by Mat Weir
This is part two of a three-part series on Hanni El Khatib, the new album and Dan Auerbach’s influence on Khatib’s sound. Read part one.
Despite Auerbach’s cell-phone commercial friendly production, and Emporer Palpatine ability to drain music of its power (I can see him now, hunched over the soundboard, cackling from behind his hood, “Your feeble skills are no match for the Dark Side!”) Head in the Dirt isn’t completely soulless, but it took seeing the songs performed live for this realization. I had written Head in the Dirt off as just another drop in the ocean of commercial music. I figured the blood drawn on Will the Guns Come Out? as just a first album fluke. The old “underdog writes a gritty debut and follows up with Billboard Top 100 Dance Club Hits.” You know, like Aerosmith, only financially smarter not to drag it out over 30 years and through whatever drug addiction is popular at the time.
When I saw Khatib was opening up for Los Angeles psych-crew, The Black Angels, at the Fillmore, I was as giddy as a schoolgirl and twice as nervous. Seeing two of my favorite bands in one line-up always is an opportunity to jump at, but Dan Auerbach’s laughing eyes from behind the Khatib puppet strings burned in my mind. But fuck it, why not? As the doctor said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” Indeed.
Here’s a little reminder for those who don’t know, or do know but are always too drunk to take notice (yes, I’m of the latter). The Filmore is a historic venue in the heart of San Francisco. Made famous by Bill Graham, it became one of the Mecca venues for 1960s psychedelic rock and remains a major venue in the city. Upon entering, you’re met with a long flight of stairs that end in a red corridor covered, from ceiling to carpet, with pictures from the past 50 years of music gods who have anointed the hallowed halls with blood, sweat and booze. The dimly lit 1200 person capacity auditorium is decorated with lavish chandeliers, while Victorian balconies adorn the sides for anyone privileged or dumb enough to pay for a table seat. Sometimes they’ll even pass out posters from the night’s sermon, free of charge, proving once more the eternal truth straight from the Prophet Zappa’s lips, “Music is the only religion that delivers.”
So there I was, standing on the wooden floor in the gut of the temple, stoned from two of the four joints and whiskey I had brought as a sacrificial offering and dazed in delirium from the last 48 hours. Instead of sleeping, I traveled from Los Angeles to Santa Cruz to Davis to San Francisco in order to make the gig, fueled only by nicotine, whiskey and tenacity, Just another devout follower trying to protect my soul, praying Khatib hadn’t completely lost his way in a dark world of radio singles and car jingles. Shit, money talks, right?
Stay tuned for the third and final installment of the Hanni El Khatib/Dan Auerbach saga
Head in the Dirt: Dan Auerbach is a soulless greasebag version of Emperor Palpatine, and the meaning of life.
This is part one of a three part series written by Mr. Weir about Hanni El Khatib and his music.
by Mat Weir
If the name Hanni El Khatib doesn’t mean anything to you yet, just wait. The 31 year old, San Francisco-born-turned-L.A.-transplant garage rocker is touring with psychedelic colleagues, The Black Angels, fresh off the heels of his new album without showing any signs of stopping.
Head in the Dirt has already hit number 8 on the Billboard Heatseeker Album Chart (for new and “developing” artists, although this is his second album and Macklemore’s first album is still on the regular top 200 chart) and is quickly picking up momentum. Not to downplay Khatib’s gift for crafting a fuck-you attitude into dangerously addictive pop, but the album’s success has definitely not been hurt by the fact it was produced by Dan Auerbach, of Black Keys fame. But more on that later.
I’d been waiting for Khatib’s second release as soon as I bought his first, 2011’s Will The Guns Come Out. As the story always goes in the recording industry, the debut was an audible kick-to-the-nuts of an album that went completely unnoticed by, well, everyone. I only bought it because my friend Itay had picked it up on a whim, then freaked out and told everyone he knew they needed it.
And rightfully so. Will The Guns Come Out takes the typical garage formula of rock, surf and blues but rearranges it to defy the laws of boredom. The hooks are catchy and the choruses are built with easy but smart lines. There’s just as much love and loss as there is distortion-infused anger (or as with “Garbage City,”: love, hate, loss, want, distortion and acoustics all mixed into a ball of chaos that works, much like San Francisco, the city it’s about.) There’s even an incredibly disturbing cover of “Heartbreak Hotel,” which not many could pull off.
Recorded by Khatib, the raw as roadkill album is a haunted piece and the creator knew it. To exemplify this, the cover is graced with a car crash, preparing the listener for garage rock from the other side.
So when I heard the almost electronic-beat opening to Head In The Dirt, I double-checked to see if I had put in the right disc. My second thought was, “When did Khatib join the Black Keys?” Dan Auerbach left his greasy fingerprints all over this recording, which is my biggest gripe with it. He lathers the album in slick production, smothering the soul so much it’s barely audible on first listen. Whether this was a conscious decision for Khatib or not (liner notes claim Auerbach and Khatib randomly met at a Parisian bar, hit it off and the collaboration fell into place), the results are the same. If I wanted to hear the Black Keys, I’d flip on the radio, which in itself is a sin against my religion.
And yet, the question remains–as I sit here in a paranoid cold sweat, surrounded by a fog of nicotine smoke, questioning my own judgment: “Why can’t I stop listening to Head in the Dirt?”
Stay tuned for future installments of Head in the Dirt: Dan Auerbach is a soulless greasebag version of Emporer Palpatine, and the meaning of life.
by Mat Weir
A month ago–or was it two? This rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle tends to addle the brain—I was busily working at the back counter, always a good and faithful servant to the retail world, when I was approached by a customer and his wife. They said the man was playing that night at the Blue Lagoon next door and wanted to see if Streetlight was interested in buying some records. Always a collector first and foremost, I eagerly agreed to see what they had. And oh, dear Streetlight shoppers, did I come up on a score for you.
Turns out, said gentleman was none other than the one and only HeWhoCannotBeNamed from the legendary punk band, The Dwarves. Yes, the masked man who has been rocking your ear holes with such sophisticated classics as “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” “Who’s Fucking Who,” and “Fuck You Up And Get High” was in the store, selling his two solo albums. Not bad for a guy who, according to an official Dwarves press release, was stabbed to death in 1993. Needless to say, your humble narrator and devil in disguise had to buy something. So! Exclusively for Streetlight Records Santa Cruz, I present:
Sunday School Massacre – Originally recorded in 2010, this 2011 second pressing edition is hand numbered, on yellow vinyl and limited to 200 discs. And just in case that’s not enough to get your nerd senses tingling, did I mention it’s normally a German-only release? The album features guest spots from current and ex-Dwarves members such as Blag Dhalia and Nick Oliveri (who later went on to be in some band called Queens of The Stone Age or something).
Humanterrorist – HeWhoCannotBeNamed’s second solo album packs just as much hell-raising, illegal fun as his first. Chalk full of drinking anthems (“Getting’ Pissed”), cannibalism (“I Eat Babies”) and even love songs (“Die Die Die”), this is a must have for any fan of the Dwarves or obscenity.
We only have two of each of these albums and once they’re gone, they ain’t comin’ back! So come on down to ye ol’ record shoppe and buy some trash that’s worth it!
Record Store Day Twenty-Thirteen!!!!!
Motorhead – Overkill LP
This U.K. ONLY release is on beautiful blue/gold/green splatter
vinyl and we just happened to snag a couple. Motorhead’s second
album is arguably their best with tracks like “Capricorn,” “Stay Clean,”
“Damage Case,” “No Class,” and the title track.
Cheech & Chong featuring Alice Bowie – Earache My Eye 7”
The classic song at the end of Cheech & Chong’s first movie, Up In
Smoke (1978) is as catchy as it is hilarious. I usually don’t collect
singles for the simple fact that I hate having to change records every
3 minutes, but this is a must have.
Dust – Dust/Heart Attack LP
Double album, back on vinyl from early 70’ss heavy metal group
featuring Marc Bell (soon to be Marky Ramone) on drums. For
anyone who digs early metal groups like Jerusalem, this double LP
will fit nicely in your collection.
Witchfinder General – Death Penalty LP
Actually, I’ve never heard Witchfinder General’s first album, but
here’s what I do know:
1. Witchfinder General’s second album, Friends of Hell, is pretty good
and this is supposed to be better.
2. It’s another U.K.-only release that we just happen to have for you
on Record Store Day. You’re welcome, minions.
3. My coworker, Raul, said to buy it. ‘Nuff said!!!
South Park – San Diego/Gay Fish 7”
What’s that you say? There’s going to be a 7” South Park picture disc
featuring the best Kanye West mock song EVER?!? Guess I didn’t
need this money for fish sticks anyway.
Notorious B.I.G. – Ready To Die LP
Biggie Smalls first album back on vinyl and remastered. To this day
I still blast “Things Done Changed” and “Gimme The Loot” to scare
old white people. And come on, anyone old enough to watch MTV in 1994 remembers the lyrics to “Big Poppa”
Burzum – Self Titled LP
See? It pays to shop locally. Not only is this ANOTHER U.K. ONLY
release that your good friends at Streetlight Records will be selling to
you metal minions, but we have copies of his FIRST FOUR albums.
All on 180 gram vinyl as black as Burzum’s non-existent soul.
Santa Cruz Artist’s Astronomical Message (Or, the Creativity of One Streetlight Employee, Documented by Another Streetlight Employee)
Art is a universal language, but sometimes it takes an artist with international origins to articulate the jargon.
“Art is an open-ended conversation. It’s different for everybody,” contemplatively exclaims Mari Stauffer from behind her glass of wine, “but I think it’s essential for life.”
Like any artist worth their weight, the 37-year-old Santa Cruzan (with Swiss citizenship) lives and breathes the subject. Born in Malaysia to a family of teachers, Stauffer’s love of art goes back to the days when she was a little kid covered in paint.
“I’ve always wanted to reproduce the things around me,” she recalls.
At 8, Stauffer’s Swiss-born father moved her, her mother and sister to Palo Alto, where Stauffer and her sister spent their teenage years. At 18 she was accepted to UC Santa Cruz for an Art degree and has since stayed here, providing the community with vivid displays of fun and creativity.
Even if you don’t recognize her name, anyone living in town has certainly had a visual conversation with her art. For starters, she designed and painted the aliens panel on the mural at Streetlight Records on Pacific Avenue, where Stauffer works at her day job.
“The idea of all those panels was to have a scene from inside the store under different circumstances,” she explains.
She also painted murals on the side of the now-defunct Drop-In Center and on a Santa Cruz High building that has since been torn down.
The Bagelry on Cedar St. in Downtown is Stauffer’s current gallery. Her second time showing at the café, her current display is the continuation of a long-running series, “Endangered Spacies.”
“Environmental concerns have always been important to me,” says Stauffer, “but it’s not my style to go for shock value.”
Instead, her series raises the awareness of endangered species by having them floating in space. Alone and floating to find a home of their own, Stauffer’s “Spacies” speaks volumes while providing a bit of humor.
“I figured it was a good way to put a whimsical twist on such an important issue,” she declares with her character smile. “If these animals habitats are diminishing, then the next logical place for them to go is off the planet, right?”
Along with the paintings, Stauffer is also selling prints of each for those of on thriftier budgets. Greeting cards of earlier “Endangered Spacies” paintings can be purchased through her Etsy store (www.etsy.com/shop/MariStaufferArt) and you can view more of her art at http://www.facebook.com/maristaufferart.
“Endangered Spacies” will be showing at the Bagelry through March 31.
This article originally appeared on Santa Cruz Patch
If you’ve been keeping up with the latest in music trends, the name Trap Music shouldn’t be anything new. But for those of you who haven’t seen the inside of a club since the Reagan years, Trap Music is the rising style of electronic hip-hop–that was originally created in the 90’s.
“It’s basically Southern hip-hop,” describes Santa Cruz DJ, Andrew “The Pirate” Gruver, “that was made by drug dealers in the early ’90s. They would drink Lean (promethazine), making them move slow so the music was slow.”
Mixed with syncopated high-hat rhythms, booming subs and crisp, snare build-ups, Trap spread throughout the South earning two resurgences, one in the early 2000s (with artists like T.I.) and the latest happening only within the last several months. The current trend is happening with electronic music DJs mixing Trap into their sets and with the rise of artists like 2Chainz and Baauer; who’s “Harlem Shake” song became an internet sensation that Warner Brothers recently won the distributing rights for in an all-out bidding war.
“All of a sudden, Trap became an epidemic,” Gruver excitedly tells me.
For the past two years, Gruver has worked with DJ Little John’s company, Raindance Presents, throwing the monthly electronic show, SpaceBass, at the Motiv Bar in downtown. They are constantly booking artists that are on the cutting edge of what they do, keeping the bodies dancing and the party rocking.
“At first, we started off pushing the boundaries of what music you would want to party to,” explains Gruver, “but sometimes people would show up and look like they were being alienated. So now we just try to throw fun parties with diverse line-ups.”
Besides collaborating with Raindance Presents, Gruver also has this own promotion company, ILLevated Productions with his business partner, Chris Kite. On Saturday, March 23, they are throwing a Trap Music rager in the Felton hills at Don Quixote’s International Music Hall.
An amazing who’s-who of Bay Area DJs, the all-night party will showcase one of San Francisco’s most sought-after DJs, An-Ten-Nae, (who is also part of the LowRIDERz crew and has been releasing Acid Crunk compilations for years), along with Oakland’s Lafa Taylor dropping gritty beats and San Jose’s Indakyes mixing in the crunk, with DJ Groove Angle opening.
“He’s a local [Santa Cruz] dude who plays great Giltch Hop,” says Gruver “He’s so good at being the opening DJ, which is really important to set the vibe and get it right. We also have a side room dedicated to Trap, with Noiz 23, Zebuel a.ka. Zeb Early, and Napsty.”
So when the grandkids ask you where you were when the great Trap Music scene exploded in 2013, will you say you danced all-night, saw the latest and greatest in Bay Area DJs and created a plethora of memories, or will it be just another story about a Big Bang Theory re-run?
by Mat Weir
Like any good book store employee, Virginia loves to read and, of course, horror is her favorite genre. Currently she’s been stuck on author Malcolm Brand, a two-book no-name with a knack for “making Stephen King read like Mother Goose.” When his second book, I, Madman–a novel about a mad doctor who cuts off his facial features to impress a woman then kills people to collect their body parts so he can sew them back onto his face–mysteriously shows up on her doorstep, Virginia dives into it. She soon discovers odd similarities between her life and the book, blurring the lines between fiction and reality. But when the people around her begin to show up without their body parts, she begins to question her own sanity. Afterall, it’s only a book, right?
***SLAP ME ON A TRICKED OUT HONDA ‘CAUSE I’M A SPOILER***
When you’ve seen as many B-rate, campy horror flicks as me, you know you have to take the good with the bad. Sometimes within the same film, as is the case with I, Madman. I like to stay on the positive when I can, so let’s start with the good.
This movie does have a certain charm to it. By 1989, director Tibor Takács–who would later bring us a slew of cheese-covered TV movies like 2007’s Mega Snake who’s tag line is “It’s big, it’s bad and it bites!”–already had four films under his belt and knew what he was doing. He uses shadows, comic book-style colors and an array of angled shots in classic horror style.
As for the plot itself, the concept is great but it gets banged up in the delivery. I’ll talk more on that in a minute. Where the plot does win is with the twists. When the book starts becoming real, my friend, Missy (another connoisseur and aficionado of campy, horrific fun) and I thought Virginia was going to turn up schizophrenic and the murderer herself. Thankfully, we were happily surprised. Not to mention the actual madman. My childlike sensibility lights up at the idea of a love-lost lunatic mutilating himself for the woman he loves, just to steal other people’s body parts and sew them back on so she will think he’s hot. He’s like the Phantom of the Opera only not emo and with a scalpel-wielding spine.
But that’s not to say that the plot doesn’t have some major problems. As anyone who knows this genre will tell you, over-analyzing these types of movies will end up ruining them. However, it is also the movie’s responsibility not to treat its audience like a bunch of idiots watching a B-flick (oh, the irony). Yes, I could talk about the inconsistencies like towards the end when Virginia clearly leaves the store’s security gate open, only to be trapped by it, (locked of course) when running from the killer, only minutes later. Yet, my main problem is that Virginia seems to either be at, or know of in advance, the murders that are taking place but never once is a suspect. She’s not even questioned or considered. Instead, the cops just treat her like a harmless kook while they scratch their heads trying to figure out who is behind the murders.
Then there is problem of the movie’s identity. I hate movies that don’t know what they want to be. I, Madman starts off a fantasy horror film, then disguises itself as a not-so-gory slasher flick, only to transform once more into fantasy horror cinema. I hate this. If you’re going to put all of your time, effort and money into something, know what you want. This isn’t to say combining genres is a bad thing and I don’t think I need to name any examples. What pisses me off is when we find out the killer actually is flesh and blood, leading the audience to think we’re dealing with the real world. Then, BAM! Out comes the weird demon-werewolf character in the LAST SCENE. REALLY?!?!? REALLY!?!?!? That’s just as big of a “fuck you, you’re a bunch of idiots that just wasted your time” to the audience as making the whole thing a dream. Writers! Drop the easy exits in your stories. They’re not cute, don’t take them. You can take I, Madman, for a spin in the ol’ DVD player once, maybe twice, but do it with close friends who are interesting or at least drunk. This is definitely a movie you can zone in and out of attention to.
by Mat Weir
Yes, it’s no surprise, growing up sucks. Parts of your body that you never even knew existed begin to ache and some of them even grow hair mysteriously out of the blue. We have more responsibilities, more bills, more worries and less time to fuck around and actually enjoy our short time in this life. We have to push ourselves to do things we don’t really want to do, but after-all, it’s “the adult thing to do.” Recently, I’ve been facing several “adult” dilemmas, which have then seeded more problems. And one of these problems has been haunting me for several years.
It may come as no surprise but I am a music junkie. Like many of us here at Streetlight–and many of you wonderful shoppers–I have a pretty extensive music collection. Of course, like any junkie, I don’t think it’s really THAT much of a problem (after-all, look at all of those people who have even more than me. I swear, I’m just chipping!), but compared to someone who doesn’t have the disease, I’m a full-blown burnout. Besides the wall of vinyl, I have not one, but two hard drives filled with MP3s, some leftover cassette tapes, and about four apple crates full of CDs.
And before you go crying about how this isn’t an adult problem, I’m going to point out that everyone has one collection or another we can’t part with. Maybe it’s music, maybe it’s shoes, maybe it’s shot glasses, or maybe it’s bad relationships; but we all have our thing, so let’s move on.
Like any good suburban teenager who realized just how fake and soul-crushingly devoid of culture his town really was, I was hell-bent on artistic nihilism. My friends and I wanted to “fuck shit up” and give those safe, suburban families something to be frightened of. Music was our religion and we were the most dogmatic of followers.
Throughout my teenage years I kept an extensive CD collection. Everything from the blues to punk, hip-hop to classic rock. Pretty much like my vinyl collection now, actually. I had them all categorized by genre, then alphabetized by artist and sub- categorized chronologically (also like my vinyl. Some things we can’t change.). For years I kept them in Converse shoe boxes, lined up right next to my CD player and played them from the second I woke up until I went to sleep and sometimes even after.
Over the years, I moved around enough to where I was just living out of boxes and my car. Anyone with a collection and a knack for driving knows just how much of a pain in the ass it can be taking a handful of jewel cases on the road. They break easily, and mine did. Just as bad are the soft wallet cases. Constantly sliding the disc in and out of the pocket causes scratches, and mine got them. But, and maybe this is just my problem, the worst thing of all is sheer laziness. Who hasn’t changed a disc in their car and put the outgoing CD into the ingoing CD’s case? The old switcheroo. Or just thrown the disc on the seat, only to have it reach a floor that hasn’t been cleaned in weeks and probably wont be for another month. My precious library of moments in time became scratched and worn, some even FUBAR, but I couldn’t stand to part with them because of what they represented to me. I’m sure some of you can sympathize.
Recently, I found myself moving yet again (my third time in a year) and decided that I don’t want to live out of boxes anymore. NO MORE WIRE HANGERS!!! Er. . .boxes. No more boxes. But that brought up an interesting dilemma: if I’m to get rid of my boxes then I need to get rid of the things in the boxes, including my CDs. It was a painful decision and one I spent many a sleepless night over, relentlessly pondering if I could give that part of my soul away. Would I be the same person, or just an empty shell of a man? What if they are the source of my power, much like Samson, and if we were separated would I fall under the pillars of a normal 9-5 corporate desk job at an insurance agency?
But like I said, we all have to make those hard decisions about who we are and who we want to be. Not to mention, what we can afford to keep with us as we pass on through this wild reality. So, after much deliberation, I finally just took them all in to sell, cold turkey (well, ok, I have a small stash of CDs that my friends’ bands have made over the years). I’m here to tell you, it wasn’t bad at all. In fact, as is the case whenever you clean out your life, it was a cathartic experience and one that I felt better for the second it happened. It’s like getting rid of a bad ex, you don’t realize how much it was weighing you down until kick it off your back (did I mention I’m a music junkie?)
We all like to keep certain parts of us alive. Those specific times and memories that made us who we are today; especially the painful ones. Maybe the trick is to remember that they are just memories—chemical reactions used to imprint and retrieve moments in time. While we may never get those times back, the memories are still a part of us regardless of whether or not they are attached to a specific, material thing. It’s an important thing to keep in mind, or else the weight of trying to relive those moments will bury you under your piles of stuff like a bad episode of Hoarders.
So fear not, and take this winter season to clean out your cluttered garage, or maybe even an area of your life that you might have been avoiding for some time. Suit up, breathe deeply, and just take it one day at a time. If you’ll excuse me, I have some records to play and I don’t want to hear anything about switching from one addiction to another. I feel like I just kicked speed only to find Christ, let me ride this one out for a bit before you go bursting my bubbles. After-all, it would be the adult thing to do.
Editor’s Note: Gather up all that music you’re not listening to anymore and bring it to your neighborhood Streetlight Records. We buy and trade CDs, vinyl, DVDs, Blu-Ray, video games and more. Think of it this way: someone is going to love finding that CD in the bins and you can swap your old music for stuff that you’re currently into. Out with the old, in with the new!
by Mat Weir
Lance has problems. Besides feeling trapped in a rut as owner of the local grease diner, The Wonderama Stop & Shop, his girlfriend’s bad-boy husband is starting to suspect something. Loretta and Lance dream of the day they can kill Howard but don’t know how they can pull it off. That is, until one night Lance sees the neighborhood freak family (and I do mean freak) kidnap a random truck driver for their torturous experiments. Armed with blackmail, Lance figures he can get the Stackpoole family to do whatever he wants. But Head of the Family is a cheesey cult flick from good ol’ Land of the 90’s and Lance soon finds out he might have another thing coming.
***NOT SURE HOW I CAN SPOIL THIS MOVIE, BUT HERE IT IS***
First off, I never even heard of this movie until the beginning of the year when my friend and ex-coworker, Wes, recommended it. I believe his quote was something along the lines of, “Here, you’re a dirtbag that’s into crappy movies, you’ll love this.” Well, alright then. But for those of you not in the know, we at Streetlight are slaves for the next hunt and I sat on it until now. After my first viewing all I have to say is: Good call, Wes. Good call.
I loved this movie and why the hell not? From the opening credits the audience is introduced to the next 82 minutes in an honest way; a shot of a creepy Psycho-like house, uber-cheesey (I’m talking like scalding, Taco Bell lava cheese) music, and three of the Stackpooles leaving the building. Throughout the film there are boobs, blood, intentionally horrible scenes with bad lines (Lance: “Naw baby, you make all them other girls, like on TV and stuff, look like a bunch of ugly old sows.” Loretta: “You mean it?” Lance: “Sure as shit, baby.”), gross-out factors (get to that in a minute), one or two plot twists and more boobs. Some of my favorite scenes take place in the Stackpoole dungeon where they keep their patients. Only, most of their “patients” are really just animatronic dummies straight out of Walt Disney’s nightmares. This movie knows it’s a B-rated campfest and it brings the marshmallows.
However, the main attraction in Head of the Family is the Stackpooles. There’s Otis, a Thor-like strongman with the brains of Steinbeck’s Lenny; Wheeler, a scrawny guy with heightened senses and eyeballs that bulge out of his skull; Ernestina, a perfect-by-porn-standards blonde; and Myron, a wrinkled, giant head with a baby’s body (“I’m the head of the family” he chimes at the beginning. Name- dropping dialogue, another trademark of campy goodness). They are all psychically linked (naturally), with big-brained Myron calling the shots. His costume/special effects bring the gross-out factor with simple things like a scene where he is slurping soup or another where he is sticking his extra-long, extra-slimy tongue out. Since he has an extraordinary IQ, he of course is filled with amazing one-liners and tons of horrible puns. If you expect a certain standard of quality from your cinema then you’re horribly boring and should stop reading this blog now. Just kidding…kind of. But it brings up a good point about taste. The only time “bad taste” lives up to it’s name is when eating. Head of the Family is for those of us who can laugh at freaks, rednecks, horrible movies and ultimately, ourselves.
by Mat Weir
Ask any horror movie nerds worth their weight in government patented popcorn butter about their favorite horror flick and you’re going to have an eclectic list. That’s one of the things we love about horror: it’s a genre-bending genre unto its own; the axe-wielding tranny of movie types. While this shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone reading the Streetlight blog (and if it does, really brah? really?), if you don’t believe me, just look at the Alien series (Sci-Fi/Horror), Silence of the Lambs (Thriller/Horror) and even Black Swan (weird- ass-Aronofsky-tom-foolery). For my second installment of the 10 Day of Helloween Horror, I will submit, for your approval (always wanted to say that), one of the best in genre-bending horror, as well as one of my personal favorite movies of all-time, Cube.
Five strangers –-Quentin, Worth, Leaven, Rennes, and Holloway– separately wake-up inside a giant, metal cube. Their clothes have been taken and replaced with jumpsuits signifying only their last name. Each side of the room, (ceiling and floor included), has a door leading into a new room, identical to the last; but only one room is “clean.” The other rooms have been rigged with elaborate booby-traps that make you wonder if the Saw guy was watching Cube for tips. An idiot savant by the name of Kazan is soon discovered in another room and the group begins to realize each person holds a unique key to their freedom.
****SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT $200!!!****
What is there not to love about this film? Cube has it all: great acting, sharp dialogue, grotesque deaths. Plus a ruthless, psycho-analytic dissection of modern society needed to make any horror film complete. So bear with me and I’ll try to keep this short and simple. First, let’s start with the obvious horror-film defining elements: fear and gruesome deaths.
From the opening scene, the viewer is thrust into a room that is cold, sterile and isolated, leaving you with that uneasy pit in the bottom of your stomach. Within minutes the first death occurs as razor wire rips through the character on screen. The character stops with a gasp and blood begins to trickle down his body in a grid pattern. He takes a step forward and crumbles to tiny cubed pieces. If that isn’t enough to make the evil twin inside you squeal with fun, then you just don’t know how to party.
Another factor that makes this movie better than pictures of your newborn baby is the number system the cube operates by. Early on in the movie, the character of Leaven (a 20-something college student with a knack for numbers and the sarcastic personality of every jaded post-teen ala Daria) discovers each doorway has a set of numbers and the room with prime numbers is the safe one. As a nerd, I find this to be a cool tool to throw into the mix. Don’t know your math? Bam! You just got sliced and diced.
But the reason why Cube has been on my top 5 list ever since I first saw it, has to be the fact that it is an exercise in existentialism. It is a psycho-philosophical breakdown of society on a micro–and macro–cosmic level. The script itself is basically a sci-fi/psycho-horror version of Jean-Paul Sartre’s one-room play, No Exit (in fact, Cube only used one set with different lighting to trick the viewer). Sartre’s famous closing line, “Hell is—other people!” is the main theme in this nightmarish movie.
At the beginning of the film, Rennes ominously warns the others in Grecian-style foreshadowing, “You’ve gotta save yourselves from yourselves.” The characters soon realize what he meant as fatigue, stress and starvation set in, stripping away their social masks and revealing their more “pure” state. For example, Quentin, the leader/hero cop who takes charge, quickly deteriorates. As time passes, he deteriorates into a rage-filled monster, angry at being trapped, angry at his wife for taking the kid and leaving him, angry at the world. He quickly snaps and the group realizes they have a predator in their midst.
On this note, it has also occurred to me that each character can represent a basic human psyche (Worth represents cynicism, Leaven: logic, Holloway: compassion, Quentin: anger, Rennes: ration, Kazan: childlike innocence) and the cube itself can represent the human mind. In this light, the film turns in on itself and becomes the struggle of one person’s conflicting emotions, or possibly even a schizophrenic episode. While this may be my own interpretation, the macro-cosmic societal analysis is much less subtle.
A little over halfway through the film, it is revealed that Worth knows more about their prison. In this pivotal scene (and a superb one for acting and dialogue), Quentin is chewing out Worth for his cynicism, saying they will never find an exit with dead weight like Worth hanging around. With that, Worth snaps, shouting, “There is no way out of here!” and the realization drops upon every character’s face. Worth admits that he was hired to draw plans for the outer shell of the cube. “Who hired you?” Quentin asks. “I didn’t ask, I didn’t even leave my office,” he responds. “I talked to some guys on the phone, other guys like me; specialists working on small details. Nobody knew what it was, nobody cared.”
“That’s how they stay in,” chimes in the conspiracy-liberal Holloway in her breakdown moment. “You keep everyone separated so the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. The brain never comes out in the open…It’s all the same machine, right? Pentagon, multi-national corporations, the police! You do one little job, you build a widget in Saskatoon, and the next thing you know it’s two miles under the desert, the essential component of a death machine. (It’s here that actress really let’s go) I WAS RIGHT! All along, my whole life I KNEW IT! I told you, Quentin! Nobody is going to call ME paranoid again!” With a giant sigh she looks around the quiet room, four other faces staring at her. And with a shit-eating grin, with the smile of someone who has just played a massive joke, Worth softly but firmly explains. “Holloway, you don’t get it. This may be hard for you to understand, but there is no conspiracy. Nobody is in charge. It’s a headless blunder operating under the illusion of a master plan. Can you grasp that? Big Brother is not watching you.” BAM!!!! And the hammer of Truth pounds into you without mercy. Life is just one giant coincidence under the guise that someone is steering the ship.
Worth dives further into the existential breakdown of human society (at this point it is imperative that the author copy & pastes the dialogue. Not only is it easier, but it’s damn good writing and really you should be thankful. I have also added my own twist in the paranthesis):
QUENTIN: Somebody had to say yes to this thing. (thing = life/human society)
WORTH: What thing? Only we know what it is.
QUENTIN: We have no idea, what it is.
WORTH: We know more than anybody else. I mean somebody might have known sometime, before they got fired or voted out or sold it. But if this place ever had a purpose, then it got mis-communicated or lost in the shuffle. This is an accident, a forgotten perpetual, public works project. Do you think anybody wants to ask questions? All they want is a clear conscience and a fat paycheck. I mean, I leaned on my shovel for months. This was a great job!
QUENTIN: Why put people in it?
WORTH: Because it’s here. You have to use it or admit it’s pointless.
QUENTIN: But it is pointless!
WORTH: Quentin… That’s my point.
HOLLOWAY: What have we come to? It’s so much worse than I thought.
WORTH: Not really, just more pathetic.
QUENTIN: You make me sick, Worth!
WORTH: I make me sick too. We´re both part of the system. I drew a box – you walk a beat. It’s like you said Quentin is: Keep your head down, keep it simple, just look at what’s in front of you! I mean nobody wants to see the big picture. Life’s too complicated. I mean, let’s face it. The reason we’re here is it’s out of control.
[Quentin turns around.]
HOLLOWAY: Is that how we’re ruining the world?
LEAVEN: Daah! Have you been on glue all of your life. I felt guilty for ruining the world since I was like… seven. God! If you need someone to blame, throw a rock.
And in that beautifully crafted scene, the great nut of Existentialism has been cracked and my inner-cynical-nerd laughs with delight. Life is a joke and it’s on us. We think that there must be some great answer, some higher purpose, some deeper meaning for our presence on this planet, but the truth of the matter is, the entire thing is out of our control. We try to gain whatever control we think we have by giving life a higher purpose, but that just perpetuates our own confinement, whether it’s intellectual, spiritual or other. Life is a giant prison, filled with traps that we think must have some greater meaning. But in reality we’re all just running around, constantly turning on the people we are supposed to be cooperating with, as we try to find a way out.