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Dysfunction Junction

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By Aaron Hillis, Michelle Orange, Matt Singer, R. Emmet Sweeney and Alison Willmore

IFC News

[Photo: “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Bryanston Distrib., 1974]

Ah, Thanksgiving. The time of year where unchecked family issues come home to curdle in stress and congealed cranberry sauce. We’re just kidding — love you, Mom! In honor of the holiday, the IFC News team presents a look back at some of their favorite dysfunctional family moments in film. After all — your drunken uncle has nothing on Werner Herzog.

“Grey Gardens” (1975)

Directed by David and Albert Maysles

Having spawned a Broadway stage adaptation, an upcoming Hollywood drama with Drew Barrymore and a 2006 pseudo-sequel that seems as dubious as a brand new Tupac album, the O.G.G. (in hip-hop terms, “Original Grey Gardenz”) carries a somewhat rare honor as a documentary with cult-classic rewatchability. Not so much a portrait of dysfunctionality as it is eccentricity in squalor, the Maysles brothers’ 1975 milestone documents the bizarro living conditions of Jackie O’s aging aunt and first cousin, both named Edith Bouvier Beale. Alone in a rapidly decaying East Hamptons mansion with a multiplying number of cats, raccoons and flies, the fashionably head-wrapped “Little Edie” continually makes threats about separating from her 77-year-old mother, “Big Edie,” which come to a head in one sequence where both are fully aware of the camera immortalizing their confessionals. “I just have to leave for New York City and lead my own life. I don’t see any other future,” says the younger, bickering with Big Edie (who responds with “Will you shut up, it’s a goddamn beautiful day!”) that she left behind a perfectly happy existence to live with her mom for 25 years. But when David Maysles misunderstands and asks who the man was that tended to her, Little Edie re-focuses her target: “Dare say my mother was ever taken care of by any man but my father, and I’ll push you under the goddamned bed!” —Aaron Hillis

“Julien Donkey-Boy” (1999)

Directed by Harmony Korine

Exasperating iconoclast Harmony Korine (“Gummo,” writer of “Kids” and “Ken Park”) virtually disappeared from the indie landscape after directing this mesmerizing 1999 eyesore, the first American film to pretentiously bear a Dogme 95 certificate instead of opening credits. Inspired by Korine’s real-life schizophrenic uncle, “Julien Donkey-Boy” chronicles a few weeks’ worth of fragmented moments in the lives of a seriously unhinged family, mainly the mentally ill Julien (Ewen Bremner), who spends the film burbling incoherently, loogies dripping from the gold grill that hides his rotted-out teeth. One night, while listening to harp music played by the sister he may have impregnated (Chloë Sevigny), Julien is confronted by his overbearing German father (master filmmaker Werner Herzog, relishing earlier moments where he dances alone in his boxers and a gas mask, slurping cough syrup from a bedroom slipper). “Why don’t you tell your sister she’s a dilettante and a slut,” commands Herr Herzog in his brilliantly enunciated drone, berating his son as “utterly and completely and irrevocably stupid.” Dark comic absurdity turns quickly to jarring horror as Herzog violently plucks the strings off Chloë’s harp, then coerces his son to repeatedly slap and punch himself. Ain’t nothing but wholesome fun for nihilistic hipsters, Will Oldham cameo and all. —AH

“The Lion in Winter” (1968)

Directed by Anthony Harvey

In Harvey’s just-the-right-side-of-camp masterpiece, the splendid cast gnaws on the scenery to such an extent that you have to wonder how many backdrops they burned through in a standard day of shooting. Even the most nightmare family gathering looks benign next to the film’s holiday gathering of venomous medieval royals vying for power. Katherine Hepburn, as the aging but still impossibly regal Eleanor of Aquitaine (imprisoned for years by her husband Henry II, played by Peter O’Toole), gets the best lines of her career — posing in front of a mirror, she informs a piece of jewelry “I’d hang you from the nipples, but you’d shock the children.” But no scene is as bitterly funny and appalling as when Eleanor taunts Henry with details of her affair (real or manufactured) with his father until he runs out of the room and vomits. In their vicious but half-fond banter, they reveal they know each other so well that it’s effortless and hopelessly tempting to twist the knife, even if it gets them nowhere. Watching him run out of the room, already regretful, she sighs in a magnificent understatement: “What family doesn’t have its ups and downs?” —Alison Willmore

“The Night of the Hunter” (1955)

Directed by Charles Laughton

The kids gather ’round the table, piled high with fried chicken, sweet potatoes, corn bread and apple cobbler. The preacher/step-father, Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum), asks the young moon-faced Pearl if she wants to see something cute. She waddles forward as he brandishes his switchblade. A huge glycerine tear streaks down her face after he bellows, “You poor, silly, disgusting little wretch.” There’s no place like home. The kind preacher has just sliced their mother’s throat in pursuit of the cash hidden somewhere in the house — and he turns his interrogation towards the trembling offspring. It’s a scene of primal fear and unexpected humor, all contained in Mitchum’s extraordinarily theatrical performance. His incantation of “Where’s the money hid?” peaks with malevolent force as he pops his eyebrows at the recalcitrant son John, while minutes later he nimbly executes a pratfall and squeals like an agitated Jerry Lewis. Scary stuff. —R. Emmet Sweeney

“The Squid and the Whale” (2005)

Directed by Noah Baumbach

From the opening line — “Mom and me versus you and dad” — “The Squid and the Whale” is basically one long dysfunctional family scene. Noah Baumbach knows whereof he directs, and the drab implosion of a 1986 Brooklyn family, depicted largely from the perspective of the two kids, reaches an awkward crescendo about an hour in. By the time we get to the “burgers” scene, the Berkmans are living all over each other, even as their isolation causes each of them to act out; it’s been a while since they’ve been in the same room, and the familiarity is a little overwhelming. Bernard (Jeff Daniels) comes to the old house to re-appropriate younger son Frank for the evening, but is thwarted when Joan (Laura Linney) arrives. Eventually older son Walt shows up, Bernard catches Frank swilling beer, storms back into the house — interrupting Walt’s questioning of his mother about why she got married in the first place — and begins talking, incredibly, of reconciliation. Citing some burgers he was forced to make when Joan had pneumonia as part of the effort he made to save their marriage, Bernard’s version of a rapprochement triggers hysterical laughter in Joan, and as the boys look from their parents, to each other, and back, trying to figure out what this moment will mean for them, the dysfunction reaches critical mass: the marriage is irretrievable — the cat is out of the bag, and indeed will in moments bolt out of the house — and the way Linney mutters “Burgers,” with rue and wonder, makes that gloriously, heartbreakingly clear. —Michelle Orange

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974)

Directed by Tobe Hooper

There are scarier sequences in Tobe Hooper’s original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” but none more gut-churningly repulsive than the classic scene where the sole surviving non-people eater in the film, Marilyn Burns’ Sally, wakes to discover herself surrounded by Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) and his demented brethren enjoying a wholesome family dinner of assorted human vittles and tasty man-meats. As if it wasn’t bad enough to be force fed sausages made out of your friends — and they weren’t exactly lean friends to begin with, if you catch my drift — Sally’s hand is cut open so that the patriarch of the family, the cadaverous Grandpa (John Dugan), can sup on her delicious bodily fluids. With this obvious metaphor for the draining, depressing, and altogether disgusting nature of family interactions, Hooper reminds us that as bad as your Thanksgiving might be, it could still be a hell of a lot worse. Think about that when you’re eating your mom’s dry turkey. Wait, that’s not cranberry sauce! —Matt Singer


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.