LIST CANDIDATE: A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2017)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Harry Groener

PLOT: A young executive goes to a remote spa planning to recover his company’s CEO, who appears to have gone insane and joined a wellness cult; circumstances lead him to become a patient as he investigates the place and learns its dark secrets.

Still from A Cure for Wellness (2017)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Although it’s uneven to the point of frustration, A Cure for Wellness is going to be the weirdest Hollywood-backed movie of the year, making it one we need to consider. Gore Verbinski blew all the Hollywood goodwill he earned from directing the Pirates of the Caribbean series on this majestic vanity, so we are unlike to see anything this strange in cineplexes for a while.

COMMENTS: A Cure for Wellness is a spin on “Dracula”‘s basic plot. Dane DeHaan is Lockhart, the Jonathan Harker character, sent to fetch the Reinfield character (Harry Groener as CEO Pembroke) from the castle (now a sanitarium on a Swiss mountaintop) run by a mysterious aristocrat (now hospital director Volmer, a name that sounds like it could have come out of an unpublished Bram Stoker novella). The villagers living at the base of the mountain despise the residents of the castle—er, spa—-and there’s even legends about ancient degenerate evils perpetrated by an evil Baron on the site now occupied by the sanitarium. There’s a Mina Harker-ish love interest (Mia Goth’s waify Hannah, enticing  both Lockhart and Volmer). The bulk of the film has Lockhart imprisoned and convalescing, under friendly pretenses, in the demonic lair, investigating his surroundings and his host and making terrifying discoveries (Harker’s scenes inside the vampire’s castle were always the best part of “Dracula”). Water takes the place of blood as a symbol of the leeched life-force.

It’s a sturdy and well-tested horror structure, disguised just enough by the modern setting. Unfortunately, it does not completely pay off. Gore Verbinski has a chance to update the dusty old tale with new satirical furnishings: digs at the modern corporate structure and the wellness movement. The targets are set up, but not knocked down. Lockhart has a rich psychological backstory explaining how he became such a selfishly driven bastard, but while flashbacks suggest this history might hold a key to the story’s deeper meaning, it turns out to be either window dressing or a red herring. A Cure for Wellness can’t decide if it wants to be a straight horror story, a twisty psychological thriller, or a pure Surrealist dream movie. It doesn’t commit to any one of the these genres, and in the end it settles for what may be the least interesting possible compromise between the trio of possibilities. (A movie’s not knowing what it wants to be is no bar to weirdness, but in this case I suspect the rough edges are more a result of waffling than of artistic dementia).

When Lockhart first meets Pembroke, he has been tracking him through the spa’s labyrinthine steam room. He enters a room and finds that the exit has disappeared; impossibly, he’s now trapped inside four walls, filling up with steam. Turning in circles, he suddenly spies an doorway in one of the walls; a stag walks past it. He exits the chamber where he was trapped and finds the CEO sitting on a bench, sweating. Immediately, he forgets the previous minutes eerie events and starts interrogating his quarry about why he left the corporate boardroom. He doesn’t waste time asking why wild animals are roaming the halls; his experiences are immediately forgotten. That sort of thing suggests either sloppy screenwriting, or an “it’s all a dream” interpretation (a reading the script supports by repeatedly referring to a dreaming ballerina figurine crafted by Lockhart’s mom). If Wellness means to be a dream film like that more famous Surrealist institution down the road, The Hourglass Sanatorium, however, it shouldn’t take it’s silly conclusion so darn seriously.

It seems more likely that the script simply incorporates fuzzy possibilities of hallucinations into the story as a way to have its cake and eat it to. Fortunately, the cake is good–if, at two-and-a-half hours, there’s a little too much of it. Verbinski fixates on the eel as a horror image. They show up in the strangest places, and elicit delicious chills almost every time. The sanitarium is a winning setting, and slow camera pans through its off-white halls provide effective suspense. Also, I would advise not going to the dentist for at least a week after seeing this film. The whole thing may not add up to much, but the ian intensity of individual scenes is undeniable. I was totally enthralled by Wellness for the first hour or so, before it’s structure began to crumble into repetitive noodling. But it’s rare to see this much money thrown at the screen to evoke such elaborate weirdness—so I would urge readers to get out and see it on the big screen during its sure-to-be-short run.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…about as weird as modern Hollywood movies get… Simply put, nothing stranger is likely to make it to multiplexes any time soon. Savor the oddness.”–A.A.Dowd, The A.V. Club (contemporaneous)

AND THE WINNERS OF THE 7TH ANNUAL WEIRDCADEMY AWARDS ARE…

In just a few hours, the telecast of the Oscars (or, as we refer to them, the “Weirdcademy Awards for squares”) will begin. We are happy to steal the Academy’s Thunder by announcing cinema’s weirdest winners of 2015 now.

In the category of “Weirdest Short Film,” the winner is ‘s impossibly complicated street performance “Metube 2: August Sings Carmina Burnana”:

(Note: this was the only race where ballot-stuffing was involved, as “Metube” beat out -backed favorite “This House Has People in It” by an unlikely vote of 162-43. Of course, ballot-stuffing is perfectly legal in the Weirdcademy Awards voting. If Adult Swim wants an award next year, they can send their fans the voting link!)

In the category of “Weirdest Scene,” the Weirdcademy Award goes to Swiss Army Man for the scene where Paul Dano escapes a deserted island by using ‘s flatulent corpse as a jet ski.

(Naturally, this clip contains scatological humor).

In the category of “Weirdest Actress,” the Award goes to the dark house, Samantha Robinson, as the titular Love Witch, seen in this salacious clip preparing one of her erotic spells (although we do not see her collecting some of her more unusual ingredients)…

(Understandably, this clip contains adult situations).

In the category of “Weirdest Actor,” the Award goes to Daniel Radcliffe, as a dead dude who can do much more than just pass gas.

And capturing almost 40% of the total vote in the ten movie field, the award for Weirdest Movie of 2015 goes to The Lobster, ‘ absurdist parable about a future dystopia where single people are housed in a hotel and given thirty days to find a suitable mate, or be turned into an animal of their choice.

Thanks to all members of the Weirdcademy, and see you again next year!

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Coming later today: results of the 2016 Weirdcademy Awards. You have until 1:00 PM EST time to get in your final votes.

Coming next week: our (slightly late) review of A Cure for Wellness. Bottom line: something this weird is not going to stay in theaters for very long, so if you have any interest in seeing a strange, eel-infused Hollywood-financed horror/psychothriller/surrealist hybrid on the big screen, you better make plans to get out there quickly. We’ll also look back at older movies, as Scott Sentinella reflects on Apocalypse Now Redux and Giles Edwards spends time in ‘s City of Women (both of those titles come from out of the reader-suggested review queue). And of course, Alfred Eaker will finish off his miniseries on Amicus horror anthologies with a look at the last three entries in that cycle.

We’re in a bit of a hurry to get to counting those Weirdcademy ballots, so we’re going to rush through the Weirdest Search Terms of the Week (we did not see much that was spectacularly strange this week, anyway).  Also-ran “howard the doc” amused us for some reason, but it’s not that weird of a search. Runners-up this week include “film with a man and a woman with a moustache fight mutated pigs” and “movie where everyone in a room qith laswers.” From a weak field we’ll take the torturously-phrased “give the names and penis lenth of male porn stars in alphabetical way” as our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week. Do better next week, weirdos!

Here’s how our ridiculously-long reader-suggested review queue stands: Apocalypse Now (Redux version) (next week!); City of Women (next week!); Uncle Meat; Nuit Noire; Grendel Grendel Grendel; Twilight Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

SATURDAY SHORT: BLACK HOLES (2017)

Dave, an aging astronaut teams up with a sentient cantaloupe on the first ever Mars mission.

This concept piece is currently being made into a full-length television series, and the team has turned to crowd funding to help cover the costs. If you’d like to help the cause, please visit their Kickstarter page.

Content Warning: This short contains some cartoon nudity.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 2/24/2017

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):

Drifter (2016): A pair of post-apocalyptic assassins stumble into a town of psychotic cannibals. “Starburst” describes it as “[s]urreal stylings and extreme violence…Drifter official Facebook page.


NEW ON DVD:

Psychomania (1973): Bullfrog-worshiping bikers kill themselves so they can come back as living-dead cyclists. Arrow Films restores the British cult B-movie and releases it in a DVD/Blu-ray bundle with archival interviews and supplements. Buy Psychomania [DVD/Blu-ray combo].

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

The Boy Friend (1971): An understudy gets her big break in a musical production. completists will be interested in this oddity in his canon: a musical spoofing musicals, starring Twiggy, and, most shockingly, rated “G.” Buy The Boy Friend [Blu-ray].

Psychomania (1973): See description in DVD above. Buy Psychomania [DVD/Blu-ray combo].

FREE (LEGITIMATE RELEASE) MOVIES ON YOUTUBE:

V FOR VICTORY or THE FALL AND RISE OF CONNIE STARTRAVELER (2016): Visual concept album from Athens, Ohio band SUPERNOBODY, with a plot that mixes E.T. with “Ziggy Stardust.” A gorilla befriends a space-marionette and defends it from UFO investigators. About 45 minutes, or one hour if you watch the outtakes.

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.

AMICUS ANTHOLOGIES, PART ONE (1965-1972)

With Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965, directed by Freddie Francis and written by Milton Subotsky) Amicus Productions (spearheaded by Subotsky and Max Rosenberg, who previously produced for Hammer and was a cousin to ) established itself as a vital competitor to Hammer Studios. Rather than imitating Hammer’s modernization of Gothic classics, Amicus developed its own niche with omnibus films. They were successful enough to be in full-fledged production for a decade, establishing a reputation as the go-to studio for horror anthologies. This, their introductory portmanteau film, clearly influenced by EC Comics, sets a pattern of to-be-expected unevenness. Still, Amicus installs themselves as a horror studio to be reckoned with, sparing no expense in procuring Hammer’s top actors: (who would  star in all but one of the Amicus anthologies) and . For its wraparound segment, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors opens to the duo (among other passengers) on a train. Dr. Schreck[1] (Cushing, saddled with a terrible German accent and glued on brows) pulls out a deck of tarot cards. “Pick a card, any card, and tape it three times,” Schreck tells his fellow passengers. Each participant will hear of a fate that may await them. Among the passengers is Christopher Lee who will, of course, factor into one of the five narratives.

In “Werewolf,” Neil McCallum is an architect renovating an old dark house, which turns out to be cursed. The title monster is featured in this pedestrian tale of ancestral revenge with a “twist.”

With Alan Freeman  (better known as the U.K D.J. for “Pick of the Pops”) served up as a snack for a venus fly trap, “The Creeping Vine,” thankfully doesn’t take itself so seriously. It is refreshingly lightheaded hokum.

“Voodoo” is the worst of the lot; badly dated in its stereotypes, with Kenny Lynch belting out a stolen voodoo tune.

Still from "Diembodied Hand" from Dr. Terror's House of Horrors“Disembodied Hand,” has elitist art critic Franklin Marsh (Lee) driving artist Eric Landor (Michael Gough) to suicide. Landor’s severed hand returns to exact revenge on the mean critic. It’s in the spirit of The Beast with Five Fingers, among others, and chock-full of two-dimensional caricatures of both artists and critics. It holds no surprises, but with Lee and Gough engaged in a bit of whistling-while-they-work fun, it’s easily the best episode.

“Vampire” feature a young who discovers he is married to… a vampire! It barely raises a pulse.

Seen today, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors is more camp than horror, and its appeal is one of genre nostalgia. Still, the phenomenal box office success of Dr. Terror green-lighted a second portmanteau film in 1967, entitled Torture Garden (directed by Freddie Francis and written by Robert Bloch). It contains no torture nor any garden. Burgess Meredith (in a preposterous disguise, reminding us of the Penguin) is Old Nick himself, going by the pseudonym of Dr. Diablo and moonlighting as a carnival barker who promises a tortuous exhibit that can reveal the future. “You’ll shake, you’ll shiver, but it’s all good fun,” Diablo hammily tells his patrons. Unfortunately, only one of the four tales lives Continue reading AMICUS ANTHOLOGIES, PART ONE (1965-1972)

  1. “Shreck” is German for “terror,” and a nod to the famous star of ‘s Nosferatu. []

271. THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM (1973)

Sanatorium pod Klepsydra; AKA The Sandglass

“For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. “–Hamlet, Act III, Sc. 1

Recommended

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING:

PLOT: As the film opens, Józef is on a train headed to a sanatorium where his dead father is being kept. When he arrives, the grounds are deserted and decrepit, but eventually he finds a doctor who leads him to his now-sleeping father’s room and explains the patient’s comatose-but-alive status: “the trick is that we moved back time… we reactivate past time with all its possibilities.” Józef then wanders through the sanatorium’s grounds, meeting his mother, a collector of automatons, a parade of men dressed in bird costumes, the Three Wise Men, and other strange characters.

Still from The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973)

BACKGROUND:

  • The film was primarily based on Polish Surrealist author Bruno Schultz’s short-story collection “Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass,” although it included ideas from some of the author’s other short stories. (A Schulz story was also the inspiration for the ‘ stop-animation nightmare “The Street of Crocodiles“).
  • Wojciech Has worked on this project for five years.
  • The Hourglass Sanatorium did not receive the blessing of the Polish censors and was banned. Has had copies smuggled to the Cannes Film Festival, where it tied for the jury prize (at that time, essentially third place). In apparent retaliation for his insubordination, the Communist Party did not approve any of Has’ new film projects for the next ten years.
  • In Poland, an hourglass is a symbol of death.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Oddly enough, especially given how visually sumptuous The Hourglass Sanatorium is, the image which best evokes the movie isn’t even in it. I speak of the famous theatrical release poster by Polish artist Franciszek Starowieyski, which depicts a giant orange eyeball perched on a jawbone, with a grill of teeth through which a worm crawls (a limbless woman’s torso is also stuck between its molars), while numbers and arrows illustrate features of bone anatomy like occult footnotes. The poster seizes upon the film’s major theme of death; Starowieyski was also picking up on the repeated motif of eyeballs which occurs throughout the Sanatorium, from the train conductor’s blind stare to the cobweb-covered eyeball collection Józef finds under the bed. To illustrate the film, we ultimately chose the image of a toppled wax automaton with his eye-socket popped open to reveal the gears inside—but when I think of The Hourglass Sanatorium, I always think of that poster first.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Crow frozen in flight; Józef spying on Józef; eyeballs under the bed

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Hourglass Sanatorium is a rare work of genuine Surrealism. Seldom has any film ever captured the free-falling feeling of being lost in a dream so well: the portentous but inexplicable visions; the tenuous, tantalizing connections between ideas; the smooth and continuous shifting of realities. Let a blind conductor be your guide inside a crumbling hospital whose rooms hold wonder after wonder.


Brief clip from The Hourglass Sanatorium (in Polish)

COMMENTS: Sanatorium pod Klepsydra opens on the silhouette of a Continue reading 271. THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM (1973)

MR. BURTON’S BRAND OF PECULIAR MOVIES: A TIM BURTON ROUNDTABLE

As we approach the culmination of the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made, hard choices need to be made. There are some directors (including , and ) who, while their overall contribution to the field of weird movies might not rise to the heights of a , a , or a , nonetheless possess singular enough visions to demand representation in some form or other on the List. The thorniest of these artists is almost certainly (with whom our Alfred Eaker, in particular, has aired his very public love/hate relationship).

After a couple of shockingly original short features that were so odd that Disney Studios canned him as a storyboard artist, Burton’s career began in earnest with the out-there kid’s comedy Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, an askew road movie starring an abrasively endearing man-child in a series of near-surreal adventures. He followed this unexpected hit with a series of comic-Gothic films featuring weirdo square-peg protagonists trying vainly to fit into society’s round holes. As a complete oeuvre, there’s no doubt that Burton has crafted an aesthetic that’s unique and auteurial. Stripes, organic spirals, Victorian costumes, and pallid pancake makeup serve as recurring visual signatures. Thematically, no one else whips the whimsical and the macabre into such a piquant froth. His late work, however, has unquestionably become both repetitive and qualitatively inferior (note that none of our contributors selected a Burton film made after 1999 as his best). At the same time, Burton has set new box office records with some of his lamest work, like his execrable Alice in Wonderland rehaul, reaping financial rewards that reinforce his worst habits and instincts. This has led to a well-deserved critical backlash against his films, and some on-point parodies:

But despite recent disappointments, there’s no doubt that Burton’s early work was among the most original and gruesomely lively Hollywood-backed product to appear throughout the late Eighties and early Nineties. The problem is that no single Burton film rises confidently above the rest, pronouncing itself as simultaneously his best and his weirdest work. This troublesome fact became even clearer when I solicited staff writers to pick the one Burton film that they thought should unquestionably make the List; I got five different responses, not all of them movies I personally would have considered. Our staff’s suggestions are listed below, in order of release.

El Rob Hubbard Beetlejuice (1988)

Still from Beetlejuice (1988)Although most of Tim Burton’s work has a weird aspect in some form or other, it’s my opinion that Beetlejuice was where he was allowed to let his freak flag fly freely, and it paid off with box-office success. How weird is it? Well, there’s Geena Davis and a Continue reading MR. BURTON’S BRAND OF PECULIAR MOVIES: A TIM BURTON ROUNDTABLE

CAPSULE: NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND DESIRES (1984)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Lina Romay, Daniel Katz, Carmen Carrion, Albino Graziani, Jose Llamas, Mauro Rivera

PLOT: Irina, a psychic who performs a nightclub act with her lover Fabian, is plagued by nightmares that she believes to be real.

Still from Night Has a Thousand Desires (1984)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Some of the visuals are surreal and the film has a trippy feel; this is achieved with music and creative camera work that do not equate to weirdness.

COMMENTS: A few years ago I started a (NSFW) feature on Tumblr called Franco Friday. It was part of an ongoing project to see every film Jess Franco has directed. IMDB lists 203 Franco films; according to Wikipedia[1], that number is inaccurate. Apparently there are several films listed under more than one title. I noted in my June 2015 Vampyros Lesbos review that I had viewed some 40-plus Franco films at that time. Night Has a Thousand Desires marks my 70th Franco flick. It is already becoming difficult to find Franco films I have not seen, and I have yet to reach the halfway mark of his library.

Never missing an opportunity to make the most of a budget, Franco would often make two or three films all using the same cast, wardrobe and locations. Night Has a Thousand Desires was obviously filmed just before or after the inferior The Sexual Story of O, which I by chance had watched the week before. I have enjoyed a lot of  Franco’s output from the early 1980s, and I think Night Has a Thousand Desires is his best of the period.

The film takes place in the Grand Canary Islands; the scenery is really beautiful. Both the natural shots and the interior locations are well chosen. The building where much of the story takes place has lovely stained glass windows that Franco uses repeatedly; it lends a great deal to both films vibe. The garden setting where one of Irina’s nightmares occur is superb. The copious zoom shots Franco is so fond of effectively relay a feeling of hypnosis. Everything about this film visually is on point. The soundtrack complements it perfectly: a mix of music borrowed from previous Franco films, including Female Vampire and Devil Hunter, combined with all manner of groaning, grunting, echos and plenty of chanting. Irina’s name is repeated over and over throughout. In one scene, the film’s best, Irina shares a joint with a man and two women who had attended her night club act. I felt like I was getting stoned along with the quartet.

It wouldn’t be a Franco film without sex and violence. Rest assured there are healthy helpings of sex and nudity, and most of these scenes have a bloody ending. The story is straightforward and there is certainly no mystery to solve; plotwise, the cat is let out of the bag early. This does not make the film any less captivating to watch. Lina Romay is outstanding! Whether under a trance, screaming and howling, crying, laughing, giving or receiving sexual pleasure, her character is empathetic and very watchable. Night Has a Thousand Desires is an entertaining and visually impressive Franco effort with a fabulous soundtrack and a great performance by Romay that should delight his fans.

Mondo Macabro’s package offers a really nice Blu-ray transfer with concise, easy to read subtitles and crisp and clear sound. I had to turn down the volume several times (I’m pretty sure my neighbors already think I’m a pervert, so I don’t know why I bother). The extras are a bit thin. There is solid Eurotika documentary on Franco that I had actually already seen before (I believe on another Mondo Macabro release) and an interview with Stephen Thrower, author of “Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco.” The art work on the DVD cover by Justin Coffee is superb! If you are a fan of Jess Franco you need this in your collection.

  1. The number of films directed by Jess Franco according to Wikipedia is “about 160”. []

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

First up, the deadlines: tomorrow is your last day to enter our latest free DVD giveaway. You also have exactly one week left to vote for the Weirdest Picture, Actor, Actress, and Scene in the 2016 Weirdcademy Awards (also, Weirdest Short, which is the only runaway race at the moment).

Next week, “GoregirlTerri McSorley checks in with a review of ‘s Eurosleazy mindbender Night Has a Thousand Desires, while G. Smalley takes a second look at ‘ Polish Surrealist epic, The Hourglass Sanatorium (‘s original review is here). Alfred Eaker takes a break from his chronological survey of exploitation films to bring us the first part of a two-part series on Amicus horror anthologies of the Sixties and Seventies. We’ll also have an unusual roundtable feature about 366 problem child : five different writers each give their mini-take on a Burton film that should make the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies. Reader input is highly encouraged as we struggle with what we’re dubbing “the Burton Conundrum.”

Speaking of conundrums, it’s time once again for our survey of the Weirdest Search Terms that brought visitors to the site. We saw someone looking for “what would a movie weirdo,” which, while being an incomplete sentence, somehow describes this whole feature (i.e., “what would a movie weirdo” type into a search engine?)  Apparently, a lot of them type “www sax com 2012”—which makes no sense, yet brought three different people to 366 Weird Movies this week (it helps that we rank 10th on Google for that search term). While a surprising number people search for sax on the Internet, others eagerly search for sex. When you have, um, unique fetishes and only a passing familiarity with the English language, you often end up on 366 Weird Movies rather than the porn site you seek, as did the guys searching for “sex malf turkey teenagers girls x master” and “black nude comedy movie about girl with hairy laps before sex.”  We also have to give a special mention to “egg sex pasta porn movie,” which apparently is what comes out when you hit up Google while you’re simultaneously hungry and horny. We’ll go in a completely different direction for our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week, however, and select “hollywood movie in which 1 chip made for free internet and 1 woman with fake legs.” A movie revolving around free Internet and fake legs (exactly 1 of each)? Count us in!

Here’s how our ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue stands: Uncle Meat; Nuit Noire; Grendel Grendel Grendel; Twilight of the Cockroaches; Indecent Desires; Daughter of Horror [AKA Dementia]; The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie; Beauty and Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

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