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Pye in the Sky



Since MAY came out, Angela Bettis has attained a whole new level of respect from people, and been heralded as something of a discovery; though she had made several movies prior, it was as if Lucky McKee really brought her out.

His regular collaborator Chris Sivertson has now done the same for a man by the name of Marc Senter. Marc hasn’t been around as long as Angela had, but when you see this film he will be forever on your radar.

THE LOST, adapted from the Jack Ketchum novel, boasts very few familiar faces. Some of you may recognize the familiar character actor Richard Riehle in a small role, or Dee Wallace-Stone’s brief cameo; Ketchum fans will recognize Ketchum himself as a bartender; and regular readers of this site will likely spot usual suspects Justin Stone, Eddie Steeples, Shelli Merrill, Jesse Hlubik, Zach Passero, and Mike McKee (Lucky’s cameo did not make the final cut, though the scene was so good I hope it gets preserved on DVD somewhere). You probably won’t spot my hand unless you know exactly where to look. [in an unintentional pun, I'm billed as "Handsome Country Club Patron"]

But all the key faces are relative unknowns — not that that will be the case for long.

The major change from Ketchum’s novel is the timeframe. The book was set during the Vietnam era; the film, likely to save on production costs, is set in the present day. Though we do have our own modern-day overseas war controversy, that isn’t mentioned in the movie, which generally has a fairly period-unspecific look, though Steeples’ character is covered in tattoos in a style that seems more modern.

There’s also a swimming scene that has been changed — I discussed why in my set report (short version: the water was too damn cold for naked actors to stay alive and healthy in for long). But the changes work.

The movie begins with text that reads (not necessarily an exact quote): “Once upon a time, a boy name Ray put crushed beer cans in his shoes to make himself look taller.” We fade in on Ray (Marc Senter) walking through the woods with a kind of pained stride that would indeed come from having uneven bunches of wadded-up aluminum in one’s footwear. Then we get full frontal nudity, as Ray comes across a totally naked girl (Erin Brown, the actress no longer known as Misty Mundae) in a campground outhouse. His immediate reaction is to ask her for a cigarette. When she walks away, he secretly follows her back to her camp, and later brings his friends Tim (Alex Frost) and Jennifer (Shay Astar, who has eternal cool points with me for having an Ernest movie on her resume) by for a peep.

A nasty act of violence follows, and four years pass, via the magic of fading to black and an onscreen title. Ray, we find out, is the only suspect for the crime four years ago, but there’s no evidence on him. Alcoholic detective Schilling (Michael Bowen) still hopes he’ll get a confession if he just keeps pushing hard enough.

The movie is primarily a character study of Ray, who’s like a cross between James Dean and Norman Bates (the latter a character he makes reference to, as he and his mom own a motel). He wears goth makeup to be in a band, though we never, ever see or hear that band, and he could just be making it up.

But mainly, Ray is the extreme version of something all guys know something about. You know when you’re trying to ask a super-attractive girl out, how you have to be somewhat cool and composed, so that if she rejects you or humiliates you publicly, you can outwardly blow it off, even as a personal wound begins to fester?

Ray is the embodiment of that trait to the exclusion of all others. And he’s addicted to it, banging several chicks at the same time, and actively courting two in this story while still maintaining a relationship with Jennifer, who suffers from classic battered wife syndrome. But we don’t just see the cockiness — there’s plenty of the insecurity here too. Though not necessarily “sympathetic” as such, Ray can be identified with at times.

The three female leads — Jennifer, Kathy (Robin Sydney), and Sally (Megan Henning) — each represent one of the primary colors (blue, red, and yellow, respectively) and one of the major “types” of male fantasy: Trashy slut, classy rich girl who’s out of your league, and girl next door. Jennifer is always Ray’s fallback girl, no matter how many times she gets burned; Sally turns him down in favor of a 60-year-old man (Ed Lauter); and Kathy is the one he really seems to fall for, perhaps because she represents the type of woman he doesn’t normally even see, let alone score with.

At times the film feels quite long. The plot, for the most part, isn’t that intricate; we just watch these people do what they do. But Detective Schilling keeps pushing, and that eventually has to lead to something. Think THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, minus clown makeup, familiar character actors and over the top gore, and you might get the idea.

Nothing is sugar coated — many of the sex scenes look like ’70s porn, and pretty much every actress except Henning gets topless and/or bottomless, as does Marc. I can’t imagine this thing getting an R rating. And when the violence comes, there are no cheap cutaways. You feel it. At my screening, one of the audience members — who generally liked the film and the film-maker — had to walk out on one or two occasions. The soundtrack is great, veering from a score that incorporates unconventional, atonal elements, to ’50s-style rock ‘n’ roll, to death metal. All songs are cleared, so this isn’t one of those festival picks that will suddenly have a new soundtrack when it’s released.

Marc’s performance is the scene-stealer, but everyone is solid. Alex Frost looks like a genuine high-schooler rather than some WB 30-year-old, Michael Bowen is suitably sleazy as the “good” guy antagonist, and the three main girls hit all the right notes (Astar may be a bit too good looking, but you won’t complain). Our very own Justin Stone is terrific as a total crybaby wuss (I kid, I kid…he’s held up at gunpoint, and simply ain’t no hero).

My favorite moments are the ones when the editing starts to match Ray’s fevered intensity and cocaine-addled mind: a flashback to an exhilirating incident of vandalism, a montage of different fucks for different folks, and the pins-and-needles climax which will send you out of the theater waiting to exhale. In early scenes that I saw months ago, there was too much music, but that isn’t the case any more.

Some will ask what the point of the movie is. Much as I like nihilistic films, I tend to reject the kind that revel in depravity and nothing else, like CHAOS and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. But I liked THE DEVIL’S REJECTS a lot, and I like this…there’s more going on than mere exploitation. The examination of a wounded male ego run amuck shows what we should fear in ourselves as well as others, and there’s a repeated lesson, from many corners, that playing mind games with a proven psychopath is a really bad idea. It’s also an indictment of small-town life in some ways, and the way that “nothing to do” plus excess testosterone can create wanton destruction in an aimless life.

The movie’s going to debut in a couple of European festivals shortly, and may come home with a deal. Here’s hoping. This may not be the final release cut, but it is the final festival version.

If you’re in Europe soon, check it out.


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