James Dempsey: 37 seconds of gruesome bad taste that gave even hard-core horror fans a real fright
"EXTREMELY disturbing... Misogynistic... Horrifying... Likely to cause mental and emotional trauma to your unborn progeny!"
Such were the descriptions across the Internet this week for something shown at the Film 4 Fright Fest, a film festival for fans of the most grisly horrors that celebrated its 13th year in London last month amid controversy. What movie exactly had whipped up the frenzied hyperbole of the blogosphere to such heights, you may be wondering? The Human Centipede 2? A Serbian Film? Keith Lemon: The Film, perhaps?
None of the above. Instead, it was Turkish filmmaker Can Evrenol’s 37-second bumper that had the white knights of the Internet up in arms.
Perhaps you’ve already heard of Evrenol’s video nasty, a short public service announcement commissioned by the festival organisers to play before films screening in the festival to remind patrons to turn off their mobile phones. As one of five ‘idents’ produced by Ne’er Do Well Films, Evrenol’s “The Pencil” became the subject of damning Internet criticism this week, condemned as vile and degrading, insidious and foul, and placed entirely out of context in the quest for viral sensationalism.
Don’t get me wrong, Evrenol’s bumper is pitch black, and certainly in questionable taste; the scene opens inside a cinema, where a bearded weirdo leans over the seat in front to ask a buxom beauty to switch off her mobile phone. She casually tells him to piss off and continues texting, at which point he takes a pencil and stabs her in the back of the head.
Aghast? Don’t be, so far the video is no different from any of the other PSAs shown at the horror festival, all taking the pet peeve of mobile users using their phones during a show to ironically bloody conclusions, tongue firmly set in cheek. One other in the series sees a projectionist cleave into a cinemagoer with a film reel, while another has a priest, Fr. Cross (an award-winning creation and cult star of Ne’er Do Well’s), chopping off the fingertip of patron dialling a call.
But Evrenol’s piece doesn’t end at the stabbing, and here is where things get controversial. The man undoes his fly and ... well I can’t say anymore.
Laid bare like this, it is quite difficult to defend; the half-minute advert undoubtedly takes things a step too far, overplaying its hand for shock value and, for want of a better word, leaves a rather bad taste in your mouth. It can be perceived as ill-advised and offensive, but to be fairly judged, some context is required.
“The Pencil” screened before the midnight showing of Maniac, Franck Kalhoun’s remake of the 1980 cult classic and ultra violent slasher film of the same name. The film sees a crazed Elijah Wood go on a killing spree, attacking young women, mutilating them, scalping them and decorating shop dummies with their collected viscera while imagining they’re his mother. It’s Psycho meets Mannequin, and not really one to go see with your granny of a wet Sunday afternoon.
In the dozen or so blogs I read chastising Evrenol’s video, none alluded to the fact that it played before a film considerably more unsettling and misogynistic than the 37 seconds the preceded. Furthermore, in their haste to decry Evrenol as a satanic harbinger of smut and brutality, few even acknowledged that it was produced for a horror festival attended by the most ardent of horror fans, many of whom have left comments of support, disgust and absolute indifference with regard to what they saw. If ever there was a place for a video like “The Pencil” to find its audience, this was it.
But the online critics attacked with gusto. The Huffington Post, considered by many as a voice of reasoned criticism online, denounced the event organisers for choosing to “run such a violent PSA in the wake of the Aurora Theater shooting in July”. Hopping on the bandwagon of blanched disgust to Huffington Roast Evrenol alive, their point is wildly off the mark considering they didn’t seem to notice another of the spots produced for the series sees one cinemagoer murder every single person in the screen in order to get some peace and quiet. That video, and the three others, can still be seen on YouTube, while Evrenol’s been forced to remove his.
In the end, it all comes down to what was easy, and what was wrong. It was easy for Fright Fest and Evrenol to screen the clip, knowing who their audience is and what they were expecting. It was wrong for them to think that a video that makes light of sexual assault and necrophilia wouldn’t be condemned, quite rightly, as wholly inappropriate.
But it was equally easy for the Huffington Post, Gawker, Pajiba – the websites who nobly took on the shrieked mantle to please think of the children – to parade the video in NSFW shame, lambasting it with vitriolic adjectives and alluding to real life tragedies that have nothing to do with Evrenol or Fright Fest, all in the name of righteous criticism. It was easy, and it was wrong.
Follow James: @jim_on_a_whim