Monday, October 21, 2013

KILLER TONGUE (aka La lengua asesina, 1996)

Before she became network TV’s go-to dominatrix, Melinda “Mindy” Clarke gnawed her way into the hearts of horror fans as, aguably, cinema’s first sexy zombie, Julie, in Brian Yuzna’s Return of the Living Dead 3. The movie’s poster ghoul, “Julie”, was the ultimate gothy pierced princess and in 1993 her image graced the covers of countless horror magazines, the zombie equivalent of The IT Girl. Clarke followed this iconic role with appearances in other cult hits like Xena: Warrior Princess, Firefly, and the mainstream obsessional CSI (as Gus Grissom’s personal top, “Lady Heather”). 

But before becoming a genre darling, the actress-formerly-known-as-“Mindy” took a delightful side trip to Spain to star in the indescribably goofy La lengua asesina—better known to English speakers as Killer Tongue.

“I know now I should have listened to my mother. And I should have followed her ways. Stayed in our nice harmonious little town in Sombreroland. And become a straight and untroubled, well-respected Valium-bound husband-killer alcoholic. Then cook my head like a turkey in a gas oven on a beautiful Thanksgiving day. Just like she did. But now it’s too late. And anyway things don’t come that easy any more. It all started four years ago with a heist… and a kiss.”

After puling a bank job and betraying their accomplices (Chip and Frank, leaving them tied up with their lips glued together in a painful-to-remove kiss), Johnny and Candy split up to lie low. Johnny gets picked up by the cops—no doubt investigating his suspicious wearing of a gold lame` suit—while Candy gets she to a nunnery and raises giant multi-colored poodles while helping to run the sisters’ side business, God’s Gas & Diesel, a last chance out there in the desert.

Johnny has the ass-end of the deal, having to contend with the vicious Prison Director (Robert Englund appropriately eschewing subtlety) with a confusing message of submission tattooed on his knuckles. While it says “Fuck You”, prisoners are meant to read that as “Fuck Me”. Failure to communicate ensues. Also, he has to be constantly aware of the duplicit nature of his fellow inmates, particularly the Chief’s favorite, Mr. Wigs (Doug Bradley). 

Grown bitter over the intervening four years, Chip and Frank discover the whereabouts of Candy, but she’s already lammed out to rendesvous with Johnny, unaware of his incarceration. In a simple desert shack, Candy dons some domesticity and makes soup for her and her poodles. Just then, a bit of meteorite survives atmospheric entry and lands in their meal. One sip transforms her from a ‘50s housewife to a veiny creature in an armored exoskeleton, with back spines and kinky dark hair. The poodles transform into drag queens. Remi, Loca, Portia and, of course, Rudolph (inexplicably played by Jonathan Rhys Myers). “It’s us, your bitches. Remember? Little fluffy things?”

Before you can evoke the sacred name of Pedro Almodovar, Killer Tongue gets weird. –Er. Namely with the introduction of the titular character, Candy’s oral appendage that talks like Harvey Fierstein, grows to miles in length and can punch through solid objects without effort (including Chip, and then the porcelain tub beneath him, and the floor, and possibly the Earth’s crust). It desires human flesh and is terribly jealous of any mention of Johnny. It also comes with its own theme music.

Speaking of Johnny, he’s escaped into the desert with the Chief in pursuit. Somewhere along the line, he winds up handcuffed to the bumper of the vehicle, which he drags behind him, undeterred in his quest for Candy. 

While waiting for Johnny, Candy bides her time trying to rid herself of the evil alien tongue via iron and butcher knife. In response, the tongue tries to suffocate her by wrapping around her face, suspends her from the ceiling, and ultimately gets her pregnant. 

And if that doesn’t spell entertainment, I don’t know what does. 

Depending on your mood, Killer Tongue runs at a length of time equal to either 90 minutes or forever. Made with a very specific audience in mind, Killer Tongue is the definition of both “campy” and “wacky”. None of the outrageousness is presented with so much as a wink or a tongue-in-cheek. To the filmmakers, the world of Killer Tongue is how the real world should be, transpecies poodles and latex S&M outfits for all. You can’t accuse the cast of being over-the-top because there doesn’t seem to be a baseline. It starts at hysteria and ramps up from there. 

In attempting to short-hand a summary for it, I’ve compared it in turn to “John Waters’ Wild at Heart” and “David Cronenberg’s Raising Arizona.” But really, writer / director Alberto Sciamma has created a chimera that exists all on its own, without mate or even sibling. It actually feels like a ‘50s sitcom reinterpreted by aliens, a Meet the Hollowheads for telenova fans. 

It can’t really be said that the cast are playing their roles “straight”, though every character is presented without irony—in fact, this may be one of the least ironic films ever made. It’s definitely sincere in its insanity even when you can tell it’s lost all sense of a narrative thread in the third act. That being said, there are genuinely inspired bits of character utterly organic to the film’s reality. Clarke’s horror at her 90’ tongue has less to do with the consequences of being infected by an alien parasite and is more about her big plans being ruined for Johnny’s return. Englund’s vicious Prison Chief, for the best example, is as complex as a cartoon character can get. During the day, it’s his job to be foul, brutal and sadistic, beating up men left and right, putting them on dreaded “survey duty”. But at night he walks through the barracks with a simple smile on his face, tucking a blanket around Wig and comforting a wounded dove by making a nest for it out of his toupee. The Chief’s raison d’etre is to make Johnny screw up his probation, but it isn’t too long before you understand he’s doing that less out of sadism and more because he’ll miss the handsome lug when he goes. Englund doesn’t play this with a s

ense of homoeroticism either, but complicated affection. 

While the poodles are meant to enduce squeals of delight and/or derision, each of them having stepped from an episode of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, their love for Candy is both endearing and evocative of a pet’s love for its human. Even the tongue’s relationship with Candy has an edge of love and devotion, even though it’s technically an alien parasite relying on her to sustain its life. As for her and Johnny’s love, well that’s the sort of devotion you can only find in movies and Shirelles songs. 

Loud and colorful, with an infectious, possibly sexually-transmitted score by Spanish band Fangoria, Killer Tongue is the perfect movie for people who like this sort of thing. I say that smart-assedly, but sincerely. Killer Tongue is one of those cult-films-by-design that you’ll either love or hate. Take all of those cliches for what they’re worth. The only way to measure the film’s success is through personal opinion. I happened to really enjoy it the first time and my love hasn’t waned since. But, then again, I’m not you. As with most cult movies, enjoyment comes with some assembly required. 

Now, unlike most of the movies I yak about, Killer Tongue is not difficult to obtain and shows up on at least two different collections accompanying other wacky wonders like Jack Frost 2 (a killer snowman in the Bahamas!). However, the presentation varies. Try very hard to avoid a full screen version as you not only lose a lot of peripheral happiness, but it also comes with washed out color and a soft image, probably sourced from the original EP mode VHS released before the turn of the milennium. 

If you do manage to fall in love with this film as I have, might I recommend that, upon meeting Melinda Clarke, you refrain from asking her to lick you from across the room. 

Just… trust me on that. She isn’t into it.

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