The Acid House

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other reading:

Altered State:

The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House

(1998), Matthew Collin

Bleak, bleak, a laugh, then more bleak. The working class Scottish "estates" (public housing projects) in the north end of Edinburgh have spawned a new collection of depressing, depraved and sometimes captivating characters and situations. The Acid House flows from the pen and life story of Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting, whose main character in that novel, Coco Bryce (Ewen Bremner), has a lead role here as well. The movie is a collection of three stories, each tied together loosely, all three knowing looks at what is romantically called "the chemical life," but which might be better subtitled "the pills under the puddle of beer." None of director Paul McGuigan’s characters exhibits any trait we could possibly call redeeming, but that’s because The Acid House is not about redemption. It is about falling and not getting up, laughing at our fate, but then tossing back another pint to resume our quick and steady plunge into the humorless abyss.

The first story here, "The Granton Star Cause," is the most far-reaching. Boab Coyle has had a very bad day. First he is kicked off his beloved Granton Star football team, and then his parents toss him out of his house so they can have space to perform some seriously kinky sex. Boab tries to move in with his girl friend, but she dumps him instead. So he beats up a telephone booth in frustration, sadly drawing a sadistic policeman’s jack-booted attention. Leaving the police station Boab gets fired from his job.

All in all a very bad run of luck, but fate has not finished with Boab. Heading down to the pub for a few pints, whom should he meet up with? God. Not 1999 All-Forgiving God either, but Minus-1999-Angry-and-Vengeful God. God has become completely disgusted with humanity and has decided, once and for all, to take it all out on somebody. Guess who?

There is a relatively happy ending to this story, though, if you call being changed into a housefly happy. Boab does wreak his proper revenge, though his own demise is pretty much what you’d expect to happen to a lazy, apathetic sod who isn’t even a very good housefly.

Part Two, "A Soft Touch," is abhorrent in every way. We find ourselves dealing with the aftermath of Johnny and Catriona’s wedding – Johnny the milktoast (Kevin McKidd) , and Catriona (Michelle Gomez), the hooker to the masses. The bride, many months pregnant, has slept with practically every man at the party, so most of them are grateful that Johnny is claiming the child as his own. Catriona, however, is not what you would call motherly. After baby Chantel is born, Catriona resumes her whoring ways. She takes up with one of the most sadistic leading men in recent film history, Larry (Gary McCormack), and together Larry and Catriona turn Johnny’s life into a never-ending hell. Gomez is brilliant, as is Gary McCormack (bass player for the punk group "The Exploited"). His barely-repressed rage makes you hope to God he is just acting.

In Part Three, "Acid House," Coco Bryce, a skin head/acid head/head case is the love of Kirsty (Arlene Cockburn). Treating Kirsty like every woman in this film gets treated, that is with either violence or disdain, Coco leaves Kirsty in a pub and swallows a particularly hefty dose of acid – while sitting on the toilet. (”Acid House"’ is heavy on toilet scenes). He then goes outside where he gets hit by lightning. There are several more particulars but basically that’s it for Coco. He reverts to babyhood. A nasty, conniving, sodding little brat, to be sure, but a baby nonetheless. His return to reality at the end is gratifying only because anything would be better than the little Baby Chuckie that Coco has become.

Mainstream? No. Summer hit? Uh uh. Cult favorite? Possibly. There is humor here, and some life truths to be found as well. But like poor Boab the fly, they do little more than flit around the violent and dead-ended perimeters of each of these three portraits of Scottish working-class horror.

– DAK