Sep 30, 2015

Born of the Wind

Maybe because I have not seen that many decent films about deadly undead Egyptian aristocrats wrapped in ancient bandages, but I have never really had a strong interest in mummy movies, so I can appreciate it when a filmmaker dares to rape and defile the conventions and mythology of the classic horror subgenre, especially if you have to be a half-crazed and remarkably socially awkward camp-oriented genre-molester like Mike Kuchar (Sins of the Fleshapoids, The Secret of Wendel Samson). Indeed, forget the Ed Wood penned pseudo-erotic celluloid turd Orgy of the Dead (1965), the bandaged corpse host of Antony Balch's suave counterculture sexploitation flick Secrets of Sex (1970) aka Bizarre, Anthony Hickox’s self-referential pomo horror-comedy Waxwork (1988), and even the curious cult item Don Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), Kuchar’s 24-minute silent horror-melodrama-sci-fi experiment in avant-garde camp Born of the Wind (1961) is certainly one of the most wildly idiosyncratic, morally vacant, and uniquely unpredictable mummy movies ever made, even if it is more or less a glorified home-movie that was directed by someone that one might assume is a benign mental patient who could one day become like Mickey Rooney's titular character in Yabo Yablonsky's The Manipulator (1971) aka B.J. Lang Presents. Shot on the much maligned consume grade medium of 8mm, Kuchar’s waywardly enthralling flick not only abruptly switches between various movie genres in a ridiculously refreshing way, but also features various forms of archaic animation as a work that makes the special effects of the homegrown semi-Lovecraftian cult classic Equinox (1970) seem comparable to that of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927). One of the few Kuchar Twins flicks that has been professionally restored and is available in DVD form (it was somewhat fittingly released as part of the 2008 DVD compilation Experiments in Terror 3 alongside shorts by Guy Maddin and imaginary filmmaker J. X. Williams), Born of the Wind has a sort of very distinct and unforgettable DIY Gothic neo-Expressionist aesthetic about it that accentuates the films refreshingly amoral tone where the most heinous of monsters are depicted in a strangely empathetic light that might make the average Hollywood spoon-fed American filmgoer vomit in abject confusion. A mad-scientist-meets-vampiric-mummy tale that evolves into a hysterically tragic bizarre love triangle involving pernicious space invaders and cat burglars that becomes completely aesthetically and thematically anarchistic in the end to the point where the filmgoer will be questioning whether what they just saw really happened or not, Kuchar’s flick is nothing short of campy romantic pessimism at its most flagrantly freaky and pleasantly psychotronic. Seeming like it was directed by the bastard idiot savant stepson of James Whale and Curtis Harrington, the short features a sort of melodically melancholic spirit that you might expect to bleed from Douglas Sirk’s mind had the master of melodrama become a horror fan upon developing Alzheimer's disease. Somewhat underwhelming described by co-star George Kuchar as, “A tender and realistic story of a scientist who falls in love with a mummy he has restored to life... 2,000 years as a mummy couldn't quench her thirst for love!,” Born of the Wind is nothing short of the height of celluloid outsider art as a work that tests the bounds of artistic tastefulness. 

 After opening with a sort of pseudo-psychedelic title screen, Born of the Wind features a partially incorrectly spelled handpainted inter-title reading, “It’s been three weeks since the disappearance of the mummy from the city museum. At Koshki Castle, Dr. Morris D. Koshki works feverishly to decode an old Egyptian scroll. The scroll says it can bring life and youth back to the mummified princess who died at an early age, thousands of years ago.” Indeed, Dr. Koshki (Kuchar regular Bob Cowan of The Secret of Wendel Samson (1966) and The Devil’s Cleavage (1975)) is an extra mad scientist with a slight sensitive side who seems rather lonely and hopelessly sexually repressed as he has dedicated all of his time to reanimating an ancient aristocrat Egyptian corpse that was born before Jesus Christ and no task or crime is too big for him to accomplish this seemingly ludicrous task of quasi-necrophiliac forbidden love. After berating his annoyingly meek maid (Janice Jones) for knocking over something while he is studying arcane Egyptian scrolls at his desk, Dr. Koshki finally realizes that he will need to procure human blood if he wants to perfect a magical potion that will give life to his rotten would-be-lover, so he naturally raids a blood bank that is designated with a poorly handwritten sign on the front door at a place called Shalimar Hospital and steals a couple jars full of fresh vital fluids. Upon getting home with the jars of stolen blood, Dr. Koshki is so excited about the prospect of bringing the mummy to life that he spills the stolen sanguine fluids all over the place while creating his special reanimating potion. Somewhat anticlimactically, the Mummy (Kuchar regular Donna Kerness of The Naked and the Nude (1957) and Sins of the Fleshapoids (1965)) instantly comes to life and transform into a somewhat beauteous busty babe after Dr. Koshski applies his special serum to her initially thoroughly decayed skull.  Somewhat preposterously, the mummy princess immediately embraces Koshski upon becoming reanimated and naturally the good doctor laps up all of the attention like a middle-aged virgin who has never had a girlfriend before.  Of course, being an autistically scientifically minded social misfit with probably nil social skills, especially when it comes to the opposite sex, Koshski never seems to consider that his special mummy chick might not feel the same way about him as he feels about her, or so he will eventually learn the hard way as the film progresses. 

 Not unlike a typical bloodsucking vampire, the mummy needs blood to survive as she begins to rot if she does not have a steady plasma supply. When Dr. Koshki’s cat knocks over the last remaining jar of blood while he is playing a piano ballad and he is forced to leave the castle to go steal some more red stuff from the local hospital, the fiending mummy, who cannot wait for her undead dope, takes it upon herself to rejuvenate her busty body by slitting the throat of the dorky castle maid and gorging on her seemingly half-stale vital fluids. While Dr. Koshki is naturally shocked to see the awkwardly contorted bloody corpse of his buffoonish maid when he gets home, he does not really give his poor loyal employee’s brutal death a second thought because he has more important things on his mind, or as an inter-title reveals, “Enslaved by his desires for the Princess the murder was soon forgotten, washed away in her tender, all consuming embrace, and in her promises of eternal love.” Unfortunately for the dandy-like mad scientist, his sphinxlike undead princess’ feelings for him are not exactly as strong as his are for her. Indeed, one night while sleeping in bed alongside Dr. Koshski, the busty mummy awakes to the sound of two incompetent cat burglars stealing utensils from the castle kitchen, so she absurdly threatens them with a hammer but before she knows it her anger and fear turn into ecstasy when the men get physical with her. Indeed, when one of the burglars (Spencer Lee Todd) grabs the blood-addicted princess and gets a little rough with her, she begins to enjoy it, strips off some of her clothes, and then proceeds to ballroom dance with the low-life criminal. While the mummy finds her dance partner to be fairly fun, she more or less falls in love at first sight upon seeing the face of his somewhat more handsome comrade (George Kuchar), who immediately reciprocates her feelings. Needless to say, this bizarre love triangle gets all the more bizarre when Dr. Koshki, who is busy sleeping like a baby, discovers that his beloved has committed the unpardonable act of emotionally betraying him like some cheap floozy. 

 Before leaving the castle with his criminal compatriot, Kuchar tells his new mummy mistress, “I’ll be waiting out there for you,” instead of just taking her with him then and there, which would have been the more sensible thing to do, or so he will soon learn as Dr. Koshki will ultimately discover his undead lover’s treachery before she can attempt to escape from his revengeful wrath. Of course, like any normal girl that likes a boy and wants to impress him, the mummy princess decides to get all dolled up before she joins her lover, so she puts on a slutty skirt and some streetwalker-esque make-up. As revealed in an inter-title in regard to the mummy’s love for Kuchar’s character, “As if born again for a third time, the Princess prepares herself for her new love.” Before meeting Kuchar outside, the princess makes the silly mistake of looking at Dr. Koshki one more last time while he is sleeping and in the process unwittingly wakes him from his slumber. As the sun causes a light to magically beam through a forest in a fashion that makes it resembles a sort of fiery star, the princess and Kuchar play and frolic gaily in the snow with one another right outside of the castle while Dr. Koshki stares angrily at them through an upstairs window while hysterically cursing at his treacherous beloved. When the princess makes the mistake of walking back inside the castle, Dr. Koshki is naturally waiting for her and he immediately begins violently slapping her in the face. Deriving a sort of vengeful sadistic glee from his violence against the woman that broke his heart, the good doctor can only laugh hysterically and point his finger at the princess like she is a freak when he notices that her face is beginning to rot. When Dr. Koshki then proceeds to laugh even more maniacally upon revealing that he has emptied all of the jars of blood in the castle, the perpetually deteriorating princess becomes enraged and begins savagely stabbing him with a large knife so that she can rejuvenate herself with his blood, but it curiously does not harm him and nil vital fluids are drawn. Indeed, in a bizarre plot twist that could happen in a Mike Kuchar flick, Dr. Koshki strips his clothes to the point where he is only wearing goofy red long underwear and then transforms into a sort of silly lycanthrope-like beast with white whiskers. Of course, things only get stranger from there, as the beast begins floating across the floor in a robotic fashion, puts on a metal helmet and is eventually beamed up to a flying saucer that is conveniently hovering above the castle in what is indubitably one of the most wonderfully implausible scenarios in Gothic horror cinema history. Indeed, as it turns out, Dr. Koshki is not just a misunderstood melancholic Gothic dandy cuckold or even a wussy werewolf, but an evil extraterrestrial with a perverse fetish for ancient undead earthling pussy. As Dr. Koshki flies into outerspace in his spaceship, Kuchar helplessly watches in abject horror as his beloved deteriorates rather rapidly and eventually dies, with the only thing remaining of her once-voluptuous body being her skeleton, a lone eyeball, and some rotten gray flesh. 

 Sort of like a stylishly schlocky Tristan und Isolde of the 1960s NYC underground as directed by an eccentric fellow who thought he could beat Douglas Sirk at his own game in terms of assembling aesthetically melodic yet misanthropic melodramas, Born of the Wind ultimately packs an unbelievably potent psychotronic punch that demonstrates that Kuchar could fill more passion and intrigue in 20 minutes than some imitator like Nick Zedd could in one of his features like his somewhat comparable 74-minute monster movie Geek Maggot Bingo or The Freak from Suckweasel Mountain (1983). Undoubtedly what separates the films of Kuchar and his brother from the filmmakers they influenced like Zedd and John Waters is that there is genuine beauty and human emotions in their films while their celluloid disciples just rely on heavy-handed scatological humor, cheap witticisms, and a bottom-of-the-barrel trash aesthetic. Simply put, Born of the Wind is arguably the greatest and most lavish 8mm film ever made as a marvelous monstrosity of a monster melodrama that manages to reconcile Tod Browning and Ed Wood with Sirk and Josef von Sternberg, among other things. In terms of idiosyncratic mummy movies, Kuchar's film is up there with Herbert Achternbusch’s absurdist arthouse comedy I Know the Way to the Hofbrauhaus (1991) and Michael Almereyda’s postmodern Celtic pagan piece The Eternal (1998) aka Trance, though it is naturally a lot more accessible than the other two films as a short and wickedly bittersweet celluloid treat that seems to have infinite replay value. Of course, with its lavish low-budget high-camp decadence, pseudo-arcane mystical themes, and all-star underground cast that includes Bob Cowan, Donna Kerness, and George Kuchar in the lead roles, Kuchar's short is unequivocally a worthy predecessor to the director’s magnum opus Sins of the Fleshapoids (1965).  An endlessly enthralling lo-fi micro-epic packed with an elegant aesthetic decadence that is comparable to any early Werner Schroeter flick and with a refined sense of cinema literacy that makes the films of Quentin Tarantino seem like the autistic postmodern ramblings of a negrophilic preteen megalomaniac that is addicted to Ritalin, Born of the Wind certainly deserves a special place in cinema history in some dark and wet corner, not least of all because it proves that you can make a timeless genre-schizophrenic Gothic horror-romance in your stern Ukrainian mother's cramped apartment.

-Ty E

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