WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 3/27/2015

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 (LIMITED RELEASE):

White God (2014): A young Hungarian girl is forced to give up her beloved pet because of a citywide tax on half-breeds, and the castaway mutts rise up against their human masters. We sniff a political allegory. White God official site.

SCREENINGS – (Los Angeles, Cinefamily, Friday Mar. 27, Midnight):

Spider Baby (1967): Read the Certified Weird entry! In Los Angeles and looking to see a certified weird horror-comedy classic about a family of childlike cannibals, including a jailbait hottie who likes to “play spider” with avuncular visitors? Cinefamily has you covered at midnight. Also playing this week at this extremely weird venue: the restored version of the fantasy opera Tales of Hoffman (this Friday and all next week) and ‘s surreal classic The Color of Pomegranates (tomorrow, Saturday 28 only). Spider Baby at Cinefamily.

SCREENINGS – (New York City, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Thurs Apr. 2):

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981): Cinema bad-boy Walerian Borowczyk directed this sexy and surreal version of Dr. Jekyll as an orgy of perversion. It stars trash/art icon as the good doctor and contains explicit sex and graphic violence in  a high art setting. Newly restored (could we see a DVD release soon?) Hopefully this isn’t all some delayed April Fools’ joke. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne at Lincoln Center.

NEW ON DVD:

Another Girl Another Planet (1992): A sixty-minute experimental drama from , shot in “pixelvision” (a toy camera). The DVD includes two other shorts, Aliens and an adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s The Rocking Horse Winner, plus a feature-length documentary on the 1995 Sundance Film Festival, all also shot in pixelvision. Buy Another Girl Another Planet.

Memory Lane (2012): A man kills himself over and over to visit the afterlife, where secrets about his fiancée‘s murder are gradually revealed. Super low-budget (I saw the figure $300 thrown about in all seriousness), but garnered halfway decent reviews for its mindbending scripting. Buy Memory Lane.

Revolution 666 (2015): We’ll just quote from the product synopsis here: “A popular radio DJ plays a long-lost ‘Fab Four’ song, inadvertently creating a flesh eating zombie in a walrus costume.” OK, you got our attention. Buy Revolution 666.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

The Beyond (1981): Italian zombie-gore master Lucio Fulci’s most notorious exploitation film revolves around a woman who inherits a hotel that was built in a bad spot—over one of the seven gates to Hell. Grindhouse Releasing’s special edition includes an entire second Blu-ray full of extra features and a soundtrack CD. Buy The Beyond [Blu-ray].

FREE MOVIES ON SHOUT FACTORY TV:

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979): Read Alfred Eaker’s review. ‘s take on take on Bram Stoker’s vampire classic is the latest free offering from Shout’s streaming service, A note about these Shout offerings: when you watch them in a web browser (streamed in cooperation with Hulu), you see fewer ads; if you view them through Shout’s own Roku channel, on the other hand, there are a raft of interruptive commercials. Watch Nosferatu the Vampyre 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.

2015 MARCH MAD MOVIE MADNESS: LIST CANDIDATE TOURNAMENT, ROUND 4

Controversy aside, our March Mad Movie Madness List Candidate tournament continues apace, with the 8 remaining movies vying for a chance to be named one of the Freaky Four in contention for the grand prize: a spot on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies Ever Made.

You can see the full bracket here.

This round ends Monday, Mar. 30, at 11:59 U.S. Eastern Standard Time.

Vote below! Once per day! No cheating, under penalty of forced attendance at a Bela Tarr film festival with no bathroom breaks!



BEAUTIFUL FILMS: WERNER HERZOG’S NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979)

‘s Nosferatu (1922) rightly ranks on nearly every historian’s list of the greatest films to emerge from the silent era (as does his Sunrise). Murnau’s concept of the vampire manages to embrace its absurdities and simultaneously repel us. Probably as much “Varney The Vampire” as Dracula, Murnau’s demonic, Victorian count is more a diseased, toothsome, carnivorous rat than a crepuscular Valentino. Murnau, who served as his own cameraman, artistic director, designer, and editor, and did his own lighting, filtered this greatest of all vampire films through his perfectionist sensibilities (only ‘s 1932 Vampyr has a comparable, but contrasting beauty.

Of course, the vampire genre became increasingly ludicrous. Worse, Dracula and his cohorts became dull, repetitive, and insignificant. The Lord of the Undead became so tame that producers tapped Sheridan Le Fanu’s lesbian-tinged “Carmilla” (repeatedly) in an attempt to reinstate an edge, which suited the 1970s sexual revolution. Despite mixed results, it worked to a degree (We have yet to see buxom lesbo vampires selling breakfast cereal, but give it time).

Just when we thought the masculine bloodsuckers had given up the ghost to their more interesting female counterparts, , of all directors, gave new vitality to a very old story by doing something out of the ordinary with his 1979 homage to Murnau, Nosferatu, The Vampyre (1979).

Herzog’s Nosferatu boasts a startling aesthetic with stained hues and bizarre, cool pacing. Petrified interiors strikingly contrast stony exteriors seething with grey life. Cinephiles wax endlessly about Stanley Kubrick’s obsessive use of sterile whites to parallel opaque reds. Herzog utilizes greys, browns, and whites much differently. Lack of color conveys something seething with life, but not life as typically defined. ’s whitened, fleshy count pierces the bluest skies and greenest forests.

One of Herzog’s motives in making the film was a chance for a second collaboration with Kinski (they first teamed up for 1972’s Agguire: The Wrath of God, while Woyzeck immediately followed Nosferatu in the very same year). Due to copyright restraints, Murnau was unable to use the names of Bram Stoker’s cast of characters. Fifty years later, Herzog did not have to contend with the author’s estate, and although he utilized the familiar names, Herzog took liberties with the story.

Still from Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)Kinski’s is a surprisingly sympathetic performance that still manages to convey grotesque mania. Kinski’s Dracula is as inimitable as Max Schreck’s in the 1922 original. Although both actors took the count-as-a-rodent approach, Kinski’s arouses a pronounced degree of empathy. Playing opposite Kinski’s bleached bat is the gossamer  as Lucy. Mina is jettisoned completely. Apparently, Herzog felt Lucy was a more compelling character (Sadie Frost, as a concupiscent Lucy, validated that point in Coppola’s 1992 Dracula, wholly dismissing ’s waxen Mina). Adjani is in every way Kinski’s equal. You can’t take your eyes off of this enlivened, spectral figure. Unlike Murnau’s Greta Schroder, Adjani is no dormant sacrificial lamb. It is she, not Harker (Bruno Ganz) or Van Helsing (Walter Ladengast), who is the film’s protagonist.

Herzog reinstates the novel’s contrast of the sacramental with the Satanic (Schreck’s count is an anti-Semitic caricature preying on Schroder’s German virgin). Lucy actively tracks down Dracula’s heterodox sanctuary, eradicating it with the Eucharist. 

Paradoxes abound: White rats (thousands, millions of them) gift the vivacious breath of disease. The Transylvanian aboriginals (echoing the populace of Aguirre) contrast with urbane Londoners. Humor pierces a milieu of soulful solemnity when Dracula, in chalky voice, says: “I thought he’d never leave,” after his sole encounter with the raving Renfield (). The redemptive goal is offset, in the film’s climax, with cynicism.

As expected, Herzog is too authentic an artist to produce a mere fan film. Nosferatu The Vamypre is stamped with the artist’s personal aesthetics, giving at least some credence to the occasional claim that this homage actually surpasses Murnau’s original.

196. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

“Can someone tell me what the hell this is all about?”–Rock Hudson, walking out of the premiere of 2001: A Space Odyssey early

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Stanley Kubrick

FEATURING: Keir Dullea, Douglas Rain (voice)

PLOT: On the primordial savannah, early hominids discover a strange black monolith; immediately afterwards, they learn to use simple weapons to hunt and to fight rival ape tribes for scarce resources. Millions of years later, a lunar explorer discovers an identical artifact buried on the Moon.  Following a signal being beamed out by the lunar monolith, a manned spacecraft is dispatched to Jupiter, but a malfunctioning artificial intelligence unit threatens the mission’s success.

Still from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
BACKGROUND:

  • Stanley Kubrick and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke collaborated on the screenplay, an expansion of Clarke’s 1948 short story “The Sentinel.” Clarke’s full-length novel treatment of 2001 was written at the same time as he was working on the script.
  • The movie was released on April 2, 1968 at the height of the Space Race. One year later, Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. Humanity has not returned to the Moon since 1972.
  • MGM wanted Alex North to supply original music; Kubrick wanted to use specific classical pieces. North dutifully composed a score, but Kubrick eventually won out. North reworked the themes which eventually appeared in Shanks, among other films.
  • More music trivia: almost everyone can hum the iconic opening melody from Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” mainly due to its prominent use in 2001 as the “monolith theme.” But when the movie was made Decca was afraid that association with 2001 would cheapen the music, and only allowed Kubrick to use Herbert von Karajan’s Vienna Philharmonic recording if the conductor and orchestra were not listed in the credits. After the movie became a massive hit, Decca re-released von Karajan’s recording with a sticker reading “as heard in 2001!” The version of “Zarathustra” appearing on the official soundtrack album was recorded by a different orchestra than the performance heard in the film.
  • The rumor that the name of the computer HAL was derived by displacing the letters of IBM by one letter persists to this day, despite both Kubrick and Clarke’s insistence the name was derived from a contraction of “Heuristic ALgorithmic Computer.”
  • 2001 won an Academy Award for Special Effects. Kurbick was nominated for Best Director (losing to Carol Reed for Best Picture winner Oliver!) and the screenplay scored the movie’s other Oscar nomination. 2001 was not nominated for Best Picture.
  • Ranked as the 6th greatest movie of all time on Sight & Sound’s 2012 poll (2nd in the director’s poll).
  • A 1984 sequel, 2010, was directed by Peter Hyams from Clarke’s novel and script. Clarke wrote two more sequels, set in 2061 and 3001.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Monolith or star child? After much internal debate we went with the star child, gazing down at earth from his celestial amniotic sac, as Kubrick’s best, most outrageous, and final bit of millennial iconography,

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: To many average moviegoers, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a plodding, baffling exercise in obfuscation. Devotees of this site, on the other hand, will find it one of the more straightforward and easily comprehensible films we cover–which is not at all to imply that this masterpiece lacks depth or mystery. 2001 is singular in its unconventional narrative structure, in its blend of arthouse reflection and big-budget spectacle, and in its use of avant-garde techniques to inform a classical allegory. It is, simply put, unique, unmissable, and necessary for anyone who loves movies, weird or otherwise.


2014 re-release trailer for 2001: A Space Odyssey

COMMENTS: Arthur C. Clarke said that Stanley Kubrick’s instructions in crafting 2001: A Space Odyssey were to create not merely a Continue reading 196. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

366 UNDERGROUND: A KILLER CONVERSATION (2014)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: David V.G. Davies

FEATURING: Ryan Hunter, Melanie Denholme, Rudy Barrow

PLOT: When Karl inadvertently invites a burglar inside his home, he has to rely on his ex, Pauline, to help him worm his way out from his rapidly escalating and increasingly dangerous predicament.

Still from A Killer Conversation (2014)
COMMENTS: So, here’s the thing: I thought this film (80 minutes overall in duration) was complete garbage by the time the stereotypical hoodlum barges into Karl’s house and begins a tedious exercise in post- crisis-scenario filmmaking. Or maybe the movie is a specially designed weapon manufactured to induce an existential crisis in the audience?

I found the casual racism explicit in not only the characterization of the burglar, but in the sheer lameness in how the film rehashes the hostage trope and depicts the hapless bourgeoisie family—which I found not only extremely offensive, but just plain uninspired and contrived. I might have been able to appreciate the dialogue and the professional lighting and idiosyncratic camera angling if the main ingredients didn’t taste so poor.

Maybe I would of been less repelled by the clever-for-clever’s-sake approach to depicting the burglar if the satire didn’t feel so disingenuous. Or maybe I would of been less aggravated by the situational dynamic if Karl wasn’t just another white domestic victim, minding his own business.

Perhaps there might be a cultural misinterpretation in the way I am viewing this. But, as an American, I’ve seen what media depictions of racial hysteria can do to fuel tension this past year. And seriously, the last thing we need right now is someone who thinks they’re being edgy and cool when handling sensitive, potentially incendiary material.

Here’s a full-breakdown of the paper-thin plot (a whitewashed retread of the home invasion trope with obnoxious post-Tarantino stylization):

A man of ebony hue bursts in the door and casually lays out the plan for Karl. This being a Tarantino clone, strained attempts at edgy banter ensue. Karl whines in a obnoxious tone. Since this is a British Tarantino clone, we are treated to pointless quips trying to underline the absurdity of the mundane elements of a domestic invasion scenario. Har-har. So we get some stupid jokes about the length of rope, and other pitiful exchanges so we, the audience, are constantly reminded just how clever and absent of responsibility the creators are for any of the content displayed. The film goes on like this for the rest of the film and just never lets up. Talking and empty threats ad nauseum ahead.

I would go so far to not only deem this film racist and misogynistic, but dangerously boring and stupid. If it was edited down to maybe 5-10 minutes, I would of been like, “eh.” But at its current length, it is unbearable to watch, and possibly a public mental health risk. If there is any stylistic contemporary to this film that I can think of, it is yet another film that I absolutely loathe: The Boondock Saints. Without further elucidating my particular distaste for that film, it made me realize something: Tarantino is dead. The sooner the independent movie scene throws off his shadow, the better. So if the filmmakers intended to offend me, then congratulations. I would just state that in light of what has actually been achieved by this short film, that it is a hollow and meaningless victory.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY

“…[an] absurd dark comedy, where the burglar and Karl philosophize about life, love, and proper manners around Karl’s kitchen table.”–Levi Anderson, Rogue Cinema

2015 MARCH MAD MOVIE MADNESS: LIST CANDIDATE TOURNAMENT, ROUND 3

Went to sleep last night and 16-seed Southland Tales was on the ropes. Woke up this morning, and it had stormed back to defeat heavy favorite A Field in England. This tournament is weird.

At any rate, we’re headed into round 3 of our List Candidate tournament; the prize for the winner is a spot on the final list of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time. We’re now into the Sweet Sick-steen, with the contestants competing for advancement into the Ill-ete Eight. (Aren’t we cute?) Go ahead and vote for your favorites below.

This round ends Thursday, Mar. 26 at 11:59 U.S. Eastern Standard Time.

You can see the full bracket here.

Click on “continue reading” to begin voting.

Continue reading 2015 MARCH MAD MOVIE MADNESS: LIST CANDIDATE TOURNAMENT, ROUND 3

CAPSULE: MAPS TO THE STARS (2015)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Julianne Moore, , , Evan Bird,

PLOT: The lives of several Hollywood insiders intertwine unexpectedly after the arrival of Agatha, a mysterious young woman who intrudes upon the lives of a wannabe screenwriter, a popular teen heartthrob, a self-help TV guru, and a successful but aging actress.

Still from Maps to the Stars (2014))
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Its combination of Hollywood satire, ghostly apparitions, homicidal sensationalism, and heaps of incest does hit a few marks on the Weird-o-Meter, but Maps to the Stars doesn’t plunge into the depths of weirdness achieved in Cronenberg’s earlier, body horror-centric features like Dead Ringers and Videodrome.

COMMENTS: Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) has been around show business all her life. Her mother was a popular actress made more notable when she died tragically in a fire while still in the prime of youth, and now a prominent director is re-imagining her most famous film, with Havana gunning for a supporting role as her mother’s imaginary grown self. At a crossroads in her career and still coming to terms with sexual abuse she suffered at her mother’s hand, Havana sees the sudden arrival of new assistant Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) as a sign and instantly takes her in. Meanwhile, teen sensation Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird)—only 13 and just out of rehab—is filming the sequel to his hit comedy Bad Babysitter, but finds himself upstaged by his child costar. His father, Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), is a New Age self-help therapist with a talk show and a sea of celebrity clients, including Havana Segrand.

In that unsurprising cinematic way, these and many other lives are intricately connected through family and work, and Agatha becomes both the glue that binds them and the catastrophe that unsettles them. The incestuous nature of mainstream filmmaking is thus satirized, but with a heavy dose of actual incest. It is never outwardly explained or analyzed, it’s just there, a stated and very present fact looming over every interaction. Screenwriter Bruce Wagner packs in every ounce of sensationalism worthy of a Star headline, from sex and abuse to drug addiction and murder, bluntly illustrating the complete breakdown of this family beset by mental illness but unable to cope with it while in the public eye. It’s all done with a slight sense of distance, with each character playing exaggerated versions of real people and the whole observed with a cool eye, so that we won’t feel guilty laughing. Much has been made of Maps to the Stars being Cronenberg’s “first comedy” (though the director himself claims he’s never made anything but comedies), and it is for the most part quite funny. Between Moore’s exaggerated California accent, Cusack’s self-help b.s., Agatha’s tall tales, snarky movie references, and the winking celebrity self-obsession, there is a lot to laugh about.

Of course, Hollywood satire is nothing new, but Cronenberg  gives it his own sick, twisted take, fusing Greek melodrama and tongue-in-cheek humor with inescapable darkness. The story is populated with ghostly apparitions that haunt Havana and Benjie, gradually moving in on their already-fragile psyches. The egoism and lack of empathy so many associate with the movie industry are made manifest in these people, and their punishment is poetic. Though removed from the body horror aesthetic for which he is perhaps still most known, the film is visually striking in its very deliberate framing of characters, its stark, modern interiors, its costumes-as-uniforms, and its jarring juxtapositions. (There is, however, one major visual hiccup in a self-immolation scene towards the end that I hope was a self-aware commentary on cinematic artificiality because the CGI was terrible.) The vicious but contained acts of violence are brutal and chilling, escalating quickly until it becomes clear there can be no easy way out for anyone, every character has essentially been digging their own grave from the beginning. The abrupt changes in tone and focus could be distracting, but the very talented cast takes it all in stride and manages to make it work, moved along by the thoughtful direction. Besides, it’s not like anyone is going to a Cronenberg film expecting a nice, neat little package where everything works out in the end, right?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There’s something bizarrely funny as well as truly sad in the director’s vision of Rodeo Drive denizens and their heavily medicated affects.”–Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Here’s our review lineup next week: Alex Kittle will scope out ‘s Hollywood satire Maps to the Stars; Caleb Moss will look at the low-budget home invasion drama A Killer Conversation for 366 Underground (and also get it out of the reader-suggested review queue); G. Smalley will go beyond the stars, and take 2001: A Space Odyssey out of the reader-suggested review queue; and Alfred Eaker plans to turn his attention from Federico Fellini to Werner Herzog. Yep, , and Herzog all in the same week!

There are some real sickos out there searching for bizarre things that even we can’t print, but we will nonetheless bring you the (printable) weirdest search terms used to locate the site this week in our weekly feature we call Weirdest Search Terms of the Week. First off, “vacuuming mom” searches have become so common that they are no longer eligible to be named Weirdest Search Term of the Week. This week we saw “vacuuming sucks up mom,” “vacuuming sucks up,” and “vacuuming moms sucking up.” OK, you vacuum freaks can quit now. On to searches that do have a chance to be named weirdest of the week, starting with “5th e3e0ent,” which we will give an honorary “worst use of numerals to substitute for letters award” (why not “5th 313m3nt”?) Next up, in the “so mundane it’s weird” category, it’s “movie were man remembers to bring a towel.” That would make for one anticlimactic beach movie. Our official winner of the Weirdest Search term of the Week contest, however, is “erotic man eating plant horror movie.”  A horror movie revolving around a man eating a plant is a little odd (although it’s been done), but when it’s an erotic man munching on the gardenias, then it turns weird.

Here’s how the ridiculously-long reader-suggested review queue now stands:  A Killer Conversation (next week!); 2001: A Space Odyssey (next week!); Society (DVD re-release expected soon!); The Fox Family; Angelus; This Filthy Earth; Conspirators of Pleasure; InnocenceBlue Velvet; ID (2005); Master  of the Flying Guillotine; Yesterday Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

2015 MARCH MAD MOVIE MADNESS: LIST CANDIDATE TOURNAMENT, ROUND 2

The first round is in the books, and it’s time to move on to the next chapter in the first annual (?) March Mad Movie Madness tournament. The concept is pretty self-evident, but if you have any questions maybe a look at the first round will help. The big surprise result was Southland Tales upsetting #1 seed Under the Skin. Don’t know where all the Southland fans came from, but we’ll see if they can keep it up to the finish line. I had predicted that the final would be Under the Skin vs. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (which was also upset, by The Machinist), which goes to show how well I understand the tastes of our readers. Your selections were, for lack of a better word, weird. Keep it up!

This round ends Monday, Mar. 23 at 11:59 U.S. Eastern Standard Time.

You can see the full bracket here.

Click on “continue reading” to begin voting.

Continue reading 2015 MARCH MAD MOVIE MADNESS: LIST CANDIDATE TOURNAMENT, ROUND 2

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