Tag Archives: So bad it’s weird

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: ROLLER BLADE (1986)

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DIRECTED BY: Donald G. Jackson

FEATURING: Suzanne Solari, Jeff Hutchinson, Shaun Michelle, Katina Garner, Sam Mann

PLOT: During the Second Dark Age in the City of Lost Angels, a holy order of avenging roller-skating nuns battle evil mutants.

Still from Roller Blade (1986)

COMMENTS: It’s extremely important not to overthink Roller Blade, because Donald G. Jackson, the Z-movie legend who thought up the thing, absolutely did not overthink it. This is, after all, the man who dreamed up “Zen Filmmaking,” a commitment to scriptless, why-the-hell-not productions that make everyone else look as obsessive as . So let’s try and embrace the spirit of Roller Blade and just get to the heart of the matter.

This is a film that is made up almost entirely of lunatic choices. Placing the fate of humanity in the hands of a group of nuns on roller skates who wield switchblades that heal the wounded should clue you in, but Jackson happily goes further. The forces of good all speak in faux Shakespearean patois, even the highway patrolman who is the sisters’ only ally. The villains, meanwhile, consist of a man in a steampunk luchador mask and his mini-me, a wrinkly puppet that looks and acts like a bleached Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. (Speaking of which, one of the nuns is an actual dog.) The voice of wisdom is the order’s mother superior, a wheelchair-bound sage with a Latka Gravas accent and a propensity for astounding cosmic aphorisms like “The Cosmic Order of Roller Blade is the only force on Earth where all weapons and battle techniques are converted into tools of love” and “My visions have shown me a new world where it will one day be easy to trust every beast.”

The nuttiness extends to the filmmaking as well. The opening credits intercut incomprehensible images of women dressed like garden gnomes, a writhing woman enduring a restless slumber, and a group of hooligans on the attack, all to the tune of bombastic music cues that crescendo long before the list of names is complete, meaning the score has to keep restarting. With no natural sound, everyone is dubbed in the fashion of a Japanese monster movie, and the filmmakers are so committed to not showing moving lips that one character manages to play harmonica through a bandana.

And let’s not overlook Jackson’s commitment to crowd-pleasing nudity. Early on, three of the sisters are kidnapped and forced to engage in a naked catfight. When they are later rescued, they are brought back to the sanctuary to step naked into a recuperative hot tub and rub each other back to health. A character quickly peels off her bodysuit after being splashed with acid, and later kneels before a dying man to bless him with her uncovered body. Jackson has an audience in mind, and he’s prepared to fulfill their expectations.

It’s fun to list all that is quite nuts about Roller Blade, but the movie is actually less than the sum of its parts. It’s very slow, nobody’s motivations are entirely clear, and the tone is wildly inconsistent, swinging from broad comedy to awkward earnestness at random. So there’s no argument that there’s a lot of crazy stuff going on, but it never really coheres into anything watchable. It’s just Jackson coming up with ideas and immediately finding ways to film them. An impressive accomplishment, but an iffy product.

Creatively, it might be a mess, but Roller Blade was a financial smash, grossing $1 million off its $20,000 budget and earning Jackson the right to make the iconic Hell Comes to Frogtown. But his heart never strayed far from his humble beginning chronicling the adventures of bodacious babes in roller skates. Although he didn’t make good on the promise of the closing title card (advertising Roller Blade 2: Holy Thunder), he eventually helmed four sequels, each of which has a reputation for being strange. Donald G. Jackson wasn’t skilled, but he had audacity, and given how many times we’ve seen the reverse, his is a career to salute.

Roller Blade has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray and is available on vintage VHS only. At this writing, it can be found on Tubi, however.

A BRIEF HISTORICAL NOTE: Despite what the title might imply, no one in this movie who skates (and nearly everyone does) wears the inline skates of the title, but rather classic roller skates. That is because the product bearing the trademark “Rollerblade” was first commercially available in 1987, the year after this movie came out. I’m not saying that the movie inspired the mode of transport, but it does explain the confusing lack of Rollerblades in Roller Blade. 366 Weird Movies: out here doing the hard work so you don’t have to.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…embraces its cheesy, campy, exploitative and bad qualities to produce something bizarre, like a cheap Mad Max made while on acid and horny.”–Zev Toledano, The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre

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

40*. MODUS OPERANDI (2009)

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“The more beautiful, free-spirited women you can get into a low-budget film, the easier it is for the audience to forgive your script.”–Frankie Latina

DIRECTED BY: Frankie Latina

FEATURING: Randy Russell, Danny Trejo, Mark Borchardt, Barry Poltermann, Nikki Johnson, Michael Sottile

PLOT: CIA agent Stanley Cashay—the best in the business—is dragged out of retirement to recover a pair of stolen briefcases in exchange for the name of the operative who murdered his wife. A network of spies around the world assist him in his quest, while the cases repeatedly change hands in a bloodthirsty quest. When he discovers that they contain videos of sadistic ritual murders, Cashay is spurred to action.

Still from Modus Operandi (2009)

BACKGROUND:

    • Latina has described the movie as his attempt to make his own version of his favorite movie, Apocalypse Now.
    • The film is credited as being “presented by” adult film star Sasha Grey. Lending her name appears to be the extent of her involvement in the film.
    • Danny Trejo filmed all his scenes in a single eight-hour stint before he had to catch a plane back to Los Angeles. These were the only scenes in the movie that Latina shot with on-set sound.
    • Latina accomplished the Tokyo scenes by using the proceeds from his job at a casino to send actress Johnson and a cameraman to Japan to capture the footage.
    • Most of the film was shot in Latina’s hometown of Milwaukee, and he takes advantage of some of the region’s architectural wonders to serve as the backdrop for his globetrotting hero. Among the locations featured in the opening credits are the dramatic angles of Santiago Calatrava’s Milwaukee Art Museum, the Domes of the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, and the Infinity Room at the notorious House on the Rock.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It feels like half of Modus Operandi consists of people sitting around receiving phone calls. They’re just minding their own business, drinking cocktails or hanging out in a hot tub or drinking cocktails while hanging out in a hot tub, and then a phone call comes. This tic reaches its apotheosis when a man takes such a call while he is grooming himself and while his female companion is casually shaving her pubic region. She’s totally nude, her crotch is completely covered in shaving cream, and she’s right up in the guy’s face with it. It’s the most perfect example of this film’s unique blend of overt sex with zero sexiness.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Casey Thunderbird requests the pleasure of Black Licorice’s participation in a spy venture; you got your porn audition tapes in my spy movie

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Modus Operandi feels like the movie you would get if aliens were asked to make a James Bond movie and did all their research by asking a drunk at a bar. With its intense focus on crowd-pleasing violence and nudity (of both the male and female varieties), it’s the cinematic equivalent of all dessert/no veggies, except the desserts were created on Nailed It! The infectious joy of making the movie is paired with an extraordinarily high level of amateurism, making for a movie that knows it’s ridiculous and yet somehow manages to become even more ridiculous in the process.


Original trailer for Modus Operandi

COMMENTS: Frankie Latina sets the tone before a moment of Continue reading 40*. MODUS OPERANDI (2009)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SOMETHING WEIRD (1967)

DIRECTED BY: Herschell Gordon Lewis

FEATURING: Tony McCabe, Elizabeth Lee, William Brooker, Mudite Arums

PLOT: Electrical worker Mitch is horribly disfigured in an accident, acquires psychic powers, and is blackmailed by a hideous hag who promises to restore his looks in exchange for becoming her lover.

Still from Something Weird (1967)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: It is honestly surprising that we haven’t yet found a way to include the Godfather of Gore among our honorees, although it would be amusing if the movie that did so failed to feature any of his trademark bloodshed or exposed skin. Still, it says a lot that the man responsible for such no-room-for-nuance titles as Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs chose to call this one Something Weird. The combination of ESP, LSD, and witchcraft ladled with heavy doses of terrible acting, barely decorated sets, and herky-jerky editing make Lewis’ titular assessment feel pretty spot-on.

COMMENTS: Before I’ve watched a frame, this movie has me at a disadvantage. Look at that title, practically daring me to leave it off our list. Think you can do my job for me, do you, movie? Well, I’ll be judging whether you’re truly something weird, thank you very much.

It does seem like they’re on to something, though. The first few minutes make a strong case for its peculiarity, with dramatic swings in tone and a schizophrenic mix of characters and locations. The opening credits share the screen with a murder-in-progress. (The interruptions are a mercy, as Lewis offers a credit to seemingly every actor in the film, and possibly a few that aren’t.) This is immediately followed by a karate demonstration in which one untalented black belt lectures another even-less-talented black belt. Their sparring gives way to a different kind of wrestling, in which a couple’s heavy petting leads to the woman’s to declare, “You’re electrifying!,” which gleefully segues into an actual electrocution. Even at this point, there’s room for a quick educational voiceover about the fascinating and totally real world of extrasensory perception before our story can truly begin. It’s a dizzying kickoff.

The actual tale threatens to be a major letdown, as our hero is the newly scarred, newly psychic Mitch (an insufferably smug McCabe). He’s immediately unlikeable, assaulting a nurse, bemoaning his fate, and barely concealing his contempt for the clients who visit his fortune-telling parlor. Fortunately, he meets his match in a hideous crone resembling a “Laugh-In” dancer whose makeup was done by a 5-year-old and whose laughter is so forced that it manages to go past sarcastic and come all the way back around to creepy. We don’t see it happen, but Mitch and his mysterious companion Ellen (the unnamed harridan now in disguise as a beautiful young woman who can’t act) quickly become the toast of the town with their incredible abilities.

Somehow, the story still hasn’t gotten started at this point, because Lewis seems unsure where the focus belongs. Is it Mitch trying to Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SOMETHING WEIRD (1967)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: DÜNYAYİ KURTARAN ADAM [THE MAN WHO SAVES THE WORLD] (1982)

aka Turkish Star Wars

DIRECTED BY: Çetin Inanç

FEATURING: Cüneyt Arkin, Aytekin Akkaya, Füsun Uçar

PLOT: The Wizard is bent on destroying the Earth, but a pair of Turkish space pilots, Murat and Ali, evade destruction, crash-landing on a planet where the locals eke out their existence under the Wizard’s oppressive thumb. By strengthening his body and taking control of a mighty sword, Murat confronts The Wizard and his grotesque minions.

Still from Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (AKA The Man Who Saved the World, Turkish Star Wars)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Somehow managing to combine crowd-pleasing action with an awe-inspiring level of filmmaking incompetence, this infamous Turkish “blockbuster” is impossible to believe even as you’re watching it. The sheer magnitude of the amateurish techniques and narrative shortcuts results in less of a film and more of a fever dream – which is a surefire way to get our attention.

COMMENTS: Let’s start with the theft, as that is the full and complete reason for Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam‘s notoriety in the Western world. Director Inanç and star Arkin plotted their new film to take advantage of the public’s interest in sci-fi fantasy epics, with Star Wars leading the way. Steal from the best, they say, and Inanç took that phrase as literally as possible, illicitly dubbing an anamorphic print of the box office juggernaut and peppering his new movie with random and strangely squeezed clips from the pilfered print. The result is riotously inept: scenes are offered in no particular order; clips are frequently repeated; the original film’s good and evil seem to have flipped sides. Perhaps most amusingly, space pilots are filmed with the Star Wars footage rear-projected to simulate space flight… only the footage retains its original cuts. For anyone who knows the ubiquitous blockbuster, it’s hilariously naïve, like an art thief trying to cart away the Venus de Milo in the middle of a midday crowd.

But the snarky moniker is genuinely unfair, because (a) the purloined clips constitute a very small portion of the film, mostly during the scene-setting opening, and (b) there’s so much other stealing going on. Star Wars is joined by clips from old fantasy epics, stock footage of space launches, and even another studio’s logo card. And then there’s the soundtrack, a veritable calico quilt of lifted cues. The sharp-eared will pick up the bass line from Queen’s Flash Gordon score, a hyperactive take on the Battlestar Galactica theme, and fanfares from a James Bond movie, while it takes no listening skills at all to notice the liberal use of John Williams’ “Raiders March,” which the film appropriates as Murat’s spring-into-action theme, meaning we get to hear those noble trumpets literally dozens of times.

But pinching footage from another film alone does not a weird movie make, and Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam proves that it can vie for the title on its own. The story, what little can be teased out, is that a villainous warlord has an insatiable vendetta against the Earth, and is determined to destroy it. Or already has. (Possibly owing to translation issues and definitely because of regular re-use of the exploding planet scenes, the Wizard seems to destroy the Earth a lot in this Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: DÜNYAYİ KURTARAN ADAM [THE MAN WHO SAVES THE WORLD] (1982)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: IN SEARCH OF THE TITANIC (2004)

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Tentacolino

DIRECTED BY: Kim Jun-Ok

FEATURING THE VOICES OF: Jane Alexander (not that one), Anna Mazzotti, Francis Pardeilham, Gregory Snegoff

PLOT: Attacked while on an undersea exploration to find the wreckage of the Titanic (which evidently suffered no casualties following its run-in with an iceberg thanks to the intervention of an enormous doe-eyed squid), survivors Elizabeth and Don Juan, talking dog Smile and incorrigible talking rats Ronnie and Top Connors are rescued by the denizens of Atlantis, who ally with them in a battle against an army of rebellious rats, a group of shark inmates, and the evil human Lord Vandertilt, who wants the valuable shipwreck all to himself.

Still from In Search of the Titanic (2004)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: What ought to be a simple quick-buck exploitation to lure in dumb kids and their undiscerning parents by ripping off such entertainments as The Little Mermaid, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and ’s Titanic swims proudly into its own realm of insanity. Impossible to dismiss as merely incompetent, the unfolding story contains enough deliberate intentions to force its consideration as art. The choices are almost painfully strange, forcing you to question the very fabric of reality. It’s like if a Penrose triangle were a movie.

COMMENTS: If you decided to turn off In Search of the Titanic after two minutes (a reasonable desire)—having only watched the opening credits consisting of scene snips from this film’s predecessor in which a man dances with a dog, an enormous octopus forces the two broken halves of the Titanic back together, and a blue whale catches a couple after they have fallen from the mighty ship’s deck—you could still make a solid case for it as one of the weirdest movies ever made. Having taken this hiatus from the film, you might then take a moment to dig into the history of its animation studio, which is based in North Korea and which has handled outsourced work for The Simpsons Movie and Avatar: The Last Airbender, at which point you might feel as though you were losing your grip and start doing that thing where you try to read a book because supposedly you can’t read in your dreams. But at this critical juncture, let me encourage you to head back to the film. Stick around. Ride this out. Watch the whole movie. Because believe me, your descent into madness is just getting started. Go with it. Let the insanity rain down upon you like mighty waters.

Because even after you meet the talking dog and the sharks who work on an underwater chain gang and the CGI that came from a 1990s DVD menu, it still hasn’t gotten amazing yet. You see, you haven’t met the leader of the sharks. You haven’t seen him wearing the dress-whites of the Titanic’s captain. You definitely haven’t heard him start to rap. And you certainly haven’t heard his backup chorus of clams who also double as a telegraph machine. Only when you’ve gotten this far can you even begin to imagine the scale of the Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: IN SEARCH OF THE TITANIC (2004)