Raw audio of G. Smalley‘s interview with director Pat Tremblay at the 2016 Fantasia Film Festival. Over a beer at the Irish Embassy Pub in Montreal, Tremblay discusses the origins of his latest budget neosurrealist epic Atmo HorroX in a “trippy photoshoot.”
Yesterday, I wrote that Joel Potrykus seemed like the “regularest of regular guys,” an impression that was only confirmed when I met him on the terrace of the Le Nouvel Hotel for a scheduled interview. The filmmaker from Grand Rapids, MI, known for his low-budget character studies of society’s outcasts (Ape and Buzzard, both starring Joshua Bruge) originally mistook me for a blogger named “Creepy Greg.” (I’m not sure who “Creepy Greg” is, or if he really exists, but I’m considering using the handle for my OK Cupid profile). He didn’t have a canned opening statement about his latest movie, the minimalist one-man horror show Alchemist Cookbook, so I suggested he use a tagline “as if Jim Jarmsuch does the Evil Dead” (the two influences he had cited in the previous night’s Q&A) for the film. That launched a conversation about Cookbook‘s influences, and how Sam Raimi‘s Evil Dead was the first film he saw that made him believe he could make a movie. “I love Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, but as a kid watching those I never thought that was attainable.” We talk about the difference between inspirations and influences, and Potrykus makes the analogy of a heavy metal guitarist who loves listening to opera: it might inspire him to make music, but he wouldn’t be able to adapt the actual vocal techniques into his own licks. That’s how the director feels about movies like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark; they inspired him as a child to want to make movies, but it was Jarmusch and Raimi who actually influenced him.
Potrykus is happy making low-budget films in Michigan and shows no interest in “moving up” in the industry. I pose as a hypothetical producer offering him one million dollars with the stipulation he must spend it making movies, and ask how he will use it: one big movie, or many smaller movies? He starts off saying he’d make ten $100,000 movies, then decides he’ll shoot for one hundred $10,000 movies. (Since his first feature, Ape, was made for $2,500, he even fantasizes about making four hundred movies). “I don’t even know how to spend a million dollars”, he admits. But he does have a thought: “I’d love to put Leonardo di Caprio in a small movie like mine, and just see what would happen… it would be almost an a experimental movie for me, take a big actor and put him in a small, grungy movie.”
“Alchemist Cookbook was doing something much different than I had done before,” he responded when asked if this latest film reflected a new direction. “I feel like every filmmaker has a moment when they need to tell a poem instead of a story. That’s what Alchemist Cookbook was for me.” He says his next two scripts are already written and are very different. When asked if future movies would continue to focus on society’s misfits, he answers “It’s unconscious, I never think about writing a movie about an outsider.” He’s simply drawn to characters like A Clockwork Orange‘s Alex DeLarge or Taxi Driver‘s Travis Bickle.
PLOT: An amnesiac man awakens in the post-apocalyptic future encased in a protective suit
and patrols the desolate landscape searching for explanations.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: With its microbudget aesthetic of abandoned barns and homemade black leather cyborg-suits, this sci-fi indie set on the post-apocalyptic Canadian prairie is nothing like a Hollywood movie; but the minimal story is not engaging enough to justify considering it for a List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time.
COMMENTS: In a sense, it may be pointless to review Hellacious Acres. This is a movie that doesn’t care what you think of it; it just wants to be itself. It stars a character who wakes up trapped in a synthetic, computerized black protective suit without knowing who he is or why he’s there, and who ends up in a hallucinatory delirium without accomplishing whatever his goal was. In between, he consults his video-game console glove for info on the world around him, learns how to eat and expel waste through the hose attached to his suit, and walks, walks, WALKS. (The trailer takes a perverse pride in pointing out the amount of WALKING in Acres, as does the soundtrack, which launches into an epic, doom-laden sludgy drone whenever John Glass puts his heels to the prairie grass). Events play out in real time. When Glass needs to find something to eat, most movies would either skip the sequence or compress the action through editing; here, we watch every second of him searching every inch of an abandoned house, forcing his way into a stubborn cabinet, studying each label he finds, laboriously sawing through the tin can, then discovering the contents are rancid—and starting all over again with a new can. It sounds like a cruel joke on the audience, but Acres‘ subtle sense of humor about its own lack of pace helps win you over: that involuntary wince you give when you see Glass reach for that second can, or the way he throws up his hands in exasperation as he circles through a menu on his control panel while trying to arm his deadly plasma weapon in the middle of a melee. The effects are not that special but Tremblay has uses his minimal budget with maximum effectiveness; the faceless costuming is creepy, and the video-game interface looks futuristic enough for the film’s purposes. The blasted farmland setting, with its almost comical number of barns repurposed to house teleporters, is also novel; it’s a more laid-back, rural apocalypse than we’re used to seeing in the movies. Most importantly, there’s plenty of weirdness filling up the empty spaces: a psychedelic opening with a disembodied voice giving the backstory while we look at a heat-imaging map of the resuscitated John Glass, a mutant baby encased in a jar, Glass carrying around (and carrying on conversations with) the severed hand of a fellow soldier, bad trips caused by teleportation drugs, a hallucinated waiter of the wasteland, and of course the lightbulb-shaped alien energy jellyfish that now prowl the Earth. In a final spit in the face to storytelling conventions, the tale ends in futility, with the protagonist insane, having failed at a mission that was never really clearly explained, having learned nothing of importance about himself and having unlocked no significant mysteries about the strange world he found himself in. This whole exercise in perverse pacing and post-apocalyptic hallucination is likely to leave even weird movie buffs perplexed about what they’ve just seen; imagine how “normal” folks would feel if they rented this by accident looking for a straight sci-fi adventure?
Pat Tremblay is the director of the bizarre and sadly unreleased psychedelic experiment Heads of Control: The Gorul Baheu Brain Expedition (2006). His second feature film, the post-apocalyptic Hellacious Acres: The Case of John Glass, is currently on the festival circuit: it will be screening at the Oldenburg Film Festival in Oldenburg, Germany Sep. 14-18, followed by an appearance the Sitges Film Festival (in Spain) in October.
OK, I got asked by Greg (the mastermind behind this AMAZING website, from which I’ve discovered many gems I had never heard of) to do this top 10 weird movies and thought, yeah, I’d love to contribute, ’cause I like weird stuff, and I even like to do weird movies myself! But I realized that my memory often doesn’t serve me too well, and my choices might not be weird enough… Anyhow, this is what it came down too, and it could easily change, but this now and so is this list!
In no particular order:
1. I really like Harmony Korine and I couldn’t put down my finger on which movie I prefer between Gummo, Julien Donkey Boy and Trash Humpers… So I’m already breaking the rules already by assembling down those three into one whole bizarre package…
2. Although it’s a TV series and not a film, I really dig “Xavier Renegade Angel”, completely mental material that’s extremely funny. Trippy, surreal, 2-cent philosophy striking down your brain with a hammer of retarded genius. A must. From the guys who brought you the conceptual porn experiment Final Flesh and the extra-funny series “Wonder Showzen”.
4. A few weeks ago I saw Things (1989), recently re-released by Intervision. Wow, this is mind blowing z-grade amateurism that destroys and defies so many cinematic “rules” that it becomes this a total weird-ass entity of the 5th dimension, or something close to that! You can’t fake that. It winds up being a beautiful piece of outsider art in its uniqueness.
FEATURING: Neil Napier, and amateurs who answered a newspaper ad
PLOT: Pharmaceutical molecules visualized as alien beings travel inside the mind of a
man afflicted with dissociative identity disorder and collect various “personalities,” who are examined as they perform monologues in front of surreal computer generated backgrounds.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not released. But even if it were released, it’s too uneven to qualify for a list of the 366 Best Weird Movies, although it would definitely have a shot at a list of the weirdest movies ever made regardless of quality.
COMMENTS: Before beginning the description of Heads of Control, I must explain why it earns a “beware” rating. Normally, I reserve the “beware” badge for movies that are badly done, or even, in some cases, movies that are morally bad. Heads of Control, however, meets neither of those criteria; although it’s cheap and uneven, it is quite competently mounted and the experimental impulse behind it is admirable. Here, the rating is given due to the simple fact that this movie is so far out, so much like a performance art piece, that will only appeal to a very small slice of the most dedicated avant-gardists, or to those looking for the ultimate micro-budget drug trip film. This experiment requires work on the viewers part to watch, and anyone looking for something remotely resembling a normal narrative movie is going to be hugely disappointed.
With that intriguing warning out of the way, just what is Heads of Control? It begins with the protagonist, Max, being attacked by river zombies; it quickly appears that this is a hallucination, as we see Max in a mental institution being shot up with drugs. Soon, we are inside Max’s diseased brain, watching a pair of hooded creatures. The subordinate journeys into the patient’s psychedelically appointed neurons to fetch various two-dimensional rectangles from his tangled neural networks, which the superior creature places into a floating computer monitor. The pair then watch the results, which consist