Jeff Lieberman's finest films hit the screen twice each this coming weekend at Anthology Film Archives, 32 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003 (anthologyfilmarchives.org). Director (along with some friends) will appear daily for Q&A, check schedule for details.
1976's SQUIRM had life on drive-in screens as well as hard-tops, before its Orion VHS release cemented it in the American gore-hound consciousness forever. The man behind the camera was Mr. Jeff Lieberman, and with some talented help (not least of which was make-up maestro Rick Baker, providing so many of the film's great gross-outs) he made his debut feature quite a memorable outing. SQUIRM is one of those rare and funny films that while piling on the horror-film cliches still manages to actually break out of that mold - something Lieberman seems be very good at. It's a movie about killer worms, somehow mutated by a lightning storm, that slowly and slimily begin to take over a small town; the town wallflower and her nerdy city boyfriend being the only ones who seem to be able to stop it. SQUIRM also showcases Lieberman's ability to make a solid film, as hokey as the plot gets, it never loses steam, continuing with increasing speed towards a weird and bloody crescendo. One gets the feeling the director himself was getting excited to see everything and everyone in the film completely covered in writhing worms.
Like the other Lieberman films in Anthology's series, JUST BEFORE DAWN (1981) is a sort of "antithetical" cult classic. While so many of the films under that banner have an element of cheese that elevates them, these Lieberman films are just actually well made, low-budget films. And, if you're going to see any slasher film on the big screen this summer, why not make it a good one? JUST BEFORE DAWN, like SQUIRM, has several elements that unfold to reveal the average Horror template, but its deviation from staying within those lines, matched with its powerfully filthy, sweaty, cheap-early-80's-film-stock look, result in "a slasher film to remember". JUST BEFORE DAWN is laced with rather genuine, raw thrills - it's a film about sick hillbilly killers chasing teens around in the middle of the woods, and appropriately the movie feels delightfully twisted. Scores of films with similar plots have been birthed since, and the genre for some reason seems to have forgotten not only the true value of "grittiness", but what actual "grit" looks like. JUST BEFORE DAWN could serve as a singular, all-encompassing lesson on how to not fuck-up a slasher film.
Often when a director works in the realm of genre films, it can be assumed that he or she has a personal project looming in the back of his mind; working long and hard on other more salable fare in order to one day get the chance to make that bizarre, personal film he dreams of. BLUE SUNSHINE (1978) may not by definition belong within that category, but it certainly feels like that type of film. Its wildly fun plot, some sort of experienced-acid-head's daydream meets Sci-Fi Noir, is unique to say the least - a group of young men take a form of LSD in college only to find out that 10 years later it turns them into bald, psychopathic killers. We're thrown into the spiral of paranoia rather quickly, and though the answers drip slowly towards us piecemeal, BLUE SUNSHINE manages to fully envelop us in its rays - it's easy to sink into the film's subversive acid-logic. BLUE SUNSHINE may be Lieberman's creative best, a glowing, turquoise diamond in the often shitty sea of horror and exploitation.
Check 'em out!
- Jeff Lieberman
SQUIRM - FILMMAKER IN PERSON!
August 17 at 7:00 PM
August 18 at 9:15 PM
- Jeff Lieberman
BLUE SUNSHINE - FILMMAKER IN PERSON!
August 17 at 9:15 PM
August 19 at 6:30 PM
- Jeff Lieberman
JUST BEFORE DAWN - FILMMAKER IN PERSON!
August 18 at 7:00 PM
August 19 at 8:30 PM