This post contains nothing but spoilers for the movie Donnie Darko. Click “more” below to read the spoilers. To go to the spoiler-free main review instead, click here.
AKA The Mole (literal translation)
“Q: You’re creating this story right now.
A: Yes, this very moment. It may not be true, but it’s beautiful.” -Alejandro Jodorowsky in “Conversations with Jodorowsky”
FEATURING: Alejandro Jodorowsky
PLOT: El Topo, a figure dressed in black and carrying his nude son on horseback behind him, uses his supernatural shooting ability to free a town from the rule of a sadistic Colonel. He then abandons his son for the Colonel’s Woman, who convinces him to ride deep into the desert to face off against four mystical gunfighters. All of the gunfighters die, but El Topo is betrayed, shot, and dragged into a cave by a society of deformed people, who ask the outlaw turned pacifist to help them build a tunnel so they can escape to a dusty western town run by degenerate religious fascists.
- El Topo is considered to be the first “midnight movie,” the first movie to be screened in theaters almost exclusively after 12 AM. Although the heyday of the midnight movie has past, it was a clever marketing gimmick that stressed the unusual nature of the film and positioned El Topo as an event rather than just another flick.
- El Topo was famously championed and promoted by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
- Due to an acrimonious dispute over ownership rights between Jodorowsky and Allen Klein, the film was withdrawn from circulation for 30 years, during which time it could only be seen on bootlegged VHS copies. The scarcity of screenings vaulted El Topo‘s already powerful reputation into a legendary one. Jodorowsky and Klein reconciled in 2004 and the film had a legal DVD release in 2005.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: El Topo is a continuous stream of unforgettable images; any frame chosen at random inflames the imagination. My personal favorite is the lonsghot after El Topo kills third master gunfighter, where his body lies bleeding in his own watering hole while the rest of the landscape is littered with rabbit corpses. The iconic image, however, is El Topo riding off on horseback with a naked child sitting behind him, holding a black umbrella over his head. This image is particularly representative because it shows not only Jodorowsky’s gift for composition, but his penchant for shamelessly borrowing from other sources of inspiration: the concept is pinched from the most surreal moment of Sergio Leone’s classic Spaghetti Western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: In the first scene, a man clad in black carrying an
Original trailer for El Topo
umbrella rides through an endless desert waste. Behind him in the saddle is a male child, naked except for a cowboy hat. The man stops his horse by a lonely hitching post in the sand, ties the umbrella to the post, and hands the boy a teddy bear and a locket and a photograph. The man says, “Today you are seven years old. You are a man. Bury your first toy and your mother’s picture.” He pulls out a flute and plays while the naked child follows his instructions. What makes El Topo weird is that this is the most normal and comprehensible thing that happens the film.
DIRECTOR: Chan-wook Park
FEATURING: Su-jeong Lim, Rain
PLOT: Young-goon, a young woman who believes herself to be a cyborg, is institutionalized after a gruesome and nearly fatal attempt to recharge her batteries. Among the characters she meets in the mental hospital is Il-soon, a kleptomaniac who steals not only small items, but character traits from the other patients. Young-goon enlists Il-soon’s aid to help her discover and complete her purpose as a cyborg, while he finds himself coming to care about her—and seeks to find a solution to her troubles that will remain true to her delusion.
- I’m a Cyborg was director Chan-wook Park’s first film after completing his popular and ultra-violent “Vengeance Trilogy” [Sympathy for Mr. Vengance (2002), Oldboy (2003), and Lady Vengeance (2004)]. It was the #1 film in Korea in it’s opening week, but tanked quickly thereafter and ultimately became a box-office disappointment.
- The idea for the movie came to Park after he had a dream about “bullets coming out of a girl’s body.”
- The mail lead, Jeong Ji-Hoon, is a top Korean pop music star who records under the name “Rain.” He makes his movie acting debut in Cyborg.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The audience-pleasing image is Young-goon sprouting jets from her ratty sneakers so she can elevate to kiss Il-soon. The most enduring image, however, is the vision of Young-goon as a combat cyborg, with bullets shooting from her fingertips and spent shell casings ejecting from her open mouth.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The main characters—a woman who self-destructs
Trailer for I’m a Cyborg, but That’s OK
because she believes herself to be a robot, and a kleptomaniac with a fondness for bunny rabbit masks—would, at the very least, qualify as quirky. Add elaborate hallucinatory sequences, including a massacre of the hospital doctors set to the rhythm of a gentle chamber waltz, and a flight to the Swiss Alps in the grasp of a giant ladybug accompanied by yodeling, and the movie becomes fantastic. But what makes it weird is that the director takes the principals’ delusions at emotional face value, never allowing reality to bully and overcome his madmen’s subjective worlds.
COMMENTS: We can easily imagine the 2009 Hollywood remake of Saibogujiman Continue reading 6. I’M A CYBORG, BUT THAT’S OK [SAIBOGUJIMAN KWENCHANA] (2006)
AKA Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus [dubbed and edited version]
“I love images that make me dream, but I don’t like someone dreaming for me.” –Georges Franjou
DIRECTED BY: Georges Franjou
FEATURING: Edith Scob, Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli
PLOT: The face of the daughter of a brilliant plastic surgeon is horrifically scarred in an automobile accident. The doctor makes her pretend to be dead until she can be cured; she floats about his Gothic mansion wearing an expressionless face mask, accompanied by the howling of the dogs her father keeps in pens to perform skin grafting experiments on. When several pretty young girls go missing, the police and the girl’s fiancé start to suspect the doctor.
- Eyes Without a Face was adapted for film by the famous screenwriting team of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who also co-wrote Les Diaboliques (1954) and Vertigo (1958), from a novel by Jean Redon.
- Director Georges Franjou has stated that he was told to avoid blood (so as not to upset the French censors), animal cruelty (so as not to upset the English censors), and mad scientists (to avoid offending the German censors). Remarkably, all three of these elements appear in the final product, but the film did not run into censorship problems.
- The film did poorly on its initial release, partly because the surgical scene was so shocking and gruesome for its day. It was released in the US, in a dubbed and slightly edited version, as The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, paired on a double bill with the strange but now nearly-forgotten exploitation flick The Manster.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The mask itself, the heart of the film. There are several other worthy candidates, including the haunting final scene with Christiane surrounded by freed birds. Also noteworthy is the facial transplant scene, which is in some ways the centerpiece of this film (and comes almost exactly at the midpoint). An anesthetized woman’s face is peeled off like the skin of a grape, in surprisingly graphic detail.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: At least until the very final scene, Eyes Without a Face is not
Original trailer for Les Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face)
obviously weird at all–in fact, much of Franjou’s accomplishment is in making the fabulous, far-fetched story seems coldly clinical and real. But what gives the movie it’s staying power and makes it get under your skin is the strength of the simple images, particularly Christiane’s blank mask, which hides everything: both the horrors of her past, now written on her face in scar tissue, and her current motivations. The imagery seems to reach far beyond the confines of the story and speak to something deeper–but what? For this reason, the most common critical adjective used in conjunction with the film has been “poetic,” and the director Franjou is most often compared to is Jean Cocteau.
COMMENTS: Eyes without a Face is a sinister variation on the Frankenstein theme that Continue reading 5. EYES WITHOUT A FACE [LES YEUX SANS VISAGE] (1960)
Ein Toter hing im Netz, AKA A Corpse Hangs in the Web [literal translation], It’s Hot in Paradise, and others
DIRECTED BY: Fritz Böttger
FEATURING: Alex D’Arcy, Barbara Valentin, & buxom German exhibitionists
PLOT: A plane carrying team of eight dancing girls, along with one male and one female manager, crash into the ocean en route to Singapore. There they find a cabin with the body of a man hanging in a giant spiderweb. The lone male is bitten by a spider and turns into a spider-human hybrid, who then briefly terrorizes the girls at a party to celebrate their impending rescue after two men row ashore.
- With some brief nudity included, this German/Yugoslavian co-production was originally released in the US as a sexploitation feature under the title It’s Hot in Paradise. After the nudity was clipped out, the movie was re-released under the present title and marketed as a horror film.
- The movie was featured in the tenth season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (show 1011).
- Horrors of Spider Island is believed to be in the public domain.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The puppet-like evil spider, with it’s large, shiny, almost cute eyes and clawed hands.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Horrors of Spider Island takes place in an alternate universe that’s nothing like our own. The poor dubbing, including a mangled deep south accent, immediately takes us out of reality and makes suspension of disbelief impossible. The plot is thin as a wire, made to hang chauvinistic male fantasies on, and often seems to be improvised on the spur of the moment. Horrors of Spider Island already seems like a half-remembered bad dream, even as you’re still watching it.
4 minute clip from the film, including spider attack, courtesy of Something Weird video
COMMENTS: Horrors of Spider Island is a movie that falls into the “so-bad-it’s-weird” category. It’s quite obvious that the film was made with little Continue reading 4. HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND (1960)
“I hate doing this to a beautiful woman.” -Attributed to cameraman Gil Taylor during the filming of Repulsion
FEATURING: Catherine Deneuve
PLOT: At first glance, manicurist Carole (Catherine Deneuve) seems merely to be painfully shy. The early portions of the film follow her in her daily routine, and we grow to realize that her mental problems go much deeper: she daydreams, she seems to be barely on speaking terms with the outside world, she is dependent on her sister (who wants to have a life of her own) to care for her, and she is repulsed by men. When her sister goes on a two week vacation, Carole’s fragile condition deteriorates, and we travel inside of her head and witness her terrifying paranoid delusions firsthand.
- This was director Roman Polanski’s first English language movie, after achieving critical success with the Polish language thriller Nóż w wodzie [Knife in the Water] (1962). The relatively recent success of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) undoubtedly helped the film’s marketability, as it could be billed as a female variation on the same theme. But despite dealing with insanity and murder, Polanski’s film turned out nothing like Hitchcock’s classic; whereas Psycho was clearly entertainment first, with horrors meant to thrill like a roller-coaster, Repulsion was relentlessly tense, downbeat and disturbing, strictly arthouse fare.
- Ethereal Star Catherine Denueve (who had been the lover of, and given her first break in films by, roguish director Roger Vadim) was coming off her first major success in the lighthearted 1964 musical Les Parapluies de Cherbourg [The Umbrellas of Cherbourg]. Playing a dangerous, asexual, schizophrenic woman in a role that called for little dialogue immediately after her role as the romantic lead in a musical demonstrated her tremendous range and helped establish her as one of the greatest actresses of the late 1960s and 70s.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: There are many enduring images to choose from, including the hare carcass and simple close-ups of Deneuve’s eyeballs, but the iconic image is Carole walking down a narrow corridor, as gray hands reach out from inside the walls to grope at her virginal white nightgown. (The scene is a sinister variation on a similar image from Jean Cocteau’s surrealist classic Le Belle et La Bette [Beauty and the Beast] (1946)).
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Although there are several otherwordly, expressionistic dream sequences in the film, Polanski creates a terribly tense and claustrophobic atmosphere even before the nightmares come with odd camera angles and the strategic use of silence broken by invasive ambient noises. As Carole floats around her empty apartment, silent, alone, and ghostlike, ordinary objects and sounds take on an otherworldly quality. The effect is unlike any other.
Original trailer for Repulsion
COMMENTS: Polanski begins the film with a close-up of a woman’s eyeball, an opening Continue reading 3. REPULSION (1965)
“Je me suis drapé dans ma conception du fantastique, et ce n’est pas celle de tout le monde.” – Christophe Gans
DIRECTED BY: Christophe Gans
FEATURING: Radha Mitchell, Laurie Holden, Jodelle Ferland
PLOT: After her adopted daughter’s sleepwalking problem turns hazardous, her concerned mother decides to investigate the name of the town that she mutters in her narcoleptic fits: “Silent Hill.” The pair travel to the titular locale, a modern ghost town that has been abandoned for decades due to a coal fire that continuously burns underground. Once inside the city limits, mother and daughter are separated, and the mother’s search for her lost child leads her through increasingly bizarre and portentous adventures in the haunted town.
- This film was adapted from the cult/horror Sony Play Station video game, “Silent Hill”. Movie adaptations of video games were (are) a relatively new phenomenon, and had generally not been well received by either movie critics or fans. Although these movies debuted with the advantage of a built in fan base, Super Mario Bros. (1993), Wing Commander (1993), and Doom (2005) had all been massive critical and box office flops, and that’s leaving aside the efforts of Uwe Boll. Although the Lara Croft and Resident Evil franchises became minor hits, by 2006 the entire video game adaption genre had already become a critical punchline, synonymous with diminished expectations.
- Director Christophe Gans, a French b-movie film-geek turned director, was a fan of the “Silent Hill” game series and convinced that he could fashion the first truly successful game adaptation. He had previously had a surprise international (and modest stateside) hit with Brotherhood of the Wolf [Le Pacte des loups] (2001), a weird but energetic historical/detective/horror/kung fu hybrid.
- Screenwriter Roger Avary assisted Quentin Tarantino on the scripts for Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994), as well as handling both screenwriting and directing duties on his own projects, such as Killing Zoe (1994).
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Blankets of ash falling over a deserted town like snow, until the eerie stillness is broken by the shrill wail of a 1950s era air raid siren.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Gans paints his murky canvas with the expected
Original trailer for Silent Hill
monstrosities from deep inside the id, but it’s the film’s disjointed storytelling that turns it from a mere visual romp through scary-town into something totally disconcerting and off-kilter.
COMMENTS: The critics agree: Silent Hill is a fantastic looking picture, but the script is Continue reading 2. SILENT HILL (2006)
AKA A Venezia… un dicembre rosso shocking
DIRECTED BY: Nicolas Roeg
FEATURING: Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie
PLOT: John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) lose their daughter in a freak drowning accident. Life goes on, however, and they travel to Venice as planned, where John is directing the restoration of a Gothic cathedral. While there, they meet a blind psychic woman who tells them she can see their daughter, and John begins to catch glimpses out of the corner of his eye of a red-hooded figure that looks suspiciously like his drowned daughter.
- This was director Nicolas Roeg’s third film, after Performance (1970) and Walkabout (1971). The movie was adapted from a short story by the British novelist Daphne du Maurier, whose works also inspired Rebecca and The Birds.
- The love scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland was so graphic for the time that (unverified) rumors persisted that they had actually had intercourse on the set. Roeg has since dismissed the rumors.
- Some of the style of the film may have been influenced by Italian giallos of the period, though this connection has been exaggerated simply because of the Venetian setting.
- Don’t Look Now is #8 on the British Film Institute’s list of the all-time great British films.
INDELIBLE IMAGE : The color red. (More would constitute a spoiler).
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Don’t Look Now is subtly unnerving—perhaps toos ubtly—throughout. But the last 20 minutes are a truly unsettling, nightmarish experience, capped by a shocking, largely unexplained resolution that leaves it to the viewer to solve the film’s mystery. By the end, the city of Venice has turned into a strangely deserted, Gothic labyrinth that may haunt your nightmares.
Trailer for Don’t Look Now narrated by John Landis
COMMENTS: Near the opening of Don’t Look Now is a fast-moving montage in which key Continue reading 1. DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)