I can't imagine a more appropriate movie to serve as Fantastic Fest's
official opener than "The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)," a
near-immediate sequel to the instant cult hit that entered the
pop-culture lexicon before it even saw release.
Last night's 9 p.m. crowd was pumped, but perhaps not quite primed, for
whatever in-attendance writer/director/producer Tom Six had conjured up
this time. Anyone who has read my original review of the first
may recall that I think that film's events weren't as graphic as
everyone expected — that they could've been much
Well, welcome to the "much worse." But more on that in a moment.
Awaiting each viewer was an official "Human Centipede II" Survival Kit, a
branded barf bag containing a staple remover and a peppermint. I ate
We also each received a "Human Centipede II" T-shirt, bearing the pun
tagline, "The Deuce Is Loose." Anyone who didn't get the reference would
within 90 minutes. Naturally, the shirt is brown. No, you can't have
Before the show, FF and Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League coerced lil'
"Lord of the Rings" star Elijah Wood to join him onstage from his spot
in the audience. Wood complied, soon giving way to an all-audience
re-creation of the actor's now-infamous "Puppet Master" dance from
kiddie show "Yo Gabba Gabba!" The sight was surreal, especially since —
this being the Alamo — subliminal shots of exploding heads from
"Scanners" and the like made their way into the footage before taking
Then we experienced the movie. When Six promoted the original film by
saying the sequel would make it look like "My Little Pony" by
comparison, that wasn't just a good soundbite. Part two makes part one
look positively innocent. To Six's credit, he didn't simply remake his
own movie. Instead, he completely flipped it and went meta.
"THC II" begins with Martin (newcomer Laurence R. Harvey), a sweaty,
bug-eyed, obese parking garage attendant in London, watching the tail
end of the first "THC" on his laptop at work. When it's over, he watches
it again. He's obsessed with it, to the point that he keeps a scrapbook
of the film hidden underneath his bed, as if it were porn.
Martin doesn't utter a word. He doesn't need to. His story is so simple
— a lifetime of abuse and ridicule — that he doesn't have to. The gist
of "THC II" is that he begins to wonder about testing the movie's "100%
Medically Accurate" advertising claim, so he seeks out some unwilling
test subjects from the labyrinthian parking garage. Whereas the movie's
Dr. Heiter had but three victims, Martin seeks a dirty dozen.
Whereas the first film was clean and antiseptic in look and design, this
sequel is bleak and grimy. Whereas the first film was in color, this
sequel is in black-and-white — except for one scene, à la the girl in
the red dress from Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List," but I leave it
to your imagination. Whereas the first film showed next to nothing,
this sequel shows everything. I do think it goes too far, and from a guy
like me who has a strong tolerance for horror, that's saying something.
(However, I should note that most of the audience members were more
troubled by a pre-show short of a medical education film about the
vasectomy procedure, step by scissoring step.)
I'm still processing "THC II." Six has made the darkest of black
comedies, set in "Eraserhead"-type surroundings of societal misery, and
then stitched on a Grand Guignol grand finale that had many unsure
whether to laugh or recoil, so they did both. Harvey gives a remarkably
brave performance; we alternately feel sorry for him and want to kill
him. I think I liked the movie — it's arty, clever
and unique — but so much of its third act crosses the line that the
angel on my shoulder tells me I shouldn't. You'll never look at sandpaper the same way again.
Actually, the afterward appearance of Six, Harvey and four lovely
centipede segments onstage took some of the sting out of it. There's a
reason why they call it "special effects." Those butts sure looked real
The highlight of the Q-and-A was when League asked Six about how he
found Harvey, who resembles Alfred Hitchcock by way of Batman comics'
The Penguin. Six said Harvey walked into auditions, "and then I asked
him to rape a chair. He went at it full-force." And the rest is cinema
history. —Rod Lott
This is a fun weekend, so much so that I wish I could clone myself to
catch more screenings, and I'm already raring to come back in 2012. That
10. The ticketing system is several levels too difficult.
9. Much of the audience is hygienically challenged.
8. Much of the audience is hygienically challenged.
7. Much of the audience is just as rude, loud and inconsiderate as
regular moviegoers — just with better knowledge of obscure nude scenes
and dragon sequences.
6. Much of the audience is hygienically challenged.
5. Despite hot Austin weather, the in-theater A/C isn't cranked as high as I'd like.
4. Much of the audience is hygienically challenged.
3. Much of the audience is hygienically challenged.
2. Most of the free T-shirts are black.
1. Much of the audience is hygienically challenged. And combined with
No. 5, that's a recipe for ick. —Rod Lott
Writers/directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury finally follow up
their 2007 hit, "Inside," with another French horror film in "Livid."
While not a sophomore slump, it doesn't pay off on their debut's
promise. Most of that is because the new movie makes so little sense.
On one hand, that's good, because you're not quite sure what's going to
happen next. On the other hand, when stuff does happen, you may ask
Appealing young actress Chloé Coulloud is Lucie, a new home-care nurse
being trained by a jaded veteran of elderly diaper-changing (Catherine
Jacob, "Who Killed Bambi?"). On day one, the most memorable stop is that
of the Jessel mansion, where a 100-year-old lives in a vegetative state
by herself (credibility alert!) on the top floor. The pro tells the
newbie of a rumored treasure somewhere within the massive estate.
After sharing this news with her frustrated boyfriend, Lucie find
herself as part of a trio breaking into the place amid the witching hour
to hunt for the riches. They find something else. If a senior citizen
in an oxygen mask is the stuff of your nightmares, prepare to soil your
From there, the story unfolds in a manner audiences may not expect, but
"Livid" becomes less lucid. The nonsense speeds up as the pacing slows
to a near-crawl. I'm all for acts of the supernatural, but not without
some context as to what is occurring before our eyes. Bustillo and Maury
are unclear, perhaps in an attempt to be arty. The team pulls off some
outstanding visuals, but ghost stories cannot work on those alone.
The title "Livid" has no proper connection to the movie's events; it's
as if someone wanted a word that sounded like "Insidious." Now that's a
flick that yielded fright while containing all other necessary
ingredients. As for "Livid," let's chalk it up as a somewhat noble
misfire. —Rod Lott
Movies aren't all dreary and eerie at this film festival. A few are pure
comedies, and so far, I've caught two, neither from these United
First, "New Kids Turbo," a Danish delight about five slackers with
mullets who are too lazy to get and/or keep a job, and welfare checks
just don't support their beer-swillin' lifestyles, so they decide to
stop paying for anything anymore. Not only does this attract the
attention of the authorities, but the idea catches on with the
recession-weary populace. Politically incorrect slapstick ensues, and
the jokes are lobbed at rapid fire. The quintet of rude, crude losers
breaks several rules of things you should never do in movies (i.e. kill
the dog), but they get away with it and have you laughing all the way.
Nothing gets lost in the translation.
And then there's Japan's "Karate-Robo Zaborgar," equally as silly and
satisfying. This one's both an update and a spoof of a kiddie
live-action series from yesteryear, à la "Ultraman," so the approach is
both reverent and respectfully raunchy (think "The Brady Bunch Movie").
It's about the love story between a man and his fighting, transforming
robot, and all the enemies they fight (or attempt to) along the way. One
of them is Diarrhea Robot, so named because of ... well, you'll see
when this hits USA DVD before long. —Rod Lott
The Detroit band talks Wayne Coyne, hip-hop beats, pop radio and Pitchfork.
The three best shows I saw at this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival were two obvious choices (Kanye West, Arcade Fire) and one dark horse I’d pinned a lot of hope on. That band is Detroit’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., and the duo’s Sunday-afternoon set showed off their flair for garish styles, fun-loving melodies, twinkling electronic textures, falsetto harmonizing, bubble machines and straight-up rock ’n’ roll. Also, they tossed Popsicles to a thankful crowd, heat-exhausted by three days of loud music in the Texas sun.
With those antics – the names, the games, the showmanship, these press photos – it’s hard to tell whether or not Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein have their tongues wriggling in their cheeks. Luckily, I had the chance to chat with them the day before their set, and the guys seem as genuine as the homegrown, preservative-free cheese I bought at Forward Foods during my lunch break yesterday.
My verdict: They’re ambitious, quirky guys who record weirdly lovable music and are nostalgic for a time when physical media was more important and radio stations crackled with music that was beautiful and challenging. But I’m rambling now. On to the chatting:
Zott: So what’s up with Wayne Coyne? He gets to do whatever he wants on a major label, and everyone loves him. It’s weird.
Epstein: He has like, three houses, right? Right in a row?
OKS: It’s actually four. He’s expanded. I think they’re all back-to-back, and connected by the backyard. It’s just a gigantic compound.
Epstein: That’s so weird.
OKS: It’s in the shady side of Oklahoma City, so the houses are probably pretty cheap. He’s spent a lot of money remodeling and redecorating them.
“Nothing but Our Love” at ACL 2011
Epstein: That’s awesome. Is he part of the community?
OKS: I see him at concerts all the time. There’s a venue in Norman called Opolis, where a lot of the smaller-name indie acts come through, and he’s there with friends and family at a lot of the shows I go to. He just walks right up to the stage, pulls out his phone and tweets photos. He’s checking out new bands and hanging around.
But on to you guys. One of the things I like so much about your music is that a lot of it’s textured with electronica — the little fizzly sounds that keep things going. How is that coming out of Detroit? It seems very different to me, from most of the music that comes out of there.
Music video for “Simple Girl”
Zott: You’re talking about the garage-rock scene.
OKS: Yeah, that’s usually what I think about when I hear about Detroit.
Zott: There’s that element, and we do have a rock element to our sound, but Detroit does have an electronic scene that’s really huge. It kinda started there.
Epstein: Yeah, techno music came from Detroit.
Zott: There’s a lot of bands doing that kinda stuff right now, and the roots are there for it. A lot of bands we like are electronic-type bands. It’s more natural than you think, there’s a lot of electronic tinkering going on up there.
Epstein: There’s a huge, underground hip-hop scene that’s getting notoriety also. I think hip-hop’s actually a big part of our music, too.
Zott: I’d say more so than electronica is a hip-hop type vibe. It’s a little bit warmer. There’s a groovier beat than a stale, 4-4 beat.
OKS: I definitely feel like – listening to you guys’ music – it’s more intimate and warm-sounding.
Zott: Yeah, there’s definitely some of that electronic texturing, but it’s Detroit to us.
Epstein: Well, the songs had to have “Summer” in the title, but I’ve always been a huge Pavement fan, so it seemed to be a pretty obvious choice.
Zott: And I hadn’t listened to them much. Usually when we do a cover or a remix or something like that, one of us has heard the song and the other hasn’t, so it makes it more fun because you can’t quite put as much of a spin on the song if you know it in and out. That’s really hard to do. I think we were able to get away from it because I wasn’t familiar. Josh kept the things that we needed to keep, but we also made it fresh.
OKS: Let me ask you guys about your album, particularly the Gil Scott-Heron cover, “We Almost Lost Detroit.” Did you guys pick that one out because you’re big fans of Gil Scott-Heron, or because of the hometown mention, or kind of a mix of both, or what?
“We Almost Lost Detroit” live on KEXP
Epstein: I think initially it was because of Detroit. We really liked the version we did. It felt updated, in comparison to the original. But also we really liked the sentiment in it. It sums up so much about our record, especially the name “It’s a Coporate World,” so it felt like we had to include it. It was just kinda meant to be.
OKS: Do you guys’ songs start out with words, or do you go melody first or what?
Zott: It’s different every time. I think the key is to keep it inspired and to avoid forcing anything. Sometimes Josh’ll have an idea and we’ll work it out, sometimes I’ll have an idea and we’ll work it out, sometimes we push something together, or sometimes we write a whole song and there’s no lyrics. Sometimes you need to make lyrics sound good. It’s different every time, I think.
OKS: If you guys had to record a pop album or a folk album, which one would you choose?
Zott: That’s where we’re kind of a mix. We want to be a pop band. We hate the idea that a pop band has to be dumbed-down — lyrically, sonically, chord structure-wise. It used to not be like that. “God Only Knows” was a massive hit worldwide, and that song has the weirdest chords in it, it has time-signature changes, a key change. It’s weird: It would never fly right now on pop-radio format.
God Only Knows:
OKS: It’s morbid, too.
Zott: Yeah! It was considered a beautiful love song, and it is. But it’s got these funky lyrics that aren’t typical love-song lyrics. But we think people can still digest that stuff, and people do. I’d like to write a pop album that breaks that rule. We’re just making music we love, that we think could be pop music and doesn’t necessarily have to be Top-40 radio. It can be complex. I think we’d do a pop record.
Epstein: To me, they both exist within me, and I don’t think I can separate them. I’ll still feel the need to write lyrics that are meaningful and challenging. You can do it. People just aren’t doing it in the Top 40 anymore. The system’s a bit broken. People at the radio stations want to keep their jobs. Radio plays a huge role to make bands visible to people who aren’t on blogs, who don’t seek out new things.
People who read Pitchfork fail to realize that most people in the world don’t read Pitchfork. I was working with this band, recording a song, and they were like, “Pitchfork’s gonna love this.” And I told them they were idiots. Do it because you love, not because Pitchfork’s gonna like it. They’re just one opinion, anyways. Somehow they’ve managed to make people think they’re the authority.
I just think that, ultimately, if it were DJs playing the songs they wanted to play, like it was in the ‘60s, then we’d have a much more diverse popular music scene. People are hungry for good stuff. That’s how Phoenix became a Top-40 band. I think mostly probably because it was so different when it played on those stations. People were like, “Holy crap! What is this? It’s not Nickelback!” y’know?
OKS: So are you guys going to get to go around at the fest at all? Who are you going to see?
Zott: If we have time, we’d love to see Stevie Wonder.
Epstein: As a musician, it’s really hard for me to go to a show and just be entertained. And when bands can do that, I’m always so blown away. Like going to a Flaming Lips show: You feel like a little kid and you just want to cry. I learn a lot from them.
Zott: I don’t go to concerts, which is kind of a weird thing. I guess I’m going to have to make up for it now.
Epstein: I go to too many. I played with OK Go one time, and they said something along the lines of, “Everything we do, we try to be like The Flaming Lips.”
Features Jenny Coon Peterson
You have to be buzzed in at Verdigris (1001 N.W. 10th; 602-8986), which
makes me feel very posh. (Although, I think it has more to do with the
up-and-coming location than keeping out the proletariat.)
Because this looks like one killer serving of alphabet soup.
At Fantastic Fest in Austin a couple weekends ago, the free T-shirt I was given upon check-in was for “The ABCs of Death,” a forthcoming anthology film with one nifty concept: 26 directors each taking on a letter of the alphabet, each shooting a short on the various ways we all may bite the dust, but hopefully won’t. You know, like A is for asphyxiation — that sort of thing.
Yep, 25. Because for the 26th, Drafthouse Films left the letter-T slot open to be filled via a contest. Now that the submissions have been collected, it’s up for the public to decide. Your quick vote — not “Like,” but the actual
“vote” button, and be sure to verify that email so it counts! — will
make someone a very happy camper.
My vote’s been cast for Shade Rupe’s “T Is for Trick,” partly because if it’s good enough for Clive Barker (who said “colour me impressed ... bloody good work”), it’s good enough for me and you. You can view all the submissions and vote at the official “ABCs of Death” site. —Rod Lott