Monday, December 14, 2009

Issue #4: Urban Massacre (2002)

Oh, the things I do for you people.

Where to start? Let's talk for a moment about the worlds of music and film. There's a lot of crossover. Film directors sometimes make very good videos. Sofia Coppola (The White Stripes' "I Just Don't Know What To Do with Myself"), Martin Scorsese (Michael Jackson's "Bad"), and Gus Van Sant (Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under the Bridge") -- all Oscar nominees for directing -- come immediately to mind.

Occasionally it works in reverse. Spike Jonze made the delightful video for Weezer's "Buddy Holly" before going on to helm Adaptation and Where the Wild Things Are. David Fincher put his touch on Billy Idol's "Rock the Cradle of Love," Madonna's "Vogue," the Rolling Stones' "Love is Strong" and six billion other cool videos then made Seven, Fight Club, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, among other films. The husband and wife team of Valerie Ferris and Jonathan Dayton, responsible for the sleeper hit Little Miss Sunshine, got their start making videos for Smashing Pumpkins ("1979") and Jane's Addiction ("Been Caught Stealing"). Bet you didn't know that, did you? As always, I fill your brain with treasure.

Sometimes, though, things are lost in translation. Case in point: Tarsem. Remember Tarsem? He's the dude who made R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" video. It was super cool and won a gazillion awards, all of which Tarsem accepted while dressed like Aladdin. But then Tarsem decided to direct movies. The results were the visually gorgeous but completely ridiculous The Cell and The Fall. I understand he's currently making another movie, Dawn of War, which he desribes as" a really hardcore action film done in Renaissance painting style." Can't wait.

Which brings us to Dale Resteghini. Going by the name of Rage, Resteghini has made videos -- lots of videos -- for the likes of Mudvayne, Anthrax, and Hatebreed. But his specialty seems to be working with hip-hop artists such as Soulja Boy, Li'l Wayne, Cypress Hill, and a bunch of other musicians whose music blasts from the speakers of tricked-out Daewoos across the land.

Resteghini has made some films too, most notably a little gem called Da Hip Hop Witch, an urban take on The Blair Witch Project that featured a little-known-but-soon-to-be-huge Eminem. So he has cred. Word.

In Urban Massacre Resteghini again pairs hip-hop and horror. At the center of the action is a fictional group, Tha Supanatchralz, played by real-life rappers Krumbsnatcha, Ivory, Baby Sham, Dia, and Remedy. I'm sure these names mean something to people in the know, but I couldn't keep track of who's who so that is that last time you'll hear me reference any of the actual actors.

Not that it matters. All you need to know is that everybody in the music biz wants to sign Tha Supanatchralz and that a clown wants to kill all of those people.

Why a clown? I will let Kim Resteghini -- Dale's wife and co-producer -- explain: "We decided to go with the clown costume as opposed to just a mask because we thought it would add a more theatrical -- a more comical -- element to the character -- to the monster -- and give it a little bit more credibility."

By "credibility" I assume Kim is referring to the "fact" that all clowns are evil. You know, Kim, I would think that a black woman married to a cracka who makes a living making movies about rappers might be a tad more sensitive to stereotyping.

Oh, that's right, clown hating is the last acceptable form of bigotry.

By the way, Kim makes that statement on the director's commentary you can play while watching the film. Normally I don't bother with that sort of thing, as watching most of these films more than once is on my list of Things I Want To Do Slightly Less Than I Want to Sit in a Tub Full of Fire Ants. But I was curious to see if she and Dale would talk about why they chose to use a clown as their villain, so I watched parts of it again.

And I'm glad I did. In addition to learning about Kim and Dale's commitment to authenticity I also learned that Dale thinks of Urban Massacre as an homage to classic movies of the past like The Fast and the Furious. I did not know this, so I'm relieved to find out that his directorial choices are deliberate and not the result of a blow to the head.

Now that you know the clown is in the movie to lend an element of realism, I will take you on a giddy romp through the story.

As might be expected considering the director's forte, at it’s core Urban Massacre is an extended rap video built around four lengthy performances by Tha Supanatchralz. In between are 1. scenes where the clown kills someone, 2. scenes where the members of Tha Supanatchralz are interrogated about the killings, and 3. a completely gratuitous scene where one of Tha Supanatchralz has sex with a woman identified as "one of his four baby mamas."

It may not come as a surprise to you that the clown scenes are the most entertaining, although the sex scene is pretty steamy if you're into that sort of thing. (Also, the DVD extras feature an extended version of that scene, which is thoughtful.) But for me it was the clown.

The clown is not terribly scary, at least in appearance. His mask is pretty ordinary, and his outfit is downright jolly. But his demeanor is terrifying. This clown doesn't pussyfoot around. When he wants you dead, he makes you dead. He chases his victims up spiral staircases. He runs after cars. He hops a motorcycle and goes on a high-speed pursuit. He even kills one guy while the man is in the middle of a conversation with a phone sex operator. You've got to admire that kind of commitment.

Fun Fact #1: The film's credits list no fewer than 30 stunt cyclists, but only 26 actors. Also, the clown is played by 6 different actors.

Okay, so the clown kills a bunch of people. (My favorite is a guy who tries to fend him off with a spoon.) Then out of nowhere Tha Supanatchralz receive a text message from the clown saying that he's kidnapped Skoobz. Oh noes!

What? Who's Skoobz? Sorry. I forgot to mention that. He's a Chihuahua. He belonged to one of the clown's first victims, a rapper. Now it's up to Tha Supanatchralz to rescue him. As the proud parents of three Chis myself, I'm glad they're all about getting Skoobz back, but I don't really know why they're so concerned. I don't recall any of them speaking fondly of him before now.

Off they go to confront the clown, who has told them to meet him at the club where they perform. When they get there he ambushes them and takes them down with a big can of Knockout Spray (yes, that's what it says on the label). When they come to they're tied up and the clown entertains them by doing a long dance while holding both Skoobz and a very large knife. It reminded me a bit of watching Louis van Amstel twirling porky little Kelly Osbourne around the floor on Dancing with the Stars, and is the best part of the movie and totally worth the wait.

Fun Fact #2: The club where the performances take place is called Club Enron. The sleazy manager, who has his throat cut by the clown, is named Ken Lay. Ha ha! Social commentary!

At some point the clown puts Skoobz down (much as Louis dumped Kelly on the floor during their disco number in the DWTS finale.) Being the smartest person in the movie, Skoobz trots over and gnaws the ropes tying Tha Supanatchralz up. They rush the clown and give him a good ass kicking.

Having subdued the murderous Bozo they start to remove his mask to reveal the identity of the killa. Then -- THEN -- they stop and announce that if we want to know who did it we'll have to wait for the sequel.

Oh no you din't. But they did. So if you didn't already hate Urban Massacre you now totally despise the very sight of it. I mean what a totally punk ass thing to do. (FYI: Urban Massacre is full of endearing terms like punk ass. Generally they precede words that start with B or N.)

Apparently a lot of other people thought the ending sucked too, because at some point Resteghini tacked on an update in which we're informed that the clown is -- are you ready -- the identical twin brother of the guy who wanted to manage Tha Supanatchralz.

Holy confetti! I for one never saw that coming. I mean finding out the whole thing was a dream, sure. Or that everyone was dead the whole time and only the clown could see them. Obvious. But an identical twin? That's genius.

Oh oh oh. I can't believe I forgot this. There is a dream sequence in the movie. One of Tha Supanatchralz dreams that she's being stalked by a killer clown. (FYI, the technical term for this is foreshadowing.) She then dreams that she's watching one of those crazy TV psychics, who tells her that she is being stalked by a killer clown. And then the killer clown shows up ON THE TV and kills the psychic. Who, by the way, is a drag queen.

Forget Skoobz. That is the best part of the movie.

Favorite Line: "There's a dim bulb in your little lamp, isn't there?"

Rating (out of 5):

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