studios, and John Carpenter offered to Craven that he would take it on instead. This knowledge, coupled with his own comments on the original movie calling it "hilarious," would make one think that Village of the Damned wasn't exactly a passion project. But the aforementioned finale on which I heaped all my praise was evidently enough for the filmmaker to take on the assignment.

He said:
"The reason I wanted to remake The Thing was because of the blood test [scene]. The reason I wanted to remake this one [Village] was because of the brick wall scene."
When I was a wee one, I remember sitting down at the dinner table with my family and listening to my parents discuss the winners and losers at that year's Academy Awards, which had aired a night or two before. (Braveheart took home best picture.) I remember asking, in all of my naivety, if Village of the Damned had won any awards (as I had just seen it on video that week). My father gave me a funny look and asked, "For what? Worst movie of the year?" Also during this time, I had known someone personally who had gone to see Village in theaters, and had become so terrified that she began having a panic attack and an ambulance had to be called. This was kind of a defining moment for me as a film fan. At this young age I realized there was a real chasm between films that critics liked and films that general moviegoers liked - and an additional chasm strictly between moviegoers, who have never and will never agree on the quality of any one film.


I would never call Village of the Damned a great film, because, to be honest, it's not. But there are enough good things about it to justify its own existence. 

Aug 30, 2013

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SUICIDE

Though suicide is a common element in tales of lost love and heartbreak, the subject usually ends it all because of a lover’s death or betrayal. However, there are exceptions. A tortured young woman said to haunt New York City’s Empire State Building took her life for an entirely different reason.

On May 1, 1947, 23-year-old Evelyn McHale leapt from the top of the Empire State Building. Her body landed on a United Nations limousine over a thousand feet below, obliterating the roof of the car and horrifying pedestrians passing by the iconic landmark.

The commotion drew photography student Robert Wiles who snapped a photo of McHale just minutes after her death. Though Evelyn plummeted 86 stories, or 1,050 feet, Wiles’ photo reveals a calm, beautiful corpse, eyes closed, fingers still clutching a pearl necklace. Though McHale looks as if she could be sleeping, the limousine’s mangled roof and shattered glass tell a different story.

Wiles’ shocking photo ran in the May 12 issue of Life magazine with a caption that read “At the bottom of the Empire State Building, the body of Evelyn McHale reposes calmly in grotesque bier, her falling body punched into the top of a car.” Evelyn’s desperate act came to be known as “the most beautiful suicide” and newspapers around the world published the haunting image. The photo even inspired Andy Warhol’s Suicide (Fallen Body) serigraph, part of his Death and Disaster series.

So why did McHale leap to her death? She apparently didn’t think she was fit to be a wife. “He is much better off without me,” Evelyn wrote in a suicide note discovered at the scene. “I don’t think I would make a good wife for anybody. The “he” in the note was Barry Rhodes, an ex-GI studying in Lafayette, PA. McHale and Rhodes had planned to marry the following month and the two had just celebrated Rhodes’ 24th birthday.

Though one might think Barry would have noticed something off about his young bride-to-be, he was as shocked as anyone, telling reporters “when I kissed her goodbye she was happy and as normal as any girl about to be married.” It seems McHale’s motives will forever remain a mystery.



Story and image source.

Apr 20, 2013

THE TAPE

During the summer of 1983, in a quiet town near Minneapolis, Minnesota, the charred body of a woman was found inside the kitchen stove of a small farmhouse. A video camera was also found in the kitchen, standing on a tripod and pointing at the oven. No tape was found inside the camera at the time. 
Although the scene was originally labeled as a homicide by police, an unmarked VHS tape was later discovered at the bottom of the farm's well (which had apparently dried up earlier that year). 
Despite its worn condition, and the fact that it contained no audio, police were still able to view the contents of the tape. It depicted a woman recording herself in front of a video camera (seemingly using the same camera the police found in the kitchen). After positioning the camera to include both her and her kitchen stove in the image, the tape then showed her turning on the oven, opening the door, crawling inside, and then closing the door behind her. Eight minutes into the video, the oven could be seen shaking violently, after which point thick black smoke could be seen emanating from it. For the remaining 45 minutes of video, until the batteries in the camera died, it remained in its stationary position. 
To avoid disturbing the local community, police never released any information about the tape, or even the fact that it was found. Police were also not able to determine who put the tape in the well, or why the height and stature of the woman in the video didn't come close to matching the body they'd found in the oven.


Image source.

Jan 7, 2013

SEA OF TREES

Called "the perfect place to die," the Aokigahara forest has the unfortunate distinction as the world's second most popular place to take one's life.

Japanese spiritualists believe that the suicides committed in the forest have permeated Aokigahara's trees, generating paranormal activity and preventing many who enter from escaping the forest's depths. Complicating matters further is the common experience of compasses being rendered useless by the rich deposits of magnetic iron in the area's volcanic soil.

Due to the vastness of the forest, desperate visitors are unlikely to encounter anyone once inside the so-called "Sea of Trees," so the police have mounted signs reading "Your life is a precious gift from your parents," and "Please consult the police before you decide to die!" on trees throughout.

Locals say they can easily spot the three types of visitors to the forest: trekkers interested in scenic vistas of Mount Fuji, the curious hoping for a glimpse of the macabre, and those souls who don’t plan on returning.

The forest workers have it even worse than the police. The workers must carry the bodies down from the forest to the local station, where the bodies are put in a special room used specifically to house suicide corpses. The forest workers then play jan-ken-pon — which English-speakers call rock, paper, scissors — to see who has to sleep in the room with the corpse.

It is believed that if the corpse is left alone, it is very bad luck for the yurei (ghost) of the suicide victims. Their spirits are said to scream through the night, and their bodies will move on their own.


More.


Now Available:
The world’s oldest celebration comes to life in The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween, an anthology that honors the darkest and strangest night of the year. Each story is designed to be intrinsically and intimately about Halloween—its traditions, its myths, and its effects—and they run the gamut from horrifying to heartbreaking. Halloween night is the tapestry through which a haunted house, a monstrous child, a late-night drive to a mysterious destination, and other tales are weaved. Demons are faced, death is defied, and love is tested. And not everyone makes it out alive. The End of Summer has arrived.