Saturday, January 3, 2009

Fright masks and booty shorts

As writers for Teleport City, neither Keith, David or myself feel obligated to follow one another down whatever cult cinema rabbit holes we individually choose to explore. There's enough of a sense of common ground between us to render that kind of me-too-ism unnecessary. But with Keith's viewing of Shaitani Dracula, I got a palpable sense of a threshold being crossed -- along with the gnawing feeling that, if I wasn't quick to follow, I was doomed to be stuck playing a never-ending game of catch-up. It brought back memories of early adolescence, and those certain kids who, seemingly overnight, had attained the aura of having experienced something that made them somehow profoundly different from the rest. Suddenly the world was divided into those who had seen Shaitani Dracula and those who had not.

I really don't have much to add to Keith's fine review of the film, other than to say that Now I Have Seen, and that I have been forever altered by the experience. Shaitani Dracula taught me that I have been far too profligate in my use of the word "incoherent" when reviewing films in the past, because the movie defies the mind's attempts to organize its meanings with a zeal so savage that I doubt any other ostensibly "narrative" film could even come close to matching it, and by comparison imbues even the most brain-addled convolutions of slapdash trash cinema with an almost didactic clarity. Furthermore, I have to say that Keith was right on in turning to the notion of art brut, because to simply describe this film as "bad" or "incompetent" signifies a profound failure of nerve, and leaves the reader with even less of an understanding of it than if you'd said nothing at all.

And, okay, I'm gonna say it. I actually found Shaitani Dracula kind of scary. Many more accomplished directors have attempted what Harinam Singh achieves here, and it is precisely their level of accomplishment that has doomed them to failure. Unlike them, Singh has succeeded in instilling in his audience the sense that they are in the hands of a filmmaker who is well beyond playing by any of the established rules, because, let's face it, Singh obviously doesn't know what those rules are. (And let's hope it stays that way; the world's glow will be imperceptibly but permanently diminished the day that Harinam Singh enrolls in film school.) Hell, Singh even seems to be a stranger to some of the most basic conventions of his chosen genre, as evidenced by the unique way in which his heroes employ crosses against the vampires -- a trick that suggests the ideal such implement would be formed with a pair of Louisville Sluggers.

Certain of Singh's... well, for the sake of argument, I'll call them techniques, whether intentional or not, are surprisingly effective in terms of provoking tension and a sense of unease. For instance, that caveman guy who keeps popping up for no reason: he's genuinely creepy. The way he's separated from whatever action is going on behind him, standing in the foreground and staring directly at you, there's something unsettlingly intimate and confrontational about it, as if caveman guy is insinuating himself between you and your ability to ironically detach from all of the craziness that's playing out on screen.

These intermittent jolts (Wha..? A goose?!), dispersed throughout the seemingly random repetition of enigmatic motifs that makes up the main body of the film, serve to make Shaitani Dracula a hypnotic viewing experience in the most literal sense, as does the baffling attractiveness of much of its female cast. One could lose oneself for hours in pondering over what exactly these women were doing in this film, for never has the inverse ratio of a film's quality to the insane hotness of its stars been so dramatic. Given the reek of disrepute that hangs around Shaitani Dracula, this could be the rare instance in which a move into porn might actually have been a step up for these girls. In fact, those instances in the film of what I can only call "perv-o-vision" -- occurring whenever a scantily clad member of the female cast is lying prone, and involving the camera taking a long, slow pan, up and down her prostrate form -- achieve a kind of queasy, furtive prurience beyond which most hardcore porn seems comparatively wholesome.

So now that I have seen it for myself, not only has the world become divided into those who have seen Shaitani Dracula and those who have not, but life itself split between the before and after. By the way, Blogger informs me that this is my 200th post on 4DK, and I couldn't think of a more fitting subject to mark the occasion.


houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

You make this sound like prime Jess Franco, just with less focus and more rubber masks.

Anonymous said...

okay okay, I give up! I'll order it!

But I know it will scare me, and not in a good way.

Keith said...

One of of us...