Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2018 - Sean Whiteman ""

Friday, March 1, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Sean Whiteman

Sean Whiteman is a writer/filmmaker living in Portland, Oregon. His most recent shot-on-VHS short, BRAMBLE ON, played the Portland International Film Festival and the Portland Underground Film Festival. His new script (a paranormal police horror) called: BLUE LIVES SPLATTER.

Underrated '86 picks
Film Discoveries of 2016
Underrated '87 picks
Film Discoveries of 2017
Underrated ‘88 picks

www.whitemanbrothers.comLetterboxd and Twitter: @seanwhiteman instagram: bombnumber20
DOLLY DEAREST (Dir: Maria Lease)
“I am not losing my daughter to a God-damned nine-hundred year-old goat-head!”

A new “I can’t believe it lived up to the VHS cover” classic. I hear people reductively refer to this as nothing more than a CHILD’S PLAY knock-off. While it probably rode in on that title’s successful wake there was history of creepy doll media well before Chucky was crowned king and this is a wonderful addition to the luminous lineage.

There’s a slight cheapness to the production which might alienate those who watch these movies through a squint of judgment. Most of the film’s low-key charm comes from the special effects. The well-timed flourishes and general sense of fun reminded me of the inventiveness on display in DOLLS. Each set piece had at least one moment of surprise (whether a technical “can’t believe they pulled it off” effect, or a plot-driven “oh, shit!” revelation). Between dealing with her daughter’s co-dependent relationship with the devil doll in this and PET SEMATARY’s general parental trauma Denise Crosby deserves maternal hazard pay.
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SHOGUN ASSASSIN (Dirs: Kenji Misumi, Robert Huston)
"When cut across the neck, a sound like wailing winter winds is heard, they say. I'd always hoped to cut someone like that someday, to hear that sound. But to have it happen to my own neck is ridiculous."

I work at the historic Hollywood Theatre here in Portland (serving-up regular 35mm/70mm dishes) and our head programmer Dan Halsted likes to show this film, his favorite, on his birthday. I caught the 35mm print last year and was very impressed with the top-shelf dose of gnarly that was projected into my retinal memory. As Dan mentioned, usually it’s a terrible idea to have an American buy a foreign film and recut it into something more palatable to American audiences but this film (the combination of two “lone wolf and cub” titles) is something truly special. It’s pacing is fleet of foot, the original footage is compositionally stunning and the voiceover of the child (added in the recutting process) feels like an emotional lynchpin that entertains throughout with sly punchlines as much as it enlightens with necessary information. The film is also a blood-spray milestone as the DNA fountains of youthful glee are robust, consistent, and marvelous to behold.
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SUPERSTITION (Dir: James W. Roberson)
“You may have doomed us all, church man.”

I often wonder why haunted house situations involve so much freaky flirting. The ghosties seem oddly content to move tea cups and shake ferns for weeks before finally going all-in with the haunt. I don’t claim to be an expert on ghosts (yet!) but I don’t understand this patience. It seems like most of these malevolent entities would be a little more ruthless considering their tormented backstories. Their patience seems cinematically convenient rather than supernaturally sound. This movie is a blessed exception. When people enter this house (residing on witch-cursed land) they get fucked with, lickety-split. Windows chop curious teens in half without remorse or delay.

The witchy backstory sequences felt aggressive in a way I rarely see depicted on screen. This witch in particular felt straight from my grade school imagination (scary as fuck and not falsely-accused, this witch knows what she is and you should be afraid of her). This feels like the supernatural slasher of my everloving nightmare. The pace felt breakneck but with a casual assuredness (like a car in cruise control at 100 mph). Hat tip to Anthony (a programmer at the Hollywood), I got this off their Movie Madness recommended shelf. I also recently picked up the tape at a VHS swap in town (and it’s another VHS cover fit for the galleries).
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OFFICE KILLER / THE MAFU CAGE (Dirs: Cindy Sherman and Karen Arthur)
“Hey, my Mafu. You’re a handsome devil...biggest Mafu I ever had.”

I’ve always loved Carol Kane and I imagine you do too. She has a demented energy to her comedic roles that feels like her humor is a half-second away from curdling into a nightmare and I love her for it. Her physical appearance and body language often suggests a potential sweetness which she loves to undercut with bizarre deliveries of kinetically charged bits of comic timing (her violently-sweet fairy in SCROOGED shows she can steal scenes from the likes of heavy hitters like Ghostbusting-ass Bill Murray). This danger-delivery she possesses seems like a natural fit for the horror genre and to see her take on a couple villainous roles (after being the protag in WHEN A STRANGER CALLS and WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK) seemed only natural.

And now, after watching these two films in 2018...deeeeeamn. She brought the creep vibes and she brought the humor, as expected, but I didn’t realize that her terror titles would also be my real introduction to Carol Kane the serious dramatic actor. Her portrayal of the deranged Cissy in THE MAFU CAGE, broke my heart. The film had the tragic weight of a stage play in its construction and its psychological ruminations but her performance in particular feels like pure cinema cranked to 11. The way she was able to emotionally skin her sister alive with just a glance was so unnerving. I was genuinely terrified of her. The intensity of this movie permeated my day afterward.

“You may think that once dead people are dead that that is the end of them. Not so. They leave memories, which are very much like dead people living inside of you.”

OFFICE KILLER, on the other hand, is much more of a delight. It had satire vibes and a clinical humor compared to MAFU’s raw-nerve sensibilities. Cindy Sherman frames her in such a beautiful way that we can’t help but relate to some heinous choices her character makes. Kane’s bits of voice over reminded me of a different take on an AMERICAN PSYCHO-esque character study. With additional dialogue by Todd Haynes, this one has a wonderfully tart sense of humor and a superb supporting cast including Molly Ringwald and Michael Imperioli. Kane goes far more subdued in this one but still sells us on some deeply upsetting material. She is one of the absolute best we have.
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THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME (Dir: Mike Jittlov)
“All the big things I should have done by now, but I was so busy doing little things. I wonder how many other people are out there? Writing stories and scripts that nobody else may ever read, making movies that nobody may ever see…”

The bit of dialogue from above is from director/star/animator Mike Jittlov (in character, as Mike Jittlov) as he indulges in an internal monologue pity-party. It’s poetic and all the more poignant knowing this was his sole directorial effort. As an independent filmmaker who has co-directed six feature films you’ve never heard of, I relate to this pity party sentiment with pavlovian tears.

This is madcap universe with a heart of gold. The ferocity Jittlov shows in protecting his independent spirit within the fictionalized reality of his film makes it almost inevitable that the real industry wouldn’t want to absorb him. It’s too bad, there’s an alternative timeline where Mike Jittlov is just another name in animation like Don Bluth.

“Oh, if only I could do that for real. If we could live on hopes and wishes, make movies at the speed of thought, all the movies that could have been, all the dreams that I could spin…”
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THE MIGHTY QUINN (Dir: Carl Shenkel)
“I get the hex. My dick fall off and I wake up dead.”

What a charmer! Sun-soaked Jamaican-noir boosted by Denzel’s off-the-charts charisma and several servings of catchy-as-fuck music (including a title track earworm with surprising thematic relevance). I tried recording this off The Movie Channel back in the 90’s but the tape cut-off near the end and I didn’t get to see it until 2018. It was well worth the wait (and not just because it features one of my personal favorite cinematic voices: the raspy majesty of Art Evans). Feels like a pivotal piece of Denzel’s early prime that should be celebrated. It really is a lot of fun.
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DEMON LOVER DIARY (Dir: Joel DeMott)
“Everytime I look at her all I saw was a big fig newton.”

They should show this film to every first-year film student. If the student watches this and still wants to make movies then their love is pure. Kelly Reichardt showed this at The Hollywood Theatre last year as part of our Feminist March programming and it belongs next to AMERICAN MOVIE as A blisteringly funny document of madcap/misguided moviemaking. Whereas I love and respect the work and passion of Mark in AMERICAN MOVIE, this one has a much more adversarial relationship with its subject (director Donald G. Jackson). In fact the director and her boyfriend form one side of the narrative as they butt heads with Donald and his wild ego (which feed into his massive expectations and massive miscalculations).

I need to check out DEMON LOVER, the movie this was documenting, because the fact that they actually got enough footage for a feature seems remarkable based on the trenches everyone had to wade through in this. The film fan in me was having a blast watching the anxiety-inducing fireworks while the filmmaker in me was squirming in his seat and glancing toward the exit. This is an excellent document of something you might not think would be in need of documentation.

FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (Dir: Jeff Burr)
“One thing I’ve learned, my dear, is that one is never too old for nightmares.”

What a fun bit of anthology sleaze! You get that high-class Vincent Price quality crossed with nasty episodes of truly unnerving 80’s violence. Clu Gulager’s bleach-blonde creepo was the spotlight performance (Price’s charisma-dominance notwithstanding). The framework features Price as a town historian relaying terrifying episodes from the town’s history to a reporter played by Susan Tyrell and then...actually, you know what, if that’s not enough to get you interested nothing I say from here will close the deal. Next.
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GET CRAZY (Dir: Allan Arkush)
“C’mon! Jump on my face!”

Spoofs are rarely able to support genuine emotion but somehow GET CRAZY manages to feel like an earnest love letter to creativity and connection. It just so happens to also feature a sight-gag involving a shark swimming in knee-deep restroom water. Daniel Stern anchors the tale as a stage manager preparing for the annual New Years Eve show at his Uncle’s famous New York venue. He gets to deal with various caricatures of musicians along the way. Lee Ving gets to portray punk-rock id as Piggy, Malcolm McDowell Micks his Jagger as British rocker Reggie Wanker, Lou Reed goes full Bob Dylan-mystical as the metaphysical folk singer Auden. They all find vulnerable spots for satire while also playing the right sympathy notes to make us actually care about their silly fucking episodes.

This movie is surprisingly positive in its depiction of all music and all audiences. It’s only judgment is on those who want the party to end. This is a stranded-on-VHS classic that would probably be much beloved if it had found its way to DVD or streaming sites. Arkush gets a lot of cult-laurels for for his excellent ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL but this beats closer to the rhythm of my heart.

THE GIFTED (Dir: Audrey King Lewis)
“Your god? Your god cannot save me! Because I DO NOT belong to your god!”

As a lifelong video store loiterer there’s still nothing as pure to me as browsing the horror section and finding a title I’ve never heard of. The movie barely has to be good for me to feel the rush, I’m just still in awe that so many movies managed to get made (as a filmmaker, I know making any shitty movie is still pretty fucking hard to pull off). Thankfully, THE GIFTED is sweet and I’m grateful to have found it at Movie Madness. What suckers might call “slow” I’d counter with “patient”. There’s a pretty rich mythology at play, involving an ancient African tribe with special powers they pass on from generation to generation in order to do battle with celestial foes, which easily could’ve spun into a myriad of sequels and spin-offs.

This should've been a launch-point for Audrey King Lewis. It feels like it should've been her PHANTASM or EL MARIACHI -- her cheapie slice of genre spectacle that shows ample potential and guarantees her enough future budget to render her ambitious ideas to scale. But she’s black and female, so that’s already two strikes against her, when it comes to industry bias. Despite winning the best feature film of 1993 by the Black Filmmaker’s Hall of Fame, she was told by one industry veteran that this movie was “too intelligent for blacks.” So yeah, instead her career is an unfortunate entry into the one-and-done filmmaker pantheon (with Charles Laughton posthumously presiding as president). At least she managed to give us THE GIFTED that keeps on giving.

976-EVIL (Dir: Robert Englund)
[after slashing face of a punk, with clawed hand] “Don't ever touch me again... Pass it on.”

As an avowed Stephen Geoffreys fan I was saving this one for a special occasion, knowing I’d be getting a starring role (he’s often a highlight featured player, like Evil Ed in FRIGHT NIGHT). The amount I love his unique charisma forgives any faults I had with this as I watched it. It’s so sad seeing him go from squeaky clean mama’s boy to possessed-by-evil rager (hitting similar beats as Keith Gordon’s Arnie in CHRISTINE). There’s also more of a style to this one than I expected considering its less-than-stellar status in a lot of horror conversations. But I’m so intrigued by Geoffreys that I’ve even seen some of his adult work so of course I’m going to be on board with a studio horror pic directed Frederick Krueger (DGA).
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