Thursday, October 17, 2013

It's A Night At The Movies With MY GOAT


MOVIE REVIEW: "M.A.C. AND ME" (1988, dir: Stewart Raffill)


"Get Dwyer out of here." - Jim Jones, heard on the FBI archive tape recordings of the Jonestown Massacre

The 1988 American science fiction film "Mac And Me" is perhaps best known to modern audiences as one of the worst films of all time. It is infamous for many of its attributes, including constant product placement, most significantly (but not limited to) those of Coca-Cola and McDonalds. A particular aspect of the film that has come under criticism is the derivative nature of the plot, which clearly parallel the events and characters of Steven Spielberg's popular 1980 film "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial." In Steven Spielberg's film, a small meat-like puppet is used to convey a sense of fragility and pathos that is sympathetic to most viewers on a deep, subconscious level. The effect of the strange and somewhat ugly appearance of the creature is outweighed by his sensitive nature. In this way, Spielberg effectively conveys emotions that go beyond disgust and alienation, seeking to genuinely resonate emotionally with viewers.
In contrast, when one compares the alien creature "M.A.C.*" to E.T., M.A.C.'s delirious and comical nature is more akin to Speilberg's peer Robert Zemeckis' "Roger Rabbit" character, itself influenced directly by the slapstick violence of Looney Tunes. The character's physical form is abused thoroughly, resulting in M.A.C. being barely perceivable as a living thing subject to the laws of physics. M.A.C. and his kin's physical forms take on a malleable property, throughout the film the character goes through bouts of horrific warping of material shape that seem intended to be comical.
His appearance is quite different from E.T. in several important ways. Instead of a large cranium that suggests a comparable intellect, M.A.C.'s tiny pointed head more resembles that of an anemic Yoda, and his skin (and the skin and bodies of his family) seems to be a rubbery substance filled with perhaps some form of artificial sand. Also, whereas in "E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial," the audience's view of the other members of the main character's race is quite brief, in "M.A.C. And Me" we spend quite a bit of time with M.A.C.'s immediate family. The alien family in the film is constructed as a traditional nuclear family: mother, father, two children. The alien beings' movements are exaggerated and somewhat horrific, often resembling that of the Japanese cathartic dancing/performance art known as Butoh.
The race that M.A.C. comes from has mouths that are shaped in a small "o" shape, as opposed to the flatter, more humanoid mouth of E.T. In the Raffill film, the shape of the mouth has a practical purpose in that it facilitates the ingestion of liquids through a straw, a method that the beings use to mine some sort of liquid ore from their home planet. It also is a very convenient shape for drinking Coca-Cola through a straw, a pastime that becomes one the family's favorite once they come to visit Earth. The character designers seem to have misunderstood the aspects of the E.T.'s appearance that work, cynically attempting to create a cute-looking creature that ends up appearing like a hybrid union of an Egyptian hairless cat and Tweety Bird. The unpleasant appearance of the main characters was likely a major factor in the large-scale audience rejection of the film... much like "New Coke" before it, the familiarity ends with the first sip, and leaves a bad taste in one's mouth soon afterwards.


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"M.A.C. And Me" is not unique in it's knock-off status of Speilberg's popular 1982 film. Notable motion pictures spawned by the success of "E.T." include gems such as Turkey's "Badi," the American summer camp sequel "Meatballs 2," and the horrfic "Xtro" from the United Kingdom. "Badi" (also known as "Turkish E.T.") falls short of the beloved Spielberg classic as well, but (in its defense) it is at least superior to "Turkish Star Wars." I have not yet seen "Turkish Wizard Of Oz" but I am willing to bet that "Badi" is better than that also. It is of course the funny story of a boy who becomes friends with a small alien, but unlike E.T., Badi has a taste for racy humor and cruder situations than his American counterpart. Badi seems to have terrible gastro-intestinal issues that form the majority of the humor in the film, as clips found on Youtube will verify. The character is roughly the same height as E.T., but with a physical resemblance to both John Merrick's character in "The Elephant Man" as well as the H.R. Giger-designed xenomorph from Ridley Scott's film "Alien." Unlike E.T., Badi has a noticeable appetite for Earth pornography.
"Meatballs 2" is a Hollywood sequel that deviates from the original Bill Murray vehicle in order to include a rubbery blue alien that takes part in the hijinks that occur naturally at a summer camp. A significant scene in this picture involves our interstellar hero enjoying the pleasures of the Earth-bound marijuana plant. Several of the attendees at the Summer camp depicted in the film peer-pressure the foreign ambassador into partaking in this rite, which causes the little guy's eyes to glow red as he floats around.
Finally, "Xtro" is actually a completely non-sentimental horror film but, like the other three mentioned, it was released and titled with the express purpose of gaining cross-over support from fans of the Spielberg effort. This terrifying motion picture involves alien impregnation, as well an innocent child befriending a creature of great malice from outer space. Interestingly, this is similar to an early concept of E.T., where the main protagonist was a friendly alien who was trying to warn people on Earth of a predatory, flesh-eating species that was on its way for a quick bite. This idea was scrapped and the project was united with a more personal film that Speilberg was working on titled "A Boy's Life," about children growing up with a single mother. An early version of "E.T." that Spielberg approached Tobe Hooper to direct was an almost straightforward horror/sci-fi type of story, but Hooper declined at the time, later collaborating with Spielberg for "Poltergeist." The completely non-sinister aspect of the alien race was a concept that was somewhat unique to Spielberg's movies (an idea started in "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind"). "Xtro" presents a take on the genre that is perhaps a bit closer to classic alien invasion lore, combined with the realism and modernity of Speilberg's effort.
It is not unusual for such a popular film to create so many imitations. Many of Steven Spielberg's movies have had the effect of generating small genres of their own in terms of rip-offs and re-creations. "Gremlins," produced by the 'Berg and directed by Joe Dante (who himself started out as a director of the Jaws parody/riff "Piranha") itself created a huge industry of "tiny creatures wreaking havoc" films, including "Critters" and Charles Band's highly enjoyable "Ghoulies" series. Together, the popularity of both "Gremlins" and "E.T." ensured that for many years to come there would be a significant glut of films featuring often somewhat demonic-looking small rubber puppets interacting with human beings.
Back to "M.A.C. And Me." The creatures themselves, and their awkward appearance, are probably one of the hugest setbacks to audience enjoyment and comfort. The design is a far cry from the excellent sculpture work of "E.T."'s Carlo Rimbaldi (who also designed the organic nightmare puppet head for Ridley Scott's "Alien," based, of course, on an original concept by Swedish surrealist H.R. Giger).
The shockingly naked appearance of the alien beings, their gangly and erratic movements, their googly eyes, these were surely the source of worry and discomfort for many a child and parent who viewed the film in theatres (of which there were few) or on home video (more so on this front). Unlike "E.T.", rather than opening the film with the human protagonists of the saga (in order to establish a relationship between the viewing audience and the human cast), the film opens up with a stark view into the existence of film's alien race on an unspecified rocky satellite, either of another planet or perhaps of our own sun.


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During the opening of the film, the four creatures walk along a desert surface from which a ringed planet (Uranus?) can be seen. A mother (her identity within the family structure is indicated early on in the film when she seems to "nag" the male adult), a father (whose gait and facial expressions are particularly goofy and off-putting), a young son (M.A.C.), and a baby alien (sister?).
The director seems to intend for the audience to relate to the alien entities as a kind of proto-humanoid or ancestral spirit, beings that we would want to invite into our world, because of our shared empathy and desire to get along with one another. They do not seem to have any natural predators, and their primary form of sustenance comes in the form of some sort of soda-like liquid that is extracted with a straw-like device from the surface of their floating planetoid. Oddly, the males of the family are completely naked, with an arbitrary cloth covering the nudity of the females.
Their bodies are not exactly flesh toned, more of an orange colour, with the adults of the race having visible liver spots. For the most part they look like a claymation parody of both the 1950s conception of "space aliens" as well as that of the classic nuclear family ideal. This opening scene with M.A.C.'s family is in many ways one of the most extraordinary in the film. The visuals proceeding the appearance of the family unit are actually quite beautiful, visually rivalling the opening space landscapes of "Alien" or "Prometheus." It is clear that the movie intends to make some sort of commentary on this concept of the human family, and how we might relate to extraterrestrial creatures from another planet. Before long, a NASA land rover appears on the planet and horrifically sucks up our family through a small tube, mirroring their use of straws to gain their sustenance. The contortions of their bodies as they are stretched and distorted is intended to be comedic, but instead is horrific and painful looking. The small craft makes its way back to the Earth next, where our unsuspecting space family will encounter an inevitable culture clash with the citizens of our humble planet.


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It's important to look at things in context. America in the 1950s was an optimistic and exciting place. The post war economy was booming, and the threat of the atomic bomb was a consistent reminder of imminent holocaust. Drills to practice what one would do in the event of nuclear attack were not uncommon, and conformity was the rule of the day. After the events of World War II, our country seemed both united and indebted to a sense of uniformity, with the frighteningly strict conformity of suburbia strangely similar to that of the feared and reviled Communist U.S.S.R. Rock and roll was a beacon of cultural change, as were horror and science fiction movies (often dealing with giant monsters, often enlarged to dangerous proportions because of the adverse effects of radiation). Another brand of sci-fi classic had aliens from space invading Earth and destroying everything that we hold dear... killing women and children, and their little dogs too. The skull-headed aliens of Topps series of "Mars Attacks" chewing gum cards depicted the mass horrors of war coming to the idyllic American landscape via a despicable alien menace that was indisputably frightening. It was a new kind of horror, the horror of events occurring in foreign lands coming back home, bringing along ghosts of a faraway chaos.
The fear of monsters and space aliens stood in for what was an over-arching uncertainty and sense of mortality in America, the aftershocks of war. Life had been simultaneously simplified and made more complex. Food came from supermarkets rather than hunting trips or laborious farming. Plan for your career, retirement, and even financially plan out death, setting aside money for funeral and deciding where the leftovers go via inheritance. The American family was mapped out in a nice pleasant grid that left little room for error or individuality. As always, there was dissent... even as early as the 1950s, American biker gangs, beatniks, and menacing greasers were synonymous with chaos writ upon the Suburban environment. Street crime and violence, rape and alcoholism, and the horrors of "reefer madness" and jazz music were all there to terrify the average citizen from leaving the comfortable confines of their couch. Television was of course a major contributor to the change in the social landscape, for example it was through the television and cinemas the American public was first exposed to Rock and Roll music.
From a modern viewpoint, it can be difficult to fully comprehend the effect that this new style of music had on culture... the world of the 1950s was a world that existed before "cool" was something "squares" could get "hip to," all of that language being strange and alien new concepts. Words that are now an ordinary part of our existence, that shape the framework of the world that we are in today, were feared by the average citizen.
Most of all, the rock and roll music was considered by many conservative caucasian Americans to be associated with what was deemed to be the depravity and low cultural standards of the African American population. With the current era of political correctness dominating discourse, it is easy to forget the significance of racism within American culture at this critical juncture... one can imagine that the fear of the "other" depicted in monster and alien movies reflecting this rather poignantly. Called "black people," descendants of the African slaves brought over to America survived in ghettos and were legally prohibited from eating in the same establishments as "whites" (caucasians). The tension of two groups of people living side-by-side, but with one group so clearly in a situation advantageous over the other, was an explosive scenario.
To those who feared rock and roll music, it was the return of Babylonian and Dionysian revelry to a nation still comforting itself with classical music revues and the hokey Big Band tunes of the previous era. It is hard to believe that something that has become so sterile and ubiquitous as rock and roll was at one point considered a dangerous threat to culture. The most conservative opponents of Rock music indeed felt that they were facing the direct influence of Satan Himself. However, the drumbeat of rock and roll music was instead ushering in a new era of cultural understanding in America, and by the following decade the civil rights movement was in full swing.


“If you look back, many things that we thought were accidents turned out were not accidents. The entire LSD movement itself was sponsored originally by the CIA, to whom I give great credit. I would not be here today if it had not been for the foresight and prestige of the CIA psychologists, so give the CIA credit for being truly an intelligence agency. ”-Timothy Leary interview February 1978

The social upheaval of the early 1960s was peppered with marches, riots, and assassinations. A prominent supporter of the civil rights movement, President John F. Kennedy, was publicly executed in a ritualistic manner that shocked the entire nation and fostered a distrust for the Government and the typical 'official story' that continues to this day. In this new era of chaos came a musical phenomenon (from America's former foe Great Britain) in the form of four gently sarcastic young men with identical haircuts called The Beatles. The previous decade, the performer Elvis Presley had been used to sell a safe version of Rock and Roll to the masses, but his oeuvre could hardly be considered subversive. The strangely beautiful and eerily catchy melodies of these four young men caught the attention of the world and formed the oddly peace-oriented soundtrack to a decade of turmoil. For a man named Charles Manson, the Beatles represented the harbingers of the apocalypse, four long-haired youths with "breastplates of fire" (a Biblical reference that Manson took to refer to their electric guitars) that emitted music that was to enact an unusual and rather specific social change. As a young man of twenty-nine, Manson was already incarcerated in the United States Penitentiary at McNeil Island during the Beatles first visit to the United States. Upon his first encounter with their music via the radio, he became deeply fascinated with what he had deemed a fiery and rebellious sound, which inspired him to take up the guitar. The alleged misinterpretation of the Beatles' ideas by Manson (and the ensuing media circus that would accompany the related trial) would prove to be one of the cornerstone events defining the emerging gap of generational values going into the next decade.
The invention of LSD is an important event in US History for a variety of reasons, and the 1960s just would not have been the same without it. It is possible that both the Beatles' primary songwriters (John Lennon and Paul McCartney), as well as Mr. Charles Manson, were exposed to LSD at roughly the same time, somewhere in the year 1965.
During the time of Manson's initial incarceration, the United States Government (via the C.I.A.) were performing experiments involving the testing the drug on prisoners in locations that included the Vacaville facility where Manson was housed. Lennon and McCartney, for their part, on record have both stated that they were administered LSD against their knowledge by their dentist around the same period of time. They duo had both been invited to the man's house for dinner and were both dosed via their coffee, leading to a traumatic experience that Lennon himself said took over a month to recover from. Upon his release from prison, Manson would go on to use the drug's mind altering properties to show his followers another world of possibility, not unlike the legendary Hashish cult of assassin trainer Hassan-I-Sabbah. Similar to Sabbah, Manson lived on a property in the desert and exposed his associates to a combination of sensory deprivation, rhetoric, and drugs in order to initiate them to his view of life.
By this point, Manson and a group of young people from the San Francisco area were living together on the ranch of an 80-year-old nearly blind man named George Spahn. In exchange for sexual favors from the female members of the Family, Spahn allowed the group to live on the ranch for free. It was Spahn, not Manson, who actually gave the ex-convict's followers many of the colorful nicknames so closely associated with the Family: "Squeaky", "Tex", "Sadie", and so forth. By the time that the Family encountered the Paul McCartney composition "Helter Skelter," Manson's mission was already in full swing. Somewhere across the pond that winter, John Lennon was smoking a spliff and trying to shake a bad, bad feeling.
John himself was not a stranger to bad vibes. Associates of Lennon often recalled his anger, recounting a man who was at times quick to put others down and always insisted on getting the last word. His spontaneity manifested in a multitude of ways, and he was known for violent outbursts such as the beating about of the head and torso of his friend and former bandmate Stu Sutcliffe (the Beatles bassist before Paul McCartney joined the group). Upon hearing the news of Sutcliffe's death, Lennon burst out in a hysterical laughing fit in front of his bandmates. The death of his good friend Stu (who ended up as part of the collage cover image for the groups famous "Sgt. Pepper" album) was an event that would haunt him throughout the rest of his life, but was by no means the last of his violent outbursts.
Lennon had told several friends in confidence that he believed that he would be murdered because of the karmic response to his violent tendencies. His public connections to transcendental meditation (which he later rejected) and the anti-war and protest movements seem to be efforts to make up for the cynical and angry person that fame had made him. Lennon often made his lyrics intentionally obscure so as to confuse interpretation, and this willfully obscure style seems to have wrought vast and oddly specific misinterpretation from the youth culture that was shelling out money for Beatles records. His desire to trick the audience into accepting something beyond their usual moral standards was a calling card throughout Lennon's career as an artist, for example the drug anthems "Dr. Robert" and "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds."
Despite the fact that the title of the latter song clearly references LSD, Lennon himself put forth that it was simply a songwriting choice based on a child's drawing, although his other bandmates have publically dismissed the innocence of this claim. By the time that their 1968 LP "The Beatles" (aka the White Album) was released, the protest movement in America was in full swing.The youth of America marched and protested in an attempt to have their voices heard by what they perceived as an out-of-touch and out of line government. America was in a silent arms race with Russia that manifested publicly in the competition for dominance in space, culminating in America's highly publicized trip to the Moon. The assassinations of John F. Kennedy and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, combined with growing disapproval among the youth of the country's war in Vietnam, led to large scale protests and riots that had to be quelled by the police. A commonality between the Beatles live appearances in America as well as Dr. King's marches for freedom is that, in both instances, police felt the need to use high-pressure water hoses on the unruly crowd.


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At the height of their fame, many of the Beatles fans viewed them as prophets of a new age. When the group released their self-titled double LP that became known as "The White Album," a collection of sardonic and largely comedic music of an astounding variety of styles, an assortment of interpretations developed. Although the sound and delivery of the music is ostensibly cheery in nature, the lyrics and themes, as well as the stark colorless artwork, reflect a bleak and oddly Communistic viewpoint. The opening track "Back In The U.S.S.R." takes Chuck Berry's pro-U.S.A. tune and turns it on its head, making a bizarre appeal to the glory of Russian Communism (complete with Beach Boys-style harmonized vocals praising the women of Russia). Puzzling to say the least, it was an ultra-inflammatory and outright strange opening for the pop group's newest LP. A track by George Harrison titled "Piggies" spoke of bourgeois pigs cannibalizing the less-fortunate. Although presented in a baroque style and performed on harpsichord, it puts nightmarish visions into the minds of young listeners not unlike those of the film "Porcile" by director Pier Paolo Pasolini (another artist with strong Communist leanings).
Other songs seem to cynically address world affairs through metaphor, culminating in a leitmotif of revolution on the final side of the album. The first of the revolution-themed tracks, "Revolution No.1," is a mid-tempo blues rock song where the singer openly expresses disdain for followers of Chairman Mao Zedong, an interesting opinion in light of their opinion espoused earlier regarding the supposed glory of the U.S.S.R. The double LP is rounded out with the infamous "Revolution 9," an eight minute piece of avant garde tape manipulation that was a major dividing point for both fans and critics of the group.
The track features a collage of music and sounds, including the sounds of crying babies, machine gun fire, and protests. Although there are comedic aspects to it, like the rest of the album, the overall feeling given by "Revolution 9" is that of a bleak and un-escapable violence. The weirdly saccahrine easy-listening closing album track "Good Night" comes off like a joke on the listener after the barrage of surrealist discomfort contained in the song preceding it. The obscure and convoluted nature of "Revolution 9" has inspired a variety of interpretations. Elements of the "Paul Is Dead" urban legend relate specifically to this track, spread widely by radio disc jockeys during the late phases of Beatlemania. The meaning of the philosophy of revolution espoused by the boys was somewhat hazy. In fact, on the recorded LP version of the song "Revolution" (as opposed to the more up-tempo single version), after stating "If you talk about destruction.../you can count me out," Lennon can be clearly heard stating "in," which is also noted in parenthesis in the accompanying lyric booklet. Many listeners interpreted this to be a coded endorsement of violent revolution.
One song in particular from this record would be closely associated with the aforementioned Charles Manson and his friends for all time. The official story of the "Helter Skelter" program as documented in Vincent Bugliosi's book of that title consists of half-truths and outright lies, based largely on the testimony of Family member Paul Watkins. These were presented before the court of law and later written as the "official story" by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi during the trials for the murders that the Family committed. This prosecution angle became the popular view of the Manson story, but members of the Family (including Lynnette FRomme) dispute the oversimplification and misrepresentation presented by Bugliosi's ham-fisted research. In the song itself, McCartney bellows lyrics about the up-and-down nature of a famous roller coaster in the UK:

"When I get to the bottom/

I go back to the top of the slide/

Where I stop and I turn/

And I go for a ride/

till I get to the bottom/

and I see you again/

Yeah yeah yeah"

- Lyrics from Paul McCartney's "Helter Skelter"

According to Bugliosi, Manson read very deeply into this, deciding it was a harbinger for an impending race war which was imminently facing America. Theoretically, a deep-seated racism, probably stemming from his poverty-stricken upbringing, informed Manson's vision of an inevitable battle between the "white" and "black" citizens of the United States. Bugliosi claims Manson went so far as to interpret the title "The White Album" as being further evidence of a racially-derived message contained within the album, despite the fact that the album is actually self-titled. Further aspects of the Bugliosi "Helter Skelter" story owe more to esoteric Nazi philosophy rather than psychedelic pop-rock music.
According to Bugliosi, once the race war commenced, Manson and his "Family" would hide far underground, in tunnels underneath Death Valley that he believed led to an underground world. Here, the Family would use their survival skills to hide out while on the surface level, the white race would be inevitably wiped out by the African-American uprising. Upon the finale of this spectacular urban battle, The Manson Family would emerge from the depths, dramatically rescuing the remaining white children and carrying them back to safety on dune buggies. From their underground lair, Manson and his followers would somehow order around their African conquerors and be treated as kings on the Earth. For his part, McCartney offered that the song does indeed reference the ideas of social upheaval and the changing forces of power, but the post-apocalyptic racial warfare envisioned by Manson in Bugliosi's famous written account seems more in line with a damaged interpretation of the "Planet Of The Apes" series of films rather than any of the "Fab Four"'s notoriously peace-oriented output.
In reality, Manson's unique world-view was already in place by 1968... however, the album was released at a pivotal time in the escalation of the Family's desperation and descent into violent behavior. During his murder trial, Manson stated to the court that he believed that the Beatles were subliminally in touch with the revolutionary spiritual current that Charlie and the family were reacting to. Although the Beatles themselves may not have been totally aware, there was an influence just beneath the surface of their music that was of great significance to Charles Manson in particular. The response within him is somewhat akin to that of the programmed killer in Richard Condon's novel "The Manchurian Candidate," when he is instructed to play a game of solitaire. The novel itself is based on information that Condon was privy to regarding Project ARTICHOKE (and other government programs), which attempted to create intricate triggers that would lead an individual to enter into a "kill or be killed" programmed alter in order to carry out dirty tasks without awareness of their own actions**. In any case, the Family was lying in wait, and 1968 (the year of "The White Album") provided many triggers to violence.
There was certainly much more at hand here than racial tension, simple misinterpretation of lyrics, or government mind control for that matter. The Family (as Manson's community became known) had a shared set of ideals that had little to do with the lyrical content of the Beatles, or racial prejudice for that matter. Much of this lives on the the words and thoughts of former associates Lynette Fromme and Sandra Good, who carry on Charlie's message of A.T.W.A. (alternately Air-Trees-Water-Animals and All The Way Alive) under the names given to them by Charlie, "Red" and "Blue." Fromme and Good's position is quite different from that of other residents of Manson's commune. They believe that all of the activity that occurred at Spahn Ranch was always about sharing a message of drastic action that must be taken for the defense of the environment. In this way, the actions of the individual Family members could be taken as an extreme form of social protest on a certain level from a peculiar position that sits outside of either the left or the right. Manson, Fromme, and Good saw an overly industrialized world before them that consisted of a piercing madness... to them "Helter Skelter" was already upon us.



On August 8, 1969 a new attraction opened up in Disneyland, California, called "The Haunted Mansion." It offered the chance for visitors to have the experience of being personally subjected to a stylized depiction paranormal phenomena, not unlike the film "Poltergeist." The audience enters an artificially aged mansion of vast proportions, which transforms in front of the viewer not unlike the experience of a room unfolding or spinning in one's perception during an acid trip. Walls grow twice their normal height in a concerted effort to make the person experiencing the "ride" feel smaller (just like Charles Dodgeson's 'Alice' after drinking her magic potion). After this, one rides a moving chair through a series of vignettes in the mansion regarding dancing ghosts, spurned lovers, and the unruly deceased... holograms, lasers, smoke, and mirrors are utilized to create the effect. It must have been quite an enthralling experience for those first visitors, unlike anything ever seen before.
Later that night, not very far away, another kind of haunting occurred, but in a swank Hollywood mansion on Cielo Drive. Drug dealer and pornographer (aka 'noted hairdresser') Jay Sebring, actress Sharon Tate {pregnant with the unborn child of her husband Roman Polanski}, screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski, the young Abigail Folger (heiress to the Folger's coffee fortune), and a young man named Stephen Parent were all murdered by several members of the Family.
The murders were particularly grisly, with most of the victims stabbed far beyond the amount of times necessary to kill them. Left behind for the public was a grisly set of nightmare images tailor-made for the press to repeat ad nauseum, including the word "pig" prominently written in the blood of the victims on the front door. Inside the house, bodies were strung up like in a medieval torture room. The methodology of the crimes brings to mind the descriptions of operations in Vietnam that existed under the Phoenix Program. [For those who haven't heard of it, the Phoenix Program was an effort on the part of the US military to create terror in foreign soldiers during the Vietnam War. In order to have a greater impact on those who discovered the bodies, soldiers would leave behind the dead in the most horrific arrangements possible for the purposes of shocking the local population. Recordings of demonic sounds (playing on local villagers' fear of demonic beings from the afterlife) were played to further this effect as well.] In many ways, the actions of the killers who visited Cielo Drive on August 8th and murdered all who passed their way were a direct recreation of events occurring under official sanction acted out against enemy combatants in Vietnam. For bourgeoisie Americans, when the news of the murders got out, it was as if the Phoenix Programming had been enacted upon them psychologically as well.
Manson's group of friends were not adverse to breaking and entering before this incident. Manson had created the term "creepy crawl" for the act of breaking into someone's house and rearranging their furniture. One famous creepy crawl recipient responded to this somewhat dadaist harassment by making a tombstone with Manson's name on it, with the date of death left blank, which he placed in his front yard next time Manson came around his house. He no longer had any problems from the Family, who were eager to move on to easier prey. For the most part, Manson's invasive living style was driven supposedly by a desire to break past societal structures and mores, but in fact worked as an intense programming tool of its own.
By asking his followers to live without possessions (or clocks), without any connection to the outside world, he asked them also to exit any pretense of safety. The distance from death that is afforded by a suburban bourgeois lifestyle was the enemy... the acts of the Family were in determination with an almost Situationist-like desire to confuse and discomfort the padded, conformist lives of the elite, an attempt to invite those living in ivory towers to experience the terror that was Manson's own existence. The obscurity of the reasoning behind the murders is the cause for Vincent Bugliosi's confused interpretations for the motives behind these crimes.
The ideological threshold that Manson and his friends had breached was simply not in any way relatable to the well-to-do prosecutor's outlook on reality. It was a worldview that was not completely dissimilar to the rest of the radical Leftist movements... property was something that they believed distanced human beings from the Earth, and pollution and human inequality were the primary evils facing our existence. Manson's true concept of "Helter Skelter" was more akin to a simple awareness of the chaos of modern Industrialized society: sweatshops, factory farming, deforestation, slaughterhouses, oil refineries, pollution, toxic waste, and so forth. He believed that humans had become completely disassociated from death with the comforts of modern society, allowing the world to crumble outside of them. The idea of striking out against the elite through these murders was justified for ideological reasons, as these actions were considered a way to bring death into the homes of those that would try to escape it.
Manson himself was quite displeased with the initial assault of the Cielo Drive residence, declaring it messy, and tagged along for the next night's events. The next target was a married couple who were seemingly picked at random, a grocery store owner and a lady who ran a dress shop. The duo were dispatched quickly, giving the crew of would-be detourners the opportunity to leave more bloody quotes on the walls, this time including such slogans as "Rise," "Death To Pigs," and "Healter Skelter" (that's right, 'Helter Skelter' was actually spelled incorrectly at the scene of the crime). The idea of framing the murders on the Black Panthers was from the viewpoint of a very simple motive, one explained by Family member Susan Atkins in her personal testimony of the crimes... apparently Manson himself had crossed an African American militant in a drug deal gone wrong, and was trying to frame the murders on him in order to throw off the police. It was not the first of such enemies that Manson had made, and the escalating financial woes of the Family led to a multitude of drug rip-offs and petty robberies, resulting in a build-up of quite a few enemies of the family.
According to Atkins, the murders were ultimately the result of a misunderstanding that occurred over the telephone. A man had called up the ranch's phone looking for Family member Charles "Tex" Watson, saying that he was looking for "Charles." Since Watson went by the name Tex among his friends, this man calling for "Charles" was instead directed to Manson. Not knowing whom he was talking to, Manson was shocked to hear the voice of an African American person threatening his life on the other end of the phone. Although the misunderstanding was later understood, it triggered a fear and paranoia within Manson that fed into a sense of urgency within him. Armed with a handgun, Charles Manson arrived to meet with the gentleman who had called, hoping to alleviate his concerns. Manson found himself in front of an angry man who was upset about being burned on a drug deal (a common source of problems for Manson and his friends). In front of many of the offended party's associates (including a cadre of Black Panthers), Manson shot him several times in the chest and fled the scene with an accomplice. Assuming that he had killed the guy, Manson prepared for immediate reprisal from the Black Panthers, and the attempts to link the murders to the organization were a confused and paranoid effort on the part of Manson to get the heat off of himself.
In fact, the actual home invasions had a lot to do with the fact that Manson owed a lot of people (including members of dangerous biker gangs) a lot of money, and that he was under intense pressure to pay up. Although the idea that they were trying to "freak out the normal people" by committing such horrific murders fits in with the groups apocalyptic ideology, in truth every crime scene associated with the Family was looted of money and valuables, hardly the actions of those participating in a strictly ideological crime. The murders were an act of desperation and fury for a group of people who had been at their boiling point for some time already. Whether or not they were really looking for Agartha, when arrested, the various members of the "Family" were indeed scattered across Death Valley in various tunnels. Members of the group had been arrested (and released) shortly before their final arrests for an unrelated crime, the theft of a large number of dune buggies. It was only after the prosecution of Bobby Beausoleil in conjunction with a related murder that investigators accepted the possibility that this strange group of hippies in the desert might have something to do with the Hollywood killings.
The Manson Family murder trial would become one of the most publicized events in media since man landed on the moon several years previous, and the story would provide a blueprint for the coverage of future incendiary "trials of the century" to come (O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony, et al). In the cases of both Charles Manson and the Beatles, essentially both represented different aspects of the Acid mindset coming into the forefront of the American consciousness. The "British Invasion" that the Beatles brought upon America in the early 1960s (not long after the assassination of John F. Kennedy) quickly gave way to a drug revolution that the group was eager to subject their easily influenced young audience to. During the height of "Sgt. Pepper" mania (possibly the Beatles' most influential record in terms of cultural impact), the group's music had become identified almost exclusively with the emerging drug culture.
The Beatles albums "Magical Mystery Tour" and "Yellow Submarine" (along with the accompanying films associated with those records) take the group away from the mod trappings of their earlier rock and roll, and introduce concepts taken from both Eastern philosophy and the emerging psychedelic movement. It was after a trip to the United States that the group re-emerged with such a different set of standards than before... in fact, during the early part of the 60s, the Beatles spent time in California in the very neighborhoods that Manson and his friends were stalking several years later. The Liverpudlian quartet spent time with the nascent hippie culture developing in the California scene at the time, including such luminaries as supposed Druid priestess Tuesday Weld (perhaps the inspiration for the "stupid bloody Tuesday" lyric in the cryptic "I Am The Walrus"). George Harrison owned a residence on Blue Jay Way in Hollywood during the mid-60s, making it likely that the fellows could have partied with many of the luminaries who were later murdered at Cielo Drive. Manson himself was a prominent figure in the Hollywood scene at this time, and his friendship with Dennis Wilson and subsequent experiences spending time with the Beach Boys during this time is a matter of public record.
Lennon was shot to death years later in front of the Dakota Building in New York, the place where Roman Polanski's Satanic thriller "Rosemary's Baby" was filmed (co-incidentally, around the time of the Cielo Drive massacre). One wonders exactly what Lennon was going on about when, during a drunken and drug-fueled rage shortly before his death, he began screaming "It's all Roman Polanski's fault!" over and over again in front of his confused and distressed lover May Pang while destroying a rented condominium. She had met Polanski several times during social events, and the two men seemed cordial and friendly to one another. To watch Lennon become so unhinged, destroying almost the entire house that the two of them were staying in, and screaming that the prize-winning director was somehow at fault, May Pang could not imagine what John could have been going on about. Lennon's murder in front of the Dakota building would ensure that no one would ever quite know what Lennon was going on about during that particular violent episode.

"Mark David Chapman is in many ways as much the victim of those who wanted to kill John Lennon as Lennon himself." - Fenton Bresler

The Charles Manson murder trial essentially coincides with the breakup of the Beatles. Although the two events are not directly connected, several members of the Beatles admitted in interviews that the "Helter Skelter" phenomenon, and the association of their music with violent murders gave them each quite a bit of pause. Both events, the Manson trial and the career of the Beatles, represent a proverbial double-barrelled shotgun blast through the facade of safety and "family values" within the American consciousness. The prosecutor's version of the events served the purposes of promoting the ideas of revolution and race war, as well as the dangerous effect of drug culture and rock and roll on the youth. While many young people were getting high and staging protests for the elusive notion of world peace, dramatic headlines (accompanied by photographs of the leering Charles Manson) provided a glimpse into the dark side of the "flower power" counter-culture for mainstream Americans. Armed with a personal philosophy of peace and love, as well as a strict adherence to tenets that would later be shared by the Earth First movement, Manson sought to shock the existing culture into understanding the inherent flaws within the bourgeoisie American family structure. The family unit and the suburban infrastructure was enabled and given life by the authority of the United States military victory of World War II, and as American society grew more homogeneous, the counterculture grew more extreme.

"In the course of our inquiry, we uncovered CIA documents describing experiments in sensory deprivation, sleep teaching, ESP, subliminal projection, electronic brain stimulation, and many other methods that might have applications for behavior modification. One project was designed to turn people into programmed assassins who would kill on automatic command." - Martin A. Lee and Bruce Schlain, from the introduction to their book Acid Dreams.

Many misunderstandings abound in relation to Manson and his followers. Although there was a musical group that was called "The Family Jams," it was not the group themselves that dubbed themselves "Family" so much as the press who tied them forever to the moniker of "The Manson Family." In effect, the moniker of "Manson Family" provides a vision for the reader of an "anti" family unit, a nightmare impression of the popular commune lifestyle that was sweeping the nation. A group of dissatisfied runaways teaming up with ex-cons, in a drug and sex-filled mockery of the family unit. This was the worst fear of the conservative mother and father, that fear of all the repression of sexuality and freedom snapping back in their face like a rubber band, stretched to its limit. The willingness to kill, and the view of human life as transient and animalistic was a side project of the LSD that the group was taking. One of the effects that LSD has is a distancing from sentimentality over human life, opening the mind up to the idea of taking the life of another. The drug was, of course, developed initially as a military tool.
In the latter days of the group, shortly before their arrest, Manson took several of the girls out to cut the throats of pigs on the farm, teaching them how to kill. When it was time to commit the acts of home invasion, the lack of any sympathy for the murder victims (represented as pigs) was apparent in the brutality of the crimes. Because of their support of bourgeois values, they were not viewed as human, and instead displaced in the minds of the killers as "piggies." The ideological divide is what allowed for the brutality of the crimes, but Bugliosi did not seem to fathom this completely during the trial. When the group went on trial, the saintly and beautiful Lynette Fromme (aka "Red" or Squeaky) said that they had expected the judgement of a wise man "like Solomon," but instead were faced with a circus where Manson and his friends treated like enemies of the state. Their foolish idealism, combined with a strange murderous outside influence, created a shocking incident that the media and prosecutors attempted to frame in a particular manner, suggesting the reality of an impending race war.

"(The C.I.A. is) a sinkhole of Communism." - Senator Joseph McCarthy


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As complex as the Manson scenario was, it was not the only seemingly planned racially-themed terrorist event going on in California in the late 60s and early 70s. A fellow inmate at Vacaville prison (and likely a fellow recipient of LSD experimentation) named Donald DeFreeze went on to fame as the leader of the "Symbionese Liberation Front." The name referred not to any country, but some deviated concept of "symbiosis" that Defreeze wished to compare modern American life to. A militant radical African American with unconventional beliefs regarding the origin of the races, DeFreeze's organization became famous when he kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst and indoctrinated her into his organization. She was seen on camera during a bank robbery wielding a machine-gun and leering at the camera, but later said that she was subjected to brainwashing techniques using LSD and rape in order to coerce her into participating in the group.
This is not unlike what some have said about Manson's group, where sometimes girls would be dosed with LSD and gang-raped in order to intimidate them into falling into line. Susan Atkins claims that Manson's method of mind control was as simple as constant beatings, but it seems that her experience may not have been entirely universal. When the SLA made headlines locally and nationally for their actions, noted San Francisco serial killer "Zodiac" mentioned in a letter to police that the word "SLA" means to kill in the ancient Norse language.
It is easy to forget, but LSD was a brand new substance that was not at the time of its creation considered a recreational drug. It was developed by the United States government as a mind control substance, and any suppliers of LSD from the early days had some manner of direct or second-party connection to individuals involved in the world of intelligence. Systematically creating militant participants of acts of shocking violence is in the jurisdiction of military officials, not street-level hippies. There were many political organizations going around in the 1960s and 1970s, and there were even more "free love" communes of young people passing herpes around to each other and smoking dope. The Zebra murders hit the San Francisco Bay several years after the famous Manson trial, and shifted things around into another perspective, still within a dualistic "black and white" framework. The murders purportedly were the result of militant Black Muslims who were wishing to instigate a race war through a series of brutal murders, not unlike the alleged goal of Charles Manson in the famous "Helter Skelter" version of events. The shoe was on the other foot, but still no dice for the cheerleaders of the "imminent race war" theory.


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Through all of this, people kept going to the movies. Going from a time of segregation and strict family units, to a time of higher divorce rates and more children growing up in single parent or foster parent homes, the cinematic family unit adapted and mutated over time. Distrust in the government was more prevalent than before, and citizens grew deeply divided over the Vietnam war during the course of the 1960s in a way that implanted an awareness of horror in all who listened to either side's arguments. The 1960s was also an explosive decade for advancement of technology, and more than any other factor the development of computers began to open up the idea of creating a matrix-like level of virtual reality through technology.
The first video game machines were simplified "sports simulators" usually involving some rectangles moving back and forth and bouncing a square around ala "Pong." Pioneers like Nolan Bushnell (who went on to found the Atari company as well as the Chuck E Cheese pizza franchise, both of which were extremely successful businesses that inducted the idea of constant stimulation into the suburban sphere) devoted their effort into creating environmental simulation that, albeit primitively, excited the imaginations of the youth. Bushnell was not the only techno-genius working in the field of video games, in fact one of his early hires at Atari was a young Steve Jobs, who helped engineer the classic Atari 2600 game "Breakout."
Due to the success of Francis Ford Coppola's film "The Godfather" (a veritable cultural phenomena, making Paramount Pictures' owners Gulf & Western rise in stock three points upon its release), Hollywood began to take more chances on films that had the controlling hand of the 'auteur' in the 1970s. This opened the door for more personal films to be made with a higher amount of control from the director, and entering into this playing field was a young man named Steven Spielberg.
An idealistic and talented young man, Spielberg seemed realistic and determined in his early days, scoring a massive hit with the famous shark drama "Jaws," which became an international sensation. His next film, "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind," was by all accounts an extremely personal work that deeply reflected Spielberg's hopes and dreams for the future. It is about a man who leaves behind his wife and children to live with child-abducting space aliens. The motion picture essentially depicts the destruction of the family unit and the emerging of an intuitive sort of man of the future, who would leave behind his wife and children in order to travel the stars with small rubbery alien beings.
Visually, many aspects of the movie recreate the psychedelic experience much like the "stargate" sequence of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." Flashing colors of all shades emit from impossible machinery, but when seen close-up the alien craft seems to be just that, a transportation ship made out of some metal ore with a bunch of shining, multicolored lights arranged mathematically. And unlike their cinematic ancestors who attacked tiny scale models of the White House, these aliens were here to share some sort of message of peace and love (as well as break up human families... during the course of the film they lead a man to leave behind his wife and children, as well as outright kidnapping the child of a terrified single mother). Another astounding aspect of the film is blatant logo placement within it of companies that were at the time becoming ubiquitous throughout the world, such as McDonalds and Shell Oil, among others. The film was released at a pivotal juncture in American history for the destruction of the small business ideal and the transformation of America into a corporate state.
Steven Spielberg's friend George Lucas had a huge hit during the same period of time with a film called "Star Wars" (as well as its sequels) depicting a rebel insurrection against an oppressive and one-dimensional evil empire on the part of a multi-species ensemble of humanoid beings and robots. Both directors seemed influenced by the positive messages of the psychedelic movement, the promises of a world dedicated to love were underlying elements to both films in ways that were alien to science fiction films of the previous eras. The promise of space had become a part of the soul's journey, moving on past the trappings of fear and terror represented by the idea of an alien visitation in previous cinematic eras. "Star Wars" in particular was so popular that it spawned the concept of the action film franchise as it exists today, glutting the market with products and tiny plastic artifacts even over thirty years later. "Star Wars" also influenced the video game market heavily, which soon saw an influx of space-oriented shooting games such as "Space Invaders" and "Defender" shortly after the immense popularity of the initial film.


"...A wagon consists of a collection of wheels, spokes, a pole and so forth... (a) house consists of a frame made of beams, of rafters, of a roof and so forth. But the wagon in itself, the house in itself, where are they? In the same way, if from a man you take away the physical form, sensation, perception, mental activity and consciousness, what remains? Where will you find the man existing in himself outside the corporality and mentality?" - Alexandra David Neel and Lama Yongden, from "The Secret Oral Teachings In Tibetan Bhuddist Sects"

Although widely remembered as a mass suicide, the deaths that occurred on November 18, 1978 in Jonestown, Guyana were a part of the largest concentration of murdered American citizens until the events of September 11, 2001. There is a famous image of Jim Jones wearing his priestly robe, surrounded by eleven children... of those eleven children, eight were killed on that day. Initial reports were disseminated in the American press that the large group of people all committed suicide from drinking poisoned Kool-Aid (it was actually Flavor-Ade), for purposes of escaping the sinful world that they were born into. It was an amazingly diverse cross-section of people involved in the conspiracy of "suicide," with a large amount of African-American members of the congregation and many elderly constituents. They were all members of The People's Temple, a Christian Socialist church that resided in Ukiah, California until it's leader, Jim Jones, decided to move the entire operation to the South American country of Guyana. The church members regularly visited San Francisco to court for new recruits, not unlike other nascent cult organizations such as the recently developed Hare Krishna movement. The new church members would be picked up in a large bus and brought to the grounds, where a socialist-oriented lifestyle of prayer, hard work, and religious song and dance is forced upon/enjoyed by the devout participants. Jones was very serious about communist and socialist philosophy, tying it into a political interpretation of the teachings of Jesus Christ. He was extremely derisive of what he referred to as "white" Christianity, and viewed communism/socialism as a radical enacting of the ideals of Jesus. To this end he even idolized the communities of Cuba and the U.S.S.R. to his church, maintaining those places as havens against the Satanic evil empire of the United States. He believed that the Jesus Christ of the Bible was a revolutionary agent who wished for people to fight against the evil men in charge and those who would befoul and demean the temple of his Father.

"In spite of the beauty of China, what it’s done domestically, getting rid of the rats, the flies... nothing justifies this kind of uh, inexcusable behavior. That’s why we’re pro-Soviet. That’s why we stand by the Soviet Union as the avant-garde, because this is a hellish thing to do, to support one of the most brutal fascist regimes, who has tortured dark members— the black members of its population..." - Jim Jones on the differences between China and Russia, taken from an FBI recording

Jones began his church in 1953 in Indianapolis, Indiana. His integrationist policies were highly unusual, and he was enthusiastic to include any willing person as a member of his church, outside of any consideration other than the fact that they were looking to be saved. He was known for his fiery sermons that often alluded to an end-times philosophy. He preached that the wicked were in charge of the world, and that God's chosen people (conveniently consisting mostly of people within his own congregation, as well as well-connected politicians and business owners who could assist Jones in his aims) must be vigilant and alert for the coming persecution that was to take place from an impending Antichrist. This philosophy still permeates today, well outside of cults such as Jones' and into the teachings of mainstream religion. Regardless of the fallacy of his philosophy, many were keen to heed his teachings and were convinced to hand over much of their time and money to the People's Temple. Taking his teachings to an extreme of paranoia, in 1965 he begins to warn his congregation of an impending nuclear holocaust that would strike the United States, presumably from the Communist forces. He used the liberal mixed-race congregation's resentment toward the U.S. Government and their segregationist policies as evidence of the evil of the United States. He began convincing his congregation that God himself was angry with the the USA and would destroy it within their lifetime. With this in mind, he told his flock of a prophecy that he received in a dream, stating that they needed to move to Ukiah, California, a place that would be spared from the impending nuclear destruction. Death was always impending, hovering over the People's Temple even before their dramatic move to California.

"Something's got a hold on me... I went to a meeting last night, but my heart wasn't right... something got a hold of me." - lyrics from the song "Something's Got A Hold On Me" by the People's Temple Choir

The move to California was politically fortuitous for Jones, who quickly rose to prominence for his unusually progressive approach to operating a religious structure. In 1971, Jones purchased a building in San Francisco that he moved his business operations to. The People's Temple was watched closely by Jones and close-knit team employed at the higher levels of his operation. The members of the church worked constantly, building up the remote grounds that they all lived on into a handmade socialist paradise. The enthusiastic singing and dancing of the church was legendary, and a record album titled "He's Able" was released by The People's Temple Choir, showing a tight and groovy performance style (not unlike that of Sly And The Family Stone) mixed powerful, rhythmic Gospel songwriting. The record is amazingly tight and well-composed, with eerily powerful and haunting melodies and words that hold double meaning after the events that befell the church. Not all was perfect in the Temple, however. Reports arose of people who left the church and told stories of Jones sodomizing church members, exposing himself privately to members of the congregation, and strange abusive conduct perpetrated on individual members in front of the rest of the church.
Jones was extremely paranoid about spies and those who would betray him within his own organization, and he would hold sadistic displays of power against those who stepped out of line. He engaged in sexual acts with both male and female members of his congregation. Jones claimed to abhor homosexuality, and that his sexual intercourse with the men was for their own good, so that they could be symbolically linked with him. His sermons became increasingly surreal and removed from Biblical scripture, including a divisive incident where he decried the validity of the Bible itself, throwing his copy of it across the room, declaring it tainted by Satanic white influence. Jones maintained that he was an incarnation of the anointed Christ, and that his teachings superceded even that of scripture. He maintained a strange dogma that people born into capitalist societies were born into sin, but that those born into a socialist regime would be born sinless, encouraging members of his congregation to breed within the church. This policy created many children who were born into the People's Temple.
In the shadow of reports of his sexual and sadistic abuses being made public, Jones quickly brought the remaining members of his congregation to the conclusion that the United States government sought to destroy the People's Temple with a constant barrage of propaganda. The decision was made that they must flee to South America, and a mining area formerly owned by Union Carbide was purchased by Jones in the country of Guyana that was to be dubbed "Jonestown."
Gradually, many members of the congregation made a pilgrimage to this new Church, which was built up by hand in much the same manner as the People's Temple back in the United States. However, Jonestown itself had a very different atmosphere than the congregation in Ukiah. Armed guards hired by Jones and his backers were on duty at all times. Similar to the Nazi policy of playing Wagnerian music and propaganda speeches loudly in occupied towns, a loudspeaker constantly blared instructions from Jim Jones, filled with false reports that the United States government was planning to come and kill everyone in Jonestown, and that the end was finally here. Drills were held to prepare for the impending attack, and suicide was constantly suggested as a way to escape to Heaven. A congressman, Leo Ryan, arrived to investigate the alleged abuses occurring at the camp and was surprised to see a singing and dancing congregation of seemingly happy, well-adjusted people. Several of the members, however, met with Ryan and his crew in private and asked to escape the settlement with them.
After an attempted stabbing of Ryan by one of the Jonestown residents, the Congressman and his crew took fifteen defecting church members to an airstrip to escape the country in an airplane that Ryan arrived in. Most of them did not make it out of the area alive, and upon attempting to board his plane back to the United States, members of Jim Jones' private militia opened fire on Ryan, his crew, and those wishing to escape. In fact, as the shooting began, one of the defectors (who obviously was not sincere in his desire to escape) pulled out a gun and began to fire on Ryan and the others as well, clearly an agent planted to prevent Ryan and the defectors from escaping with information about the church. Two people survived the incident to tell the story thanks to some local workers who helped them to escape, even returning home with video footage.
According to eyewitness testimony from survivors, on the morning of November 18, 1978, Jones himself got on the loudspeaker and called everyone in Jonestown into a single spot and told them that the time had come to meet the lord. This is where the residents of the People's Temple in Jonestown were instructed to drink poison at gunpoint. Members argued with his decision, stating that if the government was out to get them, then perhaps sanctuary could be found in the Communist nations that Jones spoke so highly of. Many ran off into the jungle amidst the confusion. People who did not wish to participate were given injections of cyanide or even shot by Jim Jones' private guerrilla squad (referred to as the "Red Brigade") point blank, and arranged in single file rows. Jones himself died from a gunshot wound to the head, and many people attempted to escape into the jungle, only to be killed by armed guards and brought back to be laid alongside the other bodies to keep up the illusion of a mass suicide. The members of his Red Brigade share with those who escaped them the distinction of being the only survivors of one of the single largest massacres of American civilians of all time.

"Dad, I see no way out — I agree with your decision — I fear only that without you the world may not make it to communism — Tish For my part — I am more than tired of this wretched, merciless planet & the hell it holds for the masses of so many beautiful people — thank you for the only life I've known." - Letter from a Temple member to Jim Jones (addressed as "Dad")


"Senior engineer Steve Calfee reflected that Asteroids appeals to some low, primitive drive in the human mind to clean and take control of the environment. Blasting asteroids into rubble until a once-crowded screen turned into a neat black field appealed to people whose lives were nothing but a field of chaos. For them, Asteroids became a metaphor for life." - Paul Schuytema, Microsoft Arcade, The Official Strategy Guide.

By the 1980s, America had come full circle. Conservative American President (and former movie star) Ronald Reagan promised a return to the days of Mayberry, with a highly publicized "War On Drugs" as a major part of his campaign. From what I understand, we lost that one. Home entertainment entered the stage with VHS providing cinematic pleasures in one's own home for the first time outside of broadcast television. Cable channels were starting to appear, providing uncensored content that would not be able to run on the broadcast networks.
Video games were a major sensation in America not just in arcades and gas stations, but also available on home consoles. A new invention called the Walkman enabled people to listen to music cassettes on tiny headphones instead of having to depend on a clunky stereo setup... "boom boxes" had just come on to the scene as well. Lest we forget, these are the primitive ancestors of what can be done now with an ipod, a laptop, the internet, dvd players etc. Entertainment media was first beginning to truly saturate the American home life in ways that it had never before, and the corporations, the providers of content, were struggling to meet the demand. All the sudden, more than ever, Hollywood had become more about the marketing of a product than the product itself. The idea of generating something to sell seemed to be much more important than the overall content within that product, leading to notorious consumer backlash of derivative and widely hated products such as New Coke, "Howard The Duck," and our film of the evening, "Mac And Me."
A good example of this marketing overkill is the shelf life of two of the most notorious video games of the console world, the versions of "Pac-Man" and "E.T.: The Extraterrestrial" for the Atari 2600. In 1980, when the "Space Invaders" cartridge was released for the Atari 2600, sales of the system quadrupled simply because of Space Invaders fanatics wishing to play the repetitive shooter at home. Atari had clearly expected the same kind of reaction to a home version of the popular Pac-Man, a Japanese arcade cabinet machine that had taken America by storm. In order to have the game ready for the holiday season, Atari (which had at this point been purchased by Warner Communications) forced programmer Tod Frye to rush the game out in a very short span of time. Long story short, the game had noticeable flaws that caused great disappointment from fans of the coin-operated version, and when word got out sales quickly declined.
Atari executives did not learn their lesson, however, and put all their eggs in the basket of acquiring the rights to a video game version of Stephen Spielberg's "E.T.: The Extraterrestrial." Pressed for time to make a profit, Atari commissioned programmer Howard Scott Warshaw to create a game based on the film within the laughable span of two months, something completely unheard of at the time. Based on one of the most popular motion pictures of all time***, "E.T.: The Extraterrestrial" was one of the most highly anticipated games for the Atari 2600 system, and one of the system's most publicly reviled disappointments. The concept of a movie-based game was unheard of at the time, with most video game hits being arcade units generally based around shooting space aliens or some sort of puzzle-based franchise (ala Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Q-Bert et al).
The game itself is nice to look at, and contains a charming title screen with the friendly ET looking back at you. The plot involves picking up phone parts and Reese's Pieces in order to build a phone that will allow ET to phone home. Simple enough, but the hellish layout results in players falling into hard-to-escape pits almost unavoidably. Players were shocked to find the existential dilemma of being an alien trapped in a trench with no way out as a repeating cycle within the game. The public backlash was swift, and supposedly a large back supply of copies of the game were buried in a landfill not far from a New Mexico atomic weapons testing site.
There were many incidents such as this in the 1980s, where large corporations underestimated the public's tastes and attempted to present mindless pablum to the usually accepting masses, only to face total rejection (see "New Coke"). In his favor, Howard Scott Warshaw himself was a bit of a genius who did the best he could with the deadline presented to him, and his Atari 2600 title "Yar's Revenge" is often cited as one of the best video games of all time. On meeting Spielberg, Warshaw informed him that he felt the director was an outer-space emmissary who was sent here to evoke good will from humanity about alien races, a notion that Spielberg found very amusing. Steven Spielberg's amazing drive and commitment to fantasy film was like a supernova explosion that changed entertainment, and (like Walt Disney and Ray Kroc before him) his accomplishments caused the competition to have to scramble in order to keep up with his pace. Like the emerging video games, the flashing lights and outer-space concepts brought many of the philosophies of the psychedelic generation into the homes of mainstream Americans. In the 1980s-1990s, the media would continue to be dominated by Steven Spielberg and his friends, and of course a multitude of imitators popped up in order to attempt to cash in to the zeitgeist of fantasy/sci-fi family entertainment.


"Now the end is near, and there's not much time to give to those who need a change of mind. The love they need will help us all to see. So let us give them love, and set them free" - from "Set Them Free" by the People's Temple Choir

Back to "M.A.C. And Me." So the NASA lander comes down and sucks up this little alien family into it, and when they get back to Earth these little potato/monkey-looking guys cause all kinds of havoc. We soon encounter the human family that we are to sympathize with in the film. The family unit in this one consists of two boys (one in a wheelchair) living with a very stressed-out single mother. We are treated in one scene to her having an emotional breakdown regarding the immense stress and unwillingness that she has about going in to her new job at SEARS. The appearance of the creatures themselves is an element of the film that causes a constant re-occurring horror- at times you will find yourself watching the screen in disbelief at what you are seeing and hearing. There is an inordinate amount of child actors screaming and yelling, acting much too excited for what is actually occurring in the film. The excessively poor characterization of the film causes the viewer to wonder if they are possibly watching something that is an intentional parody of the sort of "family movie" dreck that was prevalent at the time. The blank, unmoving and dead googley eyes of the aliens resemble strange tribal masks at times.
At one point M.A.C. "creepy crawls" the young family, bringing foliage (and a stuffed deer?) into the house, which the mother incomprehensibly initially blames on her wheelchair-bound son (as mentioned previously she is under a lot of work related stress). She really flips out on him! When the family eventually begins to interact with little M.A.C., he has an intense attraction/addiction to Coca-Cola. The alien beings in this film seem to represent some sort of manifestation of what corporations wish humans would become, just unthinking naked consumers.
Their "o" shaped mouths are perfectly designed to drink from a straw, and their lack of discernment and good-hearted nature insures a lack of rebellious tendencies. Although chased by the government agents in the film for security reasons, M.A.C. and his family represent ideal humans in some ways from a corporate perspective. There is also a scene where the kids see M.A.C. is almost dying, and they give the little guy vital Coca-Cola so that he can survive. The scene of the creatures whistling to each other across vast distances to the strains of Eno-esque ambient synthesizer music will pull at your proverbial heartstrings. That metaphor ties in with the human person being played like a piano, an apt metaphor for the goals of this sort of consumerist entertainment. Nevertheless, the movie does actually begin to work on a variety of levels once one gets into the rhythm of things. Once you are watching the little boy drive his wheelchair alongside his jogging mom to the strains of sappy 80s easy listening spliced in with a madcap scene of M.A.C. escaping neighborhood dogs by climbing up a tree (to the same soundtrack), the variety of opposing emotions evoked at once is enough to cause one's head to spin.
The little boy in the wheelchair has a next door neighbor that he hangs out with a lot, a little girl that likes to dress up like a Native American. There is a particularly laughable effect at one point where the boy's chair goes over a cliff, and the camera edit quickly shifts to the image of what is clearly a limp dummy in a wheelchair being pushed off of a cliff... M.A.C. saves the boy's life of course. Ok, so anyway, the little girl has a really cool older sister who works at McDonald's, who is often wearing her McDonald's uniform during the movie. The suspense is deadly, the whole time you are watching, you are thinking "When are we going to actually see McDonalds?"
The payoff is definitely worth the wait, however. The greatest part of the movie, its "stargate entrance" or "death star assault" scene if you will, is perhaps the most maligned scene of the picture. The dada-like cornerstone of the film is an extended birthday party that occurs at a McDonalds. In order to sneak him into a friends birthday party, the young boy puts MAC inside the skin of a teddy bear (which is oddly the size of a small child or possibly a very small adult actor). Although hidden under a teddy bear suit, M.A.C.'s appearance is still disturbing. The discomfort is alleviated by the children through the simple explanation that he is some sort of robot bear, which the adults and other bystanders inexplicably accept.
Once we are finally at McDonalds, a team of synchronized multi-ethnic breakdancers is cutting loose outside the restaurant to the hip hop sounds coming out of a large boombox. Kids are joining in on the fun and dancing along. Inside the building, Ronald McDonald (credited in the films credits as being played by "Himself") is there to entertain the children. Mid-tempo pop music starts to play over the intercom and everyone starts dancing and doing backflips and other synchronized moves. Even Ronald McDonald himself gets in on it, and by the time government agents show up they are unable to get through the kickline of Football players who are joining in on the fun.
My main complaint of the film would be that it is filled with time-consuming chase sequences, but then again this is essentially just another factor aped directly from "ET." A scene in a grocery store provides a rather poignant incident that exemplifies the message that the film attempts to get across. The alien family walks into a grocery store naked, greatly alarming the customers and employees within. The awkward gait and nudity is shocking to the sensibilities of the common people, and soon the police are called. A misunderstanding between M.A.C.'s father and a police man ends with the liver-spotted patriarch welding a firearm and causing a massive confrontation with local law enforcement. In an extremely manipulative and unlikely turn of events, police somehow cause an explosion that actually kills the main character, the little boy in the wheelchair. Like Jesus Christ (and "Starman") before him, M.A.C. actually raises the boy from the dead in front of the amazed onlookers (can't do anything about your legs though, I guess, sorry 'bout that). The movie ends with the aliens finally clothed (whew) and becoming naturalized citizens of the United States. As they drive onto the freeway, a word bubble appears on the screen from their car saying "We'll Be Back." If only we could be so lucky.


* As with E.T., M.A.C.'s name is of course an acronym, this time for "Mysterious Alien Creature."

** See the Mark David Chapman, Sirhan Sirhan, the guy who shot all the people in that theatre in Colorado, etc... A sudden violent act supposedly committed for some alleged and malleable motive, and then once you see the guy in court, boom, no memory of what happened or why, no emotion, just a lost shell with camera flashbulbs going off in their face... Like clockwork.

*** E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL/POLTERGEIST (1982 STEPHEN SPIELBERG/TOBE HOOPER)- E.T. The Extra-terrestrial serves as a cultural rite of indoctrination depicting a tiny man-like big-eyed creature wrought with life who shared with the world the magic of death and resurrection. As a young child I even had a small plush doll of the creature, whose early appearances in the film are accompanied by ominous atonal sounds. In some ways a sequel to "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind," E.T. began life as an alien invasion thriller that Spielberg was interested in making during the late 1970s. He attempted hiring veteran Texas horror director Tobe Hooper to helm the project, but Hooper was not keen on the idea of a sci-fi picture and instead wanted to investigate the concept of ghosts and the afterlife. Hooper had been using the old studio of Hollywood great Robert Wise and found a book that Wise used in his paranormal research (specifically for the film "The Haunting"), and contained very pertinent information regarding the subject of Poltergeist activity. It was on Hooper's insistence that the project transformed into what became a Spielberg production named after that very phenomena. Spielberg transferred his enthusiasm regarding the search for extraterrestrial life into a film that he was already developing, a more realistic drama about a young boy growing up in the 1970's. Some of the menace of the original concept was retained in the mood of parts of the final product, although the overall film has a clearly miraculous and fantastical message towards contact with beings from outer space. The "extra" terrestrial race that E.T. comes from come to the Earth to investigate vegetation, and seem to exist peacefully with local animal life. However, when E.T. is left behind on Earth by his brethren creatures as they flee from humans in trucks who show up to their exploratory mission, he must escape into suburbia for an uncertain fate.
The fact that E.T. so resembles assembly-line packaged meat always mystified me as a child. Steven Spielberg and several other filmmakers were once given a private screening by Stanley Kubrick of his "favorite film," which turned out to be the relatively recent (at the time) avant-garde nightmare "Eraserhead" by David Lynch. This film featured a tiny, dying puppet fetus that moaned and wheezed a tragic existence that in many ways proceeds the tear-jerking appearance and mannerisms of Spielberg's symbolic humanitarian puppet friend. The creature's wheezes and moans evoke a sympathy that comes from a combination of characteristics evocative of both the infantile and the elderly of the human species, along with decidedly non-human, sometimes simian or reptilian, characteristics. The young boy Eliot's detached fragility and sensitive nature are reflected in the creature, most especially in the ritualized death scene of the beloved creature that makes up much of the last third of the film, where he is seemingly killed by a team of doctors.


Throughout E.T.'s time, from the beginning of the film, there is an indication that he is ill and not going to survive on this planet. His return home becomes more and more important than the characters other concerns within their daily lives due to this. In many ways, the little meat man-puppet represents Eliot's own mortality and flesh and blood essence, perhaps even a connection between early aspects of puberty leading to an eventual awareness of mortality. The hospital scenes in particular (combined with a home invasion sequence highlighted by the frightening appearance of men in suits who seem to be government agents), suggest a nightmarish system of bureaucratic science and technology designed to kill what the space creature (referred to as a "man from outer space" and the "man from the moon") represents. This is perhaps the darkest aspect of the film, with the fear surrounding the creature at the beginning of the film simply being a fear of the unknown which gives way to a shared understanding and awareness. The fear evoked by the government agents suggests a sinister finality that lays outside of the film's mostly childish viewpoint.
More typical of the tone of the film is a scene where Eliot's mother reads to the young Gertie (played by Drew Barrymore, who is seemingly modeled visually after the youngest Brady Bunch daughter) while the creature observes from the vantage point of a curiously-designed closet that links together Gertie and Eliot's rooms. The story is of Peter Pan, the modern Green Man myth warning of the death of the child within. The portion of the story that E.T. hears relates specifically to a wrenching scene regarding the death of Pan's faithful friend Tinkerbell. The fairy is supposedly dependent upon the reader to clap and declare a belief in fairies in order to bring her back to life. This very scene is re-enacted by E.T. himself in the latter part of the film, where the creature is detained in a body bag and Eliot is allowed to tell him goodbye by one of the doctors (played by Peter Coyote). While declaring his love for E.T., the creature (now covered in a strange white dust resembling powdered sugar) miraculously comes back to life. It is coincidentally timed with an apparent call from E.T.'s "people" however, as his heart begins to glow and he indicates to Eliot that they may have succeeded in the creature's insistent quest to "phone home."


In contrast, the film Poltergeist shows not an urge to reconcile with the demons of suburbia, but instead offers only the bleak solution of futile escape. Opening with a montage of sequences cleverly designed to provoke the viewers ability for abstract thought, we see a distorted and extreme-close-up view of a television set as the closing patriotic montage and national anthem plays, giving way to static. In the days of broadcast television, before cable, there was a time (around 2am or so, around when most bars close) on all stations when no programs aired, simply a static signal or a station identification card appeared in some cases. The family dog, "E. Buzz," goes throughout the house from person to person, seemingly in an effort to wake up each member of the family (although he pilfers some potato chips from the older daughter, played by Dominique Dunne). The youngest child of the family, memorably portrayed by Heather O' Rourke, wakes up in a trance and eerily gravitates toward the static-y televisions set, famously declaring "They're here."


The question of the movie seems to be who exactly it is that is here, and although an answer is given in the form of a bunch of dead bodies literally buried underneath the house, this simple solution perhaps acts as a larger metaphor for living around the energies and efforts of those who came before us. From this eerie introductory scene, the film cuts to a bright vision of the American landscape. As the day begins in the suburbs, the camera grants us a beautiful panoramic view of the neighborhood, showing house after identical house lined up in a row. A man bikes down the street and children play with remote-controlled cars, disrupting the man's path. The many beers that he was carrying (he is on the way to the specific house that the story is centered around to watch a football game on television) spill out onto the ground, spraying wildly into the air as the remote-controlled cars zoom around them. As the balding and bearded man rushes in through the kitchen door, he disrupts a private moment between Dominique Dunne's character and a pickle, causing her to become very irate in one of the film's first instances of constant eating. He runs into the living room and begins to join in with his friends (including the patriarch of the house, whom we last saw sleeping in front of the TV in a reclining chair the previous night) as they shout wildly at the television screen. Beer continues to spray over all of the men. An alternate signal (of the children's program "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood") comes on the television, disrupting the football game that they were watching. This leads to a remote-control battle of satellite dishes between the male lead (played by Craig T. Nelson) and the head of the family next door. Amidst all of this air-wave frequency jamming (between the remote controlled car signals and the satellite manipulation, as well as the television's clearly powerful effect on the men's behavior, and the beer spraying through the air, and the television's strange hold over the younger daughter the previous night...), we begin to see a visual illustration of the idea of invisible energies, affecting the day to day existence in the lives of these characters.
Amidst all of this energy flying around, death is introduced. The family parakeet is found dead by the mother of the house as she replaces her son's sheets. The sheets are adorned with Stars Wars characters, references to which litter the room along with other real-life sci-fi and children's entertainment iconography. Significantly, this includes an extremely out of place (in a children's room) poster for the R rated film "Alien" as well as a prominently, awkwardly positioned skewed box of the board game CLUE, perhaps the placing of which indicates that many other 'clues' are hidden in the background. The mother attempts to flush the bird down the toilet and is interrupted by the younger daughter, who prompts them to hold a small funeral service for the bird. She insists that the bird (named "Tweety" after that hollow-eyed yellow beast from the Looney Tunes cartoons that adorns many a mudflap) does not like the smell of the box. She makes sure to put several items for the bird's comfort in the cigar box coffin, presumably for the next life, like the Pharoahs of ancient Egypt. Although the bird is clearly no longer alive, the small child does not accept that finality, perhaps because she has an inherent understanding that the spirit lives on, a reality that the latter portion of the film clearly adheres to.
A theme that strongly unifies both films is the notion that children have a deep understanding of the supernatural, as well an intuitive notion of sickness and death. In contrast to this, the adults are fearful and more literally-minded. In order to get his sister Gertie to not speak to anyone about seeing E.T. (referred to at times as a "goblin"), Eliot attempts to persuade her that only children can see the creature. This ties in with E.T.'s later Tinkerbell-like near-death sequence, where he is brought back to life by Eliot's love in a manner that seems to suggest that the love of a child has a magical healing power. After the creature's resurrection, he appears to the other children in a Christ-like manner, robed and with a prominent glowing "sacred heart." Men with shotguns wait to put E.T. to death as the children bike down the hill, yet the kids miraculously fly over the government agents thanks to the power of E.T. (and if you see the men holding walkie-talkies instead of long shotguns, you can gladly return your copy and try to find one of the original green-band VHS copies of this film where the movie wasn't digitally re-manipulated). Each of the two films unfolds quickly... strange and supernatural occurrences exist next to the ordinary and every day, and quickly the characters are pushed to act in ways they never would have expected to due to events beyond their control. In many ways, these two films created a blue-print for the "thrill-ride" style of blockbuster film, with an ensemble cast terrorized and mystified by an outside force that is eventually reconciled or overcome.


For the family of Poltergeist, there is no reconciliation except for an opportunity to escape. A team of landscapers/renovators begin to dig up much of the back yard and leer lecherously inside. In a scene symbolic of violation from outside and a tainting of the shared pool of energy, one of the workers reaches inside the kitchen eats directly from a pot of pasta sauce, putting his tongue and mouth directly onto the spoon, and then putting it right back into the pot. Eating and consumption becomes a major theme, with family members and neighbors constantly stuffing things into their mouths throughout the film. In many ways the family is being fed off of by the entities that plague them, causing fear and manipulating them for their own unknown purposes. A goldfish is purchased for the younger daughter shortly before the family themselves become like fish in a tank themselves, first for the amusement of the workers during the daytime, and later at night by the ghosts that plague them. In one later scene, the mother of the house is dragged around her bedroom in a violent manner that suggests rape by an overpowering invisible entity, as the children threaten to be dragged into a passageway to the netherworld in the next room. Sexuality is obliquely referenced in some visuals, slyly (almost subliminally) suggesting an undercurrent of restless energy throughout the house. There is a literal explanation of the nature of the hauntings given towards the end of the film, that the ghosts are those of a cemetery that the entire neighborhood was built on. Symbolically however, it suggests the nature of ghosts as the energy of the dead, floating amidst us and harnessed by some specific entities that exist right outside of our plane of existence. In this way, the world-view of the film is reflected somewhat in "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" and the connecting series. In a scene that returns to the kitchen, the mother of the family plays with the spirits for her own amusement, placing chairs and even her daughter in a circle on the ground to watch them move across the room with the joy of teenage girls playing with an ouiji board. Her toying with the spirits is shown to be dangerous however, when they take away her daughter during the middle section of the film, keeping her somehow physically between the land of the dead and our plane of existence.


The emotional cues of the films from the music are different in their effect, but both were selected by Spielberg. John Williams brings a high-end string-heavy sentimentality to the majority of E.T. that constantly insists that the view feel what the cue is suggesting. Jerry Goldsmith's score for Poltergeist is much more subtle, especially at the beginning with the pleasant lullaby-like suburban theme that accompanies earlier scenes. Both movies do an excellent job of trying to depict to the audience the concept of psychic linking and telepathy, in an intuitive and easy to understand visual method of storytelling. Unlike E.T., Poltergeist is told strictly from the perspective of those dealing with the supernatural on this end, rather than giving the viewer a dual perspective or giving merit to communication with the beyond. The ghosts and the supernatural energy are depicted in a grand light show (similar in effect to the finale of "Close Encounters") that obfuscates the initial realism presented in the comparatively subtle opening sections of the film. Much like E.T., although many incredible sequences abound, the middle and end of both films get built up to a point of hysterical screaming and stylized special effects, with many of the subtle aspects glossed over in favor of bludgeoning the viewer with emotionally-wrenching content (the supernatural abduction of the daughter in Poltergeist, the death of the E.T. creature). In the middle section of Poltergeist, the mother and daughter are "born again" out of a light, covered in afterbirth, after following the instructions of an old lady who makes her take a vow to do whatever she says, even if it goes against her beliefs "as a Christian." This seems to be the main effort of both of these 1982 productions, to get a largely Christian and even puritanical set of American audiences to accept these ideas that are alien and even directly opposed to their own. The end result of the consumption is shown to be humans fate to become rotting meat (both in a gruesome sequence in which a sandwich and chicken leg become infested with maggots and begin to spew gore, as well as the physical appearance of multitudes of dead bodies rising from the Earth at the end of the film). There were rumors that Poltergeist used actual dead bodies on set, and in fact Tobe Hooper did in fact use dead bodies for the set dressing of Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II (the human corpses were acquired from India). In many ways, this fear represented in Poltergeist is overcome by the other film, in the humanitarian embrace of a child-like alien being who resembles sausages and ham.
In this way the heavy influence of Disney is apparent in these two films, both of which have a strong effort to get "regular" moralistic Americans to identify with the people depicted in the film, as well as capturing the enthusiasm regarding concepts such as alien visitation and supernatural co-habitation. After the enormous success of both films, Spielberg contemplated making a horror-themed sequel to "E.T. The Extraterrestrial" in which a race similar to the E.T. creature comes to the Earth with carnivorous intent. Although it was never made, it shows that the horrific and ominous nature of the creature's visit to Earth was never completely out of the director's mind while making the original landmark film. Both "E.T. The Extra-terrestrial" as well as "Poltergeist" are filled with rich visual storytelling that yield an infinite set of interpretations for years to come. Both films were also widely seen by children, and did much to supplant in the minds of viewers notions of contact with the things outside of our ordinary life. In keeping alive the dreams and nightmares of children, fantasy can be used to grapple with harsh realities as well as the joys of life, and both films bring together avant-garde conceptualization with a post-modern flair that creates a hyper-realization of the fantastic and the "innocent", putting the vast audiences exposed to these films from a young age into a personalized belief in magic and the extraordinary.

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"Go into the light." - dialogue from Poltergeist

AQUAMARINE - Wow, this one is really good. Probably the most realistic mermaid movie that I have ever seen besides "Mermaid In A Manhole". Starring Emma Roberts and pop star "Jojo" as two best friends going through a crisis, the movie is a delightful coming of age tale. A mermaid (the beautiful Sara Paxton) manifests in their reality after the girls ritualistically ask the Gods for assistance during a sleepover (resulting in a violent windstorm). Paxton's mermaid character ominously materializes in a nearby swimming pool, arriving to both deepen their friendship and to act out the rising sexual and romantic desires that they have for a local lifegaurd. Sara Paxton's performance as a mermaid trying to fit in to human society is impressive, and the film is made with great care and creativity (despite some questionable musical choices placed throughout). One cool thing about this movie is that the director and almost the entire crew are all women, a rare situation in the major studio pictures such as this one. Overall, the sentiment is sweet and fluffy. Cute movie.

LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET - Roger Watkins produced, wrote, directed, organized the soundtrack to, and starred in this bizarre proto-slasher, psychosexual masterpiece that was filmed in the early 1970's and edited in the later part of that decade (before Watkins embarked upon an infamous career in pornography under various pseudonyms). Watkins intended for this film to be a three hour story, told in consecutive order with no flashbacks, of a man who makes dirty films taking revenge on business associates who betrayed him after a stint in jail. The severely edited and surreally dubbed result places many scenes in new order, and includes sections from the gory grand guignol finale edited teasingly into the opening minutes of the film. The result (which was dubbed for audio in the studio of Francis Ford Coppola by Watkins after the film itself was severely edited by his distributors) is a hypnotizing and ritualistic pean to chaos, murder, and revenge. Watkins portrays a Satan-like film director who is fueled by speed, a drive for sex, and a bizarre appetite for non-sequitir sadism inflicted upon all those who encounter him in the film. LHODES includes unflinching scenes of old-school gore, including a surgery table scene that resembles early Hermann Nitsch exhibitions of the time, and a scene with a woman in blackface being whipped by a hunchback. An authentically deranged document.

EXORCIST 3 - After turns from William Friedkin and John Boorman, original scriptwriter William Peter Blatty returned to the director's chair (after his auteurial debut with "The Ninth Configuration") for a sequel that both expanded the original universe of and breathed new life into the franchise (which has continued to flourish with sequels and knock-offs into the current 2000 era). Starting out as an adaptation of his novel "Legion," Blatty's original vision was compromised by a studio that demanded a supernatural ending with an actual exorcism, resulting in the inclusion of a priest character not in the novel or the original draft of the screenplay. The result of this tinkering was an explosive special-effects laden finale that was adverse to the starkly realistic and morose tone of the rest of the film. The film is an extremely depressive exploration of evil, in which a serial killer aided by demonic forces just outside of human reality works to taunt and confuse a police detective (played by George C. Scott). The murders are not generally depicted graphically onscreen, but instead are described through dialogue in a manner that is incredibly unsettling. The description of the deaths, and the way that the bodies are handled by the murderer, cuts to the root of the basic fear of mortality. Blatty depicts a villian who lives outside of the rules of morality and uses random people's bodies as a canvas with which to prove the unjust nature of life on our planet to us feeble peons. In many ways, the all-powerful killer, as well as the depiction of supernatural forces guiding the world of serial murder, mirrors similar themes in Twin Peaks and Silence Of The Lambs, which were both from the same year. The result is one of the most surreal and horrifying horror films ever made, a truly unsettling and authentic film despite the forced and incongruous ending. Witness the bizarre chatty banter of the first section of the film, followed by the abrupt change in mood after the third murder in the film to see an expertly arranged study in psychological discomfort. This film would become a favorite of serial murderer Jeffery Dahmer, who would, according to one attempted victim, begin to chant demonic incantations out loud while watching it. Interestingly, the yellow contacts worn during the exorcism finale (along with those worn by the actor who plays the Emperor in "Return Of The Jedi") influenced Dahmer to wear a similar pair of colored contact lenses out in public when he was cruising for potential victims in bars. A stark and chilling authentic depiction of evil looking at mankind... worth a look for fans of authentic scares.

LIFEFORCE - Powerful and well-made (but little-seen) science fiction epic wrangled and squeezed from Colin Wilson's epic novel "The Space Vampires," adapted by Tobe Hooper and Dan O'Bannon. Mathilda May sets the screen on fire with her completely nude appeance throughout the duration of the film. The movie avoids much of the sub-plots and complex histories of the novel and focuses instead on a melodramatic, awesomely and comically overrwrought romance between an astronaut played by Steve Railsback and May's character. Mathilda May plays a space alien who's true appearance is that of a frightening gargoyle-like creature, but it takes on the appearance of a naked and beautiful human in order to seduce the astronaut. In one form, she has a lovers argument with Railsback from inside the body of Star Trek: The Next Generation's Patrick Stewart! That's right, this movie has a scene with Patrick Stewart and Steve Railsback making out while crazy "Poltergeist"-like special effects send objects flying around the room. The world-eating succubus follows her astronaut lover back to Earth, which basically results in a psychic invasion of nymphomaniacal interdimensional vampires that multiply and reproduce across the planet like a cancer. Railsback, a true romantic, leaves his home planet behind the the pursuit of intergalactic love while Earth is overrun. Very likely, this is some sort of a masterpiece.

LOST HIGHWAY - Confusing post-Twin Peaks noir effort from the notoriously obtuse surreal American filmmaker David Lynch. Inspired by the O.J. Simpson trial (and Simpson's claims of innocence), the first section of the film imagines a scenario where a man seems to be framed for murder (apparently by a conspiratorial cabal of porn filmmakers similar to those depicted in Dan Clowes graphic novel "Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron"). After going to jail, he wakes up in his cell after a particularly painful and blurry night as a completely different actor and character (one who is much younger and not guilty of murder). The young man strikes up an affair with the girlfriend of a mafioso-like individual, and this woman looks exactly like the murdered wife from the first part of the film. The younger man is similarly haunted/trailed by these demonic forces, and in the end it all fades away into the darkness and headlights speeding across an uncertain highway. Although Lynch has stated that the film depicts a criminal mind going into a fugue state, it also has echoes of the concepts of samsara and reincarnation from the Buddhist and Hindu philosophies. A haunting and mysterious film that maddeningly contradicts itself and actually becomes more confusing as one pays attention to the details. Keep the eyes peeled for an ultra creepy appearance from actor Robert Blake, who designed his own make-up for the role.


JURASSIC PARK - Overblown dollar-muncher composed of only the most visually impressive, audience baiting action scenes yanked from an intricate and heavily researched work of science fiction by Michael Chrichton. Not that director Steven Spielberg skimped on any aspect besides plot, because Jurassic Park for the early nineties was visually and culturally as stunning and popular as the original "King Kong" was for its time. Still, much of the gore and psychological intrigue of the novel (as well as many potential set pieces) were abandoned in favor of extending a few FX scenes that were simply pumped up with orchestral music (and padded out by scenes of more special effects). Rather than attempting to tell a story, the film instead focuses almost whole-heartedly on providing an amusement park experience paralleling that depicted onscreen. Still, the atmosphere is well maintained, and great care and detail is put into the the appearance and behavior of the dinosaurs, and Laura Dern is terrific in her role as a terrorized doctor. Lots of stuff goes by really fast, but it is all very exciting. "Fast food" filmmaking, but the joke is on the audience because in this film the people are the food. In that way it's kind of like the real "Jaws 2." I was disappointed as a kid when I saw this one (I was about 10 years old at the time), because my favorite aspect of the book was the pterodactyl house, which is shorn from the film.

MARTIN - Morose, downbeat George Romero vampire flick with a starkly realistic take on the genre. Harsh, cold industrial working-class atmosphere, filmed in real apartments and businesses on a shoestring budget. Definitely unlike any other vampire movie made before or since. Martin is just a guy who thinks he's hundreds of years old and craves the blood of young women, whom he appeals to the sympathies of and victimizes when they least expect it. Truly depressing and unexpected, that will have you thinking long after the credits are done rolling, largely due to a touching performance from John Amplas.

SPIDER BABY - First movie from Jack Hill, exploitation guru behind several of the Roger Corman-produced women in prison jungle movies as well as the Pam Grier vehicles "Coffy" and "Foxy Brown." Very different in mood from any of his other pictures, seemingly inspired by the Addams Family. Two beautiful girls live in a decrepit mansion with their deranged brother brother and some sort of older caretaker played by Boris Karloff. He has his hands full due to the younger generations proclivity towards random acts of murder. Guests arrive, which leads to a culture shock between the freaks and the norms, and there are some knifings and so forth. The actress who plays the titular "Spider Baby" is captivating in her role as a deranged, overgrown child with a penchant for murder. She apparently had an intense relationship with Marlon Brando until her early demise. A fun picture with a great atmosphere, featuring a rare appearance by Mantan Moreland. Watch out kids, it's in black and white.

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE - First Dario Argento movie, and the solidification of many of the giallo conventions (black gloves, razors, beautiful and sometimes deadly women). Dario Agento grew up the child of a fashion photographer, and says that from a very young age he understood how to properly capture a beautiful woman on camera. In this film, the murderer follows his victims and photographs them from afar, and as in all Argento films he uses his own hands for the killer's hands during the murder scenes, acting out the part of the murderer himself. The beginning of a long-running experimentation with a fetishistic analysis of beauty and mortality that has continued throughout Argento's career. The main actor guy in this one kind of annoys me a little bit (he's supposed to be a writer, but he really just seems like an actor or possible a male model), but everything else is really great, especially the music by Ennio Morricone. If you are interested in the giallo genre in any capacity whatsoever, some awareness of the movie is crucial. Not necessarily the best or craziest giallo, but one of my favorites and extremely historically important for its impact.

THE ELEPHANT MAN - Wrenching paen to human sympathy adapted from a scientific analysis of the case of John Merrick, a man born during the industrial revolution who was afflicted with various ailments. These ailments caused him to have a distorted physical appearance that was disturbing to society. Powerful, lyrical filmmaking gives the story a surreal air that makes the lessons learned by Merrick and experiences endured by him relateable to everyday human concerns and fears. Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt act their asses off showing what its like to be in the 1800s, and David Lynch reins in his "Eraserhead" horrors for a story aimed at a wider audience. I can remember making my parents rent this for me a bunch of times when I was about six years old, along with "The Man With Two Brains" (starring Steve Martin and Kathleen Turner), which I was also totally obsessed with. A powerful film to this day, with similarities in tone to Lynch's forgotten G-rated Disney picture "The Straight Story."


PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES - John Hughes made a really weird one this time. Ostensibly a "buddy comedy" starring Steve Martin and John Candy, this one is actually an odd parable about extending kindness and not judging others for their shortcomings... trying to appreciate people for what they have to offer. The title of the film, as well as the themes of transportation and vessels that we take to get where we are going, suggests an existential, Bhuddist-like philosophy regarding our earthly existence and the trials and tribulations that our soul jourmeys through. This was Hughes first attempt at an "adult" comedy after a famous series of teen-oriented fare (such as "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "The Breakfast Club"). At the time of this particular film, both leading men were at an early stage of their career and ready to be leading men. Significant small roles are filled out by Dylan Baker (the pedophilic psychiatrist from Todd Solondz' "Happiness") and "Bueller" teacher Ben Stein, among others. Steve Martin's character runs the gamut of emotions, with both men end up having a genuine and warm connection by the end of the film. An enjoyable film that represents the end of a peak in Hughes career of hugely successful and influential motion pictures that would change the expectations people could have about comedy films, influencing recent comedy dramas such as "The Beaver" and "World's Greatest Dad."

ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS AKA ZOMBI 2 AKA ZOMBIE - An emblematic film from Lucio Fulci. Not one to turn down an opportunity for exploitation, the success of George Romero's "Dawn Of The Dead" (also called "Zombi" in Italy and reviewed below) caused Fulci to try his hand at a movie about the living dead. In his home land, the film was called "Zombi 2" in a weak attempt to convince the audience that it was in fact a sequel to Romero's completely unrelated film. This film is filled with many original touches that have made it the cult classic that it is now considered to be. Much care and attention is paid to the decay and rot in the faces and bodies of the living dead entities. Their genuine appearance is rather unique at this point in horror filmmaking, and certainly influential on others to come. On top of all this Fulci piles on memorable scenes, such as an infamous eye-gouging sequence and a long underwater battle between a zombie and a shark. You haven't lived until you have seen a zombie chase after a half-naked woman underwater, only to have to battle it out to the death with a shark. If you want to know who wins, you will have to watch the movie! Coming off of the beautiful, subtle noir of "The Psychic" starring Jennifer O' Neil, Fulci was bold and at the top of his form with this compelling and atmospheric gorefest. Great score and theme by Fabio Frizzi also, this is one of Lucio Fulci's most solid and consistent films. Stars Tisa Farrow, sister of "Rosemary's Baby" star Mia.

THE BEYOND - Lucio Fulci went completely over the top for this Louisiana-shot epic of interdimensional gore and exploding heads. Featuring a lot of spooky ghost scenes that seem to have influenced modern J-horror, and even some stuff like M. Night Shyamalan. Lots of gore and nonsensical things, mostly regarding zombies rising up because of some Necronomicon kind of business going on. Very creepy classic Italo-score from Fabio Frizzi that loops through the film and will stay in your head for days after viewing it. Complete and utter nonsense, but somewhat of a masterpiece of its style, combining the haunted house story, supernatural thriller, zombie movie, and hardcore gore picture into an expressionistic and confounding brew. Fulci at this point in his career was embracing chaos for the creation of a kind of "ultimate film," horror and some sort of comedy, the sadness of the world, the excitement of facing death all at once. If you need to fill your quota of exploding heads and melting people, pick this one up.

BAMBI - An odd sleeper from the Walt Disney company adapted from the work of a German boudoir photographer. Completely animated in beautiful full color, and including all of the butt-fixation and hypnotic, mind-control influenced use of colors that one associates with the early years of the Disney studio. A deeply pagan devotion to nature, and a disdain for man is represented in the storytelling of this tale of a "young prince" born in the meadow. Beautifully drawn and voiced tale of life deep in the wilderness, for those who can tolerate such sacchrine and romanticized a view of nature.

WALPURGISNACHT - Also known as "Werewolf Vs. Vampire Woman." Starring the recently deceased Paul Naschy in his role as the werewolf, a role he was closely associated with in life. This film seems a little bit like a much lower eschelon version of a Hammer Picture. Scenes of the titular Vampire Woman are quite satisfying, and the film is not adverse to depicting murders with plenty of thick syrupy blood. Good performance by Naschy and great sets + highly atmospheric scenes of surrealistic violence inflicted upon the innocent in Gothic castles. In beautiful full color (where available)!


NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART III: THE DREAM WARRIORS - This is the true sequel to Wes Craven's imaginative horror epic "Nightmare On Elm Street." One of the few projects of his where Craven really stretches his intellectual prowess and explores the possibilities of the horror genre. Heather Langenkamp, star of the first picture, reprises her role from part one as a former Elm Street resident, coming back to help the next generation haunted by the burned man who stalks them in their nightmares. The original version of the script is very different from the final product, originally coming off much more positive toward psychiatry, ala John Carpenter's recent "The Ward." The script that the final film is based on was reworked by several studio-hired writers, including Frank Darabount (who would go on to direct an excellent adaptation of "The Mist" and other notable Stephen King book-to-film translations). This picture was designed to be a blockbuster smash hit and readily achieved this status, but at the heart of the movie lies the psychosexual battle of adolescence amidst the mystery of dreams. Freddy really steals the show this time, chatting it up with bawdy one liners that were even more sexually overt in Craven's original screenplay. His boogeyman persona from the first film is adapted into a more sarcastic and comedic form of Satanic torment. Pumping up the teen movie aspect of the first film with an expanded cast of characters beyond Nancy (including parts played by Patricia Arquette and the beautiful Jennifer Rubin), NOESP3:TDM really expands the Elm Street universe to include all manner of disenfranchised youth. Jennifer Rubin's scenes as Taryn are especially powerful thanks to her vulnerable and realistic performance as a drug-using teen haunted by the nightmare monger Freddy. Patricia Arquette emits screams in this film that absolutely pierce the veil of sanity, must be heard to be believed. Overall a surprisingly sympathetic and haunting horror sequel with plenty of surreal death scenes doled out by expert scenery muncher Robert Englund, reprising his famous fire-damaged face of evil. Wes Craven knowingly manipulates his study of psychological trauma to create a character that continues to shock and amaze. A good example of how a horror sequel and expand the universe and themes of the original in a fairly tasteful way. Freddy seems to exist here as the evil aspects of Christianity (fear of Hell, fear of sexuality, self-abuse in the name of guilt etc) combined into one guy who sees when you've been sleeping, he knows when you're awake... Spooky!

JUNO - In this Steven Spielberg-produced sequel to his smash hit "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial," a pregnant teenager arrives from outer space to teach the world around her about the values of her home planet. She takes a hilarious visit to an abortion clinic, and ultimately decides to give her baby to these really weird people who are a couple composed of a former slacker guy and a total Stepford Wife type of lady who is completely frightening. When I think of this movie I get thirsty for Sunny Delite, which Juno walks around drinking during the opening. Excellent dialogue by the great Diablo Cody. I also love when Juno throws up in the umbrella holder. It's a real tour de force with a lot of great snappy banter. On repeat viewings, I want to fast-forward through all the parts about that weird grunge/yuppie duo.

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH - John Carpenter was the producer on this one, and it seems that he and Debra Hill (co-writer and producer of the original blockbuster slasher film "Halloween") wanted to bring the "Halloween" franchise into the direction of being a continuing horror anthology series about different stories set around Halloween. Although this was a very promising idea and could have yielded interesting results, the audiences were displeased with a sequel that had nothing to do with the popular Michael Myers character, the unstoppable juggernaut of death from Haddonfield that the first two films dealt with. As a result the series has continued to have a multitude of sequels (none of which have anything to do with Carpenter or Hill for the most part) regurgitating the original concept of the killing machine Michael Myers over and over again. With the strange druidic references in the second "Halloween," this works as somewhat of a capper for a trilogy of mask-related Samhain horror from Carpenter and Hill, that far surpasses the multitudes of slashers that followed in the wake of the initial Halloween film. This one deals with an evil Irish man who uses Halloween masks to control children and cause worldwide havoc in the name of ancient Samhain rituals. Preposterous, fun stuff based somewhat in fact and allegory that will greatly entertain fans of Carpenter's social critiques of the 80's such as "They Live" or "Prince Of Darkness." Excellent ambient score by Carpenter himself as well that will keep you on the edge of your set. If you ever found yourself wondering if he made any others like those ones, you will get a kick out of this one, which bears an excellent original score by the man himself. A classic. Director Tommy Lee Wallace went on to direct the TV version of Stephen King's "It."

INFERNO - I wonder: does Dario Argento have issue with cats? First there is the artist who eats felines in "The Bird With Crystal Plumage," and here in this one we have a scene where a character is assaulted by cats who are thrown at them from offscreen. Of all of Argento's films, this one probably makes the least sense and is the most consistently visually stunning. Much like "Vampyros Lesbos," this is one that I do not fully understand the plot even though I have watched it many times. There is an incredible underwater sequence in this one that is one of the best underwater sequences that I have seen on film up until the recent indie thriller "Turistas" (which gets quite bogged down with such well-made sequences toward the end). If you remember the evil dance academy run by witches from the initial part of this Mothers Of Darkness trilogy, this one is the second part which focuses on an evil college (maybe?). I will have to watch this one again. I look forward to understanding it one day. Apparently Argento faced a lot of meddling from the major studio Fox who were involved with the picture, and was not used to such interference from the studio as it the norm in Hollywood. A weird but beautiful movie.

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON - This movie is the reason why Michael Jackson chose Jonathan Landis (director of "Animal House") to film his music video for "Thriller." Landis was dumbfounded that Jackson had not been familiar with any of his work besides this oddly upbeat violent psychosexual werewolf thriller. The transformation sequences are harrowing, and if nothing else the tortured, sexual aspect of the wolfman archetype is explored fully in this movie in a way that few others have attempted. A pounding old-time rock and r+b soundtrack gives a frat-house air to the film, which is typified by extremely realistic gore effects mixed in with more fantastical and comedic dream/hallucination sequences. Overall the feeling of the film is extremely surreal, dark, and highly effective, easily one of the best pictures to explore the werewolf genre. The dream sequence where nazi werewolf commanders destroy an idyllic suburban evening will freak you out just when you least expect it!


MEAN GIRLS - Held off on this one for a few years because I didn't understand how a well-written non-fiction self-help book for girls could be turned into a funny teen romantic comedy, but Tina Fey and the director did a pretty good job here. In order to present her as a blank slate in regards to high-school dynamics, Lindsay Lohan's character has the pretense of being raised in the African jungle. With this as the setup, Tina Fey explores the concepts of the book that this was based on (written by the founder of "The Empower Program"). For fans of movies like "Clueless" and "Heathers," this one is a nicely made socially conscious girl-oriented comedy with some light thriller themes.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1972) - The first time I ever watched this movie it was at a house party when I was a teenager. The party-goers erupted with howling laughter during the scene when the brother in the wheelchair falls down a hill while attempting to urinate in a bucket. I was shocked at my friends' reactions at the time, but on repeated viewings I wonder if it is intended for a big laugh. Simply some kind of "down home" Texas humor about handicapped people interjected into the beginning of the movie I suppose. Small band of teenagers stumbles upon the exact wrong family of weirdos and becomes (for the most part) future fodder for their special brand of cuisine. The first in a popular, often imitated (see Wes Craven's original "The Hills Have Eyes" for instance) style of horror picture that proved to be very successful for Tobe Hooper. The subtle mix of comedy and horror is lost at times to the nightmarish tone and mood of the film, although the evidence for comedic intention is there. Overall the muddy lighting and low budget set decoration comes together to create an atmosphere that brings out the most disturbing aspects of the script, putting the audience in a living nightmare for an hour and a half and providing no respite from the insanity. A powerful satire shot with the feel of a documentary film, creating a modern myth that resonates to this day as a depiction of true horror in the world that we live in.

THE BLACK CAT - This one by Lucio Fulci is pretty interesting, and has a great scene with Daniela Doria. Daniela Doria appears in several of Fulci's films, perhaps most notably in New York Ripper (she plays the prostitute whose eyeball and nipple are slashed by the titular "Ripper") and City Of The Living Dead (where she literally vomits up her own guts under the control of an evil wizard). In this one, she is completely naked before her death (see also "New York Ripper") and her painful demise is administered by Fulci in the form of some kind of foaming at the mouth/rabies situation. Doria appeared in only a few other movies besides these Fulci ones, most of them silly romantic/sexual comedies from around the same area of time. Fulci once remarked of Doria that she was exceptionally beautiful, and that he had killed her many times. A weird movie with an aggressive performance from Patrick Macgee (the writer guy in "A Clockwork Orange" who takes revenge on Alex by making him listen to Beethoven).

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS - Career-defining performances from Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in this one, and a powerful 90s font and overall tone permeates the film. This one has aged quite well in comparison to its various sequels and prequels. The structure and colors of the film seem to have done a lot to inspire the look and feel of many police/crime dramas that are on television to this day (lots of the color blue and stark office lighting etc in the police dept, dark and muddy most other crime-ridden places on earth). However, the cases in this film are highly stylized and do not represent a completely realistic portrayal of forensic research, much less any realistic depictions of evil. The character of Hannibal Lecter in particular is unrealistic as an actual individual, but still serves as a powerful metaphor for particular forces of academia and accomplishment in our own world, judging the rest of us from behind the screen of officiality. The choice of the Shakesperian actor Anthony Hopkins for the role was certainly an inspired one, and it is the role that more than any other he will continue to be associated with by the public at large. Gotta give props to Buffalo Bill, and he's got some memorable dialogue ("It puts the lotion on it's skin"). The scene where he dances in front of the mirror while listening to atmospheric post-punk and hiding his genitals will have you reaching for the light switch.

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES - Despite the huge popularity of these films in the sci-fi community, I have never been a fan of this series. The idea of actors and actresses with rubbery, ape-human hybrid makeup over their face has always been a conceptual conceit that I have been unwilling to get on board with. My grandfather apparently loved the original novels, which got me a little curious about the series. Once I had read that this movie was not about ape people, but instead about an uprising of super-intelligent CGI-generated apes, my curiousity was piqued. I have to say that, although somewhat flawed, I really loved this movie, which has a strong theme of animal liberation and the struggle for education and freedom among humans. In particular, the final sequence, where a battalion of various escaped monkeys battle the San Francisco police in a standoff on the Golden Gate bridge, will take your breath away with inventive and powerful movie making. Really amazing use of CGI for the apes in this one, I highly recommend seeing it in the theatre if possible. Incredible attention to detail is paid in the stunningly realistic movement and body language of the CGI characters. I am not a fan of CGI in general but the idea of using it to bring apes to life in story of evolutionary struggle is a brilliant idea. "Xavier: Renegade Angel" fans take note. A pretty good movie, I liked it a lot.


DAY OF THE DEAD - The subplot of "Avatar" involving the Sigourney Weaver science-lady character at odds with the military people seems lifted directly from the main plot of this film. In "Day Of The Dead," scientists and military people deep below the Earth struggle against madness while surrounded on all sides by flesh eating zombies. Opens with some really nice scenes of the post zombie apocalypse downtown city shots, and towards the end this one has some really intense scenes of gore. A little more cerebral and talky than the other Romero zombie pictures, the majority of this one is centered around the scientists attempt to train or communicate with the zombies, and the military peoples incredulity to the validity of the experiments. The breakdown of civilization is represented in the inability for the military and scientific minds to come together. The main military guy gives an over-the-top performance, yelling roughly fifty percent of all of his lines in an outraged New York dialect. Perhaps inspired by Fulci's "unofficial sequel" that was released in the meantime, the gore and zombie effects are even more advanced from the gruesome "Dawn Of The Dead." This movie has a lot of heart though also, and takes time to vocalize in dialogue a lot of the social issues brought up in the previous film. This should have been the capper to the series, as the many remakes and sequels that have emerged in recent years have proven to be disappointing compared to these moody films from the golden era of gore horror. This one has a lot to say about education and civilization.

ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING - Opening segment with Elizabeth Shue dancing around her room while lip-synching and dancing in her bed clothes is stunning, and the actress who portrays the younger sister of the family is manic and compelling. A preposterous "plot" involving rich parents throwing a party in a skyscraper, an underground network of multiracial car thieves who control all crime in New York, and various other insanely assembled stereotypes vie for viewer attention as the plucky, intrepid youths are placed in various life-threatening situations (including a fraternity party). Ultimately they are saved by a generous rich man who just gives them the money that they need to get back home out of the goodness of his rich heart. Not sure what the message is with this one, but in general it is a fun romp despite the complete nonsense that the viewer is forced to endure. As insulting to the intelligence as it is cute and charming, a poor man's attempt at some kind of John Hughes family picture/teen movie/adventure crossover that continues to amuse viewers to this day. Look for Vincent D'Onofrio, fresh out of Full Metal Jacket boot camp, in his appearance as an auto mechanic that is mistaken for Thor by the little girl, an overzealous comic book fan. Some preposterous scenarios here, but this one is still good for a few yuks after all these years.

THE PSYCHIC - Although it was directed by Lucio Fulci, one of the few hints to the viewer is a sole scene of gore with a woman's face being peeled off by the rocky side of a cliff, as well as a tone of casual misogyny directed toward the main protagonist. In Fulci's movies, men are often presented at their very worst, and women at their most tragic states. The incomparable Jennifer O' Neill (Scanners) stars in this restrained and tense stylish giallo-esque thriller. The use of color and subtle techniques of visual storytelling that are employed are very opposite from the style that Fulci would soon embrace, of pure horror and over-the-top gore. A tense and visually beautiful movie that explores the concepts of time and extrasensory perception, filled with a subtle array of details that tell a complex story. Hard to find compared to some of Fulci's other pictures that came right afterward, but definitely worth seeking out if you can deal with a non-gore late-70s Fulci movie.

TENEBRE - After delving into the supernatural with Daria Nicolodi in "Suspiria" and "Inferno," Argento returns to the silver screen to put his once-favorite muse in the middle of another series of beautifully filmed deaths. This time around, we leave behind the witchcraft of the previous two films and return to the genre for which Argento is best known, the Giallo-style thriller. A black-gloved killer is disposing of beautiful women, this time in Manhattan instead of Rome. The Goblin soundtrack this time around is in an Italo-Disco style that the group's leader had recently begun to work in, having several hits independent of film work in this style. The style is creepy and upbeat, still rather catchy- the same could be said about the film. Some amazingly orchestrated sequences of gore, including an impressive and unforgettable climax where modern art once again becomes a murder weapon under Dario's precise direction. Witness the climax of "Bird With The Crystal Plumage" also, where the killer is crushed under some hideous expressionist statue at the end. Like many of Dario Argento's movies, Tenebre at times makes practically no logical sense and is completely beautiful to behold. Nice long shot in the middle that completely wraps around the architecture of a building that some of the female victims are in provides a truly original sequence in this extremely well made motion picture.

DAWN OF THE DEAD - The original, of course, directed by George Romero and starring Ken Foree etc is always the best. I was always a big fan of the first "Night Of The Living Dead," which I had rented from the public library when I was around seven or eight years old. I was shocked to see scenes of (dead) people eating intestines and limbs onscreen, even in the stark black and white it was a real shock, and not quite what I had expected from the film, much less was I ready for the bleak finale. Those guts-munching scenes really blew my mind, but it still could not prepare me for the full-on gore of the sequel, "Dawn Of The Dead," which I saw maybe four or five years later. Now into the full-color era, the zombies were a little different this time in that they are painted blue in order to distinguish them from the humans. The dead have risen from their graves and are multiplying exponentially, and this movie documents the attempts for survival of a small group of people who escaped from Philedelphia amidst zombie chaos. Although it gets long in the middle, this survival epic takes what worked about the first film and amplifies it a million-fold, placing the viewer into a fascinating and well fleshed-out video game-like environment of dystopian zombie chaos and mall exploration. The gore is ramped up and the full color palatte of human intestines (plus plenty of bright red gore) is explored. In addition to plenty of classic guts munching type of scenes, this movie also includes shot after shot of the classic paradigm of seeing the living dead getting blown to smithereens. Alongside "Martin," this is easily one of Romero's most influential and artistically successful films, depicting a world falling apart that is not so different from our own. Romero keeps the mood of the film somewhere between a action/survival thriller, socially satirical black comedy, and stark guts-churning horror that continues to influence the action and horror genres to this day. Keep an eye out for a brilliant scene involving local hunters and gun enthusiasts having a tailgate party, cracking some brews while taking out zombies in the rural outlying areas of town. A masterpiece of full-force filmmaking that has stood the test of time... Even after many attempts to one-up the stakes that this one raised the zombie genre to, the first sequel to the landmark original zombie film is still the best.


HANNAH MONTANA, THE MOVIE - Although I am a big fan of her song "Party In The U.S.A.," Miley's feature film debut is a bit of a bitter pill for me. The opening scenes of Miley and Jamie Spears wrecking havoc backstage are a lot of fun, and the performance as Hannah Montana in front of an unreal audience that looks like it's composed of a million people at the beginning is impressively composed. The movie quickly devolves into a bizarre turn toward "country" values, including an extensive stint with a grandmother who seems to have never encountered the young pop star before. She strikes up a friendship with a young country boy who just wants to sell eggs for a living, and ends up decorating his egg shack in a colorful manner towards the end of the film. The schizophrenic, have-it-both-ways ending resolves nothing, and ultimately I leave the movie concerned for the girl. Her father plays himself in a movie about their life and chooses to portray his character as a heartless dictator over Miley's life, who gets personal enjoyment by striking up relationships with women and ends them on a whim. However, her performances and costumes are golden as always, and there is an excellent girl-fight between Miley Cyrus and Tyra Banks that results in Miley's exile from Hollywood into down-home country values. The pseudo anti-corporate vibe coming from this one is rather cloying coming from Disney. A mixed bag, handle with care.

THE FOG - John Carpenter's follow-up to "Halloween" was so subtle that he initially had forgotten to even include a villian. Upon watching the completed first version of the film, Carpenter and his co-workers realized that they had put something together that absolutely (in their opinion) did not work. They went back and added many of the scenes that are the most iconic and frightening within the film. "The Fog" is a slow-burning, atmospheric horror picture about a small town community slowly overcome by the quite literal ghosts of the past (in the form of a bunch of angry pirates played by various crew members, friends, and special effects artists). Jamie Lee Curtis, Diane Loomis (from "Halloween"), and Adrienne Barbeau all get fairly equal screen time as various townspeople affected by the eerie events brought on in the creeping fog. This is an effective meditation on the sins of the founders of the landwe live on, as well as the ghosts that we may have to answer to for the crimes of the past. "The Fog" even seems to be this veil between the worlds of the living and the dead, some sort of energy that we must one day answer to for our own deeds on the earth. A powerful meditation on mortality with a great cast and some stunningly beautiful visuals (with so small assistance from "Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks" Director of Photography Dean Cundey, who went on to work as DoP for Steven Speilberg on "Jurassic Park"), as well as some genuinely scary sequences from Carpenter in his prime. Nice creeper wth an amazing cast, probably best to avoid the recent remake and head straight for the real thing.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY - Controversial and much-loved film from one of the greatest American directors of all time, Stanley Kubrick. A brutal perfectionist who saw civilization evolving to the point of having manned space stations sending men to Saturn's moons by the year 2001. Ultimately, this is a movie about human development from the standpoint of an alien intelligence. Opening sequences attempt to explain man's first relationship with the stars and evolution from ape-like people. Moonwatcher picks up a bone and uses it as a weapon, securing his family's safety. Human civilization evolves to the point of space travel, culminating in a crew of astronauts being eradicated one by one as a super-intelligent computer decides that they are all expendable. The last surviving astronaut dissasembles the mainframe of the computer, only to discover that he is being monitored and communicated with by extraterrestrials. They transform him into a giant floating fetus at the end, and he looks back at the Earth contemplating blowing the whole thing up (which he does in the novel, but Kubrick stops short of depicting in the film version). A masterpiece of human imagination, probably one of the most important films of all time.

HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN - Rowdy Roddy Piper, Sandahl Bergman (from Conan The Barbarian), and Cec Verrel star in this picture (which led to Piper's starring role in John Carpenter's "They Live"). After a nuclear war, the Earth is barren and infertile, and so are many of its inhabitants. A "provisional government" is in place that is dominated by a female-run and operated branch called Med-Tech. It's Med-Tech's job to find fertile males with which to re-populate the Earth, and rapist Sam Hell (played by Piper) impregnates the daughter of a prominent military official, quickly making him a vital asset to Med-Tech. Due to the rarity of fertile males, Piper must save the human harem of a mutant frog man with three amphibian/reptoid phalluses and impregnate them, for the greater glory of the state. Running a slim and precise 88 minutes, I found this film to have an interesting racial undercurrent that is not often commented on by critics. Piper's performance as Sam Hell is actually quite charismatic and in fact far superior to his more "stoic" heroism on display in the more popular Carpenter venture. After watching this movie, I was astounded at how such an awesome movie was made with such a low budget, and was actually astounded to discover that the thing actually cost over a million dollars to make, a great deal of money in 1987. Sandhal Bergman is rather versatile in this one, and her much-humiliated character comes off with dignity thanks to her brave performance. Cec Verrel is a goddess as Med-Tech strongarm Centinella, looking like a cross between a supermodel and a hard-ass but constantly amused desert commander. When she smiles, the screen lights up, and my heart fills with joy. Worth a look for her performance alone.

TOONCES THE CAT AND FRIENDS - This is not actually a movie, but in fact a television pilot written and produced by Saturday Night Live writer Jack Handey. Like many others, at the time of Handey's prominence as an SNL writer, I assumed that he was some sort of an alias for a more well-known person like Al Franken or Steve Martin. This was largely due to two factors, namely that most of the non-performing SNL writer's names are never heard or seen on the show, and that Handey's name sounded like either a squeaky-clean or possibly very dirty joke. Nevertheless, he is a real person who continues to sell multiple volumes of his "Deep Thoughts" series of books, and at one point in time made this one-off "Toonces The Cat And Friends" pilot episode. This was pretty funny, but ultimately I was disappointed that this was not strictly a compendium of Toonces-related skits. For the unfamiliar, "Toonces, The Cat Who Could Drive A Car" was a re-occuring skit involving a cat named Toonces who would drives a car off a cliff, which was represented throughout multiple skits with the same stock footage of a car crash. Steve Martin starred in the first appearance of Toonces as his male owner, to be replaced by Dana Carvey from that point on. The skits interpolate a live cat actor with a cat puppet for the more dangerous stunts in the production of the (pre-taped) Toonces segments. Unfortunately, Toonces appears on a minority of the time taken up on this tape, and instead we get some strange and unpleasant skits from Handey involving black humor surrounding a little league baseball coach (played by Randy Quaid), and space aliens who inadvertantly kill Earth children by opening or closing the door to their space ship too fast, among other subjects. I was pleasantly surprised to spot an appearance by Bob Odenkirk (of the brilliant, amazing Mr. Show) in a skit, but for the most part the lack of Toonces is the most apparent aspect of this VHS release. Would be interested in seeing a box set compendium of Handey's contributions to SNL ("Deep Thoughts," "My Big Thick Novel," "Fuzzy Memories," "Toonces," "Tales Of Fraud and Malfeasance in Railroad Hiring Practices," and more... there must be hours of great Handey SNL material out there).


BABY MAMA - Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have such a great chemistry in this film that it makes up for a completely inane premise and setup. Despite the fact that this is ostensibly a film about surrogate childbirth, it is more an ode to fertility and female partnership. Poehler and Fey portray an "odd couple" who are thrown together as two strong women finding an important place in a crumbling male-dominated world. The family structure is throughouly torn apart and lampooned throughout the script, leading to an overall message leaning toward the concept of "it takes a village to raise a child." The banter and physical comedy between these two masters of American comedy makes for an entertaining ride, with compentent supporting performances from the male actors involved in the picture. Look for Steve Martin in a biting send-up of a corporate CEO of a Whole Foods-like organization who is deeply in touch with his inner potential. Amy Poehler is a hyperactive screen presence who dominates the frame with her charm. Definitely one of the best ever "Saturday Night Live" related films, superior to the many single-skit themed productions that flooded the market in the 1990s. I am an unapologetic fan of both Fey and Poehler, who are some of the most important people in the comedy world at the moment. It's a shame that so many interviewers focus simply on these two performers' political impersonations rather than the amazingly versatile improvisation abilities that they both possess. Both Fey and Poehler seem to be able to write their material as easily as breathing, the mark of a hard-working and extremly studied intuitive performer. Hopefully there is more to come film-wise from these two as a duo. I enjoyed this one. Amy Poehler is great.

HOUNDDOG - A decidedly adult film discussing some very true aspects of youthful sexuality from a feminine standpoint, Fanning's character is a girl who is discovering her independence and youthful sexual energy at a pivotal point in development, which is exploited by the others surrounding her. In the end, however, she discovers power and independence within herself, and her own ability to harness that power. Kampfmeier does a fantastic job with this picture, and the surrealist touches and deeply personal atmosphere make me curious to see her debut feature "Virgin." The director is currently listed as working on a project with a working title of "Lonely Hunter," possibly (hopefully) an adaptation of the amazing existential Americana novel "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter" by Carson McCullers. Dakota Fanning is one of the best actresses working in Hollywood today. Her and sister Elle Fanning are like two magical people sent to educate the rest of the human race about our maximum potential.

CATWOMAN - This one gets a lot of hate out there in the world, but ask yourself this: how many truly horrible movies (starring men) stack up sequel after sequel, raking in the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue ("Fast And Furious" for example) while being promoted as great mindless popcorn entertainment, compared to the volume of harsh criticism delivered against this movie? Halle Berry and Sharon Stone deliver a brutal cat-fight finale that is veritably a special effect onto itself. Also, the whole Catwoman character is completely removed from the Batman universe and rogue's gallery etc- the film attempts to create a completely unique Cat-paragdigm based more on Egyptian Goddess imagery and a strong anti-cosmetic industry viewpoint. If you have any desire whatsoever to watch Halle Berry senselessly whip people while wearing an S+M catsuit in an attempt to take down an evil cosmetics corporation (or scenes of CGI cats emoting) this movie will appeal to your sharpened sensibilities.

SUPERSTAR: THE KAREN CARPENTER STORY - This is a widely acclaimed "documentary" made by Todd Haynes and starring Barbie (tm) dolls. It purports to tell the story of the years leading up to the death of singer Karen Carpenter. The film exploits not only the music of the Carpenters themselves, but also the nature of Karen's death and the surrounding ills of anorexia and bulimia. This is an extremely unpleasant short film that ultimately seems like it would be triggering for women suffering from those two particular disorders. The tone of sarcasm and cynicism has an ironic weight that has influenced many post-modern comedic programs to come, such as Robot Chicken and the Family Guy. The fact that actual people are represented ironically through unmoving mannequins is disturbing enough, but inferences and assumptions are placed into the story unneccessarily as if they were fact. After essentially exploiting the entirety of the early Carpenters catalog for dramatic effect, it unsympathetically depicts a stylized first person view of Karen's death and the reactions to her troubles proceeding it from family members. A cynical and ultimately exploitational bit of clever editing that packs a punch, albeit pulling some rather cheap and accusatory strings. Still, the project shows an impressive level of production value and awareness of the power of subliminal storytelling. Horrifying, repulsive, and in fact illegal.

CONEHEADS, THE MOVIE: PART TWO - People were astounded when this bizarre sequel was released. Ashton Kutcher playing the dad Mr. Conehead was a huge shock, and it was entirely unexpected that his former partner Demi Moore would make her comeback as the lady cone head. In preparation for the film, Kutcher had to study the original "Coneheads" film and live as a cone head for weeks at a time, even through the script writing stages. It was a difficult process, and although the final effects were done with CGI, the harness and helmet that had to be worn by the actors was still excruciating. The cone heads planet is struck with some alien disease where many of the cone people are wiped out. We follow our cone head family and see from their perspective that for all they know they could be the last cone heads left on their planet. Things are bleak and grim for the cone race, it looks like almost total extinction for cone heads. They flee the planet in their spaceship and go through a series of planets where different things are happening. On these planets there will be guest appearances by some people who were involved in the original era of the cone heads appearances on Saturday Night Live. Our cone head family end up on a planet where Garrett Morris lives as a king, over a multitude of tiny CGI-created green people. He explains that is where he moved to after his appearance in "The Stuff" (Morris plays himself). Candace Bergen makes an appearance as a Barbarella-like woman living on a planet run by women. In a final battle between the womens planet and evil alien guys that all look the same, many battle of the sexes type of jokes are bandied about. In the end, the cone heads help all of the people to create peace with their draconian pragmatism, appeasing the masses with the suffering of the few. Also, there guest appearances by Halle Berry as a woman military commander, and Christopher Walken as the evil bad guy. Christopher Walken is the leader of some really evil guys who tried to wipe out the coneheads, and then at the end it turns out that right after the coneheads left their planet a cure was invented, but many of the cones had evacuated to planets all across the universe. Whenever cone headed people planetarily are near each other from now on their cones will vibrate and light up, a signal of solidarity to all cone headed persons.


BARBIE ROCKERS - "Barbie Rockers" is a half-hour long program made by Mattel in order to promote a series of futuristic rock-and-roll oriented Barbie characters. Her and her friends have giant teased hair and perform glam-influenced new wave rock music oriented toward a message of feeling good and looking pretty. Although I have seen other Barbie-related entertainment before, usually the production value and level of creativity is quite low, whereas this film is not only exceptionally well made but also rather imaginative in its dramatic recreation of the Barbie ideal. Barbie and her friends perform a sold out world tour of their sugary brand of pop, causing a global emergence of world peace. As proposterous as this sounds, when watching this video it becomes palpable that this lone rock group could somehow unify the planet. They get a case of the post-tour blahs, and so Barbie tells the gang to cheer up and dance, because there is always more stuff to do. After this they get a phone call and are invited to play the first ever concert in outer space. The space station that they are booked to play at is shaped like a giant pink flower. Also, Ken wears a pink scarf, and has a close male friend who is also in the band with them. Needless to say, the gals and guys bring their rocking prowess to the outer limits of space and potentially bring peace to the entire universe. Available on VHS from Hi-Tops Video, Highly Recommended!

GUINEA PIG PART TWO: FLOWERS OF BROKEN FLESH - Charlie Sheen saw this movie at a party and reported it to the United States government, thinking that he was somehow witness to a criminal snuff film production. What American authorities discovered instead was a semi-realistic, mostly aestheticized dramatization of an ancient Japanese story of a demon who possesses a man and influences him to dismember beautiful women. The dismemberment is depicted in excruciating detail, with a comically enthused samurai-looking gentleman spouting deranged poetry throughout the proceedings. The rubbery detachment of the limbs should have been an alert to Mr. Sheen of the fictional nature of the proceedings, but presumably he was not too familiar with gore cinema at the time. Actually, this film is the live-action directorial product of a brilliant Japanese cartoonist whose work has not quite made it to the American mainstream (outside of the infamy shared by his contributions to this legendary series of faux-snuff motion pictures). It is a shame that this is known more as a supposed "snuff" film rather than as a weird bit of cultural satire from an extremely imaginative and under-appreciated (in the US at least) Japanese artist and director. He has made a series of films in the nineties with a surreal horror feel similar to some of the more manic work of Takashi Miike. Very intense filmmaking interwoven with (extremely dark) humor and a small bit of history. Definitely necessary viewing for fans of extreme gore, far superior to the bland first volume of this series.

AIRPLANE 1975 - Before actually seeing this movie, I had seen it parodied many times. It always creates a strange viewing experience when your first exposure to the concepts that it presents is through parody. I imagine that there is a generation now who have had this experience with "The Exorcist" and now possibly the "Star Wars" series of films. From the same era as those classics though, came this rather overblown airport thriller that uses an old-timey thrill ride format to promote heavy drinking and sexual promiscuity. Excellent turns from Karen Black as the fabled stewardess who must fly a plane after the pilot is blinded, as well as Gloria Swanson (who plays herself!) in an interesting appearance. The sleazy 1970s vibe of this one makes it a lot of fun, and be sure to look for Charlton Heston at the beginning and end of the thing as the brave guy who is airlifted onto the plane to land it to safety. I don't say this often, but this one is a genuine piece of Hollywood Crap.

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (REMAKE) - I am absolutely not a fan of the whole remake thing that is happening- I usually refuse to watch this sort of thing. Although I really like the depressive, grainy sleaze feel of the original "I Spit On Your Grave," this one is not bad. If you don't know already, the plot of this one is about a girl who moves out to a little house in the middle of nowhere to get some peace and quiet. Local weirdos start paying attention to her and want to make themselves a part of her life. After a series of miscommunications and tense moments, the fellows inevitably get all riled up to commit a really long rape sequence. In the original film, the rape sequence seems to take up about 1/3 of the entire film. You wonder, is this ever going to stop? Are they just going to rape this poor girl (Camille Keaton, descendant of long ago funnyman and overall genius Buster Keaton) for the entire duration of the film? But no, then in the original she takes a relaxing shower and then seduces and kills all the dirty rapers one by one. In this remake, the story is set in rural swamp country in Louisiana, and the rapers are a bit more realistic than the weird caricatures depicted in the original. Overall, the entire production is much more gritty and palpable, but something is lost still in the modern, digitized look versus the purity of the grainy old film reel. Still, the story changes that were made to this make the whole thing far more realistic than the original, making this something like a cross between the original and a modern noir Americana realism film like "Winter's Bone." I hate remakes, but I was curious about the Louisiana setting, and it really wasn't badly made at all. Some really nice cinematography. Should have a different title and be it's own standalone film- I think more people would appreciate it if it wasn't supposed to replace a beloved classic. I still like the grittiness of the first one more than this.

BLUE VELVET - Let's see them try and remake this one. David Lynch showed the world what he was really thinking about with this grim and humorous look at the mysteries of sexuality. College student Jeffery Beaumont (Kyle Machlachlan of Twin Peaks, Dune, etc) becomes obsessed with the enigmas surrounding a severed human ear that he discovers in a vacant lot. In the meantime, he explores the thin line between voyeuristic perversion and legitimate detective work. An extremely stylized view on violence, sexual obsession and power, love, attachment, and our place in the world. Lynch combines techniques from horror, comedy, classic noir, and art film genres into a unique visual palatte that is as unique as his paintings. The characters come to life with an oozing emotional resonance, constantly torn between the dark and light aspects of themselves. Ultimately this tells the story of the duality of man in a style of visual poetry designed to resonate with the American audience, bringing 1950s suburban values crashing together with the upheaval and realizations of the modern urban experience. A landmark film that echoes throughout all of Lynch's feature film work ever since, with extremely high production value for such a fiercely independant-minded feature (thanks to Lynch's friend Dino De Laurientiis, a Hollywood giant who very recently passed on). Great score from Angelo Badalamenti as well.


PONYO - Not as adult-themed as some of his more recent film work, this one is definitely a return to the carefree innocence of "My Neighbor Totoro," but seems to be aimed at an even younger audience. This movie tells the classic Danish story of the "Little Mermaid," but instead of being a tale of a girl of courting age turning into sea foam, Miyazaki weaves the story into a more gentle tale of a love based around friendship. The ending didn't really make a heck of a lot of sense. Better to listen to this one in Japanese (subtitles are available) without the Americanized voice dubbing- it has unfortunately been rogered a bit in order to push an environmental agenda not intended in the original script. Excellent movie for children with lots for adults to enjoy, and the depiction of the family unit was very positive and unconventional. Nice.

ROBOCOP - Nice satire on dystopian logic and the military-industrial police state. With the kind of robotic drones and unmanned technology that is being utilized abroad these days by the US military, "Robocop" is way ahead of its time in suggesting a concientious collaboration between the law, technology, and human sensitivity. Heavily influenced by the vigilantism of Batman and the Charles Bronson archetype, Paul Verhoven weaves a bleak comic tale of the future that was as over-the-top with gore for its time as it was socio-economically sound. The main thrust of the film is to depict a world not unlike our own, where the mafia and the rich conspire to control technology and the police force for their own purposes against the masses. Robocop is programmed to protect his corrupt bosses, but against his programming turns them in to the authorities, and in the end he regains a bit of his humanity while serving the greater good. Although generally viewed as a very dark satire mixed with violent action, it is the heart and well-thought out economy of the world around those events that makes this a compelling and powerful film. Robocop himself as a character represents the fusion of law and "the system" with individuals who choose to serve a greater good (such as law enforcement and military). He observes and protects for the sake of all law-abiding citizens, and suffers greatly in the process. Although the film is stylized and often over-the-top, it ultimately serves to put the viewer into a sympathetic mindset of those who dedicate their lives to service. A few actors from "Twin Peaks" are in this, including an eerie turn from Ray Wise (aka "Leland Palmer") as a maniacal henchman who hangs out at techno dance clubs. Unlike "The Terminator," when Robocop visits a techno dance club, he manages to apprehend his man without opening fire in the crowded space, allowing the grateful patrons at the club to continue dancing the night away. Excellent popcorn movie.

DEADTIME STORIES - Watching this made me really aware of subliminal intentions within filmmakers. It is difficult to ascertain whether the pedophilic implications of the wraparound sequence are intentionally placed to trigger a disturbing reaction from the audience, or simply the reflection of a disturbed mind erroneously trying to depict naivete. This late 80s horror movie has several sequences that are based around fairy tales, as well as a wraparound sequence of an Uncle Mike talking to a kind of annoying kid who demands a bedtime story. There are some really cool special effects in the first sequence, a parson having his hand turned into a Hand Of Glory and a dead person forming back to life from a bunch of squirming slime and ropes. Nice! Second story is kind of silly, but the sheer beauty and grace of the actress who plays Red Riding Hood makes up for this asinine plot and soundtrack stuff that happens in this section of the movie. Finally, a Troma-esque satirical romp through American family values happens at the end of the film, and despite some really goofy comedy, the depiction of Goldilocks as an insane girl who lives in a house full of rotting corpses that she talks to is pretty ill. Overall, this is some really bargain bin 1980s horror with rubber monsters and the like, and if you can deal with that then you will be in for a few yuks here. Worth it for the rare focal appearances of some very cool actresses.

THE HAUNTING - Classic Robert Wise triller set in a haunted mansion where paranormal investigators and a skeptic (played by Russ Tablyn, the actor who plays Dr. Jacoby in "Twin Peaks") get freaked out by possible happenings at night, in the dark. Freaks out viewers in a more sincere way than many modern scare-hungry ghost tales. A mysterious and influential movie, especially on Kubrick's "The Shining" and many others yet to come. Based on the classic story "The Haunting At Hill House," which has been remade several times. The original is still the best however. Not to be confused with the non-supernatural extortion chiller "The House On Haunted Hill," a movie which exploits a famous title in a way that makes little to know sense. The Robert Wise picture is the one to see. Check your local library.

IRREVERSIBLE - I remember seeing this in the theater during it's one-weekend run at the Canal Place in New Orleans. A one hour and thirty minute film, the thing is the story of a young couple who find that they are expecting a child. They go to a party and the man acts like a total dick, running around on ecstacy and hitting on a bunch of girls in front of his preganant wife. She gets pissed off and runs out on him, taking the local crimson-walled subway. Unfortunately, before she makes it there, a really weird guy rapes her at knifepoint for about eight minutes and brutalizes her face and body in an excessively violent manner (during this time, an observer walks in the background briefly, to pause and quickly turn and walk away from the scene). Her fella and his friend found out and see her all fucked up on a hospital gurney (mind you this is all in French this whole time) and her fella gets really pissed off. He starts going around beating up random people and yelling and stuff like that. Eventually for some reason they end up at a nightmarish gay sex club and a guy who may or may not be the rape guy's friend (or the rape guy, but probably not) gets his head violently smashed in with a fire extinguisher for all their trouble. This is all told backwards and was created with a script that was only a few pages long, with most of the events improvised by the actors (including real-life couple Vincent Cassel and the lovely Monica Belucci). It is not the story that is the hammer, but the telling, and this one comes down like a ton of bricks. Beautiful filmmaking from a gifted artist. Irresponsible? Maybe. The film equivelent of the music of Whitehouse and the writing of Peter Sotos. Low frequency sounds, evil editing, and heavy fonts are used to disorient and upset the viewing audience. It works.


"Don't go into the light!" - dialogue from Poltergeist.