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The List Thus Far (Certified Weird Movies)

3 Women (1977)

8 1/2 (1963)

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953)

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)

Akira (1988)

Alice [Neco Z Alenky] (1988)

Alice in Wonderland (1966)

Allegro non Troppo (1976)

Altered States (1980)

The American Astronaut (2001)

Antichrist (2009)

Archangel (1990)

Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

Barbarella (1968)

Barton Fink (1991)

The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Begotten (1991)

Being John Malkovich (1999)

Belle de Jour (1967)

The Black Cat (1934)

Black Swan (2010)

Blood Diner (1987)

Blood Tea and Red String (2006)

A Boy and His Dog (1975)

Branded to Kill (1967)

Brazil (1985)

Bronson (2008)

Careful (1992)

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Cemetery Man [Dellamorte Dellamore] (1994)

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

The City of Lost Children [La cité des enfants perdus] (1995)

Clean, Shaven (1993)

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Cowards Bend the Knee, or, the Blue Hands (2003)

Daisies [Sedmikrásky] (1966)

The Dark Backward (1991)

Dead Man (1995)

Dead Ringers (1988)

Delicatessen (1991)

Dillinger is Dead (1969)

Doggiewogiez! Poochiewoochiez! (2012)

Dogtooth [Kynodontas] (2009)

Dogville (2003)

Donnie Darko (2001)

Don't Look Now (1973)

Elevator Movie (2004)

Enemy (2013)

Enter the Void (2009)

Eraserhead (1977)

Escape from Tomorrow (2013)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)

Evil Dead II (1987)

Eyes Without a Face [Les Yeux sans Visage] (1965)

Fantastic Planet [La Planète Sauvage] (1973)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Fellini Satyricon (1969)

Final Flesh (2009)

Forbidden Zone (1982)

Funky Forest: The First Contact (2005)

Glen or Glenda (1953)

Gothic (1986)

Gozu (2003)

La Grande Bouffe (1973)

Greaser's Palace (1972)

Gummo (1997)

Häxan [Witchcraft Through the Ages] (1922)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Help! Help! The Globolinks [Hilfe! Hilfe! Die Globolinks] (1969)

Holy Motors (2012)

The Holy Mountain (1973)

The Horrors of Spider Island [Ein Toter hing im Netz] (1960)

House [Hausu] (1977)

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

I Can See You (2008)

Idiots and Angels (2008)

I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK [Saibogujiman Kwenchana] (2006)

The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle (2009)

L'Immortelle (1963)

Ink (2009)

INLAND EMPIRE (2006)

Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life (1995)

Jacob's Ladder (1990)

John Dies at the End (2012)

Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

Keyhole (2011)

Kontroll (2003)

Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

Kwaidan (1964)

The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

The Legend of Suram Fortress [Ambavi Suramis Tsikhitsa] (1984)

Lisztomania (1975)

Little Otik [Otesánek] (2000)

Lost Highway (1997)

Love Exposure (2008)

Lucifer Rising (1981)

Maelstrom (2000)

Malpertuis (1972)

Maniac (1934)

Marquis (1989)

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

The Milky Way [La Voie Lactee] (1969)

Mr. Nobody (2009)

Mulholland Drive (2001)

Naked Lunch (1991)

Night of the Hunter (1955)

Night Train to Terror (1985)

Nosferatu (1922)

Nostalghia (1983)

O Lucky Man! (1973)

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Paprika (2006)

Performance (1968/1970)

Persona (1966)

Phantasm (1979)

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Pi (1998)

The Pillow Book (1996)

Pink Flamingos (1972)

Pink Floyd the Wall (1982)

Prospero's Books (1991)

The Red Squirrel [La Ardilla Roja] (1993)

The Reflecting Skin (1990)

Repo Man (1984)

A Report on the Party and Guests (1966)

Repulsion (1965)

Robot Monster (1953)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Rubber (2010)

Run Lola Run (1998)

The Saddest Music in the World (2003)

Sans Soleil (1983)

Santa Sangre (1989)

The Science of Sleep (2006)

A Serious Man (2009)

Shanks (1974)

Shock Corridor (1963)

Silent Hill (2006)

Sin City (2005)

The Singing Ringing Tree (1957)

Skidoo (1968)

Solaris [Solyaris] (1972) -

Songs from the Second Floor (2000)

Stalker (1979)

Steppenwolf (1974)

Strange Frame: Love & Sax (2012)

Suspiria (1977)

Sweet Movie (1974)

The Swimmer (1968)

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Tales from the Quadead Zone (1987)

Taxidermia (2006)

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Tideland (2005)

Time Bandits (1981)

The Tin Drum (1979)

Tokyo Gore Police (2008)

El Topo (1970)

Toto the Hero [Toto le Heros] (1991)

Trash Humpers (2009)

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Trial (1962)

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

Tromeo & Juliet (1996)

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

Upstream Color (2013)

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)

Vertigo (1958)

Videodrome (1983)

Visitor Q (2001)

Waking Life (2001)

Weekend (1967)

The Wicker Man (1973)

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Yellow Submarine (1968)

You, the Living [Du Levande] (2007)

Zardoz (1974)

LIST CANDIDATE HOUSEKEEPING

This post will be a little “inside baseball” for the casual reader of 366 Weird Movies, but it gives at least a little bit of insight into the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that a movie takes on its journey from hopeful new release to Certified entry in the weird movie canon. Bribe amounts are not disclosed in this post: producers who wish to spend your way onto the List, please contact us for a quote. Those who remain curious as to what this masturbatory nonsense is all about may read on.

Those of you who follow this site even casually understand that the backbone and purpose of this entire enterprise is to create a List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time. Those who follow us a little more closely will note that we have already certified 179 movies for that List, and those who follow the site closely and are good at math will realize that this means 48.9% of the List is filled in—in other words, we are rapidly approaching the halfway mark, the point of no turning back.

In celebration of reaching the midpoint, soon (before the end of the year, at the very least) we will open up our irregularly scheduled “readers choice” poll to allow you, the 366 Weird Movies fan, to pick which of the movies we’ve designated as “List Candidates” will be officially called up onto the List. Before we do that, I thought that I would go through the List Candidate section and prune off some of the dead weight, movies which were rashly designated as Candidates but which have no realistic shot at making the List. In the interest of transparency and engagement, here are the changes we’re making to the List Candidate section. Note that until a movie is officially Certified for the List nothing is set in stone and its status can move back and forth between Candidate and non-Candidaye, so your feedback here is welcome—I’d be more than happy to reverse myself in the face of a groundswell of opinion.

This morning I counted 161 movies on the roster of List Candidates. Using conservative criteria and choosing to leave a movie on the Candidate list if I thought it was a close call, I came up with 19 titles I thought could safely have their candidacy revoked. In the interest of fairness, I also looked at movies that we had not nominated as List Candidates that probably deserved to be elevated to that status. I discovered 19 movies deserving of such a promotion. This was a complete weird accident, but it defeated the purpose of pruning the Candidate list. With some soul searching I found one additional title to remove so that, after all this reshuffling, the new list of Candidates is exactly one title shorter than it was this morning.

(Note: there are a few movies that are “hidden List Candidates” which aren’t being added to this census because they have re-reviews scheduled).

Let’s start out on a positive note with the roster of movies going up from the ranks of the unrecognized to List Candidate status:

MOVED TO LIST CANDIDATE STATUS: Why did we not consider these in the first place?

Amer (2009) – It seems that back in 2009 we were not routinely marking guest reviews (from reviewers who have since become contributors) as “List Candidate” status. We’re correcting that now.

The Cremator [Spalovac Mrtvol] (1969)

Decasia (2002) – The same explanation as above goes for movies that were only reviewed as part of Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema.

Desperate Living (1977)

Female Trouble (1975)

Flooding With Love for the Kid (2010)

Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE HOUSEKEEPING

CAPSULE: TUSK (2014)

DIRECTED BY: Kevin Smith

FEATURING: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment,

PLOT: A shock comedian stranded in Manitoba, in desperate need for a replacement guest for his podcast, gets more than he bargained for when he answers an ad from an eccentric retired sailor who promises he has “many stories to tell.”

Still from Tusk (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Sure, some people are calling Tusk “the weirdest movie ever!,” but those are moviegoers whose cinematic diets consist almost exclusively of Kevin Smith stoner comedies. Heck, I’m not even sure this is Kevin Smith’s weirdest movie (he did bring us Chris Rock as the forgotten black 13th apostle in 1999’s Biblical apocalypse comedy Dogma). In my screening there was a 33% walkout rate, which sounds encouraging until you realize that there were only three of us in the theater. The evidence had to be scrapped on the basis of low sample size.

COMMENTS: Tusk almost literally seeks to answer the bizarre question that preoccupies its antagonist, “is man indeed a walrus at heart?” Most of the good will that the movie earns is for going all the way with its crazy premise, for its willingness to” go full walrus.” Most of the movie’s problems, on the other hand, come from its lumpy blend of horror and comedy, sincerity and irony. Tusk is sort of like what Human Centipede might have been, if it was made by people with triple digit IQs, but the script ultimately tries to do too much. Besides straight horror, it also fits in absurdism, a running series of Canada/USA culture clash jokes, and satire on the cruelty of Internet culture, and it doesn’t keep the many balls it juggles in the air at all times.

Although it’s certainly the blackest of comedies, at heart Tusk is a morality play. Wallace, who will become the film’s victim, begins as a victimizer. He hosts an improbably popular podcast whose sole purpose is to make fun of YouTube embarrassments, sort of like a version of “Tosh 2.0″ with a mean streak that would make Howard Stern blanch. Long’s Wallace is smoothly loathsome, but when he picks up on references to Hemingway and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” you realize that there’s humanity buried somewhere under the crust of callousness. The deserving victim is a slasher movie trope designed so that we won’t feel bad when the character is offed, but Smith’s script takes on a much tougher task of making this victim simultaneously repulsive and sympathetic, of asking us to see the humanity beneath the monster. I don’t believe that the final symbolic redemption works on an emotional level, but I do appreciate the effort—it’s a nuanced, almost intellectual twist on the torture porn genre, more like “torture erotica.”

But for all the laudable ambition here, it’s a tough sell to say that Tusk overcomes its tone problems. The film’s comedy and horror, and its smart-assery and empathy, work against each other more than they support one another. The key illustration comes in the third act, when the focus shifts away from Wallace and his tormentor and onto the searchers combing the Canadian countryside looking for him. Tusk‘s “special guest star” leaps into the film as Guy Lapointe, a comic French Canadian detective in a beret with a Jacques Clouseau accent. It would probably be a fine performance in a wackier movie, but here it’s like a comic reef that springs a leak in a movie that was already limping to port. Lapointe essentially disappears at the movie’s climax, like the afterthought he is, and could have been written out of the script entirely: the part was always envisioned as a little more than gimmicky cameo to highlight some decidedly non-Quebecois celebrity hamming it up with a goofy accent (Smith’s original choice for the role was ). This broad performance is divisive, at best, but it is clearly out-of-step with the surrounding material, and my (quite common) reaction was to see it as a distraction and time-stretcher, rather than a comic interlude that throws the surrounding horror into relief. All in all, Tusk is the sort of movie that seems doomed to be considered “an interesting experiment.” Conceived of almost on the spot during a podcast where Smith pitched the story in real time based on a hoax advertisement about an old sailor looking for a roommate, the finished work plays like a movie made on a dare.

Although Tusk isn’t the kind of movie that gets remembered come awards season, there is one category it honestly deserves a nomination: Robert Kurtzman’s makeup.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an utterly bizarre, weirdly compelling story of manimal love that stakes out its own brazen path somewhere between ‘The Fly’ and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.'”–Scott Foundas, Variety (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week is one of those weeks when we’re just not sure exactly what’s going on. You can expect, however, reports on a couple of recent releases: Kevin Smith’s Clerks-meets-Human Centipede curiosity Tusk, along with Jesse Eisenberg in the doppelganger flick The Double (which would make a great “double feature” with Enemy—yeah, we’re shameless). We’ll also likely throw a “housekeeping”-type administrative post in there, and Alfred Eaker will have something… like we said, it’s one of those weeks.

It’s one of those weeks for weird search terms used to locate the site, too; a little light, but we’ll give you what we got. First up is one of those cases where a single off keystroke transforms a perfectly normal search query into something amusingly odd: “movie where a guy home from college meets a girl at a bust stop.” Taken literally that would probably make a weird movie, for sure, but what about “70’s movies with nuns in sunglasses”? Who knew that was even a fetish? And for something even worse/weirder, consider “foul lesbian movies greek sunde.” For our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week (in a weak field) we’ll select “couple block in forestry movies adults,” just because we can’t tell for the life of us what the searcher is looking for. Adult movies with a forestry theme in which a couple block? ‘Scuse me?

Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue stands: Rubin & Ed; The Real McCoy; Themroc; Candy (1968); The Fox Family; Angelus; Britannia Hospital; This Filthy Earth; Conspirators of Pleasure; Piano Tuner of Earthquakes; Bubba Ho-TepInnocence; Léolo; Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

CIRCLE OF ABSTRACT RITUAL (2014)

I don’t assume Jeff Frost expected his latest project to take two years to complete, but the quality of his work puts it a step ahead of most everything I’ve seen recently. It’s etheral, raw, and engaging throughout.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 9/26/2014

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):

Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart: A child has his heart replaced by a cuckoo-clock at birth and is told he will die if he falls in love. Slant Magazine says this -esque animated fairy tale from France “is at once enabled and hindered by its utter strangeness.” Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart official site.

Maps to the Stars: A Tinseltown self-help guru, his pampered wife, and their drug-addicted child star son meet a young actress who is haunted by her mother’s ghost. Although the hype around this project has faded after a lukewarm Cannes debut, ‘s Hollywood satire sports an interesting cast, including , Julianne Moore, John Cusak, and of course new Cronenberg regulars and . Maps to the Stars Facebook page.

IN DEVELOPMENT:

A WWII Fairy Tale: The Making of Michael Mann’s The Keep (201?): Michael Mann’s messed-up movie about Nazis guarding an ancient demon still hasn’t gotten a DVD release, but it does have this upcoming documentary, which looks like it would make an excellent DVD extra. The Keep‘s continued limited availability is a bit of a mystery—it keeps popping up on Netflix streaming, then disappearing (it’s currently listed as up until 10/1/2014). A doc on this neglected (not lost) curiousity isn’t as essential as Jodorowsky’s Dune was, but there’s apparently enough interest in this obscurity to justify a movie about the movie. A WWII Fairy Tale: The Making of Michael Mann’s The Keep official site.

NEW ON DVD:

“Elvira’s Movie Macabre: The Coffin Collection”: 26 episodes of B-movies occasionally interrupted by patter and puns from the buxom hostess. This set appears to cover the entire run of the 2011 revival of “Movie Macabre,” including unaired episodes, and comes in a tasteful tin coffin. Movies that we’ve reviewed here include A Bucket of Blood, The Terror, Manos: The Hands of Fate, and The Brain that Wouldn’t Die. Buy “Elvira’s Movie Macabre: The Coffin Collection”.

Legend of the Hillbilly Butcher (2012): A rustic carves up trespassers in this low-budget gore film. It bills itself as something that might be “conjured up by a hillbilly David Lynch.” Buy Legend Of The Hillbilly Butcher.

The Signal (2014): A computer expert ends up a prisoner in a mysterious facility. Critics are throwing the word “mindbending” around a lot. Buy The Signal.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

“The Complete Anthology: The Exorcist”: The five official Exorcist movies (along with an alternate cut of the original) collected together in one Blu-ray set. The first was a horror classic, the second two were flawed films that are each interesting (and slightly weird) in their own ways. The two Johnny-come-lately prequels which fill out the franchise made no impression on anyone. Buy “The Complete Anthology: The Exorcist” [Blu-ray].

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977): Four years after the first exorcism, it turns out that they didn’t get that pesky Satan all the way out of Linda Blair. Talented but mercurial director did his prospects no favors by following up the disastrous Zardoz with what is considered one of the great flop sequels of all time (not to worry: he pulled his career out of the toilet with Excalibur). Buy Exorcist III: The Heretic [Blu-ray].

The Exorcist III (1990): The demon that plagued the first two films takes up residence in a dead serial killer. Original “Exorcist” novelist William Peter Blatty took over directorial duties for this crazy third sequel that is widely considered to be an improvement on Boorman’s film. Buy The Exorcist III: Legion [Blu-ray].

Ghost in the Shell (1995): Cyborg cops hunt a hacker in 2029 in this seminal cyberpunk anime. Surprisingly, there are no extras in this “25th Anniversary” edition. Buy Ghost in the Shell [Blu-ray].

The Signal (2014): See description in DVD above. This is a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack (along with, naturally, the “Ultraviolet” version no one cares about). Buy The Signal [Blu-ray + DVD].

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.

BUD ABBOTT AND LOU COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948)

For some inexplicable reason, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are often confused with Stan Laurel and . Apart from the skinny guy/fat guy theme, the two comedy teams have nothing in common (except perhaps to muggles). In their prime, Stan and Ollie etched a creative brand of celluloid comedy full of nuance and infused with their winning personalities that raised laughter to an art form. With Stan as the uncredited creative force, they produced a body of short films, from the silent era to the late 1930s, which remain the proverbial comedy yardstick. With two notable exceptions, they were less lucky in their studio-controlled features, which sadly led to their eventual fall from grace.

In contrast, Bud and Lou were assembly line hacks who never made a great film. None of the Abbott and Costello films hold up, but the closest they approach to classic status is in Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), which is, overall, a happy accident with uneven results.

The real stars of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein are and Lenore Aubert. An erroneous consensus holds that Lugosi plays the part of Dracula straight here. In fact, there is little in common here with his iconic 1931 performance which was shaped by . Revisiting Bram Stoker’s anti-protagonist, Lugosi spoofs his original role. The parody here is almost equally iconic, and these two performances are so cemented in people’s minds that viewers often mingle two contrasting interpretations, separated by seventeen years. A typical example of this confusion is Stephen King’s description of Lugosi’s original performance as a second rate Valentino, with cape over his nose, frightening no one. The cape-over-the nose cliche came from Lugosi’s mugging opposite the comedy team.

Publicity still from Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)In Aubert, Lugosi has his most charismatic leading lady, and she really is the most underrated monster here. Aubert is no hapless victim and makes Lugosi’s vampire actually work to control her. Lugosi, enjoying the chase, and in best European, satirical grand guignol style, maintains his dignity throughout. In contrast to this,  gives what is unquestionably his worst performance as Larry Talbot, AKA The WolfMan. By 1945’s House of Dracula, Talbot had been reduced to a whiny, one note character. Apparently, sharing the spotlight with Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, playing second banana to Lugosi’s superior count, being subjected to Bud Westmore’s hackneyed rubber makeup, and reduced to the butt of Bud and Lou’s pranks, made the poor man utterly miserable. It shows. Glenn Strange, as the Monster, is merely a warm body in makeup, as he was in previous Frankenstein entries. ‘s cameo is a welcome injection of joy.

Abbott and Costello are as canned and stale as usual, but they do have moments of authentic, contagious fun when breaking away from their routines. Despite the film’s flaws, the curiously titled Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (they never actually meet the long dead doctor) was the yardstick of horror spoofs for many years. That is, until Rankin and Bass’ Mad Monster Party (1967) proved the usurper.

CAPSULE: LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (2004)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Wes Anderson

FEATURING: , Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, , ,

PLOT: An aging underwater nature documentarian assembles a team to hunt down the jaguar shark that ate his partner, including a pregnant journalist he has a crush on and a pilot who may or may not be his illegitimate son.

Still from Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Oh, Wes Anderson, you come so close to making weird movies, but you just can’t take that final step over the brink of madness, can you? Set in a skewed, child’s-eye reality where aquatic documentarians are major celebrities and decorated with toy-like animated g;low-in-the-dark sea creatures, Life Aquatic is probably the closest thing to a weird movie Anderson has made. Looking at the direction of his latest projects like Grand Budapest Hotel, which are moving towards the mainstream, if ever so marginally, it seems unlikely that he’ll ever go full-out surreal. But his singularity makes him a director we will have to continue to monitor for signs of weirdness.

COMMENTS: Aside from their acknowledged “quirkiness,” Wes Anderson’s comedies are distinguished by their deadpan style: the characters are detached and weary, expressing profound feelings of love or betrayal while fighting off an overwhelming urge to nap. The other thing that makes an Anderson movie is is the heightened, obsessive sense of design; each individual scene is costumed and decorated like a diorama exhibit. This mixture results in a highly artificial oeuvre, and Life Aquatic may be his most formalistic movie. Aside from the hard-to-believe plot, a mashup of “Moby Dick” and “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” which involves the laconic Zissou searching for a possibly mythical “Jaguar Shark” while dealing with family squabbles and fending off pirates and rival oceanographers, Aquatic features a deliberately fake (but extremely colorful) marine fauna—peppermint-striped crabs, rhinestone-studded stingrays—almost the types of fish designs you’d expect to see at an “Under the Sea”-themed prom. (These creatures are often stop-animated by none less than ). The running soundtrack supplied by a Team Zissou sailor (Seu Jorge) with a guitar and a David Bowie obsession, who performs amazing acoustic renditions of “Space Oddity,” “Life on Mars,” and “Changes” in Portuguese, adds to the movie’s one-of-a-kind feel. Poker-faced Bill Murray is a natural match for Anderson’s dry style. Murray’s Steve Zissou is an impressive portrait of the artist in a midlife crisis: he’s still competent, but showing cracks. Maybe he’s gone mad: is the jaguar shark he seeks revenge upon real, invented as a publicity stunt to stir up interest in his faltering career, or a hallucination brought about by nitrogen narcosis? Murray makes Zissou complicated, flawed, and sympathetic. The cast of supporting characters is sprawling and the adventure epic. There’s a topless script girl, a three-legged dog, and a seahorse in a champagne glass for additional color. All around, it’s hard to be bored, and I’d say Life Aquatic is Anderson’s most interesting and strangest movie.

Anderson’s style can be frustrating—why does he insist on inserting so many layers of “look at me!” between the audience and the material?—but his meticulous craftsmanship is undeniable. I’m not a part of the Anderson cult, but I find it impossible not to appreciate his vision.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[The script's] bittersweet weirdness leaves a residue even as the narrative disintegrates.”–Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Cindy Hoskey.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Peter Weir

FEATURING: Margaret Nelson, Rachel Roberts, Anne Lambert, Martin Vaughan, John Jarrett, Helen Morse, Christine Schuler, Karen Robson

PLOT: The unexplained 1900 Valentine’s Day disappearance of four schoolgirls and a teacher haunts the residents and neighbors of an all-girl college in Australia.

Still from Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s an subtle, indirect feature with a unique tone; the question is whether the diffuse symbolism and impudent refusal to explain its central event gets it from “curious” all the way to “weird.”

COMMENTS: “What we are or what we seem is but a dream, a dream in a dream,” says young Miranda, paraphrasing Poe in voiceover as we gaze at the lonely mountain of Hanging Rock rising out of the bush. We then see her wake. Is she having a premonition? (Later that morning, before she disappears, Miranda warns a school chum with a serious lesbian crush on her that she “won’t be here for very much longer.”) Don’t look for an answer to that question. Explanations do not come in Picnic at Hanging Rock; the movie is about its own lack of explanations. We naturally desire answers to life’s mysteries, but in Picnic‘s Victorian Australia, what is even more important is to maintain propriety. After four of her charges and one of her teachers disappear, the headmistress is most distressed when one of the girls returns with no memory of what happened to her. It’s worse than if none of them ever came back, because this sensational and mysterious restoration puts the story back on the front page of the papers and fans the public’s curiosity. Picnic throws out clues, or observations that have the general shape of clues, every now and then: scandalously, one of the girls who disappeared lost her corset! (The doctor confirms, to everyone’s relief, that the girl who returned was found “intact”).

What is the point of erecting a girls’ finishing school in the middle of the Outback, if not to provide a civilized outpost against the forces of sinful Nature? If Nature abducts a few of civilization’s foot-soldiers for Her own unknown purposes, then perhaps it is best not to know their fate; we should forget it, lest it turns out that something horrible has happened to compromise the girls’ honor. Still, people remain curious and prone to gossip, especially in the lower classes.  “There’s some questions got answers and some hasn’t,” advises an elderly gardener. “No,” objects his younger companion, “there’ll be a solution turn up directly, more’n likely.” But no solution comes. There is not even a central character in the story, only the central fact of the disappearance, around which subplots orbit. The movie is quiet, almost oppressively so, until finally the girls’ suppressed anxiety explodes: “tell us, tell us!” they cry. The teachers quickly quash the hysterical outburst. Emotions must be contained, propriety maintained, corsets tightened. If that means that nothing much appears to happen in the movie, then we still have freedom to dream. Picnic‘s gauzy meditation on sexual repression and loss can have a hypnotic effect on those susceptible to its mysterious moods, while others find it an inconclusive bore. Both sides have an argument, but in general, the good here outweighs the bland.

With its sunlight cinematography, period setting, and artistic ambition, Picnic at Hanging Rock is a natural acquisition for the Criterion Collection. Criterion’s edition collects numerous interviews with the principal cast and crew, but the extra of most interest to us is Weir’s 50-minute mini-feature Homesdale. This black comedy involves an insidiously authoritarian Australian resort where infamous murders are recreated over dinner, personalized subliminal messages are broadcast at night, and the talent show turns into a human sacrifice if you bomb. Tonally, Homesdale is a cross between and ; it’s well-acted and quite a bit weirder than Picnic, though not nearly as memorable. Seeing Homesale convinced Joan Lindsay, author of the original “Hanging Rock” novel, that Weir was the right man to handle the adaptation of her beloved work.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a film of haunting mystery and buried sexual hysteria.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago-Sun Times (retrospective)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Simon,” who politely suggested it “might be worth a look.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: EXISTENZ (1999)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , ,

PLOT: A game designer and a security officer flee violent sabotage during a virtual reality game demonstration and are thrust into increasingly bizarre and dangerous scenarios inside the virtual world.

Still from Existenz (1999)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This movie is weird in a very obvious way, full of gross insect brunches and squishy scenes of body horror.  Since nothing less is expected from Cronenberg, however, eXistenZ simply remains a solid entry in the sci-fi/horror genre, but not one of the weirdest.

COMMENTS: It’s not difficult to imagine the comment section of a youtube upload of eXistenZ to be laden with the now-famous phrase “WTF did I just watch?”  If you were to present eXistenZ at a casual movie night with friends, then there would be no question that at least one person in the room would not-so-kindly ask for the movie to be turned off, and it’s probable that this would happen in the first twenty minutes. To its credit, eXistenZ reels in even mainstream viewers quickly, as the audience is desperate to find out just how the virtual video game will work (especially considering the game controllers look like alien sex toys from LV426). But Cronenberg sends the squares back to their cubicles when the characters Ted Pikul (Jude Law) and Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) actually begin the game, which soon takes us from one “WTF?” moment to the next.  eXistenz is not a dream, nor is it the Matrix.  It hints at something dark within us, something ferociously organic and nasty, filled with bile and ooze and slime.

From the beginning, it appears that there is something vaguely sexual about the game.  During the opening sequence we see several adults–this is peculiar, since video games are assumed to appeal to a younger demographic–sit in wooden chairs and fondle their controllers, which are be blobs of gooey, elastic flesh.  As the game begins they squirm while sitting with eyes closed, and we are given a powerful image of human beings experiencing something sensationally fleshy. When Allegra (Leigh) is shot with a gun made of human teeth, she tells Pikul (Law, who was placed in charge of her safety) to pull over for “an intimate encounter”; we then cut to him holding a Swiss Army Knife and slicing into her flesh to remove the tooth. The sexual imagery reaches a peak when the game controllers are revealed to be biological organisms that plug directly into the spine via a lubricated bio-port.

Sidestepping the usual sci-fi entrapments of robotic laser fights and anti-gravity fight scenes, Cronenberg focuses on the complexity of the human body, desire, consciousness, and free will. There are moments when the characters are compelled to make certain decisions in the game in order to progress, and they must endure extreme discomfort (i.e. eating mutant frogs) to move forward. Cronenberg’s frequent jabs at philosophy are far from cliché, and with its powerful score the movie stimulates the curious mind holistically and sometimes aggressively, all the while maintaining an exhilarating sense of fun that comes from the wackiness of it all.  The two leads both give powerful performances, while some of the minor characters in the movie fall flat (Ian Holm and Willem Dafoe are typically intense but perhaps a bit over-the-top). The picture’s strength comes from its volatility.  Slimy fish guts, assassins, virtual games that run up a tab of 36 million dollars, and back-stabbing (literally and figuratively) wild-eyed gas station attendants make up the bulk of this wild romp through a world where games are hip, powerful, and significantly more important than reality itself.  The relevance of these ideas can’t be understated in a world where kids in China die from playing too much World of Warcraft.

eXistenZ is an underrated picture, with detractors arguing that its ideas are worn out and too similar to other sci-fi movies. There’s no doubt it stands in the shadow of Cronenberg’s masterpiece Videodrome, but eXistenZ is intriguing, suspenseful, and creative on its own terms.  It falls flat at times, especially when side characters are introduced, but whatever slump it rolls into is quickly saved by the bizarre plot progression, where characters change moods and motives at the drop of a hat in a setting that is at once alien and strikingly familiar. We experience what the characters are experiencing; we don’t know what the game means or if it even has an end.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“In the hands of anyone else, the notion of computer game terrorists would be ludicrous, and even Cronenberg fails to explain their motives, using the film instead to indulge in surreal exercises of dream logic.”– Jamie Woolley, BBC (contemporaneous)

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

366 DISTRIBUTION RELEASES “WAY DOWN IN CHINATOWN” ON DVD, INSTANT VIDEO

For immediate release

From director Eric Michael Kochmer, producers Jonathan Haloosim and James Anthony Cotton, associate producer Maria Olsen, co-produced by the We Make Movies collective and MOnsterworks66 comes Way Down in Chinatown, featuring Lisa Loring, “Wednesday” from the original “Addams Family” TV show.

“The team who put this film together certainly succeeded in their mission if it was to leave the viewer disturbed.” – Stuart Hine

Click to purchase the Way Down in Chinatown DVD

Click to purchase the Way Down in Chinatown DVD

THE STORY: Playwright Victor Mitchum and theater director Jessica Mitchum work exceedingly hard at creating new and innovative work for the theater. As they venture into their new dark musical, “Apocalypse Tomorrow” (inspired by Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene”) they suddenly find themselves seduced by the underworld that is being created to preserve the few.

Annie, an elusive temptress with the voice of a worm-like angel, slithers her way into Victor’s soul, causing a rift in his marriage to Jessica, who is equally lured by an ominous mirror image of herself, (Mara). Both of the possessed protagonists descend morally before they are compelled to walk downtown and face the underground theater, and themselves, for possibly the last time.

Way Down in Chinatown is a surrealistic horror film in the same vein as Eraserhead and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The film can be classified as a black and white, Expressionist noir. Influenced by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Jean Luc Godard’s Alphaville, and Rainer Wener Fassbinder’s Veronica Voss, Chinatown takes elements from all these classics and melds them into a catastrophic delight to watch.

REVIEWS:

“…avant garde at its finest… there really is no middle ground with this film. Either you love it or you hate it. I say enjoy it for what it is.”
– STEPHANIE NETT, Midnight Reverie

“…as original a sci-fi thriller as you’re likely to see… It’s a polarizing film, it’s one that you will love or hate but whatever your reaction it’ll get the grey matter working harder than any movie you’ll see this year.”
– JONATHAN BAXTER, Knifed in Venice

“Think film noir add a dash of Sci-Fi throw in some disturbing scenes in the style of Eraserhead mixed with a squeeze of A Clockwork Orange and you have WAY DOWN IN CHINATOWN.”
– MOLLY GORE, Kensington Gore”

“Surreal, impressionistic, and irrevocably bizarre, Kochmer’s artistic approach to the eccentric is reminiscent of a David Lynch expose.”
– DAVE GAMMON, Horror News

“To be honest with you I can’t really say what this flick is about. And I’ve seen it twice already!”
-TOMMY SORDERBERG, The Flick Fanatic’s Companion

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 DVD available now. Video-on-Demand coming soon.

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