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Movie Review: Experiments In Terror 2

By Mike Everleth ⋅ October 28, 2007

DVD cover featuring a bloody woman in anguish

Horror and underground film go together like chocolate and peanut butter, but it’s more difficult to find pure avant-garde and experimental/abstract films that are composed solely of horrific themes. That curator Noel Lawrence found enough to fill up a totally kickass DVD for Other Cinema‘s Experiments in Terror 2 is a spectacular achievement.

That’s not to say that you can never find horror elements in the avant-garde. There are certainly great examples of cross-pollination, such as the iconic eyeball-splitting scene from Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou (1929) — and yes I stole that example from Jack Sargeant‘s excellent introductory booklet to the DVD. And there’s also Jack Smith‘s Flaming Creatures (1963), but there the offending instrument of terror isn’t a chainsaw or a meat cleaver. It’s a penis. And perhaps the occult symbolism in Kenneth Anger‘s films counts as well.

Most film horror as we know it is about either seeing the blood and the guts or just the implication that the red stuff is flowing. However, the films Lawrence has selected, however, are about more etherial terrors. These are films that offer up nightmarish visions of unseemly dread. There’s some blood in some of them, but the fear here is generated more by entering each film’s unique world from which there is no release. While other horror movies may typically end on a note in which the audience can finally release its breath, there is no escaping these forboding images.

You can, of course, play the short films in any order of your choosing, but I just watched them in order and will write about them as such:

The first film is the bloodiest of the bunch: Usama Alshaibi‘s Hold My Scissors, a music video for the band Magic Is Kuntmaster. The song is a heavy, punishing and steady dreambeat with an ethereal voice chanting in the background, whereas the visuals made me think of “What if George Romero remade Flaming Creatures?” Disembodied faces, bathed in either white or red light, swirl around infinite blackness; sometimes pausing to chomp on each other’s flesh or commit other unspeakable — and barely discernable — violent acts. It all adds up to a distinct vision of hell.

Luckily, things lighten up a little bit with the next entry, Michelle Silva’s Amor Peligrosa, the only horror-comedy in the mix and which can be adequately described as skeleton porn. It really gets the porn right and is a real hoot.

While the majority of the films in the compilation are relatively modern, two of them are culled from the ’60s. The first one is Psych-Burn, directed by J.X. Williams in 1968. The film captures the decade perfectly and, in psychedelically sublime fashion, offers what you want to see in cheezy horror — a flash of boobies, a flash of skull and trippy visual effects.

Damon Packard‘s Early 70’s Horror Trailer may have been directed nearly thirty years after Psych-Burn, but yes the film is a dead-on recreation of what the trailer says. Mostly, terrified young naifs, as if chased by an unseen pursuer, run like hell all over Los Angeles. Where the real genius of the film lies is in the architecture Packard situates his starlets in front of, all of which looks like it was built in the ’70s. Packard, of course, has the lighting, costuming and optical effects down pat. But to figure out the perfect buildings to structure his action around? Brilliant.

Past in future collide in Wago Kreider’s Between 2 Deaths, which intercuts Vertigo footage of Jimmy Stewart following Kim Novak through a cemetary towards the infamous church bell tower with modern-day cemetary footage. The effect is eerily haunting.

It might be kind of a stretch to call She Sank on Shallow Bank, directed by Clifton Childree and starring dancer Nikki Rollason, an artsy cousin to “torture porn,” but I will anyway. A woman, that would be Rollason, is tormented by inanimate objects while being held down on the seaside. Meanwhile, an empty bed thrashes around as if bedeviled by an invisible Linda Blair. Both storylines eventually collide in whiplash and dream-like fashion.

Lloyd M. Williams’ Opus 5 is the other ’60s film here (1961) and basically has it all: a descent into a mad scientist’s laboratory, a graveyard, skulls, rotting animals, hellish flames, a degenerate redneck and, if my eyes didn’t deceive me, Satan himself makes a brief appearance.

The Fear, directed by Angel Nieves, is the only straight-up narrative horror film in which a woman is tormented in her home by evil forces. Despite actually having a story, as slight as it is, and no optical effects, The Fear still feels as if it belongs with its more absract cousins here, mainly because “the fear” is still as ethereal as in the other films. Plus, with the absence of typical experimental film visual tricks, Nieves instead mixes things up with different lighting color palettes for each stage of the evolving nightmare.

Finally, director Bill Morrison modernizes the 1926 silent film The Bells, starring Lionel Barrymore and Boris Karloff, and calls it The Mesmerist, after Karloff’s character. Adding a new soundtrack by Bill Frisell, Morrison also includes a layer of bubbling and scratchy effects over the action, giving the already creepy film a newer spooky surreal flare. I believe Morrison also mixes up the original film’s plot a little bit, but it still seems like it’s trying to be something of a knockoff of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, except the moral of the story here has to be if you kill a Jew for his gold, your conscience may suffer, but you won’t be punished.

And that’s not all! There’s two extras on the DVD. One is Warhol Beyond the Grave, directed by John Allen Gibel and Jason Dowling. The pop art master is resurrected from the dead by a can of tomato soup. Gibel and Dowling get the Warhol look down pat for their zombie. Where they got one of those stripey shirts Warhol wore all the time in the ’60s, I don’t know. And while the zombie makeup is really good, the film — an excerpt from a longer work — is more of an excuse to listen to an essay on the nihilism of Andy Warhol‘s work.

The other, and last, special feature is an interactive “game” of sorts compiled by Craig Baldwin and Dennis Nyback. Click on the closet door and watch a random classic horror movie trailer like ones for The Pyx and Demon!, an old interview with Bela Lugosi and other treats.

Overall, just a really terrific — and terrifying — package.

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