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Sunday, December 22, 2013

TEN Presents /// DONALD PLEASENCE THEATER Episode 1: Wake In Fright (1971)

1. Movies from 68-75. No cell phones. No computers. Story not spectacle. No technology to bail you out.  In the 70s, my parents were struggling newlyweds. Vietnam and hippies and civil rights. Look at the America in Two Lane Blacktop. It's another freaking world. And in the 70s, Donald Pleasence was still acting. As it should be. Something is broken now that D-Plez is gone. 

2. D-Plez. Loomis. Blofeld. The name above the title on Halloween movies. His death in Fantastic Voyage. His Presidential flip out in Escape from New York. But here: raw, manic, pathetic. Stealing every scene. But real. He exists, and you know him.  

3. The setting. Small country towns in the Australian outback. So many little details, the sun so brutal, the dust and rocks and dried out brush. The people's faces so weather beaten and mad, their heads baking in the furnace. You are trapped in this movie.

4. Our main character. School teacher that hates teaching. Better than everyone he meets. Condescending smirk. Feels trapped by circumstance. Unlikable but relatable.  

5. A horror movie about identity. Are we who we say we are or who we are told to be? If given permission, would we be different? I could be a monster, inhuman and sick, if given the right context. Existential terror, the best kind.

6. No one wants to hurt our hero. He is his own monster. The antagonists are nothing but nice and genuine and generous.  

7. The townspeople are wild rednecks who live on this moon base with nothing to do but drink beer and hunt kangaroo. A frat party that has been going on for generations. No escape. 

8. Kangaroo hunting shown in vivid detail. Chasing down kangaroo in a beat up jalopy over the scorched earth. Surreal. No cute fat Looney Tune kangaroos here. Instead, starving, hairless, filthy, rat-creatures, slaughtered by drunk rednecks. The movie has a disclaimer, it is all real and shown to bring awareness of their imminent extinction. It works as activism, but you will avert your eyes.

9. Coin flipping. In small towns, the men are crammed into a basements gambling away their money on coin flips. In case you wondered.

10. Ted Kotcheff. The first shot shows that you can lower your guard and trust the filmmaker. Ted was paying attention when he put the movie together. Movies where free to tell stories in ‘71. They didn't have to sell combo meals or be Oscar bait.

SHOWSTOPPER: The opening theme song. It will infect you brains.


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