CAPSULE: THE TRIP (1967)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Peter Fonda, , , Salli Sachse,

PLOT: A director of commercials headed for a divorce takes LSD hoping for insight into his life; he gets it, while seeing plenty of pretty swirling colors and getting into trouble when he wanders away from his trip-sitter.

Still from The Trip (1967)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Trip is a trendsetting lysergic journey, but it’s weirdness suffers because it takes itself too seriously, and handles itself too competently. Compare the derangement of 1968’s Skidoo, which, by casting the past-their-prime Jackie Gleason, Groucho Marx and Carol Channing as the turned-on, comes at the acid fad from a bizarrely oblique angle.

COMMENTS: One of the vanguard films exploring (or exploiting) the LSD craze of the mid to late 1960s, The Trip was a seriously-intended and visually pioneering film from an unlikely source (B-movie impresario Roger Corman, previously best known for monster cheapies and Poe adaptations). While prior films—Movie Star, American Style or; LSD, I Hate You, Hallucination Generation, and even 1959’s The Tingler—had dealt with the effects of this remarkably cinematic drug, The Trip feels like the start of the psychedelic cycle. Despite a disclaimer pasted to the front of the first reel by the producers (“the illegal manufacture and distribution of these drugs is dangerous and can have fatal consequences”), the film’s tone is intended to be objective and non-judgmental. Inevitably, however, it feels very pro-drug; who wouldn’t want to have the insides of their eyelids temporarily tie-dyed while going on a fantastic interior adventure like Peter Fonda, safe in the knowledge that Bruce Dern will bring you back to Earth with a shot of Thorazine if things get too intense? True to its serious intent, the movie proposes the paradigm of LSD as a self-psychotherapeutic tool rather than LSD as an opportunity to chat with God or LSD as the ultimate party drug—though, if the film is to be believed, it can also get you laid by groovy disinhibited chicks.

Little of what happens in The Trip occurs outside of Fonda’s skull. We are quickly introduced to his character, a dude on the fringes of the establishment but hip enough to have Dennis Hopper as his connection, and within fifteen minutes he’s setting off pharmaceutical fireworks inside his cranium. The Trip settles into a rhythm of subjective hallucination montages followed by returns to normalcy as we check in on the blissed-out (or paranoid) Fonda from the perspective of a neutral observer. Fonda sees pasty-faced death figures on a beach, meets with a hallucinated guru played by Hopper inside the tinseled carnival of his mind, and makes love to Strasberg and Sachse while  projected paisleys play across their nude bodies. Fractured images assault us in speedy montages that whirl by in a psychedelic blur. The liquid light and solarization effects seem kitschy and cliched today, but they were cutting edge (though inexpensive) at the time. Fonda’s acting while straight isn’t impressive, but his stoned temperament is believable, particularly when he wanders into a laundromat and is awestruck by a Whirlpool washing machine. What psychological depth the film might have is suggested rather than achieved; we don’t know enough about Fonda to relate to his self-discovery, and there are no shocking psychological insights. In that way, The Trip seems more like a sketch or a template for what an artistically successful trip film might eventually look like. But there’s an energy and an anarchy to this pioneering effort that makes it watchable despite its flaws, and it’s Corman’s most experimental film—and one of his best.

The screenplay was by acid enthusiast and future Academy Award winner . Feeling that he could not direct the film competently otherwise, Corman (along with most of the rest of the cast, minus health-nut Bruce Dern) dropped LSD before filming. The Trip is overdue for a decent Blu-ray release, but it can still be found on an old double-sided DVD release along with Psych-Out. The disc has several featurettes and a Corman commentary, and although the picture is good, the soundtrack could be clearer. If buying the overpriced out-of-print double feature is too much of a plastic hassle, The Trip can be rented on-demand.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…Corman has simply resorted to a long succession of familiar cinematic images, accompanied by weird music and sounds.”–Bosley Crowther, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: DER TODESKING [THE DEATH KING] (1990)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Due to the episodic nature of the film, too many to list

PLOT: The Death King is a seven-part film with no overarching plot—each of the episodes is a vignette involving suicide, murder, and sometimes both. The events may take place over the course of a week (Monday through Sunday), with some tied together by the letters sent through the post by Monday’s suicide victim.

Still from Der Todesking (The Death King) (1990)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Der Todesking‘s qualifications as a weird movie stem from its utter unclassifiability as any other kind of movie. It’s too grisly for the arthouse and too philosophical for the grindhouse. Its lack of a single narrative makes it awkwardly describable as a film essay. That in mind, it is tremendously well executed, with moments of despair, surrealism, and beauty.

COMMENTS: In the film’s introduction (included as a bonus feature), Jörg Buttgereit assures the audience, “Don’t get me wrong here: it’s a movie against suicide.” It says something of either the kind of person who would watch this movie or, more likely, the kind who would refuse to watch it but still condemn it, that this explanation is necessary. To be fair, Der Todesking is at times a difficult movie, but that is due to the unpleasant subject matter (suicide), not the director’s handling of it.

The suicide-centered set-pieces are framed by a time-lapse image of a decomposing corpse. Within this framing structure is another one: an over-the-shoulder view of a young girl writing in a journal, beginning with the title for a drawing (“der Todesking”, in cute, loopy cursive), and ending with her finishing a drawing of a skeleton with a crown. She explains to the camera, “This is the King of Death. He makes people want to die.” Now already at two levels of framedness, the seven (largely) separate suicide sketches are each further framed by the days of the week, sometimes overlapping with each other. Got that?

Even beyond the framing cantrip, the film’s style is a showcase for low budget inventiveness. The first episode has a montage scene accomplished by a (seemingly?) uncut shot of a camera rotating several times full circle around a small apartment room, showing a man going through mundane tasks shortly after resigning from a well-paying job. Background items reveal his character. His only companion seems to be a goldfish, who joins him in death once he’s downed dozens of pills while in the bathtub. Or is it his only companion? Before his resignation and suicide, he writes and sends off about half a dozen letters.

On Tuesday, one is received by a friend, informing him of the sender’s suicide. He carries this note to a video rental place where, almost choosing My Dinner with André, instead opts for Vera: the Death-Angel of the Gestapo. The clerk is surprised he’s only renting one movie: the fellow explains he only has time for one—he’s got a birthday party to go to. Or so he thought. Despite the letter, his rental needs watching; and it’s a real pity that his girlfriend interrupts his viewing…

Of the seven days, Thursday is perhaps the most haunting. Using camera shots reminiscent of Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog, the bit is virtually silent: just various angles and journeys through, above, in, and around a large overpass. Title cards appear, indicating the name, age, and profession of random individuals. These are all recorded suicides from that location.

Buttgereit’s movie is fairly brief, but that is due to his efficiency as a director and story-teller. Some very bleak ideas are explored here, and despite the director’s reputation, the movie never falls into the realm of the tasteless.

NOTE ON THE LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY: So carefully was this little gem packaged that I was somewhat loath to break the seal and open it. The cover sleeve, unlike so many releases, was actually different from the box art. Within, not only was there a fully packed disc (trailers for the director’s oeuvre, a documentary, and a soundtrack-only option, as well as a film introduction and commentary) but also a graphic postcard; limited in quantity, like the disc. If you get your hands on on it, you’ll have one of only 3,000 copies.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The end result is oddly beautiful and perhaps Buttgereit’s finest achievement as a director…”–Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital (Blu-ray)

 

 

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week Giles Edwards braves the homicidal horrors of 1990’s transgressive import Der Todesking  (The Death King), while G. Smalley takes The Trip (1967) with Peter Fonda, then investigates Society (1989). Alfred Eaker takes a break from bashing Marvel superhero movies (and enduring the resultant abuse from annoyed franchise fans) to examine another double-feature of pre-Code naughtiness, Doctor X and Mystery of the Wax Museum (just received word that Alfred may push that pre-Code pair off another week to spend some more time bashing Marvel superhero movies).

“What was that movie?”-type queries dominate our latest survey of the Weirdest Search Terms of the Week. We’ll start with the unlikely search for a “mutated vegetables slasher movie” (Veggie Tales from the Crypt, maybe?) We’ll put “the boys pines gose to the vagina the girl movie” into our “ouch!” file. For our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week, we’ll pick “wife leaves husband for a demon squidman movie,” just because it’s the one we most want to see (though a mutated asparagus slasher comes in a close second).

Here’s how the ridiculously-long  reader-suggested review queue stands: Der Todesking [The Death King] (next week!); Society (next week!); The Fox Family; Angelus; Conspirators of PleasureThe Ninth Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 7/24/2015

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.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Horse Money (2014): Ventura, a Cape Verdean immigrant suffering from dementia, wanders an expressionistically shadowed hospital, conflating his modern reality with past events. Critics are describing Portuguese director Pedro Costa’s first film in ten years as “incomprehensible” and “overtly surreal.” Horse Money official site.

IN DEVELOPMENT:

31 (est. 2016): , the best movie director named after a reanimated corpse working today, is back at it with a new flick that he promises will be his most “brutal” and “gruesome” effort yet. It involves an involuntary “game” where contestants strive to survive a night in a funhouse full of killer clowns. The best thing about it may be the character names: it stars Malcolm McDowell as “Father Murder” and Elizabeth Daily as “Sex-Head,” and includes other characters with names like “Venus Virgo,” “Sister Serpent,” and “Fat Randy Bumpagussy.” 31 updates at Rob Zombie’s official website.

NEW ON DVD:

Committed (1984): Expressionistic biopic of troubled actress Frances Farmer. J. Hoberman called it “the unexpected missing link between ‘Meshes of the Afternoon’ and ‘Shock Corridor’,” while an Amazon purchaser had a different take: “this movie sucks big time!” Buy Committed.

Love Unto Death (1984)/Life is a Bed of Roses (1983): A mid-80s French pair from Alain (Last Year at Marienbad) Resnais. Love is a talky philosophical film about a man who returns from the dead, while Bed of Roses features three confusingly intertwined stories set in a castle (one is a fantasy imagined by children); it’s also a musical. Buy Love Unto Death/Life Is a Bed of Roses.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Love Unto Death (1984)/Life is a Bed of Roses (1983): See description in DVD above. Buy Love Unto Death/Life Is a Bed of Roses [Blu-ray].

FREE MOVIES ON SHOUT TV:

Stroszek (1977): An alcoholic German ex-con and a prostitute try to start a new life in Wisconsin in what Roger Ebert declared “one of the oddest films ever made.” We have shared just about all of Shout Factory’s wonderful collection with you lucky readers by this point; bless them for putting these cinema treasures online for free. Watch Stroszek free on Shout Factory TV.

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.

EAKER VS EAKER AT THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS (BONUS COVERAGE): ANT-MAN (2015)

Eaker vs. Eaker is the latest “send Alfred to the summer blockbuster movies so that he can curmudgeonly complain” event, but with a twist, cinema fans and friends! For the first time (without even knowing it), you voted to send Alfred and his wife, Aja, to the flicks and have them duke it out, publicly, about each so-called-blockbuster. Everybody here knows all about Alfred’s cinematic savvy, and his cranky-old-dog approach to film critique. Now, you get 2-for-1: Aja is Alfred’s beloved clinical and counseling psychologist partner, who loves to counter just about every cinematic point Alfred makes. You didn’t choose to send us to Ant-Man (2015), but we went nevertheless.

Aja and Alfred 366Alfred:

How much of the script for Ant-Man (2015) was written on a chalkboard? I imagine a bunch of executives sitting round the table, outlining the plot for its six writers: “To be successful, we have to follow the Marvel formula, have archetypes, etc.”

“Well, we can do it like Iron Man.  Have the hero in and Ant-Man suit and a villain in a rival insect suit.”

“Ok, but Ant-Man is little. So what other movies are there about shrunken people.”

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

“Ok, good. What else?”

The Incredible Shrinking Man.”

“Well, maybe, but that’s kind old, isn’t it?

Still from Ant-Man (2015)“Hey, it is about ants, so what about the Ants move?”

“Good thinking. Let’s look at Ants too. We need to give him a mentor, some comedy relief, and a femme fatale babe.”

“Ok, good, but we gotta give Ant-Man something to fight for. Audiences love little girls. Let’s give him a daughter.”

“Yeah, and the villain goes after her like that Octopus guy went after Spiderman’s aunt.”

“Or Lex Luthor when he went after Lois Lane.”

“We can even have a bald villain, like Luthor.”

“Let’s develop all that and up the ante. Make Ant-Man a divorcee—kind of a loser. He only gets to see his daughter on weekends.”

“Yeah, and his ex-wife is married to a jerk.”

“Right, and after learning her biological dad is Ant-Man, the daughter learns what a true hero he really is.”

“Now, we’re rolling. What else?”

“Let’s use the corporate bad guy plot, you know like making the big business guys trying to get the secrets of the suit, so they can sell it Continue reading EAKER VS EAKER AT THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS (BONUS COVERAGE): ANT-MAN (2015)

CAPSULE: PSYCH-OUT (1968)

DIRECTED BY: Richard Rush

FEATURING: , , , Max Julien, Adam Roarke, 

PLOT: A deaf runaway goes to Haight-Ashbury in search of her burnout brother, who has sent her a postcard reading “God is alive and well in a sugar cube.”

Still from Psych_Out (1968)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A few hallucination scenes supply a bit of weirdness, but essentially this is just an earnest pro-hippie exploitation film.

COMMENTS: I like the vintage newspaper ad copy for Psych-Out—“listen to the sound of purple!”, “they’ll ask for a dime with hungry eyes… but they’ll give you love—for NOTHING!”—much better than the actual film. The movie is a 1968 rush job tossed into the market to exploit the audience’s salacious interest in the drugs, sex and rock n’ roll ethos of San Francisco’s flower children. The story of young Jenny’s search for her acid-casualty brother takes a back seat to a tour of Haight-Ashbury locales and culture. You get love beads, pot smoking, freakouts, happenings, chaste orgies, bead-stringing, bogus zen philosophy (“everything is part of everything else”) delivered by a guy in a Navajo headband, concerts at the Filmore East, the Strawberry Alarm Clock providing a fairly groovy soundtrack, and more pink and yellow paisley than you’d see in binge-watching session of “Laugh In.” Strasberg plays the wide-eyed ingenue lost in the den of friendly sin, Nicholson is musician/love interest aptly named “Stoney,” Max Julien (the future pimp of The Mack) is a drummer who hallucinates that he’s a knight, Dean Stockwell is Nicholson’s hippie conscience (he warns Stoney that success is “all just one big plastic hassle”), and Bruce Dern is the mad messiah of Haight Street. There are a few fun psychedelic scenes—one guy sees his friends as zombies and tries to cut off his own hand with a power saw, while Strasberg’s final fiery crash-and-burn STP trip is almost worth the wait—but mostly the film makes unfettered freedom and hedonism look kind of tedious, like a drug trip that starts off fun but just won’t end.

The script details are sloppy. Lots of plot points don’t make sense, like why a gang of straits is so eager to devote their time hunting down “the Seeker” when he’s no more offensive than any other street freak preacher. Strasberg’s Jenny has the most perfect diction you’ve ever heard from a deaf person. Jenny is also underage—otherwise her mother wouldn’t be able to send cops after her as a runaway—a fact whose moral implications the script ignores when throwing her in bed with various unshowered hippies. Overall, Psych-Out fails as standard entertainment, and delivers little in the way of weirdness or overt exploitation (the film has some blurry, blissed-out  suggested sex, but is nudity-free). At the time, it was a novel look at a subculture that was weird to outsiders, but today its only value is as a curiosity of hippie kitsch. It will come over either as camp or nostalgia, depending on your age. High on kaleidoscope lenses but low on plotting, this psychedelic capsule has lost most of its potency over the past five decades.

Jack Nicholson’s original script for Psych-Out was deemed too experimental, and Richard Rush had it re-written by a team of screenwriters; Nicholson kept the lead role of Stoney, which he wrote for himself. The great Lazslo Kovacs (who got his start in low-budget exploitation films like this one) oversaw the cinematography. Psych-Out was produced by clean-cut American Bandstand/New Year’s Rockin’ Eve impresario Dick Clark (!) It was re-released on Blu-ray (to better appreciate the pretty colors) in 2015.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an above average programmer about San Francisco hippies. Thin story line – girl seeking lost brother – is sufficient as the medium for a series of incidents, including drug-induced hallucinations, all directed in excellent fashion by Richard Rush.”–Variety (contemporaneous)

366 WEIRD MOVIES’ MOVIE DELIVERY SYSTEM QUIZ

Surveys… we all love them, right? The opportunity to click all those little boxes that apply? To have your voice heard? To use scroll bars?

We won’t kid you, we want to collect your (non-identifiable, non-personal) data for purposes of deciding what ads to feature on the site. We figure you’re smart enough not to begrudge us the chance to optimize our meager revenue (we try to keep advertizing minimal, unobtrusive, and relevant to weird movie fans’ needs and interests).

But this survey can also serve as an excellent opportunity to discuss the current state of movie delivery technology. For example, some of us in our 40s will only begrudgingly watch a movie on our computer screens if there is no other possible way to see it, and would never consider watching a film on a cell phone. Younger folk may not see that as a problem. There is also the issue of the morality of torrenting. At 366 we do not condone any form of copyright violation, but we recognize that there are different levels of ethics at play here. Downloading a movie that’s playing in theaters now is much different than downloading a movie that is not available in any form otherwise. We hope that, after you’ve finished the survey, we can discuss these sorts of issues in the comments—politely, of course.

Now get to it, please!

CAPSULE: THE CELL (2000)

DIRECTED BY: Tarsem Singh

FEATURING: Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D’Onofrio

PLOT: To find the whereabouts of a serial killer’s impending victim, who is still alive in captivity, the FBI enlists the aid of a psychotherapy group that has the developed the technology to enter and explore the minds of others.

Still from The Cell (2000)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Cell is a visually impressive movie that holds up pretty well after fifteen years. When not inside the mind of the killer, however, the story falls into the formulaic and serendipitous far too often.

COMMENTS: On the face of it, Tarsem Singh’s the Cell would seem an obvious candidate for Certification. The first long-form work of a music video director visually influenced by the likes of H.R. Giger and the , it features a clip from Fantastic Planet and stars one of the stranger actors of the day (Vincent D’Onofrio). As far as the movie goes with these elements it plows heavily into weird spaces. However, the nightmarish set-pieces are tacked on to a standard serial killer/FBI pursuit procedural. (Or perhaps vice versa—the movie treads a fine line.)

The weird moments are a hoot to watch. Going all-out creepy with the sets and costume, the Cell has wonderful blasts of unsettling vignettes as it explores the mind of Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio), first by social worker-turned-psychotherapist Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) and, after she gets sucked into that “reality,” by special agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn, in one of those “straight” roles I really wish he’d return to).The murderer’s mind is dominated by an entity that acts as the all-powerful king of this grim realm, but there is a flicker of humanity personified by a young boy who represents the vestiges of abused goodness inside. Killer Carl— a seriously unhinged man smashed to pieces by guilt over his past acts and his despair at having been so badly mistreated by his father—also appears in his own mind. (Having suffered from a viral schizophrenic disorder brought on by a particularly heartless baptism didn’t help things, either.)

But aside from split-open-but-living equines, macabre doll-people shadow boxes, obvious (but venerable) surrealist art nods, and a chilling performance from D’Onofrio as the mind’s King, you have perhaps the most run-of-the-mill crime thrillers imaginable. Stargher has been murdering for some time, and one suspects he wants to be caught, but the string of coincidences (albino German Shepherd purchased by the owner of just the right truck stands out as one of several examples) become unbelievable, to the point that the phrase “how convenient” can’t help but spring to mind.

That said, the movie is still pretty neat. Jennifer Lopez is somewhere between adequate and good in her role as a social worker. Her attempts to help a young troubled boy, Mister “E” (whose existence acts as the story’s frame around the frame), are touching. Vince Vaughn does the best he can with a one-dimensional character (his FBI agent apparently was originally a prosecutor who saw one-too-many baddies slip the noose because of good lawyering), and reminded me that he does his best work when not pushing for laughs.

Tarsem Singh’s visually striking opus from 2000 proves to be a decent effort as a qualifying time-trial. In 2006 he opted to go all-out, spending many millions of his own cash for the privilege, for his next movie, the Fall. Although the Cell does not quite hit the mark, there are those who feel his follow-up is a Certified contender; stay tuned.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Tarsem takes viewers on wild hallucinatory rides through alien landscapes and diabolical dream worlds that are savage and even erotic.”–Emanuel Levy, Variety (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Your correspondent is writing this from an undisclosed location on the Atlantic Ocean. I’m enjoying the salty ocean air so much that I can’t guarantee what we’ll be publishing next week. I will say that Giles Edwards will look into the crazy horror of Tarsem Singh’s The Cell and Alfred Eaker will brave Marvel’s superhero barrel-scraping exercise, Ant-Man. We’ll also bring you coverage of some sort of unspecified 1960s LSD movie, and maybe even throw in our first ever survey. Who knows? It’s Summer, anything is possible. I’ll decide after finishing my morning Bloody Mary.

Thanks to limited seaside access to Google Analytics, I can’t dig into the server logs for a full survey of the Weirdest Search Terms of the Week featurette. I do have a couple of saved queries from early in the week, however—you’ll have to make do. Our Weirdest Search Term of the Week contest will return in full next week. Our first candidate is “alien movie about 2 sobs realtor mother”; strange; yes, but in the two-search field it is out-weirded by our winner, “midget hides under table at old ladies party and looks up their skirts.” We’ll be back next week with a full slate of weird search terms, we swear!

Here’s how the ridiculously-long  reader-suggested review queue stands:The Cell; (next week!); Society; The Fox Family; Angelus; Conspirators of PleasureThe Ninth Configuration; Love Me If You Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

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