WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week Giles Edwards will take his turn at 366 Underground, giving you the scoop on the microbudget psychedelic experiment How the Sky Will Melt (which will debut on the very worthy indie film site NoBudge on Tuesday). Meanwhile, G. Smalley will take in the -esque new release Jauja, about a Danish surveyor searching for his daughter in an unnamed wilderness, and continue the Summer re-evaluation project with a second look at ‘s insane 1996 meta-comedy Schizopolis. Finally, Alfred Eaker fills out his survey of pre-Code classics with peeks at a couple of old dark flicks: The Old Dark House and The Invisible Man.

We saw an uptick in strange Google searches this week, which is an encouraging sign for our Weirdest Search Term of the Week contest. We’ll start with an honorable mention: “ghost spam is free from the politics, we dancing like a paralytics.” Definitely a weird search term, but since it is itself an example of an annoying, brain-dead “ghost spam” blackhat SEO trick, we declare it ineligible for the honor of Weirdest Search Term of the Week. Moving on, we find people looking for some damn odd movies, like “movie: 1980s comedy horror about cursed bull balls” and something about “weird animated poetic bugs.” Strange, but we’ll give the official nod for Weirdest Search Term of the Week to  “beauitful movies janpans sixy fast in the bedroom eat boby,” a query that would almost certainly be incredibly disturbing if the searcher could spell at all.

Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue stands today: The Fox Family; Angelus; Conspirators of PleasureThe Ninth Configuration; Love Me If You Dare; Fando y Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 8/27/2015

This post is being updated live. Expect tpyos.

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):

Queen of Earth (2015): A wealthy woman under stress retires to the countryside with an old friend, where her mental condition continues to deteriorate. From Impolex‘s Alex Ross Perry, this has earned a few cautious comparisons to Repulsion, Persona, and other female-identity disorder films. Queen of Earth at IFC films.

Windsor Drive (2015): A Hollywood actor with a dead girlfriend has a mental breakdown. Directed by Natalie Bible’ (the extra ‘ is an affectation, not a typo, making for dopey-looking constructions like “Natalie Bible”s newest film,” but we won’t hold that against the movie). Windsor Drive official site.

SCREENINGS – (New York City, weekend of Aug 28-30):

Various: We came across a blog that NYC area weird movie fans are going to want to bookmark. Midnight Grind’s purpose is simple and to the point: it provides a weekly list of midnight movie screenings in the NY metro area. Not all of the films are weird (or even cult movies), but there are enough outre offerings in the Big Apple that everyone should be able to find something strange to entertain them late nights. This weekend’s highlights are Blue Velvet at the IFC and (naturally) The Rocky Horror Picture Show (multiple locations). We may have to link to these guys weekly. Midnight Grind.

SCREENINGS – (Cinefamily, Los Angeles, Saturday Aug. 29):

3 Women (1977): Read the Certified Weird entry! Cinefamily screens ‘s dream about two (well, three) delusional women in the Mojave desert as part of their irregular “Women of Cinefamily” series. 3 Women at Cinefamily.

SCREENINGS – (AFI Silver Theater, Silver Springs, MD, Sunday Aug. 30):

Blue Velvet (1986): Read the Certified Weird entry! ‘s perverse classic caps off AFI’s summer series of “totally awesome” 1980s classics. In dreams, I walk with you… Blue Velvet at AFI Silver Theater.

FILM FESTIVALS – Cambridge Film Festival (Cambridge, UK, Sep. 3-13):

The Cambridge festival, which is overshadowed by the Venice International Film Festival on the continent, nevertheless has a nice mix of relatively big American movies (Dope and Irrational Man), smaller experimental films, and classy revivals (the films of silent master are one of the features this year).

  • Begotten – A very rare 16mm screening of the bizarre, Certified Weird creation fable, with a new live improvised soundtrack, accompanied by two seldom-seen shorts from . This magnificent event is part of a series called “Dark Pictures” and it happens on Fri., Sep 4.
  • By Our Selves – Experimental film by  retracing the steps of a forest journey by the 19th century poet John Clare, followed by a straw bear. Sep. 5.
  • Children of the Night [AKA Limbo] – Movie about a colony of child vampires being indoctrinated into believing they are a master race. UK premiere on Sep 7th.
  • Hellions –  (Pontypool) Halloween-themed horror about a pregnant girl terrorized by childlike monsters; reportedly surreal visuals. Screens Sep. 3.
  • The Reflecting Skin – Another screening of a Certified Weird classic; director will be on hand to discuss this childhood death fantasy on Sep. 8.
  • Schmitke – Mildly absurd/surreal Czech film about a wind turbine engineer entering a strange forest. The UK premiere is Sep 4th and it screens again on the 7th.
  • Splendor Solis (half of the team behind Savage Witches) has composed a feature length experimental twin-screen film out of footage he has collected for the past 17 years. Screens Sep. 11. More information at the Underground Film Studio.

Cambridge Film Festival Home Page.

IN DEVELOPMENT:

Forever Phibes (est. Halloween 2016): Not a whole lot of information here, but the “official” Dr. Phibes blog has announced a new Phibes movie, to star Malcolm McDowell as the deadly deco doctor. More info if/when it becomes available. Press release at the Official Dr. Phibes blog.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Angel Heart (1987): Read our review. We don’t consider it one of the weirdest of all time, but ‘s voodoo neo-noir is atmospheric as Hell. Buy Angel Heart [Blu-ray].

The Doors (1991): Val Kilmer stars as Jim Morrison, who takes acid, spouts poetry, converses with his Native American spirit guide, and occasionally records rock n’ roll hits. This psychedelic feature was the beginning of ‘s brief “weird” period that climaxed with 1994’s Natural Born Killers. Buy The Doors [Blu-ray].

Jacob’s Ladder (1990): Read the Certified Weird entry! Jacob’s Ladder has been out on Blu-ray before and there are no special features advertised, except for a digital HD copy of the film. Buy Jacob’s Ladder [Blu-ray].

The Last Dragon (1985): A young Harlem kung fu expert searches for a master to teach him “the glow,” but finds songstress Vanity instead, in this martial arts/comedy/musical with breakdancing bits. Perhaps more “goofy” than weird, but this 1980s cult film is out of the ordinary and high in cheesy nostalgia value.  Buy The Last Dragon [Blu-ray].

Vampire Hunter D (1985): In a post-apocalyptic world, a girl recruits the mysterious “D” to save her from a vampire’s curse.  An influential fantasy anime with a cult following. Buy Vampire Hunter D [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.

PRE-CODE HEAVEN: MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932) AND MURDERS IN THE ZOO (1933)

The Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932) is a pre-Code pulp serial dressed up as a feature. It is grounded in its period, which includes a considerable amount of racist baggage. If you can get past that aspect, The Mask Of Fu Manchu is a pleasantly dumb, super-sized bag of heavily salted, heavily buttered theater popcorn.

At the movie’s center is ‘s crisply malicious performance as Manchu, which should go down as one of the most memorable examples of ham acting, on a level with Ricardo Montalbaln in The Wrath Of Kahn. The Caucasian-as-Oriental was a 30s and 40s casting fad (Peter Lorre, , Myrna Loy, and Karloff were frequent favorites in this department). revived the trend in the 60s when cast as Fu Manchu in a series of films. In contrast to Lee’s laconic portrayal of the Asian super villain, Karloff plays it to the hilt; his body language—from his condescending, sadistic grin to his prickly use of his hands—is electric. Manchu is clearly bisexual, and Karloff invests the character with a debauchery that rivals his Hjalmar Poelzig. He introduces Fah Lo See (Loy) to his subjects with these lines: “I am the most unfortunate of men. I have no son to follow me. Therefore, in shame I ask you to receive a message from my ugly and insignificant daughter.” Fu Manchu backs up his disdain for his offspring with an offer to pimp her out, which fails to earn much compassion from us for the poor girl, since Loy goes the distance in portraying Asian women unsympathetically. Loy’s performance is wildly uneven: bouts of lethargy are followed by orgasmic fiendishness (at its most fully-baked when she plays voyeur to a white man being horse whipped by two Africans). Half of her performance admirably competes with Karloff.

Still from The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)Although an atypical MGM production, Mask of Fu Manchu was lined with typical top studio talent. Co-written by Edgar Allen Wolf (The Wizard Of Oz) and John Willard (The Cat And The Canary), co-directed by Charles Brabin (1925’s Ben-Hur) and Charles Vidor (1946), gowns by the famous Adrian (Grand Hotel), and art direction by Cedric Gibbons (Singin’ in the Rain).

The Mask Of Fu Manchu is filled to the brim with mockery of Christian platitudes. Fu Manchu and Fah Lo See take every opportunity to sadistically ridicule WASP hypocrisy and, as bland as the heroes are, it’s easy to root for the villains—particularly when the opium addled antagonists are gleefully preparing to sacrifice the dull, virginal Karen Morley as she screams: “You hideous yellow monsters!” The plot is ho-hum, and the film manages to be alternately animated and static. It’s the trashy dialogue, villainous leads, erotic art direction, and sumptuous photography that sell it as an excuse for torture scenes, alligators, and genocidal death rays, oh my!

Still from Murders in the Zoo (1933)The opening scene of Murders In the Zoo (1933), in which sews a man’s mouth shut, was considered so gruesome that the film was long banned in England. The film shares certain themes with both Island of Lost Souls (1932) and The Most Dangerous Game (1933), but its uniqueness lies in Atwill’s manic, savory performance and its zoological themes. (Not coincidentally, apart from Atwill, the only performance of note is Kathleen Burke, AKA “the Panther Woman” from Island of Lost Souls). It is unfortunate that Atwill was wasted in Hollywood. He should have gone down as a horror star ranking near Karloff. Apart from playing the Burgermeister to inspectors and politicos, he only was permitted to shine in half a dozen or so features, one of which is the grand-guignol Murders In The Zoo. 

Here, Atwill plays the malevolent Dr. Eric Gorman, a distant cousin to both Dangerous Games‘ hunter of humans Zaroff and Island‘s self-styled God Dr. Moreau. Among Gorman’s victims is his much put upon wife Evelyn (Burke), whom he eventually feeds to crocodiles. After committing crimes against humanity in the jungles, Gorman acclimates himself into American society with relative ease. His vast wealth buys and influences friends. True to Depression-era morality, the elitist super rich are cold, calculating villains, the dregs of society, and (here) the true beasts. Quite a bit of time is spent on this social commentary, in between some rather nasty bookended homicides and brutal pre-Code misogyny.

The film’s primary flaw lies in the comedy relief supplied by Charles Ruggles. Most of that is forgiven in an elaborately staged banquet hall finale, with the self-appointed deity meeting his comeuppance, courtesy of unlocked cages and Mother Nature.

215. HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING (1989)

BAGLEY: Everything I do is rational.

JULIA: Why have you put chickens down the lavatory?

BAGLEY: To thaw them before dismemberment.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Rachel Ward, Richard Wilson, Bruce Robinson (voice)

PLOT: Dennis Dimbleby Bagley is an unscrupulous advertising executive, but he finds himself blocked while trying to come up with a campaign to sell pimple cream. The stress leads him to combination epiphany and mental breakdown, and he decides to renounce hypocrisy and manipulation and retire from marketing. The internal strife, however, has caused a boil to form on his neck; and that pustule then forms a face, and a voice, and a personality that’s even nastier than the old Bagley…

Still from How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director Bruce Robinson began his career as a struggling actor, but found greater success when he turned to screenwriting and directing. His first script, The Killing Fields, was nominated for an Oscar in 1984. His first film as director, 1987’s Withnail & I, was a semi-autobiographical story of two poor, hard-drinking actors, also starring Richard E. Grant; it became a cult hit. How to Get Ahead in Advertising was his second feature film, but did not replicate the success of Withnail.
  • Robinson (uncredited) provides the voice of the boil.
  • Advertising was produced by George Harrison’s Handmade Films, who also produced Monty Python films and the Certified Weird Time Bandits.
  • The London Sunday-Times gave away free copies of the DVD as a promotion in 2006.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Obviously, the fetuslike boil-with-a-face peering out from Bagley’s executive neck.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Disney birds; chatty chancre; notice his cardboard box?

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: How to Get Ahead in Advertising grows organically from that greatest fertilizer of weird films: obsession. Writer/director Bruce Robinson has Something to Say, and he is not going to let taste, subtlety, or realism get in the way of him saying it. The movie is completely committed to its bizarre two-headed premise, and star Grant gladly goes over the top for his director, literally baring his buttocks while wearing an apron and stuffing frozen chickens in his toilet.


Original trailer for How to Get Ahead in Advertising

COMMENTS: Ad exec Dennis Bagley develops the mother of all zits Continue reading 215. HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING (1989)

CAPSULE: DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS (2014)

DIRECTED BY: Spike Lee

FEATURING: Stephen Williams, Zaraah Abrahams, Rami Malek, Elvis Nolasco, Thomas Jefferson Byrd

PLOT: A well-to-do doctor of anthropology gets stabbed with an ancient Ashanti dagger and becomes immortal but addicted to blood.

Still from Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The movie’s vampire-origin premise is an uncommon one, but the movie is weighed down by a cold—bordering on somnolent—lead performance, a scattershot tone, and the fact that the most compelling scenes are largely uninvolved with the main action.

COMMENTS: The opening credits of Spike Lee’s latest movie are fully alive. Across the acting and production shout-outs, Lee shows off a very skilled street dancer (Charles “Lil Buck” Riley) performing a number of smooth, impressive moves in various Brooklyn street spots. The momentum continues with the opening scene proper, a lively gospel shout ceremony at “Lil’ Piece of Heaven” church. During the full-blooded, upbeat sermonizing, we see Dr. Hess Green (Stephen Williams) sitting alone in the back, noticeably separate from the rapt congregants. After this introduction, however, it seems that all the blood drains from the movie.

What follows is a sometimes dreamy, sometimes intellectual, and consistently tedious affair involving the realities of a modern, bookish vampire. Dr. Greene hosts big parties for intelligentsia at his large estate in Martha’s Vineyard (with grounds spanning 40 acres, no less). He chats amiably, but briefly, with the various educated bourgeoisie, before having to hightail it to his basement for some blood packs from the refrigerator. He emerges with a wine glass of blood; when an insistent guest tries it and spits it out, he glibly explains, “It’s organic.” And so comes and goes one of the few breaks from the largely unremitting monotony of the film.

Between his unfortunate conversion to vampirism and a personal spiritual revelation, he murders and drinks blood of various poor women of color. His traces of hyper-shy charm are smudged over by his callous and guileless manner. For reasons not entirely clear, he immediately falls in love with Ganja Hightower (Zaraah Abrahams), who was once married to his erstwhile assistant. She seems to hate everything and everyone, and has adopted the unfortunate habit of being 100% honest 100% of the time. She has a backstory to explain her current hostility to the world, but I found myself utterly incapable of seeing how that justifies her sheer unpleasantness. Throughout the movie, Spike Lee (who co-wrote the screenplay) dribbles in bits and pieces of mumblecore exchanges; where he should have focused on creating an atmosphere of angst and ambiguity, instead he makes each character no more than a projection of a type. Even the hammy characters from Blacula have more nuance and relatability.

There are some scenes of vitality and beauty. Whenever the action shuffles over to the church (all too infrequently), the movie  immediately gets a shot in the arm. And while I am not one to generally marvel at the visual splendor of a scene, the marriage on the private beach that takes place in the second half was a sheer joy just to look at. Unfortunately, I can only come to the conclusion that while the movie toyed with greatness, it came short in a number of ways. It may have been a worthy recommendation if it had been: more atmospheric, more puzzling, livelier, wittier, and so on. Had it thoroughly pursued any one of those directions, it may have been on to something. Instead, Spike Lee seems to want it all, and it ends up falling flat.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…with no one breathing down [Lee’s] neck, it’s free to zoom all over the place — from seriousness to high comedy to weird comedy to quietly anxious set pieces…  For better and sometimes worse, ‘Jesus’ is undiluted Lee — a half-committed attempt at a twisted genre film that freely gets lost down unexplored alleyways.”–Matt Prigge, Metro (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: BLACULA (1972)

DIRECTED BY: William Crain

FEATURING: William Marshall, Vonetta McGee, Thalmus Rasulala, Gordon Pinsent, Denise Nicholas

PLOT: After being cursed and imprisoned by Count Dracula, African prince Mamuwalde is revived after two centuries when his coffin is brought to Los Angeles by a pair of interior decorators who purchased the Count’s estate. There, he meets what he believes to be the reincarnation of his murdered wife while stalking the backstreets of 1970s LA.

Still from Blacula (1972)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Blacula’s weirdness  mostly stems from the manner in which it has aged. While the concept of a black vampire remains something of a novelty (and in fact, Blacula is the first movie to have an African vampire), the story is a fairly pedestrian string of horror-movie situations. Perhaps the weirdest thing about it is that it presents Los Angeles as a town inhabited exclusively by black citizens, white policemen, and homosexuals of both racial groups.

COMMENTS: As an early example of 1970s blacksploitation movies (and as the first horror-themed blacksploitation movie), Blacula is a fairly straightforward affair that nonetheless could be discussed at length on any number of levels. Having volunteered to watch it and write this review, I’m kicking myself for not having taken advantage of the “African-Americans in Horror” cinema class that was offered my senior year in college. That said, I’ll take comfort in the fact that the lens through which I watched this movie was a “weird” one, and at least in that regard, I can speak with some degree of license.

The movie opens in an unexpected way: in 1780, Prince Mamuwalde and his bride are dining at the palace of Count Dracula. They have come as emissaries to Europe in order to discuss ending the slave trade. The Count makes an offhand remark that comes across as a bid to purchase Mamuwalde’s wife, the two Africans try and leave, and bam: the wife is murdered, and the Count passes along his curse to the unfortunate African prince. Throughout this vignette, the husband and wife come across as educated and humane. As to what Dracula’s business with the slave trade was, I leave that to history. Fast-forward two hundred years and a couple of gay antiquarians snap up the late Count’s castle and belongings for a song, with the ambition of selling the Gothic kitsch for a bundle back in their hometown of L.A.

Looking back on that description, the plot does sound more than a little strange. However, Blacula is primarily a period horror piece (that period being, in this case, then-contemporary 1970s). There’s an open-minded black LAPD pathologist, Dr. Gordon Thomas, sporting an Afro, turtle-neck shirts, and a belief that the untimely demise of the two antique dealers was not caused by rats. Appropriately, his best buddy is a rumpled Irish cop, Lt. Det. Jack Peters, who acts as the down-to-earth foil of the occult-inclined Dr. Thomas. Conveniently, the doctor’s main squeeze, Michelle, is the sister of Tina, the young woman whom Mamuwalde is convinced is his wife reincarnated.

So, all the main characters are tied together, to varying degrees of coincidence. They are all at first charmed by the undead prince, with Tina falling (rather quickly) in love with him. She can’t be blamed, really. William Marshall makes Blacula profoundly charming, and it is he who carries the movie with a performance as weighty as that of Othello (unsurprisingly, as he played that role on stage in no fewer than six productions over his acting career).

Shuffled into this mix of B-grade horror, A-grade oratory, and ’70s-grade costume and vernacular are a couple of chase scenes set to a funky score, an eyebrow-raising series of remarks on homosexuals, and a strangely elaborate opening-credit animation title sequence that has a black bat hunting a glob of blood that morphs into a woman. Blacula is a passable horror movie, and Marshall makes the titular villain unforgettable — but this movie isn’t quite on the same plane as ‘s shelved sequel, Funkferatu.

2015 saw Shout Factory’s horror subsidiary, Scream Factory, release Blacula and its sequel Scream Blacula Scream on on double-feature Blu-ray, with commentary by film historian David F. Walker.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“‘That,’ observes a casual companion, ‘is one strange dude!’ We can only agree… Anybody who goes to a vampire movie expecting sense is in serious trouble, and ‘Blacula’ offers less sense than most.”–Roger Greenspun, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Spike Lee’s Da Sweet Blood of Jesus came out this year, and, coincidentally, Blacula (and the sequel Scream Blacula Scream) was released on Blu-ray just before that. Sensing the opportunity for an African vampire weird double feature review, we put our most soulful reviewer—Giles Edwards—on the case. Meanwhile, G. Smalley continues to circle back and re-evaluate the older List Candidates; this week, it’s the two-headed satire How to Get Ahead in Advertising that gets a second chance. And Alfred Eaker continues his pre-Code exhumation project with another pair of that shocked ’em in the early 30s: Mask of Fu Manchu and Murders in the Zoo.

Google’s increased privacy settings continue to throttle back the number of searches that are available for webmasters to view. Now, we are totally in favor of hiding confidential communications between perverts and their trusted search engines—until it impedes our ability to create a list of the Weirdest Search Term of the Week, that it. Sometimes the corporate suits don’t consider how their decisions affect the little guy. Nonetheless, we soldier on, selecting the weirdest search terms we saw this week from people who don’t encrypt their queries. We are down to noting allegedly weird searches like “www sax com 2012” as runners up. Or, we can make cheap jokes about searches like “movies about a woman who pretended to be religious yet evil dwells in her soul” (answer: The Sarah Palin Story). Ultimately, for lack of alternative we will have to settle for distasteful queries like “fish enters vagina in nude girl film” as our Weirdest Search Term of the Week. Pretty ordinary stuff by our standards, but until people stop valuing their privacy over our amusement, it will have to do.

Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue stands today: The Fox Family; Angelus; Conspirators of PleasureThe Ninth Configuration; Love Me If You Dare; Fando y Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 8/21/2015

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

NEW ON DVD:

La Grande Bouffe (1973): See description in Blu-ray below. Buy La Grande Bouffe [DVD/Blu-ray combo].

Strangerland (2015): A family’s two children disappear into the Australian wilderness (yes, the same one that swallowed the kids from Walkabout and Picnic at Hanging Rock). Despite ‘s star power this one passed unnoticed at the box office, and left the few audiences that saw it nonplussed at its odd occurrences and lack of explanations. Buy Strangerland.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

La Grande Bouffe (1973): Read the Certified Weird entry!  Arrow Video stuffs this DVD/Blu combo release so full of extras, you could just die. Buy La Grande Bouffe [DVD/Blu-ray combo].

Strangerland (2015): See description in DVD above. Buy Strangerland [Blu-ray].

Troma’s War (1998): ‘s typically bad taste take on the action genre, as the citizens of Tromaville take on an army of terrorists.  Troma’s proudly el-cheapo 1980s films don’t seem to merit the hi-def Blu-ray treatment, but who am I to argue with a paying customer? Buy Troma’s War [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.

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