Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fetish Decay - Sorceress (Louis Alexander, 1974)

Black Candle Envy

I  kicked the shit out of Barney. It'll be a long time before he salutes Satan with his dick again.
- from Suburban Satanists (1974)

Unless your erotic proclivities run towards pasty, poorly-lit gynecological-grade sex scenes, most filmed from a point of view which emphasizes the hairy, pimpled asses of 70s ne'er-do-wells who were never professional anythings, forget professional actors (even by porn industry standards), the fetishes that will most likely draw you to the two-volume Alpha Blue treasure trove, Satanic Sickies will have little to do with graphic sex. What Satanic Sickies does offer is a host of wanna-be Kenneth Angers & Jack Smiths doing their level best to inject sinister, occult atmosphere into what would otherwise be standard-issue 42nd Street grindhouse fare. These 16mm warlocks jimmy-in coffins of suspect provenance, stop-motion Tarot card animation, more black & red candles than you could possibly suck off in a lifetime (and believe me these actresses give it the old dropout try), home-made guillotines, as many creepy masks as there are creepy faces, third-string Manson girls in Haight junkshop hooded vestments, Christmas novelty lighting (the rotating red, blue & green Christmas tree color wheel is very popular though it almost always confounds the camera & leads to appropriately queasy effects), truckloads of dry ice, every cryptic symbol from the swastika to common Greek psi, rear projections attempted with pull-down classroom slideshow screens & the craziest Moog, chanting & fuzztone guitar soundtracks you'll ever hear in your life. While your first reaction will be to laugh & you will, quite a lot, watch two or three of these damn things in a row & they WILL start to wriggle under your skin. If, like me, you adore obvious artifice over glossy FX, a two or three-film sitting will definitely raise some gooseflesh.

If you're not creeped-out by the actual technique, start thinking about what may have possibly happened to all of these fresh-faced, acid-addled young girls & the locations of all their shallow graves in the canyons between Thousand Oaks & Malibu. But there's as much intentional satire & counterculture japery at play here as hilarious incompetence & some of the dialogue will melt you over like a spent black candle (see the spectacularly gonzo Rites of Uranus). And transgressive cinema? Show me something as wicked & tasteless in 60s & 70s slick Euro-sleaze as the scene in Hard Gore (1974) where mental hospital nymphos are taken from behind by an executioner wearing hosiery over his head & then beheaded by a guillotine at the moment he ejaculates & I'll show you the Marquis de Sade's cock ring in a matchbox.

However, what I found strikingly beautiful in so many of these short films (they're each about an hour long), was the no-budget seat-of-your pants street sequences; the fingerprints & rough spots on the film from being manhandled quickly into a Bolex beveled splicer; the naive artistry of title cards, occasional hand-tinting &  & woozy lighting; and the refreshing belief in the camera as a toy to be played with in any way the precocious infant at the wheel sees fit, to create a game that's reinvented every time the toy leaves the toybox. After viewing several of these in a row -- and, in the interests of full disclosure, I often fast-forwarded through the sex scenes -- they began to seem as dream-like & wondrous to me as the more respectable surrealist shorts from the 1920s, mad toasts from shabby rococo goblets overflowing with plumes of dry ice, to a medium that's been tamed, if not whipped into submission, by sterile new gadgets & a deadly dull new marketplace.

Here are some lovely bits of decasia, necromania & folk art from Sorceress by Louis Alexander (um, Jon Ball):

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