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Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Gays (2014)

Director: T S Slaughter
Stars: Chris Tanner, Frank Holliday, Mike Russnak and Flip Jørgensen
Next year, I'm planning to review something completely out there every week under the banner of Weird Wednesdays and this film, sent to me for review by its producer, could easily qualify as an early hint at how out there it's going to get. This is a new comedy feature from writer/director T S Slaughter, who had similar roles on the slasher movie Skull & Bones in 2007, but these aren't your usual movies. That was a gay slasher movie and this is a gay comedy, because they're clearly supposed to be gay before anything else; that's what defines them. In fact, it would be a serious challenge for any movie to be more gay than this one. It's called The Gays, for a start, named for the family at its heart, a gay family named Gay. Dad is Rod Gay ('Gay, Rod' in the phone book). Transvestite mum's surname is hyphenated, so she's Bob Gay-Paris, which is pronounced just as you might expect. They have two gay sons, Alex Gay and Tommy Gay, who they've brought up as gay from moment one. Right from baby's first butt plug.

Whatever else this film is, you can't accuse it of false advertising. If anything, the picture's website, DVD cover and blurb don't go far enough. Sure, this is 'raunchy, twisted and hilarious', if you're of a like mind to the filmmakers, but I can think of a bunch of films that fit that description; none of them go anywhere near as far as this one. Clearly the primary cinematic influence is early John Waters, but it truly outdoes the master in offending anyone it damn well pleases. It makes an 'it went there' comedy like Pizza Shop: The Movie look Production Code safe. It's edgier than anything I can remember even from Troma, as if it kidnapped all the gay moments in Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, anally gang-raped them into compliance, waited for them to contract Stockholm Syndrome and then used them in a propaganda film. It's professionally offensive out of the gate and it remains that way throughout. Most people won't make it to the title card; anyone who does is likely to wear out their DVD at parties. Gay parties, of course.

After being introduced to little Alex Gay as a gurgling baby, mummy's own little butt pirate, and listening to the catchy theme tune, Come Meet the Gays, that accompanies the opening credits, we get right down to business because this short 68 minute feature doesn't have time to mess around. We meet the grown up Alex in a gay bar in West Hollywood called the Luca Lounge; it's 1997 and he's chatting with another gay man named Kevin. The format is almost sit-com in nature: Kevin asks Alex a question and he replies in the form of a long flashback to explain how things were in his gay household growing up, almost a gay take on something like How I Met Your Mother, just not remotely suitable for prime time viewing. As Kevin and Alex are both at the Luca Lounge from the outset and they never leave, we can easily imagine them there forever, continuing this question/flashback format long after the end credits roll. With enough skits and a day to shoot more framing scenes, this could run for half a dozen sequels.
The only catch to that is that without reference points to tie this material to our own lives in some highly watered down way, this episodic approach eventually makes the 68 minutes run long. Perhaps gay men living in Pasadena in the eighties, imagining a parallel universe in which the law might allow them to be married and raise children, would find those reference points. However, Slaughter's examples of what it might be like are so deliberately extrapolated to the most outrageous extremes he could imagine that it becomes a challenge rather than a commentary. We wonder much more about how far he's willing to go than about the real life ramifications of the recent trend towards such a legal situation, and he does find it hard to escalate. The first flashback has Bob explain to her kids that they grew inside her intestines to be born from her ass in ectopic anal pregnancies. Did it hurt? Well, an accompanying visual of a Crisco'd up garden gnome answers that question in rather graphic fashion. How to escalate from that?

While it's clear that the most graphic scene arrives a few skits later when we finally get to see the birth, of a doll whose umbilical cord is anal beads, I honestly wondered which scene was the most offensive. It takes a special sort of picture to wonder about that, but Slaughter gives us plenty of material to choose from. The very concept of a baby butt-plug, which we see but don't see used, thank goodness, is a hard one to beat. The discipline meted out to Alex for not taking advantage of his friend Billy who's sleeping over seems tame by comparison, until we realise that the adult actors are pretending to be preteens. If we didn't catch that, we can't miss it when Chris, an adult overtly playing thirteen, is forced into sucking off Rod Gay to thank him for dinner. This is where the film would have become pornographic if the body parts had been real. This is the only obvious stunt cock used in the film, which is otherwise not short on full frontal male nudity. Actors were clearly hired because of what they would do, not for acting ability.

Fortunately, while trying to offend viewers seems like Slaughter's primary goal, that's not the only thing in mind. The parts I appreciated the most were the humorous nods to popular culture, as the movie finds time to reference pictures as unlikely as A Clockwork Orange or The Exorcist and temporarily become a commercial. It parodies a number of TV theme tunes (being English, I've never seen The Brady Bunch or Romper Room, but my wife grew up on them and her reactions were priceless), even carols like O Little Towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. We're given a laugh track at one point and at another we're shown a GI Joe with Rim Job Butt as a pre-teen gay kid's Christmas present. These nods grounded the film better for me than any of the situations that characters find themselves in and especially the amorality with which they're all addressed. Really, that amorality is far more offensive than any of the gayness pervading the film. The funniest bits turn out to be simple things like a gloriously inappropriate icicle.
It was this amorality that made me wonder most though. Maybe it was just the easiest way to offend, but it isn't the most palatable. Of course, even thinking about whether offensive material should be palatable or not really defeats the purpose of such things and it highlights how the line that filmmakers can't cross has moved so far since the days of Pink Flamingos. Yet I felt throughout this film that there was a reason for it beyond grossout comedy and simply going further than anyone else and its constant amoral nature served to blur what that reason could be. Everything revolves so relentlessly around male gay sex that I wondered if it was a riff on the fear behind prejudice. There isn't a single woman in the film and lesbians are never even mentioned; there's also nothing about gay love, just emotionless sex, sex for sex's sake, one track mind stuff, right down to the constant double entendres (like 'I work my asshole to the boner'). Could this be a way for gay men to laugh about how straight men might imagine gay households?

Certainly there's a huge amount of effort given to translating every aspect of straight life into some sort of gay equivalent. Every example is taken to a ludicrous extreme, right down to the gay phone that only receives calls, but there are real questions underneath it all. How should a male gay couple with children explain where they came from, other than not through ectopic anal pregnancy? How should parents talk to their gay children about dates, other than not treating it like Texas Hold 'Em? How would a household comprised entirely of gay men have any understanding of what women are like? Is the idea here to take straight life, translate it directly into gay equivalents and show how ludicrous it all is through a mirror? It certainly seems like the direct comparisons are a good deal of the point, perhaps to resonate with a gay audience who grew up in the other world. Here, Alex is reprimanded with, 'Heterosexuality is not proper dinner conversation.' How many gay sons of straight parents grew up with the exact opposite?

With a growing acceptance of gay marriage and gay adoption throughout the US, I'm sure that the film industry, always a few years behind the curve, will start to make gay films that work for straight people as much as gay ones. TV shows like Game of Thrones are pushing that envelope already and indie films are, as always, ahead of Hollywood. David de Coteau is making horror movies to the same template that he's always used, except the characters making out in the shower are now young men instead of young women. This, however, is so far out there that any social message is almost entirely buried under a goal of offending as many people as possible. It's not that The Gays is gay, it's that, to offend on the grandest scale, it appears to encourage a heady cocktail of date rape, sexual abuse and corruption of minors, all the way to baby's first butt plug. Wondering how far it will go turns it into a freakshow and the questions it raises fade away into the background. Instead it's: 'They didn't? They didn't? Yep, they did.'

Rather last minute, but The Gays will enjoy its New York premiere at 10pm tonight at the Anthology Film Archives. Admission is $10 and that includes a copy of the DVD. Details can be found on the film's website.

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