Quick Takes: Naked Lunch, M. Butterfly, Crash

nakedlunch_1Naked Lunch (1991)
threestar

Starring Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Roy Scheider, Monique Mercure, Nicholas Campbell, Michael Zelniker, Robert A. Silverman, Joseph Scoren
Directed by David Cronenberg

Naked Lunch is one of those movies that’s hard to classify. I’ve never read the source novel, but from what I understand it was always assumed to be unfilmable. Cronenberg definitely found a way around that, incorporating elements of William S. Burrough’s life into this wild, weird, paranoid tale. It’s something of a horror movie with its gross-out physical FX work, but it’s also nothing like a horror movie. I mean, does a living typewriter that looks like a bug automatically make this into a horror movie? No, I don’t think so, but this movie would be a hard sell to any “normal” audience, that’s for damn sure. If you are intrigued by the creative process or surrealism, Naked Lunch is a must. I don’t know if you’ll like it, but it’s definitely a movie that you won’t be able to shake easily.

MButterfly_1M. Butterfly (1993)
threestar

Starring Jeremy Irons, John Lone, Barbara Sukowa, Ian Richardson, Annabel Leventon, Shizuko Hoshi, Richard McMillan, Vernon Dobtcheff
Directed by David Cronenberg

On the surface M. Butterfly seems like an odd film for David Cronenberg to make, but its themes of sexual politics and identity fit right in with much of his other work. Both of the lead characters, René (Jeremy Irons) and Song Liling (John Lone), are compelling and very well acted, but together I don’t think their relationship is satisfactorily developed. It always felt a bit cold emotionally, but I suppose that’s part of the point of it all, isn’t it? In any case, because of this I didn’t connect with the film as I’d have liked to, but as Cronenberg clearly made the film he wanted to, I’m sure that’s more my fault than his. Shooting the film in China, on back alleys and grand vistas alike, with some truly exceptional lighting, M. Butterfly is one of Cronenberg’s most beautiful films, and that’s saying a lot within his filmography. My personal obsession with China and its culture probably helped, too. A good film that I appreciate and respect, but don’t especially like too much.

crash_1Crash (1996)
threestar

Starring James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette, Peter MacNeill
Directed by David Cronenberg

Speaking of films that I appreciate and respect, but don’t especially like too much: Crash. But in this case, I think Crash is a much better film than M. Butterfly. It’s incredibly bold, telling its story almost entirely through car crashes and sex scenes. Surprisingly then, there’s a ton to deconstruct and engage with intellectually while the actors writhe on-screen. This is Cronenberg exercising his visual storytelling abilities to the absolute max, creating a non-traditional, challenging film to stand the test of time. The cars and the taboo sexual desires associated with them in Crash are provocative and integral to the film, but it also feels like they could be replaced with non-offensive, traditional elements to craft a more mainstream pleasing film. But where’s the fun in that? I feel like if I saw Crash a few more times, I’d really come to understand and appreciate it more fully. I can’t say that I liked it, but Cronenberg definitely didn’t make a bad film. In fact, it’s probably one of his finest achievements.

Curse IV: The Ultimate Sacrifice (1988)

curse4_2Curse IV: The Ultimate Sacrifice (1988/1993)
AKA Catacombs

Starring Timothy Van Patten, Ian Abercrombie, Jeremy West, Laura Schaefer, Vernon Dobtcheff, Feodor Chaliapin Jr., Brett Porter, Michael Pasby, Mapi Galán, Nicola Morelli

Directed by David Schmoeller

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:
halfstar

On the B-movie scale:
onestar


At long last I have arrived at the end of my cursed journey through the unrelated Curse films, and unfortunately for me Curse IV: The Ultimate Sacrifice is the worst of the bunch. The film began life as Catacombs, a 1988 Empire International film that got shelved when the company went under. For reasons I’m not privy to, Catacombs was shelved for five years after it was completed, even though Empire head Charles Band had created Full Moon and become well-established in the meantime. And when it was eventually released it came out as Curse IV: The Ultimate Sacrifice. I suppose that any connection, even one as tenuous as this, to an ’80s horror film that some people like must have made it more “rentable” back in the day.
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Meridian (1990)

Meridian (1990)
AKA Meridian: Kiss of the Beast, Phantoms

Starring Sherilyn Fenn, Malcolm Jamieson, Charlie Spradling, Hilary Mason, Phil Fondacaro, Vernon Dobtcheff, Alex Daniels, Vito Passeri, Angelo de Bianchi, Salem Badr

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: Low. This one looks kinda cheesy.

On the general scale:

On the B-Movie scale:


I rarely know much about these films before watching them, in an effort to remain open-minded and free from pesky expectations. In the case of Meridian, I had only seen the poster. It gives off something of an erotic, Gothic vibe and surprisingly, that’s exactly what Meridian is. And it’s good! Imagine that. Meridian is something completely different for Charles Band and I for one welcomed the change readily. Too many times I’ve sat down to a Full Moon film devoid of plot, FX and entertainment for the sake of reviewing all of their films, but Meridian was actually quite enjoyable to watch.

Without giving too much away, Meridian is about a girl, a castle and a centuries-old mystery that surrounds them both. It’s more of a Gothic romance than a real horror film, but I think horror fans looking to branch out from the everyday slasher film might still enjoy it… I did. The story plays with conventions and expectations just enough to keep you guessing (to a degree), and it continued to surprise me up until the end. It definitely has its missteps and some of the characters/plot points are underused/unfulfilled, but for what it is Meridian was quite impressive. It’s an interesting Full Moon film that stands alone in terms of story and focus, and for that, it’s worth checking out.

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