CAPSULE: CLOSET MONSTER (2015)

DIRECTED BY:  Stephen Dunn

FEATURING: Connor Jessup, Aaron Abrams, Aliocha Schneider, Isabella Rossellini (voice)

PLOT: A closeted gay teenager who wants to be a horror makeup artist finds himself inhibited from the same-sex experiences he craves due to a traumatic hate crime he witnessed as a child.

Still from Closet Monster (2015)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: If you want a coming out story, and you want it to be slightly weird, this is an option. If you want it really weird, you’d be better off with Der Samurai, however.

COMMENTS: In its short existence, the “coming out” film has already adopted certain cliches: the disapproving macho dad who fears a “wimp” son, the ambiguously homosexual/bisexual love interest, loss of virginity at an ecstasy-fueled rave. Closet Monster doesn’t throw away this boilerplate, but it does cleverly distract our attention from the usual structure with bizarre touches meant to evoke the troubled feeling of growing up different. Monster mixes in tropes from the horror movie (an appropriate import) and, in its most whimsical and salable touch, gives us Isabella Rossellini as the voice of Oscar’s hamster spirit guide (wittily, the pet is ambiguously gendered). A series of hallucinations, mostly stemming from a traumatic homophobic assault Oscar witnesses as a child, round out the weirdness.

Steven Dunn’s direction in his first feature is confident, although wen dreamy Wilder enters the picture the will-they-won’t-they second act does drag. The horror angle, which seemed like the film’s  hook, gets pushed aside for the type of dramatic development we’ve seen many times before. But the actors are universally competent, led by conflicted Jessup. Dad Abrams has a nicely complicated character: he is more of an all-around mess—well-meaning but impulse-control challenged—than the simple homophobe he might have been. The horror scenes return at the very end, when Oscar confronts his repressed longings, including hallucinations involving vomiting bolts and a gory impalement with an iron rod. It ends at one of the most marvelously idyllic locations in Newfoundland, a mystical modernist cabin set on a rock outcropping overlooking the sea. Closet Monster is not the whimsically surreal gay horror movie we’ve been waiting for, but it is a decent watch while we wait for someone to perfect the formula.

Closet Monster won the award for Best Canadian Film at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival. At the time of this writing you can catch it streaming on Netflix.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Willfully weird tale of a gay youth in a world of confusion. Noisily off-kilter… the determined eccentricity of the entire conceit—liberally laced with moments of hallucinatory surrealism—weighs the movie down, creating an airless ambiance at odds with any youthful verve which might appeal to the viewer.”–David Noh, Film Journal International (contemporaneous)

 

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week, we’ll bring you a look at two new(ish) releases as Shane Wilson covers the latest in the now-sprawling Death Race franchise, Death Race 2050, and G. Smalley peeks at the slightly-surreal coming-out story Closet Monster. We’ll also dig into the reader-suggested review queue for Nuit Noire, an almost indescribable film set in a nocturnal world where the sun only shines for 15 seconds per day. Meanwhile, Alfred Eaker has reached the year of 1972 in his survey of the golden age of the exploitation picture: expect to see Dracula A.D. 1972, Vampire Circus, and The Thing with Two Heads featured.

It wasn’t a prosperous week in terms of weird search terms used to locate the site, which is why we are sharing the simplest amusing spelling errors possible with you: “adult insects movies online” and “banned insect movies” (although if those aren’t misspellings, then they really are some of the weirdest search terms we’ve ever seen). Sticking with examples of hopeless spelling, we’ll bring you “alian woves hooliybood hot sex full movish.” But the official Weirdest Search Term of the Week doesn’t rely on misspelling at all: “threesome with crestfallen manga sluts.” Of all the sexy words in the English language, “crestfallen” may well come in dead last.

Here’s how our ridiculously-long and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue stands (note: we moved Frank Zappa’s unfinished Uncle Meat to the “currently unavailable” holding pen): Nuit Noire (next week!); Grendel Grendel Grendel; Twilight of the Cockroaches; Indecent Desires; Daughter of Horror [AKA Dementia]; Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 3/10/2017

Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Raw (2016): After a hazing prank, a vegetarian at veterinary school develops a taste for meat. It sounds more transgressive/disturbing than weird, but the red-blooded segment of our readership will crave a taste of this. Raw official site.

SCREENINGS – (New York City, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Mar. 10-16):

Who’s Crazy? (1966): Insane asylum inmates escape and set up camp at an abandoned farmhouse. This nearly-lost avant-garde Belgian feature film sounds a bit like Even Dwarfs Started Small without the little-people gimmick, but with a dissonant free-jazz score by Ornette Coleman. Sponsored by Kino-Lorber, so a home video release seems likely. Who’s Crazy? at Lincoln Center.

FILM FESTIVALS – South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW) (Austin, TX, Mar. 10-19):

If you can’t get your indie film into Sundance, the massive SXSW festival in Austin, Texas is your next best bet. With the continued mainstreaming of Sundance, and the increasingly homogenized “indie” product spotlighted there, if your movie’s a bit on the weirder side, SWSX may even be a better fit. There are a few repeats from other festivals, like the documentary David Lynch: The Art Life.There are also a ton of Virtual Reality installations, which are becoming more and more of a “thing” at film festivals, but… no matter how strange or psychedelic they promise to be, we’re not covering them… we already have enough on our plates right now. Here are some of this year’s weirder movie offerings:

  • “American Gods” – Sneak-peek of the premiere episode of a TV series about an ex-con who gets caught up in the struggle between the Old and New Gods. This adaptation of a novel screens Mar. 11.
  • The Disaster Artist – a fictional account of the making of the notorious disaster The Room, starring James Franco as . “In-progress” screening Mar. 12. To refresh your memory, the original Room screens Mar. 10.
  • Meatball Machine Kodoku – Looks like a straightforward remake of 2005’s Meatball Machine, directed by . Mar. 11, 12 & 16.
  • The Relationtrip – Comedy about two young people who refuse to commit to adult relationships but go on a trip together that turns “really, really weird.” Screen Mar. 11, 13 & 15.
  • Sylvio – The story of a small-town gorilla stuck in a debt collection job, who dreams of starting a puppet show. Mar 11, 13, & 15.

SxSW official site.

NEW ON DVD:

The Brand New Testament (2015): Read our review. God is a jerk, is in love with a gorilla, and all is weird in the world. Buy The Brand New Testament.

Notfilm (2015): A documentary about the making of Film (see description in Blu-ray below) which, at 130 minutes, is almost six times the length of its subject. Includes outtakes from Film and lots of archival extras that didn’t make it into the documentary proper. Buy Notfilm.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Aria (1987): Read Alfred Eaker’s review. Ten directors—including Certified Weird laureates , , Nicolas Roeg and Ken Russell—direct a favorite opera aria, music-video style, now upgraded to Blu-ray. Buy Aria [Blu-ray].

The Brand New Testament (2015): See description in DVD above. Buy The Brand New Testament [Blu-ray].

Film (1965): Read Alfred Eaker’s review. Absurdist playwright ‘s only experiment in film, made with, of all people, silent clown . Buy Film [Blu-ray].

Notfilm (2015): See description in DVD above. Buy Notfilm [Blu-ray].

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that I have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

1971 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS, AND WILLARD

1971 began with one of the most stylish horror films ever produced: The Abominable Dr. Phibes, a near-perfect collaboration between director and star produced a “masterpiece” of a very different kind with Dracula vs.Frankenstein, featuring the most (unintentionally) frightening performance of poor .’s career and the most hilariously inept portrayal ever of the Transylvanian vampire count (by “Zandor Vorkov”). Director Eddie Romero and “star” John Ashley teamed up for both Beast of Blood and Beast of the Yellow Night, which may be as unimaginative as they sound, but would make a worthwhile, howling triple feature with Adamson’s opus.

 was still gifting the world lesbian vampires with Caged Virgins (AKA Requiem for a Vampire) and The Shiver of the Vampires. Following suit were Stephanie Rothman with The Velvet Vampire, Ray Austin’s The Virgin Witch (starring twins Anne and Vicki Michelle), and with the bluntly titled Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed In Ecstasy, both starring the tragically short-lived cult figure . Not to be outdone, Hammer Studios contributed to the thriving same-sex bloodsucker subgenre with as a “Calgon Take Me Away” Countess Dracula (directed by Peter Sasdy), and with Lust for a Vampire (directed by Jimmy Sangster and starring Yutte Stensgaard). Neither of these were as explicit as they promised and probably should have been. Considerably better was another Hammer opus with identical siblings (Playboy playmates Mary and Madeleine Collinson): Twins of Evil, stylishly directed by John Hough and featuring a superb authoritarian performance by . However, it was ‘s Belgian Daughters of Darkness, starring and Danielle Ouimet, that made the biggest impact, becoming an international cult hit that is still referenced today. Of course, hetero bloodsuckers were not be left out and had their moment under the sequel moon in The Return of Count Yorga (directed by Bob Kelljan and starring Robert Quarry), which failed to repeat its predecessor’s success. Night of Dark Shadows by Dan Curtis improved on the previous years effort, despite an absent Jonathan Frid. Oddly, it was the Japanese who were perhaps most suited to Transylvanian folklore in 1971 with Lake of Dracula (directed by Michio Yamamoto).

Still from Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)Amando de Osario charted unexpected territory with his zombie monks in Tombs of the Blind Dead, the first of his Blind Dead series (he had previously made the unrelated vampire opus, Fangs Of The Living Dead, in 1968). Although short on actual plot, it’s arguably Osorio’s finest moment. Scenes of the blackened, dead Templars rising from their graves (resurrected by Satan) and mounting horses (juxtaposed to Anton Abril’s highly effective, eerily faint score) to ride into the slaughter (filmed in slow motion) are spine tingling.

These are zombies of a different sort who raise their swords to slash at victims, before draining their blood. Scenes of the Spanish Inquisition, failed crusades, misogynistic torture of women, and lesbianism are surprisingly low-key, and often poetically surreal. Although Osorio’s influences (including Mario Bava’s color palette) are in full evidence, his is a strongly original film, almost painterly. Decaying abbeys and a potential victim standing motionless to avoid the army of blind marauders evoke a sense of dread. Even a massacre on a train is artfully restrained.

Michael Winner presented a literal-minded prequel to Harry James’ Continue reading 1971 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS, AND WILLARD

273. THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (1972)

“…a writer or painter cannot change the world. But they can keep an essential margin of nonconformity alive… The final sense of my films is this: to repeat, over and over again, in case anyone forgets it or believes to the contrary, that we do not live in the best of all possible worlds.”–Luis Buñuel, 1973

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Luis Buñuel

FEATURING: , , , Bulle Ogier, Stéphane Audran, , Julien Bertheau

PLOT: Two well-to-do couples arrive at the home of a third for dinner, but find there has been a misunderstanding on the date, and their hostess has not prepared a meal. The sextet tries to reschedule dinner over and over, but meets with increasingly absurd obstacles: dead restaurateurs, a platoon of soldiers who intrude on the evening, police officers who burst in and arrest the entire party before the first course. Complicating the scenario further is a bishop who imposes himself on their party, flashback ghost stories told by minor characters, a subplot about an ambassador smuggling cocaine and being hunted by a female terrorist assassin, and scenes that turn out to be dreams.

Still from The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

BACKGROUND:

  • Buñuel had announced that he would retire after Tristana (1971), but was inspired to make this movie by a story his producer Serge Silberman told him about having dinner guests show up unexpectedly due to a calendar mix-up.
  • Co-written by Surrealist screenwriting specialist , who became Buñuel’s most significant collaborator (surpassing even ). He assisted with writing duties on the director’s great 1967-1977 French renaissance period.
  • Among other honors, Discreet Charm won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (an indifferent Buñuel did not bother to show up to accept the award) and is included in Steven Schneider’s “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.”
  • Stephen Sondheim has a musical based on both The Exterminating Angel and Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie in the works.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Shots of the six bourgeois friends, walking down an isolated country road, inserted at random between scenes. Their stride is purposeful, their destination… nowhere.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Dinner theater; bishop with a shotgun; electrified piano cockroach torture

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Buñuel’s exercise in bourgeois frustration begins simply, with a canceled dinner appointment, but quickly spirals out of control with a cocaine smuggling subplot, a foxy female terrorist, a vengeful bishop, and dreams inside of dreams. They never do get to that dinner party, although Fernando Rey does get to sneak in a slice of lamb and a midnight snack.


Original trailer for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

COMMENTS: Luis Buñuel is cinema’s poet of frustration, of eternal Continue reading 273. THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (1972)

LIST CANDIDATE – BLUE SUNSHINE (1977)

DIRECTED BY: Jeff Lieberman

FEATURING: , Robert Walden, Mark Goddard, Deborah Winters, Ann Cooper, Ray Young, Charles Siebert, Richard Crystal, Alice Ghostley, Stefan Gierasch, Brion James

PLOT: A plague of victims go bald and turn into psychotic killers; the one common factor appears to be a variety of acid, Blue Sunshine, taken during their college days.

Still from Blue Sunshine (1977)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Blue Sunshine usually gets classified as a horror/thriller with a brilliant premise behind it, but it’s also a twisted satire about what would later come to be known as “The Big Chill Generation.” It’s a lot tougher and less self-flattering than The Big Chill turned out to be. Maybe if The Big Chill had an unhinged leading man and psycho killers… but Blue Sunshine is the next best thing.

COMMENTS: “Did you ever hear the words ‘Blue Sunshine’… ?”

If it had come from grindhouse producers, a good alternate title for Blue Sunshine would have been Bad Acid, Dead Hippie,… well, make that Dead Ex-Hippie. Sort of a social satire within the parameters of a horror movie (which is pretty much Jeff Lieberman’s career in a nutshell, come to think of it), Blue Sunshine benefits from a clever premise: what if all those drug-scare films were right? It was just the right film at just the right time to skewer the Sixties generation, who were turning from lives of idealism and awareness towards materialism and narcissistic self-examination.

Even though there’s enough knowing laughs to keep the audience entertained, there’s also enough to keep them unsettled and on edge, mainly with the intense performance of Zalman King, whose protagonist might indeed turn out to be as unhinged as the Blue Sunshine victims. The violence, while relatively tame by today’s standards, also is unsettling. People get incinerated and children are threatened with knives. And there’s the minor game of guessing who might be affected and who isn’t. One clue: watch the hair.

Blue Sunshine first hit DVD as a Special Edition release from Synapse Films, which was transferred from a surviving print as the negative thought to be lost to time. In 2016 it got an upgrade to Blu-Ray from FilmCentrix, after the negative was discovered and restored.

LINKS OF INTEREST:

The Ringer – Lieberman’s first film, a pseudo-PSA that’s actually effective, but probably not in the way its sponsors realized.  A clear, scathing look at ‘Youth Culture’.

Trailer for Blue Sunshine.

FilmCentrix promo for the Blu-Ray HD release.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Much of Blue Sunshine plays like a freakout version of The Crazies (1973)… All this is helped by the (deliberately?) stilted dialogue and wide-eyed performances, amping up the paranoia by making everything – and everyone – seem just that little bit off.”–Anton Bitel, Filmland Empire (2015 Screening)

LIST CANDIDATE: ALMA (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Rodrigo Blaas

PLOT: Young Alma encounters a toy shop containing a doll bearing an uncanny resemblance to her.

Still from Alma (2009)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: In communicating its tale of terror in a style and medium almost uniformly associated with mainstream family-friendliness, Alma stands out as weird amidst today’s persistent stream of digital animation.

COMMENTS: As this site’s regular Saturday Short feature has proven, animation is one of the most fitting mediums for short-length cinematic weirdness. Whether minimalist or elaborate, animation offers a strong opportunity to evoke a particularly singular visual concept within a short frame of time.

Former Pixar employee Rodrigo Blaas—whose name appears in the credits of some of the studio’s most beloved features—has, with Alma, added his own particular twist to this well-established cinematic convention. Drawing on his past work, Blaas bring us his simple, independent tale of surreal horror in the bright, stylized CGI that’s now all but synonymous with modern mainstream animation.

In its themes and narrative, meanwhile, Alma recalls a more antiquated form of family entertainment. Its components—the snow upon slanted rooftops and narrow cobblestone alleys; the toy shop, at once quaint and sinister; the protagonist, a mischievous little one with the air of a vagabond—bring to mind the classical elements of old children’s’ books. The plotline, which imposes a nightmarish fate upon its young protagonist as punishment for a petty misdeed, evokes the Victorian cautionary tales that Hilare Belloc so famously lampooned.

Needless to say, this results in a strikingly unique piece of short cinema; especially considering that, despite mashing together conventions of children’s entertainment from opposite ends of the 20th century, it is very clearly not intended for children. The simple plot follows young Alma, who, prancing merrily down a snowy alleyway one day, encounters a toy shop, with a doll precisely resembling her in the window. Unable to resist this singular temptation, she heads into the unattended shop to take the doll for herself, and meets horrifying consequences—ones that add a twist to the primal fear of endless damnation.

Told, like many short works of weirdness, entirely without dialogue, the story of Alma is, as befitting the nature of Blaas’ past work, communicated via five minutes’ worth of highly expressive visuals that quietly convey basic narrative and subtle details alike. Alma’s slightly ragged appearance hints at her humble background, lending context to her sticky-fingered nature. Hundreds of children have chalked their names on the wall in the alleyway in which she finds the shop. It’s also lined with what might be interpreted as a number of “Missing” posters, ominously hinting at the shop’s scourge of terror. And the store window, picturesque upon first glance, takes on the appearance of a leering monster’s gaping maw when examined more closely.

In terms of weirdness, Alma has its more obvious elements: most notably, flashes of surreal, nightmarish images when Alma seizes the doll. The genuine uniqueness of the short, however, is found in its bold effort to render an artistically-driven work of cinema in a style that’s become emblematic of mega-budget commercial family cinema. The contrast is striking. As an artistic choice, it’s not unprecedented, but Blaas, having come directly off the set of some of the industry’s leading titles, evokes the style with particular authenticity.

Development is currently underway for a Dreamworks-backed feature-length adaptation of the short. As many have already predicted, even with Blaas himself at the helm, it seems highly likely that this horrifying tale, effective chiefly for its simplicity, will lose more than a little of its punch when stretched into feature-length. If nothing else, however, said feature might draw a little more much-deserved attention to the original short.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this is a fairytale of the old kind, and if you have any sensitivity at all, you’ll be shivering as the snow drifts down at the end.”–Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film (contemporaneous)

Alma from Rodrigo Blaas on Vimeo.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

With the 2016 Weirdcademy Awards completed and the 2017 movie season not yet in full swing, we have some free time to dig into that reader-suggested review queue. To that end, look for Simon Hyslop to give you the low-down on Rodrigoi Blass’ short fantasy Alma (2009), El Rob Hubbard to try out the bad acid trip horror Blue Sunshine (1977), and G. Smalley to give a second (and final) opinion on ‘s dry comedy The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeousie (1972). Also, Alfred Eaker will explore the year in exploitation film circa 1971 with a triple feature of Tombs of the Blind Dead, Werewolves on Wheels, and Willard. That should hold you guys over for a week, while we devote our rare bits of spare time to finalizing the print version of the 2016 Weird Movies Yearbook.

It’s time once again for our survey of the weirdest search terms that brought visitors to the site this week, a feature we descriptively call “Weirdest Search Terms of the Week.” All of this week’s contestants revolve around mangled movie memories, so let’s get right to them. First off is “movie where a guy bands his head and says dummy!” (OK) and “movie with girl eyeball falling out of head and then gets hit by ay train” (ouch!) In the next strata of weirdness is “2011 movies in which female actor wears a vagina face mask,” which we appreciate because the searcher seems to think there was more than one movie released in 2011 where an actress wore a vagina face mask. Even stranger is the rambling request for “alien beautiful girl meet cowboy and love with her get knowledge of how to drive car and horse ridings only by touching also a animal with her running like tyre movie english name.” There’s such a thing as too much detail in a Google search, dear. Our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week, however, is “dr’s was seman transfer in buffalo 3d videos,” which is completely bizarre in at least three different ways (can you find them all)?

Here’s how our ridiculously-long reader-suggested review queue stands: “Alma” (next week!); Blue Sunshine (next week!); The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (next week!); Uncle Meat; Nuit Noire; Grendel Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

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