Tag Archives: 1979

CAPSULE: TOURIST TRAP (1979)

DIRECTED BY: David Schmoeller

FEATURING: Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness, Tanya Roberts

PLOT: A group of teenagers have car trouble in the back country and find themselves stuck at a closed museum exhibiting creepy, realistic mannequins.

Still from Tourist Trap (1979)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though it be an excellent cult horror classic, this one ranks in the bottom half when it comes to real weirdness. If 2013’s Evil Dead or 2012’s The Cabin In The Woods don’t make the list, what chance does Tourist Trap have? While it’s a memorable horror film, Freddy Kruger picks weirder things out of his teeth.

COMMENTS: Weird movie fans approaching Tourist Trap will have reason to get their hopes up when they see the director, David Schmoeller. He also directed Crawlspace (1986), which is one of the better examples of a cult horror classic and a decidedly offbeat production. And nothing says “you came to the right movie” like the opening music theme, which is a perfect blend of whimsy and dread. Soon we will encounter the ISO standard horror cliches: carloads of young folks, a flat tire, the creepy old rest stop in the middle of nowhere, and the first sacrificial lamb killed off in a sentient room full of laughing mannequins. Ten minutes in, you’ll swear you’re watching an Evil Dead installment, until you remember this was done two years before Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell first ventured into the Tennessee woods. However, by the halfway mark, after you’ve gotten a better map of this film’s universe, there will be no doubt in your mind that Crawlspace’s director made this. Unique villains are David Schmoeller’s forte.

So a carload of teenagers on some kind of outing stumble upon the “Lost Oasis,” a museum now long closed ever since the new highway went through. Stranded with the typical horror-movie car malady, the broke-down kids soon meet Mr. Slausen (horse opera vet Chuck Connors), who runs a decrepit museum of mannequins. Slausen is chock full of exposition about this creepy place, a locale that practically begs for Scooby-Doo and Shaggy to run around stumbling into the trap doors and secret passageways. As it is, the gang of kids do a knock-out job of being dim-witted horror movie teens, insisting on going skinny dipping in muddy ponds in the middle of nowhere, or splitting off alone from the group to inspect deserted houses at night—even after they’ve been warned—because they’re just so darned curious. To the movie’s credit, once we put all the pieces together and gotten to know our antagonist, we get a whole far greater than the sum of its parts. For a low budget flick with little to work with beyond old theater parts and department store fixtures, it wrings out every ounce of scare value from its limited arsenal.

Tourist Trap suffers from Trope Codifier syndrome, causing it not to age well even though it originated many of the characteristics we now view jadedly. We see it today as a derivative mad slasher flick, but that genre was just being born when this movie came out. The wayward teens might as well have numbers branded on their foreheads to show the order they’ll be picked off. The story is loaded with creepy atmosphere, but very thin on logic. Gosh, those mannequins sure seem life-like, as if their eyes follow you around… now you see where this is going. Tourist Trap is redeemed if you recall that it came out one year before Friday the 13th and just one year after Halloween. Dyed-in-the-wool horror/slasher fans will want to see this movie to check it off the must-see list, but weird fans will find little to hold their attention past the sheer offbeat charm of it all and the occasional hilarious one-liner. Make no mistake, you’ll at least get a shiver from the mannequins the next time you’re browsing in the department store at your local dusty, half-deserted mall, which just goes to show that Tourist Trap has done the job it set out to do.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Even though the pic couldn’t be dumber or more senseless, for some it might have some appeal because of its oddness.”–Dennis Schwartz, Ozus’ World Movie Reviews

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

This movie was made for Kindertrauma:

Tourist Trap

Crawlspace (also by David Schmoeller) review at Tenebrous Kate’s:

Crawlspace [1986]

1979 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART TWO: MALIBU HIGH AND THE BUTTERFLY MURDERS

Gas Pump Girls (directed by Joel Bender) is a slice of 70s drive-in T&A. Not aspiring to be anything else, it revels in its Americana kookiness. June (Kirsten Baker) takes over a gas station from her uncle (Huntz Hall from the Bowery Boys) after he has a heart attack. She trains her tight tanktop, short-short-wearing girlfriends to pump gas (“Stick it in, squeeze it, and let it peter out”), which naturally leads them to take on a big bad oil company. Musical numbers and topless scenes are thrown in just for the hell of it, and why not? There’s a punk gang, too; the film is almost a hybrid of the Ramones doing a Grease soundtrack on a “Happy Days” set with a bit of Rocky thrown in. Yes, it’s that cool. It was influential and Bender does wonders with virtually no budget, making this quintessential 1970s trash.

H.O.T.S (directed by Gerald Seth Sindell) is another uddersploitation offshoot of Animal House. It can be summed up as politically incorrect campus topless football. Given that its inspiration isn’t very good to begin with, H.O.T.S. doesn’t set it sights very high, and is all the better for it.

Linda Blair’s cleavage, Linda Blair’s legs, lots of hair, lots of polyester, lots of spandex, and lots of skating add up to a late 70s campfest in Roller Boogie (directed by Mark Lester). It’s embarrassing in the best way.

Bad men kidnap a busload of pretty, all-American cheerleader boobs in The Great American Girl Robbery (directed by Jeff Werner). Ra-ra.

Malibu High (directed by Irvin Berwick) is what 70s drive-in cinema was all about—sex, drugs, and amorality. Hallelujah! Kim (Jill Lansing, in her only film role) is flunking school, just got dumped by her boyfriend for a rich bitch, hates her bathrobe-wearing mama, and her daddy killed himself. What’s a girl to do? First, bed all the teachers. Now, Kim has a 4.0 GPA, but she wants nice things, too, dammit. With her new miniskirt, Kim figures she might as well get paid for what all those stupid girls do for free. Meet Kim, the hooker who’ll rock your van into the gates of paradise. Alas, poor Kim also likes the wacky tobaccy, and we know what that demon will do—turn you into a gun-toting hitman with a pop-gun. Lansing plays her sociopath without an ounce of sympathy and even less talent, with thespian skills so tawdry that it’s easy to see why she became a minor cult goddess. Even worse is the writing, which seems penned by a clueless tenth grader, and the score by a tone deaf composer. It’s mind-boggling enough to be a trash masterpiece that can rank with the likes of .

Mistress of the Apes (1979)In the future, future generations may see fit to an erect a future Mount Rushmore homage to the likes of , , , and Larry Buchanan in the future. And why wouldn’t they, with gems like Buchanan’s Mistress of the Apes? See Susan (Jenny Neumann) fill a pair of white daisy dukes. See Susan teach a missing link how to deep throat a banana. See Susan scratch her armpit and beat her boobs. See Susan become goddess of the jungle. Among the injustices of the world is the academy’s total failure to nominate “Ape Continue reading 1979 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART TWO: MALIBU HIGH AND THE BUTTERFLY MURDERS

1979 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART ONE: THE RETURN OF THE BIONIC BOY

The final year of exploitation cinema’s greatest decade begins with Alien, the film that made the careers of director and star Sigourney Weaver.   stands out in a top-notch ensemble, which includes the late , Tom Skerrit, Yaphet Kotto, , and Veronica Cartwright. Seven years later, took a very different route with the belated, high octane sequel, which, unlike its predecessor, was an immediate hit. Apart from the performances of Weaver and , however, Cameron’s sequel doesn’t stand up, lacking the tension, freshness, and sense of wonder of Scott’s original, which took its time earning its cult status.

Likewise, The Brood cemented ‘s reputation as a startlingly original and provocative filmmaker. Status quo critics, such as Roger Ebert, were mighty offended. Thank God.

Staying consistent, Ebert missed the boat again with ‘s PhantasmIt spawned a lot of imitations, including Coscarelli’s inferior sequels, which have curiously imitated the imitators.

‘s Nosferatu The Vampyre is a homage to ‘s original. Although some will undoubtedly scream blasphemy, Herzog’s effort, starring in the role made famous by Max Schreck, is the equal of the 1922 classic.

Dracula (directed by John Balham) was an unnecessary big budget remake with the Count (Frank Langella) with feathered hair. Laurence Olivier and co-starred.

With the success of Carrie, it was inevitable that Stephen King’s second novel, Salem’s Lot, would be adapted too. Surprisingly, it was made into a mini-series. Even more surprisingly, it’s directed by , although like Poltergeist, it feels more like the work of its producers. David Soul, riding high on his “Starsky and Hutch” popularity, stars, but James Mason, as usual, steals the show.

Still from The Devil's Three (1979)Cleopatra Wong (Marrie Lee) showed up in 1979 for a couple of ass-whuppin features: first in Bobby A. Suarez’ The Devil’s Three (AKA Mean Business). As usual with Suarez, oddity is in his DNA. In order to save the day, Cleopatra has to dine with the devil (Johnny Wilson), who’s not literally the devil—he’s just a gang lord who goes by that name. Along the way she picks up a flaming bunny in drag (Chito Guerrero) and a four hundred pound psychic (Florence Carvajel) as sidekicks. It’s low budget, badly dubbed, G-rated (well, perhaps PG-rated) lunacy at its most inspired. It probably played at every drive-in theater in the country, for which it was tailor-made.

The Return of the Bionic Boy features a returning Wong, teaming up with the Bionic Boy (Johnson Yap) who is not only bionic, but also an eight-year-old Tae Kwon Do master. Suarez and company jump on the bionic bandwagon, pitting our heroes against Nazis, laser thingamajigs, the campiest gay villain in all of cinema history, and a fire-breathing pseudo-Godzilla as the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake. Being expired cheese, this comes with a manager’s special discount, including a fee pack of antacids for afterwards. Enjoy.

Amityville Horror (directed by Stuart Rosenberg) was a phenomenon, Continue reading 1979 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART ONE: THE RETURN OF THE BIONIC BOY

CAPSULE: CALIGULA (1979)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Tinto Brass, Bob Guccione

FEATURING: , , , Teresa Ann Savoy,

PLOT: Caligula becomes the Emperor of Rome and lots of depravity happens; any resemblance to actual people, places, or events is entirely accidental.

Still from Caligula (1979)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: On paper, Caligula sounds like a sure bet. There are many bad movies that get honored here, and we even have a tag called “.” Caligula could theoretically qualify for the List of the Weirdest Movies Ever Made by that standard. Except that “bad” doesn’t describe Caligula so much as stupid. Nothing more need be said about this movie but “stupid.” Rocks are too smart to watch Caligula.

COMMENTS: There is at least a hefty essay and maybe a book to be written about the story of how Caligula got made, although perhaps it would be more correct to say it got “executed.” The drama involved in the production is a thousand times more entertaining than anything that ended up on film. Pretty much everybody involved locked horns and stormed off the set to sue each other. Various creative forces within the production struggled to make it a historic Shakespearian opera, a cheap exploitation flick, a softcore porn epic, and a hardcore snuff porn transgression; the result was best summed up when one reviewer called it “a boondoggle of landmark proportions.”

Some cultural context is helpful: the 1970s were an era when movies like Deep Throat had brought big-screen porn into a relatively acceptable light, and filmmakers were getting more daring in testing the boundaries of taste. Caligula pisses on the very idea of taste, and if you dare to abuse your intellect by watching it, you will encounter several scenes where it literally does just that. Welcome to the Horny Roman Empire, with Caligula (Malcolm McDowell) romping with Drusilla (Teresa Ann Savoy), which seems to be harmless enough erotica until you learn they’re brother and sister. His uncle Emperor Tiberius (Peter O’Toole), summons him to discuss politics and witness his depraved orgies. Caligula assassinates Tiberius and assumes the throne, breaking all hell loose as he sinks into depravity. Caligula promotes Drusilla as his equal, convicts Marco (Guido Mannari) of treason in a kangaroo court and offs him, and marries Caesonia (Helen Mirren) because he can’t legally marry his sister. Drusilla dies, Caesonia gets pregnant, Caligula wars with the Roman senate and declares himself a god, Caligula shows off his horse, the new senator Chaerea plots to assassinate Caligula and succeeds, and the movie ends, merciful heavens be praised.

In the midst, background, foreground, and everyground of these shenanigans, naked people cavort in every depiction of hedonistic excess possible. It kind of plays out like a film with a bigger budget but fewer ideas and not a trace of a sense of humor. In fact, Malcolm McDowell’s presence in this film invites you to compare it to a signature scene of A Clockwork Orange; it’s exactly the kind of “ultraviolence” film the character Alex would be forced to watch during his brainwashing sessions. There’s rape, torture, bestiality, necrophilia, mutant people with four legs and butts on their bellies, silly over-the-top executions and mutilations, urination, defecation, and basically every perversion you could search for on the Internet. Most of this just flies by with no context or reason to exist. Sometimes the camera just gets bored and focuses on somebody’s crotch, while irrelevant actors screech their dialog in hopes of getting it’s attention. Nobody in this movie even gave a thin damn about historical accuracy. The sets are festooned with anachronisms such as a styrofoam hat shaped like a penis, worn by an extra just casually passing through the set while apparently waiting for a taxi.

When it comes to erotic arthouse films, Caligula fails by every definition. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover does a superior job of being a weird epic with erotic scenes, for just one example. There’s a dozen or so artsploitation films already in line on this site ahead of Caligula, and there’s only so many we need. In terms of history, just take into account that even the writings we have of the real life of Caligula (mostly Suetonius, writing 80 years after the emperor’s death) are suspected of fudging the facts in the interest of political propaganda. In terms of pure kinky titillation, go watch The Story of O or Secretary or Belle De Jour instead. Don’t look for steamy thrills in Caligula, because nobody, not even serial killers apprehended with a freezer full of body parts, is this depraved.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… as with a lot of bad would-be art, this cinematic oddity holds a truly bizarre fascination…”–Michale Dequina, The Movie Report (1999 revival)

CAPSULE: APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX (1979/2001)

Must See(original 1979 cut)

Recommended(Redux cut)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Martin Sheen, , Robert Duvall, , Fredric Forrest, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Larry Fishburne, Harrison Ford, Bill Graham, , (Redux only), Aurore Clement (Redux only)

PLOT: Loosely based on the Joseph Conrad novella “Hearts of Darkness,” the film centers on Willard (Sheen), who is sent up the rivers of Cambodia to terminate the mad Colonel Kurtz (Brando) and destroy his cult-like compound.

Still from Apocalypse Now (1979)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Apocalypse truly is the Vietnam war on acid. At times it’s surreal, hallucinatory and mind-blowing, but that’s not always the same as weird. However, if this were a list of the 366 greatest films ever made, it would definitely make it. Heck, Apocalypse would probably make a list if this of the 66 greatest films ever made—although the longer 2001 Redux version is definitely inferior to the original 1979 film.

COMMENTS: Francis Ford Coppola’s original 153-minute version of Apocalypse Now opened in 1979 after a chaotic production and almost two years in the editing room. All that time, money and effort paid off, because, despite a draggy third act, Apocalypse Now is one of the maddest, greatest war movies ever made. Willard’s trip down the river (or the rabbit hole) is punctuated by one mind-boggling set-piece after another, including a helicopter assault on a Vietnamese village scored by Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”, a USO show featuring Playboy bunnies that slowly devolves into a chaotic free-for-all, and an opening sequence where a drunken Willard trashes his hotel room while Jim Morrison’s eerie “The End” pours out in surround sound. It’s the Vietnam War filtered through madness, LSD, and loads of unforgettable music.

The Redux version of the immortal film adds 49 minutes of frankly unnecessary footage, resulting in a wildly overlong 202 minute film. The “new” sequences mostly consist of two never-before seen set-pieces. In the first, Willard encounters a French family living on a plantation. They’re in Cambodia, but it’s as if they were still back in France circa 1950. Willard even finds romance with one of the women, Roxanne (Clement). This sequence, while interesting in an academic sort of way, is less than compelling. In the second new subplot, Chef (Forrest) and the other men on Willard’s boat spend the night with several of the Playboy bunnies last seen during the memorably disastrous “Suzy Q” sequence. These added scenes do little but show us that Willard and his crew found female companionship on their trip up the river, and it’s easy to see why Coppola cut the footage in the first place. It’s just not that involving.

Luckily, the rest of Apocalypse is still there: every other brilliant sequence that has earned the film a reputation as a flawed masterpiece. Yes, once Brando turns up, the movie sort of slides downhill, but the last 30 minutes improve upon repeated viewings. Furthermore, the 2010 Blu-Ray restores the film to its original widescreen dimensions. All the previous DVD versions had cropped the picture to fit high-definition television screens (according to cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s wishes), but no more. This Blu-Ray also includes the jaw-dropping 1991 documentary Hearts of Darkness, which examines the film’s nearly disastrous 1976-7 production, which was beset by typhoons, a heart attack, and a budget that swelled to a then-staggering $31.5 million. Directed by Eleanor Coppola (wife of Francis), the doc is itself must-see viewing.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Alternately a brilliant and bizarre film…An exhilarating action-adventure exercise for two-thirds of its 139 minutes, ‘Apocalypse’ abruptly shifts to surrealistic symbolism for its denouement… Experience is almost a psychedelic one–unfortunately, it’s someone else’s psyche, and without a copy of crib notes for the Conrad novel, today’s mass audience may be hard put to understand just what is going on, or intended… Dennis Hopper is effectively ‘weird’ as Brando’s official photographer.”–Dale Pollock, Variety ( 139-min. ‘work in progress’ version shown at the 1979 Cannes festival)

RUSS MEYER’S BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA VIXENS (1979)

Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens (1979) is the last authentic Russ Meyer film (he returned only to produce 2001‘s rarely-seen Pandora Peaks, which is, as to be expected, an idiosyncratic interpretation of the documentary genre). Co-written by (under his “R. Hyde” pseudonym), Meyer’s swan song is film as one additional cup size enhancement. It has charmed moments of Meyerisms, including his trademark spry editing, but adds erratic eroticism. Meyer once claimed it was the favorite of his own works (although he said the same of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls). This may be an echo of Paul Gauguin’s claim that the artistic process was more satisfying than the finished work. Coloring Meyer’s sense of nostalgia for the film was his admission that he constantly engaged in sex with star between takes. According to Meyer, the actress introduced him to multifarious taboos and was even more oversexed than he was.

As in Up! (1976), the plot is emaciated Surrealism. The relationship (so to speak) between Surrealism and pornography has been complex since the movement’s inception (works by Georges Bataille, Susan Sontag, and Theodor Adorno are among essential writings on the subject). Meyer’s brand of Surrealism is strictly visceral, which renders him closer to authentic Surrealism than to soft-core porn. For the Surrealists, porn’s lack of social acceptability amounted to an endorsement. However, its totalitarian simple-mindedness prevented a complete embrace, or mimicry. Rather, elements of pornography proved influential to the aesthetics and tenets of Surrealism.

Of course, Meyer did not associate himself with any –ism, and it’s doubtful that he gave much thought to categorizing his work. He simply stayed true to his sense of craftsmanship, making films that he would want to see. He voluntarily returned to the limits of independent budgets as opposed to compromising with Twentieth Century Fox, who any other indie filmmaker would have killed to work for. That anti-bourgeoisie, stubbornly rebellious streak invites a comparison to Surrealist bad boys such as Andre Breton, , or George Antheil. However, as much as Meyer was obsessed with breasts, he was equally preoccupied with cartoonish slapstick; another surrealist plane of identification. His films, especially his last two, are akin to a visualization of a Carl Stalling collage.

Still from Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-vixens (1979)The gossamer narrative revolves around Lavonia (Natividad) who is sexually unsatisfied with hubby Lamar (Ken Kerr). As the “Small Town USA Narrator” (Stuart Lancaster in a pickup truck) informs us, “Lamar, with a 37 IQ, is strictly a rear window man[1].” Lamar’s fetish gets him fired from his job (no perverts allowed here), and drives Lavonia into the sheets with her vibrator. She follows this by having affairs with Mr. Peterbuilt (Pat Wright), teen meat Rhett (Steve Tracy) and lingerie salesman Semper Fidelis (Michael Finn). Oddly, wifey’s bonding with the battery powered machine drives Lamar into a far greater frenzy than her extramarital rendezvous.

With a slinky dress and gaudy wig from Semper, Lavonia hits the strip clubs under the stage name of Lola. Borrowing a plot from countless opera librettos, the husband comes across his disguised wife and does not recognize her. Lavonia’s ruse to trick her husband into good old fashioned vaginal intercourse utterly fails, driving Lamar to seek gay counselor Asa Lavender (Robert Pearson) and female Benny Hinn type-Eufaula Roop (Anne Marie) for conversion therapy.

Meyer’s camera work and editing is at it most -like, fixating on inanimate objects, most of which are utilized as phallic and vaginal symbols (such as a record player). He also employs extreme close-ups of Natividad’s sex parts paralleled, per the norm, with vivacious sound effects.

While much of Meyer’s work intersects sex and violence, there is virtually none of the latter here and, with no real antagonist, Beneath deliriously celebrates the joy of sex. Meyer had once planned a film titled The Bra Of God, which for various reasons did not come to fruition. However, in that planned title and this film we locate the pulse of Meyer’s inseparable art and life. Existential questions are banished. Like the birds, bees, ants, and fish, the relevance of life pertains primarily to pleasure found in sexual union. We share that with the beasts and primitives. The sole difference is we do not, or should not, divorce love (and appreciation of beauty) from sex. For Meyer, pursuit of power, acquisition of dyed green paper, and the quest to find an invisible deity are pursuits for the unenlightened.

  1. One might speculate as well how much of this plotline was semi-autobiographical. Meyer claimed that Natividad introduced him to anal sex, which she was apparently preoccupied with []

CAPSULE: THE BROOD (1979)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Art Hindle, , Samantha Eggar

PLOT: Horrible murders swirl around the family of a woman who is  under the care of a psychiatrist practicing “psychoplasmics,” an experimental therapy which elicits physical manifestations of psychic traumas.

Still from The Brood (1979)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The “deformed children” of The Brood might seem like a bizarre bunch to neophytes, but a glance at Cronenberg’s later works reveals they’re strictly a warm-up act where weirdness is concerned.

COMMENTS: The Brood includes a touch of the body horror that Cronenberg fans tune in for, though you have to wait until the end for the big reveal. Throughout most of the running time, this is more of a “regular” horror effort, with little monsters bashing in heads in bloody assualts (the broodlings favor wooden hammers as their weapon of choice, and although there are only a few attacks, they are very memorable and very traumatic). A psychological background gives the story texture that keeps it from sliding into slasher movie territory. Frank Carveth (the unremarkable Art Hindle) once had a happy family, but his mentally ill wife Nola (a remarkable Samantha Eggar) has been taken under the care of experimental psychiatrist Hal Raglan (the dependable Oliver Reed). On a visit to pick up his five-year old daughter from a visit with her mother at the “Somafree Institute,” Frank watches a public demonstration where Raglin, roleplaying a meek patient’s harsh daddy, bullies the man until he breaks out in sores of shame on his face (“go all the way through it to the end,” the therapist whispers as he eagerly anticipates the festering of the sobbing man’s impending wounds). When he takes the little girl back home, Frank discovers bruises and scratches on her back. Frank insists the girl’s visits be cut off, but an arrogant and uncooperative Raglan is not keen on changing the cloistered Nola’s therapeutic regime at such a crucial time, and insists the current custody arrangement must continue. Frank decides to conduct his own investigation into psychoplasmics.

The backstory that explains the level of intensity on display here, particularly in that final confrontation between Frank and Nola, is that Cronenberg was going through a divorce and custody battle of his own at the time he wrote up the scenario. The Brood is a step forward in Cronenberg’s oeuvre; it’s more polished than his previous efforts Rabid and Shivers, which were clearly ambitious exploitation movies. With its satirical shots at psychiatry coupled with a searing psychology of its own, The Brood takes a turn towards art-horror. It’s helped immensely by Eggar’s wild-eyed, all-in performance; she’s a nutcase, and an unintentional monster, but not an unsympathetic one. The Brood is an experimental therapy by David Cronenberg to elicit a cinematic manifestation of his own traumatic divorce, and its a successful one. It seems like an obvious influence on ‘s even stranger and more bitter breakup memoir, Possession, which it beat to the screen by a mere two years. The torture of divorce, from the husband’s perspective, was a big movie topic at the time—patrons going out to see The Brood might have rubbed shoulders with those lining up to see the Oscar-winning Kramer vs. Kramer.

In 2015 The Brood joined Scanners, Videodrome, Dead Ringers, and Naked Lunch on the Criterion Collection label. Along with the usual extras, the release includes Cronenberg’s second low budget experimental movie, 1970’s Crimes of the Future, as a bonus feature. Crimes is the story of a rogue dermatologist who accidentally wipes out all females on the planet. Crimes is probably far weirder than The Brood, but not nearly as accomplished.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“In true Cronenberg fasion [sic], we are, instead, presented with something much, much weirder.”–Jerry, “Danny Isn’t Here Mrs. Torrance (DVD)

BEAUTIFUL FILMS: WERNER HERZOG’S NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979)

‘s Nosferatu (1922) rightly ranks on nearly every historian’s list of the greatest films to emerge from the silent era (as does his Sunrise). Murnau’s concept of the vampire manages to embrace its absurdities and simultaneously repel us. Probably as much “Varney The Vampire” as Dracula, Murnau’s demonic, Victorian count is more a diseased, toothsome, carnivorous rat than a crepuscular Valentino. Murnau, who served as his own cameraman, artistic director, designer, and editor, and did his own lighting, filtered this greatest of all vampire films through his perfectionist sensibilities (only ‘s 1932 Vampyr has a comparable, but contrasting beauty.

Of course, the vampire genre became increasingly ludicrous. Worse, Dracula and his cohorts became dull, repetitive, and insignificant. The Lord of the Undead became so tame that producers tapped Sheridan Le Fanu’s lesbian-tinged “Carmilla” (repeatedly) in an attempt to reinstate an edge, which suited the 1970s sexual revolution. Despite mixed results, it worked to a degree (We have yet to see buxom lesbo vampires selling breakfast cereal, but give it time).

Just when we thought the masculine bloodsuckers had given up the ghost to their more interesting female counterparts, , of all directors, gave new vitality to a very old story by doing something out of the ordinary with his 1979 homage to Murnau, Nosferatu, The Vampyre (1979).

Herzog’s Nosferatu boasts a startling aesthetic with stained hues and bizarre, cool pacing. Petrified interiors strikingly contrast stony exteriors seething with grey life. Cinephiles wax endlessly about Stanley Kubrick’s obsessive use of sterile whites to parallel opaque reds. Herzog utilizes greys, browns, and whites much differently. Lack of color conveys something seething with life, but not life as typically defined. ’s whitened, fleshy count pierces the bluest skies and greenest forests.

One of Herzog’s motives in making the film was a chance for a second collaboration with Kinski (they first teamed up for 1972’s Agguire: The Wrath of God, while Woyzeck immediately followed Nosferatu in the very same year). Due to copyright restraints, Murnau was unable to use the names of Bram Stoker’s cast of characters. Fifty years later, Herzog did not have to contend with the author’s estate, and although he utilized the familiar names, Herzog took liberties with the story.

Still from Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)Kinski’s is a surprisingly sympathetic performance that still manages to convey grotesque mania. Kinski’s Dracula is as inimitable as Max Schreck’s in the 1922 original. Although both actors took the count-as-a-rodent approach, Kinski’s arouses a pronounced degree of empathy. Playing opposite Kinski’s bleached bat is the gossamer  as Lucy. Mina is jettisoned completely. Apparently, Herzog felt Lucy was a more compelling character (Sadie Frost, as a concupiscent Lucy, validated that point in Coppola’s 1992 Dracula, wholly dismissing ’s waxen Mina). Adjani is in every way Kinski’s equal. You can’t take your eyes off of this enlivened, spectral figure. Unlike Murnau’s Greta Schroder, Adjani is no dormant sacrificial lamb. It is she, not Harker (Bruno Ganz) or Van Helsing (Walter Ladengast), who is the film’s protagonist.

Herzog reinstates the novel’s contrast of the sacramental with the Satanic (Schreck’s count is an anti-Semitic caricature preying on Schroder’s German virgin). Lucy actively tracks down Dracula’s heterodox sanctuary, eradicating it with the Eucharist. 

Paradoxes abound: White rats (thousands, millions of them) gift the vivacious breath of disease. The Transylvanian aboriginals (echoing the populace of Aguirre) contrast with urbane Londoners. Humor pierces a milieu of soulful solemnity when Dracula, in chalky voice, says: “I thought he’d never leave,” after his sole encounter with the raving Renfield (). The redemptive goal is offset, in the film’s climax, with cynicism.

As expected, Herzog is too authentic an artist to produce a mere fan film. Nosferatu The Vamypre is stamped with the artist’s personal aesthetics, giving at least some credence to the occasional claim that this homage actually surpasses Murnau’s original.

CAPSULE: ALL THAT JAZZ (1979)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Bob Fosse

FEATURING: Roy Scheider, Leland Palmer, Ann Reinking, Erzsebet Foldi, ,

PLOT: A pill-popping, womanizing, workaholic choreographer’s hard living leads to a heart attack.

all_that_jazz
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Aside from camp spectacles like Rocky Horror Picture Show, there aren’t many weird musicals. The musical is an inherently square art form. There are, however, frequently surreal dance sequences in musicals (see ), and All That Jazz finishes up with some of the weirdest; it’s not enough to put the movie on the List of the weirdest movies in history, but it’s worth a watch if you swing that way.

COMMENTS: Joe Gideon, the stand-in for director/choreographer Bob Fosse, begins every day with the same routine: a drop of Visine, a shot of Alka-Seltzer, a cigarette smoked in the shower, a Dexie, and finally he’s ready to look in the mirror and announce, “it’s showtime!” The director, who’s in the early stages of planning a major (and scandalously erotic) Broadway musical while simultaneously cutting a movie about a stand-up comic (based on Fosse’s own Lenny Bruce biopic), also finds time to sleep with as many aspiring dancers as possible, down a few Scotches at night, and candidly chat about his life with his only confidant, a hot gauzy angel (the radiant Jessica Lange).

With its confessional premise of a womanizing artist painting a roguish self-portrait with the aid of fantasy, All That Jazz cannot escape comparisons to the iconic artist autobiopic, 8 1/2. Compared to , Bob Fosse is all sheen and surface. Jazz suggests none of the depths of the Italian’s conflicted Catholicism or his weary existentialism. For Fosse, life is just work, sex, speed, repeat. The two films suggest the difference between an obsessive artist, and an obsessive craftsman. On the cool scale, Roy Scheider is no , so it’s difficult to buy the film’s premise that everyone is in his life is charmed into submission by this smug, glib, self-appointed genius, beyond his unquestioned ability to advance their careers. It’s no surprise that Fosse isn’t as interesting as Fellini (how many people who have ever lived are?), but still, as embodied by Scheider and his arrogant Van Dyke, Gideon’s naughty hedonism manages to keep our interest through a somewhat repetitive first two-thirds.

Although the early reels provide entertainment enough to carry us through, Jazz doesn’t really start high-kicking until the heart attack strikes and Gideon’s anesthesia-induced musical fantasies kick in. The finale builds weight from the context of the character building that’s gone before; when the choreographer’s preteen daughter—dressed provocatively in an evening gown with a cigarette holder and fur stole—vamps “you’ll miss me daddy, if you go away,” the effect is touching and ironic, rather than creepy. The fantasy numbers are produced by a chain-smoking Gideon doppelganger who appears beside the bedridden director: “you don’t have any lines here,” he mocks as the invalid tries to mumble through his gas mask to the loved ones passing before his mind’s eye. It arrives at a show-stopping, heart-stopping finale set to the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” (with altered lyrics). A smarmy Ben Vereen, acting like a telethon host, croons and hoofs his way alongside Schneider  in a disco-age Vegas netherworld complete with flashing colored lights, horrible automaton heads in the audience, and dancers dressed like Slim Goodbody. The number is stretched out for ten minutes, with a couple of false climaxes, but it never drags; it may not be the summation of a life’s work, but it is a masterpiece of its type. Emphasisizing seduction and drug abuse over tap dancing and top hats, All That Jazz is a musical that can appeal to people who hate musicals, which is a valuable service for many of us.

In 2014 the Criterion Collection pried the rights to All That Jazz away from 20th Century Fox, turning what was already a pretty good DVD release into a superlative DVD/Blu-ray package.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an uproarious display of brilliance, nerve, dance, maudlin confessions, inside jokes and, especially, ego. It’s a little bit as if Mr. Fosse had invited us to attend his funeral — the wildest show-business sendoff a fellow ever designed for himself — and then appeared at the door to sell tickets and count the house; after all, funerals are only wasted on the dead.”–Vincent Canby, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Dwarf Oscar, who noted, “It’s pretty weird at times, but I actually don’t know if that is a weirdness inherent to the genre of musicals, or if that film is truly one of a kind.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE VISITOR (1979)

DIRECTED BY: Giulio Paradisi

FEATURING: , Paige Conner, Joanne Nail, , Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford,

Still from The Visitor (1979)

PLOT: Years ago, a cosmic menace known as Sateen escaped his alien captors and wreaked havoc across the stars. The forces of good and their army of birds vanquished him, but not before he reached Earth and impregnated multiple human women. The children born from those couplings would become mutants, telekinetic beings with the power to rule the world encoded in their genes. Much later, the mysterious being known as the Visitor (John Huston) dreams of a towering figure in black trudging across otherworldly sands. The figure turns into a young girl, and through this vision the Visitor realizes that Sateen’s abilities have resurfaced on Earth within eight-year-old Katy Collins (Paige Conner).

Katy’s hapless mother Barbara (Joanne Nail) recognizes the evil growing inside her daughter as well, as does the cabal controlling Barbara’s boyfriend, Raymond (Lance Henriksen). Seduced by his employers’ promise to fund his pro basketball team, Raymond agrees to impregnate Barbara with a second child in order fulfill their plans for world domination. Will Raymond succeed and help bring the world to its knees, or will Barbara exercise her right to choose (not to be an incubator for mankind’s destruction)?

Also, will the Visitor ever intervene, or will he spend most of his time wandering aimlessly to theme music that is a bit too dramatic and funky for a man who takes forever to walk down a single flight of stairs? And why is Jesus blonde and surrounded by bald children? The answers will surely surprise you, because if nothing else The Visitor is a story that nobody could ever see coming.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: One might read a summary of The Visitor’s plot about a possessed little girl and dismiss it as a rip-off of The Exorcist—which it is—but what’s really special about Giulio Paradisi’s film is that it also rips off Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Birds. In a story where the Satan’s origin as an interstellar felon merits only the briefest attention, director Giulio Paridisi combines a range of ideas from across the spectrums of sci-fi, horror, and religion with such inspired fervor that he could almost be accused of originality. Yes, this is a film that steals parts of very recognizable movies and puts them together with the grace of a child forcing LEGO bricks into a jigsaw puzzle, but the uneven hodgepodge born from The Visitor’s plagiarism is utterly unique in its weirdness.

COMMENTS: From an overqualified cast whose presence could’ve only resulted from blackmail to a plot that immediately requires you to accept that Jesus Christ lives in outer space, very little about The Visitor makes sense. As with many of the so-bad-they’re-weird films, though, that incoherency is the source of the film’s charm. To sit down and explain The Visitor, either by rationalizing its production choices or clarifying its plot scene by scene, would reduce it by turning it into something knowable and common rather than the masterpiece of the bizarre that it is.

The best way to describe The Visitor is to instead just recount a few of its many insane twists, all of which are delivered with the abruptness and enthusiasm of someone making it up as he goes along. This is a movie that casts celebrated director John Huston as a second-fiddle messiah known as the Visitor, whose efforts to stop the possessed Katy Collins soon detour into posing as her babysitter and losing to her in a game of Pong. The threat posed by the girl lies in her telekinesis and a murderous pet hawk whose presence and ability to open doors is never questioned, at least until a maid played by Academy Award-winning actress  kills the bird with her bare hands. However, even more dangerous than Katy is the prospect of her mother, Barbara, giving birth to a son. That second child promises to usher in the end of times, but luckily Barbara lives in post-Roe v. Wade America. After getting pregnant she averts the apocalypse with a timely abortion, leaving the Visitor and his conscripted army of pigeons to take care of Katy and save the day once and for all. Of course, one may wonder why the Visitor didn’t simply take care of Katy as soon as he arrived on Earth, but the answer is clear. That would mean denying us a pretty awesome movie.

After leaving the film’s premiere, Huston reportedly walked up to director Giulio Paradisi and said, “You know what, I had no idea we were making that kind of movie. Congratulations.” Therein lies the wonderful essence of The Visitor, an undertaking so strange that even the people making it could not understand it. It veers from one crazed idea to the next without a care in the world. The results are inscrutable, but within that inscrutability lies a kind of magic. Ultimately, it’s a movie that proves that, when you don’t need to justify yourself, anything is possible.

Drafthouse Films is re-releasing The Visitor to theaters through January 2014, with a new DVD release to follow.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…too messy and weird to have hit back in the day but too inventive and accomplished to have been rotting for so long.”–Alan Scherstuhl, The Village Voice (2013 re-release)