Vernon Chatman can't stop playing with puppets. The creator of Wonder Showzen used that show's classic Sesame Street format to explore experimental comedy, a faux kid-friendly variety show brimming with existential horror (and big laughs). His group of plush puppets tackled the usual issues, like racism and body image, as well as deep thought philosophy on the nature of God and the cycle of death. In Final Flesh, he has created, in his own words, "a seventy-two minute punchline" in which unwitting humans serve as his puppets in another comedic experiment into the great unknown.
There exists a subculture of internet filmmakers whose sole purpose is to provide custom-made pornography to individual buyers. If your particular fetish is seeing a woman mash a banana onto another woman's chest and then eat it, you can pay for these companies to make that fantasy real for you, on video. That banana scene does take place in Chatman's film, but he's not interested in fulfilling a secret sexual desire -- he's interested in seeing some rank amateurs act out his darkly hilarious, nihilistic scripts.
What results is a truly bizarre anthology film, featuring four individual stories about families (each comprised of a father, a mother, and a daughter) coping with impending apocalyptic doom, all directed and acted by amateur pornographers. Chatman gives the shorts just a fraction of sexual activity to let the crews believe that his surreal scripts are, at least in some minor way, on the level, but has them run through a gamut of howlingly nonsensical philosophical dialogue ("We're trapped in nature's infinite expanse! I can't breathe!") and profoundly baffling activities like a corpse giving birth to a room full of frozen chickens or one family simulating double-team sex on a conch shell with a turkey baster and a pencil.
Along the way, Chatman explores his darkest fears, many of them the same themes that propelled Wonder Showzen -- the finality of death, the purpose of God, the crumbling of the American family, and Chatman's unusual, terrified respect for nature. It's next-to-impossible to take any of those concepts seriously here, through the wooden, mealy-mouthed mumbles of a naked porno chick who has no idea what it is she's even saying. I guess that reveals some of what makes Chatman tick, that by tempering his hopeless fears with accidental (oftentimes embarrassing) comedy, it's easier for us all to digest. It's harder to dwell on how we're all doomed to die the moment we're born, when a bimbo is pulling an entire raw steak out of her panties for no discernible reason.
Chatman is a skilled surrealist, juxtaposing images and thoughts to create a comedy nightmare that manages to feel familiar, even through all of its absurdity. While Final Flesh may be a jaw-dropping trainwreck when it comes to filmmaking fundamentals (in one segment, you can hear the director call action before every shot), the concept makes it a must-see, especially for open-minded viewers. It's a one-of-a-kind film that probably deserves to stay that way, because, for what it is, it's perfect.
Vernon Chatman is currently screening Final Flesh in select cities. You can order the film here, through Drag City.