Review: The Nostril Picker (dir. Mark Nowicki, 1993)

No amount of self-loathing could prevent me from buying a DVD copy of The Nostril Picker, but a £3.49 flea market price tag did. Fate found its way, however, and lead me to another charity shop only a matter of weeks later, spookily also bearing the same video-nasty treasure but for a mere 49p. I mean, how could you not be intrigued? Minimally, the front cover only shows the title of the film; how gruesome and grisly and exploitative and controversial and nasty must this movie be for there to not even be a hint on the cover as to what it’s about? It screamed cult classic but more than that, a hidden cult classic, one that was yet to be unearthed by self-proclaimed cinephiles and hipsters…

Films I refer to/potentially spoil in this article:

–         The Nostril Picker (dir. Mark Nowicki, 1993)

The most likely reason for the cover of The Nostril Picker being blank is because there isn’t, and I’m not even exaggerating, a single frame in the film that would be a suitable cover shot for advertising this product. And that isn’t a comment on the gruesome nature of the film. It’s a comment on the sheer plain, vastly uninteresting visual nature of the entire movie. The film isn’t necessarily shot poorly as far as technical standards are concerned, but it certainly feels uninspired. Perhaps the shots, (which are all either static or tracking in a wide-angle) are supposed to reinforce the spaced out, detached nature of our anti-hero “protagonist”, but it doesn’t aid in making the film a captivating watch. In hindsight, making the DVD case plain was an admirable tactic, the only tactic, a warning hidden in plain sight silently screaming for attention: “psst… don’t do it… it’s not worth it!”

The main question you probably have is what’s the significance of nostril picking? Why is that the title of the film? The answer is that in one, maybe two scenes, the lead character picks his nose. So, the short answer is that I don’t know why the film is called The Nostril Picker either. There’s a limited handful of other character traits that they could’ve gone for, like CreepPsychoPervertCannibal, but these are all either less interesting or taken. The makers of the film probably finished the movie and thought, “s**t, how the hell do we summarise what we just made into a marketable film? Do we have time for one more scene? Literally, a single shot? Okay, Carl, don’t ask questions, we need you to sit here and just pick your nose… and, action!”

The Nostril Picker (1993) - IMDb
Image Source: IMDB

The Carl in question is Carl Zschering, the actor who plays the nostril picker himself, Joe Bukowski. In all fairness, Carl isn’t to be blamed for the ineffective legacy that this movie left behind. It’s a shame that, from what I could find anyway, this is his only cinematic outing. Given the awful nature of his character, the set-up, the source material and nearly everything about the film, his performance manages to be captivating enough to sustain your “interest” in the film, with occasional glimmers of promise as a cult, b-movie horror icon. Search online for any picture to do with the film and he’ll be there in his fully buttoned James May shirt, grey office trousers and clogs, begging to be made into his trademark character attire. Here, we meet him when he’s not yet a nostril picker, but a creepy sidewalk high-school girl stalker. Wandering the streets, he follows girls that are too young for him and harasses them. Fortunately for his victim on this occasion, the police intercept his pervy behaviour and threaten to arrest him. He’s dismissed and soon approached by a peculiar homeless man. The man, credited as “Bum” informs him that, if he wishes, he could possess the ability to become close with the girls that he’s after. Their short, fever dream-like conversation concludes with the Bum vaguely explaining how to shapeshift into another person of his choosing, as you do. All Joe has to do is whistle, hum or sing any tune, and he’ll appear to everyone else as a different person. Long story short, Joe tries this in a park gazebo and turns into a high school girl. The knee-slap comedy quirk though is that we, as the audience, still see Joe as himself as opposed to the teenage girl everyone else sees him as. How else do we introduce the unrivalled potential of this gag other than with a music video montage?!

*Electric guitar solo*

“Schoolin’, I’m gonna get me some schoolin’

Schoolin’, I’m gonna get me some schoolin’

When I walk into that classroom, the girls look at me kinda strange,

But they don’t know what’s happenin’, pretty soon there’s gonna be a big change (ha)

Schoolin’, I’m gonna get me some schoolin’

Schoolin’, I’m gonna get me some schoolin’

If you see me walk in the hallway, don’t bother me and get in my way,

Cuz I’m too busy reading and writing, and learning all the right things to say,

Schoolin’, I’m gonna get me some schoolin’

Schoolin’, I’m gonna get me some schoolin’

*Electric guitar solo*

Schoolin’, I’m gonna get me some schoolin’

Schoolin’, I’m gonna get me some schoolin’

When I walk into that classroom, the girls look at me kinda strange,

But they don’t know what’s happenin’, pretty soon there’s gonna be a big change (ha)

Schoolin’, I’m gonna get me some schoolin’

Schoolin’, I’m gonna get me some schoolin’

Schoolin’, I’m gonna get me some schoolin’

Schoolin’, I’m gonna get me some schoolin’

Schoolin’, I’m gonna get me some schoolin’

Schoolin’, I’m gonna get me some schoolin’

Schoolin’, I’m gonna get me some schoolin’

*fade out*

The sequence is four minutes long but feels like an eternity. I edited this article a week or so after watching the film and I’m devastated that I still find myself involuntarily humming, whistling or merely having my head invaded by Schoolin’. I’m coming to terms that I’ll most likely be singing this song over the next decade or the rest of my life. Or worse yet, I’ll be whistling this song in public and somebody, some other poor soul with a natural, incurable affinity for watching crap films will shoot me a knowing glance. Perhaps they managed to forget, a champion in their battle to erase the schoolin’ mantra from their mind, and there, probably in some charity shop DVD section, my whistling reawakens a dormant beast, a tune from a dark era foregone accompanied by imagery of nostril picking (well, only one image, as he only picks his nose once, as discussed already). They look to me, thinking, surely not, maybe they heard Schoolin’ from another place, but they can’t kid themselves of the inevitable truth. They walk away in tears and agony. Or even worse, the person is a fan of The Nostril Picker and they approach me: “Excuse me, mate, are you whistling the song from The Nostril Picker?” as he jokingly jabs a finger up his nose. A friendship built on The Nostril Picker… Anyway, in short, the sequence is long, and the song is catchy.

The sequence is typically 80’s even though the film was released in 1993. Perhaps it was filmed in the ’80s and was in development for a decade? Or perhaps it’s set in the ’80s but it doesn’t tell you? Joe wanders the corridors of high school after casually befriending some girls playing tennis. They remark on how a teacher’s name is Dyke, and how they think she may be gay. This is never brought up again. It’s remarkable how Joe has managed to bag these friends; he makes no attempt to be anything remotely like these teenage girls. Maybe these girls like gruff, grumpy, blunt a**holes. Joe just continues to act like an irritable, constantly p***ed off dude who doesn’t give a f**k. Like most of us, he’s forgotten everything from school, so he slumps in his chair in class. He doesn’t hide his stereotypical “male traits”, which range from eating sloppily and drinking and smoking in public. Arguably, these are jovial, borderline family-friendly gags. However, Joe reminds you that you’re watching a film about a homicidal rapist cannibal, so he ups the ante by perving on biology books in public, spying on girls in the bathrooms, and air-humping/grabbing his package in the direction of the numerous girls milling around him. Needless to say, this stuff is straight-up painful to watch in 2021, especially as it’s all staged as light-hearted throwaway, nothing-serious-here gags. By today’s standards, this sequence would undoubtedly never be granted the green light, but it’s difficult to imagine, even back then that anybody would enjoy the explicitness of this rapy and perverse montage.

Also…

When Joe grabs his balls at other girls, what is he figuratively grabbing? If he’s now a female, does he look like he’s grabbing a distance away from his crotch or his actual crotch? What about when he touches his hair or face? What is everyone else seeing? Him touching his hair or the space between his hands and his hair? Am I thinking too much about this?

Thankfully, these questions are hardly provoked as the screenplay is as unexplored as the performances; nothing catches you off-guard, nor is anything engaging. The characters barely move. They meet in spaces and remain there until the scene ends. Likewise, the rigidity of the characters is reflective of the script, which never bends to allow anything moderately interesting to happen. Instead, Joe keeps getting close to these girls under the guise of his new magic power, isolating them, killing them, violating them and then eating them, to which the cops then arrive and discuss how they can track down the maniac. There is no OTT horror charm, no self-referential genre corn like comedy gore and stereotypical characters, it’s just downright unpleasant, both on a moral and cinematic level. One by one, the girls, who can’t stand to obey their orders to stay indoors for their own safety (…just wait until 2020…), are attacked and mutilated by Joe. What’s worse is that Joe comes out on top. One of the girl’s fathers is the local detective after him. They eventually have a fight and Joe kills him and shapeshifts into him and goes to the unsuspecting daughter’s home and kills her too. It’s predictable and boring, but a completely welcome finale to this 77-but-feels-like-777-minute movie.

There’s also a scene where Joe, as a teenage girl, picks up a transvestite prostitute and chases him around the flat with two squirting dildos. To be fair, the following scene where the prostitute embarrassedly tries to explain the situation to a policeman is pretty funny. One of the few moments where you laugh with the film rather than at it; sort of.

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