I guess everyone has some sort of reverence for the time when they came of age and it’s generally pretty annoying. What is worse than a boomer’s account of the late 50’s/early 60’s? “Everybody was as naive as an Amish aspie and we didn’t know that our toys were crude pieces of shit and everybody was aggressively dull and listened to Steve And Eydie and only ate pot roast and only drank milk mixed with scotch. I will now elaborate on this wonderful time, from the perspective of my ten year old self, for two hours.” There are good things and bad things about any time in history, but boring is boring and whenever I realize I’m in for some boomer nostalgia, I feel like I’m a kid getting a haircut so I can go Sears to buy some dress shoes and have some portrait photos taken.
I don’t know which generation I am. It seems like they are always changing it, except for an unofficial cola affiliation. Also, it is one of the generations that will go bankrupt paying for those boomers’ retirements and all of the debt they rang up. Anyway, my nostalgia is for the ‘90s, which is finally starting to seem distant and quaint. I’d like to think we’re not so hideously boring as the boomers, as evidenced by Pulse, which actually came out in 2001, but whatever. It was a period of great prosperity, but it was cool to pretend we were living in dark times. Seattle was the hippest place in the US and so it seems like it was raining a lot, or vice versa. People liked somewhat depressing music, like The Smashing Pumpkins if you were a lame (though, later, everyone had to admit that they were pretty good) and Jawbreaker if you were cool. There was sort of a general aesthetic of dreariness, which I still love and you can see it gradually envelop the bright, and brightly dressed young people in Pulse.
Also, computer technology was becoming mainstream, so a lot of movies and TV shows were like, “look at how comfortable this person is with a FLOPPY DISK (hahahaha, no, they are not actually floppy anymore, but YOU knew that) and he is going on THE INTERNET as you can tell by these sounds which you recognize from your own 56k MODEM.” And, especially if you were a little bit ahead of the curve on this stuff, you would get all excited and be like, “That’s like me! I’m like that! I use a modem! I’m like that guy in the movie!” It’s sort of interesting to look back on that because, unlike the seemingly static ‘50s, this was us taking our first steps into a new way of life and a part of us was on each side of the transition. Would all of this technology change us? Alienate us from reality? Deplete our souls? Will social interactions be reduced to brief exchanges of text? Will these unlimited possibilities, rather than expanding our consciousness, create a listless decadence and turn us into Nietzsche’s last man, or something even worse? Would we come to be enslaved and degraded by our own tools? Obviously, we now know that the answer to all of these questions is, “yes.” But, back then, the horror of what we would become was a mere possibility. And the darkness of that possibility augmented the atmosphere of a film like Pulse. The ghosts in Pulse appear as digital images of people and one character looks at the screen images of living people sitting, staring at their own computers and wonders if there is any difference between them and the ghosts and if there is any difference between life and death.
So, as you might have guessed, Pulse is a techno horror film. You go on the internet and suddenly you want to kill yourself (And the film was made before The Huffington Post!). This happens to the friend of the main characters and then it starts happening to other people and gradually we all learn that evil forces are using the internet as a way to reach victims.
Here’s the question about techno horror. Is the technology the source of the horror, or merely a new tool for evil to turn against us? It seems to me that technology and horror have always been intertwined. Yeah, you’ve got Frankenstein. But even apart from that, horror unmasks our vulnerability and technology can be a great tool for that because we constantly fool ourselves into thinking technology will save us in real life. In a horror film, you feel so much safer holding a shotgun, but all it really does is knock Michael Myers briefly to the floor so that he kills you eight seconds later. In reality, you go to the confident doctor and see all of the shiny hospital equipment and think they can save you, but all they can really do is maybe postpone the inevitable. So, in the context of horror, the things we usually turn to for protection, like technology and religion, are presented to us in the true light of their impotence and we are forced to admit, for a moment at least, that ultimately we are alone against darkness.
In Nightmares in Red, White and Blue, which is a pretty good documentary on the history of horror, John Carpenter divides horror into the horror of the other and the horror of the self. So, what I’ve just described is the horror of the other. We are alone against death and destruction with nothing to protect us and even tools for protection, like technology, might be turned against us. But then, there is the fear of the self, which is where stuff like Frankenstein comes in. In the case of the internet, of course, the fear is that we will be unable to resist the temptation to reach out to evil (the “forbidden room” in the film) and will cooperate in our own demise. According to a recent study I saw, thirteen out of ten Japanese men admitted to possessing child pornography. So maybe there is a fear that society, as a whole, has opened something of a Pandora’s box. And certainly there are plenty of cases in which people have explored the darker areas of the internet and wound up becoming involved with hate groups, illegal activities and even been driven to suicide. Obviously this is a small price to pay for animated gifs of people injuring themselves, but there is a dark side to this technology.
So anyway, I’m selling the film on the basis of its tone and setting because that’s what interests me most, but also because those elements are really good and there isn’t a whole lot more to describe. One reason I love Kurosawa’s horror films is that they are so literal. The ghosts are not scary because some guy used a computer to make their eyes spin around while they talk backwards, they are supposed to be scary just because they are ghosts and they want to kill you or, in this case, make you kill yourself or die of loneliness so that your soul is trapped in solitude forever. But this is really a case of “horror of the self” because that’s pretty much how it is already.
The odds were stacked against me watching this one, but fortunately, while I was having my soul reduced to a monad of pure loneliness, one of our forumites turned me on to it. I am not generally a fan of Director Bruce McDonald and, in fairness to that prejudice, he does tack on nonsensical ending that he believes is artistic, but it is so tacked on and disconnected from the rest of the film that it is easy to just not care about it. Other than that, however, the man who made the worst punk rock movie of all time has now also made one of my favorite horror movies.
Much of the reason for this is that it caters to my own idiosyncrasies. Something about my particular array of mental illnesses and deficiencies gives me a strange fondness for broadcasting, particularly of the low budget variety. I used to love, for example, those local “11:00 movie show” deals. Like the one in San Francisco, which consisted of a totally unremarkable, middle aged man who would just go to bars and talk to people for a minute and then introduce or reintroduce the movie. I guess I like that personal connection. I like to see someone’s fingerprints on the thing, rather than feel like it came out of a factory. Which is more or less what I think people mean when they talk about “personal films.”
This is even better in an apocalyptic setting and I always love the scenes in disaster movies where some lone guy, or small group of people struggle to stay on the air and bring information to people and, as importantly, let them know that they are not totally alone out there. It’s a fairly good analogy for the human condition in general. Even if you are not very social, there are times where you want to paw around at least enough to know that there is someone else out there and that they have problems like you do. And it can also be comforting to reach out to someone else and let them know that they are not alone in their difficulties. The end of the world would certainly be one of those times where you would seek such a connection, so no wonder they always have the TV and radio on in these movies and even we, as an audience watching the film from the outside, can feel the pull of those broadcasts.
So, Pontypool is just a whole movie set inside a radio station during a zombie attack that could be the end of the world. It’s almost all cream filling and it never gets monotonous or boring. The protagonists are a fallen shock jock relegated to a generic informational broadcast in rural Canada and his producer who is trying to keep him in line. They learn of the tragedy mostly via phone calls and then try to relay what they know to the outside world while trying to maintain that connection, absorb the tragedy and preserve their own lives. And, of course this is what we are doing with blogs and various other bullshit. Do you think that anyone really gives a shit about your nine point evaluation of the Cobb Salad you had for lunch?
It doesn’t matter all that much, but the zombies are created by kind of a language virus, which is pretty creative. Certain thought/word combinations allow it to enter your brain and break it, which turns you into a mindless killing machine. It’s one of those things that can be thought provoking, but you should probably not think about too much.
Yes, there are some action scenes, as the radio studio turns out to be pregnable and the protagonists take some stupid risks here and there. But the real drama of Pontypool is conveyed in the broadcast and I think it would be a compelling one a lot of people, considering how many actual radio hosts make fortunes by play acting similar scenarios. “There’s some kind of crisis afoot (Bush, Obama, the FCC) and only the people who can hear me really know about it. I don’t have complete information, but it is coming in and I will continue feeding it to you. We can work together to defeat this threat.. You are not alone.”
HOOD OF HORROR
This is the first purely “hood” movie I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean movies like Menace II Society, but super low budget movies, usually with non-actor celebrities like rappers and basketball players that are made for an almost exclusively urban, non-white audience. Isn’t it interesting that people in those neighborhoods feel so different that they will pass up renting a popular, American movie made by Hollywood elites with an unlimited budget, and instead chose to rent or buy a direct to DVD movie on the same subject, simply because they feel they can relate to the second film that much more strongly than the first?
I’ve always thought so, and I’ve always assumed that these movies are utterly terrible, barely above porn quality. And I suppose most of them are, But Hood of Horror is pretty good. It’s a three part Tales From The Crypt rip off hosted by Snoop Dog and featuring actors like Lamar Odom and former Raider, Justin Vargas, who holds the distinction of actually being the son of the guy who played Huggy Bear. So, don’t get your hopes up too high. But it is funny and entertaining enough to be worth watching and you will come to fully understand the lives of the urban poor without having to interact with them.
So, Snoop is the Crypt Keeper of the whole thing. An animated introduction tells us that he is a gang banger who accidentally shoots his sister and, in order to bring her back to life, sells his soul. Then, he gets to become this demon who goes around to all of these unusual situations, some of which he creates, and then he gets to decide who goes to hell. So, while the movie does have a moral bent against gang banging and crime, it glamorizes selling your soul to Satan.
The first episode is about this cute Mexican chick named Posie who is a tagger with some sort of vendetta against gang bangers, especially the one who tries to rape her. Danny Trejo is a demon who gives her a homemade tattoo on her right hand and arm and, when she uses this hand to cross out the tag of someone, they die in real life. This is where we learn that Hood of Horror brings some pretty good novelty deaths and one liners, when Posie’s magic causes a guy to slip and impale his head on a 40 ounce bottle of malt beverage (speaking of which, Billy Dee Williams is in this one as Posie’s pastor) to which Posie is heard to remark, “what a waste… of beer!”
Next, we meet a troop of retired, black ‘Nam vets who are partially supported by their former commanding officer, a wealthy, white Texan. The dopey, spoiled son of the Texan kills his father and is horrified to learn that, as a condition of his inheritance, he must live with the old black soldiers for a year, hopefully to gain some character. It doesn’t work out that way as the son, meant to be partially a GW stand in (instead of going to Iraq he served in the Texas national guard), brings his bimbo fiance and her toy dog and they take over most of the space and steal most of the money meant to support the soldiers. Nothing really supernatural happens. The soldiers eventually get sick of the very funny antics of the entitled hicks and kill them. Tiffany, the bimbo, is force fed caviar and finally air from a vacuum cleaner until her stomach swells up and explodes and the lead soldier, played by Earnie Hudson says, “who want’s some Tiffy Pop?” Then he kills the GW character in such a way that his throat is cut open and says, “That’s my kind of redneck!” The toy dog survives into the resolution, but then Snoop enters the scene and shoots it with a high caliber handgun, causing it to explode.
Hypothesis: Some blacks might still carry traces of resentment over the fact that white Americans have built lives of privilege partially by oppressing and exploiting black people.
Finally there is one about a rapper who doesn’t want to share the glory of his success with his partner and so has him killed. He also mentions peeing on an underage girl. Then this demon lady forces him to confront what he’s done and his partner comes back from the grave for revenge. Not a very strong segment, but in fairness, a lot of the segments on Tales From The Crypt itself were pretty much “someone kills someone else and then the victim comes back from the grave and kills the murderer.” Anyway, cartoon Snoop takes everyone to hell and then they all dance around to his new song.