366 UNDERGROUND: THE GOD INSIDE MY EAR (2017)

DIRECTED BY: Joe Badon

FEATURING: Linnea Gregg, Dorian Rush, Collin Galyean, Alex Stage

PLOT: Eliza, an average Jane in a contemporary US city, has lost her boyfriend to a mystic cult; she gets pulled into the cult too, experiencing how much it sucks to be without a man in the 2010s, as a big Roman-candle middle finger to Alison Bechdel.

Still fromThe God Inside My Ear (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This is a banal, vanilla, ordinary, trite lover’s lament about a woman getting dumped by her boyfriend, with a stale can of film-festival cliche symbolisms spray-painted over its face. The weirdest part of this movie is the realization that apparently 366 Weird Movies is now so popular that impostors are wearing a disguise and flashing our gang signs in the hopes of infiltrating our cool kids’ club. If that makes you feel dirty just for liking weird movies, just watch some good Buñuel or Gilliam and the hangover will vanish in minutes.

COMMENTS: We’ll save some time here if you want to take shortcuts: The God Inside My Ear starts out faintly clever and then loses one IQ point per minute of runtime until its brain-dead ending. The cold open skips the credits to flash a series of images, eyeballs and teeth, pyramids and dolphins, little girl in an orchard and mysterious red-robed figure in fog. Nice try, but I take notes, and these better all tie together later! The image of the tattoo of an ear on the palm of a hand at least gets explained first, as in the first scene Eliza’s boyfriend dumps her at a cafe because he’s found this cult that’s showing him enlightenment, see, and he gets messages through the ear-palm job. Goodbye plot, it was nice knowing you! In case you missed it, the entire point to this movie is: “boy dumps girl; girl sad.” Thank you, folks, goodnight.

Now we have 95 minutes for the autopsy of Eliza’s achy-breaky heart. Her coworker unsympathetically tries to hit her up for a rebound date, while her barfly friends tell her she’s better off without the loser, and her nosy neighbor pries into her business. Eliza recounts a long parable about the magician who yanks the tablecloth off the table to illustrate how she feels shattered like a wine bottle. Valentine’s Day gets brought up a lot, as her friends push her back into the dating pool. Cue the montage of quirky failed date candidates, babbling dialog that sounds like they’ve watched too many Richard Linklater films. Her only friend seems to be a sympathetic telemarketer, whose mysterious voiceover gives the the wisest counsel, but the script even drops that bit to opt for the telemarketer to become just one more male creep in Eliza’s life. Alas, he will be back as a creepy stalker, because this cruel world is out to get Mary Sue—oops, I mean “Eliza”—which is why it stole her boyfriend.

Are you ready to tell Eliza to just buy a vibrator already? By this time, anybody watching cannot possibly give a damn whether Eliza ever finds love again, because she has been given no character development, no backstory, and no B-line subplots for the movie to hang onto. We also saw nothing of her much-lamented lost relationship; the all-important sperm donor gets one goofy scene at the very Continue reading

366 UNDERGROUND: TURN IN YOUR GRAVE (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Rob Ager

FEATURING: Marc Bolton, Jennifer Moylan-Taylor, Debra Redcliffe, Christopher Honey, Richie Nolan, Christopher Pavlou, Bonnie Adair

PLOT: Seven characters wake up with no memory inside a warehouse; they’re besieged by a menagerie of monsters and teased with abstract clues as they search for an exit.

Still from Turn in Your Grave (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: We’re jaded weirdsville patrons around here. The creators of Turn In Your Grave have certainly made a passing acquaintance with our wild jungle, but they obviously haven’t seen Maximum Shame yet. But it’s still just weird enough to warrant keeping an eye on Rob Ager, in case he comes up with a more distilled brew later.

COMMENTS: Shot in black-and-white or muted color, we open to bewildered people waking up in a warehouse, silhouetted by puzzle pieces and with industrial tones on the soundtrack. If you’re looking to grab the attention of a weird movie site, you’re off to a good start! The group of seven take in their surroundings, with boxes, mirrors, nonsensical paintings and flags of several countries. All of the characters question what this place is and how they got there. Sounds like we have another ontological mystery on our hands. Sure enough, they all start talking and asking each other what’s going on.

The space they’re in seems set up to mess with their minds—paintings flip over, doors appear, and several of them have conflicting views of their environment. This of course leads the paranoid dude in the camo jacket (seven and a half minutes in, what took him so long?) to accuse the group of harboring a planted agent and to start threatening violence against them if they don’t fess up. And did we mention some of the boxes they rummage through contain weapons? No sooner is the fight getting started than loud noises from outside cause them to scramble for arms to meet this new threat. Through the dark doorway, otherwordly zombie-like beings immediately emerge and begin to attack, but their bodies phase out like static while our cast struggles with them. The first monsters are easily defeated, promptly dematerializing after they fall.

We’re just getting started. The warehouse eventually turns out to be more than just this one big room, and the place is crawling with monsters, ranging from guys in childish papier-mâché head masks to full-on gory ghouls. And so we go on, puzzles and unexplained events piling up while the cast banters in “Waiting for Godot” terms, wondering why somebody is doing this and is it some kind of joke or test, that sort of thing. The events follow a poetic logic, such as when stricken monsters vanish into flutters of paper scraps, while other scraps of paper turn up stuck to boxes and shirts with teasing clues typed on them. Illusions and delusions abound, but one thing is certain, the monsters are getting feistier and harder to fight off with every wave.

Bring on the cast questioning their fragmenting sanity, or running in terror through hallways with nightmarish aberrations in pursuit. Think of Cube (1997), Circle (2015), and Exam (2009) for touchstones the same genre. With a story like this, you can settle down to being pitched an onslaught of riddles mounting into a confusing haze, and it isn’t going to matter whether at the end we get a satisfying explanation or are left in limbo. What’s going to matter to the weird movie viewer is how the journey goes. Things do get pretty creepy within this framework, mixing some outright horror with its surreal mystery, suggesting alternate dimensions, or that perhaps they’re all imprisoned in a psychotic’s dream. For the record, the ending, a blessed relief from the claustrophobic former acts, is certainly an original twist on the run-of-the-mill ontological mystery.

Bear in mind that this is a micro-budget production, but you can see where they made every penny count. The acting is solid and capable, the film work is expert level, and the props and effects squeeze in as much imagination as they can. It has a style of its own, especially as the paintings are one-of-a-kind and suitably loopy, to suggest a well-oiled imagination somewhere around the corner. Later monster attacks double down on elaborate costumes and imagination levels, with rows of wood screws doubling for teeth or DVDs lodged on the face for eyes. There’s some good jump scares and spooky sound effects to keep things skewed, and at least the monster attacks and action stop it from becoming a talky bore. Hey, the ending even invites fanciful interpretations! This is exactly the kind of first project a larval-stage or would make while still in school, so we can’t say there’s no potential here. Of course, this is also the kind of production you’d make if you were a stoner college student who’s a big fan of Cube and Exam and didn’t have any better ideas, so we also can’t give it an unqualified rave.

Bottom line: not too shabby a starting act! As a freshman midterm, it gets an A. But it’s far too early in his career to tell whether Rob Ager is destined to shake up the world.

Turn in Your Grave is available exclusively from the official website.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“When there is a concept in a filmmaker’s head that he/she is trying to communicate to an audience, that’s great… but somehow that concept needs to make it out of that filmmaker’s head and into the heads of the audience eventually. If that never does happen then what you get is a film that only makes sense to the filmmaker, while leaving the audience dazed and confused.”–Don Sumner, HorrorFreak News

LIST CANDIDATE: HITLER LIVES! (2017)

BewareWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Stuart Rowsell

FEATURING: Morte, Jay Katz, Chris Sadrinna

PLOT: The deteriorating, practically zombified body of Adolf Hitler shuffles around a bunker deep underground, his nightmares and visions of past associates interrupted only by visits from a faithful henchman and his telecommunications with Dr. Mengele, who has unsettling plans to permanently immortalize the erstwhile Führer.

Still from Hitler Lives! (2017)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Hitler Lives! is definitely weird, with hallucinated marionette memories, decomposing visuals mimicking the decomposing Hitler, and an ending that cannot be un-watched (much like most of the movie). The lack of polish, although sometimes smacking of amateurism, is stylistically effective; kind of like if Jörg Buttgereit started a movie promised a tiny budget, but instead was given no budget.

COMMENTS: Wikipedia tells us that “Adelaide is the capital city of the state of South Australia, and the fifth-most populous city of Australia. In June 2016, Adelaide had an estimated resident population of 1,324,279.” What that opening blurb does not mention is that one of those 1.3 million people was none other than Adolf Hitler. Perhaps that is unsurprising, as the former dictator was busy slowly decomposing in an underground bunker in 2016. That, in brief, is the premise of Stuart Rowsell’s zero-budget trash horror weirdness, Hitler Lives! In a string of un-unseeable scenes taking place over an unclear amount of time, we get to watch, in horror spiced with disgust, as Hitler shuffles around in mostly solitary agony.

Beginning topside, two construction workers zip down into a tunnel as one of them regales the other with an anecdote about his grandfather helping to transport Adolf Hitler from the Antarctic hideaway to which he escaped after Germany’s fall. The colleague meets the once powerful demagogue, who is now scarcely able to move and hooked up to some ominous, boiler-looking device. After the worker is killed to fuel the boiler, things get grislier as Hitler hallucinates, hacks, stumbles around, and is increasingly distressed about Doctor Mengele’s new plan for their immortality.

So, we’ve got a few standard items here: Hitler did not die at the end of World War II; weird science has come to the Führer’s rescue; and at least one Nazi ended up in Argentina (Dr. Mengele). Director Stuart Rowsell, a special effects man by trade, twists those tropes into perhaps the least palatable presentation possible. Dorff’s doomed colleague immediately smells gangrene upon entering the bunker, and we almost can, too. The atmosphere on-screen is stifling, and the visuals look as decayed and dripping as Adolf’s rotting body. A video screen displays constant Nazi propaganda, and Hitler’s wistful musings about Wagner and success are constantly interrupted by creepy, strangely-voiced marionettes of his past henchmen (Göring, von Ribbentrop, and Hess are among the Nazi superstars we see puppetized) as well as unnerving videophone calls from Doctor Mengele. And did I mention aliens? They appear very briefly, but allow for what is one of the most… memorable endings I’ve endured in a while.

As you saw at the top of this review: Beware. We’re running precipitously low on slots, but as much as it was a trial at times, Hitler Lives! has earned, through slime, ickiness, outlandishness, and puppetry, serious consideration for Certified status. I’ve mentioned it had no budget, which is a bit of a lie: a whopping 150,000 Australian dollars were funneled into this. Impressively small change, yes, particularly considering how thoroughly real (in its surreal, unsettling way) Hitler Lives! feels. Perhaps the weirdest thing of all, however—and I say this with considerable reservation—is that by the end, the movie somehow makes the viewer pity the walking corpse on display. This feeling dissipates quickly once one leaves the rancid bunker, but the fact that human sentiment could be so upended for 80 minutes is impressive.

THE DIRECTOR SAYS:

“…the film was never stage managed for the mainstream – it was designed and written for the alternative fringe of the ‘strange film’ loving audience …. so the film is what it is – a messed up surreal trash exploitation film made on a limited budget of next to zero, that only ‘the audience of the weird’ and strange film could understand and enjoy!

Hitler Lives! was made for the weirdest audience that exists.

Hitler Lives! is available to watch on USA Streaming websites such as iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, XBox and Google Play …. visit www.hitlerlives.com for updates on more VOD/Streaming … as of yet there is no official DVD/Blu Ray release – maybe there will be a release in a year or so, depending on interest and demand…”–Stuart Rowsell

366 UNDERGROUND: STAR TREK TIME WARP TRILOGY (2010-2013)

DIRECTED BY: Brandon M. Bridges

FEATURING: Brandon M. Bridges

PLOT: A series of time paradoxes reunite a Starfleet captain with a friend he’d long thought dead.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While a handful of scenes approach delightfully high levels of weirdness, the trilogy as a whole is too monotonous and just plain boring to be worthwhile.

COMMENTS: For the lover of outsider cinema, fan films are a tricky lot to evaluate. On one level, fan films make up one of the most plentiful sources of DIY filmmaking. Persons whose movie production experience ranges from amateur to none gather together out of nothing but a shared enthusiasm for their subject to make films. They write their own scripts, sew their own costumes, scout out whatever locations their friends and family have access to, and rent or buy their own equipment, all with zero expectation of commercial recompense due to copyright law. The best of fan films are filmmaking for filmmaking’s sake, regardless of budget, experience or competence, and that’s fertile ground for weird cinema.

There’s something at the root of the fan film, however, that often prevents it from being a truly weird product. By its very nature, the fan film is intrinsically tied to the aesthetics and ideologies of the commercial film industry, because it’s the output of that very industry that fan filmmakers are trying to imitate. Fan films might be described as an audiovisual form of cosplay. Be it “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” or “The Lord of the Rings,” most fan films aim to replicate their source material as closely as a limited budget and volunteer crew and cast allows. While there’s still plenty of room for creative expression within these confines, just as there is in fan art and fanfiction, the firm ties to pre-established canons and aesthetics severely hamper the fan film’s potential for weirdness.

I don’t know if I’ve seen a fan film that typifies this dichotomy between slavish devotion to source material and bizarre outsider weirdness as much as Brandon Bridges’ Star Trek: Time Warp trilogy. Its visual fidelity to the “Star Trek” universe comes down to minute details of each ship and uniform, and it’s made all the more impressive by the fact that it was all done by one man. At the same time, the constant insertion of what are clearly the director’s personal interests throws all that fidelity into disarray. Archived video of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” plays a vital role in the protagonist’s attempts to determine the identify of a time-traveling warlord. Bridges also has a relationship with “The Price Is Right” that’s akin to ’s relationship with angora wool. Serious plot developments occur in holodeck recreations of the Bob Barker era set, and the game show’s full theme plays in each of the three films.

Maybe the strangest thing about the Time Warp trilogy isn’t its length, or its obsession with mid-70s daytime television, but rather how un-“Star Trek” the narrative feels. On a surface level, the story has many of the staples of “Trek,” particularly the original series and “Next Generation” films of the 80s and 90s. There are temporal anomalies, starship battles, and political conspiracies to disrupt peace in the universe. But most of the run time isn’t spent on any of these things; instead, it’s devoted to long, verbose conversations between the characters about their personal and emotional lives.

This isn’t to say emotional storytelling hasn’t been a focus of certain incarnations of “Star Trek,” but at their creative peak the franchise wove such storytelling into its narrative, revealing characters’ interior lives through their reactions to the events surrounding them. In Time Warp, sci-fi touchstones like time travel and alien invasions come off as little more than nuisances rudely interrupting the crew’s navel-gazing. While the concept of a mid-century melodrama occasionally interrupted by Romulans is appealing, the execution here is unfortunately just boring.

Each film in the Time Warp trilogy is available to view for free on Youtube.

366 UNDERGROUND: MANOS: THE RISE OF TORGO (2015)

“I made Rise of Torgo following what I call ‘Hal’s Rules’: very few takes, no shots over 30 seconds, shoot without sound and pay no one up front. There’s no way to copy what Hal Warren did, so I set out to make a film that is a sibling to the original, similar yet different.”–David Roy, 2016 interview with 366 Weird Movies

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jackie Neyman Jones, Joe Warren, Danny McCarty, Elizabeth Redpath, Matt Rogers

PLOT: In this prequel to the notoriously bad cult film Manos: The Hands of Fate, we learn the origin of iconic characters the Master and Torgo.

Still from Manos: The Rise of Torgo (2015)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Rise of Torgo is an often-striking addition to the Manos world, with several inventive and unique aspects that had potential, but ultimately its slavish devotion to the original and a plodding pace prevent it from being a satisfying prequel. It’s not good enough to be great and not terrible enough to be an entertaining “bad” film, falling somewhere between competent and ordinary.

COMMENTS: Manos: The Rise of Torgo faces two major concerns from the outset: one, it follows up an iconic cult film fifty-something years after the fact; and two, it purposefully sets out to make a “bad” movie. The first concern is similar to the dilemma faced by the recent follow up to 1982’s Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, which I though was plagued by the weight of its highly influential predecessor and was most successful when it strayed from the source material. Similarly, Rise of Torgo is most engaging when building its own mythos, and least successful when recreating or reusing elements of the original film. Obviously there’s no comparison between the two franchises (Blade Runner vs. Manos) in terms of production value or popular success; I mention it only because of the comparable uneven mix of old and new elements, the considerable lengths between installments, and because both films feature actors from the original franchise.

The second concern arises when a competent filmmaker attempts to recreate the errors of people with no concept of how to turn out a polished, coherent product. The errors often feel forced or labored, and the schadenfreude derived from witnessing genuinely misguided filmmaking is replaced with boredom and irritation. The great “terrible” films like Plan Nine from Outer Space (1959), Troll 2 (1990) or The Room (2003) were made by genuinely misguided filmmakers, outsiders like or who seem removed from ordinary human experience and can only write dialogue and cut footage together from their own strange impulses. They show instincts devoid of even the slightest knowledge of how ordinary human beings communicate, or of how filmmakers arrange footage to create meaning and coherence.

The original Manos brimmed with the kind of odd editing choices and bizarre dialogue that truly defines bad cinema. It featured twenty second shots of Torgo stumbling around with luggage, accompanied by his own music cue, alongside his tremulous delivery of lines like, “I meant no harm, Madam, I’ll protect you… I’ll protect you.” Director Harold Warren had no formal film training, and it shows, especially when a shot of the clapperboard is featured in scenes with the kissing couple. The amateur nature of the production is stamped throughout the exasperating length of the film.

Rise of Torgo’s auteur, David Roy, is clearly no slouch at film making. His shots are well composed, the color grading enhances elements for effect, and there are even special effects (admittedly cheesy ones, probably designed as such to fit the Manos universe). This is a capable filmmaker attempting to make a bad film, and as such a lot of the fun is taken out of the picture. What we get instead are elements of garbage woven through a competently produced picture.

Rise of Torgo gets off to a good, campy start, with an introduction to the Master and the God Manos (represented by Jackie Neyman Jones, the little girl from the original), presented as a floating head, like the ghost of Mufasa in The Lion King. We then learn the origins of Torgo’s birth, involving twin midwives (who later turn out to be his grandmothers) and a blessing from a cross-eyed gypsy. She is promptly jettisoned from the rest of the film and her presence never explained. All original and amusing “bad filmmaking” choices so far. A woman in the woods inexplicably sings about her love for goats, and given Torgo’s hinted-at satyr nature in the original film, we might even expect the two to meet and develop a romance. Sadly, at this point in the film Manos “call-backs” take over. The girl merely becomes a victim of the Master’s original caretaker, and an otherwise fresh, surreal characteristic goes unutilized.

The “Them” Torgo’s Mother speaks of is an interesting aspect thrown into his psychology, but ultimately becomes pointless in his transformation into the Master’s slave. That transformation arises from a combination of bullying and the power of Manos. The twin Grandmothers speak and move in sync, an interesting feature that remains merely a curiosity and fails to inform the story in any significant way. It’s a device that had potential, but ultimately falls to the necessity of sticking to the elements of The Hands of Fate. The film occasionally even fails to satisfy this requirement: Torgo doesn’t have the same quavering, tremulous voice as the original, not even after his transformation by Manos.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If you enjoyed the original Manos, you’ll probably find this to be a worthy sequel, in the sense that it strives to stylistically be as similar as possible. If campiness is your thing, you’re in for a fun ride.”–David Gelmini, Dread Central

Manos: The Rise of Torgo Facebook Site