Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Dark Backward (Adam Rifkin, 1991)

In most movies, when a character stumbles upon the body of a naked woman at the local dump, their first instinct is to call the authorities. Well, how should I put this? The Dark Backward is not even close to being most movies. In fact, it's unlike anything I've ever seen. Oh, sure, parts it reminded me of Eraserhead (and I'm not just saying this because it mentions it on the film's poster), Blade Runner, Shredder Orpheus, The King of Comedy and Dr. Caligari. But the film, written and directed by Adam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City), is definitely a unique experience. Don't believe me? Um, Judd Nelson plays a struggling stand-up comic whose best friend is a chubby chasing, accordion-playing garbageman played by Bill Paxton. Any questions? I don't mean to toot my own horn (or squeeze my own accordion), but what was great about that last sentence is that I didn't need to allude to the fact that Judd Nelson's character grows a third arm. What's not so great about that last sentence is the fact that I called Bill Paxton's character a "chubby chaser." Trust me, he ain't no chubby chaser. The chicks he bangs in this movie are beyond chubby. Not to get too graphic, but I think Pickles' left bicep weighs more than me (Pickles being, of course, one of the morbidly obese women Bill Paxton mounts-thanks to sheer industriousness-and ultimately fucks in this movie).

Wait, that wasn't graphic at all. What I should have was: I think Pickles' rarely seen labia weighs more than me ("rarely seen" because it's shielded by a mountain range of abdominal flesh). While not factually accurate (her labia doesn't gain weight, and, hence, it does not weigh more than me), I think most people will agree that labias are funnier than biceps. Actually, anything cunt-based is a hundred times funnier than anything arm-based; just ask  jazz aficionado Soupy Sales. Whatta you mean he's dead? Criminy.

It's too bad Marty Malt (Judd Nelson) and I weren't best friends, as I could have taught him a thing or two about comedy. Instead, he's best friends with a guy named Gus (Bill Paxton), a sycophantic cheerleader who fills Marty's head with delusional nonsense on a daily basis. The biggest delusion being that he's actually funny.

They say the majority of comedy comes from pain, and it looks like Marty Malt is going to find this out the hard way when a painful nodule on the middle of his back grows into a human arm. I know, I said cunt-based humour is superior to arm-based humour. But arm-based humour is nothing to sneeze at. Granted, I can't think of any comedians off the top of my head who have had successful careers utilizing arm-based humour in their act. But I don't see why someone couldn't. I mean, arms can be funny, especially if you know a how to flail them properly.

I'm sorry, I'm trying to figure out why I compared The Dark Backward to Blade Runner a couple of paragraphs ago. The others I can sort of see. But Blade Runner? I'm just not seeing it. Hold on, I just remembered. When Marty and Gus are leaving Syd's comedy club after another terrible/awesome show, the camera hovers over this rooftop. And as we're doing so, I spotted a pile of dust-laden trash. Well, in Blade Runner, when Deckard is entering the police station, the camera hovers over the roof of Bryant's office. Anyone care to guess what's on the roof of Bryant's office? That's right, dust-laden trash.

Though, I think it's safe to say that The Dark Backward beats the snot out of Blade Runner in terms of garbage. Seriously, this film is wall-to-wall trash. And I mean that as a compliment.

Did I mention that Gus forces two of his morbidly obese girlfriends to eat dog food off his nipples?

Introduced to the "comedy stylings" of Marty Malt right off the bat, a sweaty Judd Nelson takes the stage at Syd's, a local club that seems to cater to the over 75 crowd. Telling a joke about buying stamps and one where his pet turtle turns out to be a rock, things are going pretty bad for the comedian in the pea green suit. Or are they? According to his accordion-playing pal Gus, he was hilarious and tells him afterward that the audience was laughing on the inside.

I'm thinking that Gus is either humouring his friend or that he has serious mental problems. I'm leaning more toward the latter. Judging by Gus' overall demeanour, he seems to have a few screws loose. (You mean he ain't hooked up right?) That's exactly what I mean, and Bill Paxton plays up Gus' insanity to the hilt. If you're like me and thought Bill's wacky antics were the best things about Aliens and Near Dark, you'll love his performance in this film, as he makes Nic Cage's gonzo turn in Deadfall seem restrained.

One of the keys to impressing me, cinema-wise, is the ability to create a world unto itself. And The Dark Backward manages to do that and then some. Shirking nationalism and popular culture, the film has its own ecosystem.

Take, for instance, the whole "Blump's" thing. Now, I'm not entirely sure what Blump's is, but they seem to have cornered the market for pretty much everything. Whether it be squeezable bacon, pork juice, beef, scab medicine, cigars/cigarettes, lemon fresh suppositories or cheddar-scented cheese, Blump's have got you covered.

Even Marty and Gus seem to be under the thumb of Blump's, as they work for their sanitation division. Though, I have to say, they're not very good at their jobs (the bulk of the trash they pick up rarely ever makes it into the back of the garbage truck).

One day, as they're out on their route, Gus notices a lump in the middle of Marty's back. No biggie, right? It's just an insect bite. After Gus molests a corpse at the dump, Marty takes a second stab at Syd's club. And like the opening set, it does not go well, as the geriatrics in the audience remain stone-faced throughout his painfully unfunny act.

While Marty has Lara Flynn Boyle's diner waitress to lean on for support, Gus has his portly harem of obese woman to eat stir fried dog food off his nipples. Lucky bastard. (Which one?) Which one what? (Which one is the lucky bastard?) Uh, I'd rather not say at this particular juncture.

As Marty's lump grows into an arm, he looses the support of Lara Flynn Boyle (she can't handle dating a guy with three arms) and gets nothing but confused looks from Dr. Scurvy (James Caan) and Nurse Kitty (Claudia Christian). But he does find an ally in Jackie Chrome (Wayne Newton), a talent agent. When Jackie saw Marty's act without the third arm, he reacted the way almost everyone does: Hostile indifference. But now that Marty has a three arms as supposed to just two, Jackie sees this as an opportunity to turn his abnormality into fame and fortune.

Re-branding them as "Desi the Three-Armed Wonder Comic and his musical accompaniment Gus," Jackie books Marty and Gus at a number of different clubs throughout the city. Of course, the results are the exactly same as they were before the third arm came along (Marty is still not funny, and Gus' accordion playing does nothing but confuse the audience), but Jackie seems to think the three-armed comic has potential.

It's true, production designer (Sherman Williams) and art director (Wendy Guidery) deserve a lot of the credit for making this the cult classic that it is today, it's actually the visionary weirdness of writer-director Adam Rifkin that elevates it to the status of off-kilter masterpiece. Screw that, everyone involved with this film needs to be commended.


  1. So unfairly overlooked by the Academy. A true classic in every sense.

  2. Pickles is played by the late Debra Perkins AKA "Teighlor" in the adult magazine and film industry. A marvelous large woman who has more sex appeal than a dozen Victoria's Secret models. The late Bill Paxton as her amorous suitor is incredible and about as obnoxiously funny as it gets.

  3. I want to bugger Lara Flynn Boyle (as the bird was in 1988 when the bird was 18, not as the middle-aged slag is now, obviously!).

  4. ocular moistness reveals a longing to be groped, or, at the very least, poked with a sharp stick

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