Overview: A funeral director under interrogation for mixing ashes spins four vignettes about various murders and other such transpirings that have nothing to do with him or one another.
Directed By: Steve Sessions, 2000.
The Case For: The second vignette has a commendable twist and makes the most of its negligible budget.
The Case Against: Not only does this movie serve no purpose to society, but the first three quarters of the movie serve no purpose to the movie itself.
"Cremains" isn't really a movie, so much as four short movies that happen to suck. It's sort of like "Four Rooms," only all of the vignettes are written and directed by the same person, Steve Sessions, and instead of the loveable and overworked bellhop played by Tim Roth, the common character to all four vignettes is a pudgy, boring funeral director. Just try to tell me you're not falling head over heels for this movie already! Each of the four short stories is prefaced by the funeral director, who is called "the Cremation Provider" in the end credits. Our unlucky Cremation Provider finds himself on the receiving end of an interrogation run by faceless entities. As they pester him with a barrage of questions, he leads into the stories that make up the body of the film. It's actually a fairly decent concept, but there's a catch. There's always a catch.
The first three stories are completely and utterly useless. They are presented as though they might have some bearing on the Cremation Provider's interrogation, but here's a spoiler: they don't. As such, the audience continually feels like they've just had one chunk of time after another stolen away for no reason whatsoever. Couple that with a shaky camera, overused editing tricks, halfassed acting, and an endlessly repetitive score and you've got a real winner of a film. No really. You do. I'm being completely serious. I'm also three hundred feet tall and have to use a keyboard a hundred feet across in order to type out my sassy articles. No really. I do. I'm being completely serious.
Why, God, why?
The movie is preceded by an introduction from Count Gore and his sidekick Countess Something Or Whatever. I will never understand the inclination to let goofy schmucks introduce horror movies. This one isn't as bad as the narrator for "Terror Toons," but it's still way up there on the Lame-O-Meter (now available at K-Mart!). I guess the idea is so the filmmakers have a way of saying, "Yes, we did try to make a good horror movie, and yes, we know that we failed miserably. Just let it be." Sorry, filmmakers, no dice. Moving on. The scintillating opening credits flash across the screen while the camera makes a slow, slow pan across a pile of dirt. The action's off to a rip-roaring start, my friends, and it only gets more intense from here! I mean it, it does. It's pretty tough to get less intense than a slow, slow pan across a pile of dirt. From there we transition to the next logical shot - a naked woman laying on the floor hogtied with bondage gear and with a leather mask over her head. She struggles to break out of her restraints, but fails, because she's in restraints and that's what they're fucking for. Hearing her muffled cries, a man comes to her aid. He helps her out of her restraints and unzips the mask's mouth hole. He asks her if she got a good look at the guy who did this to her. When she responds that she did, he stabs her in the eye. So now she'll know that the answer in that situation is "no." She's learning something new. I like that.
"Cremains": All the fun of staring at this guy for two hours straight, and that's about it!
Speaking of things I like, this segue isn't one of them. We jump from the eye-stabbing to our good buddy the Cremation Provider. He sits at a table with a pitcher of water in front of a background of total darkness. Bright lights prevent him from seeing the faces of his interrogators, but we can hear their voices. On the whole, this is a big loss for us, as seeing their faces can't possibly be as unpleasant as listening to their goddamn voices. Most of the talking is done by a female who confused the resolute monotone so common to interrogations in movies with the painfully slow, droning, monotone so common to lectures on the role of the quark in a field of physics that will never, ever have any sort of application to human events. Occasionally the torch of monotony is passed off to a male whose voice is obviously lowered substantially via editing. It actually gets continually lower throughout the movie, to the point where it is nearly impossible to understand a damn word he says. Given the lengths that they go to in order to make this guy sound impressive, I have to imagine that he's actually a hundred fifteen pound wussy with bad skin and a calculator watch. That's just a guess, though. He might have left his calculator watch at home.
The Cremation Provider says that bondage girl was the only person Eye-Stabby McGee back there ever killed, since she was the only one who saw his face. All his other victims got off with some leather and a light sodomizing, I suppose. In any event, can you guess what will never come up again in the movie? If you said "everything that has happened so far," you win! Hooray for you! The voices lead the Cremation Provider into talking about his business, and eventually accuse him of cremating multiple bodies at once, resulting in mixed ashes. He admits to the charge right away. Let's be perfectly clear on that point: he openly admits that he once cremated a child's body along with a fully grown adult. He doesn't try to convince his accusers that he did the right thing or that such an act is acceptable from a Cremation Provider such as himself. He presents the facts about why he did what he did in a clear and organized fashion. He makes the mistake, however, of mentioning that someone in his line of work sees a lot of "ghastly things" The voices immediately ask to hear about some of those ghastly things. So that's just great. The guy on trial is perfectly reasonable and his interrogators are like fourteen year old boys trying to see who can tell the grossest story. Hey, fantastic. The Cremation Provider takes a sip of water and starts to spin his first wacky yarn. I should mention that these don't actually have titles in the movie, but I've labeled them to make things easier for you, the reader. That's just the kind of stand-up guy I am.
Vignette 1: Ellen's Journey, or The Ripoff of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery
Far be it from me to make fun of someone whose mother is in the hospital, but I have never, ever seen someone so obviously on drugs. Sorry, I had to point it out.
We see a young man tied to a post. The camera moves in on him quickly, so as to suggest that he is being attacked by some sort of creature. Sucks for him, but luckily it doesn't affect the rest of us in the least. Flash forward to two years later: a young woman by the name of Ellen sits with her father in a Mississippi coffee shop. Ellen is down to visit because her mother is in the hospital for unknown reasons. Her father jokes about an old superstition in the neighboring town of Windham that because of a priest who was killed there generations ago, every blue moon.... something something. Aw, forget it. If it were important, I'm sure Ellen's father would have finished his sentence and explained what happens on the blue moon. There's no way this could be foreshadowing of any kind! Especially since tonight is a blue moon! That's a coincidence if ever there was one, but there's no way it's foreshadowing! No siree! Oh wait, yes.
Ellen and her father climb into their respective vehicles so that she can follow him back to his house. Now, I've never been to Mississippi, so I can't say whether or not this would ever be the case, but it's mid afternoon when they start to drive, and they're still going at least six hours later. Her father claims that is the closest hospital to their house. Maybe that's possible way out in the boonies, there, and maybe it isn't. All I'm saying is that an aging retired couple moving into a new house would have to have shit pudding between their ears to move in someplace six hours away from the closest form of medical attention. That's all. Anyway, Ellen loses sight of her father's SUV and takes a wrong turn. Naturally, the road veers off into a zone where cell phones don't work, despite the flat, clear ground on all sides. Because that happens. Ellen gets stopped by a couple of cops who ask to see her hands. Well, presumably they're cops. They don't have uniforms or any sort of equipment beyond flashlights. Theoretically, they could just be hicks who get their jollies by stopping cars and asking to see people's hands. Their excuse is that the local bank was robbed and the money should have leaked some red ink onto the robber's five-tentacled arm anemones.
(Note: Internet writer Ben "Greasnin" Platt has just won the award for Most Unnecessarily Complex Way of Saying "Hands." Congratulations, Ben "Greasnin" Platt! We now return to our regularly scheduled review already in process.)
Oh man, I knew that phone number would get smudged if I wrote it on my hand!
Ellen's hands are clean, so they let her go. As she drives on, she realizes that she is smack dab in the town of Windham. And it's still a blue moon! Gasp! It's all coming true! She drives clear through town until she hits another "police" roadblock on the other side, where more hicks are checking the hands of motorists. Suddenly, Ellen notices that there is mysteriously some red ink on her palm. She covers it up with makeup, but when the moment of truth comes, the hick notices some caked makeup on the steering wheel. Once again, another clever criminal plot has been unraveled by Deputy Cletus T. Marriedhiscousin. An army of hicks, or as that sort of mob is known in Mississippi, a small family chases after Ellen, but she finds temporary safety in the woods. She places a call to her father and manages to get through. He tells her that they can't be looking for a bank robber - there is no bank in Windham. Dun dun dun! Oh, also he tells her that there's nothing he can do. She's the chosen one for this year, so she's essentially boned. Now that's love.
Ellen tries to make a break for it, but when she turns around, one of the hicks is already there. She wakes up strapped to a post. I don't know exactly how she got knocked out - presumably she was so shocked to find a redneck in her path that she collapsed - but while she was out the hicks took the liberty of taking her clothes and dressing her in a ceremonial bra. Odd, the guy at the beginning of the vignette didn't have to wear the bra. That doesn't seem quite fair. Oh well. Then a snake crushes Ellen's throat. Well, not really. Actually the snake just sort of chills out around Ellen's shoulders and we hear the sound of a man repeatedly jamming his fist into a box of Corn Flakes, but it comes down to the same thing.
We return to the Cremation Provider. Seeing as how Ellen's story came to such a sensible and satisfying conclusion and all, no one mentions it ever again. I think it can be assumed that the Cremation Provider handled her body, but he's not the one who killed her and he didn't screw with her ashes, so I can't really see the connection to his interrogation. Oh that's right, there isn't any! Great job, Steve Sessions! The voices' bloodlust isn't quite sated, so they ask the Cremation Provider to regale them with another one.
The guns are gone. Now what happens to all those paper targets? Don't tell me you forgot about the paper targets. The ones hanging from little clips on fancy clotheslines at shooting ranges. With no guns to destroy these legions of paper bastards, they go unchecked.
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