Saturday, July 16, 2016

Past Misdeeds: The Oracle (1985)

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.

Poor Jennifer (Caroline Capers Powers)! It's not enough that she has to be married to super-moustached jerk Ray (Roger Neil), no, she also has to find a planchette that belonged to the old woman who lived in Jennifer's and Ray's new apartment before them, accidentally awakening her own mediumistic powers with it.

At first, it's all fun and games and a ghost (or is it a demon?) scrawling "help me" on a piece of paper during a Christmas party, but all too soon our bedraggled heroine has nightmares and visions of the most disturbing kind. The ghost seems to have become quite obsessed with her and is enthusiastically trying his hand as an interior decorator (preferred style: destruction and bava-green lighting). Ray, like every husband or boyfriend in every Findlay film, isn't getting less jerky, either, and aggressively berates Jennifer, like you do with the woman you love when you fear she is losing her mind.

After some time, the ghost makes itself a little clearer. It looks as if he belongs to a certain Mr. Graham and is in dire need of Jen's help in taking revenge on the people who murdered him. Ghostly Graham manages to send Jen a dream in which she can see the faces of his murderers quite well. Not surprisingly, attempts at informing Graham's wife (Victoria Dryden) of the truth about her husband's supposed suicide only bring the young woman's own life in danger. Evil Lesbian hobby & professional killer Farkas (Pam La Testa; somewhere between the worst evil Lesbian clichés and utter perfection) ain't someone to mess with.

And these are still not enough problems for Jennifer. Additionally, the ghost is growing a bit too protective of her and kills everyone trying to get between him and Jennifer in ridiculous and gory ways. I won't blame anyone - ghost or not - for killing off Ray, though. Jennifer will certainly be better off without that guy.

Roberta Findlay, you're my hero! The Oracle is the first film the great lady made in the final (horror) phase of her career, after she left the world of pornography - although not the porno facial hair - behind for something only slightly more reputable, and it is glorious.

There is only a small amount of Findlay's patented semi-documentary shots of the scummier parts of New York - which would go on to take more and more room in her horror films - on display here. The Oracle places a much greater emphasis on rubber monsters, rubbery gore and Farkas and her artificially deepened voice (don't ask why - it's a Findlay film), yet I can't rightly complain about the relative absence of dirty streets when the film shows us this stuff instead.

Findlay did learn the fine art of cheap but effective photography when she was working as (not always billed) camera operator/director of photography on the sexploitation films she made with her then-husband Michael (whom I suspect to be the source for the jerky husbands and boyfriends in her horror movies) in the 60s, so her films are usually much nicer to look at than their budget would suggest. (Although I have seen her films called "amateurishly photographed" in more than one review; obviously, there's no accounting for taste).

What might be a problem to some viewers is the utter inability of anyone on screen to "act" in the more conventional sense of the word. Fortunately, there's more important things to acting in cheap little numbers like this one, and most everyone on screen has that special something to endear her or him to me for evermore. The men have their porno moustaches, Farkas a silly potty-mouth and the charming butchness of terror, and Caroline Capers Powers is intensely good at going into full body hysterics like it is seldom displayed outside of Italian genre cinema.

Powers performance in the last thirty minutes alone would be more than enough to recommend The Oracle, yet there's still more and more to love about it. How about lots and lots of multi-coloured goo? Bonus moustaches? A plot that starts out slow and boring yet gets as hysterical and jumpy as the main actress? A sex scene that is nearly as wooden and disturbing as the one in Don Dohler's Nightbeast? More (hysterical) running around than in a whole season of Rupert Davies-penned Doctor Who? Random classy-looking shots and moody lighting between the moments of shoddy insanity and bad effects? Some wonderful moments of serenity in a exceedingly badly secured New Yorker mental institution? A soundtrack that was composed by a monkey randomly pushing buttons and keys on a synthesizer? And best of all, a scene in which Ray's head is ripped off by the hands of an angry ghost? The Oracle truly has it all, possibly even more.

I know that I'm usually putting a certain emphasis on the importance of filmmakers caring about the films they make, or at least not hating their audience with a burning passion. Roberta Findlay however is one of the great exceptions to this rule. The woman utterly loathed the horror genre and everything it stands for, and didn't have especially warm feelings for the genre's fans either, yet she still managed to make a handful of lovely films in it. I think her horror films are the products of someone trying to make films for the least respectable and least intelligent audience she could imagine, and just throwing everything that could possibly be of interest to that audience on screen (much like a monkey does with poo), in the hope that some of it would stick, even if none of it made any sense whatsoever.

It is this hateful and ignorant attitude to its own audience - and possibly filmmaking itself - that makes The Oracle such a fascinating experience for me. This movie is what happens when someone just doesn't give a shit about what she is doing one way or the other, yet is still too talented not to produce something interesting. And this, dear readers, is what I call "movie magic".

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