Posts Tagged With: 101 Films

“Rod Munch, Eh Boys?” Marilyn Chambers Is Insatiable In David Cronenberg’s RABID…

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Never the Rose without the prick…

… but not for sperm… nor even a squirt of Ivory Snow. In her one “legit” feature credit, the hard core hussy (whose opportunistic “more bang for your buck” casting as  protagonist Rose pays off in a far stronger performance than anybody would probably have expected… her Porno pedigree, furthermore, adds retrospective resonance to any notion of Rabid as an AIDS jeremiad) is out for blood after a life-saving radical skin graft leaves her with a biomechanoidal syringe in her armpit… what were the odds on that? (*) Well, she is in a David Cronenberg film… and anybody who’s watched more than a couple of episodes of Dr Pimple Popper could have warned her about going under the knife at an institution rejoicing in the name of… The Keloid Clinic(!)

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Behind The Green Door

Those on the receiving end of lil’ Armpit Elmer’s attentions develop a rabies-like condition that converts them into drooling zombies and compels them to chow down on the nearest (even if that also happens to be their dearest) human being. Soon Montreal is under martial law, as the search for this epidemic’s “Typhoid Mary” / Patient Zero intensifies. “I’m still me…” she protests to appalled boyfriend Hart (Frank Moore) when he finds her draining the life juices from best friend Mindy (Susan Roman): “I’m still Rose!” Well, she kind of is and kind of isn’t, in an ongoing tradition of Cronenberg antiheroes and heroines that probably reaches its zenith with Jeff Goldblum’s Seth Brundle in The Fly (1986).

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Cronenberg is a director of rare intelligence who hasn’t always managed to parlay the musings of his superfine mind into coherent and compelling films… and I’m happy to concede that a film doesn’t necessarily have to be coherent to be compelling. Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977) adhere closely and usefully to the Romero formula of interweaving personal and societal apocalypse. Thereafter he spread his narrative wings, with mixed results. I’m as mesmerised as anybody by the magnificent metastasising mess of a movie that is Videodrome (1983) but was somewhat less than enthralled when Cronenberg attempted to push his preoccupations into the bleak hinterlands and interzones of Ballard and Burroughs. As for his attempt to write his own “Ballard type” novel Consumed… well,  it’s a sizeable literary misfire to which I won’t be returning any time soon. I will though definitely be watching 101’s restoration of Rabid again. Cronenberg’s sophomore feature looks (with minimal distracting grain) and sounds mighty fresh here and there are further rich pickings to be found among the extras on the second disc of this limited edition set (some of them collated from previous releases).

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Can’t comment on the limited edition booklet containing essays by Alex Morris and Greg Dunning because we hacks never get that stuff.  I did appreciate Xavier Mendik and Phillip Escott’s documentary about Cinepix And The Birth of the Canadian Horror Film (its actual title is much longer), in which most of the surviving significant players explain their part in the Tax Shelter Era, covering the likes of Cannibal Girls (1973) and Death Weekend (1976… goodness me, they had beautiful storyboards on that one!) along with the Cronenberg titles that provoked such outrage in the Canadian chambers of Parliament. Along the way, we non-Canucks  learn just how closely Cronenberg’s vision of martial law in Montreal mirrors a genuine and major political crisis that had recently played out. There are interviews with (obviously) Cronenberg (predictably thought provoking stuff), Susan (“Mindy”) Roman (an engaging lady, now mainly making her living as a voice over artist) and amusing ones with co-producers Ivan Reitman and Don Carmody. You get the obligatory trailer, of course and an hour long TV doc in which many of Cronenberg’s leading players have their say on the man and his vision. One of the more interesting asides concerns Cronenberg appearing on the first morning of shooting Rabid and announcing his intention to tear up the script and start making Dead Ringers instead!

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Struggling to get my review of this edition into print within touching distance of its release date, I haven’t yet had the chance to take in ant of its commentary tracks, of which there are no less than four(!), courtesy of Cronenberg himself, William Beard (author of The Artist As Monster: The Cinema Of David Cronenberg), Jill C. Nelson (author of Golden Goddesses: 25 Legendary Women Of Classic Erotic Cinema, 1968-1985) and Chambers’ Personal Appearances Manager Ken Leicht and finally, the co-directors of the 2019 Rabid remake, Jen & Sylvia Soska. I’m not, generally speaking, a big fan of remakes and have heard mixed word on this one, but who knows, perhaps when I’ve heard their comments on the original I’ll be more inclined to give the Soska sisters’ revamp a look? If so, you’ll be the first to know…

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Behind the green fridge door…

(*) Antonio Margheriti and Dardano Sacchetti certainly found Rabid’s central plot premise appealing enough, as a cursory glance at Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) will testify.

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Sonic Does Solipsism… Cronenberg’s eXistenZ Reviewed

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Ted Pikul in the throes of an eXistenZial epiphany. Yesterday.

BD/DVD Combi. Region B/2. 101 Films. 15.

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Why do artists feel the need to revisit former glories? Perhaps because their glory days are so demonstrably behind them. Consider Opera (1987), the final fling in a string of baroque, bloody, beautiful and flat-out berserk horror and thriller classics that Dario Argento had sustained for nearly two decades. Then consider his abysmal Phantom Of The Opera (1998), a weak-as-piss rehashing of the same themes with the same cinematographer, Ronnie Taylor, merely underlining the point that Argento’s muse had deserted him, to be replaced by… well, by Asia.

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Just a year later, David Cronenberg brought us eXistenZ, which on superficial perusal (and that, I confess, is all I gave it at the time) came across as a pointless and decidedly less full-blooded and edgy reworking of his polymesmeric Videodrome (1983). Obliged to give it a second viewing (by the fact that those nice folks at 101 sent me a review copy of their new BD / DVD edition), I find that I’ve given eXistenZ shorter shrift than it merits (e.g. in my cursory dismissal of Cronenberg’s post-Fly output while reviewing his debut novel Consumed).

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In the near future, wimpy marketing trainee Ted Pikul (Jude Law) accompanies legendary games designer Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to a test seminar for her latest advance in virtual reality technology but no sooner have she and a bunch of fans plugged pulsating, placenta like game consoles into their spines (all par for the Cronenbergian course) and started communing in cyber space, than a pro-reality terrorist (ditto) makes an attempt on Allegra’s life with a gun fashioned from bones which shoots teeth (a piece of mutant technology that has clearly evolved out of Videodrome) and Ted finds himself promoted to Allegra’s body-guard. Brow beaten by her into having a bioport inserted in his spine (by Willem Dafoe’s freelancing gas station attendant) Ted embarks on a white knuckle adventure in which it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish gameplay from reality…

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Just as Brian de Palma was justified in reviewing the ethical quagmire of Casualties Of War (1989) through the lens of subsequent media technology developments  for Redacted (2007, above), eXistenZ cannot simply be dismissed as “Videodrome light” (although I’ve been guilty of doing precisely that)… it’s a genuine auteurist reconsideration of that film’s thematic concerns in the light of technology-driven cultural change on the cusp of The Millennium (and goes about its business so much more smartly than it’s vastly bigger budgeted contemporary The Matrix).

eXistenZ is “Videodrome updated and upgraded”, a film addressing the concerns of those who used to worry if young people watching The Last House On The Left really got that it was “only a movie… only a movie” and now wake up in a sweat in the middle of the night wondering if players of Grand Theft Auto or Call Of Duty can correctly answer the question that provides the last line of eXistenZ”: “Are we still in the game?”

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Ordering Chinese food becomes a tricky business amid the fluid reality of eXistenZ.

Despite its shifting planes of reality, this one is narratively much tighter than its predecessor and boasts an ending that is simultaneously more predictable but more satisfying than that to Videodrome, which Cronenberg was notoriously still trying to work out on the last day of shooting.

Over and above its Videodrome connections, eXistenZ reflects Cronenberg’s musings (after conversations with William Burroughs and Salman Rushdie) on the independent existence an artistic creation takes on, with potentially malign consequences for its creator.

It’s also, regretfully, the closest we will ever get to Cronenberg’s once-mooted screen adaptation of Philp K. Dick’s darkly psychedelic 1965 novel The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch… observant Dick heads will appreciate the packaging of the fast food Ted and Allegra consume while on the lam.

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Get your skates on, 101’s release of this title, number 002 in their Black Label range, is limited to 3000 copies and comes with slipcase and a booklet including the essay Enemy of Reality by Alex Morris and an interview with Denise Cronenberg  by Phillip Escott. Can’t comment on either of those because I haven’t seen them.

The disc comes stacked with extras, including (alongside the mandatory trailer) Cronenberg’s audio commentary, “making of” and promo feaurettes plus one that focuses on the work of DC’s long-serving production designer, Carol Spier and interviews with the director himself, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Willem Dafoe, visual FX technician Jim Isaac and Jude Law.

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Brand new to this edition are two commentary tracks, one by Kim Newman and Ryan Lambie and another from Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson, plus an interview with Christopher Ecclestone, who freely admits that his American accent in the film is crap but tries to explain this away on the grounds that nobody in eXistenZ is quite what they seem. Nice try Chris, but you can’t pin the blame for that preposterous accent on Allegra Gellar!

Ecclestone also suggests that in the light of ever-accelerating technological change, a remake might be in order. Cronenberg was way ahead of the curve, though… what’s the betting that if such a project were ever green lit, its protagonists would be schlepping around collecting Pokemons?

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Billy, Don’t Be A Weirdo… BLACK CHRISTMAS Reviewed

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BD / DVD Combi. Regions B/2. 101 Films. 18.

God, Christmas arrives earlier every year, doesn’t it? Still, if you’re the kind of ghoul whose yuletide wish is to sit the family down in front of Bob Clark’s classic 1974 Canucksploiter (as, apparently, was standard procedure for the Presleys every December 25th at Graceland) then you’re gonna need five weeks or so to drop heavy hints to your nearest and dearest about slipping this one into your Xmas stocking. Maybe they won’t take your hints but never mind, worse things happen during the festive season…

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… for instance, to the occupants of the Pi Kappa Sigma sorority house, allegedly somewhere in the USA (actually, Toronto). Initially assailed by obscene, ranting phone calls from some sex-case identifying himself as “Billy”, members of the feisty sisterhood (which includes Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin and Lynne Griffin among its number) are soon being killed and their bodies arranged in the attic, where young William seems to be putting together some kind of black Nativity scene. Clark and writer Roy Moore pull every trick in the book to divert your attention towards Hussey’s intense concert pianist, abortion-resenting boyfriend as prime suspect, which probably tells you all you need to know about whether it’s him or not. John Saxon’s Police Lt and his (somewhat clueless) underlings take an eternity to work out that those phone-calls are actually coming from within the sorority house (difficult to believe, actually, that the ungodly racket Billy makes during his calls wouldn’t have already pinpointed his whereabouts), setting up a rattling false ending and memorably ambiguous creepy  coda…

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Horror and thriller buffs of a certain vintage and of a certain theoretical persuasion have had a lot of fun (haven’t we?) trying to nail the influence of Italian gialli on the lucrative American stalk’n’slash cycle. Of course there were other antecedents (as, indeed the giallo had its own roots in e.g. Germany’s Edgar Wallace adaptations) and we’re looking at one of them right here. It has even been suggested (a suggestion which gets repeated in the bonus materials on this disc) that John Carpenter conceived (or “borrowed” the concept for) his massively-influential-in-its-own-right Halloween (1978) as a sequel to Black Christmas…

Clark (whose earlier genre credits included Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, 1972 and Dead Of Night, 1974) might or might not have been aware of Bava and Argento’s contemporary stylish efforts… there are shots in Black Christmas which strongly suggest that he was (I won’t insult the reader by spelling out precisely which ones I’m talking about… they’re clear enough) although it’s possible that he and Argento were just cribbing stuff from the same Fritz Lang movies. Whether as a result of studying Argento or not, Clark introduced… always a contentious claim… well, he certainly put considerable impetus behind the use of sinuous P.O.V. shots in subsequent North American slasher movies. To this end he and his camera crew improvised a primitive Steadicam before Steadicam was even invented. Cinematic influences are seldom a one way street and it’s difficult to watch the establishing glimpses of Lucio Fulci’s House By The Cemetery, wherein an external shot of a face at a window lap dissolves into a similar but not identical one, without concluding that Fulci has watched Black Christmas, or at least its closing moments.

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Clark incidentally inaugurated the trend (considerably less significant artistically than in marketing terms) here of tying these kill-by-numbers films into holiday set ups and special occasions (Halloween, Friday the 13th, St Valentine’s Day, et al… not to mention such inferior, albeit sometimes entertaining Xmas slay-rides as Carles E. Sellier Jr’s 1984 effort Silent Night, Deadly Night), also spawning a fertile filone of Sorority House Massacres while he was at it.

Horror and comedy (to invoke an adage so often restated that it’s become tantamount to cliché) are two sides of the same coin and it’s not hard to detect foreshadowings of Clark’s subsequent comic success with the likes of the Porky’s films in Black Christmas. Kidder’s drunken, potty-mouthed provocateur (who kids the dumbest cop in the picture that “fellatio” is a new telephone exchange) gives particularly good value for money but all of the major cast members (well, apart from the barely glimpsed Billy) contribute believable, believably imperfect and generally likeable characters. The female principals, in particular are strong-willed free spirits, polar opposites of their sketchy cinematic descendants in so many dreary “have sex and die” epics. The fact that you care for these people makes Black Christmas so much more than the bravura display of cinematic technique that it undoubtedly is. Clark is handsomely served throughout by his collaborators in front of and behind the camera, several of whom remember him with affection and admiration in the bonus materials assembled on this disc.

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Clark died with his son Ariel on 04/04/07, reportedly at the hands of an inebriated, uninsured driver, which just goes to prove the aforementioned Signor Fulci’s point that nothing a horror director can put on the screen is remotely as horrifying as the stuff that happens every day in real life.

101’s BD transfer of Clark’s finest hour is a bit grainy but that shouldn’t put you off this seminal and seriously chilling thriller. Like it says in the trailer: “If this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl… IT’S ON TOO TIGHT!”

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