Tag Archives: 1984

354. URUSEI YATSURA 2: BEAUTIFUL DREAMER (1984)

“It’s no use, Mr. James — it’s turtles all the way down.”–J. R. Ross, “Constraints on Variables in Syntax”

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of Toshio Furukawa, Fumi Hirano, Machiko Washio, Akira Kamiya, Takuya Fujioka; Wayne Grayson (as Vinnie Penna), Roxanne Beck, Marnie Head, Draidyl Roberts (English dub)

PLOT: Students in the town of Tomobiki prepare for a fair the following day. One of the teachers, suffering from exhaustion, develops a strange feeling of déjà vu, finds his apartment covered in dust and mushrooms, and hypothesizes that the entire town is living the same day over and over. As the school nurse launches an investigation, people gradually begin disappearing from the town until only she and a small group of high schoolers are left.

Still from Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984)

BACKGROUND:

  • “Urusei Yatsura” began as a manga (by Rumiko Takahashi) in 1978 and was adapted as a long-running animated television show in Japan starting in 1981 and ending in 1986. It was also known as “Lum, the Invader Girl,”  titled after its main character, when it played on the BBC. The series incorporated a wide variety of influences and was especially known for mixing science fiction with Japanese folklore. It had an “anything can happen” quality to it; eating mysterious candy might make hearts appear over your head, or one of the characters might find a camera that sent those it photographed to alternate dimensions. Even so, Beautiful Dreamer was a radical departure from the series’ comic formula.
  • Mamoru Oshii worked on 106 episodes of the “Urusei Yatsura” television series and was credited as lead director on two. He is also the credited director on the first Urusei Yatsura movie, For You, but was only brought in after a previous director quit, and considered his work on that film a “rush job.”
  • This excursion departs from the series’ usual focus on Lum and aliens, but is partly inspired by a previous episode of the series, “Wake up to a Nightmare.”
  • Beautiful Dreamer contains many references to the Japanese folk tale Urashima Tarō, about a fisherman who marries a spirit princess and spends what seems like a few years in her kingdom, but returns to his village to find that centuries have passed. This is an old and recurring theme in folk tales, which Washington Irving took as the basis for America’s “Rip Van Winkle.” In Urashima Tarō’s story the fisherman is originally rewarded for rescuing a turtle, which is why there are so many references to turtles in the movie.
  • Beautiful Dreamer also references the baku, a mythological monster who eats dreams and nightmares. It has no Western equivalent.
  • Beautiful Dreamer was Eric Young‘s staff pick for a Certified Weird movie.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The main characters briefly escape Tomobiki on a Harrier jet, only to look back and see that their city rides on a turtle’s back, à la Hindu cosmology.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Nazi tea shop; copyrighted piglet; town on a turtle

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Beautiful Dreamer co-stars an amorous flying turquoise-haired alien in a tiger-striped bikini. Not only is that not the weirdest thing in the movie, it’s the touchstone of normality in a film that drops the romantic slapstick conventions of the TV series it was adapted from in favor of a mind-bending trip, bearing its characters into dreamlike worlds on the back of a cosmic turtle.


Original trailer for Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer

COMMENTS: What would happen if you took a beloved Japanese Continue reading 354. URUSEI YATSURA 2: BEAUTIFUL DREAMER (1984)

319. THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984)

“The great majority of symbols in the dream are sex symbols.”–Sigmund Freud, “Symbolism in the Dream,” A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, Micha Bergese, Tusse Silberg,

PLOT: An adolescent girl lies in her bed, dreaming feverishly. In her dream, she lives in a medieval town menaced by wolves, with a grandmother who tells her frightful stories about werewolves and warns her to “stay on the path.” One day, she is traveling through the woods to her grandmother’s house, and she meets a dashing older man on the road…

Still from The Company of Wolves (1984)

BACKGROUND:

  • The film is based on Angela Carter’s three “Little Red Riding Hood”-inspired werewolf stories collected in “The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories.” In 1980 Carter adapted these stories into a radio play titled “The Company of Wolves,” which became the basis for her screenplay collaboration with director Neil Jordan. She published her version of the screenplay, which differs slightly from the filmed version (due to the fact that some sequences proved too costly to shoot) in the collection “The Curious Room.”
  • Jordan says that the stories-within-stories structure was inspired by The Saragossa Manuscript (1965).
  • Other than the wraparound sequences, the entire movie was filmed on a soundstage.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: In a movie where men (repeatedly) turn into wolves, it’s surprising that the most startling image occurs in a quiet moment. Rosaleen climbs a tree, finds a stork’s nest, and finds a mirror and a vial of lipstick nestled alongside the eggs. She applies the lipstick, looks in the mirror, and the eggs crack open to reveal tiny human figurines.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Egg babies; wolves at a wedding; Angela Lansbury’s ceramic head

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: An adolescent girl is lost in a fever dream inhabited by suave beast men and mysterious symbols that both frighten and thrill her. Angela Carter’s Freudian spin on fairy tales takes the sanitized version of Little Red Riding Hood and gives it fangs.

Original trailer for The Company of Wolves

COMMENTS: Werewolves are some of humanity’s oldest supernatural foils, mentioned in Petronius’ “Satyricon” in the first century Continue reading 319. THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984)

CAPSULE: NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND DESIRES (1984)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Lina Romay, Daniel Katz, Carmen Carrion, Albino Graziani, Jose Llamas, Mauro Rivera

PLOT: Irina, a psychic who performs a nightclub act with her lover Fabian, is plagued by nightmares that she believes to be real.

Still from Night Has a Thousand Desires (1984)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Some of the visuals are surreal and the film has a trippy feel; this is achieved with music and creative camera work that do not equate to weirdness.

COMMENTS: A few years ago I started a (NSFW) feature on Tumblr called Franco Friday. It was part of an ongoing project to see every film Jess Franco has directed. IMDB lists 203 Franco films; according to Wikipedia 1)The number of films directed by Jess Franco according to Wikipedia is “about 160”., that number is inaccurate. Apparently there are several films listed under more than one title. I noted in my June 2015 Vampyros Lesbos review that I had viewed some 40-plus Franco films at that time. Night Has a Thousand Desires marks my 70th Franco flick. It is already becoming difficult to find Franco films I have not seen, and I have yet to reach the halfway mark of his library.

Never missing an opportunity to make the most of a budget, Franco would often make two or three films all using the same cast, wardrobe and locations. Night Has a Thousand Desires was obviously filmed just before or after the inferior The Sexual Story of O, which I by chance had watched the week before. I have enjoyed a lot of  Franco’s output from the early 1980s, and I think Night Has a Thousand Desires is his best of the period.

The film takes place in the Grand Canary Islands; the scenery is really beautiful. Both the natural shots and the interior locations are well chosen. The building where much of the story takes place has lovely stained glass windows that Franco uses repeatedly; it lends a great deal to both films vibe. The garden setting where one of Irina’s nightmares occur is superb. The copious zoom shots Franco is so fond of effectively relay a feeling of hypnosis. Everything about this film visually is on point. The soundtrack complements it perfectly: a mix of music borrowed from previous Franco films, including Female Vampire and Devil Hunter, combined with all manner of groaning, grunting, echos and plenty of chanting. Irina’s name is repeated over and over throughout. In one scene, the film’s best, Irina shares a joint with a man and two women who had attended her night club act. I felt like I was getting stoned along with the quartet.

It wouldn’t be a Franco film without sex and violence. Rest assured there are healthy helpings of sex and nudity, and most of these scenes have a bloody ending. The story is straightforward and there is certainly no mystery to solve; plotwise, the cat is let out of the bag early. This does not make the film any less captivating to watch. Lina Romay is outstanding! Whether under a trance, screaming and howling, crying, laughing, giving or receiving sexual pleasure, her character is empathetic and very watchable. Night Has a Thousand Desires is an entertaining and visually impressive Franco effort with a fabulous soundtrack and a great performance by Romay that should delight his fans.

Mondo Macabro’s package offers a really nice Blu-ray transfer with concise, easy to read subtitles and crisp and clear sound. I had to turn down the volume several times (I’m pretty sure my neighbors already think I’m a pervert, so I don’t know why I bother). The extras are a bit thin. There is solid Eurotika documentary on Franco that I had actually already seen before (I believe on another Mondo Macabro release) and an interview with Stephen Thrower, author of “Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco.” The art work on the DVD cover by Justin Coffee is superb! If you are a fan of Jess Franco you need this in your collection.

References   [ + ]

1. The number of films directed by Jess Franco according to Wikipedia is “about 160”.

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)

The Company of Wolves has been officially promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies ever made. Please visit the official Certified Weird entry.

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)