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    Theatrical Poster
    Virginia Marcus is rich and beautiful. Unfortunately, she’s also terribly deranged and looking for something more exciting out of life than the safari that her brother Anderson has invited her on. Instead, she opts to stay home and cook up a little hunt of her own.


    She lures three men to her home—professional wrestler Rocco, washed-up stage actor Charles Freeman, and street hustling drug addict Buddy—and offers them each a deal of a lifetime: $100,000 in cold hard cash, no strings attached. All they have to do is stay alive in Manhattan for 24 hours while she hunts them down like the filthy animals they are.


    You see, these three men were not chosen at random. Virginia pulled their names from a magazine article about acquitted murderers, a category that they all fall under, and she’s more than willing to cough up the cash if it means getting the opportunity to play judge, jury and executioner.


    With the game afoot, it’s Buddy who is our primary character. He barges into the apartment of a friend who is hosting a sex-and-drug party looking for a fix, and winds up spilling the whole story. He narrates flashbacks to everyone’s origin and demise (Never mind the fact that he wasn't there and has no way of actually knowing what happened), which are occasionally interspersed with scenes of him jonesing for heroin, some random couples caressing each other seductively, or Virginia dealing with her psychiatrist—and believe me, she needs one.


    Said psychiatrist, Dr. Max Schramm, senses that his patient has gone off the deep end and calls in her brother to help—who somehow arrives back in the city from whatever exotic locale he was hunting at in a matter of hours. Can they talk her down in time to save Buddy? And is he even worth saving?


    Meh, probably not.


    Eileen Lord as Virginia
    CONFESSIONS OF A PSYCHO CAT is a very strange movie. It’s got a strange title, it’s strangely structured, it's got some strange (but, at the same time, compelling) acting, and some really strange death scenes. In order to further her Human Safari scenario, Virginia has equated each of her prey with something of a spirit animal: Charles Freeman is a lion; Buddy is a jackal; and Rocco is a bull. The death scenes in which they are involved are ostensibly representative of their animals—but really, it's only obvious when it comes to Rocco. Virginia dresses up like a crazed matador and bullfights him to death, which is certainly one of the most memorable scenes in the film. Hell, one of the most memorable scenes in a lot of films.


    The story itself isn't all that strange, however…or at least, it's not unheard of. This is a modernized version of The Most Dangerous Game, with the action transplanted from a Caribbean island to the island of Manhattan, and the gender of our Great White Hunter reversed.  


    For as scattershot as the movie is, it's somewhat amazing how logical the payout scheme for Virginia’s hunt is: after their meeting with her, all three men return to their homes, and in the next few days, a post-dated check for $100,000 will arrive at their doors via registered mail. Once they sign for the check, their 24-hour countdown begins. Only if they survive until the next day—the date that the check is made out for—can they collect their winnings. And if they don't survive? Then they can't very well cash the check, can they?


    Despite Virginia’s obvious insanity, she continues to act pretty logically throughout most of the film.

    Jake Lamotta as Rocco
    In order to lure her targets out into the open, she uses their weaknesses against them. For Charles Freeman, she arranges for him to get a last-minute part in a play, knowing that his love of the limelight wouldn't allow him to pass up the opportunity for a possible comeback. For Rocco, she merely calls him on the phone and taunts him until he loses his temper and goes out looking for her. And for Buddy, she knows that all she has to do is wait…and sooner or later, he’ll go out searching for a fix. (When he finally does get one, it's an extremely long and awkward scene in a public restroom, where he struggles to shoot up while simultaneously propping the stubborn stall door open for the benefit of the camera).

    I suppose some credit should also go to the filmmakers for at least attempting to explain the reason behind Virginia’s deep rooted psychosis, where others would not have even bothered. In a flashback to her childhood, we see her brother Anderson toss her beloved puppy off the roof of a high-rise building. While this would certainly cause some emotional scarring, I'm unsure that it alone would result in triple homicide—not to mention, it actually says quite a bit more about Anderson than it does about her. Also, at the finale of the film, when Virginia’s psyche has completely fractured, she has regressed to childhood and begins shouting “Do you love me now, daddy?”, which points to issues rooted far deeper than previously hinted at.


    CONFESSIONS OF A PSYCHO CAT has always been something of a B-Movie Mystery, especially in regards to the cast and crew. There is surprisingly little background information about the film available, and the only definitive credits have always been Bill Boyd as screenwriter, Herb Stanley as producer-director (though he is credited onscreen as “Eve”), Eileen Lord as Virginia, and boxer Jake LaMotta—the inspiration for RAGING BULL—as Rocco, hence his spirit animal. The theatrical poster also lists Ed Brandt (a pseudonym for Ed Garrabrandt), Frank Grace (a pseudonym for Frank Geraci), and Dick Lord as the film’s stars, but which role each of these three actors fill has never been determined. There has always been much unknown, and as it turns out, even some of what we thought we knew was wrong.


    I have managed to get ahold of someone who worked on the film and has agreed to share some information with me under the condition that their identity remains anonymous, reason being that they are no longer in the business and have spent the past 48 years distancing themselves from this project. This Crew Member (referred to from here on out as CM) is very knowledgable about the goings-on, but some details are understandably fuzzy after nearly five decades.


    Starting right at the top of the food chain, CM tells me that Herb Stanley is a pseudonym for an unknown producer whose real name is lost to memory, and that “Herb” did not direct the film at all. The real director was an English fellow by name of Robert Worms whose name was left off of the completed film, and the producer gave himself (or rather his pseudonym) undue credit. Similarly, Stanley’s co-presenter of this film, Bob Page, is another fake name, though we don’t know of whom. Unfortunately, as Stanley, at least, is buried behind not one but twopseudonyms, their true identities will likely never be discerned.


    Virginia Lord, Frank Geraci, Dick Lord, & Jake LaMotta
    CM continues to fill in the casting gaps by informing me that Frank Geraci played Buddy the junkie, Ed Garrabrandt played Virginia’s brother Anderson, and Dick Lord played Freeman the actor.


    Geraci had a minor television and film career following CONFESSIONS OF A PSYCHO CAT, and I have since been able to confirm his appearances in an episode of KOJAK and the action-comedy film THE HARD WAY. Garrabrandt has no other known TV or film appearances; nor does Dick Lord, no matter what the IMDb would like you to think. The other credits that the IMDb associates with Dick Lord actually belong to a different person of the same name—a Catskills comedian who is still active today, and who was close personal friends with singer Bobby Darin.


    Our Dick Lord, by the way, was married to Eileen Lord—not their real names, either. The names of every credited performer aside from LaMotta were changed without their permission before the release of the film. Although the couple had a lot of fun working on the movie together (and Eileen forever loved to remind him that when they went toe-to-toe on the silver screen, shecame out the victor), they were devastated when they saw how drastically different the released project was from the one that they had shot.


    If the storyline has an unlikely literary connection via Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game, the casting has an equally unlikely connection to legitimate theater. Frank Geraci (billed in theater as Franco) and Ed Garrabrandt performed together in the off-Broadway play THE FANTASTICKS; and Robert Worms and Dick Lord were in a theater group together. After Lord was cast as Freeman, he suggested his wife Eileen for the lead. The gathering of most of the primary cast seems to have been an organic one, though it is yet unknown exactly how LaMotta became involved.


    If CM’s memory serves, CONFESSIONS OF A PSYCHO CAT was originally intended for television, but after the filmmakers were unable to sell it to any of the networks, the sex scenes were filmed and inserted without most of the primary cast’s permission, so that it could be sold to the grindhouse market. The only exception to this being Frank Geraci, who appears to have been called back in to shoot the footage of him at the party, recounting the events to his friends—a cinematic structure that was not used in the initial cut of the film.


    It’s easy to tell which scenes are from the original production and which ones were shoehorned in, if only because the audio in the new footage is of such lesser quality. These scenes of sex and nudity are slowgoing and awkward, easily the most uninteresting part of the film, and the acting talent of the nubile young people within them are nowhere up to par with the rest of our leads. CONFESSIONS OF A PSYCHO CAT would be a much better watch if not for these elements which put the brakes on the action and bring everything to a screeching halt at rather random intervals.


    CM is not positive who it was that added these scenes, but suspects that it was the shadowy producer and that Robert Worms had nothing to do with it. Having recently rewatched the film, CM also believes that some of the original scenes were cut in order to make room for the sex scenes, but cannot recall any specifics—though further madness and motivation for Virginia seems a likely possibility. Whatever footage had been excised is likely lost to the ages, which is a real shame. Had this movie been left intact and played out like a more traditional thriller (seedy city elements notwithstanding), it could have been a diamond in the rough, and not just another roughie.



    So there you have it, as much new information about this film that my pop cultural archeological dig was able to turn up. A few mysteries solved, but others still remain. History is uncovered in baby steps, after all, and not by leaps and bounds.


    --J/Metro

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    Dreamstalker was a two-part storyline that filled up the entirety of both issues of this title, revolving around two heroines who are forced to face off against Freddy Krueger—the first is Allison Hayes, a teenage girl with innate dream powers that make her the perfect foil for Krueger; and the second is Juliann Quinn, a young psychologist who has trained to develop her dream powers, making her the perfect mentor for Allison. With Allison in custody at Springwood Medical, and later the Westin Hills Psychiatric Institute, Juliann has to navigate hospital politics in order to get her patient the best care, and buy the time needed to prepare her for a final showdown against the man who has been haunting both of their dreams.


    There are the expected surrealistic nightmare sequences, some of which are a gruesome delight. As far as the actual plot goes, though, there’s nothing too far out of the ordinary here. Much of it is a rehash of themes that were introduced in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987) and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER (1988)—Westin Hills, the dream-suppressant drug Hypnocil, and learning to use your dreams against Freddy had all been dealt with before. However, there are few minor diversions here that actually expand on the Elm Street mythos significantly.


    Nearly one-third of the first issue was dedicated to an overview of Krueger’s backstory, beginning with a more detailed depiction of his unholy conception than previously seen and ending with his career as the Springwood Slasher (pre-death). Some of the particulars might not line up exactly with everything that has come before and everything that has come since, but it wouldn't take a lot of imagination to deftly insert this into official canon.


    The second issue has a sequence in which Allison recounts her first encounter with Freddy after accidentally stumbling into his dream world by taking a wrong turn at a crossroads in her dream. There are hints of Lewis Carroll here, with Allison playing Alice, though the Wonderland she falls into is a much darker place than the Cheshire Cat would tend to frequent. Here, Krueger fraternizes with all manner of other freaks and monsters during his downtime. What this place is, and who these other creatures are, is never explained but is wide open for further exploration. It may come off as something of a silly peek behind the curtain, but if the creators were going to part them, they may as well have thrown them wide open.



    Perhaps they would have if the series had lasted more than two issues.


    Interestingly enough, the series wasn't cancelled because of poor sales--it was actually the top seller in Marvel’s magazine line. At the time these issues were published, the horror genre was under heavy fire from concerned parents and panicked public interest groups, and although Marvel was not the recipient of any undue pressure, they still shut down the title out of fear of bad publicity as something of a preemptive strike.


    Both issues were written by the legendary Steve Gerber and remains consistent throughout, even if it isn't his most imaginative plotting. The artwork was done by Rich Buckler, Tony DeZuniga, and Alfredo Alcala and is typically pretty solid, though Buckler’s work in the first half of the first issue surpasses DeZuniga’s work, which is great when at its best, but simply isn't as consistent.


    Overall, an entertaining read that likely would have been better as a piece of a larger whole than it is as a whole all by itself. 


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    Kenneth is young and awkward, but he is also meticulously organized. His morning routine consists
    Love Object - Poster Image
    Poster Image
    of waking up before the alarm, working out, showering and shaving, and dressing from his carefully categorized closet. The opening scenes that depict this routine not only go a long way in explaining why he is so good at his job as a technical writer, but they also immediately call to mind images of Patrick Bateman from AMERICAN PSYCHO, and while Kenneth may not reach those same heights of pathology, he still wobbles quite a bit off his rocker.


    Kenneth is a lonely man. You can tell this by how cold his lifestyle comes across, and by how he listens to his neighbors having sex through the apartment wall. Perhaps he doesn't realize just how lonely he is until a beautiful, quirky young woman is thrust into his life. When Lisa Belmer is assigned to help him with the instruction manual for a very important job, he is hesitant at first—he works better on his own, he says (but he only thinks that because he's so used to being alone)—but still, he can't seem to get her out of his head.


    It is about this same time that another woman enters his life...sort of. A stupid prank played by his meathead coworkers introduces Kenneth to Nikki, a very realistic (and very expensive) sex doll that can be customized to fit the owner's specifications. Kenneth, being the sad, lonely little man that he is empties his bank account and orders Nikki online, designing her to look as close to Lisa as he can manage.


    When Nikki arrives on his doorstep, she is packed in an enormous wooden crate that can barely fit through his apartment door. In a humorous scene, Kenneth has to convince his curious neighbors that the crate contains a new refrigerator, and that under no circumstances are they to unpack it to more easily get it inside.


    Love Object - Post-Coital
    Post-Coital
    Once safely behind closed doors, the lid is lifted and Nikki is exposed inside. She is cold and lifeless, and to the viewer, the crate suddenly seems more like a coffin. Kenneth carefully unpacks her and takes her to the bedroom for awkward and clumsy animalistic sex. Even Kenneth is embarrassed with himself once he is done. This isn't Lisa at all. It is just a plastic corpse that vaguely resembles her.


    He even tries to return Nikki, but thank God there is a rule against returning used sex dolls. When he stumbles across her previously unseen instruction manual—basically a holy book to Kenneth—he is inspired to further his fantasy beyond the realm of sex, and he proceeds to wine and dine Nikki with all the confidence that he is unable to muster with Lisa.


    But when a romance doesbegin to blossom between Kenneth and Lisa, Nikki (or rather the Nikki-side of Kenneth's fractured psyche) doesn't take too kindly to it. She threatens him and threatens her until Kenneth has no choice but to react violently. He beats Nikki to “death”, chops her up in the bathtub, and disposes of the pieces. It doesn't matter that Nikki was never alive to begin with, it's still frankly disturbing.


    Kenneth's relationship with Lisa isn't all that he hoped for, though, as the reality of her couldn't live

    Love Object - Imperfect Lisa
    Imperfect Lisa
    up to the fantasy that he had created with Nikki. Turns out that he would rather have Nikki back, but he already destroyed her. He opts instead to reverse his original plan—instead of turning Nikki into Lisa, he will now turn Lisa into Nikki.

    He kidnaps Lisa and takes her to his apartment, where he intends to plasticize her using instructions that he found on the Internet (of course). Lisa manages to break free just in time, and is seconds away from ending Kenneth's life when the cops bust in. Assessing the situation incorrectly, they open fire on Lisa, killing her. Her body lands in the wooden crate, sealing the transformation.


    But this isn't Nikki at all. It is just a fleshy corpse that vaguely resembles her.


    Flash forward to a short time in the future, and Kenneth is back at work. He has ordered a new Nikki, and things are going swimmingly. Until he meets a charming young woman, and becomes infatuated with her...


    And the cycle begins anew.


    Although the ending was fitting, I can't help but wonder how things would have turned out if Kenneth had succeeded in plasticizing Lisa. It would have taken the movie to a whole new level of sick—out of the realm of PIN and into NEKROMANTIK territory (both 1988). Had the filmmakers pushed the envelope a bit more, it's possible that LOVE OBJECT would have developed more of an audience. However, it's also possible that doing so would have altered the DNA of the film into something much less enjoyable.


    To call this a scary film would be inaccurate, however there are plenty of other adjectives to choose from: disturbing; creepy; unsettling. You won't jump out of your seat during the film, but you probably will once the closing credits start to roll...and proceed to make your way to the shower. This is an inherently unclean movie, and you're bound to get a little on you. It's effective in a more low-key way than many genre fans may be used to, but also has a dark subversive humor running through it that should be easy to appreciate. It's similar in tone, but different in content, to Lucky McKee's cult film MAY (2002), and there should be some overlap between the two audiences.


    Kenneth was played quite well by Desmond Harrington, who is more famous for playing lawman Joseph Quinn in the television series DEXTER.  Lisa was played by the beautiful and quirky Melissa Sagemiller, whose filmography doesn't match up with her talent—she deserves better than SOUL SURVIVORS (2001), SORORITY BOYS (2002), and MR. WOODCOCK (2007).  Rounding out the cast is Udo Kier, Rip Torn, Michael Pena, and Brad William Henke, all of which do admirable jobs.


    It is disappointing to learn that this was the only film so far to be written and directed by Robert Parigi, who is better known as a producer of shows ranging from TALES FROM THE CRYPT, KING OF THE HILL, BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD, THE GOODE FAMILY, NEIGHBORS FROM HELL, and AGENTS OF SHIELD.  I would love to see more work from him in a creative capacity. It seems that if low-key psychological horror films came with an instruction manual, he definitely read it from front to back.



    —J/Metro


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  • 06/03/15--09:00: Review: Scenic Route (2013)
  • Two friends, Mitchell (Josh DuHamel) and Carter (Dan Fogler), are on a roadtrip through the desert

    Theatrical Poster
    when the truck breaks down. Carter has taken them so far off the beaten path that Mitchell can't even get a signal on his cellphone, and the road is so rarely traveled that they haven't seen another vehicle in hours. With nothing to do but wait, and tensions between them already running high, their friendly conversation quickly turns to a heated argument, and eventually a brutal physical confrontation.

    Mitchell and Carter have been friends for a long time, but in recent years, Mitchell has grown up—he’s found a good job, gotten married, and had a child. Carter, on the other hand, has grown older but not wiser, and is very much the same person he was when the two first met. Rather than follow the traditional life path that society lays out, he has gone a different route: becoming, in his words, “a fat unemployed writer” who lives in his car. Carter resents Mitchell for selling out, and Mitchell keeps Carter at arm’s length for refusing to mature at a proper rate. They are, at the same time, both likable and unlikable, which makes them, at the very least, relatable.


    Unlikely friends
    As this is essentially a two-man show, it’s important that you believe in the characters. This is a very dialogue-driven film, with long stretches of nothing but verbal exchanges that vary from anecdotal to impassioned. SCENIC ROUTE is sometimes criticized because viewers don't believe that these two, with such wildly different world views, would be friends, but I bought into it without problem. Carter and Mitchell were friends ten years ago. Carter and Mitchell are not friends now, and neither are yet willing to accept that fact. That’s the very foundation of the movie. Without that central truth, none of what followed could have happened.


    The two compare key rings like Hooper and Quint compare scars in JAWS, not to show what they’ve been through but to show where they are right now. Carter has two keys, and Hooper has more than he can even keep track of. As a means of measuring roots and responsibility, it’s cinematically inspired if not necessarily real-world relevant. And for the record, I'm tied with Carter—and I have a front door.


    Bemoaning the mohawk
    Reminiscing (the only way these two can even relate to each other anymore) leads to Mitchell longing for the simpler days—the days with fewer keys. In a last ditch effort to recapture that feeling of freedom, he throws caution to the wind and allows himself to be talked into an impromptu roadside haircut with the world’s tiniest pair of scissors. He emerges from the glare of the headlights with a bleeding scalp and a Travis Bickle mohawk. When Bickle presented his new ‘do, he became an Urban Warrior. Mitchell becomes a roadside version, though he doesn't yet realize it. He won't be fighting for what he thinks is right, though. He’ll be fighting only for survival, even if he doesn’t have the know-how to do a very good job of it.


    This is a sunbaked descent into desperation, with occasional forays into madness and violence. The title may as well be TWO GUYS MAKING BAD DECISIONS, because that’s exactly what it is, one after another after another. It’s easy to say to yourself, I would never drink windshield washer fluid, and you may be right. It’s certainly not something you would do in your every day life, but who knows how you would react when the sun is beating down on you at 120°, and there’s nothing but scorched earth in every direction? It’s not a choice that everyone would make, but it's likely one that somebody would make. Those warning labels are there for a reason, people.


    And it only gets worse from there.


    This was a solid little thriller from start to finish, and though some take issue with the LOST-like ending, I wouldn't have it any other way. Kudos go to scriptwriter Kyle Killen, as well as directors Kevin and Michael Goetz (who are in production on the English-language remake of 2008’s MARTYRS), for having the skills to pull off what could have been a major disappointment in the hands of someone who didn't know how to handle the material.









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    With NYMPHOMANIAC, writer-director Lars Van Trier draws to a close his so-called Depression
    NYMPHOMANIAC - Poster Image
    Poster Image
    Trilogy—an unofficial trilogy, as they share common themes, traits and leading ladies, but do not share characters or a storyline. Unlike the first two entries, ANTICHRIST (2009) and MELANCHOLIA (2011), this film was such an epic endeavor that for distribution, it had to be broken into two volumes. However, I viewed them back to back as a single film, and will be covering them as such. And I will warn you now, there will be spoilers.


    One winter night, aging bachelor Seligman finds a woman, Joe, beaten and semi-conscious in an alleyway.  She refuses medical assistance and doesn't want the police involved.  When asked what she does want, she admits that a cup of tea would be nice.  Seligman helps her to his house, tucks her into bed, tends to her wounds, and then offers her the tea.  Finally, he asks Joe what had happened to her to leave her in such a state.  She warns him that it is a long story, and that in order for him to fully understand, she will have to start at the beginning.


    "I discovered my c*nt as a two year old..." 


    Which is a pretty jarring beginning to any story, but at least she's not burying the lead.  Over the course of the 4-hour combined running time, Joe relates her life as the titular nymphomaniac (refusing to call herself something so tiresome as a sex addict), from her earliest sexual stirrings as a child right up to the brutal confrontation that lead to her arrival in Seligman's home.  She has thousands of partners, a relative few of which that we are privileged to.  The only one who returns with any regularity is Jerome, Joe's original lover, who pops up often enough and at such opportune times that even Seligman begins to question the authenticity of her tale.


    NYMPHOMANIAC - Young Joe Poster Image
    Young Joe
    When Jerome takes Joe's virginity, he does so in a most unsavory way.  He offers three vaginal thrusts in a standard missionary position, then rolls her over and gives five anal thrusts to finish.  With each pump, a numerical count appears on screen like a particularly twisted Sesame Street segment.  Seligman, a man with an encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything, exclaims that 3 and 5 are both Fibonacci numbers.


    All of these elements are ones that will pop up time and time again throughout the film. The sex, obviously, plays a very important part. Mathematical formulae, charts and graphs, and other assorted graphic ephemera will appear onscreen to further illustrate what is happening at any given moment. And Seligman will find a parallel between what Joe is discussing and some seemingly obscure bit of trivia that will connect her to the world at large.


    It is this last part that is perhaps the most crucial factor to the story.  Joe is unloading a lifetime of chaos, and Seligman is doing his best to find order within it.  What initially appears to be a random sequence of numbers turns out to be an intricate structure found in everything from nature to computational mathematics. So too are a series of seemingly random sexual encounters not only pieces to a greater whole (Joe as a person), but also somehow connected to the universe (as all things are).  At least, that seems to be the gospel according to Seligman.


    Depending on who you ask, it is either poor characterization or very complexcharacterization that is at play here.  Joe frequently tells Seligman that she is a bad person, and yet elsewhere in the film declares that she loves her lust.  Meanwhile, Seligman is attempting to convince Joe that she is a good person, and yet he frequently finds satanic and unholy connotations in her actions.  They are conflicting their own viewpoints, meaning perhaps they are trying to convince themselves just as hard as they are trying to convince the other.


    NYMPHOMANIAC - Seligman Poster Image
    Seligman
    Joe is playing the association game, as well, though she's doing it in reverse. Every item in Seligman's sparsely furnished bachelor pad cues up a memory that puts us back into her story, almost to the point of absurdity. A mirror, a fork, a spilled bit of tea...each of these leads us right back into her story at the appropriate place. It reminds me of nothing so much as THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995), except that the audience is in on the gag the whole time.

    If coincidence doesn't make you question the full validity of Joe's tale, perhaps her association game will. It is possible that she is lying, at least in some aspects of her storytelling.  It is possible that she has lived enough of a life that any one thing can remind her of another—certainly we could all do the same if we were so inclined.  It is also possible, though, that this was merely a rather cutesy narrative device that wore a little thin over time.  Regardless of whether or not Joe is an unreliable narrator, the advice she offers Seligman is sound: "Which way do you think that you would get the most out of my story?  By believing in it or by not believing in it?" And so we go along with Joe's story, believing at least the general gist of what she tells us, for fear of walking away from the whole thing empty.


    When Jerome enters into the story for the second time, it is years after he has so crudely taken Joe's virginity.  No longer a mechanic, he is now a success in the printing industry and hires Joe on as his assistant.  She is not qualified for the position, but he has brought her on board in hopes of bedding her once again.  Joe refuses, though, for reasons that not even she fully understands.  She later comes to realize that it is because she has genuine feelings for the man, an "idiotic love" that makes her feel humiliated (as her whole life thus far has been spent rebelling against the very notion).  When she is finally ready to accept her feelings and admit them to Jerome, it is too late; he has abandoned the company and run off with his secretary.


    NYMPHOMANIAC - Jerome Poster Image
    Jerome
    Jerome's third appearance in the story comes on the heels of her father's death, and he and Joe quickly land in bed with one another.  Joe whispers to Jerome what every man in the heat of passion yearns to hear—"Fill all my holes"—but follows it up with the one thing that every man in the heat of passion is afraid of hearing—"I can't feel anything!".  To Jerome's credit, this isn't a condemnation of his ability as a lover—indeed, his technique has definitely improved over the years—but it is her mind that is shutting down her body because of her betrayal.  Because this was not an encounter based on lust, but rather one based on emotion (the "holes" that she refers to surely encompasses the empty spots in her soul, as well), her body reacts violently, stealing the sexual sensation that she has been chasing her whole life.  Without an orgasm, who is she?


    Despite this sexual handicap—in fact, quite likely, because of it—Joe and Jerome do manage to find happiness together.  They live together in "secure and restful domestic comfort", very much like husband and wife.  Joe even finds herself with child, and her son Marcel (delivered via Cesarean section, so as not to damage her precious vagina) is born.  But as time wears on, and Jerome is no longer able to maintain the sexual stamina that Joe requires (she is still chasing the ghost of the orgasm, at the very least), he grants Joe permission to seek further sexual encounters outside of the makeshift marriage.  This is the beginning of the dissolution of the family unit, which she completely eradicates later by leaving their young child home alone so that she can be tied up and beaten with a wet horse bridle by the misogynistic K, an S&M kingpin who has bored housewives literally lined up outside his door.


    When Jerome arrives home to find Marcel unattended, he gives Joe an ultimatum.  She, of course, chooses K, abandoning her family in favor of the returning orgasm.  The fact that her climax is, quite literally, beaten out of her acts as further proof that her body betrayed her because she betrayed her mind. Her orgasm returns only after exchanging a loving relationship for her "relationship" with K, which is just about as far away from love as one can imagine.


    It's conceivable that Joe's interest in bondage is tied in with the memory of her father, who had to be restrained in his hospital bed towards the end of his life for his own protection. Similarly, it's conceivable that her interest in bondage leads directly into the next major phase of her life, becoming something of hired muscle for unscrupulous debt collector L. Utilizing what she learned from her time with K, along with psychological sex games that she picked up along the way, it turns out that she's quite good at convincing these debtors to pay up.


    Herein lies my only serious qualm with the film as a whole. Joe's transformation into what amounts

    NYMPHOMANIAC - Joe Poster Image
    Joe
    to a criminal goon seems far too sudden, and it isn't played to great effect.  Van Trier seems to be playing with genre conventions in this segment, and it would have played more effectively for me if he had really gone for it, briefly transforming the movie into a Lady in Leather exploitation throwback (think Quentin Tarantino's homage film KILL BILL). Instead, it comes across simultaneously as forced and underplayed.

    In time, L convinces Joe that she should start looking for a successor. The young P is chosen for her, not at random, but because the girl possesses qualities that will make her susceptible to manipulation. Joe takes P under her wing in a nearly-motherly way, but once P reaches the "age of majority" (read: age of consent), the two become lovers.


    The May-December lesbian romance in itself isn't enough to raise many eyebrows, but that the relationship went from familial to familiar does pose some concerns.  Being one who always looks for the root cause of things—in this case, Joe's nymphomania—I was certain that this was a clue to a deeper truth that would be revealed by the finale of the film; namely that Joe's father had sexually abused her, kicking off his daughter's lifelong sexual obsession.  Yet, in the end, this assumption proved incorrect. We are given no reason to believe that Joe ever suffered any such abuse, or that her father was anything but the kind and gentle man that he appears to be. There is no root cause to Joe's nymphomania. It just is, and always has been.


    P does indeed enter the business, and is well on her way to becoming Joe's successor.  On her very first job without Joe's assistance, the debtor in question turns out to be a familiar character. When P knocks on the door, it is yet another extraordinary coincidence that Jerome answers.


    Possibly Jerome inadvertently learns of P's connection to Joe, and sees a chance to hurt his former flame. Perhaps Jerome merely sees something of Joe inside of P, stoking a fire that still burns in his heart. Or, perhaps it is merely another epic coincidence. Regardless of the reason, Joe discovers that P and Jerome have been sleeping together, and feels undeniably betrayed. In one fell swoop, she has lost two lovers, and she decides to take matters into her own hands.


    NYMPHOMANIAC - P Poster Image
    P
    With gun in hand, Joe waits in the alley for P and Jerome to pass through. When they do, Joe aims the pistol at Jerome's head and pulls the trigger...but nothing happens, as she has forgotten to rack the gun.  Jerome, in turn, waits calmly for Joe to put the gun away and then proceeds to beat the holy hell out of her, while P watches with a smirk. Then, in the ultimate F.U., Jerome makes Joe watch as he lays P down and performs his famous Fibonacci Frig on her (3+5).  To seal the deal, P urinates on Joe, and she and Jerome leave together, which leads us right back to the beginning of the film.


    Joe has likely tried to tell her life story to other men before, but their physical arousal caused by her tales would almost inevitably lead to sex. This is why Seligman has been her perfect and ideal confidante—he is a virgin, and considers himself wholly asexual.  (If Seinfeldscience is to be believed—and I have no reason to think otherwise—his lack of sexual preoccupation is responsible for his seemingly endless knowledge.). Sure, he admits, he's somewhat sorry that he has never had sex, but this is based solely on intellectual curiosity and not on lust.  Now that Joe has managed to get through her entire story for the first time without the usual physical interruption, her soul has been cleansed, and her sins have been purged.  As the sun rises, she vows to make changes in her life and defeat the addiction that has ruled her life for so long.  Seligman turns off the lights and Joe settles down for sleep, the happy ending that this movie has been barreling towards the entire time.


    But Seligman's downfall is that he is entirely too curious.  Without his trousers, flaccid penis in hand, he creeps through the darkness and crawls into bed with the sleeping Joe.  He tries to enter her, but Joe awakens and protests.  His argument likely seems valid—"But you've fucked thousands of men,"—but it is precisely the wrong thing for him to say.  She has fucked thousands of men, but Seligman was supposed to be different.  He was supposed to be the one that she didn't have to fuck.  He was, in her own words, her"new, maybe first, friend", and his actions here prove to be just one more betrayal in a night full of betrayals.  She goes for her pistol, only this time, she remembers to rack the gun.


    It's a tragic ending for both of our protagonists, and one that presents itself to much spirited debate online.  Some say that Seligman attempted to rape her, while others say that it hardly constitutes as rape.  Some say that Joe was justified in the shooting, while others say that it was a violent overreaction. Some paint Joe in the role of the victim, while others are quick to point out that she had attempted to murder a man in cold blood only a few hours before. Where you lie on the spectrum is a personal matter, but I have to point out that even good people can do bad things, and even bad people can be victims. This is just one of many scenes that is meant to be debated, with yourself and with others.


    Another scene ripe for the 'Is It Rape?' debate happens early in the film, where teenage Joe and her lusty friend B are holding a contest on a train to see who can seduce the most men before arriving at their destination. Joe sets her sights on a family man, who stoically rebukes her advances. She persists, unbuckles his belt, and proceeds to perform fellatio on him despite his protests. Although he doesn't physically fight her off, he does persistently tell her no and practically begs her to stop.  If no means no in all cases, then this should indeed be classified as rape, but there are many who challenge this.


    These two instances are purposefully controversial, and are purposefully mirror images of one another in order to get people talking. Seligman himself, in one of his final dialogues, explains the hypocrisy of gender bias—how a man who was as addicted to sex as Joe wouldn't face nearly the same social stigma, etc. It's a true statement, but so blatantly spelling it out to the audience takes away a bit of the artistry that was otherwise put into the film.


    Van Trier assembled quite a varied cast for this outing, and for the most part, they all knock it out of the park. Stellan Skarsgard was great as the knowledgeable Seligman, and Charlotte Gainsbourg (star of the other two entries in the Depression Trilogy, as well) was rock solid as the older version of Joe.  Newcomer Stacy Martin as young Joe was quite fetching, though the sudden transition from young to old after only a three-year gap in the story was a bit difficult to take in.


    Even Shia LeBeouf as secondary leading man Jerome did a decent job, though his English accent was occasionally shaky. He gets a lot of heat these days, but he's a serviceable enough actor. His recent forays into Life-As-Performance-Art tomfoolery have put a real strain on his career, though, and it is sometimes difficult to look past.


    The surprise performance came from Christian Slater, who has always been a good actor but hasn't

    NYMPHOMANIAC - Joe's Father Poster Image
    Joe's Father
    had a lot of luck with roles since entering adulthood.  His portrayal of Joe's father was sad and sensitive, and he made a relatively small role quite memorable for it being one of the few genuinely likable characters in the film.

    Other celebrities fill out the smaller roles, most of their character's known only by initials (an affectation that Joe likely picked up in her sex addicts support group): Willem Dafoe, Jamie Bell, Jean-Marc Barr, Udo Kier, Hugo Speer and Uma Thurman all make appearances, among others.


    It's always a bit unnerving when you see explicit sex in a movie with real, mainstream actors. Yes, many familiar faces might have a little softcore in their past, or a little erotic thriller in their future, but visible penetration is taking things to a whole new level. This goes beyond CALIGULA—although the sex in that film was even more explicit, the principal players never seemed to be involved in the XXX action. This lands more squarely in BROWN BUNNY territory (although that entire film hinged entirely on a single, unsimulated blowjob scene—the only scene that pretty much anybody bothered to watch).  Here, the key actors do appear to be partaking in one another, though according to the credits, these scenes were performed with body doubles, prosthetics, and special effects.  That may be so, but it has to be said that the shots were pretty convincing.


    With the abundance of nipples, vaginas, penises both flaccid and erect, the occasional winking anus, and one impressive shot of semen being spat from a mouth, it is difficult to believe that what I watched was the edited version. This cut was made with the blessing of, but not the assistance of, Van Trier, whose official director's cut contains nearly 90 additional minutes of footage between the two films. The director's cuts were released to home video in November 2014, and have since been added to Netflix, and I will certainly be looking into them when I have the opportunity, if for no other reason than sheer curiosity of the filmmaker's original vision. I imagine that there is not only scads more sex in the extended version, but character development as well, that will help tie together some of the plot beats a little more soundly.


    It has been said elsewhere that NYMPHOMANIAC is not actually about sex at all, that it is actually about alienation, isolation, and the human condition. I say that a movie called NYMPHOMANIAC that features actual insertion shots is bound to be about sex, at least a little bit. It may be set dressing for a deeper meaning, but there's far too much dressing to deny its existence and its importance to the story.  That Van Trier has made a sex film out of an art film—or an art film out of a sex film—is undeniable. However, as with all things, whether or not it is any good is up for debate.  Some will call it pretentious, but pretentiousness is like art itself: it is all in the eye of the beholder, and where you see one, someone else will inevitably see the other.


    Regardless of which side of the fence they land on, many of the more "upper crust" critics have gone on record stating that the sex scenes are not sexy—they wouldn't want to be associated with erotica, after all—but those critics are just playing coy. The truth is, some sex scenes you are likely to find sexy, while others you are likely to find repulsive. It all depends on what type of porn you watch—unless you're one of these people who claim to not like porn, to which I say: pornography is ice cream; whether you like vanilla or rocky road, there's a flavor for everyone. Some people just partake more often than others. And you know what we call those people?


    Fat and happy.


    —J/Metro


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    Stunning red head Emma, in her barely-there shorts and tight tee shirts, should have no problem
    Case of the Smiling Stiffs - Poster Image
    Poster Image
    keeping a man, but apparently she does. According to her roommate Carolyn, it's because she only goes down on them once a month. What Carolyn doesn't know is that Emma's acts of fellatio always line up with the full moon, and the reason she can't keep a boyfriend is because they tend to die afterwards.


    Emma is some vampire variation, whose choice of ingestible body fluid isn't blood. She doesn't wear a black cape or sprout fangs or any of that, but she does occasionally transform into a ridiculous rubber bat, just so that we'll know what's really going on here.


    Two bumbling cops, Joe and Frank, do their best DRAGNET impressions while investigating the deaths plaguing the city—seemingly healthy men with giant erections and ecstatic rictus grins who have succumbed to severe dehydration. It's a tough case to crack, but luckily these coppers aren't afraid to get their hands—among other things—dirty in the pursuit of justice.


    The only other character of merit is newspaper reporter Silverman who is ostensibly writing about the murders, but seems to be doing little more than having sex with countless women. You can always tell where Silverman has chosen to bury his lead (so to speak), because he is such a skilled lover that the women are thereafter unable to uncurl their toes.


    I won't go into the plot any further, primarily because there isn't any more of it to speak of. Emma, Carolyn, Joe, Frank and Silverman stumble through the movie having sex with other people and occasionally each other, until the finale. When the full moon rises again and it's time for Emma to feed, she sets her sights on Silverman, which proves to be her doom. When the reporter drops trou, we learn just what it is that makes him such a skillful lover: his penis is made of silver...which just so happens to be deadly to vampires of all breeds.


    Case of the Smiling Stiffs - Joe & Frank
    Joe & Frank
    This is a sex-crime-comedy-horror hybrid that ultimately falls flat on almost all accounts. The sex is very softcore and ultimately uninteresting, the humor is incessant and almost incessantly juvenile, and it barely qualifies as horror (aside from there being a vampire) or crime (aside from there being cops). It's as if someone took a movie that could have been charmingly in bad taste and excised all of the elements that one might conceivably want to see. All that's left behind are some genitals and a few mildly amusing antics—but certainly not enough to entertain throughout the admittedly brief running time.


    The only reason this film even rates a mention here is because of the cast and crew. This is surely one of the movies that many of them wish would remain buried, but this is the Internet age. Almost nothing stays buried.


    Sean S. Cunningham was fresh off of producing writer-director Wes Craven's sleazy 1972 thriller LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. The duo had pitched a number of projects around Hollywood, but nobody was buying. Instead, they decided to split up and try their luck apart from each other.  In time, they would both create the franchises that they will forever be remembered by: Cunnigham's FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) and Craven's A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984). But between LAST HOUSE and FRIDAY, Cunningham worked on a few less-successful films—including this one.


    Information is really rather scarce due to a combination of lack of interest, and Cunningham all but

    Case of the Smiling Stiffs - Sweet, Sweet Emma
    Sweet, Sweet Emma
    disowning the film. It was reportedly Brud Talbot's idea to film a sex comedy in Miami, and the two of them share both a director and producer credit. Somewhere along the way, funding fell through and Cunningham was forced to complete the project on his own. Perhaps he called in a few favors, because he brought in a number of people from LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT to round out the cast and crew.

    Among them: Jim Hubbard and Gary Liebman, who worked sound on both films; film editor Steve Miner, who would go on to direct the first two sequels to FRIDAY THE 13TH; and adult film star/director Fred J. Lincoln, who went from portraying Weasel the rapist in LAST HOUSE to detective Joe here—and was quick to capitalize on his association with Cunningham, as evidenced by his work on XXX films FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NUDE BEGINNING (1987), FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2: THE NEXT GENERATION (1989), and THE LAST WHORE HOUSE ON THE LEFT (2005). Lincoln harbored a grudge against Cunningham for years, as he supposedly promised to executive produce some projects for Lincoln, but never followed through. His "parodies" of Cunningham's films were likely meant as a slap to the face.


    Fred J. Lincoln wasn't the only porn actor to appear in the film. The legendary Harry Reems (most famous as Dr. Young in 1972's DEEP THROAT) plays Silverman. Lincoln may have been responsible for bringing Reems on board, as the two of them had appeared together in 1971's THE ALTAR OF LUST.


    Only one other cast member went onto anything resembling a mainstream acting career, Ron Millkie, who portrayed officer Frank here, and went on to play Officer Dorf in FRIDAY THE 13TH. Most of the others never went on to perform again.


    CASE OF THE SMILING STIFFS (aka CASE OF THE FULL MOON MURDERS aka SEX ON THE GROOVE TUBE) was released to little acclaim—except in Australia, where it inexplicably became something of a hit. It was rereleased in America at a later date, with additional hardcore footage—it's unclear if this was newly shot footage, or footage that was shot at the time of production and simply not included—but even that didn't help it find an audience. Furthermore, whatever hardcore footage did exist is now lost, and I'm not sure it would have improved things anyway. Cunningham put the movie behind him, slightly embarrassed by the whole ordeal, and moved onto greener pastures.


    It should be noted that Cunningham's former partner Wes Craven ventured into the adult film world as well, directing the X-rated incest-laden drama THE FIREWORKS WOMAN from 1975. Craven had the good sense to work under a pseudonym (Abe Snake), but as I said before, this is the Internet age.


    Almost nothing stays buried.



    —J/Metro


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    Poster Image

    These days, Dennis Hopper is remembered primarily as a great actor. This is true, even if there are a number of questionable films on his résumé. In the 1970s, though, he was considered more than just an actor. He was an artist, and beyond that, he was a countercultural icon.


    Hopper had started acting in the 1950s, and appeared in two of James Dean’s three films—REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) and GIANT (1956). His 1961 foray into the genre film, NIGHT TIDE, has a small audience, as does 1966’s QUEEN OF BLOOD, but it wasn't until 1967 that he started to appear in the types of films that would make him famous. That year saw him in a supporting role in the hit film COOL HAND LUKE, but more importantly for our purposes, larger roles in the biker flick THE GLORY STOMPERS and the drugsploitation film THE TRIP. It was the latter that teamed Hopper up with costar Peter Fonda and screenwriter Jack Nicholson, setting the scene for their immortal collaboration EASY RIDER in 1969.


    EASY RIDER, which Dennis Hopper had a leading role in, was also his directorial debut. It planted him (and his costars) firmly in the consciousness of a younger generation that was slowly realizing peace and love was getting them nowhere, but not quite ready to embrace a harder, harsher sort of rebellion. The media covered him and the youth culture adored him, and everyone waited breathlessly to see what he would do next.


    It was a two-year wait for THE LAST MOVIE, a non-linear metafictional western influenced by Hopper’s affiliation with avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. Not at all the straightforward story that audiences were anticipating, it bombed spectacularly, putting a mark on Hopper’s promising career. But during the editing process of the film, another film was being made: the documentary THE AMERICAN DREAMER from Lawrence Schiller and L.M. Kit Carson.


    Tub Time: Duo
    THE AMERICAN DREAMER follows Dennis Hopper as he ostensibly crafts his edit of THE LAST MOVIE, though in truth, very little work seems to be getting done. Instead, we witness the epic procrastination that took place as Hopper gets good and loaded on beer and marijuana, shoots firearms, laments the lonely life of an artist (despite the fact that he’s rarely, if ever, alone), engages in orgies, and waxes philosophic about every subject under the sun.


    In some scenes, he expresses himself clearly, if not succinctly. In many, though, he’s obviously addled. He speaks with passion and conviction, but what he’s trying to say is lost in the purple haze of weed smoke and body odor that is par for the course of communal living. As an individual, he’s intense enough and charismatic enough that we’re all too happy to smile, and to nod along with him. Hell, we might even inhale deep enough that he starts to make sense. Because we wanthim to make sense. That’s how fascinating of a character this American Dreamer is.


    Even if you've never seen THE LAST MOVIE—which, let’s admit, most of us haven't—this documentary still seems somehow important. Probably more important than any of Dennis Hopper’s fictional film roles. THE AMERICAN DREAMER acts as many things: behind-the-scenes footage of the movie-making business; portrait of the actor as a young man; and a capsule of an era long gone. It’s manic and it’s freeform and it’s difficult to take in—just like the business, the actor, and the era. Most importantly, it’s always fascinating and endlessly entertaining.


    Tub Time: Solo
    Which kind of takes the sting out of how it feels to find out that THE AMERICAN DREAMER isn't really a documentary at all, and this isn't the real Dennis Hopper. “It’s an actor playing a role in what you think is a documentary,” says Lawrence Schiller. It’s Hopper playing Hopper (the role he was born to play) and relishing his inherent Hopper-ness. He’s thrown himself into the Dennis Hopper myth and emerged like the Phoenix, the same and yet changed, burning brighter as a legend than he could as a man. He was giving the people what they wanted, and what they wanted was him…just dialed up an extra notch or two.


    Not quite a documentary, then, but it certainly remains a document of all the same things it claimed to be reporting on. The situations may have been plotted, and the details may have been stylized, but there’s more truth hidden in this fiction than could ever be captured in your standard film.


    The Revolution Will Be Televised
    Whether it was initially intended or not, the themes that permeate THE LAST MOVIE and THE AMERICAN DREAMER coincide quite nicely with each other—movies about making movies, reality versus fantasy, the power of unconventional storytelling. In later years, Hopper recognized this and mandated that MOVIE could no longer be shown publicly unless it was paired with DREAMER. It seems as if the two films are fraternal twin brothers, separated at birth until reunited by their father. But even then, they resided mostly in the shadows, rarely screened, barely even existing.


    THE AMERICAN DREAMER is finally available to take home, thanks to the folk at Etiquette Pictures (who kindly supplied me a screener), and though it was a fabulous meeting, I can't help but want to complete the family reunion.


    We want THE LAST MOVIE, and we want it now.

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  • 09/29/16--07:54: Where am I?
  • It's been a while,  but I'm still around...
    New website: www.cultcompass.com
    e-mail: JonnyxMetro[at]Hotmail.com
    Twitter: @cultcompass

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