Donut Shop Horror

A recurring theme in the discussion of our current Movie of the Month, the Gen-X vampire slacker drama Blood & Donuts, is how unexpectedly low-key & tempered its mood was. You’d think that a mid-90s horror movie about a vampire who frequents a donut shop would be an over-the-top camp fest, but instead the film is quietly melancholy & introspective. Even the title Blood & Donuts suggests a quirky splatter comedy, but the film it’s attached to is low on both gore & guffaws. We mostly just watch a tragically sexy vampire mope around late-night Toronto hangout spots while reluctantly seducing potential victims into his orbit. He’s much more likely to scrapbook or take a long bath than he is to dispose of a victim in a comically violent spectacle, and it takes a while to adjust to that melancholy sensibility thanks to the expectations set by its genre & setting.

When poking around for other feature films set in donut shops, I did eventually stumble upon a title that delivers on the campy horror comedy payoffs Blood & Donuts only teases. 2016’s microbudget cheapie Attack of the Killer Donuts is the exact over-the-top donut shop creature feature we expected our Movie of the Month to be, although it’s one that arrived decades past its time. In the film, two teenage slacker employees of the all-night cafe Dandy Donuts find themselves defending their community against an army of mutant, bloodthirsty pastries. When a local mad scientist’s “reanimation serum” (a flourescent green liquid transported around in cartoonishly oversized syringes, Stuart Gordon style) accidentally plops into the deep fryer at Dandy Donuts, the donuts that hop out of the fry basket are sentient, poisoned, and eager to rip out customers’ throats with their fangs. The teenage employees take responsibility for the incredible event and attempt to destroy the little donut monsters before they escape to destroy the community outside their humble, sparsely decorated shop. The rest of the movie writes itself. Unlike Blood & Donuts, Attack of the Killer Donuts is exactly what you expect it to be.

Of course, in most ways, the subtler, less predictable of the donut shop horror film is the more rewarding one. For instance, the complexity of Blood & Donuts’s vampiric anti-hero struggling to make romantic connections with mortal humans without damning them to death or eternal pain is much more interesting than the standard will-they-won’t-they cliché played out between Attack of the Killer Donuts’s generic teens. When the mutant donuts are inevitably squashed at the end of that 2010s novelty but the film continues to resolve the romantic “tension” between its two leads for several meatus of denouement, all you can do is beg for mercy that it will all end soon. Conversely, the romantic fallout of Blood & Donuts after its own bowling alley mafia villains (headed by David Cronenberg, of all people) are thwarted is one of the more compelling stretches of the film, way more engaging than the conflict presented by the villains themselves. Attack of the Killer Donuts has no chance to outshine Blood & Donuts in terms of craft or pathos. It only has one weapon in its arsenal to satisfy its audience and it’s right there on the in: killer donuts.

The potential delights offered by those killer donuts are obviously limited both by the meager means of the film’s budget and by the audience’s personal patience for winking-at-the-camera, so-bad-it’s-good humor. Attack of the Killer Donuts would’ve had to have been shot on video thirty years ago to be especially worthy of a recommendation, but it’s occasionally charming it its own low-stakes way. The fanged mutant donuts themselves are eyeroll-worthy when they’re rendered in cheap CG, but when they’re shown in closeups as practical puppets, they’re adorably grotesque. The film also has enough of a sense of humor about its own inherent silliness that it’s difficult to be too hard on it, as it ultimately feels like a group of friends putting on a D.I.Y. puppet show as a goof. You can immediately tell whether or not that purposefully goofy B-movie throwback novelty will please you or annoy you, whereas Blood & Donuts’s tonal bait & switch is more open to surprise & discovery as it unfolds. The only thing I can report here is that Attack of the Killer Donuts is the exact movie I expected Blood & Donuts to be; it just arrived a few decades past its prime.

For more on September’s Movie of the Month, the Gen-X Canuxploitation vampire drama Blood & Donuts (1995), check out our Swampchat discussion of the film and last week’s look at its unlikely symmetry with Tangerine (2015).

-Brandon Ledet

Don’t Stress. You’ve Already Seen the Superior Cut of Midsommar (2019)

Midsommar is my favorite 2019 release I’ve seen so far, with only a quarter of the year left to go. Its morbid humor, detailed costume & production design, and dread-inducing continuation of Wicker Man-style folk horror made for an immensely satisfying theatrical experience. Twice! Last month, A24 re-released Midsommar back into theaters for an unexpected victory lap in an extended “director’s cut,” which was an excellent excuse to revisit the film to see if I was still as high on its perverse charms as I was when it was first released. To my delight, it was even better the second time around, with plenty of winking references to the horrors to come in the film’s transcendent third act telegraphed hours earlier in plain sight (especially involving bear imagery & the Swedish cultists’ blatant honesty about the rituals they’d be performing at the violent height of the festival). However, I don’t think people need to stress too much about having missed the extended, three-hour cut of the film if it didn’t happen to play in a city nearby. You’ll be fine.

No sooner did the extended cut disappear from theaters than it was announced that its streaming rights would be exclusive to Apple TV later this year. That means physical media releases of the film will only include the original theatrical cut, which is the exact kind of thing that drives rabid Blu-ray collectors into apoplectic mania. I was already seeing some online pushback against the extended re-release of the film as an “A24 cash grab,” and those grumblings only gained intensity after the announcement of its precarious life on home video after the fact. I suppose the assumption is that there will eventually be a “Collector’s Edition” re-release of the Blu-ray with the extended cut included as an extra or that, worse yet, it will never reach physical media at all, as its exclusive streaming rights are a better commodity that way. Personally, I can’t be too mad at smaller companies like A24 for working every angle they can to turn a profit in an increasingly tight, over-crowded market dominated by big-budget, Disney-owned IPs. I also can’t be too mad because the extended cut of Midsommar is something of a fans-only novelty. The original release was far superior.

The experience of seeing the extended cut of Midsommar on the big screen was deeply rewarding as an already converted devotee, but not really in any way that could be recreated at home via physical media replay. The original cut of the film tells the exact same story as the extended one. The recovered, extraneous content of the extended cut packs in more Jokes, but narrative-wise only makes what’s already obvious about the characters onscreen more blatantly explicit. Christian is more of a jerk; Josh is more of a selfish academic; Mark is more of a dunce; Pelle is more of a liar; Dani is in more of a daze, etc. It felt like exactly what it was: hitting Play All on the Deleted Scenes menu of a DVD you already loved just as much without them. There’s nothing especially substantial about the extended cut of Midsommar that you haven’t already seen streamlined in the original; at most you missed a few extra laughs. Both cuts were also approved by Ari Aster himself, so it’s not like you could pass the newer one off as a “Director’s Cut.” They’re both director’s cuts. One is just unnecessarily longer.

Most of what I got out of seeing Midsommar on the big screen a second time would have been exactly the same as if it had been the same cut on both watches. As a fan, though, I’m still extremely grateful of A24 for re-releasing the film for a late-summer victory lap. Mostly, that’s because the crowd attracted to seeing an extended release of this already long, niche horror film were a lot savvier than the first batch. Whereas the first crowd I saw it with received the film in perplexed, frustrated silence, pretty much all the jokes landed in the exact right way the second time. No one really laughed at inappropriate moments where humor was not intended either, which feels like an even rarer treat. Plus, all the women in the room were audibly groaning in frustration anytime Christian opened his big dumb mouth throughout, which was incredibly heartwarming after months of bizarre “Christian wasn’t that bad” apologism in the months since the initial release. Maybe a few extra scenes of him being a colossal dipshit helped amplify that reaction, but for the most part the improved environment of the screening had to do more with the crowd the extended cut attracted, not the deleted scenes it recovered.

Watch Midsommar again! It plays even better the second time. Details like the summer camp vibe of the fictional excursion resembling a traditional slasher template and the ursine implications of a cultist clapping in Christian’s face to scare him will jump out at you on a revisit. Just don’t stress too much about “missing out” on the extended cut in this temporary purgatory where its availability is being limited so that A24 can better pay the bills. If you missed the extended cut in theaters you already missed what made the experience special: its ability to draw like-minded weirdos out of their hidey holes to create a better communal atmosphere for the film’s perverse sense of humor. You can totally recreate that experience at home with the original cut by just being selective about what friends you invite over to share it with you. If anything, you’re just saving everyone a half-hour of their time.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to See in New Orleans This Week 9/12/19 – 9/18/19

Here are the few movies we’re most excited about that are playing in New Orleans this week, including plenty of sex & violence to lure you out of the heat and into a cool, dark movie theater.

Movies We Haven’t Seen (Yet)

HustlersA surprise critical-hit thriller about a crew of strippers who embezzle money from the Wallstreet bozos who frequent their club. Features performances from pop music icons Lizzo, Cardi B, Keke Palmer, and Jennifer Lopez. Playing wide.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) – One of the few stray Friday the 13th sequels I haven’t seen, but one of the many to claim to be the final word in their never-ending series. Features performances from Cory Feldman & Crispin Glover and make-up work from gore legend Tom Savini, so it appears to be packed with trashy 80s goodness. Screening in The Prytania’s midnight slot on Friday 9/13 and Saturday 9/14.

Movies We’ve Already Enjoyed

One Cut of the Dead A deceptively complex crowd-pleaser that starts as a low-key experiment in staging a single-take zombie movie, but eventually evolves into a heartfelt love letter to low-budget filmmaking of all types (and all the frustrations, limitations, and unlikely scrappy successes therein). One of the best films I’ve seen all year. Screening at Zeitgeist in Aribi (ahead of its eventual streaming release on the horror platform Shudder) on Tuesday 9/17.

Good BoysFar more endearing & well-written than its initial “Superbad except with cussing tweens” reputation prepared me for. This is not a one-joke movie about how funny it is to watch children do a cuss; it’s got a lot on its mind about innocence, the pain of outgrowing relationships, and what distinguishes the earnest generation of radically wholesome kids growing up beneath us from our own meaner, amoral tween-years follies. These are very good boys. Playing wide.

-Brandon Ledet

Money, Sex, Love, Christmas, Blood, and Donuts

The Gen-X vampire slacker drama Blood & Donuts, our current Movie of the Month, carries a lot of low-key hangout energy for a movie about a bloodsucking immortal ghoul. The film’s central vampire, Boya, is reluctant about his role as an eternal seducer & killer, appearing to be genuinely pained by the danger he poses to the vulnerable humans around him. He attempts to limit his sanguine footprint by feeding off street rats and avoiding eye contact with potential romantic partners, until the urge overpowers him or until his vampirism proves useful in saving the day for his mortal friends. One of the ways this small-budget Canuxploitation horror signals this low-key, anti-violence hangout ethos is by setting its story in a 24-hour donut shop, where Boya can hang out in wholesome solidarity with other nocturnal weirdos without frequenting the orgiastic goth nightclubs more typical to vampire cinema. That donut shop is a quirky choice that maybe suggests a livelier horror comedy than Blood & Donuts cares to deliver, but it still helps distinguish the otherwise tempered film as a singular novelty (which can only be a boon in the crowded field of vampire media).

While vampire movies are a dime a dozen, donut shop movies are more of a niche rarity. There are certainly iconic donut shops to be found scattered around pop culture –Big Donut in Steven Universe, Miss Donuts in Boogie Nights, Stan Mikita’s Donuts in Wayne’s World, Krispy Kreme in Power Rangers, etc. However, those settings are isolated diversions rather than serving as a central location like the one in Blood & Donuts. The only other significant feature film I can think of with a plot that revolves so closely around a donut shop is Sean Baker’s 2015 Los Angeles Christmas-chaos piece Tangerine, which is anchored to a real-life LA donut shop called Donut Time. The opening credits of Tangerine scroll over a yellow enamel table at Donut Time, scratched with the names of bored vandals who have visited over the years. The movie serves as a kind of whirlwind feet-on-the-ground tour of a very niche corner of LA, but it’s anchored to Donut Time as a significant landmark to establish a sense of order amidst that chaos. It opens there with its two stars (Mya Taylor & Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) splitting a single donut because they’re perilously cash-strapped. It also climaxes there in a classic Greek stage drama confrontation between all the film’s major players in a single, donut-decorated location that explodes the various hustles & schemes they’ve been struggling to keep under control throughout. Both Blood & Donuts and Tangerine wander off from their donut shops to explore the city outside (Toronto & Los Angeles, respectively), but their shared novelty locale provides the structure that allows for that indulgence

Like how Boya (Gordon Currie) awakens from a decades-long slumber at the start of Blood & Donuts, the similarly dormant Sindee (Rodriguez) emerges from prison at the start of Tangerine out of the loop on what’s been happening in her local trans sex worker microcosm since she’s been away. Over the opening shared donut, she learns from her best friend Alexandra (Taylor) that her boyfriend/pimp Chester (James Ransone) has been cheating on her while she was locked up, so she bursts out of Donut Time into the Los Angeles sunshine to enact her revenge on all parties involved. Obviously, this flood of Los Angeles sunlight distinguishes Tangerine from the late-night vampire drama of Blood & Donuts (as well as distinguishing Baker’s film as a kind of novelty within its own Christmas movie genre). Otherwise, though, the two films have a similar way of collecting oddball characters in low-income-level gathering spots—like, for instance, donut shops. Tangerine speeds through a blur of 7/11s, laundromats, dive bars, by-the-hour motels, and car washes until it finds its way back to its Donut Time starting point. It finds an unexpected symmetry within the low-rent late-night locales of Blood & Donuts’s own tour of Toronto, something that’s most readily recognizable in the films’ respective visions of impossibly filthy motel rooms. Or maybe it’s most recognizable in how David Cronenberg’s mobster runs his crime ring out of a bowling alley, while the pimp antagonist of Tangerine runs his own out of a donut shop.

You’d think that a nocturnal vampire comedy from the 90s and a sunlit 2010s trans sex worker drama would have very little in common, especially since the former is so lackadaisical and the latter is commanded by high-energy chaos. Their shared donut shops locales and commitment to exploring the character quirks of the weirdos who frequent them bridge that gap with gusto. The word “donut” may not appear in Tangerine’s title the way it does with its Gen-X predecessor, but the film is just as committed to accentuating the novelty of its central location. Despite being far too young to reasonably remember the TV commercial she’s referencing, Sindee announces, “Time to make the donuts, bitch!” to her romantic rival as they approach the climactic showdown. She also jokingly asks the Donut Time counter girl, “Do you have watermelon flavor?,” an echo of Blood & Donuts’s own bizarre inclusion of a kiwi-flavored donut. As a pair, the two films seem to be serving as two pillars of a sparsely populated Donut Movie subgenre. The longer you scrutinize how they use the novelty of that locale the more they appear to have in common despite their drastically different surface details.

For more on September’s Movie of the Month, the Gen-X Canuxploitation vampire drama Blood & Donuts (1995), check out our Swampchat discussion of the film.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to See in New Orleans This Week 9/5/19 – 9/11/19

Here are the few movies we’re most excited about that are playing in New Orleans this week. It’s apparently time to bury summer in its steamy grave and get stoked for Halloween season, since everything of interest this week falls firmly in the horror genre.

Movies We Haven’t Seen (Yet)

IT: Chapter Two Steven King’s novel IT is a lengthy screed about friendship and the loss of innocence upon the road to maturity, a book that holds the record for “Product Most Obviously Created by a Coked Up Lunatic.” It’s not King’s best work, but its recent film adaptation found a kernel of perfection in it and brought it to life, shining as one of the best big-budget mainstream horror films in recent memory (and one of our favorite films of 2017). It’s unlikely this “second chapter” of that adaptation will continue that accomplishment, considering that it covers the same section of the book that tanked the enjoyability of the 90s miniseries that precedes it, but we’re still optimistic about its chances. Playing wide.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark A Guillermo del Toro-produced anthology horror adapted from a series of short stories that freaked us all out as children in the 80s & 90s. Playing wide.

Movies We’ve Already Enjoyed

Midsommar – Ari Aster’s folk horror follow-up to Hereditary returns to theaters for one week only in its extended Director’s Cut, now featuring over 170 minutes of gore, grief, despair, relationship drama, and pitch-black humor. Playing only at AMC Elmwood.

Ready or Not Samara Weaving continues her delightfully over-the-top genre work after the underappreciated Netflix novelty The Babysitter & her brief appearance in Monster Trucks with this new high-concept schlock piece about a young bride who’s hunted on her wedding night by a wealthy family of board game industry tycoons she married into in a deadly game of Hide & Seek. It’s a lot of fun and also the topic of this week’s episode of The Swampflix Podcast! Playing wide.

-Brandon Ledet

Movie of the Month: Blood & Donuts (1995)

Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before and we discuss it afterwards. This month Britnee made Brandon, Boomer, and our newest contributor, Hanna Räsänen, watch Blood & Donuts (1995).

Britnee: Do you ever remember a movie only by the feeling that it gave you? Not quite remembering any dialogue between the characters or even what those characters really looked like? Blood & Donuts is a film that I recalled loving simply from the feeling I got reminiscing about it. There’s just something about this movie that makes me feel comfortable and at peace. Yes, it’s basically a film about a vampire that frequents a local donut shop, but it’s such a beautiful movie. It takes place almost exclusively at nighttime in what appears to be a single, smoky neighborhood in a small city. The ambiance is so trashy and beautiful. It makes me feel dirty and clean at the same time. It’s yet to be released on DVD, so if you are able to find a copy of it (be it streaming or VHS), it’s going to have that wonderful grainy quality that I just love so much.

Blood & Donuts is a vampire movie, but it’s far from your average run of the mill vampire flick. Boya (Gordon Currie), is perhaps the kindest vampire in the history of the genre. He is awoken from his deep slumber by a stray golf ball that breaks through the window of the abandoned home where he has taken refuge. He hasn’t been awake since the moon landing of 1969, and he now finds himself in the early 90s. As he begins to explore his new surroundings and find street rats to feed on, he gets into some messy situations with a local gang, falls for a girl that works at a donut shop, and tries to escape his murderous ex-lover.

I personally liked how the film doesn’t spend a lot of time focusing on Boya’s transition into the 90s. There are no cheeseball scenes where he tries to get hip with the current trends and fashions. Boya just sort of rolls with the changes while looking a little dusty. Once he actually takes a bath, he really doesn’t look like a blast from the past. Brandon, would you have preferred the film to have delved more into Boya getting acclimated into his new world?

Brandon: At the very least, I don’t think the film would have been as memorable or distinctive if it dedicated more of its runtime to watching Boya adjust to his new Gen-X surroundings. Given its cheap-o production budget and the fact that it’s about a vampire, I was prepared for an off-beat Canuxploitation horror cheapie like Cathy’s Curse or The Pit. As soon as the CGI golf ball awakens Boya from his slumber in the opening scene, my expectations shifted to more of a goofball fish-out-of-water (and time) comedy like Peggy Sue Got Married or Blast from the Past. I was pleasantly surprised, then, that the film gradually reveals itself to be something else entirely: a kind of melancholy indie hangout movie that never fully tips into any single genre, so it leaves itself open to constant surprise & discovery. In that way, it reminded me a lot of a former oddball Canadian pick for Movie of the Month, the Apocalyptic hangout dramedy Last Night (both films even feature bit roles from Canadian filmmaking royalty David Cronenberg), which is to say that it’s much more interested in establishing a mood than it is in winning its audience over with familiar genre beats or easy-to-digest humor. Following Boya around as he blunderously acclimates to his new Gen-X 90s surroundings as a vampire who’s been asleep since the 60s might have been amusing in its own way, but I don’t think it would have been nearly as unique of an experience as the low-key hangout dramedy Blood & Donuts delivers instead.

We do get some insight into Boya’s internal adjustments to his new surroundings. We just get the sense he’s been through this process so many times before that he’s more exhausted by it than he is amused. He stumbles around this movie’s few grim locations (a graveyard, a seedy motel, a 24-hour donut shop) in a total daze, as if shaking off a 25-year hangover. As his mind sharpens and his body loosens up, the movie turns into a character study of an oddly tender, sensitive man who just happens to be a bloodsucking vampire. He harvests his blood from rats to prevent himself from murdering because he is a humanist. He’s fascinated with the quirks of modern human culture surrounding him, like novelty donut flavors (kiwi? really?) and classic cartoons. His hobbies include long baths and scrapbooking. The very first conversation in the film, between the vampire and his newfound cabdriver friend Earl, is about how it’s okay for grown men to cry. Boya is an overly-sensitive, non-threatening man-boy – the kind of undead sweetheart that goth teens must’ve fallen in love with before Jack Skellington replaced his type in the zeitgeist.

Speaking of Boya’s attractiveness, I feel like the only threat he poses as a vampire is in his naturally seductive qualities. Women can’t help being pulled into his orbit. We see this most extensively with a bookworm donut shop employee, Molly, whom the film posits as his main love interest. We also see where that potential romance may lead, thanks to a hairdresser who fell in love with Boya in the 1960s and has been going mad in the decades since while obsessing over his sudden absence and his vampirism’s promise of an eternal (albeit melancholic) life. That seduction also extends to the men who come in direct contact with Boya. When he eventually kills Cronenberg’s evil bowling-alley crime boss he does so with the neck-sucking sensuality that charges all vampire media with a horny overtone. His goofball cabbie buddy Earl (whose bizarro Eastern European-flavored Christopher Walken impersonation probably deserves its own lengthy discussion) is head-over-heels in love with him by the end of the film, and unsure what to do with how these uncomfortable impulses conflict with the unconvincing machismo persona he projects in public. Even the way that Boya’s muscly chest and naked buttocks are leeringly framed with the female gaze (by director Holly Dale) makes him out to be a luring sexual object for everyone to enjoy, to the point where I expected the movie to end with the vampire, Earl, and Molly riding out into the sunset as a bisexual throuple.

Since we’re living in an age where mega-corporations like Disney try to get away with earning social media brownie points for teasing that a character might maybe be gay or bi in a throwaway line or two without fully committing to, you know, actually representing LGBTQIA people onscreen, I should probably be a little cautious about diagnosing the three leads of this film as a bisexual love triangle. Still, I can’t help but feel that this movie is operating with some big Bi Energy, and that ended up being one of its major charms for me. Boomer, am I looking for onscreen bisexual representation where it doesn’t exist? What did you generally make of this film’s sexuality & romance, queer or otherwise?

Boomer: I was honestly a bit taken aback by how queer this film was, textually and not just subtextually. Sure, vampire media often likes to dally in this trope, as the vampyr is often a monster invoked as a Conservative’s nightmare (they are sexually free, often foreign, seductive, parasitic, and seek to convert; conversely, the liberal’s nightmare is our old friend the zombie, who is characterized as a braindead consumer, utterly mindless, incapable of independent thought, and represent an ultimate destruction of identity as part of a horde). To code that character as queer is both an invocation of those fears and, in a more postmodern film landscape, a way of defanging (I’m so sorry) elements of humanity that previous generations demonized. It took a while for it to sink in for me that the film was really willing to go there, given that the first scene between Boya and Earl initially felt like a bad parody due to the . . . let’s charitably call it a “unique” performance choice on the part of Earl’s actor (Louis Ferreira) to go with that accent. I was also shocked by how much the camera lingered on Boya’s body, not least of all because my only previous exposure (ahem) to Currie was in his role as Antichrist Nicolae Carpathia in the early aughts Left Behind films.

What you’ve brought up about the female gaze is notable as well. Video essayist Jamie “Rantasmo” Maurer has a short, interesting video about how the supposed homoeroticism of Top Gun is, in many ways, a manifestation of the reaction on the part of the (presumed default) straight male audience to the creation of a rhetorical space in which a man is being treated as a sexual object without the presence of a female character observing them, thereby eliminating the rhetorical distance that allows straight male audiences to feel more comfortable when viewing the object of objectification. Compare it to the classic “Diet Coke Break” commercial, in which an office full of women gather to watch a construction worker remove his shirt; the ad isn’t just about how sexy he looks when he’s drinking his Diet Coke, because that has the potential to alienate the straight male audience, but instead gives members of the audience the psychological “out” of saying “I’m not objectifying this man; these women are objectifying him,” creating a rhetorical distance between actor and spectator. Not only does Blood & Donuts feel no need to practice this distancing, but it in fact goes so far as to have the (presumably) straight Earl be the viewpoint character who is so thoroughly entranced by Boya’s taut abs, pushing this straight (again, so sorry) over the line into being unabashedly queer. I’d be curious to compare this to the subtext in Interview with a Vampire, seeing as it is often considered a keystone piece of queer cinema, which, though adapted and directed by men, is based on a novel by a woman; this is the reverse, with Holly Dale directing a screenplay written by a man. There’s something in there, if one of you fine folks want to pull that thread, it’s just been too long since the last time that I saw Interview for me to draw any conclusions.

I’ll admit that, like Britnee, I felt like this was a movie that is more evocative of a feeling than it was a narrative, lying somewhere on the spectrum between USA Late Night and IFC at 3 AM, when D.E.B.S. was over. As such, I had some difficulty getting into it, as it’s kind of a sleepy film, from an era of night shooting with indecipherable lighting choices of a kind you just don’t see anymore. I was fully committed to it by the time that Boya takes his milky bath and has long distance sex with Molly, though, even if the campiness of it made me think more about that one episode where Doctor Crusher has sex with a ghost than what was really going on in front of me. How did this movie make you feel, Hanna? Were you won over by its low budget zeal? Were there choices that you really loved, or that you would have done differently?

Hanna: Blood & Donuts completely won me over, in part because it completely surpassed my too-low expectations. Like Brandon, I prepared myself for a straightforward, deliciously trashy horror comedy; instead, I found Blood & Donuts utterly strange and surprisingly sweet. The characters’ moments of sensitivity were often funny – see Boya’s fastidious dedication to his ancient, leather-bound scrapbook, or Molly’s attempts to understand Boya’s vampirism through an incredibly on-the-nose reading list (featuring titles like Parapsychology, Dreams, and Vampires). Ultimately the movie honors and values these sincere expressions of tenderness, rather than undermining them through parody. I think the fuzzy, low-budget production actually enhances this effect; the earnest absurdity of Boya, Molly, and Earl would have hardened under a sharper lens.

In spite of the low budget and the cheesy special effects, I think the film managed to explore some unique ideas, especially the coexistence of sensitivity and ruthlessness. This is exemplified in one of my favorite aspects of the film: using a 24-hour doughnut shop as the main hub of the film’s action and Boya’s deeply-rooted existential crisis. Bernie, the owner of the shop, has “the firm belief that any jerk off the street deserves at least a well-made doughnut, and a safe place to eat it”. True to form, the shop is a haven for a rough brand of masculinity: buff outcasts, petty criminals, and scruffy derelicts. It’s a sugary substitute for the local dive bar, where the scum of the earth order fresh pastries and coffee instead of stiff highballs (and, based on the amount of consistent business he gets, Bernie is apparently tapping into some deep-seated need for sugary treats). He also takes his doughnuts very seriously, as indicated by the array of unique fruit fillings, as well as the encouragement for patrons to leave honest “impressions” of new flavors. I was simultaneously tickled and touched by the idea of a dreamy underworld where crime and grime are inextricable from kiwi doughnuts; where sweetness can be life-saving, or at least provide a temporary reprieve from violence. It’s also fitting that Boya—who struggles to reconcile his eternal reliance on bloodshed with his pacifism—would end up in such a place.

I fell in love with the extremes of violence and compassion in Blood & Donuts, and I was surprised by the depth this movie had gleaming from its schlocky disguise. Britnee, what do you think about the heart of the tiny universe Dale brought to life? Do you think it stands apart from its low-budget peers?

Britnee: No lie, I wish that I was a neighborhood resident that could frequent the donut shop. Everyone just seems so nice and accepting there, and at all hours of the night! All of the shabby chic buildings and constant aura of mystery create an environment that I just didn’t want to leave. What I truly enjoyed the most about Dale’s wonderful Blood & Donuts world is the portrayal of our vampire pal, Boya. Vampire lore is easy to play around with, but most movies tend to work within the same handful of vampire characteristics. We either have a bloodthirsty vampire that lures innocent prey to their doom or a vampire that hates being a vampire with no control over their actions. As far as vampiric variations in film go, Boya stands in a category all of his own. He is able to control his urges and only unleashes the vampire within when he’s helping his human pals fight the bad guys. He values friendships and human connections, yet he doesn’t constantly mope around bitching about being a vampire. His vampirism does not define who he is. Boya is like the cool guy you can have deep, philosophical conversations with who just so happens to be a vampire. A world where vampires are like Boya is a wonderful world indeed.

I love how Dale was able to make most of the characters, including those who had just a single line, genuinely loveable. Her focus on the humanity of the characters is what really sets this film apart from the other vampire flicks of the 90s. Take Earl for example. His character could’ve easily leaned more towards being a total doofus that’s only around for a couple of laughs, but he ends up being a genuine sweetheart that adds so much life to the movie. I was surprised that I became as interested in his well-being as I did, considering that I could barely understand his lines through the filter of his Canadian-New-York-City-Eastern-European-Christopher-Walken accent. Dale truly made the most of what she had to work with, which really wasn’t much considering the film’s low budget. This really shows her talent as a director. If I wouldn’t have researched the film’s budget, I truly wouldn’t have known that it was filmed for less than $300,000. Now, I’m not known for having the best taste, but I seriously didn’t get many low budget movie vibes from this picture.

Blood & Donuts is such a nice movie. Nice as in, every character is surprisingly nice considering what roles they play. The most evil people in the movie are the goofy guys in the bowling alley gang, and they’re really not the worst. The film works without having a disturbingly evil antagonist. Brandon, am I being too light Cronenberg’s bowling alley gang? Do you think the film would have benefited from really evil bad guys instead of mediocre bad guys?

Brandon: It pains me to admit this because Videodrome alone makes him one of my most beloved directors, but David Cronenberg was the worst part of this movie. Yes, that assessment includes Earl’s bizarro “New Yorker” accent (which, if nothing else, at least got a laugh out of me in his “Are you referring to me?” Taxi Driver bit). I do think Cronenberg & his bowling alley cronies were significantly crueller than the rest of the cast, though, even in their limited screentime. In his one lengthy monologue where he whips his goons into shape, he insults them with ableist slurs in a go-nowhere tirade that reads as pointless improv filmed in a hurry. When those goons beat Earl to a pulp in a back alley they squeeze artificial lemon juice into his wounds to add further insult, holding the little yellow bottle at crotch level as if pissing on him. That latter gag at least had some novelty to its cruelty, but their presence in the film is largely pointless, as if they had broken off from the production of Innocent Blood and wandered onto the wrong set. Britnee may be right in pointing out that they’re ineffective as villains, but I do think they’re vicious & purposeless to a point where they never really jive with the movie at large.

Thankfully, Blood & Donuts doesn’t waste much time pretending that its Bowling Alley Mafia villains matter either. It already has enough of an antagonist in Boya’s dangerous combination of sex appeal & eternal life that not much other menace is necessary to justify its weirdly tragic tone. The film has the basic attributes of a quirky indie comedy of its era (which is certainly the type of film Earl believes he’s in), but in practice it’s mostly a mopey goth kid drama about how hard it is to be a sexy vampire everyone falls in love with. Boomer, you already said you had a difficult time sinking into the mood of this picture, but did that emotional conflict of an eternal being falling in love with fleeting-lives humans register with you at all despite the film’s goofier touches & lackadaisical pacing? How engaged were you by the tragedy of Boya’s allure as a lover and his reluctance to lure more victims into his sexy orbit?

Boomer: I’m loathe to admit it because I pride myself on being the kind of person who can enjoy just about any piece of media on some level, but this is one of those that falls into the vague and purely personal category of “difficult to pay attention to” (pardon my dangling preposition). I get that this is a bit of an insult to the film despite being a matter of personal attention spans (for instance, I would never fault someone for feeling the same way about Knife+Heart, which might be my new favorite film of all time). There’s nothing lazy about the movie per se, but even with my hard and fast rule of “No phones during movie time” I found myself sometimes losing focus from the screen and actually staring at the wall behind it. There’s a dearth of information about the movie online, so try as I might both during and after the film, I couldn’t quite make sense of Boya’s relationship with Rita, the hairdresser. When we first see the photo of the two of them together in ’69, I was convinced it was a wedding photo, which made me instantly dislike Boya; who promises to sire their spouse and then runs off for over two decades? He seemed more like a deadbeat lover who went out for smokes and never came back than he did a figure of desire (even for me, and that is very much my type), which, coupled with my overall general distrust of men with long hair (don’t @ me), led me to read Boya not as a man reluctant to get into another doomed relationship so much as a serial sexual predator who has determined exactly how long he needs to disappear in order to mostly be forgotten, Rita notwithstanding. Maybe I just don’t get the allure. I read much less of a tragically romantic Mayfly-December Romance angle and more creepiness, although I’ll admit that might be the fact that Left Behind completely warped my brain when I was a kid. There’s also just something not-quite-consensual afoot when we’re talking about supernatural charisma and long distance dry humping(?), and that throws up my defenses, I suppose.

Hanna, what did you think about this film as a vampire movie specifically? We’re pretty accustomed to vampires who break the “rules” around these parts, but I was still pretty shocked that in Boya’s first scene he was standing in pretty direct sunlight (although this is less the case later), and that he appeared in Earl’s rearview mirror. Are you a vampire media fan? What are some of your faves? Where would this movie rank among them?

Hanna: I’m a big proponent of horror creatures that break the rules. Vampires have been used as boogeymen for anti-miscegenous, xenophobic, and homophobic cultural tensions from the Victorian era onwards, as people have come up with all kinds of outrageous and malicious false ideas and people they fear (e.g., contagious homosexuality). It seems to me that the harder horror moviemakers lean into vampire lore, the wider the gulf they create between vampires and humanity apart; in that case, I think it makes sense that Boya the Humanist wouldn’t be beholden to the rules of vampires in the past.

In the grand scheme of vampire media, this felt like a mid-life crisis vampire movie. Most vampire media – movies, books, and TV-shows included – focuses on the violent, lustful carnality of vampirism; the intoxicating thrill of eternal love; or the loneliness of eternal life. While I am 100% on board with gratuitous vampire trash and bloodlust (shamefully, I was a big fan of Queen of the Damned as a child), I also appreciate media that focuses on the vampires for whom the thrill of blood-soaked indulgence has soured—or was never appealing to begin with—because I personally think eternal life would be pretty miserable, no matter how hot and mysterious my vampire self might be. I read that as Boya’s main internal conflict, beginning when Rita asks him to transform her into a vampire, which seemed to be his impetus for climbing into the attic and isolating himself from humanity. When that fails, Boya has to reckon with the consequences of beholding the suffering of loved ones for an eternity, or condemning a mortal companion to live out the end of the world with him. He reminds me of Louis from Interview With the Vampire, but dialed back about 6 notches on the tortured soul and vampire-bitching (thank you, Britnee). I love that Boya handles the limits of his self-actualization like a real human: with mopey dissatisfaction and ennui.

Boomer, I can also definitely see your interpretation of Boya as a fiend biding his time for a fresh hookup, though, and now I’ll have to do some deep soul searching re: my love for Boya.

Lagniappe

Britnee: Boya spends a lot of time in the bathtub, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because of some psychological issues or maybe he’s also part merman?

Hanna: I would like to give a standing ovation to Helene Clarkson’s fantastic eyebrows; they really add to Molly’s character.

Boomer: Here’s Gordon Currie being interviewed by Kirk Cameron, if you can stomach it.

Brandon: We can’t let this conversation go by without mentioning the musical stylings of Nash the Slash, who’s credited as providing the film’s score. A notorious Torontonian weirdo who masked his face with surgical bandages when performing, Nash the Slash’s contributions here are a kind of post-New Wave, pre-drone metal industrial guitar rock that helps solidify the movie’s sleepy, melancholic tone. To be honest, seeing his name in the credits is the most significantly eccentric presence that he brings to this particular project, but the more you dig into his Wikipedia page and his performance art-style music videos the more fascinating he becomes. If for nothing else, I’m at least super thankful to Blood & Donuts for leading me to such a distinctly bizarre weirdo.

Upcoming Movies of the Month
October: Boomer presents Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)
November: Hanna presents Rare Exports (2010)
December: Brandon presents Strange Days (1995)
January: The Top Films of 2019

-The Swampflix Crew

Movies to See in New Orleans This Week 8/29/19 – 9/4/19

Here are the movies we’re most excited about that are playing in New Orleans this week, including a wealth of artsy-fartsy counterprogramming for the closing days of the summertime blockbuster season.

Movies We Haven’t Seen (Yet)

The Garden (1990) – Derek Jarman’s surreal arthouse drama about homophobia & the AIDS crisis in 1990s England. Features an early performance from Tilda Swinton as a Madonna figure and is shot on location near the director’s bleak coastal home, which doubles for a nightmarish vision of The Garden of Eden. Screening at Zeitgeist as part of their ongoing queer cinema series Wildfire.

Ready or Not Samara Weaving continues her delightfully over-the-top genre work after the underappreciated Netflix novelty The Babysitter & her brief appearance in Monster Trucks with this new high-concept schlock piece about a young bride who’s hunted on her wedding night by a wealthy family of board game industry tycoons she married into in a deadly game of Hide & Seek. Playing wide.

The Nightingale – Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to The Babadook looks to be a harrowing tale of colonialism, rape, and revenge that picks at the historical scabs of her home country of Australia. The film has been incredibly divisive since it premiered at the Venice International Film Festival last year and, to be honest, I don’t know that I have the stomach to watch its brutal on-screen depictions of sexual assault myself, but it’s by all accounts an important work worthy of discussion. Playing only at The Broad.

Movies We’ve Already Enjoyed

Midsommar – Ari Aster’s folk horror follow-up to Hereditary returns to theaters for one week only in its extended Director’s Cut, now featuring over 170 minutes of gore, grief, despair, relationship drama, and pitch-black humor. Playing only at AMC Elmwood & AMC Westbank.

The Matrix (1999) – Hot off the announcement of an upcoming fourth entry in the series, the Wachowskis’ iconic cyberpunk blockbuster returns to theaters for a 20th anniversary victory lap. Presented in Dolby surround sound at AMC theaters.

The Thin Man (1934) – A classic pre-Code studio comedy wherein a wealthy alcoholic couple down martinis & trade witty sex jokes at a rapidfire pace in-between solving crimes as private detectives. Screening at the Prytania as part of their Classic Movies series on Sunday 9/1 and Wednesday 9/4.

-Brandon Ledet

Punk and the City

Susan Seidelman’s first two feature films as a director serve as a loving, warts-and-all portrait of women’s lives in 1980s NYC. Both Smithereens (our current Movie of the Month) and its major studio follow-up Desperately Seeking Susan portray New York as a romantic (even if dangerous) alternative to a milquetoast life of domestic labor in the suburbs, wherein the survival-based life of a starving artist in the Big City is vastly preferable to the safe, sheltered alternative. They idolize the day-to-day struggles of the liberated Bad Girls of city life who bested the system by shedding their suburban safety nets to risk harm daily as free spirits in the busy streets of NYC. It’s initially surprising, then, to learn that a director so rooted in punk transgression & rejection of normalcy was later involved in the early beginnings of a much more mainstream depiction of New York femininity: Sex and the City. Seidelman directed the pilot episode of the hit HBO comedy series, as well as two additional episodes in its pivotal first season. She was by no means the main creative force behind the show (that would be series creator Darren Starr, of Melrose Place & Beverly Hills 90210 fame), but she was still a foundational element in helping the series get its footing. When you return to her three episodes that first season to consider how they communicate with her early No Wave beginnings, there’s certainly a jarring shift in sensibility (and wealth) that makes the transformation surprising, but that initial shock soon fades away and Seidelman’s DNA feels absolutely essential to what Sex and the City set out to accomplish – no matter how far it may have strayed from the desperation & grime of punk.

Sex and the City opens with Sarah Jessica Parker’s editorial columnist decrying in voiceover that she is living in an Age of Uninnocence, that her generation has seen The End of Love in Manhattan. She draws battle lines between the Unmarried Women and the Toxic Bachelors of NYC, explaining, “There are tens of thousands of women in the city. We all know and love them. They’re all alone.” This snapshot of modern NYC femininity already intersects with Seidelman’s wheelhouse in a way, at least with enough overlap to hint why she may have been considered for the project. The director does know and love the women of the city. They’ve been her auteurist obsession since the start of her career in the grimy run & gun days of No Wave. No mater how much the pilot episode (or Seidelman’s second contribution to the show, “The Power of Female Sex,” in which the series’ protagonists experiment with the power of transactional sex) complains about the lack of genuine romance in modern city living, these characters still represent a kind of wish-fulfilment fantasy for the audience – especially for people watching from outside the confines of NYC. They traipse around gaudy nightclubs, drunken drag-brunch meals, designer clothing stores, and art galleries stacked with abstract paintings of giant vulvas in a modern-living whirlwind. No matter how much romantic ennui they experience in the alone-in-a-crowd anonymity of the Big City, their lives are far more enticing than the milquetoast suburban alternative – a trade-off you can see explored in Seidelman’s work all the way back to Smithereens. Maybe they can’t afford to pay their rent because they’re addicted to designer shoes rather than the more immediate, survival-based desperation of Seidelman’s early punks, but the sentiment is largely the same.

The most direct example of how Seidelman’s work on Sex and the City overlaps with the themes of her No Wave era is in her third (and final) episode of the show: “The Baby Shower.” In that episode all four leads of the show make the perilous journey to Hell on Earth: the suburbs. There they reconnect with an old friend who married a Wall Street banker (when she “was supposed to marry Sid Vicious”) and who is transforming into a suburbanite homemaker before their very eyes. They mock the woman for “using a child to validate her existence” rather than pursuing the “normal” comforts of casual sex & overpriced cocktails. As unfulfilling as their hedonistic lives in the Big City may feel on a day-to-day basis (the central conflict of the show), the suburban alternative is presented in the baby shower episode as far, far worse. In Smithereens, characters lament the dying days of the punk scene because it means being forced to return to the milquetoast doldrums of the burbs. In “The Baby Shower,” we get a painfully clear picture of what that shameful fall from urban grace looks like. It ain’t pretty. Seidelman’s work on Sex and the City may be stripped of the No Wave era punk & grime that flavored her early work as a young, energetic filmmaker in works like Smithereens. On a thematic level, though, the show still details the romantic allure of women pursuing defiantly selfish lives in the Big City despite their social training to raise children & support their husband’s careers from the relative safety of the suburbs. That defiance is in itself an act of punk transgression, whether or not it happens to be accessorized with designer shoes. Besides, it’s not like punk & fashion aren’t irrevocably linked anyway. If nothing else, the premise of Desperately Seeing Susan is essentially “The clothes make the woman.”

It’s also worth noting that the main rich-guy romantic interest in Sex and the City, Mr. Big, is played by character actor Chris North – who appears late in Smithereens as a teenage prostitute. That’s about as concise of an illustration of the wealth & aesthetic differences vs. the unexpected overlap between the two productions as you’re likely to see.

For more on August’s Movie of the Month, the No Wave summer-bummer drama Smithereens (1982), check out our Swampchat discussion of the film, our look at the director’s suburban beginnings before moving to the big city, and last week’s comparison of the film to its big-budget follow-up, Desperately Seeking Susan (1985).

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to See in New Orleans This Week: 2019 Persistence of Vision Horror Fest Edition

Persistence of Vision: A Three-Day Horror Film Event will be making its debut as a local film festival this weekend at the Three Keys venue inside The Ace Hotel. In collaboration with Creepy Fest, the weekend-long horror marathon will be screening a ton of classic genre titles (including The Descent, Poltergeist, Hocus Pocus, Shaun of the Dead, and An American Werewolf in London), along with new-to-New Orleans independent short films. The promoters explain on the event’s Facebook page, “Inspired by our current political climate—and our, like, actual real-life climate—we decided that the only way to make it to 2020 is to: #1 Feel all our feelings—like through catharsis while watching horror movies! #2 Gain a better understanding of the world of the world, and the part(s) we play in it.”

Listed below are the few films we’re most excited about that are screening at the festival, as well as a few other stand-out genre films screening throughout the city this weekend.

Selections from Persistence of Vision

Get Out (2017) – Swampflix’s favorite movie of 2017 is a staggeringly well-written work that has convincingly captured the current cultural zeitgeist, becoming instantly familiar & iconic in a way few movies have in our lifetime. It’s a horror film that families should watch together, especially if you have some f those white “I’m not racist, but” family members. Let it flow through you and inform you about the daily experiences of people of color in our country. Let it teach you a lesson about the power of cell phone video as a liberator, and about the frequent hypocrisy of white liberalism. Let it be the light for you in the dark (and sunken) places. Screening Friday 8/23, at the Ace Hotel

The Thing (1982) – John Carpenter’s classic cosmic horror is best experienced with a crowd in a proper theatrical environment, which is how I saw it for the first time at The Prytania in 2015. From my review after that screening: “The movie’s visuals are on-par with the best the director has ever crafted. The strange, rose-colored lighting of emergency flares & the sparse snow-covered Antarctica hellscape give the film an otherworldly look backed up, of course, by the foreign monstrosity of its titular alien beast.” Screening Friday 8/23 at the Ace Hotel

Vampire’s Kiss (1988) – The most absurd, bewildering, hilarious, upsetting, and absolutely essential Nic Cage performance to ever make it to the screen, which is no small feat. Preempts a lot of American Psycho’s themes & tones by casting Cage as a sociopathic businessman brute who gradually becomes convinced that he is, in fact, a vampire – a descent into madness that only looks more & more deranged from the outside looking in. Worth seeing alone for proof that Nicolas Cage can make even the simple act of reciting the alphabet the most compelling thing you’ve ever seen. Screening Sunday 8/25 at the Ace Hotel with live comedic commentary

Carrie (1976) – An iconic adaptation of Stephen King’s debut novel about a telekinetic teenage loner who’s pushed beyond her breaking point by her high school bullies and her extremely religious, abusive mother. Elevated by the auteurist vision of a young Brian De Palma and a stunning lead performance from Sissy Spacek. Screening Friday 8/23 at the Ace Hotel

Other Genre Films Playing Around New Orleans This Week

Phantasm (1979) – A late-70s indie horror cheapie (most recognized for its killer floating orb) that somehow earned a strong enough cult following that it spawned four sequels (the most recent of which was released in 2016). Screening in a new crisp digital restoration in the BYOB midnight slot at The Prytania on Friday 8/23 and Saturday 8/24

Desperate Living (1977) – My personal favorite John Waters film, and maybe the punkest thing about 1977. From Boomer’s review: “There are a lot of laughs to be had here if you’re in the right mood, and there’s also a lot of fetish fuel if you’re into that sort of thing, what with all the mesh shirts and leather pants floating around. Still, this is not a movie for the weak of stomach, or anyone who would find the detachment of a vestigial phallus odious. Recommended for lovers of the weird.” Screening free to the public (with donations encouraged) Thursday 8/22 at the LGBT Community Center of New Orleans as part of their ongoing Queer Root series.

Ready or Not Samara Weaving continues her delightfully over-the-top genre work after the underappreciated Netflix novelty The Babysitter & her brief appearance in Monster Trucks with this new high-concept schlock piece about a young bride who’s hunted on her wedding night by a wealthy family of board game industry tycoons she married into in a deadly game of Hide & Seek. Playing wide.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark A Guillermo del Toro-produced anthology horror adapted from a series of short stories that freaked us all out as children in the 80s & 90s. Playing wide.

-Brandon Ledet

Desperately Seeking Wren

In her documentary Confessions of a Suburban Girl, director Susan Seidelman examines the Patriarchal social conditioning she and her peers were hindered with as teens in 1960s suburbia. Trained from birth to be dutiful housewives safely tucked away from the dangers of The Big City where their husbands would work, these girls were “protected” to the point of suffocation. It’s no surprise, then, that Seidelman and her frustrated buds idolized the “Bad Girls” of their community: the leather jacket-wearing, go-go dancing, sexually adventurous reprobates that were meant to be serve as cautionary tales but instead registered as heroes who bested the system. You can easily detect this fascination with the defiant Bad Girl archetype in both of Seidelman’s first two features as a director. In her debut (and our current Movie of the Month), the 1982 No Wave drama Smithereens, Seidelman takes us on a grimy, dispirited tour of post-punk NYC under the guidance of Wren (played by Susan Berman) – a selfish, cunning brat who will exploit anyone in her orbit if it means surviving another day. Smithereens is a fascinating character study of a desperate Bad Girl who’s running low on resources to keep her deviant, starving-artist lifestyle going, to the point where she threatens to abandon audience sympathies entirely with each new grift. Wren is more of an anti-hero (as well as her own antagonist) in that way. For a truly heroic portrait of a Bad Girl from the Big City, you’d have to look to Seidelman’s big studio follow-up to Smithereens: Desperately Seeking Susan.

None other than 80s (and 90s & 00s) pop icon Madonna stars as the titular Bad Girl in Siedelman’s second feature – a character who’s infinitely cooler & more lovable than the prickly, survival-minded Wren. Susan represents a fantasy of what a bohemian life in the Big City would look like to a sheltered woman from the suburbs in desperate need of adventure & romance. Roseanne Arquette costars as the audience surrogate: a terminally bored, milquetoast housewife who looks to Bad Girls like Susan as escapist wish-fulfillment fantasies. After stalking this strange woman through her personals ads in newspapers, our protagonist finds herself trailing Susan in real life as well. She leaves the sheltered safety of the suburbs to follow Susan around NYC like a cartoon character floating behind the steam trail of a cooling pie, totally mesmerized. This fascination is clearly more about envy than desire, and the movie-magic fantasy of the picture is a traditionally farcical mix-up of concussions, misunderstandings, and mistaken identities wherein the two women swap lives for a short, wacky time. In Smithereens, Seidelman fixates on the harsher realities of what Bad Girls from the Big City would have to do to scrape by since her freedoms require a life without safety nets. Desperately Seeking Susan is more about the romantic fantasy of that lifestyle as seen from an outsider’s perspective, something she and her peers shared as sheltered teens. In both instances, a life of suburban doldrums is effectively framed as a prison sentence in contrast to the daily struggles of a Big City free-spirit who answers to no one – except when she’s negotiating a place to sleep that night.

Desperately Seeking Susan is decidedly less punk & less challenging than Seidelman’s No Wave debut, but it’s still just as interested in the lives of frustrated, bored women in search of a life worth living. Both films work exceedingly well as a guided tour of 1980s NYC and as period-specific fashion lookbooks. That latter concern may be the only area where Susan truly outshines Wren. Every single outfit Madonna wears in Desperately Seeking Susan is impossibly perfect, and most of the excitement of the picture is in the suspense of what she (or the concussed woman who mistakenly believes she is her) is going to wear next. Wren’s tour of a post-punk NYC is a little more useful from a street-level documentarian standpoint, but Susan’s adventures in the city do happen to touch on some gorgeous dive bar & thrift store locales, as well as an insanely dense list of soon-to-be-somebody personalities of the era: Laurie Metcalf, John Turturro, Ann Magnuson, Steven Wright, The Honeymoon Killers’s Shirley Stoller, the triplets from Three Identical Strangers, etc. etc. etc. Seidelman invites this 1:1 comparison between Wren & Susan in the very first scene of the film, where Madonna is introduced taking selfies with a Polaroid camera in a direct echo of one of Smithereens’s most iconic scenes. Whereas Smithereens is a bummed-out reality check of what the Bad Girl lifestyle means for people who have no choice but to live it, though, Desperately Seeking Susan is a “The clothes make the woman” fantasy where being a Bad Girl only means liberation from a life of dutiful housework & childrearing. Both perspectives are valid, and both are made more valuable when considered in tandem.

For more on August’s Movie of the Month, the No Wave summer-bummer drama Smithereens (1982), check out our Swampchat discussion of the film and last week’s look at the director’s suburban beginnings before moving to the big city.

-Brandon Ledet