CAPSULE: CAT PEOPLE (1982)

DIRECTED BY: Paul Schrader

FEATURING: Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O’Toole, Ruby Dee, Ed Begley Jr.

PLOT: A young woman struggles with an ancient family curse while pursuing the purrfect mate.

Still from Cat People (1982)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Cat People, loosely based on the Val Lewton original, is a slightly atypical, high quality horror film.  It is a variation of the old werewolf theme, focused on felines rather than canines.  It is not quite unconventional enough to be weird, but it has a strange feel compared to other horror movies.

COMMENTS: Orphaned, beautiful Irena (Kinski) comes to live with her brother Alex (McDowell) in his creepy new Orleans home, after being separated from him for years by the mysterious death of their parents.  Alex is a pastor at an even creepier chapel and he carries the burden of some rather odd baggage.  It seems that he is taken to roaming and prowling at night, climbing trees, clawing things up, wolfing down prostitutes, and getting himself locked in zoo cages.  Worse, he unceremoniously demands sex from the mousy Irena, who isn’t exactly keen on the idea.  It never occurs to poor Alex to try sprinkling some catnip on his business areas and begging to have his tummy scratched.

Irena discovers that if she rubs up against anybody besides Alex, she will turn into a puma—a carnivorous puma with an insatiable lust for rich, red, raw human flesh.  To become human again herself, she must feast on the living.  This is of course, quite understandable.  Few things are as disappointing as a menu of Fancy Feast, when one could be munching on a delicious man like John Heard (C.H.U.D.) or his lusty girlfriend Annette O’Toole (Smile).  Heard’s zookeeper character certainly gives Irena aplenty to purr about.  Irena falls in love with Heard, but will she be able to resist his charms—and the savory goodness of his tender, meaty loins and chops?  Then there’s the matter of that pesky girlfriend with the hair like red yarn.  She caterwauls her concerns surrounding Irena, and Irena wishes a cat had her tongue.  Hopefully she’s nothing a hiss and a swat can’t take care of.

Irena explores the French Quarter and her blossoming desires, and experiences some very unsettling biological changes when she’s in heat.  She becomes embroiled in a murder case as her brother stalks her, she stalks the girlfriend, chases after Heard, and Alex plays cat and mouse with the police.  Meanwhile Heard is quickly beginning to realize that toying with the supernatural is not always the cat’s meow.

Cat People is a very arty film with a distinctive visual pawprint featuring Big Easy location cinematography and some striking, unusual shots. There are some interesting ultraviolet night sequences filmed from a werecat’s point of view that are innovative for the date of release, putting the simple thermal imaging used in Wolfen to shame.  An original score by David Bowie and Girogio Moroder (Midnight Express) compliments the avant-garde look and feel of the film.  Well acted, Cat People is a pleasing change of pace from mediocre, industry standard horror movies.  It boasts an unusual, well-structured plot and a bizarre ending which nicely balances out the heavy compliment of cat shots.  And by cat shots, I mean very solid thespianism on the part of a couple of beautiful and charming black leopards (in addition to all the of naked supple human breasts, and full frontal nude footage of the spectacular specimen of feline-esque femininity, Nastassja Kinski, captured in her prime. Rowwwr!)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The obscure proceedings are often ludicrous (especially in the orange-colored primal-dream sequences), yet you don’t get to pass the time by laughing, because it’s all so queasy and so confusingly put together…”–Pauline Kael, The New Yorker (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week you can expect to see reviews of Cat People (the 1982 remake), the overlooked biopic Bronson (a heavily stylized account of Britain’s most violent prisoner), and, from out of the reader-suggested review queue, the Roman Polanski absurdist sex-comedy (!) What (Diary of Forbidden Dreams) [Che?].  Add in another B-western review from Alfred Eaker and you have a week!

It was a poor week for weird search terms.  Did the people searching for bizarre insect porn and Napoleon riding cults take the week off?  But we found that “vega sex capsule man” (the worst superhero ever?) had a certain weird ring to it.  Honorable mention to the guy looking for “zex in zex movies.”

Here’s how the reader-suggested review queue stands: What? (Diary of Forbidden Dreams) (next week); 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; 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; Frownland; 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]; and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

In other news, we added a slight update to Steppenwolfs Certified Weird entry after discovering this informative 2000 article from The Guardian about colorful co-producer Melvin Abner, whose idea of movie pre-production involved dropping acid with Timothy Leary!

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 3/26/2010

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):

Bluebeard [Barbe Bleu] (2009):  Sumptuous costume fairy tale retelling the story of the titular spouse-slaying aristocrat.   Directed by Catherine Breillat, notorious for including explicit sex in provocative movies like Romance, this film is receiving almost unanimous critical acclaim.  No official website.

NEW ON DVD:

Institute Benjamenta, or, This Dream People Call Human Life (1995): We’ve been awaiting the re-release of this surrealist story about a boarding school for servants from the Quay brothers, once known for their bizarre stop-animation shorts. Major props to the British Film Institute for rescuing this one from obscurity. Now for the bad news: it’s currently only available in Region 2. There is supposed to be a Blu-ray release as well, but we don’t see one in the U.S. (fingers crossed, yet).  Europeans can buy this from Movie Mail UK.

The Prisoner (2009) (Miniseries): American Movie Channel’s remake of the classic 1960s anti-authority/existential/absurdist cult-TV program about an ex-spy trapped on an island where everyone goes by a number, not a name, with Ian McKellen playing the sinister Number Two.  Fans of the original were outraged, often calling it “incomprehensible” (did they see the finale of the original?)  We’d be willing to give it a chance. Buy “The Prisoner” (Miniseries)

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.

REV. DONALD WILDMON: MIGHTY MOUSE IS BACK TO SAVE THE DAY (FROM THE LIKES OF YOU)

Rev. Donald Wildmon is, thankfully a dinosaur, a dying breed of self-appointed “moral crusader” bullies who blasphemously oppresses in the name of a peasant Jew who hung out with hookers and derelicts, talked a theology of love, understanding, and peace, and was brutally butchered by Wildmon’s own type some two thousand years ago.  Wildmon bullies in the name of this Jew to masquerade his own ignorance.  Each year that passes it becomes increasingly apparent that the world will be better off when he and his type are extinct.

In 1988, Rev. Wildmon saw an episode of Ralph Bakshi’s “The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse.”  The show was imaginative, colorful, and witty.  Wildmon’s Methodist toupee did a double take and he screamed “The Devil” when he saw something he could not understand, let alone appreciate.  (Specifically, Wildmon saw Mighty Mouse happily sniffing a crushed flower, and presumed the scene promoted cocaine use).  So Wildmon cocked up his triple chin and let out a Tarzan styled yell to his fellow Neo-Nazi thugs.  Wildmon and the brown shirts started their march, taking it all the way to the faceless sponsors of “Mighty Mouse.”  It’s not surprising that Wildmon bedded with money to attack an imaginative kids show.  After all, that peasant Jew was killed because he messed with the money system.

The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse Flower SceneSo Wildmon and his silly cult bedded with the Pharisees and killed Bakshi’s child.  This was one of many offenses they perpetrated.  I am sure the good Reverend has several trophies on that triple chinned ego of his mantle.  With too few exceptions,”Mighty Mouse” was one of the last times in which television has shown any inclination for imagination, creativity and style.  In its place we have reality TV and trash TV that dumb down to the lowest common denominator.  Thank you, Rev.Wildmon, for your gift.  Yes, there might be a few clever television programs among the dreck, some worthwhile dramas, but aesthetically ground-breaking television, especially aesthetically ground-breaking children’s television, damn near died away when Bakshi’s “Mighty Mouse” went the way of Lenny Bernstein’s “Young People’s Concerts.”

But, that is not the end of the story, Now, finally, “Mighty Mouse” has re-emerged onto a DVD collection to save the day.  Hopefully, Wildmon and his worthless kin, who serve no purpose in life except as societal cancer, will go crawl into a hole and die away.  The rest of us can celebrate the resurrection of our fearless mouse.

Now, “The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse” is, admittedly, a somewhat mixed bag, Continue reading REV. DONALD WILDMON: MIGHTY MOUSE IS BACK TO SAVE THE DAY (FROM THE LIKES OF YOU)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: MEATBALL MACHINE (2005)

DIRECTED BY: Yûdai Yamaguchi and Jun’ichi Yamamoto

FEATURING: Issei Takahashi, Aoba Kawai

PLOT:  Alien parasites infect human hosts, morphing their bodies into bio-combat machines who then fight each other to the death; shy factory worker Yôji and Sachiko, the lonely girl he fancies, soon find themselves caught up in the struggle.

Still from Meatball Machine (2005)


WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINEMeatball Machine‘s alien gladiator-parasite setup is bizarre, but the movie never really tries to top its strangeness.  Rather, the weirdness pretty much stops at the premise, as the producers instead spend their energy indulging their true loves: gore and special effects.  The result is a movie that’s well within the weird genre, but not an outstanding example of it. (NOTE: upon further reflection, Meatball Machine was upgraded to “Borderline Weird” on 7/5/2010).

COMMENTS: To say that Meatball Machine‘s storyline is thin would be an insult to the relatively dense scripts of Michael Bay. In fact, the entire last half hour of the movie is nothing but an extended melee that persists long after the dual directors have run out of combat hooks.  To keep us emotionally involved in between (and during) the fight scenes, the plot takes a perfunctory stab at a touching love story between two losers; viewers will have to buy into this romance on their own, as neither the script nor the actors sell it.  But though Meatball Machine might be light on depth, what the movie does have going for it is unforgettable costume design and a few endearing oddnesses; and, of course, buckets of gore, for those who consider that a plus.  The alien parasites who populate this film thrive by inserting themselves inside humans and mutating the host body to create an ever-evolving arsenal of extremely implausible organic weapons, among which are biochainsaws, bioflamethrowers, and, for the necroborg who has everything, a visor complete with a windshield wiper to keep blood from splashing into his Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: MEATBALL MACHINE (2005)

CAPSULE: THE WHITE RIBBON [DAS WEISSE BAND: EINE DEUTSCHE KINDERGESCHICHTE] (2009)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Michael Haneke

FEATURING: Christian Friedel, Burghart Klaußner, Leonie Benesch, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Leonard Proxauf

PLOT: A doctor’s horse is tripped by a wire strung between two trees, and soon

Still from The White Ribbon (Das weiss band) (2009)

other unexplained “accidents” start happening around a German village on the eve of WWI.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  I wouldn’t have even considered covering this fairly conventional film in this sacred space devoted to weirdness, except that as I was leaving the theater, I heard an old man ask the old woman beside him, “Wasn’t that the strangest movie you ever saw?”  The old woman agreed. My initial reaction was sadness at the thought that they both had reached an advanced state of decrepitude without having ever witnessed the miracle of a truly strange film.  My second thought was, I have to get out there and nip this rumor in the bud.

COMMENTS: As a historical drama, a novelistic examination of small town immorality, The White Ribbon is superb.  It immerses us in the life of a quiet, one-bicycle German hamlet on the eve of World War I, where order is harshly enforced in public but cruelty and hypocrisy are the rule behind closed doors.  The story begins by evoking a mystery—who strung the invisible steel wire that tripped the doctor’s horse?—then moves on to explore various village subplots involving characters from every strata of society.  Among others, there’s the humane schoolteacher who romances a shy nanny; the Baron, who employs half the village and acts as if feudalism is still in fashion; a Farmer and the rebellious son who blames the Baron for his mother’s death; the Doctor, an eminent man hiding shameful secrets; the Midwife, who lives with the Doctor since his wife dies and cares for her mentally retarded son; and most significantly the Pastor, who is obsessed with enforcing purity among his children, binding his son’s arms at night to help him resist the temptation to touch himself and tying white ribbons on the elder children to remind them of innocence.  And there are the children themselves, whose eerily blank faces and frustratingly proper responses to interrogations mask unknown motives.  Led by creepy and unflappable Maria-Victoria Dragus, a gang of tykes seem to be present at the periphery of all the tragic accidents that start popping up around the village.  The question of whether the kids are just curious spectators drawn to the hubub in a quiet town, or if they have some deeper involvement in the plague of catastrophes, is the mystery that Haneke leaves unsolved.  But the real unsolved mystery may be why the director chose to structure his story as an unsolved mystery.  When the tale focuses on exploring of moral hypocrisy, exposing the domestic cruelty of upstanding pillars of the community, the film is first-rate drama; there are excellent, tense scenes where a man callously dumps his mistress and parents inflict sadistic punishments on their children for minor infractions.  Haneke apparently did not feel that this searing drama was enough to grant his film Palme d’Or-type gravitas, and so we have the ambiguous mystery arbitrarily piled on top.  Not only is the plot obscure, but the purpose of employing an obscure plot is obscure.

Perhaps it’s because Haneke’s thesis isn’t as meaty as it seems.  The reminders that these wan, detached and abused children will be the generation that grows up to embrace Nazism are not subtle.  But if Haneke’s trying to say that a morally rigid, patriarchal society set the ground for the rise of Nazism… well, that’s a small part of the puzzle.  But the same types of societies existed all over the Western world.  Change a few details—replace the feudal Baron with a capitalist robber baron—and the story could just as easily be set in small town America in the 1910s.  What’s specifically German about this story that supposedly helps to explain the rise of Nazism (as the film’s narrator suggests in his opening lines)?  If, on the other hand, Haneke isn’t blaming a particular social order for nurturing fascism, but trying to say something universal about human societies and their capacity for institutional evil, the point gets a bit lost by locating the story in such an incredibly specific historical time and place.  The movie ends up perched uncomfortably between ambiguity and a definite argument, between a universal message and a historical one.  Maybe these unresolved tensions help explain why The White Ribbon, with its impeccable acting and classic production, feels thematically awkward.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Our narrator, well into old age, tells us that he is revisiting the strange events in the village to ‘clarify things that happened in our country’ afterward.  But ‘The White Ribbon’ does the opposite, mystifying the historical phenomenon it purports to investigate… ‘The White Ribbon’ is a whodunit that offers a philosophically and aesthetically unsatisfying answer..”–A.O. Scott, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: HARDWARE (1990)

DIRECTED BY: Richard Stanley

FEATURING: , Stacey Travis, Lemmy, voice of Iggy Pop

PLOT: A desert wanderer in a post-apocalyptic wasteland discovers a relic.  It’s the dismembered skeleton of a cyborg used by the government in the war that destroyed civilization, and when a man conveniently buys the creepy-looking thing for his metal sculptress girlfriend (!!!), she pieces it back together and unleashes a mechanical nightmare upon both of them.

Still from Hardware (1990)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Hardware suffers from a terrible bout of conventionalism.  It’s essentially a post-apocalyptic version of Alien set in the confines of a ratty apartment complex.  There’s nothing truly weird about it, other than the cast, which is lousy with hard rock stars.

COMMENTS: Well, it must be said outright that this movie wasn’t bad.  It was breezy, very streamlined.  This is a cyberpunk horror movie about a robot run amok, simple as that.  Usually, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi likes to wax poetic and lament on our ever-dwindling lack of human compassion and kindness toward our Mother Earth.  And I don’t have a problem with that, but when your movie is actually about a killer robot and not about the fate of man’s heart as we hurtle deeper into the future, perhaps being an armchair philosopher is not par for the course.  The plot is based on a story in the British comic staple “2000 A.D”. called “SHOK! Walter’s Robo-Tale”, and it certainly takes the cyberpunk vibe from that series and really goes with it despite a $1.5 million budget.

Well, it’s the 21’st century (THE FUTURE!!!!), and America is devastated by an undisclosed nuclear disaster.  People have to make a living any way they can, and many times that includes scavenging the technology of the past.  One disturbing fellow, called a Zone Tripper, finds the menacing remains of a robot (it is called a cyborg, but since there there are no organic mechanisms implemented into the device, let’s just assume they wanted it to sound cooler than just a plain ol’ robot) in the distant, post-apocalyptic desert.  This intimidating fellow comes to sell his scrap at the typical oddball junk broker Continue reading CAPSULE: HARDWARE (1990)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week we’ll have reviews of the recently re-released post-apocalyptic robot movie Hardware (1990); ponder 2009’s Palme d’Or winner, The White Ribbon [Das Weisse Band]; and scratch the gory Japanese sc-fi’er Meatball Machine (2005) off the reader-suggested review queue.

The weirdest search term used to locate the site this week (with apologies to runners-up “bizarre insect porn” and “1960’s movie women in bras in capsules”) was “process of intercourse with movies.”

The review queue received a massive infusion of suggestions this week. Here’s how it stands: What? (Diary of Forbidden Dreams) (coming in two weeks); Meatball Machine (next week); 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; 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; Frownland; 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); and Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory . Whew!

Must SeeRecommendedBeware

In other news, we’ve decided to phase out star ratings for movies. Parsing the difference between a one-and-a-half star and two-star movie has turned into a thankless, as well as meaningless, chore. From here on out, we’ll only be tagging movies with one of three self-explanatory quality ratings: MUST SEE, RECOMMENDED, or BEWARE. Most movies won’t get any rating; see those movies if you like the subject matter, director, star, plot description, or some other feature of the movie.  (We realize that some people will be tempted to seek out only movies marked “BEWARE”.)  It’s your call, but we don’t think you’ll be missing anything if you skip an unlabeled movie.  We can also use these tags to recognize and recommend movies that are excellent in their fields, but may not show the necessary level of bizarrity to deserve a place on the List.

Weirdest!We’re also adding another tag/label, WEIRDEST.  If you’re only looking for weird, and don’t care whether the movie is good or not, you’ll want to browse this tag.  We’ve been struggling with the tension between selecting the best weird movies and choosing the plain ol’ weirdest movies.   Many of the weirdest movies are uneven, distasteful, or too amateur to recommend, but we recognize that many readers will prefer to seek out the abysmal and disgusting Nekromantik ahead of an excellent, but not nearly as weird, movie such as Don’t Look Now.   The WEIRDEST! tag is a way to recognize movies that may not be good enough to make the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time, but definitely deserve props for going totally weird.

We’ll be using these tags exclusively from now on, and slowly re-rating the older movies.

Finally, let us plug the 366 Weird Movies 2009 Yearbook one last time… if you’re interested in purchasing a copy, please click here.

SATURDAY SHORT: MARIKO TAKAHASHI’S FITNESS VIDEO FOR BEING APPRAISED AS AN “EX-FAT GIRL” (2004)

We’ll leave it to you to describe this… special… video for yourself. We’re just going to supply the background: this short film was created by commercial director and artist Nagi Noda for a short film compilation sponsored by Panasonic celebrating the Olympics. We haven’t seen the other nine films in the series (no one has for six years now), but we suspect that this poodle fitness video (a parody of fitness guru Susan Powter) was not quite what the corporate giant expected when they commissioned the project.

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