Tag Archives: Nazis

CAPSULE: IN A GLASS CAGE (1986)

Tras el Crystal

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Günter Meisner, , Gisela Echevarria, Marisa Paredes

PLOT: Hiding out in Brazil, an ex-Nazi pedophile and child killer is confined to a iron lung after a botched suicide attempt; it turns out that his new young male nurse knows about his past crimes.

Still from In a Glass Cage (1986)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Disturbing, but there’s nothing exactly weird about this horrific pedophilic psychodrama, other than its enigmatic ending.

COMMENTS: Well-acted and suspenseful, as well as brutally sadistic, In a Glass Cage has a clever setup: a decrepit ex-Nazi, confined to an iron lung after a suicide attempt, becomes both a prisoner and an unwilling accomplice to further crimes at the hands of one of his former victims. The film, while seriously intended, depends on the type of shock torture tactics usually seen in films, with an even more unsettling pedophiliac edge. Any film that starts out with a young boy stripped, hung from the ceiling, and beaten to death with a plank is probably unsuitable to watch with your mother (or pretty much anybody’s mother). There are not many of these scenes, but it doesn’t take many shots of a torturer sticking a needle into a child’s heart to make an impact.

Technical aspects of the film are superb, from the shadowy blue-grey cinematography to the music by Javier Navarette. Villaronga shoots suspense well, drawing out the stalking and alternating closeups, pans and overhead shots with sinister little details (Griselda’s black stocking falling around her ankle) in a way that recalls Dario Argento at his most nerve-wracking. David Sust is chilling as the second generation killer, and Günter Meisner expertly portrays Klaus with hardly a word, conveying  warring emotions of horror and guilty pleasure purely by facial expressions. All of this quality makes the movie more difficult to dismiss; the producers spent too much money and artistic effort for accusations that they were merely trying to make a quick buck off salacious material to stick.

The torture Angelo devises for Klaus is subtle. He demonstrates that there is no escape from the Nazi’s past atrocities, that mere regret will not absolve him from the evil he has unleashed in the world. He forces Klaus to relive his crimes not as memories, but as actual ongoing atrocities for which he is still responsible, despite long ago having lost the ability to commit them. For Angelo the sadist, this may be the biggest turn-on; knowing that a part of Klaus still enjoys watching these horrors, while another part of his mind is screaming in anguish. Through this complexity Glass Cage transcends exploitation—although just barely. Its insights into the psychology of sadism don’t cut deep enough to compensate for all of the scarring imagery, making it a good, but not great, movie about capital-E Evil. Those who like their horror served up with a side of extreme moral depravity will consider it a classic; others may want to pass.

Cult Epics DVD or Blu-Ray includes a 30 minute interview/documentary about Villaronga (mainly focused on Glass Cage), a screening Q&A, and three (not scary) experimental shorts from Villaronga spanning 1976-1980.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Like the film’s characters, we find ourselves party to scenarios involving the most extraordinary fetishisation of suffering and death, horrors which invoke a troubling combination of impressions: they are sensual, grotesque, dreamlike, oddly beautiful, almost pornographic, usually painful to witness. But however horrifying the experience, Tras el cristal is bound to make for rewarding viewing… easily one of the most lyrical nightmares ever concocted.”–Chris Gallant, Kinoeye, Nov. 2002

(This movie was nominated for review by “w depaul.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: THIS MUST BE THE PLACE (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Paolo Sorrentino

FEATURING: , Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch

PLOT: A retired Goth rocker hunts for the Nazi who persecuted his deceased father in a concentration camp.

Still from This Must Be the Place (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s worth watching just to see Sean Penn in Goth drag, but one of the world’s weirdest movies this ain’t.

COMMENTS: The reason to see This Must Be the Place is Sean Penn’s high-concept, high-pitched performance as an emotionally stunted man-child serving a self-imposed sentence of early retirement while living off royalties from his pop star youth. I think that the movie probably works better with an against-type movie star in the lead than it would with an unknown or a character actor; seeing Penn, who has a reputation as an onscreen firebrand prone to fits of violence, playing an effeminate ex-rocker in makeup adds another level of incongruity to an already oddball tale. Penn plays Cheyenne as a man who’s completely drained, so much that you might think his corpse-like pallor comes not from foundation powder but from a total lack of circulation. He walks slowly, as if his bones ache, and with his eyeglasses on a rhinestone lanyard, he often looks like someone’s grandma. At least in the early part of the film, his answer to nearly every question is a bemused “I don’t know”; he seems to be waiting to die in a kind of post-heroin, pre-senility middle-aged twilight. Unfortunately, the script starts off reflecting the same bored aimlessness as its subject, spending its first half-hour dithering around in Cheyenne’s retirement in Ireland, focusing on an extraneous menagerie of quirky friends (an overweight Lothario, a Goth girl and her straight-laced paramour, a mother whose son has gone missing) who serve no function in the main plot. The story picks up speed once Cheyenne gets the call saying that his estranged father has died and makes his way to America, where he discovers pop’s lifelong quest to track down a small-time Nazi who tormented him as a boy at Auschwitz. Following the clues uncovered by his father gives Cheyenne a purpose, and he morphs into a laconic angel of vengeance, touring the United States and engaging in eccentric conversations with middle Americans (including a brief encounter with as a retired airline pilot obsessed with luggage). He encounters several casually weird and dreamy bits on his odd journey, including an incident where he’s trapped in a traffic jam caused by a giant promotional bottle of whiskey, visitations by a goose and a buffalo, and a vision of an elderly Hitler passing by on a platform pulled by a tractor. “A lot of unusual things have been happening to me lately,” Cheyenne tells a trucker in his detached falsetto after his rental pickup truck spontaneously catches fire. Penn has some great confessional moments that explain Cheyenne’s lassitude, and he brings this unique and scarcely credible character to life; it’s a shame that the script couldn’t be more economical in introducing the rocker. When Cheyenne’s not hunting Nazis, his halfhearted, girlish giggle and stoned, distant demeanor can get annoying.

The film’s title was suggested by a Talking Heads song, which is performed live by David Byrne in the middle of the movie, and then sung again later by a freckle-faced kid. “You’re delusional,” Cheyenne calmly explains when the lad insists that Arcade Fire wrote the song.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“As juxtapositions go, regressed Goth rock star and Holocaust could hardly be more bizarre, and bizarre can be good when it’s done deftly. In this case, however, it’s done ponderously and sententiously.”–Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by dwarfoscar, who said, “there is a fair amount of weirdness in it. I really loved that film and its always low-key and quiet craziness.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN (1963/197?)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: David Bradley/an uncredited director

FEATURING: Walter Stocker, Audrey Caire, Carlos Rivas, Dani Lynn, Bill Freed

PLOT: They (renegade Nazis in South America) saved Hitler’s brain (actually, his entire head).

Still from They Saved Hitler's Brain

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTThey Saved Hitler’s Brain is awfully strange, and strangely awful, but it has one huge strike against it: most people would rather cut off their own head than wade through the nonsensical plot just to see a few brief moments of a Hitler impersonator in a pickle jar.

COMMENTS: If you pick up Hitler’s Brain on a lark because of the title and pop it into the DVD player without any sort of background information, you’re going to be terribly confused.  In one scene, some dull-witted secret agents in miniskirts and bushy Nixon-era haircuts are lackadaisically investigating a research scientist’s assassination; then, in the next scene, men in starched suits with narrow lapels and sturdy Eisenhower-era ‘dos are sitting in at a no-dames-allowed intelligence briefing. We watch people we don’t know get abducted by gunmen in sedans while the female agent calmly watches, then follows from her Volkswagen bug, taking care to stay out of the same shot with the kidnappers.  It’s almost as if someone took two separate movies and slapped them together to make one longer feature (and that impression grows even stronger during a chase scene when the prey is fleeing at night, but the pursuers are chasing him during broad daylight).  In fact, that’s exactly what happened: by all accounts, Hitler’s Brain was the result of persons unknown shooting 20-30 minutes of additional footage to add to a ten-year-old B-movie titled Madmen of Mandoras so that it would be long enough to fill a two-hour television time slot.  The newcomers made little attempt to match the film stock or wardrobes of their additions to the style of the older movie. The main dramatic effect of the added chapter is that, one third of the way through the movie, the lives of the people we assumed to be the hero and heroine are senselessly wasted in what turns out to be a meaningless subplot.  The original Madmen of Mandoras footage is more enjoyable than the newly shot scenes, in the same way that herpes simplex I is more enjoyable than herpes simplex II.  The entire plot, of course, is completely absurd (there’s not even an attempt to explain why Hitler thought it necessary to cut off his own head in order to escape the Allies), and while the movie never quite rises to the level of the truly weird, there are plenty of odd, ridiculous moments: the casual stuffing of a dead body into a phone booth, fact the Mandoran operative insists on calling Hitler by the pet nickname “Mr. H,” and a beatnik chick with a crazy made-up hepcat lingo (“never glum a pony in the tonsils!”)  There’s also the occasional strangely evocative, expressionist shot—as when Nazi soldiers appear in a doorway framed so that their heads are missing—to remind you that filmmaker David Bradley (whose first movie credit was directing Charlton Heston in an adaptation of Peer Gynt) isn’t a complete hack.  Those flashes of talent make the existence of this incompetently plotted movie even more mysterious. Of course, the movie’s chief attraction is the bodyless head man, and Hitler’s brain—er, head—indeed steals every scene he’s in.  The Nazi noggin (played in equal parts by actor Bill Freed and a wax sculpture) only remembers two words of German (“macht schnell!”) but is capable of conveying ludicrous emotions with the body parts he has left, grinning evilly when his henchmen are shot and darting his eyes from side to side nervously when danger approaches.  Still, the pleasures of this film are few and far between; it’s more a movie to watch just to brag that you’ve seen it, rather than something to check out for actual entertainment purposes.  It’s not impossible to enjoy Hitler’s Brain, but to do so will probably require a small group of quick-witted friends ready with quips locked and loaded, and a large supply of adult beverages for anesthetizing your own brain.

We don’t usually link to these kinds of comedic reviews, but this guy’s badmovies.org synopsis/review is worth reading, if overlong and over-sarcastic. They Saved Hitler’s Brain is frequently packaged together with other el-cheapo drive-in films and is available as part of several different collections, including Drive-In Cult Classics, Vol. 2 (8 movies, including the original uncut Madmen of Mandoras for comparison purposes) and Mill Creek’s Pure Terror 50 Movie Pack (where it plays alongside Manos and Horror Rises from the Tomb).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[The added prologue] only adds confusion and a sense of weirdness, as it is patently obvious that the new footage does not match the footage of MANDORAS in any way… [the movie] really only has a great bad title and a couple of campy scenes that entertain; the rest is snoozefest incarnate.”–Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings (DVD)

CAPSULE: DEAD SNOW [DØD SNØ] (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Tommy Wirkola

FEATURING: Vegar Hoel, Charlotte Frogner, and other professional but fairly interchangable Scandinavian actors

PLOT: Eight medical students travel to a remote ski cabin for a little rest and relaxation,

Still from Dead Snow (2009)

only to find the snowbound retreat is haunted by pesky Nazi zombies.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  If it’s weird, it’s weird in a familiar way.  There’s a powerful “been there, done that” feel here that will satisfy those who just want to have another laugh in the face of the upcoming zombie apocalypse.

COMMENTS:  Despite garnering some minor praise after a successful midnight run at Sundance in 2009, Dead Snow is a derivative and dull affair—until a derivative but no-longer-dull final half hour, when it redeems itself with a nonstop, intestine spewing Nazi zombie slayathon that sweeps away all logical objections in a river of blood.  Even the key conceit of fascists as undead villains is nothing new—see Shock Waves (1977), Zombie Lake (1980), Oasis of the Zombies (1981)—it’s just that it hasn’t been done in quite a while.  The only thing that’s somewhat original about Dead Snow is the setting: I can’t remember a zombie movie that’s been played out in a winter wonderland (to better show the blood splatters on the virgin snow).  The setup seems to drag on forever, with eight medical students driving and hiking to a cabin in the scenic mountains, snowmobiling, listening to Scandinavian pop-metal, playing board games and drinking beer, and all of the time not making much of an impression as characters.  Eventually a grizzled old man from Oslo central casting wanders into the cabin to tell them the backstory about a unit of Nazis who hid some treasure in the region before the locals massacred them with farm implements.  Low-impact deaths of minor characters occasionally lighten the mood.  Dead Snow is a comedy, but mostly in the sense that it doesn’t take itself seriously, not in a way that makes you laugh.  The movie hits every possible horror movie cliche on its way to the final slaughter.  Instead of going to the trouble of thinking up some original Continue reading CAPSULE: DEAD SNOW [DØD SNØ] (2009)

THE CREMATOR [SPALOVAC MRTVOL] (1969)

The Cremator has been promoted onto the List of the Best Weird Movies Ever Made; the Certified Weird entry is here.

DIRECTED  BY: Juraj Herz

FEATURING: Rudolf Hrusínský, Ilja Prachar, Milos Vognic, and Zora Bozinová

PLOT: In this mesmerizing, Gothic horror film, a funerary specialist becomes obsessed with what he believes to be the nobility of his calling, with terrifyingly tragic and bizarre results.

THE CREMATOR

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The Cremator treats unusual, morbid, taboo subject matter in a visually dreamy way that is artful without being  gimmicky.

COMMENTS: In late 1930’s Prague, Kopfrking (Hrusínský) is a misguided, enigmatic crematorium operator. He is an impeccably groomed, eerie, and meticulous figure, always talking in a hypnotic, soft spoken, poetic manner.  He is overly preoccupied with mortality, morbidity, and the human soul, and deeply devoted to the funerary arts.

Kopfrking feels a physical affection for the instrumentality of his trade, lovingly caressing the equipment of the crematory process.  He speaks constantly, literally and metaphorically, of death and the liberation of the soul through the process of cremation.

As the story progresses, he becomes increasingly obsessed with his work, finding it glorifying and cathartic.  He sees visions of the ghost of his living wife in her youth, along with his future incarnation, as he begins a spiraling descent into fantasy and madness.  He is on a mission to free the souls of the deceased (and in time the not-so deceased) through the pyrolization of human flesh, be it living or dead—just as long as that flesh is consumed and vaporized by fire.

The pre-WWII German propaganda machine is enveloping Eastern Europe, polarizing aspiring Nazis and oppositionists.  Drawn toward the philosophy of the Third Reich, Kopfrking becomes morbidly obsessed with racial purity and the percentage of German blood flowing within his own veins—literally, to the point of having his vessels opened and the contents examined.  While The Cremator is not a raving anti-Nazi film, it uses the political ideology as an allegory for exploring the phenomenon of sweeping, consuming mass delusion and insanity.

The gathering of Nazi forces on the border offers Kopfrking an opportunity to realize his misguided aspirations on a grand scale, one much larger than he could have ever hoped for, one seemingly without limit.  Before applying his fervor and passion to the task, he hatches a plan to betray and destroy his own acquaintances, colleagues and family.

While there are elements of black satire in the The Cremator, the movie is so compelling as to nearly overshadow it.  The film insidiously and steadily flows to its inevitable and horrifying conclusion like a hot rivulet of liquefied fat.

The production design is crisp and symmetrical.  Stanislav Milota’s stunning black and white cinematography is haunting and beautiful.  It features successions of extreme closeups that emphasize the slightly grotesque and disturbing features of the biological condition.  Milota’s use of black and white film stock’s enhanced tonal range is artfully employed to focus attention on rich textures and multitudes of shades.  This gives The Cremator a uniquely unsettling dreamlike quality.  The musical score by Zdenek Liska is alluring, phantasmic, and aesthetically intriguing. Viewing The Cremator is akin to experiencing a nightmare that one is reluctant to wake from.

The Cremator was a Czech nominee for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this 1968 black comedy in black and white is undeniably creepy—once director Juraj Herz enters the fractured mind of his protagonist, he refuses to budge.”–Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader