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TWIN PEAKS (TV) (1990-1991)

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DIRECTED BY: David Lynch (6 episodes), multiple directors

FEATURING: , Michael Ontkean, , Sherilyn Fenn, , James Marshall, Sheryl Lee, Piper Laurie, Richard Beymer, Mädchen Amick, Eric DaRe, Joan Chen, Jack Nance, , Catherine Coulson, , many others

PLOT: A mystically-inclined FBI agent investigates a murder in a small town, incidentally uncovering webs of crime, adultery, and supernatural encounters among the town’s denizens.

Still from Twin Peaks (TV series)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a TV series, not a movie. But despite its small screen origins, “Twin Peaks” is far too influential in the weird movie world to escape coverage on this site.

COMMENTS: “Leo Johnson was shot, Jacques Renault was strangled, the mill burned, Shelly and Pete got smoke inhalation, Catherine and Josie are missing, Nadine is in a coma from taking sleeping pills.”

Let’s back up a moment.

Laura Palmer’s body, wrapped in plastic, washed up on the banks of the lake by the Packard Sawmill on April 8, 1990, the date the “Twin Peaks” pilot episode first aired. I was a senior in college at that time and a David Lynch fan; I read in the Dallas Morning News the day before that the Blue Velvet auteur had created a television show and convinced everyone in my circle of friends to watch the first airing. We weren’t alone; thanks to advance buzz and favorable scheduling, the pilot episode was seen by an unheard of 34 million viewers (that figure would be disappointing for a Super Bowl, but for a TV movie it was a phenomenal score).

Based on the pilot’s unexpected success, the series about the murdered homecoming queen, the whiz-kid FBI agent using ancient Tibetan fortune-telling techniques to eliminate suspects, and the small town full of liars, adulterers and backstabbers was picked up for an additional seven episodes. What followed in those seven hours of broadcast television was a soap opera with the depth of an art film and a mystery with overtones of a supernatural horror movie; oh, and it was also a comedy. Over the course of that first season special agent Dale Cooper (MacLachlan) must have drank a couple of gallons of coffee and eaten three or four cherry pies (one slice at a time) at Norma’s diner as suspicions about the murderer turned from Laura’s Continue reading TWIN PEAKS (TV) (1990-1991)

CAPSULE: TWIN PEAKS (PILOT) (1990)

DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING: , Michael Ontkean, Ray Wise, , , James Marshall, Sherilyn Fenn, Jack Nance, Sheryl Lee

PLOT: The murder of a homecoming queen brings an eccentric FBI agent to a small Northwestern town seething with secrets.

Still from "Twin Peaks" pilot (1990)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite being among the best and tensest 90 minutes ever to air on American television, the pilot of “Twin Peaks” won’t make the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies for two reasons. First, it’s not weird enough; although future installments would supply some of the WTF-iest moments ever to grace the small screen, the opening installment of the epic series plays things very understated and close to the vest, merely hinting at the undercurrent of uncomfortable weirdness that would become the show’s dominant tone. Second, and more importantly, the “Twin Peaks” pilot is incomplete. It ends on a cliffhanger, and not only is nothing resolved, many of the main storylines have not even been introduced yet.

Both those objections are addressed in the alternate international version of the pilot, which added an additional twenty minutes of footage which solved Laura Palmer’s murder (differently than the series would in Season 2). This version was shot at the financing studio’s insistence (they hoped to recoup some of their four million dollar investment if the series was not picked up) and released as a theatrical feature overseas. The alternate ending includes the iconic “Man from Another Place” dream sequence which would later grace episode 2, which by itself scores enough weird points to get the international version into consideration. The ending also resolves the mystery and the story; unfortunately, it also ruins it. Because the pilot didn’t have time to explore the forest of suspects, red herrings and side plots the script hints at, to someone who had never seen the series before the solution comes out of nowhere and would makes you wonder what the point of introducing all the minor characters was. This out of place, tacked-on ending perhaps makes the international version play even weirder, but it destroys the pilot’s fragile beauty—an unforgivable sin.

COMMENTS: After having bottomed out with his confusing flop adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Continue reading CAPSULE: TWIN PEAKS (PILOT) (1990)

46. THE DARK BACKWARD (1991)

“The script was original, it had this carny/circus thing which I’ve always associated with Hollywood.  Let’s face it, it’s a freakshow out here, it’s a circus, we’re all on the merry-go-round.  And this cartoonish, kind of weird sensibility this film had, it was almost like a weird childhood memory of these local television shows I remember watching as a kid…”–Bill Paxton on why he was attracted to the script of The Dark Backward

DIRECTED BY: Adam Rifkin

FEATURING: Judd Nelson, , Wayne Newton, ,

PLOT: Marty Malt is a garbageman and aspiring stand-up comic with no talent and no confidence.  One day, a third arm begins to spontaneously grow out of his back.  Although his act hasn’t improved, the gimmick is enough so that greasy agent Jackie Chrome takes interest in him and his accordion-playing, garbage-eating buddy Gus.

Still from The Dark Backward (1991)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Dark Backward was the first script written by Adam Rifkin, who was only 19 years old at the time.  He would direct the film six years later at age 25.
  • The title was selected by opening the complete works of Shakespeare to a random page (the quote comes from “The Tempest,” Act I, Scene II: “How is it/That this lives in thy mind? What seest thou else/In the dark backward and abysm of time?”
  • James Caan reportedly agreed to appear in the film only after an insistent Rifkin called him at the Playboy Mansion.
  • Judd Nelson auditioned for the role by performing Marty Malt’s comedy routines, in disguise, at open-mike nights in Los Angeles.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Probably, one of the many images of Marty’s third arm, whether he displays it to the audience by mechanically spinning around after delivering another lame joke, or as doctor James Caan examines the embryonic fingers sprouting from the his back.  Individual viewers’ mileage may vary, however; you may be indelibly grossed out by the orgy with three morbidly obese women, or by Gus’ nauseating midnight snack of rotting chicken.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The premise alone—the world’s worst stand-up comic becomes a success after he sprouts a third arm from his back—immediately qualifies as weird.  For better and worse, director Rifkin doesn’t shy away from going whole hog into grotesquerie, churning out a first feature that looks like a technically polished version of an early John Waters film.

Clip from The Dark Backward

COMMENTS: If a therapist laid The Dark Backward down on a couch and psychoanalyzed Continue reading 46. THE DARK BACKWARD (1991)