MACABRE PAIR OF SHORTS Cutting Room - Episode 19 Joseph Christiana, 9/17/12
One of the common misconceptions about works of short fiction- whether literature or cinema- is that they're by definition light fare, that they're minor amusements not to be taken seriously. The truth is however that short works can pack as much of a wallop as they're long-winded kin can. And to regard them as the shameful black sheep little brother is a mistake, especially considering that short works are at the very foundations of storytelling. Literature began, after all, when our hairy, low-browed ancestors, just descended from the trees, told minor anecdotes about their days of hunting and being hunted in the bush. Certainly our flea-bitten cousins didn't jump out of the gate with War and Peace. Heck, the oldest works are anthologies. See Homer. Also, the bible. Similarly, the first incarnations of Cinema were short as well: Edison's single shot spectacles of Fred Ott's Sneeze, for example, if nothing else, is an exercise in extreme brevity.
Now, I'll get around to 1996's MACABRE PAIR OF SHORTS, that triumph of cinema Tomahawk assigned me this week, soon enough, but first I'll return his cruel little curve ball by laying down a bunt for the suicide squeeze: Instead of hearing one of my usual monolithic eviscerations on a single film, I will offer to you, dear listeners, an introduction potpourri. That is, what you are about to hear is an anthological introduction to horror anthologies. To wit:
The first intro, is for those of you as of yet unacquainted with the chief pioneer of both the modern short story and of modern horror: Mr. Edgar Allen Poe. Over a century and half ago he put forth what have perhaps been the only enduring edicts of modern short form storytelling: He assayed that the short story should be able to be read in one sitting, that the aim is to have a singular cohesive effect (or mood), and that not a word should be wasted. His short stories have been adapated to film more times than can be counted and his work has influenced all of your favorite horror directors in ways too great to be measured. The short fiction of Poe has been packaged in all sorts of configurations. Choose any collection you like. You can't go wrong. And if you've never read him,please, stop this audio stream right now, this very second, and hustle your ass to the library or the bookstore, for the love of horror!
Now going from Poe to Stephen King isn't something to be embarrassed about. King, like any artist who's made horror their bread and butter, is regarded with a snobbish downcast eye by many a pseudo-intellectual, but his work is effective and entertaining and, really, isn't that the point? So, in 1992 King teamed up with George A. Romero and Tom Savini, riffed on the legendary E.C. Comics and out came CREEPSHOW. This raucous collection of six horror shorts is a giddy celebration of all things macabre. Now it's rare that immensely distinct and powerful voices combine harmoniously, but Romero, King, and EC Comics somehow balanced their egos, combined their visions beautifully and the result is a damn fine film containing a few cinematic moments that have haunted me since I was a kid. King's role in the film as a country bumpkin and seeing Ted Danson go toe-to-toe with Leslie Neilsen alone is worth the price of admission. Check it out.
Ok. So one of the pitfalls of the anthology form is a tendency for uneviness from episode to episode. And keeping in step with the form, I offer you 2004's THREE EXTREMES. Yes, I just went from Poe to Creepshow to three masters of Asian cinema and I'm not apologizing. I offer THREE EXTREMES to you because it's one of the best anthologies I've ever seen, horror or not. And while the first two shorts in the collection, directed by Fruit Chan and Park Chan-wook respectively, are both solid pieces,- one involves eating babies, the other torture as only how Asians can do it-- it's the third film, Takashi Miike's BOX that elevates this film above the fray. BOX is the kind of film that shows up in your dreams unannounced, punches you in the heart and sets your face on fire. It makes you forget who you are and re-teaches you why you love movies. It reminds you that fear is an emotion as powerful as love. Quite simply, BOX is one of the best short films ever made.
And now for MACABRE PAIR OF SHORTS. Listen, Tomahway, it's difficult for me to comment on a film like this because to some degree I feel its pain. I've been behind a camera and had my hands tied by lack of resources. Here I sense the filmmaker struggled against his own limitations. And without an intimate understanding of what those limitations were, I can't assess to what degree the filmmaker achieved his vision, if those limitations were internal or external, so to speak. Fans of Troma will appreciate the schlocky, good-naturated ribald zaniness of it all. They'll consider its clunkiness endearing. But I was having trouble finding a soft spot for it. There are a few neat ideas presented here-- the lesbian vampires who won't kill, for sport, a victim they can't consume because of his blood disease, the re-imagining of CAT IN THE HAT as a horror tale - and certainly Lloyd Kaufman's is his usual unapologetic shameless self in the introductions to the film. But the truth is this, one of the great things about an anthology is knowing that if you're not into one of the segments, it'll soon be over and the next one might be better. It just sucks when the better one never comes.