CAPSULE: THROUGH THE WEEPING GLASS (2011)

On the Consolations of Life Everlasting (Limbos & Afterbreezes in the Mütter Museum)

DIRECTED BY: ,

FEATURING: (narration)

PLOT: This brief film essay contemplates various medical misfortunes and wonders in the framework of an often unsettling visit to the Mütter Museum. Exploring conditions ranging from Fibrodysplasia Ossificus Progressiva to conjoined twin-hood, Through the Weeping Glass examines anomalous conditions, creepy medical devices, and the sometimes unnatural nature of being human.

Still from Through the Weeping Glass (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: As documentaries go, this is an unnerving one whose subject matter is investigated with hazy-to-sharp focus, super-imposition, and eerie recreations of the backstories. However, the movie maintains a disciplined technique, providing a glimpse at the nastiness of medical phenomena through history that is easy to follow—as unpleasant as that proves to be at times.

COMMENTS: “No child ever imagines the unimaginable: that he will end up as a skeleton.” So begins our visit to Philadelphia’s museum of medical oddities. The sweet, soft-spoken narration provided by Derek Jacobi (“I, Claudius,” “Brother Cadfael”) sets things up with a twist: naturally everyone becomes a skeleton eventually, as death comes to us all. However, the seemingly mundane words quickly get sinister when the case of Harry Eastlack is explored. Harry injured himself as a child, fracturing his leg while playing with his sister. The bone healed, and then kept growing. Ultimately, his skeleton developed a further skeleton around itself, and we are informed, “in the end, [he] could only move [his] lips.”

By the beginning of the past decade, the Quay brothers has long established themselves as the wizards of stop-motion animation. One of their passions, however, has always been “exotic arcana” (so sayeth the pamphlet accompanying their recent anthology), and their piece on the Mütter Museum and its contents marks the first time the brothers ever made a movie stateside. “Weeping Glass” features few of the otherworldly flourishes that mark their main body of work—most notably altering of portraits’ eyes by giving them an ominous, forlorn sheen—but the camera technique and soundscape summon the unsettling vibe that permeates their oeuvre. Focus on objects shimmers from sharp to blurry, tracking shots are choppy and often pursued at unlikely eye levels, and an animation of sorts is provided by the super-imposition of hands when pre-16th century texts and pre-20th century medical devices are displayed.

The oddest achievement the brothers can claim with this documentary is their uncanny knack to ride on the darker side of the line separating creepy and cheesy. The jump cuts between alarming images are often accompanied by the dissonant, clanking score one would expect to find in the lazier varieties of horror movie. Though they are no doubt helped by the fact that what’s on display would be unsettling no matter how presented, the Quays still impress by forcing the viewer to realize, “oh, I know they’re just trying to make me addled. Dear Lord, it’s working.”

By the end of “Through the Weeping Glass,” you will not only learn about the tragic case of Harry Eastlack, but also catch glimpses of a man with a pillow-sized tumor, get a peak at both the Hyrtl skull collection (139 specimens, each with a brief history of the owner written thereon) and Dr. Chevalier Jackson’s collection of swallowed objects (over 2,300 pins, game pieces, and even a “Perfect Attendance” badge), and finish off with a couple exchanging their “…’til death do us part” wedding vows in the presence of the plaster cast bodies of the famed “Siamese” twins, Chang and Eng. “Through the Weeping Glass” is a disquieting piece, but the Quays’ direction and Jacobi’s nuanced voice-over inject it with a subversive sense of humor. This late example of the Pennsylvania boys’ work is very informative, highly watchable, and delightfully grotesque.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…rare is the non-fiction film that through its style, design and intent properly matches the tropes of the fictional horror flick. And perhaps this creature is so rare that only one exists: Through the Weeping Glass…”–Mike Everleth, Underground Film Journal (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

First off, your reminder to vote in the 2016 Weirdcademy Awards. The current leaders are The Forbidden Room for Weirdest Movie (with a commanding 44% of votes in a ten movie field), Pit Bukowski in Der Samurai for Weirdest Actor, Duke of Burgundy‘s Chiara D’Anna as Weirdest Actress, and Forbidden Room‘s “The Final Derriere” as Weirdest Scene. The Weirdest Short contest is pretty much a two film race, with “Hugh the Hunter” facing off against “Goodbye.” Of course, there’s still time to change all of these results if your favorite isn’t leading; you can vote once per day up until Feb. 28.

So what will we be adding to the site’s legacy next week? Look for Giles Edwards continuing coverage of the short films with a report on 2011’s “Through the Weeping Glass.” In honor of Valentine’s Day, we’ll knock one out of the reader-suggested review queue with ‘s odd 1991 romance Lovers on the Bridge. We’ll also take a look at the Czech New Wave-ish musical Western spoof Lemonade Joe, while Alfred Eaker wraps up his series on Woody Allen’s weirdest with the neurotic comedian’s first effort, What’s Up Tiger Lily?

It’s time again for us to review the weirdest search terms that brought visitors to the site this past week—a little feature we like to call “Weirdest Search Term of the Week.” First up, we’d like to mention the search for “90s cinemax movie where the woman took off her clothes everytime,” not because it’s a particularly strange search in itself but because, as anyone who had the “Skinemax” channel in the 90s can attest, that describes just about every movie they played. To earn consideration for Weirdest Search Term honors, a searcher needs to get into specific bizarre details, like the guys looking for “hell on island strange erotic naked girls in prison outside vintage,” “muscled porno disciples passion,” or “magic lesson rabbit sex animation.” Now there are some weird and sexy search terms! Nonetheless, for our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week we’ll pick the almost-but-not-quite-tautological “girl kicks a ball like its a remote controlled ball movie scene.” This left us seriously scratching our heads: how (and we guess, why?) does one kick a remote controlled ball?

Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue now stands: Lovers on the Bridge (next week!); The Fox Family; Angelus; Air Doll; The Ossuary and Other Tales; Arrebato; Symbol; Wicked City (1992 live action);The Boxer’s Omen [aka Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 2/5/2016

Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Eisenstein in Guanajuato (2015): The imaginary story of Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein’s ten day trip to Mexico, where he gives in to his homosexual yearnings while gathering material for a movie which is ultimately never made. This fantastic homoerotic biopic sounds like ‘s attempt to make a Ken Russell movie. Eisenstein in Guanajuato official site.

Stereotypically You (2015): The tagline describes it as a “comedy that follows one man’s hallucination-fueled, post-breakup quest to find new love” and the Rotten Tomatoes summary mentions “surreal hallucinations,” but absolutely no one has reviewed it yet and the trailer looks like it belongs to an original Netflix series. Our expectations are low, but who knows—maybe they’re hiding the weird stuff as a marketing ploy? Stereotypically You official site.

SCREENINGS – (Nitehawk Theater, Friday & Saturday, Feb 5 & 6 [just after midnight]):

Blood Diner (1987): Read the Certified Weird review! A very rare screening of ‘s horrifying, pseudo-fascist mistake of a gore comedy. Blood Diner at Nitehawk Cinema.

NEW ON DVD:

Evangelion 3.33 (2012): Read Alex Kittle’s review. For some reason, it took four years to release the third part of this planned quadrilogy about giant post-apocalyptic battlebots on home video, and no word yet on when the finale (which should be completely off-the-rails, if it follows the pattern set by the original anime) is supposed to arrive. Buy Evangelion 3.33: You Can (Not) Redo.

Highway to Hell (1991): A bride-to-be is snatched by a minion of Satan and taken to Hell to be Lucifer’s moll; her lover follows. This oddball comedy (with jokes reminiscent of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker movies) contain many budget cameos (including Gilbert Gottfried as Hitler) and is a minor cult favorite. Buy Highway to Hell (1991).

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (2014): his anthology of animations inspired by the popular works of the Lebanese poet is noteworthy because of the talents involved: , , , and are among the animators each handling a segment. The framing device involves a political prisoner who dispenses wisdom in the form of poems. Buy Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Evangelion 3.33 (2012): See description in DVD above. Buy Evangelion 3.33: You Can (Not) Redo [Blu-ray].

Highway to Hell (1991): See description in DVD above. Buy Highway to Hell (1991) [Blu-ray].

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (2014): See description in DVD above. This purchase includes a DVD and a “digital copy.” Buy Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet [Blu-ray/DVD combo].

Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985): Two kittens take a ride on a railroad through the stars in this dreamlike children’s film. We thought this sounded familiar; it’s in our reader-suggested review queue (under the title Night on the Galactic Express). Buy Night on the Galactic Railroad [Blu-ray].

YOU LINK US! YOU REALLY LINK US!:

This 47 Best Movies of the 90s article on bustle.com cites us to support its (quite correct) theory that Dead Man is a “psychedelic western.”

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.

WOODY ALLEN’S PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985)

In her review of ‘s The Purple Rose Of Cairo (1985), critic Pauline Kael wrote: “it seems scaled to [Mia Farrow’s] cheekbones.” This is Kael at her charmingly brief, astute best, inspired by what may be Allen at his best. Allen jumps from the diving board of ‘s Sherlock Jr. (a List Candidate), Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels, and his own Play It Again, Sam (1972). In turn, The Purple Rose Of Cairo influenced film such as Maurizio Nichetti’s The Icicle Thief (1989), Gary Ross’ Pleasantville (1998) and Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber (2010). When released, The Purple Rose Of Cairo received almost universal critical acclaim, but its downbeat ending and flights of fancy put off American audiences.

I vaguely recall a review of the mediocre Bing Crosby vehicle Pennies From Heaven (1936). The critic (I think it was Leslie Halliwell) made a point that the Depression era man was all but forgotten, an alien in the contemporary world. Not to Allen, whose warmth here is both sensitive and genuinely emotional. Allen finds the pulse of a Depression era prerequisite: balancing fantasy with the all too austere physical world, which demands Allen’s deflating-the-cinematic-tire finale.

The lead performances from and Mia Farrow are exemplary. Perhaps the most unfortunate repercussion of the acidic Allen/Farrow split is the loss of his ultimate leading lady. She is matched by Jeff Daniels’ insipid matinee idol and Danny Aiello‘s thug of a husband (Allen acted opposite Aiello in 1976 in Martin Ritt’s The Front and the two would collaborate again in 1987’s Radio Days). As he did in Midnight In Paris (2011), Allen embraces the simplicity of romanticism while offering a droll critique, shorn of cynicism.

Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)Stuck in a loveless marriage to her husband, Monk (Aiello), and in a low-paying job as an New Jersey waitress with a tyrannical employer (David Kierserman), Cecilia (Farrow) seeks sanctuary in her daily visits to the cinema. On one such occasion, the screen character of Tom Baxter (Daniels) literally walks off the screen and into her life. In the real world, Tom, a product of the Hays Code with remnants of silent screen mannerisms, discovers the alien concepts of sex, pregnancy, poverty and street fighting, which allows for ecstatic, precise comedy. Gil (also Daniels), the Hollywood actor who plays Tom, enters the real-life drama, giving rise to Allen’s clear-eyed peeves (we knew they were coming). Still, Allen’s writing is exquisitely stylized. Watching this film from his middle, mature era, we realize that it’s not his directing—which has become jaded in the last decade—that impresses, but his writing. Of course, Allen includes his self in his assessments, mocking the pretentiousness of his own Bergman adulation, while extolling those small movies which make us laugh.

The Purple Rose of Cairo is an innovative, folksy classic. Who would think that possible from Allen? Actually, it’s totally within character.

Next week the Woody Allen series wraps with the early experiment,  What’s Up, Tiger Lilly (1966).

227. CHRISTMAS ON MARS (2008)

“‘Eating your spaceship’ became one of the central themes of what the movie meant.”–Wayne Coyne

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Wayne Coyne, Bradley Beesley, George Salisbury

FEATURING: Steven Drozd, Wayne Coyne, Mark DeGraffenreid

PLOT: It’s Christmas Eve on Earth’s first Mars colony, and Major Syrtis has the job of organizing the festivities. But the colonist tapped to play Santa Claus, Ed-15, has gone mad from space sickness and has committed suicide by running outside into the deadly Martian atmosphere without a space suit. Fortunately, a new arrival at the colony, a silent green man with antennae sticking out of his forehead, mutely agrees to don Santa’s suit….

Still from Christmas on Mars (2008)

BACKGROUND:

  • A psychedelic post-punk band, The Flaming Lips were formed in 1983 and released eleven albums before completing Christmas on Mars. Their music frequently contains science fiction references and their stage shows are known for their elaborate theatricality.
  • The idea was sparked by a Flaming Lips Christmas card frontman Wayne Coyne designed featuring a Martian in a Santa suit.
  • The film, written by Coyne, was in development for eight years, as the band worked on it every few months in between other projects. Most of the sets were built in Coyne’s home or backyard. Some of the early production is documented in the Lips documentary The Fearless Freaks (2005).
  • Co-director Brad Beesley also directed many of the Lips’ music videos and the Fearless Freaks documentary. Co-director George Salisbury was also credited as editor and produced the DVD extras.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: I wouldn’t want to spoil the hallucination’s impact, but it involves a marching band and an imperilled baby. (That’s not the strange part, though).

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Anatomically incorrect space(wo)man; marching band of death; Martian Santa

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Although from its lava lamp opening to its twisted happy ending, Christmas on Mars pokes at strangeness time and time again. But what really sets it apart are its many, many vaginas: more vaginas than you would see at a Georgia O’Keefe retrospective organized by the American Gynecological Association. No other movie in existence has so graphically exploited the weird potential of the human (or alien) vagina.


Original trailer for Christmas on Mars

COMMENTS: Christmas on Mars is a movie made by amateurs, which Continue reading 227. CHRISTMAS ON MARS (2008)

CAPSULE: GURU THE MAD MONK (1970)

DIRECTED BY: Andy Milligan

FEATURING: Neil Flanagan, Paul Lieber, Judith Israel, Jaqueline Webb

PLOT: A prison colony priest abuses his power and threatens the love of a young couple.

Still from Guru the Mad Monk (1970)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: No comprehensive survey of weird movies would be complete without a passing mention of Andy Milligan, but no such list would be credible if they honored Andy with more than a footnote.

COMMENTS: Michael J. Weldon once said, “If you’re an Andy Milligan fan, there’s no help for you.” I’m not sure Andy Milligan movies have fans, any more than car crashes do. There are only helpless, stunned onlookers.

That said, Guru the Mad Monk is considered one of the trash auteur’s best efforts. It’s helped along by a brisk run time (under an hour, with no fluff) and a berserk plot that incorporates grave robbing, blackmail, torture, a schizophrenic priest with a bowl haircut, a hunchback, and a vampire. At the same time, it has legitimate ambitions towards being a historical Gothic horror indicting hypocrisy in the clergy—although the presence of a vampire kind of undercuts that serious intent. Neil Flanagan, as the corrupt Guru (Guru??), is about as fine an actor as you’ll find in a Milligan movie. He’s got crazy eyes and Shakespearean diction: he slaps his lackey for saying he doesn’t believe in God, tenderly insults his own hunchback, and argues with the demonic spirit possessing him while looking into a mirror and clutching a bouquet of posies. He is one of those competent actors you are sometimes lucky to find reciting ridiculous dialogue while drawing a paycheck in crappy films. (Flanagan later landed guest spots on “The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Jeffersons”). It’s no master class in acting, but with a less confidently hammy villain, this cheapie would be absolute torture.

Speaking of torture, the horrifically poor gore effects are one of the trashy pleasures on display here. As a priest/inquisitor, Guru’s duties include branding reprobates and overseeing the lopping off of hands and the placing nails in eyeballs. If push comes to shove, he’s not above crucifying a henchman. Perhaps sensing this—not to mention the fact that Guru is publicly consorting with a vampire mistress—-the Catholic Church understandably wants to install a less mad monk in the position.  All of this is shot, not on location in the Greek isles, but in a church in Manhattan (traffic noise sometimes intrudes on the scene, and at one point a motorbike is visible in the background). It’s all quite terrible, but rather amazing at the same time. It never lets up long enough to get dull (thus avoiding the beware rating that it might earn if judged solely on its technical merits). In a different time, this thing—essential a home movie with community theater production values—played in actual movie houses!

Guru the Mad Monk is available on DVD by itself, in a triple feature of Milligan movies alongside The Ghastly Ones and The Body Beneath, or as part of the “Pure Terror” 50-film set from Mill creek.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…beneath the tangly plot veneer, this is just a delightfully deranged exploitation movie…  If you’re looking for an entry point into the wild, weird world of Milligan, this is as good as any.”–Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror! (DVD)

READER RECOMMENDATION: MOTIVATIONAL GROWTH (2013)

Reader Recommendation by Bryan Pike

DIRECTED BY: Don Thacker

FEATURING: Adrian DiGiovanni, , Danielle Doetsch, Pete Giovagnoli, Ken Brown

PLOT: Ian Folivor, a depressed and reclusive 30-something, finds himself taking advice from a fungal growth in his bathroom after a failed suicide attempt.

Still from Motivational Growth (2014)

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The film’s lead impossibly suspended horizontally while sucking greedily from a wall-mounted fungal teat, followed closely by the animatronic mold itself.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: That the protagonist communicates with a talking fungus is strange enough to warrant potential inclusion, but for a movie limited to the confines of an apartment this film takes on a truly epic and bizarre scope, with spore-induced hallucinations involving infomercials and B-grade science fiction TV shows, demonic TV repairmen, a bathroom murder and dismemberment, a sweet romantic sub-plot and by the film’s close, genuine questions as to what of the preceding 104 mins was real or imagined.

COMMENTS: “The Mold knows, Jack, The Mold knows…”

Normally when considering the first feature of an independent film director one makes allowances for certain technical shortcomings: out of focus shots, poor film stock, a bump in a dolly shot or two, things obvious to the seasoned film viewer but which are ignored in good faith and focus given to the storytelling or performances. There is no such necessity in this film, there are no such flaws to note. In terms of technical craft alone this is easily the most impressive debut I’ve seen from any feature director; the rich and developed performances and storytelling are equally impressive.

The aforementioned fungal teat sequence, the circuitous, overhead crane shots of Ian on his filthy couch, and even a quasi-bullet time shot of the lead falling in the bathroom; are all ambitious, complex shots which are executed effortlessly. The grimy, festering detritus of Ian’s depression made manifest in the scattered garbage filling his apartment is an impressive feat of art direction.

I’d classify it as an absurdist, theatrical, sitcom take on Enter the Void, at least in the sense of a post-death hallucinatory journey (or is it?). It features a shut-in who attempts suicide and is then given a new lease on life by an enormous fungus growing in his bathroom. “The Mold”, an animatronic puppet voiced by Jeffrey Combs, guides our protagonist back to a clean, regular life—if sucking from wall-mounted fungal teats, altercations with demonic TV repairmen, and dream sequences involving infomercials can be considered “regular”.

The puppet for “The Mold” is a refreshing break from the digital in our overly-CGI’ed times, reminiscent of the impressive practical effects from 80’s films like The Thing or The Howling. Jeffrey Comb’s assured, mellifluous voice is the perfect contrast to the wired, intense performance of Adrian Giovanni. The 8-bit music, while fitting the period (early 90’s) and the aesthetic of Thacker’s Imagos production company, is occasionally jarring compared to the action on screen. Although varied and amusing, the TV infomercials playing on Ian’s unit, “Kent” are perhaps the weakest aspect of the film; this satire of vapid and bombastic TV programming has been done better elsewhere, notably Fight Club, or, let’s be honest, the better moments of SNL. To Thacker’s credit it would be difficult at this stage to bring something fresh and inventive to such satire, given the sheer glut of both modern television programs and subsequent parodies.

Ian also merges with these TV programs in some kind of day dream or hallucination, with television’s Kent accusing Ian of betrayal, saying that he “looked after him” long before (the Mold?) did. In the overall context of the film it remains unclear whether Kent is a separate character and rival to the Mold for Ian’s allegiance. Is Kent—who often uses the same language as The Mold—merely an extension of it? The ambiguity employed is merely distracting, rather than serving as an engaging mystery within the film.

The only other complaint one could make of the film are that the level of technical innovation and impressive camera feats drop off towards the end (though this is more a reflection of the story taking prominence over on-screen auteur flourishes at that stage), and that the ambiguous ending leaves one feeling dissatisfied. At various points during the film it is hinted that Ian is dead (or at the very least that “someone” has died) and that our film experience is a hallucinatory afterlife trip inside Ian’s head. But this is arguably the least satisfying outcome or final premise for the film. Isn’t the buildup towards Ian’s “improvement” and the possibilities this direction takes us in (i.e. what are the Mold’s designs for Ian within the larger world outside the apartment?) more intriguing than “oh, Ian’s dead and this is him working things out in the afterlife as his corpse is consumed by mold”? I may have simply been hoping for a different film based on the initial premise than what transpired.

Ultimately, despite these minor misgivings, the film remains an impressive and vastly entertaining debut feature that rewards subsequent viewings for more details as to the nature of what we’ve witnessed.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…you can categorize Motivational Growth under “The Weird,” and I mean that as a true compliment.”–Matt Donato, We Got This Covered (contmeporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

First up: with a month left to go there’s plenty of time to move the needle on the Weirdcademy Awards nominees, but early indications are as follows: The Forbidden Room is a heavy favorite for Weirdest Movie, with more than three times as many votes as the other nominees. Room‘s “Derriere” song has also pulled further ahead of the King of Sweden’s cameo in A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence for Weirdest Scene. Pit Bukowski’s transvestite samurai now leads Gregg Tukington’s sad-sack comic in the tightly contested Weirdest Actor race, while Reality‘s young Kyla Kennedy is raising a slight challenge to front runner Chiara D’Anna’s submissive from Duke of Burgundy for Weirdest Actress. As far as the Weirdest Short vote goes, it’s a toss-up between the dystopian “Goodbye” and the painterly portrait “Hugh the Hunter.” Vote now (Features, Shorts)!

Here’s what’s on tap for next week. A reader has grown tired of waiting for us to wade through the massive reader-suggested review queue (see below) and instead taken it upon himself to submit a review for the 2013 horror/comedy Motivational Growth. Also in the reader-suggested queue we’ll finally get to covering the Flaming Lips’ Christmas on Mars, which is pretty much just what it sounds like, only weirder. We’ll also toss in a review of Andy Milligan’s strange (and bad) historical horror Guru the Mad Monk, while Alfred Eaker continues his series with The Purple Rose of Cairo.

Last week we caught someone coming to the site looking for “bad acid movies,” and some of the other requests in our weekly survey of the Weirdest Search Terms of the Week might fit that bill. Like, how about “a butterfly has sex with woman in bar and goes through her mouth movie”? Not bad and trippy enough for you? Then try this one: “movie about beings that is searching for a vagina.” And that search leads us right into our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week: “who would giant vagina and shooting.” A better question might be, who wouldn’t giant vagina and shooting?

Here’s how the ridiculously-long reader-suggested review queue now stands: Motivational Growth (next week!); Christmas on Mars (next week!); The Fox Family; Angelus; Air Doll; The Ossuary and Other Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

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