SATURDAY SHORT: HEAVEN’S COUNTRYLAND (2014)

, a director previously featured on this segment of our site, has been on the rise due to his involvement in the animated series “Adventure Time” on Cartoon Network. In fact, it was recently announced that he will play some role in future episodes of Comedy Central’s “South Park.” During an interview following the announcement David said in his darkly humorous fashion that he had no future ambitions. “This is it. Downhill from here.”

In honor of this, we’d like to feature him once more with an episode of “Heaven’s Countryland.” Below is one of a series of shorts commissioned by Adult Swim, parodying North Korean propaganda videos.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 10/24/2014

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

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

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013): A young girl on the Canadian Crow Reservation in the 1970s sells pot to afford to pay a “truancy tax” that keeps her out of the prison-like Indian school, but when the sadistic government agent who runs the reservation betrays their deal, she decides to strike back. We will review this one on Monday. Rhymes for Young Ghouls official site.

SCREENINGS – (Lawrence Arts Center, Lawrence, KS, Thurs., Oct 30):

Phantom of the Paradise (1974): Read the Certified Weird entry. The University of Kansas celebrates Halloween with a screening of ‘s crazed rock-n-roll satire. Pay no credence to the rumor that the “unnamed band”  that will play live after the show is the Undeads. Phantom of the Paradise at Lawrence Arts Center event on Facebook.

IN DEVELOPMENT:

“Pee-Wee Herman Movie”: In an interview with Rolling Stone, Paul “Pee-Wee” Reubens says a new Pee-Wee Herman movie (or at least an official announcement) is “very imminent.” We’ve been hearing rumors of a new Pee-Wee for years but this is the most definitive statement from the man himself. Read what Entertainment Today has to say about the tidbit.

NEW ON DVD:

“Boobs, Babes & Belly Laughs: The Sex Comedy Collection”: Okay, we suspect horny buyers will get two out of three (or in one case, one out of three) of the things the box cover promises. The movies here are Space Girls in Beverly Hills, Nipples and Palm Trees, Hookers Inc. (which is rated PG1-3!), and the flick that prompts us to mention the set: the absurd-sounding Orgies and the Meaning of Life, an arthouse flop with stick-figure animation about a group-sex obsessed author searching for God. Buy “Boobs, Babes & Belly Laughs: The Sex Comedy Collection”.

La Dolce Vita (1960): A celebrity photographer encounters the meaninglessness of modern existence. A superlative masterpiece, to be sure, but hardly the weirdest of ‘s movies; still, it’s in our reader-suggested review queue. The Criterion Collection gives the film its due respect with 2 DVDs or 1 Blu-ray (sold separately). Buy La Dolce Vita.

“Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: Seasons 1 & 2″: See description in Blu-ray below. The complete series run isn’t available on one DVD set—at least not at present. Buy “Pee-wee’s Playhouse: Seasons 1 & 2″.

The Scribbler (2014): A woman with multiple personality disorder uses an experimental machine to scrub away various identities. Reviews were generally negative, but Mike McGranaghan thought it was “gloriously bonkers.” Hope you’re right, Mike. Buy The Scribbler.

Snowpiercer (2013): Read James Harben’s review. All aboard the weirdest train in the frozen post-apocalypse! Buy Snowpiercer.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

La Dolce Vita (1960): See description in DVD above. Buy La Dolce Vita [Blu-ray].

“Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: The Complete Series”: The secret word is “weird” in Pee-Wee’s anthropomorphic playhouse with talking chairs and Laurence Fishburne as a jheri-curl cowboy. The show has some fans ’round these parts. Includes the Christmas Special and comes on 8 Blu-rays courtesy of Shout! Factory. Buy “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: The Complete Series” [Blu-ray].

The Scribbler (2014): See description in DVD above. Buy The Scribbler [Blu-ray].

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

“The Vincent Price Collection II”: Nothing too weird, but nice Halloween viewing. Features two from the Poe cycle (The Raven and The Tomb of Ligea), along with the underrated morbid mirth of The Comedy of Terrors, The Last Man on Earth, House on Haunted Hill, and the sequels The Return of the Fly and Dr. Phibes Rises Again. Buy “The Vincent Price Collection II” [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.

TARGETS (1968)

Although Targets (1968) is not the masterpiece debut film of Peter Bogdanovich, as some have claimed, it is a compelling, near-valedictory film for star . Being an almost autobiographical story, it should have served as a near-perfect coda for the actor. Instead, Karloff wanted to die acting, and for the first time in his career since 1931’s Frankenstein, he did not have a plethora of offers. Producers knew that the horror icon was almost literally on his last leg, and the cost of insuring him was undoubtedly a problematic casting factor. The final offers came from  to make a series of low budget Mexican horrors, but it is best to conveniently imagine those under the rug.

Targets serves more as a last, satisfactory glimpse at the Karloff screen persona, as opposed to being a successful film on its own terms.  It also is the film debut of director Peter Bogdanovich, who miscast himself in the film in order to save money. In part, this was due to having  as his tight-fisted producer. Pragmatic in his business approach as usual, Corman  wanted to use clips from his previous film with Karloff, The Terror (1963) as filler, and granted Targets a twenty-three day shooting schedule and $125,000 budget. From this simple instruction, Bogdanovich crafted a surprising, awkwardly innovative narrative, which the artist in Corman responded to, advising Bogdanovich: “Shoot it like Hitchcock.”

Karloff plays aging horror star Byron Orlock , screening his latest film, The Terror. Much to everyone’s surprise, Orlock announces his retirement. Script writer Sammy ( Bogdanovich) waxes angsty; he has finally written a screenplay, one which hints at something akin to the plot of Targets itself.  Feeling like a Gothic anachronism amidst the authentic horrors of the newspaper headlines, Orlock refuses to read the script. The studio heads encourage Sammy to dissuade Orlock from his decision. Orlock and Sammy get drunk and screen Karloff’s Criminal Code (1931, dir. Howard Hawks), the film which lead to his casting as the monster in Frankenstein (1931). Orlock agrees, albeit reluctantly, to promote The Terror at a local drive-in cinema.

Targets then roughly shifts to its parallel narrative: Bobby Thompson (Tim O’Kelly) who sports a Baptist haircut as the husband and son of diehard Republican gun-lubbin, red, white and blue super-patriot suburbanites. Cue massacre.

This is the more compelling plot, ultimately rendering  the Orlock narrative a bit prodigal, despite Karloff’s very satisfactory depiction of Orlock.

Still from Targets (1968)Looking at Targets in hindsight, it may be tempting to see Bogdanovich’s film as prophecy after a string of infamous media-inspired shooting events (as John Hinckley’s obsession with Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver led directly to his assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981, or James Holmes’ massacre in an Aurora movie theater during the premiere of Dark Knight Rising). Life imitating art? Art imitating life?  It is hardly that simplistic, nor can Targets serve so accessibly as a model.

Bobby’s domestic scenes are the most unsettling, awash in grisly rural hues. His Charles Whitman-like sniper escapades reveal Orlock’s drive-in horror host gig as clunky medievalism. That, of course, is Targets intent , but it tries so hard to be clever and profound that by the time we get to the cinema-under-the-stars shootout,  we feel the residue of a naive fusion. Considering our growing apathy to the aftermath of pop culture inspired violence, perhaps Targets‘ coarseness is all too apt.

CAPSULE: MADEINUSA (2006)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Claudia Llosa

FEATURING: Magaly Solie, Carlos J. de la Torre,  Juan Ubaldo Huamán, Yiliana Chong

PLOT: A stranger from Lima is stranded in a remote hamlet in the Andes where the villagers practice unusual Easter rituals that are definitely not sanctioned by the Pope.

Still from Madeinusa (2006)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s an odd little South American fable about an isolated town, not realist, but not quite magical realist, either. It’s an interesting eccentricity, but not quite weird enough for the List of the Weirdest Movies Ever Made.

COMMENTS: Madeinusa is a drama that’s slow to start, but which gradually drags you in with its rich, imaginary synthesis of pagan and Christian traditions, and with the fate of its quietly sad and oddly named adolescent protagonist. A lower-keyed, Latin-tinged Wicker Man sensibility at work here in the story of an outsider who visits an isolated society where religious traditions have been allowed to breed incestuously without oversight from the civilized world. Painting a portrait of this invented culture and its self-serving indigenous practices is where Madeinusa shines. The movie is set during “Holy Times,” which in the movie’s mythology is the period beginning from Good Friday and ending with the dawn of Easter. The ceremonies indulged in by the villages show the colorful mixture of Latin and Roman Catholic elements that fascinate many first-worlders: maize-colored crucifix mosaics, fireworks during holy processions, a mock funeral procession where pallbearers carry a blindfolded Christ in a glass coffin. The celebration begins with a Virgin beauty pageant, with the town’s adolescent girls dressed like Incan princesses wearing gold crowns, all vying to play Mary in the Easter procession, and gets stranger from there.

Of course, this would not be much of a movie if it were simply an imaginary travelogue documenting an exotic Easter celebration, so there is a darker side to the festivities. When the town’s mayor, who also happens to be 14-year old Madeinusa’s father, catches a stranger in town at the start of Holy Time, he locks him up—perhaps to protect the villagers from the judgmental eyes of outsiders, or perhaps for the stranger’s own good. Young Madeinusa is fascinated by the handsome hazel-eyed wanderer from Lima with the European features, but her father has other plans for the girl. Add in a jealous older sister who has been displaced in Dad’s affections by her younger sibling, and a dangerous sexually-charged dynamic emerges that will only be inflamed by the bacchanalian bonfires of Holy Times. The core cast does well in telling this relatively simple but emotionally weighty story, while the Andean cinematography is sublime.

The origin of main character’s name, “Madeinusa,” is left as a mystery.  It not symbolic of any sort of anti-Americanism (American culture is nowhere to be found in this movie, outside of the title), but instead reflects the villagers’ unsophisticated tendency to misappropriate influences from outside their insular world. “That’s not a name,” explains a distressed Salvador. “You should be Rosa or Maria, not Madeinusa.” One thing is certain, the downbeat, fatalistic ending is not madeinhollywood.

Some Peruvians believe Madeinusa is racist/classist because it depicts poor mountain people of mostly Indian blood as unsophisticated. The idea that weird and dangerous ancient practices persist in remote corners of the world is a common literary tradition, however, and anytime it’s used it’s bound to offend some group that believes they are being singled out for ridicule, rather than appropriated for use in a time-honored plot device.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a classically made yet personally accented fable about the clash between old and new in a strange Andean village in Peru.”–Robert Koehler, Variety (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: George Clooney,  , , Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu, Fred Williamson, , Cheech Marin, , Salma Hayek

PLOT: Two vicious criminals take a preacher’s family hostage and head for a rendezvous at a biker bar in Mexico, but it turns out that the establishment is run by the undead.

Still from From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: From Dusk Till Dawn is really two different movies: it starts out as a gritty killers-on-the-lam flick, then turns into a campy horror film once dusk falls. Unfortunately, the first movie really sucks, and the second one has some great set pieces, but is spotty. And, although the collision of these two sensibilities is somewhat weird (though perhaps a better word is “jarring”), neither movie standing alone is bizarre enough for our tastes.

COMMENTS: As the first serious collaboration between two exploitation enfants terribles Robert Rodriguez (who directs here) and Quentin Tarantino (who wrote the screenplay and acts), From Dusk Till Dawn was a hugely anticipated project. You can tell by the lineup of talent eager to work with the duo: big-time star Harvey Keitel was joined by up-and-comers George Clooney, Juliette Lewis and Salma Hayek, with a cool comeback appearance by Fred Williamson and an exotic presence in the person of Cheech Marin (who plays three roles, for no particular reason). The triumph of Pulp Fiction was fresh in everyone’s mind, while Rodriguez was still considered of an indie legend for making El Mariachi for $7,000. The thought of these two collaborating on a vampire movie made hip 1990s cineastes salivate.

I have to say that at the time I was disappointed at the results, however, and in the two decades since my opinion of the film has only softened a little bit. It seems that Tarantino, unquestionably a genius director, envisioned Dusk as his big acting break. Casting himself as a sadistic nerd (so he wouldn’t have to stretch—zing!), QT wrote himself a role that dominates the early half of the film. He plays the live-wire with the itchy trigger finger who complcates the plot by killing everyone in sight, much to the exasperation of cooler-headed Clooney. The problem is, Tarantino is whiny-sounding and even whiny-looking, and rather than fearing him as a dangerously unhinged psychopath, you just want to slap him with the back of your hand (perhaps realizing this would be audience’s natural reaction, Tarantino scripted a scene where Clooney knocks him out with one swift backhand to his impossible-to-miss forehead).

Tarantino does do a good job of making you despise his character, but the problem with the film’s (completely unnecessary) first ten minutes is that it sets you up to despise everyone: Tarantino, Clooney, and most of their victims, including a ranger who goes on a rant about “Mongoloids” in the food service industry. The movie gets better when Harvey Keitel enters, and even better when Tarantino leaves. As a preacher of lapsed faith, Keitel is the first decent person to appear in Dusk—why wait until almost 20 minutes have passed to introduce the first likable character? Although almost half the movie is over at this point, things improve greatly once the killers and their hostages reach the”Titty Twister,” a South-of-the-Border den with enough sin stored up behind its Hellfire-spouting portals to put the entire city of Tijuana out of business. Inside, “Santanico Pandemonium” (how much better of a stripper name is that than “Kandy” or “Neveah”?) puts on a dance that’s so hot, she doesn’t even have to take her bikini off to make Tarantino’s eyes glaze over, and soon sexual tension leads to hot vampire action as a brood of bloodsuckers descend to feed on the assembled truckers and bikers. Unfortunately for the vampires, they decided to locate their lair in a bar with wooden chairs whose breakaway legs make for hundreds of perfect stakes, leading to vampire genocide on a massive scale. I would have gone with Naugahyde booths, but then vampires never ask me for decorating tips.

Williamson and Savini are a treat as a pair of badasses and natural vampire killers. Savini has a crotch gun and kickboxing moves, Williamson has a cigar and the fact that he’s freakin’ Fred Williamson. Unlike Tarantino’s pedophile rapist, they are both exactly the type of characters that a fun B-movie romp needs. It’s great to see the undead meet their doom at the hands of stereotypical macho men—much more fun than it was too see innocent people tormented by a believable sex pervert in the movie’s opening reels. If From Dusk Till Dawn had started soon after Keitel made the scene and progressed more quickly to the Titty Twister, the movie could have earned a recommendation.  As it is, it’s a curious failure that has been surprisingly overrated by people who remember the vampire-stabbing fun of the pre-dawn finale, but forget the  incongruous and unpleasant pre-dusk sequences.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A deliriously trashy, exuberantly vulgar, lavishly appointed exploitation picture, this weird combo of roadkill movie and martial-arts vampire gorefest is made to order for the stimulation of teenage boys.”–Todd McCarthy, Variety (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: VIKINGDOM (2013)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Yusry Kru

FEATURING: Dominic Purcell, Conan Stevens, Craig Fairbrass, Natassia Malthe, Jesse Moss, Jon Foo, Patrick Murray 

PLOT: A medieval Viking king who’s been raised from the dead goes on a quest to defeat the god Thor, who wants to destroy Earth because he is jealous of the rise of Christianity.

Still from Vikingdom (2013)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s bad, but outside of a couple of head-scratching scenes, not so-bad-it’s-weird.

COMMENTS: Made by Malaysians and played out on CGI-sets that look like black metal album covers, Vikingdom is an odd film whose stupid title telegraphs the level of sophistication involved. I don’t mean to insult the Malaysian film industry; I suspect that if a group of Norwegian filmmakers tried to make an epic film based on traditional Malay mythology, the results would be equally dubious.

The details of the quest storyline are overcomplicated and confused. Essentially, Thor (the massive Conan Stevens, whose wig is dyed that unnatural pink-red shade typical of the Wendy’s mascot) is pissed at the popularity of Christianity and wants to crucify a few priests and steal the sacred necklace of Mary Magdalene (?) as a prelude to opening the gates of Hel and destroying the Middle Kingdom. Opposing him is the former king Eirick, beloved of the goddess Freya, who raised him from the dead when he fell on the battlefield. After coming back to life Eirick spends ten years living as a hermit in the wilderness. We first encounter the shirtless hero in a snowstorm; using only his dagger, he kills and skins a bear for its hide. (I would have done that the first winter). The glam-god Frey, Freya’s more feminine twin brother in a fabulous glowing yellow cloak, visits Eirick’s cabin and informs him that thanks to his undead/semi-dead status, he will be able to enter the underworld to seize the Gilded Horn that, when blown in Thor’s face (!) will destroy the god’s Earthly avatar and send him back to the place of spirits. Eirick reluctantly agrees and sets out assembling a mini-army in bad wigs, including a loyal slab of beefcake, a kickboxing Chinese slave (?), a babe who’s so hot she can bare her midriff even in the arctic winter, and many more lovable sidekicks with backstorys to squeeze in. After storming a random village and killing everyone they see, the good guys rescue an ancient wizard with a shrubbery growing between his shoulder blades who tells them how to get to Helsgate. When they arrive Eirick enters Hel, dives into the Gate of Souls (the afterlife’s hottest dogpile, where the world’s deceased strumpets go to be covered in gold leaf and lie in a giant flesh pyramid for all eternity), before being chased by a macrocephalic dragon into the Sea of Inspirational Appearances by Supporting Characters. And that’s just the first half!

Of course, that summary makes Vikingdom sound like a lot more fun than it actually is. This is one of those films where you will largely be required to supply your own entertainment. The filmmakers are mightily over-serious, believing that they are making a -esque fantasy epic, when in reality the final result looks like a TV pilot for a syndicated series that was never picked up (“Thor: The Legendary Journeys,” or “Eirick: Undead Prince”). Since most of the movie was shot against a green-screen—the portable contemporary version of the studio backlot—Malaysia is not even destined to be the next New Zealand. The two hour-plus running length is a clue that the filmmakers did not clearly grasp that their target audience should be children and B-movie fans who want to get to the set pieces and fights as quickly as possible, bypassing talk and cliche character development. The plot twists are as blunt as Thor’s hammer. On the plus side, the battle scenes are not too bad, involving some interesting tactics (overlapping shields used as an umbrella against arrows), gouts of blood, and head-scratching moments (Jon Foo’s out-of-left-field medieval kung fu moves). With a faster pace, Vikingdom could have been a zippy camp spectacle; instead, it’s a cross-cultural train wreck.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…will surely be savaged by critics and honestly enjoyed only by the most naive audiences (though there will be plenty of cynical types who, like myself, will read the film as a camp production or accidental comedy)… not a great movie, or even a very good one, but it is an original – and sort of adorable – one.”–Philip Martin, Arkansas Gazette (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

First off, please continue to vote in our 5th Irregularly-Scheduled Readers’ Choice Poll to add three selected movies on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all Time. The results of these polls typically surprise us; this year is no exception. In Group A, there is a tight race between two films on complete opposites of the quality spectrum, with ‘s psychological horror classic Hour of the Wolf narrowly holding off the child-scarring Christmas nightmare Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. In Group B, Punch-Drunk Love is running away from the field (we at 366 have shamefully neglected Adam Sandler’s large fanbase so far). Group C, which includes the most recent movies, is less of a shock, with ‘s Under the Skin taking the lead. What is surprising, however, is the margin: more than twice as many votes as its nearest competitor (A Field in England). Keep the votes coming, you have until October 29!

Next week is one of those weeks when we still don’t know for sure what reviews we will have for you. One thing is certain: we’ll bring you the Malaysian interpretation of Norse epics, Vikingdom. For the rest, expect to see some combination of Exorcist II: The Heretic, Exorcist III, From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, Madeinusa, Targets, or perhaps even the upcoming Rhymes for Young Ghouls. You’ll just have to check in Tuesday to see for sure.

Usually in this space we complain about there not being enough weird search terms to field a decent “Weirdest Search Term of the Week” contest. Not this week, however; even though we had connectivity issues last week and a serious decrease in overall traffic, we still encountered a good number of very strange search terms. For example, we were confused by “movie about man who keeps old lady in freezer for 6 years why not sooner” (how long does the searcher think is an appropriate amount of time to keep an old lady in the freezer?) Also bizarre was “sweet intercourse films” (who watches “intercourse films”? Sex-ed teachers?)  Our weirdest search terms of the week coupled unusual subject matter and unique sentence structures: “a. zombie. kidnapped a. lady. and. suck. her. porn” (why does each word need to be its own sentence?) Pretty odd, but we preferred this beauty from a guy with a broken space key on his keyboard: “womaninbeautifulwhitefuroathidesmanmovie.” That rambling query starts out reasonably enough, then loses its way about halfway through on its way to earning its place as our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week.

Here’s how the ridiculously-long and ever-growing reader-suggested review queue stands: The Real McCoy; Themroc; Candy (1968); The Fox Family; Angelus; Britannia Hospital; This Filthy Earth; Conspirators of Pleasure; Piano Tuner of Earthquakes; Bubba Continue reading

SATURDAY SHORT: RENEGADE (2014)

“Renegade” is an homage to 1940’s pulp magazines, you may assume correctly that there’s a good guy, a bad guy, and a damsel in distress. What makes these stories unique, and even weird by today’s standards, is what the good guy has to go through to save said damsel from her distress. “Renegade” maintains a great approach, and fortunately doesn’t go as far as the notorious story featured in Man’s Life, “Weasels Ripped My Flesh“.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 10/17/2014

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

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

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Young Ones: Family melodrama set on a parched post-apocalyptic ranch. Critics seem unable to figure out exactly what to make of this strange melange of genres from Jake (brother of Gwyneth) Paltrow, but they acknowledge it’s unique. Young Ones official site.

NEW ON DVD:

Witching and Bitching (2103): s latest sounds like From Dusk Till Dawn with witches; bank robbers fleeing a heist run into a coven in the woods. The Village Voice says it’s “the rare wannabe cult hit that smears the screen in grade-A craziness.Buy Witching & Bitching.

Wonderland (2011): A serial killer employs a drug that allows those who take it to enter other peoples’ consciousnesses to cause a wave of suicides. Co-written by Jimmy ScreamerClauz (not a misprint), director of Where the Dead Go to Die. Buy Wonderland.

You and the Night (2013): A couple and their transvestite maid throw an orgy: the invited guests are known only as “the Slut,” “the Star,” “the Stud,” and “the Teen.” This being an avant-garde French film, they talk a lot. Cahiers du Cinéma listed it in their top ten of 2013, for what that’s worth. Buy You And The Night.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Cauldron of Blood (1970): Read our review. We also like an Amazon reviewer’s summary: “a movie this strange can only be a product of really poor decision making.” Buy Cauldron of Blood [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.

THE RAVEN (1935)

The Raven (1935) marks the second teaming of Universal’s dual horror stars: and . It is also downright mortifying  in its pedestrianism. Director Lew Landers simply did not have the sense of style or vision with which  imbued The Black Cat (1934) . Worse, Landers lacked the foresight or directorial strength to shape or reign in Lugosi’s performance. Lugosi’s overacting is both the key to that which remains most fascinating about The Raven and, paradoxically, sinks the film into abject parody. It was Lugosi’s deliriously sadistic antics here which inspired the two-year UK ban on horror films. The ban significantly hurt Lugosi, causing his salary stock, never good to begin, to plummet. Seeing The Raven today through a decidedly more jaded contemporary lens, one wonders what all the fuss was about.  Still, one can easily imagine why 1935 audiences were nonplussed regarding the Hungarian ham.

As the -obsessed, stark staring mad Dr. Vollin, Lugosi melodramatically throws up his arms, laughs maniacally, and screams: “Poe, you are avenged!” It plays like a scene out of a wretched comic book, with a Transylvanian Marx Brother in the lead role. The reason for Vollin’s madness is his unrequited love of the prettified Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware), which never seems feasible.  In gratitude for Vollin saving her life, Jean does a Poe-inspired ballet for him, but the dance is as dull as she is. Earlier, Vollin compares himself to a god, and that is ultimately the nagging problem with Lugosi’s screen persona. Karloff inspires us to identify with his suffering and outsider status: Lugosi, with few exceptions, distances himself from his audience.

While Lugosi undoubtedly sends The Raven crashing, the film would have imploded from boredom without him. Aside from Karloff, the rest of the cast is a non-presence, alternately delivering lethargic line readings and  grotesque comedy relief, which is anything but. The only relief  is supplied by the two stars, who are our lifeline, even through all that Lugosi pretension.

Still from The Raven (1935)Lugosi has a chilling, seductive moment when asking Jean if her injured neck still hurts. We sense his glee in the potential of her pain. This scene of intimate sadism works far better than his later howling. However, even in Lugosi’s most embarrassing moments, he remains alluring through his presence and his idiosyncratic mangling of the English language: “Torture, I love torture! What a deeelicccious torture!” When  Vollin has just mutilated Karloff’s Bateman, the victim, upon seeing his own reflection, shoots out the room of mirrors. Lugosi’s Vollin responds with a hair raising cackle. Vollin would have felt at home in ‘s castle.

Unfortunately, Karloff is saddled with one of Jack Pierce’s absolute worst makeup jobs, which seriously threatens to undermine his performance. The actor even has a been there, done that canned monster growl. Playing second fiddle, Karloff’s discomfort occasionally shows. Still, he is our humanist touchstone. The strength of his performance lies in his introduction as a gangster on the lam, pre-mutilating surgery. He has an outcast monster-like sense of resilience and pathos, and with no help from his director or makeup man, Karloff is forced to rely solely on his own internal resources.  He succeeds with underrated, protean skills, delivering a refreshingly nuanced performance, even through a fake, pancake eye. Fortunately, Karloff never descends into Lugosi’s level of cringe-inducing caricature.

The rest of the film is merely a commercial for torture devices. Just as in a commercial, little drama is drawn from the props.  Apart from the two leads, The Raven is adolescent, gothic decor.

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