Simply put, something special is going on in SoFlo. A small cadre of visionaries, straddling the fence between retro-homage and hostile postmodernism, are collaborating to usher in the next wave of indie cinema, an acid-infused brundlefly of shock exploitation and carnal enlightenment. On the surface, these films look like in-your-face splatterpunk, and indeed, many of the “worried well” will crawl for the exits before we crack the fifteen-minute mark. But the rest who stick around—who cringe and squirm but refuse to look away—emerge from the viscera the better for it. I don't know what to call this new film movement (think Grand Guignol meets French New Wave), but it’s certainly interesting.
I first stumbled upon the SoFlo Indie subculture through Richard R. Anasky, who I met online through a mutual friend. Back in 2005, Rich made a little film called Actress Apocalypse, which I reviewed on IMDb (a copy of this review can be seen in my review of Franklin: A Symphony of Pain). I really dug Actress Apocalypse, and I really dug Rich, who came off as the kind of ironic dichotomy that defines the SoFlo Indie scene: peaceful Zen hippy with a passion for Russ Meyers-esque exploitation.
The reason Actress Apocalypse is worth mentioning is because Lincoln the 3rd is a whole different animal from Zolton, Garo’s unassuming serial killer in Dangerous People. Lincoln the 3rd is an asshole, but he's not inherently evil; Zolton, on the other hand, is a sadistic killer, and yet he is much more fun to be around. This seems to be a common theme in the SoFlo Indie culture, a sort of audience identification with evil, especially when it comes seasoned with good manners.
The plot of Dangerous People (what little I can share) appears, at first, to be straightforward slasher shlock. Two killers, Zolton (Garo), and Zeus (Vincent Stalba) pick up sexy Erica (Angelina Leigh) in a bar and lure her back to their apartment, under the pretense of screen-testing her for an independent movie (another echo of Actress Apocalypse, the film’s self-awareness reminiscent of Goddard’s Weekend). Once back at the apartment, it becomes apparent that these two creeps have more in mind than a screen test—they are heartless serial rapists/killers, and Erica is to be their next victim. When Erica fights back by biting off the head of Zeus’s penis (a cringe-worthy homage to Last House On the Left), Zolton renders her unconscious and handcuffs her naked to the bed. Helpless and vulnerable, Erica must now use her wits to escape her predicament … but don’t let her sweet smile fool you. The lady is no squalling victim and carries a few dark secrets of her own.
By this time the cock comes off, we've come to the 15-minute mark, the point when the “worried well” start jumping out of their seats like Pop-A-Moles and shambling to the exit. If you’re one of those people, stop reading now. Nothing I can say beyond this point will make this a movie for you. For all others, the ones who, like me, want to see where this goes … well, you’re just going to have to watch the movie yourself. Too many surprises occur, and I wouldn’t dare spoil them for newbies.
I have a confession to make: It took me a while to watch this film. This has nothing to do with the quality of the picture and everything to do with the emotional space I occupied when I first landed a screener (consider this my caveat). Over the summer, I had endured Franklin: A Symphony of Pain and Death-Scort Service, two SoFlo Indie classics. Franklin, co-written by Actress Apocalypse director Richard R. Anasky (who also acts in the film), includes uncredited audio bites of Garo as David B. Lincoln the 3rd. Death-Scort Service was written and directed by Sean Donohue, who executive produced and acted in Franklin. Everything is connected in this disquieting little world like an exploitationist’s version of the Marvel Universe.
What initially made Dangerous People so difficult for me is how similar in tone it is to its predecessors. These movies are dark as they come. They do not shy away from brutality and in fact seem to relish in its extremes. Death-Scort Service, which has recently been banned from film festivals for its violence, contains a scene of genital mutilation so severe it turned me into one of the “worried well” for a few moments. Follow that up with a movie where a man gets his penis bitten off in the first act and … well, let’s just say my constitution ain't what it used to be.
If at this point you’re ready to write Dangerous People off as another mundane slice of indie gore-porn, let me mitigate such judgment. When all is said and done, I liked this film a lot, in some ways more than I liked Franklin (which received from me some pretty high praise in an earlier blog). No, Dangerous People is not the masterpiece that Franklin is, but it is a more character-driven film, and I am a sucker for characters. I admit the dialogue at times can be repetitive, but I was engaged by the story, and I enjoyed the interactions.
Garo Nigoghossian, with his flowing leather coat, flyaway hair, and half-cocked top hat, is a commanding presence on the screen, something I noticed when I watched Actress Apocalypse. His Zolton is too funny and likable to be scary—we almost identify with his passion for killing people. Another actor might chew up the scenery, turning Zolton into a poor man’s Krug Stillo, but Garo gives the killer a child-like curiosity and warped sense of humor.
As for Vincent Stalba, it takes a special kind of actor to sell us on Zeus. I first saw Vincent in Robert Kreh’s short film Seeing Red and was literally blown away (I remember writing Rob exclaiming: “Where did you find this guy?”). As Zeus, he is the heart of Dangerous People, a confused sadist who undergoes the most dramatic character arc. The choices he makes late in the film are shocking and irrational, but for us to accept them we have to buy into his internal struggle. A lesser actor would not have pulled off this journey.
Did I mention this movie was funny? For a story about rape, murder, and castration, there are some scenes that made me laugh out loud. I considered posting some of the better lines here, but there are too many spoilers inherent in the dialogue, and besides, I've probably gone too far with my descriptions already.
If you’re one of the “worried well,” or what recovering alcoholics like myself call a “normie,” you may wonder why I get behind a film like this. What kind of sick people make such a film? you might ask. Are they lunatics? Do they torture animals? Are they themselves dangerous people?
I cannot attest to the mental capacities of those who participated in Dangerous People, but until proven otherwise I will assume they are just like me: misaligned with social norms, embracing their role as outsiders, and quietly enraged at the ugliness of humanity. They are, I believe, the mad ones, the ones who get into this artist’s gig because they want to bring beauty into the world. They aren't a danger to others, for they know that when the Shadow Self gets too black it’s time to lock the door and put it on the page. I sense in Garo, and in other SoFlo Indie creators, a truth elucidated by existentialist psychologist Rollo May in 1969:
When inward life dries up, when feeling decreases and apathy increases, when one cannot affect or even genuinely touch another person, violence flares up as a daimonic necessity for contact, a mad drive forcing touch in the most direct way possible.
In his extensive analysis of Pasolini’s Saló for BFI, American writer Gary Indiana wrote: “I should be able to kill everybody I don’t like in a novel and get away with it, rape a twelve-year-old boy and piss on my father’s grave. It’s not my job to tell anybody that these things are wrong. It’s my job to show that these things happen, period.” Indiana went on to praise works that take such horrors to the next level because they “yank the rug from under the meticulously planted furniture of middle-class morality and the aesthetic torpor that decorates it.”
Mark my words, Dangerous People yanks that rug like a mother.