All posts by Gregory J. Smalley (366weirdmovies)

Originally an anonymous encyclopediast who closely guarded his secret identity to prevent his occult enemies from exposing him, a 2010 Freedom of Information Act request revealed that "366weirdmovies" is actually Greg Smalley, a freelance writer and licensed attorney from Louisville, KY. His orientation is listed as "hetero" and his relationship status as "single," but Mr. Smalley's "turn-ons" and "favorite Michael Bay movie" were redacted from the FOIA report. Mr. Smalley is a member of the Online Film Critics Society.

CAPSULE: TO DIE LIKE A MAN [MORRER COMO UM HOMEM] (2009)

DIRECTED BY: João Pedro Rodrigues

FEATURING: Fernando Santos, Alexander David, Gonçalo Ferreira de Almeida, Chandra Malatitch

PLOT: A conflicted pre-op transsexual drag queen lives with a suicidal junkie.

Still from To Die Like a Man (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  I originally wrote: “it’s in the weird ballpark, but Man would need radical surgery to become the poignantly bizarre gender fairy tale it dreams of being.”  As discussed in the comments below, the version of the film I saw was not the version the director intended; but, the film I watched wasn’t quite strange enough to make it onto the List, and restoring the author’s vision would only make it less weird.

COMMENTS:  Funny story.  It turns out that To Die Like a Man isn’t nearly as annoying as I thought it was.  One of the first notes I jotted down in my initial viewing of the film read “telepathic commandos?”  This is because the film opens with a scene of two men in camouflage in the woods staking out a house occupied by two men in drag.  The soldiers speak to each other and their lips move, but there’s no sound; we read their conversation in subtitles.  It seemed like a curiously weird way to start the film, but the silent dialogue continued through the film’s entire two-hour plus running time; we can hear sounds in the background, we can hear it when characters sing or sob, but when they speak—nothing.  Although we’re accustomed to reading titles in foreign or silent movies, to hear birds singing and leaves rustling, see an actor’s lips moving, and yet be banned from hearing their words proves far more frustrating and irritating than you would think.  It robs the actors of half their expressiveness and inhibits our bonding with their characters.

I assumed the silence was an alienating technique designed to put us inside the estranged worldview of Tonia, the confused pre-op protagonist.  But, it turns out there was a simpler explanation for the motif  that I hadn’t thought of.  As it turns out, someone botched the preparation of the digital version I saw via Netflix’s streaming service so that the dialogue track was completely missing.  Oops.  For that reason, I can’t really give To Die Like a Man a Continue reading CAPSULE: TO DIE LIKE A MAN [MORRER COMO UM HOMEM] (2009)

CAPSULE: THE BABY (1973)

DIRECTED BY: Ted Post

FEATURING: Ruth Roman, Anjanette Comer, Marianna Hill, Suzanne Zenor, David Mooney [as David Manzy]

PLOT: A social worker becomes obsessed with a case involving a family with an adult son

Still from The Baby (1973)

with the intellect of a one-year old, who sleeps in a crib and wears a diaper.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Baby‘s infantilism premise, which is handled with an almost disconcerting matter-of-factness, is outlandish, but the film is fairly conventional in its execution.

COMMENTS: Although it has a minor cult following, for the most part The Baby is a fairly ordinary thriller with low production values.  Director Post had previously worked extensively in television, and his direction here shows it: it’s efficient, competent, but unexciting.  But the colorful material overcomes the pedestrian direction, and you can see why this one stuck in people’s memory: the film “stars” an actor in his twenties who sucks his thumb and sleeps in a crib, and no one in the movie seems to think this is the slightest bit odd.  His teenage babysitter even changes his adult-sized diapers without a second thought.  That The Baby is also filled with hints (and often more) of psychosexual perversity—infantilism, sadism, pathological possessiveness—doesn’t hurt its memorability quotient a bit.  And despite the movie’s made for TV feel, there are a couple of things that it does very well.  The acting is uneven, but Ruth Roman brings verve to her role as the bitter old matron who’s willing to do anything to keep her Baby.  She channels Joan Crawford’s looks, Suzanne Pleshette’s voice, and Shelly Winters’ orneriness; by the end, she’s become a Ma Barker-style family queenpin, masterminding plots and directing her two oversexed girls on kidnapping and rescue missions.  (Perhaps coincidentally, and perhaps not, the family’s “two sexually predatory sisters and a nonverbal idiot brother” sibling structure replicates the even weirder clan from Jack Hill’s Spider Baby [1968]). Roman provides so much bitchy fun that you wish she’d thrown all restraint out the window and gone into full bore Mommie Dearest histrionics (if she had, the film really would be the undisputed camp classic it claims to be).  The downside of Roman’s charisma is that she sets off the soap opera-level talents of the pretty but vapid actresses hired to play against her.  Speaking of bad acting, though, nothing beats David Manzy’s head-lolling, mouth-breathing performance as Baby.  His attempts at infantile mewling and babbling are embarrassing.  Maybe that’s why (some viewers report) in earlier television screenings of the film, Manzy’s voice was overdubbed with the cries of a real baby!  It’s hard to say Manzy’s performance is bad—we don’t really have any other adult infant characters like Baby to compare it against, and maybe this is exactly how a twenty-year old with the brain of a one-year old would act—but it is ridiculous-looking.  Besides Roman’s performance, the other thing that stands out about The Baby is the twist ending.  For most of its running time, the movie does the minimum necessary to keep you interested.  There will be long sequences of the social worker visiting Baby, lightly fencing with Roman and her daughters over the best interests of the child, and just when you start checking your watch and wondering whether this is all the movie’s got, bam—Baby will do something wrong and need to be punished, providing another kinky plot development that gives the film life again for a few more minutes.  The twist ending operates in the same way, coming after the movie has taken an unexpected but unsuspenseful detour into slasher movie territory for the climax, with characters being picked off one by one in a too-dark house.  Then, just as you’re about to yawn and put The Baby to bed, there’s a pleasantly perverse little jolt at the end that wakes you up and makes you look at the film with new eyes.

Severin Films re-released The Baby in 2011 in a widescreen version remastered from the original negative.  The movie had previously been available on DVD in a couple of inferior incarnations, one from Image Entertainment and in a no-frills full screen version from the now-defunct Geneon, a company specializing in anime.  Severin’s release  adds only a few extras—the original trailer and telephone interviews with director Post and “star” Mooney—but it’s the best presentation the film’s fans are likely to see for an almost 40-year old camp thriller.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a strangely interesting little curio. If you’re in the mood for something unabashedly off-the-wall, then it should be worth your while to check it out.”–porfle, HK and Cult Film News (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by our own Eric Gabbard,who called it “weird but well constructed.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Here’s what the lineup looks like for next week: we’ll take a look at the odd, recently re-released adult-infant thriller The Baby (1973) and the experimental Portuguese drag queen drama To Die Like a Man (2010).  And, what would October be without a nostalgic look back at that 70s favorite, “The Paul Lynde Halloween Special”?  (Normal?)  We’ll throw another review in there too, but we’re not 100% sure what it will be—possibilities include the (relatively) star-studded post-apocalyptic fantasy Bunraku (2010) or the star-less (and bodiless) sleazy grindhouse favorite The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962).

Either it’s a weak season for weird search terms, or we’re just becoming jaded to the flood of odd Google searches that flood our servers every week.  We suspect a search strings like “psychotronic fascism – the reality of our time” or “366 black pharaonic stones” would stun most webmasters with their otherworldliness, but they barely cause us to raise a collective eyebrow.  We do wonder about the stories behind some of these weird queries, though.   Did the guy searching for “contrasting monologues – creepy cannibal monologues” have an audition coming up for the lead role in a cannibal movie?  Also noteworthy: “the happy hooker meets rex the wonder horse” (we’re pretty sure this one was never made, and we’re afraid its too late now) and “no no no weird movie.”  Still, the fact that it was a lean week for weird search terms gives us the opportunity to finally award the coveted title of “Weirdest Search Term of the Week” to that old chestnut,  horse,” “wierd lumpy movie short,” which has received an honorable mention a record seven weeks in a row.  Congratulations to horse,” “wierd lumpy movie short,” which now moves into the Weird Search Terms Hall of Fame and is hereby retired from future competition.

Here’s the absurdly long list of absurd movies suggested for review by our crazy readers: The Baby (jumping ahead in line); Kairo [AKA Pulse];  Private Parts (1972); Saddest Music in the World; Mulholland Drive; The American Astronaut; Blood Tea and Red Strings; The Films of Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

CAPSULE: TABLOID (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Errol Morris

FEATURING: Joyce McKinney

PLOT: The strange but true story of Joyce McKinney, the former Miss Wyoming who caused a

Still from Tabloid (2010)

tabloid sensation in Britain in 1977 when she was convicted of kidnapping a Mormon missionary, tying him up, and forcing him to have sex with her for three days.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Joyce McKinney, the subject of this documentary, is as odd and eccentric a woman as you’ll find outside of an institution, but the film itself isn’t otherwise weird.

COMMENTS:  “I don’t see what a 32-year-old sex-with-manacles case has to do with cloned puppies,” opines Joyce McKinney as the third act of Tabloid dawns.  The only connection between those two disparate headlines, of course, is McKinney herself, who, if she isn’t crazy, at least attracts crazy to herself like a cloned puppy attracts fleas. Now in her sixties, the former beauty queen still has a sweet old country gal drawl and a disarming charm that makes her, in oddball documentarian Errol Morris’ revival of a long dead scandal, a Tabloid star.  After winning the title of Miss Wyoming, McKinney’s story begins in earnest when she falls in love and plans to marry a handsome young Mormon in Utah.  One day (as she tells it), her beau simply disappears without warning or notice.  She tracks him to London where he is serving his two year Mormon mission, assembles a gang of bodyguards and a freelance pilot to track him down, and leaves for England with thirteen suitcases full of disguises and surveillance gear.  The sexagenarian ex-sexpot has consistently maintained that the liaison between her and her Latter Day Saint loverboy in a cottage in Devon was not only consensual, but one of the world’s great love stories: she deprogrammed her brainwashed lover with a “honeymoon” weekend of sex and back rubs, before the Church got their hooks back into him and turned him on her.  Once she’s put on trial, archival footage and testimony by journalists involved in the case paint a picture of a woman who loves the limelight almost as much as she loves abducting sex slaves.  Things heat up even further when the press digs up startlingly juicy details from her shady past and splays them on the cover of the Daily Mirror.  Disillusioned with notoriety, she skips bail and flies back to North America disguised as a deaf-mute.  Decades later, still pining for the lost love of her life, the once-gorgeous McKinney remains an old maid and a virtual hermit, comforted only by the unconditional love of her pit bull Booger and his eight clones.  Since the victim in the case has retired to normal life and refuses to be interviewed, and her primary accomplice is dead, the story is told almost entirely from McKinney’s viewpoint.  But the lack of rebuttal testimony doesn’t make her version of events much more believable; even before she explains how she trained her dog to dial 9-1-1 using a telephone with extra-large buttons, McKinney’s not a very credible witness.  But even though you may not buy her story, you may find yourself having a harder time doubting her sincerity; she ironically muses that “sometimes you can tell yourself a lie for so long that you start to believe it.”  The remarkable thing about Tabloid is how likable and harmless McKinney appears on screen; she comes off more as a grandmotherly type reminiscing about the good old days through rose colored glasses than like a multiple felon inventing self-serving justifications for her crimes.  The tale is told almost entirely via interviewees speaking directly to the camera, although Morris assembles a few witty collages from torn newspaper clippings to fill in the extra spaces.  The issue of the British press’ exploitation of the whole salacious affair (which the dubbed the “Mormon sex in chains” case) is touched upon, but Tabloid isn’t an indictment of trashy gossip journalism: it’s a clever, polished example of it.  There’s little to the movie besides the bizarreness of the yarn itself.  It’s entertaining, but if it has a downside it’s that you may start to feel sorry for the deluded, exploited McKinney in ways she never intended you to when she seized this opportunity to (once again) tell her side of the story.

Devout Mormons will want to stay away from Tabloid, as the film takes some dry shots at the religion (including revelations about their beliefs re: the mystical powers of undergarments, and animated segments illustrating planetary dominion in the afterlife).  The inclusion of an anti-Mormon activist, who has no relationship to the McKinney case, as a talking head is one of the documentary’s few obvious missteps.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a bizarre crime tale recounted by the loopy ex-beauty queen alleged to have committed it… in Joyce McKinney, Morris has found a fittingly weird and funny muse.”–Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: 200 MOTELS (1971)

200 Motels has been officially added to the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies. Comments are closed on this post; please comment on the official Certified Weird entry.

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Tony Palmer & Frank Zappa

FEATURING: Howard Kaylan, Mark Volman, , , Keith Moon, Jimmy Carl Black

PLOT: 200 Motels is a series of sketches, experiments and concert footage loosely organized as a reflection on the mixture of insanity and tedium experienced by a rock and roll band on tour.

Still from 200 Motels (1971)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  The movie’s wild visuals, absurd jokes and attention deficit disorder pacing are enough to bring it to our attention.  But if anything sets 200 Motels apart from the other psychedelic cinematic noodlings of the hippie era, it’s Frank Zappa’s extraordinarily weird music—a unique mix of jazz-inflected blues/rock, avant-garde 12-tone classical music, and junior high school sex jokes.

COMMENTS:  Ringo Starr plays Larry the Large Dwarf, portraying Frank Zappa.  The Who drummer Keith Moon is a female groupie dressed like Sally Field in “The Flying Nun.”   Theodore Bickel plays an omniscient Master of Ceremonies who brings Zappa’s band, the Mothers of Invention, a cheeseburger, and demands they sign for the delivery—in blood.  Bickel’s character (or at least one of them) also explains the movie’s philosophy to the band: “You must remember that within the conceptual framework of this filmic event, nothing really matters.  It is entirely possible for several subjective realities to coexist.”  Zappa himself is barely in the movie and never speaks (or sings).  He’s only briefly glimpsed in concert footage—although the other band members reference him as a godlike figure who spies on them through an empty beer bottle.  Other than appeasing the great god Frank, the Mothers only care about three things—scoring dope, getting paid, and getting laid.  The characters in this “surrealistic documentary” drift in and out of various skits, animations, and drug trips, and also find time to perform numbers like “Mystery Roach,” “Lonesome Cowboy Burt,” and an oratorio in praise of the penis.  One highlight sees lead singers Kaylan and Volman taking a “trip” to everytown “Centerville,” which is full of churches and liquor stores and bathed in wavy zebra stripes that lysergically distort Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: 200 MOTELS (1971)

LIST CANDIDATE: MAXIMUM SHAME (2010)

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Marina Gatell, Ana Mayo, Paco Moreno, Ardiana Ferrer, Ignasi Vidal

PLOT: On the night before the world is to be swallowed up by a black hole, a man discovers a world underneath his bed ruled by a chess-obsessed dominatrix queen.

Still from Maximum Shame (2010)


WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Carlos Atanes is a defiantly, and proudly, surrealistic director, and his brief filmography (three features and dozens of bizarre shorts) already constitutes a body of weird work that could be worthy of recognition on this List.  With its wardrobe of black leather and chrome dental restraints along with a powerful musical score that ranges from 40s show tunes to 80s synth pop, Maximum Shame is perhaps Atanes’ most ambitious and polished—not to mention weirdest—feature work.

COMMENTS:  You have to love the tagline for Maximum Shame, which describes the movie as “an apocalyptic fetish horror musical chess sci-fi weird feature movie.”  The surprising thing is that the film, which plays like a combination of “Alice in Wonderland” and the Orpheus legend staged by refugees from a leather bar in a deserted warehouse, largely lives up to that description.  The words “apocalyptic,” fetish,” and “chess” define the three motifs that keep the film (somewhat) grounded.  The story, such as it is, takes place as a black hole is encroaching on earth (or so we are told), and characters mention the total destruction of the world sometimes as an imminent cataclysm, and sometimes as a disaster that’s already come to pass.  The film’s s&m/b&d fetishism is obvious from the costuming, most notably the deviant dental equipment used to keep slaves’ mouths perpetually splayed.  (Although the Queen plays games of dominance and submission, there is no overt sexuality in the film—which, together with its alienating weirdness, makes it of only marginal interest to the bondage crowd).  All of the characters have, or are given, the names of chess pieces, and talk of gambits and sacrificing rooks makes up a large part of the plot.  “Horror” and “sci-fi” turn out to be the least accurate of the descriptors.  The film does speak of black holes and invokes a theory of infinite parallel universes in a throwaway bid to explain the inexplicable Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: MAXIMUM SHAME (2010)

LIST CANDIDATE: PRIMER (2004)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Shane Carruth

FEATURING: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan

PLOT: Two engineer/entrepreneurs accidentally discover a box that allows time travel, and

Still from Primer (2004)

soon get themselves into trouble.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LISTPrimer‘s baffling story gives you an untethered, free-falling in reality feeling.  But although the dense, complicated, and deliberately obtuse plot produces a level of confusion comparable in effect to the weirdest David Lynch movies, I’ve got the sinking feeling that, if you dissect  it carefully, there’s a perfectly logical explanation for everything that happens.  (That complaint makes the 366 project the only outlet in the world to potentially reject Primer because it makes too much sense).

COMMENTS: If what you most value in a movie is a plot that will inspire you to sit down and create a schematic flowchart—maybe using multiple ink colors to illustrate various contingencies—in order to figure out what’s going on, then have I got a recommendation for you!  Made for an incredible $7,000 on suburban locations with only two major characters and no special effects, Primer relies entirely on it’s smart, knotty script to keep the viewer interested—and succeeds admirably.  After a pre-time travel prologue, joltingly edited and spoken largely in an untranslated engineerese that’s fairly bewildering in itself, Aaron and Abe (A & B?) stumble upon a box that will allow them to travel backwards in time for about a day at a time.  Like any of us would, they initially use the box to play the stock market, investing in the day’s biggest mid-cap mover.  After placing their online orders in the morning, they agree to carefully lock themselves in a hotel room away from the rest of the world so that they won’t accidentally kill their own grandfathers or meet their doubles wandering around on the street.  The plan goes well for a while, but then strange, logic-defying events start happening, and each of the two men wonders if the other is cheating on their agreement, secretly going back a day to change events for personal reasons.  Paranoia mounts as they become suspicious of each other and of reality itself.  That brief synopsis actually makes Primer sound more (initially) coherent than Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: PRIMER (2004)