A Strong Contender for Weirdest and Most Subversive 80s Movie

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It's the 25th anniversary of Split, a 1989 movie written and directed by a professional mathematician named Chris Shaw who was best known for writing textbooks. And by all accounts, it's a transcendently weird joyride through the heart of nonconformity.


Over at Daily Grindhouse, there's a great post about the wonderful strangeness of Split, which is a movie about a weird guy named Starker who's pursued by the police because he's not in any of their databases and their surreal face-recognition routines can't recognize him. It turns out he's dangerous to this dystopian world because he's carrying a set of bacteria that carry the "disease" of individualism, and if he puts them in the water supply, people will start thinking for themselves. And the forces of evil are led by the Director (Shaw himself) who's trying to transfer his consciousness into another entity.

But that barely scratches the surface. As Daily Grindhouse explains:

Starker ends up rooming with a talkative waitress and is stalled from his project, occasionally retreating into a psychological hole. He goes out for groceries dressed in drag. People have conversations about the "oscillation and the evolution of consciousness." A cult is formed. A Pop Tart burns in an oven.

SPLIT has enough ideas to fill a dozen films, and Shaw does a remarkable job for a first-time director of reigning them all into one film, even if it sometimes becomes incoherent. The tone is satirical without delving into obvious jokes and ranks alongside films like BORN IN FLAMES, BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET and LIQUID SKY in terms of ambitious science fiction on a minimal budget. Shaw shows a great eye for framing as well, with eye-catching shots throughout the film.

Back in 1991, during its brief theatrical release, the L.A. Times called Split "dazzling," and added:

No doubt about it, both the Santa Cruz-based Shaws display prodigious imagination in achieving maximum effects from minimal means. So impressive is their achievement one could wish that they dared to bring greater clarity and specificity to their premise. "Split" is sufficiently original to sustain a little more definite information, especially about the Director and his significance. After all, Don Siegel's classic "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," which this film in some ways recalls, gains rather than loses impact by being accessible to audiences.

Kind of amazing, and a crying shame, that this film isn't available on DVD. What the heck is up with that?



This seems to be tickling the dark recesses of my 80s-produced mind that were reopened by Beyond the Black Rainbow. Can anyone recommend any similar movies or PBS specials?