Monday, January 19, 2015

B-MOVIE REVIEW: “Duck! The Carbine High Massacre” (1999)

It’s easily the greatest slapstick comedy ever made about a school shooting!

The April 20, 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School served as a real paradigm shift for American society. While there had been school shootings before -- and before that, nearly two decades worth of workplace massacres -- the tragedy in the suburbs of Denver really came to represent the dawning of a new era in American violence. It was the birth of the modern mass shooter era, a macabre spectacle that’s been replayed before our morbidly fascinated eyes many, many, MANY times since.

Of course, the cold hard facts behind the Columbine massacre have been fairly obfuscated by years and years of misinformation (a quick and dirty primer on everything the conventional narrative gets wrong can be read right here, enlightenment seekers.) Obviously, with an unparalleled event of the like -- which received nearly unprecedented around-the-clock Internet and cable news coverage -- it was only a matter of time before some filmmakers came along and decided to dramatize the incident. There’s actually a pretty large number of Columbine-inspired movies out there, ranging from the absolutely incredible (do whatever it takes to see 2003’s “Zero Day”) to the really, really good (Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant,” albeit with some horribly opportunistic anti-homophobia-politicking needlessly included) to the fairly forgettable (Uwe Boll’s “Heart of America” immediately springs to mind.)

The first movie to really focus on the Columbine incident, surprisingly, wasn’t “Bowling for Columbine.” Rather, it was an incredibly obscure New Jersey flick called “Duck! The Carbine High Massacre,” which -- unbelievably -- was released just months after the mass shooting in Colorado.

It seems like a film coming out so soon after the tragedy would’ve garnered more media publicity -- indeed, that had to have been the intentions of directors William Hellfire and Joey Smack (obviously, their birth names), who also played the film’s lead characters. Strangely enough though, the same media conglomerates that produced maudlin special after maudlin special on the massacre steered clear of covering the movie’s release; and if you think it’s because of taste, tact and respect for the families of the dead, clearly, you don’t know much about American media.

Then again, the mass media leviathans may have avoided the film for an altogether different reason: namely, the fact that “Duck!” absolutely annihilates the news industry for their hypocritical and exploitative take on mass killings. Although indelibly crude and unpolished, there’s no denying that there’s a real set of brains behind the film, and for all of its amateurish faults and flaws, it’s a shockingly profound and poignant movie, with an absolutely biting satirical message that, in my opinion, does a better job of explaining why Columbine happened then any of the films that followed it.

Just imagine what these kids could have gotten their hands on if they had
stuck around long enough to see the Silk Road!
Following a smart-alecky disclaimer for the easily offended, we jump to a scene in which a bunch of teenagers (played by thirty year old actors, of course) pretend to freak out while their teacher, wearing one of the worst wigs you will ever see in any movie, bleeds to death. The kids call 911, but the operator thinks they are all high and ignores their cries for help.

Yes, that’s right, folks … “Duck!” is an “Airplane!” type comedy, of the utmost brass-balled variety.

So, the dying teacher yelps “why?” and the credits -- which consists of a high number of adult film thespians -- roll. We jump to two kids, Derwin and Derrick, sitting in their cavernous basement, drinking, smoking, and looking at online weapons while wearing Nazi helmets. They look over a Chinese website that sells supposed nuclear weapons, and here comes mom and dad, who much like the REAL Klebolds and Harrises, somehow had no goddamn idea their kids had enough firepower in their possessions to overthrow a banana republic. The parents overlook their “science project” and briefly discuss a “violent English assignment” that perturbed the school administration. One of the kids asks them to scram, and dad -- who has a literally violent reaction to techno-metal a’la KMFDM -- slugs his wife across the face for no real reason.

From there, we get a look at the eclectic high school cast. There’s your bullies, your jocks, your greasers, Goths and despondent losers of all varieties -- much like a “Friday the 13th” offering though, it’s probably for the best that you don’t get attached to any of them as a viewer.

Man, is it ever reassuring to see kids take up an interest in reading, no?
In a technology class, a Christian goody-two-shoes girl tries to recruit people to come to her youth group meeting, while a special ed student gives everyone a lecture on the merits of “Dark Star.” The teacher goes on and on about how great the Web is, and the only black dude in the entire movie rebukes him by saying the Internet is only for white folks. Derrick and Derwin talk about “The Poor Man’s James Bond,” and they’re accosted by a mysterious, faceless janitor, who says some very ominous things to them (believe it or not, this could be a highly prescient criticism of Internet absorption … more on that later, readers.)

So, the two kids try to detonate their nuke, but it’s a dud. One of them kind of insinuates he’s a teen alcoholic (which was very much the real life case with Dylan Klebold, a little tidbit that somehow gets lost in the standard media narrative.) Then, one of the kids receives an absolutely savage mauling at the hands of literally everybody in school, culminating with one of the jocks carving the term “freak” on his stomach. The janitor then comes to the kid’s aid, and tells him it might finally be time to exact a little revenge on his tormentors.

At school the next day, the other kid has his copy of “Mein Kampf” ripped up by the black kid, who literally wears a shirt that says “I hate white people” on it, because the book promotes, and I quote, “hate literature.” A folksy hippy girl sings a song called “An Ode to the Internet,” and Derrick (or Derwin, not that it really matters) scribbles “How to Make An Atomic Bomb” on the chalkboard and freaks everybody out. Since his comrade is at home nursing his wounds, he can’t do the presentation, so he gets an F from his teacher.

On the universal creepy meter, this guy scores a 9 out of 10 ... or, about a
2 out of 10, if we're adjusting for the New Jersey average.
At home, the other kid watches really violent anime, takes his dad’s drugs and rubs cream he bought off the Internet to mask his wounds from the previous day’s pummeling. The two then have a conversation about how much they hate “pig cities” and “escapist bastards.” They decide to take drastic actions to send a clear message to the masses: “We owe it to society,” one of the characters creepily states, “to show these people their lives are a lie.”

At the alleged church group meeting, the evangelical girl -- who brought your stereotypical Jersey girl skank-ola with her -- Today is the Day does a performance and freaks her out. Meanwhile, Derrick and Derwin visit a black market dealer, who tries to sell them sex slaves to go along with their firearms. Then, there’s a fairly lengthy satirical segment where the dealer shows off his wares, which are held by a bunch of naked women in gas masks -- talk about the fetishization of violence, no? He concludes by dropping the best line in the entire movie: “You kids don’t get hurt while you’re killing some people.”

Derrick and Derwin chug alcohol, smoke cigs and load their arsenal. Meanwhile, the Christian girl’s parents read an all-too telling biblical passage about casting pearls before swine, while one of the jocks delivers a monologue about his love of canned meats.

And then, we get to the massacre scene. It’s pretty much what you would expect, with ample dollops of super morbid humor -- and also, we learn that black people have brains that are blue, for some reason. I’m still not sure what the message there is supposed to be, honestly.

While half the school gets riddled with bullets, a news crew shows up to bemoan the “exciting … I mean, tragic” event, with a police chief blaming the shooting on minorities. A clueless SWAT team arrive, and so does the principal, who mugs it up for the camera. Meanwhile, the news station replays footage of a kid being shot and stumbling over and over, while a pair of teens who do look suspiciously like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold watch in awe at home.

Umm ... yeah, now might be a good time to put down the Lunchables, fellas. 
Derrick and Derwin then find a broom closet, share a final smoke, and blow each others brains out. They tell one another they “love each other,” and their hands kind of touch after they commit dual suicide. Meanwhile, the principal and the police survey the cafeteria mayhem, with an innocent goth kid getting killed because, apparently, that’s something the po-po have an unfortunate tendency to do in high-tension situations. Then, a propane bomb prepped by the mysterious janitor detonates, and presumably, everybody in the building gets blown to smithereens.

The film concludes with a litany of TV interviews with oblivious parents, naïve teachers and even a crackpot who believes “alien influences” may have had something to do with the shooting … yet another eerily prescient observation on the future impact of fringe media on the lives of the disaffected.

The end credits roll, as more and more gifts are added to a memorial placard. The final scene in the film is a throwback to the Harris and Klebold doppelgangers, who proclaim they should “blow up our high school and be on TV.“ Intentionally or not, that is quite possibly the most revelatory moment of any film about a school shooting, before or after.

Well, not that I need to tell you this, but “Duck!” is most certainly not a film for all tastes. With its crude “shot on videotape” look, terrible acting, subpar special effects and a narrative that will probably piss off a good 95 percent of the populace, I can’t say this is a people-pleaser picture.

That said, despite the film’s obvious structural failings, I still think it’s a damned poignant movie, and one that REALLY cuts to the meat of mass murder more than most “serious” films of the type.

Rather than regurgitate what’s already been said, this film is absolutely spot-on when it comes to identifying the two likeliest culprits for all youth-instigated mass killings in the U.S. -- a longing for mass media glory, and Internet-assisted desocialization. It’s downright eerie how a film that came out so soon after the shooting was so quick to pinpoint the catalysts that took everyone else a decade and a half to figure out. This movie doesn’t even toy with the idea of a political cop-out -- it makes its point front and center, and as a collective society, we would be wise to heed what the filmmakers (who were arrested after the film was released for bringing weapons on to school grounds) are saying here.

No matter what your personal definition of "good" resembles, "Duck!" probably won't fulfill your criteria. That said, it’s a remarkable film nonetheless, with an incredibly intelligent message cloaked around 90 minutes of hokey mayhem.

It is far more in-tune with the sociology and psychology of mass shootings than  just about any film of the like that I’ve seen, and it’s a movie that -- as much as we hate to consider -- remains oh so relevant today.

Odds are, you’ll hate “Duck!” But at least you will hate it for all the right reasons -- namely, because you can’t help but agree with its core hypotheses on mass killings, no matter how badly you want to point the finger of blame on much more convenient scapegoats.

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