Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A few words on UPSIDEDOWN CROSS, William Hellfire, and movies that make you feel icky ...

By:  Mike Hunchback

Here's some accurate copy on UPSIDEDOWN CROSS, just about out on DVD and playing ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE in Yonkers, New York on Monday, February 22nd 2016 at 7:55 PM (https://drafthouse.com/greater-ny/show/upside-down-cross), a movie that I had the pleasure of co-writing, associate producing, and contributing some music to.  Following that is some rambling ...  

Don't miss the latest movie by William Hellfire, director of DUCK! THE CARBINE HIGH MASSACRE.  Abandoned, abused by the police and in the throes of withdrawal, Nadine, a drug addicted young prostitute, returns to her childhood home and the mother she ran away from. Nadine’s mother, Delilah; a delusional Christian believing demons have possessed her daughter, searches for a “cure” for her daughter’s erratic behavior. Delilah finds a rogue preacher willing to excise her daughter…for a fee. Neither realizes they have invited the devil into their house.

I'd like to start with William Hellfire, whom I'll be referring to as Bill from here on out.  I first met Bill soon after an old band I played in, HUNCHBACK, was playing shows with another local New Jersey reject-outfit called THEEE BISHOPS.

Theee Bishops were one of Hunchback's early buddy-bands.  We ended up on a show with them at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick, NJ; they went on before us and within the first song lead-crooner Mike Mistake had broken a beer bottle and was rolling around in the glass.  Guitarist Matt Simonetti AKA Groovy Hate Fuck (after the Pussy Galore song, natch) was on his back writhing even sooner.  Don't get me wrong - Theee Bishops weren't part of that whole tuff, bro-ish, "we fuck shit up" mold ... these guys were like US.  They were genuinely hated freaks from the Garden State suburbs, getting off the only way they knew how: playing their frigging asses off and leaving everything on the floor, no matter if anyone was watching or not. 

Let me break from the narrative a moment to impart some serious wisdom: TOO MANY YOUNG PEOPLE are growing into adulthood without having been booed at, physically attacked on stage, or being banned from a venue.  Maybe that's why the world bites so much in 2016, I dunno. 

OK, so ... Theee Bishops introduced Hunchback to the 2/3 sex-gods TYRANNOSAURUS DRACULA, which we quickly nick-named T-DRAC: Mickey, Zombie Mike and the long-haired ringmaster that called himself Bill Hellfire.  Another friendship was solidified ... T-Drac dressed in vintage '70s thrift store duds and played slow, heavy-ass, riff-strangled RAWK.  They were fucking fantastic, and Hunchback would quickly fall in love with them too.

Theee Bishops and T-Drac had a friend and collaborator in brief one-time Bishops keyboardist Ruby LaRocca, who had also began a prolific career acting in low budget exploitation films. Some of these were directed by Bill Hellfire, who by now was kinda infamous for DUCK: THE CARBINE MASSACRE, a film that rather brilliantly skewered the media circus surrounding the Columbine massacre.  Bill had also recently directed Ruby in what I think is his most-personal masterpiece (now tied with UPSIDEDOWN CROSS), THE DEVIL'S BLOODY PLAYTHINGS.  At the time T-Drac and Hunchback were doing shows together, I saw Bill's films and started to dream about working on one with him.  Bill, Ruby, Mike Mistake, and their whole crew were always the people I was most jealous of in NJ - they were always working on something truly wild and subversive. 

ALMOST TEN YEARS LATER ... Bill, still a friend I regularly talked to, gets in touch and finally asks me ... "hey you wanna help me write this movie?" ... needless to say, I was ecstatic.

Bill had the core of the film down - Nadine (to be played by Bill's long-time lady, exceptional actress Erin Russ), estranged from her mother, goes home in stages of withdrawal, trying to kick.  Her mother, near-dementia, assumes her daughter is possessed and hires a preacher to exorcise her.  But the preacher just might be the sickest demon Nadine has ever encountered.  Bill wanted my help in filling out the script, and my first thought was that this was a great opportunity to help create one of my favorite kinds of things to watch: something that's exploitation on the outside, but that uses both the exploitative situation as well as an audience's unbalanced, personally-revealing expectations to force viewers to ask themselves questions. 

"I think the only people my films offend are the ignorant." - William Hellfire

Now THAT'S a killer quote!  And boy does it tie into what I think makes UPSIDEDOWN CROSS special.  Frankly, I almost wish I hadn't worked on it, so my championing of the film would perhaps play a little better, heh heh.  [Spoiler alert ahead] ... In UPSIDEDOWN CROSS, it's not the drug dealers, the perverts, or the druggies that are the "bad guys" - it's parents, police, and preachers.  The reason that simple twist fascinates me so much is that it's the kind of twist that we never learn from in real life.  For some reason, humans of our era are SHOCKINGLY ignorant when realizing this instance personally, and when the obvious even-handed approach of looking at things on an "issue by issue" basis comes up, all sorts of different kindsa folks seem to auto-scoff "Well, you know what I mean" ...

The translation of "Well, you know what I mean"?  Something like: "The mere implication of any discussion about sensitive topics in which we're not handed an obvious answer means this material is in support of the OTHER side".  And of course, all "sides" seem to find themselves there sooner or later. 

Now I may be a free speech junkie, but it's not even that tendency that enrages me when people go down this road - it's my obsession with the fact that MOST often if not ALWAYS, the capability of art to change lives and minds in fact lies in art's power to confront it's viewer, catch he or she off guard, and therefore immediately involve the viewer in the experience by making them use and process their own gut reactions.  Funny thing is, monitoring our own individual potential to succumb to these human flaws, is at the very heart of religious beliefs of ANY kind.  Whether or not you believe in the physical reality claimed by some religions, the existence and popularity of religion itself speaks immediately and clearly to that fact that humans unchecked become unhappy and misguided.  To me, this is the same human need we have for philosophy, general education, and friends and family.  There's part of our make up that wants us to put faith in things because it makes our day-to-day lives easier, if not more rewarding.  Regardless of provability, these can all be effective methods for living. 

To ME, co-writing this movie was an awesome opportunity to use the "trappings" of low budget exploitation to hit on some decidedly unsexy topics.  At the heart of UPSIDEDOWN CROSS I see a painfully mismatched, mistimed, reunion between a mother and a daughter.  The world around them will eat them alive unless they can find each others' hands in the darkness, yet their need for each other doesn't outweigh their own selfishness, and soon enough Hell is at their door.  Nadine's mother, obsessed with her own Christianity, cannot bring herself to actually BE LIKE Christ, an act that would have saved them both.  Humans of today of all sorts of backgrounds do this: we align ourselves with an ideology (Christianity, liberalism, conservatism, punk, etc.) and soon after we find ourselves in dire need of lining up with other people who claim the same, nevermind if the practices that spawned the original ideology are present or not.  Christianity, the core beliefs of which are very close to my heart and inform my beliefs, isn't being assailed in UPSIDEDOWN CROSS - hypocrisy is.

There's an unshakable connotation between Horror films and female characters in peril / distress.  I'm not blind, I see it, and nothing could bore me more than another movie in which a woman is tied to a chair and tortured ... I mean, c'mon this was boring in the '80s.  However, isn't it obvious that the exception to this rule is a movie that shows similar images but actually SAYS something about it?  Currently, it seems like there's a newer, more modern, buzz around the topic of sexism.  Personally, yes, I think that sexism exists in the world and in America, obviously.  But I also think that a lot of the discussions involving the word today are designed to make the speaker - and those as privileged as the speaker, the speaker's community if you will - feel absolved of any sins, hence the lack of "dangerous" discussion wherein a speaker will expose him or herself in order to indicate that their participation is actually the flaw that furthers a corrupt system.

Yes, I'm a crazy person.  But I maintain that while sure, UPSIDEDOWN CROSS has sexist images in it, it's in NO WAY a CELEBRATION of the existence of sexism.  It's a not a joke wherein the punchline is that men have it better than women.  In UPSIDEDOWN CROSS, when a cop (played brilliantly Rick Savage) forces Nadine to give him sex in order to escape arrest, his dialogue (which I wrote a fair amount of) goes:

"You know what would happen if I slapped your face ... right here?  First of all, it'd hurt.  I could hit you just once, and it'd really hurt you, right?  But the other thing … it'd leave a biiiig bruise, right here, wouldn't it?  I'd walk out of here like nothing happened; go on with my day … but you … you'd look like a fucking battered housewife, wouldn't you?"

Now, I'm aware that there are pieces of shit out there that want to celebrate dominance over women, and perhaps they would write something like that to do so.  But the far more obvious reason for this scene is that it's a simple, point blank metaphor of how a patriarchal society continues.  AND, if I censored myself because of fearing an association with those who I wish to indicate, then of course it's only my enemies that are using language confrontational enough to make an impact. 

This logic goes for all of the unsavory morsels in UPSIDEDOWN CROSS, and it's why I'm so, SO proud I got to work on it.  My friend Twiggs saw a preview screening and told me afterwards that "You know, a lot of people are going to be affected by this movie", and it was one of the best compliments I've ever gotten.  If UPSIDEDOWN CROSS can be a gateway drug to Horror / Exploitation films that are actually ABOUT something for even just ONE kid that's having a tough time growing up, then I'll never stop smiling. 

And as a last aside, I'd like to mention a reoccurring theme I've found in  my life ... I've met and befriended SO MANY who's reputations for making confrontational, explicit, or subversive art have somehow colored them as a "bad person", a person who because of his or her output "must" support some kind of purely Darwinian society wherein there is no love, no compassion, no respect, or no politeness.  There is an overall impression that unfortunately MOST people I've encountered in this life seem to buy into, this impression that if one creates art about "bad" things it must reflect actual negative character traits, must indicate a nasty, hateful personality.  Those who believe such things are the kind of people who talk about others behind their backs, they're the kind of people who readily assume the worst of those who they've never met.  Time and time again, I've met these "bad" people, and without exception they have been the brightest, most caring, most level-headed, most open, most loving; and you-bet-your-ass the most understanding of OTHER people, flaws and all, that I have ever encountered.  Bill is high on this list.  And I'm serious when I tell you that if Jesus Christ came back today, he'd totally get UPSIDEDOWN CROSS.  I'm pretty confident he'd have pre-ordered it even.

Here's the link for tickets again ... JOIN US!

Monday, February 22nd 2016
7:55 PM ... show up at 7:30 though.


1 comment:

  1. Great point about art being a medium for inducing and processing gut reactions. I'm psyched to see the film!! D.