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Sunday, February 20, 2011


When it was announced there would be a remake of the Mier Zarchi's infamous 1978 rape/revenge grindhouse classic — which, for better or worse, it definitely qualifies as — the first thing to come to my mind was "Why?!!?" There was little that could be done to top the original in terms of depicting the very personal horrors of a backwoods gang rape and the vengeance it spurs other than to shoot it with a decent budget, quality camerawork/cinematography, and better performances from the cast, so what was the point? I know that practically every film under the sun has been remade or is in the works for such treatment, but again I ask, why remake a film that's a veritable Chernobyl of negative energy? The only ready answer that I had before seeing it was that the filmmaker's sought to cash in on the name recognition of the original, but there's considerably more going on here than I initially assumed. I wrote on the original I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE a few years back and I ask you to go here to read it. And before we proceed any further, be advised: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.

Southern anti-hospitality at its very worst.

The basic story is the same as the original: Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler), a writer from The Big City, rents a place in the backwoods — apparently Upstate New York in the original, Louisiana this time around — runs afoul of some incredibly vile lowlifes, gets agonizingly gang raped by said lowlifes, survives her ordeal and unleashes gruesome vengeance against her assailants. This time, however, the quality of the filmmaking is very far removed from the rather Paleolithic (though well-intentioned) results displayed in the 1978 version. The remake is quite obviously the work of real cinematic craftsmen and displays a level of polish and style totally absent in Zarchi’s dire classic, which makes the shattering events depicted in it more agreeable to sit through. (While any depiction of gang rape is going to be hard to sit through simply by default, the original’s bargain basement qualities imbued it with an unwashed and squalid look and tone that at times felt to me like some scabrous hobo was forcibly shoving his dirtiest, most callused finger straight down my throat.) The visual style is somehow lush in presenting the stark isolation of the story’s Louisiana backwoods setting, and the desolation helps to plant the viewer firmly into its lonely reality.

And speaking of reality, there were several elements in the original that would not have allowed for willing suspension of disbelief in the 2000’s, and they are addressed quite deftly. We currently live in an age of cheap and very conveniently portable mass communication technology, which simply did not exist back in 1978, so our heroine would be equipped with a cell phone that would allow her to call for help. Or rather that would be the case if she were not seen accidentally dropping her cell phone into her cottage’s toilet early in the film. Also, if a crime of the kind that Jennifer endures and survives after being pretty much presumed dead (despite the considerable efforts of her filthy assailants) occurred in this manner, today there would be any number of ways for law enforcement officers to bring Jennifer’s violators to justice (if justice could truly be provided by our justice system in the wake of the severity of the acts perpetrated), with DNA evidence matching immediately springing to mind. Thus it was necessary to add a fifth rapist to the scenario, namely the unspeakable Sheriff Storch (played with horrifically creepy gusto by Welsh actor Andrew Howard).

Andrew Howard as the vile Sheriff Storch.

Storch is the only police officer shown, and the area he allegedly polices is so remote that perhaps only one lawman is all it really requires. Too bad that despite him being seen to be a loving husband and father when not on duty, he’s worse than any criminal he’s likely to encounter because of his association with the pack of rapists, guys it’s made clear that he’s been friends with since they were kids, and his ability to inflict such grievous harm on an outsider reveals a sadistic sociopath who is allowed to wield lethal power by law. And by virtue of his training in the enforcement of said law, he knows all about how to cover up all trace of the crimes he and his pals commit, which makes him vital to them getting away with all of it.

And while we’re discussing rapist scum, it should be noted that the gang of redneck louts who plot the violation and (failed) murder of Jennifer includes a woman-hating Alpha male leader, a fairly nondescript follower, an overweight wielder of a video camera who fancies himself a budding cinematographer and voyeuristically captures the entire gang rape on tape, and a mentally handicapped repairman, whose virginal status is used by the Alpha male leader as an excuse to rape the city gal outsider. These guys are given a lot more in the way of developed personality than the louts found in the 1978 version, and that makes them that much more interesting and vile. The fiends in the original have little you can say about them as individuals other than that they are personification of the worst of male urges, in essence interchangeable ambulatory penises that utter dialogue. In the remake’s case we are afforded peeks into the quirks of the men as individuals and by allowing us to get to know what they’re like, an aspect that grants them an understandable (though totally evil and loathsome) humanity, it is that knowing of them as something other than largely undefined cardboard cutouts that makes us hate them all the more. Especially Sheriff Storch, whose vicious misogyny and behavior are fascinatingly contrasted against what we see of his home life. He’s a self-proclaimed god-fearing churchgoer with a loving wife who’s about eight months pregnant and looks for all the world like a fertility goddess transplanted to the early twenty-first century, and he’s also got a sweet daughter of maybe nine years old whom he clearly dotes upon. The man is a completely different person as a husband and father, and is presumably likewise as a citizen and lawman, but when in a position to commit a great evil in support of his friends and joining in on their animalistic “fun,” he’s revealed as a law-breaking predator who preys upon the weak and isolated. If Jennifer went missing in his podunk little town, it’s apparent that her disappearance would be noted by few, and the only locals who knew she was there are the sheriff, the gang of rapists, and the sweet old guy who rents her the cottage (the great Tracy Walter), so doing whatever the hell he and his buddies want to with Jennifer is as simple as pie to get away with, especially since disposing of her body would only require chucking her used and abused corpse into the alligator-infested river. Jennifer’s is the worst imaginable position to be in, and these filthy bastards know it and take full advantage of it, giving vent to their pent-up hatred of women and taking a joyous glee in doing so.

But, as was the case in the original, Jennifer does not take her assault like the whimpering victim the rapists anticipated, and when she throws herself off a bridge and into the aforementioned alligator-infested river rather than be outright blasted to kingdom come by the sheriff’s pump-action shotgun, she survives, holes up in a deserted shack for a month and lives on whatever she can catch (including rats) while she uses her writer’s imagination to plot appropriately poetic vengeance that would have done the writers of the classic E.C. horror comics proud. This time around the script wisely does away with the idea of a woman who was so brutally abused luring her attackers to their doom by fucking them. It's not just her body that's been raped by these scum; Jennifer's basic humanity has been utterly taken from her, and as a result she is reborn as what is for all intents and purposes a monster. It’s a tragic rebirth as a fury every bit as savage and implacable as the variety found in classical Greek mythology. Each and every one of the rapists gets his in a very big way and, according to the director and producer’s commentary, their just desserts were so nasty that some of the audiences were so outraged by the severity of the retribution that they stated they began to feel sorry for the rapists. That was not the case with me as a viewer because of my simple belief in the mantra of “If you abuse with the Johnson, you lose the Johnson,” or some other form or punishment involving some form of medieval justice, and I found what they received to be gruesomely satisfying in every way.

So the bottom line on what at first seemed an unnecessary remake of a cruel ‘70’s exploitationer teeming with ultra-sadistic and seemingly pointless misogyny is that the 2010 I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is one very nasty and visceral motherfucker that I’m extremely shocked to have enjoyed. Yes, I enjoyed it, but then again I’m a fan of what I call “the cinema of vengeance,” and there are few examples in the genre as strong as this in every aspect. It’s easily the best of the current remake/re-imagining wave, and I highly recommend it to any and all who have the stones to handle it. And whatever you do, make sure to watch it with the director’s commentary after seeing it for the first time. Very interesting stuff.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

BAT PUSSY (1973)

You know the scenario: You’ve had a shit-ass day at work. You’re flat broke. There’s no beer in the fridge. Your cable TV is suffering technical difficulties that only afford clear reception to a sixteen hour FARM REPORT marathon on Lifetime. Sarah Palin is allowed to speak in public forums. Your only hope of momentary happiness is to “relax the gentleman’s way.” “Shake hands with the unemployed.” “Have one off the wrist.” “Rub one out.”

I’m talking about the time-honored hobby of jackin’ off. Oh, yeah.

You drop trou, your manly gristle falling victim to gravity and dangling like obscene Christmas ornaments, and you peruse your stash of well-watched porno. What shall aid in the draining of the wank-tanks today? INSIDE VANESSA Del RIO? VAGINAPALOOZA? BIG WET SLOPPY HOLES Vol. 37? AMAZING PENETRATIONS WITH AMAZON WOMEN? The Bangkok backroom live eel excesses of IMPETUS FIRE 2?

No, none of those will do; it’s time to check out the DVD a friend gave you, a seventies-era tenderloin rarity. All you know is that it’s a parody of the old Adam West BATMAN show with some horny chick in the cape and cowl, so, aching Johnson in hand, you decide to let DNA fly fast and furious to images of a distaff Caped Crusader getting drilled and milking man-poles.

Well, just when you thought your day couldn’t get any worse, you realize you’ve discovered the colossal hard-off that is 1973’s BAT PUSSY, frequently cited on the Internet as “anti-porn,” and widely hailed as the worst porno film ever made. By the end of its running time your would-be boner is well and truly extinguished, but you sit there all by your lonesome, utterly gobsmacked by a carved-in-stone example of exactly how NOT to make a skin flick. But be that as it may BAT PUSSY's Chernobyl-level porn awfulness has unexpectedly turned it into a must-see chunk of bad cinema that actually inspired the following letter to Something Weird Video, the company that resurrected this horror on VHS back in 1996:

To: Mike Vraney/Something Weird Video

As a vanguard in the preservation and continued promotion of exploitation films, Something Weird Video holds the fate of many key works in its hands. Many of the better regarded films from the Golden Age of Exploitation have been given "Special Edition" treatment by Something Weird. Movies such as Blood Feast, House on Bare Mountain, and The Godmonster of Indian Flats have been remastered and released on DVD in the past, boosting their profile among a wide range of film enthusiasts and providing fans an opportunity to own a copy of these films that they can view again and again. 

It is this treatment that we feel should be bestowed upon a little film that would benefit greatly from the exposure. This film is BAT PUSSY, arguably the world’s worst adult film. It is not often that one comes across a film that fails as miserably at attaining the goals implied by its genre status. BAT PUSSY is without a doubt the most unappealing XXX film in the history of adult cinema and has been referred to by some as “anti porn”. It is because of it’s uniqueness that we feel BAT PUSSY deserves to be given a full, “Special Edition” DVD treatment from the good folks at Something Weird Video.

The Undersigned

What could possibly be so difficult about making a viable stroke movie? All you need is are two “actors,” maybe some interesting props for possible closeup insertion into a chosen orifice, a script with a line like “Gosh, Mister pizza delivery guy! I have no money. How will I pay for this tasty, four-topping large pizza?” as a preamble to the action, a relatively comfortable location for the participants to fuck on, and a camera (video or film, it’s your call). That’s pretty much it. BAT PUSSY has all of these elements in place, so how does it earn its rep as “anti-porn?” Allow me to explain.

The Something Weird Video print of the movie opens abruptly with no titles, no credits, no music, no nothing, just a grainy closeup of a fat, freckled, ginger-beehived, drawling and naked example of the most HEE-HAWed-out trailer park slag imaginable, kind of like a trashy Kate Pierson from the B-52's, but far less appealing.

Trust me, this still is a lot more flattering than what we get in the actual movie.

Before we’re given more than a second or two to process that image the camera cuts to a nude, out-of-shape blonde redneck sitting at a table perusing the latest issue of SCREW magazine.

This gurk-gurk whoops and hollers over the things he sees in the tabloid, amazed and titillated, but allegedly reluctant to inflict such “degradations” as blowjobs and pussy-eating upon his corpulent concubine. But, since this is allegedly a skin flick, the Jerry Lee Lewis lookalike ends up in bed pawing his wife anyway in a display certain to make the viewer lose all interest in BAT PUSSY as a fuck movie and just stare open-mouthed at this rutting pair of hillbillies.

Their pork rind-flavored groping is staggering to behold, and at one point there’s even a tight shot Jerry Lee’s hand probing what at first appears to be the space between a pair of seat cushions but is soon revealed to be his partner’s lady-parts. The beehived behemoth then administers the first in a series of the sorriest B.J.’s I’ve ever seen, and her technique certainly isn’t helped by Jerry Lee’s complete and utter lack of anything resembling an erection for the entirety of the film.

Nope, that ain’t a Vienna sausage…

Jerry Lee reciprocates with some out-of-focus lapping at the gal’s flappy bits, along with some awkward fumbling about with her goat-like udders, all while the two of them drone on and on, trading amateurishly-delivered insults, unintentionally turning the whole mess into some sort of live sex show revival of Edward Albee’s WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINA WOOLFE?, only minus any trace of a script, artistic value, or talent.

This goes on for about twenty solid minutes (at least it felt like it did) and then we’re suddenly in the cinder block-walled headquarters of one “Dora Dildo,” aka stalwart crime fighter Bat Pussy.

We know this because of the crudely-drawn HQ sign and an embarrassed who narrator clues us in on it, as well as the vital fact that “her twat begins to twitch” at the first sign of trouble.

"Dora Dildo" in repose with a can of air freshener and a tall-boy of brewski.

Dora’s easily the hottest thing in the whole sordid work, but even as such she’s about on par with a skank you might find in a bar such as Jackie’s Fifth Amendment, an infamous Park Slope alky bar that caters to hardcore rummies and coffin-dodgers.

After muttering about how “There’s somebody gittin’ ready to make fuck movie in mah holy Gotham City, gaw-dammit!”, Dora dons her superhero gear and ventures forth as Bat Pussy to deal with the redneck humping that has so irked her.

Tremble at the awesome sight of... BAT PUSSY!!!

But there’s no Bat Pussymobile for our bargain basement heroine; instead she bounces along the interstate perched atop one of those inflatable “Hoppity Hop” balls that I so fondly remember from my early years.

I swear you can’t make this shit up.

When Bat Pussy finally arrives to confront the inbred lovers, she rips off her Bat-gear and dives into the fray. There’s no trace of actual sex, a hard-on, or even a gooey cooter, but B.P. and Jerry Lee gamely (and probably gamily) roll around, even up flopping off the bed once or twice, while the redheaded pork princess takes care of herself with a convenient, unworn strap-on. Bat Pussy then exits, and that’s it.

By this point your brain has been utterly roasted and your penis has retreated into your lower abdominal cavity, in effect becoming a “man-gina.” Even the most hard-up desperado on death row couldn’t “raise the flag” for BAT PUSSY, and I urge all of you reading this to witness this hilarious abomination for yourself. It’s even suitable for mixed audiences — a sure sign that it’s a failure as a garden-variety chicken-choker — and is one hell of a crowd pleaser at parties. The groans of horror and disbelief are worth the price of the DVD — I bought it the second it became available, replacing the VHS tape I'd had for the past twelve years — so TRUST YER BUNCHE and order yours today!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

THREADS (1984)

In the fall of 1983, I and millions of Americans sat glued to the TV for the airing of THE DAY AFTER, a made-for-television film depicting the events leading up to a nuclear war and its aftermath as experienced by an assortment of ordinary people in Kansas and Missouri. For American television at the time, the film was harsh stuff and deeply affected many who saw it, average Joes who had never truly considered the horrors of surviving a thermonuclear exchange, and the discussion it inspired chilled many during those tense days near the end of what was known as the Cold War. Those like me, kids who grew up under the very real threat of a possible exchange between the good ol' Yew Ess of Ay and Russia and had absorbed numerous fictional scenarios of what possibly awaited those fortunate (?) enough to live through the atomic firestorm, were not necessarily as moved by THE DAY AFTER.

Anyone who has a real interest in science-fiction has likely contemplated the scenarios postulated in such stories — space travel, first contact with extra-terrestrial sentients, planets entirely populated with super-intelligent, gorgeous and horny females with three D-cup breasts with nipples perfect enough to make you cry — and may have done some research on how such things would turn out in real life. Having been exposed to post-nuke stories since as far back as I can remember (I think my first exposure to such was the classic TWILIGHT ZONE episode "Two"), I read a lot about scientific realities of what nuclear warfare could do to mankind and the world, so I knew about the effects of EMP's, radiation sickness, nuclear winter, all that stuff, so when I processed what I saw in THE DAY AFTER, I considered it to be a more dire descendant of the then-recently-defunct disaster movie genre. In other words, melodramatic bullshit that wrung pathos from a dire plot setup, and in this case it did such with the most dire subject imaginable, cheapening an outright nightmare to the level of a TV movie of the week (which THE DAY AFTER obviously was). Although not packed to the rafters with thespians familiar from endless doses of made-for-TV potboilers — folks like Linda Purl, Shaun Cassidy, and the ubiquitous Bert Convy — the film featured enough recognizable actors to completely take me out of the "now" of the narrative and make me see it as a fallout-tainted production of OUR TOWN.

The following year, England's BBC aired THREADS, a film that was from all accounts more or less the same basic scenario as THE DAY AFTER, only done more in the style of a "docudrama" and treated with a high degree of realism. Everything I'd read about it intrigued me, but I never had the opportunity to see it (I have no idea if it ever aired in the States). Then, over twenty-five years later, during one of my weekly hang & bullshit sessions with certain friends and former colleagues from the comics industry, the conversation turned to movies that seriously messed with our heads when we were young. Two of those in attendance grew up in the United Kingdom during the 1980's — one in England and the other in Belfast — and both of them practically fell over each other to declare THREADS as the movie that not only messed them up when they saw it as early-teens, but they both flat-out stated it will stay with them forever and that they never ever need to see it again. Anything that could so affect two such relatively hard men was something I had to experience for myself, so I ordered the DVD shortly before Christmas and waited to watch it until I was in the right frame of mind to endure it. Then yesterday afternoon rolled around and the bitter cold compelled me to stay indoors once I'd finished the day's errands. Having not much else to do other than make my way through a stack of around twenty-five DVDs that I had not yet watched, I gave it some thought and decided to finally see just what the big deal was about THREADS.

Now that I've seen it, I have to say that it's the single bleakest and most realistic "day after" film ever made. It's unrelentingly depressing almost from the opening frame, and its docudrama narrative takes place in the Northern English city of Sheffield, following the daily lives of two families connected by the "threads" of everyday life.

The film is less of a narrative than a tracking of the progression of what happens to a pair of young lovers when the female turns up pregnant and the two decide to get married and move in together. We get to know them and their families for about the first forty minutes or so as their lives go on while political tensions between the Russia and the United States (who are supported in their efforts by Britain) build to international nuclear strikes. The film's structure is a series of updates beginning some two weeks or so before the bombs fall, and after that it's a completely realistic, no-punches-pulled chronicle that skips ahead by days, then weeks, then a year, and eventually culminates some thirteen years after, by which point the greatly depopulated world is a struggling, virtually medieval agrarian wasteland and there's really very little point in humanity bothering to go on. The characters we get to know all are either killed outright during and just after the nuclear holocaust, or else they go on to survive in a world where the living absolutely envy the dead. The arc involving the pregnant woman is compelling and tragic, following her pregnancy (during which she receives zero prenatal care), the agonizing and unassisted birth of her daughter (who is miraculously born normal), and the skip-forward to ten years later and the mother's death, after which the daughter must fend for herself in a bombed-out landscape populated by immoral and opportunistic scavengers and looters. The narrative culminates three years later, when the girl is thirteen and falls in with a duo of scruffy teenage survivors, one of whom rapes her and impregnates her after becoming aroused as the two fight over a crust of bread (thankfully we only see enough of the preamble to the assault to get the idea of what's about happen, at which point the camera shifts to an exterior shot of the structure where it happens). The poor girl, alone again and in labor, eventually seeks shelter in what appears to be the remains of an abandoned hospital, populated by an older woman and a man who has apparently lost all touch with reality. Despite the older woman trying to shoo her away and advising her to "go home and use your common sense" to give birth, the girl gives birth to the next generation: a horribly deformed mutant that we barely catch a glimpse of, but that elicits a scream of abject revulsion from its young mother. The frame freezes on that image and the film comes to an abrupt end.

THREADS was definitely worth seeing and it's incredibly well done and believable, cast with actors whom I did not recognize, and that aspect helped keep me rooted in its reality (although I was briefly jarred when I recognized the voice of Ed Bishop, best known as Commander Straker from UFO and the voice of Captain Blue on CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS). That said, THREADS left me literally shaken, dazed and numb by the film's end, a feeling I've never experienced with any other movie, and I had to go for a walk outside in twenty-degree weather to clear my head. It was excellent, but I now join my U.K. pals in never wanting to sit through it again. It's all utterly hopeless and miserable, so I very strongly urge you not to watch it unless you're really in the right mood for this kind of thing. (NOTE: this film is not available on DVD in the U.S., so you'll need to get the British Region 2 disc and have an all-regions player in order to watch it.)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

TRUE GRIT (2010)

I don't know what you thought of the 1969 TRUE GRIT, but I saw the remake yesterday and it was an odd experience because I saw the original for the first time since I was a kid a few months back and I thought it was merely so-so. The remake, though purportedly more true to the source novel, was virtually a beat-for-beat remake of the original and consequently it was also so-so. It does improve on the original in a few ways — chief among which are not having the incredibly annoying Kim Darby in the lead, and a better, less "Hollywood" ending — but for the life of me I can't understand why it's getting the universal critical acclaim it's racking up. My guess is that since westerns are pretty much a dead genre, audiences (and critics) are starved for "horse operas," so they go crazy when a competent one shows up in the current climate of lame rom-coms, cookie-cutter Judd Apatow films (almost all of which are overrated and not funny, at least not to me), superhero movies of wildly varying quality, Michael Bay cinematic abortions that display a shocking contempt for their audience, and the annual blockbuster season that turns the screen into a toxic waste dump. The new TRUE GRIT is not a "bad" movie by any means, but it simply is not "all that." Here's the breakdown:
  • Like the original, it's too long by at least twenty minutes and it moves at a lugubrious pace. There is no suspense or thrills to be had in it and the film even manages to make Cogburn's famous horseback gunfight against four opponents devoid of excitement (which certainly cannot be said about the John Wayne version).
  • Remember "Leaning On the Everlasting Arms," the tune sung by psycho Robert Mitchum in THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955)? Well, you sure as hell will after seeing the new TRUE GRIT, because an instrumental of it plays incessantly throughout the film.
  • Jeff Bridges is excellent as Rooster Cogburn and does not in any way evoke John Wayne's version of the character. It's a totally new interpretation and much more believable than Wayne's Oscar-winning performance (which is only to be expected I guess, because Wayne brought his "god of the western" stature to every role he played, especially late in his career, even in films that were not westerns).
  • Hailee Steinfeld is a perfect Mattie Ross because, unlike Kim Darby (who was Miri in the original series STAR TREK episode of the same name), she's the right age for the role (Darby was in her early twenties when playing Mattie) and is not so fucking annoying that you want to shoot her through the eyes. Like Bridges, she brings a total believability to the part and she is very good for a relative newbie.
  • Matt Damon is both unrecognizable (due to makeup) and quite good as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (pronounced "LeBeef") and makes one completely forget Glenn Campbell's utterly forgettable original version.
  • The interaction between the characters is fun and at times chuckle-inducing, but the film's pacing renders the proceedings into an almost-dreamlike state. That can work in a Sergio Leone western, but this is not one of those.
  • Like the original, we follow Mattie's quest to bring her father's killer to justice, but again we don't care all that much because it's a given that she will succeed and the villain (and his cronies) gets barely any screen time, so we have no character definition other than that which is automatically inferred by their narrative positioning as "black hats."
  • Again we get the bit with Mattie ending up in the pit with the rattlesnakes, a sequence that was totally unnecessary to the narrative in the first place and adds nothing to the new version (other than a slightly different outcome to her up close and personal encounter with one of the poisonous reptiles).
  • As previously mentioned, the film is an almost beat-for-beat remake, despite the Coen Brothers' claims that it's a "new version," and as a result the whole endeavor comes off (to me, anyway) as cinematically superfluous.
The one thing that I am glad of as a result of sitting through it is that it reminded me of MAD magazine's excellent 1970 parody of it (from MAD #133), drawn by the stellar Mort Drucker (one of the best cartoonists ever, whose work is often unfairly overlooked because it runs in a humor magazine). I looked for images from it online and while doing so I was surprised to find that several reviewers of both the new and old version of the film cited that they found the MAD version more memorable than the actual movie. Next to George Woodbridge, I think Drucker was the very best of MAD's artists from the moment they shifted from a comics format to a black & white magazine. Check out these panels to see what I mean:

(I love how the one gunman is riding a hog for no apparent reason.)

But I'm straying from the remake, so allow me to sum up by stating that the new TRUE GRIT is worth seeing, sort of, but I suggest waiting for cable or DVD rental. It ain't worth $13.00 (NYC ticket price).