CAPSULE: TONE-DEAF (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Richard Bates Jr.

FEATURING: Amanda Crew, Robert Patrick, Kim Delaney

PLOT: After losing her boyfriend and her job, young adult Olive takes a vacation by herself at an airbnb rental in the country; unfortunately, her landlord is a millennial-hating boomer with murder on his mind.

Still from Tone-Deaf (2019)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A horror-comedy that’s allegedly a satire of generational conflict, Tone-Deaf is neither scary nor funny—and although it does get a little weird, it doesn’t get weird enough to overcome its other handicaps.

COMMENTS: For the record (and I don’t consider this a spoiler) the title refers to protagonist Olive’s literal tone-deafness, the source of a running joke about how she’s a terrible piano player. Since her parents and friends all tell her she’s a whiz on the ivories, she never figures out that she can’t play, despite the fact that her renditions sound only slightly better than a drunk cat crawling across the keyboard.

See the satire? Or is it too subtle?

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that, as opposed to deep-seated prejudices about race and sex, the present (and perennial) generational conflict is relatively genial and jokey: “you kids get off my lawn!,” “in my day we walked to school uphill—both ways.”1 Although there was a brief “participation trophy” furor a few years back, in general, the ribbings oldsters give youngsters, and vice-versa, aren’t taken too seriously by either side. After all, the Boomers were the “Me Generation” that the “Greatest Generation” accused of being soft; for them to turn around and make the same claims about millennials is an absurd (if inevitable) example of history repeating itself. The Boomer-millennial clash just isn’t that serious or rancorous, so satirizing it isn’t bold or dangerous; in fact, it seems like a deflection to avoid addressing the real destructive partisan divide in today’s America. And, in the end, Tone-Deaf‘s screenplay refuses to firmly commit to either side, making us wonder what the point of the entire exercise was.

That lack of focus wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the jokes were funny. I think I chuckled once, during an unexpected deadpan cultural appropriation joke. But for the most part you see the jabs coming; they’re all telegraphed, far too obvious to catch you off guard. Heck, Harvey even breaks the fourth wall to rant about kids today, so you couldn’t accuse the script of trusting the audience to be smart enough to get the point. And yet, Tone-Deaf isn’t a complete misfire. Although the high concept misses the mark, there’s enough going on that the movie becomes watchable. Since a feature length film has a lot of time to fill between the time Olive checks in and Harvey tries to forcibly check her out, the script has to find something else for the slasher and victim to do while waiting for the final showdown. That means some unexpected plot turns, including a Tinder date in a cowboy bar and a car wash that sells drugs. Demented killer Robert Patrick’s performance can be fun, in a crusty old fart swinging a tire iron kind of way. The best parts of the film are the left-field ian touches. Harvey has a series of psycho-sexual nightmares featuring art-installation models in blue latex body paint that are funnier parodies than anything else in the script. And a cameo by —looking a bit like the Amazing Criswell lit by a multicolored strobe light during an acid trip—is a highlight (the man’s a real pro). These bits suggest a better, wilder B-movie hiding somewhere inside this misfire.

The filmmakers had to know from the outset that reviewers were going to dub this a “Tone-Deaf satire.” (It’s probably a good thing they didn’t name it Ham-Fist, although that title would have lent itself to even more accurate critical quips).

Richard Bates, Jr. made a minor splash in the indie horror world with his 2012 debut, Excision, but has since failed to follow up on that success. Tone-Deaf won’t revive his fading reputation, but there are enough shiny baubles buried under the dross to make us not want to give up on him just yet.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“‘Tone-Deaf’ is devilishly hilarious for the first two acts, diving into murky psychological waters to trigger some spooky and surreal stuff for genre fans, but also retaining a defined sense of humor, with amusing amplification of common generational issues, having a good time poking a stick at people of all ages.”–Brian Orndorf, Blu-ray.com (contemporaneous)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 11/8/2019

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs and Blu-rays (and hot off the server VODs), and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

“Pop Team Epic, Season 1”: An anime adaptation of a cult surrealist/absurdist manga starring two obscene 14-year old girls, who “do insane things and swear like sailors” (as the distributors explain).  Each episode is only about 12 minutes long, and non-Japanese auds may miss the cultural references (which only makes it weirder). On Blu-ray only from Funimation. Buy “Pop Team, Epic Season 1”.

CERTIFIED WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). We’ll only list irregularly scheduled one-time screenings of this audience-participation classic below. You can use this page to find a regular weekly screening near you.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE: We’re working hard on getting the 2019 Yearbook out on December 1 of this year (in time for Christmas, hint!). And we’re actually on schedule! With that in mind, next week (and the next couple of weeks) we’ll have a light slate of reviews, consisting of late-arriving and previously-overlooked 2019 releases. Next week you’ll get the scoop on the generational slasher satire Tone-Deaf and the absurdist microbudget comedy Birds Without Feathers. All this so we can stuff that 2019 Yearbook full of as many of the year’s releases as possible. Stay tuned, won’t you? Onward and weirdward!

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that we have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

CAPSULE: SICILIAN GHOST STORY (2017)

O Fantasma da Sicília

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DIRECTED BY: Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza

FEATURING: Julia Jedlikowska, Gaetano Fernandez

PLOT: A dreamy 12-year old Sicilian girl loses her grip when her young beau disappears without explanation.

Still from Sicilian Ghost Story (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Sicilian Ghost Story has drawn comparisons to Pan’s Labyrinth for it’s young protagonist using imagination to cope with harsh reality. It can’t live up to that (perhaps unfair) comparison, however.

COMMENTS: The sense of being in an an ancient land where myth and magic, though gone fallow, might spring into life again at any time is an animating spirit of Sicilian Ghost Story. An adolescent character even fantasizes about modernity fading away so he could see the frolicking nymphs and hear the notes from Pan’s flute from the Sicily of yore. Ruins of Roman temples on an outcropping over the beach where the teens play in the surf remind us that all traces of ancient world have not yet passed away.

But ancient gods are not the only spirits around. The mafia also haunts this Sicilian town. No one speaks of them directly, but Luna’s parents forbid the girl from seeing Giuseppe, who seems like a fine boy, because of dark hints about his father. When the boy stops coming to school, no one besides Luna brings it up. She hands out fliers with the Giuseppe’s face on them; tight-lipped, no one offers a lead.

So far, the movie has been a straight drama, a chaste tween love story with a hint of mystery, but then Luna’s visions kick in. As if touched by a prophecy sent from one of those ancient gods, Luna sees the vanished Giuseppe; later, she has a visions of a house, partially underwater. Some of her dreams may be actual clues to the boy’s whereabouts. Queasy pans, blurry screens, and confusion between what is happening inside and outside of Luna’s mind add a fog of disorientation.

The two young leads do an admirable job. The movie’s overall tone is low-key, elegiac, and more than a little depressing. It ultimately shoots for a sense of hope, although the best it can come up with is a life-goes-on shrug coupled with an imperative to not forget. Appropriately so, because, magical realist love story aside, Sicilian Ghost Story is based on a real-life kidnapping that scandalized Sicily in the 1990s.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one of the strangest and most creative films released so far this year… a dreamlike, sometimes downright disorientating experience sustained by a tender heart beating beneath harsh realism.”–Ross Miller, The National (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE KILLER OF DOLLS (1975)

El Asesino de Muñecas, AKA Killing of the Dolls

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DIRECTED BY: Miguel Madrid (as Michael Skaife)

FEATURING: David Rocha, Inma de Santis, Helga Liné, Rafael González Jr.

PLOT: Expelled from medical school because of his aversion to blood, Paul moves back home only to succumb to murderous impulses.

Still from Killer of Dolls (1975)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Dolls has more than a normal movie’s share of “WTF?” moments, but its overall tenor is more of poor (but enthusiastic) execution than weirdness.

COMMENTS: If there is one takeaway from Killer of Dolls, it’s that director Miguel Madrid really wanted to make something special. If there’s a second takeaway from Killer of Dolls, it’s that Miguel Madrid really liked his lead actor’s body. Alternating between being waifishly coy and flailingly bombastic, David Rocha’s performance as Paul, the would-be surgeon and definite-murderer, involves more shirtlessness and short-shorts than perhaps any movie I’ve ever seen. In fact, if there was any excuse to get Rocha nearly naked, writer/director Madrid took it.

This artistic choice’s bearings on the proceedings is at least nominally explained: Paul was his parents’ second child, born after his sister had passed away. His mother treated him as a little girl when he was quite young, going so far as to call him “Catherine,” the name of his erstwhile sibling. Grown up, Paul is too squeamish for medical school, to the point of being expelled. Moving home, he takes up some tasks at the public garden his father tends on behalf of the countess who technically owns the grounds (?–one of several unclear background points). While mincing around the plant life, he begins an altogether questionable friendship with a prepubescent boy while somehow simultaneously seducing the countess and her comely young daughter. However, he is haunted by his sister’s spirit (?), and despite his inability to cope with blood in a medical setting, he overcomes this difficulty by donning a woman’s mask and wig in order to kill various sexually precocious park visitors.

The movie begins with a doll being dismantled by a young fellow who goes on to explain the psychological nature of the feature to follow. This dalliance with feminine fetishization and psychological hokum goes unabated throughout as Paul has screaming-running fits when distressed, takes very strange showers (his writhing and vocalizations suggesting anguished arousal), wanders around his home in (short) shorts, towel, or y-fronts, or when he gears up to kill a traveling band of singing, dancing hippies who break into the park after hours for what seems like a musical intermission. It is somewhat grudgingly that I haven’t nominated this film for our Apocrypha, but in the end I had to ask myself if Dolls was any good. Alas, it falls into an awkward category; I could only screen this for someone as a lighthearted punishment, or to illustrate the kind of things 366’s reviewers are obliged to dive into. At least Rocha was easy enough on the eyes.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an effectively weird film…”–Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop! (Blu-ray)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 11/1/2019

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs and Blu-rays (and hot off the server VODs), and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Cubby: A misfit adult babysitter dreams up the gay superhero “Leather Man” after eating a psychedelic cupcake. One reviewer called it “endearingly weird.” Cubby official site.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

Bloody New Year (1987): Five English teenagers stumble onto an abandoned hotel that’s decorated for New Year’s Eve in the middle of summer; weird happenings follow. Vinegar Syndrome’s ad copy describes it as “a distinctly original hybrid of slasher, supernatural horror, and near surrealism…” The restored Blu-ray/DVD combo comes with a commentary track from director Norman J. Warren. Buy Bloody New Year.

“Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975”:  The Criterion Collection celebrates their 1000th spine number in an unexpected way: it’s a 15-film “Godzilla” box set. These are not all that weird, with the possible exception of Godzilla vs. Hedorah [AKA Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster], but lots of fans will be keenly interested. Buy “Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975”.

Lust in the Dust (1985): Read our review. The campy Western spoof from the ever-offbeat gets a Vinegar Syndrome restoration. A DVD/Blu-ray combo release. Buy Lust in the Dust.

Manifest Destiny Down: Spacetime (2019): A stoner-dude physics genius and a hot chick in a Catholic schoolgirl getup are the only survivors of the apocalypse.  It describes itself as an “absurdist satire” and comes on DVD, Blu-ray or VOD. Buy Manifest Destiny Down: Spacetime.

“Scorpio Films: The Dutch Sex Wave Collection”: We’ve reviewed three of the four films included in this set separately: Blue Movie, Obsessions, and My Nights with Susan, Sandra, Olga & Julie. It also comes with Frank & Eva. These films are only slightly weird, at best, but this entire 70s Eurosex genre is quaint and nostalgic for many. On Blu-ray, or save money with a DVD set. Buy “Scorpio Films: The Dutch Sex Wave Collection”.

Two Evil Eyes (1990): and each take on a short adaptation of an story. Argento’s take on “The Black Cat” is reportedly the weirder of the two, although opinions diverge on which is the better overall. Blue Underground releases a Blu-ray with an extra bonus disc of features, and throws in the soundtrack CD by Pino Donaggio to boot. Buy Two Evil Eyes.

The Wizard of Oz (1939): Read our review. Warner Brothers is constantly revisiting Oz, but this is the first release in 4K (as far as we know). This edition is a 4K ultra disc plus a Blu-ray plus a digital copy; no word on extra features but Warners has loads of ’em in its vaults. Buy The Wizard of Oz.

CERTIFIED WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). We’ll only list irregularly scheduled one-time screenings of this audience-participation classic below. You can use this page to find a regular weekly screening near you.

FREE (LEGITIMATE RELEASE) MOVIES ON TUBI.TV:

Blue Velvet (1986): Read the Canonically Weird entry! Celebrate ‘s honorary Oscar with a free screening of the dark suburban thriller the Academy snubbed in 1986. Watch Blue Velvet free on Tubi.tv.

YOU LINK US! YOU REALLY LINK US!:

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston considers us an authority on Hausu. They know fine art, we know weird.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE: Next week, look for reviews of the Spanish pseudo-giallo The Killer of Dolls and the Italian magical realist drama A Sicilian Ghost Story. We’ll try to get something else out there—but if we slack off this week, it could be because we’re working hard behind the scenes on the 2019 print version of the Yearbook, which we plan to get out this year in December (rather than our usual schedule of sometime in May in the following year). So wish us luck, and onward and weirdward!

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that I have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!