And the award for Best Cameo by a Gore Film goes to THE WIZARD OF GORE in JUNO! That’s right: the PG-13 Oscar-nominated critical fave – about a sixteen year old girl dealing with an unwanted pregnancy – contains an explicit excerpt from Herschell Gordon Lewis’s unrated 1970 exploitation effort. Rather in the way that 1999’s Best Picture AMERICAN BEAUTY referenced RE-ANIMATOR, JUNO includes the clip as a way of signaling that the characters – and by extension, the filmmakers and the audience – are hip enough to appreciate cult entertainment and therefore should be considered “cool.” The funny thing about the clip’s presence is that the hideous bloodshed could never have received a PG-13 rating in its original form, yet here it is, plopped right in the middle of an entertaining comedy-drama beloved by millions who would never even dream of sitting through one of Lewis’s blood-stained nightmares.
The scene in question involves Juno (Ellen Page) and Mark Loring (Jason Bateman). The pregnant teen is planning to give her unborn child up for adoption to Mark and his wife Vanessa (Jennifer Garner). Juno is a wise-cracking, highly ironic girl whose practical approach to her pregnancy seems oddly emotionally detached, but she does want to make sure that the prospective parents are cool. She immediately bonds with Vanessa, but Mark begins to appeal only when Juno learns that he is a musician and, later, that he enjoys old gore films.
Our first ill omen that the adoption process will not go as smoothly as planned – or at least that Juno is not as cool as she pretends to be – occurs when Mark shows her THE WIZARD OF GORE. For those of you who haven’t seen it (like me), the film is about a magician who really does saw women in half, stick swords down their throats, etc.
Juno is initially dismissive of Mark’s grand claims for director Herschell Gordon Lewis, insisting that Dario Argento is the true master of horror (one of the film’s many hints that Juno is more sophisticated than your average teenager), but she changes her mind while watching a graphic scene that likely has many JUNO viewers retching in their popcorn. While a woman is being brutally gored to death, with lovely red gobs of goo oozing across the screen, Juno appreciately announces, “This is even better than SUSPIRIA.” Since we obviously cannot trust her judgement in this regard, there is little reason to believe she will be any better at selecting adoptive parents.
JUNO’s other genre references include THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and LORD OF THE RINGS. There are also a couple of errors, although it is hard to tell whether the screenplay simply made a mistake or was intentionally telling us that Juno is not quite as smart as she thinks she is:
- Referring to Morgan Freeman, Juno jokingly asks her friend if she has been collecting bones. It was actually Denzel Washington, not Freeman, who starred in THE BONE COLLECTOR.
- When Juno announces her water breaking by shouting, “Thundercats are go!” she seems to be conflating the ’80s cartoon THUNDERCATS with the ’60s puppetshow THUNDERBIRDS; the latter used the line “Thunderbirds are go!” The repeated line from THUNDERCATS is actually, “Thunder! Thunder! Thunder! Thundercats, ho!”
One other interesting point: like last year’s DISTURBIA, JUNO is a film that characterizes its teen protagonist as hip by having her express a preference for decades-old punk music – but then avoids using that music on the soundtrack. The character tells Mark that her three favorite bands/musicians are Iggy and the Stooges, Patti Smith, and the Runaways, but the only favorite song of hers that we hear is the considerably less hardcore “All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hopple. Presumably, this was because of difficulty securing the rights. It would be tempting to theorize that the filmmakers were afraid of assaulting the ears of their intended audience, but it is hard to credit this theory when they had no problem infliciting WIZARD OF GORE on unsuspecting viewers.
Genre references aside, JUNO is a great little movie, and its quirky, intelligent approach to teenage characters could teach a thing or two to the makers of teen horror flicks.