Warning! The EC3 posts are not the usual semi-family friendly Son of Celluloid fare. Due to the nature of the films presented and the fact that the three members of EC3 curse like sailors, the language and subject matter may be offensive. Reader discretion is advised.
Subconscious Cruelty is one of those movies that wants you to ponder what it’s about. It is the spiritual kin of other esoteric, obtuse flicks like Begotten, Holy Mountain, Visions of Suffering, Eraserhead, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Wall, Tetsuo, all of Kenneth Anger’s films, etc. It kinda made me feel like I was in film school again. Since a major part of experiencing a flick like this is interpreting what it means, I’m not going to go there in this review. You’ll have to do that for yourself. Daniel, Joe, and I did spend about an hour after the flick in a deep, philosophical, scholarly discussion about the symbolism and meaning writer/director Karim Hussain was trying to convey with Subconscious Cruelty. This conversation, which contained some very profound moments, was capped off by all 3 of us laughing like Beavis about the word “taint.” That’s just how EC3 rolls.
A word of warning before I start, there WILL be spoilers in this review. Honestly, I don’t think that matters a whole hell of a lot with a flick like that. Subconscious Cruelty has no linear narrative. The first segment does to an extent, but the series of four vignettes is definitely more about the symbolism presented and the emotions and mood it can create in the viewer than actually telling a story. Trust me on this one, my words can’t describe what’s shown. Knowing what is coming would not diminish the effectiveness of the film at all. If you really don’t want the spoilers however, skip the next paragraph.
Up first is Ovarian Eyeball, in which someone cuts a woman’s abdomen open and removes…an eyeball. Yes, an eyeball. I didn’t see that one coming. This is accompanied by a monolog (actually there is no dialog at all in this flick) about killing our left brain, the literal side. Section two is The Human Larvae. A man lives with his whore of a sister, with whom he shares a (possibly incestuous) love/hate relationship. He watches her with other men as he delivers a vaguely Poe-esque “descent into madness” first person voice over. When she becomes pregnant, he takes on the role of midwife, all the time pontificating about and plotting the ultimate desecration of life. When the child is born, he carries out his plan. Rebirth is next, and it’s basically a bunch of naked people rolling around and getting it on with the earth, literally. A man fucks a bloody hole in the ground. A woman gives head to a tree branch, giving new meaning to the euphemism “twig ‘n berries,” bites it in half, and it starts bleeding. Then a woman holds a butcher knife as if it was a penis and a man proceeds to give it a blowjob. Finally we get Right Brain/Martyrdom. A man sits in a coffee shop watching couples. He then goes home, pops in some porn, and angrily does the ol’ five knuckle shuffle. He is apparently deeply religious and disgusted with what he’s just done. In his dreams that night a man “from the right” comes to him, melts his cross necklace, and shoots it into his brain with a hypodermic needle. Joe and Daniel pointed out the “Opiate of the masses” visual pun at the exact same moment. Anyway, Mr. Right (get it?) pontificates while an unseen person skins Mr. Religious’s wang like a banana while jerking him off. Then Jesus is cannibalized, peed on, and anally raped with a tree branch by three naked demon sluts. I’ll pause while you read those last two sentences again. Finally, we have a moment of serenity in the form of a naked man lying in a waterfall.
SC sits firmly in the arthouse horror category. The difference between this flick and a lot of arthouse horror fare is that this one was actually good. Looking back on it, you realize that the movie could be looked at as quite pretentious, but that’s only in hindsight. Joe, Daniel, and I are all very quick to point out ostentatious bullshit. While we were actually watching the film, none of the three of us ever mentioned anything of the sort. The powerful imagery and intense atmosphere do a great job of making the potentially overblown thematic material palatable. You’ll notice that there is no wittily insulting exchange in this EC3 review like there was for the Vomit Gore trilogy. That’s how you know it was great.
The dreamlike visual style is unique and effective. The lighting is a big component. Each of the three main segments has its own style. In Human Larvae, the action is mainly lit with warm amber hues, with the backgrounds being very dark. This serves to both focus the viewers attention, enhance the hallucinatory qualities, and hide a lack of elaborate sets. Since the movie was made for approximately $100,000, that was a very smart move on the part of the filmmakers. By contrast, the “dirty hippies” getting it on with nature were lit very brightly. It has the same disorienting effect as sitting in a dark room for a while and then walking outside into very bright sunlight. The last segment has the same black backgrounds as the first, but veers into Argento-esque territory with its colored lighting.
The other thing that really impressed us was the gore. These are some of the most effective low budget practical effects I’ve seen in a while. One thing that I particularly enjoyed was in the Ovarian Eyeball scene when the woman’s abdomen was being cut open. You could still see it rising and falling with her breath. I’m pretty sure it was a complete prosthetic, as the cut was a little deep to be a smaller piece placed over the actresses body. If I’m right, then they used a simple bladder effect. If I’m wrong, then the makeup appliance was a masterpiece. Either way, that small detail made the shot immensely more believable, and I was duly impressed. They didn’t even do that in Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood, which is my standard for up close bodily mutilation. The final segment featured some great cannibalism, and some of the…um...penile trauma even made EC3 cringe. That’s not easy to do. The baby in the Human Larvae looked excellent also. If you are going to be doing unpleasant things to a baby in a movie, it has to look real or it’s just going to be hokey. It’s the difference between the idiotic baby scene in Slow Torture Puke Chamber and the positively horrific one in Serbian Film. This one looked very good, and the scene is much more gruesome for it.
Random Thought #1: For the love of Hitchcock, can EC3 get through one damn movie without watching someone getting pissed on?
Random Thought #2: Joe and I have decided that we should start a death metal band and call it Fishhook Handjob.
Random Thought #3: SPOILER ALERT: Daniel was actually disappointed in the fact that after all of that build up, all he did was kill the baby with a knife. He was expecting something more elaborate and subversive. In fact, we all kinda were. THAT is a good indication that you are ridiculously jaded when it comes to movies. Then again, I guess once you’ve seen the infamous “newborn porn” scene in Serbian Film, there’s no turning back.
The general consensus is that Subconscious Cruelty is by far the best flick EC3 has reviewed so far. It’s very high on the sex and violence scale, but it’s not at all an exploitation flick. I’ve rarely seen “artsy” horror go to these extremes, and it works here. It assaults you with bizarre imagery and challenges you to make sense of it all. Some of the symbolism is a bit hamfisted at times, especially in the anti-religion department, yet it never becomes overly grandiloquent. Ha! I finally got to use that word in a review. Anyway, Subconscious Cruelty will give you your depravity fix while actually giving you something to think about and maybe even prompting some meaningful discussion. It is a rough ride in parts, but is extremely well made, so feel free to spring this one on your film snob buddies. The looks will be priceless. All three of us highly recommend checking this one out. So, once again, on behalf of Joe and Daniel, this is Nathan inviting you to join us next time as EC3 continues to explore the fringes of horror cinema and answer the burning question ”what kind of sick freaks watch this stuff?” EC3, that’s who!