Posts Tagged ‘addiction

10
Feb
16

Phantom of the Paradise (1974): Salutations from the Other Side

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a Primal Root written review

I’ve long held that the golden age of American horror cinema stretched from the late 1960’s to the end of the 1970’s. It was an age when turmoil, violence and change was in the air. Filmmakers of the day were shaken and inspired by the horrifying, nightmarish world around them, internalized this terror and in the end brought it out of the darkness as some of the most devastatingly influential horror films the world will ever witness.  There is one other genre that happened to thrive in the 1970’s, one I know far less about, and that is the Rock Opera.

Flicks like Tommy, Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease, The Wiz not to mention, The Rocky Horror Picture Show would either garner rave reviews and great success or go on to become beloved cult films the world over. However, some fell by the wayside and are just now starting the reemerge and find recognition as beautiful cinematic oddities they are. And there is none I am more proud to see finally garnering the praise it has long deserved, Brian de Palma’s 1974 film, Phantom of the Paradise.

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Phantom of the Paradise blends the horror trappings of The Phantom of the Opera and Faust together and give it a glam rock makeover serving as a dark comic satire of the entertainment industry. Phantom tells the tale of Winslow Leech (William Finley in an awesome performance) a young and naive composer looking to make it big with his life long work, a cantata based on the legend of Faust. No sooner does the the owner of Death Records, an utterly charming, smooth talking, calm, collected and utterly malevolent man who has sold his soul to The Devil and goes by the name of Swan (Paul Williams) hear Winslow’s music does he find a way to steal it, exploit it and turn it into pop music garbage to open his long delayed rock palace, The Paradise, with. Swan frames Winslow and has him sent to jail where he is volunteered for an experiment which requires him to have all his teeth removed and replaced with new metallic chompers.  It isn’t long before Winslow hears his own composition on the radio, recreated as a turd of a pop song, and flees from prison. In a psychotic rage Winslow breaks into Death Records, ends up getting disfigured in a vinyl record press, vanishes into the night and is presumed dead…But soon after his disappearance a masked phantom begins stalking the darks hallways and backstage at The Paradise, determined to rain murderous vengeance upon all of those who have hurt and betrayed him.

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Along the way, The Phantom ends up becoming infatuated and falling in love with a young, inexperienced but quite talented singer named Phoenix (Jessica Harper), the only person The Phantom permits to sing his work. Anyone else who tries, he promises, will be killed. Of course, Swan makes the decision to have The Phantom’s music performed by what he considers to be the future of music, a glam rock monster who goes by the name of Beef (Gerrit Graham, who is funny as shit in the role). Despite mid shower plunger to the gob warning from The Phantom, Beef is convinced to perform as scheduled…

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Phantom of the Paradise functions as great piece of anti-establishment satire against the soulless corporatization of art and artists alike. Not only this, but Phantom is also a full on musical, complete with song and dance routines, with every song written and composed by Paul Williams. These elements together do nothing but accentuate the strangeness of the film, it’s so bizarre, so daring and so breathlessly creative, it leaves the viewer’s mind reeling. All this quirky genre blending and tonal shifts leaves us with an unexpectedly heart wrenching musical tragicomedy. I can think of few other films that achieve this level of absurdity and poignancy.

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Still with me? I know the description above may sound a bit overwhelming, and indeed, there is a whole lot to take in with Phantom of the Paradise. It is sensory overload, but in the best possible way you can imagine. Despite the film’s litany of references to other cinematic greats, (Touch of Evil and Psycho, to mention just the tip of the iceberg) Phantom of the Paradise is among the most singular and unique films ever made. Any attempt at synopsis can only do Phantom so much justice, because the heart of the film lies in the experience of watching it. It is very often compared to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, released a year after Phantom of the Paradise, and if I am being honest, the two couldn’t be more different. I suppose it is more inviting to spend time with a group of people basking in their own carnal desires than with a group of tortured artists who sold their soul for rock and roll. It’s just a damn shame Phantom of the Paradise never quite caught on in the states. Of course, I’ve heard the film is fucking HUGE in Canada. And, in face, the two fellows from Daft Punk, according to Paul Williams, met at a screening of Phantom of the Paradise! But that has nothing to with anything…just a cool bit of trivia.

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However, in a way, I kind of hope it remains a hidden gem that exists just below the radar. This way it will never be over exposed to the point of nausea or run into the ground to the point of tedium. Phantom of the Paradise is much beloved by those drawn to it’s peculiar story, dark, comedic, enchanting characters, beautiful songs and unchained artistry. Phantom is a film every bit as much for the misfits as Rocky Horror, but with a much more tragic and lyrical fantasy narrative. You cannot help but feel pity and sympathy for Winslow and righteous indignation once he is transformed from sweet Winslow to the pained and murderous Phantom and finds his revenge. One cannot find something darkly funny about Swans form of easy going, suave, laid back evil as he knowingly manipulates those around him to his bidding, feel sadness as Phoenix is corrupted by fame and absolute astonishment at the the radical comedic performance of Gerrit Graham as Beef.

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Phantom of the Paradise is a marvel of a film. Brian de Palma, Paul Williams and company have crafted something so different, so daring that mainstream audiences had no idea what to make of it. A film so beautiful, poetic, energetic and well played is obviously becoming relic. A thing of the not too distant past, when artistry, creativity and taking chances we heralded above ticket sales and domestic box office grosses. I suppose it’s no big surprise at this point for me to reveal Phantom of the Paradise would rank as one of my top 5 favorite movies of all time. It’s a story of love, passion, betrayal, revenge and possibly redemption set to some of the grooviest goddamn songs to ever be featured in a motion picture. A story of how monsters are created and the good guys and bad guys we all have the potential to be. For those who have never seen it, I recommend highly recommend checking it out, but keep in mind it is not everyone’s cup of glitter. For those of us who adore the film, it;s always worth heading over the The Paradise from time to time and witnessing one of the funniest, most lyrical, most enjoyable tragic love stories ever told.

I’m awarding Phantom of the Paradise 5 out of 5 Dumpster Nuggets.

Stay Trashy, Gang!

-Root

22
Apr
13

Evil Dead (2013): If You Want Blood…

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“Promise, you’ll stay till the end.” -Mia, Evil Dead

a Primal Root written review

edited by Bootsie Kidd

Gang, I must apologize for taking such a dang long time getting around to typing up this review. I needed time to let the The Evil Dead remake digest,  for my mind to really feel out what my thoughts were on the whole damn bloody feature.  So, here goes, my thoughts on the reimagining, new take of “The Evil Dead”, “Evil Dead”. I will try and break it down as spoiler-free as possible.

Sam Raimi’s original 1980 “The Evil Dead” is the story of one man’s personal apocalypse as his friends, one-by-one, become hideous shadows of their former selves and begin attacking, brutalizing, mocking, and humiliating him. Ash (Bruce Campbell) must finally find it within himself to fight back if he wants to make it through the night alive. “Evil Dead” (2013) follows along those same lines,  and though similar in a basic premise, “Evil Dead” does an intelligent job of making the material its own.

Personally, one of the aspects of the film I truly appreciated was the organizing principle. These twenty-somethings aren’t headed out to a dank, nasty, mildew farm of a cabin for a fun filled weekend. No, they are there to help their buddy kick her heroin habit cold turkey. A feat she has tried before and failed at.  So, the glum bunch of attractive kids consisting of the most adorable little junkie ever, Mia (Jane Levy),  her unreliable,  yet studly coward of a brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) , his “just-there-to-die” girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore),  control freak buddy nurse Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and her bespectacled, grumpy bear of a fella, Eric ( Lou Taylor Pucci) head to the desperate fixer-upper in the middle of the creepiest forest in North America and commence Betty Fording.

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And nothing can deter them, not even the fact that the cabin seems to have been recently broken into, and those who did, left a basement full of at least ten dozen skinned, rotted, feline carcasses hanging from the rafters and looking like it smells of twice-baked putrescence and burnt hair.  Don’t worry, it’s all part of the pre-credit prologue. Oh, and did I mention the Scooby Gang also come across a mysterious package wrapped in black trash bags and laced in razor wire?  Could this be the legendary Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, roughly translated, The Book of the Dead? I have a good feeling you already know the answer. Yes, this seems like the best option for someone trying to rehabilitate herself! I’m surprised they all don’t just pick up the habit right there to make the living situation bearable.  Or at least get  cope with what I can only imagine is the worst smelling cabin of all time.

Anyhoo, I’m still with this new Evil Dead film Mia begins having withdrawal symptoms and everyone else kind of just sits around waiting for their cue to don their white contacts and let the arterial blood spray across the room. Before you can say “What a fucking idiot” Eric has clipped the razor wire, and ripped open the garbage bags to reveal the Necronomicon (SURPRISE, SURPRISE!), bound in human flesh and inked in blood with the ominous warnings that has since been utilized by many Bill O’Reily published works  “DO NOT READ THIS BOOK”, er, something along those lines. As if the razor wire ribbon wasn’t clue enough to leave the fucking thing alone… Oh well, the beard-o opens up the book and gets to reading aloud the demon resurrection passages and, whatdya know, he unleashes Hell on Earth. Who do you think the evil spirit picks on first? Who just might be the most weak and vulnerable amongst the kiddies at Melancholy Manor?

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That’s right, Mia! Seen the first movie? Then it should come as no surprise that the young lady gets a slimy, malicious, invasive surprise from the Evil Dead right up her lady bits! Which leads to her being the vessel for this special brand of demonic spirit to wreak havoc on the rest of the down trodden crew! And oh, what a splattery, nasty night of havoc it is! There’s barfing, and tongue slashing, and arm chopping, and syringe poking, and nail gunning, electric knife wielding, oh, the list goes on and on as friends are possessed and begin turning on one another with very little haste. The second Mia is possessed, the movie kicks into hyper drive  with people turning into monsters from Hell left and right, you hardly have time to catch your breath as friends must battle their newly eviled chums in order to survive!

Let me tell ya, the gore is wonderful in this flick, as are all the practical effects. Everything looks sleazy, disgusting and pitch perfect. As body parts start plopping on the floor and gruel goes splashing into character’s mouths, I got a certain sense of euphoria. This reminded me much of my self made, VHS horror education back in the late 80’s all through the 90’s, when I began renting any and every horror video I could looking for just these kind of unrelenting moments of pure, unadulterated, horror insanity. I could practically feel my inner 15 year old giving my current 31 year old spirit a high five. This was some crazy, blood-caked glory that I would have creamed my shorts to have seen in those days. Better late than never, I suppose. But, yes, Evil Dead delivers the gore-met delights.

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****SPOILER WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!****

But then the film began to reach its climax…which involves the impromptu MacGuyver-esque creation of a defibrillator by David to use in order to bring Mia back to life. That’s right, he studies the Necronomicon and discovers the many ways to cure the possessed aka: many ways to kill these people who are possessed.  His plan is to bury Mia alive until she dies of suffocation and then dig her up, stab her in the heart, pump her full of juice until she is jolted back to life, and then she’ll be right as rain.  And to my absolute shock and dismay, THE PLAN WORKS! Not only that, but she comes back without any injuries! the woman cut her tongue in half with a rusty old knife! How in the fuck did that heal instantaneously? Are you telling me if David were to resurrect Natalie from the dead, her arms (which she loses one to her own carving knife and the other in battle with her friends)  would miraculously reappear attached to her body? I’m sorry, but unless I missed a moment in the film where it is mentioned in the Necroonomicon that if a mortal is brought back from being possessed by pure evil by the use of a defibrillator all wounds inflicted during the time of possession are null and void, that’s just an incredibly manipulative plot devise that tries to deliver the audience something they didn’t see coming. I am all for surprises and going against audience expectations, but it feels so unlikely that anything like this would work, especially without ever being established that it might, it feels like a cheat. I have a hard time buying into the idea that the Evil Dead would work so hard to possess people that they would just leave a dead body once it is brought back to life. I know I’m nitpicking, but it just feels remarkably lame.  Seriously, the movie had me up until the moment David brought out the spark plug treatment. Seriously, the second that fucking thing showed up, my eyes nearly rolled out of my head.

The finale of Evil Dead is a crowd pleaser as the sky cracks open, pouring blood down on the property where the cabin is (no telling if the blood rain came down on any near by farming communities) and the evil is manifest into flesh, which is basically a tall skinny, saggy breasted knock off of the final creature in 2007’s  [REC]. Personally, after such an incredible lead up, I was expecting a bit more from our final monster, but that’s okay, because the monster is dispatched in the most brutally, hysterically over the top fashion, you will want to wake up the kids and show ’em.

****END SPOILERS! THE SPOILERS ARE OVER!****

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Bottom line? I enjoyed Evil Dead.  I thought it was far more emo and sad sacky than its source material, but that’s to be expected if the film is to be its own beast and set itself apart from its predecessor.  But, to tell you the truth, did we ever love The Evil Dead for it’s organizing principal? Not really, the second demon possessed  party revelers or concerned rehab friends start getting hacked into coleslaw, it all kind of turns into the same sorta film where the audience begins hooting and hollering at the screen,  laughing when things get over the top and groaning when moments are teeth grindingly painful.  Its the fucking Evil Dead,  and it’s a pretty damn good time at the movies if this is your cup of tea.  The audience I saw it with was obviously having a blast, laughing, cheering and talking back to the screen as is the case with any true gut buster horror film worth its weight in innards.  It was fun despite the movie taking itself so seriously. Let’s face it, once demons are deflected by shock treatment and property begins flooding with blood from the sky, you’re flick has stepped into the absurd and is no longer the somber film about a junkie in need of rehabilitation.

Could the whole film just be an extended metaphor for how the wages of drug addiction can destroy your relationship with your family and your dearest friendships? That enabling someone to continue their bad behavior, or just ignoring the problem entirely,  allows the behavior too go on far too long and ends up hurting more people? Could I be digging too deep? I suppose, but still… Mia was fighting her own demons long before she was invaded by those conjured up by the Necronomicon, and David, who we learn has run away from every major problem in his life, must finally find the courage within himself to man up and take responsibility to save the ones he loves. Of course, he waits way too fucking long to do this, but, then again, if he had been braver sooner we may not have had such an outstanding gore fest.

Evil Dead (2013) is a thoughtful and dark revision of Raimi’s classic.  I appreciated the focus on the story arc of the two siblings, Mia and David, which did bring something totally new to the Evil Dead series.  The only thing I wish there was more of would be Raimi’s twisted, perverse sense of humor, but that’s not what this movie’s about.  Sure, yes, I enjoyed Evil Dead in a theater full of other fans. But without that gnarly, evil, dark sense of humor, will I ever break out Evil Dead on a movie night with my friends over like the original Evil Dead? Only time will tell.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

14
Mar
13

Brain Damage (1988): Just Say “Aylmer!”

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a Primal Root review

edited by Bootsie Kidd

“Whenever you want the pain to stop, I’ll be here. Whenever you want to stop hurting, you come to me.” -Aylmer, Brain Damage

Let’s take a moment to discuss the Reagan Administration’s poorly schemed “War on Drugs”, shall we? On October 13th, 1982, President Ronald Reagan declared illicit drugs to be an imminent threat to U.S. National Security, while First Lady Nancy Reagan promptly flooded the talk show circuit advising the children of our nation to “Just say NO!”. Because, you know, becoming addicted to narcotics or not is as simple as just saying “no” to your local pusher. Obviously, Nancy Reagan and the War on Drugs, itself, were more than a tad naive when it came to the nature of addiction and its beginnings.

Thankfully, 1986’s “Brain Damage”, Frank Henenlotter’s stellar follow-up to his classic 1982 debut,”Basket Case”, doesn’t cut corners when it  comes to the discussion of drug use. From its depiction of the initial orgasmic rush that launches its user into a life bent around being steeped in a state of euphoria where problems are forgotten, to the sudden meteoric plummet that follows once the high is wears thin. In his usual brilliant insight, Henenlotter creatively portrays to viewers how addiction winds up taking its toll not only on users, but those closest to them, as well. Despite the laughable oddity of the seductor, Aylmer, ‘Brain Damage’ manages to tell it to us straight with a dark, horrifying, even often comical story in the realm of fantasy-horror providing a truly masterful message film about the dangers of drug use and the nature of addiction.

We meet Brian, a nice enough average guy who lives with his brother Mike in an apartment in New York. Brian even has a caring, sweet-natured, if mildly bland girlfriend he’s dating named Barbara. One evening while sick in bed, Brian blind-sided by seemingly inexplicable visions of a blood-shot eyeball where his ceiling light used to be experiencing, pulsating bright lights, blue water flooding his bedroom, and a powerful feeling of euphoria. It’s a feeling the young man has never encountered before, and as you might imagine, and one he’s eager to experience again. Only thing is, he soon discovers that what he felt was due to a small, slimy, blue-hued, phallic, turd-like creature named Aylmer (or Elmer), but, bizarrely enough, that doesn’t seem to throw Bryan as much as you might think it would.

The precise origins of Aylmer are unknown, though it is revealed through its previous users that Aylmer has a sordid centuries-old past that can be traced back to countless now-fallen civilizations. Aylmer, a creature with friendly, sleepy eyes and palsy voice of John Zacherle (yep, the host of Shock Theater, Zacherley, himself) is quite willing to inject Brian with a mysterious bright blue fluid procured from a syringe-like appendage protruding from Aylmer’s enormous, sharp tooth-filled gob. Aylmer simply jacks his juice directly into Brian’s brain stem, injecting a little “Aylmer juice” which allows Brain to, once again, experience the unique pleasure of becoming unattached from the world and embracing visions of glorious lights in junk heaps, all the while laughing his ass off in chemically-induced glee. If Aylmer is anything, he is one helluva saleman, as he perfectly pitches to Bryan saying, “This is the start of your new life Brian, a life full of colors, music,light and euphoria. A life without pain, or hurt or suffering.” I mean, really, what could possibly be the drawback?…

Artwork by Marc Palm

Aylmer artwork by Marc Palm

Well, turns out Aylmer feeds on brains. Sure, animal brains are okay, but to become powerful he must munch on the human persuasion. So, the deal becomes clear to Brian after several night’s of blacking out under the influence, and waking to find blood stains in some pretty alarming locations on his person, that for each “fix” he must pay by hooking Aylmer up with a human brain to scarf down. And let me just say, Aylmer is one very sloppy eater and NO ONE has a quick and painless death at this parasite’s merciless bite. There’s no discrimination here, either. Folks of all race, gender, and class have their skulls bitten open and brains sucked out by Aylmer. From the security guard at the junk yard, to the man taking a dump in a bathroom stall, even the slutty girl with the enormous knockers ends up getting an Aylmer down the hatch in a disturbingly violent, yet rather hilarious sequence that has since been dubbed “The Blow Job Scene”. Trust me, it’s a must-see, classic, Trash Cinema moment.  And as Brian’s dependency on Aylmer grows, so does the threat to his family and friends. No one is safe from the destruction Aylmer can cause.

Henenlotter handles Brain Damage’s odyssey of a boy and his parasite with a great sense of grotesque comedy to lighten the load of an otherwise deeply dark and unsettling cautionary tale. There is one sequence in particular that is both hysterically funny and soul crushingly bleak as Brian has finally realized the dire cost of his  addiction. He decides he needs to pack up Aylmer and hold up in a derelict hotel room where he can quit Aylmer long enough to think straight and come up with some sort of solution to his problem. In short, he tries to quit Aylmer cold turkey. The sequence features Brian clinging to a radiator, quivering, practically swimming in his sweat, puking and sobbing as Aylmer laughs and cracks jokes at his host’s expense. For good measure, Brian even has a grotesque nightmare wherein he picks meaty, gore glazed chunks of his own brain out of his ear and horrified reaches for more and begins pulling a long, drippy, unending piece of tissue and literally unravelling his brain. No joke, this scene will have your stomach churning while you laugh at this graphic, gory take on the classic magician’s gag. Finally, Brian is reduced to a convulsing, filth-and-sweat-drenched shadow of his former self lying on the hotel room’s concrete floor in the fetal position. The pain of withdrawal is too intense for the young man to bear. And in desperation, in tears, Brian agrees to Aylmer’s demands. Someone must die so that Brian can get his fix. Aylmer chuckles with delight. He has won.

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Again, it’s that perfect blend of humor and downbeat terror which gives ‘Brain Damage’ its substantial power to both entertain and completely repulse. By the film’s end many people have fallen the voracious hunger of Aylmer, and Brian’s need to satiate his own need for Aylmer’s juice, including people Brian loves and cares for.  And in ‘Brain Damage”s pitch perfect, unconventional, ending, we are left with one of the most haunting and surrealistic images from Trash Cinema, as Brian’s glazed over eyes look through us, the screen fills with the brightest white light and crackles with electricity. It’s an audacious ending  and one that still gives me chills to this very day. I have often called Brain Damage the “Requiem for a Dream” of the Trash Cinema genre. I still feel this is an appropriate description of this film’s nature and intent. This is one example of how powerful Trash Cinema can be, and in my opinion, this is Henenlotter’s masterpiece.

‘Brain Damage’ is the kind of sleazy, down trodden horror film that’s unafraid to point the mirror back at society and has an eagerness to push buttons, tackle difficult subjects and shove your nose into the down and dirty details. It’s unabashedly gross, over the top, and even silly at times. But the core to ‘Brain Damage’ is one that steeped the horrors of our own world. The darkness of despair and the nightmare of addiction. The unsettling, dreadful feeling that you cannot function normally without first feeding this need that has become more powerful than your common sense, rational thought, even your own sex drive. It’s more important to you than your loved ones and their well being. Suddenly, this stuff is your drive. This is what keeps you alive. This is what gives your life meaning.

Gang, I can think of few things more horrifying. And Brain Damage handles the subject with creativity and respect.

Stay Trashy!

-Root




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