Archive for cult classic

A Tribute to Free Love in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW

Posted in Dark Musings, Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, an occasion on which monogamous couples are encouraged to celebrate their union and romance. In many ways it’s a paean to heteronormativity – it’s meant for a man and a woman who are solely bound to each other.

Rather than feed into this, I want to talk about THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW – one of cinema’s purest celebrations of free, uninhibited love and pleasure.

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Most people know of this film as a crazy, hilarious, purposefully bad sendup of 50s sci-fi films and musicals. It’s a midnight classic, still screening around the world with shadow casts and costumed fans who have memorized the lines. But even more remarkable is its depiction of sex and love. There is a Bacchanal sense of madness to the film, and an unabashed queerness, with men dressed as women, people sleeping with the same and opposite sex without qualm, orgiastic pleasure… All hot topics in social culture today. Only Richard O’Brien crafted this show forty years ago, when this was still a dangerous idea.

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RHPS is bold and overt in its dissection of traditional love. We begin with the wedding and proposal, played with grotesque, pure excitement; but it’s not long before we’re sucked into the frenzy of Frank ‘N Furter’s world. This is a character who completely destroys gender boundaries. His fabulous wardrobe, his ever-selfish dominance, and his obsession with Charles Atlas are his own, creating an identity independent from societal constructs. The wedding between Frank and Rocky is a terrific parallel to the opening scene. It would be seen as a perversion of that ceremony if it wasn’t so passionate, so free.

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What follows is a sexual awakening for Brad and Janet, whose sexuality was so clearly repressed. Frank initiates a renaissance for both of them – while they protest at first, they give into the pleasure and realize what they were missing. Janet’s tryst with Rocky is funny, sure, but she also finds her own identity in the act, as bold as Frank’s.

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And (SPOILERS!) the big number, followed by the orgy in the pool, ties it all together. “Don’t dream it, be it” – a hymn to all of those who felt their identities locked away, too ashamed to explore them. Frank might be hedonistic and bizarre, but he is liberated. His liberation carries over to Brad and Janet, too. They find their own happiness in sexual freedom because there is no longer fear. To anyone who has ‘come out,’ that experience is universal.

The ending has always struck me as far more tragic than the bulk of the film would justify. Frank is murdered for living his dream, seen as a perverted lifestyle by his own servants. His final song is heartbreaking in this context. And at that time, this was a reality. Anyone who did not fit into the societal definition of ‘normal’ was targeted for hate and violence. Is it a coincidence that O’Brien, who identifies himself as a third sex, concludes his show in this manner?

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It might end in sadness, but even so, Rocky Horror is wholly liberating. It presents these themes and ideas without batting an eye. So, rather than indulge in films that promote the image of ‘normal’ romance this holiday, I want to celebrate Frank ‘N Further’s message. Allow yourself to find your own identity and embody it to the fullest extent. As opposed to forty years ago, today, there is not nearly as much reason to fear.

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Films That Haunt Me: SOCIETY

Posted in Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Ah, body horror. We don’t see enough of it anymore. What horror fan doesn’t appreciate a good old slime-fest, with a dash of social commentary thrown into the goop? It’s a genre that often gets overlooked as being purely gross – but the best body horror films have some insightful and penetrating things to say about our civilization. No film does this more overtly, or with more fluids, than SOCIETY.

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Directed by Stuart Gordon collaborator Brian Yuzna, this ick-fest starts off innocently enough – a high school boy believes that his yuppie suburban town is hiding something sinister beneath its pastels. People are disappearing, the snobby rich kids are acting up, and is that woman’s torso twisting around like that?? These unusual occurrences culminate in a horrific realization about his family and friends – a society of people that aren’t people at all.

It’s hard to talk about this movie without spoiling the ending. It’s a sin to give away such a great surprise. (And surprisingly hard to find photos to put in this post that don’t involve what happens.) To avoid ruining the entirety of it, I’ll just say this – Yunza creates a brilliant, satirical view of the homogenous wealthy, who are quite literally all the same person. The makeup effects are bizarre and ingenious. What makes them so striking, beyond their nastiness, is the way the visuals comment on the ‘theme’ of the cruel bourgeois. They are not wholly human, and thus, they look down on everyone who is human. And use them for certain purposes. I’ll leave it up to you viewers to find that out for yourselves.

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Since we get to see this society from the point of view of an outsider, we are able to share in his surprise and horror – and Yuzna also permits himself, through this, to be as surreal and weird as he pleases. The world that our hero stumbles upon goes so far beyond anything we could imagine that it is impossible not to find hilarious, but in a way that makes it hard to tell whether or not we should really be laughing. Yuzna’s sense of humor is similar to Peter Jackson’s in “Braindead” – using gore as slapstick and an opportunity for puns. But beneath this, there is that thread of disturbing social commentary, which is so spot on that it makes the unreal sequences hard to completely write off.

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The level of satire makes it difficult to take seriously at times, especially in the earlier scenes, when it’s hard to decide if the film is a mystery-thriller or a John Hughes rip-off. But for those who can look past the off-kilter opening, the payoff is gob-smackingly terrific. I argue that, for the ending alone, it can take its place alongside the best horror efforts of David Cronenberg, and even some of Lynch’s more grotesque work.

This film represents, for me, the great artistic value of a genre that we don’t often see anymore. Body horror had its heyday in the 80’s, but once the slasher craze really took off, it fell by the wayside. There are a few modest efforts available today, but what happened to the surplus of nasty and sub-political films that used to saturate the market? In honor of “Society” and its kin, here’s to hoping that body horror makes a comeback. For now, we can relish in this one’s bizarre humor and quantity of slime-covered satire. You’ll be singing the Eton Boating song for days to come.