Caged Heat, with More
Blood and Less Heat

Raze-Choker“Because you watched The Human Centipede.”

These words sat atop my Netflix homepage for weeks and could not be removed. The movie suggestions below were not helpful; think of movies like The Human Centipede that you’ve never heard of. When the film came out in 2010 and caused a mild ruckus, it played at the IFC theater in New York. I meant to see it there but never did. Years later, after I ventured a private viewing via Netflix, I was reminded of it every time I launched the damned website.

I envisioned the doorman in my building, Mike, standing in my apartment with a cop while covering his nose and clicking though my laptop. “I don’t know what he died of, but I can tell you what he liked to watch,” he says.

When the next deviant-but-talk-worthy movie came out, I’d catch it in the theater. Keep things tidy.

So I saw Raze on the big screen.

It’s about abducted women forced to fistfight to the death for the entertainment of rich people. The New York Times actually recommended this film. I know reviewers occasionally applaud an unthinkably bad movie just to throw a change-up, but the review provided the atom of legitimacy that made buying a ticket for this film defensible. Not that I need that, but it’s nice.

Raze defeated expectations. If you’re not a squeamish moviegoer, see it.

The filmmaker seems to have applied Martin Luther King’s “if you’re a street sweeper, be the Michelangelo of street sweepers” sentiment to creating a film about babes beating the living piss out of each other for people’s amusement. This movie may not be a brain-bending act of genius, but it’s probably The Davide of Caged Heat flicks.

That’s because it throws a curveball. It’s asexual. The fight scenes are violent and the women are young, fit and attractive. But almost no element in the film seems intended to be sexually suggestive. There are scattered hints of carnality; brush strokes that remind you the females would be portrayed far more lustily if another hand was at work. Some trash talk makes weak inroads to domination banter. But that’s it.

Nothing arouses. Nothing titillates. The wife-beater tank top and dirty grey sweatpants each woman wears resemble garage-cleaning menstruation-wear more than anything else. Here the intentional desexualizing is most noticeable. Under their tank tops, the women appear to be wearing triple-ply bras that make cleavage and nipple poke-through impossible. Not a thread of propriety-saving cotton is once dislodged while eyes are gouged and necks are broken. Killing your opponent is mandatory, but there’s no pantsing.

Peckinpah blood, Capra nudity.

I imagined some Garrett Morris-like translator in the lower corner of the screen shouting, “Hey fuckface, this isn’t a lesbian movie!”

It can’t be, because the actors aren’t rendered as women. They’re humans forced to act like animals. Animals trying to keep one of their own, on the outside, alive. If the characters were ever sexual beings, it was many bleedings and killings ago.

In short, every choice in the film appears designed to dump a bucket of ice cubes on any poor slob who tries to will blood into his pelvis while watching it. A Leavenworth lifer couldn’t self-pleasure to this movie. Perhaps sensing this, one dour-faced man in his sixties got up and left the theater about forty minutes into the film. I wonder if he had the balls to ask for his money back.

Usually before I take in any movie, and almost certainly before I write about one, I research it to some degree between cursory and day destroying. But I wanted to see Raze in clean-slate ignorance. Something about this film begged for it; I didn’t want to corrupt my first impressions with knowledge of the sausage making (so I avoided reading interviews with the director, Josh Waller, like this one).

From such a blind viewing, the movie feels like the product of a talented filmmaker who was hired to make a softcore flick but decided he’d screw over some fathead by making a real film—from an arch-brained eunuch’s point of view. He made a deceptively simple movie that’s harsh, fast and sexless. It’s refreshingly lean. The absence of any expected larding almost singlehandedly allows the film to be compelling.

Importantly, the villains are briefly interesting rather than just cartoonish placeholders for evil. The fight ring’s wispy, effete kingpin is an emaciated actor with rake teeth who appears freshly liberated from Dachau. His proper Delta Burke-looking wife is both motherly and cruel to the women. The guards are your typical paramilitary heavies from Central Casting, but they bait and die in ways that don’t muck up the film.

Restraint makes Raze different. It’s what the director left out. This demonstrates a good lesson for any creative work: even if there isn’t genius in brevity, at least there’s brevity. The film only runs 87 minutes, which wouldn’t have strained bladders in 1931 much less 2014. It doesn’t dawdle in side stories, comic relief moments or, to a large extent, even incidental lines that don’t forward the action or develop a character necessarily. That kind of discipline is inspiring to encounter and, I’m sure, hard as hell to pull off.

I can hear the pain-in-the-ass conversations that probably went on. We cut the rape. We cut that humanizing back-story. We cut the shower scene. We cut that joke. We cut all the jokes.

Whoever made Raze took an extended-play club mix of I Touch Myself and sliced out The Letter.

Whether you’re working for Larry Flynt or Pixar, you can make something great if you have the discipline to do that.

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