Tag Archives: Alex Cox

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: MAD GOD

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DIRECTED BY: Phil Tippett

FEATURING: Niketa Roman,

PLOT: An explorer descends into the depths with the mission to destroy God.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Drawing inspiration from Ray Harryhausen and the Brothers Quay, as well as siphoning the theological-cinematic marrow of E. Elias Merhige, Phil Tippett has created a stop-motion nightmare of such scale and unrelenting viciousness that it turns the corner into the darkly poetic.

COMMENTS: Words nearly fail me. I could go on at length about Mad God‘s technical wizardry and the staggering horror of  its vision. The soundscape is calculated for maximum unpleasantness. The entities populating the Hellish layers are the nastiest collection of putrescent malevolence this side of the imagination. Whatever message there may be here is of the utmost nihilistic hideousness. Myriad paragraphs could be spun going over all the elements Phil Tippett has created for this trial of a film, but mere text cannot convey the goings-on in Mad God. I’ve seen torture porn; this movie is nothing short of torment porn.

Babel is destroyed, and what follows is a vision of mankind, had he defied the warnings of Leviticus 26: 27-33. Man survives, as he must and as he can. An explorer in a capsule descends past a skyscraper guarded by flak cannons. He is armored and equipped with a map and a briefcase. And he witnesses Hell on Earth as he travels, passing defecating guardian beasts. Wispy humanoids are stamped in a press and sent off to labor on a giant apparatus, burnt to crisps, crushed under steam-rollers, and splattered by the dark monoliths they have been tasked to create. Down and further down continues the explorer, map disintegrating, briefcase clutched in hand. Inside is a bomb, and with it the hope of destroying this God and what he has wrought. He reaches the bottom, on which rest innumerable heaps of other briefcases. And he sets the timer…

It may be best for me to describe the few moments of comparative ease on display. A doll-like human woman passes her time masturbating; a nurse has the luxury of a pillow to lay upon; and somewhere in God’s alchemical laboratory there exists a carefree group of DayGlo beings who sup daintily on maggots. And that is all I can think of. Of course, each instance has caveats: the doll-like woman is imprisoned; the nurse must facilitate a ghastly human-emptying surgery for each delivery of an ungainly foetus to be handed unto God; and the DayGlo cavorters are intermittently snatched up and eaten by beasts for the alchemist’s amusement.

There is a timelessness to Mad God, explained not just by its lack of dialogue and grandness of the vision. This project took Tippett thirty-three years to complete. Every crushed human, every organ tossed idly aside, and every burst of goo and shit—it all leads to a dispiriting rejoinder to 2001: A Space Odyssey. When God is fed the dust of the infant, he spews forth black monoliths into the cosmos, infecting neighboring worlds. The abominations on display here are beyond most people’s utterance, and you may be tempted to flee, but Mad God ends on an odd note that ever-so-slightly tempers the despair: another explorer, with another briefcase, is sent down for another attempt.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Tippett’s odyssey, equally compelling and off-putting, enmeshes the viewer in a maximalist excess not too formally different from the likes of Flying Lotus’ trippily mutated Kuso, abetting its dream logic with lurid visions of the scatological and profane.”–Morris Yang, In Review Online (festival screening)

CAPSULE: STRAIGHT TO HELL (1987)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Joe Strummer, Dick Rude, Courtney Love

PLOT: Three gangsters, with a pregnant girlfriend in tow, blow an assignment, rob a bank, and hide out in a Central American village ruled by a band of coffee-addicted desperadoes.

Still from Straight to Hell (1987)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This silly, violent and absurd attempt at a Western comedy made by non-comedians doesn’t really work, except as a curio.

COMMENTS: The story behind Straight to Hell is that filmmaker Alex Cox had assembled a number of punk bands for a concert in Nicaragua, which had to be canceled due to political turmoil. With his schedule involuntarily cleared and time on his hands, he sat down with a guy named Dick Rude (!) and scratched out a movie script in three days, using the musicians and whoever was available on short notice as actors. The result is a silly spoof, made on the spur of the moment, with punk rockers trying to be comedians. There’s a party vibe, and it’s clear that the cast and crew had a blast farting around in the desert. It’s equally clear that you will never have as much fun watching it as they did making it.

Sy Richardson (whom Cox had worked with before on Repo Man and Sid and Nancy) was one of the few actual actors available for the project on short notice, so the prolific character actor gets a rare featured role here, and makes the best of the opportunity. (Because he’s cool, black, and wears a suit and tie while brandishing a gun, he’s often pointed to as a precursor to Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules in Pulp Fiction). The Clash’s Joe Strummer is second-in-command, while Rude takes the role of the youngest and jumpiest of the gang. Courtney Love is Sy’s shrill, preggo girlfriend, who’s so effectively annoying that they effectively write her out of the script after the setup. Besides the main cast, Eighties underground culture aficionados can keep an eye out for cameos by the Pogues, Elvis Costello, Grace Jones, , and even .

And yes, it is weird, although more in the vein of a spectacularly drunk Mel Brooks than of . The credits list a “sex and cruelty consultant” (a bit tongue-in-cheekly, since there’s not terribly much of either). What you do get it some attempted slapstick from musicians trying to be comics, scenes spoofing Once Upon the Time in the West and Cool Hand Luke, hard-to-understand accents (not only from the rotten-toothed Shane MacGowan), a Western hot dog vendor, a butler who serves coffee to desperate killers, a barrelhouse piano version of “Night on Bald Mountain,” a musical number (including “Danny Boy”) or two, and a long conclusory shootout to prune the cast (including a few extra bodies like Jarmusch who show up at the last minute to get mowed down). Perhaps the oddest touch of all are two brief shots of Ray Harryhausen-style animated skeletons: a wolf who howls at the moon and a human clutching a knife between its teeth. It’s like Cox bought a few seconds of unused footage from a Charles Band production and shoehorned them into his movie at random. Whatever charm Straight to Hell possesses comes from the fact that you seldom have any idea what will happen next.

The story is supposedly based on the Canonically Weird Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!—Cox went so far as to secure the adaptation rights—but the similarities between the two films are completely superficial. Remastered with new digital gore effects and re-released in a director’s cut in 2010, Straight to Hell is obscure, but Kino-Lorber’s 2018 edition with director’s commentary is actually its third appearance on DVD (it was released by Anchor Bay in 2001, and by Microcinema DVD under the title Straight to Hell Returns in 2010). The film is also available on Blu-ray or streaming outlets.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s a very weird vibe, and it requires one to not only accept, but also embrace, boredom. If the movie has one theory, it’s this: if you stare long enough at a certain spot, something weird and cool is bound to happen.”–Jeffery M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid (DVD)

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, , , 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)