THE WEIRD WORLD OF CHILDREN’S GRINDHOUSE

His name may not exactly be celebrated among cinephiles, but ‘s impact on the mid-20th century movie scene is undeniable. Growing up in an environment of circus performers and vaudevillians, Murray made a fortune in the 1950s and 1960s by importing low-budget family films (among other genres) from Mexico and Europe, dubbing them in English, and re-releasing them on the US market, showing them at cheap weekend screenings. Providing affordable afternoon film screenings aimed specifically at children (and at pre-digital age parents looking for a way to keep the kids occupied for a few hours) earned Murray the title “King of the Kiddie Matinee.”

Poster for K. Gordon Murray's Little Red Riding Hood and the MonstersBut besides revolutionizing the concept of the children’s matinee, Murray also inadvertently assisted in the creation of a certain subgenre of film that flourished in and around the 1960s —one which, though rarely discussed, is the source of some of cinema’s finest examples of unintentional weirdness.

This particular subgenre has never been given an official name, but the term “grindhouse children’s films”, coined by internet critic Brad “Cinema Snob” Jones, encompasses its nature quite well. With their grainy visuals and audio, hokey acting, and flimsy sets, these movies do indeed call to mind the grindhouse cinema aesthetic. The films’ content, meanwhile, are clearly crafted for a kid audience. This dissonance results in distinct examples of mid-century cinematic weirdness, some of which have made it into 366’s Canon.

While a many entries in this genre were the work of Murray himself, many more were made in his wake, churned out at minimal cost to take advantage of the easy profits of the matinees Murray had helped invent. Perhaps one of the most bizarre (and egregious) was 1965’s Fun In Balloon Land. Produced by Giant Balloon Parades Inc., and the sole directorial credit of Joseph M. Sonneborn Jr., this little absurdity pushes itself to 52 minutes by poorly slapping together two unrelated segments. One consists of a young boy wandering around a cavernous warehouse filled with assorted parade balloons (which, with their vast sizes, bulbous shapes, and poorly-painted features, are frankly the stuff of children’s nightmares) and holding awkward conversations with them; the other is a recording of a Thanksgiving-themed balloon parade with a narrator gushing over the (equally ugly) floats Continue reading THE WEIRD WORLD OF CHILDREN’S GRINDHOUSE

CAPSULE: ASSASSIN 33 A.D. (2020)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Jim Carroll

FEATURING: Morgan Roberts, Ilsa Levine, Geraldo Davila, Donny Boaz, Lamar Usher, Jason Castro

PLOT: Muslim extremists use a time machine to go back to 33 A.D. to try to assassinate Jesus; with the encouragement of his Christian girlfriend, an agnostic genius tries to fix the time stream.

Still from Assassin 33 A.D. (2020)

COMMENTS: I wouldn’t say its impossible to make a good Christian time travel movie; would have nailed it. But I am pretty sure it is impossible to make a good Christian time travel movie that involves terrorist strike teams with assault weapons going back to 1st century Judea to assassinate Jesus. Assassin 33 AD is Donnie Darko meets The Passion of the Christ done on the kind of budget usually reserved for an episode of “The 700 Club.”

Assassin33ad.com boasts that the script has “won more International Screenplay Awards than any know [sic] script in history.” Starting straight off with the line “I’m just struggling. I went from saving an embassy and killing terrorists to being head of security at a research lab,” delivered casually by a rugged man to his wife on a Sunday drive, you can see why. That’s the kind of expository introductory dialogue slick Hollywood movies are too afraid to put in for fear it might sound “clumsy.”

The wife who needs filling in on what her husband has been doing with his life is Heidi Montag, a former Playboy model and current aspiring Christian pop singer who, like much of the cast and crew, was drawn from a cable TV show called “Marriage Boot Camp Reality Stars.” In another fine bit of screenwriting, Montag’s husband chuckles fondly, “That British accent!” This is necessary foreshadowing, because the accent will turn up as an important plot point late on, and without that bit of dialogue we’d have no way of knowing  that she spoke with a British accent. Assassin33ad.com reveals that a producer warned the director when he was planning to cast Montag that “Reality stars can’t act.”

Maybe all the praise for the screenplay comes from its nimble handling of the multiple timelines that infest the second half of the movie. I can’t opine on that, because I quickly lost track of how many time-clones there were running around, and which one were alive and which ones were dead, after the second or third time the hero (Ram Goldstein!) and/or villains leapt  backwards or forwards in time like chronological yo-yos. Personally, it seemed to me that they made up the rules of time travel on the fly:  somehow, even though he just invented time travel accidentally twenty four hours ago, Ram knows that there’s a lag between changing the past and overwriting the present that could take “minutes, possibly hours, maybe longer,” Continue reading CAPSULE: ASSASSIN 33 A.D. (2020)

NETFLIX PARTY POLL #10

Here’s the poll to vote in our latest weird Netflix watch party, scheduled for this Saturday, May 30, at 10:15 PM EST. First order of business: voting on the movie to watch. If you plan on virtually attending, please vote for the movie we’ll be watching below.

There are two sets of instructions: one for the poll, and then the instructions for joining the Netflix Party.

POLL

Vote for which movie you’d like us to watch from the selections below. We’ll screen the movie that gets the most votes. Your host, Gregory J. Smalley, will personally break any ties. Note that unlike our other polls, you can only vote once. Poll closes at midnight EST on Thursday, May 28. You may vote for multiple movies, but not for every movie (because that would be pointless).

NETFLIX PARTY

You must have a subscription to Netflix (U.S.) and a browser running Chrome. You must install the Netflix Party extension (from this site).

We will not provide tech support; you’re on your own.

When the party is set to begin we’ll try to announce it in three places:

  • On this site (if you’ve signed up for regular email alerts via the sidebar you’ll also get a notice that way)
  • On our Facebook page
  • On Twitter

You will then receive the link to join the stream. Follow the instructions and be sure to have your Netflix Party extension active.

Once you join, you can customize your avatar and give yourself a screen name.

Now vote!


APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: PIGSTY (1969)

Porcile

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DIRECTED BY: Pier Paolo Pasolini

FEATURING: , Jean-Pierre Léaud, Alberto Lionello, ,

PLOT: In contemporary Germany, a son of an industrialist discusses abstract social principles with his fiancée as his father plans a merger with an old, pre-war associate; in medieval Europe, a young cannibal forms a gang of bandits before eventually being trapped by the local militia.

Still from Pigsty (porcile) 1969

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA LIST: Pigsty qualifies not only for efficiency’s sake: as two narratives, it would be like getting two Apocrypha titles for the price of one. But each of the narrative strains is an oddity in its own right: one, an ambiguous morality tale stuffed with art-house flourishes; the other, an obvious morality tale stuffed with macabre social commentary.

COMMENTS: There is only one moment of near-tenderness in Pigsty, during an encounter between a young, unnamed scavenger and a young, unnamed militiaman on a blasted hillside in Medieval Europe. The militiaman has been straggling behind the main procession of armed soldiers, whistling as he idles. The two men awkwardly encounter each other, exchange glances, and for the briefest moment one might believe that something romantic might ensue—but almost immediately they fire their weapons, fight with their swords, and one kills, and eats, the other. Pigsty‘s true tenor is shown, not least when the cannibal throws the decapitated head of the guardsman into an steaming thermal vent on the mountainside that overlooks the lifeless clearing. Sacrifice.

Two parallel narratives intertwine as counterpoints, but each reinforces the other’s message. Modern life, with all its trappings (as emphasized by the fiancée character when she opens the contemporary story with the line, “We’re two, rich bourgeois, Julian”), turns out to be no less violent—and no less focused on survival—than life in the Dark Ages. While Pasolini uses wholly visual storytelling for the historical half, he dissects 1960s society via endless conversations between allegorical stereotypes. Julian, the scion of a major industrial concern, finds himself caught between two worlds: his fiancée’s conformist radicalism, and his father’s conformist classism; he retreats from what he sees as a mindless game of consumerist conquest by frequenting the pigsty on the family’s estate. What of love? His fiancée challenges him early on, “You kissed me!” He responds, “I also scratch myself.”

The focus quickly moves from the young man  to the father. Though wheelchair-bound, he derives plenty of joie de vivre from his business, his harp, and many, many conversations about the nature of class and society—finding the hilarity of it all from the side opposite his son. The patriarch is an ex-Nazi in the prosperous half of a divided Germany; his recollections of his political past consist exclusively of “humorous” anecdotes and memories. To illustrate this point—overtly, to the point of heavy-handedness—Pasolini presents this smirking cripple in a bedtime scene where he wishes he had been able to have his caricature drawn by George Grosz, with a Brechtian tune to back it up.

These characters without principle—or, at best, woefully misguided principles—are a direct contrast to the filmmaker. Pasolini was a complex man, but he was filled with disdain for the establishment (specifically, any of them). His views can be distilled as “anti-authoritarian”. There are countless references to parse: the allure of the pigsty, the undercurrent of homoeroticism in the historical narrative, and the nebulous confession of the scavenger (“I killed my father, I ate human flesh, and I quiver with joy”), with its religious overtones. But Pasolini isn’t a subtle filmmaker; even if any given piece of the story he’s telling is veiled in arcane symbolism, his message is always crystal clear.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an exquisitely revolting satire…”–Time Out

NETFLIX PARTY #10 NOMINATIONS PHASE

People continue to show up to watch weird movies and we haven’t quite exhausted Netflix’s catalogue yet, so here we go with week 10.

We’re asking for nominations for a movie to watch partly because we love making polls, but mainly as a means to gauge interest. If we get five suggestions from people planning to attend, then we’ll know it’s worth hosting.

You can nominate something you nominated before, but not something we watched in a previous party: so no The Platform, April and the Extraordinary World, The Bad Batch, Skins [Pieles], Under the Skin, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Enemy, A Ghost Story, or Escape from the ‘Liberty’ Cinema.

We’ll tentatively set aside May 30 at 10:15 PM EST for this one. If you have feedback suggesting a different start time we’ll listen.

Just like previous weeks, we’ll open it up to reader suggestions until we get five or more candidates, then put up a poll to vote on which movie to screen. Only films in Netflix’s catalog are eligible. We don’t have to watch a Canonically Weird movie together, but just for your convenience, we’re reasonably sure these are all the (previously unscreened by us) ones available on the service at the moment: The Lobster (2015), Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (1997), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), A Serious Man (2009), Sin City (2005), Swiss Army Man (2016), The Wicker Man (1973), and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). Also available: Kung Fu Hustle (2004), which was either just added or we accidentally omitted from previous lists. Feel free to nominate any of these, or ignore them in favor of other selections.

To join, you’ll need a U.S. Netflix account, a Chrome-based browser (Brave works) and the Netflix Party extension.

Make your nominations in the comments below.

CAPSULE: SPOOKIES (1986)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Genie Joseph, Thomas Doran, Brendan Faulkner

FEATURING: Felix Ward, Maria Pechukas, Alec Nemser, Dan Scott

PLOT: A mad warlock with his would-be bride in a coffin needs human blood to bring her back to life, so he sets up a mansion full of monsters to slaughter hapless travelers; the plan almost works.

Still from Spookies (1986)

COMMENTS: Bear with me this time, because Spookies takes some explaining. It’s well-established as a bad movie, and yet has a cult following. That cult, contrary to the norm, loves Spookies not in a so-bad-it’s-good ironic way, but for being a certain kind of niche “good.” The limited appeal of Spookies depends upon one’s appetite for carnival dark rides, AKA ghost trains, the horror-themed indoor track ride you find at every state fair and boardwalk. These rides are chock full of random scary props, rubber suit monsters, blaring air horns, blasts of compressed air, strobe lights, hairpin turns leading from mad scientist’s laboratories into mummy’s crypts and whatnot, and—attend carefully here—no logic. Here’s dark ride YouTuber Carpetbagger with a tour of one. The point of a dark ride is not to experience an enriching story. The point is to make your girlfriend scream and cling to you when the rubber bats swoosh overhead.

I have just perfectly described the experience of watching Spookies, right down to the “no logic” part. It is unrelentingly stupid. But if you’re the kind of person who never passes up a tour through those haunted house attractions that pop up around Halloween, this is your Citizen Kane. Come and get your monsters, we got all your monsters here! We got your vampire monsters, your zombie monsters, your eight-limbed spider-woman monsters, your possessed demon monsters, your green goblin monsters, a werecat monster, a skeleton monster, any monster you want! Grim Reaper fans, yes, you too, we got a Grim Reaper attack just a little after the 1:00 hour mark. It’s never a dull moment here at Mad Marvin’s Mansion o’ Monsters, come on over for Witching Hour when all our curses are half-price!

Just leave your brain at home. This movie was also allegedly produced in sections: either two half-finished movies nailed together or an unfinished movie that later got footage added, depending on who you ask. I’m going to try telling it in alleged filming order, not movie order, because this will help it make what little sense it can.

We have two carloads of teenagers, plus older people hanging out with them for some reason, who are driving around lost at night looking for someplace to party. They find the big spooky mansion located in a cemetery surrounded by foam headstones. “What a silly place for a house!” they titter as they stagger inside. Doors slam, lights go out, monsters attack for about an hour and fifteen minutes. This is all triggered when one member of the party finds a Ouija board in the house—she obviously missed her OSHA class on “Never Use A Ouija Board In An Abandoned Mansion In A Cemetery” day. This part of the movie was supposed to be a horror-comedy called Twisted Souls, but it was never finished.

In the tacked-on part, we have a “warlock” Kreon (Felix Ward) brooding in a secluded sanctum, far from the action, as he laments his late, pretty bride in a coffin, Isabelle (Maria Pechukas). To bring Isabelle back to life, he needs human sacrifices, so, it turns out, he is the one controlling the monsters. Earlier a young boy, Billy (Alec Nemser), ran afoul of one of Kreon’s monsters while running away from home because his parents forgot his 13th birthday. He got buried alive and resurrected as a vampire boy in a Little Red Riding Hood outfit, who plays candle-lit chess while Kreon discusses his plans in his Transylvanian Baron Von Hissing-Lisp accent. With all those people he slaughters to bring Isabelle back to life, is she going to be grateful? What do you want to bet? Ah, posthumous love, thy name be treachery!

So like I say, this is a stupid mess. Nobody can act, the scripts for both film fragments suck hot vacuum hose, and everyone on Team Carload of Teenagers is an idiot who obligingly stumbles right into the claws/fangs/tentacles of Team Monster. Team Monster, however, brings its A-game of practical effects at the cutting edge of 1986 technology (but sadly not a minute later). Although at one point even Team Monster has a setback, with a gang of sludge monsters (made of mud?) who fart when they walk. In a group, every step, “Prrt! Prt! Prrrrt! Prrt!” But for the most part, we keep to that dark ride pace, a fresh monster attack in a fresh room every ten minutes, whether you were ready for the next one or not. Which, once again I have to point out, makes it braindead, but never boring for a second.

As confounding as Spookies is, I still can’t recommend it specifically for our list.  We have haunted house movies, and when it comes to monster-per-minute low-budget horror, Turn in your Grave‘s weirdness-factor flush beats Spookies‘ bigger-budget straight. By sheer nose (snout) count, The Cabin in the Woods has more monsters. In fact, B-movie monster-mashes aren’t that uncommon; it’s just that Spookies did it in peak ’80s style, when rubber masks with pulsating goop were in their prime.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[The later additions] made an already kooky movie even weirder, creating a disjointed plot no matter how hard they tried to shoehorn in the sorcerer. Yet, it also made it even more memorable at the same time, because it’s so nonsensical.”–Meagan Navarro, Bloody Disgusting

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

The story behind making-of Spookies

Thorough YouTube review of Vinegar Syndrome’s 2020 Blu-ray

366’S NETFLIX PARTY, “ESCAPE FROM THE ‘LIBERTY’ CINEMA,” STARTS IN 15 MINUTES

As the title states, our latest Netflix Party—the 1990 Polish anti-censorship comedy Escape from the ‘Liberty’ Cinema—starts in fifteen minutes.

Please install the Netflix Party extension if you haven’t already. You must have a U.S. Nextflix account (we think) and a Chrome-based browser (including Brave) to participate.

There will be no pausing or rewinding except for technical reasons.

We are offering no technical support, so help each other out if needed.

Here is the link to join: https://www.netflix.com/watch/81168345?npSessionId=45d167cca8f74b7d&npServerId=s162

Be sure to click on the red Netflix Party icon to sync up and join the chat room.

Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!