Dec 13, 2017

This World, Then the Fireworks

As far as neo-noir is considered, you probably cannot get more gorgeously grotesque and, in turn, debasingly aesthetically indelible than Michael Oblowitz’s fairly unknown Jim Thompson adaptation This World, Then the Fireworks (1997) starring virtual walking-and-talking-human-genitals Billy Zane, Gina Gershon, and Sheryl Lee. In fact, I have no qualms about confessing that I believe that it is easily the greatest Thompson adaptation ever made and I say that as someone that is a fan of both Bertrand Tavernier’s Coup de Torchon (1981) and James Foley’s After Dark, My Sweet (1990). Both a hyper histrionic homage and misanthropically deconstructive mutation of classic film noir, the film takes a surprisingly refreshingly heavy-handed approach to depicting fraternal twin incest, la mort d'amour and accidental necrophilia, matricide, Mexican back-alley abortions, opium addiction, prostitution, posttraumatic stress, and a variety of other mostly salacious subjects that auteur Oblowitz—a South African Jew that was once loosely associated with the largely artistically bankrupt No Wave Cinema scene—clearly loves wallowing in. In short, the film is an innately immoral cinematic work directed by an innately immoral filmmaker who, not surprisingly, worked as a cinematographer on a number of Rosa von Praunheim films, including aberrosexual agitprop like Army of Lovers or Revolt of the Perverts (1979) and fiercely retarded feminist drivel like Rote Liebe (1982) aka Red Love. While I can only assume Oblowitz is heterosexual, he must have learned a thing or two from the corrosive kraut queen as his Thompson adaption features more than one fat naked dude and a preteen boy getting the shit beat out of him while wearing nothing but tighty whities.

While depriving the viewer of full bush, the film does thankfully features some nicely styled nudes of Gershon and Lee, though one gets the sense that the auteur sees sex as being about as special as a bonafide bowel movement. Indeed, instead of presenting coitus as something intimate or possibly even spiritual, Oblowitz depicts it as a sort of base demonic energy that can be used as either a weapon or form of currency, though it has very little true intrinsic value otherwise. In fact, in the film—a dark noir romance featuring an incest-fueled bizarre love triangle—sex is depicted as the true root of all evil, especially as far as the forsaken male protagonist and his similarly vulgarly tragic twin sister are concerned. Undoubtedly, if there is anything else that rivals carnality in terms of sheer weaponized nefariousness in the film, it is family, as familial matters are the direct source of the main characters’ untamable malevolence and crippling metaphysical and psycho-emotional maladies. As the son of a purported holocaust survivor, Oblowitz—an auteur that is obsessed with style and form but seems a little handicapped as far as deep human emotions are concerned—indubitably takes a curious approach to interfamilial trauma, but I digress. 

 Apparently, the genesis for the film dates all the way back to 1982 after Oblowitz first read a bootlegged Xeroxed copy of Jim Thompson’s pulp classic The Killer Inside Me (1952) and became completely obsessed with directing a cinematic adaptation of the novel. After failing to acquire the rights to the novel and a couple failed attempts at adapting other Thompson novels, Oblowitz thankfully finally settled on the author's posthumously released short story This World, Then the Fireworks, though he would get fellow Judaic Larry Gross—a fairly unknown writer that is probably best remembered in the Hollywood realm for doing last minute (and oftentimes uncredited) polishes and rewrites of high-profile scripts, most notably Walter Hill’s fairly successful buddy cop flick 48 Hrs. (1982)—to pen the project. Not surprisingly, both Oblowitz and Gross reveal in featurettes on the 2017 Kino Lorber blu-ray release of the film that they regard it as among their greatest artistic accomplishments. While Oblowitz originally gained notoriety for his gritty No Wave flicks Minus Zero (1979) and King Blank (1983)—the latter of which had the honor of playing on a double bill as a midnight movie with David Lynch’s masterful debut feature Eraserhead—he subsequently artistically degenerated into a for-hire music video hack and is probably best known nowadays for directing such rather unrefined direct-to-video Steven Seagal action-schlock as Out for a Kill (2003) and The Foreigner (2003), among other similarly embarrassing efforts. In short, there is no question that This World, Then the Fireworks is Oblowitz’s crowning achievement as a filmmaker, though only a malevolently morally bankrupt man could sire such a gleefully unhinged, intoxicatingly nihilistic, and lunatically libertine magnum opus.  Of course, it goes without saying that the film has one of the coolest and misleadingly poetic titles in cinema history, hence my initial (admittedly largely superficial) interest in seeing it.  Luckily, the film lives up to its preternaturally poesy title.

 While Oblowitz shares next to nil similarities with Robert Bresson, I think he would appreciate the French master auteur's cinematic aphorism, “Master precision. Be a precision instrument myself.” Indeed, This World, Then the Fireworks is by no means an immaculate film yet nearly every single scene feels perfectly constructed with the fanatical meticulousness of an OCD-addled locksmith, thus underscoring the director’s obsession with extensive storyboarding and longtime experience as a music video director that was obligated to construct very precise and calculated tableaux. For better or worse, many of the scenes manage to leave an indelible mark on the viewer; whether it be a cockeyed low-angle shot of a bloody yet beauteous post-abortion corpse lying on a dirty metal slab in some Mexican hellhole or a big gob of blood splattering across the smiling face of a seemingly innocent 4-year-old child. In fact, the lack of empathy or any other emotion in these scenes leads me to conclude that Oblowitz is either an unabashed sociopath or at a Tarantino-esque level of emotional retardation, but luckily the film somehow manages to be both darkly humorous and even somewhat romantic.  In short, it is anything but banal. If I didn’t know better, I would assume that the film was a romantic-comedy for killer couples like Bonnie and Clyde and Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco, but of course that is one of the things that makes it so strangely intriguing, if not largely psychologically and emotionally deleterious. Personally, as a somewhat antisocial individual that has always been in relationships with relatively asocial chicks, I am always a sucker for a certain sort of mad love and This World, Then the Fireworks certainly delivers in that regard, even though I am not into incest or brutal coldblooded murder, among other things. To put it simply, Oblowitz’s flick is the sort of cinematic work Georges Bataille might have directed had he been a psychotic redblooded stud instead of a wimpy degenerate intellectual. On the other hand, I would not exactly call the murderous male antihero featured in the film an alpha-male, as he is a mentally cracked chap that is practically led around by the scent of the cunt of the twin sister that he loves, at least until he falls under the spell of another scenty snatch, albeit of the non-sibling sort. 

 Notably, in his classic philosophical novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, Teutonic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche—a fellow that was not exactly that successful when it came to the so-called fairer sex—wrote, “Man is for woman a means; the purpose is always the child, But what is woman for man? The true man wants two different things: danger and diversion. He therefore wants woman, as the most dangerous plaything. Man must be trained for war, and woman for the relaxation of the warrior; all else is folly. Two sweet fruits – these the warrior does not like. He therefore likes women – even the sweetest woman is bitter.” While woman is indubitably “the most dangerous plaything” in This World, Then the Fireworks, the male antihero is certainly no warrior, at least not in any conventional sense.  Additionally, the two main female characters, who are beyond bitter, are only interested in the monetary and material and hardly the maternal, as they unequivocally embody the ‘prostitute archetype,’ at least in the Weiningerian sense. In fact, the male antihero played by Billy Zane is too much of an emotionally erratic pretty boy ponce to even compare to the lean and mean hardboiled stoicism of a great film noir star like Humphrey Bogart. Additionally, the film features two very different femme fatales, including a fiery Mediterranean-like literal whore of the sensually unhinged sort and a cryptically killer lady-cop of the naggy Nordic ice queen variety.  In fact, it could be argued that these lethal ladies are symbolic dichotomous reflections of the quasi-schizophrenic antihero's considerably conflicted personality.  Undoubtedly, Oblowitz’s loves these fatally frisky femme fatales as much as he loathes the white picket fence morals and wholesome WASP cultural supremacy that defined the 1950s, but one should not expect anything less from a man that directs holocaust-themed vampire flicks like The Breed (2001) that feature the nasty (and uniquely improbable) novelty of a negro-chink miscegenation (if that wasn't distasteful enough, the film also features a literal Judaic vampire that accuses the same negro of being a ‘racist’ because he is immune to his Hebraic bloodsucking charms).

Indeed, This World, Then the Fireworks is not so much a ‘neo-noir’ as a sociopathically sardonic tribute to the fact that film noir did the most, at least cinematically speaking, to demystify the American dream and piss on the white Christian majority population that greatly valued said dream. Undoubtedly, Oblowitz’s film is as nostalgically American as anthrax-laced (kosher) apple pie. In short, Oblowitz’s film does for 1950s America what Harmony Korine’s directorial debut Gummo (1997) did for poor contemporary crackers in terms of its aesthetically Talmudic approach to tearing at the moral fabric of the white American goyim until there is nothing but a single weak thread. 

 As shamelessly incestuous siblings that have practically been attached at the genitals since birth and seem to sometimes share the same mind in terms of their particularly perverse thoughts and carnal (and killer) desires, Marty Lakewood (Billy Zane) and his sister Carol (Gina Gershon) are virtual ‘psychosexual Siamese twins.’ Aside from sharing the same rotten white trash womb, the fraternal twins were also victims of the same traumatic childhood event that occurred on their fourth birthday in July 4th 1926, which involved their mindless mother abruptly aborting their b-day party to drag them over to a house across the street just in time to witness their completely naked fat fuck father, who was rudely interrupted while fucking his mistress, blowing out the brains of the angry armed fellow that he had just so brazenly cuckolded, or as Marty nostalgically narrates in regard to the impact of the event on his life, “It was funny. It was funnier than Charlie Chaplin or Krazy Kat. The man on the floor didn’t have hardly any head at all. And dad and the women – they were naked. Dad went to the electric chair and the women committed suicide. Mom was scarred for life but . . . they were naked and it was funny. It was so funny, I remember. I remember that night well.”

 A sort of bargain bin nihilist philosopher that might have read Mencken but never Nietzsche and who absolutely loves living dangerously as a perversely invasive yellow journalist, Marty lives by the personal Weltanschauung, “Nothing really happens for a reason, it just happens,” as if it was the only logical conclusion that he could come to after witnessing his papa commit coldblooded post-coital murder when he was just a wee lad. While it is now 1956 and three decades have passed since his deadly daddy destroyed the psychological and emotional integrity of his entire family, Marty, his sister Carol, and mother Mrs. Lakewood (Rue McClanahan of The Golden Girls fame) have clearly never recovered and have instead degenerated into psychological grotesque human monsters with great sex appeal. Needless to say, when Marty moves back in with his beloved sis and mental mommy after being forced to flee Chicago, old wounds are opened up and old incestuous desires are acted upon, though a bizarre love triangle eventually threatens the sanctity of the extra special brother-sister relationship. 

 Despite always loving one another, the twins made a rather revealing childhood pact to both marry unlovable losers, or as Marty narrates, “Carol and I did what we said we were going to do back when we were kids. We chose to marry someone that no one else wanted. Someone scorned and shamed and cast aside.” Indeed, while Carol married some rich abusive loser that later dropped dead and resulted in her less than prestigious career as a lowly street hooker, Marty married and even sired a son with a big bloated 400-pound beastess that, in terms of sheer physically attractiveness, is not even worthy of lapping up his rancid excrement. Not surprisingly, when Marty is forced to flee Chicago after his junky pal ‘Joe’ (Richard Edson)—a doped up ex-journalist that provides the dirt on dirty cops in exchange for morphine—is killed by a group of corrupt cops and he becomes the next target due to the incriminating info he has on local law enforcement, he does not think twice about completely abandoning his wife and similarly obscenely overweight son. Of course, considering his rather ambivalent attitude cops and undying love his twin sister, Marty probably never suspected that moving to California to be with his family would eventually lead to himself falling in love with a cop, albeit one with a rather wicked blonde cunt. As Marty proudly narrates in regard to his homecoming, “It did not matter being broke. Carol and I were together again. After three long years—the longest we had been separated. Nothing else seemed to matter.” Rather unfortunately, Carol—a beauteous yet irreparably broken babe that makes her living as a pussy-peddler that seems to specialize in using her womb to suck up the semen of violent rape-obsessed sailors—is somewhat of an emotional wreck. Of course, the same can be certainly said of fairly deranged Marty’s drug-addled mother, who cannot live with the fact that her darling children are lifelong lovers. Rather unfortunately but not surprisingly, Marty will be the only one that is still alive at the end of the film, as Carol and their mother seem to be too ill-equipped to confront past traumas and move on with their lives. As for Marty, he gets involved with some somewhat sinister stuff, but he also discovers a true love—or something resembling it—that does not share the same tainted blood. 

 Not long after moving back home with his sister and mother, Marty manages to snag a position at the biggest newspaper in town and becomes such a good journalist that he compels his co-employees to live in constant fear and even succumb to alcoholism due to not being able to compete with his inordinate diligence and singular workaholic ethos. Although devilishly clever and a rather ruthless employee, Marty is also plagued with a certain vehement irrationalism that inspires him to quit his job after he has virtually risen to the top of the ladder of the local daily rag. Indeed, Marty might be a virtual moron when it comes to morals, but he lacks the sort of sociopathic careerism that defined the reporter played by Kirk Douglas in Billy Wilder’s desert noir Ace in the Hole (1951) aka The Big Carnival. Indeed, when his prick boss—a cynical scumbag that seems to be able to develop a hard-on at the mere thought of debasing his employees—dares to offer him a nice new position after firing a co-worker, Marty becomes completely deranged and both physically and verbally assaults his considerably shocked employer because he is paranoid that the man has figured out his wants and motivations, which makes perfect sense when one considers that he is a mensch that carries around the deep dark secret that he is in love with his own twin sister and has dedicated virtually his entire life to serving and protecting her. In fact, the film features a childhood flashback scene where a preteen Marty brutally beats a couple young boys with a large stick that dare to attempt to gang-rape his sister in a bittersweet scenario that concludes with an inordinately tender shot of the incestuous twins holding one another during the twilight of the blue hour. As Marty candidly states in regard to his relationship with Carol, “We felt each other’s feelings. We thought each other’s thoughts. We didn’t care what anyone thought of us and that was unforgivable. For that, we had to be punished.”  Somewhat ironically, it is only when Marty begins to love someone else just as much as his sister that he is truly punished for his carnal crimes.

 In what ultimately proves to be almost too conveniently auspicious of circumstances, Marty almost immediately spots the wanton woman that, for better or worse, will completely change his life shortly after quitting his job. Indeed, upon first seeing delectable dame Lois Archer (Sheryl Lee)—a busty blonde bombshell of the law that is as socially awkward as she is sexy—Marty gets a little bit too excited and quite literally manhandles her in broad daylight right outside of a semi-busy public courthouse. While initially awkwardly defensive to the point where she acts like she is going to arrest him, it soon becomes rather apparent that lusty Lois is desperate to jump Marty’s bones and that she is quite smitten with the proudly aberrant antihero's Lothario-like brand of lunacy. While Marty asks her rather sleazy personal questions like, “Are you blonde all over or just where it shows?,” Lois soon comes to the conclusion that she wants to engage in a little bip-bam-thank-you-ma’am with him and rather firmly demands, “I want you to come home with me right now.” Notably, not only does Marty go to Lois’ house and engage in heated carnal session with her, but he also soon becomes obsessed with her and her humble abode, which is a scenic beachfront property. While Marty seems to genuinely like Lois, he also immediately begins plotting to swindle her out of her beach house, which is worth a whopping $30,000 (keep in mind, this is the 1950s) and is unfortunately co-owned by her estranged soldier brother. Indeed, as he soon tells his sister, Marty hopes to kill Lois’ brother and own the house within a mere month. Rather unfortunately, Marty might be a sick sociopath of sorts, but he also soon finds himself falling in love with luscious Lois, who seems to almost immediately dominate him in the bedroom as demonstrated by the fact that she is almost always laying on top of him during their intimate post-coital discussions in a manner that makes it seem like she just finished ravishing his rectum him with a sizable strap-on dildo. Undoubtedly, Lois’ sexual dominance is ultimately a form of fetishistic foreshadowing. 

 As demonstrated by the fact that he gleefully murders a grotesquely morbidly obese ‘private dick’ named Jake Krutz (William Hootkins) that dares to keep tabs on his sister, Marty can certainly be described as a sadistic sociopath yet he, like so many of his psychologically defective kind, is so damn undeniably likeable. Of course, Marty wears a rather handsome mask of sanity that hides a scared little boy that more or less regresses to an infantile state anytime his hyper hysterical mommy says mean things to him. In fact, he does not even try to deny it when his sister says to him, “I know you like to play the big old rough, tough guy, but deep down you’re just a sentimental slob.” When Marty suffers a mental meltdown after his mother accuses him and his sister of engaging in incest and then states hateful things to them like, “You both should have been strangled at birth,” Carol opts to kill her by personally feeding her an intentional overdose of her favorite bedtime drug in a twisted scene of morbidly ironic matricide where a grown daughter feeds her borderline elderly mother in a mock maternal fashion.

While Marty is an unrepentant murderer and debauched degenerate of the quite consciously remorseless sort, his sister Carol, who seems to be largely driven by a certain fierce feral-like instinct, is even more ruthless as a decidedly deranged dame that nonchalantly brags about fatally poisoning men, though her cuntlet seems to be her most killer weapon as demonstrated by the fact that manages to unwittingly fuck a man to death. Indeed, when Carol becomes so electrically aroused upon remembering the tragic event from her 4th birthday, she causes an insurance salesman named Barnett Gibons (Larry Clarks) to become a victim of ‘dying in the saddle’ as she violently rides his cock whilst in a seemingly demonic state. Somewhat surprisingly, Carol, who is not one to cry about dead johns, acts as if she is completely traumatized as a result of committing unintentional necrophilia, but that does not stop her bro from crudely quipping, “I’ve got to hand it to you, dear. You’re probably the first hooker in recorded history to induce seizures and cerebral hemorrhage.” Clearly emotionally troubled, Carol acts as if she is on the path of orgasmic self-obliteration. Luckily, Marty now has Lois to take Carol’s place. 

 While Marty still intends to rob Lois and her brother of their cute little beach house, he cannot seem to stop himself from falling hopelessly in love with his self-described “copulating cop.”  Needless to say, sister-fucker Marty also expresses guilt and confusion at his love for Lois, as if he cannot even bear the thought of emotionally devote himself to any other woman aside from his twin.  Aside from incessantly fucking her, Marty also enjoys engaging in non-sexual recreational activities with Lois like shooting framed family photos on the beach.  In fact, the rather senseless shooting of the photos foreshadows the end of both Marty and Lois' little families.  Eventually, Marty even finds himself unable to confront Lois about selling the house because he is “afraid of spoiling that sweet wildness” of their hot and heavy romance, thus hinting that the antihero might not have the spirit of a psychotic gigolo after all. Of course, like every single woman that seems to be too good to be true, Lois eventually becomes rather bitchy and attempts to emotionally manipulate Marty by strategically stating to him, “I only love you. I love you more than anyone else in the whole world and I want to hear the exact same thing back from you.” Not surprisingly, when Marty fails to give Lois her desired response, she becomes exceedingly enraged and accuses him of engaging in incest, screaming at him in regard to Carol, “I think you’re fucking her! I think you’re fucking that little tramp!” Naturally, Marty finds the seemingly phony drama queen to be fairly insufferable and he soon finds himself emotionally and physically abusing Lois, though she seems to enjoy it.  Although clearly somewhat masochistic, Lois, like most masochists, is clearly the one that is in control of the relationship. Of course, as an ice cold femme fatale with a nice warm pussy, Lois has ulterior motives and is ultimately playing Marty like a pawn. Indeed, unbeknownst to Marty, Lois’ so-called brother is really her estranged husband and she actually wants the antihero to murder him. Meanwhile, a local cop named Detective Harris (Seymour Cassel)—a rather ruthless asshole that knows a scumbag when he sees one—brings Marty to the local police station for questioning and informs him that he is looking for Carol as he believes that she is responsible for the death of both the private detective Jake Krutz and insurance salesman Barnett Gibons.

Somewhat ironically, most of Marty’s problems are solved after Carol dies under grisly circumstances as a result of a botched morphine-fueled back-alley abortion in Mexico. Not surprisingly, Marty, who seems to be still slightly grieving over the death of his mother, does not take the quite unexpected news of Carol's death too well. Indeed, when the Mexican abortionist, who acts rather remorseful, calls him on the phone to inform him of his sister's death, Marty is initially in denial and proceeds to scream in regard to Carol's corpse, “Throw it in the ocean. Throw in a garbage dump. Throw it in an alley so the little dogs can piss on it.” When Lois tries to comfort him about his sister's death, mad Marty gives her a swift punch to her pretty little face and then screams with the visceral rage of a dozen AIDS-ridden queens, “Don’t EVER feel sorry for me. Ever! Ever!” In the end, Marty’s seems to soon get over Carol's death and his big criminal plans also workout, as he kills Lois’ ‘brother’ and gets her to sell the beach house.  As it turns out, Lois more or less had the same exact plan as Marty in regard to cashing in on the beach house and the two ultimately revealed to have used each other.  Of course, the great irony is that Marty was an unwitting pawn and that Lois used him to execute the murder so that she could liquidate her unwanted husband and sell the house. Now a completely emasculated ‘kept man,’ Marty is symbolically told to “move over” in a rather bitchy fashion at the very end of the film as the two get in a car and leave town for good to start a new life together. Indeed, now relegated to the passenger seat, Marty is no longer in control of his entire life. On top of everything else, Marty is met with disdain when he warmly tells Lois “I love you,” but at least he no longer seems perennially trapped in the same grotesque figurative womb as his belated twin sister and thus can quite worrying about the possibility of siring an inbred demon seed.  In that sense, it is only fitting that sister Carol dropped dead while in the middle of receiving a third world grade abortion.

 While This World, Then the Fireworks—a cinematic where, at least thematically speaking, madness is the method—is not exactly a ‘message movie’ and it has very little to offer in regard to the stereotypical Hollywood-esque realm of the ostensibly morally redeeming, it does provide male viewers with an insight or two in regard to the mystique of the so-called fairer sex. Indeed, the film’s antihero Marty learns the hard way that, no matter how angelically beauteous and seemingly passive and faithful a woman may seem, women are innately manipulative subspecies and a woman will always reveal her true ugly self and ulterior motive(s) over time when she finally achieves what she secretly wants. As innately fucked up as it is, antihero Marty’s twin sister Carol was the only person that selflessly and organically loved him for who he actually was while his platinum blonde cop girlfriend Lois—a vamp tramp with a venomous vag and crooked badge that makes Rita Hayworth’s character in Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai (1947) seem rather sweet and sensitive by comparison—is a chillingly cold cunt that will probably have him killed one day under dubious circumstances. In fact, despite spending a good portion of the film sweaty and unclad, actress Sheryl Lee does such an excellent job portraying a cunning cunt and all around loathsomely insufferable bitch that even the most die hard of Twin Peaks fans might find themselves losing empathy for her famous TV character Laura Palmer after watching Oblowitz’s film (on the other hand, no heterosexual men wouldn’t want to sexually ravage this busty blonde bitch).

Of course, despite being a violent killer with a propensity for completely pointless gleeful sadism, Marty—an oftentimes hysterical and irrational pen-pusher that is prettier than most women—does not exactly embody any sort of great masculine ideal. Undoubtedly, when I think of mad mensch Marty and his covertly feminine attributes, I cannot help but be reminded of the great self-loathing Viennese Hebrew Otto Weininger’s wise words, “The meaning of women is to be meaningless. She represents negation, the opposite pole from the Godhead, the other possibility of humanity. And so nothing is so despicable as a man become female, and such a person will be regarded as the supreme criminal even by himself. And so also is to be explained the deepest fear of man; the fear of the woman, which is the fear of unconsciousness, the alluring abyss of annihilation.” Indeed, Marty is hardly your typical film noir (anti)hero, but instead the sort of violently emotionally erratic and wickedly narcissistic virtual male gigolo that could easily be the son of some sociopathic femme fatale that waited too long to get an abortion. Despite his fiercely fatal flaws, Marty is certainly portrayed in a more positive light than the film’s authority figures, thus underscoring semitic auteur Oblowitz and fellow chosenite Gross’ deep-seated hatred for authority, or, more specifically and importantly, WASP American pie authority.  Needless to say, I do not think it is a stretch to assume that Oblowitz sees swarthy Marty as a sort of crypto-Jew (of course, one also cannot forget that the character's sister Carol is played by seductive Jewess Gina Gershon).

 As the uniquely uneven oeuvre of suicidal (anti)auteur Tony Scott (and, to a lesser extent, his brother Ridley) demonstrates, starting a filmmaking career as a music video director can be an aesthetically deleterious thing as it can cause a filmmaker to become more obsessed with style, form, and especially editing than narrative constructive, among other things, yet Oblowitz’s pre-Hollywood background certainly seems to have been to his benefit for at least his magnum opus. Indeed, This World, Then the Fireworks certainly echoes the dark fragmented mind of its demented dipsomaniac source writer Jim Thompson, as it is a gleefully nihilistic film that could have only been spawned from the mind of an individual (or individuals) that has surrendered their morality and self-esteem to the figurative hell of addiction. Notably, in the featurette The Straight Dope (2017), Oblowitz happily describes previous affinity for cocaine and how it fueled his filmmaking.  In the same short doc, Oblowitz also makes the somewhat lofty claim that pulp auteur Samuel Fuller’s widow Christa Lang, who was personal friends with the The Killer Inside Me writer, once confided to him that Thompson regarded his film as the best of the cinematic adaptations of his stories (notably, Oblowitz is not the first chosenite to adapt the pulp writer's work, as Kubrick's The Killing (1956), which Thompson co-penned, and Jewess Maggie Greenwald's The Kill-Off (1990) both predate Oblowitz's film). According to Robert Polito in his biography Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson (1995), Mr. Fuller was so obsessed with adapting Thompson’s novel The Getaway that he once half-jokingly stated that he would be fully willing to use the novel as the shooting script (unfortunately for Fuller, it was Sam Peckinpah that ultimately adapted the novel, though it is, rather unfortunately, much tamer than its source material). Speaking of Fuller, even his darkest and grittiest films seem like works of cerebral optimism compared to Oblowitz’s semi-oneiric odyssey in white picket fence obscenity. Indeed, while Fuller was obsessed with crime and criminals, Oblowitz’s film is virtual criminality in cinematic form as a feverishly fucked flick that demonstrates a certain innate and strangely organic lawless spirit as if it was directed by a serial killer that wanted to boast about all the crimes he committed but was too morally bankrupt and narcissistically unaware to see how unflattering of a portrait that he painted of himself. In short, it is no surprise that This World, Then the Fireworks was directed by a man that was so obsessed with intimate ‘first-person serial killer narrative’ structure of The Killer Inside Me that he waited about 15 years just to have the opportunity to adapt one of Thompson’s novels. 

 As a thematically dark and grim film that has about as much organic pathos and pangs as an erratically shot homemovie of a pink poodle vomiting, This World, Then the Fireworks is certainly from the Norman Mailer School of aesthetically autistic neo-noir filmmaking. Indeed, aside from Mailer’s swansong Tough Guys Don't Dance (1987), the only other ‘neo-noir’ film that I can really compare it to in terms of sheer moral bankruptcy, vulgar dark humor, counterfeit pseudo-Lynchian posturing, spasmodic storytelling, and Southern Gothic influence (although set in California, Oblowitz’s film was actually shot in North Carolina) is Dennis Hopper’s clearly flawed but somewhat underrated Don Johnson vehicle The Hot Spot (1990). Surely, what all of these films have in common aside from being deeply flawed yet equally enthralling is that they seem to have all been helmed by genuine sickos and sociopaths, though one can certainly argue that Hopper’s moral retardation and offbeat megalomania was the natural result of decades of alcohol and drug consumption and wild orgies (notably, The Hot Spot features a surprisingly tasteful rear-view pussyshot of a very young and nubile Jennifer Connelly in a sensitive Sapphic flashback scene). As for Oblowitz and Mailer (the latter of whom once made a rather violent attempt at murdering his second wife, Hispanic painter Adele Morales, by stabbing her with a pen-knife and was subsequently deemed “both homicidal and suicidal” by a judge after an involuntary stay in a mental institution), I think it is safe to say that their films are the product of unfiltered narcissistic pathology in sexually steamy yet sardonic anti-shiksa cinematic form.

Despite all the endless Hebraic Hollywood films that attempt to portray whites, especially poor white lumpenproles, as being inbred hicks, incest is indubitably a perennial Judaic obsession.  Indeed, from Freud (who popularized pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo about Oedipal mommy-fucking) to Einstein (who married his maternal first cousin/paternal second cousin Elsa Löwenthal) to the eponymous family of Andrew Jarecki's dubiously sympathetic Capturing the Friedmans (2003) to Oblowitz, incest is undoubtedly an obsession, if not practiced behavior, among many prominent Jews throughout history. Collectively speaking, Ashkenazim are among the most inbred people in the entire world and carry a number of distinct genetic and mental disorders, but I think that Oblowitz's obsession with incest probably has more to do with the (meta)political than the sexual. As Georges Bataille noted in his work Erotism: Death and Sensuality, Hebraic frog anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss argued that the banning of incest by society is, “ . . . the primary step thanks to which, through which, and especially in which, the transition from Nature to Culture is made.”  Needless to say, This World, Then the Fireworks is an assault against culture, namely white America culture, hence the importance of hot and steamy incest.  Notably, Olbowitz's Judaic ethnocentricism becomes rather obvious in interviews, including one where he remarked that when comparing working with goyish South African novelist J.M. Coetzee and Hebraic laywer turned novelist Thane Rosenbaum, “It was the difference between dealing with an Afrikaner and a New York Jew." It is also somewhat curious that a man that would take a rather a gleeful approach to cinematically depicting the horrific childhood trauma of 4-year-old twins witnessing their naked father blowing out another man's brains with a shotgun in This World, Then the Fireworks to state that his own father's personal shoah stories were responsible for leaving, “a tattoo from the Holocaust engraved on my heart.”  To Oblowitz's credit, his vampire flick The Breed, which was actually shot in real WWII era Jewish ghettos, does not exactly take a respectful approach to paying tribute to the holocaust. In a sense, Oblowitz's film is a sort of anti-Blue Velvet as antihero Marty Lakewood is like a younger version of archetypal Lynchian villain Frank Booth.  Of course, whereas Booth epitomizes pure and innate evil, Marty is depicted by Oblowitz—a kosher culture-distorter with a clear hatred for the small suburbans town of Lynch's youth—as an audacious antidote to the cultural sterility and sexual repression of 1950s American suburbia.  Judging simply by his unequivocal magnum opus, I can only come to the conclusion that Oblowitz sees fraternal twin incest as being highly preferable to the typical WASP nuclear family, but I digress.

For all its decided degeneracy and seemingly anti-Europid meanderings, I think I could accept the prospect of endearing This World, Then the Fireworks for eternity were I to be so irrevocably forsaken as to fall out of favor with god and his Jewish bastard son and be cast into hell.  While I am not a merry murder of the incestuous sort that delights in giving my twin sister bubble bathes like antihero Marty, I can certainly relate to the antihero's grotesque outlaw romanticism and lack of empathy for the greater part of humanity, not to mention his self-destructive affinity for bat-shit-crazy (and beach-friendly) blondes and fiercely frisky Mediterranean bitches.  As a sort of unconventional aesthete that prefers my pulchritude to have a sort of dark yet passionate perversity, I also appreciate the film for being the virtual cinematic equivalent to a debauched dream prom date with Karla Homolka that concludes with an orgy with the more attractive of the Manson Family sluts.  In that sense, This World, Then the Fireworks—a film that basks in the recklessly hedonistic—is an evil erotic fantasy set somewhere between heaven and hell.  Undoubtedly, the spirit of the film can probably be summed up by Judaic Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey's somewhat reasonable words, “There is a beast in man that should be exercised, not exorcised."

-Ty E

Nov 25, 2017

Witchfinder General

If the premature death of Teutonic auteur F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans) was the greatest tragedy of the late-silent/early-sound era, the greatest tragedy of post-WWII British horror cinema was certainly the patently pointless death of young English auteur Michael Reeves at the age of 25 from an accidental alcohol and barbiturate overdose in early 1969. Indeed, before dying in a less the glamorous but somewhat strangely fitting fashion, Reeves changed the face of British and, in turn, European horror cinema with his third feature and sole masterpiece Witchfinder General (1968) aka The Conqueror Worm, which I recently had the beauteously bittersweet pleasure of re-watching. While Reeves pretty much exclusively worked in the horror genre (though he did work as an assistant director on the Anglo-Yugoslav adventure film The Long Ships (1964) directed by master cinematographer turned hack filmmaker Jack Cardiff), all of his three features, which also include the goofily sardonic vampire flick The She-Beast (1966) aka La Sorella di Satana aka Revenge of the Blood Beast and psychedelic (anti)youth flick The Sorcerers (1967), manage to transcend the genre and feature rather intricate themes of the rather cynical and oftentimes even misanthropic sort. In short, it is no surprise that these films were directed by a self-destructive nihilist of sorts that dropped dead for rather stupid reasons before he could evolve into a world-class cinematic artiste. After all, there are not many films like The Sorcerers where an elderly hag lives quite literally vicariously through a young man and uses his handsome body as a means to lure in and kill beauteous debutantes that she clearly has much resentment towards due to her rather withered appearance. Additionally, in a Reeves film, even minor characters stick out in terms of their unintentionally humorous repulsiveness as demonstrated by a character that is simply credited as “The Jewish Baker” in The Sorcerers who is rather aggressive when it comes to peddling pickles and lox and who has no qualms about throwing out any customer that dares not to buy something from his rather quaint kosher establishment.  Like any great auteur (and quite unlike many horror filmmakers), Reeves clearly abhorred filler and had an obsessive eye when it came to even the most seemingly mundane of details.

Undoubtedly, what makes Witchfinder General superior to Reeves’ previous feature is its sheer pastoral pulchritude and idyllic rural rapturous, which is in stark contrast to its savagely brutal S&M-flavored imagery and misanthropic and pessimistic themes. In fact, the film’s cinematography impressed Hollywood maverick Sam Peckinpah so much that he hired its Dutch cinematographer John Coquillon to shoot his UK feature Straw Dogs (1971) and later Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), Cross of Iron (1977), and The Osterman Weekend (1983). Speaking of Peckinpah, Reeves’ film has much in common with the western genre in terms of plot and imagery, albeit it is set in 17th-century East Anglia, England instead of the American frontier.  Additionally, not unlike Peckinpah, Reeves clearly had a low opinion of humanity as demonstrated by his cinematic magnum opus, which depicts the sheer and utter (in)human depravity that ensues when a good young man acquires a pathological thirst for revenge and more or less destroys his enemies and himself in the process.

 Starring Vincent Price as the eponymous villain in a performance that is quite a bit meaner and leaner than his typical eccentrically effete and cultivated camp queen routine, Witchfinder General is indubitably a great example of an auteur abusing his actor(s) to get at perfect performance out of them. Indeed, in the hope that Price would give a much colder and crueler performance than usual and rather irked that his original choice for the role, Donald Pleasence, was replaced (notably, Reeves and his co-writer Tom Baker specially tailored the screenplay for him), Reeves treated the iconic horror star, who was old enough to be his grandfather, rather horribly during the production. In fact, when Price was injured as a result of falling off of his horse during the first day of shooting, Reeves refused to even see him because he wanted the actor to despise him, so naturally the two had a somewhat troubled relationship from the very start of the production of the film. Of course, in the end, the film was a great success and Price even later wrote Reeves a kind letter, which the filmmaker apparently proudly kept in his wallet, with the heartwarming words, “I was physically and mentally indisposed at that particular moment in my life (public and private). I do think you have made a very fine picture.”  Notably, Price was later quoted in the June 1992 issue of Classic Images that working with Reeves was, “a very sad experience . . . He was very unstable . . . difficult but brilliant.” By virtually all accounts, Reeves was a troubled young man with a dark mind that also happened to love cinema and all of these qualities are apparent in his handful of films.  Demonstrating a virtual Asperger-like obsession with cinema since he was a young child, wayward wunderkind Reeves ultimately got his first start in filmmaking by randomly showing up on the doorstep of his cinematic hero Don Siegel (Riot in Cell Block 11, The Killers), who generously offered him a job as his assistant and the rest his history.

If someone were to ask me the central theme of Witchfinder General, I would probably refer to the overly quoted aphorism from Friedrich Nietzsche’s classic text Beyond Good and Evil (1886), “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” Indeed, in the film, a seemingly morally pristine, sincerely altruistic, heroic, loving and both internally and externally beautiful mensch degenerates into a bloodthirsty beast that derives great pangs of pleasure in chopping up a bitchy queen with a axe. Likewise, a voluptuous beauty succumbs to total madness, but not before betraying her beloved fiancé by whoring herself out to a dirty old man in the hope that said dirty old man will spare the life of her beloved uncle.  As Reeves once confessed in a Penthouse interview,  “I'm interested in the depths of human degradation.  Just how far you and I can sink.”  In short, in Reeves’s rather ruthless little flick, there is no true happy ending, even though the bad guys technically get their just deserts.

As his second feature The Sorcerers—a film that provides a certain cathartic murderous mayhem to the insipid hedonism of Swinging London—demonstrates in a fashion that almost borders on ‘acid fascism,’ Reeves was no mindless leftist automaton.  Indeed, in its delightfully deranged deconstruction of the degenerate limey hippie scum pseudo-culture, Reeves' film is a sort of horror-sci-fi equivalent to Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966), albeit all the more effortlessly nihilistic.  Undoubtedly, Reeves certainly did not suffer from the same metapolitical affliction as many counterculture cucks of his era as demonstrated by the following remark from Witchfinder General co-writer Tom Baker, “One of the perennial arguments Mike and I had was about altruism vs. selfishness.  Mike said, ‘All human behavior is self-interested.’  And I, as a general sort of liberal student-type, would say, ‘No, no, no, people are more than that, people can do things altruistically.  People can help each other.’  But Mike was insistent—and I think he may be right—that all behavior was initially motivated by self-interest.  If you believe that, perhaps you do get a bit down.” Although just speculation, I suspect that Reeves would argee with American horror maestro H.P. Lovecraft's words, “Democracy is just a false idol — a mere catchword and illusion of inferior classes, visionaries and dying civilizations.” While Witchfinder General is certainly anti-authority to an extent, it feels more like the expression of a misanthropic right-wing iconoclast than some deluded college-lobotomized do-gooder type that believes that communism or anarchism will somehow lead to a magical utopia.  Indeed, the film was certainly not directed by someone that is foolish, politically retarded, or socially naive enough to even dream that humans are capable of any sort of utopia.  In fact, if one learns anything from a surprisingly fresh period piece like Reeves' Vincent Price vehicle, it is that people will always be the same and that certain people in positions of power will always exploit said power to the most underhandedly sinister degree.

 Although highly fictionalized to the point of being almost uncredible as the average Spielberg-helmed historical drama, Witchfinder General—a film that might be best described as an exceedingly English western-cum-folk-horror-cum-romance that would make for a great tourist advert for East Anglia if it did not feature so much human savagery and an overall uniquely unflattering depiction of English history—is actually based on the mass murdering escapades of infamous yet somewhat enigmatic 17th-century English lawyer-cum-witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins (c. 1620 – 12 August 1647) and his ‘witch pricker’ associate John Stearne (c. 1610–1670). Although very little is known about the real Hopkins, the book A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics, & Pagans (1980) Jeffrey Burton Russell notes in regard to the historical record, “The height of the witch-craze in England occurred in the 1640s, when the Civil War produced unusual anxieties and insecurities, and particularly in Essex, a county where war tensions and a strong previous tradition of witchcraft came together. Into this opportune situation stepped an unsuccessful lawyer named Matthew Hopkins, who was to cause more people to be hanged in two years than had been hanged in the previous century. Hopkins, a Puritan, was able to play on the war anxieties of the Puritan population of Essex and convince them that a legion of witches was active among them. At a distance it is difficult to judge Hopkins’ motivation. A man who had failed, he seems to have welcomed a chance for fame and success no matter how achieved; he may have relished the power; and he obtained a good deal of money for his efforts. He may even have believed in what he was doing: he relied heavily throughout his career on King James’ DAEMONOLOGIE. Whatever Hopkins’ own purpose, his ministrations were well received. Making a name for himself first in 1644-5 in Chelmsford, a target for witch accusations since 1566, he then moved throughout southeastern England, appointing searchers to help him in his work. Hopkins’ methods were thorough and merciless. He stripped suspects to search for witches’ marks, and used starvation, sleep deprivation, swimming, and other tests and torments. The confessions he elicited show his acceptance of the continental tradition: the witches were members of a sect of worshiping the Devil; they met at night; held initiations; had sexual relations with the devil; and sacrificed to him. Nor did Hopkins neglect English tradition: his witches kept familiars in the shape of dogs, cats, mice, moles, squirrels, and with names such as Prick-ears, Flo, and Bess. Hopkins and his assistant swore in court that they had seen such imps themselves. The witches allegedly performed a variety of maleficia: an elderly pastor of Brandeston, John Lowes, was condemned for sinking a ship from Ipswich by magic. Rossell Hope Robbins observes that the judges were so credulous under the influence of Hopkins’ persuasion that they made no effort even to ‘check whether any ship had foundered that day.’ But Hopkins had gone too far too fast. By 1646 considerable opposition to him was already surfacing; later that year he was forced to retire, and the following year he died in some disgrace. In the short space of two ears he had earned for himself the informal title of witchfinder-general of England and the contempt of future generations.” While the Hopkins depicted in Reeves’ film is just as absurdly murderous as the real-life one recounted by Russell, there is no doubt that the fictional cinematic version is a dreadfully suave sociopathic opportunistic that, like a Der Stürmer-esque caricature of a money-grubbing Israelite, has an unflinching willingness to commit the most ungodly acts for sheer monetary and carnal gain, though he conveniently gets his insipidly stupid and savagely sadistic underling Stearne, who takes great pleasure out of torturing anything with a heartbeat, to do most of his dirty work.  Indeed, the Hopkins portrayed by Price is certainly no lovable uncle type.

 Considering that the film was a coproduction between Judaic Brit Tony Tenser’s Tigon British Film Productions and fellow schlock-peddling chosenite Samuel Z. Arkoff's American International Pictures (AIP), there is no doubt that Witchfinder General was intended as tasteless exploitation trash that would have the capacity to get a morbid psychopathic bitch like Myra Hindley panty’s wet. Not unlike the 1966 novel of the same name by Ronald Bassett that it is somewhat loosely adapted from, the film also contains a heavily fictionalized depiction of the dastardly deeds of witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins, including a nearly 60-year-old Vincent Price portraying a man that was only about 25-years-old when the real events took place. Still, despite the film’s rather liberal approach to the historical facts and various depictions of relatively graphic sadistic torture and ultra-violence, I would not be so insufferably pretentious or anally retentive as to describe the film as exploitation as it is, in many ways, quite the opposite as a cinematic work that offers the viewer next to nil cheap sensual thrills, let alone any notable degree of cheap popcorn entertainment or philistine-geared catharsis. Indeed, despite featuring brutal torture scenes that might inspire deep thoughts of murderous misanthropy in certain viewers, the greatest and most ravishing scenes pay tribute to the organic splendor of Mother Nature and oftentimes have a Bergman-esque quality about them that really underscore auteur Reeves’ keen cinematic sense and unrivaled talent for meticulously polishing a pseudo-Poe-esque genre turd. Of course, one should not expect anything less from a serious auteur that was not really a fan of horror and instead was motivated to work within the genre simply because he wanted to prove that he could make a great film on a laughable sub-Corman-esque budget. In fact, Reeves funded his first ‘official’ feature The She-Beast with his own money (notably, he was the rebellious fatherless scion of a prestigious paint-manufacturing family), though he also believed that he would be nothing more than a mere dilettante if he were to continue to fund his own films. 

 As far as biopics in a horror genre form are concerned, I can think of few that would be more sickly intriguing than one based off of sadistic pervert and SS-Oberführer Oskar Dirlewanger, who is one of the few Third Reich era German military officers that actually lives up to the exaggerated cartoon evil depicted in a stereotypical Hebraic Hollywood movie. While I sincerely doubt that the world will ever see a Dirlewanger biopic, Vincent Price’s sophisticatedly sadistic and elegantly evil character in Witchfinder General is surely the next best thing. Aside from the superficial physical resemblance, Price’s Matthew Hopkins is, not unlike Dirlewanger, a well-educated dirty old pervert that recklessly employs sadistic killers and exploits his political power and the chaos of war as a means to sexually and materially profit from the suffering of others. In short, Price is not the relatively charismatic and strangely lovable yet unintentionally goofy ghoul that he is best remembered from in classic films like André De Toth's House of Wax (1953) and William Castle's House on Haunted Hill (1959) but instead a mean-spirited misanthrope, obscene opportunist, and cold crypto-miser that cynically uses the anarchy of the English Civil War (1642–1651) as a murderous means to profit from the social and spiritual fears of the poor country peasants that absurdly admire him due to their misguided belief that he will somehow erase all of the evil in the world with his homicidal brand of pseudo-Christian hocus pocus. A coldly calculating yet ultimately quite craven charlatan that is plagued with a pernicious degree of pomposity and arrogance that ultimately leads to his much deserved ultra-violent demise via battle axe, Hopkins is in many ways the ultimate human monster and a fiercely fucked figure that makes slasher icons like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger seem like lovable cartoon characters by comparison. Personally, I see Hopkins as symbolically embodying perennial political evil, as he is merely the Leon Trotsky or George Soros of his age, albeit executing his sinister aims in a more primitive and thus overtly odious fashion.  Indeed, if there was ever a filmic villain that could be compared to both Nazi pedo-butcher Dirlewanger and Judeo-Bolshevik Trotsky, it is indubitably Price's Herr Hopkins.

 While Hopkins represents man at his most suavely sinister as a callously corrupt cynic that prides himself on exploiting the weak and disenfranchised, Witchfinder General protagonist Richard Marshall (Reeves’ childhood friend and man muse Ian Ogilvy, who starred in all three of his friend's features)—a Roundhead soldier that supports the Parliament of England and is at war with Charles I of England and his supporters (the Cavaliers aka Royalists)—represents young naïve good, unspoiled hope, and great purity of spirit.  Unfortunately for the wiser and more wicked Hopkins, Marshall ultimately manages to make up for his lack of wisdom and viciousness through sheer energy and tenacity after discovering an unquenchable thirst for revenge.  After receiving a military promotion in rank upon saving his much respected military commander Captain Gordon (Michael Beint) by killing an enemy sniper and subsequently becoming engaged to his beloved girlfriend Sara (Hilary Dwyer) after being granted permission from her village priest uncle John Lowes (Rupert Davies), Marshall—a rather dashingly handsome dude that is quite proud to express his love and affection for his beloved—seems to be on top of the world, but that all changes when witch-hunter Hopkins and his proudly sadistic underling John Stearne (Robert Russell) turn his life into a virtual living hell. Indeed, upon being treated as a scapegoat a result of being a Catholic priest in a protestant village, Sara’s uncle John soon finds himself the victim of a literal witch-hunt and Hopkins is called into Brandeston, Suffolk to ‘prove’ that the innocent old man is a dedicated disciple of the devil. Stabbed in the back with a large needle to prove that he bears the so-called “Devil's Mark” and forced to endure various other forms of nonsensical torture by Hopkins’ right-hand man Stearne, Lowes is almost certainly destined to receive a brutal demise, so his niece Sara intervenes and decides to make the ultimate sensual sacrifice.  Unfortunately, all of this might have been prevented had Marshall had another day or two of leave from the army and been around to stop Hopkins before he made Lowes his spiritual prisoner, but such is the dark absurdity of fate in the rather ruthless Reevesian realm.

 Despite her love and devotion for her fiancé, Sara quite selflessly, though somewhat dubiously, decides to offer her nice and nubile carnal goods to Hopkins under the condition that he spare her uncle John from a grisly death. Indeed, Hopkins—a phlegmatic player with the spirit of a sadistic pimp and a special predilection for fresh and adequately fleshy pieces of golden-haired ass—makes it quite clear to Sara what he wants from her when he states in regard to the precarious situation of her uncle when they first meet, “In private talk, we may shed some light on his innocence. Yes, away from the distraction of the crowd. Perhaps in the quiet of your room tonight, you might be able to help me prove him guiltless.” Despite Sara sexually betraying her beloved Marshall, her inordinately altruistic efforts ultimately prove to be in vain after Hopkins changes his mind as a result of Stearne brutally raping her in a field during a nice sunny day. Too dignified of a gentleman to accept sloppy seconds from his buffoonish knuckle-dragging underling, Hopkins—a calmly malevolent mensch that seems to pride himself on his refined sartorial fastidiousness—seems to become disgusted with Sara after the savage sexual pillaging and quite callously reneges on his despicable deal, thereupon leading to the further debasement of the heroine and the public hanging of her uncle.

Needless to say, when Marshall discovers what happens, he somewhat rightly decides that a virtual scorched-earth policy is apt when it comes to taking revenge against his uniquely ungodly enemies.  Indeed, after symbolically ‘marrying’ Sara in the virtual ruins of her uncle's home and then having her travel to the nearby village of Lavenham for sanctuary, Marshall immediately begins plotting his revenge. In fact, Marshall becomes so completely and utterly consumed with bloodthirsty vengeance that he rather riskily and irresponsibly decides to postpone an extremely important special military mission from his boss Oliver Cromwell (Patrick Wymark) to kidnap the King because he is naturally more keen on hunting down Hopkins and Stearne with the help of some of his soldier comrades. In fact, Marshall even dares to risk execution as punishment for desertion, which his boss previously reprimanded him for after he absconded from his military upon hearing about Hopkins' reign of terror in Brandeston. Indeed, just before he goes on his revenge campaign, the Captain rebukes Marshall for deserting his post and then warns him, “However, in this case, there are two factors which will stay me from subjecting you to a full court-martial. One, we are grouped here at Naseby in preparation for a major assault on the Royalist armies. We need every man we can get. And you’re a pretty good soldier, most of the time. Secondly, I would sleep ill if I had to send to the gallows a man who saved my life. But, Cornet, remember this. If you should leave your command again, I will have no alternative but to throw the whole weight of military law against you.” Although Marshall's soldier buddies manage to find Hopkins and Stearne while they are traveling in the countryside, the two villains manage to getaway and they even kill some of the protagonist's buddies in the process.  In what ultimately proves to be another absurdly hapless scenario, Hopkins ends up in the same village of Lavenham by happenstance as Sara.  While Marshall finally manages to reach the village and reunite with Sara, their happy reunion is short-lived as Hopkins has the two arrested under trumped up witchcraft charges and then sent to a torture dungeon.  Needless to say, Hopkins takes great delight in having Stearne savagely torture Sara by jabbing large needles in her back while a bound and tied Marshall helplessly watches with a mixed expression of gruesome terror and seething murderous rage.

While Marshall eventually manages to kill Hopkins and stomp out one of Stearne’s eyes, he morally degenerates into a bloodlusting killer in the process, thus leading to his beloved Sara literally losing her mind in the process as she watches the man she loves derive savagely sadistic glee as he hacks away at the alpha-witch-hunter with a nice big battle axe in what is ultimately a more bitter than sweet ending. Indeed, after escaping while bound to a wall in the deep dark depths of the torture chamber, Marshall knocks Stearne on his ass and drives his foot into his eye and then grabs an axe and immediately begins chopping up Hopkins with a certain non compos mentis gusto. When Marshall’s friend Robert walks in on him taking great delight in continuing to swing his axe at the heavily mutilated body of a barely living Hopkins, he is so sickened by the grisly sight that he swiftly shoots the witch-hunter to put him out of his misery. Needless to say, Marshall takes offense to his friend’s mercy killing and proceeds to repeatedly violently scream at Robert, “You took him away from me.” Rather unfortunately but not surprisingly, Marshall degenerated into the sort of “monster” that Nietzsche warned of, though it is hard to blame him. 

 In its depiction of corrupt Christian authorities using their powers for pernicious, if not downright satanic, means to falsely accuse people of being witches and heretics and then having them tortured and murdered in the most malevolent of fashions, Witchfinder General—surely a singular cinematic work when it was first released—indubitably influenced a number of films from high-camp masterpieces like Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) to exploitative ‘folk horror’ like Piers Haggard’s The Blood on Satan's Claw (1970) to German-produced sleaze like Mark of the Devil (1970) aka Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält directed by Michael Armstrong to similarly crypto-Teutonic Jesús Franco trash like The Bloody Judge (1970) starring Christopher Lee to Ulli Lommel’s feministic Salem Witch Trials oriented The Devonsville Terror (1983), among various other less notable examples. Of course, aside from possibly The Devils (incidentally, Russell apparently hated Reeves' film), Reeves films is unquestionably the most thematically rich, aesthetically rapturous, and organically (as opposed to exploitatively) brutal of these films, especially as far as the somewhat mercurial villain is concerned. While England is not exactly plagued with murderously greedy witch-hunters nowadays, it certainly has a wealth of corrupt politicians and public servants that are, in their own sort of post-religious neoliberal way, witch-hunters that have no qualms about severely punishing any ostensible heretic that dares not to toe the party line.

Indeed, in jolly olde England, playing a relatively harmless prank like leaving a bacon sandwich outside at mosque can be a virtual death sentence, or so poor Kevin Crehan learned after mysteriously dying in prison while halfway through a one-year sentence for committing the ungodly crime of donating free breaded pork products to impoverished Muslims. In short, the evil heretics nowadays are the so-called ‘racists’ and ‘bigots’ that succumb to the insanely inhuman idea that the UK should not degenerate into a caliphate and that England should stay English (of course, the recent racially retarded casting of middle-aged Jewish negress Sophie Okonedo as Queen Margaret of Anjou in the BBC TV series The Hollow Crown by hack director Dominic Cooke reveals that even besmirching medieval British history via blatant blackwashing of a historic Aryan beauty is a suitable means to promote the globalist multicultural agenda). In fact, the English are so desperately afraid of being labeled modern-day heretics that a number of police officers and politicians intentionally looked the other way during the Rotherham child sexual slavery scandal—the “biggest child protection scandal in UK history” and an unbelievably sick and twisted tragedy that involved  the sexual enslavement of at least 1,400 white British children, most whom were between 11 and 15 years old, between 1997 and 2013—lest they suffer the horrific fate of being called “racists” for bringing these Paki pimps and their similarly inbred underlings to justice. Of course, in modern England, mocking the native religion of Christianity can gain one social capital in certain contexts but insulting the prophet Mohammad and his black and brown disciplines can lead to all sorts of punishment in both legal bureaucratic and less than legal terroristic fashions.  Luckily for modern-day Brits, they get to contend with the radically random dangers of being plowed down by an Allah-approved ‘truck of peace’ or being blown up with a ‘bomb of peace’ instead of deal with dastardly dudes of their own faith and race from a number of centuries ago like Mr. Matthew Hopkins.

 I think that there is a certain irony in that the protagonist of Witchfinder General is fighting for Oliver Cromwell, who is (in)famous for allowing the resettlement of the Jews in England during the mid-1650s after having been banned for over 300 years since 1290 when King Edward I of England had issued an edict expelling all Israelites from the Kingdom of England. While that was certainly a very longtime ago, its repercussions are felt very clearly today; whether it be the dubious legacy of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, parasitic colonial tentacles of the Rothschild banking dynasty, Sassoon Family and the Opium Wars, the Balfour Declaration, fratricidal philo-semitism of Winston Churchill, degenerate art of pervert Lucian Freud, or anti-English Zio-globalism of the Miliband brothers and Luciana Berger, among countless other similarly unflattering examples. Needless to say, it is no surprise that a violent anti-Christian film like Reeves would be produced by a Hebraic chap like Tony Tenser who, on top of being one of the UK’s most important and revolutionary celluloid smut-peddlers, was responsible for producing early films directed by fellow Judaic Roman Polanski like Repulsion (1965) and Cul-de-Sac (1966). While torturing and lynching supposed witches is no longer vogue among English politicians and public servants, the UK government is still doing its fair share of witch-hunting against pernicious politically incorrect heretics, as one merely needs to make naughty comments about a member of G-d's chosen tribe online and they can expect a police visit and possibly even jail time as many of Luciana Berger's critics have discovered. Undoubtedly, it is quite fitting that Vincent Price’s Matthews Hopkins has a certain Svengali-esque quality in terms of both character and appearance. As someone that has managed to get a number of young men imprisoned for years for simply hurting her feelings over the internet, Berger is undoubtedly one of the many Matthews Hopkins that persecute poor peasants in England today.  While I am not exactly religious, I would not be surprised if the UK was now ruled over by the devil himself, as it is spiritually sick nation where alien anti-Christian religions are protected to the fullest extent of the law and Jesus has been virtually regulated to a rancid sewer next to a Rotherham graveyard.

 As a promising young European auteur that was only able to direct a handful of memorable films before dying before he was 30, Michael Reeves is certainly the Jean Vigo of horror cinema. Aside from dying tragically prematurely and having a relatively small oeuvre, Reeves is also comparable to Vigo in the sense that he was a somewhat anarchistic individual who suffered the misfortune of losing his father at a very young age, as if both men were victims of some intergenerational family curse. In that sense, it is only fitting that the male protagonist played by Reeves’ buddy Ian Ogilvy dies horrendously while under the spell of two old farts after terrorizing Swinging London in The Sorcerers, as the auteur seemed to be a victim of both his zeitgeist and heritage (aside from his unfortunate family history, Reeves was apparently also both haunted and helped by a fairly nice inheritance). Notably, after finishing Witchfinder General, the young auteur was preparing to direct the Edgar Allan Poe adaptation The Oblong Box (1969) starring Vincent Price, but he was fired a week before shooting because he overdosed on a similar cocktail of alcohol and barbiturate to the sort that would ultimately kill him. Such senseless nihilistic self-destruction seems to have been common during that time among creative types as Reeves’ musician comrade Paul Ferris, who created the musical score for Witchfinder General and even appears in a small but notable role in the film as a young husband that attempts to assassinate Hopkins after he burns his wife alive, attempted to kill himself around the same time (Ferris was eventually successful in 1995 when it committed self-slaughter via drug overdose at the age of 54). Apparently, while visiting Ferris in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt, the two friends morbidly joked about who would be the first to successfully carryout the deed. 

 Aside from The Oblong Box and another Price vehicle entitled Scream and Scream Again (1970), Reeves was actively planning to get out of the horror ghetto (though, he did make an attempt to buy the rights to Daphne du Maurier's short story Don't Look Now, which was ultimately adapted by fellow Brit Nicholas Roeg in 1973). Indeed, aside from the Tenser-produced IRA-themed and Bonnie and Clyde-inspired crime flick O’Hooligan’s Mob, Reeves was also apparently considered for directing what would ultimately be the most famous counterculture film of all-time, or as cinematographer John Coquillon remarked to American horror director Jeff Burr, who directed Price in the horror anthology From a Whisper to a Scream (1987) aka The Offspring, in a 1983 letter, “One day he called me full of excitement. He'd found the story. We were going to ride around the US, shoot in 16mm and shoot every which way, into the sun and out of the sun - on motorcycles. The actor was to be a long-time LA buddy - a completely unknown son of an actor - name of Peter Fonda. The film was to be called Easy Rider. It was while planning this movie that Michael Reeves died. I still mourn the man and miss him. Always will. One doesn't get to meet many people like him.”  In fact, as recounted by Reeves' friend and perennial leading man Ian Ogilvy in John B. Murray's informative book The Remarkable Michael Reeves: His Short and Tragic Life (2002) in regard to the auteur's lack of enthusiasm for the horror genre, “Mike only made horror movies because they were more likely to see an easy profit—thereby giving him, the director, a reputation with producers for making sure-fire successes.  He had no great affection for the genre and looked forward to the day when he could make a different kind of film.  He said once that we were making crap, but it was going to be the best-made crap in the world.  I like to think there are a few moments in the three films we made together where we came quite close to making the best-made crap in the world.”  Surely, Reeves transcended celluloid shit and proved to be an alchemist of sorts with his swansong Witchfinder General, as it is an almost disturbingly raw and visceral cinematic work from a clearly foredoomed soul that was able to sire what is an organic gold-tier equivalent to what is now described as ‘torture porn’ and a film that is, almost literally, worthy of Jean Cocteau's quote, “Beauty makes one lose one's head.  Poetry is born of this decapitation.”  Notably, in a interview with Penthouse, Reeves remarked, “I think violence and murder (in film) are quite justifiable.  All you have to do is bring it down to an acceptable level.  Then you can make points about the aggressiveness inherent in everybody.”

Although I extremely loathe rap music and generally feel a sense of disgust when I encounter people obsessing over the death of a celebrity, I was somewhat disturbed to learn about the rather recent premature demise of tragic dope-addled 21-year-old rapper ‘Lil Peep’ (real name Gustav Åhr) who, not unlike forsaken auteur Reeves, dropped dead as a result of a seemingly accidental drug overdose just as he was gaining some inkling of fame and evolving as an artist.  Not unlike Reeves, Åhr—an unintentionally goofy chap with degenerate face tats who proudly sported pink Hello Kitty beanies and was famous for creating a rap hybrid that including elements of emo and pseudo-goth—was somewhat of a pretty boy, thus making the thought of his young decaying body, which once graced European fashion runways, seem all the more disturbing.  Also, like Reeves, Åhr was consumed with an innate fiery passion that seemed to be the root of both his quick success and even quicker demise.  Totally unpretentious and a virtual James Dean of auteur horror filmmaking, Reeves, also not unlike Åhr, is a perfect example of the semi-subconsciously self-annihilating poète maudit par excellence as a troubled chap that could not even be bothered to live as long as Fassbinder and assemble the sort of extensive and/or eclectic oeuvre that would have guaranteed his place in cinema history as one of the greats (or, at least, somewhat great), but such is oftentimes the fate of an intemperately passionate, proverbial Nietzschean ‘Dancing Star.’  Indeed, as Reeves' friend Paul Ferris once noted, “No, he was no great intellectual.  But, does that matter, you see, for the truth of things?  Twenty-four years old, movie mad, but what he did have in him was he wanted to make good stuff to the best of his ability.  Movie mad, as we all were, so in that he's a bit like Hitchcock.  I don't think Hitchcock went to university first and then thought, ‘Right, I'll do some movies now.’  He was movie mad.  It's the wrong way round.  It tends to be a bit tried if you come at it literally the other way around—no passion.  Mike was passion, passion, passion, movies, movies, movies.”  As both a lifelong horror fan and pretentious cinephile, I can certainly attest to Reeves' singular cinematic passion.

-Ty E