One of the things I enjoy most about the blogs I read is what they reveal about the individual preferences and perspectives of their authors. I'll confess that I get a voyeuristic jolt out of learning where an individual writer finds value in a creative work, especially if it's a particularly loopy creative work. Professor Jack once told me that, while he's not a fan of Jean Rollin, he's a fan of the fact that *I* am a Jean Rollin fan. I'm psyched to live in a world where there are so many people championing so much bizarre shit--that's a special brand of excellent!
After viewing "Experiments in Terror 3," a collection of short subjects linked by their horror themes, I had a similar experience to when I find an extra-awesome blog. Here is a diverse grouping of weird little films that has been lovingly assembled by curator Noel Lawrence that provides a showcase for independent filmmakers while giving a glimpse into the anthologist's brain. An installment in Lawrence's ongoing "Experiments in Terror" series which has screened in a variety of venues from indie cinemas to art galleries, the subjects here benefit from being viewed as a group. With its feet planted equally in the worlds of the horror genre and that of boundary-testing filmmaking, the collection spans almost fifty years of work and shows a distinct appetite for black comedy.
The compilation starts off on an unsettling note with Carey Burtt's "The Psychotic Odyssey of Richard Chase," a recounting of the crimes of serial murderer Richard Chase, the Vampire of Sacramento. For those unfamiliar with the case (or disinclined to click on the links I oh-so-politely provide you...!), Chase was a profoundly disturbed young man who murdered and cannibalized six people as a result of his belief that his body was decaying and he needed consume blood to survive. We're not talking about an "Investigative Reports"-style expose here, though--indeed, "Psychotic Odyssey" prefers hand-painted cardboard sets populated by fashion dolls, children's drawings and non-documentary found footage to tell its story of gruesome mayhem, somehow making the already-creepy into something creepier-still while eliciting a nervous laugh or two.
From this aggressively off-kilter, low-tech bit of weirdness, there's yet more evidence of a punk rock aesthetic in effect in J.X. Williams' 1975 "Satan Claus," which has one of the best movie-production backstories I've ever heard. Combining footage from Argento's "Deep Red" with scenes from an untintentionally DEEPLY disturbing kiddie flick from Mexico titled "Santa Claus" (remember that one from MST3K, with the devil...? Of course you do!) and tossing in music from the Stooges, this is a three minute nugget of pure subversive AWESOMENESS. According to the description, this film was assembled and screened by its maker at a children's film matinee after his movie-theatre-owner boss shorted him on wages over the course of several weeks. If the legend is to be believed (and much like Skunk Ape enthusiasts and UFOlogists, OH how I NEED to believe...!), the theatre owner was smacked with lawsuits and the delectable revenge was complete.
Plunging back into the world of the darkly perverse, the next entry is Jason Bognacki's 10-minute promotional reel for his upcoming film "Loma Lynda: The Red Door." I'm not sure this is going to be fulfilling as a "modern day giallo" (a word I cringe at and sometimes veer away from using myself since it's been incredibly over-used--we shall remember that this term was bandied about when the first "Saw" film was released), but there's a definite David Lynch influence in the structure, vintage music and eerie sexuality. Bognacki's visuals are striking and I'm curious to see how he works what look like trademark effects work into feature-length piece. I particularly dug the scratchy block-out that's superimposed over the actress' eyes. As an appetite-whetter, this piece certainly succeeds, because I'll be checking back on the film's website at LomaLynda.com.
Devoted nerds will bask in the fanboy glow of Ben Rivers' "Terror!," a grin-inducing homage to horror cliches. Composed of clips plucked from an array of readily recognizable horror films (keep your eyes peeled for "Halloween," "The Beyond," "Evil Dead," and "Tenebre," to name but a few), Rivers assembles a 24-minute mega-mix montage tracking our hapless victims from the old dark house through their oh-so-untimely and eek-so-graphic demises ending with a meta finale that strikes just the right note. Perhaps a bit over-long for all but the most gung-ho of horror-film geeks, this particular gung-ho horror geek had a blast playing "name that film" and watching the clever juxtaposition of the tension-building frames.
Mike Kuchar's "Born of the Wind" is an 8mm silent whose 1961 date sets it ahead of the curve in terms of psychedelic madness. Telling the story of a scientist who revives and ultimately falls in love with an Ancient Egyptian princess (proving that I need a "sexy mummy" tag after all), this film incorporates matte-painted backgrounds, hand-lettered intertitles, Karo-syrup blood, and stop-motion animation into an almost-transcendent ode to art student ingenuity. There's a little Ray Dennis Steckler feeling in the presentation here, with the whole production taking on an endearing kitchen-sink quality by the time the WTF final frames roll.
Rounding out the official presentation is "Manuelle Labor" by Marie Loser and Guy Maddin, an homage to the early days of film that plays a bit like a Dame Darcy comic strip without the lovely illustrations or the high level of wackiness. I must confess that I found this to be the weakest entry into the grouping, playing like a film undergrad's end-of-semester project ("I'm sure they got an A and all, but that didn't work for me," quippeth Baron XIII). I react with great squickitude to themes of childbirth, yet this pregnancy-themed short didn't resonate with me. Still--its place in the collection is justified as it does share a similarly kooky worldview with the rest of the shorts.
I think "Manuelle Labor" suffers in the scatological fallout from the also-silent-era-inspired one-reeler bonus, "It Gets Worse" by Clifton Childree. Now, I'm generally against the use of the words guilty pleasure in conjunction with one another but--dear readers--if ever something could be justly dubbed a guilty pleasure, it's the work of Clifton Childree. A visionary whose arsenal of images includes sailors, erotic arcade amusements, oversized genitalia, and excrement, Childree crafts slapstick stories that lower the level of artistic discourse to a probably-flooded and definitely-disused sub-basement of the human experience. I rarely get to indulge in bathroom humor in my household, so it is with great blushing and discomfort that I confess to the amount of internal giggling I did at this film. It's truly must-see stuff for fans of the outrageous.
Seriously, friends--check out this interview with Clifton Childree on the Miami New Times website and prepare to become an instant fan. If you're not convinced by THAT, check out the embedded video of "Something Awful" here. Then trust me when I say "It Gets Worse" does precisely that.
Embracing lowbrow and high-concept with equal joy, Noel Lawrence has created a fascinating collection of films linked by their horror themes, and this is a fascinating curiosity for genre fans. "Experiments in Terror 3" is available for purchase through Microcinema DVD.