Saturday, October 27, 2012

Disconnected (1983) dir. Gorman Bechard

Logline: Alicia (Frances Rains) works in a video store and likes collecting old timey knick knacks. When her boyfriend cheats on her with her diabolical twin sister, Barbara Ann (also Frances Rains), Alicia decides to go out with the creepy guy who visits the video store a lot and engages her in extremely awkward conversations. No surprise, but it turns out that that creep is a serial murder-- but is he responsible for the senses-shattering phone calls that Alicia keeps receiving at all hours of the night?

Crime in the Past: Not applicable. Sometimes killers just kill and ghosts just haunt.

Bodycount: 4, maybe 5 folks who are upset with their home phone service providers.

Themes/Moral Code: The major theme I kept picking up on is the film's obsession with the past. It sees itself as an old fashioned psychological thriller in sleazy slasher clothing, so in reflection of that there are countless visual cues signalling that its own characters are striving back towards that time and genre as well. The final girl has old movie posters hanging all about her apartment, though she works in a video store full of modern films she's totally uninterested in (primarily contemporary horror, of course). Both her and one of the male leads own Groucho Marx dolls, prominently displayed in their dwelling places (she a bobble-head, he a ventriloquist's dummy). One scene, canvassing this male lead's apartment, dwells upon all of the past cultural paraphernalia that he's collected (the creepiest piece being a large Kilroy sculpture). So what to make of it? It could be that these trinkets are coming straight from the director's personal collection, allowing him to decorate the sets and his character's lives with his own cultural preferences. But within the film, they serve to create a weird dissonance between the sort of cinema that is being produced with a film like Disconnected and the sort of cinema that the characters fetishize in their personal lives. No matter how hard they try, they can't wish themselves into anything other than an early '80s slasher film, and it's not tough to imagine that being a disappointment.

Killer's Motivation: Probably the film's best moment is its reveal that the killer is the dorky fellow, Franklin (Mark Walker), who has been hitting on Alicia at the video store. He takes a call from her in the early hours of the day, and is thrilled that she's agreed to go out on a date with him. When she asks if he'd like to go out that night he is forced to decline, rolling over as the camera reveals the bloody corpse in bed lying next to him-- he has some cleaning up to do. See, Franklin kills women who he sees as being cheap and easy; he tells that corpse in bed with him that Alicia will be better for him because "she's not disgusting and cheap like you. You do whatever a man says." He obviously has some issues with female sexuality, but this isn't explored beyond the surface level. (It is, however, quite unnerving to watch him snuggle up the corpse in his bed, as if the blood she's soaked in has become a purifying agent). He spends most of his energy killing drunk women that he picks up at local bars, though it's unbelievable that this social misfit has the ability to pick up any woman and take her home. (Alas: the suspension of disbelief). He turns his murderous sights on Alicia after she sleeps with him, but it's after a few dates so I don't know what his problem is. At any rate, Franklin is killed (off-screen, no less) with about a half hour to go. A second killer, who is revealed in the closing minute of the film and is who has been driving Alicia nuts with his abrasive phone calls, is an old man who she helped into her apartment to use her phone at the beginning of the film and who promptly vanished. We're forced to assume he's some sort of ghost who has been living in her phone all this time, waiting to strike. Curiously, the fact that he's a supernatural old man vaguely ties into the thematic concerns above: the film's modern slasher narrative died out early; the real threat was an old-timey haunting tale that we would have never stopped to suspect.

Final Girl: Alicia is a normal girl who works at a video store. She has a boyfriend until her evil twin sister steals him away. Her most telling nightmare is one in which her boyfriend kills her and then he and her sister have sex on top of her corpse. She dates and then has sex with the killer. Then she goes insane, locked up in her apartment as the voiceless yet monstrously loud harassing phone calls refuse to quit. Besides her affinity for the cultural productions of past decades, she's thinly developed. She is often naked, sometimes in a casual and non-exploitative fashion (like when she rolls out of bed, topless and groggy, to answer the phone). I suppose her biggest flaw is that she doesn't hesitate to give her time to strangers who look like they need it-- unfortunately for her, those strangers are, historically, psychotic killers or murderous ghosts.

The Good, the Bad, & the Cheese:  When a film begins, like Gorman Bechard's Disconnected does, with a man dropping a sandwich off a rooftop in surprise, you have to anticipate that you're in for something unusual. It's a weird one for sure, but it's never effortlessly weird like, say, Blood Beat (1983)-- one receives the impression that Disconnected is trying quite hard to be off-kilter, which somewhat lessens the overall effect. (But this isn't something I actually want to complain about; after all, at least the film tries). Bechard has fashioned a slasher, I suppose, but he sounds rather ashamed to have done so (the stock meta moments, with our final girl lamenting, "I feel like I'm stuck in the middle of some low-budget horror movie" and "I like the old movies with real stories, not the ones that rely on sex and violence," hint at as much, though don't manage to transcend the irony). He appears as if he would much rather be creating a thriller in the Hitchcock tradition, which the film can't help but make clear to us through its characters' discussions about Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and the existence of a The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) poster adorning the leading lady's wall. Arguably, the film comes off closer to An Idiot's Guide to Brian de Palma. To accomplish the lofty ambition of elevating itself out of the horror muck, Disconnected flexes its no-budget artistic pretensions, which are occasionally successful in shifting the film's aesthetic (a black and white still frame montage at the climax is quite nice) but are more often trite and goofy, producing only sighs (for instance, long stretches of the film are set to nothing more than moody '80s rock songs). The film has some major issues (it's cheap-looking, with dreadfully-recorded audio, bizarre pacing, a peculiar third act, total climactic incomprehensibility, and godawful performances) and I imagine the majority stem from budget issues. (I'd be astonished if this weren't the lowest budgeted film I've watched so far). But I was nevertheless engaged by Disconnected. There's some intangible quality to the film that allows me to embrace it, as if it's a film issuing from some half-remembered dream, recalled only in fragments that don't quite seem to fit but are difficult to shake off. So maybe I'm the chump, and Bechard made exactly the film he wanted to.

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