“PC Culture” is a phrase that is tossed around a lot on the internet today, rather carelessly I would say. There is a false equivalency that, for instance, someone who wants to be called by their preferred gender pronoun is the same as asking nude statues to be covered or, say, comic books to be banned.
That designation is at the core of BOILED ANGELS: THE TRIAL OF MIKE DIANA, from acclaimed director Frank Henenlotter and his producing partners Anthony Sneed and Mike Hunchback, a true case of political correctness gone wrong. Mike Diana is an artist from Florida who created a fanzine called Boiled Angels, a shocking underground comic that illustrated Diana’s own anger and frustrations of what he saw happening in the world. For Diana, the catalyst was the discovery at a young age of child abuse in the Catholic Church. Although he was never personally sexually abused as a child, learning about it effected Diana so deeply that it became the subject of his art for most of his life. This focus combined with the very real Gainsville Serial Killings, made Diana not unlike Cinna the Poet in Julius Caesar – victimized for his art. But what really occurred is far more shocking than anything Diana could have ever dreamed up.
It should always be cause for celebration when Frank Henenlotter makes a new film. A staple of the 42nd Street genre cinema of the 1980’s with work like Basket Case and Brain Damage, Henenlotter has a knack for finding beauty in the vile and offensive. Belial, the creature from his 1982 debut, is grotesque and amorphous but is also imbued with a human face and tragic past that draws our deepest sympathies where typically there wouldn’t be any. Here, Henenlotter takes this skill and adopts it to the story of Mike Diana and the grotesqueries of his art. Henenlotter contrasts the shocking content of Diana’s fanzine – clearly never meant for everyone – with the person; an unremarkable, shy man with a weak handshake whose mode of expression is purely through this very focused, specific art form.
As fans of the horror genre, we must recognize that passion within ourselves, that devotion to showing the underbelly of life through a medium that is not meant for everyone. Henenlotter succinctly makes the point that eluded so many involved with the obscenity trials for Mike Diana in Florida: that even though his images may not be to your taste, it does not mean they are not art. Hennenlotter supports his point through direct conversations with everyone involved in the original trial, from the prosecuting attorney who tried the case, to the Christian protesters who are seen in newscasts and home video footage from the trial. Of particular interest to horror fans, are interviews with Neil Gaiman, who voices his disbelief that anyone could have their rights stripped just for drawing a picture, and also George Romero, in what I can only assume is one of his last interviews.
The case of Mike Diana and Boiled Angels is not just shocking and frustrating, but one that has tragically been lost to time in an age before the internet. But today nothing is really lost, and hopefully this documentary will help bring the much needed attention to what happened to Mike Diana, because his story is one that if not told, risks the dangers of happening again.