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DN aka quietearth
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Manuel de Layet
Corrispondente in Italia
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Manuel de Layet [Celluloid 06.14.10] movie review horror
Directors: Jordan Harris & Andrew Shrader
Writers: Jordan Harris & Andrew Shrader
Review by: The Crystal Ferret
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
There are reviews branded from the start with some karmic curse, I got the print of Fever night in January, we are in June, it went through ten rewrites, 6 screenings and a total system crash. When it happens with a romcom or something light and cheerful, it is a series of coincidences, but what can we call such a succession of avatars when it comes to a movie dealing with the Beast, the Horned One, the good old Satan? Is it retribution? Or the wrath of an angry God at how good this movie is?
Let’s place our protagonists, there’s Terry, Elliot and Warren. Terry loves Elliot. Warren loves Terry and Elliot. Elliot loves Elliot. He used to love Terry. And when Warren decides to invite Elliot along on Terry’s Satanic ritual outing, all hell breaks loose.
Now they’re lost. Terry’s unconscious. Their car won’t start. So, when Elliot and Warren see an omnipotent light, they gotta get there - but Terry must have been dragged off or something, so they have to go find her and bring her dead ass back to the goddamn car ‘cause the light’s too far to carry her.
Along the way, they encounter the frightful and ghoulish reckonings of their night’s work: Terry is neither dead nor alive, crows seem to be exploding without the aid of Alka-Seltzer, and Satan might be on hard drugs.
Can Elliot and Warren trudge the bowels of Hell to the Light of Salvation, or will they succumb to their most Satanic desires?
What will happen to them, what will happen to you, will your views on the world and the forces at play be changed forever? Will you fear any flickering light? Will you avoid forests and bushes?
Actually, there are two ways of seeing this movie. You can look at it and go " meh, it's just 3 effing blokes playing in their backyard with a torchlight and a copy of after effects " You can see the whole as some stupid prank done onto the viewers, wasting an hour and some more of his lifetime and ask for your money back.
And you'd be right to do so, it is indeed a practical joke, cheaply cast, shot and lit. There are no more than 5 characters wobbling their ugly mugs on screen.
And what with all that satanic nonsense, how come they actually dare produce such things, this is an abomination unto god, a festering boil of pus and spunk that no good man should be forced to see or even to hear about.
There is not a single thing to redeem this piece of filth, it's not even watchable thanks to the love of the director for crappy visual effects, flickering pornographic images and pulsating colours like those heathen cartoons from Japan.
The bright side if that you can't say it's a waste of good talent that should have been employed for the glory of the lord, because there isn't a speck of talent in that damned thing. It’s nothing more than a visual turd splashed on the face of the viewer in some childish “look look I’m a naughty toddler” attitude. It’s so unbecoming. Frankly, the best thing to do is to ignore it hoping it will end up crawling under a bush, famished and sick.
Or you can watch it with an open and unbiased mind and enjoy the ride. And, hell yeah! What a ride this is. There’s enough material, visually and semantically, in there to get you brain fried and scrambled, and leave you with a stupid contented face for hours.
There is something about the grotesque of the picture added to the quality of the product and the conceptual and treatment parti-pris that reminds me of the two Lydias of my life, Lunch and Courteille. Why? Because of the meat.
Meat, the movie opens on meat, lots of meat in Styrofoam containers, price tagged and not that fresh looking, while three voices argue about the nature of Satan, the fact he can make his own goat cheese and that no, you can’t squeeze blood out of pastrami.
We meet our characters at checkout, trying to find loose change to actually pay for aforesaid meat and wood purchases. This little chitchat with the unseen vendor feels like some usual geek-com. We have in theses first minutes, a part from the obvious purpose of invoking Satan, a typical offbeat comedy. Complete with the latent antagonism between the characters due to past events spoiling a relationship, and other Methuselahmic cliché used from the bible to the latest Kevin Smith comedies. The bright side of this stale introduction is that it clearly and rapidly brush off the essential character design. For the more versed viewer, details here and there give way of the joy that is to come.
You see, it’s one thing to do a sitcom on Satan, but actually dressing your character in the colours of the Satanic Pride gives a lot on the actual semiotic and symbolic, not to mention pop-culture, researches done during preproduction. Most of the time, such little details are overlooked, and it’s a shame for that’s the kind of thing that give legitimacy to any work of Art.
What will happen next, you read already: ritual, Terry unconscious, Hell breaking loose, and Satan drinking soy milk with bran crumpets.
Actually the movie really starts there, when Terry is knocked down by Warren’s junk-car.
Arguing about what to do, far from civilisation, entrenched into woods with a broken car and two low grade flashlights, Warren and Elliot will have to improvise, adapt and hopefully overcome their predicament. Throw in a pair of pikey pissing on their tent and you’ll have the Blair Witch script. No pikey, no tent, no dog, but light ; light flickering at the edge of the woods, light pulsating like a divine beacon of hope, rescue and comfort for our troubled young boys. Who will brave the darkness and fetch Ranger Joe? Who will stay and watch over the unconscious Terry? Only one way for our heroes to decide such an important development to our narrative: rock, paper, shotgun (or is it scissors?) anyway Elliot earns the privilege to run toward the light.
And, as he takes off his coat to run in style, a little detail that has been nagging at you like the two cockroaches dancing and singing on the corner of my window, hits you in the face : why waltz when you can rock’n’roll with a machine gun beneath it. It’s on Elliot t-shirt since the first images and you KNOW you seen it elsewhere. And now that our boys are lost in the woods, the reference clicks in. That very phrase and logo adorns the shirt of Edgar Frog in …. “The lost boys”. Nice pun. People Laugh.
Don’t get fired up, there are no vampires in that one, the light is not Robert Pattipan waxing his armpits in the moonlight; you won’t find any Cajun-redneck-plasma-guzzler-expatriate with a cowboy hat in the whole movie and the world is better for it.
There are, on the otter hand quantity of more frightening things in this movie, a vampire is so bubble-gum mainstream nowadays, believe me most of them are going to the same bars I indulge. The eerie shadow of the greatest fraud in cinema history is floating upon most of the scenes, exhaling its putrid and sour existence to the viewers, namely Godard. There is, surely out of reverence for his work, the characters are unable to actually smoke more than half a breath of a smoke before discarding it and lighting another, just like Belmondo’s character in Breathless. I know that in the Godard film it’s purely out of lack of directing. In fever night, the rest of the movie being correctly filmed, mastered and directed I’ll file it under “homage” and try to forget it.
Where was I? Yes, the running to the light. Well it’s actually cut short by a nice Jamie Lee Curtis impersonation from Warren. While I was discussing with you, Warren was giving a blowjob to his flashlight, (the sort of thing you do when you’re alone and the fourth wall prevents you from seeing the laughing spectators) and this soul growing experience is cut short by a mule kick to the car and the disappearance of Terry. Being the innocent he is, he’s yelling for Elliot to come back.
Blahblah blah, seems I got caught in reciting the movie, that’s not what you kids want to read I hope. I can ask for a copy of the script and turn it into an audio book if you want the actual story narrated by my soggy arse. So I’ll sum up from here. They go in search of terry, find her, bring her to the car and bondage her to the driver’s seat. Then, the search for light resume. The forest is littered with exploded crows, and trees are moving, but that’s not stopping our dynamic duo.
What’s stopping them is the strange animal skull that starts bleeding and sprouting size 7 horns. After this point you’re either into symbolic art or lost in the narrative. Did you see the exploding fridge shot in slow motion at the end of zabriskie point? Was it semantically rich and relevant after watching the whole movie? Closer to us, have you watched part or any of Andrei Iskanov work? Does the dichotomy of image and narrative arouses you when watching Mondo Topless? I’m not saying you won’t understand a dime if “no” is your answer but it helps. A good knowledge of each and every movie made on, near, or by Satan is also required at this point, to spot the images point out that this churning devil is from Häxan, which pair of boobs is from Mark of the Devil, what corpse from some obscure Spanish horrorsploitation with zombie Templars, etc.
The inability of the human mind to comprehend the true nature of evil is dodged through the help of flashs and colours flickering like some bog fumes, bits of movies, bits of cultures, and deep down under that whole flock of symbols and references, lurking like the silver shade of a piranha in murky water is the Devil.
It’s a relevant compilation of the classical representations of Evil in moving pictures. There are some highlights I have to talk about anyway. I did not talked about Mondo Topless for the sake of mentioning boobs, there is a clear and definite sixties sexploitation feel in some scenes, when Warren encounters the Temptress, Jenny, we are deep into Russ Meyers : lighting, music, acting all build up to a psychedelic epiphany that is usually only found if Russ’ work. (On a side note, if anyone has the phone number of Vanity Meers … her way of saying “you’re not lost anymore” turns me into jello. Hrm)
Form scenes to scenes the Devil will get his way with our heroes. Warren first, sacrificed like the biblical lamb: sodomised by a Dixie-bear while Jenny dances and laughs, shot in the face, brought back to unlife and so on and so forth.
Elliot will have if share of troubles, mostly self-inflicted (running with a knife is not a clever idea when at night in a forest ) some trust upon him Ludovico-style. Running away from the Devil, chased by the possessed Camaro, he’ll end up in the hands of Lucifer in person.
But what of Terry will you ask? For that you’ll have to actually see the movie. But now, let’s look under the hood and see what makes this flick ticks.
First things first, let’s dwell a little into the cultural basics you’ll need to fully grab at the chin of this goat. Let’s talk about form and matter, how they interact on each other. How can a pictorial depiction convey emotions over meaning? Can it without a smiley or some lolcat-typed typo? What do you know about expressionism?
For those who answered “nothing” to my rhetorical question, here’s a little summary of the thing, straight for the wiki. Not that I’m completely agreeing to the whole article.
Expressionism was a cultural movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the start of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world under an utterly subjective perspective, violently distorting it to obtain an emotional effect and vividly transmit personal moods and ideas. Expressionist artists sought to express the meaning of "being alive" and emotional experience rather than physical reality.
Expressionism emerged as an 'avant-garde movement' in poetry and painting before the First World War; in the Weimar years was being appreciated by a mass audience, having its popularity peak in Berlin, during the 1920s.
Expressionism is exhibited in many art forms, including: painting, literature, theatre, dance, film, architecture and music. The term often implies emotional angst. In a general sense, painters such as Matthias Grünewald and El Greco can be called expressionist, though in practice, the term is applied mainly to 20th century works.
The Expressionist stress on the individual perspective was also a reaction to positivism and other artistic movements such as naturalism and impressionism.
That’s for the general principles underlining the movement. Now, are you acquainted with Edvard Munch?
Nice lad he was, born in a rustic farmhouse in the village of Ådalsbruk in Løten, Norway to Christian Munch, the son of a priest. The family moved to Kristiania (now Oslo) in 1864 when Christian Munch was appointed medical officer at Akershus Fortress. Edvard’s mother died of tuberculosis in 1868, as did Munch's favorite sister Johanne Sophie in 1877. One of Munch's younger sisters was diagnosed with mental illness at an early age. Of the five siblings only Andreas married, but he died a few months after the wedding. Munch would later write, "I inherited two of mankind's most frightful enemies—the heritage of consumption and insanity."
In 1879 Munch enrolled in a technical college to study engineering but frequent illnesses interrupted his studies. The following year, much to his father’s disappointment, Munch left the college determined to become a painter. His father viewed art as an “unholy trade”, and his neighbours reacted bitterly and sent him anonymous letters. In contrast to his father’s rabid pietism, Munch adopted an undogmatic stance toward art, writing in his diary his simple goal: “in my art I attempt to explain life and its meaning to myself.”
Why am I bothering you with such meaningless pieces of knowledge? Bear with me till the end and you’ll see it’s enlightening and rewarding.
I’ll pass the most of the years to stop at 1890-1892. That years Munchy was in Paris, vaguely following the numbing drawing sessions of Léon Bonnat. His father died the preceding winter, and he’s plagued with suicidal thoughts and a global “Existanzialle Angst, ach Grossen Zorrow” demeanour. So instead of going to Vegas, that wasn’t more than a wooden fort at the time, he went to the French Riviera; namely Nice.
There he went from Casinos to whorehouses to Casinos, a fully fledged binge to say the least. One evening, he’s actually walking on the seafront, the glorified curb that’s the Promenade and, on that Godforsaken stretch of land, found himself hearing Nature scream like a banshee on PMS, felt the burden of life crushing upon him and tearing at his soul: “I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of Nature”. From this staggering experience he ended up painting something in a strange curvy way and titled it « the scream ».
And yes, I just made you read a page and a half of artsy bullshit just to point you to the curvy thingies. But, you have to admit it, just saying “there is expressionist treatment” doesn’t bring as much.
Fever Night incidentally is a direct offspring of this pictorial movement. The whole background, the forest, Nature itself, is screaming, yelling at us, and twisting its forms in agony from what our protagonists have done. The moving trees are the illustration of Nature’s despair towards the iniquity of Man, the last way it can express the suffering of having such lice crawling upon it, destroying it and making goat cheese during a “little house on the meadow” re-enactment with Satan as Charles Ingalls’ udder.
Basically, the scenery crawls away out of sheer hate and repulsion towards the characters.
So, now we have form. At least the general overview: Curvy thingies conveying meaning. But what about matter?
I know I’m a sick old sod of a man, but I can’t let you go without talking about matter, it wouldn’t feel right you see, having talked about form already. For yes, far from stopping at accumulating iconographic references and pictorial treatment, the movie actually sustain a deeper semiotic/symbolic analysis.
Matter in Fever Night, is Goat shaped. We are dealing with the beast in all her horned glory. There are many ways to treat the subject of Satanism but, basically, they boil down to two: You can treat it as some offspring of Epicures, defining it as a belief system putting man into the centre of the equation and raising him to a godlike state of being. Or have a go at it Christian style, with torches, pitchforks and the distinctive odour of bad eggs as the embodiment of evil (hello Mr do Caixo, I love your work, really) feeding on the bestial urges of man to turn him into less than a beast, a repulsive husk of semen stinking, spitting , gnarling at life with buckteeth.
Fever Night goes both ways into the Great Horned One, in conjunction, porno-trash style filmed on 8mm with jazzy soundtrack. Build into the character design are the throbbing semantic ploughs digging at the beast.
There is a structured build-up in the semantic field of Evil, starting with primitive animalistic belief and layering to the later monotheisms.
Besides the obvious expressionist forest relating to protohuman gaia cult and tribal animism, there are many strata of intertwined semiotics : mostly emerging from Judeo-Christianity but with a side helping of Vedic tradition.
The first layer of the symbolic onion is basic animal symbolism defining the general archetype of the characters. The Boar / Goat antagonism is exposed in the first seconds of the movie and developed along the everyday stuff. Basically it’s about pigs being lustful creatures and goats tragic animals that can make their own cheese. You can look it up anywhere, or read Orwell’s animal farm, it’s not that different, and basically human animal stereotype of the modern era sprout from it and Disney’s work. (Don’t ask me about the symbolism of talking cutlery, the old D was a lunatic).
Unnamed but being the obvious complement to the boar/goat couple, is the lamb. When it comes to religion, it’s always a trinity. It’s cleverly used, 3 is the perfect number, so there are never more than 3 people on screen. So the Lamb is as always Innocence, caught in the surrounding perversions and turmoil.
The thing is, beyond the evident symbolic of the Agnus Dei lies a world of meaning. The Sacrifice opening the doors to Armageddon is nothing but a mere trifle compared to the broader vision of this woolly fellow. You see, symbolism, semantics, the sum of human knowledge through written or oral transmission often boils down to misheard lyrics.
Why is the lamb such a symbol of divine purity and so on and so forth?
Why Michelangelo’s Moses does adorn horns?
Same answer to both questions: misinterpretation. Typos. Human error.
The semiotics of the lamb derives from the introduction of Vedic tradition in the Latin speaking world. The Sanskrit word “Agni” meaning, among other things, vital force has been transposed into the closest sounding word known by the first writer: Agnus – lamb. Therefore transferring tons of meaning into some poor creature that did not ask for it
Many consequences arise from that, cinematographically speaking, when Warren gets turned into something looking straight out of Bruce LaBruce cult gay zombie film OTTO. Incidentally, our Warren, the Lamb, the life force is turned into an undead. The echoing confrontation of the Lamb of God and the undead makes a clever addition to the setting.
Subtly more esoteric is the persistence of the vedic tradition in the semantic fields. “Agni” is more than just life force, it is creative fire (and thre goes substantial justification for the flaming effects littered here and there) and, in the end, Agni is the link, the conduit, the messenger between Gods and Man. Exactly what is Warren at the beginning of the film, reuniting Terry and Elliot.
Taken as a whole all those bits of symbols, knowledge and lore make a funky and uniform creation, all adding up in the end, giving us the most complex and thought provoking representation of Lucifer ever depicted. The sum of all human turpitudes hasn’t been described so accurately since the Goat of Mendes.
And it’s wonderful to see how Jordan Harris and Andrew Schrader assemble all that cryptic mumbo jumbo into entertainment.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to scatter Alka-Seltzer on my driveway to see if the birds really do explode.
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