BIG CALIBRE (1935)

Robert North Bradbury often seemed to add a pinch of the offbeat into his westerns, but when it came to directing his son, star Bob Steele, there was a downright oedipal underpinning because, quite often, Bob was thrust into an onscreen situation in which he lost his father.

Big Calibre utilizes this plot situation yet again, but regardless what Sigmund would have to say about it, it is of little consequence to this enjoyably odd oater. Bob’s father is killed and robbed of his cattle cash by a local chemist, played by screenwriter and Steele friend Perry Murdock. Bob pursues him, but the chemist escapes. Some time later, Bob, still in pursuit of his father’s murderer, is accused of holding up a stagecoach and murdering Peggy Campbell’s father, who also was robbed and killed with corrosive gas while en route to save his ranch from foreclosure.

The local banker wants Peggy for himself and is behind her father’s supposed killing (the body is missing).  He has a hunchbacked, fanged, bespectacled assistant/henchman. Peggy knows Steele is innocent since it was she who held up the coach in order to prevent the delivery of a letter, from the banker, seizing her ranch.

Still from Big Calibre (1935)The local mob is itching to hang Bob, and so an anonymous benefactor breaks Bob and his comedy relief sidekick out of jail, using corrosive gas! There is an unintentionally surreal, misplaced barnyard dance with Bob and the sidekick dancing with Peggy while masked! The dance ends in a planned brawl and Bob barely escapes with his life. Unsurprisingly, the hunchbacked assistant is none other than the low-life chemist who butchered Bob’s pa. When Bob knocks him to the ground his fake fangs and glasses come off to reveal his true identity.

An exciting and atmospheric desert chase follows with the assistant making his getaway in an automobile. All ends well, of course, with the bad guys reaping what they sow, the hero and his girl hooking up after she finds out her daddy is still alive, and Bob’s sidekick being chased off by an ugly childhood sweetheart who won’t leave him alone.

Big Calibre has more loopholes than plot. The loopholes hardly matter because it has an admirable low budget, authentic western weirdness. It’s strangeness is organic and subtle, rather than on-the sleeve. The lack of a musical score, which is the norm in early 1930’s B westerns, actually adds to the unique flavor.

Bob Steele possibly made more B westerns than anyone and few of them were good, but he had an amiable and hip personality that audiences responded to. He is probably best known as the low-life Curley in Lewis Milestone’s 1939 version of Of Mice and Men. Big Calibre, released by Sinister Cinema, is available on Amazon and the Sinister Cinema website.

CAPSULE: REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA (2008)

DIRECTED BY: Darren Lynn Bousman

FEATURING: Anthony Head, Paul Sorvino, Alexa Vega, Sarah Brightman, , Paris Hilton

PLOT: A worldwide epidemic leaves humanity on the brink, but a biotechnology

Still from Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

company saves everyone…for a price.  Anyone unwilling or unable to pay becomes the prey of a killing machine known as the Repo Man, who repossesses organs after he kills deadbeats!

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Musicals, by their very nature, are weird, pseudo-realities that insist that in some situations, you just HAVE to sing.  And dance. And harmonize with other people who also sing.  And dance.  And while it is difficult to say how that is not weird, Repo! The Genetic Opera manages to be oh-so pedestrian.  Despite a plot that is a very distinct hybrid of Parts: The Clonus Horror, any random season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and Tommy, there is no real imagination here, no sense of true creative force or even the vaguest idea how to be artistically subversive.  It’s just throwaway horror movie culture pap that would have been forgotten already if it weren’t so damn awful.

COMMENTS:  Every now and then a movie comes along that is so strikingly different and weird, people just have to stand up and take notice.  Such a movie can become a cult film overnight, igniting passionate statements online like “[Repo!] is such an amazing and very cool artistically rich and collaboratively ingenious of characters with rich metal Gothic and opera soul.”  But then again, sometimes a movie can seem original at first glance yet really be quite plain when one takes a closer look.  Such is the case with Repo! The Genetic Opera.  It is a collection of ideas from the bowels of the Joss Whedon fan-club message boards that is not so much weird as it is totally silly.  To the casual observer, this might look like something that hasn’t been done before, but all it is at closer inspection is a series of things that have been done before, Continue reading CAPSULE: REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA (2008)

BITCH SLAP (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Rick Jacobson

FEATURING: Julia Voth, Erin Cummings, America Olivo

PLOT: Three chesty babes fight punk interlopers, each other, and the screenwriters’

Still from Bitch Slap (2009)

over-infatuation with flashbacks while searching for a treasure in the desert.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It’s postmodern pretensions and post-Memento plotting show an ambition for the offbeat, but the producers ultimately understand that it’s cleavage shots and catfights that pay the bills.  An absurdly overdeveloped plot, exaggerated B-movie archetypes, and crazy flashback set pieces staged before unconvincing but imaginative green screen vistas turn Bitch Slap a slightly weirder, but not weird enough, version of a typical late night cable jigglefest.

COMMENTS:  A Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! homage made with a sub-Tarantino snarkiness, Bitch Slap plays fine if you go in with the right (i.e., low) expectations.  The three actresses do well and tackle their roles with relish—Olivo is particularly memorable as Camaro, the pill-popping psycho—but the metaphysically threatening sexuality of a Tura Satana is missing from this batch of castrating Amazons.  Great satire it is not, and at times too much winking self-awareness threatens to sink it, but in the end the correct spirit of silliness almost always  prevails.  It’s one thing when a sleaze rock anthem starts playing and the camera goes slo-mo and split-screen while zooming  leeringly on the ladies’ sweaty bosoms and provocatively cocked hips as they shovel in the desert dressed in tank-tops or tattered evening gowns.  It’s another level of goofiness altogether when the gals temporarily forget about the crime kingpin who’s hunting them down so that they can cool off by throwing jugs of ice water onto one another.  Back stories are revealed in frequent flashbacks, but these serve little function other than allowing the filmmakers to set up crazed green screen set-pieces.  There’s a magical realist scene where a sparkling angel-winged dancer takes stage as the strip club DJ improbably spins “Ave Maria,” a nunsploitation interlude, and a ridiculous shootout on the Las Vegas Strip (which plays Continue reading BITCH SLAP (2009)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: KONTROLL (2003)

Kontroll has been upgraded to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time. Please visit the full certified weird entry for Kontroll for comments and deeper coverage of the film.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Nimród Antal

FEATURING: Sándor Csányi, Bence Mátyássy, Eszter Balla, Gyözö Szabó, Lajos Kovács, and György Cserhalmi

PLOT: A Budapest metro transit cop copes with eccentric passengers and coworkers as he

Still from Kontroll (2003)

pursues a veiled serial killer.  Living and sleeping in the tunnels, Bulcsú is bullied by tormentors, chases gang members, dodges trains and follows a mysterious girl as he tracks a murderer who pushes passengers under speeding engines.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Kontroll is a fantasy that stands alone in its enigmatic singularity.  The film craftily assimilates drama, suspense and social satire into a multifaceted story in the unusual setting of an Old World subway.   Director Antal surprisingly succeeds at combining an unlikely combination of plot elements.  He decants the chaos of social rambunctiousness, the absurdity that entails when authority dictates regulation at the simplest levels of its jurisdiction, and a survey of attitudes and life’s daily ironies into an imaginative story.  The resulting integration presents a unique, alternate viewing experience.

COMMENTS:  Hydraulics hiss, rails clatter, and trains blast at high speeds in the dimly lit, neural convolutions of the Budapest underground.  A man runs for his life through a tunnel between two trains.  A hooded figure emerges from cracks in the wall to launch the unwary under oncoming subway cars.  A puzzling girl (Balla) haunts the maze-like passages disguised as a bear.  Ticket inspectors engage in madcap jousts and chases with each other when they are not comically pursuing a colorful assortment of freeloading ruffians.  A host of eccentric characters cavort and couple in a subterranean round-table of flickering signal lamps, iron Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: KONTROLL (2003)

ANNOUNCEMENT: “THE BEST OF DAMON ZEX” NOW AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE

366 Distribution’s second project, “The Best of Damon Zex,” is now available for purchase at CreateSpace. It will also appear on Amazon in the following days.

Damon was a polarizing figure in public access television in the 1990s. His show assaulted the suburbs with frank sexuality, vulgarity, occultism and blasphemy; but more importantly, it challenged viewers with its high quotient of surrealism, artistry, experimental hypnotic video techniques, and satire.

The press release describes the contents thusly:

DVD 1 contains:

1. “The Diabolical Damon Zex.” 60 min. Watching this hour-long compilation is like flipping through the TV channels at 3 AM and discovering every station has been taken over by Zex. Includes the controversial and shocking tampon scenes from “Damon’s Bloodfeast.” First time on DVD.

2. “A Day in the Life of Damon Zex.” 30 min. Damon’s day begins with wine in his cereal, and gets weirder from there. First time on DVD.

BONUS DVD: CHECKMATE

30 min. Zex’s timeless, post-public access expressionistic chess game shows a more mature artist focused on aesthetics, without sacrificing his sadomasochistic edge. This film, which has never seen before in its entirety outside of private screenings, is a must-have for Zex fans.

For more information on Damon Zex, read Alfred’s article Damon Zex: Intellectual Provocateur and Damon Zex’s Checkmate.

We’re thrilled for the opportunity to help bring Damon’s work to a wider audience.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week, look for a lengthy review of the Hungarian subway flick Kontroll (2003), the lowdown on the new-to-DVD Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! tribute Bitch Slap (2009), and coverage of the would-be cult musical Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008).

After a few down weeks for bizarre search terms used to locate this site, the Internet showed us glimpses of Googles potential to generate random and surreal requests this week.  We liked “movie french clown war” (actually we want to see that one), “french hypno sex” (but who doesn’t?), and our runner-up, “donney a boy is 13 black hair the vampire in 2009.”  But once again we’ll vote for simplicity and honor “who makes odd movies named richard” as our weirdest search term of the week.

Here’s how the reader-suggested review queue currently looks: 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; 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]; Necromania (1971, Ed Wood); Hour of the Wolf; MirrorMask; Possession; Suspiria; Mary and Max; Wild Zero; 4; Nothing (2003); The Peanut Butter Solution; Ninja Scroll; Perfume: The Story of a Murderer; Danger: Diabolik; Faust; Sublime; Battle Royale; Pink Floyd: The Wall; Escanaba In Da Moonlight; Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter; Zardoz; The Films of Suzan Pitt; Toto the Hero [Toto le Héros]; Paprika; The Holy Mountain; Brazil; The Casserole Masters; Dark Crystal; Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets; The Nines; 964 Pinocchio; The Pillow Book; Final Flesh; Lunacy [Sílení]; Inmortel; Tetsuo; Dead Ringers; Kairo [AKA Pulse]; The Guatemalan Handshake; Dead Leaves; The Seventh Seal; Taxidermia; Primer; Maniac (1934); Hausu; A Boy and His Dog; 200 Motels; Walkabout; Private Parts (1972); Possession; Saddest Music in the World; Mulholland Drive; The American Astronaut; Blood Tea and Red Strings; Malice in Wonderland; The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. II (for Lucifer Rising, among others); The Human Centipede (First Sequence); Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory ; The Bride of Frank; La Grande Bouffe; Uzumaki [Spiral]; Hedwig and the Angry Inch; Even Dwarves Started Small; Bunny & the Bull; “I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meat Hook, and Now I Have a Three-Picture Deal at Disney” (assuming I can find it); Cinema 16: European Short Films; Freaked; Session 9; Schizopolis; Strings; Dellamorte Dellamore [AKA Cemetery Man]; The Hour-glass Sanatorium [Saanatorium pod klepsidra]; The Addiction; Liquid Sky; The Quiet; Shock Treatment; Tuvalu; and we’ll even take a stab at locating the hard-to-find short “Zombie Jesus.”

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 4/16/2010

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):

Pornography: A Thriller (2009):  Murder and weirdness in three related tales from the world of gay porn.  The press release promises us that “surreal and supernatural elements weave together these three haunting stories.”  Due to its subject matter and less than thrilling reviews it’s exceedingly unlikely to be coming to a theater near you. Expect a DVD release soon.  Pornography: A Thriller official site.

UPCOMING:

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead (2009):  The wacky premise involves a vampire writing a bizarre adaptation of Hamlet.  The distributors promise a “perfect mix of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ Terry Gilliam, Dude Where’s My Car and Woody Allen all in one fantastic film!” Release date was originally scheduled for this week but has been pushed back to June 11.  Rosencrantz and Guildendtern are Undead official site.

NEW ON DVD:

Essential Art House, Vol. 5: Courtesy of Janus films under the Criterion imprint, the Essential Art House series positions itself a low priced, extras-free alternative to Criterion Collection’s special editions. Beyond the “art house” theme, the selections are relatively random. Vol. 5 includes David Lean’s adaptation of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounters, the 1959 Japanese drama Floating Weeds, Francois Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, the Finnish holocaust drama Kapo (1959), and Milos Forman’s Loves of a Blonde (1965). We mention it because of the sixth feature: Fellini’s weird masterpice 8 1/2. Buy Essential Art House, Volume Five.

Nightmare on Elm Street Collection: With its iconic villain, multiple dream sequences and blackly comic puns, A Nightmare on Elm Street was a bright spot of imagination in the wasteland of 1980s teen-oriented slasher horrors. Later entries in the series became much campier than the frightening original, but were enjoyable nonetheless. This box set collects together Nightmares 1-5 along with Freddy’s Dead, Ronnie Yu’s “high concept” Freddy vs. Jason, and 1994’s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, an admirable attempt to steer the series away from self-parody and back to horror. Buy Nightmare on Elm Street Collection.

Tenderness (2009): Despite starring Russel Crowe, theaters passed on this serial killer thriller and it debuts on DVD this week. Reviews are mediocre, but Bret Frazer of Amazon suggests that “flashes of David Lynch-esque eeriness provide some thrills” and fan reviewers often describe it as “strange” or “odd.” Buy Tenderness.

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.

GEORGES MELIES ENCORE

The films of Georges Méliès are testosterone for surrealists. In 2008 Flicker Alley and the esteemed Blackhawk films released The First Wizard of Cinema, a mammoth 5 disc, thirteen hour collection of Méliès’ surviving films. It was the DVD event release of several years. In 2010, the same forces have released a supplemental collection of 26 newly discovered shorts, aptly entitled “Encore”.

Understandably, this is not the event from two years ago, but it is an essential, released addition in the appreciation of Méliès’ unique art.  Contemporary viewers with preconceived notions of the term “film” may be thrown off by the aesthetic mindset from a turn of the century experimental filmmaker. Get over it and don’t look for narrative in the post-Edwin S. Porter sense of the word. There is much to savor here when transported into Méliès’ very different world.

First, there are two films here that were at one time mistakenly attributed to Méliès, but were in fact directed by the Spanish filmmaker Segundo de Chomon in the Méliès style (he was often compared to Méliès). Chomon, who worked for the smae company as Méliès (Pathe), specialized in color tinting and “The Rose Magician” (1906), with its washy blues, yellows, streams of flowers and painted backdrops, including a giant seashell, exudes a heady, exotic nouveau flavor. “Excursion to the Moon” (1908) is clearly a homage to Méliès’ famous “A Trip to the Moon” (1902). Sublime golds, oranges, pinks, greens and blues permeate “Excursion”. Chomon beautifully utilizes snowy imagery, sleep, mushrooms, space rockets, explosions and a snow covered face in the moon, which has to be seen to be believed. Taking nothing from Méliès, the two Chomon shorts may be the most significant discoveries in this collection.

Still from Melies Encore (2010 DVD)As for the actual Méliès pictures, “The Haunted Castle” (1896), which is not related to Poe, begins in a castle set with a bat (on strings, of course) that transforms into the Devil himself (complete with horns and costume which looks like it was bough from L.S. Ayres). Old Nick waves his hand and a giant cauldron appears. He follows this with some black magic business, summoning forth a servant and a maiden, who emerges form the cauldron, then quickly disappears. The servant, then the cauldron, then the Devil himself all disappear.  Two Continue reading GEORGES MELIES ENCORE

CAPSULE: BASKET CASE (1982)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Frank Henenlotter

FEATURING: Kevin van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner

PLOT: Duane checks into a derelict Times Square hotel carrying a wicker basket under his arm; inside is something about 1/4 the size of a person, that eats about 4 times the hamburgers a person would.

Still from Basket Case (1982)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Most people will go through their entire lives and never see anything as weird as the micro-budgeted cult shocker Basket Case.  A fine little offbeat exploitation shocker, the flick makes a late-in-the-game play for true weirdness with a strange dream sequence that sees Duane running naked through the streets of New York as a prelude to the film’s most shocking development.  To us, however, Basket Case shakes out as nothing more (or less) than a fine example of a unique, campy monster flick with only marginally weird elements.  That’s just how selective we are with our weirdness.

COMMENTS:  One of the secrets to Basket Case‘s success is that it positively oozes indecency and vice, but isn’t mean-spirited or sadistic.  Director Frank Henenlotter nails the aesthetic of sleaze, and for the most part keeps on the right side of the fine line between trash and crass, only crossing over briefly once or twice so that we know where the border is.  You emerge from a screening titillated and pleasantly shocked, but not feeling like you have to take a bath or go to confession.  The setting—the 42nd street red light district as it existed in Times Square in the early 1980s—creates an immediate atmosphere of moral and social decay.  Since renovated and Disneyfied, back then the neon-lit 42nd street was an avenue where you could walk past peep shows and marquees advertising “3 Kung Fu hits!” while being propositioned for weed, heroin and/or whores by strangers.  The scenes Henenlotter shot Continue reading CAPSULE: BASKET CASE (1982)

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