A look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…


Birdsong [El Cant dels Ocells] (2008):  Nearly silent, nearly plotless tale about the Three Kings journey to visit the newborn Jesus.  This minimalist approach won’t bring in the punters, but the critics believe it to be a work of high visual art.  No official site.  Birdsong IMDB link

Dillinger is Dead [Dillinger è Morto] (1969):  A sixties absurdist/existentialist/leftist drama about an engineer who discovers a gun that may have belonged to John Dillinger.   Art film archivists Janus films have given this film a belated American release, to play at very select theaters throughout the country this spring and summer, beginning this week in Brooklyn. Dillinger is Dead press release from Janus Films


Four Flies on Grey Velvet [4 mosche di velluto grigio] (1971): From Dario Argento, the master of stylish grue, comes this twisty early giallo about a rock musician who is blackmailed for killing a stalker. It’s described as one of Argento’s odder films. A very belated and highly anticipated (by Argento fans) DVD release.

Requiem for a Vampire (1971):  Another of Jean Rollins surreal, cheap, and unabashedly exploitative vampire sex films. 


Akira (1988):  This mindblowing cyberpunk feature about a mystical apocalypse in Neo-Tokyo helped launch the anime cult in America.  Definitely weird stuff.

The Bird with Crystal Plumage (1969): Another early giallo by Argento (see the Four Flies on Grey Velvet entry). Many consider this straightforward thriller debut to be one of Argento’s best, although it’s not weird.

Vanishing Point (1971):  Another in the short-lived cycle of Western existentialist road movies (see also Two-Lane Blacktop) inspired by Antonini’s Zabriske Point (1970).

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.


“Body piercing.  Kinky sex.  Dismemberment.  The things that made Shakespeare great.” –Tagline for Tromeo and Juliet

DIRECTED BY:  Lloyd Kaufman

FEATURING: , Jane Jensen, Lemmy, Debbie Rochon

PLOT:  Alcoholic Monty Que and unscrupulous Cappy Capulet have a long running feud dating back to their days as partners in a low-budget sleaze movie studio, and they have passed on their personal vendettas to the next generation.  Monty’s son, Tromeo, falls in love with Cappy’s daughter, Juliet.  The two young lovers must overcome the bloody gangland antics of their friends and family, Juliet’s upcoming arranged marriage to a self-mutilating meat-packing heir, and Cappy’s tendency to beat Juliet and lock her in a plexiglass box, among other crossed stars.



  • Original drafts of the script had the parts played by costumed characters from other Troma studio releases: The Toxic Avenger, Sgt. Kabukiman, and so on.
  • Much of Shakespeare’s original dialogue was included in the rough cut, but most was removed after negative audience reaction.
  • Rock n’ roll cult figure Lemmy (of the band Motörhead) played the role of the narrator for free, and also donated the song “Sacrifice” to the soundtrack.  Several less famous bands also donated songs for free or for a nominal price.
  • Shakespearean actor William Beckwith played the role of Cappy Capulet under the pseudonym “Maximillian Shaun” because he was a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild and Tromeo and Juliet was a non-union film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Many of the more memorable images in Tromeo and Juliet are too obscene to be depicted in stills.  The best sequence is when Juliet’s belly unexpectedly and rapidly distends and splits open to give birth to…  a surprise.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Redoing a classic Shakespearean tragedy as a low-budget, offensive farce is a promisingly weird, if obviously gimmicky, premise. Lloyd Kaufman and his Troma team were inspired by the concept, however, and put more creativity into the project than they did in their usual formula schlock fare. The typical Troma anarchy and bad taste reign again here, but the producers add a healthy dollop of bargain-basement surrealism (Juliet’s disturbing sex dreams) and some on-the-cheap arthouse effects (the lovemaking scene in a plexiglass box against a starry backdrop). The result is a movie that’s completely unpredictable, despite a plot known to every high schooler. Tromeo is revolting one moment, and oddly sweet and beautiful the next, an incongruity that only adds to the weird atmosphere.

Short promotional clip for Tromeo & Juliet

COMMENTS: Troma is a low-budget film producer/distributor formed in 1974 to promote Continue reading 12. TROMEO AND JULIET (1996)

11. JACOB’S LADDER (1990)

“Something weird is going on here.  What is it about us?  Even in ‘Nam it was always weird.  Are we all crazy or something?” –line in original screenplay to Jacob’s Ladder


DIRECTED BY: Adrian Lyne

FEATURING: , Elizabeth Peña, Danny Aiello

PLOT:  Jacob Singer (nicknamed “Professor” by his army buddies due to his glasses and Ph.D.) is wounded in Vietnam after a harrowing, disorienting battle.  While he is on duty in Vietnam, his young son dies; years later, he works in New York City as a postman and has a sexy new girlfriend, Jezzie.  Jacob begins suffering flashbacks of the day he was wounded, along with hallucinations in which everyday people take on demonic forms—catching brief glimpses of tails, horns, and howling faces with blank features—and eventually discovers that the other members of his unit are experiencing similar symptoms.



  • The script for Jacob’s Ladder shuffled between Hollywood desks for years, impressing executives but not being viewed as a marketable project.  The script was cited by American Film Magazine as one of the best unproduced screenplays.
  • Before he asked to direct Jacob’s Ladder, British director Adrian Lyne was best known for sexy, edgy, and profitable projects such as Flashdance (1983), 9 1/2 Weeks (1986) and Fatal Attraction (1987).
  • Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (who later wrote Ghost [1990] and other commercial properties) says that his script was partly influenced by The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
  • Adrian Lyne states that some of the hellish visual cues in the film, including the whirring and vibrating head effect, were inspired by the woks of grotesque painter Francis Bacon.
  • Lyne deleted scenes and changed the ending after test audiences found the film to be too intense.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  A blurred, whirring human head which shakes uncontrollably from side to side at tremendous speed, seen several times throughout the film.  The effect looks mechanical, as if the head were an unbalanced ball attached to an out-of-control hydraulic neck.  It was achieved by filming an actor casually shaking his head from side to side at four frames per second, which produced a terrifying effect when played back at the standard twenty-four frames per second.  The technique has been imitated in movies, video games, music videos, and even a porno flick since, but has never since been used to such fearsome effect.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Like many psychological thrillers, Jacob’s Ladder strives to keep the audience disoriented and off-balance, wondering what is real and what is false. The movie achieves this effect wonderfully, but what gives it it’s cachet as a weird movie are two intense hallucination sequences: one at an horrifically orgiastic party intermittently lit by a strobe light, and one where the protagonist lies helpless on a hospital gurney as he’s wheeled down an increasingly bizarre and alarming hospital corridor. Both scenes are difficult to forget, equal parts creepy surrealism and visceral body-horror.

Original Trailer for Jacob’s Ladder

COMMENTS: I can’t watch Jacob’s Ladder without comparing it to Alan Parker’s Angel Heart.   The similarities are obvious: both were psychological thrillers with supernatural Continue reading 11. JACOB’S LADDER (1990)


A look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…


Choke (2008): Black comedy about a sex-addict and his demented dying mom (Angelica Huston) doesn’t sound especially strange, but in a slow week for the weird the fact that it’s another adaptation from cult novelist Chuck (Fight Club) Palahniuk makes it worth mention. Also, this may be the most heavily advertised movie on IMDB ever, and the first I’ve seen to come with its own MySpace-style layout–an unwelcome marketing trend.

Dead Like Me: Life After Death (2009): A feature length film revival of the short-running Showtime comedy about ordinary folks who become Grim Reapers.  Seems squarely aimed at fans of the now cancelled TV series. 

The Outrage (1964): This is a remake of the classic Japanese film Rashomon, with a screenplay by Kurosawa himself, set in the old West.  Four witnesses give vastly different, incompatible accounts of a rape.  The intriguing cast includes Paul Newman, Claire Bloom, Edward G. Robinson, and William Shatner!

Rachel, Rachel (1968):  This low-key drama with some fantasy interludes was the directorial debut of Paul Newman, who gave the lead role of the melancholy middle-aged spinster to wife Joanne Woodward.

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.

10. ARCHANGEL (1990)

“And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach” (quote originally intended to introduce Archangel)



FEATURING: , Kathy Marykuca

PLOT: In 1919, one-legged Canadian airman Lt. John Boles finds his way to the Russian port of Archangel in the endless night of Arctic winter.  There, he meets Veronkha, whom he believes to be the reincarnation of Iris, his dead love.  Veronkha has problems of her own, in the form of an amnesiac husband who wakes up every day believing this is the day they are to be wed, but Boles tires to woo her nevertheless as Archangel’s ragtag militia battles the Germans and the Bolsheviks without realizing that both World War I and the Russian Revolution are over.



  • The city of Archangel was the port of entry for Allied soldiers during World War I; therefore, soldiers from America, Canada, and the European allies might very well have been found gathered there (although probably not East Indians and Congolese, as depicted in the film).  Many Allied soldiers were sent to Russia, partially to help assist the Imperial (White) Russians against the Bolshevik Communist rebels (Reds).
  • Some reports say that the version presented on the “Guy Maddin Collection” DVD is a different cut from the theatrical and original VHS version, with tinting and intertitles added.  I haven’t been able to confirm whether differences exist.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  As his dying act, a lifelong coward strangles a bestial Bolshevik with a length of his own intestine (which is obviously a sausage link).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The tale of an obsessive, grieving soldier who thinks he’s found

Short clip from Archangel (French subtitles not in original)

the reincarnation of his lost love in a benighted Russian city where the citizens continue to fight a war that is over would be weird enough if told straight.  Director Guy Maddin exaggerates the already dreamlike quality of this tale by clothing it in the archaic period dress of an early sound film, complete with intertitles describing the action, dubbed voices that are occasionally slightly out of sync, and casually disorienting jumps/glitches in the film.  He pushes this inherently confusing story of terminally confused characters further into strange realms with deliberately surreal elements, such as women warriors going to the front dressed in elegant evening headwear, and even odder sights.

COMMENTS: The city of Archangel seems the perfect place to dream.  Isolated from the Continue reading 10. ARCHANGEL (1990)


A look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…


Polanski [Polanski Unauthorized]:  The controversial director of Repulsion (and other weird flicks) gets his own limited-release biopic.  The trailer makes it look like a hatchet job focusing on Polanski’s sex scandal… not that that’s necessarily an unfair tack to take on the subject.  Polanski Official Site


Blindness: An English language film with Julianne Moore by Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, this fable about a town where (almost) everyone is suddenly struck blind escaped notice in its theatrical run.  A long, brutal rape scene in this otherwise philosophical picture seems to have alienated mainstream critics.

The Exterminating Angel (1962):  Cause for celebration: The Criterion Collection has released a 2-disc special edition of the 1962 Luis Buñuel surrealist classic about guests who can’t seem to leave an opulent dinner party.

My Name is Bruce: Directed by cult star Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead series), starring Bruce Campbell as Bruce Campbell, this horror-comedy about Bruce Campbell saving a Bruce Campbell fan from an ancient Chinese demon is like a Valentine from Bruce Campbell to Bruce Campbell.  Needless to say, it’s by a Bruce Campbell fan, and squarely aimed at Bruce Campbell fans.

Simon of the Desert (1965):  Not content with bestowing The Exterminating Angel on the weird masses (see above), The Criterion Collection also gives Buñuel’s bizarre pseudo-religious short feature the special edition treatment, and adds a 50 minute documentary on Buñuel in Mexico as an extra.


Donnie Darko (2001):  This lovably fascinating mess of a movie (see review) gets its Blu-Ray debut.  The good news is that both the Theatrical Cut and the Director’s Cut are on the disc!

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.



FEATURING: , Shelley Duvall, Frank Gorshin

PLOT: A prisoner returns to his childhood home on an ostrich farm in a


mythical northern land during the constant daylight of the summer season, where he becomes involved with two mysterious women.

WHY IT  WON’T MAKE THE LISTTwilight of the Ice Nymphs is plenty weird enough to make the List, although it can be such slow going that many folks will tune out before discovering it’s weirder points.  Twilight just isn’t good enough.  With several of director Guy Maddin’s more effective films already slated for inclusion, it makes little sense to allow a lesser effort, weird though it may well be, to take space away from a more deserving contender.

COMMENTSTwilight of the Ice Nymphs is set in a suitably colorful and mythic locale, an imaginary land with Nordic overtones and ostriches, but it’s dragged down by an uninspiring hero in an uninvolving storyline, ponderous dialogue, and uneven acting.  The protagonist, Peter (Nigel Whitmey), is subject to bouts of sleep-hunting, and also, it seems, to episodes of sleep-acting.  For most of the movie his emotional range is so low-key that it barely registers: he covers a scale from glum to mildly perturbed.  It doesn’t help that Whitmey’s dialogue was dubbed in by a different actor in post-production after what Maddin hints was a very nasty incident between the director and actor.  Peter strikes up no real chemistry with either of his potential lovers, Juliana (whose personal history is obscure) and Zephyr (a wandering woman three months pregnant with her lost husband’s child), so there is little for the audience to root for in this three-way romance.  Besides Peter, Pascale Bussières as Juliana is cute but forgettable, Alice Krige’s performance as Zephyr seems on loan from a BBC teleplay, and R.H. Thompson’s evil Dr. Solti is little more than a distracting, hammy faux-Russian accent.  Veteran movie actors Shelley Duvall and former Riddler Frank Gorshin put the others to shame, but unfortunately they are pushed into a background subplot.

That said, the film’s visual sensibilities are truly wondrous.  Maddin built his magical fairy-forest inside a Winnipeg warehouse, maintaining meticulous control over every aspect of his mise-en-scene.  Particularly noteworthy are his brash color schemes: he uses “jewel tones” throughout, and seems particularly fond of placing surrounding emerald hues with bright pinks, magentas, and tangerines, as in a sunset setting over a forest canopy.  This makes the movie effective as a slide-show of gorgeous stills; Twilight would probably work well on a big screen TV with the sound turned off as visual wallpaper for a hoity-toity wine-and-cheese party.

Twilight of the Ice Nymphs is available on the DVD, “The Guy Maddin Collection” (buy), along with the feature film Archangel and the award-winning short The Heart of the World.


“Maddin’s fictional world is… so infused with such a delightful weirdness, such a disorienting, overwrought absurdity, that its artificiality and peculiarity give it a marvelous flavor that is a real pleasure to savor.” -Keith Allen,


Must SeeWeirdest!

PLOT: “State scientist” Anna studies “the heart of the world” and learns it is in desperate shape, all while trying to chose between suitors: brothers Osip (a mortician) and Nicolai (an actor playing Christ in a passion play), along with “dark horse” industrialist Akmatov.


WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Maddin pulls out all the stops in this dreamlike, hyperkinetic tribute to silent films (especially Soviet Constructivist films such as Aelita, Queen of Mars).

COMMENTS:  This six minute minor masterpiece was produced for the Toronto International Film Festival in 2000, where it became an immediate sensation and the hit of the festival.  An incredible technical achievement, the film resurrects simple camera tricks such as multiple exposures, creative use of intertitles, expressionist shadows, and blaring lighting that creates auras or halos around the actors, techniques which were largely forgotten or abandoned when films moved from black and white to color.  Add angular 1920s costumes and sets inspired by Metropolis and Aelita, a propulsive, minimalist theme from Soviet composer Georgi Sviridov, and a blazing fast editing style (it is said that the film averages two shots per second), and you have a film that is packed full of pure cinematic images, almost exhausting to watch, yet all too brief.

There is not time to develop much plot in this fabulous sprint.  The Heart of the World is more an exhibition of virtuoso visual technique than a narrative film.  Although the overwhelming emphasis is on visual style, Maddin does include boldly drawn, archetypal characters to help guide the viewer to the film’s triumphant end.  Their presence begs an allegorical interpretation of the film, although I’m not sure anything coherent can be formulated.  Osip the mortician seems to represent the body, and he is blatantly associated with sexuality (he’s seen dragging a knife across a naked woman’s torso, then later builds a phallic cannon to try to impress Anna).  Nikolai represents the spirit (again rather obviously: the chap dresses like Jesus at the crucifixion).  Anna must chose between the body and the spirit, though its not clear why.  And it’s also not clear what Anna may represent: she begins as a scientist, and ends, presumably, as a self-sacrificing artist.  And why does Akmatov, the capitalist antagonist, suddenly appear to seduce Anna away from the other two with money?  And what does all of this have to do with saving the heart of the world, anyway?

In the end, all that’s clear is this: Maddin has taken the style of a Soviet propaganda film, and turned it into propaganda for the art of cinema.

The Heart of the World is available on the DVD, “The Guy Maddin Collection” (buy), along with the feature films Twilight of the Ice Nymphs and Archangel.


“…an experiment oozing with creativity, layered in a knowledge of cinematic theory, history, and artistry.” –S. James Snyder, The New York Sun


A look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…


Coraline:  An animated fantasy film about a little girl who discovers a parallel universe in which her childish desires are satisfied, but at a price.  Previews look “visually stunning.”  Also showing in 3-D in some venues.  From Henry Selick, the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, with the voices of Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher.  Coraline Official Site 


2008 Academy Nominated Animated Shorts:  Ten of the Academy-Award nominated shorts will be shown as a program in a limited number of theaters (probably on the coasts),  an interesting concept that I don’t remember happening in other years.  Directors often have far more latitude to be as weird as they want with shorts, which are often self-produced and not subject to studio demands to normalize things for a mass audience.   The slate includes 5 animated films and 5 live actioners.  The British This Way Up, a macabre stop-motion animated film about two funeral home workers, may be the biggest draw for fans of the unusual.  No official site.

Memorial Day:  Feature length film debut of experimental theater director Josh Fox.  Young revelers engage in shameful debauchery at a Spring Break style party, then are magically transported to the Iraqi battlefield where they continue in the same style.  Lambasted by critics for being morally and politically simpleminded and uninsightful.  No official site.


Being There (Deluxe Edition):  Hal Ashby’s enigmatic satire about a simple minded gardener (the great Peter Sellers) who becomes elected President.  A great weird movie, but there doesn’t seem to be much special about this special edition, which includes no commentary, only a 15 minute documentary and a few deleted scenes and outtakes.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: XIV: The fourteenth box set release of the cult-TV phenomenon wherein a man marooned in space and his wisecracking robots make live-time jokes at the expense of some of the worst movies ever made.  The movies skewered are The Mad Monster (1942), Manhunt in Space (1956), Soultaker (1990), and Final Justice (1985).

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.


A new feature looking at potentially weird films that are currently in theaters, coming to DVD soon or in production. Visit the official sites to see trailers.


The Toe Tactic:  A card game played by dogs in an alternate dimension effects the fate of a grieving girl on earth.  The dogs are crude but whimsical animated creations which sometimes interact with the live cast. Scored by Yo La Tengo, with Eli Wallach providing one of the voices and independent film icon John Sayles in a small role.  A very limited release: it’s opening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, then touring selected venues throughout the US.  The Toe Tactic Official Site.

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!