Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker (1953) is the first and only classic film noir directed by a woman. Lupino began her career as an actress in notable films such as They Drive By Night (1940), High Sierra (1941) (both costarring Humphrey Bogart), and The Hard Way (1943). She earned a reputation as a “hard luck dame” and “the poor man’s Bette Davis.” Lupino refused to be defined by categories and ventured into directing. Her first film as a co-director (uncredited) was Not Wanted (1949), a stark and candid film (for its time) about an unwed mother. While on suspension (for turning down too many sub-par roles) Lupino and her husband started an independent film company, The Filmmakers, producing several films which she wrote and directed. As a director she was dubbed “the poor man’s Don Siegel,” which goes to show that sophistic labels die hard.
Lupino’s status as a pioneer for women filmmakers cannot be underestimated. She wrote and directed B-styled films which often focused on serious feminist themes. Her Outrage (1950) brutally dealt with the topic of rape (sadly, the film remains unavailable, but Mike Lorefice’s review should certainly be read).
Lupino ended her directorial career in television, and among her credits in that medium are memorable episodes of Thriller (starring Boris Karloff), The Untouchables, and The Fugitive. Lupino’s innovative and daring success as a Hollywood filmmaker inspired an homage by jazz musician Carla Bley; it is a composition which has been much performed, most memorably by Paul Bley (Carla’s ex-husband) on his album “Open to Love.”
Lupino’s most acclaimed film is probably The Hitch-Hiker. Distributed by RKO, it is inspired by the true story of early 1950s serial killer Billy Cook. Lupino (who co-wrote the screenplay) creates a confidently bleak, taut atmosphere in The Hitch-Hiker. The pacing is psychologically relentless, and Lupino masterfully takes full advantage of claustrophobic compositions (in a car), an expansive, arid landscape, and the noirsh city at night.
On the run, killer Emmet Meyers (William Talman) kidnaps the two fisherman: Roy (Edmund O’ Brien) and Gilbert (Frank Lovejoy). Talman (best known as the nemesis of Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason) gives THE yardstick performance of unadulterated sadism.
Fortunately, Lupino does not succumb to exploitation-movie sermons: she does not take time to, filling the film’s 71 minute length full of exposed nerves. Lupino handles the material with astute sensitivity, directing three male actors without ever resorting to displays of chest beating machismo. The building tensions between the three men were unsettling enough that RKO head Howard Hughes denied original story credit to the (supposed) leftist writer Daniel Mainwaring. Hughes was convinced the story was a parable about Cold War paranoia and McCarthyism. Leave it to Hughes to be paranoid about depiction of paranoia. The Hitch-Hiker quickly became a cult hit for a reason: it is simply one of the best examples of Hollywood film noir.
Next week: Cat People begins our coverage on the films of Val Lewton at RKO.
FEATURING: Carole Laure, Anna Prucnal, Pierre Clémenti, John Vernon
PLOT: Two alternating stories: in one a virgin beauty queen escapes from her millionaire
husband and his solid gold penis, while in the other a Socialist sea captain sails down an Amsterdam canal with a hold full of sugar and candy.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Any movie where a virgin beauty queen is frightened on her wedding night by her billionaire husband’s solid gold penis is certainly weird enough to qualify for the List. My hesitation in anointing it as one of the 366 most notable weird movies of all time my belief that this is a really bad movie—not just a grotesque and disgusting film, but an empty, morally bankrupt, and frequently dull one, as well. (Despite it’s Criterionization, Sweet Movie‘s uninspiring 6.3 rating on IMDB coupled with a mediocre 47% positive on Rotten Tomatoes supports my suspicion that it’s not a film many people can admire). Sweet Movie, which glories in loving depictions of urine, feces, puke and blood, is like an arthouse version of Pink Flamingos, only with a puffed-up self-importance in place of that movie’s radical humor. The film has its defenders, who are encouraged to speak up in the comments section—because it will take some convincing for us to honor this greatly reviled provocation with a spot on the List.
COMMENTS: Sweet Movie mixes shock aesthetics with an unfocused political polemic; like blood and sugar, the two strategies prove immiscible, and so it’s like getting two bad movies for the price of one. It starts out with a promising satirical idea. A chastity belt manufacturer is holding a beauty contest, the prize being marriage to the richest man in the world. The winning contestant, beauteous Carole Laure, even has a glowing hymen! In an unrelated plotline, a ship is cruising down a canal in Amsterdam with a bust of Karl Marx jutting from the prow; a man dressed as a Potemkin-era Russian sailor tries to get the attention of captain Anna Prucnal from the shore. The movie quickly goes off the tracks, however, when “Miss Monde” escapes from her Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: SWEET MOVIE (1974)→
FEATURING: Alexandra Pic, Isabelle Teboul, Bernard Charnacé
PLOT: Two eternally reborn vampire girls who are blind during the day but see at night pose as
orphans and are adopted by an eye doctor who believes he can cure them.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Two Orphan Vampires is a very odd, low key movie, but it won’t be confused for Jean Rollin’s best.
COMMENTS: After having some mild success with his unusual, surreal erotic vampire movies in the early 1970s, Jean Rollin fell out of fashion later in the decade and increasingly turned to grinding out hardcore porn films to pay the bills, directing his beloved horrors only sporadically. Although it’s not his final fright film, Two Orphan Vampires feels like a swan song, an old man returning to the themes that haunted him in his youth. Adapted from his own graphic novel, the director’s usual obsessions are all back, undiluted after almost 30 years: Sapphic heroines, world weary vampires struggling with existential burdens of near-immortality, indifference to pacing. The film was obviously made on the cheap, adorned with a poor music score that’s 1/2 funk, 1/2 80s synth-pop and shot on low quality film stock that gives it a direct-to-video look. The cheapness is not helped by the fact that almost half the movie is tinted ultramarine, which is Rollin’s realization of the vampires’ night vision but also unfortunately brings to mind the low-budget trick of using a blue filter in order to shoot day for night. The concept of vampires being blind during the day is novel—more, it’s practically inexplicable, one of many strangely conceived features of this movie that could only have come from this particular director and his skewed view of the Gothic. Orphan Vampires is also unusually talky, even for Rollin, with the girls expressing angst, filling us in on their backstory, and remembering (perhaps imagining) their various reincarnations in lengthy dialogues. Still, the core scenario of these two eternal child-women wandering through the human world as if in a dream is appealing. In their travels they stumble upon other immortal monsters—werewolves, ghouls—all women, all wanderers like themselves. Never has the correspondence between blood and sexual fluids been as pronounced as in this film: lines like “it’s good to be sticky from the lifeblood of this woman,” “I adore you—smear me with some blood” and “you think we could drink each other?” reinforce the connection none too subtly. Other oddities include an strangely staged stalking and slaying taking place in a circus tent conveniently set up in the middle of a Paris street, the vampire girls taking time out to experiment with alcohol and cigarettes like typical teenagers, and the orphans’ continual insistence that they are actually Aztec gods. Two Orphan Vampires is slow, cheap, badly dubbed, and the vampire-vision blue filters get old, true, but there is an almost endearing strangeness and obsessiveness to the movie’s eccentric conceptions. Unfortunately, it goes on too long and wears out its welcome even for those who are attuned to this director’s plodding style, making it yet another of Rollin’s noble failures.
A couple of actresses from the past show up in Two Orphan Vampires, reinforcing the notion of this film as a Rollin retrospective piece. Natalie Perrey from Lips of Blood appears as a nun, and porn actress/topless Grim Reaper Brigitte Lahaie is an orphan vampire victim. An even more obscure cameo comes in the Midnight Lady’s choice of bedside reading: Pete Tombs and Cathal Tohill’s “Immoral Tales,” an influential survey of seventies Eurohorror that included an appreciative chapter on Rollin.
PLOT: Failing to fit into society after returning from World War II, a libidinous alcoholic sailor falls under the spell of a charismatic cult leader (modeled on Scientology’s L. Ron Hubbard).
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not weird enough. Only a single hallucination scene and some impressionistic storytelling that flirts with the oneiric gives us the slightest opening to even discuss Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest bit of Oscar bait as a weird film. And yet, even though we’re as pickled in weirdness as The Master‘s sloshed sailor Freddie is in solvent-boosted booze, we’re conscious of how ridiculously strange this confounding film appears to average audiences. From geriatric walkouts to bloggers complaining the film is “weird for the sake of being weird” to the infallibly wrong Rex Reed declaring it “juvenile and superficial trash” in a class with Mulholland Drive and Being John Malkovich, The Master may be worthy of weirdophiles notice more because it’s annoying the right people than because of its inherent oddness.
COMMENTS: The Master isn’t an exposé of the origins of Scientology; that would be a mere barrel-fishing expedition. The tenets propounded by Lancaster Dodd, the titular Master (played with a carefully portioned-out charisma by Philip Seymour Hoffman) are an intellectual MacGuffin. Dramatically, the film centers around the bond between the uncomfortably avuncular Dodd and lost soul Freddie—the co-dependent relationship between Master and cultist, in which the need to be believed in is as desperate as the need to believe. Thematically, the movie is about man’s quixotic need to find meaning and purpose in existence, about a human emptiness that is filled by ritual and community, not rational deliberation. Anderson assumes the audience will understand The Cause’s teachings are hokum, and in case we don’t get it, a character explains, “You know he’s making it up as he goes along, right?” By taking the absurdity of the cult’s dogma as a given, Anderson shifts the emphasis from an examination of the truth or falsity of particular doctrines to the more provocative question of whether even blatantly ridiculous mumbo-jumbo can nonetheless be morally uplifting—and whether such salvation is worth the price. Joaquin Phoenix knows exactly what Anderson needs from the role, and his tormented, twitchy performance as a drunken lecher trapped in his own animalistic nature will be remembered come awards time. It’s a daring portrayal, because with his dimwitted stares, heed-banging tantrums and exaggerated agonies, Phoenix risks looking hammy and ridiculous. Freddie, who spikes his drinks with paint thinner because vodka has lost its kick, makes love to a sand castle in the shape of a woman, and masturbates into the ocean, is the most moving kind of character: one who’s repulsive, both physically and spiritually, but with whom we sympathize because his suffering and loneliness strikes a universal chord. He also stands as a challenge, or even a reproach, to Dodd’s faith—which this Master shares with conventional religions—that “man is not an animal.” Hoffman’s controlled performance, the super-ego to Phoenix’ id, is a delight in its own right, although his role mainly serves to highlight Freddie’s mania. Dodd is no simple charlatan, but a surprisingly congenial and even affectionate egotist who, as depicted here, sincerely believes his chicanery will better mankind. “If you figure out a way to live without a master, any master,” he tells Freddie in the film’s key scene, “be sure to let the rest of us know, for you would be the first in the history of the world.” That “any master” is a brilliant addendum, an unexpectedly selfless expression of love from Dodd (the equivalent of “even if you don’t get help from me, get help from someone”) and another indicator that the movie’s concerns go deeper than the peculiar quirks of the Cause. Ultimately, The Master‘s dogma is humanistic, tragic and romantic: the faith that a depraved freedom is preferable to a sick salvation.
The Master was shot in 65mm film, a lush but expensive format that today is typically only used for IMAX films. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of theaters around that are still have 70mm projectors capable of projecting the film in the way it was meant to be seen.
Next week well start out by considering whether we can live without The Master (2012), Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest bit of offbeat Oscar bait. We’ll also check out one more entry from Redemption’s Jean Rollin reissues with a look at 1997’s Two Orphan Vampires. From out of the reader-suggested review queue comes the surreal and disgusting Sweet Movie (1974), while Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker (1953) comes from the twilight of film noir. That’s a review slate chronicling drama, horror, noir and experimental films from four different decades—but we’ll try to be more eclectic next week.
Here’s our weekly rundown of the weirdest search terms that brought 366 Weird Movies traffic this week: it’s a little weekly feature we like to call Weirdest Search Term of the Week. We’ll start out by noting the search for “a man falls in love with immigrant goat short film,” which, if it exists, may be the only movie to address the burning social issue of immigrant bestiality. Next comes a series of short-but-strange searches that we’ll let speak for themselves: “weirdest milk,” “tiny naked muscle men,” and “anime spooky butt short pants.” For our Weirdest Search Term of the Week, however, we’ll go with “im in the water naked touching the face of big crocodile and go swim far to him.” We’re dying to know what happened next: we’re guessing the crocodile ate the guy while he was using his iPhone to search Google for people in the same situation?
Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing-reader-suggested review queue stands: Sweet Movie (next week!); The Hour-glass Sanatorium [Saanatorium pod klepsidra] (out of print in Region 1, but we’ll keep looking); Liquid Sky (re-review); Society; Final Programme; Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE→
Our weekly 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 Yakuza and the Mermaid (2010): The story of a writer who meets a mysterious woman who brings the characters in his story—a yakuza and a mermaid, natch—to life. Opening at Cinema Village in NYC. The Yakuza and the Mermaid Facebook page.
FILM FESTIVALS (Sitges Film Festival, Oct. 4-14, Sitges, Spain):
Sitges is a huge (more than 100 films) European festival focusing on genre films (mainly science fiction, horror and fantasy). Because it’s held at the tail end of the festival season, many of the films featured here have previously played at Cannes or other venues or are even out on DVD here in the States. We’ve even reviewed some already: Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Cabin in theWoods,Caterpillar, Keyhole. Still, there are plenty of intriguing movies that are either new or that have somehow escaped our notice until now. Here’s what we’ll be looking out for:
American Mary – A medical student makes extra money by performing dangerous, illegal body modification surgeries. Screening Oct. 4 & 6.
Barcelonorra – A sick anthology film containing ten sexually perverse stories set in Barcelona. Dates unknown.
Blue Bird – Two African children go searching for their lost pet bird and encounter ghosts and spirits along the way; the entire movie is tinted blue. Oct. 11.
The Expanse of Heaven [La extensión del cielo] – Six random people become subjects of a survival experiment in the desert in a film the festival programmers compare to the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky. Oct 12.
El fantástico mundo de Juan Orol – Biopic of director Juan Orol, who was known for his gangster films with negligible budgets and incomprehensible plots and was something like the Ed Wood of Mexico. Very few of Orol’s movies have been translated into English, so we’re doubtful this tribute will ever reach these shores, either. Oct. 10.
Junkie – Fantastical allegory about two heroin addicts living in a mansion; one of them decides to quit junk, but his buddy isn’t about to let his pal go straight without a fight. Debuting at Sitges. Oct. 5.
The Legend of Kaspar Hauser [La leggenda di Kaspar Hauser] – Not to be confused with Werner Herzog‘s The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, this surrealistic take on the Hauser story involves UFOs and industrial dance music. Oct 11.
Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead – What modern film festival would be complete without a tasteless, gory B-movie spoof from the Japanese? This one is from the director of Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl. Dates unknown.
Anomalisa (est. 2013): A 40 minute stop-motion animated film penned by weird screenwriting icon Charlie Kaufman. No word on the plot except that it involves “a man crippled by the mundanity of his life.” This Kickstarter-based, crowdfunded project is not only fully funded, it actually doubled its pledge goal—Charlie does have his fans. Anomalisa Kickstarter page.
NEW ON DVD:
“American Horror Story: The Complete First Season” (2011): An FX network cable series about a family that moves into a haunted house and slowly uncovers the secrets of the spirits therein. We wouldn’t have even noticed this one if not for a couple of the review titles on the Amazon page: “weird, warped, wacky,” and “weird, creapy [sic], scary.” Maybe we should tune in? Buy “American Horror Story: The Complete First Season”.
Damsels in Distress (2011): Comedy/satire about a clique of women at a chic East Coast university who make it a point to “improve” the lives of their fellow students, sometimes through musical numbers. From Whit Stillman (Metropolitan), whose previous work was urbane and clever but defiantly unweird; the press release, however, describes this departure as “distinctly offbeat, even manic,” “often-surreal,” and “delightfully weird.” Buy Damsels in Distress.
Eating Raoul (1982): A bland and prudish suburban couple stumble upon a way to raise money for their dream of opening a restaurant: they advertise themselves as swingers and knock off the perverts who answer their ads. As an excellent bonus to this cult black comedy, the disc includes director Paul Bartel‘s seldom seen early shorts The Secret Cinema and Naughty Nurse. We’re glad to see the Criterion Collection is finally acknowledging Bartel’s genius, and look forward to their deluxe edition of Lust in the Dust. Buy Eating Raoul (Criterion Collection).
FDR: American Badass (2012): Franklin Delano Roosevelt fights Nazi werewolves from his wheelchair. Next up in the Presidential action fantasy sweepstakes: Herbert Hoover: The Shark-Hunting Years (2013). Buy FDR: American Badass.
The Game (1997): A disconnected loner banker (Michael Douglas) accepts an invitation from his profligate brother (Sean Penn) to participate in a mysterious live-action game in this mindbender made by David Fincher between his hits Se7en and Fight Club. Another unexpected pickup by the Criterion Collection. Buy The Game (Criterion Collection).
The Letter (2012): A playwright cracks under the stress and has a hallucinatory breakdown on opening night. Not only does it borrowBlack Swan‘s plot, it also helps itself to one of that movie’s stars (Winona Ryder). Buy The Letter.
Pig (1999)/1334 (2012): Pig was a 1999 punk short about a man who hallucinates to escape the pain as he’s being tortured by a man in a pig mask. 1334 appears to be a followup involving the same man in Hell. Buy Pig/1334.
Post-Mortem (2010): A serial killer befriends a suicidal teen, who descends into madness. This is the third part of a trilogy of films (previous entries were Head Case and The Ritual) that describes itself as a “surrealistic nightmare,” but what really caught our eye was the brings-back-b-movie-memories casting of Robert Z’dar and Brinke Stevens. Buy Post-Mortem.
“Six Weird-Noir B-Movies”: We’re trusting the titling here, although we suspect these six incredibly obscure 50s and 60s noirs are more sleazy and incompetent than weird. The unearthed films are Girl on the Run (1953), The Naked Road (1959), The 7th Commandment (1961), Fear No More (1961), Fallguy (1962) and Stark Fear (1962, with Beverly Garland). Buy “Six Weird-Noir B-Movies” .
The Tall Man (2012): When her own son goes missing a skeptical nurse (Jessica Biel) investigates child disappearances blamed on a legendary figure called “the Tall Man.” This genre-busting entry from the director of Martyrs earned mediocre marks from both critics and audiences. Buy The Tall Man.
Luther the Geek (1990): A carnival geek (that is, a sideshow attraction who bites the heads of live chickens) develops a homicidal streak, outfits himself with steel dentures and goes around biting the heads off people while clucking like poultry. Cheap, nasty, weirdish sleaze from the post-grindhouse era. Watch Luther the Geek free on YouTube.
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.
Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!