Sunday, September 14, 2008

back to the trash...

So, after a week or two ago, watching some of those legitimate Hollywood releases, and I don't mean like serious movies or art films or anything, but cineplex stuff- "Baby Mama," "Hamlet 2," and a couple of other things too shameful to even write about, I got back down in the gutter where I belong over this past week, and watched some real funky trash. First off was a movie I'd never heard anything but bad things about, "Don't Go in the House." I mean, I'm sure somebody at some point has, I'm sure it has its' little following like any trashy movie, but I've read plenty of reviews, or at least mentions, of this flick and nobody never not never or nothing ever never liked it, for real. So I wasn't expecting much, and for once I wasn't disappointed. "Don't Go in the House" was alright, no masterpiece but an interesting and underrated piece of something or other from the underbelly of the post-"Halloween" (the movie, not the holiday) early-1980s horror cinema.

The film stars the mostly capable Dan Grimaldi (later a regular on the Sopranos) as Donny Kohler, a working class guy in a very depressing suburb near the Jersey shore who doesn't have a lot going for him. First off, despite some mechanical aptitude, he's dumb to the point of being borderline retarded. Second, he's pretty much totally insane from the trauma of childhood abuse. Adding insult to injury is the fact that he's still living with the abuser, his overbearing (natch, this being a horror story and all) mother. Donny's also pretty bad at his job (burning garbage) and hated by almost everyone except one co-worker, at least in part, I'm sure, because he's a horrible misogynist and homophobe.

"Don't Go in the House" is a grimy piece of cinema, for sure, but I think most who have criticized it have mistaken the lead character's grossness for an overall grossness I just don't think is there. After Donny's mom dies one night (natural causes), he begins driving around town, picking up girls and torching them with a hommade flamethrower. It's some pretty heavy shit, but to be fair I don't think the movie ever makes Donny out to be some kind of hero or even particularly sympathetic. If anything, he's kind of pathetic, unable to really romance any of the ladies he's trying to get to come home with them, he mostly tricks them, and really barely gets away with, since almost nobody can stand to be around the guy.

I think it's this bottom-of-the-barrel quality that makes the film kind of work. Donny is a fucking loser and the audience isn't really given any cues to root for him, particularly once his killing spree commences, we're basically stuck watching this horrible guy and waiting to see what horrible thing he does next (though, to be fair, most of the violence is actually offscreen, save for one particularly graphic killing early on, the film doesn't linger on the violence) and ultimately what horrible thing is going to happen to him in the end.

An overwhelming sense of hopelessness emanates from every frame of "Don't Go in the House." The people in the film, for the most part, and the town they live in, are drab and depressing. Donny's only friend, a co-worker, is pretty much as dumb as he is, and we even wonder why he would want to do anything to do with Donny, until we see this guy's depressing home life, and how desperate he seems to be to escape it, even it's through trying to befriend someone who very clearly has something wrong with him. Of course, even Donny's friend turns out to be kind of a creep. He's nice to Donny, but he neglects and cheats on his wife, and doesn't seem to have much interest in his (several) kids. And that's par for the course in this film. Everything is gray, bleak, ugly, everyone's dumb and mean.

Actually, the only really sort of attractive (and I don't just mean physically), intelligent people in the film are Donny's victims, which I think gives this movie it's little bit of depth. We see the souls crushed by a hopeless existence, and how they lash out at one another and the world, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in bigger ones, obivously, with all the killing down and stuff, so when these beacons of light appear, these sterling young women exhibiting some streak of something appealing, and who obviously have no interest in someone like Donny at all, at all, he acts, out of his desperation, and blind dumb meanness, to snuff them out. Of course, there's a class aspect to all of this, too. Donny is uneducated, he wears work clothes, he doesn't speak well...except for a couple of drunk hitchhikers he picks up at the end, the woman seem to be from a higher economic and social strata, and I guess that's part of the point.

It's a slippery slope, getting deep with a film like this. At its' heart, is it misanthropic/misogynistic, or is that what's it about? Does intent define meaning, or does the meaning of a work come from what the viewer gets out of it? Ultimately, "Don't Go in the House" is an exploitation film, not a hard hitting examination of mental illness. Maybe the movie is as dumb as it characters, but time has been kind to it. Maybe, maybe not. The film offers no real conclusion but an open ending in which the next generation of killers is bred (I think it's actually Donny's friend's kid that's suggested to be the killer), the cycle of violence continued. Anyway, "Don't Go in the House" had plenty to offer (including some reasonably competent filmmaking by "Toga Party" [yeah, I've seen it] filmmaker Joseph Ellison, who co-wrote the script with his wife Ellen Hammill and Joseph Masefield, not his wife) for a film that, at least prior to its' DVD release, had been pretty much universally (if you can say "universally" about a film mostly seen by swarthy 42nd street- or your local equivalent- audiences) dismissed. Of course, it's not for all tastes, but if you're reading this blog, you probably have enough of a taste for the sicko trash to blow 90 minutes on this one, unless you're just my friend or family member reading this to be nice or see what I'm up to, in which case, thank you for reading, give me a call sometime. Anyway, I'm not really saying that "Don't Go in the House" is good, but it's interesting...

Another depressing regional 1980s horror movie that flashed across my screen this week was "the Nail Gun Massacre." Once again, you've got a bunch of hopeless, economically depressed characters (this time in rural Texas) acting out against one another. After a bunch of drunken redneck construction workers rape a girl, someone goes after all them with a nailgun, and kills them. That's pretty much the whole movie. Except in between the killings, we get these grim little glimpses into the lives of the rapists and some innocent bystanders, caught in the nailgun crossfire. Basically, everyone's dumb and hopeless, so they drink, get high and fuck all the time. There's a real gross physicality to these moments, characters who aren't really introspective to have a strong sense of shame, filmmaking not polished enough to stage sex scenes as anything even remotely resembling erotic, just, y'know, hillbillys humping, as they're wont to do. We get to see some really bad 80s implants (and female mullets), and some really hairy male ass too.

But it's the hopelessness that makes "Nail Gun Massacre" kind of interesting. Because otherwise, it really isn't. "Don't Go in the House" was cheap but competent and marginally stylish, and had the benefit of focusing primarily on one character. "Nail Gun Massacre" is a much more homegrown production, and has a something like a dozen main characters in it. Since there isn't really a story that develops over time, you've basically got just a bunch of characters wandering around the screen, occassionally fucking one another and then getting killed with a nail gun. The amateurishness of the whole affair adds to the sense of dinginess, which in turn adds to the onscreen despair, which is the whole reason for watching this in the first place, but if you're looking for a coherent narrative and even characters who are distinguishable from one another, look elsewhere, wary viewer. I can't actually remember who the nailgun killer turns out to be, either the rape vicitm or her dad or brother or something. Which means the killer in this one is basically the good guy, so that's something, yeah? Once again, I've spent a worse hour and a half, but, y'know, what's that even mean?

Alright, this is getting a bit long, so I'll finish and save the rest of the films I wanted to cover (thems being "Pieces," "the Hollywood Meatcleaver Massacre" and a couple of HG Lewis pics) for tomorrow. Or whenever. Who cares? My pressuposition of your disinterest is exceeded only by my shame for seeking out anybody's interest in the first place...

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