Roar (1981): A gang of lions, leopards and tigers attack African homesteaders in a nonstop barrage of fangs and claws. Starring Tippi Hedren, Noel Marshall and their then 14-year old daughter Melanie Griffith, reports stated that 70 members of the cast and crew were injured in this insane exercise in thespian imperilment. Presumably this limited theatrical release is a prelude to a new home video offering by Drafthouse/Olive Films. Roar at Cinefamily.
Nothing Sacred (2012): Forgotten fantasy about a pair of twins who race around the globe collecting artifacts to defeat a wizard, meeting minotaurs, the god Hermes, immortal kings, etc. Some of the dialogue is in untranslated French and Mvskoke (the Cree Indian tongue); the lack of subtitles was a deliberate directorial choice that confused many viewers who thought their disc was defective. Buy Nothing Sacred.
Once or twice a decade comes a film that polarizes audiences, particularly of the American variety. This is not surprising given that few Westerners, spoon-fed on undemanding aesthetics, even know how to watch film. Recent examples of divisive cinema include Noah and Birdman from 2014. Both appeared to be genre films of sorts.
The audiences going to Noah jumped off the church bus, expecting to see the cinematic equivalent of a Velcro bible lesson with rosy-cheeked prophet loading friendly snakes into his wooden yacht, capped off by a “Love American Style” rainbow. Instead, they were pounded by Aronofsky’s brass knuckles of mythological and theological diversity, with a Creator who actually cared about his planet. The result was widespread provocation.
Birdman was a sort of belated, near perfect follow-up to Batman Returns(1992) (never mind that it was a bird instead of a flying rodent). Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne was off-kilter as his alter ego, and the hyperkinetic actor was tailor made for this iconic role, revealing slivers of a manic-depressive personality as he played ringmaster in a freak show carnival. Birdman takes that development further, exposing the actor behind the actor behind the suit. Audiences, desiring more blockbuster mayhem, were treated to something far more idiosyncratic and original. By and large, they responded like a hostile bull charging to a flag of artsy-fartsy red.
Of course, both the Bible and comic books have scores of zealous adherents, particularly when it comes to cinematic treatments of the objects of their adulation. Science fictions fanatics are made of similar stuff. When Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus was released in 2012, the Alien fans were deeply offended by the lack of a guy in an H.R. Giger gorilla suit. In place of mugging Ritz Brothers and Bill Paxton was the beautifully enigmatic pro-choice seeker Noomi Rapace. Too original for bourgeoisie creampuffs, Prometheus stole the fiery expectations of the sci fi formula. Genre disciples screamed blasphemy and branded Scott as Judas.
Eleven years before Prometheus, there was the Steven Spielberg/Stanley Kubrick hybrid A.I., which was, perhaps, saddled with more preconceived notions and baggage than any film of the last half century.
The introductory obstacle was the Spielberg proselytizers, who hoped for heart-tugging family fare about a cute plush toy. Knowing that A.I. had been attached to the late Kubrick, Spielberg’s sycophants probably had the most misgivings.
The second obstacle came from the church of Kubrick. Now that Stanley was dead, he was, of course, canonized. In that parish of holy auteurs, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth among the parishioners. That populist antichrist, Spielberg, was not Continue reading A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001)→
“Many animators participated in the creation of Nekojiru-so, but I wonder how many of the animators fully understood the concept and manifested that understanding in the animation. When Yuasa and I explained things during animation meetings, we really didn’t understand it ourselves either.”–Tatsuo Satō, Cat Soup director, DVD commentary
DIRECTED BY: Tatsuo Satō
FEATURING: Not applicable (the film is animated with no dialogue)
PLOT: After nearly drowning in a bathtub, a young anthropomorphic cat sees his sick older sister being led away by a purple figure, follows it, and engages in a tug of war in which he recovers part of her body. He then returns home where he finds the sister still ill and convalescing, and gives her the part he recovered from the purple figure. She recovers from her sickness, and the pair embark on a series surreal adventures throughout the cartoon cosmos, although the sister is only half-alive until they eventually locate a mystical flower that restores her.
Cat Soup is based on a series of manga by the artist Nekojiru (a pseudonym that actually translates as “cat soup”). Although Nekojiru’s stories were also dreamlike, they were more structured than this adaptation, and little of Cat Soup is taken directly from her works. Nekojiru committed suicide in 1998.
Technically, the Japanese title translates as something like “Cat Soup Flower.”
Director Tatsuo Satō specializes in television anime and has directed episodes of “Martian Successor Nadesico,” “Ninja Scroll: The Series,” and “Bodacious Space Pirates.”
Co-writer Masaaki Yuasa also produced and was the animation director; he has since directed his own feature (2004’s Mind Game) and several shorts and TV episodes, while continuing to work as an animator on other projects.
Because it was an OVA (“Original Video Animation” in anime parlance, meaning direct-to-DVD with no theatrical release), Cat Soup was not eligible to compete in many film festivals, although it did take honors at a few (including recognition as Fantasia’s Best Short Film of 2001).
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Choosing a single image from Cat Soup, which is a 30-minute barrage of insane, enchanting, and frequently disturbing visions made by animators who had been freed from almost any constraints on what they were allowed to imagine, is a tall task. We selected a still from the scene which literally enacts the title. Making this “cat soup” involves dressing up in mouse dominatrix gear and chopping up the yummy kitties with a giant pair of scissors.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: In some ways I envy the reviewer who was the first to get to Cat Soup and dub it “Hello Kitty on acid.” (Although I actually haven’t been able to track down the critic who first said that; perhaps the description is so obvious that everyone just assumes someone else came up with it before they did). I think a better description, perhaps, would be “Hello Kitty goes to Hell,” because the acidic hallucinations here all occur in the context of cat spirits wandering a weird world halfway between life and death, a place where God appears as a carnival magician and cuts planets in half and slurps their molten cores like soup. The brisk 30 minute runtime is the perfect length for this nearly plot-free pageant of morbid feline surrealism, which hits your surreal receptors hard, but doesn’t last so long you build up a tolerance to the insanity.
PLOT: A housesitter, her criminal boyfriend, and her slow brother watch the house of a classical music critic and his depressed wife while the couple vacations in Italy; strange things happen.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a competent psychological horror that provides some weird titillation, but doesn’t go far enough to become a masterpiece.
COMMENTS:The opening montage, featuring a golf game between a pipe-smoking, tweed-wearing representative of the 1950s leisure class and a soldier with a nosebleed, seems to have little to do with the rest of the story of House of Last Things. You will see other golf balls, along with apples, balloons, blood drops, and jesters, however, as the movie juggles a collection of recurring images which initially bewilder, but eventually fall into place. The three main characters, one invited and two squatting, exhibit an equally strange range of behavior as they settle into this ordinary suburban home. Jesse may be a jerk and a small-time crook, but what possesses him to suddenly abduct a small child from a parking lot on a whim? Unexplained occurrences contribute to the unhinged atmosphere. In Italy, a harlequin accosts the vacationing critic. Back home, an army of balloons attack a real estate agent. An apple has an unusual core. For most of the film, confusion reigns, although nearly everything is sorted out by the end.
As hot housesitter Kelly, Lindsey Haun shows more depth than her scream queen résumé might suggest; she’s likable despite her character’s almost inexplicably bad taste in men. As the primary object of her character flaw, Blake Berris ably plays the repulsively suave boyfriend as the kind of douchebag you would expect to see offed early in a slasher movie to cheers from the audience (this movie has other plans for him, however). While the two main leads are effective, the rest of the cast is mostly competent, although kid actor Micah Nelson is good enough considering his age and has a deliberate Danny Torrance quality, right down to his haircut and halting delivery. The script wisely avoids the need for elaborate special effects, building unease instead from confusing sequences and recurring symbols. The visual quality is professional, crisp video and simple camerawork, on the level of an accomplished TV movie. The original music, credited to Alessandro Ponti and Andrew Poole Todd, is above average; the quietly menacing themes add mysterious gravity to the somewhat commonplace imagery. Overall, House of Last Things is a budget mindbender that at times gets a little ambitious for its britches, but still rates as 90 minutes of relatively pleasant confusion and resolution. Among straight-to-streaming horrors, it’s a decent spur-of-the-moment pick for weird fans.
FEATURING: Jennifer Jones, Holly Near, Jordan Christopher, Charles Aidman, Lou Rawls, Davey Davison, Roddy McDowell PLOT: The travails of Beverly Hills-born Tara Nicole Steele, whose mother is a famous film star still trying to remain in the spotlight and whose father (Charles Aidman) is a closeted homosexual. When she returns home for her debutante party, she falls under the influence of a charismatic rock singer and his band mates, and the influence spreads to the entire household.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: One of the lesser known products of the culture clash of the Psychedelic 60’s with Old Hollywood, Angel is a sweaty Tennessee Williams fever dream/soap opera on acid, and would make a decent double bill with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls—and give it a run for its money.
COMMENTS: There’s just no description for Angel, Angel, Down We Go, other than to call it another raw look into the (twisted) brain of Robert Thom, writer of Wild in the Streets, Death Race 2000, and The Witch Who Came from the Sea, among others. Angel is the one time that Thom was in the director’s chair, having direct control over his material.
Angel was soundly flogged by critics and ignored by the general public when first released in August 1969, but when the Manson Family made their debut at roughly the same time, the film was given a second go-around under a different title, Cult of the Damned, in hopes that audiences would flock to the carny show. Audiences didn’t, critics still flogged the film, and it fell into obscurity, not even getting a home video release until February 2015. There were some satellite-TV screenings in the 80’s and on Showtime, and it streamed on Netflix (often getting confused with Guyana: Cult of the Damned). The movie gained a small cult of devotees who managed to catch the rare screening or who saw it during its initial run. While the title Cult of the Damned hints at lurid Mansonesque goings-on in upscale Beverly Hills, there is no cathartic massacre of demented hippies tearing down the social order at the end of the film. The original Angel title is more in line with the film’s tone, which is violent, but is mainly emotional/intellectual violence.
Angel would seem to be part of that slew of films made in the late 60’s where Old Hollywood, trying to stay relevant to audiences, collided, J.G. Ballard-style, with the New Counterculture (Valley of the Dolls, The Big Cube, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Myra Breckenridge). It also partakes of the subgenre where a charismatic individual wreaks havoc on a ‘normal’ family (Teorema). It even goes further by actively incorporating aspects of avant-garde/underground film and theater, further exaggerating the camp of Hollywood melodrama. Imagine if some studio had hired Kenneth Anger to do a narrative feature film.
According to Paul Green’s “Jennifer Jones: The Life and Films,” Angel originally derived from a 1961 play of Robert Thom’s, repurposed as “A far out version of The Green Hat kind of play about a wild girl heading for destruction… a present day type of F. Scott Fitzgerald heroine.” That fits with reading the film as a demented fever dream of its main character/unreliable narrator, Tara Steele (Holly Near): child of neglectful parents and victim of emotional (and quite possibly, sexual) abuse, whose psychology is visualized via a Robert Rauschenberg/Martha Colburn type of collage created by artist Shirley Kaplan.
One can go on about the flaws of this film—and many have—but the main flaw is oddly the thing which makes it fascinating. Angel is overstuffed with themes which occur throughout Thom’s work: the fascination/repulsion with Old Hollywood (The Legend of Lylah Clare, The Phantom of Hollywood), the jaundiced look at the youth culture (Wild in the Streets), the effects of emotional and sexual abuse (The Witch Who Came from the Sea). It’s as though he decided to put in as much as he possibly could, since he was finally directing. The film never registers as being out of control, however; Thom’s direction is very deliberate and he gets excellent performances from the cast.
Recently released on Blu-Ray by Scorpion Releasing/Kino-Lorber (under the Cult of the Damned title), the film has an excellent presentation for home video, including a very informative and insightful commentary by film historians Nathaniel Thompson (from Mondo Digital) and Tim Greer. One quibble is the lack of subtitles; the film is very dialog-heavy, with a lot of melodramatic word play that you might miss the first time. Subs would definitely help follow the theatrical dialog.
Next week, El Rob Hubbard (anyone notice the slight change in spelling?) starts us off with his review of 1969’s hippie musical oddity Cult of the Damned [originally Angel, Angel, Down We Go], which was recently released for the first time on DVD. G. Smalley follows with coverage of the recent horror mindbender The House of Last Things and the reader-suggested surreal anime Cat Soup. While nervously waiting to see what summer blockbuster atrocities 366 readers plan to send him to see, Alfred Eaker plans on passing the time by watching a good sic-fi blockbuster of years past: A.I., the abandoned Stanley Kubrick project completed by Stephen Spielberg in (oddly enough) 2001.
Last week was one of those weeks that we like to complain about. Where are all the people typing bizarre, disjointed search terms into Google? The lack of such folks makes our search to find the Weirdest Search Term of the Week a challenge. So light was the flow this week we’re forced to look at “rocky ho” as one of our weird highlights (surely the searcher just accidentally hit “enter” too early, though we like to imagine he was actually looking for a prostitute made of stone). Our other candidates are “scarlett johansson fake butt” (not sure if they’re wondering if the actress has one, or they want to order one) and “th farm owner was a fat woman amd she’d ring a bell” (and…?) For our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week we’ll go back to the vacuuming well for “vacuuming mom sucked up.” We need to keep highlighting these or we will lose all our “vacuuming mom” traffic, which currently makes up about 16% of all visits to the site.
Here’s how the ridiculously-long nd ever-growing reader-suggested review queue stands: Cat Soup (next week!); Society (DVD re-release expected soon!); The Fox Family; Angelus; This Filthy Earth; Conspirators of Pleasure; Innocence; Blue Velvet; ID (2005); Master of the Flying Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE→
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.
FILM FESTIVALS – Tribeca Film Festival (New York City, Apr. 15-26):
With more arthouse, revival and first run theaters per capita than anyplace in the world, every day in New York City is like a film festival, so Tribeca as an event is almost redundant. Still, there are some fine movies making their North American debuts here. We noticed nothing that struck us as a weird movie must-see, but here are some interestingly offbeat films we spotted in the catalog:
Aloft – A son searches for his mother, who abandoned the family to become a New Age healer, in a drama described as “dreamlike.” Screens on the 24th & 25th.
Come Down Molly – A new mother takes psychedelic mushrooms on vacation in the Rockies. See it Apr 18, 23 or 25.
Lucifer – The devil climbs down from a ladder and lands in a paradisaical Mexican peasant village; filmed in a circular aspect ratio. Screens from 21-24.
Mojave – A depressed artist wanders into the desert where he meets a strange, violent drifter who claims to be the Devil. Plays the 18th, 19th, 22nd & 24th.
“Monty Python” – Four Python events in the festival: screenings of The Holy Grail (4/24), Life of Brian (4/25), The Meaning of Life (4/26), and the new comic-umentary Monty Python and the Meaning of Live (4/25).
All the Devils Aliens [AKA Devils in the Darkness] (2013): This low-budget feature about a med student discovering a baby alien was re-titled to be grammatically incorrect. An IMDB reviewer described it as “a bizarre piece of surreal melodrama.” Buy All the Devils Aliens.
The Toxic Avenger Part II (1989): See description in Blu-ray below.
NEW ON BLU-RAY:
Goodbye to Language [Adieu au Langage] (2014): The latest from Jean-Luc Godard, now in his mid 80s, is shot in 3D and features nude women, dogs, philosophical discourses, and experimental visuals. Comes in a Blu-ray/Blu-ray 3D (for those with that rare capability) double pack (no DVD available that we could see). Buy Goodbye to Language [Blu-ray/3D Blu-ray].
With summer just around the corner, it is time for the 366 reader base to vote on which four summer blockbusters to send me to review. The candidates below are listed in order of release. Be sure to view the entire post; you will vote at the end.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron: Director Joss Whedon has a sense of style, produced the cult fave “Firefly,” and is good at managing an ensemble cast. Of course, it’s going to have Robert Downey Jr., who should be playing all the men in-tights characters (but obviously cannot). The best moments in this film’s predecessor were in its first third, before it began wallowing in its excesses, descending into an out-of-control Michael Bay-styled assault on the senses with floating July 4th black snake thingies chasing people in the streets amidst falling glass. I dread the idea of even one man-in-tights saga, let alone a whole cast full of them.
Mad Max: Fury Road: Director George Miller sacked the fascistic Mel Gibson, which is a promising start. However, Miller’s last Max entry was thirty years ago. Since then, his work has been confined to kiddie fare. Additionally, this film has been described as one long chase scene, as if we needed more of that.
Tomorrowland has a first rate ensemble cast and an equally first rate director in Brad Bird (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Ratatouille, The Incredibles, and The Iron Giant). This may be the most promising of the summer entries.
Pitch Perfect 2: Features a first time director in Elizabeth Banks, although she did produce the 2012 original, which I have not seen. Although the original garnered some good reviews, the trailer to the sequel looks like a hopelessly adolescent film filled with people all too easy to hate. Unless the film surprises, this may be the nadir of summer releases.
Spy looks almost equally unbearable and obvious. Director Paul Feig was a critical darling with Bridesmaids (2011), but that might prove his one-hit wonder. The Heat (2013) was by the numbers. It starred the female Adam Sandler: Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy, who also was in the insufferable Tammy (2014), returns to collaborate with Fieg.
San Andreas: A disaster film from perennial hack Brad Peyton (Journey 2: Mysterious Island and Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore) starring monosyllabic Dwayne Johnson, who makes Clint Eastwood look like a sensitive intellectual actor with range. Has the disaster genre really gone anywhere new since the Towering Inferno (1974)? At least in the Irwin Allen days, one got to see “A” stars burst into flames.
“I love popcorn movies just as much as I love bizarre art films. And my mother, she was an experimental abstract sculptor and there were these haunted pieces of sculpture [around the house] that I always really connected with. I always felt like my filmmaking sensibility is a weird hybrid of both of them.”–Panos Cosmatos
DIRECTED BY: Panos Cosmatos
FEATURING: Michael Rodgers, Eva Allen, Scott Hylands, Marilyn Nory
PLOT: Dr. Barry Nyle conducts experiments on Elena, a woman with telepathic powers who spends most of her time in a near-comatose daze, at the sparsely appointed “Arboria Institute” in 1983. A psychedelic flashback suggests that a bizarre ritual performed at Elena’s birth is responsible for her current condition. Elena decides to escape from the Institute, pursued by a transformed Nyle.
This was Panos Cosmatos’ first (and as of 2015, still only) feature film. He is the son of George P. Cosmatos, the director of Hollywood blockbusters Rambo (1985), Cobra (1986), and Tombstone (1993).
Cosmatos said the two main inspirations for Beyond the Black Rainbow were “hazy childhood memories of midnight movies and Saturday morning cartoons.” He also said that as a child he would look at the covers of horror movies at the video store which he was not allowed to rent, and that the movie is his grown-up realization of the kinds of stories he imagined were contained inside those boxes.
Beyond the Black Rainbow proudly admits to being a pastiche of the midnight movies that would be roughly contemporaneous to its 1983 setting. George Lucas’ THX 1138 (1971), John Carpenter‘s Dark Star (1974), Suspiria (1977), and Michael Mann’s The Keep (1983) are some of the moviess Cosmatos and others who worked on the project cited as visual and spiritual influences. The high-contrast black and white of the flashback sequence was explicitly modeled on Begotten (1990).
Beyond the Black Rainbow beat out 63 competitors in a reader’s poll to be officially named to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Although it’s far from the most stunning image in a movie filled with unforgettable visions, in some ways the bit that sticks with me most from Beyond the Black Rainbow is the slow low-angle pan down the Arboria Institute’s fluorescent corridor. The shot is replayed many times: with blood red tinting as Dr. Nyle first marches to interview Elena, a ghostly pan across the glowing white panels that slowly fade to industrial blue, a shot tracking the Sentionaut as he walks towards the sleeping Elena. Although this mysterious motif recurs often enough to be noteworthy, for an indelible image we’ll go instead with the fearsome appearance of “appliance-free”Dr. Nyle: bald, eyes permanently dilated, clad in skintight black leather fetish gear, and clutching his fang-shaped ceremonial dagger.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Shamelessly allusive, sinfully trippy, Beyond the Black Rainbow is a love letter to midnight movies of decades past, a hazy conjuration overseen by the guiding spirits of Stanley Kubrick, Ken Russell, and a thousand doped-up sci-fi dreamers that somehow manifests its own unique vision. It’s the kind of movie most of us here would make if we were handed a big bag of residuals from Tombstone and told we could do whatever we wanted with it.