Monday, May 4, 2009

Zoc and Me Look at "Experiments in Terror 3"

So I was sent a screener of a new dvd release titled Experiments in Terror 3. As it's a group of bizarre indie shorts, I was intrigued, of course, and wanted to see it. As Tenebrous Kate described it at her blog Love Train for the Tenebrous Empire, it is "a diverse grouping of weird little films...lovingly assembled by curator Noel Lawrence." It's part of Lawrence's continuing Experiments in Terror series, which has screened (as TK notes), "in a variety of venues from indie cinemas to art galleries."

I proposed to Iloz Zoc of Zombos' Closet of Horror that he, Tenebrous Kate, and I review it together in chat, and cross post our thoughts. Sadly, the alluring and smart TK (who is more than a "technical knockout"!) had to drop out the day we set up this experiment of our own. So Zoc and I reviewed it in chat and just kept referring back (or ripping off, if you prefer) to Kate's review.

The films in EIT3 are:
  • The Psychotic Odyssey of Richard Chase (dolls are used to tell the true story of a serial murderer)
  • Satan Claus (clips from a horror film mashed up with footage of the Mexi-movie Santa Claus)
  • Loma Lynda: The Red Door (a condensed demo reel of a "blood-drenched psychological mystery")
  • Terror! (a clip reel of similar slasher-film scenes from the 80's, mostly)
  • Born of the Wind (an 8mm teenage horror-film short, both an homage and a spoof of '60s horror films)
  • Manuelle Labor (a surreal short by Guy Maddin and a partner, Marie Losier)
  • It Gets Worse (a parody of both silent film expressionism and silent comedy)
Below, edited for typos, is our "Siskel and Ebert" imitation. ("Roeper and Ebert"--feh.) If EIT3 intrigues you, you can buy it at the Microcinema site. (You'll support the indie film preservation efforts of Noel Lawrence, who works hard to find and offer unusual film shorts.)

Zoc: I looked for EIT3 on IMDB, but didn't see it.

Me: To hell with the corporate fellatio that is IMDB! (Raising clenched fist in the air) ;)

Zoc: Swish! and another proletarian head hits the basket.

Zoc: Hey, no fair, you're using emoticons! I can barely type.

Me: YOU can barely type? I don't even exist! I'm a roomful of monkeys--one of us at a time accidentally producing coherent sentences!

Zoc: Well, then send a few of them over to help me out. While I'm waiting let's discuss the first film on Richard Chase.

Me: You know, when I was told that the first film on the review screener I was going to get was a Dick Chase film, I thought it was going to be a different sort of film!

Zoc: Long pause as I look up Dick Chase...

Me: Aw, Zombos, you don't look up subtext!

Zoc: Ohhhhhh. I did find Deck Chairs, though.

Me: Well, moving on from a latently homoerotic bit of wordplay (Are you as turned on as I am?), I liked the film.

Zoc: Very jarring given the use of action figures, wasn't it? (Choosing to ignore your subtext...)

Me: Very much so. Tenebrous Kate of Love Train for the Tenebrous Empire (who was supposed to join us here in chat) wrote "Psychotic Odyssey prefers hand-painted cardboard sets populated by fashion dolls, children's drawings and non-documentary found footage to tell its story of gruesome mayhem, somehow making the already-creepy into something creepier-still while eliciting a nervous laugh or two."

I very much agree! Made me remember some of the pretty outrageous stories I acted out as a kid with G.I. Joes and monster figures!

Zoc: TK obviously came to her senses. But getting back to the film, at first, I didn't know what to make of it; was it supposed to be funny or serious. Then I realized it was supposed to be both and neither.

Me: Needless to say, it worked.

Zoc: Funny, but I also played with GI Joe, Barbie, and monsters. Hmmmm...
I liked dressing up Barbie more than GI Joe. But he had the cool stuff.

Me: The use of dolls and paper figures, etc., distanced us enough to allow us to be absorbed into the story, which was tragic and repellent.

Me: BTW, I laughed when dressing up GI (gastro-intestinal?) Joe AS Barbie!

Zoc: The use of the slowed-down, muffled narration was odd, though.

Me: Meant to suggest the inner distorted "voice' of Chase himself, mebbe?

Zoc: Not bad; I hadn't thought of that. I'll have to steal it for my review.
So I think we both agree this first movie is a keeper.

Me: Hey, I'm running this chat in toto, pal. Thievery will be obvious. ;) Yes, it's a keeper!

Zoc: Satan Clause didn't quite make sense, either esthetically or storywise. Too choppy for me.

Me: Not for me, but the extreme soft grain was very distracting for me. How was this preserved? Did he shoot an 8mm copy while it ran, then later transfer it to tape, and then dvd? Looked like it. It was just amusing enough to be a keeper. (Liked it better a second time, watching it on my small computer monitor.) Works best knowing the back story behind it. TK ran an expanded version of the back story for SC, and reading it first helps.

Zoc: Must have scared those poor kids like crazy.

Me: Yeah! I like to think I'd have dug it!

Zoc: Knowing you, I don't doubt it. Just felt the editing could have been better. What's with the corpse and the cops? It doesn't quite make sense when strung together with the big bad red Satan.

Me: Okay, the liner notes say SC was 16mm. Sure didn't look like it!

Zoc: So with this one I'm more nay, and you are yay...

Me: Well, the whole thing was cobbled together from what J.X. Williams had on hand as a projectionist. It was bound to be somewhat disjointed. Worked for me, but your mileage apparently varied.

Zoc: It does make you uneasy watching it, which was its intent. So points for that. Moving to Loma Lynda: The Red Door, I'm not sure I can say much about this one because we only see a snippet of it here. I'd rather see the whole film before critiquing it. TK wrote: "Bognacki's visuals are striking and I'm curious to see how he works what look like trademark effects work into feature-length piece. I particularly dug the scratchy block-out that's superimposed over the actress' eyes. As an appetite-whetter, this piece certainly succeeds..."

Me: It's described as a "demo reel" for a feature-length film, and I thought it succeeded as that--it made me want to see the whole she-bang. (Pun intended, given the story seen in the clip.) I thought it succeeded in being a surreal and nightmarish representation of a violent experience, as seen through the eyes of someone with a fragmented personality. And it was blessedly crisp and professional and WELL-DESIGNED looking!

Zoc: That's what makes it visually interesting at first. The slow-motion walk, in closeup, through the city streets. Then all of a sudden, the tirade begins, and it is so vitriolic and insane, it goes on and on. I found it hard to watch as he unravels.

Me: It was hard to take in a GOOD way, unlike, say, It Gets Worse. But I'm getting a HEAD of myself.

Zoc: Very bizarre. One psychotic man with insane hatred, and one girl split into two personalities. Quite a pair. I found it too outre, though. Which may make it more appealing to a smaller fringe audience (he says, ignoring the big HEAD.)

Me: You ignore my big head at your peril! (Mwah ha ha ha ha!) A keeper for me, a maybe for you?

Zoc: I think we both found it fascinating and well-done (the movie, that is); although I'm just not sure how sustainable it can be at feature-length.

Me: I'm also a bit doubtful, which is why I'll happily recommend this Reader's Digest version.

Zoc: Now, both of us agreed that Ben River's Terror! didn't quite pass the mustard.

Me: Were you terrified by Terror!?

Zoc: No, just disgusted at the end with the explicit gore scenes.

And if you work another Big Head joke into this I'll come over and gore you myself.

Me: Don't worry, you can look for head elsewhere. I expected the gore, if not exactly "my cuppa." What I didn't expect--and was let down by--was the lack of anything new made by editing together the like scenes from all those slasher films.

Zoc: (groan) It's an overlong 24 minute or so bunch of clips with a punch line. And the punch line isn't worth it the wait.

Me: It struck me as a not-very-interesting academic film history exercise.

Zoc: TK found it fun to guess that film, but I wanted more. His editing of the scenes didn't quite gel, either.

Me: Assignment: Find similar scenes in American slasher films, and leisurely string them together, grouped by type...Well, outside of a film class appreciation, not much to recommend. No creative editing, no fun or implied commentary (except maybe "See how alike these films are?")!

Zoc: Agreed. Even devout horror fans may find it more tedious than enlightening. Not so with Kuchar's Born of the Wind; this mummy brought to life story, at first, made me wonder why they bothered to preserve this one. But as a critic, I realize I really can't feel that way. On further examination, there are a few interesting setpieces here that may make for a really good film.

Me: Born of the Wind sure has a misleading title, but it was fun.

Zoc: The acting was stiff, of course, and the silent treatment, with acting suited toward it, doesn't really help the storyline. Some scenes are oddly framed, too. In one instance, the mad scientist is mixing his potion by a flowering plant. The camera angle frames the plant better than him. Go figure.

Me: It plays exactly like what it is: a no-budget, 8mm, horror-film-trope mashup with a goofball ending, made by horror and sci-fi-loving teenagers.

Zoc: Yes, that ending reminded me of Plan 9 From Outer Space and Ed Wood zaniness.

Me: It was included largely because it's an early film project by noted underground filmmakers the Kuchar Bros.. It reminded me of the stuff found on the Monster Kid Home Movies dvd* of a few years ago. Thumbs up from me, even if not as original and interesting as the also no-budget Psychotic Odyssey of Richard Chase.

Zoc: Kuchar did not create any emotional depth here, which keeps the film more curiosity than drama, but I agree it's interesting enough.

Now why didn't we ever do home movies?

Me: What you mean "we" white man? (He said, quoting an old joke involving the Lone Ranger and Tonto.)

Zoc: I did horror radio dramas, but no movies. Oh, did you do them?

Me: Well, to be honest, I wrote home movie scripts, but shot only one reel.

Zoc: Oh, my God, you actually used film?

Me: You were expecting chopped liver, maybe? But I bet my scripts had as much story and characterization as Emmanuelle in Labor, the next film on EIT3.

Zoc: That's Manuelle Labor. Sometimes I wonder where your head is at.

Me: I thought we were leaving out head jokes, but you sure have set me up for one! I was a breech baby, by the way. No, I think I was created in a lab--it was so long ago, it's hard to remember.

Zoc: Moving right along...TK notes it plays like a Dame Darcy comic strip without the lovely illustrations or high level of wackiness. I don't think I've ever read Dame Darcy.

Me: Me neither!

Zoc: What's the deal with use of the silent motif? Dialog is important to the story, yet once again, we get visual interpretations poorly formed and conveyed.

Me: It sure was pretty looking with the gauzy focus and bright lights and all, but the central image of a woman giving birth to a pair of arms with a roomful of approving people on hand is all there is! Where's Guy Maddin's eccentric story-telling? It was like a segment out of a longer film by Dali.

Zoc: Right, and end the story there. Instead it continues, like one hand clapping.

Dali Lama? Hello Dali? Corner Dali?

Me: No, a camera Dolly! So, no passing grade for ML from you and me, eh?

Zoc: Not much here to critique. We agree it's pretty much the weakest link. Great opening idea, no story to follow it up. And minimal cinematic grace to cover the deficit. Which brings us to Clifton Childree's It Gets Worse. And all I can really say about this one is, No It Doesn't.

Me: A giant turd flies out of a fat, middle-aged guy's ass and lands across a room atop an open hot dog bun. Then he shoots a giant load of jizz across the room on top of it, and another guy, who didn't see any of this, eats it. That's all you need to know about the sensibility of the film.

Zoc: TK found this to be a guilty pleasure. I find it a guilty shame. And "visionary" is not a term I'd use here for Childree. He aims to insult, disgust, and mortify, and by God he does it quite well and then some. But in place of visionary I'd use incendiary. He incites either awes or godawfuls, and nothing in between.

Me: It took me back to when I was twelve and laughed at anything "taboo." I admit I nervously giggled a few times, and rolled my eyes. I watched it with someone else, who said, "This is the most retarded thing I've ever seen."

Zoc: Precisely. The movie has hit its mark. But what's so annoying is the man has incredible talent. Misguided, yes, but quite a boatload of it. After watching this film I can't watch a Max Fleischer Popeye cartoon without thinking about Master Bates and the Dong Clock.

Me: John Waters and the Farrelly Bros already blazed that trail; I'm too grown up to care about that kind of "daring" film anymore.

Zoc: Damn you Childree! Maybe then we are too old for this type of film fare. Then again, maybe we are too sensible.

Me: Damn him all to Hell!

Zoc: I still don't know what his story was all about, when you take away the visual scatology.

Me: No. No one who knows me ever says I'm sensible. But there was an attempt to do a sort of homage to silent expressionism, I think, but it was so weak that nothing much was on offer.

That about wraps up our review of EIT3. Until next time, shall we close the balcony?

Zoc: Sure. On the whole, was Experiments in Terror 3 worthwhile?

Me: Yes, but just barely. 2 films were strong offerings in my view, 2 were less so but fun, 2 were just okay at best, and one made me wish I could get my 32 minutes back.

Zoc: I agree. Perhaps a longer collection would be better overall, esthetically. That would give more opportunity for anyone to find gems among the baubles.

Me: I'd have settled for more sparkly baubles, even, but you're right. The annual Spike and Mike collections of short films offer so many at one time that there's enough to please anyone's taste. Wish that was true here.

Goodbye Zombos' Closet of Horror, and may you find loose change under your theater seat!

Zoc: Hell with the change, I want bills, baby. Until next time...


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