5 Films: George Dickerson in Blue Velvet & After Dark, My Sweet, Josh Beckerís Thou Shalt Not KillÖExcept & Running Time, & Freddy vs. Jason
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 8/29/03
finished taping the 8th Omniversica radio show
Sursumcorda in which poets David Alpaugh & Frederick Glaysher
read their poems. An avowed policy of mine is to invite guests I do not
think are bad artists. So, I did not read any of their poetry until after the
show. Similarly, on the previous show I had not watched any of the films of
writer/actor George Dickerson, nor those of filmmaker Josh Becker. After all- if
they turned out to be Tor Johnson & Spike
Lee, respectively, that would put me in a pickle come show time. But, I got the
films afterward & can report that they are all enjoyable, at the very least.
Confession time- I had seen the Psycho sequels years ago & GD had a
part in 1- but I recall none of the films, & I had seen Blue Velvet a
few weeks before the show. Still, I had no reason to cower.
Let me start with the 2 GD films 1st. Blue Velvet was the 4th David Lynch film, released in 1986. In the Lynchiverse odd is normal, & so we follow the travails of a college kid named Jeffrey Beaumont, returning to his home town to visit his family. In a deserted field he stumbles upon a severed human ear & takes it to the police department. There he meets a Detective Williams (played by GD). The young man is reassured that all will be investigated. The detective is oddly low-key. I had ascribed this to Lynchís direction until I later saw the 2nd of the GD films Iíll review. Nonetheless Jeffrey decides to pursue the case himself. The detectiveís daughter Sandy (Laura Dern) decides to help him uncover the truth after they suspect her father is concealing information. This leads him to a bad chanteuse, Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), who does weird things with weirder people. Jeffrey ends up in her closet, where she discovers him, badgers him, & ultimately seduces him. He loves Sandy but cannot get enough of Dorothy, who happens to be involved with a laughing gas-sniffing sexual deviant named Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) in a performance so over-the-top itís funny, not scary. Yet, Jeffrey is scared, & ends up drawn into Dorothyís & Frankís world. He is obsessed with her & has apparently kidnapped her child & killed her husband- all because he loves her rendition of the song Blue Velvet (horribly butchered by the Rossellini character). In 1 weird scene a character named Ben (Dean Stockwell) does an eerie cabaret-type performance in his apartment to entertain Frank. Jeffrey gets deeper in the shit, Sandy is drawn in, Dorothy wigs out, & it all leads to a showdown between Jeffrey & Frank. The good guy wins, gets the good girl (Sandy), & all settles back to Ďnormalí.
That said, the film is interesting, & not as dull & bloated as Dune, nor dull & silly as Mulholland Drive. Is it a good film? Passable. Definitely overrated, yet it does try & succeeds- mostly- in being different. The performance of GD is 1 of the more interesting things in the film- so low-keyed as to make 1 wonder if the character is really a sentient being. Is the Detective hiding something? We never find out, & after the final denouement between Frank & Jeffrey itís all a moot point anyway. Yet, GDís performance is memorable. Iím not quite able to say whether itís good or bad- but it lasts in the mind as an appealing oddity.
GDís performance in After Dark, My Sweet is remarkably similar- as are the roles. In this film GD's role serves the same purpose- more than being a character, his role is more of a plot device, &- again- the performance is low-key to the max, & bizarre, in a world even more bizarre. Hereís a summary of ADMS plot: the film is adapted from a 1950s crime novel by Jim Thompson, although updated to modern (1990- the filmís release) times. Jason Patric plays an ex-pug named Kid Collins whoís escaped from a mental institution. He was placed there after he went psycho in his last match & killed his opponent with his bare hands after several low blows. He blows in to a western desert town (Texas/New Mexico/Arizona?) & orders a drink. The barkeep is a tough loan shark, named Bert, who razzes the seemingly stolid pug. When a leggy brunet widow named Fay (Rachel Ward) enters the bar Collins flirts with her, is rebuffed & ordered to leave by the bartender. When the barkeep gets rough Collins KOís him with 1 punch. Collins takes off, but Fay tracks him down on a road heading out of town & offers him a job as gardener. He accepts because he has the hots for her. She later introduces him to Uncle Bud (Bruce Dern), a shamed ex-cop with delusions of grandeur. He hopes to have Fay set Collins (or Collie- as she calls him) up as the fall guy in a kidnap scheme of a rich kid. Along the way, after a fallout with Fay, Collie meets up with a Doc Goldman (GDís character) who also offers to help him out with a job as his gardener for his home-run clinic. After a brief stay with the Doc- whose motives remain unclear (although it is later revealed he was a Ďbachelorí- & therefore deemed as a gay character by some critic)- Collie returns to Fayís, despite the Docís seeming knowledge of Collieís checkered past. Collie ends up kidnapping the kid, who almost dies of diabetes in their care. Fay comes unglued, so Collie fucks her. Uncle Bud (a sort of B-version Frank Booth) is almost killed for his debts to Bert, so Collie saves him & takes over the kidnapping. The kid gets worse, so Collie steals insulin from Doc Goldmanís office & saves him. Doc comes to Fayís wanting an explanation for the theft, sees the kidnapped boy, so Collie kills him. In the end, Uncle Bud is killed by Bert after he picks up the ransom money, & Collie & Fay escape with the kid. Collie decides to play martyr & lets Fay kill him so she can claim she was a victim of his & Uncle Budís sinistry. We end the film probing Collieís dead eye.
Bizarre. A few years later Oliver Stone made a film similar in style, albeit a little more comic. That film was U-Turn, with Sean Penn. Jason Patric is no Sean Penn as an actor, but, the film reeks of a Lynchian type weirdness, although directed by a James Foley. Again, however, GDís performance is memorable- if only for being so damned odd. The voice is almost whispery, & the delivery slow & deliberate. What motivates the character? Homosexual lust? Liberal guilt? We never know, but both films & both performances stick in the mind, even if I cannot say for positive reasons.
The same cannot be said for the 2 films of Josh Becker. The 1st 1 I saw was the DVD of his 1st film, from 1987, Thou Shalt Not KillÖExcept. Becker, on his website describes the film as pretty much the Marines vs. the Manson family. Thatís about right, although I would call it more of a comic version of Wes Cravenís The Last House On The Left. That said, itís 1 of those films thatís so bad itís good. JB calls it the Marines vs. the Manson family. The year is 1969 & Sgt. Jack Stryker (Brian Schulz) returns from Vietnam to his home town, after being injured in a battle where 1 of his comrades had to save his life. He longs to get back with his ex, Sally (Cheryl Hanson). But 2 dark forces descend upon his hometown- a trio of his former enlisted underlings who drink & carouse their way through the night while on furlough, & the biker cult led by the Mansonian figure (played by filmmaker Sam Raimi [Evil Dead & Spider-Man]- a longtime pal of JBís). His acting is so bad itís actually enjoyable. The cult meets up with Stryker & his men & mayhem ensues. There is no real horror, nor any seat-edge action, but it is a hoot. Despite a low budget the filmís details are striking- especially in little things like when a couch cushion turns out to be damaged on both sides. Also, JB does pretty well in interweaving actual documentary Vietnam War footage with his more bare bones actual film. No Ďrealí critic would recommend a film like this, but you can see an active mind at work- despite limitations & ludicrousies in the film & screenplay. The DVDís commentary with JB & another pal (B-film giant Bruce Campbell) is actually very entertaining. Itís not the typical fellatio other films boast, but actually provides interesting information. While the film is not very memorable the DVD commentary is.
The 2nd of JBís films- his 3rd, 1997ís Running Time, is a far better, & far more audacious film. It succeeds both artistically & as pure entertainment. This 1 stars Bruce Campbell as a just paroled con named Carl. The main wallop of the film is that it is just the 2nd film in American history to proceed with no apparent cuts (or 1 long take)- the 1st was Alfred Hitchcockís Rope in 1948. This film masks its cuts better, though. Yet, itís not just a gimmick film that unreels in real time. Carl is picked up at the prison in a large laundry truck by his pal Patrick (Jeremy Roberts), the guy Carl did time to protect. The 2 have already worked out a criminal scheme to pilfer some of the money the crooked warden has been stashing away from excess prison laundry funds. Along the way Patrick provides Carl with a hooker in back. Carl comes really quickly (5 years & all- according to JB!) before realizing the hooker is his high school flame Janie (Anita Barone). They reminisce & make plans to hook up later. She is then dropped off & Carl & Patrick proceed to pick up 2 other cons to assist- a drugged out getaway driver named Donny (Gordon Jennison) & an old black safecracker named Buzz (Stan Davis). Things kibosh immediately. The truck gets a flat. Then Carl & Patrick stupidly argue in front of 3 captives at the laundry place (with only minutes before the prison security guards come to get the loot), the safe turns out to be a harder safe to crack than Buzz thought, Patrick shoots an old security guard, as they escape Donny has split, the cops close in, Buzz is shot (I knew he would be the 1 to get it- heís black, after all!) & falls, Carl is shot but escapes with Patrick. They split up, but vow to meet at Janieís. They do. The lovers reconcile, & Carl wants to take her with him on the lam. Patrick refuses & he & Carl go to Patrickís car to talk about it. The car takes off. Janie thinks sheís been left. After a minute or 2, Carl bursts in. He gave all the money to Patrick. True love wins.
Overall a good & audacious film. Considering the $ it took to shoot it itís quite a good film, & shows alot of thought behind it. There were some problems- like the Tarantinovian overtalking of the crooks at the heist, the obligatory black character getting the worst of things, the hooker with a heart of gold, & the trite 1940s-era end. But JB pointed out to me that the cynical ending of most films of the last decade or so has become another clichť- true, but Iíd like to have seen a 3rd- unforeseen- ending, not 1 so telegraphed. But, these are nitpicks. The film works despite those flaws- even more so than the 2 crime dramas George Dickerson starred in. & the DVD has another good commentary from JB & Bruce Campbell.
Overall, from best to worst (on a 1-100 scale) Iíd rate the films thusly: 1) Running Time- 88, 2) After Dark, My Sweet- 82, 3) Blue Velvet- 75, & Thou Shalt Not KillÖExcept- 68 (as a guilty pleasure). Yet, none of these films was a commercial smash- in fact, JBís struggled for years to get made, & then distributed. This a grim testimony to not just the mediocrity (at best) of Hollywood filmmaking, but the utter timidity. Too often The Machine is just willing to mindlessly crank out formulaic sequels of what worked before. This brings me to the 5th & final film Iíll deal with in this essay. It is a mindless, formulaic sequel- BUT, it works because, like JBís TSNKE, it lacks all pretensions to seriousness. The film is Freddy vs. Jason, in which the titular villains of the Wes Cravenís A Nightmare On Elm Street & Sean Cunninghamís Friday The 13th films meet. According to the Internet there have been 6 or 7 prior Elm Street films & 10 or 11 Friday films. Regardless, Iíd only seen the original Freddy Krueger film, & a few minutes of the Jason flicks on late night TV. Neither series was as interesting nor imaginative as the George Romero Dead films, the Halloween films, nor even WCís & SCís 1st film together The Last House On The Left. But this film is the best monster vs. monster film (a tradition going back to Universalís 1930s films pitting Dracula, Frankensteinís monster, the Wolfman, the Invisible Man, & the Mummy in assorted films) since 1968ís Toho films Godzilla/Rodan/Ghidrah bash Destroy All Monsters! OK, not exactly a ringing endorsement- but it amazes me how shortsighted critics are. In 1998 they roasted the American take on Godzilla- even though the effects were great, the film paid homage to & expanded the Japanese mythos, & had a good # of laughs & chills. Yet the film was savaged- what did they expect from a film about a giant lizard that stomps on assorted metropoli?
Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is a child-killer who was killed in a fire set by vengeful parents. His strength is to kill kids in their dreams- heís powerless in the real world & his weakness is fire. Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger- Jason #5) was a freak who was drowned by cruel kids at a camp (Camp Crystal) in 1957. He wears a hockey mask & rises from the grave to kill depraved & lustful teenagers. He cannot be killed, but his weakness is water. This is not Freud, yíknow. The plot for this monster bash is that the kids of Elm Street have been drugged into a stupor where they cannot dream. Their parents give them Hypnosil & Freddy is forgotten & powerless. He hopes to right things by getting Jason to kill some kids so the parents will blame their deaths on him, causing a chain reaction of fear, & making more kids dream of him, so Freddy can kill them. Freddy impersonates Jasonís mom in his dreaming death of a grave. Jason listens to mommy (shades of Psycho) & heads toward Elm Street. Here is where a little humor comes in, because Freddy (as mom) needs to remind the stolid Jason that he cannot die, so why is he being a lazy bastard in his grave when there are kids to kill? Jason heads to the same house where Freddyís 1st murder took place nearly 20 years earlier. There he finds sexy, boobalicious good girl Lori (Monica Keena), token black chick Kia (Kelly Rowland from pop trio Destinyís Child), & Heather (Odessa Munroe)- the alcoholic slut. Over for a party are superjock Trey (Jasonís 1st victim after a fuckfest with Heather) & dorky Blake (victim 2 or 3- if you count Blakeís decapitated dad). Meanwhile Loriís lost (but, really, institutionalized) love Will (Jason Ritter) returns with a pal- Mark (Brendan Fletcher). Apparently only theyíve figured out the Freddy-Jason connection. Will tries to save Lori. The local cops are oafs. Will & Mark (who soon ends up dead via Freddy) get the townís teens in a panic over Freddy- even though they really should fear Jason. Freddyís powers return, but Jason wonít simply quit when told. He butchers a few dozen teens at a cornfield rave- all after being set aflame- including Heather & her would-be teen rapist. The problem? Freddy was set to kill Heather in her dreams- until Jason spoiled his fun. Freddy vows to get rid of Jason.
But the teens that survived cook up a plot with do-gooding Deputy Stubbs Lochlyn Munroe), the school nerd Linderman (Christopher Marquette), & Jay-like (of Jay & Silent Bob fame) stoner named Freeburg (Kyle Labine). What else happens? All the teens, save Will & Lori, die, F & J duke it out in the dream & real worlds, & there is an apparent victor at the end- until a wink of an eye from the loser lets us know that films like this never really end. All-in-all, a joyful mindless romp though genre film. Director Ronny Yu- most noted for martial arts films & some of the evil doll Chucky films- does a good job as the film mixes the 2 mythologies very well. The film is only an hour & a Ĺ, so there is no fat. Of course, closed-minded morons rave about these films leading to the end of civil society, etc. Bullshit! Overly-mannered puke-inducing crap like The Hours does. Films like this are an exhalation after a week of work in a job you loathe, with a boss that is evil, doing mindless drone-work that has no lasting impact on the universe 3 seconds after itís done. The same is true with TSNKE, & other films of their ilk. The greatest sin a work of art can commit is not badness, but pretentiousness. FvJ knows itís silly, & indulges such. Would that all of us would knowingly indulge our sillier sides more often. Then it might be fair to slam such films as trash. Alack, we donít, so films like this are an acceptable tonic in the interim from here to utopia!
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