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LIQUID SKY (1982) WRITTEN BY: Slava Tsukerman, and Anne Carlisle DIRECTED BY: Slava Tsukerman FEATURING: Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas, Otto von Wernherr, Bob Brady GENRE: SCIENCE FICTION TAGS: COMEDY, HORROR, AVANT GARDE, WEIRD PLOT: Tiny aliens land their flying saucer on the roof of a New York City penthouse and begin sucking the brains out of sex-addicted New Wave beatniks.
COMMENTS: Aliens come to Earth in search of a heroin rush. It seems the little green, er, ah, terrestrially challenged ones don't have the requisite opposing thumbs needed for handling a set of "works," so they enjoy their smack the next best way: by telekinetically extracting the grey matter essence of heroin addicts whose brains are flooded with opiates. Wonderful though it may be, the heroin turns out to be only a gateway drug for the saucer-jockeys. While some human poppy heads may find death to be the ultimate narcotic, the aliens soon discover that the endorphin rush in a juicy human brain during orgasm is the ultimate high, and they reset their priorities accordingly.
Now the knarley little starmen seek out fornicators and harvest their orgasms for the best buzz. Still guided by the scent of smack, the space-meisters dock their star-buggy on the roof of a penthouse shared by a drug dealer and her lesbian fashion model lover. Their apartment contains a large amount of heroin, but better yet, a lot of degenerate sex occurs there as well.
When the two gal pals aren't waxing philosophic during their performance art exhibitions and dance routines at a local New Wave club, they are attracting a steady stream of addicted customers, androgynous jet trash, and depraved sex fiends back to their pad. The astral hop heads make the most of the situation and suck hapless guests dry when they sexually relieve themselves. Of course this kills each guest, but no matter. A few dead bodies are an almost normalizing factor at these two girls' crazy, drug -addled, day-glo- non-stop New Wave penthouse party.
A Berlin scientist who has been studying the aliens makes the scene and tries to rescue the girls before the little neuron nibblers absorb their whacked-out noggins as well. The situation becomes a bit sticky when he discovers that the fashion model has plans of her own for the moonmen junkies.
Liquid Sky is a terribly dated, low budget film that is imaginatively colorful and oh so avant garde. While it looks pretty campy now, 1980's hipsters affirm that at the time of its release, Liquid Sky was considered to be the coolest thing by New Wave standards since mirrored spectrums, and "smart drinks."
ADDENDUM: I've been getting some questions about "spectrums." "Are you sure you don't mean 'SPECULUM,' Pam?" I am being asked. No, not if my mammary serves me correctly. A "speculum" would be more kinky than fashionable and besides, you can't see through one.
This is the best surviving image of SPECTRUMS I could find. The nice ones had a single pane with no divider. The band DEVO used to wear them sometimes with their upside-down flower pot hats. Gosh, I sure hope this clears that up. Duty now for the future, spuds!
KONTROLL (2003) WRITTEN BY: Jim Adler and Nimród Antal DIRECTED BY: Nimród Antal FEATURING: Sándor Csányi, Bence Mátyássy, Eszter Balla, Gyözö Szabó, Lajos Kovács, and György Cserhalmi GENRE: THRILLER/SATIRE TAGS: WEIRD PLOT: A Budapest metro transit cop copes with eccentric passengers and coworkers as he pursues a veiled serial killer. Living and sleeping in the tunnels, Bulcsú is bullied by tormentors, chases gang members, dodges trains and follows a mysterious girl as he tracks a murderer who pushes passengers under speeding engines.
COMMENTS: Kontroll is a fantasy that stands alone in its enigmatic singularity. The film craftily assimilates drama, suspense and social satire into a multifaceted story in the unusual setting of an Old World subway. Director Antal surprisingly succeeds at combining an unlikely combination of plot elements. He decants the chaos of social rambunctiousness, the absurdity that entails when authority dictates regulation at the simplest levels of its jurisdiction, and a survey of attitudes and life's daily ironies into an imaginative story. The resulting integration presents a unique, alternate viewing experience.
COMMENTS: Hydraulics hiss, rails clatter, and trains blast at high speeds in the dimly lit, neural convolutions of the Budapest underground. A man runs for his life through a tunnel between two trains. A hooded figure emerges from cracks in the wall to launch the unwary under oncoming subway cars. A puzzling girl (Balla) haunts the maze-like passages disguised as a bear. Ticket inspectors engage in madcap jousts and chases with each other when they are not comically pursuing a colorful assortment of freeloading ruffians. A host of eccentric characters cavort and couple in a subterranean round-table of flickering signal lamps, iron and darkness. The dungeonesque rail network is a facsimile of the social essence in which human comedy and causality are highlighted in a microcosmic imitation of life.
Bulcsú (Csányi), dwells in the middle of the extensive sunken recesses of the Budapest subway. He eats, sleeps, lives and works entirely in the sub-terrestrial grid of the underground system. He dines at passenger cafeterias and auto-mats. He deadheads through the endless concrete passages and corridors of the colossal subterranean complex, and never abandons his somnambulist lifestyle to ascend into the sunlight of the city above.
Bulcsúis is a "kontroller," a member of a team of ticket inspectors who strive to corral the barely controllable anarchy of harried masses and hostile riders. Like Ernest Borgnine's Argus-eyed character "Shack" in 1973's Emperor Of The North Pole, he and his motley crew of fellow controllers are charged with ensuring that no member of the public garners a free ride.
Similar to the New York City transit police, Budapest ticket inspectors operate in teams of four or five, bonded by their sooty, untoward jobs, by the tumultuous cacophony and bedlam of the subway system, and by their dread of an abusive general public. Their mission is no easy task, for the metro clients bitterly resent the enforcers. Those who have purchased their tickets are irritated to have to show them. Those who didn't purchase are loath to be found out. The situation is conducive to the film's exposition of the social attitudes and ironies.
The freeloaders fabricate a variety of excuses and attempt to derail the controllers with con games, evasion and escape. Irritability turns to outright hostility as interlopers threaten Bulcsúis with Old World hexes, used syringes and physical violence. Such affronts are presented by the nicer passengers. Even worse are the gangs of paint-faced, pipe-wielding hooligans, a la Walter Hill's The Warriors.
Coping with the gloomy dank solitude of his surroundings and the irascible, wily riders, Bulcsúis must also contend with a Kafkaesque bureaucracy lorded over by a cantankerous locomotive of a foreman (Cserhalmi) who has no patience for Bulcsúis or his misfit colleagues. There exists a hierarchy among the controller teams, based on performance and ticket quotas. Bulcsúis's band of controllers is coming up dead last. Compounding their disgrace, the little aggregation of underdogs is on probation for breaking rules. Assigned to the worst details, Bulcsúis's order of ruffians competes against a rival ticket police faction whose members strive to make life miserable for them.
Complicating the situation, in the late of night a mysteriously cloaked figure has taken to darting out onto desolate platforms. Platforms lights flicker mysteriously as the attacker prepares to strike. More phantasm than human, the reaper's jolting strikes are like an arcing flash of sparks from a train contact shoe hitting a crossover ramp. Propelling unsuspecting passengers under speeding trains, he quickly vanishes again into the cloistered recesses of the maze of burrows and shafts. The control boss assigns the control crews the task of apprehending the assassin, but given his contempt for the squad it is obvious that he harbors little confidence that success is a station on their line.
Along the route of his trials and misadventures in the tunnels, Bulcsúis cavorts with a host of quirky, intoxicated riders and employees, such as the lush- faced Béla, who used to drive trains on the surface until he crashed one due to "lack of braking distance." Another is an elusive love interest in a bear suit who enigmatically appears and disappears like a poltergeist. She is Bulcsúis's Ariadne. He shadows her. The wake of her passings through the transit system guides Bulcsúis like a trail of yarn. Aggregated in the cyclic rituals of riders, rogues, and routines in a Gothic metropolis of perpetual night, he relentlessly pursues the girl and the abstruse slayer through the labyrinthine underworld like a modern day Theseus.
Filmed on location in the Budapest subway system, the second-oldest in the world, Kontroll is visually arty and distinctive. Balázs Hujber's production design proffers more back-lit, slowly turning fans than Alan Parker's Angel Heart. Kontroll's optical signature is replete with sharp angles, symmetry and vanishing points.
Scenes are stylishly illuminated by flares, and the red glow of warning signals. Montages and perspectives of progressive motion along subway tracks, tunnels, and steep escalators propel the production to its final destination. Kontroll also advances tense action sequences along the rails as Bulcsúis races against the clock and oncoming trains.
There are cat and mouse hunts, chase sequences, drama, romance, and satirical sequences such as when a succession of subway workers convey their issues to a psychiatrist and a man chokes on a French fry while being lectured about the dangers of cholesterol. Despite the contrast between its inherent components of humor and thrills, Kontroll manages to balance these diverse elements. In combination with a chic cinematic motif, the film successfully packages a uniquely enchanting, very weird viewing experience into a thoughtful, arty satire.
Indelible Image Part of the appeal of Kontroll is its unusual subterranean setting which fosters a variety of novel and striking imagery. Antal delights us by capturing the symmetry of the structural installations such as the rows of ceiling lights in the stations, the neat columns of trains docked for the night, and the central vanishing point formed by tracks fading into the darkened abyss of long tunnels. These symmetries contrast with and accent the chaotic events that unfold, and the disordered lives of the nonconforming characters caught up in them.
The most enduring image however, is that metaphor for the troubled Bulcsúis's transcendence and self-actualization. Bulcsúis is not only married to life and it's pace of activity in the subway. He hides in the underground sanctuary from the real world above. But the outside is only a symbol. Bulcsúis is really seeking refuge from himself and his feelings. Uncertain about his own emotions, and lacking in self confidence, avoiding the world above is his way of postponing self confrontation.
What then, can be more symbolic of his waiting deliverance than the symmetrical image of the great. silvery, central escalator leading to the bright lights and certain reality of the surface? Bulcsú knows he must eventually ascend it but he has not yet the courage to face that eventuality. Will his love for the mysterious, bear-costumed Szofi become the key to unlocking his emotions and freeing himself?
SUBJECT TWO (2006) WRITTEN BY: Philip Chidel and Philip Chidel DIRECTED BY: Philip Chidel DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Rich Confalone FEATURING: Christian Oliver, Dean Stapleton, Courtney Mace, Jürgen Jones, Thomas Buesch, and Philip Chidel GENRES: HORROR, SCI-FI TAGS: GRIM, HEAVY, DISTURBING, TWISTED
PLOT: A medical student gets more than he bargained for when upon accepting an experimental internship, he discovers that immortality comes with a steep price. Subject Two is a fresh twist on the Frankenstein plot. It envisions being reanimated from the undead's perspective. It is deeply disturbing and every bit as repellent and hellish as one could hope.
COMMENTS: A misanthropic medical student named Adam who flunked his ethics exam receives a cryptic email from a Dr. Franklin Vick. It offers him an opportunity to assist in unusual medical research and subsequently to share in the revolutionary scientific advances in medicine that result.
He bites on the lure, but to accept the position, he must wait on an icy mountain road in the middle of nowhere to be offered a ride by a stranger. The alluring and mysterious chauffeur obviously knows more about what is going on than he does. His journey to meet the elusive Doctor Vick is itself a snowy odyssey into the isolated, surreal drifts and folds of the Colorado Rockies.
When Adam and his driver reach a landmark beyond which the driver is no longer allowed, Adam must hike up a snow covered mountain to the doctor's laboratory. Now he is stranded, beyond the point of no return. The research facility turns out to be a converted chalet, reminiscent of Nikola Tesla's Colorado Springs retreat in The Prestige.
He meets Vick, who tells him that the research is very unusual and important and that Adam is uniquely qualified. Vick avoids going into much specific detail. Adam accepts. What Adam doesn't understand is that what uniquely qualifies him is that he is now a captive. Nobody knows where he is, he has no means of departure, and his particular background makes him someone nobody will ever miss if he disappears.
On this isolated, snowbound mountain peak, Dr. Vick is indeed performing very unique research. He is experimenting with life, death, and reanimation. In combination with makeshift cryogenics, he is using a bizarre recombinant DNA serum that alters and restarts the process of cellular respiration. The problem is, because the serum, timing and method of administration are as yet unperfected and misunderstood, the process has some very unpleasant side effects. Guess who gets to be the new test subject?
VIck murders Adam, and not very nicely. Instead of shooting him up with an overdose of Seconal, he sneaks up behind him a violently strangles him. Then he reanimates him.
He ruthlessly butchers and reanimates Adam repeatedly, trying to get the serum component balance, dosage, cryogenic, and temporal factors just right. There isn't an objective control group. Adam is both subject and control group, which is to say that as Vick and Adam perfect the research, they proceed via trial and error. As Subject Two, Adam is captive to a continuum of horrible and invigorating side effects, continuously oscillating between two extremes of mortal perception.
Subject Two experiences his new reality as a twisted psychedelic nightmare. It is simultaneously clarifying and hellish. While continuing to inhabit the world of the living, he is now intellectually in the bizarre plane of the beyond.
Unsettling developments alter Adam's experience when he discovers the frozen, bloody remains of what was apparently once Subject One buried in the snow. In a state of suspended animation, Subject One's head is riddled with an octopus of gruesome serum tubes. Subject One does not look pleased about it, but he is going nowhere for the time being. Then matters become complicated when a trespassing poacher stumbles onto the proceedings and Adam "corrects" him.
The film has been criticized on two counts. Adam's character is allegedly not well enough developed so that we care about him, and the film was shot in digital video. I emphatically contest these assertions.
Regarding character development, there isn't time in a standard movie to address every potential nuance. Subject Two is about a dreadful, inescapable cycle of perpetual violent death and reanimation. The film is a horrifying psychological thriller about the human condition in states of animation and morbid destruction. It grimly depicts what it means to be alive. It explores the existential nature and paradoxes of undeath. Subject Two is about the curse of immortality.
With cerebral horror paradigms like this to contemplate, I couldn't give a dead lab rat's ass about Adam?s hopes and dreams, his life and loves. He is an unethical, bright, curious, but naive foul-up. I want to see how he handles the situation and what becomes of him, nothing more.
While the cinematography has been accused of giving the piece the cheap feel of a soap opera, I dispute this as well. The cinematography is as sharp and precise as the frozen alpine air. It enhances the rarefied, ionic ether of the crystalline subzero setting. One can almost feel the thin, icy atmosphere paralyzing the lungs, the sting of snowy crystals against bare skin. Direct to digital bypasses the gloomy, dreary look of televised productions once shot on video tape.
True, direct digital tracks movement the way video tape does, and lacks the lustrous detachment achieved by film stock. It is perfectly suited, however, to the white, snowbound, blue-skied clarity of the locale in Subject Two. The precision of digital is blissfully married to the stark, cold reality of this severe story.
Subject Two is mostly a mental and physical dialectic between two actors. There is a cold calculation about their dispositions, rather than the emotionally overwrought yelling and screaming standard to other horror scenarios of its type. There is no dramatically shrieked, "Give my creature life!" Subject Two is pure science fiction and squeamish dread. The appalling nature of the irreversible psychic and physiological mutilation inflicted on Adam combines with Vick's amoral descent beyond unorthodoxy into pure evil. This profane combination provides all of the excitement and turmoil that one can endure.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: "Set against the bright, breathtaking world of the snow-peaked Rocky Mountains . . . Subject Two is as much a clever inversion of the resurrection horror genre as it is a profound and ethical examination of the value of life and immortality." - Sundance Film Festival
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