Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tales of the Black Freighter

If you’ve seen the Watchmen film, you probably already know that it was based on what many consider to be the greatest superhero comic book ever written. At almost four-hundred pages, it was inevitable that some elements of the original story would be cut from the film. One of those elements was Tales from the Black Freighter, a comic book read by one of the supporting characters (a comic within a comic). The basic idea was that, in a world where superheroes are real, nobody would want to read make-believe stories about them, instead turning to other genres like horror, western and pirate stories.

The story follows the sole survivor of a ship sunk by the Black Freighter, a seemingly supernatural pirate vessel. The survivor finds himself washed onto a desert island, along with the wreckage of his ship and the rotting corpses of his crew. He initiates a gruesome plan of escape that leads to further acts of dehumanization as he makes the journey back to his hometown before the pirate ship reaches it.

The horror of this story is physical, psychological and supernatural, leaving the viewer to wonder how much is hallucination. The narrator’s need to protect both himself and his town drives him to increasingly monstrous actions. By the story’s end, we see how these actions have damned him even as we realize that, in the same situation, many of us would have done the same thing.

There’s a lot of material on this disc related to the Watchmen film and motion comic; but Tales from the Black Freighter stands very much on its own as a dark allegory for the corruption that lies buried within the best of intentions. Even the closing credits manage to disturb with Nina Simone’s famous cover of “Pirate Jenny” from Threepenny Opera. Short but darkly sweet.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Unseen by Hands in Nameless Magazine.

A few weeks back, "Unseen by Hands" was published online at Nameless Magazine. It's a Lovecraftian style of story that goes in what is hopefully a surprising direction. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


This film made me throw up. You can take that as a recommendation or a warning. I can’t honestly recommend this one for entertainment value; but if you’re looking for disturbing films, this is the big one.

The film is based on The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, with the setting updated to World War II fascist Italy. Four prominent men (a banker, a bishop, a judge and a president) arrange to have eighteen young people (nine male and nine female) abducted and held in a remote chateau, where they are tortured over several weeks. The prisoners are raped, led around on leashes, force-fed shit, branded and mutilated. Between humiliation sessions, they are forced to listen to the almost comically shocking stories told by old prostitutes about further depravities. The prisoners do not escape. The four masterminds are not brought to justice. The film ends with the implication that these atrocities will simply go on.

Director Palo Pasolini had a lot to say about the symbolism throughout this film and, I suppose, a case can be made for its artistic merit. But the film is also disgusting on both a physical and emotional level. With these sorts of films, it’s always difficult to tell if the director is attempting to associate this disgust with some social evil (wartime atrocities and the excesses of fascism) or simply creating an exploitation piece. It’s also difficult to tell if the attempt is successful or if the film becomes so disgusting that any socially redeeming message is lost between scenes of rape and murder.

It really all depends on why you want to watch disturbing films in the first place. If you’re simply looking for celluloid endurance tests, Salo will be the kind of challenge you’re seeking. If you’re looking for a film that explores the darker side of human nature, you should find something here as well. But it’s not a party film or a date movie or one of those “so over-the-top-it’s-funny” kind of stories. It’s a shocking film whose bleakness has rarely been approached since its release over thirty years ago. The Criterion Collection has recently re-released this film on DVD, so you have a chance to see for yourself. Proceed with caution.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Singapore Sling

Wait. What just happened? There was a Greek detective muttering to himself, Sam Spade style. Then there were a couple of women, wearing lingerie and goggles, burying their chauffer in the rain. A secretary’s intestines were being dumped into the sink. Then it got kind of weird. I think I just finished watching Singapore Sling.

It’s like a porn movie you’d see playing in one of your nightmares. There’s plenty of sex; but it’s all mixed up so that you see sex with guns, sex with vomit, sex with knives, sex with piss, sex between mother and daughter, sex with eloctroshock therapy paddles strapped to the temples, sex with the mummified corpse of your father. What the hell do you even call sex with the mummified corpse of your father? Paternecrophilia? Do I have to make up new words just to describe this thing?

Seriously, the plot, so far as I can make out, is that a detective (played by Panos Thanassoulis, who kind of looks like a young Gerard Depardieu) goes looking for a woman named Laura and tracks her down to an old house occupied by a crazy mother (Michele Valley, who sounds kind of like Ornella Muti) and daughter (Meredyth Herold, who sounds kind of like Amanda Plummer). He doesn’t know that they already killed Laura and, in short order, he’s tied up and tortured until he agrees to participate in their strange fantasy lifestyle. I think. Or maybe Laura isn’t really dead and she’s just posing as the crazy daughter. Or maybe they’re not even mother and daughter. Or maybe he isn’t a detective after all. I mean, we never learn his real name and both women just call him Singapore Sling.

Occasionally, the characters look right into the camera and talk to me. Sometimes they lapse into Greek for no particular reason and sometimes the Greek is subtitled. Sometimes it isn’t. It’s funny and scary and disturbing and weird enough to keep me guessing. I’m not sure what to make of this film. But I’m watching it again.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


For my next lost review, Trent Reznor's 1993 short film, Broken. Since writing this review, it seems that Reznor himself is trying to upload this film to the Internet, but video hosting sites keep taking it down due to its extreme content. Still shocking after twenty years? That's why I'm reviewing it. That's also why, sorry, no link.

Good luck finding this one. Trent Reznor has never authorized the public release of this music video collection; but bootleg copies abound. Like most transgressive cinema, time is not very kind to this 1993 short subject; but I remember seeing it at a party years ago and, at the time, this was a film that went where the splatter films of the eighties feared to tread. Today, it can be seen as a precursor to the so-called “torture porn” films (Saw and Hostel being the most prominent of this sub-genre). But in many ways, Broken is a purer thing than what’s being put in multiplexes today. No dialogue beyond song lyrics and no plot beyond the bare minimum needed to begin the atrocity exhibition.

A killer, about to be hung for his crimes, remembers the man he abducted and tortured to death. The scene jumps back to the abduction, followed by the man being restrained in a basement. There is a television set in the room and the killer watches Nine Inch Nails music videos to get himself in the mood for murder. The film then jumps between Trent Reznor’s dark dreams put to music and the stark brutality of one man torturing another man to death for no apparent reason other than the thrill of it.

The highlight of the short film (if such a term is appropriate for something so steeped in darkness) is the video for “Happiness in Slavery”, wherein legendary extreme performance artist Bob Flannagan calmly places himself in a torture device designed to turn human beings into raw meat. The basement torture scenes between music videos are purposefully grainy and give the illusion of being from an actual snuff film. The whole film has that beautifully grotesque allure that compels you to watch, even as you know there is nothing socially redeeming about witnessing make-believe atrocities.

I suppose this film could go under the heading of “giving the audience what they want”: torture, degradation and brutality, without the plot and dialogue that tends to be so badly written in other films of this sub-genre. The entertainment value is largely a matter of personal taste; but if you’re looking for something transgressive, dark and more than a little gross; you could do worse than tracking down a copy of Broken.