Monday, February 1, 2010

Issue #11: 100 Tears (2007)

One time in college my friend Becky and I were in the school's computer center writing papers. (That's us on the left. It was the 80's. Don't judge.) Becky's paper was for her philosophy class and I was doing something for, I think, my Victorian Literature class. Everything was going swimmingly until Becky said--loudly--a word we weren't allowed to say per the rules of the Christian college we attended.

"What?" I asked her.

"The electronic typing box ate my paper," she said. Then she said the Deplorable Word again.

"Didn't you save it?" I asked.

She said the Deplorable Word a few more times, which I took as a no.

It was late and the computer center was closing soon, so she had only an hour to rewrite her paper. And she simply wasn't up to it. So I took over. I don't remember much about the paper except that it was something about a mongoose who was searching for enlightenment.

No, that wasn't what Becky had written about. It's what I wrote while she recited the main points of her paper. I just used the mongoose as a stand-in for, you know, people. It was stupid, but it was also very funny. As I recall she received a fairly good grade on it.

That's what 100 Tears is like.

Seriously, the film reads as if it were made by a bunch of really clever film students who had all semester to put together their final project but waited until the night before to get started. Pieces of it are brilliant while other pieces . . . not so much.

Let's talk about the brilliant pieces. Well, okay, piece. That's the clown. He's fantastic. His makeup is perfect. His costume is spot-on. You really believe that he's a psychotic carnival fool. He may be my favorite creepy movie clown ever. Yes, ever.

And not only does he look great, he acts the part. Well, Jack Amos acts the part. According to IMDB Amos has been in a lot of what appear to be horror films. Also--and I love this--he's credited as an archival researcher on programs about Elizabeth II and the family of Winston Churchill. Oh, and he's also done stunt work and knows about pyrotechnics. A clown for all seasons, our Jack.

Really, I can't say enough good thinks about Jack Amos's Gurdy the Clown. He's truly crap-your-pants scary, a complete psychopath who wields an enormous cleaver with the precision of a teppanyaki chef making an onion volcano. And he does it all with a casualness that suggests he's so far gone that he might as well be weeding a flowerbed.

Okay, so here's Gurdy's story. His real name is Luther Edward Baxter. By all accounts he was a very amiable fellow, at least until these two girls named Tracy and Roxanne showed up at the carnival. Tracy and Luther took a fancy to each other, which apparently made Roxanne jealous so one night when Luther was giving Tracy some good old clown loving Roxanne told Ralphio the strong man that Luther was raping Tracy. Then Ralphio got all "I'll defend your honor" about it and beat the confetti out of Luther.

Luther, naturally, killed Roxanne (who deserved it if you ask me) and Ralphio (who should have asked a few more questions before popping Luther in the snoot, but still he was just trying to help Tracy and probably killing him was taking it a bit too far). Luther couldn't stay around after that so he ran off. But the carnival people protect their own, so nobody said anything to the cops.

Oh, we learn all that from a porn-loving dwarf named Drago. He tells it to two reporters for the tabloid Midnight Star. Their names are Mark and Jennifer. (Mark is played by Joe Davison, who also wrote the script.) They apparently write their stories together and are trying to land one that will be their big break. Jennifer initially suggests a piece about a lizard boy, and Mark counters with one about the Titanic rising from its grave, and then Jennifer says, "Hey, why don't we do one about this serial murderer called the Teardrop Killer?"

Note: He's called the Teardrop Killer because he always leaves a teardrop drawn in blood on the wall near his victims. Apply this knowledge to the title of the film and it will have meaning. Personally I prefer "96 Tears" by ? and the Mysterians, but that's just me.

And now a musical interlude. For those of you who haven't heard it, "96 Tears" is an awesome song. It is widely credited for launching the punk rock movement and even for coining the term "punk rock," which was first used by music journalist Dave Marsh when writing about ? and the Mysterians in the May 1971 issue of Creem magazine. And yes, I know you're going to say, "Uh-uh, the Ramones were the first punk band." Take it up with Dave Marsh.

Referred to as Question Mark and the Mysterians, ? and the Mysterians, and just The Mysterians, the band got its name from the 1957 Japanese sci-fi movie The Mysterians, which is about aliens from the planet Mysteroid who attack Earth with their giant robot Moguera and demand land and Earth women. The identity of ? was long a mystery (Ha ha! See what I did there?) but is now believed to be one Rudy Martinez.

96 Tears
? and the Mysterians

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. 

Mark doesn't want to write about a serial killer, but Jennifer is pretty and he has a crush on her so he says okay. Now, I say he has a crush on her because they don't seem to be an item. But Jennifer apparently sleeps at his house and somehow her drool gets all over his undershirt so maybe they're more than friends. It doesn't really matter. You may also be interested to know that Jennifer speaks Greek when she talks to her sister (who is some kind of "Fed") on the phone. There's no point to this, and I expect that because they were doing this the night before it was due one of the people involved said, "Hey! Let's have her speak Greek. No one will know what she's saying anyway, so that's twenty lines of dialogue we don't need to write."

Unless, of course, any Greeks are watching the film. But I imagine they're a small segment of the audience. I mean really, aren't they all busy making baklava?

Conveniently, Gurdy the Clown has decided to go on a killing spree at the beginning of the movie. He's wiped out the residents of a halfway house, including a crippled girl whose head he hacks off before pushing her chair down the stairs. He kills about a billion other people in addition to her, but nothing is quite as novel as the death of the differently-abled girl, although it was sort of neat when he stepped on one victim's head and it exploded like a tomato. I know this usually wouldn't happen in real life, as skulls tend to be a bit more reliable than that, but perhaps the victim had Paget's Disease or something.

Which brings us to the main problem I have with 100 Tears. Ultimately it's just a clownploitation snuff film. Everyone dies. There's blood everywhere. Severed limbs. Sliced-open stomachs. Squashed heads. The visuals are all very effective, which is no surprise given that director Marcus Koch runs Oddtopsy F/X and has created amazing effects on numerous films. Still, it become tiresome pretty quickly unless you like gore for the sake of gore, in which case you're a moron. Yes, I said it. Moron.

And that's too bad, because the story idea is great. You have this formerly-charming circus clown who goes bonkers when he's accused of something he didn't do. On top of that, the girl he was in love with (you remember Tracy, right?) is still alive. And she has a daughter. Guess who the daddy is? And guess who's inherited daddy's predilection for cutting?

Her name is Christine. She likes to put her hair in pigtails and dress like a slut. She spends the majority of the movie running around in pink bikini underpants. But before that she kills her mother, who as Christine is leaving for a night out comments that her daughter "looks like a clown."

Bad choice of words, Mom. That seems to trigger something in Christine's head, and that night she hooks up with this guy and kills him while he's--how do I put this--nibbling the lettuce in her salad patch in an alley behind a bar. Like Farmer McGregor going after Peter Rabbit, she teaches him a lesson, which seems a little harsh given that most women are thrilled if a guy wants to nibble their lettuce.

Not long after, Christine hooks up with Daddy Gurdy. Actually, he kidnaps her and takes her back to the warehouse he's been living in, where he has a little room all set up for her. At first she thinks he's going to kill her but then he shows her a photograph of a little girl who looks awfully familiar and she realizes what's going on and gets excited because now she knows why she likes to slice people up.

Together they kill a whole bunch of people who wander into the warehouse for various ridiculous reasons and Christine gets crazier and crazier. She likes playing in blood and wrapping entrails around herself and torturing people by whacking them with a sledgehammer.

Eventually we get back to what little story there is, as Jennifer gets a call from her sister, says something in Greek again, and informs Mark that her sister has just given her the location of some recent killings. She then calls a cop friend of hers and gives him the address and of course he tells her not to go in there until he arrives and of course she goes in there before he arrives.

Meanwhile, it's apparently Christine's graduation from cuckoo clown college and Gurdy presents her with her diploma--a shiny new straight razor. I always thought watches were the traditional graduation gift or, at least where I grew up, a carton of Marlboros and a 12-pack of Genny Cream Ale. And no, I didn't make that up. Believe me, I wish I had.

Now Mark and Jennifer are wandering around the warehouse. They run into Gurdy, who chases after them in a very casual way because he's secure in the knowledge that they aren't going to get very far. Outside the warehouse, the cops show up. There are two of them. Dunkin is white, kind of shady (earlier in the movie he accepted a bribe from Mark to let him and Jennifer into the halfway house to take pictures), and apparently named after the donut shop because his name is not spelled in the usual way and I suppose that's slightly amusing ha-ha because, oh, you know why. The other cop, Spaulding, is black and very cool and apparently named after nothing, except possibly it's an homage to Captain Spaulding, the creepy clown killer from Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects. Inside jokes are the best!

Back inside, Mark tries to shoot Gurdy and it doesn't go well. Then Christine fools the cops by calling out pretending to be a hostage. Jennifer runs into them and explains about the clown, which they think is super crazy and of course they then split up because that's what you do when a cleaver-toting clown and his looney tunes daughter are after you.

Now we're near the end, so you know a lot of the main characters have to die. Dunkin is first, done in by Christine and her razor when he tries to "rescue" her. Spaulding gets Jennifer out of the warehouse, calls for backup, and goes back inside.

Oh, this is the best part. Well, the second-best part. Mark finds Christine, who has tied herself up and is pretending to be a helpless victim again. She of course tries to kill him, but he's like "Oh, no you don't" and slaps her around. Papa Clownface comes in and takes umbrage at the treatment of his spawn, and he and Mark get into it. Christine then throws something in Mark's face that blinds him but he blinds her right back by setting his camera flash off in her face. Then he gives her a good thrashing, which is very satisfying because by this point all she does is giggle hysterically and slash people and neither of those things is attractive.

Mark gets away, and this is when Christine's true colors come out. She calls her father a pussy for letting Mark escape. Gurdy pulls out a gun and points it at her, which if you ask me is the first time he's exhibited any parenting skills. Christine, who now is a superbitch, tells daddy-o that he should use the gun on himself because he's no killer clown after all despite a whole lot of evidence to the contrary.

Jennifer, who is still sitting in the police cruiser outside, hears a gunshot. But who's dead? She decides to run inside and find out, as she can't wait to read about it in the paper the next day. She hears a girl crying for help and runs into a room to find Christine pulling the damsel in distress routine yet again because it worked so well the other two times. Also, Gurdy's body is lying on the floor so now we know who got shot, which is kind of sad because despite his one tiny flaw of being an insane murderer he was really kind of great.

But don't be too sad, because soon it's revealed that the body isn't really Gurdy. It's Mark! This is terrible news, especially for Jennifer. Well, and Mark. For us, though, it's both a relief and an opportunity to pause and wonder how Gurdy and Christine had time to get Mark into clown makeup and a costume. Also, how many costumes does Gurdy have, and who made them seeing as how it's been 20 years since he worked as a clown and I don't see a sewing machine anywhere in the warehouse? Maybe he ordered them online.

Now that Jennifer knows the body is really Mark it occurs to her that she should probably run. Christine goes after her while Gurdy goes after Spaulding. I was hoping for a good fight scene between these two, but it all goes rather quickly and ends with Spaulding's beheading and is therefore a bit of a disappointment.

Much more interesting is the battle between Jennifer and Christine. And by "interesting" I mean ridiculous. Christine hits Jennifer in the back several times with the sledgehammer, which I think would do a lot more than just knock Jennifer to the floor but that's what it does. More convincing is when Christine bangs Jennifer's face against the floor a billion times and turns it into a bloody pulp. She leaves her there and returns triumphant to her proud papa.

And then she shoots him. This is very Uranus is killed by Cronus who in turn is killed by Zeus of her, or perhaps more appropriately very Marcus Aurelius is killed by Commodus of her. Or maybe it's an Electra Complex with a dash of Lizzie Borden tossed in. At any rate, it's the whole "child having to slay the father" nonsense that Freud and Jung squabbled about endlessly when they weren't worried about whether or not girls are angry about not having penises. Which, by the by, I don't think most of them are.

The movie ends with Christine covered in blood and walking down a highway, apparently on her way to the next scene of carnage. At least until she's struck from behind by a car driven by Jennifer and is splattered all over the windshield. This part is enormously gratifying and a perfectly lovely way to end the film.

As I said, 100 Tears is something of a disappointment because it seems pieced together in a hurry. There's so much that could have gone right with it that seeing most of it go wrong is sad. Gurdy deserved better. Still, the excellent bits are really excellent and in the end Gurdy overcomes his shabby surroundings to make the Creepy Clown Hall of Fame.

One thing that really goes right is the soundtrack. There are some real gems in there, particularly "When You're Evil" by Voltaire and "Somebody's Knocking" by The Voodoo Organist. I liked them so much I bought them on iTunes, and I think after hearing them you might just do the same thing. Here they are for your listening enjoyment.

When You're Evil

Somebody's Knocking
The Voodoo Organist

Before we close, let's take a look at another famous daughter who has a clown for a father. Miss Britney Spears' most recent album is titled Circus. And some who are not as kind as I may have implied that she herself is something of a clown for America's amusement. Now take a look at this photo of her father, Jamie Spears, dressed for Halloween. By the way, he's peering through the patio doors trying to scare his grandkids.

Makes you think.

Favorite Line: A tie between "You crazy clown bastard, I just mopped these floors!" and "I swear to God, if you do that again I'll shit on your pillow."

Rating (out of 5):

3.5 Clowns

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