Tag Archives: Horror

50. GOTHIC (1986)

“I passed the summer of 1816 in the environs of Geneva. The season was cold and rainy, and in the evenings we crowded around a blazing wood fire, and occasionally amused ourselves with some German stories of ghosts, which happened to fall into our hands. These tales excited in us a playful desire of imitation. Two other friends (a tale from the pen of one of whom would be far more acceptable to the public than anything I can ever hope to produce) and myself agreed to write each a story founded on some supernatural occurrence.  The weather, however, suddenly became serene; and my two friends left me on a journey among the Alps, and lost, in the magnificent scenes which they present, all memory of their ghostly visions. The following tale is the only one which has been completed.”–Mary Shelley, preface to Frankenstein

DIRECTED BY: Ken Russell

FEATURING: Natasha Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands, Myriam Cyr, Timothy Spall

PLOT: Romantic poet Percy Shelley takes his lover, Mary, and her stepsister Claire to visit Lord Byron and his biographer, Dr. Polidori, at the poet’s sprawling Swiss estate.  The fivesome spend the evening playing games and drinking laudanum, until the topic of conversation turns to ghost stories.  They decide to hold a seance to materialize their worst fear, with unanticipated success: or, are they just having a group hallucination?

Still from Gothic (1986)

BACKGROUND:

  • The meeting in the film between Percy Shelley, Byron, Mary Godwin Shelley, Dr. Polidori and Claire Clairmont did take place, though the party actually spent the entire summer of 1816 together, not just a single night. Mary Shelley (then Mary Godwin) did conceive the idea for her novel “Frankenstein there, after Byron suggested that each member of the party write their own supernatural tale. Many other details of the character’s backstories are accurate: Byron did impregnate Claire, and Mary did bear a stillborn child by Percy.
  • The story of “Frankenstein”‘s genesis was mentioned in the prologue to The Bride of Frankenstein, and similar stories of the meeting between Byron and the Shelleys were told in the movies The Haunted Summer (1988) and Rowing in the Wind (1988).
  • The painting which hangs over the mantelpiece in the guest bedroom, which is recreated in live action in a dream sequence, in is based on John Henry Fuseli’s “The Nightmare.”
  • The movie was the first major feature produced by a division of Virgin Media (known for producing and distributing their pop music). Many of the technical crew had a music video background. Virgin shut down its motion picture production and distribution operations after 1990.
  • Julian Sands came to Gothic fresh off a prominent role in Merchant-Ivory’s Oscar-winning A Room with a View. After this role he wound up specializing in horror films like Warlock (1989) and its sequels.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Breasts with eyes.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  After setting up its premise, Gothic becomes a series of phantasmagorical set pieces that allow Ken Russell to indulge his penchant for perverse visuals and excessive Freudian symbolism.


Trailer for Gothic

COMMENTS: For better and worse, Gothic‘s hallucinatory structure allows director Ken Continue reading 50. GOTHIC (1986)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: CALVAIRE (2004)

[AKA:  The Ordeal]

DIRECTED BY:  Fabrice Du Welz

FEATURING:  Laurent Lucas, Jackie Berroyer,

PLOT: Small time entertainer Marc Stevens ventures along a rural route to reach his next gig, but everything goes profoundly wrong. His car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, a stranger takes him to an inn, and he finds himself trapped in a countryside of insane predatory sodomites.  When Stevens is outrageously and systematically victimized for no discernible reason, he begins to go insane.  Calvaire is a fantasy that depicts a series of absurd events in a strange setting: the foggy, boggy,  deep woods of rural Belgium.

Still from Calvaire (2004)

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE:  When I watch a weird movie I expect to be horrified, scared as hell, titillated, awestruck or otherwise captivated.  At the very least I want to be inspired to think. Calvaire failed to deliver anything like this to me.  Calvaire‘s story is oddball, but frankly, I found it to be superficial, tedious and depressing without any real point.  Calvaire is a movie that could have been greatly weird, but wasn’t.

COMMENTS:  Calvaire opens with an odd scene and becomes inexplicably more bizarre.  A small time troubadour, Marc Stevens (Lucas) sings at a nursing home.  Later, an elderly woman drops by his dressing room to seduce him.  This peculiar encounter sets the tone for the rest of the film, but bears no relation to the subsequent plot points.  The remainder of Calviare’s storyline consists of a sequential chain of ghastly but only loosely related incidents.

While driving to his next venue on isolated back roads during a heavy rain, a figure darts out in front of Marc’s van.  The vehicle stalls and won’t restart.  An oddball stranger leads him to Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: CALVAIRE (2004)

CAPSULE: SATAN HATES YOU (2009)

DIRECTED BYJames Felix McKenney

FEATURING: Don Wood, Christine Spencer, Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, Debbie Rochon, Michael Berryman, Larry Fessenden

PLOT: In this re-imagining of the “Christ-sploitation” films shown in churches and

Still from Satan Hates You (2009)

probably a few Southern gynecologists’ offices of the 60s and 70s, we follow a young man and woman who make all the wrong choices in a haze of drugs, alcohol, and rock music while unknowingly under the influence of two demonic imps.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Satan Hates You, while initially very jarring in its lack of self-explanation, is a satisfying experience in terms of its Troma-esque shock horror and its acute satirical edge.  But its freaky imagery leans too often on a bland naturalistic style that mars its individuality and chokes the weirdness out of the movie.

COMMENTS: Satan Hates You is a very hard film to place.  Being a satire, a dark comedy, and a horror film is no ordinary pedigree, and Satan Hates You maniacally shifts from one of these genres to the next every few minutes.  It is a wicked send-up of those fear-mongering Christian PSA films that pop into existence every generation about the dangers of doing ungodly things like having abortions and doing drugs.  But it honestly doesn’t hit you that way when you watch it if you don’t do your research.  The first time watching it, I felt this to just be a dark, meandering horror-comedy about two idiots who make a lot of bad choices.  Director James Felix McKenney doesn’t really go out of his way to make this idea pop out at the audience with staples of the “Christ-sploitation” genre, like cheesy acting, an oversimplification of right and wrong, and loads of self-righteous condemnation.  We are instead tossed quite objectively into these people’s lives, full of sex, murder, and self-sabotage, and don’t get dropped many hints that we’re supposed to be in on a joke.

Once one understands the idea, everything falls into place a little more, and it does Continue reading CAPSULE: SATAN HATES YOU (2009)

CAPSULE: FRANKENSTEINS BLOODY NIGHTMARE (2006)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: John R. Hand, Amy Olivastro

PLOT: A scientist—or perhaps his monster, it’s never quite clear—kills women to harvest their body parts so the doctor can resurrect his dead love.

Still from Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare (2006)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Missing apostrophe aside, there’s lots to admire about Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare, though not as much to love. Director Hand shows a remarkable technical ability to create unique visual and auditory environments inspired by the 1970s trash movies of , , and , but with their cheap, desperate Super-8 stylistics exaggerated to surreal levels. The problem is that, for all its technical ingenuity, the movie has no story to tell, which will cause the average viewer to lose interest quickly.

COMMENTS: Frankensteins flesh may be recycled out of various parts snatched from grindhouse graveyards, but its heart was taken straight from the arthouse. One man show John R. Hand (writer/director/editor/composer/star) obviously watched a lot of 1970s horror cheapies growing up, and (like us) he was clearly more impressed by the mysterious artificial ambiances created by grainy film stock and heavy use of theremins, oscillators and other weird sci-fi audio effects than he was by the nudity and gore those drive-in auteurs depended on to sell tickets. Nightmare strips away the exploitation elements from these flicks (bloody it ain’t), adopting only the bare outline of a mad scientist story. It then seizes the distressed visuals and shaky audio that remains, and amplifies these leftovers to psychedelic levels. Hand himself is too boyish looking to convey the soul of a tortured scientist, and his acting is no better than the rest of the amateurs in the film. Given the intent is to mimic an exploitation film, this might not detract too much from the atmosphere, had there just been enough story and action to keep the viewer engaged. Dialogue is sometimes muffled and inaudible, making a difficult-to-follow story nearly impossible. It’s a bizarre experience to feel lost inside a the plot of a movie where almost nothing is happening onscreen.

Stylistically, on the other hand, there’s always something going on. The opening mixes grainy home-video style footage with bright, solarized footage depicting a pitchfork assault; strange whines, moans, blips, and electronic drones assault our ears, building to a dissonant crescendo. The film changes style every five minutes or so, as we tour Hand’s portfolio of foggy lenses, overexposed film, desaturated colors, psychedelic color filters, thermal imaging, a  psycho-sexual dream sequence, all accompanied by a disquieting soundtrack of distorted Moog organs and overdubbed tape effects. The penultimate scene in the film contains an absolutely beautiful effect where the autumn landscape, then an actress’ face, magically and organically melt into abstract blobs of orange and gold and purple (the director’s commentary reveals the cheap and ingenious method by which it was achieved: household bleach on still photographs).

Overall, Nightmare is a worthy experiment that’s successful in short stretches, but could have used a lot more story. A few bare boobs and a pint or two of gooey stage blood, the key elements this film’s inspirations never would have left out, would also have livened things up.

I can see why would give Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare an honorable mention on his top 10 weird movies list. Depending as it does on discount techniques for creating striking moods, this is a movie that can almost serve as a textbook to Hand’s fellow micro-budget filmmakers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a wild cocktail of nightmarish sensibilities; its death nerve twitches to a disquieting mish-mash of strange images and even stranger sounds… The story is bootleg but Hand’s head-trippy dissolving of consciousness is something fierce, inviting repeat viewings with a joint in hand.”–Ed Gonzalez, Slant Magazine (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: ANTICHRIST (2009)

Antichrist has been promoted to the List of the 366 weirdest movies of all time. This page is left here for archival reasons. Pelase go to 72. Antichrist for more in-depth coverage of the film and to make comments.

DIRECTED BY: Lars von Trier

FEATURING: William Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg

PLOT: After the death of their only child, a therapist takes his grieving and anxiety-ridden wife to a retreat in the woods to face her irrational fears; when they arrive, nature itself seems determined to drive them both mad.

Still from Antichrist (2009)

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE:  Actually, von Trier’s troubled and troubling Antichrist is almost a shoo-in to make the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies.  Though the graphic torture-porn (and plain old-fashioned porn) elements have stolen the headlines and alienated viewers, at bottom this is von Trier’s spookiest and most mysterious film, a trip deep into the heart of darkness, and one the viewer may have as difficult a time returning home from intact as the characters do.  The irrational horror of von Trier’s vision is only magnified by the sense that you aren’t so much watching a filmic depiction of madness as watching a director going insane in real time, before your very eyes: he seems to lose control of his story as it progresses, turning the climax over to his internal demons for script-doctoring, before reasserting some measure of control of his material in a surreal epilogue.  While worthy of consideration, Antichrist finds itself in the same situation as the Coen brothers A Serious Man; we’re not going to officially certify it for the List until it receives its home video debut and we have a chance to scrutinize it more closely than is possible in a cinema.

COMMENTS: Lars von Trier desreves to be roundly criticized for burdening Antichrist with approximately four transgressive, shocking scenes: not because such sights should never be shown, but because these tasteless displays dominate our experience and force every viewer (and reviewer) to deal with them first and foremost.  Their sole artistic function are to serve as obstacles to appreciating the grim beauty of the remaining film.  Whether their inclusion is a calculated act by a prankster director, or a lapse in judgment resulting from psychological impairment (von Trier claims to have written the script as self-therapy to help him deal with a crippling bout of depression much like the one suffered by Charlotte Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: ANTICHRIST (2009)

CAPSULE: EYE OF THE DEVIL (1966)

DIRECTED BY:  J. Lee Thompson

FEATURING:  Sharon Tate, , David Niven, , Flora Robson

PLOT: A happy marriage descends into an odyssey of terror when a woman’s husband is called to his ancestral estate by pagan heretics.

Still from Eye of the Devil (1966)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While Eye of the Devil tells a strange story, the occult  genre always spins an unusual yarn. In this context, strange is normal. Aside from being well produced, Eye of the Devil is noteworthy only because it debuts the doomed Sharon Tate.

COMMENTS: Vineyard owner Marquis Philippe de Montfaucon (Niven) is called back to his castle when a drought withers the crop, upon which the entire region depends. His wife and children are supposed to remain in London, but of course she becomes curious and is compelled to intrude. Catherine de Montfaucon (Deborah Kerr) subsequently discovers that her husband is behaving in a secretive and peculiar manner. His personality has undergone a distinct change and he seems dreadfully grim and preoccupied. Why?

There are many mysterious comings and goings, some heavyweight clergy are milling around who appear to be legitimate, but why are the Marquis’ young cousins shooting medieval arrows at her, casting spells on her children, and trying to hypnotize her into leaping off of the castle parapets? And who the devil are those troublesome dark characters in black Franciscan monk’s robes, chasing Catherine about in the deep dark woods?

As Catherine snoops, she discovers mounting evidence of heretical pagan practices and that an extraordinary number of the Marquis’ antecedents met untimely deaths. Could there be a relation between the deaths and some profound event that her husband seems to be preparing for?

Flora Robson (The Shuttered Room) is creepy and aloof as always in her role as the Marquis’ Aunt.  Sharon Tate (in her film debut) plays a sinister and threatening witch who turns frogs into doves and seems to perversely enjoy taking a good old fashioned horse whipping from the Marquis. (Blow-up, Juggernaut) cavorts as her delightfully menacing, archery-happy brother. Eye of the Devil features crisp, striking, artful black and white cinematography by Erwin Hillier.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Kerr is our only touch with reality, and she tries to carry the pic, to little avail.”–Variety (contemporaneous)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: THE SHUTTERED ROOM (1967)

AKA:  Blood Island

DIRECTED BY: David Green

FEATURINGOliver Reed, Gig Young, Flora Robson,

PLOT: In this H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, a a string of grisly killings is linked to an unnameable creature inhabiting the loft of an abandoned New England mill inherited by newlyweds.

Still from THE SHUTTERED ROOM (1967)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:   The Shuttered Room showcases a strange story of monsters and madness. The setting is claustrophobic and creepy, the characters are downright bizarre, and so are the situations that the protagonists stumble into. The cinematography is expertly, if not artfully, executed. Thus the viewer expects a conventional storyline, and it is unsettling when shocking events unfold.

COMMENTS:  A newlywed couple, Mike and Susannah Kelton (Young, Lynley) travel to an island off of the Connecticut shoreline to visit an old mill which Sue just inherited.  It was once her childhood home.  From the start, she has reservations, but the couple perseveres at Mike’s urging.  They need to view the property with the goal of renovating the mill into a bed and breakfast.

As soon as they arrive on the island, the locals begin subjecting them to the old “Yew ain’t from around here!” treatment (even though Sue is). Mike meets her uncle who insists that they should leave.  The uncle’s employee shows Mike his mutilated face, missing an eye, and reports that the injury was caused by the devil when he got drunk and spent a night in the abandoned mill.  The couple also meet the local ruffians, a gang of unsavory toughs led by a psychopath named Ethan (Reed), who happens to be Sue’s cousin.  Mike is a dignified magazine editor. Both he and Sue are city-slickers—and it Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: THE SHUTTERED ROOM (1967)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: DARK COUNTRY (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Thomas Jane

FEATURING: Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, Laurie German

PLOT: Two newlyweds returning from their Vegas wedding hit a man in the middle of the road; he lives, but the couple finds he is not all that he seems.

Still from Dark Country (2009)

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: Dark Country is a bit obtuse at times, and it frustratingly delights fans of the obscure by not explaining its motives or workings very often, but I hesitate recommending mainly because it relies a little too heavily on genre standbys and noir reverence instead of blazing new fantastic territory. It is a 50s thriller/noir mixed with a modern horror, but it doesn’t create its own identity between the two stylings. There are moments of heavy cinematic distortion and interesting ideas that run through the story like a highway across the hungry desert, but it can’t quite escape some level of mediocrity as it bends prostrate for that which has already been done.

COMMENTS: Dark Country represents a promising debut effort from a director who is willing to try new things. What’s really impressive from the start is the writing. It is intense and full of good, genuine human touches that help the movie flow from scene to scene. From the first scene to the end, I felt rapt with attention to these immersive characters and their odd relationship, especially after the drive out of Las Vegas.

It is a journey through dark and unforgiving territory, perhaps a metaphor for the new marriage between main characters Gina and Dick, newlyweds who don’t really know what they’re in for. The young couple just made it official in Vegas, and are ready to go home, but even before their fateful accident, things aren’t what they seem between them. There is tension, there are incidents between the two that are hinted at, and they have secrets from each other right off the bat. After their encounter in the desert with the strange man they hit, things only get worse between them. From an artistic standpoint, Dark Country can be commended as a smart thriller with some brains to back up its craziness.

Visually, it’s a feast for the eyes, and it’s tonally interesting. Thomas Jane wants a very engrossing visual experience, but he is also on a budget here, so we are caught in a limbo of many special effects, none of which really hit the mark in a spectacular way. The CG is on the cheap side (it looks like a violent episode of “Reboot” when they wreck the car near the end!) The green screen is not very successful in melding the real and fake, but the color effects are interesting, not to mention plentiful, and we are treated to some good old fashioned camera trickery with slick editing and nifty shots.

But while it’s a solid debut for Jane, and an offbeat one at that, we’re still not treading across any bold new frontiers with Dark Country. This is a movie I have seen before, in bits and pieces: intense psychological implications, a noir aesthetic, and the lush, frightening mysteries of the deep desert. It’s not anything breathtaking or unflinching. It’s a good and often disturbing take on some classic thriller ideas, and it has a twist in the story that will have you on your toes, but I wouldn’t consider this to be one of the weirdest movies I’d ever seen. With a good cast, a taut script, some interesting effects, and a more intelligent angle than your average thriller, Dark Country has a lot going for it. Just don’t expect it to be too weird, because you might be disappointed.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The developments in Tab Murphy’s script are never quite as shocking to us as they are to Dick and Gina, and the story eventually builds the feeling of marking time on the way to its TWILIGHT ZONE-esque resolution… Jane’s visual sense assures that the film is always a spooky pleasure to watch, though…”–Micgael Gingold, Fangoria (contemporaneous)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: IN MY SKIN [DANS MA PEAU] (2002)

DIRECTED BY: Marina de Van

FEATURING: Marina de Van, Laurent Lucas, Léa Drucker

PLOT: Esther is a nice yuppie girl who enjoys her office job.  She also enjoys dismantling and consuming her own body.  After disfiguring her leg in an accident, Esther develops a necrotic fascination with herself and begins to self-mutilate.  She engages in auto-cannibalism while having hallucinations of limb disassociation.

Still from In my Skin [Dans ma Peau] (2002)


WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: In My Skin is a different kind of horror movie. It plays on those grisly nightmares about things like inexplicably sudden tooth and hair loss, parasitism and other subconscious fears centering on uncontrollable bodily damage. There are no phantoms or monsters in De Van’s film, no outside threat. The horror comes from within as a woman sinks into insanity and demolishes her body.

COMMENTS: In My Skin is a study of morbid preoccupation with the physical nature of the human condition. It explores dissatisfaction with body image, and the finding of a decadent delight in its destruction. The lead character seeks psychological satiation through bodily deconstruction and self-consumption  She tries in vain to attack inexplicable and inexorable anxiety via the demolition of the human vessel.

Esther (De Van) falls on some construction debris in back of a friend’s house and gashes her leg open. Oddly insensitive to the pain, she does not sense the severity of her ghastly injury. She discovers the extent of the damage later, but even then, she goes to a bar before seeking treatment. When she finally does obtain medical assistance, she perversely declines measures to prevent disfigurement. At this point, her psyche undergoes a sinister change.

In My Skin is reminiscent of a Ray Bradbury story entitled “Skeleton” (one of two he wrote Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: IN MY SKIN [DANS MA PEAU] (2002)

SATURDAY SHORT: X-MESS DETRITUS (2008)

Voltaire gives his audience a different perspective on Christmas in his short, “X-Mas Detritus.”  Like many of the shorts posted here, “Detritus” contains some frightening images. So, even though this short contains some great insight into the impact of this holiday season on our world, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who is very squeamish.