Tag Archives: Mutant

CAPSULE: HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN (1988)

DIRECTED BY:  Donald G. Jackson, R.J. Kizer

FEATURING: Roddy Piper, Sandahl Bergman, Cec Verrell, William Smith,

PLOT: After a nuclear apocalypse Sam Hell, one of the few remaining virile men on earth, goes into a town ruled by mutant frogs to rescue a harem of fertile women.

Still from Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Frogtown‘s most memorable quote is “you are one weird dude!,” spoken by a frog man who is about to cut off a wastelander’s futuristic chastity belt with a chainsaw. It just goes to show that “weird” is subjective, based on what you’re used to encountering in daily life. Although this charmingly stupid post-apocalyptic flick has a goofy mutant premise, we’re so besotted in bizarre pictures that we can’t honestly say “this is one weird movie!”

COMMENTS: No matter what you think about Hell Comes to Frogtown‘s quality, you cannot deny that the film delivers exactly what the title promises: it’s about a man named Hell who goes to Frogtown, which, as the name implies, is a town populated by frogs. The absurd premise disguises a by-the-numbers action plot, but the script throws in a few additional entertaining eccentricities. The first is Sam Hell himself, played by the affable “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in his debut film. Piper plays the archetypal reluctant hero more as a frat boy jonesin’ for a kegger than a dangerous rogue. Until the final act, the filmmakers don’t take advantage of his wrestler’s physique or athleticism; through the first half of the movie he keeps his shirt on and does nothing at all that’s remotely heroic or even physically imposing. He doesn’t even get into his first scrape until the 45 minute mark, when he’s coldcocked by a single punch—to the breadbasket. Further, Frogtown‘s biggest running joke is that studly Hell, the world’s most fertile man alive who can sleep with any woman in the wasteland, is never in the mood for love because his potential mates are either too aggressive, or too amphibious. There is a surprising amount of bondage imagery: Hell is outfitted with an electroshock chastity belt, to control his behavior and protect his precious seed. He gets to turn the tables on his at captor and putative love interest, voluptuous Spangle (Sandahl Bergman), in a role-playing session where she goes undercover as his slave girl, dressed in trashy black lingerie and a dog collar. Never has the mutual bondage inherent in romance been so elegantly allegorized in a mutant frog movie. As outlaws go, Hell is as nonthreatening a regular guy as you could imagine. But so much for Hell; what about the movie’s star attraction: Frogtown? It as, as stated, a town (actually an abandoned oil refinery, with all the action taking place inside warehouse-like interiors) inhabited entirely by mutant frog people. There are sexy stripper frogs, trader frogs in fezzes, chainsaw-wielding frogs. The toad masks are inevitably silly-looking, but actually effective; in the murky interiors, where we can’t really study their latex textures, they appear genuinely slimy. Kudos to the makeup department for just barely putting this over, using obviously limited resources. The rest follows standard action movie tropes, with (for the most part) reasonable budget execution of stock fight scenes. Of course, the entire rescue mission makes no sense on multiple levels: Hell and Spangle simply march into Frogtown with no obvious plan to rescue the captive women; and, if the world’s studliest remaining man is so valuable, why would you risk him on a dangerous infiltration? Don’t think twice about these things, though, as the script clearly doesn’t. What makes Frogtown work is that it toes a fine line of camp. It doesn’t take itself seriously, but neither does it apologize for asking us suspend our disbelief on something so ridiculous. It plays out its post-apocalyptic harem scenario as if it took place in a real alternate world, keeping the fourth wall intact. Frogtown is every thirteen-year-old boy’s ultimate fantasy: it’s like a summer vacation full of adventures, girls, and occasional frog-gigging. If you’re a thirteen-year-old boy, it’s the awesomest movie ever made; if you’re not, you may still find enough good-natured ridiculousness to keep you watching until the happy ending.

Donald G. Jackson made Roller Blade (an even more bizarre flick about futuristic roller skating nuns) in 1986 for under $100,000, and it grossed over $1 million at drive-ins. This success convinced New World Pictures to allow Jackson to tackle a more ambitious project, but they were nervous about handing the neophyte auteur a million dollar budget, and insisted on a co-director for insurance purposes. R.J. Kizer came from a sound design background and had shot some second-unit footage for Godzilla 1985. According to Jackson on the DVD commentary, Kizer had little creative input in the production.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The film has a clear eye for the absurdities of its own plot without fully rupturing the envelope of credibility…”–Richard Scheib, Moria: The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review

(This movie was nominated for review by Royce. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD (2010)

DIRECTED BY: , Yoshihiro Nishimura,

FEATURING: Yumi Sugimoto, Suzuka Morita, Yuko Takayama,

PLOT: On her 16th birthday a bullied teenage girl discovers she’s really a half-breed mutant with

Still from Mutant Girls Squad (2010)

a claw for a hand; she joins up with others of her kind and must decide if she will help them destroy humanity and usher in an age of mutants.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: At least one of these new wave Japanese  movies will eventually make the List; it’s just a question of which one can raise its head (or more appropriately, spout its geyser of blood) above the mad crowd. This entry in the cycle has the advantage of being a collaboration between three of the top talents in the sleazy subgenre—Noboru (RoboGeisha) Iguchi, Yoshihiro (Tokyo Gore Police) Nishimura, and Tak (Yakuza Weapon) Sakaguchi—as well as being bat-guano insane in its own right.

COMMENTS: You’ll probably know whether you want to see Mutant Girls Squad or not on the basis of the still above. Three of Sushi Typhoon’s top directors each handle a thirty minute chapter of this thinly-plotted, tripped-out triptych, and each is intent on outdoing the other in outrageousness. It’s a testament to the anything-goes interchangeability of the mutant-bioweaponry genre that you probably wouldn’t realize three hands were in this pie without being told; each of the directors promiscuously mixes up styles within his own segment, from teeth-chattering action sequences to absurd organ-oriented comedy to a terrorist music video medley mixing “Ave Maria,” calypso dancing, and suicide bombings. This filmmaking procedure may result in a certain level of discontinuity (schoolgirl Rin discovers and activates her mutant claw in the first chapter, and then goes through the mutant awakening procedure all over again in the succeeding segment), but that’s not too much of an issue in a style that makes comic books look like hardcore realism by comparison. The loosely sketched storyline involving a war between humans and mutants is just a clothesline on which the filmmakers hang as many “WTF?” moments as they can. To wit, you get soldiers equipped with masks that fire bullets from their noses; a baker ironically carved up into a baguette; a mutant pop with deformed nipples and genitalia; a flashback to a decapitated head on a birthday cake; a final boss with two giant boobs on either side of his head that shoot acidic milk; and so on, and so on. All this craziness becomes so expected, in fact, that it’s the quieter touches that stand out: in context, it’s actually more bizarre that the mutant cheerleader girl wears a bright yellow sweater reading “I [heart] Texas” than that she can extrude a chainsaw from her rectum. Of course, if you’re familiar with these movies at all, you know they’re not intended for anyone squeamish around blood and guts. Squad lives up to its forebears with all the expected exploding heads, absurdly abundant fountains of blood jetting from decapitated necks, and other demonstrations of the infinitely malleable meatishness of our all-too-frail human forms. Mutant Girls Squad‘s only real ambition is to zip from one outlandish, grotesque image to the next, and to do so as fast as possible so its audience never has the slightest opportunity to get bored. It achieves that ambition, but the effect is like scarfing down a pile of candy on Halloween; it’s tasty while you’re guzzling it down, but you might feel a little sick and guilty when the feast’s over. You also might feel that you’ve been robbed of a proper nutritious meal.

Since Meatball Machine essentially founded the mutant splatterpunk genre in 2005, Japanese studios have been churning out these chaep, absurdly bloody vehicles at the rate of 3-4 videos per year. In 2010 Nikkatsu Studios (makers of yakuza potboilers and pink films, and the company that infamously fired for making movies that were too weird) spun off a sub-label called “Sushi Typhoon” to pump out these b-movies and market them to the lucrative Western market.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The insanity and inventiveness is absolutely over-the-top.”–Zev Toledano, The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre

59. THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (1961)

“There’s a rare kind of perfection in The Beast of Yucca Flats — the perverse perfection of a piece wherein everything is as false and farcically far-out as can be imagined.”–Tom Weaver, in his introduction to his Astounding B Monster interview with Tony Cardoza

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Coleman Francis

FEATURING: Tor Johnson

PLOT: Joseph Javorsky, noted scientist, defects to the United States, carrying with him a briefcase full of Soviet state secrets about the moon.  Fleeing KGB assassins, he runs onto a nuclear testing range just as an atom bomb explodes.  The blast of radiation turns him into an unthinking Beast who strangles vacationers who wander into the Yucca Flats region.

Still from The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Beast of Yucca Flats can always be found somewhere on the IMDB’s “Bottom 100” list (at the time the review was composed, it occupied slot #21).
  • All three of the films Coleman Francis directed were spoofed on “Mystery Science Theater 3000“.
  • Tor Johnson was a retired Swedish wrestler who appeared in several Ed Wood, Jr. movies.  Despite the fact that none of the movies he appeared in were hits, his bestial face became so iconic that it was immortalized as a children’s Halloween mask.
  • All sound was added in post-production.  Voice-overs occur when the characters are at a distance or when their faces are obscured so that the voice actors won’t have to match the characters lips.  Some have speculated that the soundtrack was somehow lost and the narration added later, but shooting without synchronized sound was a not-unheard-of low-budget practice at the time (see The Creeping Terror, Monster A-Go-Go and the early filmography of Doris Wishman).  Internal and external evidence both suggest that the film was deliberately shot silent.
  • Director Coleman Francis is the narrator and appears as a gas station owner.
  • Per actor/producer Tony Cardoza, the rabbit that appears in the final scene was a wild animal that wandered onto the set during filming.  It appears that the feral bunny is rummaging through Tor’s shirt pocket looking for food, however.
  • Cardoza, a close friend of Francis, suggests that the actor/director may have committed suicide in 1973 by placing a plastic bag over his head and inhaling the fumes from his station wagon through a tube, although arteriosclerosis was listed as the official cause of death.
  • The film opens with a topless scene that lasts for only a few seconds; it’s frequently clipped off prints of the film.
  • The Beast of Yucca Flats is believed to be in the public domain and can be legally viewed and downloaded at The Internet Archive, among other sources.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Tor Johnson, in all his manifestations, whether noted scientist or irradiated Beast; but especially when he cuddles and kisses a cute bunny as he lies dying.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Coleman Francis made three movies in his lifetime, all of which


Trailer for The Beast of Yucca Flats with commentary from director Joe Dante (Trailers from Hell)

were set in a reality known only to Coleman Francis.  His other two films (The Skydivers and Night Train to Mundo Fine [AKA Red Zone Cuba]) were grim and incoherent stories of despairing men and women in desolate desert towns who drank coffee, flew light aircraft, and killed off odd-looking extras without finding any satisfaction in the act.  Though his entire oeuvre was more than a bit bent by his joyless outlook on life, his natural affinity for the grotesque, and his utter lack of attention to filmic detail, this Luddite tale of an obese scientist turned into a ravening atomic Beast survives as his weirdest anti-achievement.

COMMENTS:  Touch a button on the DVD player.  Things happen onscreen.  A movie Continue reading 59. THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (1961)

22. ERASERHEAD (1977)

“He showed me this little script he had written for Eraserhead.  It was only a few pages with this weird imagery and not much dialogue and this baby kind of thing.”–Jack Nance

Must SeeWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY

FEATURING: ,

PLOT:  Henry is a factory worker living in a dingy apartment in a desolate urban nowhere.  His girlfriend Mary’s mother informs him the girl has given birth to his child–although Mary objects, “Mother, they’re still not sure it is a baby!”  Henry and Mary get married and care for the monstrous, reptilian, constantly crying infant until Mary can take no more and deserts the family, leaving Henry alone to care for the mutant and to dream of the oatmeal-faced woman who lives inside his radiator and sings to him about the delights of heaven.

eraserhead

BACKGROUND:

  • Eraserhead was started with a $10,000 grant from the American Film Institute while Lynch was a student at their conservatory.  Initially, the 21 or 22 page script was intended to run about 40 minutes.  Lynch kept adding details, like the Lady in the Radiator (who was not in the original script), and the movie eventually took five years to complete.
  • When Lynch ran out of money from the AFI, the actress Sissy Spacek and her husband, Hollywood production designer Jack Fisk, contributed money to help complete the film.  Fisk also played the role of the Man in the Planet.
  • Lynch slept in the set used for Henry’s apartment for a year while making the film.
  • After the initial screening, Lynch cut 20 minutes off of the film.  Little of the excised footage survives.
  • Eraserhead was originally distributed by Ben Barenholtz’s Libra Films and was marketed as a “midnight movie” like their previous underground sensation, El Topo (1970).
  • Based on the success of Eraserhead, Lynch was invited to create the mainstream drama The Elephant Man (1980)  for Paramount, a huge critical success for which he received the first of his three “Best Director” nominations at the Academy Awards.
  • Jack Nance had at least a small role in four other Lynch movies, and played Pete Martell in Lynch’s television series, “Twin Peaks.”   His scenes in the movie adaptation Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1990) were deleted. Nance died in 1997 after being struck in the head in an altercation at a doughnut shop.
  • Lynch has written that when he was having difficulty with the direction the production was heading, he read a Bible verse that tied the entire vision together for him, although he has refused to cite the verse and in a recent interview actually claims to have forgotten it.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The iconic image is Henry, wearing that expression permanently lodged between the quizzical and the horrified, with the peak of his absurd pompadour glowing in the light as suspended eraser shavings float and glitter behind him.  Of course, Eraserhead is nothing if not a series of indelible images, so others may find the scarred man who sits by the broken window, the mutant infant, or the girl in the radiator to be the vision that haunts their nightmares.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDEraserhead is probably the greatest recreation of a nightmare ever filmed, a marvelous and ambiguous mix of private and cosmic secrets torn from the subconscious. Or, as Lynch puts it, it’s “a dream of dark and disturbing things.”

Original trailer for Eraserhead

COMMENTS:  When you tell people you are interested in “weird” movies, I’d wager at least half Continue reading 22. ERASERHEAD (1977)