Those that complain that horror has grown too comfortable or stale or who proclaim that there’s nothing “different” to watch are clearly not paying attention to Wild Eye Releasing, a company that specializes in truly independent cult horror and exploitation cinema. Their films cannot be easily categorized and refuse to fit inside any prefabricated boxes, which I know can be off-putting for some people. They are often, for lack of a better word, “weird,” and their appeal lies in just how outside the norm they can be.
Cat Sick Blues, one of two titles new to DVD from Wild Eye, certainly fits the bill as independent outsider cinema. The Australian production finds a woman named Claire (Shian Denovan) who has achieved some degree of notoriety thanks to her internet famous cat. A mentally disturbed admirer breaks into her home, rapes her, and kills her cat, all of which is caught on video and goes viral. She begins attending a support group where she meets Ted (Matthew C. Vaughn), who is so despondent over the death of his own cat that he has taken to putting on a giant cat suit (complete with big cat head, claw gloves, and an enormous, protruding phallus) and murdering nine women in order to bring his cat back. So, that’s the plot of a movie.
Look: you either read that description of Cat Sick Blues and know that you plan to never see this movie or you know that you have to see it immediately. I can’t blame you for either response. I consider myself a fairly adventurous moviegoer, but most of Cat Sick Blues is outside even my comfort zone. Co-writer and director Dave Jackson never quite establishes a clear tone; on the one hand, he’s clearly interested in exploring real trauma, albeit in a totally outrageous way, but on the other hand I can’t help but feel that he finds the movie’s excesses funny.
The movie is extremely casual—dismissive, even—about sexual assault, which I know those involved would argue “to a point.” I will disagree that one scene of YouTube reactions of people watching a rape really makes the statement that Cat Sick Blues thinks it’s making, especially when the rest of the film is so uninterested in considering these implications. The violence is very graphic and mean spirited, always towards women, and the whole thing gets more hallucinatory and strange the longer it goes on. At the same time, there’s a lot of artfulness in the filmmaking. The dialogue is hard to understand because it’s buried in the mix, but the visuals are often very pretty even in their grisly awfulness. I know that there is an audience for the fucked-up insanity of Cat Sick Blues. I’m just probably not part of it. I mean, I’m allergic to cats.
The same could be said for Soft Matter, written and directed by Jim Hickcox, a cinematographer and cameraman making his feature directing debut here. Somehow, Soft Matter makes even less sense than Cat Sick Blues, but at least it has the willingness to be overtly silly and comedic. It’s nonsense, sure, but never pretends to be anything else. It’s about two graffiti artists who want to create an installation inside an abandoned research facility, only to discover it’s not abandoned and that there are, in fact, scientists there who are conducting crazy experiments and creating mutants in the hopes of resurrecting some sort of ancient Sea God. Spoilers: they succeed. The researchers, I mean, not the graffiti artists. I’ll keep you in suspense as to whether or not that building gets tagged.
Movies like Soft Matter sometimes make me throw up my hands. It’s so offbeat, so uninterested in any sort of conventional storytelling or logic, that trying to follow everything going on is a fool’s errand. Hickcox has no interest in rules both narrative and formal, introducing animation at times and regularly breaking the fourth wall. There’s an anarchic sense of joyful freedom throughout the film that keeps me from ever getting frustrated or angry at it; how can I get mad at a movie that’s clearly having this much fun? The performances are fun, particularly from the two young artists, the colors pop, and the Sea God (played by Sam Stinson, voiced by Mykal Monroe) is a very cool makeup job. Also, saying it appears is not a spoiler; it’s the centerpiece of the movie’s marketing. It’s another kind of out-there movie I can absolutely imagine some people loving, but again it’s not for me. I mean, I’m allergic to Sea Gods.
The next time you hear someone whining that there’s nothing new being done in horror or that gone are the days when movies took chances, point them in the direction of Wild Eye Releasing. Their movies aren’t always to be my sensibilities, but they’re most definitely serving an audience that isn’t getting served anywhere else, and isn’t that better than a bunch of indie movies that feel safe or generic? The horror landscape has plenty of Slender Mans. Those of you who are tired of it know where to find your Cat Heads and Sea Gods.
Cat Sick Blues Score: 2/5
Soft Matter Score: 2/5