Vernon Chatman is not the sort of guy to pull punches. In recent years, his warped mind has produced some staggeringly offensive left-field comedy. His Sesame Street parody Wonder Showzen had a two-year run on MTV, of all places, featuring foul-mouth puppets, subversive Q&A’s with actual children, and a kid-run 60 Minutes-style segment with the catchphrase “Kids on the beat/ Kids on the street/ Beat kids!” This was followed by Xavier: Renegade Angel, a computer-generated series that followed the clunky polygons of its title character through depraved escapades of exceedingly poor taste, like inadvertently kidnapping octuplet babies and taking them into the sewer for safe-keeping, only to have his snake arm fool him into eating and regurgitating all of them one by one. This is one of the tamer episodes.
Needless to say, this puts Chatman in the somewhat unenviable position of constantly needing to one-up his own work. Sometimes, this sort of arrangement leads to a steadily improving body of art; other times, it leads to unfortunate issuances like Final Flesh, in which the director “unleashes the truth of the fleshpsyche” by writing a four-part script about the end of the world and commissioning four troupes of amateur pornographers to perform them.
Yes, you read that last bit correctly. If you’ve spent enough time on the outskirts of the dimly lit crevasses of the world wide web to recognize — and hopefully cringe at the mention of — terms like “tubgirl” or “goatse” or “4chan,” it will likely come as no surprise to find out that there are online services that accept commissions for custom-made fetish-porn videos. You give them instructions on how to act out your most outlandish fantasies and they bring them to life, frame by excruciating frame, no questions asked, with all the production value of a half-baked high school AV Club project.
Chatman’s instructions mould a typically peculiar tale: He begins by informing us that an atomic bomb has just dropped, and the ensuing four acts chart the story of a family coming to grips with the imminent end of the world. Each segment features a man and two women, representing the father, mother and daughter, playing out scenarios that are unquestionably sexual but only traffic in the most oblique form of eroticism possible. Thus, we arrive at the project’s biggest attempt at humour: The performers engage in bizarre, demeaning and vaguely naughty “adult-oriented” behaviour, operating under the impression that they’re acting out some eccentric’s deepest sexual fantasy, but really they’re just being paid to embarrass themselves in some bizarre sexploitation experiment.
Unsurprisingly, viewers are treated to an absolute plethora of disgusting situations of adolescent surrealism. In the first few minutes, the “daughter” from the group of black actors heads into the bathroom to “powder [her] nose and take a dump” and we see her sitting on the toilet holding a copy of the Koran and reading aloud; naturally, she’s actually reading a story about how Yahweh ordered a latte at the café, but it was too hot, so he threw it in the janitor’s face — the end. Shortly afterwards, the same actress suddenly lays an egg, which she decides to lick and caress. Immediately thereafter, the “mother” does the same thing with a cantaloupe, and then we return to the “daughter,” who births a large piece of meat, names it Mr. Peterson, and begins breastfeeding.
Later on, the “daughter,” now played by a tall blonde with pigtails, sits on the floor masturbating with the eraser-end of a wooden pencil, moaning suggestively and saying, “I have to erase that bible baby inside of me.” Meanwhile, the “father” sticks a large piece of cheese through his fly and one of his family members — at this point, discerning between them had become an utterly tedious chore — kneels down in front of him and pantomimes fellatio while using a grater on his penile surrogate. Actually, that part was kind of funny.
While a show like Wonder Showzen was certainly no less offensive — anyone who’s seen the “Ching Chong China” episode can attest to that — underneath the layers of gross-out and profanity it grappled with genuine issues of moral ambiguity, reminding us that shaping children into good, intellectual human beings is seldom a matter of enforcing simple rules and absolute truths. Final Flesh starts out with a fertile substrate for delightfully twisted gags — some of which it manages to pull off — but it never bothers to go far beyond the hilarity of its premise.