Thursday, May 23, 2019

Review: Pigs (1972)

By Caroline Rennox

 Maybe it was all those ads in Veganuary or maybe it was pure guilt over my repeated failures since to give up the bacon butty, king of the breakfasts, but for whatever reason, when I saw 88 Films’ reissue of Marc Lawrence’s Pigs (aka Daddy’s Deadly Darling, aka The 13th Pig aka Horror Farm aka…), I just had to grab a copy.

 Pigs promises a lot with it’s garish cover- scenes of porcine carnage, people being torn limb-from-limb in a frenzy of piggly-wiggly mayhem. What it delivers instead is something totally different, an idiosyncratic little gem that mixes its murder-lust with a little bit of mysticism, and creates a twisted fairy-tale replete with mad old witches, dangerous woods and a wolf in sheep’s clothing…

 The film opens with the formerly Great Zambini (played by writer and director, Marc Lawrence) sitting in a barn with some poor corpse, monologuing about how he’s had to keep feeding his pigs man-flesh since they, um, ‘accidentally’ got a taste for it after eating a hobo who’d fallen asleep in a nearby field. The scene is a great introduction to the ambiguity that runs through the film- Did Zambini kill this guy to feed to his pigs? Is it the guilt making him explain himself, or madness?

 The next scene introduces Lynn Webster, a gal who’s the very definition of ‘troubled but cute’. We meet her dressed in a nurse’s uniform, driving like all hell’s a coming to the tune of an annoyingly catchy little hippy number. She stashes the outfit before heading into town where she stumbles into a nice little waitressing job in a cafe run by local weirdo and pig owner, the Great Zambini.

 What follows is a nice little series of setups and subverted expectations. Everything we learn about Zambini suggest he’s feeding those pigs something fresher than meat from the local mortuary slab. Lynn gets a garish warning that ‘he ain’t’ been right’ since a trapeze accident that left him clinically dead for several minutes,  a warning followed up by Lynn’s lurid nightmare of Zambini cutting her face over-and-over again.

 Zambini’s weird shut-in neighbours keep making complaints to the local sheriff that the pigs are roaming around at night terrorising people. When it gets back to Zambini they appear to receive a terrifying visit from the Great man himself- in shabby circus regalia, threatening them to keep their mouths shut. A bizarre warning from the local homicidal pig farmer or just the delusion of two hysterical old women?

 While the film does it’s level best to convince us of Zambini’s sinister nature, we’re painted a different picture with young Lynn. The tear-filled phone-calls home to her worried father lead you to believe that she’s some kind of hippy caricature – a free-spirit who ran away from her ‘totally square’ parents. She makes quite the impression on the men of the town and is soon out on a date with a local Lothario, but he is frantically rebuffed when tries to take advantage of her all alone in his pickup truck. Her true nature is revealed when she later lures him back to her room and slices him to ribbons. Zambini is, of course, happy to help her dispose of this tasty meal for his pigs and does so again when she offs the psychiatrist sent to track her down by the facility she escaped from. Blinded by her sweet exterior to Lynn’s true nature, or overcome by his obsession with his pigs, their joining of forces is the beginning of their downfall and ultimate fate as tasty pig-feed.

 The movie plays around with a lot of horror cliches. Zambini’s an obvious choice for a tragic monster but maybe he’s just a poor, brain-damaged ex-circus perform who loves his pigs too much not to feed them their favourite food. If the townfolk had ever managed to get their mob together I’m sure we would’ve seen pitchforks and torches galore.

 Lynn could easily have been just another pyscho-killer, but her genuine distress and confusion about what’s really happening, along with the bluntly explained tragic backstory, don’t really make her the type of horror movie killer that you get a kick out of watching.

 The movie’s original title is ‘The 13th Pig’, which is one of those titles that only makes sense once you’ve got to the end. The local mortician’s only real part in the movie is to tell us that the ancient Egyptians worshipped pigs. Zambini’s weird neighbours insist over and over to the sheriff that he’s killing people to turn them into pigs. The final scene of the movie see’s Zambnini’s pigs rounded up to be taken to another farm and, lo and behold, there’s an extra pig! It’s not a great payoff since the whole mystical sideplot is, like most of the other plot-threads, a little half-baked, but it adds a satisfying extra layer of to the whole groovy weirdo vibe of the movie.

 The 88 Film reissue and the Troma distribution hint that this is, by design or by compromise, an exploitation movie (see also the lurid cover for fooling poor saps like me) but it doesn’t really deliver on the gratuitous tits and gore that genre might suggest. For the life of me, despite my disappointment at the lack of glorious carnage, something about this one tickled my heart-strings. I kept imagining an early 00’s indie remake: Zooey Deschanel as the quirky mystery-girl with a secret; Alan Alda as the weird old grump with a heart of gold; the boring suburban town too mainstream to accept them and their passion for murdering people. Wouldn’t ‘Garden State’ have been improved with a little more murder?

 Despite the truly ear-piercing soundtrack of screeching swine, despite the fact that it doesn’t quite deliver on that awesome poster, something about this movie just clicked for me. Sometimes that’s all it take and ‘Pigs’ has earned a spot on my ever decreasing shelf space. Written, directed and starring one man, it’s a peek inside his head and maybe the implications of that are horrifying enough all on their own.

Pigs Is Available Now On Blu Ray

Pigs (1972) Trailer

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Review: The Fly (1986)

By Mark Wilkinson 

"I'm an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it."

A remake/re-envisioning of the 1958 film of the same name. This time around through the twisted mind's eye of David Cronenberg. The Fly is essentially a two-handed tragic romance, between the brilliant scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldlbum) and journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis). When he asks her back to his lab to show her his latest project--teleportation--she is immediately drawn to the eccentric genius, as they begin a budding romance. One night, an intoxicated and jealous Seth, decides to become the first human to test out his Telepods. The teleportation is a success; however, the audience is shown that a regular house fly got into the Telepod with him. Seth is now becoming...Brundlefly.

 While this is probably the most commercial of David Cronenberg’s films, that doesn’t stop it from being his greatest. It's effervescent with ideas. Much like Brundle when he first comes out the teleporter, you can sense Cronenberg's energy - his need for telling this story. The Fly is perfectly suited for the king of body-horror, as he brings out all the stops for this masterpiece of gross-out cinema. What’s more important than the grotesque effects, however, is the focus on strong characters and their evolution throughout the story, which has always been Cronenberg’s real strong-suit. Howard Shore’s score lifts the film to transcendent heights, giving the film an operatic feeling, truly befitting its tragic tale of a man crushed by his own hubris. Cronenberg fully delivers with The Fly, the places he takes it to are so deep, so dark and so painfully human, that it still feels so real and kicks like a mule.
 Cronenberg has always been criticized for being rather misogynistic. This is a claim that I’ve never agreed with. However, he acknowledges his reputation and makes a bold decision to have the movie be told from Davis's character perspective, not Goldblum's. This is not just a story about misunderstood male genius, but simply the human wish to be more than we are. Geena Davis is remarkable as our heroine Ronnie. She puts in such a commanding performance, bringing great emotional range and complexity to her character who maintains strong, sensitive and independent throughout the film, with the last 20 minutes or so giving her great opportunities to really express the tragedy of their situation through some fantastically depressing and traumatized acting. Goldblum here is also off the scale. Cronenberg wrenches this man's soul out into the camera. It's uninhibited, it's lunatic, and also involves being covered in prosthetics for a good proportion of screen time. Every line, hand gesture and eyeroll is vintage Goldblum, yet suits the character perfectly. Goldblum truly sells the slow and tragic transformation he goes through as the evolution of the creature grows throughout the film. Until the moment that they slough off in bursts of milky puss, Brundle’s eyes are always glinting brightly behind his gnarled diseased flesh. That ever-present humanity throughout his nightmarish metamorphosis is one of the many aspects that make The Fly such a tragic film.

 The auteur gives flesh, blood and literal presence to the slow and insidious decomposition of our souls, like a cancerous disease that gradually eats away at our bodies and minds. Science may temporarily endow us with expanded strength and stamina, but at the end of the day, everyone will one day be buried six feet under. No one will recognize you when you're rotting. A man who creates an insect-monster of himself is a perfect metaphor for this, as well as the age-old effort of messing with forbidden science. It’s also perfect material for the horror genre. It visualizes our finite existence in such goopy, molecular terms, but also vividly fuses the cerebral with the visceral in ways that few horror films ever thoughtfully balance. This is Cronenberg firing on all cylinders, with great casting, beautiful cinematography and lighting, fantastic set design and top-notch practical effects.

 The effects and visuals in this movie are just incredible. Much like Brundle and the fly, the make-up seems to fuse with Goldblum for this performance. The slowly growing stages of his transformation are subtle at first, but still just as off-putting and disgusting as the ones towards the end when he's in full fly mode and you really FEEL Ronnie's horror at seeing this because, even though it's now just a puppet on screen, you 100% believe this is still Seth. You've seen him gradually turn into this monstrous creature before your very eyes - which, ultimately, is the magic of horror films. And The Fly pulls that trick perfectly. The gory practical effects never feel exploitative or out of place, only serving to enhance the emotional resonance and sadness of the story. The Fly tells its story visually rather than verbally in all the right ways, and the film around those special effects gives them real, tragic life. Simple. Effective. Brutal.

 The Fly is a gooey masterpiece of disgust and decay. It is the epitome of the term ‘body-horror’, an oozy and grotesque fairytale that drips with disease and spectacular gore. Behind all the vomit, slime, crumbling bodies, and hideous fly mutations, Cronenberg offers a harrowing meditation on what coming to terms with our mortality looks and feels like. This is a story about dying, about becoming other. It's about the horror of metamorphosis, how our bodies and minds slowly decay over time, and how age betrays us till we cease to look recognizable. It's also about confronting the death of someone close to you, and the grief and agony that unfolds there. Cronenberg's ability to imagine the biological implications of death in such repulsive visual language works as a complimentary magic trick to how he then disguises the entire premise as mad scientist horror fare. Not only does this movie stand alongside John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) as one of the best remakes ever made. This is one of the best horror movies ever put to screen. 
Be afraid, be very afraid.

The Fly Is Available Now On Blu Ray

The Fly (1986) Trailer