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diskant rewind: Bargain Bin Culture #11

Posted: July 11th, 2008, by Wil Forbis

(Originally posted October 2003)

Bargain Bin Culture by Wil Forbis

[A note from your editor…] Wil has been a busy man recently, and so you have been neglected from reading his deranged columns of late. I assure you that he is on the case and will be submitting new things very soon, but for now, may I present you with a couple of movie reviews which Mr Forbis has written in one of his ‘other lives’? You might not feel that these are strictly relevant in this day and age (ie, the films are quite old), but hey, that’s all you’re getting. Enjoy!

The Fantastic Forbis world of Film

Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (dir: Sam Raimi)

Recently a friend of mine satiated my quest for 80’s kiddie porn by lending me a copy of the Molly Ringwald classic, 16 Candles. Upon its return my friend insinuated that I should reply to the favor by lending her a copy of one on the many fine films in my video collection. “How about Evil Dead II?” “I asked. “It’s just like 16 Candles, but with more flying zombies!”

In truth, Evil Dead II – Dead By Dawn is undoubtedly one of the greatest films ever made. Directed by Sam Raimi (Of current A Simple Plan fame) and starring his childhood friend, Bruce Campbell (a modern day Buster Keaton) the film is essentially a remake of the first Evil Dead with a much bigger budget. Really more of a comedy than a horror flick (albeit a comedy where all the characters either die or are hideously tortured) the plot ghosts the story of its predecessor – young people arrive in spooky house, summon forces of evil and then wackiness ensues. A lot of what keeps the film becoming a cliché of the Friday the 13th part 7 variety is Campbell’s wonderful overacting; he seems to have a continual body tic that offsets his “boy next door” good looks with spastic twitching. He then proceeds to heighten that effect with quietly mumbled curses in the flavor of Elmer Fudd.

Also impressive is the pure physical abuse Campbell takes during the film: he’s thrown from a car window, repeatedly smashed into trees, maniacally saws off his own demon-processed hand and has enough dishware smashed against his head to knock out Iron Mike. One gets the feeling that if Campbell wasn’t available for the role it would have gone to Roger Rabbit.

Despite the underlying farcical nature of the film, there is a moody eerieness. Raimi is one of the few directors who can use a fog machine in a way that doesn’t remind you of a 1989 Whitesnake concert and also has some patented violent camerawork that continually disorients the viewer and creates the illusion of panic. His “rushing along the ground” shot that represents an evil force we never really see is perhaps the most instantly recognizable and identifying camera shot of any director. (Though I just recently read the idea wasn’t Raimi’s but some forgettable AD or something.) There’s also some great claymation work right out of the Ray Harryhausen catalogue that it its own way seems far more impressive than the computer generated effects of films such as Deep Impact or Jurassic Park. You can see the elbow grease that goes into claymation; it’s strikingly obvious that the only way to create such effects is to diligently manipulate clay and camera for what must be days. The purity of the effort overcomes the obvious limitations on realism.

So the film moves along, humorously eliminating its human characters while Bruce Campbell’s alter ego, Ash, progresses from a nervous simp, to a kick-ass, battle ready simp. The plot leads directly into what was essentially the third Evil Dead, Army of Darkness. All three films are vital to any connoisseur of cult, but I do believe it is the second Evil Dead that stands the strongest. Evil Dead II also made a minor contribution to pop culture that I never really noticed until a visit to my friend Dan’s House, this past summer. “You know,” I mentioned. “I don’t think you really saw zombies with eyeballs until Evil Dead II” (A large grinning and eyeballed, zombie stares out from the EDII poster.) And this is true. The old style zombies of the Christopher Lee mummy films to even Ed Wood’s work have no apparent vision devices. But a few years after Evil Dead II, films like Return of the Living Dead (another classic, the film that got me into Punk Rock) or Scooby Doo on Zombie Island appeared, featuring zombies with full ocular abilities. I know many of you have often wondered when the undead first appeared with functioning eyeballs and hopefully this goes a long way towards answering your question.

Kids (dir: Larry Clark)

For years, I made a concerted effort not to see Larry Clark’s shock-mock-documentary, Kids. Released in 1995, the film quickly caused a stir, as it seem to claim that America’s youth had reached new levels of depravation. They were uncouth, violent, sex crazed, drug addicts and worst of all, seemed entirely unrepentant for their behavior. The movie seemed to be trying it’s best to stir whitebread, adult America into uprising of moral outrage, an uprising that would cause them to condemn the film, garnering it the hip status of rebellion and increased tickets sales. The obviousness of the charade made me anxious to avoid supporting this cadre of shock-jock filmmakers (Including producer Gus Van Zant of Drugstore Cowboy fame.) who were peddling what sounded like exploitive crap as a wake up call for America.

And truthfully, I’m glad I did miss the film… at least during the immediate outcry of its release, as I’m not sure I would have been able to appreciate as I did when I saw it recently. On some levels, it is a tacky film; one that tries laughably hard to outrage. The plot is a loosely connected montages of pre and post pubescent children having sex, taking drugs, having sex, shoplifting beer, talking about having sex, and having sex. (Oh – and one character gets AIDS.) But it’s also a film with a great sense of drama and amazing acting, especially from performers who are so young.

Kids, for the most part, is not that astonishing. Sure, the characters engage in sexual acts as repetitiously as rabbits on Viagra, but the statistics tell us that a limited number today’s youth do act behave as such. They use language so foul that it might cause Ghetto rapper Bushwick Bill to take pause, but anyone who’s ever been on a city bus shouldn’t be too surprised. The one scene I did find hard to believe, when several of the youths gang up and beat another teenager unconscious in the middle of Central Park during broad daylight, did strike me as phony. I’ve been to that section of the Park and have a hard time believing that such a beating wouldn’t attract some authority*. But it’s a small mark against the film.

While watching, I was reminded of the 80’s film, Streetwise, a real documentary about homeless kids in Seattle. (Chloë Sevigny, star of Kids looks so much like one of the subjects of Streetwise I can’t help but wonder if that’s why she got the part.) It too followed the exploits of youth gone wild, though not without heart and soul, attributes for the most part missing from the protagonists of Kids. It seems almost certain that Streetwise; was the model for Kids. And in many ways, Kids feels just as real. The dialogue nails the street lingo of New York youth perfectly. (At least as far as I can tell.) It doesn’t sound like the pseudo-ghetto vernacular of so many Hollywood flicks. And the actors, either by being excellent thespians or the real deal, unerringly capture both the bravado and naiveté of youth. There’s one scene in which some of the older boys tease a younger kid who won’t admit to being a virgin, and… I can’t explain it any better than to say that it just feels so real. It’s a scene I’ve been a part of several times in my life, (on both sides) and film gets it dead on.

In fact, Kids‘ main strength was showing me how much I’d forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. While many viewers reportedly walked out of the theatres in outrage, I found myself saying, “Yeah… we did do that stupid shit!” (Though my youth was regrettably lacking in much sexual experience.) The kids in film weren’t all that different from the fellow terrorists I spent my teenage years with.

The film does attempt to deliver a message, which is, near as I can tell, that America’s youth are going to hell in a hand basket. Whether the cause of this descent is negligent parents, rampaging drug abuse or the ill effects of mass culture, Kids makes little attempt to say. Certainly calling attention to the state of our youth is a worthwhile endeavour but where Kids loses its moral voice is the belligerence with which it delivers its memorandum, implying that within a generation we will be overrun by a nation of gangbanging, ultra violent sex fiends. Kids are fucked up, but they’re not that fucked up. Anyone who walks past a high school or hangs out with their teenage nephew can show this to be true. Teenagers today are what they’ve always been: whiney, shrill and annoying, but hardly unsalvageable. The WHO said it best: the kids are all right.

* Of course the film was made only a few years after the infamous Central Park jogger case, so maybe it did seem possible at the time.

Wil Forbis

Wil writes for the delectable Acid Logic webzine, as well as for this crackin' outfit here. He's also an obvious habitual liar, going on how he describes himself in his other writings. Truth is, Wil is a two foot tall computerised metal monster who likes nothing better than to CRUSH, CRUSH and CRUSH humanity to within an ounce of its puny life. When he's not CRUSHING, he enjoys tennis and jogging.


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