WOODY ALLEN’S WHAT’S UP TIGER LILY (1966)

What’s up Tiger Lily (1966) is from ‘s early period, when he was a funny guy, but he was also just as prone to experimentation in his Genesis period (his next project was the infamous experimental James Bond disaster Casino Royale, which he acted in and co-wrote). The concept for Tiger Lily is so simple, one wonders why no one had attempted it before (or since): Allen took a Japanese spy film—a not so subtle ripoff of the Bond films called The Key of Keys, directed by Senkichi Taniguchi—and redubbed it. Allen himself appears to introduce this one-of-a-kind, playful hybrid.

Allen has since dismissed What’s Up Tiger Lily as juvenile doodle, but its youthful pulse on the absurd is convincing, winning, and is probably the closest he gets to authentically weird cinema. There are some who maintain that in addition to being his first film, Lily is also his funniest.

Most of the mainstream suddenly became acquainted with Allen with this film, which was an unexpected hit (Allen later joked that his overnight success was a decade in the making). In addition to the dubbing, Allen also re-edited  the film, and the result is so refreshing that the original film becomes a viewing ordeal (the opposite of what happened whenever ‘s edits inexplicably made godawful films even worse, i.e., Face of the Screaming Werewolf).

Whether or not What’s Up Tiger Lily is Allen’s funniest film is debatable, but it’s certainly his silliest, because of its inherent helter-skelter weirdness. Its the cinematic equivalent of a Mad Magazine, with subtle-as-a-pair of brass knuckles humor and spliced-in performances from the Lovin’ Spoonful making it a bouncing off the wall party favorite (it’s probably not as fun to watch alone). There are just as many jokes that fail as ones that work, but they are delivered with such kinetic, Tex Avery-like speed that it hardly matters. Comparatively, the whole of Mystery Science Theater 3000 seems like an academic lecture.

Allen and his team are not so much writing here as jotting down improvisations (“Mr. Allen, since Woody, since the story is difficult to follow, would you mind giving the audience a rundown on what’s gone on so far?”) There’s certainly no polish in the lame impersonations (“This Peter Lorre impression is killing my throat”), animated stars covering the nipples of cabaret dancers, blatant sexism, jokes about confusing Japanese with Chinese, vibrators, cattle prods for the bedroom, Japanese toys,  masturbation, along with non-stop ethnic and religious jabs:

“Spartan Dog! Roman Cow! Russian Snake! Spanish Fly! Anglo-Saxon Hun! I’m dying—call the rabbi! I had an idea that it was Mormon Tabernacle Choir who helped you escape, but there was no motive. The Best thing about my mother is that she can really take a punch!”

“Did you bring the mayonnaise? Never mind, we’ll use Miracle Whip! No bullets? Ah, but if all of you in the audience who believe in fairies will clap your hands, then my gun will be magically filled with bullets!”

Poster from What's Up Tiger Lily (1966)

In Allen’s version, walking-erection superspy Phil Moskowitz (Tatsuya Mihashi, also the star of 1960s films The Bad Sleep Well and High And Low) has received a commission from the High Majah of Raspur to find the Secret Recipe for Egg Salad, which is now in the hands of the evil Shepherd Wong. Assisting  Moskowitz are two buxom Japanese babes: Teri and Suki (“I’m such a great piece”) Yaki (Mia Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi, who also appeared together in King Kong vs. Godzilla and the 007 entry You Only Live Twice).

To quote that eternally underrated band, The Sparks, this is the film in which we see Allen with Angst in His Pants.  It’s no wonder that the

sophisticated filmmaker holds this adolescent, politically incorrect, blatantly racist, sexist, sloppy, and dated entry in such contempt. It may be an embarrassment for Allen, but the rest of us will be losing our stitches.

 

228. LEMONADE JOE (1964)

Limonádový Joe aneb Konská Opera [Lemonade Joe, or the Horse Opera]

“What was before my eyes was both familiar and eerily strange.”–Danilo H. Figueredo, in Revolvers and Pistolas, Vaqueros and Caballeros: Debunking the Old West, on the experience of seeing Lemonade Joe in Cuba

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Oldrich Lipský

FEATURING: Karel Fiala, Olga Schoberová, Rudolf Deyl, Miloš Kopecký, Kveta Fialová

PLOT: A lemonade-drinking cowboy rescues a beautiful temperance worker from rowdies in a tavern. Impressed with his heroism and trick shooting, the town opens an all-lemonade saloon, which upsets the local whiskey barons. With the help of a prostitute Joe has scorned, they scheme to kill the teetotalling hero and make Stetson City safe for intoxicating spirits once more.

Still from Lemonade Joe (1964)

BACKGROUND:

  • The word “limonádový” actually translates to “soft drink,” not “lemonade,” but there can be no doubt Lemonade Joe has a better ring to it than Soft Drink Joe.
  • The Lemonade Joe character began his life in a series of stories by satirist Jiří Brdečka. The stories were then adapted into a 1946 play, a short series of animated shorts, and finally into this hit movie.
  • Co-screenwriter/director Oldrich Lipský was the artistic director of Prague’s Satirical Theater. He went on to direct several popular and critically successful films, including Happy End (a 1966 experimental film that plays backwards) and Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians (1981).
  • Although the Western had been a popular genre in Czechoslovakia in the early part of the 20th Century, largely due to the writings of German pulp author Karl May, Western films had been banned through the German and Soviet occupations. They only began to be screened again (and then rarely) in the 1960s.
  • Czechoslovakia submitted Lemonade Joe to the Academy Awards, but it was not selected for the Best Foreign Language Film competition.
  • This movie was a huge hit in its home country—the biggest-drawing film of the 1960s—and remains a cult movie there to this day.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Lemonade Joe and his nemesis—who is outfitted in blackface because he has been posing as Louis Armstrong for a duet with Joe at the piano—square off in a shootout. The gunfire’s path appears onscreen as dotted lines so that we can see that the bullets are striking each other in midair, leading the duel to end in a draw.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Fiddle eating; Czech blackface; dotted bullets

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Communist propaganda, surreal Czech sensibilities, and an honest appreciation for the entertainment value of early Hollywood films collide to create a homegrown retro-Western musical spoof that could almost have come from the mind of Guy Maddin.


Clip from Lemonade Joe

COMMENTS: You hear the names Milos Forman, , Continue reading 228. LEMONADE JOE (1964)

CAPSULE: THE LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE (1991)

Les Amants du Pont-Neuf

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Klaus-Michael Gruber

PLOT: A drug-addicted derelict falls in love with a newly homeless painter who is slowly losing her eyesight.

Still from The Lovers on the Bridge (1991)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a conventional (by European arthouse standards) romance with a few mildly surreal adornments. It’s not Hollywood, but Bridge wouldn’t lead anyone to suspect that Leos Carax had something as thoroughly weird as Holy Motors in his future, either.

COMMENTS: While the French have a stereotypical reputation as the world’s greatest lovers, a survey of their movies reveals that they are also the world’s greatest cynics about love. They specialize in a particular type of romantic story: tales of obsessive, destructive passion they call “amour fou.” You can see archetypal examples of amor fou (which translates as “mad love” but also carries the connotation “foolish love”) in works like s Pierrot le Fou (1965), Jacques Rivette’s L’Amour Fou (1969), and more recently in the biting Love Me If You Dare (2003).

Far from groundbreaking in its narrative attitude, Carax’s Lovers on the Bridge falls well within the amour fou tradition. Bald, wiry, limping, and covered in the recurring scabs of the young clochard, the chamelonic Denis Lavant is Alex, a sometime fire-eating gymnast and full-time homeless drunk. Lying in the road, left for dead, he is sketched by nearsighted artist Michèle (Binoche). When they later wind up sharing neighboring concrete benches at nighttime on the Pont-Neuf (which is closed for construction), he falls for her. Although he shares his wine and a precious celebration with her, it quickly becomes apparent that Alex has no idea how to love someone unselfishly. He maneuvers to keep Michele away from any return to her previous life of privilege, eventually resorting to actions with deadly consequences. Binoche’s character remains more mysterious; she comes from a prosperous background, but has chosen to abase herself the face of her oncoming blindness. Previous heartbreak also factors in. She promises to fill Alex in on her backstory but never fully does so; we must piece together information, but we are left to fill in some blanks. In fact, a major event we witness in her story is contradicted by a later revelation, leaving us even more confused.

Their love story, then, is at the same time novel and familiar: an old tale of foolish love enacted by new players. The movie’s main pleasures come when Carax indulges his experimental moods in the central section: the camera reels through a Bastille day parade like a drunk; we see a soused Alex and Michèle lying in a gutter, shrunk to the dimensions of trash. The bravura sequence that everyone remembers shows the lovers drunkenly dancing across the bridge as fireworks burst behind them, with the music changing from a polka to a waltz to a rocker every couple of seconds. It’s the kind of scene a movie can hang its hat on, and a director can make a reputation with.

The government allowed Carax to film on the Pont-Neuf, but the movie took so long to make (three years) that permission expired. To finish the story Carax built a massive replica of the bridge in the countryside. This extravagance led to the film’s estimated budget of $28,000,000, which made it one of the most expensive French films ever produced to that time. Furthermore, due to disputes with distributors Lovers did not premier in the U.S. until 1999, eight years after completion. The movie’s finances were even more snakebitten than its protagonists’ romantic prospects, but like them, the filmmakers soldiered on madly. Perhaps it’s cinema fou.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This melodramatic excess leads, after a time, to a romantic conclusion that seems to dare us to laugh; Carax piles one development on top of another until it’s not a story, it’s an exercise in absurdity.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (1999 US release)

(This movie was nominated for review by Tom Trainor, who called it a “Phenomenal film. And weird as hell..” Suggest a weird movie of your own here).

CAPSULE: THROUGH THE WEEPING GLASS (2011)

On the Consolations of Life Everlasting (Limbos & Afterbreezes in the Mütter Museum)

DIRECTED BY: ,

FEATURING: (narration)

PLOT: This brief film essay contemplates various medical misfortunes and wonders in the framework of an often unsettling visit to the Mütter Museum. Exploring conditions ranging from Fibrodysplasia Ossificus Progressiva to conjoined twin-hood, Through the Weeping Glass examines anomalous conditions, creepy medical devices, and the sometimes unnatural nature of being human.

Still from Through the Weeping Glass (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: As documentaries go, this is an unnerving one whose subject matter is investigated with hazy-to-sharp focus, super-imposition, and eerie recreations of the backstories. However, the movie maintains a disciplined technique, providing a glimpse at the nastiness of medical phenomena through history that is easy to follow—as unpleasant as that proves to be at times.

COMMENTS: “No child ever imagines the unimaginable: that he will end up as a skeleton.” So begins our visit to Philadelphia’s museum of medical oddities. The sweet, soft-spoken narration provided by Derek Jacobi (“I, Claudius,” “Brother Cadfael”) sets things up with a twist: naturally everyone becomes a skeleton eventually, as death comes to us all. However, the seemingly mundane words quickly get sinister when the case of Harry Eastlack is explored. Harry injured himself as a child, fracturing his leg while playing with his sister. The bone healed, and then kept growing. Ultimately, his skeleton developed a further skeleton around itself, and we are informed, “in the end, [he] could only move [his] lips.”

By the beginning of the past decade, the Quay brothers had long established themselves as the wizards of stop-motion animation. One of their passions, however, has always been “exotic arcana” (so sayeth the pamphlet accompanying their recent anthology), and their piece on the Mütter Museum and its contents marks the first time the brothers ever made a movie stateside. “Weeping Glass” features few of the otherworldly flourishes that mark their main body of work—most notably altering of portraits’ eyes by giving them an ominous, forlorn sheen—but the camera technique and soundscape summon the unsettling vibe that permeates their oeuvre. Focus on objects shimmers from sharp to blurry, tracking shots are choppy and often pursued at unlikely eye levels, and an animation of sorts is provided by the super-imposition of hands when pre-16th century texts and pre-20th century medical devices are displayed.

The oddest achievement the brothers can claim with this documentary is their uncanny knack to ride on the darker side of the line separating creepy and cheesy. The jump cuts between alarming images are often accompanied by the dissonant, clanking score one would expect to find in the lazier varieties of horror movie. Though they are no doubt helped by the fact that what’s on display would be unsettling no matter how presented, the Quays still impress by forcing the viewer to realize, “oh, I know they’re just trying to make me addled. Dear Lord, it’s working.”

By the end of “Through the Weeping Glass,” you will not only learn about the tragic case of Harry Eastlack, but also catch glimpses of a man with a pillow-sized tumor, get a peak at both the Hyrtl skull collection (139 specimens, each with a brief history of the owner written thereon) and Dr. Chevalier Jackson’s collection of swallowed objects (over 2,300 pins, game pieces, and even a “Perfect Attendance” badge), and finish off with a couple exchanging their “…’til death do us part” wedding vows in the presence of the plaster cast bodies of the famed “Siamese” twins, Chang and Eng. “Through the Weeping Glass” is a disquieting piece, but the Quays’ direction and Jacobi’s nuanced voice-over inject it with a subversive sense of humor. This late example of the Pennsylvania boys’ work is very informative, highly watchable, and delightfully grotesque.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…rare is the non-fiction film that through its style, design and intent properly matches the tropes of the fictional horror flick. And perhaps this creature is so rare that only one exists: Through the Weeping Glass…”–Mike Everleth, Underground Film Journal (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

First off, your reminder to vote in the 2016 Weirdcademy Awards. The current leaders are The Forbidden Room for Weirdest Movie (with a commanding 44% of votes in a ten movie field), Pit Bukowski in Der Samurai for Weirdest Actor, Duke of Burgundy‘s Chiara D’Anna as Weirdest Actress, and Forbidden Room‘s “The Final Derriere” as Weirdest Scene. The Weirdest Short contest is pretty much a two film race, with “Hugh the Hunter” facing off against “Goodbye.” Of course, there’s still time to change all of these results if your favorite isn’t leading; you can vote once per day up until Feb. 28.

So what will we be adding to the site’s legacy next week? Look for Giles Edwards continuing coverage of the short films with a report on 2011’s “Through the Weeping Glass.” In honor of Valentine’s Day, we’ll knock one out of the reader-suggested review queue with ‘s odd 1991 romance Lovers on the Bridge. We’ll also take a look at the Czech New Wave-ish musical Western spoof Lemonade Joe, while Alfred Eaker wraps up his series on Woody Allen’s weirdest with the neurotic comedian’s first effort, What’s Up Tiger Lily?

It’s time again for us to review the weirdest search terms that brought visitors to the site this past week—a little feature we like to call “Weirdest Search Term of the Week.” First up, we’d like to mention the search for “90s cinemax movie where the woman took off her clothes everytime,” not because it’s a particularly strange search in itself but because, as anyone who had the “Skinemax” channel in the 90s can attest, that describes just about every movie they played. To earn consideration for Weirdest Search Term honors, a searcher needs to get into specific bizarre details, like the guys looking for “hell on island strange erotic naked girls in prison outside vintage,” “muscled porno disciples passion,” or “magic lesson rabbit sex animation.” Now there are some weird and sexy search terms! Nonetheless, for our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week we’ll pick the almost-but-not-quite-tautological “girl kicks a ball like its a remote controlled ball movie scene.” This left us seriously scratching our heads: how (and we guess, why?) does one kick a remote controlled ball?

Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue now stands: Lovers on the Bridge (next week!); The Fox Family; Angelus; Air Doll; The Ossuary and Other Tales; Arrebato; Symbol; Wicked City (1992 live action);The Boxer’s Omen [aka Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 2/5/2016

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):

Eisenstein in Guanajuato (2015): The imaginary story of Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein’s ten day trip to Mexico, where he gives in to his homosexual yearnings while gathering material for a movie which is ultimately never made. This fantastic homoerotic biopic sounds like ‘s attempt to make a Ken Russell movie. Eisenstein in Guanajuato official site.

Stereotypically You (2015): The tagline describes it as a “comedy that follows one man’s hallucination-fueled, post-breakup quest to find new love” and the Rotten Tomatoes summary mentions “surreal hallucinations,” but absolutely no one has reviewed it yet and the trailer looks like it belongs to an original Netflix series. Our expectations are low, but who knows—maybe they’re hiding the weird stuff as a marketing ploy? Stereotypically You official site.

SCREENINGS – (Nitehawk Theater, Friday & Saturday, Feb 5 & 6 [just after midnight]):

Blood Diner (1987): Read the Certified Weird review! A very rare screening of ‘s horrifying, pseudo-fascist mistake of a gore comedy. Blood Diner at Nitehawk Cinema.

NEW ON DVD:

Evangelion 3.33 (2012): Read Alex Kittle’s review. For some reason, it took four years to release the third part of this planned quadrilogy about giant post-apocalyptic battlebots on home video, and no word yet on when the finale (which should be completely off-the-rails, if it follows the pattern set by the original anime) is supposed to arrive. Buy Evangelion 3.33: You Can (Not) Redo.

Highway to Hell (1991): A bride-to-be is snatched by a minion of Satan and taken to Hell to be Lucifer’s moll; her lover follows. This oddball comedy (with jokes reminiscent of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker movies) contain many budget cameos (including Gilbert Gottfried as Hitler) and is a minor cult favorite. Buy Highway to Hell (1991).

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (2014): his anthology of animations inspired by the popular works of the Lebanese poet is noteworthy because of the talents involved: , , , and are among the animators each handling a segment. The framing device involves a political prisoner who dispenses wisdom in the form of poems. Buy Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Evangelion 3.33 (2012): See description in DVD above. Buy Evangelion 3.33: You Can (Not) Redo [Blu-ray].

Highway to Hell (1991): See description in DVD above. Buy Highway to Hell (1991) [Blu-ray].

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (2014): See description in DVD above. This purchase includes a DVD and a “digital copy.” Buy Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet [Blu-ray/DVD combo].

Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985): Two kittens take a ride on a railroad through the stars in this dreamlike children’s film. We thought this sounded familiar; it’s in our reader-suggested review queue (under the title Night on the Galactic Express). Buy Night on the Galactic Railroad [Blu-ray].

YOU LINK US! YOU REALLY LINK US!:

This 47 Best Movies of the 90s article on bustle.com cites us to support its (quite correct) theory that Dead Man is a “psychedelic western.”

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.

WOODY ALLEN’S PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985)

In her review of ‘s The Purple Rose Of Cairo (1985), critic Pauline Kael wrote: “it seems scaled to [Mia Farrow’s] cheekbones.” This is Kael at her charmingly brief, astute best, inspired by what may be Allen at his best. Allen jumps from the diving board of ‘s Sherlock Jr. (a List Candidate), Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels, and his own Play It Again, Sam (1972). In turn, The Purple Rose Of Cairo influenced film such as Maurizio Nichetti’s The Icicle Thief (1989), Gary Ross’ Pleasantville (1998) and Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber (2010). When released, The Purple Rose Of Cairo received almost universal critical acclaim, but its downbeat ending and flights of fancy put off American audiences.

I vaguely recall a review of the mediocre Bing Crosby vehicle Pennies From Heaven (1936). The critic (I think it was Leslie Halliwell) made a point that the Depression era man was all but forgotten, an alien in the contemporary world. Not to Allen, whose warmth here is both sensitive and genuinely emotional. Allen finds the pulse of a Depression era prerequisite: balancing fantasy with the all too austere physical world, which demands Allen’s deflating-the-cinematic-tire finale.

The lead performances from and Mia Farrow are exemplary. Perhaps the most unfortunate repercussion of the acidic Allen/Farrow split is the loss of his ultimate leading lady. She is matched by Jeff Daniels’ insipid matinee idol and Danny Aiello‘s thug of a husband (Allen acted opposite Aiello in 1976 in Martin Ritt’s The Front and the two would collaborate again in 1987’s Radio Days). As he did in Midnight In Paris (2011), Allen embraces the simplicity of romanticism while offering a droll critique, shorn of cynicism.

Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)Stuck in a loveless marriage to her husband, Monk (Aiello), and in a low-paying job as an New Jersey waitress with a tyrannical employer (David Kierserman), Cecilia (Farrow) seeks sanctuary in her daily visits to the cinema. On one such occasion, the screen character of Tom Baxter (Daniels) literally walks off the screen and into her life. In the real world, Tom, a product of the Hays Code with remnants of silent screen mannerisms, discovers the alien concepts of sex, pregnancy, poverty and street fighting, which allows for ecstatic, precise comedy. Gil (also Daniels), the Hollywood actor who plays Tom, enters the real-life drama, giving rise to Allen’s clear-eyed peeves (we knew they were coming). Still, Allen’s writing is exquisitely stylized. Watching this film from his middle, mature era, we realize that it’s not his directing—which has become jaded in the last decade—that impresses, but his writing. Of course, Allen includes his self in his assessments, mocking the pretentiousness of his own Bergman adulation, while extolling those small movies which make us laugh.

The Purple Rose of Cairo is an innovative, folksy classic. Who would think that possible from Allen? Actually, it’s totally within character.

Next week the Woody Allen series wraps with the early experiment,  What’s Up, Tiger Lilly (1966).

227. CHRISTMAS ON MARS (2008)

“‘Eating your spaceship’ became one of the central themes of what the movie meant.”–Wayne Coyne

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Wayne Coyne, Bradley Beesley, George Salisbury

FEATURING: Steven Drozd, Wayne Coyne, Mark DeGraffenreid

PLOT: It’s Christmas Eve on Earth’s first Mars colony, and Major Syrtis has the job of organizing the festivities. But the colonist tapped to play Santa Claus, Ed-15, has gone mad from space sickness and has committed suicide by running outside into the deadly Martian atmosphere without a space suit. Fortunately, a new arrival at the colony, a silent green man with antennae sticking out of his forehead, mutely agrees to don Santa’s suit….

Still from Christmas on Mars (2008)

BACKGROUND:

  • A psychedelic post-punk band, The Flaming Lips were formed in 1983 and released eleven albums before completing Christmas on Mars. Their music frequently contains science fiction references and their stage shows are known for their elaborate theatricality.
  • The idea was sparked by a Flaming Lips Christmas card frontman Wayne Coyne designed featuring a Martian in a Santa suit.
  • The film, written by Coyne, was in development for eight years, as the band worked on it every few months in between other projects. Most of the sets were built in Coyne’s home or backyard. Some of the early production is documented in the Lips documentary The Fearless Freaks (2005).
  • Co-director Brad Beesley also directed many of the Lips’ music videos and the Fearless Freaks documentary. Co-director George Salisbury was also credited as editor and produced the DVD extras.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: I wouldn’t want to spoil the hallucination’s impact, but it involves a marching band and an imperilled baby. (That’s not the strange part, though).

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Anatomically incorrect space(wo)man; marching band of death; Martian Santa

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Although from its lava lamp opening to its twisted happy ending, Christmas on Mars pokes at strangeness time and time again. But what really sets it apart are its many, many vaginas: more vaginas than you would see at a Georgia O’Keefe retrospective organized by the American Gynecological Association. No other movie in existence has so graphically exploited the weird potential of the human (or alien) vagina.


Original trailer for Christmas on Mars

COMMENTS: Christmas on Mars is a movie made by amateurs, which Continue reading 227. CHRISTMAS ON MARS (2008)

CAPSULE: GURU THE MAD MONK (1970)

DIRECTED BY: Andy Milligan

FEATURING: Neil Flanagan, Paul Lieber, Judith Israel, Jaqueline Webb

PLOT: A prison colony priest abuses his power and threatens the love of a young couple.

Still from Guru the Mad Monk (1970)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: No comprehensive survey of weird movies would be complete without a passing mention of Andy Milligan, but no such list would be credible if they honored Andy with more than a footnote.

COMMENTS: Michael J. Weldon once said, “If you’re an Andy Milligan fan, there’s no help for you.” I’m not sure Andy Milligan movies have fans, any more than car crashes do. There are only helpless, stunned onlookers.

That said, Guru the Mad Monk is considered one of the trash auteur’s best efforts. It’s helped along by a brisk run time (under an hour, with no fluff) and a berserk plot that incorporates grave robbing, blackmail, torture, a schizophrenic priest with a bowl haircut, a hunchback, and a vampire. At the same time, it has legitimate ambitions towards being a historical Gothic horror indicting hypocrisy in the clergy—although the presence of a vampire kind of undercuts that serious intent. Neil Flanagan, as the corrupt Guru (Guru??), is about as fine an actor as you’ll find in a Milligan movie. He’s got crazy eyes and Shakespearean diction: he slaps his lackey for saying he doesn’t believe in God, tenderly insults his own hunchback, and argues with the demonic spirit possessing him while looking into a mirror and clutching a bouquet of posies. He is one of those competent actors you are sometimes lucky to find reciting ridiculous dialogue while drawing a paycheck in crappy films. (Flanagan later landed guest spots on “The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Jeffersons”). It’s no master class in acting, but with a less confidently hammy villain, this cheapie would be absolute torture.

Speaking of torture, the horrifically poor gore effects are one of the trashy pleasures on display here. As a priest/inquisitor, Guru’s duties include branding reprobates and overseeing the lopping off of hands and the placing nails in eyeballs. If push comes to shove, he’s not above crucifying a henchman. Perhaps sensing this—not to mention the fact that Guru is publicly consorting with a vampire mistress—-the Catholic Church understandably wants to install a less mad monk in the position.  All of this is shot, not on location in the Greek isles, but in a church in Manhattan (traffic noise sometimes intrudes on the scene, and at one point a motorbike is visible in the background). It’s all quite terrible, but rather amazing at the same time. It never lets up long enough to get dull (thus avoiding the beware rating that it might earn if judged solely on its technical merits). In a different time, this thing—essential a home movie with community theater production values—played in actual movie houses!

Guru the Mad Monk is available on DVD by itself, in a triple feature of Milligan movies alongside The Ghastly Ones and The Body Beneath, or as part of the “Pure Terror” 50-film set from Mill creek.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…beneath the tangly plot veneer, this is just a delightfully deranged exploitation movie…  If you’re looking for an entry point into the wild, weird world of Milligan, this is as good as any.”–Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror! (DVD)

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