Saturday, August 27, 2016

Embrace Your Limitations: TURKEY SHOOT

These days, studio blockbusters can have budgets larger than small countries, CGI can generate anything under and over the sun, and scripts can be remolded by a dozen screenwriters.  Every whim is within the director’s grasp. The results can still be uninspired.  Sometimes the key to really good filmmaking is not getting what you want.  Sudden roadblocks require creative thinking to get around, and can push a director down interesting new paths he or she might never have ventured otherwise.  Everyone has heard the stories of how Spielberg was forced to hide his malfunctioning shark through most of JAWS.  His workarounds re-wrote the book on suspense and produced an untouchable classic of cinema. Obviously, not everyone faced with the limitations of budget, time, and/or resources is going to turn it around and come up with gold.  A lot of films never overcome those challenges.  But even a failure can produce strange, unexpected fruit, and those oddities can be enough to make a movie stand out.  Take Brian Trenchard-Smith’s 1982 Australian sci-fi bloodbath, TURKEY SHOOT, for instance.  

The Capsule:
In a dystopian future, objectors to the authoritarian rule are labeled “Deviants” and shipped off to Re-Education camps.  Some are true dissidents and revolutionaries like Paul Anders (Steve Railsback).  Others, like law abiding Chris Walters (Olivia Hussey), are rounded up simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Both Anders and Chris find themselves in the brutal Camp 47.  As hellish as the conditions within the camp are, the tyrannical Camp Master Thatcher (Michael Craig) has even worse plans for them.  Thatcher combats overcrowding by staging “turkey shoots” for society’s degenerate elite, with the prisoners as the prey.  Hunted through the jungle by vicious guards, well-armed sociopaths, and even nastier surprises, Anders and Chris will need a miracle to survive.

TURKEY SHOOT is a strange movie, no doubt.  It’s a satire at heart, much like Paul Bartel’s earlier DEATH RACE 2000.  Trenchard-Smith doesn’t go as over the top as that, but he does keep the performances bombastic and the set-ups outrageous.  The first half of this film is essentially a prison movie, with all the sleaze and violence that comes with that genre.  The sleaze is a little more egalitarian in this crazy future world, at least. There is a shower scene, as required by all prison movies, but like STARSHIP TROOPERS, it's co-ed.  Overall, there isn’t much strife between the prisoners.  I wouldn’t call it solidarity, the inmates are too busy keeping their heads down, but they aren’t trying to shank or abuse each other, either.  The worst of the batch, Dodge (John Ley), is merely an opportunistic douchebag.  If it weren’t for the sadistic guards, it would be a pretty progressive prison.  

The guards are a nasty bit of work, having free reign to harass and torture the inmates.  They put the prisoners through elaborate and difficult challenges (their version of “the box” has a huge weight that the prisoner must hold up or be crushed).  It’s kind of like that TV show, Survivor, but with death at stake rather than idols.  One of the worst is Red, a limping, predatory scumbag.  He targets the timid Chris right out of the gate, continuously raising the threat of sexual violence.  Luckily, the movie is more interested in sticking it to the man than wallowing in the sleaze.  When Red makes his move in the shower, Chris turns the tables (and zips the zipper) on her would-be rapist.  The movie is satisfyingly punitive against misogynists; two lascivious bastards get shot in the dick, others get similarly ignoble fates.

The biggest baddies are running the place.  Chief Guard Ritter (Roger Ward, Max’s boss in MAD MAX) is a psychopathic brute with a luxurious moustache and a penchant for beating people to death for no reason.  This is the guy in charge of keeping the other guards in line, which is saying something.  Above Ritter is the ice cold Camp Master Thatcher.  Tasked with “rehabilitating” the Deviants, he espouses the camp’s contradictory motto: Freedom is Obedience, Obedience is Work, Work is Life (the unofficial motto: If you have time to lean, you have time to be hit in the neck with a rifle butt).  Thatcher is a classic control freak.  He deals with even the slightest disobedience with a disproportionally severe reprisal, often with a benevolent smile on his face.  He would have the world believe his actions are for the prisoners own good, encouraging their realignment with Society, but his real interest is breaking wills and bodies beneath his heel.  Thatcher has higher ambitions than just torturing malcontents, though, which is why he has arranged the prisoner hunts for a bunch of wealthy and influential sleazebags.

Once we get to the MOST DANGEROUS GAME portion of the movie, the villains get even more colorful.  The hunters are the type of amoral, decadent bourgeoisie that are easy to despise.  They are all extremely one dimensional, the only character evolution is in the depths of their depravity.  Still, it makes their inevitable comeuppance that much more satisfying.  Secretary Mallory is a slimy, simpering politician who sets his perverted eye on Chris.  He uses Ritter to shield him through the dangers of the hunt, but wants the kill all for himself.  Jennifer is a cunning socialite with a woman-hating streak even wider than the boys.  She’s a weapons designer, but her personal preference is a custom crossbow with explosive bolts.  My favorite baddie is the sadomasochistic big game hunter, Tito.  It’s not Tito himself that is so great, although he does drive around in a cute little bulldozer and has a quick draw bazooka.  The best thing about Tito is Alph, his hunting companion/pet.  Alph is a werewolf in a top hat.    If I wasn’t in love with TURKEY SHOOT yet, Alph sealed the deal.  He is the most insanely left field thing in a movie that starts out way, way in left field to begin with.  And he is played totally straight, at least compared to everything else we’ve seen.  The only explanation given is that Alph is a freak, and Tito found him in a circus.  Don’t question it, just enjoy his back breaking, toe-eating antics.

Compared to the villains, the heroes come off a little bland.  Steve Railsback plays Anders with his typical intensity (I’ll always remember him best as the abductee nutball Duane Berry from The X-Files).  He’s a fine foil for Thatcher, the unbreakable malcontent fighting for a revolution.  He, like the villains, is a little one note, though.  The big surprise is what a badass Olivia Hussey's character becomes.  Chris Walters (possibly the least interesting action movie name ever) goes through most of the film acting like a frightened rabbit, but she still manages to [spoilers] chop off Ritter’s hands to save Anders, blow off Jennifer’s head with her own explosive arrow, and mow down dozens of camp guards during the insurrection.  Anders is thrown a bone by getting to chew up Thatcher into pieces with a  machine gun, but it turns out Chris is the Most Dangerous Deviant around.

The best thing about this movie, werewolves aside, is that we are unceremoniously dumped into a dystopian future already in progress.  Stock footage of public unrest plays over the opening credits, then – pow – we are in the back of a Re-Ed van with the new batch of Deviants. No voice over, no text crawl, no nothing.  Anders and Chris have short backstories, but they don’t really explain anything other than Don’t Fuck With the Man.  Clearly, an authoritarian government is in control, and it doesn’t take any shit.  We don’t know if it is global or regional government or how the world got into the state it’s in.  We don’t even know the year (they say it in the trailer, but not the film).  It’s similar to the original MAD MAX, where the audience is left to fill in the blanks.  Where MAD MAX had a society gradually disintegrating into lawlessness, though, TURKEY SHOOT’s fascist world is fully formed and totally in control.  

The original script did explain things.  The opening of the film was supposed to be all about life in the 1984 (the book, not the year) style society.  The second act was to be the camp, then came the turkey shoot.  Before everything could get going, though, Brian Trenchard-Smith had both the financing and the shooting schedule cut.  He had to drop the opening and expand out the second and third acts.  There is still a bit of cheeky social commentary to be found (the ultra-conservative Camp Master shared the same name as the UK Prime Minister, after all), but Trenchard-Smith had to ramp up the action, sleaze, and gore to make up for the shortfall.  It worked out fine, in my opinion.  We’ve seen oppressive futuristic governments before.  What we haven’t seen is a werewolf in a top hat.  

If ever there was a movie that begged for a sequel, it’s TURKEY SHOOT.  The end of the movie finds Anders and Chris victorious, having liberated the camp and put down all the baddies, but there is a definite feeling of “what now?”  There’s still that soulless, unspecified totalitarian regime to overthrow.  Unfortunately, we’ll never know happened.  TURKEY SHOOT was not a success when initially released to dumbfound audiences, only gaining cult status years later.  The closest it came to a sequel was the 2014 remake, not directed by Trenchard-Smith, and not seen by me.  It looks all grim and serious.  I’m willing to bet there is not a single werewolf in it.  I was momentarily intrigued by the poster, which I thought showed an awesomely miscast Steve Carell, but it turned out to be Dominic Purcell instead. Missed opportunities.

Trenchard-Smith went on to introduce the world to Nicole Kidman (and her original nose) in BMX BANDITS, continue his dystopian satire theme with the brilliant DEAD END DRIVE-IN, and eventually make the schizocinema fave NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2.    I doubt any of those movies ended up the way he first envisioned them, and it is probably for the better.  Let’s hear it for limitations.

C Chaka

Friday, August 19, 2016

Lapdances & Bloodletting: VAMP

As someone who unironically enjoys movies like DEATH PROMISE, DON’T GO IN THE WOODS, and SPIDER-MAN 3, I don't believe in guilty pleasures. Feel guilty about liking veal, not about liking art. There is no reason to be ashamed about liking a movie, as long as it isn't actively hurting anyone (inciting racial hatred, physically exploiting actors, etc.).  Film affects a person subjectively; your opinion is just as valid as anyone else's. Just because I find Akira Kurosawa movies more thought provoking doesn't mean I can't find RAW FORCE hysterically fun. Different doesn't have to mean better (although it would be hard to argue that example). This realization came with maturity, though. I still carry the unconscious stigma of guilty pleasures about some of the movies of my childhood, and that needs to end. Today I declare my love of VAMP (1986).

The Capsule:
College kids Keith (Chris Makepeace) and AJ (Robert Rusler) have to find a stripper for a frat party at their middle of nowhere university.  Along with third wheel Duncan (Gedde Watanabe), they end up at the After Hours bar, a sleazy strip club in the bad part of L.A.  While Keith chats with a mysterious (and bubbly) waitress, (Dedee Pfeiffer) who swears they’ve met before, AJ goes back stage to see the club’s headlining act, the thoroughly indescribable Katrina (Grace Jones).  Keith starts to dig around when AJ doesn’t come back, and he notices several odd things about the joint, like the lack of mirrors and the bouncer who hauls out “drunks” in body bags.  After a few near fatal accidents, Keith realizes that he and his friends have stumbled into a bonafide vampire bar, where Katrina and the other bloodsucking strippers have been feeding off the city’s lowlifes for years.  Keith is in for a long and neon drenched night.

VAMP is unique.  Yes, it is one vampire movie in a crimson sea of vampire movies, and yes, it borrows from other films, and yes, it’s the blueprint for FROM DUSK TIL DAWN, but VAMP stands out.  The first time I saw it thirty years ago (happy unintentional anniversary), I was captivated.  It creates its own world inside a dingy block of downtown L.A., with its own rules and logic.  The disparate elements don’t always mix gracefully, but the final cocktail is a memorable one.

There is something magical about being in a part of the city that has closed up for the night.  Normally busy streets are now still.  The only sounds are the hum of the street lights and the mechanical clicks of the traffic signals cycling over and over.  All the normal people are tucked away in bed, only the weirdos are left wandering around.  You have the feeling you’re not supposed to be there, which is both unsettling and exciting.  As Dick Miller says in Scorsese’s AFTER HOURS, different rules apply.  VAMP captures that feeling perfectly, but also transforms the empty streets of L.A. into someplace otherworldly.  This is mainly due to the lighting.  The background is cast in a haze of neon pink and green.  That kind of lighting is more associated with super stylized Italian filmmakers like Mario Bava or Dario Argento than an ‘80’s American vampire movie.  It’s one of the things that make VAMP stand out.

Another thing is the interesting cast.  Chris Makepeace was famous for being a cute, sensitive nerd in films like MEATBALLS and MY BODYGUARD.  Sort of the early ‘80’s version of Michael Cera.  It was nice to see him playing more of an action hero type, killing vampires and getting the girl, but he still comes off as a little sweetheart.  He has great chemistry with Robert Rusler, who plays his best friend, AJ.  At the time, Rusler was poised to be a big heartthrob (he was fresh off the hilarious disaster of NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST. PART 2), but he never broke out big. I will always think of him as the jerk from WEIRD SCIENCE who did not go on to become Iron Man.  Although he mostly plays AJ as a cocky wiseass, he has some great emotional scenes with Makepeace, especially the one where Keith can’t bring himself to kill his now vampified friend.

Also on hand is Gedde Watanabe (Long Duck Dong from SIXTEEN CANDLES), as the desperately dorky and clueless Duncan.  He somehow manages to stay just shy of annoying, leaning more to the lovably pathetic corner.  When AJ and Keith stop by his fancy dorm room looking for a car, Duncan tries to play it cool by offering them a plate of bagels and a cold cut platter.  It’s cute how excited he is to have weaseled his way into the road trip, content with being a pretend friend.  His attempts to be suave fail miserably (he is always missing his mouth with his breath spray), and everything he says is wildly inappropriate.  When the waitress asks him what she can get him, he replies “I would like a slow, comfortable screw,” and is immediately punched in the arm by Keith.  

The waitress, by the way, is played by Dedee Pfeiffer, Michelle’s sister.  Like Watanabe, her character could have easily been a lazy stereotype (ditzy blonde, in this case), but Pfeiffer plays her with enough charm and goofy enthusiasm to make the role endearing.  Plus, she rocks some amazing ‘80’s hair and a white tiger print jacket.  I like that she spends the whole movie teasing out the mystery of her name (it’s Allison) and her connection to Keith.  When she finally and dramatically reveals her secret, it’s so insignificant that Keith barely reacts.  It’s literally the worst time ever to share a personal moment.  Still, they are very cute together.

The showstopper is, of course, Grace Jones as the head vampire, Katrina.  Jones is such an outrageous and striking person that playing a vampire is probably one of her least bizarre experiences.  Believe me, though, there has never been a vampire like Katrina.  When Salma Hayek’s Santanico Pandemonium does her strip tease in FROM DUSK TIL DAWN, it’s mesmerizingly seductive.  When Katrina does her dance, it’s an indescribable, performance art, mind-fuck.  When it is over, they cut to the audience, sitting in dead silence, too stunned to even process what the hell just happened (turns out that was their actual, on-set reaction).  I totally buy that she is an ancient vampire who holds an entire neighborhood in her thrall. 

Even the minor characters are complete oddballs.  Vic, the Vega obsessed club MC, is pretty much Katrina’s Renfield, even to the point of eating cockroaches out of a mint dish.  Sandy Baron plays him with sleazy, world-weary, relish constantly trying to impart a little class to the joint.  I cannot fail to mention prolific b-movie bad guy, Billy Drago, as Snow, the leader of an albino street gang.  He shows up from time to time to menace Keith, waving around a huge knife and talking like a crazed Amish (“We be lookin’ for ya”).  The gang members, who look like pale LOST BOYS cosplayers, aren’t even vampires, they are normal people.  That’s how weird this movie is. 

The similarities to FROM DUSK TIL DAWN are undeniable, even to the point where Tarantino’s people had to ask VAMP’s people for permission before making their version.  Now, I love FROM DUSK TIL DAWN, and it’s certainly a slicker movie, but the mass carnage business model of The Titty Twister doesn’t seem very sustainable.  Hard to get good word of mouth (or Yelp reviews) if you routinely murder every single person in the building.  The vamps of the After Dark club, on the other hand, have this shit worked out to a science.  They only go after the guys who won’t be missed (even offering a Lonely Man Special).  They can drain them right from the table because no one ever takes their eyes off the dancers.  Vic even makes the announcement, “Anybody going to claim this lush?” before Vlad the bouncer hauls out the body.  They’ve paid off a tow truck guy to get rid of the extra cars and a garbage truck driver to get rid of the dead.  It’s a sweet set up.  If it wasn’t for the rookie mistake of storing uncovered barrels of gasoline in their communal crypt, they would still be in business.

Being a mainstream horror movie, there isn’t a great deal of blood on display.  Katrina does pull someone’s heart of their chest. The neck biting is gnashy and the scene where Katrina slits her wrist with a razor blade to let Vic get a taste makes me shudder, but overall it’s comparatively mild.  This one relies on mood, atmosphere, and quirk to get by.  There are so many weird little touches packed into it, like the dancers sitting face to face doing each other’s makeup in lieu of mirrors.  The world is so full of oddities that it’s fun just watching Keith and Allison roam around the city, wondering what freaks they will bump into next.  The fact that Keith doesn’t even figure out exactly what is going on until an hour in doesn’t really matter. From the outtakes, it looks like they filmed several action sequences that were cut.  I would have liked to see them as full-fledged deleted scenes, but the pace of the current cut is so nicely balanced between humor, action, suspense, and character movements, it didn’t need them.

This was director’s Richard Wenk (Dick Wenk?  tee hee)** first full length movie.  Now a days he’s more well known for writing action films, like THE MECHANIC (2011 remake version), THE EQUALIZER (2014 movie version), and THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012 travesty version).  The director of photography, went on to great success as a cinematographer for movies like OUT OF SIGHT, TWILIGHT, and Keanu Reeves’ MAN OF TAI CHI.  VAMP was certainly a product of its time, but the other-worldliness of the color and eeriness of the setting keeps it from feeling dated.  Looking back at it, I have no idea why I ever thought of it as a guilty pleasure.  We should really dump that term.  Like what you like, no guilt needed.  Unless you’re into that kind of fetish porn where people step on insects or adults wear diapers.  Guilt might be appropriate there.
C Chaka

** - dick joke courtesy of my wife doing the proofreading.  Sorry Richard.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Hungry for Strange: RAVENOUS

Humor in horror is a tricky balance.  Make it too much of a farce and all the suspense and tension is ruined.  Be too scarce with the humor and it risks becoming a grim, hopeless downer.  The most effective humor in horror movies relies less on jokes and more on reactions, line delivery, and the absurdity of the situation.  RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and EVIL DEAD 2 are perfect examples of this.  They are both extremely funny movies, but the humor accentuates the horror rather than overpowering it.  Even SHAUN OF THE DEAD, which is far more skewed towards comedy, respects the horror of the situation enough to produce a few genuinely disturbing and visceral scenes.  On the more subtle side is 1999’s old timey cannibal tale, RAVENOUS.

The Capsule:
Captain John Boyd (Guy Pierce) is celebrated as a hero of the American-Mexican War, even though his is really a scaredy pants coward.  He is assigned to Podunk Fort Spencer in the Californian Rockies.  There, he tries to fit in with the other weirdos stationed there: kind-hearted but absent minded Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones), perpetually drunk Major Knox (Stephen Spinella), timid Chaplin Toffler (Jeremy Davies), gung ho Private Reich (Neal McDonough), and the David Arquette-esque Private Cleaves (David Arquette).   Their days of tedium are interrupted when a half-frozen man stumbles into their fort.  Once he is revived, the man, Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) explains that he has escaped the cannibalistic clutches of Colonel Ives, the man who led his pioneer party into the mountains and proceeded to eat them when they ran out of food.  When Col. Hart hears there may be another survivor still in Ives’ cave, he organizes a search party to investigate.  Before they leave, Boyd hears the Indian legend of the Wendigo, a cannibal that takes the strength of his victims, but is cursed with an insatiable hunger for human flesh.  When the party reaches the cannibal cave, Colqhoun has a little surprise.  He is actually Ives, looking to restock his larder.  Ives gets the jump on the party, leaving Boyd hiding in a hole with a broken leg with Reich’s corpse.  Starving, Boyd breaks down and has a nibble on Reich.  The man-meat restores Boyd’s strength lickety split, and he returns to the Fort, only to find Ives has taken up shop.  Ives has big plans, and he wants Boyd to be part of them.  Does Boyd have the backbone to stop gnawing on other people’s backbones and force a cannibal confrontation with Ives?

RAVENOUS is an odd little movie.  On paper, this quirky cannibalism-as-drug addiction parable shouldn’t work.  It opens with a Nietzsche quote, followed by an anonymous quote of “Bite me”, giving it the impression it will be sillier than it is.  For the most part, though, it is played straight.  The pacing is deliberate, even meditative at times.  Packed away in the (sometimes) snowy mountains, Fort Spencer has a pervasive atmosphere of isolation and doom.  The humor comes from the collection of oddballs stationed at the fort.  Col. Hart describes them as sort of an Island of Misfit Soldiers, a place where the Army sends those it doesn’t want mingling with the normal folk.   Maj. Knox is an arrogant jerk who luckily spends most of his time stone drunk.  Pvt. Cleaves is a giggly pothead.  Pvt. Toffler is so meek he barely raises his voice above a mumble (Davies also played the coward in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for him).  Pvt. Reich is a super intense alpha dog type.  He’s introduced standing waste deep in a freezing river, screaming with masochistic relish.  He aggressively nips at everyone else for their unprofessionalism, but it’s all fueled by a barely concealed self-loathing.   He remains an asshole even in death, taunting Boyd with unblinking eyes and rigor mortis induced smile.  The only normal people are the two Indian scouts, the mute George (Joseph Runningfox) and his no-nonsense sister Martha (Sheila Tousey).  Martha is the smartest and most cautious of the batch, a frontier time final girl.  The story's focus is on the damaged oddballs, though, Martha is the observer in the background. 

It turns out that Fort Spencer is the perfect place for Captain John Boyd.  He’s a strange one even before he goes full cannibal.  Pierce plays him very quietly with introspection.  this is not the typical portrait of a coward.  Boyd isn’t sniveling, or skittish, or outwardly fearful.  When he is in the middle of a chaotic battle with the Mexican Army, he calmly lies down on the ground and plays dead.  When he and Reich get outmaneuvered in the woods while hunting Ives, Boyd simply tells the soldier, “I’m going back,preferring to walk away rather than chase the danger.  He has no problem owning up to his deficiency.  He readily tells anyone who asks.  It’s the ambitious General Slauson (John Spencer) who paints him as a war hero for political gain, then sticks him in the middle of nowhere.  

Boyd actually fits in nicely with Jeffrey Jones’ similarly unfit for command Col. Hart.  He’s no coward; he is quick to lead a dangerous rescue mission when he believes an innocent woman might be still alive, but he is no battle hardened military man, either.  He’s more academic than authoritarian, preferring to maintain a quiet patch of civilization behind forgotten wood walls rather than lead men into war.  Jones plays him as a sad, regretful man trying to make the most of his depressing circumstance.  When he is [spoiler] coaxed into the cannibal fold by Ives, he struggles to reconcile his congenial nature with his new found blood lust.  As he explains to Boyd, “It’s lonely being a cannibal, tough making friends.”

Ives, on the other hand, has no qualms at all about dining on his fellow man.  He is rocking the cannibal lifestyle, in fact.  The curse of the Wendigo is clearly the best thing tthat ever happened to him.  Eating the flesh of his travel companions has cured his tuberculosis, given him preternatural strength and virility, even cured his depression.  The fact that he must murder to sustain his high doesn’t seem to be a drawback for him.  Robert Carlyle’s lunatic transformation outside the cave from the timid Colqhoun into the charismatic and brutal Ives is fantastic.  At first it seems like he is being possessed by the spirit of the Wendigo, hooting and clawing at the ground, but I think it was really an act to distract Hart and totally freak out Toffler.  He’s just playing with his food.

It’s never really explained how Col. Ives manages to hoodwink Gen. Slauson into appointing him as commander of Fort Spencer in Hart’s (and Boyd’s) absence, but it doesn’t really matter.  Ives is charming and confident, Slauson is vane and easily manipulated, it just happened.  I got the feeling that Ives was waiting for Boyd to stumble back to the fort just so he could torment him.  The relationship between Boyd and Ives is so entertaining in this period.  Boyd is the one acting like a madman, twitching like a rabbit and clutching a carving knife at all times.  He actually managed to out-crazy David Arquette’s character, which is saying something.  None of the people left at the fort ever saw Colqhoun, so they think it’s Boyd that has become the Wendigo (or at least a dangerous nutball).  Ives savors every moment of Boyd’s confusion and anguish the same way he later savors the stew made of Major Knox.  

It’s brilliant the way the movie stubbornly refuses to make Boyd the hero.  He is completely under Ives’ thumb from the moment they meet.  The best scene is when Boyd, mortally wounded by Ives, is offered the choice to eat the Knox stew or die.  Boyd tries to resist, but Ives so seductively pressures him to acquiesce (there are some very sexual undertones here) that he breaks down and takes a bite.  It’s only when Boyd realizes the scope of Ives’ plans (to turn Fort Spencer into a cannibal buffet of Gold Rush pioneers) that he gets the resolve to stand up to Ives.  The resulting Wendigo-on-Wendigo violence is pretty grueling, with each opponent trading enough stabs, chops, and bashes to put down a normal person three times over.  The end [spoiler] is appropriately grim, Boyd and Ives literally locked in a final embrace between the jaws of an enormous bear trap.  Ives, in perfect character, tells Boyd, “If you die first, I’m definitely going to eat you, but the question is, if I die, what are you going to do?”  The movie teases out the answer until the last moment.

Obviously, the movie’s premise that human flesh is a miraculous panacea for whatever ails you is complete fantasy.  Or… is it?  I’ve never personally eaten anyone (non-euphemistically), so I can’t say for sure.  There are some anecdotal accounts to back it up (Leatherface), but I don’t believe there have been any large scale studies devoted to this theory.  Now, I’ve read the guidelines for scientific ethics, and they strongly discourage the feeding of human remains to test subjects (even to rats, if you can believe it), so we may never be able to entirely disprove this claim.  Not until they begin marketing Soylent Green, but that won’t happen for at least another decade.

RAVENOUS was directed by Antonia Bird, who picked up after Milcho Manchevski was given the boot two weeks into shooting.  Most of her work was in British television, and this was her last theatrical movie before returning to the small screen.  It’s a pity, since she displayed a deft touch with both horror and satire in this movie.  We need more female horror directors, and more female directors in general.  A large part of the film’s quirk comes from the off-beat soundtrack from composer Damon Albarn.  He uses a lot of traditional American instruments like banjo and dulcimer mixed with synth, orchestra, and Native American chanting.  Cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond composes some very striking widescreen shots, which are unfortunately marred by the cruddy 1990's film stock (not even the Blu Ray can save that shit).  That's not enough to sour me on this weirdo folk tale, though.  With such an unusual script and sense of humor, it could have easily turned out a disaster (and not the kind that I like), but ultimately all the strange elements mixed together to form a very satisfying cinematic stew.  Mmm, stew.

C. Chaka