David Yow with Flipper, at the Astoria, June 7th, 2019, by Allan MacInnis
David Yow is, besides being a highly memorable frontman, quite a talented actor. If you haven't seen Macon Blair's film I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore, it is, as far as I know, still on Netflix, here in Canada; it's a Sundance-winning black comedy that reminded me a little of Bobcat Goldthwait's God Bless America, without being quite as nasty. Yow - for whom the role was written, we gather - plays the leader of a small band of criminals, whose trajectory intersects with that of a female protagonist who is getting steadily more upset by how shitty people can be to each other.
The recent horror anthology Southbound is maybe a bit harder to see but Yow also has a very interesting role, playing a man searching for his lost sister in a mysteriously purgatorial, supernaturally-governed zone. Yow also has a role in the upcoming film Under the Silver Lake (technically already released, I think, but not so easy to see in Canada at the moment, so let's optimistically call it "upcoming"). It's directed by David Robert Mitchell, who previously did It Follows.
Most people probably do not know, however, of William Hellfire's film Upsidedown Cross. It's a very perverse, unsettling little movie - sort of as if Flannery O'Connor were making pornography with Richard Kern (or Zebedy Colt), which is not to say that it is actually pornographic (unless something can be pornographic in terms of psychology alone). I picked it up on Yow's recommendation - there are plenty of copies on eBay, and it's not so expensive. The film does have eccentricities and limitations - for instance, characters communicate in exceptionally long monologues, while other characters just sit listening to them; naturalism is not the film's strong suit. And you have to be able to take fairly strong stuff - there is some pretty unsettling abuse that goes on in the course of the film. But there's no shortage of ideas, Yow is terrific, and it actually doesn't look that bad, for a shot-on-video microbudget feature.. If you want a detailed review, to get more of a sense of the content of the film, there is a fair one online, here. I don't want to say much more about it myself, but what follows is from my conversation with David Yow about the film, when he was in town with Flipper.
DY: Well, there’s this guy, William Hellfire. That’s not his real name. He makes extremely low budget horror movies that are very influenced by late 60’s and 70’s shock/ exploitation movies. And he did a movie called Upsidedown Cross. I think we shot it in two days, maybe three, for a budget of, like, $1200. And honest to God, he’s done two movies that he shot in a day: feature length films that he shot in a day. And so the aesthetic is – he doesn’t care about good sound, and it’s not so important about the lighting, and how good that shot is, or whatever, it’s really, really run-gun. And so Upsidedown Cross, keeping that in mind, is kind of a remarkable movie, and if you’re talking about a good performance… there’s a part in it where I play a con man, posing as a preacher, who exorcises this girl who is a prostitute and drug addict. Her Mom hires this guy to exorcise her, and he’s a con man. And there’s one point when she’s tied up on a bed and I’m sitting on her back, whipping her with a belt. They had a yoga mat on her back, and we tested it before, to see how hard I could hit without hurting her, and I could fuckin’ whale, just really, like, hittin’ her. And she’s so sweet, and she’s beautiful, and I don’t want to hurt anybody. And during that scene, where I had to whip her – I want to say it was fun, because it was acting and it was not me that was doing it, it was this other person, but after we shot that scene, and we only did one take – I went outside and cried [Yow chokes up as he speaks], because I felt so terrible that I just beat the fuck out of this girl, um… it was a very, very strange experience. I haven’t experienced anything like that before or since. From an actor’s standpoint, it was really cool, because I was able to pull off this believable thing, but from a human standpoint, it was just horrible, it was just terrible. So that was interesting.
AM: Did you talk to her afterwards? She was okay?
DY: Absolutely. I made sure she was fine, and she was, no bruises or anything.
[...there is actually more to the film than Yow is describing, but I'll leave that for you to discover. It's a remarkable film, and better-looking (for what it is) than Yow's descriptions might lead you to expect. Check it out!]