The Cinema Snob: Guyana: Cult of the Damned (February 9th, 2012)
Cinema Snob: (Clearing his throat before reading a letter addressed to him) "Dear Mr. Snob. I must say I am disappointed in your choosing of "The Helter Skelter Murders" to be featured on your program. It's one thing to make fun of trolls, E.T.'s or batpussies… (rolls eyes) But choosing such a dark chapter in american history as fodder for your 'Riff'-program shows a true lack of taste and poor judgement on your part. Leave non-fiction up to the real critics and continue poking fun at regular exploitation- and porno-spoofs".
CS: (Confused and lost for words) Damn, I… Shit, okay… So…… (puts on a big smile) Let's do it again!
- - - Opening theme "Believe It Or Not" playing over footage from "Guyana: Cult of the Damned" - - -
CS (voiceover): Most of us already know this story. In 1977 the reverend Jim Jones and several hundred members of the People's Temple moved from California to Northwest Guyana to form what would later be called Jonestown; all of which resulted in the mass suicide of its members in November of 1978.
CS: Naturally a film-version would follow, but all that counts is who gets there first and whoever gets there first is usually the sleaziest.
CS (vo): In this case it's director Rene Cardona Jr., who previously made the 'lost-in-the-mountain' cannibal-flick "Survive!" and the shark-flick "Cyclone", where a real dog was killed.
CS: Hehe, yep! He's gonna ring in the classy of this flick.
CS (vo): Well, maybe I spoke to soon. He was tactful enough to put a warning on it. (Reading the movie's disclaimer) "The events depicted in this motion picture are based on the real and tragic suicides…" ehm… Spoiler-alert, disclaimer!
- - - Footage of man shooting himself in the head - - -
CS: (Confused) Uhm, okay… So the movie is over?
CS (vo): Ah, I see it was just a prologue. Usually it's not until the end of the movie that I want to blow my brains out.
CS: (Reacting to names in the credits) What? Hugo Stiglitz? Are we getting 'Nightmare City'-Hugo Stiglitz? Or the fictitious 'nazi-scalper'-Hugo Stiglitz? Because I can't tell the difference anymore...
CS (reacting to alternate movie-title on the titlecard): Ah well, might as well settle in and watch 'Guyana: Cult of… ehm, 'Crime of the Century'??? Son of a bitch! Burned again by the alternate title! How fucking hard is it to stick to one fucking title?
CS (comparing movie-poster to DVD-cover): Look, you more or less stuck with one poster. Doesn't matter which poster I look at; it still looks like a movie where Roy Orbison kills a bunch of people.
CS (vo): Naturally the first thing we have to see is Jones preaching to his congregation. I just hope he keeps it positive.
Jim Jones: My brothers… Judgement Day is upon us.
CS: Judgement Day? He's preaching about the machines? Are they crazy about that?… But give it time and I'm sure he'll start breaking his rock 'n' roll albums. Or maybe not. After all, he's clearly an Elvis impersonator.
Jimes Jones: Souls laid to waste – Orgies of drugs, lust and fornication is in the days of sodomy and unmoral.
CS: Wohoho, whoa whoa whoa! Did you say sodomy? We're all ears now.
Jim Jones: They've become the heroes, whom we and our children worships. They've infiltrated our media, television, movies…
CS: Aha, now you're speaking my language! I'd join a church devoted to how much "Black Devil-doll from Hell" sucks.
CS (vo): But of course he starts sounding a little too edgy.
Jim Jones: This society of corruption and lust has become the temple of man – Tragedy, murder, drugs and fornication are his idols.
CS: Mhm, I'd follow him to South America. That is, a restaurant that serves south american food, where I'd tell them that I don't want to be a part of his church!
CS (vo): Eh, it depends I guess… If he pulls a rabbit from behind that cape I'd reconsider.
CS: (Jim Jones reveals a map of Guyana) Oh, what's going on now? (CS impersonating Jim) The Lord has instructed my grandson to draw this map with crayons. As you can see it's too big for my refrigerator. Any takers? (Back to normal voice) It's about time he starts talking about Jonestown.
Jim Jones: And it shall be called "Johnsontown".
CS: Oh, I'm sorry: Johnsontown…… Wait, 'JOHNSONTOWN'???
CS (vo): Oh, I fucking get it. They're changing their names. Instead of Jim Jones he's JAMES JOHNSON!?
CS: That's fucking stupid! The opening said it changed names to protect the innocent. Jim Jones wasn't innocent! And if you're worried about his family getting pissed off, I don't mind. And why would you make him look and sound so identical to 'Jim Jones' and then call him 'James Johnson'? Even the story is identical. You're not fooling anyone!
CS: (Over footage from "Guyana Tradegy: The Story of Jim Jones" mini-series from 1980) The 'Powers Boothe' one didn't do that and that was made by people with tact, unlike Rene Cardona Jr.
- - - (Back to Guyana: Cult of the Damned) - - -
CS: Look, he can't even make the Lord instruct this baby not to look at the camera! Argh, enough of this speech already.
Jim Jones: (over footage of man getting run over by a train) Among others, whom we all know well. Our friends in the Senate and our brothers and sisters in congress must also be thanked for their unselfish dedication to our cause.
CS: (Confused) Huh… Okay, I was a little bored – But not 'throw-myself-infront-of-a-train'-bored.
CS (vo): I see here we meet congressman Leo Ryan… (reacting to yet another namechange) I mean Lee O'Brien?!? Ugh, anyway. Leo Ryan was the United States congressman who was murdered by Jonestown members after flying to Guyana to investigate… And here he's called LEE O'BRIEN! If you have to change the person's name, change it to something completely different. Call him Don Williams or something, I don't care. If it's THAT close to the original person's name it just comes across as unintentionally funny and again fucking stupid!
CS (vo): Wait, forget Guyana. We're taking our congregation to Sunnyside, Florida. It's closer to Busch Gardens. Meanwhile the group assembles in the mess hall to watch their daily viewing of 'Cannibal Ferox'. Actually if they were gonna watch a cannibal movie, they'd be better off watching 'Eaten Alive'; it's a little closer to this story.
- - - Scene from 'Eaten Alive' - - -
Jonas: Those devils want to see me locked up in a prison cell, but they'll never get to do it. I will not leave my people without their leader.
CS: Relax, I'll get to that movie soon enough.
CS (vo): I think I know this part. This is where Jones recites Michael Park's monologue from 'Red State'.
Jim Jones: Those who oppose Johnson's Temple oppose me. And those who oppose me oppose God. And I shall die in shame and sin and feel the mighty blow of God's wrath!
CS: Good God, maybe I shouldn't make fun of this. I don't wanna go to Hell… Then again, they're calling their main-character James Johnson, so I have no problem making fun of this.
Jim Jones: We will be an example to the World!
- - - (Sound clip which I can't really make out/ identify) - - -
CS (vo): Or maybe this movie DOES serve a purpose. We get to see Jim Jones' pillowtalk.
Jim Jones: If I should fall – You, my children, all of them will fall with me.
CS: I think I know where this is going…
- - - Scene from 'Cannibal Holocaust', where the main-characters are burning down the village of a cannibal tribe - - -
CS: Okay, okay! No more amazon-cannibal-movie references…
CS (vo): But seriously, the real story goes that Jim Jones was charismatic enough to actually lure all of these people to Guyana, where he then became a sadistic fucking tyrant. In this movie he's just fucking crazy from beginning to end. There's no character-arch or anything. It's all fire and brimstone and fucking madness. But he does seem to get more tail than Jimmy Swaggart.
CS (vo): Back the madness though. Look at this scene where three kids are caught stealing food from… (three ridiculously dressed adults enters the scene) eh, the good, the bad and the ugly?
CS: Now I understand this is the kind of thing that actually happened there. But Jones is portrayed like this throughout the whole movie.
Jim Jones: Thomas Keith, what shall I do with your son Tom?
Thomas: Punish him.
CS: (jokingly) Yes, shock his testicles.
- - - Scene where they actually do so - - -
CS: (shocked) Oh, shit! I wasn't serious!
Jim Jones: What shall I do with your son Mark?
Man: Punish him.
CS (jokingly, but cautious): Ehm… Pour snakes on him?
- - - Scene where they actually do so - - -
CS: (horrified) Oh my God! And those were real fucking snakes! Well, kudos to that actor; especially when today's adult actors would've demanded CGI – this KID had REAL SNAKES poured on him!
CS (vo): Also the third kid just gets dunked in some water and I know that sucks. But how is it fair to the kid who had his balls shocked and the kid who had snakes poured on him? How awkward would that conversation have been when those characters met back up?
- - - Reenactment of said scene by Brad Jones, Jerrid Foiles and David Gobble - - -
Jerrid as the 'Water'-kid: Uh, oh God!
David as the 'Snake'-kid: 'You okay?
'Water'-kid: Yeah, yeah I think so… It was horrible, you guys. They dunked me in a well of water.
Brad as the 'Balls'-kid: Hey, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!?! They dunked you in some WATER?
'Water'-kid: Yeah, what did they do to you?
'Balls'-kid: They tested out a car-battery on my fucking balls!
'Snake'-kid: I had anacondas dumped on my face!
'Water'-kid: Oh yeah, well… The water was really cold.
'Balls'-kid: YOU SON OF A BITCH!!! MY BALLSACK SMELLS LIKE FRIED CHICKEN!!! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT IT'S LIKE FOR YOUR DICK TO BE EXTRA CRISPY?
'Water'-kid: Well…… I might come down with the flu or something…
'Snake'-kid: I'M GONNA BE PISSING VENOM FOR THE NEXT SEVERAL MONTHS!!!
'Water'-kid: That's good though – You're gonna be pushing the venom out of your body.
Snake'-kid: THERE'S STILL A SNAKE CRAWLING OUT OF MY ASS!!!
'Balls'-kid: I FUCKING HATE YOU!!!
'Water'-kid: Hey, it's not my fault…
'Balls'-kid: I can't teabag anyone anymore, because the static electricity from my balls will turn them to ashes!
'Water'-kid: But… But there could've been some really nasty parasites in that water.
'Balls'-kid: I'LL KILL YOU!!!
- - - Back to the movie - - -
CS (vo): And now some people finally decide that Johnsontown eeeehhh… Do I seriously have to call it that? I'm not doing it! I'm not fucking doing it! It's 'Jonestown', so I'm fucking calling it Jonestown! Anyway, some guy tries escaping. And this may look bad but they're really just trying to beat the music-stingers out of him.
- - - Scene where the fleeing man is beaten up to the sound of musical tones - - -
CS (vo): I agree, it is time for a lunch break. Here you go! Flaky skin of fried ballsack covered with the tears of a young child. Johnson eeeehhh…… Fuck it, I'm calling him Jones too! Jones finds out that his community may be under investigation from the government. So what does he do to make the congregation look on the level? Taking pics of young kids…. Oh no, don't do that! There, take pictures of bananas. That'll work fine. You know, I suppose it wasn't that bad being Jim Jones. Look, he does have the nicest toilet in the camp. Give him a sec; he's gonna squeeze out Rene Cardona's next movie.
CS: Is it time to get sleazy again? Hoho, I can already smell the dicksweat!
CS (vo): Jones catches two people fucking and there's only one suitable punishment for this.
- - - (A black man steps forward whilst a sound clip from 'Kentucky Fried Movie' is played) - - -
Sex Record Voice: Big Jim Slade! *sound of cracking whip followed by a fanfare* Big Jim, former tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs.
CS: This just got… incredibly erotic…
Jim Jones: You will perform a sex-act with a man!
- - - The black man removes his shirt to the sound of porn-music - - -
CS: Ooooh! I hope his ass likes classic television, 'cause that guy is gonna mash it!
CS (vo): Jones gives another one of his speeches, but how are these people gonna take him seriously when he just finished making the greatest porno of all time?
Jim Jones: I would die for you. (a beat) Raise your hands those who would die for me.
CS: (As everybody raises their hands) We'll spill ketchup on our hands for you, reverend Jim! Well, except maybe for this kid who was imprisoned for dealing drugs. Let me guess; they shoved a cattle prod up his ass and a centipede up his dick!?
CS (vo): While all of this is going on we cut back and forth to congressman O'Brien having various meetings about wether americans are being imprisoned in Jonestown. Eventually O'Brien makes the trip out to Guyana which includes reporters, cameramen as well as relatives of different church members.
Boy: (To his dad) Dad, are you gonna be long in Gayana?
Mother: (Correcting him) 'Guyana', darling!
CS: Yeah, you better get that right or you'll have several commenters or people like me correcting you.
Girl: (Due to mumbling and poor sound-quality, I can't make out what she's saying...)
Man: You're forgetting it's a socialist country.
CS: Aargh, who invited Hannity?!
CS (vo): Unfortunatly I made a promise not to mention the cannibal movies again but luckily the movie provides the fucking music for us.
- - - Music in the style of 'Nightmare City' plays over the airport-scene - - -
CS (vo): And yeah, you can put that serious movie text on the screen all you want; this movie is STILL incredibly sleazy. I can tell I'm watching the uncut version of the film, because it included the all-important scene of the plane taking off and landing. Plus the ballshock-scene.
After several minutes of negotiating with the camp, Jones reluctantly agrees to let the congressman into Jonestown.
- - - Church members sing "Time To Love" as the congressman and his crew enters Jonestown - - -
CS: (Very confused) I'm sorry, is this 'The Wicker Man' all of a sudden?!? I thought I knew how this story ended.
CS (vo): O'brien announces that Johnsonville or whatever is now under congressional inquiry, which means we get to see Jones being just as charismatic as he's been through the rest of the movie.
Interviewer: We've heard that sex is only your particular privilege here in Johnsontown.
Jim Jones: … Oh, that's bullshit!
CS: Reverend, language… Our swear-jar uses testicles instead of coins.
Interviewer: How can you have babies without sex?
Jim Jones: Do you know that we've had 30 babies born here since the summer of '77?
CS: (Impersonating Jim, while showing footage of the black man undressing) Seriously, you should see the porno I made!
CS (as Jim gets a drink): Uh, Jim. You should probably save the Kool-Aid for the climax. Best put that back down. Speaking of which we've pretty much arrived at that point in the movie.
- - - Text onscreen saying "Johnsontown… Saturday, November 18, 1978… the last day" - - -
CS: Yes, the last day… Which indicates that murder and suicide are about to happen. So why is there happy music playing???
CS (vo): The congressman announces that he'll take back with him anyone who wants to return to the United States.
Woman #1: I'm determined to leave. I've already notified the newspaperman.
Woman #2: I'm leaving too.
CS: I'd believe your sincerity if you weren't as wooden as the trees!
CS (vo): The last act here pretty much gets most of the information down – There's the church member who pretended to leave but opened fire in the plane, the shootout at the airport and yes, mass suicide by cyanide-laced Kool-Aid.
Church member instructing nurse: Is everything ready? Keep stirring!
Jim Jones: We will die with dignity.
CS: Yes, dignity. Especially when your bodies are shown on every single news-program in the country.
CS (vo, as the mass suicide-scene is shown): The problem is that every single aspect of this movie is just shown to be in-your-face, sensational, tabloid garbage. The suicide SHOULD be disturbing – it SHOULD be impactful. But when there's absolutely no character or motivation or any kind of inside into the tragedy, the climax just comes across as being another sleazy thing that happened in Johnsontown. No more shocking than the ball-electrocution or Big Jim Slade.
CS (vo, as footage from 'The Helter Skelter Murders' is shown): And yeah, sure. 'The Helter Skelter Murders' didn't have much in the way of character development either and much like 'Guyana: Cult of the Damned' it merely serves as being a shallow reenactment of the cideous sites of the story. But that movie was at least well-shot and had some kind of artistic presentation.
- - - (Back to footage from 'Guyana: Cult of the Damned') - - -
CS (vo): THIS movie looks like we stumbled across Joe D'Amato's home movies. The only artistic measure this movie takes is when it suddenly switches to 'Behind the Green Door'-vision. Like in the true story Jones' death here could either have been a self-inflected gunshot wound or he was shot by someone else. But even if it did show the gunman, this movie has no character so we wouldn't have known who it was anyway! But at least it ends on some words of wisdom (reading the sign in the mess hall); "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it".
CS: Wohoho, don't worry. I won't make the mistake of re-watching 'Guyana: Cult of the Damned' anytime soon.
CS (vo, as real-life footage from Jonestown is shown): You know, so much real footage of Jonestown exists anyway, that an explosive reenactment like this seems pointless, when nothing can be as frightening as the real thing. Also, if it's dramatic inside you want then please watch the Powers Boothe mini-series.
CS: In the meantime I'll stick with real movies about cults, thank you very much! Movies like 'Martha May Marcy Marlene', because I prefer my cult-movies where nothing happens.
CS (vo): In the end, is it tasteless to spotlight a movie like 'Guyana' on the show? Maybe, but you know what? THE MOVIE IS FUCKING TASTELESS! Also you don't need me to tell you the movie is bad. It should be completely obvious why this thing stinks. And that obviously is because Roger Ebert gave it 0 stars… (smiling)
Jim Jones: If I wanna go to Georgetown, then by GOD I'LL GO TO GEORGETOWN!!!