Tag Archives: Science Fiction

CAPSULE: CAFE FLESH (1982)

“Go play in the fallout.”

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Stephen Sayadian (as Rinse Dream)

FEATURING: Michelle Bauer (as Pia Snow), Andy Nichols, Paul McGibboney, Marie Sharp, Tantala Ray, Dennis Edwards, Kevin Jay

PLOT: “Able to exist, to sense… to feel everything, but pleasure. In a world destroyed, a mutant universe, survivors break down to those who can and those who can’t. 99% are Sex Negatives. Call them erotic casualties. They want to make love, but the mere touch of another makes them violently ill. The rest, the lucky one percent, are Sex Positives, those whose libidos escaped unscathed. After the Nuclear Kiss, the Positives remain to love, to perform… and the others, well, we Negatives can only watch… can only come…to … Cafe Flesh…”

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Cafe Flesh is a post-apocalyptic adult film about people who become violently ill from human touch. Generally speaking, adult films are pro-sex, so it is definitely a unique entry in the world of adult cinema. Cafe Flesh was not the only post apocalyptic adult film—it was a popular sub-genre in the 1980s—but I do think it might have been the first. The copious cutaways to the gawking, impotent patrons during sex shows were peculiar, but completely relevant to the plot. As odd as they were they fit in the context of the film. The first couple of performance-art sex scenes were definitely wacky. A lonely housewife is seduced by a milkman in a rat mask while three grown men dressed like babies look on from their high chairs. A guy in a huge pencil headpiece bangs one of the broads in the office while the naked receptionist looks on typing and repeatedly asking “Do you want me to type a memo?” Cafe Flesh definitely teeters on the edge of weirdness, but forced at gunpoint to answer “weird or not weird,” I would have to go with “not weird.”

COMMENTS: I was a huge fan of Stephen Sayadian’s Dr. Caligari and couldn’t wait to check out some of his other work. Turned out, his other features were all adult films. My exposure to hardcore films at that time was pretty slim. After checking out Night Dreams and Cafe Flesh, however, I was inspired to check out several other adult titles from the 1970s and 1980s. Sadly, very few were as entertaining or as unusual as Stephen Sayadian’s.

The plot verbiage above is taken directly from the film’s introduction. The primary focus is on two of the club’s regulars, Nicky and Lana, “The Dagwood and Blondie of Cafe Flesh,” so dubbed by the club’s delightfully sarcastic emcee Max Melodramatic. I gathered from the film’s opening statement that the 99% of the population do not only become physically sick by human touch, but are also impotent and couldn’t get the job done anyway— although it really doesn’t go into much detail on the subject. The post-apocalyptic victims gather together at Cafe Flesh to gawk at art noveau hardcore sex shows. The performers are not volunteers, by any means. Enforcers are out there to flush out sex-positives who are not performing. Angel, a doe-eyed virginal lass from Wyoming, is taken away to do her part in entertaining the 99%.

If you were impotent and human touch made you vomit, would you really want to go to a sex club? They mock the torture of the audience numerous times, the majority of the abuse coming from the aforementioned emcee. Andrew Nichols gives a genuinely standout performance. He delivers his wordy dialog with complete ease; I did not question for a second that he was the emcee of a seedy post-apocalyptic sex club. Also stepping up to the plate and knocking it out of the park is beautiful Michelle Bauer (billed here as Pia Snow, the name under which she made a few adult films at the start of her career). Bauer should be a familiar face to those of us who enjoy 1980s horror cinema. She appeared in a ton of horror flicks: The Tomb, Terror Night, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Nightmare Sisters, and Deathrow Diner, to name a few. I found her character here to be so very likable, I really wanted her to have a happy ending, and indeed she does.

Obviously, considering the plot, the sex is limited strictly to the shows the sex negatives watch. Dripping with 1980s flare and fashion, these stage shows are creative and well-costumed. Stephen Sayadian’s films embrace everything that was fabulous and flattering from that decade: sharp angular silhouettes, bold solids, wide black and white stripes. It was all about geometry then—at least, the cool stuff was. I have been suitably impressed with the sets and costumes for all three of the Sayadian films I have seen. The superb synth soundtrack from Mitchell Froom hits every right note; absolutely perfect musical accompaniment. I love this soundtrack so much that I own it. Black and white striped teddies, angular phone booths, sunglass-bespectacled studs, naked ladies in cases—there is just so much to say about the aesthetics here.

Cafe Flesh is a visual treat that oozes the 1980s with good performances and a badass soundtrack. A highly entertaining, tongue-in-cheek, apocalyptic adult adventure.

Fun fact; if you do a Google search for an adult film title, its IMDB listing is usually the first or second hit that will come up. If, however, you are on the IMDB website and search that title, it will not come up at all, unless you use the advanced search feature and toggle the button to “include” adult titles every time.

GoreGirls’ Dr. Caligari review (NSFW)

GoreGirls’ Night Dreams review (NSFW)

GoreGirls’ Cafe Flesh photo gallery (NSFW)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…in terms of sci-fi pornography set in a post-apocalyptic netherworld, you can’t anymore cerebral than this… Sex Negatives force the Sex Positives (the 1% left unaffected by the fallout) to perform bizarre, surrealistic sex acts for their amusement.”–Yum Yum, House of Self-Indulgence (DVD)

CAPSULE: HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES (2018)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Alex Sharp, , Tom Brooke,

PLOT: An aspiring teenage punk in 1970s London meets a cute girl; only catch is, she’s an alien.

Still from How to Talk to Girls at Parties (2018)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This light-hearted artistic fling between the offbeat talents of director John Cameron Mitchell and writer meets its quota of whimsical sweetness, but falls short in terms of weirdness.

COMMENTS: I was completely alone in the theater on a Monday night screening of How to Talk to Girls at Parties. When I bought my ticket the high school cashier on a summer job assumed I was asking to see Life of the Party (ouch!). Hopefully, the empty seats were just a sign of distributor A24’s compromising to commercial realities—better to suck it up and slot this curio’s release in the heat of summer up against Han Solo and the Avengers than to let it slink off to video unscreened—and not a sign of total lack of public interest in the project. While Girls is not a must-see cult hit, it’s not a waste of time, either; at the very least, it’s an unconventional offering that could find a future Netflix audience of adventurous youngsters.

Girls is a period teen romantic comedy with the slightest tinge of punk and sci-fi flavor, more Earth Girls Are Easy (or even Splash) than Liquid Sky. Around the time of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee (1977), a trio of socially inept teenage punks stumble into the wrong party in Croydon while on the prowl for girls. While the fat kid and the self-appointed pick-up artist wander around scoping out the shapely bodies in tight latex unitards doing Cirque du Soleil acrobatic routines to whalesong electronica, the sweetest and most talented, Enn, stumbles upon a newly “manifested” alien Zan (Elle Fanning, who, God love her, is still seeking out the weirdest roles she can find rather than settling for a part as a minor X-Man character). After Enn explains the basics of his punk philosophy to the girl, Zan seeks, and is reluctantly granted, a dispensation to experience human life for 48 hours (“do more punk to me,” she croons to Enn). The remainder of the plot arc is easy to guess: the mismatched pair court, with the normal teenage social awkwardness amplified by an alien culture clash, while Zan’s “colony” (whom Enn and friends believe to be a cannibalistic California cult) pressure her to get her back into the fold. There’s some mild weirdness along the way: an out-of-place (and not-too-effective) psychedelic music video when Zan improvises a punk number onstage (“we must have been dosed,” Enn reasons); perverse alien sex practices better left undescribed; a conception scene with eggs like yellow party balloon and sperm that looks like a 3D model of a rhinovirus; Nicole Kidman as bitchy aging punk godmother Boadicea; and an underwhelming punks vs. aliens showdown that might have been huge if given a proper B-movie treatment. Overall, the movie has a good-natured, unthreatening-yet-rebellious spirit, and some eye candy in the costuming (each of the alien colonies sports its own sartorial theme). Still, the reveal of the ultimate nature of the alien cult(s) suggests many potentially more interesting stories than the John Hughes-y tale that actually unfolds here.

Multiple reviewers have complained that Girls is trying “too hard” to be a cult movie. This criticism comes from a perspective I’m not quite able to grasp; it’s probably a variation on the old “weird for weirdness’ sake” saw. I suppose the complaint is based on the premise that cult movies can only arise by happy accident when the director was actually trying to do something “more authentic”; this can be easily disproven by dozens of examples (including, I’d argue, one from this very same director). Whether you think it succeeds or not, Girls isn’t trying too hard; it’s just trying to be what it is, which just happens to be something a bit different from what critics and audiences expect.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s fully invested in exploring the weird, but not always the funny.”–Chris Hewitt, Empire (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: OPEN YOUR EYES (1997)

Abre los Ojos

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Alejandro Amenábar

FEATURING: Eduardo Noriega, , Chete Lera, , Fele Martínez, Gérard Barray

PLOT: A playboy’s life is destroyed when his good looks are destroyed in an accident—although his court-appointed psychiatrist, defending him on a murder charge, insists that his face was perfectly reconstructed and it’s all in his imagination.

Still from Open Your Eyes (1997)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Why won’t the dreamlike psychological thriller Open Your Eyes make the List of the Weirdest Movies ever made? Simply because of the film’s ending, where the characters sit down and, with almost airtight logic, explain away every mysterious event that has been going on through a combination of exposition and flashbacks—at one point even using a visual aid.

COMMENTS: It almost goes without saying that Open Your Eyes, the original Spanish psychothriller, is superior to Vanilla Sky, the 2001 remake with . Not that I count myself among the detractors of the Hollywood version—other than the unfortunate turn by the usually reliable Penelope Cruz, reprising her role from the original but with a then-inadequate grasp of the English language, and a few too many pop singles, it’s quite competent. But you owe it to yourself to see the darker, stripped-down original first.

Eduardo Noriega plays Cesar, a handsome, womanizing one-percenter who has everything any guy could ever want: money, leisure time, good looks, and a new plaything in his bed every night. He sees it all taken from him after his face is mutilated in an automobile accident, brought about (indirectly) through his own past philandering—ironically, on the morning after he meets a woman who could be the One who makes him settle down for good. At least, that’s the tale as related to Cesar’s court-appointed psychiatrist from the prison cell where he languishes, awaiting trial for the murder of his girlfriend. But his story doesn’t add up. For one thing, Cesar, hiding behind a mask, insists that his face is still disfigured, while his psychiatrist tells him it’s been reconstructed. He is also losing his mind, convinced that the woman he is accused of killing was an impostor. Not only that, but he is having vivid dreams that he (and therefore, the audience) can’t immediately distinguish from reality, including one in which he wakes up in a Madrid that has been completely depopulated (a scene memorably re-staged with in an eerily empty Times Square in Vanilla Sky). And to top it all off he has another, fragmentary, set of dreams, which are almost completely obscured; these are visualized onscreen through a hazy filter that makes the action look almost rotoscoped. The psychiatrist’s investigation will eventually unveil the real explanation behind Cesar’s condition.

In the “puzzle movie” genre, Open Your Eyes is a classic, one of the most successful at building up an ontological enigma, then explaining it away with an ingenious (if highly speculative) plot device. The closedness of the narrative solution, however, works against the movie’s weirdness—the movie’s cryptic tension is too fully released, leaving us nothing more to ponder. Still, Open Your Eyes this is highly recommended for those who prefer their mysteries to be completely resolved at the end. And if the hallucination scenes had been just a little more harrowing and fantastical (a la Jacob’s Ladder or Dark City), Open Your Eyes might have squeaked onto the List—or into a rating, at the very least.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…unlikely to satisfy those who insist on linear storytelling and pat endings. But in its deliberately vexing way, ‘Open Your Eyes’ is a film with enough intellectual meat on its stylish bones to give more adventurous moviegoers something to chew on afterward.”–Lawrence Van Gelder, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

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

331. DARK CITY (1998)

Recommended

“The fleetingly improvised men are transient figures of human shape, which naturally disappear or slowly dissolve after a short period of existence. Their appearance always is the result of a wonder.

Fleetingly improvised men lead a dream life. As a result, they are incapable of entering a regular conversation with people around them.

Fleetingly improvised men sometimes resemble dead people.”–M. Rautenberg, Daniel Paul Schreber: Beginner’s Guide to Memoirs of My Nervous Illness

DIRECTED BY: Alex Proyas

FEATURING: Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Richard O’Brien,

PLOT: John Murdoch awakens in a bathtub, remembering nothing: certainly not the reason why the dead, mutilated woman is in the other room. As he travels through a night-cursed city to discover his identity, John is simultaneously pursued by a dogged police detective, a psychiatrist who knows more than he lets on, and a coterie of very pale gentlemen in black coats and hats. Ultimately he discovers that his alleged past is just that—and that the forces behind the frame-up are responsible for something far more grand and sinister.

Still from Dark City (1998)

BACKGROUND:

  • The opening narration, included over Alex Proyas’ objections, was included at the insistence of producers who feared the audience would be confused by being thrown into this world. Many fans think it’s a spoiler of the worst kind. Proyas’ director’s cut of the film excises the exposition.
  • Proyas based the Strangers’ looks and mannerisms on Richard O’Brien’s “Riff Raff” from Rocky Horror Picture Show. Proyas also wrote the role of “Mr. Hand” specifically for O’Brien.
  • The Matrix not only ripped off did a variation of Dark City’s central premise, it also re-used a number of its actual sets after Dark City‘s production had wrapped up.
  • Kiefer Sutherland’s character, Dr. Daniel Schreber, was named after an early 20th-century schizophrenic who wrote a memoir of his illness.
  • Proyas intended the final showdown between John Murdoch and Mr Book to be an homage to the famed manga comic (and anime) Akira.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We’ll cast aside the montages of warping buildings, stylish noir streets, and sinister Stranger gatherings in favor of the mirroring scenes of Mr. Hand and John Murdoch after their respective imprints. Both rise from the gurney with comparable looks of grim determination, after painfully twitching through a series of forced memories.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Steampunk brain syringes; quick-rise concrete; creepy kid with teeth

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: About five years ago we argued that Dark City shouldn’t make the list. Since then, our minds have been changed—possibly while we were asleep. Any movie the plot of which can be described as “telekinetic collective memory space jelly bugs abduct tens of thousands of earthlings to populate a jumble-Noir cityscape in perpetual darkness in order to find out more about us” deserves a slot on the list of the weirdest movies ever made. The fact that it follows its dream logic into uncanny valley Gothic visuals is to its credit as well.


Original trailer for Dark City

COMMENTS: Focus. Focus. Every event flows into, bolsters, and undermines every other event. John Murdoch can defeat the Strangers Continue reading 331. DARK CITY (1998)

GEORGES MELIES TRIP TO THE MOON (1902) FLICKER ALLEY BLU-RAY REVIEW

‘ “Trip To The Moon,” made in 1902, is, I believe, the oldest film covered on 366 Weird Movies. Yet, in many ways Melies was not only ahead of his time, he is still ahead of his time. Many have called this director “the first true artist of cinema,” and indeed his influence on the most significant art form of the 20th century cannot be overestimated. As a fantasist, he saw himself become unfashionable, and his descent into  poverty and bankruptcy is well-known. Although, Melies considered 1908’s “Humanity Through The Ages” (1908) to be his most ambitious and favorite film (unfortunately, it’s lost), it is “Trip To The Moon” that is his most iconic.

Given its age, this film has been consigned to subpar home video releases over the last two decades. That has changed with Flicker Alley’s new Blu-ray release.

For years, there was no known copy of Melies’ hand-colored “Trip,” until a nitrate print was discovered in Spain in 1993. Its condition was so deteriorated that it was believed to be unworkable. However, in 2010, 108 years after its release, Lobster Films undertook one of its most ambitious film restorations to date. Working with 13,000 frames, they premiered their digitized reconstruction a year later at the Cannes Film Festival with a new soundtrack by Nicolas Godin and Jean Dunckel.

The Flicker release also features “The Extraordinary Voyage,” an informative and dramatic 65 minute documentary about the film’s labor-heavy restoration. It’s so well-constructed as to be almost mandatory after seeing the film.

Also included is:

  • The black and white version (the only one I saw in my youth) is well-restored, but surprisingly not quite to the level of the preferred (and much more surreal) hand-colored edition. The biggest attraction in this version is the alternative piano score by Frederick Hodges and a voice-over narration by Melies himself; oddly, neither are available in the color print.
  • A twelve-minute interview with the band AIR who provided a new musical score. It’s surprisingly effective in not being overcooked (as is often the case with restoring silent films). While the music is certainly postmodern, the band is sensitive and erudite in paying homage to Melies’ film.
  • Two Melies’ shorts: “The Astronomer’s Dream” (1898) and the surreally erotic “Eclipse: The Courtship of the Sun and the Moon” (1907). Neither film attains “Trip”‘s level of wonder, but both are recommendable in their own right. However, the latter does gives credence to period criticism that by this time Melies was repeating himself and a certain sense of fatigue was setting in.

Still from restored A Trip to the Moon (1902)The Flicker release comes with a gorgeous scholarly 25 page book that includes an essay, drawings, and stills.

New viewers may be surprised at the level of wit in “A Trip To the Moon.” The plot (based on elements of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne) is simple: European scientists (all dressed in wizard robes), aided by the army (all women in tight short shorts) shoot a rocket to the moon, land in its eye (the most famous image), and due to a storm on the surface, are forced underground where they encounter a crazed crab king and his bug-like subjects. The scientists fight off their attackers, the king gets whacked (by an umbrella/mushroom, which causes him to vanish in a puff of smoke), make it back to the rocket, and become heroes to their naysayers.

At roughly 15 minutes, it’s remarkable not for its plot (although it is one of the earliest  narrative films), but for its aesthetics, made all the more stunning in color. The rapid editing is a marvel, as are the hand-painted sets and the optical illusions typically found in Melies’ oeuvre.

Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray is essential.

CAPSULE: NEON GENESIS EVANGELION: DEATH AND REBIRTH (1997)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of , , ; , Amanda Winn-Lee, Tiffany Grant (English dub)

PLOT: Three children are recruited to defend humanity from a series of monstrous Angels.

Still from Evangelion: Death and Rebirth (1997)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While certainly bizarre, there’s no reason to put an uneven recap of a television series in the List when a superior candidate exists in End of Evangelion.

COMMENTS: Despite its reputation as the seminal weird anime, for the majority of its original 26-episode run Neon Genesis Evangelion was not particularly unusual, aside from its penchant for psychosexual and biblical imagery. The series’ most notable quality, its focus on the emotional and psychological well-being of its cast, was remarkable in its depth but hardly unprecedented. Mobile Suit Gundam, arguably the most iconic and influential mecha series of all, made the traumatic nature of war a core part of its storytelling nearly two decades before Evangelion’s existence. The bizarre, surrealist elements that Evangelion is best known for today mostly comprise the last third of the series, culminating in its astonishing final two episodes.

The depletion of the series’ budget forced creator and director Hideaki Anno to complete it using narration over a combination of concept art, storyboards and stock footage. Whether by necessity or choice, the last two episodes of Evangelion more or less abandon the series’ narrative. Instead, they are expressionist psychological studies of the series’ protagonist, Shinji Ikari, and seemingly of Hideaki Anno. Today, Evangelion’ s final episodes are jaw-dropping, but in 1996 they were reviled by fans seeking resolution to a series they loved.

Evangelion: Death and Rebirth only makes sense in the context of the backlash to Neon Genesis Evangelion’s final televised episodes, because it clearly targets jaded fans of the series rather than newcomers. Death and Rebirth feels like a make-good from Anno to fans disappointed by the series’ finale. It is split into two parts: the first, Death, is a 70 minute compilation of clips from the original series, while the second, Rebirth, is a 30 minute preview of End of Evangelion, the film released four months later as a replacement conclusion to the television series. Death serves to remind fans why they loved the series, while Rebirth promises them a more satisfying ending.

Summarizing a plot as dense and labyrinthine as Neon Genesis Evangelion’s in 70 minutes is likely an impossible task. Death and Rebirth makes no effort to actually do so, and is a better film for it. Instead, Death uses events from the series to summarize the emotional journey of its three main characters: the anxious and self-loathing Shinji Ikari, the depressive and reserved Rei Ayanami, and the competitive and narcissistic Asuka Langley. The trio of teenagers are tasked with Continue reading CAPSULE: NEON GENESIS EVANGELION: DEATH AND REBIRTH (1997)

CAPSULE: ANNIHILATION (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Alex Garland

FEATURING: , Oscar Isaac,

PLOT: As her husband, the only survivor of an expedition into a bizarre phenomena referred to as the Shimmer, recuperates, a biologist enters the region in search of answers.

Still from Annihilation (2018)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Novelist-turned filmmaker Alex Garland, who wrote the screenplay for Never Let Me Go before making his directing debut with the excellent feature Ex Machina, probably has a really weird movie in him somewhere. This one isn’t quite it—its ambiguities are just a bit too unambiguous—although it’s definitely an off-cadence step in the right direction.

COMMENTS: Without giving away much more of Annihilation than you will find in the trailer, the story involves a trip into a rapidly expanding zone (existing behind a border which looks like a soap bubble) in which Earth’s scientific laws—especially the laws of biology—have gone wacko. Inside the Shimmer, the exploratory team finds deer growing flowers from their antlers, crystalline trees sprouting on the beach, killer animals with unusual mutations, and gruesome videos detailing the misadventures of the previous expedition. (One of these provides the film’s most squirmworthy scene, a true test of the viewer’s intestinal fortitude.) The Shimmer is an extremely colorful world with rainbow colors and (feminine?) floral motifs. That said, I wasn’t always a fan of the film’s visuals, which seemed too unnatural, at the same time too clean and too soft, and sometimes needlessly intrusive (little prismatic sunlight beams distractingly filtering through the forest). Still, the look arguably gives the film a necessarily artificial sheen, and the flowing, fractal climax is well worth the wait for connoisseurs of acid trip visuals.

Annihilation glances at a couple of an science fiction themes: the enclosed “Shimmer” unavoidably recalls Stalker‘s mystical “Zone,” while the ambiguity of the ending is reminiscent of Solaris. It naturally nods at 2001: A Space Odyssey, the grandaddy of “psychedelic” sci-fi films, too. These are only touchstones, of course: contra Tarkovsky and Kubrick, the movie is modern Hollywood in its overall approach, maximalist in its flowery CGI, and it even includes action sequences and jump scares (and bankable stars like Portman and Isaac) as accommodations to commercial realities.  Whereas 2001 was a meditation on evolution on a macro (even a cosmic) scale, Annihilation draws its scientific impetus from inside, from cellular biology and the fundamentally unfair tricks it plays on us poor humans. Instead of 2001‘s telescope, Annihilation explores the cosmos through a microscope. The title refers, among other things, to the concept of programmed cell death, the idea that our DNA is coded to self-destruct—a theme mirrored by the film’s psychological exploration of self-destructive personalities. The mutations found within the Shimmer are a sort of alt-science, alien alternative to our biological status quo. Scientifically speaking, they might as well be magic: no firm explanation is ever provided for either the source or motive of the mutations. It leaves you free to ponder questions like whether aliens were behind the phenomenon, why humans are programmed to die, and, curiously, why the last group of volunteers sent into the Shimmer are 100% female.

Annihilation is based on a series of novels by Jeff VanderMeer, but reportedly departs significantly from them (even courting a whitewashing controversy by changing the race of the protagonist). After a short theatrical run, it will play exclusively on Netflix, where it will debut internationally as early as March 7 in some markets (U.S. and Canadian dates are not yet known).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a compromised film, one caught awkwardly between its source material’s daring and its producers’ fears that someone, somewhere might not get it. ‘Be weirder!’ I occasionally grunted at the screen. At the same time, studio horror films starring Oscar winners are rarely this weird. Taken on its own terms, this Annihilation does offer rewards.”–Alan Scherstuhl, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)