Consider me splatterhoused. Ok, now what the hell’s that supposed to mean? I’m sure the vast majority of horror fans and pop-culture obsessives are familiar with the video game; Splatterhouse was a blood-soaked homage to monster flicks in 16 Bit form, where you play as a Jason-masked hulk obliterating everything in his path – at one point, I got the bright idea to turn it into a verb. That’s what happened to my brain the first time I viewed Razorwire Pictures’ The Second Self. To absololutely no one’s surprise, that’s where my brain still is, splatterhoused. Last time I saw it, the blood around it was finally starting to dry, and it was still stuck to the wall somewhat, but it had made a little bit of progress sliding down to the floor. It’s been two weeks since the initial point of impact, and my brain has made a progress of about 2.5 inches in its descent. THAT’S how hard it hit me…
Here we have a wonderfully chaotic trio of shorts from Chris J. Miller, and in the time since Ironhorse, it’s easy to see the man has been honing his craft quite well. There’s a little bit of irony involved here – these shorts look a tad slicker than Ironhorse, but while they’re easier on the eyes in a sense, they’re just as surreal and avant garde as ever – your retinas may have been spared, but your cerebral cortex and your gut won’t be.
I’d like to make this much clear up front – if you take anything away from this movie, understand that it has some of the most ingenious uses of tentacles the world’s ever seen.
The Second Self is divided into three acts, and it chronicles a filmmaker who encounters his doppleganger while working to finish a film he started ten years prior. Tioga, the second short, is about two freakish roommates and the bizarre consequences of their relationship. The third short, Crawfish, is an Empixx award winner and somewhat of a political allegory, albeit more of a metaphorical one. These sound like short and sweet concepts that could be interpreted any number of quaint ways and the end results would be fascinating, at their core, deep enough to provide a decent level of complexity and a quality viewing experience. Think of someone like, say, Wes Anderson. He could take those themes and craft a nice, quirky little film with some laughs, have a couple monologues, throw in some Bill Murray, a touch of classic rock, maybe some left of center art direction, we smile, we go home. That’s what we like about those films, that doesn’t make them bad, it’s just a matter of taste. Then here comes Chris J. Miller, and he pretty much says to hell with all of that, and cranks the intensity and insanity up to the max. What Razorwire does with these concepts in the frame of 60 minutes is more than a lot of filmmakers do in their entire careers. In the words of Lou Reed: “My week beats your year”.
Lest we lose ourselves, just because these movies are rampantly anarchic doesn’t mean they’re just a lot of bizarre images thrown together for effect – the films are abstract enough for interpretation, but they do have merit in story and symbolism. Each short is filled to the brim with dream imagery and tension of nearly every variety – there is a kind of friction at hand with most every character in some sense. Everything seems to slip – the characters are at odds with each other and the many worlds they occupy conflict in one way or the other – there are a lot of breakdowns here, ranging from simple communication to the nervous variety. It all comes together in a layered, smashing stylistic approach, and it works. In a big way.
The players are all top notch – inhibitions are shed for the greater good of surrealism and there are some excellent freakout performances. Clifford Lee and Kyle Morris really delivered, to name names, but really everyone here was a blast to watch. The dialogue is hilarious, though not quite as cryptic as in Ironhorse, the straightforwardness lends itself to coherence. That framework helps because the energy is a tad different – this time out it’s a little more dark and brooding, slightly more subdued in favor of something more menacing. Second Self in particular boasts one of my favorite lines in recent memory: “DIDN’T THEY KNOW THEY COULDN’T USE THIS AS A CHRISTMAS PRESENT?! I MEAN LOOK AT THE EYEBALLS ON THIS THING, THEY’RE FALLING OUT!” I’m not even going to bother providing context for that one, but it had me rolling.
The sound design is excellent, the cinematography is crisp and natural, and there are loads of stop motion interludes that add to the experience. If I may risk sounding pretentious (some say it’s way too late for that, to quote my good friend Doug McClure, sorry ’bout your fucking luck) of all the movies and filmmakers professed to have been influenced by David Lynch, I think Chris J. Miller, whether it’s a conscious inspiration or not, was the one who “got it”. The films are truly atmospheric and each inhabits a kind of somnambulent territory. Tandem descriptions of “a surreal odyssey” and “a journey into dreams and the subconscious wake” barely scratch the surface – these films are true nightmare incarnate, as if someone had found a way to infiltrate the mind while we were caught unaware.
So, as a member of the human race, maybe, just maybe, you should skip out on some of the more expectant summer fare – I hate to get all arts appreciation on you, but how many paint by number kits does it take to fill one season? Check out Second Self instead – the difference is something akin to going to pickup a velvet Elvis at the local flea market and finding an undiscovered Francis Bacon painting in the back. As for me, I’m in the same predicament as Alice Cooper when he met up with Salvador Dali – vainly searching for what’s left of my brain. That’s a good thing, and I hope you all get just as splatterhoused.
Bonus Points: Razorwire mainstay Todd Brown is back for a small role, and he is a funny, funny man. Just wanted to share that with you.