All posts by Eric Gabbard

First and foremost, I love film...especially weird ones! That is why you are finding me here. My favorites are to numerous to list but many come from the 60's and 70's when films and directors really began to push the envelope. My taste in music is just as weird, with some of my favorites being Tom Waits, Ween, Can, The Residents and Radiohead. I wish I had more time to read, but two of my favorite books to recommend are Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Larry McMurtry's All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers. I also try to do some painting when possible. I love my wife and my 2 kids. I live in Erie, PA and the city is really out of touch with culture unfortunately. I also find naps refreshing, but honestly I'd rather just watch another movie.

94. PINK FLOYD THE WALL (1982)

“It was like nothing anyone had ever seen before—a weird fusion of live action, story-telling and of the surreal.”Pink Floyd the Wall Director Alan Parker on the movie’s Cannes premiere

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Alan Parker

FEATURING: Bob Geldof, Kevin McKeon, Jenny Wright,

PLOT: The movie begins with a man sitting motionless in a chair in a hotel room.  A series of scrambled flashbacks, fantasies and impressions tell the story of Pink, who grew up fatherless but became a successful, if unhappy, rock star prone to tantrums and bouts of severe depression.  Eventually, Pink’s manager and a crowd of roadies and doctors break down the hotel room door and give him a shot which revives him; his body rots, he peels it away to reveal himself as a fascist dictator who goes onstage to perform.
Still from Pink Floyd: the Wall

BACKGROUND:

  • “The Wall” began life as a 1979 concept album by Pink Floyd.  The double LP and the single “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” both reached #1 on Billboard’s U.S. charts.  “The Wall” remains one of the 50 top selling albums of all time to this day.
  • Most of the incidents in The Wall stem from Roger Waters’ personal history; a few, however, are taken from the life of former Pink Floyd lead singer Syd Barrett, a psychedelic drug abuser whose erratic behavior caused him to be kicked out of the band and to eventually become a recluse.
  • Almost all of the songs from the original album appear in the movie, sometimes in slightly altered forms.
  • With Alan Parker as producer, The Wall movie was originally intended to be a concert film with animated sequences and a few specially shot live action scenes.  When the concert footage was found to be unusable, the project was reimagined as a (semi-) narrative film with Parker as director.
  • Pink Floyd singer/bassist and Wall librettist Roger Waters originally wanted to play the lead, but after a poor screen test fellow musician Bob Geldof was cast instead.  Ironically, Geldof, lead singer for the Irish punk band The Boomtown Rats, was reportedly not a Floyd fan.
  • Parker and Waters clashed on the set, with the director almost quitting several times.
  • Designer/animator Gerald Scarfe was a caricaturist and political cartoonist before he began collaborating with Pink Floyd.
  • The cheering extras at the fascist concert were actual white supremacists.
  • Director Parker called The Wall “the most expensive student film ever made.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Picking a single image to represent The Wall is a tough assignment.  Among the live-action sequences, the vision of British schoolchildren in faceless blob masks marching into a meat-grinder is fairly unforgettable.  It would be criminal, though, to elevate any mere photograph over Gerald Scarfe’s animations; even picking among them is a tough call.  Though short, these bizarre and horrific images blaze across the screen in such a haunting way that their impact makes up for the brevity. We’re going to select the scene of the goosestepping fascist hammers as the most unforgettable (partly because the hammer imagery that recurs throughout the movie reaches a startling peak with this scene, and partly because Sacrfe’s crossed hammer symbol proved so iconic that it was adopted by actual fascist groups).  If you chose the genitalia-shaped flowers who entwine, mate, and then grow teeth and viciously rip into each other before the female swallows the male whole, however, we couldn’t argue against it.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDPink Floyd: the Wall is a collaboration between three separate


Original trailer for Pink Floyd The Wall

creative talents.  In 1979 Roger Waters performed a public self-psychoanalysis by writing a bombastic, self-indulgent rock opera, full of catchy melodies and sardonic lyrics.  When it came time to adapt the album into a movie, he enlisted political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe to provide animated segments, which ultimately included a surrealistic version of the bombing of London during World War II, a judge who is literally an ass, and some of the scariest cartoon vaginas ever drawn.  Bringing it all together was director Alan Parker (Midnight Express), who devised fantastic over-the-top live action visuals to complement the music and found a way to weave the competing thematic strands (autobiography, social commentary, and spur-of-the-moment surrealistic flights of fancy) into something comprehensible, while nonetheless keeping it defiantly weird.  Trying to meld these three separate creative egos on a project whose source material was already grandiose and scattershot could easily have produced an incoherent, pretentious mess.  Remarkably, the result instead is a semi-coherent, pretentious near-masterpiece.

COMMENTS: Watching, or listening, to Pink Floyd: The Wall is one miserable experience. All Continue reading 94. PINK FLOYD THE WALL (1982)

LIST CANDIDATE: PINK FLOYD:THE WALL (1982)

Pink Floyd the Wall has been promoted to “Certified Weird” status.  Comments have been closed; please post all new comments on the official entry.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Alan Parker

FEATURING: Bob Geldof, Bob Hoskins, Jenny Wright

PLOT: A rock singer, “Pink,” isolates himself in a hotel room and reflects upon his life while

Still from Pink Floyd: the Wall

slipping further into drug addiction and madness. The film has little in the way of dialogue and is heavy on visual interpretations of Roger Waters lyrics for the 1979 double album of the same name.  The metaphorical “wall” is constructed around the rock singer’s life separating him from the outside world and alone with his tortured thoughts and memories.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Possibly for one reason only: the fantastic and bizarre animation sequences rendered by British political caricaturist Gerald Scarfe.  Although the sequences are relatively short, the horrific images blaze across the screen in such a haunting way that the impact makes up for the brevity.

COMMENTS: Watching, or listening, to Pink Floyd: The Wall is one miserable experience. All the key elements of a depressing film are on display: madness, alienation, the atrocities of war, mind-numbing drug addiction, infidelity, fascism…well, you get my drift.  This is not an upbeat or fun movie by any stretch of the imagination.  Yet, the film is constructed in such a skillful manner by director Alan Parker that it is hard not to justify its reputation as a work of art.

Upon the opening scene we see the protagonist rock star “Pink” (Bob Geldof) in his hotel room staring blankly at the television screen with a long burned out cigarette perched between his fingers.  Pink is in this position and state of mind for many of his scenes.  It is open to interpretation, but perhaps all of the scenes of the film are what is playing out in his unraveling mind.  The images correlate to the lyrics of each song, and we start off things by learning of Pink’s father’s death in World War II.  His bunker was blown to bits by an air raid bombardment.  Pink never knew his father and it is clear that this had a major impact in his childhood, as evidenced by a scene where he is playing in a park as a young child and desperately tries clinging on to a hand of an unsuspecting and unwilling male father figure.  As Pink grows up and goes to school he’s subjected to the harsh British educational Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: PINK FLOYD:THE WALL (1982)

CAPSULE: ALL MY FRIENDS ARE FUNERAL SINGERS (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Tim Rutili

FEATURING: Angela Bettis, members of the indie-rock band Califone

PLOT: A fortune teller carries out her psychic reading business in a country house inhabited

Still from All My Friends Are Funeral Singers

by a slew of ghosts.  The spirits do not haunt her, but keep her company; they’re one big family.  When the ghosts see a mysterious light outside, they feel they are being beckoned and rebel against the fortune teller, thinking she has trapped them against their will.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although it is a bit quirky and takes a unique spin on the age-old haunted house tales, it is simply not that weird.  It is an unlikely little gem that unfortunately few will probably see.

COMMENTSAll My Friends Are Funeral Singers (great title, by the way) is the directorial debut by Tim Rutili, the front-man for the underrated indie-rock outfit Califone.  Being familiar with the band and a fan of their music, this movie sparked my interest.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a good film with an actual story and good acting, not just an extended music video piece displaying the band’s musical talents.  Viewers who are unacquainted by the music of Califone should appreciate this film for what it is…  a decidedly different independent movie with a supernatural approach. This is certainly not your typical horror film.  If anything, it is a hodgepodge of drama, comedy, and a pinch of suspense, all intermingled with the worldly twang of Califone’s score.

The character Zel is nicely played by Angela Bettis, whom some may recognize from another independent horror film: May.  Zel lives in an old isolated country house and makes her living providing fortunes and psychic readings.  What her customers are unaware of is that she is assisted by the actual spirits that live in the house with her.  The ghosts are not frightening or menacing, just regular looking people all wearing pristine white suits or dresses and having normal conversations.  They sit around playing Trivial Pursuit, theorize about the connections between the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations, talk about sex, or play music (sometimes too loudly for Zel’s liking).  Most fascinating are the snippets of documentary-style interviews with many of the ghosts discussing how they bit the dust.  A ghostly bride exclaims “I hung myself with my ‘something blue.'”  Another prominent spiritual entity is a young mute girl who Continue reading CAPSULE: ALL MY FRIENDS ARE FUNERAL SINGERS (2010)

CAPSULE: NECROMENTIA (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Pearry Reginald Teo

FEATURING: Layton Matthews, Chad Grimes, Santiago Craig

PLOT:Various characters lives entangle when the gateways to Hell open.  They seek lost loved ones or retribution, which can be granted by learning the mysteries of a Ouija board… carved into human flesh.  Of course there is a price to pay, and it isn’t pretty.

Still from Necromentia (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It is an unoriginal and ho-hum horror movie. Once you get past the human Ouija board, all you are left with are uninteresting characters and standard “torture porn” clichés. Almost nothing is overtly weird, and nothing is exactly new either.

COMMENTS:  I keep waiting for a new horror movie that is going to knock me for a loop. “Torture porn” and the recent resurgence of vampire lore has overstayed its welcome.   For a genre that seemingly has unlimited weirdness potential, horror usually churns out the same old recycled thing.  I caught the trailers for Necromentia a year ago and it looked dark, exciting and new.  It should come as no surprise, but in fact, it was a huge let down.

The box cover declares this movie to be a cross between Saw and Hellraiser, but “better than both.”  Um, no.  During my younger years, I ate up Clive Barker’s twisted visions.  Barker was the more dangerous Stephen King, focusing on horrors of the flesh and demons straight from Hell.  Necromentia borrows heavily from Barker’s “Hellbound Heart” which eventually was adapted into Hellraiser (instead of using a puzzle box, the filmmakers decide to open up Hell by carving a Ouija board onto someone’s back).  The iconic villain Pinhead is poorly replaced by a dude wearing a gas mask and cranial-halo headgear screwed into place. Even a summoned demon is an updated Hellraiser Cenobite… it’s the Chatterer, on steroids!  Necromentia is a blatant rip-off in many regards.

We have four central characters: Hagen, who longs to bring his lover back from the dead; Travis, who wants to join his handicapped brother in the afterlife; Morbius, who is bent on revenge against those who have betrayed him; and Mr. Skinny, the mysterious figure who holds the secrets to the Ouija board.  Their stories come together by the end, but by that time I couldn’t have cared less about any of them.

There were obvious budgetary limitations.  The gateway to Hell is seen as a long corridor that could be any old building’s underground tunnel leading to the boiler room.  The props for torture are the usual mutilation tools:  hooks, chains, and primitive (but admittedly cool-looking) multi-bladed medical equipment.  It gets gory for sure.  Precise cuts penetrate skin.  There’s a realistic severed pinky.  At one point, we are supposed to be shocked that a female character is not being tortured against her will, but is actually paying for this pain.  Those crazy sadomasochists!  One character, who tortures while striking Christ-like poses, is trying to kick heroin (because that’s obviously worse than torturing people).  And you have scenes of disemboweling and intestines being paraded around.  Are you starting to get the idea?

If this movie has anything that remotely flirts with weirdness, it comes in the form of a character wearing a pig mask manically playing a piano while reciting a song to entice a handicapped boy to commit suicide.  It’s a weird little scene thrown in the mix with a hallucinatory atmosphere captured by warped camerawork.  But as far as suicide ditties go, it doesn’t hold a candle to the catchiness of Big Fun’s “Teenage Suicide (Don’t Do It)” in Heathers.

As much as I kind of liked this scene, I couldn’t help thinking how cool it would be if Pinhead came into the picture and began tearing this pigman apart, or maybe just dismembered the generic gas mask man.  I quote from Hellraiser: “The suffering…the sweet suffering.”  I suffered watching Necromentia, but it sure as hell wasn’t sweet.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…wastes no time in becoming very weird… Teo’s latest dark and twisted foray into the mad and macabre is a competent thinking man’s horror.”–Lee Griffiths, Total Sci-Fi Online (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by reader “dclxvi” [we’re pretty sure, although he called it “Necromania“]. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: HOUR OF THE WOLF [VARGTIMMEN] (1968)

DIRECTED BY: Ingmar Bergman

FEATURING: Max von Sydow,

PLOT: An artist is haunted by memories of his past. While isolated on an island with his pregnant wife, his demons catch up to him. Madness and delusion creep deeper into his mind as a gang of mysterious island dwellers intervene in the couple’s life. A secret, scandalous affair surfaces, and when supernatural forces intervene, the couple’s relationship and sanity is strained.

Still from Hour of the Wolf [Vargtimmen] (1968)
WHY IT SHOULD’T MAKE THE LIST: This is a tough film to decipher. The ending is certainly weird, but the lead-up to that point is too ponderous and ambiguous. Bergman is a master and his lone foray into the horror genre is an excellent piece of film-making; his artistry in delving into the lower depths of the human psyche is better established in his other well-known masterpieces, however.

COMMENTS: The older I get, the more I appreciate Ingmar Bergman films. There is something about Swedish movies that encapsulates human existence like no other country. Scenes are left dangling on a thread waiting to snap. The slow, or still, images can verge on monotony, but are usually necessary to convey the pathos of the souls here. Sometimes watching scenes slowly transpire is the best way to fully grasp how life can unravel around us. A scene in this film actually plays out for an entire minute with the main character staring at his watch to express how even sixty seconds can feel like an eternity. Time can sometimes lay heavy on a burdened mind. What I’m trying to suggest here is that Bergman is amazing at capturing exactly what it means to be human. We sin and regret, yet we still long for penance and understanding. Even when our existence feels loathsome, it sure is nice to have someone else around to share in our misery. Modern Swedish director Roy Andersson (You, The Living) knows this as well and, like Bergman, his films are wrought with longing stares of sadness.  Both Swedes capture these depressing moments and bring them alive with precise balance and well thought out execution.  Even dialogue is matter-of-fact.  Nothing said in their films seems to be unimportant or drivel; it’s Continue reading CAPSULE: HOUR OF THE WOLF [VARGTIMMEN] (1968)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SINGAPORE SLING [Singapore sling: O anthropos pou agapise ena ptoma] (1990)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Nikos Nikolaidis

FEATURING: Meredyth Herold, Michele Valley, Panos Thanassoulis

PLOT: An alcoholic detective searches for a lost love, presumably dead, and ends up a

Still from Singapore Sling (1990)

captive of two psychotic women. The women (a mother and daughter) ceaselessly torture the helpless and incapacitated victim. He remains mute as they participate in bizarre sexual practices and flaunt their derangement, sometimes literally in his face.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Singapore Sling is one of the rare films where practically every frame is teeming with weirdness.  The imagery, behavior, and even the strange nuances in the women’s dialogue are often over-the-top and perverse, yet even while the viewer is made to feel uncomfortable, there is an overwhelming desire to see what comes next.   Just when you think it couldn’t possibly get any weirder it somehow manages to top itself.

COMMENTSSingapore Sling is one messed up film.  It is a twisted take on the film noirs that filled cinemas in the early part of the 20th century.  Specifically, it pays homage to Otto Preminger’s stylish classic Laura (1944).  I use the word homage very loosely here, however.  The original film’s music theme is used sporadically throughout, the detective’s lost lover is named Laura, and the nutcase daughter has a painted portrait of herself like Gene Tierney’s Laura character.  The similarities pretty much end there.  Deviance always played a central part in noirs, but not anywhere close to the degree that is on display here.  I have to smile thinking about a dolled up 1940’s socialite having a night out at the theater, dressed to the nines in her pearl necklace and pillbox hat, witnessing this vulgarity.  “What is she going to do with that kiwi fruit”?  Gasp!

Film noir translates to “black film” and Singapore Sling is the purest black possible.  Actually, the black and white cinematography is surprisingly lush and almost seems too perfect for a film with this subject matter.  The beautiful crispness works to its advantage and the film would not have the same impact if shot in color.  The contrast of the blacks and whites are stark and sets the mood perfectly.  If I have any quarrel with the movie it is with the decision to Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SINGAPORE SLING [Singapore sling: O anthropos pou agapise ena ptoma] (1990)

CAPSULE: GETTING ANY? [MINNA YATTERUKA!] (1994)

DIRECTED BY: Takeshi Kitano

FEATURING: Dankan, Takeshi “Beat” Kitano

PLOT: A horny loser tries his best to get laid. He decides his main goal is to have sex in a car

Still from Getting Any? (1994)

and when that doesn’t work, he embarks on various escapades to gain money or notoriety; he even goes as far as becoming invisible to get some action.   Absurd situations and mistaken identities lead to one disaster after another.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It is slapstick comedy Japanese-style. While much Japanese humor leans toward absurdity, this film misses the mark completely. The ending comes off as slightly weird, yet the pointless and unfunny comedy bits which lead up to the finale make the ending just another misguided joke that falls flat (or in this case, splat).

COMMENTS: For as many movies I have seen in my life, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never seen the classic films by acclaimed director Takeshi “Beat” Kitano.  Films such as Hana-Bi, Sonatine and Violent Cop are all considered masterpieces in the yakuza films genre. Getting Any? is a straight-up slapstick comedy farce and is probably not the best place to start in exploring Kitano’s works.  His yakuza films are noted for their subtle use of deadpan acting and humor nestled snugly within the violent action.  If that is the case, Getting Any? acts as the polar opposite.  The humor is in your face with infinite gags and subtlety is thrown out the window with some goofy sound effect.  It is nonsensical, amateurish, juvenile and above all else… not funny.  The film satirizes iconic Japanese pop culture such as the Zatoichi films, Lone Wolf and Cub and even Godzilla pictures.  It also takes a stab at Western pop culture, although the references (Michael Jackson and Ghostbusters) were relevant 10 years prior to the release of this film.

The lead character Asao (Dankan) is a middle-aged man desperate to find just one woman to have sex with him.  He is a perpetual daydreamer who constantly fantasizes about an alter-ego who is always lucky in this department. In Asao’s mind, there must be a surefire way to get women to easily bare their breasts and succumb to his sexual advances.  His first inclination is to get a car because that seems like the most opportune place to do the deed. Continue reading CAPSULE: GETTING ANY? [MINNA YATTERUKA!] (1994)

CAPSULE: ODDSAC (2010)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Danny Perez

FEATURING: The music of Animal Collective and a bunch of unknown actors.

PLOT:  Zilch.  ODDSAC is completely without narrative, or much coherence.  The only line of

Still from Oddsac (2010)

dialogue is, “Yeah, he hates chocolate.  He hates everything but green beans,” spoken by a young girl with a southern drawl.  Oh, and there is a vampire.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  While it is certainly one of the weirdest pieces of film-making I’ve encountered in awhile, it is not a movie.  It is an extended performance art video piece for a new, unreleased Animal Collective album.  Although it has some very cool visuals and the weirdness never lets up during the 52 minute running time, I say the art form of music videos should be separate from a list of the best 366 weird movies of all time.

COMMENTS:  If you are familiar with the oddball musical stylings of Animal Collective, you would expect a visual album from these guys to be an “out-there” extravaganza.  Well… it is.  The film is a barrage of acid-fueled, kaleidoscopic visuals that may melt your retinas if you stare too long.  Like the band’s music, ODDSAC does not follow conventional structure in its visual montages.  At times, it is reminiscent of the experimental art films painstakingly crafted by Stan Brakhage in the early 1960’s. Whereas Brakhage was a pioneer in the experimental film field, Danny Perez is just really good at quick-cut editing and manipulating his visuals into a trippy panorama.  At an open-discussion forum after the screening of the film in Los Angeles, Perez and the Collective gang mentioned the influence of John Carpenter’s Halloween.  Say what?!? There are elements of horror interspersed with the craziness, but I don’t see any connection to a straight-forward slasher film.

The film is divided into 13 chapters.  Each segment features a different song, so essentially it is 13 music videos.  The first segment sets a tone of darkness and dread with the creepy song “Mr. Fingers,” which writhes its way around images of a towel-headed man with a red-painted face.  Ropes of fire rhythmically swing around him, brightly lighting the pitch black sky.  Elsewhere, a young woman claws into a wall, only to be immersed in a stream of oil that Continue reading CAPSULE: ODDSAC (2010)

CAPSULE: DUNE (1984) [BLU-RAY]

DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING: , Kenneth McMillan, , Sean Young,

PLOT: As simply as I can put it: set in the year 10,191, inhabitants of three planets attempt to gain control of the “spice” Melange.  The substance extends life and allows space travel.  Whoever controls the spice controls the universe.  The planet Caladan, home of the House Atreides, is the main threat to the current emperor of the universe.  Duke Atreides son, Paul, appears to be the “chosen one” due to his special gifts of prophetic visions and skillfulness as a soldier.  Paul foresees the emperor’s plan to destroy the Artreides clan and sets out to take control of the spice and defeat their enemies.

Still from Dune (1984)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Dune is too confusing, an altogether jumbled mess, to give it any consideration for the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made.  There are too many characters, words, names and ideas that occupy the screen.  Overt weirdness does flit about many times, but is marred by cheap-looking special effects and poor acting.  Disappointing, considering who was at the helm of the picture.

COMMENTS: First off, being a new contributor, I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to cover three masters in the realm of weird cinema; Roeg, Cronenberg, and now David Lynch. Truth be told, Lynch is probably the greatest director in the pantheon of weird movies.  That said, this is the worst film David Lynch ever committed to celluloid.  I don’t think he would mind my saying so, as he too has publicly announced his hatred towards this film.  He refuses to talk about it in writings or interviews.  A production debacle, Lynch feuded bitterly with Dino de Laurentis to retain his artistic vision against the producer ‘s extravagance.  The film looks slapdash at times.  This problem likely stems from the complex source material: Frank Herbert’s 1965 cult sci-fi novel of the same name.  Lynch claimed  never to have read the book pre-production and to personally dislike the sci-fi genre.  For unclear reasons, he actually turned down the opportunity to direct Return of the Jedi to do this film.  I imagine Ewoks would have become much more menacing under the Lynchian lens.

Lynch came to direct only after several other directors bowed out due to differences and strife on the set.  One of the directors previously associated with the film was none other than Alejandro Jodorowsky, who planned on taking the film to new heights… a 14-hour epic!  Yeah, that didn’t fly.  What we are left with is a 137 minute hodgepodge of sci-fi jargon and mediocre direction.  Apparently different cuts exist; a 190 minute version has been aired in two parts for television.  The added material only caused more uproar with the legions of “Dune” fans, who thought the additional scenes and extended narration further stifled the already confusing flow of the theatrical cut.  Lynch has refused to release a director-approved cut, and demanded the pseudonym Jonas Booth replace his name on the extended television version.

There is way too much happening in this movie…all the time!  The multitude of characters, all with hard to pronounce names, come and go and never really make an impression.  The viewer is left wondering, “who is that?”, “are they important?,” and “what do they want?”  Ultimately, the answer to the last question is that they all want that damn spice.  Spice is cultivated on the planet Arrakis, or Dune, a desolate sand-covered planet; the only place where one can attain spice and thus total domination over the universe.  What protects the spice from any regular Joe-Schmoe getting at it?  Enormous man-eating worms, that’s what.  At least Lynch got to expand on his worm fixation.

I’ll refrain from putting in text the many characters that inhabit the different planets.  I will say the cast is fairly impressive and many went on to bigger and better roles.  The recognizable faces are: Patrick Stewart, Max von Sydow, Dean Stockwell, Sean Young, Virginia Madsen, and Eraserhead‘s own Henry, Jack Nance (almost unrecognizable without that pompadour).  The most impressive over-the-top performance comes from Kenneth McMillan as Baron Vladimir Harkkonen (see, I told you about the names).  He gets the chance to unspool some great weirdness in his role.  The disgusting pus-and-blood filled boils that crater his face; his ability to inflate his suit and hover around like a lumpy balloon; his crazed, madman line deliveries: he get props in the weird department.  He plays up his vileness quite nicely to cement his baddie status.

I don’t think Dune is complete garbage.  I’ve seen much worse.  The elaborate sets and ornate costumes are most impressive.  The Blu-ray picture quality is probably the best you’re ever going to get (is this the first Blu-ray film reviewed on this site?!?  Blu-ray is beautiful, and hopefully an expansion of weird titles is to come).  The colors are crisp and flaws are minimal.  Many of the set designs were created by the legendary H.R. Geiger of Alien fame (although he eventually dropped out of the production, many of his creations were still used).  Speaking of Alien, I saw many subtle similarities to other classic sci-fi films, with Star Wars leading the pack.  “May the force be with you” is changed to “may the hand of God be with you.”  Young Paul (MacLachlan) undergoes a training sequence very similar to the exercise blindfolded Luke Skywalker practiced on the Millennium Falcon; instead of a lightsaber, Paul uses some sort of laser gun to blast tips off harpoon spears that randomly thrust out of a fight simulator.

The action sequences and special effects are what bog this movie down to the depths of an over-blown ridiculous flop.  For as much money as this thing cost, it should have looked a whole lot better, even by 1984 standards.  The first action occurs when Paul trains in a battle simulation.  There’s a knife fight, but a force field shields the  combatants: it’s a box/cube that engulfs the person into something that looks straight out of Intellivision video games from three years earlier.  The final battle depicts heroic Paul in knife-combat with evil Harkkonen lackey Feyd, played by an insignificant Sting (looking like Sex Pistols-era John Lydon).  The fight is sloppily choreographed and lame.  Overall, a perfect descriptive term for this film… lame.

To get a final understanding of just how corny this movie can get, I’ll offer up three more tidbits in list form:

  1. A dog (a pug) features in several scenes.  Paul lovingly strokes its fur aboard a spacecraft.  His father, the Duke, carries it around like an ornament.  Most hilarious, though, is the scene in which Patrick Stewart’s character charges and screams in full-blown battle mode while cradling the mongrel in his arms.  Where’s a wookie when you need one?
  2. The guns that are controlled by screams and a certain pitch of voice.  A trigger needn’t be pulled.  Just yell.
  3. The potential effectiveness of the giant worms is completely squelched when Paul and his comrades mount, harness, and ride them into battle like horses.

I’m sorry David, your film is lame.  You know it.  I know it.  Still, you managed to get some devout followers.  I just can’t figure out why.

The Blu-Ray additional features include very rough deleted scenes that add nothing of significance.  Special features document the making of Dune and its sometimes cringe-worthy special effects.  There are also segments on the various models, miniatures, and costume designs, which I find to be the only saving grace of the film.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a brilliant mistake, misguided from the start but still aesthetically satisfying… Those who give it a chance…  will be rewarded with something surreal and strangely evocative…”–Bill Gibron, PopMatters (Blu-ray)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: SPIDER (2002)

DIRECTED BY: David Cronenberg

FEATURING: Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne

PLOT: A disturbed man is released from a mental institution and sent to live in a halfway

Still from Spider (2002)

house.  While there, he traces back to his childhood to remember a troubled past and the tragic events that shaped his current mental instability.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: To compile a list of the weirdest movies ever made, one would be hard-pressed not to include Cronenberg’s entire oeuvre.  Here, the director eschews the “body horror” that encompassed much of his earlier films and focuses solely on the deterioration of the mind.  While this can be just as grotesque as horrors of the flesh, the journey can get so convoluted at times that the weirdness teeters on a fulcrum.  Eventually, the confusion weighs too heavy and topples the weirdness into mere befuddlement.

COMMENTS: A cinematic pet peeve of mine was surely tested with this movie.  Being American, I shouldn’t have to struggle listening to an English film (i.e., UK-Great Britain).  We speak the same tongue, albeit with some slight variances in words and phrases.  The cockney accents in this film can get so thick at times I considered reaching for the subtitle button on the remote.  To make matters worse, the film focuses on the character of Spider (Fiennes) who mumbles and spews gibberish as a means of communication.  Actually, most of his conversations are only with himself.  I loathe having to toggle the volume levels up and down.  I had to do this for the duration of the film.  Aside from this aggravation, Spider is not a bad film; nor is it a great one.

I loved the approach taken in the opening credits.  Various textiles and walls are displayed artistically with corrosion and chipped paint, each frame containing a pattern or form that is open to interpretation.  It is set up to resemble Rorschach inkblot tests used in the psychiatric field (I must be going mad myself because all I see in them are cool looking demons).  These opening credits are effective because they prepare the viewer for a movie that deals with an imbalanced mind.  What we perceive to be truth is certainly going to be skewed from the perspective of a protagonist with warped sensibilities.

Spider enters the picture slowly, exiting a train and returning onto the streets of  London.  Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: SPIDER (2002)