Feature 43 – Tales of the Black Freighter (2009)

or “It’s an Open Sore On a Putrid Shore”

Featuring the Voices of: Gerard “300” Butler , Siobahn “Feardotcom” Ellen , Jared “I Shot Andy Warhol” Harris

Directors: Daniel “Other” DelPurgatorio , Mike “1001 Nights” Smith

Writers: Zack “Sucker Punch” Snyder , Alex “Watchmen” Tse

Origin: USA

Also Known As: Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter

Review_____

“I knew again the stench of powder and men’s brains and war.”

What’s behind my advent calender of eldritch horror today? A cruise across the seas of blackest nightmares aboard the boat of blackest love. No, it’s not a vacation on the Black Sea aboard Disney Cruises’ new Mandingo Party Boat (sorry, still scrubbing the residue of Haunted House 2 off of my hands) in the middle of a black hole. Welcome to Tales of the Black Freighter.

Given that my prior episode was for a Marvel superhero feature, I thought I’d give longtime rivals DC a fair chance in the spotlight. Rather than double down on the tights & capes crowd, I opted for something a bit more unique and adult from the house that The World’s Finest built. And since Preacher isn’t a thing (yet), We3 never happened, Swamp Thing will probably never recover from those fucking live-action movies, and “Constantine”’s not animated, this is the adventure I choose. The Black Knight runs you through with his sword. The last thing you see is your internal organs spilling out of you as you try desperately to hold onto ’em like that guy in the meme who can’t hold all those limes. You died. Return to page 37.

Zack Snyder couldn’t find a spot for Gerard Butler on his Watchmen cast, so rather than leave his good friend (and then meal ticket) the Butt Butler alone and hungry in the cold, Snyd finagled him the lead voice job in Tales of the Black Freighter. The part doesn’t require him to oil up and jump around with other guys homoerotically grunting and screaming in manties, so already Butts is out of his element and spitting into the wind.

Originally a comic book-within-a-comic book (meta before meta was a thing), TotBF appeared in Alan Moore’s spectacular 1986 Watchmen maxi-series as a barely-subtle mirroring to the events in the Watchmen story proper about how some heroes are really just villains who think they’re the good guys. Everybody’s the hero of their own tale.

Oh yeah, spoilers. Check the expiration date though, kiddies: Black Freighter came out in 2009, so this milk is officially past the 5 year “Sell by” date. As such, curdle ahoy!

The tale takes place in the mis-romanticized age of pirates. I mean real pirates. The guys with the eye patches and the peg legs and the treasure maps and the scurvy, not the skinny Somalian guys on motorboats wearing track suits and wielding rusty uzis. Butler’s clunky reading skills give voice to a nameless ship captain (we’ll call him Skipper) with the grave misfortune of having his craft targeted by an infamous and unholy hell barge known the seven seas over as the Black Freighter. Not your everyday pirate schooner, the BF is a hulking ark from Satan’s own armada. Massive in its size and colossal in its evilness, it looms like a reaper’s shadow over all who encounter it. Forged of a mountain of bones and skulls, it’s painted in a blackness darker than a tar pit filled with coal mined from the deepest pits of Earth by the souls of history’s worst sinners during a total eclipse of the sun (and heart). We’re talking Wesley Snipes shades of black and “Jeffrey Dahmer having phone sex with Charles Manson” shades of darkness.

When we meet Skip, his boat’s been left in splinters and his crew litters the tide like a New Orleans cemetery post-Katrina. He washes up on the shores of a deserted island along with the remnants of both his ship and his men with the single-minded focus of what horrors the Black Freighter’s twisted monstrous occupants will unleash upon his beloved wife and daughters once it casts its cloak of pitch upon the harbor of their home, Jonestown. Skipper is determined to reach said docks ahead of the flagitious frigate in the hopes of saving his friends and loved ones from the looming doom. How will he accomplish this daunting odyssey? Therein lies the element that cements Black Freighter‘s place in the history of horrifying shit…

With nothing to saw down any of the trees on the isle, Skippy tries to assemble what he can of his former craft’s remains into a viable raft. Unable to cobble more than a ramshackle skeleton together, our wayward Robinson Crusoe takes this time to notice that the bodies of his former crew are starting to bloat, making them exceedingly buoyant…yep, he’s going to make a cadaver catamaran with his deceased mates as posthumous pontoons. He lashes them together with the scraps of their clothes, severing limbs and breaking bones to form them to his needs. It’s gloriously retch-inducing.

Setting out as the most death draped gondolier since Charon had to break out his ferry to take the citizens of Pompeii across the Styx, Skip struggles to stay alive as his brain bakes in the sun, drinking minimal amounts of salt water to stay hydrated and trying to eat raw seagulls he catches while they peck at his makeshift transport. It’s a gruesome cruise, the likes of which wouldn’t be seen again until 2013 when the Carnival Triumph became stranded in the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in the nightmarish conditions that would earn it the title of “The Skat Boat” a.k.a. “The Poop Cruise” a.k.a. “The Shit Ship” a.k.a “Bush/Cheney 2013”.

Amidst his rapidly deteriorating mental state (including casual chats with his former first mate Ridley [Jared Harris]’s corpse), Skip’s trip is interrupted by a shiver of sharks. The gang of great whites go all feeding frenzy on our hero’s raft, tearing body after body away as he tries to fend them off without getting eaten himself. One of the monsters gets caught up in his ropes and Skippy manages to kill it (like Olga Karlatos in Zombie), using it as his new ride for the remainder of the cruise home, bringing Ridley’s severed head with him. Comedy comes from tragedy, so at its heart, Tales of the Black Freighter is really a buddy comedy in disguise!

Arriving at the shores of his hometown, Skip notes the complete lack of turmoil and carnage he expected to be met with upon his return. Convinced that there’s no fucking way he could’ve gotten there ahead of the BF, he figures that the village had already been taken and his only concern now is to find out the fate of his family. He comes across a man and his date on their way to hump town alongside the road and presumes the guy must’ve turned traitor to save his own miserable ass from the bloodthirsty buccaneers. Skip grabs a rock and bashes the guy’s brains into paste before strangling the hussy, who deserves no less lethal a fate for letting such a miserable privateer into her private parts. Slipping into the suspiciously silent streets of the town, Skip finds his way to his home and finds his daughters asleep in their bed. Before he can rejoice about the revelation, a shadowed figure comes into the room. Sure that this must be a marauder, our hero leaps into action and dispatches the fiend permanently, violently beating his head into the floorboards. Cue the look of horror on his girls’ faces, followed by the agonizing realization of Skipper’s own visage when he discovers that the fiend he’s just murdered in cold blood (it could just be gazpacho…) is in fact…shit, if you couldn’t guess it by now, I’m gonna shove thumbtacks between your fingers and toes until you figure it out for yourself.

Shocked and appalled by what he’s done, Skippy escapes into the night, followed behind by a contingent of his non-ravaged neighbors who have since discovered the bodies he left along the road and are now wielding torches in search of mob justice. He finds his way to the docks and back into the aquatic purgatory from which he’d just freed himself, only to see the Black Freighter lurking nearby. Rather than warn his very angry peers, he instead swims to the ship, where a rope is lowered for him. He takes hold, climbs the side of the ship, and gives himself over to the horde of twisted atrocities that surround him. And now it all makes sense: ultimately, man is his own antagonist. As Nietzsche said in his second most quoted-to-the-point-of-cliche philosophical statement, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

When I originally read Watchmen, I remember skipping over some of the Black Freighter segments. For me, they broke the pacing of the main story and felt unnecessary. I didn’t need a story within a story explaining the theme of the first story to me. As such, when Watchmen delved into the dimension of sight AND sound, I wasn’t bothered by its being trimmed from the movie. I do appreciate Warner Bros going all out and giving it its own animated format and release though. I’m also happy that they kept it to a trim 30 minutes, because as a 90 minute feature (or even a 60 minute demi-feature), I fear it could’ve ended up a little unbalanced to the tune of more-filler-than-killer. As it stands? Fantastic. Well, aside from Butler’s line reading. Maybe he should’ve taken a couple of muscle relaxers (or skipped the Viagra) before recording, because his delivery was a little too stiff to ignore. Wakka-wakka.

The animation has that twisted, rough look to it like a cleaner version of an “Aeon Flux” episode without everyone looking quite so elongated. The writing is just fucking incredible and Butler’s got the perfect voice for it. Again, it’s just sad that he can’t read about 20% of the words without making them sound stiff and awkward. Alan Moore’s words resonate in the dark corners of your brain, and if you’ve never read any of the man’s work, get thee to a library. And if they don’t have any Alan Moore stuff? Burn it to its foundations, then shit in the basement. Don’t just ask them to order it, make a statement about how you shouldn’t have to!

Overall, TotBF invokes the same feelings in me as the segments of the original Heavy Metal did as this dark, very adult, well animated (but not too well animated), self-contained story. It really is a brilliant piece. And that closing song. Holy shit. “Pirate Jenny” by Nina Simone? The end credits for an animated zombie pirate gore story doesn’t seem like a great place for a blues song (beyond the obvious thematic connections, since the original rendition of PJ from ”The Threepenny Opera” was Alan Moore’s inspiration for the comic-within-a-comic to begin with), but when I think about the track later on, independent of the movie itself, it sends literal chills up my neck and gives me phantom goosebumps. I’ve never been haunted by a song before, but this one might as well be a pasty white Japanese girl in heavy goth eyeliner with long raggedy hair crawling on top of me while I sleep. If I say “Black Freighter” five times in the bathroom mirror with the lights off, Nina Simone will come out and go all Candyman on my hairy canis-sapien butthole.

Great, now I’ve gotta go smash my mirror and clear a few million bees out of my toilet before they fuck up the pipes and I have to spend my Cthulhumas bonus on hiring a plumber. Fuck. I’ll be back next time with…something. Until then, keep your taints clean, your streets mean, and always tip your cleaning staff or you might wind up with your fucking head on a stake!

Moral of the Story: “Whoever we are, wherever we reside, we exist on the whim of murderers.”

Screenshots_____

I see yet another person who doesn’t understand that the answer to “Is black-face okay?” is always “NOOOOOO”.


Lindsey Lohan earned her boating license and held a booze cruise in honor of the accomplishment. There were no survivors.


Guys, I know sometimes we do extreme things during times of severe sexual frustration, but trust me when I tell you this isn’t the answer. It’s just not worth the dick splinters. Nothing is.


In case you forgot this story was originally a part of Watchmen, here’s Skipper’s Rorshach sail… you’ll be seeing it many many times again to assure that, like 9/11, you never forgot.


Beachhead. Because there’s a head. And it’s on a beach. It’s a beach head on a beachhead. Because even in times of plague and horror, no one is safe from visual puns!


Shark attack! Quick, somebody get Lance Guest and Mario Van Peebles here so we can impale it on their schooner!


When your friends tell you you need to “get some head”, this isn’t what they mean, Skip.


That’s exactly what I look like every time I have to plunge my toilet.


The most metal fucking raft EVER! If Lemmy, Bruce Dickinson, and Rob Halford went on a fishing trip, they’d do so on THAT!


Yeah, I remember the first time I had sex with a woman on her period too. They tell you it’ll be alright… you’ll never be the same again.

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Anubis will return next time in
“Murder on 34th Street”

Enjoy the review? Hate the review? Have a movie you’d like to see judged in The Tomb? Fill out the feedback form! Never has it been easier to make contact with a deitic being!

All materials found within this review are the intellectual properties and opinions of the original writer. The Tomb of Anubis claims no responsibility for the views expressed in this review, but we do lay a copyright claim on it beeyotch, so don’t steal from this shit or we’ll have to go all Farmer Vincent on your silly asses. © October 1st 2013 and beyond, not to be reproduced in any way without the express written consent of the reviewer and The Tomb of Anubis, or pain of a physical and legal nature will follow. Touch not lest ye be touched.

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