Monday, June 27, 2011

DEVIATION (1971) - the deviates tend to deviate

Certain professions in horror films raise immediate red flags. Say a group of lost teenagers happen upon a creepy house looking for directions. The owner invites them in, and the fat party stoner asks him “so, what do you do for a living?”. The owner replies, “well, as a matter of fact, I collect chainsaws. Would you kids like to see my vast collection down in the basement?”. Most of the audience (that is, anyone who hasn’t huffed vast quantities of paint fumes) immediately recognizes that no one would pay someone to collect chainsaws, and they attempt to provide the characters with helpful advice by yelling at the screen “GET THE FUCK OUTTA THE HOUSE YOU MORONS!!!”.

Thankfully, the teens ignore this advice and carry on exploring. After all, if they just immediately left the house, got directions from a friendly gas station attendant (I know there’s no such thing as a friendly gas station attendant, but bear with me; this is the world of make believe), the movie would frankly suck balls.

Taxidermy is a horror movie profession that doesn’t raise the red flags that it should, perhaps because it isn’t used very often. When Marion Crane eats that sandwich with Norman Bates in the parlor, she seems to find the stuffed animals leering at her to be nerdy and weird, but not seriously threatening. I’d like to think original audience members felt something similar, without the benefit of hindsight. Either way, the reclusive Norman Bates (the relatively sane side of his personality) probably uses taxidermy as a harmless hobby to try and deal with death and to pass the time, while his other half, mother, actually runs around killing people. After all, Norman would never hurt a fly, but is exactly the kind of guy that would have some weirdo hobby.

The “villains” of
Deviation are brother and sister Julian and Rebecca. Julian is a taxidermist like Norman Bates, without the overtly evil double personality. Instead, his evilness is of the passive aggressive sort, a disturbed recluse interested in death, while his sister is sexually repressed to the point that she can be driven to violence when her psychosis is properly "agitated". They are the tenants of a creepy old house but, in defiance of obvious genre convention, they are tragic villains, unaware of their own hidden evil. The real villain, it would seem, is sexual repression itself.

The story begins with the old hoary cliché of a couple (a boring married man and his young hot stuff mistress) encountering some car trouble on a dark lonely road, forced to take refuge in a creepy old house. What is the source of the car trouble, you may ask? Well, according to the driver, he collided with “a young man in a white poncho”. Let’s not beat around the bush. We're talking hippie roadkill, folks.

Hippie crimp action circa 1971? Ahead of it's time, I dare say.

Well, why are there incognito hippies running about the woods? Well, it turns out that brother and sister, in their sexual repression, have sanctioned secret hippie orgies, complete with bongos and weed and awesome writhing hippie chicks (I could only wish I was that repressed, but hey). The man driving the car (whatever his name was) ends up searching the house and coming upon one of these orgies. Instead of being turned away at the door, like I probably would’ve been, he’s invited in, and even forced to have sex with a hot hippie chick. To think, he only sought refuge in the house, hoping for a call to a mechanic and maybe a bed for the night, and he ends up in something akin to backstage after a Zeppelin concert. Granted, he ends up murdered as part of the brother/sister/local hippie weirdo dynamic, but, all told, it was a glorious night out.

The mistress wakes up the next morning, none too concerned that her “lover” has disappeared. After all, he was merely a well-to-do schlub, and perhaps penniless excitement would be more fitting. However, the resident bed ridden nutter aunt tells her “go I tell you! They’ll kill you!”. She ignores these pleas and instead hits up some reefer with Julian and his orgy buddies. After all, if your main squeeze mysteriously vanishes, and a creepy old lady tells you that you’re gonna die, you’ll probably wanna blow off some steam.

What happens in the second half comes as a result of little tragedies built on sexual repression, perhaps akin to Polanski’s
Knife on the Water. This might appear to be yet another entry into the “hippies are assholes genre” among the likes of I Drink Your Blood, Helter Skelter, The Devil’s Daughter (I swear I’ll get to reviewing that one), and of course, the “Passion of Joan of Arc” of the “hippies are assholes” genre, Gimme Shelter. However, what we have are two "villains", while vaguely associated with the “free love” ideal, are really festering islands onto themselves, isolated from humanity despite their monetary ability to attract hangers on. After all, if happiness is a warm gun, perhaps it’s really the warmth your attracted to…that is, any warmth you can get your hands on.

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