Monday, August 24, 2015

Bad (1977)

          The full title of this picture is Andy Warhol’s Bad, and although the possessive phrasing reflects artist/provocateur Warhol’s role as the film’s producer, the title could also be interpreted as a sentence: Andy Warhol Is Bad. Given that this movie, like so many other Warhol productions, was designed to offend everyday people and to delight nonconformists, Andy Warhol Is Bad seems like a fair statement. After all, the picture’s most memorable scene, and easily one of the most deliberately repulsive images Warhol’s troupe ever captured on film, involves a depraved woman tossing her infant out a high-rise window. The baby cascades through the air before hitting the sidewalk headfirst with an impact so catastrophic that blood and viscera splatter onto bystanders. The scene, it should be noted, is played for laughs. You see, Bad is a social satire of sorts, presenting the worst people imaginable without any editorial commentary—a sitcom about scumbags, if you will.
          Director Jed Johnson, working with Warhol’s biggest-ever production budget and benefitting from the presence of several legitimate Hollywood actors, gives the piece a much more polished look than the average Warhol scuzzfest. Nonetheless, the material—and more importantly the attitude—is just as punk as everything else Warhol made in the ’70s.
          Bad concerns Hazel Aiken (Carroll Baker), a middle-aged woman who runs an electrolysis business out of her home in the suburbs of New York City. Yet Hazel’s real income stems from a murder-for-hire business that she operates on the side. Hazel’s clients are horrific people who give absurd reasons for wanting their enemies killed. One slob of a woman, Estelle (Brigid Berlin), wants a neighbor’s dog murdered because the neighbor had the temerity to say that Estelle looks ugly in shorts. Another customer wants her autistic son murdered because the boy is an inconvenience. And so on. Hazel never does the killings herself, enlisting hustlers and junkies. The main drama of the movie, such as it is, stems from Hazel’s tense relationship with L.T. (Perry King), the first man Hazel has ever hired to complete an assignment. A slovenly drug addict, L.T. loafs around Hazel’s house until she’s so sick of him that she sprinkles broken glass on the floor the minute she sees him walking around barefoot. Hazel also employs a pair of loudmouthed prostitutes who burn down a movie theater for kicks one evening, killing 14 people. And then there’s Mary (Susan Tyrrell), Hazel’s simple-minded daughter-in-law; Hazel spends inordinate amounts of time telling Mary that Hazel’s son will never return to be with his dowdy wife and their ugly infant son. Because Hazel is a bad person, get it? The movie’s called Bad, remember?
          Even though it’s relatively slick, and even though some of the performances are tasty—Baker opts for a dryly funny spin on viciousness—Bad is so excessive, nasty, and obvious that the central joke takes a while to coalesce, and then almost immediately loses its potency thanks to endless repetition. Is it fun to watch a craven woman crush a man beneath the hydraulic lift in a garage, and then cut off his finger for a souvenir? Despite the glimmer of hope peeking through the grim final scenes, Bad is an exhibition of ugly primal urges, and the picture’s sense of humor is juvenile and perverse. The movie imagines an alternate universe without conscience, inhibitions, and morality, so watching Bad is a bit like listening to someone hit the same gloomy notes on a piano’s lower register over and over again for 105 slow-moving minutes.


1 comment:

starofshonteff1 said...

Opening at the 160 seat FilmCenta 2 in London's West End in February 1977, this ran for all of a fortnight delivering distributors EMI a mere £657 in its final week