FEATURING: Chris Morris, Mark Heap, Amelia Bullmore, David Cann, Julia Davis, Kevin Eldon, Roz McCutcheon
PLOT: “Jam” was a six episode TV series that originally aired on UK TV Channel 4. Each 25 minute episode was aired without ad breaks or credits. The show featured various “sketches” and faux interviews dealing with suicide, murder, sexual abuse, rape, child death, and medical malpractice. The whole thing was backed by occasionally intrusive ambient music and some segments were filmed or dubbed in an out-of-sync fashion that made them even more awkward and disturbing than the subject matter would suggest.
The show was repeated at a later hour as “Jaaam!” This variation took the original sketches and remixed the visuals to make the viewing experience more tricky and surreal with shots sped up, fed through filters and replaced with stills. Many of the sketches were born in a BBC Radio 1 very late night/early morning show called “Blue Jam” which mixed vocal skits with ambient tracks. Some of the radio sketches were taken directly from the old soundtrack and then lip synched on TV, resulting in another layer in the onion of weird that was “Jam.”
COMMENTS: To mix preserves, “Jam” is like Marmite: you’ll either love it or hate it. Allow me to give you a taster.
A couple believes their young daughter is a 45 year old man trapped in a young girl’s body, so they have the genitals of a 45 year old man grafted to her body.
A woman calls a plumber to her house to fix her dead baby. He is aghast, but she explains the baby is only 3 weeks old and they’re meant to last longer than that, and after all “it’s just pipes really.” In a throwaway comment she reveals that the father has said he will leave if she doesn’t stop “going on about the pipes.” An offer of £1000/hour convinces the plumber to give it a try, and later he takes her up to the bedroom to see his work. He’s plumbed the baby’s corpse into the heating system to make it warm and added a little tap so it will gurgle.
A couple bargaining for a house negotiate a reduction in price in return for sex sessions with the seller. When he receives a better offer, he threatens to renege on the deal, so they offer the services of the husband’s mentally disabled sister.
PLOT: The second in Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, Inferno follows his masterpiece Suspiria. The earlier film is not referred to explicitly, and it’s not necessary to have seen Suspiria to enjoy Inferno—though it might get you in the mood.
Rose, a poet living in New York, buys an old book about the Three Mothers from a neighboring antiques dealer and after reading it begins to suspect that the basement in her apartment block is home to Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness, one of a trio of sisters who are the age old matrons of witchcraft.
After investigating a strange, flooded ballroom below the building, Rose and a neighbor are murdered by an anonymous, black gloved killer.
Rose’s brother Mark is a music student in Rome. He receives a letter from his sister mentioning the Mothers and flies to New York to investigate. The apartments she lives in are home to a small group of strange people, given to uttering premier league non-sequiturs, asking weird questions, and performing bizarre actions.
Mark explores the building, discovering the weird architectural features designed by the Mothers’ architect, Varelli, the one whose book kick-started the whole affair. After a long ramble through tortuous crawlspace, Mark uncovers the lair of Mater Tenebrarum. She reveals herself to be Death; the building burns to the ground; a dazed looking Mark wanders out unscathed; the end credits roll; you wonder what you’ve just witnessed.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Its dream logic story line and stylized cinematography mark it out as weird, but Inferno really pales next to Suspiria. It features some wonderful scenes and startling images, but they’re too widely spaced out, and the film is marred by some wooden acting and inadvertently hilarious dialogue.
COMMENTS: Inferno is a very enjoyable film, not always for the intended reasons. The dialogue is so disjointed and at times downright bizarre as to be chucklesome. It also features the inconsistent acting and wooden delivery common to any number of giallos (understandable given the speed of some productions and the vagaries of international dubbing); after watching a number of giallos, you may come to view them as a feature rather than a flaw.
FEATURING: Tom Cavanagh, Kathleen York, Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs
PLOT: The day after his 40th birthday, George Grieves enters Mt. Abaddon Hospital for a
routine colonoscopy. Waking after the procedure it rapidly becomes apparent that something has gone seriously wrong. George and his only ally, a nurse called Zoe, attempt to discover the truth in an increasingly nightmarish hospital of horrors.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It really isn’t weird enough. Certainly there are periods of scary oddness, but none that haven’t been depicted before in other, better films. I hesitate to call the plot twist a “twist” as any regular weird film fan will see it coming over the hill a mile away, waving its hands to attract your attention (Zoe the stripper-gram nurse, I’m looking at you love!) It has some serious and troubling points to make about fear, prejudice, white middle class guilt and health care systems in general, but it makes them in a long-winded, repetitive way.
COMMENTS: I practically leapt at the chance to review this film, having heard nothing about it, and being fond of “weird hospital” movies. About half way in I began to regret my decision, and this was the first film that I nearly pulled out of reviewing. This is not because it’s a bad movie—though it is long-winded and really could have used the editor’s hand clipping away twenty minutes or so—but because the uncomfortable issues the movie raises hit close to home.
I’ve grown up in the occasionally stony but generally reliable bosom of the British National Health Service and felt I should perhaps have watched this with my wife who, as an American, has now experienced heath care on both sides of the Atlantic. Procedures occurred in Sublime which seemed odd to me, even taking into account the national differences. I mean, that was an awful lot of laxative! Are American colons so different?
Protagonist George is an upper middle class, able-bodied (at least initially), straight, white male and his attitudes, prejudices and fears were in many respects different from mine. But even if the specifics are different, fear, prejudice and guilt are common to everyone. When Continue reading CAPSULE: SUBLIME (2007)→
PLOT: Intergenerational relations in Japan have broken down to such an extent that
youngsters are rebelling by committing acts of violence and mass truancy. The situation has deteriorated so badly that the government reacts by passing the “Battle Royale Act”: each year a randomly selected high school class is sent to an isolated, uninhabited island, fitted with remotely detonated explosive collars, given meager supplies and told to fight to the death. One must emerge a victor or three days later everyone will die.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although I consider Battle Royale to be a “must see” film, it really can’t go on the list. It’s just not weird. It’s funny, violent, overblown, disturbing, both operatic and banal, but not weird.
COMMENTS: My first review of the film was a little flippant and then, quite randomly, I overheard a man say it was the “sickest” film he had ever seen. He appeared to be quite sincere and I was driven to go back and watch it again, and again, to try and see what he had seen, what had disturbed him so much.
I don’t think that there’s anything in Battle Royale which will upset “366-ers.” Yes, it is a film filled with images of youngsters killing each other and it would not be unnatural to find that disturbing. The violence is so over the top, however, that it’s difficult not to be amused at times. Who would have thought that a saucepan lid could prove to be such an effective weapon in the right hands? It’s not even a very good saucepan lid.
The controversy surrounding Battle Royale on its release centered on the graphic violence and the age of the participants, but there is no connection between the violence in the film and real life violence involving teenagers. The high school class that we follow are being forced against their will to participate in a life or death game, and they have been forced to do so by adults: adults who have stooped so far as to rig the game. Despite having their backs against the wall, some of teenagers behave quite nobly; pleading for peace, setting up Continue reading CAPSULE: BATTLE ROYALE [BATORU ROWAIARU] (2000)→
PLOT: One by one the residents of a small Japanese village become “infected” with an
obsession for spirals, leading them to neglect their normal day to day lives and eventually to their odd spiral-related deaths. Yes, you read right…spiral deaths!
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Movies that achieve a coveted final place on the List need to be really very good or really very weird. Some will be great enough to score on both counts. Much as I love Uzumaki, I have to say it should earn a place based on the sheer quality and quantity of the weirdness on display. Viewers who like a neatly wrapped plot will be annoyed and frustrated that the nature of what’s going wrong in the village is never really explained. There’s a breadcrumb sprinkling of just enough hints to allow you to ponder the cause yourself: is it an ancient curse, casually malevolent demons or something worse, rooted in the double helix of the villagers’ very DNA?
COMMENTS: This should be a pretty grim film. An apparently innocent group of villagers are led to gruesome self mutilation and picturesque suicides by a strange infection, for which there is no cure, no explanation, and from which there is no escape. It “should” be a grim film, and yet it’s charming, quirky and downright laugh out loud funny in parts. Based on Junji Ito’s manga of the same name, it was made and released before the conclusion of the print version was released, so viewers coming to it via the books will apparently find significant differences. I have only read a couple of chapters of the manga and therefore cannot comment on how the two compare, but watching the film it’s tempting to think that some of the stylization of the cinematography and acting draws on the original artwork. Burtonesque spirals are so ubiquitous throughout the film, appearing in clouds, bushes and ceiling panels that it would be a rash viewer who launched into an uzumaki drinking game.
PLOT: A group of high school students share dreams of a burned, claw-handed man named Fred Krueger. As the students begin to die in dramatic ways, the survivors discover that they share a past of secret abuse at the hands of Krueger. The final survivors take it upon themselves drag Krueger from his dream world and dispatch him once and for all.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It really isn’t particularly weird. There are no wild grandstanding dream sequences; they’re all very similar in a “Silent Hill Lite” style. Given that the central character is a dead man who haunts people in their dreams and can exact real life revenge on their sleeping bodies, Krueger is lacking in imagination.
COMMENTS: First of all, I should point out that I am not a fan of the Elm St. franchise. I watched the original many years ago, and watched it again recently in light of the 2010 version, and I enjoyed it. To my surprise many aspects of the film stood the test of time quite well. Yes, some of the special effects had aged, but they had a wild, Tex Avery glee in their own madness that was contagious. The fact that they were practical effects added an immediacy that was quite exciting. The teens looked and behaved more or less like teens, making allowances for the nature of the film. It unfolded at a good pace and we had a heroine who stepped up to the plate when called upon.
I didn’t have any objections to someone making a newer version; I was interested to see it. I think this movie is what publicists term a “re-imagining” rather than a remake. The basic idea of the original has been kept. There is a group of teens, they’re having terrible nightmares, they begin to die horribly, and the killer is Fred Krueger. That’s as far as the similarities go however, the new film is darker both in mood and aesthetics. At times it was hard to see where the action was taking place and what was happening. Everything is dark. The school is as dark as the boiler room. The action takes place at night or during some town-wide energy saving drive where everyone seems to be using 20 watt bulbs.
PLOT: A young woman named Laura suffering from Klein-Levin Syndrome falls prey to the
mental control of a mesmeric killer, Byron Volpe. A young man named Danny happens upon Laura at the hospital and kidnaps her to try and save her from Volpe’s influence.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Parasomnia isn’t weird. The real life condition certainly is, but the film is messy, disorganized and inconsistent. The parts which are clearly intended to be weird just call up memories of other, better films. It is a bad movie, and there are one or two moments when it almost stumbles upon weirdness thanks to its own sheer clumsiness; but even then it’s not bad enough to make it championship material.
COMMENTS: Sweet Mother of Pearl, this is a bad, bad movie. I went into it full of optimism. The opening scene has Sean Young, looking good, making a very brief cameo as Byron Volpe’s wife; she takes a phone call from her murderous, mesmerist husband and immediately jumps off a balcony. This was a smart move on her part as she then didn’t have to appear in the rest of this interminable travesty. The opening credits are also very stylish. It’s all downhill from then on.
The film is so messy and inept that I assumed it was the director’s first effort. I was surprised to find that, amongst other work, he had directed an episode of the “Masters Of Horror” series and the 1999 version of The House On Haunted Hill. Parasomnia is clearly a low budget work, but that isn’t the problem. Production values are quite high, even though the dream scenes are unimaginative. What lets the film down is the terrible plotting. And it is terrible. There are many examples of the Saturday morning serial, “and with a single bound, he was free”, plot devices. Detectives disappear just when they’re needed, handcuffs suddenly become elastic, professional medical personnel behave like witless fools.
Laura, our “sleeping beauty,” suffers from parasomnia, a sleep disorder that causes her to doze most of her life away. She is also a patient in the worst hospital in the Western world. People are allowed to wander in and out without anyone raising an eyebrow, much less an objection. Danny goes there to visit a friend who is in for “drug rehab.” He’s spending his last days before release polishing the doorknobs that he has taken from all the doors in the hospital. The staff know about this but seem to view it as an amusing eccentricity, rather than a dangerous security risk. On his friend’s recommendation Danny goes down to the “psycho ward” for a gawp at the inmates, including the famous killer Byron Volpe. Volpe is so dangerous that he is kept in Guantanamo Bay style restraints, hanging arms outstretched. His head is hooded because his terrible power is in his gaze. This doesn’t really explain how he convinced his wife to jump off the balcony, over the phone. Nor does it explain how he manages to control Laura when she leaves the hotel. What Volpe is doing in a hospital next door to Laura isn’t explained either; why isn’t he in some maximum-security facility where the nurses won’t run squealing from him at meal times?
Danny is on his way to goggle at Volpe when he spots Laura and wanders into her room to gaze creepily at her. When the doctor arrives you’d be forgiven for expecting him to call security. No, of course not; he proceeds to tell Danny all about Laura even though he’s willingly admitted that he’s just some random guy who’s wandered in off the streets. As if this wasn’t a serious enough breach of privacy, Danny is then allowed to come and visit her whenever he wants. The arrival of some doctors from a sleep institute prompts Danny to kidnap Laura before she can be transferred to their facility.
Once Danny has Laura home, he undresses her and sponge bathes the unconscious young woman. Maybe I’m alone here, but this is not a character I want to identify with. I can’t help but feel that we are meant to see Danny as our romantic hero, rescuing the damsel from the uncaring arms of the medical profession. Step back, though, and he’s a guy who has convinced himself that he has a bond with an unconscious woman with limited experience of the outside world. To further the relationship he kidnaps her; completely unprepared to care for her either emotionally or clinically, he takes her to his apartment, undresses her and fondles her naked body in the name of cleaning her. The next day he shovels cornflakes into Laura’s sleeping mouth, before leaving her sitting up, unrestrained, in a dining chair with the TV on “in case she wakes up”! Then he goes out for the day. What a guy, right? In the evening he even stops off at a bar on the way home, seemingly unconcerned that his charge could be lying in a puddle of urine with a broken neck.
And the film goes on and on like this. To make up for it the weirdness factor would have to be 11, but it’s nowhere near. There are a few dream sequences where Laura finds herself chased by Volpe-inspired creatures through a wasteland of mirrors, but there is nothing original about the scenery or the creatures. The other source of intentional weirdness comes near the end of the film. Volpe has escaped from hospital, thanks to more blithering incompetence on the part of the staff. For some reason best known to himself, he has kidnapped two female musicians, a violinist and a cellist. (I only mention this because one of the weirdest aspects of the film is how these women manage to play full orchestral arrangements on just two string instruments; but I digress). A series of agile leaps of logic and contrived plot devices leads to Danny being handcuffed to a chair, and Laura having a pair of feathered wings crudely grafted to her back. They are imprisoned in the workshop of Danny’s drug-addled friend, who spends his time out of hospital making musical automata. These creations take center stage during the climax of the movie; they are intriguing and stylish, but ultimately just window dressing.
Parasomnia left me with a bad taste, not just because it stole two hours of my life but because there’s a greasy trail of misogyny throughout the whole thing. Danny is not a modern day Prince Charming, he’s a creepy pervert, as bad in his own way as Volpe is in his. The scene which sticks in my mind is Danny taking Laura out for an ice cream, which she has never encountered before. She paddles it around on the café table before rubbing it all over her face and grinning at him childishly. Danny observes that he’s going to have to bathe her again. This would be nasty if Danny was the villain of the piece, but we’re clearly meant to sympathize with him. In case we’re in any doubt as to where our sympathies should lie there’s a little epilogue to reassure us that this relationship was meant to be. It ties in with a rambling early scene in which Danny and a friend discuss music. The friend reappears in the last five minutes with a record that he promised to give to Danny. As Danny and Laura float together in a life support tank, the song blasts out over the closing credits, but it certainly didn’t say “Happily Ever After” to me.