Episode 100 – The Fall of the Louse of Usher (2002)

or “Love. Love Will Tear Us Apart Again”

Featuring: James “Black Milk” Johnston , Eliza “Boudica Bites Back” Russell , Marie Findley

Writer & Director: Ken “Tommy” Russell

Also Known As: The Fall of the Louse of Usher: a Gothic Tale for the 21st Century ; Ken Russell’s The Fall of the Louse of Usher

Origin: UK

Review_____

“Even if you come in here sane, no way you’re gonna get out of here anything but crazy!”

Guten tag, schmutz-kinder! Today marks the annual event known to wrestling fans as Wrestlemania. On a larf, I thought it would be fun to do a roundtable of reviews for Ken Russell movies. What does Ken Russell have to do with professional wrestling? Nothing. At least not that I know of. No, the theme for this gathering exists for no other reason than because it lends itself to the ‘table’s puntacular title!

Yep. That's the kinda shit I do. And thanks to my fellow cinemasochists for taking this journey with me! Though never a big Ken Russell fan, I have seen a few of his better known flicks. I thought Altered States was a fun acid trip through pseudo scientific madness, Tommy was an enjoyably dark and unique musical experience, and Lair of the White Worm is still one of my favorite flicks to come out of the UK and the definite catalyst for my bizarre attraction to serpentine women who want to eat me alive. Despite the creep-ass little goblin from the cover of the Gothic VHS being burned into my memory from childhood, I never got around to renting it. From what Ragnarok has to say in his review, it sounds like I didn’t miss much. Too bad that copy of The Devils I sent him was rerouted back to me via USPS, otherwise he could’ve reviewed that instead. Stupid lack of proper postage!

Before I get started, I’m throwing out the disclaimer that this review is going to be a rush job, so apologies if it lacks the polish (or Polish) of other episodes. I’ve been entangled on the battlefield of the mind in a war with the Overfiend for possession of my soul and just recently managed to lock the beast away in the Crystal of Zoloft, putting me at odds with my own predetermined due date. As such, I’ve filled my gut tank with several cans of Tear Ass energy drink from Dollar Embargo to give me the fuel I need and, as an odd side effect, the ability to taste color! I can confirm that, yes, purple is indeed a fruit. The only flavor they had on-shelf was the nebulous “Citrus X”. Unlike Chemical X, which turns inanimate objects into Powerpuffs, the only thing Citrus X transforms is the odor of your urine. My piss bucket smells like it’s full of orange peels swimming in battery acid. I’m not 100% sure my kidneys aren’t going to explode by the time we get to the moral of this story. Oh well. Sallying forthwith!

In the twilight of his career, Kenny Russell wasn’t much for movie making. He stuck with weird short subject shit for the most part, while my pick for this Celluloid Zeroes collaboration is the final feature length flick the freaky fiend filmed before punching his ticket to the Underworld in 2011. And when I say “filmed”, I don’t mean it literally, because The Fall of the Louse of Usher was shot entirely via camcorder!

Yes indeed my flowers and weeds, the technology your parents used to have to rely on when they wanted to make their own sex tapes (back when they were actual tapes) is the medium through which Uncle Ken chose to tell this backyard gothic rock opera of his. And I gotta say, upon discovering this, my immediate concerns were that I had been bamboozled and this wasn’t the same Ken Russell I was looking for. Learning that its legitimacy is legitimate however, I felt like I was watching home movies of someone’s grandpa in the final days of a fatal cancer diagnosis. Without mincing words, you just can’t shake that awful feeling of pity for seeing someone brought so low. Even if just done as a simple pet project to have fun with his friends and neighbors (which it was), it still feels so beneath what the man had done with his prestigious (or at least semi-prestigious) career that it’s… well… pathetic. If they’d kept it as a private joke to share with each other and bring out for summer barbecue viewings, that’d be one thing. But to put it out on a DVD and demand people pay to see it? By Roger Daltrey’s tasseled togs, are you fucking yankin’ my crank?! Clearly not, otherwise I’d have nothing to rag on here! Well, aside from the extension cord I use for a belt.


Roger Daltrey – Innovator of the “glue huge strands of cooked spaghetti to your sleeves” look.

Okay, enough puttin' off the lovin'. Let's rinse off our genitals, put on my Lou Bega mixtape of bone medleys, and bang this bitch out like Sean Michaels (the porn actor, not the wrestler)! Let's just hope we don't let loose any two-cheek squeaks (or squeakquels) while we're at it.

The setting for our story in simply “Orange County, USA” according to our opening. Okay, so is it the Orange County with the arguing family of motorcycle builders, the one with Mischa Barton, or one of the half-dozen other fucking Orange Counties in the damn country!? Though it’s later revealed that our setting is the West Coast edition, that tiny tidbit of info would’ve been nice to know beforehand. As Baphomet would say, “Bah”.

Roderick Usher (James Johnston, who doubles as the movie’s composer) is a goth rock musician 20 years behind the curve. Lead guitarist and singer/whiner (and occasional whisper rapper) of a heretofore unnamed band (might I suggest “The Poegues”?), he’s arrested for the suspected murder of his wife/maracas player, Annabelle Lee (Emma Millions), to whom everyone likes to attach the preface descriptor of “Sweet”. Not so sweet when she’s found walled up in the Usher house with half her face missing and her pet mini-pincher chewing through her guts! Since her rocker widower is clearly off his rocker at the time of his capture, barely coherent and ranting about his innocence, rather than going to prison Roddy’s instead carted off to the local loony bin. Here he’s put under the care of the demented Dr. Calahari (Ken Russell) and his sex bomb assistant, Nurse ABC Smith (Marie Findley).


Not a good sign of things to come… pun intended.

Not just another bimbo in a medical fetish costume, ABC (Already Been Chewed?) is one of those wonderfully empowered ladies who uses her sexuality to manipulate others into getting what she wants, the endgame of which is often something fatal for those seduced by her charms. Also, as everyone is keen to point out, “She’s a great piece of ass”. Pretty much what you’d expect from a Russell girl.

They’re similar to “Bond girls”, only way more likely to be emotionally damaged and way more likely to have some manner of underlying disfigurement that will make you paranoid of any woman who hits on you during last call. Not unlike how Basket Case taught women to never talk up any guy at a bar carrying a picnic basket.


Hellooooooo Nurse!

Russell's oddball headshrinker has a penchant for wearing a variety of headpieces, which may or may not be the writer/director/producer/editor/cinematographer/actor's unsubtle pun to the audience that he himself is a “man of many hats”. Or, it could just be a sign that he had a bunch of goofy hats lying around in his home prop box that he thought would make for a running gag funny only to him. Either or. Said fetishizer of up top props also puts on a “hard to pinpoint but I'm pretty confident it's meant to be German because ABC keeps referring to him as 'Herr doktor'” accent that sounds exactly like the frantic urine lab doctor from the English dub of Dominion: Tank Police. And if you don’t know what that is, your life is a little less happy than it should be. Fix that. Soon. Or be forever denied existence as a complete person. Tank Police. Feel the power that we’ve got. We’ll give it our best shot.

No sooner is Rod tossed into his new cell then he starts in on the standard issue sexually deviant hallucinations that every lead of a Ken Russell movie suffers from. In this case, our hero envisions an orgy of blow up dolls that includes an inflatable dinosaur for added “Da fuq?!” factor. As he writhes, physically in his straight jacket and emotionally in his madness, ABC looks on intrigued. Speaking of our Nightingale on Elm Street, her role at the hospital is seemingly as Calahari’s personal caretaker more so than as his assistant. Much of their screen time together is spent with ABC feeding him, cleaning out his ears, and constantly checking the old fart’s vitals while they discuss the Usher case. Mayhaps the demented doc is a hypochondriac and needs frequent reassurance that he’s in stable health? Could it be that he’s due for a mandatory physical by the Department of Health? Then again, it may just be a thinly-veiled metaphor about how nurses tend to do all the work as doctors sit around getting fat off their fancy college degrees and trying their best to distinguish between a patient’s sphincter and a hole in the ground… which should probably raise some concerns from everyone given that doctors’ offices generally don’t include holes in their floors.

While DC and ABC try to unravel the mystery of Annabelle’s death (and whether it has anything to do with Roderick’s sister/violinist Madeline Usher [Ken’s wife Eliza Russell]) With a bona fide celebrity in their midst, Cal wants ‘Rick to perform for the institution’s patients-and-staff mixer, leaving it up to ABC to do the convincing. When her lusty demeanor isn’t enough to persuade the disturbed music maker, she confines him to a makeshift torture bed (that looks to be a beach chair with a blanket tossed over it) as a swinging pendulum butcher knife gradually descends back and forth above his pelvis. Though the protag laughs off her threat, citing an erectile deficiency, he’s not so sure of himself when XYZ reveals that she gave him Viagra. At the mere mention of her boner juice roofie job, Lil’ Rod (sounds like a personal problem) springs to life and Mr. Usher gives in to his caretaker’s demands. Good thing my doc’s accompanying CRN isn’t that hardcore. Being the world’s worst diabetic, she’d have had me paying dues to the Eunuchs Union Local 37 before you could say “THIS IS A MEDICAL EXAMINATION! STOP EATING THAT CHEESECAKE!”.

During the crazy people social soiree, Roderick is encouraged by Dr. C to get every available appendage he can up Nurse Smith’s very short uniform skirt. Hey, getting turned down by trim doesn’t mean you can’t encourage your fellow phallus holder to have a try! Bro code… or some horseshit. Anyway, Mr. Usher is then accosted by a pair of his fellow inmates that are heavy on a hippie astrology kick, asking him if he’s into “Ass-trology”, which I assure you that I certainly am. They allude to Miss ABC’s past interactions with a group called “The West Side Boys” which, from their intonations, presumably refers to some fucked up tribulations. More specifically, the ones spelled G-A-N-G-R-A-P-E.

No, not “gan grape” you nards! I meant “gang rape”. She had her flower forcibly plucked by a vulgar group of ne’er-do-wells with more testosterone than social grace. At least as far as I can infer. The later reveal that her entire erotic demeanor is made up of literal artificial bits and pieces (including that “great piece of ass!”) to disguise whatever shapeless horror she really is, postulates clearly that her outer self is a deceptive shell to hide the fragile truth beneath. Some obvious symbolism for Uncle Ken to waterboard us with. It’s an interesting visual representation, but is smashed so hard into our faces that it’s like being talked down to by a tech support rep that makes you wanna reach through the phone and elbow them in the throat.

I don’t do great with “message movies”. Unless they involve people getting run over en masse.

While Nursey Poo and The Rod explore their blossoming relationship, Dr. C uses the astrologist gals (one of whom is your typical old gypsy lady, while the other is a minstrel mummy… let that sink in) in an effort to Ouija up the soul of the slain Annabelle Lee and get the story of her demise straight from the victim’s protoplasmic mouth. Unable to establish a direct connection to the lass, they do manage to summon OSIRIS(!!!) instead, who speaks to them through the sacred vessel of… a Big Mouth Billy Bass.

Okay. This part got me. A surprise kidney punch of happiness I wasn't prepared for that left me on the floor with upturned lips ever so slightly trembling. This leads to a riddle that leads to a vibrating slinky version of those “weasel chasing a ball” toys that finally leads to the gypsy character divining that the question to the answer “The reveal of Annabelle Lee's true killer” is “What's the secret of her bones?”. Man, trying to force gags into a ‘Jeopardy!’ shaped mold requires mental gymnastics that my caffeine fueled cortex can’t fucking handle right now. This leads to Calahari sending his masked henchman Igor to retrieve Ann’s pearlies from her gravesite.

Taking a break from all story progress, Dr. Cal takes a scenic route scene to gloat to Roderick about his prized experiment – having hypnotized (via several props acquired from a Spencer’s Gifts clearance sale) a previous patient/guinea pig named Ernest Valdemar (Peter Mastin) in the midst of the man’s death throes, allowing Ernie’s mind to continue living indefinitely and communicating through a voice amplification box despite the death of the rest of his body… except for the part about how his jaw and eyes are still functional, and the other part about how THE BRAIN CANNOT SURVIVE WITHOUT BLOOD FLOW OR OXYGEN. Unfortunately, despite Mr. V’s predicament being an interesting piece about a person buried alive in the grave of his own corpse for 7 months, this bit of sidetrack has zilch to do with Rod’s tale and only serves as a *wink*wink*nudge*nudge* to EAP readers that reeks of time filler.


Sick Destro cosplay, bro!

Speaking of filler, the next segment takes the same theme, makes like a looter with a new TV and runs with it. Calahari has a therapy session with a woman hidden behind a mask who has some weird psycho-sexual fear of garden gnomes. Through his mania-delving analysis, the doc helps her realize she's actually famed femme fatale female wrestler, Beulah Von Birmingham (Sandra Scott)! Her revelation is interrupted when a masked prostitute named Mary (Mrs. Russell again) inserts herself into the scenario, declaring herself a birthday present to Roderick from his big sister… while ironically being played by the same woman who plays his big sister. Beulah recognizes her as one of her wrestling rivals though, and the pair have a no holds barred hardcore brawl for supremacy! It degrades into the two just dry humping each other before the silliness subsides prematurely with the pair escaping over a wall via convenient step ladder, to the chagrin of Calahari who planned to imprison the pair in his crazy house. Again, fun random bit of wackiness, but also again, entirely disconnected from having anything to do with advancing the damn story!

Wait a sec… Whoa. That’s a bit weird, isn’t it? I establish this review on the basis of its creator’s surname being a pun on the word “wrestle”, and ultimately there’s a scene of female wrestlers doing just that. The hypothesis of my subconscious being an astral projected time traveler while I sleep gains more and more traction. Nanoo fucking nannoo.

When Igor returns with the disinterred dentures of a dozen or so Ushers buried in the same boneyard (or, purchased from a gumball machine outside the corner deli as the case more likely is), Annabelle’s rise from the collection and hint at Poe’s short story ‘The Murders at the Rue Morgue’ as being the key to unlocking what really happened to her. Cal deciphers this as meaning Rod’s wife was actually murdered by a gorilla, but before he can question this logic further he’s called away to Valdemar’s room, where his pet zombie finally gives up the ghost. As if that weren’t enough to upset the bloated old goat, the institute’s previous staff, which the doctor had apparently imprisoned in the asylum’s basement for challenging his “revolutionary methods”, have somehow escaped (or at least the two members we’re ever privy to) and are wilding throughout the building in pursuit of revenge! Less the “pee in the communal coffee pot at work” type and more the “Carrie White on prom night” version.

Roddy, herr doktor, the old gypsy (now wearing a tea cozy on her head) and the blackface mummy lady escape the hospital with all limbs intact, returning to the Usher Estate. Once there, ‘Ricky discovers beloved sister Madeline dead at her own hand on what looks to be a teenage girl’s bed, amid some topless statues in the yard. Seems the “fake news” media reported that her brother had died in the sanitarium riot and the resultant grief with which she was overtaken pushed her to Romeo & Juliet herself, leaving behind a recorded confession (played for them by a crimson faced gorilla) that she was the one who prematurely punched Sweet Annabelle Lee’s mortality ticket! In the thralls of his own heartbreak, little brother Usher demands Death take him too, to which Dr. C relinquishes with an injection of something lethal. The duo are laid in state in their yard, surrounded by potted flowers probably taken from the dumpster behind the WalMart Garden Center.

With 15 minutes left in the movie, the aforementioned gorilla gather the remaining trio of guests in the siblings’ old childhood playhouse to view a VHS tape (played in a microwave for laughs). The vid is a further confession by Mad Maddie, telling of how she used Gory (the gorilla) to kill Annabelle with an obedience chip that the family had planted in the hulking simian’s brain after the poor brute was rescued from an abusive trainer. Thanks to an off-brand Playstation 2 controller, Mads maliciously manipulated the monkey into murdering her only rival for her dear brother’s dingus. From here it’s all about wrapping shit up, as Calahari is captured and returned to the asylum to undergo treatment, Nurse ABC is fine (except for an unexplained hand crushing incident in the end), Roderick and Madeline’s souls descend to hell on a righteous deflating bouncy castle, and their son and daughter prepare to move back into their family home with Gory now that everyone else has been driven away… I’m not going to explain anything from that last sentence, as I’ll leave it up to your own minds to fill in the blanks that, well, we’re never given anyway.


Unless Russell’s next of kin have some 2-4-5 Trioxin laying around, I’m pretty sure this is the end.

And there it is: Ken Russell’s final feature, The Fall of the Louse of Usher. Though greatly hampered by its poor choice of medium and “let’s just use what we’ve got lying around our houses!” budget, there’s actually a lot of entertainment to be had. The sound quality isn’t great, sometimes even bordering on horrible as it makes certain scenes almost completely auditorially illegible, with the worst being a stair well exchange that’s nothing but shouty echoes. Speaking of noise, one of my least liked parts of this cacophony of crazy are the awful little music videos that Rod and Mad made for their band, not the least bothersome of which involves the siblings being all “anguished high school goth kids” (well into their thirties/forties) with each other in a cemetery, dragging numerous visual aids about their incest relationship across our faces where, like the scrotum intimation I’m trying to make here, none were needed.

The cast is actually pretty solid for a buncha no-names. Not everyone, mind you, but our top-of-the-credits trio – Johnston, Findley & Mr. Russell – all make this a much more pleasant pill to swallow. Their characters are entertaining if not always interesting and their performances are appropriately campy without going overboard. Broken heart throb Roderick is well lost in the forest of confusion and desperate to find his way out; Nurse ABC carries a sensuality, charm and foreboding smile reminiscent of Cassandra Peterson’s beloved Elvira or a mash-up of Rocky Horror’s Columbia & Magenta; and Doc Calahari is a kooky crackpot who’s really a lot of fun to watch when you warm up to him, even in spite of Russell’s absurd German-ish accent, which grows on you if your ears don’t revolt against you first.

If you’re a Poe nerd, or have a Poe nerd in your life, you’ll enjoy picking out Louse‘s varied variety of references to the godfather of goth’s library of extensive materials. Some are obvious, some are a bit more obscure, and still others I’m sure I missed entirely because I’m barely acquainted with the chronically depressed fiveheaded oddball’s greatest hits, let alone his deep cut ditties. If what I’ve heard was true, Louse of Usher is a much better homage to Eddie Allan’s efforts than 2012’s The Raven, so again, consider it for the Poephile in your presence. And don’t you worry John Cusack, I’ll be kicking down your door sooner or later with crackling criticisms to burn your nose hair by!

The “gothic tale for the 21st century” has great potential that peeks out from behind its discounted Halloween seasonal mall shop props and modified tool shed sets, and with a little bit of script tampering and an injection of capital, I think, sans hyperbole, that TFotLoU could have easily been another Rocky Horror! Hell, with a Kickstarter campaign and some talented hands, it could still be. It’s as likely as Hulk Hogan playing the dad in a(nother) remake of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but it’s fun to think of what could have been. Speaking of what could have been…

Hey! I finally made it to episode 100! It only took me… gimme a sec here…

Three and a half years. Shit. That’s an average of 2-3 reviews per month. Double shit. Billy Bass Osiris damn me and whatever wacky fantasy scenario I’m using today to stunt double for my real life personal hindrances. Oh well. I’ve got a pot of chili and a copy of Cannibal Killer Clowns on Dope calling my name with their siren song, so let’s hurry this up and just say it’s a case of quality over quantity.

Moral of the Story: If you ever want to get out of a mental institute alive, never question the sanity of the staff.

On the topic of superior quality, go treat yourself to some more RussellMania from our fellow Zeroes!



Checkpoint Telstar summons The Devils

Cinemasochist Apocalypse goes all Gothic

Micro-Brewed Reviews experiments with Altered States

The Terrible Claw Reviews excavates The Lair of the White Worm

Web of the Big Damn Spider courts The Boy Friend

Screenshots_____


I envision a lawsuit by the Estate of Edgar Allan Poe against the Estate of Ken Russell as presided over by the Estate of Judge Wopner here, in ‘The Dead Peoples’ Court’.


See, shit like that is why you’ll never get me within a mile of a LASIK office!


“I have to say, when my wife said she’d gotten me that reverse-gangbang I’d always wanted for my birthday, I wasn’t expecting… well… this. Oh well, let’s make the best of it, girls!”


Yes, kids, Ken Russell as a literal dick nose.


Scary Movie prop mask purchased from Marlon Wayans’ “Fund the next A Haunted House sequel” yard sale.


The New Slash Co. Mark 12 collection of knives! They’ll cut through shoe leather, a soda can and a full-sized rhinoceros, and STILL sever a human head like it were a ripe tomato without a single sharpening! I’d buy that for a dollar!


What? You’ve never been to a white trash Eyes Wide Shut party before?


My sex shed is way nicer than theirs!


“With the Psychic Readers Network, you can get in touch with the Egyptian gods for advice on life, love, and lucky lottery numbers for just $2.99 per minute! Call me NOW!”


Saint Polident – the Patron Saint of Denture Cleansers and veteran of the 100 Years Crusade against the kingdom of the Cavity Creeps.


And this is why I never trust elderly women in lingerie who ask me if I want to “smell their flower”.


A scene from Annie Sprinkle’s long-since-banned educational video for elementary school children on how bees pollinate flowers.


My attempts at bringing my own Frankensteinian meatloaf man to life didn’t go as I had hoped… at least he made for some delicious leftovers!


The only surviving still from a proposed 1992 reboot of Planet of the Apes that, I think we can all agree, would have probably been too awesomely reprehensible for this world anyway.


Alright! The Better Homes and Gardens annual “DIY Funerary Displays on a Budget” issue is out! They printed my article in this one!


In 1997, Nintendo introduced the first “rumble” function for video game controllers, causing them to vibrate as a form of sensory feedback for players to help increase their immersion in the games. 20 years after the introduction of vibrating controllers, females now make up nearly 50% of video gamers. Coincidence? My eye.

———————————————————
———————————————————

Anubis will return next time in
“Guess Who’s Dying at Dinner”

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.

Episode 46 – Pontypool (2008)

or “Radio Ga Ga, Eh?”

Featuring: Stephen “Shoot ‘Em Up” McHattie , Lisa “Ejecta” Houle , Georgina “Eddie: the Sleepwalking Cannibal” Reilly

Director: Bruce “Roadkill” McDonald

Writer: Tony “Septic Man” Burgess

Origin: Canada

Review_____

“I feel like I’m living in the basement of the world.”

Welcome to the first installment of my 25 part (give or take) series, “World Tour de Farce 2015”! Every episode will basically involve my ignorant American self (Egyptian godhood aside) traversing international bad cinema in an effort to make myself a more cultured Death God… and maybe expand my brand on a global scale into heretofore untapped markets, exploiting my core competencies with an eye towards productivity and connectivity. Sorry, I hired a business consultant to try and turn the Tomb into a profit and he just kept barfing stuff like that into my ears until I had to staple his tongue to the roof of his mouth. Anyway, stop #1 on this round trip is the maple syrup dripping, lumberjack spawning, hockey rocking, very polite Great White North known as Canada! And the landmark shown in our “Where in the World is Anubis Von Mojo?” teaser image? That’s the UFO Landing Pad in the town of St. Paul, Alberta! Yep, Canada’s got its own UFO landing site. Apparently Mars Attacks was never released in the land of the Doug & Bob McKenzie. You can read more about Alberta’s extraterrestrial airport at this link. Arm yourself with knowledge, kiddos!

I know I just reviewed a Canadian film a few weeks ago (Santa’s Slay) and a zombie movie last episode (Pro Wrestlers Vs. Zombies), but I’ve been itching to give Pontypool a viewing for a couple of years now, so fuck it. Here comes what’s guaranteed to be some of the most accommodating living dead (except they’re not) this side of Mormon Heaven! And if you don’t like it? Soory, hosers. I’ve got a thing for girls who say “aboot”. Let’s split a sixer of Moosehead, fry up some back bacon, enjoy the free health care and take in some Canucksploitation until we leave for our next destination!

People (well, 2 of them) have been preaching the benefits of Ponty to me since its release. The best I could offer them was the promise that it would have a place on my “I’ll get to it when I get to it” list. Well, I got to it. And sweet succulent jalapeno poppers dropped from the Virgin Mary’s hair pie do I feel like a better human being having done so. Let’s run the recap and afterward I’ll take a cue from Ben Murphy if you’ll “Permit me to explain wah.

For starters, this is NOT to be mistaken for the documentary Pontius Pool, which followed Jackass member Chris Pontius through the summer of 2013 as he attempted to fill a swimming pool with his friends’ bodily fluids, while living within said gathering of secretions. It lead him on a downward spiral of madness and near-fatal body toxicity that won him 3 Oscar nominations, a Golden Globe, and 4 CableACE Awards… despite the CableACEs having been discontinued in 1997. No, this is Pontypool, based on the novel “Pontypool Changes Everything”, as written by Tony Burgess. Why does that name sound familiar? Oh yeah, it’s because his name’s up above in the “Writer” credit! Yep, he’s the same Tony Burgess who adapted the screenplay. I’ve never read the book because, as I told my high school English teachers, I’m illiterate. That said, given that the author of the book was also the author of the movie, I really hope this turned out to be a faithful adaptation. Especially since I’m actually going to break my illiteracy rule and READ the damn book now!

From the opening, I get a hint that there’s something interesting in store for my next 90 minutes as we’re greeted with an oscillator scope illustrating our opening narration from talk radio host Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie). Despite being played by a native Canadian, I’m presuming that Grant’s a transplant from the U.S. of A. given his unfamiliarity with the surrounding area and very American “cowboy” manner of wardrobe selection. “Presuming” rather than “assuming”, as I make it a point never to leave myself verbally vulnerable for the same “assuming makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘Ming’” retort that I prefer to inflict on others. And you never want to make an ass out of Ming. He’ll put his bejeweled boot a Mongo mile up your Flash Gordon.

The Mazzster’s a Don Imus-y type of “Fuck politically correct, I don’t care if people think I’m a racist asshole, you’re gonna listen to my opinion!” personality who takes his morning coffee 50/50 with whiskey. His radio perfect voice carries the morning show on CLSY Radio 660 (“the Beacon!”) in the small town of Pontypool in the province of Ontario. On the way into his shift one dark and snowy Valentine’s Day morning (it is Canada, after all), and after firing his agent over his cell, Grant’s stopped in the parking lot by an oddly acting woman who bangs on his car window while uttering something incoherent over and over again, only to slowly back away into the darkness when Grant addresses her. He calls out to her, only to be answered by his own echoes…though I’m not entirely sure they’re all his (he said, knowingly).

Joined by his no-nonsense producer Sydney (Lisa Houle) and starry-eyed tech engineer Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly, pulling off that “girl next door/looking good while not looking like she’s trying to look good” appeal so well), Grant goes about his morning business battling back his winter blues to give the hosers something to listen to on their way to cut down trees and wrestle beavers and play hockey and whatever else it is Canucks do for work. They’re your typical talk radio trio: Grant causes trouble, Syd tries to rein him in, and LA sides with the old man because she admires him and may or may not want to fuck him. That’s not just me being an old man saying that young girls are attracted to we fossils, through “daddy issues” or some misguided sense of “age = maturity = sexy”, either. My Evil Dead Bride actually said it as soon as we see their first morning exchange, so if that sounded sexist, blame her!
Editor’s Note: She was TOTALLY eye-fucking Mazzy. This is NOT UP FOR DEBATE.

After a morning of what I’m presuming to be their typical “office family” squabbles, news of a hostage situation comes in over the radio band with a pair of gunmen holding a van of people against their will… you know, hence the term “hostage situation”. Thanks to LA “accidentally” feeding it into the booth to him against Syd’s wishes, Mazzola (the Indians call him “Maize”) reports on it prior to any police approval, while also implying that everybody involved is probably drunk, including the alcoholic local constabulary. Following, the station is called to drop the story as it’s officially been “resolved”, leading to a nice little exchange between Mazz and Syd where she politely tells him that their listeners are small time folk who prefer their shared small town ignorance, as the cops are actually alcoholics and, while we’re peeking behind the curtain, CLSY’s reporter/weatherman/traffic guy Ken Loney’s “chopper” is just a Dodge Dart he parks on top of the tallest hill. Everybody knows it, but they just like to pretend his sound effects are the real thing. A town just oozing blissful ignorance. Mazz in turn opens up to Syd, confessing that he’s got serious depression issues and every winter wonders if he’ll be able to hold out long enough to see the Spring again. Cue the canned audience noise where everybody goes “Awwwwwww”, but in an awkward way where they’re all worried that Grant will lose it and hang himself from the only bridge in town.

Immediately following their little moment, another newsflash comes in about a big mob of people swarming around the office of John Mendez: a local doctor who’s had recent controversy with writing questionable prescriptions. “Chopper” man Ken (voiced by Rick Roberts) calls in with a play-by-play of the pure chaos on the scene, including “an explosion of people”, bodies all over the place, and military trucks and helicopters (real ones) coming in from out of nowhere. Mazztermind wants to cover the story, but Syd would rather keep the airwaves free of potential public panicking turmoil while she tries to dig up something official that they can report. Mazzter Blaster is forced to go ahead with the planned show, including a performance by their special guests: local a cappella group Lawrence and the Arabians! Fun fact: the guy playing the group’s titular leader is none other than writer Tony Burgess. Hold onto that one next time you and your friends are playing DIY horror movie Trivial Pursuit.

As you can imagine, this performance doesn’t sit well with our self-professed bastion of truthy journalism…until shit gets interesting when Maureen/Farraj, one of the “Arabians” (I see Canadians don’t have the hang-ups with wearing black face that we do down here in North America’s ever-expanding waistband), starts speaking gibberish and eventually just breaks down into repeatedly shouting “PRA!”. Hannah Fleming, who plays the girl, actually does pretty well with her brief smattering of dialogue and that’s saying something coming from the guy who’d rather watch the child actors of the world thrown onto one massive tire fire than have to watch them “act”. Good for you, Hannah. Maybe when you’re older I’ll get to see you in a role with a few more lines and a lot less racial insensitive minstrel show shit smeared on your face!

As more reports make their way into the station, we learn that the people from the Mendez incident have formed into a “herd” of maniacs, swarming like bugs over people trapped in their cars, and collectively making weird sounds (like windshield wipers) or speaking utterances and phrases in unison as if they’re all connected with a hive mind. While trying to sift through the deluge of updates, suddenly the BBC is contacting CLSY in an effort to verify reports that the rest of the world is getting – news about military quarantining of the entire town and a possible terrorist insurgency/mass political uprising in progress! Not much later, an emergency message broadcast breaks into the station’s signal, relaying in French about how everyone within earshot should avoid loved ones, using terms of endearment, and speaking English…and how they also shouldn’t translate this message into English… which Mazzy and friends do…over the air…oops. Keep fucking that chicken, Grant.

Ken escapes the mob, holds up in a grain silo somewhere in town, and calls in to report further. We listen to a man whose face we’ll never even see as he sobs on the brink of total collapse about things he’s seen today “that are going to ruin the rest of his natural life”. Don’t worry Ken, I’m pretty sure your natural life won’t be haunting you much longer. Over the air, Ken relates how everyone is acting less than human and more like wild-eyed like dogs, cannibalizing anyone in their path, and tearing people apart with their bare teeth. Listening to Ken narrate everything to us is somehow far more intense than if we were watching it ourselves. Seeing the three in the studio hanging on each panicked word just as desperately only adds to it. When he records the twisted baby-like screams escaping an infected victim’s throat before it dies, followed by Grant descending into his own auditory hallucinations inside the sound booth? Fuck. That’s some stomach churning Silent Hill levels of terror tension. The games, not those dumbass movies.

When the horror movie paranoia and isolation kick into full swing, Mazzter & Commander and Syd argue right out the front door and into the awaiting blizzard (like I said, Canada)…where a horde of mindless psychos nearby catch wind of their exchange and start screaming “DON’T YOU WALK OUT ON ME, GRANT!” together, mimicking Sydney. Director Bruce McDonald refers to the infected as “conversationalists” rather than zombies, given that they’re not dead and they’re continuously listening while repeating words in a twisted form of symptomatic conversation with their victims. A great concept, but a twist in the vas deferens for someone like myself who doesn’t want to type “conversationalists” twenty or thirty times over the course of a few dozen paragraphs. As such, since they’re all basically brain dead on a conscious level, I’m sticking with “zombies”. If you don’t like it, then in the words of the epic poet Homer (Simpson), go to Russia!…like I will be in a future World Tour installment! Hope they’ve got enough vodka stocked away. Not for me, for them. I’m a whiskey kinda guy.

Barricading themselves in the studio and attempting to maintain their sanity by going on with the show (starting with a surreal obituaries segment), Laurel-Ann joins the ranks of the zombies almost immediately after, standing in place and mimicking the whistle of a tea kettle as she stares off into nothing. This is when Doc Mendez (and his German accent?), the guy whose practice went up in an explosion of bodies and flames earlier, crawls in through a window! He hurries Syd into the sound booth with Snazzy Mazzy and starts telling us what he’s learned by studying the outbreak’s victims. Meanwhile, LA spirals into her own zombiehood as her co-workers watch in saddened horror. To make matters worse, Ken calls back in finally…only to start losing his own mind as we listen to him jibber-jabber away the closing incoherent lines of his life story. Mister T would not like this virus.

Syd drops a shocking little revelation about Ken after his “passing” that fits in with her previous theme of small town not-so-secrets secrets that folks would rather ignore than confront. The twisted look of surprise and disgust on Grant’s face during this is priceless and mirrors what the audience is probably feeling at hearing the same news. Anyway, according to Mendez (whose accent I can’t hear without picturing Dr. Scott in Rocky Horror), the victims of the virus degrade into little more than a “crude radio signal” that’s just seeking something to bounce off of. His theory is that the it’s some kind of “god bug” that spontaneously came into being and is spreading, unpredictably and possibly boundless, infecting people at random and reproducing at epidemic proportions. And how is this bug being passed? Through the blood? Through the air? No. It’s being spread through the mind. Specifically, through the English language. Somehow words are becoming “infected”, and when these infected words reach into a victim’s brain and are understood, it turns the victim into a mindless animal. It then forces them to “hunt” for more words. And when they find someone speaking said words? They rip out their victim’s throat. And if they can’t find a victim? They die. Violently. And Vomity. The only motivator for one animal to murder the fuck out of another animal: self preservation.

In an effort to stem the virus from infecting them too, Syd and Grant stick to communicating in French and through written notes, while Mendez rambles in what may or may not be unsubtitled German. Sooner than later, the mob make their way into the building, but are lured away by a recording of All That Mazz saying “Sydney Briar is alive” played over the outside loudspeaker. Because things can’t be that easy (remember, we’re in an outbreak movie!), a random blip in the power causes everything to reset, defaulting to a playing of the Canadian National Anthem inside the building that lures the mob back in, all shouting “OH CANADA!”. Mendez runs off into the blizzard shouting “Sydney Briar is alive!”, presumably to perish as he leads the maniacs away to give Mazz and Syd a chance for safety. So much for my theory that Mendez was part of some Nazi think tank whose experiment to destroy the world through a 70 year old genocide project got away from them, what with the zombos’ rambling about Hitler and U-Boats. Oh well.

Trapped together in a supply room, Syd works on drinking herself into a numb oblivion and writing stuff on the walls in Sharpie like a teenager, while Grant tries to figure out how to cure the virus. His theory? The reason people are repeating the words over and over again is to say them so much that the words lose meaning, thus losing their contaminating power. It’s a defense mechanism by their immune systems attempting to purge the invading taint. The Mazzter Baiter’s idea for a cure? Don’t just repeat the words until they’re meaningless, but reteach the infected a new meaning to the words. Example? When Syd starts to lose it, her trigger word is “kill”. Instead, Grant keeps repeating “kill is kiss” to her until her brain replaces the meaning of the word “kill” with the meaning of “kiss”, thus curing the trigger! It’s weird, it’s a bit heady for a movie most people will probably expect to be a basic zombie schmoz coming into it, but it’s different. It works though, with Syd whispering “kill me” after, leading to the resolution of that “just fuck already!” workplace sexual tension between the two as they trade spit. It’s like some kind of emo romance thing.

Grant makes one last broadcast in an effort to fix the problem, but it’s like putting a band-aid on a severed leg. Too little, too late. The only people who know the cure take it to their bomb obliterated graves with them as Pontypool becomes a victim of the Return of the Living Dead Protocol. But, to his credit, Grant Mazzy’s last words are spent shitting all over the heavy handed government who responds to something they don’t understand by murdering an entire town of people in fire and thunder. It’s a brilliant tirade, and I don’t use that word casually either, because this diatribe is fucking brilliant to behold. Stick around after the credits though, because there’s a fun, entirely nonsensical stinger at the end that gives our heroes a fucking insane Tarantino-ish happy (I think?!) ending send-off. I hope to see you on the other side, Johnny Deadeyes and Lisa the Killer!

Before I get into the technicals, I’d just like to make mention that the term “OPP” dances through the dialogue time and again. OPP stands for “Ontario Provincial Police”, hence its frequent usage in a Canadian quarantine flick. All I could think of every time I heard “OPP” though, is that Naughty By Nature’s message of what they were “down with” had a whole different meaning up North. In Canada, they must’ve come off as the most law abiding, Kilted Yaksmen supporting rappers ever!

Pontypool. Holy. Shit. Holiest of shits. My faith in movies as a means to grab me by the nose hairs and make me feel things has been restored. Freddie Mercury meme goes here. I have not felt this sense of dread and suspense licking my neck with its barbed tongue since [REC]. While that movie managed it by utilizing the “found footage” method to perfection, Pontypool does it on pure pacing. Oh, and Stephen McHattie (who looks a LOT like Lance Henriksen from the right angle). Stephen McHattie’s like…fuck. His performance is uncannily good here! It’s almost inhuman. Like my Evil Dead Bride said, he was like Dennis Hopper levels of grand with his perfect transition of casual into intensity into stoic into in-fucking-sanity and back into “fuck you” stoic. Mazzy keeps his shit together, but not without faltering here and there so we can be impressed with how quickly he regains his shit just when you think he’s gonna lose it down his pant leg. McHattie acts his ass raw. Down to the bone. I hear he had to sit on a hemorrhoid doughnut for a month after they wrapped filming before they could find a compatible donor for seat meat implants. So much more than I expected from the evil NRA guy from Shoot ‘Em Up. Odd coincidence how he’s the connecting element between the Tomb’s first two 5 star features… and weird as John Merrick’s balls how McHattie looks like Jon Astin on the DVD cover art.

The minimal approach is just so fucking potent! It’s full-on tension. I said it before, but it bears repeating: it’s a thousand times more effective than anything they could actually show us. There’s very little in the way of graphic violence (really, there’s just zom Laurel-Ann bashing her face off of a window and hyper barfing all over the place), but it’s the way that we’re relayed the violence verbally that haunts us. The voice acting by Rick Roberts as Ken as he tells us all of the horrors he’s seeing is fantastic. It’s intense, borderline heartbreaking stuff to hear. The characterization of our tiny group is excellent. Pardon me for finding myself unable to stop sucking it’s metaphorical dick, but this has to be one of the best slow builds I’ve ever seen. If you’re looking for a fast paced splatter-palooza, this is not the movie you want. They’re great in their own right (one of my favorite sub-sub-genres, really), but Pontypool is all about the drama and gradual slide into deep horror. To keep you on your toes, there are also these weird, brain poking moments where reality seems to hiccup. As if the movie is a nightmare coming apart in places as the threads unravel. They’re not as blatant as the “PANCAKES!” scene in Cabin Fever, but they’ll get your attention.

Beyond that, there’s not really a whole lot left for me to say on why I love the maple syrup out of this motherfucker! Let’s bathe in a bit of the afterglow before we go.

There are/were two sequels to Pontypool that were actually planned before this initial installment. They’re supposed to provide more exposition, according to Burgess and McDonald, but given the nature of most sequels, this knowledge fills me with more apprehension than anticipation. When something unique really works for a movie like this (i.e. the isolation and the very slow-but-satisfying expositional foreplay), it doesn’t usually carry over to the follow-up. Remember how The Blair Witch Project and Quarantine both went from “found footage” benchmarks directly into paint-by-numbers horror movie sequels? I have this stabbing dread in my liver that Ponty 2: Electric Booga-Pool Harder would just try to be a low budget World War Z… or that could just be a serious infection from that uncooked meat I ate yesterday. Hey, I just can’t say no to ChiChi’s Baby Tartare Enchiladas! And yes, ChiChi’s does still exist, but only in China, Belgium, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Indonesia and here in the Underworld.

Given that it’s been 7 years since the first sequel was announced at the 2009 Cannes, and director McDonald and writer Burgess have had a dozen or so other movie and TV projects between their respective schedules since with NO sign of any actual progress on the proposed Pontypool Changes (not as good as my title, to be honest), I’m going to officially call it a Natalie Wood – dead in the water. Natalie Wood: the only kind of wood that doesn’t float! Or, if you’re going for a more “upturned proboscis” approach, you can call it a Virginia Woolf. Pinkies up, fuckers!

Oh well. As douche-snob shithead as this might sound, I prefer my PP pure… call me a hipster and I’ll feed you your mother’s insides colon end first. Just focus on the part where I “peepee” and let’s move on.

Pontypool was also done as an hour long radio play that was broadcast on the BBC’s website, which I was legit excited to hear of, considering the H.G. Wells “War of the Worlds” vibe I was feeling throughout the length of the feature. Sadly, all attempts on my part to find a playable version of it met with dead ends. The best I could drudge up was a YouTube video someone put together of Mazzy’s radio material as taken from the flick. Speaking of the spoken word, if IMDB is to be believed, Burgess’s original concept for the movie was going to be the “The Outer Limits” style oscillator image (seen in the movie’s opening) as the singular visual, bouncing along to Burgess’s voice as he simply read the script for an hour and a half… Might’ve been okay as some kind of performance piece, but as a movie you’re asking people to pay money to see? Outta your fucking mind. Besides, we would’ve been robbed of McHattie’s brilliant visual performance that came along with the verbal. A performance that probably gave Sir Alec Guinness’s ghost an erect lightsaber as he watched from Jedi Heaven. What does that even mean? I don’t know! I may have just become infected… TIME TO GO! GO! GO! GO? GO! GO! GO!

Seriously mine peeples, why wouldst thou be breeders of sinners? Get thee to a Netflixery and submerge thy selves in the Pontypool, lest I pity thee as fools, eh?

With the finale of our episode, so ends our time in France’s North American piece-on-the-side. The Canadian Chuck Norris, Zap Rowsdower, welcomes you to get the fuck out. See you next time in [REDACTED]! To the airport!

Moral of the Story: Genocides are always better when accompanied by elevator music.

Screenshots_____

Typoo – what it’s called when your spelling and grammar mistakes are so far from correct, they’re just straight up unrepentant shit.


That’s a few too many man rings there, Grant. Just buy a pair of brass knuckles and be done with it.


The only movie where you can watch Joey Ramone sexually propositioning a fish. In real life he was more a marsupial type of guy.


This reminds me of Monkey Shines… but Pontypool is still a great movie in spite of that. Fuck you, Monkey Shines.


“Wait till she finds out that I replaced the morning weather report with a track of nothing but fart sounds! And that I replaced her coffee creamer with Ex-Lax! And that I replaced her birth control pills with rat poison! … What the fuck is wrong with me!?”


“‘Best part of waking up’ my ass. This stuff tastes like it was poured out of a ranch hand’s boot at the end of a long day.”


Ever since Laurel-Ann made the joke about how microphones are robot penises, Grant doesn’t like having his nearly as close to his face as before.


Ladies and gentlemen, the look of an actress who just realized her current role should probably be left off of any future audition reels.


“Why so serious?!”


That moment when you’re in the middle of introducing your morning interview guest and regret having a breakfast of nothing but coffee and bran muffins.


Grant gets a little too wrapped up in his latest promo read for Crazy Larry’s Discount Used Cars. “WE’RE NOT JUST CRAZY AT CRAZY LARRY’S! WE’RE FUCKING INSAAAAAAANE!”


“All work and no play makes Syd a dull girl. All work and no play makes Syd a dull girl. All work and no play makes Syd a dull girl. All work…”

———————————————————
———————————————————

Anubis will return next time in
“How Sweet”

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.