Tag Archives: 1984

CAPSULE: THE NEVERENDING STORY (1984)

Die Unendliche Geschichte

“I was doing a tattoo in Seattle, and a girl came in and had the whole side of her buttcheek was the Auryn. So she pulled her pants off and asked if she could get a picture with me next to the Auryn, so I stuck my head right next to her butt.”–Noah Hathaway, star of The NeverEnding Story and tattoo artist, on the nexus of his past and current lives

DIRECTED BY: Wolfgang Petersen

FEATURING: Noah Hathaway, Barret Oliver, Tami Stronach, voice of Alan Oppenheimer

PLOT: An orphaned boy discovers an epic story about a young hero’s quest to find the cure for a mysterious force that is destroying the kingdom and killing a princess, only to discover that he is more integral to the story’s outcome than he had imagined.

Still from The Neverending Story (1984)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A fantastical milieu is always good for unusual characters and settings, and the story’s propensity for bleak and even nihilistic ideas goes well beyond the usual expectations for “children’s fare.” However, the weirdness is mostly concentrated in the Mobius strip plot (which inspires the title), making the film primarily weird for the sake of itself.

COMMENTS: Director Wolfgang Petersen parlayed his success directing the global smash Das Boot into a seat at the helm of this movie, which would wrap as the most expensive film in German history. As regards what’s up on the screen, it shows. In our CGI-rich present, the effects may appear dated, but they are surprisingly effective and charming. Petersen creates a fully-realized fantasy world, from the crystalline castle of Fantasia to the dour Swamp of Sadness. The stop-motion, animatronic, and puppeteered creatures are also quite spectacular, with the fatalistic Rockbiter and the treacherous Gmork coming across as especially believable.

All those expensive special effects mean that the burden of acting falls almost entirely upon the two child leads. Noah Hathaway (previously sighted as Boxey on the original Battlestar Galactica series) is particularly strong, doing his best hero’s quest despite being prepubescent. Barret Oliver (soon to be seen as D.A.R.Y.L.) has a harder time, since so much of his role involves reacting to reading. He’s acting by himself opposite events happening to other people, which turns out to be at the heart of the movie’s bait-and-switch.

The true weirdness of The NeverEnding Story lies in this ultimate twist: the Nothing, an encroaching void that is destroying the world of Fantasia, is the personification of the apathy of a disinterested human readership, and the world can only be saved by the imagination of Bastian, the boy who stole and is now reading this very story about how the world is dying because he’s not imagining the story. It’s hardly a coincidence that the hero’s amulet, the Auryn, is a double ourobouros. The movie itself tells us that there is no real world/fantasy world dichotomy to unpack; it’s all fantasy, feeding upon itself. Which certainly goes a long way to explaining some of the story’s more puzzling mysteries, such as why Bastian’s unsympathetic, egg-swilling father (a very grim cameo by future Major Dad Gerald McRaney) isn’t out scouring the city looking for his son in the midst of a storm hours after he should have come home from school.

(Evidently, that metatextual mindplay is an even greater component in the source material. The movie draws on roughly the first half of Michael Ende’s novel, and the author was so incensed by the adaptation that he sued twice: first to stop the production, and then to have his name removed).

Ultimately, the film has major problems articulating what is really important. Characters are introduced only to have no impact on the story at all. A major death is wrung out for every tear it can muster before we’ve ever had a chance to meet the character or understand his importance to the hero. And the ending is a borderline travesty. Given the awesome power to create worlds, the most Bastian can think to do is turn the tables on his bullies and torment them in return. It’s an ending that works (my son laughed uproariously), but it doesn’t fit the philosophical, high-minded tone of all that has come before. Which is perhaps why it’s best to assume that the story never really ended.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… comes off as a Reading Rainbow episode covering existentialism… The NeverEnding Story’s virtues derive in part from its weirdness and uncompromising tone. Much of children’s entertainment instructs about self-actualization, but rarely is the message realized in a manner as respectful of its young audience’s intelligence.”
Mark Pfeiffer, Reel Times: Reflections on Cinema

CAPSULE: THE ICE PIRATES (1984)

DIRECTED BY: Stewart Raffill

FEATURING: Robert Urich, Mary Crosby, Michael D. Roberts, , Bruce Vilanch

PLOT: In a galaxy far far away, where water is in short supply, a band of pirates team up with a princess to investigate her father’s disappearance.

Still from The Ice Pirates (1984)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: I think the operative term to describe The Ice Pirates is not “weird,” but rather “goofy.”

COMMENTS: I’m not completely sure Ice Pirates was always meant to be a comedy. The scattershot humor, the jokes inserted in random spots during action sequences, makes me imagine that it started life as a swashbuckling space opera a la Star Wars, then was retooled as a spoof when it was deemed too cookie-cutter even by Hollywood standards. Or maybe it was adapted for space from a sword-and-sorcery Conan the Barbarian ripoff script, since the villains (“Templars”) all wield longswords and wear chainmail. Whatever the case, Ice Pirates takes itself too seriously to be a laugh riot like Spaceballs, but not seriously enough that you actually get involved in the saga or swept up in the cosmic spectacle. The tone is close to a Barbarella: straight faced, but ridiculous. Unfortunately, it’s neither as sexy nor as weird as Jane Fonda’s psychedelic space classic.

Here’s what you do get: defecating aliens, “Space Invaders” battle monitors, a politically-incorrect jive-talking cyborg pimp, an alien infestation of “space herpes” (singular: “space herpey”), robots mingling with farm animals, Amazons riding on attack unicorns, a water-wasting sex scene in a virtual thunderstorm, a time warp battle shot partially in fast-forward, and lots of pirates, but almost no ice. The cast is large but forgettable. Robert Urich is no Harrison Ford, Mary Crosby is no Carrie Fisher (though she is easy on the eyes), Michael D. Roberts is a sidekick without a character hook, Anjelica Huston is supposed to be sexy but looks embarrassed, the robots’ comic relief routines need reprogramming, and the villains are toothless. Also look for a pre-fame and a post-fame John Carradine (who is literally wheeled-in to deliver his lines) in smaller parts. The cast’s lone standout is Bruce Vilanch as a King Herod type who loses his own head, but continues making wisecracks.

The Ice Pirates was made cheaply, and looks it. It wasn’t funny or spectacular enough to be a mainstream hit, and doesn’t go far enough in its absurdity to garner more than a small cult following, but it is busy enough to make it watchable. Fans of 80s camp will want to add it to their bucket list—just not to the top of the list.

Warner Archive put out an extras-free Bu-ray of Ice Pirates in early 2016.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a busy, bewildering, exceedingly jokey science-fiction film that looks like a ‘Star Wars’ spinoff made in an underdeveloped galaxy.”–Vincent Canby, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, David Warner

PLOT: A young girl moves from the city to a big house in the country. Her dreams mirror her dissociation from her surroundings and family, and an examination of her development as a person (and as a girl becoming a woman) follows through increasingly odd studies of gender and of the notion of the werewolf.

Still from The Company of Wolves (1984)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Neil Jordan’s second film is co-written by the sadly deceased Angela Carter, and her literary tralents are on full display here in an extremely layered and artful examination of gender and sexuality set against traditional folk tales such as Red Riding Hood. Ostensibly a single narrative, Company of Wolves loses itself in stories within stories, all held together as one long dream sequence. This film is quite a feverish and nuanced experience that is a must for inclusion on the List.

COMMENTS: Angela Carter was a fine writer, and anyone who is a fan of the written as well as the cinematic weird who hasn’t yet discovered her would be advised to do so. Company of Wolves draws on the traditions of spoken word narrative and folktales seen through a modern lens. Its source material is Carter’s short story collection “The Bloody Chamber,” which she herself described as an attempt “not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories.” What the viewer gets is a modern retelling of Red Riding Hood with all the sexual connotations not only intact but made explicit for a modern switched-on audience. More than just a straight fantasy and horror, The Company of Wolves is a study of the feminine psyche and its attitudes toward desire and familial responsibility, told through a rich narrative web. Perhaps the most indelible image is “the red wedding,” which gives “Game of Thrones” a run for it’s money in regards of worst end to a wedding possible. Grandma’s inevitable fate in this film takes a visually distinctive and surreal twist on the standard “what big teeth you have” story. One of Carter’s few forays into script writing, this film makes you wish her unique talents were more widely adapted for the big screen; furthermore, it showed Neil Jordan would be a talent to watch out for.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The movie has an uncanny, hypnotic force; we always know what is happening, but we rarely know why, or how it connects with anything else, or how we can escape from it, or why it seems to correspond so deeply with our guilts and fears. That is, of course, almost a definition of a nightmare.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: BLACK DEVIL DOLL FROM HELL (1984)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING:

PLOT: A sexually-repressed church lady buys a magical puppet who comes to life and rapes her, waking her slumbering libido.Still from Black Devil Doll from Hell (1984)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Chester Novell Turner deserves some sort of weird movie recognition for his two movie opus of Black Devil Doll from Hell (1984) and Tales from the Quadead Zone (1987), films which reveal the relative polish and elegance of the maligned Sadly, a spot on the list of the weirdest movies of all time for Black Devil Doll from Hell is not that recognition. Although the doll sex scenes are a hoot, the movie as a whole is dull, and made up mostly of filler.

COMMENTS: The original tagline to Black Devil Doll from Hell was “Was it a nightmare? Or was it for real?” It should have been “I was raped by a puppet—and I liked it!” Shot on video with a budget of about $8,000—although when you watch you’ll find yourself wondering what Turner could possibly have spent all that money on—Black Devil Doll is basically an elaborate home movie starring Turner’s then-girlfriend and a cast and crew made up of relatives and buddies. Massacre Video’s DVD presentation is taken from the best source material possible, which is a transfer of an vintage VHS tape. Anyone who dug the glitchy visual aesthetic of Trash Humpers should respond to this one: with warping around the edges and lots of horizontal roll to accentuate the washed-out lighting, Black Devil Doll is authentic analog ugliness. You shouldn’t want to see it any other way—these visual smudges are all part of recreating the authentic “just took a chance on this turkey because of the crazy title and cover” 1980s video store experience. Watching a pristine, restored version of Black Devil Doll from Hell would be as pointless as a Spike Lee remake with Halle Berry in the lead and Samuel L. Jackson voicing the puppet. While the visuals are drab, the audio is frustrating. There is a constant background hiss, the dialogue can be hard to make out, and Turner’s childishly repetitive Casio keyboard score is irritating beyond belief. At one point, he holds a single ear-piercing high note for 45 seconds (I timed it). And let’s not forget that the acting is terrible, and the direction, too—there are long pauses in the dialogue while Turner patiently waits for the actors to remember their next line, and scenes where star Jones just putters morosely around her house, doing nothing to advance the story. All this incompetence would be intolerable, if the core idea of a supernatural rapist who looks like Rick James turned into a ventriloquist’s dummy wasn’t so inherently bizarre and ludicrous. As it is, you’re left watching wide-eyed in sick fascination to see what strange, sleazy turn the tortoise-paced story will come up with next. The Devil Doll occasionally exhales smoke through his mouth, solely because it’s a cheap effect that looks marginally cool. After blasting his victim with a vent of steam he utters the classic seduction line “now that you have smelt the foulness of my breath, you may feel the sweetness of my tongue!” (I’m totally trying that line out on my next date). The sex scenes look absolutely ridiculous and anti-erotic, but the puppet’s technique must be is superlative, because soon after he rocks her world the church lady proclaims “I didn’t know it could be this beautiful!” She soon throws her Bible in the trash and starts searching the house to find the Devil Doll (whom she dubs “Mr. Wonderful”) for another round of fine lovin’ (splinters be damned!), but he’s gone missing. With the doll departed, she picks up strange men instead, but no one can satisfy her. It’s all quite amazing; you keep on watching not because it’s entertaining, but out of awe that something like this even exists.

Massacre Video’s releases comes in a box set together with Turner’s other movie, Tales from the Quadead Zone (which we chose to represent the Chester N. Turner phenomenon on the List). The Black Devil Doll disc includes an alternate cut of the film that’s missing 13 minutes (they kept all 12 minutes of credits, though). There’s also a thirty minute interview with writer/director Turner and star Jones, and, even better, a commentary track. Jones, now likely a grandmother, makes some priceless comments: she calls the puppet “my baby!” when he first appears, critiques her own nipples, and breaks into an uncontrollable fit of laughter during the sex scene.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The shot-on-video wave that turned horror VHS collecting into such a bizarre free for all in the 1980s resulted in many outrageous oddities, but none can really compete with the brain-shredding experience of Black Devil Doll from Hell.”–Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital (DVD)

CAPSULE: THE DUNGEONMASTER (1984)

AKA Ragewar

DIRECTED BY: Charles Band, Rosemarie Turko, John Carl Buechler, David Allen, Jeffrey Byron, Peter Manoogian, Ted Nicolaou

FEATURING: Jeffrey Byron, , Leslie Wing

PLOT: A demon sucks a computer expert into a dream world where he puts him through a series of tests, each directed in a different genre style.

Still from The Dungeonmaster (1984)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: With its bespectacled hero with a laser-blasting artificial intelligence best buddy who defeats Satan in hand-to-hand combat to save his super-hot aerobicized girlfriend from demonic bondage, The Dungeonmaster may be the apotheosis of 1980s nerd camp. Objectively speaking, however, it’s no more than a guilty pleasure.

COMMENTS: The Dungeonmaster starts out in medias REM, with a dream in which the hero chases a red-robed woman through a misty corridor; he catches her, she drops her dress for a full frontal shot, they start to make love, and then a bunch of aliens break in and abduct her kicking nude body. This has absolutely nothing to do with anything that follows, but it does earn the movie that super-cool R-rating all the awesomest B-flicks get (besides this pre-credits sequence, The Dungeonmaster is strictly a PG affair). Actually, in a funny Zen koan sort of way, the fact that this preliminary fantasy sequence has nothing to do with anything that follows has everything to do with everything that follows, because the rest of the movie is made up of strung-together fantasy sequences with no real logical connection between them. Paul is a computer scientist with an early prototype version of Google glasses that allows him to hack the traffic light cycles as he’s jogging and take money out of his ATM without entering his PIN number. Gwen, his aerobics-instructor girlfriend, is jealous of Paul’s relationship with a female artificial intelligence named CAL (short for her serial number, X-CALBR8), but when the Devil abducts her and chains her to a concrete boulder on a studio back lot, she learns to appreciate what she’s got. You see, Old Scratch is impressed by Paul’s skill with computers, which he regards as some form of arcane wizardry, and so has devised seven tests (each directed by a different one of Charles Band’s pals) for Paul to conquer in order to win Gwen back. One representative quest involves Paul finding Einstein’s ice grenade to throw at the figures in a frozen wax museum. Other challenges include facing zombies and their puppet king in the Land of the Dead, defeating a stop-motion animated jungle statue, and solving a neo-noir mystery. In the most terrifying trial of all, Paul finds himself in a W.A.S.P. video directed by Charles Band, and must fight his way past a bunch of leather clad groupies with big hair to stop an Alice Cooper wannabe from sacrificing his fair maiden on a pointy stage prop. Paul defeats almost every challenge simply by zapping the boss baddie with CAL, whom Satan has helpfully transformed into a wristband laser. He also utters the immortal line, beloved of “Mythbusters” and teenage solipsists alike, “I reject your reality and substitute my own!” The art direction, while admittedly cheap, is actually pretty good throughout, colorful in that bright 1980s way with plenty of sub-Industrial Light and Magic glowing laser beams and electrical arcs turning up everywhere. The Dungeonmaster zips from one underdeveloped adolescent fantasy to the next, with zero logic and a seven layers of cheesy spectacle. It’s kind of great! If I had my way, I would totally reject this reality and substitute The Dungeonmaster‘s.

Remembered fondly by few, The Dungeonmaster was a very late arrival in the DVD format, only showing up in 2013 on Scream Factory’s “All Night Horror Marathon Vol. 2” set alongside inferior but equally unloved Charles Band productions Cellar Dweller (1988), Catacombs (1993), and Contamination .7 (1993).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If this really was a D&D adventure I’d venture that the Dungeon Master desperately needs new medication. Or much less medication. I haven’t seen anything this weird and stupid since I read the Castle Greyhawk module.”–Noah Antwiler, The Spoony Experiment

162. THE LEGEND OF SURAM FORTRESS (1984)

Ambavi Suramis Tsikhitsa; Legend of the Surami Fortress (alternate translation)

“In Ron Holloway’s reverent documentary Paradjanov: A Requiem… an unbowed Paradjanov speaks nonchalantly of being accused of ‘surrealism,’ never pointing out the surreality of a government that views surrealism as a crime.”–Keith Phipps

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Sergei Parajanov, Dodo Abashidze

FEATURING: Leila Alibegashvilli, Sofiko Chiaureli, Zura Kipshidze, Dodo Abashidze, Veriko Andjaparidze

PLOT: On the desolate steppes of Central Asia, a Georgian prince has given slave Durmishkhan his freedom; although he promises to make his fortune and buy her freedom, his lover, Vardo, senses that he will never return. Indeed, in his travels Durmishkhan meets another woman and fathers a child with her, while a bereaved Vardo becomes a celibate fortune teller. Years later, with a Muslim invasion imminent, the czar seeks guidance from Vardo on how to stop the fortress of Suram from collapsing every time his men rebuild it.

The Legend of Suram Fortress (1984)
BACKGROUND:

  • The Legend of Suram Fortress was Sergei Parajanov’s first film after spending 15 years in and out of Soviet prisons on charges ranging from homosexuality, rape, and pornography to bribery and trafficking in religious icons. Many view his persecution as politically motivated. Along with intellectuals and celebrities like , fellow filmmakers , François Truffaut, , , Michelangelo Antonioni, and  all agitated for his release.
  • Parajanov was born in Georgia to Armenian parents, and began his filmmaking career in Ukraine. Each of Parajanov’s major films is built around the folklore of a specific Soviet satellite state: Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964) revolved around Ukrainian legends, The Color of Pomegranates (1968) dealt with an Armenian poet, and The Legend of Suram Fortress covered the mythology of his native Georgia. Ashik Kerib (1988) shows an Azerbaijani influence.
  • Although the movie bears all of Parajanov’s stylistic trademarks, Dodo Abashidze (who also plays the role of Osman-Agha in the film) is credited as co-director, as he is also in Parajanov’s final completed film, Ashik Kerib. Abashidze has no solo directing credits but was a popular actor, and his influence is viewed as a major factor in getting Parajanov released from jail and allowed to return to filmmaking.
  • The Legend of Suram Fortress was based on Georgian folktales which had been turned into a novel by the writer Daniel Chonkadze in the 19th century. The story had been made into a silent film in 1922.
  • The Suram (or Surami) fortress still stands in Georgia.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: This is a hard choice indeed: The Legend of Suram Fortress is a work of visual poetry, and picking out a single frame is like picking out the single best line from “The Iliad” or “The Odyssey.” Each scene in Suram is a meticulous exercise in staging, pageantry, and costuming. For our representative moment, we’ll chose the ceremony where the peasants pray to St. George to protect them from the (metaphorical Muslim) dragon: costumed worshipers parade by in a line, led by a prancing white horse decorated with silvery tinsel, before a smoky field, while the Saint’s icon appears as a glittering ball of light. The scene is low-tech but beautiful, literally realized with smoke and mirrors. In a movie with such a rigorously realized formalism, almost any other choice of image would be equally indelible.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Fans of will likely to groove to the vibe of Sergei Parajanov, recognizing the obsessively arranged compositions and the mysticism that hangs like thick clouds of incense over the film. Rather than taking a wide-angle, pan-theistic view like Jodorowsky, however, Parajanov focuses each of his films narrowly and intently on the legends of a single culture. In Suram Fortress he digs deep to uncover fragmentary narrative relics from ancient Georgia, telling of the legendary foundation of a nation in a confused era when Christianity, Islam and paganism all fought for the hearts of her people. Soaking in a bath of exotic medieval sounds and images, you emerge from the movie feeling Georgia in your bones, while at the same time realizing you know next to nothing about the culture Parajanov simultaneously illuminates and obscures. The visions crumble before your eyes as he builds them.


The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody discusses The Legend of Suram Fortress

COMMENTS: Although there is a (digressive and fractured) story, the essence of The Legend of Suram Fortress is in its astounding visual tableaux: Continue reading 162. THE LEGEND OF SURAM FORTRESS (1984)

149. REPO MAN (1984)

“Exec-produced by an ex-Monkee (Michael Nesmith) and directed by a onetime Oxford law student, ‘Repo Man’ was destined for weirdness.”–“Entertainment Weekly” in their 2003 list naming Repo Man one of the top 10 cult films of all time

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Alex Cox

FEATURING: Emilio Estevez, , Sy Richardson, Tracey Walter, Olivia Barash, Zander Schloss, Fox Harris

PLOT: A scientist drives a Chevy Malibu through the desert with a mysterious cargo in his trunk that vaporizes people who try to look at it. Meanwhile, in southern California, young punk Otto, desperate for money, takes a job repossessing unpaid vehicles as a “repo man.” The two plotlines collide when the repo men discover a $20,000 bounty on the car, and the race is on between Otto and his pals, government agents, and rival repo men to repossess the vehicle, along with whatever resides in its trunk.

Still from Repo Man (1984)

BACKGROUND:

  • Thinking it might make for an interesting story, writer/director Alex Cox rode with a repo man before conceiving this script.
  • Former Monkee Michael Nesmith was executive producer of the film.
  • Both Harry Dean Stanton and Alex Cox have both reported that they squabbled with each other through the film; in one incident, Stanton insisted on using a real baseball bat rather than a prop and almost struck a fellow actor. Some fans have speculated that some of Stanton’s scenes were rewritten and given to Sy Richardson due to this tension.
  • In the originally planned ending, Los Angeles was vaporized in a mushroom cloud; executives at Universal Pictures vetoed the idea. Another proposed ending had Otto becoming a revolutionary in Latin America.
  • Initially, Repo Man was shown in theaters for only a week, but when its punk soundtrack sold tens of thousands of copies the studio reconsidered and decided to give it a slightly expanded release. Still, far more fans came to the film via home video than caught it on the big screen.
  • The version of the film shown on television included several scenes that didn’t make it into the theatrical release. (This “TV cut” is included as an extra on the Criterion Collection release).
  • Cox wrote a script for a sequel to Repo Man that was never produced; in 2008 it was adapted into a graphic novel titled “Waldo’s Hawaiian Holiday.”
  • Over Universal’s objections (they owned sequel rights), in 2009 Cox made a poorly-received, low budget green-screen “spiritual sequel” to Repo Man called Repo Chick.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Repo Man is a film that’s better known for its dialogue than its imagery, but we’ll go with the vision of someone vaporizing when he opens the Chevy Malibu trunk, leaving behind a smoldering pair of boots (this scene happens more than once in the film). It’s one of Repo Man‘s few forays into cheesy special effects, but like every other seemingly inconsistent stylistic element of the movie, it feels right for this material, fitting into this consistently erratic and bizarre nightmare version of L.A.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Repo Man‘s weirdness is subtle, but unmistakable to the connoisseur. Consider the question: what genre is this movie? Is it sci-fi, social satire, a punk testament, or just a smart B-movie goof? And what to make of the movie’s interest in UFOs, conspiracies and fringe theories, the “lattice of coincidence” and Miller’s observation that “you know the way everybody’s into weirdness right now…. Bermuda triangles, UFOs, how the Mayans invented television?” If weirdness can be defined as that which reminds you of no other, than Repo Man is genuinely weird—and genuinely great.


Original trailer for Repo Man

COMMENTS: It may be hard for young folks to believe, but there was a time when Emilio Estevez was more than just Charlie Sheen’s mortified Continue reading 149. REPO MAN (1984)

112. THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE EIGHTH DIMENSION (1984)

“Would a watermelon in the midst of a chase sequence not be, in its own organic way, emblematic of our entire misunderstood enterprise? At once totally logical and perfectly irrational?”–W.D. Richter, explaining why there is a watermelon inside the Banzai Institute

DIRECTED BY: W.D. Richter

FEATURING: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, , , , Vincent Schiavelli

PLOT: We are first introduced to Buckaroo Banzai as he rushes by helicopter from completing a delicate neurosurgery to test-drive a trans-dimensional race car in the Nevada desert. Banzai successful breaches the Eighth Dimension with his oscillation overthruster, but the experiment attracts the attention of the mad Dr. Lizardo, as well as a gang of Lectroid aliens who also want the device. Between rock and roll gigs and particle physics press conferences, Buckaroo and his band of scientist/musician/adventurers, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, will uncover an alien conspiracy that (naturally) threatens the fate of the world.

Still from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)

BACKGROUND:

  • This was writer W.D. Richter’s first directorial effort after having half-a-dozen screenplays produced (including the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers). Banzai eventually became a hit on VHS but was a huge flop in theaters, losing six million dollars and bankrupting the production studio. Richter only directed one other movie, the 1991 independent comedy Late for Dinner, although he continued to write screenplays (including Big Trouble in Little China). Richter did not write the script for Buckaroo Banzai, however; it was penned by his pal Earl Mac Rauch.
  • The name of the evil front corporation in Banzai, Yoyodyne, is a reference to a fictional corporation that appears in Thomas Pynchon’s novels.
  • In 2003 Entertainment Weekly ranked Buckaroo Banzai as the #43 cult movie of all time.
  • The sequel promised by the end credits, Buckaroo Banzai vs. The World Crime League, was of course never made, although legend has it that Richter is still trying to get it produced to this day. In 1998 pre-production work was done on a Buckaroo television series for the Fox network, but the show was never picked up. The Buckaroo brand has persisted through the years with a novelization and comic book adaptations.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We require a flashback to show how the Eighth Dimension was originally discovered by a then-sane Dr. Emilio Lizardo—but how to introduce it without disrupting the flow of the story? This movie believes the most natural way to incorporate the memory is to have a now-insane Dr. Lizardo hook electrodes onto his tongue and shock himself so that arcs of lightning fly out of his eardrums. We have to assume this bizarre home-electroshock therapy explains the perfect cinematic precision of the following flashback sequence, because no other sane theory is offered for Lizardo’s act of high-voltage masochism.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Refer to the plot synopsis. Any movie that successfully incorporates


Original trailer for The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eight Dimension

a band of rock and roll scientists, an invasion by aliens uniformly named “John,” the Eighth Dimension, inexplicable watermelons, and Jeff Goldblum as a New Jersey neurosurgeon who dresses like a cowboy—while working inside the Hollywood system, with a $12 million dollar budget—has worked hard enough to deserve a space on the List of the Best Weird Movies ever made.

COMMENTS: According to an unofficial Buckaroo Banzai FAQ, the most frequently asked Continue reading 112. THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE EIGHTH DIMENSION (1984)

CAPSULE: GIORGIO MORODER PRESENTS METROPOLIS (1927/1984)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Fritz Lang/(version prepared by Giorgio Moroder)

FEATURING: Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge

PLOT: Freder, son of the man who rules Metropolis, discovers the plight of the subterranean

Still from Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis

workers who make the city run when he falls in love with a proletarian female preacher; his new lover is replaced by a robotic imposter who intends to lead the workers to ruin.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is a powerful candidate for the List, but Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis isn’t.  Kino’s 2010 “Complete Metropolis” restoration is now the definitive version of the film; Moroder’s re-imagining, with its synth-pop soundtrack and vocal intrusions by 1980s rock acts like Loverboy, Bonnie Tyler and Pat Benetar, is a curiosity.

COMMENTS:  Set in a massive, mostly underground city that’s equal parts Futurist dreamscape and Babylonian pleasure garden, Metropolis is an unqualified, iconic Expressionist masterpiece, and if you want to turn down the sound and watch it while listening to Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga mp3s, that’s not going to destroy its visual splendor.  Whatever questionable choices “Flashdance… What a Feeling!” composer Giorgio Moroder may have made with the proto-techno soundtrack that he added to this restoration (more on that score later), this Metropolis looks like it’s been struck from a pristine print, and it’s as feverishly hallucinatory as any other version.  The decision to tint most of the scenes works wonderfully (and may even have reflected Lang’s original wishes; tinting was not at all uncommon in 1927).  The colorization is tasteful and intelligent, with scenes on the surface bathed in radiant sepia, while the underground sequences utilize shadowy shades of steel blue and grey.  This process retains the film’s monochromatic scale, simply shifting the palette towards the blue or the amber spectrum.  Moroder added additional color effects for a few scenes; some of the equipment in mad scientist Rotwang’s laboratory glows with electricity, and when he transforms his robot into the image of Maria, the automaton’s eyes shine with an inhuman, metallic blue glint.  Because some segments of Metropolis were lost, Moroder also Continue reading CAPSULE: GIORGIO MORODER PRESENTS METROPOLIS (1927/1984)

CAPSULE: DUNE (1984) [BLU-RAY]

DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING: , Kenneth McMillan, , Sean Young,

PLOT: As simply as I can put it: set in the year 10,191, inhabitants of three planets attempt to gain control of the “spice” Melange.  The substance extends life and allows space travel.  Whoever controls the spice controls the universe.  The planet Caladan, home of the House Atreides, is the main threat to the current emperor of the universe.  Duke Atreides son, Paul, appears to be the “chosen one” due to his special gifts of prophetic visions and skillfulness as a soldier.  Paul foresees the emperor’s plan to destroy the Artreides clan and sets out to take control of the spice and defeat their enemies.

Still from Dune (1984)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Dune is too confusing, an altogether jumbled mess, to give it any consideration for the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made.  There are too many characters, words, names and ideas that occupy the screen.  Overt weirdness does flit about many times, but is marred by cheap-looking special effects and poor acting.  Disappointing, considering who was at the helm of the picture.

COMMENTS: First off, being a new contributor, I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to cover three masters in the realm of weird cinema; Roeg, Cronenberg, and now David Lynch. Truth be told, Lynch is probably the greatest director in the pantheon of weird movies.  That said, this is the worst film David Lynch ever committed to celluloid.  I don’t think he would mind my saying so, as he too has publicly announced his hatred towards this film.  He refuses to talk about it in writings or interviews.  A production debacle, Lynch feuded bitterly with Dino de Laurentis to retain his artistic vision against the producer ‘s extravagance.  The film looks slapdash at times.  This problem likely stems from the complex source material: Frank Herbert’s 1965 cult sci-fi novel of the same name.  Lynch claimed  never to have read the book pre-production and to personally dislike the sci-fi genre.  For unclear reasons, he actually turned down the opportunity to direct Return of the Jedi to do this film.  I imagine Ewoks would have become much more menacing under the Lynchian lens.

Lynch came to direct only after several other directors bowed out due to differences and strife on the set.  One of the directors previously associated with the film was none other than Alejandro Jodorowsky, who planned on taking the film to new heights… a 14-hour epic!  Yeah, that didn’t fly.  What we are left with is a 137 minute hodgepodge of sci-fi jargon and mediocre direction.  Apparently different cuts exist; a 190 minute version has been aired in two parts for television.  The added material only caused more uproar with the legions of “Dune” fans, who thought the additional scenes and extended narration further stifled the already confusing flow of the theatrical cut.  Lynch has refused to release a director-approved cut, and demanded the pseudonym Jonas Booth replace his name on the extended television version.

There is way too much happening in this movie…all the time!  The multitude of characters, all with hard to pronounce names, come and go and never really make an impression.  The viewer is left wondering, “who is that?”, “are they important?,” and “what do they want?”  Ultimately, the answer to the last question is that they all want that damn spice.  Spice is cultivated on the planet Arrakis, or Dune, a desolate sand-covered planet; the only place where one can attain spice and thus total domination over the universe.  What protects the spice from any regular Joe-Schmoe getting at it?  Enormous man-eating worms, that’s what.  At least Lynch got to expand on his worm fixation.

I’ll refrain from putting in text the many characters that inhabit the different planets.  I will say the cast is fairly impressive and many went on to bigger and better roles.  The recognizable faces are: Patrick Stewart, Max von Sydow, Dean Stockwell, Sean Young, Virginia Madsen, and Eraserhead‘s own Henry, Jack Nance (almost unrecognizable without that pompadour).  The most impressive over-the-top performance comes from Kenneth McMillan as Baron Vladimir Harkkonen (see, I told you about the names).  He gets the chance to unspool some great weirdness in his role.  The disgusting pus-and-blood filled boils that crater his face; his ability to inflate his suit and hover around like a lumpy balloon; his crazed, madman line deliveries: he get props in the weird department.  He plays up his vileness quite nicely to cement his baddie status.

I don’t think Dune is complete garbage.  I’ve seen much worse.  The elaborate sets and ornate costumes are most impressive.  The Blu-ray picture quality is probably the best you’re ever going to get (is this the first Blu-ray film reviewed on this site?!?  Blu-ray is beautiful, and hopefully an expansion of weird titles is to come).  The colors are crisp and flaws are minimal.  Many of the set designs were created by the legendary H.R. Geiger of Alien fame (although he eventually dropped out of the production, many of his creations were still used).  Speaking of Alien, I saw many subtle similarities to other classic sci-fi films, with Star Wars leading the pack.  “May the force be with you” is changed to “may the hand of God be with you.”  Young Paul (MacLachlan) undergoes a training sequence very similar to the exercise blindfolded Luke Skywalker practiced on the Millennium Falcon; instead of a lightsaber, Paul uses some sort of laser gun to blast tips off harpoon spears that randomly thrust out of a fight simulator.

The action sequences and special effects are what bog this movie down to the depths of an over-blown ridiculous flop.  For as much money as this thing cost, it should have looked a whole lot better, even by 1984 standards.  The first action occurs when Paul trains in a battle simulation.  There’s a knife fight, but a force field shields the  combatants: it’s a box/cube that engulfs the person into something that looks straight out of Intellivision video games from three years earlier.  The final battle depicts heroic Paul in knife-combat with evil Harkkonen lackey Feyd, played by an insignificant Sting (looking like Sex Pistols-era John Lydon).  The fight is sloppily choreographed and lame.  Overall, a perfect descriptive term for this film… lame.

To get a final understanding of just how corny this movie can get, I’ll offer up three more tidbits in list form:

  1. A dog (a pug) features in several scenes.  Paul lovingly strokes its fur aboard a spacecraft.  His father, the Duke, carries it around like an ornament.  Most hilarious, though, is the scene in which Patrick Stewart’s character charges and screams in full-blown battle mode while cradling the mongrel in his arms.  Where’s a wookie when you need one?
  2. The guns that are controlled by screams and a certain pitch of voice.  A trigger needn’t be pulled.  Just yell.
  3. The potential effectiveness of the giant worms is completely squelched when Paul and his comrades mount, harness, and ride them into battle like horses.

I’m sorry David, your film is lame.  You know it.  I know it.  Still, you managed to get some devout followers.  I just can’t figure out why.

The Blu-Ray additional features include very rough deleted scenes that add nothing of significance.  Special features document the making of Dune and its sometimes cringe-worthy special effects.  There are also segments on the various models, miniatures, and costume designs, which I find to be the only saving grace of the film.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a brilliant mistake, misguided from the start but still aesthetically satisfying… Those who give it a chance…  will be rewarded with something surreal and strangely evocative…”–Bill Gibron, PopMatters (Blu-ray)