The 13th Floor

CINEMA IN EXTREMIS: Love Will Tear Us Apart in Douglas Buck’s CUTTING MOMENTS [NSFW]

Apart from his well-made but seldom seen 2006 remake of Brian De Palma’s SISTERS (which never received a theatrical release), the name of Douglas Buck is not widely known among mainstream horror audiences. Nevertheless, Buck’s reputation has persisted for nearly two decades among extreme-cinema fans as a transgressive and challenging artist with a knack for scenes of intimate violence.

While the NYC-based filmmaker had an early creative association with director Abel Ferrara (DRILLER KILLER, MS. 45), he made his first indelible mark on the New York underground film scene with his shocking 1997 short CUTTING MOMENTS.

Shot on 16mm film in a mundane suburban neighborhood (possibly inspired by Buck’s former home town of Long Island), the 25-minute short revolves around the cold, detached and loveless relationship between the lethargic, emotionally damaged Sarah (Nica Ray) and her creepy and distant husband Patrick (Gary Betsworth).

While the sexual spark has clearly gone out of their marriage, Patrick’s repressed physical urges are apparently being redirected toward their young son Joey (Jared Barsky)… and it’s hinted that the authorities are on the verge of removing the boy from a potentially abusive domestic situation very soon.

After overhearing a muffled late-night conversation between Patrick and their son, Sarah blames herself for what’s happening — and contemplates, through her damaged perception, how she might turn Patrick’s sexual attention back to her by changing her appearance. Her final solution is… well, let’s just say it’s pretty drastic.

The film’s final act is an orgy of graphic self-mutilation, castration and blood-soaked sexual union (allegedly the grisly effects were supervised by Tom Savini, but I haven’t been able to confirm this completely), which ultimately leaves neither party satisfied.

It can also be assumed the pair don’t survive this bizarre and nightmarish ritual of decimated flesh…

A review in The New York Times compared Buck’s work to the nihilistic films of Neil LaBute (IN THE COMPANY OF MEN), but venturing into far grimmer territory, where even LaBute’s sadistic and sociopathic characters would likely fear to tread. Personally, I find Buck’s themes closer to those of David Lynch, in that he digs beneath the seemingly benign picket-fence illusion of suburbia to find grotesque nightmares wriggling beneath.

But where Lynch approaches the topic with a darkly comic sensibility and eccentric flights of visual fancy, Buck doesn’t offer any such escape from the cold hopelessness of his characters’ situation; instead, he casts a clinically-detached eye on their emotional pain, guilt and desperation as it spirals into acts of physical destruction.

The subtext is far from subtle… but it isn’t meant to be, anyway.

After CUTTING MOMENTS garnered awards and a strong cult reputation — its legions of fans include legendary filmmakers Larry Fessenden and Gaspar Noé — Buck returned to the same territory the next year with the semi-sequel HOME, told from the perspective of the husband (played again by Betsworth), but with an entirely different family… and the primary emotion bubbling beneath the main character’s surface is rage, channeled through his violent fundamentalist worldview. In 2003, he concluded the loose trilogy with PROLOGUE, in which an old man returns to the town where he raped and mutilated a young woman years earlier.

The three films were eventually repackaged by Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix as a feature, entitled FAMILY PORTRAIT: A TRILOGY OF AMERICA. As you might imagine, all three in one sitting can be quite an emotionally grueling ordeal… but for connoisseurs of extreme cinema, it’s absolutely essential viewing.

Buck has drifted off the cinematic radar in recent years, and his long-awaited collaboration with Gaspar Noé titled BODY FAITH is still languishing in development limbo… but I’m still holding out hope that a brave and perceptive financier will take notice of his talent in the near future; perhaps Fessenden (who served as executive producer on SISTERS) can help make it happen soon.

In the meantime, be sure to also check out Buck’s incredibly grim, emotionally raw segment “The Accident” from the 2011 horror anthology THE THEATRE BIZARRE.

 

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