Friday, September 7, 2007

Slashed Dreams (1975): or, the Feel-Good Rape/Revenge Hit of the Summer

You know, I've wasn't even going to review Slashed Dreams, because like a handful of other movies from the miraculous Mill Creek 50 Chilling Classics Pack (buy yourself one NOW!), this is not in fact a horror movie. Originally titled Sunburst, this Age-of-Aquarius era back-to-nature flick was ruthlessly re-titled on video and made to look like an I Spit on Your Grave rip-off in order to take advantage of co-star Robert Englund's subsequent fame as everyone's favorite dream killer. Like Medusa (George Hamilton as an incestuous Greek in trouble with the mob) and Death Rage (Yul Brynner as a vengeful hitman), this movie is neither chilling nor classic, and so is completely out of place on this set.

But after reading a few dozen seething, hate-filled, absolutely dismissive reviews of Slashed Dreams on the intarwebs, I felt that somebody needed to step up in its defense. Not because it's a great movie secretly awaiting discovery by the erudite few who can appreciate it, but because I felt it was basically a good-natured, harmless, moderately interesting time-capsule that in no way deserves the piles of disdain being heaped upon it. Sure, it may be a little stupid, a little naive, and a little boring, but hey, aren't we all?

The plot goes a little something like this. Fed up with her hyper-insensitive, slightly sadistic fratboy boyfriend, homecoming queen Jenny (Katherine Baumann) dumps him and goes searching for meaning in her life. Inspired by a professor's lecture on "positivity" and "the new Aquarian age" and in receipt of a letter from a former classmate who dropped out to go kick it Walden-style in the remote woods, Jenny and lifelong best friend Robert (Peter Hooten) decide to hell with school, let's go visit our buddy Michael in his little cabin! After being warned by a nutty old shop owner not to go into those dangerous woods, they spend a few days hiking through the wilderness, getting in touch both with nature and with their long-suppressed romantic feelings for each other.

That's pretty much the first hour of this 78 minute movie. A lot of reviewers have savaged the film for this, since nothing much happens except hiking montages, the couple interacting, and lots and lots of very funny 70s folk-pop music. The songs actually do comment on the action, serving as a kind of poetic narration to the kids' difficult but fun trek through the woods. During one long sequence when the hikers are trying unsuccessfully to get up a steep mountainside, we get the actually pretty funny song "Animals are Clumsy, Too," with such insightful lyrics as:

"Next time you hit your head and roll in pain,
Just think about a turkey drowning in the rain!
Animals are clumsy too!"

It's a weird narrative choice, but for some reason I didn't mind it so much. It was almost like a musical, or at least a long-form music video album. But I think what got me was the frankly excellent chemistry between the two leads. Jenny and Robert are a couple of silly, extremely likeable kids, and you can totally believe they've been best friends forever, just from their gestures, expressions, and the way they play off each other. It's really some fine acting from both of them, and even without much dialogue they completely drew me in to their burgeoning romance.

The original, much more accurate poster.

When they finally get to the cabin, Michael isn't there. They settle in to wait for him, enjoying the wonderful scenery and the Walden-like pond nearby. Then they decide to go skinny-dipping together and their sexual tension begins its release, which I was actually pleased to see. Of course you know what that means: it's time for the inbreds to show up.

Danker and
Levón could be hillbillies, bikers, trappers, or just skuzzy dropouts scrounging for mushrooms in the woods. (That's the problem with nature--there's too damn many PEOPLE in it!) It's never really explained, nor does it really need to be--they're just two other people in the world, and people you don't want to know. They menace the nude swimmers and then retreat, allowing Jenny and Robert to consummate their romance in Michael's cabin.

Then, in the part that got it repackaged, the bad guys show up, knock out Robert, and after some monologuing, rape Jenny. It's a strange scene, because it flows very much like a scene from a stage play to me. Levón, scarred and ugly, has a fairly well-written speech about his ugliness giving him power, and how Jenny can't stop what's going to happen. However, when Jenny faints and won't fight him, he can't go through with the assault. He shakes her, pleading, "Come on, fight me! Hit me! Wake up and hit me!" but to no avail. Danker takes over, though, beating and raping Jenny until Levón pulls him off out of, apparently, jealousy. There's a weird dynamic going on between the two bad guys, as we'll see more in a moment.

The rapists leave, and Jenny and Robert are left to deal silently with their scars while yet another narrative song plays over them. Finally Michael arrives, having been hiking for 2 days to gather tea, or something. It's pretty shocking how handsome and young Robert Englund looks here, and his caring, hippie character is also a shock, but he pulls it off well. In fact I'd say the acting is above average across the board in this flick--Danker and Levón included, which may be why I wasn't especially bored.

Here's another part the haters savage--trying to help Jenny out of her emotional shock, Michael tells her to "take some meaning from it," and try to use it to find some "truth." "You have to think about the good things," he tells her, "and drive that devil out of your house!" Some see this as his just saying, "Get over it, girl!" or worse, saying the rape was necessary for her personal growth. I didn't see it that way at all--I just thought he was trying to find a way to help her cope with her bad experience and come out of it stronger. It's the same way people tell grieving relatives that their loved ones' deaths are "God's Will"--it sounds a bit callous, but sometimes it helps people to deal. So I didn't mind Englund's new-agey stuff here.

Robert, guilt-stricken over having "allowed" Jenny to get raped, goes off into the woods with his little hatchet, seeking revenge. He finds the rapists, apparently still bickering about what happened last night. Again, this scene plays very much like a scene from a stage play, but that's not entirely bad--the writing is good in a stagey way, and the weird psychology between the two bad guys--Danker wants to go back for more, accusing Levón of being mad he "couldn't get it up" and "still has that Cheeks disease" or something--which leads to a fight in which Levón hamstrings the beefier Danker with a hunting knife. Ouch!

The odds suddenly even, Robert jumps out and attacks Levón, leading to a long fight between the two that's actually well-staged. Then end up wallowing in a mud-puddle, significantly, and when Michael and Jenny show up, the rapists hobble off into the woods, leaving an exhausted, weeping Robert covered in mud. He realizes it "wasn't even worth it," and he's "ashamed of himself." We get another song about healing, a poetry reading about living through pain in order to arrive at peace, and that's pretty much the end.

Now I can see why someone expecting a horror flick would hate this. It's slow, there's lots of goofy music, and if it's meant to be a rape-revenge flick, where's the revenge? But maybe because I wasn't expecting it to be such--I read a few reviews beforehand--it didn't feel like a betrayal to me, and I was able to watch it a little more open-mindedly. Because what this really is, I think, is a New Age Rape/Revenge flick, in which the spiritual seekers forgo the revenge in the end and are better for it. It's that positivity stuff the prof was talking about. Jenny and Robert find truth not because of the rape/revenge, but because by looking inward they're able to overcome the bad stuff. Or at least I think that's the point.

Some people find that idea stupid and contemptible, and I can see that--like I said, this movie comes off as more than a little bit naive, in a Hair/Flower Children kinda way. But maybe b/c of the mood I was in, I didn't mind--it was a sweet naivety, the kind you almost wish could be true. A time-capsule of a simpler, sweeter time. With rape.

So that's my defense. Not a great movie, but I think a fairly decent one. Good acting from all involved, a fairly good (if stagey) script, a definite sweet side, and a few interesting directorial choices that even if you don't agree with, you have to give props for. Or at least I do.

I give Slashed Dreams 1.75 thumbs--a little above average, and the kind of thing you might be able to enjoy, if you approach it from the right direction. And don't forget: animals are clumsy too.

Positivity. Give it a try.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails