Color, 2004, 79 mins. 45 secs.
Directed by Scooter McCrae
Starring Jane Chase, Crawford James, Alice Liu, Tina Krause Saturn's Core Audio & Video (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Sub Rosa (US R1 NTSC)
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 (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 (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 (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 do anything hardcore (save a few bits involving prosthetics), the omnipresent porn conveys a grungy, oppressive character to the film. There's nothing that comes close to the infamous gun scene in Shatter Dead, though McCrae gives it a good try with one of the most over-the-top director cameos in history. The three leads offer solid performances, and though the low budget proves obvious at times, the film largely succeeds as a hallucinatory, intensely persona vision of a world that's stimulating itself to death. Considering the film is released in a society where ADHD 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 came to DVD with an avalanche of specialfeatures in keeping with the standard set by McCrae's previous film. The transfer looked 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 ever found one with dirty pictures on the disc, hang on to it!
In 2022, Saturn's Core brought the film to Blu-ray almost a year to the date after its deluxe edition of Shatter Dead. Given its more recent vintage, this one didn't require a fresh reassembly so it looks and sounds very much like we had it before -- lo-res but fine enough, with an occasionally active DTS-HD MA English 2.0 track (with optional English SDH subtitles). Both of the commentaries are ported over here, plus an isolated music track. "Fantasia or Bust" (21m36s) features McCrae enthusiastically bringing the film to the renowned North American festival and chatting with several attendees and programmers, followed by the deleted scenes collection (9m31s), a 5m46s photo gallery including some cool light paintings, the behind-the-scenes featurette (26m11s), the makeup featurette (21m54s), the visual effects breakdown with post-FX supervisor Robert Morris (2m46s), and Missing Chunk's "I See the Dark" music video (3m48s). Then you get a whole separate extras section devoted to McCrae's short films including an intro (10m53s) about his time at SUNY Purchase and the collaborators who managed to bring his visions to life, as well as the other filmmakers he helped on their own films including the wild-looking Taste the Cement. The three experimental short films (all with optional director commentary) include 1986's Only Hell (11m39s), 1988's dB, and the most recent and elaborate of the bunch, 2015's Saint Frankenstein (17m25s), which received some high-profile festival play as well. Starring Melanie Gaydos and Tina Krause (who turned up for a brief but memorable Sixteen Tongues scene) in a wild two-hander set in a hotel room, it starts off as a story about an unorthodox prostitute visiting a highly unusual client before turning into quite the unique monster saga. In addition to strong performances by both stars, it features a terrific score by none other than Fabio Frizzi -- which gets its own isolated music track here, too. McCrae and Kuciw pair up again for a commentary here explaining how it all came about in the wake of Sixteen Tongues and a lot of other projects, originally intended to be part of an anthology for Severin, and the evolution once Gaydos came aboard. A NSFW 4m32 Saint Frankenstein gallery is also included along with trailers for both McCrae features, Mail Order Murder: The Story of W.A.V.E. Productions, Burglar from Hell, Sinistre, Psycho Sisters, and Duck! The Carbine High Massacre.