Tag Archives: 1964

1964 EXLPOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES, 2000 MANIACS, AND THE CREEPING TERROR (WITH BONUS: STRAIGHT-JACKET )

1964 was nearly as productive a year for the cinematic horror genre as 1963 was. Coming from the barrel bottom was Jerry Warren’s improvement on 1960’s La Casa del Terror, Face of the Screaming Werewolf, starring (sort of) and Yerye Beirut (who later co-starred with in a string of Mexican films co-produced by ). Chaney was probably less embarrassed (although doubtfully any less sober) working for Hammer director Don Sharp in the relatively well-received Witchcraft. Fellow Hammer veterans Freddie Francis and collaborated on the actor’s only non- directed Frankenstein opus, The Evil of Frankenstein, which initially received poor reviews, but has since been reassessed in a more positive light (in some quarters). Without a star actor (or competent director) Hammer’s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (dirMichael Carreras ) was as limp as its title character. However, the dynamic trio of Cushing, , and did their best work (despite a silly-looking title creature), as usual, for Fisher in The Gorgon. Lee didn’t fair as winningly in the Warren Kiefer/Luciano Ricci co-directed Castle of the Living Dead, despite having closing scenes directed by an uncredited . Lee downsized from a castle to a mere crypt in Crypt of the Vampire (directed by Camilio Mastrocinque), which was as pedestrian as its title, despite undeniable atmosphere. The icon of Italian Gothic cinema, (the last-living of the classic horror stars), was also at home in a castle setting in Castle of Blood (co-directed by and Sergio Corbucci) and teamed again with Magheriti for The Long Hair of Death (which we will be covering soon in a Steele triple feature). The final two Poe films from and , Masque of the Red Death and Tomb of Ligeia, were among their best received, although the latter features yet another ingratiatingly whiny, flowery performance from its star. Rounding out a busy year, Price starred in The Last Man on Earth (co-directed by Ubaldo Ramona and Sidney Salkow), the first of several big screen adaptations of Richard Matheson’s “I am Legend”—none of which, astoundingly, could get it right. Predictably, Blood and Black Lace became yet another cult film from , but even he could not compete with the legendary Kwaidan (directed by Masaki Kobayashi), which puts most Western horror anthologies to shame. Down several notches from those is the work of Del Tenney, who has an inexplicable cult reputation—but as 1964’s The Horrors of Party Beach proves, that status is undeserved for such a dullard (1971’s I Eat Your Skin would further confirm).

Still from The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies (1964)Spiraling downward, ever downward, we come to ‘s biggest budgeted film, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, which is more famous for its title than for the film Continue reading 1964 EXLPOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES, 2000 MANIACS, AND THE CREEPING TERROR (WITH BONUS: STRAIGHT-JACKET )

247. WOMAN IN THE DUNES (1964)

Suna no onna

“TO see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour…”

–William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Eiji Okada, Kyôko Kishida

PLOT: An schoolteacher and amateur entomologist’s search for an elusive beetle takes him to a remote seaside village. Needing a place to stay, he asks the townspeople for lodging and is offered shelter with an odd young widow who lives in a shack at the bottom of a pit. The next morning, as he prepares to leave, he finds that the villagers have tricked him and he is trapped in the pit, forced to shovel sand in return for food and water, presumably for the remainder of his days.

Still from Woman in the Dunes (1964)

BACKGROUND:

  • Kōbō Abe wrote the novel “The Woman in the Dunes” in 1962 and was in the rare and enviable position of adapting it for the screen himself two years later. Abe wrote a total of four screenplays for director Hiroshi Teshigahara, all of which were scored by legendary composer Tôru Takemitsu.
  • Takemitsu’s score was recorded by a string ensemble, then electronically distorted.
  • The film was cut by  about twenty minutes during its original release. The full length film runs about two and a half hours.
  • Woman in the Dunes was nominated for a Best Foreign Language film Oscar, and, more impressively for a Hollywood outsider, Teshigahara was nominated for Best Director. Dunes lost in 1965 to Italy’s Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, while Teshigahara was personally nominated for the 1966 awards instead (losing to Robert Wise for The Sound of Music).
  • The nudity and sex in the film were daring by 1964 standards, causing the import to be marketed in the U.S. with the tagline “The most provocative picture ever made.”
  • Teshigahara retired from filmmaking in 1979 to enter the family business—flower arranging!

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Sand, endless sand. Shifting sand, cascading sand, crumbling walls of sand, grains of sand stuck between toes. But to narrow it down, the dream sequences where the entomologist sees women superimposed over the sand, once with the sand ripples mimicking strands of hair, and once with a dune tracing the curve of a hip.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Feminine mirages; rotting sand; voyeur drum circle

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The plot of Woman in the Dunes—a man trapped into slavery in a remote village, forced to labor to earn his keep—is almost plausible, allowing the unimaginative to view it as a dull version of an escape movie. The hypnotic pace, bleakly beautiful cinematography, and Toru Takemitsu’s unnerving score inform this fable’s weird construction, however, creating a sense of strangeness that slowly gets under your skin like beach sand gets under your swimsuit.


Original Japanese trailer for Woman in the Dunes

COMMENTS: A man, a woman, sand: those are the triangular borders of Woman in the Dunes. Within this minimal landscape, the Continue reading 247. WOMAN IN THE DUNES (1964)

228. LEMONADE JOE (1964)

Limonádový Joe aneb Konská Opera [Lemonade Joe, or the Horse Opera]

“What was before my eyes was both familiar and eerily strange.”–Danilo H. Figueredo, in Revolvers and Pistolas, Vaqueros and Caballeros: Debunking the Old West, on the experience of seeing Lemonade Joe in Cuba

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Oldrich Lipský

FEATURING: Karel Fiala, Olga Schoberová, Rudolf Deyl, Miloš Kopecký, Kveta Fialová

PLOT: A lemonade-drinking cowboy rescues a beautiful temperance worker from rowdies in a tavern. Impressed with his heroism and trick shooting, the town opens an all-lemonade saloon, which upsets the local whiskey barons. With the help of a prostitute Joe has scorned, they scheme to kill the teetotalling hero and make Stetson City safe for intoxicating spirits once more.

Still from Lemonade Joe (1964)

BACKGROUND:

  • The word “limonádový” actually translates to “soft drink,” not “lemonade,” but there can be no doubt Lemonade Joe has a better ring to it than Soft Drink Joe.
  • The Lemonade Joe character began his life in a series of stories by satirist Jiří Brdečka. The stories were then adapted into a 1946 play, a short series of animated shorts, and finally into this hit movie.
  • Co-screenwriter/director Oldrich Lipský was the artistic director of Prague’s Satirical Theater. He went on to direct several popular and critically successful films, including Happy End (a 1966 experimental film that plays backwards) and Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians (1981).
  • Although the Western had been a popular genre in Czechoslovakia in the early part of the 20th Century, largely due to the writings of German pulp author Karl May, Western films had been banned through the German and Soviet occupations. They only began to be screened again (and then rarely) in the 1960s.
  • Czechoslovakia submitted Lemonade Joe to the Academy Awards, but it was not selected for the Best Foreign Language Film competition.
  • This movie was a huge hit in its home country—the biggest-drawing film of the 1960s—and remains a cult movie there to this day.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Lemonade Joe and his nemesis—who is outfitted in blackface because he has been posing as Louis Armstrong for a duet with Joe at the piano—square off in a shootout. The gunfire’s path appears onscreen as dotted lines so that we can see that the bullets are striking each other in midair, leading the duel to end in a draw.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Fiddle eating; Czech blackface; dotted bullets

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Communist propaganda, surreal Czech sensibilities, and an honest appreciation for the entertainment value of early Hollywood films collide to create a homegrown retro-Western musical spoof that could almost have come from the mind of Guy Maddin.


Clip from Lemonade Joe

COMMENTS: You hear the names Milos Forman, , Continue reading 228. LEMONADE JOE (1964)

A WEIRD 1964 CHRISTMAS DOUBLE FEATURE: SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS AND RUDOLPH THE RED NOSED REINDEER

I have often bragged that two of the strangest holiday productions were released in 1964, the year I was born. Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass’ “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” was made for television. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians was a feature film understandably  given scant theatrical release. I used to imagine that these were a sort of personally apt, unintentional welcoming me into the world. As I saw “Rudolph” first, we will start there.

The television show sprang from the 1939 book, written by Robert May, and the 1949 song written by Johnny Marks (sung by Gene Autry). After seeing the animated TV show, one is forced to conclude that Rankin and Bass had to be two of the most unintentionally bizarre producers who ever breathed. Of course, we didn’t notice that fully during childhood (although, I do distinctly remember raising my eyebrows more than once). Upon a later viewing, one realizes just how eccentric the narrative and characters are. I can’t speak for others, but my own personal favorite character was prospector Yukon Cornelius (my brother favored Herbie). No one actually liked or rooted for the whiny red-nosed reindeer.  Yukon “even among misfits, you’re a misfit” Cornelius was something akin to a prophet, inviting identification with his outsider status. That aside, what the hell is he doing in this tale? Why is Santa Claus first represented as a bitchy, anorexic bigot? Following St. Nick is a certified WTF lineup: an Abominable Snow Monster who prefers pork to deer meet, King Moon Raiser (a winged lion, straight out of the Book of Revelations, who lords over an island of misfit toys), and a redneck reindeer coach in a baseball cap.

Still from "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" (1964)We all know the story, as narrated by talking snowman Burl Ives (apparently related to Frosty). Rudolph gets picked on because he has a  glowing red nose. He runs away from home, finds two fellow misfit wanderers in Herbie (the dentist Elf) and Yukon (the silver and gold prospector), who are prone to argue over pea soup vs. peanut butter. The three misfits hide from the Abominable Snow monster (too many syllables for Yukon, who just refers to the beast as Bumble).  Rudolph, Yukon, and Herbie find the Island of Misfit Toys, occupied by a Charlie-in-the-Box,  a polka dot elephant, a bird that swims, a noseless doll, an ostrich riding cowboy, etc.

Santa bitches constantly and never eats,  despite his wife’s reminder that “no one wants a skinny Santa.” Our childhood saint waxes all-consuming hatred for elves and misfits until … “Rudolph with Continue reading A WEIRD 1964 CHRISTMAS DOUBLE FEATURE: SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS AND RUDOLPH THE RED NOSED REINDEER

CAPSULE: A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Wilfrid Brambell

PLOT: A day in the life of the Beatles as their handlers try to prepare for a show that night—but the lads are always goofing off, chasing girls, and trying to track down Paul’s grandfather.

Still from A Hard Day's Night (1964)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: For all its cult cachet, all the talk about its irreverent anarchy and its “surreal humour,” and all of the “underground” techniques it mainstreamed (using techniques pioneered by the French New Wave, Day’s Night is also often credited with inventing the music video), the Beatles’ first feature isn’t “weird” (except as a corrective to the overly-stiff style of 1950s filmmaking it was reacting to).

COMMENTS: “They’re ‘fab’ and all the other pimply hyperboles,” goes one typically sparkling line in A Hard Day’s Night. The speaker, a cynical, unhip adman specializing in teen marketing, was talking about shirts, not the Beatles, but he might as well have been expressing the dismissive attitude most grown-ups shared for the Fab Four before Richard Lester’s rollicking A Hard Day’s Night recast the group as trickster archetypes rather than just four young men pandering to underage girls’ romantic fantasies. Lester makes the Liverpudlians universally lovable: the movie caters to the spirit of rebellion and style kids and teens connected with, while simultaneously disarming adults’ fears and contempt with a witty script. The jokes and wordplay (“I’m a mocker,” Ringo says when asked if he’s a mod or a rocker) were too sophisticated for the crowds of screaming, erotically ecstatic girls (mostly pre-teens, as the concert footage reveals—the Beatlemania demographic, it turns out, was the same age group that later embraced the Backstreet Boys or One Direction) who populate the film’s electrifying concert sequences. The script aimed at broadening the group’s audience by playing up the group’s reputation for clever wordplay and irreverent ad-libs, while not apologizing for their boy band magnetism. It worked. After A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles were no longer just kids’ stuff: they were spokesmen for a youth movement with a cool new insouciant attitude.

Although each of the band members has a distinct personality (wry John, boyish Paul, quiet George and mopey Ringo), “the Beatles” as a group emerge as the movie’s principal character. The boy’s adventures tweak the status quo without eviscerating it; the film’s satire is so gentle that its targets—joyless adults, out-of-touch media, and the humorless of every stripe—laughed at the jibes, not recognizing themselves. Yeah, its pro-youth, but it doesn’t alienate older folk, most of whom would rather identify with Paul’s mischievous (but clean) grandfather and his penchant for sneaking off to the casino than with the wrinkly sourpuss who refuses to open the windows on the train. The spirit embodied by Lester’s Beatles was welcoming, and it wasn’t about chronological age: it was about choosing “parading” over propriety. The plot, such as it is, is a constant stream of sequences where someone wanders off to do his own thing, leaving the authorities (the band’s manager, the television producer) wringing their hands. Paul’s grandfather is constantly getting into trouble; the boys leave practice to go frolic in a field; with only an hour left until the big show, Ringo goes off on his own, ending up in police custody. In the end, naturally, the lads pull it together and bring down the house, proving that the stuffed shirts needn’t have fretted—they should just enjoy the ride, like the rest of us.

Naturally, the Criterion Collection gives A Hard Day’s Night the royal treatment. Aside from the restored picture and (possibly more important) audio (including a new stereo mix), the 2-DVD (1 Blu-ray) set collects four short documentaries on the film, interviews, and more. The commentary track includes almost a dozen people who worked on the movie–including extras, editors, the cinematographer—but unfortunately, nothing from director Lester. Of major interest to cinephiles (and of some interest to weirdophiles) is Lester’s short “The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film,” with Spike Milligan and , a series of silent gags (such as a man who places a record on a tree stump and plays it by running around in a circle holding a needle) that was nominated for an Oscar and was a big favorite of John Lennon’s. Rounding out the package is an 80-page booklet with an appreciation by Howard Hampton, an interview with Lester, and behind-the-scenes photos of the Beatles. The release is a must-have for movie fans and Beatlemaniacs alike.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… looks chaotic and slapdash enough (and just occasionally, for me, depressing enough) to count as an experimentalist or underground movie.”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (2014 reissue)

LIST CANDIDATE: 7 FACES OF DR. LAO (1964)

DIRECTED BY: George Pal

FEATURING: Tony Randall, Arthur O’Connell, Barbara Eden

PLOT: A mysterious “Chinaman fakir” rides into a small western town of Abalone and shows the cartoonish townspeople a variety of colorful wonders to teach them that life is a mystery and a marvel. Still from 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Although a sappy message-movie about the power of imagination, any film that shows you a faun in cutoff shorts drawing out the lust in a priggish school teacher, and then minutes later unveils a mustachioed serpent telling his human likeness that the man is the most imperfect creature he’s ever seen, at least deserves some consideration for the List of the 366 best weird movies.

COMMENTS: “Ye ever see a catfish ridin’ on a yellow jackass before?”

Although at first glance 7 Faces of Dr. Lao is a contrived, tedious “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”-esque story of the purity and wonder of a young boy befriended by a whimsical fantasy-lander among the hee-hawing bumpkins and self-absorbed dowagers, that message gets lost in the excessive phantasmagoria that suffuses the film. We see a bunch of campy characters in western attire living contentedly in the realm of stereotype: there’s the domineering husband and wife (“No no, dear. I don’t mean to give you the jitters”); there are the bigoted goons (“only good Injun’s a dead Injun!”); then there’s tight-lipped prude of a librarian, Angela Benedict (“the section on courtesy and good manner is over there”), destined to fall in love with the blockheaded newspaperman, Ed Cunningham, who’s found a home among the plastic cacti and tumbleweeds. The solution to shake up these trite archetypes appears to be another one: a comedic white man playing a Chinese mystic, with a painful vehemence lacking in Sidney Toler’s Charlie Chan or ’s Fu Manchu. The sound of Chinese bells and Pipa strings replace the music of banjos and harmonicas. Dr. Lao shows up to awe and confound the Abalonians with a variety of disguises, including an organ-grinding yeti and a Medusa in a stop-motion-animated wig. Inside his circus tent (that’s much bigger on the inside, naturally) Dr. Lao turns women to stone and tells the sad futures of blithering widows. He opens his show with a stock footage barrage of fireworks that represents the colorful but tame cabinet of wonders. A wavering-voiced Merlin makes flowers grow instantly and an inch-long sea serpent swims in fishbowl. But then things get crazy: behind one curtain a seductive faun beguiles the librarian with a dizzying tune on the pan pipes, and behind another, the evil real estate mogul encounters a serpent with his face. After yokels pause their “What in Tom Thunder?!” astonishment or skepticism, we return to the strained message movie when Dr. Lao befriends a torturously acted little boy, Mike, in whom he sees an active imagination and appreciation for life. That sickeningly artificial message encapsulates the film, and dismisses the genuine weirdness of Lao’s creations.  However, stop-motion animator turned director George Pal seems far more interested in the lavish set pieces than teaching kids life lessons. The film most drastically diverges from kiddie-matinee flick with the sexual awakening of the librarian love interest who unbuttons her shirt, panting while the well-oiled faun twirls lasciviously. The film further ignores the corny confines of the message with a climax that includes a rocket-powered rain making machine and some drunk bumpkins fighting an ever-growing Lochness monster in the desert, all underscored by a soundtrack of anarchic bagpipes. When Lao leaves in a plume of smoke, much to the dismay of Mike, we’re left stranded with the Abalone bumpkins wondering: “What in the heck was that all about?”

But who is Doctor Lao anyway? Is he a whimsical Chinese guru capable of transforming into six circus entertainers, or is his “Chinaman” persona a role like all the others? At times he drops the “velly solly” accent when speaking to Mike, explaining that he talks in “whatever dialect the mood requires.” This statement explains his divine talent for manifesting himself in a form specifically attuned to whoever’s observing. It is only to Mike that he drops his cadre of disguises, because he sees no need for artifice in the presence of a boy fertile with imagination. His role as master of deception to the dull-minded Abalonians explains his need for fantastical disguises, but the reason for Dr. Lao’s brief stay in the middle-of-nowhere burg remains a mystery left unsolved, due to his seeming lack of effect on the town. Instead of leaving the Abalonians blessed with ability to see life as a circus despite their mundane lives, he leaves the desert ruffians dazed and spouting the same tiresome exposition as always. The only changes Dr. Lao makes in Abalone are galvanizing the townspeople to vote against selling their land to Stark, and chemically developing a romance between Ed and Angela. Lao has the power to catch fish in dry rivers and render the local bigots senseless (with the help of some twinkling music), so obviously he has some ulterior plan beyond running a fabulous circus. Why did he come? Why does he care about Abalone? Why does a man with supreme power charge five cents for fortune telling? Dr. Lao, false god or just brilliant entertainer, leaves us with only a phony moral and the memory of a phantasmagorical circus.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a curious concoction of superb effects and makeup (William Tuttle won the first ever Oscar for makeup design for his work here) and a schmaltzy, moralising tone that doesn’t immediately speak to all audiences.–Graeme Clark, “The Spinning Image” (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by kengo, who said that the movie “has a lot of weirdness in it.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

READER RECOMMENDATION: WOMAN IN THE DUNES (1964)

Woman in the Dunes was promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies of All Time. Read the Certified Weird entry.

Reader Recommendation by Fredrik Allenmark

DIRECTED BY: Hiroshi Teshigahara

FEATURING: Eiji Okada, Kyôko Kishida

PLOT: An entomologist ends up trapped together with a woman in a house at the bottom of a sand pit in the desert, where they are forced to spend their nights shoveling sand.

Still from Woman in the Dunes (1964)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Freud introduced the concept of the uncanny (“Unheimlich” in German) for the particular, often uncomfortable, Continue reading READER RECOMMENDATION: WOMAN IN THE DUNES (1964)

CAPSULE: AT MIDNIGHT I’LL TAKE YOUR SOUL (1964)

À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma

DIRECTED BY: José Mojica Marins

FEATURING: José Mojica Marins, Magda Mei

PLOT: Brazilian undertaker Zé do Caixão (“Coffin Joe”) eats meat on Friday, terrorizes peasants, and plots to steal his best friend’s fiancee; a gypsy witch is the only person in town who dares to defy him.

Still from At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Up until its nightmarish finale, At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is only weird in the sense that it features a one-of-a-kind antihero: Zé do Caixão, a the stovepipe hat wearing undertaker and self-appointed ubermensch who eats lamb on Holy Friday, rails against God during a thunderstorm, and gleefully murders his friends and acquaintances. The vicious character was popular enough to spawn a series of films, and Zé became an iconic boogeyman in Brazil, along the lines of a Freddy Kreuger in the States. Although not all that strange, the original At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is arguably the best of the Coffin Joe movies; the character, however, would return in weirder guises…

COMMENTS: When José Mojica Marins made At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul in 1964, there were no previous Brazilian horror films for him to model his movie after. That explain why Midnight, while cheap, sleazy, and cheesy in design, feels fresh and unique. Marins begins Midnight with not one, but two prologues. In the first Coffin Joe explains the concepts of life, death, existence and blood; in the second, an old gypsy hag waves a Universal Studios surplus skull in front of the camera and warns audiences there’s still time to turn around and go home. In between the introduction and the foreword, the sadistic highlights are previewed over the credits. A leather gloved hand bloodies a woman’s face, the same hands strangle a man in a bathtub, and a tarantula crawls over a bound victim, all while the wind howls and screams, moans and cackles echo in the background like a soundtrack for a Halloween haunted house. The opening impression is of a cross between a Universal horror and a grindhouse roughie; throw in a bit of Anton LaVey posturing, and that’s a fairly accurate description. The violence, which includes severed fingers and gouged eyeballs, is astounding for the early 1960s (there’s no nudity, of course—modesty must prevail). There’s a brutal rape scene, but Zé’s casual blasphemies probably shocked the original audience even more. The plot is simple but unusual: it’s mostly a series of scenes of Coffin Joe scandalizing pious villagers with his sacrilegious antics, then beating and whipping them while daring them to gather the courage to confront him. Meanwhile, he obsesses about fathering a son to carry on his bloodline, and decides to get rid of his barren girlfriend in favor of his only friend’s fiancée. A gypsy woman hangs around the edges of the picture predicting doom for the blackguard. Coffin Joe finally goes too far in his iniquities and one night, at midnight, the spirits of those he’s wronged come to take his soul. It’s not the plot (and certainly not the production values) that impresses, however, but the character of Coffin Joe. Clad head to toe in black, with a stovepipe hat, cape, pipe, bristly beard, and three-inch long fingernails sharpened like knife points, Zé is an instant nightmare icon from the moment he arrogantly strides onscreen. But what makes him terrifying is that he freely chooses evil: there is no backstory to humanize him or explain how he became embittered and corrupted. He’s simply a sociopath who delights in causing pain to his fellow human beings, and who is smart enough to justify his lusts and strong enough to seize them. His philosophy of evil is summed up by his assessment of the villagers he terrorizes: “They’re weak because they fear what they don’t know. I am free. Therefore, I am stronger.” Because Zé, an atheist in a superstitious Catholic society, has no fear of eternal punishment, he can take whatever he wants. A woman he rapes tells him she will kill herself: Zé’s chilling response is to wipe her blood from his lips and inform her that all the women say that—at first. Coffin Joe is repulsive, but he’s also charismatic; the cinematic figure he resembles most is Alex from A Clockwork Orange. We can’t actively root for him, but we can’t help but secretly envy him; he is what we fear in ourselves. That makes for a great character, even if the technical qualities of the movie surrounding Coffin Joe can’t quite live up to Marins’ ghoulish persona. Zé’s downfall satisfies the censors; evil is punished. But at the end, when the forces of superstition and the vengeful spirits of the dead swamp the undertaker, Coffin Joe’s comeuppance has all the sincerity of a fallen preacher’s tearful apology to his parishioners. It’s there for show, to convince the audience that wickedness has been buried once and for all. As Coffin Joe’s words echo in our ears, we remain unconvinced.

Director José Mojica Marins says he took the role of Coffin Joe because he could not find a professional Brazilian actor willing to play the part. He portrayed Zé do Caixão for 45 years, through three canonical Coffin Joe films and a host of guest appearances, including cameos in Marins’ more surreal offerings, including the LSD horror Awakening of the Beast and the cut-and-paste highlight reel Hallucinations in a Deranged Mind.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Morality is annihilated, transgression is exalted — a confrontational close-up makes Mei’s mauled mouth as bizarrely erotic as Barbara Steele’s punctured face in Black Sunday…”–Fernando Croce, Cinepassion (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by EricSG, who praised the “eerie atmosphere” and “surrealistic touches that hint upon Bunuel (albeit more evil)” and added “the ending catapults it into the weird netherworld with psychedelic camera tricks…” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

THE EARLY FILMS OF ROBERT DOWNEY, SR. (A PRINCE): BABO 73 (1964), CHAFED ELBOWS (1966) AND NO MORE EXCUSES (1968)

Looking at the ultra-conventional career of Sherlock Holmes/Iron Man Robert Downey, Jr., it’s hard to imagine that this talented but timid McMoviestar was sired by a disreputable ultracool beatnik hepcat. Indeed, if not for the implication of the “Jr.” designation and the genetic necessity of fatherhood, the average moviegoer would have no idea that a exists. But exist he does, and a strange life has he led. To those who know him at all, Downey is known as a director of obscure cult films and Hollywood flops (including his first Hollywood flop, the sacrilegious but Certified Weird vaudeville Jesus western Greasers’ Palace). But even before hitting the relative mainstream with his breakthrough film Putney Swope, a satire about a Black Power advocate who accidentally becomes head of a Madison Avenue advertising firm, the elder Downey had led a fascinating life. By age 29, Downey pere had lied about his age so he could enlist in the army, been court martialed, won a Golden Gloves amateur boxing championship, played semi-professional baseball, and written and directed his first underground movies, mostly shot in Manhattan without permits, guerrilla-style. “After being thrown out of the house, four schools, and the United States Army, I discovered that I was on the right track,” said Downey.

Still from Babo 73 (1964)To the extent you could say that Downey’s anarchic early films followed a pattern at all, that template was established in his first extended work, the 56-minute political satire Babo 73 (1964). The story follows Sandy Studsberry, the meek “President of the United Status” as he deals with an invasion from the Red Siamese and the antics of his own crazy cabinet, led by Chester Kitty-Litter. All the attributes of early Downey make their appearance here: absurd anything-can-happen plotting, amateur acting, dubbed audio, scenes filmed in public spaces, slapstick Continue reading THE EARLY FILMS OF ROBERT DOWNEY, SR. (A PRINCE): BABO 73 (1964), CHAFED ELBOWS (1966) AND NO MORE EXCUSES (1968)