Posts Tagged ‘Paranoia

17
Apr
16

Eraserhead (1977)

Wow. It’s been a good six months since I’ve graced these pages with my incoherent, babbling thoughts – apologies to those who care. Sometimes, life just gets in the way of this self-indulgence. In this case, I went and had a kid, and it has kicked my ass like nothing else in my life ever has. That shit they say about having kids is true: it changes everything.

Henry (Jack Nance) at one of the most uncomfortable, awkward family dinners I've ever seen on film.

Henry (Jack Nance) at one of the most uncomfortable, awkward family dinners I’ve ever seen on film.

Sure, I didn’t doubt that was the case, but I guess I didn’t grasp just how profoundly everything would change – including my perception of movies.

Like most people, I first saw David Lynch’s Eraserhead in college. Whatever copy they played us at one of the last gatherings of University of Pittsburgh’s Twin Peaks club (named Wounded in Pittsburgh, smirk) had Japanese subtitles. I remember having no fucking clue what it was I had just watched, and loving it for that reason. Over the years my memory of the movie faded, I mostly remembered it being an incredibly bizarre, outlandish and freaky nightmare starring a stunned Jack Nance. In the meantime I’d become intimately familiar with Lynch’s work, so that all seemed accurate to me.

Mary is having trouble feeding her little bundle of joy.

Mary is having trouble feeding her little bundle of joy.

For the uninitiated, Eraserhead is, in short, a story about an awkward couple in the early stages of a relationship. Though I find it difficult to imagine them having sex, they have, and they made a baby. But the baby was born extremely premature and is basically a fetus in bandages sleeping on a dresser. We watch in horror as the baby unravels whatever tenuous relationship the main characters (Henry & Mary) had. While that all sounds fairly straightforward, it isn’t. This is Lynch at his weirdest, so, suffice it to say there is a lot of freaky shit happening.

Of course in the 12 or so years since I’d first watched Eraserhead I often toyed with the idea of revisiting it, either through some Lynch marathon or inviting some square over just to scare the shit out of them with it, but it never happened. Not until I had a kid, and my husband couldn’t stop thinking: watching Eraserhead would be really freaky now. So on an evening where we had somehow had enough sleep to sit through a movie after getting the kid to bed herself, we did it.

And oh my god.

It was fucking hilarious.

I get it now. Eraserhead is a fucking comedy! Okay, until there’s that unmentionable violence. But, up until that point, oh my god! Hilarious! Yes, I have looked at my baby like she was an alien. Yes, I have convinced myself the baby was ill, only to find out she was fine, only to turn around and once again swear there is something wrong with her. Yes, I have shouted SHUT UP numerous times in the middle of the night due to my own lack of sleep! Yes, I have put the humidifier too close to her head. All these things that seem nightmarishly cruel are very true to the experience I had during the first few months of parenthood. Nail, head, et cetera.

That baby don't look right.

That baby don’t look right.

I don’t think I can give Eraserhead a star rating. Did I like it? Yes, I like it on two levels. The first is obvious: I like David Lynch, I like weird shit, and I like movies a lot, so of course it follows that I like Eraserhead. The second level is that I finally feel like I’m in on the joke, and it’s always more fun when you’re in on the joke. While it is true that a large portion of this movie remains an inexplicable nightmare, I feel like I finally understand the motivation behind it. All it took was becoming a parent! But how can I translate that into any kind of rating? Movies like Eraserhead don’t get rated. In David Lynch’s world, movies rate you. I mean, should you see Eraserhead? If you are over 25 and you haven’t already seen it, probably not. Unless, of course, you are a new parent. In which case, yes, you should. You should definitely see it. Like yesterday. If it doesn’t make you laugh, well, you probably have no sense of humor.

12
Oct
15

Puffball: The Devil’s Eyeball (2007)

Just a little over three years ago, I packed a bag and housesat in the middle-of-nowhere Montana for six weeks. With not much else to do, Q and I decided we’d watch at least a movie a day. Montana was also the catalyst for me to start blogging again; I’d actually started this blog a few years before that but let it languish, wilt and die. Anyway, we brought a giant binder of DVDs with us, and many DVDs went unwatched (like I said, giant binder). It occurred to us that October would be a fine time to pluck Nic Roeg’s Puffball: The Devil’s Eyeball from the binder and watch it.

Set in the Irish countryside, Puffball centers around Liffey, a young and successful architect who has taken on a project renovating an old, dilapidated cottage. She and her boyfriend Richard are eager to get started, when he unfortunately gets called away on business in New York. Luckily, they bone on an ancient rock (which is actually an altar to Odin, as explained by Donald Sutherland) before he heads out of town. Unluckily, the condom breaks. While Richard’s away, Liffey discovers she is pregnant, and she is not happy about it.

A slice of country heaven.

A slice of country heaven.

She has more than that to be unhappy about, though. Liffey’s closest neighbors are well-versed in ancient Druidic magic. Molly, the matriarch of the family, believes the baby Liffey is pregnant with was actually meant for her own daughter, Mabs (Miranda Richardson), who has been trying to get pregnant with a little boy for quite some time now, for reasons the film will cram down your throat. It’s not working out, and the local doctor refuses her fertility treatments saying she’s just too old to be a new mum. But Molly isn’t worried, she is fairly certain that her knowledge of magic, coupled with Mabs’ daughter Audrey’s natural powers can get the baby back to the right family. A little penis mushroom here, a little tainted alcohol there and voila! The baby will be in the right womb.

Nosy neighbors.

Nosy neighbors.

Well, unfortunately Molly and her witchy cohorts aren’t as in tune with Liffey’s pregnancy situation as they think. The lines get a little crossed, and their meddling causes some seriously bad mojo for everyone involved. Most of this is happening without Liffey even realizing it. But, in the end, Liffey decides to keep her baby, much to Mabs’ dismay, which leads to a very unsettling argument/labor situation that is DEFINITELY not something you want to watch if you are eight months pregnant!

Too old to breed.

Too old to breed.

I’m still not sure how I really feel about this movie. It definitely made me very uncomfortable, but how much of that has to do with my own pregnancy and imminent labor I can’t be sure. Certainly the idea that there are forces outside of us working to influence the outcome of a pregnancy is a terrifying one. What I for sure don’t like is the insatiable I-need-a-baby-now attitude that defines Miranda Richardson’s character. Sure, the film makes no bones about why Mabs feels this way, and I guess this was necessary to contrast Liffey’s I-definitely-don’t-want-a-baby-but-oops-accidentally-got-pregnant thing, but it really made me feel as though the filmmakers, or perhaps Fay Weldon, the author of the novel on which the film is based, think there are only two categories of women: those who wish to spawn, and those who don’t. That sort of dichotomy leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Life-changing sonogram.

Life-changing sonogram.

I have other problems with the film as well, but I’m afraid they’re mostly due to the budget Roeg had to work with. The film is very cheaply shot and reminds me of a throw-away television production. Sometimes I’m able to overlook stuff like this, but here I found the cheapness distracting. I also felt a lot of the special effects, which were also distractingly cheap, were used in very heavy-handed ways. I am sure there are other ways to convey a fire from back in the day to a film’s audience than showing the present-day object with flames overlaid on top. Over and over again. Oy. We get it.

Somewhere deep inside Puffball there is a good movie. Maybe even a great movie. But as it is now, I am not sure I liked it very much at all. It is thought-provoking, which is of course a positive thing, but there are so many smaller problems with the film that they take away from my ultimate read of the thing. Also, don’t be too excited to see Donald Sutherland’s name in the credits; he is only in two short scenes and that made me sad, too. For the most part though, the other actors do a good job of pulling their weight; they just don’t have much to pull.

08
Oct
15

Village of the Damned (1960)

When 2015 started I promised myself I’d read a lot of books this year. Now, here we are in October and I can say with certainty that however many books I’ve read so far doesn’t come anywhere close to anyone’s definition of “a lot.” Realizing this of course didn’t make me run to my reading nook, but instead prompted me to watch a film adaptation of one of the books I did read this year, John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos. After all, it is October, and what says Halloween more than a dozen creepy kids with glowing eyes?

Just a mysteriously-induced nap in the middle of the day for the whole town of Midwich

Just a mysteriously-induced nap in the middle of the day for the whole town of Midwich

Midwich is a small, forgettable village outside of London. New folks rarely show up, and when they do they’re often met with suspicion. Everyone that lives there has known everyone else for essentially their whole lives. There’s absolutely nothing remarkable about the place. That is, until all the residents of the town experience a strange, unexplained simultaneous black-out. Literally every living thing in the confines of the village falls asleep, right in the middle of what they’re doing, at exactly the same time. Scientists from neighboring villages are unable to pinpoint the cause, and when everyone wakes up seemingly normal, it is chalked up to a harmless oddity.

Unfortunately, it turns out not to be so harmless after all. It isn’t long until the local doctor starts to notice a disturbing trend: every single woman of child-bearing age is found to be pregnant. Some even claim to still be virgins. Not only that, the babies are growing at an alarming rate, causing the doctor and the town’s one intellectual, a writer named Zellaby, to question the origin of these babies…

Beware the children with the golden eyes!

Beware the children with the golden eyes!

A few months pass, and the women uneventfully give birth to the babies. Most are strong, and they seem normal, except for their weird golden eyes. It’s when they get older that the problems start to show themselves. They seem to exert a strange control over people to get what they want. Zellaby also discovers that what one toddler learns, the rest of the group learns without being present. They’re like a unit. A big, scary, evil, golden-eyed unit. What plans do they have in store for little old Midwich?

For a flick from 1960, Village of the Damned is pretty effectively freaky. Those shining golden eyes actually look pretty good, but the actors they cast (and those awful haircuts!) do a lot of the heavy-lifting when it comes to making the kids look super creepy. Unsurprisingly though, the film doesn’t have half the bite the book does.

Cross these kids and they'll make you blow your own brains out.

Cross these kids and they’ll make you blow your own brains out.

Clocking in at under 80 minutes, it doesn’t even really give itself the chance to tackle some of the subtleties that make the book so great. Not only that, the characters are kind of just there; there is no time for any of them to develop personalities. You still get a good dose of Cold-War era paranoia, especially with those kids acting all robotic and pretty much sharing a brain, but the book offers so much more than this skimpy film does.

So, is that what I get for reading the book first? It’s always so hard to put my expectations on the back burner and enjoy a film isolated from its source material. The bottom line is, the story this film tells is legitimately spooky, and done well enough. I have to admit I’m curious about John Carpenter’s 1995 version; I wonder if a more modern adaptation would be willing to take more risks than obviously the 1960 version could, or would, have wanted to. But I digress. In the end Village of the Damned is just allright; it’s the “light” version of a seriously creepy story. Cliche as it is, I have to say: the book was better.

12
Sep
15

The Creation of the Humanoids (1962)

creationposter_3Who doesn’t enjoy mid-century science-fiction? Maybe I like it so much because we are now decades-removed from the prevalent paranoia that serves as its backbone; because its post-apocalyptic future is our kitschy past. I can look back and laugh at its naiveté, misogyny and general short-sightedness because we’ve come so far, right?

Well, yeah, maybe not that last part. And of course, not all science fiction of this period is laughable; a lot of it is legitimately good stuff. I can’t really say that’s true for The Creation of the Humanoids though! This movie is a god damn laugh riot! Seventy-five minutes of paranoid plot exposition, twists and turns that make no sense, and my favorite: the dismissal of women, even if they’re robots!

The setting is a dismal future after the atomic war. To make up for the loss in human population and low birth rate due to radiation, humans created a new breed of robots. The humans couldn’t tolerate working next to a robot that looked like a machine, so scientists worked hard to create robots that look like humans. But as the robot population grows, so does the backlash against them. The Order of Flesh and Blood is a large, aggressive conservative organization hellbent on wiping those pesky ‘clickers’ off the face of the Earth!

Robots and humans in collusion... but WHY?!

Robots and humans in collusion… but WHY?!

Trouble rears its ugly head when one of the heads of the Order, Captain Kenneth Cragis (that’s The Cragis to you) finds out his sister Esme is ‘in rapport’ with a robot! Well, this certainly won’t go over well with the Gents in The Order, many of whom already envy Cragis’s high position. He best go set Esme straight, because that woman needs her brother to tell her what to do, right?!

Well, Esme is pretty headstrong and she’s not having it. But the good news for Cragis is, he meets Esme’s friend Maxine while he’s over at Esme’s place. Party at Esme’s… at 2:30AM… just ’cause, I guess. By 4AM, Cragis and Esme are planning to get married, or ‘contract with one another.’ Cragis is still bummed about Esme’s unwillingness to ditch her robot husband, but thrilled to have met and fallen in love with his future contractor in the span of an hour and a half! I mean, who wouldn’t be? But you and I know, of course, trouble lies ahead…

Oh, Creation of the Humanoids, what a glorious disaster of a time capsule you are. On the one hand, I have to

I just can't get over The Cragis's pants. LOOK AT THOSE AMAZING PANTS!

I just can’t get over The Cragis’s pants. LOOK AT THOSE AMAZING PANTS!

admire its attempt at a positive message: don’t hate people (or, I guess in this case, things) that are trying to help you; don’t shake your fist at the advance of science and technology because you’re only hurting yourself, that kind of thing. But then I wonder how its ending can actually be consistent with that message. And no, I’m not going to spoil it for you, because the ending is so awesomely sweet you need to see it for yourself.

The presentation and pacing of this film is baffling. As I noted before, it really is nothing but exposition. There is not a single thing left up to the viewer to figure out on her own. Our friendly robot serves as narrator for virtually the entire movie. There are very few scenes where the action tells us anything, and when it does, it’s explained to us anyway – just in case we missed it. But don’t worry, that doesn’t actually mean the film is boring! The running time is short enough and the costumes and effects fun enough to gawk at that the seventy-five minutes will fly by like nothing. It is definitely worth watching, but only if you’re in it for the right reasons. I mean, I guess the movie is sort of thought-provoking, but being that it’s 2015 and these were thought-provoking ideas in 1962… well it’s kind of stuff most of us have figured out by now. I suppose you could twist some of the ideas into issues we’re dealing with today; like maybe replacing robots with climate change or something like that but frankly this movie’s probably better taken for what it is: a plea to the folks of 1962 to embrace technology, even if it means losing ourselves in it. Which, I guess here in 2015 we already have?




Categories

Old Wave