Psychedelic Film Criticism for the Already Deranged

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Angels of Death Summer Viewing List: The Badass Brunette Edition


It's summer time man, and if you're a Nordic in genes and temperament it's not your favorite season (that would be autumn) so that means lots of time staying home (academia!) and watching old horror movies, for that special chill. And horror means women, and if you love dark long flowing hair then you want brunette beauties up in there. Sure blondes are great. But your (Swedish) mom is blonde, and you can't abide seeing a girl who looks like your mom when she was 29 and you were three years old, struggling to get her attention and then she comes at you like a wurdalak to drink your blood. You kneel at the base of her bed screaming and crying in terror, and she finally wakes fully up and you realize she was just moaning from having to deal with your nonsense.

In short, blondes have the power to paralyze their prey but also to earn our sympathy, loyalty, attraction. If you're me, in general (unless you're French), I'm more your friend rather than lover if you're blonde. From the late 80s to the end of the '10s my best buddy--my platonic true love--has been a blonde ice queen (four different ones) and my GF an 'accessible' brunette (don't ask how many). My therapist had reasons why this formula repeated itself so relentlessly (and still does more or less).

Knowing this you can imagine that I was sooo looking forward to Swedish director Nicholas Windig Refn's NEON DEMON; but then I read April Wolfe's review in the Voice. I can't even seem to think about that issue without starting to shake in rage. If you're like me, you'd like to know that shit's not gonna crop up in horror movies you're watching, especially if for no reason other than some belabored twist 'social message point.' I blame Law and Order: SVU, HBO, and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Directors use every trick to make their R-ratings earned until we leave the film feeling like we too have been violated, the kind of expert molestation done in crowds where it doesn't even dawn on us what happened until the perp is long gone.

Just thinking about my thinking about it starts to elevate my blood pressure in mounting fratricidal rage. So rather than get all high horsey I'm going to skip ahead and share films these with you, all of which have cool women who don't need to deal with these sorts of traumas in order to win my affection. Endangered? Sure, but not at a naked chained quivering character at the mercy of a misogynist cokehead rewrite by the rich kid Illuminati-pledge producer who has to let us know the scope of his decade-long atrocities and snuff operations, as if just ordinary brutalizing wouldn't get us fired up. 

Hence this list: For brunettes can take care of themselves. At least to me. Naturally these laws are all broken forthwith.


9.  Arly Jover, Natasha Gregson Wagner 
VAMPIRES: LOS MUERTOS 
Dir. Tommy Lee Wallce (2002)
***
More than just a name-only sequel, this is directed by JC's number one apostle, Tommy Lee Wallace and it carries more than a shard of the great man's style (which makes it Hawksian twice removed). The big change here is that the main villainous vamp is the super sexy (but in a sleek way not a softcore bimbo way), lightning fast super strong mentally unstoppable Una (Arly Jover) who dreams of one day being able to walk in daylight without catching fire. Slinking around so fast among the blood bags she is invisible to the naked eye, zipping through packed cafes like a breeze, giving playful licks to the neck of Natsha Gregson Wagner, seducing the claustrophobic on-loan black vampire slayer (Darius McCarey) and scaring James Wood's replacement in the Vatican vamp slaying business, Jon Bon Jovi (who's great), and his priest acolyte.



This semi-sequel to Carpenter's film is way less misogynist and a lot more fun, to me anyway, especially with the addition of Jovi as the lead baddie, and Jover's lithe dancer's body perfectly sheathed in a lovely wrap dress (high fashion meets the mummy, the perfect blend); she doesn't get many lines nor need them but the way, once slowed into view, she moves back and forth like a swaying cobra, turning herself on by tuning into the beating hearts of her impending victims, is a real turn-on, and not in a sleazy way. I was rooting for her every step, as well as digging the cute love story between shoot-first ask-questions-never Jovi and "I'm bit but I got pills"- HIV analogy-trundling Natasha Gregosn Wagner. And is that future Mexican film star Diego Luna (Et tu mama tambien) as the local kid who signs on with a note from his parents? It is, and even with his weird face and strange manner the kid has undeniable screen charisma; you don't know why but you can smell impending stardom all over him. Blood never lies.  Wagner is a perfect vampire here and in...

10. Natasha Gregson Wagner
MODERN VAMPIRES  (1998) 
Dir. Richard Elfman - ***1/2

From VAMPIRE'S KISS, THE ADDICTION and NADJA in the east, and NEAR DARK and VAMPIRES in the west, the 90s was a high time for hipster vampires working blood as an addiction/heroin/schizophrenia substitute and this little honey of a made-for-cable horror has a lot of that vibe. Following vamp Caper Van Diem (showing a real relish for this kind of morale-free bloodthirsty killer romantic) as he cruises back into LA, earning the ire of Dracula, who's held a grudge against him for reasons made clear later (he bit Van Helsing's sick son, and set the wheels of vampire hunting in motion). 

With the director's brother, the great Danny Elfman, delivering one of his better scores of vocalizing and vamping (ala his work on Burton's Ed Wood and Mars Attacks), fusing with wild panther noises when newbie vamp Natasha Gregson Wagner--strutting and looking hot as Hell even in tawdry leather shorts--strikes at her johns and bloodies their cars and nearby alleys. Hot but sufficiently ferocious not to seem chintzy, bruises that seem real - with her shock of (dyed - hence makes the list) blonde hair and disregard for wiping out, cartwheeling drunk into trash piles, Wagner's vamp is the hottest mess going; Natasha Lyonne plays a (human) friend she makes in a club bathroom and goes partying with, to the dismay of her vamp keepers, mainly the hot guy back in town who turned her, Casper Van Diem 

What's so great is that these vamps don't waste their time hunting deer for blood like the Twilight crowd, they go for the jugulars of human beings with cheerful disregard for their screaming and pleading. Seeing naked bound humans terrorized and bled at the local vamp club as mere background to the dialogue and typical club exposition is wondrously refreshing after so many films where newbie vamps are meant to recoil in horror from their impending thirst, the way someone might stop eating meat after visiting a slaughterhouse. 

And damn right you'll be IMDB-ing the name this movie's screenwriter Matthew Bright after this, and once you do and realize he also wrote FREEWAY  and DARK ANGEL: THE ASCENT, then suddenly you're hooked. Who is this guy and why isn't he revered to this day as the blood slicked intersection of Jack Hill and Paul Schrader? Not sure. He fell off the map a little bit after this and devolved into druggy dysfunction biopics like BUNDY, which is a drag. As far as made-for-late-night-cable schlock goes, this film is a frickin quasi-gold nougat and yet I'd never have known about it if not for Quiet Cool puttin' me wise when I saw it reviewed alongside DARK ANGEL.  Bright has a yen for truly dangerous women, and I like that. You can smell the same anger at the relentless Kramer-ism and self-inflicted morality that dogs so many similar pics (and has ever since the censors made Hawks insert preachy diatribes at the precinct in SCARFACE). There's a bit too much Rod Steiger as a sociopathic Van Helsing (the film's one true bad guy, sort of) but there's thee always welcome Udo Kier, Craig Ferguson, Kim Cattrall, and Natalya Andreychenko adding oodles of zesty class as the upscale vampires. And there's three great black actor comics as Crips Van Helsing hires to help him raid nests: armed and extremely dangerous while rife with cool in-the-moment stoner comedy, i.e. Half-Baked and How High, but with a violent, stake-ramming edge that's so off kilter for the usual namby pamby second-wind morality (that says the 'good guys' can't be ruthless killers) that the film feels like it's really getting away with something. Even if the gang bang scene carries a nasty charge, its consensual and  either way, this is one bloody unapologetic mess around. When Van Diem preps to leave the final slaughter with Wagner and someone asks what to do he looks at the the dopehead crip vamps running riot in da club and notes that LA "is in good hands." Hahhaha. If this don't make you want to track down Full Moon's other Bright scripted / Richard Elfman-team-up, SHRUNKEN HEADS, then man are you lucky... it sucks but so what?

See also: Joséphine de La Baume and Roxane Mesquida
KISS OF THE DAMNED
(2012) Dir. Xan Cassavettes
***
Bearded screenwriter Paolo's (Milo Ventimiglio) smoldering eyes meet those of the alluring but stand-offish Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume) at the local video store: movies, connection! But they can only hook up if he chains her to her bed, cuz turned on she grows fangs and glowing eyes. After an impressively short bout of initial disbelief, Paolo's just too turned-on to not unchain her, biting and incumbent vampirism be damned. Hey, it's like when you're so in love you don't bother with a condom. I dig it. This movie gets that, and if vampire heterosexual love seems played out, Paolo and Djuna are so good together, so model-perfect without being smug or arch about it, that it's hard not to swoon. With its impeccable color schemes, all the better to perfectly bring out La Baume's gorgeous red hair and pale skin, the occasional bouts of vivid sex, Steven Hufsteter's mellotron slink and electric Morricone score evoking the Franco-Rollin oeuvre better than either ever managed. this retro-lyrical vampire love story would be a hard thing to fuck up, and this impressive debut from the daughter of John Cassavetes is far from fucked-up.


I like it worlds better than the similarly stylized and better-reviewed Duke of Burgundy and I like that movie too. Backed up with beautiful art direction and cinematography, the delicately low-key romantic chemistry of La Baume and Ventimiglio intoxicates so much that when Djuna's wild child sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) shows up, needing a place to crash after laying waste to Amsterdam, we recoil in frustration like we're Gene Tierney cockblocked by apple-cheeked cherubs in Leave Her to HeavenKiss of the Damned isn't set in the past or anything but Cassavetes is clearly paying some homage to the sexy vampire films of swinging 60s-70s Europe, and she hooks us into loving them with her by filling us with the giddy high that comes from being welcomed into the in-crowd, and being cool enough that of course you fit right in and become ageless, never tired, super hot, and well-dressed at all times. I like that too what or who exactly they're hunting and drinking deep in the woods (and then burying in the back yard) is left quite vague. Paolo doesn't hem and haw about killing the way Brad Pitt does in Interview with a Vampire What kid of a famous filmmaker has ever made us feel that inclusive intoxication, aside from Sofia Coppola, once? 


12. Alison Elliott as the reincarnation spectra of Irish druid generations
THE ETERNAL 
(1998) Dir. Michael Almereyda
***1/2

If Eugene O'Neill adapted Bram Stoker's "Jewel of the Seven Stars" and set it in modern, swinging times with the help of Hemingway and Lew Landers, I think we'd have the ETERNAL. I found this gem by being into Almereyda's black and white vampire hipster film NADJA and learning he made this one afterwards...Starting in NYC and ending up on a windswept Irish shore, it's about reincarnation and a mummified druid priestess dug out of the peat moss by Christopher Walken and kept down in the basement of the ancestral homestead. Noting her body's been preserved by all the tannin in the peat, Walken's pretty enthralled by his discovery--an ancestor of his family... and therefore Alison's (Alison Eliot) who's been having migraine black-outs and drinking and goes to the homestead in Ireland almost as if called by some unseen force, her fun-loving husband (Jared Harris) and ginger son in tow.

One of the unique subtexts at work here is an undercurrent of pro-drunken anger --as still sick and suffering from episodes of passing out on stairs, Nora regularly has drinks taken out of her hands by fellow drunk husband Jim who says "none for us, we're quitting" and makes a big show of enjoying life without it all while nipping from a flask unseen. That kind of balderdash makes me want to wretch! The way the drinks pass her wide eyes by, or the way she works hard to seem deadpan when getting offered some whiskey down in the basement once Jim's upstairs with the ginger kid --it's the kind of stuff only drunks like myself probably feel so keenly, and non-drunk directors don't even seem to notice as keenly as others when adapting O'Neill's works. Very few playwrights capture the way every offered drink, every vulnerable liquor bottle, warms the alcoholic's blood like a siren call, and every 'no thanks' on their behalf freezes the blood like a gut punch they're not allowed to wince from, lest they prove just how valid their family's concerns are.  (more)

FURTHER BRANCHING:
See also: Michael Almereyda's previous hipster/30s horror deconstruct, NADJA (Elina Löwensohn)
See also: Hammer's adaptation of Stoker's Jewel of the Seven Stars: BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB  (Valerie Leon, above) 
See also: Virginia Christine in: CURSE OF THE MUMMY (1942) 


 2-3. Lili Taylor + Catherine Zeta Jones
THE HAUNTING
(2001) - Dir Jan de Bont
 **1/2

Whenever I feel a close sisterly affinity with an actress I check when and where she was born - sure enough, like me Lili Taylor is a Pisces born in 1967 Illinois. And she's a born mirrorer - meaning she can reflect, distort, match and amplify other people when in close one on one encounters, but we start to lose ourselves the larger the group - we can't reflect everyone after all - and so we begin to vanish. Give us time alone with cool chick like Catherine Zeta Jones, though, and it's like an awesome sexy feedback machine.

An Aires born 1969 in Wales, Jones has a twin sign reflector skill herself - she's never been outshone in any film - always able to at least match her co-star/s, as if a radiance reflector herself. Put two reflectors together like Jones and Taylor in the first chunk of Haunting- and there's instant lesbian heat that overwhelms Taylor (in the mousy caretaker role) which delights Jones, who's fascinated by Taylor's instant crush on her, but quickly moves on once the rest of the guests arrive. Most hilariously is the way, for example, Taylor echoes the ominous words of the uptight housekeeper ("we lock the gates after dark") while giving Jones a sly grin. If only it was just the two of them, running through the house in all its giddy overdressed splendor (funhouse rooms with mirrors and revolving floors, etc), secret panels, living griffins, imprisoned souls, et al. it would be a total classic. But then comes the boys--Liam Neeson and Owen Wilson--in career lows apiece, as if realizing the film's already been stolen by these two raven-haired demonesses, they decide to just wreck it with their smarmy banality.

Jones toys with Owen, bemusedly, partially to get under Taylor's skin, partially out of habit, but always good-naturedly (girls who want guys to stop hitting on them without losing them as friends should study her deflector skill), and eventually Owen drops the "my smile is so disarming" confident smugness and starts to accept his position as a little brother figure. Neeson on the other hand is totally at sea, his grasp off how to act in green screen CGI Whoville is as off as it was in the same year's PHANTOM MENACE.

For example there's the dialogue, clunky, in their initial meeting- Jones bragging about her Prada Milan boots and so forth but she delivers the lines with a cheeky delight in the place "this is so twisted, Susan Foster Kane meets the Addams Family," And the evil-eyed housekeeper delivering the lines "No one will come here / in the dark" about her strict habit of leaving after dinner, but this time Taylor stands next to her, echoing the creepy words and giving an enigmatic semi-feigned macabre delight - it's dialogue that could have sunk to the floor in weaker hands (certainty the housekeepers cast more for severity than chutzpah), but between Taylor's cool/warm Piscean deadpan and Jones' dusky Welsh relish for red, it works - they know how to match the dark twisted tone of the place.

The men by comparison are just dumb and smarmy. When she's talking about Three AM making her feel like a genius, she's bringing about a general discussion of thoughts and inspiration, while all --- can do is rant about the infomercials he watches. ("That's why god created barbiturates, honey" she tells him). But god also created the VCR, dumbass. Watch goddamn WC Fields and learn how to drink like a man; but the script and acting is fascinating as you get the idea these people really are meeting for the first time and all trying to impress each other, lying and inflating their egos (he tries to win her over by patronizingly third person talking to Liam, "I see a little Jackie Susann in Theo" - i.e. he only has comparison with TV and movies, offering none of his own experience by contrast, and it's very patronizing, and she gives him a "sarcastic chuckle."


All Liam can do on contrast is feeble exposition ("a sleep study - that's why we're here.") No shit.

As I've written, I prefer this film to the original Haunting - I know its' heresy but I'm sorry - Russ Tamblyn's little Bronx gremlin face and one-track greed dialogue is wearying and Julie Harris' spinster shit was old as far back as East of Eden. Compare her act in the Haunting to say, Deborah Kerr's 'unhinged Poppins' in The Innocents and you're reminded that while some Brit actresses lend oomph, warmth and gusto to even their spinster roles, others just drain the life out of everything but their own androgynous Emily Dickinson on Lithium depth, mistaking bland tedium as something that--being true to the character--will wow an audience rather than make them want to punch a hole in the wall.


Also check Taylor in THE ADDICTION (1991) my favorite of hers and of Abel Ferrara's- with perfect fusion between her off-the-cuff whispery thrilled aliveness, Ferrara's druggy downtown cool, and screenwriter Nicholas St. John's doctoral thesis in philosophy while on heroin stream-of-consciousness and the Village at the height of its rock sticker-layered post-punk decadence even as NYU was working like methadone. I was living on 15th and 7th and used to walk past all these spots, hungover or drunk out of my mind, and lemmie tell ya, it was really like that - all the black tailgate partying on the weekends, and so froth - Rastas sellin' ganja (maybe), used record and clothing stores every half-step, awesome. All gone now... god damn it all.



4. Rose McGowan
PLANET TERROR
(2007) - Dir. Robert Rodriguez
****

Now that I've had the chance to see the Hateful Eight three or four times, it's become apparent to me just how much that film belongs to Samuel Jackson--how he 'owns' it and centers it and gets the bulk of dialogue. Similarly, seeing PLANET TERROR seven or more times it becomes apparent just how much Rose McGowan's movie this is - how even surrounded by heavy hitters (Jeff Fahey, Josh Brolin, Freddy Rodriguez)  she OWNS it, gets the most lines and screen time and range, changes the most, and most goes for broke, delivering a wide-ranging tough as nails 'it's go-go not cry-cry' moxy, becoming a comedian, dealing with losing her leg and becoming all she can be all over one long crazy night, spilling gallons of infected blood while running (with one leg and no crutches) a gamut of regular loss of hope (her crying one-legged striptease for a repugnant Quentin) and onwards. 

Part of what makes the film work is its moral twilight where none are good or evil without some part of the other (for example, Marley Shelton plays a terrible mother and wife, but one of the intrepid hero survivors; Brolin is at least a 'great 70s dad' and good doctor ["we're gonna have to take the arm, Joe"] while also being Shelton's murderously jealous husband), Biehn for example focuses on arresting El Wray ("are you a 'wrecker,' Wray?") rather than focusing on the town going to shit all around him, etc. Only Wray himself and Cherry (McGowan), the least respectable on paper (rap sheet on one; go-go dancer the other) are truly the knight-errants. Repeat viewings reveal McGowan's journey is one shared by every college graduate with no prospects - how to make use of your list of seemingly useless talents to find a life purpose, all while the clock is ticking and opportunity windows are close closing. Sometime the less options there are the bigger the yet uncreated role you were meant to fill, and that is what real heroism is all about. Funny that her and Wray's motto is 'two against the world,' when they're the most unselfish ones of their group, and therefore truly their sisters' keeper and the finders of los gringos. 

See also:Rose McGowan in
 PHANTOMS
(1991)  **1/2

I suppose most people would think of Charmed or Scream or something when they think of Rose McGowan (1), but me, I think of this, I don't love it but I sure can watch it a lot. It's got several things I like and nothing I don't. Besides strong, cute women in the lead, snowy isolation, guns, the idea of a collapsing Hawksian deputized governmental other (i.e. civilians, military, cops, crooks, drunks etc. working together without shadiness, class distinction, or judgment) working against a common foe and that it starts right in with the slow mounting weirdness, doesn't waste time with tedious small town Americana details (the way a Stephen King miniseries would), and has a cool ancient aliens-style monster, something to root against (I don't jibe with the feel-bad Kramer-esque liberalism of the 'we're the evil aliens' sci fi - ala Day the Earth Stood Still, Man from Planet X, etc.) I love its shades of Carpenter's Thing, and Prince of Darkness  (and that its set over one long night), I relate to being all freaked out when a sibling or bestie lures one to their bohunk town for the holidays, finding out it's full of weird evil creatures and errant electricity. I like the ominous pipe groans, the readiness of the girls to gun up at the sheriff's office. And that Liev Schreiber's full creepiness is utilized (rather than trying to pass himself off a good guy which never works --his eyes are too close together). 

My mom used to have a whole stack of Koontz novels she read on the basement steps in case I wanted to read them, which I never did. They always struck me as Readers Digest versions of Stephen King, stripped--I imagined--of New England townie detail and about thickness. Was it the dull covers or that my mom liked him so I couldn't? Either way, when this movie came around to Syfy I watched it and wondered. Now, strangely enough, Peter O'Toole's elderly face here reminds me a lot of how my mom looked the last time I saw her. Coincidence - am I reading too much into it?? Who's to say what's real.


The cast is pretty badass - Acidemic favorite Rose McGowan, some cute chick named Joanna Going as the tough sisters, Ben Affleck is pleasingly nondescript as the sheriff; with Nicky Katt and Schreiber as the deputies the town takes on a pleasing Actors' Studio patina. like the only person in the whole cast who seems believably from the Rocky Mountain area is Bo Hopkins, stealing a scene with O'Toole in a private plane (when he thinks he's being arrested rather than recruited). Affleck's too young and his hair's to slick and short to be believable as a sheriff, and he and his deputies' vibe mirrors that reflecting in the dissolving military cohesion in Romero's The Crazies in half the time. Schreiber with his serial killer glasses and Michael Keaton-style gum chewing is pretty terrifying as the weirdness of the situation throws him into a manic tailspin, but it would have helped to see him in the beginning as somewhat sane, as it is it seems very improbable anyone but a deranged moron would give him a gun.  So sure, it's not perfect. Sometimes being "not bad" is good enough.



4. Melanie Scorfano
WYNONNA EARP
(SyFy - NOW)
***

Sharknado is the kind of movie Syfy premieres, but they also import cool sci fi TV from Canada, where strong female leads come smuggled from across the 49th Parallel. Here's one that's winning fans for its star Melanie Scorfano, an accursed direct descendent of Wyatt Earp, with an ornate demon killing gun to help her finally undo the curse that's been dogging her lineage since the OK Corral. Wynonna's sister Waverly tends bar at the local watering hole so there's lots of drinking, casual sex, occasionally on-point Black Hills-ish South Dakota country accents, and the kickass Scrofano ("crazy chick with a gun!!" she screams over the music at da'club, and for once that claim is believable). She's could be the cooler little sister of Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction. Some of the menfolk don't have a full grasp on their twangs, but the main bad guy (Bobo) is at least cool in a Hitchcockian sort of way, even forging a strange bond with Waverly, etc. and there's females in traditionally male roles (like the blacksmith) and both sides have negatives and positives at play making it all very nice and wry (Wynonna shoots unarmed men/demons with nary a qualm - and I like that). That said, it's not quite in the zone yet but for a first season, it's damned good Canadian, without an ounce of cloying sedimentary sweetness, but plenty of sisterhood, drinking, and weird curses, hellfire, and... Scrofano playing Wynonna with a two-fisted but very womanly gusto (rather than girly softness) that's way beyond most American actresses (if any place is stuck in the past, it's surely Hollywood not Calgary).


6. Famke Janssen - WITCH!
HANSEL+GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS
(2012) - Dir Tommy Wirkola 
**1/2
Since I have distant ancestors hung as witches in Salem I'm still sensitive on this issue (that's a joke, how could I possibly remember them - 300 years is a long time, even the ancestral curses have worn off) but you can't call a film misogynist for using the words 'witch' and 'hunters' back to back, though when this first came out I certainly did try, and if there's any unsettling aura of gynocide (as there surely was in the depicted Middle Ages) it's not really apparent in the film, except as concerns the lone dickweed Peter Stormare and his good ole boy constabulary, who try to get rapey with our Gemma Arterton (sister witch hunter) and get smashed up real troll-wise instead. Still we learn not to budge jooks by the clubbers (and I just forward through his yucky parts). I would have liked to see her save herself: there's a good witch (Phila Vitala) and the bad ones are super cool and are led by the great Famke Janssen, fast proving herself to be such a welcome beauty that perhaps the entire world is as smitten with her as poor Logan in X-Men (and me, and anyone who every loved the John Byrne/Chris Claremont era of 70s-80s X-Men comics). We'd follow her off a cliff and director Wirkola (who gave us Dead Sno 2 after this) pulls no punches; it's got so many strong females that if it is misogynist it's also a tribute to the inner resilience of womankind. Repress her and you just repress yourself, Stormare, you dickweed. See also Famke's great work in Lord of Illusions, The Faculty, and fuckin' love you, Famke.

See also by Wirkola:

9. DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS. DEAD
"Dod Sno" (2014) Dir. Tommy Wirkola
***
The Bride of Frankenstein of Nazi zombie pictures, it starts in the climax of the last one: Martin (Vegar Hoel), the final boy of the last film now has the the dreaded Colonel Herzog's (Ørjan Gamst) arm sewed onto him, and can raise the dead with it. So he resurrects a bunch of Russian POWs executed by the Nazis and buried in a mass grave 70 years ago (but frozen in the Norwegian mountains), to go up against Herzog's crew, who liberate an old Panzer tank from a nearby museum, a tank! A Nazi zombie first!




Marin is aided by three American nerds, 'the Zombie Squad' --Martin Starr (Party Down, Burning Love), Ingrid Haas, and the lovely Jocelyn DeBoer (above center) as a Star Wars nerd, the type who can have her pick of any man at the San Diego comic-con but probably doesn't even realize it, which makes her just the hotter. And everyone plays it dead straight, as nature, science and Nordic tradition demands. Miss it at your own risk. It's in English (not dubbed): the actors speak it, very well, creating an odd juxtaposition if you watch this back-to-back with the Norwegian language first film).

See also with Famke
11. THE FACULTY 
(1998) Dir. Roberto Rodriguez
***
This movie came and went in theaters and is easy to overlook, awash as Netflix is in dumped-to-video teen horror films. But I saw this in the theater, and dug the romance between Famke Janssen and the drug-dealing high school brooder Josh Hartnett; there's also a new girl in school (Laura Harris), a mysterious outbreak of body-snatcher's style teacher takeover, and the best use of getting called into the principal's office as a cause for terror ever, and a keenly-felt amount of dread and frustration with parents that just tear apart your room looking for drugs when you make strange claims about alien takeovers. The all-star cast includes John Stewart as the science teacher, Terminator 2's Robert Patrick as the gym coach, Selma Hayek as the nurse, Bebe Neuwirth and Piper Laurie as vice principals, all jumping at the chance to work with Roberto Rodriguez and Scream writer Kevin Williamson (this time he keeps the film references in check, focusing instead on sci fi novel sources (Duvall explains that Finney's Body Snatchers was a rip-off of Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, and Wood theorizes aliens promoted these themes so that no one would believe it when they happened for real, ala Bruce Rux, etc.)

The younger cast includes Clea Duvall is the Aly Sheedy-style outcast (in case you didn't make the Breakfast Club connection), and Jordana Brewster is spritely as a bitchy school newspaper reporter cheerleader bemused by photographer Elija Wood's infatuation with her.

The attempts of the new student (a touching Laura Harris) to connect are pretty sweet. She's almost the only human there, her existential loneliness the closest thing to a genuine high school emotion. Aside from stoner crank dealer Josh Hartnett, hottie nerd teacher Famke Janssen, nerdo Baggins, there's Usher! A memorable Marilyn Manson "We Don't Need No Education" runs under the uber-violent football game, connecting the cosmic dread of death with the fascist-pagan ceremonial barbarism of small town high school football. Best of all is how fast the heroes fall prey to the take-over, romances flare up and fade, and it all moves inexorably onwards. Roberto Rodriguez's direction is tight, as it often is when he's not trying to make an auteur statement. This baby came and went in the Kevin Williamson post-Scream gold rush (i.e. I know What You Did Last Summer), by 1999, Blair Witch Project and Sixth Sense had taken over.

See also w/ Gemma Arterton:

8. Gemma Arterton
BYZANTIUM
(2013)  ***1/2
Dir Neil Jordan

Speaking of crazy Gemma - Irish director Neil Jordan loves cinema, beautiful girls, cinematic violence and the tawdry vice-ridden tourist traps of the UK seaside, in that order, and here delivers 'em all swirled like frosting on the existential women's picture (ala Suzuki not Cukor) yoked sublimely to the Anne Rice-readymade tale of a 200+ year old vampire and her equally ageless daughter (Saoirse Ronan) . The film has a rare style, so sure and gorgeous it seems--like the daughter unfixed to any one century, out to ensnare the hearts of the real life Edgar Allen Poe, his child wife/cousin, the Bronte sisters, and 15 year-old Twilight fans all in the same razor-studded wire net. Ferocious Gemma Arterton is Carmilla (!), we see her tossed by an uncaring officer into a brothel back in the 1700s, later following him off to the remote Irish coast island (Hy-Brasil?) where anyone who enters a certain cave and bathes in bats or whatever is imbued with immortal vampirism - a secret kept by an all-male Illuminati-style brotherhood who don't want any girls mucking it up, to the point they've had hit teams on her trail since the day she was turned. By 2013 she's still making her way by turning tricks, drinking her johns, as it were, if they get too bold. Saoirse on the other hand plays angel of mercy by only drinking-killing old folks who are 'ready' to go and who all seem to recognize her as come at last. She's kind of a drip, a bit like Edwina's daughter in Absolutely Fabulous, while Arterton is a force of nature. Though hundreds of years old, she's still just as daft as the day she was bit, and it's odd hearing a working class Brit accent on such a creature but it fits the way her voracious brio for her work, the affection for the gentle, lonely clients of her ancient trade and her rabid relish in tearing the bad ones apart, especially if they impugn her mothering skill or threaten her daughter. If it somehow doesn't ultimately seem to add up, say anything new, and you can see the events and resolutions a mile off, that doesn't mean Jordan's as sure of foot as few others, drawing on his experience with merging vivid working class grunginess, historical costume bodice ripping, fairy tale dream poetics, and poetry with sexual tolerance and forgiveness.


Anitra Ford and Joy Bang
MESSIAH OF EVIL
(1973) ****
You can argue the rest of the film is merely a very cool quiet Lovecraft of the Living Dead style melt down with some very cool wall paintings but you'd miss one unique thing - the strange bond between the two girlfriend's of the sleepy-eyed aesthete (Michael Greer) who joins bewildered daughter of missing artist Royal Dano, Arletty (Marianna Hill) in her quest to unravel the weird Shadow over Innsmouth-style events of the small seaside town. Though they all apparently are lovers (as if he's a stand-in for, say, PERFORMANCE co-director Donald Cammell) there's never much sexual chemistry betwixt them, but there's something much more special: a drowsy affection and almost wordless connection. You get the sense these three people have done quite a bit of driving together, seen some crazy shit, and, maybe a month or so ago were deeply enthralled with each other, vibing on a communal three-way artistic road trip odyssey groove, an odyssey that's now coming to its end as organically as it started. Tired from a lot of sex and drugs and monkey grooming, caught up in the rhythm of the sea, they're still close but Anitra Ford, for one (never hotter or cooler dressed with that gorgeous contrast of long, willowy trunk and crazy hot mess of hair) and her associate, little punk Nikki Charmer Joy Bang (whom you can imagine they picked up hitch hiking or something initially but has been way more than a third wheel on their aimless odyssey), are restless and ready to disappear into the night. I like that there's no boring lipstick lesbian smut (or sex at all), and instead, as I say, this languid shared vibe. Ford gets mildly perturbed when Greer loses all interest in her as Arletty rolls into his sights, and so leaves her man and woman behind to go wander into the night. Her confident slow vanishing into the quiet abyss of night is chillingly poetic.... Bang follows awhile later to go to the movies, and is more the unconscious popcorn smacker, but she's young, hey, and I'm guessing the perfect snack before the main feature. In short, though I only got this disc a few years ago, I've already seen it at least six times. It's one of the great horror rediscoveries of my decade.



Anna D'Annunzio as Barbara
 STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY'S TEARS
(2013) Dir Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani
***1/2

Hélène Cattet et Bruno Forlani, the first couple of the Darionioni Nuovo take Argento and smash him into a thousand mirror shards for this hyper-surreal Freudian mind-meld. Granted their unique looping style will no doubt prove irritating after about twenty minutes to people who don't know SUSPIRIA and INFERNO like the black of their gloves, and who don't swoon at gorgeous mazes of art nouveau architecture and Jungian psychosexual mythic color-coded resonance.  The plot concerns Dan (Klaus Tange), one of those nondescript middle-aged vaguely ex-porn starry executive types French film is full of, returning home to his apartment after a business trip to find his wife gone and only a series of bizarre clues as to where she disappeared to; apparently it's somewhere inside the massive byzantine, super strange building they live in. As we gawk in awe and wonder what parts of this amazing edifice are sets and which actual building interiors, we long to move in, irregardless of the sensual dangers behind every wall. Strange clues whispered through vents; elderly neighbors with haunting stories of peering through ceiling holes into the apartment above; a gendarme detective drops by now and again to help him knock on doors but no one is the same person who answers and more and more suspicion falls on Dan; going up to the roof for a cigarette to he first meets Barbara (Anna D'Annunzio) and we just know he's found some dark dangerous magnetized void where death and desire, agony and ecstasy orbit and merge as time stands whirlpool maelstrom still. The way Forlani/ Cattet and D'Annunzio manage to imply this by little more than a black satin shirt, open collar and long dark hair, dark red lipstick, is beyond me, but just meeting her causes a blood chilling sensation like a razor blade dipped in ice water before being run down our backs. A sublime and terrifying anima, we get the feeling that he'll never find her again or escape her bedroom vortex except on her own transfigurative terms, and going to bed with her will be a fatal mistake he'd be a fool not to make.

How all this is conveyed by little more than a glance and a cigarette on a roof at night I'm I don't pretend to know but it's a testament to the filmmakers' understanding of the psyche and psychosis underlying all the better giallos and  D'Annunzio's raven haired/pale skin beauty offset by blazing red lips and unearthly confidence, added to the relative rareness of her appearances, conditioning us to shiver with dread at the first sign of her beauty, a harbinger of more inside-out slashing, glass-eating, and multicolored gem fingernail gashing to come. Unbearable pleasure, intoxicating agony, nonexistent time. Rewind forever and learn nothing. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fantasy Phallus Fallacy: SATURN 3


"You're inadequate, Major... in every area."
Nothing's easy when you're young, and when you're old nothing's hard, as the saying went... before Viagra. Oh foul Pfizer, accursed stumbling block towards the stars, removing man's chance to e'er unyoke from the leaden ox cart of longing. It used to be that, after a few decades of plowing away there, men could leave that field and retire to pasture. What choice did they have? Sulk about it? Have one more girl pat them on the back and say happens to all men, sooner or later? After about five of those in a row, bro, even the stubbornest satyr would just let go. And cinema, like the 'canon' of 'straight white male' literature amidst it, dealt often with this very issue, for in the 60s-70s especially adults did not live to amuse their children. Parents played bridge and went to the movies and left the kids at home with a babysitter. They saw James Bond movies and came home and told their kids about it, not vice versa. In our age when ever new Pixar or Disney film makes billions and something like The Neon Demon just withers away, well - it's clear whose age is being catered to. And thanks to Viagra it's also clear who never needs to --or gets to--unyoke from the oxcart of endless hungry ghost tail-chasing desire.

It used to be that impotence was considered such a major event in a man's life that some auteurs addressed it in nearly every film (Kubrick, for example). And it wasn't just some whiny boot out the gates of fertile Eden, but a sign, a notice that it was time to turn away from the ceaseless pursuit of pleasure and prepare one's soul for immanent departure, like a "fasten seat belts" light above one's head. A chance to stow the bags and put thy tray tables in upright positions, if you'll pardon my French.

Desist, snickering footman!
I shall now say naught but Hallelujah, for I heard that
hearing the phrase "no atheists in a foxhole,"
bid God invent war, that impotence was the first lobbed shell,
General Ripper's bodily fluids draining like a sinkhole,
a muddy black paintbrush rinsing out,
between holy trance and blinding rage,
I'd not let God hear aught else about what turns macho heads His way,
acrylics never dry just right
but we can put a gel gloss finish over it and pass it off in Paris
as free abstraction, or write a thing on "the Lost Generation"
with Hiroshima safely stored behind the decades yet to come,
not many... and anyway,
No one else will print it but the dirty books guys,
so we added a bunch of sex, to get it banned back home

And kids, that's how 'the Great White Male' invented art and literature as a way to say fuck you back to God, to blow it up, at least in effigy. And God didn't take it personally, anymore than a good dad would take a child's first bedtime tantrum. Good for his lungs, to scream like that, He'd say. And thus, cinema was born, and thus D.W. Griffith urged soldiers to throw down their arms as brothers. Like a chump. No one listened, being too mad at him for Birth of a Nation.

INTOLERANCE (1916)

1980 then: SATURN 3, was made when a male star fading out of virility's fickle spectrum was something to base a whole film on, like a reverse fireworks display. I can only imagine it's intentional that Saturn 3 is also the name of a hospital temp. monitor.

Kirk Douglas plays "the Major" i.e. Adam, a hydroponic botanical scientist trying to solve the world's foot shortage while in an octopus armed tunnel hydroponic garden complex, a cool serpentine bachelor pad for him to putter around in his bathrobe and socks, with a cute doggie, a babe half his age, and the only remaining source of fresh fruit in the galaxy. But no one cares about the garden, much, that's an excuse for the heat, as Colonel Rutledge would say in The Big Sleep. What it all boils down to isn't rutabagas but 'breeding rights.' You can call it indulgent, but in the late 70s, virility wasn't a little blue pill away, so a man hiring some girl half his age to convince him she still needs him and will feed him when he's 64 didn't seem as predatory. Today with our endless boners you can watch Kirk jump rope and run laps and throttle a much younger man while wearing nothing but a bath towel and think he seems pretty vain, but I think it could be worse. He's not a narcissist so much as a satyr afraid his horns are coming loose. It's not like he's Kevin Spacey. He doesn't care if we love him, he just wants us to think he's still virile, and that's okay. He's just taking that mirage U-turn all male actors take when they see the road they're on has no more exits, just dead end credits rolling into view on the horizon like a distant ominous fog.

You can kind of see it in his eyes in the picture above - the short guy drive to seem virile coupled to the "this girl's only 100 pounds and she's crushing my rib cage" old guy anxiety. 
And as his 'assistant,' Farrah Fawcett is no stranger to sci fi focusing on fear of aging (i.e. she was the plastic surgeon assistant in Logan's Run), she was the "It" girl for a hot second, but quit TV to do this, drawing some ire from fans of Charlie's Angels for, like Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live, leaving after one season was considered a kind of betrayal, like a girl who tricks you into thinking she like you just to make someone else jealous. Farrah was still the girl still on the wall of every boy in America, though her poster's edges were by 1980 yellowed and crinkled. Many of us took them down when she went off to England to do this film, which ran over budget and held her up way longer than anyone planned, and by then we disliked her and the damned movie sight unseen. She was 32, and she was still 32 years Kirk's junior. They've been up there for three years, Adam tells their interloper Benson (Harvey Keitel), the company hatchet man, there to 'speed things up,' as it were, long enough for us to imagine they've been having quite a time, and presuming things are still 'hard' for them in the sheets.

Needless to say we jealous Angels fans were secretly pleased Saturn 3 got bad reviews. But now, so much older and socially aware, I feel little for Farrah except to wonder if she's anorexic here, as she seems very thin. But the film now seems unique and if not utterly successful certainly fascinating as an example of 'great white male in decline' cinema wedded to the tropes of science fiction. I'm closer to Kirk's age now and CGI and HD video cameras have choked the sci fi aesthetic to a lifeless grey fog. And I've seen 2001, Star Wars, and Alien enough times to admire the way all their tropes have all learned to live together in Saturn 3, on space platforms grooving in 'silent' space.

I had that Farrah poster, of course, it was the first poster most kids my age ever had (one of "the" first period) and wasn't old enough to see SATURN 3, but old enough to read the negative reviews, and not exactly thrilled by the idea of seeing Farrah dating a guy my grandfather's age. Well, it's the future now, 2016. We kids with that poster are older now -- old enough to need Viagra, and lucky enough to live in a future that has it, and as a result boners are not a national male obsession like they used to be. It's nothing to brag about, to hinge your conception of self worth upon. We can watch Kirk strutting his stuff now and just feel a little confused by it all. It's not like he's that short or old, so why is he making so sure we see him jumping rope and running laps?

Dig, a film like this should have come out in the early 70s where such 'adult' themes like impotence and mid-life crises were allowed to be expressed as legitimate fears. By 1980, science fiction was back to being juvenile fantasy, so the 60s-70s dystopias and apocalypses, all our worries about the ozone layer, population levels, libidinal excesses of patriarchally-coded sexism, and fading boners, were old school, man, strictly Charlton. Star Wars and Alien had given us boilerplates for matinee serial wizzbang and horror in space, ET was coming and the nuclear family depicted as a protagonist rather than a middle-aged man facing his own immanent "abort time" while gallivanting with girls half his age and taking tons of free drugs.

This was not all bad of course, and the idea that we wouldn't have to protect screaming helpless maidens when we got older was quite a relief. Between Sarah Connor, Ripley on the Nostromo, the "final girl" of horror (as she was yet to be dubbed), we were receiving a cadre of badass ladies who could blow shit up all by themselves, who didn't need men at all, one way or the other, to save them from neutered automaton boogeymen. As boys we felt a great relief; these girls allowed us to stay irresponsible for far longer than we thought.

But in SATURN 3, among other things, we're clearly meant to see things from old Kurt's wearily responsible shoulders, his jealousy of a younger man and fear of being kicked out of Eden and replaced by a robot (Benson names him with a subliminally apt verb: Hector) all coinciding with the relentless disillusionment and demoralization that is the inevitable by-product of longevity (especially of the childless variety) that makes his joking threats about planning to "flush" Benson and his robot into space seem pathetic and infantile rather than genuine (he should do it and keep quiet about it, make it look like an accident - or shrug it off). Alas, the only time Adam is courageous is when he declares that he's old and he's going to soon be "flushed" or will reach "abort time" in some combination of Carousel in Logan's Run, and a firing from the global collective via Skype, which never really pans out -he seems genuinely relieved at those times. 20th century in his ideals and patriarchal entitlement you think he must have just come out of cryogenic deep freeze, As Adam, Kirk wants to let us know he can still be flirty and happy with a young bane like Farrah, though when they're supposedly being flirty and loving together, his tendency is to shout in her face and bug his eyes and roll his mouth around like trying to distract a crying infant rather than converse with an adult. Benson at least uses his indoor voice, even if it isn't exactly "his" at all but dubbed (as I guess Brits were alarmed by Keitel's Brooklyn accent). 

While directed by Stanley Donen, this troubled production originally belonged to award winning Kubrick/Star Wars production designer John Barry; it was his story back in 1978, British bad boy novelist Martin Amiss turned it into a script, all this beautiful production design was in place but then--as the story goes-- Kirk's titanic male ego and a difficult-to-control robot threw Barry for a loop and after a few days of floundering, Kirk basically launched a one-man mutiny until Donen stepped in. Unfortunately as a result of too many cooks, Saturn 3 doesn't really pull far enough in any direction to make much of an impression, but it's really not that bad, especially on the slick Shout Blu-ray. I won't go so far as to say it's great, but if anyone had the right to mish-mash the style, look and sound of 2001, Star Wars and Alien with the pre-Lucas sci fi of Kubrick, Charles Heston dystopia films and emergency botanical ark ships (all the rage in the 70s, i.e. Silent Running), it's Barry, who was production designer and Star Wars and Clockwork Orange, among others.


And the idea of getting Martin Amiss to write the script was a good one, time has declared. In 1980 the 'slow fall from the top of the mountain' by the Great White Male, boozy and self-righteous and self-loathing in equal measure, greeting his immanent "flush" with a fuck you to the world - holla - was a little old-fashioned in 1980 (unless it was "literally" an adaptation of a classic novel and given Merchant-Ivory gloss, ala Huston's Under the Volcano). Now that most English Departments in the USA at least are focused in on correcting the balance of old straight white guys to everyone else in "the canon," it's easy to forget just how many damn writers there are chronicling their Great White Male's slow softening, so many midlife crisis affairs, even today living life ensconced in the Ivory tower, their mid-life crisis invariably consists of bedding one of their students rather than getting a motorcycle.

This passing of the male middle aged nudist license plate, and Amiss' space drugs and kinky sex seem to be simmering just out of reach on cutting room floors of the nervous censor and second-guessing producer's minds of SATURN 3, luckily there's a whole site devoted to the strange saga of this film, Gregory Moss's indispensable Something is Wrong on Saturn 3. Better even than the film itself That's the heavy trip underwriting the Great White Male in Decline novel, and it's certainly very Martin Amiss-esque, the subtext roiling underneath the couple vs. deranged robot motif, all the rage in the pre-Star Wars environmental issue sci-fi verse. This subtext makes it one of the last 'adult' themed sci fi films. Like Cheever, or Fitzgerald, Amiss' novels are full of drugged debauchery and fearless examinations of the disintegrating straight white male alcoholic psyche as his past catches up with him and dying alone... except maybe...except in Amiss, maybe, this girl who had a crush on him as a child now grown to legal age... a last life ditch life preserver in a Jon Krakauer-level storm. And in reality, an illusion, a mirage, even if she's real.

And if Roman Polanski had directed it, Saturn 3 might be considered a classic, he would contextualize the triangle much better: the 'young psycho' who joins an isolated couple (younger woman, older man) for head games in some enclosed isolated space where the younger interloper stirs the older man into displays of virility and dominance which the girl can find alternately childish, frightening, pathetic, or sexy, or all of the above depending on the type and her mood-moment to moment: Knife in the Water, Cul de Sac, and others in that vein, like: Purple Noon, Dead Calm and the vast empty "this empty planet ain't big enough for the 'three of us' triangles of Last Woman on Earth; The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, and more, I'm sure.

"This is literature, baby"
I. THE SWIMMER OF SATURN

I think Kirk wanted this role because it let him harpoon his own priapic Adonis image, as his frequent co-star (they had great chemistry) Burt Lancaster did in 1968's The Swimmer. It seemed only fair, and competitive, perhaps. Burt being shirtless all the way through (and shoeless),  Kirk would have to one up him, and this role let him throttle a young upstart while totally naked. Since Lancaster overplays his hand by getting too traditional and possessive with his young blonde tag-a-long Julie (Janet Landgard), Kirk starts the film already hooked up (for three years) with Farrah, saving us all a lot of unpleasant angst over his antiquated smoov style. It's creepy enough watching him and Farrah shower together; in this early scene we see them, facing opposite directions --she, talking in an indoor voice, one lover to another, he, mugging ridiculously and shouting in her face, perhaps imagining the foley of the water would be louder. Between their mismatched style--her acting for the 70s small screen, he acting like he's doing a Disney voiceover, and the disconnect of interloper Harvey Keitel dubbed with the voice of a different actor, and Hector, who speaks in all three of their recorded voices, there's a sense that only Kirk's character, Adam, is actually 'alive' in the sense of being whom he is, and that this fucked up future is partly his fault for living this privileged bachelor w/sexy young thing isolation while all his same-age friends exclude them from bridge parties and their own children gradually turn into robots.

The SWIMMER, living the American dream, Kafka-style.
No one wants to end up like Lancaster's Mr. Merrill, hammering at his locked screen door or Max von Sydow, whimpering that Barbara Hershey is his only link to the outside world in Hannah and her Sisters, that's chump stuff. You have to act like you're fine even if the walls close in. Kirk's Adam sure doesn't give a shit about the outside world even without her, but he also knows it's inevitable she'll leave, and if she stays around it will be even worse. In space, no one can hear you scream, but neither can they see you cry and snivel, so snivel away. Pain can be endured better without the humiliation of some girl trying to snap you out of it because she thinks you're faking, or "being ridiculous" as one girl sneered at me when I was in a K-hole, lying on the ground in the at a Califone show. Do you want her to remember you as a man, or a whining little bitch who won't believe your in a pit, dug by malicious elves made of white noise static? When you're alone on a moon, you can simper and clutch the old photographs in peace, and enjoy every last self-indulgent choking gust of sob in peace. You can be naked, just for one day...

In the Gloaming (NIAGARA)
But on Saturn 3, the term "day" is meaningless.

And then, once no one's around to care one way or the other, you stop performing your little dance and the crushing anxiety dies instantly. Man, were you ever tired of having to hold back your gasses and suck in your gut all the the time, trying to act frisky and carefree when all you wanted to do is sit in a rocking chair and listen to "In the Gloaming" like Joseph Cotten in Niagara.

Maybe that exhibitionist brio can help explain the years 1992-3 when among other things Keitel himself was full-frontal naked in not one but TWO different art house hits, THE PIANO and BAD LIEUTENANT. Can it be that working with Kirk on this film planted some kind of priapic seed that bore nudist fruit when he he was finally old enough to have his own mid-life crisis?

The decision to create this beautifully modeled robot chassis - the ribs made of metal plates and muscle and tendon as pressurinzed tubing - with such a dumb little BoBo the owl meets a hermit crab eye stalks speaks to a genuine castration complex, for all his height and strength, this monster got no game, and no Cialis. His inherited obsession. Of course he remedies that later, Texas-style!

THE GAS GIANT

What's vexing is that beyond the character, Kirk Douglas the actor seems to be suffering from the vainglory of being both short/Napoleonic complex-ridden (which made him such a good villain in noirs like Out of the Past and Strange Love of Martha Ivers) and old/"inadequate," in character and reality, a frustrated alpha male aging into the soft zone, making up for these "areas" perhaps by running around with his robe open at the waist, and being found in bed with Alex as often as possible. Amiss' vast knowledge of mid-life crises male vanity must have expanded tenfold when observing a titanic ego like Douglas': “When actors get old they get obsessed about wanting to be nude," Amiss noted in an interview, "and Kirk wanted to be naked.”

Even without all his posturing, Alex prefers "the Major" and there's no doubt that Benson is a grade-A nutcase (but you know how hot crazy people are in bed). He hasn't seen them actually fooling around, or heard Alex's frustrations with the Major's inadequacies in all his areas, so that quote about being inadequate... in every area, is just him just reacting to his own deranged mental images, seeing Adam as an impotent Cronus, devouring the young girl he desires rather than returning her to he sea (of boys her own age).

It's interesting to note that in the arc of the story, we follow not Kirk's Major Adam but the untrustworthy Benson (Harvey Keitel) an unstable pilot just denied his space license kills the original pilot for some unknown reason (deranged competitive foreshadowing?) and takes his place and then heads off to visit "the Major," Adam (Kirk Douglas), and Alex (Farrah Fawcett), a kind of May-December hippie couple (w/ cute dog) who are seldom out of their bathrobes. In charge of finding some means of growing enough food off world to feed the dying Earth, the couple are frolicking like a certain two cowboys on Brokeback Mountain. Benson is there like a hatchet man, the Randy Quaid, if you will, to tell Adam to stop pretending he's still carefree and casual to his young chippee and instead get some goddamn sharable results with his hydroponic setup.

To this end Benson is there to allegedly be setting up this swanky new robot named Hector. On his firs night he offers Alex a 'blue' and pre-emptively blows his chances with her by saying "you have a lovely body. May I use it?" as if she's just a kind of overside Kleenex. Yuck. Naturally the answer is no - but we remember how poorly he took the 'no' to his pilot license. "That's penally unsocial on Earth," to "use each other's bodies for pleasure." Noting the old Major is "obsolete, and frightened of the new ways." he refers to sexual permissiveness as 'hospitality' and mentions he eats dogs on Earth.

Despite his crass and psychotic manner, Keitel is impossibly gorgeous here, especially in his reptilian green space suit, and his new voice, compliments British actor Ray Dotrice! You'd think it would be off putting but that's why it works for Benson to make us uneasy around him in ways we wouldn't be it it was that endearing Mean Streets goombah-speak.

As the days/nights progress (there's no difference), Benson builds his only friend, a robot who soon turns on him when it absorbs his psychotic obsession with Alex. Benson keeps barging in on the happy couple in bed, showing off all the machine's new developments like a kid who never gives his parents a chance to have some uninterrupted mating time. He shows off Hector's brain thermos (stacked like Pringles in an electrified saline solution) and between their deductive power and Harold's steel-ribbed physique (modeled after the awesome if not entirely human sketches of Da Vinci), Benson has made a gorgeous intimidating monster, as good a use for all that sexual frustration as any. Was it Kirk who demanded the top be off, so to speak, the imposing thread member lobbed off at the head?




If you think this picture above is hot, just stare at her eyes and teeth for a few minutes and imagine 
being a ten year-old and this is your very first ever poster (indeed it was one of 'THE' first ever posters, 

certainly the first ever sold rolled up and available at the 7-11 counter where we got 
comic books and tried to see the Playboy cover behind the brown partition.
S
taring staring at it for hours while half asleep in the early AM, still half-dreaming,
super impressionable and easily terrified the way kids are. 

Note the way the smile becomes desperate, pained, demonic, mocking, evil,
 the eyes wide with terror and pain as if she's experiencing that terrible agony at the
dentist when your jaw muscles start to ache from having to bare your full row of teeth,

 open for so long at the dentist, now alternate that with that she's a devouring demon 
(in the semi-dark her eyes and teeth seemed to glow, as if under a black light)
I'm running out of breath (30 years of smoking), but the film has a lot of good shit going: the Elmer Bernstein score hovers over the weird, 'half-assed attempt to be Kubrickian instead of what it is'-style opener - like a kid eager to be as cool as Richard Strauss without ripping off Also Spracht Zarathustra outright, so tempering his timpani bombast with ominous little Jerry Goldsmith Alien pipes and (his own) thunderous string rumblings while the equivalent of an Imperial cruiser travels (silently ala 2001- no engine roar) over the top of the screen towards the infinity point,  Bernstein, the man behind the music for both CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON is always way better than the material calls for, but never overdoes it. The set design and costumes are all awesome, a fusion of insect arthropod designs with astronaut suits like some cross between 2001, Star Wars, Microcosmos and Tales of Hoffman (below).


Another one of the cooler ideas at work is that Harvey has a jack in the back of his neck to connect to the brains to download his muscle and nervous system memory into Harold - connecting them and lifting and lowering his arms, etc. What he can't know, of course, is that his obsession with Alex is leaking over into Harold too, and thus a mighty Caliban is forming from the earth and ether. We realize why sanity was so important for this mission.

The problems too are many. Though he's in a dashing vaguely reptilian flight outfit and insect mask, his impassive features and dubbed voice wailing in voice over monotone about the older vs newer model man, there's no real conceivable threat from either the robot or Benson against naive Alex here, so nothing is at stake. The robot has no means of reproducing ala Demon Seed. So the real threat is just to the masculine vanity of Adam. His need to prove male omnipotency (in every area) was already considered the height of harpoonable offenses back in the 1980s; sensitive astronauts were too busy staring down their younger selves in the bathroom mirror of time to worry about, watching 2001 over and over.

Diabolik's pad; External view (deep in the caverns)

II. WELCOME TO MY DREAM CAVE 

I'm partial to SATURN 3 because whenever I get the chance to sleep really really late I dream about a cavernous refuge just like Alex and Adam's groovy pad/greenhouse set-up. A deep basement bunker that's part Dr. NO's secret lair and part the bomb shelter in TERMINATOR 3 (and probably SILENT RUNNING which I haven't seen - as I don't want to imagine being stuck on a ship alone with Bruce Dern). It might seem weird that the villain's secret lair in a Bond movie, or a bomb shelter hewn from rock deep underground is my happy place, but I'm a Pisces, and need lots of alone time to not feel too self-absorbed when socializing, which is a very hard balance to make. But I think it's tied into relapsing, as there's barrels of whiskey down there, and always W.C. Fields tapes (and harkens back to basements of my youth); even the moldy smell is reassuring. For me, it's the ultimate escape (long as there's air conditioning and an elevator) as there's no long such a dichotomy as night and day, no time when one should be asleep or awake, no curfew or bed time or wake up time, just drunk time and oblivion. Drinking any other way is really just a tease.

So the whole SATURN 3 fantasia really resonates, especially being certain you, your girl and your dog are the only biological organisms things around. With its miles of multicolored neon tubing and build-in rock, oxygen producing plant life, the Saturn 3 hideout rocks an aesthetic that's like how I used to remember Space Port and Spencer's Gifts as a child in the 70s when the Montgomeryville (PA) mall first opened, and everything was new and strange and wondrous, lots of neon and gadgetry - the Sharper Image, projector TVs, Pong. It was like an adult amusement park, like how we imagined our own adulthood would be, all the things we could one day buy. SATURN 3's hydroponic pleasure palace reminds me of that, with samples of HR Giger biomorphic architecture (the hallways 'ribbed' with a spinal cord ceiling), the Death Star shiny black walls, colorful tubes galore, the Dr. No-style hewn rock walls incorporated into the arboreal dell. The set is beautifully elaborately lit, with a winding tunnel and mixture of greenery, rock, and primary color tubing; the feel is strangely both austere and gaudy. Defiantly depicted as a whirlwind of reactionary assertions of masculine identity, a final bird-flip from the crumbling Trans-Am and cowboy hat macho, the Burt Reynolds mustache and rug being slow being peeled off to show a bald screaming baby 80s.

In general though, what makes so many men like myself imagine as a kind of veritable 'happy place' a place deep deep underground (or underwater), with vats of whiskey, weed, movies and one or less (younger and therefor more impressionable and less judgmental) women, some bros dropping in and out to drink and watch old movies with, etc. is a chance to escape not just from nagging wives and mothers-in-law, work, and the IRS, but to avoid aging and/or dying, failures in family and all the things which maturity and linear development along the familial curve all but ensures wear a man down like an icicle sharpened on a grindstone. For one buddy's dad, it was always Das Boot, watched alone in the corner of his study with a big snifter of cognac; we turned him onto the John Huston Moby Dick, which we had duped from a rental by filming the screen with his video camera. For Howard Hughes, of course, as we all know, it was Ice Station Zebra. I understood the appeal of the frozen north and the submarine, but I'd never want to be stuck down there with Earnest Borgnine hamming it up as a Russian double agent? But you get the similarity - submarines are pretty "deep deep down" (i.e. the underground lair in Danger: Diabolik. It's the repository of all the aging male's dreams, the happy safe zone of sleep outside space and time and consequence.

But then, the sub is torpedoed by the shrill alarm clock or the wife waking up to trudge downstairs and give you an angry sleepy stare- resentful you'd do anything fun without her, though she turns all fun to stone with her touch. The ship is sinking even lower, so quick! Desert Island discs! The ship going down fast; your library is too damned vast. Grab what you can.What do you grab?

I doubt anyone would grab SATURN 3 in that situation but they should, because it's a movie about grabbing those same discs, so it's meta. Besides, none of us have or likely will experience that opportunity to actually be marooned on the desert island, so we don't know what we'll be in the mood to watch when we're there. When I was leaving my wife for a younger woman, shhhh, 13 years ago, I grabbed together a decent notebook full of essential movies and we drove the hell out of there, my Alex and I. Luckily my wife cooled down and didn't set fire to the rest as she promised. That's as close as I came. The girl I was with found it impossible to pay attention to any of the cool films I tried to show her, only POISON IVY. She loved that, as I love it. And I loved Tom Skerritt in in, as the dad who falls off the wagon (love that convert morning vodka pull) after being seduced by a young prime-of-her-hotness Drew Barrymore while wife Cheryl Ladd slowly dies of some respiratory illness up in her silken boudoir and 'plain' daughter Sara Gilbert begins to realize her hottie friend is blowing up her spot. That'll teach you to try and make friends, Sara Gilbert!


That's why the idea of Benson/Hector blowing up Kirk's spot works in SATURN 3, because it gets that the 70s mustache is coming off with or without our aid; it works because, frankly, it's learned not to trust people just because we're lonely and they're hot, it works because it too knows that beneath its confused whirlwind of defiant macho sensitivity structures, the unfulfilled desires for what it can't have (chosen especially for their rarity) lurks absolutely nothing. The aesthetic of every straight white male's man cave even if he is self-aware enough to laugh sardonically at his own absurdity, reflects this grim gallows' void lurking in the heart of sexual gratification, of 'sleeping around'. In that sense, SATURN 3 is not just a pre-ALIEN pre-STAR WARS science fiction in the SILENT RUNNING x WESTWORLD vein but a male version of BARBARELLA, It's a tale of a time when before he had to be a man with a career and a wife, a man was free to roam the galaxy in his private mobile sanctum, wall-to-wall carpeted van and kickass hydrophonc speakers, 8-track player blasting rockin' tunes, getting high as a kite, and tooling around exploring the vast emptiness around their home planet township. Barbarella's own ship resembles this - with crazy colors, some bizarre shape halfway between a lipstick and a triple dildo, and inside pink wall to wall carpet and  a big mirror screen. Sooo sexy, without guilt or slut shaming either, those two things invented by shrewish wives and their priests around your kitchen table while you're gone three days or weeks at a time and come in reeking of perfume, sex, and alcohol/cigarettes/pot... fuck those sober idiots! I'm not peein' in no damned cup, mom!

Well, of course she won, as far as I know. Yet even today the uninhibited great white male in decline has a fighting chance for a WILD BUNCH blaze of glory, as long as he grabs that chance with both barrels, by the horns, and with a finger saying fuck all y'all to the world.

So that's the deal, as long as it's with the fishes, a man can then sleep around all he wants sans guilt sans eyes. Sand and crustaceans consumed the rest. If you dare let go of even blaming the robot, blaming the girl, and instead blaming EVERYBODY, then every week can be shark week, and stiffness will never be a problem again (thanks to Rigor Mortis, the new craze all the older folks used back in the day and still do today where there is only night).

III. The Magus Becomes the Hefner: 
Jungian Archetypal Comparison between 
FORBIDDEN PLANET and SATURN 3

From R-L: Daughter (Anima), Magus (non du pere), Robot, young interloper 
From L-to-R: (Daughter-age) Lover, reprobate (ex-magus / 'primal father'), young interloper, Robot
Simmer awhile with the comparison maybe of 1953's Forbidden Planet with Saturn 3 and the archetypal resonance is clear. The anima was a nubile daughter in the 50s, coming of age in the arms of a young man who didn't have time to sit around on porches and take walks in the Sicilian Hills; he had to go to war, so courtship was over a weekend, because his combat pension should go to someone and if it will help her stay out of the brothel, or whatever--but the 50s was losing its patina fast - in the crafty eyes of Wilder and his leering Fred MacMurray executives, 'banging' cocktail waitresses and secretaries and every unmarried woman expected to be a slut for any man who left a $100 tip or promised a raise. Their angry wives at home were busy too though, starting women's lib and raring to shove their sexuality right down their husbands' throats, which I applaud, naturally,.


Inside every red riding hood is a grandmother-wearing old wolf and vice versa... the anima and magus/sage on their island, alone together, Pai Mai and Beatrix Kiddo on the hilltops. The magus need never be jealous of her leaving him, never crave the insurance he doesn't die alone by the radiator (not sure why, but there's always a radiator), unless he can, in a sense, merge with the young man who takes his symbolic place (who comes at first against the patriarch's wishes, i.e. he 'intrudes'). In other words, the magus is not just himself, not just her father or the figure who worries of dying alone by the radiator, but the ultimate signifier - pointing to naught else but the mirror, not to see him for he is not even reflected, so merged is he with the infinite, but so you can see you. Or whatever -As in Mozart's The Magic Flute (where he's called Sarastro - bellow left) and Shakespeare's The Tempest (Prospero).

The young man earns his right to take his place only after a trial by fire (namely to test courage and resolve) and showing all good qualities for the patriarch; but if he passes he allows the magus to abdicate his role as ultimate signifier. This enables him to chill out with his parenting. That's the trick -his daughter's wedding is a symbolic death of his own split self and let go of his duty to represent the ultimate siginifier, he can merge full with his anima and be the indulgent grandfather instead of the stern authority who sets the bed time (i.e. John Wayne after the climactic fight in Red River - watch him closely and you see the change, the way his whole body and mood lightens from passing the load). This is how he is able to not have to actually die to be free of his anxiety about his "little girl's" welfare without him. Unless he's devoured by his own primordial freaks of the Id before he has time to have a heart attack chasing his grandchild through the tomato plants, he dissolves again; from the Fisher King and now....reborn as the cleansing fire in Harry's eyes. There wasn't enough time, Michael. But then there never is.

We can consider in Forbidden Planet how Morbius' daughter Alta is just at the 'ripe' age right when Nielsen arrives, as if summoned by his Krell-boosted will ala Prospero's storm heralding spell in the Tempest, his dire warnings and protestations being merely part of the rite of passage. In SATURN 3's Adam encouraging Alex to go down to visit Earth without him even before the obsessive young nutjob arrives with his robot. Adam is facing his own realization that one shouldn't let one's younger paramour see you get too old, lest they lose their glowing image of their father/benefactor/mentor as a cool character instead of an old pantaloon-and-slippers grandfather-type, soft and "inadequate in every area" sulking in the motel room, making models of old model T cars and smoking furiously to "In the Gloaming" while Marilyn dances with the young bucks outside in a provocative pink dress listening to "Kiss" while the Falls roar below.


Comparing the Saturn 3 and Forbidden Planet too is very revealing  too in contrast about the effect two decades of shifting cultural mores on sci fi fantasy, which--more than any other genre--is very intellectual and very immature at the same time. As in Shakespeare's Tempest, Saturn 3 offers an array of ages, maturity levels, social classes, of high and low comedy, poetry, tragedy, and terror. All three tales- Shakespeare's and the two sci fi pictures, offer an older man reverie of an island paradise of self --just the ego, a devoted anima (Ariel / Altair / Alex), and a dark primordial vast unconscious of which the magus has developed at least partial mastery (fairies / a planetary space complex / the Krell) not knowing they've opened the door to dark elements deeper than their conscious mind could even see (Caliban / Hector / Monster from the Id). Just as with Adam and Alex's little love bunker under the moon's surface, the Krell wonders are all Morbius' alone to explore- he doesn't even bring Altair down there - it's a giant massive man cave / den all to himself, alive and ever-humming and ready to erect whatever's needed from the ether. 




The age difference between Saturn 3 lovers Kirk and Farrah is 32 years; the age difference between Forbidden Planet's daughter Anne Francis and father Walter Pigeon - 33 years. 

In CONCLUSION: 



Sorry if this is all over the place. I'm getting senile. I've always had a soft spot for this film as I was still in the throes of my Charlie's Angels fever when it came out (though not quite as vivid as it had been a few years earlier) my scrapbook laden with photos torn from magazines, the Farrah poster still on my wall (her teeth terrifying me in the dead of night --they reflected the moon very well and gave her a voracious succubus look). This movie's not great by any stretch, but it doesn't deserve the sneers heaped on it, most of them by people just looking to kick an old man when he's down.



See, I'm a fan of Kirk especially in his 40s film noir easy going bad guy routine with Mitchum in Out of the Past and Stanwyck in The Strange Loves of Mrs. Ivers (his first two film roles). But his work here in Saturn 3 is the worst performance ever, by anyone, yet it's brilliant. An aging hopelessly insecure short guy complex-stricken superstar coasting past the 60 yard line, vainly trying to seem jubilant and airy like his spritely maiden Alex, he comes off instead as delusional and disturbing. You can see the wild panic in his eyes, the way his mouth contorts in grins as phony as a three dollar bill. I can see why less perceptive critics just thought the acting was bad for the whole film, considering the small cast, and didn't dare dig deeper than the surface in an attempt to find something good (i.e. comparing it to Star Wars and Alien rather than to Silent Running and Soylent Green).

All that said, it ends rather on point-- the trick to it is, as Jake Gideon does in All that Jazz, to kick over the board right before you're set to lose the game . The tragedy of the May-December thing is that there is really no honorable way out. You can have kids I guess, but that's kind of expensive, time-consuming, and grandiose (we see the end game of that in Notes on a Scandal), just continuing the lie. You can encourage her to leave, to go see the world and do new things (alone - you're too tired to mess with that dull tourist nonsense) but she won't, not without you. She doesn't want to go, she says, so much as "have already been." (one of Saturn 3's throwaway great lines). 

I can assure you Kirk does a fine job, his viciousness towards Alex, and his final ah screw it, I blame everyone and fuck all y'all final declaration of fuck it is every great white paunchy two-legged Ahab's dream adieu. Sure it's a weird ending, a bit of a downer, but it's real - at the end Alex is on a ship heading back to earth, it looks like a first class cabin - replete with cocktails and full views of the approaching Earth. Mission accomplished. Kind of.

Man, I'm not judging Kirk here, or myself, or any other schmuck who took the red pill, so to speak, as long as they're artists, actors, writers or characters. Just fascinated as these kind of things were still kind of shocking even in the 70s. I'm not attempting to justify it, but rather to consider the decade that bore it to the 50s, the more repressed, conservative time. Say what you will about Morbius alone on Altair 4 with his nubile virgin daughter Altaira (or Alta, to her friends), sequestered as the pair me be, as nubile yet confident as she is, there's no indication Alta's visited at night by some Krell energy incubus Caliban conjured from the most repressed and primordial depths of Morbius's subconscious Krell-brain-boosted mind. That shows us three things: 1) a willingness to please the censors (it was MGM, after all, that appeaser of Catholics, that naif, that irresponsible mind control programmer); 2) an almost idyllic faith in fatherly nobility which is admirable especially in today's film market where incestuous creep fathers (ala Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks) are the only substitute to deadbeat weekend schmucks (even if its only on some weird abstracted dream level), or bland Greg Kinnear replacements. and 3) that with his boring paternal sense of measured scientific curiosity (4), Morbius has mastered the 'no of the father' Lacan writes of, in that he has relinquished the adolescent insistence on enjoyment, on pursuit of desire rather than knowledge.


I've let myself ramble this far to indicate that, masculine identity crisis or no, Kirk is a MAN and his vanity issues are clearly related to being a man when erections weren't guaranteed at $17 a pill, and were therefore priceless. For I know as only lucky few others that unless the man is allowed his midlife crisis--the younger woman, the sports car, the offworld bachelor pad greenhouse, the weed/weightlifting weirdness of Lester Birnim--he can't realize that these things don't work anymore than throwing a picture of a pitcher of water onto a raging fire. Try telling this to the guy looking at the picture of water on the wall while he's burned at the stake, though, and he won't listen. Scotty on the ledge, he might fool someone somewhere into thinking he's still got his vim and vigor, some young thing who'll call him Mr. Smearcase and bat her eyelashes, but he can't fool himself and so it's all worthless. But at least he can finally realize it doesn't much matter how old he is or how boring he rambles, nobody cares, in space nobody can here you wheeze your last. There's joy in that once the despair wears off. Manly self assurance only comes when it's no longer relevant. Stripped of its hot rod and babes training wheels and ready for its OK Corral showdown, it's allowed first one last kiss-off, pushing the Farrah away and flipping off the world. Whether it was all a show to confuse the 'bot or no, it worked, didn't it? They all got free. Who's watering the plants while you're gone though, no one can say, or wants to. It's not your problem anymore, you free-ass mother.









NOTES
1. Something is Wrong on Saturn 3.
2. The 'boring' part is key, as part of the surrender to the symbolic castration of the social order (symbolized here perhaps by the jack in the back of Harvey's head) is the ability to let go of any need for approval, of being an entertainer, the father as embodier of the order is the "ultimate signifier" - and in making the law so Disney education film boring he asserts its truth.
3.... uh..
4. Wherein Kirk takes over on a ailing swashbuckler pic at Cinecatta when director Eddie G. Robinson takes ill. Robinson reads the pic is doing well so climbs out of bed to go take credit for it, spurred by his Lady Macbeth of a wife - the back-stabbing and egoic insecurity of Hollywood, in other words, trails BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL characters (kind of) across the pond.