366 UNDERGROUND: HEY, STOP STABBING ME! (2003)

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DIRECTED BY: Josh “Worm” Miller

FEATURING: Patrick Casey, Andy “Hippa” Kriss, Maria A. Morales, N. David Prestwood, Sean Hall

PLOT: College graduate Herman moves into a house with a collection of odd roommates where he is challenged by a job with ill-defined purpose, a needy girlfriend, a strange creature who keeps stealing his socks, and the mystery of what happened to his predecessors.

Still from Hey, Stop Stabbing Me! (2003)

COMMENTS: A well-played joke can wash away a multitude of sins. Countless movies over the decades have managed to cast aside lazy plotting or shoddy filmmaking because the audience left the theater laughing. I remain convinced that the success of The Departed can be attributed in large part to Mark Wahlberg’s pitch-perfect delivery of a single snarky retort. So Hey, Stop Stabbing Me!, a movie possessing zero production values but lots of spunk and all-in commitment from a group of plucky amateurs, has one mark which it absolutely must hit. The team behind this movie knows it can’t compete when it comes to the look of the film or the professionalism of the acting. So they go for jokes. And those jokes have got to land.

More often than not, God bless ‘em, they do. Screenwriters Casey and Miller (of late the storytelling masterminds behind the “Sonic the Hedgehog” franchise) adopt the time-honored strategy of throwing jokes of every shape and kind against the wall in hopes that something will stick. All kinds of jokes. The wall is littered with the sheer number of jokes that have been thrown at it. And amazingly, a pretty solid percentage of them hit. The result is a movie that’s certainly not good, but ends up being pretty great.

The primary vein of comedy pursued here is a completely demented world that everyone absurdly buys into. This is, after all, a movie in which a serial killer systematically offs his roommates and buries them in the backyard, yet his actions go completely unnoticed by everyone around him. It’s the kind of thing that would be perfectly at home on Adult Swim (and the folks at Fox clearly thought the same, as they hired Casey and Miller to script the series “Golan the Insatiable” for their “Animation Domination” slate). But wisely, the writers don’t solely rely on this dissonance. There are so many other jokes to try. Among the other styles of comedy they pursue:

  • Satire – Herman puts his degree in World History to work at a job where he wears a tie while digging holes all day (if only he’d gotten that double major in Comparative Lit like everyone else!)
  • Slapstick – Herman takes it on the chin constantly: abandoned by his family, robbed by a Samaritan, and getting the stuffing beaten out of him on a regular basis, most entertainingly at the hands of an 12-year-old boy.
  • Taboo – Herman’s nymphomaniac girlfriend Carrie has a very dark secret, for which the film slyly lays the groundwork without spoiling its horrible reveal.
  • Sheer Goofiness –  Wuzzel, the mischievous mascot reject who stalks the house in pursuit of socks, drives Herman to literal distraction. Aside from being rambunctious, he’s also a vivid example of the movie leaning into its own weaknesses, looking as he does like a cheap gorilla costume with very visible human hands.
  • Contrast – All this takes place in the extremely nondescript Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington (full disclosure: my wife’s hometown). The surroundings are so bland and inoffensive that these characters pull off the trick of standing out and fitting right in at the same time.

The movie is also surprisingly well made. The use of video is unavoidably cheap, but Miller demonstrates a real visual wit, deploying depth of field, handheld scrappiness, and deft quick-pans to sell the gags. And the story moves at a terrific pace, jumping from set piece to set piece with barely a breath. Even if one joke misses, another is sure to follow.

I fear I’m overselling the end product; Hey, Stop Stabbing Me! was shot for $500 and looks it, created by amateurs and shows it, and treated as ridiculous and feels it. But on its own terms, it’s a genuine achievement, pulling off the feat of being simultaneously incredibly dumb and sneakily smart. Hey, Stop Stabbing Me! gives hope to anybody with an iPhone, good friends, a nutty premise, and a dream.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A genuinely wacky and, at times, seriously funny horror send up that somehow avoids most of the clichés of the countless other SOV horror send ups made over the years, Hey, Stop Stabbing Me! might not win over those who don’t enjoy vintage no-budget endeavors, but then again… it might… this one moves very quickly, using Herman’s endless string of bad luck as a launching pad for all manner of unexpectedly bizarre occurrences, many of which build off of one another very effectively.” – Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop!

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 8/12/2022

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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.

FILM FESTIVALS(Toronto International Film Festival, Toronto, Canada, & online, Sep. 8-18):

TIFF has risen from a scrappy underdog festival to an awards-season kingmaker. In “big ticket” releases this year, they will debut the Knives Out sequel Glass Onion, the IMAX doc/concert film Moonage Daydream, and ‘s The Whale (with as an obese English professor). We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, the long-gestating mock-biopic that’s likely to be a hoot (if not, you know, actually weird). As TIFF’s profile has risen, the number of smaller, stranger films debuting here has fallen; thankfully, they have expanded their “Midnight Madness” section along with continuing to take chances on experimental art films. Here’s what we’ll be following:

  • Dalíland – The  biopic with Ben Kingsley is likely to deweirdify its subject, but the Surrealist icon is always a topic of interest. Considered a “Gala Presentation.”
  • The Kingdom Exodus [Riget Exodus] – (who was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease) returns with a third (and reportedly final) season of his TV series about a spooky hospital where weird events occur. Listed at 120 minutes running time, so it’s likely only the first few episodes are screening here.
  • Leonor Will Never Die – a “surreal” story about a Filipino screenwriter trapped in one of her own unpublished action scripts. Playing Midnight Madness.
  • V/H/S/99 – We mention this installment of the long-running horror anthology series because Flying Lotus (Kuso), directed an episode. In Midnight Madness, naturally.
  • Will-o’-the-Wisp [Fogo-Fátuo] – From , it’s described as “unclassifiable” but containing queer elements along with musical comedy. In the “Wavelengths” section.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Inu-Oh (2021): Read Giles Edwards’ festival review. An period anime rock musical based on Japanese history from the mind of Masaaki Yuasa, somehow playing in theaters (thanks GKIDS)!  Inu-Oh official site.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

Crimes of the Future (2022): Read Gregory J. Smalley’s Apocrypha Candidate review. Spontaneous organ generation and surgical removal is the ultimate body-modification spectator sport in David Cronenberg‘s latest, now on DVD and Blu-ray. Buy Crimes of the Future.

Men (2022): Read Gregory J. Smalley’s review. is haunted by men. Now on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD. Buy Men.

Neptune Frost (2021): Read Gregory J. Smalley’s review. You will finally get a chance to watch this Afrofuturist musical that is certain to end up as one of the weirdest features released to theaters in 2022. On DVD, Blu-ray or VOD. Buy Neptune Frost.

Psycho Gothic Lolita (2010): Yuri embraces Japan’s “Gothic Lolita” fashion trend and sets out to avenge her family with her deadly decapitating parasol. Retitled from the original Gothic & Psycho Lolita, this one is a long-time resident in our reader-suggestion queue. Now on Blu-ray. Buy Psycho Gothic Lolita.

Yellowbrickroad (2010): Read Pamela de Graff’s List Candidate review. 12 years later, this ambitious indie horror about a disappearing town has made it to Blu-ray. Buy Yellowbrickroad.

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.

FREE ONLINE WEIRD MOVIES ON TUBI:

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984): Read the Canonically Weird review! Watch the adventures of rock star/neurosurgeon/crime-fighter Banzai as he battles Dr. Lizardo in the bizzaro cult classic free on Tubi. Listed as “leaving soon.” Watch The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension free on Tubi.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE:

You can vote (and RSVP, please) for our latest weird watch party scheduled for the evening of August 20 here. Since there are only two movies in contention right now, a single vote could break the tie (or a new nomination could muddy the waters even further).

In reviews, next week Shane Wilson begs you to consider Hey, Stop Stabbing Me! (2003). We then turn to a couple of current TV offerings, as Giles Edwards dreams about ‘s “The Sandman” and

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.

366 UNDERGROUND: DENKRAUM (2020)

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Weirdest!

Denkraum is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

DIRECTED BY: Luca Paris

FEATURING: Manuel Melluso, Danilo Paris, Alba Barbullushi, Valerio Mariani, Ilaria Del Greco, Salvatore Di Natale, Giacomo Aversa

PLOT: Alex observes videos on a computer monitor for a new social network named “Denkraum” (which may also be a self-aware entity).

Still from Denraum (2020)

COMMENTS: I think it’s fair to call Denkraum a Surrealist film; although there might be a science fiction or even a mystical solution to its conundrums, any answers are buried under so many abstractions and layers of speculation and contradiction that the search for meaning becomes an exercise in the paranoiac-critical method. Fortunately, we have a director’s statement (appended to the end of this review) to provide some clues to interpretation. Even so, I think most viewers will be completely perplexed by the film’s ambiguities.

As a cinematic experience, the movie proceeds something like this: Alex (whose youthful baldness combined with a baby face make him look simultaneously thuggish and nerdy, a look that seems calculated to invoke Max in Pi) scrolls through videos on an app branded “DENKRAUM.” Every now and then, he clicks play and we “enter” a vignette and watch it play out. These may be real recorded events, memories, or dreams. Most are too dialogue-heavy to make much of an impression; in one of the better ones, four nymphs lead a man into a swimming pool and drown him while a woman in a red dress previously owned by a dead girl watches. Although they all seem to know each other and be part of the same social circle, it’s not easy to keep the characters straight or to construct any sort of narrative connecting them; this is probably intentional. When not watching videos, Alex texts with various characters or AI entities, stares at the portraits he’s hung on his walls, and walks the streets looking grim and intense, with a various color filters suggesting alienation. The screen is constantly invaded by text messages (originally scrambled, they decode before our eyes). Sometimes these come from characters in the videos, sometimes from “Denkraum” itself. They are rarely helpful (“There is a distant and hidden place where nobody listens to your screams and a drunken dancing snake.”). Are they real communications, or simply cybernetic manifestations of the voices inside Alex’s head?

Denkraum is packed full of themes, including a shadowy religious cult, schizophrenia, techno-alienation, postmodern philosophy, misogyny and sexual violence, stalker (but not quite Stalker) vibes, a possible murder or two, pseudo-fascist gangs, indistinct conspiracies, toxic homophobia, and apocalypticism. Even on multiple viewings, the choppy delivery of the ideas makes it almost impossible to form a firm interpretation of the film. Again, I suspect this is intentional: the deluge of information suggests a nightmare version of a Facebook feed, where a political rant is followed by a relationship update status followed by a kitty meme followed by a livestream of college girls making out, while various friends and acquaintances are Continue reading 366 UNDERGROUND: DENKRAUM (2020)

ALFRED EAKER VS. SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS OF THE PAST: THE OMEN (1976)

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So, the winners of the 2021 poll of Summer Blockbusters of the Past were Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999), and The Omen (1976). These were originally supposed to be reviewed while theaters were shuttered for Covid, but… life happens.

I’ll start with The Omen (1976), a movie I had already addressed here. This is a slick, predominantly good film that has still always frustrated me to a degree (we will not discuss the execrable shot-for-shot utterly pointless remake). It came on the heels of a series of films in which the Devil was making a comeback. In 1968, Old Scratch asked for a bit of sympathy (via the Rolling Stones) and so that year he got his big screen opus, Rosemary’s Baby (the first and best of the lot). This was followed by The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen. The Omen is, overall, a better film than The Exorcist (yes, I said that), with directing at quicksilver speed.

Still from The Omen (1976)It innovatively plays with all that 70s apocalyptic fear like putty: and who would have thought of portraying the Antichrist as a tyke? Of course, it’s preposterous, and revels in that narrative.

The Omen features excellent character performances, but a dreadful lead in . The producers originally wanted Charlton Heston for the role of Robert Thorn, but he had just signed up for the godawful all-star Midway (1976). That’s a loss, because his over-the-top acting would have suited The Omen far better than Peck’s wooden snooze-fest work. When Peck learns of the death of his wife (Lee Remick, who is almost as miscast) he exclaims that he wants Damien to die too, but says it so devoid of emotion that it barely registers and is not at all convincing.

With the male lead on life support, that leaves it to the rest of the cast, who fortunately deliver in spades. First up is the inimitable  scene-stealing Patrick Troughton as Father Brennan. Troughton, still the best Dr. Who to date (yes, I said that, too), so effortlessly registers wild-eyed crazed desperation that even though we know from the outset he is telling the truth, we don’t blame Ambassador Thorn for his skepticism.

Next up is the recently deceased as the photographer Jennings, in desperation mode, and he equally excels. He just wants to live. Father Brennan wants to escape damnation. Good luck with that, gentlemen.

Harvey Stevens as Damien doesn’t have to do a damn thing to send chills down the spine. He burns a hole just looking at you from the screen, so that when mommy and daddy are trying to get to the church on time, you know that Hell will hath no fury like Harvey unleashed. Chucky has nothing on Damien.

Leo McKern (amazingly uncredited) as Antichrist expert Bugenhagen is perhaps best known for “Rumpole of the Bailey” and #2 in “The Prisoner” (he was so good in it that he played the part in three episodes). He’s no less authoritative here. Unfortunately, when he tells the ambassador to “have no pity,” we know it will fall on deaf ears (because then we wouldn’t get the awful sequel).

Lastly, there’s Billie Whitelaw as Mrs. Baylock, who convinces us of that old adage, “the Devil is a woman.” She is slimy filth incarnate, and leaves an unnerving aftertaste long after the credits. She’s so damned animated, I really was hoping she was going to put Peck out of our misery. Her death leaves a lump in the throat. You almost feel as much heartbreak for her as you did Margaret Hamilton getting melted in Oz. Mia Farrow, wisely, made it a point not to imitate Whitelaw in the remake and delivered a very different, albeit good performance (the only good thing about the remake).

The diverse locations help the film considerably. There are so many, it sometimes feels like it’s going to segue into a James-Bond-goes-to-hell story.

Naturally, The Omen made a gazillion bucks at the box office, which lends credence to the adage that the Devil is indeed the owner of the almighty buck.

Jerry Goldsmith wrote the classic Academy Award winning score, which has ferocious echoes of Bartok and Herrmann, with Gregorian chants thrown in for good measure . He had previously composed the music for Planet Of The Apes (1968) and Patton (1969) and would go on to score Chinatown (1974), Star Trek (1978), Poltergeist (1982), Gremlins (1984), and Total Recall (1990), among many others.

The film is also expertly edited by the still active Stuart Baird, who had previously cut for ‘s The Devils (1971), Tommy (1975), and Lisztomania (1975) and would later edit Valentino (1977),  Superman (1978), Outland (1981), Lethal Weapon (1987), Gorillas In the Mist (1988),Casino Royale (2006), and Skyfall (2012).

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SIR HENRY AT RAWLINSON END (1980)

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DIRECTED BY: Steve Roberts

FEATURING: Trevor Howard, Patrick Magee, Denise Coffey, J. G. Devlin, Vivian Stanshall

PLOT: As villagers descend upon the English estate of Rawlinson End to celebrate The Blazing, the eccentric lord of the manor Sir Henry is persuaded to bring in outside help to exorcise the ghost of his unfortunate brother, whom he shot in an unfortunate hunting accident and who is unable to pass on to the next plane without his trousers.

Still from Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (1980)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: The film incarnation of Vivian Stanshall’s spoken-word radio prattle series is a fitting adaptation. It’s a melange of relentless mockery of the English upper class, Dada-esque mishmash of characters and situations, full-bodied embrace of inappropriateness, inveterate wordplay, and plummy lost-up-its-own-duodenum narration, with a visual style that places one brow-raising tableau after another into a curiously nostalgic atmosphere. It’s nutty from the jump and never eases off.

COMMENTS: It seems that the first tale of the eccentric Sir Henry Rawlinson was a desperate improvisation, a last-minute creation of Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band leader Vivian Stanshall to fill out the too-short B side of a new album. Among the lovers of Britain’s penchant for absurdist, nonsensical humor, Sir Henry was a hit, and Stanshall created new – well, stories doesn’t seem like the right words – installments on John Peel’s radio show, and then released them as spoken-word albums. So a transition to the silver screen is maybe not a surprise, but it is remarkable how many of its most uncinematic traits have made the jump untouched.

Viewers of “Upstairs, Downstairs” or “Downton Abbey” might recognize the milieu, but the goings-on are something else entirely. Like a demented “Prairie Home Companion,” the “Rawlinson End” stories are meandering tales of a community filled from top to bottom with insane people doing insane things. Stanshall doesn’t look down on his creations, but he vividly reveals them for the defiantly venal, crude, and obnoxious people they are. The hoity-toity visitors could easily be renegades from ’s Upper Class Twit of the Year competition, while the help are no less mad, running miles from one end of the estate to the other and unspooling directionless monologues about the misfortunes of others. Happily, there is no tedious audience stand-in to remind you that these nutters are “not like us.” The only logic to be found here is the ill kind.

Barely a frame of film is allowed to flicker without a trace of absurdity: a man plays snooker while on horseback, a barbershop trio appears perched on the edge of a lake. Stilt walkers, vaudeville duos, Egyptian priestesses, all show up randomly and vanish as quickly. And if you long for consistency, well… so much flatulence. Every line of dialogue is overwrought; no ten-word sentence will be uttered when a 30-word polysyllabic phrase will do. Names are wonderfully absurd when they’re not blatantly vulgar. The wordplay is relentless and there’s nothing linear at all. You get the sense that if you chopped the film up into 5-minute segments and rearranged them, it wouldn’t make that much of a difference.

Sir Henry is at the center of all this madness, and he’s more than worthy of it. As portrayed by the esteemed actor (and proud drinker) Trevor Howard, Sir Henry is bonkers above all others. Howard supposedly relished the role (which afforded him the chance to spew such bon mots as “If I had all the money I’d spent on drink, I’d spend it on drink”); and it’s unlikely anyone else was going to offer him a part where he could don blackface and a tutu and pretend to unicycle down a country path. He’s precisely as rude and officious as a member of the English landed gentry ought to be: he belittles the staff (“If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth forcing someone else to do it”), shoots skeet with pretend paratroopers (when he’s not trying to gun down actual hang gliders), keeps his own personal German POW camp on the estate, and complains vociferously when the urine from a dead dog waters down his liquor. It’s a real credit to Howard that even amidst a film of crazies, he truly stands out.

Sir Henry at Rawlinson End is a triumph of nonsense. The hint of plot is immaterial to the proceedings; it’s about being batty. The closest the film comes to a mission statement arrives in the very last line of dialogue, a hint from the narrator about the action in a possible future tale: “There is considerable misunderstanding.”

Sadly, Sir Henry at Rawlinson End is unavailable on streaming platforms, and can only be found on a Region 2 DVD (which will not play in most North American players). Hopefully this situation will be rectified in the future.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Parts of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End could be described as being slightly Python-esque but such a comparison doesn’t really do this bizarre and determinedly unique and original film justice. While Sir Henry at Rawlinson End does contain its fair share of endearingly daft moments, it remains more than anything a genuinely surreal, uncompromising and biting social satire… If you can imagine a very English satirical comedy that just happens to quite naturally project the kind of intensely strange ambience that is more commonly associated with arthouse oddities like the Quay Brothers’ Institute Benjamenta, I guess you’re part way there.” – Lee Broughton, DVD Talk (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by maxwell Stewart, who called it perhaps the strangest film ever made” and added “Viv Stanshall was a true genius.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

PLANNING OUR NEXT WEIRD WATCH PARTY FOR 8/20/2022

We will schedule August’s second Weird Watch Party for Saturday, August 20 at 10:15 PM (unless someone requests an afternoon screening instead, in which case, majority decides).

Currently, we can only confidently stream movies from subscription sites Netflix, Amazon Prime, or, (technically) Hulu for our watch parties.

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. When making your nomination, simply comment with “I think we should watch Weird Movie on Netflix” or “How about Weird Movie 2: Electric Boogaloo on Prime?” You can also pitch in as to whether you prefer the afternoon or evening time slot.

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.

Add your input in the comments, please.

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