PLOT: A seasoned police lieutenant notices details of a recent homicide case that are eerily similar to those of a dead serial killer’s 15 year-old murder spree.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: If The Exorcist III was about 30 minutes long, consisting of the most oblique, intense moments in the theatrical version, it may very well have been one of the most terrifying and bizarre films to emerge from the ’90s. This 110-minute crawl, however, somehow manages to find the mundane in supernatural goings-on and ritual murder sprees.
COMMENTS: A serial killer is on the loose, preying on the weak and the innocent in Washington, D.C., mutilating their bodies in the same grotesque fashion as The Gemini, a psychopath who was convicted and executed for his crimes 15 years ago. It falls to veteran police lieutenant William Kinderman to stop this madman before he kills again. Can he unravel the mystery in time, or will Kinderman be the killer’s next victim?
Oh… and there’s an exorcism. Did I mention that?
One could easily imagine the origin of the THIRD entry in The Exorcist franchise sounding like that of other famous horror icons’ origin stories: “locked away in an asylum until one fateful Halloween night”, “summoned from Hell into this dimension by unwitting pleasure-seekers”, and, perhaps most appropriately, “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs.” The execution doesn’t sound too pleasant, either; a vacated director’s chair is filled by the writer of the original film’s source material, the focus turned from Regan MacNeil to Detective Kinderman (!), and several studio butcher-block decisions radically alter the final product. But The Exorcist III is actually a bit more inspired than anyone expected it to be, which is what makes its place in horror history so complicated and its ultimate failure so frustrating.
FEATURING: Aaron Long, Simon Sokowlwoski, Laura Marklew
PLOT: A down-on-his-luck fighter with anger issues and a penchant for bringing his dog everywhere with him is killed; instead of going to Heaven or Hell, he is left in a Purgatory that looks like Birmingham and must find his place in a brutal, unforgiving afterlife.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Every film that has been both excellent and unique enough to make it onto the List of the 366 weirdest films of all time has been guided by a strong sense of purpose, or at least a sense of identity. The Last Road is hopelessly lost on the very road it sets out on; it is the film equivalent of listening to someone decide out loud what they want to eat for dinner.
COMMENTS: It wasn’t that long ago that when people said the words “independent picture” in conversation, the image brought to mind was of a navel-gazing, impenetrable vanity project from someone who hadn’t had the career or life experience to demand a moviegoer’s attention span. With the explosion of pop culture indie-centrism in the early ’00s and the digital camera revolution, indies have come a long way since then, but a stigma still remains in the public consciousness from decades of snoozers like Smilla’s Sense of Snow and twee-fests like Garden State. The Last Road is an ambitious independent feature from first-time writer/director/key grip John Wheeler about life after life, and while it is obvious that the spirit here is willing, the body, unfortunately, is weak.
Set in the arsehole of Britannia, which will henceforth be referred to as Trainspotting-ham, it chronicles the misadventures of Toby, the angriest bloke who ever bloked. This guy is the worst; imagine an unemployed Morrissey with short hair who binge-watches MMA bouts and thinks he looks good in tank tops. He is a fighter with a nasty temper, a temper that is affecting his relationships at home and in the ring. His ill mother is subject to one of his tantrums and has a pint of milk dumped on her head as a result, and when his anger gets the better of him while talking to his shady underworld boss, it leads to his dog being viciously killed in front of his eyes (!!!). This sets him up for an (ultimately final) outburst in the ring, whereby his overwhelming explosion of violence leads his opponent, in desperation, to slash Toby’s throat with a nearby broken beer bottle and end his life. This is only the beginning of the story, however, as we are taken to the afterlife, where Toby is confronted with his poor life decisions by a shrewish blonde angel driving a Mini. She tells him that he has to find his own way to salvation, otherwise he can never be redeemed in the eyes of God. So Toby wanders the wastes of Limbo, meeting new friends, inciting bitter rivalries, and reuniting with familiar faces from his previous life.
…at least, I think so. The Last Road is really very noncommittal about what it wants to say or do. Or perhaps it is covering up a lack of narrative with visuals, strange set pieces, and maudlin introspection. Whatever the case may be, there is not enough happening (truly happening, not just tiresome flashbacks and unappealing static shots) to justify a 90 minute feature. Which is quite a setback, considering this is a 123 minute-long movie! That means lots of time taken up by the INNER TURMOIL of our hero, without context in the story or reasonable explanation.
And this is the most contentious aspect of the whole affair, because Toby’s struggle, the entire impetus of the film and the reason both he and the moviegoer set out on the sojourn that is The Last Road, is an informed attribute. We are not given an ounce of exposition as to why things are so difficult for him, why he is suffering on the inside, or what his motivations are for doing any of the seemingly arbitrary things he ends up doing. He is just an angry guy with a mission to redeem himself. But why? Who is this person? Why does he want to be redeemed in God’s eyes? Why does he need to be redeemed at all? Instead of answers, or something resembling an answer, we are treated to indulgent, laconic moments of on-screen anguish, as if Toby, in a wrestling ring on the seedy side of Trainspotting-ham, had died for our sins.
The Last Road is an independent feature that, while admittedly unique, lives up to that grand old indie tradition of being very difficult to watch. It is a shame, because it exhibits a wealth of potential from a first-time director: the shots are carefully composed, the sound design is remarkable, and the sets are eerie and full of nihilistic expression. But the delivery of these qualities in the form of unlikable characters trudging through a banal narrative ends up feeling confused at best and emotionally manipulative at worst (i.e. anything involving the damn dog). A similar-yet-better experience would be turning on What Dreams May Come with the brightness level on the television adjusted down 50%.
greenery, cool fountains, and slim jets of water.’
-Which Sultan Selim?
-I don’t know. Whichever. They were all named Selim and they all wrote the same poems with the same cliched imagery that recurs like fetishes. Or passwords you utter to pass through the garden gate and enter the palace of your sleepless nights.”- L’Immortelle
FEATURING: Françoise Brion, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Catherine Robbe-Grillet
PLOT: A professor vacationing in Istanbul comes across a mysterious, vivacious woman who weaves in and out of his life during a fateful summer. The impenetrability of the woman ignites an obsession in the professor, one that leads him into the shadowy, knotted heart of the city and the underbelly of his own desire.
Already a staple in French New Wave as a successful screenwriter (Last Year in Marienbad), Alain Robbe-Grillet was trying to break into motion pictures as a director, but was unable to find the funding. A Belgian producer agreed to fund his first feature on the condition that he use funds legally tied up in Turkey (due to an inability to convert the Turkish pound, which had left a wool-trading friend of the producer’s unable to use his profit anywhere else in the world). Robbe-Grillet shot the film there and used the location as a central narrative device, in the vein of a cinematic arabesque.
Robbe-Grillet’s own wife Catherine plays the oft-mentioned Catherine Sarayon (or Carayon). Robbe-Grillet met her in Turkey, which is similar to the way the protagonist meets the woman he falls for in L’Immortelle. Catherine wrote several novels of sadomasochistic erotica, sometimes under the pseudonym “Jean de Berg.”
During filming, Turkey erupted into a violent revolution in which the heads of government were all hanged. Robbe-Grillet, whose production company had made deals with the ousted government, had to get out hastily and wait in France for the volatile situation to die down before returning to complete the film.
Although it was reasonably well-regarded at the time of its release, screening at the Berlin Film Festival, L’Immortelle since fell between the cracks and was not released on home video in any form until 2014.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: This film is rife with iconic, spellbinding imagery, but chief among them is the mystical and sacred moment in the mosque as the professor, already deeply entranced by the woman of his waking dreams, searches for her in the darkness. He shambles around a corner with desperation in his gait (slowly, though, as if no wait was long enough), and spies the woman kneeling on the ground kneeling in prayer, perfect and impregnable. She rises to meet him like a goddess of torturous pleasure; her grace and beauty combined with his love-struck agony in the shadows is a moment of understated, haunting beauty.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: L’Immortelle operates less like a film and more like a state of mind, using baffling, at times purposely repetitive shots to create something that transcends the world of the nominal. It is a movie based in philosophy, emotion, and spirituality, not plot and structure. It does not want to entertain or make sense, it wants to touch below the surface, and it does through the tried-and-true tactic of not explaining a single thing, compounding each image placed on screen into an enigma that never diminishes as time rolls on.
PLOT: A teenage goth girl meanders around the New Jersey suburbs killing people and allegedly eating them. Sometimes. But there are scumbags, strippers, prostitutes, F.B.I. investigators, mafiosos, and mafioso’s children who get more screen time than the titular character. Also, breasts.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s unequivocally terrible, which overshadows any weirdness the filmmakers manage to conjure up from the depths of their eye-rolling sexual deviancy. If GWAR and Ween collaborated on an album that was turned into a film, it would be this one, although, unlike Acid Head, that film surely would not be 155 minutes, cast with boorish amateurs, and shot through the most annoying faux-grindhouse filter of all time.
COMMENTS: Tony “Tex” Watt finally answers the question, “should watching a movie feel like a punishment?” with his latest directorial effort, Acid Head: The Buzzard Nuts County Slaughter. This guerrilla warfare-style film has a brazen, almost felonious contempt for the audience. The interminably long opening credit sequence involving monotonous driving, out-of-place sound effects, and a song so forgettable I forgot who I was during the chorus sets an unhealthy precedent of open hostility towards anyone who dares to watch.
The gargantuan running time could have serviced two complete films, but somehow it houses around five, all of them claiming to be the same movie, and all of them, infuriatingly, incomplete. It’s a slasher flick, kinda. It’s also an outlaw buddy comedy, if comedy was spelled “zzzzzzz”. There’s a grindhouse sleaze movie in here, a mafia drama, and a sex farce involving the FBI for good measure. It’s all over the map, nothing makes sense, and I suspect it’s not supposed to. It’s an exercise in hatred for the audience the likes of which have not been seen since Thierry Zeno’s Wedding Trough.
How much does Acid Head hate its audience? There is an intermission—not in the middle, mind you, but rather near the end of this behemoth—entitled “The 10-Minute Beach Slut Intermission.” It features the main draw of this production, Playboy model Lana Tailor, and another attractive cast member loafing around the beach for ten minutes, accompanied by two grimy dimwits, doing nowhere-near-the-vicinity-of-sexy things. Ten excruciating minutes. It even throws up a timer on the screen, so you can count the 840 seconds of life that slips away during this torturous and tepid ordeal; as if we had to be reminded of how mind-meltingly tedious this is. These aren’t 10 regular minutes; these are treadmill minutes, these are underwater minutes.
But this is not to take away from the ineptitude and ennui of the other 145 minutes. After all, once the zany sound effects settle into predictable patterns, the innuendo starts to register as vaguely erogenous wallpaper, and the wig-heavy costumes all begin to look the same, Acid Head creates the worst kind of movie environment, which is of course a boring one. It is an excuse to talk about bewbs on camera and play at DIY horror for a cast and crew with tons of vision but zero aptitude. It is an enigma of purpose, like a crop circle or a platypus. And ultimately, it is a waste of time for everyone concerned.
I recommend Acid Head to anyone who loves nothing, and anybody who just can’t get enough self-loathing packed into a 24-hour day.
FEATURING: Dana Altman, Ross Brockley, Nicholas Fackler
PLOT: A cast and crew of drug addicts/imbeciles travel to the heart of Central Africa to partake of a rare psychedelic that is rumored to cure drug addiction. Once they arrive, they encounter spirituality, mysticism, and their own bloated egos.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There is nothing truly abnormal about what befalls our plucky adventurers in this docu-something about interlopers in the Garden of Eden (aren’t we all?). Director Nicholas Fackler positions himself as a Colonel Kurtz of visual storytelling, but emerges from this breezy jungle nightmare looking more like Dennis Hopper’s shell-shocked photojournalist.
COMMENTS: At the heart of Sick Birds Die Easy is a message that speaks to the heart of the human experience. Unfortunately, for all concerned, that message is “I dunno either, man.” It’s a propaganda movie about the benefits of iboga, a plant that even the film doubts the real merits of; a drama about Nick’s annoying friends trapped in a Why-Can’t-We-All-Just-Get-Along crisis; a harrowing thriller about being lost in the jungle with a load of nitwits surrounded by danger; and an aloof, self-loathing indie comedy with an admittedly killer soundtrack. And while these are all interesting angles, when none of them in this movie seem to lead anywhere or are expressed with any conviction or belief in anything. Ironically, it ends up as a film about a film getting lost.
In a voice that was made for documentary narration, Nick Fackler spins a tale in the opening moments about the grandiose ideas he plans to tackle: spirituality, primordial magic, alternate reality, and an Apocalypse that will reveal the next direction of human consciousness. The next minute destroys any hope that these ideas will ever be explored seriously in this film again, as musician Sam Martin drunkenly opines about being a gay baby who needs a diaper during the opening credits. The picture never sets up a goal or a narrative that is satisfyingly fulfilled in any way; even the main quest, which involves getting Nick’s drug dealer Ross to the Pygmy tribe’s Fwiti ritual so he can be cleansed of his drug-loving ways, is neither embarked upon meaningfully (they all bring drugs into the jungle!) or brought to a satisfying conclusion.
Perhaps, in a post-modern context, this film is a deconstruction of expectations, narrative, or reality itself. From the press material, and even from the shaky-cam film festival Q&As these stoner-philosophers sit for, it is difficult to determine whether or not the events of Sick Birds Die Easy were of a non-fictitious nature, especially considering the insane and the insanely conveniently cinematic way the movie unfolds. It’s chock full of gripping indie trailer moments and feats of such uncanny luck that would make Las Vegas blush with envy. It could be construed as a deconstruction of the documentary genre as a whole. But if that is the case, and all these loose ends are really missiles pointing at the human need for resolution in art, then I still have a problem with Sick Birds Die Easy, because it has also deconstructed joy, hope, and optimism in the name of questionable art. I hope that this is a film merely without a brain, and not without a heart.
Sick Birds, for all the questions it raises, is a well-constructed documentary (?) with a good narrative engine that drives along at a humming pace to the beat of some good tunes by Sam Martin. Nick Fackler has an eye for what intrigues people visually, and he creates a vista that gives us a grand look at his burgeoning capabilities as a filmmaker. But intellectually, this experience suffers from too many shallow, mildly psychopathic, or perhaps merely bleak ideas, placed behind the veils of “spirituality,” “alternate realities,” “apocalypse”, and other trailer buzzwords. Watch Sick Birds Die Easy, like our intrepid dopes going into the jungles of Africa, at your own risk. And leave your common sense at the door; you won’t need it.
FEATURING: Karl Hardman, Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea
PLOT: An animated recreation of the classic zombie film, Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated features a number of talented animators filtering Romero’s original vision through their own artistic viewpoints, expressing the universal messages therein in their own mediums. WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While aesthetically intriguing and at times very eerie, there never was much that jumped out as being incredibly weird about Romero’s zombie movie. Although it was the first of its kind in what is now a celebrated genre, Night of the Living Dead was always more of a message film than a meditation on the dead rising from their graves. This animated version does indeed add some visual quirks, but there is no real strangeness here.
COMMENTS: For fans of the zombie film, it doesn’t get much more better than the simple-yet-satisfying claustrophobia of the grandpappy of them all, Night of the Living Dead. More than a horror flick, this grainy 1968 indie is a meaningful, smart work of art that pushes the boundaries of what the genre is capable of and what it can stand for. So above any horror I can think of, this one definitely deserves an animated homage that explores it from a stylistic point of view. And Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated doesn’t disappoint in that department.
Using a cadre of young, experimental artists, this exercise explores the original movie nearly shot-for-shot with different styles of animation. The styles are incredibly varied: parts are simply still images, sometimes it’s a comic book-style series of cels, while at other times it takes on an anime quality. One artist takes the real footage from the film and animates over it to generate an eerie reality that blurs the line between realism and otherworldliness. The different mediums at work boggle the mind; whether it’s claymation, pencil sketches, Flash cartoons, or sock puppets, this project has something to evoke just about anyone’s personal aesthetic. It’s amazing what the creators do here to make you think of the movie in a whole new way. The different animators break from the stark reality of the original to steep the entire world in a haunting, eerie mood that was not there before. My favorite style, personally, is when they use the real life baby dolls to simulate some of the action scenes! It doesn’t fit well with the other styles to create that perfect sense of dread and the unknown, but it’s just too funny to leave out!
Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated is definitely a success in my book. The unsettling black-and-white animation combined with the oddly displaced archive voices of the original actors creates a mesmerizing experimental film that goes beyond the norm and pulls off something that few people have. The various styles of animation work fluidly together to pay homage as well as to press the boundaries of the original zombie survival template. My only complaint would be that the ending is the most clinical part of the film, when I thought it should be a bit more erratic in style. In those desperate moments before daybreak, Reanimated doesn’t hit any crescendo notes that the original did not already sound, making the last few scenes almost redundant if you’ve already seen NOTLD. That caveat, compounded with this film’s lack of utter weirdness, knocks Reanimated out of contention for a spot on the List, although it must be considered one of the more impressive movies released in2010.
If you’re a fan of the original, or just a lover of experimental animation, Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated has something for you. It’s a very strong feature that builds upon Romero’s work with a love and a care that is both heartfelt and reverent. Despite its lack of general weirdness, it is still one of the better films in a year devoid of cinematic life, and a must-have for any fans of the zombie sub-genre.
PLOT: A shocking mass suicide in a train station attracts the attention of the police and a curious hacker who may have found a link to the seemingly random act.
WHY IT MIGHT NAKE THE LIST: This exercise in the Japanese new school of shock horror does not have enough substance to be considered extremely weird. There are moments that light up the screen with an inspired energy that recalls the best horror-thrillers. Yet, like a Noh theater performance, Suicide Club chooses to keep actual events close to the chest, relying on long pauses and slow takes to create the mood . Noh theater has dancing and music to fill up the entire performance, though; Suicide Club languishes with scenes that are filled with empty silence and shots that mean nothing.
COMMENTS: Suicide Club is the odd story of one country’s affinity for self-termination, represented by a strange and tragic mass suicide in a train station. Why this happens is never explained in a way that leaves one satisfied, but such is the state of the high suicide rate in Japan, and, to be fair, to ask why is almost besides the point. The point seems to be the journey into the strange underbelly of Tokyo and the detectives who must investigate the suicides by journeying into that hoary netherworld.
Well, the detectives and their sole lead, the idiosyncratic hacker Miyoko– I’m sorry, “The Bat”– who has a strong fascination with the tragedy. This fascination drags her from the safety of her malicious computer activities to a world where secret messages are written in human skin and dropped off at hospitals and where J-Pop groups wield a heady authority over an unassuming generation. As she becomes wound up in this mystery that seems to go deeper than anyone could have imagined, a youth named Mitsuko also becomes involved when her boyfriend commits suicide. She too falls into the web of what is appearing more and more to be a sort of suicide club (how titular!) whose members might even be unaware of their membership. And the deeper she falls, the closer she comes to realizing that she might even be in this unfortunately named club…
But this is all told through the visual narrative, because dialogue is in extremely short supply in this mannered horror exercise. As is character development. Or much of anything, really. Suicide Club is a very visual film, told through a Morse code string of images that reads normal-normal-normal-weird! And when the images are strange or grotesque, the audience becomes intrigued and downright enthused. But during the slow mood-building scenes, the movie falters in the wake of the sterile, lifeless Tokyo Sono sets up. It surrounds and eclipses most moments of tension, replacing the anxiety with a vague sense of ennui that does not behoove a horror-thriller.
There are moments of inspired lunacy in Suicide Club that set it apart from the rest of the Japanese formalists, and if you can make it to the middle of the film where we meet the conspicuous character named Genesis, then your patience has truly paid its due diligence, because the film rolls along by then with images too weird and too delightful to spoil for you. And Suicide Club feels meticulously fabricated in its down time, where the details brim forth from a lack of any real action; seemingly trivial things like the posters hanging up in Mitsumo’s boyfriend’s room are very well designed and hold little clues to the secret waiting at the end. When it wants to be, Suicide Club has the potential to be a very good weird movie.
So give it a shot. Suicide Club is worth trying, even if you find it to be a failure. It’s a labyrinthine horror-thriller with a touch of mystery that will have you guessing, even if the mystery has no real bearing on what actually happens at the end. Sono delivers what might be one of the only minimalist conspiracy movies, and on that note alone, it’s worth a gander. Suicide Club is a valiant effort and a weird movie, just not often enough to make it something special.