Category Archives: Guest Reviews

THE CREMATOR [SPALOVAC MRTVOL] (1969)

The Cremator has been promoted onto the List of the Best Weird Movies Ever Made; the Certified Weird entry is here.

DIRECTED  BY: Juraj Herz

FEATURING: Rudolf Hrusínský, Ilja Prachar, Milos Vognic, and Zora Bozinová

PLOT: In this mesmerizing, Gothic horror film, a funerary specialist becomes obsessed with what he believes to be the nobility of his calling, with terrifyingly tragic and bizarre results.

THE CREMATOR

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The Cremator treats unusual, morbid, taboo subject matter in a visually dreamy way that is artful without being  gimmicky.

COMMENTS: In late 1930’s Prague, Kopfrking (Hrusínský) is a misguided, enigmatic crematorium operator. He is an impeccably groomed, eerie, and meticulous figure, always talking in a hypnotic, soft spoken, poetic manner.  He is overly preoccupied with mortality, morbidity, and the human soul, and deeply devoted to the funerary arts.

Kopfrking feels a physical affection for the instrumentality of his trade, lovingly caressing the equipment of the crematory process.  He speaks constantly, literally and metaphorically, of death and the liberation of the soul through the process of cremation.

As the story progresses, he becomes increasingly obsessed with his work, finding it glorifying and cathartic.  He sees visions of the ghost of his living wife in her youth, along with his future incarnation, as he begins a spiraling descent into fantasy and madness.  He is on a mission to free the souls of the deceased (and in time the not-so deceased) through the pyrolization of human flesh, be it living or dead—just as long as that flesh is consumed and vaporized by fire.

The pre-WWII German propaganda machine is enveloping Eastern Europe, polarizing aspiring Nazis and oppositionists.  Drawn toward the philosophy of the Third Reich, Kopfrking becomes morbidly obsessed with racial purity and the percentage of German blood flowing within his own veins—literally, to the point of having his vessels opened and the contents examined.  While The Cremator is not a raving anti-Nazi film, it uses the political ideology as an allegory for exploring the phenomenon of sweeping, consuming mass delusion and insanity.

The gathering of Nazi forces on the border offers Kopfrking an opportunity to realize his misguided aspirations on a grand scale, one much larger than he could have ever hoped for, one seemingly without limit.  Before applying his fervor and passion to the task, he hatches a plan to betray and destroy his own acquaintances, colleagues and family.

While there are elements of black satire in the The Cremator, the movie is so compelling as to nearly overshadow it.  The film insidiously and steadily flows to its inevitable and horrifying conclusion like a hot rivulet of liquefied fat.

The production design is crisp and symmetrical.  Stanislav Milota’s stunning black and white cinematography is haunting and beautiful.  It features successions of extreme closeups that emphasize the slightly grotesque and disturbing features of the biological condition.  Milota’s use of black and white film stock’s enhanced tonal range is artfully employed to focus attention on rich textures and multitudes of shades.  This gives The Cremator a uniquely unsettling dreamlike quality.  The musical score by Zdenek Liska is alluring, phantasmic, and aesthetically intriguing. Viewing The Cremator is akin to experiencing a nightmare that one is reluctant to wake from.

The Cremator was a Czech nominee for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this 1968 black comedy in black and white is undeniably creepy—once director Juraj Herz enters the fractured mind of his protagonist, he refuses to budge.”–Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: DEADGIRL (2008)

DIRECTED  BY: Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel

FEATURING: Jenny Spain, Shiloh Fernandez,

PLOT: Two high school delinquents find an undead young woman and use her as a sex slave.
Still from Deadgirl (2008)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Deadgirl is weird by virtue of its highly unconventional subject matter, which is treated in as matter-of-factly as a conventional drama.  It’s also better than you might think;  Deadgirl is one of the best necrophilia-themed movies I’ve seen.

COMMENTS:  When I read any description of a horror movie that includes the words, “teenager” or “students,” it stops me in my tracks, and I groan in disappointment.  However, it was conducive to the plot of this horror yarn that the two antagonistic protagonists be just that.

The pair are working class high school misfits.  (I must note that they are little more working class than the jocks and cheerleaders at most high schools, who stridently compensate for their ordinariness by engaging in meaningless make-work activities and ardently conform in order to raise their perceived social status.)  The two boys in this film are misfits only in the sense that they aren’t on the football team.   Like all teenage boys (and girls, let’s be honest) they are also dying of horniness.

Rickie (Fernandez) predictably covets a cheerleader possessing no redeemable qualities, who is saving herself to be date raped by the captain of the football team some drunken Homecoming night.  One afternoon, his friend J.T. (Segan) convinces him to skip class to drink beer in an abandoned insane asylum.  Where else?

Once there, they discover an inexplicably re-animated, shapely young dead girl (Spain) Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: DEADGIRL (2008)

GUEST REVIEW: JESUS AND HER GOSPEL OF YES (2004)

Guest review by Kevin Pyrtle of WTF-Film

Here in Minneapolis there’s a strange little show [you’ll have to forgive me for not remembering the name of it] that plays the public access stations every week or so. It features a host of young talent who frolic in front of a blue screen in various stages of undress while ancient video effects are laid over top of it all in a random fashion. It goes on for an hour, reaching ever dizzier heights of incomprehensible nonsense and leaving you puzzled as to what, if anything, you were meant to take away from the experience.

Still from Jesus and Her Gospel of YesAll of the above could rightly be said for this Alfred Eaker film as well, which the director describes on the IMDB as ‘a surreal, complex, modern, psychedelic film retelling the life of Christ as woman and leader of the Gospel of Yes.’ The main difference between the two is that Jesus runs slightly longer, around seventy three minutes before the lengthy credits roll.

Complex it is, indeed – there’s never a moment [credits included] in which Jesus has nothing going on. We get endless loopy dialogue, re-interpreting the Gospel with frequent pop culture references and commenting on the various ills of contemporary society all the while. Not that there’s time to soak any of it in, as the words pile up in ungainly multitude and start to sound like inarticulate mush after a while. It’s akin to a rambling political address. I know that there’s a point to all of it somewhere, but the manner in which it’s put across leaves me with no interest in finding out what it is.

If interpreting the dialogue is difficult on its own, then the accompanying visuals make the task doubly so. Jesus is populated by an endless parade of excruciatingly bad visual effects that could have originated from the plugin archives of any prosumer video editing application. Most of them involve people doing random things while other people, through the magic of digital process photography, do random things in front of them. There is some interesting artwork on display [all credited at the end], but you have to look closely to even see it through the multiple layers of visual obfuscation. There is also some not-so-interesting artwork, much of which could have been accomplished in MS Paint.

Still from Jesus and Her Gospel of YesFar be it from me to say that Jesus, in spite of its obvious faults, is not a creative enterprise. Creativity is one thing its producers obviously have in spades. There’s no telling how many long days and sleepless nights went towards its realization, making it all the more a pity that something easier to appreciate didn’t result. There’s some good substantive meat to the rambling narrative [like commentary on drug abuse, abortion, and sexual dynamics], but you have to dig through piles of aesthetically repellent gunk to find any of it. I doubt that most, regardless of their artistic sensibilities, will have the patience for it.

Jesus and Her Gospel of Yes is undeniably weird and original to the max, but its crude brand of no-budget shot-on-video mayhem just wasn’t for me. While I didn’t enjoy it, I have to admire that Eaker was at least trying something new here – a rare thing in these days of utterly barren mass marketed entertainment. I have a feeling that the world would be a far better place if even a hundredth of a percent of the box office earnings from the latest Hollywood action debacle was to find its way into the pockets of the Eakers of the world.

Jesus and Her Gospel of Yes is currently available exclusively for download at DownloadHorror.com.

ROSCOE ARBUCKLE’S “HE DID AND HE DIDN’T” (1916)

Hidden deep in the recesses of early cinema lies a rarely seen, obscure gem that might be described as something resembling a Max Beckman Moving Picture.

he_did_and_he_didntRoscoe Arbuckle’s 1916 He Did and He Didn’t is a humorous, expressionistic nightmare which not only calls to mind the texture and atmosphere of Max Beckman expressionist paintings, but also, in heroine Mabel Normand, evokes Edvard Munch as well.

Arbuckle had been shifting away from the frantic style of the Mack Sennett factory towards more character driven comedy, and had taken over writing and directing his own films and making features long before Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd followed suit.

He Did and He Didn’t uniquely stands out even among the later Arbuckle films, which is saying quite a bit as Arbuckle was innovative both as a performer and director.  His perfectionism was well known and he might very well have earned the crown for king of multiple takes, although the gracefulness he displayed on both sides of the camera never even remotely hints at such perfectionist standards.

Arbuckle has been widely credited for influencing such artists as Charlie Chaplin,  Buster Keaton, Oliver Hardy and Curly Howard.  His distinct on-screen persona was normally that of a country bumpkin and ladies man.

Naturally, every great screen personality needs an equally distinct nemesis.  Chaplin had Eric Campbell, Langdon had Vernon Dent, Arbuckle had his Al St. John.  The two appeared together in numerous films and, later, Arbuckle directed St. John in Curses (1925) and Bridge Wives (1932).  Lanky, bad teeth, bad hair and bad clothes, St. John was Arbuckle’s perfect country bumpkin foil in The Waiter’s Ball (1916), Coney Island (1917) and the recently restored Love (1919), in which Arbuckle donned drag, as he frequently did (Good Night Nurse, an imaginative nightmare fantasy with Keaton, St. John and Arbuckle Continue reading ROSCOE ARBUCKLE’S “HE DID AND HE DIDN’T” (1916)

A JOURNEY INTO THE MIND OF P

thomas_pynchon_a_journry_into_the_mind_of_pThomas Pynchon: A Journey into the Mind of P, directed and produced by the brothers Fosco and Donatello Dubini, is not so much a documentary as it is a homage to that legendary recluse of post modern literature, who wrote books such as “V” and “Gravity’s Rainbow.”

The film is broken down into four appropriate sections: “Paranoia,” “Disappearance,” “Alien Territories,” and “Psychomania,” and it’s wildly mixed reviews are a bit perplexing.  One would think that a film on such a non-conventional literary figure as Pynchon would at least attempt to be fairly non-conventional in approach.  The Dubini Brothers do not disappoint there.  But then, we’ve seen this type of reaction all too often.

A number of Beatles “fans” expressed outrage towards Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe.  What made the Beatles so unique and timeless was they refused to buy into their “religious base.”  Once they were elevated to near divine status, the artists’ response could easily have been to roll with what they (intentional or not) hit upon, follow the formula and keep that money machine rolling (aka: Elvis Presley).  Instead, fans never quite knew what to expect of the fab four.  The “White Album” was as certainly startling, perplexing and unexpected as “Revolver” had been.  Of course, that didn’t keep the pseudo fans from mantling unrealistic expectations on the solo Beatles’ Continue reading A JOURNEY INTO THE MIND OF P

GUEST REVIEW: COMING SOON (2008)

coming_soon
It takes an exceptional film to garner almost unanimous praise.  Now imagine a mockumentary that promotes bestiality receiving 100 percent critical accolades across the board!  Impossible? One would think so in lieu of the overwhelming amount of creatively conservative film criticism flooding the Internet.  Now factor in the amateur hack critics who equate the medium of film with video games and comic books, review them side by side, and judge a film’s intrinsic value solely by entertainment level alone and insist film is absolutely nothing more.  Well then such a mockumentary would have about as much chance as the well worn, so-called snowball in hell.  But, startlingly, Devilhead Film’s production of Sir Tijn Po’s Coming Soon has done just that.

What is amusing and vehemently predictable is the raging net debate over whether or not the film is documentary or mockumentary.  The answer to that is woefully obvious, especially by the film’s end.

Some have likened Sir Tijn Po to David Lynch.  That’s even more predictable and couldn’t be more off base, but then the same thing is frequently said of Guy Maddin as well and both filmmakers are far more interesting than the David Lynch of today.

A lot of phrases like “thought-provoking”, “redefining the boundaries of tolerance”, and “philosophically layered” have been bandied about in the promotion of this film.  E.F.A (Equality For All) is a supposed organization which promotes the acceptance of human/animal love (zoophilia rights) and has given it’s stamp of approval for the film.  The E.F.A website claims that throughout the ages mankind has trod upon the animal Continue reading GUEST REVIEW: COMING SOON (2008)

TOD BROWNING’S ‘DRACULA’ (1931): CHALLENGING THE REVISIONISTS

Guest review by Alfred Eaker

Tod Browning’s Dracula is often compared to Murnau’s unauthorized Nosferatu. It is an unfair comparison:the two are very different films, which merely happen to share the same literary inspiration.  (Neither are mere adaptations.  The only film to fairly compare to Murnau’s would be Herzog’s remake with Kinski and, indeed, it compares very favorably).  The vampire of Murnau and Schreck is an accursed, repulsive animal, the carrier of a dreaded plague and the beast fights fiercely to sustain its life, like a rodent in its death throes.  The Dracula of Browning and Lugosi is an outsider, a mesmerizing and intensely austere intruder, who comes to nourish on the aristocratic London Society, who he, paradoxically, yearns to to join (fittingly, for a genuine outsider, it is to no avail of course; he makes rather pronounced overtures and goes to extraordinary lengths to fulfill his ambition there).

Dwight Frye’s pre-bitten Renfield is nearly as strange an outcast as he is after his transformation, albeit in a far dracula1different light. Renfield is a bizarre, urban effeminate in an old meat, potatoes and superstition land. The villagers are outcasts too, but among them, Renfield is the doomed jester, misguidedly blinded by his foolhardy feeling of superiority over them and stubbornly oblivious to the peasants’ warnings.

The introduction to the inhabitants of Castle Dracula is among the most discussed in the annuls of Universal Horror and, to many viewers, it is also most perplexing. This is quintessential Browning. The static silence is punctuated with genuine dread, surreal humor, and the unnerving whimpers of a opossum. Karl Freund’s camera pans over a decidedly unreal set. The vampire brides slowly emerge as a bee scampers out of its little coffin. An opossum seems to be ducking for cover in its dilapidated coffin and its cries are the only living sounds we hear as we are introduced to Lugosi’s Count staring directly at the camera.

Renfield’s journey to Castle Dracula perfectly captures the sensory view of a crepuscular world. Indeed, no other Universal horror film would convey it as vividly and attempts to do so in later films proved pale imitations.

Renfield’s arrival to the castle, and state of confusion, is juxtaposed against the awkward but pertinacious emergence of Dracula. Lugosi’s emergence seems to partake of a genuine struggle and this echoes the delivery of his greeting which follows. This emergence sharply contrasts with the startling and confused appearance of armadillos scurrying in the ruins below, which also heightens Renfield’s confused state.

Critics have unfavorably compared this scene to Melford’s much more fluid shot of Villar’s Count appearance atop the stairwell in Dracula (The Spanish Version). Continue reading TOD BROWNING’S ‘DRACULA’ (1931): CHALLENGING THE REVISIONISTS