PLOT: A sexually repressed woman is blackmailed into living out her erotic fantasies by a stalker.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Done in a sleazier and more straightforward style, the script’s voyeuristic hook might have led us into “erotic thriller” territory, resulting in a film destined to play “Cinemax After Dark” at 2:30 AM. But Snake is a fever dream of outsider auteur Shinya Tsukamoto, who turns it into Belle de Jourby way of Tetsuo: The Iron Man. It’s sometimes a little frustrating totry to follow, but there is no doubt Tsukamoto’s getting freaky, and not just in the bedroom.
COMMENTS: The first half of A Snake of June is fairly conventional (at least, by our standards). Mousy Rinko answers calls at a suicide hotline. Her husband, the older Shigehiko, is a salaryman with a cleaning fetish and little time for romance. Iguchi is a depressed photographer who only takes pictures of household objects: blenders, or waffle irons. When Iguchi calls Rinko and she talks him down off the metaphorical ledge, he decides to reward her by forcing her to live out her sexual fantasies: he stalks her, takes pictures of her masturbating, and then threatens to make them public if she doesn’t dress up in a microskirt with no underwear and wander through a busy marketplace. Although the scenario seems skeevy, it shows character development on Iguchi’s part—he’s shifted his interest from inert objects to people. He is stalking and manipulating the woman but he is not treating Rinko as an object—he fully acknowledges her humanity as he puts her through erotic exercises he genuinely believes will make her into the happier person she deserves to be.
The first half of the film is told from the perspective of Rinko, and, unlikely as the setup might be, it is presented in a straightforward fashion. Halfway through, the point-of-view shifts to hubby Shigehiko. The stalker arranges to have the neurotic husband drugged, and when he awakens he’s shown (or more likely hallucinates) an sado-erotic snuff cabaret exhibition where the performers are sealed inside tanks which slowly fill up with water, while a cone is strapped to his face, restricting his field of vision. That’s just the beginning of the new strangeness; in a third perspective shift, the narrative begins to focus on Iguchi, and we are treated to a brazen masturbation scene from Rinko (in the neverending Japanese rain, natch) and a violent confrontation between Iguchi and Shigehiko that includes an assault by a slithering phallic piece of corrugated PVC pipe (this comes from the director of Tetsuo, after all). In the end, wife and husband share a meal and make love as if none of the aforementioned weirdness ever happened. It probably never did.
Although we have tagged this movie with “black and white,” it should be noted that it the film is actually tinted a shade of blue-gray that suggests the perpetually overcast skies of Snake‘s rain-soaked Tokyo streets. Dividing the movie into a nearly conventional first half and a surreal second hemisphere that both advances and reconfigures the narrative is an interesting gambit. A Snake of June drags at times, and confuses frequently, but few who see it will forget it, or accuse it of playing it safe.
FEATURING: Gorken Kasal, Ergun Kuyucu, Mehmet Cerrahoglu, and Muharrem Bayrak
PLOT: A team of five police officers is called to provide backup at an abandoned building in Inceagac, a locale of some occult notoriety; things go badly pretty quickly for the officers as they travel deeper into the film’s ominous backdrop.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: In an earlier age it could have been considered among the finest “B-horror” movies to grace the midnight movie scene during the ’80s through early ’90s, but as it stands, Baskin’s competent execution is marred by the tale’s derivative and meandering nature. Some token shocks do their job nicely, but the “film twist” advertises itself far too blatantly and doesn’t come off so much as, “Didn’t see that coming, did ya?” as it does, “Hey, check out what I’m doing!”
COMMENTS: Baskin starts out with a mountain of promise that it proceeds to dynamite away, taking the occasional break from destruction to rebuild the edifice. The movie starts with a flashback to the childhood of Arda (Gorkem Kasal), the main character, and so the temporal jumps begin. After some creepy behavior and a few screams and shouts, off we go to “now”, where a convivial conversation between fellow-officers contrasts with a restaurant seemingly assembled from bits cast off from Planet Terror‘s BBQ joint. Five cops: the esteemed leader, the arrogant chatterbox, the calm friend, the rookie, and the one with a migraine. After menacing the son of the restaurant’s owner (and seeing an ominous frog in the men’s room), the gang stumbles out to continue its patrol.
Much to its credit, Baskin does a lot of things right. The main fellows are easily distinguishable from one another (even when having to rely on subtitles), each of them is interesting, and the rapport struck on screen seems truly genuine; that these policemen have worked with each other for a while is quite apparent. The sound design, too, adds to the realism. The dialogue always comes from the right place, and once the element of the macabre is snuck in, the various squelches, squidges, and scrapings all work to nice effect. The set piece of an abandoned Ottoman-era police barracks, too, is a perfect choice. The jump cuts convey an appropriate initial shock as well as add to a growing sense of dread. I had such high hopes.
Unfortunately, the movie falls apart by trying to do two things at once — and through this effort, succeeds at neither. Firstly, the “horror” element. Having already listed the merits above, it pains me to mention the failings. As events shuffle from the restaurant to the squad car to the crash before the evil building, things proceed apace well enough. Sure, there’s no need for the swarms of little frogs that litter the movie, and indeed the gypsy-style family by the barracks in utterly unnecessary—but, live and let live. It is when the crew descends the depths that this pastiche of classic horror collides badly with the “clever” thing the film tries to accomplish… the main impact of which I shall leave to the more adventurous reader to investigate I will hint, though, that it’s the kind of thing I’ve only seen done well by Alain Resnais, who was obliged to be counted among cinema’s greatest directors in order to handle his jumps correctly.
But enough cryptic ramblings. Baskin tries very hard, but comes up short. When you have a shocking horror picture, it certainly helps that your characters are great to watch interacting with one another, but that means you compromise your core asset when you begin killing them off. The 11-minute short film that the feature-length grew from, though, was a delight. Comparable setup, though (obviously) less fleshed out. However, whereas the original short managed to quickly establish and maintain a very unsettling mood, the director’s reach clearly exceeded his grasp when he tacked on another 80 minutes of movie. Still, Baskin was Evrenol’s first full-length attempt. I would certainly be willing to give his sophomore effort a try.
Next week, we’ll tour the film world, as Giles Edwards considers the new Satanic Turkish (that’s right, Turkish) horror film Baskin and G. Smalley goes to Japan for a look at Shinya Tsukamoto’s sexy-surreal Snake of June, then jets off to (the former) Czechoslovakia to tour The Cremator‘s “temple of death.” Meanwhile, back in the U.S. (with an assist from Brit Boris Karloff), Alfred Eaker begins a horrifying October series on spooky TV show “Thriller.” Enjoy world cinema from the comfort of home all next week, no passport or dysentery shots needed!
With the summer over, weird search terms always increase (along with traffic in general). This, of course, is a great boon to our inexplicably popular featurette, Weirdest Search Terms of the Week. So let’s jump right in to this week’s offerings, shall we? First, we want to acknowledge “japanis village porn 🎥 most” for the most innovative (if completely useless) use of a special character in a Google search. Next up is “dystopian nude women swimming in room”—just because “dystopian” and “nude women” are words we never thought we’d see next to each other. And speaking of strange word combos, which after all is exactly what we do in this column, how about “in which movie a tribe bite a girl vagina” (the wholetribe?) Before announcing our winner, we have to mention the baffling search for “mother father wont be down for dinner nose fell off movie.” The award for Weirdest Search Term of the Week, however, goes to the elegantly simple “farting blue clown futuristic.” Such imagination! Such imagery! Such weirdness!
Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue now stands: A Snake of June (next week!); Candy; On the Silver Globe; The Last Days of Planet Earth; Jack and the Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE→
“A Town Called Panic: Double Fun”: Indian, Cowboy and Horse return in two shorts set in the childishly surreal world of A Town Called Panic: “Christmas Panic” has C & I nearly ruining the holiday, while “Back to School Panic” has the mischievous duo invading a pig’s brain in an attempt to cheat on a class assignment. A strange but very welcome event from GKids: a list of participating theaters can be found at GKids A Town Called Panic page.
FILM FESTIVALS – Fantastic Fest (Austin, TX, Sep. 22-29):
The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX may be America’s coolest theater. Their brand has grown so big that now they have franchised Drafthouses, and even distribute their own (generally weird) movies. One of the Alamo’s hippest projects is Fantastic Fest, going into its twelf th year. As per usual, there is a fantastic slate of weird movies and some neato revivals here. Coming at the tail end of the film festival season, much of the movies are retreads, but the Drafthouse folks always find a way to save some surprise debuts. We won’t do more than mention films we’ve already mentioned from other festivals, including the sure-to-be-classic killer mermaid musical The Lure; Aloys,Assassination Classroom: Graduation, and Hentai Kamen 2 (all of which we missed at Fantasia Festival); Ana Lily Amirpour‘s post-apocalyptic cannibal effort Bad Batch and the animated My Entire High School Is Sinking into the Sea (two recent TIFF offerings); and the omnipresent Greasy Strangler. Here’s what we’ll be tracking down the road:
Bad Black – Tongue-in-cheek Ugandan action/comedy made for about $200. Screens Sep 25-26.
Colossal – An alcoholic woman (Anne Hathaway) discovers that the appearance of a giant monster in Seoul coincides perfectly with her blackouts in this absurd allegory. Sep. 29 only.
The Dwarves Must Be Crazy – A scatological comedy about a Thai village of dwarfs that is attacked by flatulent Krause spirits—floating heads with attached intestines. Sep. 24 & 27.
Phantasm: Ravager – The final installment in a franchise that has (to be frank) long outlived its welcome. Get closure on Sep. 25 or 28.
Salt and Fire – A scientist venturing to South America to study a volcano is abducted by shadowy men; the programmers call this “[Werner] Herzog‘s most wildly unpredictable film,” which seems like overselling. Sep 25 & 28.
Zodiac Killer (1973) – A restoration of the exploitation film speculating about the celebrity serial killer’s motives, including his telepathic conversations with his Satanist pet rabbits. Sep. 25 & 28.
Parts Unknown (est. 2018): A “deranged” horror movie set in the world of professional wrestling. Director Richard Chandler promises us it will be “a very surreal atmospheric film reminiscent of old school Euro-horror with practical effects and an all retro-wave/synth soundtrack.” The Boston Film Family seem like good eggs and they’ve already raised almost half of their modest $2,500 goal. Consider a donation. Parts Unknown Kickstarter page.
Dead End Drive-In (1986): In a dystopian future, the Australian government solves the juvenile delinquency problem by creating drive-ins where teens check in, but they don’t check out. Arrow Films gives this odd Ozploitationer their usual Criterion-level treatment; special edition pressings include a special booklet. Buy Dead End Drive-In [Special edition Blu-ray].
Johnny Guitar (1954): Read Kevyn Knox’s review. Olive Films, who usually release bare-bones DVDs, have seen that special editions are the wave of the future, so their new “Signature” seies Blu-ray release of Joan Crawford‘s existential/feminist cult western includes multiple featurettes, a commentary track with critic Geoff Andrew, and an introduction by Martin Scorsese. Buy Johnny Guitar [Blu-ray].
Labyrinth (1986): See description in DVD above. Super-duper fans may want to spring for the expensive gift set, which comes in a weird triangular Escher-esque box. Buy Labyrinth [Blu-ray].
Unearthly Stranger (1963, directed by John Krish) often showed up on late night television from the late 60s through the 70s. Surprisingly, it hasn’t been asked about on What Was That Weird Movie?, because it’s a film occasionally discussed in cult film forums. Naturally, there is always a risk in revisiting a movie first seen during adolescence. Chances are that it may not hold up—and more often than not, that is the case. Or, one my find value in it, but for very different reasons.
Subdued, with a distinctly British flavor, The Unearthly Stranger has qualities similar to The Quatermass Experiment (1955), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958), “The Twilight Zone,” and the “Outer Limits.” Shot on a low budget, this Independent Artists production does not rely on special effects, which would have inevitably dated by now anyway. Although short on action and surprises, its virtues are atmosphere, dialogue, and solid performances.
Unearthly Stranger opens with Dr. Mark Davidson (John Neville, best known for The Adventures of Baron Munchausen) running through an empty city at night before reaching his apartment. Finding a tape recorder, he leaves a message: “In a little while I expect to be killed by something you and I know is here,” which segues into an extended flashback.
Shortly after the mysterious murder of fellow researcher Dr. Munro (Warren Mitchell), Davidson and Professor Lancaster (Phillip Stone) resume work on their government funded project, one which enables people to telepathically travel to other planets and potentially contact alien life. In addition to investigating Munro’s death, project supervisor Major Clark (Patrick Newell) has taken an abnormal interest in Davidson’s new Swiss wife, Julie (Gabriella Licudi). Lancaster, a close friend of Davidson’s, is also curious and surprised that he has not been introduced to the new bride.
Rather than putting any potential mysteries to rest, a dinner invitation from Mr. and Mrs. Davidson leads to a startling discovery when Lancaster catches sight of his friend’s wife removing a roast from a 250 degree oven without gloves on. Nothing in the film’s remaining time is as subtly chilling. One very curious theme is the finale’s revelation that all the women in the film are aliens and all the victims male. It is, perhaps, a misogynist’s nightmare that ends suddenly, without further exploration or explanation. While not a classic like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Unearthly Stranger is an obscure sleeper well worth seeking out.
“Blancanieves combines the characteristic language of documentary, a typical feature of Spanish realist cinema, with other devices from the opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum (fades, magical connections, etc.), typical of silent film – which in some cases call to mind Luis Buñuel’s surrealist aesthetic. These paradoxical styles help to create a visual atmosphere which is appropriate to the somewhat sinister tale by the Brothers Grimm which serves as the pretext of the film.”–Jorge Latorre
PLOT: Antonio Villalta is a famous bullfighter with a pregnant wife who is distracted in the ring and gored by a bull. The accident leaves him wheelchair-bound, his wife dies giving birth to his daughter, and he marries his nurse Encarna, a cruel and manipulative sociopath who only wants him for his fortune. Encarna at first keeps Carmen, Antonio’s daughter, as a servant girl and virtual slave on the estate, but orders her killed when she is found visiting her father against her stepmothers will; Carmen escapes and is rescued by a band of dwarfs who travel Spain performing a novelty bullfighting act.
The folk tale “Snow White” was first set down in print by the Brothers Grimm in 1812.
Dwarf matadors (known as “charlotada”), who would warm up the crowd before the main event, were a real phenomenon in Spanish bullfighting.
Writer/director Pablo Berger cites Tod Browning‘s Freaks (1932) as one of his main inspirations for the script.
Blancanieves was in development for eight years before filming began. This means that it was conceived before The Artist, the revivalist silent film that won the Academy Award in 2011.
The film won 10 Goyas (the Spanish equivalent of the Oscar), including Best Film and Best Actress for villainess Maribel Verdú. Spain submitted it to the Academy Awards but it was not one of the five foreign film finalists.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Pablo Berger’s film utilizes simple tricks that would have been available to filmmakers in the 1920s, including frequent use of superimposed double images. The most effective of these is the shadowy skull that flashes over the skin of the apple as the wicked stepmother poisons it (using a syringe), while her intended victim basks in the crowd’s adulatory applause in the background, out of focus.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Rooster cam; transvestite bullfighting dwarf; crying corpse
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: “I have this idea for a Snow White adaptation set among Spanish bullfighters in the 1920s, but how can I make it weird? I know! I’ll make it an expressionistic silent film, and make one of the dwarfs a transvestite and give the wicked stepmother a penchant for S&M!” Well done, Pablo Berger.
PLOT: A nerdy security guard falls for an anarchic art student; she encourages him to change his appearance and dress, increasing his self-confidence—but is she really good for him?
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Neil LaBute’s pitch black adaptation of his own play falls into the category of “outside-the-box indie drama” rather than “weird.”
COMMENTS: On the surface, The Shape of Things appears to be about the lengths someone will go to change themselves to gain someone else’s approval. Evelyn transforms Adam from schlub to stud, but the changes to his body inevitably effect his mentality. But although the erotically-motivated malleability of the less confident romantic partner is one of the work’s themes, Shape reveals a different, more controversial, focus in the third act. The ending twist is easy to guess, particularly to anyone who has seen LaBute’s debut film (the venomous dissection of masculine manipulation In the Company of Men). But I was willing to forgive the obviousness, because I think that LaBute’s fundamental point—an attack on attitudes and platitudes prevalent in the postmodern art scene (Evelyn, the film’s antagonist, is the kind of artist who believes in spray painting classical sculptures as a “statement”)—needed to be said.
The Shape of Things‘s origins as a stage play are obvious—each transition might as well be preceded by intertitles of the format “Act 2, Scene 3”—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. What it really means that this is an actor’s and writer’s movie; everything is built around dialogue, which is often very sharp, with only a couple of set changes. Each of the four characters gets at least one big scene with the other three: Adam and Evelyn, obviously, spend the most time together, but the male lead must also defend himself from a “you’ve changed, man” speech from bro Phillip and navigate a moment of awkwardness with his best friend’s girl, while Evelyn gets to argue with douchey Phillip about the nature of art and to confront Jenny about her supposed attraction to the new and improved Adam. The fact that each of the actors had played these characters on stage for a year beforehand inevitably helps their chemistry—the characters are a artificial, written as types to support a thesis, but the young foursome does everything possible to make them feel like real people.
LaBute is often accused of being misanthropic (or even misogynistic), but, like all satirists, he’s actually humanistic. It shocks me that so many critics and viewers come to the exact opposite conclusion—I guess they conclude that no writer could pen scenes of emotional sadism so convincingly without being a psychopath themselves. It seems obvious to me that LaBute shows us extreme cruelty not to titillate us, but to arouse our disgust—to encourage us to try to be better people. And, to encourage his peers to become better, more morally focused artists.
PLOT: A preteen tomboy finds herself drawn into the dance classes at her local recreation center, but soon after she joins the group the older girls begin suffering mysterious seizures.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:While definitely of interest to aficionados of weirdness, and a highly recommended film overall, it just doesn’t reach the levels of bizarre we aim for with the List.
COMMENTS: Toni (Royalty Hightower) is a quiet, athletic 11-year-old girl who spends her afternoons at the local rec center with her older brother, training in the boxing gym with a group of teen boys. She finds herself compelled to join the dance drill team that rehearses down the hall, feeling shy around the girls but determined to show off her moves. Though she doesn’t appear to be naturally gifted at dance, she sticks with it and befriends some of the other new recruits, observing the older girls who lead the troupe with the curiosity of a child and the growing understanding of a young adult. When the seizures start, Toni and her friends are more intrigued than scared, and they watch from afar as more and more of the older girls are affected by this unexplained malady. Toni begins to suspect that it’s intentional, that they want it, and it becomes a kind of calling card for a cool inner circle.
Based on plot alone, The Fits sounds like a fairly standard coming-of-age drama, and in some ways it is: a shy and intelligent girl finds community within a larger group, learns about new adult realities, maintains her independence, etc. The parallels between the girls’s seizures and female puberty are obvious, as Toni feels the kind of ostracization and curiosity that preteen girls might experience as their friends start getting (and discussing) their periods. Along with fear of the unknown there is a pride attached to the phenomenon, a feeling of special knowledge and maturity. Throughout the film, we see our tomboy protagonist slowly acquiring visual markers coded as “girly,” including glitter nail polish and pierced ears, which help her fit in with her friends. But she slowly sheds them all, retaining her sense of difference. Eventually, Toni (and the audience) senses that there is a kind of freedom attached to the seizures—the precise, fluid movements of the drill team are liberally flung out the window in the sudden and erratic fits the girls exhibit. There is a beauty to letting go, to giving in to being a girl, to finding acceptance in her changing, awkward preteen body.
With a keen observational eye and resourceful use of a single location (the town recreational center), first-time director Anna Rose Holmer fully engages with the perspective of her central character. We see everything through Toni’s eyes, and the subtle, powerful performance of Royalty Hightower communicates a world of experience with little expository dialogue. But the most intriguing stylistic element of The Fits is its sound. While one might realistically expect a soundtrack of dance music, specifically pop or hip hop, to go with the performances of the drill team, the music rarely matches the action onscreen. Instead we are treated to bizarre, somewhat abstract soundscapes that create a sense of intrinsic eeriness, hinting that something must be wrong here. The surreal music serves to pick apart the weirdness of adolescence, and to heighten the anxiety and uncertainty Toni feels every day behind her stony exterior as she maneuvers the muddy waters between childhood and adulthood. Without it, the events of the film would be dramatic, but not necessarily extraordinary. With it, we are left with a distinct but ambiguous sense of strangeness, an itch we can’t quite scratch, a mystery never to be solved. And yet, thanks to an exuberant final dance number, there’s a contentment that goes along with it, suggesting the power of sisterhood.
So here’s what we’re going with for the review slate for next week (not 100% set in stone, but close): Alex Kittle gets The Fits, the new-to-home-video arthouse release about hysterical outbreaks among an African-American teen dance team. G. Smalley digs into the reader-suggested review queue to look at The Shape of Things, Neil LaBute’s romantic satire about a woman who reshapes her new boyfriend, then circles back to reconsider Spain’s modern silent Snow White adaptation Blancanieves (previously championed by Alfred Eaker). Speaking of Alfred, he’ll be reminiscing about two trashy B-favorites of his teens, The Unearthly Stranger and Chamber of Horrors. It’s another week of odd odds and ends around these parts, which is how we like it.
Speaking of odd things we like, it’s time once again for us to review the weirdest search terms that brought people to the site this week, a feature we like to call “Weirdest Search Terms of the Week.” Not a bad slate this week. We start off with a guy asking us for “all you may know about bestiality”: not much, thankfully. And we’re not sure about the search for “pie in forest handsom lady movie,” although arguably it makes more sense than the guy confessing “uncover vaginal. movie i forgot the title”. The winner this week, though, is part of a mini-theme which is introduced by a runner-up query for “japanese weird daddy”. We wonder if such a daddy might be a character in the cinema referenced in “hey dude chocolate shake daddy cinema”. Hey dude, you’re the winner of our Weirdest Search Term of the Week contest (sorry, no chocolate shake prize).
Here’s how the ridiculously-long reader-suggested review queue now stands: The Shape of Things (next week!); Candy; On the Silver Globe; The Last Days of Planet Earth; A Snake of June; Jack and the Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE→
Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!