Connect with us

Film

The ‘Pulp Fiction’ Pawn Shop: Tarantino’s Greatest Terror

Published

on

Quentin Tarantino Spotlight

I think the gimp’s sleepin

Everyone knows the scene. Two sweating, bleeding men with plastic red balls stuffed in their mouths awaken, tied to a chair. A redneck holding a leather-bound man casually eyes his prisoners. “How did we get here?” asks the audience, fearful. Within Tarantino’s library, Pulp Fiction’s pawn shop scene is perhaps the best remembered and the least talked about. Often glossed over quickly and met with awkward glances and uncomfortable silence, the scene still has a way of bringing visceral terror, even fifteen years after its release. Despite its controversial themes, Pulp Fiction’s pawn shop scene arguably stands as the filmmaker’s greatest terror, pushing the boundaries of cinema with its visceral imagery and leaving lasting mysteries in the Tarantino cinematic universe.

Because of its impactful horror, the events of Pulp Fiction’s pawn shop are almost burned into the collective memory of film. The shop, described as the Mason-Dixie Pawn Shop in the original draft of the script, is a quiet and unassuming building somewhere in sunny Los Angeles. Engaged in a chase regarding the rigging of a fight, Butch Coolidge and Marsellus Wallace brawl their way through its doors and end up captured and incapacitated by the shop’s redneck operator, the paunchy and sweaty Maynard. The man calls up his accomplice, Zed, who is described in the script as his brother, and informs him that “The spider just caught a coupl’a flies.”

Butch and Marsellus wake up in sheer terror, gagged with red S&M balls and tied up in front of their captors. Zed demands that Maynard wake the gimp (a leather-bound man that lives in the back room), plays a game of ‘eenie, meenie, miney, mo’ for which man goes first, then drags Marsellus into the back room for unknown torture. While noises are heard behind closed doors, Butch escapes his bonds, knocks the gimp out, and runs upstairs to freedom. However, instead of leaving the pawnshop, the boxer decides to free Marsellus as well; he finds a samurai sword, then bursts into the back room to find Zed sodomizing the mob boss. He cuts Maynard down and subdues Zed, who is eventually blown away by Marsellus with a shotgun.

Pulp Fiction's Pawn Shop

In including such a disturbing scene, Tarantino continues his tradition of genre switching within Pulp Fiction. While Butch’s character is a nod to celebrated boxing film Body and Soul, the horror of the Pawn Shop is borrowed almost directly from the classic Deliverance, creating a mashup effect of past narratives to keep things fresh and unique. In an interview, Tarantino stated that “Part of the fun of Pulp is that if you’re hip to movies, you’re watching the boxing movie Body and Soul and then suddenly the characters turn a corner and they’re in the middle of Deliverance. And you’re like, ‘What? How did I get into Deliverance? I was in Body and Soul, what’s going on here?’” This postmodern film technique creates an almost kaleidoscopic effect for the viewer, unnerving the audience by upsetting their narrative base. This heightens the impact of the terror within the film as a whole, putting the audience on edge by subtly indicating that the film could take another dark turn at any time.

By pushing the envelope of what is acceptable in cinema, Pulp Fiction’s pawn shop scene is classic Tarantino writing and filmmaking, taking its time with conversation to build suspense, and using sexual deviance as a way to shock his viewers. Immediately after the two men wake up in the Mason-Dixie basement, the casual and deliberate way that Zed chooses his victim is designed to give the audience time to come to terms with their predicament, and wonder whether the heroic Butch will be the first to undergo whatever torture the redneck devises. It’s a classic technique seen in horror and thriller narratives since the dawn of Hollywood, forcing audiences to participate in the helplessness of the characters at the hands of a menace. Combined with the slow rhythmic tapping of his hands on the gimp’s leather, as well as the voyeuristic gaze of Maynard in the background, this tension is heightened by Zed’s cool and controlled manner, implying that Butch and Marsellus are not his first victims.

Pulp Fiction Pawn Shop

The imagery of Pulp Fiction’s pawn shop scene is also designed to increase terror by relying on another classic Tarantino trope: the shock value of sexual deviance. Another hallmark of his films, the pure visceral reaction to the S&M paraphernalia and actual terror of witnessing on-screen assault is enough to burn this part of the narrative into audience’s minds and force them to turn away in disgust. Like Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, brutal scenes of backwoods violations have a long history in Hollywood, but the unexpected viciousness of the crime and the unorthodox props make the events of the pawnshop extraordinarily memorable. Combined with the fact that it is male-on-male violence for the purpose of sadistic power committed beneath an otherwise reputable business, and these acts play to the baser fears of audiences, seeking to particularly cut masculine viewers to the core.

One of the greatest and most frightening mysteries of Pulp Fiction’s pawn shop scene is the identity of the gimp and story behind his enslavement. When first seen, the gimp is sleeping in the basement back room of the Mason-Dixie pawnshop, chained inside what looks like a cheap box made of plywood. Clad head to toe in leather and studs, the man has no lines, and is faceless besides two eyes peering out from the mask. His presence raises a number of questions concerning his identity, where he came from, and how he ended up there. Was he kidnapped by Maynard similarly to Marsellus and Butch? Does he live there voluntarily? Who was he before he was masked? While he is kept in chains and shackles, he also obeys Zed’s request to watch prisoners, implying that he is on the side of the rednecks.

Pulp Fiction's Pawn Shop

Perhaps the reason why the gimp is so frightening lies in the fact that these questions have no answers. Like a backwoods bondage Jason from Friday the 13th, the gimp is an unspeaking horror that probes that very malleability of human nature. In his suit, the gimp ceases to be his own agent and becomes a slave to the holder of the leash, in this case, Zed. One could argue that the gimp even mirrors Butch’s relationship to Marsellus at the beginning of the film, as the mob boss effectively “owns” the boxer by buying him out and telling him to take a dive. The horror behind the gimp lies not in his actions, but in his possibilities, as the masked monster invites audiences to put themselves in the suit and question their power to control their destiny.

The gimp aside, the Mason Dixie still has one final unsettling mystery: the purpose of the back room. Maynard refers to Pulp Fiction’s pawn shop back room as Russell’s old room, implying that there was once another person that lived there. Could Russell have been a tenant or co-conspirator? A past prisoner of the redneck group? Could Russell be the previous identity of the gimp before he was brought into servitude? These questions ultimately remain unanswered, but bring further mystery and terror to the scene.

Regardless of how one views the scene, it is incredibly important within the context of the film and cinema as a whole. From a certain perspective, it’s possible to interpret the horrific events of Pulp Fiction’s pawn shop scene as the thematic embodiment of the entire movie — illustrating the struggles for power, possibility of fate, and the racial tensions that have been boiling under the surface for the entire film. Regardless of critical views, Pulp Fiction’s pawn shop remains an integral piece of cinematic history and an absolute terror to watch. Although future Tarantino films have always had that unifying grit, the Mason Dixie pawnshop stands the test of time as the most outlandish and horrifying.

 

Ty is here to talk Nintendo and chew bubblegum, but he's all out of gum. He is an Animal Crossing Fanatic, a Mario Kart legend, and a sore loser at Smash. Currently dying all the time at Apex Legends on Playstation. Add him on Switch at Creepshow101 or on PSN/Live at Grimelife 13 and play!

Fantasia Film Festival

Beautiful ‘Shadow’ Stands Out

Published

on

As a sort of somber Shakespearean political melodrama, Zhang Yimou’s Shadow sometimes feels a bit too overplotted, with enough self restraint and looks of longing to make it feel claustrophobic, and so many schemes and betrayals that the script almost gets dazed among them. However, as a fantastical period piece — decked out in luscious trappings and painterly compositions, and bolstered by passionate performances and balletic battles with umbrellas made of blades — the experience fares better, resulting in a look at ancient intrigue that always manages to entertain one way or another.

A brief bit of opening text sets the stage for a precarious peace between two lands — the kingdom of Pei, and the kingdom of Yang, the latter of which currently occupies the city of Jing, much to Pei’s dismay. When the renowned Commander of Pei strikes a deal with Yang’s unbeatable warrior king to compete in a one-on-one duel for the fate of the city, he is rebuked by his own ruler, and stripped of his title, demoted to a mere commoner. However, it is secretly revealed that the man acting as the Commander is actually a lookalike named Jingzhou, captured in his youth and bound to serve as ‘shadow’ to the true Commander — who is still recovering from near-mortal wounds from a previous encounter — in case of threats to his life.

This sickly Commander confines himself to an underground cavern beneath the city, and relentlessly trains Jingzhou in order to uphold the subterfuge, even going so far as to give him similar scars. All the while, he plots to retake Jing and assume Pei’s throne, promising to free Jingzhou from his duty upon victory. Of course, this being a royal court, there are any number of Machiavellian conspirators, each setting wheels in motions that surely will collide. This includes a weaselly king, a fiery princess, a sniveling courtier, and the Commander’s wife, Xiao Ai, who plays along with her husband’s maneuvers, but may be falling for his more honorable ‘shadow.’

Those who casually wander into this inter-kingdom squabble will no doubt soon become as lost as these ancient civilizations themselves, but despite the gravity with which the various players detail their plans, the importance of what they’re saying is mostly smoke and mirrors; sure, the duplicity stacked upon duplicity is mildly diverting, but it’s also shallow and devoid of meaningful motivation; so do the myriad of machinations in Shadow really matter? Not when there are plenty of other things to hold one’s interest.

Chiefly among those elements is the sumptuous look of every frame. Working with a relatively small canvas, director Zhang Yimou has carefully composed grandiose images filled with nuanced staging, deliberate movement, and indelibly rich texture. His choices give otherwise modest engagements an epic feel, and not just in moments where swords are flashed. Conversations become mini-wars in themselves, as he zeroes his camera in on the meticulous exchanges between the main players of his power game, their precisely worded responses and subtle facial expressions acting out aggressive thrusts and parries in word form, often cutting just as deep as any knife. 

One need not understand the spoken particulars to get the general idea, and Shadow actually communicates better through the clarity of its visuals. Each guarded step or confident tilt of the head feels deliberately choreographed, as if part of deadly dance. And instead of overloading the screen with period detail, sets are clean, populated only with objects of significance. This laser focus allows for minute aspects that otherwise may have been overlooked in clutter to factor prominently, especially when Zhang Yimou holds his shots so patiently.

And it must have easy for him to do so with a cast as magnetic as this. Deng Chao does double duty as the Commander and Jingzhou, but creates characters so disparate that you’d be forgiven for thinking they bear no resemblance whatsoever. He manages bitter and reptilian just as easy as dutiful and courageous, showing how life has affected these two men, tied together by a facade, in vastly different ways. Sun Li as Xiao Ai nobly hides her torn affections behind expressive eyes that should reveal more than they do; everyone is playing the game. Zheng Kai and Guan Xiaotong round things out nicely as the deceitful king and his more straightforward, honest sister, who challenges any threats to honor.

Shadow 2019 Film Review

They are eminently watchable, completely up to the task of holding down the fort even when besieged by layers of backstabbing that would require a more talented contortionist than the script is capable of. That’s Shadow itself; from one-on-one political maneuvers to an entertainingly inventive battle involving hundreds, there is almost always something splendid to soak in, even if it makes your head spin.

Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on July 25th as part of our Fantasia Film Festival coverage. Shadow is now available in Canada on Digital, DVD, and Blu-ray.

Continue Reading

Film

‘Incident In A Ghostland ‘— Pascal Laugier Revisits the Genre that Made Him Famous

‘Martyrs’ director Pascal Laugier takes another stab at the horror genre.

Published

on

Writer-director Pascal Laugier is well-known for his heady 2008 breakout French thriller Martyrs which is regarded by many as one of the most disturbing horror films ever made and took the torture porn genre to untold levels of nastiness. While not his best film (that honor goes to Brotherhood of the Wolf), Martyrs stands as an extreme example of just how twisted French new wave horror films can be.

In 2012 he directed his first English-language feature, The Tall Man, a slow atmospheric thriller about a dying mining town where children begin vanishing without a trace. Despite the star power of Jessica Biel, The Tall Man was both a critical and commercial bomb, and not necessarily what fans of Laugier’s first film were expecting. His latest (and second English-language offering) revisits the grisly torture-porn genre that made him famous but the question going in was, is it any good?

Following in the footsteps of French auteurs Alexandre Aja (High Tension) and Alexandre Bustillo (Inside), Incident In A Ghostland begins as your typical home-invasion thriller and follows single mother Pauline Keller (French Canadian pop star Mylene Farmer) and her two teenage daughters Beth (Emilia Jones) and Vera (Taylor Hickson) who relocate to their new home. En route, the trio is briefly terrorized by a speeding ice cream truck before noticing a local headline about a series of brutal crimes sweeping the area. The Kellers haven’t even had a chance to settle in yet and already things aren’t looking too good. Anyone who’s seen at least one horror movie knows what happens next. What follows is a no-holds-barred assault that will leave the audience emotionally and psychologically scarred.

What makes Incident In A Ghostland different than the countless other home invasion thrillers that came before, is that the raid on their house takes up only the first twenty minutes of the film. After managing to survive the attack, we fast forward some years and discover a grown-up Beth (Crystal Reed) has written a memoir of her family’s traumatic experience that has made her a famous horror novelist. Her sister Vera (Anastasia Phillips) on the other hand, isn’t doing so well; suffering from PTSD and reliving that horrible night over and over. It’s here that my plot summary must end in order to avoid spoiling the film’s many twists and turns— but to sum it up, the remainder of the running time jumps between past and present, dream and reality, nightmares and hallucinations and dreams within dreams all while keeping the audience guessing as to what is real and what is in Beth’s imagination.

Like the director’s gory debut, Incident In A Ghostland is light on plot (and even lighter on character development) but extremely heavy on the torture inflicted on the young women who are subjected to unspeakable acts of physical, sexual and mental abuse, both real and imaginary. Like Martyrs, Ghostland dwells on the terror our protagonists experience with the camera constantly closing in on tight shots of their wounds, bruises, and screams as they are kicked, punched, choked, chained and dragged around the house. Needless to say, it’s rather painful to sit through, with each scene stretched out for maximum discomfort. Incident In A Ghostland is the sort of movie in which roughly half the running time consists of women screaming in pain while the other half will have you scratching your head trying to make sense of it all. It’s especially unsettling as Laugier subjects Beth and Vera to acts of pedophilic sadism, and later learning that the then-19-year-old actress Taylor Hickson reportedly sued the production company for injuries suffered on the set. Meanwhile, fans of Farmer may be appalled to watch the French-Canadian idol beaten to a bloody pulp while stabbed repeatedly— and if you have a fear of dolls, I recommend you stay as far away from Ghostland as it features an abundance of creepy doll imagery.

While Pascal Laugier’s most recent offering isn’t as depraved as Martyrs, it’s still an intentionally unpleasant nightmare to watch unfold and while I admire the craft that went into making it, I can’t say I enjoyed my time spent watching it. But it is a well-made film featuring stunning cinematography from Danny Nowak (who provides the movie with a sheen polish) and great set design by Gordon Wilding and his collaborators who do a marvelous job in bringing the house to life (so to speak) and making it, as creepy as the villains played by Kevin Power and Rob Archer.

I’ve noticed a few critics online comparing Incident In A Ghostland to the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre which in my opinion, is heresy. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains to this day a motion picture of raw, uncompromising intensity, a punishing assault on the senses via some of the most extended scenes of absolute sustained frenzy ever captured on celluloid. Incident In A Ghostland brings nothing new to the genre and is just another example of a movie that relies on plot twists and extreme violence to get a rise out of the audience. Whereas Marilyn Burns’ doomed screams will forever be etched in your memory, the hundreds and hundreds of screams heard in Ghostland will soon be forgotten. Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre undoubtedly ranks as the best horror film of all time and also boasts one of the most unforgettable abrupt endings ever. I’ve already forgotten how Ghostland ends.

Incident In A Ghostland is a Shudder exclusive. For more info, visit their website.

  • Ricky D
Continue Reading

Film

A Eulogy for ‘The Fast and The Furious’

Remembering the endlessly quotable film that started it all; perhaps never cool, but at least it sincerely tried.

Published

on

I saw The Fast and The Furious with friends at the now long-gone crappier-of-the-two cinemas in my Massachusetts suburb. We mostly did whatever we could to avoid that theater – there was a comparatively smaller chance of running into other friends or girls there, the screens were small, and the popcorn was stale – which is to say, I can’t readily remember why we were seeing The Fast and The Furious instead of something else at the nice theater, except that it was probably a matter of convenience, most likely based on when my buddy’s parents could give us a ride.

I don’t remember my life being affected by the movie, and I wish I could write something poetic about Paul Walker’s golden locks or Vin Diesel’s impossible magnetism. I can’t, though I’m sure the cars were loud and awesome, and the girls in the movie were put there for twelve year-olds like us, so I can imagine they were well received. It wasn’t until the DVD, though, that The Fast and The Furious really infected my group’s lexicon, to the extent that we had one.

It was the first DVD I purchased with my own money – I know that much. Once I (and by proxy, my friends) owned i t, things changed rapidly. The Fast and The Furious became for us the type of movie quoted so compulsively that the actual source material seemed to lose meaning: “Bullshit asshole, no one likes the tuna here,” “You never had me… You never had your car,” “The buster brought me back!”  – we quoted the poor movie to death. In those dark days before IMDB and YouTube, I desperately combed Napster so I could listen to classic gems like Benny Cassette’s subtly titled “Watch Your Back,” or Saliva’s “Superstar” – without a hint of irony. It was, in retrospect, uncool.

None of this is unique, and I apologize for the tedium of recounting a trivial childhood movie infatuation as though it were news. Kids of a certain age latch on, absorb, follow what’s cool until life teaches them that trying too hard to be cool – like say, Paul Walker’s character telling a menacing Vin Diesel “If I win, I take the cash… And the Respect” – is distinctly uncool. So no, not singular. But it is remarkable that in the franchise’s lean years, post-Diesel and pre-Diesel, and then pre-Dwayne Johnson, these would be embarrassing factoids. In 2006, no one was exactly clamoring for the next The Fast and The Furious installment, and this was years before the franchise assumed the winking, self-aware, action-porn form it now parades into theaters biannually.

In those years, you wouldn’t have heard me or my friends tell each other “You can have any beer you want, as long as it’s a Corona,” because you may not have gotten it. Worse, you would have gotten it, but wondered aloud why in the world we were laughing. The Fast and The Furious hadn’t yet been resurrected as a mega-franchise, a type of multicultural Avengers. The film was just a curiosity, a leftover from a time when we couldn’t drive, but Grand Theft Auto, Gone in 60 Seconds, and The Fast and The Furious were all we thought about for one summer.

Mostly, the first film still is a curiosity. Irony has a place, but it can be a cynical and cowardly veil as well, an opportunity for blockbusters like the later Fast films to avoid truly risking anything. The franchise’s self-awareness insulates it from criticism; of course it’s dumb – it’s supposed to be dumb. It’s a post-modern blockbuster construct that allows everyone from the filmmakers to audiences to critics to join the joke, to laugh and commend only the gaudy excess and the conscious overreach of the entire undertaking.

The Fate of the Furious appears to be no different, and in that way is hardly related to its originator. Fate is rife with the hallmarks of what the franchise has become – stunt casting, obscure locales, action sequences that are more side-splitting than seat-gripping. The films are speeding toward a cliff, where irony and awareness meet the end of credulity and the last remnants of attention spans. Very shortly the series will be left looking only to space as the next frontier – they’ve already used cars as every type of weapon, been all over the world, killed and resurrected characters swiftly and as a matter of convenience. Instead of going forward, however, they could go back.

Watching The Fast and The Furious now, knowing what has grown out of it, it is impossible to feel anything but refreshed by how seriously the film takes itself. Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) isn’t a fun-house mirror image of a forgotten action archetype; instead he’s present, really going for it. Paul Walker still hadn’t found acting ability to match his leading man looks, but you can see him trying – hard – on screen. He delivers corny monologues like “So check it out, it’s like this…” with vigor. The climactic scene with Dom and Brian (Walker) speeding toward a train, and Brian ultimately letting Dom escape the police, is meant to evoke not too-cool-for-school laughter, but also investment, sympathy, and some emotion other than self-satisfied distraction.

The Fast and The Furious is not a particularly good film. It’s basically a rip-off of Point Break. But it’s also not that bad, and that would matter if this was meant to be a critical reappraisal of the film’s merit. Instead, it’s meant simply to applaud The Fast and The Furious for having the audacity to be something at all.  It is the type of movie that doesn’t exist in any meaningful sense anymore. Today’s blockbusters – especially the retreads, reboots, re-imaginings, and sequels – bend over backwards to justify their existence, with pandering fan service or a cynical distance that suggests audiences shouldn’t invest any more in the films than the films invest in themselves, which is next to nothing outside of a movie star’s salary and a CGI budget. Even well-received sequels – consider 22 Jump Street, for instance – can hardly help but apologize for their own existence with self-effacing jokes and meta commentary.

The Fast and The Furious, with its softcore-porno shots of cars and asses, unabashed bromantics, and adolescent philosophizing (“It’s not how you stand by your car, it’s how you race your car”, or if you prefer, “I live my life a quarter mile at a time”) tried very hard to be cool. Parts of it worked, if only for a limited period of time to a limited audience, which is more than you can say for the franchise it spawned, a series focused only being smart enough to know that it’s never cool to try, so fuck it, here’s Vin Diesel driving a car through three skyscrapers, do you get it? The Fast franchise is fun, and the films make blockbuster seasons more interesting, but it lives only to sustain itself for the future, one more in a series of franchises with a money faucet no one dares turn off. That model has nothing to do with The Fast and the Furious, and it was never Dom Toretto’s style. The real Dom Toretto lives life a quarter mile at a time.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on April 13, 2017.

Continue Reading

Film

‘Nekrotronic’ Sells its Soul to Monica Bellucci

Published

on

Some movies are just so hard to grasp that trying to do so would be futile. In some instances, that can be used to a film’s advantage, such as Kiah Roache-Turner’s 2014 debut, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, in which explanations didn’t really matter. Understanding what was happening in that film wasn’t the point; it was just about accepting the ride. That’s the same strategy employed in the director’s 2018 follow-up, Nekrotronic, a supernatural social media haunt that opts for the same deprivation of logic for the sake of a fun B-movie romp.

Co-written with his brother, Tristan, the script takes a kitchen-sink approach to the insane story of demons possessing humans through social media. As the eternal fight between Nekromancers and demons rages on, they’ve become locked in a new type of cyber warfare. An app being designed by a soulless corporation of human husks is overseen by the Queen of the Underworld herself (played by the always incredible Monica Bellucci), and acts a lot like Pokemon Go — but as users find ghosts instead of Pokemon, they unknowingly give their souls to the underworld. And so,  the fate of all mankind now rests on the shoulders of a sanitation worker (Ben O’Toole) and his best friend (Epine Bob Savea).

Nekrotronic is about kicking ass and filling the screen with as much gore and high-tech weaponry as possible.

This Ozploitation film tries really hard to give explanations to virtually everything it introduces, and that’s an admirable effort in a story that very clearly doesn’t care that much. It’s Ghostbusters with a little bit of They Live, and an aesthetic that feels like the video game Doom more than any movie in recent memory. There are 3D-printing demon souls and giant lasers, wraiths, and ghosts that travel through the internet like it’s a series of tubes, and a refusal to stop introducing new conceits. That Nekrotronic has logic presented at all is like if the Alien movies tried to give motivation for the xenomorph attacking its prey — endearing to attempt, but so very unnecessary.

Nekrotronic

That is the major issue that plagues Nekrotronic. The Roache-Turner brothers want to do everything, but by doing everything it’s easy to lose focus on the central conceit — which is hard to pinpoint, because there are so many small emotional beats that are all treated like huge deals at various times. There’s not even really much in the form of a social commentary on our reliance with social media and technology; Nekromancers once put demon souls into the internet as a form of containment, and then didn’t realize that the Queen of Hell would discover a way to use the internet to release the demons. That’s a neat genre explanation that could be mined for more of a critique on apps that data mine and do more harm than we really realize, but unfortunately, the movie only passively mentions this point, then walks away from it immediately.

Instead, Nekrotronic is about kicking ass and filling the screen with as much gore and high-tech weaponry as possible. The cyber-horror aesthetic lends itself really well to the narrative; while it very much looks like a B-movie, it looks like a B-movie with a budget. The visuals are also very vibrant and filled with more colour than Wyrmwood, which is justification for a more riotous feeling — and the really bad jokes support that spirit.

nekrotronic

But the ultimate reason to sit through this very boring, exhaustive assault on the senses is for Monica Bellucci. She chews scenery, whether it’s for the benefit of comedy or horror; no one else comes close. If Nekrotronic did anything really right, it was casting Bellucci as a demon from Hell that says phrases like “No more Mrs. Nice Guy” as she tries to come off motherly, seductive, and terrifying at the same time. If there’s one thing to take away from this film, it’s that the Roache-Turner brothers are hellbent on telling entertaining stories — they just missed the bar with this demonic affair.

Editor’s note: This review was originally published on September 8, 2018 as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival. 

Continue Reading

Film

‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ and the Secret Power of Storytelling

‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ sets about exploring the magical past of Hollywood, but it unearths some haunting memories as well.

Published

on

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

*Warning: The following article contains major spoilers

The Manson family murders account for one of the most notorious massacres in the history of the United States. Taking place at 10500 Cielo Drive in the Hollywood hills of Los Angeles, the victims were five adults and one unborn child, that of actress Sharon Tate. The notoriously grim crime scene photos speak for themselves, and the boogie man nature of a twisted mind like Charles Manson remains a haunting memory over 50 years later. It is with this chilling story that we enter the world of Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

It’s about a Hollywood we may have heard of, but that most of us — including Tarantino himself — would never have had the chance to see for ourselves. This is a place where westerns are some of television’s most popular shows, actors smoke and drink on set, and legends like Bruce Lee and Steve McQueen just pop up as if they were regular folks like you or I. It’s a fantasy land in this way, and it’s clear that this is part of the appeal for Tarantino.

With that in mind, it’s not necessarily a huge surprise that Tarantino decided to right the wrongs of a tragedy that still lingers in the memories of old Hollywood like a nasty bedtime story. The Manson murders are infamous in their carnage, and cut down in the prime of her life, actress Sharon Tate remains martyr-like in her tragic fate. Herein lies the power of film, and storytelling in general: the power to create a better world — in this case, one where Tate is allowed to live on and have a happy life as a wife and mother. When conceived this way, the title “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” takes on a different meaning; this film is very literally a fairy tale.


Portrayed by the increasingly impressive Margot Robbie, Sharon Tate appears in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as a starry-eyed optimist and maybe just a bit of a ditz, but a lovable ditz. When people look at her and talk about her at Hollywood parties, it isn’t hard to see why; she has an infectious, magical aura about her, and she seems to be possibility itself in the form of a beautiful, blonde bombshell. Take a scene where she watches the audience of a theater laugh as they enjoy her performance in the film Wrecking Crew: the joy she feels in being a fly on the wall, watching her own movie with the audience, makes her instantly relatable, and simultaneously makes us dread her eventual fate.

This is by design. Tarantino wants us to feel this encroaching sense of dread as he unfolds this tale of old Hollywood, and that’s why scenes of actors and stuntmen waxing nostalgic and hobnobbing with the stars are punctuated with chilling little snippets of the Manson family. Each scene of this kind seems to burn and broil with a pungent malice that, though palpable, never quite boils over into outright violence and bloodshed. It makes us dread the coming murders we are expecting all the more.

However, things take a sudden turn when the Manson family finds themselves accosted by one very drunk Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) as they prowl the streets of Hollywood for the Polanski/Tate residence. This chance encounter sparks a creative notion in one of the Manson members: Dalton, a star of many violent TV shows and films, ought to be their first victim. The poetry of it, they decide, will be in enacting the violence of entertainment on those who peddle it. So, their target changes from 10500 Cielo Drive to the house next door. This is where the fun comes in.


For much of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a sort of ‘Chekhov’s acid-soaked cigarette’ floats around the film. We see it time and time again, being bought, stored, and considered by Dalton’s stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). As Dalton and Booth prepare to end their partnership for good, Booth decides to smoke the acid cigarette at last and see where the night takes him. A short time later, the Mansons burst into the home and Booth, fueled by his acid cigarette, positively ruins them. There are vicious dog attacks, genital traumas, egregious face-smashings, and even a fiery finale courtesy of Rick’s flamethrower.

The violence of this sequence cannot be overstated. It’s nasty, brutal stuff. In a juxtaposition that calls to mind the historical revisionism of Inglourious Basterds — where we spend the majority of the movie thinking the assassination attempt on Hitler couldn’t possibly succeed, and when it does we are overjoyed — we actually relish the horror of the Manson family’s fate. Not because we suddenly believe that reality has changed, but because the power of film — and storytelling in general — has allowed us to live in a better world for a few moments.

This is precisely the appeal of the surprise climax of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. We’d love to live in a world where a charismatic psychopath who carved a swastika into his forehead is allowed to dwindle away forgotten, and a rising star is allowed to continue her ascension unhampered. We love seeing the Manson family dispatched with such terrifying ease by the charming Booth and the troubled Dalton, because it’s the opposite of the unseemly fate we had been dreading over the films near three-hour runtime.


Tarantino, of course, expects us to feel this way, which is why he indulges us in the scene for so long. If Booth had just quickly taken out the Mansons with a few swift moves, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy their punishment. If there’s even a shred of doubt of QT’s intent, the appearance of the flamethrower (conveniently stored in Rick’s shed) puts all of that to rest in a fiery finale that’s too funny to be properly grim.

In the end, this is the secret power of storytelling, and it’s one that is rarely used — the power to right the wrongs of history, to indulge the audience in their fantasy of a better reality, and to allow us the brief privilege of residing there. The final moments, as Dalton is being invited into the Tate residence, is when we, the audience, must leave this reality. It’s bittersweet, as we must return to a world where Sharon and her friends were violently murdered 50 years ago, but there is still the beauty of being able to share a world where the horrors of the Manson family were halted in their tracks, before they could descend into their infamous depravity.

Continue Reading
Freelance Film Writers

Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Film, TV, Anime and Comic writers.

Contact us: Editor@GoombaStomp.com

Advertisement

Trending

8 Shares
Share
Tweet
Reddit
Pin