Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Weasels Rip My Flesh (1979)

Forming the Mustela genus, the weasel is a short, slender, and fairly predatory critter. Its reputation as a sneaking little thief gave the animal's name a derogatory connotation it has kept to this day. If you put a ferret, a mongoose, and a weasel in front of me, I admit I would hard-pressed to be able to distinguish between the three (never mind that they are all members of the same family of mammals). None of them is viewed as being particularly pleasant, but neither have any of them ever been considered man-killers. As a matter of fact, other than being kind of cute, most people probably don't think of a weasel as much more than a stole that you wouldn't want to consent to wear. 

And yet, Pauly Shore insisted on taking "The Weasel" as his self-ascribed nickname. When Mr. Shore hit MTV in the late 80s, I concede I had a certain begrudging liking of the man. Some of his material was actually pretty funny, I thought. That said, the perpetual stoner act and the whiny, singsong delivery could grate on even the most steely of nerves, and his movies are truly dogshit. Yet the man managed to carve out a niche for himself, regardless of whether or not he could ever (or would ever want to) live down the monster he created and perpetuated for so long. In a sense, then, The Weasel is immortal.

Over a long tracking shot of trees (presumably filmed from a car window or bicycle), some voice (seemingly recorded on a cassette and played back) goes on about life, the universe, and everything in what can only be described as a purple, cryptic style. We then cut to a couple of young women walking up a flight of stairs. This is followed by a shaving-cream-covered hand brandishing a knife and stabbing somebody who doesn't look like anyone else in the film nor like the two women we have seen so far. Next thing we know the credits pop up. We're then shown a model rocket on Venus scooping up some slime and failing at re-entry to Earth. The radioactive payload from the ship is picked up by two idjit kids who accidentally dump it in a rabid weasel's burrow. Things go downhill from there.

Thus goes Nathan Schiff's Weasels Rip My Flesh, the young man's first short feature film (it only runs a little over an hour, but what an hour). That he was able to do what he did at the age of sixteen is admirable, to say the least. I don't know for certain if the film ever played in any actual movie theaters, having been shot on Super-8 film for about four hundred bucks, but if it did, then I have to give even more credit to Mr. Schiff and company. For a budget under four figures, it looks like it was made for two, and the film violates every single rule of filmmaking known to man. The sound "design" is different in every single shot, and it usually starts with dead silence at each cut. Add to that the varying degrees of background noise (including the camera motor) in every second of the runtime, and you have something that defies any sense of professionalism. The special effects make the cardboard volcano you probably built for a school science project look like Rob Bottin's work on The Thing. Shots are either out of focus or completely unconcerned in the least with any sort of composition. Despite this monumental level of incompetence (let's call it "learning on the job"), though, I found myself giving in almost completely to the film. I came to anticipate the jarring drop-offs in sound, the wildly erratic noise levels, the editing that evinces a dearth of shot coverage. To my utter amazement, I found the flaws forming a bizarre diegesis for the story and characters, and came within a hair's breadth of buying into this world, despite its constant, unintended attempts to repel any involvement with the audience on anything other than an ironic level.

The film's title is derived (I like to think) from the September 1956 issue of "Man's Life" magazine, which contained the story "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" written by Mike Kamens and which sported a typically lurid cover painted by Will Hulsey depicting a man being savaged by a horde of the animals and even hauling off with one in his grip to swat at the others. Of course, more people probably know the title from the Mothers of Invention album from 1970. Having never read the short story nor listened to the album, I can only assume that Schiff changed more from his inspiration than simply altering a past tense verb to a present tense one. But they all make visual use of the weasel as a fairly bloodthirsty bugger. The weasel FX are nebulous, to say the least. Our first glimpse of the sick little guy puts one in mind of the type of squeaky toy you would buy for your dog (who knows, maybe it was?). Once he is irradiated, though, the animal becomes a lumpy, brown thing, resembling more a massive, non-fibrous bowel movement than any kind of extant creature (though it does have a mouth, I'll grant it that). Schiff isn't shy about pouring on the fake blood mixture, and some of the gore (which is plentiful) comes dangerously close to being pretty effective. And if you thought the giant weasel didn't look like a giant weasel, wait until you see the weasel man, which looks like a giant Mr. Hanky with a bunch of brown pipe cleaners jutting from its mouth area. As trash cinema goes, this comes very close to being king of the mountain.

At its heart though, keeping in mind the source material which apparently motivated the film's story and title, the film is very much a throwback. It owes almost everything (except for one of the most derivatively awesome endings ever put to film) largely to Science Fiction films of the 1950s. From the opening monologue which would most likely be placed at the end of one of the older films, to the mad scientist angle, to the giant monster created from radiation (okay, it's radiation from the planet Venus, but it's still radiation), Weasels Rip My Flesh is fully ensconced in films of the past, and I believe that this is where the film conjures the majority of its charm. You can tell at a glance that this was made by a person with a genuine love for movies, even though you can also tell at a glance that he didn't bother to study said films so much as he took the parts of the films that he thought were cool and put them in his film, regardless of whether they belonged or whether they were accomplished with any sort of technical polish. This film can in no way, shape, or form be called good, but it is fun, and I would be willing to bet that all the ripped flesh contained herein will undoubtedly leave psychic scars on its future viewers. I know it did me.

MVT: The spirit of the venture is paramount, and it is infectious. That it got put on film quasi-successfully is nothing short of amazing, but that it actually managed to leave me smiling is miraculous.

Make Or Break: The Make is the opening sequence which is like a cudgel to the head, yet still manages to draw you in, because I guarantee you will be absolutely befuddled by what you've witnessed and intrigued to see more. 

Score: 6/10

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