This Is Not an Odd Books Discussion: Movies and metaphysical despair

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

I tend to experience pretty passively any sort of media that requires a television screen. I have the TV on in the background as I go about my day, generally as a form of white noise. It’s not too often that I pay close attention to movies or television shows, but recently I watched two movies that were so awful, so absorbing and deeply terrible, that I could not look away even as I felt like these movies were proof that God is dead and that He probably never loved us much anyway.

The first film was The Snowtown Murders, a depiction of a serial murder case in Australia. I warn you now that if you are not familiar with the case, this film may seem like a mess because many characters come and go without a lot of explanation. This film also has one of the most egregious examples of animal abuse this side of Cannibal Holocaust.  Please bear these things in mind if what I write here makes you want to see this film.  John Bunting, a charismatic psychopath with a fixation on largely imaginary cases of pedophilia, influenced a merry band of marginally intelligent and largely hopeless losers into killing those Bunting felt needed to die. I say his obsession with pedophiles verged into imaginary crimes because Bunting, like most homophobes, also felt that homosexuals were sexual predators. With his rag-tag group of socially marginalized losers, he killed 11 people in about seven years time.

The film depiction of the Snowtown murders (so-called because that was the town where the bodies were found – the murders occurred elsewhere) is a bleak look at a particular section of society in Australia. Small, dingy homes, cluttered with useless crap, not enough space, people sleeping on couches because there are not enough bedrooms. Even the best impulses of parents in such a world end up coming out strange and cramped, and as they try to protect their children from the monsters outside, they fail to protect them from the monsters within.

Even though it drained me of all emotional vitality, this is a film worth watching. It’s raw and unflinching, showing the worst things that can happen in such a matter-of-fact manner that it’s sole purpose has to be to cause the viewer to go numb. The actor who plays James spends the film so completely stunned by the repeated blows that life gives him that very little registers. One of the first interactions he has with John Bunting occurs when Bunting is decapitating and skinning several kangaroos in a front yard. They were real kangaroos and that scene was just foul and upsetting. The actor who played James looked like a shark-eyed Heath Ledger, absorbing an unexpected scene of carnage with a flat yet strangely frightened demeanor.

That sets the viewer up for the scene that could, more or less be one of the worst scenes ever in a film. The rape scene from Irreversible was affecting because it was so long and so deeply horrible. Violent. A total violation. The rape scene in The Snowtown Murders was the complete opposite in its execution and as a result was infinitely worse in the toll it took on my psyche. James had evidently been sexually abused by his older half-brother, Troy, throughout their childhood together. The scene we are given in The Snowtown Murders  is maybe a tenth as long as the scene in Irreversible, but it felt longer to me, as the older brother asserted his toxic will against his younger brother, who lay there on the floor, motionless and quiet, waiting for it to end. It was just a part of the landscape of his life. He just had to submit and then he could begin his day in his bleak, cluttered, hopeless life.

John Bunting, learning of this assault, captures Troy, locks him a bathroom and begins a long, horrible assault against him. As much as Troy needs punishment for what he has done, no one deserves what happens to him. Utterly in thrall to John, James is unable to make things stop until he finally ends his brother’s torment himself. It is the first time he really shows any emotion and it’s clear to the viewer that James’ life is probably far better when he is numb because any awakening of feeling is going to involve violence, cruelty and ill-use. This was a powerful movie and I don’t ever want to see it again, but think others may find it just as appalling and upsetting and transfixing as I did. Sometimes the terrible shows us something, lets us into lives foreign to ours and forces us to understand how it is a person can transform from a small, helpless child into a flat, vicious killer.

The other film I watched was just horrible. No real reason to watch it other than to rubberneck at the sorry lives of others. No revelation. No understanding. All you get is a voyeuristic thrill that comes from watching other people self-destruct but it still may not be enough to get you through Black Metal Veins.

This Is Not an Odd Book Discussion: The Bunny Game

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

I’ve wanted to talk about the movie, The Bunny Game, for a while now but I needed time to come to an understanding with myself as to why I find this film worthy of discussion. It’s a hard movie to watch, an even harder movie to digest and, if one gets derailed by accusations of this film being no more than stylish torture porn, it’s dirty and unsettling. And note that this discussion is full of spoilers, though it’s hard to spoil a film that can be summed up as “trucker tortures prostitute in the desert for several days.”

The Bunny Game struck me as a transgressive piece of cinema that showed a frightening and non-consensual ordeal path/purification ritual more troubling than anything Eli Roth ever brought to the table.  You may think this is going to be a typical torture porn horror movie because some of the marketing leans in this direction.  However this is not torture for the sake of torture, it’s torture with a demented purpose behind it that transcends just the thrill that comes for many when they see a beautiful woman abducted, raped and harmed. I felt this way before I looked up Rodleen Getsic, the protagonist of the film, and found out that she co-wrote this film and based it on an actual abduction she endured. I also read that making this film killed part of her soul, which makes it hard to know if she accomplished what she set out to do when she decided to make this film. She fasted for 40 days beforehand to make herself weak, and she consented to everything that happened to her in this film, from a graphic blowjob (actually more of a face-fuck) to the physical abuse that she endured during the abduction.

The hardest part of this movie for me to stomach was that it was largely script-less, because the implication is that Getsic often had no idea what was going to happen to her next. It was, in a sense, one long, horrible ad lib, which makes it more interesting and infinitely more sickening. The man who plays the trucker is not a professional actor (I believe I read that the director cast him because the actor tried to fight him after claiming he looked at him too long in a parking lot). But the lack of a script meant that Rodleen, a victim of a previous abduction and assault, was potentially being re-victimized even as she consented to all of it beforehand. It also makes one wonder how much anyone can be said to consent to something when they don’t know the details of what is going to happen.

The film, shot in black and white, is visually quite pretty, or maybe arresting, but the cinema quality also made it all the worse, turning all that abuse into visually appealing art. Everything that worked about this film made it all the worse because I did not want to be entertained as I watched this movie.

The film begins with a graphic, unsimulated blow job that is anti-pornographic. Rodleen, the protagonist, is not enjoying herself. She is not moaning with feigned pleasure. Forced to deep throat her john, she pulls back three times to catch her breath, gasping for air and the third time she does this, a wave of misery washes over her face. One gets the feeling she was not acting.  Her reaction shows how nasty her character’s life is and there is no way to see this with a sex positive filter.  She is not empowering herself via sex work.

From that opening scene we are taken through a few days in the prostitute’s life. Bunny lives a life of degrading sexual acts in exchange for enough money to keep her in a nondescript motel room in a nondescript Every City. She spends her time hustling johns, having horrible sex, doing drugs and recovering from it all. Before we are ten minutes in we see her raped when she passes out during a trick and wakes up to find she has been robbed of all her money and her drugs. There is a scene where Bunny sniffs a line of some drug and talks to herself in the mirror, muttering “Yeah, yeah, yeah…” as she psychs herself up to go back out and do more of the same. That, in its way, was the worst scene in the film.

Bunny, wearing platform shoes that had to be a foot tall, wanders a city scape that harbors nothing good or natural. She eats fast food sprawled in front of a wall covered in graffiti, she urinates in an alley in front of a metal fence, right on the concrete. As she wanders the streets, her bleached, straw-like hair in pig-tails, the film flashes to other images, several of her in a natural place, mountains behind her, her brown hair falling in curls, her face, young again as she laughs. Blink and you’ll miss it, but those brief scenes where we see the prostitute in better times, in fresh air in the natural world, are a clue as to what this film’s intent is.

The prostitute, Bunny, finally meets her destiny in the form of a truck driver, called Hog (each are named for the masks they wear during one of the torture scenes). He renders her unconscious, drives her to the desert and spends several days torturing her. She’s unconscious for a while, allowing him time to pull her into his empty trailer, rape her, investigate her body thoroughly, at times snuffling her hair and body like a dog. He then chains her inside the trailer and focuses a camera on her. He forces her to watch her torment, making her relive it as she is actually living it, a particularly cruel bit of meta when one remembers this movie is drawn from Rodleen Getsic’s own experiences.

Hog keeps her in chains, puts a collar around her neck and takes her on walks in the junkyard-like landscape of the desert, at one point forcing her to walk while wearing those insane platforms. He force-feeds her whiskey when she desperately needs water. He completely depersonalizes her by shaving her head, but later brands her as well, taking away one form of identity while giving her another form, one that is more permanent. The brands Hog puts on Bunny’s back resemble infinity signs with tails, but they also look like a bow tied from thin ribbon. Both are apt symbols for this film’s purpose. The torture seems like it lasts forever (this movie is a merciful 76 minutes long – any longer and I think it would have been unwatchable), and the torture is interchangeable with other women we see Hog torture in his own flashbacks. It is interminable and unceasing. But this film also shows that Bunny is being a given a perverse gift.

Bald and slowly divested of her clothing, the end of the movie shows a woman who looks like a slightly better nourished concentration camp victim. She is crouched in the back of the trailer when the door opens and light shines in on her. Naked and near insanity, Bunny runs for it. She runs toward the light. She is a gibbering mess, but the ecstasy is unmistakeable on her face. She desperately wants to live.

The film cuts away and we next see her on a cross. She did not make it to freedom. Hog has caught up to her. She is not restrained. She is not nailed to the cross. She is simply lying atop it with her arms spread, in a Christ-like position. Hog sits near her, not touching her. She hallucinates and sees herself with her healthy face, her brown curly hair, sitting nearby. Her old self burns a book. Her old self puts on a veil. Her old self is watching her self-sacrifice. She is her own Mary Magdalene in this painful vision.

Hog tells her to draw a straw from his fist – if she gets the long straw, she wins. A jittery wraith, she selects a straw. Hog mumbles something in her ear and the ecstasy again shows on her face. She laughs with hysterical delight as he carries her over his shoulder. A man in a white uniform in a white van arrives and Hog carries her to him. They put her in the back of the van and the film ends.

Does Bunny live? Who is the man in the van? I think she lives and but even if she doesn’t, in terms of the purpose of this film, it is unimportant. Taken away from the city into the desert, broken down and depersonalized, she wants to live. She has gone through an extraordinary ordeal, very nearly a vision quest and wants to live. I also thought about this in terms of an extreme purification ritual, with the head-shaving, the starvation, the food and water deprivation.

And if this is a purification ritual, then Bunny lived because there was no sense purifying her if there was only death waiting for her. Purification rituals are to cleanse a person of that which is unclean before a specific life event. I left this film thinking the specific event was life itself. Bunny was cleansed of the drugs in her system, the endless flow of semen into her body, the dirt of the city, the implications of her fried hair and her provocative clothing. Naked, starved and bald she is now ready for life after her ordeal. But even if that white van is representative of death, for the first time Bunny wanted to live. Wanting life is a redemption from the walking death she was experiencing before she was kidnapped. She may never return to being that full-faced, curly-haired, laughing brunette, but just wanting to be her again means she is saved.

I know it’s tempting for many to dismiss this as torture porn wherein the sole purpose is to revel in Bunny’s debasement. But those seeking a disgusting gore-fest will be disappointed. There is no blood. There are no saws or pliers. The blow torch is for use with the brand. No one loses a limb, no toes are cut off, no one is hung upside down with a cut throat and bleeding into a bath. This is not a cartoon of extreme violence like so many other movies that depict torture. This is psychological torture and while equally as horrible as physical torture, it has a different purpose than to titillate, which is why I think so many people were put off by this film. It wasn’t what they expected, and in many ways it was far, far worse.

I do my best to interpret the media I consume in a vacuum. I don’t like to read reviews about books or films until I see them and before I write about them, I prefer not to know too much detail about what others think. But after watching this film I wanted to know more about Rodleen Getsic. Her site is a lot to take in at once and I recommend spending ten minute increments there in the beginning. Evidently after filming The Bunny Game, Getsic slipped on a doormat at a grocery story and landed on her head, causing a catastrophic brain injury, and her site shows her struggle as she recovers and copes. She hasn’t updated her “phonetography” section in a while. I hope she’s okay. And I hope the part of her soul that died when she made The Bunny Game was a part she needed to shed. It’s an uncomfortable feeling realizing that the woman who made this film, a film based on her own experiences, has gone on to experience another ordeal.

This was a hard movie but if you ever watch it, I’d love to hear your take on it. I suspect there are a lot of different opinions, and given the nature of this film, aside from the ones that dismiss this as pointless torture porn, they may all be correct.

This Is Not an Odd Book Discussion: An e-Epistolary Review of Crappy Horror Films

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

This is an e-mail I sent to Mr. Oddbooks and he thought it might be fitting for a non-odd book discussion over here. These may be the most succinct reviews I have ever written.

Mar 27 (7 days ago)

My beloved husband,

I heard you speak of needing space on the Apple TV. I believe I have found a way to get a small chunk of space. Consider deleting the following Horror titles:

Ominous looks like it was cast by a blind man, shot with a cell phone and sound mastered in the dishwasher. Wanted to die after ten minutes.

Removal sucks more than anything has ever before sucked. It’s got the Fight Club trope of OH NO IT WAS ME but no one can act and for some reason Elliott Gould has a ten second cameo. It needs to go away.

The Task was so awful I now have cancer. Of the butt.

Trapped Ashes is a collection of assholes telling unscary stories (one involves cannibal breasts) to get out of a scary house. It could only be worse if my mom had directed it.

Urban Explorer had zero plot and was offensive to every sensibility. Nazi tunnels in Berlin, yay, let’s visit them with nary a gun to defend us from the racist chunnel dwellers we are sure to find there.

Vlog… words fail me. Seriously. I almost want you to keep it so I can dare you to watch it.

Last Breath is what happens when people decide to write a hackneyed script that no one cares about, cast their friends who cannot act, and decide to film it and call it indie horror instead of a homemade piece of amateurish crap that could interest no one with access to a Rubik’s cube.

Grave Encounters sucked the rancid teat of TV’s Ghost Hunters. Oh no, there are real ghosts in this here place that crooked paranormal researchers are exploring. Who would have thought such a plot turn could happen? Who, I ask you? But more to the point, we need to ask, “Who cares?” No one, that’s who.

Fingerprints stars two sisters who look about as related as any two random people might, features an actress who got her start on Laguna Beach on MTV and “acts” via showing her legs and guest stars the animated corpse of Sally Kirkland wielding an axe.

Exorcismus is the sort of film wherein you want the girl to remain demon possessed. You may wonder why the hell the movie wasn’t about the girl on the the promotional cover – I can’t answer that but I suspect it would have been a far better movie than the piece of shit I watched. You also want her parents to die and her boyfriend to grind himself into hamburger, but neither happens so why bother.

Episode 50: See Grave Encounters.

Dario Argento’s The Card Player involves cutting edge computer technology from 1987, a plot so simple Gertie probably wrote it, and it’s mining a trope so overmined the shaft is gonna collapse.

The Cottage features the dude who played Gollum and I couldn’t last longer than ten minutes to see if it featured anyone else because it was all full of “Who fucking cares?” during the first few minutes.

Credo ( The Devil’s Curse ) is plotless, pointless, and you sort of want all the crappy-acting kids to die. Also seems like the sound was mixed in a Port Authority toilet.

Coffin features two living people buried in a coffin who are fighting for life and yet somehow the film still lacks tension. Oh, it’s a ransom film. Oh, it’s a “punish the adulterers” film. Oh, it’s a piece of fucking shit.

Bitten has Jay from Jay and Silent Bob fame when he was still clearly in the throes of some sort of drug addiction and a whiny, often naked vampiress with one of the most interesting overbites ever seen in a leading lady (note – twas not caused by tooth prosthetics). Lots of bodies stuffed in trunks and no one smells a thing and I think if you decide to keep this one, you should have to watch it with me as I mock your pain.

Bereavement makes no fucking sense, is horrible and exploitative (because making kids watch sex murders is a fresh, new, interesting hook, amirite?), and also who fucking cares?

Beneath – I will contact a lawyer if you don’t delete this piece of made for MTV shitburger. Don’t test me on this.

Bane is a bunch of really unremarkable British women tortured and killed for some sort of stupid project involving what looks like an animatronic roach with fangs sporting a large Giger-style hat. Someone inexplicably cast their boneless aunt, the one with the frizzy perm, and I also suspect these women were not given a script.

Amusement is the touching story of a kindergarten vivisectionist who decides to stalk and kill the three girls who were sickened by his mouse-torture exhibit for the school diorama contest. He tracks them down and kidnaps them as adults in a Rube-Goldbergian manner and takes them to what appears to be a disused grain silo with interrogation rooms. Four idiots enter, only one survives, and it’s the one who decided to go to sleep in a room with a human-sized clown doll in a chair. Hardly seems fair.

Medium Raw features a hottie psychologist in an asylum for the extremely criminally insane where people have sex against the walls of cells containing superhuman killing machines for the thrill and people bring their small daughters who wear red coats to work. The sexy psychologist’s husband sounds exactly like Ryan O’Reilly from Oz and there’s a whole subplot with him that involves lotsa flashbacks. The best part of this film was the cannibal lady who, sadly, failed to eat the protagonist, which would have been the best possible ending, in my book. So stupid that if you don’t delete it, you owe me ten bucks on general principle.

Needle is Saw with needles, combined with the first Hellraiser, with even worse actors.

The Quiet features Jack Bauer’s daughter as a bitch cheerleader with Kenny Power’s baby-mama as a best friend. We have beloved character actors Martin Donovan and Edie Falco selling their souls for a paycheck. There’s also a brunette pretending to be deaf and she’s, like, key to the plot but she’s not naked enough for the target market for this film. Incest, murder, who fucking cares. Notable only because of boobs, some of them Carmela Soprano’s.

This should clear up some space.

As always, your devoted wife

This Is Not An Odd Book Discussion – Late night David Lynch

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

I used to be a fan of black metal, and I guess I still am, but now it’s more appropriate to say I’m a fan of specific black metal bands. It always helps to be specific, I think.

So in the spirit of specificity, let me tell you I rather like Ulver. I think even more specifically, it’s safe to say I like Garm, the former singer for Ulver. I love his voice, and I like the idea that if Mr Oddbooks were to start lifting weights again and decided to get some ink, he and Garm could pass for brothers. Maybe cousins.

At any rate, Ulver’s 2000 release, Perdition City, is in my top ten albums of all time. And the best song on that album is “Porn Piece or the Scars of Cold Kisses.” At 4:00 one morning, I wanted to listen to it in bed, but iTunes was having “issues.” I was forced to go to YouTube, which was not as an appalling a choice as you might think because it just so happens that there is a fan video for “Porn Piece or the Scars of Cold Kisses” that is my favorite fan video ever. Yeah, the video is stretched and skewed but ultimately, the video is very, very good. I don’t think I could ever have thought of “Porn Piece” and Lost Highway as two media elements that went together, but that’s the beauty of this kind of thing, I suspect. Also, I tend to think that imposing one’s will on popular culture is all that’s left to us people who can’t sleep and yet can’t concentrate on anything productive.

So beautiful. “On the stairs, before I left, one of the girls had surprisingly given me a kiss. Stung in the cold long after.”

But it was Youtube at 4:00 in the morning. It couldn’t end in a great mashup of an achingly beautiful song. It never does.

It never does.

You know how Youtube has all the related videos over to the right in one endless and godless lineup?

I looked at those related videos. I learned something. I learned that David Lynch released an album late in 2011. It is called Crazy Clown Time.

I’ll let that soak in for minute.

Crazy.

Clown.

Time.

And it sounds exactly like you think it would and you should not listen to this before the sun comes up. You should not listen to this as your Garm-like husband sleeps with his hands closed across his chest, an elderly cat at his feet, your house quiet, your neighborhood dead. You should not listen to this song even now, but you probably will because the curiosity will force you.

Here it is. The thing that currently haunts me.

I…

I just don’t know. Words fail me. That was horrible. I kind of want to cry.

But because he is David Lynch, in the midst of the grotesque, there is also something truly beautiful. “Pinky’s Dream” is slightly jittery and mildly horrible, but still has lovely moments

But like much of Lynch’s body of work, you have to make a conscious choice: do you focus on the lovely or the grotesque? Do you focus on Isabella’s lips and her accent or Dennis Hopper and his fucking nitrous mask?

You focus on Dennis and the mask.

Fuck.