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

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 11/9/2012

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 DEVELOPMENT:

Wastelander Panda (est 2013): A Panda wanders a post-apocalyptic wasteland in this three-part web-series planned for a 2013 release. The prologue/trailer has already been released and it looks pretty professional. Wastelander Panda official site.

Zombie Lesbian Musical (est. 2013): The title’s a little on the nose, don’t you think? No idea what this is about except that it’s from the producers of Wastelander Panda, it has its own Facebook page with 3600+ likes, and we suspect it’s an official feature length expansion of “Cupcake: A Zombie Lesbian Musical” (if it’s not, look out for a zombie lesbian lawsuit). Zombie Lesbian Musical Facebook page.

NEW ON DVD:

The Day He Arrives [Book chon bang hyang] (2011): A filmmaker goes to Seoul to meet a friend, misses him, gets drunk, goes home with a woman who resembles his old girlfriend… and the next day repeats the same events with slight variations, and again the next day… It appears to be a slightly surreal Korean arthouse variation on Groundhog Day. Buy The Day He Arrives.

“Elvira’s Movie Macabre Mega Movie Marathon”: Twelve terror titles presented by the tit-ular horror hostess. With the exception of the public domain classic Night of the Living Dead, the movies featured here are all pretty bad; sometimes amusingly bad, mostly just plain old bad. From most to least interesting, the movies we’ve reviewed in these pages are The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, The Manster and The Terror. Buy “Elvira’s Movie Macabre Mega Movie Marathon”.

Hospitalité (2010): A visitor with a Caucasian wife imposes himself on a Tokyo family, sowing chaos. Reviewers hint at a subtle strain of surrealism running through this allegory about Japanese xenophobia. Buy Hospitalité.

FREE (LEGITIMATE RELEASE) MOVIES ON YOUTUBE:

The Fourth Dimension (2012): A triptych of short films with temporal themes described as “weird, ominous, cool, compelling.” One of the three pieces is from  and stars Val Kilmer as a motivational speaker. Watch The Fourth Dimension 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.

JACQUES TOURNEUR’S THE LEOPARD MAN (1943)

The Leopard Man (1943) is the third and final collaboration between producer and his best director, . It is also, erroneously, often considered their least effort. The Leopard Man was clearly RKO’s attempt to cash in on Universal’s The Wolf Man (1941). But, instead of a wolf turning into a man, we’ll have a leopard! Real clever, imaginative types, these 1940s execs were (of course, now that breed has devolved into the independent trailer trash horror film scene).

Based on a book by Cornell Woolrich (who also wrote the story that inspired Hitchcock’s Rear Window), The Leopard Man is a lucid example of how to produce something worthwhile, even when saddled with a studio-mandated drek title. Perhaps somebody with guts and resources enough will round up the countless perpetrators of low budget horror porn and force a Val Lewton festival upon them. The Leopard Man would be a good starting point.

Like Cat People (1942), The Leopard Man has elements of noir. Set in a sleepy New Mexico town, it’s a film soaked in shadows. A black leopard from a night club act escapes from its leash and runs loose in the town.

Young Teresa Delgado (Margaret Landry) has heard about the leopard on the loose and is afraid. Her mother (Kate Lawson) needs cornmeal. Despite Teresa’s impassioned pleas and objections, Ma Delgado forces her daughter out into the night and deadlocks the door behind her. Cut off from maternal arms, Teresa, cornmeal in hand, is returning to the desired safety of her home. Tourneuer’s use of shadow and light to convey tension and dread is as expert here as in Cat People. It is an extended scene. The callous treatment of Teresa by her mother sows a blackened nightmare. Teresa’s frantic knock on the door, begging for sanctuary from the leopard’s death claws, falls on deaf ears. Ma Delgado’s only concern is the needed ingredient for her meal. By the time Ma realizes that, indeed, her daughter is in danger, the blood, trickling in from under the door, reveals that misplaced priorities and apathy has reaped a slaughter. Teresa is killed off-screen. Instead, Tourneur’s focus is on the most frightening monster of The Leopard Man: a cold parent.

Still from The Leopard Man (1943)The murders are the film’s focus, which was daring for its time. In that, The Leopard Man may lack the poetic qualities of Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie (1943), but it evokes a unique quality of terror.

The second murder takes place in a cemetery. Consuelo is visiting her father’s grave. She is also planning a clandestine meeting with her boyfriend. She promises the keeper that she will not stay long. In looking for her boyfriend, Consuelo instead finds her end. This suspense is heightened and conveyed through the rising sound of rustling branches.

The third murder involves the dancer Clo Clo (Margo) who was responsible for unleashing the beast. A dropped lipstick case and a half-smoked cigarette reveal that she has paid the price, evoking far more horror than a machete-yielding serial killer.

And, as it turns out, there is indeed a serial killer on the loose. The sleuthing is less interesting, as are the men in the film. In this, there is a consistency in Lewton: the heroes are usually, and considerably, duller than the heroines.

Unfortunately, the collaboration between Lewton and Tourneur ended here. Tourneur went onto direct the superb Out of the Past (1947) and Curse of the Demon (1957). Lewton would continue with good, but lesser, directors.

We will pick back up on the remaining Lewton films in three weeks. Next week, we will diverge with the first of a three-part look behind the scenes of John Semper’s Creeporia (2012).

LIST CANDIDATE: WORLD ON A WIRE (1973)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

FEATURING: Klaus Löwitsch, Mascha Rabben, , Karl-Heinz Vosgerau

PLOT: A computer programmer assigned to run a virtual reality world after his superior goes insane finds himself paranoid about the motives of his government bosses, and wonders if someone else might ultimately be behind the project.
Still from World on a Wire (1973)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: World on a Wire is hard science fiction, but with a seriously disorienting edge. On the surface it’s ultra-rational, but it peers into a disintegrating world existing underneath ours, undermining our sense of reality.

COMMENTS: The plot twist of World on a Wire won’t shock modern audiences, but that hardly matters. The movie’s sanity-questioning themes may have been shopworn even in 1973, but rarely have they been delivered with such depth and artistry. Besides, the “big revelation” happens at the end of Part I, the midpoint of this three and a half hour epic, leaving us with another entire movie to develop the consequences. Wire‘s double length provides ample time to explore and flesh out an expansive cast of characters, including two separate love interests for our paranoid protagonist: Eva, the daughter of his deceased superior, and Gloria, his statuesque, almost impossibly blond and voluptuous secretary. The plot sets up computer scientist Fred Stiller as a Socrates figure, running about the virtual agora questioning the nature of reality, raising uncomfortable doubts that are no more welcome in the world of World on a Wire than they were in ancient Athens. The powers that be would like to assure that Stiller meets the same fate as the Greek gadfly, but the scientist isn’t willing to go quietly. The film is visually advanced for television, with arty angles and elaborate 360 degree tracking shots. The wide lapels on plaid sports jackets belie the film’s 1970s origins, but the sets have a gleaming metallic modernism that makes them timeless. Mirrors and distorting lenses are everywhere to reinforce the sense of doubling and reflected realities. Sonically, the movie challenges the audience with abrasive, distressing music queues suggesting a rupturing synthetic reality: sometimes, it sounds like Fassbinder’s recorded a classical orchestra soldiering on while being attacked by an ever-growing swarm of electronic bees, and at other times like he’s scraping a theremin across a chalkboard. Although the visual and audio techniques here express the ontological ambiguity of Stiller’s predicament, a number of subtle and not-so-subtle surreal touches bring across the point as effectively. Most of the performances have a detached and stilted quality, with minor characters found staring out into space blankly when not engaged in direct dialogue. The entertainment venues in this world are genuinely peculiar, including a party at an indoor pool with aquatic male gymnasts, a bar where topless Africans dance to fado ballads, and a shadow-theater cabaret with waiters in whiteface and shirtless chefs. Of course, none of those sequences are as odd as the moment when Stiller asks a woman on the street for a light, and a load of bricks suddenly falls from the sky and buries her. That early sequence, a weirdly blasé tragedy, rates as World‘s strangest scene, but at the time Stiller is too immersed in his own reality to recognize how bizarre it is. He still has another two hours of movie to develop his slow-dawning epiphany about just how weird the world around him has become. It takes time to fully explore this World on a Wire, but the trip down this rabbit hole is well worth it.

World on a Wire was based on Daniel F. Galouye’s 1964 novel “Simulacron-3,” which was also adapted by Hollywood in 1999 as The Thirteenth Floor. Wire was only broadcast on German television twice and never released theatrically during Fassbinder’s lifetime. The Fassbinder Foundation saved the movie from its undeserved obscurity, restoring the lost classic and releasing it to film festivals in 2010. The Criterion Collection followed with a DVD/Blu-ray release in 2012.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The full feature runs close the three and a half hours and is fraught with bizarre formal elements. What separates it from the aforementioned high-concept movies is the utter weirdness that is imbued throughout.”–Zachary Goldbaum, “Brightest Young Things” (theatrical re-release)

CAPSULE: ZORNS LEMMA (1970)

DIRECTED BY: Hollis Frampton

FEATURING: N/A

PLOT: The prologue is a reading from the “Bay State Primer.” The main body of the film cycles through one second shots of signs each beginning with a successive letter of the Roman alphabet; each letter is gradually removed and replaced by a scene of waves or grain or a man walking until the film consists entirely of such images. A reading from a 13th century mystical treatise serves as an epilogue.

Still from Zorns Lemma (1970)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s odd, strange, and maybe even bizarre, but it’s not “weird.” What I mean is that the word “weird” implies an emotional gut level reaction to some scene of ineffable strangeness, and Zorns Lemma, while as far away from ordinary as is possible to get, provokes no emotional response whatsoever (if it does raise some feeling, it’s not aimed at the film itself, but rather by the audience’s anger at Frampton for having wasted their time). This is purely intellectual and philosophical filmmaking, not meaty or bloody enough to rate as weird.

COMMENTS: In 1975 Tom Wolfe wrote a controversial critical essay entitled “The Painted Word” about how modern art had abandoned the attempt to represent reality and become instead about illustrating the artist’s beliefs about the function and nature of art: that art had paradoxically ceased to be art at all, and turned instead into theory. I wonder if Wolfe had seen Zorns Lemma just before writing his screed, since this philosophical film about language and representation could have been easily and appropriately titled “The Filmed Word.” Beginning with the words of a child’s alphabetical primer (“in Adam’s fall we sinned all”), Frampton soon moves to create a primer of his own: 24 shots of New York City street signs, each illustrating a letter of the alphabet (minus “j” and “u,” which did not appear in the Roman alphabet). So, there is a shot of an “Abbey,” followed by a sign reading “back,” and so on (sometimes someone will hold up a hand-painted sign or a legend will appear on screen, but usually a marquee or logo supplies the key letter). Each shot is held for one second, which, since a film conventionally projects at 24 frames per second, means that the main body of the film consists of 24 sets of 24 frames. As the film cycles through the alphabet the rarest letters are replaced by images, i.e. the letter “x” is first to go, replaced by a shot of a roaring bonfire, then “z” yields to a scene of receding tide, and so on until all of the letters have been replaced by pure images. Most of the replacement shots are commonplace; a few are themselves experimental, such as a multiple exposure image of a boy bouncing a ball and a split screen of a woman’s face that’s been slightly displaced along its vertical axis. After about forty minutes of this repetitive cycling the circuit is completed and all of the letters have been replaced. We then see a man, woman and dog walking away from us in a snowy field. On the soundtrack, a metronome clicks away as different speakers’ voices (each says one word) are stitched together collage-style to recreate a monotone reading of a 13th century mystical text about the primacy of light (by Bishop Robert Grossetete): “…the light of the higher is more spiritual and simple while the light of the lower is more physical and multiple…” What does it all mean? I believe it’s primarily an expression of Frampton’s odd but apparently sincere belief that language was outdated and was due to be replaced (or at least strongly supplemented) by thinking through images: as he says in an interview included on the DVD, he believed that “the intellect of the West has been struggling for some time to find a natural counterbalance for language as a way of accounting for the world, a way of doing it through images.” Frampton believed that film was a new language of thinking and communicating through images, and he also felt that we were only at the beginning of that process; he was interested in creating a new vocabulary, grammar and even alphabet of images. Zorns Lemma is more an announcement of that intent than it is a development of it. Frampton’s concern in the film with preserving mathematical ratios, his obscure reference to “Zorn’s Lemma” (a complicated proposition of set theory), and the clockwork, mechanistic structure of the piece suggest a filmmaking mind that’s as obsessive as it is rigorous. As theory, Zorns Lemma is somewhat interesting, to a theoretician; as a film, I think the best thing we can say about it is that it’s somewhat hypnotic and not as intolerable an experience as it reads on the page. That may be low praise, but we judge experimental films by a different set of criteria than commercial films, or even art films; we don’t hope to enjoy them so much as to see our expectations of what a “film” can be challenged and expanded. In that sense, Zorns Lemma is worth encountering for students of cinema at its most basic level. I’d be highly suspicious of anyone who claimed to love Lemma, though, in the same way I’d cast a wary eye at anyone who claimed to be enamored with the obscurant prose of postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida.

Zorns Lemma is included on a double-disc Criterion Collection set entitled “A Hollis Frampton Odyssey,” together with fifteen other Frampton experiments and supplemental interviews and lectures by the erudite director. Lemma is the most intriguing of the projects; several of the others make for frustrating watches, such as the seven minute “Lemon” (a static shot of the titular fruit, with only the lighting changing). By the time Frampton gets to his “Magellan” period at the end of his life, the works are totally abstract and unwatchable for normal audiences. In the period immediately following Lemma, some of Frampton’s most interesting experiments are collected in a series called “Hapax Legomena” (“unique words”). “(nostalgia),” a movie in which Frampton burns several old photographs while relating anecdotes from his life, has potential, but the director can’t ever resist alienating his audience. The stories aren’t synced to the photograph they describe; each commentary refers to the picture we’re about to see instead of the one we’re currently watching shrivel up on the burner. “Poetic Justice” (a surreal erotic story told through static shots of pages from the script) and “Critical Mass” (the film “stutters,” resulting in a trippy rendition of an improvised argument) have clever core ideas, but each goes on for too long after the audience has absorbed the concept. I would expect “Odyssey” to be Criterion’s worst selling release of the year; it would have fit better in their budget “Eclipse” series. But the gala treatment illustrates how seriously Frampton’s work is still being taken by some cineastes.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…never, at least so far during the Film Festival, have so many Philharmonic Hall viewers slithered outside for a cigarette.”–Howard Thompson, The New York Times (contemporaneous festival screening)

CAPSULE: THE RING (2002)

DIRECTED BY: Gore Verbinski

FEATURING: , Martin Henderson, David Dorfman

PLOT: An urban legend says that seven days after watching a mysterious videotape, you will die; a journalist investigating the phenomenon has a week to figure out the secret behind the tape.

Still from The Ring (2002)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Ring conjures up the mysterious, but only for the purpose of reassuring us that everything obscure will eventually be made clear. It’s the typical horror movie strategy for dealing with the uncomfortably supernatural: acknowledge the weird by treating it like a monster, as the enemy to be banished. At any rate, if we were going to include this story on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies, we’d select the original Japanese Ringu (1998) ahead of this (admittedly faithful and effective) American remake.

COMMENTS: The killer tape begins with an image of a fiery ring of light, then segues through shots of a woman in a mirror, a bleeding nail, severed fingers twitching in a box, a closeup of a horse’s eye, a levitating chair, a falling ladder, and more.  “It’s very ‘student film,'” says AV expert and potential victim Noah dismissively. In fact, the fake avant-garde film-within-the-film stands alone as a weird and disturbing artifact. It’s also the center of the plot: after heroine Rachel watches the tape, the images imprisoned therein escape into the real world—by eerie coincidence, she sees a dead ringer for the ladder from the film leaning against an alleyway wall, and what happens with the fly on the lens of the camera is even more inexplicable. Furthermore, almost every symbol that appears onscreen is eventually decoded and de-randomized as she investigates the history of the curse; the demonic motivation behind the tape is fully revealed, and the only unanswered questions relate to its manufacture. Although this demystification process is standard procedure in psychological horror, and in fact an essential part of the appeal of the genre, from our peculiar perspective here at 366 Weird Movies there is something ironic about making a surrealistic short film the centerpiece of the story, then taking it apart and mapping each mysterious symbol to a plot point on the backstory until all the weirdness has been leached out of it. Be that as it may, The Ring is a fine piece of supernatural filmmaking, with brisk pacing and genuine scares that aren’t tacked on but develop out of a horrific storyline with psychological depth. The story’s mystery isn’t groundbreaking or shocking by genre standards, but director Verbinski parcels out the clues slowly and judiciously to build dread and anticipation. The performances by Watts and Henderson, each of whom play slightly unsympathetic characters who are reformed during their trial by terror, are good. Young Dorfman makes for a creepy, prematurely grown up kid, even though his character is poorly conceived and one of the movie’s weak points (the part shamelessly suggests a variation on the psychic boy from The Shining). All in all, The Ring makes for an effective fright machine; it’s the only Hollywood remake of a J-horror hit that’s capable of standing on its own against the Asian original.

The 2012 Dreamworks Ring Blu-ray release doesn’t appear to be remastered (the movie’s not that old) but it looks and sounds great. It doesn’t feature any commentary but includes numerous extras besides the expected trailer: “Don’t Watch This,” a strange featurette which mixes deleted scenes with highlights from the film to create something akin to a ten minute alternate cut; cast interviews; “The Origin of Terror,” a mini-doc on urban legends; and, best of all, the 16 minute short film Rings, a self-contained mini-sequel set in the Ring universe. The cursed film-within-a-film itself is included as an Easter egg (instructions on accessing it can be found here).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…teeters right on the edge of the ridiculous. Enormous craft has been put into the movie, which looks just great, but the story goes beyond contrivance into the dizzy realms of the absurd.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

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