CAPSULE: VIKINGDOM (2013)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Yusry Kru

FEATURING: Dominic Purcell, Conan Stevens, Craig Fairbrass, Natassia Malthe, Jesse Moss, Jon Foo, Patrick Murray 

PLOT: A medieval Viking king who’s been raised from the dead goes on a quest to defeat the god Thor, who wants to destroy Earth because he is jealous of the rise of Christianity.

Still from Vikingdom (2013)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s bad, but outside of a couple of head-scratching scenes, not so-bad-it’s-weird.

COMMENTS: Made by Malaysians and played out on CGI-sets that look like black metal album covers, Vikingdom is an odd film whose stupid title telegraphs the level of sophistication involved. I don’t mean to insult the Malaysian film industry; I suspect that if a group of Norwegian filmmakers tried to make an epic film based on traditional Malay mythology, the results would be equally dubious.

The details of the quest storyline are overcomplicated and confused. Essentially, Thor (the massive Conan Stevens, whose wig is dyed that unnatural pink-red shade typical of the Wendy’s mascot) is pissed at the popularity of Christianity and wants to crucify a few priests and steal the sacred necklace of Mary Magdalene (?) as a prelude to opening the gates of Hel and destroying the Middle Kingdom. Opposing him is the former king Eirick, beloved of the goddess Freya, who raised him from the dead when he fell on the battlefield. After coming back to life Eirick spends ten years living as a hermit in the wilderness. We first encounter the shirtless hero in a snowstorm; using only his dagger, he kills and skins a bear for its hide. (I would have done that the first winter). The glam-god Frey, Freya’s more feminine twin brother in a fabulous glowing yellow cloak, visits Eirick’s cabin and informs him that thanks to his undead/semi-dead status, he will be able to enter the underworld to seize the Gilded Horn that, when blown in Thor’s face (!) will destroy the god’s Earthly avatar and send him back to the place of spirits. Eirick reluctantly agrees and sets out assembling a mini-army in bad wigs, including a loyal slab of beefcake, a kickboxing Chinese slave (?), a babe who’s so hot she can bare her midriff even in the arctic winter, and many more lovable sidekicks with backstorys to squeeze in. After storming a random village and killing everyone they see, the good guys rescue an ancient wizard with a shrubbery growing between his shoulder blades who tells them how to get to Helsgate. When they arrive Eirick enters Hel, dives into the Gate of Souls (the afterlife’s hottest dogpile, where the world’s deceased strumpets go to be covered in gold leaf and lie in a giant flesh pyramid for all eternity), before being chased by a macrocephalic dragon into the Sea of Inspirational Appearances by Supporting Characters. And that’s just the first half!

Of course, that summary makes Vikingdom sound like a lot more fun than it actually is. This is one of those films where you will largely be required to supply your own entertainment. The filmmakers are mightily over-serious, believing that they are making a -esque fantasy epic, when in reality the final result looks like a TV pilot for a syndicated series that was never picked up (“Thor: The Legendary Journeys,” or “Eirick: Undead Prince”). Since most of the movie was shot against a green-screen—the portable contemporary version of the studio backlot—Malaysia is not even destined to be the next New Zealand. The two hour-plus running length is a clue that the filmmakers did not clearly grasp that their target audience should be children and B-movie fans who want to get to the set pieces and fights as quickly as possible, bypassing talk and cliche character development. The plot twists are as blunt as Thor’s hammer. On the plus side, the battle scenes are not too bad, involving some interesting tactics (overlapping shields used as an umbrella against arrows), gouts of blood, and head-scratching moments (Jon Foo’s out-of-left-field medieval kung fu moves). With a faster pace, Vikingdom could have been a zippy camp spectacle; instead, it’s a cross-cultural train wreck.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…will surely be savaged by critics and honestly enjoyed only by the most naive audiences (though there will be plenty of cynical types who, like myself, will read the film as a camp production or accidental comedy)… not a great movie, or even a very good one, but it is an original – and sort of adorable – one.”–Philip Martin, Arkansas Gazette (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

First off, please continue to vote in our 5th Irregularly-Scheduled Readers’ Choice Poll to add three selected movies on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all Time. The results of these polls typically surprise us; this year is no exception. In Group A, there is a tight race between two films on complete opposites of the quality spectrum, with ‘s psychological horror classic Hour of the Wolf narrowly holding off the child-scarring Christmas nightmare Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. In Group B, Punch-Drunk Love is running away from the field (we at 366 have shamefully neglected Adam Sandler’s large fanbase so far). Group C, which includes the most recent movies, is less of a shock, with ‘s Under the Skin taking the lead. What is surprising, however, is the margin: more than twice as many votes as its nearest competitor (A Field in England). Keep the votes coming, you have until October 29!

Next week is one of those weeks when we still don’t know for sure what reviews we will have for you. One thing is certain: we’ll bring you the Malaysian interpretation of Norse epics, Vikingdom. For the rest, expect to see some combination of Exorcist II: The Heretic, Exorcist III, From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, Madeinusa, Targets, or perhaps even the upcoming Rhymes for Young Ghouls. You’ll just have to check in Tuesday to see for sure.

Usually in this space we complain about there not being enough weird search terms to field a decent “Weirdest Search Term of the Week” contest. Not this week, however; even though we had connectivity issues last week and a serious decrease in overall traffic, we still encountered a good number of very strange search terms. For example, we were confused by “movie about man who keeps old lady in freezer for 6 years why not sooner” (how long does the searcher think is an appropriate amount of time to keep an old lady in the freezer?) Also bizarre was “sweet intercourse films” (who watches “intercourse films”? Sex-ed teachers?)  Our weirdest search terms of the week coupled unusual subject matter and unique sentence structures: “a. zombie. kidnapped a. lady. and. suck. her. porn” (why does each word need to be its own sentence?) Pretty odd, but we preferred this beauty from a guy with a broken space key on his keyboard: “womaninbeautifulwhitefuroathidesmanmovie.” That rambling query starts out reasonably enough, then loses its way about halfway through on its way to earning its place as our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week.

Here’s how the ridiculously-long and ever-growing reader-suggested review queue stands: The Real McCoy; Themroc; Candy (1968); The Fox Family; Angelus; Britannia Hospital; This Filthy Earth; Conspirators of Pleasure; Piano Tuner of Earthquakes; Bubba Continue reading

SATURDAY SHORT: RENEGADE (2014)

“Renegade” is an homage to 1940’s pulp magazines, you may assume correctly that there’s a good guy, a bad guy, and a damsel in distress. What makes these stories unique, and even weird by today’s standards, is what the good guy has to go through to save said damsel from her distress. “Renegade” maintains a great approach, and fortunately doesn’t go as far as the notorious story featured in Man’s Life, “Weasels Ripped My Flesh“.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 10/17/2014

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 on the official site links.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Young Ones: Family melodrama set on a parched post-apocalyptic ranch. Critics seem unable to figure out exactly what to make of this strange melange of genres from Jake (brother of Gwyneth) Paltrow, but they acknowledge it’s unique. Young Ones official site.

NEW ON DVD:

Witching and Bitching (2103): s latest sounds like From Dusk Till Dawn with witches; bank robbers fleeing a heist run into a coven in the woods. The Village Voice says it’s “the rare wannabe cult hit that smears the screen in grade-A craziness.Buy Witching & Bitching.

Wonderland (2011): A serial killer employs a drug that allows those who take it to enter other peoples’ consciousnesses to cause a wave of suicides. Co-written by Jimmy ScreamerClauz (not a misprint), director of Where the Dead Go to Die. Buy Wonderland.

You and the Night (2013): A couple and their transvestite maid throw an orgy: the invited guests are known only as “the Slut,” “the Star,” “the Stud,” and “the Teen.” This being an avant-garde French film, they talk a lot. Cahiers du Cinéma listed it in their top ten of 2013, for what that’s worth. Buy You And The Night.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Cauldron of Blood (1970): Read our review. We also like an Amazon reviewer’s summary: “a movie this strange can only be a product of really poor decision making.” Buy Cauldron of Blood [Blu-ray].

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.

THE RAVEN (1935)

The Raven (1935) marks the second teaming of Universal’s dual horror stars: and . It is also downright mortifying  in its pedestrianism. Director Lew Landers simply did not have the sense of style or vision with which  imbued The Black Cat (1934) . Worse, Landers lacked the foresight or directorial strength to shape or reign in Lugosi’s performance. Lugosi’s overacting is both the key to that which remains most fascinating about The Raven and, paradoxically, sinks the film into abject parody. It was Lugosi’s deliriously sadistic antics here which inspired the two-year UK ban on horror films. The ban significantly hurt Lugosi, causing his salary stock, never good to begin, to plummet. Seeing The Raven today through a decidedly more jaded contemporary lens, one wonders what all the fuss was about.  Still, one can easily imagine why 1935 audiences were nonplussed regarding the Hungarian ham.

As the -obsessed, stark staring mad Dr. Vollin, Lugosi melodramatically throws up his arms, laughs maniacally, and screams: “Poe, you are avenged!” It plays like a scene out of a wretched comic book, with a Transylvanian Marx Brother in the lead role. The reason for Vollin’s madness is his unrequited love of the prettified Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware), which never seems feasible.  In gratitude for Vollin saving her life, Jean does a Poe-inspired ballet for him, but the dance is as dull as she is. Earlier, Vollin compares himself to a god, and that is ultimately the nagging problem with Lugosi’s screen persona. Karloff inspires us to identify with his suffering and outsider status: Lugosi, with few exceptions, distances himself from his audience.

While Lugosi undoubtedly sends The Raven crashing, the film would have imploded from boredom without him. Aside from Karloff, the rest of the cast is a non-presence, alternately delivering lethargic line readings and  grotesque comedy relief, which is anything but. The only relief  is supplied by the two stars, who are our lifeline, even through all that Lugosi pretension.

Still from The Raven (1935)Lugosi has a chilling, seductive moment when asking Jean if her injured neck still hurts. We sense his glee in the potential of her pain. This scene of intimate sadism works far better than his later howling. However, even in Lugosi’s most embarrassing moments, he remains alluring through his presence and his idiosyncratic mangling of the English language: “Torture, I love torture! What a deeelicccious torture!” When  Vollin has just mutilated Karloff’s Bateman, the victim, upon seeing his own reflection, shoots out the room of mirrors. Lugosi’s Vollin responds with a hair raising cackle. Vollin would have felt at home in ‘s castle.

Unfortunately, Karloff is saddled with one of Jack Pierce’s absolute worst makeup jobs, which seriously threatens to undermine his performance. The actor even has a been there, done that canned monster growl. Playing second fiddle, Karloff’s discomfort occasionally shows. Still, he is our humanist touchstone. The strength of his performance lies in his introduction as a gangster on the lam, pre-mutilating surgery. He has an outcast monster-like sense of resilience and pathos, and with no help from his director or makeup man, Karloff is forced to rely solely on his own internal resources.  He succeeds with underrated, protean skills, delivering a refreshingly nuanced performance, even through a fake, pancake eye. Fortunately, Karloff never descends into Lugosi’s level of cringe-inducing caricature.

The rest of the film is merely a commercial for torture devices. Just as in a commercial, little drama is drawn from the props.  Apart from the two leads, The Raven is adolescent, gothic decor.

5TH IRREGULARLY SCHEDULED READERS’ CHOICE POLL

Now that we’ve Certified 182 of an eventual 366 movies as Weird, we’re now officially almost halfway through the List of the Best Weird Movies ever made. We’re very near the Point of No Return, about to go over the hump and get on the downhill slope. We’d like you, the loyal (and even the not-so-loyal) readers to chose the movies to celebrate this milestone.

As observant readers notice, some movies make the List on a first screening, while we nominate others as “List Candidates.” Sometimes these films are lovable classics with powerful imagery, but they’re only a little bit weird. Sometimes they’re amazingly bizarre, but utter crap. Sometimes the reviewer was in a bad mood when they screened it and didn’t give it a fair chance. And, although we’d never admit it, sometimes a movie was good enough to make the List on the first ballot, but we were too busy to write up a full Certified Entry that week and dashed off a List Candidate review instead. The end result is that any of the films listed below could have been placed on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies, but we chickened out and made each of them “List Candidates” instead.

Although these movies arrived at this point by different routes, they’re all in the same boat now. They all need your help to ensure their rightful spot on the List! Usually we only allow readers to vote two films on the List: in celebration of reaching the midway point (and because we have a lot more candidates than usual), we have split the voting into three groups. Please select one candidate from Group A (movies from 1932-1975), one from Group B (1979-2008), and one from Group C (2008-present). You can vote once per day. Voting closes at midnight (EST) on October 29, 2014.

Past Reader Choices that made the List were Alice, Visitor Q, Pink Floyd: The Wall, Trash Humpers, The American Astronaut, Dead Ringers, Keyhole, and Sweet Movie.

Comments are encouraged: maybe you can sway others to vote for your favorite?

You may vote once per day until the poll ends on October 29.

Vote below: Continue reading

LIST CANDIDATE: RUBIN AND ED (1991)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Trent Harris

FEATURING: Howard Hessman, , , Michael Greene

PLOT: Ed, an incompetent but devoted salesman in a cult-like real estate sales “Organization,” agrees to help shut-in Rubin bury his dead cat in hopes of getting him to attend a recruiting seminar.

Still from Rubin and Ed (1991)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: At heart it’s a simple quirky comedy, not too much different from the usual outing of the era, but Rubin and Ed has a few extra weird points in its favor: a sense of humor so eccentric that it’s been forced off road to become strictly a cult item, hallucination scenes with a water skiing cat, and Crispin Glover playing something very near the Crispin Glover-iest character ever written.

COMMENTS: “It’s going to get weird now, isn’t it?,” worries Ed after Rubin refuses to bury his decomposing cat in the desert because it’s “not the right spot,” despite the fact that, as Ed points out, “any cat in his right mind would be happy as a clam to be buried here!”

Although almost all of the film concerns Howard Hessman’s sad sack salesman Ed and Crispin Glover’s friendless weirdo Rubin, there are really three stars here: Hessman, Glover, and Trent Harris’ script. Glover is a no-brainer: dressed in skintight pinstripe bell bottoms and giant platform shoes (with magical martial powers), Rubin nearly defines Glover’s odd persona: the mentally ill nerd whose clueless awkwardness seems like it might explode into a burst of senseless violence at any moment. Given how broadly the character is written, Glover actually reigns in his performance, playing the oddness as much with a verbal shrug as with an outburst. Going over-the-top with such a already over-the-top character would have been a mistake, and Glover lets Rubin’s eccentricity come through naturally, rather than trying to force it.

A less expected success is Hessman, whose contribution here as straight man is under-appreciated, but possibly even more important to the film’s success than Glover’s wildness. Hessman  definitely leaves “Johnny Fever” behind for this portrait of a postmodern Willy Loman with anger-management issues, a disrespectful spouse, and an infatuation with the New Age sales teachings of a cult-like “Organization.” His Ed is a pure middle class loser, seeing himself as a trusted acolyte in the hierarchy of real estate guru Mr. Busta, while in actuality being closer in social standing to outcast Rubin.

Most of the laughs in Harris’ clever script result from Ed’s unsuccessful attempts to convert Rubin to the cause. His initial interview question—“are you 100% satisfied with your earning potential, 100% of the time?” is met with an unexpected “yep!” from penniless Rubin. Ed remains the saner of the duo, which is how the comedy dynamic works; the emotional arc of the film comes from his humbling realization that his own failings leave him with no right to judge oddball Rubin. Rubin and Ed was made in the early 90s, but the satire has a strong Reagan-era feel (Ed disappoints his mentor when suggests the best way to get money is “work” rather than the correct answer, “real estate”). The film flags a little at the coda, after Rubin’s storyline has been resolved, but in general Rubin and Ed is a sadly-forgotten, somewhat weird comedy gem that deserves rediscovery.

Rubin and Ed‘s pop culture reach may be limited to the answer to a trivia question: this is the movie Crispin Glover was promoting when he appeared, in character, on David Letterman’s late night TV show and almost kicked the host in the head. (Not knowing anything about Rubin and Ed, America assumed that Glover was wasted on powerful psychedelic drugs at the time).

Rubin and Ed was (sadly, unforgivably) never officially released on DVD, but (VHS-dub quality) copies can be purchased from writer/director Trent Harris at his personal site.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“While not sacrificing an iota of Rubin’s weirdness, Glover plays him with a dead-shot comic sureness, demonstrating admirable restraint and discipline. Hesseman similarly scores comic points with Ed by keying in on the character’s humanity while letting his own buttoned-down weirdness speak for itself. “–TV Guide

(This movie was nominated for review by “Caty.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: ALL THAT JAZZ (1979)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Bob Fosse

FEATURING: Roy Scheider, Leland Palmer , Ann Reinking, Erzsebet Foldi, Ben Vereen, Jessica Lange

PLOT: A pill-popping, womanizing, workaholic choreographer’s hard living leads to a heart attack.

all_that_jazz
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Aside from camp spectacles like Rocky Horror Picture Show, there aren’t many weird musicals. The musical is an inherently square art form. There are, however, frequently surreal dance sequences in musicals (see ), and All That Jazz finishes up with some of the weirdest; it’s not enough to put the movie on the List of the weirdest movies in history, but it’s worth a watch if you swing that way.

COMMENTS: Joe Gideon, the stand-in for director/choreographer Bob Fosse, begins every day with the same routine: a drop of Visine, a shot of Alka-Seltzer, a cigarette smoked in the shower, a Dexie, and finally he’s ready to look in the mirror and announce, “it’s showtime!” The director, who’s in the early stages of planning a major (and scandalously erotic) Broadway musical while simultaneously cutting a movie about a stand-up comic (based on Fosse’s own Lenny Bruce biopic), also finds time to sleep with as many aspiring dancers as possible, down a few Scotches at night, and candidly chat about his life with his only confidant, a hot gauzy angel (the radiant Jessica Lange).

With its confessional premise of a womanizing artist painting a roguish self-portrait with the aid of fantasy, All That Jazz cannot escape comparisons to the iconic artist autobiopic, 8 1/2. Compared to , Bob Fosse is all sheen and surface. Jazz suggests none of the depths of the Italian’s conflicted Catholicism or his weary existentialism. For Fosse, life is just work, sex, speed, repeat. The two films suggest the difference between an obsessive artist, and an obsessive craftsman. On the cool scale, Roy Scheider is no , so it’s difficult to buy the film’s premise that everyone is in his life is charmed into submission by this smug, glib, self-appointed genius, beyond his unquestioned ability to advance their careers. It’s no surprise that Fosse isn’t as interesting as Fellini (how many people who have ever lived are?), but still, as embodied by Scheider and his arrogant Van Dyke, Gideon’s naughty hedonism manages to keep our interest through a somewhat repetitive first two-thirds.

Although the early reels provide entertainment enough to carry us through, Jazz doesn’t really start high-kicking until the heart attack strikes and Gideon’s anesthesia-induced musical fantasies kick in. The finale builds weight from the context of the character building that’s gone before; when the choreographer’s preteen daughter—dressed provocatively in an evening gown with a cigarette holder and fur stole—vamps “you’ll miss me daddy, if you go away,” the effect is touching and ironic, rather than creepy. The fantasy numbers are produced by a chain-smoking Gideon doppelganger who appears beside the bedridden director: “you don’t have any lines here,” he mocks as the invalid tries to mumble through his gas mask to the loved ones passing before his mind’s eye. It arrives at a show-stopping, heart-stopping finale set to the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” (with altered lyrics). A smarmy Ben Vereen, acting like a telethon host, croons and hoofs his way alongside Schneider  in a disco-age Vegas netherworld complete with flashing colored lights, horrible automaton heads in the audience, and dancers dressed like Slim Goodbody. The number is stretched out for ten minutes, with a couple of false climaxes, but it never drags; it may not be the summation of a life’s work, but it is a masterpiece of its type. Emphasisizing seduction and drug abuse over tap dancing and top hats, All That Jazz is a musical that can appeal to people who hate musicals, which is a valuable service for many of us.

In 2014 the Criterion Collection pried the rights to All That Jazz away from 20th Century Fox, turning what was already a pretty good DVD release into a superlative DVD/Blu-ray package.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an uproarious display of brilliance, nerve, dance, maudlin confessions, inside jokes and, especially, ego. It’s a little bit as if Mr. Fosse had invited us to attend his funeral — the wildest show-business sendoff a fellow ever designed for himself — and then appeared at the door to sell tickets and count the house; after all, funerals are only wasted on the dead.”–Vincent Canby, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Dwarf Oscar, who noted, “It’s pretty weird at times, but I actually don’t know if that is a weirdness inherent to the genre of musicals, or if that film is truly one of a kind.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

First off, apologies if you’ve had trouble reaching the site recently. If you’re reading this, it suggests that things have improved. Starting yesterday, 366 Weird Movies came under a virtual denial-of-service attack from rouge bots sending repeated requests, attempting to brute force guess our (uncrackable) administrative passwords. (We are not sure whether these are garden variety hackers or botnets deployed by the NSA’s ultra-secret “Bureau of Normalcy” in their continuing illegal clandestine “War on Weirdness”). The stress they put on the server caused our host to throttle the site, meaning it was essentially inaccessible for most of the day. After manually banning the worst offenders and tweaking firewall settings, things appear to have improved, but may still be rocky for the next few days. Unfortunately for us, the long term solution may be to pay for more expensive hosting to deal with these inevitable, senseless attacks. Please bear with us.

We press on, regardless of the haters. Careful readers will note that we have now certified 182 of an eventual 366 movies as among the best weird movies of all time; we’re just about halfway through! In honor of that midpoint milestone we think that it’s time for you, the loyal readers, to vote on two more items to make the List, so we will begin another of our irregularly-scheduled “Reader’s Choice” polls next week. Before it gets to that, we’ll dip into the reader suggestion box as we look at Bob Fosse’s (somewhat surreal) fictionalized musical autobiography All That Jazz and Trent Richardson’s highly eccentric buddy comedy Rubin and Ed. Also, Alfred Eaker continues to channel October’s Halloween spirit with his take on the 1935 / team-up The Raven.

There are apparently some really weird movies out there we still don’t know about. Evidence comes in the form of strange Google searches, which we take note of to compile our survey of Weirdest Search Terms Used to Locate 366 Weird Movies This Week. Before we get to those, however, we have advice for the person searching for info on how to “unblock asian girls”: we suggest a soy-based laxative. The first of our weird movie selections “movie where man got all women pregnant and they wore red ,white, and blue,” which is pretty much The Handmaid’s Tale except for the one guy who got all women pregnant (what stamina!) Also weird was “a documentary made around 1960’s the girl hides in a pipe,” which conjures up an image of a lady climbing into a giant meerschaum. There’s also “sci fi film prison forced down throat,” which seems like a pretty severe punishment. But without a doubt our Weirdest Search Term of the Week was “movie of dog becomes spiderortho bullets”; not only is the concept of a dog becoming bullets fairly strange, but we’ve never seen the word “spiderortho” used as an adjective before.

Here’s how the ridiculously-long reader-suggested review queue stands: All That Jazz (next week!); Rubin & Ed (next week!); The Real McCoy; Themroc; Candy (1968); The Fox Family; Angelus; Britannia Hospital; This Filthy Earth; Conspirators of Pleasure; Piano Tuner of Earthquakes; Bubba Continue reading

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