Thursday, April 19, 2007

Nevermore - This Godless Endeavour

A sage used to keep the neighbours up all night, his vociferous mind sprinting relentlessly over all the matters of the day worth contemplating. His favourite pastime was coining neologisms. One fateful insomniac night he closed his ears to the dawn birds philandering outside and came up with the word rifferama. Surprised by this assortment of syllables he got to work imposing meaning upon the semantic destitution poking its letters. Hours of meditation brought the conclusion that rifferama referred to an array of musical passages known as riffs and conjured via a guitar, all of equally high calibre, linked together under the rubric of a single song.

It remains to be seen whether the sage had just been listening to Nevermore’s sixth album, This Godless Endeavour, when he sat down to explicate what this nascent word signified. I don’t know what a sage might listen to during the early hours, perhaps something a bit mellower to help ease those adrenaline glands into slumber, a bout of Azure Ray or, staying within the rock/metal sphere, some early Lacuna Coil (before all that horribly banal newfound heaviness). Regardless, one word fills my mind to capacity when considering the work of Nevermore, especially this 2005 album, and that is rifferama.

Intent is declared from the off as ‘Born’ rockets out of the speakers. Veering close to death metal during tremolo-picked ecstasies overlaid on pummelling drum-battery, the opening suggests that this album is upping the ante in terms of viciousness, giving a bludgeoning blow of 7-string brutality to the more melodic aspects of the band’s back catalogue. But no, how wrong we were, for the thick fury gives way initially to an eastern-themed break, then a chorus overflowing with melodies as vocalist Warrel Dane sings a paean to humanism and how despite the fascistic enterprise of religion (my own choice of words) we are born equal. It’s this marrying of ferocious heaviness and melodic hooks that make Nevermore one of the best metal bands to emerge in the last decade, and this synthesis is no less apparent on This Godless Endeavour.

‘Final Product’ opens with the sort of harmonious riffing that wouldn’t seem out of place on a mid-90s Swedish melodic death album – I could just envision In Flames weeping upon hearing it and despairing over their own musical trajectory. ‘My Acid Words’ also brings to mind the dense juggernaut riffs of At The Gates, dynamic and fast, but delicately harmonised at the same time. Yet these riffs quickly segue into other vibrant displays of power-chord melees, the never-ending progression of weighty chunks of guitar potency is indeed unending. Jeff Loomis, shredder extraordinaire, has not balked at packing each and every song with as much guitar-laden content as possible – and does it without things descending into a dull collage of ideas birthed during a late-night jam. There is enough variation and multifariousness to lead to the creation of a wonderful set of dynamics; witness the manoeuvres of ‘Sentient 6’ as it starts with a slow, clean intro, advancing to a soaring chorus, switching to a lead break of smooth harmonies, flowing into a succinct Loomis solo, and finally finishing with a double-bass led, chugging outro.

Ex-Death guitarist James Murphy adds some references to Spiritual Healing in his guest spot on ‘The Holocaust of Thought’, a short ditty appropriately interpolated as a respite towards the latter half of the album. Penultimate track ‘A Future Uncertain’ lovingly intermixes an acoustic intro and midsection with a cavalcade of blusterous riffs propelled along by Van Williams’ thrashing drum track. This comes to a head during the acoustic interlude when tender melodies collide with thundering distortion in a wonderful game of call and response building up to another of Nevermore’s incredibly intricate and technical riffs.

As if the first ten songs were not awesome enough, as if the joyous coalescence of savage guitar assaults and uplifting hooks were simply not up to standard, as if Loomis’ sweep-picked fret gymnastics were just going through the motions, as if Dane’s powerful angst-ridden vocals were whispers in the dark, as if the mighty threads of riffery were no more a preface, the album ends with what can only be described as a godly creation, a sublime typification of everything that came hitherto and more. The vast title-track, stretching out at nine minutes but bolting past in what seems like half that time, is the apogee of this brilliant album, a supreme finale, epic and engaging, fierce and melodious. Announcing itself with a mellow sequence of arpeggiated chords, the song shifts gears into a more up-tempo section led by Dane’s vocals mimicked by a succession of guitar harmonies, before dashing into an assemblage of lustrous riffery. Here we can see the rifferama at its most intense, specifically during the mid-song break where riff upon riff erupt at will escorting us to Loomis’ famed solo. Proceedings end in an immense falsetto shriek proclaiming the coming armageddon as the guitars conclude their unyielding dual chuggathon.

You want a definition of rifferama? Want to know what the hell that damned sage was spouting about? I recommend a listen to This Godless Endeavour, here Nevermore summates the whole notion in ways that words inevitably fail to, and in the process create what could be their most creative work of genius thus far, even surpassing such gems as Dead Heart in a Dead World, no easy feat for sure, but every track on this album drips with ingenuity, a sense of songwriting so often shunned in favour of guitar histrionics, and a perfect blend of ruthless musicianship and melodic invention.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Proposal for a Steven Seagal Musical

The following is the result of absolute astonishment at the lack of musicals about, featuring or dedicated to the modern icon that is Steven Seagal. The reasons for this deficit remain unanswered and will do so until someone mounts a proper cultural analysis of this peculiarity. The present proposal is not meant to explain or clarify how overlooked Seagal has been by the playwrights of Broadway, but aims to rectify things by filling the gap. Consider the following scenario:

Steven Seagal lives a content life. A film today, an album tomorrow. Commercials and business deals regarding energy soft drinks. All is good in the world of Seagal, artistic catharsis is achieved through throwing some blues together on guitar and ends are met through throwing some bad guys into a woodchipper. But bad happenings are afoot. Jealous of Seagal’s canonisation in the field of the action movie, two rising stars of the genre attempt to eliminate the unbeatable competition he poses.

Late one evening, Seagal arrives home after a gig, only to be met in his kitchen by the figures of The Rock and Vin Diesel. Tired by the rifferamas of the gig, Seagal fails to prevent their onslaught. Overpowering him and binding his limbs in rope, the two proceed to transport Seagal to a cabin far out in the woods. Here the kidnapped star is held captive by the duo.

And thus ensues a tale of emotional turmoil where the three must contend with the pressures of the situation. The Rock and Vin Diesel, their relationship already splintered by battles on the bottom shelf, face misgivings about their actions, and must fight through distrust of each other to confront their own inner demons. Seagal, meanwhile, must face the malaise of Stockholm syndrome as he’s dealt torturous viewings of The Pacifier and Doom.

Intermixed in this melodramatic story of masculinity forced to reflect on itself is a set of original songs created especially to heighten the passionate tensions that permeate the narrative. These include such songs as:

‘Knowing Me, Knowing Your Fist In My Face’
‘Ring Of Fire Down Below’
‘Don’t Stop Me Now (Cos I’m Pummelling A Bad Guy)’
‘My Heart Will Go On Deadly Ground’
‘Wonderwall In Your Face, Cunt’.

The finale takes place as the three have to tackle their conflicting feelings in an atmosphere of increasing emotional tensions just as deforesters enter the scene to clear out the remaining redwoods in the area. Amidst diggers, chainsaws and men with hardhats, the three have a final showdown, ending with a rendition of ‘Blowin In The Wind (And Having Steven Seagal Kicking You In The Liver)’.

[Note to potential investors: the author accepts credit cards, postal orders, Paypal, personal cheques and cash. Email for further information.]

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


The spider outside the window speaks in folded tongues, shepherding down a splatter of darkness. Shines in its octal eyes a story of idyllic suburbs harnessed teetering on the edge of precariousness. Interwoven are the cries of ennui, sprinkled into a patchwork advertising Julianne Moore. Her perambulations rest on a bed of euphemisms shading housewife status from onlookers. Triviality infests life: aerobics, diets, church radio, bad jokes, small talk, new age therapy, sofa purchases, herbal tea, Belinda Carlisle – rashes making Ms Moore scratch. Driving into a wall of dejection, cell of husband a floating vacuity. Colours are dyed in paranoia, panic attacks, rubbed sore by the exhilaration of boredom. Erected wallpaper lined with words that say ‘multiple chemical sensitivity’ – toxins embroiled in CFCs, propagating a descent from normalcy. Banishment to desert retreat, cult connotations nailed to the wall, unease spreading tentacles into ginger curls. Isolation, Crazy Joe Davola as a doctor, disintegration like perpetual shrinkage. Nadirs smote by falling psyche, neuroses rampant. Yet, maladies figured on breaths and sniffs belie actual catalysts. Sartre’s angst-ridden plunge, Nausea’s existential dread. Analogies infect in ironic parallels. A society’s crushing, a suburban disease covered up in rhetoric of superficiality; environment? yes; chemicals? no; contemporary life? no doubt. Howard Hawks mimicry, truncate the world, due to? bruises by way of fists of trivial nonsense, and repeat. All framed in washes of lingering, non-partisan camerawork, Haynes blinded by sheen of semiotics. Success runs in distanced characterisation, but discharge of film school pretensions. Plus: wallowing swallows conclusions in a mouth lined with sentimental straw men. Consensus bind, hang-up, to simplistic meanings. Layers of allegory peeled away and a fruit of significance unearthed. More periods and dry irony to come, Haynes and Moore again. Dehydrated fade-down, notions of Faheys missed, questions of Safe clogged with cholesterolic Seagal, motion to end with a not-bad mirrored by a not-great.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Dressing down the ambience with gunfire and bloodshed, the war stumbles onwards. Pages of time frenziedly turned by the fingers of Fahey, paragraphs day-long beheld by Seagal, a hardcover constructed out of fallen shrapnel by Van Damme, collateral damage foisted on high by a smiling effigy of Lundgren. The battle oozes over plains, thinning at the edges as men wielding the tiniest of pencil-moustaches mount a rear attack on their adversaries. The tall vanguard, shielded in debonair graces and a luckless propensity for oral fireworks, throw looks that gel in spirals of hateful fury. The sky is ripped open and outpours two synchronous soliloquies, both embroidered with aristocratic fervour and dripping spools of regency. Awe rages from onlookers creating funnels of webbed glee in the air. Apexes are hit by a sonorous pummelling – a vocal guillotine chops the head of all remaining on the prairies of war.

This struggle has endured countless attempts by the four deities to dip the proceedings in vats of anodyne fluid to quell the continuous eruptions of wrath on both sides. Lined up on one side, blank video tapes for shoes, riding imaginary chickens, are the John Waters brigade, each oathed into allegiance to their quirky, camp master amidst great antenatal turmoil in the womb. The opposite lengths are crowded by towering statuettes, clad in velvet tank-tops, and police sirens spilling forth from their mouths – they are the Vincent Price contingent.

The great voice wars were initially sparked off as the two grand masters sat in the lobby of an advertising agency, each awaiting proclamations from the auditions happening beyond a vast iron door made of melted prophecies and the screams of lemurs. Under the miasma excreted by the gateway, their polite small talk turned into a tennis match of abuse as one would declare his superior talents in the voice department while the other would lambaste those declarations with hammer-blows of dexterous speech. Very quickly the entire building had crumbled to dust around the two barking gentlemen in suits, bounding in and out of monologues soaked in auditory tones so transcendent passersby would be eviscerated on contact – a fatal call-and-response was searing the fabric of existence.

Waters versus Price. Comparable talents on every side. Skills to articulate every possible sentence in the most joyous of vocals – never could a world hold the two of them without some sort of armageddon taking flight in the air. And now here it is, gusting along the grasses of the avenue as a pair of gargantuan heads take up residence in the sky, clouds lacquering sweaty brows, facing each other in preparation for the mighty end confrontation that will decide who has the best voice in the business.

A blurring at the centre of the image, minds are thrust backwards. Heading deep into memories long exfoliated by shower gel, vortexes are smacked sideways as a picture enters the frame. It’s painted in black and white and gesticulates to the mores of 40s Hollywood. Bubbling up into sight is a single word, a term adorned with gravitas pillaged at birth from the film noir in the next cradle – it burns through the whitewash to tell us a story, it goes by the name of Shock.

Flanked by a freeze-frame of the epic duelling luminaries of camp, the tale ushers along our interest. The discourse unwinds and we learn of Janet. She’s been missing her husband – ‘long dead from the foreign conflicts,’ thought her perm. But no, not only is he upright with life, but he’s coming to reignite the fires of marriage, to ring the death knell on her widow tax-breaks. Loaded up on anticipation, she erodes the rocks of temporality by casting her gaze out the window of her hotel room. It’s while doing this that she catches a glimpse of the mannerisms of one Mr Vincent Price – he’s engrossed in an argument with his spouse. Extending her voyeurism into extra-time, Janet gets to view the agitated Price introduce his wife’s head to a candlestick, a meeting that proves fatal for the lady. This homicidal hobby causes our empathetic voyeur to fall into shock, and the state her partner discovers her in is a dedication to Malcolm McDowell, as she sits, eyes wrenched open, ogling fluff sliding down her corneas.

Luckily, Price is a doctor in the psychiatric arts and he takes her to his sanatorium for what he reassures her husband to be some TLC – and not the band, the real stuff, the sort that comes with certificates of authenticity. Price knows that his actions were not unspotted, the woman now his patient had perpetrated a cruel act of panopticism on his murderous pastime. Yet he thinks that manipulation of her remembrance can prevent ten to twenty in the pen. So Price inaugurates a regime of mental terrorism: vetoing desires of her husband to see her, hurtling hypnotic bullets of re-education at her in the night, confiscating her Diagnosis Murder DVDs, etc etc.

Residual shouts from the present fail to rupture this pictorial illustration – Price’s sanatorium goads us to dare look away, sneakily attentive to the fascination flowing out our saliva glands. With Jimmy Stewart bouncing past on the back of a massive bunny, ruminations materialise concerning this house of Dr Price and how eye-catching a location it is for the narrative. Glistening in unison with the pillars stapled to the front lawn, Price spins pseudo-psychiatric poems to offset the damsel’s beau to great effect, while also accruing the coupons necessary for a sojourn with his clandestine lover, a nurse from the clinic. Soon knowledge is issued informing one and all that she’s the vindictive half of this amorous duo – he may be swallowed in regrets and nervous energy, but she ain’t felt a sympathetic sentiment since the last beheading of the Terror. Watch as she reproaches his doubts as to the best way to handle the bedridden patient, as she tears the morals from his body, thus ensuring a hefty dose of injections intended to silence Janet permanently by death.

Shock may smell uneasily like something the studios threw together in-between production meetings for Double Indemnity, but its endearing simplicity is carried by the presence of the gentle vocal strains of Vincent Price. His soothing tonalities rub smooth the jagged dialogue and give added impetus to the suspense effectuated by the question of just how he will deal with this damn witness. Harry Ford had to become Amish and almost surrender the grandiosity of the Ford Punch, but Price need not do anything quite so pious – his voice carries all mystical qualities needed, for it is an arbiter of teleological masturbation. At this time, his raised eyebrows had yet to be steeped in Poe, and not even old Phibes had entered the scene, but bliss is nevertheless communicated with every line of dialogue affixed his person.

Then, under the dusk red of spontaneous cataclysm, the credits polluted the screen and a misty ecstasy filled the room. The blotchings of Shock became faint and a knife-edge lacerated its heart, causing reality to spill forth. There, projected high above the earth, the faces of Vincent Price and John Waters, glances floating locked in time, giving birth to reptilian shards of disdain, on the cusp of a conflict of words, wherein all stands still but for the flaming vowels and detonating consonants streaming across the heavens. And just then the mythical giants were roused, accelerating indeterminably towards annihilation.

Dementia 13

“Are you afraid of death by drowning?” enquires the poster for Dementia 13.

Never one to shy away from a conversation, I engaged as best I could. “Well, doesn’t sound too nice,” I replied.

“Have you ever attempted suicide?” it threw back my way. Flicking a glance over my wrists, I answered in the negative.

“Have you ever thought of committing murder?” A question to which I retorted, “Have you ever seen Loch Ness?”

Feeling smug with the subtle subtext behind my snarky counter, I stood for some minutes before realising that this antiquated film poster was probably not going to commence with me something approaching a dialogue. No, for these are questions to be asked of oneself, a flame to the fuse of an interior monologue, not an artfully crafted conversation piece. But what they are also is a snapshot of the questions to be apparently shot at you in the “D-13 Test” – a cinematic aptitude test scheduled as preparatory ointment for the impending viewing of Dementia 13. Alas, my DVD loaded up before I got the results back, who knows what the verdict was.

Not forgotten and banished to the depths of obscurity like some of its Corman kin (Wasp Woman step forward), Dementia 13 still remains notable in the minds of the quotidian. The reason for this? It is, in effect, Francis Ford Coppola’s first feature. Whilst he may have laboured on some other low-budget fare prior to this, never before had there emerged a film that had even the possibility of enticing the roaming eyes of a 60s wild-child. Quite clearly with this in mind, the only question that crops up is: how does Dementia 13, the opening salvo to a long and chequered career in the motion movies, compare with that legendary masterpiece of which Coppola would be forever known, the artistic inventiveness and profundity that is Jack?

A good question and one that finds its answer somewhere in seventy-odd minutes of retro, drive-in theatre fun.

Out enjoying a night’s bickering on a rowing boat, a married couple spit insults at each other. Invective is punctuated by contemplations about the stipulations of a will belonging to the man’s mother. Deathly sick by the snub it gives her, the lady harangues the man, for she wants all the moneys. Just as rejoinders concerning “to hell with you, nothing’ll come your way so long as I don’t right now die of a heart attack,” the man dies of a heart attack. However, thankfully he makes the best of the situation, bragging to the last breathe that due to this whole dying malarkey she’ll get little more than a kick in the gut, and maybe a few Sliders DVDs, but fuck all riches.

So he dies, she throws the body in the water and sets about ingratiating herself with the in-laws. But before she has time to work her way up to good natured jokes about menopause, she’s dealt a hand of murder – her blonde life extinguished by some mysterious figure in black. The family, unbeknownst to them the full, gory details, continue with their regular routines. Yet, how regular we can deem their routines when said days concern the repetition of the funeral of an infant daughter/sister who snuffed it some years back remains to be seen. Who killed our femme fatale? And what of these subsequent deaths – who’s behind all this bloodshed?

The veil of the whodunit floats down from the rafters, crinkled and still smelling from the time Francois Ozon played with it. It’s the old story: here are some potentially homicidal gents living in the Irish countryside, surrounded by peat and comical caricatures (“aye, by the balls of Finn MacCool!” cries the groundsman), and we are to guess the assailant. Is it the older brother with the Johnny Cash face? How about the younger brother with his disturbingly gap-laden dreams? Perhaps Patrick Magee and his shyster moustache?

The fact that legend orates that Corman requested Coppola make some Psycho-esque picture to capitalise on all that Hitchcockian fervour in the streets is of little surprise. Teasing hints at ghostly doings and various spectral agencies up to no good quickly give way to a spattering of the tangible. Trauma, repressed memories and psychological precariousness are the order of the day here – fully embracing the Hitchcockian method of conjuring horror, albeit with added blood and less implied violence.

At the beginning I was slightly worried having missed the first dozen installments, but it turns out that no background knowledge need be possessed to enjoy the film – and enjoy it we will, as surprising as that may be. Whilst I couldn’t give a shit about Coppola and his pursuits in the world of Mario Puzo, Dementia 13 is well-shot and decently written, and looking at it, it comes as no surprise that he went on to successes beyond this. Plus, like Bucket of Blood, it shows that AIP and Corman could make films of quality, not weighed down by nonsense like having a budget. With a plot nicely rounded up at the end, and a story comfortably diverging from its hackneyed inception, I eagerly await the next chapter, Dementia 14: Jack’s Revenge.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Neighbour #13

Erupting forth with a ditty swollen in upbeat kernels and bathed in splashes of unremitting sunshine, Australian soap Neighbours paints a cheery portrait of neighbour relations. Sure, it’s not always grinning barbeques and chuckling cork-hats, but we can always rely on swathes of merriment to claw away those doldrums. However, not all of us can live adjacent to Harold Bishop, to be shone on by his uplifting jowls when just punched in the gut by a frustrating day. No, some of us aren’t that lucky. Look at Matthew Modine and Melanie Griffith in Pacific Heights: youthful, prosperous couple, they buy a nice San Fran house, rent out the bottom apartment, but what they don’t know is that they’re going to get a tenant who is a psychopathic Michael Keaton. Talking of tenants – that Roman Polanski, he’s a wild one, caused his neighbours plenty of midnight turmoil, running around in street-corner garb, flicking a knife at all angles. And Corey Feldman in The Burbs – if I’d been there I’d have said to old man Hanks ‘forget about those eccentrics next door, it’s that dodgy boy from The Goonies who needs a good day’s fist-to-face action.’

Yasuo Inoune picks up this baton of neighbour-melodrama, exquisitely greased already by everyone from Hitchcock (Rear Window) to Henenlotter (Basketcase), and drives it straight into the realm of the psychothriller with The Neighbour #13.

Set much of the time around the sort of small apartment complex we’ve come to expect from every Japanese film not featuring samurai, this number orbits the fortunes of two of the doors on this terraced selection-box. Having just moved into the ground floor shelter of number thirteen (fairly trite, I know), the shy Juzo loves nothing more than to peacefully sit in his orange body-warmer, meticulously sifting through his boxes of belongings. Upstairs resides a young family: the father, bravado permeating every expletive lunging from his throat, the mother, sores of repressed vigour bouncing out her cleavage, and the son, his eyes shaped like the Playstation 2’s analogue joypad. Juzo gets a job at a local building site, a place where yer man from upstairs is a foreman, one who likes nothing better than to beat, tease and bully the peons placed under his tyrannical wing. Things are not looking too promising for poor Juzo and his gentle demeanour. But yet, something rumbles underneath the surface, something revelling in decadent violence.

A handful of cuts to a dreamlike sequence involving a naked Juzo in a remote shed tell us that something is not quite right with this lad, and later we discover that not only does Juzo have an unpleasant neighbour living inside the studio above him, but he also has an unpleasant neighbour living inside his own head. That’s right – Juzo is victim to an acute case of alternating personality. And unfortunately for him, the scarred ogre who inhabits his other side is mentally deranged and intent on serving everyone he comes across the largest portions of pain and suffering he can cook up. Juzo can only stand by and passively watch as person upon person is introduced to this psychotic’s wrath.

The most obviously pressing issue to note here is that the spectre of Takeshi Miike permeates the entire film. Popping up for his own cameo at one point, the Japanese director is able to recuperate some of cameo-kudos formerly-lost after his pointlessly hilarious skit in Hostel. Beyond that, not only is the film produced by the man who did the paperwork for Fudoh: The New Generation (the film that marked Miike’s escape from the world of TV movies), but in the columns headed Style and Tone, we can also see a splattering of the notorious cult icon.

Taking us a step-down from the effects-loaded razzmatazz of some of the more recent Miike projects, such as The Great Yokai War (a live-action Miyazaki, no doubt) and Izo (a bloated, pretentious hiccup, no doubt), The Neighbour #13 harkens back to the days when budgets were squeezed by threats and shooting schedules were written on a pinhead. Easing comfortably into the chair of dark visuals, grimy atmosphere and deadpan bloodshed, this film has Miike’s name written all over it. But it’s not his name this time, it’s Yasuo Inoune’s, a first-time director adapting a manga, and doing a good job of it. Showing much more restraint in terms of bloodshed than the man already mentioned too much in this review, and creating a cold, sterile atmosphere, he has enough individual style to warrant respect in his own right.

However, another comparison arises when considering the film narrative, for it turns out Juzo wasn’t always like this, he wasn’t born with intrinsic bipolar, but was traumatised into it after a difficult regime of bullying during his high school years. Like Ichi The Killer’s eponymous maniac, childhood tumult shapes the neuroses that are to later morph into a volatile adult mentality. It’s a preoccupation with the character-defining days of youth that’s a path well-trodden by Miike, and echoes are difficult not to notice here. Even the ending, swamped in ambiguity, seems a reverberation of the enigmatic climax to that aforenamed flick.

It may be mired in the hues of its influences, but The Neighbour #13 remains no less enjoyable. Pumped full of little idiosyncrasies and painted from a beautifully bleak palette, whilst it may not be a classic, it nevertheless hints of a promising directorial style eager to be free of the chains of influences.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Body Stealers

If the cinematic psalms of Ed Wood have taught us anything, it is that intrepid visitors from the furthest corners of the cosmos are a determined bunch. Reaching a ninth plan at all implies a strong level of resolve, a fortitude flexing below those suits of tin-foil. Wood never dished out another helping of the trials and tribulations of the curious spacemen, in the end we were scandalously starved of any sort of serialization, no filmic sequels, no television syndication, not even a string of expanded universe novellas. Who knows how many other plans might have been put into operation between the time of Lugosi’s final stroll and today. We can only assume that those multifarious plans found an outlet in other films of a similar nature, such as 1969’s The Body Stealers.

On a training exercise, a group of soldiers mysteriously disappear whilst testing out the latest innovations in parachute technology. Alarmed by this humiliating incident and impatient to unearth the truth, the military request the help of a rugged chap currently living the Thunder in Paradise lifestyle. This square-jawed hero, going by the name of Bob Megan, ditches his seaplane, dons a nice cardigan, and joins his associates in the armed services.

Like Snake Plissken’s randy uncle, Bob delves into the situation with both hands, oscillating between the scene of the vanishing and the laboratory charged with examining the parachutes. The first wall to be thrown in his way – a mighty thick barrier impeding ability to carry out his task, dragging him by the heels like a malevolent force – is the rule decreed by one of his comrades: “no dames.”

Made especially difficult by the presence of lustful ladies in every room, Bob barely stumbles two minutes without a nubile rupturing his vision. It comes as no surprise to find Bob smashing through the rule with a sledgehammer of libido little more than halfway through the film. His desiring side-glances at every feminine figure to traverse the space around him speak only of testosterone run rife, his crescent-moon chin thrusting with every sniff of, to coin a phrase from Simone de Beauvoir, le deuxieme sexe. Just watch as he seduces a random blonde minding her own business on the beach near his hotel, or as he tries to commence some electrifying afternoon-sex while waiting for a few soldiers to defrost in the other room.

However, Bob isn’t the only character fumbling his way through a directory of sexual objectification – a most important subplot features its own share of amorous games. The liaison for communications between the air force chiefs and “the minister”, a man whose neatly cropped moustache belies a continent of perversities, is a rival for the title of ‘Sleaze King of The Body Stealers. Running his eyes all over the miniskirt-ed body of his secretary, his urges are later satisfied by some after-hours office action. Yet chagrin is aroused in the glamorous lady when a phone-call wrenches the irritated civil servant from his duties, a chagrin emitted in a series of annoyed yelps, to which he finds it necessary to serve her a vocal back-of-the-hand and we never see her again. The final shots display a brand new secretary, one whose insolence had not yet offended her superior, but who knows how that budding relationship was to develop.

While the film may play out like a poorly-financed attempt to capitalise on the success of Doctor Who and the Bond franchise, it does have some moments of merit. A wonderfully hyperbolic General delivers plenty of mirth, such as when, aghast at the impudence of this whole disappearing bodies business, he bellows to all in the vicinity: “If anyone’s playing games with me, I’ll jail them for life!” I’d rather he’d have directed that tirade against whoever’s decision it was to include all that banal footage of the Red Arrows in the final cut, but he has a higher rank than I. Also, the hero Bob’s elongated chin caused me to ruminate on Bruce Campbell and his crusades against nasty alien fiends in Terminal Invasion, and that made me warm inside.

To return to the opening meditations: overall, The Body Stealers is lacking the same level of extraterrestrial-related action we get in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Here, the “things from outer space” only really emerge into the light of the camera at the end, and whilst I consider the revelation a slight disappointment, I must say I’ve never seen a red turtleneck worn so elegantly in my life.

And there we have it. Bodies are stolen, bodies are returned, everything recedes back to normalcy. Let’s just be thankful the aliens chose a British air force on manoeuvres – in what can only be described as Point Break in the Midlands – to stage their thievery. What might have been the tragic consequences of mounting a pilferage during the parachuting exploits of, say, Operation Dumbo Drop? Not only would Ray Liotta have been highly peeved by the whole episode, but Danny Glover would have been livid, for if there’s any kind of shit he’s too old for, it is certainly the aliens stealing elephants kind.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

964 Pinocchio

The opening montage to Shojin Fukui’s 964 Pinocchio, consisting as it does of rapid cross-cutting between a sterile hospital corridor, a badly-lit lobotomy and a lesbian sex romp, is perfectly conducive to setting the tone of what is a suitably bizarre film. Like a hyperactive kid fed a vat of speed, this introduction establishes the sense of relentless acceleration that exemplifies the visual tempo maintained throughout the film, a little known Japanese gem from 1991.

Released from the hospital suffering from untreatable amnesia, Himiko takes it upon herself to map the streets to alleviate the need for a functioning memory. It is whilst perched by a lamppost, scrutinising the full geometric scope of her endeavour, that she runs into the mysterious Pinocchio, a young man, seemingly mute and bald save for an erect tuft of hair protruding from the summit of his skull. Seeing his childlike helplessness, she takes him home and plays mama, teaching him his name (syllable by syllable), taking him shopping, disciplining him via a brisk slap to the temple – all good parental duties ticked-off. Meanwhile, all of this is inter-cut with a host of sordid sex goings-on and the cryptic actions of some ne’er-do-wells. We can only assume that the two are somehow connected.

Following an alarming incident back home involving Pinocchio, a bucket-load of yellow pus and some disjointed editing, Himiko ends up running around the city, vomiting repeatedly and screaming perpetually. As Pinocchio lapses into mad spasms featuring oodles of multicoloured gunk flowing forth from his face, and Himiko becomes progressively more and more deranged, the narrative descends into utter lightning-paced insanity.

Fukui is clearly indebted to Tetsuo: The Iron Man – that classic of cinematic cyberpunk surreality. Preserving an aesthetic of fast cuts, hand-held cameras and grainy images, he overloads 964 Pinocchio with all the traits we’ve come to associate with Tsukamoto’s early genius (along with subsequent examples of the subgenre like, for instance, the delightful Electric Dragon 80,000V). Prolonged excursions of sprinting across the cityscape are particularly receptive for alignment with the aforementioned influence – Himiko’s spew-scream jog is an extended exercise in spiralling dementia that occupies the screen for an age, and later on we get Pinocchio doing his own dash, dragging a triangular cinderblock past gawking on-lookers. The sort of frenzied close-ups that preceded Aronofsky by years also get a strong workout here.

Unsurprisingly, it appears that Pinocchio is mechanically constructed – thus the name ya see, how clever. Never fully divulged in the narrative, all signs point to his creation at the hands of some surgical instruments. But Frankenstein rarely enters into the lexicon these days – this is all similarities to Guinea Pig 5: Android of Notre Dame, in style, budget and era.

These cyberpunk films, 964 Pinocchio and its ilk, always seem to come accessorised with a helping of technological and urban decay. Imbued with blank concrete surfaces, sinister shots of telephone pylons and an unequivocally malevolent techno-science agency behind all the craziness, this film is that very vision of alienation within modernity. Read through analogies concerning theoretical chitchat, these representations of negativity could be seen as a rebuttal to the utopian discourse espoused by the likes of Marshall McLuhan regarding the potentialities of unbounded mass communication on the human race, the world as village, etc. Rather, here we discern a perspective painted in pessimistic shades, more like the writings of, say, Paul Virilio, or the recently deceased Jean Baudrillard.

But then again, how does that account for someone ripping their own face off and morphing into a big Moon-Head?

Who knows? – Maybe nothing, maybe everything. Regardless, 964 Pinocchio’s ending does not undo the fun-packed wackiness that preceded it, for this cake certainly has a cherry, a very strange and ambiguous one that smells faintly of ‘what the hell was that all about?’ Drawing parallels to the jarring finale to Dead or Alive, it shouldn’t be the case that what occurs is unexpected (the entire picture can be ascribed with those terms), but it nevertheless still arrives like a head-butt from the shadows. Not only does the action take place in an environment not dissimilar to the barren Canadian wastes that house the climatic events of Scanners, but both seem to share the same perplexing act of character unification. Only the Cronenberg film did not have a comely secretary freaking out in sexual ecstasy nearby – and therein lies the joy of such a film as this, the wonderfully perverse embellishments that only the Japanese can seem to dish out.