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The Shelf: UNDER THE SKIN, ORPHAN BLACK Season 2, SCANNERS

The general theme for these releases this week is dark, disturbing, and violent. There’s definitely humor in here too, so don’t feel too downtrodden. This isn’t an episode of The Leftovers or something. It’s just a week where a movie about an alien who sucks out men’s insides, a movie where people make other people’s heads explode, and a show where cloned people are treated like livestock all happen to be released on the same day. Is that weird? I don’t think it’s weird.

Under the Skin
In a strange mixture of The Man Who Fell to Earth and Taxi Driver (kind of), Jonathan Glazer’s sparse and moody Under the Skin plays like several layers of a weird fever dream. Scarlett Johansson plays an extraterrestrial wearing the suit of an attractive human woman who drives around Scotland picking up various blokes and taking them back to her “flat” which is really some insane black void wherein the unsuspecting and entranced men are submerged in water and their innards are summarily yanked out of their body to be used as fuel(?) or food(?). Throughout, the alien observes humanity with the disaffected curiosity of a cat looking at a bug but eventually she begins to wonder (quietly, in her head) about what her form actually means.

Johansson is really haunting and gives remarkable depth to a necessarily underwritten character. The movie as a whole doesn’t hang together quite so well, but there’s definitely some great and interesting things in it.

To read my full review of Under the Skin, click this sentence.

Orphan Black Season Two
So, I think we’re all pretty much in agreement that the second season of Orphan Black was pretty phenomenal, right? The continuing story of all the different clone sisters (or “seestras”) played by the brilliant Tatiana Maslany found itself a new clone to hate in the form of Rachel, the de-facto leader of the creepy and clandestine Dyad institute who also happens to want main character Sarah’s daughter Kira because… well, mostly because she’s a hateful, wicked hosebeast. But also she’s got a lot of family issues, which come to the forefront in this season as well.

Actually, this season is all about family and holding on to the one you have, even if it’s not the one you thought it was. Allison and Donnie have a confrontation (or three), Cosima and Delphine have to figure out where they stand with each other in light of last season’s cliffhanger revelation, and hell even someone we thought died last year comes back and becomes embroiled in family hoopla. Parentage and husbandry and all that sciencey stuff. Orphan Black continues to be one of TV’s best dramas, sci-fi or otherwise, and that starts at the writing and continues through the stellar acting, especially that of Maslany who is so good I have to keep reminding myself it’s the same actress. But that’s all been said before. I’ve cloned my praise of her.

Scanners
David Cronenberg is of course known as the master of body horror, but he also happens to have had one of the most interestingly varied careers within the genre. Beginning with his horror debut, 1975’s Shivers (aka They Came From Within), Cronenberg cemented his place as Canada’s godfather of sexual terror, with a movie about parasitic slugs that infest a tower block and force the residents to bone each other to death. This was followed closely by Rabid in 1977 in which a woman who’s just had plastic surgery starts drinking people’s blood and turning them into crazed murderous zombies, and The Brood in 1979 in which a man thinks his wife’s psychiatrist’s unorthodox techniques are related to a string of brutal murders committed by mutant children. Hint: They are related 100%.

All very life, death, and sex related those films, but when Cronenberg made 1981’s Scanners, he kept the gore but changed the tact a bit. It follows a man (played by Stephen Lack) who has extraordinary psychic abilities who is recruited by a mysterious gentleman (Patrick McGoohan who is the most mysterious person ever) to help track down the others like him. One of these other “scanners” is Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) who uses his ability to make a dude’s head explode in front of a ton of other people. He’s the bad guy if you hadn’t guessed.

Scanners is probably one Cronenberg’s best-known films and one of his more interesting. While not at the level of allegory as his masterworks like Videodrome or The Fly, nor as universal as some of his more mainstream films like The Dead Zone, and of course much later A History of Violence, it does feature some of his most indelible images and a truly chilling performance from Ironside.

The Criterion release contains a new documentary, an interview with Ironside, an interview with Lack, and a digitally-restored print of Cronenberg’s 1969 first feature Stereo (weirdly not a prequel to Radio).

Black Dynamite Season One
How do you properly take a beloved cult film and turn it into a successful animated series? You keep what’ll work and change what won’t. Obviously. Going from a movie that was as much a parody of 1970’s blaxsploitation movies as it was an example of one, Black Dynamite found new life on Adult Swim as an anime-inspired action/comedy, which still had lots of blaxsploitation elements and that amazing chant of “Dy-No-Mite! Dy-No-Mite!” several times an episode. The writing is incredibly clever and the dialogue (delivered by Michael Jai White, Byron Minns, Tommy Davidson, and Kym Whitley from the film) has the same ridiculous punch it did on celluloid. The series got a whole lot weirder and full of space aliens and things, but that only makes it funnier.

Click here to read my full review of Season One of Black Dynamite.

Deadly Eyes
This Canadian cult classic from 1982 is so delightfully silly it’ll make your gut hurt. Based as loose as can be on Frank Herbert’s book The Rats, Deadly Eyes is about giant, mutated rats that begin terrorizing Toronto and the characters who feel much more like they’re in an After School Special until they get eaten. And how are the rats achieved? The filmmakers put costumes on dachshunds. Yeah. I can’t believe it either. It’s a thing that needs to be seen to be believed.

Check back on Wednesday for my full review of Deadly Eyes as part of my Schlock & Awe column.

Rio 2
And to round us out, a sequel I didn’t see to a movie I didn’t see. But it’s out now if you’re into that kind of thing.

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