I know I’m watching something special when I utter aloud, “Why was this made and who was it for?” I know it’s really special when I shout it over and over again, spittle spraying from my quivering maw. That was me watching Pandemonium. Needless to say, this is required viewing.
Australia, 1987, Haydn Keenan
“DAVID ARGUE and”. Oh no! Oh yes! David Argue, for those who are unaware, is one of Australian cinema’s most fascinating oddballs. Argue never fails to deliver an obnoxiously loud performance, shouting things like “Aww poo!” or hurling racial abuse at Carl Weathers. He even wrote a movie where he plays himself, acting alongside his mother (it’s called The Argues: The Movie (2010) and I desperately need to see it). Argue plays two characters in Pandemonium — the protagonistic narrator (a confusingly posh-speaking property building surveyor called Kales Leadingham), and a horny dingo-man who spits out the line, “I’ll do you, cunt”, at one point.
Pandemonium is well-suited to a man of Argue’s talents because, like him, it is completely fucking mad. With its intensely insane scripting, it’s difficult to put the plot down in words. The film centres on a big-boobed, attractive and usually naked girl known as the Dingo Girl (Amanda Dole, a Playboy Playmate of the 80s). Raised by dingos, she’s in search of her real family who abandoned her, believing her to be dead. She may also be the second coming of Christ. Okay? Okay. The Dingo Girl’s hunt takes her to the apartment block owned by her evil mother (Arna-Maria Winchester).
Pretty much everyone in the apartment block wants to have sex with the virginal Dingo Girl. From her lecherous filmmaking stepfather (Esben Storm) to an accountant who is transformed into a small-dicked ape-man (Pete Smith), Dingo Girl can’t escape the grabbing hands of the sex-obsessed tenants. Even Little Adolph (Ashley Grenville) — heir to the next phase of the Nazi regime who happens to have a nose that constantly expands like a demented Pinocchio — is being groomed to marry her. The few characters that don’t want to fuck the Dingo Girl want her dead.
Pandemonium certainly lives up to its title. It’s so chaotic that it’s actually difficult to watch. I fell asleep a few times from exhaustion and woke up a confused, sweaty mess. It’s like an art film directed by Lloyd Kaufman. Or a Zucker Brothers film without comprehensible jokes and with more fake motorised penises. It’s like a loon with a theatrical background was given a bunch of money and a lot of drugs and complete creative freedom. I don’t know anything about director Haydn Keenan, but I’d imagine that last one is at least partially true.
Nazi symbolism fills every other frame. There’s impromptu songs and dance numbers. Heads explode. Actors change in and out of silly costumes. A character called Dr. Doctor (played by the film’s director) makes an “aids free” clone of himself for some reason and later feeds the clone’s decapitated head to zombies. David Argue and the rest of the cast spout constant nonsense. A Bullwinkle-esque head falls on top of a character and remains stuck on his head for almost half an hour of the running time. (There is something rather incredible about seeing a moose-headed man surrounded by swastikas.) There’s enough content for a thousand films smashed into eighty minutes.
Certain scenes were almost too mad to handle and had me groaning and massaging my temples in dizzying agony. At one point — after the phrase “pussy, pussy, wet, wet” is uttered a couple of times — David Argue is cockblocked by a gang of midgets in koala suits. They call Argue a “dirty felcher”, steal away the Dingo Girl, and wander off into the distance singing “Teddy Bears’ Picnic”. Later in the film, they drink beers and dance around a campfire with a few wallabies. Scenes like this make me question a lot of things about myself and the fabric of reality.
Despite the never-ending chaos, Pandemonium is captured with a rather disinterested style. At times it’s like watching a play. Scenes are shot with a flat mix of adequate but dull wide shots and mids. The sets and costumes are impressive, but they are lit in such a theatrical way that it sucks any cinematic value out of them. Still, there’s no denying the skill of the art direction that has gone into the film’s gaudiest moments.
Pandemonium is all a bit too much. Its chaotic presentation, obviously deliberate in its relentlessness, is overwhelming. This is a film that demands your complete attention, though that in itself is a difficult task. At times I felt like Alex from A Clockwork Orange. Eyes forced open, burping and panicking, as a constant stream of mania spilled into my face. Anyone remotely interested in Australian cinema should definitely check out Pandemonium… just be warned, it will leave you as an empty husk.
Pandemonium is available on DVD through Smart Street Films. Smart Street Films have also made available other work by director Haydn Keenan.