Friday, August 31, 2012

The 100 Greatest Sega Dreamcast Games of All Time! - PART ONE (#100-081)

The 100 Greatest Sega Dreamcast Games of All-Time! Counting Down #100 to #081...



It’s been 13 years to the month since the Sega Dreamcast was released in North America, and to commemorate the console’s birthday, I decided to embark upon a journey to quantify and rank the 100 greatest titles the system had to offer. It was a gargantuan assignment, obviously, but it was also an absolute blast to take such an all-encompassing trip (really, more of an extended vacation) down memory lane; if you have half as much fun reading it as I had writing it, than I know I’ve made Ryo Hazuki and Ulala proud.

At this point, what more can be said about the Dreamcast? It was the Kurt Cobain of gaming consoles, that amazing, stellar vision that arrived, changed the industry forever, and then faded away long before its time. It was radical, it was revolutionary, it was, for lack of a better term, freaking awesome, and believe you me - narrowing the list down to just 100 games was a challenge in and of itself.

Before we get down to business, a few notes about the countdown:

1. To make things less complicated, I tried to list ONLY Sega Dreamcast games that were given North American releases WHILE the console was still in production. So, if you’re wondering why games like “Rez” and “Shenmue II” didn’t make the list…that’s why.

2. There’s no real set criteria for my rankings. Simply put, I just weighed the overall quality of the games with their influence on my youth, and arranged the countdown accordingly. Your list, most certainly, would differ.

3. Note that this is a list of the GREATEST Dreamcast games ever and NOT the best (which, by the way, is not an interchangeable term for “favorite,” either.) You may think some of my selections are weak, and that’s totally cool. If you disagree, feel free to drop a comment or two. Just try to be civil about it, OK!

4. And lastly, Lizardman is NOT creepier than Voldo. Nothing in this world is creepier than Voldo, and you know it.

And with the fine print out of the way, who is ready to party like it’s 9/9/99?


#100
South Park Rally


Acclaim released several “South Park” titles in the late ‘90s and while the gaming press hated them, I didn’t think they were all that bad. The first game was essentially a Turok-style FPS, and the second game was sort of like “Mario Party,” only with way, way more fart jokes. “South Park Rally,” clearly, was a game inspired by “Mario Kart,” and while it isn’t exactly on par with Nintendo’s venerable franchise, I still think this game is easily the best “South Park” game released thus far, and really, a pretty enjoyable - albeit flawed - kart racer.

While the game definitely has some problems - mainly, the controls, which you will no doubt be wrestling with - the title almost makes up for it with a ton of playable characters, some pretty-well designed tracks and graphics that are just a little better than the average title circa 1999.

Probably the coolest thing about the game is the weapons. Forget blue turtle shells and lightning bolts, this game allows you to attack adversaries with everything from burrito-spawned fart gas to dogs that dry hump your opponents off the road. And take note, gaming historians: this may very well be the only non-hentai video game ever in which players can use herpes as a form of close-range combat…

#099
ECW Anarchy Rulz 


While Acclaim’s first ECW-licensed game was just sort of mediocre, their ridiculously under-advertised follow up is arguably the best pro wrestling game to be found on the Dreamcast…well, pending you don’t have a Japanese model, anyway.

The customization options for the game are pretty deep, with gamers having the ability to create their own wrestlers, factions, arenas and pay-per-view cards. Although the cast isn’t exactly a who’s who of grappling all-stars (unless you consider Chris Chetti and Danny Doring “legendary,” anyway), the game still has a lot of positives, including some great play-by-play from Joey Styles and Joel Gartner (who even begins each match with one his famous bawdy limericks!)

I suppose the real reason to check out the game is the absolutely insane amount of  “gimmick” matches included in the title. Yeah, we’ve seen virtual steel cage and ladder matches before, but when was the last time you saw a dumpster match, or a brimstone match in a “Smackdown!” game? Much like Extreme Championship Wrestling itself in 2000, the game isn’t exactly the highest quality product out there, but “Anarchy Rulz” is still a title that will give you a whole lot more fun and entertainment than you’d expect a 12-year-old wrestling game to grant you.

#098
Evil Dead: Hail to the King


Of course, this game - the first “Evil Dead” video game to hit the market - is a complete and utter rip-off of “Resident Evil.” But hey, that’s not exactly a negative, is it?

While the game definitely has some control issues, the positives here certainly outweigh the negatives. For one, the game stays very, very true to the “Evil Dead,” mythos, with so many neat little touches that make the game feel authentic as opposed to some effortless cash grab. And hell, there’s even a button on the face pad SOLELY for Bruce Campbell quips. THQ definitely knew their audiences on this one.

The game does take a few liberties with the source material, but what the developers tossed in was so kooky and in line with the franchise that their additions - like a troop of zombie boy scouts and a final boss battle with a very Lovecraftian demon - really do sort of feel like things Sam Raimi would have included in a fourth “Evil Dead” movie. “Hail to the King” is by no means a survival horror classic, but for Dreamcast owning B-movie aficionados, it remains an absolute must-play today.

#097
Dynamite Cop



If you’re one of the eight or so people in North America that owned a Sega Saturn, you probably got your hands on “Die Hard Arcade” at some point. A ridiculously fun (and ridiculously ridiculous) beat-em-up based on the Bruce Willis mega-franchise, that title stood out as one of the few truly great, 3D “Final Fight”-style games of the mid ‘90s.

Well, “Dynamite Cop” is basically a spiritual sequel to that game, as it incorporates the same fighting engine and the same style of insane beat-em-up gameplay - albeit, sans the “Die Hard” license this time around. But, hey the designers threw us two bones here - not only is there a playable character in the game that looks just like Bruce, there’s even a character modeled after Eddie Murphy, named, not at all insensitively, “Eddie Brown.”

This game is just an absurdly awesome brawler, with some of the most bizarre moments you’ll find in any Dreamcast game (and believe you me, that’s saying something.) You’ll karate fight chefs on cruises, beat up dominatrix henchmen in caves and at one point, have a boss fight against an octopus. The only major negative I can think of here is that it is a very short game - but then again, this is the kind of title you will want to show off to your friends whenever they’re over, so expect to be playing this one at plenty of get-togethers. It may not be “Streets of Rage 2” in three dimensions, but “Dynamite Cop” still an immensely enjoyable oddity, well worth tracking down for fans of the genre (or for those of us with just flat out weird-ass gaming tastes.)

#096
Zombie Revenge



This game is an absolute dream come true for horror and beat-em-up fans. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to play “Streets of Rage” with the ambiance of “The House of the Dead?” Well, folks, that’s EXACTLY what you get with “Zombie Revenge.”

In a lot of ways, “Zombie Revenge” plays out like a precursor to “Devil May Cry,” with an emphasis on gajillion hit melee combos and fast and furious gun play. However, like arcade titles such as “Crazy Taxi,” there’s also an emphasis on speed, as each action segment only allows players a brief amount of time to clear out rooms of enemies and solve simple puzzles.

While the graphics are, admittedly, a little rough around the edges, the game play definitely compensates for the title’s ugliness. The character design and dialogue is just straight-up cheese, and the combat system is oh-so satisfyingly uncomplicated. This is the perfect way to spend a late October afternoon - and remember, if a zombie drops some carrots after you blast its guts out, please do feel free to pick up the produce and eat it anyway…

#095
Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future



OK, so maybe this game wasn’t necessarily on par with the Sega Genesis titles, and yeah, I think we all would have preferred a 3D “Vectorman” or “Gunstar Heroes” in its place, but for me, the title remains one of my favorite “guilty pleasure” experiences on the Dreamcast.

Despite a preposterous storyline (apparently, the only thing standing between earth and an all out alien invasion is one bottlenose porpoise) and an oxygen-meter that frequently proved itself an annoying element of the gameplay, I still thought the game was a blast, primarily due to its gorgeous underwater seascapes and a control scheme that was, rather fittingly, quite fluid.

This is one of those games where half the fun of the title is just exploring the environment. Yeah, I could complain about some of the awkward camera angles and the crappy boss battles, but that doesn’t detract too much from the many, many things the game gets right. That, and it’s a really long game, too - and without giving away too much, let’s just say that things get very, VERY trippy as the game chugs along.

#094
Outtrigger



Outtrigger” was a really fantastic arcade-shooter that, a good half decade before “Resident Evil 4” or “Gears of War,” utilized something of a “third person shooter” style of gameplay. Admittedly, the game was a bit on the short side, and the missions were largely insanely easy, but the fast tempo gameplay - and especially the multiplayer - made this a Dreamcast offering that truly stood out from the crowd.

While the amalgam of “Halo,” “Super Mario Bros.” and “Crazy Taxi” doesn’t sound like it would result in the most exciting of games, “Outtrigger” actually proved itself to be a highly addictive and satisfying little title, an experience certainly heightened by some great visuals and a really kicking soundtrack.

It’s really difficult to describe the gameplay of “Outtrigger,” which is probably what makes it so awesome. Incorporating elements of “Quake,” “Virtua Cop” and even “Sonic Adventure,” the title is truly unlike anything else on the Dreamcast. For those of you looking for a fast-paced, ADD-style shooter, this is a game you definitely need to put in your console ASAP.

#093
D2


Now here’s a game that really, really got shafted when it was originally released.

As a survival horror title, EVERYBODY assumed this thing was a “Resident Evil” knockoff, and while it does share some commonalities with Capcom’s hugely popular franchise, “D2” also managed to do a lot of innovating of its own.

Yeah, the character models are a little crappy, and some of the cut scenes go on FOREVER, but the gameplay itself is just way too satisfying and enjoyable to count the aforementioned flaws as fatal ones. Set in an arctic tundra, “D2” is a mishmash between a FPS and a third person action adventure title, with some downright excellent atmospherics to boot. It may not exactly be an Oscar-winner, script wise, but for a horror game circa 1999, this is actually one of the better written games from the timeframe, with some really well-crafted plot twists and scripted scenes that, while somewhat cheesy, are engaging and interesting enough to keep you playing well into the wee hours of the night. That, and does the Kimberly clone monster remind anybody of anything?

#092
Spawn: In the Demon’s Hand



While most of the recent attempts to turn Spawn into a decent video game have faltered (barring the Xbox version of “Soul Calibur II,” of course), this Capcom-produced licensed game is actually - shockingly - pretty enjoyable.

For starters, there is an absolutely enormous cast of playable characters in the title, totaling in excess of 30. The gameplay is also pretty varied, as it offers numerous single and multiplayer modes, including some downright fantastic, four-screen deathmatches. While the graphics are a little hard on the eyes - with a soundtrack that’s perhaps even worse - the game itself is just so fast-paced and fluid that it’s hard to dislike it. Even with those aggravating camera angles…

Instead of being a standard, “Tomb Raider”-like action game, “Spawn” actually plays more like an arcade shooter, ala “Outtrigger.” After clearing out a few minions, you quickly transition to a boss fight, which are generally some pretty entertaining clashes. While the single-player mode is rather decent, it’s the multiplayer that makes this one a worthy addition to any Dreamcast owner's library - if you’ve ever wanted to play a merger of “GoldenEye” and “Power Stone,” this is probably as close as any of us are ever going to get.

#091
Tokyo Xtreme Racer 2



Since there were so many awesome racing games on the Dreamcast, I suppose it’s easy to see how a game like “Tokyo Xtreme Racer 2” got overlooked.

While the visuals in “Tokyo Xtreme Racer 2” may not have been the prettiest the console had to offer, the racing in the title was downright terrific. Especially awesome were all of the customization options - on a system loaded with fantastic sim-racers, “Tokyo” was a refreshing change of pace, a sort of hybrid arcade/sim game that featured a lot of elements that you wouldn’t be able to find in “Sega GT” or the “Test Drive” games.

Yeah, yeah, nighttime racing is really nothing new in video games these days, but at the time, the after-hours racing in “Tokyo” were truly cutting edge - and clearly, the absolute best looking midnight visuals in any console racer to date at the time. While the game definitely has some issues regarding cornering (not to mention some pesky rubber band AI), the sheer fun of the title more than makes up for whatever slight technical issues the title has. That, and damn, is it ever fun to shunt some Mazda facsimiles!

#090
Vanishing Point



When I first heard about “Vanishing Point,” I was really excited…mostly because I thought it was based on one of my favorite B-action movies ever. It wasn’t until I actually placed the disc in my Dreamcast that I realized that it wasn’t inspired by a 1970s car-chase movie with lots of sociopolitical undertones…and I STILL ended up enjoying the game immensely, anyway.

As it turns out, the 2001 Acclaim title was called “Vanishing Point” because it was one of the few racing games on the market at the time that didn’t suffer horribly from draw-in and pop-up visuals - the sort of graphical hiccups that marred just about every PS1 racing game you could think of.

While the car models weren’t the best the system had to offer, the actual track visuals were downright beautiful, and you had a wealth of models and venues to choose from. In addition to featuring some really solid online play, the game also had an extremely fun “stunt mode…and if you haven’t ever taken a virtual BMW on a “hump back relay” before, you are seriously missing out, bro.

#089
Vigilante 8: Second Offense



While the “Vigilante 8” series was unmistakably a knockoff of “Twisted Metal,” that didn’t mean that the series couldn’t provide as much fun as the vehicular combat innovator it imitated. And in many ways, I think the second “Vigilante 8” title is a marked improvement over some of the latter games in Sony’s series (ESPECIALLY the third and fourth “Twisted Metal” games.)

The game’s graphics, admittedly, we’re pretty bland, but the title compensates for it with some downright HUGE levels and plenty of vehicles, all of which handle quite differently from one another. That, and unlike the PS1 era “Twisted Metal” games, you had the ability to upgrade your vehicles, equipping your characters with hover pads and ski treads.

The combat system was simplistic, but fun, and you never really had to tussle with the control pad too much. The character designs were especially well done, employing a novel 1970s hook that merged disco with sci-fi schlock. And if you can’t have a good time while shooting at your buddies in UFOs commandeered by crude ethnic stereotypes, I really don’t know how you can enjoy life in the remotest.

#088
Blue Stinger



Even on a system renowned for weird-ass, genre-defying games, “Blue Stinger” remains one of the most bizarre games to come out on the Dreamcast.

“Blue Stinger,” for the most part, can be classified as a “survival horror” game. However, it has so much humorous elements that, more accurately, it could be described as a parody of the genre, a sort of self-aware, deconstructionist title that pokes fun at titles like “Resident Evil” and “Dino Crisis.”

The graphics in the game are very good, and the story, although intentionally hokey, is really a lot better than you’d think it would be. The gameplay is sort of a mixture of “Shenmue,” “Mega Man Legends” and “Syphon Filter,” with an emphasis on environmental exploration. Granted, some of the action sequences get a little out of hand thanks to a mostly crappy camera, but it’s not so bad that you can’t enjoy the title as a whole. Simply put, if you’re looking for a game that does something different with genre conventions, this is one underappreciated title you need to give a spin.

#087
Psychic Force 2012



There were a ton of killer fighting games on the Dreamcast, so it’s understandable how a game like “Psychic Force 2012” could have gotten lost in the shuffle. It’s a shame, too, because this Taito release isn’t just one of the most original titles on the Dreamcast, it’s also one of the system’s absolute best multiplayer games.

The major hook behind the game is that the actual fighting isn’t restricted by gravity. So, instead of just jumping around and kicking the shit out of each other, SNK and Capcom style, you actually have the ability to fly across the screen, like you were in “NiGHTS” or something. It’s a style of gameplay that, honestly, I haven’t experienced before or since. And the really shocking thing? Not only does it not get in the way of combat, it actually makes for a surprisingly deep and nuanced fighting system.

There’s just so much to like about this game, from the super-creative physics to the kick-ass multiplayer battles to the cyber-punk character design to the hyper-trippy, stylized visuals. That, and the story mode is actually pretty involving for a fighting game from 12 years ago. This is definitely an underappreciated gem whose rescuing from obscurity is long, LONG overdue.

#086
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear



Yeah, yeah, the whole “squad-based shooter” thing has been run into the ground over the last decade and a half, but that doesn’t keep this title from being one of the best the played-out genre has to offer.

The cerebral, strategic shooter was refreshing change of pace from the myriad “Doom” and “Duke Nukem” clones of the timeframe, emphasizing grey matter over firepower. While there may have been perhaps too much emphasis on mission pre-planning (for some levels, it seems like the mission debriefings last longer than the missions themselves), the overall gameplay was rewarding and very well structured - meaning, holy hell, you actually had to think your way out of certain spots.

True, the graphics look very underwhelming today, and compared to Xbox games like “Ghost Recon,” the title does seem just a bit primitive. Even so, once you actually get into the groove of things, you’ll find “Rogue Spear” to be a very enjoyable - and challenging - title, and one that you might find yourself replaying quite a few times.

#085
Test Drive V Rally



Despite the title, “Test Drive V Rally” really isn’t an official “Test Drive” game - it’s actually a title developed by Eden Studios and published by Infogrames. Oddly, the PS1 version was published by EA and marketed as, of all things, a “Need for Speed” offshoot, but that’s really just an aside.

This is just a sublime, technical rally racer, with tons of licensed cars and some outstanding weather dynamics. While “Tokyo Xtreme Racer 2” may have been the first arcade racer I played with truly outstanding nighttime racing, this has to be among the first simulation racers to really nail not only past-midnight driving graphics, but also rain-soaked and snow-drenched racing, as well.

The world hopping championship mode was just all-out awesome, and the multiplayer here is truly terrific. The attention to detail was just staggering, with the driving surfaces - tarmac, soil and gravel - producing completely different driving conditions, making the title an extremely deep, and extremely replayable, experience. That, and the design-your-own-track mode remains one of the absolute best in-game course designers I have ever tinkered around with to this very day.

#084
Plasma Sword: Nightmare of Bilstein 



The other truly awesome, weapons based 3D fighter on the Dreamcast, ostensibly.

A lot of Capcom fighting franchises became extremely popular (namely, a certain street fighting series that has had more sequels, prequels and remakes than the entire “Halloween” franchise). The “Plasma Sword” series (which began with the earlier “Star Gladiator”) was never really that popular of a series, which is a complete shame, since they’re such fun, intricate and insanely entertaining fighting games.

Tremendous polygonal fighting models, with gorgeous 2D backdrops? Check. An insanely detailed, sweeping narrative, with tons and tons of playable characters? Check. Super sweet, hyper-fluid controls? Present. Mega-hyper-duper-super electro-light-show attacks that make the 64 hit combos in “Marvel vs. Capcom” look like sparklers by comparison? All here, and counted for. “Nightmare of Bilstein” may not have the brand name appeal of some other fighters on this list, but it’s definitely an underrated brawler you need to give a try.

#083
Looney Tunes: Space Race



One look at this game, and you just have to think it’s going to suck. Come on, it’s a licensed title clearly built to ape the success of “Mario Kart” - how could it do anything but blow?

However, once you actually get your hands on the title, you quickly come to the realization that not only is this a pretty damn good kart racer, it’s actually one of the best non-Nintendo produced offerings in the subgenre. For one, the cel-shaded graphics are just beautiful, and the controls handle as smoothly as you could possibly want them to. The game makes excellent use of the license, with plenty of nods to the Acme Universe. That, and you have to give the designers serious props as far as design choices go - replacing the “blue shell of doom” with an anvil that clobbers your adversaries is just flat out genius, if you ask me.

It’s easy to be skeptical, but I assure you this is actually a great little racer. It’s funny, it’s vibrant and the races, believe it or not, can actually get a little intense - certainly, way more intense than any game of “Mario Kart 64” I have ever played. And let’s face it, people - being able to commandeer Marvin the Martian is so much cooler than just playing Donkey Kong, Jr. on a go-kart…

#082
Shadow Man



There really aren’t a lot of positive things one can say about the existence of Valiant Comics, but this kick-ass action game might be one of the few reasons we can be thankful that short-lived, wannabe comic empire was ever around.

The game plays out very much like the “Soul Reaver” games, which is most definitely not a bad thing. In “Shadow Man,” you find yourself navigating your way through not just one, but two massive game worlds - the “real world” you and I are familiar with, and a “dark world” where demons and vampires and Irish snake mentors (really) are all over the place. Granted, it may not sound like an original concept for a game (and it isn’t), but the execution here is just flat out superb.

There is a ton of action in the game, but there’s also a LOT of exploration. Though the game requires a bit of grey matter between your ears, the puzzles and backtracking never gets so tedious that you get bored with the experience - and by the time things get all shooter-oriented again, you will have MORE than enough action to keep your trigger thumb aching. And if that wasn’t enough, the game is also pretty atmospheric and spooky at points, in addition to having a storyline that, shockingly, is kind of interesting and immersing.

#081
Wacky Races



You know, I’d be lying to you if I said some whimsical nostalgia didn’t play at least a little role in why I like this game so much. I mean, it’s game, released in the 2000s, featuring characters from a super-obscure Hanna-Barbara cartoon from the ‘70s. It would be like a GTA-style sandbox game, starring “Eek the Cat,” being announced as a Wii-U launch title tomorrow.

The shocking thing about the game, however, is that’s it’s actually a really good game in addition to being a really bizarre licensed one. In fact, it’s a really, really good game, that is about 800 times better than you’d think it would be.

The cel-shaded graphics are fantastic, and the voice acting is very good (even though the music is mostly just meh.) The racing aspect is  also really well-done, with each racer handling differently (as well as having completely different sets of weapons, too.) The characters, clearly, are tremendously designed, and there’s a staggering amount to do in the game world. And after playing it for a couple of years? I am CONVINCED that nobody on this planet can beat me while I’m commandeering one Dick Dastardly…


And that folks, is our update for this week. Be sure to tune in next Friday for the second installment of the countdown, where we will countdown #080-#061 on our ever-dwindling list of the greatest Sega Dreamcast games of all-time. Until then, don’t forget: it’s still thinking…

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Review: “X Saves the World” by Jeff Gordinier

…didn’t we have enough reasons to loathe Gen Xers already?


Well, in case I needed another excuse to detest Generation Xers and everything their utterly pointless culture values or ever believed in, I recently read this book by a guy named Jeff Gordinier called “X Saves the World.” It’s a manifesto from 2008 - you know, shortly before the worldwide recession kicked off and made damn near every argument he puts forth in the book mute, anyway - and to give you an idea of how smug this Gordinier fellow is, look no further than the tome’s subtitle - “How Generation X Got the Shaft But Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking.” Per Gordinier, the baby boomers are a bunch of vapid sellouts (which they are), and a majority of the millennials are a bunch of self-absorbed, technology-addicted numbskulls (which I’m most definitely not contesting.) The part where Gordinier’s book takes a major, major nosedive is when he makes the grand proclamation that Gen X - and only Gen X - stood for something, never abandoned their ideals and ultimately had a more profound, positive influence on the world at large than the flower children or iGeneration. This, surprisingly, is a declaration I have more than a few issues with.

Let’s begin with a really arbitrary issue put forth by the book early on, and that’s drawing the lines where generational succession begins and ends. Per Gordinier, Gen X consists of everybody born from 1960 until 1977, while Generation Y entails everybody born from 1978 until 1994. As before, this is a very arbitrary method of designating one generation from another, and one that’s prone to a ton of cultural overlap. Not surprisingly, Gordinier claims the grunge rock/Silicon Valley boom of the early ‘90s as a triumph for Gen X, even though, by his own definitions, a lot of milennials were on the ground floor of many of those pop-social revolutions. Nirvana and Windows 95 may have been watershed moments for his generation, but what do you know? Those same cultural relics had just as much contemporary influence on MY generation, too. It just seems as if Gordinier spends half the book, running around stuffing names into a burlap sack and yelling “mine!” over and over again. That’s fine with me, though; if Generation X wants to keep mass media runoff like Quentin Tarantino and Beck all to themselves, I say it’s a fate you deserve, by gum.

Gordinier kicks off the book with an interesting little tidbit: that overrated Canadian pop-creation Douglas Coupland lifted the term “Gen X” from a 1983 Paul Fussell book called “Class: A Guide Through the American Status System,” which is actually a reference to a hypothetical “creative class” that Fussell considered to exist beyond the parameters of both economic stratification AND age delineations. Unfortunately, that’s about as sociological exciting as the book gets, as Gordinier spends no time at all jumping headfirst into non-sequitirs about blasting The Dead Kennedys at ice cream stands and how much Queensryche sucked after that.

The early parts of the book focus on pretty much all of the stuff you’d expect; the Velvet Revolution, the Stock Market Crash of ‘87, “Nevermind,” Richard Linklater, Michael Dell, so on and so forth. He talks about Gen X icons like Tarantino and Beck, claiming that they shared a common set of characteristics - they had encyclopedic memories of pointless things, they had no desire to change the world, and since most of them spent a good bit of their youth either jobless or working dead-end service gigs, they had all the time in the world to dream up works of art that were astoundingly devoid of political or social meaning. According to Gordinier, the fact that these works had no primary message was a sign of artistic merit. Just remember that for when we come to his tirade against millennials, will you?

And so, we come to Woodstock ‘94 (complete with a couple of outstanding lines from John Popper, he of Blues Traveler fame), and segue into the great post-modern cinema boom of 1999. With films like “Fight Club,” “The Matrix,” “American Beauty,” and “Being John Malkovich,” Gordinier claims that the Gen X “spirit” hopped from alternative rock to mainstream film, as hip-hop montages and cut-and-paste visuals became hallmarks of big-budget filmmaking. He claims that the films were all about a certain “stuckness,” that is, the inability to escape from certain environmental factors and ways of life. You know…not at all like “boomer” classics a la’ “The Graduate” or “The Last Picture Show,” or anything.

Gordinier then talks about how he spent some time in Prague, and how he listened to The Scorpions sing “Wind of Change” a million-jillion times. He ate dinner with ex-communists, and cited Gen X works like “The Good Soldier Svejk” as instrumental in the war against “totalitarian kitsch.” He then notes the irony in hindsight of wondering how people could ever place “comfort above principle.” This leads to Gordinier dropping perhaps the only truly memorable line in the entire book: “sometimes the best way to make people care about money is to give them some.”

I think you know what’s coming up here. The Dot.com boom goes off, and Gordinier talks about how many wilting Pearl Jam fans inched ever closing to fulfilling the “sum” - that is, a point of economic security where they could just slack off all day without having to worry about being evicted. He notes how the invasion of MBA capitalists forever changed how Silicon Valley operates; and just when it looks like Gordinier is going to have to open wide and swallow some crow, he decides to shift gears and instead rag the hell out of Gen Y.

He calls the millennials both a caste system where “idiots rule” and a “monoculture” of the vapid. Thanks to already-irrelevant cultural texts like the Backstreet Boys, Paris Hilton and Us Weekly, he claims that ours is a generation of narcissistic brats without any inkling of what “soul” feels like or resembles. There’s a great segment where he blasts Good Charlotte for being a band lacking any “iconoclastic purpose” - this, after he spent the first fifty pages of the book explaining how great bands like Nirvana were because their music was so apolitical and asocial. And then, there’s his tirade against “American Idol,” which culminates with the author listing shit acts like The White Stripes, Cat Power, Los Lobos and Aimee Mann as “American originals” alongside Robert Johnson and Miles goddamn Davis. No, seriously.

While the first 100 or so pages of the book are a wee bit self-fellating and prone to absurd generalizations and hypocrisy, the last 70 of the book are just painful to slog through. Gordinier talks about seeing “LOVE” in Vegas, where he mocks the baby boomers in the crowd for having the audacity to get old and sickly. He talks about how the Oct. 19, 1987 stock implosion was SUPPOSED to signal the death of the yuppie, but he then changes his tune and says that nowadays, pretty much ALL Gen X adults live like yuppies anyway. His solution to this “selling out conundrum” is utterly preposterous: we can regain our soul, kids, if we invest our creative energies in cross-country poetry reading tours, reading chapbooks, and buying up as much anachronistic technologies (vinyl, typewriters, etc.) as possible. Do you catch the irony there? That these assholes, according to the author, anyway, had SO MUCH INFLUENCE on creating today’s computerized infrastructure that, today, the only remedy to combat the over-computerization of society is to regress to the technological and social state of the baby boomers!

I’ll give Gordinier a smidge of credit, because most of his assertions are at least plausible - plausible, but not necessarily logical and almost never practical. He states that blogs are the natural progression of fanzines, and that YouTube is the end-result of college kids in the 1990s getting a hold of public-access credentials. Name checking “The Colbert Report,” “The Daily Show,” “South Park,” and “The Onion,” he asserts that modern humor is almost entirely rooted in what can be considered “traditional” Gen X irony and sarcasm. He talks about how Gen X adults have founded post-political causes, which includes “The Yes Men,” this thing called “Edible Estates” and a program called “Architecture for Humanity.” At one point, he even says some really under-developed shit about how Barack Obama and Cory Booker are fulfillment of the “Gen X”  ideology…somehow.

Of course, Gordinier concludes the book by acknowledging that his generation, through and through, has sold out. All of the kids that were into Husker Du have kids and Pinterest accounts, and to help crack through the “Gray Ceiling,” he advises fellow Gen Xers to harness “group power” and go about changing the world in “stealth mode.” Citing Henry James and James Brown, he says that inaction is his culture’s greatest obstacle, and ultimately concludes the magnum opus by wallowing in his tortured suburban existence and citing the influence of his generation’s most important anthem… “Don’t Look Back” by Boston.

Although you really don’t need me to tell you this, this book is pretty much pointless. If there’s any message to be found here, I guess it’s that Gen Xers had no small part in forging the current social climate we live in…which, according to Gordinier, still sucks. He chides baby boomers for leaving Gen Xers a shitty culture, but does the author even CONSIDER taking the blame for leaving behind a shitty culture for the Millennials? No, not one iota. He champions his cohorts for slogging and being disenchanted and refusing to “sell out to the man,”  but upon eyeing those same sensibilities in Gen Y, he thinks its corny and insincere. He has no understanding or empathy with their economic misfortunes, even though the class of 2007 faces a job market twenty times worse than that experienced by the class of 1987. He totally writes off Gen Y, because he considers their entrepreneurial spirit “lacking” and their pop culture experiences “lackluster.” But Gen X? Well, they had it right, and by golly, when you really think about it, they’re responsible for all of the really great things we have as a modern civilization today.

It’s a short-sided argument, and it’s presented in a manner that’s more irritating than enlightening. There are some decent chunks here and there, but overall, Gordinier’s book - and by extent, both his argument AND his generation - are completely empty, disconnected and beholden to a central ideology that simply has little to no weight on the world at large nowadays. There’s going to come a day where I’m a middle aged sell-out, and I’m going to see Gordinier and his kin - probably lugging around oxygen canisters - at that Cirque de Soleil interpretation of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” And when I do, I’m going to have very little qualms in mocking their nostalgic longings, even while they‘re coughing up phlegm during the trapeze performance of “Come As You Are.” After all, we DID inherit our sense of compassion from the Xers, no?

Monday, August 27, 2012

My Attempt at Making A Homemade Pizza: A Life-Affirming Odyssey

In which I give you a PIZZA my mind…


I’ve never really given that much thought as to how important pizza is in my day-to-day life. To really illustrate the food’s significance, I went a full week without ingesting a single slice, and I seriously wondered how in the hell I was going to survive. As a peoples, we’re so dependent on pizza that it’s no longer a staple of our diets - rather, it’s more like the very binding that keeps our asses from starving.

Pizza, in a nutshell, is nature’s most perfect food. It’s the easiest, most cost-efficient means of getting all five food groups in a single meal, and it’s the kind of dish that can be endlessly altered and remixed to fit one’s desires. It’s readily available, it’s easy to store, it’s something EVERYBODY can eat (even those lowly vegans, pending you use some sort of whole-wheat bean-paste cheese alternative) and ultimately, it’s a food that’s almost impossible to mess up (as the worst pizza I’ve ever had, mind you, was still better than 75 percent of the things I’ve ever ingested.) Long story short; next to water, pizza is our species’ most vital substance, and an absolute prerequisite for any sort of social system that dare call itself a “democracy.”

You know, I’ve wanted to make my own pizza for quite awhile now. The thing is, it’s a lot harder finding decent, whole-wheat dough then you’d think, and it wasn’t until I stumbled across a certain hippie-vegetarian-indie-douche bag grocery store founded by Nazis that I found a tub of do-it-yourself pizza dough that I felt comfortable using as my base. And then, the accumulation of toppings DIDITH BEGIN.


Making a pizza is sort of like packing for vacation. You have an idea of everything you think you’re going to need, but at the end of the day, you just feel a need to cram as much stuff into your briefcase as possible. Granted, you may not KNOW why you might need a parka on that trip to Hawaii, but in case you do, it’s there. The same holds true for pizza, in a way; I’m not exactly sure why there’s a bucket of hummus and Whoppers on the ingredient list, but when the time arises…well, they’re there, I guess.

As you can see, there are quite a few ingredients at our disposal here. For all of you kids that like to recreate experiments at home, here’s an abridged list of all of the foodstuffs you will need to make your own Jimbo-style pizza:

THE ESSENTIALS

Pizza dough - as stated above, it’s a lot harder to find the good stuff than you’d think. At a certain juncture, you’re going to have to make the judgment call to choose standard flour dough or whole-wheat dough. The primary difference there? The whole-wheat stuff has a palpably sweeter taste, and it’s a LOT harder to roll than the regular material. More on that little issue, later.

Flour - because the dough just don’t magically turn itself into a flattened tortilla, you know

Olive oil - to glaze the dough at some point. You can elect to use virgin olive oil, or even extra-virgin olive oil - which I think is the kind of oil that’s never even kissed a boy yet - if you so choose. Personally, I prefer the standard (read: kinda’ slutty) oil myself.


So much cheese that you don’t know what to do with all of it - if you think you have enough cheese, trust me…you don’t. If it doesn’t hurt your arms to pick up your lode of dairy goods, then you need to haul your ass back to the local grocery store and pick up some more mozzarella.

Pizza sauce - really, anything unguent and red will work here. You can vouch for the spice-loaded, higher-priced sauce if you want, but honestly, you could pour a can of SpaghettiOs on your crust and nobody would really be able to tell the difference.

ELECTIVE MATERIALS

Banana peppers - adds a very rich, savory, and oddly, sweet texture to your cheese. An absolute must for all Greek-style, thin-crust pies.


Mushrooms - sliced portabellas will suffice, but I hear shitakes aren’t bad either.

Red onions - because white onions are just bullshit, that’s why.

Pineapples - the absolute greatest pizza topping of all-time, a statement I AM willing to go to war over if need be.

A whole tomato - so you can slice it up and put it on your pizza (and also because you can never have too much tomato in your life, ever.)


Tofurky branded Italian Sausage - for all of your vegetarian friends/liabilities. Chop it up in thin slivers, and you would never know it isn’t pepperoni. Well, until you taste it, anyway.

THE PROCESS


Step One - All right, you see that dough over there? Well, you’re going to have to break it open, roll it in flour, and shape it into something that looks like a circle. As a guy that took a Maymester astrophysics class while he had chickenpox, I can safely say this is the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life. No joke, it took me almost twenty minutes to get this stuff even remotely resembling something with a circumference, and even then, my crust ended up looking more like a Ninja Turtle than something you’d order at Papa John’s. Needless to say, after making my own pizza, I have a newfound respect and appreciation for the talents of Pizza Hut employees the world over.


Step Two - Crack open the olive oil, grab yourself a brushing utensil, and glaze the hell out of your crust. Now’s also a good time to do some last minute quality assurance, so if there are any porous spots on your dough, now’s the time to smooth them over. After that, it’s time to douse the dough in pizza sauce. You’ll probably need a brush of some kind to make things all even, so if you still have the brush laying around from the olive oil glistening, you might as well dab it in the can and save yourself the extra dish washing time.


Step Three - Make it RAIN CHEESE. If you bought the shredded stuff, just open the bag and go to town, but remember: pizza elites ALWAYS shred their own. From there, it’s up to you as to how you build your pizza pyramid. As a general rule, I advise placing your heaviest ingredients on the pie first and working your way up with the lighter materials from there. As you can see, in my test run, I did the exact opposite, making my pie top heavy with synthetic sausage and pineapple chunks while the lighter weight ingredients resided next to the crust. It didn’t destroy the pizza by any means, but it did make the pie a little (OK, a LOT) less manageable had I done it the other way around.


Step Four - Whatever extra cheese you have laying around needs to get sprinkled atop whatever toppings are gleaming and jutting from the apex of your pie. At this point, you are just about ready to jam your pizza into the oven, but because we here at THE INTERNET IS IN AMERICA pride ourselves on maximizing consumer experiences, how about taking whatever leftover toppings you have and dumping them into a salad while you’re at it? Like the noble Hopi, we firmly believe in using EVERY part of the buffalo, even if that buffalo is sometimes actually a jar of peppers.


Step Five - Bake! While the dough’s wrapper said that our pizza only needed to go for about eleven minutes, I’m pretty sure we had to wait a good half hour until our pie was completely cooked and more solid than mushy. Perhaps you’ve noticed that pizza stone there - it’s not required for the course, but it makes things a lot more manageable than they would be if we were using a metal baking sheet. Also, if you want your pizza to have a “traditional” crust, you’re going to have to shape it into the pie yourself. Apparently, that shit doesn’t arise out of sheer metaphysics, much to my chagrin.


And now, the big reveal: whether or not my Jimbo-style pizza was actually worth a hoot. While it wasn’t necessarily the best pizza I’ve ever had, for a first run through, I didn’t think it was all that bad. I made a couple of rookie mistakes here in there, but overall, it was a pretty tasty pizza that had a very distinct, almost Greek-style taste (that is, a mixture of sweet and salty, with just a hint of spiciness to it.)


Yeah, it may not be Wolfgang Puck-quality or anything, but for a home-project, it wasn’t too shabby. That, and indirectly, it taught me five incredibly important life lessons in the process:

FIVE ASTOUNDING PARALLELS BETWEEN MAKING A PIZZA AND FINDING HAPPINESS IN LIFE

1.) The world is loaded with ingredients, and it’s up to you to pick and choose what spices your life. And sometimes, the unlikeliest combinations leads to the most astonishing outcomes.

2.) It pays to follow directions, but at the end of the day, all that really matter is what you were able to dream up.

3.) All cheese may look alike, but every individual block has a distinct flavor all its own.

4.) It’s way more fun to roll dough into flour and throw banana peppers at stuff with a friend than shredding mozzarella solo.

5.) Holy hell, are your results going to vary.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Double Review - "Elena" and "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai"

Disappointed by this summer’s slate of box office stinkers? Here are two limited-release flicks you really ought to check out


I don’t know about you, but I was VERY, VERY disappointed by this year’s crop of summer blockbusters. Over-hyped, overrated comic book super-hero movies, high-concept comedies that were about as funny as a “Bumfights” bootleg, piss-poor animated-family dreck, ironic-hipster action movies; going to the movies this summer was like taking a swan dive into a barrel of piranhas and rusted screws, really. The sad thing is, the local art house selections really weren’t all that much better, as for every truly great flick like “Beasts of the Southern Wild” or “God Bless America,” we ended up with about half a dozen high-brow duds like “Trishna,” “The Intouchables” and “Compliance.” And now that we’re heading into the waning days of summer, our cinematic selections are getter REALLY craptastic; if I were you, I’d steer clear of the local mega-plex until at least after the elections are over.

Even so, there are still a FEW decent flicks to be found, pending you live in a metropolitan area with at least one indie theater worth a shit. In fact, there are two that I watched recently that I thought were absolutely astounding - and reason enough for you to fill up your P.O.S. sedan and make that treacherous trek to the closest art house cinema near you.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” leave you dejected and twenty dollars poorer? “Dark Shadows” make you want to burn the nearest Hot Topic to the ground out of consumer vengeance? “The Dark Knight Rises” stir your soul with the same amount of fervor as a backrub from Def Leppard’s uni-armed drummer?

If that’s the case, I’ve got two limited-release flicks on tap that you REALLY ought to check out, amigo…

“Elena” (2011)
Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev


I’ve read a couple of reviews for “Elena,” and every last one of them used the exact same term: “film noir.”

I suppose I can see why so many film critics would trudge up the term - primarily, because the movie lifts a tried-and-true plot mechanic from “Double Indemnity” - but calling the film a “contemporary noir” is a really unfitting description, if you ask me. If you’re looking for chain-smoking femme fatales and gin-slamming private detectives, you’re going to be SORELY disappointed by what you find in “Elena.”

The thing that struck me most about the film is its’ emphasis on family. The very first shot of the movie is of an empty tree overlooking a massive Russian apartment; by the time the movie returns to the image - in the very last shot of the flick - you know PRECISELY what kind of statement the movie is tying to make.

So many films nowadays are hell bent on delivering some sort of slick political or social message; a refreshing change of pace, “Elena” is a movie about nothing more than family, and how far we as individuals would go to take care of our own.

The film revolves around the titular character, a 60-something retired nurse that lives with her second husband in his huge-assed flat. He’s the kind of old dude that’s really hardcore into exercising and stuff, and he chugs Viagra tablets like Tic-Tacs. Well, one day, he has a heart attack in a swimming pool, and he gets hospitalized. We’re introduced to his estranged daughter - this street-urchin looking dame that likes to smoke indoors, and it’s clear that they don’t have the best of father-daughter relations. Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Elena’s son - an almost-middle-aged slob that lives with his doughy wife and a dumb-ass son that needs some money to bribe a few college officials to stay out of the Russian military. So, Elena’s husband recovers, but he feels a little scared that he might have another coronary, so he decides to ink up a new will that would transfer all of his assets to his daughter as opposed to his wife. With a day before he delivers the will to an attorney - which would make the document all legal and binding and stuff - Elena finds herself in a most precarious position: does she allow her husband to sign the document, or to help out her son’s ailing financial woes (and possibly, her grandson’s life), does she do the unthinkable?

Well, I don’t think I’m telling you anything you WOULDN’T suspect when I say that she elects for the latter as opposed to the former here (and boy oh boy, does this movie give the folks at Viagra, Inc. some of the most dubious product placement in recent film history in the process.) The thing I really liked about the flick was how completely amoral the entire tone of the movie was. If this were an American-made movie, it would’ve have turned into a melodramatic mystery-thriller, with Elena being all psychologically traumatized by her actions and at some point, Laurence Fishbourne would probably show up as a detective that just KNOWS that her husband’s death wasn’t an accident. Well, you don’t get any of that shit in this movie, as the detectives totally write off the husband’s death as a medical mix-up, and Elena feels nary a shred of guilt about kinda’-sorta’ killing her spouse. Yeah, we kinda’ feel bad for the estranged daughter, but she ain’t family, you know. So instead of justice being served and things crashing down all Orson Welles-style, the family ends up reuniting and living in harmony - off what is, essentially, money looted from a homicide.

This is the kind of movie that is just utterly guiltless and sincere. If push came to shove - and our mamas or our sons or our brothers were just about to end up on the skids, for good - who is to say that each and everyone of us WOULDN’T do some things we like to think we’re incapable of doing to save our own flesh and blood? I’m not sure if there’s supposed to be some sort of deeper, sociological driver behind the movie (and since all I know about contemporary Russian culture is that they’re the only country in the world where “Riotgrrrl” music is still popular), if there WAS a deeper cultural subtext here, it’d be lost on me anyway. “Elena” is just a blunt, honest and unrepentant motion picture (helped tremendously, I might add, by a really great Philip Glass score) that reminds us how powerful the bond of blood is…so much so, sometimes, that a bit of someone else’s blood has to get spilled to honor it.

A tremendous, morally-challenging film, “Elena” is precisely the kind of cerebral lozenge we need as a movie going world after getting bonked on the head by uncomplicated, juvenile bullstuff like “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Avengers” all summer long. Pending you have an attention span that can drag on for more than five minutes, I’d highly recommend catching a screening of this one, if you can.

MY SCORE: A

A glossy full-sized poster on a white wall, or a lobby card resting inside the plastic sleeve of a three ring binder? I'll let you decide...


“Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai” (2011)
Director: Takashi Miike 


To me, there is absolutely NO denying that Takashi Miike is the single greatest director on the planet right now. And even if you don’t think he’s the absolute best, then you at least have to concede that he’s probably the most versatile; lest we forget, this is the same man that gave us “Visitor Q,” “Ichi the Killer” and “The Happiness of the Katakuris” in the SAME CALENDAR YEAR.

Of course, any director can be productive, but what Miike has done over the last decade is probably the single most impressive quantitative run in the history of film. Although not every movie the guy has put out there has been an all-time classic, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a “bad” film churned out by the guy - an impressive feat made a gajillion times more awe-inspiring considering that the guy also has his hands in all sorts of TV and stage productions, too.

In 2010, Miike released “13 Assassins,” a super-awesome remake of a classic samurai film directed by Eiichi Kudo in the early 1960s. It was perhaps Miike’s most critically-acclaimed flick yet, and to many cinema-nerds, signified the cult director’s “big break” into mainstream filmmaking. In many respects, “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai” is a natural transition piece from “13 Assassins,” as it covers very similar ground. A samurai epic? Check. Based on a legendary Japanese film from the Cold War era? Check. Violent as all hell? You betcha.

Even so, Miike’s latest film is something altogether different than”13 Assassins.” Despite having some thematic similarities, it’s a completely divergent experience from Miike’s previous film, and in many regards, it’s a far superior film, too. And although it’s still a bit too early to make any grand proclamations, I think it’s a safe bet to declare this one of Miike’s absolute best works - in fact, when Mr. Miike’s career is over, we may very well look back on this one as his finest overall effort as an auteur.

To begin, the film is a remake of the legendary 1962 Masaki Kobayashi film “Harikiri” - oft considered one of the greatest samurai movies of all-time. For Miike to take on such a vaunted film is quite daring, but his approach is both reverential and distinct. The story may be, for all intents and purpose, the same, but the execution - and I mean that literally - is something altogether Miike’s.

I’m always grasping for contemporary context in period pieces, and clearly, Miike is saying something about the state of Japanese politics and industry with this film. You can say that it’s just coincidental that one of the “noble houses” in the film is called “Fukushima,” but come on…this is the same guy that made “Sukiyaki Western Django,” so subtlety really isn’t this fellow’s forte.

You hear the term “righteous rage” tossed around quite a lot, and I’ve heard it attached to a lot of big-budget, mainstream movies this summer - most notably, the latest Batman flick. Well, if you’re looking for an action movie with a little bit of humanity alongside the havoc, “Hara-Kiri” is a rare edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that provides you with ample doses of adult sensibilities. If you want to watch a bunch of cartoon characters run around in Chrissy Nolan’s make-believe-socialist utopia, go right ahead; when you’re able to understand less juvenile things like family, honor, loyalty and “the social contract,” however, this is just the movie to segue yourself from “Transformers” to “The Human Condition” trilogy.

I really can’t talk about the film’s plot without giving away the whole shebang, so I’ll remain mostly muted on what the movie is about. I will say, however, that the movie kicks off with one of the most stomach-churning death scenes I have ever seen in a motion picture - a long, drawn-out scene that’s about as painful to sit through as anything I’ve experienced as a filmgoer (and this coming from a guy that paid money to see “Red Riding Hood!”)  From there, the film turns into a wild variation on the old “revenge” drama - albeit, one with far, far more human sentiments than you’d expect. As before, “Hara-Kiri” is a film that touches upon a lot of things, including what one would do for his family, what “nobility” really is and perhaps most interestingly, the idea of what “social stature” ultimately entails. It’s a complex, lively movie, with some of the most fleshed-out characters I’ve seen all year-round. It’s captivating, it’s intellectually stimulating, it’s emotionally moving, and when it comes time to see some asses get kicked, good lord, is it ever the sight to behold. Simply put, this is a movie you NEED to see - especially if you have a bad case of the post-summer ennui going on right now.

MY SCORE: A+

BONUS VIDEOS!

So, there’s this theater in Atlanta called “The Plaza” on Ponce de Leon. It’s a really nice theater (it’s where I caught “Hara-Kiri,” by the way), and as an added bonus, they have one of the dopest arcades I’ve seen in ANY cinema house in the ATL. Here’s a couple of send-off videos of me playing their in-house classics, including a first-run “Ms. Pac-Man” and some gameplay on a rare TABLETOP version of “Arkanoid.” And man…I sure hope they have that “Defender” cabinet plugged in the next time I’m around!

Tabletop "Arkanoid" (Video #001)!

Tabletop "Arkanoid" (Video #002)!

An  ORIGINAL "Ms. Pac-Man" Cabinet in Action!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

B-Movie Review: "The Driller Killer" (1979)

It’s a lot like “Three’s Company”…only with WAY more lesbianism and dudes running around killing homeless people with battery-operated power tools


One of my least favorite things in the world are movies with really nondescript titles. For example, a movie called “Courageous” or “Hero” or “Warrior” could really be about anything, so if you never caught a trailer or got a good look at the movie’s DVD box art, you truly have no idea WHAT you’re getting into.

Then, there are films whose titles leave ZERO questions as to what the contents of said film are. “Bloodsucking Freaks,” “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” “They Saved Hitler’s Brain”…with flicks of the like, NOBODY feels like they’re getting misled as moviegoers. And with that in mind, I’ll give you two guesses as to what Abel Ferrera’s 1979 cult-classic “The Driller Killer” is about.

If the name Abel Ferrera sounds a little familiar to you, it’s because he’s the director of such illustrious works as “Ms. 45” and “Bad Lieutenant” - the rare kinds of films that seem to be revered by both snotty high-art crowds and scummy degenerate cinema fans in equal proportions. “The Driller Killer,” one of Ferrera’s earliest legit films - before that, he was making low-rent XXX features starring his own girlfriend - is a public domain flick, and a movie that’s garnered a pretty sizable cult-following over the years. And while it’s clearly a B-movie through and through, it’s actually a film that teeters on the brink of being a straight-up GOOD low budget horror flick and not just hyper-exploitative sleaze and cheese. And if absolutely nothing else, it’s a WAY better movie than any film called “The Driller Killer” has any right to be.

The film begins with one of the most awesome title cards ever; a single screen shot that advises theater owners to play the film, and I quote, “loud.” There’s definitely a certain punk aesthetic to the film…and that’s something that, as you will soon see, I mean quite literally.

After the proper credits, we’re introduced to the main character of the film, a guy named Reno, who bears more than just a passing resemblance to Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez. Anyway, he’s hanging out in a church, sitting next to this old bearded guy who kinda looks like the next-door neighbor in the first “Home Alone” movie. The old dude snaps on him all of a sudden, and Reno runs out of the church, screaming “he touched my hand!” like a nasally John Travolta before hopping in a taxi with his girlfriend. So, he and his GF talk for awhile, and then they start making out. They stop at a club - where really, really awful punk rock music is being played - and the girlfriend seems to pick up this one chick. Next scene, we are in an apartment, where Reno and the blonde chick from the club argue about how to drill holes in the wall. That may or may not be foreshadowing or allusion or some other bullshit term I picked up in seventh grade literature, by the way.

Apparently, Reno, his girlfriend and the girl from the club all live together in the same apartment, “Three’s Company”-style. They argue about bills, and Reno returns to his magnum opus - this giant-assed painting of a buffalo he’s been commissioned to create by some art dealer fellow. Reno plays around with the drill some more (Freudian scholars, you are going to LOVE this movie) and has nightmares about the old man from the church. We’re introduced to the art dealer that’s paying Reno to make the bison painting, and Reno asks him for a loan. After he turns him down, Reno decides to break out some binoculars and watch street muggings from the rooftop (complete with ample stock footage of ambulances, of course.)

Rare footage of Sonic Youth from when Tommy Tallarico was their frontman. 

So, this band called “The Roosters” move in next door. You know that’s the name of the band, which apparently has more members in it than The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, because those are the words spray painted on the side of their crappy rust-mobile. So, the brunette roomie (Reno’s girlfriend, Carol, who sounds just like Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth) argues with her boyfriend some more about money and the painting. Reno says all she ever does is “bitch and shit,” and then the blonde roommate (named Pamela) starts arguing with Carol because they don’t have any dope lying around the place. The band next door starts practicing, and Reno goes outside to sketch a few homeless people. In the next scene, the trio are sitting in their apartment, watching infomercials about this portable battery pack thingy. Well, I’m sure that’s not important to the plot of the movie or anything, right?

We get another scene featuring the punk band practicing, while Reno works on his bison painting at two in the morning. He starts having visions of blood splashing all around him, and then he goes outside to have a chat with a random homeless guy. We get some more band rehearsal, and then…BAM! FULL ON SHOWER LESBIANISM, OUT OF THE BLUE! Then, the background singers in the punk band start arguing, and Carol reads a letter from her ex-boyfriend, asking her to move back in with him. Cue ANOTHER BAND REHEARSAL SCENE. Reno complains to the super about all of the noise coming out of the apartment next door, but he says he can’t do anything about it. Instead, he gives Reno a skinned rabbit (which sort of looks like the baby from “Eraserhead,” by the way), which Reno takes back to his place and starts stabbing it like a guy that is really, really upset about stuff. Then, we have a scene where he just stares at a hardware store window. And then, his painting starts talking to him. Well, I think we all know where this headed, don’t we?

Reno has some more hallucinations, and he accosts some homeless dude on the street. They bicker for awhile, and then Reno whips out his BATTERY POWERED HAND DRILL and starts stabbing the dude in what has to be the most sexually suggestive on-screen death ever. I mean, the dude is pretty much RIDING him while he drills his stomach open, so…yeah, wake up the kids for this one!

BOO! It has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, but still...

After that, one of the girls in the band uncovers the rabbit carcass from earlier in the trash. She’s not too happy about it, as I’m sure you could guess. We have another rehearsal scene, and then the trio argue about going clubbing. Reno starts talking to his bison painting again, while The Roosters show up at their gig. The girls in the band argue in the bathroom, while Reno plays some pinball. The bandmates start putting on some make-up (the dudes, too) and the lead singer warms up by, apparently, speaking in tongues for about a minute and a half. Reno says that the club is too loud, while Carol tries to convince him to stay because they met at a similar bar. And after that, Reno goes on a hobo drilling spree, killing one dude while DANCING LIKE ONE OF THE BEE GEES and just flat out drilling a wino that waves at him. Reno chunks one of the corpses on the subway tracks, and we have a brief scene involving this one schizophrenic guy at a bus stop that keeps yelling at random pedestrians. Shortly thereafter, Reno shows up and drills him from BEHIND the Plexiglas terminal. And after that, that’s when the movie starts getting REALLY violent.

Before long, Reno is lumbering around the neighborhood, with his arms stretched out like Dracula and shit. He chases this one guy down, and finds another bum and DRILLS HIS FACE OPEN while he’s sleeping. After the mini hobo-massacre, Reno goes home, chugs some milk and beer and talks to this one guy, who apparently has the hots for Pamela. They talk about art for awhile, and he commissions Reno to do a self-portrait of him. Something tells me he’s REALLY going to regret that, for some reason or another.

Believe it or not, the dude in the background ISN'T the craziest person in the movie.

Carol reads about the hobo murders in the morning paper, and Reno, understandably, I guess, gets a little hostile. He and the roomies decide to have a pizza, which results in another argument, which segues to Reno beginning his portrait of that one guy from earlier (as fate would have it, he just so happens to be the lead singer of the band next door. Who’d thunk it?) The lead singer - a dead ringer for “Ducky” from “Pretty in Pink - plays the guitar for awhile, as some homeless guy sleeping in a box gets highly irritated by all of the commotion. We get a brief sex scene, which is followed up by a scene in which the homeless prowler gets his hands drilled to a brick wall before Reno scrambles his guts with a Black and Decker. Reno then sneaks into his roommates’ bedroom and tells them, not at all ominously, that his project “is finished.”

So, the art dealer gets his first peek at the bison painting, and he ain’t exactly pleased by the final product, calling it “shit” and just a “goddamn buffalo.” At this point, you just KNOW his death is going to be all kinds of exquisite. Carol just can’t take it anymore, and decides to run away. She and Reno have an argument in the street, Pamela does some sobbing and Reno goes home and starts playing with this extended, light-saber-looking flashlight thingy, before he starts having hyper-gory dreams again. Then, he calls up the art dealer, and say he has something that he wants him to “check out.” Nothing bad, surely, can come of this.

The protagonist of "The Driller Killer," seen here looking A LOT like Australian pop-sensation Gotye. 

We get our umpteenth band rehearsal scene, while Reno starts piling on the makeup (concluding his ritual by strapping on the battery pack a la “Rambo”.) The dealer shows up and…well, I’ll let you see what happens for yourself.

So, Pamela uncovers the art dealer’s corpse, and we cut to a scene where she’s bound and gagged. The screen fades out, and we now find ourselves with Carol, who has just moved back in with her boyfriend (who, judging from his General Zod-like regalia, just got back from Krypton.) He makes some tea while she showers, and what do you know! Reno decides to stop by and say “hello” for a bit. Get it, “bit”? Because drills have these things called “bits” and…well, yeah. So, Carol climbs out of the shower, slinks into her darkened bedroom and then…the credits roll. Band rehearsal music starts playing, which slowly transitions into elevator muzak over a blue screen, which then segues into the sound of homeless people begging for change on the streets. The film concludes with a message that may or may not be satirical; “Dedicated to the people of New York…the city of hope.”

Clearly not what she had in mind when he asked her if she wanted to "hang out" tonight...

Needless to say, this is one splatter flick that DEFINITELY deserves all of the acclaim and approbation it gets. It’s gruesome, yet good-humored, and there’s even a bit of character development in there before things get all stabby and intestine-covered. I’m not really sure if Ferrera was trying to make some sort of political or social point with the movie (is the whole thing about homeless rights, or consumerism, or the vapidity of punk culture, or the soullessness of modern art, or what?), but whatever his intent with the picture is, that message never gets so gummy that it keeps the onscreen mayhem from unfurling with a fury. Alike William Lustig’s legendary “Maniac” from 1980, this is a minor masterpiece of trash cinema, the kind of flick that’s persecuted by egghead film critics but will remain eternally beloved by obscure movie fanatics that, yeah, you probably wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, ever.

In other words? This flick is required viewing for all degenerate cinema aficionados - and if you watch it, you better take the director’s advice and watch this one L-O-U-D.


Three and a quarter stars out of Four. Jimbo says check it out.