“History is written by winners, baby. So let’s make a little of our own tonight. If you’re thinkin’ my idea of fun is a drag, then you’ve never been to paradise. Do my kisses burn? Do they take your breath? You’ve got a lesson to learn, now. I’m the kiss of death.”
There was a time in the mid-90’s when My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult was showing up in movies all over the place. Hey look — that’s them playing “After the Flesh” in The Crow! Oh wow, they’re on the soundtrack of Showgirls! That’s “Hit & Run Holiday” in The Flintstones! Heck, they’re even on the soundtrack of BASEketball! And they’re all over Cool World, too.
Between “The Devil Does Drugs”, “Holli’s Groove”, “Sex on Wheelz”, “Her Sassy Kiss” and “Sedusa,” TKK makes up a good chunk of this film, which is kinda like the band we’re talking about — a mix of the past, the imagined future, sex, violence, drugs and danger.
Cool World is the first movie Ralph Bakshi made after Fire and Ice. He’d been developing plenty of films, including an adaption of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and an animal version of Sherlock Holmes. He also turned down directing Something Wicked This Way Comes and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which he passed on to Ridley Scott who turned it into Blade Runner. After an attempt to film J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, he actually got the opportunity to speak to the mysterious author, who told him that the novel was unfilmable. This led to Bakshi’s brief retirement (he still ended up working with Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi on the Rolling Stone’s “Harlem Shuffle” video and TV’s Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures) before getting excited about Cool World.
In its original pitch, a cartoon and human give birth to a hybrid child who visits the real world to find and kill the father who abandoned him. Bakshi had longed to create a film that looked like a living, breathing painting that people could physically walk through. Designer Barry Jackson helped bring these worlds to life, which were created as gigantic paintings and the animation was to look like a mix of Fleischer Studios and Terrytoons.
Yet even as the expensive sets were being built, Paramount producer Frank Mancuso Jr. secretly had a new screenplay written and demanded that Bakshi direct the film, under threat of lawsuit (Bakshi punching him in the face may have had something to do with that). Even casting was changed, with Holli Would’s role switching from Drew Barrymore to Kim Basinger.
It got to the point that even Basinger was rewriting the script, because she wanted to show it to sick kids in hospitals. As for Bakshi, he just told his animators to do whatever they thought was funny.
So what ended up on screen?
Las Vegas, 1945. World War II vet Frank Harris (Brad Pitt) takes his mother on a motorcycle ride that ends in tragedy when a drunk driver hits them. He retreats to an animated alternate dimension called “Cool World” to deal with the loss.
Cut to 1992. Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne) might have killed his wife after catching her in bed with her lover, but he’s also created a comic book called Cool World. In truth, he’s really just tapping into the other world. And inside that world, Holli Would (Kim Basinger) has kept trying to visit the real world but is continually denied by Frank, who is now a detective that keeps people from crossing over between dimensions.
Once he gets out of jail, Jack finds his way back to Cool World and meets up with Holli and Frank. Frank warns him that this world has existed way before he was even alive and that for years, noids from the human world have tried to have sex with doodles, or Cool World inhabitants. It’s never really stated, but something horrible will happen if this occurs.
Holli, of course, seduces Jack and becomes a human. This is in direct contrast to Frank, who has a rough relationship with a doodle named Lonette. His partner, Nails, doesn’t tell him about Holli’s crime so that Frank can try and patch up his latest fight with his girl. Unfortunately, Holli murders him and crosses over to our world.
Holli goes wild in the real world, performing onstage with Frank Sinatra Jr. and consuming every vice she can get her hands on. Yet she and Jack are now stuck between worlds unless they find the Spike of Power, a magic object that a doodle in the real world has left behind. She unleashes Cool World on our world, but Jack succeeds in stopping her. Holli kills Frank, but because she was a doodle in our world — who decides on these laws? — he can now be reborn as a doodle in Cool World, to the delight of his girlfriend. Plus, Holli and Jack end up as a toon couple.
Cool World feels like it wants to be an adult Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which was how it was sold. They don’t explain much, but I feel like Cool World is where the imagination of our world ends up living (as symbolized by the sketches that show up out of nowhere). It feels like there is plenty of potential, but knowing what we know today, studio interference took the heart and soul out of the film.
Interestingly, Paramount Pictures created a publicity uproar by placing a huge cut-out of Holli Would on the D of the Hollywood sign. All they had to do was make a donation of $27,000 to the sign’s maintenance fund, another $27,000 to the Rebuild L.A. fund and the salary for two park rangers to guard the sign. Local residents were enraged, however, and demanded that the ad be taken down.
Back to My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult. Even if you don’t enjoy the film, you’ll probably love the soundtrack. It also boasts songs by David Bowie, Thompson Twins, Electronic, The Future Sound of London, Ministry, The Cult, Moby, Brian Eno and others. It’s totally a time capsule of 1992 and worth listening to.