Sunday, June 22, 2014

Liquid Dreams (Mark S. Manos, 1991)

When the luminous Mink Stole (Desperate Living) first appears onscreen and extends her glad-hand to Candice Daly's character, my initial thought was: Yay! Mink Stole! Why the yay? It's simple, really, Mink Stole rules and you rarely ever see her act in movies that are not written and directed by John Waters (Mondo Trasho). However, when that initial yay-based thought had subsided, another thought popped into my head immediately afterward. And that was: Call me crazy, but it would seem that Mink Stole and I have the exact same arms! As I was thinking this thought, it dawned me: I don't think it's a good idea for grown men living on the fringes of heterosexuality to openly admit that they have the exact same arms as Mink Stole. Then I thought: Fuck that shit, I'm not ashamed of my puny arms. In other words, say it loud and say it proud: I have the upper body of a twelve year-old girl. Deal with it. Okay, enough about my tiny little girl arms, let's get down to the nitty-gritty of this cinematic alkaline potassium compound. It's called Liquid Dreams and it is hands down one of the most aesthetically pleasing films I've seen in a long time.

Remember when you saw Front 242 live in concert back in the early 1990s? You do? Excellent. Do you recall all those television sets in the background that were playing weird images on a loop? Actually, I'm not entirely sure if it was Front 242 now that I think about it. All right, let me try again. Did anyone see an industrial band in concert during the early 1990s? Well, if you did, you'll recognize a lot the imagery used throughout this hyper-stylish sci-fi noir/erotic thriller.

Part Videodrome, part Wizard of Oz, part Dr. Caligari, part Baby Face, with a dash of Liquid Sky thrown in there for good measure, Liquid Dreams takes place in what looks like the not-so distant future.

And even though place names like, "Ohio" and "Kansas" are used in the early going, the film shirks nationalism and seems much more interested in creating a unique sense of time and place. It attempts to depict a world that exists purely on its own terms. Something I wish more films would try to do, as I'm getting little tired of films that are set in the real world.

Proving that you don't necessarily need a big budget in order to fashion a completely fabricated world from scratch, writer-director Mark Manos and co-writer Zack Davis set their dystopic vision in a large building called "NeuroVid," which I think was created by using a large model.

While I'm itching to give you a guided tour of the NeuroVid Complex, let's first talk about that opening credits sequence, as it's a doozy. Starting with an explosion of static noise, we're shown a rapid fire series of bizarre images set to what sounds like a Clock DVA* B-side circa The Hacker. Boasting masked figures moaning, scat porn (I'm not 100% sure about this one), blurry images, video glitches, lips smeared with blood and random acts of sadomasochism, the makers of Liquid Dreams have already signaled to me that they mean business. Which, I'll admit, caused me to let out a bit of a sigh of relief, as I thought I was about to watch a bland straight-to-cable erotic thriller.

The cab driver (John Doe) who picks up Eve Black (Candice Daly) pegs her as a small town girl from Ohio in search of a lost love in the big city. Telling him that she is in fact from Kansas and is in search of Tina (Karen Dahl), her long lost sister, Eve instructs the cabbie to let her out in front of an ominous-looking building.

When she enters the lobby, we get our first real taste of NeuroVid, the only channel available in the NeuroVid Complex. Finding her sister's apartment on level three, Eve is shocked to discover her sister lying dead in her bathtub. Asking Cecil (Tracey Walter), a NeuroVid employee with a stutter, to help her, Eve begins to panic. Who did this to her and how did she end up in this place? are the questions that are probably going through her mind right now as she watches Cecil snap pictures of Tina's naked corpse.

Looking like he just stepped off the set of a classic film noir, Lt. Rodino (Richard Steinmetz) enters the room and begins asking Eve a bunch of questions. Wearing a fedora and seemingly always in the process of lighting a cigarette, Lt. Rodino's forthright manner manages to irk Eve, who is still somewhat shell-shocked.

When Eve makes it clear that she has no intention of leaving until she finds out who was responsible for her sister's death, Lt. Rodino asks her, using the most condescending tone in his vast arsenal of condescending tones, if she has any idea where she is. While his tone is a tad dickish, he is right, Eve has no clue what's in store for her if she decides to hang around NeuroVid.

Noticing a video monitor on the wall (every room is equipped with one), she turns up the volume and experiences the audio-video assault that is NeuroVid first-hand. I must say, even though we only get a brief taste of what NeuroVid has to offer, the moment when Eve turns up the volume has to be one of the most industrial moments in film history.

After Lt. Rodino leaves, Eve thinks that she can simply start living in Tina's apartment. Wrong! You see, the apartments in the NeuroVid complex are strictly for employees of NeuroVid. Which means... well, I'll let Juno (Juan Fernández) explain it to her. Kicking her out before she even had to a chance to ask how much the rent is, Eve is sent packing.

Luckily, Paula (Frankie Thorn), who is wearing red gloves and a headband covered in polka dots, sees this and decides to help Eve out by getting her audition to work at The Red Top, a club located on the fifth floor that sort of acts as training ground for new girls (and you can't get any more new than Eve). Borrowing one of Paula's outfits, a tight red dress, Eve is "interviewed" by Maurice (James Oseland), who tells her to dance on his desk without knocking anything over. You would think that Eve's long, shapely legs would be knocking things over left, right and centre, but she doesn't upset a single item on his desk. Boo-ya!

Given the stage name "Dorothy," Eve is assigned a first floor dormitory (she seems glad her room's video monitor is on the fritz, but Cecil tells her he'll come by to fix it later - NeuroVid, NV for short, is mandatory), and she gets a quick refresher course on the many rules and regulations that come with working at The Red Top by Juno, her new boss (that's right, one minute he's kicking you out onto the street, the next he's telling you that you'll be making 500 units a week).

Now, The Red Top isn't your average strip club. The men ask the women if they want to slow dance, and when the men start to get grabby, the woman takes him to a private area located behind a red curtain. Once there, the man is escorted by a couple of "Escorts" (men in grey jumpsuits) to The Hot Box. What happens in The Hot Box is a bit of a mystery at first. But as we soon find out, the reason the women are instructed to take the men behind the red curtain when they get grabby is because that's when their brains are teeming with endorphins.

One of the first men Eve/Dorothy takes behind the red curtain is Angel (Paul Bartel), a throat, ear and foot fetishist (his line pertaining to Eve/Dorothy's sweaty feet brought a tear to my eye). Curious to know what happens to the men once they're inside The Hot Box, Eve/Dorothy decides to take a peak. And let's just say Eve/Dorothy is appalled by what she sees.

Told that she has "television potential," Eve/Dorothy reluctantly agrees to appear in one of NeuroVid's videos. This leads to the film's best sequence, a video shoot on a farm set featuring a male reactor (those who appear in NV videos are not called actors, they're called reactors) dressed like a deformed scarecrow and two half-naked guys in crow masks dancing around  Eve/Dorothy, who is dressed as a farm girl in white hold-up stockings.

Instructed by the video's director, Felix (Mink Stole), to listen to her muze, the scene mixes Rinse Dream-style kookiness with Belgian electro-industrial music (Insekt, Vomito Negro, A Split-Second, The Klinik, Snowy Red, Liquid G, etc.), as the vocal sample, "freedom from the flesh," is repeated over and over again.

In-between the shots of Eve/Dorothy shooting her NV video, we're shown snippets of her performance at Twilight, the strip club that serves as a jumping off point to being chosen to participate in The Ritual. And once you have performed in both a NeuroVid video and danced at Twilight, you're pretty much guaranteed to be asked to partake in The Ritual. And as you might expect, The Ritual takes place on the penthouse floor, where The Major (Barry Dennen), the NV big cheese, rules over his sick, twisted, self-contained mini-empire.

As both Paula (who lounges in white hold up stockings while watching NV like a pro) and Marilyn Tokuda's Violet (a fellow Red Top dancer who is obsessed with Eve/Dorothy's leather jacket) would say, in the world of NeuroVid, "you're either up or out." That's right, there's no turning back for her. If Eve really wants to know what happened to her sister, she's going to have to keep climbing the NeuroVid ladder all the way to the top.

Black stockings, white stockings, blindfolds, syringes, Mink Stole (Female Trouble - "I wouldn't suck your lousy dick if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls!"), talk of "peak experiences," siphoning endorphins, Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul - "Why don't you go to bed, honey? I'll bag the Nazi and straighten up."), mismatched opera gloves, industrial inspired music (composer Ed Tomney's electronic score is amazing), muze blocking, skinny arm confessions, Tracey Walter (Repo Man - "The more you drive, the less intelligent you are."), and neon diner clocks, Liquid Dreams, to put it simply, is what awesome looks like.

If you're like me, and you thought someone should make a movie that totally looks like it was inspired by the cover of "The Ritual Should Be Kept Alive (Part 2)" by The Hybryds (who, like everything that was cool circa 1990, are from Belgium), your prayers have finally been answered.

Oh, and, by the way, if you have twenty-five minutes to kill, you should check out "The Ritual Should Be Kept Alive (Part 2)," it's trippy and intense. And lastly, don't even think about trying to take advantage of my freakishly tiny arms, I have the legs of a Welsh rugby player. Meaning, I'll straight up kick your ass.

* Clock DVA is actually pronounced "klok dvah." I used to say, "klok dee-vee-ay" back in the day. I know, how embarrassing.


  1. I think I pronounced them "Clock Diva" initially.

    This is one movie I would've heartily recommended to you if I had remembered to do so.

    1. My pronunciation is still way more embarrassing.

      Feel free to recommend anything that comes close to replicating the chi-chi brand of awesome that Liquid Dreams repeatedly puts out there in the not-so distant future.