Shortly before he overdoses on heroin, Jane's boyfriend, Dax, starts seeing old friends. Unfortunately, those old friends are dead, also OD victims. To help Jane (Eleanor Whitledge) get past her grief, Dax's half-sister, Mila (Jennifer Ciesar), sets up a meeting between her and Rick (Joshua Cox, Babylon 5), whose girlfriend Azami also recently OD'd. Soon, Jane and Rick are shooting up together, and Jane starts seeing Dax, Azami, and other dead junkie apparitions. They only appear when she is high. Are they hallucinations? Ghouls? Vampires? Why are they here? What do they want?
While writer/Director Chris D offers up some answers to these questions, the story is really about addiction (primarily, Jane's addiction), and how easy it is to get sucked into the lifestyle. In some ways, I Pass for Human seems to fancy itself a vampire or zombie film, but it's really not. The nature of identity is an underlying theme in the film: how addiction robs the addicts of their selves, how it turns them into creatures neither fully alive nor fully dead. What's interesting is the perspective. Chris D could have made this movie 20 or 30 years ago; with a soundtrack that includes protopunk icons such as Lydia Lunch and his own band, The Flesh Eaters, as well as the film's low-tech values, this could easily have been an underground indie circa 1982. But his perspective would have been that of a person actually in the thick of it. Instead, we get a more clear-eyed view, that of an older person who has been there. The actors are not kids; for the most part, they are at least in their 30s, yet, like so many boomers and Gen Xers, are still doing things that they did as kids. The characters seem marginally middle class in that they have homes and cars (and in some cases, guns), and there never seems to be a problem getting money to get high. We have no idea how these people subsist. Trust funds? SSI? Music? Bits of work here and there? The film doesn't address it, and while it doesn't impact the story, it's interesting to see a film about aging fringe-dwellers who are not portrayed as either lunatics or prophets. Chris D gives us lots of atmosphere, but not in the traditional way. Dark streets and alleys are always menacing, but they are so well-traveled by the characters that they take on a different kind of menace; a low-level punk club is portrayed without flashing lights and pulsating crowds, looking more like the dungeon from a Hostel movie than a head-bangers theme park; apartments are big but disheveled, with aesthetically dubious color schemes and bathrooms in need of renovations (perfect for surprise visitors showing up in the tub). He works well with his clearly limited budget. Rather than giving us laughable special effects, he gives us no f/x at all; ghosts don't pass through walls or float through the air. In one scene, a character gets shot in the head. We don't see the shot; instead, we see the blood spatter onto the face of another character. This is far more effective than the typical low-budget entry, wherein characters either drop from unseen wounds or blood squibs go off in any old direction. We are also treated to a trio of solid, unflashy cameos by veteran character actor John Diehl (Nixon); exploitation auteur Jack Hill (The Big Doll House, Foxy Brown); and card-carrying cult goddess Mary Woronov (Eating Raoul, Rock and Roll High School), who helps keep the film grounded as a junkie-turned-doctor. The film looks very good, given its low-budged, digital-video origins. The sound is OK, with both music and dialogue coming through clear. For extras, we are offered a commentary by Chris D and producer Lynne Margulies, some deleted scenes with optional commentary (the scenes are so short that two of them should have stayed in the film, I believe), a short super-8 film Chris D made as a teenager, a trailer, and still file. --DVD Verdict
I Pass for Human is the first feature-length film directed by Chris D. Chris D. is the professional moniker used by Chris Desjardins who is better known as the front man of the L.A. punk band The Flesh Eaters, which was formed in 1977 and are still playing and putting out records despite several break-ups and changes of personnel. Outside of music, Chris D. is an avid fan of Japanese cinema and has written the book Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film (2005) and is currently compiling an exhaustive study of Japanese Yakuza films. Chris D. has also published two books of poetry, has a day job as programmer at L.A. s American Cinemathique where he has arranged numerous film retrospectives and has also contributed liner notes to various dvd releases, principally of Japanese films.
I Pass for Human was Chris D. s first venture behind the camera, although he has written several as yet unproduced screenplays. The film seems to be not so much based on as it shares the same overlap of themes as I Pass for Human (1989), which Chris D. used as the title of an album that put out with Stone By Stone, a band he formed in between one of the Flesh Eaters hiatuses. The album was supposedly an allegory of Chris D. s struggle with heroin addiction and break-up with his then wife Julie Christensen. (Although various other sources contradictorily state that Chris D. has never actually been a user).
I Pass for Human was made on a miniscule budget. That said, Chris D. gets a number of cameos from well-known faces, including cult queen Mary Woronov who turns up as Eleanor Whitledge s doctor; veteran actor John Diehl (who married Chris D. s ex Julie Christensen) as Eva Scott s addict ex-husband; and Jack Hill, the director of Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told (1968), Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974), who plays Eva Scott s father. Producer Lynn Margulies is an L.A. artist who is the sister of actor/wrestler/director/musician Johnny Legend and was the former girlfriend of Andy Kaufman. The film has also managed to array quite an interesting soundtrack of alternate and punk bands.
Certainly Chris D. s handling of the actors is quite professional and all give quite reasonable performances. Where I Pass for Human really started to work, one felt, was not so much in its attempts to be a horror movie, but in its portrait of drug addiction. The film is quite notable for depicting drug usage without anything in the way of melodramatic desperation and tripped-out nightmarishness of the usual Hollywood moralizing about the subject. Chris D. may or may not be telling an autobiographical story with the film it is difficult not to read I Pass for Human as an allegory for someone trying to escape from a lifestyle they see as all-pervading but it is certain that he has clearly spent some time around people like those depicted in the film.
And certainly once the film draws us down into Eleanor Whitledge s tripped-out nightmare, Chris D. may not produce any profound shocks but there is a certain dream-like fugue to the film, which is greatly aided by the soundtrack. The script doesn t do a whole lot in explaining why drug addicts have returned as ghosts or why only users can see them, although there is a fine scene where John Diehl describes addicts as being so close to death themselves that they are sitting on a fence, able to look down on life on one side and the dead on the other at the same time. --Moria: The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review