FULL BLEED: EVERYTHING IS NOTHING IS THE SAME



Spoilers for FRAILTY (2001) follow. Minor, oblique spoilers for PHANTASM too, I suppose.


Ah, the lone crusader for justice and truth. He alone can see the tormentors of society and humanity, those who feed on our very souls. They are elevated and cursed, able to see through the polite constructions of law and those who clothe themselves in pretended morality. This crusader is a purifying flame, cutting out the blackened and corrupted flesh of evil from the body that is the world. They carry out god's judgment here on earth, driven by visions and simply a knowledge of what is right and wrong.


How much of heroic fantasy fiction rests on this foundation? Well, a bit. But SUPERNATURAL, which seems to have some legs. Same with BUFFY. Oh, PHANTASM? Totally. Not that I'd call it heroic, at least at the start. The first one was pure wild horror tone-poem. Sure there was a narrative, but not a real strong one. (This is not an insult -- plot is not the end-all, be-all of fiction and anyone who tells you this is a goof.)


For those of you who aren't familiar, PHANTASM tells the story of two brothers and their kinda goofy, kinda awesome friend who drives an ice cream truck. One day, in their little town in middle America, a weird character called the Tall Man shows up. And he brings hell with him. Hell in the form of disfigured dwarves and chromed balls that sprout blades or drill bits or exist only to suck the blood from you. The Tall Man trafficks in illusion and misdirection and raw power when the moment calls for it. He is, for lack of a better word, a demon with legions in his thrall. And over the course of five films (all but the second being available on Amazon and other streaming services -- and this is a shame because the second one in a way is the best of them all, but they are all very entertaining and worth watching, which is an admirable feat) the brothers and their friend traverse the haunted and hollowed-out United States tracking down the Tall Man and his armies, as well as confronting mortality and transformation and a surprisingly deep emotional core to these stories, particularly at the end of things.


In the second film, after the death of one of the brothers, Reggie (the ice cream driver) and the surving brother form a family, get in their souped-up muscle car and travel the land in search of demonic monsters to exterminate with their specialized weapons. That's SUPERNATURAL, only they did it in what 1988? Yes, 1988. This isn't to say that SUPERNATURAL is un-original or whatever. Originality is a critical horse for someone else to beat. Some creator out there has always done a thing before you did it or your favorite TV show did it. This is the nature of entertainment in the age we live in (and was how mythology was transported and reshaped and rewritten for thousands of years before -- If you can't subjugate a people, then assimilate their myths and then them, or vice versa -- seriously, Osiris and Jesus, folks.) This isn't to knock the truths or archetypes of these mythologies, but to point these connnections out.


Okay, back to the matter at hand. What set the brothers and Reggie on their literally epic journey in PHANTASM was the simple fact that one of the brothers could see the Tall Man for who and what he actually was. That there were demons working against humanity and that they needed to be fought. Same with SUPERNATURAL. Same with BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and so on and so on and so forth.


Same with FRAILTY. If you have not seen it and you want to enjoy it unspoiled then stop right now. I'm not kidding.


FRAILTY, for those unfamiliar, is a 2001 film, where a simple widowed mechanic receives a vision from god that there are demons infesting this world and that he's been chosen to stop them, to destroy them. They will look like humans and they will bleed like humans, but he has been granted the sight to see them for what they are. So he knocks them out, binds them, takes them home and destroys them. In the sight of his two young sons who have also been chosen to serve as demon-killers and purifiers of this world.


He's obviously insane. He's suffering psychotic breaks with reality brought on by the stress of his wife's death or his inability to progress in life or simply because he snapped and there's no reason for it he just snapped. Bill Paxton plays this role beautifully; the same deft and firm hand guides the direction of this film as well. He is gently but insistently crazy, separated from what we know is right and wrong, and while he is firm to the point of cruelty, he never becomes a cutout or ridiculous or cartoon. One of his sons believes him. One of his sons knows he's crazy. The latter son ends up taking an axe to his father rather than commit murder for him. The former son ends up taking up the axe from his dead father and killing the demon that his brother would not.


Crazy.


Only he's not. The singular lunacy of the father, whose visions remained privileged to him and him alone (and largely hidden from the viewers, but for the angelic visitations that prompted him on his path) are suddenly shared. What's more, those visions are taken on by neutral observers like law enforcement agents and even surveillance cameras.


It's all true. And it's all utterly horiffic. Instead of gladness that we have protectors in this world, brave men who would protect us from the demonic infestations that prey upon us in ignorance, we are brought to the presence of divine slaughter that is no different than the ritualistic madness of serial killers. It's the mythology of SUPERNATURAL turned completely inside-out. It's PHANTASM's original myth, but made hard and perfect and terrible instead of an opportunity to be fun or charming or introspective.


FRAILTY is an amazing film, deftly making you think it's something very horrible and then opening up wide and showing you where the horror really is, doing this in an understated and quiet way. Just wonderful.


Any story germ can be turned into anything. That genre you're seeking is really tone and voice. The idea, in many important ways, does not matter, but the execution absolutely does.

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