Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Section 3: Suicide Cult

Section 3: Suicide Cult

Welcome to Section 3, home to the near nasties and hang out for those horrors of the VHS world that teetered on the line of obscenity. This episode we have a particularly obscure film from well known exploitation director James Glikenhaus that explores the cutting edge world of astrological reading as we plummet into the darker side of horoscopes joining the astrologer in a neo biblical race against time to stop the evil Suicide Cult.

Alexei Abarnel runs a secretive agency, interzod, that takes astrology to the next level, computerising the process into a fine art that allows them to predict an individuals zodiacal potential. Certain individuals, notably a man named Kajerste, have remarkable positive or negative zodiacal potentials it seems, and this not only affects their destiny, it drives it to the point where they have no choice but to do what they do. Part of Alexi's work involves finding out when the second coming is due and as it happens the answer is much closer to home than he could hope. As the devils advocate the evil Kajerste homes in on the second coming, government agents try to assassinate him before its too late...

It is very difficult to know where to start with a film like Suicide Cult, it is that bizarre. By bizarre I don't mean in a David Lynch way though, I longed for the obscure coherence of Eraserhead to blow through the fog of this film but no....seriously it tries to go somewhere with what it's doing but just sort up and walks away. This film has so many cataclysmic plot holes and dead ends it all feels like ones dropped off while watching it and missed five minute segments of the film, I am seriously not exaggerating. The film opens up after a scene of ritualistic naughtiness to a bit of essential though crowbarred in exposition....if blatant exposition bothers you then brace yourself, there's so much more to come. We learn from this about the bad guy, Kajerste, and of course about the whole astrology hook on which the story rests. Kajerste is somehow astrologically compelled to be the bad guy. He has no choice and is thus capable of the worst imaginable behaviour, apparently just like Hitler. It's a little tasteless perhaps to imply that Hitler was in some way a victim of astrological circumstance but lets let that slide shall we.
The film delves into the supernatural and theological. It's all a bit predictable in this respect and the second they mention the virgin Mary it's obvious where this is going, the only surprise is that it seems to not know what it wants to do with this. The crux of the problem is that there is very little of that thing called direction here, at least no direction of the narrative, though this particular element may be down to a distinct lack of screen writing coherence this in turn could be down to some of the choppiest editing I've had to sit through in a very long time and this time for once it doesn't seem to be down to censorship.
Suicide Cult had very little reason for the most part to have been on the section 3 list though what parts are potentially offensive are of course pure exploitation and have nothing to do with the story itself. These are often rather gratuitous to say the least including some full frontal nudity by the rather attractive, if unconvincing female lead, and some shots of bloated bodies floating in a river. The later of these is rather unsettling, I suspect it's stock footage. This isn't new to exploitation of course, Cannibal Holocaust amongst others used this kind of footage in the Last Road segment, even Cold Fish debased itself beyond the horror of its awfulness by shoving in some mondo footage but real or not these images are rather disturbing and seem to be used simply as punctuation throughout the bizarrely paced film. It all adds up to make this a rather downbeat film. There's not much to smile about here, it simply tries to take itself just a bit too seriously, something that is difficult to share in as a viewer when the words zodiacal potential are thrown into the mix every few minutes but despite the silliness of what's actually going on the film ploughs on with an impressively straight face. Had Suicide Cult actually managed to be coherent, even in the slightest, then there may have been a rather decent film here despite the silly premise. Unfortunately the narrative meanders around at random throwing out threads that simply have no pay off, indeed the film itself has such a weak ending that the closing credits are as much a shock as anything that came as part of the story. Just as you think its all coming to a climax it stops....dead. Threads like the one concerning the senator abruptly end, the fortune teller seems to have very little to do with anything considering she seems to have so much to say and a not insubstantial amount of screen time, there are half arsed answers dealt out but it all feels either insubstantial, overly convenient or just plain thrown out this character simply amounts to less than you would expect and again is dropped abruptly, , the senator story arc simply shuts down and the whole idea of a race against time seems redundant after about two thirds of the way through with a revelation from a man who suddenly works out who Alexi is by virtue of the stormy night sky.......go figure. The characters are inconsistent and even the hero, Alexei, comes across as a nefarious criminal, certainly morally dubious, more than he does a person who's trying to save the world. He took his wife in the knowledge that she apparently shares the zodiacal potential as the virgin Mary and keeps her for his own purposes, oh he claims to love her but won't tell her what's going on or allow her any form of normality..... she becomes an extension of his work, a lab rat.

If ever there was a film that feels like it was made by a committee its this one, it is an absolute mess. It throws in stuff that it doesn't follow through with, it doesn't create characters more than it creates vehicles for tenuous ideas that aren't fully formed, and for this reason it's not really possible to get behind any of them. The most charismatic person in the film is, and appropriately so in many respects, Kerjerste who only gets a couple of lines and otherwise gets to stand there looking actually quite menacing. Its probably not only because he's a rather extraordinary looking man certainly there is a rather effective physical performance here but there's also the fact that he doesn't drown us in an avalanche of script that makes him less tiresome. It's quite refreshing in comparison to the otherwise dialogue heavy screenplay. Couple this with the idea that he can will people into committing suicide he makes for a rather intimidating bad guy ad one that has real life reflections in the cult leaders of the world. Had the story been much more about this character or at least explored his existence some more it may have been a sight more engaging, or at least exciting
While it would be easy to entirely write this off, stylistically it is rather decent for such a low budget effort, it harks back to the likes of The Andromeda Strain with its time stamps etc. and there is a strong atmosphere of grim dread. In some ways it really typifies the kinds of films that irked the authorities at the time, occasionally gory, certainly creepy, a smattering of nudity and an ambiguous nature that would have baffled the authorities. But the experience is as bizarre as the subject matter. Suicide Cult is a strangely alluring film in some respects, it certainly has an air to it that demands some attention, does it keep it...well that's debatable. Other than its mean spirited edge, which it displays prominently, it's pays so little attention to what seem to be major plot points and simply doesn't have enough focus to make the audience care too much about what's going on, after all if the film itself treats most of the characters and plot points with no respect then why should we the audience. What it does do is it sets up some hokey yet interesting ideas and some of the scenes are quite effective. It is without a doubt a product of a low budget and is appropriately grimy but it catastrophically lost its way somewhere in production and never recovered. The result was what we see, a deeply disjointed, fragmented mess of a movie that none the less has a strange quality about it that is worth at least a bit of a peek at if you're so inclined. Particularly if you're a die hard Glickenhaus fan then you may want to see it to see his d├ębut feature, just don't expect too much, it lacks in action, only has a smattering of the violence and is an overly, inadvisedly and unjustifiably wordy experience that simply feels way longer than the actual short 80 odd minute run time it has. It's certainly a film that very few of your friends will have seen

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