PLOT: Thirty-five years in the life of a waiter who goes through three lovers and one friend while not visibly aging, possibly thanks to a magical suitcase.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Somebody Up There Likes Me is an experiment that dares to ask the question: just how deadpan can you make your comedy before the funny completely evaporates? It comes perilously close to finding the answer.
COMMENTS: Struggling valiantly to fashion the listless happenings that occur during the running time of Somebody Up There Likes Me into some kind of plot synopsis, the distributor’s copywriter came up with a notion that the movie involves two men named Sal and Max and “a love triangle with Lyla, the woman they both adore.” This is blatantly incorrect. The characters in Somebody simply don’t “adore”; that’s far too strong an emotion for the universe in which this movie takes place. This is a world where a woman cries out “OK!” rather than “yes!” during sex, while another confesses to “kind of liking” intercourse. This extreme understatement and emotional flatness is the movie’s joke; I suspect it may all be an arch, meta-ironic comment on fashionable hipster detachment. For long stretches, the movie won’t even attempt a real gag, skating by on its incongruously nonchalant tone: everyone is bored and inexpressive during sex, weddings, and funerals, except for Nick Offerman’s Sal, who is mildly irritated by everything, and therefore is the script’s most alive character. Although the two pals do sleep with the same woman, there is no adoration and, consequently, no love triangle (because there is no love). It’s hard not to sympathize with the poor synopsizer trying to explain what happens in the shambolic Somebody. Besides the inaccurate suggestion that the film is some sort of romantic comedy, the other potential hook the writer seizes upon is the notion that the movie contains “a magic suitcase [that] prevents Max from getting older.” This is a reasonable supposition, although there are significant problems with this description as well. Max only peers into the suitcase, whose origin or function is never explained, a couple of times. And although it’s true, and notable, that he doesn’t visibly age as the movie covers three and a half decades, what’s even odder is that some of the supporting cast age normally (a child grows to an adult), others sort of age, but don’t really look much older (Offerman develops a slight touch of grey in his beard and Jess Weixler acquires thick-rimmed glasses), while at least one other character remains as eternally youthful as Max. It’s reasonable to conclude the baggage keeps Max from visibly aging, but it’s hard to make any definitive statements about anything in this movie. The magical realist conceit enclosed in the suitcase is a surreal joke a Luis Buñuel would have taken and run with, but here, it’s sidelined and almost forgotten. Somebody‘s poker-faced twee aesthetic is strange and distinctive, but not particularly endearing. It’s like something Wes Anderson might direct while under heavy sedation.
Utilizing some of the cast from his hit TV show “Parks and Recreation” Nick Offerman co-directed a very strange (and not-safe-for-work) “virile video” for Somebody Up There Likes Me, in a style that’s nothing at all like the movie (it’s much funnier).
PLOT: A small-time actor, doped up on heroic doses of antidepressants, returns home to New Jersey for his mother’s funeral and finds love with a quirky lady while working through his family issues.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:It ‘s quirky, not weird (and, by the end, it’s barely even quirky anymore).
COMMENTS: Originality is hard. There’s a moment in Garden State where Sam, Natalie Portman’s epileptic paralegal, stands up and spazzes out while babbling randomly in an attempt to do something completely original. Andrew Largeman, our narcotized small-time actor protagonist, is skeptical, and asks “so no one’s ever done that?” Sam’s response is “no, not in this spot.” Garden State gives us a meet cute, a manic pixie dream girl, and the power of love as an instrument of personal growth; the unavoidable stuff of its genre we’ve seen many, many times before. To make up for being unoriginal, the movie also gives us Kenny Rodgers funeral covers, knights speaking Klingon, and Method Man as a peepshow-running bellhop. No one’s ever done any of that before—at least, not in that exact spot on the quirk spectrum. Garden State is really two different movies. Before it launches into the romantic comedy, the first third is a deadpan comedy of alienation a la The Graduate (it’s no accident that Simon and Garfunkel appear on the soundtrack). So deadened that he’s unable to enjoy playing spin the bottle with a beautiful, possibly underage girl during an ecstasy-fueled orgy, Braff conveys some idea of what it must be like to have your emotions submerged under an ocean of lithium. This part of the film is the most interesting. Dysfunction makes for better stories; the healthier Largeman gets, the less interesting the movie becomes. He goes from seeing the world as bizarre and threatening to bizarre and welcoming—a saner, but less dramatic stance. Still, it would have been difficult (and possibly pointless) to sustain the initial mood of aimlessness for an entire film (The Graduate also had to leave it behind). What follows is Largeman slowly waking up from his pharmaceutical coma, helped by Sam and a stoner pal played by Peter Sarsgaard, as he goes on a therapeutic journey searching for the root of his emotional dislocation (which is where the excellent but underutilized Ian Holm comes into the picture). It may not be completely original (except for superficial quirks), and it’s not weird, but it is a good movie. Braff and Portman are hygienic and lovable, bringing an infectious spirit of youth that captures what its like to be lost and hopeful in your twenties. Add a Grammy-winning folk-rock soundtrack, and it’s no surprise that Garden State has becomeminor cult film.
The Garden State DVD is a lavish affair, with over 30 minutes of deleted scenes, another half-hour “making of” featurette, and two separate commentaries (one with Braff and Portman, the other with Braff and the crew).
“With Clean, Shaven, I really tried to examine the subjective reality of someone who suffered from schizophrenia, to try to put the audience in that position to experience how I imagined the symptoms to be: auditory hallucinations, heightened paranoia, disassociative feelings, anxiety. Hopefully the audience would feel at the end of it like how it must be to feel that way for a lifetime and not just eighty minutes…”–Lodge Kerrigan
FEATURING: Peter Greene, Robert Albert, Jennifer MacDonald
PLOT: Peter has been released from a mental hospital, but he still suffers from near constant auditory hallucinations and paranoid thinking. Insulating himself from the outside world by taping newspaper over his car windows, he drives through New Brunswick, Canada, searching for his lost daughter Nicole, who was adopted after he was institutionalized. As Peter hones in on Nicole’s location, he is simultaneously being hunted by a detective who believes that the schizophrenic is responsible for the murder of a girl about his daughter’s age.
Lodge Kerrigan’s first film, Clean, Shaven took two years to complete filming, as the director was always running out of money. The film was eventually completed for under $70,000. It has grossed far more than that.
Kerrigan’s inspiration for the film was a college friend who was afflicted with schizophrenia.
In 1994 Clean, Shaven screened at Cannes in the “Un Certain Regard” category alongside movies like Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Jan Svankmajer‘s Faust.
Although he is very good here in the type of intense and challenging part that usually wins awards, this role did not catapult Peter Greene to stardom. He did, however, land small parts in two of the 1990s greatest hit movies: Pulp Fiction (where he plays Zed, the cop who colludes with the pawnshop owner) and The Usual Suspects (an uncredited bit part).
According to reports, Kerrigan turned down early offers that conditioned a distribution deal on his editing out the fingernail scene.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: It’s hard to argue against the infamous “fingernail” scene, the gruesome moment that made festival audiences scream, squirm, hide their eyes, and sometimes stand up and head for the exits. When I think back on Clean, Shaven, however, what I remember are the shots of telephone wires streaming along to the sound of Peter’s buzzy personal soundtrack of distorted voices and static; the images reflect the miswired disorientation of Peter’s brain, mirrored in the scary external world racing by outside his car window.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: This movie traps us inside the mind of a madman. We are assaulted by his auditory hallucinations, and, like him, we can’t be sure whether what we see and experience is real, or a product of a tormented imagination. The schizophrenic sound design is superlative; this may not be the weirdest movie you’ll ever see, but it’s definitely in the running for the weirdest movie you’ll ever hear.
PLOT: Diane Arbus is an artistically repressed housewife whose creativity is stirred when a circus freak moves upstairs.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although I hesitate to rule any movie that includes Nicole Kidman shaving a wolfman off the list of the weirdest movies ever made, the fact is that the disappointing Fur never really flies.
COMMENTS: While I admire the chutzpah behind the concept of an “imaginary portrait” that, as the prologue explains, seeks to convey the “inner experience” of the artist, I’m afraid Fur doesn’t deliver the goods. Fur never really delves into Diane Arbus’ inner experience, instead choosing to metaphorize it as a Beauty and the Beast romantic fantasy that ends up feeling surprisingly conventional, given the (deliberately) ridiculous premise. That premise involves the future famous photographer (a wan and lovely Nicole Kidman) as a frustrated housewife who becomes obsessed with her new upstairs neighbor who always wears a mask in public and clogs her drains with wads of hair. The stranger is soon revealed to be Lionel, played by an extra-downy Robert Downey, Jr., and he serves as a White Rabbit that leads Diane/Alice down a rabbit hole into a Wonderland of carnivalesque visions. (The “Alice in Wonderland” references are heavy during the first Platonic night Arbus spends in his lair, including a tiny door, a note instructing her to drink a cup of tea, and even actual shots of a white rabbit). Fur gets its surrealistic impulses out of the way in that initial meeting between Diane and Lionel, which segues into Arbus’ dreams, broken up by establishing conversations with the always-in-control Lionel. Diane plans to shoot a portrait of her neighbor as her first artistic venture into photography, but rather than setting up a tripod, she spends more and more time gadding about Manhattan with Lionel, who introduces her to his glamorous cadre of freaks and outsiders that includes an armless woman, a prostitute, an undertaker, a transvestite, and, naturally, dwarfs, dwarfs, dwarfs! Her long-suffering and very devoted husband Allan understandably grows jealous at her absorption into Lionel’s world—I laughed out loud when, late in the film, he grows a thick beard to try to compete with Lionel’s locks! Although Downey’s “sensitive” performance received praise in some quarters, I wasn’t happy with the portrayal of the character. For someone who had been shunned due to his looks for his entire life, Lionel comes across as too confident a seducer of the submissive Diane. He’s far too cocky for a guy who looks like a cocker spaniel. The movie builds to a truly unsatisfying consummation that senselessly defangs—er, defurs—Lionel’s deformity, which is ironically the opposite of what Arbus’ photographs did to their subjects. Even accepting Lionel not as a real character but as the personification of the allure of the grotesque, Fur doesn’t give us much insight into Diane’s passion. Creativity it is simply analogized to romance, and left at that. We never get any sense of the fire Arbus must have had for her work, only her ardor for a symbol. Although I’m no fan of biopics and their enslavement to historical fact, I think that in Arbus’ case a more traditional, non-imaginary portrait may have served its subject better. Or, maybe just a portrait with more imagination.
Diane’s husband Allan Arbus, played here by Ty Burrell, is the same Allan Arbus who starred in Greaser’s Palace and other Robert Downey Sr. movies. He did not take up acting until after Diane left him to follow the photography muse. He even appeared in two films with the young Robert Downey, Jr.
In 1999, Alex Monty Canawati and his producer found a factory sealed bag of 16mm black and white Ilford film on Hollywood Boulevard. Using this, Canawati and his team began Birth of Babylon, whichwon Best Short Film at the Arpa Foundation film festival in 2001. This short silent film depicts the infamous, still officially unsolved murder of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor (played by Jack Atlantis). The Taylor murder involved a who’s who list of Hollywood celebrities as suspects. Among those were Mary Miles Minter (Devora Lillian) and Mabel Normand (Morganne Picard). Although no one was charged, the highly publicized investigation effectively destroyed the careers of the two actresses connected to the case (in 1964 silent actress Margaret Gibson confessed to the killing of Taylor on her deathbed). The Taylor murder came a mere five months after the Roscoe Arbuckle rape scandal and was followed by the drug-related deaths of silent stars Olive Thomas and Barbara La Marr (Wendy Caron), prompting Hollywood to write morality clauses into its contracts. This regulation eventually gave birth to the Hayes Code.
Canawati had attended the University of Southern California and discovered a fascination for silent film aesthetics and Kenneth Anger. Apart from Guy Maddin, Canawati was the only filmmaker of note producing silent films a full decade before the populist, Academy Award winning The Artist (2011). However, Canawati was not content with Birth as a short and wanted to expand it into a feature, encompassing far more than a single representative event of silent cinema. Due to financial struggles, Return to Babylon (2013) took over a decade to see fruition. It has been worth the wait.
Far from a mere nostalgia piece, Return to Babylon sports a beautiful ensemble cast, an authentic love of craft, and almost surreal, Catholic reverence for Hollywood’s silent era, which makes this Canawati’s own take, as opposed to Anger’s “dripping with cynicism” version of Hollywood Babylon. Canawati does not judge his subjects, and imbues his film with an all too rare and refreshing aesthetic joy.
True to the tenets of silent film, Return to Babylon is episodic, opening (and closing) with the notorious vamp Theda Bara (played by Sylvia B. Suarez) gazing into her crystal ball. It almost plays like an “Inner Sanctum” episode, with a real-life silent actress serving as the introductory host. Canawati stamps the flow of his film with idiosyncratic verve, making these episodes feel like jazz miniatures. Like Kurt Weill (a jazzy period composer whose music is utilized in the film), Canawati is prone to moments of seductive dissonance. In the opening, this dissonance takes the form of bursting legendary bubbles, yet one senses Canawati’s sincere embrace of the truth behind (what the sur-titles refer to as) “Hollywood: Metropolis of make believe.”
“It” girl Clara Bow (Jennifer Tilly) is one of the funnest of the silent sex kittens because her short career was replete with jaw-dropping scandals (most of which were true). Tilly, with an astute actor’s instinct, realizes this and makes for a commanding, humorous presence. Although her appearance is brief, it may be one of this underrated actress’ best performances.
“Quentin will probably lose some people along the way, because he is never demonstrative, doesn’t tell you what you must feel at a particular moment with a little music saying you should laugh or be scared. His vision is absolutely free, it is at once controlled and instinctive, that’s what he stands for, and that gives the spectator great freedom… The spectator feels a little abandoned, he doesn’t know where he is. That will be the main criticism. And yet it is probably Rubber’s greatest asset. The spectator will be contaminated with the film’s freedom.”–producer Gregory Bernard
PLOT: To begin the movie, a policeman hops out of a car trunk and explains that “no reason” is the most powerful element of style. We then see a group of people assembled in the desert; a man in a tie hands out binoculars and they are told to train their eyes on the horizon. Through the glasses they watch a tire come to life and observe as it learns to move and blow up heads, eventually stalking a beautiful young woman who ends up in a motel in the middle of nowhere.
Quentin Dupieux records electronic music under the stage name “Mr. Ozio.”
Music videos aside, Rubber was Dupieux’s third film, after a 45-minute experiment called Nonfilm (2002) and the French-language flop comedy Steak (2007).
Dupieux served as the writer, director, cinematographer, editor, sole cameraman, and co-composer of Rubber.
Robert the Tire was rigged to move with a remote controlled motor, moving the cylinder like a hamster in a wheel.
Rubber cost only $500,000 to make, but made only about $100,000 in theatrical receipts.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Obviously, it has to be a shot of Robert, the world’s most lovable and expressive killer tire. We’ll go with the moment when he is standing in front of a Roxane Mesquida mannequin, tentatively rolling towards her, wondering whether it is a real girl or not. You can almost see the furrows forming in his tread as he mulls the situation over.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Well, it is a movie about an animate tire that kills things by making their heads explode telekinetically. That would be enough for most movies, but Rubber rolls that extra mile by adding a metamovie subplot concerning a Greek chorus/focus group in the desert who watch the action through binoculars and comment on it. What emerges from this collision of slasher-movie spoof and Theater of the Absurd is the most clever, original, and hilarious movie mash-up in recent memory.
Original trailer for Rubber
COMMENTS: Why does Rubber start with an extended monologue, full of examples from classic movies, explaining that the film you are about to see is “an homage to Continue reading 151. RUBBER (2010)→
“The name grabbed me instantly, but when I read the log line about a street drug called ‘soy sauce’ and a pair of mid-west slackers battling a silent otherworldly invasion, I was hooked. Since my youth I’ve had a rabid interest in the sci-fi, horror and fantasy genres. Many of my previous films have explored the surreal and strange. What I love about JOHN DIES AT THE END is that in addition to being hide-under-the-bed scary, it’s also laugh-out-loud funny.”–Don Coscarelli, director’s statement
PLOT: A college dropout named David Wong tells a story to a journalist at a Chinese restaurant while under the influence of a drug called “soy sauce.” He reveals that the sauce has given him and his friend John psychic powers that enable them to see inter-dimensional intruders who are bent on conquering our reality. He then relates the story of how, together with his one-handed girlfriend and her dog, he and John traveled to the alternate dimension to thwart the invasion.
John Dies at the End was adapted from a comic novel of the same name. The name of the story’s protagonist and the author are both “David Wong,” which is actually a pseudonym for Jason Pargin. “John Dies” began life as a short story posted on Pargin’s blog.
Don Coscarelli had been working on a sequel to his previous feature, Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), with Paul Giamatti, but funding fell through. Giamatti supported the idea of adapting John Dies at the End instead, and served as executive producer on the substitute project.
Coscarelli credits Amazon’s recommendation algorithm with suggesting the novel “John Dies to the End” to him.
The movie’s prologue is a modern zombie-based variation on an ancient philosophical paradox called “the ship of Theseus” (in the book, the prologue refers to an ending that is not explicitly present in the movie).
INDELIBLE IMAGE: We can’t actually mention the movie’s most memorable image here, both thanks to the fact that it’s obscene, and that doing so would spoil what may be the movie’s best joke. Those who’ve seen the film already, however, will doubtlessly remember the door that “cannot be opened.”
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Jason Pargin wrote a sprawling comedy novel in part about two party-hearty college dropouts who take a mysterious drug nicknamed “soy sauce” that makes them clairvoyant, enabling them to perceive an invasion by demonic forces from another dimension. Don Coscarelli, the writer/director of Bubba Ho-Tep and the Phantasm series, took note of this literary property and decided to adapt it, chopping up the timeline and adding hallucinatory demonic visuals until the result plays out like a bad trip brought on by shooting up way too much of an experimental psychedelic drug.
PLOT: In an insular rural community, a malevolent pit periodically demands the sacrifice of whoever’s face appears on a jug.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The notion of a supernatural hole in the ground that demands human sacrifice is just strange enough to put Jug Face on our radar, but once you buy into the outlandish premise, the remainder of the film is a standard horror outing, not a weird film per se. This under-the-radar release is still recommended for fans of offbeat, atmospheric horror.
COMMENTS: Beginning with animated folk art titles illustrating a bloody primeval ritual, Jug Face sets out its mood, mythology and themes with extreme efficiency. In the opening scene, teenage Ada very nearly engages in illicit intercourse in the sight of the mysterious Pit from the title sequence, beginning a fearful association between that hole in the ground and female sexuality that will only get queasier as the movie progresses. (Later, Jug Face will subject us to the most disturbing of gynecological exams). The movie is set in a mythical Southern Gothic enclave where moonshine is both the sole export and a sacrament, where outsiders are shunned, and where the occasional human sacrifice is tolerated as a harsh necessity of the land. The metaphysics of the Pit are never explained (we learn nothing more about it than that it “wants what it wants”), but the devotions it demands are revealed in detail. Falling into a trance, a simple-minded potter shapes the clay into the face of the Pit’s next victim, who is dispatched according to traditions handed down from generation to generation. If the process is subverted and the Pit doesn’t get what it wants, things get hairy for the locals. The idea of a Pit-worshiping cult hiding out somewhere in a remote mountain holler may sound hard to buy, but Jug Face‘s quiet conviction puts the far-fetched material over. The detailed script has an answer for almost every question you might have—even questions you hadn’t thought to ask. The direction is confident and straightforward. Most of all, the cast is dedicated to bringing this odd community to life. A hick nerd with duct tape holding his glasses together, Dawai (Sean Bridgers) is effective as the cult’s mouth-breathing chosen potter. Indie-horror stalwart Sustin (Larry Fessenden) leads the redneck sect, but his wife Loriss holds the power in their household. Played by Sean Young (where’s she been lately?), Loriss is a small role with a big impact; this chain-smoking harridan may just be enforcing tribal norms, but she takes a sadistic pleasure in lording her petty power over her helpless children. Although Young has vicious fun with her role, Lauren Ashley Carter, as the young daughter Ada, haunted by sexual guilt, carries the film. Looking like a young Christina Ricci, permanently clad in her one dowdy grey frock, Ada’s normal teenage urges towards experimentation and rebellion put her at odds with her community. She conveys a sympathetic torment as she struggles between self-preservation and loyalty to the only moral code she’s ever known. She’s a sinner, but one we can identify with. Playing out with grim fatalism, like a cross between Winter’s Bone and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Jug Face creates a unique folk mythology and is filled with an creepy sense of backwoods doom. It’s a promising debut for writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle.
As of this writing, Jug Face is available for viewing via video-on-demand outlets. It receives a limited theatrical run in August and is scheduled to show up on DVD and Blu-ray in October.
PLOT: Dolph wakes up one day to find his dog missing; a mysterious Master Chang may have some information on the matter.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: With only two completed films under his belt so far, it’s already becoming obvious that musician-turned-filmmaker Quentin Dupieux is one of those auteurs whose vision is so defiantly offbeat that every movie he makes is likely to be a strong candidate for the list of the weirdest movies ever made. Wrong continues the absurd tradition Dupieux set in his debut Rubber, about a tire serial killer, only this time with even more focus on awkward, surreal comedy.
COMMENTS: Existential sad-sack Dolph has been having a rough time of it lately. It’s bad enough when you’re upset about losing a job at an office where the sprinkler system constantly soaks the workers, but to top it all off his beloved dog Paul has gone missing. His neighbor, a problem jogger going through a crisis of his own, is no help. His French gardener only has more bad news for him; his prize palm tree is suffering from an extremely odd disease. An unintentional romance with the girl who works the phone at the pizza delivery place only interrupts his attempts to telepathically connect with his dog. A detective who doesn’t want to see a picture of the missing pet but is obsessed with finding a stool sample isn’t very promising, but perhaps mystical entrepreneur Master Chang (played with irrational confidence by William Fichtner with a blond ponytail and an accent from nowhere) can help. Shaggy-headed Plotnik is surprisingly good as Dolph, anchoring us on our journey through this absurd world with his sincere bewilderment—although in one of the script’s arch meta-jokes, he accepts things like indoor rain at face value, while being completely confounded by incongruent details of pizza box logos. Even more important to the film’s success is his touchingly pure devotion to his missing mutt, which adds a note of genuineness to what would otherwise be a wry and arbitrary story with no emotional stakes. Although there is an ongoing plot, and each character has a unique arc and adheres to his or her own odd illogic, the movie is very digressive and inevitably feels a like a series of surreal sketch-comedy bits at times, almost as if Dupieux has been telepathically spying on the dreams of Monty Python cast members for ideas to fit into his dognapping script. Dupieux’s universe is like the comic world of Charlie Kaufman, only turned up to 11, and with no philosophical pretensions. Wrong doesn’t arrive with the blindsiding strangeness of Rubber, but it does avoid a sophomore slump for the director, delivering unpredictable yuks along with an unexpected amount of heart. If this is Wrong, who wants to be right?
Dupieux’s upcoming project is titled Wrong Cops;he insists the story is unrelated to this film and the similar nomenclature occurs just because he’s “lazy with titles.”
(This movie was nominated for review by Caleb Moss, who explained it has “an intriguing mixture of deadpan absurdity and an eerie, low-key Lynchian undercurrent to the occurrences through out the film.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)
FEATURING: Too many actors to list individually, and no one appears onscreen for long enough to qualify as “featured”
PLOT: 26 short horror films about death, each inspired by an assigned letter of the alphabet.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: As you might expect from an anthology with a hefty twenty-six entries in a multitude of styles, it’s too uneven and not consistently weird enough for consideration for the List. That said, there are three very, very strange shorts here, and several others that nudge the weirdometer at least a little bit, which makes this worth a look-see.
COMMENTS: Rendered in a wild variety of morbid styles ranging from the avant-garde to the zany, these twenty six short films about death derive from a new breed of up and coming punk directors working in the diffuse genre that now loosely goes by the name “horror.” All the usual disclaimers about anthology films apply to The ABCs of Death, but this compilation faces an additional alphabetical hurdle: if A, B and C are all duds (and I say they are), the movie gets off to a slow start, and there’s nothing the editors can do about it. The order is locked in place and randomized, and the curators can’t impose any sort of flow on the show. The fact that each entry has to be unusually short (after the 11 minutes of end credits are subtracted from the run time we come out to four-and-a-half minutes per mini-movie) is more of a virtue than a drawback, since we aren’t asked to invest much time in the inevitable losers and failed experiments. The necessity for each director to hit hard and fast, with no time to build up true horror, led me to expect shock, gore, and cruel comedy to dominate over true terror. ABCs delivers on that score, but there was also a trend that make me wonder where horror’s head is at. Three out of the twenty-six entries—that’s 11.5%—prominently feature a toilet, and that’s not even counting the one that’s flatulence based. Has horror finally dug to the bottom of the bucket of viscera, and now there’s nowhere else to turn but the toilet to elicit cheap disgust? A more promising development, and one that’s much more to the point of this website, is that the exact same number of shorts (3, or 11%) were unabashedly weird-–suggesting that cutting-edge horror continues to be the last refuge for surrealism in pop culture. Before describing the three bizarre gems, we’ll mention a couple of odd, and not so odd, runners-up. “P is for Pressure,” set in a third-world country and involving a prostitute’s quest to buy an expensive present for her daughter’s birthday, is the omnibus’ only dramatic entry; although it has a morally sickening climax, it is authentically and unexpectedly touching. Though not written by Srdjan Spasojevic (who turns in an extreme but unmemorable riff on “R”), the violent and transgressive porn fantasia “L is for Libido” has a disturbing Serbian Film vibe (with a hallucinatory kick) that soils the mind. On the opposite end of the sexual spectrum, Catette and Forzani’s “O is for Orgasm” is a surprisingly beautiful and experimental explosion of color-filter eroticism that traffics in the concept of sexual release as “la petite mort.” In a normal compilation, “H is for Hydroelectric,” a Chuck-Jones-does-furry-porn style adventure in which an anthropomorphic Nazi stripper fox lures a British bulldog pilot to his doom, would be the WTF-iest entry. Here, however, it’s only an honorable mention, as that title is literally taken by “W is for WTF?” This is a study in surrealistic economy: initially appearing to be a self-aware parody, it quickly establishes a comic book mesh of Satanic gore porn, killer walruses, zombie clowns, and decapitated animators, then spins the images in a psychedelic blender for two gloriously insane minutes. “W” features miniskirted nurses and princess warriors in chain mail bikinis, but for gleefully adolescent gross-out sleaze, nothing beats Noboru Iguchi’s already notorious “F is for Fart.” It’s the tender tale of a lesbian schoolgirl that defiantly expresses a humanistic preference for the gas of an earthly lover over the vengeful flatus of God. “Fart”‘s motto is “let’s pass beyond the boundaries of good taste and become one together,” and does it ever achieve the first part, at least—this is a bad-taste stunner for an unstunable age. Still, top honors in the “weird” category go to Iguchi’s frequent collaborator Yoshihiro Nishimura, who continues to set himself apart as the splatterpunk brigade’s most inventive and audacious talent with ABCs’ capper, “Z is for Zetsumetsu” (“extinction”). A blond Nazi hermaphrodite fights a nude kung fu woman while a Japanese Dr. Strangelove comments on the action; it’s somehow inspired by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquakes, and there are satirical references to American imperialism, the nuclear power industry, and Japan’s own sense of racial superiority. A topless rendition of the 9-11 bombings may have Americans shaking their heads, but it’s hard to be too offended by something that resembles an insane sushi chef’s wet dream (multiple characters ejaculate rice). Whatever associations this stew of mad images raises in the Japanese consciousness, its bizarro bona fides are unquestionable.
Of course, we would have highlighted an entirely different set of segments if this piece had been written for a gorehound journal or a monster blog. One of the issues with what marches under the banner of “horror” these days is that it’s a loose confederation of disreputable interests that encompasses torture porn, black comedy, sick eroticism and experimental imagery alongside traditional stories of vampires, hauntings and madman. With two films prominently featuring pedophilia, and the aforementioned scatology and surrealism joining the expected blood and guts, ABCs‘ selections suggests that the modern horror genre is becoming a final resting place for the generally transgressive rather than for the terrifying per se.