Thursday, July 19, 2012

Twisted Issues (1988)

Directed by:
Charles Pinion

Here's one you may have missed the first time around. I know I sure did. Made in the Gainesville, Florida area with a VHS camcorder, this is an attempt at an experimental, artsy horror comedy with the lowest budget imaginable. It's amateurish as hell, but it's also a strangely fascinating time capsule into the skateboarder / slacker youth culture of the late 80s. The suburban punk teens featured here are out on the streets at all hours of the night. They aimlessly skate around, constantly drink beer and smoke weed, listen to punk music and go to parties when they aren't loafing around watching television. Throughout we see brief clips of all kinds of things: news footage, commercials, movie clips (including John Waters' Polyester) and other things the filmmakers didn't pay for the rights to, all edited into the action. There are images of Hitler, Ronald Reagan, Fidel Castro, Jesse Jackson, the Pope and other famous people weaved in. There's war footage, bombs exploding, missiles dropping, televangelists and cartoons. There's even the famous egg cooking "This is your brain on drugs" commercial. What does it all mean? Hard to tell. I'm not even sure the filmmakers themselves could tell you, but with its absurd plot, terrible acting and attempts to emulate underground cinema techniques with zero money - it's pretty interesting to watch. It's sort of like a no budget music video version of Kids on a baaaad acid trip.

A guy named Charles (played by the director either sans credit or using a fake name) sits around in his room all day watching television. He chops up sprouts with hedge clippers. When his girlfriend (Lisa Soto) informs him "I hate sprouts" he chops into her, too. Meanwhile, two obnoxious couples are driving around in their car at night. They drink, smoke, curse and decide to brighten up their evening by harassing and throwing beer cans at pedestrians. They find a kid named Paul (Paul Soto) out skating and decide to pick on him. After Paul uses his karate moves on the guys they decide to run him over and leave his corpse on the sidewalk. A mad doctor and his female assistant pick up the body and take it back to their garage. After deciding against giving necrophilia a try and turning him into a casserole, the duo opt to bring him back to life instead while scenes inside a slaughterhouse flash on the screen. Paul is eventually revived as a cut rate mummy with a few bandages over his face. He impales the doctor with a wooden stake (which strangely turns into a steel pole when they show his body again), attaches his skateboard to his foot with a drill and slaps on a fencing mask before hitting the streets to hunt down the hit-and-run-drivers.

Some of Paul's little adventure is strangely being watched by Charles on TV. Charles' girlfriend, who didn't die from the previous clipper attack, bandages her head and acts like nothing happened. A friend named Steve (co-writer Stephen L. Antczak) stops by and Charles sends him away to get some beer before his girlfriend strangles him with a phone cord. Paul shows up to poke out of the eyeballs of one of the guys who killed him, impales a girl with a sword and cuts off a leg while someone's trying to ride away on a skateboard. Steve stops by a 7-11 but they won't sell to him without an ID and he instead encounters some glowing thing in an alleyway that gives him hallucinogenic pills. Four guys go to some man's apartment, read bible verses, talk about raspberry soda and are killed. Things conclude with Paul, now wearing a knight's helmet and a Gumby shirt, showing up at Charles' house with a machine gun and blasting into people who refuse to die despite being filled with lead and even shot in between the eyes.

Clearly not taking place in reality (which the ending alludes to), this is filled with bizarre, surreal, bloody and seemingly random occurrences edited like a frantic music video. Stylistically, some of this actually works quite nicely. It's far more ambitious than most shot-on-video flicks from the 80s, though it gets a little tedious and repetitive after about an hour. No one in this cast will ever pass as a legit actor in a million years, but there's something refreshing about flashing back to a time where people were allowed to have bad hair, bad skin and bad teeth, and could run around in public wearing tattered t-shirts and jeans without anyone paying them any mind. Despite the actors lacking talent, they seem way more honest and authentic than the plastic, chiseled, plucked, bleached and self-absorbed characters who populate horror flicks these days. It's often lit with blue or red lighting and is so low-budget they even use a flashlight to light some scenes.

One of the film's very best attributes is its soundtrack; non-stop, mostly-punk tunes contributed by Gainesville-area bands most people have probably never heard of. Names like Doldrums, Hellwitch, Mutley Chix, Officer Friendly, Just Demigods, Cindy Brady's Lisp, D-Block, Slaves of Christ, Young Pioneers, Psychic Violents, Twisted Sterility, Smegmas, Bill Perry Orchestra. Raging Pusbags, Black Potato Society, Yucky Spit, The Reverend Beck's Revue and Dangers and Benefits aren't ringing my bell, but the songs are frequently great. Several of the bands perform in the film and supposedly some of the actors are members of these bands.

Twisted Issues was never mass distributed. Before the internet, many regional low-budget filmmakers had to turn to genre publications to advertise their films. Issues was sold via mail order; ads were run in Slaughterhouse Magazine and perhaps a few other zines. A cassette soundtrack was also distributed. It's now available on DVD at the director's website. Pinion also made We Await (1995), Red Spirit Lake (1996) and has recently completed American Mummy (2012).


Society (1989)

... aka: Dark Sanity
... aka: Society Horror
... aka: Society - The Horror

Directed by:
Brian Yuzna

Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) is a teenager who seems to have it all. He's handsome, popular, outgoing and well-liked at Beverly Hills High, where's he's a basketball star, is dating the captain of the cheerleading squad (Heidi Kozak) and is on his way to becoming class president. He comes from wealth and privilege, and lives in a huge mansion with his dignified, always-smiling, well-to-do parents and his debutante sister. He seems so perfect, his best buddy Milo (Evan Richards) jokes, that he'll probably go on to assassinate the president. But something is seriously wrong in Billy's world. Something seems off about his entire family. His parents; Jim (Charles Lucia) and Nan (Connie Danese), treat him much differently than they do his sister Jenny (Patrice Jennings). They all seem so close. Uncomfortably so. And secretive, too. Everyone keeps Bill at arm's length. They don't seem to accept him as being one of their own, they're not the least bit interested in him, his friends or his life in general. There's something eerily vacant hiding behind their vapid facade of respectibility. And the same can be said for many people at Billy's school, most especially the snobby rich kids, who hang out in a tight clique and attend private functions with only their own "type."

Bill is so troubled by his strange home life that he's seeing a shrink; Dr. Cleveland (Ben Slack), and airs his feelings of alienation and fears that his family is out of their minds and indulging in incest. Still, he's too afraid to really look into it any further: "I feel like something's going to happen, and if I scratch the surface something terrible is going to be underneath." Bill has a strong suspicion he's been adopted and just decides to bide his time until he can get out of his uncomfortable home and go off to college. Dr. Cleveland tells him his fears are common, he's just being a little paranoid and sees bright things in his future. After all, being the overachiever he is, he's sure to make a wonderful contribution to society. Billy attempts to ignore his situation until he's forced out of denial by his sister's ex-boyfriend David Blanchard (Tim Bartell). David has hidden a tape recorder in the family car and a microphone in one of Jenny's earrings and has a recording of her entire coming out party, which was, of course, held on a day when Billy had prior commitments. The tapes reveal sounds of twisted sex (as we'll find out, quite literal twisted sex), accompanied by strange, squishy noises and screams. It's enough to have Billy start doubting his perceived paranoia and start looking into the reality of his life.

Bill leaves the tape with his shrink to listen to, but when he returns to his office later on the incriminating contents have changed. David is presumed dead after a mysterious auto accident and Petrie (Brian Bremer) - one of the rich kids - tries to warn Billy about society but turns up dead himself. Billy also meets Clarissa (Playboy Playmate Devin DeVazquez), a strange but irresistible hottie who doesn't quite fit in with the upper crust she's a part of and has a brain damaged mother (Pamela Matheson) who lurks around the neighborhood eating people's hair (!) By the time Billy discovers he's already officially written off as dead on the books, he finds himself the special guest at a celebration at his own home. It's a farewell party of sorts and Billy's whole existence has led up to this one moment. All of the rich, influential members of Beverly Hills high society have come; all of those high up in the business and political world. They're not quite like you and I and I'm not just referring to their wealth, power and social stature. They're a whole other species entirely.

It's hard to imagine a more appropriate way to send out the 80s. This film encapsulates all that is tacky, gluttonous and self-indulgent about the "decade of excess" whilst simultaneously commenting upon that excess, high-level greed and corruption, how the rich often deceive and manipulate the "lower class" to their own gain and pretty much just the sad direction the USA was headed in at the end of the Reagan era. Or as one character tells Bill, "The rich has always sucked off low class shit like you." What's interesting about many socially aware genre films of from the 70s and 80s (DAWN OF THE DEAD and THEY LIVE also come to mind) is how well they've withstood the test of time. While the aesthetic may have dated, the messages contained within have retained every bit of their value and relevance. These films are essentially warning films. And judging by how little we've actually progressed as a society (at least here in the US), we still haven't heeded the warnings.

Whether one cares about the message or not (which isn't exactly delivered in a subtle fashion so it's hard to avoid either way), Society can also simply be enjoyed as just a bizarre, imaginative and sometimes disturbing paranoia horror flick. After the members of high society are revelead to be inhuman, the final 20 minutes are an amazing collection of grotesque and surreal imagery courtesy of makeup wizard Screaming Mad George. Society get rubbery, stretchy and gooey, melt into one another, shapeshift into all kinds of crazy things, get pulled inside out (revealing that they're mostly hollow underneath all the flash) and "shunt" victims. As far as the latter is concerned, you're best off seeing it than you are having me describe it so I'll just let that one go. Writers Rick Fry and Woody Keith decided to leven all of the perversity and gore with doses of comedy and some cheesy one-liners, which don't always work, but the finale is still one of the most memorable horror sequences of the entire decade.

Interestingly, this was initially mostly ignored upon release here in the U.S. and was much more popular overseas (especially in Japan, who also co-produced the film), but has since become one of the top cult horror titles of the late 80s. Either way, it proved to be a very promising directorial debut for the Philippines-born director, who'd previously co-wrote RE-ANIMATOR (1985) and co-wrote and co-produced FROM BEYOND (1986), both notable hits for director Stuart Gordon. Yuzna would go on to make several Re-Animator sequels, The Dentist (1996) and its 1998 sequel, the surprisingly good Return of the Living Dead III (1993) and many others.

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