WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 4/17/2015

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).

Tribeca Film Festival official site.

NEW ON DVD:

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.

Maps to the Stars (2015): Read Alex Kittle’s review. ‘s Hollywood satire could have been weirder but it’s fun to see a cast that includes , Julianne Moore, John Cusak, and acting nasty. Buy Maps to the Stars.

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  , 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].

Maps to the Stars (2015): See description in DVD above. Buy Maps to the Stars [Blu-ray].

The Toxic Avenger Part II (1989): Read our review. This combo pack with a spare DVD is (we believe) the first time Toxie’s trip to Tokyo has appeared on Blu-ray. Buy The Toxic Avenger Part II [Blu-ray/DVD Combo].

Zardoz (1974): Read the certified weird entry! Not sold in stores! Specialty releaser Twilight Time puts out a limited-edition Blu of ‘s bonkers “-in-a-red-diaper” sci-fi klassick. Only 5,000 will be printed and it’s only available directly from Screen Archives. Buy Zardoz [Limited edition 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.

READER POLL FOR ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: THE CANDIDATES

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.

Poster for Avengers: Age of UltronThe 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 , 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 -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 sacked the fascistic , 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  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.

Jurassic World: A third-rate rehash of a film that was not very good to begin with. The plot sounds almost identical to the 1993 Spielberg Continue reading READER POLL FOR ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: THE CANDIDATES

198. BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)

“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.

Still from Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)BACKGROUND:

  • 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), ‘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 , , 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.


Festival trailer for Beyond the Black Rainbow

COMMENTS: The very title Beyond the Black Rainbow invokes an Continue reading 198. BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)

CAPSULE: THE BEYOND (1981)

AKA Seven Doors of Death

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: (as Katherine MacColl), David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale

PLOT: A young woman inherits a hotel that was built over one of the seven gates of Hell.

Still from The Beyond (1981)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While it would be hard to deny the irrational aesthetics of The Beyond—this is, in every sense, a weird movie—its filmmaking quality leaves much to be desired. I find The Beyond falls just below the threshold of list candidacy.

COMMENTS: Convoluted and absurd, both by design and by accident, The Beyond is a mess of a horror spectacle, and its effect on a particular viewer can be difficult to predict. You might find it unsettling, or annoying, or sometimes both, in back-to-back scenes. The story lurches from plot point to plot point, racing towards the next shock sequence; long series of frames seem to be snipped out of the film. It begins with a sepia-tinted flashback: in 1927 Louisiana, a mob of torch-bearing villagers track down a “warlock” at a hotel and take him to the basement, where they beat him with chains, crucify him against the wall (is that really the symbolism director Fulci wanted?), and douse him with acid. The gore scenes are accompanied by horrifically inappropriate funk music that sounds like horror-rock band Goblin got infected by boogie fever. Years later, Joe the plumber goes down to the same basement, and unseen forces squeeze his eyeball out of its socket, one of several scenes of ocular trauma (a Fulci specialty). Once his corpse is discovered and taken in for an autopsy, the pathologist decides to hook a brainwave monitor up to the lifeless body, for the hell of it (“why not?”). Lo and behold, his brain has a heartbeat! Later, the insect world’s loudest tarantulas—they chirp like birds—eat a man’s face off. And in the weird and sporadically effective finale, a hospital is inexplicably taken over by zombies, and our fleeing heroes escape via an elevator that leads to the hotel basement!

Like I said, it’s a mess. The Beyond is one of the most divisive movies we consider for the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies, with critics and horror fans dividing up to defend or attack it in equal measures, and with equal passion. It’s a movie which alternates effectively evocative scenes (a blind girl standing on an empty bayou causeway as a lone car bears down on her) with absolute howlers (the hand-painted “do not entry” sign at the hospital). There is something attractive about the mix of sloppiness and surrealism here, but I think the enjoyment of this film relies on appreciation of a very specific type of incoherence camp that not everyone can vibe to. While I catch a glimpse of what this movie’s champions—many of whom are extremely erudite and eloquent in its defense—see in The Beyond, for me, Fulci’s incompetence and adolescent gore obsessions drown out his flashes of irrational inspiration and visual imagination. This is Lucio Fulci at his very best, but Fulci at his best is about the equivalent of at his worst.

Befitting The Beyond‘s cult status, Grindhouse Releasing’s impressive 2015 Blu-ray Collector’s Edition contains 3 discs: the film, an entire disc of extras, and a CD of the soundtrack.

“…Lucio Fulci’s bold incoherence honors [cinema] as a sensory experience…”–Fernando F. Croce, Cinepassion

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

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

CAPSULE: CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Christopher George,  (as Katriona MacColl), Carlo de Mejo

PLOT:The suicide of a priest prompts the Hell Gate in Dunwich, NY to spring open, bringing with it maggot storms and risen dead.

Still from City of the Living Dead (1980)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This pastiche of zombies and Lovecraftian references does have a couple of neat-o violent set pieces, but is largely a tedious, incoherent affair.

COMMENTS: Throughout City of the Living Dead, you cannot help but think of prior, superior entries in the zombie genre. A woman’s scream sounds over a black screen, then there’s an opening shot of a church steeple with a backwards tracking shot showing the adjacent cemetery. The close-up a gravestone reads: “The soul that pines for eternity shall out span death. You dweller of the twilight void, come. Dunwich.” This helpfully informs the viewer of the movie’s two main ingredients: undead and ill-defined Lovecraftisms. We see a priest hang himself from a tree, the base of the rope attached to an obelisk (Masons?) Within moments of the cutback to New York City we find a young psychic and her mentor, with the former literally frightened to death (Poe?) and the latter going on about the merits of the Book of Enoch.

Unfortunately, so little goes right in this movie that it is difficult to discuss without sounding like a long list of complaints. To its credit, the pacing is brisk enough that its ninety-three minutes go by swiftly. An intrepid journalist is curious about the psychic’s mysterious death, and in the course of poking around the cemetery she’s to be laid to rest in, he even saves her from being buried alive (Poe, again). With her in tow, and receiving further advice from the Book of Enoch, they make their way to the cursed town of Dunwich in order to close the opened gate to hell before All Soul’s Day.

Taking place between the priest’s suicide and the nebulous finale is a string of poorly coordinated horror-movie moments. There’s a young village-idiot type who may or may not have supernatural powers (at the very least he can inflate a blow-up sex doll without a bicycle pump) who meets a rather grim (and, film-wise, notorious) fate at the hands of an over-protective father. There’s Dunwich’s resident psychologist who is either calm beyond belief in the face of unremitting supernatural tragedy or just bored out of his mind. And there’s my favorite diversion in this trip to mid-state (?) New York—two barflies and the saloon keeper having their own Xanaxed discussions about the slowly growing zombie menace.

Amidst all the Lovecraft, ancient Judaica, and Poe, there’s also, perhaps, a Conan Doyle hat-tip with the unlikely named mortician’s, “Moriarty and Sons.” Granted, this isn’t an altogether impossible name for an establishment, as it is not too uncommon an Irish name, but with all the other shout-outs to superior fiction, I’m inclined to believe the director deliberately went for it as a recognizable link to Holmes’ diabolical nemesis. Among the many real pities about this movie is the fact that none of these potentially worthwhile homages are given any narrative traction. Taken together, they seem more of a “Hail Mary” on the part of the film makers to lend their movie a smattering of depth as opposed to any actual link (either thematic or otherwise).

The horror scenes themselves aren’t that weird (rotting corpses, vomited innards, plague of maggots), and that results in the only truly weird moments in the movie being the strange relics of the era in which it was written. There’s a scene with the two cemetery men who don’t quite bury the heroine during which one of them (the one with the mustache, of course) is ogling an adult men’s magazine. He quips to his buddy, “Talk about ‘box lunches’, man!” as he gazes over the pictures. In contrast to this dismissive chauvinism is the enlightened exchange between the psychologist and a patient of his that goes as follows:

“Tell me honestly, do you consider me a basket case?”

No, you’re nurturing a pet neurosis, that’s all, just like about 70% of the female population of this country.”

“So according to you, I’m not stark raving mad…”

This exchange is made without any sense of irony, which brings me to my main reaction to this whole movie: had it been made within the past decade or so, City of the Living Dead could easily pass as a humorous post-modern take on the whole genre of low-budget horror movies from the ’70s and ’80s. However, that is not the case; everything is to be taken at face value. Fulci obviously intended this as a sincere entry into the zombie canon, but succeeded no more than  succeeded in his efforts to make a science fiction masterpiece.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The entertainingly weird festival of gore looks forward to his masterpiece, The Beyond.”–Sean Axmaker, seanax.com (DVD)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week we start off with a theme: it’s mini-Lucio Fulci week, as Giles Edwards takes on City of the Living Dead while G. Smalley goes into The Beyond (1981). The latter makes for a perfect transition into the reader-selection Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010). Meanwhile, we note that the Summer Blockbuster season is creeping up upon us, and so Alfred Eaker will be looking at what’s coming up—and asking you to choose which bombastic cinematic atrocity he should be forced to endure! What a week, what a week!

It’s time again for our rundown of the strangest search terms we spotted in our referral logs last week—a little feature we like to call “Weirdest Search Terms of the Week.” First up is  “orange rensy jappanes sex vedio,” which would probably be weird even without the obvious misspellings (what could “orange rensy” possibly be?) Still, it’s not quite as weird as the search for “movie where guyruns up stairs and starts singing brrrrrrrrrr.” Yet both of these pale in peculiarity next to this week’s official Weirdest Search Term:  “two sexy nuns sucking each others huge – duck movie下午3:33http://duckmovie.” To make the search even weirder, if you put  that insanely-phrased query into Google, you will notice that the assiduous search engine returns (as you would expect) exactly zero hits. So how in the world did the searcher end up on our site? Accept the mystery!

Here’s how the ridiculously-long reader-suggested review queue stands: The Beyond (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 Guillotine; Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 4/10/2015

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 (WIDE RELEASE):

Lost River: Ryan Gossling describes his directorial debut as a “fantasy noir” and “modern day fairytale” set in a “macabre and dark fantasy underworld.” With Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan, Eva Mendes, “Doctor Who”’s Matt Smith, and ; critics were not kind to it, but it looks like a weird event pic nonetheless. Lost River official site.

IN DEVELOPMENT:

The Brand New Testament (2015): ‘s latest “surreal comedy” stars as God. His teenage daughter hacks his computer and leaks the fates of mortals to the press. Also featuring (we’re guessing she’s Mrs. God). Testament has already locked up most of its European distributors, but is still looking for a U.S. company to handle the release. A possible Cannes competition selection (it’s scheduled to be completed just in time…) Read more at Variety.

“Suspiria de Profundis” (TV): Based on Thomas de Quincey’s book of the same title (also the inspiration for the Certified Weird horror Suspiria), this proposed English-language series from France’s Atlantique Productions would feature de Quincey investigating paranormal phenomenon in late 19th Century London. is “artistic supervisor.” The company is also developing a series based on Django (the original Italian movies, not ‘s American version). Weird? Probably not, but we’ll see. More at Screen Daily.

NEW ON DVD:

If You Don’t, I Will (2014): A French (black comedy?) portrait of a dissolving marriage; after a tense hike, the wife decides to stay behind and live in the forest. Hard to get a handle on the potential weirdness here, as multiple user reviews refer to the film’s absurd, surreal or confusing nature, while most professional reviewers mention nothing of the sort. Buy If You Don’t, I Will.

The Voices (2014): ‘s first American feature is a tale of murder involving an unbalanced factory worker who takes advice from his talking cat and dog. Ryan Reynolds’ performance is drawing universal praise, but can it be any good if weird-hating troll critic Rex Reed liked it? Buy The Voices.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

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

FREE ONLINE MOVIES:

The Haunted World of Ed Wood Jr. (1995): Very thorough (and respectful) documentary on one-of-a-kind transvestite director Ed Wood, Jr., the mind behind the weird masterpiece Glen or Glenda? Watch The Haunted World of Ed Wood Jr. free on Shout TV.

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.

FELLINI SATYRICON (1969): THE CRITERION COLLECTION ON BLU-RAY

“The quintessential Fellini film. There are orgies, murders, abductions, rituals, all presented coolly, without editorial comment—as might a Warren Commission Report from Mars.”—Vincent Canby

Although Fellini Satyricon (1969) has already made the List, its re-release as a Criterion Collection Blu-ray warrants additional coverage. The previous MGM DVD Edition was threadbare, and although it thankfully kept the film in circulation, you can now donate your copy to a  virgin (although making Satyricon your first would be unwise).

Actually, my MGM DVD has proven quite handy over the last decade, being one of my most coveted films for the bourgeoisie to walk out on. More than once it has been useful in ridding myself of unwanted guests, or those who have overstayed their welcome. Rather than repeatedly looking at the Seiko on my wrist, all I had to do was slap Satyricon into the player and within a half hour I would, without fail, find myself alone enjoying the company of my dear, beloved, beautiful late Siamese cat, Betty.

The last time I pulled it out was possibly the most beneficial to me: a family member, for some reason, decided to drop by; which would have been fine, except that he brought with him his hopelessly constipated Bible-beating fundamentalist girlfriend, who proceeded to “enlighten” and “warn” me about the upcoming rapture, lest I be “left behind.” I neither argued nor even looked at my watch. I merely smiled, popped in Satyricon and—bam—in a record time of seventeen minutes, sister So-and-So was outta my door. I gave Betty her trout and lay back, thanking both St. Federico and MGM. Although Betty broke my heart by suddenly, and without warning, flying off this mortal coil, she can now join Federico and my wife and I (in spirit), looking down from trout heaven at a crystal clear Criterion Satyricon. I am willing to bet that, with this release, I can beat my seventeen-minute record the next time an uptight cinematic illiterate or artless boob darkens my door.

Of course, the film was loosely based on Petronius’ ancient satire, and all that history is covered here. As with Roma (1972) Fellini includes his name as part of the title, not out of ego, but to inform the view that this is Fellini’s personal interpretation of the satire, not Petronius. Conventional wisdom says that with Satyricon Fellini entered a whole new plane of eccentric (some would say excessive) personal filmmaking, daring to produce a work which does not strive to be populist. Fellini counted this, with 1976’s tragically unavailable Casanova, as his most perfectly realized film.

Director of Photography Giuseppe Rotunno supervised Criterion’s digital restoration, which renders the viewing experience an entirely new film. The difference is almost akin to seeing a painting in the flesh as opposed to looking at in an art history reference book. From the rich pigments of the clothing to the caked face paint of the extras, the vivid background colors, reddened skies, bluish serpentine caverns, and even the subtitles (a new and improved English translation), this is a radical improvement over MGM’s release. As a product of the late 60s, Satyricon is mesmerizingly psychedelic. The fabric of Fellini’s hellish milieu never looked so sumptuous and inviting. Additionally, its absurd dialogue, spoken in multifarious languages, and the Nino Rota score are at their most cacophonous.

Starting with the audio commentary track, the extras are aptly idiosyncratic. Not recorded directly for the Blu-ray release, it is instead an expansively informative “Behind the Scenes Diary,” recorded in 1971 by Eileen Lanouette Hughes. She covers Fellini’s original vision for the film, how that vision evolved during production, provides behind the scenes descriptions, the history of the film’s funding, explains Fellini’s processes and casting decisions, and compares Petronious’ satire to Fellini’s finished adaptation.

“Ciao Federico,” is an hour-long documentary produced by Gideon Bachmann in 1970. Showing the behind the scenes interaction between director and cast, it reveals Fellini as something of a taskmaster, albeit one who quickly apologizes for belittling his actors. Among the visitors to the set, we see  and his doomed wife, Sharon Tate.

The director discusses everything from the latent morality of the film (aka godless violence) to Gene Shalit’s waxed mustache in a series of interviews. An interview with DP Rotunno reveals the director’s aversion to creating a realistic ancient Roman world; he desired instead a mythical, artificial look.

Classical scholars, film consultants Joanna Paul and Luca Canali expand on Hughes’ commentary in the “Fellini and Petronious” supplement. On set photographer Mary Ellen Mark amusingly recounts anecdotes of working with Fellini (and the director’s sycophants).

Fellini Satyricon Poster“Felliniana” is a hi-res slideshow from Dan Young’s epic Satyricon memorabilia, including a collection of provocative posters.

An extensive essay booklet by film scholar Michael Wood accompanies the original theatrical trailer, closing this release. It is enough for several nights’ worth of cozy, entertaining, academic foreplay before consummating with the film itself. A wholeheartedly recommended, essential release.

197. VAMPYR (1932)

Vampyr – Der Traum des Allan Grey; Castle of Doom (alternate English version)

“I just wanted to make a film different from all other films. I wanted, if you will, to break new ground for the cinema. That is all. And do you think this intention has succeeded? Yes, I have broken new ground.”–Carl Theodore Dreyer on Vampyr

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Julian West, Jan Hieronimko, Rena Mandel, Sybille Schmitz

PLOT: Allen Gray, a student of the occult, wanders to the small hamlet of Courtempierre. There, he witnesses ghostly visions and meets an old man who is soon killed by an assassin’s bullet. The man’s sickly daughter lies in bed, her blood drained by a vampire, and Gray takes it upon himself to find the source of the contagion.

Still from Vampyr (1932)
BACKGROUND:

  • The story was inspired by tales from Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 Gothic short story collection “In a Glass Darkly,” the most important of which is “Carmilla” (a vampire tale with lesbian undertones).
  • Vampyr was produced in three versions: one with the cast speaking English, one in French, and one in German. Complete prints of the English and French versions no longer exist, although parts were used in restoring the German version. Some say the English version was never completed. Filming the same script in multiple languages was a trend at the time—see also the Spanish-language version of Dracula—although this practice was soon abandoned as too costly.
  • Star “Julian West” is actually Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg, who funded the production in exchange for the leading role. Gunzburg used a pseudonym to avoid the embarrassment that would result from having an actor in his Russian expatriate noble family.
  • Vampyr was shot through a layer of gauze positioned in front of the camera to create the soft, dreamlike visuals.
  • The film was booed at its premiere in Berlin, and in Vienna crowds rioted, demanding their money back. Vampyr lost money and at the time was seen as an embarrassment in its distinguished director’s career, although now it is regarded with near universal acclaim.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The translucent astral body of our protagonist, peering down at his doppelganger as it lies in a coffin.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A nearly irrational, mood-based horror gem with imagery that verges on the surreal, Vampyr is a grim and restless death parable made in the brief age when the melodramatic structures of silent films were slowly being fleshed out with the new colors and textures afforded by sound. This experiment in terror by a master filmmaker, made in a unique period that cannot be recreated, is an artifact of its time that paradoxically seems all the more universal because of the age-bound specificity of its style.


Clip from Vampyr (1932)

COMMENTS: “It was an eerie moonlit night. Lights and shadows, Continue reading 197. VAMPYR (1932)

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