Tag Archives: Blasphemy

CAPSULE: THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT (2015)

Le Tout Nouveau Testament

Recommended

 

 

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Pili Groyne, Benoît Poelvoorde, Yolande Moreau,

PLOT: God, who’s something of a jerk, lives in an inaccessible high-rise apartment in Brussels; rebelling from his authoritarian control, his 10-year old daughter hacks his computer and leaks humanity’s death dates, then goes to Earth to write a new Gospel.

Still from The Brand New Testament (2015)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: In the earlier days of this site, a movie like The Brand New Testament would easily have been shortlisted as a candidate. But with available slots on the List of the Weirdest Movies Ever Made shrinking, the field grows more competitive by the week. In a way, with two entries already on the List, Jaco Van Dormael is a victim of his own success—and this high-concept comedy is not as weird as Toto the Hero or Mr. Nobody, although the Catherine Deneuve bestiality subplot nearly puts him over the top one more time.

COMMENTS: Since nothing can come from Nothing, God seems to be an ontological necessity. Yet, our fatally flawed world of starving children, male nipples, and Kanye singles argues against the existence of a perfect, benevolent Supreme Being. There is one way to reconcile this seeming paradox, however. What if God exists, but He’s not a pure and loving spirit: in fact, he’s not only imperfect, but a mildly sadistic bastard? Such a God would perfectly accord the necessity for a First Cause with our experience of life on this planet as frequently annoying, sometimes torturous, and genuinely tragic—besides explaining the whole “made in His image” thing.

Jaco van Dormael takes this whimsical philosophical proposition as the basis for his fantasy The Brand New Testament, a congenially blasphemous lark that winkingly rewrites Christian theology to tweak human nature. This God—played with wicked gusto by a perpetually peeved Benoît Poelvoorde in a ratty bathrobe—is a petty tyrant who delights not only in crashing planes but in setting up universal laws of annoyance, such as the cosmic rule that toast must always fall to the floor jam side down. So intolerable is his reign of terror that his eldest son, J.C., ran away from home to slum around Earth, embarrassing his father with his hippie antics. (“The kid said a lot of stuff on the spur of the moment,” God explains to a scandalized priest). J.C.’s sister, Ea, is now set to follow big bro’s example, climbing down to Earth via a magical dryer duct to escape her Father’s wrath after she hacks his computer and leaks the death dates of all of humanity, freeing them to live their remaining days to the fullest. The girl then sets about recruiting six new apostles, each of whom comes with their own mini-story, dramatized in segments like “The Gospel According to the Sex Maniac.”

The Brand New Testament is sprawling and ambitious, but despite a plot that wanders wide, it centers itself with a consistently off-center wit. The more you know your Bible, the more you’ll laugh (“not at my right hand!” objects an angry God when Ea sits down to dinner). The scenario is so absurd, and the underlying message so humanistic, that only the most humorless Bible-thumper could take offense at Poelvoorde’s clearly farcical deity. Van Dormael slips surreal gags into the interstices of the already fantastic film: an ice-skating hand, a chanson-singing ghost fish, and Deneuve’s simian liaison. The ending is a feminist apocalypse where the patriarchal God is sent into exile and the universe rebooted with flowery skies, male pregnancies, and the return of the Cyclopes.

Belgian Van Dormael’s movies are similar to the solo work of , without a giant blockbuster hit like Amelie but with an oeuvre that, overall, has been both smarter and more consistent than that of the more famous Frenchman. With a small body of only five feature films full of philosophical ambition, wit, visual imagination, and thorough weirdness, he gets my vote for the world’s most underappreciated master filmmaker.

Despite having a role that’s no bigger than any of the other six apostles, Catherine Deneuve gets third billing. You can understand why. Her iconic presence dignifies the film, and her support for the project helped Van Dormael recover from the economic disaster of Mr. Nobody.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a surreal comedy whose endless visual imagination matches its conceptual wit.”–Stephen Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

263. ROMA (1972)

AKA Fellini’s Roma

“Rome was a poem pressed into service as a city.”–Anatole Broyard

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Peter Gonzales Falcon

PLOT: Roma is a series of vignettes, some relatively realistic and some fantastic, about the city of Rome. The closest thing to a plot are the scenes involving Fellini himself, who dreams about the city as a young man, comes there as a teen, and then is seen making a movie about the city as an adult. Other segments involve a bawdy street meal, a vaudeville show during World War II, modern hippies drifting through Rome, a pair of brothels, and the infamous ecclesiastical fashion show.

Still from Roma (1972)

BACKGROUND:

  • Fellini came to Rome from Rimini as an 18-year old to go to law school, although he quickly abandoned that pretense to pursue an artistic career path. Although it seems clear that Fellini means for the young provincial boy who dreams of Rome and the young man who steps off the train and into a Roman pensione to be his stand-ins, the director never makes this explicit. United Artists asked for voiceover narration to make this identification clear in the version that played in the U.S.
  • The film was shortened by nine minutes (to a running time of two hours) for its international release, and some changes were made for different markets. Slightly different cuts have circulated for years, and there is no restored print of the original Italian version, although the extra footage survives in workprints. Among the deleted scenes was one where appeared as himself.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The star image here could not be something other than an offering from the ecclesiastical fashion show. Candidates include the bishops’ uniforms with blinking stained glass patterns and a shrouded skeletal “memento mori” carriage that carries up the end of the procession. We’ll select the grand finale, the appearance of a glowing, flying Pope cast as a pagan sun god, with electronic sunbeams streaming behind his beatifically beaming countenance.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Horse on the highway; fading frescoes; light-up miter

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The speedy editing of the U.S. release trailer misleadingly emphasizes the decadent aspects of Fellini’s Roma, making it look like a trippy sequel to Satyricon for the college midnight movie crowd. In truth, while Roma is experimental and disorientingly non-linear, it’s greatly restrained compared to its psychedelic predecessor. Most of the sequences are only subtly strange, pitched in the almost realistic register of Fellini’s next film, Amarcord. Or at least, that’s the case up until the fashion show, when Fellini ignites the film with a surreal, blasphemous brand. This grand vaudeville sequence, which lasts over 15 minutes, catapults the film from a borderline curiosity from an innovative master to an acknowledged staple of the weird canon.


American release trailer for Roma

COMMENTS: Rome is the eternal city, once the seat of Europe’s Continue reading 263. ROMA (1972)

242. L’AGE D’OR (1930)

“It is LOVE that brings about the transition from pessimism to action: Love, denounced in the bourgeois demonology as the root of all evil. For love demands the sacrifice of every other value: status, family, and honor.”–from the program to L’Age D’Or

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Gaston Madot, Lya Lys, Max Ernst

PLOT: It begins as a documentary on scorpions. “Some hours later,” reads an intertitle, and suddenly we are on a rocky beach where a peasant spies four chanting bishops perched on a rocky outcropping. Later, on the same beach, a man and a woman are discovered locked in an embrace; they spend the rest of the movie attempting to consummate their love, as the action shifts to “Imperial Rome” and a private concert at a wealthy bourgeois garden party.

Still from L'age D'or (1930)

BACKGROUND:

  • The bohemian aristocrat Vicomte Charles de Noailles commissioned this film as a birthday present for his wife (a poet and a descendant of the Marquis de Sade). Because of the scandalized reaction to the film’s blasphemous content, the Vicomte was threatened with excommunication by the Catholic Church, and quickly withdrew the film from circulation.
  • The film’s original title was to be Un Bête Andalou.
  • As with Un Chien Andalou, Buñuel originally planned to co-write and co-direct with, but the two had a falling out before the film was completed. Dalí is credited as co-writer, but disowned the film later, and what remains of his contributions is a matter of conjecture.
  • Painter Max Ernst had a large role in the film; other less-famous members of the Surrealist circle appear in smaller parts.
  • The opening is footage from a 1912 documentary. The ending is a reference to Marquis de Sade’s “120 Days of Sodom.”
  • Along with official members of the Surrealist movement, Pablo Picasso, , Vladimir Nabokov, and Gertrude Stein were among those in attendance at a private screening hosted by the Vicomte.
  • Buñuel had hoped that Un Chien Andalou would incite riots and was disappointed when it was a huge popular success. L’Age D’Or did inspire violence. Members of the Fascist-leaning “League of Patriots”  threw ink and the screen and destroyed paintings by Dalí and other Surrealists that were being exhibited in conjunction with one screening. The French authorities banned the film within a year of its release “to preserve public order.”
  • Because the de Noailles family removed L’Age D’Or from distribution, the film was not legally screened in the United States until 1979.
  • At the urging of the Spanish Communists, who considered Surrealism bourgeois, Buñuel later re-cut L’Age D’Or into a 20-minute short to make it less difficult and more accessible to proletariat viewers. This version of the film did not survive.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: For its poster image, distributor Kino Lorber takes the scene where Lya Lys, frustrated that her finger-sucking foreplay with Gaston Madot has been temporarily interrupted, satisfies her desires by fellating the toe of a nearby statue. But we find the moment where she walks into her boudoir to see a cow lounging on her bed to be funnier, and less expected. (Footnote one: one source reports that this scene is a pun, since the word for “cow” [“vache”] was then-current French slang for “cop.” If so, the fact that this meaning is lost on contemporary audiences makes the image even more surreal. Footnote two: a still that frequently accompanies reviews of the movie shows a man crouched down next to the cattle-infested bed; this shot does not appear in Kino’s cut of the film, and may be from a promotional still).

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Shoo cow; stone toe sucking; Jesus leaves the orgy

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Skeletal bishops on the beach, cows in the bedroom, and Jesus at a murder orgy: the scandalous L’Age D’Or was too hot and weird for 1930, and still carries the power to shock today. Watch it for its historical importance, but also as a profane prayer—an unapologetic hymn in praise of unfettered individual desire.


Short clip from L’Age D’or

COMMENTS: In the repurposed documentary footage that opens Continue reading 242. L’AGE D’OR (1930)

JOHN WATERS’ MULTIPLE MANIACS (1970)

Multiple Maniacs (1970) was second feature-length movie (his first was 1969’s Mondo Trasho). Shot in grainy black and white, it lives up to its “Cavalcade Of Perversions” tagline. Even for those familiar with Waters’ early work (and everyone should at least sample one of them), Multiple Maniacs may be considered an extreme challenge. Comparatively, Pink Flamingos (1972), Female Trouble (1974), Desperate Living (1977) and especially Polyester (1981) might be seen as -styled celebrations of white trash.

Shot on a two thousand dollar budget (Pink Flamingos came in at $5,000 and Polyester, $200,000), Multiple Maniacs opens with the camera panning down credits typed out on white paper.

, as a carny broker, introduces us to Lady ‘s “Cavalcade Of Perversions.” As the locals ready themselves in a canvas tent, Lochary, in best tent revival tone, assures us: “This is the show you want: the sleaziest show on earth. Not actors, not imposters, but real, actual filth. These assorted sluts, fags, dykes, and pimps know no bounds. They have committed acts against God and nature that would make any decent person recoil in disgust.”

These are not mere words, and before we can scream “,” we are privy to a woman licking a bicycle seat, a hippie eating a bra, two men licking the hairy armpits of a topless girl, a Human Ashtray, and two-cent choreography of a naked human pyramid that makes us thankful Adam invented the fig leaf.

Mere warm-up acts: “See two actual bearded queers French kissing! See a heroin addict in Fruit of the Looms, writhing among the leaves… Now I give you Lady Divine.”

After Divine robs the audience and killing one of its members (with a pop gun), Lochary, , and gang cruise and dance to Elvis (without permission to use the music, which is one of the reasons Multiple Maniacs has never been made available on DVD and only appeared briefly on VHS). All that 1950s devil music inspires even more hedonism, and soon Lochary and Pearce are doing the nasty, despite the fact that David is Divine’s lover. Enter to spill the beans to Divine in a phone call.

Hell hath no fury like an oversized drag queen scorned, but before Divine can get her hands on the cheating beau, she is accosted by rival queens. Fortunately,  she is consoled by her guardian angel, the Infant of Prague, who takes Lady Divine by the hand and gets her to the church on time.

With blasphemy rivaling L’ Age d’ Or or Viridiana, Divine gets a “rosary job” from on the sacred pews of St. Cecilia, as the narrative literally parallels St. Francis’ “Way Of The Cross.” Perhaps even more blasphemous than Stole inserting prayer beads into anal orifices is future egg-lady Massey as the virgin Mary, meeting Jesus on the way to Calvary. Like before him, Waters actually knows the orthodox dogma he satirizes, which makes the film effective guerrilla heterodoxy. Multiple Maniacs is Waters’ weightiest, most literal, penetrating, and spiritual film (yes, I said that). Divine (she is divine for a reason) delivers a voice-over narrative: a conjoined, meditative, idiosyncratic homily between actor and director, advocating for the societal outcast forever opposed by the smug, suburbanite Pharisees.

Made at the height of the Manson murders, Waters catapults Divine and Stole into the mayhem that had paralyzed American culture in a frenzy of fear. Caught in a perverse, religious fervor, our heroines are ordained as Waters’ SS Perpetua and Felicity, martyrs of the Multiple Maniacs.  Unlike his country, Waters was anything but appalled. Rather, his brand of faith remained lucid and unwavering.

Still from Multiple Maniacs (1970)You can rest assure that neither the kitsch martyrdom of Dick Burton or Vic Mature included being raped and stigmatized by a lobster on a passion play couch. Perhaps that is the reason Moses forbade shellfish, which actually makes sense in a Waters’ universe. If only the hopelessly self-righteous Cecil B. would have been demented enough to know, he might have spared us those 1950s Hollywood Bible epic pornos. However, given 20/20 camp-value hindsight, perhaps it is better that constipated hypocrite wasn’t in on a Waters joke. Multiple Maniacs may just be seen as a healthy response to a sanctimonious Ten Commandments (1956).

BUNUEL’S VIRIDIANA (1961)

Viridiana (1961) has quite a reputation among film critics and historians, often being listed as one of ‘s best efforts. It is certainly among the most heterodox offerings in his considerable canon.

Viridiana marked Buñuel‘s return to his native Spain after a twenty-five year absence. With the fascist Franco still in power, Buñuel was severely criticized and accused of making his bed with the enemy, but the filmmaker’s critics should have known better. Buñuel had an ulterior motive, with a predictably incendiary opus tucked securely in his Surrealist vest pocket.

Upon receiving Buñuel’s original script, which ended with the protagonist nun engaging in ménage a trois with her cousin and his mistress, the government promptly rejected the story. Undaunted, Buñuel rewrote it, with all the implications gloriously intact through the trio joining in a card game inside the cousin’s bedroom. Having outwitted the censors, Bunuel congratulated himself over an even more immoral ending.

Despite Viridiana having won the , the Spanish government was furious for having been so easily duped by the insurgent Surrealist, and banned him from the country until after Franco’s death. Predictably, the Vatican followed suit and condemned both filmmaker and film as blasphemous. Fortunately, attempts to burn all existing copies proved futile. It had to be a hell of a compliment to Buñuel, who soaked in his resounding success of provoking the status quo. Years later, when a pope removed a ban from one of Buñuel’s films, the filmmaker was reported to have lamented: “What has my life and this world come to when even a pope accepts me?”

As one may expect of Buñuel, Viridiana is a far more labyrinthine composition than its shock publicity would indicate. Rooted within an anti-clerical, anti-pious battering ram is a film so intrinsically religious that its heterodox classification was inevitable.

An incandescent  embodies the title character with such singularly stoic personality that her Buñuel  followup as the Devil in Simon of the Desert (1965) seems perfectly apt in hindsight.

Viridiana is content in her cloister, about to make her wedding vows to Christ, when Mother Superior orders her charge to visit uncle Don Jaime (). He is Viridiana’s only living relative and, more importantly, a financial backer of the convent. Viridiana is the quintessence of objectified perfection, a forbidden Eve’s apple in a black habit. Viridiana is so thoroughly reduced to potential receptacle that she never entirely convinces as a novice, which was clearly Buñuel’s motive. In typical Buñuel fashion, it is the ecclesiastical curator who throws the innocent out of a self-styled paradise into a fetishistic, reptilian den.

Dom Jaime could be seen as a prodigal’s uncle, lording over the remnant of his estate with the wayward niece returning from her explorations of a pious, alternative culture, as opposed to one of debauchery. The returning pariah is not treated to a celebration with fatted calf, prepared by the loyal servant maid. Rather, the servant aids and abets her master in drugging Viridiana in a pathetic effort to transform the virgin into a centerfold for “Necrophilia Illustrated.”

Disgusted with her uncle’s incestuous advances, Viridiana flees the homestead yet again, only to be stopped by the news that Dom Jaime has hung himself and left her half of his estate, which she will share with her cousin.

Viridiana’s interpretation of St. Paul’s dictum: “the greatest of these is charity” proves delightfully absurd when taking in the uneducated derelicts of the world. Buñuel shows the underclass as having sensibilities of cruelty and avarice equal to, if not surpassing, the affluent elite. “Sin” is not the sole property of a single social status. Both rich uncle and penniless leper like the feel of a garter on their thighs while squeezing into heels.  Uncle and son seek to soil  the unspoiled flesh. Viridiana’s self-humbling only squeaks with charitable intent. She is a counterpart to Buñuel‘s earlier, hopelessly naive Padre Nazario from Nazarin (1959).

Still from Viridiana (1961)The film contains two infamous scenes. The first is a cruelly symbolic one, involving two dogs and their carts. Bunuel choreographs the vignette like a rabid string duet, doused in venomous futility.  It is a canine stations of the cross with Simon of Cyrene alleviating the dolorous passion of one mutt, only  to be oblivious to the sight and sound of a second dog’s death march.

The second vignette is less restrained; a setting of da Vinci’s pedestaled “Last Supper,” brutally mocked and violated in a   photo session.

Of course, it all ends with a cinematic assimilation of  theological trinity, filtered through Bunuel’s compulsively subdued filter. Viridiana herself is rendered something akin to the Ever-Virgin’s ripped holy card, scattered and stained with the lay wasted epithet: “I don’t want to be touched.”

What is so holy about that?

LIST CANDIDATE: L’AGE D’OR (1930)

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Luis Buñuel

FEATURING: Gaston Modot, Lya Lys

PLOT: What plot? The screenplay was co-written by Salvador Dalí! A man and a woman long to have sex, but for various reasons they never do. Along the way, other things happen for no reason at all.

Still from L'Age D'or (1930)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: This is a direct follow-up to Un Chien Andalou, arguably the weirdest film ever made; it’s the only other film by the Bunuel/Dalí combo; and it’s the only other official Surrealist movie by Buñuel. So it ought to be a shoo-in. Unfortunately, as with so many sequels, it utterly fails to live up to the promise of the first film.

COMMENTS: Although this is often described as a collaboration between Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, they fell out before shooting started, so Dalí’s contribution was probably minimal (though depending on who you ask, he may have contributed little to Un Chien Andalou either). Scripted to run for 20 minutes, it somehow ballooned out of control and tripled in length during shooting. Fortunately, the aristocratic patron who provided the finance simply reached for his checkbook and told them to carry on regardless. Or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it. Un Chien Andalou is 16 minutes long, which is about as long as that level of blistering irrationality can realistically be maintained for, both in terms of the scriptwriter’s imagination and the audience’s patience. Stretched to just over an hour, the same kind of thing feels baggy, and is at times downright boring.

After a totally irrelevant prologue—the first three minutes are a documentary about scorpions—the film proper begins with a ragged man observing four elderly bishops sitting on a rock by the sea mumbling prayers. He rushes to a tumbledown shack and informs the other ragged men within, who appear to be guerrillas of some kind, that the “Majorcans” have arrived. In what seems to be a typically sly joke expressing Buñuel’s growing disillusionment with the Surrealist movement (he left in 1932), these men listlessly perform utterly pointless activities, and when they take up arms to combat the forces of religion, they’re so crippled and worn-out that almost all of them collapse, apparently from sheer apathy, before making it as far as the coast. The one man who gets there has just time to observe that the bishops have spontaneously turned into skeletons anyway before he too collapses. In an otherwise nonsensical speech, the most listless of the lot tells the others that they’re sure to win because they have paintbrushes. And their leader is played by the Surrealist painter Max Ernst (who remained a faithful Surrealist, so maybe the joke’s on him too).

At this point a flotilla of small boats arrives, and numerous civic dignitaries and smartly-dressed persons disembark. It becomes apparent that the death of the four Majorcan bishops has inspired these people to build the city of Rome (in 1930). However, the ceremony of laying the foundation stone is interrupted by the first appearance of the two protagonists, who are attempting to have very loud sex in a pool of mud. Not surprisingly, they are prevented by the outraged crowd and dragged away.

Not a bad beginning, but from this point on, it’s strictly by-the-numbers Surrealism. Gaston Modot, a very prolific character actor, is suitably intense, but kicking puppies and blind men is a poor substitute for slashing a woman’s eyeball! Lya Lys at one point comes across as the world’s worst actress, and is obviously using an autocue, but this must have been deliberate, since she too had a mainstream career (weird movie buffs can see her in The Return Of Doctor X, in which Humphrey Bogart, for the first and last time, plays a vampire). The almost-consummation of their passion goes on far too long without being anywhere near as intense or explicit as the similar scene in Un Chien Andalou. Priests and bishops in vaguely comical situations recur time and time again, we see the first use of Buñuel’s characteristic “incongruous animal indoors” trope, random passers-by kick violins down the street or have loaves on their heads, and so on. But it all seems a bit tired.

There are standout moments—a man cold-bloodedly killing his son for the most trivial of reasons, a suicide falling not to the floor but the ceiling, Lya Lys passionately sucking the toe of a statue—but not enough of them. There’s a tacked-on ending, in which, as a lengthy intertitle informs us, a quartet of degenerates emerge from a bestial orgy (actually the one described in the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom), and one of them turns out to be Jesus Christ. It comes across as a rather childish ploy to get the film banned on purpose.

Ultimately this is an ambitious failure, and not really very interesting. So many specific motifs from this film cropped up 44 years later in The Phantom Of Liberty that the latter movie could not implausibly be viewed as a secret remake. Perhaps Buñuel, always a lover of in-jokes, knowing that his career was almost over, was making his biggest in-joke of all?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an exhilarating, irrational masterpiece of censor-baiting chutzpah.”–Jamie Russel, BBC (DVD)

CAPSULE: AT MIDNIGHT I’LL TAKE YOUR SOUL (1964)

À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma

DIRECTED BY: José Mojica Marins

FEATURING: José Mojica Marins, Magda Mei

PLOT: Brazilian undertaker Zé do Caixão (“Coffin Joe”) eats meat on Friday, terrorizes peasants, and plots to steal his best friend’s fiancee; a gypsy witch is the only person in town who dares to defy him.

Still from At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Up until its nightmarish finale, At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is only weird in the sense that it features a one-of-a-kind antihero: Zé do Caixão, a the stovepipe hat wearing undertaker and self-appointed ubermensch who eats lamb on Holy Friday, rails against God during a thunderstorm, and gleefully murders his friends and acquaintances. The vicious character was popular enough to spawn a series of films, and Zé became an iconic boogeyman in Brazil, along the lines of a Freddy Kreuger in the States. Although not all that strange, the original At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is arguably the best of the Coffin Joe movies; the character, however, would return in weirder guises…

COMMENTS: When José Mojica Marins made At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul in 1964, there were no previous Brazilian horror films for him to model his movie after. That explain why Midnight, while cheap, sleazy, and cheesy in design, feels fresh and unique. Marins begins Midnight with not one, but two prologues. In the first Coffin Joe explains the concepts of life, death, existence and blood; in the second, an old gypsy hag waves a Universal Studios surplus skull in front of the camera and warns audiences there’s still time to turn around and go home. In between the introduction and the foreword, the sadistic highlights are previewed over the credits. A leather gloved hand bloodies a woman’s face, the same hands strangle a man in a bathtub, and a tarantula crawls over a bound victim, all while the wind howls and screams, moans and cackles echo in the background like a soundtrack for a Halloween haunted house. The opening impression is of a cross between a Universal horror and a grindhouse roughie; throw in a bit of Anton LaVey posturing, and that’s a fairly accurate description. The violence, which includes severed fingers and gouged eyeballs, is astounding for the early 1960s (there’s no nudity, of course—modesty must prevail). There’s a brutal rape scene, but Zé’s casual blasphemies probably shocked the original audience even more. The plot is simple but unusual: it’s mostly a series of scenes of Coffin Joe scandalizing pious villagers with his sacrilegious antics, then beating and whipping them while daring them to gather the courage to confront him. Meanwhile, he obsesses about fathering a son to carry on his bloodline, and decides to get rid of his barren girlfriend in favor of his only friend’s fiancée. A gypsy woman hangs around the edges of the picture predicting doom for the blackguard. Coffin Joe finally goes too far in his iniquities and one night, at midnight, the spirits of those he’s wronged come to take his soul. It’s not the plot (and certainly not the production values) that impresses, however, but the character of Coffin Joe. Clad head to toe in black, with a stovepipe hat, cape, pipe, bristly beard, and three-inch long fingernails sharpened like knife points, Zé is an instant nightmare icon from the moment he arrogantly strides onscreen. But what makes him terrifying is that he freely chooses evil: there is no backstory to humanize him or explain how he became embittered and corrupted. He’s simply a sociopath who delights in causing pain to his fellow human beings, and who is smart enough to justify his lusts and strong enough to seize them. His philosophy of evil is summed up by his assessment of the villagers he terrorizes: “They’re weak because they fear what they don’t know. I am free. Therefore, I am stronger.” Because Zé, an atheist in a superstitious Catholic society, has no fear of eternal punishment, he can take whatever he wants. A woman he rapes tells him she will kill herself: Zé’s chilling response is to wipe her blood from his lips and inform her that all the women say that—at first. Coffin Joe is repulsive, but he’s also charismatic; the cinematic figure he resembles most is Alex from A Clockwork Orange. We can’t actively root for him, but we can’t help but secretly envy him; he is what we fear in ourselves. That makes for a great character, even if the technical qualities of the movie surrounding Coffin Joe can’t quite live up to Marins’ ghoulish persona. Zé’s downfall satisfies the censors; evil is punished. But at the end, when the forces of superstition and the vengeful spirits of the dead swamp the undertaker, Coffin Joe’s comeuppance has all the sincerity of a fallen preacher’s tearful apology to his parishioners. It’s there for show, to convince the audience that wickedness has been buried once and for all. As Coffin Joe’s words echo in our ears, we remain unconvinced.

Director José Mojica Marins says he took the role of Coffin Joe because he could not find a professional Brazilian actor willing to play the part. He portrayed Zé do Caixão for 45 years, through three canonical Coffin Joe films and a host of guest appearances, including cameos in Marins’ more surreal offerings, including the LSD horror Awakening of the Beast and the cut-and-paste highlight reel Hallucinations in a Deranged Mind.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Morality is annihilated, transgression is exalted — a confrontational close-up makes Mei’s mauled mouth as bizarrely erotic as Barbara Steele’s punctured face in Black Sunday…”–Fernando Croce, Cinepassion (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by EricSG, who praised the “eerie atmosphere” and “surrealistic touches that hint upon Bunuel (albeit more evil)” and added “the ending catapults it into the weird netherworld with psychedelic camera tricks…” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: THE LORDS OF SALEM (2012)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Bruce Davison, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Dee Wallace, , Judy Geeson

PLOT: An overnight DJ is drawn into a web of witchcraft when she plays a mysterious record.

Still from The Lords of Salem (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s weird, to be sure, but it’s not weird enough to make us forgive all of the script’s missteps. I saw Salem in a theater with a quartet of teenagers as the only other patrons in the audience. They were far more thrilled by the Iron Man 3 trailer, which made the girls and boys alike squeal with delight. They were less impressed by this movie: one of them complained afterwards that it wasn’t even a “horror movie” (what kind of movie she thought it was, if not horror, I didn’t overhear). Yet, they stayed through the entire thing. If you can’t get teenagers who think Iron Man 3 looks awesome to walk out on your movie, then I’m afraid you haven’t made it weird enough to make the List.

COMMENTS: The Lords of Salem wants to be a rock and roll Rosemary’s Baby, but most of the time it’s just a bunch of dream sequences floating around in space, looking for a movie to latch on to. Of course, 366 Weird Movies doesn’t object to the use of dream sequences—hell, make your entire movie one long dream sequence and we’ll eat it up—but we do object to the clumsy, clichéd fashion in which they are handled here. If you’ve seen a horror movie before, you know the kind we’re talking about: everything seems normal and then suddenly the protagonist sees some dreadful apparition, bony fingers reach towards her neck, and then—poof!—she wakes up, it was all a dream. Do it once, and you’re just relying on a genre convention. Do it twice, and the audience may start to get annoyed. But play this trick three times or more, as Salem does, and you’ve broken a bond of trust between viewer and director. But let’s back up for a moment. These recurring hallucinations take up most of the pictures second act. The first act sets up the essential story: DJ Heidi lives alone with a dog in a Salem, Massachusetts apartment. Played by Sheri Moon Zombie, Heidi is unglamorous: skinny like a junkie, with bad tattoos, blond dreadlocks and hipster glasses. (Despite what you may have heard, her acting is not bad; the character is just underdeveloped. It was created in makeup and wardrobe, not in the script). Heidi interviews an expert on the Salem witch trials (for some reason, the late night classic rock show she co-hosts invites only Satanism-related guests) who provides historical background on local witchcraft cults. Then she receives a mysterious LP record, plays it on the air, and we drift into that seemingly never-ending series of dreams inside dreams which serve no plot purpose, but only showcase the director’s ability to construct a fake scare scene. Although it turns out all those second-act hallucinations (including a nasty bit involving a priest) were just padding, the story starts to improve in the third act, when three villainous witches start actively corrupting events. As the end draws near, the hallucination sequences become both more intense and more meaningful. Directed by the delightfully nasty and foul-mouthed hag trio, they take on a purposeful ritualistic character that makes it clear (well, somewhat clear) what’s going on with Heidi. The scenes turn operatic as Heidi’s efficiency apartment transforms into a grand ballroom. We meet a wonderfully creepy fetus-looking demon with a bifurcated umbilical cord who’s up to no good. And Rob Zombie goes all-out crazy in the final moments, creating a grand surrealistic horror montage that’s reminiscent of the kind of psychedelic apocalypses was putting up on big screens in the 1980s. The bottom line is I can’t recommend, or recommend avoiding, watching Lords of Salem. If you go you’ll see a fairly standard horror movie setup, a muddled middle, and an ambitious ending; you’ll see demons of every shape and size (including one looks like Chewbacca), corpses and rats and goats, psychedelic effects, blasphemous Satanic sex rituals, nude hags, cameos by minor genre icons like Dee Wallace and Patricia Quinn (the credits say  and  are in there somewhere too, though I didn’t spot them), and Sheri Moon’s skinny butt. If that kind of hodgepodge sounds it worth it to you, and you don’t need a coherent story or artistic vision to tie it all together, than by all means have at it.

Rob Zombie is a difficult director to get a handle on. On the one hand, he is almost certainly the most talented director to ever bear the name “Zombie.” On the other hand, each of his movies contain moments of visionary inspiration marred by deep flaws and missteps. He displays the aesthetic sensibilities of an Iron Maiden album cover combined with an overweening sense of self-importance (his rambling, half-mad director’s statement claims that “only the goat knows free will” and warns against some “dangerous old conceptual fiction so near to the silver screen”). He’s a true American weirdo for our sick times.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the film eventually abandons psychological subtlety for hallucinatory garishness, which is too bad.”–Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA (2005)

DIRECTED BY: Peter Orton

FEATURING: David Soul, David Bedella, Leon Craig

PLOT: Jerry Springer hosts a typical episode of his show, in which the usual horrible people desperate for one moment of fame bare their sordid lives to the world. In the ensuing mayhem, Jerry is shot. He finds himself in Hell, where Satan makes him host a special edition of his show featuring Biblical characters—who are strangely similar to the guests in the first part—with the aim of being reconciled with Jesus and gaining admission to Heaven. So long as Jesus apologizes…

Still from Jerry Springer: The Opera (2005)

WHY IT’S WEIRD: It’s an opera about Jerry Springer! Tirades of incredibly foul abuse are sung with the utmost operatic seriousness. The KKK tap-dance. And then we find ourselves in Hell, where the holiest cultural icons in Christendom bicker like redneck trailer trash. “Les Mis” this ain’t!

COMMENTS: Technically, this isn’t a movie, it’s a stage musical. However, the version specially filmed by the BBC is available on DVD, so for our purposes, it’s a movie. And oh boy, is it weird! Most people can’t imagine David Soul in any context other than a certain long-past cop show. Well, if you’re one of them, his performance here may surprise you. As the only non-singing character, he makes a very convincing Jerry Springer, whether he’s ignoring the demands of his conscience (in the shape of an “Inner Valkyrie”), recounting the true story of the real Springer’s liaison with a prostitute, or spouting empty platitudes in a desperate attempt to solve all the world’s problems—-and more importantly, to avoid the torments of Hell, which, as the Devil constantly reminds him, include anal rape with barbed wire.

Another stand-out performance comes from David Bedella. Like everyone apart from David Soul, he isn’t really a movie actor, although parents of young children may know his voice from his performances as Victor and the Duke of Boxford in the US version of the “Thomas the Tank Engine” franchise. Which doesn’t mean you should let the kiddies watch this! There’s a staggering amount of very strong language indeed. David Bedella as the over-ambitious warm-up comic is responsible for quite a lot of it, especially in the second half, in which he really comes into his own as the Devil. In fact, he’s displaced Peter Cook in Bedazzled as my favorite movie Satan.

But it wasn’t profanity that caused a record-breaking 55,000 complaints received by the BBC, 47,000 of them before the show had even aired… or the protesters picketing the live production… or the unsuccessful lawsuits. It was the blasphemy. Technically (and as it turned out, legally) the show isn’t blasphemous. The second half obviously takes place in the head of the seriously wounded and delirious Jerry, which is why the celestial beings look and behave exactly like the people he’s just interviewed. And indeed why, in an interlude in Limbo, his guilty conscience causes him to imagine the accusing presence of guests who have died horribly as a result of appearing on the show we’ve just seen, although there hasn’t been time for this to happen yet.

Alas, religious maniacs have no imagination! It’s Leon Craig’s performance that caused most of the trouble. In Act I he’s hilarious as a man who gleefully reveals to his horrified fiancée that his secret sexual fetish involves dressing as a baby and pooping his pants. In Act II, he reappears as Jesus Christ (by the way, he’s a stout black man who in no way resembles the traditional Jesus), and portrays him as a well-meaning but naïve fellow who is ultimately very selfish. He also admits to being “a bit gay,” the line that caused at least half the fuss. Leon Craig sings very well and has a gift for comedy, but he doesn’t seem to have appeared in anything else since; perhaps being the focus of so much hatred scared him out of the profession.

In fact, this musical subverts religion more subtly by saying that none of us are all good or all bad, and by exploiting these desperate, damaged people, Jerry Springer is neither better nor worse than they are for letting him do it, or indeed we are for watching his show. And all concerned have a tremendous amount of foul-mouthed fun reaching this not terribly profound conclusion. Ironically, the one person genuinely entitled to be offended, Jerry Springer himself, actually liked it! Well, anyway, he said he did. But he can afford to be generous, given that, as the lyrics tell us, he’s:

“Bigger than David Letterman, bigger than Bob Hope;
And give or take a few million, bigger than the f***ing Pope!”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a foul-mouthed crowd-pleaser…”–Total Film

129. LOVE EXPOSURE (2008)

Ai no Mukidashi

“Nothing is more important than love.”–Shion Sono on the theme of Love Exposure

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Takahiro Nishijima, , Sakura Andô, Atsurô Watabe, Makiko Watanabe

PLOT: Yu Honda, the son of a Catholic priest, falls in with a gang of upskirt photographers in an attempt to generate sins he can confess to his father. One day, while dressed in drag after losing a bet, he falls in love with Yoko, a man-hating schoolgirl who believes him to be a woman. He strives to woo her despite the mistaken identity, but a mysterious girl named Koike and a brainwashing cult seem intent on preventing Yu from ever winning Yoko’s heart.

Still from Love Exposure (2008)

BACKGROUND:

  • Sono’s original cut of the film was six hours long. At the request of producers he cut it down to two hours but felt the result was incoherent; the current four-hour run time is a compromise.
  • Sono reportedly wrote the part of upskirt photography guru “Master Lloyd” with Lloyd Kaufman in mind.
  • “Miss Scorpion” was a recurring character from a 1970s Japanese women-in-prison film series.
  • Despite winning awards at multiple Asian film festivals as well as a FIRPESCI international film critics awards, Love Exposure‘s long running time made it anathema to theatrical distributors. The movie finally saw a very limited run in U.S. and Canadian theaters in 2011.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Some will doubtlessly be impressed by the bloody castration scene, but a less shocking image marks the centerpiece of Love Exposure: “the miracle,” the moment when the wind blows up Yoko’s skirt and reveals her alabaster underthings, giving Yu the first erection of his life. White panties—a symbol of sex masked in the color of purity—are the most important recurring image in Love Exposure, even more so than crosses and hard-ons. As Master Lloyd explains while pointing to a bronze relief image of a spreadeagled woman with a swatch of white silk covering her nether portions, “Anything you seek can be found here, in the groin.”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Although there is some crazy stylization—slo-mo bullets following a schoolgirl through Tokyo and a dysfunctional family posing with a giant cross in the desert—what makes Love Exposure‘s mad heart tick is the plot that piles crazy on top of crazy. Any story that incorporates Catholic guilt, ninja panty-peeking photographers, kung fu and samurai sequences, mistaken identity subplots, and teenage cult kingpins, plays it all as a romantic comedy, and has to run for twice the length of an average movie just to fit in everything the director wants to say, is bound to be a little weird.


Trailer for Love Exposure

COMMENTS:  For four hours Love Exposure bounces back and forth between poles of purity and perversion, suggesting both the fetishistic Continue reading 129. LOVE EXPOSURE (2008)