Category Archives: Capsules

CAPSULE: A DARK SONG (2016)

DIRECTED BY: Liam Gavin

FEATURING: Steve Oram, Catherine Walker

PLOT: Sophia enlists the aid of occultist Joseph to perform a ritual to contact her dead son; isolated in a house in Wales, the result could end up costing them both their lives and souls.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a very good story involving magick (used and abused), shifting power dynamics, and ultimately grief and forgiveness. But despite the presence of the occult, the handling doesn’t qualify as “weird.”

COMMENTS: A Dark Song is a small masterpiece of that sub-genre referred to as “folk horror.” There are no big set pieces or jump scares to satisfy the casual horror film viewer, but rather the slow, creeping dread found in smaller films like those of , Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, or British television works such as the BBC’s M.R. James adaptations. Song is a chamber piece with two main characters in an enclosed space, and its main asset is atmosphere.

It’s also notable in grounding its mystical elements into a mundane reality. Magick may indeed exist, but it’s not easy. The ritualism involved in their endeavor is stringent, very disciplined, and time-consuming… it’s work. Therefore when certain events start happening later in the film, it tilts the ambiguity that threads though the first part into definite occult territory.

Part of that ambiguity is in the relationship of Sophia and Joseph—which never descends into a romantic one, to the film’s credit—but does bring up observations on power and consent. One could consider their relationship as student and teacher (or adept and mentor), but an undercurrent suggests that Joseph may not be what he seems, and could just be taking advantage of Sophia. The story doesn’t degenerate into a simple battle of the sexes scenario due to the performances of the actors. Both characters aren’t entirely likeable, but Sophia is more developed. Joseph remains somewhat of a cipher: although he does have an authoritative weight, his motives remain unclear. He has the knowledge and also the arrogance of those who like to lord it over those without it, and he doesn’t hold himself to the standard that he demands from Sophia, which ends up determining his fate.

Sophia’s story—wanting to communicate with her dead son—is the driving force of the film. Her grief has brought her to this extreme, and she is quite willing to go further, which leads her to the point of choosing either salvation or damnation in the film’s final act.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Gavin creates psychological terror that exploits our anxieties with symbolism, nuance and innuendo. That purposeful ambiguity involves the viewer more intimately and increases the power of the story.”–Colin Covert, The Minneapolis Star Tribune (contemporaneous)

 

CAPSULE: ANNIHILATION (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Alex Garland

FEATURING: , Oscar Isaac,

PLOT: As her husband, the only survivor of an expedition into a bizarre phenomena referred to as the Shimmer, recuperates, a biologist enters the region in search of answers.

Still from Annihilation (2018)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Novelist-turned filmmaker Alex Garland, who wrote the screenplay for Never Let Me Go before making his directing debut with the excellent feature Ex Machina, probably has a really weird movie in him somewhere. This one isn’t quite it—its ambiguities are just a bit too unambiguous—although it’s definitely an off-cadence step in the right direction.

COMMENTS: Without giving away much more of Annihilation than you will find in the trailer, the story involves a trip into a rapidly expanding zone (existing behind a border which looks like a soap bubble) in which Earth’s scientific laws—especially the laws of biology—have gone wacko. Inside the Shimmer, the exploratory team finds deer growing flowers from their antlers, crystalline trees sprouting on the beach, killer animals with unusual mutations, and gruesome videos detailing the misadventures of the previous expedition. (One of these provides the film’s most squirmworthy scene, a true test of the viewer’s intestinal fortitude.) The Shimmer is an extremely colorful world with rainbow colors and (feminine?) floral motifs. That said, I wasn’t always a fan of the film’s visuals, which seemed too unnatural, at the same time too clean and too soft, and sometimes needlessly intrusive (little prismatic sunlight beams distractingly filtering through the forest). Still, the look arguably gives the film a necessarily artificial sheen, and the flowing, fractal climax is well worth the wait for connoisseurs of acid trip visuals.

Annihilation glances at a couple of an science fiction themes: the enclosed “Shimmer” unavoidably recalls Stalker‘s mystical “Zone,” while the ambiguity of the ending is reminiscent of  Solaris. It naturally nods at 2001: A Space Odyssey, the grandaddy of “psychedelic” sci-fi films, too. These are only touchstones, of course: contra Tarkovsky and Kubrick, the movie is modern Hollywood in its overall approach, maximalist in its flowery CGI, and it even includes action sequences and jump scares (and bankable stars like Portman and Isaac) as accommodations to commercial realities.  Whereas 2001 was a meditation on evolution on a macro (even a cosmic) scale, Annihilation draws its scientific impetus from inside, from cellular biology and the fundamentally unfair tricks it plays on us poor humans. Instead of 2001‘s telescope, Annihilation looks at the cosmic through a microscope. The title refers, among other things, to the concept of programmed cell death, the idea that our DNA is coded to self-destruct—a theme mirrored by the film’s psychological exploration of self-destructive personalities. The mutations found within the Shimmer are a sort of alt-science, alien alternative to our biological status quo. Scientifically speaking, they might as well be magic: no firm explanation is ever provided for either the source or motive of the mutations. It leaves you free to ponder questions like whether aliens were behind the phenomenon, why humans are programmed to die, and, curiously, why the last group of volunteers sent into the Shimmer are 100% female.

Annihilation is based on a series of novels by Jeff VanderMeer, but reportedly departs significantly from them (even courting a whitewashing controversy by changing the race of the protagonist). After a short theatrical run, it will play exclusively on Netflix, where it will debut internationally as early as March 7 in some markets (U.S. and Canadian dates are not yet known).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a compromised film, one caught awkwardly between its source material’s daring and its producers’ fears that someone, somewhere might not get it. ‘Be weirder!’ I occasionally grunted at the screen. At the same time, studio horror films starring Oscar winners are rarely this weird. Taken on its own terms, this Annihilation does offer rewards.”–Alan Scherstuhl, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE SHAPE OF WATER

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Sally Hawkins, , , Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer,

PLOT: Against a Cold War backdrop, a mute cleaning woman forms a relationship with an aquatic creature she finds imprisoned in a military facility.

Still from The Shape of Water (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although Water gets points for its bizarre premise—which is just enough to get it onto our radar screen—the execution is almost unfailingly conventional. It does feature 2017’s weirdest musical number outside of The Lure, however.

COMMENTS: Give Guillermo del Toro great actors and cinematographer Dan Laustsen, and all he needs is the right script to assure magic. After an over-extended stay in Hobbiton and some near-misses (Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak) the pop-fabulist is back on track with a unique vision that draws on the auteur’s twin loves of classic horror and fairy tales (the high-concept tagline is “Creature from the Black Lagoon meets Beauty and the Beast“).

It’s a nice role, done nicely, for Sally Hawkins, who conquers the challenge of playing dowdy, mute cleaning woman Elisa while showing moments of passion and even sexiness—all while acting across from a guy in a fish suit. Michael Shannon doesn’t stretch in his role as a sadistic army colonel and vivisectionist, but his innate unhingedness is well-suited to villainy. Richard Jenkins, as Hawkins’ closeted next door neighbor, has his own solid subplot, while Octavia Spencer rounds out the main cast with a bit of light comic relief. Del Toro perhaps humanizes his amphibious monster a bit too much in order to make the inter-species relationship palatable to general audiences, although he does play up the ick (or “ich”) factor every now and then with girl talk discussions of the gill-man’s genital quirks. The Cold War setting adds a tension and texture that would be missing if the story were set in the present day.

Water may not be terribly deep—it’s little more than an ode to unconventionality, and maybe a disguised metaphor for the love that dare not speak it’s name—but it’s delivered with elegance and panache. It’s isn’t weird, except perhaps by Academy Award nominee standards. Its thirteen nominations virtually assure it will nab something, with Original Score and Production Design seeming the most likely to this observer. Among the major categories, only a Best Director award seems likely for Del Toro, as a reflection the general level of excellence spread across the film—although there are a surprising number of pundits who consider this bestiality-themed fantasy the “safe, if a little boring” choice. A last-minute, low-merit plagiarism lawsuit may effect Best Picture/Original Screenplay voters, consciously or unconsciously.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…with someone as strange and singular as del Toro, each film is something to anticipate and savor like a four-star feast. The good news is, The Shape of Water doesn’t disappoint. It’s both weird and wonderful.”–Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly (contemporaneous)

 

CAPSULE: SKELETONS (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Nick Whitfield

FEATURING: Ed Gaughan, Andrew Buckley, Tuppence Middleton, Paprika Steen, Jason Isaacs

PLOT: Two psychic investigators—memory extractors who literally find “skeletons in the closet”—investigate a missing person case at the request of an eccentric family.

Still from Skeletons (2010)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Skeletons is sort of a whimsical corporate memory scenario, with a dash of humor, on an obvious low budget. Its ambition makes you want to root for it, but the end result is so minor that it ultimately doesn’t leave a lasting impression.

COMMENTS: Naturally gifted but troubled Davis and big-boned Bennett, the more stable of the team, are a pair of—psychic exorcists? Through a combination of technology and mental gymnastics, they are able to enter into people’s memories (entering via their home closets) and discover their secrets. The rules to this procedure are never clearly laid out. We stumble upon certain concepts in the course of the investigation, which is generally a good way to introduce information while keeping up the suspense, but here the technique is sometimes clumsy. (Why the necessity to build a “bypass” around the family’s homestead after the “triangulation fails,” except to buy the script more time to explore a parallel plot development?) At other times, the procedure’s dodgy mechanics lead to amusingly absurd results: “glow chase” too often, and you might end up “going Bulgarian.” One of the strangest things about the premise, which was never explained to my satisfaction, is who exactly the market is for these services. It appears to be couples who are afraid to tell each other their deepest secrets and require professional interventions, New Age dilettantes, and skeptics who end up embarrassed by the revelations; not much of a customer base, in my opinion. Although it’s presented as an unusual assignment, the idea of the two being sent on a missing persons case makes more sense—perhaps their objective perspective will allow them to find a clue in someone’s memory that person would miss. In fact, the movie might work best as the pilot episode for a weekly psychic mystery series that never happened.

Gaughan and Butler, veterans of British television, show good comic timing and chemistry. Each shows a mixture of loyalty to, and exasperation with, the other that makes their long-term partnership believable. They spend their long walks (for budgetary reasons, I guess, no one in their organization owns a car) discussing whether Rasputin was morally admirable. Bennet is concerned about Gaughan’s lifestyle and covers for him, but that doesn’t stop the pair from bickering on the job. The supporting characters do their jobs well: Paprika Steen as the quirky possible widow/potential love interest, Jason Isaacs as the bullying boss. The oddly-named Tuppence Middleton is the weakest link, if only because her suspiciously mute character often plays like more of a plot device than an organic presence. The comedy works, at least in spurts, at its funniest when Gaughan reads off his bureaucratic checklist (“have you ever seen a bear?”) and makes sure clients dot their i’s when signing forms (“yeah, but can you verbally confirm it?”) All in all, Skeletons is an amiable, reasonably witty indie that can’t quite figure out how to efficiently get its multitude of ideas across to the audience, resulting in a near-miss at cult status.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an intriguing, well-acted, quietly funny film that, though it is outright weird most of the time and certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, has a quirky charm and emotional heart all its own.”–Owen Van Spall, Eye for Film (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “D-2.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: BAD TASTE (1987)

Recommended

 

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Peter Jackson, Pete O’Herne, Terry Potter, Mike Minett, Craig Smith, Doug Wren

PLOT: The citizens of the sleepy town of Kaihoro, New Zealand are killed and packed into boxes by alien operatives marketing a new intergalactic fast-food taste sensation; only a crack squad of fearless Ministry operatives stands between them and total world harvestation.

Still from Bad Taste (1987)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Even if we were at movie zero, Peter Jackson’s debut wouldn’t qualify. It’s gross and, considering the budget, very well made, but it’s more silly than strange. It is also hilarious, and the only really weird thing about it is how often it manages to be simultaneously charming and disgusting.

COMMENTS: Directorial debuts are always interesting, if only to see a filmmakers’ interests and techniques in their beginnings.  planted his flag early with The Falls, establishing himself as an obtuse, technically brilliant painter-turned-documentarian-turned-narrative filmmaker. threw down his gauntlet with Reservoir Dogs, and has pursued a path between hyper-violence and hyper-loquaciousness ever since. And then there’s Peter Jackson. With Bad Taste, he somehow established how he would not turn out. Tone-wise, it would be difficult to find a film further from his beautiful first foray into the “main(er)stream” (1994’s Heavenly Creatures), or his towering fantasy achievement, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In fact, the only connections one could reasonably find between Bad Taste and his popular Tolkien adaptations are staggering competence and New Zealand locations.

A desperate call for help, listened to by a no-handed man. The Minister is panicking and wants to call in the army and air force to deal with the murderous menace; the no-handed man says no: “I think this is a job for real men.” Those real men are none other than Derek (Peter Jackson), Barry, Frank, and Ozzy. Their job: keeping mankind safe from any and all extraterrestrial threats. The enemy: alien harvesters working for “Crumbs Crunchy Delights”, who have killed, chopped, and packed the inhabitants in the small town of Kaihoro. The aliens hope to get a permit to serve humanity, in all its deliciousness, to hungry interstellar fast food connoisseurs. Will our hometown heroes save the day, or will Lord Crumb (Doug Wren) and his swarms of alien goons escape with the samples? One thing’s certain: never before have inhuman monsters underestimated a gang of New Zealand lads so completely.

Bad Taste is a mountain of silly gore that amuses as it grosses out. The movie constantly reinforces the cheekiness of the premise, and the tone never slips into “grisly.” Its most (in)famous scene—the secondhand dinner enjoyed by the third-class aliens in their base—is about as far as Bad Taste pushes its… bad taste. Overall, though, it plays like a nonsense romp through alien-invasion-sci-fi-action. With the bulk of the movie a showdown between the boys and the alien horde, we enjoy a lot of well-executed amateur stunts and gags. That being said, there’s nothing too “weird” here, but “wacky”–most definitely.

To justify, if only slightly, the film’s “Recommended” status, let me say straight-up that this is neither one of the better movies out there, nor even one of the better Peter Jackson movies out there (nor, even, the best low-budget sci-fi movie out there). Before watching it for this review, the last time I’d seen it was during my high school days when I was beginning my exploration of offbeat cinema. The movie, made in 1987 for very little money, has held up astonishingly well, and I’m almost always pleased to boost movies made for the sake of making movies. The subject matter is ridiculous, definitely, but that’s part of its charm. Bad Taste earns its recommendation because it shows what a handful of talented artists can do if they put their minds to it. It doesn’t over-stay its welcome, it’s full of life, and its ample bad taste is more than matched by its charm.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…so over-the-top it achieves a unique level of surreal slapstick.”–Richard Scheib, Moria: The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Review (DVD)

CAPSULE: BLUE (1993)

DIRECTED BY: Derek Jarman

FEATURING: Voices of Derek Jarman, John Quentin, Tilda Swinton, Nigel Terry

PLOT: Filmmaker Jarman documents his physical decline from AIDS, with his failing vision represented by a continuous, unchanging blue screen.

Still from Blue (1993)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A movie where the screen is a single solid color for the full running time is, without dispute, unusual. But beyond that unconventional visual strategy, Blue is a straightforward, often bracingly direct audio memoir, contemplating death with sober and unvarnished clarity.

COMMENTS: When cinematographer Christopher Doyle, the man behind the striking visuals in the films of directors like Wong Kar-Wai and Yimou Zhang, was invited by the Telegraph to pick a single film to discuss for a series on influences, his choice was immediate and without hesitation. Blue, he said, was “one of the most intimate films I’ve ever seen.

It’s surely an odd choice for an acclaimed cinematographer, given that the biggest part of the film’s reputation is dedicated to its unorthodox visual: a screen filled—edge-to-edge, start-to-finish—with a single color, International Klein Blue, never changing, never varying. It’s fair to ask if a movie where nothing moves, where nothing appears, is even a movie at all.

In the truest sense, Blue is a radio essay, a production-heavy tone poem that wouldn’t be totally out of place on “This American Life.” (Indeed, after the film’s release, Britain’s Radio Three broadcast the audio on its own). One of the much-trumpeted merits of radio is that the listener can create pictures in the imagination that go beyond the limits of visual media. With Blue’s lush audio production (for which particular credit must be given to sound designer Marvin Black and composer Simon Fisher-Turner) and Jarman’s rich, sonorous British baritone as anchor, surely pictures aren’t even necessary.

But even in physical decline, Jarman remains a filmmaker, an artist with a discerning eye. And if the only thing he can see is the color blue, then that’s what his film will look like. The auteur theory posits that the director is a figure of singular vision, and this film carries that notion to its extreme: when you look at blue for the duration of the film, you are witnessing the director’s literal vision transferred to the screen.

Jarman himself is a sterling performer. When he extols the artistic virtues of the color blue, he reads as both erudite and heartfelt, while his lament for his fading vision is composed as it measures the weight of the loss. He lends warmth to the narration, even as his thoughts on death are calm and resigned. This can be hilarious in counterpoint, as when an introspective passage is immediately followed by a lewd gay parade chant. It can also be wrenching, such as his cool recitation of the myriad ways in which friends have met their own ends at the hands of the AIDS virus.

But while Jarman’s pain and frustration are clearly in evidence, what really dominates the telling of the tale is his growing recognition of the absurdity of it all. His descriptions of endless medical indignities—lesions and pills, long waits and painful IV drips, lengthy stays in waiting rooms—are delivered without anger, without passion. Stories of war and catastrophe have lost their power to sting. Even a quick impulse to go shoe shopping quickly fades. “The shoes I’m wearing at the moment will be sufficient to walk me out of life,” he observes. Jarman’s journey is one of growing disconnection from the world. Just as his vision has been reduced to a single color, his engagement with life is being pared down to the bare essentials. Put another way, the narrator we meet in Blue is in full DGAF mode, and finds beauty even in that.

A frequent parry to the claim of weirdness is that the thing deemed “weird” is actually “artistic.” There’s no reason that an artwork can’t be both, of course; one of the expectations of artists is that they see the world differently and their output reflects their unique point of view. But the distinction seems critical in assessing Blue. A mainstream moviegoer might look at the blue screen and see something too strange to comprehend, but Jarman is an artist, assembling every tool at his disposal (or, in the case of his eyesight, a tool lost) to make a statement. The art world seems convinced; the Tate Modern, MoMA, and the Getty are among the museums that have placed Blue on exhibit. Static screen be damned; Jarman has made a movie, and it is a powerful cinematic valedictory.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Still fiercely experimental and controversial, with no visual images other than an unchanging blue screen, Blue is perhaps not the most accessible film from Derek Jarman and it will certainly appeal more to fans of the director who will better appreciate the insight it provides into the director’s mindset during the final years of his life. On the other hand, dealing with notions of mortality and creativity when faced with illness and death, the film also has a much wider interest and poetic resonance in its words, sounds, music and in the impact on the retina of watching a pure blue screen for 75 minutes.” – Noel Megahey, The Digital Fix

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

CAPSULE: WAITING FOR GODOT (2001)

DIRECTED BY: Michael Lindsay-Hogg

FEATURING: Barry McGovern, Johnny Murphy, Alan Stanford, Stephen Brennan

PLOT: Two chatty hobos wait in a landscape of rubble for the arrival of the mysterious Godot, who seems increasingly unlikely to show.

Still from Waiting for Godot (2001)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There is nothing that’s weird about this version of Waiting for Godot that isn’t weird about its source material. The film transplants the surreal masterpiece to the big screen fully intact, serving as a filmed document of the classic play. As possibly the greatest piece of existential theater ever devised, Godot is self-evidently strange in its minimalist approach to the great questions of man’s purpose and the presence of a higher power, and its defiant resistance to straightforward explanation or simple interpretation. The film is respectful, even reverential, and serves as a straightforward representation of the work for anyone who has no other opportunity to experience it live.

COMMENTS: There’s a certain amount of cheeky fun in writing up the plot synopsis for Waiting For Godot. After all, ’s landmark play is probably literature’s finest example of “the story where nothing happens.” There is no arc, no growth, no movement whatsoever. Two men wait for Godot to come; he does not. They say they will leave; they do not. The particulars change from one act to the next (a circumstance that draws notice, if not comprehension, from one of the principals), but the result is the same. The entire play is predicated on nothing happening. Which makes its point all the sharper; there may be no purer expression of the essential, beautiful futility of life. As Beckett wrote in another context, “I can’t go on; I’ll go on.”

As such, Godot doesn’t really gain much from realization in film. The abstract, desolate setting (sometimes rendered as a bare stage) is given a gritty, realistic feel on the screen. Lindsay-Hogg does mix broad overhead shots with attentive close-ups, expanding the emotional vocabulary of the actors. But there’s only so much you can do without wrecking all that is uniquely Godot. It’s not like we’re going to “open it up,” following the characters to a new setting or adding in flashbacks to Vladimir’s life before. The play’s the thing, and film (a medium for which Beckett himself did not think Godot appropriate) is just a means of capturing it in perpetuity.

This Godot is part of an ambitious effort to film all of Beckett’s plays. It stands out from its brethren: lasting longer than any of the playwright’s other works, boasting an unusually large cast (of five), featuring actors who exchange dialogue and are allowed to move about the stage. Beckett was relentless in eliminating anything inessential or ornamental; he wrote the original Godot in French, a language in which he was less skilled, to keep his language simple. Over time, Beckett’s plays get shorter and shorter, he dispenses with names, puts his actors in pottery or buries them in sand, and begins to favor incomprehensible monologues. By contrast, Godot is downright old-fashioned.

It’s also easy to forget how enamored of early film comedy Beckett was (a love borne out in his only venture into the medium, Film). The persistence of innocence in a cruel world, the difference between erudition and wisdom, the bowler hats: all put one in the mind of or . It’s easy to see why comedians and clowns have been drawn to the leading roles, from Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin to Steve Martin and . This film’s cast is made up of stalwart Irish actors who had performed the play together many times, so while they tap into the comedy inside the absurdism, the performances are smartly crafted, unaffected, and comfortable with Beckett’s voice. (They even opt for his preferred pronunciation of the title character’s name: GAH-doe.)

But I’m sidestepping the key question: Is it weird? There is a factor that is prodding me to include it, and that is the presence of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead on the List, which is based on a play that I find greatly entertaining but far more explicable and less “weird” than this. But while Godot is most certainly a challenging play, one which posits any number of unlikely and unexplained premises, and one in which answers are not forthcoming (Beckett argued that the play says everything there is to say), in the final analysis, Godot filmed is still Godot, no more than it was, weird by virtue of its origins rather than anything inherent to the film itself. This Godot is an excellent record of the play, but like a movie of a lobster-and-grape-jelly sandwich, it’s only weird by virtue of what it captures, not what it is. If you’re looking for a Waiting For Godot that does more to take advantage of the unique qualities of the movies, well, you’re going to have to wait.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[John Murphy’s] performance is pathetic, heartbreaking, and surrealistically hilarious… Although ‘Waiting for Godot’ is basically a single set piece, Lindsay-Hogg’s camerawork and blocking is so inventive that the theatricality of the work (which bogged down previous televised versions) is carefully reinvented to accommodate the cinematic medium. The result is not a filmed play… but rather a thoroughly cinematic experience. – Phil Hall, Film Threat (contemporaneous)

(This movie, along with the entire “Beckett on Film” cycle, was nominated for review by Caleb Moss. Suggest a weird movie of your own here).

CAPSULE: ONE-EYED MONSTER (2008)

DIRECTED BY: Adam Fields

FEATURING: Jason Graham, Amber Benson, Veronica Hart, , Ron Jeremy

PLOT: At a porn shoot in a remote cabin, an alien possesses Ron Jeremy’s penis and sets about killing the cast and crew.

Still from One-eyed Monster (2008)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not weird, just a one-joke premise that might have held five minutes worth of comedy, stretched out to feature length.

COMMENTS: A movie about an animated killer penis? Starring (sort of) Ron Jeremy, as himself? It’s both a can’t-miss and a can’t-hit idea. Sure, people will tune in for the high concept, but even if you do your very best, could an idea that sounds like it was thought up during middle school recess work as more than a passable time-waster?

The answer, of course, is “no.”  You may giggle occasionally, but aside from the “writes itself” gimmick, this is by-the-numbers B-filmmaking about attractive people in a cabin being killed by an unseen presence. And I do mean “unseen”: we don’t get our first glimpse of the titular monster until the movie is 2/3 over (spoiler: it’s not worth the wait). Not only that, but this is a movie about a porn shoot that only has one nude scene. In other words, almost everything the target audience tuned in to see—penis monsters, penis monster kills, sex, nudity—occurs offscreen. That leaves us with a very talky movie relying on a few limp industry jokes—such as referring to an actress who’s only been in a hundred adult videos as a “newbie”—while following the Night of the Living Dead playbook by rote (there’s even a scene where the obnoxious white villain locks the noble black hero out of the cabin).

While One-Eyed Monster is generally unexceptional, there are a few high points: some cute moments with a “neurotactile simulator” and a funny, campy Vietnam flashback monologue from a grizzled Charles Napier. But my feeling is that they should have turned this script into an expensive porn movie instead of a cheap horror movie. We use our “” rating sparingly, but One-Eyed Monster comes close to meriting it. It’s not like it’s loathsome—just puerile. Be warned: watching it is a waste of time. (Its 4.2 IMDB rating supports this thesis). You might be cool with wasting your time, though, and if so, have at it. You might get a couple of chuckles out of the deal. The DVD does include a 35-minute reminiscence about the early days of the adult film industry from veteran porn stars Jeremy and Hart, which is a good bit more interesting than the feature film.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There is the postmodern thrill of a film-within-a-film and actors playing themselves – and Jeremy proves particularly sporting in allowing his legendary proportions to be reduced to alien bait…  too short to let any of its more flaccid moments bring it crashing down, and funny enough (at least in a drunken crowd) to make your eyes water.”–Anton Bitel, Eye for Film (festival screening)

(This movie was nominated for review by “philbymon,” who called it “[t]he weirdest thing I’ve seen recently.” We bet he’s topped it by now. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: CRIMEWAVE (1985)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Reed Birney, Sheree Wilson, , Brion James,

PLOT: Minutes from his execution, an innocent security-systems installer attempts to dissuade his guards from prematurely ending his life, telling a tale of mistaken identity, love, psychotic exterminators, and bad pick-up lines.

Still from Crimewave (1985)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While the prospect of an early cooperative effort between Sam Raimi and the made me hopeful, and while the creative does outweigh the crummy, Crimewave falls awkwardly on the “just a little too good” side of the weird movie equation. As it happens, it would have taken just a smidgen more amateurism (or a whole lot more inspiration) to have this be a Certified The-Man-Who-Wasn’t-There-meets-“Looney-Tunes” kind of a thing.

COMMENTSCrimewave was originally titled Relentless. On the DVD release it bears the title The X, Y, Z Murders. The distributors obviously weren’t sure how to handle it and, to an extent, neither am I. Made at the beginning of both Sam Raimi’s and the Coen brothers’ careers, you can see that they aren’t yet sure of themselves. All their trademarks are there—fast and novel pacing (Raimi), cleverly obtuse dialogue (Coens)—but they are still finding their feet artistically. Both the director and the screenwriters would, thankfully, move on to bigger and better, but with Crimewave we are left with an intermittently charming mess of a movie.

The action begins in Hudsucker Penitentiary, where a frantic Victor Ajax (Reed Birney) urgently rambles to his guards shortly before his scheduled execution at midnight. The tale he tells would sound familiar to anyone who has seen any of the Coen brothers’ more playful films. Victor claims he did not kill his two bosses (along with some bystanders), but that they were instead offed by the unhinged exterminators Faron Crush (Paul Smith) and Arthur Coddish (Brion James): two sleazebags I referred to as “Rat-Rat” and “Fat-Rat” in my notes. Mayhem ensues inside an apartment building that conveniently houses all the protagonists, with a couple of key scenes taking place in a nearby upscale restaurant where Victor awkwardly attempts to woo femme fatale Nancy (Sheree Wilson), a woman of the world who is in the clutches of the ultimate heel, Renaldo (Bruce Campbell). Hopefully, the car full of nuns will arrive in time to save our hero.

While the first half consists of oddball dialogue and strange zingers, the second half goes a bit off the rails with Warner Brothers-style violence. Crimewave‘s greatest fault is that it seems it knows what to do; it just doesn’t do it terribly well. Perhaps Sam Raimi felt too tethered being under the watchful eye of corporate Hollywood for the first time, and the combined effects of a constrained Raimi and novice Coens makes for something much more “odd” than “weird.” While the overall effect of the collaboration makes for a breathlessly tedious experience, Raimi’s frenetic pacing does occasionally complement the Coen brothers’ rudimentarily clever dialogue. While laboring through the second half (with the psychos, the car chase, and all that), it was as if I were with a boring guest at a party whom I just wanted to abandon, only to have him suddenly turn charming as I was about to leave.

All told, and despite the preceding paragraphs, I feel somewhat at a loss for words. It’s always great to see Bruce Campbell as a scumbag, and a lot of the other characters populating the small city block would evolve into the lovable idiots that would be the backbone of the Coen brothers’ classic comedies to come. However, the shining moments served more immediately as a reminder that the surrounding movie was a rushed, troubled, slapdash affair. Now that  both Raimi and the Coens have become great filmmakers, I would be interested in seeing them remake this (fairly justifiably) forgotten romp. As it stands now, though, while I cannot recommend it to anyone, I would recommend having had seen it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a strange but not funny spoof of hitmen that disappoints because the comedy is too simplistic and there’s no dramatic impact.”–Dennis Schwartz, Orzus’ World Movie Reviews

CAPSULE: RUPTURE (2016)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Michael Chiklis, Kerry Bishe, Lesley Manville, Andrew Moodie, Ari Millen, Jean Yoon, Jonathan Potts,

PLOT: Young mother Renee Morgan (Rapace) is abducted by a strange group and endures tests and tortures designed to elicit some response they refer to as a “rupture”- but what exactly is that?

Still from Rupture (2016)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not that weird, though there are some aspects here and there. But it’s certainly odd—those expecting a straightforward piece of “capture/torture porn” will not be pleased. There’s a lot to be intrigued by, if you can run with a variation on the genre.

COMMENTS: Looking at most of the reviews, and the current mainstream arbiter of good and bad films, Rotten Tomatoes, Rupture doesn’t fare well. Fair enough. For this type of thriller, it doesn’t truly deliver in terms of shocks, it’s not nearly as gory as most of its brethren, and most of the events are standard tropes in its genre niche. That said, I think that most of those negative reviewers overlook the interesting aspects of this film, which tips its hand fairly early that it’s not going to be the usual capture/torture story.

For one thing, there’s a subtle humor running throughout the film in the lighting and art direction. There’s Suspiria-style lighting throughout the facility, and one room referencing Kubrick’s The Shining. In the performances, Renee’s captors/tormentors are surprisingly polite and deferential, if extremely focused. There’s also the lack of over-the-top graphicness and the growing realization that despite the fearful goings on, very little of the film orients towards horror. It’s not quite a subversion of the torture/capture scenario, but it’s certainly a side path.

Rupture is a much less graphic Martyrs, with a touch of Invasion of the Body Snatchers as things play out. You can call it a social satire, if you consider current events as having some influence in interpreting and enjoying the arts. Those factors, plus an ending which leaves things open to continue the story, makes it understandable why audiences expecting a taut thriller would be slightly disappointed.

Rupture can currently be viewed on the Cinemax networks and on DVD.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…Rupture is worth persevering with as it turns into a tense, claustrophobic and strange experience.”–Katherine McLaughlin, SciFiNow (contemporaneous)