Thursday, April 7, 2016

Natural Born Killers (1994) Noir on Acid

A surreal, satirical, Neo Noir, sensory overdose. A psychedelic, acid road trip to Hell.

"It's a little ditty about Mickey and Mallory
Two American kids breaking bad in the heartland"

Directed by Oliver Stone, based on a Quentin Tarantino story, with in-you-face cinematography and videography by Robert Richardson,  juiced with the labyrinthine crosscut editing of Hank Corwin and Brian Berdan. Music was by Brent Lewis with soundtracks ranging from haunting to hypnotizing by, to name a few, Leonard Cohen, Chris McGregor, Duane Eddy, The Shangri-Las, Patti Smith, Cowboy Junkies, Bob Dylan, Duane Eddy, Patsy Cline, Nine Inch Nails, Diamanda Gal├ís, Peter Gabriel, and Marilyn Manson.

The film Stars Woody Harrelson (Mickey Knox), Juliette Lewis (Mallory Knox), Tom Sizemore (Scagnetti), Russell Means (Old Indian), Tommy Lee Jones (Warden Dwight McClusky), Rodney Dangerfield (Dad), Edie McClurg (Mom), Balthazar Getty (Gas Station Attendant), Robert Downey Jr. (Wayne Gale),  O-Lan Jones (Mabel), and Everett Quinton (Deputy Warden Wurlitzer).

It's a bizarre black comedy satire of the American 24 hour news cycle celebrity/violence culture, much in the vein of  Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)  satire of mutual assured destruction, and A Clockwork Orange (1971) satire of ultra violence.

Believe it or not I'd never seen this film until last year. I hadn't even heard of the controversy surrounding the film. I can see why though. It's because it hits too close to home, it's too real, it touches a nerve, there's an inconvenient veracity of cause and effect to it all. Is it Nature, a frightening genetic component of human beings that is in all of us. Or is it Nurture, as is illustrated through the fragments of flashbacks we get of Mickeys and Mallory's abominable family life, that causes them to go off the rails, if the wrong code buttons are pushed?

I've been going through the Neo Noir lists from various sources and either viewing or acquiring those titles that I'd either never heard of or just missed. I believe my experience of watching this was all that more enhanced since I've begun delving into Noir and Neo Noir so heavily. This personal steeping in everything Noir has given me a huge visual catalog of cinematic memory ripe for discharge. This film may not work the same going into it cold turkey.

Natural Born Killers, gets my synapses sparking. My RPMs are red lining. Like a delayed strobe the film sporadically flashes between Black & White and Color film, it has these insanely canted Dutch Angles while at other times they tilt, back and forth, teeter-totter like along with other visual Noir stylistics. It uses documentary style footage and live breaking news parodies, animation, TV sit com satire, super 8 film sequences, TV quasi News Special Bulletins, and music video style promos. It is hyper violence mixed with cultural and natural Iconography all in a assault on the senses. Every potential affront to sanity and integrity is exploited. It's an indictment of the media feeding frenzy we have with disasters, mass murder, terrorist attacks, and public executions. It's INSANITY, with a complimentary soundtrack, and it's as American as apple pie.

They got their kicks on Route 666. Our tale begins with the desert and a montage of natural born killers, a wolf, a rattler, a hawk, it then segues to the human kind.

At the 5 to 2 Cafe, we first meet Mickey and Mallory already well into their maniacal Highway 666 murder spree.

Two cowboy rednecks enter the cafe the third sees to their overheating pickup truck. Mallory is dancing to the juke box. One of the rednecks attempts to dance with her, while another says to Mickey that "that's what I call pussy" indicating Mallory. Mickey turns to him and tells him that "her name is Mallory". Mallory beats the crap out of the dancing redneck for trying to make a pass, but the massacre is triggered when the cowboy sitting by Mickey gets up to join in. By the time it's all over three rednecks are dead, the waitress and the cook. Only the pinball playing cowboy is spared so that he can tell the world that Mickey and Mallory did it.


Mallory (Lewis)

Key Lime Pie
"An Acquired Taste" Mabel (O-Lan Jones)
redneck arrival

"that's what I call pussy" disrespecting Mallory
"her name is Mallory"

Mickey (Harrelson about to explode
The cook gets a bullet to the head

knife in the back
Pinball Cowboy the sole survivor 

Mickey and Mallory continue down their road to Hell with intensely paced montage sequence recalling Classic Noir or Noir locations.

Road to Hell
Third Street Tunnel


They were angels...   Angels of Death
Natural Born Killers is full of these little "just killing", (as Donald Trump uses the phrase) picaresque noir vignettes and others, that flesh out the characters and propel the tale forward, that stick in my mind amidst all the designed chaos. Here are just a small selection.

It has an I Love Mallory TV sitcom sendup sequence (complete with laugh track) with Rodney Dangerfield (Dad) as Mallory's incestuous father and Edie McClurg (Mom) as her battered do nothing about it, pathetic mother. Dad is leeringly squeezing Mallory's ass, "if you live in this house, your ass is my ass" and tells her to "go upstairs and take a shower and make sure it's a good shower,  cause I'm going to come up and check how clean you are." Mallory leaves, and in a perverted aside to his wife and Mallory's brother says "she won't see my face for an hour."

I Love Mallory

I Love Mallory
"Your ass is my ass"

"I'm gonna check how clean you are" (Rodney Dangerfield) 
The sequence also includes the first meeting of  Mickey and Mallory. Mickey is delivering a meat order and it's love at first sight when he sees Mallory on the stairs. They take off together stealing her father's car.

love at first sight

Another nice sequence is the Mickey & Mallory take their marriage vows. They are standing on a high bridge over a canyon it's shot with a tongue in cheek tenderness which is temporarily shattered when a pickup full of jeering hecklers drives by. Mickey keeps it under control in truly warped solemnity saying "I will not murder anybody on my wedding day".

Marriage Vows

marriage bridge

Throwing away her childish things

snake rings

Another sequence you can call Mallory The 1990s Femme Fatale, where a jealous Blondie-Mallory goes off half cocked away from Mickey. During a love making session Mickey is paying more attention to the pretty hostage they have tied up in their motel room that to her.

Mallory ends up seducing a town pump gas jockey on the hood of a Corvette in the garage bay. She hops up on the hood of a Corvette Stingray and wants him to "go down". He starts to do so but loses control jumping up on her. Mallory frustrate-edly pushes him off pulls a revolver out of her bag and blows him away. She then grabs her shed panties and flings them at the corpse exclaiming "that was the worst head I ever got"! and stomps off.

1990s Femme Fatale

Getty (gas station attendant)

"That was the worst head I ever got"
A following related vignette has Jack Scagnetti the sadistic detective on their trail recreating the crime scene at the town pump. He picks up the panties and smells them then tosses them to a deputy.

Seeing the imprint of Mallory's ass on the hood he remarks that it's a "fine ass", then makes note of the saliva drops in an obviously related location. He then leans over the corpse and extracts a pubic hair from the dead man's teeth and exclaims "Mallory meet Jack Scagnetti".

Scagnetti smelling Mallory's panties
Welcome to the 90s. We are post code but the film is still using dialog and suggestive images to jumpstart your imagination, but it actually has very little overt nudity in the whole film, your imagination fills in the rest just like it did during Classic Noir.

Other times these vignettes are just brief homages to the past cinema. When Mickey and Mallory are dancing at the diner the sequence changes from full traditional lit color to a silhouette reminiscent of Astaire & Rogers Musicals shot in low key chiaroscuro. We also see Horror and Monster movie clips.

The vast pans of the Southwest deserts, and a prison farm escape during a Wizard of Oz tornado, recall countless Westerns.


TV Program spoof


Astaire and Rodgers

demon projection


escape in the whirlwind

fire projection


Again, over all,  Natural Born Killers is not about Mickey and Mallory but about the infamy of their killing spree and the nutjobs they attract. A Geraldo Rivera inspired TV expose program American Mainiacs, is hosted by a shock journalist Wayne Gale who affects a Robin Leach accent and provides a live Lifestyles of the Depraved commentary on the hunt for Mickey and Mallory, their capture, trial and a year later on a prison riot. The program as Wayne Gale puts it is " for all the morons watching out there in zombieland."

Tom Sizemore is Jack Scagnetti a high profile celebrity cop, author of "Scagnetti on Scagnetti" who is seriously warped. Tommy Lee Jones is redneck Prison Warden Dwight McClusky and Everett Quinton is Deputy Warden Wurlitzer who does a pretty good impression of Hugh Cronyn in Brute Force.


Wayne Gale (Downey Jr.)

Riot live coverage

Deputy Warden Wurlitzer (Everett Quinton)

Warden Dwight McClusky (Jones)

Old Indian (Russell Means)

You'll find yahoo's on either end of the spectrum will superficially either embrace this film for all the wrong reasons or condemn it, rather than see it for the statement it makes about the sick state of the media news cycle trap that feeds current society where even the really wicked sometimes, get off scot- free.

Caution this film will not be for everyone. Artistically intellectualized chaos, everything is over the top in this film, what a trip 9/10

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