WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 10/3/2014

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.

VIDEO ON-DEMAND:

The Demon’s Rook (2013): A young man must embrace his demonic heritage to fight off an invasion from Hell. Tribeca Films picked up this over-saturated tribute to early 1980s horror flicks up for distribution, but we haven’t heard anything about a theatrical or DVD release yet—this is the only way to see it, for now, at least. The Demon’s Rook on-demand.

FILM FESTIVALS – Sitges Film Festival (Sitges, Catalan, Spain, Oct 3-12):

Although Sitges as always has a fine slate of fantastic films, they’re more into quantity than exclusivity. We’ve seen most of the offerings at other film festivals (a handful of the features, like the just-Certified Weird The Double, are already out on DVD here in the U.S.). Here are a few notable films we noticed that appear to be debuting there (along with some special screenings of older cult films):

  • Accion Mutante (1993) – Spanish horror weirdo ‘s first film was about a group of deformed terrorists who kidnap and mutilate the beautiful. Catch a screening Oct. 5.
  • The Distance – An artist imprisoned in a Siberian power plant hires three magical dwarfs to steal “The Distance.” Screens Oct. 5.

  • Kiki’s Delivery Service – The live-action version of the animated classic about a young witch in training looks more like the Japanese version of Harry Potter than anything truly bizarre, but you may want to judge for yourself. Take a chance on Oct. 4.
  • Pierrot Lunaire – Provocateur Bruce La Bruce brings his transgressive (and in this case, transsexual) touch to this avant-garde adaptation of Arnold Schoenberg’s atonal composition that now involves a girl’s quest for a penis transplant. Oct. 4.
  • Show Pieces – Five short films written by comics god Alan Moore; one involves a stripper and a clown in Purgatory. Screens Oct. 5.

  • The Pinkie – An “ugly” girl clones a DIY boyfriend from her would-be lover’s severed pinky in this heavily stylized Japanese exploitation romantic comedy. Oct. 3 only (that’s today, so you probably missed it – sorry!)

NEW ON DVD:

“Betty Boop: The Essential Collection, Volume 4”: Olive Films’ fourth collection of toons is another unthemed jumble of pre-code and post-code shorts, but it does contain her surreal take on “Snow White” (with guest voice Cab Calloway singing a dirge as Betty is borne away in a glass coffin). We do love our Boop ’round here, and it’s gratifying to see restored versions of these classics. Buy “Betty Boop: The Essential Collection Volume 4”.

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.

MAD MONSTER PARTY (1967)

Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass may just be the weirdest animation team in history. Most of their stop-motion Christmas toons have become perennial classics, despite such bizarre characters as a carrot-topped roly poly dancing demon in hell; a misfit-among-misfits Arctic explorer; a dentist elf; a flying lion; a bitchy, bigoted Saint Nicholas; a winter warlock; a toothless, abominable Bumble; and a Charlie-in-the-Box. One wonders if the duo realized how off-kilter their formula was. When it came to their Halloween special, Rankin and Bass used the 1940s’ studio bound monster-mashes as their blueprint. Oddly, their Mad Monster Party (1967) was considerably better than those late, fatigued Universal extravaganzas. Helping tremendously was the voice work of as Baron Frankenstein and Allen Swift as Felix Flankin, the Monster, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll, and the Invisible Man.

Harvey Kurtzman of “Mad Magazine” and Forrest J. Ackerman, the celebrated founder and editor of “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” worked (uncredited) on the script. It shows. Mad Monster Party is a loving homage to Gothic cinema, replete with trademark campy puns, which equally inspire nostalgic smiles and pained groans. The special serves as a precursor of sorts to ‘s Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Rankin and Bass approach their theme with far less originality than Selick, but the earlier film does have a pronounced sense of adolescent charm.

Karloff’s vocal contribution, per the norm, is beautifully mellifluous. His Baron is the ringmaster of a grand guignol island, with King of Kong waiting round the corner. The various monsters do exactly what we expect them to do by this point. However, being Rankin and Bass, we also expect a few moments of head-scratching eccentricity. They do not disappoint. The Baron’s nephew is a nerdy pharmacist (!?!) who takes a can of Raid to the residential rodent vamp and falls in love with a buxom, short-skirted, flaming redhead girl (!?!) The kitsch love ballad between the two and the G-rated flirtatiousness is mind-numbingly out of place in this kindergarten-esque ogre’s bacchanal. Equally grating is Phyllis Diller’s take on the “Bride of the Monster.” A little Diller goes a loooong way and her repeated canned cackling is fingernails on a chalkboard. The coloring book plot and Stooge-like slapstick place Mad Monster Party firmly in its time. However, like most period pieces, this film (shot in 35 mm) delightfully retains its inherent naiveté.

still from Mad Monster Party (1967)Apart from the Baron and the Count (with caricatured  mannerisms and accent), the monsters are mostly decor, and not given much to do. However, amidst the lame, predictable gags (i.e.the Wolfman running off with a bone), the Mummy does get to rhumba with a skeletal band, and the Invisible Man is unexpectedly given a Sydney Greenstreet voice. Contrary to horror film mythology, Peter Lorre never played Ygor, which doesn’t stop the animation team from casting his likeness in the role of the Baron’s assistant. Gale Garnett, voicing the role of the over-sexed Francesca, imbues the character with a velvet voice. She does wonders with woefully pedestrian lyrics.

Not surprisingly, it is Karloff who keeps the lethargically paced plot moving. The veteran genre actor clearly had fun with his role, although it is unfortunate that they relied on his Baron to elevate the endeavor. Mad Monster Party stands in contrast to Karloff’s best animation work: Chuck Jones’ 1966 “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” which may have been the actor’s last great role.

The Blu-ray edition comes with a making-of featurette, trailer, sing-alongs, and a second featurette on the art of stop-animation. The transfer is good, but not exceptional.

For all its flaws, Mad Monster Party is adored by my grandkids and, as usual, they will have the last word.

180. THE DOUBLE (2013)

“Often, an actor comes with his own strange ideas, and the director takes them and shapes them into a normal movie scene. Richard takes actors’ strange inclinations… and pushes them farther.”–Jesse Eisenberg on Richard Ayoade

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Richard Ayoade

FEATURING: Jesse Eisenberg, , , Noah Taylor, Yasmin Paige

PLOT: Simon James is a competent but meek bureaucrat, nearly invisible to his co-workers and to Hannah, the copy room worker he loves from afar. One day, a man named James Simon comes to work at his place of employment—a man who looks exactly like him but has an opposite personality of confidence that verges on arrogance. At first Simon and James hit it off, but eventually James begins seizing Simon’s work and romantic opportunities, and Simon realizes that he must confront his double or lose everything he owns and disappear completely.

Still from The Double (2013)
BACKGROUND:

  • The Double is loosely based on the 1846 short novel of the same name by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Only the writer’s second novel, the work was poorly received, and even the author himself admitted “I failed utterly.”
  • intended to film an adaptation of “The Double” in 1996, but plans fell through when star John Travolta backed out.
  • Director Richard Ayoade is better known in Britain as a comic actor (he played Maurice Moss in “The I.T. Crowd”). The Double is his second feature film as a director.
  • The script was co-written by Avi (brother of Harmony) Korine.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The Double is a movie that builds by ideas, not images. This is not to diminish the hard work of the art department in constructing the claustrophobic cubicles, suicide-leap ledges and greasy lunch counters that make up Simon James’ drab world; it’s just that the visuals, like the industrial office audio soundscapes, are used as background rather than points of emphasis. This being a doppelganger movie, the most memorable imagery, naturally, involves Jesse Eisenberg interacting with Jesse Eisenberg. We selected the moment that Jesse Eisenberg 1, having just punched Jesse Eisenberg 2, stands over his fallen victim, realizing with surprise that he has spouted a spontaneous nosebleed just as he drew blood from his double.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Set in a timeless industrial dystopia, The Double takes the alienation of Dostoevsky’s psychological novel and filters it through the social paranoia of Franz Kafka; all this Eastern European anomie is then sprinkled with the dry, absurd wit for which the British are justifiably famous. Naturally, this comic existential nightmare of a stolen life is scored to peppy Japanese versions of early Sixties pop songs. The Double is the most fun you’ll have laughing into the void since Brazil.


Original trailer for The Double

COMMENTS: 2014 will go down as the Year of the Doppelganger, with the release of The Double together with Enemy (alongside which it would make Continue reading 180. THE DOUBLE (2013)

LIST CANDIDATE HOUSEKEEPING

This post will be a little “inside baseball” for the casual reader of 366 Weird Movies, but it gives at least a little bit of insight into the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that a movie takes on its journey from hopeful new release to Certified entry in the weird movie canon. Bribe amounts are not disclosed in this post: producers who wish to spend your way onto the List, please contact us for a quote. Those who remain curious as to what this masturbatory nonsense is all about may read on.

Those of you who follow this site even casually understand that the backbone and purpose of this entire enterprise is to create a List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time. Those who follow us a little more closely will note that we have already certified 179 movies for that List, and those who follow the site closely and are good at math will realize that this means 48.9% of the List is filled in—in other words, we are rapidly approaching the halfway mark, the point of no turning back.

In celebration of reaching the midpoint, soon (before the end of the year, at the very least) we will open up our irregularly scheduled “readers choice” poll to allow you, the 366 Weird Movies fan, to pick which of the movies we’ve designated as “List Candidates” will be officially called up onto the List. Before we do that, I thought that I would go through the List Candidate section and prune off some of the dead weight, movies which were rashly designated as Candidates but which have no realistic shot at making the List. In the interest of transparency and engagement, here are the changes we’re making to the List Candidate section. Note that until a movie is officially Certified for the List nothing is set in stone and its status can move back and forth between Candidate and non-Candidaye, so your feedback here is welcome—I’d be more than happy to reverse myself in the face of a groundswell of opinion.

This morning I counted 161 movies on the roster of List Candidates. Using conservative criteria and choosing to leave a movie on the Candidate list if I thought it was a close call, I came up with 19 titles I thought could safely have their candidacy revoked. In the interest of fairness, I also looked at movies that we had not nominated as List Candidates that probably deserved to be elevated to that status. I discovered 19 movies deserving of such a promotion. This was a complete weird accident, but it defeated the purpose of pruning the Candidate list. With some soul searching I found one additional title to remove so that, after all this reshuffling, the new list of Candidates is exactly one title shorter than it was this morning.

(Note: there are a few movies that are “hidden List Candidates” which aren’t being added to this census because they have re-reviews scheduled).

Let’s start out on a positive note with the roster of movies going up from the ranks of the unrecognized to List Candidate status:

MOVED TO LIST CANDIDATE STATUS: Why did we not consider these in the first place?

Amer (2009) – It seems that back in 2009 we were not routinely marking guest reviews (from reviewers who have since become contributors) as “List Candidate” status. We’re correcting that now.

The Cremator [Spalovac Mrtvol] (1969)

Decasia (2002) – The same explanation as above goes for movies that were only reviewed as part of Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema.

Desperate Living (1977)

Female Trouble (1975)

Flooding With Love for the Kid (2010)

Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE HOUSEKEEPING

CAPSULE: TUSK (2014)

DIRECTED BY: Kevin Smith

FEATURING: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Genesis Rodriguez, ,

PLOT: A shock comedian stranded in Manitoba, in desperate need for a replacement guest for his podcast, gets more than he bargained for when he answers an ad from an eccentric retired sailor who promises he has “many stories to tell.”

Still from Tusk (2014)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Sure, some people are calling Tusk “the weirdest movie ever!,” but those are moviegoers whose cinematic diets consist almost exclusively of Kevin Smith stoner comedies. Heck, I’m not even sure this is Kevin Smith’s weirdest movie (he did bring us Chris Rock as the forgotten black 13th apostle in 1999’s Biblical apocalypse comedy Dogma). In my screening there was a 33% walkout rate, which sounds encouraging until you realize that there were only three of us in the theater. The evidence had to be scrapped on the basis of low sample size.

COMMENTS: Tusk almost literally seeks to answer the bizarre question that preoccupies its antagonist, “is man indeed a walrus at heart?” Most of the good will that the movie earns is for going all the way with its crazy premise, for its willingness to” go full walrus.” Most of the movie’s problems, on the other hand, come from its lumpy blend of horror and comedy, sincerity and irony. Tusk is sort of like what Human Centipede might have been, if it was made by people with triple digit IQs, but the script ultimately tries to do too much. Besides straight horror, it also fits in absurdism, a running series of Canada/USA culture clash jokes, and satire on the cruelty of Internet culture, and it doesn’t keep the many balls it juggles in the air at all times.

Although it’s certainly the blackest of comedies, at heart Tusk is a morality play. Wallace, who will become the film’s victim, begins as a victimizer. He hosts an improbably popular podcast whose sole purpose is to make fun of YouTube embarrassments, sort of like a version of “Tosh 2.0” with a mean streak that would make Howard Stern blanch. Long’s Wallace is smoothly loathsome, but when he picks up on references to Hemingway and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” you realize that there’s humanity buried somewhere under the crust of callousness. The deserving victim is a slasher movie trope designed so that we won’t feel bad when the character is offed, but Smith’s script takes on a much tougher task of making this victim simultaneously repulsive and sympathetic, of asking us to see the humanity beneath the monster. I don’t believe that the final symbolic redemption works on an emotional level, but I do appreciate the effort—it’s a nuanced, almost intellectual twist on the torture porn genre, more like “torture erotica.”

But for all the laudable ambition here, it’s a tough sell to say that Tusk overcomes its tone problems. The film’s comedy and horror, and its smart-assery and empathy, work against each other more than they support one another. The key illustration comes in the third act, when the focus shifts away from Wallace and his tormentor and onto the searchers combing the Canadian countryside looking for him. Tusk‘s “special guest star” leaps into the film as Guy Lapointe, a comic French Canadian detective in a beret with a Jacques Clouseau accent. It would probably be a fine performance in a wackier movie, but here it’s like a comic reef that springs a leak in a movie that was already limping to port. Lapointe essentially disappears at the movie’s climax, like the afterthought he is, and could have been written out of the script entirely: the part was always envisioned as a little more than gimmicky cameo to highlight some decidedly non-Quebecois celebrity hamming it up with a goofy accent (Smith’s original choice for the role was ). This broad performance is divisive, at best, but it is clearly out-of-step with the surrounding material, and my (quite common) reaction was to see it as a distraction and time-stretcher, rather than a comic interlude that throws the surrounding horror into relief. All in all, Tusk is the sort of movie that seems doomed to be considered “an interesting experiment.” Conceived of almost on the spot during a podcast where Smith pitched the story in real time based on a hoax advertisement about an old sailor looking for a roommate, the finished work plays like a movie made on a dare.

Although Tusk isn’t the kind of movie that gets remembered come awards season, there is one category it honestly deserves a nomination: Robert Kurtzman’s makeup.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an utterly bizarre, weirdly compelling story of manimal love that stakes out its own brazen path somewhere between ‘The Fly’ and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.'”–Scott Foundas, Variety (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week is one of those weeks when we’re just not sure exactly what’s going on. You can expect, however, reports on a couple of recent releases: Kevin Smith’s Clerks-meets-Human Centipede curiosity Tusk, along with Jesse Eisenberg in the doppelganger flick The Double (which would make a great “double feature” with Enemy—yeah, we’re shameless). We’ll also likely throw a “housekeeping”-type administrative post in there, and Alfred Eaker will have something… like we said, it’s one of those weeks.

It’s one of those weeks for weird search terms used to locate the site, too; a little light, but we’ll give you what we got. First up is one of those cases where a single off keystroke transforms a perfectly normal search query into something amusingly odd: “movie where a guy home from college meets a girl at a bust stop.” Taken literally that would probably make a weird movie, for sure, but what about “70’s movies with nuns in sunglasses”? Who knew that was even a fetish? And for something even worse/weirder, consider “foul lesbian movies greek sunde.” For our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week (in a weak field) we’ll select “couple block in forestry movies adults,” just because we can’t tell for the life of us what the searcher is looking for. Adult movies with a forestry theme in which a couple block? ‘Scuse me?

Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue stands: Rubin & Ed; The Real McCoy; Themroc; Candy (1968); The Fox Family; Angelus; Britannia Hospital; This Filthy Earth; Conspirators of Pleasure; Piano Tuner of Earthquakes; Bubba Ho-TepInnocence; Léolo; Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

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