When I was young one of my favorite comics in the world was the original run of She-Hulk. So much so that I still love it, and have reread it several times. She-Hulk is of course essentially a genderswapped version of the Hulk, and like the Hulk - and several other Marvel comics from the seventies it was filled to the brim with social awareness and stuff.
I liked She-Hulk so much I even read her entire storyline with the Fantastic Four after Secret Wars. (Which included an interesting early commentary on papparazzi and publishing nudes of celebrity women which coincided with the very real harrassment of Lady Diana Spencer for those very reasons.)
When I was young nerd culture was pretty much permeated by these types of characters. We had She-Ra (He-Man's interdimensional cousin), Supergirl, Batgirl, Spidergirl and so forth. In the seventies and eighties if there was a super popular character you would soon get a female version of the same. Most of whom were very lame. Some of whom were cool. Depending on whether or not the writers managed to create good stories for said character.
Now, as you can tell I am super old, and when I encountered nerd culture it was very much male dominated. Female characters were often reduced to masturbation material or story elements for male heroism. Not always, but quite often. Even in the case of Roy Thomas' Red Sonja, who was portrayed almost as the Andrea Dworkin of barbaric comic books. Red Sonja established the meme of big breasted barbarian women in chain mail bikini, seen so often in fantasy illustrations.
This all changed in the nineties, for a lot of different reasons. People like me being one of them. I've introduced a ton of girls to nerdy things like role playing games, and I've welcomed girls into Nerdosity. You see, I am one of those people who get along with women more easily than men. I don't know why, it's just always been that way. Another reason is that a great deal of games and literature shifted towards more focus on interpersonal relations, storytelling and such and quite simply became more inclusive. Today I find it quite amusing when I tell people that when I was a teenage nerd and tried to get the hot chicks to roleplay with me their reactions were "What dragons and elves and shit? That stuff is for boys!"
For a variety of reasons I more or less fell out of Nerdosity just around the turn of the century, and I was a bit surprised to see the shifting of the clientelle whenever I frequented a comic book store. It used to be a dirty safe space for nerdy guys with few social skills and whose only sexual relations had been with a freeze frame of Denise Crosby baring her midriff and the aforementioned Red Sonja. Suddenly you had women walking around these places. Women who were not mothers. This evidently caused a lot of consternation in the kingdom of Nerdosity. You'd think no one would be averse to this, but evidently such is not the case. Male nerds felt threatened and invaded, and they were not happy when their favorite franchises shifted content to actually greet their new demographic.
I think it's safe to say that the kingdom of Nerdosity is in a state of civil war today. On the one hand you have the loyalist Broflakes, true to l'ancien regime and armed to the teeth. They are fighting a younger and more well organized army known as the Snowflakes, who fight for diversity and inclusion and a New Order of Nerdosity. Their battlefields are the hills, valleys and lowlands of Tumblr, Twitter and Reddit, and their weapons are trolling, pile ons, ridicule, sarcasm, doxing, and invasion of safe spaces.
Agewise I should belong with the Broflakes, in terms of values I have more in common with the Snowflakes, and I find the Broflakes to be a camp of sorry ignorant losers. However, I'm not fighting in this war, and when I look on the battles that are being waged my sole reaction is one of wanting to get the hell out of Dodge. For all their inclusive politics the Snowflakes are just as rash and insensitive as their enemies, and I just don't want to take part in their war.
Let's get back to the topic of gender swapping. There has been an increasing tendency towards not just making female counterparts to male heros, but of actual genderswapping. My first encounter with the ploy was in Camelot 3000 where Sir Tristan was reincarnated in a woman's body. Great stuff. (Today this portrayal can easily be read as slightly homophobic, but I think it would be best to give Mike Barr credit for even adressing issues such as gender, transgender, homosexuality and the treatment of women back in the eighties.)
Most famously the Ghostbusters were collectively genderswapped for the remake/reboot of the franchise. A move that caused perhaps the most fierce battle in the entire civil war between the Broflakes and Snowflakes (along with Gamergate). To the point where it turned me off seing the film entirely, because it had gone from being "this doesn't look good, but I'm curious" to "now I can't see this without considering everything for its politics". I'm not adverse to the idea. In fact, I didn't even give it a second thought until the battle had lasted for quite some time. My initial reactions were "how can female Ghostbusters be offensive to you?" I was baffled.
Yesterday we heard that the Doctor, from the eponymous Doctor Who, will be a woman in its latest incarnation. Now, I haven't cared for Doctor Who for many years. I don't like the new show at all, so I don't really have a reaction to that. But upon the announcement I quickly muted a whole bunch of words to avoid the ensuing wordquake on twitter. I am not opposed to the idea of a female Doctor. Sure it makes sense storywise, but still, my instinctive reaction was "oh, not again!"
To me it seems that Nerdosity has shrunk to the point where if you want to exist within its borders you MUST take a stance in this war. You are not allowed to enjoy fiction unless you consider its gender politics as either progressive or broflakey. Something I am not willing to do. Also, I see the contours of a Nerdosity where gender issues in entertainment are included not so much for trying to take part in some agenda or other, but as a marketing scheme. Doctor Who evidently has a large following in the Snowflake army, and this move has been anticipated for quite some time after they made the Doctor bisexual. Still, it has not failed to provoke a lot of Broflakes, who are now angrily mustering up their troops for another futile attempt at burning female fans of the show at the stake.
Now, despite my instinctive reaction my feeling on this subject is simple. This might not be as progressive as it's made up to be, and the writing is what makes a show great. More so than the apparent gender of the lead character. However, the fandom has largely greeted the announcement with ecstatic screams of joy (followed by pogroms against the Broflakes), and I wish them all the best. Enjoy your Doctor, regardless of gender. And if a different interpretation of a fictional character upsets you to the point that it does some Broflakes I can only encourage you to get a fucking life. It's a fictional character - you are not. If you don't like it, don't watch it. Don't be like Kathy Bates in Misery. It's not about you.
Also, both sides of the war: calm the fuck down. You're alienating people. If the cost of inclusion is alienation, you've failed. Try to listen to each other, try to understand each other's feelings, and try not to turn the things you both enjoy into battlegrounds. You might be depopulating Nerdosity in the long run, and while I think the Broflakes would enjoy that, that certainly isn't what the Snowflakes are trying to do.
I love to see the world suffer in agony after and during a nuclear holocaust.
As I grew up in the eighties we all knew that this was the way we were going to die. Either ripped to dust by the explosion or of radiation sickness in the aftermath.
And it didn't happen. For some unknown reason. I was bereft of my awaiting destiny, and I guess I seek to emulate it by wallowing in fantasies about how it would have been. And I'm not talking about cosy apocalypse shit (though I also find that stuff to be thoroughly enjoyable), rather I mean the truly horrendous and bleak realism of Threads, the Day After and the film this blog is about: Dead Man's Letters.
Dead Man's Letters is a Soviet film from 1986, and describes the aftermath of a nuclear exchange. The story is set in an unknown city in an unknown western country and revolves around a nobel prize winning physicist and a few other survivors. While some interpret this film as set in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe there are several hints in the film that this is in fact not the case. The soldiers all use western style uniforms and weapons, and we also see that these soldiers are present before the nuclear war, so it's not a matter of occupation. Also, all signs have latin rather than cyrillic letters and a great deal of western consumer goods are shown throughout the film. At one point a reference is even made to the leader of the nation being a president, which was never the case in the Soviet Union. A side note perhaps, but an important side note: Soviet censorship at the time would probably never allow a film to show the downfall of the Soviet Union - and as such great care had to be taken to show that this was the fate of a western country. Incidentally it is also a much better film than the more well known but also somewhat overrated Soviet sci fi films by Tarkovsky. (Stalker and Solaryis.)
Regardless, the main characters hide in a fallout shelter below what is either a university or a museum. They're all intellectuals of some sort, and they make their home among artifacts of former civilizations. Greek and Roman statuary adorning their sepulchre, where they dine, discuss and die. Sometimes all three at once. A particularly bleak sequence has one of them soliloquy at great length during a meal, before he calmly crawls into a freshly dug grave and shoots himself. None of the others try to stop him. Unfortunately I don't understand Russian, and I have not been able to find a subtitled (nor God forbid, dubbed) version of this film, so I have no idea what he was rambling about. Probably something very smart.
There are many such poignant scenes, and the mise en scene during the outdoor sequences are incredibly evocative and atmospheric. Filmed in low contrasting (mostly) monochrome with an array of colored filters and varying degree of over exposed film the images compliment the landscapes perfectly. One of the scenes has two characters wading through the remnants of a partially flooded library. The nihilism is appearant. There are also some details I don't quite understand. Probably because of my inability to understand Russian language or culture. Such as the fact that one of the women in the shelter wanders about with her tits hanging out during most of her appearances or the inclusion of a gambling dwarf.
The physicist whose point of view we follow is filled with remorse and despair as he wanders around in the ruins, and we learn that he was either directly or indirectly involved in creating the very weapons that destroyed the world. As such he represents the duality of humanity's destructive and analytical capabilities. He feels very much the weight of responsibility, both in terms of what has transpired and perhaps what needs to be done.
As the characters die off one by one our hero decides that children are indeed the future, and sets out to lead a bunch of starving and irradiated kids to "the Central Bunker", where they will supposedly be saved. In a way he fails as we see that he is buried by the very children he wished to save, but the film ends in an optimistic note. The children continue to walk (ever upwards in the frame) through the blasted and barren onset of nuclear winter - presumably towards the Central Bunker.
Interestingly the burial in itself presents a strangely optimistic image in itself. While the intellectuals of the bunker took time to bury their dead most of the corpses in the film simply float about in puddles or lie rotting in the debris. These children obviously represent hope that civilization is not all gone. However, the fact that the physicist and all the adult characters pass away and leave the children to fend for themselves also suggests that the world of tomorrow will be a better one, because old values have died out.
While the film emphasizes existential anguish more than the material destruction and realistic simulations of Threads the two films should be seen as something of a natural pair. At least these are my absolute favorites of the genre, and the continue to remind me how lucky we were never to be able to discuss just how realistic they truly are.
In the infancy of the Internet as we know it today it was afloat with weirdoes and strange things, and it was social. At a chat forum I used at the time I found myself chatting with a young, obviously disturbed and strangely fascinating young man. One day he intimated to me that he had in fact been dead for some time. He had stopped breathing, and had since found himself moving about in a state of living death. It was a condition he found puzzling, and he didn't dare telling his mother about it. There is of course no way to know whether he was pulling my leg or if he actually believed himself to be dead, but of all the strange ideas he entertained this was the only one he seemed to return to and not joke about. He didn't respond well to any assumptions that he was still alive, or joking.
You'd think the belief that you are dead while still living is beyond any semi rational being. Interestingly however it is not. While the disorder, known as Cotard's syndrome is exceptionally rare it has been described several times since its initial discovery in 1788: An elderly woman who had suffered a stroke believed that the stroke had indeed been fatal, and that she was physically dead. Supposedly she used a great deal of her post-mortem existence to plan her own rites of burial.
The syndrome is named after the French neurologist Jules Cotard who classified the condition as délire des negations (since identified as a different disorder from what is now known as Cotard's syndrome). While not the first to describe the condition he was one of the first to identify it as a disease. He described two cases in 1880 and 1882. He also quoted a great deal of earlier cases, described by a variety of psychological pioneers, Krafft-Ebing among them. Since then several hundred cases have been described, wherein the patients believe themselves to be dead, missing body parts, undergoing putrefaction, being immortal or simply not existing. Wikipedia lists a case where a fourteen year old at times believed himself and others to be dead, and also speculates that Per Yngve Ohlin, otherwise known as Dead - the most famous vocalist of Mayhem, suffered from Cotard's Syndrome. Sounds plausible to me. Another described case involved a 59 year old woman who had been bedridden for two years, under the delusion that she was paralyzed, or actually didn't exist at all.
My Internet chat buddy logically concluded that he had for unknown reasons become a zombie. A more bizarre case was described as recently as 2004, in Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica: A young man believed himself not only to be dead, but also suffered from clinical lycanthropy. Specifically he believed himself to periodically transform into a dog. Presumably he also believed that the natural behaviour of undead dogs is to engage in sexual molestation of sheep, and he expressed a great deal of guilt over having porked a sheep in a state of psychosis. (He must be from Hedmark or something.)
Cotard's syndrome is not entirely understood. There is certainly a link to severe depression, and there may also be connections to anorexia, body dysmorphic disorder and other mental disorders. Possibly it could also be an extreme type of hypochondria, as Cotard himself theorized. Regardless of how it works let's hope the middle of the road nerds currently obsessed with sub par zombie entertaintment succumb to collective Cotard's, and the fad goes away with them. ;)
In my previous post on Italian cannibal films, a favorite subject of mine I mentioned in passing how the films portrayed primitive practices. I didn't really take on that particular subject in any real way though. Despite the fact that the notion of something primitive is a powerful psychological factor and an important trope in these films. It's time to tackle the myth complex of the primitive in relation to horror films. (Warning: several spoilers below.)
As usual I don't mean myth in the way Mythbusters use the term. While I am in many ways a cultural relativist I'm much interested in the power and function of a myth than I am in cultural relativism. When I say myth I mean a tale with emotional truth by which we order our perceptions of reality. Primitive is such a myth.
In my first post on the subject I mentioned Edgar Rice Burroughs. When I was quite young my parents bought me a collection of nine Tarzan books. Several more had been written but if I am not mistaken these were the ones that had been translated to Norwegian. I loved these books, for many reasons. One of the reasons that has stayed with me is the idea of lost civilizations and advanced cultures surrounded by jungles and cannibalistic savages or similar. It's an idea equally important in Burroughs's Barsoom series, where the noble red martians are surrounded by primitive barbarian green Martians. The idea of the primitive is the central core of the Tarzan books. Tarzan, Lord Greystoke, himself is a white man reared by a tribe of apes (who stand in for the most primitive humans) and rises to be their king and the lord of the Jungle. His naked body and sharp steel knife are contrasts symbolic of his primitive surroundings and the noble astuteness of his mind and character. I'm not going to claim that Tarzan is great literature. It's inherently racist and formulaic but read with the right mindset it can be both entertaining and enlightening as a source to knowledge about the society that fostered the books. I could write a whole post about Tarzan, but I won't. At least not today.
These ideas of exotic locations filled with less sophisticated people are fundamental to cannibal films, as well as a whole array of other exploitation, sexploitation and horror films. A potent and lovely example is the french film Gwendoline with its S&M fueled fantasies of a lost realm of white amazonian women surrounded by savage cannibals - and a shit ton of nudity! This film displays not only the idea of the primitive as a scary and hostile other, but also what constitutes the idea of the primitive. They are tribalistic, they occasionally eat people and they like to ravage white women. This of course is the very pattern of both Tarzan and cannibal films. However there is an interesting duality to be found here, which is even more explicitly present in Cannibal Holocaust: civilization is just as wicked, just more ingenious and twisted in its wickedness.
In Cannibal Holocaust this very twisted wickedness is shown as western documentarians out to make a film about primitive people in the jungle. They find their primitiveness to be a disappointing in its lack of true savagery and go about provoking them in a cruel way. It's a beautiful inversion of the common conceptions found in so many other cannibal films. It's no longer enough to venture into the jungle and have blonde hair to be cruelly tortured, slain and eaten. (Without condiments, cleaning nor preparation. Even this vegetarian knows that they're begging for salmonella or something.) While it's not entirely the noble savage it certainly is a viable post colonial critique of our freudian fear of and fascination with primitives. And as post colonial critiques go I personally prefer mine with a touch of brutality and nudity.
When I say touch I mean "a lot".
Defining the primitive is not easy. I use the term vaguely, as it is a vague notion we have. Part psychology and part cultural trope. The primitive is usually, but not always, "the other" and a threat. In horror films we usually see the primitive either as a location where brutal savages live, and where the protagonists end up in a nearly Robinsonian manner - by accident or design. This is usually the case in the cannibal films. In La Montagna del dio cannibale and Cannibal Holocaust the victims go the land of the primitives knowingly, looking for glory and riches. In other films a plane crashes, an outpost is attacked or the protagonists simply didn't realize where they were heading and the dangers that were there.
Sometimes we encounter the primtive as an atavism in our own backward communities. The sausages in the gas station are actually composed of human flesh, and those inbred people might be great with a banjo, but they also like it when you squeal. The primitive is a source of fear whether it's presented as the xenophobic other, or the more jungian atavistic type. In many ways the primitive as trope or archetype or myth or whatever represents our fear of what lies beneath when modern industrial society is shaved away. This is particularly evident in the already alluded to Texas Chain Saw Massacre: the jobs disappeared and the family was left to fend for themselves in whatever way they could. Quite interestingly the mother of the family is as dead as the industry that kept them prosperous and the males turn savage. Women are usually either revered as maternal enforcers of order, or victims of sexual aggression (raped, being eaten, tied to stakes or tortured with phallic implements) in depictions of the primitive in horror, and when the maternal principle is missing the need to bludgeon women in the head with hammers, or such, arises.
A fascinating contrast to this type of depiction of the primitive can be found in what is possibly the best novel ever written: Frankenstein or the modern Prometheus. In the aforementioned Tarzan the protagonist is a noble surrounded by primitives, and ends up as their master due to his biological breeding and background. A lord he was born, a lord he must be. In Frankenstein a creature is created with no background and no breeding. He is a primitive in his lack of civilized traits, surrounded by cultured society. The tragedy and horror lies in the fact that he is noble and highly intelligent, but shunned by his creator and the modern world. In fact he is probably undone by it as he drifts off on an ice flake carrying his dead progenitor and the latter's funeral pyre.
Frankenstein and Tarzan were written in different eras embodying two very distinct concepts of the primitive. Burroughs wrote in a time very much in line with Kipling's White Man's Burden, and is obviously even inspired by his Jungle Book. The primitive is something that was to be tamed, and the noble white man was the one who could do it. Frankenstein however was written a century earlier and in a time where the noble savage had strong influence on the romantic ideals. The untouched, or unblemished, was superior to the sinful and complicated ways of the modern world. Even more so the book carries very strongly the idea that science can go too far in its ambitions and turn the world into a horrible place.
Personally I love both of these depictions, while neither agrees with me in terms of ideology. But that is a whole different continent, and we're not going there. Interestingly however it deserves mention that in most Frankenstein screen adaptations the tables are turned, and the hulking, primitive creation becomes a monster, whether by flawed design or by circumstance. An exception is Kenneth Branagh's honest attempt at a more loyal adaptation. While his film falls short in many respects it manages to capture the tragic promethean element of the novel, unlike its predecessors. Interestingly it also turns up the sexuality of the book to 11, or even 12. God knows why. I still prefer the 1931 film any day, despite being less true to the book. In part because it doesn't have Kenny B groping at Helena Bonham Carter's crotch.
That makes me sound so prudish, and I feel a need to return to tittie flashing cannibal films for a final remark on the subject. Imagine yourself deep in the jungles of new guinnea, surrounded by crocodiles, snakes and barely clad, whig bearing, underpayed, drunk philipinos, errr, I mean local cannibals. There is only one way to escape their anthropophagous wrath. You must become as primal as they are. Partake in their rituals and dine on your friends with them. In both Cannibal Holocaust and Il Paese del sesso selvaggio we see that this is the only possible option. The latter is of course a nudity infused remake of A man called horse, and follows the same pattern: go through terrible and visceral rituals, cast off civilization and you will live.
This in turn takes us to modern primitivism, but that is something I would have to tackle in the future. Or maybe not. We'll see.
It's been some time since I wrote about cheap ass exploitation films, so I figured we'd tackle three of the original Nazi Zombie films together. Even though I, like many others, have had it up to here with the recent zombie mania. Still, there are old movies out there that are actually worth seeing, as opposed to the "remakes" of Romero's films and the Walking Dead and shit like that. However the three films we're about to tackle aren't really known to be classics of the same level as Fulci's or Romero's films.
It was inevitable I guess. Zombies and Nazis are the two greatest evils you can imagine, and considering how many dark occult myths are associated with the nazis it was just a question of time before they mixed. And it's no wonder. Our fear of nazis returning to haunt us mixes well with our fear of death, and undeath. The deeply psychological image of undead nazis coming out of the deep (whether it's water, snow or the desert sands) symbolizes this well, and is used throughout all the films in the genre. This evil from the past has remained hidden for years, but is now back to exact punishment and death. It's so jungian you can cut it with a knife. Or something.
The first film to explore the genre was Shock Waves (1977), with famous actors Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams and John Carradine. That's right, Cushing didn't just blow up Alderaan in 1977 he fought nazi zombies too. And this film establishes a pattern followed by its copies. After encountering a ghost ship a group of seafarers, led by Carradine, land on a tropical island to repair their ship where they run into the marooned hermit Cushing and eventually the undead SS death squad. The film takes its time establishing mood and plot, and the first scene involving a zombie is unsettling. We immediatly understand that this dude is dangerous as well as determined. This applies even more to the scene of German soldiers rising from the water, one by one. It's a memorable scene, and as such is has been enthusiastically copied. As opposed to the two next films we're about to review it is also pretty consistently well photographed and edited, and the music is great.
It turns out that the zombies are supersoldiers developed for submarine warfare by the Third Reich. They are more or less invincible, as well as sadistic and murderous and were stranded here by their former commander. They've spent some good deal of time under water, but have recently determined to surface and get even. Slowly they murder their way through more or less the entire cast before the film ends on rather dark note. While our heroine escapes she's clearly lost her sanity and the less than living aquatic aryans are still out there somewhere.
Shock Waves is clearly the best film of the genre and it's actually a good horror film too. Absolutely worth seeing for all horror hounds out there. It's not the Exorcist, but it's certainly on par with most John Carpenter films. In fact much better than his newer films.. Establishing a link between the nazis' real interests in the occult, their horrendous medical experiments, the fierce reputation of the SS and the popular zombie genre was a brilliant idea.
Zombie Lake (Le lac des morts vivants 1981) is a strange little film, directed as it is by Jean Rollin. Yup, you heard it Jean "LSD-nudity" Rollin. He thought the movie was a piece of shit however, so he directed it under the pseudonym J.A. Laser. (Incidentally Jesus Franco, another schlockmeister pulled out of this project at an earlier phase.)
First full frontal nudity appears at about a minute into the credits, and as this Laura Gemser-lookalike is randomly and prolongedly showing us her muff in an underwater scene she is accosted by an aquatic zombie in Wehrmacht uniform. We don't get to see what he wants with her, but it's safe to say he's not out to get laid. (The underwater sequences have beautiful colors btw.)
The Feldgrün corpse and his buddies then venture forth from the bottom of the eponymous lake (which is obviously just in the film for a chance to plagiarize the memorable scene from Shock Waves) and behave like a bunch of bastards, biting people and stuff.. The results are less then pleasant, especially for the women. The reason is of course revenge. The soldiers were killed by local resistance fighters near the end of WWII, and dumped in the lake. Incidentally the zombie make up in this film is so shitty you'd guess it was done by a group of kindergarten kids with watercolors.
If you were an intellectual of some sort it would be tempting to see the film as an allegory for the nazi rape of the French nation during World War II, but that would be forgetting who directed this film. As it is with Rollin's films it has some neat scenes (fewer than usual), but it's also quite incoherent. In fact it's not even close to up to his usual insanely low hallucinatory standards. Frankly it's barely watchable and I'd rather recommend you watch some of his famous vampire movies - of which this is a pale copy. In fact, the only reason you should see this film is for the scenes of nazi zombies groping a small busload of naked women half way through. I shit you not. A busload!
Finally we have Oasis of the Zombies (La Tumba de los muertos vivientes 1982) the director of which is none other than the aforementioned Jesus Franco. Now, Jesus Franco is a chapter all to himself, but if you know his name you know what to expect. You might be disappointed though as Lina Romay is nowhere to be seen. Honestly though Rollin makes Franco look like Alfred Hitchcock or Steven Spielberg, and this movie is a great deal better than Zombie Lake (still not exactly Oscar material though). The film starts with two (clothed) women getting attacked by unseen undead nazis in an (drum roll please) oasis, filled with left overs from some long forgotten battle. As according to genre dictates you do get to know what happened, and the German soldiers are portrayed as someone worth fearing in this one. A murderous crack squad carrying nazi gold (as opposed to the whiny ass grabbers of Zombie Lake) who massacres anything in their way - untill they are "stopped".
The zombies aren't half bad, but they look nothing like German soldiers. In fact they look like a bunch of local long haired(!) layabouts in random army surplus clothes. Which is probably what they were. Still more convincing than a great deal of similar attempts. Not that that's saying much but all in all this is a proper zombie film and worth seeing if you're into that sort of stuff.
Usually Franco's films are nothing but an excuse to portray women without clothes (such as in Vampyros Lesbos or Female Vampire), but films like this one and his Dracula shows that with an honest budget and a proper script Franco could've possibly made a name for himself among others than people like me. However if you want to see an interesting spanish zombie film I'd much reather recommend Tombs of the Blind Dead, an eerily atmospheric and strange film about zombiefied knights...
Still. All these films are more memorable than the more recent Dead Snow (Død Snø 2009), for a variety of reasons. Most importantly these films have something of a genuinity that is nowhere to be seen in Dead Snow. It's better to try and fail than not to try at all. Dead Snow is a satirical collection of poorly executed scenes that look more like an overdrawn trailer than it is a film. And of course, it's much too clean. You could show it to your grandmother without blushing for fuck's sake... No depravity at all... And where are the famous Norwegian milk maid titties? Where?? If you haven't seen this film there's no reason to either. It has all the cliches such as nazi zombies coming from the deep to protect their gold, young people away for a weekend of wilderness debauchery as well as chain saw death. What it lacks however is trying to be more than a compilation of cliches.
There's more nazi zombie flicks out there. Including one called Night of the Zombies from 1981, but this one is evidently so bad I haven't bothered seeing it. And there are newer films such as the Bunker or Nazis from the Centre of the Earth. Don't waste your time on these films. They are pure shit. Blood Creek on the other hand is modern day undead nazi film worth seeing, if you're into that sort of stuff.
So that's nazi zombies for ya! Now, while you're at it how about some cannibal films?
For many years I was aware of J.G. Ballard, but I had never read anything by him. I'm a lazy reader, and usually don't bother with literature. I prefer academic books. But when so many artists I enjoy find profound meaning in Ballard's literature it's hard to overlook. Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire and Gary Numan were significantly inspired by Ballard. Cronenberg adapted his novel Crash for the silver screen and there is even a Doctor Who episode inspired by one of his books. (Paradise Towers from 1987. Charming in its own eighties way.) Even Hawkwind. There's more too...
Anyway. I found High Rise sitting on shelf and picked it up, and for some reason I left it sitting on a new shelf for a couple of years before I read it. But when I finally did. Wow. In a lifetime you'll only have a few experiences where your world is permanently altered, and this was one of those. I vividly remember the brutal in medias res opening where the main character barbecues his neighbor's alsatian, before the book goes on to recount his experiences before and after this savage unsentimental meal.
The novel brought together so many elements in a story that sounds preposterous but works like a charm. The brutalist Erno Goldfinger architecture of the high rise itself conspires with the futuristic cityscape in which it lies and the modernist search for meaning and power. It was a beautiful book, and I found myself viewing the world in a different way. I immediately sprang to tackle the next book, Atrocity Exhibition, upon which Joy Division based their song of the same title - and arguably his least accessible work. The short textual fragments coalesced to form a whole that affected my perception of reality in a profound way, with their oblique mythical contents. At this time I used to ride the subway to work, and I remember sitting on the subway station listening to the sounds of automatic billboards periodically switching posters. It sounded like the city itself was on a respirator, gasping for breath in the summer heat. For a moment of clarity the humans around me stopped being people and became symptoms. The spit on the ground was a festering pool of potential evolution.
Ballard's fascination with landscapes as an extension of the human will, and vice versa, his use of medical references, his sterile lack of exposition or exaggerated back stories and his modernity all click with me, and he rapidly became one of my favorite authors of all time. Up there with Gibson, Mishima, Burroughs and quite possibly Delany (by whom I have only read one book of as of yet). Ballard's reality is our reality without clothes. His religious/erotic portrayals of life in the city and interhuman relations in the city are eye popping.
I certainly don't see cars or highway intersections the same way anymore. They are both frightening and sexy to me now. And I'm not alone in that...
I leave you with this: The Normal - Warm Leatherette
"We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won't allow them to write "fuck" on their airplanes because it's obscene!" Colonel Walter E. Kurtz - Apocalypse Now
I just read that despite previous rumors that Chuck Norris' involvement with Expendables 2 meant that the film was going to a PG 13 film, it is in fact R-rated - with swearing and all. Chuck Norris is of course famously a christian conservative right wing twat, and doesn't like cussing. Murder and war is fine, cussing is not.
I grew up mostly in the eighties, a decade most of you think of as the decadent days of shoulder pads, mullets, horrible synthesizer music and pink over sized knit sweaters. This is of course true, but the eighties were also the last decade of cold war anxiety and all the implications that came with that.
A significant feature of this decade was the fact that a former movie actor turned Republican politician held office from 1981 to 1989. Fittingly his values are embedded in quite a few of the mega movies of the decade, and certainly in the meme "action film". Chuck Norris' involvement with right wing politics is not unique, to say the least.
Let's take a look at the action films of the eighties, to which Expendables plays loving tribute. We're talking Sylvester Stallone, Charles Bronson, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris of course - and a million clones. In many ways however the meme was born some years earlier with Clint Eastwood and his brilliant interpretation of the role "Dirty" Harry Callahan in 1971 - a movie that spawned a handful of sequels and changed the face of action films forever.
Dirty Harry was set in the inner city in the dying throes of the hippie era, post Manson and towards the end of the Vietnam War. Social upheaval, the early clashes of the culture wars and drug culture had a severe impact on American culture, and the result of course was fear. Fear of course breeds fantasies of escaping fear, and Dirty Harry showed us that one of the most potent images was the head strong, authoritarian white cop who could look past politics and turmoil and create order with his .44 magnum revolver. The revolver is of course a unique symbol of the American frontier, and in Callahan's hands it transforms modern America into a new frontier where savages fear its powers. Dirty Harry postulates a potent urban myth wherein politicians are weak and corrupt and the law itself gets in the way of justice and order. (Incidentally: Dirty Harry's script was co-written by a certain John Milius. Hang on to that name for now, we'll return to him later.)
Several years later the film's myth would be invoked again in a whole bunch of films, but two of the most memorable are Death Wish (1974) and Cobra (1986) starring Charles Bronson and Sylvester Stallone respectively. The two films take different approaches to the myth however, and both are interesting:
Death Wish presents us with the common man turned spirit of vengeance, who takes the law into his own hands because the lawmen are too civilized to exert authority. He becomes judge, jury and executioner, to use a cliché, and turns his revolver on street punks and modern savages. Chaos and turmoil surrounds the common man, but with the right tools he can turn the frontier back into a home for good men. Cobra's take is different. In Cobra the law is no longer just flaccid or corrupt, it is irrelevant. Gangs have taken over the inner city and are enforcing their own rule, with no respect for the laws or the police. They have zero qualms about open war with the police. Into this situation Marion Cobretti is injected as a self proclaimed cure. His revolver is replaced with a modern 9mm gun, and the frontier is gone. This is the normal state of our decadent civilization. Cobretti is seen as a necessary evil and the only way to take on the worst of the lawless elements. He succedes, but the viewer is warned not to follow his path - unlike the path of Paul Kersey in Death Wish. Kersey was a common man turned vigilante, Cobretti is "nietzschean" superhuman bred for war - a true child of the Vietnam War.
- The court is civilized, isn't it pig? - But I'm not. This is where the law stops and I start - sucker! Cobretti converses a criminal scum bag in Cobra
Stallone of course is probably best know for his portrayal of another child of the Vietnam War, and a film that spawned a whole genre of its own. I am of course talking about Rambo and the film First Blood from 1982. First Blood is also the first film that taps into the rich tapestry of the war that was lost because the civilized liberals back home didn't believe in the war goals - and even more potently that the troops were betrayed by the society for which they fought and sometimes died. (There is of course some truth to this, but I'm concerned with myth, so I'm not gonna debate that issue.) John Rambo is a veteran on his way home, out of work after the war ended and more or less a bum - despite being a highly decorated and well trained special forces combat soldier. Walking along the road he is arrested by the local sheriff, and after being subjected to ridicule and torturous treatment he flips. A small war ensues in which Rambo uses his experience from Vietnam to outwit the cops. After a climactic battle with the local constabulary he is arrested by his former C.O. Colonel Trautman. The gist of the story is that the civilized postwar society has no need of its combat damaged troops, and would easily turn its back on the people who fought in the war. First Blood is probably one of the best action films of the eighties, and deserves a much better reputation that it has. Where Apocalypse Now(John Milius again) was a film about the war and how it burns away humanity First Blood showed how society is unable and unwilling to face the consequences of sending people to war. First Blood isn't Taxi Driver, even though they share a few themes. Where Taxi Driver portrays the veteran as slightly soft in the head, Rambo is in possession of his faculties. Society in the other hand is cruel and has turned its back on its warriors.
First Blood spawned three sequels, out of which the first one (from 1985) is most memorable as it continued to tap into the mythic tapestry of the Vietnam War. This time complete with corrupt politicians and CIA operatives willing to sell out the vets in favor of appeasement. Where First Blood was ambiguous the sequel is a homage to the veterans and their sacrifice and the fiery crucible of war. Rambo is no longer a mentally damaged veteran, but a soldier in the name of justice and political irredentism. The Reagen era came of age with this film, and its muscular hero was suddenly a role model for others: Schwarzenegger's Commando (1985) and Raw Deal (1987), as well as the Missing in Action films with Chuck Norris were basically Rambo knock offs, with the same theme and the same type of action - and the same message: brutality is sometimes necessary to uphold justice and righteousness - and civilized society is unable to defend its citizens in the face of corruption and rising crime. In the words of so many others: we need a new man, a strong man, to lead us in these new times.
Apart from First Blood II the film that showcased this ideology more than anything is probably Predator (1987). A team of elite soldiers on a clandestine mission in South America is tricked by CIA, and encounters an invisible enemy which picks them off one by one. Only by casting off all the traits of the modern civilized world is Schwarzenegger's character able to defeat the technology enhanced monster. He takes a jungian dive into a lake of mud to cover his body heat, discards the modern weaponry and encounters the monster naked and armed with wood and fire. He prevails not because of his advanced weaponry and training, but in spite of it. A more obvious anti modernist tribute to raw masculine destructive force is hard to imagine. Predator is of course a brilliant film, and worth watching not just for its story but because two of its actors wound up as active politicians: Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger - serving as Governors of Minnesota for the right wing Reform Party of America and California for the Republicans respectively. Worth mentioning is of course that Clint Eastwood has served as mayor for the Republican party, and that Bruce Willis is also an ardent Republican, along with Chuck Norris. There's a lot to be said here, and not enough time. Follow the links instead.
As it is with Beetlejuice John Milius has a tendency to pop up when you mention his name a few times, and his contribution to eighties action is probably the most well formulated of all, while not as potent as Rambo or Predator in its mythic superstructure. Red Dawn (1984) is another Reagen era film full of anti communism, tributes to war and strength and paranoid anti-politician messages. It concerns a band of teenagers who fight back against a joint Cuban-Soviet invasion and consequent occupation of the American midwest. The film shows them as they progress from survivalism, through partisan sabotage and guerrilla warfare to heroes. It seamlessly blends frontier revivalism with anticommunist paranoia and criticism of politicians who didn't see the coming storm. I've said it before, but this film is fantastic - both in terms of realistic portrayal and overt political propaganda. (Where most communists in American films used Chinese copies of the iconic AK-47 this is one of the very few films where the Soviet troops actually use Soviet weapons. The level of detail in this film is amazing.) John Milius is of course a self declared fascist and "zenarchist" with a fascination for militarism, weapons and ancient roman values as well as bushido. Milius more than anyone sums up the traits of the great American action film: anti civilization, pro military, anti modernism, anti socialism, pro guns and pro might. If in doubt see his other films: Apocalypse Now, Farewell to the King, or Conan the Barbarian (not Conan the Hawaiian).
- What do you want. - Freedom, to be like we are. - Anything else? - Guns. So they can't take the freedom away. Characters in Farewell to the King sum up what Milius is all about.
Which of course leads me to the conclusion. In the post Vietnam War decades that led to the end of the Cold War American saw the rise of a unique form of pseudo-fascism. This pseudo-fascism was unique in the sense that it had almost no political significance but worked instead to form the myths of the once so liberal nation through films. A potent mix of vigilante justice, anti government sentiments, pro death penalty and anti civilization messages became common for these block busters, and the films that copied them. The question is of course: how much of current American culture can we say results from this myth complex?
I'll leave you with a trailer for Cobra. Probably the film that sums it all up better than any other film. Might makes right!
Historian and librarian by training, nerd and musician by lack of taste. My blog is highly eclectic ranging fra symbol analysis to blatant anarchism, nerdy chit chat and so forth. As a historian I am mostly concerned with myth complexes, symbolism and rituals in nationalist contexts.
Copyright is for assholes. As might be expected I claim no copyright over anything I publish in this blog. Take it and use it as you will. Quoted persons are holders of their own rights, but these rights have been duly ignored by me, and you should too. But don't tell them I said so. :)