Friday, December 11, 2015

019. Cavegirl and 020. The Driller Killer

Jump to The Driller Killer (1979)

019. Cavegirl (1985)
Director: David Oliver
Writers: David Oliver, Phil Groves
From: Cult Cinema

Rex, the school nerd, gets separated from his class on a field trip to area caverns. While there, a crystal sends him back to Neanderthal times where he finds and falls for the beautiful Eba. He initially thinks he's studying the Neanderthals, but learns that he'll have to discover his own hidden depths if he's going to save the day.

This movie almost derailed the entire project, it was so uncomfortably bad. I'm used to watching inept movies and boring movies but rarely do I encounter something that makes my skin crawl. This not only made my skin crawl, it made my friend Faradaye Rage and me uncomfortable to the point where we were both shouting at the screen.

The movie starts with Rex, a “high school” student played by a 22-year-old. He's the typical 80's nerd—incompetently dressed, overly clumsy, and completely invisible to women. Of course, also the target of the school's bullies. Several obviously telegraphed pratfalls, all poorly done, establish this set-up before everyone goes trucking off to explore some local caves. The bullies steal Rex's backpack while he's using the bathroom which leads to him getting separated from the group.

Meanwhile, the military is doing missile testing nearby. Which, by the way, is fantastic. If you're going to be a screwy, absurdist comedy, go all out. My beef with the few comedies I've seen for this (and I'm sure with the ones to come) is that they don't have the courage to embrace their concept. There will be one or two good jokes, but overall the movie will feel perfunctory and dull, maybe even going so far as to feel self-congratulatory about how “edgy” it is (see Deathrow Gameshow. Of course, none of the comedy is edgy.

This, though, promises a bit of that manic absurdity. It's called Cavegirl after all. If this had been a mid-80's gender-swapped version of Encino Man, I'd be down for that.

So Rex is in the cave, finds a giant crystal that starts glowing, the signal the crystal sends out causes the missile the military fired to go off course and detonate near the cave. When Rex wakes up, he's in the distant past, a nerd in the Land of the Lost. He quickly meets Eba, the titular Cavegirl, and her tribe. The tribe doesn't like him, but she does, and he spends the rest of the movie alternately trying to teach her his modern ways and trying to document how the tribe lives.

Where the movie falls apart is just how rapey it is from the word go. As soon as Rex meets Eba, he starts trying teach her English, primarily the phrase, “I want to sit on your face.” When not trying to get her into a place where he can claim, “she asked for it,” he's actively trying to force/trick her into sex by taking her to a secluded bed he's rigged up, grabbing her knees, and spreading her legs.

And all this is funny because, well, you know how guys are, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. The movie wants Rex to be the nice guy you're pulling for, but he's the “nice guy,” the guy who thinks he's entitled to sex because he wants it and it's your fault if you're not interested in screwing him. And this, by the way, is the rest of the movie. Sure, there are elements of him trying to be the observing scientist and a climax involving a tribe of cannibals, but it's almost all him trying to trick her into screwing him—not trying to form a relationship, not trying to fall in love, trying to fuck someone he assumes doesn't know what's really going on which is why he's after her. By the way, that line's important to draw because there's another cavegirl who's totally into him, but we all know it's not worth it if it's with some fat slut who wants to, amiright? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I literally can't write about this without getting angry and just going into a long, long rant. There isn't even that much content in the movie. What content there is is Rex the rapist and the humor is supposed to lie in the slapsticky pratfalls that keep thwarting his efforts.

The movie works as a nice piece of cultural anthropology if you want a sense of where we were 30 years ago. Nothing about this seemed problematic to the people involved when they made it. In fact, they thought this was normal. The producers didn't imagine themselves to be edgy or clever; the movie's knowingly lazy so everything that strikes the wrong chord now was seen as, “whatever, that's just what people expect” when it was made. It says something that this was more morally repellent to me than The Driller Killer, the serial killer movie that sparked the video nasty list in the UK. Just viscerally awful.

020. The Driller Killer (1979)
Director: Abel Ferrara
Writer: Nicholas St. John
From: Chilling

Reno is an artist at the end of his rope. He's behind on rent and his agent won't loan him more money until his masterpiece is done. On top of this, a punk band moves in downstairs and practices day and night at full volume. That's when Reno sees an ad for the Porto-Pak, a battery pack that powers electrical appliances away from home, any appliance, even a power tool.

This is one of the infamous ones, one of the big ones, the film that's credited or charged with starting the Video Nasties movement in Britain. A movie so foul and vile and dangerous that it had to be banned lest it corrupt and destroy a nation's youth. How does it stand up 36 years later?

It's all right. The movie has a big reputation to live up to and it's unlikely any film could. I will say, though, that there's a little more going on here than in a traditional z-grade slasher pic and I know a lot of the other movies on this set don't have nearly the intelligence that this film has. That said, it's still a first feature from a director, shot independently on a low budget, and reflects the limitations of the time. I do, though, love the opening title card insisting "This film should be played loud." I want that as the background on my phone.

To address the big topic first, is it really that “nasty”? No. The idea of the movie is discomfiting—the main character slips into psychotic fugues and murders people with a power drill—but you don't really see the deaths in detail. The filmmakers didn't create dummies or fake heads for the drill to go in so most of the worst moments are kept either off-screen or just out of frame.

And bravo. Suggestion is far more disturbing than seeing; it forces us to fill in the gaps and, as an audience, we can do that far better and in a far more personally distressing way. The one scene that stands out is when he kills a man by drilling into his head. They do show the drill touching his skull, but there isn't any penetration. It's clear that this is fake. Only this is the image that ended up on the VHS cover when the film was released in the UK and that sparked everything else.

The rest of the film has some interesting themes, things left unsaid. It opens with Reno meeting a derelict at a church, seemingly thinking the man is his father. When the derelict tries to grab Reno's hand, Reno panics and flees insisting he doesn't know the man even though he had Reno's name and number on a piece of paper. Later we see scenes of Reno interacting with and drawing the homeless people in New York.

When Reno starts killing, he only attacks the homeless until the very end. Several of the killings happen after we see scenes of the soon-to-be-victims bothering people on the street or relating stories of residents of New York being upset with them. I don't think it's a stretch to read this as purposeful, that the movie is presenting a New York that is crumbing and overrun with homeless, punks, junkies, and homosexuals. While Reno is annoying and abusive, he seems to be surrounded, arguably corrupted, by these other forces: the band downstairs, the two women he's in a relationship with, and his gay agent. Reno himself is a transvestite which is only just made explicit.

I even got the sense that Reno was hooking up with the homeless men—that may be how the initial man got his number. There's also a curious scene before Reno starts killing where he's trying to get something from a man sleeping in a doorway. The lines he uses are almost identical to those said to him later by one of his victims. So was that his pick-up line and is there supposed to be an undercurrent of repressed homosexuality in Reno? The first death with the drill looks a lot like he's humping the victim and drills are pretty phallic.

Ultimately, the movie's okay. Not great, not terrible, a historical and cultural curiosity. It takes a long time for the killing to start and the film only focuses on a few—the head scene and a death where a man is basically crucified. There's some nudity and lesbianism which is a little eye-rolling in its obviousness, in its pandering to a grindhouse crowd, but I think the movie overall is worth a watch. Also, it's in the public domain.

The version I watched is the same as this one on the Archive which conveniently links to two other versions, both widescreen and allegedly uncut.

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