Mar 22, 2015

The Johnsons

A very longtime ago when an evil propaganda video chain known as Blockbuster still existed and before rather useful websites like YouTube were ever even dreamed of and insanely rare films became available at the mere press of a button, one would be certainly hard-pressed to find any DVDs for under $20, let alone any worthwhile ones, so when I discovered an Anchor Bay Entertainment release for a strange horror film with a seemingly mummified fetus with piercing blue eyes on the cover entitled The Johnsons for only a mere $3 at a certain now defunct home video chain known for selling things at an exorbitant price, I naturally impulsively bought it, even though I had never heard of, let alone seen, the film. As a company that released great films like The Wicker Man (1973), Suspiria (1977), Maniac (1980), The Evil Dead trilogy (1981-1992), The Beyond (1981), and Repo Man (1984), among various other genre classics, Anchor Bay was a company I thought I could trust when it came to quality cult and horror cinema yet The Johnsons proved to be an innately incoherent fiercely fuming pile of filmic feces with ludicrously laughable bad dubbing and featuring a token negro scholar, deranged Auschwitz-esque baldboys that like painting fetuses with blood, and borderline gratuitous shots of the floppy cocks of honky tribesmen with phallic faceless masks. Anyway, about fifteen years later I would reencounter the film by accident after being exposed to the oeuvre of Dutch Jewish auteur Rudolf van den Berg (Süskind, Tirza), who was responsible for directing the work, and I was finally able to understand why I found it so unbelievably inexplicable and brazenly bizarre. Directed by an arthouse auteur turned would-be-mainstream hack turned foremost master of Dutch celluloid Judaica, De Johnsons (1992) aka The Johnsons aka Xangadix aka Rituales sangrientos is a majorly mongrelized, if not admittedly curious, multicultural-friendly miscreation of a movie that is technically Dutch but clearly directed with a culturally retarded American audience in mind, though the film naturally never made it to U.S. theaters.  Interestingly, despite never managing to secure a theatrical release in the United States, van den Berg's film still managed to develop a loyal cult following via bootlegs that was hungry for horror due to the rather pathetic state of the genre at the time.

 With his second feature Zoeken naar Eileen (1987) aka Looking for Eileen, van den Berg had already proved he aimed to work in Hollywood as it starred mainstream British beauty Lysette Anthony and about half of the dialogue was in English, but with his third feature De Avonden (1989) aka Evenings—a worthwhile, if somewhat contrived, adaptation of great Dutch post-WWII writer Gerard Reve’s classic 1947 novel of the same name—he proved he was a capable, if not somewhat ‘unDutch,’ filmmaker, but not exactly one with a special knack for horror cinema. Ultimately, The Johnsons was a last minute ‘for-hire’ work for van den Berg that was only given to him after the original writer and director, Ruud van Hemert (Schatjes aka Army Brats aka Darlings!, Ik ook van jou aka I Love You Too), was fired from the production because the producers did not like his approach to the material. A work with a long and troubled production history that is arguably as bizarre and culturally confused as the finished film itself, The Johnsons was original titled The Johnson Blues and was dreamed up by American screenwriter, producer, and documentarian Roy Frumkes (Document of the Dead, Street Trash, The Substitute franchise), who originally planned the project to be the story of a father and son being attacked by inbred hicks while on a camping trip in New York, with Clint Eastwood playing the lead protagonist and Oliver Reed portraying the role of the ‘blue-eyed’ Johnson clan leader ‘Unk.’  Originally, Frumkes planned to produce the film for a production company that he started with fellow Hebrew Richard Abram, but when the latter moved to the Netherlands the company was dissolved and he took the project with him. Rewritten by Frumkes’ pal Rocco Simonelli and then eventually rewritten again by van den Berg’s oftentimes collaborator,  fellow Dutch Israelite Leon de Winter, the film eventually evolved into an eccentric ‘mystical horror’ of the quasi-Freudian sort involving ancient Amazonian Indian paganism, pedantic Surinamese negro professors, murderous menstruating teenagers, seven incestuous baldheaded mute psychopath killers, magic mother-daughter sensuality, sinister blue-eyed fetuses, and multicultural chaos galore. 

 Undoubtedly, Dutch horror is not even worthy of being described as a ghetto as it is virtually nonexistent, even though, like their Flemish and Walloon neighbors, Dutchmen tend to be good at making decidedly dark and depraved films that make slasher and monster movies seem totally pointless and irrelevant by comparison. While Dick Maas’ De Lift (1983), Paul Verhoeven’s The Fourth Man (1983), and the low-budget medium-length work Necrophobia (1995) are certainly fun and worth seeing by any semi-serious fan of the genre, they hardly put Dutch horror on the map and The Johnsons, which has been wrongly described as ‘last Dutch horror film in the twentieth century’ (the credit actually goes to the fairly unknown Necrophobia), is no different but it is surely of some interest as a marginally original work that unwittingly demonstrates that multiculturalism is a cataclysmic curse that has turned the world into a culturally schizophrenic and spiritually impoverished place that is much more horrifying than any stupid celluloid scare-fest featuring a masked retard stalking and murdering half-braindead teenagers. The film stars Dutch diva Monique van de Ven of such Dutch era arthouse classics as Turkish Delight, Katie Tippel (1975), and The Fourth Man but she is practically unrecognizable and the girl who plays her daughter looks more like a Mestizo than a Dutch debutante. A work in the tradition of Peter Weir’s The Last Wave (1977)  and William Girdler's Graham Masterton adaptation The Manitou (1978) in that it uses horror and thriller conventions to pseudo-cryptically attempt to instill post-colonial guilt in the white honky viewer, The Johnsons tells the cross-cultural tale of how an evil French anthropologist that stole an ‘evil deity,’ an ominous fetus in a large glass vase, from a group of imaginary Amazonian Indians called the Mahxitu and thus unwittingly released a terrible curse in the Occident that eventually made its way to the Netherlands after an evil eponymous American doctor engaged in a top secret artificial insemination project that resulted in the sinister and inauspicious siring of seven psychopathic baldheaded mute brothers and the sister they have been born to fuck. Featuring unintentionally hilarious racial caricatures, including a fat negress with horse hair on her head biting into a greasy piece of fried chicken and a ‘supernatural negro’ who sports ancient Indian tribal gear and tries to warn his deracinated uncle tom professor son not to fiddle with evil spirits, as well as a decidedly dystopian Netherlands where trash literally overflows in the street and indigenous Dutch people seem like a minority that merely exists to provide foreigners with police and incestuous psychopaths, the culturally mongrelized nature of van den Berg’s work is ultimately much scarier than the intentional horror and graphic murder scenes that the film contains. 

 At the beginning of The Johnsons, the eponymous evil American physician Dr. Johnson (Rodney Beddal)  is congratulated by his fellow doctors and nurses for delivering septuplets, so he celebrates by driving to some remote wooded area where he immediately gets out of his car, smears a good portion of some strange colored mud that resembles feces onto his face, demands that some deity that he describes as a “Snake of a hundred heads. Lion of burning flame” set him free, walks into a river that soon becomes encircled with flames, and greets his god ‘Xangadix,’ which looks like an evil stillborn fetus with super Aryan blue-eyes. Although not revealed until much later in the film as the film is set 21 years after their births, the septuplets were the product of a top secret artificial insemination project carried out in the Netherlands that involved Dr. Johnson stealing cells from unwitting patients and creating an artificial uterus that produced seven embryos from one ovum. These seven fetuses grew up too be so murderously psychopathic that by age seven they collectively committed a massacre at their children’s home that resulted in the deaths of sixteen other kids and have been locked up in a maximum security mental institution ever since in the rather remote area of the Biesbosch wetlands in South Holland. Of course, the seven psychopaths are really the progeny of the evil deity named Xangadix, whose wrath was unleashed on the world after he was stolen from the Amazonian Indians that guarded him in 1934 by a Frenchman named Vidal-Naquet, who ultimately went mad and killed himself shortly after committing his ungodly act of ‘cultural appropriation.’ The savage septuplets were created using the eggs of a young journalist named Victoria Lucas (Monique van de Ven), who is now a widowed mother with a teenage daughter named Emalee (Esmée de la Bretonière), who is on the verge of having her period and keeps having nightmares involving seven murderous bald brothers that have a fetish for painting primitive fetus drawings on walls with red blood. Although almost 14-years-old, Emalee already has a psychiatrist named Dr. Goldman (Elise Hoomans) and being an old Jewess of the Freudian school, she speculates that the teen’s nightmares are the result of her being on the verge of her menstruation cycle. Indeed, Goldman is unfortunately correct, as Emalee’s 21-year-old septuplets bastard half-brothers can sense she is about to bleed and want to have an incestuous orgy with her ASAP but first they have to escape from the maximum security prison they have been held captive in since they were seven.  By impregnating Emalee, the brothers will unleash total horror and destruction on mankind.  Rather curiously, despite being an ancient evil Indian deity from pre-European times, Xangadix demands that a blue-eyed woman be fertilized.

Undoubtedly, The Johnsons features an ‘unconventional’ hero in the form a deracinated Suriname-born negro nerd named Professor Keller (Kenneth Herdigein) who is ashamed of his elderly father (Otto Sterman), who scams a negress into buying some black pepper from him because she believes it will banish an evil spirit from her grotesquely gluttonous daughter’s bloated body. When Papa Keller sees rare recovered footage of the failed 1932 Vidal-Naquet expedition that features footage of the infamous Xangadix deity, he immediately decides to take decisive action by stealing the priceless film reels from his son’s university and burning them in a fireplace. Papa Keller may be an eccentric old negro with a couple screws loose, but he is certainly wiser than his anally retentive uncle tom professor son, thus hinting that he should have raised his boy in Suriname instead of the Netherlands. Meanwhile, an indigenous Dutchman named De Graaf (Rik van Uffelen) of ‘Department of Education and Science’ gets in contact with Professor Keller because he knows the academic has written essays on exorcisms and wants his professional advice because he is in charge of dealing with the evil septuplets and has no clue what to do with such big bad evil baldheaded bastards since the maximum security mental institution that they are imprisoned in is set to be demolished. Rather conveniently, the nutward is located in the rather isolated and almost completely unpopulated area of Biesbosch wetlands, which Victoria takes her daughter Emalee camping to because she has a journalism assignment involving taking photos of a rare bird called a night heron. Of course, the mother and daughter ultimately spot more psychopathic bastards than rare birds. Indeed, the septuplets manage to escape from the mental institution after catching the security guards off guard while they are watching old episodes of Laurel and Hardy, killing them all in an ultra-violent fashion that involves dismembering their bodies and using their blood to draw ancient fetus drawings on the walls, and escaping through the roof of the building where they spot Emalee and her mother from across a canal. It is actually Emalee’s presence that magically causes her lethally loony long lost brothers’ prison cells to open. Since they are practically magnetized to their sister’s naughty bits, the brothers immediately begin sniffing out Emalee's fresh teenage flesh-flowers and before the young girl knows it, one of her big bros is trying to rape her but luckily she has a hysterical response to the attack and manages to decapitate her would-be-rapist. Needless to say, the mother and daughter immediately hightail it out of Biesbosch and seek safety back in trash-covered Amsterdam, but of course the sibling-sex-craved septuplets follow them.

Although he says pretentious things to his father like, “This is the age of science…voodoo is passé,” Professor Keller and, in turn, Emalee and her mother, ultimately come to rely on the Surinamese spade’s invaluable magic knowhow to battle the seven psychopathic brothers and Xangadix. Although as black as Zwarte Piet, Papa Keller dresses up in Mahxitu Indian garb and performs a ritual with the help of a rooster that helps his son Professor Keller to find an old document that reveals to him that Victoria is the escaped psychopathic septuplets’ less than proud progenitor, although she does not realize it until after the black academic has the chance to tell her after they kill Dr. Goldman and one of them kidnaps Emalee. Indeed, while Victoria, Emalee, and Professor manage to kill five of the last six surviving brothers in the former's apartment, one manages to kidnap his long lost sister and getaway. Ultimately, Victoria and Professor Keller follow the last Johnson brother to a sewage treatment plant (!) where he proceeds to prepare to ritualistically rape Emalee in front of the devil deity Xangadix, but luckily Papa Keller randomly shows up in his flamboyant injun garb and coaches the protagonist on how to defeat Xangadix, who appears in all of his blue-eyed fetus glory while surrounded by a white haze. As Papa Keller tells Victoria, “This embryo can’t stand a mother’s warmth,” so she begins cradling the grotesque booger-like monster fetus, which causes it to explode and a literal bloodbath of menstrual blood to soak the mother and daughter in a somewhat fetishistic scene that seems to put special emphasize on the queen on the Dutch silversreen Monique van de Ven's blood-soaked derriere.

Interestingly, on his own official personal website, director Rudolf van den Berg confesses that The Johnsons was not much more than a ‘for-hire’ hack job, stating of the work, “I had big doubts about taking on this film. I didn't want to feel like a sell-out. But two things convinced me to direct the movie: at the time my second daughter was born and I wanted to take good care of my family. Secondly, I wanted to prove to myself that I could direct any film, including horror. Horror experts tell me that The Johnsons has become a sort of cult film in the US and elsewhere and is still appreciated today. Nice experience, taught me a lot, but once is enough.” Ironically, aside from possibly his indisputable magnum opus De Avonden (1989) aka Evenings, The Johnsons is easily van den Berg’s most bizarre, idiosyncratic, and, somewhat strangely, fetishistic work to date. Indeed, the film is less than subtly scatological and includes multiple scenes where people are covered in feces, one scene where Emalee pisses herself, and numerous references and allusions to periods and menstrual blood (in one scene, Emalee has some good clean fun by laughing jovially while playing with a tampon), among other things that make the work more intriguing and memorable than it actually should be. The film is also drenched in incest of various sorts that includes, aside from malevolent mystical brother-sister ritualistic rape, a super sensual scene that van den Berg has described as one of his favorite parts of the film where mother Victoria and daughter Emalee embrace while they are completely unclad as they take an intimate bath together that turns ugly when the latter suffers a horrific hallucination and mistakes her naked mommy for one of the perversely pernicious phallic-mask-adorned Johnson brothers.

Cinephiles might be interested to know that The Johnsons features numerous nods to various others films, including 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) as represented by Xangadix who looks like a grotesque mutant version of the iconic ‘starchild’ in Kubrick’s film, as well as Hellraiser (1987) as personified by the last surviving Johnson brother who bears a striking resemblance to Pinhead sans the pins. Somewhat to my surprise, the film was not only somewhat of a hit in the Netherlands that actually managed to outsell various Hollywood movies in the theaters, but also developed a loyal cult following among American horror fans (of course, the early 1990s were a horrendous time for horror everywhere), with top American horror film critic and cineaste Chas Balun even giving the film a rather rave write-up where he concluded his review in Deep Red with the somewhat agreeable remark, “Fuck Craven's SCREAM, this is the real deal.” Although I thought the film was a piece of crusty and conspicuously convoluted celluloid crap when I first saw it about 15 years ago, my obsession with Dutch cinema and recent assessment of van den Berg’s oeuvre has led me to bizarrely appreciate The Johnsons as a sort of cross-cultural celluloid train wreck with a hysterical hodgepodge of incongruent cinematic and cultural influences that strangely personify some of the most preposterous and laughable aspects of multiculturalism, globalization and so-called ‘post-colonialism.’ Indeed, what other film features an elderly negro running around the Netherlands in festive Amazonian Indian garb while seven cracked crackers that are possessed by an evil embryonic blue-eyed Indian deity attempt to rape and impregnate their sister with their demon seed?! 

-Ty E


Tony Brubaker said...

I actually think the deity looks like the monster in Tobe Hoopers slightly under-rated 1986 remake of "Invaders From Mars".

Tony Brubaker said...

I like the way they all wanted to shove their willys up the 14 year-old girls bum, thats only two years older than Heather was ! ! ! ! !.

Tony Brubaker said...

Tobe Hooper made "Invaders From Mars" four years after he was on the "Poltergeist" set with Heather, i always wondered w-HEATHER he girl-aged to get his hands down her knickers to touch her sweet little bum and twat while they were making that movie.

Tony Brubaker said...

I want to bugger Monique Van De Ven (as the bird was in 1970 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

Tony Brubaker said...

I have a desperate need for Heather O`Rourke.