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WEIRD FLICKS: 'Decoder'

by Eli Kroes

You might not be familiar with the term 'Z-Movie,' but if you grew up in the 90's, chances are you've seen one. They're the beyond-low-budget monstrosities that teased you from the walls of the mom-and-pop video store. Usually, the films themselves could never live up to the pictures on the videotape boxes (because this was way before your fancy 'Digital Video Discs' and 'Blu-Rays') but occasionally you'd find something truly unique. 'WEIRDO FLICKS' will clue you into some movies which 'unique' doesn't even begin to describe...

'Decoder' - 1984, Directed by Muscha

Well, it's pretty clear from the director with one name and brightly-colored poster with an evil-looking frog that this is going to be some strange stuff...

Coming out of the German industrial music underground, 'Decoder' is a very singular work; brightly colored, stylish, paranoid, nightmarish and occasionally funny. Roughly, it falls into the category of cyberpunk or dystopian (like 'Blade Runner' and 'Mad Max') but it kind of turns those genres on their respective heads.

So, here's the basic story: It's the future, and a sterilized fast food conglomerate controls the world. They do this through a partnership with the government, who has created a style of muzak (you know...the crappy EZ listening stuff you hear in elevators and shopping malls) that lulls consumers and controls their minds.

An electronic musician (played by electronic musician F.M. Einheit) figures out how to make sounds which do the opposite (i.e. send people into violent frenzies) and spends his time popping cassettes of it into the sound systems at various restaurant locations. His home is a mess of tape machines constantly playing loops, and other broken-looking recording gear. He and his girlfriend hang out with other rebels, some of whom help with his project.

There is also a government agent who delves into the underworld to catch the musician, and ends up with more than he bargained for...

Experimental author William S. Burroughs and Psychic T.V. member Genesis P. Orridge make guest appearances, and this is the earliest instance of Nine Inch Nails music being used in a film that I can think of.

It maybe low-budget, but the color filters, lighting, and gritty shooting locations keep it from feeling unfinished or cheesy. There is also enough substance and interesting storytelling on display to balance out with the stylishness.

If you're interesting in old-school sci fi, or just want an interesting cinematic journey, this is an excellent choice. Although, I will warn...some of combinations of sounds and scenes might be enough to make you physically uncomfortable, but that's kind of the point.

Not for the faint of heart, but a rewarding movie.

VHS photo by Toby Hudson.