Tag Archives: 1978

CAPSULE: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST [PANNA A NETVOR] (1978)

AKA The Virgin and the Monster

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Zdena Studenková, Vlastimil Harapes

PLOT: A virtuous, virginal merchant’s daughter pledges to live in a magical Beast’s castle to save her father’s life after he plucks a rose from the Beast’s garden; she falls in love and transforms him.

Still from Beauty and the Beast (Panna a Netvor) (1978)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Panna a Netvor is almost a Czech color remake of ‘s more famous film version of the fairy tale, with a few unique weird additions. It makes for an appealing Gothic fantasy, but one which does not distinguish itself enough from its classic inspiration to count as one of the 366 most notable weird movies.

COMMENTS: Identical source material explains a lot, but there are so many similarities between Juraj (The Cremator) Herz’s version of the “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale and Jean Cocteau’s better known classic that Panna a Nevtor almost strikes me as a Czech remake of the French film. The similarities occur especially in the unseen hospitality of the invisible servants of the Beast’s chateau, and shots from a candelabra’s POV and of Beauty running down a dark corridor with billowing curtains seem like direct nods to Cocteau.

The one big difference is that this adaptation takes pains to bring out the story’s horror elements. Netvor starts out like a Hammer film, in a lonely mist-shrouded wood, before segueing into an unsettling semi-animated title sequence of twisted flowers, animal skulls and lost souls that sits somewhere between Hieronymus Bosch and ‘s Fantastic Planet designs. The score is a portentous recurring dirge played on a pipe organ. Netvor focuses on the Beast’s cursed role as a reluctant killer; rather than simply seeing Cocteau’s poetically-rendered smoking paws, this Beast gets blood (both human and animal) under his talons. If Cocteau’s cursed prince was sometimes criticized for being too cute to be frightening, Herz solves this problem with a strange bird-of-prey interpretation of the Beast: it might look a little silly, but at least it’s not something a sane Beauty would consider cuddling with.

Bravura surreal moments include Beauty’s drugged dream, where human bedposts lower the canopy until it turns into a coffin-like box, and a second monster who hangs around in the shadows and telepathically encourages the Beast to give in to his animal side. There are not enough of these touches, however, to transform the movie into a Surrealist version of the tale (although Cocteau’s treatment was not literally Surrealist either). All told, Panna a Netvor is a worthwhile variation on the familiar story, one that will appeal to horror fans, but it shouldn’t displace the classic version in your heart.

A word of warning: animal lovers may want to boycott this feature, which definitely would not have been approved by the ASPCA due to a scene of a horse trampling a frightened doe. It’s an unnecessary lapse of good taste in a film that is otherwise elegantly appointed. Also be aware that the only available DVD, while not region coded, is in PAL format, meaning some U.S. players will not be able to handle it; and although there are English subtitles for the film, the menus and extras are all in Czech. Check your system’s compatibility before ordering.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Many viewers may takes issue with the unusual Beast design, which does take some getting used to, as do such odd sights as what is essentially a giant bird galloping around on a horse. Thankfully, that ends up hardly even mattering in the long run. The film is so beautifully-crafted, visually arresting and richly atmospheric the Beast could have been wearing a paper bag over his head and I still would have bought it.”–Justin McKinney, The Bloody Pit of Horror

(This movie was nominated for review by “Leaves,” who advised “[f]or crazy Czech films… Beauty and the Beast is a great choice.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

1978 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART TWO: MARTIN

Continued from 1978 exploitation triple feature, part one.

The Mountain of the Cannibal God (directed by prolific trash guru Sergio Martino), is possibly the most well-known film of the Italian cannibal genre, primarily because it has name stars in Stacy Keach and Ursula Andress. Being Martino, it naturally revels in its nastiness, which runs the gamut from castration to decapitations, shots of human entrails, and actual footage of a monkey being devoured by a python. A nude Andress certainly helped its box office. It was yet another video nasty staple in the heyday of mom and pop video stores.

Still from Starcrash (1978)Starcrash (directed by Luigi Cozzi) stars cult fave Caroline Munro in a blatant Star Wars ripoff. There’s other people in it as well, like David Hasselhoff (in his film debut) and , but it’s Munro that audiences went to see, and it’s a hoot to boot.

Starhops is a sort of Star Wars parody, but it’s essentially juvenile sexploitation, surprisingly directed by a woman: Barbara Peeters. It’s obscure, for obvious reasons.

The Dark Secret of Harvest Home (directed by Leo Penn) is a Gothic horror TV mini-series starring grand dame , still riding high post-Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1960). Adapted from the Thomas Tryon novel, it’s winningly offbeat with a high camp performance from Davis as the town matriarch. For unknown reasons, it’s home video distribution has been spotty, only briefly becoming available on VHS in a badly mutilated version.

goes zombie with Grapes of Death. Being Rollin, it naturally is going to have a twist—amusingly, zombifying wine. Opulently bloodied, the film has a reputation as being weaker Rollin. Actually, his virtues here outweigh his usual flaws.

They Call Her Cleopatra Wong (directed by Bobby A. Suarez) stars Marrie Lee as an Asian 007 kickin’ ass of a buncha baddie henchman disguised as nuns. Naturally, it was an epic influence on . Low-budget explosions, scantily clad femme fatales, kung fu galore, and wretched dubbing. Sorry, but you can’t call yourself cool ’til you’ve seen it.

Now, when we think we’ve grown immune to a decade full of the unexpected, we encounter Charles Burnett’s “” feature Killer of Sheep, which is one of the most unsettling films of the decade and entirety of cinema. The title refers to Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders) who works in a slaughterhouse and lives in the ghetto where there are principles, despair, poetry and, ultimately, a lack of liberty. Like Stan, the film does not progress, and it really should be required viewing for every Neanderthal who can’t seem to grasp the fact that an entire race oppressed for half a millennium here is not going to “bounce back” by itself in a mere fifty years. This was Burnett’s Masters thesis, shot on a mere $10,000 budget. It remained Continue reading 1978 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART TWO: MARTIN

1978 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART ONE: THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL AND THE FURY

We open 1978 with a double feature of also-rans from the nunsploitation subgenre. It appears the not-so-good sisters unwittingly blessed the exploitation/horror/science fiction genres, because the year is chock-full of titles that cleaned up at the box office.

The Sins of Sister Lucia (directed by Koyu Ohara) isn’t boring with its ramped-up sleaze and nudity, but it’s also derivative of every nunspolitation feature made, without a single surprise. It was a hit in Japan where the genre was gold.

Behind Convent Walls (directed by ) manages to be a dull affair, even with bestiality thrown in.

 Zombies go to the mall in Dawn of the Dead, ‘s belated sequel to Night of the Living Dead (1968). It was a huge critical and commercial success, with the late Roger Ebert proclaiming it one of the greatest horror films ever made. Unnerving and well-crafted, it still can’t match the original, and Romero topped it this year with his masterpiece (below). remade DotD in 2004. Not surprisingly, it’s a piece of crap.

‘s Halloween became the most successful independent film up to its time, setting the mold for American slasher films, and consequently having much to answer for. It’s supremely well-crafted and still holds up far better than the bulk of its offshoots and pseudo-sequels. Doc Loomis () warns of the evil known as Michael Myers, who escapes the asylum and steals a mask, guaranteeing a visceral Halloween night for Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis, who became the modern scream queen, as her mother, Janet Leigh had been for Psycho). Carpenter’s handling of the violence is near perfect, but the supernatural ending is a curious misstep.

The Toolbox Murders (directed by Dennis Donnelly) has a cult reputation as being one of the sleaziest and grittiest low-budget films ever made. It stars and earns its rep.

Don Siegel’s orginal Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an undisputed genre classic and one of the best films of the Fifties, which makes Philip Kauffman’s kinetic 1978 version all the more surprising, because it’s equally superb and excitingly expands on and reinvents the original. , Brooke Adams, Veronica Cartwright, , and Leonard Nimoy do exceptional work. Don Siegel, Kevin McCarthy, and Robert Duvall have memorably chilling cameos in a film that puts contemporary horror to shame. This was the second of four adaptations of Jack Finney’s novella. The Body Snatchers (1993, directed by ) is a successful further variation, but The Invasion (2007) was one visit too many.

Take a big director, a big author (Ira Levin), and a couple of big stars, put them in a big budget Hollywood production of a popular exploitation genre () and show those indie filmmakers how to do it. The result is the laughably ludicrous The Boys from Brazil. Director Franklin J. Schaffner is wrong for the material, but he’s not as wrongheaded as playing mad Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele. At the time, the whereabouts of the Auschwitz Angel of Death was unknown, which opened a path for much paranoid speculation that went both ways. Continue reading 1978 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART ONE: THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL AND THE FURY

CAPSULE: BLUE MOVIE (1978)

“I was really surprised at the success of Blue Movie. It was a film that should have startled all sexy film lovers because it was an anti-establishment film.” -Director Alberto Cavallone (commentary from the documentary included as bonus material on the DVD).

DIRECTED BY: Alberto Cavallone

FEATURING: Danielle Dugas, Claude Maran, Joseph Dickson, Dirce Funari, Leda Simonetti

PLOT: A photographer’s exposure to the images of war leaves him with a warped sense of reality. What others consider beauty enrages him and provokes him to abuse a trio of women in his life.

Still from Blue Movie (1978)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Numerous hallucination scenes, grainy war footage and the overall fragmented film style provide Blue Movie with a nightmare/dream logic. Its softcore sex, scat, urination and heavily misogynist vibe will make it unsavory for many viewers. It is not without some weirdness, but Blue Movie is more unsettling than weird.

COMMENTS: Blue Movie opens with a woman fleeing an attempted rape. The woman is Sylvia who is picked up by photographer Claudio and taken to his home. Sylvia’s recollection of her assault does not match the visuals we are shown. Claudio questions her story, which Sylvia admits is not completely truthful; despite this he gives her shelter. While Sylvia’s story may not have been accurate there is no doubt she has been traumatized. She has flashbacks and hallucinations of being attacked. (One hallucination, of an arm reaching for her from a blood-filled bathtub, is too similar to a scene from ‘s The Tingler to be ignored).

We are then introduced to model Daniela. Claudio is verbally abusive to Daniela, who barely reacts to the ill-treatment. She tells Claudio “Every time I look myself in the mirror, I see that you were right. My face isn’t worth anything. I can no longer put up with myself. I’m fed up with what I am, Claudio, please, help me.”

The photographer meets a third woman, Leda, in a cafe. Leda has no money to pay for the coffee she has been drinking and offers the barista sex in exchange for payment. Claudio settles her bill and brings her back to his place. The town Leda is from was destroyed by an earthquake, and she offers to do work for Claudio, who makes her his secretary.

With the exception of a male character who is never named (IMDB credits him as “il negro”), these are the only people who inhabit Blue Movie‘s world. Claudio, the film’s antagonist, has clearly been affected by the images of war he has been exposed to. This is visualized by a barrage of grainy war footage scattered throughout the film. In the DVD commentary Claude Maran (the actor who plays Claudio) states his character had returned from Vietnam. Claudio possesses a collection of slides. He explains: “I began being a photographer when I was working as a printer for a war reporter. Those photos of mangled people, I could have snapped them. It was then that I became interested in cans.” This comment seems to indicate he had not actually been to Vietnam; either way, Claudio is one messed up cat.

The trio of women are a damaged group also. Daniela in particular consents to her abuse, believing she deserves it. Her imprisonment and subsequent humiliation is a hard watch. It is difficult to relay Blue Movie‘s story because it is somewhat plotless. We basically watch Claudio interact with the three women, always individually, like a dirty reality TV show. Cavallone includes a number of interesting and creative shots I found quite pleasing. Blue Movie has a very nice nightmarish, almost surreal feeling about it. The attractive cast, well-chosen props, sets and locations along with a soundtrack consisting of Bach and Scott Joplin added to the film’s watchability. I was especially fond of the finale. Although Blue Movie is downright illogical at times, I felt it was Cavallone’s intention to allow the viewer a peek at the perceived events of a fragmented mind. Be warned that Blue Movie is as trashy as it is artful: its perversion, madness, trauma, bodily fluids and softcore sex will be unpalatable for many. The scat scenes will be the most likely to engrave themselves into the memory. Daniela, kept locked in a room where she is treated like an animal, is asked to leave “an offering” in exchange for food. She defecates in a litter box and then scrapes her feces into empty cigarette packages. She is later photographed by Claudio while covering herself in her own feces.

Blue Movie was made on a low-budget and shot over seven days with non-professional actors who had no script to follow. Most of it was filmed in the home of producer Marial Boschero in Via Dei Giubbonari, Italy ,with location shoots in Santa Maria Di Galeria, “The Dead City,” a photographer’s studio in Via Della Camilluccia, and Lungo Tevere Tor Di Nona. Two prints of the film exist: a 16mm Italian theatrical release and a pirated 8mm version. Hardcore sex scenes were removed from the film for the theatrical release but exist on the pirated version. These scenes are included as bonus material on the DVD. This is the third DVD I have purchased from Raro Video and I have been suitably impressed, particularly considering the low price. The Blue Movie DVD comes with an eleven page booklet, “Blue Extreme,” a thorough 44-minute documentary on the making of the film, and deleted scenes taken from a 8mm pirated print. The picture quality transferred from the 16mm print is above average.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… a truly unique, albeit bizarre viewing experience.”–Michael Den Boer, 10,000 Bullets (DVD)

See GOREGIRL’S DUNGEON ON TUMBLR for more (not-safe-for-work) stills from the film

CAPSULE: WATERSHIP DOWN (1978)

DIRECTED BY: Martin Rosen, John Hubley (uncredited)

FEATURING: Voices of , Zero Mostel, Richard Briers, , , Denholm Elliott, Harry Andrews, Nigel Hawthorne, Michael Hordern,

PLOT: Rabbits living in a warren called Sandleford leave their home when one of them, named Fiver (Briers), has a foreboding vision. Fiver and his brother Hazel (Hurt) lead their companions to a new hill, but the group finds even more acrimony and strife when they meet the imposing General Woundwort (Andrews).

Still from Watership Down (1978)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Because while often dark, violent and sad, this film is only weird if you think that “cartoons” are only for kids. Anyone who’s seen Yellow Submarine, or practically any anime from Japan knows better. Watership Down is mature, but not weird.

COMMENTS: :Since most audiences think of animated characters as cute, furry and musical (like in most Disney product) or incessantly wisecracking (as in the films from Dreamworks, and practically every other studio), it’s refreshing to mentally travel back to a time—1978—when animation was in the doldrums, and filmmakers would take a chance on something as melancholy and brooding as Watership Down. In this movie, based on Richard Adams’ 1974 bestseller, rabbits bleed, foam at the mouth and die—on camera. There are no pop culture references, no Broadway-style musical numbers, and no jokes about bodily functions. So it’s easy to admire and appreciate this British film—on an academic level– for doing something different. But, unfortunately, the movie is just not that compelling. The animation is… good enough, with the bunnies being still cute, but not excessively anthropomorphic. But some of the other supporting characters, like the annoying seagull Kehaar (voiced by the great Zero Mostel, in his final performance), seem to have flown in straight from a 1970’s Saturday morning cartoon. There are several impressive backgrounds, and effects like flowing water, which are particularly impressive when you consider that this was all done before the dawn of CGI. For a low-budget film, the animation isn’t bad. But the pacing is lethargic (it seems like the movie is almost half over before it really gets going), and it seems that trying to compress Adams’ 475-page novel into 92-minutes (which is only about as long as most conventional animated productions) is problematic.

With 36 years having passed since the release of this film, it’s difficult to watch it now without being reminded of other animated pictures with at least superficially similar plots. For instance, there was the admittedly much more light-hearted Chicken Run (another rare British animated film), about hens trying to escape a farm, as well as The Secret of NIMH, about a family of mice trying to relocate their home. Compared to those two gems, Watership Down comes up a bit short. On the plus side, the film’s music by Angela Morley is beautiful and haunting, as is Mike Batts’s song “Bright Eyes”, sung unmistakably by Art Garfunkel. When “Bright Eyes” is reprised during the closing moments of “Watership Down”, it’s genuinely affecting.

The DVD (there is no North American Region A Blu-ray) comes with a couple of behind-the-scenes documentaries that are arguably more interesting than the movie itself. In one of them, director-writer-producer Rosen explains how he–having never directed anything before–took over the reins after original director John Hubley left, and how Malcolm Williamson also bailed on the project after writing only two pieces of music for the film. Angela Morley then came in and adapted that minimal score for the entire movie.

One final bit of trivia. “Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide” called Watership Down “One of the best non-Disney animated films ever made.” While this is arguable in itself, the quote on the back of the DVD box eliminates the “non-Disney” qualification!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…filled with… extraordinary pieces of mythic imagery…”–Richard Scheib, Moria: The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Wormhead.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: MESSAGE FROM SPACE (1978)

Uchu kara no messeji

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Philip Casnoff, Peggy Lee Brennan, Hiroyuki Sanada, Masazumi Okabe, Vic Morrow, Makoto Satô, Etsuko Shihomi, Sonny Chiba

PLOT: A race of evil robotic samurai conquer a peaceful tribe of leaf-headed aliens, who send out eight magic space nuts to track down reluctant heroes to save their planet.

Still from Message from Space (1978)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Message from Space is so cheesy it should come with a warning: do not watch if lactose intolerant. But risible is not quite the same as weird, and despite its bizarre costuming choices (leaf-headed aliens versus robot samurai aliens?) and laughably conceived special effects, there’s not enough truly strange stuff here to capture the interest of most weirdophiles.

COMMENTS: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: an evil empire has kidnapped a space princess and imprisoned her inside a planet-sized death machine which can only be destroyed by piloting a fighter spaceship through a tunnel and hitting a one-meter soft spot; accompanied by a comic-relief robot, a motley crew of space rats assemble to save her, and the universe. Released one year after Star Wars, with an epic symphonic soundtrack by the Japanese John Williams, spaceships that look an awful lot like X-wing fighters and the Millennium Falcon, and several direct visual quotes from George Lucas’ mega-blockbuster (e.g. the ominous shot of the underside of a massive spacecraft as it glides by), Message from Space doesn’t try to hide its inspiration. In fact, hiding its inspiration would have contradicted its marketing strategy. It’s remarkable how cheeky robots, laser battles, aliens, spaceship duels, and almost all of the other basic elements of Star Wars also appear in Message from Space, and yet the former is a beloved classic while the latter is a space opera staged by the tone-deaf. It just goes to show how far the little things like characterization, acting, editing, passion, originality, and the ingenuity and funding necessary to put your vision onscreen can take you. But, while Message from Space doesn’t have any of the qualities that made Star Wars great, it does have a lot of features Star Wars lacks. For one thing, it has glowing space walnuts sent by the gods to wander the universe. It has nautical-themed spaceships with full billowing sails and a big wooden steering wheel. It’s got characters who actually use “space” as an all-purpose modifier (one guy worries about spending “three years in the space-clink” while another mentions that he was “born after the last space-war.”) It’s got a mixed Japanese/American cast, half of whom are dubbed (the space babe with the Joisey accent speaks her own lines, though). It’s got a cowardly rogue who dresses like a vaudevillian in a pink and orange leisure suit. It’s got a robot waitress with big pink plastic boobs. It’s got teenage heroes who grab hands and hop up and down in a cute little dance whenever they save the universe. It’s got… well, it’s got a lot of stuff, and although little of it is much good, there’s at least enough of it that you might be able to keep yourself from falling asleep. And, although it’s cheap-looking, some of it is pretty to look at; the samurai robots’ throne room looks like it might use backdrops left over from Kwaidan, selectively decorated with a props bought at Barbarella‘s post-production sale. If you’re of a certain age, and have a deep nostalgia for crap, Message from Space may just fit the bill. Personally, when I was dropped off to see this at a matinee as a ten-year old boy, I was so bored that I wandered out into the theater lobby to play “Space Invaders” instead. Although I liked Message better as an adult, now that I’m able to appreciate the camp value of failed entertainment, I am still impressed by my younger self’s ability to ignore the superficial glitz and sniff out a space-dog of a movie.

Despite helming this cynical work-for-hire, rushed into theaters to capitalize on a hit movie, Kinji Fukasaku is not a hack director. In 2000 he delivered the utterly original killer-kids cult hit Battle Royale.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a Japanese science-fiction film that’s so terrible it has a certain comic integrity… [the plot] is pleasantly indecipherable, and the screenplay seems to have passed through a food processor with a sense of humor.”–Janet Maslin, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

LET ME DIE A WOMAN (1978)

In a round table meeting with a couple of editors, I was discussing a proposed documentary (which we abandoned). As we were dialoguing, I mentioned a scene which would require green screen. One of the editors stopped me short and said: “This is a documentary. You do not do green screen shots in a documentary.” When I explained that the scene was meant to be poetic and dream-like, which did pertain to the subject at hand, my editor persisted: “You still cannot do that. That’s against all the rules of documentary filmmaking.” I ended that with: “So who made these rules?” If I had thought that argument through, I probably would have tied the editor down and shown him two documentary films, which break “THE rules.” One would be Guy Maddin‘s My Winnipeg (2007) and the other would be ‘s Let Me Die A Woman (1978).

Doris Wishman’s documentary about sex change is cinema’s closest cousin to Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda (1953). Like Wood, Wishman cannot refrain from coating the subject at hand with her own idiosyncratic sheen. So much the better, because like the Wood film, personality is the most salvageable quality of Let Me Die A Woman. Ed Wood was supposed to make a film about a sex change but he turned his opus into a delightfully desperate, personal plea for acceptance of transvestism. Narratively (ahem) Wishman’s film does not divert quite so far from the topic. Visually, now that’s a different story altogether.

Shots of monstrously thick, red shag carpet (which would look so at home on the set of Trinity Broadcast Network), a “what the hell is that doing there?” Siamese cat and the standard Wishman shots of feet scurrying across a dark red floor are among the countless surreal cut-aways. If Wishman’s wandering camera frequently provokes dumbfound amazement, here the cut-aways interrupt poor Leslie with callous abandon. Leslie methodically applies her lipstick, straps on her garter, looks directly at the camera and tells us: “Last year, I was a man!” Cue in cheesy music. Leslie is the attractive, post-op transsexual star who introduces the viewer into the world of “gender dysphoria.” She is candid, expressive, and the only genuine human in the entire film. Unfortunately, whenever Leslie begins to hook us into her personal story, Wishman swings her goddamned camera into WTF land!

Still from Let Me Die a Woman (1977)No one familiar with Wishman’s body of work would be naive enough to expect a sympathetic treatment of the subject. Pornographic actors Harry Reems and Vanessa Del Rio provide cameos, just to make sure we know it’s a freak show. Like we need the proof. Gratuitous sex scenes, the lamest drag queens ever captured on celluloid, and Dr. Leo Wollman each have their own tent on the carnival grounds. Wollman  serves as the downright creepy ringmaster, acting as if he belongs in one of those wretched Faces of Death videos. He lectures us from a hideously decorated office. It is blatantly obvious Wollman is reading off cue cards when he gives us details aplenty about the SEX CHANGE OPERATION! Whether we want the details or not is a moot point. Actual surgical footage, brought to you in all the ghastly glory of 1978 color, accompanies Wollman’s monotone narration. Where are the horror horn and fear flasher when you need them?

Flopping penises, dildos galore, and Dr. Wollman’s fingers probing a vagina are the visual highlights (!) brought to you by Madame Wishman. Do you really have to ask why  is in love with this mondo trash mutant of a film?

Regardless, Wishman does it her way, God bless her!  Next week, we will wrap up our series on the films of Doris Wishman with Nude On the Moon (1961)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (1978)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Peter Frampton, Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb, Robin Gibb, George Burns

PLOT: Four loveable lads from Heartland, America form a band, overcome the corrupting influences of the music industry, and save their town from the evil forces that want to steal four prized musical instruments which can guarantee peace and love the whole world over.

Still from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is an almost perfect example of a bad idea gone wrong. Attempting to shape a collection of 29 Beatles songs into a narrative seems an iffy prospect, but the resulting story is somehow even more ludicrous than you could expect. Add in dubious casting (the singers can’t act, the actors can’t sing, no one can dance except Billy Preston), garish art direction, many open shirts, tight pants, and the enormous hair of Barry Gibb, and of course some truly awful musical performances. Then, take away all dialogue and replace it with bug-eyed silent film-style reactions and the bored narration of George Burns, and you’ve got yourself a veritable carnival of oddity.

COMMENTS: There is a peculiar subset of motion pictures with musical scores consisting entirely of Beatles songs, including Julie Taymor’s artsy Across the Universe, the peculiar war documentary-rock soundtrack mashup All This and World War Two, and the maudlin Sean Penn drama I Am Sam. As that list indicates, none converted the success of the Beatles into its own artistic or financial triumph. But in terms of jaw-droppingness, all of them take a backseat to the misfire that is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The film is essentially a calculated effort on the part of music mogul Robert Stigwood to sell a boatload of records. He reasoned that combining the perennial popularity of the Beatles with the then-ascendant careers of the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton was like printing the deed to a gold mine. His thinking appears to have ended there. He placed the project in the hands of neophyte screenwriter Henry Edwards, who concocted the tale of a magical bandleader named Sgt. Pepper. Pepper’s magical musical instruments single-handedly ended two World Wars.  His spirit enters a magical weathervane upon his death and his legacy is handed down to his grandson, Billy Shears, and the three Henderson brothers, with town mayor Mr. Kite and Billy’s girlfriend Strawberry Fields on hand to watch their success. And that’s where things start to really get weird.

Why do a defrocked real estate agent and his boxer henchman (Carel Struycken!) want to turn Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (1978)