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The Lost Art of Imperfection
Less Than Pulp, Issue 51
My pal Scout Tafoya (who also happens to be my favorite critic) messaged me this past week about a film from 1990 called Crash and Burn. Originally marketed as a sequel to Stuart Gordon’s Robot Jox, this post-apocalyptic film was directed by Charles Band, founder and CEO of Full Moon Features, a low-budget production and distribution company that still exists today but had its best years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Scout was curious if I’d seen it. I told him I had, and he replied that he had no idea Charles Band had something so interesting in him.
Here was my response:
Yeah, I genuinely liked that one. Surprised me, and I’m a Full Moon fan (sort of).
I just liked how the robot is dormant until the end, like everything already happened and these people are trying to get things up and running again. Am I remembering correctly?
He mentioned how he’d read a piece that it’s the first and maybe only post-apocalyptic slasher film. I’m not sure what review he meant, but I am sure that assessment is correct. Those are two subgenres I’ve seldom seen mashed up, if ever.
While most movies that take place after society’s collapse or a global cataclysm tend to be larger in scale, Crash and Burn has an intimacy to it, being confined almost entirely to one location. Part of this was for budgetary reasons. However, as Jeff and I often discuss on Make Your Own Damn Podcast, limited resources do not always equal limited creativity. This is the case in Crash and Burn, a movie where a small group of survivors hole up in a remote TV station in the desert while a cyborg killer picks them off one-by-one. There’s a ticking clock aspect, with an incoming “thermal storm,” and the giant mech at the end makes for a fun, if obvious, deus ex machina.
Full Moon has made some real turds, but there was a maybe ten-year period where they put out some interesting stuff. I think because their aesthetics sort of looked like they’re for kids, but the films themselves had gore and sex, they were essentially gateway drugs for a bunch of people in my age group.
He wrote back:
Some of them like Trancers are so frustrating because they’re so almost good.
“Almost good” is a great way to describe Trancers. I told Scout that I felt the same way about the work of the late Albert Pyun (The Sword and the Sorcerer, Nemesis). Scout describes Pyun as “allergic to coherence.” I describe him as “James Cameron’s really unhinged little brother.”
In his film Cyborg, which stars a young Jean-Claude Van Damme, the characters are all named after guitars. I’m still not sure why beyond, “because it’s cool.” And indeed, it is a cool film. Van Damme has a tiny knife that pops out from the tip of his boot to add something extra deadly to his already devastating kicks. The film plays out like a precursor to cult classic Six-String Samurai; it’s a work that Scout describes as “borderline avant-garde by accident,” which is a great assessment of most texts I love be they movies, books, music, whatever.
But here’s a thing we keep coming back to, I *miss* imperfect movies.
He replied in a way that only he can. It’s the same grammar that’s informed so many discussions over the past twelve years, a lot of which were dedicated to praising the work of rocker-turned-filmmaker Rob Zombie.
Stuff only the crazed and passionate and possessed could have done.
Fucking poetry, man. And I told him so.
At a time when works of art are made by algorithms, artificial intelligence, and committees, imperfection has become a lost art, and that's a shame.
I'm sorry there wasn't a newsletter last week. Jean had to get a minor surgery and both kids were home with hand-foot-and-mouth. It was just one of those weeks, and I needed to limit online time overall.
I did, however, get to record an extensive episode of Make Your Own Damn Podcast in which Jeff and I discuss (and argue for the validity of) A Serbian Film.
A Serbian Film is one of the most notorious horror movies of all time. Considered by many to cross too many boundaries but beloved by fans of extreme cinema, A Serbian Film has a reputation that precedes it. I watched it for the first time, which may surprise some people.
When it was first released, I had grown weary of the excesses of the genre. We'd just endured seven Saw movies, a wave of nihilistic French torture films, and the first Human Centipede. While I enjoy a lot of those works, I simply needed a break by the time A Serbian Film saw the light of day. My interests often fluctuate, and though I knew I would still appreciate something like A Serbian Film, I also knew I needed to be in the mood for it.
Watching it so long after the hype died down was a unique experience. I see why detractors found it so repugnant, but also why apologists say it's not that bad. For me, it's too cinematic to truly unsettle me. Where movies like Nekromantik and Cannibal Holocaust feel like things I'm not supposed to see—things I found—A Serbian Film never stops feeling like a movie. I applaud its use of sound and certain narrative decisions. I also found it too absurd to offend or trigger me. So, what is a movie like this truly for? What's its purpose?
Jeff and I unpack it in our mega episode. My co-host has some interesting points, arguing for it as a fiercely anticapitalistic text, but also pointing out that it may very well be the horror genre's version of “The Aristocrats” joke.
I didn't love the movie as much as Jeff, but I don't hate it as much as its critics. I do know I'll never forget it, and perhaps that alone makes it laudable.
As always, I want to thank everyone for reading, sharing, and subscribing. Sound off in the comments if you have anything you'd like to ask or if you have feedback on this content.
I am bored of content about other content and would like to write about other things. Have thoughts on what those things should be? I'm all ears.
Be well, friends.