Monday, 18 April 2011

Fantastic Factory #3. Faust: Love Of The Damned (Brian Yuzna, 2000) DVD Review

The devil has his way in Faust: Love Of The Damned (2000)

There's an awesome scene in Faust: Love Of The Damned where a stop-motion skeleton, deformed into the shape of a spider, attacks our helpless protagonist John Jaspers (Mark Frost), who has been buried alive. Among maggots and screaming flames, heavy metal music scoring the scene, Jaspers sheathes the Wolverine-like claws given to him by the devil M (Andrew Divoff) and obliterates its skull into dust. Ridiculous? Yes, but tonnes of fun too. Brian Yuzna's Mephistophelean revenge fantasy is packed to the brim with graphic sex and violence; sometimes in the same scene. It's one of those horror movies which just goes hell for leather and indulges in some of the freakiest, most explicit shit you've ever seen - from heart eating to head ripping, this flick has it all. Some steamy shower sex and bountiful vixens of Satan don't hurt matters either...

Perhaps my opening paragraph has oversold the film somewhat. Viewers familiar with recent movements in French and Asian horror cinema - movies such as Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 2008) and Ichi The Killer (Takashi Miike, 2001) for example - won't find anything too extreme here. And perhaps even those who have seen Society (Yuzna, 1989) won't be too surprised by the content, given the fleshy finale of that wicked satire. But it was the unrelenting nature of the violence, the cynicism and brutality of it, as well as Yuzna's stylish indulgence in the bloodletting, that really surprised me about Faust. Even in the absurd Beyond Re-Animator (2003) he's a director of relative restraint, but the opening to this film sees severed bodies and decapitated heads rolling all over the place... he's shot his creative wad by the halfway point, basically. I don't have a problem with this personally, as I enjoy amped-up ultra-violence, but those less well versed in horror cinema should approach Yuzna's film with caution. It has a disenchanted and savage worldview, and for some that may be problematic. For me the film only has two central problems: a lack of character, and some unintentional campiness.

It's a B-movie, sure, and therefore neither scripting or seriousness are top priorities, and the former element isn't going to be perfect. The aim of the film is to be crude, salacious, gory and cruel, and if you can just kick back to that then Faust has a lot to offer. Case in point? A scene where M inflates the tits and ass of one of his whores, comically leaving her as a pile of slimy sex organs on his marble floor. Gross and absurdist, it teeters on the edge of misogyny but is just obscure and silly enough to keep you on its side. That being said, it is the point where many viewers - probably those not well acquainted with horror cinema - will turn off. The effects (by Screaming Mad George) are great, and it's gleefully absurdist. I should also say at this point that Faust is a very well made film, with frequently impressive camerawork and some genuinely interesting editing, especially in the action sequences; they have a free-form quality, jaggedly moving to the rhythm of the violence like a series of mini jump cuts. But here's how the two main problems factor in...

John Jaspers isn't a particularly likable character, and Frost presents him as a gurning emoticon who jumps between feelings at the flick of a switch, and with zero believability. There's just no reason to root for him, because he's such a hyperactive moron with seemingly no capacity for any emotion resembling anything on Earth. Some scenes require him to cry so he squints his eyes hard and deforms his mouth. It's really quite... disconcerting. Horror movies need to make you care about the characters on some level, even if it's a shallow one, like being attracted to the scantily clad last girl standing in a cheap slasher flick. It doesn't matter that you're only in it for her breasts - at least on some level you're invested in her surviving, and engaged in the horror. I just didn't care a single iota about Jaspers, and was more concerned with Frost getting some acting lessons or preferably just going back to his own planet, wherever that may be.

But then there's the campiness, and this criticism doesn't require a film studies degree or analysis classes. It's a simple matter of tone. When your movie at one point basically melts the vagina of a female character you should also be wary of the misty flashback sequences, candlelit romance and S&M-style devil costumes. It just feels a little uneven, though it did start to sit more comfortably with me towards the fire and brimstone finale. So, in summation: if you like your horror movies lewd, rowdy and lashed with ultra-violence then Faust: Love Of The Damned may well be your flesh-filled fantasy - severed limbs and luscious babes (hello Monica Van Campen) await you. But anyone who is at all concerned with story, character or tonal consistency should probably be wary of Yuzna's most outlandish work... on a moral level, even for trashy horror, it can seem kinda dodgy. If I seem a little on-the-fence with this review then allow me to clear that up: I really liked the debauched, auteurist sick-fest that was Faust, because I'm that kind of gorehound - having said that, I did want more story and better actors. I guess I just want people to approach the film with cation. And in listing the content non-horror fans will take issue with I know I've provided horror geeks with a dozen reasons to see it. And so they should, because it's a lot of fun.

The Disc/Extras
Another pretty recent movie, so the image is sharp and the sound well preserved. As per usual we have reversible sleeve artwork on the DVD, a poster and another booklet by entertainment author Calum Waddell, this time entitled 'Brian Yuzna: Maestro Of Mayhem'. In this mini essay he profiles Yuzna as an auteur and makes a particularly interesting case for Return Of The Living Dead III (1993) as a "feel bad horror epic". Alongside the trailer there are two documentaries on the disc. The first is called 'Director Of The Damned: Brian Yuzna, Faust And The Fantastic Factory'. In it Yuzna talks about how Fantastic Factory came to be, his ambitions for the label and his thoughts on the finished product of Faust. It's pretty interesting to hear him discuss the industry and why me moved to Spain for the projects, but at 26-minutes it's a bit of an overextended feature. The second documentary is called 'The Pain In Spain: A History Of Horror In Hot Weather', and it's a surprisingly dull look at the Spanish horror industry, although it does shed light on some awesome looking ghost/zombie movies, including Tomb Of The Blind Dead (Amando de Ossorio, 1971) which could turn out to be a hidden treasure. For that it's worth a viewing.

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