September 11, 2008

Movies for Grown-Ups: "Sex Machine"

(Tired of seemingly all discussion of movies in this country anymore sliding towards poop fests and other kiddie fare? Me too, which is why I decided to dedicate my Netflix account to nothing but "grown-up" movies, and to write reviews here of each one I see. For a master list of all reviews, as well as the next movies on my "queue" list, click here.)

Sex Machine, a film by Christopher Sharpe
Sex Machine (2005)
Written by Christopher Sharpe and John Oak Dalton
Directed by Christopher Sharpe

Okay, I admit it, I'm not exactly the biggest fan of darkly humorous no-budget extreme-horror films; but Christopher Sharpe, co-writer and director of 2005's Sex Machine, happened to have been a reader of mine back when I was a creative writer myself, which is why I happened to have followed along with the actual filming back in 2005 when it was in production. And now thanks to Netflix, I've gotten a chance to actually see the finished movie too, on a high-def television no less, where I discovered it to be a much different thing than I was expecting; this is a much more polished film than I thought possible under Sharpe's circumstances, something that maybe could get picked up as-is for a national theatrical release (if you stretch it), but for sure stands as an extremely high-quality DVD to watch at home or during specialty midnight festivals.

Because make no mistake, we're going into Sam Raimi / Eli Roth territory here; shot guerrilla-style in Oklahoma for less than $10,000 on spare weekends, Sex Machine starts us right at the first moment with our anti-hero consciously coming-to obviously for the first time in awhile, which in this case happens to be while his head is wrapped in bandages, standing in the middle of a room in a warehouse, surrounded by dead bodies, pointing a gun at a scared fat man on his knees, who is pushing across a bag full of cash and crying hysterically. And thus begins an hour-and-a-half journey that takes us into some awfully weird territory -- neck-implanted tracking devices, bodies made up of sewn-together parts, elderly Nazis and undead strippers and climatic fights in rockabilly bowling alleys.

In fact, it's important to understand that this movie revels in the same things that make other movies in this genre "successes" in the eyes of their fans; for example, it is just packed with good-looking half-naked southern urban slacker girls, most of whom get either topless or fully naked at a certain point, many of whom are grisly murdered on-screen by the end too. Sex Machine is full of tough indie-rockers, car chases that look like they were really dangerous for an underground crew to film, goth girls who thought it'd be fun to take their top off in a no-budget extreme-horror film; and you simply need to come to grips with this in order to truly enjoy it, as well as the various weaknesses that come with these circumstances, the inconsistent audio quality and lack of closed-captions, the acting that will never win Oscars and the writing that ain't exactly Faulkneresque.

If you can overlook these things, though, there's a certain gleefulness at the heart of Sex Machine, the kind I find so intoxicating within underground cinema in general, which is why I like underground cinema so much; this certain pure joy over the thing simply getting filmed and assembled and released in the first place, after listening to thirty stoner buddies yak incessantly all through college about the darkly funny no-budget extreme-horror movie they were all going to one day make, all of them now 37 and with a kid and car loan. There is something impressive about merely getting a full-length, complex project like this finished; there is something to legitimately celebrate about it merely being done, out on DVD and ready to rent. And now add like I said all the elements that are actually surprisingly better than you were expecting, most of them technical in nature; and you can chalk up that up simply to the times we're living in, and the rapidly dropping costs of ever-better equipment. (But don't take my word for it; go check out the trailer yourself if you want.)

We're moving rapidly into a world where both Hollywood directors and college students are using the same gear, releasing movies in the same way, having them distributed in the same places, being watched in glorious hi-def on the same digital screens (big ones in theatres, small ones at home). Artists these days would be wise to acknowledge this and take advantage of it, to put together the minimal budget (and lots of favors) it takes to pull off that crazy little idea for a weirdo little film they've been carrying around in the back of their head for years. Let Sharpe's tale be an example, that you never know who's going to stumble across it after it's done; but it's guaranteed that no one at all will stumble across it if it never actually gets made.

Out of 10:
Writing: 7.4
Acting: 7.5
Directing: 8.7
Cinematography: 9.1
Overall: 8.2, or 9.2 for lovers of no-budget extreme horror

Next on my queue list: Sheesh, I have so many movies now watched, and with reviews needing to be written. Ready? The Fountain; Shadow of a Doubt; There Will Be Blood; Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story; The Deer Hunter; Secretary; Swimming Pool; Shaun of the Dead; The Virgin Suicides; and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. All coming soon, I swear. Whew!

Read even more about Sex Machine: Official site | Amazon | IMDb | Netflix

Filed by Jason Pettus at 4:08 PM, September 11, 2008. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |