Monday, June 30, 2014

Print Your Own Revolution: Jon Szpunar's XEROX FEROX


DIY. Three delicious letters that hold more power than entire scripts consisting of the rest of the alphabet. The ethos of do-it-yourself is one that has spearheaded everything from political revolutions to cultural movements. The former in the past could inspire things like rioting and decapitation. The latter could be slightly more gentle, with one of its many forms resulting in the zine movement. This inspired an assortment of writers and simply enthusiastic fans creating their own magazines. This shined brighter in fewer fields than film, with horror and cult movies becoming a huge part of the DIY periodical zenith. At last, a tome dedicated to this rich, fun and occasionally troubled field has come out, all thanks John Szpunar's meticulously put together XEROX FEROX: THE WILD WORLD OF THE HORROR FILM FANZINE.

XEROX FEROX begins from, where else, the beginning, with its chapter/interview formatting starting with such genre film writing legends as Steve Bissette, Bhob Stewart, Gary Svehla, Tim Lucas and Chas Balun, as well as the young Turks that came along a little later, like Bill Landis, Keith Crocker, Greg Goodsell, Mike McPadden, Shane DallmannTim Paxton and Andy Copp. And they are just the tip of the iceberg! In fact, each individual profiled in this book ranges in personality, approach and aesthetics. From old school Universal Monsters moon-eyed love to a celebration of all things grue-filled and naked nubile flesh, all of them are unified by one very important thing. The sheer drive and need that only the purest of passion and enthusiasm can breed. It's like obscenity. Hard to define but you'll know it when you see it.

Matching the subjects enthusiasm is the sheer amount of research and care that both Szpunar and the book's publisher, headpress, put into this work. It is an instant historically important tome and a needed read for both genre film fans and nonfiction writers, young and seasoned alike. These are stories that were needing to be documented and bless all involved for doing just that. Hopefully, it will be a touchstone for other like-minded compendiums to bear fruit. Imagine XEROX FEROX-quality books covering the music zines, the poetry zines, the DIY comics, etc etc. All of this is art that is not really that old but yet is in continual danger of being lost due to its fringe, low-budget origins.

The only real negative with this book is how little women are featured. No singular woman is mentioned. It would have been nice to see someone like Maitland McDonagh get mentioned, since she's a great writer who has been in this field since the 1980's. Michelle Clifford does at least get mentioned in conjunction with Bill Landis, since she worked with him on the latter stages of Sleazoid Express, as well as being the main figure behind Metasex. This isn't necessarily Spuznar's fault, but is more of a symptom of a bigger problem that is the boy's club of genre film writing where women have been relegated more to the sidelines, only to be dusted off for the occasional female-centric bone thrown their way. It can be a well meaning thing, but the best surefire route to equality is just to treat a female writer like you would a male writer. But all that aside, this is a fine book that will inform and inspire those of any category. Long live the DIY press!

© 2014 Heather Drain

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The South Will Never Rise Again

Flashback all the way to the hallowed early 2000's. I still had a stomach for constructs like internet message boards, with one of the best being the one at Patty Mahlon's loving and meticulously constructed William Girdler website. It was on that very board where I first read about a Long Island erotic atrocity known as “Lulu & Friends” aka “Valley Stream Slut.” This film was helmed by a true Renaissance man, Keith Crocker. Keith, in addition to being the man responsible for the fabulous “The Exploitation Journal,” an early and seminal horror/cult zine, he also has directed some of the most unique and balls out features like “The Bloody Ape” and “Blitzkrieg:Escape from Stalag 69.” 

DVD Cover art of Crocker's "The Bloody Ape"
 Getting to know Keith via this message board, I was always impressed with his storytelling abilities, especially when related to his experiences as an independent filmmaker. The stories were often unflinching about the non-glamorous aspects of the business but always were tinged with a wink and a nod kind of humor. In short, they were a fun and terrific read. Out of all the great stories Keith wrote about on that long dead-in-the-ground forum, the tale of his one and only foray into the seemingly seamy world of X-rated film making was as harrowing as it was hilarious. Little did I know that years from then, that I would be watching this infamous film in the comfort of my own living room.

Lulu meets one of her "friends."
Not too long after reading about Keith's tales of “Lulu” and her randy friends, I had also read a review of an equally sexually inept adult film on the Girdler-Board sister-site-of-sorts, the now long defunct Brains on Film. That website's main man, Larry Joe Treadway aka Professor Tread, was one of the funniest and most unique film writers on the internet at that time. Out of the sizable body of review work he built up, it was his write-up of one of the most striking, brain-scratching and life-affirming-in-every-wrong-way-possible films, courtesy of the impressive film library at Something Weird Video. A film that, once seen, will stay with you like a drunken hug from your Southern uncle. That is, if your Southern uncle also happens to be wearing a beat up and stained Halloween superhero costume.

Something Weird Video's DVD release of "Bat Pussy."
The film in question was 1973's “Bat Pussy.” A film so obscure that the odds of its cast and crew ever surfacing are about as good as finding a photo of Frank Sinatra testifying against the Mafia. Dialogue rich with white trash psychodrama bordering on burma shave with the biggest “star” being an issue of Screw magazine, “Bat Pussy” is a film whose description will never do justice to what your eyes and ears will see and hear. I will, of course, though, give it my best shot. (It is a real shame that Tread's review of it is MIA since it has remained one of my favorite pieces of film writing ever, with him describing the movie as “John Waters' Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf. That might be the most accurate statement ever written about “Bat Pussy.”)

Best SCREW Magazine plug ever!
You may be wondering what do these two films have in common, other than being two extremely low-budget, ultra-obscure adult films? Not much other than a sense of human sexuality going directly past eroticism and into a transcendent netherworld that will leave you mystified, giggling and wondering why your sex drive just took a left turn to Albuquerque and is never coming back!

With “Lulu & Friends,” Crocker was given a lot of unenviable cards in his deck. Sure, his leading lady, our titular Lulu, is enthusiastic and gets an absolute A for effort. Her acting is a bit rough but she does try, with the highlight including a crude and funny spectral encounter. Actually, the women in the film all get an A for trying. One of her friends, a very attractive, dark haired beauty valiantly tries to get her boyfriend, whose bad haircut and horrible taste in underwear just screams coke head late 80's scumbag, to rise to attention. But it's no use. You really just want to reach through the screen and say, “Honey, it's okay. Go shower up and get a nicer man. One whose taste in bikini underwear won't make you instantly question where you're headed in life.” 

Bad decision making.
With “Bat Pussy,” the issue of male virility rendered flaccid despite the near-heroic attempts by giving women comes into play too. Unlike “Lulu & Friends,” where at least some of the couplings actually result in some sort of fruition, “Bat Pussy” is like one mobious strip of bickering and a man, the only man in the whole bloody film, whose failure to achieve any sort of usable erection starts to feel like it s an unintentional metaphor for our failure to ever achieve true greatness in this life. Or maybe he just had whiskey dick. You never know.

In lieu of a pretty brunette, we have our hero's wife, a pale, bouffanted Shirley-type who vacillates between trying to turn on her man and bitching at him. With lines like, “You wouldn't know how to eat pussy if it was your dead grandmother's” (!!!) and “You don't love me, motherfucker!,” you can maybe understand why he is having a bit of a difficult time getting aroused. In fairness to her, what woman wants to hear her redneck amour droning on about how “we need to do this just like in the magazine” and that ever sweet bon-mot, “Darling, she meant nothing to me!”? 

Probably a relative.
At least with “Lulu,” there's a very loosely-restrained feeling of rompiness, rendered all the more surreal by Crocker's absolutely brilliant use of music. Honestly, the music saves a large portion of the sex scenes, which otherwise would be bordering on the unwatchable. Everything from funk classics to some incidental music most famous for being used on “The Little Rascals” movie shorts, all pop up throughout the film, as if it is an act of pure directorial alchemy.



That said, there is one mighty big advantage that “Bat Pussy” has and that is all in the form of its title character. Imagine Batman if he was a cornfed dame whose “lair” was a cement dinge-room, complete with a hobbity-hop in lieu of a car and the rattiest Superhero costume this side of “Rat Fink a Boo Boo.” If the words, instant awesome, came to mind then you would be correct! Here's a character that neither Marvel or DC Comics would want to touch with a 10-foot pole, which is their loss. Bat Pussy is all sorts of foul-mouthed, bent-moral wonder and yet, sadly, not even she can get a happy physical result from our hero. Her classy reaction? “You don't know how to fuck, motherfucker!” I hope this man got some good therapy afterwards, that is if he didn't end up buried under a bridge in Anywhere, Southern USA.

The splendor of the Bat Pussy Headquarters.
At the end of the day, while both “Lulu & Friends” and “Bat Pussy” may fail in the arousal department, they took, intentionally (“Lulu”) and unintentionally (“Bat Pussy”) their individual weaknesses and transformed them into a viewer experience that is as hilarious as it is harrowing and even Artaudian in its regard for the audience. Plus, both are still better than anything Julia Roberts has starred in. (Thank you, thank you and please, tip your piano player!) 

 ©2014 Heather Drain

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Counter-Revolution: A Mini-Tribute to Trumpeter Extraordinaire, Atlanta Bliss

 
The world of music is not unlike some strange, often decadent beehive. You have your preening lead singers and showoff guitarists, which are the equivalent to the mated Queen Bee. The music (and money) (and drugs) are the honey but what about the worker bees? They are the ones that do a lot of the work and yet, are often just relegated to drone status. But a great hive is nothing without its worker bees and one of the musicians who has had some of the absolute best line-ups is Prince. Rivaled only by Frank Zappa, Prince is one of those composers who has always had the best of the best in his band. From the Revolution to the NPG, dollars to donuts, if you're a musician who has worked with Prince, you are the true blue real deal.
 
Out of the countless names on that list, the one that is often unfairly neglected is Atlanta Bliss aka Matt Blistan. Brought into the fold during the tail end of the Revolution by fellow jazz musician/badass, saxophonist Eric Leeds, Blistan's trumpeting skills added some rich dimension to Prince's music. At times sonically evoking such greats like Miles Davis, he provided a mix of old school jazz and new world funk to an instrument that very few associate with megafamous popular artists.


Plus, the cat's got style. Even from the often brief glimpses of him in assorted Prince related videos and live footage, the white and black suits, thick head of dark hair and a mustache that would have fit in perfectly on Tyrone Powers, all reek of a man cool enough to be called Atlanta Bliss and get away with it.

Blistan continued to play off and on with Leeds after his time with Prince, as well as appearing on a number of Paisley Park artists albums, including George Clinton, Mavis Staples and Carmen Electra. (How is that for brain frying?) There's not a lot of info about Blistan after the mid-90's period other than a great home video clip on YouTube of him tearing it up on "Brazil" at a business conference from the late 2000's. Hopefully this will be an article I can expound upon more in the near future, but until then, consider this a mini-tribute to a fantastic trumpet player, great musician and overall cool guy. Matthew Blistan, thank you for bringing it.



© 2014 Heather Drain

Monday, April 14, 2014

Seraphim & Erotic Lanterns: An Examination of Roberta Findlay's ALTAR OF LUST & ANGEL ON FIRE


The thing about being a pioneer is that the land you are cutting into is going to range vastly. The law of averages states that for every acre of rich, fertile soil you find, you are also going to discover some barren, rocky land too. This Peekarama double-feature, courtesy of the fantastic folks over at Vinegar Syndrome, showcases two films that are the very definition of this, with the one commonality being that they were both directed by cult film pioneer Roberta Findlay. This particular disc features 1971's ALTAR OF LUST as well as the 1974 feature, ANGEL ON FIRE. 


ALTAR OF LUST stars the fabulously named “Erotica Lantern” as Vivica. A petite and bewigged beauty, she reclines on a shrink's (Fred J. Lincoln) psychedelic paisley patterned couch and begins to tell him of her highly dysfunctional childhood. All was well for little Vivica until her father died when she was only 14. Her mother, besotted with grief, married a gold-digging oaf named Hans (C. Davis Smith). That's right, Hans. While he might have the name of a European pastry chef, Hans is actually one lecherous boar of a man. As soon as his wife dies, he follows a newly adult Vivica, who is resplendent in some really fantastic white go-go boots and ends up raping her in the woods. In a move to make us about as uncomfortable as Ms. Lantern must have been during the making of this scene, the cinematic violation goes on way too long, with the camera steadfastly focused on Hans' pasty-twitchy-man-ass. It feels hateful.

Finally, he finishes and leaves her traumatized in the grass. Abandoning her pig of a step-parent, as well as her dead mother's farm, Vivica moves to the City and almost instantly finds love in the form of Don (a pre-mustachioed Harry Reems). He's handsome, gentle and a wonderful lover, with the two getting serious enough to move in together. This results in some semi-simulated sex scenes that read fairly fun and passionate, including one especially cute and playful shower scene. 


Everything seems idyllic for the saucy lover-birds until one afternoon, when Vivica comes home to find Don in flagrante delicto with another woman, Marie (Suzy Mann.) To say that the couple are nonplussed by Vivica's appearance is a Plymouth Rock-sized understatement. In fact, Marie's instantly smitten and immediately starts pawing and “making nice” with Vivica, who does the sensible thing and walks out. Okay, that's a total lie. Nope, instead our heroine gets starkers and quickly finds that she is crazy about Marie's physical affection. To the extent that Don quickly is downgraded from ultra-lover to nuisance. 


This leads to Vivica's further angst, making her exclaim to her shrink, “Doctor. I'm a lesbian! Can you cure me?” He refuses to make a judgment call, but seems to change his mind by the end of the film when (Spoiler Alert) he decides to remedy her of these Sapphic leanings with some unorthodox therapy. Note, if your psychiatrist says things to you like “Think of me as a man, not as a doctor.” which is then followed up with, “It really works quite well.” get the hell out of the room and find a lawyer stat.

ALTAR OF LUST is one weak cup of tea. That said, thanks to the typically wonderful restoration job by Vinegar Syndrome, the film does look good. Certainly a million miles away from the murkier print in its previous release from Something Weird Video. The colors pop nicely and on top of that, there is some terrific voice over work. For starters, you get to hear the unmistakable dulcet, New York meets New England tones of Roberta's then husband Michael as the shrink. In fact, hearing Michael's voice ask questions like, “Did Don remind you of your father?” is a perverse treat for any fans of his own acting/directing work like The Flesh Trilogy. Roberta also does a good job voicing the eternally confused Vivica, at times out acting poor Erotica Lantern. (What a name, though!) 


ALTAR OF LUST was released in 1971, which was a weird cusp period for sexploitation. Hardcore was increasingly growing strong, starting with Bill Osco's groundbreaking 1970 film MONA, but many softcore filmmakers were not quite ready to take the full plunge. So here you have a weird blend of blatantly simulated sex, shots of erections, a brief unsimulated blow job and some fun with digits. Speaking of the art of physical love, I'm not sure if I have ever seen more un-reluctant simulated lesbian sex. You can almost feel the actresses thoughts, “What? I have to put my head down where? Fine, but I ain't touching it!” It gets even more sad when one of the lady-on-lady love scenes is cross-cut with a much more earthy scene with Harry and a belly dancer. (Though her somewhat fresh looking C-section scar is a bit jarring. To the point where I was yelling at the screen, “Be careful!” when he starts going down South.)

Ultimately, ALTAR OF LUST is more of an interesting relic from an era when softcore was awkwardly transitioning into hardcore. Thankfully, the second feature on this disc is miles ahead of the game.


ANGEL ON FIRE aka ANGEL NUMBER NINE opens up with a love scene between the handsome but highly dickish Stephen (Alan Marlowe) and Carol (Judy Craven). Their afterglow is quickly spoiled by Carol's declarations of love to her monumentally insensitive lover. Things get even more awful for the poor girl when she breaks it to him that she is pregnant, prompting him to yell and throw her out of his apartment. (What a peach!) 


Little does Stephen know that his life is going to be cut short, thanks to George (Marc Stevens) getting distracted behind the wheel while a lovely lass “attends” to him. Stephen gets hit, promptly dies and goes to heaven. It is there he meets Angel Number 9 (Jennifer Jordan), the same woman who was with George just moments ago. She informs Steven that while he was not horrible enough on Earth to warrant going to “the other place,” he was enough of a cad to not deserve Paradise either. Not yet.

To earn entry into Heaven, he will have to return to Earth as Stephanie (Darby Lloyd Rains), a beautiful blonde. Initially resistant, even remarking that “I'd rather be dead than be a woman,” he quickly changes his tune once the gravity of the situation dawns on him. Angel makes love to him and then sends him on his journey. Once Stephanie knows true love and heartbreak akin to what she/he caused so many hapless young women back when she was Stephen, only then can she return to Heaven proper.


Eager to use her new body, she immediately hooks up with a concerned and confused George, direct at the scene of the accident. Despite his constant statements of “You're really strange,” Stephanie's weird behavior is not enough to thwart him from knocking boots with her at his scumpit of an apartment. Afterwards, she goes home and gets further acquainted with her new womanly form. In the morning, she ends up seducing one of her male form's girlfriends, Linda (Day Jason.) She actually manages to convince Linda that she really is the reincarnation of Stephen and after that, they make love. Feeling some goodwill, Linda ends up connecting Stephanie to a successful fashion photographer named Jeff (Jamie Gillis.)


Stephanie ends up falling fast for the moody and darkly handsome Jeff and in no time, he charms her into his bed. Love soon becomes intensely unhealthy codependency with Jeff being an even bigger misogynist than Stephanie was when she was Stephen. The painful to watch downward spiral ends up proving to be too much for our redemptive heroine and she/he gets to ascend back to Heaven. 


ANGEL ON FIRE is a reverse negative of ALTAR OF LUST in that it is a really, really good movie. The story, taking a few cues from the 1964 Tony Curtis film GOODBYE CHARLIE and hence, later on influencing the 1991 Blake Edwards comedy, SWITCH, is smart and plays out like it is driven from both the heart and the mind. For being helmed by a director who has been quoted saying that she would never want a woman on her film crew, ANGEL ON FIRE is a strong, pro-woman film that delves into the true heartbreak of bad relationships. It's not the obvious heartsickness of being in love with someone who will never return your affection, but the deeper sadness of not loving and respecting yourself enough to know that you deserve better. Women were (and still are to some degree) coming from a background where your definition of self was attached to a man. As if you're almost a ghost, all sad eyed until Mr Husband Potential shows up and makes you whole. It's a bit of a generalization but one with large, booming seeds of truth.


 There's also the sexual orientation play, with the former macho man Stephen suddenly eager to break his virginity with a man. As Stephanie, he dives into sex with the lanky-handsome George, even remarking something to effect, “mine was bigger.” Which is a funny touch of bravado, since he/she is saying this to Mr. Marc “10 1/2” Stevens. A lot of guys who are very “fucking A” with their masculinity usually are hiding something, whether it is an insecurity in sexual ability or a deep rooted attraction to the most forbidden fruit for the North American mook: another man.

The cast is top notch with the always wonderful Darby Lloyd Rains, who is best known for her lead turn in Radley Metzger's masterful NAKED CAME THE STRANGER, ruling as Stephanie. She's passionate, likeable and at times, heartbreaking, truly showing the transformation from the assholish Stephen to the redeemed Stephanie. Jamie Gillis is both sensual and frightening as the ultimate spoiled fruit of a man, Jeff. In contrast to our torn heroine, Jennifer Jordan is strong as Angel Number Nine. The supporting cast are all great with industry legend Eric Edwards popping up as Angel Number Ten, looking every inch the male ideal of a seraphim.

Once again, bless the folks at Vinegar Syndrome for not only releasing this historically and creatively important set, but for obviously caring about a type of film that most critics and historians to this day still turn their nose at. Remember folks, cultural revolution is always closer than you think.


© Heather Drain 2014




Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Carnies, Boobs, Cab Calloway & the 6th Dimension: Richard Elfman returns with Forbidden Zone 2


Words like “sequel” and “reboots” fill my heart with wholly cynical dread, complete with me quoting John Hurt from "Spaceballs", mouthing “Oh no! Not again!” Given the bloated six-headed beast that Hollywood has become, burping and farting up remake after sequel after reboot, I think this reaction is most natural. Just when I feel completely and thoroughly turned off to the idea of such creatures, a sequel comes along that actually feeds me some curiosity and hope. Who better to supply such twin elementals of joy than Mystic Knight of Oingo Boingo founder and the man responsible for one of the greatest cult musicals ever created, “Forbidden Zone,” Richard Elfman?

Thirty plus years later, Elfman has created a fundraising page via Indie-a-Go-Go for this very special and unexpected sequel. The immediate question that may come to mind with a sequel to “Forbidden Zone,” is how? Most of the core cast, namely Susan Tyrell and Herve Villechaize, have shuffled off this mortal coil and given the Max Fleischer from Mars approach that the original possessed, one has to wonder, how could anything possibly live up to all of that?


But the stills, including Elfman himself as one fabulously scummy circus clown gone to seed, look promising. The premise is pretty spectacular, involving amazons, inbred corn-pone mommas, wee sized royalty, interracial romance involving a character named Pythagorus Jones, a giant army of cloned pinheads and Elfman's daughter-in-law and former “Dharma & Greg” star Jenna Elfman performing an aerial dance described as “ballet of the chicken.” Also, there are some great pictures on Richard Elfman's Facebook of his clown, Papa Jupe, getting wailed on by fringe culture/stage phenom Jesse Merlin (“FDR: American Badass”). Even better is that the music promises to be a mix of old standards with originals courtesy of Richard's younger brother, sonic genius Danny Elfman. (Whom any of you cool enough to be in the know will also remember playing the most suave version of Satan ever in the original “Forbidden Zone.”)

Interestingly enough, there's no mention of Matthew Bright, who was both one of the main writers, as well as pulling acting duty playing both Rene and Squeezit Henderson (under the exquisite pseudonym, Toshiro Baloney) in the original. But the fact that Richard is at the helm, along with smartly creating a universe of new characters, all of this promises to be anything but boring. This is one sequel that has all the potential to thrill one's black little crusty-cynic soul with big bright hope.




Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mondo Roundup: The Respectable Edition (Aka We Miss You, Dave Brockie)


With the arts, “respectability” always seems to be tied to having a huge hateful aversion to the pleasure-center of our brain. This entails anything that makes you giggle, chortle, moan or even shriek out of fright. If you feel these emotions and all of their fun based kin, then it is NOT art. Which you know what? Is total, foaming-at-its-fetid-mouth-bullshit. It's this kind of elitism that I rally against, especially since it denies so many really good and even brilliant artists the respect and examination they deserve.

Now this rant is nothing new from me, but with the recent passing of GWAR front man and founder, Dave Brockie, it feels more important than ever. Especially after seeing someone online act like they couldn't or shouldn't mourn because basically GWAR didn't make “serious” art. Which is really sad. First of all, Brockie died way too young at age 50 and was, by all accounts, an incredibly sweet, funny and smart guy. I never knew him personally but always was impressed with him in interviews, loved GWAR in general and even made sure to note his badass turn as a sleazy cook in the independent film “Hackjob” when I had to review it a few years ago. (Seriously, while the film itself had some issues, Brockie singing an R-rated version of the Kiss disco-mutated song, “I Was Made for Loving You” is heart warming.)

Whenever things can turn weird and dark in your real life, sometimes it is bands like GWAR that help you get through it. We all love Leonard Cohen but you gotta have the light hearted yin to the melancholy yang. Laughing, rocking out and getting in touch with your inner Beavis can be tremendously healing. It's also important to keep in mind that no one in that band was or is dumb and provided the crude and Grand Guignol with a cheeky sense of knowing. The world is a little less bright without Dave Brockie in it, but the man has left behind a legacy of one of the most colorful bands to have emerged out of the punk/metal scene that, despite what some may have you think, actually did make some really good music.

The beauty of this world is that there is plenty of room for every stripe of creative expression. Remember kids, Marcel Duchamp once said that you can point at anything and call it art. And if it was good enough for a genius like Duchamp, then it should be good enough for all.


In others news, keep an eye out for upcoming articles, both here and abroad, covering artists ranging from Alejandro Jodorowsky to Actually Huizenga to Duke Mitchell and many, many more.

In the meantime, feel free to indulge in some of my recent article and podcast madness. Enjoy!



The Projection Booth Episode 158: SMOKER (Guest hostess duties with the always great Mike White & Rob Mary. Guests include David Christopher, Sharon Mitchell, Susie Bright, Ron Jeremy.)

The Cotolo Chronicles: Generating Godzilla Episode (Frank Cotolo & I discuss all things bright and Kaiju.)






© 2014 Heather Drain

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Gut-Punched by the Crime-Horror Tango: Tammi Sutton's ISLE OF DOGS


Everyone, at some point in their life, has to make a deal with the devil. Whether it is a mundane yet strangely soul damaging task at your day job or something far bigger and sinister, you cannot exist for any real length of time on this planet without having your inner happiness or personal code of ethics compromised. In Tammi Sutton's incredible 2011 dark crime film, ISLE OF DOGS, this damaged lesson of the human condition is explored in the messiest of ways.

ISLE OF DOGS centers around the beautiful Nadia (Barbara Nedeljakova), who is trying to escape her increasingly violent marriage via her lover, Riley (Edward Hogg). The husband in question, Darius (Andrew Howard) is one charismatically nasty piece of work. A British Gangster who succeeds with just enough cunning and psychosis to make him truly dangerous, with things getting even dicier when he discovers Nadia's infidelity. But that is only the beginning, as the timeline begins to grow into a briar patch of blood, emotion and the eternal question, how far can too far go? 


In a cinematic landscape filled with the same old beige toned retreads, ISLE OF DOGS is one vibrant, pulsing breath of fresh air. Gone are the one-two-three pastiche of arthritic genre cliché and in its place, is a film that is smart enough to respect your intelligence and visual enough to keep your eyes continually engaged. Nary a minute of lag and rhythmically paced without sacrificing the integrity of the story or your brain, director Sutton has crafted a dark gem with this film. Equally impressive is the intertwining of a Kray Brothers type breed of gangster film with giallo inspired underpinnings. These are two approaches that have no right to work together and yet are wholly seamless here.

The cast is equally great here, with the three main leads all turning in ridiculously solid performances. Both Hogg and Nedeljakova deliver as the attractive and haunted lovers, with the latter really capturing someone who is a mixture of bruised vulnerability and fight or flight steel-toed instinct. But it is Howard who makes the strongest impression as one of the most striking villains in recent memory. A character as heinous as Darius needs an actor that can deliver brutality in such a sadistically magnetic way that leaves you both horrified and compelled and with Howard, you get all of this and more. Whether it is him getting weepy over his dog that he just shot and killed or inviting his buddies to all but pull an implied train on his wife, this is a character you will not easily forget. All three actors are wonderful in ISLE OF DOGS, but Howard is definitely the one to keep an eye out for in the future.


 On a cinematically technical level, ISLE OF DOGS won me over with its attention to both color and music. Film being such a visual medium, it is depressing to see how many current day filmmakers almost defiantly refuse to emphasize color, shadows and lighting. This is something so cleanly rectified here, with enough color and stylistic set composition to make any Italian horror maestro happy. The first five minutes alone seals this. Music wise, Tim Polecat provides a nice moody yet twangy score that hooks you, along with everyone else attached to this film.


ISLE OF DOGS is a film that never compromises on revealing the darkness of the stained human condition that plagues its characters but yet refuses to revel in the gratuitous. It's too smart for the grue and glue that people have come to cynically expect from dark genre films and bless Tammi Sutton and company for that.
  
Special thanks to John Skipp for showing me this awesome film. Please check out his own brilliant piece on ISLE OF DOGS, along with a fab interview with director Sutton, over at his Nightmare Royale column at Fangoria.com.