Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Otto; Or, Up With Dead People

If you see only one gay German arthouse zombie porno this year, I'm guessing it should probably be Otto; Or, Up With Dead People. It's got all the hot, hot cocks you or your heterosexual ladyfriend could possibly want, and it's completely ridiculous in a way that makes me think they did it on purpose. And you get to see a queer zombie stick his humongous dick in his undead lover's gaping torso wound. So there's that.

O;O,UWDP is the story of a young gay zombie named Otto who dresses in the standard emo private school kid uniform of eye shadow, shirt, tie, and hoodie, but with some white contact lenses thrown in to ghoul him up a bit. He's kind of a metaphor for the movie itself: a snotty art flick disguised as a horror movie that gets self-indulgently morose about capitalism while people with real problems just get on with their lives. I mean, look at that title. Is that not the most pretentious (and incorrect, I might add) use of the semi-colon you've ever seen? Normally, this kind of thing would piss me off (hot, hot cocks or no), but I tend to think the director (some guy with the unlikely moniker of Bruce LaBruce) meant it to be funny, so I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt. It's hard to tell with Germans.

We open with shots of Otto striding somnambulantly toward camera while superimposed over a montage of war footage as some music plays that sounds like they recorded two steel balloons fucking and then ran it backwards through a broken tape deck. Then we see Otto haul himself up out of a very shallow grave. Then there's a very beautiful shot of him striding through a tall field of bright yellow wheat. Then he walks around for a while. Most of the movie is about Otto walking around. Then we hear from our first narrator, a snobby German chick named Medea who elucidates all of the various things that zombies have always symbolized in film but that Romero always respected us enough to figure out on our own. This is what happens when art school people make horror movies. They think they're so smart when they inject a little social commentary into the genre, not realizing that it's always been there. It was just hidden in the subtext, rather than spat out in obvious rhetoric like some Goth kid's blog. But then again, I think we might be dealing with satire here, so I'm cutting it some slack.

The story's all chopped up and discombobulated, but the basic deal is that this chick is making a black-and-white movie called Up With Dead People about a gay zombie uprising. (Zombies = the disenfranchised = homosexuals = ALLEGORY!!!!!!) Then she meets Otto, who says that he's a real zombie. He doesn't remember much about his former life, but he slowly recalls his ex-boyfriend and the fact that he's a vegetarian, which is why he can't quite bring himself to eat human flesh (cats and bunnies are okay, though). He starts having some flashbacks about the times he frolicked with his ex in the neighborhood photobooth. The whole time, he's dropping some woe-is-me narration about how he just wants to feel something, i.e. the dehumanizing effects of our homogenized consumer society. Then he gets picked up by some dude and maybe eats his guts, or maybe not. Maybe Otto isn't really a zombie at all. Maybe he's just an escaped mental patient who needs a bath. Who knows?

So Medea puts Otto in her movie and proceeds to expound at great length about all the things he's supposed to represent while she makes him stand on top of garbage heaps and eat raw chicken. She's annoying but cute, with the kind of curvy real-chick body you rarely see in movies, but you never see her naked. Get that out of your head. This movie only has eyes for cocks. Which is funny, because she's a lesbian whose girlfriend lives in a silent movie. Even when they're in the same shot, the girlfriend is in scratchy black-and-white and only talks in subtitle placards. Yeah, I don't get it either, but that's art, man.

Anyway, there's a big gay zombie orgy full of cocksucking and flesh-eating, and then Otto gets gay-bashed by the least tough-looking street toughs I've ever seen. Then he hooks up with his co-star Fritz for some non-cannibalistic love-making, and his eyes turn brown for a minute so maybe he comes back to life or something. Then he lights himself on fire like the Rage Against the Machine cover, only it's just the last scene of Medea's movie, so he's okay. Then he stands in front of a rainbow and hitchhikes north, where the cold will preserve his rotting flesh and maybe he will meet up with more of his own kind.

I don't really know what this flick is trying to get at, but it's certainly unique and pretty entertaining once you figure out that it's supposed to be funny. What it resembles more than anything else, though, is an Ed Wood movie. Not necessarily in quality, but in form. It hits all the Woodian staples: 1. Didactic narration explaining the themes of the movie in a paradoxically straightforward yet bewildering fashion; 2. Indecipherable story structure; 3. Extensive use of incongruous stock footage; 4. Random expressionist dance sequences; 3. Terrible, flat acting in a variety of indecipherable accents. (That last one shows more of a John Waters influence, however, since the actors were clearly being coached to speak as unnaturally and theatrically as possible.) All of this, plus its queer subject matter, would make it a great companion piece to Glen Or Glenda.

All in all, I'm glad I saw this bizarre film. The more I think about it, the more I think it was mostly meant to be a meta-fictional essay on the zombie movie, that most metaphorical of horror sub-genres. By dragging all of the usual subtext out into the light, it effectively steals the thunder of all critics who insist on attaching allegorical significance to every horror movie. Of course, if the movie is saying that all that metaphorical mumbo-jumbo is bullshit, yet the movie consists almost entirely of that exact same metaphorical bullshit, then it kind of ends up being about nothing at all. This is what happens when irony eats itself.

Anyway, that's my interpretation. The movie might just be an excuse to show pretty boys rubbing their cocks on each other with a little blood thrown in to make it marketable. Either way, it was the weirdest date movie I ever saw.

UPDATE: It turns out that Bruce LaBruce is Canadian, not German. He's a heavy-duty queercore director best known for No Skin Off My Ass. I have already offended one Canadian with my error, and I apologize for any further irritation it may have caused to any of our neighbors to the north, regardless of their sexual orientation.

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