Mardi Gras Massacre (1978)

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is many things: cheesy, transcendent, sleazy, cheap, goofy, sinister, magical, communally handmade. Even if it’s spiritually corrupt and technically inept in its filmmaking, the cheap-o horror curio Mardi Gras Massacre is all those things as well. Yes, Mardi Grass Massacre is locally-flavored misogynist trash about a ritualistic serial murderer who targets French Quarter sex workers. It’s also the kinky, near-pornographic New Orleans equivalent of Manos: The Hands of Fate, in that it’s wonderfully, quirkily inept to the point of being Cute despite the repulsive cruelty of its genre. Better yet, all the qualities that make it memorable as a horror novelty are the exact same qualities that make our city-wide masquerade on Fat Tuesday such an extraordinary communal experience year after year, century after century. Unfortunately, 2021’s Carnival season has been completely upended by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, leaving a parade float-shaped hole in my heart. I don’t know if it’s just because of my desperate need to experience some semblance of that ritual through the safest means possible, but I was shocked to find some genuine Mardi Gras magic in such a lowly, putrid gutter. It felt great.

The poster for Mardi Gras Massacre sells the movie as if it were a giallo murder mystery, complete with a straight razor weapon that never appears in the actual film. In practice, it’s not a mystery at all. The killer’s identity is immediately apparent, as he plainly introduces himself to a pair of prostitutes at a Bourbon Street drinking hole, asking around for “the most Evil woman” they know. Once he secures a transactional “date” with the most Evil sex worker in the bar, he brings them back to his French Quarter torture dungeon, where he ritualistically removes their organs as a sacrifice to an Aztecan goddess. So much about this murder ritual is viciously amoral & tacky, which does not at all improve the two or three times it’s repeated beat for beat with subsequent victims. From the presentation of Aztecan religious practices as Anton LaVey-styled Satanic pageantry to the eroticized dismemberment of women as if it were a mere S&M kink, Mardi Gras Massacre is repugnant in its social politics – as most 1970s grindhouse horrors are. And, yet, as scope of the film expands outside those bloody dungeon sessions, the movie gradually becomes uniquely adorable in pure N’awlins fashion. Its distinctly 1970s misogyny is entirely overpowered by its distinctly local flavor.

The heroes of this story are a crooked cop and a French Quarter prostitute who form an unlikely love connection, turning the first ritualistic murder into a morbid meet-cute. The cheery pair play tourist on cutesy dates up & down the Riverwalk, inanely grinning at each other as the Natchez rolls by in the background. Before you can get incensed at the cops for being positioned as The Good Guys, however, this romantic fling eventually breaks down as the sex worker starts to resent her pig boyfriend’s sense of superiority over her. She calls him out for being a thief & a predator, and they split up to face the killer by their lonesome. The initial performative misogyny of the murder scenes gradually breaks down in a similar way. As we spend more time away from the dungeon rituals, the movie appears to have a much less Conservative viewpoint on women & sexuality than it initially pretends. The sex worker victims are more fleshed out & humanized than the evil caricature who hunts them down. Gender-ambiguous and flamboyantly queer side characters & extras are presented as matter-of-fact members of the French Quarter community instead of the punchlines you’d expect. Meanwhile, an incessant disco soundtrack constantly reminds the audience that the show is all in good fun. It would be absurd to posit that Mardi Gras Massacre was anything more than amoral sleaze—at least in terms of its political messaging—but it’s at least amoral sleaze that feels authentic to the French Quarter lifestyle once you emerge from the murder dungeon.

Of course, the real draw here is the novelty of the murders’ Mardi Gras setting, which frames the film as an act of regional filmmaking just as much as it is generic 1970s exploitation schlock. For most of the runtime, Carnival season is only as important to the plot as the approach of the 4th of July weekend in Jaws. Occasionally, cops & newspaper men are pressured to stop reporting the sex worker serial murders out of fear that it’ll ruin business during Mardi Gras, scaring away tourists. The climactic ritual is set on Fat Tuesday, however, where the killer feels emboldened to dress in his faux-Aztecan ritual garb in public, letting his freak flag fly among the other pedestrian revelers. I love this candid street footage with all my heart, as it captures the French Quarter masquerading of Fat Tuesday that most movies set here ignore in favor of the St. Charles Ave. float parades. As the on-the-street extras swarm around our costumed, misogynist killer, it’s fascinating just how little that real-life ritual has changed over the last four decades. The haircuts are a little different, but the costumes & the atmosphere are exactly the same. It was a time-warp to the exact blissful chaos of Mardi Gras that I’ve bene missing this year in quarantine, and it could not have come from a less reputable source.

There’s plenty of unsavory New Orleans flavor flowing throughout Mardi Gras Massacre even when it’s not parting its way through the Fat Tuesday crowds. At the very least, the movie is a wonderful guided tour of the Bourbon Street strip club scene of the 1970s, including an extensive novelty act with a dancer costumed as Lucifer. My favorite N’awlins Y’all moment in the entire picture is the shot where cops discover the abandoned body of the first victim near the Riverwalk, then the camera zooms in on the Cafe Du Monde signage lurking in the background. C’est magnifique. You can likely find these same New Orleans touches in far less grotesque regional horrors; The Exotic Ones is a much lighter, sillier equivalent that immediately comes to mind. Still, there’s just something about the lurid colors, the shameless hedonism, and the sinister non-stop partying of Mardi Gras Massacre that really won me over despite my initial misgivings. I did not expect the film to earn the “Mardi Gras” portion of its title, but its gawdy sub-professional ritualism got there in a roundabout, endearing way. The kills are mind-numbingly repetitive & grotesquely amoral, but everything that surrounds them forgives the indulgence, like Wednesday-morning ashes smeared on a hungover reveler’s forehead.

-Brandon Ledet

Nobody May Come (2020)

When I was a kid living way “down the road” in St. Bernard Parish, New Orleans felt like it was planets away. I was fascinated by the boozy, draggy glam of the city but too young to access it without constrictive parental supervision – an endless source of frustration at the time. One of the ways I would scratch my ever-worsening itch for New Orleans hedonism those years was by frequenting a long-forgotten 1990s website that profiled & documented the most eccentric weirdos of The French Quarter as if they were celebrity icons. The site had individual pages for local Personalities like Ruthie The Duck Lady, Varla Jean Merman, and a clown who supposedly sold weed out of his balloon cart (a fuzzy memory that yields no useful Google results two decades later). I’d return to that site every now and then the way most kids ritualistically review their baseball cards or comic book collections; it was an aspirational window into a much more interesting world I couldn’t wait to occupy as soon as I had some personal freedom (and a car).

Valerie Sassyfras is very much of that tradition of New Orleans-specific eccentrics. Usually, when I catch her playing her spaced-out avant-garde new wave jams around the city, it’s totally by happenstance. I’ll be walking my dog in City Park and stumble onto her abrasively bewildering the tourists & Metairie Moms just trying to enjoy a beignet with their kids at Cafe Du Monde. Her legendary status as a local eccentric is built on those kinds of guerilla gigs in unlikely venues, starting with her regular features at a now-closed Piccadilly Cafeteria. Usually, very few people in the audience are directly paying attention to her, but she always parties hard on her keyboards, mandolin, and accordion as if she’s playing the most important gig of her life. Inevitably, one or two fellow weirdos in the crowd lock onto her warped wavelength and have the time of their lives, while everyone around them tries their best to remain politely oblivious to the outsider-art theatricality just outside their peripheral view. It’s always a wonderful spectacle to stumble into, more like encountering a magical creature than a struggling gig musician.

Sassyfras may never have had a page on whatever bullshit GeoCities website about New Orleans eccentrics I was frequenting as a kid, but she now has a much more substantial mythmaking platform to highlight her persona and her art: a documentary. Nobody May Come is the exact kind of niche-interest no-budget filmmaking you only see at festivals: a local documentary about a New Orleans street musician that only a handful of like-minded weirdos ever seek out in concert on purpose. It premiered at this year’s (mostly) digital New Orleans Film Fest, with much cheerleading & social media promotion from Sassyfras herself. On Valerie’s Facebook page (a wonderful follow that I highly encourage you to pursue), she promoted Nobody May Come as “a funny, fabulous movie all about me!” I’m not sure we saw the same film based on that description, but I’m also not sure anyone experiences the world the way Valerie Sassyfras does; that’s exactly what makes her so fascinating as an outsider artist & a documentary subject. I also don’t think it would improve her life at all if she found this movie about her art and her daily drudgery to be as upsettingly grim as I did.

If you’ve ever stumbled across an impromptu Valerie Sassyfras show in the wild and were curious about what, exactly, is her Whole Deal, Nobody May Come is eager to sketch out those details. It’s an intimate slice-of-life doc that captures Sassyfras at her most glamorous (performing with sequins & backup twerkers to adoring bar-scene audiences) and at her most mundane (stoned and eating Popeyes in her favorite armchair while listening to modern pop-country tunes). She’s an unreliable narrator of her own life’s story, defending herself against past accusations of abuse & neglect within fraught familial relationships as if the audience were interviewing to be her lawyer. Meanwhile, her career is enjoying newfound national attention thanks to her party jam “Girls Night Out” being memed by mainstream bullies like The Ellen DeGeneres Show and America’s Got Talent. Sassyfras’s avant-garde, zydeco-turned-new-wave pop tunes are much better suited for weirdo bar culture than they are for wide public consumption, falling somewhere between the conceptual art pageantry of a Laurie Anderson stage show and the crude prankishness of a Tim & Eric bit. Watching her expectations of impending fame clash with the ironic get-a-load-of-this-weirdo bullying of mainstream American television can be just as dark & upsetting as listening to her grumble about the ways she’s been left behind by her family and the world at large.

Nobody May Come is a jarring mix of fun outsider-art punk aggression and severely upsetting social & mental dysfunction. It would be easy to slap together a montage from the film of Valerie struggling to accomplish simple, mundane tasks: opening elevator doors, playing videos on her phone, negotiating with venue staff, routinely ordering Popeyes over a fuzzy drive-through intercom, etc. It would be just as easy to edit together a full-glam rock star fantasy montage that highlights her aggressively bizarre crowdwork and music videos instead of her personal & professional Issues. Personally, I would have preferred that the film lean harder into that latter option, if not only to gift Sassyfras the “funny, fabulous movie” she was looking for. There’s a lot of dark energy running throughout Nobody May Come that contextualizes her as a Daniel Johnston-type outsider artist who has her Good Days and her Bad. There may be some truth to that, but I personally found the doc to be most useful as an act of local mythmaking, not a warts-and-all exposé.

It would have been nice if Nobody May Come were as purely fun & fabulous as Valerie Sassyfras’s concerts, but I am still very much appreciative of it as-is for seeking to preserve her Local Legend status with a document much more substantial than a meme-of-the-week viral video or a late-90s blog post. She deserves the attention (and more).

-Brandon Ledet

To Decadence With Love, Thanks for Everything (2020)

The very last in-person social event I attended before the COVID lockdowns hit New Orleans this March was a Joni Mitchell tribute show at the AllWays Lounge. Watching drag queens, burlesque performers, and other assorted weirdos pay homage to as unlikely of an icon as Joni Mitchell was a bizarre treat, especially by the time Krewe Divine member CeCe V. DeMenthe was doing Mitchell as Divine in a Female Trouble-inspired get-up late in the show. I very much miss going to local, avant-garde drag shows like that Joni Mitchell tribute, most of which are anchored to the AllWays Lounge and the surrounding bars on St. Claude Ave. It’s a gaping, ever-widening hole in my social calendar that only became more glaring while watching To Decadence With Love, Thanks for Everything at this year’s (mostly) virtual New Orleans Film Festival.

To Decadence With Love is a local documentary that follows two exceptionally hard-working performers on the contemporary New Orleans drag scene: Franky and Laveau Contraire. Chronicling the two queens’ whirlwind of nonstop gigs over Southern Decadence weekend in 2019 (think Pride Weekend, only much sweatier), the film manages to capture a wide-ranging portrait of contemporary New Orleans drag over a shockingly short period of time. It’s amazing that Franky or Laveau had enough time to freshen their make-up or nap between gigs, much less talk to a documentary crew, but their guided tour of the city on a big moneymaker weekend is continually engaged & energetic. I don’t know that it fully captures what I love about watching these two performers in particular (Franky’s attention-commanding crowdwork and Laveau’s tightrope walk between the traditional & the avant-garde, respectfully), but it certainly sketches out a bigger-picture portrait of the scene where their art is near omnipresent.

I’m most grateful for this documentary’s efforts to capture how drastically different the New Orleans drag scene is now vs. the traditional Southern Pageant Drag I remember growing up with here. While Franky and Laveau Contraire are the overworked tour guides at the center, they make sure to pull the audience by the hand through the performance-art oddities of fellow weirdos & New Orleans Drag Workshop alumni like Maryboy, Apostrophe, Tarah Cards, and Gayle King Kong – some of my very favorite local performers, all of whom I miss tossing sweaty dollar bills at in various cabarets around town. Laveau Contraire in particular is a perfect choice of narrator in deciphering what makes the modern scene here so distinct & worthy of archival documentation, as she is intimately familiar with the traditional Pageant scene that contrasts it (which is still around, and still entertaining on its own merits). The movie also just wouldn’t be complete without her no matter what, since she tirelessly works practically every show on the local calendar.

I don’t know that To Decadence With Love will have much of a life outside of The New Orleans Film Festival, despite winning the fest’s Jury prize for Best Louisiana Feature. I imagine that, at the very least, its music clearance logistics would be an absolute nightmare in terms of distribution, considering how much drag relies on pre-existing pop media. There also isn’t much to its formal approach that distinguishes it as a documentary, outside maybe the way it interviews rideshare drivers on the trips between shows with equal weight as if they were also drag queens (emphasizing their shared reliance on spontaneous gigs & tips). Still, it’s a smart, entertaining document of a hyper-specific pocket of contemporary New Orleans culture that deserves this kind of attention before it’s lost to time. I also personally found it bittersweet to see that scene so vibrantly alive just one year ago, considering how drably uneventful my 2020 social life has been without it.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to Stream at Home This Week 5/28/20 – 6/3/20

For the past couple months, I’ve shifted our weekly “What’s Playing in Local Theaters” report to a list of Swampflix-recommended movies you can stream at home. This choice was initially a no-brainer, as the governor had ordered the closure of all Louisiana movie theaters in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. As of two weeks ago, cinemas are allowed to operate again as part of Phase One of the state’s re-opening strategy, but I’m personally not confident that’s such a great idea. So, I’m still going to stick with Online Streaming options as a moviegoing substitute for the time being.

In that spirit, here are some suggestions for movies that you can stream at home while under quarantine: a grab bag of movies Swampflix has rated 5-stars that are currently available for home viewing.

Streaming with Subscription

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)– From my review: “The film is at once a celebration of the horror genre as a cruel, ritualistic blood sport that serves a significant purpose in the lives of its audience and a condemnation of that very same audience for participating in the ritual in the first place. An ambitious, self-reflective work of criticism in action, Cabin in the Woods in one of the best horror films I’ve seen in recent years, not least of all for the way it makes me rethink the basic structure & intent of horror as an art from in the first place.” Currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Hulu.

Black Moon (1975) – From our Movie of the Month discussion: “Black Moon is extremely surreal. It has the rare quality of having the most dream-like logic of any movie I’ve ever seen. I frequently have sort of stressful dreams where I’m running in and out of buildings and rooms struggling to find something. The something is always vague. Watching this movie kind of put me into a familiar, trance-like state, which I’m not entirely sure if that’s a positive or negative attribute. In a way I think is dreamlike surrealism finds its own kind of horror whether intentionally or not.” Currently streaming on The Criterion Channel and for free (with a library membership) on Kanopy.

The Neon Demon (2016) – From my review: “I’m caught transfixed by its wicked spell & its bottomless wealth of surface pleasures, even as I wrestle with their implications. This is where the stylized form of high art meets the juvenile id of low trash and that exact intersection is why I go to the movies in the first place. The Neon Demon may not be great social commentary, but it’s certainly great cinema.” Currently streaming on Amazon Prime and for free (with library membership) on Hoopla.

Streaming VOD

The Masque of the Red Death (1964) From our Movie of the Month discussion: “A lot of what we think of as the hippie-dippie 60s came very late in the decade. The era-defining Summer of Love was in 1967, the same year Roger Corman dropped acid for the first time and fictionalized his experience in the film The Trip. The Masque of the Red Death‘s 1964 release positions the film as years ahead of its time. Corman was pulling off the Satanic psychedelia vibe the same year that Mary Poppins & My Fair Lady were huge cultural hits. I’m not saying Masque was particularly a major influence on the countercultural swell that was to come, but it at least was somewhat visually intuitive. And Corman himself did have direct influence on the later films that typified that counterculture, films like Easy Rider and Bonnie & Clyde. Even back then, when ‘Don’t trust anyone over 30’ was a motto to live by, he was the hippest geezer in the room and a filmmaking rebel.” A $4 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Peeping Tom (1960) From my review: “It’s near impossible to gauge just how shocking or morally incongruous Peeping Tom must’ve been in 1960, especially in the opening scenes where old men are shown purchasing pornography in the same corner stores where young girls buy themselves candy for comedic effect & the protagonist/killer is introduced secretly filming a sex worker under his trench coat before moving in for his first kill. Premiering the same year as Hitchcock’s Psycho and predating the birth of giallo & the slasher in 1962’s Blood & Black Lace, Peeping Tom was undeniably ahead of its time. A prescient ancestor to the countless slashers to follow, Powell’s classic is a sleek, beautifully crafted work that should’ve been met with accolades & rapturous applause instead of the prudish dismissal it sadly received.” A $4 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Crimes of Passion (1984) – From our Movie of the Month discussion: “In some ways Crimes of Passion, a 1984 sex thriller starring Kathleen ‘Serial Mom‘ Turner as a fashion designer by day & prostitute by night, is the prime example of Russell’s self-conflicting nature. It’s a visually stunning work that uses a Bava-esque attention to lighting to create an otherworldly playground of sexual fantasy & escapism, but it’s also just pure smut. It occasionally attempts to laud the virtues of sex work, but also uses the profession as a means to leer at naked bodies. It reads like an intentionally cruel vilification of marriage & monogamy that also has a lot to say about the hypocrisy of self-righteous religious piety, but it’s also just a long string of dirty one-liners like ‘Don’t think you’re getting back in these panties; there’s already one asshole in there.’ Crimes of Passion is thoroughly bewildering in its refusal to be engaged with as either high art or low trash, but instead insists that audiences simultaneously appreciate it as both. In other words, it’s pure Ken Russell.” A $2 rental on all major VOD platforms.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to Stream at Home This Week 5/21/20 – 5/27/20

For the past couple months, I’ve shifted our weekly “What’s Playing in Local Theaters” report to a list of Swampflix-recommended movies you can stream at home.  This choice was initially a no-brainer, as the governor had ordered the closure of all Louisiana movie theaters in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.  As of last week, cinemas are allowed to operate again as part of Phase One of the state’s re-opening strategy, but I’m personally not confident that’s such a great idea.  So, I’m still going to stick with Online Streaming options as a moviegoing substitute for the time being.

In that spirit, here are some suggestions for movies that you can stream at home while under quarantine: a grab bag of movies Swampflix has rated 5-stars that are currently available for home viewing.

Streaming with Subscription

Society (1992)– From our Movie of the Month discussion: “Society was largely panned in its time for this disinterest in thematic subtlety, struggling for three years after its initial release in 1989 to earn a proper US distribution deal. Treating its class politics as a flimsy excuse for the disturbing practical effects orgy in its final act seems like a mistake to me, though, and I’m delighted that the film has been reassessed as a cult classic in the decades since its humble beginnings. The way it explores class divisions in the most literal & grotesque terms possible is highly amusing to me in an almost cathartic way.” Currently streaming on Shudder, Amazon Prime, Kanopy, and Tubi.

20th Century Women (2016) – From my review: “Although 20th Century Women is constructed on the foundation of small, intimate performances, it commands an all-encompassing scope that pulls back to cover topics as wide as punk culture solidarity, what it means to be a ‘good’ man in modern times, the shifts in status of the American woman in the decades since the Great Depression, the 1980s as a tipping point for consumer culture, the history of life on the planet Earth, and our insignificance as a species in the face of the immensity of the Universe. For me, this film was the transcendent, transformative cinematic experience people found in titles like Tree of Life & Boyhood that I never ‘got.’ Although it does succeed as an intimate, character-driven drama & an actors’ showcase, it means so much more than that to me on a downright spiritual level.” Currently streaming on Netflix and for free (with a library membership) on Hoopla & Kanopy.

I Married a Witch (1942) – From Britnee’s review: “It’s very cliché to say that a film is ‘ahead of its time,’ but I can’t think of a better way to describe Rene Clair’s comedy, I Married a Witch. For a film that debuted in the early 1940s, it’s got a very different style of humor when compared to other comedies that came about during that era. When I think of films of the 1940s, I think of Casablanca, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Meet Me in St. Louis, so watching a film that is about a resurrected witch that preys on a soon-to-be-married man just feels so scandalous!” Currently streaming on The Criterion Channel and for free (with library membership) on Kanopy.

Streaming VOD

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) – From my review: “It’s difficult to put into words exactly what Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is or what it’s about, so I’ll just tell you how Ebert described the film’s genre: ‘It’s a camp sexploitation action horror musical that ends in a quadruple murder & a triple wedding.’ Does that about clear it up? At times it feels like the only thing Beyond the Valley of the Dolls isn’t is a sequel to Valley of the Dolls, which is what Meyer was initially hired to direct. At least the film warns you of that outright in a prologue that distances itself from the melodrama original. What quickly follows is one of Meyer’s trademark industrial/sex montages, this time combatively pointed at Los Angeles & set to an inane slam-poetry style monologue about hippie culture. The difference is that the montage never ends this time, adopting Mondo Topless‘s frantic energy for a full-length narrative feature. As Meyer put it, he wanted the film to establish “a punishing rhythm, pummeling the audience.” Boy, did he succeed.” A $4 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Queen of Earth (2015) From Boomer’s review: “As rare as it is to see a film that so unabashedly stares into the face of mental illness, it’s even rarer to see a film that understands and appreciates that, from the outside, the behaviors of an irrational person can be objectively humorous even if they are subjectively heartbreaking, and Queen of Earth manages to tread that line in an insightful and deft way. More than just adding more scenes to Moss’s career highlight reel, this movie is the most honest portrayal of unhealthy bonds I’ve seen in as long as I can remember. It will break your heart and then make it sing, and you’ll be haunted by the images and their emotional resonance for weeks.” A $4 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Innocent Blood (1992) – From our Movie of the Month discussion: “A decade after An American Werewolf in London, John Landis brought the public Innocent Blood, a movie about a French vampire in … Pittsburgh. Marie, the fey French vampire, decides to help herself to Pittsburgh’s criminal element. Mistakes are made, spinal cords are left intact, and before too long Marie and ousted undercover cop Joe are duking it out with a proliferating vampire Mob. There’s something for everybody! Stunts! Grotesque special effects! Gallons of blood! Strippers! Don Rickles! Innocent Blood is entertaining, weird, and a little self-conscious.” A $2 rental on all major VOD platforms.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to Stream at Home This Week 5/14/20 – 5/20/20

For the past couple months, I’ve shifted our weekly “What’s Playing in Local Theaters” report to a list of Swampflix-recommended movies you can stream at home.  This choice was initially a no-brainer, as the governor had ordered the closure of all Louisiana movie theaters in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.  As of this week, cinemas are allowed to operate again as part of Phase One of the state’s re-opening strategy, but I’m personally not confident that’s such a great idea.  So, I’m still going to stick with Online Streaming options as a moviegoing substitute for the time being.

In that spirit, here are some suggestions for movies that you can stream at home while under quarantine: a grab bag of movies Swampflix has rated 5-stars that are currently available for home viewing.

Streaming with Subscription

Orlando (1992)– From my review: “Initially masquerading as a costume drama with a prankish dry wit, Orlando gradually develops into the transcendent pure cinema hypnosis I’m always searching for in my movie choices. It pulls this off in such a casual, unintimidating way that it’s not until the final scene that the full impact of its joys as a playful masterpiece becomes apparent. This is the exact kind of visual and tonal achievement that could only ever be captured in the form of a feature film, a cinematic reverie that’s nothing short of real world magic.” Currently streaming on The Criterion Channel.

Mikey and Nicky (1976) – From our Movie of the Month discussion: “I was also struck by how well May captured the dirty, pre-Giuliani era of NYC, the type of New York we’re used to seeing in early Scorsese pictures like Mean Streets & Taxi Driver. The late-night setting, funky blaxploitation soundtrack, guerilla-style handheld camera work, and genuine background characters of real life barroom drunks & creeps all afford the film an authentic, unnerving New York City grime. The only film I can think to compare it to in terms of narrative structure & visual craft is the recent release Tangerine, which gives a whirlwind tour of L.A. sunshine similar to the way Mikey and Nicky tears through NYC streetlights. With those two films being released four decades apart and Scorsese’s most similar contemporary works being praised at the time for being the cutting edge, I think it’s fair to say May was in some ways ahead of her time, even if her basic visual aesthetic resembles a general 70s exploitation cinema aesthetic.” Currently streaming on The Criterion Channel and for free (with library membership) on Kanopy.

The Lure (2017) – From my review: “The Lure is a mermaid-themed horror musical that’s equal parts MTV & Hans Christian Andersen in its modernized fairy tale folklore. Far from the Disnified retelling of The Little Mermaid that arrived in the late 1980s, this blood-soaked disco fantasy is much more convincing in its attempts to draw a dividing line between mermaid animality & the (mostly) more civilized nature of humanity while still recounting an abstract version of the same story. As a genre film with a striking hook in its basic premise, it’s the kind of work that invites glib descriptors & points of comparison like An Aquatic Ginger Snaps Musical or La La Land of the Damned, but there’s much more going on in its basic appeal than that sense of genre mash-up novelty.” Currently streaming on The Criterion Channel and for free (with library membership) on Kanopy.

Streaming VOD

My Demon Lover (1987) – From our Movie of the Month discussion: “I honestly didn’t expect My Demon Lover to be much different than the other hundreds of campy 80s comedies out there, but it actually does a great job standing out on its own. At first, the film didn’t seem like it was going to be anything but a cheeseball comedy about a fruit burger-eating airhead that falls for a perverted homeless guy who may or may not be a killer demon. Thankfully, things become much more interesting as the film goes on. The monster movie and romcom elements of My Demon Lover come together to create a rare combination that makes for one hell of a memorable flick.” A $2 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Mrs. Winterbourne (1996) From our Movie of the Month discussion: “Mrs. Winterbourne is a romantic comedy about a pregnant teenager escaping her scummy, abusive boyfriend, surviving a train wreck that kills another pregnant woman and her kind husband, and being mistakenly taken in by the in-laws of the dead woman as they attempt to put their hearts back together. That’s only the first act. In the second act, just as Connie is starting to connect to the Winterbournes and is struggling with the decision of either revealing her true identity or keeping up the charade indefinitely, her slimy ex-boyfriend comes back to blackmail her. There’s singing! Dancing! A makeover montage! Murder! Although I really enjoy Mrs. Winterbourne, the incongruity between the gritty (and bizarre) premise and the lighthearted style in which it is presented makes for a weird movie-watching experience. There’s a lot of whiplash as the film attempts tell a gritty noir story through the lens of a quirky romcom.” A $3 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Mary and Max (2009) – “The sole feature film credit of stop motion animator Adam Elliot, Mary and Max adopts the visual format & storybook narration of a children’s film, but it’s, at heart, an emotionally merciless drama that touches upon, among other things: mental illness, alcoholism, unwanted pregnancy, atheism, war crimes, repressed homosexuality, obesity, and the endless cycle of poverty. It’s likely that the film didn’t do particularly well at the box office because it’s difficult to market an animated feature about heartbreaking loneliness, depression, despair, and the search for human connection among the disenfranchised. I’m getting choked up right now just mulling over the film’s themes, so easy to see why it might’ve been a difficult sell as a comedy (however black) & a fun night at the movies.” A $3 rental on all major VOD platforms.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to Stream in New Orleans This Week 5/7/20 – 5/13/20

As you likely already know, the governor has ordered the indefinite closure of all Louisiana movie theaters in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. That decree makes our weekly What’s Playing in Town report something of a sham, but I thought I’d continue to share weekly movie recommendations anyway (all in an effort to maintain the fictional veneer of Normalcy). I’ll just be shifting into Online Streaming options as a substitute for the time being.

In that spirit, here are some suggestions for movies that you can stream at home while under quarantine: a grab bag of movies Swampflix has rated 5-stars that are currently available for home viewing.

Streaming with Subscription

Schizopolis (1996)– From our Movie of the Month discussion: “The stand-out centerpiece of the film might be the unbroken shot of Soderbergh (as Munson) making goofy Jim Carrey faces in the bathroom mirror immediately after masturbating at work, just because. As big as Schizopolis‘s ideas can be in a larger scope, its scene to scene rhythms function as a series of half-assed pranks, like a highbrow version of Jackass.” Currently streaming on The Criterion Channel.

Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)– From my review: “I wish more movies being made in the 2010s, queer or otherwise, we’re half as adventurous or as unapologetic as this transgressive masterwork. It’s not only the best possible version of itself, but also a welcome glimpse of a convention -defiant realm most films would benefit by exploring. To say Funeral Parade of Roses was ahead of its time is a given. In fact, I’m not sure its time has even arrived to this date.” Currently streaming on The Criterion Channel.

We Are the Flesh (2017) – From my review: “I’m in love with the way We Are the Flesh disorients the eye by making its grotesque displays of bloodshed & taboo sexuality both aesthetically pleasing and difficult to pin down. The subtle psychedelia of its colored lights, art instillation sets, and unexplained provocative imagery (a pregnant child, close-up shots of genitals, an excess of eggs, etc.) detach the film from a knowable, relatable world to carve out its own setting without the context of place or time. Its shock value sexuality & gore seem to be broadcasting directly from director Emiliano Rocha Minter‘s subconscious, attacking both the viewer & the creator with a tangible, physical representation of fears & desires the conscious mind typically compartmentalizes or ignores (like a poetically surreal distortion of Cronenberg’s Videodrome).” Currently streaming on Shudder.

Streaming VOD

The Box (2009) – From our Movie of the Month discussion: “As Kelly put it himself, The Box was an attempt ‘to make a film that’s incredibly suspenseful and broadly commercial, while still retaining [his] artistic sensibility.’ I’d say it’s almost successful in that way, tempering Kelly’s bottomless wealth of bizarre ideas with a familiar realm of cinematic tones that lands somewhere between Hitchcock suspense and the Spielbergian throwback horror of titles like Super 8 & Stranger Things. I honestly believe The Box is his best work to date. However, if Kelly thinks that this overwhelming tale of deadly ultimatums, alien invasions, mind control, interdimensional gateways, and spiritual ascension has ‘broad commercial appeal’ he’s gotta be out of his fucking mind (and I’m sure there’s more than a little truth to that).” A $4 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Citizen Kane (1941) From my review: “While I’m not exactly shocked that Citizen Kane‘s radical sea change was misunderstood upon its initial release, I’m thankful that it’s been championed as a pinnacle of the medium in the decades since. We’re extremely lucky to have its massive presence towering over us is a modern audience. It came a lot closer to disappearing into obscurity than a lot of people realize.” A $4 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Darkman (1990) –From my review: “A comic book-inspired noir riding on the coattails of Tim Burton’s Batman, Darkman is a masterfully goofy work of genre cinema. Its comic book framing, over-the-top performances, and stray Ken Russell-esque freakouts were all perfection in terms of trashy entertainment value, pushing the lowest-common-denominator of trash media into the realm of high art. Darkman is not only the finest Sam Raimi film I’ve ever encountered, it’s also one of the most striking comic book movies ever made … which is saying a lot considering that it wasn’t even based off of a comic book.” A $4 rental on all major VOD platforms.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to Stream in New Orleans this Week 4/30/20 – 5/6/20

As you likely already know, the governor has ordered the indefinite closure of all Louisiana movie theaters in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. That decree makes our weekly What’s Playing in Town report something of a sham, but I thought I’d continue to share weekly movie recommendations anyway (all in an effort to maintain the fictional veneer of Normalcy). I’ll just be shifting into Online Streaming options as a substitute for the time being.

In that spirit, here are some suggestions for movies that you can stream at home while under quarantine: a grab bag of movies Swampflix has rated 5-stars that are currently available for home viewing.

Streaming with Subscription

Parasite (2019) – From Boomer’s review: “Money is an iron. For the Parks, it is the metaphorical iron that makes life smooth and effortless, and the iron strength of the walls that separate them from the riffraff below. For the Kims, it is the iron of prison bars that keep them in a metaphorical prison of society and, perhaps, a literal one; it is the weight that drags them down, a millstone to prevent them from ever escaping the trap of stratified social classes.” Currently streaming on Hulu.

Marjorie Prime (2017) – From Boomer’s review: “If you search for the film online, it’s defined as a drama/mystery, but that’s not entirely accurate. There is a dark family secret that slowly unscrolls and unspools over the course of the movie’s runtime, recounted in different ways by different people (some of whom aren’t people at all), but it’s not a mystery that you want to solve. The characters in the film don’t want to remember, and that affects the viewer as well; once you know the truth, you remember that the urge to expunge is often as powerful as the urge to record, that the desire to remember is counterposed by all the things we wish we could forget. Marjorie Prime is at turns celebratory and solemn, weaving back and forth through different perspectives and memories that seem at times false and sometimes too real, and occasionally both.” Currently streaming on Amazon Prime, for free (with a library card) on Hoopla, and for free (with ads) on Vudu & Tubi.

Unfriended (2015)– From our Movie of the Month discussion: “I’m starting to feel like somewhat of a phony fan of this movie even though I often go out of my way to promote its legacy. I’ve now watched it on the big screen and on my living room television, but I’ve never bothered to screen it with headphones on my laptop for the Pure Unfriended experience, the way I assume it was intended to be seen. This feels like the inverse of the blasphemy of a young brat watching Lawrence of Arabia for the first time on a smartphone. It’s also further implication that I’m an out of touch old man who has no business taking as much pleasure in these teen-oriented, social media-obsessed genre film frivolities as I do.” Currently streaming on HBO Go.

Streaming VOD

Raw (2017) – From Boomer’s review: “I was beaten to the punch by Catherine Bray of Variety in the comparisons that were most evident to me, as she called RawSuspiria meets Ginger Snaps,’ which was my thought exactly while sitting in the theater. The school setting lends itself to the former allusion, as does the stunningly saturated color pallette and the viscerality of the gore (which is less present than one would expect from either the marketing or the oft-cited fainting of several audience members at the Toronto premier), while the coming-of-age narrative as explored by two sisters with a complex relationship makes the latter reference apparent. Make no mistake, however: even for the strongest stomachs amongst us, there will be something in this film that turns that organ inside out.” A $4 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Paperhouse (1988) – From our Movie of the Month discussion: “After two smaller films that are largely forgotten, Rose directed Paperhouse, which was a perennial favorite on IFC in the early 2000s, before moving on to direct cult classic (and his only other truly great film) Candyman released in 1992. Candyman is undeniably a horror film, and Paperhouse was largely lumped in with the horror genre upon home video release as well, despite not strictly deserving that distinction. It’s much more of a mood piece, with a relatively simple story elevated by striking visuals and a moodily beautiful score by Stanley Myers and Hans Zimmer.” A $4 rental on all major VOD platforms.

The Funhouse (1981) –From our Movie of the Month discussion: “The Funhouse comes across as a run-of-the-mill B-movie because it follows the generic B-horror movie storyline; a group of teens get high and decide to get crazy & spend the night in their local carnival’s funhouse. It really doesn’t get cheesier than that, but somehow The Funhouse manages to be seriously scary. […] The gruesome murders that take place in the funhouse filled with horrifying animatronic clowns and evil dolls will haunt your dreams forever, or at least for a day or two.” A $4 rental on all major VOD platforms.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to Stream in New Orleans this Week 4/23/20 – 4/29/20

As you likely already know, the governor has ordered the indefinite closure of all Louisiana movie theaters in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. That decree makes our weekly What’s Playing in Town report something of a sham, but I thought I’d continue to share weekly movie recommendations anyway (all in an effort to maintain the fictional veneer of Normalcy). I’ll just be shifting into Online Streaming options as a substitute for the time being.

In that spirit, here are some suggestions for movies that you can stream at home while under quarantine: a grab bag of movies Swampflix has rated 5-stars that are currently available for home viewing.

Streaming with Subscription

Double Lover (2017) – From my review: “It’s a narratively & thematically messy film that gleefully taps into sexual taboos to set its audience on edge, then springs a surreal horror film on them once they’re in that vulnerable state. Double Lover is not your average, by-the-books erotic thriller. It’s a deranged masterpiece, a horned-up nightmare.” Currently streaming on Shudder and for free (with a library card) on Kanopy.

Tom of Finland (2017) From my review: “Tom of Finland excels as a kind of filmmaking alchemy that turns an unlikely tonal mashup of Cruising & Carol into the feel-good queer drama of the year. Its high class sense of style & lyrical looseness in narrative structure feels like the best aspects of Tom Ford’s features, but without his goofy storytelling shortcomings. While its sexuality isn’t quite as transgressive as the leather daddy-inspiring art of its subject, it’s still a passionate, celebratory work that sidesteps the typical pitfalls of queer misery porn dramas, yet still manages to feel truthful, dangerous, and at times genuinely erotic. It’s hard to believe the film is half as wonderful as it is, given the visual trappings of its subject & genre, but its leather & disco lyricism lifts the spirit and defies expectation.” Currently streaming on Hulu and for free (with a library card) on Kanopy.

The Florida Project (2017) – From my review: “The Florida Project doesn’t dwell on or exploit the less-than-ideal conditions its pint-sized punks grow up in, even when depicting their most dire consequences; it instead celebrates the kids’ anarchic energy and refusal to buckle under the false authority of adults.” Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Streaming VOD

Hearts of Fire (1987) – From our Movie of the Month discussion: “The character Billy Parker was initially written for Mick Jagger, but he turned down the role because, well, the script was crap. I’m so thankful he did because Bob Dylan is hilarious in this movie without even trying. He literally mumbles all of his lines and pretty much sleepwalks throughout the entire movie. Dylan was obviously not very excited about starring in Hearts of Fire, and it shows through his acting. He must’ve been very desperate for cash at that point in his life.” A $3 rental on all major VOD platforms.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) – From my review: “A production design triumph & featuring lavish costumes by Adrian (who also designed the fashion for fellow 1939 Technicolor wonder The Women), The Wizard of Oz is blatant in its artificiality at every turn, yet through some kind of dark movie magic fools you into seeing beyond its closed sets into an endless, beautifully hellish realm. I’m sure there were plenty musicals released in 1939 that have been forgotten by time, but it’s no mystery why this is the one that has endured as an esteemed classic. Even when staring directly at the seams where the 3D set design meets the painted backdrop of an endless landscape, I see another world, not a mural on the wall. It’s the closest thing I can recall to lucid dreaming, an experience that can be accessed by the push of the play button.” A $4 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Your Name. (2017)– From my review : “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.” A $3 rental on all major VOD platforms.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to Stream in New Orleans This Week 4/9/20 – 4/15/20

As you likely already know, the governor has ordered the indefinite closure of all Louisiana movie theaters in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. That decree makes our weekly What’s Playing in Town report something of a sham, but I thought I’d continue to share weekly movie recommendations anyway (all in an effort to maintain the fictional veneer of Normalcy). I’ll just be shifting into Online Streaming options as a substitute for the time being.

In that spirit, here are some suggestions for movies that you can stream at home while under quarantine: a grab bag of movies Swampflix has rated 5-stars that are currently available for home viewing.

Streaming with Subscription

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) – From Britnee’s review: “Effortlessly balances being a satire of the highbrow art world while also being a blood-soaked slasher. The star-studded cast (including fabulous appearances by my all-time favorite actress, Toni Collette) work their magic by giving fabulous performances without allowing the film to lose its funky underground vibes.” Currently streaming on Netflix.

Us (2019) – From Boomer’s review: “The second film helmed by the director who inexplicably turned Blumhouse Productions into a semi-prestige film production house because they were the only ones willing to take a chance on Get Out is more ambitious than its predecessor, meaning that sometimes it swings a bit wider but ultimately has the same meticulous attention to detail, from literal Chekovian guns to a multitude of characters being literally and metaphorically reflected in surfaces both pristine and cracked to even something so small as apparently intentionally offbeat snapping. ” Currently streaming on HBO Go.

Climax (2019) – From my review: “Your personal response to this pretentious, obnoxious, ‘French and fucking proud of it’ smut will vary wildly depending on how much interest you tend to have in the type of edgy, over-the-top art-schlock Noé usually traffics in. If it’s something you have absolutely zero patience for, the movie will alienate you early & often – leaving you just as miserable as the tripped-out dancers who tear each other apart on the screen. If, like me, you’re always curious about what Noé’s up to but never fully connect with the fucked-up party therein, you might just find yourself succumbing to the prurient displeasures of DJ Daddy and the killer sangria.” Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Streaming VOD

Cloak & Dagger (1984) – From our Movie of the Month discussion: “The film’s Video Game: The Movie gimmickry and casting of Dabney Coleman (in a dual role as both father & imaginary friend) promises a fun, goofy knockoff of WarGames about a young boy’s spy-mission fantasy antics. Instead, the film mostly plays like a terrifying thriller about an international network of ruthless child murderers, only wearing its PG kids’ adventure movie pedigree as a disguise. ” A $4 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Female Trouble (1974) – From my review: “Female Trouble affords Divine a stage to perform her most gloriously fucked up stunts on celluloid, then directly comments on our fascination with those wicked deeds and with crime as entertainment in general. More importantly, though, it allows her to perform the full spectrum of American femininity as, to borrow the title of a Lifetime movie, Wife-Mother-Murderer in the post-hippie grime of the mid-1970s. Dawn Davenport is multiple generations & evolutions of the misbehaving woman, a perfect template for Divine to perform a full floor show of varying proto-punk looks & sneering femme attitudes. She may have starred in a few better movies, but few performances ever served her better as a top bill entertainer & the center of attention.” A $3 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010) From our Movie of the Month discussion: “This may not be my favorite version of Batman, but it’s the best self-contained feature that both feels like a true standalone while also addressing the character’s long history. There’s no origin story, no belabored backstory showing how and why Bruce Wayne came to be the Batman, no attempts to make the character feel like he fits in a modern context or make the gadgets and gizmos seem ‘realistic,’ and no damned pearls in an alley. I said it two years ago and I’ll say it again: Batman has the second most famous origin story in the world, surpassed only by the birth of Christ; we don’t need to see it on screen ever again. Instead, this film jumps in at a point in time pretty far into the detective’s career.” A $4 rental on all major VOD platforms.

-Brandon Ledet