LIST CANDIDATE: KEYHOLE (2011)

Keyhole has been upgraded to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time. This initial review is kept here for archival purposes. Please leave comments on Keyhole‘s official Certified Weird entry page.

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: Jason Patric, , Louis Negin, Brooke Palsson, David Wontner, Udo Kier

PLOT: Gangster Ulysses journeys through his immense mansion searching for his wife who is

Still from Keyhole (2011)

hiding on the top floor; along the way he uncovers tragic family memories.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s got Loius Negin as a naked grandpa ghost tied to his daughter’s bed by a long chain who likes to run around his haunted house whipping mortal intruders, for one thing. There’s more than enough soft-focus weirdness here to justify a position on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies Ever Made. The only problem is, icons like Guy Maddin make things difficult on themselves by raising their own bar so high. Keyhole would stun us if it were the work of a first or second time director, but we’ve watched Maddin creep about similarly maddening psychoscapes before—and seen him do it better.

COMMENTS: I think there are four possible reactions to Keyhole. The average moviegoer who has never seen a Guy Maddin movie before will despise it as incomprehensible trash. A tiny minority of newcomers will be astounded and think it’s the most visionary movie they’ve ever laid eyes upon. If you’re already initiated into Maddin’s esoteric world, there are two further possible responses: either an enthusiastic “Guy’s done it again!” or the more muted “Guy’s done this before.” I’m afraid I’m leaning towards the last camp. For this outing, Maddin sets his genre renovation sights on 1930s gangster movies, but we don’t stay in mob mode for long—the film quickly morphs into a unique, psychological haunted house piece. Crime boss Ulysses Pick has assembled his gang at his Gothic manor while he attends to a personal matter. The thugs wait on the first floor while Ulysses takes a blind girl and a kidnap victim through the house, peering through various keyholes and re-enacting a ritual with his (dead?) wife (they exchange a verbal formula, then he extracts a bit of hair from the keyhole and remembers an incident involving one of his four children, all of whom came to tragic ends). Meanwhile, various ghosts roam the home annoying the gangsters, and Udo Kier shows up as a doctor to pronounce some of the characters dead. Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: KEYHOLE (2011)

LIST CANDIDATE: TWIXT (2011)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning, Ben Chaplin, Joanne Whalley, Alden Ehrenreich, David Paymer, Don Novello, Anthony Fusco, Tom Waits

PLOT: Horror writer Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) is in decline, hacking out formulaic product and going on book tours to nowhere places, like the town of Swan Valley. The local sheriff (Bruce Dern) tells him about an unsolved massacre that took place in the town years ago, suggesting a collaboration on a book, which Hall doesn’t take seriously—until he starts dreaming of a young girl, V (Elle Fanning), who may be connected with the murders, and may be either a ghost or a vampire; and of Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin), who becomes a spiritual muse the deeper Hall delves into the mystery.

Still from Twixt (2011)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: What gives the film an aura of weirdness is its visual style, elements of which recall earlier Coppola films (mainly the more experimental ones like Rumble Fish and One from the Heart), along with the elements of autobiography that thread through the film. While it may be a bit too early to declare this as Essential Coppola, there are rewards to be found here for the adventurous moviegoer.

COMMENTS: Twixt has had a tortured time getting out to an audience; originally scheduled for release in late 2011 after several festival screenings and Comic Con hype, the movie has been released in France and England and only recently made its domestic premiere in San Francisco, with no concrete word (as of this writing) as to wider release in the U.S. Which is not that surprising, considering that most of the domestic reviews pretty much ripped the film to shreds. To a certain extent, they have a point—most of those reviews have commented on the murkiness of the narrative, which Coppola has stated had its origins in a dream. Most of those reviewers probably think that Coppola’s best creative days are behind him, or that he needs to return to more commercial fare to be ‘relevant’ again. It’s probably very telling that what North American distributors and critics have seen as a problem, Europe has eagerly embraced (especially France, where critics have acclaimed the film).

Twixt is a messy concoction, and for most audiences who are used to storylines where everything is clearly presented and all the twistedness will eventually be straightened out by the time the end credits roll, it won’t be a fun ride. Coppola describes it as “one part Gothic Romance, one part personal film and one part the kind of horror film I began my career with,” which is a pretty packed sandwich—not everything will fit neatly there. However, those concerned with neatness will conveniently overlook good performances by Kilmer, Dern and Chapin and some intriguing autobiographical references.

Twixt is available on R2 DVD and Blu-Ray. Again, no word as of yet when it will be available on R1 disc.

UPDATE 12/28/2015: In 2013, Twixt was released on R1 Blu-Ray by 20th Century Fox with excellent picture quality and sound. It’s light on extras, but what’s included is very interesting – a documentary on the making of the film shot by Gia Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter, prior to her feature film debut with Palo Alto (2014).

Twixt official site

Facebook

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…easily [Coppola’s] silliest work… a mishmash of absurd horror tropes with a gush of blood…”–Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week, we’ll be focusing on a pair of new releases: Francis Ford Coppola’s overlooked dream-based horror Twixt and Guy Maddin’s surrealist gangster odyssey Keyhole. Plus, Alfred will train his eye at Nude on the Moon (1961), and we’ll cover a fourth movie to be named later (either another new release or something from the reader-suggested review queue, we’re not sure yet(.

We lead off this week’s Weirdest Search Terms of the Week rundown with one of those “we know what you’re looking for but we’re still amused by the way you phrased it” search terms: “movie with 1000 testicles.” Contrast that with this example of the “we don’t know what you’re looking for because you phrased it ambiguously and neither option makes a whole lot of sense” search strategy: “how to make coraline eye candy.” Of course, our favorite style of search term is the “we don’t know what your looking for because you’ve strung together a series of words in an order no human being has ever considered before in that sequence.” “Chick banges some guy after running european” fits that criterion to a T, thus winning the honor of being called 366 Weird Movies’ Weirdest Search Term of the Week. Congratulations!

Here’s how the ridiculously long, ever growing and sadly neglected reader suggested review queue stands: The Hour-glass Sanatorium [Saanatorium pod klepsidra] (out of print in Region 1, but we’ll keep looking); Liquid Sky (re-review); “Twin Peaks” (TV series); SocietyLittle Otik; Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

SATURDAY SHORT: SICK LEAVE (2012)

You may remember Jake Fried’s short Waiting Room (2012) which we posted in the Saturday Short section only a few months ago. When he released another, we couldn’t help but plug his work again. This features nearly the same materials (white-out and ink), style, and length. Still, each short is so dense with different imagery that it doesn’t feel repetitive, and you’ll find yourself unable to watch any particular one just once.

 

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 8/17/2012

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 (WIDE RELEASE):

The Odd Life of Timothy Green: Disney isn’t known for backing weird movies, and the trailer for this movie about barren parents who adopt a dream child who grows in a cabbage patch looked more mawkish than odd. Still, some of the critics reviews, like this one from Mike Scott of the New Orleans Times-Picayune—“you know that fine line separating ‘good’ weird from just-plain off-putting? Today, there are mouse-shaped footprints all over it”—make us wonder if the studio hasn’t accidentally unleashed a strange one on an unsuspecting public. The Odd Life of Timothy Green official site.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Chicken with Plums [Poulet aux prunes]: After his beloved violin is destroyed, a master musician loses the will to live and suffers a series of hallucinations, flashbacks and visitations from Sophia Loren and the Angel of Death. Live action from the makers of Persepolis. Opening in NYC with decent US market penetration to follow thanks to it being picked up by Sony Classics. Chicken with Plums official site.

Cosmopolis: David Cronenberg‘s latest is an adaptation of a Don DeLilo novel about a financial whiz-kid (Robert Pattison) traveling across Manhattan in a limo as financial apocalypse approaches. This one is in our reader-suggested review queue. Cosmopolis official site.

NEW ON DVD:

Father’s Day (2011): Read our capsule review. Astron-6’s absurdist grindhouse feature releases in a 4 disc (Blu-ray, 2 DVD, and soundtrack CD) numbered, limited edition set. Buy Father’s Day [Limited Edition Blu-ray/DVD].

Kill List (2011): A psychologically scarred hit man agrees to the proverbial “one last mission” and finds it ironically horrifying. This mind-bending thriller has impressed critics and bewildered audiences in about equal ratios. Buy Kill List.

Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror (2009): A 16-year old girl follows a fox creature who whisks her away to a magical world. An anime version of “Alice in Wonderland” incorporating Japanese folklore? Where do we sign up? Buy Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror.

Les Vampires (1915): A strange gang led by sexy “Irma Vep” in a black bodysuit terrorize Paris in this 10 part, 7 hour silent serial. It’s a milestone in cinema history and was a huge influence on the upcoming French surrealist movement. Buy Les Vampires.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Kill List (2011): See description in DVD above. Buy Kill List [Blu-ray].

Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror (2009): See description in DVD above. This is a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. Buy Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror [Blu-ray/DVD Combo]

Les Vampires (1915): See description in DVD above. Buy Les Vampires [Blu-ray].

FREE (LEGITIMATE RELEASE) MOVIES ON YOUTUBE:

Ninja Champion (1985): Read our capsule review! Godfrey Ho’s remarkably incompetent movie redubs an unreleased chopsocky movie and combines it with all-new ninja footage shot a decade later to create an incoherent rape-revenge-diamond smuggling ninja action mess. Best line: “Not the wine! My nipples, you jerk!” Watch Ninja Champion 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.

LET ME DIE A WOMAN (1978)

In a round table meeting with a couple of editors, I was discussing a proposed documentary (which we abandoned). As we were dialoguing, I mentioned a scene which would require green screen. One of the editors stopped me short and said: “This is a documentary. You do not do green screen shots in a documentary.” When I explained that the scene was meant to be poetic and dream-like, which did pertain to the subject at hand, my editor persisted: “You still cannot do that. That’s against all the rules of documentary filmmaking.” I ended that with: “So who made these rules?” If I had thought that argument through, I probably would have tied the editor down and shown him two documentary films, which break “THE rules.” One would be Guy Maddin‘s My Winnipeg (2007) and the other would be ‘s Let Me Die A Woman (1978).

Doris Wishman’s documentary about sex change is cinema’s closest cousin to Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda (1953). Like Wood, Wishman cannot refrain from coating the subject at hand with her own idiosyncratic sheen. So much the better, because like the Wood film, personality is the most salvageable quality of Let Me Die A Woman. Ed Wood was supposed to make a film about a sex change but he turned his opus into a delightfully desperate, personal plea for acceptance of transvestism. Narratively (ahem) Wishman’s film does not divert quite so far from the topic. Visually, now that’s a different story altogether.

Shots of monstrously thick, red shag carpet (which would look so at home on the set of Trinity Broadcast Network), a “what the hell is that doing there?” Siamese cat and the standard Wishman shots of feet scurrying across a dark red floor are among the countless surreal cut-aways. If Wishman’s wandering camera frequently provokes dumbfound amazement, here the cut-aways interrupt poor Leslie with callous abandon. Leslie methodically applies her lipstick, straps on her garter, looks directly at the camera and tells us: “Last year, I was a man!” Cue in cheesy music. Leslie is the attractive, post-op transsexual star who introduces the viewer into the world of “gender dysphoria.” She is candid, expressive, and the only genuine human in the entire film. Unfortunately, whenever Leslie begins to hook us into her personal story, Wishman swings her goddamned camera into WTF land!

Still from Let Me Die a Woman (1977)No one familiar with Wishman’s body of work would be naive enough to expect a sympathetic treatment of the subject. Pornographic actors Harry Reems and Vanessa Del Rio provide cameos, just to make sure we know it’s a freak show. Like we need the proof. Gratuitous sex scenes, the lamest drag queens ever captured on celluloid, and Dr. Leo Wollman each have their own tent on the carnival grounds. Wollman  serves as the downright creepy ringmaster, acting as if he belongs in one of those wretched Faces of Death videos. He lectures us from a hideously decorated office. It is blatantly obvious Wollman is reading off cue cards when he gives us details aplenty about the SEX CHANGE OPERATION! Whether we want the details or not is a moot point. Actual surgical footage, brought to you in all the ghastly glory of 1978 color, accompanies Wollman’s monotone narration. Where are the horror horn and fear flasher when you need them?

Flopping penises, dildos galore, and Dr. Wollman’s fingers probing a vagina are the visual highlights (!) brought to you by Madame Wishman. Do you really have to ask why  is in love with this mondo trash mutant of a film?

Regardless, Wishman does it her way, God bless her!  Next week, we will wrap up our series on the films of Doris Wishman with Nude On the Moon (1961)

123. THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT (2001)

QUESTIONER: What are the most common comparisons to other films that you hear?

CORY MCABEE: There’ve been a few. Because it’s in black and white people sometimes say Eraserhead, but other than the fact that it’s in black and white I don’t really see much… [laughter]. I get a lot of “cross-betweens,” like “a cross between Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Grapes of Wrath.” [laughter]. That’s a very large area to cross between…

–Cory McAbee at an American Astronaut Q&A session

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Cory McAbee, Rocco Sisto, Gregory Russell Cook, Annie Golden, Tom Aldredge

PLOT: Astronaut Samuel Curtis arrives on the asteroid Ceres, where he meets his old friend the Blueberry Pirate, enters a dance contest, and trades a cat for a Real Live Girl (who consists of cloned cells in a box). His commission requires him to go to Jupiter where he will swap the Real Live Girl for the Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman’s Breast, whom he will then take to the all-female planet Venus to exchange for the remains of an expired stud. Along his journey he is pursued by maniacal “birthday boy” (and film narrator) Professor Hess, a man who can only kill if he has no reason to do so.

Still from The American Astronaut (2001)

BACKGROUND:

  • Writer/director Cory McAbee is the songwriter and lead singer of the band The Billy Nayer Show; the then-current lineup of the band (minus McAbee) appears in the movie in the Ceres dance contest sequence.
  • McAbee was working on a script entitled Werewolf Hunters of the Midwest when he got the idea for American Astronaut and decided it was the more interesting project. He completed the script for Werewolf Hunters in 2002, but negotiations with financiers fell through. Pre-production resumed in 2011, but the actor cast as the lead died, and the project is again on hold.
  • The American Astronaut got its limited theatrical release September 21, 2001, only a little more than a week after the 9/11 tragedy.
  • After our first viewing we declined to place The American Astronaut on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies immediately (read our shortsighted initial review), but the public decided this omission was one of our biggest oversights, as the movie won our third readers choice poll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman’s Breast dressed as the messenger god Mercury in an art-deco helmet and thick black eyeliner, raising the roughnecks of Jupiter’s morale by performing a song and dance number in a spotlight on a stage in a cavernous warehouse.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The fact that it’s an absurdist musical comedy space western, for one thing. The American Astronaut is an incredibly personal affair—Cory McAbee wrote, directed, starred, composed the songs, helped paint the backdrops, and probably sold the popcorn on opening night. McAbee brings a particular and peculiar set of personal preoccupations to the project: space operas, psychobilly, Monty Python, German Expressionism, cowboy movies, Lewis Carroll, film noir, , the wide-eyed innocence of childhood, Ed Wood, and Dadaism, among others. It’s a galaxy of influences with competing gravities, and whether they appear as a meaningful constellation or just a meaningless mass of lights may depend on where the viewer is standing. The movie probably makes the most sense when seen from Mars.


Original trailer for The American Astronaut

COMMENTS: Since it’s such a spaced-out movie, it’s appropriate that The American Continue reading 123. THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT (2001)

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