My concern about any follow-up to Turbo Killer, Seth Ickerman’s music video for Carpenter Brut’s song Turbo Killer, is that it will include people talking. At which point, it might collapse back into the soil from which it was grown: the B-movies from the 80s that were mostly bad, but colorful and sometimes fascinating, but still mostly bad. In other words, Beyond the Black Rainbow, or Mandy. Which are colorful and fascinating, but missing entirely the distilled power of Turbo Killer’s appeal. Colorful and fascinating — this usually includes self-indulgent — can only get you so far. Once people start talking, once characters start developing, once room is allowed for drama and decisions and actors, once time slows and four minutes turns into forty minutes and then ninety minutes…at that point, style is not enough. At that point, you’re investing in a story instead of riffing on a feeling.
To my great relief, that’s not an issue in Blood Machines. People talk in Blood Machines. I suppose characters develop. There is drama, and decisions are certainly made, and for better or worse, there are certainly actors. Four minutes doesn’t really turn into ninety, although it does get near an hour. But to my great relief, Blood Machines isn’t attempting anything that hadn’t already been done in Turbo Killer. On the contrary, it’s entirely about the palette and vocabulary of Turbo Killer, it’s entirely about riffing on the same feelings, and it knows better than to stray too far from the structure.
There’s a brief quiet moment in Turbo Killer, before the Carpenter Brut starts playing for real. The cars leer at their captive prize. One of them revs impatiently. The victim tests the wall of her cage and considers her plight. The villain tilts his head with ill intent. Blood Machines’ talking scenes are like this beat, drawn out with some awkward pacing and even more awkward dialogue. But it’s all set-up. It’s all going somewhere. Like that brief moment at the opening of Turbo Killer, Blood Machine takes its moments to lay out the situation and introduce the players. Ultimately, they’re not here to talk.
But instead of trying to turn a music video into a full-length movie with all the trappings of a full-length movie, Blood Machines threads the needle between movie and music video. It adopts the structure of an opera. Three one-act music videos, if you will, each with their own crescendos, each with their own musical pulses, each with their own heightened emotions and images. This flips the relationship between movie and music. For Turbo Killer, Seth Ickerman fitted their film to a single Carpenter Brut song. But for Blood Machine, Carpenter Brut wrote music for a three-act Seth Ickerman film.
I don’t pretend to understand how filmmakers Raphael Hernandez and Savitri Joly-Gonfard (aka Seth Ickerman) and the musician Franck Hueso (aka Carpenter Brut) work, together or separately. But I do know the relationship is integral here. All you need to do is watch Kaydara, made by Seth Ickerman ten years ago, before Carpenter Brut existed. It’s a plodding and grimly sex-less Matrix tie-in, and its painfully clear they hadn’t found their muse yet. Alternatively, watch the video for Carpenter Brut’s Leather Teeth, which Huesco uses during his live performances and which he’s characterized as the “darker path” he wants to pursue with his upcoming music. Masked killers violently brutalizing women is an element of the 80s I’m content to leave in the 80s.
But Blood Machines itself, a collaboration between Seth Ickerman and Carpenter Brut, is exactly what I wanted. A fable building on Turbo Killer, adding to the meaning without explaining too much, supercharged with the same colors and concepts, with even more crosses and pentagrams, and even more outrageously sexual. The art design goes all in on maternity, luxuriating cosmically in the swell of hips and breasts (imagine a more colorful and less phallic version of H.R. Giger). Whereas a lot of cheap fantasy sexuality is about subjugation, Blood Machines’ sexuality is about resistance. These women won’t kneel at their captor’s feet and clutch his muscled thigh. Instead, they writhe loose from their confines, soar across a galaxy, seal up space and time, and then smash whatever needs smashing. And whereas you could interpret Turbo Killer as the typical “dude coming to rescue a damsel in distress” trope, Blood Machines has something to say about that.
I’ve recently started reading Jack Vance, where I can’t help but feel reverberations. All those asshole wizards and beleaguered women and strange machines, all the treks across impossible distances to assay impossible quests, colored with strange oranges and purples and the odd green, the palette of Seth Ickerman’s Turbo Killer and Blood Machines, accompanied by the sear and throb of Carpenter Brut’s synthesizers. It’s a heady mix, but its feels so specific and of a piece. Contrast this with, for instance, the varied voices that comprised Love, Death, and Robots on Netflix, or the Heavy Metal anthology movie from 1981. Sometimes it’s not enough to be R-rated and weird and thought-provoking. Sometimes it takes a few overlapping visionaries all at once, clicking with each other. The gears turn, the teeth mesh, the machine crawls forward, and now you’re someplace you’ve never seen.