Tag Archives: Sexual repression

LIST CANDIDATE: A SNAKE OF JUNE (2002)

Rokugatsu No Hebi

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Asuka Kurosawa, Shinya Tsukamoto, Yûji Kôtari

PLOT: A sexually repressed woman is blackmailed into living out her erotic fantasies by a stalker.

Still from A Snake of June (2002)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Done in a sleazier and more straightforward style, the script’s voyeuristic hook might have led us into “erotic thriller” territory, resulting in a film destined to play “Cinemax After Dark” at 2:30 AM. But Snake is a fever dream of outsider auteur Shinya Tsukamoto, who turns it into Belle de Jour by way of Tetsuo: The Iron Man. It’s sometimes a little frustrating totry to  follow, but there is no doubt Tsukamoto’s getting freaky, and not just in the bedroom.

COMMENTS: The first half of A Snake of June is fairly conventional (at least, by our standards). Mousy Rinko answers calls at a suicide hotline. Her husband, the older Shigehiko, is a salaryman with a cleaning fetish and little time for romance. Iguchi is a depressed photographer who only takes pictures of household objects: blenders, or waffle irons. When Iguchi calls Rinko and she talks him down off the metaphorical ledge, he decides to reward her by forcing her to live out her sexual fantasies: he stalks her, takes pictures of her masturbating, and then threatens to make them public if she doesn’t dress up in a microskirt with no underwear and wander through a busy marketplace. Although the scenario seems skeevy, it shows character development on Iguchi’s part—he’s shifted his interest  from inert objects to people. He is stalking and manipulating the woman but he is not treating Rinko as an object—he fully acknowledges her humanity as he puts her through erotic exercises he genuinely believes will make her into the happier person she deserves to be.

The first half of the film is told from the perspective of Rinko, and, unlikely as the setup might be, it is presented in a straightforward fashion. Halfway through, the point-of-view shifts to hubby Shigehiko. The stalker arranges to have the neurotic husband drugged, and when he awakens he’s shown (or more likely hallucinates) an sado-erotic snuff cabaret exhibition where the performers are sealed inside tanks which slowly fill up with water, while a cone is strapped to his face, restricting his field of vision. That’s just the beginning of the new strangeness; in a third perspective shift, the narrative begins to focus on Iguchi, and we are treated to a brazen masturbation scene from Rinko (in the neverending Japanese rain, natch) and a violent confrontation between Iguchi and Shigehiko that includes an assault by a slithering phallic piece of corrugated PVC pipe (this comes from the director of Tetsuo, after all). In the end, wife and husband share a meal and make love as if none of the aforementioned weirdness ever happened. It probably never did.

Although we have tagged this movie with “black and white,” it should be noted that it the film is actually tinted a shade of blue-gray that suggests the perpetually overcast skies of Snake‘s rain-soaked Tokyo streets. Dividing the movie into a nearly conventional first half and a surreal second hemisphere that both advances and reconfigures the narrative is an interesting gambit. A Snake of June drags at times, and confuses frequently, but few who see it will forget it, or accuse it of playing it safe.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This vision includes some freakishly surreal moments… The results, while uneven, do represent a journey for the audience – exhilarating, worthwhile and memorable after the event – even if, along the way, we’re never sure exactly where we’re going to end up.”–Neil Young, Neil Young’s Film Lounge (contemporaneous)

242. L’AGE D’OR (1930)

“It is LOVE that brings about the transition from pessimism to action: Love, denounced in the bourgeois demonology as the root of all evil. For love demands the sacrifice of every other value: status, family, and honor.”–from the program to L’Age D’Or

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Gaston Madot, Lya Lys, Max Ernst

PLOT: It begins as a documentary on scorpions. “Some hours later,” reads an intertitle, and suddenly we are on a rocky beach where a peasant spies four chanting bishops perched on a rocky outcropping. Later, on the same beach, a man and a woman are discovered locked in an embrace; they spend the rest of the movie attempting to consummate their love, as the action shifts to “Imperial Rome” and a private concert at a wealthy bourgeois garden party.

Still from L'age D'or (1930)

BACKGROUND:

  • The bohemian aristocrat Vicomte Charles de Noailles commissioned this film as a birthday present for his wife (a poet and a descendant of the Marquis de Sade). Because of the scandalized reaction to the film’s blasphemous content, the Vicomte was threatened with excommunication by the Catholic Church, and quickly withdrew the film from circulation.
  • The film’s original title was to be Un Bête Andalou.
  • As with Un Chien Andalou, Buñuel originally planned to co-write and co-direct with, but the two had a falling out before the film was completed. Dalí is credited as co-writer, but disowned the film later, and what remains of his contributions is a matter of conjecture.
  • Painter Max Ernst had a large role in the film; other less-famous members of the Surrealist circle appear in smaller parts.
  • The opening is footage from a 1912 documentary. The ending is a reference to Marquis de Sade’s “120 Days of Sodom.”
  • Along with official members of the Surrealist movement, Pablo Picasso, , Vladimir Nabokov, and Gertrude Stein were among those in attendance at a private screening hosted by the Vicomte.
  • Buñuel had hoped that Un Chien Andalou would incite riots and was disappointed when it was a huge popular success. L’Age D’Or did inspire violence. Members of the Fascist-leaning “League of Patriots”  threw ink and the screen and destroyed paintings by Dalí and other Surrealists that were being exhibited in conjunction with one screening. The French authorities banned the film within a year of its release “to preserve public order.”
  • Because the de Noailles family removed L’Age D’Or from distribution, the film was not legally screened in the United States until 1979.
  • At the urging of the Spanish Communists, who considered Surrealism bourgeois, Buñuel later re-cut L’Age D’Or into a 20-minute short to make it less difficult and more accessible to proletariat viewers. This version of the film did not survive.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: For its poster image, distributor Kino Lorber takes the scene where Lya Lys, frustrated that her finger-sucking foreplay with Gaston Madot has been temporarily interrupted, satisfies her desires by fellating the toe of a nearby statue. But we find the moment where she walks into her boudoir to see a cow lounging on her bed to be funnier, and less expected. (Footnote one: one source reports that this scene is a pun, since the word for “cow” [“vache”] was then-current French slang for “cop.” If so, the fact that this meaning is lost on contemporary audiences makes the image even more surreal. Footnote two: a still that frequently accompanies reviews of the movie shows a man crouched down next to the cattle-infested bed; this shot does not appear in Kino’s cut of the film, and may be from a promotional still).

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Shoo cow; stone toe sucking; Jesus leaves the orgy

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Skeletal bishops on the beach, cows in the bedroom, and Jesus at a murder orgy: the scandalous L’Age D’Or was too hot and weird for 1930, and still carries the power to shock today. Watch it for its historical importance, but also as a profane prayer—an unapologetic hymn in praise of unfettered individual desire.


Short clip from L’Age D’or

COMMENTS: In the repurposed documentary footage that opens Continue reading 242. L’AGE D’OR (1930)

CAPSULE: A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN (1971)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Florinda Bolkan, Jean Sorel, Stanley Baker, Leo Genn, , Mike Kennedy, George Rigaud, Anita Strindberg

PLOT: A neurotic woman dreams that she kills her hedonistic neighbor, then finds herself accused of murder when the crime actually happens just as she dreamed it.

Still from A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite the powerful psychedelic dream sequences, Lizard is a bit too rational in its plan—something Lucio Fulci was seldom accused of.

COMMENTS: Lucio Fulci is best known in horror circles for his brutally gory and none-to-coherent “spaghetti zombie” movies, made as cynical cash-ins on  hits, but he began his career working in the distinctively Italian exploitation/mystery hybrid known as the giallo. While the gialli—which relied on trashy psychologies of sex and violence and sexual violence—seldom approached the level of high art, they were more stylish and serious-minded than the typical B-movie. Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a classic of the genre. Fulci shows his aptitude for mildly surrealistic montages in the two precognitive (?) nightmares suffered by poor, prudish Carol—they’re luxuriant visions of blood and nudity, and they evoke dreamlike sensations of falling and traveling through corridors that reference the psychological horrors of Repulsion and Vertigo. Fulci and cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller also produced some excellent, evocative effects with special “wavering” lenses that made parts of the dream sequences look like they were shot through funhouse mirrors.

Of course, even in his worst films, Fulci was known for his ability to craft arresting images, while he had an equally profound reputation for paying little heed to plot or continuity. (Fulci would have made a great music video director if that format had been prominent during his career). In contrast to his later movies, Lizard stands out for its comparatively complex and detailed storyline. Of course, there are a few slip-ups. A red-headed woman who appears to lives with Carol and her family is never properly introduced, and figuring out who she is or why she is always around is almost as big a mystery as the murderer’s identity. And while Lizard‘s ending is tighter and perhaps not as much of a cheat as some commentators suppose—although serious questions about the timing of events do linger—it’s not completely satisfying, either. The fast-moving denouement is delivered clumsily, so that the mystery is still a little confusing even after everything has been wrapped up. Some characters have their stretched motivations, and they clearly exist only to increase the number of suspects and red herrings: these elements utilize the logic, not of a dream, but of a paranoid hallucination. Perhaps this is why Lizard‘s narrative fumblings don’t seem to matter that much in the overall scheme. Although there may be a comforting rational explanation to events at the end, the parallel construction of the film as a portrait of a woman undergoing a breakdown (the original U.S. release title was Schizo) fits better with Lizard‘s atmosphere, tone, and theme of sexual deviancy.

Lizard in a Woman’s Skin has been released on DVD in various versions with different running times. Many prints omit a controversial scene with vivisected dogs (don’t worry, it’s fake, although it was convincing enough at the time to force the filmmakers to demonstrate how it was done to defend themselves from charges of animal cruelty). The 2016 Mondo Macabro Blu-ray release incorporates all the footage known to exist and, at 104 minutes, runs the longest of any of the Lizard‘s releases.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Fulci was not, at this point, as invested in the conscious surrealism of Bava or Argento, and in particular his attention to gory effects, far above and beyond those men (he was easily the most bloodthirsty of the major Italian horror directors), grants A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin a grounded, visceral realism that makes its psychedelic excesses far more punch than they might have had.”–Tim Brayton, Antagony & Ecstasy (DVD)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE FALLING (2014)

DIRECTED BY: Carol Morley

FEATURING: Maisie Williams, Maxine Peake, Florence Pugh

PLOT: The students at an all-girls school experience a collective mass hysteria after one of their group unexpectedly passes away. But what is really causing this strange illness, and can its spell be broken?

Still from The Falling (2014)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The Falling is a symphony of opposites, a nauseating yet excessively beautiful film, one that simultaneously rejects and then accepts the extremes of female sexuality. Purposefully instilled with a sense of obscurity, it could be viewed as an extended analogy or a horror film without a monster, depending on how weird you want it to be.

COMMENTS: Following in the footsteps of more familiar New Weird British directors and , Carol Morely has crafted a film full of plausible deniability. Actions and reactions seem to offer explanations, before wrenching them away from you at the last moment. Like its recent predecessors, The Falling is impressive in that it can be so disturbing in direct opposition to its visual presentation: stark and quiet, empty but beautiful, each frame uncluttered, the pace perfectly languid. Not many films can find stability between intellectual stimulation and visceral distraction, but The Falling manages it more often than not, primarily due to its dedication to the autumnal, timeless setting and lack of any exposition.

This lack of exposition could be mistaken for general weirdness in any other film but, a lot like ’s Innocence (another brilliant film set in an all-girls school), The Falling isn’t obfuscating for the sake of obfuscation. Morley has written extensively on her obsession with mass hysteria among teenage girls (a more common occurrence than you would think) along with the total lack of explanation for these mysterious events. Seeing the phenomenon presented on screen is a chilling, confusing experience. It is also an immediately arresting concept, and Morley runs with it, from the humble beginnings of an eerie teenage friendship through to sexual awakening, identity issues, and even suggestions of witchcraft. Whilst there is never an overt explanation for the fainting spells, facial tics and personality changes that the girls go through, the sexual awakenings of many characters seem to be a starting point for their sudden transformations. At some points, the film is a satire of Catholicism’s fear of sexuality: the idea that if just one teenage girl were to become sexually active and pregnant then it would sweep through their ranks like an epidemic, stealing their individuality away from them and creating beings who act impulsively, flustered by their sexual desires. At other times, it’s character-driven, a study of youthful diversion and identity crisis for our young protagonist Lydia.

The films provocation would not be as powerful without the stirring performances of the girls that inhabit the pristine surroundings of the school. Maisie Williams, better known as “Game of Thrones”‘s Arya Stark, sheds her more famous character with immense maturity, willing her character forward despite challenging scenes of incest, abuse and supposed insanity. In fact, credit should go to Morley and all her actresses for working together to eek out impressively subtle performances, especially in a film with such difficult content. The constant musical dream-pop interludes are a little excessive and redundant, and the conclusion isn’t quite worth the set-up, but if this is the future of British film, we should have a lot to look forward to because of the continually expressive and experimental efforts that Morley should certainly be a part of in the future.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There are shades here of Joseph Losey and Ken Russell, albeit with a staunch feminist perspective. The storytelling may waver in conviction after a woozily riveting setup, but not enough to impede healthy domestic arthouse prospects…” – Guy Lodge, Variety

221. THE BEAST (1975)

La Bête

“There was nothing in his previous output—a respectable career that stretched back to the late 1940s—to prepare the viewer for this terrible outrage. Or perhaps, if you looked hard enough, there was. For the exotic and the erotic—and the downright weird—had always been part of Borowczyk’s cinematic universe.”–Cathal Tohill & Pete Tombs, “Immoral Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies, 1956-1984

DIRECTED BY: Walerian Borowczyk

FEATURING: Guy Tréjan, Lisbeth Hummel, Pierre Benedetti, Sirpa Lane

PLOT: Lucy, an impressionable young heiress, comes to France for an arranged marriage with Mathurin de l’Esperance, the socially awkward scion of an aristocratic family. The de l’Esperance family harbors many secrets, including the story of an ancestor from centuries ago who went missing and whose corset was discovered covered in claw marks. The first night she stays in the de l’Esperance chateau, Lucy has a erotic dream about a Victorian lady ravished in the forest by a beast.

Still from The Beast [La bete] (1975)

BACKGROUND:

  • Walerian Borowczyk began his career making highly regarded surreal animated short films. He moved on to live action art house features like Goto, Island of Love (1969) and Blanche (1972), which  were respectable and well-received.
  • After 1972 Borowczyk’s career took a turn towards the explicitly erotic/pornographic when he began work on Immoral Tales, a portmanteau of erotic shorts based on literary sources or historical personages (Erzsebet Bathory and Lucrezia Borgia).
  • The Beast was originally intended as a segment of Immoral Tales, but Borowczyk decided to expand it to feature length. The “original” Beast is the segment that now appears as Lucy’s dream. Screened as an 18-minute short entitled “La Véritable Histoire de la bête du Gévaudan,” it understandably caused quite a scandal at the 1973 London Film Festival.
  • The Beast in Space (1980) was a totally unauthorized Italian “sequel” that also starred sex siren Sirpa Lane.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The Beast‘s indelible image is too obscene to be mentioned in polite company. Being as circumspect and polite as possible, we’ll simply say that it has to do with the titular creature’s, ahem, “equipment.” Scrub your eyes though you may, you can’t unsee these things, so beware. If you can make it through the equine porn scene that opens the film, you should be fine. (Not surprisingly, most of The Beast‘s promotional material has focused on Sirpa Lane’s stunned face, framed by a powdered wig, as she gazes in shock at the same images that will be indelibly stained in your memory).

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Horse porn cold open; eternally spurting beast; clerical bestiality lecture

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Some movies are designed to be weird. Some movies become weird because of certain confluences of incompetencies. And then there are movies like The Beast—a nugget of explicit (if simulated) bestiality porn wrapped in a nuptial drawing room drama, made by a director on the cusp of art house stardom who seems intent on throwing it all away as dramatically as possible—that are weird simply because, if not for the evidence of your own eyes, you could not believe that they exist.


Re-release trailer for The Beast

COMMENTS: No one can accuse Walerian Borowcyzk of sandbagging. After a quote from Voltaire (“worried dreams are but a passing Continue reading 221. THE BEAST (1975)

214. DER SAMURAI (2014)

“…there seems to be some sort of secret anarchic urge within me to see the monsters set loose and rampantly reclaim what’s theirs, to witness them bringing back some wonder and excitement into a world so controlled by order and reason that it at times threatens to suffocate all sense of joy and opportunity.”–Till Kleinert

DIRECTED BY: Till Kleinert

FEATURING: Michel Diercks

PLOT: Young policeman Jakob deals with a wolf menacing his rural east German village by placing bags of butcher scraps in the woods, hoping to lure the predator away from inhabited areas. One night he receives a mysterious package which he is instructed to deliver to an abandoned house; inside the home is a man in a dress who unwraps the package to reveal a samurai’s katana. The transvestite then runs into the night, where he embarks on a campaign of murder and mayhem to which Jakob must put an end.

Still from Der Samurai (2014)

BACKGROUND:

  • Der Samurai is Till Kleinert’s directorial debut, and his graduation project for the German Film and Television Academy.
  • The film was denied a government funding grant because it was deemed “incompatible with the taste guidelines of German public television.” Much of the budget was instead raised through a crowdfunding campaign.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: When your movie stars a blond-haired samurai in a floor length backless white party dress, you have a good idea what the indelible image is going to be.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Transvestite samurai; flamingo punch; explosive decapitation

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Exploring the weirdness in queerness, Der Samurai is a primal confrontation with the Other, embodied in the person of a wolf man come to life as a dress-wearing, sword-wielding maniac who taunts a repressed country policeman into a confrontation with his own desires.


Original trailer for Der Samurai

COMMENTS: Jakob’s long duel with a mysterious cross-dressing Continue reading 214. DER SAMURAI (2014)

LIST CANDIDATE: PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Peter Weir

FEATURING: Margaret Nelson, Rachel Roberts, Anne Lambert, Martin Vaughan, John Jarrett, Helen Morse, Christine Schuler, Karen Robson

PLOT: The unexplained 1900 Valentine’s Day disappearance of four schoolgirls and a teacher haunts the residents and neighbors of an all-girl college in Australia.

Still from Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s an subtle, indirect feature with a unique tone; the question is whether the diffuse symbolism and impudent refusal to explain its central event gets it from “curious” all the way to “weird.”

COMMENTS: “What we are or what we seem is but a dream, a dream in a dream,” says young Miranda, paraphrasing Poe in voiceover as we gaze at the lonely mountain of Hanging Rock rising out of the bush. We then see her wake. Is she having a premonition? (Later that morning, before she disappears, Miranda warns a school chum with a serious lesbian crush on her that she “won’t be here for very much longer.”) Don’t look for an answer to that question. Explanations do not come in Picnic at Hanging Rock; the movie is about its own lack of explanations. We naturally desire answers to life’s mysteries, but in Picnic‘s Victorian Australia, what is even more important is to maintain propriety. After four of her charges and one of her teachers disappear, the headmistress is most distressed when one of the girls returns with no memory of what happened to her. It’s worse than if none of them ever came back, because this sensational and mysterious restoration puts the story back on the front page of the papers and fans the public’s curiosity. Picnic throws out clues, or observations that have the general shape of clues, every now and then: scandalously, one of the girls who disappeared lost her corset! (The doctor confirms, to everyone’s relief, that the girl who returned was found “intact”).

What is the point of erecting a girls’ finishing school in the middle of the Outback, if not to provide a civilized outpost against the forces of sinful Nature? If Nature abducts a few of civilization’s foot-soldiers for Her own unknown purposes, then perhaps it is best not to know their fate; we should forget it, lest it turns out that something horrible has happened to compromise the girls’ honor. Still, people remain curious and prone to gossip, especially in the lower classes.  “There’s some questions got answers and some hasn’t,” advises an elderly gardener. “No,” objects his younger companion, “there’ll be a solution turn up directly, more’n likely.” But no solution comes. There is not even a central character in the story, only the central fact of the disappearance, around which subplots orbit. The movie is quiet, almost oppressively so, until finally the girls’ suppressed anxiety explodes: “tell us, tell us!” they cry. The teachers quickly quash the hysterical outburst. Emotions must be contained, propriety maintained, corsets tightened. If that means that nothing much appears to happen in the movie, then we still have freedom to dream. Picnic‘s gauzy meditation on sexual repression and loss can have a hypnotic effect on those susceptible to its mysterious moods, while others find it an inconclusive bore. Both sides have an argument, but in general, the good here outweighs the bland.

With its sunlight cinematography, period setting, and artistic ambition, Picnic at Hanging Rock is a natural acquisition for the Criterion Collection. Criterion’s edition collects numerous interviews with the principal cast and crew, but the extra of most interest to us is Weir’s 50-minute mini-feature Homesdale. This black comedy involves an insidiously authoritarian Australian resort where infamous murders are recreated over dinner, personalized subliminal messages are broadcast at night, and the talent show turns into a human sacrifice if you bomb. Tonally, Homesdale is a cross between and ; it’s well-acted and quite a bit weirder than Picnic, though not nearly as memorable. Seeing Homesale convinced Joan Lindsay, author of the original “Hanging Rock” novel, that Weir was the right man to handle the adaptation of her beloved work.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a film of haunting mystery and buried sexual hysteria.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago-Sun Times (retrospective)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Simon,” who politely suggested it “might be worth a look.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

173. THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955)

“Dream, little one, dream,

Dream, my little one, dream.

Oh, the hunter in the night

Fills your childish heart with fright.

Fear is only a dream.

So dream, little one, dream.”

Lullaby from Night of the Hunter (lyrics by Walter Schumann)

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Billy Chapin, ,

PLOT: Harry Powell is a self-ordained Reverend during the Great Depression who makes a living by touring Appalachia and marrying widows, who disappear soon thereafter under mysterious circumstances. In prison for stealing a car, he shares a bunk with Ben Harper, a bank robber on death row who has refused to tell the authorities the location of the $10,000 he has stolen. After his release (and Harper’s execution), Rev. Powell finds the robber’s widow, and learns that his young son John knows where the fortune is hidden.

Still from Night of the Hunter (1955)
BACKGROUND:

  • The film is based on a 1953 novel by Davis Grubb. The book was a bestseller at the time of it’s release but has long been out-of-print; Centipede Press is releasing a limited-edition hardcover edition of the novel in July of 2104.
  • Night of the Hunter‘s Harry Powell was based on real-life murderer Harry Powers, nicknamed “The Bluebeard of Quiet Dell,” a West Virginia-based killer responsible for the deaths of two widows and three children.
  • was Laugton’s first choice for Harry Powell but he turned down the role of the serial-killing misogynist preacher, thinking it might damage his career. Robert Mitchum had no such concerns and was eager to play the part.
  • Mitchum’s autobiography contains several inaccurate accounts of the filming, including the allegation that Laughton heavily rewrote James Agee’s original script (an accusation supported by Laughton’s widow Elsa Lanchester). Film scholars who studied Agee’s original script, which was discovered in 2003, reported that the director shot the film almost exactly as written.
  • This was the only film Charles Laughton ever directed. Although the story that he was so stung by the negative critical reaction to the movie that he never directed again is often repeated, Laughton himself claimed that he simply preferred directing theater to working on films.
  • Prior to shooting, Laughton screened silent films by D.W. Griffith to get a feel for the look he wanted for the movie.
  • In 1992, Night of the Hunter was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry.
  • Ranked #71 in Empire Magazine’s 2008 poll of the Greatest Films of All Time. Ranked #2 on “Cahiers du Cinema”‘s list of the “100 Most Beautiful Movies.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Pick a single image from Night of the Hunter? It’s a fool’s errand. As much as it hurts to pass up the vision of the “good” Reverend with his right hand of love wrestling his left hand of hate, or the dreamlike serenity of Willa Harper’s final resting place, we think the most meaningful image must come from the children’s flight downriver—specifically, we chose the shot of the skiff passing before the spiderweb, as John and Pearl (temporarily) float away from their murderous stepfather’s snares.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Night of the Hunter is such a massive achievement that we’re invoking 366 Weird Movies’ sliding scale rule: the better a movie is, the less weird it needs to be to make the List. Not that Hunter isn’t strange, by Hollywood standards (and particularly by 1950s Hollywood standards). Film archivist Robert Gitt called this expressionist/Southern Gothic hybrid “the most unusual and experimental film made in Hollywood in the 1950s.” Perhaps that is why director Charles Laughton decided to bring cinematographer Stanley Cortez, who once bragged “I was always chosen to shoot weird things,” onto the crew. Hunter is packed with shadowy, stagey, artificial shots (contemporary critics complained that the effects—both narrative and visual—were “misty”). Mixing fairy tale menace and Freudian killer fathers while masquerading as a titillating potboiler, Hunter was so unique and unexpected that it slid right under the upturned noses of viewers in the 1950s, that most conformist-minded of decades. Generations since have remembered it fondly—well, in their nightmares, at least—and it has since been elevated into the canon of great movies. And now, of great weird movies.


Original trailer for Night of the Hunter

 COMMENTS: An utterly original blend, Night of the Hunter is simultaneously a melodrama, a fairy tale, a film noir, a Southern Gothic, a Biblical Continue reading 173. THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955)

CAPSULE: BLACK DEVIL DOLL FROM HELL (1984)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING:

PLOT: A sexually-repressed church lady buys a magical puppet who comes to life and rapes her, waking her slumbering libido.Still from Black Devil Doll from Hell (1984)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Chester Novell Turner deserves some sort of weird movie recognition for his two movie opus of Black Devil Doll from Hell (1984) and Tales from the Quadead Zone (1987), films which reveal the relative polish and elegance of the maligned Sadly, a spot on the list of the weirdest movies of all time for Black Devil Doll from Hell is not that recognition. Although the doll sex scenes are a hoot, the movie as a whole is dull, and made up mostly of filler.

COMMENTS: The original tagline to Black Devil Doll from Hell was “Was it a nightmare? Or was it for real?” It should have been “I was raped by a puppet—and I liked it!” Shot on video with a budget of about $8,000—although when you watch you’ll find yourself wondering what Turner could possibly have spent all that money on—Black Devil Doll is basically an elaborate home movie starring Turner’s then-girlfriend and a cast and crew made up of relatives and buddies. Massacre Video’s DVD presentation is taken from the best source material possible, which is a transfer of an vintage VHS tape. Anyone who dug the glitchy visual aesthetic of Trash Humpers should respond to this one: with warping around the edges and lots of horizontal roll to accentuate the washed-out lighting, Black Devil Doll is authentic analog ugliness. You shouldn’t want to see it any other way—these visual smudges are all part of recreating the authentic “just took a chance on this turkey because of the crazy title and cover” 1980s video store experience. Watching a pristine, restored version of Black Devil Doll from Hell would be as pointless as a Spike Lee remake with Halle Berry in the lead and Samuel L. Jackson voicing the puppet. While the visuals are drab, the audio is frustrating. There is a constant background hiss, the dialogue can be hard to make out, and Turner’s childishly repetitive Casio keyboard score is irritating beyond belief. At one point, he holds a single ear-piercing high note for 45 seconds (I timed it). And let’s not forget that the acting is terrible, and the direction, too—there are long pauses in the dialogue while Turner patiently waits for the actors to remember their next line, and scenes where star Jones just putters morosely around her house, doing nothing to advance the story. All this incompetence would be intolerable, if the core idea of a supernatural rapist who looks like Rick James turned into a ventriloquist’s dummy wasn’t so inherently bizarre and ludicrous. As it is, you’re left watching wide-eyed in sick fascination to see what strange, sleazy turn the tortoise-paced story will come up with next. The Devil Doll occasionally exhales smoke through his mouth, solely because it’s a cheap effect that looks marginally cool. After blasting his victim with a vent of steam he utters the classic seduction line “now that you have smelt the foulness of my breath, you may feel the sweetness of my tongue!” (I’m totally trying that line out on my next date). The sex scenes look absolutely ridiculous and anti-erotic, but the puppet’s technique must be is superlative, because soon after he rocks her world the church lady proclaims “I didn’t know it could be this beautiful!” She soon throws her Bible in the trash and starts searching the house to find the Devil Doll (whom she dubs “Mr. Wonderful”) for another round of fine lovin’ (splinters be damned!), but he’s gone missing. With the doll departed, she picks up strange men instead, but no one can satisfy her. It’s all quite amazing; you keep on watching not because it’s entertaining, but out of awe that something like this even exists.

Massacre Video’s releases comes in a box set together with Turner’s other movie, Tales from the Quadead Zone (which we chose to represent the Chester N. Turner phenomenon on the List). The Black Devil Doll disc includes an alternate cut of the film that’s missing 13 minutes (they kept all 12 minutes of credits, though). There’s also a thirty minute interview with writer/director Turner and star Jones, and, even better, a commentary track. Jones, now likely a grandmother, makes some priceless comments: she calls the puppet “my baby!” when he first appears, critiques her own nipples, and breaks into an uncontrollable fit of laughter during the sex scene.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The shot-on-video wave that turned horror VHS collecting into such a bizarre free for all in the 1980s resulted in many outrageous oddities, but none can really compete with the brain-shredding experience of Black Devil Doll from Hell.”–Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital (DVD)

CAPSULE: TEETH (2007)

DIRECTED BY: Mitchell Lichtenstein

FEATURING, John Hensley

PLOT: A teenage girl involved in the abstinence movement discovers that she has an unusual mutation—teeth hidden inside her vagina, which clamp down on intruders.

Still from Teeth (2007)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s got an odd little premise, but not enough bite (c’mon, you had to see that one coming.)

COMMENTS: If you’re going to make a film about a girl who discovers she has ravenous teeth inside her vagina—you know, a poonfang flick—you have a serious decision to make about tone. The concept is so ridiculous that it can’t be done realistically: the best you could do would be to make it into a sci-fi version of a “disease of the week” movie. Writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein chooses to play the concept (mostly) as a straight horror movie. Since the other possibility would be to go for a horror/comedy hybrid that would inevitably degenerate into juvenile genitalia jokes, his choice seems like it should be the correct one; but based on the results here, I’m not so sure this material wouldn’t have played better with more icky genital wackiness (a la Bad Biology). Teeth is technically well-made and benefits greatly from an all-in performance by Heather Graham lookalike Jess Weixler as Dawn, who undertakes a sexually confused journey from idealistic prude to reluctant predator. But the way Teeth handles the inherent absurdity of its situation is problematic. There are no real scares—though prosthetic penises provide some gross-out moments—but there are no big laughs either. It’s impossible to be horrified by the girl’s ridiculous condition, and only slightly easier to be amused. You might involuntarily guffaw when young Dawn decides to visit a gynecologist (“I think their might be something weird going on inside”) rather than a dentist. Some may find the straight-faced parody of the teen abstinence movement in the first act mildly amusing. The movie also hits all the b-movie monster movie cliches, like overdramatic musical cues at the moment of revelation and a cutaway to a forensic scientist providing stilted explication to an investigating detective, although those segments play as much as homage as satire. The film’s message about the patriarchy’s fear of female sexuality is pure symbolism 101; its implication that all men are potential rapists may strike some as offensive (although this feature may result more from the awkward demands of the plot than from any anti-male ideology). While it would make good copy to quip that movie’s shock and comedy aspirations merge about as well as teeth and vaginas, that’s not really the case. Teeth isn’t a triumph, but nor is it a disaster—which is a real problem for critics when trying to discuss a movie that offers so many opportunities for dentition related puns. You can’t imagine how many reviewers were secretly hoping this movie would be a disaster so that they could be the first to quip “Teeth bites” or “the rotten Teeth should be yanked.”

It’s worth noting once more that Jess Weixler’s portrayal of troubled innocence is a key to making Teeth work to the extent it does. With a lesser actress in the role, the film might have ended up as pure dreck. The 2007 Sundance Film Festival jury agreed, honoring Weixler with a special jury award for “dramatic acting.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s definitely not for Aunt Minnie, but cult movie mavens will appreciate director Mitchell Lichtenstein’s willingness to push the boundaries of bad taste.”–Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star-Tribune (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Mr. Worf, who described it as “[p]art dark comedy, part horror film. Becoming a young woman is tough, especially for Dawn who is ‘very different.'”. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)