APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE SHOW (2020)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Mitch Jenkins

FEATURING: Tom Burke, Siobhan Hewlett, Ellie Bamber, Christopher Fairbank, Alan Moore

PLOT: Fletcher Dennis is a hitman an “exit technician” posing as a private detective posing as an antiques dealer in search of a stolen Rosicrucian necklace.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA LIST: Sometimes “weird” leaves you overthinking; in this case, I suffered the reverse. While watching The Show, it occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t weird, because it’s exactly the kind of movie Alan Moore would make. Having pondered a few minutes following the spectacle’s completion, it became apparent that this was indeed something weird. Jenkins’ and Moore’s movie blends reality and dreams, and life and death, in a manner that would make 366’s poster-boy Dave Lynch smirk in satisfaction.

COMMENTS: Please forgive this reviewer’s gushing, but in the hopes of getting it out of my system let me begin with, “This… this is the Alan Moore film I’ve been waiting for!” Mr. Moore, as some of you may know, has had a long history of disappointment with studio executives when it comes to his innumerable works and their adaptations. Some of this is warranted (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), some of it not (Watchmen). Regardless, The Show pulls off a very-Moore experience—more so than any other adaptation of his oeuvre.

Because it immediately pulls the viewer into a cryptic facsimile of Northampton UK, it’s helpful that the film pulls its protagonists from the “straight man” bucket. Steven Lipman (later, and earlier, Fletcher Dennis, ever-clad in black and red striped shirt, presumably with sling-shot) has been hired by Patsy Bleaker to retrieve a family heirloom that went missing after his daughter (not quite) was murdered (definitely). Faith Harrington, a briefly comatose journalist, arrives at the local hospital the same night the murderer is carted in following a tragic accident involving a pineapple and a nightclub stairwell. Faith begins suffering from carnivalesque nightmares featuring Matchbright & Metterton, a comedy duo who perished in a 1970s fire. While the plot thickens reality-side (Bleaker’s daughter was not his daughter), it positively coagulates in the subconscious world, as both Dennis and Harrington confront an agenda hatched within dreams and beyond the grave.

Those familiar with Alan Moore’s world(s) know that no detail is to be ignored, whether from the perspective of plot or to appreciate an erudite slight-of-hand. When subcontracting his search to the “Michelson & Morley Detective Agency”, Dennis finds himself in front of a backyard clubhouse whose entrance opens up into an improbably large office, where he converses with two Tims around the age of ten. (“We don’t handle messy divorces, and we have to be in bed at 9:30.”) They speak in a ’40s film noir narration style, and take payment in either cash or energy drinks.

The paragraphs I could burn with such regalement could take up an entire movie, surprise surprise, so consider that just a taste of the fun-time genre stroking herein. Stylistically, it is apparent that The Show was created by a comics man. Every shot and sequence will be familiar to readers of that medium, and it stands as a stark reminder that for whatever reason, virtually no filmmaker seems to fully embrace the aesthetic: an aesthetic you’d think would make the cinematographer’s job that much simpler. Just. Follow. The. Storyboards.

But I’m in fan-boy mode again; I didn’t think I’d be able to shake it. This acts as a companion piece to Under the Silver Lake, another film that got me gushing. Alan Moore’s hometown of Northampton is deeply unreal and fully realized; his characters are unreasonably eccentric individuals who interlock seamlessly with their peers and milieu; and his film has enough smoke and mirrors for a late night cocaine and dance party at the Black Lodge.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Jenkins’ surreal city symphony transforms Little England into an overlooked site of invention, resistance and revenge, while the erudite poetic wit of Moore’s script is a dizzying blend of high and low, the profane and the occult, funny-haha and funny-weird.”–Anton Bitel, VODzilla (VOD)

CAPSULE: THE SNAKE GIRL AND THE SILVER-HAIRED WITCH (1968)

DIRECTED BY

FEATURING: Yachie Matsui, Yûko Hamada, Sachiko Meguro

PLOTAn impressionable young girl is sent home from the orphanage to live with her parents, where she has to deal with a dazed mother, a hateful maid, a secret mutant sister, and a silver-haired witch intent on killing her.

COMMENTS: How would you feel if you were a child who had grown up an orphan, living a happy life in an idyllic children’s home, only to suddenly leave everything you’ve ever known to live with two strangers who happen to be your real parents? It would probably be difficult, right? Now imagine that on your first night home, your biologist father goes off to Africa, leaving you home alone with your disturbed mother, a stern housekeeper and… a secret older sister with a disfigured face who lives in the attic and happens to be half snake?

Yeah, most children would probably wish they had stayed at the orphanage. But wide-eyed young Sayuri (Yachie Matsui) is too innocent to leave her new parents, despite the countless horrors that she suffers at the hands of her older sister, Tamami (Mayumi Takahashi). First, it’s just a snake in the bed, but the madness soon escalates with a horrific dream where Sayuri’s beloved doll turns into a miniature human and is mauled by Tamami, who transforms into a grotesque reptilian creature when she attacks her prey. 

Even after Sayuri has a toad torn in half and thrown in her face, wakes up to a swarm of spiders in her bed, and is threatened with a flesh-dissolving acid bath, she still remains resolute in her decision to stay with her oblivious mother, who overlooks all of these offenses as unavoidable concessions that must be made to the pitiable Tamami.

But wait… We haven’t even touched on the second part of the title yet! Sayuri is willing to put up with her snaky sister’s shenanigans, but she draws the line at the silver-haired witch who emerges from the shadows of her attic bedroom. She barely escapes the house with her life and returns to the orphanage to seek help, but her sister and the witch aren’t about to let her get away that easily.

Part of a recent slew of obscure Japanese horror films released on the Arrow label, The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch is a hidden gem that offers more in the way of garish shocks and traditional horror imagery than more renowned art-house horror classics such as Kwaidan and Onibaba (long available from the Criterion Collection). Directed by Noriaki Yuasa, otherwise known primarily for the Gamera series of sub-Godzilla monster movies, there is nothing dull or formulaic about Snake Girl. It packs a lot of bizarre moments and unexpected plot developments into its brief 82 minute running time, while creating an original mythology of its own, which never relies on the usual horror tropes.

Another secret to this film’s success is the use of a child’s perspective. Horror films seen through the eyes of children are almost always more successful than those where adults are the main characters, although the latter variety is more common. And even though the special effects here are thoroughly low-budget and ridiculous (the titular “snake girl” is represented in dream sequences by a slit-mouthed puppet straight out of Sesame Street), the fact that everything is seen through the eyes of the unsuspecting Sayuri makes it forgivable.

Despite the apparent lack of budget, Yuasa creates a creepy mood that will be irresistible to any horror movie fan. When a film begins with slurping sounds, theremin, and a snake strangulation which is swiftly diagnosed as a “heart attack,” you know you’re in for some good schlock. The visuals are full of swirls and scaly imagery that drives home the idea that Sayuri is living in a house of snakes. There’s always something weird happening to sustain the mood, with none of the romantic side plots or dramatic filler often present in horror films of the era. It might not be high art, but if you’re looking for some classic Japanese horror that delivers the goods without taking itself too seriously, Snake Girl will give you all you’re looking for, and then some.

The Arrow Video release features a stunning new HD restoration that is worth the money. The Blu-ray also features a commentary by film historian David Kalat and an interview which gives some background info on the film and the work of Kazuo Umezu, who wrote the manga on which the film was based (and also has a brief cameo as a taxi driver in the film). Arrow is certainly doing the good work in rescuing these Japanese classics from obscurity.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“With a host of surreal imagery including dream sequences full of creepy, hypnotic spirals, and moments of shocking violence such as a large frog being suddenly ripped in half right in front of Sayuri’s eyes the film certainly doesn’t stint on blood, horror and general freakiness… A children’s film that no one in their right mind would actually show to a child…” – Hayley Scanlon, Windows on Worlds

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 11/26/2021

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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):

Ayar (2021): Read our festival capsule. Although this experimental Covid-set drama about an immigrant single mom is an interesting offering, we’re a bit surprised to see it hit 100% on Rotten Tomatoes on seven reviews. There’s no predicting what will grab the normies’ interest and attention. Ayar at Apple TV.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

Climate of the Hunter (2019): Read Giles Edwards’ review. ‘s ambiguously vampiric romantic melodrama pops onto home video just ahead of Agnes‘ theatrical release. Also available free on Amazon Prime and ad-supported on Tubi.tv. Or, you can buy Climate of the Hunter.

Immoral Tales (1974): An anthology of four erotic (and mildly surreal) tales from ; this is the daring movie that changed the perception of the director from artist to pornographer. Arrow’s new release attempts to recreate Borowczyk’s original intent by splicing the bestiality scenes from The Beast [La Bête] (1975) into the film as a fifth episode. Buy Immoral Tales.

The Show (2021): Searching for an unnamed artifact, a man visits a surreal town peopled by vampires, voodoo gangsters, and 40s detectives. The first feature film scripted by Alan “Watchmen” Moore is a weird one indeed. It shows up on DVD and Blu-ray after a long wait (we first mentioned it three years ago). Buy The Show.

CANONICALLY WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:

This section will no longer be updated regularly. Instead, we direct you to our new “Repertory Cinemas Near You” page. We will continue to mention exceptional events in this space from time to time, however.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE:

We’re still looking for RSVPs and suggestions for our next Weird Watch Party, tentatively scheduled for the evening of Dec. 4. Join the conversation here.

In next week’s reviews, digs up a hidden gem in the 1968 Japanese horror-fantasy The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch. Then, Giles Edwards goes to the reader-suggested review queue for ‘s surreal and sorta-sexy feature animation I Married a Strange Person (1997). , meanwhile, will probably spend his time putting the finishing touches on the scaled-back 2021 edition of the 366 Weird Movies Yearbook, but he may throw in a bonus review if time permits. 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.

SPECIAL THANKSGIVING DAY CAPSULTACULAR: TURKEY SHOOT (1982)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Olivia Hussey,

PLOT: Hapless free-thinkers are hunted for sport by a merciless regime in a dystopian future.

COMMENTS: Newsreel footage of chaotic societal collapse sets the backstory. The sanitized opulence of a knick-knack shop shows the good life. A helpless reprobate crashes onto the scene, pursued by fascist goons, to introduce the conflict. And the whaaaamming tones of the synth score let you know: this is Dystopian ’80s Country—in the bleak future year of 1995.

“Freedom is Obedience; Obedience is Work; and Work is Life”: remember that. And “the Program has been devised for your own good.” The re-education camps are bursting to full, as deviants continue to rebel against the benevolent authorities. Charles Thatcher (no relation) oversees his patch with effete tyranny, making life hard to hellish for his wards, particularly defiant manly-man Paul Anders and confused gentlewoman Chris Walters. But it’s not all bad at the camp: “promiscuity among deviants, while not encouraged, is permitted within reason.” But “Unbreakable” Anders won’t be taking his punishment lying down.

The man at the film’s helm is good, as evidenced by his snappy introduction to the world within and throughout. In the space of a few minutes he builds tension with style when the Radio Freedom DJ is surrounded, then apprehended, by the police state’s state police: a medium shot on a man with the microphone, speechifying on the abuses by the authorities, interspersed with low-height camera shots of the weapons and waistlines of the approaching enforcers, utterly dehumanizing the villains. The director fleshes out the world he has built with incidental dialogue, such as details concerning the oddly egalitarian punishment for pregnancy amongst the inmates: both responsible parties are sterilized. An odd touch that suggests this dystopia is at least gender-equitable.

Trenchard-Smith would go on to direct the better (and odder) Dead End Drive-In (which actually uses footage from Turkey Shoot), recycling the premise to craft a far more compelling and nuanced experience. Of course, he’d also go on to direct a fair number of straight-to-video movies of highly questionable quality. (*Ahem*, Leprechaun 3 and Leprechaun 4: In Space.) Above all else, Trenchard-Smith’s career is the story of a man who can ably execute whatever project is thrown his way,  and bring it in under budget. In this case, it managed both to recoup its outlay and become something of a cult favorite. It treads a fine line: campy premise with commendable execution, alongside hammy acting interspersed with suave performances. I recommend you dig in, as this movie ain’t no turkey.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“All in all though, the movie is a lot of fun… chock full of the kind of violence that exploitation fans know and love. Inmates are impaled with arrows and then run over, guards find themselves on the receiving end of some grisly battering ram type weapons, limbs are severed, torsos explode, and an implied lesbian rape scene is thrown in just for good measure.” -Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop!

CAPSULE: HUMAN NATURE (2001)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Miranda Otto

PLOT: A scientist and a woman cursed with hirsuitism discover a feral man living in the woods and train him to live in civilized society.

Still from Human Nature (2001)

COMMENTS: Human Nature feels a bit like—and was certainly interpreted by contemporaneous critics as—an unpublished script that was dusted off and polished up to capitalize on the unexpected success of Being John Malkovich (1999). In fact, the script had originally been optioned way back in 1996, when it was circulating together with Malkovich, although it’s not clear which screenplay Kaufman completed first. After his 1999 hit, passed on directing Human Nature; he served as a producer instead, and recommended the already-established music video/commercial director Michel Gondry for the job.

That partnership was also destined to bear fruit in the future, but the team did not immediately meet with success. Human Nature didn’t live up to its immediate predecessor in either the originality of its premise or in its bizarre humor; critics who loved the first movie were generally disappointed, while those who never bought in to Kaufman in the first place relished the opportunity to proclaim that the newly crowned Emperor had scanty clothing. Twenty years later, seen outside of Malkovich‘s immediate shadow, Human Nature looks much better: smart, easy to watch, and wispily Freudian in its depiction of sexual conflict between the superego and id.

Human Nature begins by divulging its three main characters’ eventual fates: Lila is imprisoned, Puff is testifying before a Congressional subcommittee, and Nathan has a conspicuous hole in his head. Flashbacks explain how we got here: Lila, cursed with simian body hair, becomes a famous nature writer but decides she needs a man and so undergoes extensive electrolysis before being introduced to Nathan, an inhibited prude of a psychologist who’s work involves using electrical shocks to train lab rats to use the correct salad fork. They form a desperate, co-dependent relationship until discovering a feral man (later dubbed “Puff”) in the woods, whom Nathan decides would make an even better test subject for his behavioral modification studies than the mice—unlike rodents, he can train the ape man to read “Moby Dick” and discuss Wittgenstein, and to refrain from humping every woman he comes across. Predictably, things go awry, with everything further confused when various competing romantic axes and rivalries start to develop between this threesome and Nathan’s assistant, Gabrielle.

Quirky highlights include an incongruous, Disneyesque strolling-through-nature song where Lila embraces her hairiness (“my new friends, these split-ends…”); early whimsical “Gondryeqsque” sequences of white mice seated at a dinner table (done with a combination of puppetry, stop-motion, and trained animals); and Gabrielle’s contextually inexplicable accent. These bits combine with the oddness of the comic scenario and the movie’s arch approach to sexual repression to create an intelligent and off-key chamber piece effectively poking fun at our civilized foibles (“apes don’t assassinate their Presidents, gentlemen!”), while falling well short of the existential weirdness of Kaufman’s debut. By conventional Hollywood standards, Human Nature is fairly odd; by Gondry/Kaufman standards, it’s an attempt at a completely mainstream movie.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Written by Charlie Kaufman (BEING JOHN MALKOVICH), this superficially surreal film is in fact a surprisingly straightforward fable… overall the film feels forced and awkward, as though it’s trying too hard to be weird, culty and profound..”–Maitland McDonagh, TV Guide

(This movie was nominated for review by Nick Gatsby, who said it was “perfect for this list. I’m deathly surprised it’s not on here already.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

PLANNING DECEMBER 4’S WEIRD WATCH PARTY

We’re ready to take suggestions and votes in the comments for our next Weird Watch party, scheduled for Saturday, December 4 at 10:15 PM ET.

Nominations are open for movies on any of the three platforms we’ve used—Netflix, Prime or Tubi/Kast. When making your nomination, simply say “I think we should watch Weird Movie on Netflix” or “I propose Strange Movie on Tubi” or “How about Weird Movie 2: Electric Boogaloo on Prime?”

If you’d like to attend our watch party, then the important thing is to RSVP in the comments, where you can make a screening suggestion, or just say you plan to be there. As always, we’re looking for five likely attendees before officially scheduling.

When the party is set to begin we’ll announce it in three places:

  • On this site (if you’ve signed up for regular email alerts via the sidebar you’ll also get a notice that way)
  • On our Facebook page
  • On Twitter

Make your nominations and/or RSVP in the comments below.

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