May 24, 2015

Homebodies




I cannot even remember when, but I certainly learned at a very, very young age that being old sucks. Naturally, having a crippled devout Christian grandmother who always complained about how she wished she was “in heaven” with my grandfather when I was a young kid probably played a large part in forming my opinion of what life is like as a senior citizen, but it is also hard for me to think of a single old person I have ever met that did not seem defeated, senile, and/or otherwise miserable.  Of course, who wants to live long enough to see your loved ones and everyone you knew drop dead until you’re the only one left. Additionally, if a person has not given up on their life by middle-age like most people do, they almost certainly have by the time they have reached their glorious so-called ‘golden years.’ Naturally, considering my particularly pessimistic outlook old on age, I could not help but be excited by the prospect of a film about a gang of old farts that decide that to defend their homes and, in turn, their honor and dignity, by killing people so that they don’t get kicked out of their own apartment which is set to be demolished to make way for a new apartment complex for bourgeois bastards. Indeed, in the darkly comedic ‘horror’ flick Homebodies (1974) directed by Larry Yust and co-penned by Mel Brooks’ cousin Howard Kaminsky, an eccentric sextet of elderly pensioners played by veteran actors decide it is no more Mr. Nice Guy and begin tragicomedically liquidating construction workers, enterprising business men, and bitchy young blonde bureaucrats who have brought great discomfort to their lives and dignity by demanding that they leave an apartment building that some have been living at an upwards of four decades. Although virtually unknown today, Yust is probably best remembered for his short 20-minute Shirley Jackson adaptation The Lottery (1969)—a work produced for the “Short Story Showcase” series by Encyclopædia Britannica (of which director Yust’s father Walter M. Yust was the American editor-in-chief of from 1938 to 1960) that has been ranked by the Academic Film Archive as “one of the two bestselling educational films ever”—as well as his quasi-Blaxploitation flick Trick Baby (1972) starring Kiel Martin as a super high yellow mulatto who is able to pass himself off as white. For better or worse, Homebodies is indubitably Yust’s magnum opus, as an idiosyncratic cult flick that is still sweetly sick, cynical, and shocking after over four decades since its original release. Indeed, the film might by somewhat slow-paced and directed with the uniquely uncultivated elegance of a for-hire TV hack, but it is a truly one of a kind work that manages to pay rare tribute to the plights of geriatric folks yet is simultaneously absurdly amoral in a fashion that will just downright disgust many people. Like a Hagsploitation reworking of Grumpy Old Men (1993) with a sadistic shade of Weekend at Bernie's (1989) as directed by a less campy nephew of Curtis Harrington and Paul Bartel, Homebodies is unequivocally one of the most fucked ‘feel good’ films ever made. 




 While walking by a construction site near her dilapidated apartment complex in Cincinnati, Ohio, quasi-antihero Mattie Spencer (played by Paula Trueman, who was nearly blind at the time of shooting the film and had to do chin-ups during her audition to prove she was fit enough for the role) a young Guido construction worker asks her, “Hey, you got something for me granny?,” so she gives him a prune, thus demonstrating she eats stereotypical old people food. Less than a minute after Mattie gives him the prune, the less than polite goombah laborer falls to his death upon foolishly riding on a steel beam that is being lifted to the top of the building.  While one would assume most elderly women would be traumatized after seeing a young and vibrant wisecracking wop fall to his death a moment after talking to her, Mattie is given a somewhat strange idea as to how she and her neighbors can avoided being evicted from their apartment.  After witnessing the somewhat hilarious death, Mattie goes by the apartment of her neighbor and best friend Miss Emily (Frances Fuller of One Sunday Afternoon (1933) starring Gary Cooper and Fay Wray), who suffers from such bad agoraphobia that she has not left her apartment in two decades. Surely, Miss Emily is a melancholy reminder of how much can change over a relatively short time as she is the barren, post-debutante daughter of a wealthy man that used to own fourteen different apartment buildings, including the one she lives in, in the area yet she can barely afford to pay for the rent at the antiquated apartment she lives in and now spends most of her time talking to her long dead daddy and nostalgically reflecting how great things were in the good old days, stating things like, “This is only one of fourteen buildings my father owned in this neighborhood. He wouldn’t let something like this happen. That was a long time ago, of course. Things were very different back then. People respected us. We were very elegant here.” While talking about the dead Guido, Mattie and Miss Emily both agree that it is nice and quiet outside since the construction workers stopped working as a result of the freak accident. Needless to say, it does not take Mattie—a half-crazed crypto-cunt with a discernible spark of malefic mischief in her world weary eyes—long to come to the epiphany that she and her geriatric comrades do not have to vacate their apartment complex as demanded by their landlord, as murder always complicates things and will certainly postpone their inevitable eviction if the right people kick the bucket. 




 When a fiercely phony and pigheaded attractive blonde relocation official named Miss Pollack (Linda Marsh of Elia Kazan’s America America (1963)) is brought in to kick the old folks out, it only adds insult to injury, as she thinks she can tell the senior citizens to do whatever she wants since she is attractive and in good shape.  Of course, the irony is that Miss Pollack never expected a single one of the old farts to outlive her, but every single one ultimately does.  Widower Mr. Sandy (William Hansen of Willard (1971) and 1776 (1972)) refuses to leave because his apartment is cluttered with stacks upon stacks of research he has done for a memoir he wants to finish in tribute his long dead wife, who he was married to for 55 years. Apartment superintendant Mr. Loomis (Ian Wolfe of Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and THX 1138 (1971)) is in the process of painting the outside of the entire building and neither he or his beloved wife (Ruth McDevitt of The Parent Trap (1961) and Hitchcock’s Birds (1963)) have any interest in leaving where they have spent the last forty years of their lives. Stoic old blind man Mr. Blakely (Peter Brocco of Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun (1971) and Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)) might not be able to see but he is certainly not looking for a change of scenery. When cold hearted cunt Pollack shows up at the apartment, the old people eventually talk her out of leaving the building and blind Blakely even shows her the courtesy of walking her out the door, but she is not going to back down without a fight as reflected in her spitefully spoken words, “We’ve moved out thousands of old people like you. What makes you think you’re any different?” When the police come back the next day, all of the old folks aside from Mattie and Miss Emily are escorted to their new apartment which is a cold and clinical building flooded with elderly lost souls that resembles a giant mental hospital. When Miss Pollack goes looking for Mattie and Miss Emily around the almost haunted house-like apartment building, she gets the shock of a lifetime when the latter pops out of the closet and stabs her in the gut and kills her almost instantly. Of course, the rest of the old folks come back after Miss Pollack is liquidated and proceed to live life like nothing has happened, at least at the beginning. Rather humorously, the old-timers wheel around Miss Pollack's corpse in a wheelchair and eventually dump it off of a bridge and onto a train where it will not be found anytime soon. 




 On top of killing Miss Pollack, the old gang liquidates three construction workers who were ‘mysteriously’ killed and “fried like bacon” via electrocution at the site of another new, nearby apartment complex that is being built, thus temporarily halting construction. The next person to meet death is a rich and pernicious prick of a building owner named Mr. Crawford (Douglas Fowley of Singin' in the Rain (1952)) who is not much younger than the people he wants to evict yet he mocks them due their age and is certainly not going to allow his $50 million dollar project go down the drain so a couple whiny old farts can live their remaining years in relative comfort. In a fitting way to immortalize the man in his own monstrous creation, the geriatric gang put Mr. Crawford inside a structure at the new apartment complex and drop cement on him while he is still alive. Unfortunately, a piece of Mr. Crawford’s foot is sticking outside of his new concrete coffin, so Mr. Loomis chops the pesky appendage off and puts it in his pocket. While Loomis is quite the trooper when it comes to exterminating his enemies, his wife is much more sensitive and even attempts to turn her herself into a cop, but Mattie stops her and later threatens her and everyone else by stating, “There are six people dead and there will be more if someone gets in the way. Do you understand me?” Of course, Mattie eventually decides Mrs. Loomis has to go when she sees her walking to the police, so she throws an urn carrying Miss Emily’s father's ashes from an upstairs window and knocks her out. While Mrs. Loomis does not die immediately, she does drop dead not long after as her comrades refuse to take her to the hospital due to their precarious situation. Meanwhile, Mattie decides to bludgeon Mr. Sandy to death for seemingly no reason at all, thus depriving the man the opportunity to honor his deceased wife by finishing his memoir.  Indeed, it seems that, unlike her neighbors, who just want to be left in peace and maintain some dignity, Mattie is a psychopathic old wench who will use any excuse she can think to kill someone, as she rather enjoys it.




 When Miss Emily confronts Mattie about killing her friends by soundly stating, “It doesn’t make any sense if we start killing each other,” and she replies, “You be careful! I killed the old man too. I kill any of you if you don’t let me alone,” it becomes quite clear that the old lady is more than a little bit off her rocker and needs to be stopped before she kills everyone or gets the entire group busted. The last straw for the old folks is when Mattie chases Miss Emily up to the top floor of the new apartment construction site and attempts to throw her off the building.  Luckily, the old men and a security guard stop Mattie before Miss Emily's brains are splattered on the asphalt.  After chasing Mattie around town in a variety of situations that one might describe as ‘senior citizen slapstick,’ Mr. Loomis, Mr. Blakely, and Ms. Emily end up collectively drowning the miserable old bitch after chasing her down in small rented rowboats. Unfortunately, when the mature murderers get back to their apartment, they discover their building is in the process of being demolished, so they grab whatever they can and start looking for a new apartment complex. When they reach an apartment complex that looks cozy enough, the equally elderly superintendent informs them that their building is set to be demolished to make way for apartments for rich people, but Mr. Blakely replies with a knowing smirk, “I think we’ll move in for a bit, anyhow” and Miss Emily adds, “Maybe we can help.” In a bizarre and seemingly inexplicable twist, as the group is talking to the superintendent, assumedly dead Mattie appears and jovially states, “It’s me…Mattie.” 




 While more darkly humorous than chilling, Homebodies is guaranteed to petrify or unnerve certain people because many individuals have a sort of unconscious fear of the elderly as they are a dejecting and less than aesthetically pleasing reminder of where their future is heading. Considering the guilt so many people probably feel due to how they end up putting their elderly loved ones in so-called ‘retirement homes’ and in general treat old people like retarded children, the idea of a group of mischievously murderous grandpas and grandmas seems like a frightening prospect as their actions would almost seem warranted as a sort of revenge for what most non-elderly people would probably consider abuse or neglect, among other things. Notably, the scenario depicted in Homebodies cannot be all that uncommon, as one-time Warhol superstar Taylor Mead—an exceedingly effete fellow who not only appeared in Factory films like Taylor Mead's Ass (1965) and Lonesome Cowboys (1968), but also important and/or otherwise notable works like Gregory J. Markopoulos’ The Iliac Passion (1967), Michel Auder’s Cleopatra (1970), Eric Mitchell’s Underground U.S.A. (1980), and Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)—spent about a decade attempting to stop his eviction from his Lower East Side apartment by a relatively young and enterprising Jewish real-estate mogul Ben Shaoul, only to be evicted in 2013 at the age of 88 and die a mere month later after relocating to Denver to live with his niece. Considering Mead was a rather respected individual among certain art fags and Warhol whores, one can only imagine what the average experience is like for your everyday elderly person.  More recently, when the negroes carried out their senseless destruction of Baltimore city a couple weeks back over the death of a degenerate drug dealer who infected his own community with dope, they totally destroyed two brand new buildings that were made for poor elderly black old folks. Of course, like old people in general, these are issues that people rather ignore, which is easy to do since senior citizens have no real voices. 


 Aside from its bizarre combination of absurdist amorality and old farts' rights message, Homebodies is also notable for being shot around Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood which, as its name hints, was German before being taken over by poor negroes and thus features discernibly Teutonic architecture, thus exposing another tragic element of urbanization and inner-city redevelopment schemes. Indeed, with all the vulgar and just plain ugly and stupid architecture in American cities, the last thing these areas need is to lose what little examples of real European-like culture and cultivation they have, but then again there is probably no one left in the area that could appreciate Gothic Revival spires, or as Oswald Spengler once wrote: “One day the last portrait of Rembrandt and the last bar of Mozart will have ceased to be — though possibly a colored canvas and a sheet of notes will remain — because the last eye and the last ear accessible to their message will have gone.” Apparently one of the first films ever to be screened on HBO, Homebodies will too reach a Spenglerian fate before Mozart is forgotten, which is rather unfortunate as it one of only a handful of films and probably the only ‘horror’ flick that gives old folks their due as a deadly force to be reckoned with.  Indeed, with the film's incessant, vaguely intimidating low-angle shots of the eponymous elderly folks and goofy yet strangely ominous yet old time style theme song “Sassafras Sundays” featuring the lyrics like, “Days of let’s pretend…John Philip Sousa and Parfait tunes …phosphate and needlepoint afternoons…sassafras Sundays with all your friends…Horses and carriages coming soon…guests in the parlor this afternoon,” Yust's film dares to make senior citizens look dangerous, which certainly beats looking weak and feeble-minded.  Indeed, aside from a rare elderly person like 87-year-old Ursula Haverbeck who dares to face serious prison time in Germany by questioning the official holocaust narrative in a country that has made certain beliefs a major criminal offense, the only place you will find old farts with tenacity, drive, and rebelliousness is in a fictional film like Homebodies.



-Ty E

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