23. THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988)

“This fearful worm would often feed on cows and lamb and sheep,
And swallow little babes alive when they lay down to sleep.
So John set out and got the beast and cut it into halves,
And that soon stopped it eating babes and sheep and lambs and calves.”

–Lyrics to “The D’Ampton Worm” from Lair of the White Worm
Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Ken Russell

FEATURING: Amanda Donohoe, Hugh Grant, Catherine Oxenberg, Peter Capaldi, Sammi Davis, Stratford Johns

PLOT:  An archeology student visiting the British countryside digs up an elongated skull he assumes belongs to an dinosaur while excavating the site of a buried convent, now an English bed-and-breakfast run by two young sisters.  Lord James D’Ampton is the boyfriend of one of the sisters, and also the descendant of a legendary D’Ampton who reputedly slew a dragon (the “D’Ampton Worm”) that had terrorized the countryside.  After wintering in climes unknown, slinky and regal Lady March returns to her mansion and discovers the skull, after which strange events begin to transpire…

Still from Lair of the White Worm (1988)

BACKGROUND:

  • Russell’s script was very loosely based on Bram (“Dracula”) Stoker’s 1911 novel, although the similarity almost ends with the shared title.
  • This was Russell’s second horror film in three years after Gothic (1986).
  • Hugh Grant had roles in six films released in 1988, including portrayals of Chopin and Lord Byron.
  • This was Amanda Donohoe’s second starring role in a feature film.  She went on to greater fame when she joined the cast of the hit T.V. show “L.A. Law” in 1990.  Catherine Oxenberg, on the other hand, had made a name for herself on the hit T.V. show “Dynasty,” and this was her first feature role in a theatrical release.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: A 30 second hallucination sequence featuring Roman soldiers raping nuns before a cross on which a monstrous worm slithers over a crucified Jesus while a topless blue vampire woman looks on joyfully, waggling her tongue.  The scene is dressed up in lurid colors and performed in front of a deliberately cheesy looking blue-screen inferno.  So over-the-top and parodic that it’s not nearly as offensive as it sounds.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Ken Russell throws a handful of his typically excessive hallucination/dream sequences into what is otherwise a subtle horror parody, creating a minor masterpiece of deliberate camp blooming with ridiculously memorable scenes.

Clip from Lair of the White Worm

COMMENTS:  The one word that immediately comes to mind to describe Ken Russell’s The Continue reading 23. THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 6/5/09

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 (WIDE RELEASE):

The Land of the Lost (2009): Firmly mainstream Will Ferrell is no harbinger of weirdness, but the idea of casting him in a straight comedy version of the trippy and campy 1970s kid’s TV show about a family sent back in time to an age of dinosaurs and Sleestak’s is pretty weird by Hollywood standards.  Critics have been firmly negative, but a snippet from one of the few positive reviews make me wonder if there might be something of unexpected interest about Land of the Lost:  “Oh, what a weird movie this is… wildly bizarre… whacked-out by design…” (Eric D. Snider, Film.com).  Land of the Lost official site.

NEW ON DVD:

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog (2008): Neil Patrick Harris stars as Dr. Horrible in this 42 minute supervillain romantic musical originally published as a free Internet series.  The project was conceived by television’s Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) to keep the creative juices flowing during the 2008 Writer’s Guild strike.  Copious extras are included to induce fans into buying this formerly-free web series: two commentary tracks (in what I think may be a first, an entire commentary is sung!), a 20 minute “making of” documentary, and ten auditions by fans seeking to join the series’ “Evil League of Evil.” Buy from Amazon.

ON DEMAND FREE MOVIES (SOME U.S. CABLE SYSTEMS)

The City of Lost Children (1995):  This beautiful Jean-Pierre Jeunet/Marc Caro fable about a man who steals children’s dreams, starring Ron Perlman and set in a bizarre, baroque, futuristic cityscape, will eventually receive a place on the list of 366.  You can view it courtesy of Fearnet until July 31.

Eraserhead (1977):  Want to catch this recently reviewed classic surreal nightmare for free?  It’ s a must-see for anyone who claims to be interested in weird cinema.  If your cable system offers it, you can catch it courtesy of the Sundance Channel until June 23rd.

Inland Empire (2006): David Lynch’s latest theatrical feature is the (reportedly) incoherent story of an actress (Laura Dern) losing her grip on reality while shooting a film.  3 hours long.  Sundance Channel, expires June 16.

Lady Vengeance [Chinjeolhan geumjassi] (2005):  The third installment of Chan-wook Park‘s informal Vengeance Trilogy, which also included Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and the weird Oldboy (2003).  Sundance Channel, expires June 23.  This may receive an upcoming review on these pages.

The Toxic Avenger (1984):  The somewhat overrated cult classic gross-out black comedy/superhero parody that put Troma studios on the map.  Read our recent review .  Available courtesy of Fearnet until June 30.  Also available for the same period are the three sequels.

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.

FROM THE CRYPT OF CREEPORIA

“Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema” is a column published on Thursdays covering truly independent cinema: the stuff that’s so far under the public radar it may as well be underground.  The folks making these films may be starving artists today, but they may be recognized as geniuses tomorrow.  We hope to look like geniuses ourselves by being the first to cover them.

The 1950s through the 1970s was the era of the horror host/horror personality.  Most of these characters, from Vampira on down to Sammy Terry, mixed horror and humor quite effectively and the period is widely considered to be a golden age of horror personalities.  Since then, Elvira, of course, made a name for herself.  Now, with the post myspace/facebook/youtube age, there has been a re-emergence, indeed a plethora of new horror personalities.  Predictably, most of these are pale, watered down imitations of the originals with no unique personality of their own, with a notable exception: Creeporia.

Creeporia, Episode 1, part 1: other episodes can be viewed at creeporia.com

Creeporia is the creation of producer John Semper Jr, who has an extensive 30 year resume, mostly in animation, which includes work with Jim Henson, George Lucas, and Stan Lee and shows such as the animated “SpiderMan” and “Static Shock.”  Semper’s sincere  affection for the classic Roger Corman school of horror humor is quite apparent in his Creeporia creation and the shows he has crafted for her.

Semper’s experience has taught him plenty and he’s savvy enough to know that the key lies in a well developed character with a unique personality.  He could not have done better in actress Kommerina DeYoung.  Young’s Creeporia thankfully does not resort to being yet another in the Vegas imitators’ school for Elvira, Vampira and those who came before.  Creeporia is  her own ghoul and she is sexy, but never resorts to caricatured farce.  Creeporia lives (sort of) in a crypt with a host of characters, such as a skull named Bonaparte (aka Boney), a corpse named Maurice, a spider named Harlan, a bat named Batty, and more.  There’s a bit of the zany Pee Wee Playhouse atmosphere in the Continue reading FROM THE CRYPT OF CREEPORIA

OSCAR WON’T, AND IF CANNES CAN’T, MAYBE MEXICO?

We almost never pay attention to the Academy Awards around these parts. When the weirdest film to get a “Best Picture” nomination in 2008 is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, you know you’re dealing with one weird-hating Academy. The last film “Best Picture” winner with even smatterings of weird was Midnight Cowboy (1969). Just a pinch of weirdness, or even a mild, sub-weird flirtation with the experimental, is usually the kiss of death to Oscar.

The international and less commercial-minded Cannes Film Festival, on the other hand, has been much kinder to innovation in film. In 2000 Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark managed to win the highest prize, the Palme d’Or, despite containing musical dream sequences.  Acknowledged weird classics like Wild at Heart (1990) and Barton Fink (1991) have also managed to break realism’s stranglehold on the top awards.

On May 24, 2009, Cannes announced the recipients of its jury prizes.  Let’s see how Cannes did in recognizing cinematic weirdness this year:

PALME D’ORThe White Ribbon [Das weiße Band].  Black and white film set in Germany on the eve of World War I.  The synopsis says, “Strange accidents occur and gradually take on the character of a punishment ritual.  Who is behind it all?”  Although it appears to have a weird element in the form of an unsolvable mystery, at heart it looks like a standard allegorical art film.

GRAND PRIX (I.E., PALME D’OR RUNNER UP)The Prophet [Un Prophete]:  An illiterate young Arab man is thrown into a French prison and becomes a gang kingpin.  Sounds about a weird as a plastic couple on a wedding cake.

JURY PRIZE (I.E., THIRD PLACE):  This year was a tie.  The first film recognized was Fish Tank, an unweird drama about a British teenager, her promiscuous mom, and her mom’s lout of a boyfriend.  The second awardee shows a little more promise: Thirst [Bakjwi], Chan-wook Park‘s take on the vampire legend, although reviews suggest the oft-weird director takes a conventional approach to the subject this time out.

OTHER FILMS IN COMPETITION:  A few interesting, potentially weird films were screened Continue reading OSCAR WON’T, AND IF CANNES CAN’T, MAYBE MEXICO?

22. ERASERHEAD (1977)

“He showed me this little script he had written for Eraserhead.  It was only a few pages with this weird imagery and not much dialogue and this baby kind of thing.”–Jack Nance

Must SeeWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY

FEATURING: ,

PLOT:  Henry is a factory worker living in a dingy apartment in a desolate urban nowhere.  His girlfriend Mary’s mother informs him the girl has given birth to his child–although Mary objects, “Mother, they’re still not sure it is a baby!”  Henry and Mary get married and care for the monstrous, reptilian, constantly crying infant until Mary can take no more and deserts the family, leaving Henry alone to care for the mutant and to dream of the oatmeal-faced woman who lives inside his radiator and sings to him about the delights of heaven.

eraserhead

BACKGROUND:

  • Eraserhead was started with a $10,000 grant from the American Film Institute while Lynch was a student at their conservatory.  Initially, the 21 or 22 page script was intended to run about 40 minutes.  Lynch kept adding details, like the Lady in the Radiator (who was not in the original script), and the movie eventually took five years to complete.
  • When Lynch ran out of money from the AFI, the actress Sissy Spacek and her husband, Hollywood production designer Jack Fisk, contributed money to help complete the film.  Fisk also played the role of the Man in the Planet.
  • Lynch slept in the set used for Henry’s apartment for a year while making the film.
  • After the initial screening, Lynch cut 20 minutes off of the film.  Little of the excised footage survives.
  • Eraserhead was originally distributed by Ben Barenholtz’s Libra Films and was marketed as a “midnight movie” like their previous underground sensation, El Topo (1970).
  • Based on the success of Eraserhead, Lynch was invited to create the mainstream drama The Elephant Man (1980)  for Paramount, a huge critical success for which he received the first of his three “Best Director” nominations at the Academy Awards.
  • Jack Nance had at least a small role in four other Lynch movies, and played Pete Martell in Lynch’s television series, “Twin Peaks.”   His scenes in the movie adaptation Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1990) were deleted. Nance died in 1997 after being struck in the head in an altercation at a doughnut shop.
  • Lynch has written that when he was having difficulty with the direction the production was heading, he read a Bible verse that tied the entire vision together for him, although he has refused to cite the verse and in a recent interview actually claims to have forgotten it.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The iconic image is Henry, wearing that expression permanently lodged between the quizzical and the horrified, with the peak of his absurd pompadour glowing in the light as suspended eraser shavings float and glitter behind him.  Of course, Eraserhead is nothing if not a series of indelible images, so others may find the scarred man who sits by the broken window, the mutant infant, or the girl in the radiator to be the vision that haunts their nightmares.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDEraserhead is probably the greatest recreation of a nightmare ever filmed, a marvelous and ambiguous mix of private and cosmic secrets torn from the subconscious. Or, as Lynch puts it, it’s “a dream of dark and disturbing things.”

Original trailer for Eraserhead

COMMENTS:  When you tell people you are interested in “weird” movies, I’d wager at least half Continue reading 22. ERASERHEAD (1977)

SHORT: THE THREATENED ONE (1999)

threehalfstar

DIRECTED BY:  Signe Baumane

PLOT: An impressionistic interpretation of a Jorge Luis Borges poem featurning a bunny rabbit, a fox, a man and a woman.

The Threatened One: Rated PG-13 for cartoon bosoms and symbolic sex


WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  The dreamlike imagery, especially the flower that ejaculates flowers.

COMMENTS:  Baumane worked with Bill Plympton (who gets a thank you shout in The Threatened One‘s credits) on I Married a Strange Person! The two animators seem to be kindred spirits: they share a “squiggly” style of animation, where even the still frames move and breathe, as well as an absurd sense of visual humor.  The Threatened One adopts a drawing style reminiscent of a children’s book (only with a sea of blood and topless scenes) to illustrate Borge’s bittersweet poem about the consuming power of love.  Love is depicted as a predator, a toothy fox, but having your fleshed ripped by it’s fangs doesn’t seem like such a horrible fate in the end. The short is witty and whimsical, and David Rovin’s music punctuates the atmosphere perfectly. The only slight complaint is that the narrator’s reading, while competent, isn’t as inspired as the rest of the production.

The Threatened One is available on the collection Ten Animated Films by Signe Baumane. More information can be found on Signe Baumane’s website.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“For Borges and Baumane, love triggers the death of the individual.”-Chris Robinson, Unsung Heroes of Animation

366WEIRDMOVIES IN RUSSIAN! [Избранные статьи 366weirdmovies, переведенные на русский]

Out of the kindness of her heart and her desire to spread the weird movies gospel around the world, Irina Goncharova has translated certain articles and reviews from this site into Russian!  For those who speak Russian, the articles can be found at the author’s website, along with her other other writings and translations.  Thank you very much Ms. Goncharova!

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 5/29/09

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 (WIDE RELEASE):

Drag Me to Hell (2009):  Sam Raimi returns to the horror genre, but judging by the trailer I wouldn’t expect anything Evil Dead-esque or too out of the ordinary; the in-demand Spiderman director now has too much to lose by being innovative.  Prove me wrong, Sam!  Drag Me to Hell official site.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Daytime Drinking [Not Sool] (2008):  Per the press release, this low-budget South Korean pic about a drinker on “an increasingly strange odyssey nursing a never-ending hangover.”  The publicists compare it to quirky indie films like Stranger than Paradise and SidewaysDaytime Drinking official site.

Pontypool (2009): An intellectual zombie movie from Canada wherein zombism is spread in a surprising (and allegorical) way. Pontypool official site.

NEW ON DVD:

Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (2009):  What could we say about this product that the title doesn’t already tell you?  Well, it’s got a dream cast of Lorenzo Lamas and Debbie Gibson and it’s from Asylum, a  studio that specializes in rushing out direct-to-DVD movies that sound a lot like recent hits (e.g., Transmorphers).  How bad could it possibly be?   Buy from Amazon.

The Sky Crawlers [Sukai kurora] (2008):  Latest visually impressive sci-fi anime from Mamoru Oshii, director of Ghost in the Shell, about children who are trained from birth as pilots to fight in an endless dogfight.  Buy from Amazon.

NEW ON YOUTUBE (LEGITIMATE STUDIO-SANCTIONED RELEASES):

Christmas Evil (1980):  Offbeat, low budget character study about a killer Santa that’s not as exploitative as future films exploring the same “killer Santa” territory.  Read our capsule reviewWatch 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.

SIGNE BAUMANE: WOMAN

“Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema” is a column published on Thursdays covering truly independent cinema: the stuff that’s so far under the public radar it may as well be underground.  The folks making these films may be starving artists today, but they may be recognized as geniuses tomorrow.  We hope to look like geniuses ourselves by being the first to cover them.

“When I don’t think about film, I think about sex.  Every 10 seconds.  I have the sense that my head is very close to my genitals.”  So speaks Latvian animator Signe Baumane in the documentary Signe and…. It’s part of an indispensable and unique collection of Baumane’s animated shorts called Ten Animated Films by Signe Baumane.

teat_beat_of_sex

True to her word, there is sex aplenty in most of the films in this collection, including her recent Teat Beat of Sex, and  Baumane goes a long way to prove obsession in art is indeed a good thing.

In Natasha, a lonely housewife finds a vacuum cleaner is just as effective as any man.  In Five F___king Fables the head of a decapitated princess gives a man oral while a dog performs cunnilingus on her, penises do indeed come in every shape, size, color and form, and Georgia O’Keefe’s erotic flowers are taken to a whole new level.  These are just a few of  the repeated erotic images and themes that make up Baumane’s world.

Baumane is refreshingly open and candid in the documentary Signe and… Her sexuality is naturally frank, while never being worn on sleeve.  Her work never condescends to the level of shock for the sake of shock art, as a few critics have claimed, because feminine sexuality is but one of several recurring obsessive themes.

Baumane’s horror of the dentist chair is visited repeatedly.  The Dentist and Five Infomercials for Dentists amusingly call to mind W.C. Fields’ take on the subject matter.

Baumane is most compelling in allegorical territory.  Tiny Shoes visits a theme often repeated in classic literature such as “Hymn of the Pearl.”  A girl is given specific instructions from her dying father and, after his death, she embarks upon a journey, during which she forgets her promise and ignores all of her father’s instructions.  Naturally, her foolishness will cost her plenty, but this is served up Signe Baumane style, Continue reading SIGNE BAUMANE: WOMAN

CAPSULE: THE TOXIC AVENGER (1984)

DIRECTED BY: Lloyd Kaufman & Michael Herz

FEATURING: Mitchell Cohen

PLOT:  A nerdy teen janitor is tormented by his serial killer peers until he accidentally

Promotional card for The Toxic Avenger (1984) under it's working title, Health Club

falls into a vat of toxic waste and emerges as a mop-wielding, avenging mutant superhero.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: When a movie about a mutant janitor who fights transvestite thugs and, to add insult to injury, presses his wet mop into their heads after he disembowels them can’t find a place on a list of weird movies, you know you’re searching for a very refined brand of weirdness indeed.

COMMENTSThe Toxic Avenger has just enough craziness going on to make it watchable, but it’s not nearly the classic its cult reputation might suggest. Although an absurd thread runs throughout to keep it sporadically interesting, its sniper-like focus on chesty chicks and cheesy kills keeps it squarely locked in on its target audience of males under 25. Others will find the goofy spoofery seldom funny and often offensive (for example, the hit and run killing of young boys and racial minorities for sport). There are few laugh-out-loud moments for grown-ups, although a scene in the middle of a crime-fighting montage where superhero Toxie helps a housewife with a stubborn jar lid does elicit a chuckle. The centerpiece hostage scene at a restaurant tells you all you need to know: a gang of robbers wearing performance art greasepaint burst in, shoot a blind girl’s seeing-eye dog, and prepare to sodomize her when Toxie arrives. Our hero fights a battle against a gangster with ninja skills who grabs a samurai sword off the wall (of a Mexican restaurant?), and in the end the mutant dweeb gruesomely and painfully dispatches them with a milkshake machine and a deep fryer. It’s a fantasy of nerd revenge against the upper crust of high school society, as Toxie dismembers obnoxious jocks (a justified act, since like all popular people, his tormentors are inhuman monsters who like to mow down kids in their cars and masturbate to the gory Polaroids afterward). The movie invites us to identify with and cheer for Toxie as, Michael Meyers-like, he stalks and kills half-naked girls (who are, of course, evil, and deserve to be dispatched for the good of Tromaville). Ultimately, this Columbine-esque wish fulfillment, where the beleaguered kid not only kills his bullies but becomes a beloved celebrity and gets the girl, creates a subtext that’s far more offensive than any of child killings or the pre-teen white slavery ring Kaufman and Herz try to shock us with.

The Toxic Avenger‘s blend of horror-movie gore, gross-out offensiveness, proudly lowbrow comedy, and absurd touches struck a nerve in the 1980s, when it bypassed the normal movie distribution channels to become one of the first cult videocassette hits. It was so successful that Troma studios has been remaking this same film, under a variety of titles, for the last 25 years.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Like Airplane! for the antisocial set, or a Grimms fairytale gone horribly, horribly wrong, this weird-ass peek into the past proves that some high concepts are indeed eternal.”–Bill Gibron, DVD Talk (21st Anniversary DVD)

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