Tag Archives: Dysfunctional family

262. THE GREASY STRANGLER (2016)

“I was surprised by reactions to the film. I thought people would find it funny or absurd, but people look really shaken when they come out. When we screened it at South by Southwest, there was a filmmaker I know who makes very strange films. And afterward, he looked like he had been through the wringer: ‘I’ve never seen anything like that. I thought, ‘Oh, come on.’ What can seem fun to one person can seem totally deranged to someone else.”–Jim Hosking, Rolling Stone

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Michael St. Michaels, Sky Elobar, Elizabeth De Razzo

PLOT: Big Ronnie eats an extremely greasy diet and runs a scam tour of L.A. disco locations with his unmarried adult son and live-in cook Brayden. At night he transforms into a lard-soaked monster who strangles people. When Brayden catches the eye of a girl on the tour, Big Ronnie becomes jealous and determines to seduce her himself.

Still from The Greasy Strangler (2016)
BACKGROUND
:

  • Jim Hosking worked as a music video and commercial director making short films on the side since 2003. His big break came when his bizarre and transgressive “G is for Grandad” segment of ABCs of Death 2 impressed that film’s producers, two of whom went on to produce The Greasy Strangler. and  also served as executive producers on the film.
  • The movie was supported and partly financed by the venerable British Film Institute.
  • This was 72-year-old actor and former punk-club owner Michael St. Michaels’ first leading role—unless you count his film debut in 1987s direct-to-VHS The Video Dead.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Big Ronnie’s big prosthetic, flapping in the car wash blower’s breeze.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Disco spotlight; pig-nosed stranglee; “hootie tootie disco cutie”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Gross, greasy and bizarre, ‘s debut feature is the closest thing you’ll see to a modern Trash Trilogy film, filtered through the fashionable surreal comedy sensibilities of Tim and Eric or . Strangler is more than the sum of those influences, however: it is its own little world where a lisping man with a pig snout can walk around town without raising an eyebrow, and a spotlight might suddenly appear on an alley wall for a character to do a spontaneous dance number. The fat-to-nutrient content is too out-of-whack for this to count as healthy entertainment, but it’s fine as a guilty pleasure treat. It’s too big, bold and weird to be ignored; it’s not 2016’s best movie, or even the year’s best weird movie, but it is this season’s most insistently in-your-face assault on taste and reality.


Short clip from The Greasy Strangler

COMMENTS: “Let’s get greasy!” shouted the producers from the Continue reading 262. THE GREASY STRANGLER (2016)

LIST CANDIDATE: DER BUNKER (2015)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Daniel Fripan, Oona von Maydell, David Scheller

PLOT: A Student takes a room with a family who lives in a remote bunker and is convinced to become tutor to the very strange son, Klaus, by his even stranger parents.

Still from Der Bunker (2015)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: What is it about German movies starting with “Der” and starring Pit Bukowski? On the heels of Der Samurai comes another strange, psychosexual cry from the German underground, this one based around twisted familial dynamics rather than repressed homosexuality. Der Bunker doesn’t quite hit a home run at writer/director Nikias Chryssos‘s first time at bat, but it lands solidly on base, with more than enough surprises to keep lovers of the weird glued to the screen. It’s the kind of debut that makes you suspect great things may come from these quarters in the future. If Der Bunker is the foundation, we can’t wait to see what Chryssos will build once he gets some funds to work with. Get in on the ground floor.

COMMENTS: I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprises hiding in Der Bunker. The film keeps Klaus hidden in the opening reels; he’s first seen in a longshot at the breakfast table. The next time we glimpse him—which is the first time the Student sees him—he is kept in the shadows. Later we only catch sight of him sitting in the corner, or see him from behind in his too-small pajamas, sleeping or brushing his teeth. It’s not until about the 18-minute mark that we get a good look at Klaus. Mother, too, keeps her secrets under wraps until the film’s musty atmosphere has had some time to seep in to the viewer’s consciousness. That means that Der Bunker‘s opening belongs to Student Pit Bukowski—the intruder/hostage from the world outside the bunker—and to Father David Scheller, who serves as a sort of butler who slowly acclimates us to the oddities lurking in the family cellar.

With only four characters (not counting Heinrich, about whom the less said the better) in a single claustrophobic setting, Der Bunker relies on its actors to have any chance of success. Fortunately, they do not let us down. Bukowski, whose last role was a mystical transvestite samurai, proves that he can play a straight lead as well as the eccentric, leaving the scene-stealing to others while serving instead as the audience’s surrogate. Scheller, playing Father, is the comic relief: with his spindly build and mustache his physically recalls a Teutonic it’s like seeing Basil Fawlty show up in Dogtooth. He’s an affable host who washes his new tenant’s feet, but who also keeps a ledger of each individual dumpling his lodger eats. Although Father is the first member of the family the Student encounters, it gradually appears that Mother (Oona von Maydell) wears the pants in the family. A perfectly pale and prim domestic type on the surface, she is gradually revealed to be disturbed, deformed, desirable and manipulative, an Oedipal puppeteer who is perhaps a puppet herself. As 8-year old (?) Klaus, Daniel Fripan, in a blond bowl haircut, gets the plum role. The poor boy is sympathetic as only an underdeveloped child can be: his parents envision him as a future President, despite the fact that he cannot remember a single world capital. A product of a parental love and ambition so overwhelming that it has the same effect as neglect, he’s so doggedly unremarkable that he becomes unforgettable, and the friendship that develops between he and the Student is as touching as it is strange.

As a child, staying over at a friend’s house for the first time is always a slightly weird experience. The wallpaper is different, meal times and bedtimes are all wrong, and your friend’s mom collects strange figurines. You suddenly realize that there are other ways of doing things than the way your family has always done them, that there are other styles of parenting besides the one you are accustomed to. Der Bunker might be a grown up take on that experience, except that in the Student’s case, the whole adventure is not just a sleepover novelty—through adult eyes, he can see that the way this family goes about its business is not just different, but wrong. Der Bunker is a joke on the insularity of the nuclear family and its impenetrability to the outsider. It’s a joke that naturally turns into a nightmare, because even if you’ve been taken into someone else’s home, you’re not really a part of it—unless you adjust to their customs, which can be, let’s say, stressful.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Der Bunker lets you interpret the film’s meaning yourself, but even if you come up blank, the ride is a bizarre enough oddity to keep you wanting more.”–Matt Donato, We Got This Covered (festival screening)

192. LEOLO (1992)

“Parce que moi je rêve, je ne le suis pas.” (“Because I dream, I am not.”)–Léolo

DIRECTED BY: Jean-Claude Lauzon

FEATURING: Maxime Collin, Yves Montmarquette, Pierre Bourgault, Ginette Reno, Giuditta Del Vecchio, Julien Guiomar

PLOT: Young Léo Lauzon lives in Montreal with his dysfunctional family; he has an active imagination which he uses to escape from his squalid surroundings. He insists that his name is actually Léolo and that he is Italian, inventing a story that his mother was impregnated by a tomato contaminated with semen. He lusts after a neighbor girl (as does his grandfather) and tags along on salvage operations with his bodybuilding older brother in-between trips to the mental hospital to visit other family members; the entire time a mysterious old man hangs around the edges of the story.

Still from Leolo (1992)
BACKGROUND:

  • This was writer/director Jean-Claude Lauzon’s second feature film. He died in a plane crash in 1995 while working on his third.
  • Lauzon said the film was semi-autobiographical. Leo’s last name is also Lauzon, which he Italianizes to “Lozone” when he decides he is really Léolo.
  • The “Word Tamer” (or possibly “worm tamer”—“dompteur de vers” in the French may be a pun meaning both “worm” and “verse”) is played by Pierre Bourgault, a Quebecois separatist and professor. Lauzon was once a student of Bourgault’s.
  • Named one of “Time” magazines “All-TIME 100 Movies.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The “contaminated” tomato, the film’s most deranged comic invention.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Immaculate conception via imported produce, underwater hallucinations, and bizarre sexual practices reign in the world of Léolo’s imagination. He uses these inventions to escape from an almost equally strange, but far less pleasant, reality.


U.S. release trailer for Léolo

COMMENTS: “Because I dream, I am not,” Léolo‘s young protagonist Continue reading 192. LEOLO (1992)

182. SPIDER BABY (1967)

“In pinning its narrative to a weird family’s desperation to keep its own shadow from touching the outside world, Spider Baby anticipated a score of disparate works… Regardless of what may have inspired it or what subsequent films it may have influenced, Spider Baby remains very much its own animal. Set as it is off to one side of the real world, there’s a timelessness to the film, whose freshness remained sealed in during its decades languishing in obscurity.”–Richard Harland Smith

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING, Jill Banner, Beverly Washburn, , Carol Ohmart, Quinn Redeker

PLOT: Merrye Sydrome is a “rare degenerative disorder,” the result of generational incest, which causes mental regression back to a primordial state and… cannibalism! The three Merrye children  are the last of the Merrye line, cared for by their genteel chauffeur Bruno (Lon Chaney). Together they live relatively peacefully in a dilapidated Gothic mansion, until distant relatives and a sleazy lawyer arrive.

Still from Spider Baby (1967)
BACKGROUND:

  • Although made in 1964, Spider Baby was not released until late 1967, financial difficulties being the primary delay. Director Jack Hill relates that in his first meeting with potential distributors, his entire audience bolted for the exit door within twenty minutes of the screening.
  • Originally, the film was titled Cannibal Orgy: Or, The maddest Story Ever Told, but when picked up for distribution, producer David L. Hewitt changed it to Spider Baby. To add more confusion, it was given yet another title for the drive-in circuit: The Liver Eaters.
  • Jill Banner was only 17 in this, her film debut. Following Spider Baby, Banner she was moderately active in television and, shortly before her death, she was romantically involved with Marlon Brando. Unfortunately, her life and career were cut short when she was killed by a drunk driver in 1982.
  • Hill was so proud of Spider Baby, he planned a sequel, Vampire Orgy. However, the film’s numerous post-production struggles effectively ended those plans.
  • In 2004 Spider Baby was adapted into a successful stage musical, which still plays in large cities.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Veteran character actor Mantan Moreland has a brief field day spoofing his old “spooked black man in haunted surroundings” character as he gets invited to play in Jill Banner’s chilling version of “itsy bitsy spider.” The sight of the dead postman hanging out the window, a victim caught in Virginia’s web, inspires a arched eyebrow from Lon Chaney Jr., and from us.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The weirdness of Spider Baby is guaranteed right from the opening credits, with a hoarse Chaney singing: “This cannibal orgy is strange to behold/In the Maddest Story Ever Told!” He is not exaggerating.


Jack Hill discusses Spider Baby for “Trailers from Hell”

COMMENTS:  Attempting to describe Spider Baby, critics often compare it to the Little Shop of Horrors, “The Addams Family,” and Eraserhead. Continue reading 182. SPIDER BABY (1967)

CAPSULE: TWISTER (1989)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Suzy Amis, ,

PLOT: A man seeks to reconnect with his daughter and her alcoholic mother, who rarely leave the mansion they share with the family patriarch and a weirdo artist brother/uncle.Twister (1989)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This shambolic mass of quivering quirk is for fans of the cast only—specifically, for fans of Crispin Glover, who, bullwhip in hand, is acting somewhere near the acme of his Crispin Glover-ishness here as a fey would-be artist.

COMMENTS: Harry Dean Stanton is mini-golf mogul and patriarch of the crumbling Cleveland clan in Twister, Michael Almereyda’s odd but mostly unsuccessful debut film. Stanton, who is romancing a local Christian kids’ show host (Lois Chiles), is mildly eccentric, but his children have gone around the bend. Howdy (Crispin Glover) is an effete, sensitive artist in a shaggy Prince Valiant haircut. He plays guitar and sings (badly) and looks constipated most of the time. Sister Maureen (Suzy Amis) is a mess: constantly drinking beer, passing out on the lawn, and imagining helicopters are watching her. According to the story’s plan she’s supposed to be quirky and charming, but her behavior is too unpredictable and dangerously immature to be endearing. She’s an unfit mother, guilty of child endangerment just by being herself. Observing all the crazy are a trio of somewhat normal outsiders: live-in nanny Lola (Charlaine Woodard), whose underdeveloped part seems to be on back-order; victim kid Violet (Lindsay Christman), who is currently normal (against all odds) but in desperate need of rescue; and decent-guy protagonist Chris (Dylan McDermott), who just wants to put his family back together and get his daughter out of the Cleveland’s madhouse.

The title implies a cataclysmic upheaval that never comes. The Cleveland men get and lose girlfriends, the maturity-challenged siblings make plans to visit their absentee mother that don’t get very far, and Chris tries to woo the mother of his child despite increasing evidence that she’s too far gone into alcoholism and mental illness to make a commitment that lasts more than five minutes. By the end, despite the script’s hopeful protestations, we don’t believe that anyone has learned anything, or that anything is going to change for the core family, no matter what new living arrangements they propose. Twister is a character-driven story without genuine character development; things continue to happen, it keeps teasing us that it’s about to turn interesting, and then suddenly it ends, in a light breeze rather than a tornado.

Twister‘s main asset is its cast, and one of its coups was getting beat novelist to show up and deliver a few lines of dialogue. Watching Glover’s performance alongside Burroughs, you sense that the actor based his laborious, over-enunciating schtick on the junkie icon’s odd cadence. Seeing these two cult figures exchange carefully-crafted but halting lines of dialogue is one of Twister’s only small pleasures.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Almereyda finds exactly the right tone: a loopy, understated deadpan that invites empathy rather than ridicule.”–Nathan Rabin, The A.V. Club (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by dthoren, who said it “stars Harry Dean Stanton as patriarch of an insane family, including a bullwhip-wielding Crispin Glover in one of his trademark terrible wigs. I love it, and I hope you will too.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: TORMENTED (2011)

Rabitto Horâ 3D 

DIRECTED BY: Takashi Shimizu

FEATURING: , Takeru Shibuya, 

PLOT: A young boy has nightmares about a giant bunny after he euthanizes a wounded rabbit on the playground; his mute older sister tries to keep him from being sucked into another world.

Still from Tormented (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Tormented is a strange little psychologically twisted J-horror, but it doesn’t exceed the limits of its genre quite enough to rank as one of the weirdest of all time.

COMMENTS: Leporiphobes beware: Tormented (literal title: Rabbit Horror) features the creepiest extra-dimensional cuddly-wuddly bunny since Frank from Donnie Darko. Two of them, actually, since there is the life-sized theme park rodent, and the identical miniaturized ragdoll bunny that floats off the screen of another movie and into young Daigo’s backpack. Mute Kiriko, Daigo’s protective older sister and mother figure, can’t get rid of that second floppy bunny, even when she tries to throw it in the incinerator; it just keeps haunting the pair, dragging both of them down a rabbit hole into a nightmare world of carousels, hospital corridors, spiral staircases, and people dressed as animals performing disturbing acts. Meanwhile, Kiriko and Daigo’s father, a bereaved children’s book illustrator, is trapped in a fantasy world of his own, appearing indifferent to his offspring’s torment. Even though there is little question of what is happening in the dream world and what is going on in reality, the multiple hallucinations and rabbit-initiated flashbacks are disorienting. The movie is also confusing in ways that may not have been  intended; it can be hard to keep track of what’s happening to which character—and sometimes characters even seem to disappear from the action, sometimes even during the same scene. For the patient and observant, however, the basics eventually sort themselves out. There is a consistent psychological symbology running through the delusions—we figure out what both the giant rabbit and the little bunny doll represent—and it all leads to an effective twist two-thirds of the way through the movie. The problem with that is that most twists are revealed at the end of the movie; here, the story seems to end on a satisfactory note, yet there’s still a half an hour to go. The entire third act feels like a wrong turn, an unnecessary coda that ditches the psychological angles in favor of horror movie clichés about super-resilient supernatural adversaries. Still, the movie arguably ends on a further twist, although this one is so ambiguous that you might think you dreamed it. In the end, however, Tormented sports more pluses than minuses, with creepy atmosphere, psychological depth, and spooky bunny suits making up for the occasional storytelling misstep.

As you might guess thanks to scenes of dandelion fluff that conspicuously floats in front of the wide-eyed marveling characters, Tormented was originally shot in 3-D. Less obvious is the fact that it was lensed by celebrated cinematographer . The movie that Kiriko and Daigo watch in the theater is Shimizu’s previous effort, Shock Labyrinth.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a psychedelic meta-J-horror that is part ghost story, part Freudian merry-go-round, and utterly in your face.”–Anton Bitel, Little White Lies (festival screening)

SPIDER BABY, OR THE MADDEST STORY EVER TOLD (1968)

Spider Baby has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies. Comments are closed on this post; please see the official Certified Weird entry.

When a film opens up with a raspy-voiced  ardently singing the title song, it almost comes with a guarantee of a weird trip ahead. Spider Baby (1964) does not disappoint.

Some commentators have likened Spider Baby to Eraserhead (1977), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974 ), or TV’s “the Addams Family,” while others have erroneously categorized it as “surreal.” If we have to give comparisons, we might find it to be the most idiosyncratic film in the “Old Dark House” genre (and yes, that includes Rocky Horror Picture Show). Still, even that is not adequate. Spider Baby is a maverick that defies all labels.

Writer/director ‘s credits include ‘s unfortunate Z-grade Mexican horror films House of Evil (1968), Fear Chamber (1968), Isle of the Snake People (1971), Alien Terror (1971); the women-in-prison jigglefests The Big Doll House (1971) and The Big Bird Cage (1972); the Pam Grier blaxploitation vehicle Foxy Brown (1974); and Switchblade Sisters (1975-the title says it all). All of these are lucid examples of trash cinema; Spider Baby is a one-of-a-kind inbred sibling to the lot.

The casting of  Lon Chaney, Jr. is, for once, near ideal. 1930s horror icons Karloff and  each had an air of European mystery in their screen personas. 1940s horror second banana “sort of” horror icon Chaney, Jr was pure American white trash. When Universal tried to cast Chaney in the Karloff/Lugosi Euro mold, the results often ranged from laughable to cringe-inducing.

Chaney, Jr was, of course, unfavorably compared to his father and has received a lot of bad raps from critics past and present. Most of those raps are well deserved, but it was not his legendary father who proved to be the ultimate detriment to his career. It was Chaney Jr.’s role as Lennie in Lewis Milestone’s Of Mice and Men (1939) that rendered an insurmountable yardstick performance. Chaney could never equal his Lennie, much in the same way that Lugosi could never live up to Dracula (1931).

Unfortunately, off-screen Chaney proved to be considerably more brutish than Steinbeck’s gentle giant, which helped seal his inevitable career failure. Other factors in his decline included alcoholism, drug abuse, typecasting, trying to live up to his father’s image, and (reportedly) self-loathing regarding his latent homosexuality.

Executives at Universal didn’t help. After the success of Man Made Monster (1941) and The Wolf Man (1941) Universal cast Chaney Jr. as their new horror star. Somehow the studio was oblivious to Chaney’s strengths and weaknesses. Astonishingly they cast the hulking, phlegmatic actor as a grand guignol romantic lead with a Clark Gable-like mustache in the Inner Sanctum films. Son of Dracula (1943) was an even worse case of miscasting with Chaney as the Transylvanian count who must have been living off an excessively high-calorie blood intake.

Few of Chaney’s 200 plus films are of merit, but he did have a handful of good character parts in films which knew how to use him. Spider Baby is among those, featuring his last performance of note. Chaney liked the script so much that he made an extra effort to lay off the sauce, much to Hill’s relief.

There is a touch of pathos in Chaney’s performance as the caretaker. He is close to  territory here, seeing this misfit ensemble not as inbred cannibal freaks, but as family. Spider Baby is a far better way to remember Chaney than his actual last performances: Al Adamson’s equally trashy but dreadful 1971 duo Female Bunch and Dracula vs. Frankenstein (both of which try hard to make Ed Wood look sophisticated).

Chaney is helped tremendously by his co-stars, which include  as a bald, deformed version of Carroll Bakker’s thumb-sucking Baby Doll (1956), Carol Ohmart as a well-worn, Z-grade Marilyn Monroe bitch of an aunt, and Jill Banner and Beverly Washburn as psychotic sisters.

Still from Spider Baby (1968)The Merrye family is dying out, due to inbreeding and a “rotting of the brain.” Bruno (Chaney) is the family chauffeur who acts as their guardian. While Bruno is taking Ralph (Haig, perfectly embodying his character) to the doctor, Elizabeth (Washburn) plays “itsy-bitsy spider” with the mailman (veteran African American character actor Mantan Moreland). Ralph crawls out of the limo like a serpentine chihuahua. Torment floods Bruno’s eyes upon seeing what is left of the unfortunate courier. Virginia (Banner), doing her best Baby Jane Hudson imitation, cannot wait “to tell.” “It’s not nice to hate,” Bruno reminds the family, but it turns out this was simply a case of killing the bad news messenger; the message being news that heir aunt Aunt Emily (Ohmart) will be arriving this very day to throw out the lot of them. Emily brings with her the goofy but amiable protagonist Peter (Quinn Redeker). There is even a slimy caricature of a lawyer who might pass for a cross between Adolf Hitler and ‘ father.

The Merrye house has a personality all its own, complete with rickety, ominous elevator shafts and a basement of dreaded family secrets. Alfred Taylor’s cinematography is an enormous asset, nearly masking the film’s meager budget. A perverted veggie “Last Supper” and a “don’t you dare do go there” consummation (which is, thankfully, subdued) are scenes that burn themselves into the memory.

Hill, for once not working on commission, conceived  his child as a labor of love, and his attitude infected cast and crew. As bizarre as the script and direction is, it is an inspired cast that sells it. Dismemberment, incest, cannibalism and the budding sexuality of serial killers are all carried out with inexplicable charm. Still, even with fine work by all, it is Chaney who is the twinkle in the eye of the film’s hurricane.

Definitely a contender for the List.