Today's feature is not your typical slasher flick... in fact, it's not typical of anything, except maybe the decade in which it was made (it was completed in 1983), and it proudly defies any simple or logical explanation for what it is, or even why it exists.
The first feature film from director Gorman Bechard (best known to horror fans for the crazed slasher satire Psychos in Love), Disconnected is better described for what it isn't than what it is: while it does depict a series of bloody murders, it isn't really a by-the-numbers slasher; while it has oddball pretensions of artiness, it's not an experimental/art-house film; and it's hardly ever been seen by the public, outside of a very limited VHS run. I was exposed to Disconnected just last weekend, via a very rare 16mm print at a “Secret Sixteen” screening at the Jumpcut Cafe in Los Angeles... and it's taken me a couple of days just to process what I saw.
Directed, edited, produced, shot and co-written by Bechard for $40,000 while he was still taking film classes at the New School for Social Research in New York City, Disconnected has “student film” written all over it (this explains the clumsy avant-garde angle), but in that context it's actually pretty ambitious. The plot, if you can call it that, centers on a pretty young video store clerk (Frances Raines) with serious life complications: her vampish twin (also Raines) stole her poodle-haired boyfriend (Carl Koch), and she's plagued day and night by a demonic, roaring voice on the phone. Oh yeah, did I mention her new beau (Mark Walker) is a serial killer?
That's not really a spoiler; the murder plot is literally abandoned around the one-hour mark. We don't even see the cops apprehend him, despite numerous scenes of two detectives (including Psychos in Love star Carmine Capobianco) wandering around town searching for the culprit while eating sandwiches (“It's a pity those four dead girls won't be able to eat any more grinders,” one sagely comments). But the crazy phone calls continue, causing our heroine's sanity to unravel... well, I think that's what happens. The final act feels like a half-hearted spin on Roman Polanski's Repulsion, but then collapses into an incomprehensible mess... and wraps up with an out-of-left-field ending that screams of desperation to just wrap the whole thing up. Disconnected is jumbled, incoherent, and just plain bonkers... but oddly enough, it's never boring. Last weekend's screening was met with roars of laughter at nearly every scene, as the WTF moments continued to pile up. If you can track down that elusive VHS copy, be sure to watch the film with plenty of beer and a roomful of like-minded friends.
Bechard has since gone on to a prolific writing and directing career, particularly in the past decade. Color Me Obsessed, his critically-acclaimed documentary about iconic band The Replacements, was a festival hit in 2011 and is widely considered one of the best music features of that year; he's currently crowd-sourcing funds for A Dog Named Gucci, a documentary focused on exposing and ending animal abuse (a goal I strongly share with the director). While he's not a fan of his own filmmaking debut, he's not afraid to reflect on the project at his official site. “Disconnected is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination,” he admits, calling it “a good learning experience... and really, in the long run, isn’t that what matters most?”