Friday, October 20, 2023

Notes on Film: DEADGIRL

 by Anthony King

Under my skin.

Very few films get under my skin and make this writer feel uncomfortable. Moments such as these come and go, but entire films? I can think of 11. Make that 12 with Unearthed Films' brand new 15th anniversary edition of Marcel Sarmiento's and Gadi Harel's disturbing coming of age film, Deadgirl (2008).

*Sexual assault TW ahead*
The story follows two friends, Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) and J.T. (Noah Segan), outcast “losers” in high school who decide to ditch class one day during a fire drill. When faced with the boredom of an entire day to themselves, J.T. suggests they head to the old, abandoned hospital to do some urban exploring. The two misfits get rightly stoned and drunk and begin to tear shit up in the dilapidated building to the tune of The Black Summer Crush's “I Want More.” J.T. and Rickie head to the basement and discover behind a locked door the body of a nude woman (Jenny Spain) under plastic. Upon further investigation they realize this woman is chained to a table, spread eagle, and still alive. J.T. convinces Rickie to leave her there to use as their personal sex slave. Rickie, a decent kid at heart, refuses, and leaves his friend there alone. The following day J.T. reveals that, after raping the woman, he became angry, choked her out, and broke her neck. Rickie is incredulous. That is, until J.T. fires a couple rounds from a pistol into the woman's body, revealing that something's amiss and she won't die.

Meanwhile, back on the outside, Rickie is pining after JoAnn (Candice King), who is dating the star football player. J.T. then wraps their friend Dwyer into his diabolical new life, and the two spend all their time raping the (un)deadgirl. As time progresses, the friendship between Rickie and J.T. fractures as the latter slips further and further into monsterdom. More head-spinning twists abound, but only those who aren't faint of heart can discover what happens in the third act for themselves. Suffice to say, Deadgirl was not the movie I was expecting, and navigated uncomfortably dark (but sadly and brutally honest) territory with an emotional and artistic hand.
An indie film through and through with a small budget and short production time, Deadgirl premiered at the Midnight Madness portion of the 2008 Toronto Film Festival followed by screening at Fantastic Fest, Stiges, AFI Fest, and Leeds International. It was subsequently hammered by critics. Andrew O'Hehir of called the finale of the film an “utterly conventional, lameass-switcheroo ending.” I disagree. Always positive writer Rex Reed said the film had “no other purpose than to outrage; Deadgirl is part S&M porno, part supernatural chiller, and worthy only if you're interested in how far movies can go before the police arrive.” I disagree. Perhaps time has helped Deadgirl. It showcases the carnal toxicity that has infested so many men, usually the diseased seeds having germinated in their youth. While the movie takes things to an extreme level, Noah Segan's performance in particular highlights the monster that lurks within so many – too many – young men. While the depraved acts and visuals of Deadgirl are what continue to haunt me most, Segan's performance is astonishingly unforgettable.

Unearthed Films, a label known for and dedicated to releasing disturbing films (Dr. Lamb, The Untold Story, Guinea Pig films, etc.), has delivered a remarkable package for the 15th anniversary of Deadgirl. As messed up as the film is, Deadgirl also doubles as an emotional coming of age story and a beautiful art film. While the Unearthed release ports over the commentaries, making-of, and Jenny Spain's audition tape from the original 2011 Blu-ray, new extras abound. Along with two new behind the scenes and make-up FX galleries, there are five brand new interviews with co-director Gadi Harel (he's a very sweet, not demented person; the interview actually made me feel a little better about the movie), writer Trent Haaga, actors Segan and Fernandez, and special makeup effects designer Jim Ojala.
Deadgirl was the latest addition to a list I have of films that affected me in a somewhat negative way; films that burrowed so far under my skin I spent the night in a nightmare fueled by the film I'd just seen. There are films with shocking moments that leave my mouth agape for a second (Henry: Portrait of Serial Killer, Irreversible, Der Fan, to name a few) but mostly I just happily enjoy watching them. Think of me what you will. Then there are those that have made me squirm; movies that seem to force my hand to cover my mouth. Deadgirl can proudly proclaim itself as the latest addition to the list.

Included on said list are five short films. Stan Brakhage's The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes (1971) is the film I proclaim to be the most disturbing movie I've ever seen. It's his all-access documentary showing never before seen footage of the Pittsburgh morgue. Another short on the list is Alan Clarke's "Elephant" (1989), a dialogue-free TV movie that follows brutal assassinations during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. It's the only film I had to turn off halfway through to take a break, and it runs for less than 40 minutes.
Deadgirl becomes the seventh feature-length film on the list of films that greatly disturbed me. Other features include Vase de noces (1974), aka Wedding Trough, aka “The Pig Fucking Movie.” It's about a farmer that falls in love with his pet pig and, you guessed it, has sex with it. I saw Joe Bob Briggs host Blue Velvet a few years back, and during the audience Q&A someone asked what the most disturbing movie he'd ever seen was. “The Pig Fucking Movie. I do NOT recommend anyone watch that,” was his response. Well, I watched it, and I wish I didn't. Another feature that moved me to squirms is Emiano Rocha Minter's Mexican coming of age post-apocalyptic tale, We Are the Flesh. This is by the far the sweatiest and slimiest movie about teenage siblings having sex with each other I've ever seen. They live inside a gigantic vagina with an insane homeless man, and while it's fascinating and masterfully shot, I never need to watch it again.

There you have it. Get the Deadgirl Blu-ray from Unearthed Films and watch some disturbing shit this Scary Movie Month. If you dare.

1 comment:

  1. Deadgirl is far better than it has any right to be. I expected complete trash, but was kind of bowled over by it. I haven't seen it since it came out though... sometimes I think I should rewatch it, but it's a tough movie to want to rewatch.

    Also... I NEED to know the other movies on that list.