Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Liquid Sky (1982): or, The Chicken and the Alien Sex Fiend

Due to my extensive responsibilities around the Vicarage, I'm afraid I don't often have the opportunities my friend the Duke does to go on archaelogical expeditions in search of Mad Movie Booty in all obscure corners of the world. In fact just last week His Excellency invited me to come with him to a remote section of what was once ancient Cambria to excavate the crypt of Gogmagog in quest of the never-seen Gaelic translation of Quando os Deuses Adormecem, but because of my previous committment to speak at the Triannual meeting of the Ordum Illuminatus de Betamax, I was forced to decline. To my regret--I haven't heard from the Duke since his riverboat was reported lost in a violent storm on the Humber after a cataclysmic lightning storm--but I look forward with interest to his eventual report.

Still, sometimes a treasure falls unsought-for into the lap of a man of Gawd, and such was the case this weekend when after my sermon on the Torments of Eternal Damnation Alley, I noticed an odd humming sound a looked up to discover, quite to my surprise, a dinner-plate sized spacecraft with the legend "X-Y-Z" on its undercarriage hovering just above the peak of my mitre. Ere I had time to gasp in alarm, the diminuitive cosmonaut dropped into my outstretched hands a small videodisc--and then, in a flash, they were gone.

Which is how I came into possession of the 1982 science fiction (or is it?) oddity, Liquid Sky.

This is indeed a movie from another planet, and that planet is the 1982 New York Fashion Underground. I don't know where my extraterrestrial benefactors came from, but whatever society is their home could hardly be any more bizarre, unworldly, and downright alien than the milieu depicted here. It is a world of wonders I never would have believed existed but for this film, and for that I can only be grateful.

This is one of those wonderful movies where I feel I'm doing it a disservice even offering a synopsis, as no mere plot outline can adequately represent the raptures contained herein. Part science fiction, part cultural/anthropological document, part psychadelic drug trip, and all one hundred percent FABULOUS. And there's more than that, much more. But, since in a review the plot is the thing, I'll make my best attempt:

Last seen in the skies over the VHS Vicarage...

Smack-addicted aliens have come to earth in search of heroin. Naturally they settle in the plentiful opiate-fields of 80s New York, whereupon they discover that a chemical produced by the human brain at the moment of orgasm is even better than the horse. So they land above the apartment of Margaret (Anne Carlisle), a morose, androgynous, sexually frigid fashion model who has the disconcerting habit of getting raped a lot. When her partners, both consensual and non-consensual, start getting knocked off by the unseen alien menace, Margaret believes she has become a sexual killing machine and decides to use her new power to get revenge on those who have wronged her.

Meanwhile, a West German scientist with Werner Herzog's accent and Michael Jackson's red leather jacket is tracking the aliens with the help of Margaret's old drama teacher and a sexually rapacious Jewish woman who is obsessed with shrimp. And Margaret's abusive girlfriend Adrian, a diminutive performance artist of the Sprockets school, is dealing smack out of their apartment to a failed artist and amateur drug historian who has problems of his own. And in a fourth narrative thread, androgynous male fashion model Jimmy (ALSO played by Anne Carlisle) distances himself from his priveliged upbringing and wallows in drugs and perversion for the sake of self-destructiveness.

You with me so far?

Are you wigging yet?

But that description is just the half of it. We get wild, totally alien club scenes with spasmodic dancing and unbelievable clothing and makeup choices. (Think Patrick Nagel meets The Sex Pistols, then multiply that by WTF?) We get positively RELENTLESS carnival music played on a state-of-the-art (circa 1980) synthesizer. We get a switchblade catfight over a naked middle-aged corpse. We get a very long and increasingly disturbing sequence of the Jewess's attempted seduction of the scientist, with multiple shrimp references. ("In my house, shrimps are more important than duty.") We get an a capello rendtion of "Old McDonald" done by New Wave Punks. We get necrophiliac face-sitting. We get a nightmarish doppleganger blow-job scene. A David Bowie name-check. And an extended Chicken Lady motif that is probably not referencing the climactic final images of Tod Browning's Freaks, but very well could be.

It's all here, Mad Movie fans. And more--impossibly, indescribably more. Questionable editing choices. Thickly-trowelled helpings of 1980s video effects. Zero actors who look to be at a healthy (i.e., non-emaciated) weight. Philosophical dialogue cut straight from your freshman journals. ("[In the 60s] You thought your jeans stood for love, freedom and sexual equality. We, at least, know we're in costume." "You want me to be a happy housewife, slave to a husband's desire. A hooker is at least independent.") We get the Empire State Building as the world's largest syringe.

We get "Me and My Rhythm Box." Oh, dear Lord, we are not worthy!

How 'bout now?

Director Slava Tsukerman deserves props for piling on the sometimes gorgeous, sometimes hilarious, sometimes disturbing, but always memorable images. Anne Carlisle's monotone performance as both Margaret and Jimmy will stick with you despite her dramatic limitations, as the flat delivery of the lines seems to be part of the whole point. And Paula Sheppard as Adrian gives a performance that is Mad Movie Legend. Oh Paula, where have you gone? Berlin, maybe?

For all the wonders of the film, it does drag a bit in the middle sections, and the characters--who almost NEVER act the way you'd imagine actual Earthling people acting in a given situation--might be a little too much for some viewers to buy into. Plus the aforementioned relentless carnival music almost becomes a Chinese Water Torture-level affliction by the end. But I was in love all the way through.

Still, because of these reservations I give Liquid Sky 2.5 thumbs, instead of the 3 I would assign if there were only my tastes to consider. Nonetheless, it's required viewing for anyone with a taste for the bizarre. So paint a landing strip on your roof, have some sex, and hope the aliens will visit you with a copy of Liquid Sky. Just be sure to stop before you get vaporized--lest you become another Jimmy. Think on't.

And wherever you are, X-Y-Z Cosmonaut, thank you. May you travel the galaxies in peace.

Paula E. Sheppard--MMMMMovie Royalty

PS--While I am able to find no proof that Dolph Lundgren's 1990 scifi vehicle I Come in Peace--with its incredibly similar "endorphins are alien heroin" plot device--is a direct remake of Liquid Sky with Dolph in the Anne Carlisle role, I am nonetheless convinced that this is the case. Sadly, Mr. Lundgren is no Anne Carlisle.


kindertrauma said...

I was actually drroling over this poorly done Paula E. Sheppard shrine the other day. Her resume is tragically too short.

--kindertrauma john

kindertrauma said...

correction: drooling

Paula brings outs the misspeller in me.

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