Warning: This might be the weirdest tangent to ever open a movie review for Shredder Orpheus, so, please, hang on to your brain stems and keep your heart medicine at the ready, things are about to get extremely kooky around here. And here we go: It's been three weeks now and I still can't seem to find a single box of Shredded Wheat at my local supermarket. Each week I cruise on by the cereal aisle, only to find barren shelves where my beloved Shredded Wheat should be. Is there some kind of Shredded Wheat shortage?, I would repeatedly ask myself as I went home empty-handed. What gives, man? All I know is, I would like to consume some Shredded Wheat with mouth some time in the not so distant future. In a strange coincidence, I was watching Conan O'Brien interview John C. Reily (a.k.a. Dr. Steve Brule) the other night, and Johnny C. was telling Coco all about this time when he and a bunch of friends in South Chicago stole around five hundred boxes of Sugar Corn Pops from a freight train that was stationed at a nearby railway yard. I thought, wow, it's too bad it wasn't Shredded Wheat, or else I would I asked them to send over a box. I know, John's cereal heist probably occurred way back in the 1970s, but still, I really could use some Shredded Wheat right about now.
A couple hours after the interview was over, I sat down to watch Robert McGinley's Shredder Orpheus, a film about... Well, I get to that in a minute.
Somewhere near the end of the film, skate punks/industrial music enthusiasts Scratch (Linda Severt) and Razoreus (Marshall Reid) are tooling around The Grey Zone, when all of a sudden, they stumble upon a truck. Actually, I'm not sure they stumbled across the truck; in fact, I think the whole thing was pre-planned (they crave "real carbohydrates"). Either way, Scratch and Razoreus break into the truck, bust open the boxes in the back, and take away the merchandise. The end.
What's that? You wanna know what was in the back of the truck? Oh, I thought it was obvious. Okay, you ready? It was carrying tons of Shredded motherfuckin' Wheat!!! Can you believe that? Shredded Wheat. Two no good skate punks/industrial music enthusiasts (who love to shred it up in parking garages) are probably the reason I can't find any Shredded Wheat at the supermarket. I know, Scratch and Razoreus' cereal heist occurred in The Grey Zone way back in the late 1980s, but still, I really could use some Shredded Wheat right about now.
Surreal cereal-based serendipity aside, I can say, without an ounce of hyperbole, that Shredder Orpheus is one of the greatest films of all-time.
Utterly unique, totally awesome and cool as fuck, the amount of enrichment my aura experienced as it bathed in this film cannot be discounted.
Sure, the film looks like a veiled excuse to film people doing skateboard tricks in a dystopian landscape ruled by a sinister television station, but it has a lot to say about mass media, the afterlife, love, youth culture and corporate mind control.
I'm not sure if this is some kind of record, but the amount of time it took Shredder Orpheus to win me over was ridiculous. I mean, the second the film starts and the film's title (written in Dr. Caligari-friendly font) appears over top a static background, I knew I had made the right choice.
The film opens with a paralyzed skateboarder named Axel (Steven Jesse Bernstein) cursing at the corporate headquarters of the Euthanasia Broadcast Network (EBN). A veteran of the Contra drug war in Central America, Axel is the film's on again, off again narrator, and introduces us the unique world we're about to enter. Specifically, "The Grey Zone," five acres of metal shipping containers masquerading as low cost housing, where the aforementioned Scratch, a vegan percussionist, and Razoreus, an expert shoplifter, live their lives on the edge.
Part of this edge-like existence involves going to see their favourite band, The Shredders, play live at the Trash Bin Club. Well, they sort of go see them. They can't afford to get in, so they usually hang out around the back and peek in through an unguarded door. I did the same at a Laibach show once back in the day, so this scene rang true; only, I could afford to buy tickets, it's just that I wasn't old enough to get in.
Playing in front of a screen projecting a pile of wiggling worms, The Shredders, lead by Orpheus (Robert McGinley), and with Ministry's Bill Rieflin on drums, rock out with a sound reminiscent of The Sisters of Mercy (his vocal style is Andrew Eldritch-esque). The band also comes equipped with back-up dancers, one of which is Orpheus' girlfriend, Eurydice (Megan Murphy), a well-eyebrowed brunette in pointy boots and a black tutu-style dress.
As their playing a song, which is about worms (the projection playing behind them is very apt), a guy in the audience starts filming Eurydice with a video camera. This annoys Orpheus, who eventually jumps in the crowd and puts a stop to it. But not before the cameraman gets some great shots of Eurydice's legs in fishnet stockings and those pointy boots I mentioned earlier.
When the show's over, Axel, Scratch (who I think is a chick - she speaks with a gravelly voice) and Razoreus head over to Rice's Auto Salvage to break shit. As they're about to start wrecking stuff, they become transfixed by a show playing on a television that can be seen through a nearby window (like at The Shredders concert, Axel, Scratch and Razoreus always seem to be on the outside looking in).
It's here that we get our first glimpse of what EBN are all about. The show is called "Praise the Ray," and I was in camp heaven during this sequence. When the host Hades (Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi) first appears onscreen and says, "Good evening," I nearly lost it. Everything about him, his makeup, his sparkly collared gay abortion of a shirt, and the slow manner in which he enunciated words was perfect.
Then his gorgeous, gold scrunchie-sporting wife, Persephone (Vera McCaughan), appears. Well, if the appearance of Hades caused me to nearly lose it, I lost it completely when Persephone shows up and says, "Praise the ray," and launches into what has to be one of my favourite monologues ever recited in a motion picture.
In fact, I was so enamoured with it, that I wrote the whole thing down. Do you want to hear it? What am I saying? Of course you do.
"The light from the ray is a beautiful mystery. Waves and particles and particles and waves... becoming waves of parts and parts of waves blending into little wavicals of lightning bugs... washing over you and cleansing and healing you. As you breath in, observe the teeny-weeny bits of microwave radiation manifest in your being. As you breath out, feel the warm glow... so soothing... so relaxing... so give yourself to the ray." ~ Persephone
Don't laugh, but I must have watched Persephone recite this chunk of dialogue at least ten times before I continued on with the rest of the film. It literally sucks you in. Seriously, her speech causes your soul to leave you body and enter the source of the ray. So, yeah, praise the ray, indeed.
Not one to be upstaged, dialogue-wise, Orpheus says to Eurydice at one point: "I've dedicated my life to the sound of metal insects screaming at a wall of oatmeal." It would seem that back in '86, Orpheus was a member of "Latent Death Wish," a black metal band that catered to the "corpse lookalike crowd."
While watching the tape the EBN cameraman shot at The Shredders' gig, Hades, Persephone and an EBN producer (Brain Faker)--Klaus Nomi called, he wants his look back--decide they want Eurydice. What do I mean by "want"? It's simple, really, they want to appear on their show. Except, it's not really that simple, as you first must die. You see, EBN is a form of Hell, and the only way to get there is by dying and then being dragged there by ghost-faced caterers.
And wouldn't you know it, Eurydice is murdered and taken to Hell on her wedding day. Luckily, Orpheus' manager Linus (John Billingsley) gave him a Gibsonian Lyre-Axe Guitar (an "ultimate power chord machine" that Jimi Hendrix invented just before he died) as a wedding present. Meaning, Orpheus can use it get Eurydice back.
In his first attempt to get Eurydice back, Orpheus (whose last name, we learn, is "Hellenbach") runs into his parents, who are in charge of shredding the memory files of recent arrivals. As Orpheus tries navigate a hallway filled with shredded memories, I thought to myself: Is this a movie or a Tuxedomoon video? Then it dawned me, it's a bit of both. Nonetheless, Orpheus becomes the first person to perform on Praise the Ray to ever return to ephemeral boundaries of The Grey Zone.
Just before Orpheus goes on Praise the Ray, there's a commercial for a sort of portable device that allows you watch PTR wherever you go (a sort of proto-tablet). I love their slogan: "The more you watch, the less you move."
After returning to The Grey Zone a minor celebrity, it would appear that Orpheus has given up looking for Eurydice. That's simply not true. As Eurydice is never far from Orpeus's mind. So, whenever you see Orpheus playing with his band or skating parking garages with Axel, Scratch and Razoreus, remember, his love for Eurydice is eternal.
Will Orpeus and Eurydice ever be reunited? Who's to say? I know this, though. In terms of delivering off-kilter dialogue, campy acting, industrial-tinged rock music, outre costumes, grungy set decoration, crazy makeup, gnarly video effects, and dense storytelling, it doesn't get any better than Shredder Orpheus. The next time you see someone list a bunch of films that he or she thinks are the greatest cult movies of all-time, make sure to politely inform them that they forgot to include Shredder Orpheus. As it deserves to sit proudly alongside other cult movie luminaries such as: Life on the Edge, Liquid Sky, Forbidden Zone and Motorama. It's radical!