Thursday, November 4, 2010
We've all been there. You're drunk, you're out dancing, you meet a guy that seems nice, if a wee bit eccentric. A couple of days later, you meet up for a coffee to get to know each other in a less-oontzy atmosphere and it comes out that he thinks he's a 400-year-old vampire who can control the weather. You're left with a difficult decision: Stay and get a GREAT story and maybe-just-maybe wind up a torso in an abandoned lot somewhere in the Bronx, or leave and become less anecdotally enriched.
The 2007 documentary "Impaler" seems to have put its filmmakers, W. Tray White and Brian Dickson, in a similar situation. Setting out to chronicle the political campaign of Jonathon "The Impaler" Sharkey, founder of the Vampyres, Witches and Pagans Party, White and Dickson wind up weaving a much more complex story. What could have been the tale of an eccentric underdog is transformed into an exploration of one man's delusions and the damage he leaves in his wake.
Sharkey is an unusual figure and it's easy to see why the filmmakers decided to follow his story. A self-identified sanguinary vampire who claims to be a descendant of medieval ruler Vlad Tsepes, Sharkey spouts Satanic philosophies (everything from the "I'm'a get mines" egocentric LaVeyan stuff to more mystical Luciferian musings) and builds a political platform consisting of equal parts "tenuous grasp on the American judicial system" and "firm grasp on the American love of violence." There are scenes of Sharkey and his partner drinking one another's blood that look like a sideshow gaffe--his repeated insistence that the cameraman "look at the holes" he's made with his teeth have a far more carnival air than the sacredness he insists is implicit in the act.
Initially sketched as a strange but harmless outcast given to boastfulness (PhD, professional wrestler, NASCAR-certified...), it becomes apparent that Sharkey is probably a compulsive liar. We're not just talking about delusions of grandeur here--the stuff he's lying about includes such doozies as "may have attempted to fake his own death." Things aren't as harmless as they appeared at first, and the sense is that the filmmakers are as surprised by the revelations as are the viewers.
Among all of the mental-social gymnastics the human brain is asked to execute on a daily basis, determining what is "normal" versus "not normal" is among the most controversial (if not THE most controversial). I struggle with dubbing a person as "abnormal," considering there are a lot of things about me that another individual might (rightly) judge as being "other than normal." That having been said, many of the revelations about Sharkey that occur over the course of this film are pretty disturbing, and while the evidence of his potential mental illness is sad, he's still not a very sympathetic individual.
I appreciated the efforts of the filmmakers to be relatively un-judgey, given the source material, and would recommend "Impaler" to other viewers seeking a glimpse at the oddball corners of the American experience. Good news for Netflix members--this off-beat documentary is available on Netflix Instant!