Author Archives: Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

Great Horror Shorts: SLUT (2014)

As a rule, short films are better than features. I believe I know why. Short films are as long as they need to be but features usually ought to be a different length. Sometimes this means they really need to be a miniseries. But usually, they are padded out for the purpose of distribution.

SLUT (2014)

So I often come upon short films that are very good. But it’s rare to come upon something as brilliant as SLUT (2014). Everything works in it. The acting is first-rate. The sets look as worn down as they were during my own childhood. The lighting is subtle and sets an unsettling mood. Each shot is beautiful. The pacing is perfect. And it tells a compelling story with rich thematic elements.

SLUT is also like a horror film etude. It includes many classic tropes but usually done with more artistry than normal. They are also done knowingly with a wink to connoisseurs. When Maddy is reaching desperately for the lipstick tube, it’s as if the director is breaking in, “I know, right?”

Where Are They Now?

It says much about our world that none of the principals who worked on this film have really broken through. Most have struggled along in an industry that cares a lot more about money than art.

Not that it is all bad. Editor Michael Block has become a successful assistant editor, which might well lead to more. Production designer Yihong Ding has taken a similar path in her career. And director Chloe Okuno has just been tapped to direct a film version of Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person.” But this is 5 years after SLUT.

Watch SLUT

But enough complaining. If you haven’t seen this film, you should. Thanks to the Screamfest Horror Film Festival, it is available for free on YouTube.


Image taken from a frame in the film.

Saws, Self-Harm, and Horror Comedy

Surgery in Evil Dead II

I just watched Dead Snow again. I really like it. There’s something incredibly compelling about its total lack of tone consistency. Here’s a deadly serious scene. Here’s a silly scene. As I wrote in Short Takes, “It’s two halves of the perfect zombie picture.”

One of the silliest scenes is where Martin gets bitten by a zombie. And on the basis of a comment by Erlend that you shouldn’t let yourself get bit by a zombie, Martin saws off his arm with a chainsaw.

It’s badly motivated. You’d think Martin would wait to see if he even survives to do something that is unbearably painful. Not that I’m complaining.

It was the lead-up to Martin being bitten on his penis by a zombie. Martin gets a dreadful look on his face because he realizes he shouldn’t have cut off his arm because he certainly isn’t going to cut off his dick.

But it does raise a broader question. How useful is this trope? It isn’t much use outside of comedy. I seem to be one of the few people around who thinks that The Evil Dead is better than Evil Dead II. And a big part of that is all the nonsense with the chainsaw. It works. But it also turns that universe into a notably silly thing.

Aron Ralston

Surgery in 127 Hours

I know what a lot of people are thinking: what about Aron Ralston? He’s the guy who cut off part of his arm when it got trapped while canyoneering. The problem with him as an example is that he didn’t just whip out a knife and start cutting.

He was trapped for five days. He was certain to die. He was hallucinating. And regardless, the body’s ability to process pain when it is dying is reduced.

There’s a reason why 127 Hours is gripping just because of this one thing. As a throwaway scene, to set up a dick joke, it isn’t something that we take seriously.

Torture

None of this is to say that saws shouldn’t be used in other contexts. I’ve always really liked the scene at the end of Mad Max where Max throws the bad guy a hacksaw noting that he might not blow up if he saws off his arm. As horrible as the guy is, I can’t see Max in a positive light after that. (I realize this is not the way most people read the film.)

People do horrible things to others. It’s a lot harder to do horrible things to yourself. So if a character is going to do something ridiculously painful to themselves, it needs to be motivated — highly motivated.

Surgery in Saw

Motivated Self-Harm

In Saw, Cary Elwes saws off his own foot. It’s well-motivated, but even there, little screen time is provided to it and it isn’t gory.

But Saw also demonstrates how difficult self-harm is as a construct. After the first film, the plots rarely rise above the level of torture porn. There’s clearly a limit to how much people want to watch victims placed in the position of having to hurt themselves.

There’s another problem: forcing victims to harm themselves puts the villain at a distance. It also requires the villain to be a super-genius. If the Jigsaw Killer wasn’t unbelievable enough in the first film, by the third he might as well be God.

Film as Puzzle

To me, all the films I’ve discussed have one thing in common: they are intellectual. They all attack their plots more as puzzles than as stories that would actually happen.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is contrived in some ways. But at base, it’s about a family of cannibals that just wants to be left alone to live their lives. I can imagine being in the situations of the kids. But even in Saw, with its motivated foot-sawing, I imagine just sitting there and dying.

Sawing off a limb is the kind of thing that cartoon characters do. So in a comedy, it can work well enough. In something that is supposed to be real, it’s extremely limited.

First Look: Michael Kallio

Michael KallioOne of the great joys of psychotronic film is the way that one gem leads to another. That was the case with my recent discovery of Michael Kallio.

At least once a year, I put on My Name Is Bruce (2008). It’s one of those films that always makes me smile when I’m feeling down. Mark Verheiden’s screenplay is so funny and knowing and Bruce Campbell is fearless playing his idiot alter-ego.

One of the many wonderful characters in it is the director of a low-budget horror film Campbell is starring in called “Cave Alien II.” In one of the featurettes on the DVD is a documentary about the making of “Cavealien 2.” The director, Mike Gg, is interviewed and he insists that it is pronounced “cav-ALL-eon.”

I decided that I had to find out who the actor, Michael Kallio, was. And I learned that he’s written, directed, and produced about 50 films — most of them short. And lucky for us, Kallio has put many of them on YouTube.

Short Films of Michael Kallio

His short films tend to be pretty funny. The first one I saw was Ash vs Evil Dead: Auntie Linda’s Bake Off:

It is not just a loving homage to the series, it fully captures its essence. As fun as Ash vs Evil Dead was, there wasn’t much to it that isn’t in Auntie Linda’s. And Kallio certainly understands the Raimi style.

The Texas Chainsaw Manicure

Another homage is The Texas Chainsaw Manicure. It’s very silly with at least three strong laughs. And it makes a good argument for proper tipping.

(According to Kallio, there is a short film by Bill Mosley — Bill Moseley? — with the same name. I found part of it online. It is about Leatherface as a topiary artist. It is certainly as silly as Kallio’s opus.)

Curse of the Monkey

Another good one is Curse of the Monkey. It is one of many that Kallio shot when he was much younger but only recently finished. But it’s clear what’s there now is what he always intended. It’s got a great silent comedy sensibility with lots of modern references. I love the break in the gorilla suit. And the fight scenes are both realistic and funny.

Hatred of a Minute

Based on this, I bought Kallio’s first feature film, Hatred of a Minute. There’s an irony with loving low-budget films: they usually cost a lot more to get on disc — when they can be had at all. So while I can usually get the latest superhero film for a buck, this one was $19.95. But I wasn’t disappointed.

Unlike the short films I saw, Hatred of a Minute is pretty serious. That isn’t to say that it isn’t filled with sly little jokes. But they come out much more on the second viewing.

The film tells the story of a man’s descent into serial murder along with lots of flashbacks to his childhood. After seeing his step-father physically abuse his mother, he comes to see murdering women as an act of mercy. There’s also a minor B plot that is a police procedural.

But what really makes the film work is its structure. The frame of the story is Eric (played by Michael Kallio) and his drive with a bound woman in the back of his car. Within this, we see Eric as he is just a young man haunted by his past to a full-blown psychopath. As part of this, we have spectacular scenes that go on inside his head. These are thrilling by any measure. They use the full palette of tricks available to writer, director, photographer, and editor.

Despite the film being low-budget, the acting is first-rate. I assume they are mostly people who do industrial work because they don’t have a lot listed on IMDb. The principals are Tim Lovelace (Legion of the Night), Tracee Newberry, and co-writer Lisa Jesswein. Of particular note is Gunnar Hansen (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) as Eric’s abusive step-father.

On to the Future With Michael Kallio

I’ve been working on a long (maybe book-length) article on the films of JR Bookwalter. After that, I may do something on Michael Kallio — at least his horror films. These days, he seems to be doing rather well in Hollywood — including making a number of oddities such as Untitled Radioactive Chicken Heads Documentary. He also seems to be doing stuff along the lines of Larry Blamire (The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra) featuring Orton Z Creswell, a Criswell parody:

Regardless, I’m eager to see more of his work. In addition to his short films, there are at least two horror features: Survive! and Koreatown. They don’t seem to be available on disc. (Survive! seems to have been released on VHS — but I can’t find it for sale anywhere.) Since Michael Kallio seems to be putting much of his work online, I may get a chance soon enough.

The Story of Film: A Disappointment

The Story of Film: An OdysseyI came upon the documentary series The Story of Film: An Odyssey by Northern Irish film critic Mark Cousins. And the only way I could watch it was to sign up for some kind of Amazon Prime add-on (there seems to be an endless number of them). It bills itself as a kind of history of film. And since it has been a while since I studied the history of film in any systematic way, I thought it would be worth watching. I was wrong.

The series tries to be more inclusive of non-US filmmakers than other histories. I didn’t find that it did a very good job of this. It is still overwhelmingly focused on American filmmakers. And when it comes to world filmmaking, it still focuses on the usual suspects.

Each of the first 10 episodes covers roughly a decade of time. In general, this is a good approach. Working from the beginning of film allows you to see how it builds. But this series does little of this. When talking about techniques like cross-cutting, it spends almost no time. It is almost as if Cousins assumes that the viewer already knows this stuff.

But most of all, the whole thing comes off as the kind of history that would be watched by college-educated people who want to hold the “right” opinions.

Making DW Griffith Wispy

The whole thing reeks of the modern cinephile consensus. After providing a wholly unsatisfactory overview of early silent film, it does provide an introduction to some often neglected pioneers like Alice Guy-Blaché and Frances Marion. Then it rightly notes that DW Griffith is “over-remembered” but still important. He didn’t invent the close-up. [Sigh.] I’m not sure when people said that he did. When I took film history 30 years ago I learned that he did not invent the close-up.

But what should we remember Griffith for? According to the Story of Film, he added: “the wind in the trees” to film. I’m not even sure what this means other than that he shot outdoors a lot. Regardless, he didn’t invent this any more than he invented the close-up. Griffith is remembered for mastering the full range of film syntax at that time. But I guess it isn’t as interesting to take a nuts-and-bolts approach to his work. “The wind in the trees” sounds ever so much more appealing to upper-middle class viewers!

Bend Over Alfred, We’ve Got Some Smooching for Ya!

One of the most annoying thing in the series is its presentation of Alfred Hitchcock. People often get the impression that I don’t like Hitchcock’s work. That’s not true. I feel like I have to protect his work from intellectual pretenders who want to imbue it with pretenses that just aren’t in the work.

In this 15-minute sequence, we are told, “Hitchcock became the greatest image maker of the 20th century.” Even greater than Picasso! This is comically wrong. What does it even mean to be the “greatest image maker”? To create the most stunning images? That sure ain’t Hitchcock.

But to prove its point, the series says there are 7 reasons why this is true:

  1. Point of view
  2. Where he was born (film shouldn’t be about real life)
  3. His understanding of fear
  4. Close-ups
  5. Inverted establishing shots
  6. Under-use of music
  7. Odd camera angles.

All of this is pretty bland. This is clearly an argument in search of a predetermined conclusion. One could make much stronger cases for literally dozens of other 20th century filmmakers.

I could go point-by-point, but why? I do, however, want to note how idiotic the example is for the fifth reason. It is from the beginning of The 39 Steps. It starts with a close-up pan of a lighted sign that reads: “Music Hall.” And the series narrator says, “We don’t know where we are.”

[Facepalm.]

Then we see images of a man buying tickets, going to his seat, sitting down. And finally, we get the wide-shot of the inside of the music hall. Never would have guessed that! This is a perfectly acceptable way to start the movie and establish the location and the main character. But it isn’t especially innovative. And it has nothing to do with Hitchcock being “the greatest image maker of the 20th century.”

The Lack of Exploitation Film

Above all, The Story of Film focuses almost entirely on art filmmakers. Given the way the series tries to be socially conscious, I would have thought that Samuel Fuller would come up. But no. Similarly, there’s no George Romero. Or Tobe Hooper. Or John Carpenter or Wes Craven.

David Cronenberg is mentioned, but only his most obviously “art” work: Videodrome and Crash. Note that these films are really not related. Videodrome is classic body horror. Crash is a psychological drama. But I will allow that they are about the best of Cronenberg.

My point here is that The Story of Film is really just the story of a certain kind of film. And that film is the kind of appeals to boring college-educated types who get their opinions from articles in The New Yorker. The rest of us are better off putting on The Amazing Colossal Man and making that whole thing go away.

Call Girl 2014

Jill GevargizianI just discovered a wonderful short film, Call Girl (2014). This is very exciting for me because I’m only 5 years out on this one; normally, I’m 10 years behind. And really, it isn’t even five years because it was only three and a half years ago that director Jill Gevargizian posted it on YouTube.

The film starts by proclaiming that it is from “Sixx Tape Productions.” And then the narrative starts with a close-up of Laurence R Harvey. So I immediately have visions of this being something of Tom Six that I can’t bear to watch. I paused the video and did a little research. It turns out that Sixx is just Gevargizian’s moniker.

So I tentatively clicked play but with my hand on the mouse should anything scatological appear. Thankfully, it did not.

Call Girl

In fact, Call Girl is a surprising and funny little horror film. Have a look. The narrative is only a bit more than four minutes long:

Watched it? Good.

Discussion

There are so many things I love about this film! The biggest is probably that it makes the viewer a voyeur. In fact, it makes the viewer into a homicidal psychopath, based on what we know from the dialog.

The streaming interruptions add a wonderful tension to the action. At the same time, it is so realistic that watching it on YouTube is not the best venue. It’s hard — even after repeated viewings — not to perceive the first interruption as the fault of your own connection. But this is hardly the fault of the filmmakers.

I’m also struck by how Harvey’s character has a child’s level of excitement — both before and after the deed.

Contrast this with the professionalism of the character played by Tristan Risk (Frankenstein Created Bikers). It’s a wonderful touch that she is “new at this.”

Finally, the vague ending is marvelous. My first take was that the prostitute would not have attacked had she not been attacked. But that seems to be undercut by what we see on the screen. After all, she doesn’t just kill Harvey; she feasts on him (in the most glorious moment in the film). And prostitution seems like a good way to get victims for a vampire.

Open Questions

I’m still confused about the last bit of dialog. She seems to say, “Do you want that? Do you?!” The screen goes black and then there is a beep — a text has come through. And we hear her say, “Good. See you soon.”

There are various ways to interpret this. What the text contained is not clear. But the threat is chilling.

Regardless of the ending, I’ll be checking out more work by Jill Gevargizian in the coming months.

First Views: The Other Side of the Wind

The Other Side of the WindMost people think of psychotronic film as lowbrow. I don’t. I’m a film snob. And I love psychotronic film because it is generally the most authentic kind of film. There really isn’t much difference between psychotronic and art film. The difference is usually one of attitude (as well as budget). And the attitude of psychotronic filmmakers is generally better. But it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I love “art” films. (Note that I compared Death Bed: The Bed That Eats to Cries and Whispers.)

Finally: The Other Side of the Wind

For the last decade, I’ve had only one primary goal in live: to live long enough to see Orson Welles’ last film, The Other Side of the Wind. Indeed, I was not that big a Welles fan until I saw a couple of clips from the film back in the mid-1990s. It shocked me that an artist — late in his life — could create something so unique.

But over the years, I’d given up on the film ever being released. Then, just recently, I saw the following headline at Vox, There’s a New Orson Welles Film, and It’s Streaming on Netflix. I didn’t need to read the article. I just went to Netflix and entered, “The Other Side of the Wind.”

First Look

This is not a review. I’ve only seen the film once (at this writing — I’ve seen it a dozen times now) — and this is a film that needs to be seen multiple times. But even on this first viewing, it was captivating from the first frame.

The Conceit

Most people writing about it are turning it into some kind of psychological portrait of Welles. Maybe it is. Maybe every work of art is that for the artist. But what I took away from the film was its amazing visual palette. And the way Welles justifies this is by making the film about a party where Jake Hannaford (John Huston) is trying to get funds to finish his latest films. Thus, many reporters are there with tape recorders and 16 mm and Super8 cameras.

As a result, we get scenes shot with more than a half-dozen cameras — all of differing quality. Probably even more important, all these canny journalists are creeping around, getting incredibly intimate moments on film — the most heartbreaking are between Hannaford and his protégé Brooks Otterlake (Peter Bogdanovich). This was shot at a time when Bogdanovich really did feel that Welles had betrayed him and the performance is as raw as you will see.

Film-Within-the-Film

The film-within-the-film is a pretty cliched European art film. According to Wikipedia, it is something of a parody of Michelangelo Antonioni. But whoever wrote that can’t have seen any of his films. It reminds me a lot more of Alejandro Jodorowsky, but that’s a great insult to him. Hannaford’s film seems to have been a general parody of bad art films. It even includes a balloon of a penis that is deflated when the star of the film (Oja Kodar) pricks it. I’m sure that Welles and Kodar (who co-wrote these scenes) must have laughed mightily when they came up with that!

Confusing Ending

What confuses me is the end. From my reading over the years, I understood that the film ended with Hannaford driving his car into the movie screen and dying. Maybe they didn’t have enough coverage — both Welles and Houston are long dead. But maybe I’m just misinterpreting the ending. Hannaford’s last scene is almost heaven-like — or indicating that he is on his way to heaven.

More to Appreciate

As I indicated, I’m going to have to give this film a lot more thought. But on a first viewing, it’s clear that it is up with Welles’ greatest cinematic works: Othello, The Trial, Chimes at Midnight, and F for Fake. If you like challenging (or just interesting) films, you must see The Other Side of the Wind.

They’re Us — We’re Them and They’re Us: Film Critics

Owen GleibermanI am never surprised to find another film critic who hates films. Our newest example: Owen Gleiberman — currently film “critic” at Variety but once the film “critic” at Entertainment. It was there back in 1990 that they gave the remake of Night of the Living Dead a “grade” of D+.

Before I get into it, note how arrogant it is for film critics — people who usually know next to nothing about the mechanics of making a film — treating filmmakers as though they were school children. “Well, I’ll give you a B+, Cindy. But Johnny, you clearly didn’t do your homework so I’m giving you a C-!” Pathetic.

Gleiberman’s “Review”

Gleiberman’s entire review is two paragraphs — not even 250 words. And it doesn’t criticize the film! It criticizes Romero’s decision to make it. And as such, it is a perfect example of what I see all the time: the “I wasn’t gonna like this film going in!” review. And that’s fine by me. I’ve never learned a thing from these pretend film critics. But they poison whole oceans of film-goers.

I’m not sure what it is people like Gleiberman think they are doing. Justifying a paycheck? What’s clear is that they don’t love film. And their reviews say everything about them and nothing about the films.

Gleiberman Doesn’t Need to Get His Facts Straight

What really struck me was the end of his review:

By the time one of the characters turns to the camera [Uh, no. -FM] and says of the ghouls, “They’re us — we’re them and they’re us” (Isn’t it about time Romero stopped milking that line?), you want to return to the land of the living.

Really? I’m no Romero expert. I’ve never held the original Night of the Living Dead in such high respect because I had been so terrified by The Last Man on Earth years before I saw it. But I do know his films as well as anyone who likes the genre. (Something Gleiberman probably doesn’t share with me.)

In Dawn of the Dead, Peter says, “They’re us, that’s all; there’s no more room in hell.” Here it is:

And in the remake of Night of the Living Dead, the line obviously alludes to Dawn of the Dead. But it’s quite different, “They’re us! We’re them and they’re us!” As you can see it is said in a totally different context:

Gleiberman Want’s Meaning — But Can’t See It

Keep this in mind when you read what Owen Gleiberman had to say about the original and remake:

The original Night was taken by some to be a statement about the Vietnam War; this one isn’t about anything larger than Romero’s desire to make a buck.

I’ve always found the ending of the original as too facile. Thematically, the remake is much stronger. And that scene was not the one that made it so powerful. The chilling, horrifying line is, “That’s another one for the fire.” If it doesn’t give you chills, you’re dead.

Gleiberman Was Wrong — But Who Cares?

But note: Gleiberman is wrong: Romero didn’t over-use that line. Gleiberman was just so determined to dump all over the remake that he had to make up something to criticize. And in doing so, he completely missed the deep thematic elements of the film.

It’s too bad that film critics can’t be sued for malpractice.

Afterword

I don’t mean to be too hard on Owen Gleiberman. The truth is that looking at his work generally, we share much. But his review of Night of the Living Dead (1990) is an occupational hazard. I’m sure he’s only seen the film once. I’ve seen it a dozen times. I allow myself to sit with films and not rush to judgment. I can hate a film the first time and “get it” the third. So I don’t have to act like Roger Ebert, who spent decades justifying his hatred of Blue Velvet simply because he couldn’t admit that his first review was all about him. And he was wrong. So was Gleiberman. But he’ll never rethink this film. He’s probably more convinced of his perfection than ever.

Who Mourns for Arch Hall?

The Mads Are Back

I just went to see The Mads Are Back (Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff) of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame. They are doing live shows where they riff to low budget films. Last night it was The Choppers — the film Arch Hall Sr made before his more famous Eegah.

As can doubtless be guessed, it was a bittersweet event. The riffing was pretty funny. And the movie itself is quite good. But it is annoying to hear the film referred to as “bad.”

Idiot Hates This Island Earth

To make matters worse, This Island Earth (1955) came up during the Q&A after the film. It was used for MST3K: The Movie. Beaulieu noted that they had to do things to it. (For example, they removed an entire reel so that the film didn’t make much sense.)

The guy sitting next to me muttered, “It still sucked.” I wanted to punch him. This Island Earth is a science fiction classic — well received when released and even better regarded today. As usual, the MST3K crew didn’t like various aspects of it that were intentional like its lack of a standard hero’s plot.

Pandering to Idiots

But this idiot is the target audience for low budget films. It would be trivial to grow this website if my attitude was that these films were bad and only good for a laugh. But I’ve never been interested in writing for idiots.

And there is something that bothers me about anyone involved with MST3K referring to “bad” films: have they ever watched their hosted segments? They are embarrassing — generally worse than any film they riff to.

Show Some Respect

I’d really like it if the people who are using these films to create a different piece of art would show a little respect for the art that they would be nothing without.

But alas, they don’t. I’m not even sure that they know what they mean by bad. It seems to be nothing more than films that aren’t professionally produced dreck.

Toward the end of The Choppers an out-of-focus shot came on and Conniff riffed, “Look, Ed Wood’s taken over.” It got a big laugh because everyone “knows” Wood was a terrible filmmaker. Except his films were always well shot. William C Thompson was usually his cinematographer and he was quite good.

After that shot, there were several minutes of similarly bad coverage. This is almost certainly due to the print and not the way the film was released.

Support Art Especially When Riffing

I know this all sounds very petty, but it does matter. It isn’t that they are making fun of the films. But these films aren’t bad. And I’m really tired of complaints about films that are based on ignorance. (For example, not realizing that Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is a comedy.)

Worst of all, calling such films bad makes artists less likely to try to do anything but the same old thing. And it props up big budget films over personal and exploitation films.

I would gladly watch The Choppers again. I can’t say that of the $50 million Bohemian Rhapsody. Sadly, very few people agree with me. We are a society that cherishes mocking failure, even when there is none to mock.

Read: Pablo Casals on How to Appreciate Art

Bohemian Rhapsody, A Thousand Clowns, and the Dangers of Film Enthusiasm

Bohemian Rhapsody, A Thousand Clowns, and the Dangers of Film EnthusiasmI visited my sister over the weekend and we went to see Bohemian Rhapsody. It wasn’t a thrilling idea for several reasons. I don’t like biopics. I rarely like big-budget Hollywood films. I’ve never been a huge Queen fan. But going to lame films is something I have always done for my family. (They have learned not to reciprocate because of long — For Them — painful experience.)

The film turned out to be far worse than I had expected. The main reason biopics usually suck is because they are redemption stories. Admittedly, redemption stories can be fantastic; for example, Ikiru is one of my favorite films ever.

But in Bohemian Rhapsody it is the total cliche: artist finds success; artist goes on tilt; artist finds redemption by not going on tilt. For anyone who cares, there is an episode of Behind the Music about Queen. And it has the major advantage of ruining only 45-minutes of your life. Bohemian Rhapsody is well over 2 hours long. And it feels much longer. (Dunbar in Catch-22 would have loved it!)

But the main thing that struck me while watching the film was not that it was bad. Not that there wasn’t much badness to strike me. Although I once admired director Bryan Singer, it has been many years. He is now a typical Hollywood hack. Things might have been better if Peter Morgan had been kept as screenwriter, but instead, Anthony McCarten was brought on board — likely to pacify the remaining members of Queen who seem to have been determined the movie be as inoffensive and boring as possible. The whole thing is typical Hollywood nonsense, so I can hardly complain that my experience of the film was alternating boredom and outrage.

Noticing Technique

The main thing that bugged me was how technically I watched Bohemian Rhapsody. I was constantly taken out of the film by this or that directorial flourish. And I have always hated that! Any time some critic or other film enthusiast makes a big deal about the technical side of a film, I know that they are not worth listening to.

And this is what Hollywood is all about. The studios are convinced that people come to their movies to see the spectacle. This is not my experience at all. I can’t speak for teens, but adults want to see a good story well told.

There was one very impressive shot toward the end of the film. Queen is playing at Live Aid. The camera starts under Freddy Mercury’s piano. It is then pushed forward between his legs and over to Brian May. Finally, it tilts up to a shot of May’s guitar. It took me a good minute to figure out two ways to recreate what I will admit was a very pleasing shot.

The Thousand Clowns Paradox

If anything, the shots like this ruin the rest of the film. (Or would have done so if the rest of the film had been good.) I call it the Thousand Clowns Paradox. After the first cut of the film, the screenwriter Herb Gardner was horrified. He had first written it as a play. When he wrote the screenplay, Gardner tried to expand it for the screen, but ultimately, A Thousand Clowns looks like a play on film.

So Gardner worked with editor Ralph Rosenblum (both were also co-producers) to create more cinematic scenes using stock footage and music. And they are sublime! But in the context of the film, they only serve to highlight just how boring the other scenes are.

Without those scenes, the viewer isn’t unsettled. They are able to appreciate the exceptional story.

Technique Isn’t Storytelling

So it bothers me to be reminded that I’m watching a film. It bothers me even more that I do appreciate technique. But I fear that is something I’m just going to have to live with given how much of a film geek I am. And it will only get worse.

This is not what film-viewing and filmmaking should be. There is a common saying about editing a picture: you have to kill your darlings. The idea is that because of the filmmakers’ love of a scene, it stays in the edit, even though it is creating problem for the film as a whole. Usually, this is a matter of pacing. But I think this is also because of the Thousand Clowns Paradox. Sadly, fewer and fewer filmmakers hold to this.

Big-budget movies are made by huge egos. And that results in over-long movies filled with beautiful but worthless shots. It explains why I would rather watch any Howard Hawks or Russ Meyer film than almost anything at the local multiplex.

The Lie in The Human Centipede Trilogy

The Human Centipede 3 PosterI have not seen any of The Human Centipede films. Normally, I would. But I don’t even like fart jokes. Scatological material makes me sick just to think about.

As a result, this rumination is based on reports, not actual viewing. I’m more than open to publishing any positive posts or pages on any of the films or the trilogy as a whole. Just contact me.

I can deal with small bits of scatological material as in Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. But a series of films, which don’t seem to have much of a sense of humor about themselves, based on the idea of people eating out of the anuses of others? Sorry. I can’t deal with it. Is it psychotronic? Sure. Am I going to watch it? Well, maybe the first film at some time in the future.

But what I want to talk about is writer/director Tom Six’s claim that he always meant for The Human Centipede to be a trilogy. That’s doubtless true. But it’s also certain that he hadn’t thought it through very carefully. That, or he shows a complete lack of creativity.

A Brief Overview of The Human Centipede

The films break down as follows:

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)
Other than the scatological aspect of the film, this is a pretty straightforward mad scientist film that could have starred John Carradine or Vincent Price in the 1950s or 1960s. Or did star Tim Curry in the 1970s. A car breaks down, the stranded victims go to a local house for help, only to be caught in the mad scientist’s evil web.
The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)
The sequel is a meta-film: a fan of the first film either does it for real or imagines that he does. Instead of 3 people, as in the first film, this one has 12. And instead of a surgeon doing the operation, the main character uses a staple gun, which even without seeing it, I know would not work. Anyone who has ever dealt with plumbing knows just how big a problem leaks are — to the point where the entire system rips apart.
The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)
Is a 12-person human centipede not enough for you? Well, this film offers 500! And so much more! It isn’t even all that much the human centipede anymore. But it’s there — eventually. Mostly, the film could be titled, “The Psychopathic Warden.” So that’s the focus of the film. And you can see why. The truth is, a human centipede of that size rather loses its impact (even with amputations), which may be why Six found he had to disgust his audience in so many other ways.

The Problem With the Third Film

This site is not about criticizing. It was never my idea to create a page for the first film or the trilogy simply because of my personal issues. I had thought of hiring a writer to cover it. But I finally decided not to (at least not the trilogy — maybe the first film) because of the fundamental problem with the third film.

The first film is classic horror — only with a really disgusting twist. The second film can at least be seen as postmodern in its meta-nature and unreliable narrator. (That’s charitable, but Psychotronic Review is nothing if not charitable!)

After being briefed on the second film, I was very interested to see where Tom Six was going to go with the third film. How do you go beyond meta? Well, apparently, he wasn’t thinking. I guess each film was just meant to get more disgusting than the last. But if that’s the case, why not do a fourth movie? Just have scene after scene where different people shit onto the lens of the camera?

Two Films Does Not a Trilogy Make!

But I don’t think that was what Tom Six was thinking. I think he had the idea for the second film in mind when he was making the first. And he figured he would come up with something for the third.

One thing seems clear: Tom Six did not have “The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)” in mind as his third film when he was making his first.

And he did! It just didn’t have anything to do with the first two films. The last film, as far as I can tell is simply torture porn.

Now that can be said of the first two films, but there is some wit to them. The last film seems to want to be campy. The trailer for it certainly is. The first two films are not campy. And reviews of the film make it sound as if Tom Six had simply run out of ideas.

And that makes me rethink even including the trilogy in the pantheon of psychotronic films. I know that psychotronic filmmakers very often just want to make a buck. But this seems like Hollywood thinking. Afterall, what’s left after the “full sequence”? The “final sequence”? If it had been a comedy, maybe.

The Pernicious Myth

But in addition to taking itself too seriously, it pushes a pernicious myth: the deterrence theory of crime prevention. It doesn’t work because (1) most violent crimes aren’t planned; and (2) people who plan crimes don’t expect to get caught. It also shows the warden murdering people with impunity. Is that really what the Dutch think the American justice system is like?

If the film had been made two years later, I might think it was trying to say something about Donald Trump, who seems to think he should have the same rights that the warden has in the film — that he is above the law. But it was released halfway through Obama’s second term. So what was the point?

What Does the Trilogy Mean?

You can call any three films a trilogy. John Carpenter refers to his “Apocalypse Trilogy”: The Thing (1982), Prince of Darkness (1987), and In the Mouth of Madness (1995). But he directed three other films between each of these and the films are in no way connected in the way that Tom Six’s trilogy is meant to be.

It’s only on the most simplistic level that these films build. The length of the centipede grows with each film. The explicit violence and degradation grow. In the second film, the action is based on the first film. In the third film, the action is based on the first two films. That’s pretty much it.

Does Tom Six Being in the Film Matter?

The one thing that makes The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence) at all expansionary is that Tom Six has a major role in the film — as Tom Six. But this hardly makes the film more meta-oriented than the second, because the first film is so important in the second. We don’t need to meet the director to know that one exists.

Six’s appearance has been said to indicate that he’s being serious. I see it the opposite way. His appearance means to push back against the first two films: they were fantasy but this one is real. And that completes no arc. It doesn’t even make sense. It is fantasy, whether the director is in it or not. So how do these three films tell a single story?

I can’t say. I’m open to other opinions. But one thing seems clear: Tom Six did not have The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence) in mind as his third film when he was making his first. He might have had the idea of setting it in a prison. But he must have thought he’d come up with something new that would pull it all together. He didn’t. A meta-meta-film is not basing a film on people watching two films instead of one.

And I’m left thinking ultimately all he has on his mind is new ways to disgust. And that’s fine. But no Tobe Hooper he.