Whether the Tendency of the Letter Published is to Deprave and Corrupt Those Whose Minds are Open to Such Immoral Influence

The Video Nasties – a hysterical censorship phenomenon in the United Kingdom during the early years of the 1980s video recording industry that saw prosecutors determining the extent of cuts certain graphically violent movies would need to be deemed suitable for home viewing – do not have a one-size-fits-all aesthetic to them, outside of featuring graphic violence (which would often vary in amount still). It was an arbitrary motion made towards an arbitrary selection of films. So when Censor – the debut feature film by Prano Bailey-Bond – hardly resembles the Video Nasties which it takes as its screenplay’s subject matter (co-written by Bailey-Bond and Anthony Fletcher), this doesn’t feel as much a failure as it seems certain people would like to pronounce it. No, there is no less of a huge amount of fascination with the movies that were subject to this certainly publicity-boosting act of committee on top of the minutiae regarding that process in itself.

The censor whose process we follow most closely is Enid Baines (Niamh Algar), who takes her job very seriously, spending long hours in a room watching violent grisly material and noting what must be cut before she and her colleagues can determine to allow the film to be exhibited on the streets or if the movie must be banned for the safety of the citizens. She seems mostly stable enough in the first few scenes, if still alarmist, as she argues on decapitations and eye-gougings to be removed from a film and if the introduction of her traumatic past very early on invites doubt, she’s still relatively well-adjusted to receive a bombast of gruesome images of murder and rape and maiming and treat the matter professionally. The traumatic past, as it were, is a young memory of watching her child sister Nina (Amelie Child-Villiers) disappear in the woods and it appears that Enid’s stability about 2 decades later is at risk from three sides.

First, Enid’s parents (Clare Holman & Andrew Havill) approach her with a death certificate finally created for Nina, despite Enid’s objection that she might still be out there. Then there’s a shocking domestic killing that imitates a violent sequence that was passed by Enid in her assessment, bringing a lot of public attention to the censorship office and Enid herself. And finally, while reviewing the latest submission by an elusive and notorious filmmaker Frederick North (Vincent Schiller), she spots the face of the lead actor Alice Lee (Sophia La Porta) and is so very sure that she has to be Nina, beginning an personal investigation towards North’s production that only promises an unstoppable spiral down to something beyond the limits of the television screen.

I did very little in that synopsis to hide how Censor slides into psychological thriller territory and if Censor does not resemble a video nasty in any particular way – sure, there is gore and violence in the film but much of it is backloaded or archive footage from infamous banned Video Nasties with ironic cutting at the most visceral moments to “leave it to the imagination” as Enid suggests – it does resemble the unreliable atmosphere of a giallo with its choice of colors and spacing between the office workplace and Enid’s boxy apartment home, in the modern homage fashion of Cattet & Forzani or more closely to fellow British arthouse horror stablemate of Bailey-Bond’s Peter Strickland. And certainly this has extratextual purpose as well in indicting the sort of hang-ups that somebody might have imposing their restrictions on art, even art as disreputable as these violent pictures.

Censor is a movie that’s easy to chop down into three acts that slide well into each other, though I will admit there is a distinct difference in quality or engagement for that middle half interrupting the regularity of Enid and her colleagues staring at dismemberments between notes, researching their filmmakers, and having debates about what could possibly be going out to the public in between slimey producers waltzing into the offices to discuss those results (the producer particularly showing up in pivotal ways being played by resident screen creep Michael Smiley, which is of course an excellent casting choice*). Anyway, everything up until Enid visits a video store trying to solicit a Frederick North picture to clerk’s reluctance despite it being obvious he stocks banned videos is transparently a conduit for Bailey-Bond’s love for the movies, their attached notoriety, and a close interest in the process that brought them that notoriety. But that sequence is far enough into the middle investigation once Enid sees Lee’s face on a work assignment that we’re already beginning to segue into aimless meandering that is brought by slack and less interesting editing and once she leaves that video store, it’s not coming back for a while.

But that’s all fair since editor Mark Towns is saving his best for last and that can be argued for the rest of the crew as that meandering finally leads to the climactic final third where Enid finally finds a direction to take on in finding Alice and finding out if she’s Nina and her tenaciousness starts to affect the visuals in a tremendously exciting way. The frames of the aspect ratio begin to close at a snail’s pace so you can hardly notice the walls closing in on Enid, the colors by Annika Summerson’s camerawork become more saturated than the more grounded hues within the first hour, and video effects slowly corrupt the visuals in a way that disguise the segue between Enid’s perspective on things and the camera’s without particularly telling us what is the truth until the very final minutes. It doesn’t take a deep dive to recognize the events in terms of narrative, but it remains the sort of translation between a subjective perspective and the cinematic form that makes me giddy when encountered in the wild. And it all just brings us back to the interest in that video nasty aesthetic with a moment that particularly seats us as viewers into watching something ostensibly artificial and beastly before Enid finds ways to disrupt it in shocking ways.

So there one has it. Deep in the midnight screenings of Sundance 2021 birthed a cryptic horror yarn on a moment in pop culture that come from a place of deep admiration. Censor, which I have to assume is a continuation of ideas from Bailey-Bond’s earlier short film Nasty (which I haven’t seen), is a fairly confident feature debut that presents the filmmaker’s personality with aplomb and it is very easy to see how Bailey-Bond’s interests and my interests align enough that I’m excited for whatever she comes up with next, genre or otherwise.

*I was also convinced for a minute that Matthew Earley, who plays a co-worker of Enid’s, was actually a cameo by Ben Wheatley at first glance. Apologies to Earley.

Uncle STinG’s Egyptian Blood Feast Recipe for Y’all

lewisbday

For the Memory of Herschell Gordon Lewis 15 June 1926 – 2016

The idea of who brought blood and gore to motion pictures is not a certain thing (obviously the milestone moment of Blood Itself making its appearance in a motion picture is Psycho, but talking what movie really didn’t sanitize the matter and really indulged in the violent shades of red), but I can’t think of many people who actually know their way through horror cinema disputing the concept that the credit belongs to “The Godfather of Gore (and Direct Marketing according to his personal website)” Herschell Gordon Lewis. I don’t think the Direct Marketing aspect is an inaccurate self-observation – he didn’t always do horror pictures, but spent all of his career essentially mapping out and following the trends of cinema. What could be made cheap and quick and get some big damn return was on Lewis’ mind, but notably with his early nude pictures.

When the nude pictures were starting to lose their underground appeal, Lewis and his producer collaborator David Friedman jumped straight into horror and reached for the most shocking exploitative usage of gore and blood as they possibly could, selling their pictures on those extremities and forever making their mark in horror film history with their first indulgence in that genre, Blood Feast – a film about a crazed Egyptian slaughtering people to sacrifice to his Ancient Egyptian God. Amongst the bloodiness of its scenes, Blood Feast is also notorious for being the oldest film in the UK DPP’s Video Nasties list – movies prosecuted under their Obscene Publications Act in an attempt to censor them.

bloodfeast2big

These movies were honestly… not good. None of them. I don’t think Lewis made good movies (nor did he, I think given some of his interviews… especially this one by Juan Barquin for YAM Magazine). Some are among the worst movies I’ve ever seen, like Blood Feast itself. But I think a good amount of them are a joy to watch nevertheless, like Blood Feast again, which I’d recommend to you all right this second as so-bad-it’s-good good damn time. And to be real, I don’t think another filmmaker was able to have such pride in their status as truly meritless shlock in every way it can be considered art. It suggests a charming and down-to-earth personality which, given that here in S. Florida, I know of enough people who have either met (like yours truly) or been good friends with Lewis, can be confirmed by anyone who has encountered him.

And again… when it comes to making the blood fill the screen, most people agree he did it first. Sometimes, you don’t have to do it best.

Anyway, Blood Feast was my real introduction to the filmmaker (as per a marathon of the Blood trilogy held by my former A Night at the Opera co-host Britt Rhuart) and I thought it would be nice to revisit that movie in an urthodox manner. By trying to adapt it as a recipe for a feast akin to what Fuad is preparing for his victims (and with his victims). Nobody can cook it like Lewis, but why not take a look at what makes up the feast from the very beginning?

blood-feast-photos-3

INGREDIENTS

  • 10 Gallons of flop sweat from my boy Mal Arnold’s beady eyed forehead heat in the Miami sun playing the buggy Fuad Ramses.
  • Maybe a box of Just For Men on that grey hair on him too. But seriously, man, somebody get Arnold an AC.
  • 30 whole books on Egyptian culture and history. We ain’t gonna read these, we’re gonna burn them. A movie like Blood Feast ain’t got no need for cultural accuracy or correctness. We’re not making goddamn Citizen Kane here.
  • 118 lb.s of white meat named Connie Mason. That’s literally all she will function as… meat. It’s not like she put anything into her performance.
  • Also get some more white meat for the supporting cast surrounding Arnold and Mason, but make sure they literally can’t intone anything to sound human in their whole life. That’s very important.
  • -5 functioning lightbulbs. Like literally buy them and then break them.
  • 7 cans of gold spray paint.
  • 1 department store mannequin to spray that gold on. It will be the classiest thing in the movie.
  • A basketful of hats no living being should be seen wearing for Lyn Bolton.
  • 20 virgins. The movie is classy enough to suggest them as sacrifices and it’s not like it’ll be worse than appearing in this movie.
  • However, you can contain South Florida heat, you fucking get it. And contain it. It’s a necessary ingredient it adds that spicy flavor and that Florida Man tastefulness to it.
  • 10,000 buckets of red paint as crimson as we imagine blood to be in our nightmares.
  • 6 sheeps worth of body parts and organs from eyes to stomach to tongue, not a bit of sheep wasted without being used in the name of art.
  • Really that last ingredient was an understatement, we want all the blood and gore you can give. Not some, dude. ALL of the blood and gore.
  • Also all the red curtains you can get. It’s gonna look like a magic show in the Black Lodge up in this bitch.
  • Y’know what? Grab a canvas too, because this is gonna be a work of art, yo!

bloodfeast-1963-1

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Write the lines to the hands of at least one of those sacks of white meat (btw, you should probably refer to them as actors).
  2. Don’t mix those actors together very well, we’re not looking for chemistry at all by any means.
  3. Paint it all black.
  4. Burn down your script.
  5. Mesh all the listed ingredients together and shove it into your over. Heat at the highest you can go and for an indefinite amount of time.
  6. This is probably a good time to state I can’t cook and you shouldn’t listen to me.
  7. Let your house burn down. Don’t walk out of the house. This is fine. This is as insane as the movie is for sure.
  8. Go make the table while you’re at it. Invite your friends, have a bunch of beers, and pizza.
  9. Go watch Blood Feast right now, it’s a good time.

bloodfeast1

Farewell, Lewis. Thanks for the meal!

bloodfeast5

The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Horror

Around age 12, at one point in my life, I was playing soccer or basketball – one or the other – with my cousin and my brother. I asked my cousin off-hand what the scariest movie he ever saw was and he answered with The Evil Dead, which he happens to own at the time on VHS and lent it to me, which I was hesitant to do since I knew the movie was rated NC-17 (a pretty little known fact by anyone except probably those like me who were raised to avoid PG-13 movies until age 13 and R rated/NC-17 were right out of the question according to my parents). Still he insisted not only that I watch it, but that I watch it in the dark at night.

I chickened out not only at that chance of seeing it in the dark, but I did not chicken out on seeing the movie that very night anyway (though I remember having a heart attack when my mom watched me rewinding it, thinking she’d punish me for it – in retrospect, I don’t even think she knew the movie existed and so I don’t know why I feared it). That same cousin later on let me keep it (as was kind of his habit with any movie he lent me, he wasn’t really a cinephile though he did enjoy movies enough to occasionally pass by and borrow whatever was in my collection.)

For this reason among others that I will go into, The Evil Dead is a movie that has a special place in my heart for a great number of reasons. It is maybe the first horror movie not featuring Freddy Krueger that I took an extreme obsession towards. At the time, it was a movie that I was pretty surprised could be so tonally different from director Sam Raimi’s later Spider-Man (my favorite movie at that age), to be so cruel and gory within his first feature film (although now I’ve watched enough of Raimi’s films to catch the consistent in-your-face wacky style style that he’s had in every movie from The Evil Dead to Drag Me to Hell.

A much bigger reason for my adoration and constant watching of The Evil Dead was simply that I was impressed by how it was made. As both an emphatic IMDb browser then and already having been bit by the bug of wanting to make movies at that point, I began to take Raimi’s low-budget production history to making a superficially simple but effective horror story followed by acclaim at Cannes – from Stephen fucking King of all people – as a gospel for my goals (though I think if I had seen Mad Max – just as literal in portraying momentum via cinematic language as The Evil Dead – then as opposed to this past summer, it might have been my mecca instead).

For these attachments I find linking me to The Evil Dead as a movie (as well as the entire trilogy), it will be tougher than anything to actually approach said movie objectively. I’m much too fond of it for all the different attributes it has. That said, when you look at it hard enough, you can catch its flaws as a picture, I’ve just never thought of them as damning enough an element to make the film any less of a classic (if conceding that is nowhere near a perfect film).

The VHS copy I was lent of the movie had a cover that I actually think does a great job of portraying what the movie essentially is:

As you see in this blatant photoshoot, star Bruce Campbell (who plays Ashley, the protagonist for the entire trilogy and even makes a fanservice appearance in the 2013 remake that was produced by him, Raimi, and franchise producer Robert Tapert) standing next to a grave with a matte full moon and a pretty wary look in his eyes. Sure, it’s not nearly as fully of all that gooey gore that is the film’s very notoriety, but it pretty much is at once an obviously artificial bit of atmosphere setting – the atmosphere being a haunting and spooky one – while at once being effective simply because of how unambiguous it is about what to fear.

So much of the movie within from the get-go is dedicated to airy and foggy tones while allowing for enough darkness to get things shadowy without at all coming off as all-black amateur hour (fucking Friday the 13th). This while the rawness of the shoot gives it a more legitimate feel to it, a more immediate involvement akin to a found-footage film without hiding the good stuff or looking it was shot with an ass. It’s a hella great compliment to the soundmix featuring enough nightlife and silence within it – occasionally allowing the crushing of woods leaves and branches to define what we don’t see and what may be lurking waiting for the five teenagers – and also provided in angles and framings that verily provide impact, all diagonally and Dutch and bright lights to give outline to shapes in the dark. Lights that are very much visible when the shot widens enough, but that’s ok. It’s a ghost story without any real ghosts, just enough of a mood to make you fear before anything can happen to the gang.

The Evil Dead is essentially the equivalent of going through a novelty haunted house and seeing where the tricks come from in making those ghosts and monsters only after they jump out to scare you. With a lot of blood.

I mean, there is a shitload of blood within it. Like so much that, despite undoubtedly being the only “pure” horror film in the whole trilogy (as I will go late on with the other three films this month in obviously enthusiastic anticipation for Starz’ Ash vs. Evil Deadthe second film became a horror/comedy hybrid, the third an adventure picture that only occasionally touched on horror moods), it still has a very aware sense of humor about the buckets and buckets of fake gore that take place in all places the moment that the movie’s premise of five friends in a cabin in the woods becoming prey to released demonic spirits that possess them and scar them horrifically. An entire scene late in the picture dedicates itself to shocking Ash by having blood spurt and pour from incredibly nonsensical places from a film projecter to a light bulb.

Raimi and Tapert were totally aware of how shocking the power of the on-screen blood could be to punctuate the haunting mood of the film, but not simply on its own…

The characters surrounding The Evil Dead are inarguably cannon fodder, even Ash is devoid of any charisma that he’d be later on known for (that comes more in Evil Dead II than in Campbell’s deer-in-the-headlights performance… I meant “deer-in-the-headlights” in a good way, I promise). Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), Scotty (Hal Delrich), Linda (Betsy Baker), and Shelly (Sarah York)… all five of them are only there to suffer on account of their messing with the Naturom Demonto (isn’t it great to see Lovecraft references in indie films?). I once wrote a review on the blogspot page claiming that this movie’s main premise is to witness the suffering of friends and loved ones like Ash does and deal with the horror that the only humane thing is to cut them into pieces, but I think that might be kind of a bit too much credit to the characterizations. And especially when a lot of shots hold the victims at a distance while we see from the demonic forces’ point of view.

But the anchor to it all is simply that we do have to watch them slowly but surely lose control of themselves (alongside some very creepy makeup working to disguise these humans in a very Halloween way – but also the fact that the cast seems more game playing creepily lullabying or screaming demons than, y’know, people), at some points recognizing ourselves with Ash psychologically having to deal with this. And the gore only adds to it, watch all these folks we were just riding a car with at the beginning turn into pieces of flesh and liquefied meat. It’s disgusting and cartoonish yet effective, even Campbell’s melodramatic yelling as the butt of the joke keeps things from becoming way too sober to enjoy it.

Anyway, this has said a lot of stuff about my feelings about The Evil Dead and a whole lot of it is more how I’ve adored it in my adolescence rather than any objectivity, so let me just point out the few kinks in my love for it that grew over time.

First, the infamous tree rape scene, the one that most likely got it on the UK’s Video Nasties list more than all the gore in the film.

Fuck that scene. Pun not intended (and now that I realized I accidentally used it I am ashamed). But really, fuck that scene. I know a lot of people don’t have a problem with it, but I always did, even at 13. And I usually am not reluctant towards rape scenes in cinema or television (though I always find them uncomfortable to sit through, no matter how necessary to the narrative). And I know that it’s positioned at a point that sort of makes it essential to the rising of the violence, in that it is the very first time we see these forces attack and it is with outright brutality, but whereas most of these violent incidents can do so while being banal enough to feel sort of like semi-laugh moments, that’s just never been the case with this scene. And it didn’t HAVE to be a rape scene in order to get point across that something is in the woods attacking. Come on.

And the other thing is that, like I said before many times in this review, this movie is really obviously cheap and has its moments where the artificiality of it shows up in obvious ways. The most nagging of these to me is in the case the Professor (Bob Dorian’s in an audio tape attached to the Naturon Demonto)’s workplace under the cabin… which looks exactly like a filmmaker would just get the elements necessary to have your standard workdesk with any semblance of personality or liveliness. And then, y’know, add a fucking The Hills Have Eyes poster just because. Fuck is this?

But despite these pickings, there’s still so many things I want to talk about from the editing (of which Edna Ruth Paul got help from a certain Joel Coen… hey hey hey) to the music choice of old-timey stuff that wears its fears on its skeletal sleeve and that’s unfortunate because I simply don’t want to keep you guys here forever to talk about an impressive work of ingenuity and creativity to supply a creepy isolated house movie that you oughta just experience for yourself by now. Talking this long about a movie that I love as much as The Evil Dead might leave you all dead by dawn…