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SHADOWS IN THE CITY (1991).

Director Ari Roussimoff had a hellish vision of solitude and despair. In fact he had a bunch of hellish visions -- so he tossed them ALL into the same motion picture. This confused, ambitious production is the result. Utilizing some of the sleaziest, most desolate locales to be found in NYC, Roussimoff gives us a supernatural-tinged portrait of loneliness. Craig Smith stars as Paul Mills, an ex-freak show manager who's become a permanent barnacle on the underbelly of the city. Throughout the movie's fragmented framework, Paul goes about his daily routine (such as a seedy encounter with a prostitute, who gives the guy a hand job), as his past comes back to haunt him. Most of this unflinching angst comes straight from Ari's heart, but it doesn't make for a very coherent movie, especially when he tosses in ghosts, zombies, bikers, sluts, and any other type of human flotsam he could conjure up in front of his camera. There are secluded moments of powerful loneliness, such as the image of Paul sitting on his mattress, crying and contemplating suicide as Christmas music bubbles away, but the film's old-hat pretensions continually dilute these moments of raw emotion. Ari recruited a sizable roster of underground figures to co-star as the ghosts from Paul's past, all filmed at some time or another and then spliced into the proceedings. Taylor Mead mugs into the lens as Paul's drunken pappy; Emile deAntonio is a (confused) mystic; geek performance artist Joe Coleman comes across with some convincing sneers; and Jack Smith (FLAMING CREATURES) is a Spirit of Death with fashion sense stolen from Maria Ousenskya. Brinke Stevens also puts in a quick appearance as a fortune teller, and astoundingly enough, Brinke manages to keep her clothes on (a first for her, methinks). But silliest of all is porn queen Annie Sprinkle, who looks like she got liquored up on some cheap chablis, after which Ari took her up on a rooftop and filmed her shaking her garbonzas at the camera and masturbating around a chimney. Several segments are superbly filmed, such as the Fellini-on-Acid opening sequences at Coney Island; and the intense black and white photography gives the entire cast a creepy, weathered appearance. But my all around favorite portion is the grungy biker subplot, which is backed up by ol' pop tunes (a la SCORPIO RISING). It's difficult not to laugh out loud when two yuppies are abused as "These Boots are Made For Walking" pounds away in the background--and Ari hired 100% Hell's Angels and their choppers for this segment. The ending takes a horrific bent when Paul succeeds with his death wish and finds himself trapped in a city of pasty-faced zombies (with the make-up looking a little too coincidentally like CARNIVAL OF SOULS), led by Nick Zedd as a rebellious walking corpse (hmmm, type-casting?). And one of the most amusing moments is when Paul stumbles into a Barroom of the Living Dead! I've seen some of those myself in the Lower East Side. The story is all over the map, the sledgehammer symbolism is often tiresome, and my biggest criticism against this self-proclaimed "epic" is its numbing length of nearly two full hours. Roussimoff promises that his next production will be the same type of unsparing glimpse into The Abyss, and this follow-up will also include a wrestling subplot! Oooh, I can't wait.

© 1991 by Steven Puchalski.