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You have got to say one thing about this film whether you like it or don't.
It's completely original.
There's never been anything quite like it on-screen. In form, it's a Fairy Tale of the very Grimm variety. In tone, it's closest to the absurdist theatre works of Beckett, Pirandello and Ionesco. There's also a whole lot of allegory and symbolism going on here. Though everything is told simply there's a tremendous amount of depth to ponder in the issues the film raises and in the way the characters deal with living in this metaphor for Hell. Understanding the universe they are inhabiting is the key to appreciating this film.
The "Dark Backward" explores a world that is overwhelmed with scum and filth. One of the characters, Gus, is so dirty he looks like a live action version of "Pigpen".
As this character Bill Paxton gives one of the bravest, most fascinating performances I've ever seen. He walks a tightwire of contradictions playing a character who is at once both innocence and evil incarnate.
He's loud, lustful and obnoxious. He's quiet, virginal and caring. At one moment, he's as stupid as a post; in the next, he's cunningly manipulitive and deceitful. To oversimplify-it's like being asked to play Forrest Gump AND Iago in the same character. Miraculously, Paxton not only pulls it off but makes it appear as though all these opposing traits could easily belong to a single creature.
The rest of the cast is magnificent in the way they embrace the excesses of their respective characters. As mentioned earlier, this is an absurdist story and these actors realize the importance of exaggeration to make the genre work. This is also why those who have dismissed Paxton's work as over-the-top should not be heeded. This is a film that shows a world where there is no top to be gone over. There is nothing which can be considered too much.
I don't know whether I've ever encountered another film with quite as much on screen filth as this one... not filth in the pornographic sense, but in the sense that there is a layer of dirt covering just about everything all through the film. I remember looking at the case and seeing the claim that it compared to Brazil, Pink Flamingos and Eraserhead. At the time I thought it would be worth the money just to be able to tear it to shreds after watching it... but it turned out to be a very endearing film that paints a sinister picture of opportunism. Of course, The Dark Backward isn't going to appeal to just anyone, but anyone who finds humour in scenes of perversion and obvious discomfort will recognise this one as a gem.
This is without a doubt the dirtiest and grimiest looking film that I have ever seen. Its also maybe the strangest thing I have ever laid eyes on. Story is about a truly pathetic excuse for a man named Marty Malt (Judd Nelson) who works as a garbage man during the day but at night he's the worst stand-up comedian and occasionally works in some despicable dives. His co-worker and friend is Gus (Bill Paxton) who eggs him on to keep trying to be a successful comedian. Marty has the hots for a waitress named Rosarita (Lara Flynn Boyle) but is to shy and weird to go for it. One day Gus notices a lump on Marty's back and he goes to see Doctor Scurvy (James Caan) who just puts bandages on it. Soon the lump grows into a third arm and Gus has an idea of Marty putting it into his act while he plays the accordion. Gus introduces Marty to a scummy talent agent named Jackie Chrome (Wayne Newton) and he books them on a local TV show starring Dirk Delta (Rob Lowe). The whole look of this film is dark and filthy. Not dirty, filthy! Its downright gross in some scenes and they usually involve the character Gus. In one scene they find the corpse of a woman at the city dump and Gus decides to lick her breasts! In another scene Gus is having a party with a bunch of incredibly obese women and French kissing them. They're is so much garbage used in this film that its the main focus in the movie. Not the third arm. Is this a good film? God no. Is it interesting? I wouldn't exactly say that. But I would be lying if I said I wasn't morbidly fascinated by it. Directed by Adam Rifkin who did create the atmosphere that he wanted. Its a disgusting one, but he succeeded in how he wanted his film to look. This has "Cult Film" written all over it. If you have a strong stomach and you enjoy cult films than you might want to check this out. For everyone else, your warned!
I really love "The Dark Backward". Does that make me some kind of
weirdo? Perhaps, but I don't think so. Frankly, I consider people who
watch "American Idol" weirdos, so there you go.
Anyone reading this review probably knows the basic storyline. Mary Malt (Judd Nelson) is a garbage man who moonlights as a (really awful) stand-up comic. Audiences hate his act but his disgusting best friend and fellow garbage man Gus (Bill Paxton) keeps assuring him he's great and that the crowds love him. One day an arm starts growing out of Marty's back and Gus, who plays the accordian during Marty's act, convinces him to work it into their routine. They get a talent agent (sleazy Wayne Newton) and a succession of bookings follow. The whole things plays out as a coal-black parable about the foibles of decency in an oportunistic world.
The plot is simplistic, really. What this film is is texture, texture, texture. And that texture is filth, evil, and scum.
There is more scum and evil in this film than in ten David Lynch films. Marty and Gus live in a parallel universe (by way of Newark, New Jersey) comprised of vast amounts of garbage and shrugging indifference. Three-quarters of the characters in this film spend their time on screen asleep. The remaining two-thirds are hysterical, conniving, moronic, or flat-out sinister (with the exception of a child-comprised studio audience we see briefly).
Marty spends the film bent over as though his spine were warped and with his face drenched in sweat. Gus is so dirty he practically blends into the garabage he and Marty dig through at the dump. When Gus opens Marty's refrigerator he can only find some green and toxic chicken that looks left over from Mesolithic era (he eats it anyway).
When Marty and Gus get their big break is when the film really broke the mold for me. Marty has a three-armed suit made and during their act (after each joke) he does a slow turn so the audience can see his extra appendage and it's really amazing. It's looks totally surreal!!! It's beautiful!!
I can't totally explain why I love this film so much, except to say that I find it beautiful when someone puts so much work into making something so absolutely pure.
In many ways the world that we live in is beautiful. There are things that are special and fragile and new. However, this world is also filled with great deal of hatred and rage. We have made this world a very toxic place (and I mean that in the literal sense) Life can be (and is, for some) hell. It would be incorrect to assume expression only need represent the happy skippy joys of life.
Personally, I think this is one of the best representations of a "hell on earth" ever on film.
Part fable, part nightmare, part black comedy, part cult film, and a whole lot of fun, is how I would describe "The Dark Backward". Way up there on the "strange scale", Wayne Newton, Bill Paxton, Judd Nelson and the rest of a perfect cast project their enthusiasm in every scene. Obviously aimed squarely at the "midnight movie" crowd, it hits a bullseye with the target audience. Mainstream comedy "Wedding Crashers" viewers are warned to avoid at all costs. Highly recommended to admirers of filmmakers who would dare to be different, take risks, and produce a movie looking for a specific audience. Give "The Dark Backward" three thumbs up, one from each arm. - MERK
Adam Rifkin has a resume of films that could have been. They are
inspired, ambitious, original, but at the same time almost incomplete.
The Dark Backward encompasses all these qualities and more.
The film opens promising enough. Judd Nelson as Marty, looking something like Crispin Glover in Back to the Future, sweats on stage delivering some horrible stand up comedy. We then meet Gus, Marty's "friend" played with villainous comic timing by Bill Paxton. He urges Marty on to keep at the stand up.
The film plays off like a twisted moral anti fairy tale. It's the almost rags to riches story gone awry, as Nelson plays a horrible stand up comic who's only talent seems to be an extra appendage out of his back.
Rifkin's allegory is great and the ending is a spectacular take on show-business and what it truly takes to come to fame. But it's the middle that sort of fails. It's painful to watch. Such pains are great to see in some films when writers are able to spice it up with great dialogue or endearing characters, but most of it is just revolting schlock. Rifkin goes to great lengths to show how pathetic the lives of Gus and Marty are. It's a bit much.
The saving grace of the film is Bill Paxton. He makes some of the disgusting material work, going from pure disgust to some shocking laughs. Sadly, Paxton doesn't do much comedy. For better or worse, this film may be the reason why. He is unbelievable and the way he sinks into the material (and other things) makes the film almost work.
Adam Rifkin seems to be full of half baked ideas. They're good ideas and strange ones at that. His projects never seem to have a fullness to them, but they are full of strange inspired moments that are unlike any other film. I don't know if we'll ever see Rifkin's material reach their maximum potential as these ideas don't sell to the mainstream, but we should enjoy strange sick gems like the Dark Backward from time to time.
You can't knock knock this film's originality. Dark, at times disturbing, this movie is, like watching Bill Paxton eating containers of take out, way over their used by dates, or sucking the breasts of a naked corpse in a garbage dump, which isn't that funny, and pretty offensive and improper. Seeing Judd Nelson, in a preview of this, make me wake up to just a what a cool and good actor this guy really is. In my opinion, even though Wayne Newton is very good here, as a heartless talent agent, Nelson also should of got some friggin' award, as the unfunny, 'stars in his eyes, stage struck' comedian, who should wake up and smell the coffee. His ailing Mom tells it like it is, saying "You're not funny Marty". But the real joke there is the obvious underlying sarcasm that comes across in just unfunny he really is -the below zero 'suck' quality of his jokes, that don't even make sense, and are are so unlaughable, where in reality, after a test run, no one would hire this guy, if even feeling sorry for this geek. But again, there's the joke, the satire, of him being hired, where in the story's world, we get the notion, he would has been hired by some people who would of felt sorry for him. Here's a most different contrast of character, to the ones, Nelson usually plays. He's so good in this. But luck has turned his way in the form of a small lump growing out of his back which becomes a third arm. In the early phase of it, his useless doctor, who has a kinky assistant, slaps a band aid on it. Days later, Nelson returns. The doc (James Caan) goes ape at him for coming in, with, what he calls a little problem. Here he becomes an overnight sensation, where him and Paxton, an accordian player, become double act. I'm sure, people would certainly pay good money, to see a guy, with a authentic third arm growing out his back. It's all too absurb, or bizarre to consider. But this is quite a bizarre film. Another one of those, that stand alone, which we'll be distasteful to a few movie goers out there. Others will love it cause of the idea and it's originality, but mostly it's dark side, it's title, most suiting. Rob Lowe is impressive here too, as another talent agent, a smarmy sort, where Lara Flynn Boyle as a cafe worker and Nelson's love interest. Panic strikes too, when Nelson's third arm starts to disappear. But he comes up trumps in the end, as an overnight real comedian, partly thanks to his brief third asset. Yes, this is a distasteful movie, but sometimes things in bad taste are entertaining to many are few, where some of surely would be missing one short of a dollar. Check this flick out, just for it's originality.
Adam Rifkin's off-the-wall "The Dark Backward" is one of those films one could say suffers from the "trying too hard" syndrome. In this case, it really does go out of its way to come off as some instant sort of cult film. It does work as a minor commentary on the nature of show business, and how important a gimmick can be. In this case, the gimmick is the third arm growing out of garbageman Marty Malt's back. Malt, you see, is also a stand-up comedian who keeps plugging away, telling the same terrible jokes over and over, spurred on by a maniacal "pal", Gus, who has very big show biz aspirations. When the arm appears, they believe that this is all the edge that they will need, and their new agent Jackie Chrome believes so too. Sometimes the film seems to be weird just for the sake of being weird, and absolutely revels in its filth. It may be one of the grimiest films you'll ever see. The production designer, Sherman Williams, and cinematographer, Joey Forsyte, do stylize this to a high degree; this film takes place in a truly decrepit and seedy world, populated by seedy people. There's also a fair bit of grossness to the story, as well, at least when it comes to the character of Gus, played with his customary exuberance by Bill Paxton, who is utterly fearless throughout this thing. This is a guy who licks corpses before stealing their jewelry. Judd Nelson is perfect as the nerdy Malt, completely disappearing into the character. And Wayne Newton is spot on as the agent. The eclectic assemblage of actors also includes James Caan as a doctor, King Moody (at one time a portrayer of Ronald McDonald!) as a kiddie show host, Rob Lowe as a grease ball who picks Malt to be on a TV show, and Claudia Christian as a nurse. Presenting itself as something of a fable, "The Dark Backward" is not for everybody and in fact may be something of an endurance test for some viewers; others may embrace its oddness. It's not altogether unique, but it does have its moments (it's hard to forget that human xylophone). However, it goes on just a little too long. Curious and patient cult movie lovers may want to give it a look. Five out of 10.
Marty Malt (Judd Nelson) is a miserable, unfulfilled garbageman who
aspires to be a successful standup comic in the wake of his mundane
life. He frequently performs his abysmal schtick at seamy diners and
unattractive dives, with only one fan; his best friend and fellow
garbageman, Gus (Bill Paxton). One day, Gus notices that Marty has a
disgusting lump on his back that quickly sprouts into a fully grown
human-arm. Miraculously, Marty is more popular now than he ever was
before, and becomes the target of the sleazy talent agent, Jackie
Chrome (Wayne Newton), who previously wanted nothing to do with Marty
after seeing his loathsome act. In the mix of it all, Gus, his once
faithful, dim-witted best friend turns sickeningly manipulative and
controlling of his new friend's found fame, and begins to be grossly
violent towards the man and his already fragile self-esteem.
As you might've guessed, The Dark Backward wants to be called a "cult movie." Whether or not it has earned that status today I cannot say, but I can say it is one of the strangest and quirkiest film I've seen in quite sometime. Adam Rifkin, a director I have lauded in the past for making the brilliant anthology film, LOOK, chronicling the lives of unsuspecting people as they are recorded numerous times a day with surveillance cameras (he followed the film up with a Showtime TV show that ran for eight episodes, as well), the cult-comedy, Detroit Rock City, about four die-hard KISS fans trying to score some tickets to their big show, and Chillerama, an anthology horror film he contributed to, is the perfect man to write and direct such a story. It is told through his trademark eclectic ways and his appetite for crudely entertaining story tricks that are so sick, depraved, and outlandish that they beg an audience to appreciate them.
The film erects one of the seamiest and dirtiest environments this side of a landfill, with some grimy cinematography, complimenting the overall tone of the film, along with presenting the characters in such a disastrous light. Our main character, Marty, always appears hunched over, drenched in his own sweat, shaking and quivering as the next setup commences. His friend, Gus, commits to some of the dirtiest acts in the film, one including eating rancid chicken found in Marty's refrigerator. The cult films I appreciate the most are ones that can't be placed in an existing genre. This isn't a comedy, because little laughing is done, drama isn't the correct word, horror is a step-up, but not quite, and any other genre doesn't prove satisfactory. It is simply film, in which we watch and immensely try and grasp long after the event is over.
In a way, the film reminds me of Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy, starring Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis. In that picture, we were given characters we were depressed and saddened to watch for a long period of time. I felt nothing but moroseness watching the picture, seeing De Niro's Rupert Pupkin wander aimlessly scene after scene, believing every encounter he had with someone was a genuinely meaningful one, and after watching Marty being led through his career as a comedian and a sideshow attraction by his friend Gus, I feel the same sort of moroseness.
I'm a fan of cult cinema and The Dark Backward unnervingly pushes my envelope. It is satire of epic proportions, a comedic exercise so dark and so saddening that it almost must be seen to be believed. I mean, if you can handle such a thing.
Starring: Judd Nelson, Bill Paxton, Wayne Newton, Lara Flynn Boyle, James Caan, and Rob Lowe. Directed by: Adam Rifkin.
Cult director Adam Rifkin (Never on a Tuesday, The Chase, Detroit Rock
City) delivers once more. Those of you familiar with his work will
undoubtedly be familiar with his oddball characters and outlandish
plots. For those of you new to his work, 'The Dark Backward' is the
best place to begin. Marty Malt (Judd Nelson) is the worst stand-up
comic in the entire world. He is equally terrible at his day job, a
garbage collector. It seems that Marty is not destined for stardom ...
until one day something strange happens that changes his life forever.
His accordion playing, garbage-collecting co-worker, Gus (Bill Paxton), notices a lump growing out of Marty's back while they are doing the rounds. This odd growth is diagnosed by the disturbingly incompetent Doctor Scurvey (James Caan) as a third arm.
What would normally be an embarrassingly freakish human deformity, turns out to be Marty's comedic calling. Before, Gus was his sole fan; now he has a mass following. Enter the slimy Dirk Delta (Rob Lowe), who offers Marty the chance of Hollywood stardom. So begins a successful career in comedy ... ?
Seemingly straight out of a Ray Bradbury short tale, Rifkin's film is furnished with carnivalesque characters. You will be astounded and revolted by characters like 'the fat woman', 'the muscle man', and 'the human xylophones'. Rob Lowe is unrecognizable in his role as slick Hollywood bigwig (a role he would later reprise in 'Wayne's World','Tommy Boy', 'Austin Powers' 1-3 and 'Thankyou for Smoking'). James Caan is frighteningly brilliant as Dr. Scurvey, and leading man, Judd Nelson, puts in his best performance since 'St. Elmo's Fire' and 'The Breakfast Club' (look out for Judd's oddball cameo in Rifkin's 'Never on a Tuesday').
'The Dark Backwards' is arguably Rifkin's best film, not having directed anything since to equal it. It is certainly his strangest movie since 'Never on a Tuesday'. If you are a fan of cult movie directors like David Lynch and John Waters, check this film out. If you are afraid of zombies, freaks, midgets and men with three arms I suggest you look elsewhere.
Cast: Judd Nelson, Bill Paxton, Rob Lowe, James Caan, Lara Flynn Boyle, Wayne Newton, et al
Matthew J Lee-Williams, Review.
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