Tag Archives: Occult

LIST CANDIDATE: ANGELUS (2000)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jan Siodlaczek, Pawel Steinert, Daniel Skowronek, Tadeusz Plawecki

PLOT: Just before dying, the Rosicrucian master of a cult of painters in the Polish mining town of Katowice predicts WWII, Stalinism, the atom bomb, and the end of the world via a death ray shot from Saturn.

Still from Angelus (2000)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Lech Majewski seems like the kind of aggressively surreal filmmaker who should be represented with a spot somewhere on the List, and with its mix of Eastern European mysticism and historical absurdism, Angelus is likely the top candidate in his oeuvre—so far, at least.

COMMENTS: Composed of a series of snapshots rather than a typical flowing narrative, Angelus features an extensive gallery of nearly-static tableaux, accompanied by voiceover narration. Many of the compositions, especially those shot outdoors, recall the meticulous constructions of (including the use of splice-editing to cause objects to suddenly materialize on screen). Scenes like the one where a young boy stands eating a roll in the foreground while seven painters stand stock-still in the background, flanking a nude woman who sits on an improvised stage draped in red velvet as the sun rises over a hilltop, inevitably evoke the adjective “painterly.”

As a historical allegory on the fate of post-war Poland, the movie ridicules the absurdities of both Nazism (Hitler is seen soaking his feet in a swastika-bottomed basin) and, for most of its running time, of Stalinism. The cult members (who can actually perform small-scale miracles) hold to their apocalyptic faith in the face of persecution, and guardian angels wander through the landscape offering advice and consolation. Angelus starts off very strong, introducing us to a series of quirky cultists in a highly peculiar situation, but by the time Stalin arrives, it loses much of its narrative momentum, sinking into relatively mundane subplots about life under the Communist regime. One of the cultists has an insatiable sexual appetite, another is an aspiring alchemist sworn to celibacy and who calls his girlfriend “man,” there are dances, the young narrator falls in love with the only pretty maiden in the village, and there is a half-hearted plan to build a modern version of Noah’s Ark. Much of the middle section of the film gets lost in these digressions, which sometimes seem like they would be at home in a more naturalistic-minded film, until we finally circle back to the death-ray-from-Saturn plot. It all ends in an unusually abrupt fashion.

Billed as a “komedia metafizyczna,” the film’s main purpose is to demonstrate the resilience of man’s spiritual nature under even the most repressive social orders. The cult’s beliefs may be ludicrous, but they are soulful, and despite their oddities their dogmas are far preferable to the equally absurd ideologies designed by cynical dictators as tools of subjugation.

Angelus is available in a region-free DVD with English subtitles, although the menus are exclusively in Polish. The seller I bought it from included a handy “cheat sheet” with Polish-to-English translations to help with navigation. This article from a Polish culture website describes the historical Silesian cult that inspired Majewski’s story.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A comical, artistic, absurd and surreal portrait of a cult/communal culture in historial Silesia of the 20th Century… A unique experience…”–Zev Toledano, “The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre” (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by NGBoo, who called it a “mix of unorthodox comedy, absurd drama & fantastic mystery,” and who got tired of waiting for our review and wrote it up himself [in Serbo-Croatian, unfortunately]. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

366 UNDERGROUND: ALEISTER CROWLEY’S THE RITE OF MARS: A ROCK OPERA (2014)

Eleusyve Productions

FEATURING: Jon Sewell, Sunnie Larsen, Kristin Holsather, Richard Cardone, Leith McCombs

 PLOT: Part of a larger series of works, this installation features an ensemble of leather clad, deadpan, sexually androgynous and glittering cast members who act out Aleister Crowley’s “Rite of Mars” on a darkened sound stage as a rock opera.

Aleister Crowley's Rites of Mars
COMMENTS: Theater can be a difficult medium in which to stage ambitious concepts, especially when the form has been grossly over-saturated with trite, treacly fare targeting audiences looking for some token of tourist prestige when sightseeing on Broadway. This type of creative environment could engender creative stagnation, but due to a lack of lavish budgets, theatrical performances often rely on their own intuition and invention to flesh out their imaginative designs.

Initially, what caught my attention about this filmed performance was the sheer nuttiness of its concept: Aleister Crowley’s “Rite of Mars” re-imagined as a rock opera a la Roger Water’s The Wall or Queensrÿche’s “Operation MindCrime” (which, by the operatic vocal stylings and shredding 80’s progressive metal guitar riffs, seems to be where Rites‘ sonic influences lie). The jams can sound kind of goofy, but your reaction depends on whether you find the musical design endearingly nostalgic or insufferable (I found it amusing, yet impressive in its technical prowess).

Before I begin my critique of the recording of the performance, allow us to review the thesis of this production. The following statement of intent appears on the producers’ website:

Our goal at Eleusyve Productions is the presentation of the seven plays comprising Aleister Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis as musical theater pieces in a manner that will render them more fully accessible to a broad and discriminating audience, using music, light, dance and drama to enhance the poetry and symmetry of the original works. It is further our goal to make these completed productions available in as many formats and to as many markets as possible, in order to more widely circulate our artistic interpretations of this material.

The Rites of Eleusis (a series of invocations, penned by the most wicked man dead, Aleister Crowley) are elaborately designed to instill religious ecstasy into the audience. By its very nature, it is intended to be a metaphysical provocation to the sensibilities of the bourgeoisie, calling upon occult theology and decadent subversion to titillate and bring about a spiritual awakening in the viewer—in Crowelian terms at least.

Although the story is not conveyed directly to the audience through a conventional form, it could be described as a piece of inspired storytelling told through bombastic imagery, gestures, kick-ass guitar riffs, and Wagnerian tableaux. Militaristic motifs recur, often spliced with inspirational cues from S&M fashion design (God, do I love me some artfully-crafted sleaze).

All of this makes it all sound rather dreary and humorless, but here’s where this particular passion project delivers: it’s pretty goddamn funny.

Straddling a median between camp and deadpan, the acting ensemble should be commended for displaying a quiet sense of humility about their performance. The gender-bending make-up design was also very attractive and always delightful. The set design, bare and minimal, uses the blackened negative space to eliminate the excess layers of artifice between the audience and the performance—Bertolt Brecht’s “alienation effect,” similar to the gutted, chalk-etched set designs of ’s Dogville. A dystopian science-fiction influence is also present, and the  juxtaposition of military uniforms and violent acts with archival war footage—images of bloodshed, conquest, and advancement—have a hypnotizing effect upon the viewer.

The music ranges from interesting to very good, even kickin’ at times. For those who prefer their rock & roll with a little flair, flamboyancy and delicious kitsch flavoring those tasty tunes, you might find yourself doing air guitar while you’re alone and no one else is watching.

The performers are obviously indebted to the Crowleian experiments of , the seminal American avant-garde pariah and homoerotic poet of independent cinema (and basically the inventor of the modern music video medium); especially to the mind-meltingly trippy works Invocation of My Demon Brother and Lucifer Rising.  Both Anger and Eleusyve Productions strive to inspire a controllable chaos in their audiences and attempt to render vast esoteric mythologies and personal obsessions in a digestible form. The liberated sexuality, free-form slipstream of imagery, experimental impulses, and dalliances with rock-and-roll culture as a medium to present occult theology is also akin to Anger’s early works.

I wouldn’t say that there is anything here that is conceptually radical or deliberately offensive to Juedo-Christian sensibilities, but if you don’t mind some decent 80’s inspired jams, want to grab a beer after a long day, smoke some grass, and relax, then why not watch a low-budget rock opera? It sure beats having to watch “Cats” or some other sanitized dreck.

Follow this link for clips from Rite of Mars, and other performances in this cycle.

102. LUCIFER RISING (1981)

“The montage of hermetic symbols becomes first dreamlike, then menacing; centuries of mystical thought are distilled into a series of voyeuristic fantasies, a kinky psychodrama backed by the carnival strains of a maleficent calliope.  Anger intended Lucifer Rising to stand as a form of ritual marking the death of the old religions like Judaism and Christianity, and the ascension of the more nihilistic age of Lucifer.”–Mikita Brottman in “Moonchild: The Films of Kenneth Anger

RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Myriam Gibril, , Marianne Faithfull, Leslie Huggins,

PLOT: Lava erupts and the goddess Isis awakens, calling to her husband Osiris. In a room far away a man wakes up, sits on a throne in his apartment and somehow spears a woman in a forest far away, then climbs into a bathtub to wash off the blood. Later, the moon awakens the goddess Lilith, a magick ritual summons Lucifer, and flying saucers appear over Luxor, Egypt.

Still from Lucifer Rising (1981)

BACKGROUND:

  • Anger originally shot a film called Lucifer Rising (A Love Vision) in 1966, which starred Bobby Beausoleil as Lucifer.  Anger claimed that Beausoleil stole most of the completed footage and hid it; the star contended that Anger merely ran out of money to complete the movie.  Anger then took out an obituary-style ad in The Village Voice announcing his retirement from filmmaking.  Whatever the case, Anger incorporated some of the surviving footage from the original Lucifer into Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969).
  • Anger began working on the project again in 1970 and completed the first cut of Lucifer Rising in 1973, with a score by Jimmy Page.  After a falling out with Page he had the movie re-scored by Bobby Beausoleil.
  • Beausoleil was a Haight-Ashbury musician who came under Anger’s influence during the Summer of Love.  After his falling out with Anger the musician joined Charles Manson’s “Family.” He murdered music teacher Gary Hinman in 1969 over a drug deal gone wrong, and was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.  Anger contacted him to create the music for Lucifer Rising, and he wrote and recorded the score from prison.  The band heard on the soundtrack is comprised of his fellow inmates.
  • Lucifer Rising was completed with funds from the National Film Finance Corporation of Great Britain, prompting some controversy about state funding of a “devil film.”  Anger also received financial assistance from the Germany’s Hamburg Television and the U.S.’ National Endowment for the Arts.
  • Anger did not complete the editing on the final cut until 1981, a decade after work was begun.
  • In one of the film’s final scenes there is a long shot of the Colossi of Memnon in Upper Egypt.  If you look hard you can see a puff of smoke rising in the distant background.  According to Anger, this came from him ceremonially burning the film’s script because the work was now complete.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The orange UFO flying over the crumbling columns of the Temple of Luxor, then peeking over the shoulder of the colossal ancient statue of Ramses II.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Egyptian gods and goddesses frolicking through a magickal


Clips from Lucifer Rising (unrestored version)

psychedelic landscape, summoning Lucifer and flying saucers.

COMMENTS:  A shaggy-haired man in a robe of many colors caresses a stone column.  A Continue reading 102. LUCIFER RISING (1981)

CAPSULE: THE FILMS OF KENNETH ANGER, VOL. 2

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Bruce Byron, Kenneth Anger, Bobby Beausoleil, , André Soubeyran, Claude Revenant, Nadine Valence, , Marianne Faithfull, Myriam Gibril

PLOT: The disc includes six short, experimental, largely non-narrative films by Kenneth Anger

Still from Scorpio Rising (1964) on The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. 2

completed between 1964 and 1972.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Compilations are ineligible for inclusion on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made.  Short films have an uphill battle to take a spot on the List that could be occupied by a feature, but either or both of Scorpio Rising and Lucifer Rising (each clocks in at just under 30 minutes long) are meaty and weird enough that they could hear their names called on the final roll.

COMMENTS: Kenneth Anger is one strange dude.  Author of the tabloid-style scandal tome Hollywood Babylon, devotee of , pal of rock stars and Jimmy Page, notoriously unreliable self-mythologizer, and winner of a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute, Anger spends years working on films that only play for a few minutes (his most extensive work is only 35 minutes long).  He sometimes returns and reworks older movies a decade or more after they are released.  Even if you’ve never seen an Anger film, you’ve seen dozens of movies that have been influenced by his work; due to his innovation of scoring parades of surrealistic images to pop music, he’s sometimes considered the father of the music video (though he hates the form and has turned down offers to make videos).  The refracted images of films like Invocation of My Demon Brother also helped define the film style we now think of as “psychedelic.”  This collection contains Anger’s most important and influential works, from the 1960s and early 1970s—the era of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, when the formerly struggling underground academic filmmaker found himself embraced by the upcoming generation of hipsters. In order of presentation, the films covered in this collection are:

Scorpio Rising (1964): A young motorcyclist named Scorpio polishes his bike, gets dressed in leather, goes to a wild biker Halloween party, then participates in a race.  Scenes of James Dean, Marlon Brando in The Wild One, and a “life of Jesus” movie are intercut into the Continue reading CAPSULE: THE FILMS OF KENNETH ANGER, VOL. 2

83. THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973)

“Nothing in [critic’s] educations or experiences can have prepared them for The Holy Mountain. Here is a film completely outside the entire tradition of motion picture art, outside the tradition of modern theater, outside the tradition of criticism and review. Criticism is irrelevant.”–film critic Jules Siegel, a quote chosen for The Holy Mountain‘s trailer

Must SeeWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Alejandro Jodorowsky

FEATURING: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Horacio Salinas

PLOT: A thief, who looks like Jesus Christ, silently wanders through a bizarre and depraved city with an armless and legless midget companion, participating in a lizard circus where toads are dressed like conquistadors, bearing a crucifix through the streets and eating from Jesus’ body, and meeting a prostitute with a chimp.  He comes to a giant tower in the middle of a busy highway and rides up a hook to the top, where a mystic with a menagerie introduces him to seven companions and purifies him by burning his feces and turning it into gold, among other rituals.  After preparation the assembled nine set off the find the Holy Mountain where the immortals are said to live, so they can displace them and become like gods themselves.

Still from The Holy Mountain (1973)

BACKGROUND:

  • In preparation for making the film Jodorowsky studied with two a Zen master and with a disciple of Gurdijeff.  Part of his training involved sleep deprivation (he claims he went a week without sleep) and taking LSD for the first time.
  • During filming, the Catholic church in Mexico was not happy with The Holy Mountain because of its apparent blasphemy, and the President Luis Echeverría’s regime was also angry with Jodorowsky because soldiers in Mexican uniforms were depicted massacring civilians.  There were public marches protesting the filming.  Per Jodorowsky’s DVD commentary, he left Mexico with the footage he had already shot to finish the movie in New York after receiving threats from government officials and paramilitary groups.
  • John Lennon partly financed the film.  The budget was $750,000, a fairly extravagant sum for a film largely made in Mexico in 1973.
  • According to Jodoworowsky’s DVD commentary, George Harrison wanted to play the role of the thief, but balked at playing a nude scene where the character has his anus scrubbed.  Sources at the time reported that it was Lennon who wanted the role and that he could not follow through due to scheduling conflicts.
  • Jodorowsky dubbed the voice of the thief.
  • Various “masters” the characters meet as they prepare for their ascent of the Holy Mountain were played by actual Mexican shamans and witch doctors.
  • Due to disagreements between Jodorowsky and producer Allen Klein, The Holy Mountain did not receive any sort of legitimate home video release until 2007.  The same issues plagued Jodorowsky’s previous film, El Topo.  According to Jodorowsky, Klein became angry and vindictive when, thinking it was too commercial, the director abandoned a project to adapt the erotic classic The Story of O with the producer and instead pursued an opportunity to make George Hebert’s cult science fiction novel Dune (a project Jodorowsky never completed—David Lynch was hired instead to film Dune, which ended up as a flop and an embarrassment).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: There are so many candidates—the apocalyptic toad and chameleon circus with amphibians dressed as conquistadors and missionaries, the giant mechanical vagina art installation stimulated by a nude woman with a probe, the hermaphrodite with leopard head breasts that squirt milk onto a proselyte—that choosing a single representative image seems like an almost arbitrary exercise.  Still, there is one trick so stunningly beautiful and effective that Jodorowsky essentially uses it twice: the live birds that fly from out of the gaping wounds of corpses mowed down by fascist soldiers.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Holy Mountain plays like a cut-up version of the world’s sacred


Short clip from the “Neptune” sequence of The Holy Mountain

texts.   If you tore out pages from the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, The Golden Bough, and a dozen other esoteric works from the Kabbalah to Gurdijeff—throwing in a couple of sleazy pulp novels for good measure—and put them together in a giant cauldron, stirred them up and pulled out sheaves at random and asked a troupe of performance artists, carnival freaks, and hippies tripping on peyote to act them out, you might come up with a narrative something like The Holy Mountain. Here, the cauldron is Alejandro Jodorowsky’s skull, and the stirrer was LSD, and an ex-Beatle gave the director and master visual stylist a small fortune to bring any elaborate and depraved fantasy he could dream up to shocking life.  The singularly bizarre results—the pure, undiluted essence of mad Jodorowsky—are unlike any film that has ever existed before, or ever shall be, world without end.

COMMENTS: The first thirty or forty minutes of The Holy Mountain are as astounding, Continue reading 83. THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: CROWLEY [AKA CHEMICAL WEDDING] (2008)

AKA:  Crowley. This film is referred to as Chemical Wedding in film databases and in the U.K., and Crowley in the U.S.A.   We have used the title Crowley in this review, despite Chemical Wedding being perhaps the more “correct” title.

NOTE: Those interested in the learning more about the roguish Aleister Crowley will want to read the Appendix to this post, which gives background on the occultist and his belief system.

DIRECTED BY: Julian Doyle

FEATURING:  Simon Callow, Kal Weber, Lucy Cudden, Paul McDowell, Jud Charlton John Shrapnel, and Terence Bayler

PLOT: Aleister Crowley comes back to life and goes on a murderous rampage, ultimately warping the universal space-time continuum.



WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Crowley is a strange mix of serous sci-fi elements and over-the-top characterizations of a notorious and eccentric historical figure.  Combined with a bizarre story of reincarnation, quantum physics and parallel universes, it’s an occult film that transcends the norms of the genre, providing a viewing experience that is funny, intriguing and peculiar all at once.

COMMENTS Crowley is an imaginative and clever occult science fiction film.  It is partly serious, partly campy, but not in a way that is meant to be silly or cheap.  It is also witty and ribald.  Well researched, the film draws its premise partly from the story of maverick rocket physicist and eccentric black arts follower, Jack Parsons (see Appendix).  Mixing fact with fancy, Crowley is a fast paced, multi-genre, satirical thriller.  Tawdry yet brainy, the movie proffers an oddball, but sophisticated mix of historical fact, occult fantasy and hardcore science fiction.  Based on the infamous “wickedest man in the world,” master occultist Aleister Crowley, this film will entertain, amuse, and perhaps enthrall the unconventional viewer.  Reflexively, it is sure to provoke and offend the mainstream audience.

In the present day, a Cal Tech scientist, Dr. Joshua Mathers (Weber) invents a sinister computerized, virtual reality space-time simulator in which the user steps into a creepy full body immersion suit.  Mathers conducts experiments with a joint scientific team at Cambridge.  There the virtual reality device is coupled with “Z93”, the most powerful, superconductor computer in the world.  It works!  It works too well.

Mathers’s rapaciously amoral assistant, Neberg (Charleton), surreptitiously introduces a Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: CROWLEY [AKA CHEMICAL WEDDING] (2008)

LIST CANDIDATE: GOD TOLD ME TO (1975)

AKA Demon; God Told Me to Kill

DIRECTED BY: Larry Cohen

FEATURING: Tony Lo Bianco, Richard Lynch, Andy Kaufman, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis, Sylvia Sidney, Sam Levene, Mike Kellin

PLOT: A rash of murders are committed by people who all give “God told me to do it” as their only motive. A New York City police detective must find out why.

Still from God Told Me To (1975)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: A conventionally produced movie, God Told Me To has a bizarre story featuring some very strange characters, including an extraterrestrial man with a face that nobody can see clearly and a vagina in his ribcage.

COMMENTS: In this complex occult/sci-fi thriller, Tony Lo Bianco (The French Connection, The 7-Ups) plays police Lieutenant Nicholas, who unravels a mysterious spree of killings committed by fellow New Yorkers from all walks of life. Each claim that God compelled them to commit the crimes  Many kill themselves or die after immediately after making the the revelation, complicating Nicholas’ job.

The film opens with a sniper perched on a rooftop water tower. After he shoots random people in the street,  Nicholas climbs up to talk to him and the man jumps to his death.  Nicholas is contacted by a representative of a sinister cult who seems to understand what is behind the crimes. While the cop tries to track down the cult members, the investigation takes him on a twisted journey into the past, including, to his surprise, his own past as he strives to solve this dark and obfuscated mystery. Nothing is as it appears to be. As he soon discovers, Lt. Nicholas is also not who or what he seems to be either.

While he attempts to unravel the puzzle behind the killings, Nicholas investigates his own birth as well as other strange phenomenon from bygone years. The answer to the riddle is morbidly fascinating. God Told Me To is one of those unique, non-formulaic 1970’s films that just aren’t made anymore.

The enigmatic Richard Lynch (Bad Dreams) has one of his most interesting and bizarre roles ever in this exciting and odd film. The piece features an early, rare cinematic appearance by Andy Kaufman in a non comedic role.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This cult-fave Larry Cohen epic, features his trademark NYC locations, vividly drawn characters, realistically handled situations and dialogue, and one hell of a weird premise.”—VideoHound’s Complete Guide to Cult Flicks and Trash Pics