Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2015 - Jacob Q. Knight ""

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2015 - Jacob Q. Knight

Jacob Knight is a freelance film writer, whose (mostly) weekly Birth.Movies.Death. column “Everybody’s Into Weirdness”chronicles the genre repertory programming offered up by the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX. Outside of BMD, his work has been featured at Shock Till You Drop, Creative Screenwriting Magazine, Nerd Bastards, and Cinapse. When he’s not consuming hours upon hours of trash cinema, he moonlights as a clerk at Vulcan Video. If you ever ask what his favorite movie is, he’ll simply respond “Brian De Palma”. These are the ten best “new to me” movies he watched in ’15.
The Hang-Up [1969] (d. & w. John Hayes)
Possibly the best all-around picture trash cinema auteur John Hayes ever made, this Bad Lieutenant precursor may be the easiest entry point when approaching the multi-hyphenate’s brand of disreputable cinema (for further exploration, Alamo Drafthouse Weird Wednesday mastermind Laird Jimenez included the director’s acidic Sweet Trash on his own discovery list). Relentless in its depiction of Sgt. Robert Walsh (Tony Vorno) – the racist, homophobic center of this inhuman universe, The Hang-Up opens with a bust inside of a “performance-based” LGBT lounge (the patrons of which our Glenn Ford-looking hero is sworn to destroy), and only gets more demonstrably uncomfortable as it chugs along. Yet it isn’t until this nasty cop decides he’s going to settle down with a teenage prostitute (Sharon Matt) that we get a clear indication of the corrupt moral core Hayes is probing with a shit-smeared stick. This is a movie about toxic vice, and the way our addictions (idealistic, hedonistic and otherwise) undo us in the long run. Oppressively nihilistic, and undeniably hellish in its backward views on…well, pretty much everything, The Hang-Up is a runaway juggernaut, ready to maim and murder any who disagree with its spit in your face take on those who wear a badge and a gun. Alternately anti-authoritarian and empathetic, it’s a genre paradox, never giving you a straight answer as it dodges your numerous interrogations.
Pretty Peaches [1978] (d. & w. Alex de Renzy)
Alex de Renzy’s Pretty Peaches (yes, the porn scene lifer possessed the gall to include his name in the title, like some kind of cum-stained John Carpenter) is smut boiled down to baseline skeez. Recounting the backwoods journey of the titular cherubic jailbait (Desiree Cousteau, whom the Screamcast’s Brad Henderson wrote quite the profile on here) as she flees the scene of her father’s interracial marriage (only to crash her Wrangler in the woods), it at first resembles such volcanic “little girl lost” rape/revenge staples as Meir Zarchi’sI Spit on Your Grave or Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left. But make no mistake, Pretty Peaches is hardcore pornography; stopping dead for penetration the same way an action picture does a bombastic shootout. Only instead of erupting in “feminist” catharsis or exploring the very nature of inherent human evil, Peaches merely abuses the young girl for the titillation of the audience, going as far as to have her indulge in said degradation. It’d be arousing if it weren’t so (to put it politely utilizing the parlance of our times) “problematic,” but the sheer commitment to character by Cousteau is something to be admired. She’s no Meryl Steep, but her reaction to getting her ass violated by an enema obsessed “doctor” will likely blow your mind. The movie never lets up, soaking the screen in bodily fluids and climaxing in a satirical breakdown of the nuclear family that rivals Texas Chain Saw in terms of sheer audacity. There’s no defending Pretty Peaches on a moral level (especially once the forced S&M lesbian orgy is featured), but watching the movie groove to its own dissonant drummer becomes dizzying after ninety minutes – an idiosyncratic reminder that pornography could, at one point in our history, not really resemble anything else in the filmic timeline.
Pit Stop [1969] (d. & w. Jack Hill)
“There’s a suicide born every day,” says racing sponsor Grant Willard (Brian Donlevy) to a somewhat bewildered announcer and, in the end, this seems to be the running theme of exploitation auteur Jack Hill’s (Switchblade Sisters, Spider Baby) art house racing movie. Pit Stop is an exploitation film about exploitation; the ways men with money pinpoint a youth friendly subculture and then milk it for every bloody dime its worth. All of these animals behind the wheel are disposable; bags of flesh to be crushed inside of their tin cans. But it doesn’t matter – Willard will replace each of these cool catswith the next sucker who needs a cheap thrill and a couple bucks in his pocket. Much how Monte Hellman warned us that existence will simply keep stretching past his ‘71 masterwork Two Lane Blacktop (and even our own lives), Hill is fascinated by a cycle of greed, chewing up and spitting out those foolish enough to buy into the faux fame it offers. Pit Stop is the director’s masterpiece; not only because it’s a thrilling genre movie, perfectly shot and edited, but also because it speaks to a timeless callousness that continues on into oblivion. There is no God. There is no afterlife. All you have is the pride earned and the money these hawks allow you to keep. Memories will fade, just as the dirt washes off of your leather jacket at the end of a twenty-lap circuit. Deal with it, and move on to the next.
Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II [1987] (d. Bruce Pittman, w. Ron Oliver)
It’s a shame Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II never became a bigger hit, because it’s obviously an oft-overlooked gem of the horror genre (it took me thirty-three years to finally sit down with it, albeit in glorious 35mm). An amalgamation of national tax shelter weirdness, brazen borrowing from better films, and tossing creative caution to the wind, Bruce Pittman’s alternately horrific and horny picture evokes numerous classics while indubitably carving it’s own identity. This is Brian De Palma, half-recalled while stoned during third period; only it owns enough perverted oddity to worm it’s way into the viewer’s consciousness and then nest there, laying possibly unwanted eggs filled with steamy adolescent sex. Funnily enough, Prom Night II would hit theaters almost a full two years before RL Stine published his first of many Fear Street novels. For those initiated into that YA cult of slashers put to paper, Hello Mary Lou is going to feel strangely familiar. Yet it embraces the hot lust that comes with being a teenager in a far more reckless manner than Stine’s somewhat prudish texts. See ya later alligator, you’re all gonna die now.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg [1964] (d. & w. Jaques Demy)
I could see how experiencing this film at different stages in your life could change the way it's perceived. As a teen, Jacques Demy’s pop operetta could represent nothing more than cinematic confection; an effervescent miniature fantasy that captures the fleeting nature of love song ear-worms. But as an adult, there's so much more here -- the crushing despair of economic hardship, the odd confluence of timing and fate; all of which work against the youthful dreams you had and the love you thought would last forever. It's easy to understand why certain critics dismissed Umbrellas of Cherbourg in ‘64 -- Demy's working on a wavelength not too unlike a ditty you'd hear while driving to get groceries; three minutes, here and gone, only to be enjoyed for the six months it's popular before being replaced by the next one hit wonder. But like De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise (or Prince's Purple Rain), it's a movie that understands what great pop music truly is -- not only tightly constructed melody, but soul, spirit, and the charging, electric current of experience and self-expression, intertwined to become something that lasts beyond your lifetime and anyone else's. I will wait for you, indeed.
The Hitman [1991] (d. Aaron Norris, w. Robert Geoffrion, Don Carmody & Galen Thompson)
Much to the chagrin of many BMD readers, I love Chuck Norris movies, and have tried to catch up with at least one or two I’ve never seen over the course of the last few years. The Hitman was the Norris highlight of ’16, and boy does it not disappoint. Were one to base their understanding of Seattle on this one picture, they would ultimately perceive the city as an utter wasteland of dueling gangs. La Cosa Nostra, FranchCanadian criminals, Iranian drug lords; all of these nefariouselements come together to form a perfect storm of unlawful activity. At the center of it all is Grogan (Norris), a deep cover cop whose own department passed him off as dead after being shot down by his corrupt partner (Michael Parks) in the line of duty. Truly one of the best examples of Cannon Films’ “we made this shit up as we went along” style of filmmaking, Grogan’s story doesn’t make a lick of sense, but that doesn’t keep it from being endlessly entertaining, as his above the law status gives him a license to kill that his Captain simply spits and curses at him to stop utilizing at will. Along the way, Norris pauses the incessant bloodshed in order to tutor a young black boy (Salim Grant) who is getting picked on by the viciously racist fat kid across the street, thus keeping his oddly wholesome image intact (though this is slightly undercut when he enters an Iranian bar and starts tossing the term “raghead” around). Filled with enough incredible stunt work and viciousness to keep trash action heads grinning, The Hitman is the best of Norris’ later “dad rock” R-rated output he would abandon in order to return to Cordell Walker’s Texas Ranger fame for the majority of his final acting run. Vaya con Dios, Carlos - we should all be thankful for the batshit garbage cinema your time on screen bestowed upon us.

Shock Value [1968 – 1971; 2015] (d. & w. Dan O’Bannon, John Carpenter, Terry Winkless & Alec Lorimore)
The absolute highlight of this year’s annual Exhumed Films 24-Hour Horror Thon (of which I’ve now attended eight). This compilation of early USC shorts from classmates Dan O’Bannon (Return of the Living Dead), John Carpenter (Halloween) and others is an astonishing look into the genesis of geniuses. O’Bannon’s dry, somewhat mean-spirited humor is readily apparent even from the start, and Carpenter’s “Captain Voyeur” short feels like a spiritual companion to De Palma’s early Murder a la Mod. This is an essential piece of cinema history, contextualizing the ideas of these West Coast masters and lending insight into the very human workings and relationships that comprised this class. When taken side-by-side with Jason Zinoman’s inspirational text (which still stands as one of the best pieces of horror non-fiction ever penned), a hardcore fan is granted a window into the souls of seemingly unknowable masters. A true treat for history buffs, we can only hope this finds some sort of wide release ASAP.

Der Fan (a/k/a Trance) [1982] (d. & w. Eckhart Schmidt)​
Eat your idols. Eckhart Schmidt’s hypnotic take on obsession is cold, clinical and tuned into a perverse, synth-driven wavelength that begs the viewer to look away, even as itstitular pixie psychopath (Desiree Nosbusch) descends into grotesque depravity. Long unavailable in the US, Mondo Macabro released an absolutely stunning Blu-ray that went unnoticed or unremarked upon by too many. This is a chilling, detached delve into the psyche of a broken girl, who wants nothing more than to be loved, but will settle for consumption if it means possessing the pop star (Bodo Steiger) she fixates on. All the while, Rheingold’s discordant New Wave trackssimultaneously unnerve and work to connect you with this isolated, desperate teen’s heart. In Schmidt’s world, we are all sad nobodies staring at a TV screen, hoping that the beautiful people it displays are somehow gazing back at us with adoringeyes.

Parole Violators [1994] (d. & w. Patrick G. Donahue)
God bless Scarecrow Video’s Matt Lynch. A consummate source for recommendations regarding oddities and bona fide trash masterworks, his Letterboxd page is a rabbit hole for anyone truly interested in exploring the deepest of psychotronic cuts. Anyone who has spent a good amount of time reading his capsules and/or Twitter feed knows just how lovesick he’s been with Parole Violators, the knock down, drag out follow up from Patrick “Kill Squad” Donahue. This Frankenstein’s monster of a movie combines the cartoonish vigilance of Death Wish 3, the sleazy miasma of Joseph Merhi’s LA Crackdown pictures, and a healthy dose of “America’s Most Wanted” 90s prime time schlock. Hilariously inept, but brimming with burly brawls and insane DIY stunts, Donahue has made a Miami Connection level all-timer in terms of sheer sincerity. The very best exploitation doubles as outsider art, carrying the unique world perspective of those who made it. You’re not going to (nor should you, if you’re a sane person) agree with any of the wackadoo racial (racist?) politics on display, but good lord will you howl when one thug loses his shit when he’s compared to a bird. Remember, anyone can be a video cop, so grab your camcorder and your nine-millimeter and lets go hunt down some pederasts.
Angel [1984] (d. Robert Vincent O’Neill, w. Joseph Michael Cala & Robert Vincent O’Neill)
Vice Squad is one of the greatest movies of all time, mostly due to the fact that it completely owns it’s positively scummystreet level view of hookers, undercover cops and the psycho pimps they both count as enemies. The only movie I’ve seen match Gary Sherman’s grime masterpiece is Angel, Robert Vincent O’Neill’s weirdo tale of a fifteen-year-old pro (Donna Wilkes) and the street people she counts as family. Only instead of acting like a B-Movie response to Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry pictures (or Tightrope, which coincidentally came out in the same year), Angel embraces an air of slasher movie disrepute. O’Neill isn’t really interested in anything beyond weirdo baseness, cranking the crazy until the movie’s utterly bugnuts, hand cannon finale. Shot by Andrew Davis (who would eventually go on to direct The Fugitive and Under Siege), Angel delivers the neon and rain-soaked sin paradise that was Hollywood Boulevard during the mid-80s. Followed by two inferior sequels, this is primo smut for anyone who isn’t bothered by the fact that they’ll require a shower once the end credits roll.

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