I met the news that Evil Dead is going to be sequelised/remade/rebooted this week with a depressing apathy, considering I would have as early as a couple of years ago been feverishly excited at the prospect of a new Evil Dead film. Unfortunately the announcement left me a bit cold, probably for the following reasons:
When a nine year old from Chicago named Randi Peters uploaded the first episode of the 'Octocat Adventures' in March 2008, the crude MS Paint animation, hyperactive voice acting and Freud-bothering content ensured that the video soon went viral - not Susan Boyle viral, but fairly contagious all the same. Inevitably YouTube commenters began to debate almost instantly whether this really was the work of an American kid, particularly as, as the episodes continued, the jokes started to become gradually more complex and sophisticated, whilst retaining the coarse art style and unfettered child-like imagination also found in something like Axe Cop. By the end of the fifth episode, though, the jig was pretty much up, and it was clear that Randi Peters might not exactly be who he said he was. See for yourself:
I’ve inadvertently been establishing a loose theme in some of the film articles I’ve been writing in the past week. First there was last week’s look at La Cabina, and how that and Forklift Driver Klaus played not insignificant roles in accelerating the mental deterioration of eighties insomniacs watching late night Channel 4, then there was my lengthy (some might argue unnecessary) digression on Demolition Man in my Julia’s Eyes review and how its early evening screenings on ITV in the nineties left me mildly traumatized as a kid.
This is almost certainly a combination of rose-tinted specs and de-sensitization, but the days of truly weird and scary TV seem to be over. It’s been along time since the halcyon days of La Cabina, and even something like Jam was over a decade ago now. It’s a shame, because that feeling of pure WTF is one that only films screened on TV can really give you.
There’s an anecdote about Charles Bukowski that I’ve always liked: on installing his brand new cable television, the first thing he switched on to “happened to be Eraserhead. I said, 'What’s this?' I didn’t know what it was. It was so great. I said, 'Oh, this cable TV has opened up a whole new world. We’re gonna be sitting in front of this thing for centuries. What next? So starting with Eraserhead we sit here, click, click, click — nothing.”
Depressing end to that story maybe, but imagine seeing Eraserhead and, for a fleeting second, thinking that that is what all future TV would look like? Magical. And scary.
Anyway, this brings me to The Cat Came Back, a very weird animation that used to broadcast rather incredibly as part of children’s programming blocks in the nineties – either in between kids programmes of before a family film like The Three Musketeers. On re-watching it, I’m convinced it must have been edited a bit (the ‘What the ffffffffff…’ surely would never have gone out at 11 AM), but on the whole it’s exactly as I remember it – utterly horrifying.
The set –up is similar to a lot of Looney Tunes cartoons – irritable person or animal is pursued and tormented by cute yet malevolent person or animal. But where the Looney Tunes cartoons are anarchic and hilarious, The Cat Came Back is actually genuinely unsettling.
A big part of this is the scribbly, hyper-caffeinated art style by Canadian animator Cordell Barker, which has more in common with indie cartoonists like Bill Plympton and Don Hertzfelt than Walt Disney and Chuck Jones. But it’s the sheer dread that’s infused throughout the whole cartoon that is the most affecting thing about The Cat Came Back: the cat’s dead, unblinking eyes as he methodically destroys every single thing in our unfortunate hero’s life, the droning, haunted repetition of the chorus, which turns a novelty song into something existential and terrifying, and the ending. My god, the ending. *shudder* The pure, unfettered horror of those closing moments are not something that should rightfully be exposed to tender, developing minds. It makes the ending of The Mist look like the end of It’s a Wonderful Life.
For all I know the BBC might still be showing this on Saturday mornings, but if I’d have to guess I’d say they probably aren’t. They really need to, though, so if anyone from the BBC is reading this (they’re not), pull your fingers out and start blowing some minds by putting this on after/before Fireman Sam once again. And if you can’t get the rights, just screen Rejected instead. Either or, really.
NOTE: Short Fridays will be a regular feature from now on. Every Friday around mid-afternoon I’ll post a great short film for you to watch, perhaps over your lunch-break. Or perhaps over dinner, I don’t know. Maybe even next day’s breakfast. It’s not for me to say what meal you should accompany it with, really. Just watch it.
As much as I love feature films (and it should be fairly plain how much I do) I’ve always been a big fan of the short-form, which underwent something of a recession in the latter half of the 20th century as cinema screenings of shorter stuff became increasingly rare; only to recently undergo a resurgence thanks to the unstoppable rise of web video hosters such as Vimeo, DailyMotion, and the omniscient, fire-breathing colossus that is YouTube.
I think most people get their introduction to short film-making through animation, and I was no different. I grew up as a huge fan of Looney Tunes and animation in general, as every child should, really. If you are a parent and you’re not exposing your child to a steady stream of stuff by Disney, Warner Bros, Cosgrove Hall, Hanna Barbera, and Aardman, you are neglecting your duty as a parent and may as well be thrashing them to sleep every night with a slipper for all the long-term psychological damage you are inflicting.
Aardman Animations, of course, is the Bristol-based studio behind Wallace and Gromit, along with inumerate other cartoons, title sequences, commercials and short films. When I was about nine or ten years old I was the world’s biggest fan of Wallace and Gromit - I remember spending hours making my own horrifically misshapen Wallace out of a plasticine kit, and spending hours making the indentations on Wallace’s pullover just right. I still maintain that The Wrong Trousers is one of finest British films ever made, with Curse of The Were-Rabbit not being far behind.
It was because of The Wrong Trousers that I attended the first ever Brief Encounters short film festival in Bristol (my hometown), some point in the mid-nineties. It was part of a children’s screening, and I remember being completely enchanted by every film they showed.
As the years went on, Brief Encounters expanded to the point that it has now been split into two festivals, one for live action and one for animation. As I haven’t lived in Bristol for nearly a decade now, I haven’t had the chance to go as often as I would have liked to, but I attended several more Brief Encounters as I got older and was lucky enough to see some amazing films there.
One film that I first saw at Brief Encounters was Forklift Driver Klaus – The First Day on the Job, which totally blew me away and really made me re-think my preconceptions of live-action short films, which I’d always thought were more often than not inferior to their animated counterparts.
You may already be aware of Klaus as it’s become a bit of a classic on the short film festival circuit – it brought the house down when I saw it at Brief Encounters. Brilliantly it has also been screened seemingly at random by Channel 4 in the graveyard slots between 2.30 and 4.30, something they were doing as recently as a couple of years ago.
I could go on and on about why Klaus is such a masterpiece, but if you haven’t seen it, it’s best to go into it knowing as little as possible, so I’ll keep this intro brief.
Here’s a few things you should know:
1) The voiceover is by Egon Hoegen, an actor very well known in Germany as the voice for instructional videos and autobahn safety videos.
2) It may seem slow to start with, but trust me: it’s paced perfectly.
3) It is often actually shown on forklift safety training courses.
4) It is possibly NSFW.
Enjoy! See you back here next Friday.