Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Joys Of Weirdness

I did a nasty thing to the Cool Shite lads the other night. They're a fine lot of chaps who hang out in Launceston, review all kinds of SF/Fantasy and other geeky stuff on TV, movies, games and so forth. We get together of a Tuesday evening and watch all kinds of oddball media - which is pretty much my ration of adult social company for the week, so if you suspect I'm growing gradually odder, there's probably a good reason.

Anyway, this week there was a little bit of discussion about what we were going to watch. Bruce had dug up a copy of The Wizard Of Speed And Time, but nobody was much enthused. Tragically, I could even remember seeing the original Disney-release short film, and while the longer version may have a cult following, I didn't think I could bear it.

Another sterling option was the wonderfully-titled A Lonely Cow Weeps At Dawn, but there were two problems. First, ALCWAD is short -- sixty minutes -- and we were looking for something more feature-length. Secondly, nobody was really braced for an hour of weird Japanese softcore porn, so (perhaps foolishly), they let me talk them into Option Three: Meet The Hollowheads.

I first saw this truly extraordinary film at the South Brisbane cinema sometime around 1990. I have a suspicion that Guru-Bob may have talked a bunch of us into going, but I'm not sure. To be honest, the film fucked with my head so much at that first viewing that to this day I can't recall who else came along.

It's hard to explain why this film is so disturbing. In effect, it's nothing more than an extended episode of some classic 1950s sitcom, completely with cheesy narration voice-over from the precocious kid who plays the lead. But... oh, Cthulhu... it's so difficult!

First, imagine the sitcom episode is set in an alternate universe. Where everyone lives underground. And technology is mostly biological, or pneumatic. And everything is delivered through tubes. Lots of fucking tubes, oh yes.

Next, add a serious dash of black humour, including weird-as-fuck drug references, grotesquely senile grandparents in the cellar, aged, naked dog-things infested with horrid blood-filled parasites, sexual harassment, violence... no. Dammit. I'm not getting it across.

Okay. That alternate universe thing? Run with it. But -- understand that even though this film has maybe four sets altogether, and no more than a dozen actors (I estimate) it is so incredibly self-consistent that it freaks the living fuck out of you. You start out going what the fuck is this shit? and by the end, you're ready to scream. What the fuck is 'softening jelly' and why did Juliette Lewis need two pounds of it? What is 'butt polish'? Why should kids say 'no' to butt polish? What did it do to that 'Oliver Digits' character? Why was a naked chicken integral to Bud's musical instrument - and how come the fucking thing can sort of talk? What's a 'punitration box'? What is 'the edge'?

And the music! Oh, don't leave out the soundtrack. No. Dear God, no. Like some kind of 1950s elevator jazztrack played through a steam calliope rejigged to sound like human sighs, the theme music comes and goes with a manic glee that at first disturbs, then unnerves, and then gradually maddens you. By the end of the film, Dion kept twitching every time the main theme cropped up, muttering "That music! It fucking creeps me out, man!"

But that was okay, because Bruce was already on the floor, alternately giggling and recoiling, periodically crying out: "Genius! This is pure fucking Genius."

I think Q-dog had it worst. I'm not sure what 'Bucket of Sub' means, nor even if I've transliterated that correctly. But as I understand it, 'Bucket of Sub' is some sort of Cool Shite code for 'my brain may be irretrievably broken. Either that, or I have become a teapot.'

Obviously, I took a great deal of satisfaction in watching the Shitesters melt down in the face of Hollowheadly oddness. Admittedly, even though this was my third viewing of the thing, the film still messed with my head too. Nevertheless, it's gratifying watching other people lose the plot spectactularly.

So, having said all that -- it should be obvious that for SF fans I'm strongly recommending this film. Sadly, it can only be had on a DVD print which appears to have been mastered from a VHS copy, but it's still good enough to Get The Job Done. The film isn't for young kids: it's so flat-out unnervingly fucked up weird that it is absolutely certain to provoke nightmares, so just don't do it to the little buggers. And I say this from the perspect of a parent who watches violent samurai movies and 'Alien' films with his two small sons, so understand that I'm damned serious about that warning.

For anyone else, though, this film is a disconcertingly tight and consistent journey into a deranged alternate universe, so cleverly and hideously done that you're unlikely to forget it any time soon. Go on: Meet The Hollowheads.