Year Released: 2012
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: minutes
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“Mr. Kipling passes, as he occasionally does, the bounds of decorum, and displays a love of the crudely horrible in its disgusting details; but the fascination of the story is incontestable.” – Frederick L. Knowles, author of “The Kipling Primer,” c. 1900.
With the enduring and renewed interest of the macabre writers like Poe, Lovecraft, even Robert E. Howard, it seems that the great Rudyard Kipling, “Father of the Modern Short Story” and proponent of British imperialism, has gotten a short-shrift from the visual entertainment industry. When evoked at all, he’s remembered as “the guy who wrote ‘The Jungle Book.’” Maybe he’ll get a nod for “The Man Who Would Be King” or “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.” Nobody is running to adapt any or all of the “Just So Stories,” but what of the other three stories in “The Phantom Rickshaw and other Eerie Tales” (the fourth, of course, being “King”)? Even this grotesque tale, which one contemporary reviewer described as “Kipling at his worst,” has only made it to screen in the form of television anthology adaptations.
Granted, as bloody as he could be, Kipling was never known for his horror. Still, for anyone’s money, “The Mark of the Beast” has all the trappings any horror fan could want: brutality, revenge, possession, attempted cannibalism, exorcism, worms, lepers and British gentlemen. So it’s no small feat that Jon Gorman and Tom Seymour searched back into the annals of time and brought Kipling’s tale to very vivid life.
Transplanting the tale from India to rural America, Gorman and Seymour update “Mark” only slightly. Instead of leprous villagers worshipping a jungle shrine to Hanuman the Hindu Monkey-God, the film has them worshipping in a very lovely forest instead. After a night of middle-class shenanigans at Strickland’s remote cabin, the narrator Debbie (Rochon) and a very drunken Fleete (Film Threat’s own Phil Hall), head back to their own cabin, stumbling past the shrine planted at the edge of a lake. Wading into the water, Fleete is stricken by the need to desecrate something, so he puts his cigar out on the amorphous head of the idol. Suddenly, he’s attacked by “the Silver Man,” a leper priest—or something worse—that bites Fleete and puts a curse on him.
Before too long, Fleete is scratching “at the ground like a beast,” gnawing raw meat, foaming at the mouth, rolling his eyes and his ‘r’s, and generally being a bigger jerk than he was previously. The cause is obvious. “Rabies!” says one character. Too obvious. Fleete is possessed, cursed by the Silver Leper Priest of the Monkey God of the Nearby Forest! The cure is obvious too, and can be found in the Gospel According to Luke, where Jesus casts the demon Legion into a herd of pigs and drowns them all (thus improving the market for kosher food). But where to get a herd of pigs this time of year?
Admirably, Gorman and Seymour adhere faithfully to Kipling’s text, incorporating much of the story into Rochon’s voice over narrative. The updates are incidental and the story remains true. In fact, if Knowles is to be heeded (as no Knowles should be), Leigh Radziwon’s gruesome make-up on Hall and the Silver Man are actually less grotesque than the original descriptions!
“Mark of the Beast” deserves the accolades it’s been getting for all areas. The photography, courtesy of Seymour and Greg Kissner, is stunning, capturing Nature brilliantly and even turning the forest into a character itself. One shot in particular, with the clouds reflected in the shimmering surface of the lake, is suitable for framing. There will be some day-for-night nitpicking, particularly during the climactic night-time hunt for the Silver Man, but that’s going to be par-for-the-course for any independent movie. Watch anything produced by Corman and then come back to me with this complaint.
The acting, it almost goes without saying, is stellar. Rochon, of course, keeps the events grounded in reality and is in turn backed up by a terrific supporting cast. Some never-happy reviewers have complained that Hall is too “over the top” as the doomed Fleete, but that strikes me as rather ridiculous. Who does “subtle” possession these days? And if they do, why? Knowing the charges of nepotism that will be hurled at me, for my money, of which none was invested, Hall plays a drunken, demon-filled asshole to nigh perfection.
With “Mark,” Gorman, Seymour and the entire cast and crew shot for the stars on a gamble and proved that the independent arena is really the place to be when it comes to the love of filmmaking. In Hollywood, endless meetings, market surveys and test screenings would have preceded greenlighting of any Kipling story. Gorman and Seymour used the text as a guide, went out and did it. And in the end, Kipling is honored and the audience is rewarded.
Now tell us where to get that nifty top-bowling game that’s featured so prominently…
Photo Credit: Todd Cameron Westphal
Posted on February 24, 2012 in Reviews by Mike Watt
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- FIRST ANNUAL SILVER LAKE FILM FEST
- AIN’T IT BACKLASH: HARRY GOES ON TV, BUT TV GOES OFF ON HARRY (part two)
- VOLUNTEER AT THE SILVER LAKE FILM FEST
- THE BEAST OF BRAY ROAD (DVD)
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