31 Days of Hell: Rubber Johnny - Reviewed

Andrew reviews the music video/art book by visual artist Chris Cunningham, Rubber Johnny

Ordinarily we don't think of a 5 to 10 minute short music video project as the equivalent of a horror offering, particularly around October.  That is unless the names of renowned electronic musician Richard D. James (Aphex Twin) or visual artist and technical perfectionist Chris Cunningham are affiliated with the endeavor.  Between his music videos for Aphex Twin's Come to Daddy and Windowlicker, The Horrors' Sheena is a Parasite featuring Samantha Morton and his water-tank abstract art porn film Flex, Chris Cunningham is among the creepiest and most deeply unsettling body horror artists to emerge on the film scene since David Cronenberg!  Often shooting and editing down to a tee with painstaking, Type-A perfectionism that would make Stanley Kubrick blush and a visual design wholly unlike anything ever seen before, the British video artist is the most technically sophisticated filmmaker you've either never heard of or had the ability to see his work.  With most of his videos banned from public broadcast outright save for the internet and The Work of Chris Cunningham Director's Series DVD which only contains a fraction of his work per Cunningham's personal request, the art and video installation director has also had his fair share of dabblings among major Hollywood players including but not limited to Stanley Kubrick for animatronic design work on A.I. Artificial Intelligence, prosthesis for Richard Stanley's Hardware and Dust Devil, Clive Barker's Nightbreed, Alien 3 and most notably the alien newborn concluding Alien Resurrection.

"I am not an animal"

Which brings us to the clandestine auteur's first and only art book/film project, the disgusting, grotesque and twisted Rubber Johnny.  Proposed initially as a thirty second television commercial designed to promote Aphex Twin's new album drukqs, the shot entirely on night-vision short depicted a deformed mutant with an oversized and swollen head, bound to a wheelchair locked in a dark basement.  Using the track afx237 v7 for the background score, the camera slowly zooms in on the contorted figure as the word "Aphex" creeps from his mouth, his eyes glowing in the dark as his tongue flicks about violently like a rattlesnake.  It's a profoundly chilling and truly creepy short of total visceral horror that made this Aphex Twin fan scared to buy the new album!  Cunningham on the other hand fell in love with concept and over the next few years of tinkering ad infinitum he expanded the short advertisement into a six minute short film, drawing out more details of the character in the advert and intensifying the horrors contained therein even more than previously.  Shooting it in his own basement and playing the creepy mutant himself, Cunningham slowly brought the nondescript and seemingly endless art project to a close, cutting the initial video in half and releasing it inside a hardbound DVD-sized art book with digitally altered photographs, concept drawings and deleted shots. 

Taken from the British slang for 'condom', Rubber Johnny tells the story of an unnamed mutant teenager locked in his father's basement, with only his little dog for company.  To amuse himself, he snorts cocaine and trips out into a dance rave of sorts to afx237 v7 (w19rhbasement remix), his face and body coming apart as it smashes against a glass pane.  Shot only in night vision with rapid fire editing, the film is a truly gross and unsettling crossbreed between David Lynch's The Elephant Man and David Cronenberg's Videodrome.  The art book of photographs included of the mutant transformed into many shapes of testicles, hairy buttocks and rectums morphed with mouths, fingers, eyes and teeth is so utterly revolting that if you dare to open the book chances are you'll drop it to the floor before considering recycling your dinner.  The video itself is highly graphic with split second images of the mutant's butt crack and genitals, jump cuts of his head coming apart and the title itself is printed on a condom the character slowly pulls off of his penis.  Punctuated in between are shots of the mutant's father berating him with implications the mutant is being physically abused. 

"I hate your face!"
Whether or not there's a major point to any of Rubber Johnny either artistically or conceptually, there's no denying it's among the creepiest and most repulsive music video installations ever made by anyone.  Pure unadulterated body horror, cinematic subversion, surrealism, madness and even cruelty all play at full volume here and when taken with the art book, you feel as though you've seen the most horrifying monster since Brundlefly!  To promote Rubber Johnny, a flash video was created showing a high angled shot of a basement stairwell, with the eerie face of the mutant just barely peering around the corner.  You could take any image from Rubber Johnny in any form and just looking at a frozen still on it's own is as close to a real nightmare as the deformed mutant baby in David Lynch's Eraserhead.  No Rubber Johnny is not a traditional or even thought provoking piece of horror with much meat to it but as a creepy little aside done on the director's spare time with his own money, it's a terrifying and thoroughly repellent sensory assault that will not leave you alone well after the end credits have rolled.  Enter Rubber Johnny's dark and twisted basement with extreme caution!


-Andrew Kotwicki