Wednesday, December 26, 2012

On Horror - Andrew Nolan

A quick introduction: I'd been working on a print version of Destroyed Human on and off for the last year and a half, which has been through various permutations and still is nowhere finished, so over the coming weeks the content will be uploaded here. Long story short one of the initial ideas was to have friends involved in music write about their favourite horror films. Andrew Nolan was one of the first to reply, and wrote this piece, which hits several nails on the head for me too, as it will many of you reading this I'm sure. For those unfamiliar with him, Andrew is an old friend who has been involved in DIY music and culture for about two decades now, having played in the likes of Ebola, Joshua Norton Cabal, Shank, Slaughter Strike, Endless Blockade and most recently Column of Heaven and Pick Your Side to name but a few. I'd like to thank him again for both his patience and his contribution here, and point you towards his blog for further reading. - J

“There is always some limit which the individual accepts. He identifies this limit with himself. Horror seizes him at the thought that this limit may cease to be. But we are wrong to take this limit and the individual’s acceptance of it seriously. The limit is only there to be overreached. Fear and horror are not the real and final reaction; on the contrary, they are a temptation to overstep the bounds.” – Georges Battaille

I hate going to the cinema, luckily for me few films I’m genuinely interested in seeing make it to the big screen anyway. When I do venture out it’s always the same bullshit; the snickering during a rape scene, the self-conscious tittering that displays to the rest of the theatre patrons that said titterer really gets what’s going in this  high brow Spanish film, the text messaging idiot, the drunk guy with his weekly grocery shopping. The list of things that angry up Old Man Nolan’s blood is constantly expanding.

I’m actually not this angry in reality. In music and any time I write I deliberately put myself in this frame of mind because it generally gives me the creative push I need.

The art I seek out (visually and to a lesser extent aurally) generally displays what I would describe as an aesthetic of cruelty; an intentional disregard of the consumer. Some people like light romantic comedies, Harry Potter and Barry White; I tend to be drawn more towards gut wrenching misanthropic gore films, the art of  Suehiro Maruo, the literature of Dennis Cooper and Matthew Stokoe, and the music of Slogun, IRM, and Revenge. But I’m hardly unique; you’re probably cut from exactly the same cloth. 

One of my favourite films is Ruggero Deodata’s Cannibal Holocaust. I don’t particularly care for Umberto Lenzi’s similarly gory cannibal splatter films as none of them contain the meditations on the utter hopelessness of the human condition that drive Deodata’s masterpiece. 

The central conceit of Cannibal Holocaust is that by now time-worn cliché that civilised people actually aren’t that civilised after all (maybe some film and occult fascist scholar could draw the links between the misanthropic Traditionalism of Julius Evola and 1970s Italian Cannibal exploitation films?). If I were to be flippant or self deprecating I’d channel the spirit of Richard Matheson era Twilight Zone and announce “wait a minute; you mean we’re the monsters?” here.

About five years ago I jumped at the opportunity to see Cannibal Holocaust at The Bloor Cinema in Toronto as part of the monthly Rue Morgue Presents nights. Some people predictably left before the end, looking equally queasy and morally offended, some people laughed at certain key violent episodes of the film; neither of these things were particularly irritating on any important level.

And the part I’m taking my sweet time to get to is that on the way out I was behind two “My Dad Totally Owns a Dealership” dudes. Both were engaged in high five-ing each other and loudly announcing with mirthful disdain that the film wasn’t shocking, that the gore wasn’t a big deal and how funny and cheesy they found the whole thing. 

What I was witnessing first hand was the one-upmanship that permeates almost every aspect of our various mainstream and underground cultures. You can see this in monologues on how much alcohol someone drank/ drugs someone smoked/pills someone popped and how “totally fucking wasted” they got at one end of the spectrum, and how much harsher the harsh noise they listen to is, how much faster/slower/ louder their music of choice is or how fucking terrifyingly real-deal evil the black metal bands they favour are at the other end. Our grandparents bragged about how big the fish they caught were and our annoying former school friends we see on Facebook brag about many women they’ve pulled. And god bless someone inventing Facebook and capitalising on both Schadenfreude and nostalgia; modern life’s two biggest motivators.

As a side-note, to me the shocking aspects of Cannibal Holocaust are not the scenes of women being raped to death with stones, women impaled on spikes or a guy getting his eyeball pulled out. It isn’t even the scenes of gratuitous animal cruelty that pretty much make or break (well, more like break) most horror enthusiasts’ admiration for the film. No, what’s shocking is the above mentioned indictment on how depressingly fucked the human race is.

Two films that effectively throw down the gauntlet and laugh at other gore films puniness are Maskhead and Srpski Film. Maskhead isn’t bad I guess, while it’s nothing much to write home about as a whole its money shot scene is certainly an effective “now beat that!” in terms of envelope pushing ugliness.

Srpski Film is probably one of the crassest pieces of garbage I’ve had the misfortune of sitting through. I’d like to think I’m not dismissing it in the same way that Kappa Delta Phi at Cannibal Holocaust was but I can’t say I was shocked by it. Unfortunately the whole film had the feel of if a Hollywood studio optioned a screenplay about child rape and snuff films. Actually, make that, a Hollywood studio optioned a remake/ reimagining of Paul Schrader’s 1979 film Hardcore and demanded explicit gore, paedophilia and rape.

It’s essentially bland, artless crap with a cynical eye more on its potential place in history than any real sense of drive to it. Martyrs was clearly (I’d like to think so anyway) Pascal Laugier’s angry at the world film, Srpski Film doesn’t give me any of that; oh wait it’s a metaphor for all the terrible things that have happened in Serbia in the directors life time. Sure it is.

To me the bottom line is that with Srpski Film Srdjan Spasojevic has created a film that will be used largely in terms of “you think Murder Set Pieces was brutal? Check this out (Brah)!” Of course Murder Set Pieces was mostly brutal for reasons Nick Palumbo wasn’t aiming for (i.e. bar Toe Tag’s effects and Zombi’s score it’s a load of old shit).

And speaking of Toe Tag (and Maskhead earlier) I’d actually intended to write about August Underground; a series of films that will unfortunately be forever used in revolving “hey, if you think that’s sick then check this shit out” conversations the world over.

Not all art is supposed to be entertainment; that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining on some level, but its reason for existing is not necessarily just to be pretty and give the consumer some kind of spiritual happy boner when experiencing it.

The Viennese Actionists were not entertainment, the art of Austin Osman Spare was not entertainment, and Samuel Beckett’s writings were not entertainment. And guess where this is going, yes, that’s right; the August Underground trilogy is not entertainment either.

And like I said a paragraph ago, just because it’s not entertainment, doesn’t mean it can’t still be entertaining (for example, I will never get bored of tales of stupid people causing themselves great personal injury by acting like idiots).

In the same way that you can meet countless dimwits that will exclaim that they thought Cannibal Holocaust was totally tame (dude) you can meet their kissing cousin, the guy that thinks Peter Sotos is "hella awesome” and August Underground is “TOTALLY SICK!”

These people suffer from the same lack of ability and desire to process information that the kind of people that wanted to ban A Life of Brian suffered from. If your only reaction to difficult to process stimulus is “AWESOME!” then it’s quite possibly more disingenuous than rejecting it outright. It's called a knee jerk reaction and it cuts both ways.

August Underground is a disjointed narrative with amateurish visuals, poor pacing and it doesn’t really live up to repeated viewings, but it’s one of the best films about murder that I’m aware of. To my mind it’s as important a dissertation on violence as Hitchcock’s greatest film (to me) Rope is, for totally different reasons on every single level, but that doesn’t change anything; it’s one of the ‘best’ films about murder and violence out there.

Everyone undergoes short flashes of illumination throughout their lives, they receive these sudden flashes of wisdom that either give their lives a little more sense, or they see precisely why something makes no sense despite being accepted as valid by everyone else.  

In 1992 I had one of those brief moments when the film Stop or My Mom Will Shoot was released. Here was a film that's central premise was the apparent humour of a fragile little old lady being a threat to the physical well being of whoever the fuck it was. Maybe it was some mad cap burglars breaking into the nursing home Sylvester Stallone forced her into over Christmas or something? I was already a disaffected 18 year old and when I realised that completely untrue depictions of death and violence were being sold as somehow suitable for anyone (let alone children). This set me down the path of teenage alienation more than any other corrupting influence my parents could have pointed a finger at a few years prior (mostly Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, HP Lovecraft and Deicide's first album).

And nine years later in 2001 we had August Underground, in which director Fred Vogel takes a swift hammer to the head of the idea that killers are somehow dignified geniuses.

Gone are doctors gone off the rails engaging in a-deadly-game-of-cat-and-mouse-with-a-brilliant-FBI-agent. Gone are chess playing serial killers (such beautiful and deep symbolism...) announcing that “it appears the hunter has become the hunted” *villain cackles and rubs hands together menacingly*. And thankfully absent is the wretched tale of Dexter fucking Morgan. Raise your hand if you openly cheered when he found his risible and permanently nagging wife dead in a bathtub at the end of season four. /spoiler.

Replacing all of that noble, romantic and quite frankly insulting crap is the tale of two low life pieces of shit that harass hitch hikers, kill old ladies, kidnap and mercilessly torture people that don’t deserve it, and generally act like the reprehensible degenerates that murders usually are (I’ve met several convicted killers and they were almost all intensely dislikeable cretins). The two protagonists of August Underground are not intelligent, totally impulsive, and completely unsympathetic. There is nothing idealistic about them or their actions whatsoever.
As an aside, my personal favourite scene of the film (and the only note of humour I can find) is a seemingly guerrilla shot fist fight at a bad mosh hardcore show.

Fred Vogel has made a film that should be commended rather than censored and derided. Fred Vogel has given society one of the few films that depicts violence as what it actually is; ugly, erratic, callous. In an era when society is searching for reasons why someone would be compelled to shoot up a cinema, school, or first responders to a fire, violence in art should be depicted as the ugly, hateful, un-entertaining act that it is.

Originally written August 2010, edited slightly and ending modified December 2012.