Category Archives: Philosophy

Diani & Devine, How Hollywood Sucks, and One Reason to Be Hopeful

The Selling of Scary Manor

As regular readers know, as much as I try to cover the wide world of psychotronics, my one true love is horror. And this love has introduced me to wonderful artists like JR Bookwalter and Michael Kallio. And most recently, it introduced me to a comedy duo, Diani & Devine.

The Selling

Not surprisingly, I discovered them through a horror-comedy, The Selling. I originally watched it with my long-time (Over 3 decade!) horror-film watching friend Andrea. And I don’t ever recall hearing her laugh so much in a movie. That doesn’t just mean it’s funny; it means that it is clever.

I then shared it with my friend Elizabeth and my sister Kim. They loved it too. But after the film, I went on a 15-minute rant about how outrageous it was that people could make such a great film and not then have Hollywood shower them with money for the next decade.

It’s my usual complaint: there are a lot of really creative people who never get the respect that I (the only one who matters) think they should. But I’m not an idiot. One of my all-time favorite films is Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. But I understand why most people hate it and why no one is bringing George Barry to Hollywood. What I do not understand is why anyone would think the same of The Selling.

Could it be an example of, “The reason your work has not been successful may not be because it is not good; it may be because it is good”? Probably not that exactly. But it doesn’t speak well of the film industry that there have only been two feature films from this group.

Note: this trailer is 2.35:1 aspect ratio versus 1.78:1 on Prime. I’ll update this once I get the DVD.

Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse

Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse

I agreed to watch this film with Elizabeth and Kim next weekend. But I couldn’t wait. And I was not disappointed.

The first shot in the film is delightful. It’s better than anything in the horribly-titled Last Man on Earth TV series.

But then it spent 8 minutes, very humorously, showing what life must be like for talented people like them in Hollywood.

In fact, there’s a wonderful joke that involves the elitism of a studio executive mentioning that he went to Northwestern. I find that especially delicious because I come from academia and while that school has cachet among many people, most people on the inside don’t think much of it. But the point of the joke is that SF State is looked down on by the Hollywood elite.

The main point of that scene, however, is to highlight how craven the executive is. He insults them over and over again. But it isn’t him doing it. He’s just explaining what others in the business would say. And this kind of resistance to owning opinions leads to a culture that is always pushing the same old thing.

That Feeling When…

This really depressed me. It’s one thing for me to live my life thinking that Hollywood is terrible and that brilliant people I admire are ignored by it. It’s quite another to see those very people say, “Yep! You’re right!”

But I soldiered on. And Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse showed that The Selling was no accident. It’s another film that makes you laugh out loud even when you’re sitting alone in front of your computer monitor.

And that’s just depressing. Is it just not worth investing money into stuff that seems like it was created for me and my friends? Truly: I don’t think so. I think either of these films would be a huge success at a comic convention. I think there’s an audience for this film and it’s just that the elites in Hollywood aren’t interested in looking for new audiences when they already know what plays for the 16-year-old American and the general Chinese audiences.

Some Good News

But there is good news. There are a lot of great people who have worked on both these films. Barry Bostwick has a wonderful part in the first film (and a lesser part in the second) and Jonathan Silverman has an amazing part in the second film. Janet Varney is great in both.

The films feature relatively small crews including others who have tilled the low-budget cinematic soil — like editor Chad Meserve and cinematographer Matthias Schubert (whose career has really taken off the last few years).

There is also some mention of their screenplay “Don’t Be Evil” being optioned by “Academy Award-winning producers.” Almost nothing optioned ever gets made. But it’s still great news!

Add to this the general level of professionalism of all aspects of these films. It speaks to a general respect for Diani & Devine’s work. So I don’t doubt that more films will come — eventually.

Not that this makes me any less angry that for every Marvel film, we could have a thousand The Selling and Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse. That’s nothing against Marvel films. But really: those films spend more on sound sweetening than a dozen charming and hilarious comedies. Or terrifying and gory horror films. Or whatever.

Releases

I guess we should be impressed that there is a DVD release of The Selling. (I just ordered it but I won’t be surprised if it comes with no extras like another outstanding film, He Never Died.) Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse has apparently not been released on DVD. (Why not?! Does it cost that much to create an MOD with an outfit like Makeflix? That’s an honest question; I really don’t know.)

But both films are available on Amazon Prime. And yes, Amazon sucks. But they offer a much better selection of psychotronic films than Netflix.

Do yourself a favor: watch these films! They are so good. Also: fuck Hollywood!

Afterword: Some Analysis

I like these films for a lot of reasons. They aren’t just funny (not that they need to be). In particular, The Selling presents a more honest rendering of male friendships than I’ve recently seen on film.

Overall, the films depict sweet relationships without ever falling into sentimentality. That’s especially true of the ending of The Selling, which could so easily have been horrible. These films manage to do something that is very rare: be edgy and even cynical while being positive.

Both films are more or less themes and variations. The Selling is effectively 3 short films based on the idea of a real estate agent stuck with a haunted house. Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse is more freewheeling but the same: variations on the apocalypse. Sadly, I can’t think of a single sketch-based SNL film that manages to create a cohesive whole the way these films do.

There are also important thematic elements in both films. But they can be mined any way you like. How about a leftist interpretation?

The Selling is a searing indictment of how capitalism changes human behavior from fundamentally decent and civic-minded to alienating and predatory. Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse shows how capitalism turns humans into commodities whether by studio executives or hunting lodge members.

The point is that these films are artistic efforts deep enough to think about how ever you like.

There’s more to say and hopefully there will be more films to allow me to make more generalizations. Watch them and you’ll see what I mean!

Capsule Reviews


The Selling and Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse images via Amazon under Fair Use.

A Pair of Pliers and a Blowtorch

Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino is probably the biggest plagiarist in mainstream cinema. And I do mean plagiarist. There is a great tradition of artistic allusion. Simply lifting dialog, scenes, and whole plots is different.

The way allusion works is that the writer and reader share a common vocabulary. But in the case of Tarantino, the viewer has almost certainly not seen the films he has. And that’s a shame given that they are usually remarkable films — often better than his.

Quentin Tarantino: Movie Thief

Tarantino gets away with this for two reasons, I think. First, he creates compelling films that are distinctly more than the sum of its many ripped-off parts. Second, he’s so shameless about it. It’s hard to do anything to an artist who has absolutely no sense of ethics.

The worst example of this is with Reservoir Dogs where he lifts major plot elements from the Hong Kong crime drama City on Fire. And note: that wasn’t some classic film from decades before but rather a recent film starring Chow Yun-fat and Danny Lee.

What’s more, people around Tarantino have claimed he’s stolen work from then. This claim was most notably made by Roger Avary. And it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Tarantino doesn’t even understand the issue or believes all the world is simply fodder for his genius.

Charley Varrick

If you’re like me, you really liked the phrase “a pair of pliers and a blowtorch” in Pulp Fiction. It isn’t that I’m into torture; it is just that it’s a great phrase, “I’m gonna call up a couple hard pipe-hitting niggas to go to work on the homes here with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch.”

Robert Altman used to say that if you looked at the 5 best bits in any of his films, you’d find they were the results of accidents. This isn’t true, but he apparently liked to think it. But I’ve come to believe that anything I really like in a Quentin Tarantino film is actually by someone else.

About a year after seeing Pulp Fiction, I was watching TV late one night and Charley Varrick came on. It is about a bank robbery that goes wrong for unusual reasons and the consequences of them. It stars Walter Matthau in an unusual kind of star role. It’s a great film that you should really check out.

Two-thirds into the film, we get this very short bit:

That’s John Vernon delivering the line, “You know what kind of people they are. They’re gonna strip you naked and go to work on you with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch.”

Truthfully, I don’t know if the line is original to this movie; it may have been a common turn of phrase. I doubt it though; I’ve never heard it elsewhere.

The one thing I do know is that Tarantino got it from this film. Just watch the film; it is his kind of movie. And there’s nothing else in Pulp Fiction that references the line. He isn’t making a sly allusion to it. He’s just ripping it off.

Watch Beyond Quentin Tarantino

It’s actually kind of sad. Quentin Tarantino wants to make psychotronic films. But he doesn’t. He makes a particular kind of art film that is clever and easily digestible by his upper-middle-class audience. Part of that process is carving off notable moments from the psychotronic films he loves.

So his fans get to smirk at “My name’s Buck and I’m here to fuck.” But they’ll never get the experience of seeing Eaten Alive or Charley Varrick or City on Fire. Why would they need to when Tarantino rips it off for them in such a stylish package?


Quentin Tarantino at the 2010 Academy Awards by Sgt Michael Connors. It is in the public domain.

Is Psychotronic Film Relevant?

Elm Road Drive-In Theatre

Last week, work was going well. For a change, I wasn’t behind. So I decided to go out and watch some matinees at the second-run theater. And it got me thinking about what the meaning of “psychotronic” is in our current cinematic environment.

I first saw Joker and then I saw Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. These are both films that could traditionally be called psychotronic. Joker is more or less a combination Taxi Driver[1] and the original Tim Burton Batman. And Hollywood is a Quentin Tarantino film, which almost by definition means it was a brilliant collage of other people’s psychotronic films.

I enjoyed both films. But they also made me sad. They have all the style of psychotronic film, but none of its subversion. How could it? Both films cost tens of millions of dollars to make. No one puts up that kind of money without expecting a return on it.

Drive-Ins

A common definition of psychotronic is a film that plays at a drive-in. The problem is that any film can play at a drive-in. I first saw Terminator 2 at a drive-in. And both the films I saw last week will play at the few hundred remaining drive-ins.

It’s probably better to say that a psychotronic film can only be played at a drive-in (or something similar). This is why psychotronic films are almost always low-budget films. Even the worst Hollywood bomb is going to make more money on the stadium theater circuit than Blood Feast cost.

The lack of budget also allows filmmakers to say exactly what they want. I don’t think there’s any doubt that David Cronenberg would have been far more successful if he had checked his obsession with biological functions. Of course, if he had done that, he would be a pretty boring filmmaker.

Marketing

Another aspect of both these films is that they had huge marketing campaigns. The rule-of-thumb for Hollywood films is that they need to make twice their budgets to be profitable because as much money is spent marketing them as making them.

I don’t doubt that both of these films would eventually have found an audience even without a massive marketing campaign — although it may have taken a while. But neither would have the kind of mass appeal they do have. Is there really a large group of people begging for a film about a mentally ill clown? Or an alternate-reality version of the Manson family murders?

Same Old

But the main thing that bugs me is that there really is nothing new here. Joker is the story of an unstable young man’s descent into madness. And that’s the best part of the film. But in order to make it sellable, it was grafted onto a comic book universe.[2]

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is harder to parse. Is it all just in service to the revenge fantasy against the Manson family? If so, it’s Dirty Harry. If it’s all just an excuse to watch Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, then it’s just another buddy picture.

Not that there’s anything wrong with any of this. But there isn’t anything particularly interesting about it either. That same theater was also showing Ford v Ferrari and Cats. I doubt it would have been much different. In fact, I should go to see Cats, because everyone says how horrible it is and everyone is usually wrong about everything. Then again: Andrew Lloyd Webber. Ugh!

Better Films

Last week, I also discovered He Never Died. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen in the last decade. I love everything about it. And I don’t think it is a coincidence that it had perhaps one percent of the budget of these two perfectly fine, enjoyable, professional films.

Psychotronic Review was started as a way to advocate for unusual films that didn’t have multi-million dollar marketing budgets. So that’s why I don’t generally talk about Tarantino or Marvel films around here: they aren’t unusual and they don’t need my help getting the word out.

But it does remind me that I need to remove my article about Demolition Man, given it’s only here because of the elements Daniel Waters (Heathers) added to it.


[1] Yes, I see the homage to The King of Comedy. But other than the plot elements, it isn’t much like it.

[2] The film implies that the main character is not the Joker, given it is someone else who kills Bruce Wayne’s parents. The things you have to do to get $60 million for your film!

Elm Road Drive-in Theatre by Jack Pearce. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Maggie Mae Fish and the Problem With the Better Critics

Maggie Mae Fish

Maggie Mae Fish is an actor, producer, and writer. She is also a YouTube film critic. She is generally quite insightful when it comes to analyzing mainstream films. Even when she provides ridiculous takes, I find them interesting.

Where she fails is anytime she mentions lower-budget films. I’ve seen this a number of times where she’s dismissed Ed Wood as a director. This always makes me think that she hasn’t watched much of his work.

She notes that Ed Wood’s acting in Glen or Glenda is “heartwrenching and honest.” But later in the same video she says, “Ed Wood, the notoriously bad director, managed to tackle the subject of his own cross-dressing with more dignity than the auteur Tim Burton.” In addition to calling Wood a bad director, in what world is he not even more of an auteur than Tim Burton?!

This is a backhanded compliment at best and ultimately only present to attack another filmmaker. She doesn’t ever say why Ed Wood is bad. It’s just an assumption that she has that informs all of her work. And it’s a shame because there is very little other than conventional wisdom to back it up.

Christmas Evil

I wouldn’t have brought this up except that she made a video about one of my all-time favorite films, Christmas Evil. I want to be fair, though; she clearly likes the film. Yet the video is filled with cutting remarks that don’t make much sense.

She says:

This film is simultaneously all the things we love about the bizarre horror/Christmas subgenre, while also being a critique of capitalism, while also being bad.

She then goes on to note various things that make the film bad. But she does it in a way that makes it unclear whether she’s serious. This is good because everything she mentions is either trivial or untrue.

The only substantive claim she makes is about the editing of the company’s Christmas party. While this may be how it was edited on the VHS release of the film, this is not how it is edited in the excellent Vinegar Syndrome Blu-Ray edition.

(I’ve noted elsewhere a tendency for critics to complain about filmmakers when the problem clearly could be — and very often is — the fault of the print. This comes naturally from the critic’s inclination to nit-pick when they are determined to justify their complain that a film is “bad.”)

Just Admit You Like It Because It’s Good

Most of the rest of the review is laudatory. There are some complaints. She mentions that one scene goes on too long because of course, she’s the ultimate arbiter of that and knows far better than writer/director Lewis Jackson.

And she calls it a B-movie, which isn’t really accurate. Adjusted for inflation, it had a budget of almost $3 million. It’s lighting budget alone was over a million dollars. I consider Christmas Evil an art film that just happens to use the slasher genre.

But overall, Maggie Mae Fish shows a sincere appreciation for the film. I just wish that she and the relatively few critics like her (the rest are hopeless) would be more secure and defend what they like forthrightly. The whole “I like it but it isn’t good” pretense was annoying decades ago.

It’s now completely unacceptable.


Image taken from Maggie Mae Fish YouTube channel under Fair Use.

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.

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

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.

Money, Vision, and Psychotronic Film

Money, Vision, and Psychotronic Film

There is an interesting distinction between exploitation filmmakers. There are those who are just in it for the money — people like Herschell Gordon Lewis. And then there are visionaries (who were often con men) who would do whatever they could do to get their ideas on film — people like Ed Wood.

It doesn’t much matter to the final result. Lewis would never write anything as breathtakingly personal as Glen or Glenda. Yet in many ways the two men were quite similar. Wood certainly wanted his unique vision to be profitable. And Lewis was quite willing to tackle the social issues of his day in his later films.

Realism in Filmmaking

The issue, I think, is the realism of the filmmaker. Lewis famously said that he felt sorry for filmmakers who were trying to make art. Now, like so many things Lewis said, I think it was more for effect than anything else. But there is no doubt that Lewis was, as the Mothers put it, “only in it for the money.”

Wood, on the other hand, would have made his films if he knew that there was no money in it.

If Lewis Had Made Glen or Glenda

I focus on Glen or Glenda because it is Wood’s most pure vision — from his id on to celluloid. And this is why I consider it one of the greatest films ever made and the greatest idiosyncratic film ever made. (Oh, if he were only alive to see me write that! And sorry, George Barry: you still made a great film.)

But Lewis would have had no problem making Glen or Glenda himself — so long as he thought it would have made money. But I doubt it would have been as good — at least to viewers like me.

Wood was down on his knees begging society to understand him and those like him. Lewis would have been down on his knees looking for dropped dollars at the drive-in entrence.

Different Ways to Make a Great Film

Anyone who’s read more than a couple of sentences by me knows that I fall into the Ed Wood camp. Art? Professionalism? These are fine things in their right place. But they aren’t very important in psychotronic film. What I most love about psychotronic film is that it surprises me. When I first saw Glen or Glenda, I felt like I had entered Ed Wood’s brain — a wondrous place to spend an hour.

With Lewis’ films, I don’t get that experience. He never let’s me inside because his motivation is money, even if what he produced was often great.

An Aside: Ed Wood Was a Good Director

The idea that Ed Wood was a bad (much less the worst) director is nonsense. Most people who have seen any of his films have only seen Plan 9 From Outer Space — and only after being told it is a bad movie. And the rest just take it as a fact, having never seen it. (This is similar to Gary Larson’s “Hell’s Video Store,” which only had Ishtar for rent — a cartoon he created — and later apologized for — having never seen that great comedy.)

Plan 9 is not a bad film! Although hardly a great film, it is interesting throughout. What’s more, it’s subversive!

Focusing on Stupid Things

Yet people focus on things like the tombstones falling over. Why? Because they’ve been told to! I’m a movie fanatic. Now I mostly watch them alone, but I’ve watched hundreds with audiences, and they don’t notice things like this.

I think it wasn’t until my own fifth watching of Plan 9 that I noticed the tombstones. Why? Because I was concentrating on the story — like most viewers.

Who Does Professionalism Impress?

The exceptional amount of professionalism put into Hollywood films is put their for the filmmakers themselves. And this is why we end up with films like the first Star Wars looking so bad after a couple of years that Lucas was driven to replace all his special effects because two years later they were embarrassing. (I think doing that is an artistic sin; art exists in its own context; but I guess it isn’t a sin for Lucas because he is no artist.)

But most filmmakers don’t have that kind of money or power. So we have countless films that turn from live-action to cartoons and back. I personally find it distracting. Tombstones falling over on a tiny part of the screen is much easier to overlook than the fact that half of the third act of The Matrix Revolutions is a cartoon — and one that looks worse ever year.

Watch Jail Bait (which Ed Wood made between Glen or Glenda and Bride of the Monster). You will see a perfectly competent writer and director. Indeed, in terms of professionalism, he was easily as good as Herschell Gordon Lewis. But Wood had a personal vision that Lewis did not. And maybe Lewis is right: we should pity Wood.

But had Wood been an art painter, it is exactly this vision that would have made him a star. But since film is commodity to most people, Lewis is the success and Wood the failure.

Luck and the Movies

Still, we can’t lose sight of the fact that Lewis was just lucky. It’s not like gore wasn’t in the air. As I pointed out in my discussion of Blood Feast, Akira Kurosawa was already playing with gore in Yojimbo (1961) and in a spectacular way in Sanjuro (1962).

Had it not been for Blood Feast, Lewis would be remembered fondly by people like me for films like Scum of the Earth! and The Gruesome Twosome, but he would not be the icon he became.

The same is true of Wood, of course, but in a horrible way.

Some people decided to focus on Plan 9 From Outer Space and decide that it was the worst film ever. I don’t know where they got that idea — maybe just because Michael Bay hadn’t started making films yet. Most likely, they just didn’t understand what Wood was doing. And they probably hadn’t seen that many films anyway.

But it caught on. Ed Wood was “the worst director of all time” based upon seeing only one of his films and not understanding it. Sorry, but this is great writing and directing:

The Psychotronic Filmmakers Curse and Blessing

One thing you hear again and again in director commentaries on psychotronic films is disappointment. The directors wish they could have done this or that. Or they made a bad decision here. Or they really wish they had been able to go back and re-shoot this scene or shoot a missing transition. But they couldn’t. You never hear this from Hollywood directors because they aren’t constrained in that way. They’re constrained in a much worse way: in what the kind of film they can make to begin with.

Whether for money or vision, the psychotronic filmmaker is artistically free to make the kind of films they think people want to watch — whether they are right (as Lewis was) or wrong (as Wood was). In the end, we get films that delight us if we are open to them. All the “art” and professionalism in the world will not stop me from passing out before the first reel is finished.

Toward a Definition of Psychotronic Film 2: Content

The Dead Next Door - Head Biting Fingers - Toward a Definition of Psychotronic Film 2: Content

In my last article on this subject, Toward a Definition of Psychotronic Film, I discussed what I considered the three different kinds of psychotronic films: true, independent, and Hollywood. In this article, I want to discuss the importance of content in psychotronic film, because more and more, I think that’s probably the most important aspect of what makes a film psychotronic.

Psychotronic Film Is Not Static

A good example of this is Charlie Kaufman’s amazing film Synecdoche, New York. Most people would call it an art film. And in a sense it is. But it is also a horror film of the most unique variety. And it is a psychotronic film. It’s just that it is so much a psychotronic film — so far ahead of its time — that most people miss it. Most people don’t understand that it is a series of horrors one after the other — everything that terrified Kaufman. And that didn’t include zombies, because let’s face it: zombies really aren’t frightening anymore; they’re funny.

By saying that zombies aren’t frightening anymore is not to put down zombie pictures. They too are usually psychotronic films — and some of the most fun films around — Night of the Living Dead (1990) is one of my all time favorite films. (I would not classify The Walking Dead as psychotronic; it’s slickly produced melodrama; not that melodrama can’t be psychotronic; see, for example, Ed Wood’s quite good Jail Bait.)

There is a shocking experience that every serious psychotronic film fan goes through. You’ve finally got to the point of paying the unwarrented price for The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film. At last, it is in your hot little hands — the Bible! And you leaf through it to find this:

The Shaggy Dog

That’s right, according to the psychotronic film bible, the family-friendly, barely science fiction Disney comedy The Shaggy Dog (1959) was a psychotronic film.

Really?!

I’m not putting down The Shaggy Dog. I love all those old formulaic Disney films like The Love Bug, Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, and Return from Witch Mountain. I’ve seriously considered calling The Cat From Outer Space a psychotronic film. These are all wonderful films that everyone should force their children to watch.

But psychotronic? Not if the term is to mean anything at all.

As I discussed in the previous article, films that most people would consider psychotronic — Dracula (1931), for example — do not fit with Michael Weldon’s own definition in his grand opus.

But if Dracula and Bride of Frankenstein are not a psychotronic films, the genre doesn’t mean much.

What Psychotronic Fans Like

The kind of people who have seen Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! a dozen times will also enjoy The Hired Hand.

Yes, they are very different films. Yet there is something that binds them together. What that is I can’t yet say. But I do know that it says something about psychotronic fans. Things in films that other people hate, they love.

Personally, I find most conventional films boring. There’s nothing new — no surprises. What they offer me is professionalism, and in some cases, that’s great. But usually, it’s just movie-making by the numbers. A typical Hollywood film is professional, consistent, reassuring.

What I take away from Pablo Casals’ idea of focusing on the good in art is that the thrilling moments vastly outweigh the supposed bad parts. In other words, consistency is not all that important — certainly not when that consistency is mediocrity.

A good example of brilliant inconsistency (although there are so many) is The Dead Next Door (1989). I love JR Bookwalter — I love his cinematic sensibility. But I see that almost everything he’s done is uneven. Still, in The Dead Next Door, I was thrilled that zombies don’t die when you cut off their heads (Why would they?!) and that a character is killed by a zombie shortly after he cut its head off.

This is one of those moments that I would sit through multiple Michael (The Worst Director of All Timeā„¢) Bay films for. And there is much more to love than that scene in The Dead Next Door.

Content Really Matters

But regardless of my more theoretical considerations, I’ve begun to think that what really defines a psychotronic film is the content of the films. And that was always a big part how people defined the genre: films about bikers or monsters or women running around naked or The Man getting his just deserts and so on.

Freaking the Squares

There is a feeling in psychotronic film of empowerment of the outsider and of giving the mainstream middle-class world the finger. Psychotronic film is, perhaps above all, dangerous.

To put it in the vernacular of the 1960s, psychotronic films are ones that freak out (Night of the Living Dead (1968)) and confuse (Scanners (1981)) the squares.

I’m not suggesting idiosyncratic or niche content makes a film psychotronic. I still haven’t seen The Room (2003), but even though it seems like it falls under the idiosyncratic category, it looks like it was intended to be a standard film, simply one written, produced, directed, and starring a clinically narcissistic man.

A psychotronic film wants to be a psychotronic film. And that usually begins with the very idea for the film.

Psychotronic Film: Step-by-Step, Inch-by-Inch

But we are still left with psychotronic films being defined largely as obscenity, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it!”

Still, the effort goes on. And I believe we will come to a definition. But it will never be so clear that there won’t be fights about whether this or that film qualifies. But I think even today with no suitable definition, psychotronic fans would agree 95 percent of the time.

And I don’t believe anyone really thinks that The Shaggy Dog is a psychotronic film.

So Bad It’s Good? So Good It’s Great!

So Bad It's Good? So Good It's Great!

I think that the psychotronic film community can roughly be divided into two: the “serious” camp and the “so bad it’s good” camp. By “serious,” I mean that these people take the films seriously. They certainly will laugh at things from time to time, but they understand when watching a low-budget film that if something is wrong, it was almost never the result of incompetence but of lack of resources. The “so bad it’s good” camp is made up of people who mostly don’t know how films are made.

There should be no question which camp I’m in. I take these films extremely seriously. That doesn’t mean they are all good by any means. But they always have something typical Hollywood films normally lack: originality, unusual themes, or simple enthusiasm. Above all, they usually do not do things the “right” way, which means that they hold my attention better.

Plan Nine Is a Good Film

But there’s something else: I don’t think one person in a hundred would notice the tombstones fall over in Plan Nine From Outer Space if it hadn’t been pointed out so much. The first time I saw the film, I certainly didn’t notice, because my focus was on the characters and the stories. What’s much more amusing in the film is the tendencies for the cops to scratch their faces with their guns. But ultimately, it is a classic film because it is subversive. The happy ending is that the aliens win, because as it is, within a few years, humans will develop the Solanite bomb and destroy the universe.

That’s not very funny. But it is bizarre. Ed Wood made a monster movie with a theme that could have come straight from the Kremlin.

Shocker: Ed Wood Was a Competent Director

So it’s not like Ed Wood was an idiot. And he made a perfectly respectable B-movie in Jail Bait — right after making what I consider his masterpiece, but others consider a monstrosity, Glen or Glenda. When things went wrong, he didn’t particularly care. It wasn’t like it is now where people can watch the film dozens of times. They might see it once at a movie theater. Eventually, they might catch it on television.

But much of Plan Nine is amusing. But it’s also interesting, if bizarre, throughout.

The Beginnings of “So Bad It’s Good”

The truth is, I think the whole “so bad it’s good” philosophy was originally just a cover: something someone came up with to justify enjoying enjoyable, but weird films. But then it became a thing. And instead of laughing with the filmmakers, ignorant people thought they were laughing at them.

The Real “Worst Director”

It also got Ed Wood labeled the “Worst Director of All Time.” That’s just not true, as anyone who has watched all of his films can attest. In fact, he’s so far from the worst filmmaker that it is more bizarre than anything he ever put in any of his films.

If I had to pick the worst filmmaker of all time off the top of my head, it would be Michael Bay — a man who is given hundred million dollar budgets, the best artists and technicians in Hollywood, and still can’t make a film that isn’t predictable, repetitive, and boring. But his films look good, so no one questions him. I’d like to see what he could do with a $100,000 budget and no professional friends to work for free. It would probably be awful, but it might be the best thing he ever did.

These Films Aren’t Bad

Much of the purpose of this site is to convince people in the “so bad it’s good” camp that it’s okay to take these films seriously — it’s okay to enjoy them because they are enjoyable. They are sometimes profound. Above all, they are generally just weird. And that’s great!

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is a far more enjoyable film than Iron Man 3 (see my articles on its politics, physics, and use of Ben Kingsley).

This isn’t affectation. After seeing Attack of the 50 Foot Woman the first time, I knew the plot. I’ve written three articles about Iron Man 3 and at least one article on the first two. All I can remember is that in the first one he’s captured by some “bad guys” and has to have some special thing for his heart. Otherwise, nothing: just a rich guy playing around in his lab except when he has to put on his suit and fly around. Attack tells a compelling story. Iron Man is just eye candy.

By the way, I can say the same thing about all the super hero films I’ve seen. Their plots are as ridiculous as their characters. All they have to offer is professionalism, which I don’t find that compelling unless it is combined with creativity. That’s rare, but wonderful. I love Chocolat and Dean Spanley — of course, both of those are British productions. But they are both made by the highest caliber of professionals. I’m sure if Michael Bay had shown up on either set, the universe would have collapsed on itself.

Psychotronic Films Are Usually Just Weird

No film is so bad it’s good. Many psychotronic films are so good they are great, like Videodrome. Others are good solid films, like Don’t Look in the Basement. Many are riddled with problems but have so many touches of brilliance that they must be seen, like Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. But they are all enjoyable, unless what you think what is enjoyable is seeing the same thing you’ve seen hundreds of times before.