David Cronenberg’s Videodrome

David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is a film I had slept on since I was a teenager and saw it it ominously leering off the shelf of Blockbuster with stark, gooey VHS cover art that promised a nearly sentient looking narrative and atmospheric horror experience that perhaps I wasn’t ready for, because I always passed it by. I’m kind of glad I waited until now to see it because I was fully able to appreciate what a rich, textured, detailed and seemingly impenetrable but inexplicably profound piece of art it is, not to mention just a gorgeously gonzo exercise in some of the absolute fucking BEST practical effects I’ve ever seen in cinema. James Woods is Max Renn, a freewheeling television producer whose time slot is dedicated to violence and scum because, as he cavalierly rationalizes it, that’s what people want to see. One day he discovers a mysterious scrambled signal broadcasting a show just about violence, murder and torture, a show that seems to be a bit too close to the real thing. His search for the origin and producer of this bizarre output takes him on a horrifying cosmic journey of mind-melding, body mutilating chaos as the signal begins to change both his external anatomy and internal mindscape. He hooks up with fellow TV host Nicki Brand (the great Debbie Harry) whose own dark impulses for boundary pushing S&M only further add to his unsettling environment. The plot is a dense, surreal and difficult spiral of reality shattering techno-horror, spectacularly splattery special effects and an editing process that aims to disorient while also keeping the viewer mesmerically rapt to the screen to see how it all plays out. There’s an undercurrent of warning regarding the psychological implications of technology and pornography that feels eerily ahead of its time, a commentary on the hypnotic and dangerous application of VR (WAY ahead of its time) and all sorts of elements woven together for a totally immersive, beautifully retro-futuristic experience. It also just knows how to have a blast at the simple level of being a visually effective horror film and believe me when I tell you that these FX are for the ages and might never be topped; from torso invading genitalia chasms to glistening prosthetic weaponry crudely fashioned onto human limbs to a TV set that lives, breathes and gives birth to roiling deformities behind the screen that serves to remind us of the worrying self awareness and startling agency we project onto and bestow unto technology. One of the finest horror films I’ve ever seen.

-Nate Hill

The SuperDeep

The SuperDeep is a Russian SciFi horror flick that lives up to its title in the most literal of ways, considering it’s about a research term that descends down a borehole wayyyyy below the earth to investigate something that’s so far down there it’s closer to the core than it is to the surface. We meet microbiologist Anya (Milena Radulovic), who has a guilt ridden past but agrees to lead the group, which consists mostly of Russian military, on the condition that whatever they find down there, she gets academic credit for the discovery. What could go wrong? A lot, it seems, and when you’re in one of the most remote, unfamiliar frontiers in our realm, it’s tough to get help, find your footing in an otherworldly environment and simply survive. There seems to be some horrific microorganism that lives in the permafrost and has now thawed and gotten loose, a life form that uses fungal spores to spread into the air kind of like seed dispersal and as soon as a human breathes them in… well, it ain’t a pretty sight and the special effects team take FULL advantage of the opportunity for ooze, slime, goo and body horror of every orifice invading fashion. I had one complaint; the version I watched on Shudder only had dubs available, no subs, and baby I’m just not a fan of dubs, I wanna hear the actors talking in their real voices, I don’t care how exotic and impenetrable the language is. That aside, this is a wonderfully atmospheric piece with some truly standout moments of filmmaking and a beautifully eerie score that sets up atmospheric tension and world building terrifically. There’s a hair raising sequence where they free fall down into the earth for hundreds of miles in a few minutes time for a kind of prolonged ‘Hellavator’ experience that would have been a showstopper on the big screen. An almost black and white colour timed scene sees Anya fall through a fissure in the earth into utterly unknown territory in this kind of languid, near zero gravity airspace accompanied by a particularly surreal score cue for an almost indescribably artistic visual and auditory effect. The climax is haunting and disquieting where it could have been loud, gory and cacophonous, choosing awe and wonder over grisly spectacle. It’s a slower burn, a more relaxed take on classic stuff and obviously comparisons to John Carpenter’s The Thing will be drawn but this is its own beast, a neat infusion of mood piece, body horror, artistic expression and classic B movie aesthetics for quite the experience. Streaming now on Shudder.

-Nate Hill

ANTIBIRTH (2016) – A REVIEW BY RYAN MARSHALL

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It wouldn’t be impractical to compare ANTIBIRTH, the messy (in more ways than one) feature debut from accomplished visual artist Danny Perez, to the unexpectedly PCP-laced joint or to the scatter-brained B-side to a profoundly psychedelic experience. Indeed, it’s precisely this kind of abnormal out-of-body ambiance that the film aspires to; evoking heavy shades of David Lynch, Cronenberg and many others as it stretches its admittedly thin concept to grotesque, kaleidoscopic extremes.

Brimming with all sorts of hazy, shamelessly abrasive potential from frame one, this grungy yarn concerns the plight of wayward trouble-maker Lou (Natasha Lyonne), who wakes up one morning after a night of heavy hedonism to the most sickening sensations. These are later discovered – first, by Lou’s best friend Sadie (Chloe Sevigny) – to be the symptoms of pregnancy, but neither of the two can recall the events which transpired that previous evening.

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There are at least a dozen movies attempting to co-exist here, but taking precedence over most others – at least for a while – is the hang out picture. The viewer assumes a sort of sleazy fly-on-the-wall perspective for roughly the first half of the surreal narrative, watching as Lou’s situation get worse and the she engages in mundane daily routine. Suddenly, disturbing visions of obscured memories begin to plague the poor party-goer’s mind, and upon the arrival of a peculiar old woman (Meg Tilly, delightfully bat-shit) in the small mid-west town, things take an unexpectedly twisted turn.

Perez is probably best known for his collaborations over the years with Animal Collective, in which he provided the band’s heady tunes with an appropriately imaginative visual companion (see the excellent and often overwhelmingly terrifying  “visual album” ODDSAC from 2010), so it’s no secret that his first foray into more grounded narrative work would be an ambitious one. Like that earlier film, ANTIBIRTH dabbles almost exclusively in gross body horror and Perez certainly has the means of dishing it out when the time comes, which is – rather unfortunately – too late in the game.

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Allowing for a better understanding of his past work, one might get the sense that Perez is more interested in exceedingly strange ideas and imagery than he is in people. This doesn’t always have to be a bad thing, but when the anti-heroine of the director’s abstracted world is one-dimensional at best and insufferable at worst, and those around her aren’t much better off, a gory good time then becomes an unnecessary struggle to locate anything of genuine substance. One could argue that the film’s indifferent attitude is embedded in its punk DNA, but when it accumulates to something as frequently unfunny, off-putting and shoddily constructed as this, it can be best chocked up to sheer ineptitude.

As expected, Perez is able to cook up some spectacular moments throughout – the idea of a quiet Michigan town teeming with experimental military activity and extraterrestrial conspiracy is an enticing one, and that sound design is pretty neat – but his stylistic flourishes end up being more debilitating – and, dare I say, amateurish – than exhilarating (the sequences set in the “Fun Zone”, a family-friendly pizzeria seemingly converted from an aging dive bar, are a fine example of this). Where it clearly wants to revel in oddity and excess, the film remains stagnant and can barely stay afloat, meandering on an already fairly weak foundation. It’s a leisurely, sedated, albeit colorful descent to whatever lies beneath the bottom of the barrel; you’re free to take that as you will, but the effort it requires to find something even vaguely inspiring isn’t really worth it.

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