Reviews

Mark of the Beast (1986)

My final year at West Irondequoit High School involved me spending a lot of time in a thin, grey video editing bay. For class, and sometimes for my own amusement, I was constantly shooting footage with my camcorder and then editing it using the equipment the school made available to students. It was a great time in my life. A time of constant imagination and endless energy. A time when myself or my friends could get almost anybody to do anything if we pointed a video camera at them. I’d take that footage and hunker down before the monitors and work for hours and hours, trying to perfect the ultimate comedy video, which generally involved me dressing up as a woman. Pie throwing was often involved.

There were four of us maneuvering in and out of the room during that year, circa 1990-1991. Myself, Sara Scahill, Jason Sheehan and John Fiorella. These were three funny, strange, creative people that I was proud to work with. Sara seemed rather calm and normal. And then we’d suddenly find ourselves taking over a local golf accessories store shooting scenes for an epic piece she was making about Super Grover. I played the very old man who ran the store. I remember being hysterically funny. Thank you, Time! Jason was our Punk Guy. He was the sort of fellow who would win class debates by pulling out a hand grenade and declaring himself the victor. John was Mr. Charm. He could convince anyone to do anything. During the aforementioned debate, we were on opposite sides. We arrived at the school library at the same time to research our subject. He got me thrown out by declaring, very loudly, that I had just said some nasty things about librarians and I shouldn’t be allowed to stay. Those were good times. In my own special indirect way, that period in my life is why so much of Mark of the Beast brings me joy.

Yes, it already has a leg up by being an Emmeritus production. I am fascinated with their output even when I can’t stay awake for any of it. And, of course, The Bounty Hunters is still a favorite. Their films are SOV, Canadian, slow-moving and thriller/horror. The four basic food groups of a very nutritious low budget menu. Robert Stewart’s film is all these things. A strong, musky meal guaranteed to fill you up. It also features a lot of footage of people working in a school’s video editing bay. The main character, Paul, spends a lot of time editing a project. (He even sleeps in the editing bay.) When he comes upon some footage that may feature an assassin involved with an Illuminati-esque cult, he spends even more time in the editing bay examining that tape. He also gets a new girlfriend, Karen, out of all of this. And she spends a lot of time sitting in the editing bay with him.

The most harrowing event that ever happened to me while video editing was the time I discovered that a video camera microphone had been left plugged in while I was recording control track onto a blank VHS tape. I was three minutes into editing when I noticed it. That could have been disastrous. (Yes, that is a very boring story.) No cult ever chased me around. I certainly never had a good friend shot by an assassin. And, I never found love in the editing bay. Although, others may have. So, Mark of the Beast became, for me, my Dream Editing day. Saving lives, getting the ladies, uncovering worldwide conspiracies–  all things I wished for as I edited together another video of me dressed as a woman.

Do I recommend this movie to others? Let me ask you something. Do you remember spending hours and hours in an editing bay? If so, watch this post haste. Barring such personal connections, I can’t really recommend it. It’s far too slow. It feels like a slow-mo version of a 70s thriller about a conspiracy and the man who gradually uncovers it. Even the assassin never goes fast. Several important moments seem to happen offscreen. Characters suddenly know details about one another that we never saw them learn. And, instead of building the tension during the final minutes, we’re treated to a lengthy sequence involving our leads fixing their car by the side of the road.

Personally, I did spent hours and hours in editing bays so I enjoy most of this film. I liked the look, the milieu and the actors. It took me back to a time I hadn’t thought about in ages. I remember taking the cameras out into the field and shooting all sorts of great nonsense. I remember working on my videos as intensely as our lead pretends to work on his.  The vivid rush kept my mind reeling with the excitement and grand self-assurance of my youth. There is one scene in particular where something occurs that we never thought of and it made my memory jealous.

The scene is simple but superb. Karen and Paul are in a diner. We are inside with them. Behind them, there is a large window and the street beyond. Suddenly, as our actors act, a couple appears on the sidewalk, argue and slap each other. Then, a camera crew appears on the opposite side of the street. It is taping the arguing couple and, through the window, our lead couple and, presumably, the crew of Mark of the Beast. It looks a hell of a lot like one Emmeritus production has suddenly begun taping another. I want to find the film that was being shot out on the street that sees the couple from Mark of the Beast. As cool as we thought we were, we never did that. Never overlapped our productions and kept it in the finished product.

This film proves that you can save the world through 3/4″ linear video editing. It also shows that friends can enjoy filming their friends as they film other friends. We thought we were conquering the world with our videos. Emmeritus showed us that we could have done even more. It’s a big, beautiful, circular world that I’m proud I was a part of.

From the Archives