Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Film: Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter

It’s very hard to guess whether a person is going to like a film, regardless of how good you know that person. I’m often getting recommendations by people, the “it’s just a kind of films you like” and usually realize how much they generalize my taste. Sure, I love high art and philosophy of Tarkovsky, but then, I don’t like Bunuel or Lynch for any kind of “deep-ness” in their films. I like them because, when I’m watching their films, it’s as if I’m watching my own dreams filmed (and go figure, Tarkovsky liked Bunuel as well. He used to quote his scenes as examples in which desired feeling is evoked purely from film language, camera and editing, without help of words or music, or any other element taken from other arts). And then, whenever I feel that the art stance is just a shell with no content, I pull back. This can happen with controversial authors like Jodorowsky, as well as with highly acclaimed directors like Bertolucci...
And then there are authors like Sergio Leone, always considered author for the masses, but whole power of film language is so strong that everything else is forgivable...
And then there are stupid teenage comedies, guilty pleasures that I like watching even though they aren’t good films by any standard, various films that I watch when my brain needs a day off...
And then there’s trash. Cheap, low-fi, exploitative, imperfect, clumsy.
And one of things I’ve always been asked is, how can a same person like Tarkovsky and Bunuel, and then also films like Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter.
Well, how to explain?
The simple thing, no matter how wrong it can sound, I like good films. And limitation in genre, budget, approach, doesn’t have anything to do with whether the film is good or not. Good films were made in glossy but shallow Hollywood, in industry of bad copies called Cinecitta, in clever (sometimes even too much) American independent scene, in party-controlled SSSR and Poland (back in communist days), in Bollywood secluded from the rest of the film world, in classy European studios, namely everywhere regardless of commercial or political pressures that authors were concerned with (or lack thereof). So the only criteria is, what exactly I think is a good film. And you can’t really predict that.
Which is also why I shudder when people ask me to recommend them something to watch. Should I recommend “Sky over Berlin”, wonderful without a doubt, but more an essay than a classical film?
Anyway, back to “J. C, Vampire Hunter”: cheaply made by Lee Demarbre and, in the role of screenwriter Ian Driscoll, from first sequences it’s hard to tell that it’s a real movie at all – but later it unravels into exactly what the title says. Jesus Christ has returned among us to defeat the vampire disease that is spreading among, um, lesbians (don’t ask). Jesus is, well, Jesus, but as played by Phil Caracas he’s also somewhat clumsy, somewhat unsure of himself, and before all good-willed. Actually, pretty much what I’d imagine him like, save for trimmed haircut and piercing.
Film is horror, which includes fake blood pouring around, and some medical sequences starring cow intestines. It’s also an action, so it includes a lot of people all too willing to be struck by Jesus’ fist, standing and waiting (maimed, I guess) while he lifts them and throws them to the ground. And then, it’s also exploitation flick, which means you shouldn’t really expect any depth, especially not religious symbolism or anything.
Yep, I’ve seen worse low budget films. I don’t think you can get any worse when it comes to special effects, than “Cheerleader ninjas”. And then, I’ve seen some ingenious short films featuring one or two actors, a small apartment and a lot of director’s invention. Compared to those, “Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter” is, hmm, moderately budgeted.
But such cheap flicks display something that makes them genuinely likeable, a love for making films that its enthusiastic makers build in. Love for filmmaking is, for instance, contained in the wit that “Jesus Christ” displays.
Consider, for instance, the key scene in which Jesus sings on a stage in a club, and when he turns and sees the mirror behind his back, he realizes that no one in the club except his partners is reflecting in the mirror. This scene sure is lifted from Polanski’s “Dance of the vampires” where Polanski also realizes that no one in the room but him reflects in the mirror – but it doesn’t lose on the creepiness, and “Jesus Christ” pulls a spin on it. Jesus’ godawful scat performance lulls us into belief that the whole scene is just a comical relief, and drum beat adds to an eerie atmosphere.
Think of the fight during which Jesus breaths into vampire’s face, scene interrupted by flashback of Jesus visiting fast food joints and eating piquant garlic-flavoured sauces. Or a scene in which he preaches to the crowd, to be interrupted by his cell phone. The pro-wrestler Santos who, by calling himself “a saint”, vouches for Jesus’ army forever. And let’s not forget the scene in which Jesus appears at the same time on TV in live and in the room where vampire is watching it – to vampire’s surprise he replies “I am everywhere”.
And so on right to the bloopers at the end. I usually hate bloopers at the end of the film because they viciously break the illusion that the film was so torturously building. But these bloopers, consisting of Jesus trying a stake-twirling maneuver three times before doing it right, made me realize what, perhaps, is the real appeal of such low-fi films.
Well, those bad special effects, unconvincing fights, badly spoken lines and bad framings, they are all showing us not the magic of film, but the magic of filmmaking. They show us all their secrets, letting us in on how the things were done. When we see those intestines that were supposed to be human, we can clearly see that they’re not, and when we see Jesus sending an opponent flying, we can see that the opponent is the one doing acrobatics. It is as if authors invite us to watch the filming (and be involved in it) rather than presenting us a finished product with impenetrable façade of “film magic”. It is aided by the feeling that anyone can make films, just as long as he has a good idea. And then, we witness the process of creating something practically out of nothing.
So what’s there not to like?