Spout Mavens Disc #14, Part 11 of 13: Shorts! Volume 3 - Pretty Dead Girl (2003)

Director: Shawn Ku
US, 22 minutes, color
Cinema 4 Rating: 5

Despite a title sure to be at least partially tempting to any horror nut, Pretty Dead Girl: A Musical Necromance turns out to be rather tame. And if you could get the subject of necrophilia past the initial tsk-tsking of your grandma, there is a good chance that she would end up at film’s end thinking the movie was rather sad and sweet, and would hardly take offense at all to what is being suggested by its potentially creepy premise.

I first saw Pretty Dead Girl on some cable network sometime about a year ago. I am not sure if it was Sundance or IFC, but honestly, I mix those channels up so much that I am never able to check out any of their shows regularly. Of course, most of the shows I have seen on there are of the variety about which I don’t give a rat’s ass, except for the ones done by Henry Rollins and Jon Favreau, but honestly, even thinking really hard, I can’t remember which one of the channels, Sundance or IFC, either show was actually on. I keep wanting to check out Live from Abbey Road – which is also on one of them -- but every time I flick over to it because someone I like – Muse, for instance – is on there, I end up having to sit through someone deplorable, like Josh Groban, Big and Rich or some Idol failure, to get to the good stuff, all of which seems to be interspersed with the horrendous. Can’t they just concentrate on one artist for a show? And one of these channels shows a bunch of '70s horror flicks on Friday nights -- all of which I already own, but it's nice to have them at one's fingertips anyway -- and one of them shows a lot of Japanese samurai and gangster films from the ‘50s and ‘60s, so they have that going for them. Whichever channel they are.

What does this have to do with Pretty Dead Girl? Well, nothing at all, but -– Hey! Maybe I saw this on one of the Showtime networks instead? All I know is that I had Pretty Dead Girl on my DVR queue for a good long while, meaning to show it to Jen, who has some measured interest in musical films, and musical theatre in general. I watched it and enjoyed it, whatever channel it was on, though I wasn’t blown away it by it. This possibly had something to do with the musical episode from Buffy, titled Once More With Feeling, and how it seems, in my head at least, that any attempt to music up the horror or sci-fi genres should actually run through Mr. Whedon first. (Oh, if only Firefly had made it to that style of episode…) We are now in an age where, every time one turns around, it seems that another classic horror or science fiction film is being adapted into a musical (or opera – big difference there…) onstage. (Plan 9 from Outer Space, The Evil Dead, Carrie, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Fly, etc.) Or, at least the notion gets raised that such-and-such (say, Chainsaw) would make a swell musical. I don’t know why things are trending this way – perhaps because the horror genre itself has gotten more and more trapped in its current torture porn rut – but outside of an almost rubbernecking interest I have towards these things, since I like both musicals and horror films, I actually start to despise the gimmick after a short while. And then it affects my attitude when confronted with mildly ambitious little films like Pretty Dead Girl.

It’s not a fair comparison, though, because Pretty Dead Girl is not really in the horror genre; it merely teases the viewer with promises of sick glory via its title. Honestly, once I realized it was a musical, I started to imagine a remake of Return of the Living Dead 3 with that hot little zombie chick played to pierced goth glory by a smokin' Mindy Clarke. Now, that would be highly interesting (and also make RotLD3 a much better overall film.) Pretty Dead Girl doesn't even get near such possibilities, centering itself on all-out romantic tragedy instead. All told, it is no more offensive than any number of other Romeo and Juliet-style stories, where suicide is playfully dangled in the air due to the hopelessness of the romance. The title, though, implies so much more beyond a simple desperate love affair that it really is disappointing to see that all told, Pretty Dead Girl is nothing more than magic potion fluff, with a bottle of poison bringing on the appearance of suicide, but only if every single drop is gulped down the gullet (hence the magic part). Otherwise, it becomes a full-on suicide. That this storyline springs forth from the actions of a morgue techie (with a clearly misguided missile) who cavorts and dances about (always in a G-rated way) with the bodies of deceased hotties does make it seem potentially horrific at first, and one almost can’t wait for the film to go all Re-Animator on us and suddenly we shall find torrents of blood gushing from the stumps from where the limbs of unsuspecting doctors have been ripped, and there shall then commence a rising bout of rampant cannibalism in the halls of the hospital, syringes stuck through eyeballs of screaming nurses, zombie fetuses that devour their mothers from the inside out, and, perhaps worst of all, an Alaskan governor will then get dangerously close to the White House. And then only one of those things happens… and it's not even in the movie.

Unlike most of the examples listed two paragraphs above, the musical part in Pretty Dead Girl is not the gimmick. Instead, it is the false trappings of horror that are the actual gimmick, and it almost seems like a gimmick which has only been employed to get people to watch the film who are ultimately going to be disappointed once the film doesn’t follow through on its sick promise. It certainly tricked me into watching it the first time. And instead of where I thought it was going, I got a nice – just nice – little musical instead, with a couple of catchy tunes (I have had that “I have waited more than the better of my life” melody ear-worming me for the past couple of weeks since I started watching the film again), a lot of leggy dames hoofin’ it in a dream sequence, a trio of well-turned (and well cast) performances in the main roles and… well, that’s about it. It doesn’t go beyond that for me. It’s good, it's pleasant, and then I forget about it.

When I first saved it on my DVR to show Jen, I never followed through. A couple of months later, as it sat there unwatched, I finally deleted it after convincing myself that she really wouldn’t think that much of it. And then I forgot about it until I received Shorts! Volume 3. Now, with DVD in hand, I have once more sidled up to the “should I show it to her?” stage, and already I am convincing myself to the negative impulse again of not even showing it to her. The problem here is one of too much familiarity with the genre. The more experience or expertise one has in a certain genre, the more lesser items in that genre start to give way almost immediately to feelings of ennui. At least, that’s the way it normally works. I know some people that are horror nuts – some even on this very website -- who unabashedly adore every single horror movie that comes out, practically carving little gory hearts with dripping arrows through them into the top of their computer desk while once more giving five stars to something like Saw IV. Sure, some are better than others, but still… horror is great! Isn’t it? Aren’t all horror movies, no matter how bad, instantly awesome and cool, just because they are horror movies? Well, no. Some just blankly suck outright, and some are just downright atrocious from every conceivable angle. It's the same with every genre.

As I have said before, at least 75 percent of everything is garbage, no matter what form of media, no matter how much there is, and into this giant slice of pie, I heap mounds of the merely average. There is another slice of percentage, a chunk that perhaps appears as a normal slice of that pie, which accounts for the merely good. And finally, there is left a much thinner slice, the remainder, that denotes that which exists in the very-good-to-great range. The continued and legended greatness of certain entries in any genre make it increasingly harder, over time, to enjoy that category’s far more noxious efforts. It is towards a target sublime to which artists, even popular artists, should aim their talents. Back to the point, because my girlfriend has a good deal of experience, and therefore opinion, regarding the musical genre, and is well versed in those films which serve as the pinnacles of the form, I know instinctively that it is going to take far more to impress her in this genre than it would, say, me.

And I already think that Pretty Dead Girl is merely a good short musical film. Not fantastic, not knock your socks off, but just good. And so, for someone with the more than average eye for musicals in general, having seen the excellence which can be achieved in the genre, watching this is like seeing a dance sequence pop up in Ally McBeal. Sure, the actors might be giving it their all, but they are miles from being in the real thing. And, further discounting it for the gimmick factor of its fake fantasy horror trappings, Pretty Dead Girl can seem pretty dead from the beginning. And, if not dead, then just merely playing possum. And nicely at that.

And, speaking for myself, though I liked it well enough, nice is not what most people who would be intrigued by such a title as Pretty Dead Girl are going to be expecting.


Anonymous said…
You poor thing having to sit through someone deplorable like Josh Groban. You should be so lucky. You don't know talent when you hear it. That man I'm sure has more talent in his little finger than you could ever imagine to have. Eat your heart out you loser. Josh rocks!
Rik Tod said…
No, the point is I didn't sit through someone deplorable like Josh Groban. I changed the channel (whichever one it was, to continue the flow) and have not gone back. That is what his music does to me: it makes me change the channel.

How like a Josh Groban fan to wish to stay anonymous. And are you one of those willing to find out how much talent is in that little finger of his?

And Chewy, if this is you, defending Josh Groban would certainly prove for good the two sides of your personality: the dreamy-eyed little 14-year old girl and the grumpy 60-year old man who only shops at Costco.
Anonymous said…
Okay, this Grobanite is no longer anonymous. I have posted my user name. Your opinion shows your lack of taste for good talent. But you probably wouldn't know good talent if your life depended on it. Did you ever watch Josh's Alive concert on DVD? If you did, I don't know how you could think he is deplorable. Do you know what the word means? I have met the man and I can tell you what a wonderful and caring person he really is. His fans mean a lot to him and I am proud to say I am one of them. So get your head out of your butt and listen to some of Josh's songs and maybe with any luck you will be inspired by his music as so many millions of other people around the world are.
Rik Tod said…
Well, self-confessed Grobanite, my opinion is expressed in exactly the same manner as yours: as a mere personal opinion, not necessarily dependent upon either of our respective abilities to assess talent to any degree, though certainly, that can play a factor. To state, though, that someone is unqualified to quantify the talent of others is to possibly impart the impression that you yourself are qualified, as you have just used the exact same argument against me that I used against your beloved. In fact, I never said he was untalented... I merely lumped him in with a couple of other acts whose music I find, for various reasons, some political and some just plain mean for mean's sake, deplorable.

I have heard a couple of Groban's albums, and the best I can say is "what a nice boy." Though I don't know him personally, like you apparently do, I can at least surmise from a couple of interviews that I have seen (and the way that he does wear underwear in public that he is probably a rather polite and respectable individual. This alone is not enough to make me like his music, however. He might be nice, but nice doesn't automatically win him points with me musically (though clever nice often can.) I will give you this: he has an amazing voice, and I think he does an astounding job with the Star-Spangled Banner. Better than most have done. So, I will admit he has a great voice for a young singer.

And I don't care to hear it. I don't care to hear most of the amazing singers on the radio in the past couple of decades. Technically fine, but so lacking in every other department that really counts, and that makes for great, memorable music in my book. There are great exceptions to this, but overall I find their songs rote and by-the-numbers and almost completely engendered by commercial concerns and not artistic ones. The problem is that most of these technically amazing singers think they are being ruled by artistic concerns.

However, I do not level these charges at your boy Josh. But from what I have heard of him, he is unlikely to win me over. His music simply does not speak to me or for me, and thusly, I do not wish to become one of the millions to whom it does. (Join us, join us...) There are millions of fans of a great many artists for whom I care little or nothing, but whose music drives me insane when I find it being played everywhere and I have to listen to it against my will.

This creates in me a state where I begin to despise that particular artist. I begin to actively cringe at their every appearance anywhere, on radio, TV, movies... wherever. This then creates a state in which I begin to find that artist, yes, deplorable. I curse the ground he/she walks upon to each of the mythical heavens in which I don't believe, openly wish for their very matter to be rendered into chunder not even fit for the lowliest of worms to devour... and turn the channel when I am able. Which is all one has to do to make the pain go away. That, and call them deplorable in a personal blog generally read by only a couple hundred of people.

We simply have a difference of opinion, Grobanite (your name did not appear on my blog as you stated, but that's OK, I'm sure we are good pals by now). For every artist or movie that becomes popular, there are always people, for whatever reasons, obscure or logical, that do not like those artists or movies. Vice versa, many artistic endeavors which are considered huge bombs or terrible singers can still create large cult audiences and loyal fans. I can call Milli Vanilli deplorable as well (which they always have been) and despite that fact that most of popular culture has squarely turned against that act, there will still be that solitary fan hanging on out there to back them up, no matter what the odds, no matter how much they are beating their head against an immovable wall. Girl, you know it's true...

So, by all means, do keep your boy's back. Passion should be felt in music; I just personally don't get it from his. And I don't get anything else from it but ennui and a fierce desire to be anywhere else but listening to it. I'm sure there are a great many things that I adore which would either disgust you or make you find me deplorable, in either sense of the word.

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