FEBRUARY 11, 2010
Anyone else miss the old-school, Metropolis-y logo at the top of Lionsgate DVDs? They still use it on their non-horror titles, but who among us watches those? It appears at the top of Beyond The Wall Of Sleep, and let me assure you, it was the most pleasant thing about the experience. For the fiftieth time, I’m no scholar or big fan of H.P. Lovecraft, but in this case, the basic story was the only thing this mess had going for it.
For starters, half of the fucking movie is presented in a borderline montage, like the opening credits of Man On Fire or the freakier scenes in Natural Born Killers. Flash cuts, hyper edits, superimposed images, changes of film stock... it’s all there, albeit without any of the skill or purpose that NBK had (I have no defense for Tony Scott’s usage of it). Not only is it annoying and headache-inducing, but it does nothing but completely obscure the point of several scenes - who can concentrate on what is actually going on with the image jerking and shaking around all the time? It makes the Bourne films look like they were shot by Kevin Smith. They calm down every now and then, but the film also seems to be missing some narrative thread, so even when they put the camera on a tripod it still seems fragmented.
Worse, it’s a period piece, so not only does the style not fit the setting, but being a low budget production, the filmmakers don’t have the slightest chance of being able to convincingly re-create a time-appropriate setting. The costumes are laughably cheap and fake-looking; I’ve seen better stuff in grade school productions of "Oliver Twist". The mental institute scenes don’t look “old” at all (love the guy sitting on the very modern trash receptacle in an attempt to hide it), and only a few of the background characters can convincingly pull off the old-tyme-y “look”. William Sanderson does as well, but then again he’s an older guy and I am accustomed to seeing him in Deadwood, so by now I just accept that he could have lived back in the good ol’ days.
And the acting is atrocious pretty much across the board. Sanderson is fine, and Tom Savini has a fun, 30 second cameo (which he receives second billing for!) as a sheriff, but everyone else falls into one of two categories - stiff and uninteresting (a group that can count the lead character as a member), or way over-the-top and garish, such as the film’s villain. Combined with the laughable costumes, the whole thing comes off as the world’s worst improv class fucking around, which would be fine with a story that had some inherent levity built into it, but this is Lovecraft-inspired, which means it’s talky, dry, and largely incoherent to begin with.
Back to the changing stock, to the film’s credit, the bulk of it seems to be shot on film, rare for a Lionsgate pickup (though it was shot in 2001, before the digital boom), but every now and then there will be a cutaway that is obviously shot on video, and I’m not sure if it’s an intentional shift (like in NBK) or if they ran out of money for film and had to use video for some cutaways and establishing shots. Many shots (film and video) are also bizarrely zoomed in, which just adds to the distraction.
They can’t even get the basic gore gags right. Savini’s obviously around, couldn’t he have given them some pointers? There’s a scene where the hero (who is actually a villain, I think - again, the batshit camera/editing kept me from concentrating on what was being said at times) is drilling into a guy’s head, but the drill is clearly not touching anything, as the entire device keeps shifting around. They couldn’t have stuck it into a piece of wood or something to keep it somewhat still?
And then, the wig. Luckily for the film it’s eventually explained, but for the first 70 minutes, you’re spending the entire movie wondering why the main character is wearing the cheapest Halloween costume wig for the entire movie. On the commentary, they explain that there was supposed to be a shot of him putting on the wig at the beginning of the movie, but they ran out of money so it never got shot (why not use your trusty video camera for such a thing, then? Methinks this is an excuse, especially as the wig conceals the guy’s head for important plot twist reasons). Either way, it’s yet another laughable distraction.
It’s a shame too, because what I could understand of the movie seemed to be kind of interesting. It seems our inbred sap Joe (Sanderson) was going to be twins, but the fetus never separated and became a giant hump on his back, and the brain is intact. The doctor believes that the brain can take over for the simpleton Joe’s brain, and... well from there it gets a bit fuzzy. But hey, any movie with a back hump that has a brain can’t be all together bad. I also like how they characterize Sanderson’s character as an inbred; immediately after a girl calls him “daddy”, he shoves his tongue down her throat out of nowhere. I guess it’s better than having him just call her his “daughter-wife” or something.
The best thing about the entire disc is the commentary by directors Barrett J. Leigh and Thom Maurer, which LG’s legal team clearly didn’t listen to (nowadays half the track would be edited out/bleeped). They know the movie has issues, and seemingly have no problem mocking Sanderson (apparently a huge pain in the ass), various actors, Robert Redford (he pulled his weight and made them change locations so that he could shoot his dud The Last Castle in the prison that they planned to shoot in), each other... it’s a funny, largely pretension-free track. They also help explain some of the plot points that their gonzo filmmaking style kept me from following, so that’s good (and to be fair, they lost some footage due to a lab accident, which confirms my suspicion that there were missing scenes). The disc also has an animatic, which is just a hyper-edited series of (very cool) storyboards, and then oddly, the exact same storyboards presented as a still gallery. I guess they only storyboarded the one shot. The trailer is also included, and it’s funny that even the geniuses at LG’s DVD editing department (these folks made Drive-Thru look good!) couldn’t really cover this movie’s crushing flaws. The commentary also alludes to a making of documentary, and one is listed on the IMDb, but if it’s on this disc, I couldn’t find it.
It’s an ambitious effort to be sure, but once again, ambition doesn’t necessarily translate to success. Maybe with some money and a producer who could have reigned in their gratuitous “stylistic” tendencies, this could have been a good movie, however it’s, you know, not. But based on the commentary, I like the guys who made it, so it evens out, somehow.
What say you?