"Otto; Or, Up With Dead People" (Bruce LaBruce)
Another movie that I am glad I watched but can’t recommend to most people. In fact, if you have problems with explicit gay sex, gory eating of people and animals, extremely aggressive and loud sound designs that are full of industrial noises and distorted voices, or films that reference late capitalism, the alienation of the subject in a postmodern world, or Herbert Marcuse you probably want to skip this movie. Heck you probably ought to skip this entire review because, quite frankly, there’s nothing for you here.
. . .
Are they gone?
Ok, so, Otto, or Up With Dead People is not, I repeat not a horror film. Despite being lumped in with other zombie movies in the horror section, and despite a handful of graphic, gory, and grotesque images that border on the horrifying, the movie as a whole is what you would expect if you took a treatise on zombies in popular culture, mixed in some observations on postmodernism, gay subcultures and homophobia, added a pinch of porn, and included a parody of pretentious avant garde filmmakers (even as, yes, Otto itself comes off sometimes as a pretentious art film), along with a sound design that is like the industrial sounds of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, but on speed and with a campier sense of humor. The director, Bruce LaBruce has a history of mixing genres and pushing boundaries, making a series of independent films that often cross the line into pornography and then back again into splatter-gore and then crossing into satire and political commentary. I have not seen any of his other films, but plan on checking them out in the future because his work, while relentlessly aggressive and bloody, violent and brutal, demonstrates a very real compassion for his characters and challenge the viewer in ways that few filmmakers will dare. Imagine David Lynch doing gay porn, or John Waters with a penchant for bloody violence and you’ll have a sense of what Bruce LaBruce’s style is like.
A few things I learned from Otto, or Up With Dead People:
Shots of a zombie eating a dead and disemboweled rabbit by the side of the road are far more grotesque and sickening than almost any shot of a zombie eating a person in any other zombie movie I’ve seen. Probably because we’ve all seen those animals, we have direct experience with road-kill and very little direct experience with the whole “zombie eating people” thing. We’ve seen the flies, we’ve smelled the death. The line between make-believe and reality grows just a bit too thin when watching Otto pick up the rabbit and begin tearing into its bowels.
When a movie with zombie gay orgies, bloody sex, and extremely graphic intestine-eating manages to make the most horrifying moment of the movie a scene where a young gay man is about to be beaten by a gang of homophobes, you know that the director has considerable talent.
Speaking of eating intestines (I told you not to continue reading if this kind of stuff bothered you!!), if you are making your zombie film on the cheap and don’t have a lot of money for really excellent and realistic body parts have your zombies stuff their mouths to over flowing. Regardless of the verisimilitude of the human flesh, watching a zombie with cheeks distended and mouth crammed full of anything is going to bring up a feeling of queasiness in your audience.
More movies should have characters from a silent, black and white film inserted into them and interacting, in a silent film way, with the other characters.
I love sound design. Ok, I didn’t really learn that from this movie, but the sound design for Otto is rich, layered and challenging. But more than that, the sound design, even the seemingly random static and industrial noises creates a set of meanings that are not bound by the logic of the visual images. Certainly the sound design and music will often amplify or underscore specific scenes, but at times the sound is like a whole other character in the movie that could represent Otto’s experience of the world or could simply be a representation of the noise and static of our contemporary world that we try so desperately to tune out with iPods and earbuds. If you are interested in sound design, I recommend at least listening to this movie even if you might not want to watch it.
While I do think that this movie is actually very good an a lot of levels, it is certainly not one that I’d recommend to most people. That said, I think that Otto is a much more subversive, humorous and, in its odd and twisted way, a decidedly more hopeful movie than something like Dead Girl. So if you were forced to choose between which these zombie movies to watch, knowing that each had some rather off-putting zombie sexuality, I’d be up with Otto all the way.