Dune (2021)

My best friend has recently taken to watching Quantum Leap, so I was trying to describe the premise of the show to my born-in-1995 significant other, and I did so mostly with lines from the show’s opening. If you’re reading this site, I assume you remember the gist. Theorizing that one could travel within their own lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the quantum leap accelerator and disappeared. Yada yada, yada, setting right what once went wrong, always hoping that the next leap would be the leap home, that sort of thing. I’ve never read Dune. I saw the David Lynch version precisely once when I was quite young (for its Sci-Fi Channel Scinema Event premiere, so … September 1999), and although I was a little bit older when the same station broadcast its self-produced Frank Herbert’s Dune miniseries in 2000, when I tell you that I can’t recall a single thing about it other than that Matt Keeslar was in it, I mean that I can’t recall a single thing about it other than Matt Keeslar. I didn’t even remember that William Hurt was in it until I just looked it up on Wikipedia, and I love that guy. I remembered bits and pieces of Virginia Madsen dressed like the Childlike Empress delivering a huge dump of exposition at the beginning of the 1984 film, mostly her saying the word “spice” a lot. When Brandon asked if I was planning to see the new Dune and if I planned to write about it, asking if I had any personal connection to the source material, I refrained from elaborating that I once bore witness to a not-entirely-cohesive explanation of the novel’s plot while on a largely unsuccessful date, attempting to grasp the relevance of why Kyle McLachlan was named after a mouse while sitting outside of the cafe that used to be next to Funky Monkey and trying to hear my companion’s thin voice over the Number 11 bus loudly idling right next to us. Other than that, most of my Dune knowledge came from an (admittedly ill-informed) Lindsay Ellis video mocking the Lynch adaptation, which was nonetheless beloved by a certain group of my friends; we still sometimes quote “All aboard the party worm, Harkonnens aren’t invited!” to one another. 

Suffice it to say, I gave myself a quick idea of the general plot with a little Wikipedia skim before making my way to the theater, and although it’s complicated, it’s also not impenetrable Coruscant bullshit, either; it makes sense. Some twenty millennia from now, mankind has scattered amongst the stars and settled into fiefdom, with planets ruled by various royal houses who all swear fealty to an emperor. Space travel is enabled by use of the spice melange, a resource found only on the planet Arrakis, a desert world nicknamed “Dune” and inhabited by giant worm creatures and the scavengers known as the Fremen. As our story opens, the emperor has transferred control of Arrakis from its previous caretakers, the morally bankrupt House Harkonnen, to the more popular House Atreides. This is a ploy to weaken the emperor-threatening Atreides family, who are inexperienced with handling the harsh Dune and the demands of mining spice in such an inhospitable environment. Duke Leto Atreides, along with his concubine Jessica and their teenage son Paul, journey to Arrakis with their retinue;  Leto seeks to ally with the Fremen by extending an olive branch rather than carrying on an antagonist relationship with them as the Harkonnens had. Jessica has her own agenda, being a member of the mysterious religious order of the Bene Gesserit, a sisterhood of mystics who have been secretly carrying out a galactic eugenics experiment to create a messiah; despite being instructed to bear only daughters for Leto, she gave birth to Paul out of her love for the Duke. The sisters of the order are practiced in both martial arts, stress conditioning, and a kind of super neuro linguistic programming technique called The Voice. 

That’s the backstory, anyway. It’s here that I’ll also admit that I was slightly exaggerating my lack of familiarity with Dune up at the top there, after a fashion. The narrative has always seemed needlessly confusing to me (although it’s pared down here to be extremely parsable for a general audience, not least of all because everybody in 2021 understands fealty, house affiliations, and the like thanks to Game of Thrones), but someone who has spent as much down time reading TV Tropes as I have in the past 13 years doesn’t escape that kind of wiki rabbit-holing without garnering some useless knowledge. So yes, I know a little something about Mentats (human computers who do calculations in lieu of machines due to anti-mechanist sentiment held over following a devastating war between humans and AI), ego-memory (the individual memory of one of the individuals in the chain of matrilinear genetic memory curated by the Bene Gesserit using refined sand worm bile), and kanly (the strictures that allowed for certain forms of socially and legally acceptable conflict and combat between great houses to avoid the potentially greater loss of life resulting from outright war or atomic weaponry). But none of that is really relevant for the narrative of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, all you really need to know is what I’ve outlined for you, and even that’s mostly well-communicated in the text of the film. Or the part of it that’s relevant for this film, anyway.

Duke Leto is herein portrayed by Oscar Isaac, and Lady Jessica is played by Rebecca Ferguson, whom I adore. Since part of the Bene Gesserit’s plan is creating the whitest, twinkiest little messiah you ever did see, we’ve got our whitest, twinkiest actor Timothée Chalamet as Paul. Stellan Skarsgård is unrecognizable as Baron Harkonnen, and Jason Momoa is momoa-ing it up as Duncan Idaho, the super warrior guy that has been training Paul in combat and who spends some time embedded with the Fremen on Arrakis in preparation for the Atreides family’s arrival. Josh Brolin is also there, and Zendaya is Meechee Chani, a Fremen woman about whom Paul has visions. Because of the eugenics, remember. 

So, yeah, about that. The day after I saw the movie, I saw this tweet, in which a person made a blanket statement about what they perceived to be the racist, sexist, gender essentialist, and homophobic intent of Dune, based solely on reading various plot outlines across different wikis. And that person appears, based upon feedback from readers who engaged with the text directly instead of through secondary sources, to be quite wrong about the thesis of Dune. That’s the danger of engaging only with content instead of context, which is the whole reason that freshman composition courses stress the importance of using both primary and secondary sources. And you know, I hope and pray that if I ever make a public declaration that is just flat out incorrect, that I’ll have the humility and to not double down on being an ignorant stubborn asshole. I think about people like this lady after getting ratio’d regarding her extremely niche pet peeve of … people eating bread, or that guy from The Long Winters saw a teachable moment and decided to do the opposite of teaching, or that person who dropped this worm-riddled take about relationships and then smugly got off on pretending that all the responses, even the ones made in good faith, were all in bad faith and thus proved their point (luckily the term “asshole” is not gendered). So when this person, who in general is someone with whom I agree about most cultural critique, responded with, essentially, “lol, even though the error was mine, all feedback will be considered in bad faith regardless of accuracy or intent.” And what’s most frustrating about this—other than everybody has fucking worms in their brain and lacks the humility to even acknowledge when they misread something—is that this person isn’t wrong per se about the Dune film (that they claim not to have watched). 

As a text, Dune (the novel) can be entirely about how racism, eugenics, white saviorism, etc. are all not only facile but also dangerous, but this film opts to drop its cliffhanger at a point where that hasn’t been made clear. However, unless this film were going to be six hours long (or 4.5, as the miniseries was), it arguably can’t get to the narrative point where it doubles back on audience expectation that what appears to be a straightforward western white savior narrative of a kind that they’ve seen before. To invert assumptions, it has to exist in the form that it’s in, and that’s not a bad thing, but our instant gratification, humility-scorning, wikipedia skimming, knee-jerk presumption culture has reached a point where we actually fail to recognize and realize that this is a problem of consumption and commodification. This comes from the left just as often as it does from the right, but there’s a profound inability among the left to see that large IP-holding monoliths have spoonfed audiences for so long that they said consumers have reached a point where no one has the patience to allow time for a narrative to actually create a compelling condemnation of moral ills, and that they themselves are not immune to that kind of indoctrination. Selling the idea of activism as reading a wiki and developing a thesis about a text without engaging with the primary source is part of the commodification of art into yet another thing to mindlessly tweet about without consideration of one’s own foolishness. 

Consider this: Erstwhile Roommate of Boomer had different feelings about Dune than I did. He hated the ending, describing it to me (before I saw it) as “basically a lightsaber fight” and comparing the way that the Fremen crawl around on the rock face in the film’s concluding sequence as something “straight out of West Side Story.” After I saw it and we were texting about it, he sent me a message saying “Tell me you didn’t expect them to start snapping their fingers and closing in like the Sharks.” It reminded me of when I explained the ending of Batman v. Superman mostly talking about the different musical leitmotifs that were used in the climax, as to me that was (and remains) the most interesting thing that happened in the last hour of that movie; this included a (poor) reenactment of the guitar-heavy Wonder Woman theme. Years later, when he saw the movie, that had somehow morphed in his memory into being a story about how the film ended with a literal musical battle, and he was disappointed. But he didn’t have to go on Twitter and say something like “Well excuse me very much for hearing that plot synopsis and thinking that maybe it would be a better movie if it ended with a battle of the bands instead of whatever it actually ended with” because he never went online and proudly declared his misunderstanding in the first place. And the thing is, that the Fremen looked like the Sharks never crossed my mind. But that doesn’t make his reading any less real or true, because he’s engaging with the text directly, not projecting because he’d rather appear to be “better” than the text by not engaging with it. I can’t and don’t agree with that particular sentiment, but that’s ok! It’s still legitimate. 

Anyway, this has, as it often does, turned into less of a review of this movie and more of a jeremiad about how exhausting the discourse is and what that means for our society. Dune is good. It’s great, even. Although I don’t think it’s a good idea for megacorps to try and pressure people who aren’t ready, people who are immunocompromised, people who lack vaccine access, and people who are victims of anti-science rhetoric to the point of complete dissociation from reality to go back to theaters so that they can “see Dune on the biggest screen possible,” I can affirm that I don’t regret that decision. I don’t want to be the Boss Baby vibes guy, but there was an actual moment where the vistas and visuals of the movie made me gasp a little with their beauty, and my first thought was “Disney Star Wars could never.” Dune is good. See it. 

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Lagniappe Podcast: The Great Satan (2018)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, BoomerBrandon, and Alli discuss The Great Satan (2018), Everything is Terrible!’s retelling of the story of the fallen angel Lucifer, conveyed in a hyperactive mixtape of obscure VHS clips. 

00:00 Welcome

01:40 The Black Cat (1934)
02:52 The Lure (2017)
05:10 StageFright: Aquarius (1987)
08:30 Landscape Suicide (1987)
10:25 Into the Inferno (2016)
14:45 The End of Evangelion (1997)
22:35 Dune (2021)
32:00 Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988)
33:13 Nightmares on Elm Street
37:40 Jennifer’s Body (2009)
39:18 Return of the Living Dead (1985)
44:35 The French Dispatch (2021)

47:25 The Great Satan (2018)

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

Zola (2021)

As a terminally online movie nerd who has been relying on borrowed public-library DVDs instead of theatrical distribution to keep up with new releases all pandemic, it’s a minor miracle when I can enter a movie unbiased & unspoiled.  By the time I get to most buzzy releases, I’ve already heard every possible take on its faults & merits, with plenty of plot & stylistic details filled in as supporting evidence.  I was fortunate, then, to watch Janicza Bravo’s Zola without any clear roadmap to where it was headed.  As it was adapted from one of the most notorious Twitter threads of all time (with the co-writing help of its real-life subject & Tweeter, @zolamoon), I should likely be embarrassed that I had no idea where the film’s road-trip-to-Hell story would lead me, but instead I’m grateful.  While the hype around @zolamoon’s tweets was sensational, the conversation surrounding their movie adaptation has been much more subdued, which means the film-obsessed corners of the internet where I lurk left me mostly blind to where it was going.  All I really knew is that Zola lived to tweet about the journey, which did little to lighten the tension of the distinctly Floridian nightmare she survived.

This is not the first movie I’ve seen that was directly adapted from a series of tweets.  2013’s Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy. is a Thai coming-of-age drama adapted from 410 consecutive tweets on an anonymous teen girl’s Twitter account, credited to @marylonely.  It’s a playfully experimental work that allows the jarring tonal shifts of reading a Twitter feed from bottom-to-top to dictate its moment-to-moment whims.  Zola is the darksided mirrorworld version of that much lighter, kinder film – finding a chaotic terror & humor in life’s sequential randomness.  By definition, Zola is a purely episodic journey, following each “And then this happened, and then this happened” anecdote of its online source material like the twisty tracks on a rollercoaster – with no hopes of the deranged carnies in charge letting you off.  A part-time waitress & dancer in Detroit, Zola is seduced into a road trip to working a few Florida strip clubs with the promise of easy money & friendship.  The second she becomes a backseat passenger in her obnoxious, shady “friend’s” SUV, she realizes she’s in the hands of unhinged strangers with no choice but to see the journey through, hoping they return her to Detroit in one piece.  Each new strip club & hotel room she’s dragged through along the way springs horrific funhouses surprises at her, and she does her best to remain visibly calm, unphased by their sinister absurdism.  It was the scariest movie experience I had in the entirety of October, when I was mostly watching movies about supernatural ghouls & goblins.

Speaking of funhouses, Janicza Bravo has fun adding a layer of fairy tale artifice to this darkly funny nightmare, setting its pre-strip show dress-up sequences in a fantastic mirror realm scored by angelic harp strings.  We’re swept off our feet by Zola’s new, chaotic stripper friend right alongside her, intoxicated by the promise of wealth & adventure.  There’s a music video sheen to the pop art setting & fast-fashion costuming that can put you under the Wicked Stephanie’s spell if you’re not careful.  Once that spell is broken, you’re forever tied to her, cursed to stare at blank hotel room walls while listening to her turn tricks you didn’t consent to witnessing in an endless parade of gnarled Floridian dicks.  Mica Levi’s usual tension-generator scoring is made even more upsettingly arrhythmic with the intrusion of gum-chewing & Twitter notifications, making sure the vibes remain just as poisonous as they are sickly sweet.  The movie is only 85 minutes long, including its end credits, but by the time it’s over you feel as if you’ve been trapped in its hellish mirrorworld for a thousand eternities – in desperate need of a scalding-hot shower. 

I’m not sure why Zola was so breezily discussed & forgotten among online movie nerds when it was released this summer.  Maybe its social media source material or its episodic nature made it appear unsubstantial by default.  Maybe its online discourse cycle had already exhausted itself before the movie was even announced, back when the original Twitter thread was a must-read.  Whatever the reason, I’m grateful that I got to engage with the movie as a fresh, volatile cultural object months after its initial run – a rare treat these days.

-Brandon Ledet

Rose Plays Julie (2021)

Rose Plays Julie is a subtle, well-made movie built on subtle, well-played performances.  A psychological thriller about a young veterinary student’s increasingly dark mission to uncover her place in the world as an unwanted adopted child (and, more to the point, about the generational trauma of sexual assault), it has all the potential in the world to swerve into a sensationalist rape revenge tale with a violently heightened sense of style.  Instead, it keeps its mood low-key & pained, allowing the Greek tragedy of its doomed characters’ downward trajectory to quietly unfold at its own pace.  It’s one of those thoughtful, tasteful indie chillers that I appreciate in terms of intent & craft but only help clarify my personal disinterest in subtlety & restraint.  I wish I could appreciate this quiet, finely calibrated psych-thriller on its own terms, but instead its coming-of-age fury & vet school setting just made me wish I was watching the explosive coming-of-age cannibal horror Raw instead.  That’s just the kind of audience I am, to my shame.

It’s okay that Rose Plays Julie works better as an exercise in craft than as a cathartic, stylistically expressive genre film.  It’s explicitly about performance in a lot of respects, which shines a direct spotlight on the actors in three central roles of Daughter (Ann Skelly), Mother (Orla Brady), and Rapist (Aiden Gillen).  Gillen puts in the same raspy creep performance he’s been delivering as a manner of routine since he was cast in Game of Thrones, but the drama is more centralized on the women he’s hurt anyway.  The mother is an actress by trade, shown avoiding her traumatic past by getting lost in her roles on period dramas & vampire movies.  The daughter—the surviving result of a rape—is an actress by choice, taking on her imagined persona of the name on her birth certificate (paired with an unconvincing wig) as an undetectable alias while pursuing revenge against the mother’s assailant, her “father”.  The tension between them is a feel-bad triangle of gloom that each actor ably performs through several layers of self-protective artifice.  The avenging violence that breaks that tension is just as dejectedly sad, providing little emotional catharsis for the generations of hurt at the film’s core – presumably on purpose.

To wish Rose Plays Julie was more expressive or cathartic would be wishing for a more divisive, if not outright irresponsible kind of filmmaking that it’s just not interested in indulging.  This is a very serious film about a very serious subject, and I’m sure there’s a larger audience out there who’d prefer that sober approach to genre storytelling over what’s usually offered.  Personally, I could only appreciate the craft of its individual performances rather than the larger purpose they served.  It’s a terrible thing to admit, but if it were even 10% trashier or flashier in its delivery, I’d probably be much more enthusiastic about where it fits in the modern revenge thriller canon.

-Brandon Ledet

Censor (2021)

I am greatly excited by the return of the New Orleans Film Festival this month, since I’m finally feeling confident enough about the city’s vaccination rates to attend a few screenings in person (as opposed to last year, when I watched Undine at an outdoor screening and the rest of the fest on my couch).  There’s a total immersion in low-budget, scrappy art films that I only experience at festivals, where I emerge forgetting what a well-funded, market-tested studio film even looks like.  My standards of quality shift from questions of technical craft to genuine engagement with films’ intents & ideas.  I imagine most of the ecstatic praise for the nostalgia-poisoned horror indie Censor was a circumstance of that immersion in the Film Festival Brainspace.  Censor premiered to strong reviews at this year’s Sundance (the festival that’s most notorious for hyping up films that play much cooler once they reach the wider public), but it’s proven to be divisive & middling as its distribution has spread in the months since – culminating in a quiet streaming release on Hulu this Halloween season.  Imagining myself in Film Fest Brainspace, it’s easy to see how that hype deflated so quietly.  It’s a movie with strong ideas, weak execution, and a stunner of an ending that leaves you on a memorable high note despite the hour of tedium that precedes it.  I assume that if I had seen Censor in a festival environment, I’d be much more gleeful about its merits myself.  Watching it at home amidst a flood of other horror indie streamers this October, however, I’m struggling to drum up that enthusiasm.

If nothing else, it’s easy to see how Censor landed such a high-profile distribution deal while so many other high-concept horrors on its budget level never make it past festival programs.  It’s got a killer hook.  Niamh Algar stars as a 1980s film censor during the UK’s “video nasties” panic, spending most of her days watching (and rejecting for public consumption) over-the-top gore gags & simulated acts of misogynist violence.  Never mind the anachronism of British film censors actually watching the horror movies they banned in order to Save the Children, as opposed to glancing at VHS covers and making a snap judgement based on the title & artwork.  The movie is more of an intimate character study about this one specific film censor rather than a history lesson on her profession.  She is haunted by scenes & performances in the films she screens not because of their brutality, necessarily, but because they evoke long-buried childhood memories of her sister’s mysterious disappearance (and likely murder).  Questions of how “real” these connections between the violent art she watches and the violence of her life are remain unanswered.  Instead, we lose sight of the boundaries between art & reality altogether alongside our doomed protagonist, until those two versions of the “truth” directly battle for supremacy at the film’s thrilling, psychedelic climax.  The murder mystery portion of the plot directly recalls the art-imitating-life murders of the similarly styled Knife+Heart—a daunting comparison to overcome—but the video nasty setting & aesthetic help distinguish it enough for it to feel like its own thing.

My main roadblock to fully loving Censor is one that a lot of low-budget festival entries suffer; it just doesn’t have enough going on to justify being a full-length feature.  Even with a delicious 80min runtime, this takes way too long to get where it’s going.  There’s a version of this movie where its anti-heroine’s quiet brooding and hazy childhood flashbacks create a throathold tension on the audience, but in the version we got they just feel like treading water.  The reality-meltdown finale is a stunner (as long as you can stay awake long enough to get there), but I enjoyed the destination more than the journey, which is never a good sign.  The movie is okay over all but great in flashes, inviting you to assess it on its ideas alone instead of its execution of those ideas, which is the quintessential film festival experience.  I did not attend this year’s Sundance Film Festival—either online or in person—so I did not get the perfect Censor experience.  Personally, I cannot wait to “discover” and overpraise some misshapen, almost-great indie at NOFF once my own critical facilities are overpowered by Film Fest Brain.  I wish I could live in that loopy brainspace all year-round.

-Brandon Ledet

The Night House (2021)

The movie is just alright, but Rebecca Hall is great: a tale as old as time.  I always hear that Hall is a powerhouse performer, but I’m used to seeing her play low-key, anonymous roles in genre movies like The Gift, Transcendence, and Godzilla vs Kong, where she tends to support instead of outshine the ooky-spooky monsters & ghouls at centerstage.  That likely says more about me than it says about Hall, though, since her fan-favorite performance as the titular role in the 2016 biopic Christine is widely available and I’ve yet to make time for it.  Luckily, The Night House is willing to meet me halfway by casting Rebecca Hall as the dramatic lead in a straight-forward horror film about a haunted house, wherein she’s the central focus of every single scene.  The movie itself is just okay, but her performance is fantastic, so I at least appreciated that it dragged me kicking and screaming into the Rebecca Hall fan club.

Viewed purely as a haunted-house movie, The Night House is only so-so.  It’s overloaded with exciting ideas, teasing tangents of Lovecraftian blueprints for a dark-magic home, silhouettes of ghosts formed by the negative space in architectural details, erotic foreplay with said negative-space ghosts, and a cursed netherworld that can only be accessed through lucid dreams.  Unfortunately, it’s frustratingly restrained in its execution of its most out-there concepts, only indulging in each for mere seconds before dragging the audience back to the dramatic reality they disrupt.  That dramatic core is yet another It’s Actually About Grief metaphor that has become so standard in modern horror, with Rebecca Hall being both physically & emotionally haunted by her recent suicide-victim husband.  In a decade, academics will have something smart & concise to say about why so many of our contemporary horror films are so fixated on the subject of grief, just as we’ve since explained away the early-aughts’ obsession with onscreen torture as a way to process American war crimes during the War on Terror.  In the meantime, there’s very little room for individual entries in the Grief Horror canon to have anything novel to say on the subject, so all The Night House can really do is create a spooky mood while repeating images & concepts you’ve already been exposed to many times before.  It is spooky, but I question if that’s enough of a draw considering how familiar its themes are.

The Night House is much more impressive as a showcase for Rebecca Hall’s screen presence, encouraging to flex her acting muscles in the same way the Grief Horror genre has already spotlighted Toni Collette in Hereditary, Elizabeth Moss in The Invisible Man, and Essie Davis in The Babadook.  Hall plays a wonderfully prickly, sardonic widow who refuses to wallow in the aftermath of her husband’s suicide, instead choosing to prod at who he was and why he decided to stop being.  She’s haunted both by the gun violence that ended his life—often finding herself hearing, touching, and Googling guns whenever her mind drifts—and by a spiritual presence in her now empty home, seemingly rekindling their doomed romance from beyond the grave.  Weirdly, the movie often excels most when it’s not indulging in supernatural phenomena at all, chronicling Hall’s investigation into her husband’s secretive life outside their marriage and her wonderfully icy responses to the polite but condescending rituals of communal consolation that accompany all funerals.  She’s hurt, she’s hurtful, and she’s fiercely opposed to the idea of fading away quietly after her marriage’s violent end, despite that feeling like the only path offered in her empty, cursed home.  The movie asks a lot of Rebecca Hall as its emotional anchor, and she holds it all down with ease.  It’s just a shame the movie around her couldn’t quite match her virtuoso performance with something memorable enough to make it a must-see entry in its genre.

-Brandon Ledet

Movie of the Month: Lisa and the Devil (1973)

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 Hanna made BrandonBoomer, and Britnee watch Lisa and the Devil (1973).

Hanna: I didn’t know anything about Mario Bava the first time I saw Lisa and the Devil (1974)It was two or three Halloweens ago, when streaming services pepper their suggestions with every horror movie in their arsenals, especially Argento & Bava films from the 70s with irresistible, colorful covers.  The film has persistently clung to my mind since then because of its totally bizarre ending and its resplendent, House of Usher-esque mansion.  I don’t know if it held up for me on a second viewing, and it has a gross depiction of sexual assault at ~1:14:00 that I had completely forgotten about, but I still overall enjoyed Bava’s spooky dreamscape.

At the outset of Lisa and the Devil, Lisa—a German tourist played by Elke Sommer—is climbing off a tour bus in Toledo, Spain.  The very first stop of the tour brings her group to a mural of the Devil carrying the dead away, with a face that “expresses a quality which reflects the very soul of pleasure and evil.” Lisa seems struck by this mural, and inexplicably leaves her friend behind with the tour group to go wandering through the small Spanish village alone.  She’s drawn into an antique shop and finds herself mesmerized by a sort of box-less music box/turntable with six rotating figures (if somebody could tell me what this thing is called, I would be much obliged – it’s extremely cool).  She interrupts the shopkeeper’s conversation with the lone customer in the shop, who’s fussing over the particularities of a large wooden doll, to purchase the object.  The customer turns to look at Lisa, who realizes that he bears a striking resemblance to the “very soul of pleasure and evil” plastered on the mural.  From that point on, Lisa is lost; she dashes from the shop and wanders hopelessly through the deserted streets of Toledo, finding it impossible to return to the town square and repeatedly running into the menacing man from the mural (played by Telly Savalas) and the human manifestation of his life-size wooden doll.  Eventually night falls, and she’s picked up by a tense couple and their driver in a lovely green car.  Lisa is hopeful that this is the end of her nightmare, until the car breaks down in front of a sprawling Spanish villa of an elderly blind countess (Alida Valli) and her odd son Maximillian (Alessio Orano).  The villa is staffed, of course, by Leandro, who continues to drag around his giant wooden doll for a mysterious purpose.

The rest of the film slowly unfolds into a visually striking festival of murder.  The long shots of Lisa wandering throughout the remote village and the rich, green grounds of the villa are fantastic, and the interior of the villa oozes with a thick, decrepit opulence (I love the rotting cake room).  I mostly found the performances a little lackluster, especially Sommer (who, despite being the leading lady, has about 10 lines of dialogue), but Telly Savalas is a pleasure to watch as a puckish devil butler who’s perpetually sucking on lollipops.

Britnee, I think I’m a Bava newbie compared to the rest of the Swampflix crew.  I’ve heard some people say that this one is especially strange and dream-like, but it was the first Bava film I ever saw, so I didn’t have much of a reference for his body of work.  How do you think Lisa and the Devil stacks up against his other films?

Britnee: I’ve actually only seen a couple of Bava films, but there was something different about this one. The other films I’m thinking of—Blood and Black Lace (my first Movie of the Month choice!) and Kill, Baby…Kill! in particular—weren’t as dreamlike for sure, but even more so, none had a character as comical as Leandro. Bava’s characters tend to be dark, mysterious, and serious – just not the type of characters that you really connect with.  In no way is that a bad thing, because I’ve never watched a Bava movie for the cast.  Bava movies are beautiful, bloody treasures about creepy sickos, and I expect nothing more.  Leandro caught me off guard because I expected him to be terrifying since he’s basically the Devil.  I thought he was going to terrorize Lisa from the moment she ran into him in the antique shop, but he felt like more of a guide instead – guiding Lisa and the audience to and around the castle while making clever comments and sucking on lollipops.  He felt more like a witty uncle than Satan.

My absolute favorite thing about Lisa and the Devil are all of the creepy mannequins. The first one we see that continuously reappears is a mannequin of Carlos, the dead lover of the dead woman who Lisa resembles.  But we eventually get introduced into a room filled with them!  It seems that everyone who’s murdered by this bizarre castle family is transformed into a mannequin.  This becomes apparent when Leandro takes Lisa’s measurements after she faints.  I was hoping for some satanic ritual where Leandro turns the dead bodies into mannequins before our eyes, but it never goes down that road.

The ending of this film is so unexpected.  Just when we think that Lisa is free and leaving Spain, she’s trapped on a plane with corpses and Leandro.  This is where she turns into a mannequin and essentially dies.  Brandon, what are your thoughts on the ending?  Should Lisa have lived or died on the castle grounds instead?

Brandon:  I don’t have any strong opinions about whether Lisa should have survived this film un-mannequined, but I do appreciate that she got to escape from the castle grounds after sunrise.  At first, the shifting geography of the city and Lisa’s role as a silent observer had me thinking of this movie as a dream-logic story, but her return to the modern world outside the castle helped me re-contextualize everything as fairy tale logic, which is its own distinct thing.  The way the castle feels untethered to the modernity, the way its decadent food is used as bait to lure in outsiders, and the way Bava constantly frames its inhabitants through mirror reflections all feel traditional to fairy-tale storytelling – something that didn’t dawn on me until the castle receded back into its own temporal limbo at, well, dawn.  I loved seeing Lisa emerge from that fairy tale realm to return to her modern-tourist reality, and by then I was pretty much down for however Bava wanted to wrap it up.  Maybe she couldn’t fully escape the castle because she ate the food and drank the wine: a classic fairy tale blunder.

As always with Bava, Lisa and the Devil is consistently beautiful, and parsing out the whats & whys of ~what’s really going on~ in its plot is miles beside the point.  What I love most about this film is how much it resembles a standard haunted castle horror movie (maybe with more shapeshifting mannequins than usual) but the longer you grapple with its internal sense of logic the less familiar it feels.  The car troubles that lead a foursome of naïve passersby to the film’s haunted castle are clichéd almost to the point of conscious parody, and yet the Technicolor surrealism they encounter inside is something you’ll be hard-pressed to find in any of the Hammer Horror or Corman-Poe movies it recalls.  Boomer, what do you think Bava brings to the creepy-castle horror movie as a genre?  Is his filmmaking or storytelling style particularly suited for this generically spooky setting in any way?

Boomer: One thing that I thought was notable here is that, when we think about Mario Bava, we mostly think about his earlier directorial work, starting with 1957’s I, Vampiri, then peaking in the early-to-mid 1960s.  That’s the era with perennial classics like Black Sunday (1960) and Black Sabbath (1963) as well as movies that we’ve mentioned above: Blood and Black Lace (1964) and Kill, Baby, Kill (1966). After that, we get things like Hatchet for a Honeymoon (1970), which I did not care for, and 1972’s Baron Blood, which I got on VHS many years ago and managed to sit through precisely once. When we talk about Bava, we always talk about him as a horror or giallo director, and although that makes up the bulk of his filmography, we rarely talk about his sword-and-sandals swashbucklers (Hercules in the Haunted World, Erik the Conqueror), his non-giallo crime thrillers (like Danger: Diabolik), or his westerns (The Road to Fort AlamoRoy Colt & Winchester Jack), and even his non-horror sci-fi The Day the Sky Exploded usually gets lumped in with his horror sci-fi like Planet of the Vampires and Caltiki – The Immortal Monster. But what’s really missing from this list are references to his comedy pictures, like spy spoof Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs and sex romp Four Times That Night

Strangely, I think it’s the last of these that has the most influence on Lisa and the Devil, as it allows for a little levity in the proceedings.  I don’t think any actor I’ve seen in a Bava film has been as magnetic and fun as Telly Savalas is here, hamming it up and clearly having a good time.  The scene in which he bums a smoke from one of the visitors and then loudly chastises the man for smoking indoors when the blind countess enters the room is an inspired gag, as are his seemingly improvised moments, like when he dances with one of the mannequins.  Italian horror movies are littered with scenes in which a person gives exposition to a bound or unconscious figure (Profundo rosso comes to mind), but Savalas manages to turn even this into a lively and comparably electric scene. I’ve often said that comedy and mystery “live” in the same mental space; what is a punchline if not a resolution that makes you laugh?  What is the answer to a riddle if not the solution to a mystery?  That Savalas is an American amidst these Europeans (most of whom probably learned their lines phonetically or were dubbed, both of which were in fashion at the time) also contributes to a separation between himself and makes him appear much more lifelike and composed.  All too frequently, casting is treated as something that’s purely matter-of-fact in films; Dune is about the dangers of trusting a white savior and deconstructing that narrative of white messiahs, but that also means it’s about a white twink savior, so of course the current film adaptation has the whitest and twinkiest of currently working actors.  Here, the casting of Savalas contributes to the tone, which I found fascinating. 

To circle back on Bava’s storytelling style, the gothic is definitely where his powers reign supreme, and I don’t think that anyone else could have helmed this movie and captured that energy and atmosphere as well as he does here. Comparing this film to the body of work of his two major contemporaries, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, both of them made their own dreamlike haunted house stories within a few years, with Suspiria for the former and The Psychic for the latter, although the reasons for the house/school being/seeming haunted in each of those films is decidedly different, both from one another and from Lisa and the DevilLisa is also a much more successful counterposing of the modern and the gothic than the aforementioned Baron Blood. In that film, a modern (for 1972) American co-ed visits his ancestral home in Austria and resurrects a murderous aristocratic forefather, while Lisa is a modern (for 1974) tourist thrust into a decaying relic of a home inhabited by murderous aristocrats.  That they both exist, were released a mere 2.5 years apart, and that Bava wrote both in addition to directing them, says something about his interest in contrasting those two things later in his life, and I do wish we could have seen more of that before he passed away in 1980.  Interestingly, although Suspiria is largely considered Argento’s masterpiece and The Psychic was a film I heard discussed in certain circles with frequency, Lisa and the Devil is one I had never heard of before this viewing. 

Shudder’s interface describes this as “Bava’s strangest film” (emphasis added), presumably because it boasts a more dreamlike atmosphere than his other horror fare, but I can’t say that I necessarily agree.  Although the ending leaves much to the imagination and interpretation, this is a film that makes explicit early on that the narrative takes place in a timeless non-time on a carousel that loops.  We first see the animated music box thing in the shop as soon as Lisa wanders away from her tour group, and it immediately captivates her, with the six figures depicted representing the characters that we will meet as well as the fact that, although they may be in motion and constantly moving away from one another, they are nonetheless in a closed loop that ends where it begins.  We are also let in on the fact that the ghosts or spirits that reside in the villa are not necessarily bound there, as Lisa meets Carlos for the first time far from the Countess’s home; it’s here that he drops his watch, breaking it in such a way that the clock’s hands do not lie over its face, cluing us in that not only is this a loop, but one in which time has no meaning. Full size mannequins weren’t really a thing until the mid-1750s, when they were made of wicker.  Wicker mannequins gave way to those made of wirework, which were supplanted with papier-mâché mannequins, which were themselves replaced with wax figures, which eventually gave way to the plastic mannequins—with which we are mostly familiar—in the 1920s.  The figures here appear waxen to me, which immediately pegs them as being outmoded and out of time by half a century in the film’s contemporary 1970s setting. 

Lagniappe

Hanna: Besides the gorgeous, lustrous cinematography, I will forever treasure Lisa and the Devil as the only film I know of with a haunted European villa and a haunted plane.  I would 1000% watch Lisa descend further into madness in a surreal plane-centric sequel.

Britnee: I thought Leandro was strangely similar to the bald, lollipop sucking detective from the popular 70s detective show Kojak. Well, it turns out that they’re the same person.  Telly Savalas is both Leandro and Kojak!  Kojak premiered shortly after Lisa and the Devil, so this lollipop habit crossed over between the two as they were most likely being filmed at the same time.

Boomer: Telly Savalas is best remembered as TV’s Kojak or as one of many Blofelds (he’s the one in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, for the record), but for me, he will forever be remembered as the stepfather from the Twilight Zone classic “Living Doll.” He’s also in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour‘s “A Matter of Murder” with Darren McGavin, meaning it’s the only time outside of their respective series that Kojak and Kolchak worked together, so stick that in your back pocket to whip out as trivia for your relatives at Thanksgiving this year.

If this film’s ending was a chiller to you, I also recommend the short story “Showdown,” by Shirley Jackson. Although spooky season as defined by the Gregorian calendar may be officially over, if you believe, you can carry it with you in your heart all year, and this short story, which was previously mentioned in our Lagniappe episode about 2020’s Shirley, remains one of the most chilling ghost stories to ever stir my soul.

Brandon: We cannot let this conversation go by without acknowledging the bizarre existence of 1975’s The House of Exorcism.  Since contemporary distributors weren’t sure how to market Bava’s loopy nightmare in America as-is, they re-edited Lisa and the Devil into a cash-in knockoff of Friedkin’s wildly popular The Exorcist, titled The House of Exorcism.  In that cut, the haunted castle sequences of Lisa and the Devil are recontextualized as hallucinations Lisa suffers while writhing in a hospital bed, possessed by Satan (there are also some additional nude scenes shoehorned in to up the titillation factor for the drive-in crowd).  It’s a bizarre viewing experience if you’ve already seen Lisa and the Devil, simulating the horror of watching a shitty movie you remember being great – like revisiting the original King Kong only to find half the scenes replaced by clips from Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.

Bava was rightfully appalled by the production of House of Exorcism, and successfully had his name removed from the project.  It’s embarrassing as a standalone film, but I will say there’s a welcome novelty in seeing the horror master’s usual laidback pace properly sped-up in the edited-to-shreds clips it uses from Lisa and the Devil.  It’s maybe the closest I’ve ever gotten to understanding disrespectful youngins who “speedwatch” everything at 1.5x.

Upcoming Movies of the Month
December: 
Brandon presents Lifeforce (1985)
January: The Top Films of 2021

-The Swampflix Crew

The Voyeurs (2021)

I’ve been seeing a lot of praise online for the supposed return to form for erotic thrillers that’s been happening on major streaming services.  While the biggest movie franchises in the world—The Fast and the Furious, the MCU, Star Wars, etc.have completely removed sex & eroticism from the movie theater, at-home streamers like Netflix have scored minor word-of-mouth hits for hornt-up trash like 365 Days and Deadly Illusions.  I think praising this ripple-sized “wave” of straight-to-streaming erotic thrillers as some kind of return to the genre’s 1980s-90s heyday overlooks a plenty of much better, riskier examples of the recent past like Double Lover, Knife+Heart, and Stranger By the Lake.  What’s being championed instead of those modern genre gems is the straight-to-VHS softcore version of that revival, which is fine.  At the very least, Netflix’s recent, self-reported success in producing mainstream home-video erotica is inspiring their competitors to make more of the stuff to attract that bored & thirsty market while it’s viable.  And now Amazon Prime has taken a swing at the erotic thriller throwback with its in-house release The Voyeurs.  I’d argue that their movie studio wing has already done a great job of bringing erotic menace back to the multiplex in much more creative, daring titles like The Neon Demon, Suspiria and, most recently, Annette.  Still, I had a lot of fun with their goofy, salacious entry into the home-video end of the genre, with all of its lustful coveting of what Netflix was doing in private.

The Voyeurs is basically Hitchcock’s Rear Window reimagined (maybe un-imagined?) for the straight-to-video erotic thriller genre, making it the second delightfully inane Rear Window homage of the year, following The Woman in the Window.  It’s much more ludicrous & consistently fun than Joe Wright’s film, however, pushing its idiotic internal logic towards a spectacularly trashy third-act climax that would be a water-cooler discussion topic for months if it were a proper theatrical release instead of a disposable streamer.  We start with a young couple (Euphoria‘s Sydney Sweeney & Detective Pikachu‘s Justice Smith) moving into their first apartment together in Montreal.  The French-Canadian substitute for Parisian lust & romance is pronounced early & often, with Montreal being introduced through its lingerie boutiques and described as “Fuck City”.  Mostly, though, it’s as cold and isolating as any major city in the North, which leads its doe-eyed Millennial protagonists to huddle up in their gorgeous apartment.  Instead of retreating into the modern incuriosity with the physical world around them that plagues most Kids These Days, they find themselves fascinated with the constantly nude gym-body couple across the street whose living room & bedroom windows are clearly visible from their own loft.  This initial curiosity quickly snowballs into full-blown erotic obsession, with many crossed lines, a surprising number of dead bodies, and an even more surprising number of onscreen orgasms. 

It’s the third act twists that really elevate The Voyeurs above the routine tedium of straight-to-streaming thrillers that get released on a weekly basis.  Its flat cinematography and the robotic mannerisms of its cast reinforce the terrifying reality that the house style of The CW has become one of the major cinematic influences of our time, but there is one major benefit to it suffering the many ills of modern streaming #content: its sprawling 2-hour runtime.  The rising-action portion of this steamy thriller hits all the exact beats that you’d expect, from the young couple’s decision to buy baby-pervs’ first set of binoculars to their inevitable escalation of making physical contact with the neighbors they’ve been spying on as foreplay.  Once all those lustful indulgences are out of the way, it’s time to teach them (and the lustful audience indulging through their POV) a hard-earned lesson through the most ludicrous mechanism possible.  And then the film goes an extra beat to allow our horny-for-the-first-time anti-heroes a chance to take revenge.  It’s a rare instance where the unrushed, over-plotted runtime that’s become standard for most modern mainstream films is actually used to its full advantage: giving the audience exactly what we want out of the genre, then pushing it into shameless, delirious excess no one really wanted or needed out of this simple tale of erotic voyeurism.  It delivers on the sexual menace promised by its premise, then stumbles around making incredibly goofy decisions in the post-coital afterglow, something we’ve all been through before.

There are a few distinguishing details that make The Voyeurs memorably stylish in its own dopey way: its soundtrack’s dream pop cover of Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face,” its attempts to kink-up the intimacy of routine eye exams, its protagonist’s unlikely transformation into a rooftop superhero, etc.  For the most part, though, it’s most enjoyable as a standout example of a larger industry trend: the shameful slinking-off of the mainstream erotic thriller from public movie theaters to private maturbatoriums.  I doubt any of these word-of-mouth streamers will ever hit me the same way as seeing my beloved, filthy Double Lover with a packed, in-the-flesh film festival crowd, but I guess I have to appreciate these deliriously horny novelties wherever I can find them.  I’m always pushing for movies to be simultaneously sexier & sillier, and The Voyeurs admirably tears itself in both directions.

-Brandon Ledet

The Woman in the Window (2021)

I’m exhausted.  The joyless drudgery of life & work in this era of never-ending health pandemics and hurricanes has completely drained me.  I’m most aware of this general, bottomless exhaustion when I’m trying to indulge in the few simple pleasures that used to be fun, frivolous hobbies – most notably discussing movies with strangers on the internet.  I used to have an endless enthusiasm for sharing & combating opinions on hot-topic movie releases online, but lately the most effort I can muster is recording my movie takes on this self-published blog, where I know they’ll be politely ignored.  A large part of the disconnect I’m feeling between the movies I’ve been watching and the Online Discourse surrounding them has to do with social media’s addiction to red-hot, extremist, Galaxy Brain takes.  The last couple years of COVID-era labor & tedium have left me numb to most pop culture stimuli, so it’s getting increasingly difficult to pretend that every single release needs to be immediately sorted into either the Best Movie Ever or the Total Garbage categories.  Most movies are unremarkable, especially when viewed outside the sensory-immersion ritual of experiencing them at a proper cinema.  All I’m really looking for here is a pleasant way to pass the time between shifts at the office.

To that end, I’ll confess that I cannot match the enthusiasm of either the overwhelming consensus that The Woman in the Window is an embarrassing failure or the minority reclamation of it as an underappreciated trash gem.  Joe Wright’s adaptation of the post-Gillian Flynn paperback thriller has had its own exhausting travels from concept to screen, initially planned as a theatrical release through 20th Century Fox but instead landing a COVID-flavored streaming deal with Netflix.  That twisty distribution path has been widely perceived as a fall from grace, saddling The Woman in the Window with the perception of being a major studio misfire worthy of internet-wide jeers & mockery.  I wish I could join the chorus of trash-gobbling genre nerds who’ve pushed back on that pre-loaded consensus opinion, praising the film as delightfully preposterous pop art with a fun, distinct sense of style.  I just can’t help but find both positions to be an exaggeration of what The Woman in the Window actually is.  It’s low-key, wine-buzz fun as a Lifetime thriller version of Rear Window, but not enough of a hoot to make the effort of defending its honor worthwhile.  Forcing it into either a Best or Worst category feels like a desperate attempt to conjure Discourse out of thin air – a distinctly modern, thoroughly embarrassing form of alchemy.

There are many classic thrillers directly cited onscreen throughout The Woman in the WindowGaslight, Laura, Dark Passage, etc.—but Rear Window is its clearest, most dominant source of inspiration.  Amy Adams stars as a nosy, isolated neighbor who can’t tell if she’s witnessed a murder through the next-door family’s window or if mixing obnoxious amounts of red wine with her new behavioral meds is causing her to hallucinate.  Not to spoil too much in a review of a movie that was hotly debated and then promptly forgotten months ago, but the answer is both.  Wright submerges the audience in his spaced-out, reclusive heroine’s wine-tinted POV to the point where the physical existence of all events, suspects, and “helpful” side characters are highly questionable.  Each performance outside of Adams’s woman-on-the-verge protagonist borders on the comic absurdism of a dream sequence or an improv sketch.  Adams often wakes up from her heavily medicated blackouts visually immersed in the Turner Classic Movies that loop on her TV screen.  There is no point in attempting to solve the mysteries of either the murder at hand or the circumstances of its drunken witness’s past.  All you can do until the story sobers up is occasionally cackle at Wright’s overreaching attempts at visual style, while taking note of all the better-realized mystery thrillers he cites onscreen as reference.

If there’s anything especially embarrassing about The Woman in the Window‘s mediocre, straight-to-streaming pleasures, it’s in the amount of big-name talent needed to pull it off.  Beyond wasting the typically powerful screen presence of actors like Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julianne Moore, and Brian Tyree Henry on roles with no significant impact, this big-budget Lifetime howler was also penned by Tracy Letts and scored by Danny Elfman – two legends in their respective crafts.  The prestige of those contributions doesn’t really change the fact that the movie is reasonably cromulent as a passive entertainment.  I’m not even sure Wright was aiming his ambitions much higher than that anyway.  The most pivotal scene in the entire film features Adams and Moore as two moms getting wine drunk on Halloween night, which I feel like is a perfect illustration of the film’s target audience.  Watch it when you want something lightly suspenseful and highly silly that won’t tax too much of your brain power before your job or your kids or the general malaise of living on this hell-planet zaps the rest of it out of you.  It’s not worth much as a topic of online conversation, but it is a mildly entertaining way to spend 100 minutes.

-Brandon Ledet

Cruella (2021)

So far, I’ve done a pretty good job of avoiding Disney’s live-action reheats of its own stale leftovers.  2019’s Lion King, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, and 2015’s Cinderella have all been massive commercial successes for America’s favorite Evil Corporation, but I personally don’t understand their appeal.  Why would I want to see the expressive, imaginative artistry of animation classics re-interpreted in lifeless, colorless CGI?  If I ever catch myself feeling pangs of nostalgia for Aladdin, Dumbo, or The Jungle Book, the original works are just one library loan away – no substitutes necessary.  Unfortunately, my resolve to avoid Disney’s de-animated retreads is much weaker when it comes to the spotlight origin stories for their classic villainesses.  In 2014, I somehow found myself watching the de-animated prequel Maleficent in a near-empty multiplex, and this year I was helpless but to repeat the ritual (from the safety of my couch) with its spiritual successor, Cruella.  Neither movie is especially terrible (nor especially great), but do I resent that I got sucked into their middling orbits.  The Disney marketing machine comes for us all eventually, and my personal weakness as a potential mark is apparently misbehaved women who toe the line between couture and drag.

As a convoluted prequel to 101 Dalmatians, Cruella is an embarrassment.  In order to reorient its dog-skinning, chain-smoking sociopath from villain to anti-hero, Cruella has to change every single aspect of her persona until she’s unrecognizable.  Emma Stone might wear the right wigs and drive the right cars to signal her performance as Cruella De Ville cosplay, but the movie goes miles out of its way to make it clear that she loves dogs and refuses to wear fur.  Confusingly, as much as it wants to disassociate Cruella from her future sins, the movie also frantically runs around London collecting as many minor characters & callbacks to 101 Dalmatians as it can for cheap nostalgia pops, so that the source material is never allowed to drift from the audience’s mind.  The central couple of Roger & Anita from 101 Dalmatians have no tangible impact on the plot at hand but are afforded distracting amounts screentime to underline the film’s flimsy connection to the animated original.  Even the shoe-horned inclusion of dalmatians in Cruella’s origin story feel weirdly out of place, not least of all because they’re rendered in uncanny CGI that doesn’t resemble any breed of dog that’s ever walked the earth.

As Disney’s version of a “punk” film, Cruella is even more of an embarrassment.  A young, chaotic fashion designer sandwiched between the glam & punk eras of 1970s London, our haute-to-trot anti-hero is clearly modeled after Vivienne Westwood, and the tattered glamour of her work shines through in Cruella’s fashion designs in a really fun, authentic way.  However, the visual iconography that frames that lookbook-in-motion feels much less like first-wave punk than it does like jacket art for an early-aughts Avril Lavigne CD.  The unrelenting, ungodly expensive soundtrack places at least one classic pop song into every single scene—so that the entire film plays like a 134min trailer for itself—but actual punk songs are few & far between.  The best you can hope for is the most recognizable singles from safer, venerated punk acts like Blondie & The Clash.  Otherwise, there’s a neutered cover of The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” with all its grimy Iggy-isms shielded from children’s ears, and a nighttime car chase is set to a fast-paced Queen track as if there aren’t a thousand punk singles that could’ve easily taken its place.  At the very least, it would’ve been nice to see Siouxsie Sioux, Exene Cervenka or, I dunno, the estates of Poly Styrene & Ari Up pick up an easy paycheck and a boost in Spotify streams here.

As much as I’m griping about Cruella‘s shaky punk credentials and sweaty desperation as a character-rehab prequel, I wouldn’t call it a total waste of time.  As a superhero movie for fashionable gay children, it’s a hoot.  Combining the Big Bad Anna Wintour drag routine of The Devil Wears Prada with Jenny Humphrey’s gate-crashing fashion shows on Gossip Girl (speaking of Avril Lavigne chic), Cruella is remarkably fun as an origin story for an emerging couturier on a revenge mission.  The costumes are fabulous, the (unskinned) underdog story is rousing, and Emma Thompson’s performance as the queen-bee villain is classic camp.  Instead of concluding with direct tie-ins to the opening notes of 101 Dalmatians, Cruella should’ve just signed off with its fully ascended anti-hero watching over London from the rooftops, wielding her sewing machine as a superweapon to avenge all the crimes of fashion on the streets below (à la The Dressmaker).  I might not understand this film as nostalgia bait or as punk rock posturing, but I do see its merits as a power fantasy for the future drag queens of America.  I hope they’re able to get their little hands on Cruella™ brand black & white wigs while they’re still young the same way Batman masks & He-Man swords were hot commodities when I was a kid.  It’s nice to have tangible props to help complete the fantasy.

Just like “Wells for Boys,” if you don’t get who Cruella is for, “That’s because it’s not for you, because you have everything.”  Personally speaking, the movie gave me everything I wanted out of it along with a bunch of stuff I never want out of anything. I recognize its many, many faults, but I also know that I’ll be suckered back into this exact scenario again as soon as Disney’s Ursula hits movie theaters in 2026.  Hopefully they cast an actual drag queen next time just to keep the routine fresh, but I’ll likely show up either way.

-Brandon Ledet