Donate. Because understanding the histories of outmoded-at-best-“retro”-at-worst media technologies is crucial for understanding the technology trough at which we gorge ourselves today. Because, with SOPA on the horizon, a reevaluation of the sticky relationship between media industries (both old and new) and legislators (mostly old) needs us to peek into our recent past. Because remembering the grain and blur and warp and fuzz of pixellated images importantly distances us from the virtual realities oozing from our increasingly-invasive screens. Because, were it not for home video, this would, arguably, not exist.
Posted in Film
Tagged Rewind This!
What this film–a self-conscious nearly-silent tripartite-structured homage to giallo–captures best about the genre is its depiction of the intimate rendezvous between flesh and inanimate objects. While the film provides ample indicators of the horror-thriller (leather and lace choke skin, razor slices tissue), it also calls to mind the deep sensuality of things, as the young woman at its center has her knees brushed by salt, her teeth stroked by a those of a comb, her thighs embraced by a cotton dress, and her cheeks caressed by summer wind. In these meetings, in spite of being enveloped only by sound and image, we feel what the young woman feels; this is perhaps testament to this film’s belief in the loving relationship our own eyes have to lights dancing on a screen.
Its messy final third aside, which substitutes thoughtfulness for bone-headed xeroxes of scary-kid film tropes and threadbare CGI gushes, this film inverts The Wicker Man’s rural United Kingdom terror (the luddite community of the titular town are mostly kind and decent, less sinister than sentimental about their family ties, more helpful than horrific: a characterization that makes the husband-and-wife protagonists seem like meddling cell-phone-toting modernists than innocents caught in a web of countryside conspiracy) and lifts the doom-fog haunting Don’t Look Now (we realize the psychic implications of occult actions at the same time that the grieving leads do) in the service of an economical narrative that poses more questions about death and mourning than it is prepared to answer.
This writer will miss (in no particular order): the 31 Screams series, wherein our intrepid scribe inventories the cinematic manifestations of aural abjection; the archived images, wherein the keen-eyed blogger provides the visuals for our nightmares; and the mini-screeds, wherein the eponymous reviewer digests nutritious li’l chunks of motion picture ephemera. Would that the prose on this be as bright, as clean, and as true as that found within the sadly-shuttered doors of Arbogast.
Albert Brooks’ comedy in this film dances, with dainty and brilliant precision, on beats both awkward and absurd; we cringe in wincing recognition, hoping not to catch a glimpse of ourselves at the corners of our clenched eyelids, at the same time that our cortexes snap and crackle in joyful wide-eyed recognition of the juxtapositions of ordinary and bizarre. So when his character embarks on a self-health regimen and is conned by a solid-stomached salesman, we grit our teeth to giggle at his easily-stoked delusions that jogging will alleviate his depression and guffaw at the gargantuan bottle of salt tablets he buys.
The tone of this Blair Witchy mockumentary is established early on, when grizzled mancub Otto Jespersen storms out of a dark forest, oily leather jacket flapping behind him like a broken wing, hollering “troll,” as if hailing a cab on an Oslo street, and not running from a three-headed slime-pissing giant. Everything is taken in very stoic stride, and the fact that our proxies, the student filmmakers capturing the proceedings, shruggingly accept the dangerous odorous physical manifestations of their childhood fairy tales (even down to the three gruff sheep used as baa-ing bait), perhaps illuminates the fact that monster movies, even one as playful and as smart as this one is, have lost their uncanny power to both fright and delight.
The final act of this film plays like a meeting of the Ewoks and the redneck posse from Night of the Living Dead, wherein actors wearing bearsuits ramble through the woods before being pierced with bullets and punctured with racist leers. This cheapjack conclusion, however, does not subtract from the preceding pungent, and deeply disquieting, broth of Oedipal longing, as most adult female characters we meet are shot as if seen through the eyes of young murderously perverted Jamie, all soft focus and longing close-ups, where the slightest glimpse of a sweaty brow is served up as violent lusty fetish. It’s easy to see the parallels between this pubescent creep and Jame Gumb; both are convinced that the only function for objects of desire/loathing is to deposit them in a dark womblike hole and hope they are devoured by monsters from the id.
In an inversion of the process of scratching moss off a fallen tree limb, scratching the exterior of this ostensible killer-in-the-woods film leads to a fuzzier, fragrant, and fertile interior. Two couples, both with dysfunctions ranging from casual chauvinism to divorce (not to mention a vestige of homosocial desire), on a camping trip designated as both marriage-rejuvenator and expression of mythopoeic masculinity (goals with obvious incompatibility), encounter a third couple—her dead yet corporeal, him knife-wielding cannibal—and their two phantom-children in the woods. Domestic depression deserves better, as rivers of unchecked yearning and gendered violence roil and stew underneath a surface of rudimentary editing choices and movie-of-the-week emoting.
This film’s audience is presumably encouraged, especially in the comin’-at-ya! way the 3-D works in this film, to take verboten (and strangely boring) pleasure in the consumption practices of the recently-unearthed prehistoric razor-teethed fish of the title (that eyeball/those entrails/etc. just fell in my lap!), and in the business practices of the meathead video impresario who gazes wolflike through his camera lens (those breasts/asses/etc. are close enough to grope!) at the nubile nymphs in his “employ.” In other words, we’re given ample time and dimension to contemplate the myriad ways flesh can be chewed and viewed. If there is a critique of these practices—or an attempt to force a parallel between them—it’s submerged in gouts of mean-spirited bloodletting and a creeping sense that the film itself secretly thinks its human antagonist is so badass that even his dismembered member is allowed to endure a fishy mastication.
With Steve Railsback channeling Charles Manson; Peter O’Toole Deus ex machinating while perched on a crane-mounted director’s chair; a cast of secondary players whose overlapping dialogue and excesses of quirky heartfelt humanity rivals the best of 1970s Altman; and a narrative that, like the-film-within-the-film, slaloms between gentle physical comedy and rough physical action, this has much to recommend it. Where this film succeeds the best, however, is in toying with our own understanding of the gulf between reality and artifice: as all the characters (especially Barbara Hershey’s, lissome of movement and opaque of motivations) hold their cards close to their poker faces, and the narrative leads us to places we couldn’t anticipate, we’re put into a position similar to the titular stuntman, never sure if our harnesses will hold.