Tag Archives: Beware

CAPSULE: SALO, THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Umberto P. Quintavalle, Aldo Valletti

PLOT: Four Italian fascists kidnap dozens of young boys and girls and imprison them in an isolated villa to sexually torture them in bizarre rituals of sadism.

Still from Salo: the 120 Days of Sodom

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There are a lot of words that can be used to describe Salo: disturbing, intense, perverse, depressing, extreme. “Weird” is pretty far down the list. (I did not find any critics who used the word “weird” in discussing Salo). So many of our readers have nominated it for review that I am forced to confess that it may be found lurking somewhere in the outermost penumbra of the weird—but if you want to see a truly weird treatment of the same source material, look at how ended L’Age d’Or with a Surrealist reference to the same novel adapted in Salo.[1] Casting Jesus Christ as Duc de Blangis is less obscene but far more provocative than anything Pasolini could depict in his literal rendition of the book.

COMMENTS: “Although these crimes against humanity are historically accurate, the characters depicted are composites… and the events portrayed, have been condensed into one locality for dramatic purposes… We dedicate this film with the hope that these heinous crimes will never occur again.”

Salo, The 120 Days of Sodom may seem stranger to someone who comes to the movie with no foreknowledge of the source material, the Marquis De Sade’s “120 Days of Sodom,” than it does to someone who knows the backstory. De Sade, of course, is the 18th century writer whose name inspired the now commonplace words “sadism” and “sadist.” He was an aristocrat devoted to literature, philosophy, and pornography (not in that order), and he produced some genuinely accomplished works. His most powerful books, such as “Philosophy in the Bedroom” and “Justine: the Misfortunes of Virtue,” mix shocking depictions of sexual cruelty with virile intellectual monologues wherein the characters philosophically justify their depravity and smash moralist objections.

“The 120 Days of Sodom” was not one of those books. It was De Sade’s first major work, written while was imprisoned in the Bastille (for a string of crimes including the beating of a prostitute and consensual homosexual sodomy). “Sodom” is an obsessive catalog of perversions, with almost none of the philosophical speeches that would add meaning and value to De Sade’s later work,[2] arranged according to a mathematical progression: 30 days of orgies in each set of four escalating perversions, moving from “simple” passions (such as urine drinking) to “murderous” ones. The novel was probably intended for De Sade’s own sexual gratification. The result is the Continue reading CAPSULE: SALO, THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975)

  1. Henri Xhonneux and also make far stranger references to the book in their twisted De Sade biopic, Marquis. []
  2. “The 120 Days of Sodom”  was unfinished and the ending only sketched, so it is conceivable De Sade would eventually have inserted philosophical reflections later. []

CAPSULE: ARABIAN NIGHTS (2015)

Volume 1 – the Restless One

As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 1, O Inquieto

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Miguel Gomes

FEATURING: Crista Alfaiate, Miguel Gomes

PLOT: Vignettes of the lives and circumstances of various “everyman” Portuguese citizens are spliced together in the form of a series of tales à la Arabian Nights.

Still from Arabian Nights Vol 1: The Restless One (2015)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: As an almost wholly documentary-style pastiche narrative, Arabian Nights is not so much weird as relentlessly tedious and preachy. A spark of the bizarre, when the director seemingly abandons his own movie, is slow to appear and is quickly snuffed out as the film-makers go on to sermonize the audience with tales of woe.

COMMENTS: Early in the movie a massive red flag pops up when the director admits that he suspects it impossible to make a movie about tales of wonder when he’s surrounded by the uncompromising dreariness of everyday life. Indeed, he does find it impossible. He takes one of the earliest examples of fantasy as a storytelling framework to convey a series of tales that delve into the personal costs borne by Portugal’s citizenry during the Euro crisis years of austerity (from August 2013 through July 2014, as explained by an inter-title that doubles as a disclaimer about the use of the Arabian Nights name). What follows is, well, both a grind and a bore.

I mentioned earlier that there was a tiny glimmer of something interesting occurring. While the director suffers his existential crisis (something that, like the movie, only truly springs into action after twenty five minutes of dockyard and hornet nest clips dubbed over with remarks about the collapse of the shipping and honey industries), he flees his own crew and tries to hide. He is found by unidentified militants who sentence him to death for his filmic recklessness. So now we have our storyteller neck-deep in sand, and the not-so-subtle allegories begin, sporting the titles “the Men with Hard-Ons,” “The Story of the Cockerel and the Fire,” and finishing with the tripartite “Story of the Magnificents.” Each in turn becomes progressively less allegorical and increasingly polemical.

Having taken advantage of the dubious opportunity of enrolling in a “Filmmakers with a Social Conscience” seminar back in my long-distant college days, that “genre” was the first, and almost only, one that sprang to mind while watching Arabian Nights. In the vein of Soviet Socialist Realism, glorifying the common man, as well as that of Italian Neo-Realism, Arabian Nights eschews the traditional tools of (truly) cinematic storytelling in favor of capturing reality as closely as possible. While such a practice isn’t something I particularly enjoy, I don’t begrudge the fans of the genre their entertainment (or whatever word would describe the experience). However, it most certainly isn’t the way to make a weird movie.

Taking over two hours to convey its message of “austerity is unkind to the masses” (actually over six hours—there are two more installments that I am shying away from) using the same documentary/talking heads/ voiceover techniques throughout lends itself to whinging tedium. I wonder what Mr Gomes’ Iberian confrère, , might have done instead. Buñuel dabbled in documentary back in the 1930s with a short piece entitled Land Without Bread. In the space of twenty seven minutes, he not only raises the viewer’s awareness of the plight of grinding poverty in a backwards rural society, but also thoroughly tweaks the documentary genre’s nose. A modern take on Buñuel’s socially conscientious subversion might have been interesting; Gomes’ outing barely qualifies as a movie.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an opaque compendium of stories – like the ones Scheherazade told to stave off her own death – all responding in indirect ways to the miseries forced on Portugal by austerity, as if by a social-realist Buñuel with a bit of the novelist José Saramago’s existential musing; the same kind of absurdism and deadly serious political scepticism.”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (contemporaneous)

223. MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966)

“A cult of weird, horrible people who gather beautiful women only to deface them with a burning hand!”–original poster tagline for Manos, the Hands of Fate

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Harold P. Warren, John Reynolds, Tom Neyman, Diane Mahree

PLOT: After making a wrong turn on a family vacation, Mike and Maggie and their daughter Debbie find themselves lost in the Texas desert. As night falls they discover a lodge and its mysterious caretaker Torgo, who reluctantly agrees to let the family stay the night. As the night wears on the Master and his wives awake, while Torgo develops an obsession with Maggie.

Still from Manos, the Hands of Fate (1966)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director Hal Warren, a fertilizer salesman from El Paso, had a yen to become an actor, and met and befriended screenwriter Stirling Silliphant when the latter was in El Paso scouting locations for the television series “Route 66.” Warren made a bet with Silliphant that he could make his own horror movie. He scribbled out the initial outline to Manos on a napkin at a coffee shop.
  • Manos was filmed with a hand-wound 16mm camera that could only shoot 32 seconds of footage at a time. There was no live sound and all dialogue was later dubbed in by the principal male actors (Warren, Reynolds and Neyman) and one uncredited actress voicing all the female roles.
  • John Reynolds, who played Torgo, was a heavy drug user who was often high on LSD on set. He committed suicide months after shooting concluded, before Manos‘ debut.
  • Manos had been completely resigned to the grindhouse dustbin, almost never screened on television, only gaining notoriety after being featured on the bad movie-mocking cult TV show “Mystery Science Theater 3000” in 1993. (Manos became one of the show’s most popular episodes).
  • For most of its history Manos was available only in scratchy second generation prints with visible defects; many fans believe that the murky visuals add to the film’s outsider appeal. In 2001, cameraman Benjamin Solovey found a pristine work print of the movie  and crowdfunded a digital restoration of the movie, which he released on Blu-ray (via Synapse films).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: There is a brief moment when all of Manos‘ bizarre characters share the frame at the same time. Arms outstretched, as always, to display the scarlet fingers lining the inside of his coal-black cloak, the Master points to a shivering Torgo, while two of his nightgown-clad wives pirouette towards him and drag him onto the stone altar, his massive knees pointing towards the nighttime sky. In her review of the film’s opening night, the local El Paso film critic refers to this as the scene where Torgo is “massaged to death.”

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Torgo’s knees; wives’ nightgown brawl; who the heck is ‘Manos’?

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Like most misguided amateur efforts, Manos notches a weird points from anti-naturalistic acting, incoherent editing, strange dubbing, and negligent continuity.  In the case of Hal Warren’s sole feature, the staggering ineptitude magnifies the movie’s strange little bumps until they become looming mountains; the story takes place in some uncanny west Texas wasteland that’s similar to our own world, but permeated by a dreamlike offness.


Clip from Manos: the Hands of Fate

COMMENTS: Manos: the Hands of Fate demonstrates an important Continue reading 223. MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966)

CAPSULE: WHITE RABBIT (2013)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Tim McCann

FEATURING: Nick Krause, Britt Robertson, Sam Trammell

PLOT: Things start to go rapidly downhill for Harlon, an emotionally abused boy, after his father makes him kill an injured white rabbit; years later he hears the voices of characters from his favorite comic strip urging him to stand up for himself.

Still from White Rabbit (2013)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: If “angsty” meant “weird”, this would have been the weirdest movie I have ever seen. However, it doesn’t, and this wasn’t. White Rabbit‘s occasional dips into pseudo-schizophrenic hallucinations are very few and far between, and for better or worse the movie burns up its first two-thirds blandly exposing just how horrible life can be when you’re stuck in a rural backwoods with nothing to do but shoot, drink, and beat on anyone who is remotely different.

COMMENTS: There is a problem with a twist-based movie when by the end one just can’t care less. While the ambiguity provided a bit of relief, a movie hingeing on a final minute that misfires is nothing short of disappointing. There are a number of things that Tim McCann is trying to achieve with White Rabbit; however, they’ve already been accomplished in other, superior, movies. Rural life is terrible? Check out Gummo. Society overlooks the mentally ill? Check out Clean, Shaven. Angst is a sure-fire path to outburst? Check out Angst. Whatever you do, don’t check out White Rabbit.

McCann’s cautionary (?) tale of abuse and detachment begins at the end, with the goth-y protagonist’s back-story fleshed out confessional-style. Young Harlon’s home life is terrible: his father Darrell is a volatile drunk, his brother teases him mercilessly, and his mother’s best efforts to make things “okay” are welcome but insufficient. At a tender age, his father buys him a gun and goes hunting with him. Cue the film’s metaphor. In the middle of the woods, Harlon sees a white rabbit, which his father immediately orders him to dispatch. The boy misses, and they pursue the animal until they find it stuck in a briar. Taunted by his father, Harlon shoots the now-defenseless rabbit. Dead white bunny = innocence lost.

Growing up in Rural, USA, the boy has one friend, Steve, who is even more abused than he. Otherwise alone, Harlon takes comfort in a comic book series called the Scarlet Widow. Its characters begin talking to him, using words of malevolent encouragement. Then there’s Harlon’s father. As nasty as the father generally is, he is the only fleshed-out character. Though “charming” would be far too strong a word to describe him even in his better moments, Darrell stands as the movies most relatable figure. Improbably, his disappointment and ridicule are interrupted by intermittent bursts of kindness and understanding. In one scene, having just gotten high on crack, Darrell takes his son to a nearby strip club after the boy’s had a rough day. Darrell’s own life obviously has been pretty dismal, but he has a kind of flippant charisma that made him the only character worth watching.

Anyhow, things get nasty at an accelerating rate. Steve suffers a nebulous fate after a dog-adoption goes awry. The depressive-pixie-dream-girl whom Harlon fancies cleans up her act and gets together with the now reformed jock that Harlon (rightly) abhors. Unfortunately, the best twist of the movie never happens. There’s a point where everyone around him has reformed and become a decent person; had McCann explored the greater isolation Harlon would have experienced after this, things might have traveled down an interesting psychological path. As it goes, White Rabbit ducks out of this route almost before it begins, ending on a “Hey, maybe there’s some redemption going on here. Or not. Or maybe.” Or whatever.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the voices he soon hears in his head are as muddled and underdeveloped as the rest of the film, which falls back on the easiest answers available to explain its protagonist’s fractured psyche.”–Nick Schrager, Film Journal International (DVD)

CAPSULE: GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE (2014)

Adieu au Language; Goodbye to Language 3D

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Héloise Godet, Kamel Abdeli

PLOT: A squabbling couple who speak in philosophical fragments adopt a stray dog.

Still from Goodbye to Language (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Godard might as well have called this one Film Socialisme 2: This Time, It’s Even More Inscrutably Personal. After a 55 year filmmaking career, Godard has earned the right to amuse himself with indulgent experiments. That doesn’t mean we have to like it.

COMMENTS: Random quotes. Snatches of flamenco tunes or classical music. Audio channels switching from side to side, turning on and off. Sudden explosions of abrasive noise. Clips of classic Hollywood movies. Brief slice-of-life episodes from a couple’s love life. Contextless voiceovers declaiming on historical, political and philosophical topics. Clips from the Tour de France in supersaturated color. A dog exploring the woods. Intertitles with words like “language,” “oh” or “la metaphore” flashing onscreen. Mary Shelley composing “Frankenstein” in real time, with an ink pen. No overarching plot, discernible conceit, or visible structure. Godard approaches Adieu au Language like a senior thesis film student, breaking narrative and cinematic rules with the glee of a budding avant-gardist who believes he’s taking cinema into bold new territories no one has yet imagined. But of course, someone has already created the radically fragmented anti-cinema Adieu strives to discover: Godard himself!

Godard’s dog is the third most prominent being (you could not call them “characters”) in the film. I wonder if perhaps Adieu isn’t Godard’s attempt to view the world the way he imagines his dog sees it: a non-linguistic reality where words are just part of the bewildering barrage of nearly incomprehensible sensory information, and the non-food bits are wholly uninteresting.

I should add a caveat: Goodbye to Language was originally released in 3D. Most of us will have to imagine whether viewing the film in pop-out format would have improved it. Since I don’t find this film visually spectacular—and I have never seen any film in my entire life, with the possible exception of Cave of Forgotten Dreams, that was improved by the gimmick—I doubt the extra dimension would have made a huge difference to my recommendation.

A former film critic himself, Godard has always deliberately aimed over the heads of ordinary people, making emotionless intellectual art for the theorist elites. I believe that Godard made this movie (at least partially) with the intent to annoy. I’m not sure I am part of the core audience he intends to annoy, but he hits the mark with me.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the everyday world is made vivid and strange, rendered in a series of sketches and compositions by an artist with an eccentric and unerring eye.”–A.O. Scott, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

212. AFTER LAST SEASON (2009)

“This movie makes no sense. I don’t mean the story doesn’t make sense, it almost does. I mean the movie as a thing that exists doesn’t make sense.”–Rob Steele

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Mark Region

FEATURING: , Peggy McClellan

PLOT: Matthew and Sarah are med students with an interest in neurology. A fellow student is knifed to death by a serial killer. Matthew runs a telepathy experiment with Sarah, who sees visions of the killer, and together they try to visualize the murderer.

Still from After Last Season (2009)

BACKGROUND:

  • After Last Season made a minor stir on the Internet in 2009 when its nonsensical (but, as it turns out, completely representative) trailer was released on YouTube and other video sites.  The piece was so thoroughly anti-cinematic, with its laughable props and the meaningless minutiae of its dialogue, that many people assumed it was a parody of a low-budget indie film created by an established director. The frenzy reached it’s peak when “Entertainment Weekly” published an article repeating rumors that the trailer was a hoax by notorious prankster Spike Jonze intended (somehow) to draw attention to his upcoming film Where the Wild Things Are.
  • After Last Season got a one week release in four U.S. theaters.
  • Director Mark Region claimed the film cost $5 million to make. Few believed him.
  • After the original run, producer/distributor Index Square stopped offering new DVDs for sale, and actor Jason Kulas said Region has told him there are no plans to produce more.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The astoundingly crude computer-generated animation, which often looks like it could have been drawn in MS Paint. The best moment is when a killer’s knife (which looks like an ice cream cone held upside down) emerges from out of a blank wall.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Cardboard MRI; Photoshopped telepathy; invisible ghost

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: “Huh?,” “um…,” and “whah?” are all equally valid responses to After Last Season.  This movie may go down as this generation’s Beast of Yucca Flats: stultifyingly dull at times, but so full of misguided directorial choices and  failed attempts at cinematic poetry that it takes on a dreamlike character. Watching After Last Season is like trying to follow a old-timey radio serial on an AM station with fading reception: you can tell there’s a voice trying to make itself heard, but the transmission is so garbled that the basics of the story become lost in static and long stretches of dead air. It’s difficult watching, for sure—thus the “beware” rating—but for intrepid curiosity seekers looking to experience the weirdest of the worst, it’s a must see.


Original trailer for After Last Season

COMMENTS: There’s a concept in cinema theory called “film grammar;” it refers to sets of filmmaking conventions that  have been Continue reading 212. AFTER LAST SEASON (2009)

366 UNDERGROUND: A KILLER CONVERSATION (2014)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: David V.G. Davies

FEATURING: Ryan Hunter, Melanie Denholme, Rudy Barrow

PLOT: When Karl inadvertently invites a burglar inside his home, he has to rely on his ex, Pauline, to help him worm his way out from his rapidly escalating and increasingly dangerous predicament.

Still from A Killer Conversation (2014)
COMMENTS: So, here’s the thing: I thought this film (80 minutes overall in duration) was complete garbage by the time the stereotypical hoodlum barges into Karl’s house and begins a tedious exercise in post- crisis-scenario filmmaking. Or maybe the movie is a specially designed weapon manufactured to induce an existential crisis in the audience?

I found the casual racism explicit in not only the characterization of the burglar, but in the sheer lameness in how the film rehashes the hostage trope and depicts the hapless bourgeoisie family—which I found not only extremely offensive, but just plain uninspired and contrived. I might have been able to appreciate the dialogue and the professional lighting and idiosyncratic camera angling if the main ingredients didn’t taste so poor.

Maybe I would of been less repelled by the clever-for-clever’s-sake approach to depicting the burglar if the satire didn’t feel so disingenuous. Or maybe I would of been less aggravated by the situational dynamic if Karl wasn’t just another white domestic victim, minding his own business.

Perhaps there might be a cultural misinterpretation in the way I am viewing this. But, as an American, I’ve seen what media depictions of racial hysteria can do to fuel tension this past year. And seriously, the last thing we need right now is someone who thinks they’re being edgy and cool when handling sensitive, potentially incendiary material.

Here’s a full-breakdown of the paper-thin plot (a whitewashed retread of the home invasion trope with obnoxious post-Tarantino stylization):

A man of ebony hue bursts in the door and casually lays out the plan for Karl. This being a Tarantino clone, strained attempts at edgy banter ensue. Karl whines in a obnoxious tone. Since this is a British Tarantino clone, we are treated to pointless quips trying to underline the absurdity of the mundane elements of a domestic invasion scenario. Har-har. So we get some stupid jokes about the length of rope, and other pitiful exchanges so we, the audience, are constantly reminded just how clever and absent of responsibility the creators are for any of the content displayed. The film goes on like this for the rest of the film and just never lets up. Talking and empty threats ad nauseum ahead.

I would go so far to not only deem this film racist and misogynistic, but dangerously boring and stupid. If it was edited down to maybe 5-10 minutes, I would of been like, “eh.” But at its current length, it is unbearable to watch, and possibly a public mental health risk. If there is any stylistic contemporary to this film that I can think of, it is yet another film that I absolutely loathe: The Boondock Saints. Without further elucidating my particular distaste for that film, it made me realize something: Tarantino is dead. The sooner the independent movie scene throws off his shadow, the better. So if the filmmakers intended to offend me, then congratulations. I would just state that in light of what has actually been achieved by this short film, that it is a hollow and meaningless victory.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY

“…[an] absurd dark comedy, where the burglar and Karl philosophize about life, love, and proper manners around Karl’s kitchen table.”–Levi Anderson, Rogue Cinema

CAPSULE: 2012 AFICIONADO DVD ZINE: ISSUE #0 (2012)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: None credited

FEATURING: N/A

PLOT: A two-plus hour “mixtape” of video clips, some rare, some shocking, a few weird, arranged with a minimum of editing.

Still from 2012 Aficionado DVD zine issue #0

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The “mixtape” concept is easy to  attempt, hard to master. This one contains little of interest and much that’s in terrible taste, with extremely irritating editing experiments as the rancid topping on an unappetizing pie. Few will be able to watch it to the end; many could not make it five minutes into this “movie” without giving up. For aficionados of 2012 only.

COMMENTS: Way back in the VHS era, tapes of rare video material—embarrassments taped off public access TV, censored news footage, forbidden clips from video nasties, strange home videos found in thrift shops—circulated among collectors who would often edit them into anthologies or “mixtapes.” In the age of the high-speed Internet, when everything has been uploaded and we are able to select our own clips with a mouse click, watching a video mixtape is like being trapped inside someone else’s YouTube playlist. Unless you invest your compilation with some sort of thematic coherence—like the ensemble, who elevated the genre to an actual artform with Doggiewogiez! Poochiewoochiez!—-there is no reason for anyone to watch it. Just stringing together stuff you think is cool is no longer sufficient.

“The 2012 Aficionado DVD Zine” falls into the “stuff the editor thinks is cool” school of mixtaping. If you don’t agree this stuff is cool—and most adults won’t think much of it is—then you’re not going to be interested in sticking with it through the bloated 2-hr. plus runtime. The “original” source material seems to be videotape, and the images are blurred and fuzzy, which adds more eyestrain than charm. Time stamps are frequently visible, particularly when some editing experiment is being done (in an attempt to add some artistic input of his own, the compiler is fond of looping the material so that the playback repeats and stutters, which becomes highly irritating—see below). There is only occasionally any kind of logical flow to the material—at one point, a George W. Bush speech segues into an anti-capitalist Afropop music video, which is about as close to a creative statement the assembler makes. Most of it is a random stream of fuzzy Bollywood dance scenes, evangelical propaganda videos, animated softcore porn, homemade amateur punk/rap/metal videos, a puppet singing about unrequited interracial love, John Kilduff’s public access exercise/painting program, exploding anime heads, Japanese softcore porn, a slo-mo version of “Soul Train,” a homemade sex tape of a furry making love to an inflatable dolphin, and so on.

It’s not as much fun as it sounds. First off, there is the horrible video quality and the fact that there is no flow to the clips. Second, there are several objectionable Faces of Death-type atrocity scenes added merely for their offensiveness and rarity. The clip of cat abuse (it is still debated how much of this scene was achieved through special effects) comes from the Hong Kong exploitation film Men Behind the Sun. Even more tasteless is the footage of combatants being eliminated by drone strikes, and a film purporting to show a man being burned alive without a trial by a vigilante mob. Since the mixtape provides no political context to these scenes—we aren’t even told what country the immolation occurs in—this is pure snuff entertainment. Finally, as if all that wasn’t enough to turn you against the project, there are the aforementioned irritating editing experiments, culminating in a one second clip of Pokemon characters yipping that is looped to run for—I kid you not—nine minutes. When I reached that point in the tape I had to turn it off and finish it the next night. You don’t have to go that far in; you never have to watch any of it at all.

I don’t understand how “the 2012 Aficionado DVD Zine” is, as it advertizes itself, “the first ever zine in DVD format.” A zine was an underground magazine composed of original material written or drawn by hobbyists. It did not consist simply of unauthorized reprints of other people’s work. Other than the ill-advised edits, nothing here was actually created by the person who assembled it. Still, it’s available here, along with five more episodes which are also each over 2 hours long. Some of you will doubtlessly be tempted to try this—but don’t say you weren’t warned.

(This movie was nominated for review by someone [almost certainly the original editor/uploader] whose comments have since been lost. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

183. SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY (1972)

“…one of the strangest and most baffling pieces of outsider art that Mike, Kevin and Bill have ever riffed.”–Rifftrax ad copy for Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny

Beware

DIRECTED BY: R. Winer,  (Thumbelina)

FEATURING: Jay Ripley, Shay Garner

PLOT: Santa’s sleigh is stuck in the Florida sand. After a series of animals fail to dislodge it, St. Nick tells the assembled children the story of “Thumbelina,” visualized as a movie-inside-the-movie, which also has its own wraparound sequence about a girl visiting the “Pirates World” theme park to view a series of fairy tale dioramas. Eventually,  a creature known as “the Ice Cream Bunny” rides out of Pirates World in a firetruck and rescues Santa.
Still from Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972)
BACKGROUND:

  • Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny was selected to go on the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies in the 5th Readers Choice Poll.
  • Thumbelina, the movie-within-a-movie that is actually longer than the Santa Claus story itself, is directed by , the nudie-cutie specialist responsible for such erotic atrocities as Cuban Rebel Girls, Fanny Hill Meets Lady Chatterly, and The Diary of Knockers McCalla.
  • Director “R. Winer” never worked again (or if he did, he used a different pseudonym).
  • Pirates World (the park’s official name has no possessive apostrophe) was a pre-Diney World theme park in Dania, Florida that closed sometime between 1937-1975. The Thumbelina insert footage was produced by Pirates World, and the Ice Cream Bunny also drives through the park on his way to rescue Santa.
  • There are reports that some prints of the film contained a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk rather than Thumbelina as the movie-within-a-movie.
  • The uncut VHS version of the movie runs 96 minutes, while the Legend/Rifftrax DVD version has a run time of 83 minutes due to the omission of a few Thumbelina musical numbers. According to some reviewers, on an alternate VHS release Thumbelina is presented after the Santa Claus plotline has resolved, as a bonus feature.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The first question is, which movie should the indelible image come from: the Santa Claus wraparound, or the Thumbelina story that actually takes up most of the runtime? As much as we like (by which I mean, shudder at) the image of the furry black monstrosities (flies?) in white bibs and striped swim trunks who hop around the yellow toadstools hunting Thumbelina, we have to go with the title creature (not Santa, the other one). The Bunny is a nightmarish apparition, half mothballed-Easter mascot from a defunct department store, half Frank from Donnie Darko. Your blood will run cold as you watch him dance a happy jig and pat a shivering blonde tyke on the top of her pony-tailed head.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It’s got a sweaty Santa stranded in Florida, a guy in a gorilla suit, an Ice Cream Bunny (whatever that is), Thumbelina, and scenic footage of Pirates World. Not weird enough for you?  Well, how about the fact that Tom Sawyer (in a Hawaiian shirt) and Huck Finn (with a raccoon) also show up? They may be intended as symbolic stand-ins for the audience, because they seem totally nonplussed by the proceedings. When I initially reviewed Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, on a sudden whim as a way to fill a column on December 25, 2011, I wrote: “Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny is weird enough to make the List, but the fact that it can only be endured by injecting Novocaine directly into the part of the brain responsible for processing continuity would make Certifying this movie a public health risk.” Rejecting our nanny-site policies, readers overwhelmingly spoke out in favor of honoring Ice Cream Bunny as one of the weirdest films of all time. Your wish is our command, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.


Clip from Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny

COMMENTS: When someone like me, who’s watched They Saved Hitler’s Brain multiple times—voluntarily, not as part of a CIA Continue reading 183. SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY (1972)

CAPSULE: VIKINGDOM (2013)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Yusry Kru

FEATURING: Dominic Purcell, Conan Stevens, Craig Fairbrass, Natassia Malthe, Jesse Moss, Jon Foo, Patrick Murray 

PLOT: A medieval Viking king who’s been raised from the dead goes on a quest to defeat the god Thor, who wants to destroy Earth because he is jealous of the rise of Christianity.

Still from Vikingdom (2013)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s bad, but outside of a couple of head-scratching scenes, not so-bad-it’s-weird.

COMMENTS: Made by Malaysians and played out on CGI-sets that look like black metal album covers, Vikingdom is an odd film whose stupid title telegraphs the level of sophistication involved. I don’t mean to insult the Malaysian film industry; I suspect that if a group of Norwegian filmmakers tried to make an epic film based on traditional Malay mythology, the results would be equally dubious.

The details of the quest storyline are overcomplicated and confused. Essentially, Thor (the massive Conan Stevens, whose wig is dyed that unnatural pink-red shade typical of the Wendy’s mascot) is pissed at the popularity of Christianity and wants to crucify a few priests and steal the sacred necklace of Mary Magdalene (?) as a prelude to opening the gates of Hel and destroying the Middle Kingdom. Opposing him is the former king Eirick, beloved of the goddess Freya, who raised him from the dead when he fell on the battlefield. After coming back to life Eirick spends ten years living as a hermit in the wilderness. We first encounter the shirtless hero in a snowstorm; using only his dagger, he kills and skins a bear for its hide. (I would have done that the first winter). The glam-god Frey, Freya’s more feminine twin brother in a fabulous glowing yellow cloak, visits Eirick’s cabin and informs him that thanks to his undead/semi-dead status, he will be able to enter the underworld to seize the Gilded Horn that, when blown in Thor’s face (!) will destroy the god’s Earthly avatar and send him back to the place of spirits. Eirick reluctantly agrees and sets out assembling a mini-army in bad wigs, including a loyal slab of beefcake, a kickboxing Chinese slave (?), a babe who’s so hot she can bare her midriff even in the arctic winter, and many more lovable sidekicks with backstorys to squeeze in. After storming a random village and killing everyone they see, the good guys rescue an ancient wizard with a shrubbery growing between his shoulder blades who tells them how to get to Helsgate. When they arrive Eirick enters Hel, dives into the Gate of Souls (the afterlife’s hottest dogpile, where the world’s deceased strumpets go to be covered in gold leaf and lie in a giant flesh pyramid for all eternity), before being chased by a macrocephalic dragon into the Sea of Inspirational Appearances by Supporting Characters. And that’s just the first half!

Of course, that summary makes Vikingdom sound like a lot more fun than it actually is. This is one of those films where you will largely be required to supply your own entertainment. The filmmakers are mightily over-serious, believing that they are making a -esque fantasy epic, when in reality the final result looks like a TV pilot for a syndicated series that was never picked up (“Thor: The Legendary Journeys,” or “Eirick: Undead Prince”). Since most of the movie was shot against a green-screen—the portable contemporary version of the studio backlot—Malaysia is not even destined to be the next New Zealand. The two hour-plus running length is a clue that the filmmakers did not clearly grasp that their target audience should be children and B-movie fans who want to get to the set pieces and fights as quickly as possible, bypassing talk and cliche character development. The plot twists are as blunt as Thor’s hammer. On the plus side, the battle scenes are not too bad, involving some interesting tactics (overlapping shields used as an umbrella against arrows), gouts of blood, and head-scratching moments (Jon Foo’s out-of-left-field medieval kung fu moves). With a faster pace, Vikingdom could have been a zippy camp spectacle; instead, it’s a cross-cultural train wreck.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…will surely be savaged by critics and honestly enjoyed only by the most naive audiences (though there will be plenty of cynical types who, like myself, will read the film as a camp production or accidental comedy)… not a great movie, or even a very good one, but it is an original – and sort of adorable – one.”–Philip Martin, Arkansas Gazette (contemporaneous)