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Shudder Exclusive: Kuso-The Anti La-La Land

Published July 25, 2017 by rmpixie

Kuso (2017, 1 hr, 45 mins.)

 

A forest sparkling with fairy dust, it’s woodland floor peppered with what can only be called anus mounds; psychedelic collages of body parts flashing before your eye to an electronic beat; poxy-faced characters in absurd and disturbing circumstances as they struggle through the literal muck of life. That muck, which at first looks like your garden variety sludge, is actually made up of the complexity and randomness of everyday drudgery. All of this can be found wrapped in a psychedelic, comedy/horror package of interconnected segments in the Shudder Exclusive of Kuso, directed by DJ and artistic virtuoso, Flying Lotus aka Steve Ellison.

Kuso opens with a spoken word chorus, or “news pirate” (Regan Farquhar aka Busdriver) hijacking a news report of an earthquake that has hit Los Angeles, and carries on to various TV spots showing the aftereffects of this seismic event on a motley crew of characters. In Royal, a young man partakes in erotic asphyxiation administered by his loving sister who has a secret. Then we have Smear, with a bullied boy whose mother forces him to eat horrific meals. He is ridiculed in school because of his intestinal discomfort and when he runs away, comes across a magical forest with a feces hungry anus-like creature. There is a woman in a subterranean hell as she searches for her baby in Sock, and finally Mr. Quiggle takes us on a journey of another woman who deals with her dating dilemma and her “trans-dimensional” monster roommates, and a man who seeks radical treatment for his fear of breasts.

What we have here is, to me, a nightmarish commentary on the current social and political climate. The reviews have not been overly receptive to the film, citing the over-the-top gross-out scenarios as too obvious or beyond the reach of comprehension. They have also compared the film to the works of David Lynch and David Cronenberg, which makes sense with the bizarre subject matter and body horror. I beg to differ with these reviews for the most part however, because as a person of colour, I see it as a psychedelic, avant-garde and horrific approach to life as a marginalized person.

Avant-garde film, music and comedy is often seen as a white endeavour, but one only has to remember the epitome of avant-garde art, Jean-Michel Basquiat; the afro-futurist movement with Parliament-Funkadelic’s George Clinton (who plays “Dr. Clinton” with his bowel motivated treatments); the cyber-punk gore fests of Japanese horror; the musical DNA from Flying Lotus’s grand-uncle legendary saxophonist John Coltrane; and the decades of spoken word poetry based in the bebop/hip-hop arena to realize this is untrue. Snobbery would consider the latter to be merely a symptom of the “urban” experience with popular music and art of today, but dig deeper and you’ll find modern observations on life as a marginalized or Black person in continually trying times, like the thought-provoking news pirate chorus at the start and end of the film. This is why the Black director and cast composed of mostly people of colour is so important. It shows that we too have a sensibility for the avant-garde, perhaps even more so since some of our real-life experiences can be surreal and literal representations in modern film can often be too painful to watch.

Each sore-riddled character in the vignettes lives on the fringe of society in their filthy abodes. They are the antithesis of the meet-cute, rom-com story, the absent father tearjerker or the mild-mannered guy overcoming his fears. Dialogue in the film mimics formulaic scripts like the intimate, after-sex talk between lovers or the awkward comedy between strangers that just may become friends, and characters sport grotesque skin eruptions instead of picture perfect skin, making the film an abomination of the squeaky-clean Hollywood crank that the masses are addicted to or sick of. That this earthquake takes place in L.A. isn’t unusual, in fact, it is most telling as this is the very place that ideals of how we should live are created even though many a civil unrest has taken place there. In the current climate where racial tensions and turmoil are coming to a head, the earthquake has pushed the build-up of all the white-washing and cover-ups to the surface, spewing forth the discontent, anxieties, fears and truths of the ignored and gagged masses, much like the pus, semen and feces that bubbles from Kuso’s characters.

Although we are now in the internet age, the use of television is so important in this film. One story leads to another from endless screens of all-seeing eyes in each household, illustrating how TV has become a part of everyday life, an extension of ourselves; guiding us in what we should be doing or consuming and feeding us edited and suspect news stories. It is still one of the most powerful electronic mediums in society today as Marshal McLuhan once prolifically predicted, and Hollywood has always been the defining force in what we consume, being the makers of the messages sent through these electronic mediums. When that message is continually manipulated, distorted and upended in no uncertain terms, we must reprocess what is shown to us, which is what Kuso attempts to do.

Incest and general foulness aside, I have only two issues with Kuso. One is with the Mr. Quiggle segment involving the woman “B” (rapper The Buttress) who realizes she’s pregnant and is treated like trash by her two furry TV screen faced roommates played by Hannibal Buress and Donnell Rawlings. These fantastical creatures whip excrement at her and belittle her every chance they get. While her exchanges with them are meant to be comedic, there is an underlying misogyny that can’t be missed as well as the suggestion that she has been date raped by her stalker Phil, played by comedian Tim Hiedecker. His usual Adult Swim-Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! blank-faced delivery gave this story a more disturbing turn even though “B” brushes the incident off. She is also questioned about her decision to get an abortion at the Coathanger Clinic by Manuel (Zack Fox), even thought she says that it’s her body and her right. While she is tough and holds her own with her male counterparts and her stalker does get his comeuppance, it’s a hard reminder of the struggles women endure in the real and surreal comic book world.

The other is a sign spotted in the Coathanger Clinic “B” and Manuel visit, advertising a vaccine for “N*ggapox” with a smiling white face. I will go on record to say that I will never, ever get used to hearing the “N” word, even if it’s used between Blacks and in almost every hip-hop song and Tarantino film out there, but this sign in the clinic made me stop for a moment. It seemed to be a joke, but I wondered if a deeper meaning could imply removing Blackness from society; inoculating us from the Black struggle so we can all live in oblivion and denial, or even removing it from whites who have, perhaps according to their peers, become too ingrained and involved with Black culture. I could be over thinking it, but the few gasps I heard from the mostly white audience at the screening when the camera focused on that sign gave me pause.

There is also a strong pornography element throughout the film, from flashing imagery and TV commercials to full on ejaculate, and even a cameo from porn actor Lexington Steele. Flying Lotus was interviewed by the Guardian, and he mentioned growing up in the San Fernando Valley, where he says “all the porn comes from”, making it a sort of background din for him. He manages to create this feeling of overconsumption with clips of body part collages made of magazines cut-outs undulating to catchy electronic beats that is seamlessly erotic, surreal and absurd at the same time. It desensitizes the viewer at some point, much like the constant battery of airbrushed and perfected bodies plastered before us on a daily basis.

One of the “trans-dimensional” tv monsters in Mr. Quiggle critiques a bizarre porn movie he watches stating that it was “exploitive and sexist though artful”. This along with other statements from the cast like, “I fucking hate this movie!”, is almost a foreshadowing or a mocking of what critics would think once the film was released, and Flying Lotus wasn’t wrong. While some may focus on and denounce the obvious gross-out splatter of Kuso (which is apparently a Japanese word for “shit”) that made people walk out of the 2017 Sundance screening, I challenge viewers to go a little deeper with the insanity. There might be arguments for or against this film as art, and it’s certainly not perfect and will definitely offend with themes of rape, incest and over-the-top sexual content, but it will show you life’s uglier side through fresh eyes, eyes that tire of the La-La Land universe of denial and white-wash.  I caught Kuso at a limited screening recently in Toronto, but you can now see the real dirt streaming (sorry!) exclusively on Shudder.

 

Face Off Season 7 Episode 7: Horror Movie Posters Come To Life!

Published September 11, 2014 by rmpixie

After a rousing pillow fight, the nine remaining artists headed to a foggy and shadowy lab.  For their Foundation Challenge that would grant one of them immunity, they would have to create an urban legend icon:  Bloody Mary.  Apparently if you say her name 3 times in a mirror in the dark, you will die, so of course, the gang said her name 3 times and after, the shrouded figures of their models floated out of the fog and freaked everyone out.  Their judge was Emmy award-winning artist Brigette Myre-Ellis who won an Emmy for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and worked on True Blood.  She just wanted them to scare her.

The artists used a lot of blood and had great ideas.  Bridget’s favourites were Rachael’s face stealing Bloody Mary that was scary and beautiful, and Drew’s creation that cried blood.  She was impressed with his blood gag.  Rachael won immunity because Brigette thought it was beautiful and creepy at the same time.

Their next Spotlight Challenge took them back to Universal Studios Backlot where they met in front of a movie marquee with “Halloween Horror Nights” up in lights.  Their task was to create a horror movie character inspired by several original movie posters provided.  Their advisors were John Murdy and Mike Aiello who were the creative directors of the Halloween Horror Nights in both the Orlando and Los Angeles Universal locations.  Their advice to the artists was to look at every detail in the posters because the smallest ones could tell the best stories.  The winning look would be included in the 2014 Horror Nights park tours, like previous seasons.

Stella picked The Trophy Room-It’s Hunting Season!  Her character was an inbred hunter that collected human heads as trophies.  She busied herself creating a head for her creepy character to carry.  Her finished look was pretty creepy looking and could have totally worked for any horror movie dealing with inbreds.  I loved the head and it had a really brutal looking face.  The judges loved the forms of the misshapen head, and Glenn thought it was a successful hillbilly mutant.  She was safe.

Dina created a demonic reindeer for the movie The Cloven-It was Too Hot in Hell!  Her reindeer was an outcast that tortured elves.  She had trouble sculpting the face and this was the first time she struggled with her design.  It ended up looking like a cat.  She wasn’t happy at all with the final look.  I thought it looked hilarious, but it really wasn’t good.  The judges thought that without the horns, it looked more like a pig, and the face lacked detail.  Neville also thought the hooves looked like crab claws or vegetables, and overall, she lacked anatomical knowledge.  They also felt there was nothing scary about the character.  She was in the bottom.

Rachael picked Bone Appetite-Dinner is Served! and created a cannibal baroness that threw parties where she served her guests people.  She went for an old aged makeup and a mouth in the character’s stomach.  Since she had immunity, she took her time sculpting, and created a great makeup that she loved.  the judges loved the inspired mechanism in the chest that made the mouth open, and thought she had a compelling concept and great animation.  She was in the top looks.

Cig got The Second Chumming-Swim at Your Own Risk!  He decided to make a sea-captain that was killed by his crew and fused with chum, becoming a monster.  His sculpt was huge and was probably the most appliances he had ever had to apply.  He used a bright pink paint base and built up the colour to look like bloody chum, then piled on blood over the paint job.  It was really gross and he used the model’s chin as the tongue which made the character’s face look enormous.  Glenn was really impressed with that since he had never seen it on the show, and they all admired the “purposeful texture” and huge amount of work he put in.  He was in the top looks.

Damien got Buzzcut-Just a Little Off the Top!  He came up with a hair transplant surgeon who scalped his patients.  He created a vaccuform scalp, and a gory, gory character.  On the reveal stage, the surgeon could lift his own scalp, revealing a gooey, bloody mess of a skull.  Neville really enjoyed that gag and called it juicy.  He was safe.

Drew created a creepy, online creeper that was also a cannibal for We Met Online-There Is No Escape Key!  His character’s face was really unappealing and filled with boils.  It actually kind of reminded me of some creepy library customers I’ve encountered at my old library job!  The judges liked the face, but thought that was the only interesting aspect of the makeup.  Lucky for him he was safe.

Keaghlan got Homecoming Scream-Save the Last Dance! and created a 1950’s B-movie homecoming queen that was the victim of a prank and got pushed off the bleachers, becoming horrible twisted corpse.  She wanted to do a grayscale makeup to give her character a more retro, old school horror look.  There were a few issues with her sculpt even though she paid attention to anatomy.  Her sash was on backwards, and the judges thought the sculpting on the face needed more detail, as well as the back-to-front details.  They thought her concept didn’t communicate the intention, and there was too much work and not enough time.  She was in the bottom looks.

Sasha picked Bonnie and Cyanide-Love is Toxic!  Her character was poisoned and in turn poisoned people with her syringe fingers and neon poisonous blood.  She had trouble creating veins and was really disappointed with her finished look.  The judges thought her veins were a disaster, and that it was a poorly executed look.  It didn’t look like the concept, they didn’t understand the character, and due to the lack of anatomical knowledge, it put her in the bottom.

George got Axe Girlfriend-Breakups can be Hell!  He came up with a rich man’s mistress that was shot in the head.  She came back and collected wedding ring fingers as trophies.  He used silicone for the face appliance which ended up being a good decision.  The judges liked how the colour looked on the silicone, and thought his concept had just enough gore.  They liked that he showed restraint with the gore, and that it was a realistic makeup that told a story.  Because the thought the character was well suited to the movie poster, he was in the top looks.

The winner was George!  For his first win, the judges really liked that he used restraint and the realism of the makeup.  The loser was Sasha.  They thought her paint decisions were bizarre and her sculpting was poor.  They knew she was capable of doing much better work, so in a surprise decision, they used the special immunity on her.  Sasha was SAFE!!!  Holy smokes is that girl lucky!

 

Black History Month Horror Wishlist for Hollywood

Published February 10, 2014 by rmpixie

For Black History Month, I wanted to write something about the current state of horror films in the Black community.  I quickly found out that current meant 2007 in North America.  I am still wondering why there is not more minority representation in horror of late, and I don’t mean supporting characters or background.  I’m talking main characters and a multi-racial cast.  On T.V., thankfully, there are a lot of new shows that represent people of all backgrounds like the runaway hit Sleepy Hollow starring Nicole Beharie and Tom Mison, and the futurist vision of Almost Human starring Michael Ealy and Karl Urban, as well as the scads of teen fantasy and horror series happening now.  I’m not talking about that, because the small screen has Hollywood movie makers beat for sure.  I’m talking the big screen.  As a result of this, I am going to create a wish list for Hollywood big screen horror.

My number one issue that I would love to have addressed is casting.  First and foremost, it is the main thing that irks me every time I dig into my proverbial pockets to buy a ticket or download a film.  Why on God’s green earth are there not more people of colour in leading roles in horror and sci-fi big budget films?  With a few exceptions like the latest Star Trek installment or Pacific Rim, it is a rarity.  I’m not even talking just African-Americans/Canadians either.  Give me an Asian, or a South Asian lead, a First Nations person; a person of Latin descent…someone, please! Even the great Danny Trejo’s feature-length horrors are sent directly to DVD.

We (people of colour) buy DVDs, go to movies, and oh yeah, are an integral part of society in general.  So why are we seen as peripheral in film?  I’ve heard the blanket statement that a minority lead actor may not sell as many tickets, and the film industry is a money game, but this is 2014 for crying out loud!  Does Hollywood forget that there are some minorities that have a lot of money and may invest in a film that is diverse?  Horror is fast becoming an accepted genre and a money-maker (like The Conjuring that grossed over $137, 000,000), and there are a lot of fans that are visible minorities.  Just look at people at the various comic/horror conventions.  And I’m surprised with the indie film makers out there.  With the exception of a few, like James Cullen Bressack who cast an African-American lead in his film 13/13/13, I’m a little disappointed that minorities haven’t been cast as more than criminals or background, if at all.  I mean, if you are truly indie and cutting edge, prove it and go against the grain.  So get with the program Hollywood movers and shakers, and represent the world as it truly is.

My second wish is that if there are visible minorities finally cast, please, for the love of Pete, stop calling it an “urban” film.  The word can be used to describe anything relating to a city, but it is most used to describe anything Black oriented, and to me, takes the ownership away by generalizing.  Why not just say Black, or African-American/Canadian?  They are not bad words.  In fact ,why do we have to call it anything other than a film?  I understand the distinction for something to be owned by a certain group so that it doesn’t lose its validity, but at the same time, I would love for a film to just be a film, good or bad, with a diverse cast, good or bad.  If there is something directly related to an area, like the “‘hood”, then of course, make it known, such as the iconic 1995 film Tales from the Hood, which has more of a cult status, but otherwise, I don’t think it’s necessary, and it shouldn’t define us as a people.

And speaking of the “‘hood”, is that the only mythology we have for Black communities these days?  Yes, it is a huge part of the Black experience, as a large part of the demographic had very little choice but to live there due to historical socio-economic wrongs, but film (in general) has negatively depicted these neighbourhoods for a long, long time.  Some of them are certainly crime-filled, but people live there and make the best of it, and many communities have tried to reclaimed and better these neighbourhoods to create rich cultural signifiers.  For those of us who haven’t had that experience though, we are expected to adopt the trappings of the ‘hood or ghetto; lumped into a one-dimensional group and misrepresenting a valid existence.

J.D.’s Revenge, a 1976 horror film, gives us another reality for Blacks while staying true to the Blaxploitation tradition.  The story of a law student possessed by an angry spirit seeking revenge is filled with problems like misogyny, abuse and a questionable motivation by the female lead character Christella, but the film had great performances and showed Blacks existing beyond the ghettos.  The 1973 film Ganja and Hess also stands out because writer and director Bill Gunn wanted to do a film that challenged the Blaxploitation genre and he succeeded.  It was a trippy, art house vampire film that show Blacks in a different light:  educated, well-off and capable of complex emotions.  Another film that worked for me was the 2004 AVP:  Alien vs. Predator starring Sanaa Lathan.  She played the role of a seasoned expedition guide that could have gone to many other actresses.  Yes, lots of people thought it wasn’t the greatest film, but I loved that fact that she was cast as what may be perceived as an atypical character for a Black woman, and you know what?  I liked that movie.  So see dear Hollywood, it can be done with dimension and finesse.

My next wish is for the Black production companies to take a risk and back horror films.  There are plenty of stories, folklore legends and modern-day occurrences pertaining to the Black experience that can be creatively represented on film without diminishing the story to mockery, or what the general public would perceive as the Black experience.  Take for example, Storage 24, a 2012 British horror film written and produced by Noel Clarke, most known for his Dr. Who role as Mickey Smith.  Clarke played Charlie, a regular guy who deals with heartache and an alien in a storage facility.  While it was widely panned, Clarke created a film that stepped out of the stereotype of what a Black man should be, not the typical hard-core tough guy that can be found in the heavily stereotyped but well received Attack the Block, another British alien invasion film that cast Black main characters. I applaud Clarke for taking a risk and going beyond stereotype.

Things need to be updated because the old version is no longer valid.  I’m not sure if the religious, old school values or the preconceived notion that Black people don’t like horror motivates production companies away from the genre, but things need to change.  Why?  Because change is good.  It might be an uphill battle as some communities may not relate immediately, but I think it’s worth a try to eliminate some stereotypes of what a Black person wants.  And if it comes from a Black run production company, it just may help eradicate some of these roadblocks.

I could just be dreaming my pixie Utopian dream, but I think this wish list has legs.  I love horror.  I would love it even more if there was proper representation of all people on this planet.  We need to  see ourselves up on the big screen so there is more fodder for dreams and aspirations; so that kids can see that there is more out there for them because they are validated in a way that will glean respect just like their White counterparts.  And if Hollywood won’t do it, well, at least for now we have the small screen which is putting Tinsel Town to shame.

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