A FEW ODD YULETIDE FAVS

1. Rankin & Bass’ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) : There’s a reason this has become a perennial cult and popular classic.  Hands down it is the best of the Rankin & Bass holiday shorts. Most of the team’s holiday specials, such as Year without a Santa Clause (below), have memorable moments, but don’t really add up to a great whole.  Rudolph does.  It’s a great (probably unintentional) weird mix.

A bigoted, misogynist, unlikeable, bitchy Santa, an equally unlikeable reindeer coach (with a baseball cap, no less), Rudolph’s jerk of a father, an abominable snow monster, a winged lion, straight out of apocalyptic literature, who oversees an island of dysfunctional toys, including a polka-dotted elephant, a Charlie-in-the-box, and a cowboy who rides an ostrich.  On top of that is Burl Ives as a talking snowman, a too-cute girlfriend reindeer for our hero (with a bow atop her head), an elf who wants to be a dentist and a prospector by the name of Yukon Cornelius, who steals the  entire show.  Yukon “Even among misfits I’m a misfit”  Cornelius has rightly become a cult figure all by himself.  Oh, and then there’s Rudolph himself, who is understandably a bit bland in comparison but is the necessary catalyst for such a brew.

No amount of eggnog is going to help this fav seem traditionally orthodox.  Max Fleischer did a more straightforward version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1948), although Max’s style is still all over it.

2. Pee Wee’s Christmas at the Playhouse (1988) : Pee Wee Hermann’s  holiday gathering at the playhouse with guest stars Dinah Shore, Charo (!!!), Little Richard, Grace Jones, K.D. Lang, Za Za Gabor, Magic Johnson, Cher, Frankie Avalon, Santa himself and the normal Playhouse gang.

Its almost as divine a time capsule as Paul Lynde’s Halloween Special.  The only disappointment is not getting to see Pee Wee looking up the girls’ dresses with his mirrored shoes.  Fans of the Playhouse will walk away beaming.

santa-claus-conquers-the-martians3.  Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964): You know we had to include this one. Before Pia Zadora had her ten seconds of fame (10 seconds too long), she “starred” in a film  so abysmal, so bad, so weird that only the bravest can get through it.  Try to watch the MS3TK version, it almost makes it bearable.

4. The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974): Rankin and Bass again, but this one doesn’t altogether work (as mentioned above).  We could care less about Santa, the elves, or the reindeer, BUT, the sight of Mr. Heat Miser, son of Mother Nature, doing a jig in the pit of hell Continue reading A FEW ODD YULETIDE FAVS

CAPSULE: SURVEILLANCE (2008)

DIRECTED BY: Jennifer Lynch

FEATURING: Bill Pullman, Julia Ormand, Michael Ironside

PLOT: Two FBI agents/weirdos harass criminals and innocents alike as they search for a couple of murderers to whom they might have ties.

Still from Surveillance (2008)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Think CSI or NCIS meets Natural Born Killers. The weird quotient is totally crushed by the earthbound whodunnit quotient. It shows promise early on, and while the subtleties of the genre don’t escape my grasp, I don’t think that, in a truly weird movie, I should be asking “whodunit?,” but rather, “what the hell’s going to happen next?”

COMMENTS: Surveillance is the sophomore directorial effort by possibly-nepotistic director Jennifer Lynch, her first being the acclaimed/notorious Boxing Helena. This little nugget of info was what really interested me about seeing Surveillance, and I was hoping, no, begging for it to be just as weird as Helena without, hopefully, the punch-in-the-dignity twist ending.

What I got, unfortunately, was a moderate amount of sadism and unusual behavior, but a decidedly pedestrian tone. It’s a pretty good film, but it’s simply not weird enough to keep me thinking about it or talking about it after I’ve seen it. The leads, and Julia Ormand, are good, and I like the dangerous chemistry between them, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen before verbatim in other movies. The stand-out here is the vicious Michael Ironside, who plays the torturous Captain Jennings, a psychotic cop with a penchant for roughing up people and generally acting schizophrenic. I love his character, and I love his particular intensity that recalls his heyday, circa Scanners.

The script, also by Lynch, is devious, with plenty of funky, uneven dialog that recalls, in small doses, her father‘s wording from Wild at Heart (“Those are dummies, dummy!”). Her direction isn’t bad, either, although far from inspired. She has a good time playing with different filters and tones here, but it’s pretty standard fare. Surveillance is solid feature that I actually enjoyed a bit, and would recommend as a definite rental possibility, but don’t come looking for something genuinely freaky here, because this film can’t sustain real-deal strange in large doses. Jennifer Lynch somehow manages to makes a better film than her debut, but at the expense of creating anything exceptional.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…director Jennifer Lynch tried way too hard to follow in the deep blue surrealist footsteps of her father, David Lynch… But she finds her own voice in Surveillance, a grubby, disturbing serial-killer mystery, a kind of blood-simple Rashomon.”-Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THIRST [BAKJWI] (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Chan-wook Park

FEATURING: Kang-ho Song, Ok-vin Kim, Hae-sook Kim

PLOT: A priest becomes a vampire after he receives a blood transfusion during an experimental treatment to find a cure for a deadly virus; after his transformation he becomes erotically obsessed with a young woman who lives as a virtual slave to the family that adopted her.

Still from Thirst [Bakwjwi] (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  All of Park’s films at least flirt with weirdness, and Thirst is no exception. In a way, however, this vampire drama is the Korean fantasist’s most conventional effort. Aside from a disorienting dream sequence intercut into a bout of lovemaking, Park adds only a few short surrealistic bursts here and there, instead sticking surprisingly close to the vampire formula.

COMMENTS: Like all Chan-wook Park films, Thirst is technically excellent: the cinematography, musical accents, and nuanced performances are all top-notch. The plot, while rambling and overlong, ties up loose ends neatly by the end. Many of the individual scenes are nearly perfect, too; the long and violent sequence where a furious Sang-hyeon forcibly converts Tae-joo into a vampire in front of her paralyzed adoptive mother is intense and beyond criticism. Hae-sook Kim’s Lady Ra has a particularly excellent turn that catches fire once her character becomes nearly comatose, and Song and Kim’s love scenes sizzle with guilt-ridden eroticism. Park even scales back the distracting, heavily stylized directorial flourishes (such as the dotted line coming off the hammer in Oldboy) that seem to pop up in his every effort just because the director thinks they look cool; the imagery in Thrist flows naturally, like uncoagulated blood.

With all of the above going for it, what I found most shocking about Thirst is how little spark or originality it emanates. We’ve seen the tragic reluctant vampire since 1936’s Dracula’s Daughter, and thirst for blood has always been a metaphor for lust (in the 1970s exploitation filmmakers became quite explicit with the theme in flicks like Lust for a Vampire and Vampyres). There’s no real spin on the vampire legend to be found here. A few traditional nemeses—garlic and crucifixes—have been jettisoned, but the vampire’s psychological essence—predation and isolation—remains intact. Making the bloodsucking protagonist a priest, while adding the superficial appearance of depth, doesn’t pay off in any profound poetic or philosophical way.  If there’s a spiritual dilemma to be found here, it’s of the mostobvious sort, as the fallen Father struggles to reconcile his vow to serve his suffering flock with his need to drink their blood and avoid sunlight.

The film’s supposed organizing principle, the vampiric curse, gives way to a noirish supernatural love triangle; as it turns out, it’s that old snake in the garden, sex, that’s the root of all evil, not nocturnal bloodsucking. The shift from the struggle to create a personal system of ethical vampirism to a story about falling for a femme fatale means film looses its thematic focus, if not its drama, about halfway through. Thirst is well worth the watch, but frankly, it left me thirsty for more.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If, like me, you believe Thirst can’t possibly get any weirder, then you’re in for a comically surreal ride as Park’s genre mash careens of the beaten logical path into that magic land that seems to exist only in the mind of Korean filmmakers.”–Jacob Powell, The Lumiere Reader (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THIRST (1979)

DIRECTED BY: Rod Hardy

FEATURING: Chantal Contouri, Shirley Cameron, Max Phipps, Henry Silva, Rod Mullinar

PLOT: A direct descendant of Elizabeth Bathory is kidnapped by vampires who want to make her one of their own.

Still from Thirst (1979)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While Thirst has an offbeat plot for a vampire movie, it doesn’t go that extra mile to make itself stick out from the bloodsucking crowd.

COMMENTS: All that charming and wealthy Kate Davis (Contouri) wants to do is live happily ever after with her handsome boyfriend.  Unfortunately, unbeknown to her, she is a direct lineal descendant of Countess Elizabeth Bathory.  You remember Liz, she was that Hungarian rich chick who drank and bathed in 600 or more gallons of blood from 600 or more beautiful young women in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s.

I might mention that Liz Bathory also sodomized the comely maidens first, then partially ate some of them alive, before torturing and murdering them and drinking, bathing, and masturbating in their blood.  But then gee golly gosh, what’s a bored aristocratic gal supposed to do for fun in the darned old dark and dusty 1500’s anyway?

So it turns out that there are 70,000 well networked, politically powerful vampires in the modern world, and some of them come from equally distinguished aristocratic families.  Unfortunately for poor Kate, a member of one wants to marry her, and probably do a few other things to her that we won’t go into here; suffice it to say that the hapless and desirable Kate is snatched away to a vampire “resort.” While there, she will become indoctrinated into vampire culture, get hitched, and.. and well, I suspect “get” other things as well, seeing as how her vamp suitor has been watching surreptitiously-filmed home movies of Kate getting her groove worked over by her boyfriend.

The resort also happens to be a human blood farm.  Kidnapped, tranquilized mortals are put out to pasture and herded in a couple of times a week to be “milked” for, you guessed it, rich, red, raw human blood!  They are referred to as “blood cows,” and they are drained of a pint or so each time via the latest technology in a huge row of sanitary stalls.  They don’t appear to be very happy about it either, but then that’s a good incentive to unionize.

The vampires hook a “direct-to-line vacuum pulsator” (dairy speak for the milking machine hose terminal that is supposed to fit around a cow’s udder) right into the helpless humans’ jugulars.  They then suck, pump, filter, pasteurize, homogenize, inspect and certify the blood as safe, just like at a real dairy (hey, vampires have a right to protect themselves from hepatitis too, you know).

Then, presto. They distribute the human Clamato juice world-wide in conventional milk cartons.  Makes you thirsty just thinking about it, huh?  It turns out that the facility gives consumer tours and everything.  It also has some nice amenities such as swimming pools, racket ball courts, and booze kiosks (vamps only!)  Unfortunately for Kate, since she’s on a special diet, the program for her consists of involuntary drug-induced hallucinations, coercive brainwashing and blood force-feeding, just to get her in the mood for her wedding night.

It works!  Well, sort of.  The problem is that the plan, like most in these hemoglobin flicks, doesn’t go very smoothly.  In fact after some initial difficulties, then apparent success, it blows up right in everyone’s faces with gruesome and disturbing results.  This is a solid Australian film and one of the best vampire movies from the 1970’s that I have seen so far.  If you like odd and twisted cinema, or hot and heavy bloodsucking action, I give it four and half stakes through the heart out of five.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one of the quirkier horror films in recent history… The movie comes off as one long dream sequence (which it is, as Kate goes through a long programming session) — it’s mood music for the eyes, and bloody music at that.”–Christopher Null, AMC Film Critic (DVD)

GRAHAM REZNICK’S 10 FAVORITE WEIRD FILMS

Graham Reznick is the director of the extremely weird 2008 feature I Can See You, described as “a psychedelic campfire tale” and certified by us as one of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time. Graham’s personal homepage is here, and you can find I Can See You‘s official site here. [UPDATE 3/11/2011: Just over a year later, we note that three of Graham’s suggestions—Performance, Altered States and Hausu—have been certified as among the weirdest of all time, with more to come, we’re sure.]

I am honored to have been asked to provide a list of Weird Movies for 366 Weird Movies.com!  For my list, I decided I would compile a group of weird films that I always feel like watching, no matter what my mood, or how many times I’ve seen them.  They may not be the “best” movies, or even the strangest—but they all contain at least a touch of the sublime (except, perhaps, #10), and they’re all my favorite weird films.  Many of these I saw when I was young, and are major influences on my own work and approach to filmmaking.  Some may not, at first glance, even seem that weird—but I hope within this context you’ll be able to enjoy and appreciate them for the inherent weirdness that they contain!

Listed in no particular order:

1) PERFORMANCE (Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg, 1968-70, UK)

It’s hard to even describe what makes this movie so special.  A gangster on the run hides out with a formerly passionate rock star (Mick Jagger in his first, and perhaps best, role) in swingin’ 60’s London.  Sounds simple, but it’s so wrought with the cultural tensions of 1968 that it becomes an ultra dense diamond of sheer psychedelic freak out.  Several viewings encouraged!

2) TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (David Lynch, 1994, USA)

I could probably put Lynch’s entire catalogue on here so for simplicity’s sake I’ll just pick one.  I oscillate daily on my favorite David Lynch movie/production, yet more often than not I end up here:  FIRE WALK WITH ME was the first Lynch film I saw, when I was about 13, and it was the first time I understood that movies could be weird AND good.  If you’ve seen the show, this movie is NOT like the show.  The show can GET dark at times, while exploring the wake left in a troubled teen’s death, but this film is DIRECTLY FROM the subjective, paranoid, and dysfunctionally emotional perspective of that troubled teen – in the six days leading up to her death.  It is the HEART of the mystery that forms the show, and it’s an amazing experience that can at once be read as a strange criss-crossing of inter-dimensional signals, or a beautifully moving metaphor for harrowing sexual molestation.  It’s never failed to give me chills.

3) VIDEODROME (David Cronenberg, 1983, CANADA)

“Because it has something that you don’t have, Max. It has a philosophy. And that is Continue reading GRAHAM REZNICK’S 10 FAVORITE WEIRD FILMS

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week we will review two unrelated vampire movies with the same name: Thirst (1979) and Thirst (2009).  There’s also a good chance we may get up a review of Richard Kelly‘s latest, The Box (2009): there’s sure to be a difference of opinion among our writers on this one!  Also, on Thursday Alfred gives us 10 weird Yuletide choices, so start trying to work up some holiday spirit, won’t you?

Though you can probably see it in the post above this one, I’d like to point out that we have another top 10 list, this one by Graham Reznick, director of the certified weird movie I Can See You.  We love to see what others think is weird and why, so we’re thrilled to have this new contribution!

In terms of the weirdest search term used to locate the site last week: we fall into a little trap with this one.  Talk just once about rape movies or pony riding cults when you’re picking up on unusual search terms, and the search engines pick it up and the next week you’re hit with 100 requests along the same line.  So, we had plenty of pretty pony fans stumbling onto the site last week, and probably leaving disappointed.   This week we’re going with a non-fetish choice: “”hours of productivity independent movie explode.”  You could make a true statement by rearranging those words slightly: “independent movies explode hours of productivity.”  At least, I’ve found that to be true.

The ever-growing, sadly neglected reader-suggested review queue now looks like this: Greaser’s Palace (substituted for Institute Benjamenta), 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, Xtro, Basket Case, Suicide Club, O Lucky Man!, Trash Humpers (when/if released), Gozu, Tales of Ordinary Madness, The Wayward Cloud, Kwaidan, Six-String Samurai, Andy Warhol’s Trash, Altered States, Memento, Nightmare Before Christmas/Vincent/Frankenweenie, The Science of Sleep, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Gothic, The Attic Expeditions, After Last Season, Getting Any?, Performance, Being John Malkovich, The Apple, Southland Tales, Arizona Dream, Spider (2002), Songs From The Second Floor, Singapore Sling, Alice [Neco z Alenky], and Dark CountryAfter Last Season and Dark Country are most likely to jump ahead in the review queue as we continue to focus on covering 2009 releases before 2010 rolls around.

SATURDAY SHORT: BETWEEN TWO FERNS (2008)

Give Zach Galifianakis a late night show, and this is what you’ll get: sketch comedy that’s too absurd for TV.  This is the first of seven episodes of Zach’s web series, “Between Two Ferns”.  In it Zach interviews Michael Cera about acting in the comedy film Superbad (2007).

For more episodes of “Between Two Ferns” visit: http://www.funnyordie.com/between_two_ferns. Keep in mind that many of these episodes contain language that viewers may find offensive.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 11/27/09

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 (LIMITED RELEASE):

Home (2008):  When a busy highway opens next to a rural Swiss homestead, the insular family takes increasingly desperate and bizarre measures to block out the intrusion of the outside world.  Starring Isabelle Huppert, this Swiss entry for the 2009 foreign language Academy Award is receiving fantastic reviews.  No official site located. The trailer below makes it look like a wacky comedy, but reviewers make it sound like a disturbing parable.

NEW ON DVD:

Shorts (2009): Robert Rodriguez directed kiddie fantasy about a rainbow-colored rock that grants wishes.  Critics describe it as hyperactive and unfocused: Toby Young of the Times goes so far as to say that it’s “[S]o structurally complicated that it almost qualifies as an experimental film.” Buy from Amazon.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Shorts (2009): See DVD review above. Buy Blu-ray 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.

CAPSULE: KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988)

DIRECTED BY: Stephen Chiodo

FEATURING: Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Allen Nelson,

PLOT: Aliens from outer space, who look exactly like circus clowns, land their carnival-tent spacecraft near a rural town and begin abducting humans for unknown purposes.

Still from Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Killer Klowns is actually a very conventional spoof with an unusual gimmick that’s well-executed; it’s a bit offbeat, but as far as weird goes, it’s strictly entry level stuff.

COMMENTS: Although Killer Klown‘s kultists will doubtlessly be offended, this movie is gimmicky, rather than original. It’s a shameless retread of the old aliens-invade-the-earth-and-interrupt-teen-makeout-sessions plot with killer clowns substituting for a killer blob. Every standard plot cliche is squarely parodied, right down to the drunken coot who thinks the landing spacecraft is a shooting star and the fact that the cops assume the teen witnesses are pulling a prank. Switching out one-eyed scaly monsters for clowns is nothing but a gimmick, but it’s a good one, and it makes this formulaic exercise watchable. The movie is so stuffed with circus gags that just when you’re certain the script has run out, a new one emerges, like yet another harlequin squeezing out of an impossibly tiny car. Popcorn, cotton candy, balloon animals, shadow puppets, and banana creme pies all become implements of doom that threaten humanity’s very existence. These jokes should be enough to keep you reasonably entertained, but the costume and set design will vie for your attention.  The garish, oversized grinning clown heads evoke a campy coulrophobia. The interior of the big-top mothership is a candy-colored wonderland, with skewed funhouse sets that are even vaguely reminiscent of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (and the eye-searingly bright colors and low-tech ingenuity anticipate the following year’s Dr. Caligari ). It’s also fun to see veteran character actor John Vernon ham it up as the crotchety kid-hating cop. All in all, it’s nothing earthshattering, but it’s a good time if your in the mood for a light, lightly bizarre comedy.

This film has a very powerful cult following, with Killer Klowns t-shirts and paraphernalia selling briskly to this day. I admit, I can’t quite understand why its fans show such a depth of devotion to this likable but lightweight flick. It might have to do with the fact that many people first see this movie when they are young and impressionable, when the concept of a comedy involving evil space clowns seems shockingly original and even subversive.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This krazy, kooky movie strings together the creature feature with the alien movie, and pumps it full of dark humour, using that icon of innocent fun, the clown… Patchy but mostly fun, the basic clowns/circus/theme park-like fun idea is expanded as far as possible and worked to death…”–Andrew L. Urban, Urbancinefile.com (DVD)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: A SERIOUS MAN (2009)

NOTE: A Serious Man has been promoted from the “Borderline” category onto the List of the Weirdest movies of all time! This page is left up for archival purposes. Please view the full review for comments and expanded coverage!

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DIRECTED BY: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

FEATURING: Michael Stubargh, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Fyvush Finkel

PLOT: A putzy Jewish physics professor suffers from an escalating series of problems

Still from A Serious Man (2009)

including a failing marriage, bratty kids, students willing to do anything for a passing grade, financial troubles, and a ne’er-do-well, mildly insane brother.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE:  While the early leader for Weirdest Movie of 2009, A Serious Man won’t be eligible to be officially added to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time until it receives its DVD release and the film can be pored over meticulously by our team of critics.  Okay, to be honest, the home video release requirement is a way to buy time, while I let the Coens’ latest ferment in the back cellar of my consciousness.  The conundrum is that, superficially, this movie is not that weird; there are a few dream sequences and nonsense parables, but unlike the Coens definitely weird Barton Fink, this story of a suburban Jewish man beset by an improbably mounting set of real life woes contains no surrealistic fireworks (although there is a conspicuous surrealistic pillow).  On the other hand, this movie has a skeletal undercurrent of  ambiguity and disturbance running through it like a bone cancer; it feels weird at its core.  Also, the way it’s currently unsettling and outraging square moviegoers points to a powerfully different movie.

COMMENTSA Serious Man is a retelling of that most fascinating parable in the Old Testament, the Book of Job, as a postmodern absurdist comedy.  The ancient Job was a good and prosperous man; God allowed Satan to test his faith by wiping out his flocks, killing his children, and smiting him with boils.  The beleaguered Job, bothered by visits from three unhelpful friends who try to console him with off-base theological speculations, eventually despairs, but never doubts God’s existence or goodness.  His only plea is to understand his misfortune, to be able to ask God directly, “Why me?”  God, appearing in a whirlwind, bitchslaps Job for his audacity: “who are you to question me, the Author of the Universe?  It’s your job to obey and suffer in silence.”  (I’m paraphrasing here).  After this reproof, God restores Job’s riches and lets him have new Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: A SERIOUS MAN (2009)

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