Posts Tagged ‘mental illness

10
Mar
14

Funland (1987) Dancing with the Angel of Death

funland

a Primal Root written review

As a lifelong Floridian, with The Magic Kingdom and Universal Studios close by,  you grow up having a special kind of understanding of the amusement park business.  I’m sure to those who travel hundreds or thousands of miles and spend entire fortunes to come visit our state’s economic clit ticklers still feel the magic when walking down main street while wearing your short Dad shorts and fanny pack  in the skull liquifying summer heat or  watching film legend Brendan Frasier mug for the camera as they are thrown around on the indoor roller coaster based on the contemporary cinematic classic, “The Mummy Returns”, but for those of us in Florida who take a stroll through these parks on an almost annual basis, we can tell you there’s some shady shit going on just beneath the fairy tale surface…

This just might be why 1987’s bizarre, skit heavy, amusement park centered comedy/psychological drama “Funland” holds a special place in my rotten, filthy, heart.  “Funland” is one very strange, very off kilter film filled with a dozen or so ideas of which only about a half of them ever take root and really make an impression.

Funland is preparing for another season of family friendly fun and attractions, with hundreds of new recruits just chomping at the bit to press the “START” button on the park’s rides,  clean brat puke off the sidewalks or sell concessions at the ridiculously racist “Fresh Watermelon” stand! Most excited of all is Bruce Burger (David L. Lander, Squiggy from Lavern and Shirley), the clown mascot of “Funland” who was once the head accountant before suffering a complete mental breakdown that left him believing he is the actual incarnation of the parks clown mascot, Bruce Burger. See, the park’s owner, Angus (William Windom) believes in loyalty over profits, and keeps this mentally unstable man on board as Bruce Burger.  It’s a sweet, home spun gesture, but Angus soon meets his end the way most decent men do,  found dead face down in a body of water under mysterious circumstances.  his wife soon after sells the entire business to the mob who are only concerned about the bottom line an begin filling the park with less family friendly attractions like the Celebrity Death and Disease exhibit and dismantling the musical showcase in order to replace it with strippers.. In all honesty, I might actually go to an amusment park with these kind of attractions.

fun1

The mob also decides to fire Bruce Burger and brings in the “National” Bruce Burger whose played by a  classically trained actor who constantly complains about his job and reminisces about his thespian history ad nauseam.  Bruce takes refuge in the recently closed down wax museum and finds solace in long conversations with a hallucination of Humphrey Bogart  (Robert Sacchi, who pulls off an excellent impression of bogie) and a sausage puppet. Bruce continues living at the park and dressing the part, but his hallucinations and psychosis continue to grow worse, culminating in a strange moment in the Funland cafeteria when the gentleman behind the lunch counter begin rapping, The Angel of Death appears briefly, never to be seen again, and the entire crowd drops what they’re doing and start moving and a groovin’. Once this hallucinatory episode comes an end  the ghost of Angus shows up to grab a bite to eat with Bruce and to divulge the horrible truth, he was murdered. So, it is decided over a game of poker between Bruce and his three most prominent hallucinations  to take action. Bruce steals a mafioso’s gun, heads to the top of the theme parks clock tower and opens fire over the strenuous objections of the talking sausage puppet.

“Funland” is among the most bizarre Trash Cinema videos I’ve ever watched.  David L. Lander as Bruce Burger does a damn fine job portraying the gradual mental collapse of Bruce Burger, a man already teetering ont he edge of total insanity. to the film’s credit, Bruce’s steady decline is hardly ever played for laughs. If the awkward, out of place gags featured in “Funland” were edited out you’d have a far darker film on your hands. but, in a way, all the attempts at levity give the movie an even more disturbing quality. One stand out sequence features the aforementioned “Fresh Watermelon” stand where a white junior manager is giving instructions to the four black men who will be working the stand.  The junior manager asks “Is anyone good with knives” and all the black men back away in fear. Can someone tell me just what the Hell this means? What are these guys afraid of? Was there a scene missing where the junior manager stabs a man to death?

Fresh-Watermelon1

When it’s all said and done, “Funland” is far from a  perfect film, but it is the kind of film that you want to watch to the bitter end simply because it’s so unpredictable, so looney and has so many goddamn plot elements you’ll be dying to see how it all gels together. Seldom do you come across a film that manages to undercut it’s amateur execution and redeem it by way of own it’s twisted, surreal  logic.  It’s constantly quirky and strange making all the logical sense of a fever dream.  To my own amazement, this works in the films favor and makes for an enjoyable, head scratcher of a flick.  For fans of unique, one of a kind, absolutely bonkers trash cinema, “Funland” is one you should really check out.

I give “Funland” Four and a Half out of Five Dumpster Nuggets

Stay Trashy!

-Root

20
Oct
13

The Lords of Salem (2012) a Rebecca Keel review

Lords of Salem

a Rebecca Keel review

Rob Zombie has long demonstrated himself to be among the elite talent of contemporary writer-directors,  and even with such a high bar to clear,  he has succeeded in shocking and impressing me with his recent,  wrenching film The Lords of Salem.  Superficially,  the work stands as a brilliantly innovative horror story about the legacy of colonial witchcraft in modern-day Salem,  Massachusetts,  but with even a prick to the skin of the tale,  the viewer is sucked into a powerful and disturbing allegory for the effect of mental illness on a person’s life.  Poignantly precise and fearlessly thorough,  The Lords of Salem captivates with its insight and its remorseless horror.

The story lays out the events of seven days in the life of Heidi Laroc (stunningly portrayed by Shari Moon Zombie),  a radio DJ in Salem,  after she receives a mysterious vinyl record from “The Lords of Salem”.  The music on the record triggers visions of a coven of notorious witches from the colonial days of Salem.  Unable to resist the fate she inherited from her ancestors,  Heidi’s life begins to spiral into destruction.

A masterfully constructed allegory can be likened to a jigsaw puzzle with an image on both sides of the pieces.  Constructing the puzzle facing one way yields a comprehensible design,  while locking the pieces with their opposite sides up reveals another;  yet the puzzle itself maintains the same shape,  regardless of the image visible.  Each piece has a role to play in the final design,  and this role is the same,  regardless of which image is constructed.  Likewise,  the allegory is made up of diverse pieces,  each of which has a role.  If you lift a single piece and turn it over,  you can see its role in the image on the opposite side,  even though it must lock into its neighboring pieces the same way,  regardless of which meaning is viewed.

A quote from the character Francis Matthias,  a local witchcraft historian,  binds the surface tale of witchcraft to its deeper representation of the destruction of a life due to the inexorable force of mental illness.  He states to Heidi,  “Witchcraft is nothing but a psychotic belief brought on by a delusional state of mind.”  This clear declaration identifies the primary allegorical device in the film:  witchcraft is psychosis.  From this melding of two ideas into a single metaphorical puzzle piece,  the rest of the allegory can be teased from the dense imagery of the visually-stunning film.

It is beyond the scope of this short review to analyze the imagery,  symbolism,  and structure of The Lords of Salem.  However,  certain points bear mention,  as they may affect the way the film is received by its audience.

The overt,  perhaps even garish,  Christian and occult images which permeate The Lords of Salem may distract some viewers from the underlying meaning of the film,  or,  perhaps,  suggest a rebellious philosophical bent which is meaningless to the film’s interpretation.  Christianity plays a twofold role in the allegory.  As the epitome of mainstream normalcy,  it provides a backdrop against which the perverse (on the one hand,  worship of Satan,  and on the other,  debilitating mental instability) can be contrasted.  Christianity further fills the role of the flamboyant,  but useless,  “solution” to the conflict at hand (witchcraft or mental illness).  The latter role is also tied to the character of Francis Matthias,  who bears the names of two important Catholic saints and whose efforts to rescue Heidi from her impending demise are fated to fail from the outset.

Sexual imagery,  particularly in the context of the perversion of Christian symbolism,   can also come across as heavy-handed,  but it,  too,  plays a valuable role in the interpretation of the film.  Explicitly sexual imagery rarely represents sex itself in a symbolic structure.  Over the course of the film,  the character of Heidi is conspicuously asexual,  while the witches are overpoweringly sexual.  This prepares the character of Heidi to be the virgin mother of “the devil’s child”,  as foretold by the witch Margaret Morgan.  Regardless of the character flaws borne by Heidi,  she is,  in fact,  a blameless victim of exogenous—albeit internal to her genetic code and her mind—forces.  This use of contrast between sexuality and asexuality is highly appropriate,  given the wider cultural context of the society into which the film was released.  Specifically,  sexuality is frequently depicted as a negative trait in Western religious culture,  and has long been associated with black magic and devil worship.  This makes it an effective symbolic infrastructure for deflecting blame from the persecuted main character of The Lords of Salem.

The film presents a plot which relies on supernatural events,  such as witchcraft and inescapable fate,  and these elements may irk some fans of Rob Zombie’s horror films,  which typically rely on the capacity for evil within human beings for their conflicts.  However,  all of the supernatural aspects present in The Lords of Salem are pieces of the allegorical puzzle meticulously constructed over the course of the film.  When a viewer sees these elements as fantastic or unbelievable,  they are granted a greater understanding of Heidi’s state of mind.  She has inherited a curse from her forefathers which has doomed her to eventual destruction.  In the literal story,  the curse is the result of evil witchcraft;  in the allegorical story,  it is a predisposition to psychotic mental illness.  Both engender a sense of helplessness and hopelessness;  however,  the use of a literal curse makes this emotional response more accessible to viewers unfamiliar with the experience of heritable mental illness.

I have little of which to complain about The Lords of Salem.  The soundtrack did,  at times,  stray into the realm of clichéd horror tropes,  such as a sudden,  loud bass chord at the appearance of an unexpected apparition,  and in these few instances,  I found myself sighing deeply in resignation.  Other aspects which might garner my criticism in other films,  however,  such as loose ends to supporting characters’ stories,  busy imagery during the film’s climactic scene,  and atypical pacing decisions for the plot,  support the sense of bewilderment and confusion experienced by the character of Heidi,  and add to,  rather than detract from,  the message and value of the film.  I went into my first encounter with The Lords of Salem anticipating a dark and entertaining film.  I was stunned to experience a deeply insightful,  unflinching,  and tragically personal depiction of a life shredded by mental illness.  It isn’t an easy film to watch,  but it’s one which no one should overlook.

25
Feb
11

My Soul to Take…eh, you can keep it.

A film as inspired as it's poster art...

a Primal Root written review
Man, oh, man, do I remember a time when Wes Craven was the man. When he was the sick hippie sadist who brought us flicks like the brutal rape/revenge classic Last House on the Left and the road-trip mutant fiasco film, The Hills Have Eyes. He created (althoughRobert Englund deserves just as much credit) the most iconic and important boogieman of the last 30 years in hideously scarred, murderous, dreamstalker, Freddy Krueger… He even brought the slasher film back for a post-modern rebirth with the Kevin Williamson-penned Scream franchise. But then something went horribly wrong. Scream 3 sucked. As did his werewolf flick, Cursed…Red Eye was really his last decent film before he went into producer mode and got on board the remake wagon to oversee the re-imaginings of some of his beloved earlier works with varying degrees of success…
And then, in 2010, Wes Craven came back with a new and original horror film in 2010! One that would prove once again why he is considered a Master of Horror! A supernatural horror film about schizophrenia, possession, soul collecting, California Condors, superstition, urban legend, prayer, pregnancy, blow jobs and two male leads who have terrible hair look like they smell even worse. Oh yes, here comes My Soul to Take…IN 3D!!!
As a horror fan I try to defend Wes to the best of my ability. The guy has seriously made some fantastic films, many of which he penned himself. He’s created memorable, timeless horror classics that are still viewed, still entertaining and still discussed today. He once upon a time proved that truly memorable horror didn’t just go after your guts, but after your mind as well. Sure, you can gross people out but if you really want your audience to be thinking about your movie when they go to bed the best place to attack is upstairs where their deepest, darkest fears live.
My Soul to Take was the last straw.
Our film begins with a grizzly killing spree in which a husband and father has the revelation that he is “The Ripper”, a serial killer that’s been going around town gutting folks with his super cool knife he must have ordered from swordsofmight.com. See, this fellow didn’t realize he was “The Ripper” because he’s schizophrenic…*sigh*. He calls his shrink but it’s already too late because he’s already slashed up and killed his pregnant wife. When the police arrive he has stabbed himself multiple time and is about to hack up his tiny daughter when the cops blow him away. But not very well. Because this asshole wakes up for approximately a dozen goddamn jump scares that are far more hilarious than they are shocking. The film’s prologue ends with an ambulance explosion, about five more dead bodies and three critically injured…and the killer somehow crawls off the gurney and is never heard from again…
SIXTEEN YEARS LATER!

Turns out on the night The Ripper was killed SEVEN children were born. That’s right, seven kids in this small community were born on the night The Ripper died. And on their collective birthday these kids go down to the river and perform some kind of passion play where they invoke The Ripper’s spirit and then knock over a puppet…I dunno. The cops show up just as all our stock characters are listed off. Several of them gather behind a fallen log o spend what feels like 20 fucking minutes discussing the myths and urban legend surrounding The Ripper. See, we already know everything that happened. We just saw it at the very beginning of the film. So to hear all these stories surrounding The Ripper is mind numbingly tedious.

What't the blind character looking at over there?

 

We’ve all seen Wes Craven’s magnum opus, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Remember how well Freddy’s back story was handled? It was always kept in the shadows. It was whispered about and the audience learned along with our hero Nancy just who her nemesis was. This added to our interest as an audience and gave the whole film a veil of mystery and suspense. When you show your audience from the outset what the back story of your villain is there’s not much left to reveal. But, then again, we still haven’t gotten to the California Condor/ Soul Collector shit yet…
Once My Soul to Take’s opening gore soaked hilarity comes to an end and our 7 possibly evil teens are introduced the pacing slows down to a snail’s pace. After one teen is dispatched in a relatively well handled murder sequence the film, once again, takes detour into Expositionville, where it spends the majority of its running time. We get a little taste of all 6 (sorry, one dies early on) of these kids’ lives but none of them are developed. Even our lead red herring, Bug, is never clearly defined. We know he makes really cool puppets and costumes, speaks in creepy voices,  likes the blonde girl but is only liked by the red headed uber-christian…I dunno, he’s the lead and I can’t tell you anything more about him than this without revealing any of the twists you’ll guess right from the beginning. Still, I will try to be a gentleman and let you figure it out on your own.
It’s apparent that the creative force behind My Soul to Take has no clear grip on what it is to be a teenager in America.  All the typical Breakfast Club characters are present. The pretty one, the outcast, the nerd, the unbelievably violent jock…with the added bonus of an asian weho has 5 minutes screen time, a blind black kid who has 10 and a very attractive red head fire and brimstone religious fanatic. Do any of these character or their clichéd traits add anything of significance to the story? Are you kidding?! Of course not. They all end up as lunch meat and do little more than walk around uttering mundane, ridiculous dialog that you would never hear come out of a teenager’s mouth.
Our teeny-boppers attend a droll and disturbingly empty high school. Really, the school is gigantic yet the only people we ever see in the halls or out in the courtyard are our key players. There’s no hustle or bustle between classes and even the gigantic hallways remain empty as our teen protagonists trade off meaningless, vapid dialog for endless, yawn educing stretches.
And The Ripper himself (Which is my nickname every time I eat a helping of baked beans) is little more than a dreary, watered down potty mouthed amalgam of Freddy and Horace Pinker dressed up in a zombie Bob Marley costume.  There’s also shades of Ghostface from the Scream franchise because The Ripper can’t just stalk and kill these kids. He has to give them taunting cell phone calls beforehand.

I suppose you can guess the fate of 'Blow-Job Gil' if you examine this photo. The Farter, er, The Ripper comes in from behind! Murder? Or surprise butt sex? See the movie...

Come to think of it, it’s almost as if Wes Craven put a handful of his films (Shocker, Scream, A Nightmare on Elm Street) in a blender and hit puree.  Hell, there’s even elements from the lesser Nightmare films to be found. Remember that lame plot device Renny Harlin used in Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master? The one where Alice absorbed the souls of her friends when they died and she could utilize the one character trait that made them unique (i.e. karate, strength training, um, the power to plug things into outlets and press the power button…) and used those abilities to defeat Freddy in the end? Well, a certain character in My Soul to Take  has the same ability. He’s called the keeper of souls *face palm* only he doesn’t use any of their unique characteristics to defeat The Ripper, I mean what would he use? Blindness? Faith in God? Extreme Bitchiness? Constant Requests for blow jobs? These are not the weapons one needs to defeat a possibly supernatural monster intent on ripping out your lower intestine and using it as a jump rope.
No, this time around the souls help him figure out probability equations…to figure out the identity of the killer. Could it be one of the 7 kids (obviously not that one that dies in the beginning) or is it The Ripper returned from the grave? Or did The Ripper never die? The answer to this question is a lot lamer than you might initially think.
My Soul to Take is  a film chock full of ideas, not good ones, but ideas nonetheless. Craven just can’t seem to find a way to incorporate all of them and leave space to realistically develop his characters or give them understandable motivations and instead just gives them endless scenes where they try and explain to the audience just what in the name of Hell is even happening. I just watched this film and I couldn’t even tell you what the sentiment was. Did Craven have anything to say?  Near the conclusion of the film one characters whines out a line similar to, “People shouldn’t kill eachother all the time!”  Yeah…what a message.

I swear the lead actor is channeling Jesse from A Nightmare on Elm Street part 2 through the entire film. His sister ain't half bad on the left there...

 

Well, My Soul to Take is a hunk of complete crap.  I have to cut this review short because I could go one for another 2,000 words laying out every gripe I have with this flick. And this is coming from a guy who loves Trash Cinema.  Maybe one day I will be able to laugh at this failure, but in the hands of Wes Craven, I expect more. I expect better.

With Scream 4 on the horizon let us all hope Wes Craven can regain some of the edge he once had and bring us something worth our time. I hope Craven can redeem himself. He’s an intelligent and talented man who should know what works in the genre by now. But after watching My Soul to Take, I cannot help but sense a sense of sadness and dread that one of the best  lost his touch. Over a decade ago.

My Soul to Take. Your time to waste.

Stay Trashy,
-The Primal Root




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