…yes, but, after M. Butterfly, and especially after Crash, writer/director David Cronenberg suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous critical fortune and the inevitable backlash from snobs. Either horror snobs scoffed at his Chinese Opera movie, or the art house snobs called his sex-and-car-crashes movie “pretentious.” And when the San Francisco Chronicle calls you “pretentious” you’ve either made it to the Absolute Height of North American cinema…or you’re in serious trouble.
Alright. Not too serious, but still…I can see why, after all that, he went back to the well for a refresher. Back to the ol’ Body Horror stomping grounds that were so good to him in the 70s and 80s. Back to the concerns and questions that haunt his entire career. Questions of identity when your biology runs riot. Questions of ethics and morality in a world of simulacra. Questions of humanity in an age that does its best to reduce, marginalize, and (should it fail in the first two) eliminate human beings.
When this film premiered in April, 1999, my only question was, “Has the well finally run dry?” Continue reading eXistenZ (1999)
Clive Barker’s Nightbreed by Clive Barker is a horror film based on the 1986 novella “Cabal,” written by some British dude named…Clive Barker…huh…Funny: the writer of the source material and the writer/producer/director of this film share the same name…almost as if they’re…gasp…the same person! But no…that’s so outlandish a concept it couldn’t possibly be true…could it?
Cabal‘s a product of what Barker scholars (i.e., the five or six voices in my head who claim to specialize in his work) refer to as his “middle” period. By 1990, the once-poor English playwright (and how Byronic can you get?) was an international sensation, alternatively praised and maligned as “the British Stephen King.” But whereas King takes us into the minds of old Twilight Zone and Outer Limits protagonists, Barker built his career on taking us into the minds of their monsters. Continue reading Nightbreed (1990)
Conventional wisdom goes something like this: “David Cronenberg’s films are so damn grotesque because of his personal distaste for the flesh.” I used to agree. But watching Shivers helped me realize I had it all backwards. If anything, The Flesh is David Cronenberg’s not-so-secret hero. That’s why he continually returns to stories that center around the Flesh’s victories over barriers human society has erected against it. I submit Videodrome as my evidence. Continue reading Videodrome (1983)
David Cronenberg’s put the “ewww” in “auteur…ewww, gross!” since his college days in the late 1960s, only breaking into the wider world of Canadian commercial films after he wrangled money out of the National Film Board of Canada to help make this. As partially taxpayer-funded horror movies go, I think Canada got more than it bargained for, and you’ll certainly get more than your money’s worth. Shivers is Cronenberg’s ET, the Rosetta Stone to his entire subsequent career, resounding with the themes and issues Croneneberg continues to return to, by which I mean, “Shoehorn into every goddamn thing he does, whether it belongs there or not.” (See also, Naked Lunch).
Thankfully, Cronenberg’s early films have a rough and tumble quality that’s gritty in the old cowboy sense of “ready to move at a moment’s notice.” As opposed to the poncy, hipster sense of “My video games come in twelve shades of brown.” Continue reading Shivers (1975)
David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch is not William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and god only knows what the old gentlemen junkie made of this grotesque—where reptiles spill glycerin gel from the hollow tips of their vestigial head-tendrils—where fact and fiction recombine like RNA mixed in some unholy juice machine of a Canadian’s mind. Hard to find a mind so filled with the temptations of the flesh. Flesh stretches and squelches and screams through the smoke nights of Vancouver lights in the sky pink shale colors of rail and light and tonight we find David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch. No more feeling than a crab’s eye on a stalk.
This is a conscious pastiche—A love note to the dead—Dead and gone is Bill Burroughs—1914-1997—Fellow veteran of Missouri—Graduate, Harvard, Class of ’36—Migrant to New York City in 1943 where he met a pair of Columbia University students named Allan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac through their mutual friend, Lucien Carr—Carr went on to stab a man to death and dump his body in the Hudson river—Gray flannel suit floating down stream to wash up on a toxic New Jersey shore amidst the Devils and the Smog Monsters—And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks—Kerouac and Ginsberg enjoyed better fates, dying young, but famous, their names written across the sky—Generations of hobos, tramps, beatniks and hipsterfucks following in the suede shoe footsteps.