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Hipster Holy Grail: The Club (1994)

The Hipster Holy Grail is a weekly experiment where I try to find and review a movie that's at least 10 years old and has less than 5,000 ratings on IMDb. I always hope to discover something amazing. Sometimes I don't.  This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

Cripes.  Why is it that all the movies I watch lately keep over-complicating basic plots?  The Club should have been a generic horror movie about a demon who pits kids against their worst fears, but it ends up being an exercise in nonsense and rape.  Oh, so much rape.

My Rating: 0.5 / 5 (Kind of a hybrid of a Workman Bad Movie and an Offensively Bad Movie)

The Plot Summary

For the first twenty minutes or so, I thought The Club was going to be one of those movies that's so bizarre and ill-conceived that I'd just have to write one long, big, "What the fuck?" and confess that I had no idea what was happening.

But as it turns out, it's just really shitty at introducing its plot.  (It also makes no sense at all, but what little logic it has takes too long to play out.)

Today I'd like to play a game called, "Not Exactly, Netflix."  Here's the description of the movie as noted on Netflix:

Five students are faced with the ultimate moral dilemma when time stops and they are forced to decide between committing murder or suicide.

Not exactly, Netflix.  There are only one and a half parts of that description that are accurate.  But I can forgive you because I assume whoever wrote the description watched the first twenty minutes and gave up, then said, "Fuck it.  Here's my best guess."

What it's about is an irritating low-level demon named John who freezes time during a senior prom and tries to manipulate some kids into making terrible life choices in order to claim their souls for Satan later on down the line.  The actual logistics of this exchange are poorly defined and it basically just works out to some asshole doing a crappy Jim Carrey impersonation around a bunch of teal/orange contrast. Oh, and people get raped.

The movie opens at an enormous, spooky, possibly haunted manor of some sort.  It kinda looks like some North American recreation of a European castle, only with electricity and restrooms.  The local high school has rented it for their senior prom and for the first few minutes you see the main characters slinking around and being obnoxious the way only high schoolers can.

There's only seven characters to keep track of, and since they're all fairly one-dimensional, we might as well run through them quickly:

Evan (Rino Romano) is the white bread hero. He's dating Amy and is not a rapist.

Amy (Andrea Roth) is the white bread damsel in distress.  She's dating Evan and fears being raped.

Mr. Carver (Kim Coates) is the school's guidance counselor.  He's also, apparently, a serial rapist and murderer.

Kyle (Zack Ward) is the sex-crazed secondary guy.  He might be a rapist given the right circumstances, but he's more of a puncher.

Laura (Kelli Taylor) is supposed to be the sexpot character, but she's not actually all that sex-crazed and seems to have a good head on her shoulders.  But this movie is gross, so that parlays into her being raped constantly.  She does not appear to be a fan.

Darren (Matthew Ferguson) is just some dweeb who, in the broadest possible sense of the term, may be suicidal.  He is not a rapist.

John (J.H. Wyman) is a demon who is pretending to be a high school student.  He is almost certainly a rapist, but he seems to prefer spiritual and psychological invasion instead.

After a brief introduction, which mainly features Carver snooping around and being creepy, John confronts Carver and implies that he's intimately familiar with Carver's past crimes.  This creeps Carver out, so he murders John in a bathroom and then goes into full-on Psychopath Mode and starts chasing Amy around the castle / dance hall so he can rape her.  (I wish I was kidding.)

Evan intervenes, and then we get a close-up of a clock stopping.  Some other weird, confusing shit happens, Darren finds a torture chamber in the castle basement (complete with a functioning guillotine), and all the teenagers kinda space out and seem to forget that any weird shit might have been happening.  This is all within the first 20 minutes, by the way.

Then everybody acts like they just woke up from a dream, and they realize the dance castle is totally empty: all of their classmates have vanished.  Nobody can seem to get out of the front door and the phone is always busy when they try to call out.  They're trapped!

They do some horror movie stuff where they try in vain to figure out what's going on, and then they all split up like idiots to go exploring.  The movie puts on a lot of pretense about the why of it all and doesn't make any goddamn sense until minute 50 or so when John pulls Evan and Amy into a classroom and explains the plot.

And I mean that literally.  He has a chalkboard and everything.

John has stopped time so he can pull all the kids into a sort of alternate reality where they must all come face-to-face with their worst fears.  Then, through arcane demon math, he's going to score each kid on their performance to see whether they A) live, and B) keep their soul.  Or something.

The specific consequences of what happens if they fail - whatever that might mean, since failure and success aren't defined - are never made totally clear, but it is explicitly told to us that the current goings-on are not "real."  It's kind of like they're all having a terrible dream, but if they can't take control of the dream, then they'll have some nebulous torment when they wake up.

Well, the way this plays out for Kyle and Laura is pretty shitty.  They each come into contact with a demon who's pretending to be the other, and each is independently of the other raped by their demonic pseudo-lover.  When time kicks back into gear in the real world, the consequences of their failure to face their fear (of being raped?) plays out by having them get into a fight in which Kyle punches Laura and she goes flying over a third-story railing, thus plummeting to her death.  Ostensibly, she also is going to Hell.  For not stopping her own rape, I guess?

Evan and Amy's story is slightly happier, in that Evan immediately conquers his fears and spends the rest of the movie trying to convince Amy to "fight back," whatever that means.  But she's being pursued by the specter of Carver, who's still going rape-crazy and keeps chasing her through the big spooky castle.

It's not clear if Amy ever conquers her fears or not.  The movie ends ambiguously when, back in the real world, Amy is off to have a fun night with Evan, and Carver ominously slinks after her with a greasy smile.  I don't know what that means.  I don't know what any of this means.

Let's Talk About Rape Again

Jesus Christ, why am I watching yet another rape movie?  You know what, The Club?  I thought I was getting some surreal horror movie about suicide, not The Six Dicks of Cletus the Rape Demon. If I wanted to watch sleazy guys engage in shitty gender politics while simultaneously boring me out of my skull, I'd tune into the Republican debates.

The Club is one of the grossest movies I've ever seen.  I don't mean that it's gory or slimy or anything like that.  I just mean that it has some of the worst values ever committed to film.  Its definition of morality and its understanding of rape is so fucked up it made me angry.  Some cheap-ass movie from 1994 that nobody's ever heard of shouldn't be making me angry.

The whole point of the movie is that it's a morality tale - that is made explicit the moment you put a demon front and center and he says, "Hey, this whole thing is a test of your morals."  When you're talking about good and evil, Heaven and Hell, and all the rest of that jazz, you are directly making a value statement to us and preaching a point even if you don't intend to.

Since both of the women who are in this movie are constantly subjected to violence at the hands of men as well as multiple rape attempts (several of which are successful), and since the only way to "win" the morality challenge is to "face your fears," that means the movie is making all of the following points in rapid succession:

1) If a woman gets raped, it's her own fault for not avoiding the rapist better and/or punching him.

2) If a woman gets raped, she's going to Hell, because she failed at not getting raped.

3) There's only a few men out there who aren't rapists, and that's the defining factor in what makes them good.

4) Regardless of point 3 above, men who don't rape are just as much at risk of going to Hell as men who do rape.  The real crime isn't so much whether or not you rape as it is whether or not you're courageous enough to punch another man in the head.

Was this made by Al Qaeda?  I haven't seen a movie with such backward-minded, fucked-up, stupid, shallow, nonsensical, amoral, unethical, pig-headed, misogynistic, bullshit values in years.  The Club is a thoroughly unpleasant film that should be seen by no one.

The Part Where I Complain About Darren's "Suicide" and Other Nebulous Rules

You know what?  It's not bad enough that the movie invokes a shitty attitude toward women and rape in general - how about a shitty attitude toward suicide?

I glossed over Darren in my plot summary above because his subplot kinda just requires its own little treatment.  It's just plain baffling.

Keep in mind this movie's internal logic - what little of it is ever explained: when the clock stops, everything that happens is not real.  It's all an alternate reality of some sort.  Even when people die, they're not really dead - they will "wake up" and resume life almost as if nothing ever happened when the clock starts again.

So, Darren.  He's a nervous nerd type who starts out the movie feeling kinda morose and down.  He's not depressed, mind you - just kind of moody.  You may recognize this as a symptom of being a teenager.  He's frustrated and lonely and keeps to himself.

When John's time fuckery starts, Darren first goes to a library and looks through some books to try to figure out what's going on.  He sees a book labelled "The Club" and finds John's picture in it.  Later, Darren runs into the torture room in the dance castle basement and encounters an evil clone of himself.  The evil clone explains that you become a member of The Club by committing either murder or suicide.

Then the evil clone chains Darren to a rack, shackles him so he can't move, and proceeds to butcher / torture him until he dies.  Darren's picture magically appears in the "The Club" book, and we never see Darren again for the rest of the movie.  The implication is that he is now a demon on the same level as John.

There's at least two problems with this from a movie logic standpoint.  First, his death occurred "off the clock," so it doesn't count.  He's supposed to wake up along with everyone else when time starts again because that's the point of your fucking movie.  Second, he doesn't commit suicide or murder - he is the victim of murder at the hands of a creepy demon that took his form.

But ignoring all that, what are you trying to say about suicide in the real world?

First, you're preaching that suicide is one of those hellbound crimes, which is a pretty shitty attitude no matter how many religions preach it.  But worse, you're rounding up "thought about suicide once" to "doomed to Hell."

What the fuck is wrong with you, The Club?  Are you saying that if your best friend was on hard times and admitted he was thinking about ending it all, you'd shun him because he might as well be equivalent to a serial murderer?

And it's not even like Darren is actually suicidal - he's just a kinda gloomy kid who sometimes feels sad.  By that logic, anybody who's ever gone through a Tim Burton phase should be put in a pen, shot to death, and sent straight to Hell where we belong.

I could almost forgive the movie if it was a case where the extreme shittiness of the situation is entirely at the consequence of the villains, but once you establish that Hell exists and that Satan will claim everybody's souls because of their victimization - which is one of the few things that actually is explicitly made clear - then you are directly stating something as a religious value and a moral caution.

You know, I almost feel bad for ripping on a movie this small, but it deserves it.  Remember, I'm the guy who gave Battlefield: Earth and Movie 43 middling-to-positive reviews.  I know I'm a soft reviewer.  I like movies, even when they're not great.  But I don't like shitty values, and this movie can go fuck itself.  Anyone who had a hand in writing or directing it should feel ashamed.

Where You Can Watch

The Club is streaming on Netflix, but I don't advise that you watch it.

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