1 July 2012 | StevePulaski
Cultists are put to the test
Marty Malt (Judd Nelson) is a miserable, unfulfilled garbageman who aspires to be a successful standup comic in the wake of his mundane life. He frequently performs his abysmal schtick at seamy diners and unattractive dives, with only one fan; his best friend and fellow garbageman, Gus (Bill Paxton). One day, Gus notices that Marty has a disgusting lump on his back that quickly sprouts into a fully grown human-arm. Miraculously, Marty is more popular now than he ever was before, and becomes the target of the sleazy talent agent, Jackie Chrome (Wayne Newton), who previously wanted nothing to do with Marty after seeing his loathsome act. In the mix of it all, Gus, his once faithful, dim-witted best friend turns sickeningly manipulative and controlling of his new friend's found fame, and begins to be grossly violent towards the man and his already fragile self-esteem.
As you might've guessed, The Dark Backward wants to be called a "cult movie." Whether or not it has earned that status today I cannot say, but I can say it is one of the strangest and quirkiest film I've seen in quite sometime. Adam Rifkin, a director I have lauded in the past for making the brilliant anthology film, LOOK, chronicling the lives of unsuspecting people as they are recorded numerous times a day with surveillance cameras (he followed the film up with a Showtime TV show that ran for eight episodes, as well), the cult-comedy, Detroit Rock City, about four die-hard KISS fans trying to score some tickets to their big show, and Chillerama, an anthology horror film he contributed to, is the perfect man to write and direct such a story. It is told through his trademark eclectic ways and his appetite for crudely entertaining story tricks that are so sick, depraved, and outlandish that they beg an audience to appreciate them.
The film erects one of the seamiest and dirtiest environments this side of a landfill, with some grimy cinematography, complimenting the overall tone of the film, along with presenting the characters in such a disastrous light. Our main character, Marty, always appears hunched over, drenched in his own sweat, shaking and quivering as the next setup commences. His friend, Gus, commits to some of the dirtiest acts in the film, one including eating rancid chicken found in Marty's refrigerator. The cult films I appreciate the most are ones that can't be placed in an existing genre. This isn't a comedy, because little laughing is done, drama isn't the correct word, horror is a step-up, but not quite, and any other genre doesn't prove satisfactory. It is simply film, in which we watch and immensely try and grasp long after the event is over.
In a way, the film reminds me of Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy, starring Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis. In that picture, we were given characters we were depressed and saddened to watch for a long period of time. I felt nothing but moroseness watching the picture, seeing De Niro's Rupert Pupkin wander aimlessly scene after scene, believing every encounter he had with someone was a genuinely meaningful one, and after watching Marty being led through his career as a comedian and a sideshow attraction by his friend Gus, I feel the same sort of moroseness.
I'm a fan of cult cinema and The Dark Backward unnervingly pushes my envelope. It is satire of epic proportions, a comedic exercise so dark and so saddening that it almost must be seen to be believed. I mean, if you can handle such a thing.
Starring: Judd Nelson, Bill Paxton, Wayne Newton, Lara Flynn Boyle, James Caan, and Rob Lowe. Directed by: Adam Rifkin.