Each and every time I sit my bearded self down to write up a list like this, I feel like such a dickhead. I feel like I’m spouting off elitist nonsense that no one honestly cares to read about anyway. Truthfully, I’m a lucky schmuck who started a website and just happened to be surrounded by incredibly talented individuals. A major upside to such a fate is being able to do things like this. So, despite my trepidation, I concocted this list because I find them entertaining. It allows me to revisit movies that I love and have been inspired by.
For this particular collection of self indulgence, I decided to tackle some very specific obsessions of mine. Namely, 5 movies that I talk about way too much. Now, I know what you may be thinking-“Wes, you write about Texas Chainsaw Massacre and all things Jim VanBebber…a lot“. You’re right, I do. But this time, it’s different. I decided to go after ones I have either rarely discussed or haven’t at all. These 5 movies are continuous reference points for every drunken film discussion I have with my friends and/or colleagues at Ye’ Olde Blood Sprayer. I’m sure a large portion of you have seen these movies and if so, then this isn’t new territory for you (like or dislike). But for those of you who may not have seen these, give em’ a look-see. I chose them because I love them (0f c0urse) but moreso because they’ve etched themselves into my brain for specific reasons. Enjoy!
1. Ms. 45-Even as I sit here typing this, I’m wearing a Ms. 45 shirt…my love for this movie doesn’t stop at tasteful wardrobe choices, however. Each of the many viewings of this movie have unearthed some other layer to it that I loved. First and foremost, I’m a huge fan of Abel Ferrara. His early work, particularly the New York-based stuff, remains some of the best I’ve encountered. Specifically though, Ms. 45 is the top of the heap for me.
The movie exceeds the rape victim revenge tale that it appears to be on the surface. It’s almost Shakespearean in its grandiosity. The female lead is a startlingly beautiful young woman who is physically unable to speak. Coupling those elements causes men to have an almost-psychotic reaction. They’re instantaneously turned into animals. This fevered reaction reaches a boiling point as she is assaulted and raped. As her biggest fear became a reality, her reaction is an explosion of violence. She will no longer be a victim, but her Old Testament solutions do not end with her assailants either. She exacts revenge on all males.
This movie is often cited as an example of feminism in exploitation film and that is certainly true. She (Zoe Tamerlis) represents the concept of woman refusing to be a victim of any situation or circumstance, no matter how brutal it may be. But as real world as this concept is, Ferrara is able add several surreal aspects to the movie. With late 70’s-early 80’s New York being the setting, a very specific look is in place. The fashion world is a part of her world, so we are automatically thrust into that time period. Everything seems quite inflated which is to be expected with exploitation movies (she’s dressed as a nun for Pete’s sake!) but those lavish looks are a perfect framework. It’s an exciting, intense movie and certainly stands out as a high point in Abel Ferrara’s career.
2. Irreversible-Man alive, did this movie fuck me up! I mean, really fucked me up! In fact, as much as I adore this movie (and I truly do adore Irreversible!), I’ve only watched it 3 or 4 times. Then again, I don’t necessarily think it’s a “multiple viewing” type of movie.
Irreversible literally works from the final frame backwards. The events take place over the course of one day in a couple’s life (played by real-life couple Monica Bellucci & Vincent Cassel masterfully!). Things start with a dizzying trek through an underground gay club where a vicious, and I mean VICIOUS, murder takes place. From here out, the story works in reverse to reveal what was the cause of such a grisly scene…and the events that lead to this killing are somehow more horrifying than the murder itself. By the movie’s conclusion, you’re emotionally wrecked. Fate is a terrifying concept.
Writer/director Gaspar Noe is a human being who I greatly admire. In a business where fear controls careers, Noe is completely fearless. He doesn’t make movies to assume piles of wealth-he makes them out of personal necessity! The word artist comes with a lot of baggage, but it feels that Gaspar Noe is truly an artist. Irreversible proves one thing: He doesn’t care if you like it; it’s not his objective to cater to such things. He’s exorcising some demons that have manifested in the form of an extremely morose tale. Though he’d released I Stand Alone (another great movie) prior to this, Irreversible is what put Noe on peoples’ radars, and justifiably so. Still to this day, the beginning scene and subway scene make my skin crawl. The cinematography is dizzying to the point of nauseating, and when it comes down from it’s roller coaster ride, it’s only to focus on the most disturbing events possible. Irreversible is not a horror movie, but it will scare the shit out of you.
3.The Devils-The late, great Ken Russell was an otherworldly filmmaker. Over the course of his career, he released some of the most cosmically surreal trips the movie world had ever seen (see TOMMY or ALTERED STATES). None of those, however, left the same impression with me as one of his most revered (and reviled) flicks, The Devils did.
The Devils is based on an Aldous Huxley novel, The Devils of Loudun. The story takes place in 16th century France where religion and hedonism collide in a firestorm of human errors. A priest (PERFECTLY executed by Oliver Reed), with perhaps a bit too much power, has succumb to his passions and now stands trial for these mishaps. A love affair with a scorn woman leads to accusations of witchcraft and the priest now stands before judgement that has already convicted him. Following a mass botched exorcism (including a convent that has been “perverted” by Satan’s ways), the priest is burned at the stake in front of all of the kingdom. God saves, indeed.
If there is one film that truly lead to my questioning of religion, The Devils would be that movie. While the previous information is all known history, Ken Russell’s visual display is from another planet. Since we know that religion distorted several moments in history, to see how it play out in The Devils makes you want in on the orgy! Russell spun together scene after scene of luscious, excessive lifestyles that could only lead one to know the individuals involved would fall. The era the film was released in saw a hefty amount of anti-church films hit the big screen (highlighted by folks like Pasolini, low lit by, among others, Juan Bosch). Yet, The Devils exceeds many of these films by marrying the historic with the fantastical. Ken Russell had a very unique vision and seeing it in the flesh is almost a sensory overload. The lead roles filled by Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave should very well rank as some of their most memorable. Reed takes the priest’s stoic nature and lends an anti-hero quality to it that begs to be rooted for. Opposite of this, Vanessa Redgrave’s turn as Mother Superior is the stuff bad guys are made of. She’s an obsessed reactionist who allows a personal agenda send a man to his death.
There are a million perverse things going on in The Devils and if it were deemed necessary, I would sit and blather on about all of them. Instead, I can tell you this: We’ve all seen The Exorcist. We’ve all seen The Omen. Religion is evil, etc. right? Though this is not a horror film, The Devils is one of the most horrifying brain melters you may very well experience. Obsession with it is not uncommon and upon seeing it when you find yourself feeling that way, it’s best to give in to temptation.
4.Eraserhead-This movie makes its way onto many-a list. David Lynch has become a highly respected filmmaker in the modern age. The man has a list of artistic merits a mile long to his credit and will undoubtedly go down in history as a landmark director. But he had to start somewhere, yeah? That starting point would be Eraserhead.
I would love to sit here and pontificate on every nuance that I “get” about Eraserhead. Love to! There’s a problem with that theory…mostly, I have no idea what the fuck is going on. Sure, there are themes that I can understand. The fears of having an unplanned child, particularly one with disabilities-I can pick that out. Man’s own fears of inadequacy? I think I spotted that, too. Other than a few other educated guesses, I’m at a loss. I’m eternally baffled by this movie. This is cause for my obsession. There are a zillion kick ass things that I loooove about Eraserhead, though. This has also kept me coming back to it. The movie is shot in black & white, but not in a way that comes off as pretentious. It lends to the absurd nature in which the “story” is presented. The dialogue is sparse and the lead character (the immortal icon, or at least in my book, Jack Nance) is a panicked timebomb prepping for ignition. It’s almost like looking through a photography book. There are the industrial backdrops that Mr. Lynch loves so much, but then set pieces that make you scratch your head. The overall presentation is beautiful and hideous in one breath. This very style would go on to be what David Lynch was best known for AND what made a fan for life out of lil’ ol’ me.
Eraserhead is pretty damn weird. It begs to be discussed. If I’m wearing an Eraserhead (notice a pattern with shirts and obsession?)shirt and someone asks about it, I tell them it’s a really incredible movie. They will almost always ask what it’s about. I, of course, tell them the truth-“I have no idea”. And THAT is it’s magic! It is over-analyzed, under-analyzed, misunderstood, misinterpreted, BUT the folks doing all of these things are never wrong. I’ve concluded there to be no one way to interpret Eraserhead other than for what it is: A legendary midnight movie that will leave you thinking about it until the next dozen times you watch it. Do not be derailed by this. If you’ve avoided Eraserhead because no one has giving you a solid explanation as to just what the heck is going on, then find out on your own. If you’ve seen it and dismissed it as ridiculous, go back to it! Revisiting it will change your perspective and lead to repeat viewings…or extend your hatred. But either way, you’re talking about it!
5.The Beyond-I know you’re soooo surprised! “Wes found a way to work Fulci into another one of his dumb lists”…you’re goddamn right I did. This time, however, it is with scholarly reason. This isn’t another example of me talking to my penis, whining about how people are too quick to dismiss Murder Rock. No, no. This time is different. I’m talking about the crown jewel in Mr. Lucio Fulci’ s filmography. It’s more than just the one I count as my favorite. This is the one even the harshest of critics give a nod of approval to.
We’re a horror site and I’m talking about The Beyond. Nothing about that screams new territory. That’s not what this is about. This is about The Beyond’s contribution to my lunatic rants. That, I can assure you, is a healthy contribution. Do I need to really go over the plot with you? Probably not. I assume most of you to be familiar with the premise. But in the spirit of fairness, I will give a brief summation of the story:
A rundown hotel in New Orleans is more than what it appears. Beneath the once-abandoned hotel lies one of the gateways to hell. A young woman (Catriona MacColl) inherits said hotel and unknowingly begins the process of awakening an ancient evil that mere man cannot stop. The only hope lies in an equally ancient book of mysticism, but its abilities may not be enough. As the forces come forth and the undead rise, mankind becomes a weakening target.
If I was asked to narrow down to just one movie that best represented what Italian film offered to the history of horror, The Beyond would be my choice. Even as I type these words, I am aware that I am opening myself up to a barrage of insults-most of which will have the name Argento attached to them. This isn’t my attempt to discredit Argento’s contributions by any means. But when I think of Italian horror, this is the movie that comes to mind first! This goes well past my affinity for Fulci over Argento, before you ask. The Beyond is a horror film that relies on visual strength. Furthermore, the visuals are that strong, the lack of dialogue simply does not matter. And let’s be honest-the scenes from The Beyond that are most memorable stick with you as a reminder that not everything on earth can be explained. It’s a dark, beautiful, and horrific movie that lingers on the brain. When put to the test, I will always refer back to this gem as a perfect starting point for someone wanting to know what all the hubbub was when it came to Italy and horror films all those years ago. And yeah…it doesn’t hurt that Lucio Fulci made it.
Tags: Abel Ferrara, Argento, David Lynch, Eraserhead, French, Gaspar Noe, Horror, I Stand Alone, Irreversible, Italian Horror, Jack Nance, Jim VanBebber, Ken Russell, Lucio Fulci, midnight movies, Monica Belucci, Ms. 45, New York, Oliver Reed, Religion, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Beyond, the devils, The Exorcist, The Omen, Vanessa Redgrave, Vincent Cassel, zombie