Tagged Dark Comedy

The Hospital: A Dark Bureaucratic Comedy

The Hospital. 1971. Directed by Arthur Hiller. Screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky.
Starring George C. Scott, Diana Rigg, Barnard Hughes, Richard Dysart, Stephen Elliott, Donald Harron, Andrew Duncan, Nancy Marchand, Jordan Charney, Roberts Blossom, Frances Sternhagen, & Katherine Helmond. Simcha Productions.
Rated PG. 103 minutes.
Comedy/Drama/Mystery

★★★★1/2
POSTER
Arthur Hiller is probably most well known to people through his directorial work with the comic duo of Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, on such films as See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Silver Streak. Of course he’s done much more, but many will know him from those. I’d seen a few of his movies before ever getting the chance to see The Hospital. Then there’s the great writer Paddy Chayefsky, whose Network I also saw before ever seeing his previous work on this film. And boy, was it ever a treat once I did get the chance.
The Hospital is a rare type. I’m not saying there aren’t any other movies like it. Not at all. What I mean is that it’s not exactly the kind of thing you’d see even today, let alone in the early 1970s. But such was the spirit of filmmaking then. The indie directors and writers were looking to change things, to show a different side to themselves, to America, to the world. Chayefsky’s story hones in on the touchy subject of suicide, at the same time he takes on the bureaucratic nature of hospitals and the stress of morality under the weight of that bureaucracy. There’s a whole ton of smart insight within the dark package presented. It’ll make you laugh. It will have you pondering the effectiveness of the American healthcare system, one that hasn’t changed (too) much since ’71. It will reassure you of the greatness who was George C. Scott. And Chayefsky has never been so funny or so on point. His brand of honesty has not been seen since in American screenwriters, though there have been plenty of great writers. Just the way his words cut to the core of the subject is truly art.
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I mean, I’m likely in the minority here but I believe Chayefsky is at his sharpest, darkest, wittiest here all in one fell swoop. The first moments let us know that while we’re dealing with life and death, literally as we’re situated in a hospital as the constant setting, this is a story rife with comedy. Dark, yes, but comedy nonetheless. Network is a god damn classic. One of the single most poignant entries in American cinematic history, as far as I’m concerned. However, The Hospital has a certain quality that struck me the very first time I had the pleasure of watching it. The open honesty of the suicidal thoughts Dr. Herbert Bock (George C. Scott) feels is at once a little shocking and all the same incredibly refreshing. The performance is one thing. Chayefsky’s writing another. He makes Bock into someone intense and brooding while simultaneously a fucking riot. Scott only furthers that to chuckle-worthy ends. There’s a truthfulness in how Chayefsky depicts suicide, the thoughts of suicide, and everything surrounding the concept. He finds the absurd. His screenplay for this film juxtaposes actual death and the idea of death in close quarters. There’s often the trope of someone close to death confronting it somehow, then discovering they truly want to live. Meanwhile, Dr. Bock is busy trying to figure out the best way to off himself, so as to cause the least amount of grief, and a possible serial killer, or terrible employee, is walking the halls underneath the nose of everyone present. A genius lot of writing that’s aided by the properly jaded Scott in one of his greatest roles, as well as a well-rounded cast that lifts Chayefsky’s words right off the page into hilarious life.
What I love about Bock so much is that he’s sick and tired of the actual discrepancies in the world. He hates his own son because of the boy’s insistence on being a hypocrite, whether he knows that himself is another thing. He hates the place where he works because the healthcare system is backwards as all hell; medical technology, even in ’71, was hurtling through innovation all the time and people, mainly the disenfranchised like the African-American community, the gay community (et cetera) were out in the streets dying. He hates life – not only does his impotence involve the penis, it involves his “purpose” and all he “ever truly loved” and that’s a desperate sadness. There’s a brutal honesty in the character that makes this movie so rare as a whole.
Scott makes you wonder how a man can become so many different characters so flawlessly over time and not lose his mind. He is one of the greatest; ever. Even just watching him sitting in a chair, acting drunk, his talent is immeasurable. One of those national treasures that America ought to relish like the flag. He was an actor’s actor, throwing himself to the role as an actor should. The desperation of Dr. Bock comes across vividly in the way Scott tumbles him further, further, until we’re not sure what kind of ending this man is going to find for himself. Chayefsky fleshes the character out well enough, then Scott takes him for a ride. In the quietest scenes, his face does more acting than half of the so-called superstars today combined. Once the scenes get intense he rages, as I’ve come to love from Scott, but also he rattles you. It isn’t just empty screams or over-the-top emoting. You really feel grabbed by his character. So convincing and genuine. One of my favourite roles of his, right up next to his character in Dr. Strangelove.

HOSPITAL, THE
Title: HOSPITAL, THE ¥ Pers: HUGHES, BARNARD / SCOTT, GEORGE C. ¥ Year: 1971 ¥ Dir: HILLER, ARTHUR ¥ Ref: HOS001AE ¥ Credit: [ SIMCHA PRODS / THE KOBAL COLLECTION ]

I’m actually not a huge one on comedy. Anybody that frequents this site will now that. That isn’t because I don’t like to laugh. Those who actually know me know that laughing is one of the things I love most. I laugh too much sometimes, like an idiot. The Hospital is just my brand of funny. Dark comedy, the stuff that hits too close to home, that makes you cringe while also making you question things: this is what I dig. I can get down with foolish comedies, too. Those are few and far between for me; best examples are Dumb and Dumber and Step Brothers, both of which endlessly kill me. But the darkness, it’s always what draws me. I love horror and disturbing thrillers, so maybe it’s only natural I’ve gravitated towards comedy that’s more unsettling. Still, Chayefsky’s writing isn’t only darkness. It is poignant work. It throws social themes into a story about a suicidal doctor in a hospital that may or may not be stalked by a serial killing maniac. There’s a wildly effective mix of things happening. You almost expect it to fall flat. Only this movie is nearly a perfect bout of comedy and drama.
The Hospital may not make all the big lists or get mentioned too often. Who cares? The damned thing is genius.

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He Never Died: Henry Rollins at His Immortal Best

He Never Died. 2015. Directed & Written by Jason Krawczyk.
Starring Henry Rollins, Booboo Stewart, Kate Greenhouse, Jordan Todosey, David Richmond-Peck, James Cade, Steven Ogg, Elias Edraki, & Walter Alza. Alternate Ending Studios.
Rated R. 99 minutes.
Comedy/Drama/Horror

★★★★
POSTER
Immortality is an interesting concept. There have been so many books and films on the subject, many fictional characters we’ve come to know, love, hate. So when a fresh, unique take on a subject such as immortality comes around, it’s always at least a little fun.
He Never Died tackles the concept in a way you’ve likely not seen. Not to say the story or the writing reinvents the wheel. At the same time, there are so many different ideas explored through the lens of immortality in Jason Krawczyk’s film.

With plenty dark comedy, an odd family drama, plus a hefty dose of revisionist biblical history, He Never Died has a unique sense of horror that’s made even better with the inclusion of Henry Rollins in the lead role. You can find better written films, though, Krawczyk puts his heart into the darkness and the complications of this story, which ultimately make it exciting and filled with macabre oddities.
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The unique aspect of the story is its human element. We consider immortality and many realize it’s a dreadful prospect. Yet do we ever consider the actual logistics? Think of possibly fostering a family, then having to deal with losing them as you keep living, and they keep dying. Jack is a man whose enjoyment in immortality ran out a long, long time ago. He now has to contend not only with justifying his existence to a daughter. Furthermore, being an immortal cannibal is even worse than all that. You’ve got to get whatever’s necessary to stave off the appetite. So to watch Jack go through the human drama of life mixed with the intensity of being immortal is really something. Putting him with a daughter like that is clever, fun writing. Part of it is tragic, too. As Jack struggles with his own life, introducing a daughter into the whole shambling, messy affair that is his lie does nothing except exacerbate his already tough world. He keeps himself at arm’s length from everyone, family or otherwise. Because falling in love, caring, it only means pain down the road when he can’t die and those around him eventually will, no matter what happens. It isn’t just trying not to eat people that proves difficult. Just having an everyday life is bad enough when you’re immortal. Everything gets old after awhile. The routine and the tics of Jack’s life are continually intriguing, as they’re not the typical depictions of an immortal character in fiction.
Now I’m starting to question whether some of the people at Bingo in the local hall are immortal beings, passing the time away in the easiest places to not find an interest in people.
Apart from the emotional qualities of the story, there’s a nice dose of horror here. The first time we actually see Jack eating some human meat it’s a pretty gruesome affair. Definitely a nasty, violent scene. The action pieces are excellent, which showcase Jack’s fighting ability, as well as his resilience being incapable of, y’ know – dying. This renders him virtually indestructible.
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My only complaint is that, almost immediately, I knew that Jack’s character had to be some kind of angel, or a similar entity. Not only does the cover art reveal much of that, his heavy-handed scars are a tell-tale sign. This doesn’t ruin anything because there’s a constant mystery shrouding Jack overall, so it isn’t a negative. At the same time, perhaps more mystery would’ve done the plot better justice. As we watch the events unfold it’s interesting to try determining what or who Jack is truly. If his back wasn’t so vivid in a close-up early on, the idea that he’s some sort of angel (or whatever) might hold a hard punch. Instead it’s not so much a revelation, but a bit of fun. The writing is mostly good, definitely entertaining. Personally, I only wish there was more of thrill to this aspect, and that they left it a while later to reveal. Of course we don’t discover who he is until later, but that one early shot is a dead giveaway as to his origins. His need for blood is something that certainly held out awhile, something we don’t see and fully figure out until a nice way in. So there are parts of the story and plot that came together well. Other portions could’ve used more tightening. Despite the few narrative flaws, He Never Died has a quality screenplay from Krawczyk.
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Absolutely a 4-star affair. While there are certainly places in the script Krawczyk needed to tighten and get more subtle early on, he still does a fine job executing the subtleties he does include. With Rollins giving an awesome, moody, cold (in the right way) performance as the main character Jack, there’s a lot of weight held up. Anybody else might not have been capable of making him into the right sort of immortal entity required. But Rollins plays the man fed up with eternal life almost to perfection. Alongside that we’ve got some blood, a bit of action, all that dark comedy and the familial drama and the other interesting not usually covered aspects of immortality. So there is a lot to enjoy. Give this little flick a watch and find out what’s so intriguing about Jack and his inability to just lay down and die.

House of 1000 Corpses: Homage and Throwbacks to the 1970s

House of 1000 Corpses. 2003. Directed & Written Rob Zombie.
Starring Sid Haig, William Bassett, Karen Black, Erin Daniels, Joe Dobbs III, Dennis Fimple, Gregg Gibbs, Walton Goggins, Chris Hardwick, Jennifer Jstyn, Irwin Keyes, Matthew McGrory, Jake McKinnon, Sheri Moon Zombie, Bill Moseley, Robert Allen Mukes, Walter Phelan, Tom Towles, Harrison Young, & Rainn Wilson. Spectacle Entertainment Group/Universal Pictures.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
Horror

★★★★
POSTER
I don’t post on message boards. Although, I do frequent them to see what people are saying about films. On IMDB particularly, so many people rag on Rob Zombie. But I love him. His music with White Zombie influenced some of my own music I used to write as a teenager. When I first heard he was making a movie it had me sold before it was finished. All the same, House of 1000 Corpses is not near perfect. There are definitely flaws. What Zombie’s debut feature does have is the power of nostalgia.
None of this is ripped right out of other movies, as some will have you believe. The love Zombie has for horror films out of the 1970s shows strong and proud. Equal parts Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, add in a bit of Beetlejuice and Tod Browning’s Freaks to boot. Not only is there plenty of horror, but Zombie gives us plenty of his trademark sense of humour, macabre and over-the-top alike.
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The night before Halloween in 1977, a group of friends – Jerry (Chris Hardwick), Bill (Rainn Wilson), Mary (Jennifer Jostyn), & Denise (Erin Daniels) – head out on a roadtrip to find roadside attractions that are, let’s say… different. When they come across a gas station and proclaimed Museum of Monsters & Madmen, a rough-looking man in clown paint named Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) tells them all about the legend of a supposed Dr. Satan. He even draws them to a map where the doctor is said to have been hanged.
Along their way, a young woman hitchhiking in the rain gets into their car. Her name’s Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), and she invites the group to her place a short drive away. A tire blows, so Baby and Bill go on to the house.
Later, once the friends are all there, Baby introduces members of her family. First, Mother Firefly (Karen Black), then her brother Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley). We meet them all. Dirty ole Grandpa Hugo (Dennis Fimple). Even some deformed babies in a jar, as well as the deformed giant Tiny (Matthew McGrory).
From there, the legend of Dr. Satan begins to get all too real.
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This movie was never going to be for everyone, not that any truly are. Yet Zombie’s style as a musician all but guaranteed his movies would follow similar suit. His style is pervasive, in that it never surprised me how his first horror feature turned out. A lot of the film has a very Tony Scott-MTV-ish sort of feel, which is not necessarily bad. Some people might find that too frantic or fast paced. There are times where it doesn’t work, as if we’re trapped in a music video instead of a proper film. And then other scenes I’m drawn into the way Zombie uses different choices of edits, between the lavish frames sometimes recalling the technicolor vibe of Mario Bava, and the handheld home movies of the Firefly clan. Some of the Otis digressions in the handheld style are truly terrifying. Both he and Baby are disturbing characters, so seeing them in those little videos is unnerving. I dig it especially because apparently Zombie sort of did that off on his own, just him and the actors. So there’s also an admiration I have for his way of indie filmmaking. The commentary on his DVDs is usually pretty great, and he gives insight to some of the ways to try and do things old school, practically, which in turn always helps on the production side of things; no studio or financier could be unhappy with a director who hands money back after wrap. Again, there are flaws, a good deal of them. But House of 1000 Corpses is charming enough to be forgiven. Using homage, Zombie crafts his own version of the creepy house with the even creepier family inside. It comes alive with interesting, weird characters and the use of practical effects to keep things feeling oh-so-70s.
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A lot of people don’t find this scary. When I say something’s scary, it isn’t that I’m cowering behind the couch, or staying up at night all due to the terror. Here, I mean disturbing when I say that this is a scary film. Zombie takes his homage, particularly to TCM, to another level. He amps up the strangeness – more TCM2 than the original. But also, there’s the end of the film. Once Otis and the family take the remaining victims out to the fields for more madness, things become viciously unsettling. As they lower two of them down into a hole in the ground, Aleister Crowley (I believe) speaks the words “Bury me in a nameless grave” over and over on a recording. And it’s incredibly perfect for the moment. After that is when the movie gets totally creepy to the ultimate degree. I won’t spoil any further. There’s simply something so dark and sinister about it all. Especially once Dr. Satan arrives. Despite maybe being a bit campy, he actually terrified me. The design of the set for his lair, his physical look, all those mechanical contraptions around hi and the laboratory; so morbid, so impressive, too. Great work went into this aspect, I only kind of wish there were more of the nasty doctor. Maybe someday Zombie will revisit him, tell his story in another film. Please, Rob? Please? Terrify me more.
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With an ending I actually expected when first seeing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre nearly two decades ago, Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses is a definite 4 out of 5 stars for me. Like I’ve said, the movie is not at all perfect. There are pieces which could’ve come off much better, as well as some of the acting wasn’t near what you’d hope. Yet the charm and the homage, the creepy eccentricities, all the things we now see as staples of Zombie and his directorial style, they make this a fun modern horror. The actors, particularly Bill Moseley, really do ham it up during some scenes with their darker than dark comedy, but knock you dead with horrific glory during intense moments. Don’t be overly critical. Zombie didn’t try to reinvent the horror wheel, it’s clear he wears his influences on his sleeves, bright and brash, garishly enjoyable. Have a bit of fun with Zombie’s house of ’70s horror.