Category Archives: List Candidates

LIST CANDIDATE: KEYHOLE (2011)

Keyhole has been upgraded to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time. This initial review is kept here for archival purposes. Please leave comments on Keyhole‘s official Certified Weird entry page.

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: Jason Patric, , Louis Negin, Brooke Palsson, David Wontner, Udo Kier

PLOT: Gangster Ulysses journeys through his immense mansion searching for his wife who is

Still from Keyhole (2011)

hiding on the top floor; along the way he uncovers tragic family memories.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s got Loius Negin as a naked grandpa ghost tied to his daughter’s bed by a long chain who likes to run around his haunted house whipping mortal intruders, for one thing. There’s more than enough soft-focus weirdness here to justify a position on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies Ever Made. The only problem is, icons like Guy Maddin make things difficult on themselves by raising their own bar so high. Keyhole would stun us if it were the work of a first or second time director, but we’ve watched Maddin creep about similarly maddening psychoscapes before—and seen him do it better.

COMMENTS: I think there are four possible reactions to Keyhole. The average moviegoer who has never seen a Guy Maddin movie before will despise it as incomprehensible trash. A tiny minority of newcomers will be astounded and think it’s the most visionary movie they’ve ever laid eyes upon. If you’re already initiated into Maddin’s esoteric world, there are two further possible responses: either an enthusiastic “Guy’s done it again!” or the more muted “Guy’s done this before.” I’m afraid I’m leaning towards the last camp. For this outing, Maddin sets his genre renovation sights on 1930s gangster movies, but we don’t stay in mob mode for long—the film quickly morphs into a unique, psychological haunted house piece. Crime boss Ulysses Pick has assembled his gang at his Gothic manor while he attends to a personal matter. The thugs wait on the first floor while Ulysses takes a blind girl and a kidnap victim through the house, peering through various keyholes and re-enacting a ritual with his (dead?) wife (they exchange a verbal formula, then he extracts a bit of hair from the keyhole and remembers an incident involving one of his four children, all of whom came to tragic ends). Meanwhile, various ghosts roam the home annoying the gangsters, and Udo Kier shows up as a doctor to pronounce some of the characters dead. Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: KEYHOLE (2011)

LIST CANDIDATE: TWIXT (2011)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning, Ben Chaplin, Joanne Whalley, Alden Ehrenreich, David Paymer, Don Novello, Anthony Fusco, Tom Waits

PLOT: Horror writer Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) is in decline, hacking out formulaic product and going on book tours to nowhere places, like the town of Swan Valley. The local sheriff (Bruce Dern) tells him about an unsolved massacre that took place in the town years ago, suggesting a collaboration on a book, which Hall doesn’t take seriously—until he starts dreaming of a young girl, V (Elle Fanning), who may be connected with the murders, and may be either a ghost or a vampire; and of Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin), who becomes a spiritual muse the deeper Hall delves into the mystery.

Still from Twixt (2011)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: What gives the film an aura of weirdness is its visual style, elements of which recall earlier Coppola films (mainly the more experimental ones like Rumble Fish and One from the Heart), along with the elements of autobiography that thread through the film. While it may be a bit too early to declare this as Essential Coppola, there are rewards to be found here for the adventurous moviegoer.

COMMENTS: Twixt has had a tortured time getting out to an audience; originally scheduled for release in late 2011 after several festival screenings and Comic Con hype, the movie has been released in France and England and only recently made its domestic premiere in San Francisco, with no concrete word (as of this writing) as to wider release in the U.S. Which is not that surprising, considering that most of the domestic reviews pretty much ripped the film to shreds. To a certain extent, they have a point—most of those reviews have commented on the murkiness of the narrative, which Coppola has stated had its origins in a dream. Most of those reviewers probably think that Coppola’s best creative days are behind him, or that he needs to return to more commercial fare to be ‘relevant’ again. It’s probably very telling that what North American distributors and critics have seen as a problem, Europe has eagerly embraced (especially France, where critics have acclaimed the film).

Twixt is a messy concoction, and for most audiences who are used to storylines where everything is clearly presented and all the twistedness will eventually be straightened out by the time the end credits roll, it won’t be a fun ride. Coppola describes it as “one part Gothic Romance, one part personal film and one part the kind of horror film I began my career with,” which is a pretty packed sandwich—not everything will fit neatly there. However, those concerned with neatness will conveniently overlook good performances by Kilmer, Dern and Chapin and some intriguing autobiographical references.

Twixt is available on R2 DVD and Blu-Ray. Again, no word as of yet when it will be available on R1 disc.

UPDATE 12/28/2015: In 2013, Twixt was released on R1 Blu-Ray by 20th Century Fox with excellent picture quality and sound. It’s light on extras, but what’s included is very interesting – a documentary on the making of the film shot by Gia Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter, prior to her feature film debut with Palo Alto (2014).

Twixt official site

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WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…easily [Coppola’s] silliest work… a mishmash of absurd horror tropes with a gush of blood…”–Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIST CANDIDATE: SOUND OF NOISE (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Ola Simonsson, Johannes Stjärne Nilsson

FEATURING: Bengt Nilsson, Sanna Persson

PLOT: A music-hating, tone deaf detective from a family of musical prodigies tracks down a

Still from Sound of Noise (2010)

gang of musical terrorists staging disruptive avant-garde percussion performances across Malmö, Sweden.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: If David Lynch directed the Swedish cast of STOMP in an action-comedy, I think it might go a little something like this…

COMMENTS: Tummy drums. Banknotes in a shredder. Jackhammer. Bowed power lines. These are some of the instruments employed by Sound of Noise‘s anarcho-musical terrorists, who bang on the Swedish city of Malmö like a giant drum kit by staging surprise polyrhythmic concertos in emergency rooms, banks, and other public spaces. Hot on their trail is detective Amadeus Warnebring, the black sheep of a family of musical prodigies; he has a hearing disorder which makes the sound of music intolerable to his ears, so that attending a Haydn recital staged by his younger brother, a celebrity conductor, hurts more than his pride. Sound of Noise takes this outlandish setup as its base melody, then syncopates the beat into a thematic experiment that builds to a bizarro crescendo. An undercurrent of humor serves as a constant backbeat that keeps us from getting lost in the thematic noodling. This is a very funny film, from the way it parodies caper movie conventions as the criminal mastermind musicians recruit expert anti-establishment drummers from their straight day jobs to the moment the masked sextet breaks into a bank with the declaration “This is a gig! Just listen and nobody gets hurt!” Besides the comedy, the music itself provides pop appeal: each of the four movements of “Music for One City and Six Drummers,” the conceptual piece the detective is trying in vain to stop, is feisty, inventive, and catchy as hell. In the second performance, one musician bangs rubber stamps against a teller’s window while another taps the keys of a computer keyboard; his fellows accompany him with adding machines and paper shredders, stirring the soul by appropriating and reordering the mundane commotion of ordinary life. We can hardly wait to hear what the each succeeding movement will bring. The music the “terrorists” play is experimental and dangerous, but it’s not academic or obscure: in contrast to the chilly exclusivity of the symphonic musical establishment (Sound‘s main satirical target), these tunes staged in the public square aim to connect with ordinary people and set toes to tapping. The movie would like to advocate the same aesthetic mix of cutting-edge creativity and unpretentious appeal, but detective Amadeus’ storyline goes off-beat and heads into dissonant narrative realms. His back story is merely quirky, but it develops into something genuinely strange when he discovers that he can no longer hear the sound made by an “instrument” after it has been played on by the drummers. So, in discordant allegory, the percussionists progressive performances are helping antagonist Amadeus to achieve his dream of a music-free utopia of silence. Following this plotline to its illogical conclusion leads to an exceedingly odd and somewhat muddled finale where Amadeus’ selective deafness and his spiritual connection to Sanna, the female music theorist who leads the band, merge into a personal musical apocalypse. The movie’s competing rhythms of absurd comedy, police procedural, action (there’s a chase scene where a drummer tosses cymbals out of his van to slow down his pursuers), music, and surreal speculation don’t always merge perfectly, but the beats are original and high-spirited enough to keep you intrigued for the symphony’s short running time. Plus, I bet the official soundtrack is a blast to play at parties.

Sound of Noise is a feature-length riff on “Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers,” Ola Simonsson’s 2001 short film about six percussionists (played by the same actors) who break into an apartment to play music on the resident’s appliances while they are out walking their dog.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If you’re looking to fill out your weird quotient for the week, there’s no better option in town right now than this Swedish film doozy. Unique to a fault…”–Marjorie Baumgarten, The Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)

BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL (1965)

To the alternative cineaste, Doris Wishman is somewhat akin to what Mary, the Mother of Christ, is to Catholics. She was a considerable influence on luminaries such as , Roger Corman, and Quentin Tarantino. Like them, Wishman approached genre films with an idiosyncratic enthusiasm for the art and the business. Her films are sexploitation roughies, nudie-cuties, and precursors to the grindhouse films. Therefore, she also has her detractors, who compare to her to the likes of Ed Wood. Wishman was a true, self-taught outsider artist. And like most outsider artists, being a maverick had its advantages and disadvantages (she never had the budget she needed). Wishman was as tenebrous and quirky as her films. She often told elaborate lies about herself and remained defiant to the end, mocking conventional attitudes. “I’ll continue making films in Hell” she said, terminally ill, only days before her passing at age 90. If that anecdote doesn’t endear her to you, well, you may have come to the wrong film site.

For the Wishman newcomer, Bad Girls Go To Hell (1965) is probably the best entry point. This film, her first real “roughie,” inhabits an expressionist, subconscious world that Luis Buñuel, Franz Kafka, and the aforementioned John Waters might recognize (and yes, I am being serious). Indeed, protagonist Meg (Gigi Darlene) might be soulmate to Kafka’s Josef K, moving numbly through an inverted, anti-fairy tale nightmare told by John Waters at his copping-an-attitude best.

Meg’s husband goes to work, after he has made love to her in their Boston apartment. Meg showers her husband off, slips into a sheer nightie and begins to obsessively clean the house, purifying herself and her surroundings from the taint of sex. Shots focused on Meg’s hands, feet, knees, the shag carpet, and an ominous ashtray compose a queer dreamscape. Meg literally takes out the trash in her life, only to be raped by the apartment janitor. When he comes back for seconds, Meg whacks him to death with the ashtray and in a downright bizarre cut-away composition the ashtray is seen from the dead janitor’s perspective.

Still from Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965)Meg is unable to fully comprehend what has occurred, let alone deal with it. She escapes the confines of her apartment, almost sleepwalking through the violent New York City like Minnie the Moocher gliding through an animated apocalypse. She has moments of sexual tranquility, but, alas, they are short-lived. The abuse cycle continues, so does the purging and the incessant shifting. The closest she comes to achieving something is in a short-lived lesbian relationship. Yet, this time, Meg willingly flees potential happiness.

The film becomes circular, as dreams often are, but Bad Girls Go To Hell has its cake and eats it too. There is a comeuppance to such a lifestyle of ill repute, BUT, like Wishman, Meg personifies defiance in the face of recompense. Bad Girls Go to Hell is a serious contender for this site’s coveted List. Doris Wishman has yet to receive her 366 crown, but I will go with my instincts here and leave further discussion of this film to other hands.

In the meantime, we will revisit Doris Wishman in next week’s review of Deadly Weapons (1973) .

LIST CANDIDATE: PUTNEY SWOPE (1969)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Arnold Johnson, Robert Downey, Sr. (voice), , Antonio Fargas

PLOT: Putney Swope, the token African American on the board of a Madison Avenue advertising firm, is accidentally elected Chairman of the Board on a secret ballot; he renames the agency “Truth and Soul Advertising,” fires most of the whites and replaces them with Black Panthers, and catapults the firm into a major force in American life.

Still from Putney Swope (1969)


WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Putney Swope retains a razor-like satirical focus while simultaneously dealing in jokes that, for the most part, are so nonsensical that Monty Python would have rejected them for being too oblique and absurd.

COMMENTS: After Putney Swope becomes chairman of a major advertising firm, he’s approached by Mark Focus, a freelance photographer looking for work. Focus shows Swope his portfolio; Swope says that he’s the best he’s ever seen and that he has a job for him, and asks how much he costs. Focus responds with a high figure, but Swope keeps talking him down: “it’s going in the New York Times, not an art gallery.” Finally, Focus agrees to do the job for free. “I can get anybody for nothing,” Swope says. “Take a walk.” The exchange is funny, but it’s not at all clear why. Did Putney just negotiate himself out of a deal by convincing himself that anyone willing to work for free was not worth hiring, despite the fact that he knew Focus was immensely talented? Or was the entire dialogue a set-up, a way for a bitter Swope to turn the tables and humiliate a white guy who’s at his mercy? Is Swope a genius, an idiot, or a just a shaggy dog? I’ll go with the last option. Consider the fact that Focus returns to the movie, this time while Swope is in bed with his fiancée, and delivers the exact same pitch; then, he shows up yet again and repeats the same spiel, only this time to the President of the United States (who, we should point out, is a pot-smoking German dwarf)!

Neither Putney Swope, the character, or Putney Swope, the movie, ever makes too much sense. The movie makes its point about the absurdities of power structures—whether corporate, political, social or racial–by presenting their players as absolute lunatics out of touch with reality. Swope was a giant leap forward for Downey in terms of technical quality, but when it was released, critics panned it, expecting to see a conventional satire and nonplussed by Downey’s bizarre sense of humor. Still, Downey could do straightforward comedy when he wanted to: the ad parodies, the only parts of the film that are in color, are often classic, especially the ad for “Face Off” pimple cream. An interracial couple sing a sweet and slightly obscene love song as they stroll hand and hand through a park in autumn; they gaze into each others eyes and croon touching lines like “A pimple is simple, if you treat it right; my man uses Face Off, he’s really out of sight—and so are his pimples.”

There is a vague plot, as the power Swope inherits threatens to corrupt him (he begins his career by promising not to pimp cigarettes, liquor or war toys, but he agrees to use a rhythm and blues singer to sell window cleaner as a soft drink in the ghetto). There’s also a Muslim brother who dresses like a sheik and plans to betray Swope, a President pressuring Putney to drop all his ad campaigns and push defective cars instead, and an assassination attempt, but none of these storylines are treated with much seriousness; the movie prefers to move from punchline to punchline rather than from plot point to plot point. Besides the unapologetically stereotyped racial humor, the one potentially divisive point is Downey’s decision to dub all of Arnold Johnson’s dialogue himself, so that Putney Swope speaks like a Brooklyn Jew while everyone around him is talking in Harlem soul brother jive. The effect is surreal, but I found it more distracting than funny. Although Downey claims he did it because Johnson couldn’t read his lines properly, the dubbing comes off as a narcissistic stunt (couldn’t a black actor who wasn’t also the director have dubbed Johnson?) Still, Putney Swope hits the funny bone more often than it misses—it may not be Downey’s weirdest movie, but it is his funniest and most beloved.

Perhaps the most interesting footnote to Putney Swope concerns the curious case of Pepi Hermine, the German dwarf actor who plays the President here. The First Lady is played by Ruth Hermine, Pepi’s sister, which gives their bedroom scenes together a little bit of incestuous spice. Pepi’s only other movie credit came the very next year, when he played the Director in Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small. By retiring after making Swope and Dwarfs back to back, Hermine managed to keep his brief résumé 100% weird.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Director Robert Downey’s sense of the ridiculous is employed in a spotty, punchline kind of comic usage… less revealingly witty then merely clever.”–Variety (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Benh Zeitlin

FEATURING: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Gina Montana, Lowell Landis, Levy Easterly

PLOT: A young girl named Hushpuppy lives in an isolated bayou community known as “The

Bathtub”, cut off from the rest of the world by levees. A massive storm destroys much of her home and she, her ailing father, and their friends must find a way to survive in a flooded, dying land.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Benh Zeitlin offers a unique fantasy that is grounded in the reality of global climate change and environmental disasters like Hurricane Katrina. There is little exposition, and our understanding of this world comes through a six-year-old girl, resulting in a dreamlike and perplexing story that might just be weird enough for the List.

COMMENTS: Filmed in an intimate style and focusing solely on the perspective of the defiant but loveable Hushpuppy, Beasts of the Southern Wild presents an alternate way of living, one that is in harmony with nature even in the challenging landscape of a flooded bayou. Hushpuppy and her father care for numerous animals, residing in two separate trailers made up of composite parts and mementos of her long-lost mother. Their town frequently holds large celebrations, honoring a lifestyle free from the constraints and responsibilities of civilization on the other side of the levee. Hushpuppy is taught that everything in the universe is connected to everything else, and she believes the great storm that destroys her home has unsettled the world’s harmony. It is her mission to restore balance, working together with the Bathtub’s remaining denizens as they escape on ramshackle boats, hoping the land they’ve loved for so long won’t betray them.

With the lines between reality and fantasy artfully blended and fascinating waterlogged landscapes, the film is as much a visual treat as it is an environmental parable. Everything is familiar and yet somehow unreal, with slight dystopian elements that open the film up to myriad possibilities. Zeitlin’s camera sticks closely to Hushpuppy, with intermittent cutaways to the rampaging beasts of the title: great, ancient aurochs awakened after centuries encased in ice, who may or may not be figments of her imagination. Many of the film’s ideas and themes are epic in scope, but smartly distilled into something more accessible through the eyes of a small child.

Wallis is exceptional in the lead role. We see and feel her experiences so completely, though her precocious nature makes us wonder just how much she understands. She perfectly embodies this resilient, fierce character who loves her standoffish father but longs for the kind of tender affection she imagines her mother would give. Her relationship with her father is complex; he is volatile and at times abusive, tormented by a heart disease he can’t fight and an unwillingness to show weakness. He wants to imbue Hushpuppy with independence and self-sufficiency, pushing her to age rapidly while remaining emotionally distant to shield himself. Hushpuppy recognizes what is happening but cannot accept it, believing part of her mission for the universe is saving her father from the wild beasts coming to claim him.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is beautiful, ambitious, and strange, with a strong emotional center that resonates long after the credits roll. It is advertised as a kind of apocalyptic adventure story but in truth it is more focused on relationships and themes of community and responsibility. The cinematography is intimate and dreamlike, with a clear vision that rarely relies on special effects to impress viewers. The script is steeped in social commentary but never resorts to preachiness, as Zeitlin wisely maintains focus on the wonderful little fireball that is Quvenzhané Wallis. It is a thought-provoking and heartfelt tale of survival with unique touches of ambiguity and fantasy that keep it compelling.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Its fertility and its terror stem from the same truth: To the young mind, there is no sealed barrier cleaving reality from fantasy. Not yet. The wall hasn’t been built.” –Amy Biancolli, San Francisco Chronicle

LIST CANDIDATE: THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE (1962)

DIRECTED BY: Joseph Green

FEATURING: Jason Evers, Virginia Leith, Leslie Daniels

PLOT: Against her wishes, a surgeon keeps his fiancée’s severed head alive while he searches for a new body for her.

Still from The Brain that Wouldn't Die (1962)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The Brain that Wouldn’t Die bypasses the rational portion of the frontal cortex and directly stimulates the part of the brain that responds to misogynist daydreams and deformed mutants in closets. On the surface it appears to be nothing more than a cheesy, sleazy 1960s b-movie, but Brain shows a shameless and deranged imagination that pushes it into the realm of the genuinely strange.

COMMENTS:”The paths of experimentation twist and turn through mountains of miscalculation and often lose themselves in error and darkness,” says an assistant mad scientist by way of explaining a mutant to a detached head. “Behind that door is the sum total of Dr. Cortner’s mistakes.” Now, substitute “filmmaking” for “experimentation, “in this movie” for “behind that door” and “director Joseph Green” for “Dr. Cortner” and you have a perfect description of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. This simple story of Bill, a surgeon who tries to find a new body for the decapitated fiancée whose head he is keeping alive in a pan in his lab, could have made a forgettable matinee monster movie, but the tale takes so many illogical and ill-advised turns that it wanders off into a cinematic no-man’s land and winds up in a perversely fascinating sewer. Forget about the fact that the head—who is so chatty that Bill eventually has to put surgical tape over her mouth (!)—couldn’t talk without lungs; that’s only the most obvious of this movie’s many problems. People in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die act according to an alternative psychology that is bizarrely consistent with the movie’s need for sleaze, but in no way natural for human beings. When Bill’s beloved Jan loses her head, he demonstrates the movie’s theory that the first stage of grief is lust as he’s immediately off picking up strippers, cruising the streets leering at female pedestrians, and lurking around figure modeling studios looking for a suitable replacement body. He’s not just interested in finding just any body to save his love’s life as expeditiously as possible; he has to find a donor who’s stacked. It’s the perfect chance to upgrade! Fortunately for him, most of the Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE (1962)