Matthew Saliba's EROTICIDE: Dirty Little Secrets

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Eroticide (2013)
Director: Matthew Saliba
Writer: Matthew Saliba, Andrée-Anne Saliba (French adaptation)
Featuring: Jocelin Haas, Stephanie van Rijn, Lisa Di Capa
Website: The Celery Stalks at Midnight

In the throes of desire, Yan (Haas), the male protagonist in Matthew Saliba's latest film Eroticide, recites mantras on command that throw around pointed words like "loser" and "pathetic"; each phrase - aimed at himself - indulges in self-abuse that affects not only his relationships, but engenders his entire being. Yan craves humiliation, and though he tries to bury these tendencies, he can't even get an erection without the assistance of an insult.

Yan and his girlfriend Elise (van Rijn) are prematurely celebrating an anniversary (they've only been together nine months) with a romantic dinner. They are rudely interrupted by Yan's imposing, foul-mouthed ex-girlfriend Kendra (Di Capa) who bullies both Yan and Elise on their special night. Elise, patient and forgiving, gives Yan another shot; soon, however, Yan is fantasizing about the brutal kind of affection he's only ever received from the unmerciful Kendra.

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Eroticide is a deeply intimate look at the complex inter-relationships between these three characters: Yan is a self-loather who yearns to be dominated, demonstrated by his words ("I am a pathetic loser") and actions (licking Kendra's shoes); Kendra finds great pleasure in humiliating Yan, yet doesn't realize - as a person who gets off on dispensing humiliation -  she needs Yan just as much as he needs her; Elise's concept of love inhabits its own extreme end of the relationship spectrum, manifesting as harm to herself as a demonstration of her devotion to Yan. The exploration of this sado-masochistic threesome benefits from the richness of Saliba's dialogue; rather than sink into cheap exploitation, his command of the material, and respect for the neuroses of his characters, elevates the story to thought-provoking levels.

Yan's story, told through the lens of an empathetic Saliba, explores the definition of "healthy" relationships in a world where damaged souls rely on delicate connections; they may unravel once troubling secrets are brought to light. When deep-seated psychological idiosyncrasies are unearthed, the lines between "healthy" and "unhealthy" become blurred when it comes to love and sex. Despite the short format, Saliba manages to convey the cyclical nature of abusive relationships, as well as the co-dependency wrought from whatever attraction keeps the abused coming back for more. Better yet, Saliba is not passing judgement on any of these characters; he's merely portraying them in their rawest, most vulnerable state - for better or worse.

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Two things stand out in Saliba's film: The first is the refreshing lack of a music score; each scene thrives on genuine emotion without the manipulation of musical cues to coerce viewer experience; The second is Saliba's gimmick free cinematography that utilizes mostly static shots with a focus on body language, as well as the spoken (French and English) and unspoken (passive aggression) languages passing between the characters. Sometimes the language encourages; other times it berates; but throughout it's always the language of desire, no matter how twisted it might become.

It's always a treat to witness a new Sinema Saliba film; with each production, director Matthew Saliba (Vampyros Lesbos, Amy's in the Attic) pushes the envelope of genre cinema with genuinely provocative ideas; he and his small troupe of fearless actors - here with Haas, van Rijn, and Di Capa respectively - transcend the challenges of micro-budget efforts while defying the cliche-ridden landscape of cinema. With every production, it's clear that Saliba establishes trust with his players; he's able to coerce engaging, yet uncomfortable interactions between them. These moments subsequently position the viewer face to face with his or her own inner demons; the result can be therapeutic if we're able to embrace the truths about our own psyches.



WHERE THE DEAD GO TO DIE: Animate and Devastate

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Where the Dead Go to Die (2012) 
Director: Jimmy ScreamerClauz 
Writer: Jimmy ScreamerClauz 
Cast: Ruby Larocca, Joey Smack, Linnea Quigley, Trent Haaga, Devanny Pinn 
Website: http://www.deadlyproductionsrecords.com/wtd.html

Animated films possess the ability to push boundaries like no other artform; the limitations exist only in the imaginations of the creators. From Émile Cohl's ghostly chalk-line images in 1908’s Phantasmagoria, to the grotesque works of stop-motion animator Robert Morgan (Bobby Yeah!, The Cat with Hands), horrific animated films exist to provoke and startle in a medium that transcends notions of being made "just for kids". Adults will find plenty of provocative material to mine in the realms of stop-motion, hand-drawn, or in the case of this review's subject, shaky computer generated animation.

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Animation may have been the only viable forum for Jimmy ScreamerClauz (The Bunnyman) to tackle the miserable themes he’s chosen to examine in his crudely animated, but deeply disturbing feature Where the Dead Go to Die. Curiously, the aesthetic of WTDGTD is akin to the primitive block 3D style of 90's video game “cinema” scenes, an artistic choice that may, at the outset, incite more laughter than screams. It's unclear if this is a deliberate choice by ScreamerClauz, or if he's still familiarizing himself with digital tools; this facet of the film will undoubtedly receive the toughest criticism. It can be argued, however, that the occasionally inane look was an effective way of rendering the massively depressing material more palatable, and succeeds in providing an unnervingly surreal quality to the film. It’s only partially a joke to say that the crude format may be the only way this kind of material – elements of child prostitution, bestiality, and unfettered bloodshed – can legally exist at all.

ScreamerClauz’s film is fashioned from three interconnected stories (Tainted Milk, Liquid Memories, The Masks That Monsters Wear) set in a ramshackle neighborhood on the outskirts of town. It’s a place that exists everywhere, one where addiction, poverty, and abuse prevail, and moments of lucidity are fleeting for those trapped in the clutches of despair. Dark evil not only pervades, it radiates, infecting those on the fringe. As one character explains, it’s a place that serves to “balance” the world of light and dark, life and death. Darkness and death are, indeed, omnipresent, and the monsters dwelling here are very real.

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Child characters are the focal point of the film, the structure woven from their horrible stories, and intertwined by visits from a demonic dog named Labby. Tommy is a young boy driven to committing vile acts against his parents, persuaded by Labby that his pregnant mother is carrying Satan’s child. Ralph, a boy born with a horrible deformity, harbors an adolescent crush somewhere between lust and obsession that makes him susceptible to Labby’s sadistic whims. Sophie, the only victim not given a choice by Labby, lives a life of cruel exploitation, prostituted by her twisted father in a child porn operation. Each child's suffering connects them in a heartbreaking union of inescapable misery, one that transcends space and time. ScreamerClauz’s storytelling here, consequently, manages to massacre a familiar slice of comforting Americana – a boy (or girl) and his (her) dog.

ScreamerClauz overcomes the obstacles one might attribute to the “primitive” technological tools by going full tilt with the imagery; no one can accuse him of not going far enough in the graphic depictions of carnage. Torture, rape, and other atrocities litter an overwhelmingly sadistic environment replete with vicious and visceral imagery. It’s twisted, gory, subversive stuff, yet profound in its ability to seep beneath the skin of the viewer despite technical flaws that should dilute the content. Better yet, it isn’t completely nihilistic; there are fleeting moments of sublime joy shared temporarily between the characters. For example, Ralph spends time with his crush Sophie in a beautiful garden, a moment shattered by Sophie’s realization that she must get home before her father "misses" her.

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It’s difficult to recommend a film comprised of such wretched, painful material, especially considering the unsophisticated aesthetic employed by ScreamerClauz. It would, however, be a mistake to dismiss Where the Dead Go to Die on those grounds. It’s a film that at its core is one of the most purely horrific films released in some time. By pushing the limits on what is acceptable in film and animation, it opens up new and relevant avenues of discussion for confrontational cinema. It’s certainly not for everyone. It may not be for anyone. Yet it’s a film that absolutely shouldn’t be ignored by those open to the challenges of ScreamClauz’s literal and figurative demons.

Where the Dead Go to Die Trailer


BUFF Recap - Opening Night, Night 2 (I Declare War, The Manson Family, A Band Called Death, Guilty of Romance)

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A Band Called Death
Though it's already spring, the start of my year truly begins with the Boston Underground Film Festival. Each year since I've lived in the Boston area, at least two or three BUFF selections invariably make my year-end top ten list. Some have gone beyond as all time favorites including last year's offering John Dies at the End or Amer from a few years back.

Opening Night: I Declare War (2013), The Manson Family (2003)

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I Declare War
Opening night of BUFF featured Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson's I Declare War, a deconstruction of the war film using a cast composed entirely of children. It's a commentary on the horror of war, as well as an affecting coming-of-age story. The film is sure to provoke controversy as the characters' fantasy play using sticks as weapons crosses over into a harrowing imaginative landscape where real guns rule the woods. Read my Full Review over at Paracinema Magazine's Website.

Following up was the re-release of James Van Bebber's shocking  The Manson Family, marking its 10th anniversary. The Manson Family is part fictional narrative, part documentary, and a savage imagining told through the eyes of Manson's most recognized cult members. Van Bebber's dizzying grindhouse-era aesthetic is one for which Rob Zombie reaches, but never quite grasps. This film - particularly the third act - will haunt you.  

Night 2: A Band Called Death (2012), Guilty of Romance (2011)

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Guilty of Romance
Sadly, I missed out on Blue Dream. I was, however, able to find myself among an enthusiastic crowd for the stellar documentary A Band Called Death. Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett trace the history of unknown proto-punk band Death, formed by three brothers in Detroit in 1971. Inspired by the music of Alice Cooper and The Who, this passionate trio was lost to obscurity (including the death of one brother) until record collectors discovered them three decades later which prompted a re-release of their album once relegated to an attic shelf.

Sion Sono concludes his "Trilogy of Hate" with Guilty of Romance, a provocative examination of Japanese culture and the roles of women within a constrictive society. As usual, Sono's film is brazen and beautiful, but requires the viewer crack the codes of his lyrical delivery of challenging themes. You can read my Full Review over at Diabolique Magazine's website.

Recaps of the remainder of BUFF's programming on the way including Cheap Thrills, See You Next Tuesday, White Reindeer, Saturday Morning Cartoons, Jug Face, and BIG ASS SPIDER!


Help Genre Icon Karen Black Battle Cancer

Here's an opportunity to give back to a genre icon who has graced screens both large and small. Karen Black, the incredibly talented star of Day of the Locust, Trilogy of Terror, and Easy Rider, is currently battling a very serious form of cancer. She and her family are raising money to help with expenses associated with cancer treatment. Please consider donating to her campaign to help restore the strong, captivating presence we all adore.