The Funeral (Ferrara, 1996)

With this lifeless and almost funny (bad) throwback to the 1930’s gangster film, director Abel Ferrara raises a mallet to the genre and mashes the life out of it. The story comes across overly serious, navigating the tragic setting surrounding a family of brothers attending the funeral of their youngest. The typical melodramatic themes fall flat; jealousy, revenge, madness, and greed all get mixed up with some artificial style and self-importance. The cast (led by Ferrara staple Christopher Walken) looks lost, unable to glean a fragment of sense from the muddled and silly script. Watching this made me pine for the Coen’s Miller’s Crossing.

The Driller Killer (Ferrara, 1979)

My Abel Ferrara film festival continues. It’s become clear to me Ferrara’s both obsessed with and consumed by oppressed rage, and the driving force it has on violence and sex. The Driller Killer, an early example of this bloody Ferrara motif, tells of a struggling artist who goes insane and kills countless people with a power drill. Could the film be a comment on pretentious NYC’s artists’ uncaring attitude toward the lower class (he kills mostly homeless people at random) or just a campy shlock horror film? The Driller Killer is a bit of both, but the film definitely shows early glimpses of Ferrara’s plight with artistic impotence and the anger which stems as a result. Plus, it has an excellent final sequence that uses darkness in brilliant and horrifying ways.

Dangerous Game (Ferrara, 1993)

In Dangerous Game, Abel Ferrara crafts a relentless train wreck of colliding personalities posing as artists. Eddie Israel (Harvey Kietel) starts production on is latest movie entitled Mother of Mirrors, a verbose morality tale about a modern couple taking out their rage on each other. Eddie manipulates the epic ego’s of his two lead actors (Madonna and James Russo) in the name of art, using them like pawns without regard. But he’s no better than they are. The director acts exactly like his spoiled talent, cheating, drinking, and talking like a true fake. Ferrara combines faux on-set documentary footage of the production with 35mm film in order to disorient the difference between reality and fiction. Normally, such a ploy would seem overly simplistic, but Ferrara combines long takes and rigid close-ups to establish an intimacy with the anger and insecurities of his volatile characters. Basically each major character can’t understand why everyone doesn’t bow down to their talents, and it’s these hilariously ripe persona’s which hold interest until the final, disturbingly fake (or is it?) moment of violence.

New Rose Hotel (Ferrara, 1998)

Besides displaying a sexy Asia Argento countless times, the film is a lifeless modern day corporate espionage art film. If that doesn’t sell you then nothing will. Abel Ferrara remains an oddity to me. While a true independent autuer, at times he pointlessly revels in his own dark and mysterious ideologies. In New Rose Hotel, this style becomes absurd, breaking down into slow motion eroticism and obscure moral conundrums.

Body Snatchers (Ferrara, 1993)

Both Don Siegel’s iconic original and Philip Kaufman’s sleek 1970’s remake succeed as haunting tales of slow conformity through a the less-is-more philosophy. Each of those films linger with the respective protagonists as their way of life rots away from the inside. Abel Ferrara utilizes a more genre specific approach, and his third incarnation of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers feels somewhat tired and obvious as a result. This time the story deals with an Army base in the South post Operation Desert Storm and the chemical/biological weapons influence on the invading aliens. Body Snatchers works during it’s slow, intimately scary buildup of creeping pods invading nostrils and mouths, deflating humanity with short bursts of suction. But the film falters as it dives into overblown George Romero territory for the explosive climax. Ferrara rightfully considers modern influences on the timeless material, such as military oppression, the deconstruction of the family unit, and government ignorance, however, through a series of repetitive action scenes the film becomes more convincing as a B-horror film than any political commentary, becoming overwhelmed by the slime on it’s mind.

Bad Lieutenant (Ferrara, 1992)

I’m a great admirer of Abel Ferrara, mainly because his films often feel overtly dirty and sleazy without descending into a safety net of comedy or camp. His Ms. 45, The King of New York, and ‘R Xmas are all good films and solid exercises in genre-bending aesthetics. But Bad Lieutenant might be his most potent incarnation of religious guilt, hard-core sex, and bloody iconography. In many scenes Ferrara goes for shock value but never at the expense of story. Everything Harvey Kietel’s dirty cop does represents him as the scum-bag sociopath he truly seems to be. However, unlike similar anti-heroes fleshed out by Scorsese, Coppola, and DePalma, Ferrara’s characterization is unapologetic about these vices, a refreshing if not exhausting journey into a FUBARed individual. The arrogance and greed of Kietel’s character dissolves as the film progresses, leaving a scared, jumbled little boy. While I’ve never been able to feel much sympathy for any Harvey Kietel character, Ferrara’s hardcore portrait of mental and physical decline never asks us to.