Jul 5, 2015

Friday the 13th: The Orphan

Even as a kid, I hated most movies about or made for kids, as I felt they were patronizing and portrayed children with a sort of obnoxious pseudo-sophistication and moral righteousness that made me question whether or not the filmmakers were pedophiles (of course, as tragic child actor Corey Feldman revealed a couple years back, a number of them apparently are). In short, I tend to try to avoid virtually any and every film featuring a child protagonist, but there are certainly exceptions where a kid hero can be an advantage of sorts. Indeed, the somewhat unclassifiable coming-of-age horror flick Friday the 13th: The Orphan (1979) aka The Orphan aka David directed by one-time-auteur John Ballard benefits from the fact that it features what is most certainly one of the most bat-shit crazy and hysterical boy protagonists in cinema history. Better known for its somewhat unfortunate title and the fact the producers of the Friday the 13th slasher franchise had to pay the producers of Ballard’s film to use said title, the work is based on the short horror story Sredni Vashtar by Saki (Hector Hugh Munro) written between 1900 and 1911 that was also adapted by Andrew Birkin and countless other filmmakers about a sickly 10-year-old boy who hates his cousin-guardian and ultimately invents an eponymous god that he summons to seek revenge against his pseudo-parent after she dares to sell his hen. Despite being released in 1979, director Ballard began shooting in 1968 and the film was not released until about a decade later after the filmmaker was forced by two presumably financially enterprising and artistically retarded female producers to cut out about 30 minutes of what was originally a 110 minute cut that was edited by Ralph Rosenblum, who edited a number of Woody Allen flicks, including Annie (1977) and Interiors (1978), as well as Sidney Lumet’s Eugene O'Neill adaptation Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962) and Mel Brooks’ The Producers (1967). Undoubtedly, it is obvious while watching The Orphan that Rosenblum’s seamless editing was ripped at the seams, as the film seems so compulsively spastic in its editing. Seeming like a sort of Southern Gothic tale made for psychopathic prepubescent boys, the film, which originally had the working title ‘Betrayal,’ was notably directed by a Harvard and NYU educated child progeny who became an accomplished oil painter at the mere age of seven. Admittedly, as a result of assuming it was another disposable 1970s horror flick, I had no interest in seeing the film until reading about it in classic tome NIGHTMARE USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents (2007), of which author Stephen Thrower stated, “THE ORPHAN is one of the most literate, intelligent and unusual films covered in this book,” but luckily I did as it proved to be one of the most bizarre, idiosyncratic, and terribly misunderstood American genre flicks.

Part tragic coming-of-age flick, part hallucinatory hagsploitation nightmare, part surrealist horror show, part misguided minstrel show, part 1930 period based melodrama, and part arthouse revenge-thriller, The Orphan probably will not appeal to most diehard horror fans and especially not Jason Voorhees fanboys. Set in the post-WWI era, the film tells the increasingly disturbing and nightmarish story of a curious and excitable 10-year-old boy who is forced to live with his exceedingly bitchy, anal retentive, and sexually repressed old spinster aunt after both of his wealthy parents end up dying tragically. Of course, as a young boy who invents a religion with a taxidermied monkey as the godhead and whose best friends are a middle-aged African negro who was a traveling companion of his explorer father and an Irish maid, the eponymous protagonist is not your typical boy and it ultimately comes as no surprise when he completely snaps and becomes a seemingly schizophrenic psychotic killer of sorts. Featuring the sort of deadly family dysfunction and somewhat ‘eccentrically’ executed killings one would expect from an Andy Milligan flick, the film certainly owes comparisons to Jack Clayton’s classic Henry James adaptation The Innocents (1961) and Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander (1982), but also Richard Blackburn’s Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural (1973) and especially Philip Ridley’s The Reflecting Skin (1990), as one of the most feel-bad coming-of-age films ever made. 

 After a fairly aesthetically pleasing kaleidoscopic opening montage featuring happy photographs of the protagonist and his dead parents and retro images of Harvard University banners and WWI era American soldiers, among other things, juxtaposed with outmoded ragtime music, the viewer is introduced to boy protagonist David (Mark Owens), who narrates to the viewer how he fought a couple of his male relatives when they forced him to look at the corpse of his father at the viewing. On top of being told by a mean-spirited androgynous little girl that he is now an orphan, David is forced to kiss the cold corpse of his truly deathly pale father, who he loved very much, even though his father was oftentimes away travelling around with his Afro-negro comrade Akin (Afolabi Ajayi), who is what one might describe as a ‘magical negro.’ After his parents die, David’s maternal Aunt Martha Fairchild (Peggy Feury of Matt Cimber’s The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976)) moves into the large rural family estate to become his legal guardian and she immediately begins bitching, stating of her new luxury home, “I can’t believe my sister slept here.” Akin, who lives in a shack on the family estate, immediately realizes that Aunt Martha is a deleterious influence and decides to stay with the protagonist until he becomes strong and independent, or as he states like some sort of wise negro tribal elder, “I’m going to stay here until I feel that David has the strength to stand on his own two feet. Once he knows what his father stood for, there is no way she can influence him.” Despite being a rather wealthy and handsome chap, David’s father was a sort of wild child and perennial wander who could not help but spend much of his time dicking around the Dark Continent (or as one of his less than sympathetic relatives states, “jackassing around Africa”). Like his father, David has an aversion to Christianity and is a pagan at heart, though he decides to codify his own religion involving a taxidermied monkey named ‘Charlie’ as his god. While Aunt Martha bitches to him, “Your know, David, our family has always made a contribution to the Christian community…and we expect you to do the same. Frankly, we can’t afford to have you grow up to be like your father,” the protagonist is just like his dead daddy in that he is more interested in being an African pagan tribesman than a sterile bourgeois ‘cultural Christian’ fraud and social automaton.

By today’s candy ass pussy standards where people throw around made-up pseudo-academics words like ‘microaggression’ to highlight completely imaginary forms of racial discrimination, David and his negro friend Akin have what one might describe as a somewhat strange and awkward relationship, with the protagonist asking the strange African questions like, “Why are you black?” and him replying, “I’m not. Nooooo…You’re are black and I….I’ll be white.” In a somewhat curious scene, David touches Akin’s steel-wool-like hair and remarks “That’s wild,” and the humble homeboy proudly replies, “I’m glad you like.” In fact, Akin likes David so much that he always asks him to smoke out of his hookah with him. Unfortunately, Aunt Martha spots David and Akin together while lying on a leopard skin rug and she goes completely berserk and attacks the protagonist. When Akin attempts to physically restrain Aunt Martha, she hatefully, if not hilariously, yells, “Don’t you touch me, you black nigger Man!” and complains that she does not want her nephew being around “dirty” things like the decidedly dark negro. Not surprisingly, Aunt Martha demands that Akin leave the estate immediately and even goes so far as ordering the jolly black brother to kill David’s pet chicken Apple Betty before he leaves. While demanding that he not say goodbye to David before he leaves, Akin manages to write a letter to the lad reading, “David, your aunt has ordered the destruction of your hideout. I have killed the animal but she’s to blame. Prayers are no longer good. You must stand on your own two feet and face her.

Naturally, with his best friend gone and his favorite pet dead, David’s rather fragile mind begins to unravel and he begins spending a good portion of time hanging out in the chicken coop where he intentionally burns his hands over a flame and sees his ‘god’ Charley come alive and his dead father appear with glowing hands and proclaiming, “Don’t you forget me.” In a blatant tribute to Persona (1966), David and his father’s faces become one just as Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann’s faces did in Bergman’s masterpiece. Meanwhile, it becomes quite apparent that one of the reasons Aunt Martha hates David’s father so much is because she might have been in love with him and was quite possibly even once his lover. While looking around the house in a frantic fashion for a photo of David’s father, presumably to masturbate to, Aunt Martha accidentally kills the protagonist's cute little white puppy dog ‘Henry’ upon unwittingly slamming its body into a door. Rather tragically, David walks in just as the dog dies and when he cries, his considerably insensitive aunt has the gall to rebuke him, stating, “Don’t cry, David. He’s dead. Leave him alone.” When David rebels against his aunt by writing “bitch” on a bathroom mirror with lipstick and leaving her a threatening message in the form of a pile of chopped up bread with a butcher knife sticking out of the top, Aunt Martha decides to lock him in his room. In a fairly bizarre and seemingly sexually confused scenario, David decides to mock his aunt by dressing in full drag and complaining in an exceedingly grating fashion by saying things like, “Now, David, you must take your medicine.” Judging by his tragic childhood, fascination with becoming like his father, and tendency to dress in drag while he is pissed off, one can only assume that David will grow up to be a pervert of sorts.

David inherited a breathing problem from his father, so when Aunt Martha opts to tie him to his bed in a cold room that lacks a heater, he naturally becomes quite sick. Luckily, the family maid, Mary (Eleanor Stewart), decides to comfort David by saying things to him like, “Sleep, David, while I watch over you. I love you, like I would my own son.” Naturally, Aunt Martha becomes infuriated that Mary slept with David and ultimately decides to fire the feisty Irish maid, thus causing the protagonist to lose his last friend. To make matters worse, David overhears Mary state to a family friend named Dr. Thompson (Stanley Church of Peter Godfrey’s The Great Jewel Robber (1950)) regarding him, “I don’t care about him. I just want you.” Indeed, in a scene inspired by William Faulkner’s Light in August (1932), David hides under a bed while listening to Mary attempting to get in bearded ‘bear’ Dr. Thompson’s pants by negating her affection for the protagonist. For her sins, Mary is subsequently mysteriously murdered while hanging sheets after having her entire body is rolled up in a sheet and repeatedly stabbed.

After being injured after crashing through a greenhouse window upon attempting to escape from his aunt, David is confronted with his greatest fear after being told that he will be sent to a boarding school. Indeed, after Aunt Martha patronizingly states to him, “I know you’ll be happy there. You’ll make lot of friends,” David suffers a hellish A Nightmare on Elm Street-esque hallucination where he is sent to a sort of post-industrial orphanage (which was shot on Roosevelt Island where parts of William Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971) was shot) full of grotesque negro children where he receives an Auschwitz-esque numbered tattoo on his arm and Dr. Thompson and Aunt Martha in drag operate on him and cut his tongue off. Of course, the ominous orphanage dream throws David completely over the edge and with a psychodramatic montage featuring a flashback scene of the protagonist’s mother committing suicide by putting a gun in her mouth after accidentally killing her hubby with Charlie the chimpanzee attacking Aunt Martha, the film finally reaches its natural conclusion. Indeed, while Aunt Martha is being violently mauled by Charlie in the chicken coop, David appears with a shotgun and pulls the trigger while recalling his mother putting a bullet in her brain. In a scene that hints that the protagonist has been brainwashed by one-too-many holocaust classics, David stares at Aunt Martha’s corpse, which is covered with mice and states “never again.” After liquidating his aunt, David celebrates by eating toast.  Of course, he chows down on the toasted bread in celebration of the death of his aunt, who regularly berated him any time she saw him eating it.

Aside from being one of the most patently peculiar and genre-bending coming-of-age films ever made, The Orphan is arguably also the most anti-Oedipal and even ‘misogynistic.’ Indeed, while virtually all the adults featured in the film betray the boy protagonist in one way or another, the female characters are especially cold, calculating, and irrational in their treachery. As Stephen Thrower noted in NIGHTMARE USA, it was not exactly common for a young director in the late-1960s to make a film with a sort of pro-patriarchal piece where ‘father knows best’ and where the death of the male parent is depicted as the most deleterious of things that can happen to a boy (notably, the protagonist’s few recollections of his mother are negative, as she is ultimately depicted as the source of the eponymous character’s problems). Indeed, unlike Jason Voorhees, the orphan is no momma’s boy but a young boy who lost his father at a critical age, thus guaranteeing that he will never be as great of a man as the fellow that sired him. In its unintentionally hilarious depiction of a cracked cracker adopting tribal negro garb and customs, the film can only be compared to similarly strange works like Karen Arthur’s The Mafu Cage (1978), which depicts a deranged dame with delicate daddy issues and an unhealthy chimp fetish, among other things. Of course, as one would most certainly suspect from watching the film, director John Ballard is a negrophile of sorts. In fact, aside from being actively involved in the so-called Civil Rights movement during the mid-1960s, Ballard attempted to direct a film entitled ‘Hoops’ about inner city negro basketball players around the same time he was putting his finishing touches on The Orphan, but gave up on the project upon being flown to Hollywood and being told by producers that they wanted a black coach character, which was originally supposed to be played by James Earl Jones’s father Robert E. Jones, changed to a white man. Indubitably, the height of Ballard’s cultural cuckoldry is probably most apparent in a scene that was from The Orphan where the evil Aunt Martha character fantasizes about giving negro Akin a blowjob. Ballard must have realized the scene was the height of libelous Judeo-negro propaganda in its depiction of a supposedly racist rich old cracker lady longing for darkie dong as he would later state of it in Thrower’s book, “I didn’t mind that being taken out.” Negrophilia aside, Ballard at least seems to have some sane views about race as reflected in the following remark he made to Thrower in regard to Blaxploitation cinema, “SWEET SWEETBACK was creative; most of the others were really stupid. It’s the same feeling I have about Tarantino. He has a wonderful talent with actors, but what is he doing? He’s like a wannabe black person.”

Of course, as its sometimes incoherent and wayward structure demonstrates, the film also had a number of other imperative scenes cut that make more sense of the overall story. In fact, Ballard has gone on to confess that the entire structure of the film was mutilated when it was reedited at the behest of its two art-annihilating female producers, or as the director stated himself, “There was a structural design to the film, to do with pastel autumnal scenes at the beginning and cold winter scenes at the end, but because the film was restructured for its final release, this structure is compromised, with scenes from winter added to the early stages.” Indeed, it might be part delusion on my part, but I sincerely think that The Orphan had the potential to be a hit midnight movie and artsploitation classic, but meddling producers and poor distribution put a stop to that, thus making the film now seem like a sort of pretentious yank cinematic cousin to Italian arthouse auteur turned exploitation hack Romano Scavolini’s totally tasteless trash classic Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981). Although too blatantly butchered and ‘politically incorrect’ for arthouse fans and too tame and bloodless for gorehounds, Ballard’s shockingly original and truly one-of-a-kind work most certainly has more artistic merit than all of the films in the Friday the 13th franchise combined. Naturally, it also has to be the most curious film ever directed by a former child prodigy, as one certainly gets the feeling while watching The Orphan that Ballard still has a special visceral hatred for adults, especially women, as a result of some dubious experiences he had with grownups while creating masterful oil paintings while just still a wee lad. I would even go so far as to argue that the film makes it seem as if Ballard never wanted to grow up, at least not in the conventional sense, as the eponymous protagonist of The Orphan dreams of becoming like his dead father who, as a man that spent his entire life going on exotic journeys and playing around in general, was more or less a perennial kid with Peter Pan syndrome. Indeed, aside from Charles Laughton’s masterpiece The Night of the Hunter (1955), I cannot think of another film shot from the perspective of children where adults seem so collectively flawed, deceitful, and just plain despicable. Although a coming-of-age flick that would probably greatly appeal to certain children due to its ridiculously rebellious boy protagonist, The Orphan probably makes for uniquely unhealthy viewing for kids, especially of the highly impressionable, criminally-inclined, and/or mentally imbalanced sort, though, admittedly, I wish I had the opportunity to see the film when I was a budding juvenile delinquent, even if I would have cringed at the titular character's patently preposterous proto-wigger dream of becoming a magical Zulu warrior of sorts. 

-Ty E

Jun 29, 2015

In the Basement

After directing a series of more accessible narrative features, including Import/Export (2007) and the highly celebrated 2012 Paradise trilogy, Viennese auteur Ulrich Seidl decided to return to his more cinéma-vérité oriented roots with the delightfully debasing and quaintly stylized 80-minute quasi-documentary Im Keller (2014) aka In the Basement, which has been advertised as “A Film Essay” and was made over a five year period where the auteur searched all over Austria for his country's most ‘cinema worthy’ basement environments. Undoubtedly, with the Josef Fritzl scandal that emerged in April 2008 where a seemingly normal Austrian old fart was revealed to have kept his own adult daughter imprisoned in a secret corridor in his basement for 24 years and regularly raped her in a seemingly unreal real-life horror scenario that resulted in the birth of seven children and one miscarriage, it is no surprise that Seidl would direct a film about spending time in the most conspicuously quirky and peculiarly personalized of arcane Austrian lairs. It should be noted that in his official statement on his personal website, Seidl wrote regarding the film, “The basement in Austria is a place of free time and the private sphere. Many Austrians spend more time in the basement of their home than in their living room, which often is only for show. In the basement they actually indulge their needs, their hobbies, passions and obsessions. But in our unconscious, the basement is also a place of darkness, a place of fear, a place of human abysses.”  For those familiar with Seidl’s somewhat singular oeuvre, In the Basement has more or less the same laid-back, free flowing and ostensibly structureless structure as the filmmaker’s early classic Tierische Liebe (1995) aka Animal Love, albeit it focuses on the basements of eccentric people as opposed to the pets of eccentric people. Of course, just as Animal Love does not solely focus on people getting down and dirty with their beloved doggies, In the Basement is also set in places that transcend the damp, dark, and dirty abysses in the subject's homes. As someone that lived in a windowless basement room for a number of years and did many things down there that most people would not do in any place, Seidl’s work had a somewhat more personal resonance for me than any of his other works, though, in terms of domestic absurdity, I do not think I can compare with most of the things the aberrant Austrians do in their secret cellars in the film. Indeed, as I personally discovered, the basement can be a calming and soothing place where one can lose themselves and forget the world exists, but too much time down there can be highly psychologically deleterious as most of the subjects of In the Basement insightfully, if seemingly unwittingly, demonstrate. Featuring a soft-spoken so-called gun nut of the philosophically Weiningerian and opera singing sort, a suburban tuba-playing Hitlerite of the dipsomaniac sort who fantasizes about living in Austria’s glorious past from the relative comfort of his meticulously decorated mensch-cave, an elderly reborn doll pseudo-mom who keeps a number creepy rubber babies hidden in boxes around her cluttered basement, a rather repulsive female masochist who has a tendency towards getting her husbands stabbed or imprisoned after sustaining one too many brutal beatings, a grotesque fat and bald male slave who regularly has heavy weights applied to his testicles by his equally repugnant mistress-cum-wife while washing dishing and doing other emasculating wifely duties, and a couple more subjects that truly make one wonder if Austria would have been better off if their most infamous prodigal son Uncle Adolf had won the Second World War and erased anti-Aryan figures like Freud from history, Seidl’s deranging doc is another almost perniciously potent remainder why the auteur describes himself as a, “director, scriptwriter, producer, voyeur, misanthrope, cynic, social pornographer, blackguard, provocateur, pessimist, and humanist,” on his personal website. 

 Fritz Lang might like lurking in dark corners like his famous filmmaker namesake, but I sincerely doubt that he has a negative view of technology as depicted in Metropolis (1927). Herr Lang owns and operates a state of the art underground shooting ranging where, in between operatic singing sessions and rants about how he would have been good at singing the “great in-between roles” in operas, he plays a sort of unsimulated version of the old school NES game Duck Hunt that involves shooting projected images of men with real loaded weapons. As expressed by his strangely eloquently delivered monologue, “A man is always young and trim. For him time stands still. Meanwhile his wife will age. Pointless to express outrage or mourn her youth or shed tears, in truth. For what’s left of her days as she helplessly decays while he, with vigor blessed, beats on his heroic chest. He feels again his vigor grow, his manhood stiffens down below. Whenever a lass he spies, a superman, he feels with pride since ere the world began its highest principle is man,” Lang has probably spent some time reading Nietzsche and tragic Jewish Viennese philosopher Otto Weininger’s magnum opus Geschlecht und Charakter (1903) aka Sex and Character. Of course, Lang’s friends are no less ‘politically incorrect’ as demonstrated one man’s remark regarding the dubious loyalties of an Austrian-born Turk, “He says, ‘I’m Austrian.’ I go, ‘Sure, but at the European Cup you scream ‘Turkiye, Turkiye!’ He says, ‘Yeah, I’m Austrian, but I’m Turkish.’ You see? But he’s more Turkish. Even if he was born here.” The man also complains of, “100,000 Turkish malcontents screw our girls if they’re blondes in miniskirts” and his fat friend concurs, adding, “And they proudly declare, ‘We’re fucking your women!’ As men that agree that Muslims have historically raped the women of their enemies as a form of psychological warfare and make their own women sport burkas because they are “Jealous, insecure men,” it is easy to see why these guys would hang at Lang’s shooting range, as they seem to expect a race war of sorts, especially with the growth of illegal immigration and rape in Austria.  Although Austrians, Lang's friends are merely echoing the thoughts that most honest and normal white men in the West have.  While Seidl's own political views are dubious at best (he contributed a segment to the largely worthless anti-Jörg Haider agitprop piece Zur Lage: Österreich in sechs Kapiteln (2002) aka State of the Nation: Austria in Six Chapters), he dares to depict Austrian society at it's least sanitized, thus making him a sort of heir to Pier Paolo Pasolini, albeit without the gay gaze.

 While Josef Ochs—a man that shares the same exact name as an infamous SS-Obersturmführer who was involved in the deportation gypsies and was present in the Berlin Führerbunker during the last dark days of Hitler—does not talk candidly about the Muslim menace like Lang and his comrades, his basement is a sort of lavishly decorated National Socialist shrine that features various framed portraits of Uncle Adolf, a couple models dressed in different uniforms from the Third Reich era, and various other forms of Nazi memorabilia that are probably quite hard to come by in the contemporary Aryan world due to the strict anti-Nazi laws. Of course, Ochs does not just love the Führer, as he also has framed portraits of Richard Wagner, his patron King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and various other important Germanic historical figures hanging on his garage wall that demonstrate that he has deep Austro-Teutonic roots and feels like he is part of rich and deep culture and tradition that goes back many centuries. For nearly two decades, Ochs has been taking yearly pilgrimages to Germany to visit the Führer’s headquarters at the Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden and, as a result, the Stasi-esque kraut police (which he accidentally describes as, “The Gestapo”) have put him on a watch list, or so he complains in a half-annoyed/half-joyous fashion. On top of his Führer fetish, Ochs is a hardcore tuba player that plays in a brass band with his comrades, who he regularly drinks with in his quaint Nazi dungeon where they discuss the good old days when one could be prideful of being Austrian and taking part in Germanic cultural traditions without being labelled a “Nazi” by some emasculated brainwashed cultural cuckold or sapless ethno-masochistic xenophile. As some might assume considering he is an old dude that spends a lot of time hanging out with his friends in his basement, Ochs is also a self-confessed alcoholic, with the subject revealing regarding his daily drinking schedule, “I do like my drink. It goes hand in hand with playing. It’s a given. A morning break drink. Before that, three spritzers just so I can talk. Then, with the morning break drink, 10 spritzers. And afterwards a few shots, because everything’s gone so well. But I’m predisposed because my whole family drinks.” Indeed, if there ever was a greater plague to the Aryan people than the ideas of Hebraic culture-distorters like Marx and Freud and their intellectual spawn, it is alcohol. 

 While there are other subjects in the doc that certainly come close, masochistic lard ass Gerald ‘love slave’ Duchek and his proudly sadistic ‘mistress’/wife Alessa are probably the most innately repugnant individuals in the film, as their exceedingly sloppy and sub-homely physical appearances are only transcended by their seemingly senseless sexual habits, which seem to involve everything aside from actual sex. A totally bald and rather heavyset man who may lack hair on his head but is a virtual bear when it comes to the rest of his burly body, Gerald works security at a local fancy theater by day, but when he comes home he becomes a ‘love slave’ who is forced by his pink-haired Wal-Mart-esque wife to clean the entire house while completely unclad (sans various torture devices attached to his flaccid genitals) and crawling on all fours like the figurative swine that he is. When stoic she-beast Alessa urinates, she forces her anti-hunk hubby to lick her festering vag clean and he even thanks her for the orally odious opportunity. As Alessa candidly states regarding her S&M marriage with anti-gentleman Gerald, “I absolutely adore my love slave…And the opposite is also true: He worships me. It doesn’t affect our love – on the contrary. Only with total devotion and love can something like this work. If I don’t have absolute trust in this person…And similarly if he doesn’t have trust in me, his mistress, he can’t let go completely and can’t serve me 100%. It’s a huge sign of trust. Of course I’m aware that I’m responsible for everything here and that can only work if it’s based on absolute love.” When Gerald first began his relationship with Alessa, he was forced to always wear a chastity belt and was allowed nil form of sexual release, but now that their darkly obsessive romance has evolved he is allowed to masturbate when his proudly wicked wife gives him the get-go. While debauchery occurs all around the Duchek house, the basement, which has been transformed into a dungeon that puts any of the settings described in Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s classic S&M/BDSM novella Venus im Pelz (1870) aka Venus in Furs to abject shame, is where the real hardcore depravity occurs. On top of having a luxurious cabinet full of fancy strap-on dildos and butt-plugs that Alessa uses to peg and prod her beastly beloved's bunghole, the dungeon features a makeshift torture device where poor perennial cuck Gerard is lifted off of a table by his testicles, thus causing him to bring new meaning to the slang phrase ‘blue balls.’  While they are unquestionably grotesque people that do grotesque things, it is nothing short of undeniable that Gerald and Alessa are made for one another and seem to share a mutually loving and joyous romance where both of them are able to express their unfortunate sexual idiosyncrasies.

 Notably, spliced randomly throughout In the Basement is footage of an unnervingly eccentric old woman named Alfreda Klebinger, who is, among other things, the proud ‘mother’ of a number of lifelike vinyl dolls called ‘reborn dolls,’ which over the past couple of years or so have become a strange trend among certain lonely woman of the Occidental world who seem to have a maternal urge that they cannot fulfill because they are too old to have children or have some sort of other problem (it is believed the some women use reborn dolls a means of grieving a child that has died). Why Alfreda collects the dolls is never actually mentioned, but it is glaringly obvious that she is too damn old to get pregnant and have a baby of her own. For whatever reason, Alfreda keeps the dolls hidden in cardboard boxes around her basement. With her hubby, Alfreda has apparently traveled all around the world and while baby talking to one of her reborn dolls while pointing at a large world map, she states regarding India, “It was so filthy, he [her husband] didn’t like it either.” Like Alfreda, a rather rotund hunter named Manfred Ellinger that is featured prominently throughout doc has also done a lot of traveling around the world, though he has regulated most of his time to the Dark Continent to hunt exotic animals, which he proudly describes as managing to kill with a single shot and include mostly furry creatures like nyalas, waterbucks, kudus, white-tailed gnus, warthogs, jackals, and bonteboks, among countless others. Naturally, the taxidermied heads of Manfred’s prized kills have been mounted to his basement wall, which looks fairly absurd due to how many eclectic animal heads of varying sizes have been concentrated to one small area. Surely not the stereotype of the Hollywood-esque wasteful white expedition hunter, Manfred describes how he has personally eaten virtually all these animals, even getting his wife to make Wiener Schnitzel out of a warthog, though he admittedly refuses to dine on baboon. Undoubtedly, to some degree, Manfred reminds me of the expedition hunters that Austrian avant-garde auteur Peter Kubelka mocked in his classic experimental documentary short Unsere Afrikareise (1966) aka Our Trip to Africa, which almost certainly had to be a major influence on Seidl. 

 Undoubtedly, Seidl’s doc is also notable for featuring the most morbidly obese yet happy hookers in cinema history since the ones that briefly appeared in David Lynch's Wild at Heart (1990). One of these unpleasantly plump women, Cora Kitty, describes how she decided to become a professional pussy-peddler after getting fed up with having to be nice to nasty people while working in retail, which she absolutely loathed like any sane person would. The conspicuously corpulent prostitute makes no lie of the fact that she absolutely loves her job of selling her gash for cash as it gives her the distinguished opportunity of regularly meeting many different types of men, including guys with big and little cocks, as well as dudes that shoot mighty and miniscule loads. Cora Kitty is depicted engaging in a sort of pap smear-esque session of cunnilingus where her body is strapped into a gynecological device with a small and weasel-like weakling with a rather fitting pervert mustache who is apparently able to please many hookers, who apparently let him enter their meat-curtains for free because he has a special talent where he is able to bust a powerful load where his cum splashes over the gal's thoroughly used and abused vaginal walls, or as the creepy fellow explains himself in an autistic monotone fashion, “My potency lies in, as I discovered at some point, that I can shoot off a very powerful load of semen. With it I’ve left many women pretty amazed.”  Indeed, he may be a rather pathetic looking fellow, but the tiny mustached man certainly must have a special talent if he is able to get call-girls and bar-hogs to spread their legs for free.

 If there was one subject in In the Basement who rubbed me the wrong way the most, it is a self-described “masochist” named Fraud Sabine who is featured having heir ass and pussy lips whipped by a fairly old and racially Alpinish fellow named ‘Master Walter’ aka Walter Holzer who sports a prized pair of lederhosen while brutalizing the old broad's bum. Notably, the nearly elderly masochist, whose beat up body is far from a wonderland, goes on to describe how she stabbed her first husband because she got fed up with him regularly beating her and later she had another hubby imprisoned for four years after he got too rough with her. Somewhat curiously but not surprisingly considering her own background, Frau Sabine is a Caritas Internationalis aid worker who provides help to battered Catholic women. Undoubtedly, Sabine has an unhealthy fetish for exceedingly abusive men, but one cannot help but wonder if there is a little bit of closeted sadist in her in that she would stab one hubby and ruin the life of another. It seems that the masochist hooked up with Master Walter as a means to control her voracious appetite for pain in a more safe and controlled environment where deadly violence never comes into play.  Arguably, the most bizarre thing about Frau Sabine is that she seems like someone that could be an office manager at some sort of bureaucratic corporation, so it is not exactly a pleasure to see her unclad saggy derriere being whipped by Master Walter in a mostly lackluster fashion.  Notably, towards the end of the doc, while getting wasted with his brass band comrades, basement Führer Josef Ochs makes the hilarious official declaration while in an exceedingly inebriated state, “I am the Führer of this party.” Of course, the doc would not be complete without Mistress Alessa having her swinish love slave hung from his balls. As demonstrated by his ambiguously erect choad, pig Gerald most certainly wallows in the punishment. 

 As can be expected in a so-called democratic modern European nation like Austria, In the Basement subject Josef Ochs was apparently facing being charged with ‘Wiederbetätigung’ (a supposed act of (re-)engagement in National Socialist activities) after the film was released as a result of the Nazi memorabilia he has in his suburban Führerbunker. To auteur Ulrich Seidl’s credit, he has pretty much only had good things to say about Herr Ochs, who would later complain that the director opted to focus especially on his Nazi regalia instead of the various portraits and memorabilia that he has in tribute to figures like Ludwig II and various Austrian noblemen (it should be noted that Ochs never actually makes any pro-Nazi statements). Although I have not gotten the chance to see it since I have yet to find a copy with English subtitles, there is a seemingly worthwhile documentary entitled Ulrich Seidl und die bösen Buben (2014) aka Ulrich Seidl: A Director at Work directed by Constantin Wulff that depicts the legendary ‘Seidl method’ as the filmmaker works on both In the Basement and the play Böse Buben/Fiese Männer for theatre. As Ochs’ remarks demonstrates, Seidl is by no means a ‘documentarian’ (which is a label that he himself thankfully rejects) in the conventional sense, as it is quite clear he stages and highly stylizes his cinematic scenarios, which most certainly depict real people doing what they love best, albeit from a highly subjective perspective where the filmmaker manages to add his own somewhat subtle and oftentimes cynical social criticism via the way he opts to direct and edit a particular scene. In that regard, Seidl is like an Aryan equivalent to conspicuously kosher confederate arthouse carny Harmony Korine, whose masterful directorial debut Gummo (1997) implemented a similarly highly stylized approach to documentary-like scenarios (of course, Korine's film also features a number of completely fictional scenarios).

 It should be noted that In the Basement features a couple scenes where Austrian teens do banal things in their basements like have less than chatty parties where they drink and smoke in a particularly passionless fashion like automatons who have seen one too many Hebraic Hollywood frat-boy scat-comedies. Indubitably, compared to their elders who love lurking in a cement abyss of the ‘ungeheuer,’ the teens seem to be totally lacking in character and individuality and are assumedly completely out of touch with their ‘Heimat,’ which one can only assume is the result of the deracination of Austria via Americanization.  After all, these kids not only have a glorious historical past, but also tons of great contemporary filmmakers to enjoy like Seidl, Michael Haneke, Michael Glawogger (RIP), Peter Kern, Paulus Manker (who surely needs to get back into the directing game), Markus Schleinzer (who undoubtedly made the ultimate Austrian basement feature with his debut Michael (2011)), avant-gardist Peter Tscherkassky, Gustav Deutsch, and various others who remind one that even a small European nation can have a more artistically important and intriguing film industry than the global cinema gatekeepers of Hollywood.  If there is anything that one can learn from In the Basement, it is that the Viennese Aktionists look like a bunch of hopelessly bourgeois art fag posers when compared to the basement-dwelling proles in Siedl's film who do what they do for the mere pleasure and not to make of spectacle of themselves. Indeed, Seidl might by a sort of distant cinematic descendant of Aktionist filmmaker Kurt Kren, but he seems to have long realized that there is more intrigue and idiosyncrasy among seemingly normal everyday people than narcissistic ‘artiste’ types who seek attention for attention's sake. If In the Basement gave me any insights into how unbelievable dungeon crimes as committed by sinister individuals like Josef Fritzl and Wolfgang Přiklopil could have occurred in Austria, it is probably the rampant social alienation that is caused by so-called democracy, capitalism, and multiculturalism, not to mention the fact that unity inspiring movements like nationalism and especially pan-Germanism have become quite taboo as a result of the defeat of the Third Reich during the Second World War.  Indeed, when it is illegal for a man to own a portrait of a national historical figure in his home, there probably has to be some sort of collective psychosis in that country.  While Fritzl pathetically attempted to blame his singularly sick behavior on the discipline he learned as a child during the Nazi era, his actions undoubtedly seem like those featured in a Weimar era newspaper or Fritz Lang flick.  Luckily, Austria still his fine folks like the Fritz Lang featured In the Basement.

-Ty E