Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist (1997)
"His CS Woulda Killed him If it Weren't For S&M!"
That's not only a theme of this movie, it's part of the lyrics that self-proclaimed (and with good reason)"super-masochist" Bob Flanagan cheerfully sings at a lecture/performance-he did a pretty witty re-working of the "Supercalafraga..."etc song from Mary Poppins. Did I mention he's wearing a little costume including a cape when he performs it?
Yep, Bob Flanagan had a pretty good sense of humor. That was one of the pleasant surprises of this movie. When I first heard about this movie, all I heard about was the hammer scene. I also had skimmed the RE-search book, and looking at some of the really extreme mutilations to areas of his body I would rather not name, I actually figured he was slightly disturbed. I'm pretty liberal and am of the opinion that what 2 consenting adults do, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else against their will, is their own business. I thought, because of his CF combined with this serious torture that he either was suicidal or hated himself. I also wondered about his relationship with his dominant/lover/partner of 15 years, Sheree Rose, hoping that it was loving and she wasn't just using him.
I was glad that this movie proved my pre-conceived notions wrong. Thisis a very intelligent, sane, witty, talented, likeable, and above all, VERY brave guy who happened to enjoy being beaten and tortured sexually. The movie explains-without preaching- that he actually gained strength from his activities. (according to statistics, most CF sufferers die in their 20's. He lived till his early 40's (actually a record)and says his sex life kept him going. He figured for one thing, he had nothing to lose. For another thing, CF is a very painful disease, and he chose to use S&M as a way to take control of his pain and disease. If you find this a hard idea to understand, or are curious, I highly recommend this movie. This has been said before, but I don't recommend it if you're squeamish. I'm jaded, but I had to look away a few times. Interestingly enough, what I found harder to watch than the notorious Hammer of Love was seeing BF racked with pain, coughing his lungs out, and (I don't think I'm spoiling anything here as the movie opens with Bob good-naturedly writing his own obituary) finally losing his battle with CF.
I also didn't think this movie would be so touching. Before the end, I realized he had a very loving relationship with Sheree. Not only are they sexually a perfect match, she is his best friend, soulmate, and care-giver, which is no mean feat. Face it, if you don't love someone, you're not going to be sticking around and helping them expel mucus from their lungs on a regular basis. When he starts losing his fight and finally goes to the hospital to die, the scenes of them together, with her gently telling him it's OK to leave her, are some of the most heart-breaking I've ever seen. This is one brave woman. Also, when she's not in her S&M gear, she could easily pass for an kindly elementary school teacher. It's a great contrast to see her tying him up and sticking needles in his groin in one scene, and later to see her rocking and knitting. I was also haunted by the scenes of him dying, the way he looked, and what he said, things that I've heard are very common last words such as, "I never thought this would really happen...this is so weird."
Is this a hard movie to watch? Even if graphic depictions of *very* sensitive areas of the body being nailed, pounded, and pierced don't faze you, I cannot imagine anyone who wouldn't be shaken or at least moved watching the later scenes of this man really, literally dying in front of the camera and your eyes. But I'm glad I saw it. My husband, however, loves documentaries, and even talked about seeing the movie when it was in limited release. I made the mistake of telling him about one of the more extreme demonstrations, and now he refuses to see it, no matter how good it is (and he's sat through some pretty nasty stuff). If you're brave and feeling up to it, though, I highly recommend this movie. If you're easily (or even not-so-easily) grossed-out, but have an interest in the life and death of this man, then just cover your eyes during the graphic parts. And when you hear "Hammer of Love" start playing, you may want to take a little stroll out of the room for a minute or two.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Who will survive and what will be left of them?
I'm going to comment not only on the movie itself, but also on the new Collector's Edition DVD. I usually don't do this in IMDB reviews, but I was so impressed I wanted to in this case.
If you want a short summary, here it is. Excellent movie, excellent DVD, excellent special features.
First, the movie. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is probably one of the scariest movies ever made (and one of the best titles of all time). Man, they made some creepy movies in the 70's (Carrie, The Exorcist, Rabid). It was unique for its time, and there's still nothing quite like it today. The plot doesn't sound like much- 2 women and 3 men make a drive to rural Texas to check out a graveyard that has been 'defiled', and to also relax and enjoy themselves. This last part of their vacation plan doesn't go real smoothly, as they make the mistake of wandering into an area where an insane, backwoods, inbred, cannibalistic sociopathic family live. Things get more and more horrifying from there.
I've heard people complain this movie isn't scary and not gory enough. Well, as far as the gore, it is fairly low-key by today's standards (though I'm sure my mother wouldn't want to watch it, and it couldn't be shown uncut on regular network TV). There's not a lot of blood till the end of the movie, but the acting is so good, and the screams of the victims so wrenching, your imagination fills in the rest and it actually is painful to watch. I will agree that the movie is kind of slow to get started- I admit the first time I saw it as a teenager I was getting impatient for some action. However, the last half of the movie more than makes up for it.
But if you think this movie isn't scary, I seriously doubt you've watched alone, at home, at night, with all the lights off. The first time I saw it was in the daytime, and it still made my hair stand on end. When I got the Special Edition DVD (more on that later)I unwisely watched it after midnight with the lights off, after my husband went to bed. That night, I couldn't sleep until the sun came up. The opening scene of the rotting corpse in the cemetery wired to a headstone alone made my skin crawl. The scene where Pam first discovers Leatherface's room, with the furniture made of bones and the chickens in bird-cages, gets scarier each time I see it. The last 20 minutes, at the dinner table, has to be one of the most grueling and realistic scenes ever. The final few images-the crazy laughter and the spinning-well, over 10 years went by between the last time I saw the movie and the time I watched it on DVD a few weeks ago, and I *still* could remember those shots so vividly it was like I saw it yesterday.
The DVD is incredible-the transfer is so crisp that it seems like the movie was filmed last year instead of in the early 70's. Since I'd only seen it on VHS, I never really appreciated how beautiful some shots of the rural setting are, and also how well-thought out and carefully put together most of the cinematography is. Breathtaking, actually. Until the commentary pointed it out, I never realized how perfect and effective the long, continuous shot of Pam hesitantly getting up off the porch swing to try to find out where her boyfriend has gotten to and slowly walking to the screen door is. This movie does not look at all amateurish, even though it was made on an extremely low budget.
The DVD is packed with cool and interesting special features. First, the commentary by Tobe Hooper, Gunnar Hansen aka Leatherface, and director of photography Daniel Pearl is fascinating. There's lots of subtle but powerful elements in the movie I missed till now-for instance, the lack of almost any score or soundtrack that gives it a documentary feel, making it that much more disturbing. Hardcore fans of this movie know already this was NOT an easy shoot by any standards, but their accounts of how much energy and work it took to get certain things right, not to mention the really tortuous things many of the actors went through...well, if any actor deserves to be paid millions for a movie, this cast certainly earned it. The dinner scene was the most horrendous- they could only do one take, since the actor playing Grandpa decided he would only give them one day, it went on for 20+ hours, and this was in 110 degree heat with no air conditioning. Gunnar Hansen said that by the end, he was so out of it he started to think he wasn't acting. Kind of gives the tagline "Who will survive and what will be left of them?" a whole new meaning.
There's also some deleted and alternate scenes; nothing mind-blowing but still very interesting. With many of them, you can read the script excerpt of the scene first. There's a hilarious blooper reel-the quality isn't that great, but you'll laugh your butt off. There's lots of production notes and stills, along with shots of rare publicity material. A couple scenes are broken down shot by shot, with Hooper explaining why he made the directing and editing choices he did. There's even more, I just don't have room for it all. The menu is also pretty great-if you let it sit too long though, you'll get a brief surprise that'll make you jump. I was quietly paging through the booklet at the time and it scared the bejeezus outta me. I highly recommend the Special Edition to anyone who is a fan of TCM. You'll be able to spend hours enjoying it, and they couldn't have done a better job.
Pit and the Pendulum (1991)
Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!
OK, sorry, I couldn't resist. Though this is a pretty grim movie at times, I can't hear the phrase "Spanish Inquisition" without going through the Monty Python routine. Once the movie starts, however, I am always so engrossed I forget about the sketch.
This movie had me hooked from the first scene the first time I saw it, but it has that rare quality of actually getting better with every viewing. As many have said, this is without a doubt Full Moon's all-time best. I'm a diehard Stuart Gordon fan, and if it wasn't for Re-Animator, I might say it was Gordon's best, too. By the way, the first scene is very grisly and cold-blooded, and you *know* it's gonna be a great movie when that happens even before the opening credits.
I'm really saddened that this movie didn't get more of a chance for wide release. I remember it being in the theater for maybe one week and then going to video, and the only reason I even knew it existed was from reading Fangoria. Look at the cast- while they aren't all considered "A-list", they are favs among horror and cult fans- Lance Henriksen (Millennium, Aliens) Tom Towles (Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer), Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, From Beyond), Frances Bay (Blue Velvet), Oliver Reed... I think the other strike it has against it is that people see the title (maybe that's why it was changed in some versions, including the R-rated DVD that I rented, to The Inquisitor) and figure it's a travesty to even try to remake. Some friends wouldn't even give the movie a chance (to the point where they didn't even want to look at the box, they were so scornful) until I had to beg them to watch it- they thanked me after the first few scenes.
Don't get me wrong, the original is wonderful, and Vincent Price is, well, Vincent Price and in a class by himself. However, this movie has very little in common with Corman's other than the title, the fact that both movies are based on Poe's work, and that there's a scene towards the endwhere some unlucky b*stard tries to get free before the pendulum slices h