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October 23, 2012

Movie Review: The Taint (2010, Troma)

My copy of The Taint arrived neatly wrapped in pink paper, for all the world like it was the latest animated Barbie movie. The title of the film is inscribed on the disk in pink as well, even on the menu page. Yet the concept of this modern underground horror comedy gem is about as un-girly as you can get, even though the taint of the title in this instance is just a chemical that has been introduced into the water supply. When confronted with that title, my wife immediately thought perineum and I thought of the archaic term that IMDb reminds us hasn't been used for a century or so. This chemical carries more than social stigma though, it makes men misogynists, violent and raging misogynists with hobbies like crushing the skulls of women and wandering around with their wedding tackle in full view. Apparently writer Drew Bolduc worked his way through a hundred flesh coloured dildos to make this movie, and you don't hear lines like that every day.

The menu screen of the DVD has a whole slew of them, waving around behind Bolduc's head in a halo formation, as if he's a saintly Medusa being choreographed by John Waters masquerading as Busby Berkeley. It does highlight what we have in store for us, just in case we haven't seen the trailer, which I had. That's done in the worst possible taste and revels in it. What I wondered most after that little gem was how long Bolduc would be able to maintain the pace. After all, as the old joke goes, it may be bad taste to throw underwear at the wall but it's worse taste when it sticks. This film obviously aimed not just to stick, but to smear and leave a smelly residue, but would it keep us interested for an hour and a half? Well, it starts as it means to go on with naked breasts, severed faces and falling excrement, plus a dramatic maniac with a scythe and a lead actor with the same wig that got prominent use in Bad Taste, hardly a bad thing in my book.

At least the vomit waits until after the title credits. And the urination. And the shambling monster with the rock and the ejaculating penis. And the shotgun blast through the skull. And the... well, let's just say this picture doesn't exactly dawdle out of the gate skimping on things to offend us. Amputations, decapitations, head mashings, you name it, along with gloriously off kilter dialogue like, 'Who are you? Who is that large cocked man?' Did I mention the exploding squirrels and the fish decapitations? I'm sure I didn't mention a lot, but eventually I'll get around to the plot. There is one, no doubt contrary to your expectations after reading this introduction. The protagonist is Phil O'Ginny, perhaps the ultimate slacker given that he looks like a 25 year old schoolboy. He has a terrible wig and sunglasses that change with every scene. He has a standard set of replies for every question, ranging from 'What?' through 'Huh?' to just a blank stare.

Most importantly, he's managed to avoid the Taint. Somehow his disconnection from reality has kept him alive for twelve days while the world has gone to hell in a handbasket. Maybe he just doesn't drink water, because that's how the Taint is transmitted. Twelve days is a long while to go without a shower but Phil wouldn't know what motivated meant if it kicked him in the balls. Given that he's played by the obviously enthusiastic Bolduc, the man with more roles in and on this ultra-indie than I can count on both hands and both feet put together, I'm guessing he's the antithesis of Bolduc himself. When everyone else does, Phil O'Ginny writes his own excuse note and that finally works out when everyone else touches water and he survives by accident. Soon he meets another survivor, the tough as nails Misandra, who introduces herself by shooting a man in the head with a shotgun. Well, not a man, a zombie with a misogynistic one track mind.

It's with Misandra that we find something else in the picture beyond an endless stream of bashed heads and exploding penises. If the Guinness Book of Records had a record for the number of exploding penises in a single film, this would take all comers, if you pardon the expression. Yet Misandra has a happy past and Bolduc plays up the schmaltz as he shows it to us. Before the Taint, she was flouncing through the fields flying kites and blowing bubbles with her boyfriend. There's a glow following them as if the light is magnetic. It's well shot and we can't help but feel the difference in style, not just the tone but the camera angles and the lighting and all those other technical things that you wouldn't expect to see done right in a film that must have spent about two thirds of the budget on marital aids. Of course, one glass of water later and she has to smash his face in and cradle his brain in her hand as she says goodbye. Sparkly doesn't last.

So this exercise in blatancy, brutality and belligerence has a clever side and that keeps our eyes glued to the screen as much as the expectation of the next taboo to topple. No, this film isn't subtle but it has spots of surprising subtlety buried inside the outrageous material, little nuggets of human interaction that might be phrased as points of discovery at the most unexpected times or as stereotypical discovery moments that carefully omit the discovery at the end. The hand touching scene couldn't have been done better by a pro; the scene where an abuser realises what he's doing came so out of left field that it stunned me but it was absolutely right. People are going to divide on this film, without a doubt, with the dedicated few who love it outnumbered to a scary degree by a mass horde of people who will only be offended. I wonder how many will see the skill in the angles, the colours, the choice use of clich├ęs, not just words but feel.

Much of this has to come from Bolduc, who wrote, produced, directed, starred, edited, filled the teapot, whatever had to be done to get his picture made. He did have collaborators, eager ones beginning with Dan Nelson, who notched up almost as many roles as his co-writer, co-producer, co-director. He graciously described the effort as being balanced Bolduc's way: 'Drew wrote the script and is very much the creative mind behind the whole project,' he said. 'I'm just there to make sure that it all happens without too much going wrong.' Bolduc is just as modest, keen to explain how much Nelson put into the film. He describes an organic partnership, where the pair act almost as two halves of a single whole. 'We kind of just become one entity when working,' he says, explaining how there was no set division of labour, just a pair of colleagues stepping in to ensure that whatever was needed at any moment in time was taken care of.

While Bolduc spent a lot of time on screen in a double role as the leading man and a lesser but still prominent character, Nelson mostly stayed behind the camera to handle the shoot. He did play a couple of characters himself, minor but intriguing ones. Who wouldn't want to start out their acting career playing a Nazi Lieutenant and a Severed Head? Yes, there are Nazis here, but only in an insane penis enhancement commercial done in the style of a Nazi propaganda film. This is only one of a number of pastiches woven into the storyline to keep us on our toes and to allow Bolduc to poke fun at everything from nerdy scientist kids to beefcake workouts. Much of this is actually pretty clever, if you can watch it as something other than a checklist of broken taboos, which would be as dangerous a drinking game as one shot for every exploding wang. Remember this film is a riot even when sober. Drunk, it must be truly insane.

What isn't clever is the acting. This picture was probably made for less than I have in my wallet and I'm not feeling too rich today, but it defies it in every way other than the acting. The camera moves well, the picture is good, the effects are awesome for any price. The actors though really aren't actors. Drew Bolduc is a name to watch behind the camera but not in front of it. I saw a lot of comparisons to Bad Taste here, Peter Jackson's debut film and my favourite movie of all time. Bolduc stars twice in his debut feature, just as Jackson starred twice in his, but it didn't take long for the director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy to move progressively more offscreen. I expect Bolduc to do the same, as his budgets improve and his ambition grows. Do I expect him to end up with three films in the IMDb Top 10 at some point in his life? No I don't, but then nobody did after Jackson made Bad Taste either. I'm eager to see Bolduc grow and change.

While he's certainly the most obvious bad actor on screen here, he's joined by others, though to be fair they're all as enjoyable as they are bad. Mostly they just chew on every piece of scenery they can find, from Cody Crenshaw as a flaming queen of a high school gym teacher who may or may not still be in the closet in his own mind to Kenneth Hall as the origin of the Taint. Hall is pretty good as the boy scientist but goes completely batshit crazy later in an Oriental mask with cool teeth. He takes lines as utterly banal as 'This is my friend's parents' basement' and turns them into chanted religious discoveries. Did I enjoy both of them? Absolutely. Would I give them an acting award? No siree, Bob. Maybe in something else. The token girl in the picture is perhaps the accomplished, Colleen Walsh being given a stereotype-breaking part with perhaps the most politically incorrect screen exit ever filmed. I don't know if I cringed or laughed more.

At the end of the day, The Taint is a film that can't be ignored. Most people will hate it, many will love it with a passion, but nobody can really ignore it. The title sucks you in and the trailer can't be unseen. By that point you're either horrified beyond words or you're seeking out the picture. I've talked quite a bit on this blog about the boom in local filmmaking talent in Arizona that has come out of the film school at Arizona State University. Bolduc, Nelson and The Taint seem to be part of a similar boom in Richmond, Virginia, centred around Virginia Commonwealth University. It's wonderful to see such scenes growing up and I look forward to more VCU originating auteurs. In the meantime, I need to spread the word about The Taint. The thing is that this film isn't really a film that you tell people about. It's a film that you go round to their house, interrupt their sleep and force them to watch it. That way you can watch it again while watching them too. I miss that.

The Taint Trailer (NSFW) from Dan Nelson on Vimeo.

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