Tag Archives: Horror

CAPSULE: THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS [LA CASA DALLE FINISTRE CHE RIDONO] (1976)

AKA The House of the Laughing Windows

DIRECTED BY: Pupi Avati

FEATURING: Lino Capolicchio, Francesca Marciano, Gianni Cavina, Giulio Pizzirani, Tonino Corazzari

PLOT: An art historian becomes embroiled in a sick mystery when he arrives in a rural village to restore a religious painting.

Still from The House With Laughing Windows (1976)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Giallo films always tend to be a little bent when compared to U.S. horror movies.  Despite the strange characters, unsettling tone and death-fetish subject matter, La casa dalle finestre che ridono is not weird by Euro-thriller standards.  In fact, it plays out like a conventional mystery,

COMMENTS:  Producers of Italian Euro-thrillers have rarely constrained themselves by strictly adhering to regimented structure, timing and consistency.  La casa dalle finestre che ridono, aka The House With Laughing Windows, like Suspiria or Baba Yaga is an exception.  It retains the feel of a giallo film, yet stands up to conventional Hollywood standards.  This makes it a candidate for conventional thriller audiences.  The House With Laughing Windows is more of a mystery than a horror movie, yet still qualifies for the “shocker” designation.  As a puzzler, it is not exactly up to Agatha Christie standards of construction, but what it lacks in precision, it makes up for in color and atmosphere.  There are a couple of slow spots, but overall this gory film demands attention with its curious plot, steady, brooding pace, and consistently suspenseful, creepy feel.

Stefano (Capolicchio) is an art historian and restoration specialist who is summoned to an eerie parish to complete a long unfinished fresco in an equally eerie church.  The painting was supposedly never completed, but closer examination reveals that certain parts were intentionally obfuscated by being painted over.  The seeds of Stefano’s undoing lie in his urge to uncover what lies beneath.

The grim fresco depicts the violent torture death of Saint Sebastiano.  It is the work of Continue reading CAPSULE: THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS [LA CASA DALLE FINISTRE CHE RIDONO] (1976)

READER RECOMMENDATION: SOCIETY(1989)

Our first entry in the June review writing contest: submitted by J.S. Roberts.

DIRECTED BY: Brian Yuzna

FEATURING: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Patrice Jennings, David Wiley

PLOT: Teenage Bill Whitney (Warlock) ostensibly lives on easy street.  He lives with his filthy rich parents and hottie sister in posh Beverly Hills, plus he has a babe cheerleader girlfriend and is reasonably popular.  His future looks bright.  For Billy, all this makes him “uneasy”.  He tells his shrink that he thinks something very weird and possibly evil lurks under his upper-class society.  As he tries to scratch the surface to uncover what’s beneath, he soon finds something unlike anything ever.  In the history of society.

Still from Society (1989)

WHY IT DESERVES TO MAKE THE LIST: Simply, the bravura finale.  Society takes it’s time towards it but when it comes…watch out!  Surreal, disgusting, unique, and an absolute must see.  People melt, melt into each other, melt into…things . To continue would be giving away the film’s powerhouse trump card placed securely up it’s sleeve.  But I find the film’s overall tone to be the second weirdest aspect.  It plays out like a made-for-TV melodrama and keeps you intrigued enough to stick with it, then the “shunt” (ending). Powerful stuff, the shunt is.

COMMENTS: Society really is an (purposefully?) overlooked gem.  Perhaps it’s greatest shortcoming , and maybe the reason it doesn’t have a greater cult following, is that for most of it’s run time it plays like a queasy hybrid of “The Hills” and “The Twilight Zone.”  Bland, beautiful people with bland problems living in a sort-of alternate universe; Society is a not so subtle satire on the lifestyles of the rich and shameless.  Society is a rare, off-the-wall, and greatly satirical American film that offers a lot of food for thought.  Which is a good thing, because you’re not going to be hungry after.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A bizarre fable that starts like a TV soap but soon darkens into a disturbing thriller… the ‘surrealistic make-up designs’… will stretch even the most inelastic mind.”–Time Out Film Guide

EDGAR G. ULMER’S THE BLACK CAT (1934)

The Black Cat has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made. Please make comments general comments about the film on the official Certified Weird entry.

Edgar G. Ulmer has a cult reputation, particularly in France. The late British film critic, Leslie Halliwell, believed that reputation to be wholly undeserved, since most of Ulmer’s films ranged from B to Z status. Ulmer did not begin that way when, in 1934, he was handed “complete freedom” in an A (A-) production, teaming, for the first time, Universal Studio’s reigning horror stars Bela Lugosi and in the Edgar Allan Poe-inspired The Black Cat. The resulting film, and Ulmer’s affair with his employer’s wife, quickly ended a promising top-notch studio career almost as quickly as it began.

This first Karloff/Lugosi teaming was also their best. That is because of their eight collaborations this was their only joint-starring project directed by a visionary auteur. In The Black Cat Lugosi was cast as protagonist Dr. Vitus Werdegast, and Karloff as antagonist Hjalmer Poelzig. In the original, uncut film, Lugosi’s hero does some less than heroic things. Enough of Vitus’ sinister quality remains that Lugosi gives us a hero we are never quite comfortable with. Under Ulmer’s direction, Lugosi’s performance is superb, an extreme rarity for this actor. As good as Lugosi is, Karloff is even better and, as unpopular as it may be to say now, Karloff was always a far better actor than his co-star.

Ulmer’s “complete freedom” came to a screeching halt when universal execs saw the filmed footage and script. Lugosi’s hero rapes the heroine, the heroine occasionally turns into a black cat, and Karloff’s Poelzig is skinned alive and last seen crawling on the floor with his skin hanging from his body as Lugosi’s mad hero laughs hysterically. All of these scenes were cut from the film and, par the course at that time, were destroyed. There are conflicting accounts as to whether the scenes were shot and then burned, or merely scripted and axed.
Still from The Black Cat (1934)
Regardless, what remains of The Black Cat is a flawed, baroque masterpiece, intoxicating to watch and simultaneously frustrating, especially in light of Ulmer’s original intent. Lugosi’s Hungarian psychiatrist Vitus is traveling by train, and he is on a journey of revenge and retaliation. Vitus meets two newlyweds—American novelist Peter Alison and his wife Joan (played by David Manners and Jaqueline Wells)—who are as bland a 30s couple as one is likely to find. Lugosi sees something in the young woman Joan and touches her hair as she sleeps. The Hays Code be damned, it’s an erotic, Continue reading EDGAR G. ULMER’S THE BLACK CAT (1934)

SATURDAY SHORT: THE BOX MAN (2002)

Inspired by a Kobel Abe novel, “The Box Man” is a great example of Nirvan Mullick’s keen attention to detail.  The beautifully hand-crafted scenery and smooth frame rate both serve as evidence of the excruciating amount of time he sacrificed for this short.

Mullick is currently working on an ambitious project called The 1 Second Film. His goal for this film is to generate one million dollars, and donate all profits to the “Global Fund for Women”. For more information visit The 1 Second Film homepage.

Also, For more of Mullick’s work, go to nirvan.com.

TOD BROWNING’S FREAKS (1932)

There used to be a theory in art college that many of the professors blandly bandied about like religious dogma. It was the theory of “aesthetics only.” This theory maintained that it did not matter whether a painting was of a landscape, a penis, or non-representational. A work of art could only be judged by aesthetic criteria.

The biggest problem with that theory is that it rarely holds true. A good example of this would be in comparing the work of Diego Riveria to the work of his wife, Frida Kahlo. Riveria was clearly a better painter, aesthetically. He had a far better sense of composition, and a keener sense of color than Kahlo. However, Riveria lacked Kahlo’s obsessive vision, and it is her vision that remains far more memorably etched in our conscience.

Another example which blows the “aesthetics only” theory out of the water would be in comparing D.W. Griffith to his one-time assistant Tod Browning. There is no doubt that, aesthetically, Griffith was a far more innovative and fluid director. However, Griffith lacked two important qualities which Browning had in spades: obsessive vision and pronounced human empathy. It is the latter of these two vivid Browning qualities that renders Griffith a grossly inferior artist when compared to the inimitable Tod Browning.
Poster for Freaks (1932)Browning was consistently drawn to and connected with the social outcast, while Griffith espoused his racial superiority and reprehensibly tidied that up in his protruding “aesthetics” chest.  That Griffith was ( and still is) celebrated, smacks of American and Hollywood hypocrisy and superficiality at its most blatant.

Of course, this is nothing new, nor is it confined to the film community. Conductor Rafael Kubelik was mercilessly attacked and driven out of Chicago Continue reading TOD BROWNING’S FREAKS (1932)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: SUICIDE CLUB (2002)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Masatoshi Nagase, Saya Hagiwara

PLOT: A shocking mass suicide in a train station attracts the attention of the police and a curious hacker who may have found a link to the seemingly random act.

Still from Suicide Club (2002)


WHY IT MIGHT NAKE THE LIST: This exercise in the Japanese new school of shock horror does not have enough substance to be considered extremely weird.  There are moments that light up the screen with an inspired energy that recalls the best horror-thrillers.  Yet, like a Noh theater performance, Suicide Club chooses to keep actual events close to the chest, relying on long pauses and slow takes to create the mood . Noh theater has dancing and music to fill up the entire performance, though; Suicide Club languishes with scenes that are filled with empty silence and shots that mean nothing.

COMMENTSSuicide Club is the odd story of one country’s affinity for self-termination, represented by a strange and tragic mass suicide in a train station.  Why this happens is never explained in a way that leaves one satisfied, but such is the state of the high suicide rate in Japan, and, to be fair, to ask why is almost besides the point. The point seems to be the journey into the strange underbelly of Tokyo and the detectives who must investigate the suicides by journeying into that hoary netherworld.

Well, the detectives and their sole lead, the idiosyncratic hacker Miyoko– I’m sorry, “The Bat”– who has a strong fascination with the tragedy.  This fascination drags her from the safety of her malicious computer activities to a world where secret messages are written in human skin and dropped off at hospitals and where J-Pop groups wield a heady authority over an unassuming generation.  As she becomes wound up in this mystery that seems to go deeper than anyone could have imagined, a youth named Mitsuko also becomes involved when her boyfriend commits suicide.  She too falls into the web of what is appearing more and more to be a sort of suicide club (how titular!) whose members might even be unaware of their membership.   And the deeper she falls, the closer she comes to realizing that she might even be in this unfortunately named club…

But this is all told through the visual narrative, because dialogue is in extremely short supply in this mannered horror exercise.  As is character development.  Or much of anything, really.  Suicide Club is a very visual film, told through a Morse code string of images that reads normal-normal-normal-weird! And when the images are strange or grotesque, the audience becomes intrigued and downright enthused.  But during the slow mood-building scenes, the movie falters in the wake of the sterile, lifeless Tokyo Sono sets up.  It surrounds and eclipses most moments of tension, replacing the anxiety with a vague sense of ennui that does not behoove a horror-thriller.

There are moments of inspired lunacy in Suicide Club that set it apart from the rest of the Japanese formalists, and if you can make it to the middle of the film where we meet the conspicuous character named Genesis, then your patience has truly paid its due diligence, because the film rolls along by then with images too weird and too delightful to spoil for you.  And Suicide Club feels meticulously fabricated in its down time, where the details brim forth from a lack of any real action; seemingly trivial things like the posters hanging up in Mitsumo’s boyfriend’s room are very well designed and hold little clues to the secret waiting at the end.  When it wants to be, Suicide Club has the potential to be a very good weird movie.

So give it a shot.  Suicide Club is worth trying, even if you find it to be a failure.  It’s a labyrinthine horror-thriller with a touch of mystery that will have you guessing, even if the mystery has no real bearing on what actually happens at the end.  Sono delivers what might be one of the only minimalist conspiracy movies, and on that note alone, it’s worth a gander.  Suicide Club is a valiant effort and a weird movie, just not often enough to make it something special.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Sono has been making weird, formalist indie films for more than a decade, but [Suicide Club] represents a shift into weird, free-form exploitation. None of it makes any real sense, but it sure does keep you watching.”–Time Out Film Guide

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: CROWLEY [AKA CHEMICAL WEDDING] (2008)

AKA:  Crowley. This film is referred to as Chemical Wedding in film databases and in the U.K., and Crowley in the U.S.A.   We have used the title Crowley in this review, despite Chemical Wedding being perhaps the more “correct” title.

NOTE: Those interested in the learning more about the roguish Aleister Crowley will want to read the Appendix to this post, which gives background on the occultist and his belief system.

DIRECTED BY: Julian Doyle

FEATURING:  Simon Callow, Kal Weber, Lucy Cudden, Paul McDowell, Jud Charlton John Shrapnel, and Terence Bayler

PLOT: Aleister Crowley comes back to life and goes on a murderous rampage, ultimately warping the universal space-time continuum.



WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Crowley is a strange mix of serous sci-fi elements and over-the-top characterizations of a notorious and eccentric historical figure.  Combined with a bizarre story of reincarnation, quantum physics and parallel universes, it’s an occult film that transcends the norms of the genre, providing a viewing experience that is funny, intriguing and peculiar all at once.

COMMENTS Crowley is an imaginative and clever occult science fiction film.  It is partly serious, partly campy, but not in a way that is meant to be silly or cheap.  It is also witty and ribald.  Well researched, the film draws its premise partly from the story of maverick rocket physicist and eccentric black arts follower, Jack Parsons (see Appendix).  Mixing fact with fancy, Crowley is a fast paced, multi-genre, satirical thriller.  Tawdry yet brainy, the movie proffers an oddball, but sophisticated mix of historical fact, occult fantasy and hardcore science fiction.  Based on the infamous “wickedest man in the world,” master occultist Aleister Crowley, this film will entertain, amuse, and perhaps enthrall the unconventional viewer.  Reflexively, it is sure to provoke and offend the mainstream audience.

In the present day, a Cal Tech scientist, Dr. Joshua Mathers (Weber) invents a sinister computerized, virtual reality space-time simulator in which the user steps into a creepy full body immersion suit.  Mathers conducts experiments with a joint scientific team at Cambridge.  There the virtual reality device is coupled with “Z93”, the most powerful, superconductor computer in the world.  It works!  It works too well.

Mathers’s rapaciously amoral assistant, Neberg (Charleton), surreptitiously introduces a Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: CROWLEY [AKA CHEMICAL WEDDING] (2008)

CAPSULE REVIEW: BABA YAGA (1973)

AKA:  Kiss Me Kill Me

DIRECTED BY:  Corrado Farina

FEATURING: Carroll Baker, George Eastman, Isabelle De Funès,

PLOT: A fashion photographer is beguiled by a lesbian witch who seeks to dominate, seduce and consume her.

Still from Baba Yaga (1973)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTBab Yaga is straight Euro-thriller.  While such films have an unconventional feel by US standards, the style is characteristic of this distinctive 1960’s-’70’s genre, and therefore very conventional on its own terms.

COMMENTSBaba Yaga is a very stylish Italian occult film in the Euro horror tradition of Suspiria.  It is based on artist Guido Crepax’s highly stylized graphic novel about a sorceress who tries to bewitch a fashion photographer.  Crepax adapted the novel from his risqué S&M comic .

Valentina (De Funès) is an up and coming fashion photographer with a knack for controversial shoots.  After she has a chance encounter with the fashionable and alluring society matron Baba Yaga, her life takes strange and eerie turns.  Yaga discovers Valentina on a darkened street, becomes attracted to her and begins to inject herself into the young shutterbug’s life in odd ways.  Yaga develops a strange fixation on Valentina, one that is more than platonic.

Yaga lives in a striking Gothic Revival mansion, it’s interiors bedecked with layers of satin, red velvet –and heavy leather in the boudoir.  While the house is very luxurious, it is in need of a few repairs.  There is a nasty hole under the oriental rug in the drawing room—the opening of a bottomless pit to Hell.  It is only fitting to have an eccentric home, because the owner isn’t exactly mainstream.  Babs is taken with keeping vipers and Australian fruit bats for pets, has some creepy taxidermy a la Norman Bates, and owns a collection of cursed curios.

In a gesture of benevolence, Baba Yaga gives Valentina a large Victorian doll “to protect” her.  Valentina counters that she doesn’t need any protection.  Well, she does now!  The Continue reading CAPSULE REVIEW: BABA YAGA (1973)

57. GOZU (2003)

AKA Gokudô kyôfu dai-gekijô: Gozu (full Japanese title)

INDIEWIRE INTERVIEWER: Are there any themes or images you find too upsetting or disturbing to show?

MIIKE: Normal things.”

RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Takashi Miike

FEATURING: Yûta Sone, , Kimika Yoshino

PLOT:  Minami is a journeyman yakuza whose boss Ozaki is going insane, and who has been ordered by higher-ups to see to it that he is killed.  Since Ozaki once saved his life, Minami is conflicted about the assignment; but fortunately, an accident seems to take care of the problem for him.  That is, until the presumptive corpse disappears while he is stopped in a strange town outside of Nagoya, and Minami launches a desperate search for his boss that leads him into a surreal labyrinth of malleable identities.

Still from Gozu (2003)

BACKGROUND:

  • Gozu was one of five movies the prolific Miike made in 2003.
  • “Gozu” means cow’s head, and the full Japanese title translates literally as Grand Theatre of Perversion and Fear: Cow’s Head (sometimes translated as Yakuza Horror Theater).
  • Like many of Miike’s films, Gozu was originally intended as a direct-to-video release.  A successful Cannes screening got the movie noticed, and it was able to get wider theatrical distribution.
  • Harumi Sone, who plays the small role of the Inkeepers Brother, is the father of star Yûta Sone, and the executive producer of the film.  He brought the idea of casting his son in a yakuza film to Miike, though it’s reasonable to suspect he had a more traditional film in mind.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: In a film full of shocking imagery, the obscenely drooling cow-headed man who slowly approaches Minami to lick his face stands out.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDGozu may be the culmination of Miike’s “weird and perverted”

English language trailer for Gozu

phase, loaded with his particular fetishes and combining the two genres he works best in: horror and the yakuza (mobster) film.  With its Eraserhead-like aura of personal alienation and fearsome psycho-sexual nightmares, bizarre identity shifts, and a cow-headed man as a mascot, Gozu‘s weirdness is never in doubt.

COMMENTS:  Sexual repression always makes a good base for a weird movie.  Our libidos Continue reading 57. GOZU (2003)

CAPSULE: THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE) (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Tom Six

FEATURING: Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura

PLOT: A mad doctor turns three people into a human centipede.

Still from Human Centipede (First Sequence)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Not weird, just gross.

COMMENTS:  There’s something in Hollywood that’s called a “high concept.”  It doesn’t mean what you probably think it means.  It refers to a plot hook that is so simple it can be compellingly summarized in a single sentence, like “a mad doctor turns three people into a human centipede.”  People will buy tickets to see the picture based on that easily digestible premise, so filmmakers can fill the remainder of the movie with whatever supporting crap they need to, just so long as it pads the film out to feature length.  The Human Centipede is a perfect example of a high concept horror film.  People are seduced into buying a ticket by the idea of seeing a human centipede, never minding the fact that they won’t see anything in the movie they didn’t already imagine when they heard the one sentence summary.  After watching the two minute trailer, it seemed like I knew everything that was going to happen in the film, so I was curious to see how director Tom Six would fill up the remaining 88 minutes.   The results of my study follow.  (Note: there aren’t really any spoilers in the following description, as there’s not enough plot to spoil).

  • HORROR MOVIE SETUP WE’VE SEEN 1,000 TIMES BEFORE:  Two hot, ditzy American tourists in Holland put on too much eye makeup, sensing that it will make them look cool, sexy and vulnerable when it smears in the rain after they’re caught in a downpour when their car breaks down late at night in a spooky woods and they have to walk to an isolated ranch-style home where a doctor who looks like a Dutch Christopher Walken with acne scars serves them a drugged drink.  There is actually one valuable lesson to be learned in this segment: if you’re on a deserted road and find you have to rush into the woods to use the bathroom, don’t do your business right in front of the parked car of the only homicidal maniac to be found in a twenty five kilometer radius. 20 minutes.
  • RECOGNITION OF THE HORROR THAT’S ABOUT TO BEFALL THEM:  The dastardly villain proves he’s willing to go to any lengths in his villainy.  Recapitulating the trailer in case the girls didn’t see it on YouTube, he then shows his helpless victims a helpful Continue reading CAPSULE: THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE) (2009)