Category Archives: List Candidates

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE INVISIBLE FIGHT (2023)

AKA Nähtamatu võitlus

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The Invisible Fight is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

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DIRECTED BY: Rainer Sarnet

FEATURING: Ursel Tilk, Kaarel Pogga, Ester Kuntu, Indrek Sammul

PLOT: A conscript is inspired to join a local monastery where he hopes to pursue his new dream of mastering holy martial arts after surviving a massacre at the hands of three kung fu masters who descend from the heavens.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Deeply informed by both Eastern Orthodox Christian theology and kung fu film lore, Rainer Sarnet’s fish-out-of-water comedy bubbles over with goofy slapstick, heavy metal, and ancient wisdom.

COMMENTS: The path toward enlightenment is traveled with humility—and preferably while listening to Black Sabbath. The Invisible Fight dives deeply into the past, with anachronistic layers coexisting as joyfully as its insouciance interweaves with asceticism. What could easily have come across as the height of judgmental arrogance—fun poked at holy traditions (brick pillow, anyone?), martial artistry (pierogi fight and sausage stand-off), and flippant dismissal of a sinister Soviet past—sublimates into a vapor of merry rumination as it zips from set piece to set piece, leavening its silliness with wisdom, and vice versa, as its main character grows from a blithe, metal-head mechanic into a blithe, metal-head Starets monk.

It is 1973, and our hero, a border guard named Rafael, witnesses the unlikely arrival of three kung fu fighters. Though his peers are murdered mercilessly—if quite stylishly—by this gang of heavenly warriors, Rafael is spared, with his commander’s dying words (“I guess God has other plans for you”) seared into his young mind as deeply as the transcendent run-in with the boombox-bearing bad-asses. Fast forward to life at home, where he rocks, and while rocking rocks long, rebellious hair, a shiny cross (in defiance of the Soviet authorities), and a dumb little red car that’s always breaking down.

Stylistically, The Invisible Fight owes its verve to silent comedy, classic wuxia, and the ubiquitous Black Sabbath classic, “The Wizard.” (This track is, appropriately, from the album “We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘N’ Roll.”) Cartoony blast-titles mark the chapters, with designations like “A Lesson in Humility”, “A Lesson in Humility Number 2”, “Shadow Fight”, “The Demon”, and so on. Sarnet plinks in Looney Tunes sound cues for winks, wobbles, whacks, and whiplash. Practical martial arts duels are liberally sprinkled throughout, whether they be between Rafael and a rival monk, or during a bout with a State Security agent on a holy road trip.

This film is, as you have sussed by now, silly to the core, and borders on giddy. But this renders the deep philosophy all the more remarkable and memorable. Christ’s many icon-ic gestures are correlated to martial moves; Rafael’s challenges, though often solved with kung fu, echo the trials and tribulations of holy men of yore; and the overarching—might I even say, fundamental—lessons of Christ’s philosophical teachings are constantly reinforced while never feeling preachy. Humility, forgiveness, and self-awareness elude Rafael. But by the end, under the benevolent tutelage of the elderly brother Nafanail, Rafael cruises his blindly-cheerful self to a form of Zen—introducing the monastics to the joys of Black Sabbath along the way.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Writer-director Rainer Sarnet’s deliriously weird The Invisible Fight would be irksome if it weren’t crafted so lovingly and with a charming earnestness.” — Charles Lyons-Burt, Slant (contemporaneous)

Invisible Fight [Blu-ray]
  • Kung fu meets heavy metal meets Orthodox monks in this Estonian action comedy

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST (1967)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Theodore J. Flicker

FEATURING: James Coburn, Joan Delaney, Godfrey Cambridge, Severn Darden

PLOT: Dr. Sidney Shaefer is chosen to provide his psychoanalytical services to the president of the United States, making him target number one for sinister agents both foreign and domestic.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHAThe President’s Analyst begins as a cute exploration of the 60s craze for psychotherapy; but at an accelerating speed, cute spirals into silly, then into zany, then to madcap, before climaxing in a jaw-dropping finale plucked straight from a giggling paranoiac’s subconscious.

COMMENTS: Psychological analysis is a slow process: trust is built, feelings are explored, and emotions’ roots are teased out over time. The President’s Analyst, on the other hand, is a speedy journey through a pinball plotline, a zany zipping from point A, to B, to C—through the entire alphabet, perhaps, as director Theodore J. Flicker maneuvers an unflappable James Coburn from humble sitcom beginnings all the way through an explosive climax and a joyfully jaded denouement.

To speed along the plot necessities, Flicker amply uses cinema’s age-old time quickener: the montage. He establishes Dr. Sidney Shaefer’s profession before the opening credits wrap up, then intercuts that montage with another laying out the “thriller” angle: shady guy passes off envelope, envelope receiver winds through city streets, then is murdered by Don Masters, sneakily in broad daylight. Don is a CEA agent (not at all to be confused with a CIA agent) in a rush: “I gotta hurry, or I’ll be late for my analyst.” Scenes move along with purpose, often with a 1960s “ahhh-AHHHH-ahhh” woman’s chanting musical cue in moments of peril (and there are many moments of peril), with plenty of smoooooth lounge-style synth work.

Events escalate badly for Dr. Shaefer. Against the wishes of the FBR chief (not at all to be confused with the FBI chief, particularly as this man’s organization is staffed entirely by somber men who stand below five-foot-tall), Shaefer has been groomed and selected to serve the president. This leads our hero to acquire too much knowledge, and hostile forces stack up quickly to either kill or kidnap him: the Russians (through the machinations of friendly super-spy Kropotkin, friend of Don Masters), the Chinese, the Libyans, the Cubans, the British—and even, we find, the Canadian Secret Service. The FBR (who, along with the CEA, were not consulted for this film) are after Shaefer as well, sending two of their top short men.

The second half of The President’s Analyst is “Spy v. Spy” writ large, but with character-building moments breaking into the many montages. The two FBR agents are distinct, established in a delightful little scene in a New Jersey suburb, one admonishing the boy of the house about racist language. Don’s and Kropotkin’s friendship is touching, as two long-career spies working from opposite sides of the Cold War divide. And James Coburn is a combination of James Bond and Dr. Hartley from the “Bob Newhart Show,” thinking on his feet (at one point he stumbles onto a tour bus and ends up dressed as a hippie-band gong maestro), both for survival and analysis.

Looming in the background is a most unlikely nemesis: bigger than any petty foreign agency, bigger than the KGB, bigger, even, it seems, than the US government. This reveal, with its concurrent implications of technological grandeur and the power to enslave humanity, forced my long dropped jaw to remain open until the finish.  Casino Royale, eat your heart out; “The Prisoner,” eat your heart out—The President’s Analyst is a prescient, madcap, disturbing, hilarious, thrilling adventure which fuses Cold War paranoia with ’60s-silly cinematic sensibilities.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a psychedelic mega-satire with sado-burlesque overtones… a full-scale, mind-bending comic nightmare.”–Giles M. Fowler, Kansas City Star (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Mel Arkey, who called it “an all time fave of mine and most definitively weird.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

WEIRD VIEW CREW: ANDY WARHOL’S BAD (1977)

A pitch-black, campy comedy about murder for hire in which the victims include babies and puppies, starring cult icons Carroll Baker and . Directed by one Jed Johnson (Warhol’s lover at the time). Before , there was . Pete thinks this one is deserving of Apocrypha status.

(This movie was nominated for review by Christian McLaughlin of Westgate Gallery, who called this “astonishingly ahead-of-its-time 1977 black comedy” his “#1 choice” for the list, but also warned “it’s almost impossible to see a decent & uncut print.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: DAY OF THE WACKO (2002)

 Dzien swira

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Marek Koterski

FEATURING: Marek Kondrat

PLOT: An easily irritated Polish teacher with OCD spends a long day in increasingly surreal, comic situations.

Still from Day of the Wacko (2002)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: This cult Polish comedy is a long shot for consideration among the weirdest of all time, but it does offer numerous imaginary sequences, a uniquely cynical perspective, and a scene where the main character complains, “where are all these weird people coming from?”

COMMENTS: Day of the Wacko’s Adas Miauczynski is a comic creation who transcends cultural boundaries. Perpetually annoyed, he strides through Warsaw like a Polish Basil Fawlty, arguing with noisy neighbors, defecating on their lawns, and sending a crippled lapdog flying over a hedge with a swift kick. He’s no role model, but his take-no-guff attitude is perversely appealing; his misbehavior allows the audience to live out a fantasy of taking out their frustrations on annoying urbanites. But while Adas’ antics are vicariously satisfying, the film never loses sight of how utterly miserable the man really is. The first twenty minutes or so show him engaged in his obsessive morning rituals, which involve him washing up and making coffee, always using multiples of seven. He’s the kind of sad sack who, when he finally meets a dream lover in a fantasy sequence, immediately begins worrying about how he’ll be able to get rid of her. And his final monologue as night falls over his apartment block is utterly despairing, tonally inconsistent with the foregoing comedy, and yet somehow not at all out-of-character.

The movie is essentially plotless, showing Adas mucking his way through various social disappointments over the course of a long day. After completing his persnickety ablutions and raging at his noisy neighbors, he gets peeved and walks out of the poetry class he’s teaching; visits his mother, ex-wife, and son, all of whom disappoint him to various degrees; putters about attempting to complete errands; tries to take an afternoon nap just as a wandering minstrel decides to stroll by with an accordion; and decides to take a trip to the beach, where he falls asleep and dreams about death. These adventures are peppered throughout with little fantasy sequences and skits: snippets of the serene-but-constantly-interrupted poem Adas tries vainly to compose, a TV ad for dildos. The satirical material aimed at millennial Polish audiences may go over your head: for example, a scene where various factions tug at a medieval flag, which rips apart and bleeds. The film occasionally looks like it was shot on video, and the fantasy sequences lack visual fireworks, but the imagery isn’t really the thing here: it’s all about Kondrat’s peeved performance, which keeps you watching to see what outrage he will suffer, or commit, next.

Marek Kondrat plays the role of Adas Miauczynski in two other Koterski films, Dom wariatów (1985) and Wszyscy jestesmy Chrystusam (2006). Cezary Pazura played the same character (although named “Adam” instead of “Adas”) in Nothing Funny (1995) and Ajlawju (1999), and at least one other actor has portrayed Miauczynski at a different stage in life. Like Mick Travis in ‘s movies, there is little narrative or stylistic continuity between the various Miauczynskis; Wszyscy jestesmy Chrystusam, for example, seems to be an earnest drama about alcoholism, and in another, the character is described as a film director rather than a teacher. Other than Nothing Funny and Wacko, none of the Miauczynski movies appear to have been translated into English. Wacko is the most universally praised.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A nonstop screwball screed against the multitude of perceived indignities in contempo Poland… sheer chutzpah alone should propel this unique item to brave fests and perhaps a bit of business.”–Eddie Cockrell, Variety (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “haui.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: EXTE: HAIR EXTENSIONS (2007)

エクステ

AKA Ekusute; AKA Exte; AKA Hair Extensions

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DIRECTED BY: Sion Sono

FEATURING: , Miku Satô, , Ken Mitsuishi

PLOT: A woman’s corpse found in a human-hair-filled shipping container spews forth beautiful black hair, inflicting grisly fates upon those who use it as hair extensions.

Still from Exte: Hair Extensions (2007)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA:  Paranormal hair attacks alternate with domestic drama, making a strange weave of narrative that slides the viewer ever more tightly between its strands as it braids into a frightening, heartwarming climax.

COMMENTS: You may note that the word “hair” appears three times in the plot description. This is not enough times. The hair in Exte is ubiquitous, vexing its victims in increasingly strange ways. An extension harvested from an organ-harvest victim poises itself ominously at the ear canal of its wearer; a stylist is bombarded with harrowing recollections of illegal surgery. The hair tips jab into her brain, and she jabs her scissors into the side of her customer’s head. Later, the victim’s daughter views a violent, bloody thrashing through a hair-cut gash in door of the cupboard where she hides. An apartment window smashes outward as copious human hair bursts through the living space. And those are just small snips of the sinister proceedings.

Simultaneously, we hear the story of Mizushima Yoku, an up-and-coming young stylist who cheerily bombards an unseen audience with exposition—a habit that she and a co-worker picked up from a crummy television show. At work, Yoku cheerfully goes about her styling under the firm, but kind, tutelage of the master stylist. She has a jerk-bag sister, Kiyomi, who abandons her submissive daughter at Yoku’s house for a few days while Kiyomi goes out to party with her scum boyfriend. This mix of filial tension and sober depiction of child abuse exists as its own story universe while, on the other side of the narrative, a creepy coroner with a hair fetish steals the body of a mystically charged woman who grows hair at a furious pace in response to the wrongs she endured. When paths cross, as they must do, things get… hairy.

Exte juggles its tones so deftly that it’s only upon reflection that it dawns that Sion Sono is up to something very strange. To be sure, the hair-murder set pieces made me want to cheer Exte on. But the fusion of that strand with small gauge melo-tragedy is simultaneously incongruent and perfectly blended—like a cunning weave of ever so slightly off-colored hair done at the hands of a master stylist. And this tangle of a reaction has barely even mentioned Ren Ôsugi as the manic-pixie-psycho-coroner, all creepiness, whimsy, and song in his seaside shack-cum-shrine to beautiful human hair.

Sono proves once again a master stylist, lovingly curling this absurd story together from its disparate strands (in case this all was coming across as too simple, there’s also “police procedural” thrown into the mix, as detectives investigate the increasing body count). The perfect pacing, balance of soft and terror lighting, and the finessed performances calibrated to a scissor-edge between high drama and silly splatter are a sheer delight.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Even by the standards of Japanese horror movies, Exte is a very weird film. This is a movie all about hair, not just tangentially but intrinsically. Hair isn’t the McGuffin, it’s not the setting, it’s everything.” — M.J. Simpson, MJ Simpson Films (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Chris Thurlow, who describes it as “a possibly weird film about a man obsessed with hair who, while working in a police morgue, discovers a woman’s body that continues to grow copious amounts of hair despite the fact that she is dead.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)