Friday, December 12, 2008

several bad tastes that taste pretty bad together...

So, I'm sure the behind-the-scenes (non)action is terminally uninteresting, but I'm finally back with my beloved laptop and able to write without a 5-to-30 second delay between hitting the keys and seeing the words come up on screen. Now I have to get caught up with like a month's worth of reviews I kind of lazed out on, the lack of a good typing device coupled with general winter sleepiness and stress-related malaise. Like I said, this isn't all that interesting, but you know what is? "Naked Massacre" aka "Born For Hell," from 1976.

"Naked Massacre" is a deeply and strangely schizophrenic film. For one thing, it's a German/Canadian/French/Italian co-production, but it's set in Dublin, but it focuses on an American character. The subject matter is no less scattered, though the central theme is "our horrible, violent world," it explores this by being about not only Vietnam, but also the IRA, and it's loosely based on the attack on a dormatory of nursing students by serial killer Richard Speck. Yeah, it's a movie that bites off way more than it can chew, not just because the myriad of topics it attempts to approach, but because "Naked Massacre" is as aesthetically convoluted and it is thematically.

"Naked Massacre" is an exploitation movie for sure. You can tell, because it's called "Naked Massacre." And it totally has that 1970s Eurosploitation crumminess. There's awkward dubbing and dialogue that feels completely unnatural, character motivations ill-formed by revealingly ignorant attempts at pop psychology, occasional bits of straight up incoherence and a fair ammount of sex, nudity and violence. On the other hand, this is a movie that's ABOUT SOMETHING, even if it's kind of a basic idea- that violence begets violence and dehumanizes us all, leading ultimately perhaps to even more violence- and it expresses its' ideas in some interesting ways. As much as any movie I've seen, "Naked Massacre" is bleak and unappealing, aggressively, willfully so. Some of this may be unintentional, a by-product of somewhat shoddy plotting and filmmaking, and the movie's exploitation roots, but some of it is calculated as well.

German (Swiss German?) actor Mathieu Carriere plays the improbably named Cain Adamson, a disturbed 'Nam vet (possibly AWOL, possibly dishonorably discharged) sailor who winds up in Dublin. Cain is mostly broke and harboring some hardcore demons. He's also more or less dumb as a post, and has some serious issues with women. After spending some time drinking in a pub, he crashed in a flophouse and briefly befriends, as much as this character can make friends, a Vietnamese man. Cain seems guilty about his time in Vietnam. The Vietnamese man wants to take him to London and pimp him out.

Cain's eye, meanwhile, is caught by a dorm full of nurses across the street. After scoping it out, he stages a home invasion at knife point and proceeds to rape, sexually humiliate and/or kill as many of the women as possible. To the film's credit, the nurses are introduced early in a film, long before the invasion, and as much as any characters are given depth or resonance in this film (again, a by-product of international exploitation-style filmmaking), these women are. This is one of a number of points through which "Naked Massacre" confounds its' exploitation origins. The victims are given a voice, they are not just faceless, generic switchblade fodder. And the scenes of brutality are appropriately disturbing. That is to say, they don't titilate as much as they disgust, and most of the actual killing takes place offscreen. The presentation of sexual material is especially grim and seems specifically designed not to be arousing. The tone is set early in the film, as Cain saves a middle-aged prostitute from some deadbeats. She is grateful and comes onto him, does a striptease which is more uncomfortable than erotic. She looks like somebody's mother, and she probably is. Cain turns her down. She berates him and questions his sexuality. No one in the film really seems to get able to get off one way or the other.

Ultimately, this is a fascinatingly convoluted film that very uncomfortably straddles the line between artistic, political filmmaking and bottom-of-the-barrell exploitation. Yes, it's a pretty trashy movie and a pretty cheap movie, but it's a film with ideas, though not a specific point of view, it comes from a place that is very relatable today, with subjects of war and terrorisim, but even moreso violence in and of itself, and how a culture, people, are affected, or disaffected, by prolonged exposure to such prevelent brutality. Coverage of violence on the TV news, something we're also kind of numbed to at this point, is a motif used throughout the film. The watching, not even voyuerism, but the kind of distanced spectatorship, with emotional resonance, of violent happenings in our own backyard, abstracted yet directly affecting us...well, it's some pretty heavy shit, and to (Canadian) director Denis Heroux's credit, "Naked Massacre" starts to get at it.

And then there's the whole Richard Speck angle. In Chicago in 1966, Speck, basically a drifter, took hostage and killed eight nurses. He was arrested a couple of days later, tried and sent to prison, where he died in 1950. This is just a side note, but while in prison, Speck had female hormones sumggled in, which he injected himself with the grown breasts. He was videotape, with artificial breasts on disaply, doing cocaine and having sex with another inmate. "If they only knew how much fun I was having..." he says on the tape. The case has inspired a few films, the most accurate and least exploitative provbably being "Chicago Massacre," starring the former "Parker Lewis," Corin Nemec, in a pretty chilling performance. Not a great flick, but certainly above average for serial killer biopics of the type.

Anyway, the addition of the Speck element to "Naked Massacre" is further confounding in an already confounding film. It's the most exploitative element of the movie, taking a real-life tragedy, especially one so rife with violence and sex. And in some ways, it's presented as a showcase for various scenes of brutality. But it's also kind of the point of the movie, the vessel through which the topic of violence is examined, and the parade of killings is, though exploitative, appropraitely disturbing. There's just so many elements jumbled together in the film, though. If Ireland, why Vietnam? If Vietnam, why Speck? But I guess that's the point, violence begets violences begets violence...

So, yeah, my reaction to this movie was as schiczo as the movie itself. I mean, I'm on the lookout for unrelentinly grim, repellant material, and I found it here, but I was also fascinated by the attempts at making some kind of political statement- not even a statement, but just trying to thoughtfully engage the audience, not even thoughtfull, nor specifically intelligently, but just, there was something there. Like "Castle Keep," this is a war film with an agenda, but whereas "Castle Keep," and these films couldn't be any more different, but whereas "Castle Keep" uses WWII to address Vietnam, "Naked Massacre" uses Vietnam, post-Vietnam, to address not so much the war but the way in which the war affected the world, traumatized the world, in a sense, this is a traumatized, traumatic film, bleak, disturbing, hopeless, with some of a mean joke of a punchline at the end, and I suppose definitely worth your time if you're up for a solid 90 minutes of despair-filled rough viewing. Or something...

Stay tuned for more...

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