Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana [Fantasia 2018 Review]

Mike Diana drew insanely offensive art. That was his whole point. He wanted to be appreciated not by the masses, but by people who were on his own demented wavelength. Odds are you’ve never heard of Diana. He is the first U.S. artist convicted of obscenity. Now he’s the subject of an important documentary from director Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case, Frankenhooker) called Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana. The film had its international premiere at Fantasia 2018.

After a brief, informative history of underground comics, the documentary zeroes in on its subject. Diana was a young Florida man who published a zine (a homemade magazine sent out to subscribers by mail) called Boiled Angels. It was filled with cartoons that spoke to his personal obsessions: sexuality, religion, and violence. The sexual assault of children and infants was a common theme in his work, although it was presented in an extremely exaggerated fashion.

Through a freak confluence of events, Diana’s drawings came to the attention of the police. A traffic stop turned up a copy of one issue, and the officer noticed some similarities between the illustrations and a series of brutal murders that had taken place in Gainesville, Florida. Authorities tracked him down and immediately began investigating to see if he might be the killer. He wasn’t. That said, his work was deemed obscene, leading to an arrest and trial, at the end of which he was convicted of obscenity. No one had been hurt, and the zine only went into the hands of 200 or 300 people, all of whom voluntarily subscribed to it.

Henenlotter interviews Diana about his ordeal, but also talks to his parents, the prosecutor who won the case, a woman who followed the story in the media and showed up in court to confront him, and multiple fellow artists. Each offers a unique perspective on the trial and its long-term ramifications.

Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana uses these interviews to get at its main point, which is that it’s absolutely absurd for anyone to have been convicted for drawing provocative pictures. It’s precisely the thing the First Amendment is supposed to protect, and yet somehow, in this particular instance, justice was not served. If anything, Diana used his artwork as a means of getting rid of his demons in a productive, non-violent way. The problem is not what he drew, it’s that people couldn’t deal with those drawings once they saw them.

Narrated by punk rocker Jello Biafra and featuring a healthy swath of its subject’s work, Boiled Angels makes a strong statement about the need for art to push boundaries, to confront us, and to occasionally assault our sensibilities. Diana is clearly a shy man, so he doesn’t necessarily go deep into his feelings, but Henenlotter makes sure to fill everything out, leading to a documentary that will offend and enlighten you simultaneously.

For more information on Fantasia 2018, please visit the official website.

Four Must-See Movies at Fantasia

The annual Fantasia International Film Festival is soon upon us. The event, which takes place from July 12 through August 2, brings together some of the most innovative, cutting-edge genre films from around the world. The 2018 fest has an amazing-looking roster of titles.

Here are four must-see movies playing at Fantasia this year, which are certain to get a lot of attention:

Arizona – Danny McBride stars in this dark comedy, set during the 2009 housing crisis, as a disturbed guy who takes out his frustrations on anyone who displeases him. McBride is, of course, best known for goofy comedy, but there’s always been an underlying angry edge in his work. Here, he appears to indulge in that edginess, which promises an unforgettable ride. The screenplay was written by Brooklyn Nine-Nine scribe Luke Del Tredici, so you just know the dialogue is going to crackle. This could be a picture that shows its star in a whole new light.

Tales from the Hood 2 – Rusty Cundieff’s Tales from the Hood is one of the most important horror movies of the 1990s. The anthology uses issues related to race in each of its segments, leading to a viewing experience that is both provocative and entertaining. Years later, Cundieff delivers a sequel starring the great Keith David as the new Mr. Simms. (He takes over for Clarence Williams III.) It will be exciting to see how the director weaves in contemporary issues of race, especially in light of recent events that have rocked America. Tales from the Hood 2 looks to be a much-needed cinematic barn-burner.

Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich – If you grew up in the era of VHS, you doubtlessly know the Puppet Master franchise. These low-budget productions are notable for their murderous puppet creations, twisted violence, and wicked sense of humor. The latest installment, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, is more than just another sequel, though. It was made by the people behind the acclaimed genre film Bone Tomahawk, so it’s obviously going to be a totally original take, especially since it revolves around a Nazi puppetmaker played by Udo Kier. Thomas Lennon and the always-awesome Barbara Crampton co-star.

Our House – Thomas Mann plays a young guy working on an invention that allows for wireless electricity, while also caring for his brother and sister following the tragic death of their parents. What he doesn’t initially realize is that his gizmo actually opens up a portal allowing contact from the Other Side. I’m including Our House on this must-see list for a simple reason: I’ve already seen it, and it’s terrific. (The movie has begun screening for critics in advance of its July 27 opening.) A full review will follow in the weeks ahead. For now, I’ll just say that it continues the trend — started by A Quiet Place and Hereditary — of 2018 horror films that are as concerned with character and emotion as they are with scares.

Of course, there are many other awesome films playing at Fantasia, and I’ll be covering some of them here. For more information on what’s screening, check out the official Fantastia 2018 website.