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Eight short experimental films about madness, passion and mayhem. Including Eric Stanze's haunting Faith In Nothing, Chad Eivin's Vomire, Tommy Biondo's controversial Satisfaction, and the Cine Eagle Award, Telly, and Emmy winning Curveball: Pile of Junk
Having A.D.D. almost makes movie watching a chore. So anytime I sit down with a horror anthology of sorts, it's a blessing. When Eric Stanze and the nice folks over at Wicked Pixel Cinema sent me The Severed Head Network, I was very excited for two reasons. One, it was comprised of short films no longer than 30 minutes, which was an immediate bonus, and two, Eric Stanze - who some of you will remember from Savage Harvest - was involved with it, and we all know what a good little filmmaker he's turned out to be. This isn't to discredit any of the other directors, but at the time of me watching this, I hadn't seen any of their work to date.
Review by Tristan
Added: March 02, 2008
Vomire, alternately titled How My Cunt Discharged Your Morals And Started Believing In Unicorns, is an experimental short film which seemed to have only one purpose, turn the viewer's stomach. It is very up front about destroying everything that we consider to be decent. A man dressed in a pumpkin suit has sex with a cross, there's real footage of a cow taking the infamous "bolt-to-the-head", a man desperately tries to scoop up cow innards that are steaming and rolling around like jello. All in just six minutes or less!
I've seen a great deal of experimental, avant garde type films in my day. Usually, they're just a collection of images, commonly graphic, in order to jar the viewer, and make them take notice. Director Chad Eivins did a great job of this, by combining some truly terrible imagery with religious symbols such as Catholic statues or a cross. While I enjoyed this short, I found it to be just that, short. I think with a little more production, and perhaps a larger budget, this could have easily been more than 6 minutes, and still very entertaining. If it had been a little longer, and a little tidier, I could have easily given this an 8 or 9. Unfortunately, it just fell a little flat.
Faith In Nothing
Credited as a music video, Faith In Nothing is a short film of a woman seductively dancing and stripping to a song performed by Analogue Satellite. It consists of many shots of the same woman dancing/stripping in different locations, while wearing different outfits in each. Peppered throughout these scenes are flashbacks, or perhaps flashforwards, of a man who appears to be her lover, but for some reason is not around, opening up the possibility that there is more here than meets the eye.
This was the one film I was most looking forward to. That might play a part in why I was so disappointed by it. I enjoyed Eric Stanze's other work, and assumed I would enjoy this as well. I really don't know why this was included on the DVD, as it didn't fit in with the rest of the films. A woman awkwardly dances and shuffles to a beautiful ambient song while looking at pictures of who we assume is her old boyfriend or husband. That may seem like a brief summary, but that's actually the entire video. It's 7 minutes of a topless woman dancing, and just when it seems something is about to happen, the song ends and the screen quickly fades to black. Even though Stanze mixed things up a little by throwing in some really nice visual effects, it just wasn't enough. I really enjoyed the song, but I didn't enjoy the video as much as I would have liked.
What starts off as a perfectly innocent night of sex for two college-aged kids quickly takes a very sinister turn. As the couple engage in regular sex that quickly progresses to the rough and ultimately violent, the woman has flashbacks about a prior boyfriend who raped and tortured her. I know, that does sound tragic and quite awful, but it's nothing compared to what she has in store for her current flame.
This movie wasn't just borderline pornography, it was pornography. Full frontal from the two actors, a lot of up close shots of various organs, and some pretty explicit sexual scenes. However, this wasn't just nudity for the sake of it. It was very tasteful, and it served a purpose. From the start of the film until the credits rolled, the couple were embarking on a horrific downward spiral that couldn't have been avoided. As the girl's rape flashbacks get even more and more violent, so does her current situation with her new boyfriend, played by the late Tommy Biondo, the writer/director for this particular piece. While I hate to babble on about the talent of a deceased individual, it was very clear from this film that Tommy Biondo had a bright future in front of him, and had he not been killed, we would have definitely been treated to some fine films from him.
In the second music video of the bunch, a young man, who is struggling with his inner demons after murdering a woman, takes off on a self-destructive path across the city in search of redemption.
Unwanted, that's exactly what this music video was. First of all, I despise the way music videos are shot now, with their headache inducing editing, and flashing 30 images on the screen in 15 seconds is anything but artistic expression. Such is the case with this video, directed by Todd Tevlin. It was the same jerky, quick-edited schlock you see in music videos today, and I did not enjoy it one bit. The only times where the camera was focusing on a scene long enough for the audience to make out what it was, it was a poorly acted murder scene, and I'd have just as well not seen it at all. I didn't enjoy the video, and this time, I didn't enjoy the song either. I just count my blessings it was only a few minutes long.
In this black-and-white short from Jason Christ, a young man drives up to a campsite only to find his friends all murdered by the fire pit, and the only survivor franticly running around, defending herself with an axe. A cliched scenario straight out of a slasher film, but the situation isn't always what it seems.
Aside from the obvious plot twist and the sub-par acting, this was a great little short. The music did wonders to build up the panic and suspense throughout the scenes, and while the plot was a little shaky, the intent was definitely clear and very nicely executed. I'm glad Jason chose to make this film in black-and-white, as it really adds much more to each shot when all the colour is gone. You have to really pay attention, making sure not to miss any detail, so as not to miss minuscule but important plot points. If I had to describe this movie in one sentence, it would be the final scene of a slasher film, where we finally figure out the twist and see who the killer really is. This was a very impressive little film, and between this and Savage Harvest 2, I'm thinking that he may become a pretty big player for Wicked Pixel in the coming years.
In the longest film of the bunch, clocking in at just over 22 minutes, an elderly man suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia, has strange and terrifying visions while at the supermarket, which lead him to do some truly crazy things when he can't differentiate between reality and the tricks his mind plays on him.
Do you remember the old grainy feel that Grindhouse flicks used to have? I'm not talking about the cleaned up, expert transfers you see today, but the ones you used to watch late at night, after most channels were off the air. They all had that fuzzy, warm look to them, or at least they did to me. That's exactly the way this film looked, and also how it made me feel. Warm and fuzzy. It took two directors - Stephen M. Lashly and Quinn M. Botthoff - to make this film, and I can honestly say that it's a good thing. The minds of these two men came together as one and produced a very nicely paced, smart, and entertaining piece of film. Between how it was shot, and the smooth editing, the way we slip in and out of this man's mind and reality is fantastic. At first this seemed to be taking a comedic approach to the disease, but once it got rolling, it ended up being truly disturbing and very bizarre. If I keep going, I'll get carried away, so I'll just say that this entire DVD is worth it for just this one segment.
With a complete left-turn from the rest of the films, Liontown is a musical about a town where people dressed as lions rule everything, and sing all day about how amazing their town is, just to lure in new animals for feasting.
I'm sorry, but this DVD is called The Severed Head Network. What does this imply? That it's obviously a bit
unconventional. This film just didn't do it for me. It had a bit of a twist at the end, that involved a bit of the red stuff, but overall, it was 90% high-school talent-show musical bullshit. I'm not sure what Aaron Crozier was thinking when he decided to put together this little gem, but it certainly wasn't whether or not he wanted to produce a quality film. After such a successful film like Sedgewick, I was almost disgusted to have to watch something this mediocre.
Curveball: Pile of Junk
The third and last music video in this collection, is a beautifully shot and edited video that shows the band play, as the main focus is of a man running alone through a war-torn city.
So after all the praise I'd given Jason Christ's past effort, the DVD wraps up with another of his films. It really doesn't get much better than that. Although it's a music video, which didn't get much out of me for the rest of them, this turned out really well. It wasn't very long, or very good for that matter, but at the very least it seemed like a music video. Most of the films on this DVD didn't have any dialogue, so they were just short pieces shot, and then set to music. So when some were titled "music videos", they weren't much different than the other films, other than the fact that they didn't have a story, and were ultimately boring. This one, however, had a story behind it, and you actually saw footage of the band playing. This kind of helps with the music video "cred". If I don't see a band playing, I just assume it's a couple minutes of footage set to music, like anyone could find on YouTube. Not in this case, as Jason Christ yet again creates another excellent piece that he can be proud of.
Overall, I was very entertained by this compilation DVD. There were a few standouts and a few stinkers, but it was generally good. I would like to again give praise to specifically Sedgewick and Victim as the standouts on this DVD, as I could recommend it solely on those. Rather than give it a rating based on the DVD as a whole, I'm going to give it a rating based on the individual scores of the films. That works out to roughly 6, but I'm going to have to give it a few points more, based on the few films that were truly brilliant. I can't let the few low scores bring down this whole DVD.