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Arpie (1987)

aka The Harpies
Directed by Fabio Salerno
DVD-R

It’s easy to burn out on the world. No matter how old you are or what you’ve achieved in life, there will always be something to keep you up at night — even if it’s once a year. That’s nobody’s fault. It’s just that we have to find our place among seven billion other humans, and that’s not easy to do. This is why it’s so important to find something that we love and never, ever take that thing for granted. Because that’s what gets us through the years, intact and balanced. Maybe you enjoy buying plants and taking care of them, even though you’re out of space in your apartment. Or maybe you like making lists of lists of stuff that you’ll never get around to doing this weekend. Just because it feels good to write it all down.

Or maybe what helps you sleep at night are movies that feature a demon claw exploding out of a person’s head.

Arpie┬áis a short trash-gore dreamscape that was shot on Super 8 in Italy. Just like the gross-out, sexist drone of My Lovely Burnt Brother And His Squished Brain. Given that information, Arpie has a lot going against it. But like a random private press LP from 1979 that somehow contains the greatest homemade synth-punk you’ve never heard, this movie is powerful in every way.

A junkie hangs out in an alley. A man enters the alley. The junkie stabs the man with a switchblade. The man transforms into a Harpie demon and slices the guy’s chest in half. The Harpie’s name is Veronica.

When she’s not tearing apart men in her other form, Veronica is a college student who works part time at a hospital. She meets with one of her professors about skipping class. He makes a pass at her. Cut to Veronica’s friend, who’s screaming because she found a severed head under her sheets. The head looks like a goopy version of the monster’s coconut head from William Grefe’s Death Curse Of Tartu. Then we’re in Veronica’s apartment, where the professor shows up and tries to force himself on her. She locks herself in a room, turns into the Harpie, and mutilates the professor’s face — through a door. From there, bodies pile up and a cop named Francesco follows Veronica through the streets in slow motion. He says, “Where is she fuckin’ going?!” and soon finds out.

The final sequence in Arpie is a recreation of the scene in Demons where a beastoid forces itself out of a woman’s body from the inside. We even see a shot of monster teeth forcing real teeth out of a mouth. That’s sincerity. That’s someone watching Demons and loving it so much that they feel the need to recreate it in their own D.I.Y. movie. This wide-eyed creative spirit runs throughout Arpie. And like Nathan Schiff’s Weasels Rip My Flesh or the Polonia Brothers’ Hallucinations, that’s what makes it such a joy to watch. That, and the fact that this movie feels like it was pieced together at random with a cassette deck and two VCRs by a person with no eyes.

During its short 40 minute runtime, Arpie alters your headspace. It’s like Fulci’s The Beyond as seen through a haze of youth, inexperience, and third-generation VHS crust. There’s no reasoning behind what’s happening, but the otherworldly mood persists. Plastic synths are interrupted by guitar shredding that sounds like it was recorded with a lapel microphone straight into a Walkman. Arbitrary visual edits are accompanied by harsh audio rips that sound like someone tearing a piece of plywood in half. The camera never sits still, mistakes are left in, and the gore effects feel impressive in the same way that making pancakes from scratch for the first time feels impressive — it’s a sense of accomplishment that feels great.

Beyond all of that, there’s something else that makes Arpie feel great. Like The Loreley’s Grasp or Lady Terminator, this is an exploitation movie based on mythology that places women front and center as unstoppable forces of power. In this movie, the Harpies — there are more than one — call the shots. And just like in Greek and Roman myths, they’re all women. A Harpy says, “We are Harpies! We eat corpses! We kill insane people, maniacs, perverts!” It’s very unlikely that director Fabio Salerno was making a conscious statement. Given the 30-second prologue that explains the Harpy legend, he most likely just thought that it would be a fun idea to incoporate into a horror movie. Maybe he even took inspiration from The Incredible Hulk comics, when Bruce Banner’s girlfriend, Betty Ross, was transformed into the Hulk-busting Harpy. Doesn’t matter. The fact that this presence is there, even on a surface level, is refreshing.

This movie also has one of the best skull-stabbings that I’ve ever seen.