Saturday, November 18, 2017

11/18/2017: "The work of pathological weirdos"

Where East Is East (Tod Browning, 1929)
I yield to no one in my love for the films of Tod Browning, but Where East Is East shares some unfortunate racial stereotyping with Browning's previous film, West of Zanzibar, along with the additional negative of casting white and Latina women as Asians. Fortunately, the film contains the same vitality, weirdness, visual invention, and depth of character as the rest of the Browning canon. Less of a horror film than most of his other work, Where East Is East dials down the macabre until the end, concentrating instead on an offbeat love story and the deception and intrigue of a third party who turns the pair into a triangle. The great Lon Chaney stars as Tiger Haynes, a heavily scarred American animal trapper living in Indochina. He traps tigers for circuses and has a pet gorilla. He's a little scary, but he's a single father with a heart of gold who dotes on his adult daughter Toyo, played by the great Lupe Velez. Toyo has fallen in love with Bobby (Lloyd Hughes), another American living in the Orient. Tiger is skeptical and gives Bobby a hard time until Bobby saves Toyo from a trapped tiger that escaped from its cage. Now on Team Bobby, Tiger takes his future son-in-law with him on a boat trip to unload some tigers on a circus owner. On the boat, Bobby meets Mme. de Sylva (Estelle Taylor) and is instantly smitten, powerless against her lady-of-the-Orient charms. Tiger recognizes what's going on and has his own dark past with the woman. She insinuates herself into their lives, causing much havoc, and Tiger fights to keep his daughter's relationship together and get Bobby back on the right track. Things get messy. The approach to race leaves a lot to be desired, but the performances from Chaney, Velez, and Taylor are pure movie pleasure, the three charismatic actors bringing a camera-seducing life and history to their characters' faces and physical presences. Browning is an inventive and unusual creator of images, and even his few films that are tarnished with his era's stupidities have many worthwhile moments.

Blood Diner (Jackie Kong, 1987)
Jackie Kong's most well-known cult movie, Blood Diner, an homage to H.G. Lewis's Blood Feast, is 90 minutes of nonstop insanity. I'm a big fan of Kong's first film, The Being, and Blood Diner captures some of the drive-in horror movie fun of that film with an additional 18 buckets of blood, guts, and vomit and a breakneck Three Stooges-meets-comic-book feel. The story of two brothers who run a vegetarian diner and resurrect their murderer uncle from the dead in order to bring an Egyptian goddess back to life and control the world, Blood Diner is a celebration of freakazoid gonzo excess. This is a film that has room for a talking brain in a tank, a restaurant owner who never goes anywhere without his ventriloquist dummy, punk rock zombies, a resurrected Egyptian goddess with gleaming fangs and a stomach-mouth who can shoot lasers from her eyes and fingertips, a pro wrestling match that pits a main character against Little Jimmy Hitler, a guy in a Reagan mask machine-gunning a room full of nude Aerobicizers, a naked woman karate-chopping a killer inside a cave, a pair of detectives who play by different sets of rules but get results, a biker who gets run over by a van 12 times to a loud calypso soundtrack but is just mildly inconvenienced, cannibalism, beheadings, eyeballs knocked out with shovels, a grocery list that begins with "6 dog dicks," two of the weirdest musical performances I've ever seen, and the following line of dialogue: "This is the best friggin' veggie burger I've had in a son-of-a-bitchin' long time!" What else can I tell you about this thing that won't be superfluous? The screenplay by B-movie actor Michael Sonye fills every moment with bizarre set-pieces and one-liners, and Kong finds a way to make it all happen visually. I'm glad something this weird exists, and I hope Kong finds a way to make another movie someday. Her films are a blast.

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