Subhuman / Shelf Life  (2004)

Superficially, this ought to be just another cheap formulaic humans-vs-nasties film.  It’s got a plot about alien wigglies possessing humans, combined with a vamps vs vamp-hunters plot, as the wigglies feed on human blood, and cause their possessees to hunt for people with biteable necks.  And our protagonist, who calls himself Martin (William MacDonald), hunts down the bewigglied ones and kills them.  It ought to be a very run-of-the-mill horror cheapie, with its sole point of minor coolness being that the possessed ones don’t no any neck-biting themselves, they allow the wigglies to slide up out of their throats and use their alien lamprey teeth.

But this turns out not to be your ordinary fight-the-nasties flick.  This one is special.  You start to notice the difference when it’s revealed that Martin the protagonist is a junkie.  And a pillhead, and alcoholic too.  (And a smoker, just so nothing is left out.)  And, he never shuts up with self-important monologues.  But he’s not presented as an antihero — he’s presented more as a tragically cool burnout savior.  The film seems to fawn on his shortcomings and listen with hushed reverence to all the portentous twaddle he spouts.

In short, Martin the junkie alcoholic murderer has the earmarks of a Mary Sue character.  He seems, if I may speculate, to be vicariously living out some auteur’s wish-fulfillment fantasy of a life circumstance in which being an addict becomes a sign of super awesomeness instead of loserhood.  It’s implied repeatedly that a carefully tuned mix of many legal and illegal drugs is what enables him to succeed at fighting the wigglies, but how this works is never explained.

To give you the full flavor of Martin in action, here is one short scene in full:


MARTIN is lying on the ground, fiddling with some small object, and smoking.  Two BAD GUYS come up behind him, apparently planning to get him while he’s down.  He CHOPS through all four of their ankles with a single sudden sweep of his big knife.  They crawl away.  He smokes for a moment, then picks them up by their coat collars and HEAVES them into a nearby dumpster.  [It has been previously established that he sometimes sets fires in dumpsters to dispose of bodies.]  He turns his back on them.  They slowly pull their heads up into sight.  He turns around and CHOPS off both heads, again in a single stroke.  He picks up the two heads.  He takes a long pause [14 seconds! ], considering.


(to the two heads)

Life is a form of not being sure.  Not knowing what’s next, or how.  The minute we begin to know how, we begin to die a little.  But we never entirely know.  We take a leap of faith, in the dark.

After a moment, he CHUCKS the heads into the dumpster, and exits.

It’s like that all the way through.  When not indulging in philosophy, he’s playing Cassandra, warning people how afraid they’d be if they only knew The Truth, which he can’t tell them because they’d never believe it.

The main plot is, he accidentally gets entangled with a young middle class couple, who have to help him because he’s injured.  (They keep hinting that he might have unnatural powers of healing, or something, but in the end he’s apparently only human.)  They become targets for the wigglies, so he has to persuade them to either run, or failing that, fight.  This he does in the manner of some kind of cult leader indoctrinating people into an underground hate movement: the important thing, in his mind, is to induce them to kill.  He, like, catches a baddie and ties it up, for them to be able to make their first kill on.  Can I just say?  Ick.

There certainly is plenty of B.  Besides all the drug action, we’ve got some creature effects, we’ve got tons of beheadings and dismemberments, the most dubious means of movie suicide ever, and blood by the gallon.  With spurting artery action.  But oddly, no nudity — it almost feels as if they’re treating this guy’s story as too serious to cheapen with gratuitous boobies.  Even though it’s just a cheap little goat-dropping of a horror movie.

I spent this whole movie, once it started to sink in what I was seeing, with a lopsided WTF grin on my face.  Something this goofy and simultaneously full of itself doesn’t come along too often.