Tagged Injustice

Animal Factory Reveals the Machinery Within the Beast of a Flawed Prison System

Animal Factory. 2000. Directed by Steve Buscemi. Screenplay by Edward Bunker & John Steppling; based on the novel by Bunker.
Starring Edward Furlong, Willem Dafoe, Danny Trejo, Mark Boone Junior, Seymour Cassel, Mickey Rourke, Tom Arnold, John Heard, Chris Bauer, Rockets Redglare, Jake La Botz, Mark Engelhardt, Edward Bunker, Victor Pagan, Ernest Harden Jr., Afemo Omilami, Michael Buscemi, J.C. Quinn, & Steven Randazzo. Animal Productions LLC/Arts Production Corporation/Franchise Pictures.
Rated R. 94 minutes.
Crime/Drama

★★★★1/2
POSTER
This is my favourite of Steve Buscemi’s work as director. His others, specifically Trees Lounge, are good. Animal Factory is great; an almost perfect work of prison cinema. Perhaps it’s because of the intense, raw subject matter. Edward Bunker wrote the screenplay based on his own novel, also based on his own life in the prison system. Most people know Bunker from his work on Straight Time, as well as his acting gig in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Before his acting and screenwriting career, Bunker dealt in everything from drugs, bank robbery, and extortion to various armed robberies over years. His insight into the world of prison life is what informs all of the emotional connection and intensity of Animal Factory. After Bunker started earning money from the movies he realised that his criminal life had been precipitated by bad circumstances, by the failure to make honest money, and other such things, so he was able to leave a life of crime behind.
In that same vein of circumstances we find ourselves in San Quentin, as Ron Decker (Edward Furlong) is sentenced for a minor bit of drug possession and intent to sell. After arriving at the big house he eventually meets an older, more experienced and hardened convict, Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe), who takes the boy under his wing. They develop a genuine friendship. Yet Decker is forced to fight against the waves of injustice, the threats to his physical safety and to his manhood, all the while questioning if anybody is really his friend after all. Most interesting is the way Bunker’s screenplay allows Buscemi to look at a genuine snapshot of what it’s like to actually live behind bars. So many prison movies and television shows augment the reality, which is enjoyable. What we really want to see is something that dissects the prison system, a film and a story that gets under the skin of those who often look at American jails as “just fine” or whatever other nonsense they sell themselves to sleep at night. Animal Factory is a searing hot prison movie, one of my favourite in the genre. The performances and the story are what makes this so worth it. Right until the end you’ll find the characters are what root you most in the heaviness of the life these men lead.
Pic1
The title of the film plays directly into its thematic intentions. Ron Decker goes into prison a young, inexperienced man that got a bit too deep in the world of dealing marijuana. A guy who was likely never violent in his life. However, behind bars the other world into which he falls head first necessitates a violent attitude. Almost becoming victim of a brutal rape (several times), getting slashed with a razor, all these sorts of events start to wear down the morality of the young boy that first went through the prison gates. Bunker’s novel and subsequent screenplay examine how people become a product of the system, how young men wind up in a place where the waste of society gets tossed and is allowed to infect them. Yes, people deserve to pay for their crimes. But a guy like Decker, in for dealing weed, or someone who stole a car or robbed a liquor store without hurting anybody, does not belong in a place where lifers can (and will) abuse, rape, and possibly kill them. It isn’t right. In turn, those same semi-innocent young people that come in contact with a life of crime then go on to transform into animals in their own right. By the time Ron will make his way out of prison he’ll be stained, the imprint of criminality branded upon his brain and soul and on his every thought, every action, every move from there on in. These are the sad, hard realities of prison: not everyone in there actually deserves to be, nor do they need to be subjected to the harshness of serving time alongside men doing a life sentence, never to see the light of day again. Those dangerous men influence so much and so many others outside of themselves – often, their victims end up victimising others, and the criminal cycle goes on rambling.
Pic2
How can anybody fault this movie for its acting? So many excellently on the nose performances. Let’s start with the ever wonderful Mickey Rourke, a man who no matter how bad will always charm me. Luckily, he puts in plenty of solid work here, as he does in many other roles. As Jan the Actress, a gentle transvestite soul locked in the clink, Rourke does a great job in the short time the character appears onscreen. A memorable performance out of a group of them. Seymour Cassel, a veritable classic of independent American cinema, is a proper lieutenant-type, one who is strict but has a slightly relaxed relationship with a guy like Earl Copen. Another guy who makes his character memorable enough within a short period of time. Then there’s the awesome supporting roles out of guys like Mark Boone Junior and Danny Trejo, the latter of whom serves as co-producer and has actual experience in the American prison system (in some of the hardest prisons like San Quentin). MBJ is always a nice addition, a fun character actor whose presence is welcomed amongst the already interesting cast of characters. Trejo helps give the film an authenticity, as he’s got the walk, the look, the insight to make his character Vito so real in a casual way.
Furlong does well as Ron. It’s mostly Dafoe who proves his worth as the foundation of the film. His performance contains some of the hallmarks of the typical prison veteran. Many times he’s completely unexpected, an absolute enigma. But it’s in that we discover Earl is just like Ron, probably why he took on the kid so quickly, so easily; and particularly once we realise he’s not playing Ron and doesn’t plan on raping him or anything of the sort. Earl Copen is a man that ended up in the system, became a product of it, then perpetuated his stamped role in society to the bitter end. Dafoe is an interesting actor I’ve always loved. Here, he proves himself every bit deserving of consideration for one of the greats in his generation.
Pic3
I love this film. Back in 2001 I was almost at the end of high school – I remember picking Animal Factory off a shelf in my local Allan’s Video rental store. The first watch I was sold. Awhile later I found the VHS being sold off; evidently not a popular item there. So I snatched that bad boy up. This is one of the VHS tapes I nearly wore into dust, as I’d watched it too many times to count. Because as far as prison films go, this is one of the grand daddies of them all. Dafoe and Furlong, as well as a cast of other fine actors, make the characters believable, instead of a bunch of literal animals like we so often see in other similar stories. These are genuine human beings with aspirations and dreams, even if they’re skewed or altered by the perversity of the American penal system warping the concept of any American Dream they might see as possible. Nevertheless, Buscemi and Bunker together show off a side of prison life we’re not always privy to in fiction. By doing so, certain issues about the justice system, the various injustices which it inflicts on those who enter it, come to light and are magnified for us to watch – in entertainment, in horror, in a shock that actually isn’t all so shocking because of how desensitised society is nowadays (the fact it isn’t might also be shocking in its own right). You can’t ask more of a film concerning prison than for it to delve into the social implications of the system itself. Far as I’m concerned, Animal Factory is a perfect indictment of how we treat the lives of men deemed guilty and shipped to prison where they’re packed in like sardines and forgotten about until their next court date.

Advertisements

A Nightmare on Elm Street: Wes Craven, Torturer of Dreams

A Nightmare on Elm Street. 1984. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia, Johnny Depp, Charles Fleischer, Joseph Whipp, Robert Englund, Joe Unger, & Lin Shaye. New Line Cinema/Media Home Entertainment/Smart Egg Pictures/The Elm Street Venture.
Rated R. 91 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★
POSTER
All those who love horror, truly, are bound to miss Wes Craven. He’s firmly planted amongst the masters of the modern horror genre. His film The Last House on the Left completely rocked and shocked viewers, though, even behind that brutal picture are bigger things than merely a rape-revenge horror. Some people pass over a later effort of his, The People Under the Stairs, yet that attacks everything from racism to Regan.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is a different story. Craven completely hit the mark in every way imaginable, both on a subtle level and the more obvious ones. Freddy Krueger became synonymous with nightmares, the bad dreams which shake you from your sleep. Little kids weren’t afraid of a faceless boogeyman anymore after 1984 – from then on, it was Freddy. Because he was different than the other popular slashers, being a totally mind-based killer; he comes for you through dreams, and that means rules change. The unconscious is our most vulnerable place. He gets there, invading the private spaces of our inner mind. It’s a delicate subject when you boil this slasher-horror down to its basic parts. Craven does his best job crafting a masterpiece of horrific dreams on the back of Freddy, along with the appropriately impressive and inventive effects to boot. This is a classic of horror if there ever were one.
NOESNOES2
We all know the plot. Let’s skip that part this time around.
Part of my love for this movie is the innovation of Craven and his team. Everything from the blood bed to the simplest practical effects. Such care goes into the movie to make it look so excellent.
Love the effect of Freddy pushing through the wall, then Nancy wakes up with the cross knocked off on her, and the wall’s back to normal. Always thought it was creepy, subtle. Then not long afterwards Freddy comes down the alley with those long arms, so surreal and dreamlike. Everything is warped and weird. And it is terrifying. Plus, once we finally get the few looks at his face, all scarred and burned up, it’s hideous.
Freddy’s the pure mercury liquid of nightmares. At first he doesn’t even respond to Nancy when she asks “who are you?”, but simply cuts his chest open to reveal ooze and maggots.
And that’s the most terrifying part about Freddy. He’s a dream, a nightmare figure. He gets you if you fall asleep, which time and time again tests the characters of the film. There’s an unfathomable aspect to Krueger and his entrance through the unconscious mind. Almost as if your fears will literally eat you alive when he’s around. Plus, there’s also the angle of the buried secrets in a tight-knit community. Once the truth of Krueger, who he was and what happened to him comes out, then we start to see what the past does to the present. It invades and infects the next generation. You could make a case that Craven is talking about generational trauma, in a sense. Either way, the fact Freddy worms his way into the minds of the young people on Elm Street is a creepy sort folktale, a modern era Pied Piper leading the kids to their deaths. Sort of the death of youth, bringing adolescence to an end in horrific ways. Freddy is ultra creepy, as he’s already a child murderer, but the injustice portion of things comes into play; questions of morality, and what exactly is justice, so on. You can dive deep into Craven, I’ve been saying that for ages.

Apart from being the big screen debut of Johnny Depp, there are a couple good performances. Heather Langenkamp as Nancy is a perfect choice. She’s likeable, as well as sweet. Yet she’s strong and independent, she wants to track Freddy down, no matter how she has to go about it; whether by force, or by dream. As opposed to the typical “Final Girl”, Nancy is much more than just that. She’s an antagonistic protagonist, if I can mix and match. I say that because she’s able to turn the tables on Freddy and get the upperhand by going at him on his own turf. So, Nancy comes off as a decently strong, resilient female character in a genre with a dearth of those types of characters.
Of course we can’t talk about this Craven masterpiece without mentioning the talent of Robert Englund. Nobody else can ever fill his shoes. Sure, you can remake it. And Jackie Earle Haley is actually a great actor. But certain roles are not meant to be played over and over like in the theatre. In stage acting, nobody is recording you (or at least they never were before these days), and so the performances are not cemented; many people can grace the role. Someone like Freddy Krueger can never be anyone else but Englund. He put the stamp on that role, giving it the performance of a lifetime. His character remains ever creepy, both slightly perverted and terrifyingly mad. The makeup effects involved with him, just his appearance alone, are insane. They remain with you, after years and years. You could be on a desert island for a decade and still remember who Freddy was if they showed you a picture. It’s an iconic piece of horror, of cinematic history itself.
NOES3
Craven’s Nightmare is a 5-star horror. It defined what a supernatural horror could be without the need for the same old ghosts and spooky things in the dark. Freddy branded himself onto the brain of genre fans forever. Not only that, he marked the world. He’s a phenomenon, still is really. Even kids knew who he was back in the ’80s when they couldn’t see the movies. They just knew. I knew who Freddy was before I’d actually seen the movie myself. So Craven not only gave people a good scare, he contributed to pop culture in a hugely significant way during the ’80s, and then later in the ’90s with Scream. This one always creeps me out, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Never a boring watch, always good for that solid, enjoyable scare I crave.