PLOT: Sparked by a castle he sees on a poster, a man has visions of a long-forgotten girl he
fell in love with as a boy; mysterious forces try to stop him from finding the locale in the photograph, while a vampire coven helps him from afar.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Slow, atmospheric, with vampires in see-through nighties; Lips of Blood seems a little strange to the ordinary horror fan, but by the surreal standards Jean Rollin set for himself, it’s a bit blasé.
COMMENTS: For a movie about the living dead, Lips of Blood is lifeless. For a supposedly erotic movie, most of the time it just lies there. Only Rollin’s trademark dreamy cinematography and a few bold images save this action-and-suspense-free horror from being a complete bore. The scenario sets up a mystery that is not very mysterious, and posits a timeless romance in which we feel only a theoretical involvement. The movie is peppered with poorly scripted moments that don’t come across so much as absurd as simply awkward. For example, when protagonist Frédéric tracks down the photographer who snapped the photo of the castle he sees in his visions, she just happens to be photographing a nude woman masturbating (in a surprisingly explicit moment). When he asks the photographer, herself a beautiful woman, for the location of the mysterious château, she promises to tell him later at a midnight rendezvous, strips naked, and gives him a long wet kiss! Not only is this whole diversion a shameless device to shoehorn in two more nude scenes, it actually damages Frédéric’s character, since he’s supposed to be pining for the mysterious dream girl with whom he has a deep psychic connection, not fooling around with nude models. In a more exploitative movie this brand of brazen sleaze would be entertainingly incongruous, but in a film with serious ambitions as a moody psychological horror, it’s a misstep. The intended eroticism is somewhat better Continue reading CAPSULE: LIPS OF BLOOD (1975)→
FEATURING: Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Anna Hutchison, Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams
PLOT: Five college kids find themselves trapped inside an impossibly clichéd horror movie situation at the titular locale; if they somehow manage to survive the redneck zombies, they will still have to worry about the puppetmaster pulling the strings.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Cabin in the Woods is a brilliantly deconstructed, offbeat horror movie exercise, but even with its squiggly plotline it remains a bit too normal and mainstream for us. But if you’re a horror movie fan, Cabin is the can’t miss event of the year.
COMMENTS: You’ve seen it before. That’s the point. Five young archetypes—the virginal girl, her slutty best friend, the jock, the shy regular guy, and the anti-establishment stoner comic relief guy head out to the cabin in the woods for a weekend of fornicating and imbibing heavily while playing “truth or dare.” Instead, they get chopped up into teen sausage by some hungry revenant whose slumber they’ve disturbed. If you’ve been watching horror movies in the last twenty years, you’ve also seen plenty of films where the kids trapped in the cabin are horror movie experts who know the rules of the game (this one, for example); so, when the jock says “we should split up” and the stoner looks at him incredulously and says in disbelief, “really?,” you’ve seen that before, too. That, too, is the point. In the self-aware horror movie subgenre The Cabin in the Woods is unique in that it doesn’t just parody slaughter flick conventions, it honors them at the same time—speculating about why it’s so crucial that the slutty girl takes off her top, why the chaste chick must outlive her, and about why the killings are so formulaic and so… ritualistic. To point out that Cabin is a genuine horror flick and not a simple parody of kill conventions isn’t to say that it isn’t as blackly comic as any horror-comedy to come down the pike in recent times. Every scare flick needs a crusty old gas station owner to act as Harbinger of Doom and give the kids an unheeded warning not to poke around at the old Miller (or wherever) place. Cabin gives us a Harbinger who’s crustier than the stuff that Freddy Krueger picks out of the corners of his eyes in the morning. And while he’s slyly amusing in his over-the-top tobacco-spitting spiel, Cabin brings him back for a hilarious pure-comedy cameo that shows how hard it is for a Harbinger to get out of character even when he’s not obliquely prophesying the death of college kids. I laughed as much at Cabin the Woods as I did at last year’s full-bore gore-comedy outing Tucker and Dale vs. Evil; but, despite its winking jokes and metafictional flirtations, Cabin works because its postmodern conceits are side dishes and not the main course. It serves us a genuine and very rare course of scares, with real stakes for characters who are not as cardboard as they first appear. Cabin also feeds us the freaky images we go to horror movies to see. The monster design is a big draw, even though the creatures are glimpsed fairly briefly. A scene of a slut making out with a stuffed wolf’s head is icily strange and erotic, there’s the ghost of a Japanese schoolgirl flitting about the edge of the plot, and the carnage of the third act is something I can guarantee you haven’t seen on film before. Cabin‘s only caveat is that it’s aimed squarely at those who are already fans of what Joe Bob Briggs used to refer to as “Spam in a cabin” movies; if you’re not familiar with the tropes, this pop-autopsy of the genre might not win you over. But good horror films are rare, and horror films with original concepts are even rarer; when you find a movie that has both, it’s worth the trek into those dark woods to check it out.
Though helmed by co-scriptwriter Drew Goddard, who acquits himself brilliantly in his first time in the director’s chair, Cabin is most notable as part of a huge year for co-writer/co-producer Joss Whedon, who will have two hit films playing in theaters simultaneously when his comic book blockbuster The Avengers debuts next week.
Next week we venture out to the cinemas to check out a little thing called Cabin in the Woods; we’ll finish off our coverage of Redemption’s 5 film Jean Rollin sexy-vampire drop with 1975’s Lips of Blood; we’ll go off on The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984); and Alfred‘s series on Busby Berkeley continues with Footlight Parade (1933).
The volume of weird search terms used to locate the site continues to drop alarmingly; we’re somewhat concerned about a possible outbreak of sanity on the Internet. Still, when looking for our Weirdest Search Term of the Week we work with what we’re given, and we do still occasionally encounter inscrutable searches like “aflam man and woman nu canival.” There was also a weird Donnie Darko mini-trend this week. First, someone was looking to “rent a donny darko head,” which we suppose is understandable. We found the person asking “is frank the rabbit fro a real case study” far weirder, however. Another trend this week, a recurring one which usually produces humorously strange results, is the old “first person Google search.” Sometimes, these are just people chit-chatting with themselves with the aid of a search engine, like the guy who absentmindedly muses “i saw a weird trailer before a movie i would love to rent.” That’s nice to know, but at other times the conversation turns more confrontational, as it did with the exasperated fellow who wrote “ok i found your website…now how do i purchase dvd of the comedian toto.” To this guy we say: thanks for visiting, we have no idea how you purchase the DVD of the comedian Toto, and congratulations on winning our Weirdest Search Term of the Week award!
Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing-reader-suggested-review queue looks: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (next week!); “My Wrongs 8245-8249 and 117″; Dellamorte Dellamore [AKA Cemetery Man]; The Hour-glass Sanatorium [Saanatorium Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE→
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 Cabin in the Woods: Five college kids find themselves trapped inside an impossibly clichéd horror movie situation at the titular locale; who is the puppetmaster pulling the strings? We passed on mentioning this big time Hollywood horror release last week as too mainstream, too hiply postmodern, but we’ve since changed our minds and now think this could be worth a bit of your weird attention. The Cabin in the Woods official site.
Bunnyman 2 [est. 2012]: The sole source of potential weirdness in this one is that the serial killer looks like a (far less terrifying) Ice Cream Bunny with a chainsaw. We confess, we weren’t even aware there was a Bunnyman 1. Here’s a link to the not-safe-for-work (NSFW) trailer: Bunnyman 2 trailer.
Mondo Art [est. 2012]: By coincidence, the day I was writing about “Mondo” movies in the context of Sans Soleil and wondering to myself where the Mondos had gone, I get a notice of a new Mondo in production, this one covering the modern/performance art scene. Fringe movements exploited in the shock-doc include feminazi films, insane asylum art, and an “assault rifle aggression” artist. Another NSFW trailer (this time, for nudity and perversion): Mondo Art trailer.
NEW ON DVD:
“Citizen Welles: The Stranger (1946), The Trial (1962), Hearts of Age (1934)”: Here’s a 2.5 movie set of Orson Welles pictures. The Stranger is a solid, conventional anti-Nazi noir; of more interest (to us) is Welles’ adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial, the story of an average man accused of a crime but never told what he is supposed to be guilty of (this movie is in our reader suggested review queue). Both the feature films were already in print, but what makes this 2-disc set a bit more interesting is the inclusion of “Hearts of Age,” Welles’ rarely seen 8-minute first film, in which a young Orson plays Death and which was actually inspired by Surrealism. Nothing new here, but an interesting collection nonetheless. Buy “Citizen Welles”.
Dirtbags (2009): According to the synopsis, this is a retitled (but identical) re-release of Dirtbags: Evil Never Felt So Good, which itself is supposedly a remake of a probably non-existent movie called Dirtbags: The Armpit of Metal. This “special” edition contains an interview with someone called Peter Steele and behind the scenes footage for extra features totaling about an hour and a half in length. Apparently, the movie is a date-rape comedy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’d have a lot more confidence in director Bill Zebub if he’d chosen the more elegant pseudonym Bill Z. Bubb. Buy Dirtbags.
“Eclipse Series 32: Pearls of the Czech New Wave”: Although some of these movies are currently in print from other sources, this 4-disc, 6 movie set from the Criterion Collection’s “Eclipse” line still counts as one of our most anticipated releases of the year. Covering the frequently surreal movies of the Czech New Wave from 1966-1969, the star of the set is the “madcap feminist farce” Daisies (already in our review queue). Also of note is the surreal and notoriously banned Report on the Party and the Guests. Other films are the anthology Pearls of the Deep, the eccentric comedy Capricious Summer, the subversive adultery drama The Joke, and Return of the Prodigal Son, a film about which we know absolutely nothing. This set could potential contain multiple movies that we’ll eventually certify as weird (if they live up to their legendary reputations). Buy “Eclipse Series 32: Pearls of the Czech New Wave”.
Girl on a Motorcycle (1968): Marianne Faithful leaves her newlywed husband, gets on a motorcycle, experiments with psychedelic drugs, and has flashbacks inside of flashbacks. This feminist counterculture road-trip film was billed as the European version of Easy Rider. Buy Girl On a Motorcycle.
“A Hollis Frampton Odyssey”: Another compilation of “not for everyone” experimental films from the 1960s avant-garde, of which the frustratingly ambiguous “Zorns Lemma” (1970) comes closest to being famous. Brilliance, or structuralist wankery? Now you can decide. 2 discs. Buy “A Hollis Frampton Odyssey” (Criterion Collection).
The Theater Bizarre (2011): A six-film horror anthology from directors Douglas Buck, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Karim Hussain, Jeremy Kasten, Tom Savini, and Richard Stanley. Apparently Hussain’s segment is surreal. Like any anthology, we expect this to be of mixed quality—but we like the title. Buy The Theater Bizarre.
Thor at the Bus Stop (2009): Ragnarök has arrived, and the Norse god Thor needs to take public transportation for his date to fight the Midgard serpent; his annoyed actions at a Las Vegas bus stop spark mini-dramas in those standing around him. Zero budget or not, you have to take notice of a concept like that. The DVD had been sold independently, but was picked up by VCI for a proper release. Buy Thor at the Bus Stop.
The Wicker Tree (2010): Two missionaries travel to a remote Scottish town where the villagers still worship the old pagan gods in this re-make/boot/hash of the Certified Weird The Wicker Man (1973). It’s from original director Robin Hardy and brings back star Christopher Lee for a cameo, but reviewers suggested Hardy should have left the Old Gods sleeping. We’ll probably check it out anyway: could it be worse than the infamous 2006 remake with Nicolas Cage? Buy The Wicker Tree.
Stranger Than Fiction (2006): An IRS agent (Will Ferrel) comes to realize that he is actually a character in a novel being written by a creatively-challenged author (Emma Thompson)—and even worse, he figures out that she’s trying to come up with a plot twist to kill him off. This literate comedy-fantasy with a postmodern premise is one of the biggest hits available for free on YouTube, as well as the only movie starring Will Ferrel that critics actually liked. Watch Stranger Than Fiction 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.
42nd Street is the film that really made choreographer Busy Berkeley a star; and that, in itself, is telling. Although directed by Lloyd Bacon (a 1930’s version of a Ron Howard-type assembly line director), it was Berkeley who rightfully grabbed the honors.
The musical, it seemed, had already run its course when Warner Brothers released 42nd Street. Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer (1927) had been the ground-breaker, ushering in the advent of sound. But, in the six short years between The Jazz Singer and 42nd Street, the genre had already grown stale. Warner, on the verge of bankruptcy, took a huge gamble (studios used to do that) and brought in the innovative Berkeley, teamed him with the competent helmsman Bacon, an unknown (fresh) cast, and the expert songwriting team of Al Dubin and Harry Warren (who make a cameo in the film).
The plot is hackneyed, and would set the pattern for what constitutes a “Berkeley” film. It’s a backstage story about the struggles of a Broadway musical production (who really thought 1980’s Fame had an ounce of originality?) with an overly intense, self-destructive director (Warner Baxter, an archetype later taken to the extreme in Roy Scheider’s portrayal of Joe Gideon in 1979’s All That Jazz) and an understudy (Ruby Keeler) who, at the last moment, fills in for the injured star (Bebe Daniels) and becomes a star herself.
Of far more interest, plot-wise, is the nuanced filler material. Virginal Keeler and her leading fellar, golly-gee-wiz swell guy Dick Powell have limited charm and register as flat and clunky next to the wisecracking chorus girl Ginger Rogers (already projecting star quality) and the dirty old rich lecher Guy Kibbee. This is the Depression era and there is talk aplenty about the desperate struggle for money and success, which gives the film moments of sweaty substance. Star Daniels, no fluff actress, is clearly an occupant of Kibbee’s casting couch, even if she is in love with George Continue reading 42ND STREET (1933)→
FEATURING: Alexandra Stewart (narrator, English language version)
PLOT: Essentially plotless, Sans Soleil is structured as a series of letters sent from around the world by a fictional director addressed to the anonymous female narrator. The footage shown ranges from the banal to the incredible, and each image sparks a meditation from the letter writer. Among other sights, we view Japanese praying at a shrine to dead cats, the imaginary nightmares of sleeping subway riders, and the bloody slaughter of a giraffe by poachers.
Sandor Krasna, the cameraman whose letters the unnamed narrator is supposedly reading, is fictional, an alter-ego of reclusive director Chris Maker. The name “Chris Marker” is itself a pseudonym for Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve.
Marker has said he was born in Mongolia, a claim some film historians dispute. He was a philosophy student before joining the French resistance during the Nazi occupation. After the war he became a journalist, then a documentary filmmaker.
Sans Soleil was Marker’s first personal film after years spent making a series of Marxist political documentaries.
The title comes from a song cycle by Modest Mussorgsky; some of the melodies are recreated in nearly unrecognizable electronic versions arranged by Isao Tomita.
In one section of the film “Sandor Krasna” has traveled to San Francisco to visit locations from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Remembering the scene where Madeline points to the tree stump, the narrator says “he remembered another film in which this passage was quoted…” The other film, of course, is Marker’s own La Jetée.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: For many, Sans Soleil‘s unforgettable scene is the slice in time when a striking-looking young woman in Cape Verde, who knows the camera is pointed at her but demurely refuses to acknowledge it, briefly makes eye contact; Marker highlights the moment, remarking about “the real glance, straightforward, that lasted a twenty-fourth of a second, the length of a film frame.” (It’s an inversion of a famous bit from Marker’s La Jetée, where every shot is technically the length of a film frame except for a single glance at the camera). As unexpectedly powerful as this brief moment of eye contact is, it’s unfortunately not so weird. So, for our indelible image we instead turn to the video transformation of the ceramic cat idol into an abstract orange and blue blob, a moment where Marker brings two of the film’s diverse interests into a temporary harmony, illustrating how he weaves his seemingly random obsessions into a coherent tapestry.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Sans Soleil begins with an image of three Icelandic girls and
Clip from Sans Soleil
voiceover narration admitting that the photographer can find no other image to link it to, followed by a brief shot of American warplanes on an aircraft carrier, followed by scenes Japanese commuters napping on a ferry. This ADD documentary changes topics every minute or two, with each brief sequence accompanied by a spoken observation that could be read as profound, poetic, pretentious, or even all three at once. Sans Soleil visits cat shrines, the slaughter of a giraffe, and a monkey porn museum in its wanderings. If that’s not weird enough for you, the film takes time out of its busy schedule to recreate the imaginary nightmares of passengers dozing on a Tokyo subway. All of the scenes are accompanied by freaky synthetic electronic sounds percolating up through a video mix that’s often altered with then-avant-garde video transformation techniques. With their feet nailed to reality, documentaries have to strain hard to escape the bonds of gravity and sail to the heights of weirdness, but Sans Soleil is one experiment in nonfiction that manages to soar effortlessly.