Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Strange Films I've Seen: SWEATSHOP

Turn your time machine dials to 1983 and strap in tight: we've not had a slasher film like Sweatshop in a long time. Now "slasher" is purely to denote the genre, since beyond like a railroad spike to the chin, there's little actual slashing happening here. Rather, the antagonist favors messy, pulptastic wetwork, doled out creatively with an anvil rigged to a massive pipe. I speak of The Beast, this hulking man-mountain clad in a boiler-suit and a varmint-skin shrug, his face concealed behind a welder's mask, channeling simultaneously Michael Myers (the boiler-suit), Jason Vorhees (sort of the mask, mainly the tiny eye-holes thing v. the welder's eye-slot, but props for choosing a creative alternative) and Leatherface (meaning the original Gunnar Hansen Leatherface, i.e. the girth, the hillbilly paraphernalia and the wheezy, snuffling breathing). Or for the Nintendo geeks out there: think Iron Knuckle, the enormous living suit of armor baddie from Legend of Zelda, specifically the Ocarina of Time instance. The size of that character's battle-ax roughly mirrors the Beast's mock-hammer. And what does our Beast use this brutal weapon for? Why, for bashing in the pretty heads of lots of cute ravers, that's what. Because our Beast bloody hates ravers.

Director Stacy Davidson slingshots us face-first into Sweatshop's world via a gritty, quick-cut opening sequence in a suitably creepy factory, involving a frightened, naked young woman, a spooked, trigger-happy cop (cameo'd by Fangoria's managing editor Michael Gingold), and after like a thousand gunshots later a bloody smear pulled across the concrete, revealing the film's title. Very nice. From then on it builds a slowburning 30 minutes or so until the next kill, teasing out ridiculous twentysomething dialogue and sex-talk in spot-on Camp Crystal Lake style, to where we could like kill for some merciless dispatching. But it'll come, don't you worry: and once the Beast swings that hammer, he'll not relent until the credits roll. So let's pace ourselves.
In very brief, the plot goes like this: group of raver kids are setting up an illicit dance party in an abandoned factory, the same one that girl got shot up in at the beginning and the same one that houses our Beast. Obviously nothing good will come of this, but the raver kids have typical slasher mentalities so let's go w/ it and see how long they can last before pissing off the monster. Leading the pack is the blonde/pink-haired Charlie (wonderfully played by Ashley Kay), tough as nails and ultra-fierce. She's calling the shots. This ridiculous guy Scotty (Peyton Wetzel) w/ a liberty-spike hairdo plus Dj Enix (Naika Malveaux), channeling a younger Tricky circa Vulnerable but w/o the neck tattoos, comprise the dudes. Miko (Julin), the extra-cute cybergoth and the 3D representation of combining cocaine with 5-MeO-DMT, Lolli (Krystal Freeman), blending a partially shaved head, beestung lips and undulating hips into one incredibly sexy persona, Jade (Melanie Donihoo), the sorta straight-laced Goth to Lolli's Loki-esque persuasion, and Kim (Danielle Jones) the "normal" one, i.e. the lights supervisor, round out the women. Before setting up for this mega-rave, they do shots, getting sufficiently buzzed off Jim Beam before heading their separate, tipsy ways. Oh, I forgot to mention that the topic of blow-jobs was already broached as they entered the factory, courtesy of Miko. Blow-jobs, in dialogue and actual activity, occur throughout Sweatshop. Because by now you should know what happens to good-looking people in a slasher film when they do fun stuff to one another like fellatio: they get their heads smashed in! Enter two more dudes to even out the sexes and sorta throw the whole raver roles for a tailspin: the potbellied Wade (Brent D. Himes), apparently Scotty's older brother and also apparently living embodiment of a lewder Jeff Foxworthy, b/c everything out this redneck's mouth is as country-twanged as it is eyebrow-raisingly perverse. "Unsolved Mysteries Pussy", if memory serves, is one of Wade's most laconic Wade-isms. "I'm as horny as a cunt with two pussies", again if memory serves, is a bit more colorful. His assistant, apparently, for the rave setup, is this absolutely regular-looking guy named Kenny (Vincent Guerrero), which makes me sad for him b/c how did he get wrapped up w/ this crazy bunch but also makes me want him to die very slowly and painfully b/c he is a bunch of vanilla compared to…well, to Miko's sex-Cheshire kitten and Wade's larger-than-life ego.
The interconnectivity b/w the characters' respective sex lives is perhaps less daunting to trace than drawing out the human genome, for instance, but that doesn't make it any less opaque, either. Far as I can tell: Scotty and Kim had a thing. Charlie and Enix seem to be best friends, but that's it. Wade is a total horndog but has feelings for Jade. For the life of me, I thought Jade and Lolli were a couple, the first time I saw this, but apparently Lolli's "just" a lesbian (or is she? whuahaha…) and Jade is oddly hung up on Wade. Miko and Scotty may also have something going on, but she comes off mature beyond her years, at least when she pronounces the bullet-points on blow-jobs to Jade. So anyway, Lolli does this slow-dance to Android Lust's slammin' industrial anthem "Stained", enveloped in smoke-machine fog and vaporous light. Wade is mesmerized, follows her when she goes looking for Jade and Miko, and she ends up stripping for him and jumping his bones. Incredible. Jade catches them and is entirely upset — see at the time I thought she was upset w/ Lolli b/c she was in love with Lolli, but no she was upset w/ Lolli b/c she was in love w/ that sweaty fat-ass Wade; you can appreciate my confusion, I'm sure? — and dashes off, spiking a beer bottle w/ some unlabeled and thence incredibly lethal chemical, evidently to punish either Lolli or Wade. And then Kenny shows up and starts sweet-talking her. I really want him to die.
Wade heads back without climaxing — the look on his face when Lolli shuts him up is priceless — and Lolli smokes a cigarette. Then everything changes. Enter these ghoul-girls, swathed in ragged dresses and bearing sharklike teething in their bleeding mouths. Reminded me of the Dero from Takashi Shimizu's Marebito crossed with the sewer-dweller in Christopher Smith's Creep and a bit of Linda Blair. The ghoul-girls are in cahoots with the Beast, like they capture prey for him, or he kills prey for them, or both. So they pin Lolli down and she screams long enough for the Beast to appear, reach over and rip her lower jaw out. Wow, that was shocking and satisfying.
I'll spare you the gory details, haha, that transpire, but since the first "proper" kill has happened, the rest don't take so long to come about. It's not that the guys have it any better than the girls — I mean, one gets the aforementioned railroad spike in the throat, another shears through the neck, etc — but that sorta pales in comparison to the Beast's creative hammering. Somebody gets cleaved in two, vertically, like chopping wood. Another gets her head smashed through a metal fence, which you've got to use your imagination w/ but think of crushing a cherry tomato through a sieve. Bit like that. But first! More dancing: little Miko, seemingly cloaked in a pansexual pheromones cloud, jamming out to Rock City Morgue's "Falling Apart" and beaconing Charlie to dance with her, who laughs and complies. Then Scotty gets in on it, breakdancing! Mind you, this is happening either when Lolli's getting her jaw ripped out or Kim's getting tortured, elsewhere. Much later on, w/ Charlie and Enix the only two standing, they discover Kim's body sprawled on a floor soaked with blood, and Charlie utters a classic slasher-film line:
"She might still be alive?"
And Enix gives her this look like: girl, you are crazy.
But it's perfect. The big denouement, with the factory full of raver kids gettin' down to aggrotech jams, including another Android Lust classic "Heathen", amps up w/ Charlie crawling, wounded and visibly shaken, across the dancefloor, pursued by the Beast, which pauses from killing her to dispatch some of the nearby dancers. Then it loses its cool and goes batshit, whacking down everyone like juicy, lightstick-waving watermelons, as Charlie pulls down the garage-door, locking it shut and pausing there as the screams build inside. New French Extremity doesn't get any colder and avaricious than this. So yeah, this is a very important point to make: the pacing, the characters (stereotypes etc), the sex scenes, it's all very dyed-in-the-wool slasher, quintessential Golden Age psychopathic. The creative SFX, a mix of modeling and CGI plus lots of bloodshed, plus the ingenious and unflinching kills, cuts closer to New French Extremity, specifically Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (see À l'intérieur), Alexandre Aja's Haute tension and even Xavier Gens' Frontier(s). So for director Davidson to encompass these two sort of bookending levels to splattercore genre film whilst producing an original, badass villain and a gleefully killable target (i.e. raver kids), that indeed is something refreshing.