Saturday, December 31, 2011

TERROR TRAIN (1980) - When Jaimie Lee Curtis boards a train on New Year's Eve with drunk college students wearing masks, what could go wrong?

Some frat boys, always looking to assist others, alert a nerd that there is some cooze stashed away in their frat house. He navigates his way through this haven of beer and indiscriminate fondling and averted academics, lit only by flashing Christmas lights. Friskily approaching his present like a kitten scurrying up to a bow-wrapped dimebag of cat nip on Christmas morning, he hears the sultry tones of Jaimie Lee Curtis and gets in bed, no doubt thanking his lucky stars that Mr. Fatty Claus has finally come through. However, Jaimie is actually doing some ventriloquist act, and the dummy is actually an old dead lady. I guess the nerd is not quite up for that level of kink, so he spins around while covered in a bed sheet, his girly yelping slowing down to a monstrous crawl. Stuff like this occasionally happens when you put your faith in other human beings.

It is now three years later, and all of the students are throwing a New Year's Eve costume party on a moving train. Conductor extraordinaire Ben Johnson complains that the train is not outfitted with a radio, swatting down any future plot holes. The drunken schmucks, save for a sober David Copperfield, head on to the train, chuckling at one of their own getting stabbed with a sword. It’s a costume party, so his costume must’ve been that of the dude that just got impaled by a giant fucking sword. The killer then puts on a Groucho mask and smashes a fake lizard’s mug into a mirror. As far as Marx Brothers references go, I reckon this one is amongst the most obtuse.

Meanwhile, Copperfield does the cigarette in a quarter trick like the dime store magician he truly is. Even Ben Johnson has caught that magic fever, and shows Hart Bochner some shitty sleight of hand. David’s real magic show finally begins, supplemented with some magical disco funk. He makes cards disappear like nobody’s business, and then fucks around with a couple of metal hula hoops. Vanity shows up as some sort of harem girl covered in blue sequins, running off to make out with Hart. Ben finds the dead lizard boy and alerts his co-pilot. “I never saw nobody as dead as that”, he proclaims, flaunting his use of the double negative. However, he reports it as an accident. I guess he thinks the lizard boy got drunk and fell into a mirror and died. Kids these days. Well, the crafty killer puts on the lizard costume and bumps into Ben, so naturally this quells his concern. To celebrate his new found lease on life, he gets down with the token slut (somehow not Vanity), eventually killing her off screen.


Meanwhile, Copperfield and Vanity hook up for some further “wizardry”. She makes him disappear (unfortunately not permanently), and he turns into his hot female assistant in the red sequin dress. While this is going on, one guy presumably falls asleep from boredom...oh no, he’s dead. Hart notices the corpse, whimpering like a little girl at the prospect of losing his drinking buddy. A soft rock band kicks Copperfield off stage and gets the teens slow dancing, but Ben slams on the breaks, causing the teens to collapse on the dance floor. Ben and his buddy finally get the teens off the train and make them take off their masks. Jamie mentions to Hart that the nerd went crazy and killed somebody when he was institutionalized. They head back onto the train, and Hart gets his throat slit off screen after some solid cat and mouseisms. Jamie somehow figures out that Copperfield is the killer and alerts Ben. They look for David, and bodies and heads start falling out of overhead compartments and what not. The lead actor from Skullduggery, the wimp who was manipulated by an invisible dungeon master into committing murder, finally grows a pair, calling Ben Johnson an asshole and stating that he’s the one that’s gonna take out the killer. Ben hands him an axe, but he wusses out. I take back that comment about him not being a pussy.

It’s Jaimie Lee, of course, that ends up having to take care of beeswax, managing to become smothered in blood during the prolonged showdown (she makes it work). The killer finally explains that he is, in fact, the hot magician assistant with the red dress, and is most definitely not a chick. Uh oh. I hope I’m not gay. Anyway, he further reveals that he is the nerd from the beginning, who somehow waited in the weeds until getting a job as David Copperfield’s female assistant. You do what you have to do I guess. Regardless, Ben smacks him with a shovel, and he falls off the train. Unfortunately for him, the train is rolling over some elevated tracks, and he falls to his wet, icy grave below. In the end, whether it’s frat houses or frat trains, nerds should learn to stay amongst their own, and not try and branch out to other stratas of society (women, for example).

Sunday, December 25, 2011

ELVES (1989) - When there is no more room in hell, the elves will walk the earth* *actual dialogue

When three very 80’s chicks get together to hold an illicit ceremony in the deep dark woods, you except them to pray to Satan for a Porsche (or three), maybe sacrificing some Barbie dolls covered in their own blood (Satan had lower standards in the 80’s). However, these girls are the “Sisters of Anti-Christmas”, hoping to eradicate Christmas as a corporate media event (or whatever). In order to do so, they worship the “Virgin of Anti-Christmas”, which is a drawing of a chick with big “art-deco” boobs (they have a little pattern drawn on them) that looks like it was drawn by a high school speed metal freak. Anyway, how much pull do they think this “Virgin of Anti-Christmas” has? Extracting corporatism from Christmas would akin to extracting evil from the entire human race. Even if she were to just kill Santa Claus, some other fat jolly asshole would just take his place and the holiday would continue as normal. Not only that, but what are the chances that a big haired 80’s honey who is perpetually showing off her giant painted rack is actually a virgin? I smell shenanigans.

Anyway, lead girl Kirsten’s (both in terms of the sisterhood and the movie) home life is truly not righteous. Her mom is a “mom from hell”, to paraphrase Richard Lewis, and she also lives with her creepy wheelchair bound grandpa. Her only friend in the world is her cat Agamemnon, but her mom soon drowns her cat in the toilet, quickly landing her in the “cunt-y dearest” hall of fame. Her little brother is an obnoxious brat who peeks at her in the shower and yells out “you got big fucking tits and I’m gonna tell everybody I saw ‘em!”. Look, guys, we’ve all peeked at our sisters as they were showering or getting dressed. The way to do it is to be DISCRETE about it…like a gentleman. Wait, you’ve never tried to see your sister naked? Well, of course I’m kidding in order to make a point. Obviously. Anyway, mom and grandpa catch wind of Kirsten using grandpa’s magic books (including the nudie pic) to prey for anti-Christmas, and mom gets rid of Kirsten’s art school savings account as punishment. Kirsten remarks “that is so totally outrageous!”, and truly it is. Truly, truly outrageous.

Oh yeah, there’s one more thing. A Nazi elf is trying to rape Kirsten so she can birth the anti-Christ. Now, we’ve all had a disappointing Christmas season or two, where we didn’t get that Thundercats jumpsuit we wanted, or we got a flat tire driving to Uncle Shecky’s holiday barbecue. However, poor Kristen’s string of bad luck brings holiday disappointment to a whole other level. If that wasn’t bad enough, her two best friends are murdered (collateral damage because of this whole elf Nazi thing) during a sleep over at the department store where Kirsten works. Her boss fires her as a result, and Kirsten frustratingly adds “I’m sorry my friends bled all over your fucking store!”. No wonder she’s so “anti-Christmas”. Wait a second…”anti-Christ”…”anti-Christmas”…there’s a connection right? Holy shit. That’s pretty deep.

Now, I know what you’re thinking folks…haven’t the Nazis done enough damage? Now they’re enlisting elves into their sick plans? And creating the anti-Christ to boot? Luckily, Grizzly Adams (oops, I mean Dan Haggerty) is on the fucking case. Dan gets a job as Santa Claus at the department store after the original Santa is castrated by the elf (there’s subtext in there but I’m too loaded on egg nog to pick up on it). He witnesses the elf first hand and decides to help Kirsten and see what all of this “Nazi elf rape” fuss is about. He visits several experts on the topic of Nazi elf rape so they can rattle off breathless exposition in order to make everything logical and crystal clear to the audience (or not). In one pretty hilarious scene, Dan has to interrupt an expert while he’s getting ready to enjoy Christmas dinner with his family, and the expert rattles off all of the Nazi elf rape plot points while his two adorable little daughters stare at their father quixotically (basically a cutie pie version of the audience). I won’t give everything away, but the movie builds to some crazy, V.C. Andrews-esque family gothic plot twists, if V.C. Andrews was a glue-huffing goofball Slayer fan.

While this sounds like broad camp, everything is grounded, in a sense, by the somber performances of the two leads (well, somber considering the script) and the adult contemporary score played on a dimestore keytar (which slowly becomes ironic as the movie progresses). Elves doesn’t make it clear that it is a comedy, and it’s actually funny as a result. The humor comes from the oddball deviations from the standard holiday monster movie, like the “gift ideas for mom” shotgun display in the background of a shot. There’s also the odd twists of dialogue, whether an incongruous F-bomb, or Dan asking “what happened to the beautiful youth of today?” when he finds out Kirsten is against Christmas, or Kirsten’s brother describing the elf as a “fucking little ninja troll” (he’s a TMNT fan, so I guess that is his point of reference). It’s a bit like if Santa was running down the street from a mall cop after he was caught sticking his hand down some kid’s pants. Santa accidentally knocks over John Waters, who hits his head on the curb and damages his brain. Waters then decides to spite Santa and his stupid holiday by making a Gremlins rip-off with no money. That’s Elves, in nutshell. Got that? So, it’s probably too late this year, but I suggest that the next time you are sitting in front of a TV “enjoying” a big ass ham (or Chinese food for our Jewish friends) with the family during Christmas, pop this fucker into the VCR and reap the rewards of Christmas anti-cheer. Remember, if you want to counteract the fake corporate cheer of Christmas, you can’t just worship some big titty goddess and hope for change. If you want to change the word, you have to act yourself, and not just sit around hoping some bullshit magic takes care of everything.

P.S. Merry X-mas! Really.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

THE LAST CIRCUS (2010) - behind that big red nose is a lot of pain and plenty of ammunition

Clown enthusiasts seem to hold American clowns in far lower regard than their European counterparts, and The Last Circus has helped me to crystallize just why this is the case. Take your typical American clown, with a typically stupid name like, say, Bongo the Putz. The guy playing Bongo probably hates kids and hates his job and hates his wife and thinks his dog is a freeloader, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it watching Bongo in action. He seems to only convey empty cheer and bludgeoning neon, as if that is enough to distract children from the horrors of existence. Now, I know what you’re thinking folks; that’s probably the pessimistic view, and I should just congratulate Bongo for entertaining children and move on with my jaded, hopeless life. However, as far as I can tell, little kids are easily amused by bright colors and general foolishness, so big fucking deal. Even the smile on a kid who’s a bit older seems plastered on, as if they want to appear to be entertained in order to fit in with the social situation (at best), or they are desperately attempting to hide their suspicion that this clown will eventually rape and murder them, dumping their body in a cold empty ravine (that would probably be the worst case scenario).

My point is: where is the pathos? A guy slipping on a banana peel just because he sees a banana peel and decides to slip on it in order to land on his arse and thereby entertain the stupid simply isn’t funny. However, take a serious businessman who’s had a terrible day and his life is quickly falling apart. He tries to smother this pain and frustration by stiffening his upper lip and determinedly move on from task to task. On his way to the Xerox machine, he suddenly slips on a banana peel inexplicably left in the middle of the office hallway. This second scenario describes the European clown, the comedic ally broad schmuck anchored by suffering that is uniquely human. After all, if comedy and tragedy are indeed bedfellows, watching an American clown is like watching a performer repeatedly attempting to kick tragedy out of bed.

In The Last Circus, this dynamic between pathos and foolishness is made explicit. There’s a happy clown (“Sergio” without the makeup) and a sad clown (Javier), and the sad clown’s job is to stand there stone faced, a ravine of pain and frustration underneath, while the happy clown subjects him to comedic humiliation. Javier is new to the circus, but quickly and adeptly fills the role of a sad clown. His boss is impressed after a particular performance, and tells him “you didn’t even flinch when he set fire to your butt!” We quickly figure out that Javier plays the role of a sad clown so well because it is merely a comedically abstract version of his actual self. When he’s out of makeup, he is a sweet, chubby-cheeked innocent who doesn’t fit in with the jaded and hard living circus workers, as evidenced by his child-like inability to comprehend a tasteless joke that Sergio tells during an after-performance celebration.

On the other hand, the “happy” clown Sergio is actually a sociopathic alpha male, a genial goofball to children but a spiteful bully without the makeup and dumbass wig. He is controlling and jealous towards his beautiful girlfriend, the trapeze artist Natalia. Folks, he’s the kind of guy that, when he suspects that Natalia is cheating on him, punches her in the face so hard she goes sliding across the floor and collides with a trash can. Javier quickly falls in love with Natalia, but he also wants to “save” her from uber-douche Sergio. However, Natalia has become completely accepting of Sergio’s violent and controlling ways, but Javier only sees a beautiful angel being held captive by an egomaniacal beast. Of course, Natalia starts hanging out with Javier, as she feels safe around him since he isn’t a sexual threat. She essentially tells him as much, and Javier’s face drops as if his heart has been broken and can never be put back together again. This awkward triangle plot could’ve come straight out of an 80’s comedy, where the nerd befriends the hot girl with the evil boyfriend named Chet, who wears a Members Only jacket over a Lacoste polo and jealously slaps his girlfriend when she merely asks some guy if he knows where she can score some Duran Duran tickets. Scoff at this cliché if you must, but when humanly rendered (as it is here), it just reminds us that this kind of dynamic often crops up in real life.

The sad clown Javier doesn’t simply suffer from generic shyness, his innocent heart fluttering in a jaded and cynical breeze. His pain is laid out in the prologue, where Javier’s father, a happy clown, is performing with his sad asshole sidekick, when, suddenly, a token rebel fighter (complete with Che beret and facial scar) forces them to join the resistance, along with the other freaks of the circus. They almost enlist the bearded lady before realizing that, despite the beard, she indeed rocks a vagina. Dad is soon dismembering soldiers with a machete, quite a sight with his makeup and dress and a goldilocks wig, while little Javier is left alone back at the circus, with only a lion to keep him company. Several years later, when Javier is a teenager, he visits his father, now imprisoned in a camp. His father suggests that he should become a sad clown because he has “suffered too much”, but he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and entertain children because “if I can’t make people laugh, no will love me”. Such is the catch-22 for the saddest of clowns.

Javier eventually snaps and bashes Sergio’s face in for desecrating his angel one final time, and this sends him down a path of dehumanization, where he ends up becoming a hunting dog for a violent aristocracy (shit happens I guess), a further entrenched version of the rich society his father fought against. Javier eventually transforms into a rebel clown, no longer sad, but instead laughing maniacally while shooting two machine guns (a GIF worthy sight indeed). He has become a distorted freedom fighter of sorts, fighting for Natalia’s love instead of some political revolution. Meanwhile, Sergio has become a pathetic monster with a grotesque face instead of a happy one, but also more human and less douchey and sociopathic on the inside. Javier’s past mirrors his future, and everything is mirrored in duality, vaguely like a low art version of Black Swan. In both cases, psychological trauma is rendered as a yin yang fairy tale, roughly tactile (like the blisters on the feet of the ballerinas, or the acne and stubble poking through the clown makeup) instead of being presented in clean broad strokes.

However, The Last Circus employs garish comedy instead of oppressive psychodrama, falling somewhere between Terry Gilliam and Sami Raimi, with the dry surreal satire of a Luis Bunuel amped up to cartoonish levels. The movie often makes clear the political and historical context of the story, linking a circus fable to the real world in order to take satirical jabs. The film is a bit reminiscent of Accion Mutante, an earlier de la Iglesia film about a future society where the world is ruled by the beautiful. The ugly therefore become outcasts, and some of these outcasts create a terrorist group and kidnap the beautiful daughter of a powerful businessman. Both Accion Mutante and The Last Circus are comedies of rampaging grotesques and biting satire and bad taste slapstick with a beautiful angel caught in the crosshairs, but The Last Circus manages to maintain a tragic love story at its core, despite the foot stomping absurdity that surrounds it. Then again, when you look askew at tragedy, it can sometimes seem pretty absurd.

Friday, December 16, 2011

INTRUDER (1989) - a gory supermarket slasher with the overlooked Renee Estevez and a bevy of inexplicable stylistic flourishes

It looks like Walnut Lake Supermarket is about to close. Quite a shame. They seem to stock all sorts of exotic cereals I have never heard of, particularly “Crazy Cow” cereal. Pouring milk on a group of little edible cows seems tasty at first glance, and gleefully perverse after a moments reflection. A customer appears to be just as intrigued as I am, and throws a box of Crazy Cow in his cart, complete with a shopping cart POV shot.

This POV shot is the first of many shots from the point of view of inanimate objects. I’m not shitting you. A doorknob, a bottle of cognac, a mop bucket, a trash can, etc. I suppose our director Scott Spiegel wanted the audience to empathize with everyday items you might find in a supermarket, you know, say, to walk in a TV dinner's shoes. This sets Intruder apart from other slashers of its ilk, who normally only show POV shots that originate from actual eyeballs. I guess by 1988, the standard in slasher movies was to subvert previously cemented clichés, even if it led the results to be totally nonsensical.

We are introduced to the various employees of the market, including our heroine Jennifer, Renee Estevez (the sister of Charlie and Emilio), the manager, and Sam and Ted Raimi as the weirdo butcher and produce guy, respectively. There is also a mulleted schmoe in a leather jacket who apparently broke up with Jennifer and decides to annoy everyone as revenge (like, say, the audience). Before they clean up the store after closing, the manager lets everyone know they will no longer have lucrative employment with Walnut Lake Supermarket. They are probably selling it to some huge conglomerate like “Acme Global Chemical and Groceries”. This gives everyone a potential motive for murder right before locking them in in tight quarters. Sweet.

Well, the cops show up to “investigate” the creepy ex-boyfriend. They spout off the typical "don't hesitate to call if he’s physically stabbing you, otherwise there’s nothing we can do" speech. This sets the stage for everyone to get processed into cold cuts, one by one. Especially inventive is the "severed hand in the lobster tank" gag, a cousin to the more popular "severed head in the fish tank” gag. The film relies on the very well done, but clinical gore effects (cut out on the VHS, but since reinstated on DVD). They're there mainly to show off, just like the nutty POV shots and other stylistic flourishes, rather than relished for their own horrific sake. I suppose by this point, the director was more interested in what he could do to stand out from a tired genre and jump start his own career.

Here's a "head in the fish tank" gag from He Knows You're Alone, among other "severed head in a water receptacle" gags, like the "severed head in an aquarium" gag in Night School, and the "severed head in a toilet gag" from House on Sorority Row.


Our final girl, Jennifer, puts up quite a fight with the killer during the final showdown, including smashing a bottle of Wheat Germ over his head. Luckily, help finally comes in the form of the piggy patrol, played by Bruce Campbell and Tarantino’s eventual producer, Lawrence Bender. In a proper porkboy move, they arrest Jennifer and the now innocent ex-boyfriend, as the real killer insists they are to blame for the homicidal mess in the store. The camera then zooms into Jennifer’s mouth, which very well could be a POV shot of the cop’s nightstick being jammed down her throat. Who can say exactly.

P.S. Our good friends over at Synapse films has recently saw fit to release the movie on blu-ray. God bless them. I haven't seen the blu-ray because I lack funding, so I will have to live with my old DVD.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

THEY SAVED HITLER'S BRAIN (1968) - of all the Nazi plans for world domination, this one could've used a rewrite or two

Even with my low expectations for the human race, it's hard for me to fathom that a group of people would want to preserve Hitler’s brain. I can’t think of anything I'd like to save least. Heck, I might argue that Hitler’s brain is the most evil thing the world has ever seen. I mean, it was chiefly responsible for masterminding the holocaust, as well as being responsible for persuading others that this was a good idea. You know, If I ever happened upon Hitler’s brain, I’m punting that fucker into oncoming traffic.

Well, it turns out that a group of straggling Nazis have saved Hitler’s entire head, keeping it alive in a fish bowl that sits atop a ham radio (not a radio made of ham you moron). Hitler’s head apparently wasn’t satisfied with the six million dead Jews, and wants to destroy more human life by way of the “G-gas”, which paralyzes human brains within a very large radius (and is also undetectable). This is explained during an educational film where an elephant is subjected to the gas and rolls over and falls asleep. Standing in their way is a scientist who has concocted an antidote to the gas named “Formula D”. You know, maybe if the gas was named “extermination gas” and the antidote was called “savior rub” instead of these generic sounding titles, perhaps people would view them within the proper moral context. Anyway, I guess Adolf is not just content killing Jews and now wants to kill everyone all of a sudden. Everyone, that is, except his cronies and himself (well, what is left of himself). If there is anything worse than genocide, it is inconsistent genocide.

Luckily, there is a hero out to foil this plan. He points out that the Nazis are “slappers of women and torturers of old men.” This fits nicely within the 50’s sci-fi tradition of having the hero call out the villain as an evil no-gooder, but this cutting description seems lacking for such an evil bunch. Lo and behold, when the hero’s wife (who doubles as his sidekick) starts to get hysterical after being stalked by a Nazi, he slaps her to “get her back to normal.” Maybe the director was saying that the pre-feminism male was “Nazi-esque”, but somehow I doubt it. Before feminism exploded, there were certain instances where slapping your wife was apparently the right thing to do. You know, real men doing real things the right way while wearing a suit.

Now, I know what you’re thinking folks; Hitler died in that bunker and could have never lived to star in a borderline nonsensical exploitation film! Au contraire…there were actually “stunt Hitlers” running around during World War II, and the Hitler body that was found was actually one of these stunt Hitlers. You see, if you stick a Charlie Chaplin mustache on any angry German fellow with black hair, he’s pretty much Hitler, and no one can tell the difference. Anyway, our hero figures this out and ends up chasing the head in a jar and his cronies to a cave that might not be Bronson Canyon, but is no doubt the next closest thing to Bronson Canyon. He handles thing the American way, indiscriminately tossing hand grenades, one of which happens to land close to Hitler’s fish bowl radio setup (which was pretty cutting edge circa 1963, like “Playboy Magazine ad” cutting edge). Granted, it’s all a day late and six million short, but evil has been vanquished and the world can finally sleep easy. The end.

If that sounds like scant plot material for a 50’s sci-fi cheapie, keep in mind that the original film “Madmen of Manora” is actually from 1963 and runs a svelte 63 minutes. However, this version is credited as being from 1968 (despite showcasing what looks to be early 70’s fashion) and runs a robust 91 minutes. Basically, the first 30 minutes or so is additional exposition footage shot later to try and further explain the intricacies of the “unleash a gas to kill a bunch of people because Hitler’s head said so” plot. I know you want to make a movie seem “modern” by having a character show up and give exposition whilst rocking a crucial mustache and a flared collar, but the end result is that you are padding out plot areas that nobody gives a shit about. For the people that do give a shit, they would have probably paid close enough attention to the shorter version to figure out what was happening.

The central thrust of the movie is the absurdity of the evil central plot for world domination, but it is much more talked about than shown. I guess Nazis like Hitler, even if he’s just a head, and Hitler thought killing masses of people was a great idea…so why not. The point is that Nazis are a bunch of evil fucks out to destroy the world, and our hero has to find them and stop them. This is hardly worthy of a 90 minute run time, but at least the Madmen of Manora section has pretty cool photography by the great Stanley Cortez (Night of the Hunter, Shock Corridor), including angular and even zig zaggy shadows. In the end, it may seem ridiculous to want to worship some screaming German head that lives in a fish bowl, but the really ridiculous part were the ideas that the brain part of the head was able to justify using psychopathic hatred and faulty logic, and the will to persuade as many people as possible that these ideas should be worshiped.

P.S. This was written as part of "Project Terrible", hosted by Mondo Bizarro. Click on the link; there is plenty more terrible where that came from.Link

Sunday, December 4, 2011

WEEK END (1967) - a post-apocalyptic comedy that reminds us that we are part of the apocalypse, or JLG ends a weekly holiday with a wry ironic smile

If Jean-Luc Godard (JLG for short) makes films about bored, navel gazing, chain-smoking upper middle class pseudo-intellectuals, he does so to satirize them. There’s no better example than Week End. Just look at an early scene that parodies the sexual confession scene from Persona. In Bergman’s film, Bibi Andersson’s character confesses to a group sexual tryst and an aborted pregnancy that resulted, her most horrifying secret revealed. In Week End, Corinne tells her lover about a tryst she had with a married couple, a comically erotic but absurdly prolonged fable escalating with the wife sitting in her cat’s milk bowl and the husband cracking an egg between Corinne's legs as she comes. Her lover consoles her, asking "is this true, or a nightmare?" Besides poking fun at Bergman's privileged notion of "horror", JLG wants to amuse us by teasing us with the ridiculously shallow problems that haunt the bourgeoisie, as they saunter obliviously through a world they helped to dehumanize.

Corinne and her husband Roland are the bored and selfish bourgeois couple taken to absurd extremes. They are selfish sociopaths but still in the recognizable mold of the upper middle class. Not only are
they plotting to kill each other so they can run off with their respective secret lovers, since they are predictably bored with their lives and their significant others, they are also plotting to kill Corrine's father so they can inherit his fortune. Not that they are desperate for money, mind you, but they probably just want to buy some more wine and shoes, or maybe another painting to fill an empty space on the bathroom wall, as other human beings are merely vessels of appeasement for their own vapid desires.

The couple is ostensibly on holiday, an inverse of sorts of Mr. Hulot’s Holiday. These despicable characters doggedly pursue their "holiday" destination, while remaining completely oblivious to the destructive chaos surrounding them. The oblivious Mr. Hulot, on the other hand, is a good natured soul who encounters absurd slapstick happenings, but everything peacefully and cheerfully comes together in the end. I guess you get the vacation you deserve.

The centerpiece of the film is the endless traffic jam the couple finds themselves stuck in. It’s like a silent comedy gone very very awry, where slapstick vehicles litter the landscape like pop culture debris, a cacophony of honking horns and human frustration stuck in a mess of chaotic machinery. Throughout, there are little bits of inspired humor, like the woman’s car facing the wrong way, stuck in front of an oil rig, and the elderly couple playing chess in the middle of the road. Everyone channels their frustration towards the couple using the other lane to cut in and out of traffic, so they can finally zoom through the cause of the traffic, an orgy of blood and twisted steel and mangled bodies. They see themselves above the horrors of the world, or more accurately, they habitually ignore them. It’s just something to sidestep on the way to Bed Bath & Beyond, or the late 60’s French equivalent.

There are several scenes where the characters run around within the frame in malicious, chaotic slapstick. In one inspired bit, the couple dings a woman’s car and her son, playing cowboys and Indians, runs around and insults the couple. Roland spray paints the women’s dress, and she responds by hitting tennis balls at him. Such violent bourgeois-themed tactics are what they resort to when reduced to scrapping like children. Then there’s the scene where the couple tries to fit themselves in Jean-Pierre Leaud’s two-person coupe like a Keystone Cops musical chairs gag, which turns violent, of course, including an awesome elbow smash to the back courtesy of Leaud, the single most devastating maneuver of his 400 blows.

Well, the couple continues on their journey, callously driving people off the road before finally crashing their car. Without the luxury and safety of modern technology that the car provides, they are left to wander this savage wasteland, they the most savage of all. While this may sound bleak and off-putting, the ironic absurdity of their encounters and the couples’ resolute inability to be anything but rich spoiled brats no-matter-what-happens keeps things comedic throughout, albeit in a pitch black kind of way. The key is that Roland and Corinne are completely unaware that they are completely unaware. Or, to paraphrase an old Vaudevillian rule of comedy (well, it sounds vaudevillian), if a man wearing a funny hat becomes aware that he is wearing a funny hat, it no longer becomes funny. Maybe Groucho Marx said that. I'm just not sure folks. Either way, I can’t help but chuckle when Corinne, in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophic car crash that leaves their vehicle engulfed in flames, is only worried about saving her Hermes handbag, just as she only notices a dead body when she realizes they are wearing a fashionable pair of pants worth stealing. At least this endless parade of horror has a silver lining.

They attempt to hitch rides to get to their destination, an opportunity to murder a family member for money and maybe enjoy a nice cheese platter whilst lounging in a garden, while being annoyed by the struggle between the rich savages and those that are forced to become savages in order to fight back. Or, as one character suitably points out, “the horror of the bourgeoisie can only be overcome by more horror.” Needless to say, the likes of Corinne and Roland are no longer held in high esteem. They happen upon a woman who recently lost her boyfriend in a grisly crash with a tractor, and she uses this occasion to insult the lower class, insinuating that the farmer is jealous of the rich who "screw on ski-resorts". After all, she is upset that her perfect boyfriend is now a mass of flesh and organs slopped together in a pool of ever-gushing blood, especially since she just bought some perfect little matching sunglasses. Well, shit happens I guess, and the farmer and the woman end up channeling their frustration towards the couple, ultimately blaming them and their kind, the "dirty Jews". The point is, I guess, is that we all need someone to hate.

Roland and Corinne encounter many other oddballs representing this "have/have not" war dichotomy, including Emily Bronte (hey, why not); or, as Roland puts it, "what a rotten film, all we meet are crazy people". Most importantly, they are kidnapped by a hippie revolutionary group who need to have live drumming accompany their revolution, as music is very much tied up with their identity. They represent the violent destruction of the bourgeoisie as a stylistically infused venture, overcoming their economically-imposed savagery by reducing them to meat. Corinne joins them as a Patty Hearst figure of sorts, not because she believes in anything, but because she would rather eat meat than be meat. And so she fittingly ends up eating her husband, gazing ahead in empty stylishness as always, as if pondering what to wear.

Comedy may be "tragedy plus time", but maybe you needn't keep a permanent distance between yourself and the horrors of reality to be able to laugh at it all. Or, to put it another way, there's a fine line between comedy and tragedy, and when the end is near, who can keep track of lines? Maybe I'm sick, or maybe I'm hopeless, but I can't help but laugh at this:

Maybe I could intellectualize why that is funny, but maybe I shouldn't bother. It would probably just ruin the joke. I'll just say that, if this is where the world is headed, you may as well have a good laugh. Just don't ignore the fact that the highway of the human race is littered with grave injustices and grotesque horrors while you're busting a gut.

P.S. This review was written as part of the "Seven Days of Novelle Vague" over at "Le Mort du Cinephiliaque"