★★ out of ★★★★★
A psychedelic art-school retelling of Robert W. Chamber’s King in Yellow, in desperate search of a coherent plot.
Directed by Chris Ernst.
Well, not everything at film festivals is awesome. Corpse was one of the feature films at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Fest. I remember a few years ago, traveling to Paris, and visiting the Pompidou Centre, the famous modern art museum with the ductwork and piping guts on the outside. The museum had a film about famine survivors in South Sudan, displaying scattered powerful images, punctuated by shrieking a-tonal violins. There was a narrator, who described the horror in looped and convoluted prose, not really addressing the audience, but commenting on the horrors of man in general. It left me feeling startled and at the same time, frustrated, that I couldn’t empathize with the imagery in front of me.
That’s what this film felt like. Nominally, this film was a re-telling of the King in Yellow, a notable Lovecraftian opera/story by Robert W. Chambers, and features, at some point, a dude in a yellow bunny suit/hoodie and a gas mask, which did seem to emulate the horrific King in Yellow, to a degree. But he was rather benign. There was lots (and lots, and lots) of talk in the movie about the coming madness. The madness itself comes in the form of flashes of kaleidoscopic LSD inspired cuts that should be prefaced with an epilepsy warning. In the 80’s they would [KING IN YELLOW] refer to this tactic as [IMMINENT GLOBAL DOOM] subliminal advertising.
There are a few moments of clarity in the movie though. There is a thread that follows three young entrepreneur/scientists who have come up with the formula for resetting the human genetic code. Eternal youth! In a bottle! And they of course blab about their findings in a Halloween party, as if it were a great conversation starter and not the world-changing paradigm shift and TOP SECRET formula.
There’s also a B-side story about Hillary, an actress who has a birthmark bearing the signs of the King in Yellow, and is visited upon by the King… who in Lovecraftian lore is an Elder God bent on the destruction of humanity, but in this telling, he’s an outside observer commenting on why nobody is showing up to Hillary’s party. A Brooklyn bummer, perhaps, but definitely not the end of the world.
I found it extraordinarily hard to try and follow the goings-on in this film. The exposition was never driving the plot. There was a lot of philosophizing and prophesizing, but never much in the way of advancing the story. The opening scene suggested we were going to get a fantastic apocalyptic tale of the folly of messing with that which you do not know, but it got re-routed so many times that by the time the opening scene gets an encore, we’re not really sure what happened in the intervening hour and a half of movie.
Everybody is giving everything they have, though. Some to the point of wildly over-acting, but everybody is committed. The director, Ernst, had a definite vision, an artistic statement he wanted to visualize. The graphics team did some truly wild and lustrous psychedelic interludes. The pulsing synthesizer hammered home the urgency even if the plot didn’t. And, like the film at the Pompidou I saw, every shot is elegantly framed. The actors look great in the shots, so kudos to the DP and the art director.
Something I found curious was the use of highly stylized text cuts that would boldly proclaim AT GEN’S APARTMENT or MEANWHILE AT HILARY’S. That should have been a clue to the editor that perhaps the story needed to tighten up a bit. Those supertitles were a crutch to get us from one scene to another. And frankly, without them, I would have been so lost to go as mad as the characters on screen.
Corpse is not rated, and I would suspect it would be rated PG-13, for the trappings of madness. The movie is almost completely free of violence, despite the tidings of doom that courses through Corpse. I know a lot of heart and energy got put into this movie. There is absolutely nothing half-assed about this production, as there are signs of top effort everywhere, but it really has a coherency problem. It really struggled to convey its story, narratively, though it may have achieved some of its messages visually, even subliminally.
I do think you can get a really good feel from the movie by watching the trailer. Maybe boil up some mushroom tea and then absorb the art-school vibe.