ANNOUNCEMENT: 366 EXCLUSIVE “9″ [SHORT] UP FOR ONE MORE WEEK

Because Rouge Cinema reviewed and linked the 366 Exclusive short film “9” (no relation to the Tim Burton/Shane Acker feature), we have decided to leave it up for another week, until October 12.  Made for the 48 Hour Film Festival, “9” is an experimental, sepia-toned avant-garde film exploring generational abuse in a mythical Western setting.  Click here to watch it.

We plan to premier a new exclusive short film in “9”‘s place after October 12.

THE CREMATOR [SPALOVAC MRTVOL] (1969)

The Cremator has been promoted onto the List of the Best Weird Movies Ever Made; the Certified Weird entry is here.

DIRECTED  BY: Juraj Herz

FEATURING: Rudolf Hrusínský, Ilja Prachar, Milos Vognic, and Zora Bozinová

PLOT: In this mesmerizing, Gothic horror film, a funerary specialist becomes obsessed with what he believes to be the nobility of his calling, with terrifyingly tragic and bizarre results.

THE CREMATOR

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The Cremator treats unusual, morbid, taboo subject matter in a visually dreamy way that is artful without being  gimmicky.

COMMENTS: In late 1930’s Prague, Kopfrking (Hrusínský) is a misguided, enigmatic crematorium operator. He is an impeccably groomed, eerie, and meticulous figure, always talking in a hypnotic, soft spoken, poetic manner.  He is overly preoccupied with mortality, morbidity, and the human soul, and deeply devoted to the funerary arts.

Kopfrking feels a physical affection for the instrumentality of his trade, lovingly caressing the equipment of the crematory process.  He speaks constantly, literally and metaphorically, of death and the liberation of the soul through the process of cremation.

As the story progresses, he becomes increasingly obsessed with his work, finding it glorifying and cathartic.  He sees visions of the ghost of his living wife in her youth, along with his future incarnation, as he begins a spiraling descent into fantasy and madness.  He is on a mission to free the souls of the deceased (and in time the not-so deceased) through the pyrolization of human flesh, be it living or dead—just as long as that flesh is consumed and vaporized by fire.

The pre-WWII German propaganda machine is enveloping Eastern Europe, polarizing aspiring Nazis and oppositionists.  Drawn toward the philosophy of the Third Reich, Kopfrking becomes morbidly obsessed with racial purity and the percentage of German blood flowing within his own veins—literally, to the point of having his vessels opened and the contents examined.  While The Cremator is not a raving anti-Nazi film, it uses the political ideology as an allegory for exploring the phenomenon of sweeping, consuming mass delusion and insanity.

The gathering of Nazi forces on the border offers Kopfrking an opportunity to realize his misguided aspirations on a grand scale, one much larger than he could have ever hoped for, one seemingly without limit.  Before applying his fervor and passion to the task, he hatches a plan to betray and destroy his own acquaintances, colleagues and family.

While there are elements of black satire in the The Cremator, the movie is so compelling as to nearly overshadow it.  The film insidiously and steadily flows to its inevitable and horrifying conclusion like a hot rivulet of liquefied fat.

The production design is crisp and symmetrical.  Stanislav Milota’s stunning black and white cinematography is haunting and beautiful.  It features successions of extreme closeups that emphasize the slightly grotesque and disturbing features of the biological condition.  Milota’s use of black and white film stock’s enhanced tonal range is artfully employed to focus attention on rich textures and multitudes of shades.  This gives The Cremator a uniquely unsettling dreamlike quality.  The musical score by Zdenek Liska is alluring, phantasmic, and aesthetically intriguing. Viewing The Cremator is akin to experiencing a nightmare that one is reluctant to wake from.

The Cremator was a Czech nominee for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this 1968 black comedy in black and white is undeniably creepy—once director Juraj Herz enters the fractured mind of his protagonist, he refuses to budge.”–Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

366weirdmovies here, coming to you live from sunny Orlando, Florida.  Weird movies wait for no man, vacation or not.

Coming up next week, expect to see some combination of the following: reviews of the mystical Czech horror/drama The Cremator, Ed Wood’s accidentally magnificent Glen or Glenda?, Harry Kümel’s nearly forgotten weirdfest Malpertuis, The Wizard of Oz, and the overlooked 1985 children’s adventure Young Sherlock Holmes.  Also in the works is a long article on legendary (and very weird) Russian director Rustam Khamdamov, whose surrealistic masterpieces remain untranslated and virtually unknown in the West.

It was a slow week for weird search terms used to find this site; the best we can find is “free weird mutant sex movies.”

A while back reader “Rob Steele/Mofo Rising” suggested that we review the Quay Brothers’ out-of-print Institute Benjamenta.  We were thrilled to  recently discover that this film is going to be re-released on DVD and Blu-ray in a newly restored version sponsored by the British Film Institute in March, 2010 (you heard it here first!).  For that reason, we’re going to push back our review of Benjamenta to next year, and substitute Mofo’s alternate suggestion, Greaser’s Palace, in its place.  That makes the reader suggested review queue (which we confess is getting backed up) looks like this: Cowards Bend the Knee (substituted for the unavailable Angel’s Egg), Greaser’s Palace (substituted for Institute Benjamenta), Pan’s Labyrinth, Ex Drummer, Waking Life, Survive Style 5+, The Dark Backward, The Short Films of David Lynch, Santa Sangre, Dead Man, Inland Empire, Monday (assuming I can find an English language version), The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Barton Fink, What? (Diary of Forbidden Dreams), Meatball Machine, and Xtro.

SATURDAY SHORT: SULTANA MEADOWS

“Sultana Meadows” is a fine example of the delightful, under appreciated shorts by Spike McKenzie.  The unsettling images throughout this video are quite reminiscent of David Lynch, and paint a very weird and wonderful picture.

Relationships tend to slowly draw away our good side, and expose the bad.  Mayhap you’ll have much in common with this journey into the bizarre.

For more of Spike visit his YouTube account. I strongly recommend his mock kids show, “Wonderbang Island”.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 10/2/2009

A 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 (WIDE RELEASE):

Zombieland:  There are many readers of this site who would flock to any zom-com offering, but the good news is that this particular post-zombie-apocalypse comedy, starring Woody Harrelson as a professional killer of the undead, is getting good advance notice, and may even be slightly weird: Andrew Wright of The Stranger is calling it “an absolute, occasionally surreal hoot.”  Zombieland official site.

IN THEATERS (WIDE RELEASE):

A Serious Man: The latest Coen brothers film, a star-free philosophical dramedy about growing up Jewish in the American Midwest in the 1960s, is not making theater owners salivate at the prospect of ticket sales, but fans can safely expect to see the brothers’ trademark quirkiness on display.  A Serious Man official site.

SCREENINGS: NEW YORK CITY (MUSEUM OF MODERN ART)

Where Is Where? (2009): Experimental narrative film from Finnish artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila centers around the murder of a French boy by his two Arab playmates during the Algerian war and a poet’s attempts to understand the act years later; featuring split-screens and Death as a character.  Where Is Where? at the Museum of Modern Art.

NEW ON DVD:

The Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary Edition (1939):  Even with flying monkeys, taking apple trees and green-faced cossacks, The Wizard of Oz might not qualify as “weird”; but there’s no doubt that the story is the touchstone of indigenous American fantasy.  This 2-disc edition is from a crystal clear 2005 restoration and features outtakes and deleted scenes, numerous interviews with the surviving cast members and featurettes, and a numerous other extras—disc 1 can even do duty as a Wizard of Oz karaoke machine. Buy from Amazon.  Also available is an “Ultimate” edition that contains a digital copy of the movie and four 8 x 10 inch posters of the main characters. Buy Ultimate Edition.

NE W ON BLU-RAY:

The Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition:  A scaled down Blu-ray release is probably set for the future, but first comes this extravagant 4 disc limited-edition set with 16 hours (!) of bonus content, along with a 52 page booklet, a 7oth anniversary watch (with “genuine crystals”), and reproductions of original marketing materials. Buy from Amazon.

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.

HEART OF THE BEHOLDER (2005) & THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988)

Still from Heart of the Beholder (2005)In 2005, Ken Tipton made a labor of love, an indie film called Heart of the Beholder, regarding the true story of the initial video release of Last Temptation of Christ and the effects it has on a family who owned a small video chain in St. Louis, Missouri during the 1980s.

The CFD, Citizens for Decency, arrived when the owners of the chain chose to carry  Martin Scorsese’s controversial film.  These God-loving red, white and blue, flag- waving Americans came out in droves to harass, bully and literally threaten their employees, family, business and life.

These are the same Americans who undoubtedly burned Dixie Chick albums when that group criticized God’s ambassador here on earth, little George W, and are the same Americans who still visit the Heart of the Beholder website telling Mr. Tipton and company that they are going to  hell while undoubtedly pleasuring themselves at the thought of the filmmakers frying  for all eternity.  Heart of the Beholder is a damned important, desperately needed film.

Although Heart of the Beholder got good reviews and even won some festival awards, predictably, no distributor would touch it.  One would surely think that the making of the film would have brought in some support, perhaps from Temptation‘s producers, Scorsese, etc.   Continue reading HEART OF THE BEHOLDER (2005) & THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988)

CAPSULE: LIFEFORCE (1985)

DIRECTED BY: Tobe Hooper

FEATURING: Mathilda May, Steve Railsback, Peter Firth

PLOT: A space shuttle investigating Halley’s comet discovers a spaceship containing three suspended, nude human bodies; returned to Earth, the bodies come alive and begin vampirically sucking the life force out of humans.

Still from Lifeforce (1985)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTLifeforce is a grandly cheesy and frequently nonsensical mishmash of B-movie cliches, and a great movie to watch with a six-pack on hand. Although it’s loony, offbeat and fun, it’s ultimately too lightweight and not quite systematically deranged enough to rank as one of the greatest weird movies of all time.

COMMENTSLifeforce starts out as an Alien ripoff, and ends up as a Quatermass and the Pit ripoff; in between, it’s a Dracula ripoff, only with a naked woman wandering around using her electric French kiss to turn half of London into dessicated scarecrows who reanimate as zombie vampires after two hours pass. Yes, I said naked woman: French model Mathilda May’s totally nude performance is the thing everyone remembers about the film, and quite obviously the main source of the movie’s unending popularity. The woman is stunning; her body is such a perfect Platonic embodiment of the feminine form that, like a Greek statue, it transcends the erotic and becomes an object of pure aesthetic reverence. The flick would still be worthwhile without Mathilda, but her nude performance adds that certain something that lodges the movie in the cinematic consciousness. Add in early Industrial Light and Magic style special effects, with electric blue rays shooting everywhere in sight during the vampire zombie apocalypse as stolen human souls merge together and climb into a great glowing column shooting up to the alien mothership, and you have a film that’s visually unforgettable. When the beautifully overwrought pyrotechnics of the film are matched to the ludicrous story, a certain magical b-movie alchemy occurs. Lifeforce‘s script seems to be being made up as the film progresses, with the stunned actors getting their lines a few seconds before shooting (the movie is stuffed with deadpan lines like “a naked girl is not going to get out of this complex,” “now she has clothes,” and “in a sense, we’re all vampires”). Soon after the aliens have been returned to Earth and start sucking the life force from humans, we learn that astronaut Steve Railsback has a convenient psychic link with Mathilda May because she gave him part of her life force when she electro-kissed him, which allows him under hypnosis to follow her about as she jumps from body to body infecting more Englishmen and -women with the rapidly spreading plague, only now she needs her life force back so she visits Steve in erotic dreams and tries to steal it, but then she goes to Westminster Abbey and starts acting as a conduit for all the pilfered human souls her sub-vampires are stealing and draws Steve to her and… well, the exact mechanics of this plot to take over Earth from beyond the stars are iffy (had the script for Lifeforce been available in 1959,  might have considered making it Plan 10 from outer space). But the movie just keeps forging ahead, giving the audience more of what it wants (that is, a naked Mathilda May), regardless of logic.

Dan O’Bannon scripted Lifeforce: although he also wrote the serious Alien, some of his other campy screenwriting efforts (Dark Star, Return of the Living Dead) suggest that his tongue might have been planted in his cheek when he delivered this wacky script to Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Hooper.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Extraordinarily bizarre mix of science fiction and vampire movie, more likely to provoke derision than any other emotion.”–Halliwell’s Film Guide

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: DEADGIRL (2008)

DIRECTED  BY: Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel

FEATURING: Jenny Spain, Shiloh Fernandez,

PLOT: Two high school delinquents find an undead young woman and use her as a sex slave.
Still from Deadgirl (2008)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Deadgirl is weird by virtue of its highly unconventional subject matter, which is treated in as matter-of-factly as a conventional drama.  It’s also better than you might think;  Deadgirl is one of the best necrophilia-themed movies I’ve seen.

COMMENTS:  When I read any description of a horror movie that includes the words, “teenager” or “students,” it stops me in my tracks, and I groan in disappointment.  However, it was conducive to the plot of this horror yarn that the two antagonistic protagonists be just that.

The pair are working class high school misfits.  (I must note that they are little more working class than the jocks and cheerleaders at most high schools, who stridently compensate for their ordinariness by engaging in meaningless make-work activities and ardently conform in order to raise their perceived social status.)  The two boys in this film are misfits only in the sense that they aren’t on the football team.   Like all teenage boys (and girls, let’s be honest) they are also dying of horniness.

Rickie (Fernandez) predictably covets a cheerleader possessing no redeemable qualities, who is saving herself to be date raped by the captain of the football team some drunken Homecoming night.  One afternoon, his friend J.T. (Segan) convinces him to skip class to drink beer in an abandoned insane asylum.  Where else?

Once there, they discover an inexplicably re-animated, shapely young dead girl (Spain) Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: DEADGIRL (2008)

CAPSULE: NEKROMANTIK (1987)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Jörg Buttgereit

FEATURING: Daktari Lorenz, Beatrice M.

PLOT:  A necrophiliac who works for a corpse disposal service loses his job, his perverted girlfriend, and finally his mind.

Still from Nekromantik (1987)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Although Nekromantik is indisputably weird—not simply in its bizarre concept, but in its numerous nightmare digressions from linearity—it can’t be recommended as a viewing experience.  It’s a badly made, tedious parade of revolting and nihilistic imagery with no ambition other than to shock the viewer.  When the film does utilize weirdness, it does so shallowly and irreverently, solely in service of its intent to disturb.

COMMENTS:  Like sex, inherently shocking imagery in film can be used well, to explore the human experience, or (more commonly) it can be used badly and exploitatively.  The ironic celebration of evil in A Clockwork Orange disturbs the viewer deeply, but the purpose of the film isn’t to shock us; it’s to provoke us into thinking more deeply about the problem of evil by forcefully confronting us with the paradox of free will.

Too many artists, however, have noticed that offending huge numbers of people is a far easier way to draw attention to themselves than working hard at their craft and creating something thoughtful and meaningful.  Sometimes, artists get confused and adopt a simple logical fallacy: much great art, like Nabokov’s “Lolita” or Buñuel‘s Un Chien Andalou, has shocked and offended large numbers of people; therefore, the purpose of great art must be to shock people.  (This artistic disorder is commonly known as “John Waters Syndrome”).  Most shocking art, however, is made with a more cynical hand, made with the artistic integrity of a freakshow proprietor.  This is the category into which Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik falls.

Un Chien Andalou opens with a shot of a woman’s eyeball being slit by a straight razor, juxtaposed with a shot of a cloud passing in front of the moon.  The image is shocking but artistic, suggestive and numinous.  Nekromantik opens with a shot of panties dropping and urine streaming onto the grass; the image is banal, and, besides breaking Continue reading CAPSULE: NEKROMANTIK (1987)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

We have a lot of articles pending this week—and we’re not sure, even at this late date, in exactly what order the pieces will be published.  We can promise next week that you’ll see our long-pending reader-suggested review of the notorious underground necrophilia shockfest Nekromantik and Alfred’s review of Heart of the Beholder (a documentary on the battle between a mom-and-pop video store and the St. Louis chapter of Citizens for Decency over Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ).

We haven’t published any examples of “the weirdest search terms used to locate the site” lately, but some doozies have come over the server log. “Catfighting stewardesses” gets the “we’re incredibly proud to be ranked #2 on Google for this search term” award.  In the “was that supposed to be an insult?” file, we find “your a weird movie.”  As always, the most competitive category is  the “why the heck did you click on our link when you’re looking for twisted fetish porn?” department.  You’d be amazed at the variety of unprintable sexual practices people spend their free hours scanning the Net for examples of, but the winner this week has a certain twisted poetry to it:  “pointy and puffy movies filled with sperm.”

The updated reader-suggested review queue looks like this: Nekromantik (coming this week), Cowards Bend the Knee (substituted for the unavailable Angel’s Egg), Institute Benjamenta, Pan’s Labyrinth, Ex Drummer, Waking Life, Survive Style 5+, The Dark Backward, The Short Films of David Lynch, Santa Sangre, Dead Man, Inland Empire, Monday (assuming I can find an English language version), The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Barton Fink, What? (Diary of Forbidden Dreams), Meatball Machine, and Xtro.

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