Color, 2004, 80 mins.
Directed by Scooter McCrae
Starring Crawford James, Jane Chase, Alice Liu
Sub Rosa (US R1 NTSC) / DD2.0
A carnally overcharged look at the future, Scooter McCrae's Sixteen Tongues is the long-time-coming follow up to his very different apocalyptic debut, Shatter Dead. Shot on a similarly low budget and crammed with eccentric, striking ideas, the film wallows in decadence and sleaze from the opening frames but strangely maintains a much cooler, emotionally numb detachment from the material - which was presumably the goal in the first place.
The bulk of the film takes place in the claustrophobic, run-down Sappho Motel where the guests are subjected to a barrage of pornography from the television and even clippings on the walls themselves. One of the more unique inhabitants is Adrian Torque (Crawford James, who went on to several mainstream projects), a cop whose extensive injuries in an explosion were only contained by grafting on portions from the sixteen tongues of accident victims. He also boasts mutated genitalia that he foists on anyone who irritates him (think Hanzo the Razor with a lot more scar tissue), and the constant flood of sensory input drives him into frequent rages. Soon he crosses paths with a most peculiar soulmate: Ginny (Jane Chase), a lesbian assassin out to kill the scientist who turned her into a "freak" by turning her eyelids into clitorises which stimulate her with every blink. Ginny spends her time holed up with her hacker girlfriend, Alik (Alice Liu), but after meeting Torque, she finds herself dragged towards a very violent personal destiny.
Though fairly explicit, Sixteen Tongues only fleetingly bears any trace of eroticism (mostly in the interactions between the lesbian lovers) and instead follows the jaded sexual overload of the Internet era to a very dark conclusion; though the actors themselves don't really do anything hardcore (save a few bits involving prosthetics), the omnipresent porn conveys a grungy, oppressive character to the film. (However, there's nothing that comes close to the infamous gun scene in Shatter Dead, for better or worse.) The three leads offer solid performances, and though the low budget proves obvious at times, the film largely succeeds as a hallucinatory, intensely personal vision of a world that's stimulating itself to death. Considering the film is released in a society where ADD is practically the norm, perhaps this chilling setting isn't too far off.
Begun in the late 1990s but not completed until 2004, Sixteen Tongues comes to DVD with an avalanche of special features in keeping with the standard set by McCrae's previous film. The transfer looks just fine, capturing the scuzzy grain and darkness of the opening sequences and delivering crisp, colorful images later on where necessary. The eerie electronic score is also well served by the two-channel stereo track; no complaints here. The film contains a multitude of alternate tracks: an isolated score, a commentary track with McCrae, producer Alex Kuciw and set designer Dan Oullette (an enjoyable and informative picture of how to mount an ambitious sci-fi film with limited funds), and a more scholarly second commentary with McCrae and Kuciw exploring the various ideas and concepts behind the film. Not surprisingly, you also get some ribald and startling asides thrown in along the way.
The disc also contains three features: one devoted to behind-the-scenes footage with a focus on preparing the set and actors, another covering the extensive make-up used to create Torque's tongue-enhanced appearance, and a third on the use of CGI within the film. Other extras include a handful of deleted scenes (interesting but nothing earth-shaking), trailers for both of McCrae's films, and an Easter Egg. The package also includes liner notes by McCrae and some raunchy disc art, which resulted in the first run being pulled (due to complaints from certain online rental companies); if you find one with dirty pictures on the disc, hang on to it!