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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)

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)

DIRECTOR RETROSPECTIVE: JOHN CARPENTER

Guest review by Brandon Engel, a freelance writer specializing in entertainment and pop culture, as well as an aspiring filmmaker.

  is heralded by many genre enthusiasts as a “horror icon,” but his body of work extends into other genres. Though perhaps best known for his work on Halloween and his “Apocalypse Trilogy”—The Thing (1982), Prince of Darkness (1987) and In The Mouth of Madness (1994)—Carpenter has been writing, directing and producing genre films since the early 1970’s.

Halloween, released in 1978, ushered in a new era of “slasher” films, although originally Carpenter set out only to “make a film [he] would love to have seen as a kid.” His self-described “crass exploitation” film earned over $65 million at the box office. Not bad, considering that the film was made for a budget of approximately $325,000 and with mostly unknown actors (with the notable exception of Bond villain ). Although Carpenter admitted it wasn’t his favorite film, The Fog (1980) became a successful cult movie all the same, although critical reception was initially lukewarm. Rounding out Carpenter’s horror masterpieces is The Thing. Although The Thing proved to be a box-office disappointment, these three movies cemented Carpenter’s reputation as a master of the horror genre.

However, Carpenter has tried his hand at science-fiction as well. In fact, his first significant outing as director was the ultra-low budget feature Dark Star (1974), which he worked on with USC classmate Dan O’Bannon (whom you may recognize as the screenwriter for Ridley Scott’s Alien). The film was a parody of classic science-fiction films such as ’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Several of Carpenter’s other successful films integrate elements of science-fiction, such as Starman (1984), about an unlikely coupling between an alien and a widow fleeing from government agents, and Escape from New York (1981), about a dystopian future where a crime ridden United States has been forced to turn Manhattan Island in New York City into a maximum-security prison.

John Carpenter on the set of The Ward (2011)

John Carpenter on the set of The Ward (2011)

Every career has it high and low points, and Carpenter’s is no exception. After the dismal box-office performance of The Thing, Carpenter lost the opportunity to direct Firestarter, based on the book by Stephen King. In the 1990’s, he produced several flops including Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), Village of the Damned (1995), and Escape From L.A. (1996). Perhaps due to this decline in Carpenter’s popularity, his films Prince of Darkness (1987, about the Anti-Christ), They Live (1988, about aliens secretly controlling the human population) and In the Mouth of Madness (1994, about a Lovecraftian author whose fiendish imaginings become manifest) did not garner the attention they deserved.

After being semi retired in the 2000’s, Carpenter saw a resurgence of his work after remakes of his Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing and The Fog. In 2005, Carpenter returned to film, contributing to the Masters of Horror series for Showtime, a compilation of 13 different notable horror filmmakers. Reviews for his episode “Cigarette Burns” were positive, prompting Carpenter to follow up with the feature The Ward (2011). That film, whose plot follows an institutionalized woman named Kristen who is haunted by a mysterious and deadly zombie-like ghost, brought lukewarm reviews. One critic described the film as “just as good as most of the films in mainstream horror today.” Shallow praise for the “master of horror.”

Despite the fact that he never again realized his mass-market potential since the decline of his career began in the late 1980’s, John Carpenter has no doubt created a lasting legacy for himself, in horror, science fiction, and filmmaking in general. As was reflected in his recent interview with filmmaker  on the latter’s El Rey Network (available on DirectTV), Carpenter has had an enormous influence on many popular genre filmmakers currently working. His name will be forever associated with the rises and falls—the successes and failures—that are the mark of a lifetime spent in the entertainment business.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Here’s what’s on our weird minds next week: we’ll for sure bring you a mini-retrospective of the career of director , and a look at the Criterion Collection’s recent release of the culty  comedy A Hard Days Night. Over in Fringe Cinema, Alfred Eaker will offer up a nugget he calls “Creepy Cowboys: 4 Weird Westerns.” For our wild card feature, you can expect to see either another look at ‘s rock n’ roll satire Phantom of the Paradise, a surprise review of a new release, or something else entirely.

Our popular feature “Weirdest Search Term of the Week” highlights, as one search term succinctly put it, “strange things.” In this case, strange things people type into search engines, like the incomprehensible “to.bat..saw.movie.bf.” We got an idea for a possible sideline business from the searcher looking for “his & her clothes for weird couples” (366 Weird Matching Outfits, anyone)? There was also a search that left out a crucial piece of information, leaving our horrified minds to fill in the blanks: “movies that have the female actor remove it and place it in a plastic bag.” What’s “it”? Never mind, we don’t want to know! For our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week, we pick “movie where alien has grandpa’s head on his tongue.” We suspect someone will respond in the comments with the title of a movie that has a scene where an alien sticks out his tongue and the hero’s grandpa’s head is on the end, but c’mon—it’s still a weird sentence fragment to type into a query box!

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

SATURDAY SHORT: THE PALACE (2014)

A boy seeks sanctuary from the world that is crumbling around him, but it seems every open pathway dissipates before his eyes. There may be no way out.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 9/12/2104

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):

Archaeology Of A Woman: An elderly woman with dementia is a suspect in a murder investigation. Slant calls it “Lynchian” (albeit in a one-star review) and 72-year old Sally Kirkland has a nude scene (her first since 2010’s Flexing with Monty!) Archeology of a Woman official Facebook page.

Bird People: Two-parter set at a hotel by the De Gaulle airport: in the first segment, and American businessman abandons his career, and in the second something magically real happens to a hotel maid (no one wants to spoil the surprise). Reviews of this French drama have been love-it-or-hate-it, and it comes with a “slow” warning. Bird People official site.

RETROSPECTIVE – (Lincoln Center, New York City, Sep. 5-14):

“Fifty Years of John Waters: How Much Can You Take?”: We’re a little late reporting on this mini-festival of atrocities hosted and curated by the aging Prince of Puke himself, so we won’t tell you that you’ve already missed ultra-rare screenings of the seminal shorts Hag in a Black Leather Jacket (1964), Roman Candles (1966), Eat Your Makeup (1968) and The Diane Linkletter Story (1970) from the director’s personal stash of 16mm prints, and instead focus on what’s coming up: the Hollywood satire Cecil B. Demented (2000) tonight at 7PM, his final film A Dirty Shame (2004) on Sep. 13, Cry-Baby (1990) and Pink Flamingos (1972) both on Sep. 13 & 14, and the art world send-up Pecker (1998) on Sep. 14. Also check out John’s pick of  Crash (1996) (which he calls “hilarious”) as one of his eight “Movies I’m Jealous I Didn’t Make,” screening Saturday, Sep. 13. “Fifty Years of John Waters: How Much Can You Take?” retrospective at Film Society of Lincoln Center

IN DEVELOPMENT:

Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance (est. 2015): The original Samurai Cop (1991) was a quickly-forgotten piece of direct-to-video dreck that was rediscovered and championed as a so-bad-it’s-good classic in the 21st century, mainly on the basis of an infamous, awkwardly hostile sexual flirtation between samurai cop and a random horny non-actress nurse. Refashioned, we’re guessing, as deliberate camp, most of the original cast returns for this belated sequel, accompanied by George Lazenby (!) and a trio of blonde porn starlets. What catches our attention, however, is the unexpected announcement that Room-mate  will be appearing in the film in an unknown capacity. That, in our mind, is enough to elevate this proposed sequel from curiosity to novelty.  At this writing, the project is $11,000 short of its modest $50,000 Kickstarter goal. Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance Kickstarter page.

NEW ON DVD:

Borgman (2013): Read Ryan Aarset’s review. ‘s mysterious dark fable remains a candidate for the List. Buy Borgman.

Seizure (1974): Oliver Stone’s first film is this undistinguished but bizarre story of a horror writer who finds his character “the Queen of Evil” has come to life, along with her executioner and dwarf henchmen. Check out the cast: Jonathan Frid, Hammer girl Martine Beswick, and , with Troy Donahue and Mary Woronov among the victims. Buy Seizure.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Borgman (2013): See description in DVD above. Buy Borgman [Blu-ray].

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004): According to its own opening narration, this dark children’s comedy is about “clever and reasonably attractive orphans, suspicious fires, carnivorous leeches, Italian food and secret organizations.” It’s also in our reader-suggested review queue. Buy Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events [Blu-ray].

Seizure (1974): See description in DVD above. Buy Seizure [Blu-ray].

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that I have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

CINEMA UNDER THE STARS: A CELEBRATION OF THE DRIVE-IN CINEMA

Check out driveintheater.com for the history of the drive-in and a list of theaters operating near you.

Those of us old enough to remember the drive-in theater experience have some sense of nostalgia for the experience. Those who were deprived of cinema under the stars may never “get it.”

"Elm Road Drive-In Theatre" by Jack Pearce from Boardman, OH, USA

Elm Road Drive-In Theatre” by Jack Pearce from Boardman, OH, USA – Elm Road Drive-In Theatre. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

As a personal example, take my ex. Although about my age, she had either never gone to the drive-in during her youth, or if she had gone, it never sank in. Upon agreeing to my suggestion of going to see a double feature at Tibbs Drive-in, she started loading up the back of the car with chips, drinks, and snacks—much to my abject horror, because as kids, as much as we loved the movies, we could not wait to hear the announcement: “It’s intermission time, folks!” Going to the concession stand and buying kicking nachos, fresh hot popcorn, pizza with your favorite toppings, tasty cheeseburgers, crispy hot french fries, buckets of fried chicken, delicious hotdogs, mouth watering barbecue sandwiches, your favorite candy and popsicles, ice cold soft drinks, and the greasy-smelling restrooms around the corner for your convenience was all part of the experience. I tended to stick with nachos (extra jalapeños) and cheese pizza (extra, extra jalapeños). Needless to say, I politely insisted everything be put back in the pantry, because we were obligated, in spirit, to whip out the debit card, stand in long lines, and pay far more than we should for bad tasting drive-in junk food. Anything else would have spoiled the atmosphere.

We now think of cheesy horror and sci-fi films as ruling the drive-in roost. However, I recall seeing the mediocre  western, Cahill: U.S. Marshall (1973) on a double bill with the much more fun Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) at Westlake Drive-In Theater. We stayed through both features and even got to see the closing fireworks. The oddest memories I have of that night begin with mother’s very vocal fretting over how much of Caroline Munro’s cleavage my siblings and I were taking in. If Mom hadn’t made such an ado about it, I might not have even noticed. Curiously, she wasn’t at all worried about the western bloodshed, but Ms. Munro’s breasts sent her into an evangelical panic. (To be fair, however, I just lied when I speculated that I probably would not have noticed the cult star’s ample chest. I would have).

The other, perhaps even stranger memory is the sight of a fox, a few yards away, rummaging through the trash cans by the swing-set under the screen. Of course, one could never witness such magical nature at work, or a parental outburst, in the polite comfort of an air conditioned indoor theater.

The 1950s were the heyday of the drive-in cinema. Even when our family started going, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, outdoor cinemas were Continue reading CINEMA UNDER THE STARS: A CELEBRATION OF THE DRIVE-IN CINEMA

LIST CANDIDATE: FRANK (2014)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Lenny Abrahamson

FEATURING: Domhnall Gleeson, , , Scoot McNairy

PLOT: A struggling young musician lands a gig as keyboardist in an experimental band led by an eccentric prodigy who never takes off his oversized  papier-mâché head.

Still from Frank (2104)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Here at 366 Weird Movies, we immerse ourselves so deeply in the bizarre end of the cinema pool that we sometimes lose track of what the mainstream thinks of as “weird.” When I’m watching a movie in a theater, I usually keep an eye out for walkouts as a good gauge of when a film is too strange for the comfort of average cinemagoers. There were no walkouts in Frank; actually, the audience laughed frequently, at exactly the places the writers intended them to. As much as I enjoyed Frank, as I was leaving the theater I was wondering if it could make the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies based merely on Michael Fassbender’s performance inside a giant fake head when a wide-eyed stranger accosted me with the observation, “that was one frickin’ strange movie.” (Yes, he actually said “frickin'”). That unsolicited endorsement of the film’s oddness, from a man who was obviously open-minded enough give a movie about a musician with a giant fake head a chance in the first place, is enough for me to give Frank consideration for the List.

COMMENTS: Steeped in self-aware indie music culture (Austin’s hipster festival South by Southwest is even a major plot point), the charming and playful Frank is in danger of becoming too twee for its own good. The early crisis that affords protagonist Jon Burroughs his opening to join macrocephalic Frank’s band “Soronprfbs” as an emergency keyboard player is one of the quirkiest and least depressing suicide attempts ever filmed, leaving us to wonder whether there will be this will be one of those consequence-free comedies where nothing is at stake and it’s impossible for any of the characters to be seriously hurt. And while Frank does play that way through its spry opening reels, it eventually shades its sunshine with clouds, as Frank’s madness progresses from cute to disabling.

Michael Fassbender, in what is almost a pure voice acting performance, conveys the fascination of the guileless Frank, a mad genius who wears his giant plaster head like a cocoon childlike creativity. Frank is joined in his musical pursuits, which involve rigorous exercise regimens and spontaneous odes to tufts in the carpet, by engineer/manager Don, a friendly recovering lunatic Frank met in a mental hospital, and scary Clara, a sociopathic theraminist with an intense loyalty to Frank and an equally intense loathing for all forms of mediocrity. A French-speaking guitarist and a nearly silent percussionist round out the band, until they are joined by Jon, a struggling songwriter and competent keyboard player. Jon is encouraged by affable Frank and by Don, who sees him as an equally untalented kindred spirit, while the rest of the band considers him an interloper. Jon will attempt to grow as an artist under Frank’s tutelage, but can he find the divine spark of madness, or will his attempts to steer the band in a more accessible direction tear them apart?

Frank seems to cultivate an anti-success ethic, embracing the affectation the only good bands are undiscovered bands. Soronprfbs, of course, is the ultimate uncommercial act: Frank’s ditties range from Syd Barret-esque doodles to full-out psychedelic noise freakouts, and the group never manages to get more than one song into a set before someone throws a tantrum or suffers a breakdown on stage. Ironically, however, as a movie Frank is actually pretty accessible, while still flying its freak flag proudly. It succeeds in finding an audience by being funny, from Jon’s fumbling attempts at basing songs at pedestrians he sees passing before him (“lady with a baby, that’s how it works”) to the description of the sexual peccadillo that got Don institutionalized to Clara’s terrifying moment of horniness. We can’t all be genius weirdo artists encased in fibergalss heads, but we can all laugh at Frank.

Frank is sort-of-based-on-a-true story. British musician/comedian Chris Sievey portrayed the hollow-headed character Frank Sidebottom from 1984 until his death in 2010. The script is a fictionalized version of writer Jon (“The Men Who Stare at Goats”) Ronson’s memoir about his time spent as a keyboardist in Sidebottom’s experimental retinue.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…[a] weird and wonderful musical comedy from director Lenny Abrahamson… [who] puts the pic’s eccentricity to good use, luring in skeptics with jokey surrealism and delivering them to a profoundly moving place.”–Peter Debruge, Variety (contemporaneous)

 

LIST CANDIDATE: FAUST (2011)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Johannes Zeiler, Anton Adasinsky, Isolda Dychauk

PLOT: A doctor who’s bored with life sells his soul to a Moneylender in exchange for one night with a beautiful young woman.

Still from Faust (2011)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Though it can be stuffy, this hallucinatory version of Faust also brings us monkeys on the moon, a gynecological exam utilizing hard-boiled eggs, and an inexplicable ending that sees the title character apparently trapped in an afterlife that looks like a volcanic island of the coast of Iceland. Literary-minded weirdophiles may want to stump for this subtle and intelligent, but somewhat confused, movie to take up a slot on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made, but it’s not inspiring enough to make it on the first ballot.

COMMENTS: Aleksandr Sokurov’s adaptation of Faust keeps the central story and conflict, presenting the tragic tale of a jaded natural philosopher who finds further dissatisfaction in his pursuit of Earthly pleasure and power, but the Russian director’s take may not please everyone. Goethe’s epic poem/play, the take on the Germanic legend which most informs Sokurov’s, was full of phantasmagorical digressions, such as a parade of pagans during Walpurgis Night. So is Sokoruv’s version; but the digressions are not the same, and the director adopts Goethe’s method as a license to pursue his own visions, wherever they might take him. What is poetic on the printed page becomes a dream when filmed.

The biggest change from play to screen is a change in the “party of the second part” in the eternal contract for Faust’s soul from the devil Mephistopheles to a decrepit old man known as the Moneylender. Rather than a suave Satanic seducer, the Moneylender is a wrinkled nuisance, sly but with degraded manners (when he’s warned not to defecate outside the Church, he decides to do his business inside). Although Faust does pursue a woman, believing that carnal love will fill the empty space in his soul when philosophy and drink have failed, his primary relationship in the movie is with the Moneylender, who acts as a fatalistic conscience. The Moneylender’s surprising bath scene, which makes you think that a nude scene from the Elephant Man might not have been so bad, is the movie’s boldest moment.

It has been noted that Sokoruv’s film favors earth tones, rich browns and shadowy greens, and looks like the works of an old Dutch Master; but it’s worth pointing out further that the image here is also frequently murky and smudged, like a Rembrandt before restoration. Sokoruv’s choice to forgo widescreen vistas for the outdated 4:3 aspect ratio makes Faust cramped and claustrophobic; even when we’re outdoors, the movie feels like it’s playing out in a dingy room at the top of the stairs, lit by sunlight coming through a filthy window. At times (seemingly at random) he adds a queasy distorting lens. My suspicion is that the film’s grimy look is meant to evoke the filthiness and decay of the medieval milieu—the events seem to take place at the height of the Black Death, and there are coffins, funerals, and corpses everywhere (the movie even starts with a shot of a cadaver penis).

Although the film moves slowly, it’s extremely dialogue-dense, philosophical, and challenging for non-German speakers unfamiliar with the source material, who may find themselves quickly left behind. While Sokurov’s Russian Ark was esoteric in its subject matter, it was clearly motivated by a desire to explore Russian culture and its relationship to the West. His Faust is hermetic at its core. Although Faust is officially part of a quadrilogy which also includes biopics of Hitler, Lenin and Hirohito, it’s unclear precisely what the director’s intended spin on the legend is, or why he lumped a fictional philosopher in with historical tyrants. He’s changed enough of Faust to make the story his own, but the film doesn’t explain the reasons for the alterations it makes; it doesn’t do a clear job justifying itself and explaining why we needed this skewed take on the legend. Perhaps there is no justification to be had, and none needed. Goethe began his second book of his “Faust” with a prologue in which he sang “Let Reason be the thrall of Magic, and let bold Phantasy appear/In all her freedom, all her glory.” That could be the ancient anthem of the weird aesthetic, and perhaps Sokurov is merely heeding its call.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…[a] triumph of the weird… takes a flying leap into bizarritude.”–Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: YOKAI MONSTERS: SPOOK WARFARE (1968)

AKA Big Monster War; Yokai Monsters Vol. 1

DIRECTED BY: Yoshiyuki Kuroda

FEATURING: Chikara Hashimoto, Yoshihiko Aoyama, Akane Kawasaki

PLOT: Japanese folk spirits (yokai) unite to fight off an ancient Babylonian vampire who has assumed the form of a local human magistrate.

Still from Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare (1968)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: If Spook Warfare makes the List it will be for the bizarre monster designs (including a floating umbrella with a lolling foam rubber tongue) and for the way it tosses in random genres so that it ends up like the work of a Japanese filming a Hammer horror script in the style of a samurai flick. One thing that’s holding it back from making the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies, however, is that it’s part of a series of three films, and we haven’t considered its two siblings yet. (A clip from the second movie, 100 Monsters, made it into Sans Soleil, which seems like it should earn that installment bonus points).

COMMENTS: After a scary, serious opening involving the accidental disinterment of an ancient evil from a Babylonian ruin, Yokai Monsters seems primed to turn into a children’s movie when fifteen minutes in we meet Kappa, a delightfully Muppet-esque duck-turtle hybrid clown with darting ping-pong-ball eyes and a lillypad head. But as the film continues, we get truly frightening images of vampires feeding on victims with gouts of flowing blood, dog assassinations, pantsless children chased by armed guards intent on feeding them to demons, and arrows to eyeballs. Interrupting those bloody sequences are the uncanny/cute yokai (mischievous supernatural creatures who roughly analogous to Western fairies or goblins) doing slapstick gags and paraphrasing scenes from Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein. Japanese children must have been terrified and enthralled by the spectacle; American kids, who didn’t know yokai from yogurt or Buddha from Buddy Hackett, could add bewildered to that list of adjectives.

The pastiche of tones and styles on display here results in memorable moments ranging from the deliberately delightful to the completely WTF. The cinematography is very good, whether we’re dealing with a storm at sea or quiet shots of Edo-era tea ceremonies. The special effects involving colored lights and kaleidoscope lenses are psychedelic-era standard and date the movie in a delightful way. Of course, since each yokai is uniquely conceived, the film’s most noteworthy feature are the dozens of monsters; here, the designers’ creativity exceeds the production’s ability to realize it. The monsters slide from the heights of imagination down a budgetary slope into the uncanny valley. The stiff rubber masks used for most of the creatures allow no expressiveness; the yokai’s leader, a heavy-lidded, football-headed green gnome, is incapable of blinking. The yoaki end up looking otherworldly, but that other world isn’t a spirit realm so much as it is a bizarro-world of discarded  first drafts.

Although the production values are generally high, many of the film’s other features verge on earning a so-bad-it’s-weird designation. The demonic antagonist’s entire plan, after slumbering for millennia, seems to amount to little more than a scheme to eat a few Japanese children (though in his defense, perhaps to him a province full of kids is just part of a healthy breakfast before embarking on his real mission of world domination). The yokai’s motivation for saving humanity from the Babylonian interloper, on the other hand, is blatantly jingoistic: “If we leave the likes of him alone, shame will be brought on Japanese apparitions!” The strange plot machinations also result in some unusual dialogue that clashes against Western notions of sense: “you suck, Buddha!” cries a yokai imprisoned in a vase. The dizzying dialectic between good and bad filmmaking, disturbing horror and childish comedy, and Eastern and Western notions of storytelling give Spook Warfare the weird vitality to make it worth your viewing time.

In 2005, Spook Warfare was loosely remade with modern CGI as The Great Yokai War, in a rare family-friendly offering from Mr. “Ichi the Killer” himself, . That film is somewhat entertaining, but lacks the gonzo madness of the original.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a weird combination of bloody horror and comic kiddie movie.”–Hollywood Gothique (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by Eric Gabbard, who said he was “blown away by its insanity.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Here’s what we’re looking to bring you next week, reviews-wise: we’ll dip into the reader-suggested review queue for a look at Japan’s 1968 monster fest Yokai Monsters, Vol. 1: Spook Warfare; tempt you with coverage of ‘s latest art experiment, his heady and hallucinatory adaptation of Faust; and head out to the theaters to see Michael Fassbender in a giant papier-mâché head in Frank. Meanwhile, through the magic of nostalgia, Alfred Eaker will go back in time to reminisce about nights spent under the stars watching movies at the drive-in.

People sure have some confused movie memories, which is a good thing for our weekly feature, Weirdest Search Term of the Week. In this week’s survey, we’ll first highlight “mature dressed jump in the water porn” (a fully-clothed swimming fetish? That’s real mature). We don’t know of any porn movies like that, but mainstream movie queries can be even harder to answer— see “he tries to run away from murder but he a shoes whitch movie is that.” For our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week, we’ll go with “a cave woman. he goes through a lot, finally wakes up in a modern day hospital bed. he tells his story, everybody thinks he is crazy. gave him a necklace.” We’re sure this refers to a real movie involving a cave woman and a man who wakes up in a hospital bed and everyone thinks he’s crazy so they give him a necklace, but whatever it is, it’s still pretty damn weird when you describe it the way the searcher did.

Here’s how the ridiculously-long reader-suggested review queue now stands: Yokai Monsters, Vol. 1: Spook Warfare [AKA Big Monster War] (next week!); Rubin & Ed; The Real McCoy; Themroc; Candy (1968); The Fox Family; Angelus; Britannia Hospital; This Filthy Earth; Conspirators of Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

SATURDAY SHORT: EL LADRON DE CARAS (2013)

When pictures surface of people having their facial features stolen, a woman seeks the help of a detective to track down the mysterious force behind it.

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