What on Earth is Shaye St. John – The Trigger's Compilation? After perusing the DVD last night, I'm still not completely sure I can answer that question properly. As best I can tell, Shaye, a puppet of some sort, is a former model/actress who has somehow lost her legs. She lives with a burnt doll named Kiki who has the ability to move things with his/her mind and to fly under his/her own power at random. Together they have a series of misadventures in the form of some episodic short films called Triggers (presumably named as the events in them tend to trigger a reaction from Shaye, who appears to be quite insane and suffering from some sort of mental illness).
This DVD contains thirty-one Triggers in total. Some of them are as short as a minute in length, others go one for three minutes or more. None of them make a lick of sense and most of them are quite horrifying despite the absence of any supernatural elements (aside from Kiki's powers), monsters, violence, blood or gore. While not horror material in the traditional sense, the live action/stop motion animation and puppeteering in these clips is intentionally disturbing and quite successful at getting under your skin. When Shaye freaks out because she's in the bathroom and Kiki is smashing itself into the window repeatedly, it's pretty damned creepy, even if you don't really know why any of it is happening or how, for that matter.
Other episodes include Shaye trying to feed her cat some 'Kitty Candy' (Cheerios) on the porch while the camera cuts back to her wigging out in the corner for reasons we're never privy to. We get to check out some clips from her one woman/burnt doll stage show and we get to watch plenty of footage of her fondling her prosthetic legs and oohing and awing over her gams. It's all very strange and made even stranger by the fact that the filmmakers bombard us with crazy video toaster graphics and assault us with an extremely aggressive and screwy sound mix.
In short, I don't get it. I don't understand this material at all. I'm not entirely sure if it's utter crap or if it's some sort of evil genius. I will say this though, it held my attention and I had no problem getting through the material in one sitting. On that level, in that it held my attention, it was completely successful though I'm not sure if that's a testament in favor of the filmmaker's abilities or against my personal tastes and mental well being. There's definitely a really twisted sense of black humor underneath all the bad video effects and weird burnt doll high jinks. There's also some true creepiness to it all as well, a lot of the imagery is cringe inducing and this is definitely some scary stuff but again, it's difficult to explain why. I suppose an inherent fear of burnt dolls and creepy puppet things got to me somehow.
This was just weird. Really, really weird. My mind is still reeling… I don't get it. But I want more.
Everything here is fullframe and I'm assuming that's how it is supposed to be seen judging by the compositions and camera work. As stated, with the video effects and mixed media used to create this work, everything looks insane. Don't go in expecting crystal image clarity, that isn't going to happen nor should it. The video quality, intentionally degraded and fuzzed out as it may be, does do a pretty effective job of accentuating the central characters and their damaged psyches. There's plenty of pixelation, print damage, and strange image distortion throughout but it works in favor of the material, not against it.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix is completely over the top, and I'm certain it was designed that way. The music and the dialogue is sometimes perfectly clear and other times the levels are cranked up so high that it's an incomprehensible wall of sound. Within that context of the material, this system works fine. It suits the chaotic tone of the shorts and it just adds to the weirdness of the whole thing. Be careful with the volume on this one though, as the levels are cranked up on it and you'll probably find yourself looking to turn it down a bit once it all starts up. There are no subtitles, closed captioning options or alternate language dubs supplied.
Extras on this DVD include eight full length music videos featuring Shaye and Kiki doing their thing that are just as messed up and tripped out as the Triggers shorts are. Some of them are funny but most of them are just frightening, and they all make use of the same sort of mixed media surrealist hallucinogenic formula that the other material uses. There's also a trailer included for The Triggers Compilation as well as trailers for four other unrelated features. Last but not least are a series of Easter Eggs (that aren't really Easter Eggs as they're clearly labeled so you don't have to look for them) that include some more random footage (the best of which includes Shaye cruising down Hollywood Blvd. and saying 'hello' to everyone she passes).
Dilemmas, dilemmas… do I recommend this one or not? That's a tough question. If you're into surrealism, experimental short films, or really really really dark comedy then this will more than likely be right up your alley. However, this stuff is the very definition of fringe and as such it's really only going to appeal to a small niche crowd. If the idea of an insane puppet and it's burned doll sharing mental breakdowns sounds appealing to you, by all means, check this one out. If, like most people I would assume, you're put off by that idea, spend your money and time on something else. Personally, I dug it. It worked for me, it amused me, it horrified me, it confused me all at the same time. To keep it safe, I'm going to recommend it because the odds of anyone finding for rent in their local video store are slime to none. If you want to see it, you're probably going to have to pay for your own copy. With that being the case, you have been warned.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.