JAMES WHALE’S THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) ON BLU-RAY

“With a few exceptions, The Bride of Frankenstein represented the last gasp of the horror film as a serious genre,” claimed Andrew Sarris. The late critic had a point. By now, Whale’s blackened horror comedy sequel to Frankenstein (1931) has become so legendary, it is almost too easy to forget how much Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is a standalone film, possessing a texture unlike anything before or since. Genre classifications be damned.

Director  had vehemently and repeatedly refused Universal Studio’s pleas for a sequel to his runaway 1931 hit, but when they promised him carte blanche, his enthusiasm was inspired.  Whale set to work on a high camp satire, playing havoc with Western family values.  Our contemporary idea of a Gothic celluloid baseball bat taken to the bourgeoisie might be Barry Sonnenfeld’s Addams Family Values (1993). Compared to Whale’s authentic island of misfits, the creepy, kooky klan are comparatively status quo.

It may be tempting to dismiss the endless essays addressing the film’s homosexual themes as wishful revisionist hindsight, but the head-in-sand  types are as clueless as yesterday’s batch of “Liberace is gay?”naysaying muggles. Yes, James Whale was gay; shockingly, openly gay for the 1930s. The queered eye of Bride‘s hurricane blows in the form of Ernest Thesiger’s Dr. Pretorius, extending his role of Horace Femm from Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932). Accompanied by his horticultural box of little people, Pretorius endorses necrophilia, snubs his beautifully bitchy nose at homophobic mores, and constructs a deco bride for a simpleton bisexual monster,  gesticulating with all the subtlety of a high-dive belly buster.

Still from Bride of Frankenstein (1935)Although Thesiger practically walks away with thespian honors, Boris Karloff excels in his greatest performance. Karloff initially objected to the monster’s dialogue, which is understandable in light of his mastery of silent pantomime that rivaled both Chaplin and Chaney. However, Continue reading

5TH ANNUAL READERS’ CHOICE POLL RUNOFF VOTE

There were some surprising results in our annual readers’ choice poll. Despite spreading the voting among more than 60 movie candidates scattered across three groups, we ended up with two ties in the voting. In Group A Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny easily ran away from the competition (and we can’t complain about that; this is a truly bizarre Florida-set Christmas movie about Santa getting his sled caught in the sand and telling the assembled children the story of Thumbellina, all designed to promote a rather sad-looking theme park). Despite over two hundred votes being cast in the Groups B and C races, both somehow ended at the voting with two movies tied. In Group B it was ‘s cut-n-paste disaster Ninja Champion (1985) (a movie which stands in for Ho’s entire body of work), knotted up with ‘s black comedy Punch Drunk Love (2002) (in what other poll would Ho and Anderson possibly receive equal billing?) A similar standoff occurred in Group C, where incipient cult-comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World came from nowhere at the last minute to tie with and ‘s surreal sophomore giallo tribute, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears.

In a normal contest where we were just elevating two movies onto the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made, we would probably just honor the tie and enshrine both flicks. Since we were already allowing for an extra movie this year and taking three votes rather than the usual two, we’re going to have a special runoff election here rather than put five reader choices on the List. (We’ll give special consideration to the runners-up when we consider new additions in the future).

We’re really biting our tongues on some of the choices here but we promise we’ll honor our obligation to Certify whichever movies you guys pick as weird. This runoff vote will last for one week, ending at midnight on Nov. 6. Same rules for the runoff as for the main vote—you are allowed to cast a vote once every 24 hours. Okay, start voting… now!


CAPSULE: THE EXORCIST III (1990)

DIRECTED BY: William Peter Blatty

FEATURING: George C. Scott, , Jason Miller

PLOT: A seasoned police lieutenant notices details of a recent homicide case that are eerily similar to those of a dead serial killer’s 15 year-old murder spree.

Still from The Exorcist III (1990)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  If The Exorcist III was about 30 minutes long, consisting of the most oblique, intense moments in the theatrical version, it may very well have been one of the most terrifying and bizarre films to emerge from the ’90s. This 110-minute crawl, however, somehow manages to find the mundane in supernatural goings-on and ritual murder sprees.

COMMENTS: A serial killer is on the loose, preying on the weak and the innocent in Washington, D.C., mutilating their bodies in the same grotesque fashion as The Gemini, a psychopath who was convicted and executed for his crimes 15 years ago. It falls to veteran police lieutenant William Kinderman to stop this madman before he kills again. Can he unravel the mystery in time, or will Kinderman be the killer’s next victim?

Oh… and there’s an exorcism. Did I mention that?

One could easily imagine the origin of the THIRD entry in The Exorcist franchise sounding like that of other famous horror icons’ origin stories: “locked away in an asylum until one fateful Halloween night”, “summoned from Hell into this dimension by unwitting pleasure-seekers”, and, perhaps most appropriately, “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs.” The execution doesn’t sound too pleasant, either; a vacated director’s chair is filled by the writer of the original film’s source material, the focus turned from Regan MacNeil to Detective Kinderman (!), and several studio butcher-block decisions radically alter the final product. But The Exorcist III is actually a bit more inspired than anyone expected it to be, which is what makes its place in horror history so complicated and its ultimate failure so frustrating.

This inspiration comes from writer/director William Peter Blatty, Continue reading

CAPSULE: EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC (1977)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Kitty Winn, James Earl Jones,

PLOT: Four years after Father Merrin died casting a demon out of young Regan, a priest investigates the affair and discovers the demon isn’t completely gone; further investigation takes him to Africa in search of the evil spirit’s roots.

Still from Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Scenes like the one where James Earl Jones, dressed as an African prince, apparently turns into a leopard when he shouts at the devil made this goofy semi-Satanic sequel come closer than you might think to being considered for the List.

COMMENTS: You’ve probably heard that Exorcist II is a bad movie, and that’s certainly true. It’s important to note, however, that like most of ‘s bad movies, it may be laughable, but it’s never boring. Four decades out from its theatrical debut, the sense of outrage over the betrayal of William Friedkin’s horror classic has subsided, and more viewers are now willing to let The Heretic‘s hypnotic camp spell wash over them.

“Satan has become an embarrassment to our progressive views,” complains Richard Burton, speaking with the pseudo-Shakespearean diction he believes Catholic priests use (which includes pronouncing devil as “dev-ILL” and evil as “EEE-ville”).  Burton already knew a thing or two about embarrassment, and he discovers a couple of new tricks in this outing. The Heretic goes completely off the rails very quickly when Burton’s priest, investigating the exorcism-related death of Father Merrick four years ago, is inexplicably invited to sit in on teenage Regan’s private post-possession stress disorder therapy sessions with her skeptical secular therapist. He arrives just in time for her first therapy session with a dual-user hypnosis machine which allows her to relive the repressed horrors of possession. The device also allows them to speak to the demon directly, gives the therapist atrial fibulation (which Burton fixes with a little psychic open heart surgery after he dons the machine’s disco headband), and causes girl and cleric to form a permanent psychic link. “Your machine has proved scientifically that there’s an ancient demon inside of her!” declares Burton, with conviction.

The hypnosis machine, with its strobe-lights and a methodology which involves syncing “tones” via biofeedback, is a perfect encapsulation of the blend of the eerily effective and utterly ridiculous that characterizes The Heretic. And believe me, it gets more unhinged from there, as Burton goes to Africa searching for the demon Pazuzu and Boorman goes into one of his famous directing frenzies where he lays logic aside to focus on hallucinatory set pieces. You get multiple shots from the locust cam, including a great locust tracking shot where we follow the speeding insect as he zips across the savannah accompanied by the sound of a cracking whip.  You get scenes of tribespeople fighting off swarms of locusts on a golden-hued studio backlot. There’s a hidden city perched on top of a massive cliff, accessible only by scaling a narrow cleft between two mountains. And who could forget James Earl Jones dressed like an insect in his cave throne room, only when the priest puts a spike through his foot he turns out to be an entomologist? Meanwhile, back in New York City, demonic possession is a minor inconvenience for Regan, who is more concerned with her upcoming tap dance recital. It all has something to do with finding the “good locust” who will turn the swarm into “happy-go-lucky grasshoppers.”

As you can see, Exorcist II has a lot of issues, but being dull isn’t one of them.  Long tracking shots through a theater-bound Africa, set to Ennio Morricone’s typically great, chant-heavy score, provide an appealing dreamlike character to long stretches of the film that make you want to forgive (or even embrace) the lapses in logic. Add in a hammy, over-enunciating Burton giving his all to lines like “is there no hope once the wings have brushed you?” and you have a bad movie that keeps you watching. It’s no Zardoz, but, whether they be good or bad, Boorman does not make boring movies (or at least he didn’t in the 70s and 80s). The Heretic is far more entertaining than its bad reputation suggests and, although it may sound like heresy to Exorcist fans, given the choice between re-watching the terrifying original or taking another crack at this rollicking disaster, I would hesitate for a moment. The choice would depend on whether I’m in the mood for shivers, or shivery chuckles.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…while [Boorman's] Zardoz is a legendarily misconceived act of bad moviemaking at its most epic, what’s even more terrifying is that it’s still better than The Heretic… It more than lives up to its reputation as the nadir of the Exorcist franchise, but it’s also, by far, the most fun of them all.”–Tim Brayton, Antagony and Ecstasy (DVD)

CAPSULE: RHYMES FOR YOUNG GHOULS (2013)

DIRECTED BYJeff Barnaby

FEATURING: Devery Jacobs, Mark Anthony Krupa, Brandon Oakes, Glen Gould

PLOT: A young girl on the Canadian Crow Reservation in the 1970s sells pot to afford to pay a “truancy tax” that keeps her out of the prison-like Indian school, but when the sadistic government agent who runs the reservation betrays their deal, she decides to strike back.

Still from Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The trailer and description made it look like it might have some weird content; in reality, it’s a straightforward indie drama.

COMMENTS: Rhymes for Young Ghouls is a movie that is tailor made for praise from film critics: it’s a socially-conscious historical drama about an ethnic group that is underrepresented in cinema. It’s technically well-made, features an appealing young lead actress, and oozes good intentions. Since there are so few movies made by and for members of what Canadians refer to as the First Nations, refusing to pump this movie up—or, unthinkably, criticizing it—seems like an uncharitable act.

So, if you are a film critic, ethnic studies type, or a Native American starved for cinematic role models, you’ll probably fall over yourself praising Ghouls, and I’ll be hard pressed to muster much of a will to argue against you. Furthermore, Ghouls is unlikely to attract a sizable audience from outside that pool. Still, from the perspective of a member of the general movie-watching public looking at this as a standard narrative feature that I might hope to either entertain or enlighten ( preferably both) me, I have to reluctantly aver that Ghouls isn’t a success. I was keenly interested in the portrait of life on the reservation in 1976, and in the dilemma that traps clever young Aila into peddling weed to keep out of school; but as the story moves on, it becomes more predictable, turning into an endless series of scenes of white guys wailing on defenseless Indians with baseball bats until the Mi’gMaq princess brings vengeance for her people.

Ghouls is, at bottom, not so much a serious examination of life on the reservation in the 1970s as it is a post-colonial revenge fantasy. Part of the problem is the villain, Popper, the reservation’s chief Indian Agent and the most devilish of white devils. Not only is Mark Anthony Krupa (the cast’s sole gringo) the weakest of the main actors, he’s given the hardest role to try to pull off. Imagine Conan O’Brien cast as Satan to get a feeling of how this villainy plays out on screen. His character is a blatant symbol of (admittedly) unforgivable Canadian government oppression, but he is given no motivation or explanation for his moral turpitude. In fact, quite the opposite: a flashback shows how a schoolboy Popper betrays Aila’s father Joseph after he rescues him from bullies, which for inexplicable reasons causes the rescued boy to bear a lifelong grudge against Jospeh and the Mi’gMag people in general. It seems that we are to conclude that white people are just inherently, perversely evil, no point trying to explain or understand their behavior. To caricature the villain so one-dimensionally is just lazy. Frank Booth was more relatable than Popper. It isn’t impossible to create memorably despicable villains who nonetheless resemble human beings: think of Schindler’s List‘s Amon Goethe, who is recognizably fallible and human without ever becoming sympathetic. Popper should be a boss villain who gets offed (accompanied by a quotable one-liner) by Arnold Schwarzenegger in an action movie, not the antagonist a supposedly serious historical drama.

When real-life villainy doesn’t seem quite real, the story has failed. Some histrionics from a drunken Joseph at his wife’s grave and brutal slow-motion beatings designed to boil our blood don’t help. On the plus side, Devery Jacobs is fantastic, always quiet and dignified, and there’s an outside chance that Ghouls could play the same kind of role in her future career that Winter’s Bone did for Jennifer Lawrence. The camera, sound and general technical elements are all excellent. There is clearly a ton of talent on display from debuting director Jeff Barnaby and his young cast, which made it all the more upsetting to me that the story, historically based as it is, failed to ring true. My opinion matters little, however, as Ghouls hits the bullseye for its target audience, while remaining invisible to the outside world.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Rhymes is not always logical in its quasi-mythic, circular narrative… Barnaby puts a mythic frame around a grim history, shaping it in a way that feels always like a creative adventure, not a duty.”–Liam Lacey, The Globe and Mail (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

The 5th Irregularly Scheduled Readers’ Choice Poll (vote) is winding down—you have until Thursday to vote for three movies to go onto the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made—and there have been some interesting developments. A massive influx of voters came in to propel Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny into first place with an incredible 142 votes, or about 43% of the total votes cast. Probably Pirate’s World shills at work, hoping to spark interest in a grand reopening of the Ice Cream Bunny’s sad theme park. Bunny‘s supremacy seems assured, but the races in Groups B and C are far more competitive. At the time of this writing there was a virtual dead heat between Group B’s Ninja Champion, Punch Drunk Love and the epic Satantango. In Group C, Under the Skin  holds a narrow lead over unexpected contenders The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. At least two of these races will go down to the wire, so stay tuned and vote daily!

It’s the week of Halloween—the closest thing to a weird holiday we have, outside of Arbor Day—so in honor of this celebration of shivers, we’ll be delving into the uncanny this week. We’ll start with the real-life terrors of life on the reservation with the currently-in-theaters indie Tales for Young Ghouls; look at the troubled legacy of sequels to one of horror’s true classics with Exorcist II: The Heretic and The Exorcist III;  and end the week with a brighter dark sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein.

It’s that time of the week when we peek at the curiosities hidden inside our server logs for a little featurette we like to call “Weirdest Search Term of the Week.” First up, someone came here looking for info on Bruce Springsteen’s rejected first band name, the “repulsion street band.” Most of our weird search terms this week came from people trying to track down strange movie memories, however; for example, “movie where man is paid in kittens,” or “movie in 1980’s where girl goes to.a fantasy place amd her grows extreme.” It’s from that species that we select our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week: “a movie in which neighbours love each other by accident that guy fell down from the balcony,” Not only is the first part about loving by accident weird, but apparently in the middle of typing his query the searcher looked out his window and saw someone falling off his balcony, and decided to tell Google about it.

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; Continue reading

SATURDAY SHORT: HEAVEN’S COUNTRYLAND (2014)

, a director previously featured on this segment of our site, has been on the rise due to his involvement in the animated series “Adventure Time” on Cartoon Network. In fact, it was recently announced that he will play some role in future episodes of Comedy Central’s “South Park.” During an interview following the announcement David said in his darkly humorous fashion that he had no future ambitions. “This is it. Downhill from here.”

In honor of this, we’d like to feature him once more with an episode of “Heaven’s Countryland.” Below is one of a series of shorts commissioned by Adult Swim, parodying North Korean propaganda videos.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 10/24/2014

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):

Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013): A young girl on the Canadian Crow Reservation in the 1970s sells pot to afford to pay a “truancy tax” that keeps her out of the prison-like Indian school, but when the sadistic government agent who runs the reservation betrays their deal, she decides to strike back. We will review this one on Monday. Rhymes for Young Ghouls official site.

SCREENINGS – (Lawrence Arts Center, Lawrence, KS, Thurs., Oct 30):

Phantom of the Paradise (1974): Read the Certified Weird entry. The University of Kansas celebrates Halloween with a screening of ‘s crazed rock-n-roll satire. Pay no credence to the rumor that the “unnamed band”  that will play live after the show is the Undeads. Phantom of the Paradise at Lawrence Arts Center event on Facebook.

IN DEVELOPMENT:

“Pee-Wee Herman Movie”: In an interview with Rolling Stone, Paul “Pee-Wee” Reubens says a new Pee-Wee Herman movie (or at least an official announcement) is “very imminent.” We’ve been hearing rumors of a new Pee-Wee for years but this is the most definitive statement from the man himself. Read what Entertainment Today has to say about the tidbit.

NEW ON DVD:

“Boobs, Babes & Belly Laughs: The Sex Comedy Collection”: Okay, we suspect horny buyers will get two out of three (or in one case, one out of three) of the things the box cover promises. The movies here are Space Girls in Beverly Hills, Nipples and Palm Trees, Hookers Inc. (which is rated PG1-3!), and the flick that prompts us to mention the set: the absurd-sounding Orgies and the Meaning of Life, an arthouse flop with stick-figure animation about a group-sex obsessed author searching for God. Buy “Boobs, Babes & Belly Laughs: The Sex Comedy Collection”.

La Dolce Vita (1960): A celebrity photographer encounters the meaninglessness of modern existence. A superlative masterpiece, to be sure, but hardly the weirdest of ‘s movies; still, it’s in our reader-suggested review queue. The Criterion Collection gives the film its due respect with 2 DVDs or 1 Blu-ray (sold separately). Buy La Dolce Vita.

“Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: Seasons 1 & 2″: See description in Blu-ray below. The complete series run isn’t available on one DVD set—at least not at present. Buy “Pee-wee’s Playhouse: Seasons 1 & 2″.

The Scribbler (2014): A woman with multiple personality disorder uses an experimental machine to scrub away various identities. Reviews were generally negative, but Mike McGranaghan thought it was “gloriously bonkers.” Hope you’re right, Mike. Buy The Scribbler.

Snowpiercer (2013): Read James Harben’s review. All aboard the weirdest train in the frozen post-apocalypse! Buy Snowpiercer.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

La Dolce Vita (1960): See description in DVD above. Buy La Dolce Vita [Blu-ray].

“Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: The Complete Series”: The secret word is “weird” in Pee-Wee’s anthropomorphic playhouse with talking chairs and Laurence Fishburne as a jheri-curl cowboy. The show has some fans ’round these parts. Includes the Christmas Special and comes on 8 Blu-rays courtesy of Shout! Factory. Buy “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: The Complete Series” [Blu-ray].

The Scribbler (2014): See description in DVD above. Buy The Scribbler [Blu-ray].

Snowpiercer (2013): See description in DVD above. Buy Snowpiercer [Blu-ray].

“The Vincent Price Collection II”: Nothing too weird, but nice Halloween viewing. Features two from the Poe cycle (The Raven and The Tomb of Ligea), along with the underrated morbid mirth of The Comedy of Terrors, The Last Man on Earth, House on Haunted Hill, and the sequels The Return of the Fly and Dr. Phibes Rises Again. Buy “The Vincent Price Collection II” [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.

TARGETS (1968)

Although Targets (1968) is not the masterpiece debut film of Peter Bogdanovich, as some have claimed, it is a compelling, near-valedictory film for star . Being an almost autobiographical story, it should have served as a near-perfect coda for the actor. Instead, Karloff wanted to die acting, and for the first time in his career since 1931’s Frankenstein, he did not have a plethora of offers. Producers knew that the horror icon was almost literally on his last leg, and the cost of insuring him was undoubtedly a problematic casting factor. The final offers came from  to make a series of low budget Mexican horrors, but it is best to conveniently imagine those under the rug.

Targets serves more as a last, satisfactory glimpse at the Karloff screen persona, as opposed to being a successful film on its own terms.  It also is the film debut of director Peter Bogdanovich, who miscast himself in the film in order to save money. In part, this was due to having  as his tight-fisted producer. Pragmatic in his business approach as usual, Corman  wanted to use clips from his previous film with Karloff, The Terror (1963) as filler, and granted Targets a twenty-three day shooting schedule and $125,000 budget. From this simple instruction, Bogdanovich crafted a surprising, awkwardly innovative narrative, which the artist in Corman responded to, advising Bogdanovich: “Shoot it like Hitchcock.”

Karloff plays aging horror star Byron Orlock , screening his latest film, The Terror. Much to everyone’s surprise, Orlock announces his retirement. Script writer Sammy ( Bogdanovich) waxes angsty; he has finally written a screenplay, one which hints at something akin to the plot of Targets itself.  Feeling like a Gothic anachronism amidst the authentic horrors of the newspaper headlines, Orlock refuses to read the script. The studio heads encourage Sammy to dissuade Orlock from his decision. Orlock and Sammy get drunk and screen Karloff’s Criminal Code (1931, dir. Howard Hawks), the film which lead to his casting as the monster in Frankenstein (1931). Orlock agrees, albeit reluctantly, to promote The Terror at a local drive-in cinema.

Targets then roughly shifts to its parallel narrative: Bobby Thompson (Tim O’Kelly) who sports a Baptist haircut as the husband and son of diehard Republican gun-lubbin, red, white and blue super-patriot suburbanites. Cue massacre.

This is the more compelling plot, ultimately rendering  the Orlock narrative a bit prodigal, despite Karloff’s very satisfactory depiction of Orlock.

Still from Targets (1968)Looking at Targets in hindsight, it may be tempting to see Bogdanovich’s film as prophecy after a string of infamous media-inspired shooting events (as John Hinckley’s obsession with Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver led directly to his assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981, or James Holmes’ massacre in an Aurora movie theater during the premiere of Dark Knight Rising). Life imitating art? Art imitating life?  It is hardly that simplistic, nor can Targets serve so accessibly as a model.

Bobby’s domestic scenes are the most unsettling, awash in grisly rural hues. His Charles Whitman-like sniper escapades reveal Orlock’s drive-in horror host gig as clunky medievalism. That, of course, is Targets intent , but it tries so hard to be clever and profound that by the time we get to the cinema-under-the-stars shootout,  we feel the residue of a naive fusion. Considering our growing apathy to the aftermath of pop culture inspired violence, perhaps Targets‘ coarseness is all too apt.

CAPSULE: MADEINUSA (2006)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Claudia Llosa

FEATURING: Magaly Solie, Carlos J. de la Torre,  Juan Ubaldo Huamán, Yiliana Chong

PLOT: A stranger from Lima is stranded in a remote hamlet in the Andes where the villagers practice unusual Easter rituals that are definitely not sanctioned by the Pope.

Still from Madeinusa (2006)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s an odd little South American fable about an isolated town, not realist, but not quite magical realist, either. It’s an interesting eccentricity, but not quite weird enough for the List of the Weirdest Movies Ever Made.

COMMENTS: Madeinusa is a drama that’s slow to start, but which gradually drags you in with its rich, imaginary synthesis of pagan and Christian traditions, and with the fate of its quietly sad and oddly named adolescent protagonist. A lower-keyed, Latin-tinged Wicker Man sensibility at work here in the story of an outsider who visits an isolated society where religious traditions have been allowed to breed incestuously without oversight from the civilized world. Painting a portrait of this invented culture and its self-serving indigenous practices is where Madeinusa shines. The movie is set during “Holy Times,” which in the movie’s mythology is the period beginning from Good Friday and ending with the dawn of Easter. The ceremonies indulged in by the villages show the colorful mixture of Latin and Roman Catholic elements that fascinate many first-worlders: maize-colored crucifix mosaics, fireworks during holy processions, a mock funeral procession where pallbearers carry a blindfolded Christ in a glass coffin. The celebration begins with a Virgin beauty pageant, with the town’s adolescent girls dressed like Incan princesses wearing gold crowns, all vying to play Mary in the Easter procession, and gets stranger from there.

Of course, this would not be much of a movie if it were simply an imaginary travelogue documenting an exotic Easter celebration, so there is a darker side to the festivities. When the town’s mayor, who also happens to be 14-year old Madeinusa’s father, catches a stranger in town at the start of Holy Time, he locks him up—perhaps to protect the villagers from the judgmental eyes of outsiders, or perhaps for the stranger’s own good. Young Madeinusa is fascinated by the handsome hazel-eyed wanderer from Lima with the European features, but her father has other plans for the girl. Add in a jealous older sister who has been displaced in Dad’s affections by her younger sibling, and a dangerous sexually-charged dynamic emerges that will only be inflamed by the bacchanalian bonfires of Holy Times. The core cast does well in telling this relatively simple but emotionally weighty story, while the Andean cinematography is sublime.

The origin of main character’s name, “Madeinusa,” is left as a mystery.  It not symbolic of any sort of anti-Americanism (American culture is nowhere to be found in this movie, outside of the title), but instead reflects the villagers’ unsophisticated tendency to misappropriate influences from outside their insular world. “That’s not a name,” explains a distressed Salvador. “You should be Rosa or Maria, not Madeinusa.” One thing is certain, the downbeat, fatalistic ending is not madeinhollywood.

Some Peruvians believe Madeinusa is racist/classist because it depicts poor mountain people of mostly Indian blood as unsophisticated. The idea that weird and dangerous ancient practices persist in remote corners of the world is a common literary tradition, however, and anytime it’s used it’s bound to offend some group that believes they are being singled out for ridicule, rather than appropriated for use in a time-honored plot device.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a classically made yet personally accented fable about the clash between old and new in a strange Andean village in Peru.”–Robert Koehler, Variety (contemporaneous)

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