Tag Archives: Angela Bettis

CAPSULE: THE ABCS OF DEATH (2012)

Weirdest!(segments F, W, Z)

DIRECTED BY: Kaare Andrews, , & , Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, , Adrián García Bogliano, Xavier Gens, Lee Hardcastle, , Thomas Cappelen Malling, Jorge Michel Grau, Anders Morgenthaler, , Banjong Pisanthanakun, Simon Rumley, , Jon Schnepp, , Timo Tjahjanto, Andrew Traucki, Nacho Vigalondo, Jake West, Ti West, , Adam Wingard,

FEATURING: Too many actors to list individually, and no one appears onscreen for long enough to qualify as “featured”

PLOT: 26 short horror films about death, each inspired by an assigned letter of the alphabet.

Still from The ABCs of Death (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: As you might expect from an anthology with a hefty twenty-six entries in a multitude of styles, it’s too uneven and not consistently weird enough for consideration for the List. That said, there are three very, very strange shorts here, and several others that nudge the weirdometer at least a little bit, which makes this worth a look-see.

COMMENTS: Rendered in a wild variety of morbid styles ranging from the avant-garde to the zany, these twenty six short films about death derive from a new breed of up and coming punk directors working in the diffuse genre that now loosely goes by the name “horror.” All the usual disclaimers about anthology films apply to The ABCs of Death, but this compilation faces an additional alphabetical hurdle: if A, B and C are all duds (and I say they are), the movie gets off to a slow start, and there’s nothing the editors can do about it. The order is locked in place and randomized, and the curators can’t impose any sort of flow on the show. The fact that each entry has to be unusually short (after the 11 minutes of end credits are subtracted from the run time we come out to four-and-a-half minutes per mini-movie) is more of a virtue than a drawback, since we aren’t asked to invest much time in the inevitable losers and failed experiments. The necessity for each director to hit hard and fast, with no time to build up true horror, led me to expect shock, gore, and cruel comedy to dominate over true terror. ABCs delivers on that score, but there was also a trend that make me wonder where horror’s head is at. Three out of the twenty-six entries—that’s 11.5%—prominently feature a toilet, and that’s not even counting the one that’s flatulence based. Has horror finally dug to the bottom of the bucket of viscera, and now there’s nowhere else to turn but the toilet to elicit cheap disgust? A more promising development, and one that’s much more to the point of this website, is that the exact same number of shorts (3, or 11%) were unabashedly weird-–suggesting that cutting-edge horror continues to be the last refuge for surrealism in pop culture. Before describing the three bizarre gems, we’ll mention a couple of odd, and not so odd, runners-up. “P is for Pressure,” set in a third-world country and involving a prostitute’s quest to buy an expensive present for her daughter’s birthday, is the omnibus’ only dramatic entry; although it has a morally sickening climax, it is authentically and unexpectedly touching. Though not written by Srdjan Spasojevic (who turns in an extreme but unmemorable riff on “R”), the violent and transgressive porn fantasia “L is for Libido” has a disturbing Serbian Film vibe (with a hallucinatory kick) that soils the mind. On the opposite end of the sexual spectrum, Catette and Forzani’s “O is for Orgasm” is a surprisingly beautiful and experimental explosion of color-filter eroticism that traffics in the concept of sexual release as “la petite mort.” In a normal compilation, “H is for Hydroelectric,” a Chuck-Jones-does-furry-porn style adventure in which an anthropomorphic Nazi stripper fox lures a British bulldog pilot to his doom, would be the WTF-iest entry. Here, however, it’s only an honorable mention, as that title is literally taken by “W is for WTF?” This is a study in surrealistic economy: initially appearing to be a self-aware parody, it quickly establishes a comic book mesh of Satanic gore porn, killer walruses, zombie clowns, and decapitated animators, then spins the images in a psychedelic blender for two gloriously insane minutes. “W” features miniskirted nurses and princess warriors in chain mail bikinis, but for gleefully adolescent gross-out sleaze, nothing beats Noboru Iguchi’s already notorious “F is for Fart.” It’s the tender tale of a lesbian schoolgirl that defiantly expresses a humanistic preference for the gas of an earthly lover over the vengeful flatus of God. “Fart”‘s motto is “let’s pass beyond the boundaries of good taste and become one together,” and does it ever achieve the first part, at least—this is a bad-taste stunner for an unstunable age. Still, top honors in the “weird” category go to Iguchi’s frequent collaborator Yoshihiro Nishimura, who continues to set himself apart as the brigade’s most inventive and audacious talent with ABCs’ capper, “Z is for Zetsumetsu” (“extinction”). A blond Nazi hermaphrodite fights a nude kung fu woman while a Japanese Dr. Strangelove comments on the action; it’s somehow inspired by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquakes, and there are satirical references to American imperialism, the nuclear power industry, and Japan’s own sense of racial superiority. A topless rendition of the 9-11 bombings may have Americans shaking their heads, but it’s hard to be too offended by something that resembles an insane sushi chef’s wet dream (multiple characters ejaculate rice). Whatever associations this stew of mad images raises in the Japanese consciousness, its bizarro bona fides are unquestionable.

Of course, we would have highlighted an entirely different set of segments if this piece had been written for a gorehound journal or a monster blog. One of the issues with what marches under the banner of “horror” these days is that it’s a loose confederation of disreputable interests that encompasses torture porn, black comedy, sick eroticism and experimental imagery alongside traditional stories of vampires, hauntings and madman. With two films prominently featuring pedophilia, and the aforementioned scatology and surrealism joining the expected blood and guts, ABCs‘ selections suggests that the modern horror genre is becoming a final resting place for the generally transgressive rather than for the terrifying per se.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Wow, what a weird, anarchic, energetic and exciting display, from claymation to puppetry to crazy postmodern collage to regular old live action!… I’ll take the movies that pissed me off too, if in some way they help make possible things as divergent and weird and exciting as Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s abstract, erotic ‘O Is for Orgasm,’ Simon Rumley’s grave and dramatic prostitution mini-melodrama ‘P Is for Pressure,’ and animator Jon Schnepp’s hyperactive every-genre-at-once ‘W Is for WTF?’ (probably my favorite of them all).”–Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: MAY (2002)

DIRECTED BY: Lucky McKee

FEATURING: , Jeremy Sisto,

PLOT: A girl with a lazy eye grows up as a social outcast with a doll as her only friend; she gets corrective lenses as a young adult and is suddenly set loose on the dating world with no social skills and a dangerously loose grip on reality.

Still from May (2002)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: May, the character, is weird as hell; May, the movie, not as much, especially after it abandons the awkward character study of its first two thirds for a familiar slasher denouement.

COMMENTS: It’s easy to see why so many people relate to May. The film’s horror isn’t based on remote external threat of ravening psychos harvesting body parts, but on the uncomfortable internal reality of human loneliness. Angela Bettis, who strokes a stranger’s hand as he naps and grins inappropriately when she tells a story about a disemboweled dog, makes for an unforgettably awkward and desperate May. She can’t even stand up straight; she’s always quivering and tottering on her feet, a woman who can’t find a stable footing in the social world. Her “lazy eye” affliction, which is suddenly cured by modern advances in contact lenses, is a brilliant device to explain how this otherwise attractive girl could have grown up so gawky and socially damaged. For this script’s purposes, May can’t just be a common fat ugly cow who never gets a second look. She can’t just be constantly rejected by everyone she meets, sitting alone in her room night after night talking to her doll Sally; she needs to be desirable and attractive enough to have potential paramours to play off of. She gets a terrific pair in an amateur horror director played by Jeremy Sisto, whose fascination with the macabre leads him into a dangerous flirtation with this creepy character, and in Anna Farris’ predatory lesbian party girl, who thinks she’s as kinky as May but has no concept of what it’s like to be genuinely twisted. The early reels show geeky May impressing a date with a home cooked meal of mac and cheese and Gatorade and trying to decide what to do when the guy doesn’t call her back after she misreads his social cues and wrongly assumes he’s into cannibalism. This part of the movie is excellent and uncomfortable; we genuinely root for the pathetic girl to find true friendship, while at the same time being relieved we’re not the ones who have to supply it. Bettis plays May like a female Travis Bickle, but when she finally cracks, it’s the movie that loses it. All of May’s endearing, ungainly mannerisms suddenly fall aside as she becomes a confident killer enacting a weirdo’s revenge fantasy against the cool kids. The more competent and dangerous she becomes, the less creepy she is. What had been an engagingly freaky character study suddenly bows to psycho movie kill conventions, and we spend the last third of the movie just watching the secondary cast get slashed. Although the final scene restores May’s vulnerability and is gruesomely memorable, it doesn’t redeem the movie’s sin of abandoning its freak spirit for horror movie conventionality. May is more of a “weirdo” movie than a “weird” movie; there are only a few scenes—blind kids crawling on glass, May crying blood, and a schizophrenic crack-up montage—that break with narrative realism in any meaningful way. It’s an above average horror outing sporting superior performances, but it’s not a revolutionary genre movie, and given the film’s socially ghoulish first two thirds, there is a sense of a missed opportunity to do something truly special. “I like weird, a lot,” says one of May’s would-be seducers. The joke is that he’s merely a tourist observing human oddity for a lark, and he’s not prepared to handle sincere, dangerous weirdness on May’s level. To some extent, the same thing can be said for the film; it’s fascinated by its weird character, but it’s not interested in descending into the ultimate depths of depraved weirdness.

The May DVD includes two separate commentaries, each hosted by director Lucky McKee but featuring different cast and crew members. The second commentary includes reminiscences by May‘s craft services provider (i.e. the film’s caterer), which turns out to be a funny concept (he reveals the secret to Jeremy Sisto’s heart—jalapeno poppers—and explains how you supply jujubees to a set on a non-existent budget).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A bizarre (and sometimes repulsive) exercise that’s a little too willing to swoon in its own weird embrace.”–Robert Denerstein, Denver Rocky Mountain News (contemporaneous)

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

CAPSULE: ALL MY FRIENDS ARE FUNERAL SINGERS (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Tim Rutili

FEATURING: Angela Bettis, members of the indie-rock band Califone

PLOT: A fortune teller carries out her psychic reading business in a country house inhabited

Still from All My Friends Are Funeral Singers

by a slew of ghosts.  The spirits do not haunt her, but keep her company; they’re one big family.  When the ghosts see a mysterious light outside, they feel they are being beckoned and rebel against the fortune teller, thinking she has trapped them against their will.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although it is a bit quirky and takes a unique spin on the age-old haunted house tales, it is simply not that weird.  It is an unlikely little gem that unfortunately few will probably see.

COMMENTSAll My Friends Are Funeral Singers (great title, by the way) is the directorial debut by Tim Rutili, the front-man for the underrated indie-rock outfit Califone.  Being familiar with the band and a fan of their music, this movie sparked my interest.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a good film with an actual story and good acting, not just an extended music video piece displaying the band’s musical talents.  Viewers who are unacquainted by the music of Califone should appreciate this film for what it is…  a decidedly different independent movie with a supernatural approach. This is certainly not your typical horror film.  If anything, it is a hodgepodge of drama, comedy, and a pinch of suspense, all intermingled with the worldly twang of Califone’s score.

The character Zel is nicely played by Angela Bettis, whom some may recognize from another independent horror film: May.  Zel lives in an old isolated country house and makes her living providing fortunes and psychic readings.  What her customers are unaware of is that she is assisted by the actual spirits that live in the house with her.  The ghosts are not frightening or menacing, just regular looking people all wearing pristine white suits or dresses and having normal conversations.  They sit around playing Trivial Pursuit, theorize about the connections between the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations, talk about sex, or play music (sometimes too loudly for Zel’s liking).  Most fascinating are the snippets of documentary-style interviews with many of the ghosts discussing how they bit the dust.  A ghostly bride exclaims “I hung myself with my ‘something blue.'”  Another prominent spiritual entity is a young mute girl who Continue reading CAPSULE: ALL MY FRIENDS ARE FUNERAL SINGERS (2010)