April 19, 2012

DESPERATION RISING (1989/VHS/Legacy Home Video) Review

It was 10:35pm Saturday when I pressed play. Thirty seconds of darkness later, it's 5:40pm Thursday. An overdubbed voice declares that someone's son is alive, and that's fine, but someone else's son is dead. I soon learn that I'm in the company of Rick & Mike. I don't know which is which -- they both have mustaches, Harley-Davidson shirts and shotguns -- but they are ready, motherfucker. "BORN ready, son." And before I even get a chance to really meet them, they're out the door to go see Angelo and get them some payback. A Solar Quest arcade machine sits unplayed and an aspiring young rapper goes unheard.

Oh, that's just super
Then, following a massive Video Toaster seizure (remind me to dial 976-HOT), the film starts having trouble focusing. Angelo is screaming about cattle at a roomful of men who angrily shout one-digit numbers back at him. A shirtless teenager offers to kidnap somebody. A dude with a cigarette up his nose bursts through the front door with Cinderella, who's just as high as the collection of junkies stumbling around the Red Room. Someone wearing a yellow t-shirt is finishing up a yellow phonecall. An intergender fistfight is being won by a woman in purple suede boots. Everyone regardless of locale is startled at once by the sudden sound of shotgun blasts; evidently, Rick & Mike have come to collect. I, meanwhile, am disoriented. As the tide rolls in on a grey beach, my watch says only ten minutes have passed but the screen informs me that it's been almost fourteen hours. I find myself in no position to argue -- I've already become a hostage of this film and I've seen what it can do. Luckily for me, it's only just started.

First date jitters
While I would never call it perfect and it's possible that it's not even good (who am I to judge?), Desperation Rising IS absolutely amazing, and here's why: On the surface, it's a revolving-door parade of nameless scumbags moving through a series of disjointed scenes about drugs, prostitution, gang warfare and financial seminars, but underneath the crass stereotypes, cartoon-grade vocal dubbing and aggressive illogic is the beating heart of writer/director/star Jason Holt, pumping life into every single scene in the film, no matter how brief or inconsequential they may seem.

I promise this is from the same movie
Like many a no-budget genre film, Desperation Rising is cheap and hilarious (where else can you see the future director of The Notebook being perturbed by a woman licking shaving cream off his face?), but it's also effectively unnerving, its own weirdness preventing it from ever becoming a joke. Holt supersedes his financial constraints and the shortcomings of his actors by obliterating your helpless brain with abrupt, reckless edits and one of the most inscrutable sound mixes ever applied to home video. The sticker on my VHS cover proclaims "ACTION," but those roundhouse kicks don't fool me -- this is an experimental video collage wearing an action-movie costume.

Nappin' and cappin'
As the credits end, I realize that Stockholm Syndrome set in a long time ago. If I learned anything at all from my time spent with Desperation Rising, it's that heroin is better than Angelo's foot, small electrical appliances are all you need, the answer to all life's questions is "insured municipal bonds," and, no matter how sleazy the world gets, an impotent stockbroker can still find the strength to lead sex slaves to freedom and a potential rapist can learn what it truly means to care. Doesn't make sense? Doesn't matter. Surrender yourself and live happily ever after.

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