john b. cribbs
It's that time of year again. The leaves turn, the footballs fly, and the VCR comes out of storage so we at the Pink Smoke can do what no one else on the internet does: watch horror movies and write about them. Ok, It may not be groundbreaking, but for us reviewing movies of the macabre while snacking on candy corn is fun and educational. We didn't go for any specific theme this year, just picked out a few that looked promising.
picking through the bones of
OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN
george p. cosmatos, 1983
In an interview several years ago, John Waters expressed his enthusiasm for the "killer rat" subgenre (a topic tied in with the rodent porn opening of Pecker.) While name-dropping obvious staples like Ben and Food of the Gods, he failed to endorse such under-appreciated oddities as Ralph S. Singleton's Graveyard Shift and Of Unknown Origin, which in my humble opinion is the Citizen Kane of killer rat movies. And by that I don't mean it's the all-time most over-canonized killer rat movie - I mean if the AFI ever does a list of 100 Years, 100 Killer Rat Movies it deserves to be at the top. Historically, it's more than a flagship for the furtherance of Canadian character actors - it also corrects some of the malicious character assassination of Willard and Ben by representing the rat in its true form. Not as compassionate, domesticated chum to a misunderstood human loser but as repulsive, pestilential corrupter, enemy of all things orderly and hygienic. The rat from this film has no gender-specifying slave name - it aggressively stakes its territory and fights for its survival, but more importantly it implements a murine bend on the ol' Charles Boyer psychological warfare against its human opponent. When that tactic comes up short, it just bites and claws the shit out of him.
Peter Weller, in his first starring role, plays a slick, up-and-coming hot shot who wears a suit like he was born in it. His boss calls him "sport," his co-workers envy him, his plain jane secretary is aroused by him...he's so confident and easy-going he's even on a first name basis with the news vendor outside his office building. Living in a large, recently gentrified house in Mortreal-posing-as-New York with voluptuous wife Shannon Tweed (in her debut, at her youngest and tweediest) and their amiable son, he seems to have everything going for him.
But as the first layers of his perfect life begin to subtlely unravel - the wife and kid leave for a week's vacation, his big project at work is suddenly given an immediate deadline - his new furry housemate shows up right on cue to begin systematically destroying his material possessions, then moving on to dismantle Weller's mental state. Trapping and killing this pest is the first thing Mr. Hot Shot can't efficiently succeed at, and it's not long before he's hitting the scotch and littering the house with traps and poisons. Once the rat goes on the offensive, Weller finds himself sleeping in a hammock five feet above the bed just to stay away from the unrelenting creature. What started as the simple act of killing a rat becomes first an obsessive quest to learn about his opponent in order to destroy it and, ultimately, a fight for survival.
This was the North American debut of George P. Cosmatos, the Mediterranean mastermind behind Rambo: First Blood Part II and Cobra (the Stallone film, not a movie about a snake - he wasn't an exclusive "animal movie director" like Thor Freudenthal and late-period George Miller.) Clearly, he's a filmmaker who understands a loner's personal quest and his self-righteous compulsion to eradicate vermin ("You're the disease - I'm the cure," Marion Cobretti famously explained to one of his rat-like enemies.) This film is his most scaled-down, about one-third of it set in Weller's house which Cosmatos shoots from every angle: down low, in the corner, up above on the ceiling, from inside the toilet.
So it actually sort of is the Citizen Kane of killer rat movies: there's never been one this arty, with immaculate attention to detail and geography of the place we see from its beginning (having been recently renovated to the point of fantastic newness) to its end (the destruction of the house by the rat and, eventually, Weller.) And as he dismantles the interior of the set over the course of the film, Cosmatos tears down Weller's glib exterior and reinvents him as a one-man wrecking crew with the confidence that he is once again the undisputed king of his castle.
Sadly, Cosmatos and his tales of machismo in crisis (none of his other films are as expressly subtextual as this) have little use for women. Co gets killed off in Rambo, the Earp women are unceremoniously sent away from Tombstone after being widowed or replaced by Dana Delaney.* So Shannon Tweed isn't on screen nearly as long as she should be. But she makes the most of the time she is, for example this shot is her first appearance in the movie:
She shows up later in a sex scene/dream sequence, which is intercut with their son mixing all the various rat poisons into a bowl of cereal (so much for the beginning of Antichrist!) This and an earlier nightmare where the rat rips out of the kid's birthday cake reflect Weller's anxiety at the thought of something sinister beneath all the surface happiness of his ideal life. To compare Tweed, so clean and desirable (introduced taking a shower), to the rat, so ugly and disgruntled (introduced chewing on pipes in the basement) is to understand the two extremes of Weller's levels of being: super-successful or a belly-dragging failure; clean shaven in a suit or going out in public in a robe sporting chin whiskers; sane or psychotic.
At one point, Weller is laying in bed when a lump appears in the covers and begins moving towards him. This trespass evokes Weller's most violent response: how dare this vile creature intrude on the sanctity of the space meant for Tweed's perfect form? Although it's admirable how underplayed the family angle is, I kind of wish Tweed's character had been fleshed out further (in more ways than one), maybe given a subplot where Weller begins to suspect her of betraying him or growing suspicious of just how content she is in their marriage. Something along those lines would have clarified exactly the kind of paranoia that sent Weller into his rat-hunting frenzy rather than just imply it. But that's just me wanting to see more Shannon Tweed (the rat's claw mark even erases a good portion of her gorgeous face from the poster - the little bastard and his trail of destruction even provokes the ire of the audience!) Cosmatos is a straight-forward storyteller and tends to focus on his male leads and their road to a secure masculinity - he just doesn't have time for the ladies.
Which isn't true of his real life: Cosmatos actually got this gig because he was recommended by Vera Fields, the Oscar-winning editor of Jaws (I don't know if Fields had a hand in cutting Cosmatos' film, but it's brilliantly composed - more on that in a minute.) Unfortunately with any monster movie made post-1975, the Jaws comparison is unavoidable, but Of Unknown Origin has what is quite possibly the best spin of any of them. Like the great white in its famous first full appearance before a dumbstruck Roy Scheider, the rat pops out of the water...when an unsuspecting Peter Weller lifts the toilet seat! "They like to go for the crotch," he's later informed: the rat is a literal threat to his manhood, and with that gesture challenges its human nemesis to prove he's got a pair by - gloriously, absurdly - gearing up and going after a rat.
The second half of Jaws focuses on the three guys trying to out-man each other, and while the shark defeats the college-educated sea nerd and the tough, seasoned hunter (both bachelors) it's upstanding family man Chief Brody who finds the manliness within himself to vanquish the mammoth threat (which only moments earlier was seen devouring Robert Shaw's groin.) Cosmatos tells the same story, he just shelved the two extra characters and had Wellers reassure himself of his own dominance and control. The shark in Jaws ate a dog, the rat in this film kills a cat, even going so far as to display its corpse atop the fridge for Wellers to find, another message that seems to say 'Real men don't own cats!'
And like the scene in Jaws where Brody hits the books to get a better idea of the killer fish he's up against, Weller has a scene in the library where he does some thorough rat-research (he even watches a video.) Vincent Canby, who was unsurprisingly dismissive of the movie, called it "mysteriously titled" even though the title is clearly spelled out when Weller is looking up the etymology of the word "rat: of unknown origin," the double meaning being that we really know so little about these critters that nearly overwhelm the human population in sheer number.
His studying leads to a nice "just how badass is this rat" moment where Weller starts spouting his newfound knowledge at a dinner at his boss' house - rats are survivors, they're able to tread water for three days and can bite through lead or concrete - that ruins his co-workers' appetites for the rat-sized chickens in front of them. (This whole bit reminded me of Ratatouille's companion short Your Friend the Rat - in fact, the whole "Why Rats Are Cool" section around the six minute point recites the exact same rat facts as Weller in the dinner scene, leading me to believe that the Pixar crew must have consulted Of Unknown Origin while making the movie.)
This scene should be shown in film schools for its incredible editing **, the shuffling of feet under the table and awkward scratching of its surface by guests as Weller fills them in on fascinating rat facts. He actually admires the animal living in his house, like he's amazed that something as commonplace and unambitious as a rat could be venerated in certain countries and have these super-human like abilities while he has to work hard to get where he is (he even envies its reputation as a dining delicacy:"A filthy rat on fine china...") For Weller, this knowledge makes the company of the co-workers and stuffy boss he has to suck up to and let win at tennis unbearable: ruining their meal is the first step towards isolating the humans around him. Little does he know that he's gearing up for a serious war against this formidable furry opponent, a conflict prefaced by the ominous line "You spend maybe 10% of your day thinking of him - he spents 100% of his time figuring out ways to outsmart you."
Trying to get out of his upcoming trial by fire, Weller initially swallows his pride and schedules an exterminator to come round. But the rat eats the check Weller leaves out for him! (No shit! Next time pay by credit card over the phone, guy!) Then he tries to prevent personal contact by laying traps, including a spring snare that decapitates an old school GI Joe ("Watch and weep, you fucker!") and setting poison. The dream sequence of his son fixing himself a big bowl of rat poison as Weller is distracted by Tweed in a see-thru bra puts it out there: How can you consider yourself a man, a father to a developing young man, if you can't take care of things yourself? (Tweed is even notably on top in this fantasy scene.)
Going about his problem passively with traps and poison means Weller doesn't deserve to be the reliable head of a family. Frustrated by the rat's uncanny defensive capabilities, Weller finally throws the gauntlet into the ring, calling out to his hidden adversary, "You want a war? I'll give you a war!" (a funny combo of "I'll give you a war you won't believe" from the first First Blood and "You called down the thunder, well now you've got it!" from Tombstone.) A bizarre training mini-montage follows that cuts between Weller making ready to assault the rat where he lives (shades of Vietnam, like in Robocop) while the rat, I guess, mentally prepares for the confrontation.
Venturing into the basement, Weller finds a group of newborn baby rats, prompting their patriach to strike out in their defense - the rat IS a capable parent, although his attack causes Weller to drop them down a sewer grate (sequel!) It all culminates in a Gearing Up scene*** for the ages, with Weller constructing a makeshift club topped off with nails and other sharp objects jutting out the business end like spikes on some unholy mace forged in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The friendly super who's been giving Weller advise on how to defeat the rat finally realizes just how far gone Weller is when he walks in on him giving his new terrifying weapon a few practice swings.
Although Weller will ultimately impale the beast on his glorious nail-club, the battle itself, fought on land and water (the rat has chewed a hole in the pipes downstairs, causing a flood in the basement) is an exercise in futility. To paraphrase the great Brother Theodore: “You can kill a rat. Yes, if you work for hours and days and months and years, you can kill a rat. But when you’re done, all you’ll have is a dead rat!" But that's sort of the point, isn't it? Yes, I'm afraid that I have to tackle the heavy amount of Rat Symbolism in the film (stop reading here if you don't believe in Rat Symbolism.) It was obviously on Cosmatos' mind, otherwise why would Weller attempt to break through the ceiling with a copy of, what else, Moby Dick. Like the impossibly white whale, the rat is an abstraction, sometimes appearing to be normal size, then seeming more like a giant blood-thirsty nutria when attacking Weller directly.
At its core the movie is woven from the same ilk as the classic man v.s. beast symbolist tome, and makes inspired use of the campy Spencer Tracy-starring Old Man and the Sea, with Tracy struggling against a green-screened swordfish, which plays on the television as Weller listens to his friend scurrying around the walls. As discussed, the rat is a manifestation of all this man's faults and frustrations, the tiny imperfection exaggerated to monstrous proportions that sends his impeccable life into total chaos. The pressure of a flawlessly ordered existence where owning a remodeled townhouse, rearing a healthy kid, acing the big deals at work and making love to a gorgeous wife come as easily as breathing manifests the unkillable pest, which only Weller ever sees or speaks to. His one-way conversations as he makes announcements to an empty living room suggest a vital need for domestic co-existence with the wife and kid away - they're even playful and sarcastic, as if he's offering an interspecies accord should his tormentor be willing to acquiesce to a cease fire.
Of course no such arrangement is possible, and it's a fight to the death: the vanquishing of the dirty, intrusive, infesting imperfection, which Weller can only accomplish by thoroughly bringing down everything around him that has created the abomination: most specifically, the beautifully anointed house. Between them, Weller and the rat wreck the joint (without reverting to full-on destruction through implosion or explosion, which I imagine was merely a budget constraint...you know Cosmatos wanted to nuke that house.)
All this unchecked primalism brings Weller to the same point of personal ruin as James Woods, an actor with a very Weller-esque physique, at the conclusion of fellow Canadian horror film Videodrome, released the same year. (Or, to the point where we meet Marion Cobretti, sifting through his mess of an apartment and cutting a piece off a slice of pizza with a pair of scissors.) But it somehow comes off as cleansing. When Weller hears an ominous tinkering on the piano keys and grabs a bat to smash the instrument ("Liberace, huh?"), it's with the same relish and sense of relief as when the professor takes an axe to the piano that has demolished the inside of his house at the end of Laurel and Hardy's The Music Box.
Trudging through the remains of his own home after the climatic battle, Weller has no regrets over the colossal damage; his great final line - "Fuck the luggage!" - as Tweed and his son return home confirms his liberated state. Weller has never been better, and it was great watching this film after seeing his enjoyable performance on the last season of Dexter (in fact, he was the only good thing about the last season of Dexter.) Should I finally commit to checking into Shoot the Moon and Buckaroo Banzai and The New Age and a bunch of other Peter Weller movies I never got around to seeing? He even has good things to say about the man who directed him in his first starring role:
"There is no director living except maybe Kurosawa, Bergman, or Cosmatos that I would fall down and do anything for. I met Cosmatos three years ago in Taormina at a film festival. I introduced myself and told him that I adored his movies, his contributions to film, because he was the first guy who really started making films about the reality of the vacuity between people, the difficulty in traversing this space between lovers in modern day... and he never gives you an answer, Cosmatos – that's the beautiful thing."
Ok, you got me - I substituted the name "Cosmatos" for "Antonioni." But from the dvd commentary, it's clear that Weller admires his director, with whom he reunited six years later for the disastrous deep sea pic Leviathan, which is kinda about the vacuity between people if you think about it. As far as traversing the space between modern day lovers, I guess Weller and the rat can be considered intimates...as I already stated, Cosmatos certainly traversed every goddamn inch of that apartment. Unfortunately the main thing Cosmatos shares with Kurosawa, Bergman and Antonioni is that he's no longer with us, having died in 2005 after not releasing a new film in eight years. He was an underrated director (even though he didn't always offer answers) and it's time for a serious reappraisal of his catalog.
This was a great opener for this year's horrorthon. I give it four and a half cheeses.
reflections in and on
WHITE OF THE EYE
donald cammell, 1987
White of the Eye is technically the only complete, absolutely 100% can-only-be-attributed-to-him film ever made by Donald Cammell, the more interesting in thought than in practice former painter turned filmmaker most famous as the guy people say is most famous for co-directing Performance with Nic Roeg. Cammellians and Roegists go back and forth as to who is most responsible for the alleged quality of that movie; Cammell called studio interference on his other two films, 1977's Demon Seed and 1995's Wild Side, and committed suicide allegedly out of distraught over the bastardization of the latter.
But for whatever reason this one, which Cammell and his wife (who gets a gratuitous cameo) adapted from a book, managed to get in under the radar and received Cammell and his fan's official seal of approval. To be fair, it is by leaps and bounds his best movie, but as the stand alone representation of what Cammell's about it feels disappointingly like a generic thriller with giallo leanings and a genuinely crazy if undeserved final reel.
David Keith plays Paul, a "non-conformist" stereo installer living with wife Joan (Cathy Moriarty) and their weird-looking daughter in Globe, Arizona just outside of Tucson. He managed to steal Joan away from Mike, her thuggish boyfriend, ten years earlier and they've been happy ever since (in the meantime, Mike has done some time and resurfaced as a shell of his former self working at an impound lot and enjoying his own homemade healthy peanut butter.) So just like Of Unknown Origin we're dealing with a family man with a blonde wife and one kid but unlike Weller, Paul's insecurities are instantly apparent. He fancies himself an artist, passionate about his ability to determine the best way to channel sound through a room, an illusion hard to maintain when he's being treated like the pool boy by the bored rich housewife who's not really interested in having her stereo fixed if you catch my meaning. Stuck in a small desert town, he's never going to move above his position as a talented handyman and "stupid hillbilly" no matter how loud he blares Pagliacci from his pickup truck. And because of former city gal Joan he's living a sort of embarrassing yuppie-bohemian life (Cammell was also self-exiled to a decked-out Arizona pad at the time) as a stud trophy husband. He's given up hunting, which used to be his second love, and cut his truly awful giant mullet to a respectable length - he's been domesticated! All the contradictions - opera in a pickup truck, denim outfits and hi-fi equipment - ultimately clash when he puts on Indian warpaint, knots his hair like a samurai, straps dynamite across his chest and chases after his wife once she's learned he's an unstable serial killer.
Cammell returns to the structure of Performance - a two men, one woman formula with a weird little person thrown in there who has little to do with the story - but employs much less of an experimental narrative or exhaustive composition. The easy explanation is that the style of Performance can be attributed to Roeg while the ideas were all Cammell, which is probably why the same kind of aggressive visual approach to that first film falls flat here. Two scenes that cut back and forth come off jarring and abrupt.**** A tracking shot with Keith mounted on the steadicam is more distracting than disorienting. A dude from Pink Floyd, in place of Jack Nitzsche, doesn't do enough with the score to make it stand out.
But since Cammell was the conceptualist of the team, a lot of the ideas behind Performance pop up here and work okay, even if they sometimes seem so close to the original that it's almost like Cammell was desperate to prove he was responsible for what made Performance interesting. Mirrors are once again prominent, most notably in a murder scene where Paul holds a woman underwater in the bathtub and puts a mirror up to her face so she can watch herself drown.*****
The opening blow job in Performance is similarly viewed by the receiver via hand mirror; the same character will use a mirror during the violent torture of a chauffeur a few scenes later, drawing a comparison to sex and violence that White of the Eye wants to connect in the same uncomfortable sequence. Mirrors also link two people and fuse them together, in an interrogation scene where Joan's reflection from behind the two-way glass is superimposed over Paul's face, similar to multiple shots connecting Chas to Turner in Performance. Both movies end with one male character shooting the other in the head, effectively killing himself at the same time.
Beyond the corresponding sub-Borges themes we have the fear of femininity, which plays out in yet another mirror-fusing-two-people scene from Performance where Anita Pallenburg holds the mirror up to Chas' chest so that her own breast becomes "attached" to his. She tells him she wants to bring out the woman in him, just as Mick Jagger's Turner represents "all man, both masculine and feminine," but Chas takes offense and declares himself thoroughly masculine.
When White of the Eye kicks into gear after a tepid first hour that includes two murders which can most kindly be described as "Argento-esque," the most successful element of the film becomes the relationship between Joan - an independent woman with a tough, almost masculine exterior (Moriarty's height, husky voice and giant forehead help) - and Paul, emasculated by his role as husband/father and seemingly frustrated by Joan's refusal to let herself fall into the same generic spousal-parental role (these two have that Nick Nolte-Jessica Lange-in-Cape-Fear "these people shouldn't be parents" thing.) Secretly sensitive, she mocks an old man's gift of a coin one is supposed to rub to keep their partner from straying but thumbs it at her side when nobody's looking. Her calm reaction to finding detached limbs and preserved organs in the bathroom, trophies of her husband's crimes, stems from an intellectualized dilemma as to whether or not to accept Paul's "true self," as opposed to being disturbed or frightened by her findings (although that plays into it as well, since she has a vulnerable daughter.)
Originally upset at the idea that he might have been cheating on her, she rationalizes that it would be hypocritical to disapprove of him for being the exact opposite of a stereotypical philandering husband, even if the alternative is for him to be a sick murderer - it's easier for her to accept the role as victim rather than humiliated housewife. "Oh, that...yeah, I was going to talk to you about that," is Paul's manner of confession when she confronts him about the body parts in the bathroom: all marital conflicts, even those involving murder and mutilation, Cammell seems to suggest, are unbearably banal. In a beautiful ranting monologue, which David Keith delivers as if he's had these thoughts forever and is relieved to finally say them out loud to someone, he explains to Joan he sees death as feminine, a giant black hole sucking everything into it ("If that's not female, I don't know what is!")
That's the one thing White of the Eye has over Performance: a female character who, eventually, becomes the main focus. By the laws of your standard horror movie layout Joan takes center stage in the final act and, as most horror movie heroines, becomes an infinitely more interesting character once she finds herself targeted by the killer and must make up in intelligence and sheer will what she lacks in physical strength. The fact that the killer is her husband and that she may even be flirting with the idea of forgiving him his heinous deeds adds to the drama, although again convention does away with that angle and the movie tumbles into a big chase climax.
But before that, Joan and Paul share an intense night in which he attempts to justify his murder spree and becomes a quivering Woodcutter's Wife or Bluebeard's Bride trying to decide how to handle all this. The movie may get to this point through an obnoxious "twist" with Paul being revealed as the killer (which may have been more tolerable if the camera didn't linger on the Mickey Thompson tires belonging to Mike, the only other suspect - the very kind of tires the police are trying to match to the killer's vehicle!!!), but this is a far more satisfying direction for the movie to go in. After some rough, possibly non-consensual, sex her little bloody-key-of-an-indiscretion (she had called a neighbor to arrange to have her daughter taken out of the house) is revealed and Paul attacks the marriage bed, ripping it to pieces with a large hunting knife.
Tellingly, this is the first time we've seen Paul use the knife (in a flashback we see him use it to gut a deer, a threat against Mike to run him off and have Joan to himself.) Even the faceless killer in the murder scenes is seen only to bludgeon and drown his victims...it's all been about the dissolution of a marriage and family situation based on lies and murder, of which the union may or may not have been the cause in the first place. It's so sudden and surreal that the last ten years of Joan's life could have been an Alice in Wonderland-like dream of which this, with Mike improbably turning up at the end to rescue her, the violent nightmarish conclusion. Or is this unlikely turn of events, with her husband running around wearing a vest of dynamite, her delusional way of accepting the mediocre future she's carved out for herself after leaving the city and falling off track? Maybe she always wanted to remain the pushy broad putting cigarettes out in her boyfriend's 8 track player.
Is Joan the real "white of the eye," the screen-filling voyeur that disapproves of all it sees? The shot of the eye makes an appearance while she slashes Paul's tires (the same set that implicate him in the crimes and exonerate him since getting a flat becomes his alibi during the second crime), enraged over his imagined infidelity. Is it the eye of the killer or of the mind that's imagining these murderous scenarios? (earlier, it was revealed that Joan was envious of the second victim, of whom her husband offers a flimsy excuse for attacking - he doesn't even remember her name.)
The ending is exciting and full of possible interpretations. The problem is that all of this comes too late: because of the forced whodunnit scenario, we've been spending most of the movie with the husband, by all appearances mild-mannered and full of "aw shucks" congeniality despite the frustrations of small town life mentioned earlier, not to mention tedious scenes with Art Evans as his usual suspicious character actor cop (he seems to have just wandered over from Fright Night) and a handful of bland side characters frequenting a diner that stands in as the remainder of the town. But it's almost worth it to get to the genuinely strange ending.
It's frustrating to only be able to discuss the last half hour of a movie, but really the last reel is the only thing worth talking about. I'm sure people will argue that the two murders earlier in the movie are wonderfully artful and everything, but I can't get past Cammell imitating if not flat-out ripping off Dario Argento. You've got the extreme close-up of the eye. The artfully obscured killer, whose hands move in and out of frame. The first victim's head falling back into glass, a common Argento motif. Even elements of the story, like the disposable "mystery" of the killer's identity and its lead character Paul being the kind of failed/compromised artist protagonist that Argento typically employs.
Cammell was an artist himself: the one signature aesthetic he adds to the murders is the "splatter" design of food, blood and paint (another throwback to Performance) being sprayed across a room, prompting Evans to evaluate the murder scene: "I know a work of art when I see one. Didn't you ever look at a Picasso?"
PHENOMENA WHITE OF THE EYE
DEEP RED WHITE OF THE EYE
What White of the Eye lacks in originality and great filmmaking it makes up for with an avalanche of ideas and weird moments. There's a cabinet that slides open via remote control to reveal a small television. At the first crime scene, Evans washes his hands in the toilet so as not to contaminate the potentially evidence-laden sink. A local cop asks to use Joan's bathroom and, in a gesture that is never brought up again, powders his armpits with her compact puff. There are memorable lines, like the amorous housewife making a horrible pun about her broken television ("I just got back from Florida...this is the reception I got.") and Paul, strapping dynamite across his body in the bathroom, requesting his daughter make him a baloney sandwich ("Dad's wearin' a buncha hot dogs!") Before the first murder, the killer leaves a goldfish flopping around on an uncooked rack of ribs; later a huge piece of meat rotates slowly in the back of the diner.
And in the end, Joan will find herself between two guys with phallic weapons: Mike, who 10 years ago failed to intimidate the lovers with a mere handgun, now has an absurdly large machine gun to outmatch Paul's hunting knife - it's a literal dick-swinging competition. All these moments don't add up to a successful horror movie, so I guess Nicolas Roeg wins that match too (with the superior man/woman/dead child classic Don't Look Now.) Which isn't to say that Cammell doesn't deserve the posthumous re-evaluation that he's enjoyed over the last 15 years. White of the Eye isn't the generic thriller it was originally dismissed as, but it's a far cry from the visionary masterpiece some fans make it out to be.
For more on the movie, check out Marcus Pinn's thoughts on it over at Pinnland Empire.
~ OCTOBER, 2011 ~
* Sam Elliott's Virgil Earp is also sent packing, having been wounded and therefore rendered as helpless as a woman. Cosmatos contrasts the Earps' humiliating emasculation with Val Kilmer's lithe, dainty portrayal of Ultimate Killer/Sensitive Lover Doc Holliday, whose loyalty to Kurt Russell's Wyatt is far stronger than his relationship with Big Nose Kate, whom he dismisses from the movie with the line "It's true, you are a good woman. Then again, you may be the antichrist." Holliday's contempt for Johnny Ringo - an educated gunslinger like himself - is another favorite theme of Cosmatos, a self-hatred among tough guys that pops up in Cosmatos movies as early as the Richard Burton/Marcello Mastroianni war film Massacre in Rome and Roger Moore/Telly Savalas POW escape movie Escape to Athena.
** This was one of five Cosmatos movies edited by Robert Silvi, who cut Wise Blood, Under the Volcano and The Dead for John Huston and William Peter Blatty's The Ninth Configuration (and - I never fail to point out this movie when it comes up - The Maddening!)
*** Honestly, who challenges Cosmatos for the throne of King of the Gearing Up scene? Between this, Rambo, Cobra, Tombstone...what director can boast that amount of close-ups of ammo being strapped on, guns being cocked, spike-clubs being constructed and sunglasses being placed over vengeful eyes? And don't even say Michael Bay - his scenes of scrawny actors hefting weapons bigger than their heads are but a pale imitation.
**** Actually there are two instances where the transition is smooth and seamless: one where Paul asks for a beer at a diner that cuts to Joan serving him a beer at home, and another in which Joan starts telling a detective something which suddenly cuts to her telling the story to a room full of people without her missing a beat.
***** This grisly spectacle was, morbidly enough, supposedly what Cammell requested of his wife as he lay dying from a self-inflicted gunshot wound: he asked her to get a mirror so he could watch himself die. Yikes.