Saturday, March 19, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Mardi Gras Massacre (1978)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

An overdressed man (Bill Metzo) comes into a bar in New Orleans. He asks the resident helpful prostitute Sherry (Gwen Arment) who among her colleagues there is the most evil. After being pointed in the direction of the evil gal of evilness, he introduces himself with the words "Hello....I understand....that you are the most...evil". Having thusly won her trust (and delivered his big line of the movie), he takes her home, straps her to a massage table in the evil temple to the Aztec goddess of Evil part of his apartment and cuts her heart out.

He'll do that intermittently for the rest of the movie with women of whose evilness he has made sure of by the mystical power of asking about it, because they are evil, the goddess is evil, and they'll be happily evil together everafter. His final goal seems to be to kill three prostitutes at once on Fat Tuesday to bring the evil Aztec goddess of Evil back to (presumably evil) life.

When we are not watching him and his evil designs (of evil, etc), we have the dubious pleasure of witnessing the investigational efforts of the two cops (Curt Dawson & another guy) who are supposedly working on the case. In practice, they are sitting around in bars and drinking a lot and Dawson is romancing Shelly in a way that makes the romance plots of Don Dohler films look positively riveting. And that's it for the plot.

I can recommend Mardi Gras Massacre only to the true scholars of horrible independent local filmmaking from the US. Less inquisitive/depraved minds will probably, nay certainly, be bored out of their minds with this one even before the cops make their first snail-like appearance.

And yet the movie looks so good on paper: a Blood Feast rip-off taking place in New Orleans on the eve of Mardi Gras! Whatever could go wrong? So it is too bad that MGM's director Jack Weis makes Herschell Gordon Lewis look like a genius filmmaker. There's no shot too static for Weis, no actor too slow and boring, no interior too drab and brown. It is difficult to truly comprehend how little creativity a director can bring to the plate and still be called one, really. Speaking of a lack of enthusiasm for his work would be sounding much too positive here. I suppose "zombie-like" is a fair description of Weis' directorial style.

Not even the gore effects are worthy of consideration, mostly because it is one single, improbable heart-cutting effect repeated ad nauseam.

And don't go around thinking Weis will show you much more of New Orleans than darkened bar interiors (although I doubt that it is in truth more than one place filmed from slightly different angles) and a handful of naked women, the latter often dancing unenthusiastically. True, there are two musical montages (yes, one of them a love montage) and a "chase" (if you like to call it that) through a Mardi Gras procession, but the former are painfully disinterestedly filmed and the latter comes much too late in the course of the movie to matter anymore.

There's a complete and utter apathy about anyone we see in front of the camera, too, except for Bill Metzo's nameless killer. He isn't exactly sprightly, mind you, yet I appreciate his brilliant failure to sound or act like a human being, his...awkward...pauses...after...every...single...word....he.......says and his near-permanent bug-eyeing. At least someone is putting a little effort in.

Then there's the music, a never-ending, throbbing mass of bad disco funk with only short breaks for pointless, wavering synthie throbbing. The music never fits anything we see on screen, and if I were a cynic, I'd say that Weis just dubbed a "Worst of Disco Funk" compilation onto the film's soundtrack to keep himself awake while editing and forgot to replace it with something more appropriate later on.

But that's not the worst of it. The worst, the terrible, unspeakable truth is that I somehow enjoyed watching this.

Mardi Gras Massacre has the warm and cosy rhythm only the truly great cinematic abominations have, combined with the curious thrill of watching a film in which every camera movement or an honest to god close-up are sensational moments of visual creativity that suddenly jolt the viewer awake.

There is something about a film that is structured like this one is - boring scene, utterly boring scene, boring scene, sudden idiotic line of dialogue, another boring scene, an even more boring scene, sudden excitement as a victim shows her dancing skills before she is sacrificed, another boring scene, more boring scenes, Shelly demonstrates her imaginary disco dancing prowess to the viewer's shattering mind, more boring scenes, the end - that makes it hard for me to look away while it is running. When one's taste has gone so far down the drain that one begins to think that Herschell Gordon Lewis wasn't actually so bad in comparison to the director of the film one is watching out of one's own free will, something like Mardi Gras Massacre develops a kind of hypnotic power much too perverse to be explained by a concept like "so bad that it's good".

Mardi Gras Massacre is so far beyond trivialities like this that I can't help but think of poor, overused Nietzsche and one of his most overused little ditties. Enjoying its presence is what happens to you when you have stared into the abyss, the abyss has stared into you, and you have learned that, gee, you kinda like this abyss. At least nothing ever happens in it.

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