Posts Tagged ‘teeth

27
Nov
19

The Happy Pill (2019): Put On A Happy Face

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a Primal Root written review

Life can become a nightmare. Work, family, relationships, daily interactions, it all begins to pile up and soon it feels as if the only escape we can find is when we shut our eyes and fade to sleep. Of course, this kind of lifestyle is enough to drive us all to the breaking point, and writer/director Kayla King’s debut short film, The Happy Pill, takes a graphic, nasty, and disturbing look into a life that is all too common for those of us struggling just to make it to the another day of pain, where we must constantly wake up from our dreams and head back into the repetitive, abusive mundane that is leading us nowhere.

 The Happy Pill tells the story of Amy Sanders (Heather Hough) dealing with deep depression who wakes up every morning to a nightmare routine. She calls her mother for help, but Mom is enjoying her vacation and can’t be bothered, she tries taking a shower, brushing her teeth vigorously, but she can’t get rid of how filthy she feels and it gets unfathomably worse when she goes to her dead end job at a vintage store, where her abusive boss, Mr. Moody (John Stevenson), a a dirty, sweaty, ass grabbing scumbag who enjoys nothing more than belittling and bad mouthing Amy. This is the routine, this is her life, and she is constantly reliving this Hell day after day.

That is, until she decides to begin taking a new over the counter medication named…The Happy Pill. We aren’t given much backstory to the medication itself, but the disconcerting effect is a compulsively grotesque smile that is constantly plastered on your face. Amy take the pills, day after life sucking day, upping the dosage each time, even as she begins to cry crimson tears, and her mouth fills with blood as she brushes her teeth. It all leads to a gore drenched, fecal matter encrusted climax and final confrontation between Amy and Mr. Moody, where the medicated Amy must decide whether she will continue to let life treat her like a piece of toilet paper, or will she take matters into her own hands and flush the shitty elements of her life straight to the sewer, and just where will that leave her?

Happy Pill 02

The Happy Pill is a ferocious, rage fueled debut. One with unique, body horror elements reminiscent of an early David Cronenberg by way of Kevin Smith and  mingling with the gnarly, schlocky, grossness and gratuitous gore and nudity of a Troma movie and comes up feeling like a companion piece to this year’s JOKER. What really sets The Happy Pill apart from so many short indie horror films I’ve seen are the fearless performances from the leads, first timer Heather Hough and veteran indie film actor, John Stevenson. Both give down and dirty, natural performances which really make the material work. And the fact that they are both up for depicting the horrors which appear in this film, especially by it’s end, make you  appreciate just how brave they are. Heather Hough owns every second of her screen time with a highly sympathetic and believable portrayal of Amy, and when she’s on screen, you cannot take your eyes off of her. Her transformation from depressed victim to violent, blood spewing avenger is damned impressive and is so fearless, it’s easy to forget this is her first time on screen. Stevenson plays the imposing Mr. Moody with an all too familiar glee and twinkle in his abusive eye. Moody enjoys abusing Amy who never fights back and does what she is told. He can touch her inappropriately, he can berate her in front of customers, he can tell her to work at HIS convenience and do it all with a chuckle and a shrug. Stevenson makes Mr. Moody a memorably despicable villain that we’ve all come across before…and you crave a comeuppance. John Stevenson deserves some great kudos for being game to bring such a monster to life.

King’s vision, brought to vivid, colorful life by cinematographer Hunter Black, who also served as editor of the film, is a perfectly timed sucker punch to the gut and feels exceedingly poignant as social issues, from mental health awareness, to the Me Too Movement, have become more prevalent ( thank goodness). The Happy Pill ends with a violent blast of pure frustration and rage at a world where so many are left behind, not cared for, unloved and made to feel worthless by those who neglect, abuse and drive their humanity into the ground under their boot heel. And this violent comeuppance, as incredible and brutal a sight to behold as it is, comes across as a battle cry of an entire sect of society left to fend for themselves with no upward mobility and no support system to fall back on.  And with the final shot, a silent, meditative, ambiguous moment, the filmmakers invite you to find you own meaning in what’s just happened. It allows you to read into the finale what you will in that final silent moment. And if, as they say, horror is simply a reflection of our society, I don’t doubt many of the viewers of The Happy Pill will feel as if they’re staring into their own eyes, as they themselves hold back the tears of rage they feel at a constant, every day life of scraping by and keeping a smile on your face while for those who make living off your hard work, while you waste your life away day by day and the previous generation goes on lavish vacations…and laughs at your struggle. 

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The Happy Pill is less than 15 minutes long, but it strikes with the force of a fucking sledge hammer. As the tagline reads, “It’s a Hard Pill to Swallow.” Well, mother fuckers, this is a dose you need to take.

I award The Happy Pill FIVE Out of FIVE Dumpster Nuggets. This short film offers something for every Trash Cinema Aficionado and will knock your ass out and shatter your senses.  Keep your eyes peeled for more from these incredible burgeoning talents out of Tallahassee, Florida.  I honestly hope this remarkable horror film inspires more independent films from the area.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

 

 

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

12
Sep
11

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark…Well, that’s a load of shit!

a Primal Root written review

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” (2011)

My buddy Sam and I recently checked out the Guillermo Del Toro produced and written remake of the cult classic 70’s made for TV horror movie, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”. A television movie, I must admit, I had not seen until recntly.  What Del Toro and company have delivered is a moderately entertaining spook show replete with CGI, tooth eating monsters, scared little girls and Katie Holmes looking as dazed and confused as she did in Batman Begins.

Yeah, it passed the time and wasn’t very memorable.  I was never once truly frightening beyond a jump scare level and treaded some pretty well worn Del Toro territory and comes off feeling remarkably similar as if his overrated fantasy flick, “Pan’s Labyrinth” had been cross bred with the original plot line of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”. Our central character is a little girl whose negligent father and step mother allow her to wonder around a gigantic mansion that is being renovated without any supervision.  What’s the worst that could happen, right? Well, for one, she could come across a portal to hell where she manages to unleash a bunch of calf-high, albino, hunch back tooth eating demons intent on dragging her tiny ass down to the depths of a hidden fire place pit where she will be mutilated and her soul will be in torment for all eternity. You know kids…

A Crest Kid's worst nightmare.

As you might have guessed, this is exactly what happens and when the little girl tries to tell her father (Guy Pierce, dialing it in as if this were MCI Friends & Family) he refuses to believe and shoves a few more Ritalin in his kid and goes back to focusing on his burgeoning career as an architect and a tool. The only one who kind of believes what’s going on is the little girls new, um, step friend (played by Katie ‘Deer in the Headlights’ Holmes) See, she’s not yet technically the little girl’s step mother. Dad’s still giving her a spin in the sack to see if he wants to go through with the marriage thing from what I gather. Hope the Scientology thing isn’t a deal breaker.

Well, no one fully believes our pint sized protagonist until it’s too late despite the mountains of evidence all over the place in the form of photos shot using the legendary Million Shot Polaroid Camera and even a crushed albino demon carcass that is jammed in a bookcase…but is never mentioned…Did anyone even find this guy’s squished little body? I’m sure that fucker started to stink after a while.  And by the end of the movie, well, let’s just say there are no happy endings. Although there are happier for some than others…Let’s just say, never get caught between a rope and a fire place.

Vague enough? Good. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” looks fantastic! It comes wrapped in a very enticing, glossy, package…but once you look beyond that lovely exterior, there’s not much else there being offered up to the viewing audience.  And don;t even get me started on how they botched the entire story by changing the little creature’s M.O. I was wondering why certain events transpired at the end of this updated ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” when the little creature’s M.O. was teeth…yet they seemed thrilled to tear people to pieces and not even come close to touching their chompers…It wasn’t until I watched the original that I truly understood what had happened with this retelling of the story and why these added elements feel totally unnecessary.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” (1973)

The original telling of the “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” tale was broadcast as the ABC Movie of the Week  near Halloween in October 1973. The production was helmed by the late, great,  John Newland (host and director of “One Step Beyond”) and has gone on to become a cult classic in many horror circles. And after my very first viewing it became readily apparent just why it holds such special place in the hearts of so many fans of the genre.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is the sad and frightening tale of a young marriage on the rocks. Lonely housewife, Sally (Kim Darby) who lives with her career obsessed husband, Alex (Jim Hutton) in her Grandmother’s old, gigantic mansion. Sally is left home alone a lot with her only company being an elderly groundskeeper. Yes, I know, this sounds like the beginning of a tale from Penthouse Forum. However, Sally’s boredom and curiosity lead her into her Grandfather’s old study as opposed to the grounds keeper’s drawers.  And, of course, she unleashes a posse of viscous, sadistic, furry fun-sized beasties intent on dragging poor young Sally into their realm through the fire place.

They're just like the Keebler Elves, only they're from Hell.

Sally immediately reports her situation to her husband and he helps her cope with these monsters and the both win the day and live happily ever after. Just kidding! As you might expect, Alex doesn’t believe a word of what Sally’s freaking out about and decides she’s upset and jealous over the fact he’s so devoted to his work (as opposed to her)  and, as matters escalate at a dinner party, he just considers her a raving lunatic and that these monsters  Sally claims are afraid of light, want to “steal her spirit” and kill the interior decorator with a well placed, Home Alone style trip chord, are nothing more than figments of her angry housewife imagination.Who has the last laugh? Well…no one actually.

In the thrilling climax to the film, Sally is sedated and dragged into the basement study by these evil creatures who are intent on stealing her away to their realm. Sally slowly wakes up and tries in vain o grab onto whatever she can to stop this from happening. It;s not enough. In a last ditch effort she grabs a Polaroid camera and snaps one single shot of these malevolent beings. It startles them for a moment…but they quickly regain composure and, again, begin dragging Sally towards her doom.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”  is basically a one woman show and is a decidedly grown-up affair. Sally’s horrific ordeal and pleas for help are greatly ignored by her absentee husband who scolds her as if she’s a child whose acting up. She’s trapped here, in this house, in this marriage, alone to fend for herself. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”  works exceedingly well as a metaphor for a loveless, unhappy marriage where the little things, literally in this case, begin splitting the couple apart.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” functions on so many levels as a psychological horror, a monster flick, a suspense thriller, marital drama…it has something for everyone and these elements all meld together so naturally, so well, that one never overwhelms the other. Also adding to the appeal, for The Root anyway, is the feel of the piece. It never feels rushed or hurried and the story develops naturally, never feeling forced. Plus, the retro look of the film in a way enhances the unsettling nature of the film itself . It’s age certainly shows, but I feel it is to the film advantage.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” works and works well. As I am sure you’ve guessed there are no happy ending here as Sally’s husband comes to his wife’s aid far too late…and the final moments, the final lines of the film are among the most chilling portions of either telling of the tale.  It’s the stuff of nightmares.

In Conclusion

Is it not normal for my bedroom to look like this when I shut off the lights?

I can see where Del Toro is coming from with the remake of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”. It’s a film he’s always had an affection for ever since it traumatized him as a child and felt the need to retell the tail with his own spin. I understand and appreciate that and the updating of the tale works on some levels and I am sure will appeal to a mainstream audience.

But why add that whole teeth subplot to the creatures as opposed to going after people for their spirit? And if this is the case, why does a certain individuals spirit speak at the end of the film from the bowels of the fire place? The flick makes some strange choices in an attempt be slightly different than it’s source material( Del Toro’s got a thing for little girls. Just sayin…) yet keeps all the great elements that made the original fantastic…even though it doesn’t make much sense in the context of the new rules they’ve set up.

Both films work on two separate levels.  “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” 2011 works as spectacle. There are jumps scares, more gore, CGI monsters and more Gothic atmosphere and baffelingly bad decisions than you can shake a tooth at.  “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” 1973 works as a story and character piece. The film takes the time to build characters, tell it’s tale, create genuine suspense and dread and then completely devastate and creep out it’s audience by the time the credits roll.

Now there’s a “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” for both camps. I’m sure it’s pretty apparent which version I prefer. But I know times and tastes change and the more they do the more I feel like I come across as some old curmudgeon telling the kids how much better things used to be while I yell at them to stay off my lawn while waving my cane wildly above my head as cream corn dribbles down my chin. I guess I am okay with that…Seems like I am the only living man in America who completely loathed the Fright Night remake.

Either way, the next time you find yourself in a gothic mansion with a creepy study that contains a fire place that leads straight to Hell and the owner tries to comfort you by telling you “Don’t be afraid of the dark?” Fuck that noise and get yourself a nightlight. Better yet, go find a Ramada.

Stay Trashy,

-Root

Please, don’t be afraid of The Darkness.




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