WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 10/30/2009

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 (LIMITED RELEASE):

The House of the Devil:  A satanic creepfest set in the 1980s, which (word has it) plays out like a forgotten VHS era occult gem.  Maybe not weird, but clearly offbeat, and the presence of cult actress Mary (Eating Raoul) Woronov doesn’t hurt anything.  Opening in L.A. with limited national distribution thereafter.  In a sign of the times, it’s also already gotten a “pre-theatrical” release via video on demand (rent)House of the Devil official site.

NEW ON DVD:

Adult Swim in a Box (Aqua Teen Hunger Force Volume 2 / Space Ghost Season 3 / Moral Oral Season 1 / Robot Chicken Season 2 / Metalocalypse Season 1 / Sealab Season 2): What twentysomething hipster doesn’t dream of finding this 7-disc set and a one pound brick of medical-grade marijuana (with prescription) under their tree on Christmas morning? Contains and extra disc of failed pilots from the boundary-pushing late night cartoon lineup. Buy from Amazon.

Afterwards (2008): A New York lawyer meets a doctor (John Malkovich) who can foretell who is going to die. Reviewers used adjectives such as lyrical, allegorical, boring and pretentious to describe this arthouse non-hit that nonetheless may be to some tastes. Buy from Amazon.

Death in the Garden [Mort en ce jardin] (1956):  This minor Buñuel adventure piece from his Mexican Marxist period concerns conflicts between gold prospectors and the state. The director’s Surrealist tendencies were on the backburner during this period, so this one is for dedicated Buñuelists and Communist sympathizers only. Buy from Amazon .

Fear(s) of the Dark [Peur’s du Noir] (2007): A French horror anthology containing six black and white animated shorts dealing with themes of fear and night. As with all anthologies, the films likely vary as to quality and bizarreness. Buy from Amazon.

Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyers Cut) (2009): Six hours of interviews and clips spread out over three discs tell the entire story of the famous British comedy troupe that made absurdism fashionable through the 1970s. A must-get for dedicated fans. Buy from Amazon.

Night of the Creeps (1986): Long-anticipated released of the intentional campy cult 1980s horror/sci-fi flick that simultaneously sends up and pays honest tribute to teen sex comedies, alien invasion pics and zombie movies. Buy from Amazon

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyers Cut): See the description above in the DVD section. Buy Blu-ray from Amazon

Night of the Creeps (1986): See the description above in the DVD section. Buy Blu-ray from Amazon

The Prisoner: The Complete Series: The classically Kafka-esque, paranoid, psychedelic-era BBC TV series about a retired spy who finds himself held prisoner by the government on a surreal island makes it’s welcome debut on Blu-ray. Buy from Amazon.

NEW FREE (LEGITIMATE) MOVIES ON YOUTUBE:

Sex Madness (1938): From the demented mind of Dwain Esper (Reefer Madness, Maniac) comes another hysterically exploitative “warn your children!” anti-classic, wherein a promiscuous chorus girl catches syphilis from the casting couch.  Watch Sex Madness free on YouTube.

HAUNTED HOUSES (INDIANAPOLIS AREA):

The Asylum House is running a series of high-tech, interactive hauntings in the Indy area. Our own Alfred Eaker is involved in a mysterious, occult capacity with the Crypt of Shadows.  Check ’em out for a frightful time if you’re in the area; this is professional stuff.

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.

NIGHTMARE THEATER WITH SAMMY TERRY

On Friday nights in Indiana during the 1960’s and 70’s, you invited your best friend over to spend the night (Denny), pleaded with Mom to fix a tray of pizza rolls and, out of courtesy, asked to stay up late for a night of Nightmare Theater with Sammy Terry. Of course, Mom always allowed it, as you knew she would, fixed those pizza rolls, brought in the blankets and left the two of you to your night of magic because she sure as heck was not going to watch those “scary movies’.

The creaking of the coffin filled the house as you watched, transfixed, as Sammy Terry and his spider, George, emerged to host a night of classic horror.  Usually, it was one of the Universal movies starring Karloff, Lugosi, or Chaney, Jr.

Bride of  Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Black Room, Werewolf of London, The Invisible Man, The Wolfman, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, and Creature from the Black Lagoon were frequently shown favorites.  Quite a few of the Val Lewton RKOs were shown regularly, as well as the occasional Jack Arnold film, such as Monster on the Campus, Tarantula, or The Incredible Shrinking Man. My own personal favortie was Ulmer’s The Black Cat with Karloff and Lugosi battling out to strains of the Beethoven 7th. If the films shown on Nightmare Theater were  not always approached by the filmmakers as high art (i.e. The Wolfman) , then there was certainly consummate craftsmanship that one always felt Sammy approved of.

In between the features, Sammy Terry would discuss the movies, make jokes with George and other regulars (Ghost Girl, Ghoulsbie) , have an occasional guest, talk about the Pacers, or show off the crayola drawings of Sammy and George that local children would send to WTTV 4.  Sammy had an inimitable laugh that would send shivers down the 8 year old spine.

If you made it to the end of the night (and frequently did not, hence the blankets)  Sammy would retreat to his coffin and bestow his wish of “Many Pleasant Nightmares.”  You knew, with excitement and dread, that he would return the following Friday.

There were lots of local urban myths about Sammy Terry and we were all too happy to spread those myths to fellow classmates since Sammy was a favorite subject.  Of course, this was long before the days of cable TV, VCRs, and even color TV (at least until the mid 70’s at our house) so the local WTTV 4 Station ruled the roost out of the four available TV Continue reading NIGHTMARE THEATER WITH SAMMY TERRY

39. COWARDS BEND THE KNEE, OR, THE BLUE HANDS (2003)

“I only include things that are psychologically true in my stories, no matter how bizarre, stupid, silly or gratuitous the episodes in them may seem… I can only hope that the spectacle of me trying to inflict pain on hard-to-reach places on my own body is amusing to some people.”–Guy Maddin

Must SeeWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: , Melissa Dionisio,

PLOT: Amateur hockey player Guy Maddin falls in love with the proprietor’s daughter when he takes his current girlfriend to a hair salon/brothel for an abortion. The daughter, Meta, will not give herself to a man until her father’s death at the hands of her mother is avenged. To accomplish this, she wants to transplant her dead father’s hands onto Guy, so that it will be her father’s hands that strangle her mother.

Still from Cowards Bend the Knee (2003)

BACKGROUND:

  • Commissioned by the Power Plant Art Gallery of Toronto.
  • On its debut at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam, viewers watched the ten chapters of Cowards Bend the Knee through ten peepholes in a wall. Spectators had to kneel to put the peepholes at eye level.
  • Maddin issued a companion book to Cowards Bend the Knee (now a collector’s item) containing an expanded screenplay of the film and an interview with Maddin where he discusses Coward‘s autobiographical elements and gives his personal interpretations of the film.
  • Autobiographical elements abound in Cowards Bend the Knee. Maddin’s real life Aunt Lil owned a beauty parlor similar to the one that appears in the film. Maddin’s father coached the Winnipeg Maroons, a pre-NHL professional hockey team; the actual Allan Cup championship ring his father won appears in the film.
  • Maddin’s mother, Herdis, a non-actress, played Meta’s grandmother in the film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: As Veronica lies on the operating table undergoing a clandestine abortion, the blood streaming between her legs forms itself into a Canadian maple leaf.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Cowards features Maddin’s trademark in-your-face style (a mix of silent film artifacts and glitchy hypermodern editing); crazed, dreamlike narrative (incorporating hockey matches, beauty salons, murder, infidelity, ghosts, and a hand transplant); and a wildly veering, yet somehow coherent tone that moves from melodrama to slapstick to absurdist vintage pornography to Greek tragedy in the space of a few frames. If that’s not enough, there’s the fact that the entire story is observed by a scientist, who witnesses it being played out while looking through a microscope at a dab of semen on a slide. Weird enough for you?

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Clip from Cowards Bend the Knee

COMMENTS: Maddin’s Cowards Bend the Knee is a dream, and like all dreams it is at the Continue reading 39. COWARDS BEND THE KNEE, OR, THE BLUE HANDS (2003)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: THE OTHER (1972)

DIRECTED BY: Robert Mulligan

FEATURING: Chris and Martin Udvarnoky, Uta Haen, John Ritter

PLOT: Adapted from his novel by Tom Tryon, two enigmatic twins seem to be connected to a community’s run of misfortune.  Could it have anything to do with a cursed family crest and a dead man’s severed finger?

Still from The Other (1972) with Uta Hagen

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: An unusual story, The Other is unsettling and bizarre, yet it is conventionally produced and is shot by Mulligan (Summer of  ’42) like a mainstream family film. The frank, matter of fact presentation of disturbing imagery is as creepy as a hostess placing a decaying skull in the punchbowl at a débutante’s ball.

COMMENTS: Some horror cinema doesn’t have to rely on the supernatural to be horrifying. The Other is technically a psychological crime thriller, but it projects the distinct feel of a horror movie with occult elements. Set in the 1930’s, The Other is a grim shocker about two cute, apparently wholesome twin boys who would seem to lead an idyllic existence on a picturesque family farm. There’s just one problem—everyone around them begins to have gruesome accidents.

The boys are drawn into a convoluted good-versus-evil struggle that churns within themselves, and they struggle with each other to both exercise and exorcise it. As this conflict manifests itself, the bizarre circumstances surrounding the misfortunes of family and neighbors begin to weave an increasingly twisted and captivating mystery.

The story includes many odd and unsettling elements, such as the fact that the twins’ mother is inexplicably a terrified psychological invalid. Their Russian nanny seems to be able to teach the boys how to fly via astral projection. There is a very odd, cursed family crest ring complete with the severed finger of the corpse from which it was stolen. People and things connected to the twins seem to end up broken, on fire, paralyzed or dead.

The boys covet and revere the ring and finger. They carry it with them constantly in their treasure box, and this morbid memento is somehow the key to all of the strange tragedy that unfolds.  The uncertainty of who is who and what is what creates a surreal tone. The Other is a thoughtfully presented nightmare of indulgence, madness and grotesque murder. The production is enhanced by Robert Surtees’ striking and graceful cinematography which produces memorable visual impressions. Jerry Goldsmith’s low-key, creepy score compliments the film well.

Horror and occult fans should take particular delight in viewing The Other for the following reasons: it has an original story that has not been perpetually copied since it was filmed. This work was shot in 1972 when there were fewer creative constraints on writer-director collaboration. The Other is well constructed, but neither formulaic, nor forced to be “accessible” to the public. There are none of the standard cliches. It withstands the test of time and is not dated. Set during the Great Depression, it looks like it could have been produced yesterday. The subject matter, however, is refreshingly unconventional. Those looking for something fresh and unlike anything they have seen before should be especially pleased—that is, if they can locate a copy.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…The Other is a dark, eerie minor masterpiece that is filled with lasting images: a finger wrapped up in a handkerchief, a boy leaping into a pile of hay with a pitchfork in it, the corpse of a baby drowned in a wine barrel… Some horror films leave such a chilling impression that they become impossible to forget.”  -Clarke Fountain, All Movie Guide

RUSTAM KHAMDAMOV: IMPOSSIBLE TO BE GREAT…

Ed. note:  The movies of Rustam Khamdamov are impossible to find in the West, and for the most part in his native Russia as well. Read this article (to our knowledge the most extensive retrospective of Khamdamov to be found on the Internet in English) to discover how this legendary, and very weird, director has managed to fall through the cracks in world culture.

By Irina Goncharova, edited and additional material by Greg Smalley.  Original research and Russian translations by Irina Goncharova.

Rustam Khamdamov– What is your father’s occupation?

– My father writes poetry. That’s all he does. He is one of the greatest unknown poets of the world.

– And when does he get money?

– Never. It’s impossible to be great and be paid for it.

The quote above is an exchange from Rustam Khamdamov’s V gorakh moyo serdtse [My Heart’s in the Highlands] (1967).  When he was a third year student of the All-Union Institute for Cinematography (VGIK in Moscow, USSR) Khamdamov shot this movie that was called “the work of a master” and was included in lists of the best Soviet movies. The film swept the VGIK internal festivals. Although Khamdamov is mentioned in the credits only once, along with other students, everybody knew he was the one and only author of the movie—not just its director, but the one who wrote the original screenplay (after William Saroyan’s play), who penned the absurd dialogue, who made all streamers and costumes with his own hands, who selected the best actors when doing the casting. The response to the film was polarized and conflicting. The VGIK Communist Party Committee—just imagine, at that time the Communists decided the destiny of everything and everyone in the country—introduced ideological censorship on the works of the VGIK students straight away.

Really, it’s not easy to write for an American audience about a director such as Rustam Khamdamov.  I believe there are very few people in the USA who have ever heard his name, although it may be found by Googling or searching the Internet Movie Database.  Still, this search would hardly clarify the situation.  The list of his movies is incredibly short, and practically each one has a very sad production history, but those critics who mention his name do so with much respect and even a kind of devotion, often calling him “legendary.”

What makes this director so legendary?

Rustam Khamdamov is of Uzbek descent and took his film production course from the renown Russian film director Grigori Chukhrai.[1]  As mentioned above, his first movie was the student work (some critics say it was his graduate project) My Heart’s in the Highlands (1967), a short, approximately 30 minute black and white film. This was the first film where viewers saw the beautiful Elena Solovey, a future Soviet movie star.

Elena Solovey

Elena Solovey in Raba Lyubvi, 1975.

My Heart’s In The Highlands (1939), initially a play by William Saroyan, was a comedy Continue reading RUSTAM KHAMDAMOV: IMPOSSIBLE TO BE GREAT…

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grigori_Chukhrai, best known in the West for such his movies as Sorok pervyy (1956) [The Forty-first] and Ballada o soldate (1959) [Ballad of a Soldier]. []

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week, you can expect to see a Director Retrospective on the legendary Russian director Rustam Khamdamov, an uncompromising artist with extremely bad luck.  His films are unavailable here in the west, and pretty much unavailable in his homeland as well; find out why.  We will also publish reviews of Guy Maddin‘s Cowards Bend the Knee and Robert Mulligan’s eerie but underseen twin horror film, The Other (1972).

As far as weird search terms used to find the site go, it was a surprisingly light week for perverted fetishists (although one guy did come here looking for that “gay porn frogman movie,” which we admit is probably fairly weird).   We did get hits from people searching for the following: a “bizarre movie about our lives,” some “weird movies names for weird people,” and  “simple weird experiments for the eyes.”

The reader-suggested review queue is growing fast.  It now looks like this: Cowards Bend the Knee (next week), Greasers Palace (substituted for Institute Benjamenta), Pan’s LabyrinthWaking 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! , Harmony Korine‘s Trash Humpers (if it’s released), Takashi Miike‘s GozuTales of Ordinary Madness, and The Wayward Cloud.

SATURDAY SHORT: GORDON’S SURREAL SENIOR PROJECT FILM #2

This week’s short was created by Gordon Inman eighteen months ago as his senior project film. As you will see, Gordon’s artistic interests don’t stop at film.  He is also a very talented musician.

There are some captivating images in this short, including a Popsicle melting in reverse and a rotting watermelon. Although this may not be the most remarkable short I’ve seen, it shows great promise for the future. Our best wishes to Gordon as he continues to explore and express himself through art.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 10/23/2009

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 (LIMITED RELEASE):

Antichrist:  Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg play a grieving couple who retreat to a cabin in the woods where the encounter the Ultimate Evil, in what’s described as either arty torture porn or one of the best horror films of modern times.  Lars von Trier’s latest has divided critics straight down the middle: half think its unreedemable, pandering shock trash, while others think it’s a masterpiece. Von Triers, severely depressed when he wrote the movie, dedicates the film to Andrei Tarkovsky; Cannes preview audiences reportedly booed at the comparison. Antichrist official site.

Night and Day [Bam gua nat] (2008): It’s difficult to divine much information about this well-reviewed “metaphysical” movie about an aging Korean womanizer among expats in Pairs, but reviews suggest that director Sang-soo Hong plays fast and loose with reality and may play tricks with the audiences mind in this drama/character study. Currently playing in NYC only? Bam gua nat Official Site (in French, and not safe for work due to nudity).

Rembrandt’s J’accuse (2008): Not a weird film, but rather a serious documentary about a single Rembrandt painting (“The Nightwatch”), mentioned here because it’s the product of oft-weird artist/director Peter (The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover) Greenaway.  Rembrandt’s J’accuse official site.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Easy Rider (1969): Not thoroughly weird, but when Fonda and Hopper drop acid in a New Orleans graveyard, the result is one of the better “trip” sequences in cinema. Buy Blu-ray from Amazon

Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971):  Gene Wilder is iconic as Wonka in one of the weirdest and most psychedelic children’s films ever made.  Everyone loves Oompah-loompahs. 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.

OCTOBER 31ST FRINGE VIEWING LIST

Here’s an alternative seasonal viewing list for the weird, that goes beyond the usual vampire/zombie/demon/slasher fare (although some favorite characters make appearances).

1. Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle 3 (2002) . Only the third of Barney’s epic Cremaster Cycle, made over an eight year period, has made it’s way to any type of video release, which is criminally unfortunate. The Guggenheim Museum, who financed it, exhibits the Cycle and describes it as a  “a self-enclosed aesthetic system consisting of five feature-length films that explore the processes of creation.”  Trailers are available on the Cremaster website; www.cremaster.net. The third movie is available via Amazon and other outlets, albeit at expensive prices [Ed. Note: the version of Cremaster 3 that’s commercially available is not actually the full movie, but a 30 minute excerpt that’s still highly collectible as the only Cremaster footage released].  The Cremaster Cycle is complex, challenging, provocative and not for the attention span-challenged.

Still from Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (2002)2. Guy Maddin‘s Dracula-Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002). Guy’s Dracula ballet, choreographed to Mahler.  Just when you though nothing more could be done with this old, old story.  Of course, we are talking Mr. Maddin here.

3. Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf (1968). Bergman’s ode to German Expressionism has been labeled his sole horror film. Hour is a further continuation of frequent Bergman themes—the defeated artist, loss of God, nihilism—and stars Bergman regular Max Von Sydow.  Some find this dull and slow, others find it mesmerizing and nightmarish.

4. Roman Polanski‘s The Tenant (1976) returned this consummate craftsman back to the territory of Repulsion and remains one of his best films.  Polanski is now facing extradition charges for having sexual relations with a willing, underage girl thirty years Continue reading OCTOBER 31ST FRINGE VIEWING LIST

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SHATTER DEAD (1994)

DIRECTED BY:  Scooter McCrae

FEATURING:  Stark Raven, Flora Fauna, Robert Wells and John Weiner

PLOT: In the near future, people can inexplicably no longer cease to exist. Death means rebirth into a dead body and the undead walk among us.  A young woman tries to survive as the increasing numbers of dead do their best to convince her to die willingly and join them.

actress Stark Raven
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LISTShatter Dead contains some strange allegories.  It opens with a lesbian Angel of Death impregnating a mortal woman, which somehow begins the undead phenomenon.  In this zombie film, the dead are not flesh eating monsters.  They merely want to reestablish society—and they want the living to voluntarily take part.

COMMENTSShatter Dead is a low budget zombie movie. It also happens to be one of the most imaginative and interesting zombie movies ever made.  It is certainly the most unconventional, while remaining basically serious. There are some attempts at surreal symbolism, but they are not gimmicky efforts to deliberately make the film look arty. The entire piece flows like a compelling dream, which while twisted, is so interesting that we are reluctant to awaken from it.

In this offbeat yarn, the zombies are  “regular” people who happen to be dead, and yet still think and function. The dilemma in this morbid version of reality is that one lives on as a corpse forever, permanently trapped in the physical condition in which one found oneself at the time of death. Many have committed suicide in order not to spend eternity old and feeble. Postmortem injuries, regrettably, are permanent.  If a zombie breaks an arm for example, it is the same as if you or I sustained a broken arm that won’t heal for eternity. This phenomenon figures prominently in the plot.

The alluring and mesmerizing Stark Raven (yes, it’s a stage name, and no, she’s not a Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SHATTER DEAD (1994)

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