You Preached the Sermon:
In the late arrival, Dark Tourist, guard Jim Tahna (Michael Cudlitz) seems like a pleasant enough guy. He’s low key and studiously neat, with his own carefully observed routine. When he sits behind his desk he has his chocolates bars, his sandwiches and his thermos arranged just so. OK, so maybe he’s borderline OCD but that would hardly single him out in our 21st century society. And we get the idea that maybe he’s just wrapped a little bit too tight when we observe him ritually preparing and eating his boiled egg whilst smoking at the same time; but again, no big deal. Trust me; I have weirder habits than that.
I even found myself warming to him a bit with his observations on life:
“I never get lonely. I love it down here. I had this doctor, this little Jew fucker, who they made me see after I got out of the hospital. He said it wasn’t good, me being alone down here too much. He said it was unhealthy. I thought he was full of shit. The world’s all fucked up because no one ever gets the chance to be alone anymore.
“You’ve got your emails, answering machines, personal computers. You’ve always got someone up your ass. It makes people crazy.”
So far, so kind of OK; but then his observations get darker…
“The morning rush—a long line of people going to their deaths.”
“They’re all sluts; drug addicts; whoremongers; child molesters. I know they all hate me. They hate all the guards. I’ve been at this way too long not to know that.”
The voiceover, with its increasingly deranged and hateful observations, is obviously meant to invoke the memory of Travis Bickle and indeed the film has been referred to as a poor man’s Taxi Driver. Cudlitz’s intonations even sound eerily like de Niro sometimes. Yet for some reason the film reminded be much more of Chuck Parello’s Ed Gein.
We find out very early in the film that Tahna’s hobby is travelling the shadowlands of America in order to visit sites made famous by various serial killers. He is a death tourist, a grief tourist. Indeed, the latter term was the original title of the film.
But does even that make him any weirder than the average person? As he points out, there are tens of thousands who visit the grassy knoll or the site of the Twin Towers. Does that make them ghouls? The question is left hanging there and to tell you the truth I have no opinion on that one way or the other. Personally, I don’t get the whole death tourist concept. And yet I fully intend to visit the home of Robert E. Howard in Cross Plains, Texas before I die. And he’s a dead guy too; a dead guy by his own hand, come to that.
Here any attempt to justify Jim Tahna must end, though. His latest trip is to the rural heartland where a sixties serial killer called Carl Marznap had gone on an ‘unprecedented’ rampage of murder and arson. So convincing does scriptwriter Frank John Hughes make the details of Marznap’s life that I spent the film unsure as to whether he was fictional or not. (He is fictional.)
Once he arrives in the small town where Marznap grew up he begins to completely crack up, ultimately having full-blown aural-visual hallucinations of Marznap (Pruit Taylor Vince). It seems for just a moment that he may gain some sort of sanity from the warm-hearted attentions of a wounded, damaged waitress, Betsy; but by now Tahna is too far gone down his own road to ruin. And as we find out, he’s been going down that road for quite some time.
Melanie Griffiths is wonderful as the kind waitress. She is a pleasure any time that she’s on the screen; although at the risk of being unkind she a walking advert for never having cosmetic surgery done to your face. Christ, she looks ‘way older than her years.
And a special mention must surely go to Suzzane Quast’s very physical portrayal of the prostitute who has the dingy room next to Tahna and who is unwittingly the catalyst that pushes him right over the edge and into his own blood-drenched killing spree.
I wasn’t familiar with writer Frank John Hughes and was surprised to see that he is the good-looking actor who’s probably best known for his role as Homeland Security Director Tim Woods in 24.
As to director Suri Krishnamma, the only film I know him from is the Irish one with Albert Finney, A Man of No Importance. Actually, I suppose a thematic link could be seen between the two films if you wanted to stretch it. Finney’s character is a man with a secret as well. Dark Tourist, however, is bleak, brutal, unrelenting and loveless. It hasn’t found an audience and I don’t think that it will. Yet I don’t believe that it deserves to be dismissed in the way in which it has been. It may not be to everyone’s taste—and it may not even always work– but it is a serious attempt to take an unflinching look at madness.