WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 11/16/2012

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 (LIMITED RELEASE):

Generation P (2011): A Russian poet turned adman takes a cocktail of hallucinogenic drugs; later, he meets the ghost of Che Guevara and a conspiracy involving a cult worshiping the ancient goddess Ishtar.  Definitely a weird one; sounds a little bit like a Thomas Pynchon screenplay (it’s from a Russian cult novel). We just assumed this weird satire about the Americanization of Russia would never appear in theaters in North America, but congrats to New World Distribution for proving us wrong. Opening this week in New York and Los Angeles with more dates to follow. Generation P US Distributor Site.

NEW ON DVD:

Prairie Love (2011): Sundance programmers described this Dakota-set story of a man who sneaks into the place of guy going to meet his prison-bound paramour for the first time as “wonderfully bizarre” and “brazenly idiosyncratic.” Of course, that equates to no theatrical distribution and belated debut on DVD, but at least we’re happy to see it. Buy Prairie Love.

“Trilogy of Life”: The Decameron (1971), The Canterbury Tales (1972), Arabian Nights (1974): Before going totally over the edge with Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom, Pier Paolo Pasolini made these three bawdy (then x-rated) fantasy adaptations of classic literary tales. The Canterbury Tales features a very unique look at Hell you won’t want to miss. Buy “Trilogy of Life” (The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales, Arabian Nights) (Criterion Collection).

Weekend (1967): A weekend trip to the country turns into a surreal nightmare as a French couple find themselves stuck in an apocalyptic traffic jam. This has patiently been waiting its turn in our reader-suggested review queue. Buy Weekend (Criterion Collection).

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

“The Otto Preminger Collection”: If for some reason you’re embarrassed to be seen buying a copy of the Certified Weird Skidoo (1968), you could always purchase that square acid musical as part of this three movie pack. The co-features are Hurry Sundown (1967), a “steamy” melodrama with racial overtones, and Such Good Friends (1971), a marital infidelity comedy set in a hospital. None of these movies are currently available on Blu-ray separately. Buy “The Otto Preminger Collection” [Blu-ray].

“Trilogy of Life”: The Decameron (1971), The Canterbury Tales (1972), Arabian Nights (1974): See description in DVD above. Buy “Trilogy of Life” (The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales, Arabian Nights) (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray].

Watchmen Collector’s Edition (2009): Read our capsule review. Only three years old and already released in multiple editions, this one packages together a Blu-ray of the long-running “Ultimate Cut” together with a copy of Alan Moore’s original graphic novel. Buy Watchmen Collector’s Edition: Ultimate Cut + Graphic Novel [Blu-ray].

Weekend (1967): See description in DVD above. Buy Weekend (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray].

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.

BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA”

* This is the first in a three-part series.

Patrick Greathouse, of the Asylum House and Asylum Productions, was excited when he called me. With Patrick, that is the norm. Since returning to Indiana, I had been sporadically working with him on the Asylum Haunted House; the upcoming season would mark the 13th anniversary of the project. Patrick, not being Internet savvy (and myself being slightly more so), asked me to go onto MySpace and contact horror hosts around the country. He wanted to do a cross promotion. The Asylum House would promote them on the Asylum website; in turn, the horror host could film a “Happy 13th Anniversary Asylum House” video. OK.

Promotional image from Creeporia As I was looking at some of the so-called horror hosts, one caught my eye: Creeporia. She had an atypical look, but, more importantly, she had a story. She did not merely appear on camera doing her schtick. Actually,  Creeporia wasn’t a “horror host” at all since she doesn’t do any hosting—and that was probably a good thing. The Creeporia webshow decidedly channeled old school horror. It was fun and classy in a way similar to Rankin/Bass’ Mad Monster Party (1967) and Roger Corman‘s The Raven (1963). After contacting the actress who played the role, she directed me towards her creator: .

Since I have not watched television since about 1989, I was not familiar with the name John Semper.  I contacted him, letting him know what I was seeking. Semper emailed me within a short period, gave me his number, and suggested I call him on Thursday since he preferred not to communicate via email. In the meantime, he asked me for a link to the Asylum House site and links to my own work, including my film reviews at 366. He suggested I check out his online resume. I did, and was surprised to discover that he was the creator of a 1990s animated “Spiderman” television series. Semper had a lengthy Hollywood resume, having worked with such names as  and George Lucas.

Thursday: Semper and I talked at length about movies. , , Roger Corman,  and were among numerous shared interests. We both agreed that genre labels were a silly waste of time. However, when the subject of the horror “genre” came up, we felt kinship in the view that the label itself had considerably degenerated. When  landed Frankenstein (1931), he knew he had reached a new plateau in his art and career. Today, for the most part, work in the horror genre imprints a brand of gutter slumming on the director.

Semper and I talked so much of film that it was some time before we got around to the subject of the Asylum House. He had read the rave reviews of the haunt and seen some of the pics and trailers. He was impressed by the effort put into the endeavor and asked about our future plans. Patrick had been flirting with the idea of producing an old school horror anthology film. Before calling Semper I had shown Patrick the “Creeporia” web series. One of the proposed anthology stories concerned a horror host, and we speculated on possibly using a clip from Creeporia within the Continue reading BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA”

129. LOVE EXPOSURE (2008)

Ai no Mukidashi

“Nothing is more important than love.”–Shion Sono on the theme of Love Exposure

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Takahiro Nishijima, , Sakura Andô, Atsurô Watabe, Makiko Watanabe

PLOT: Yu Honda, the son of a Catholic priest, falls in with a gang of upskirt photographers in an attempt to generate sins he can confess to his father. One day, while dressed in drag after losing a bet, he falls in love with Yoko, a man-hating schoolgirl who believes him to be a woman. He strives to woo her despite the mistaken identity, but a mysterious girl named Koike and a brainwashing cult seem intent on preventing Yu from ever winning Yoko’s heart.

Still from Love Exposure (2008)

BACKGROUND:

  • Sono’s original cut of the film was six hours long. At the request of producers he cut it down to two hours but felt the result was incoherent; the current four-hour run time is a compromise.
  • Sono reportedly wrote the part of upskirt photography guru “Master Lloyd” with Lloyd Kaufman in mind.
  • “Miss Scorpion” was a recurring character from a 1970s Japanese women-in-prison film series.
  • Despite winning awards at multiple Asian film festivals as well as a FIRPESCI international film critics awards, Love Exposure‘s long running time made it anathema to theatrical distributors. The movie finally saw a very limited run in U.S. and Canadian theaters in 2011.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Some will doubtlessly be impressed by the bloody castration scene, but a less shocking image marks the centerpiece of Love Exposure: “the miracle,” the moment when the wind blows up Yoko’s skirt and reveals her alabaster underthings, giving Yu the first erection of his life. White panties—a symbol of sex masked in the color of purity—are the most important recurring image in Love Exposure, even more so than crosses and hard-ons. As Master Lloyd explains while pointing to a bronze relief image of a spreadeagled woman with a swatch of white silk covering her nether portions, “Anything you seek can be found here, in the groin.”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Although there is some crazy stylization—slo-mo bullets following a schoolgirl through Tokyo and a dysfunctional family posing with a giant cross in the desert—what makes Love Exposure‘s mad heart tick is the plot that piles crazy on top of crazy. Any story that incorporates Catholic guilt, ninja panty-peeking photographers, kung fu and samurai sequences, mistaken identity subplots, and teenage cult kingpins, plays it all as a romantic comedy, and has to run for twice the length of an average movie just to fit in everything the director wants to say, is bound to be a little weird.


Trailer for Love Exposure

COMMENTS:  For four hours Love Exposure bounces back and forth between poles of purity and perversion, suggesting both the fetishistic Continue reading 129. LOVE EXPOSURE (2008)

CAPSULE: HER MASTER’S VOICE (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Nina Conti

FEATURING: Nina Conti

PLOT: Ventriloquist Nina Conti takes the dummies of her recently deceased mentor Ken Campbell to donate them to Vent Haven, a museum in Kentucky she conceives of as a “graveyard for puppets of dead ventriloquists.”

Still from Her Master's Voice (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This elegy-cum-confessional disguised as a kooky documentary about ventriloquism was just unique and offbeat enough to make it onto our radar screen, but not quite bewildering enough to challenge for a spot on a list of the weirdest movies of all time.

COMMENTS: Ventriloquist’s dummies have always been a bit creepy: Nina Conti (speaking, as she so often does, through the fuzzy mouth of her main puppet Monkey) describes a freckled, arch-eyebrowed doll, one of the six dummies she inherits from her deceased mentor, as “the archetypal cliché of a horror movie ventriloquist’s mannequin.” Her Master’s Voice suggests that the people sticking their hands inside these uncanny puppets might be a bit creepy, too. After all, they’re entertainers who deliberately court schizophrenia, seeking to bring alternate personalities to life through inanimate objects. Many of the ridiculously talented puppeteers Conti interviews at the World Ventriloquist ConVENTion (groan) admit to being shy children who took to speaking through dummies in order to make antisocial, hostile or naughty observations while distancing themselves from outrageous statements. In Her Master’s Voice Conti takes that notion a step further: she speaks through the dummies Ken Campbell bequeathed her to express her grief over the loss of her mentor, and to work through her own flagging enthusiasm for the dying art form of ventriloquism (at one point, as they lie in bed together, Monkey asks her, “talking in an empty room in the middle of the night in Kentucky to an imaginary monkey—you don’t like it anymore?”) She turns on the camera and psychoanalyzes herself via Campbell’s old mannequins—a dimwitted owl, a horny bulldog, a kindly granny and a bushy eyed puppet of Ken himself—who both interrogate her and say the things that she’s too shy to say in her own voice. One night, when she’s had too much to drink, she turns on the camera and sits down with that archetypal horror movie dummy, who accuses her of conducting “psychic necrophilia” with Campbell’s memory and attacks her for turning “a purported tribute into a tart’s holiday!” With a disturbed frown, she flings the doll away. Via her psychotic conversation with the puppets, Conti makes some shocking confessions about herself and her relationship with Campbell. She seems legitimately surprised and saddened by the admissions the dummies elicit from her. This confessional technique makes for a melancholy movie, and the personal nature of the revelations give it a raw and uncomfortably voyeuristic edge, but the documentary is interspersed with silly comic performances that lighten the mood: we see Conti onstage performing her act, and she even stages the death of Monkey just to see how she would feel living without him (the results aren’t pretty). The resulting patchwork of a home movie is an odd egg, both formally and tonally, but it’s ultimately a successful experiment. It serves as a fine eulogy for her dead master, but it’s more interesting when Conti’s brutal honesty gives us a peek at the troubled artist behind the cute puppet. Given what the film tells us about Campbell’s talent for nurturing others talents, we suspect he would consider the fact that his protégé steals the spotlight from him in his eulogy film to be the best tribute he could ask for.

Her Master’s Voice was executive produced by mockumentary specialist Christopher Guest. “I don’t know if this story I want to tell you is factual because by its very nature it demands a certain addition to reality,” says Conti at the beginning of the film, but she adds “there are no lies, it all happened.” The DVD includes extended scenes that did not make it into the 64 minute film and a commentary by Conti (helped out by Monkey, naturally).

“…a personal, funny and strange doc…”–Christopher Campbell, The Documentary Channel (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL (2012)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Terrance Zdunich, , Briana Evigan, Jessica Lowndes, Dayton Callie

PLOT: A suicide, a jewel thief, and a thug’s girlfriend die and find themselves at an afterlife circus run by the Devil; he reads the stories of their sins retold as fables, which they re-enact to musical accompaniment supplied by carnies.

Still from The Devil's Carnival (2012)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Devil’s Carnival is a lot like director Darren Lynn Bousman’s previous horror musical effort, Repo: The Genetic Opera, only on a smaller scale. If that one didn’t make it onto the List, then logically this one shouldn’t, either.

COMMENTS: Hell is eternal musical theater! I knew it! The Devil’s Carnival looks like refugees from a circus took over unused sets from Moulin Rouge. Hell’s color scheme is candy apple red and hot dog mustard yellow, and all the demons have mime-white faces with black and red designs equally inspired by medieval harlequins and KISS. The plot to this musical is delightfully warped, in more ways than one. It involves suicide, thievery, and women in masochistic relationships, but it also benefits from a wild narrative that veers between reality, fantasy, and song and dance numbers at a whim. Fittingly, none of the denizens of the carnival seem the slightest bit surprised by any of it; the three hellbound souls receiving their poetic punishments wonder why they’re suddenly at a state fair designed by David Lynch for all of five seconds before they start accepting the dream at face value. I always like it when a movie script takes on too much and mixes its metaphors. Carnival starts off as Dante by way of Cirque du Soleil, then, one-third of the way in, after each of the three stories is already in progress, the Devil starts reading a book of Aesop’s fables which illustrate the sins (adding to the confusion, the last section, “The Devil’s Due,” doesn’t even refer to Aesop—the quote’s from from Shakespeare and the plot’s from nowhere in particular). Along with the three fables, we also get a backstage peek at the Devil’s lieutenant casting the night’s morality plays and a subplot about the Lucifer-God rivalry, all shoehorned in around a dozen songs in a movie that’s only an hour long. The script’s a mess, but I don’t mean that as a criticism: the overabundance of ideas and references in The Devil’s Carnival gives the entire enterprise a loose and crazy feeling that’s appropriate and appealing. The costume and set design is superlative, and the demonic hoofers—the Hobo Clown, the Painted Doll, and plastic-haired greaser Scorpion—are all a morbid hoot. Where The Devil’s Carnival loses me is with the songs. They are impressively staged and consistently performed in a Weimar-era German cabaret style. The Hobo Clown, ragged hat extended for alms, croons a demented doggerel silhouetted by footlights while a topless woman is whipped in the background (like all of Carnival, this is a surprisingly PG-13 rendition of some very dark material). But the melodies, while appropriately carnivalesque, aren’t memorable, and the libretto can’t match the ambition of the mise-en-scene. There’s too much repetition, and more than once the lyrics fall back on the cheap trick of incorporating children’s nursery rhymes to cop a little irony. Songs like “Kiss the Girls,” with a man menaced by a gang of sexy clowns in Bozo’s of Hollywood lingerie, look great, but make little sense. The lip-syncing is also frequently off, providing another distraction. Ivan L. Moody, a veteran of several minor metal bands with a surprisingly melodious baritone, gives the best performance; but the best conceived number is “Prick,” a love badly sung by a painted waif to a bullfrog that makes clever use of the double meaning in the title. Still, there is nothing here that you’d want to put on your I-Pod (Repo cultists, many of whom bought this soundtrack on the release date without having heard a note, may naturally disagree). Divorced from their presentations, the songs are all competent but forgettable, and, like its predecessor Genetic Opera, it’s that lack of memorable tunes that keeps The Devil’s Carnival from making the leap to the next artistic level. If Bousman could just borrow the talents of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, or even , for just a week sometime, he might make something really magical. The film is part of a planned series, and ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Carnival may not have blown me away, but the best compliment I can give it as that it has me looking forward to the next installment—and, it makes me consider looking backward to reassess Repo.

While Bousman continues to make horror movies like Mother’s Day within the Hollywood system, The Devil’s Carnival cements his credibility as a cult filmmaker and suggests he’s dedicated to the more interesting, less-marketable horror-musical concept. The mid-range production values, cable TV-friendly naughtiness, cliffhanger ending and hour-long length of Carnival make it look like a pilot for an HBO series, although there’s no evidence it was ever intended for the small screen. The marketing of the film, which was self-financed by Bousman and partner Terrance Zdunich (who wrote the script and plays the Devil), is innovative: a VOD/Netflix streaming release, supplemented by a collector’s edition DVD/Blu-ray (limited to 6660 copies) and a “carnival road tour.” Hopefully this nontraditional distribution strategy will work and allow the pair to retain their artistic independence by selling directly to the fans.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Dismiss Repo and Carnival as weird musicals for weird people if you like, but there’s always room for a filmmaker who treats his ticket-buyers well and delivers something sort of … unsafe.”–Scott Weinberg, FearNet (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Here’s the movies we’ll be examining next week: The Devil’s Carnival, ‘s latest horror musical; the oddball ventriloquist doc Her Master’s Voice; and ‘s Catholic panty-fetish comedy Love Exposure. Moving from Alfred Eaker will give us behind-the-scenes insight into the genesis of a low-budget film project as he discusses the upcoming horror-comedy-soap opera Creeporia.

Some weeks, we struggle to find two or three truly weird search terms to bring to your attention for our “Weirdest Search Term of the Week” contest. Other weeks, we get so many bizarre candidates that we’re turning away searches like “huge rats attack women and pregnant her ( film erotic)” as too normal. If you hadn’t guessed, this is one of the latter types of weeks. We’ll start by mentioning the person looking for the answer to the question, “how many black guys has aline had sex with” (Google suggests they might really want to know how many guys a line has had sex with). The search for “horses anal shaggy” is strange enough that we can’t pass up mentioning it, even though we don’t want to think about what the searcher may have been looking for. In another week the incoherently horny “what is the best time to drink water during eating food from porn naked stars” would be a clear winner for the Weirdest Search Term of the Week, but this week it’s just the runner up to “cartoon weman stomics moving because are full with mansters porn.” Even correcting for spelling, that is a specific (and extremely weird) fetish!

Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue stands: Love Exposure (next week!); The Hour-glass Sanatorium [Saanatorium pod klepsidra]; Liquid Sky (re-review); Society; Final Programme; “Foutaises”; Bloodsucking Freaks; Lost Highway; Valerie and Her Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

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