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Notes on A Mondo Night at The ‘New’ Beverly!

If you aren’t familiar with Mondo posters, don’t fret, as of now they are still only a part of the cinephile lexicon but are quickly becoming the pinnacle of movie posters, turning out limited editions that are truly coveted by collectors. If you want to know more about Mondo you can read all about them here and here.  I collided with Mondo when Brazie shot an event for them in Hollywood and scored tickets to their Mystery Screening at The New Beverly Cinema. Luckily for me his girlfriend left for the weekend on a camping trip and I was invited in her stead. Date Night!

We waited in line as poster fanatics fidgeted with their cardboard tubes and speculated which films were going to play and which artists would be doing which genre of film poster.  Bianchi barks at us from the back of the line, he got a tweet hinting to the films that await us.  Well, one film and apparently three episodes of an old sitcom.  Can that be right? The rumor he continued to stick with was 3 Ninjas and three episodes of Hanging With Mr. Cooper. Ahhh! Can that seriously be right??

And thank God Ishmael was just being a deceitful prick on Twitter and Bianchi was simply being gullible (or playing along, I can never tell).  Sitting in the historic theater Ishmael announced, this is going to be a horror film night.  The first film, Danny Boyle’s ingenious vision of a virus apocalyptic in scope turning England into the United Kingdom of Zombies; 28 Days Later… Here is the poster from Mondo, artist Charlie Adlard. There was a variant design which we did not get.

The movie starts with images of chaos and violence, people acting out in Rage without any infection yet to speak of, and a horrific scene of chimps being tested.  Animal rights activists storm the lab and attempt to free the chimps, but all the chimps have what the scientist calls an infection of Rage for which they have no cure. CUT TO:

Jim (Cillian Murphy) lying nude, looking emaciated, in a hospital bed with a scar on his head.  He was a bicycle courier who has been unconscious throughout the entire outbreak and now wakes to find London desolate.  It is a fresh introduction to the world of zombies.  Boyle had Dod Mantle shoot the movie on video, giving it a haunting reality. We travel through the abandoned metropolis like we would a well shot travelogue. Few horror films can build empathy toward a character this quickly, but with this visual style, not to mention the amazing production value as they got actual shots of one of the world’s most populated cities completely abandon (a tremendous feat I would imagine), they gain my empathy.

The success of the first act of 28 Days Later… is a testament to Boyle’s mastery of his craft.  He’s a director that can cross genres effortlessly (see Trainspotting, Millions and A Life Less Ordinary) because he continues to have a focus on the emotional, character driven aspect of each story. Jim and Selena (Naomie Harris, who we unfortunately don’t see in more films) find the remnants of a family in a high rise apartment building.  The father (Brendan Gleeson) has barricaded himself and his daughter, Hanna, in their apartment waiting to come across other survivors.  Now with Selena and Jim’s help they can all traverse the infected land together to find the Army who has been broadcasting a message from Manchester.  The road trip that ensues provides each character what they have lost in the Zombaclypse; they get a taste of what they future could be, and they are hopeful. It becomes a story about finding and choosing family, where the the zombies become an ancillary presence that simply bonds our characters together.

Boyle, whether intentional or not, brought social commentary back to the zombie genre.  When George Romero made Night of The Living Dead he set out to make an allegorical story of what would happen when one culture overtakes another and the resistance that oppressing culture would face (there is an article HERE that discounts the idea of an intentional racial allegory). Now Boyle explores Romero’s original concept even further as Selena, Jim, Frank and Hannah are baited into a false sense of security when they find the last surviving members of a military force that was overrun at Manchester.  The soldiers seem to have set up a haven; they are in a mansion surrounded with landmines, well fortified and stocked with food.  But, as Howard Zinn wrote, “In the short run…the victims, themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims.”

The soldiers, themselves tainted with the surrounding culture of Rage, turn on their new guests and attempt to subjugate the woman and force them into a life of procreation and sexual servitude.  This is where the allegory gains strength, because it is a common thing in the World to be oppressed, whether militarily, economically, socially or politically, and it is common for victims to seek help from “stronger” victims.  And it is also common for those offering help to become corrupt themselves, which is why it is up to the virtuous to continue the struggle. With Jim’s diplomatic attempt spurned he must fight the men that hold them.  Boyle handles Jim’s fight with a wonderful fervor that shows Rage can permeate a society without a physical bite. It is the savagery of man when pushed too far.  Jim attacks so viciously the oppressors that Selena briefly suspects his is one of the Infected.  When the struggle subsides we are left feeling that good can triumph as long as under the optimistic, pacifistic and diplomatic surface of the virtuous there is a controlled Rage that will dispose of it’s oppressors. Rage On!

Okay!  So, it took almost an hour to dispense the posters to all the fanboys in the audience before the second movie was announced.  Where one horror film was intelligent and could be considered social allegory, the second film is one of the most unintentionally funny horror films since Ed Wood helmed a picture; Hellraiser.  Only familiar today because of the cult following it achieve since it’s release in the late 80’s, an uberfan may try to argue an intelligent slant to this movie, but let’s not give Clive Barker that much credit.

The plot is rather simple.  Frank (Sean Chapman/Oliver Smith) delves into a world of sad0-masochism and purchases a box that will open up what seems to be Hell, with demons that are driven only to torture whoever opened the box.  The torture never seems to produce sexual gratification in either the victim or the demons (called Cenobites), but nonetheless Frank is curious and the demons destroy his body. The blood from Frank’s brother, Larry, is spilled in the attic where Frank was “killed” and the blood is absorbed into the wood, bringing Frank back.  But for the transformation back to a human form to be complete he needs more blood and recruits his former lover (his brother’s wife) to bring victims home and murder them.  His hope is to escape the Cenobites before they realize he has returned to the human world.

There is a certain camp value to the film that makes it entertaining enough to sit through, but do so only if you are a few beers deep and with friends.  The shooting style is crude, where painstaking effort went into the special effects that are brilliant for the late ’80’s, it is shot as though the director was rushing through the scenes because they bored him.  His disconnected approach to the characters and performances become so “cheesy” that I would break out laughing.  We are given exposition about the relationship between Frank and his ex-mistress through a bizarre sequences of flashbacks that fade in and out of present day with a familiar 80’s soft light and filter.  It was a sequence worthy of a Bonnie Tyler music video.  Clare Higgins performance of the scene adds to the comedy, as she practically convulses as she recalls her orgasms with Frank.

The Cenobites are a wonderfully morbid creation.  I was six years old when this movie came out, and the faces of each Cenobite has been scorched into my memory.  They are proof that Clive Barker can be an interesting and creative filmmaker. But, his lack of attention to story, character and depth of subtext put him, in my mind, in the ranks of the most overrated horror directors (expect for Candyman, which I still enjoy).

But I never felt much of a connection to any of the horror movies of the 80’s, as I’m convinced that may be among the worst decades for American cinema.  The 80’s were the growing pains of the film evolution that lead to movies I adored in the 90’s.  We were seeing the revolutionaries from the American New Wave and Film School Brats go the way of commercial tripe. The 80’s (except for Raging Bull in 1980) saw the worst films of Scorsese’s career, Bogdanovich was hardly even on the scene, there was the slow death of Coppola’s career although if you like Peggy Sue Got Married, I’d listen to your argument. Lucas showed promise as a director with THX1138, American Graffiti, and Star Wars, but abandoned the director’s chair for the back office.  Even the older greats from the 60’s and 70’s like Peckinpah (who died too early) and Sam Fuller (who did atrocious films like White Dog in 1984) seemed to ignore filmmaking as a craft.  William Friedkin! Roman Polanski! Filmmakers that stormed the scene with intelligent movies and changed the face of film were now wallowing in the post-Renaissance of American movies. Spielberg was the only one from the 70’s wunderkinds that really focused and perfected his storytelling.  And even though we saw some magnificent films come from the decade (more than I can possible list), and it brought us the Coen Brothers, it also brought us a remarkable number of films I wish I could forever wipe from my memory.

BUT I DIGRESS!  We were talking about Hellraiser, another film from the 80’s with value stemming only as far a humorous exercise in camp and special effects.  The best part of sitting through this movie again was the poster handed out at the end, take a look above.  It’s from artist Florian Bertmer and is far more interesting than the movie.

 

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