Despite its exploitive title, EDDIE: THE SLEEPWALKING
CANNIBAL (2012) is an old-school horror/comedy, a 21st century
variation on Roger Corman’s A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959), with its odd mix of
ghoulish fun and satiric jabs at the artistic community and the creative
Lars, a famous artist from Denmark (Thure Lindhardt) suffers from “painter’s block” and signs
on as a teacher at a small art school in the backwoods of Canada. Lars meets
Eddie (Dylan Scott Smith), a traumatized mute – a simpleton, really – who is
allowed to attend classes and finger-paint because his aunt is a wealthy patron
of the school. When the aunt dies, Lars is coaxed into sharing quarters with
the silent, hulking but seemingly harmless Eddie, keeping an eye on him for the
good of the school, which will continue to receive financial support from the
aunt’s estate. This display of altruism is also Lars’ way of impressing a
pretty colleague, sculpture teacher Lesley (Georgina Reilly).
But Eddie is still troubled, and at night, in a
somnambulistic state, ventures out into the snow and ice clad only in his
underwear and (seemingly impervious to hypothermia) lurches about like a
zombie, ripping apart and devouring small animals. Lars witnesses the aftermath
of this carnage and is inspired by the blood and guts to paint his first
masterpiece in a decade. To the strains of David Burns’ symphonic score, Lars
is transported into a hallucinogenic world where the addictive rush of painting
is all that matters.
While Lars develops a genuine bond of friendship with
Eddie, he begins to encourage the mute’s nighttime forays when the painter’s
block returns, justifying his Caligari-like control of Eddie’s nocturnal
activities because the gore stimulates his creative juices. Lars is no longer
tormented by the blank canvas as a result of Eddie’s strange sleepwalking
behavior. Eddie has, in a sense, become
The tension escalates when Lars has words with an
obnoxious neighbor (Peter Michael Dillon) whose barking dog keeps him awake at
night, and sends Eddie on a mission to eat the dachshund. But Eddie takes his
habit to a new level, chowing down on the dog and its master. Oblivious to the bloodbath, Lars immediately takes
paint brush to easel and produces another masterpiece. Soon, his dealer
(Stephen McHattie) shows up, sensing that Lars is entering a productive new
phase of unstifled creativity – and reassuring the artist that he does not
judge whatever means justify this end, pointing out that Lars’ last period of prolonged
productivity was sparked by a terrible car accident.
Overriding his genuine fondness for the childlike Eddie,
Lars continues to send him out at night, literally guiding the brawny sleepwalking
mute to fresh prey, justifying his actions because the victims are evil people
(racists, drunk drivers and the like). Lars – seemingly unaware that he is sinking
into a level of barbarism equally as profound as Eddie’s – attracts the
suspicions of the town cop (amusingly portrayed by the dour Paul Braunstein).
Eventually, Lars becomes as addicted to the rush of
painting as Eddie is to the taste of human flesh, and the blood flows ever more
freely until the film’s genuinely moving denouement, in which an injured Lars
paints his final masterpiece, helped by star-crossed lover Lesley.
A clever touch is that the audience never sees the
works of art that justify the horrific murders and dismemberments of man and
Director Boris Rodriguez – whose work I am completely
unfamiliar with – balances the humor and the horror perfectly, never allowing
his characters to mug for the camera. The humor is very understated, in
contrast to the viciousness of Eddie’s superhuman atrocities while
sleepwalking. Rodriguez also shoots his scenes in an elegant style, reminding
one of the balanced compositions of Stanley Kubrick. Hand-held camerawork is
kept to a minimum, restricted to Lars’ frenzied scenes of splattering paint
onto the canvas. And even these scenes have a certain elegance. At last, a
contemporary horror film with no “found footage” or reality television tropes!
Key to the success of this picture is the brilliant
acting of lead players Lindhardt (Into the Wild) and Smith (Immortals, 300) and the welcome presence of renowned character actor McHattie (Watchmen) in a small but vital role.
EDDIE: THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL is a Canada-Denmark
coproduction from Mongrel Media, and easily the best film (horror or otherwise)
ever made in Ottawa, the capital of Canada. EDDIE does not strike one false
note. I strongly recommend you check it out.
The DVD is available in Canada only. Click here to buy from Amazon Canada.
The Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, which present contemporary and classic films at their unique restaurant/theaters, have delved into the DVD business- and retro movie lovers can thank their lucky stars. One of the most prominent of the Drafthouse releases is Wake in Fright, a 1971 Australian film classic by Ted Kotcheff, a Canadian born director who had never previously set foot Down Under prior to making this movie. Based on the novel by Kenneth Cook, Wake in Fright is unknown to many film scholars who pride themselves on being acquainted with worthwhile, little-seen films. (I must shamefully admit that I fall into this category myself, having never even heard of the film prior to reviewing the Blu-ray release). Based on the title, I assumed this was a suspense thriller or a horror film. It is neither. In fact, it is virtually impossible to pigeon-hole this movie into a specific genre. Suffice it to say that is one of the most visually arresting and mesmerizing movies of the 1970s- one that will haunt you long after viewing it.
The film opens with a panoramic shot of a tiny one room schoolhouse set against the expanse of the Outback desert. We are introduced to John Grant (Gary Bond), a handsome young teacher who seems curiously out of place in this environment in his jacket and tie. Grant is trying to maintain the universal standards of school teachers but we soon see that he is frustrated at having been powerless in choosing his designated school district. Thus, he has been assigned to one of the most remote places imaginable, teaching a class that is so small that teenagers are compelled to share the room with first graders. As the story begins, Grant is bidding his students farewell as he eagerly anticipates a six-week school holiday. He longs to return to Sydney and the loving embrace of his attractive girlfriend, whose well-worn bathing suit photo adorns his wallet. En route home, however, Grant's train makes a fateful stop in a small city of Bundanyabba (known to the fiercely territorial locals as "The 'yabba"). Grant is initially bored at being stranded for 24 hours in this unattractive mining town where the residents are either openly hostile to strangers or overbearingly friendly. He becomes acquainted with the local constable, Jock Crawford (the wonderful Aussie character actor Chips Rafferty, in final, and perhaps, best performance.) Crawford is an eccentric but he takes Grant under his wing and escorts him to a cavernous bar where hoards of local men are carousing and drinking alcohol with almost superhuman abilities. Grant is at first repulsed, but he finds himself accepted by the locals since he is vouched for by Jock. Soon, he's pretty inebriated himself and he becomes fascinated with a game of chance that dozens of men are participating in. The simple premise involves a toss of a coin and you win or lose based on whether you bet heads or tails. The sheer emotion of the participants intoxicates Grant and he tries his hand. He soon wins a small fortune. Tempted by the fact that winning even more money will allow himself to be freed from his undesirable teaching position, he makes the fatal mistake of returning to the game and gambling one more round. Within seconds, the drunken Grant loses every penny he has. By the next morning, he can't afford a train ticket to continue to Sydney and has to rely on the kindness of strangers (in the words of Tennessee Williams) to find housing and food.
This is where the film becomes completely compelling, as Grant rapidly meets a succession of overbearing- and potentially dangerous new "friends". They include Tim Hynes (Al Thomas), a friendly but consistently drunken elderly man who introduces Grant to his mates: two obnoxious and crude musclemen, Joe (Peter Whittle) and Dick (Jack Thompson in his screen debut). He also discovers Tim's attractive daughter Janette (Sylvia Kay), who can hardly stand the deplorable life she leads in having to serve her sexist father and his misogynistic friends. She is drawn to Grant's sensitivity but his attempts to satisfy her repressed sexual desires go awry. He is next introduced to Tydon (Donald Pleasence in brilliant form), a one-time doctor who has lost his license because of alcoholism. He lives a threadbare existence, trading medical advice to townspeople in return for a spartan diet and all the booze he can handle. Before long, Grant is coerced into joining Tyson, Joe and Dick on a brutal hunt for kangaroos. The drunken Grant becomes as savage as his out of control companions and he reaches bottom when he willingly kills and tortures these lovable, harmless creatures for mere amusement. As the story progresses, Grant devolves even further and goes off an alcohol-fueled abyss that culminates in a most unexpected homosexual encounter.
Wake in Fright startled audiences in Australia when it was first shown, leading to some audience members screaming at the screens "That's not us!" in objection to the way the Outback dwellers were portrayed. In reality, there are no overt villains shown on screen. These are just hard-bitten people who live in an inhospitable part of the land where you have to be tough in order to survive. The film was an entry at Canne but had a limited release before fading into obscurity. It was virtually impossible to market. The Alamo Drafthouse Blu-ray does justice to the film's astonishing cinematography by Brian West, as well as the unique and atmospheric score by John Scott. Kotcheff's direction is letter-perfect right up through the final frame. Kotcheff is interviewed on the Blu-ray and he expresses gratitude for the team of film historians who searched the world in order to find the elements that have made the restoration of the movie possible. He also recalls how, when the film when was shown at Cannes, one young man sitting behind him kept gushing about his enthusiasm for the film. When Kotcheff asked who the young man was, the dismissive answer was that he was an unheard of new director named Martin Scorsese! The Blu-ray includes vintage interviews with Kotcheff at Cannes in 1971, audio commentary with Kotcheff and editor Anthony Buckley, an extensive interview with Kotcheff at a 2009 Canadian film event, a vintage TV obituary for Chips Rafferty, a documentary about the restoration of the movie, theatrical trailers and an absorbing 28 page collector's booklet.
Wake in Fright is now justly regarded as the first "adult" Australian movie. It instilled pride and confidence in a generation of Aussie filmmakers and its legacy lives on through their works. Kudos to Alamo Drafthouse for presenting this moody and haunting cinematic experience through this first-rate Blu-ray release.