The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970)

Big off-white machines with flashing red buttons, men with glasses wearing white lab coats, and lots of obnoxious buzzing and beeping flood the screen in the first few minutes of the British sci fi cult classic, The Mind of Mr. Soames. 1970s sci-fi is an acquired taste that I have not picked up on quite yet, and, unfortunately, Mr. Soames didn’t change my opinions on the genre at all. There were moments in the film that were so absurd that I couldn’t help but screech or laugh, but for the most part, it was very boring and plain.

The plot of the film is genius. Mr. Soames (Terence Stamp) is born into a coma and revived 30 years later after an innovative brain procedure, and a group of medical professionals attempt to cram 30 years worth of human development into a couple of weeks. Basically, Soames a baby trapped in a grown man’s body, and he is “raised” by a couple of doctors in an enclosed medical facility.  Dr. Bergen (Robert Vaughn) and Dr. Maitland (Nigel Davenport) are the two main doctors responsible for Soames’ wellbeing and development, and most of the conflict in the film exist between the two as they are not on the same page when it comes to what is best for Soames. Bergen is compassionate and sees Soames as a human being while Maitland views him as more of an experiment, allowing the press to be very invasive with Soames’ progress. Soames ends up receiving little affection, as Maitland is more in control of his development. He is kept separate from the rest of the world and doesn’t have much positive, loving human interaction, and this causes him to completely lose it.

The film was marketed to be something totally different that what it actually is. A quote on one of the main movie posters states “Can this baby kill?” while an image of Soames’ screaming face is in the background, which is very misleading as this is not really a horror flick. The funny thing is that the film would have been much more successful if it was a horror movie. A brain procedure gone wrong that turns Soames into a killing machine with childlike behavior would be a hell of a lot better than a slow moving doctor drama.

-Britnee Lombas

The Battle of the 2001 Fashion Industry Parodies was a Race into the Darkness of the Human Soul

April’s​ Movie of the Month, the Mark Waters comedy Head Over Heels, is many disparate films tied up in a single package. At times a formulaic romcom, a Farrelly brothers-style gross-out comedy, a diamond heist action thriller, and a winking Hitchcock homage, this Freddie Prinze Jr./Monica Potter madcap romance is largely a fun watch due to its violent, unexpected shifts in genre & tone. At its core, however, Head Over Heels can be readily understood as a light-headed satire of the fashion industry. Constantly poking fun at Monica Potter’s befuddled lead’s supermodel roomates, borrowing some of their second-hand glamor for its central romance fantasy, and staging its climactic showdown on a Fashion Week runway, Head Over Heels is a silly, parodic stab at couture culture. It was not alone in its year of release, either. The similarly silly, but much more popular Ben Stiller comedy Zoolander also arrived in 2001, with its own jokes about fashion models’ supposed stupidity and its own climactic runway-set showdown. Head Over Heels & Zoolander share more than just their deliriously silly fashion world parody too. They also undercut the frivolity that drives their central fashion world gags with some truly depressive, cruel lines of pitch black humor, diving much deeper into the darkness of the human soul than you might expect from a Freddie Prinze Jr. romcom and a ZAZ-style comedy that proudly features a Fabio cameo.

Fashion models seem to lead surreal, absurd, almost inhuman lives. Zoolander & Head Over Heels build their humor around that perception. They introduce a “normal” person (movie-normal anyway; one’s an art-restorer and one’s a photo-journalist for TIME Magazine) into the otherworldly realm of superhuman fashion models, or in Zoolander‘s parlance “people who are really, really, ridiculously good-looking,” to play off that eccentricity. Part of the humor they find there is in jealousy: lavish parties, beautiful clothes, a total lack of sexual inhibition, etc. are overwhelming to the two films’ non-model normies and both movies have a lot of fun indoctrinating them into this culture, which appears to be a live action cartoon from the outside looking in. To take the models down a peg, then, they also poke fun at the two things typically associated with people who are really, really, ridiculously good-looking: low intelligence & eating disorders. Zoolander is a lot harsher on both of those topics than Head Over Heels. The Mark Waters film is a lot more humanizing in its portrayal of its star’s supermodel roomates, who are eventually proven to be a lot more cunning & self-aware than any of their foils give them credit for. I don’t really see the point in diving into the particulars of either films’ jabs at bulimia or stupidity, though, since it’s the easiest, most common sources of humor you’d expect from any fashion world comedy. What interests me, and I think what makes these films memorable, are the more unconventional places they find their dark humor, the real weirdo shit.

At its core, Head Over Heels is a much sweeter movie than Zoolander, with more of a sincere focus on its milquetoast woman/fashion world weirdo romance. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t indulge in its own forms of pitch black humor. The reason our generic romcom lead puts herself on the market for a new man at the beginning of the film is that her old biddy coworkers keep announcing, plainly, “You are going to die alone.” She then has her “meet cute” moment with Freddie Prinze Jr.’s hotshot fashion exec when the dog he’s walking tackles & mounts her in the lobby of their apartment building, which is a special kind of brutally embarrassing public humiliation for a cutesy romcom. The movie later indulges in other similar raunchy comedy moments, like a stray cunnilingus gag or an epic scene where the leads’ fashion model roomates are covered head to toe in human feces. What’s even darker is that the movie’s entire romcom plot is built on a Rear Window moment where the lead witnesses the fashion exec hunk “murder” someone through his apartment window, but romantically pursues him anyway, because of their overwhelming sexual chemistry. This includes a scene where she bangs the possible murderer before he’s convincingly absolved of the crime, an act her roommates gleefully watch through the window as if it were a plot point on a daytime soap. Sometimes these models’ lack of sexual inhibition is played for light laughs, like in an early scene when they aggressively catwalk nude through their apartment’s shared living space. Sometimes it gets much darker, though, like when the Russian-born model casually accuses a Girl Scouts troupe of being a childhood prostitution ring or when the Australian-born model (who has a crippling addiction to plastic surgery) constantly makes casual references to being molested by her uncle as a child, which is played for laughs. For all of its indulgences in cutesy romcom tropes, Head Over Heels can be a deeply strange, deeply fucked up comedy.

Much like how Head Over Heels builds its madcap romantic mixup around a possible cold-blooded murder, Zoolander finds its humorous A-plot in a conspiracy to assassinate the prime minister of Malaysia so that child labor laws will relax enough in that country for fashion clothing production to pinch a few pennies. That’s pretty fucked. Its dark soul wasn’t lost on critics at the time of its release either. Ebert famously wrote in his post-9/11 review of the film, “There have been articles lately asking why the United States is so hated in some parts of the world. As this week’s Exhibit A from Hollywood, I offer Zoolander, a comedy about a plot to assassinate the prime minister of Malaysia because of his opposition to child labor.” Besides that boldly crass plot line (which does have a pointedly satirical jab at fashion as an industry built into its DNA) and its much harsher stance on models being oversexed, anorexic idiots than the one taken in Head Over Heels, Zoolander ups the stakes of its dark humor by actually claiming a few human casualties. While the witnessed “murder” of Head Over Heels turns out to have been faked, one of Zoolander‘s first big gags (and easily the one that got the biggest laugh out of me as a teen at the theater) involves four of its idiotic lead’s closest male model friends perishing in a gas station explosion. It’s the kind of gag that you’d expect to see in the icily funny mockumentary Drop Dead Gorgeous, where the punchline is a smash cut to a funeral service. Later in the film, the fashion industry is again skewered when Ben Stiller’s male model lead participates in a runway show that exploits/appropriates the tattered rags of the world’s “crack whores” & homeless for a marketable fashion aesthetic. And the darkest joke of all is that the film’s very first celebrity cameo (one of thousands) is none other than Donald J. Trump. Yikes.

As harsh as the humor can be in both of these movies, they’re still largely absurd, silly, light-hearted films. In both Head Over Heels & Zoolander, initial competitive jealousies in an industry where vanity is everything eventually give way to heartfelt camaraderie. Initial unease with the fashion world’s liberated, uninhibited sexuality eventually leads to sexual & romantic satisfaction. Models considered to be useless idiots at the outset save the day & prove their worth as human beings. Still, there’s a dark soul lurking at the center of both Head Over Heels & Zoolander, a black comedy undercurrent that occasionally cuts through the deliriously silly fashion world parody to laugh in the face of betrayal, death, bulimia, child abuse, etc. 2001 not only saw the release of two energetically silly fashion world comedies; it also brought out a surprisingly corrosive spirit in each of them that can disrupt & subvert the cheeriness of their shared mainstream comedy surface. Both movies were better & more memorable for it.

For more on April’s Movie of the Month, the Mark Waters fashion world romcom Head Over Heels, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film.

-Brandon Ledet

Your Name. (2017)

The highest grossing anime film of all time is slowly trickling through American theaters in what’s been a fairly quiet release so far. Subtitled foreign films & traditional hand-drawn animation aren’t the usual hallmarks of a domestic box office smash hit in the 2010s, so it mostly makes sense that Your Name. isn’t lighting up megaplex cash registers here the way it did in Japan last year. What’s a little more difficult to speculate is why, exactly, Your Name. did run away with all of Japan’s box office dollars in 2016 (becoming the country’s highest-grossing film of all-time, animated or otherwise), outpacing even the Studio Ghibli films that obviously inspired it. My best guess is that Your Name. resonated with Japanese teenagers in particular. I can say with confidence that the most I ever indulged in repeat viewings of films in the theater was when I was a teen with summer job money to burn and nothing constructive to do with myself besides watching the latest Wes Anderson release three times in a week to escape the New Orleans heat. Your Name. seems perfectly calibrated for this kind of obsessive teen repeat-viewing. From its tale of star-crossed, long distance romantics to its mildly crude sexual humor, bottom of the heart earnestness, supernatural mindfuckery, and pop punk/post-rock soundtrack (provided by the appropriately named Radwimps), Your Name. is the distilled ideal of a teen fantasy film in the 2010s. It’s also the most beautifully animated and strikingly empathetic picture I can remember seeing on the big screen in a long while.

The first thing that struck me about Your Name. was the immensity of its scope. Cities and mountains are framed from above the cloudline as a passing comet is meticulously tracked through the star-filled sky from the upward gaze of teens on the ground. Those teens’ lives take on a similar kind of intricate majesty as the comet in the sky triggers a cosmic event that intimately & inextricably links two total strangers, a boy who enjoys a very modern existence in Tokyo and a girl who practices old world religion with her sister & grandmother in a rural mountainside village. Oddly enough, Your Name. begins its strange, unwieldy journey as a body swap comedy. The Tokyo boy and mountain village girl swap places at erratic intervals, initially mistaking their day-long vacations in each others’ skin as hyper-realistic dreams. As the body swap picture is traditionally a fixture of crude 80s comedies and these are horny teens, those alternating positions do involve a lot of “self”-exploration of each others’ bodies and same-sex attraction/flirtation, but never with a tinge of gay panic humor disrupting its intergender empathy. Gender and identity became decisively fluid the more this pair continue to swap places, as does the nature of time, tradition, and reality itself. Small town angst & romantic desperation, cornerstones of teenage inner life, dominate the early proceedings of Your Name., but several monumental narrative shifts completely disrupt those concerns as the co-protagonists’ stories strive to intertwine in a shared, physical space. Leaving notes on each other’s smart phones & foreheads is one thing, but as our distant teen “radwimps” attempt to share a single space in a more significant way, their story explodes in a much wider array of supernatural phenomena than a mere 80s body swap comedy ever could contain. The film’s scope is near-boundless in its thematic & visual explorations of an intangible cosmic event I’ve never seen depicted onscreen before.

Your Name. more than justifies its choice of medium, accomplishing large, supernatural feats that could only be pulled off in animated cinema. The film almost operates like Persona in reverse, where two jumbled identities slowly detangle and then have to desperately search for common ground. This philosophical crisis of identity, punctuated onscreen with blatant questions like “Who are you?,” are matched by an ambition in animation that reaches far beyond the linear & the literal. One sequence in particular makes use of color pencil sketches in a way that wholly distorts the border between reality & fantasy, surpassing even the heights of The Tale of Princess Kaguya in its adeptly loose grip on the certainty of basic human existence. The film’s visual palette obviously pulls heavily from the work of all-time-great Hayao Miyazaki, an influence that becomes very much apparent in its opening frames of gorgeous mountainside landscapes seen from a birds’ eye view. As much as it focuses on Nature, however, Miyazaki’s work isn’t typically as obsessed with the immensity of the cosmos as Your Name., so the film immediately has an in on finding new perspectives to apply that animation style to. It also seems intent on updating Miyazaki’s obsession with natural landscapes to accommodate a newfound wonder in modernity. Tokyo skyscrapers are flanked by birds & sunshine, reflecting the same simple majesty a Miyazaki picture would typically reserve for a forrest or the miracle of flight. This visual clash of tradition & modern innovation perfectly echoes the sentiment of Your Name.‘s narrative as well, where boomboxes & smartphones are incorporated into ancient religious ritual and time is just as fluid as identity & the state of the human body.

I don’t mean to be at all dismissive or reductive when I refer to Your Name. as a teen picture. The supernatural narrative & delicate thematic nuance of the film are handled in a much more richly complex, rewarding way than they’d be in most modern R-rated, live-action “adult” dramas. Still, I got a sense watching the film that it was specifically, expertly designed to resonate with the earnestness of teenage sentiment. The immensity of the story’s ambition and the intricacy of its visual craft leave me with no doubt, even as a thirty year old dinosaur, that the film will remain one of the best domestic releases we see all of 2017. I just also have to admit that I’m admiring it from the outside looking in. Your Name. wasn’t made for me; it was made for teens. And if I were still that age, running around with my heart on my sleeve & my identity still wildly fluctuating on an almost day to day basis, I’d certainly be one of those kids out there who have paid to see it repeatedly play out on the big screen while it’s still an option. It’s more than just a teen movie; it’s the perfect teen movie for this exact moment in time.

-Brandon Ledet

XX (2017)

Traditional horror anthologies are difficult to critique as an artform since they often leave a lot of room for error in experimentation. Recent films like Trick ‘r Treat & Southbound have modernized the horror anthology format into a familiar everything-is-connected structure that used to be a go-to for indie dramas in the mid 00s. This allows characters & storylines to cross paths & blend borders so that each short story segment coagulates into one all-encompassing gestalt. A more traditional horror anthology format would keep each of these segments rigidly separated, connected only through a wraparound buffer. Isolating each segment usually means that the film’s overall value as a collection is often ignored in favor of critiquing each individual story on their own terms. I don’t, for instance, knock Creepshow as a whole just because I despise the segment where Stephen King plays a hick farmer or dismiss Twilight Zone: The Movie because of John Landis or Stephen Spielberg’s duds of contributions. Instead, I tend to forget to even recall those segments and focus entirely on the short form experiments that did work for me: the Howard Hughes archetype who’s terrorized by roaches, that ludicrous Joe Dante segment with the cartoon demons, etc. Horror anthologies, like sketch or improv comedy, allow directors to take big chances in small doses. When these short form experiments pay off, they can be seared in your brain forever. When they fall flat, it’s easy to forget they even exist, which leaves little impact on the overall quality of the anthologies that contain them.

XX is the rare kind of horror anthology where each individual experiment pays off. Four concise, slickly directed, but stylistically varied horror shorts each take a chance on a premise rich enough to justify an 80 minute feature’s leg room, but is instead boiled down to a digestible, bite-sized morsel. The stories are connected only by a delicately beautiful stop-motion wraparound (seemingly inspired by the stop motion animation classic Alice) and the gender of their directors, but together form a solid unit of efficient, effective horror filmmaking where every moving part manages to pull its own weight. The four female filmmakers involved in the project (five if you include the wraparound’s animator Sofia Carrillo) worked independently of each other, unaware of the ways their own contributions might visually or thematically overlap. This goes against recent pushes to homogenize anthology segments into a single everything-is-connected unit (a style at least partly pioneered by one of XX‘s contributors, Southbound producer/co-director Roxanne Benjamin), but feels very much in line with horror anthology classics, not to mention the horror comics like Tales from the Crypt & Tales from the Darkside that inspired them. As a contribution to the horror anthology as a medium & a tradition, XX is a winning success in two significant ways: each individual segment stands on its own as a worthwhile sketch of a larger idea & the collection as a whole functions only to provide breathing room for those short-form experiments. On top of all that, XX also boasts the added bonus of employing five women in directorial roles, something that’s sadly rare in any cinematic tradition, not just horror anthologies.

Although their connections are entirely incidental, three of the four stories told in XX touch on motherhood and the anxiety of raising children in their respective segments. Karyn Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son” makes a parent’s fear of their own child a literal threat. Kusama shows her chops as the most accomplished director of the batch (last year’s The Invitation is a must-see) by expertly building tension between a single mother in hiding and her increasingly beastly teenage son. The opening segment, “The Box” is a lot less literal with this anxiety, ruminating on the ways raising children can suck the life out you in a spiritual, philosophical sense reminiscent of a classic Twilight Zone episode or the music video for Radiohead’s “Just. Annie Clark (of St. Vincent, guitar-shredding fame) directs the always-welcome Melanie Lynskey in the segment “The Birthday Party,” which lightens the mood of the motherhood anxiety by ending on its own music video style comedic punchline involving a death at a child’s birthday/costume party. The only outlier of the bunch is “Don’t Fall,” a motherless creature feature set on a camping trip that goes horrifically wrong when a young group of cityfolk desecrate sacred ground in the wild. It’d be understandable to argue that having one outlier in an otherwise thematically​ cohesive collection somewhat dampens XX‘s overall value as an anthology. I just see it as a natural part of horror anthology tradition, where uneven, off-kilter variance in themes & mode of expression is a highlight & an asset, not a drawback. One (competently made) outlier like “Don’t Fall” is just as much of a necessary feature for XX to feel like an old-school horror anthology as its rigid, animated wraparound buffers or its individualized title cards. It’s perfect in the way it invites imperfection into what shouldn’t be a tightly controlled environment in the first place.

I can’t objectively say exactly why XX struck such a chord with me while it’s left a lot of critics lukewarm or even bitterly cold. Some of my personal resonation might be linked to the way certain titles or themes echo the accomplishments of movies I already dearly love without retreading any of the same ground. “The Box” & “The Birthday Party” in particular share names with two of my all-time favorite features (directed by Richard Kelly & William Friedkin, respectively) and Karyn Kusama’s contribution functions as a semi-sequel to another one of my personal favorites (in print and onscreen) so well that even speaking its name might be a kind of spoiler. This sense of tradition obviously also extends into the way XX follows the rigidly segmented format of horror anthology past, recalling some all-time greats like Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath and (a recent discovery for me) Necronomicon: Book of the Dead. My appreciation of this feature-length collection might be even more simple than that, though. From the way food is dreamily framed in “The Box” to the way sound design is playfully jarring in “The Birthday Party” to the way the whole world crumbles around us in “Her Only Living Son” to the basic creature feature surface pleasures of “Don’t Fall,” there’s something worth latching onto in each segment of XX, some feature that can never outwear its welcome or play itself too thin thanks to the temporal limitations of its format. I find great, long-lasting pleasure in that, especially in the way each experiment becomes more sketched out as I mull them over in my mind long after the credits roll. It’s a damn good horror anthology in that way.

-Brandon Ledet

The Mutilator (1985)

I find myself very much conflicted about where to land on the mid 80s by-the-books slasher The Mutilator. That kind of indecision seems to be appropriate for the film’s tone, though, which is hilariously at war with itself, maybe even intentionally so. After a brutally cold introduction in which a young boy accidentally shoots his mother dead, The Mutilator switches to the schmaltziest sitcom music imaginable as the same kid, now college age, vacations to the beach with a group of friends. There’s an interesting, even amusing clash in those two tones, the horrifically violent & the lightheartedly goofy, that makes The Mutilator at the very least memorable despite its adherence to every known slasher trope. The problem is that only one side of that divide is at all interesting to watch and it ain’t the snappy dialogue between the college age victims.

Like with most slashers, there’s no real mystery to who’s killing off these beer-swilling knuckleheads one by one. The little boy who accidentally commits matricide on his father’s birthday (while cleaning the dad’s guns as a present) is responsible for driving his old man homicidally insane. Before the teen slaying begins, the old man fantasizes about shooting, slashing, and axing the young child down in his dreams, which is usually a place even the most brutal of horror films won’t dare to go. The brutality only deepens form there, as The Mutilator tries to justify its existence in the variety & viciousness of its kills. Characters are destroyed by chainsaws, pitchforks, battle axes, and fence boards, then hung out to dry on meat hooks like gigantic fish waiting to be gutted. The film even boasts one of the nastiest kills I’ve ever seen on celluloid, one involving a woman’s genitals and a gigantic fish hook, which is where I imagine it got saddled with an X rating. Unfortunately, the stretches between those kills are brutal in their own way, as they’re desperately devoid of any entertainment value, a hopelessly dull exercise in treading water (sometimes literally so).

The Mutilator’s comedic failure is in mistaking a funny joke for someone making a funny face while saying anything. The most amusing the film ever gets is in its musical cues, like an early motif during the matricide intro that includes the saddest version of the “Happy Birthday” song imaginable. There’s also a titular “Fall Break” theme song meant to match the film’s original title, Fall Break. It’s too bad that the acting in this film is unbearably awful, with line readings like “Jeez, would you look at all this shit,” that make John Waters dialogue seem subtle by comparison. The brutality of The Mutilator’s gore and the frivolity of its pop music soundtrack make it fascinating as a novelty, but it’s too boring for too many lengthy stretches to justify a recommendation. I’m not at all shocked to learn that this is filmmaker Buddy Cooper’s sole feature, but I do think he managed to make something that could at the very least be called a memorable oddity. This is the exact kind of slasher fodder that would’ve inspired the dumb horror movies I was watching as a teen, particularly I Know What You Did Last Summer, but that context isn’t going to hold the same personal significance for everyone tuning in. For most folks, I’d suggest seeking out The Mutilator’s vicious kills through a YouTube highlight reel or a curated .gif set. That’s all most people will remember from the film anyway, as they are strikingly brutal.

-Brandon Ledet

Basket Case (1982)

In the annals of delightfully bad horror films, few can hold a candle to Frank Henenlotter’s 1982 freshman film Basket Case. Following the bloodthirsty trail of revenge left by a monstrous flesh sack and the (formerly conjoined) twin brother from whom he was untimely ripped, the film is weirdly disjointed but utterly charming, minus a tonally bizarre sexual assault that happens in the final moments.

After an opening scene in which a doctor is killed in his home by an unseen assailant, fresh-faced basket-toting Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) arrives in New York That Was, the smoky gritty haven for weirdos in diaspora that gave the city life before the Disneyfication of the city at the hands of Rudy Giuliani (as I noted in my Ghostbusters review, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue is required reading on this topic). He finds a room at the seedy Hotel Broslin, which is populated by an assortment of odd characters: the gruff and off-putting but oddly paternal manager (Robert Vogel), a woman whose sole joy seems to be standing on the stairs and telling new tenants about the previous occupants of their rooms like an absent-minded oracle, a drunkard in a suit who is constantly scheming to steal whatever cash he can from other residents, and lovable neighbor Casey (Beverly Bonner), who seems obsessed with smiley faces. In the midst of this motley crew, the ostensibly naive Duane at first seems like an innocent about to be swindled… until his basket starts to move. Whatever’s inside is hungry.

It is to Casey that a drunken Duane reveals his and his basket’s backstory, although she (understandably) finds it to be laughably unbelievable. Duane’s mother died in childbirth, bringing both Duane and his brother Belial into this world. Belial is a monstrously gross thing, more a tumor than a living being, only loved by Duane (with whom he shares a telepathic rapport) and a kind aunt. When the boys’ father finally decides to separate the two, assuming that the Belial growth will simply die, preteen Duane is unable to stop him. In the night that follows, Mr. Bradley is murdered by the now-independent Belial, and the boys are taken in by their aunt, until the day that they set out into the world to find the doctors who separated them so that Belial can rend them limb from limb.

This mission is complicated when Duane meets and falls for Sharon (Terri Susan Smith, looking exactly like Vanessa Bayer in a bad wig), the receptionist for one of the doctors. When he lies to Belial and sneaks away for a date in the park, Belial takes a turn for the worst, first destroying their hotel room in a rage (in a choppy but impressive stop-motion sequence that involves the hilarious visual of a drawer flying at the screen in a straight line, gravity be damned) before setting out to kill the (relatively) innocent others in the hotel, and Sharon herself.

Only a mind like Henenlotter’s could have come up with this premise and followed through with such a noteworthy movie, especially on a budget that famously cost a mere $35,000. The Belial puppet is aggressively disgusting, actually appearing on screen much less than he will in your memory. Van Hentenryck’s performance is a little underdone, but his Sandman-like looks and his Midwestern “gosh”-ness serve as a lovely counterpoint to Belial’s bloodthirsty misdeeds, and the supporting cast feels richly conceived, even those who appear only briefly. The film was followed by two sequels (and Duane and Belial also cameo in Henenlotter’s next film, Brain Damage), so don’t let their apparent deaths at the end of the film depress you. There’s much more gore and glee to come.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Kedi (2017)

In a lot of ways, cats are admirable role models. They roam the streets and live out their own ways of life no matter who’s judging. They go after what they want in the world and snatch it. They take naps whenever and often wherever they want to. Kedi is a celebration of cats—of their independence and embodiment of freedom. It follows seven cats as they roam through the streets of Istanbul just doing what cats do best: genuinely being themselves. Some of them are bullies. One of them is a total moocher. A couple are new mothers. All of them add meaning to and enhance the lives of the humans around them.

Kedi is also about cat people. All the interview subjects have unique relationships with the street cats around them. Some feed them, some go as far as to fund vet care, but they all have a connection with these strange little animals they love. In a lot of ways, Kedi restores my faith in humanity. All the people they talk to about these cats have a selfless understanding with them. They talk about them like old friends. When faced with the expansion and changing landscape of Istanbul, the people feel more concerned for their feline friends than for themselves.

It’s a super beautiful and vibrant movie. Istanbul is lovely as seen from a cat’s eye view. The camera follows them low to the ground as they prowl the streets looking for scraps and hiding spots. The camera also goes up to the rooftops to see the cats who have reached impossibly high perches. I’m not quite sure how they managed to really take on a cat like presence, but it is such an intimate portrait of such a foreign little world. I was amazed that they were able to follow a few of the same cats back and forth between their destinations. That also means, though, that the documentary has a cat-like sense of focus, meaning that it has a tendency to be a little meandering, shifting from subject to subject without many segues.

Kedi is a beautiful glimpse into feline world. It really puts you in the paws of these strange little creatures. You get to see the inner workings, their quirks, their street feuds, their hiding spots, the routines they stick to, and the kind-hearted people they choose. The world needed a documentary about cats. Kedi was a long time coming.

-Alli Hobbs

The Devil’s Candy (2017)

Heavy metal & horror seem like an obvious, foolproof combination, but mixing the two comparably macabre mediums for easy cinematic terror without backsliding into clichéd cheese is actually a very difficult balance to strike. For every successful metal-themed horror film, like the recent triumph​ Deathgasm, there’s a thousand corny hair metal & nu-metal failures that make the entire enterprise feel like a cheap, half-cooked financial ploy. As with most hyper-specific fandoms, such as superhero comics or pro wrestling or video game cultures, there’s always a sense with metal that inauthentic outsiders will be eaten alive by those in the know if they aren’t coming from the knowledgeable starting point of a true fan. The metal in Deathgasm and even Tenacious D’s Pick of Destiny feels true to the culture in ways that less successful (but enjoyably campy) features like Shock ‘Em Dead & Trick or Treat (1986) don’t and through that authenticity they build a more long-lasting, dedicated fan base. I believe The Devil’s Candy will also strike a chord (heh, heh) with true metal fandom in the same way. It makes a strong case for itself as a title worth being championed by the legions of black leather-clad headbangers out there who’re hungry for authentic metal-themed horror. It even does so without acknowledging the basic silliness of that combo the way the more comedic titles Deathgasm & Pick of Destiny do.

A young family moves into what’s quickly revealed to be a haunted house. The gloomy teen daughter struggles to find footing in her new school, but bonds with her work-at-home artist father (Can’t Hardly Wait/Empire Records‘s all-growed-up Ethan Embry) over a shared love of melt-your-face metal riffs. The mother (UnReal‘s Shiri Appelby) doesn’t share their passion for ear-shattering monster riffs, but the family functions well as an insular unit. This cohesion unravels, of course, as the demons that haunt their new home show themselves as an artistic muse both for the paterfamilias painter and for the mentally disabled man who formerly occupied their home and is revealed very early in the proceedings to be a self-conflicted murderer. The painter loses time while feverishly working on increasingly disturbing art in his new studio space, dropping the ball on his familial obligations while sinking into a hypnotic state. This leaves his wife & daughter vulnerable to the cursed home’s former resident, who’s similarly compelled to hypnotically riff on his candy red, flying-V guitar at unreasonable volumes . . . as well as to chop up children with a hacksaw. As the painter reflects on the young figures that suddenly populate his increasingly violent works, he explains, “It’s like these children are inside of me, begging, screaming to get out. And I don’t know why.” Presumably, the child killer feels the same way about his own unsavory passion, but he much less eloquently states that children “are the sweetest candy of all.” It’s an effectively creepy line.

Story-wise, The Devil’s Candy is a fairly standard haunted house creepshow, not much different from other recent low budget horrors like We Are Still Here or I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House. The film is slickly edited, however, especially in scenes where Ethan Embry’s painter loses time in a trance while images of his intensifying artistic process mix with the equally haunted killer’s own mode of expression: dead children. It’s an eerie device for depicting possession, one where ghosts & demons are only felt onscreen through the artistic muse of the people they torment. The metal soundtrack that flavors these scenes is only ever disrupted by the always-creepy sounds of Catholic mass (I feel comfortable saying that as someone who was reluctantly raised in the Church), which pushes the central hauntings beyond basic artistic obsession into a religious (if blasphemous) zealotry. Character actor Leland Oser (who recently killed it as the lead in Faults) appears occasionally as a priest on the killer’s personal collection of VHS tapes to explain that Satan is very much real and that humans are His demons who walk the Earth, allowing Him to express His evil through their bodies. Sometimes this takes the form of oil on canvas; sometimes it looks like hacked-up dead children. The basic premise of the film might be an overly familiar concept, but the way it’s expressed onscreen as artistic muse is still chillingly effective.

Initially premiering at the Toronto International Film Fest in 2015 and being quietly dumped to VOD two years later, The Devil’s Candy isn’t likely to make waves outside eagle-eyed horror circles. Within these clusters of people who obsessively pick over every new horror release, however, the film’s likely to find a significant, dedicated audience, especially with folks who regularly listen to metal. The Devil’s Candy‘s haunted house premise is far from a game changer, but its slick editing style and authentic heavy metal aesthetic is likely to win over a very specific, very dedicated audience in the long run. They might award the film two devil horns way up \m/ \m/ instead of the traditional Siskel & Ebert thumbs, but the sentiment will be all the same.

-Brandon Ledet

Episode #27 of The Swampflix Podcast: Beyond Society – Brian Yuzna’s Collabs With Screaming Mad George & Blood Diner (1987)

Welcome to Episode #27 of The Swampflix Podcast! For our twenty-seventh episode, Brandon makes James watch the blood-soaked horror comedy Blood Diner (1987) for the first time. Also, James & Brandon discuss all ten collaborations between director Brian Yuzna & “surrealistic” special effects master Screaming Mad George, the monstrous creative team behind the horror classic Society (1992). Enjoy!

-Brandon Ledet & James Cohn

Tampopo (1985)

Hailed as the first “ramen western” (a play on the term “spaghetti Western”), Tampopo takes that designation to it’s most extremely literal end, focusing on the title character’s ramen shop as the location of metaphorical quick-draws and high noon showdowns, as well incorporating a variety of loosely connected comedy sketches about food.

The main narrative concerns the arrival of truck driver Gorō (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and his sidekick Gun (a young Ken Watanabe) at the barely-afloat ramen shop, Lai Lai, that widowed single mother Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto) inherited from her husband. Under Gorō’s tutelage, Tampopo resurrects her shop along with help from a motley crew of unlikely allies: Shōhei (Kinzō Sakura), a chauffeur who has a way with noodles; “The Old Master” (Yoshi Katō), a former surgeon reduced to vagrancy, but possessing a nearly-magical skill with noodle making; and Pisuken (Rikiya Yasuoka), a formerly antagonistic contractor who redesigns the interior of the shop, now renamed “Tampopo” in honor of its proprietress.

Interspersed throughout is the story of a white-clad gangster (frequent Kiyoshi Kurosawa collaborator Kōji Yakusho) and his mistress, who explore the erotic aspects of food. Other shorter one-off scenes include a salaryman upstaging his superiors at a fancy restaurant with his extensive knowledge of haute cuisine, a class of women being taught the Western way of eating spaghetti while a Western patron at a nearby table does the opposite of what their etiquette teacher instructs, a grocer pursuing a food-squeezing woman through the aisles of his market, a man dealing with an abscessed tooth, and a derelict making Tampopo’s son a rice omelette while evading detection by a security guard, among others.

Using tropes that one would normally find in Western genre films, Tampopo paints Gorō as the high plains drifter who wanders into town and saves a local homesteader, except that he does so with his cooking skills and not his guns (although his fists come in handy more than once). There are recurring Western-like themes, like the defeated enemy who becomes a friend (which plays out not just between Gorō and Pisuken but also between Tampopo’s son and the bullies who frequently harass him), the training montage straight out of the original Magnificent Seven, and even an ending scene that plays out as a virtual recreation of the end of Shane. This juxtaposition of Western archetypes and Eastern social rules and concepts make for a delightful and refreshing movie that’s sure to make you laugh and hunger.

Tampopo is available in several DVD releases, but, as always, the Criterion version is most highly recommended.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond