by BOB GRIMM & r & & r & The Dark Backward & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & ack in the day, I had a VHS copy of this strange movie. I would show it to friends who appreciated stuff that was "out there," and even they would give it a mixed reaction. Now, 16 years after its original release, The Dark Backward is finally getting some digital love.
Judd Nelson plays Marty Malt, the world's worst -- and sweatiest -- standup comedian. His act bombs on a nightly basis, but best buddy and fellow garbage man Gus (Bill Paxton, in total overacting overdrive) has undying faith in him-- mostly so he can ride Marty's coattails as musical accompaniment. (Gus plays a mean accordion.) Near the start of his career, Paxton was great at playing oddballs. I loved him in Aliens and Weird Science, and I like his work here. He seems proud of it, as he gleefully participates gleefully in the special features.
Things get really weird when Marty develops a strange bump on his back. A sleazy doctor (James Caan, in one of the film's many cameos) tells him it might be a tumor and not to pick at it. Then the tumor turns into a baby hand and eventually becomes a full-grown third arm. Gus decides to capitalize on his friend's newfound limb and gets famous talent scout Jackie Chrome (a fully committed Wayne Newton) to sign him as a client. Now that Marty is a freak, the act is destined for the big time.
The film, shot for less than a million bucks, is put together well by director Adam Rifkin (who just wrote Underdog). It looks like it cost a lot more. He's created his own little universe in which the streets are strewn with litter. The Dark Backward isn't for the squeamish. It contains a sex scene that pairs three overweight women with Paxton (who now has three wives on Big Love). Somehow, the movie survived with an R rating intact. The general vibe is sort of David Lynch meets John Waters.
I'm going to go out on a limb and call this the best Judd Nelson performance ever, even better than in The Breakfast Club. Marty Malt represented a complete U-turn for his career -- a career that never quite took off after his involvement in this critical and box-office disaster.