Sunday, March 16, 2014

Remembering A Night To Dismember

Everyone has their own quirks when it comes to what they tend to prefer and/or how they go about exposing themselves to crap movies. (Yeah, okay, "exposing themselves" probably isn't the best term to use, but you understand what I'm saying, hopefully.) Some folks like insane/inane writing. Others enjoy giggling when the set wobbles or when makeup effects look like they were done by narcoleptic kindergartners. Certain fans like to explore one genre/director/actor/whatever fully before moving on to another.

In the world of crap movies and crap movie fandom, there are few hard and fast rules. Other than "If you enjoy it, it's all good!", I can't really think of one. Of course, you will always have people tell you that you have to see certain movies or learn about this or that director if you want to experience crap movies to the fullest. While this is far from the truth, there are, umm, milestones, if you will, in the world of crapdom. Plan 9 From Outer Space is usually one of the films most fans cut their teeth on, and the rest of Ed Wood, Jr's works will usually follow. Then you have films like Blood Freak or filmmakers like Jerry Warren and Roger Corman who tend to filter in as crap movie fans move up the ranks of The Brotherhood Of The Weird.

Another of those milestones would be Doris Wishman and/or most of her films. I will admit to being late to the Wishman party. Though I knew of her since my college days, I had never seen any of her movies. Until a couple of years ago, that is.

For those who don't know about Doris Wishman, I'll do a brief biography. She got her start in film after the death of her husband as a way not to spend time focusing on her loss. Knowing virtually nothing about film-making, she jumped in to the growing market of nudist camp films. She worked that genre until it wasn't marketable and switched over to "roughies", films that sported not only a fair amount of nudity but also some violence well seasoned with humiliation and sexual frustration. Ms. Wishman later dabbled in action/crime films as well as a couple of hardcore sex films that she distanced herself from due to her discomfort with the genre.

This brings us to the film to be discussed today. Wishman was always mindful of trends in film. In the late 70s and through the 80s, gory films filled with slashers and other killers were filling theaters and drive-ins. In an effort to stay where the money was, she set out to make her own gore movie, though I believe she preferred to think of it as more of a psychological horror film with blood.

That film was A Night To Dismember.

Let's see if we can summarize: The film is narrated by a cop who investigated the whole massacre we witness. Apparently, a whole family self-destructs on a single day, with sisters killing each other and randomly falling on hatchets (yes, you read that correctly), as well as a husband who finds his wife butchered but ultimately admits to hiring someone to kill her. He commits suicide in his jail cell. Oddly enough, we don't see the father of the two girls who pulled the murder/accidental suicide die but supposedly he died as well. 

Though we are told that the whole Kent family was wiped out in one day, one brother, Adam, who lives in the same town, is seemingly unaware of the death of his brothers and survives so he can pick up his daughter from the state asylum. Yup, Vicki Kent is being released after being locked up for 5 years for the brutal murder of 2 random teenage boys. Gotta love the legal system.

Vicki is the only cast member worth noting as she is played by Samantha Fox. Not the super cute 80s pop star. This Fox is the star of many porn titles. Why she chose this film to do a "legit" role is a story I would love to know. But I digress.

Mary and Bill are Vicki's siblings, and they aren't happy to have their crazy sister back home. Both of them set about trying to snap her fragile grasp on reality. Mostly it is Billy dressing up and tormenting Vicki while Mary walks around being a bitch who rants in Doris Wishman's voice.

Magically, another Kent brother, Sebastian, appears only to upset Vicki. He and his family are killed by an "unknown" person who just happened to be in their car when they pile in to go somewhere. Don't ask how they didn't see this person sitting next the the aunt. Seriously, just don't.

We are then treated to what appears to be another person playing Mary, who has a dream that her whole family attempts to kill her. Most likely as a sacrifice to appease the God Of Bad Acting, but we may never know as her family is suddenly being killed, one by one.

I will avoid giving away the ending. Not because it is any real surprise, but I don't want to ruin your jaw smacking the floor when you are faced with the immense nonsensical resolution and the aftermath.

The film is available for viewing on Youtube. I recommend that format, unless you care to plunk down $60 for the DVD release, which is out of print. I took the dive simply because I wanted to hear Doris Wishman's only DVD commentary.

What you will get for your time is story elements that don't match up, characters who change clothes/hairstyles/faces from one room to another, sounds effects (dogs barking, squirting blood and a head being squished) done (poorly) by someone's mouth, voices dubbed in by both Doris Wishman and the narrator (they each do voices for multiple characters) and lots of shots of Wishman's apartment for interiors. The movie only runs roughly 69 minutes. I have no excuse for falling asleep every time during 3 different attempts to watch this movie. I'll go with the excuse that my brain short circuited and put me asleep to prevent damage.   

Dismember is a film that many people point to as a sterling example of film-making ineptitude and/or as an over-the-top display of Doris Wishman's personal style. While both attitudes have merit, there are some facts you should be aware of while tackling this cinema buffet of weirdness.

Doris Wishman created her promo to sell the film before it was finished. This was done to presell the  feature to build up funds to complete the film. The trailer is available on Youtube, and the story presented in the trailer sounds moderately interesting, if you can get past the weird guy describing the movie with his face uncomfortably close to the camera.

With presales in place, Wishman then had an obligation to deliver the film to the buyers. Sadly, the lab processing her film went bankrupt, and a disgruntled employee destroyed a number of negatives and prints held in the lab. She lost at least 50 to 60 percent of her entire shot footage for Dismember. Ms. Wishman could have just thrown up her hands and stiffed the buyers who fronted her the money, but as quirky as her movies may have been, she had always maintained a sterling reputation in the business as a person who paid her debts and backed up her promises. Over the better part of a year, she cobbled together a movie from what footage she had, outtakes, bits from her earlier films and a few additional scenes she could afford to shoot. This resulted in a radical change in the storyline and the addition of the narrator to attempt to make sense of what she pieced together.

Did it work? Oh, HELL no. Just watch the first 10 minutes of the film, and you can see that it is confusing and hilarious in that you are laughing at, not with, the film. Your head will hurt from trying to keep up with the changing sets and characters. Your ears will not believe the post-production dubbing and orally generated sound effects.

All that being said, you still have to admire Doris Wishman for doing what she could when Fate decided to take a massive crap in her lap. On top of that, she created a piece of work that endures as a milestone of crap film-making that will frighten non-fans and delight those who enjoy watching a movie self-destruct faster than a house of cards being built by someone with Parkinson's.

Doris Wishman is no longer with us. Thank the deity of your choice that we still have her films. Bless you, Ms. Wishman. 

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