Every boy's dream, every parent's nightmare.
This collection of short films by obscure indie filmmaker Nick Lyon takes me back to my college years, when I was a black-clad intellectual artiste, smoking unfiltered Gauloises and waxing ecstatic over some avant-garde flick by Kenneth Anger or Stan Brakhage. Those were heady days, my friends, days when a student filmmaker with aspirations toward Godard-hood could foist the most shamelessly artsy load of codswallop upon his peers and be taken completely seriously, each turgid frame pored over with the reverent diligence of a jeweler appraising a diamond. Unless you're fortunate enough to be a David Lynch or a David Cronenberg, it's the only time in your life that you have the luxury of indulging yourself to the hilt before a mass audience without threat of public denunciation or bodily harm.
It's no surprise, then, that most of the seven short works presented on Hellchild: The World of Nick Lyon are student productions, made while the Idaho-born Lyon was studying at the Film Academy Baden-Wuerttemberg in Germany. In any non-academic forum, films this ineptly, strenuously pretentious would be laughed out of the screening room. Actually, laughs of any kind would have been welcome in this set of what we're asked to believe are comedies, but which are about as funny as an aneurysm. It's worth noting that German culture is famously humor-deprived, to the extent that German corporations actually hire professional consultants to come in and train their managers in humor appreciation. Watching these hammy, bombastic shorts, it's easy to imagine why Lyon took refuge in the German filmmaking community—it's the one culture in the world likely to mistake Lyon's chichi flailings for edgy comedy.
The centerpiece of the collection is "Hilda Humphrey" (AKA "Hellchild"), a 20-minute short relating the sordid life story of Hilda, a "geeky nerdy rebellious hellchild slut with a drug problem" (as we are told again…and again…and again). Starring cable TV hottie Xenia Seeberg, of Sci-Fi Channel's Lexx, "Hilda Humphrey" follows this girl gone wild from the childhood trauma that propels her descent into promiscuity and rebellion and, finally, trailer trashdom.
If you can't tell from the DVD packaging, featuring two photos of Seeberg on the front cover (one of them almost literally underscoring the film's most compelling assets), the babelicious Lexx star is Hellchild's one big draw, and probably the only rational reason to purchase this disc. If you're a fan of Seeberg, strap on your drool bib and enjoy. Otherwise, you'll be left wondering how such an inane, hamfisted attempt at satire was actually conceived and financed. I couldn't figure it out myself until I realized finally that this was actually a sly parody of precious, twee student films, directed from the point of view of a clueless novice filmmaker who thinks he's the first person in the world to do trailer trash humor. There's no other way I can imagine such a hysterically mawkish collection of ineptly executed stale gags being made by a supposedly "award-winning" auteur. Yeah, he's "funny," but in such a thuddingly obvious way that one wonders if Lyon even understands the films he so enthusiastically rips off.
There are six other short pieces on the disc, comprised of short films, music videos, and a trailer for an as-yet unmade feature film:
"Phal-O-Krat" (24 min.): Think of it as "A Boy and His Penis." A man gets a penis transplant so he can finally have the 18-inch monster phallus he's always wanted. Unfortunately, he can't make the payments on it, so a pair of freakish repo men—a wizened old crone and a gigantic scarred thug—come to repossess the wonder schlong. Imagine a John Waters film with twice the production values and none of the wit.
"Godbox" (12 min.): This mercifully brief film reads like a best-of collection of avant-garde imagery. An endless line of black-suited men stands waiting in a field of spare tires, to be admitted into a sort of God booth inhabited by Mara Sheeba, a deity who dispenses eternal punishments to good and evil alike. It's visually striking, but in a completely derivative way, and ultimately adds up to far less than the sum of its clichés.
"The Fisherman And His Frau" (31 min.): This is the only film in the collection with an even halfway compelling narrative, so of course it's an adaptation, of the Brothers Grimm folktale about the fisherman and the wish-granting fish. There's a certain David Lynchian fascination with the grotesque at work here, as Lyon pairs a diminutive older man with a vast, hulking transvestite, and we're naturally asked to find the whole outlandish spectacle amusing and, I suppose, disturbing. What's most amazing about this grimy little film, though, is that it manages to make even the Brothers Grimm boring.
"Candy Dance Chant" (6 min.): A trailer for a nonexistent film (which Lyon has since retitled Karma Noir—look for it to appear in theaters at around the same time as Remo Williams: The Next Adventure), a seedy Bad Lieutenant / Se7en style crime thriller whose images are enhanced using an interesting animation style Lyon admits to having cribbed from a wine commercial. (Can this guy do anything original?) These six minutes, which actually are pretty watchable, are a concise compilation of Lyon's artistic sensibilities: gritty, profane imagery punched up with sordid T&A.
"Here Comes the Pain" (4 min.): One of two music videos by German techno-metal band The Farmer Boys, who manage to be even more derivative than Lyon himself. This one is mostly made up of clips from "Candy Dance Chant," with a few shots of the lead singer as Jesus just to make it all even more pointlessly pretentious.
"Never Let Me Down Again" (5 min.): The Farmer Boys cover Depeche Mode, and Lyon is there to provide a fairly amusing pseudo-Western backdrop, roping in Xenia Seeberg for another go-around.
Video/Audio: The films in this collection were originally shot in a variety of formats and aspect ratios, from 1.66:1 16mm to 4:3 full screen, so the image dimensions and print quality vary considerably throughout the disc. The main feature, "Hilda Humphrey," is the best looking of the lot, with a slightly washed-out but mostly clear and vivid transfer. Whatever the faults of the film itself, it certainly looks terrific. The other shorts tend toward the grainy and dimly lit, but they're meant to be that way. Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and is fairly lackluster, about what you'd expect from a low-budget student film. Again, "Hilda Humphrey" provides the best quality, followed by the two music videos.
Extras: With the exception of the music videos, the short films all feature an audio commentary by Nick Lyon. If you like his work, you'll find his enthusiastic comments on the making of these films interesting and informative. If not, there's nothing here that'll really change your mind about Mr. Lyon. He comes across as an energetic and personable young man who takes his art very seriously, but he's the kind of guy who can compare himself with Kafka with nary a shred of irony. Also included on the disc are a promotional clip for other IndieDVD titles, and a trailer for what looks to be a memorably campy feature film, The Devil's Keep, that features the most hilariously deadpan preview narration I've heard to date. (If there's an award for Best Movie Trailer Narration, I nominate this film: "In the final days of the Second World War Hitler's elite SS troops hatched a clandestine plot to fund their escape from the advancing Allied armies. But something went wrong. Now, nearly fifty years later, Olympic hopeful Jeff Connors is about to uncover one of the greatest and most bizarre secrets of our time.")
Needless to say, I did not quite fall under the sway of Nick Lyon's grand artistic vision. But if you're a fan of Xenia Seeberg, adore anything that even resembles the work of David Lynch or John Waters, or have a penchant for unfiltered Gauloises, you may want to give Hellchild a spin and enter "The World of Nick Lyon."
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