Film Review: Otto; or Up with Dead People

Some have described this as more cohesive than most Bruce La Bruce movies, but it’s still sophomoric junk.

Bruce LaBruce’s Otto; or Up with Dead People just makes you appreciate how good Jacques Tourneur and Val Lewton’s I Walked with a Zombie is. Despite its penny-dreadful title, that 1943 film not only cleverly “stole” the plot of Jane Eyre, re-setting it in Haiti, but was careful to present in vivid detail the cultural origins and practices of voodoo, of which zombie-ism is an offshoot.

Otto has no such interest in depth of any kind, preferring to take as its model, as have so many other like-minded current purveyors of genre fodder, the ineffably crappy, inexplicably popular Night of the Living Dead, only amping up the guts and gore in a “new” gay way. Yes, this film is about an invasion of gay zombies and centers around one named Otto (Jey Krisfar, dressed by the talented designer Rick Owens, and actually rather affecting in the impossible circumstances), as he gets up from his grave and stumbles his way through the streets and clubs of Berlin. Sex and violence are married here in scenes wherein the zombies not only screw rapaciously (in LaBruce’s very patented and very un-erotic “hardcore” style), but rip out each other’s entrails and devour them as they do so. There are torturous romantic flashbacks of Otto before callous lovers began to really mistreat him and even more torturous scenes involving an abrasive, loudmouthed movie director (Katharine Klewinghaus) who has cast Otto in her own gore-porno.

Throughout, the ever-sophomoric LaBruce continues his willfully alienating, off-kilter (is it deliberate or not?) directorial technique, with unappealing characters, annoying son et lumière tricks (this time representing how Otto perceives the world) and incongruous, impromptu modern-dance routines. Nothing ever seems to change with him, from his eternally jejune world purview, all loud punk music (some of it admittedly good) and pointless anarchy, to shock effects that are often simply risible, to even his preferred “type” of guy—skinny skinheads. A vitally essential part of any artist’s life is the chance to grow and develop, but LaBruce, more than any other filmmaker I can think of, is happily stuck in his completely self-serving rut, and I imagine will continue to turn out these predictably inane, unwatchable efforts as long as he can scrape together the pennies to do them. He calls his filmmaking company Existential Crisis—how sadly true.