Saturday, March 3, 2012

GrindhouseFest '12: HEAVY METAL, OFFSPRING

HEAVY METAL

Yes, the classic 1981 animated anthology.

It's... not very good.

The Deal:

The Loc-Nar is a green glowing sphere which is the embodiment of all evil. It is brought home by an astronaut, it kills the astronaut, and then it goes all exposition on the astronaut's daughter. "Look deep into me and see how I have brought ruin to all that encounter me!" type stuff, and the movie is basically a series of stories that the daughter is seeing.

Supposedly the girl is the only one that can destroy the Loc-Nar, so why it spends time blabbing instead of just killing her like so many other people who were presumably not such great threats to it, I dunno.

And if the answer to an obvious question is "Because then there wouldn't be a movie," I'm thinking maybe there might not need to be a movie.

But there is an answer! "Well, watching each of the stories, this Loc-Nar thing behaves pretty nonsensically throughout, so what's one more bit of nonsense?

The GoodBad Stuff:

Hard to differentiate between the good and the bad, because this is just straight over the top and I have a feeling the things that I thought were dumb were the things that make the movie for others.

The wife notes: "Whoever made this movie has a thing for redheads with big tits."

I'm all for sex and redheads and big tits - in their proper place*. But the ridiculous amount of "girl strips and has really big jiggly cartoon tits and fucks somebody while spouting mind-numbingly bad dialogue" is kind of embarrassing. (not EVIL AND WOMAN-HATING, just dumb) Especially when you're sitting there watching it with your wife who doesn't have the background with or love for genre movies and doesn't let shit like this pass. I mean, it's cartoons, is anyone really getting turned on? If not, is there another point to it? Does it really serve the story being told? For the most part, no.
 
It's so obviously geared towards a stereotypical teenage boy's mindset, which is no problem, stereotypical teenage boys deserve their entertainment too. But I'm not a teenager watching this, and hilariously the movie is rated R so the audience you'd think it's for aren't really supposed to see it anyway. Rated R in the US anyway, the UK rates it at 15 which is better but still silly.

Note: I am of a mind that movie rating systems are a JOKE. Entertainment at its most juvenile, like Heavy Metal, like slasher movies with oversexed teenage victims, are FOR TEENAGERS, but the rating systems worldwide claim that these things are "adult" entertainment. "Rated R for 'The Film Board is a bunch of tightassed fuckwads'" I think.

Good example? Fright Night, the 80s version which is in the viewing pile, is rated 18 in the UK (where I bought the DVD from). Same as Cannibal Holocaust, I Spit on Your Grave, Human Centipede, etc. Something's wrong with the system, worldwide. (I think I've mentioned that Little House on the Prairie DVDs in Finland are rated 18 because the company releasing the DVDs decided not to go through the ratings process and the default rating is the SUPER ADULT NAUGHTY CONTENT 18 rating. Seems I'm not the only one who thinks the rating system is useless.)

Anyway...

There's too much "rule of cool" going here and not a lot of coherence. I think the problem is with the framing of the movie. The whole Loc-Nar thing makes absolutely no sense both in how it deals with the child and the fact that it barely involved with many of the stories it shows, so what the hell? And you've got grittier war horror like the wonderful B17 segment sitting next to wanna-be hardboiled cab driver Harry Canyon (Luc Besson has to be a HUGE fan) with the planetary sword & sorcery style of Den (the one place where the easy big titted woman makes perfect sense), the comedic sci-fi of Captain Sternn and So Beautiful and Dangerous, and the epic final story Taarna. Nothing fits with anything else and the connecting story is lacking.

The Creepshow movies are the closest thing I can think of movie-wise to Heavy Metal, and those keep a consistent atmosphere going and so they work. The intro bit here indicates over-the-top sci-fi (astronaut/car thing) and horror (Loc-Nar disintegrating people and threatening the kid), but not one story that follows lives up to the combo, and any story that's got one doesn't have the other.

It's like the whole is lesser than the sum of its parts, because aside from the robot fucker/druggie binge story everything else feels right on its own.

Honestly you can make this movie 34234238462374283 times better by removing the Loc-Nar wraparound and making the connecting bits something like, I dunno, stoners telling each other about their favorite stories from Heavy Metal magazine, or maybe a role-playing group presenting various plots and stories, with everyone getting a turn behind the screen without changing a single thing from any of the stories (with the resulting "what's the deal with that green thing?" being an unaddressed mystery that the kinds of people who want to see a movie like Heavy Metal would love to speculate about).

The Grade: D

I never read Heavy Metal back in those days (my excuse: I WAS SIX). I've read some recent issues, and they're surely not comparable. But you can't say "It was a simpler time," because I know for a fact that there was GOOD STUFF in the world by 1981.

OFFSPRING

Disappointing.

Written by Jack Ketchum (adapting his own novel)... I mention that because there's a lot of Ketchum stuff to come in GrindhouseFest '12.

The Deal:

There's a feral clan of people that wander around the northern Maine/Canada border region. They are cannibals. And here's a family that lives in the area, and they have houseguests. They're about to have houseguests they didn't invite.

"The Hills Have Eyes meets Wrong Turn!" would be about right. It tries to be more, but fails.

The Good Stuff:

I hope you like violence because that's where the movie shines. When this clan attacks, they're vicious. And even civilized people will become animalistic when they're pushed too far (I think "the message" of the movie is there, but whatever). The violence is nasty and not fun, with bits just happening without "dramatic" buildup. Since families are involved in a fight for survival, both civilized and barbaric pull no punches: children are targets and combatants, and babies aren't safe either.

I say this violence is "good" because it doesn't feel processed for easy audience digestion or titillation (for the most part, see "the bad" below) - it feels like this is what would happen if these people were put in this situation. It's not very glamorous, shit looks painful. The movie is about a fight for survival, so it's got to be a positive when the fight and the survival are damn well convincing!

When the clan attacks the first family, it's a big notice that this movie is playing for keeps and intends to burn itself into your brain but good. Very effective!

The feral clan is awesome. Led by The Woman (says the credits, and she completely steals the show here), they are frickin SCARY, moving silently, striking hard, but having a definite pecking order, goals, relationships within the clan, there's life here beyond randomly killing people. They aren't monsters, they're basically just cannibal cavemen trying to survive in a world utterly hostile to them. (their origin is covered briefly in the movie, they've lived like this for over 100 years, stealing babies to replentish their number, the authorities have tried to wipe them out before) They show enough "cultural" bits from this group that it really feels like there's a lot more depth to them than what's actually shown in the movie. Much much much superior than the bad guys in the aforementioned Hills Have Eyes and Wrong Turn. In fact, it's the handling of the wild bunch (how many different wants can I say "feral clan" without saying "feral clan"?) that makes this movie worth anything. Had it been corny or one-dimensional we wouldn't have a watchable film.

Not that they're sympathetic or anything, but the depth is appreciated.

There's some other notable bits, like how the cop acts, and there's one guy in the movie who is the most unbelievable bastard, a real slimy piece of work that stands out amongst the carnage. Who needs barbaric cave dwellers when there are "civilized" folk like this guy around?

The most chilling part of the movie doesn't even have to do with the violence... one guy dies on the floor, watching his wife being attacked and not able to do anything about it. His life flashes before his eyes as he expires... now, the "life flashing before his eyes" part is made up of just things from the first half hour of the movie, but it again creates the illusion of greater depth. Totally worked.

The Bad:

There's not a lot of plot here. Things just happen. "Here's a family. Here's a family being attacked by another family, here's some chasing around, here's the cops on the trail, there are fights here and there, we get some betrayal and some people escape and roll credits.

On the one hand, it feels more genuine (like random assaults follow the rules of drama?), but on the other hand, we're kind of trained in movie watching land to have things fit together a little better. You could say this movie cuts out most of the filler that pads out other movies of its type (it's short at 76 minutes) but maybe it left out some necessary connective tissue as well? It made the movie feel rather disjointed and when it ends there's a sense of "that's it?" even though everything's covered. The beats feel off.

It's like a whole movie made about an extended wandering monster encounter, really.

One question: I get the whole "we need to steal babies to keep our numbers up." What I don't get is the "we are nomads that eat people!" If they live in a wild enough area to move around in without being detected, why eat people? Their own history (the last incident being within memory of at least two of the tribe) shows that when people find out about them, they lose. Steal the kids if you must (and these folk are real good at hiding), but why hunt and engage the enemy? This actually makes more sense in terms of Wrong Turn, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hills Have Eyes, etc, where there is a hint of malice in the baddies - whereas these people are portrayed (with one exception noted next a paragraph) as simply primitive. But this story is a sequel to another that hasn't been filmed yet, and I guess if you watch The Empire Strikes Back before Star Wars things don't make much sense there either.

One very weak point is the torture scene back at the cave - that was definitely for the "benefit" of the audience rather than making any sense in the story. Putting appliances in your mouth to make your bites more gruesome? When it's already established that they are more than willing to take chunks out of people with just their teeth? huh? And the scene that makes "eating the girl out" rather literal seemed... unnecessary. The strength of the movie, really, is its credibility as a "this could maybe happen, possibly" sort of thing, and it just seemed somehow off that the clan would play with their food in this manner.

The Grade: C

The movie gave it a good honest try, but it simply fell short.

Bonus Sociology Conversation!

My wife noted that "there are a lot of American movies about cannibals living out in the countryside." (after I noted some British examples, we agreed to call it an Anglo thing). It's like the urban moviegoing (and moviemaking) population is scared to go outside. In Finland she says half the population goes and lives in the woods during their summer holiday, so the whole thing seems pretty alien to her. She thinks its sad that Americans would think of their fellow countrymen this way (even allowing for it being a gross exaggeration of a stereotype).

So what is with movies like this and Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Wrong Turn and Hills Have Eyes and (related) Deliverance?

Anyway, GrindhouseFest '12 isn't the most exciting thing on Earth so far, and not inspiring. The most satisfying movie of the bunch so far has been Lake Placid 2 because that worked far above its pay grade. And that just happened to be on TV, it wasn't part of my big haul. How's damning is it when Lake Placid 2 is the brightest spot so far????
 
There are 18 more movies sitting on the pile and things have got to improve.

Right?

To come: Films by Lucky McKee, Christopher Smith, Wes Craven, Ti West, and others starring the likes of Peter Cushing, Robert Englund, Tim McInnerny, Pollyanna McIntosh, Dominic Monagham, Ron Perlman, Ingrid Pitt, Chris Sarandon, Angus Scrimm, and Tom Sizemore.

I think we'll be fine.

(* IN MY HANDS! Right?)

22 comments:

  1. Wasn't that Heavy Metal movie made as an anthology? That is, there were several animator teams working on their own unrelated segments, and they were then just sewed together with a clumsy frame story reminiscent of old horror genre conventions? The movie certainly looks exactly like it was done in a way where each individual segment is there for its own sake, with little relation to the movie as a whole. Probably a lot of ignorance about the supposed overarching plot going on, or maybe it was only decided half-way into the production that there even should be an overarching narrative.

    Be that as it may, the movie was very entertaining for me as a teenager. This was entirely an aesthetic thing, the available selection of vivacious, dangerous genre fantasy outside the post-Tolkien format wasn't very good then in Finland, and it hasn't really gotten any better since then. It was simply different from the usual fare, and therefore good.

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  2. Re: Heavy Metal. This film was whispered about in my high school friends' circles as the film to see. When I finally managed to see it at 40 I pretty much reacted like you. What a disappointing piece of poorly drawn cartoons!

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  3. The cannibals-in-the-countryside thing goes waaaaaaay back. Look up the name Sawney Bean. Also see various older tales of ogres and werewolves.

    I read a thing that suggested it's due to urban folks not understanding rural folks, and thus being afraid of them. Then it gets translated into things like The Hills Have Eyes and Deliverance.

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  4. Hah, Jim I had the same experience when I watched HM with my wife About 10 years ago. I was embarrassed, that I had such fond memories of it (I was 15 the last time I saw it). I have far less interest in the movie than some of the stuff that the movie was drawn from and influenced by, i.e., the works of Corben and Mobius, many of which appeared in the Magazine. Speaking of the magazine, it had a lot of great stuff and a lot of crap too.
    Read Corben's BloodStar if you want to get a taste of the magazine at its best. His Den stories are some of my favorite things in the world, but really, they don't make a ton of sense.

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  5. Glad to see some hate on Heavy Metal, I think we could use some more. Pushing 50 y.o. myself, the HM movie was an object of lust for anyone coming of age in the 70s. After the works of Bakshi and others hitting the big screen--the potential promise of the high-aesthetics and harder edge represented by HM movie was promising. With Mobius, O'Bannon, and others on for the ride, I think what was most disappointing was the fact that the over arching story and many dips along the way were just drug fueled fever dreams of adolescents who spent too much time in head shops. It was one of those things where the talent was there, but the drug addled producers just didn't really understand the real reason everyone else was there--it wasn't for the drug fueled tits, it was for what we thought was an adult approach to animation. What it ended up being was a steaming turd, with allusions to brilliance that barely surfaced a couple of times thru the whole run time. Hate that movie.

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  6. It's hard to believe there was only five years between Heavy Metal and Laputa: Castle in the Sky. The sheer difference in quality of workmanship shows just how ghettoised western animation was back then.

    Fright Night, the 80s version which is in the viewing pile, is rated 18 in the UK (where I bought the DVD from).

    Oh, that's due to our own little Satanic Panic about video nasties back in the 80s. Mary Whitehouse and her pack of puckermouthed bigots at the NVLA lobbied that anything harder than The Archers get an 18 rating.

    Nunchuks in a film were enough for the fogies at the BBFC to slap an 18 on it. Enter the Dragon and I Spit on Your Grave = equally morally corrupting and horrific!
    American Werewolf in London was an X (later modified to 18) FFS!

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  7. yes, Heavy Metal was pretty bad, but we all thought it was great when I was a kid. If you're a comics fan, you should go back and check out some of those early anthologies of the 70's/early 80s era, though. The writing, sadly, is usually just as bad as the movie, but there is some great source material in there. Also, seeing how badly the original art was translated for the movie shows another area where the film broke down (like Bernie Wrightson's art for the B-17 sequence...although that might even just have been storyboards, iirc).

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  8. ... and here I was expecting to get my ass kicked for not liking Heavy Metal. :D

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  9. The best stuff in Heavy Metal the magazine was the stuff in the first year or so that was translated and came from the original 4 artist "Humanoids" (their name for themselves) that started Metal Hurlant the French mag.

    Moebius's stuff alone makes them worthwhile but there's other cool stuff in there that makes the most sense to an American (or American influenced) audience by understanding the vaguely neo-expressionist rebellion of those artists against an increasingly conservative climate for sequential art in France.

    Moebius one time describe his Arzach series of strips as a comic version of a 'rorschach blot.' I think the same could be said for a number of the artists and therefore the nonsensical aspect of some of the narratives was intentional in a way that most American comic artists at the time wouldn't even conceive of.

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  10. Isn't the whole Anglos-are-afraid-to-go-outside schtick the basis for D&D?

    The walled villages are safe(-ish), but the countryside and ancient ruins are populated with creatures of human legend and nightmare.

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  11. Oh... and a number of the strips from those first few years (especially the Moebius, Corben, Druillet, and Caza stuff) would be PERFECT inspiration for elements in a Carcosa campaign.

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  12. @ Osskorrei, my own setting is very, very much influenced by the works you mention, especially Corben and Mobius. I'm an American, but I tend to look at a lot of this early stuff as the comic book equivalent of a lucid dream- Den of Earth Is especially enjoyable if one approaches it this way. the shifts in character identity, geography and the disjointed nature of the entire saga's narrative, seem to my mind to perfectly follow dream logic.

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  13. @AOS, Absolutely! And, as two of Moebius' favorite authors (who inspired his own dreamscape like work) were Clark Ashton Smith and Jack Vance, it kind of brings everything full circle for RPG inspiration sources.

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  14. The cannibalistic hillbilly motif is related to "urbanoia," city peoples' fear of the country. Marshall Burns is right, this concept goes waaaaaaay back.

    Film scholar Carol J. Clover (whose 1993 book MEN, WOMEN and CHAIN SAWS is the best academic book on the horror film) has discussed this theme in some of the films you mention. She ties urbanoia (a term I believe she coined) to economic guilt: normally, middle-class city people live off of the exploited resources and labor of country folk; this theme is indicated by the dam in DELIVERANCE, for example: it is built to provide power for city folk, while literally destroying many rural communities. So these films stage a "revenge" of the country people, via rape in DELIVERANCE, rape plus cannibalism in HILLS HAVE EYES, or cannibalism in TEXAS CHAIN SAW.

    Anyway, I happen to have an academic article on this very subject (discussing mainly TEXAS CHAIN SAW and THE HILLS HAVE EYES) being published in a Routledge anthology later this year, this fall I think. I will send you a copy of the essay if you are interested in my rather eggheadish two cents.

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    1. Do you cover the Scottish urban legend/English anti-Scottish propaganda of "Sawney Bean" the 16th century Scottish highwayman and patriarch of his own incestual 'hillbilly' cannibal clan that most scholars attribute to the origin of that thematic trope or are you focusing more on modern elements in your paper?

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    2. ... the reason I ask is that, although I love Clover's book, as a folklorist, I think that some of her interpretations are a bit short-sighted in regards to historical foundations that she either ignored or was ignorant of.

      That being said, her work is extremely important... it's just not the final word on any of the subjects she covers.

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  15. I was only 15 or 16 when I saw the first Heavy Metal movie so I have fond memories of it and when I watch it now I only watch particular sections based on my mood. As you mentioned, it doesn't go together well.

    Still, the first time I watched The Fifth Element I couldn't shake the feeling that someone on the writing team for THAT movie really enjoyed the "hard-boiled cab driver' segment.

    The sequel (HM 2000) has a more coherent story but that's about all you can say for it.

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  16. Regarding the cannibals in the woods, I think most American slasher films are primarily about urban middle class fears. Either your nice young college kids are being chased by degenerate inbred poor, or amoral rich sociopaths. It's hard for me to not see class fears in the casting of villains in these sorts of movies.

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  17. The hard boiled cab driver segment was in part inspired by a Métal Hurlant story by Moebius and Dan O'Bannon, The Long Tomorrow, which was also a major inspiration for Blade Runner.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Long_Tomorrow
    http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/critics/top-10-comic-book-cities-5-the-city-in-moebius-the-long-tomorrow/5204823.article

    (Dan O'Bannon wrote the intro and the B-17 segment in the HM movie.)

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    1. And Luc Besson, who was inspired by both that and the HM sequence, had Moebius work on the art designs for his film "The Fifth Element" which is one of the reasons it is SO reminiscent of the source inspiration.

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