Friday, May 29, 2009

Drag Me To Hell

Holy. Shit.

Watching Drag Me To Hell is like running into an old friend you thought had died and then going out and painting the town red. It’s shocking at first to see such a balls out insane old school piece of Sam Raimi filmmaking, but as the shock wears off you realize something.

Namely that the movie is awesome.

Raimi aping his old style wouldn’t have been enough, it’s just as easy to see Drag Me To Hell going very wrong, proving that Raimi doesn’t have the chops for this kind of giddy insanity anymore. That’s OK Raimi couldn’t have kept making Evil Dead 2 over and over again or he’d end up like Don Coscarelli, Tobe Hooper or Stuart Gordon or all the other 80’s horror wunderkids who never where able to grow up. Drag Me To Hell could have been a sad attempt to recapture something that as much as I love didn’t really need to be recaptured. Instead, it was the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater all year, and I expect it to still be holding that title come next January.

I’m a Sam Raimi super freak have been since Jr. High. I’m the kind of Raimi fan who owns For Love Of The Game and The Quick And The Dead. It would not be hyperbole for good or ill to say that Raimi has been one of the primary influences on my life. Raimi’s movies demystified the filmmaking process in the way Jim Jaramusch and Kevin Smith did for others. Movies where no longer made via alchemy somewhere in Hollywood but by real people with ideas, and a crazy kind of vision. While I knew about directors via John Carpenter, Tim Burton, Oliver Stone (I was obsessed with JFK at twelve, long story) and Stanley Kubrick (and Dr. Strangelove) Raimi was the first one I could relate to.

When Spiderman hit it was a mixed bag for me. On one hand I loved the movie and was psyched to see Raimi get that kind of success. On the other hand it definitely felt like I was losing my favorite filmmaker. Yeah part of it was “I liked it before it was cool.” Geek snobbery but it was also a very real sadness that I’d probably never see the type of film I’d fallen in love with again (That said I enjoy all three Spiderman movies. No that’s not a typo).

Until today. Drag Me To Hell is as giddy and anarchic as any slice of prime Raimi with a command of character better then any he’s quite had before. The theater I saw it in rocked between laughter, screams, and profanity laden tirades of disbelief. To spoil any of the shocks and scares Raimi has in store would make me the worst kind of Curmudgeon. All I’ll say is I can’t believe it’s PG-13.

Truth in criticism I was lucky enough to be on the set for Drag Me To Hell twice, once when I was lucky enough to see them shoot a few effects shots in the Fox Lot, and again when they came to CSU Northridge. At Northridge I actually got the chance to meet Raimi. They tell you to never meet your heroes I guess I’m lucky that one of mine is such a class act. And can still surprise me after all these years.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Under The Skin: Part 1: Johnny The Homicidal Maniac

The First in a series of looks at the pop culture that shaped my formative years.

One of my favorite critics recently noted that “The Stuff that gets under your skin at seventeen never really leaves you.” That’s true, but it’s also true that sometimes under the skin is where it should stay.

It’s hard to describe the effect this book had on me when I thumbed through the well read copy that got passed back and forth along with the joints, around the theater group where I made a brief sojourn on in my long quest to fit in at highschool.

The novel starts out with a cuddly cartoon critter recommending the book to you as his children are tortured, which is then followed by a neglected child being terrorized by our obstinate hero ending with a schizophrenic rant as he stabs the boys teddy bear to death, at this point the comic is interrupted by a screaming stick figure who declares himself “Testicles God Of The Rash Covered Scrotum” and is popular with the insane homeless, before moving on to the wall “THAT WON’T STOP DRINKING BLOOD!!!” after which we get to the first Mass Murder, talking rabbit head, and sentient Pilsbury Doughboy who urges Johnny to kill himself with the phrase “Your body is an anchor that keeps you from flying over the stars.” At this point you’re around page 10.

This wasn’t a book it was a freaking Vaudeville review from hell. Humor so black that it actually made well lit rooms go dim, nihilism at it’s punk rock finest, A view of humanity that made John Water’s grotesqueries look angelic, a book that took no side hating all the subcultures as much as the mainstream but never making itself out to be some perfect entity either. IT flipped the whole earth, other worlds, and the after life (Heaven is a bunch of folding chairs and a taco bell, Hell a slightly dingier version of the San Fernando Valley) a very angry bird. Coupled with a uniquely simple and beautiful art style, like Ralph Steadman made horrifically clear and a sense of metaphysical absurdity to rival Achewood, all timed with a Chuck Jones like sense of the gag.

To an alienated suburban kid experiencing rebellion and weed for the first time, as well as having grown the teenage ego necessary to truly believe to the core of your being that the world is the one that’s got it all wrong, not you, this book was like a bomb going off in my head. It was like what hearing The Sex Pistols back in 1977 must have been like, dark, funny, free and more then a little truly scary. I’d never read anything so gleefully amoral, and the effect was as liberating as it was terrifying.

So you can of course understand the glee with which I picked this thing up on the 50% off table.

Of course the thing could never hold up. Nor could it ever recapture the rush of the forbidden I felt reading it for the first time. But it still holds it’s own. There are parts that are giddy perfection. If I ever grow too sour to appreciate the site of a Nun using her psychic powers to make everyone in heaven’s head explode, I know it will be time to end it all. While the book does feel a bit adolescent and mannered and our buddy Jhonen isn’t exactly afraid to hit something directly on the nose using the heel of his hand, it still does feel surprisingly subversive. Which is nice in a cultural landscape that throws that word around like it’s fucking confetti (“Look they made a funny about The President’s accent that’s raw”) It’s refreshing to see something that’s truly warped, that truly does not give a fuck. No one’s going to be co opting Johnny The Homicidal Maniac anytime soon. He’s going to remain safely under my skin.