Drugs Kill. But Before You Die, You Have A Lot Of Fun Making Shitty Movies.
As promised, I'm back, with a review of one of the most talked-about films of the year. Tobe Hooper's Mortuary is making critics stand up and take notice, with reviewers from Eastern Germany to Western Germany and nowhere in between writing word after word of in-depth commentary about the controversial story, and the taboo-shattering subtext of the film . I think it's a testament to the bravery of the actors that they've all been snubbed at the Golden Globes nominations, indicating that there are subjects that even the limousine liberals of Hollywood find embarrassing. All the acclaim is falling on Brokeback Mountain just because Heath Leger gives Jake Gyllenhaal the high hard one in a pup tent, but to me, that's an easy choice as an actor. Flirting with controversy has always been a sure-fire way to bait the Oscar voters, plus Gyllenhaal's as lithe as a 12 year old girl, so you can just close your eyes and pretend you're sodomizing your way through a Girl Guide camping trip. But imagine the bravery of the actors in Mortuary, who so believed in the roles, in the film itself, that they surely sacrificed the chance of every working in anything but a Burger King commercial again for the opportunity to make snide remarks and act scared in front of absent computer generated imagery. Denise Crosby, in particular, seems to have charted her career to peak at the zenith that is Mortuary, carefully planning out quitting from a nationally syndicated television show to take up roles in increasingly obscure direct to video fare, culminating in looking tired and old on camera while being surrounded by future soap-opera extras. Mortuary, clearly, with its heart-breaking tale of romance, alienation, and killer mould set against the breathtaking landscapes of a cheap sound-stage in Studio City, is the film to beat this Oscar season.
Another great thing about the film, aside from trying to remember if you saw co-star Alexandra Adi in a TV show or whether you're mixing her up with a dead French porn star, is the ambiguity inherent in the viewing experience. I'm a big fan of films that leave questions unanswered. For example, what are we to make of the shifting facial expressions in final shot of The Graduate? Is Lee Marvin a ghost in Point Blank? Is King Kong really an Imperial Klans of America training video? Mortuary is one of the films, rife with ambiguity and open for interpretation. Certainly, none of the ambiguity stems from the stupid plot, which seems to have been written by 20 year-old with half a film degree and a vague recollection of a Lovecraft short story collection. No, the ambiguity comes in the discussions that will inevitably follow a viewing of the film, regarding whether director Tobe Hooper is crazy or just addicted to drugs.
Either explanation would be sufficient to explain his previous body of work, but until recently, I was more likely to support the former. When he burst on to the scene with films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive, it was clear that his was a talent to be reckoned with. It then became obvious that it was also a talent to fear, because the kind of man who could follow up Salem's Lot with Spontaneous Combustion is a man likely prone to violent mood swings, the kind of man who would start off a Sunday afternoon telling up humorous stories about high school in the 1950s and end it by chasing you around the house with a meat cleaver while shrieking in a wild falsetto and rolling his eyes in his head like a Super 7 Jackpot machine. His filmography had given me the impression that Hooper might be much like the Anthony Hopkins character in Proof; capable of unique expressions of genius, but ultimately doomed. Soon, the voices in his head that drove him to coalesce the congealed madness that is Texas… would over power him with psalms sung backwards or incorrect Major League Baseballs scores or whatever it is that crazy people hear, forcing him to make films like Poltergeist. But then I saw Mortuary, which, while not a good film at all, is not entirely a bad one. It's energetic, and manages not to take itself too seriously without sacrificing horror to a irritating sense of self-parody. Coupled with Hooper's previous film, Toolbox Murders, Mortuary has caused me to re-evaluate my view of the man, and I'm beginning to suspect that Crocodile may be the work of cocaine problems rather than a psychotic break with reality. Perhaps a combination of cocaine psychosis and mounting drug-debts would explain the one-two donkey punch of Invaders From Mars and Lifeforce, and a lengthy stint in rehab is to thank for his recent work. Or maybe it's Clozapine. This vacillation of opinion is obviously the result of the masterful ambiguity inherent in Mortuary, and it's what makes this film the must-see-Tobe-Hooper film of the year.