WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 8/1/2014

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 on the official site links.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

The Strange Little Cat (2013): Strangely framed scenes of domestic life from a Berlin apartment. It’s hard to get a sense of what this comedy is actually like, but one reviewer’s opinion that it may be “the weirdest most seemingly normal movie I’ve ever seen” is hopefully telling. Playing at Lincoln Center in New York City this week, future U.S. theatrical dates likely to be scant. The Strange Little Cat official site.

NEW ON DVD:

“Mystery Science Theater Vol. XXX”: The four entries in this thirtieth set of satirized schlock from the cult movie-mocking series includes Willis O’Brien’s creature feature The Black Scorpion, the much sought after 1980s sword-and-sorcery mistake Outlaw of Gor, the British sci-fi of The Projected Man, and 1974’s were-bat horror It Lives by Night. Full disclosure: none of these titles are actually rated XXX. Buy “Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXX”.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

“Herzog: The Collection”: A major event in weird (and classic) Blu-ray. This 13-disc set includes the Certified Weird Even Dwarfs Started Small along with Land of Silence and Darkness, Fata Morgana, Aguirre, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Heart of Glass, Stroszek, Woyzeck, Nosferatu the Vampyre, Fitzcarraldo, Ballad of Little Soldier, Where the Green Ants Dream, Cobra Verde, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, and My Best Fiend. A must-have for cinephiles with a mere $15o or so to burn (which, sadly, excludes most 366 Weird Movies staff). Buy Herzog: The Collection [Blu-ray].

“Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery”: Another major, major event in weird Blu-rays. Couldn’t they space these things out? This set contains every episode of the “Twin Peaks” television show (remastered for a hi-def presentation), the Fire Walk With Me theatrical movie with extras comprising 90 minutes of previously unseen footage, and all-new supplements (including an in-character interview with the surviving, and deceased, Palmers). It all fits on 10 discs. Maybe take out a second mortgage and splurge on Herzog and Peaks together this week? Buy “Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery” [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.

25TH ANNIVERSARY: WILLIAM SHATNER’S STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989)

William Shatner’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) has been called the “Plan 9 of Star Trek.” There is no denying that it is awful, but it is more like the misfit Yukon Cornelius of Trekdom. It is not quite as bad as Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984), and to say that Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) is ludicrously overrated is a given, especially when the best performances are by two anonymous trash collectors. William Shatner, perhaps feeling envious of Leonard Nimoy’s directorialsuccesses,” insisted on his turn at bat. Rather than keeping the franchise in the experienced, imaginative hands of director Nichols Meyer ,who had written and directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982), Paramount and producer Harve Bennett foolishly handed the asylum keys to lunatic stars who had no experience in big budgeted space oaters apart from acting.

The Star Trek movies justifiably receive much criticism, but pound for pound, they are no worse than the Star Wars franchise. A couple of the Trek entries (the ones directed by Meyer), while hardly great moviemaking, are actually better than almost all of George Lucas’ productions (the exception that proves the rule being The Empire Strikes Back, which was directed not by Lucas, but Irvin Kershner).

Nimoy’s directorial style was as lethargic as a Vulcan, even in the light, humorous Voyage Home. The strengths in that film are the parts written by Meyer, which are not difficult to pick out. Nimoy’s Spock had about as much charisma as John Boy Walton, and the idea of ham-fisted Shanter directing at least presented a potential tonic to all that academic Vulcan piety. In some ways, Shatner’s opus lives up to that potential, but unlike Captain Kirk, the director/actor displayed a lack of confidence and his famous counterpart’s balls.

Shanter’s original story had the geriatric crew actually meeting God, who, it turned out was Old Nick himself, and the lot of them are literally thrown into hell. The sheer outrageousness of the idea is replete with wonderfully pretentious possibilities. However, both Gene Roddenberry and Harve Bennett were outraged, and informed the newbie director that in no way could the interracial spacemen meet the deity or go to hell. Foolishly, Shatner buckled and devised a cop-out solution. Worse, Paramount wanted good old boy humor injected into the proceedings, in hopes to match the box office success of the previous entry. Shanter agreed to hand over script duties and Final Frontier was assigned to hack writer David Loughery, who turned a bad, original idea that might have been worthy of Plan 9 comparisons into a generic plot designed for old, farting men.

Laurence Luckenbill was cast as Spock’s renegade half-brother, Sybok. Shanter had described Sybok as something akin to a televangelist. That was lost in the translation because, as scripted by Loughery, the character is more of a New Age guru. Luckinbill does have charisma, more than most Trek villains, but it’s a misplaced charisma. Even that could have been tapped, but Loughery fails to do anything with it. Apparently, the writer had no actual exposure to either right-wing religious kooks or cartoonish, leftist New Agers. While that is fortunate for Loughery, it turns out to be a bummer for the audience.

Still from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)Shatner’s compromised plot does have more in the way of narrative than those by Nimoy, who essentially molded his two entries around the ensemble. The Final Frontier has a refreshing dusty look and costuming along with a good line from DeForrest Kelley’s Bones. In the middle of an infamously wretched campfire song, the three principals are roasting marshmallows. Spock doesn’t “get” the lyrics of “row, row, row your boat” and the ever-crass Doctor grumbles: “God, I liked him better before he died.”  The under appreciated Kelley, as usual, turns out to be the most entertaining cast member.

Even worse than the gas station humor, mountain climbing, or Spock in jet boots is the sight of Shatner, sticking out his chest for the camera, wearing his “Go Climb A Rock” message tee for all to see. The only thing missing is a wad of gum. This scene alone more than justifies a Commander Taggart. Shatner and Loughery introduce a trio of characters and then inexplicably dump them. A bored Klingon and his buxom babe, Uhura’s moonlit striptease, Scotty’s sudden lust for Uhura while eating potato chips, agnostic theology at its most cornball, a Heaven planet with unforgivably cheap FX, and a fuzzy group hug finale solicit well-earned groans, even more so twenty-five years later. However, despite the PC interracial cast, occasional sexism, barbershop-styled backslapping, a lot of bad acting, and the fanatical following, it is easy to succumb to the charm of the original cast (far more so than the Next Generation, whose feature movies were even worse).

Executive producer Gene Roddenberry dismissed The Final Frontier as an apocryphal Trek entry. His original, commendably simple concept for Star Trek was “Wagon Train To The Stars.” Somewhere along the way, Roddenberry and his Trekkers mantled delusions of grandeur and began treating his starry oater as holy writ. Roddenberry essentially became a kind of Scientologist parody, who predictably reacted like a shrieking vampire to Shatner’s own take on western religious fables. Although one cannot recommend Star Trek V, it  serves its essential purpose as a campy, unintentional diversion from all that sanctimonious sci-fi mythology. That part, Shatner nailed.

CAPSULE: ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , , Anton Yelchin

PLOT: A reclusive composer living in a cluttered house in a decaying neighborhood of Detroit is actually a vampire suffering from severe ennui; he reunites with his undead wife, who flies in from Morocco, and is visited by her troublemaking younger sister.

Still from Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: No Jim Jarmusch movie is ordinary or normal, but this languid vampire romance/drama, while intoxicating, doesn’t quite make it all the way to “weird.”

COMMENTS: I’ve always wondered how vampires keep from getting bored with eternal undeath. I occasionally find it hard to find something to do to fill up a few hours on a rare free Saturday afternoon; how in the world would I pass the endless nights of dozens of strung-out lifetimes?

Only Lovers Left Alive starts from that very premise, with vampire Adam (Tom Hiddleston), a centuries-old composer who now collects vintage guitars and composes feedback-laced funeral dirges, bored and contemplating offing himself with a new twist on the old stake-in-the-heart methodology. The only thing that keeps him from retiring to the coffin for good is his love for fellow walking corpse Eve (Tilda Swinton, who in an albino wig looks oh-positively undead, as well as slightly resembling a transgendered Jim Jarmusch). The mood of luxurious, decadent idleness is a fit with Jarmusch’s patient style of filmmaking. The vampires here are wan intellectuals, disaffected Romantics, above the common run of the living (whom they refer to as “zombies”). There is a reference to some recent corruption of the human world, in the idea that human blood is now largely contaminated, and it’s hard for the vampires to find “the good stuff” without a connection at the blood bank (the only truly funny moment in the movie comes when a bloodsucker feels sick after sipping at the veins of a poorly-chosen victim). The script is peppered with English-lit jokes (one of the vampires is a famous Elizabethan writer), and the soundtrack is largely dark psychedelia that give off a decadent, hashish-y vibe. The commonplace hemoglobin-as-a-dug motif further reinforces the film’s Bohemian aura. Some of the best moments are the blood on the teeth montages, when the undead each down a cup of red stuff and throw back their heads in ecstasy, looking for all the world like hopheads getting a fix. Later, disheveled, wearing sunglasses at night as they wander the streets of Tangiers looking for a score, Swinton and Hiddleston might as well be staggering in the footsteps of .

Even though a couple of characters die, it seems that not much actually happens over the course of two hours, or that there is much new that can happen to these jaded walking corpses. Though not as abstract and punishing as his previous experiment in stripped-down spy fiction, 2009’s The Limits of Control, Jarmusch’s latest is bound to alienate many viewers with its lack of action and highbrow references that sometimes seem self-congratulatory. Still, if you get on its arty wavelength, you’ll find euphoric moments that hit you like a rush of fresh blood to the cerebral cortex. Colorful, arabesque, and throbbing with a melancholy drone, the purpose of the movie is not to tell a story so much as to enfold us inside of these vampires’ immortal languor. Only Lovers Left Alive is a film to soak in.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

‘…part spot-on Detroit travelogue, part pop culture satire and part fish eternally out-of-water anxiety exercise. Somehow it’s all very entertaining and weird and fitting, with Detroit looking like a place any vampire would be happy to be.”–Tom Long, The Detroit News (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: BLUE MOVIE (1978)

“I was really surprised at the success of Blue Movie. It was a film that should have startled all sexy film lovers because it was an anti-establishment film.” -Director Alberto Cavallone (commentary from the documentary included as bonus material on the DVD).

DIRECTED BY: Alberto Cavallone

FEATURING: Danielle Dugas, Claude Maran, Joseph Dickson, Dirce Funari, Leda Simonetti

PLOT: A photographer’s exposure to the images of war leaves him with a warped sense of reality. What others consider beauty enrages him and provokes him to abuse a trio of women in his life.

Still from Blue Movie (1978)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Numerous hallucination scenes, grainy war footage and the overall fragmented film style provide Blue Movie with a nightmare/dream logic. Its softcore sex, scat, urination and heavily misogynist vibe will make it unsavory for many viewers. It is not without some weirdness, but Blue Movie is more unsettling than weird.

COMMENTS: Blue Movie opens with a woman fleeing an attempted rape. The woman is Sylvia who is picked up by photographer Claudio and taken to his home. Sylvia’s recollection of her assault does not match the visuals we are shown. Claudio questions her story, which Sylvia admits is not completely truthful; despite this he gives her shelter. While Sylvia’s story may not have been accurate there is no doubt she has been traumatized. She has flashbacks and hallucinations of being attacked. (One hallucination, of an arm reaching for her from a blood-filled bathtub, is too similar to a scene from ‘s The Tingler to be ignored).

We are then introduced to model Daniela. Claudio is verbally abusive to Daniela, who barely reacts to the ill-treatment. She tells Claudio “Every time I look myself in the mirror, I see that you were right. My face isn’t worth anything. I can no longer put up with myself. I’m fed up with what I am, Claudio, please, help me.”

The photographer meets a third woman, Leda, in a cafe. Leda has no money to pay for the coffee she has been drinking and offers the barista sex in exchange for payment. Claudio settles her bill and brings her back to his place. The town Leda is from was destroyed by an earthquake, and she offers to do work for Claudio, who makes her his secretary.

With the exception of a male character who is never named (IMDB credits him as “il negro”), these are the only people who inhabit Blue Movie‘s world. Claudio, the film’s antagonist, has clearly been affected by the images of war he has been exposed to. This is visualized by a barrage of grainy war footage scattered throughout the film. In the DVD commentary Claude Maran (the actor who plays Claudio) states his character had returned from Vietnam. Claudio possesses a collection of slides. He explains: “I began being a photographer when I was working as a printer for a war reporter. Those photos of mangled people, I could have snapped them. It was then that I became interested in cans.” This comment seems to indicate he had not actually been to Vietnam; either way, Claudio is one messed up cat.

The trio of women are a damaged group also. Daniela in particular consents to her abuse, believing she deserves it. Her imprisonment and subsequent humiliation is a hard watch. It is difficult to relay Blue Movie‘s story because it is somewhat plotless. We basically watch Claudio interact with the three women, always individually, like a dirty reality TV show. Cavallone includes a number of interesting and creative shots I found quite pleasing. Blue Movie has a very nice nightmarish, almost surreal feeling about it. The attractive cast, well-chosen props, sets and locations along with a soundtrack consisting of Bach and Scott Joplin added to the film’s watchability. I was especially fond of the finale. Although Blue Movie is downright illogical at times, I felt it was Cavallone’s intention to allow the viewer a peek at the perceived events of a fragmented mind. Be warned that Blue Movie is as trashy as it is artful: its perversion, madness, trauma, bodily fluids and softcore sex will be unpalatable for many. The scat scenes will be the most likely to engrave themselves into the memory. Daniela, kept locked in a room where she is treated like an animal, is asked to leave “an offering” in exchange for food. She defecates in a litter box and then scrapes her feces into empty cigarette packages. She is later photographed by Claudio while covering herself in her own feces.

Blue Movie was made on a low-budget and shot over seven days with non-professional actors who had no script to follow. Most of it was filmed in the home of producer Marial Boschero in Via Dei Giubbonari, Italy ,with location shoots in Santa Maria Di Galeria, “The Dead City,” a photographer’s studio in Via Della Camilluccia, and Lungo Tevere Tor Di Nona. Two prints of the film exist: a 16mm Italian theatrical release and a pirated 8mm version. Hardcore sex scenes were removed from the film for the theatrical release but exist on the pirated version. These scenes are included as bonus material on the DVD. This is the third DVD I have purchased from Raro Video and I have been suitably impressed, particularly considering the low price. The Blue Movie DVD comes with an eleven page booklet, “Blue Extreme,” a thorough 44-minute documentary on the making of the film, and deleted scenes taken from a 8mm pirated print. The picture quality transferred from the 16mm print is above average.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… a truly unique, albeit bizarre viewing experience.”–Michael Den Boer, 10,000 Bullets (DVD)

See GOREGIRL’S DUNGEON ON TUMBLR for more (not-safe-for-work) stills from the film

CAPSULE: NYMPHOMANIAC, VOLUME I & II (2013)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING:  , , , ,

PLOT: A sex addict tells the story of her troubled life to an older man as he tends wounds left from a violent assault.

Still from Nymphomaniac (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although horrific, there is nothing here that stretches too far beyond the extremes of real-life addiction. It’s shocking, even grotesque, but not all that strange.

COMMENTS: Despite his reputation for pushing boundaries and drawing attention, I often found myself wondering what all the fuss was over the movies made by Lars Von Trier. I felt that he too often focused on raw, sometimes unbearable footage—female genital mutilation just isn’t all that fun for me to watch on screen—to get the desired effect from audiences, and that his use of weighty concepts (the death penalty, Christ allegories) to balance shock with substance was contrived. It seemed cheap to me to play on the emotions of a person simply for the sake of effect or to make the movie more memorable. This particular perception of Von Trier as an artist changed for me after watching Nymphomaniac, and I began to become more engaged with his stylistic techniques, as well as become fascinated by his (and the casts and crews that he works with) sheer bravery. I suddenly became hooked on this man’s work and his unusual talent for getting his audience to connect with characters in his films. I paid closer attention to the psychological terrorism of Antichrist and got in touch with why Von Trier chooses to be so shamelessly relentless: for sheer effectiveness I believe. He respects us by refusing to censor the human experience in any way.

Nymphomaniac is Von Trier’s longest (considering parts I and II as the same movie), most polished, brutal, and memorable film to date. I would rank it among the all-time epically foul sex sagas. It really is a horror film that presents itself in the form of an intense relationship-based drama. The horrifying elements of the film stay true to form for a von Trier outing; they are deeply psychological. Instead of gasping at Joe’s (the protagonist, played by Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin) lack of self-control (which is depicted in fully pornographic sex scenes of varying intensity), the audience is rather pulled towards terror by witnessing the sheer destruction that comes forth from the actions committed by all of the film’s characters. It is a labyrinth of hurt. A noteworthy example would be when Joe inadvertently convinces a man to leave his wife (played by a nearly unrecognizable Uma Thurman) and kids to come live with her. What follows is a mental breakdown by the Mrs. in front of her young children, all while Joe stares indifferently at the whole scene, totally unaffected and in the darkness of the void of addiction. It’s disturbing to watch.

The entire movie unfolds as a single conversation held between an older, seemingly asexual man named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard, in his best performance yet) and Joe. We then watch and listen to the story of Joe’s life as an active sexual addict, including the horrors of her decisions and the abuse that circles through and around her. Skarsgard’s Seligman gives the movie an academic, non-sexual grounding that counters the brutality on display. He is nearly a saint to her throughout the film, a kind of hope that exists in the murk of brutality. We watch him show compassion and understanding while he comforts her, never judging, frequently quite forthcoming and innocently curious. The dynamic development and conclusion of this central relationship is one of the most interesting (and surprising) parts of the film, serving as a kind of base from which Joe’s story can grow its ugly, gnarling branches.

The depraved behavior that we see these characters engage in is ghastly and cruel, but it’s all so beautifully shot and presented that the pornographic elements become more like a reflection of reality than a means of cheaply shocking viewers. It all remains fairly wacky and demented, with a gradual progression into complete despair that left this reviewer dumbfounded. It is perhaps too grounded in reality, too obsessed with raw humanity to be considered “weird,” but it in no way lacks edge. It’s filled to the brim with raw, brutal violence, actual porn, and consistently amoral characters. It is often mean-spirited, in a comic way. Von Trier is still a prankster, and he pulls the rug out from under us more than once here. In some ways, Nymphomaniac is like a four-hour long, beautifully disgusting joke. It’s a sexy void. I have only seen it once, and I don’t really plan on watching it again, but I’m absolutely positive I will never forget it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s very weird, given, but it’s also effective.”–Tom Long, The Detroit News (Vol. II, contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

We’ll be starting off next week sexy, as Ryan Aarset considers ‘s explicit Nymphomaniac and Terri McSorely gives us the score on 1978’s sado-perverse Blue Movie. Meanwhile, G. Smalley hopes to stake out a position on ‘s much-anticipated take on the vampire genre, Only Lovers Left Alive, while Alfred Eaker continues his 25th anniversary mini-series with a “fond” look back at Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (the one where the Enterprise goes looking for God in space).

Sometimes a single, innocuous word can change a kinda weird search term into a contender for our Weirdest Search Term of the Week. Such is the case with “free video of blowfly lavera being removed from human flesh,” because it implies that videos of blowfly larvae being removed from human flesh is normally something people would expect to have to pay to see.  More straightforward in its weirdness is the search for “trash movie with duck zilla and noah,” which is something we’d probably pay to see. And we’d definitely pay to see the official winner of our Weirdest Search Term of the Week contest: “asian kids show with strange creature that shoots blood from rear end.” But then, we’re weird.

Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue stands: Nymphomaniac (next week!); Abnormal: The Sinema of Nick Zedd; Rubin & Ed; The Real McCoy; Themroc; Candy (1968); The Fox Family; Angelus; Cloudy with a Chance of  Meatballs; Yokai Monsters, Vol. 1: Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

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