Category Archives: List Candidates

CAPSULE: THE FILMS OF KENNETH ANGER, VOL. 2

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Bruce Byron, Kenneth Anger, Bobby Beausoleil, , André Soubeyran, Claude Revenant, Nadine Valence, , Marianne Faithfull, Myriam Gibril

PLOT: The disc includes six short, experimental, largely non-narrative films by Kenneth Anger

Still from Scorpio Rising (1964) on The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. 2

completed between 1964 and 1972.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Compilations are ineligible for inclusion on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made.  Short films have an uphill battle to take a spot on the List that could be occupied by a feature, but either or both of Scorpio Rising and Lucifer Rising (each clocks in at just under 30 minutes long) are meaty and weird enough that they could hear their names called on the final roll.

COMMENTS: Kenneth Anger is one strange dude.  Author of the tabloid-style scandal tome Hollywood Babylon, devotee of , pal of rock stars and Jimmy Page, notoriously unreliable self-mythologizer, and winner of a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute, Anger spends years working on films that only play for a few minutes (his most extensive work is only 35 minutes long).  He sometimes returns and reworks older movies a decade or more after they are released.  Even if you’ve never seen an Anger film, you’ve seen dozens of movies that have been influenced by his work; due to his innovation of scoring parades of surrealistic images to pop music, he’s sometimes considered the father of the music video (though he hates the form and has turned down offers to make videos).  The refracted images of films like Invocation of My Demon Brother also helped define the film style we now think of as “psychedelic.”  This collection contains Anger’s most important and influential works, from the 1960s and early 1970s—the era of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, when the formerly struggling underground academic filmmaker found himself embraced by the upcoming generation of hipsters. In order of presentation, the films covered in this collection are:

Scorpio Rising (1964): A young motorcyclist named Scorpio polishes his bike, gets dressed in leather, goes to a wild biker Halloween party, then participates in a race.  Scenes of James Dean, Marlon Brando in The Wild One, and a “life of Jesus” movie are intercut into the Continue reading CAPSULE: THE FILMS OF KENNETH ANGER, VOL. 2

LIST CANDIDATE: FATHER’S DAY (2011)

This review first appeared in a slightly different form at Film Forager.  Alex Kittle’s complete coverage of the Toronto After Dark festival can be found here.

DIRECTED BY: Astron-6

FEATURING: , Conor Sweeney, , Mackenzie Murdock, Amy Groening, Lloyd Kaufman

PLOT: A crazed cannibalistic killer goes after fathers in his rape/murder spree.  One-eyed


assassin/maple syrup maker Ahab, young priest Father John Sullivan, paranoid streetwalker Twink, and mystery-solving stripper Chelsea all seek revenge, teaming up for a strange and scattered mission.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: An eye-patched vigilante, a topless stripper with a chainsaw, a nearsighted cannibal rapist, incest, demonic possession, trips to both heaven and hell, a non sequitur commercial for low-budget sci-fi “Star Raiders,” hallucinogenic berries: Father’s Day has a lot of weirdness to recommend it. It starts off as a fairly standard (and insanely gory) grindhouse throwback, but evolves into a bizarre and fantastic adventure that just might be weird enough for the List.

COMMENTS:  Known for their impressive output of horror and comedy shorts, Winnipeg-based collective Astron-6 combines DIY filmmaking with a sick sense of humor and unadulterated love for 80’s straight-to-video schlock.  After making a trailer for the fake exploitation flick “Father’s Day,”  offered the group $10,000 to produce a full-length feature of the concept.  At the start it seems like a standard, and completely gruesome, grindhouse throwback with grisly close-ups of penis mutilation and sickening rape/murders set alongside over-the-top character archetypes and an enthusiastic score.  As Ahab (Adam Brooks), Father John (Matthew Kennedy), and Twink (Conor Sweeney) team up in the wake of several close-to-home father murders, it begins to take a turn for the ludicrous and eventually plunges into all-out wacky fantasy, seeming to forget its initial narrative and stylistic leanings—and becoming better for it.

With real pig intestines, buckets of fake blood, and a well-laid green screen, Father’s Day maintains a dark, grungy aesthetic that works well with its 70’s appropriations while exuding DIY innovation that sets it apart from some of its peers.  Steven Kostanski’s stop-motion hell creations and an extended trip around the world for Father John are among the many segments that vary in style and tone.  There’s even a goofy commercial for a fake Star Wars rip-off thrown in about two-thirds of the way through (the feature itself is introduced as a “midnight movie” tv program).  Astron-6 seems to have hundreds of ideas and little interest in streamlining, resulting in a surprisingly dense 99 minutes as myriad references, off-kilter jokes, side-trips, and subplots arise and descend.  Luckily, most of them work, but the ones that don’t result in some unevenness, especially in the overall tone.  The noticeable shift towards the middle is somewhat jarring, but not a dealbreaker.

Father’s Day may be sick and twisted in many ways, but it manages to be most of all fun.  The Astron-6 gang looks like they’re having a blast just being silly together as the plot becomes more and more ridiculous.  The whole cast is great, injecting equal amounts of parody and imagination into their roles, and I especially enjoyed the main three male leads, who have excellent comedic chemistry.  The film’s biggest flaw is its tonal inconsistencies, but for many viewers the inclusion of so many ideas and exploitation references will likely be appreciated.  Astron-6 decided to really go all-out for this film, and by holding nothing back they will impress many and alienate those who wouldn’t get it anyway. And I have a feeling they’re fine with that.

Father’s Day official site.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“With a surreal plotline, exceptional acting, a host of hilarious one-liners, and a large, beautiful cast of many many almost naked women this is one highly recommended giggle & gorefest you really shouldn’t miss.”–Rick McGrath, Quiet Earth (festival screening)

LIST CANDIDATE: ZERO DE CONDUITE (1933)

AKA Zéro de conduite: Jeunes diables au collège; Zero for Conduct

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Jean Vigo

FEATURING: Delphin, Jean Dasté, Louis Lefebvre, Gilbert Pruchon, Coco Golstein,Gérard de Bédarieux

PLOT: Schoolboys stage a revolt at a French boarding school.

Still from Zero de Conduite (1933)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LISTZéro de conduite is an important historical film.  It founded the boarding school subgenre, creating a template used by Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows) and more weirdly by (If…)  With its dwarf headmaster, disappearing balls and drawings that come to life, the film is as playful and experimental as a mock rebellion staged by schoolboys before Sunday dinner.  Its mildly surreal oddness nudges the needle on the weirdometer, but, despite its near-legendary status, it’s not thoroughly strange enough to make its way onto the List on the first ballot.

COMMENTS:  Jean Vigo’s extraordinary backstory is almost as fascinating as his films.  The son of an anarchist who died in prison, the auteur left a tiny (about three hours’ worth of film) but extremely impressive body of work before succumbing to tuberculosis, the age-old nemesis of romantic poets, at the age of 29.  Adding to his mythological stature is the possibility that he may have contributed to his own demise by laboring on his final film up until his last moments, instead of getting much needed bed rest; he may have actually worked himself to death, literally giving his life for his art.

By banning Zéro de conduite, the director’s film about an imaginary rebellion in a boys’ boarding school, for thirteen years, the French censors only augmented Vigo’s legend.  From the perspective of patrons who are used to seeing political leaders openly mocked and clitorises graphically snipped off in movie theaters as they munch on popcorn, the idea of a movie with only a single “merde!’ and no violence, fetal rape, human centipedes, or even an obvious political target would be banned for over a decade is almost unimaginable.  The film contains hardly audible whispers of schoolboy homosexuality, but it was suppressed not for these but for its “anti-French spirit” and “praise of indiscipline.”  Vigo’s anarchic, anti-authoritarian philosophy, which pervades the film’s 44 minute running time, was too hot and subversive for 1933 sensibilities.

Today, of course, the movie is notably tame.  In fact, if you’ve been exposed to any of the Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: ZERO DE CONDUITE (1933)

LIST CANDIDATE: PRIVATE PARTS (1972)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Ayn Ruymen, Lucille Benson, John Ventantonio

PLOT: A sexually curious teenage runaway negotiates the deviant scumbags in her crazy aunt’s creaky boarding house.

Still from Private Parts (1972)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  It might make the List thanks to the atmosphere of sleazy psychosexual depravity that’s slathered on thicker than the blue eye shadow teenage Cheryl cakes on to try to make herself look like a woman.

COMMENTS: Private Parts is a haunted  house movie, except that the ghosts bedeviling the heroine are the bizarre, boozy boarders at her aunt’s decrepit hotel, and she’s not nearly as wary of them as she needs to be. This is a movie full of creaking floorboards, turning doorknobs, and unseen men peeping through knotholes in a dusty old hotel. Adding to the atmosphere is a wonderfully overwrought Bernard Hermann-inspired soundtrack that’s with us so constantly that it actually creates tension when it disappears for a moment to allow the characters to speak. Not that what this collection of skid-row oddballs has to say would be particularly reassuring. We have the Reverend, who at one point suggests he should slip out of his clerical vestments into something more comfortable; the spooky old hag who calls young Cheryl “Alice” after a resident who disappeared a long time ago under suspicious circumstances; and there’s the hotelier herself, Aunt Martha, who loves funerals, hates painted women and believes “the body is a prison.” There’s also George, the silent young photographer with the darkroom in the basement and the creepy stare that focuses on pubescent Cheryl whenever she’s in the room. Each of these weirdos has deeper secrets in their closets, which Cheryl will uncover when she starts snooping around their rooms against her Aunt’s orders (hint to future runaways: you should never trust a guy who owns a customized carrying case for his personal syringe). Obviously, this is no place for a naïf like Cheryl, but she’s not oblivious to the degeneracy—she’s actively drawn to it. Curious about sex but totally inexperienced, she enjoys the feel of a grown man’s eyes on her developing body, without understanding the difference between healthy lust and sick perversion. All she knows is, after receiving presents of erotica and spiderweb lingerie from a secret admirer, boys her own age suddenly seem boring. Although the movie sports a body count, the tension comes from hoping Cheryl will somehow escape what seems to be her inevitable seduction and corruption. If IMDB is to be believed, Ayn Ruymen was 25 years old when she played the part, but you may have a hard time believing the actress is a day over 16. Not only does she have an adolescent build, she plays the part with a wonderful mix of innocent naughtiness; she mischievously snoops and pranks the boarders, but still sleeps with a teddy bear and isn’t half as sophisticated as she thinks.  The bits with a bizarre, customizable “blow up” doll are unforgettably creepy. After playing as straight psychohorror through most of the running time, Private Parts takes a strange detour into black comedy territory for the conclusion with the arrival of a couple of ludicrously blasé cops, and throws out a couple of scarcely believable twists at the very end as the weird capper. All told, Private Parts a deliciously depraved debut from oddball Paul Bartel.

Private Parts is a should-be cult movie that’s still searching for its cult forty years after release. For some reason, MGM picked the movie up for distribution, then apparently balked at the pseudo-pedophiliac subject matter and buried the movie. The flick has been consistently overlooked since; those who caught it in its brief theatrical run or stumbled upon its unheralded VHS or DVD releases remember it, but word of mouth has never made it a hit, despite its midnight movie feel and pleasing perversity. Ironically, director Paul Bartel received more exposure making films like Death Race 2000 for (Roger’s brother Gene was producer on Private Parts) than he with this Hollywood debut.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…for pure excess and surreal humor, it’s something of a minor pop art masterpiece; a careful blending of the eccentric and the sleazy, very much akin to other midnight revival mainstays like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and the ’70s films of John Waters, with a wickedly unique take on repressed desire and secret shame.”–Paul Corupe, DVD Verdict (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Gerby” who called it “a strange one!” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: 200 MOTELS (1971)

200 Motels has been officially added to the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies. Comments are closed on this post; please comment on the official Certified Weird entry.

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Tony Palmer & Frank Zappa

FEATURING: Howard Kaylan, Mark Volman, , , Keith Moon, Jimmy Carl Black

PLOT: 200 Motels is a series of sketches, experiments and concert footage loosely organized as a reflection on the mixture of insanity and tedium experienced by a rock and roll band on tour.

Still from 200 Motels (1971)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  The movie’s wild visuals, absurd jokes and attention deficit disorder pacing are enough to bring it to our attention.  But if anything sets 200 Motels apart from the other psychedelic cinematic noodlings of the hippie era, it’s Frank Zappa’s extraordinarily weird music—a unique mix of jazz-inflected blues/rock, avant-garde 12-tone classical music, and junior high school sex jokes.

COMMENTS:  Ringo Starr plays Larry the Large Dwarf, portraying Frank Zappa.  The Who drummer Keith Moon is a female groupie dressed like Sally Field in “The Flying Nun.”   Theodore Bickel plays an omniscient Master of Ceremonies who brings Zappa’s band, the Mothers of Invention, a cheeseburger, and demands they sign for the delivery—in blood.  Bickel’s character (or at least one of them) also explains the movie’s philosophy to the band: “You must remember that within the conceptual framework of this filmic event, nothing really matters.  It is entirely possible for several subjective realities to coexist.”  Zappa himself is barely in the movie and never speaks (or sings).  He’s only briefly glimpsed in concert footage—although the other band members reference him as a godlike figure who spies on them through an empty beer bottle.  Other than appeasing the great god Frank, the Mothers only care about three things—scoring dope, getting paid, and getting laid.  The characters in this “surrealistic documentary” drift in and out of various skits, animations, and drug trips, and also find time to perform numbers like “Mystery Roach,” “Lonesome Cowboy Burt,” and an oratorio in praise of the penis.  One highlight sees lead singers Kaylan and Volman taking a “trip” to everytown “Centerville,” which is full of churches and liquor stores and bathed in wavy zebra stripes that lysergically distort Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: 200 MOTELS (1971)

LIST CANDIDATE: MAXIMUM SHAME (2010)

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Marina Gatell, Ana Mayo, Paco Moreno, Ardiana Ferrer, Ignasi Vidal

PLOT: On the night before the world is to be swallowed up by a black hole, a man discovers a world underneath his bed ruled by a chess-obsessed dominatrix queen.

Still from Maximum Shame (2010)


WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Carlos Atanes is a defiantly, and proudly, surrealistic director, and his brief filmography (three features and dozens of bizarre shorts) already constitutes a body of weird work that could be worthy of recognition on this List.  With its wardrobe of black leather and chrome dental restraints along with a powerful musical score that ranges from 40s show tunes to 80s synth pop, Maximum Shame is perhaps Atanes’ most ambitious and polished—not to mention weirdest—feature work.

COMMENTS:  You have to love the tagline for Maximum Shame, which describes the movie as “an apocalyptic fetish horror musical chess sci-fi weird feature movie.”  The surprising thing is that the film, which plays like a combination of “Alice in Wonderland” and the Orpheus legend staged by refugees from a leather bar in a deserted warehouse, largely lives up to that description.  The words “apocalyptic,” fetish,” and “chess” define the three motifs that keep the film (somewhat) grounded.  The story, such as it is, takes place as a black hole is encroaching on earth (or so we are told), and characters mention the total destruction of the world sometimes as an imminent cataclysm, and sometimes as a disaster that’s already come to pass.  The film’s s&m/b&d fetishism is obvious from the costuming, most notably the deviant dental equipment used to keep slaves’ mouths perpetually splayed.  (Although the Queen plays games of dominance and submission, there is no overt sexuality in the film—which, together with its alienating weirdness, makes it of only marginal interest to the bondage crowd).  All of the characters have, or are given, the names of chess pieces, and talk of gambits and sacrificing rooks makes up a large part of the plot.  “Horror” and “sci-fi” turn out to be the least accurate of the descriptors.  The film does speak of black holes and invokes a theory of infinite parallel universes in a throwaway bid to explain the inexplicable Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: MAXIMUM SHAME (2010)

LIST CANDIDATE: PRIMER (2004)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Shane Carruth

FEATURING: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan

PLOT: Two engineer/entrepreneurs accidentally discover a box that allows time travel, and

Still from Primer (2004)

soon get themselves into trouble.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LISTPrimer‘s baffling story gives you an untethered, free-falling in reality feeling.  But although the dense, complicated, and deliberately obtuse plot produces a level of confusion comparable in effect to the weirdest David Lynch movies, I’ve got the sinking feeling that, if you dissect  it carefully, there’s a perfectly logical explanation for everything that happens.  (That complaint makes the 366 project the only outlet in the world to potentially reject Primer because it makes too much sense).

COMMENTS: If what you most value in a movie is a plot that will inspire you to sit down and create a schematic flowchart—maybe using multiple ink colors to illustrate various contingencies—in order to figure out what’s going on, then have I got a recommendation for you!  Made for an incredible $7,000 on suburban locations with only two major characters and no special effects, Primer relies entirely on it’s smart, knotty script to keep the viewer interested—and succeeds admirably.  After a pre-time travel prologue, joltingly edited and spoken largely in an untranslated engineerese that’s fairly bewildering in itself, Aaron and Abe (A & B?) stumble upon a box that will allow them to travel backwards in time for about a day at a time.  Like any of us would, they initially use the box to play the stock market, investing in the day’s biggest mid-cap mover.  After placing their online orders in the morning, they agree to carefully lock themselves in a hotel room away from the rest of the world so that they won’t accidentally kill their own grandfathers or meet their doubles wandering around on the street.  The plan goes well for a while, but then strange, logic-defying events start happening, and each of the two men wonders if the other is cheating on their agreement, secretly going back a day to change events for personal reasons.  Paranoia mounts as they become suspicious of each other and of reality itself.  That brief synopsis actually makes Primer sound more (initially) coherent than Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: PRIMER (2004)