Sympathy, Said the Shark (2015) is the second feature film by fellow Portalandian Devin Lawrence, which has attracted some attention due to its innovative multiple points of view.

Of course, the use of various POVs isn’t completely original. It has been done before, albeit usually poorly. Lawrence, executive producer Zak Bagans, and their crew were aided by use of the cutting-edge Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. However, if Sympathy, Said the Shark was merely an excuse to show off 21st century filmmaking technology, then it would only warrant coverage on software sites. Fortunately, Shark is of more value than that alone.

Lawrence and Bagans previously worked together in the paranormal “reality” series, “Ghost Adventures,” which began life as a documentary feature in 2004. Its popularity has keep it syndicated for twelve seasons. Seeing paranormal investigators on the duo’s film résumé hardly inspires enthusiasm for Sympathy, Said the Shark, but, not having seen the series, that could be a case of unjustified skepticism on my part, since the team’s first venture into narrative feature is surprisingly exploratory in a slick, kinetically-paced way. Some complaints have been lodged over its ambiguous title, with predictable charges of “pretension” leveled. I’ll digress here. The title is curious enough to inspire investigation, which is as it should be. It indicates that the filmmakers have learned a few things, in looking for dead people, about what makes for a compelling entry point. If Lawrence’ script writing and resulting film is not quite as risky or gutsy as its title, it goes a considerable distance in effort.

After some hardcore engagement, Lara (Melinda Cohen) and Justin (Lea Coco) are settling in for a rainy night when interrupted by a text message and knock at the door. Familiarity with Hitchcock, or any number of American filmmakers, tells us that answering the door is a precursor to mayhem—but what fun is common sense?

Still from Sympathy Said the Shark (2015)

Within moments, we are subjected to the perspectives of both Lara and Justin, along with that of the bloodied, intrusive Church (Dominic Bogart). Time overlaps coincide with perspective shifts, giving the viewer alternative psychological assessments. Lawrence clearly likes these characters and, in that, he’s really more securely in terrain, as opposed to Hitchcock,  which is a good thing.  With his postmodern sensibilities, De Palma has always been a warmer, more experimental, and more three-dimensional director than Hitchcock, to whom he is often compared (sometimes erroneously). As with De Palma, Lawrence does not allow his bag of tricks to overwhelm the narrative or characters (as Hitchcock often did). With conflicting perspectives come raging, emotional torrents, revelations, skeletons hurled out of closest, viable conspiracies, and  additional threats to harmony.

Both the narrative and aesthetic of Sympathy, Said the Shark are guided by its emotional roller coaster. That requires solid actors, which the film provides. If Lawrence had distanced himself or taken a more objective approach, the minimally-plotted film would not have worked. Rather, he utilizes psychology to manipulate us, as any good filmmaker will, and we subscribe to his enthusiasm. All too often, experimental films can be vapid exercises. Lawrence, his crew, and cast succeed to a degree that his should be a name to watch. Sympathy, Said the Shark is a refreshing, promising start.


Destination: Planet Negro!

DIRECTED BY: Kevin Willmott

FEATURING: Kevin Willmott, Tosin Morohunfola, Danielle Cooper, Trai Byers

PLOT: In order to flee early-20th century racism and find a new home for African Americans, physicist Warrington Avery and a crack squad of Black adventurers attempt a trip to Mars, only to have their rocket ship sucked through a worm hole which transports them into the jarring reality of modern-day America.

Still from Destination Planet Negro (2013)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The “time-traveling fish-out-of-water” story is a cinematic trope with a long pedigree. That these time-travelers are Black luminaries from the 1930s is something a novelty, but Destination: Planet Negro plays by the rules in an expected, but not unpleasant, manner.

COMMENTS: Having another socially conscientious movie be next on my to-do list could be viewed as a punishment for me by those who may have taken issue with my diatribe about Arabian Nights. However, my dislike of that movie did not stem from its progressive agenda, but from its wanting for anything remotely approaching “entertainment.” It was no small relief that Kevin Willmott’s satirical piece, Destination: Planet Negro (DPN) proved to be quite amusing and watchable, in addition to proffering some salient observations about modern and historical race issues.

My lingering frustration put aside, let me dive into the movie at hand. DPN starts right off with a sense of place: crisp black and white film sets the tone, and after opening-credits over a cosmic montage, we jump to an assemblage of Black luminaries in 1939. These top African-Americans are gathered to discuss, as one describes it, “the Negro problem.” Not finding the United States welcoming, nor being keen on moving to Africa (too much poverty), Europe (risk of exotification), or the U.S.S.R. (these gents are no commies), Dr. Warrington Avery (Kevin Willmott) informs the august crowd that he has a plan to colonize the Red Planet for the Black Man. The skeptics are assuaged by none other than George Washington Carver. However, some of the attendees inform the local police, so Dr. Avery, his astronomer daughter Beneatha (Danielle Cooper), speed-demon Captain “Race” Johnson (Tosin Morohunfola), and a clumsy robot with a cracker personality are forced to take the trip on the fly.

At about the half-hour mark, the movie changes from black and white to color, as the space adventurers crash-land on a far off planet. The joke’s on them, though: it’s the same planet and same country, just 75 years later. And so DPN moves on from historical commentary to  contemporary commentary. A run-in with Hispanic laborers in the back of a van suggests to them that slavery exists here. Observing a young black man making a purchase at a convenience store convinces them he’s a slave: no eye contact, no words from the black man to the white cashier. DPN continues in this vein, ably expounding on the many similarities of treatment, though occasionally veering into the realm of the silly. In particular, the montage involving “Race” Johnson learning how to “walk like a Black guy” shouldn’t have been included, much less gone on for as long as it did.

All told, DPN is a fun diversion for those seeking some observations about race relations. It didn’t surprise me upon researching DPN that Kevin Willmott was the driving force behind 2004’s speculative “documentary” C.S.A.: the Confederate States of America. There, too, he used the powers of humor and satire to make his point, all the while maintaining an appreciably light touch. Willmott seems aware that hitting people over the head with a blunt cinematic object can be counter-productive when making one’s point. While some more pruning could have helped it better maintain its momentum (after the crash-landing scene, the movie itself nearly crashes), that criticism could be laid against most movies. In brief: not weird, but not bad.


“…highly recommended, provided you’re in the mood for a campy, low-budget sci-fi whose cheesy special effects are more than offset by a profusion of insightful social statements.”–Kam Williams, Baret News Network (contemporaneous)


I specifically planned my trip to the Fantasia Film Festival so that I could catch the North American debut of ‘s latest weird opus, Atmo HorroX, before I left. I was more prepared for the experience than most, because I’m one of only a handful of people who’ve seen Tremblay’s complete body of work, since he sent me his still-unreleased 2006 debut film Heads of Control: The Gorul Baheu Brain Expedition (on VHS!) in 2010. Of that film, I wrote “…when LSD wants to blow its mind, it takes a hit of Heads of Control.” After briefly tackling on a straightforward narrative in the low-budget post-apocalyptic feature Hellacious Acres, this one is every bit as bizarre as Tremblay’s first movie. Let’s hope it’s not as unreleasable.

Tremblay and star Laurent Lecompte had been hyping the movie throughout the Festival, handing out trading cards and appearing in full costume in the Alumni Hall lobby, Lecompte thrusting his balloon phallus at passersby as they left more respectable movies. Here at the lineup to get into the premiere, Lecompte serves hors d’ouevres while dressed in a cowboy hat and goggles. The theater is about two-thirds full, but the film’s cast, who are seeing the movie for the first time, fill an entire row of seats.

Still from Atmo HorroX (2016)

I would begin by summarizing Atmo HorroX‘s plot, but, although I believe there is one, I’m not 100% sure I could find it. The movie focuses largely on the stalking activities of a monster (Lecompte) wearing pantyhose with sweetgum seeds stuck on it over his face and sporting a plume of phallic balloons jutting from his crotch. He conjures levitating sausages and kills people by placing ladies’ shoes on either side of their head. There are other, more traditional-looking horror monsters running around in the film as well; the face of one is battered into liquid during the film’s opening, only to rise as a rainbow snake. There’s also some kind of witch, a creature dressed in black latex with nine eyes, a man with remote controls taped to his bodies who communicates with the main monster by walkie talkie, a playboy wearing psychedelic goggles, and others. Often, scenes go on for too long with these characters simply posing on the screen, letting us drink in their oddness. Even the best parts can go on for too long: a doctor with a mutton chop goatee takes forever to write prescriptions (which are nothing but long, elaborate scribbles) for patients, then shakes his head, tears them up, and starts over. It’s funny, but the gag repeats too many times. The entire movie probably should have been at least twenty minutes shorter: it wears on you, and many scenes could have been trimmed or cut entirely. There is no comprehensible dialogue—it’s all garbled nonsense, sometimes distorted with feedback and cranked up to painful levels—and when there is music it is just as discordant as the dialogue. The color grading is garish, saturated oranges and pinks, making the monster appear to glow against the forest or street backgrounds as he roams.

Watching this film often feels like being trapped inside the Continue reading FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/25/2016 (ATMO HORROX & CLOSING THOUGHTS)


Sunday should be a quiet, peaceful day of rest and spiritual contemplation. I spent mine watching obscure movies full of violence, black magic, and deviant sex.

This afternoon’s movie was 1983’s Holy Flame of the Martial World, projected in glorious 35mm “Shaw Scope.” Holy Flame is a Shaw Brothers film from the same era as the Certified Weird The Boxer’s Omen, made at a time when interest in traditional kung fu was waning and the studio was desperate to soup up its offerings with lots of fantasy and Star Wars-inspired special effects. Holy Flame sets logic to one side to tell the tale of two orphans seeking revenge on their parent’s murderers, which can only be accomplished by attaining yin and yang swords. The chief bad gal runs a martial cult of virginity-powered lady fighters; her uneasy ally has a team of traditional male monks. The chief good guy is a master of “ghostly laughter” which causes the earth to shake and is fatal to those who lack the ability to fold their earlobes into a protective flap, There are also the leaders of the “seven clans” who keep popping in to ask the two baddies for the various plot MacGuffins everyone believes will help them rule “the martial world,” plus a mysterious “Snake Boy” (played by a woman) whose origin and role is never adequately defined. The action is nonstop and ridiculous; the swordfighting is impressive, though there is too much wirework for my taste (fighters flying through the air, stopping and reversing in mid leap, that sort of thing). If all that’s not enough, stick around for the glitchy teleportation, pink and blue Saturday morning cartoon ghosts flying around, an English-speaking mummy, and the snakebite laser finger, just to name a few highlights. The insane action never stops.

Still from Holy Flame of the Martial World (1983)Holy Flame, of course, is not a new movie, but I feel privileged to see it on the big screen in a theater full of appreciative fans. It’s lightweight entertainment and no threat to make the List of the Weirdest Movies Ever Made, but it makes for an exhilaratingly exotic popcorn movie for a Sunday afternoon matinee.

I was surprised In Search of the Ultra-Sex was not scheduled for midnight, but rather at a respectable 9:30 PM. Like Holy Flame, this screening was more popular with regular ticket holders than with the press. Also, no one in line was wearing a raincoats, and the percentage of women in attendance was about the same as for any other movie. This demographic info is only odd because Ultra-Sex is a pastiche movie made up (mostly) of clips from adult films from the 1970s to early 1990s (with the hardcore portions edited out, although it comes as close as possible without crossing the line). Maybe we’re in for a new age of porno chic; more likely, though, the explanation is that what was once forbidden sleaze has now turned into risible kitsch, the fate of every popular art form.

Still from In Search of the Ultra-sex (2015)Ultra-Sex stitches together scenes from dozens of adult movies, using comic overdubbing (from two guys, voicing both male and female roles) to create a science fiction story about… well, as might be expected, what it’s “about” is pretty incoherent. It has something to do with the search for the Ultra-Sex, which is a something-or-other that makes Earthlings hump like rabbits whose feed pellets were accidentally replaced with Viagra, either because of its presence or because of its absence, I could never tell which. The action occurs both on Earth and in space.  The clips—which include robot-controlled dildos, lactating Power Rangers (!), and Mr. Spock gettin’ it on, among other sexy absurdities—can be hilarious, and I would have been happy to see a curated collection of such snippets. (The evening’s biggest grossout moment came courtesy of a nose-fellatio gag from a “Cyrano de Bergerac” porn parody). Footage from the non-porno badfilm Samurai Cop makes up one of the many subplots, and the story also contains bits from the infamous Edward Penishands. There is one amazing stop-motion sequence involving fornicating Barbie dolls and a giant blow-up monster who is subdued by toy tanks firing dildos; Google suggests a French short called “Le Toy Shop” is the best candidate for this one. As fun as much of this is, I found the What’s Up, Tiger Lily?-styled narration lame and juvenile (characters named “General Willy” and spaceships dubbed “Foreskin Five” are typical jokes). It’s an unneeded excuse to enjoy clips that would probably have been funnier without the commentary.

Ultra-Sex‘s prospects for legitimate distribution are, I fear, nil. I can’t believe all of the source material was cleared, and although the producers could certainly argue these clips can be appropriated through fair use and parody, I doubt any major distributor would be willing to take on the potential liability involved.

On to tomorrow, my final day of the Festival, when I’ll close with ‘s psychedelic experimental satire Atmo HorroX and a brief recap of the Festival’s weird offerings.


I had so much writing to do on Saturday that I scratched my evening screening, but I was determined to see Psychonauts, The Forgotten Children (you can read the synopsis of the previous day’s interview with ). The bad news was that the clouds rolled in and the rain started falling about five minutes before I needed to leave for my ten-minute, umbrella-free trot to the theater, with memories of being soaked in Thursday night’s downpour still fresh in my mind.

Fortunately, the skies agreed to merely sprinkle, but I wondered if the bad weather affected the turnout to Psychonauts‘s Canadian premiere. The press line was so short that I was well-within the velvet rope, and in the end the SGWU Hall was only about three-quarters full. (If anyone wonders why I always mention the length of the lines, I consider it an indication of general interest in the film, which might suggest something about a film’s eventual prospects for distribution).

Still from Psychonauts, The Forgotten Children (2015)Those who stayed away missed one of Fantasia’s great screenings, which ended with an enthusiastic round of applause and whistling from the animation-savvy audience. Psychonauts is based on the graphic novel of the same name, written by Alberto Vázquez and previously adapted into the award-winning short “Birdboy” in 2011 with co-director , who was in attendance, and who suggested to the audience before the screening that if they did not like the film, it was Vázquez’s fault. The humor was appreciated, but he needn’t have worried about the film’s reception. Psychonauts is an immersive spectacle, often very funny (comic relief being supplied mostly by the talking objects—a robot alarm clock, a piggy bank, and an inflatable duck), filled with overwhelming compassion for its subjects, and yes, a little weird.

The story involves an island of talking animals that exists in an almost post-apocalyptic state of ruin after an unspecified industrial accident wrecked the environment and the economy. Seeing no future at home, adolescent mouse Dinki decides to run away with two school chums, a sweet but psychotic rabbit who hears voices that tell her to hurt people and a bullied young fox. If possible, Dinki wants to take along her friend Birdboy, a feral, almost mythic presence who haunts the island and whom the (brutally corrupt) police have scapegoated as the source of the island’s drug trade. Birdboy is not a dealer, however, but an addict,one compelled to swallow pills despite the fact that whenever he does he suffers nightmarish hallucinations which usually end with him being consumed by demons. The setting also features an underworld of rat gangs who inhabit the island’s massive rubbish heap and a spider who lives in a woman’s nose (a weird drug abuse metaphor that, as we learned in the post-movie screening, frightened the only six-year old in attendance). The art style features cute animals with big round heads (Birdboy’s resembles a skull) and is often expressionistic in style, with characters frequently depicted as a tiny presences dwarfed by dark landscapes.

It’s bleak, but the enormous empathy it generates for its lost children makes it almost a feel-good movie. Highly recommended, it’s also surreal enough to join She’s Allergic to Cats and The Greasy Strangler as the 2016 Fantasia Festival’s candidates for best weird movies in what’s turning out to be a memorable year in cinematic strangeness.  Psychonauts has no North American distributor yet, but it does have a deal in place on France, which is encouraging. Stills, the trailer and clips can be found at Psychonauts‘s official website.

On to tomorrow, when a screening of the Shaw Brothers’s mad Holy Flame of the Martial World and the sci-fi porno pastiche In Search of the Ultra Sex are on the menu.


Next week, we’ll be finishing up our coverage of Fantasia Fest 2016 with mini-reviews of (hopefully) the 1983 Shaw Brothers fantasy The Holy Flame of the Martial World, the porno pastiche In Search of the Ultra-Sex, and ‘s experimental Atmo HorroX. We may even throw in a couple of others if we have the time. (Not to mention, we’ll have a review of Alberto Vázquez and ‘s Psychonauts posting later tomight). By Wednesday things return to normal (by which we mean, things continue to be pretty damn weird) with Giles Edwards‘s review of the low-budget satire Destination Planet Negro, while Alfred Eaker covers another budget indie, Sympathy, Said the Shark.

Your writer is stuck in a hotel room without full access to the data he usually uses to compile the Weirdest Search Terms of the Week, but we’ll always share what we can with you. We’ll run through these quickly, because we’ve still got more writing to do today. For the guy looking for “incest movie normal,” you’ll have to try somewhere else; we only do incest movies weird here. A stranger  search was “traveling full mom porn movies,” which seems to be a very specialized fetish for men attracted to older women who’ve just eaten a satisfying meal while on a road trip. For our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week, we’ll go with “alien impregnating women with worms sex stories,” because it this literary subgenre suggests just how hard it is for aliens to get the knack of this tricky thing we call human reproduction.

The ridiculously-long reader-suggested review queue stands unchanged this week: Candy; Salo, the 120 Days of Sodom; NoroiThe Shape of Things; On the Silver Globe; The Last Days of Planet Earth; A Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE


On Friday I had an interview with director Michael Reich and star Michael Pinkney, of She’s Allergic to Cats, the bizarre ode to the struggles of Los Angeles’ outsider creative class ,scheduled for 2:00 PM. When I walked out of my late lunch I saw the gentlemen sitting in the hotel lobby with their publicist so I quickly introduced myself, and since they had nobody else scheduled at that time I was able to grab them early and ultimately spend an extra fifteen minutes with them. I’ll put the entire interview up next week, but here are the highlights.

Before I begin I should point out that, although Reich is listed as the writer and director, the pair have been used to working as a co-directing team on music videos before Cats. From their conversation it seems that Pinkney had, if not an equal, at least a very significant contribution to the movie’s overall conception. I start out by ingratiating myself, although I mean my opening sincerely: “I want to ask you guys a favor: please get this movie distribution, because I think people should see it.” They are both thankful, and Reich seems positive about their prospects.

I ask about the influences on the film, starting off with Doggiewogiez! Poochiewoochiez!, L.A. video collective ““‘s remake of The Holy Mountain using heavily manipulated found footage of dogs.  “We’re a fan of weird outsider tape culture and ‘Everything is Terrible!’ and stuff like that,” Reich admits. In fact, he came across the film because he unknowingly parked his van (marked “video van”) outside the Everything is Terrible! offices and someone left a courtesy copy on his windshield. Asked what their favorite weird movies were, Reich cites Kill the Moonlight, a 1994 underground film shot in “some Southern California oil town” that “captures the struggle and love of independent film.” Pinkney mentions  (particularly Possession) and particularly Altered States) as favorites. They also bring up the excised “Jupiter Ascending” climax to Phase IV, which the studio shelved for being too surreal, as an influence. An unexpected choice is American Werewolf in London, because of the love story angle. But mainly, the feature is an expansion of their work in the music video world.

In introducing the film at the world premiere the previous night, presenter Mitch Davis had said that “‘weird’ is hot right now, but most of the ‘weird’ movies are coming from vanilla personalities… These guys are the real deal.” I ask them if they think weird is hot. Reich talks about their experiences pitching music videos for local L.A. bands and how their ideas were always being rejected for being “too weird.” He says things started to change around the time Tim and Eric became popular, but they still had issues. Pitching a webseries, potential producers told them to make it more mainstream; then, they complained it wasn’t weird enough. “We were so outraged, we’d never been accused of not being weird before,” Pinkney laughs. They do demur when they make films and videos they’re not trying to be weird, they’re just trying to do stuff they like.

I mention that it’s hard to spoil the film because the title itself is a spoiler. “I think that creates some tension because you see these separate elements and you kind of know how their coming Continue reading FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/22/2016 (MICHAEL REICH & MIKE PINKNEY, PEDRO RIVERA, THE GREASY STRANGLER)


Yesterday, I wrote that ‘ seemed like the “regularest of regular guys,” an impression that was only confirmed when I met him on the terrace of the Le Nouvel Hotel for a scheduled interview. The filmmaker from Grand Rapids, MI, known for his low-budget character studies of society’s outcasts (Ape and Buzzard, both starring Joshua Bruge) originally mistook me for a blogger named “Creepy Greg.” (I’m not sure who “Creepy Greg” is, or if he really exists, but I’m considering using the handle for my OK Cupid profile). He didn’t have a canned opening statement about his latest movie, the minimalist one-man horror show Alchemist Cookbook, so I suggested he use a tagline “as if  does the Evil Dead” (the two influences he had cited in the previous night’s Q&A) for the film. That launched a conversation about Cookbook‘s influences, and how Sam Raimi‘s Evil Dead was the first film he saw that made him believe he could make a movie. “I love Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, but as a kid watching those I never thought that was attainable.” We talk about the difference between inspirations and influences, and Potrykus makes the analogy of a heavy metal guitarist who loves listening to opera: it might inspire him to make music, but he wouldn’t be able to adapt the actual vocal techniques into his own licks. That’s how the director feels about movies like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark; they inspired him as a child to want to make movies, but it was Jarmusch and Raimi who actually influenced him.

Potrykus is happy making low-budget films in Michigan and shows no interest in “moving up” in the industry.  I pose as a hypothetical producer offering him one million dollars with the stipulation he must spend it making movies, and ask how he will use it: one big movie, or many smaller movies? He starts off saying he’d make ten $100,000 movies, then decides he’ll shoot for one hundred $10,000 movies. (Since his first feature, Ape, was made for $2,500, he even fantasizes about making four hundred movies). “I don’t even know how to spend a million dollars”, he admits. But he does have a thought: “I’d love to put Leonardo di Caprio in a small movie like mine, and just see what would happen… it would be almost an a experimental movie for me, take a big actor and put him in a small, grungy movie.”

Alchemist Cookbook was doing something much different than I had done before,” he responded when asked if this latest film reflected a new direction. “I feel like every filmmaker has a moment when they need to tell a poem instead of a story. That’s what Alchemist Cookbook was for me.” He says his next two scripts are already written and are very different. When asked if future movies would continue to focus on society’s misfits, he answers “It’s unconscious, I never think about writing a movie about an outsider.” He’s simply drawn to character’s like A Clockwork Orange‘s Alex DeLarge or Taxi Driver‘s Travis Bickle.

The Alchemist Cookbook stars Ty Hickson, who is required to be on screen for almost every shot. I ask him how much Hickson improvised for his part, and he answered that they finally came to an understanding when he described the script as like “playing jazz. You Continue reading FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/21/2016 (JOEL POTRYKUS, SHE’S ALLERGIC TO CATS, PAT TREMBLAY)


Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.


Where’s Poppa? (1970): A (then) cutting edge black comedy in which a New York lawyer falls in love and dreams of getting rid of his senile mother (Ruth Gordon). Fans are fond of using words like “insane” and “deranged” to describe this outrageous trendsetting exercise in bad taste. Buy Where’s Poppa? style=


The Return of the Living Dead (1985): Zombies invade Louisville, KY, preying on nearby horny teenagers, in this prototypical zomcom and nostalgic video store favorite. Shout! Factory puts out a 2-Blu Ray Collector’s Edition with an absurd amount of special features to saturate any fan’s desires for zombie carnage. Buy Return of the Living Dead [Collector’s Edition Blu-ray].

Where’s Poppa? (1970): See description in DVD above. Buy Where’s Poppa? [Blu-ray] style=.

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that I have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!