There's something about Otto

Canadian film director Bruce LaBruce may be this generation's John Waters, but you could hardly be faulted for not knowing it. Given the latter's day-late and dollar-short recognition, nearly a decade after his best work, it may be no surprise if LaBruce's name isn't bandied about over dinner. Or, perhaps there's another reason.

So while the glare of SIFF's spotlights belatedly shine off John Waters' forehead, as if to make up for the sins of cinema past, if you miss the Seattle premiere of LaBruce's latest work, "Otto; or Up with Dead People," you, too, will be guilty of a sin in the cinematic present. "Otto" premieres in Seattle with a midnight showing on Friday, June 6, and returns, not quite from the dead but close, the following evening.

But why the reference to the dead? Why might LaBruce join the categories of religion and politics, topics best avoided at dinner?

Because "Otto" is a zombie movie.

A gay zombie movie.

A gay, politically-inclined, porno-zombie movie.

Interested yet?

If not, perhaps the fact LaBruce, like Waters before him, cinematically pushes the transgression boundaries to the point, he hopes, of elimination. In 1970s cinema, no one could top Divine's infamous feast in Waters' "Pink Flamingos." LaBruce, however, has upped the ante.

In 1996, he released "Hustler White," his third feature-length film - a satire on ivory-tower, gay academia wherein the main character, played by LaBruce, travels to Los Angeles to study and document West Hollywood's escort culture but ends up falling in love with the subject of his research.

Simultaneously, a parody of "Sunset Boulevard," "Hustler White" ends with a sex scene, of which the film contains many, featuring a gay amputee. Suffice it to say, the amputee, having lost a leg in an earlier scene, doesn't use his appendage in the usual way.

Interested now?

Indeed, this might be the wrong movie to bring your mom to. (Then again, maybe it's the right one.)

Many consider LaBruce to be one founder of the late '80s, early '90s queercore movement - a loosely connected group of artists, writers and musicians who attacked the increasingly bourgeois-nature of gay culture.

As advertisers and corporations recognized the economic clout and untapped profit-potential gays and lesbians represented, their response might have made Pavlov blush. And since it's easiest to sell to a uniform audience whose differences are flattened and whose tastes fit a mold, the rest is history.

Thus, one target frequently centered in his cinematic sights is bourgeois gay culture, the segment of the recently liberated who readily leave the lessons of the '70s and the hard work of their predecessors on the side of the curb in exchange for a white picket fence and a few shows on TV.

Similarly, neither sexual prudery nor liberal hypocrisy receive LaBruce's cinematic sympathies as demonstrated in his 2004 underground cult hit, "Raspberry Reich."

With witticisms to spare including, "Put your Marxism where you mouth is," and "Heterosexuality is the opiate of the masses" (to which a nearby character replies, "But I thought opiates were the opiate of the masses"), "Raspberry Reich's" leading character, Gudrun, leads a band of well-dressed terrorists and requires those who wish to join her to engage in homosexual sex.

After forcing one such set of lovers into a hallway, they encounter an unapproving 40-something couple who chide their public displays only to re-enact them in private. Later, Gudren even forces her boyfriend to follow the initiation procedure, to which he complains, "But I thought I was your boyfriend."

"The revolution is my boyfriend," replies Gudren.

It probably goes without saying but there's little that's politically correct about his work. Yet, unlike other artists whose challenges to the liberal and multicultural conformity of thought are hardly more subversive than an episode of South Park, LaBruce dares to challenge deep-seated cultural conventions, sexual and otherwise.

A frequent contributor to numerous magazines, he wrote an article for Vice entitled, "How to Shag a Muslim." It appeared after 9/11. Likewise, in "Raspberry Reich" a hostage victim and his captor start making eyes until finally the hostage states, "Now come here or I'll report you to Amnesty International."

Expect similar yet radically redrawn themes in LaBruce's latest. Contrary to numerous 1990s films, with plots featuring blood-borne contagions which seemingly nod to the AIDS epidemic or used as a metaphor, LaBruce has his focus elsewhere. Like the main character, Otto, zombies wander aimlessly and eat (usually the living) with little thought or reflection and no greater purpose. Mindless consumers. Sound familiar?

And never fear. LaBruce in "Otto" one ups even himself. In a scene that's apparently (and more than once) caused a few viewers to exit, a zombie has sex with a wounded person. You may never look at another wound the same way again.

Eat your heart out, Divine.

"Otto; or Up With Dead People" plays on Friday, June 6, at 11:55 p.m. at the Egyptian Theater, 801 E. Pine St.; and on Saturday, June 7, at 7 p.m., at SIFF Cinema, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St.

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