Monday, May 31, 2010

But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)

The Movie: Megan Bloomfield (the talented Natasha Lyonne; of American Pie infamy among a great many other things) seems the average, well adjusted, all-American Christian girl. She’s a high-school senior and she loves cheerleading. She’s dating Jared (Brandt Wille), a handsome football player. She loves her parents and tries to do what she’s told she’s supposed to.

But things aren’t perfect, as she soon finds out. Megan doesn’t like kissing her boyfriend, and she fantasizes about the other cheerleaders. These and other little signs convince those around her that she is a lesbian. Megan’s parents (Bud Cort, and former John Waters regular Mink Stole) and her so-called friends arrange for an intervention with Mike (drag-queen actor, performer, model and song writer RuPaul; not in drag anywhere in this movie); an ex-gay and representative for True Directions, a homosexual rehabilitation camp. The end result of the intervention is that Megan gets shipped off to True Directions.

True Directions is a nightmarish place run by Mike and his boss, Mary (Cathy Moriarty, of many movies); where young people are taught to follow the “true role” that their gender has set for them. Shortly after she arrives, Megan realizes that she actually is gay. She immediately sets out to complete the program and rectify the problem.

Unfortunately, it’s not going to be anywhere as easy as she thinks it will be. Like any culture of deception, there is an undercurrent of deceit running through all of the social interactions at True Directions. To further complicate matters, Megan finds herself falling for Graham (Clea DuVall of the Faculty and the Astronaut’s Wife), the “bad girl” of the camp. Will Megan become what those in authority want her to be, or will she follow her heart instead?

The Review:
“If I ever catch any of you looking at another guy like that again, I’m going to make you watch sports. All weekend.”

But I’m a Cheerleader can probably be accurately described as a romantic comedy; but at the same time it’s one of those movies that can’t really be pigeonholed into any one particular genre. All of the tropes of the genre are there; the unlikely couple, the initial attraction, the realization of their romantic feelings, the external forces they have to struggle against if they want happiness. However, at the same time BIAC subverts many of those tropes. For one, the central couple is two women instead of the usual man and woman. More than this, But I’m a Cheerleader is a movie with a message; one that rises far above the romantic drama that is going on.

At its core, BIAC is about identity; being true to who you are as opposed to letting others define you. Our central character, Megan, does just that. Throughout most of the movie she is extremely passive, doing whatever others tell her to do, trying to be what she thinks they want her to be. At the beginning, her whole argument against the lesbian diagnoses is that she is not a lesbian because she doesn’t fit the role. She’s not butch; she’s Christian, and most of all she’s a cheerleader. Apparently there are no lesbian cheerleaders.

Even after she realizes that she is, in fact, a lesbian; Megan still doesn’t change her tune. Her initial reaction to it is to simply try harder to complete the program and be properly straight. Later on, when Lloyd and Larry (Wesley Mann and Richard Moll, respectively), two ex-ex-gays who are trying to subvert Mary’s program, help some of the kids sneak out to a gay nightclub; one gets the impression that Megan goes along not necessarily because she wants to, but because it’s what the other kids are doing.

Finally, when she is kicked out of True Directions for her and Graham consummating their love, and seeks refuge with Lloyd and Larry, Megan straight out tells them “I want you to teach me how to be a lesbian.” Again, she hasn’t really changed; she just figures that she’s a lesbian now and therefore needs someone to define the role for her. It isn’t until the very end, when Megan is about to lose the last thing in her life that she loves, that she stops being passive and takes control of her own life.

The casting, the acting and the characters are wonderful. One of the great things about BIAC is that, while it does play with the usual gay stereotypes, it makes it clear that there is far more to these people than the stereotype. One of the girls in the program doesn’t even belong; she’s really straight. It’s just that she likes softball and baggie clothes, isn’t as pretty as the other girls, and was molested at some point; so everybody assumes she’s gay.

It’s clear pretty quickly what side of the “can homosexuality be cured” question the movie falls on. Mike, the devotedly ex-gay authority figure, very obviously is attracted to Rock (Eddie Cibrian); Mary’s very muscular and attractive son. Rock very definitely does not fit any of the parameters of manliness that Mary espouses; and there is some strong suggestion that Mike’s attentions are reciprocated. Although it doesn’t go into it, some of Mary’s lines of dialogue suggest that she, herself, might lean a little toward the homo side of the fence.

Finally, But I’m a Cheerleader is hilarious. There is a really offbeat sense of humor throughout; and though there is some unpleasant stuff (it could just be me, but I find the “therapy” extremely disturbing), there’s never any doubt that things will turn out alright in the end. There are wonderful sight gags, dialogue, characters; I could go on. In short, But I’m a Cheerleader is a very fun, hilarious and uplifting movie.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Demoniacs (1973)

The Movie: Just before the credits, in a fashion that recalls the old swash-buckling movies, we are introduced to our villains. They are wreckers, a kind of pirate that preyed on sailing ships by luring them into dangerous waters and looting the wreck. Here we have a particularly bloodthirsty bunch.

The nominal leader is the Captain (John Rico), a vicious brute who is slowly but surely being overcome by guilt over his evil deeds, past and present. This makes him increasingly unstable. Next is Bosco (Willy Braque), who we are told intends to replace the Captain as the group’s boss. Then there is Paul (Paul Bisciglia), the cowardly drunk of the group. As the voiceover cleverly puts it “he is the most powerful, because all of the other three think he is on their side.”

Finally we have Tina (the gorgeous Joëlle Coeur), the Captain’s girlfriend and true boss of the wreckers. I would like to describe Tina as a sadistic bitch; but that would be both a gross understatement and a mean-spirited insult to sadistic bitches everywhere. Tina is behind all of the band’s worst atrocities; whether she is ordering the other wreckers to commit them, or demanding to commit them herself. The worse the deeds she is witness to (or involved in), the more turned on she gets. In short, Tina is a very nasty piece of work.

The story itself is simple; the wreckers’ latest atrocity brings unintended consequences. There are two survivors of their latest wreck (Lieva Lone and Patricia Hermenier, in their only film, and I have no idea which is which); but upon reaching shore they are brutally raped, beaten and left for dead by the pirates. However, they manage to elude their tormenters and escape to a mysterious ruin near the local village.

The ruin’s two inhabitants, a priest (I think [Ben Zimet]) and a woman dressed as a clown (Mireille Dargent, who also starred in Rollin’s Requiem for a Vampire) guard a demon who has been trapped in the ruins for centuries. Through his two servants the demon (Miletic Zivomir) offers the girls a deal; in return for freeing him (and sex, naturally) he will grant them the power to get their revenge. The consequences bring about tragedy, and the downfall of the wreckers.

The Review: In the past two or so years I have become familiar with the works of Jean Rollin; and he has rapidly become one of my favorite directors. However, I am always hesitant to suggest his movies to others. Rollin is a director who, whenever he can, goes his own way in his movies and tries to create his own unique visions. Even for fans such as myself, he is very hit or miss. When he misses, he can come across as incomprehensible and pretentious in the worst ways. However, whenever he’s successful, even if it’s only a partial success; Rollin creates experiences that are all the more wonderful for being so unique.

I have found that it helps to think of Rollin’s movies much in the way that one would think of a dream. Judged externally, they make little or no sense. But when taken on their own terms, they have their own internal logic. Indeed, one of the things Rollin is most noted for is his ability to create a sleepy, dreamlike atmosphere over the most bizarre, and sometimes brutal, happenings. Who knows, maybe that’s the man’s intention in the first place.

Demoniacs is one of Rollin’s better known films, and it certainly is a good reflection of his quirks and idiosyncrasies. While there are male characters, it is the females who are the most developed and the most important part of the story. There is gratuitous nudity; odd, and often irrelevant philosophical tangents; some really bad dialogue and parts of the plot that really don’t make sense. There are gorgeous camera shots, a woman dressed like a clown (Rollin seems to have a thing for women dressed like clowns in his movies), and an overall dreamlike, otherworldly atmosphere hanging over everything. In short, except for the lack of vampirism, Demoniacs has pretty much everything one can expect from a Rollin movie.

The very best part of the film would have to be Joëlle Coeur as Tina the wrecker. Coeur was a French actress who did sexploitation and B-movies for eight years during the 1970s. According to Rollin in an interview, she left the movie scene entirely when hardcore came along; apparently not wanting anything to do with it. It’s a shame that she had so few movies, and so few of those are unavailable today, because Coeur was truly a good actress.

For one thing, Coeur had a marvelous command of the physical side of acting. No, not in the way you’re thinking; I mean that she had an amazing knack for conveying emotion using just her body and facial expressions. She’s probably the best actor in this movie (maybe the only real actor) and she dominates and steals every scene she’s in. All the male wreckers, as presented, are two-dimensional cartoon characters. The role of Tina could have been as well, but Coeur’s presence and charisma and physical acting lift it far above that level. She’s believable, she’s sexy, she’s entertaining in a way none of the other parts or actors in the movie can hope to match. She’s also scary as all hell.

The others do their parts. The two girls playing the victims/avenging ghosts do alright; if nothing else they look eerie sometimes. Since they’re mute throughout nearly the entire movie, just looking eerie works. Apparently Rollin wanted the Castel Twins for the part, but he couldn’t get them. It’s a real shame, the Castel Twins would have been wonderful; but the available actresses do an adequate job.

So the big question; why do I like the movie? I’ve been trying to come up with an answer the whole time I’ve been writing this, and still nothing. Admittedly, just looking at Demoniacs’ individual parts is a mixed bag. On the one hand you have some truly beautiful, haunting shots; Joëlle Coeur’s phenomenal talent (and she’s also nude a lot, if you’re into that sort of thing); an engrossing atmosphere and a somewhat intriguing storyline. On the other hand you have an obvious low budget, bad dialogue, some meandering plotwise, and a good deal of confusion if you’re looking for anything like a conventional movie. That said, I’m still not sure what the spark is that raises the whole above the sum of its parts. Maybe it’s just Joëlle Coeur. But then, as per usual, I am a bit taken with her.

In conclusion, if you’re looking for something different and you don’t mind copious nudity, mildly graphic sex and a few fairly brutal scenes; you should definitely check out Demoniacs. If those things put you off, or if you want anything like a conventional movie, story or plot; then avoid this one.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Terminator Salvation (2009)

The Movie: It's 2018, after the machines have pretty much destroyed civilization as we know it and the human Resistance is struggling to survive against them. John Conner clashes with the official leaders of the Resistance, and struggles to save Kyle Reese, a teenage who will one day go back in time and become his father. Also, a criminal from 2003 who volunteered his body for some major experiment wakes up in this nightmare age, stumbles into the Resistance, and finds out that he's not quite human anymore.

The Review: First the good. The special effects are wonderful. The settings are beautiful and the machines are well designed. My personnel favorites were these nasty snake-like things that turn up everywhere at the least convenient times. A lot of things blew up and/or got smashed. Also, there were a few lines and moments I found amusing; ditto some homages from the earlier films.

The bad: My major gripe was with the human element. First of all, this was your typical Hollywood big-budget, PG-13, feel-good family action flick. Basically, for a violent movie, it's really toned down. These kinds of movies work on suspense, and I didn't feel any suspense or worry for the characters we're supposed to like, because I knew nothing bad would happen to any of them. Of course, the hero couldn't die, nor any of the love interests, or the obnoxious teenager who will become John Conner's father. Very few of even the R-rated horror films these days will cack a kid, so the little girl will be alright. In short, whatever happens to our "heroes," they will suffer no lasting ill effects from it in the end. It makes it very hard to care about them.

Also, like most Hollywood films, there was no real depth. There were plenty of opportunities throughout the plot to do something complex, ambiguous or thought provoking; but they were never used. The plot always took the simplest, cookie-cutter route throughout the movie. For example; our machine man. There were plenty of chances after he learned his true nature for him to suffer a crisis of identity, possibly consider switching sides. After all, most of the humans didn't give him any reason to care about them after they figured out what he was. I know, were I in his place, I probably would have seriously considered hand-feeding them to the machines personally. But you know from the beginning he won't sell out, so a potential source of suspense falls flat and comes to nothing. Even when it's revealed that he has some sort of brain-control device in his head, he just removes it without any effort at all.

My final complaint applies to all the Terminator sequels. When James Cameron made the first Terminator, he made a very good, competent, suspenseful film. However, it was also a closed circle; it really had no place for a sequel. It's revealed in the end that Skynet's little stunt with time travel is really an exercise in futility; because it's that stunt that brings about the very enemy Skynet is trying to destroy in the first place. Because Reese, the man who turns out to be John Conner's father, is sent back in time, Conner is born. In fact, the movie suggest very strongly that Conner knew full well who Reese was, and manipulated him into volunteering for what both knew was a suicide mission, so that he would be born. Rather disturbing when you think about it.

The other element is Sarah, John's mother. At the start of the movie she is your average, mildly flaky, not particularly ambitious young woman who is beaten down by the world in general. However, she does have hidden depths which are brought out by the situation she finds herself in. If the Terminator hadn't been sent back to kill her, then she wouldn't have become the intelligent, clever, resourceful young woman that could teach her son what he needed to know to defeat the machines. In short, when the movie ends, even though the story itself isn't over, it's pretty clear that there's nothing left to tell. Despite Skynet's best effort, the future is fixed and it is impossible to change it; Skynet will destroy civilization, and John Conner will destroy Skynet. As a result, the other movies feel forced, because they pretty much destroy that continuity.

Time travel is always a risky plot device because it plays hell with cause and effect, but Cameron handled it very well by creating that loop. This leaves the sequels at a disadvantage; they either screw up what Cameron did in the original movie, or, if they go by Cameron's original premise, then there's no room for suspense because you know the villains will just fail anyway. The sequels do have their moments, and I do watch them. However, I also own and have watched a copy of the Vanilla Ice movie, so that's not much of a recommendation. In short, as a way to waste a few hours this movie's okay. As anything even remotely resembling art, not even close.

Last American Virgin (1982)

The Movie: Gary, Rick and David are best friends who do everything together; particularly when it comes to trying to get laid. Rick is especially good at this. He's a manipulative creep and the kind of guy who will schtup anything female; which wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the fact that he always seems to succeed at it. The three are very close, but it all changes with the arrival of the new girl, Karen.

Gary encounters Karen and it's love at first sight. Unfortunately, she winds up with Rick. The friendship is strained as Gary burns with unrequited love while Rick is determined to turn Karen into one of his conquests. Then she gets pregnant...

The Review:
Ah, high school. I'm not far from my ten year reunion as of writing this, and I still remember much from my high school years. I try to suppress, but still I remember. I went into The Last American Virgin because I was looking for movies starring the lovely and talented Diane Franklin; one of my reasons for wanting to break the laws of time and space. What I got was something that reopened many of the scars still seared onto my brain and soul.

I think the best way to describe The Last American Virgin is as a bait and switch movie. By that I mean that you go in thinking that it's one thing, and it turns out to be something very different. From the box, the theatrical preview, and even the beginning of the movie itself; you would think you are watching a teenage sex comedy. That's pretty much how it plays for the first thirty minutes or so. Past that, it shows its teeth as something much darker.

Everything that you would expect from a teen sex comedy is there. Our three protagonists are introduced as your typical heroes in these movies: three red-blooded American boys who just want to get laid. They go through all sorts of wacky shenanigans to reach that hallowed goal; most of which do not turn out as expected. There is a soundtrack of the big contemporary pop songs of the time; although somehow they actually fit in nicely. And, of course, there are all sorts of tasteless jokes; my personnel favorite involving the boys' gym class holding a bet on who has the largest penis.

LAV's greatest strength is the accuracy with which it shows adolescent life. Not necessarily in the really big plot points, some of which are improbable, but in the little details. Our hero, Gary (Lawrence Monoson, who went on to be in Friday the 13th part IV, poor bastard) first meets the girl of his dreams (Diane Franklin) at a diner that seems to be the main hangout spot. Actually he sees her, but even when she notices and smiles, he can't do anything but stare and drool. She leaves, and he goes to meet his friends, who we now get to see in action.

Action, of course, is exactly what they're after. Rick has his eye on three girls who he has heard are easy. He invites them over to the boy's table, and automatically there is awkwardness all around. Despite Gary's protests, the boys lure the girls back to his house with the promise of a party and drugs. Of course, the boys don't have drugs, so they give the girls some artificial sweetener and tell them it's cocaine. The girls are fooled, which makes me suspect that like the boys, they're putting on a front and have no idea what they're talking about.

Rick puts the moves on the most attractive girl and gets her into the bedroom. David follows suit, and Gary is left with the least attractive of the three girls. Another scene follows that is both funny and uncomfortable. Gary, who never wanted any of this in the first place, feels compelled to put the moves on the remaining girl. She, who was just as eager as Gary (i.e. not at all), tries to deflect him with feigned apathy. I don't know who the actress was, but I really hope she did other movies after this one because her facial expressions and body language are wonderful. She doesn’t say a word, but just by looking at her face you know exactly what she is thinking.

The movie really gets down to business with the establishment of the love triangle. After finding out that his dream girl is a new student at his school and learning her name, he “arranges” a meeting with her. It ends with him thinking he might have a chance; but at the party he attends that night he finds that Rick has already gotten to her. It's obvious that if they aren't an item, they soon will be. In another scene that could have been played for laughs but instead is just uncomfortable; Gary reacts by getting drunk, embarrassing himself both at the party, and in front of his parents and their friends at home.

Now, I've met guys like Rick (Steve Antin, who played Troy in Goonies and is apparently an executive producer for the Pussycat Dolls) before. Personally, they tend to simultaneously inspire three emotions in me; disgust, for what they do, envy, for the fact that they are able to do it and I'm not, and guilt for feeling the envy. Gary is probably feeling something similar, along with the usual tangled emotions that come with your good friend being involved with someone you’re interested in. Finally; Gary cares for Karen and he knows what Rick is; as well as what Rick will do with Karen once he loses interest.

The movie makes no bones about the fact that Rick's a slimy manipulative bastard. He manipulates everyone, including his “best friends,” to get what he wants. Gary is in the horrible position of knowing the train wreck is coming, but being unable to do a thing about it.

So, the majority of the movie focuses on this twisted triangle. Gary desperately searches for a way to win Karen away from Rick before he gets too far, to no avail. There is the further complication that Karen's best friend, Rose (Kimmy Robertson, who would later play Lucy in the television show Twin Peaks, and be the voice of Milhouse's girlfriend on an episode of the Simpsons) is very hot for Gary. Gary has no interest in her, but for some reason Karen and Rick are determined to get them together.

About halfway through, the movie changes tone completely and jettisons any appearance of being a comedy. As an example, a comparison of two of the boys' sexual (mis)adventures should suffice. Near the beginning of the movie; the three boys pay a visit to a beautiful, amorous, foreign, older lady whose boyfriend has been away for far too long. Now, while an older woman seducing underage boys is a creepy idea, that creepiness is nowhere in sight here. Indeed, the scene pretty much is in the spirit of a European sex farce, complete with the long absent boyfriend choosing that moment to return to the woman in his life. There is cheerful music (Carmela, the woman, plays some tango music to get in the mood), t&a, vulgar humor and a general spirit of good-natured fun. The only off note in this, which I think is a very nice touch, is Gary and David's nervousness about the situation.

The second encounter, taking place about half-way through the movie, couldn't be more different. The three boys patronize a prostitute. She's okay looking, in a really trashy way, but she has an attitude that ensures I wouldn't touch her with a ten-foot pole if she was a knockout. The deed is done in an extremely dirty, gloomy basement. There is no t&a; in fact, you don't see anything about the act at all. Instead, you just hear the prostitute yelling at and insulting the boys while she concludes her business with them. It is about as unarousing a sex scene as I have ever come across in a movie; a point driven home by Gary throwing up after his turn with her.

Of course, it's even worse than it first appears; the next day, the boys find out that they have crabs. The scenes of the boys trying to get rid of them are played for laughs, but it's a queasy, uncomfortable kind of laughter. This also marks the last of the jokes in the film; it's deadly serious from here on.

Karen gets pregnant and the inevitable happens; Rick abandons her. Gary sees his turn to shine, and takes it. Gary goes above and beyond anything anybody could ever ask or expect of him. Carefully keeping it discrete, he arranges for an appointment for Karen at a clinic and raises the money himself to pay for it. It goes well and it looks like Gary might have what he's looking for, but.... Well; without giving away any details I will just say that the end of the movie left me feeling like somebody sucker-punched me in the gut. I've seen the Last American Virgin at least three times now, and knowing what happens doesn't make it easier.

The actors provide good performances all around. Monoson makes Gary very believable and sympathetic, even when he's being an asshole; something all teenagers are at times. Antin also makes Rick believable, doing a good portrayal of a guy who, beneath all the good looks and charm, is simply a manipulative slime bag. Robertson doesn't have a large part as Rose, but her portrayal of the character reminds me of many girls I knew in high school and college.

The IMDB says that LAV is Diane Franklin's first film. Karen's is a very simple role, just an ordinary teenage girl who can't, or won't, see the misery that's coming. Franklin doesn't really have any opportunity to show the versatility she has in her later roles, but she still is a hell of an actress. If nothing else, she emotes well. Whether it's happy, miserable, love struck or what have you; whenever the part calls for her to portray an emotion she is very believable. Another things she has going for her is her appearance. She is gorgeous (it's obvious why Gary and Rick are interested in her), but she doesn't look like a starlet or super-model. Instead, she has the look of someone us mere mortals could expect to someday meet (knock on wood), which adds greatly to her believability.

Admittedly, the character of David (Joe Rubbo, who didn't do too many other movies) is kind of shuffled off to the side, but he is still a good character and an important part of the film. David is fat, but is not “The Fat Kid” you see in so many other teenage movies. There is some humor at his expense (he has a tendency to be in a compromising position when the worst person possible enters the room) but the fact that he is fat is presented as just a very minor part of who he is. For one thing, David is generally lucky with the ladies. Not as much as Rick, but much more so than Gary. Also, from his constantly taking down transactions in a notebook, he gives the impression of a budding businessman. A successful one too, judging from the fact that the guys are constantly bumming money off of him.

Finally, while he's not part of the love triangle forming, the movie implies pretty strongly that David knows full well what is going on between his friends. In fact, one gets the impression that he's doing everything he can to keep the situation from boiling over. It's not a major part of the movie, but it definitely adds to it.

I would say that the Last American Virgin is a good movie. Aside from the good acting, plot and setups; I respect the movie for portraying adolescence more honestly than most teenage movies are willing to do. After all, those of us not blinded by nostalgia will remember that this time of life is hell. LAV is willing to deal with those lessons that are pounded into our heads during adolescence that we really don't want to think about. Life is unfair. You don't always succeed. It is possible to give your all and still fail. You don't always get what you deserve.

I would definitely recommend this movie. However, I will repeat my warning from the beginning of this review; this is not a brainless teen sex romp or a feel-good romantic comedy. Do not watch the Last American Virgin if you are depressed, upset or otherwise in need of something uplifting. You have been warned.

Inglorious Basterds (2009)

The Movie: During World War 2, a small band of Jewish, American soldiers is put together and sent into Europe early. Calling themselves the Inglorious Basterds, their mission is to wage guerrilla warfare on the Nazi army and strike fear into their hearts. This they do very well.

The Basterds become involved in a joint American/British mission. A premiere of the latest great patriotic movie put together by Joseph Goebbels is showing; and all the Nazi bigwigs will be there. This provides a great opportunity to eliminate them all in one stroke. Unfortunately, the Basterds louse up the plan, resulting in the elimination of the key players. As a result the remaining Bastards, very much less than ideal for the mission, have to complete it themselves.

Of course, more is going on than they know. Due to the infatuation the star of the movie has for the owner of a small theater, the premiere has been moved there. Unknown to any of the other players, the theater's owner is a Jew who watched her family get gunned down before she escaped. She has her own plans for burning down the theater with the Nazis in it.

The Review:

“He who fights with monsters must beware, lest in doing so he should, himself, become a monster. Whenever you gaze into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146

This new flick by Quentin Terantino is a remake of a film from the 1970s. Ironically, I actually saw the original only a few weeks before I saw my first preview for the remake. I pretty much expected it to be very different, which it was; although I was a little surprised at how they kept a bit of the original plot in. However, I also found this to be a very disturbing movie for several reasons.

First, I will point out the movie's merits before I tear into it. Technically, it was a very well done movie. The plot, for all its different points, was fairly cohesive. There were also two very good actors. The first was Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine; the leader of the Basterds. He wasn't utilized enough, but he presented a very engaging character.

The second good role was that of the main antagonist; Col. Hans Landa, the “Jew-Hunter,” as played by Christoph Waltz. I don't know whether the part was written specifically with Waltz in mind, or if he was just good enough to make the part his own; but the combination of both writing and acting create a truly wonderful villain. In my humble opinion, he was the best part of the movie.

As a nemesis for all he sets his attention on, he is charming, deceptive, and dangerously clever. Among other things, he has an amazing talent for languages; constantly switching back and forth at the most inconvenient times for his opponents. My favorite part is probably when he is confronting the team on their mission; and the remaining Basterds are pretending to be Italian because some of them speak a little bit of very bad Italian, but no German. It is a desperate ploy, and even more so when Landa, upon being told they are Italian, addresses them in the language very fluently.

That's the good. I have two major problems with the movie. My first is that the movie basically rewrites history. Now, I'm not as disturbed about it as some people are, but it does bother me a little bit. Yeah, I know, it's not very satisfying to think that Hitler suicided in the bunker where he was hiding. Getting machine-gunned down by a Jewish, American soldier is the way it should have happened. The poetic justice is preferable to the ignominious reality.

Unfortunately, most people in this country know so little history as is; and more disturbing, big budget Hollywood movies are where they tend to pick up what they do know. As George Santayana so aptly put it, those who can't remember the past are doomed to repeat it. What's worse, revisionist history erases those lessons, and only teaches lessons that the people want to believe; not what they need to realize. Don't believe me, look at the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks. They were almost entirely based upon a mythical history the leaders wanted to believe, and not the actual events of the past that we should have examined. The huge mess this country is in right now as a result should serve as proof for my argument.

Now my main gripe with this movie, and what disturbed me the most about it. My biggest passion in life is stories, I have studied them all my life in as many forms as I could find. Our species thinks in symbols, which is basically what stories are. A story is a way to get a message across using symbols, in a way that speaks directly to our subconscious and emotions.

One of the most important lessons I have learned on the subject is that how a story is told tells you a lot about the target audience, and a whole hell of a lot more about the storyteller. The reason I couldn't bring myself to truly like Inglorious Basterds is because the message it seems to be conveying is one that I have long found to be both repulsive and terrifying. The message is this: if you are with the Good Guys, and the people you are fighting are Evil, then you can do whatever you want to them and still be in the right.

I would like to refer you to the Nietzsche quote I begin this review with. Basically it means that when you fight evil, you are at risk of becoming evil. The moment you start acting like your enemy, you've turned into your enemy, if not something worse. In short, most of the “heroes” in this movie are monsters. They shoot, stab, bludgeon, blow-up and torture not only Nazis, but innocents who happen to be in the way as well. At one point Raine even tortures a woman who is his ally. I know the Nazis were evil, I'm not disputing that; but isn't that very behavior the reason we were supposed to be fighting them in the first place?

One thing that Terantino does, that normally I would say is admirable but just adds another disturbing element to an already disturbing movie, is to show that the Nazi rank and file are, overall, just ordinary guys doing what they think is right. At one scene, the “heroes” meet their contact for the mission in a bar, where at the other table a German soldier is celebrating the birth of his first child. Of course, his guts are splattered all over the bar by the end. I do think, however, that this illustrates my point. These wars are always mainly fought by individuals who don't really know what's going on, but believe what their leaders tell them. The worst deeds in history were committed by people convinced that they were in the right, either nationally or individually. The road to Hell is, after all, paved with good intentions.

There is one scene that I think sums this up. Near the climax, the Nazi bigwigs are all gathered in a theater to watch a patriotic war movie about inspiring deeds performed by one of their own soldiers. What got me is that the movie they are watching and cheering over is exactly like at least half a million patriotic, inspiring, nationalistic war movies made in the U.S. The only difference is that if it were one of our movies, it would be an American soldier in the bell-tower sending a vastly larger enemy force fleeing. I don't know if Tarantino did it on purpose, or if it was just an accident, but this scene really makes a good point about patriotism and propaganda.

Unfortunately, that point is lost in the rest of the movie. I find Inglorious Basterds disturbing on so many levels because it is, at its core, another propaganda piece. We're Good, They're Evil. Therefore, We can do no wrong, whatever heinous deeds We wind up performing to fight Them. This is a mindset that is behind much of what is wrong with humanity, and I have trouble enjoying a movie that seeks to further that mindset.

Fright Night (1985)

The Movie: Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale) is a more or less ordinary teenager who just wants to survive high school, watch his horror movies, and eventually get into his girlfriend Amy’s (Amanda Bearse, later of Married With Children) pants. Not necessarily in that order. Unfortunately, he finds himself with a very unordinary problem. It all starts when his new neighbor, Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon of the Princess Bride, Child’s Play, and many, many other movies), moves in.

This new neighbor is weird. The first night Charlie catches a glimpse of him, Dandrige and his roommate, Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), are carrying a coffin into the basement. Then he notices a parade of beautiful women, usually prostitutes, who go into the house only to be found murdered later. Then finally one night, while Charlie is using binoculars to look through the neighbor’s window; he sees Dandrige grow fangs and bite one of said women on the neck. Charlie realizes that he is living next door to a vampire.

Unfortunately, Charlie seems powerless to do anything about it. His efforts to tell someone only manage to convince Dandrige that he is a threat. Charlie’s mother and friends think he’s losing his mind; and after his first attempt to get the police after Dandrige, they want nothing more to do with him. In desperation Charlie turns to his hero, the actor Peter Vincent (the late Roddy McDowall, of Planet of the Apes, Class of 1984, Lassie Come Home, and the gods only know how many other movie and television roles), who is famous for his roles as “the Great Vampire Slayer” and hosts Fright Night, a horror movie TV show. Unhappily for Charlie, Peter Vincent doesn’t believe in vampires any more than anybody else.

It all comes to a head when Charlie’s best friend, “Evil” Ed (Stephen Geoffreys, of 978-EVIL, who later went on to do a lot of gay porn), and Amy employ Peter Vincent to help show Charlie that Dandrige isn’t really a vampire; a plan Dandrige eagerly goes along with. On that night, Peter sees something that convinces him that Charlie may be right after all; while Dandrige discovers that Amy is the doppelganger of some long lost love of his. He also finds a piece of Peter’s mirror, and realizes that his cover has been blown. With Ed changed into a vampire, and Amy in Dandrige’s clutches; Charlie and Peter have only each other to turn to in their struggle to destroy the monster before he destroys them.

The Review: I have been a student of folklore most of my life; and I have long found the vampire to be extremely fascinating. Probably most fascinating is the evolution he has taken in the popular mindset. All cultures have some form of vampire like being, some of them extremely bizarre. However, the originator of our modern day vampire is probably from the middle ages; essentially an avatar of the plagues that were the terror of the time.

The first major influence on our popular image of the vampire first came around the end of the nineteenth century with Bram Stoker and his novel Dracula. Universal Studios and Bella Lugosi immortalized some of the elements Stoker introduced, as well as introducing a few more of their own, in the 1930s. Bella Lugosi remained the main image of the vampire through the end of the twentieth century, when it started to undergo another major evolution, this time into something really sexy and cuddly. The shameful end to this evolution (or perhaps devolution would be more accurate) is Twilight and its ilk, with sparkly, sexy, tragically hip “vampires” that really don’t mean to do any harm. It boggles the mind to try to envision it getting any worse, although human ingenuity has proven to be extremely competent in that regard.

I started losing patience long ago with Lugosi pastiches, and have never had much patience to begin with toward the tragically sexy vampires. So, it’s interesting that while Fright Night dips its toe into both fetid pools, it remains one of my favorite movies. Dandrige’s strengths and weaknesses are all from the Universal Studio days. Likewise, Dandrige is the sexiest vampire I have ever seen on a movie screen (at least in regards to male vampires), and I do not mind saying it because it’s the truth. However, it works because the rest of the movie is so good. Tom Holland, who directs the movie, uses these elements; but he uses them well, and he makes sure that they aren’t all there is.

Let’s start with the element that makes or breaks movies of this type: the vampire himself. Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandrige is the best part of the movie, and essentially carries it. Much of this has to do with the script and the character; but I cannot imagine anybody but Sarandon doing this part and it being even the tiniest fraction as good as it is. In short, Sarandon creates a vampire that is believable on all levels; dangerous, charming, sexy, and scary.

For the first half of the movie, the horror comes from Charlie’s being all alone against a threat that holds all the cards. Dandrige plays a cat and mouse game with Charlie that Charlie is always on the losing end of. That Sarandon plays such a multi-faceted role, and plays it so well is nothing short of amazing; he simultaneously plays Dandrige both as how Charlie sees him and how other people with Charlie see him, and he pulls it off beautifully. There are scenes where Dandrige and Charlie are in the same room with somebody else, and Dandrige speaks to Charlie with phrases that, to him, are obvious and blatant threats; but are innocuous enough that nobody else picks up on them (“That’s right Charlie, you’ve already caused your friends enough pain. You wouldn’t want to cause them any more, would you?”). And it’s convincing from both ends.

Likewise, when Dandrige attacks he’s equally convincing; whether quietly threatening or all out savage monster. For the most part it’s Sarandon’s screen presence that sells the roll; when he is on screen you just can’t take your eyes off him. The scene where the major characters all meet for the first time is probably the best example. There is a buildup; Billy Cole calls out that company is here, and simply responds to Peter’s comment that maybe he didn’t hear him with just “he heard all right.” To describe what follows to you would make it so anticlimactic as to seem funny; Sarandon comes down the stairs eating an apple. Yet, he’s got such presence that it instead seems damn impressive. It’s easy to see why the rest of the cast can’t take their eyes off of him; the audience is reacting the same way.

There is one more fear that Dandrige plays on; and it is such an integral part of the plot that I’m surprised I haven’t seen more on it in other reviews. In essence Dandrige represents a fear that all men face at some point in their lives; the fear of losing your significant other to somebody who is superior to you in everything. Once Dandrige starts gunning for Amy; the real threat Charlie faces becomes simply that he’s losing her to Dandrige. The fact that Dandrige is an evil vampire who will probably turn her into something like himself, and kill Charlie, suddenly becomes a minor detail in comparison.

A classic part of the vampire film is where the vampire goes after the love interest. Where Fright Night is different is in how it handles it. In most of the movies the vampire has the heroine under some kind of supernatural trance or domination. Not Dandrige, though.

Now, how do I put this… simply, I am straight. That’s something I’ve never doubted, nor has anyone who has known me. It puts me in the minority in my social circle even, but it’s something me, my family and my friends have always taken for granted. Now, when I tell you that I find Sarandon a major turn-on in this role, that should tell you something. If he can have that effect on a red-blooded heterosexual, then what chance does a mousy teenage girl have against his charms? Exactly.
And that’s what Fright Night does so beautifully; Amy’s attraction to Dandrige has no supernatural compulsion behind it whatsoever. In fact, in the scene in the nightclub where Dandrige finally makes his move on her; she’s teasing, flirting with and manipulating him. And doing it very successfully I might add. Even after she realizes what Dandrige is, it’s clear that Amy is not at all unwilling about his advances. The movie also makes it clear from the very beginning that even if it weren’t for the whole demonic bloodsucker thing, Dandrige is not a man you want anywhere near your significant other; whatever their gender. For us guys, that turns him into a whole different kind of nightmare entirely.

The final major element about Dandrige that I found impressive was how the movie fleshed him out. First, it’s obvious that he has a back story; but we never hear it. Although the fact that he has lots of old pictures of what could be Amy’s identical twin quite rightfully makes us fear that the movie will use that hoariest of clichés, the immortal’s reincarnated love; it actually turns out to be a very minor part of the plot. It just provides a reason for Dandrige to be interested in Amy in the first place. We never find out her name, or what their relationship was, or anything. All Dandrige ever says on the subject is “she’s somebody I used to know, a long, long time ago.”

Also, there are a few throwaway lines Dandrige gives that seem to indicate he’s not completely happy with who he is or what he’s done. In his first confrontation with Charlie, Dandrige tells him: “I’m going to give you something I don’t have, a choice.” Similarly, when he seduces and vamps Ed, he tells him, sounding very sincere and sympathetic: “I know what it’s like to be different.” These small touches help to round him out, and make him believable. They even make him sympathetic, but the movie very deftly avoids the catastrophic mistake (i.e. Francis Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula) of making him so sympathetic you’re left unsure as to whether you should be cheering for or against him. The movie never loses sight of the fact that Jerry Dandrige is a dangerous monster; and the fact that we can feel some sympathy for him just makes us wonder what we’re capable of ourselves.

One more small detail, one I probably don’t need for this review; but I just like it. Dandrige has a few quirks that don’t serve much, if anything, for the plot; but just make him seem more human. The main one is that he likes apples; almost every time he comes on the screen he’s either eating an apple, or Billy Cole tosses him one to eat. Also, he whistles “Strangers in the Night” a lot.

Now, the other major pillar for the move; our fearful vampire hunters. The thing I really like about Charlie Brewster and Peter Vincent is that they complement each other. Each is an individual with his own strengths and flaws, and yet Peter’s strengths make up for Charlie’s weaknesses and vice versa. In short, they need each other to succeed.

I suspect that Peter is supposed to become some kind of father figure to Charlie. Charlie obviously doesn’t have a father in his life. He never comes up, so we never learn what happened with him, but he is very conspicuous by his absence. However, a throwaway line from Charlie’s mother near the beginning suggests that she’s had bad luck involving men.

In that light, it’s interesting that once Peter joins Charlie in his fight against Dandrige; he starts performing typical fatherly duties. At least, as typical as anything can be when you’re fighting a vampire. During the battle he’s constantly trying to rein Charlie in when he goes off half cocked, and he interposes himself between Charlie and Dandrige several times.

Charlie is a more or less normal teenager. He’s not one of the in-crowd, but he’s not an outcast either. In fact, the only unusual thing about him is his interest in horror movies. The majority of Charlie’s strengths and weaknesses actually stem from the fact that he’s a kid, and therefore thinks and acts like a kid.

In the weaknesses column, Charlie tends to be impulsive and not think things through. For example; one of the first things he tries to do when he finds out about Dandrige is to get the police after him. Not a bad idea; but most of us in the audience will get a sinking feeling when we see how he does it. Charlie brings an officer over to Dandrige’s house and seeks a confrontation. Of course, it goes badly; especially when Charlie gets frustrated about Billy Cole’s evasion and insists that Dandrige is a vampire. This only serves to alienate the police and tip his hand to Dandrige.

However, that impulsiveness and single-mindedness does grant some of Charlie’s strengths. First of all, he knows what he is facing and he knows what has to be done. Despite all the pressure from everyone around him, Charlie hasn’t matured enough yet to close his mind to what’s right in front of his eyes just because people tell him it can’t happen. It’s also what poses the threat to Dandrige; Charlie will make mistakes, but he’s not going to give up until he’s dead or otherwise permanently incapacitated. Charlie may make a lot of mistakes, but Dandrige only needs to make one.

It should also be noted Dandrige’s reactions to crosses. Whenever Peter confronts him with one, Dandrige will only laugh, and mock him and tell him he needs faith for it to work on him. You’ll notice Charlie never has this problem.

As for Peter Vincent; Peter is an intelligent, thoughtful, and innovative. He knows more about vampires than even Charlie. Admittedly he’s also something of a coward. However, like with Charlie being the kid, most of Peter’s strengths and weaknesses come simply from him being the grownup.

On the weakness side, Peter has the typical closed mind that society tends to pass off as maturity. He knows vampires don’t exist, so he reflexively disregards the thought of one in town. When Reality rudely intrudes to show him otherwise, his initial reaction is to curl up into a little ball and have a breakdown; and he still has a little bit of trouble accepting what’s going on.

But, when it comes to strengths, his biggest asset to Charlie is that he is able to bring grown-up thought to the table. Unlike Charlie, Peter plans and thinks things through before acting. For example, when Charlie goes to Dandrige’s house for the endgame; all he brings with him are one wooden stake, a hammer, and the tiny cross he keeps in his pocket. Peter on the other hand not only brings extra stakes, crosses and a mallet; but he also packs a flashlight and a revolver to use on Billy Cole.

As well, once in the house it’s Peter who solves the less direct obstacles; such as getting Charlie out of a locked room without Dandrige hearing, or getting at Dandrige in his coffin when he’s locked it from the inside. Peter is also the one who keeps Charlie going with encouragement when it finally reaches the point where it’s too much for him.

Two other characters I would like to address: Billy Cole and “Evil” Ed. Billy Cole is just the vampire’s human henchman for the most part, so he doesn’t have a large part. However, Stark does a wonderful job of having him both pleasant seeming, and subtly threatening.

As for Ed, he interests me because he’s someone (many someones, actually) who I recognize from my own high school experiences. Unlike Charlie, Ed is an outcast. His nickname, Evil, and the fact that it is obviously not a nickname he carries willingly, show that. I remember him, have been him even; he’s the guy who decides that since he’s only ever going to get negative attention, that’s what he’s going to put all his effort into.

In that light, Ed is a very sad character. Even as a vampire, he comes across more pitiful and pathetic than scary. The scene where he dies is heartrending, and adds some genuine pathos to the movie.

As for the movie itself, Fright Night actually follows a pretty tight script. The story and the conflicts are all relatively simple, although there are enough twists and turns to keep it interesting. While a good deal of the movie is funny, the majority of the scenes of Charlie’s conflicts with Dandrige are very scary. The final battle, especially, is very suspenseful.
Finally, Fright Night has the one element that is so essential to any good horror story, and yet we see so little of; we care about the characters. Overall, Fright Night is a great movie, and one well worth re-watching.

Eating Raoul (1982)

The Movie: Paul (the late, great, Paul Bartel, who also wrote and directed this movie) and Mary (the wonderful Mary Woronov) Bland are a nice, normal, conservative couple who live in Hollywood. Their dream is to open up their own restaurant; and they’ve even found the perfect place for it. Unfortunately, they lack the cash. To make matters worse, their lives are full of unscrupulous creeps who take advantage of them; as well as perverted swingers who won’t take no for an answer.

Things come to a head when they are taken advantage of a little too much; followed by having to defend Mary’s virtue with a frying pan from depraved swingers twice in a row. Finding money on the bodies of the swingers, the Blands come up with the perfect solution for their financial problems: lure in swingers, murder them with the frying pan, and steal their money. They can make the money they need, and rid the world of swingers at the same time. But just as they’re starting up, Raoul enters the picture.

Raoul (Robert Beltran from Night of the Comet and “Star Trek: Voyager”) is a professional thief who stumbles across the Blands’ operation. Handsome, charming and opportunistic; Raoul arranges a deal with the Blands that greatly increases their profit. Unfortunately, there is the small snag that Raoul has fallen for Mary. He manages to maneuver her into an affair, and the rivalry with Paul is on.

As the money piles up, along with the bodies; Paul and Raoul engage in a quiet but escalating competition for Mary’s affections. The efforts of the two men to eliminate each other will end very badly for one of them….

The Review:

Paul, no one is trying to kill you. We’re the one’s killing people.
-Mary Bland

As a writer, director, actor, producer, writer of soundtracks and the gods only know what else; Paul Bartel was definitely a very talented man. As an artist he was also very quirky; uniquely so, as I have yet to encounter a sense of humor like his. He has a very prolific amount of movies to his credit for the above mentioned roles that start this paragraph; and when he died in 2000 of a heart attack, the world of cinema lost someone truly amazing.

Since discovering Paul Bartel, I have been trying, with various degrees of success, to track down as much of his work as I can. As of yet, what I have seen is only a miniscule part. However, judging by what little I have seen; I would call Eating Raoul his masterpiece.

This is just my interpretation of it; I think that Eating Raoul is a satire on the early Reagan years. Admittedly I don’t remember too much of that period; I was barely a year old when this movie came out, if that. However, the movie seems to exaggerate the culture wars of the time. On the one side you have the extreme conservatives and right-wingers who the Reagan presidency brought out of the woodwork, represented by the Blands. The swingers, on the other end of the spectrum, represent two things. One is the last gasp of the Free-Love movement, by then dying out. The other is the hedonism that Reagan’s financial policies and focus on personal wealth inadvertently encouraged. After all, most of the swingers in the movie are bank owners and doctors and other extremely wealthy individuals.

The very best part of the movie, and its focus, are the three leads forming the love triangle at the center of the plot. Bartel and Woronov are perfect as the Blands, portraying a couple who represent the most absurd extremes of the America Reagan advertised. Just a look at their sleeping arrangements is creepy; they sleep in twin beds, they have matching pajamas, and Mary sleeps with stuffed animals while Paul cuddles a huge pillow in the shape of a bottle of wine. Almost everything about their personal lives exudes this sense of asexuality that’s, quite frankly, a little off-putting. Of course, like everything else in the America Reagan tried to sell, it’s a little too good to be true as we shall see.

Maybe in my movie synopsis, “nice” and “normal” were the wrong words to describe the Blands. It’s clear pretty quickly that Paul is a bit of a snob; while the scene at the hospital where Mary deals with a particularly obnoxious patient indicates that she’s not a woman to cross, even before they start killing. Also, the movie makes it clear that the Blands are hypocrites. They claim not to be into sex (“I can stand a little hugging and kissing” says Mary), and they believe that they are moral people. Yet, they commit murder; and they use what they claim to be against, sex, to lure their victims.

Mary’s an even worse hypocrite than Paul. Even though she protests and criticizes, it’s pretty clear Raoul doesn’t need to try very hard to seduce her. One even gets the sense that despite her denials, she knows very well what’s going on between Paul and Raoul; and she’s getting a kick out of playing them off each other.

Admittedly, the people the Blands prey on are, on the whole, pretty repulsive themselves. They’re arrogant, they’re oblivious, they won’t take no for an answer, and they walk all over anybody they think they can get away with walking over. The world would be better off without most of them. It’s amazing how Bartel’s script ensures that you take the Blands' side, even while making it clear that they’re as bad as the people they’re killing.

Finally there is Raoul, the third corner of the triangle. In what is apparently his first starring role, Robert Beltran presents a character who is every bit as engaging as the Blands. Our first glimpse of Raoul is kind of a throwaway; we catch a glimpse of him in the background as the Blands return from the trash compacter where they disposed of their first victim. He’s creeping out of an apartment he has burgled. Later on, the Blands unwittingly hire him to replace the locks in their apartment; his scam for getting into the places he robs. He unwittingly stumbles into the Blands’ operation, and a bargain is struck.

Beltran’s Raoul is amazing. He is charming, witty, confident, and very good at what he does. He’s also, as Mary puts it, a calculating bastard. Admittedly, Raoul is a very “the ends justify the means” kind of person, but I find it hard to dislike him. He’s nowhere near as repulsive as the swingers; and unlike the Blands he is sincere about who he is and what he does. I think the one thing that makes Raoul my personal identification figure for this movie is the fact that he’s a hopeless romantic; and it’s his falling for the wrong woman that ultimately brings him down.

Obviously, the crux of the movie is the triangle between Mary, Paul and Raoul; and the interactions of the characters as they bounce off each other. Bartel, Woronov and Beltran are all fully up to the task. However, there is one more important character in this movie, and she is my favorite part of the film. That would be Doris the Dominatrix, who is played wonderfully by Susan Saiger.

Ironically, Doris is probably the most normal and ethical person we see. Our first glimpse of her is at a swingers’ party Paul gets dragged to, tormenting him with a whip. Later on, when Paul and Mary conceive of their plan, they go to her for help getting set up. At the party she is the iconic imperious tormenter we would expect from a dominatrix; but when she next appears it’s as a rather perky housewife and mother. Later on, Paul employs her in his rivalry with Raoul.

Saiger is wonderful in her playing up the contrast between the dominatrix and housewife roles; and I think that both the character and her take on it are a true delight to watch. Saiger wasn’t involved in too many other movies; which is a shame because I would love to see more of her.

The movie itself, as a whole, is truly a warped treat. It presents us with a world that is so warped and insane; only the truly warped and insane can live in it. It is filled with all sorts of bizarre humor; from the various fantasies the Blands put together for their clients (a Nazi interrogation, a hippy; Mary dressed as Minnie Mouse while her client, dressed as a pirate, chases her around the apartment) to the revelation of what Raoul does with the cadavers the Blands give him, to the inevitable end to the love triangle. And yet, for all its warped screwed-upness; Eating Raoul is played out entirely in a very straight, deadpan fashion. For those with a certain mindset and sense of humor, Eating Raoul is definitely a must see.

As a final note, some years after Eating Raoul’s release, Bartel and Woronov actually had a sequel ready to go. Unfortunately, Bartel had his untimely heart attack before they could film. Still, this is not the last we get to see of this wonderfully demented couple. In 1986 the movie Chopping Mall came out.

Chopping Mall is an okay, but not inspired, movie about a new breed of security robot running amuck and slaughtering a group of teens trapped in the mall after hours. The best part of the movie is the first ten minutes, at the demonstration for the new security models. Sitting in the crowd is none other than Paul and Mary Bland! From their conversation their restaurant is successful; Paul considers buying a robot himself to “get rid of people we don’t like.” Also, there’s something that’s indefinable, but a bit more repulsive, about the Blands. Their short appearance and dialogue is a real treat, and, unfortunately, much better than the rest of the movie. I don’t know who thought of slipping the Blands into Chopping Mall; but I, for one, am sure glad they did.

Delicatessen (1991)

The Movie: In a disturbing near future where food is incredibly rare, Luison (Dominique Pinon of City of Lost Children), a former circus performer, comes to a boarding house looking for work. Unfortunately for him, the boarding house is a sinister place; inhabited by eccentric characters and presided over by the butcher Clapet (longtime French movie veteran Jean-Claude Dreyfus) who hires help for the purpose of serving them up as food. Unaware of the trap he has wondered into, Luison takes a job as the building’s handyman and makes himself at home.

An eccentric and flamboyant individual himself, Luison swiftly makes impressions. Whether it’s putting on an impromptu show for the two boys watching him work, or gallantly saving mailed packages belonging to Clapet’s daughter Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac) from thieving fellow tenants, the inhabitants talk about Luison as more than just their future dinner. In fact, that gallant act leads to a growing romance between him and Julie.

Ah yes, Julie. She has always hated her father’s work, and has fallen hard for Luison. Julie is willing to do anything to save him; even if it means making a deal with the Troglodistes, a band of vegetarian terrorists. Of course, on the scheduled night of the rescue, nothing goes according to anybody’s plans….

The Review: Delicatessen is a movie unlike any I have ever seen before or since. It is dark, hilarious, poignant, thoughtful at times, surrealistic, bizarre, and extremely paradoxical. It is also a lot of fun. Probably the strangest part of this movie is how it reconciles the subject matter with the tone. Delicatessen deals with such subjects as murder, cannibalism, suicide and the end of civilization as we know it; yet it never ceases to be a lighthearted, good-natured and upbeat film. Make of that what you will; I’ve seen it several times now and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

Probably the best place to start would be setting itself. Most of the action takes place at the boarding house. There are a few glimpses of the outside world; Louison comes in from outside, as does the psychotic postal worker (Chick Ortega) who desperately wants to be Julie’s boyfriend. Also, when Julie goes to deal with the Troglodistes she seeks them out in the sewers where they live. However, all the real action takes place in the boarding house; to the point where the boarding house becomes a microcosm in and of itself. Not that we need more than these glimpses of the outside world; all of the important issues are playing out right in front of our eyes. We don’t miss anything of what the future looks like.

And what a grim future it is. Food is incredibly scarce; to the point where cannibalism is fairly commonplace. Clapet often waxes on how much better “in here” is than “out there” because “in here we have a system.” A throwaway line shows the true extent of the problems; the impossible has happened and rats have been hunted to extinction.

And yet, the really cruel irony is in the currency used; apparently “money” in this world is measures of things like corn, beans and lentils. A scene where Clapet is counting his money is especially sad; all around him is probably enough food to feed his tenants for at least a year without resorting to cannibalism, but these items are considered more valuable as something to be hoarded. This is reflected when Clepet reveals what is probably the true reason for why the Troglodistes are hated by this society; “I hear the bastards actually eat money.”

The inhabitants of the boarding house are really well done; even the most minor of the characters presented could warrant a full movie in and of his or herself. There is an unnamed man (longtime movie, particularly Jess Franco movies, veteran Howard Vernon) who keeps his basement apartment flooded to raise his pet frogs and the snails he uses for food. There are the richest tenants, Georges (Jean-Francois Perrier) and Aurore (Silvia Laguna) Interligator; Aurore is the talk of the building because she hears voices and is always trying to kill herself in Rube Goldbergian ways that always (except for the last one) end anticlimactically. The Kube brothers, Roger (Jacques Mathou) and Robert (Rufus, the IMDB doesn’t give another name) make things more difficult for her; Robert because he is in love with Aurore, Roger because, well, he has his own interest in her situation.

And I haven’t even mentioned the family whose husband has to hand over his mother-in-law to pay rent; or Plusse (Karin Viard), the pretty young woman who pays her rent in “services,” and who in all is a fairly enigmatic character. I still don’t think I’ve mentioned all of them. In short, it’s a very large and fascinating cast, with some extremely fascinating characters. However, the real meat of the movie (pardon the pun) revolves around the triangle made by Julie, Louison, and Clapet. Specifically, the inevitable clash between the two men’s world views.

Julie is probably the sanest person in the movie. She is intelligent, strong-willed, and utterly detests what her father does. She also plays the cello. However, unlike any of the other characters, she lacks any kind of major eccentricity or madness. The closest she comes to it is when she invites Louison over to her apartment for the first time; and tries to go through the date without her glasses, even though it’s blatantly obvious she can’t see. In short, she pretty much sticks out because she’s the only sane individual in a world full of madmen. Dougnac does a good job with the part, though; and the character works.

Dreyfus is wonderful as the villainous Clapet. He is in turn funny, scary, psychotic and even a little sympathetic. After watching Dreyfus in this film I really want to see some of his other movies. Not only can the man act, but he has incredible talent for physical humor as well. Just watch some of his facial expressions and you will see what I mean.

The character of Clapet is actually fairly complex, and ultimately a tragic one. It is true that Clapet is vicious, greedy and brutal. However, the movie establishes that there are reasons for that; and that he does have at least one redeeming quality. Said quality is that despite their differences, he truly does love his daughter. Even at the climax where he is at his most psychotic and leading a mob against Louison; he takes time to threaten dire consequences if anyone should harm Julie.

What is truly tragic about Clapet is the motivation behind his actions. From very early in the movie, it is made clear that he is convinced that the world is doomed. There is no hope, so therefore there is nothing to do but hold on for as long as possible; never mind that actions like his are what brought civilization to its sorry state, and threaten to speed up the rest of its fall over the edge. He is sorry that his actions have brought the divide between him and his daughter; he even knows his actions are wrong. However, Clapet has long ago decided that morals are a luxury that he cannot afford.

Louison is the polar opposite of Clapet. He is extremely quirky, for starters; but in a very charming and endearing way. The scene that best exemplifies this is when Louison, upon finding that Julie plays the cello, declares that he plays an instrument too and runs off to get it. It turns out to be a musical saw; which looks as goofy as all hell, but produces some of the most hauntingly beautiful sounds I have ever heard. The rest of his interactions with others play out in the same vein; at the drop of a hat Louison will pull out one of his bizarre circus stunts or tools. And, whether his motive is to entertain or to solve a problem; however goofy his methods might look, they always fulfill the end that he intends them to.

Behind all this is Louison’s attitude, for which I greatly envy the character. Louison has seen, firsthand, the very worst that humanity has to offer; yet he still believes that people are basically good. Unlike Clapet, Louison believes that morals are not only important, but essential. However, he never talks about them unless someone else brings the subject up. Instead, Louison simply lives his life, often unthinkingly, as if he lived in the world as it should be; not the one people like Clapet would have you believe it to be. It is this attitude that allows him to come out victorious in the end.

The final thing to point out is Delicatessen’s general atmosphere; probably it’s most important element. Half the movie looks like something Terry Gilliam would come up with; the other half like something that would make even him stare in awe and wonder. Somehow, the music and the setting make me think simultaneously of a grim post-apocalyptic wasteland; and of the romantic setting we all think of when we think of Paris.

The whole movie is one long series of surreal and absurd happenings from the beginning, where we see Louison’s predecessor try, unsuccessfully, to disguise himself as garbage and sneak out in the trashcan; to the climax, where our hero is trying to maintain his balance on a toilet in a bathroom where the floor has collapsed. Eccentric characters do crazy things in an increasingly mad world to the point where Wonderland seems like a sane, rational place by comparison. And yet, the plot is driven by such an enthusiastic and infectious energy that you don’t start scratching your head until the credits begin to roll.

Delicatessen is a black comedy, but the humor is very different from most black comedies. Instead of the cynical chuckle of someone who is unable to do anything else but laugh; Delicatessen has the genuinely amused guffaw of somebody who recognizes that no matter how bad the events are, they are only temporary, and so can appreciate how absurd it all is. Ever since I bought my own copy, this has made my list of feel-good movies that I watch when I’m in need of an emotional boost. Definitely a classic.