CAPSULE: IN THE EARTH (2021)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, ,

PLOT: During a pandemic, a park ranger guides a young scientist to join up with a lone biologist conducting an experiment deep in the forest, but an ancient spirit may be stirring.

Still from In the Earth (2021)COMMENTS: It seems that a forest has grown over that old Field in England through the centuries, but ancient necromantic and alchemical evils still have their roots deeply embedded there. Locals talk of the legend of the pagan demigod “Parnang Fegg,” who may haunt the woods into which Martin and Alma venture in search of the reclusive Dr. Wendle. As they penetrate deeper into the forest, the scary-enough realities of their pandemic-ridden civilization are overrun by cthonic horrors. Is the evil caused by the vengeful forest deity; by a misunderstood alien biology, as Dr. Wendle suggests; or is it merely a group madness stemming from the local fungi that jet their spores into the atmosphere?

“I wouldn’t try to make any logical sense of it,” cautions Dr. Wendle. Indeed, In the Earth isn’t built around logical explanations, or even around its characters. Instead, everything exists for the sake of three intense and immersive psychedelic montages—all flash and bang, sound and light—evoking horrors both ancient and current. Protagonist Martin grounds the film in bodily insecurity; he’s out-of-shape due to lack of exercise during quarantine, and  suffering from a nasty recurrent case of ringworm, too. As the film goes on, characters will suffer gruesome injuries, dwelt on in sickening closeups—anyone with a foot trauma phobia may want to avoid this one. But when the spore mist fills the air, the horrors migrate from the body to the mind.

Despite the minimalist four-characters-in-a-forest setup, In the Earth will play best in theaters; you need that big screen and surround sound for the complete experience. It all starts with the sound design, embedded in the rustling forest and anchored by another superb Clint Mansell score, all highlighted by a disturbing electronic cacophony played from the speakers hooked up to the trees. (The soundtrack can get startlingly abrasive, but it always puts you right in the middle of the film’s nightmares: it can be hard to distinguish the diegetic effects from sonic hallucinations added in post-production.) Then the visuals come on: fast cuts of experimental effects, mushrooms and dandelions bent by fish-eye lenses, red dyes spreading through oil, shots that look like you’re staring right through the floaters in your retina and the veins in your eyelids as bright light penetrates your eyeballs. Shadowy figures flash for milliseconds in the strobe lights. They aren’t being overcautious with that epilepsy warning, folks. I’d predict this one will end up as a minor drug culture favorite.

Wheatley conceived and wrote In the Earth soon after the pandemic hit, and shot it even faster (a fifteen day shooting schedule was all that was required). Still, it doesn’t feel rushed so much as in-the-moment. There is a certain refreshing humility to In the Earth—this is not a lavish, elaborately-planned-out multi-million dollar spectacle, but something the director has made out of necessity, adapting to circumstance. He made it because he has to make movies with whatever resources are available; if Covid-19 has temporarily shut down the studios, he’ll take his camera and a skeleton crew out to the woods. Good for him.

My only reservation is that In the Earth feels a little too much like an update of A Field in England, with flashier color trips and an overlay of pandemic anxiety, but minus the eccentric feel and esoteric setting. In the Earth isn’t entirely new ground for Ben Wheatley, but it taps into the zeitgeist and delivers its payload of cosmic/folk/body/WTF horror with spiffy efficiency. If you’re a reader of this site, there’s an excellent chance that it’s right in your wheelhouse. After all, check out a small but representative sample of negative IMDB reviews: “Beyond weird and horrible”; “i have no idea what it was about”; “makes me feel like I should’ve taken acid before going to the film so I could understand what was going on.” If those quotes don’t get you excited to check this one out, I don’t know what will.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Wheatley’s always been most effective prowling around in the murky depths of the subconscious, and ‘In the Earth’ — which is raw and weird and deeply unsettling, like a fungus found growing in some long-ignored abscess — well, this piece of work has his fingerprints all over it.”–Peter Debruge, Variety (contemporaneous)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 4/16/2021

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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):

In the Earth: In the midst of a pandemic, two men find themselves lost in a deadly forest. ‘s latest horror offering is, per Chris Evangelista of Slashfilm, “gross and weird and kind of wonderful.” We’ll surely review this one. In the Earth official site.

IN DEVELOPMENT:

The Toxic Avenger (202?): sold the rights to its most famous franchise to Legendary Pictures. Now, we’re not the biggest fans of Toxie, but there is little doubt that this will be a downgrade for the popular series. Jacob Tremblay and have joined the cast, and Macon Blair (I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore) will write and direct.  and will be involved on the production side, but I wouldn’t expect any jokes at the expense of blind characters or gratuitous boob shots from the company that brought us Godzilla vs. Kong and the upcoming Dune; expect to see it go PG-13 (at best) instead, in the vein of the “Toxic Avenger” Saturday morning cartoon series. How the weird have fallen! More at Variety.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

Shrunken Heads (1994): A voodoo priest reanimates the heads of three murdered children, who seek revenge on their killers. This -helmed black comedy reaches Blu-ray for the first time, courtesy of Full Moon. Buy Shrunken Heads.

STREAMING:

Used and Borrowed Time (2020):An aging Jewish woman eats a magic pie and is transported to a past life when she was engaged in an interracial love affair in Jim Crow’s Alabama. It’s self-described as “avant-garde” and “surreal” and is over three hours long. Free on Amazon Prime (which treats it like a TV show and breaks it up into two episodes), Apple TV, and something called the Vyre Network; it will also debut theatrically at the Quad in NYC on May 7 (the awards-qualifying run). Used and Borrowed Time official website or watch on Amazon Prime.

FREE ONLINE SCREENINGS (April 20, 7 PM ET):

Amarcord (1973), with introduction by Michael A. McRobbie, free to the first 100 people to sign up, sponsored by Indiana University Cinema. Amarcord free virtual screening.

CANONICALLY WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:

Only Alamo Drafthouses are having screenings this week; they also appear to be standardizing their offerings across all their locations now.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE: There’s just one day left to vote for April 24th’s Amazon Weird Watch Party (vote here), and just over a week left to vote in the 12th Annual Weirdcademy Awards poll (shorts here, features here).

Next week, Giles Edwards takes a trip to the Dead End Drive-In (circa 1986), while Gregory J. Smalley braves an actual hard-top movie theater to check out In The Earth (see above). 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.

13*. PROMETHEUS’ GARDEN (1988)

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“I guess danger and weirdness have always been the main features in most of my stories.”–Bruce Bickford

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Bruce Bickford

FEATURING: Bruce Bickford’s handmade clay models

PLOT: A man discovers a garden and figures oozing out of a hole, who he fashions into miniature people who then begin multiplying on their own. The man is then sucked into a planet which he has created, and chased first by vikings, then centurions. There is no coherent start-to-end plot, but some segments of the film enact mini-stories.

Still from Prometheus' Garden (1988) 

BACKGROUND:

  • Animator Brice Bickford gained modest underground fame when his animations graced ‘s concert film Baby Snakes (1979) and The Dub Room Special (1982). Prometheus’ Garden is the only film Bickford made over which he had complete control, however.
  • Prometheus’ Garden was completed in 1988, but rarely seen until a 2008 DVD release.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We’ll go with the gang of newly-minted werewolves enjoying slices of pizza; an octopus lies on the pie along with the other toppings. Don’t like that pick? Skip to any random point in the movie and you’ll see something just as weird.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Werewolf paint; monster pizza

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Human heads grow in a field. Imps and demons spontaneously generate from the soil. Clay figures disembowel each other. Nude Viking women slather themselves with Vaseline in the sauna. Every element of the movie is in constant motion for thirty minutes. Weird hardly even begins to cover it.


Original trailer for Prometheus’ Garden

COMMENTS: Flesh-colored flowers grow out of a green field, turning into big-headed monsters as cotton ball smoke wafts across the Continue reading 13*. PROMETHEUS’ GARDEN (1988)

APRIL 24 WEIRD AMAZON PRIME PARTY POLL

Here’s the poll to vote in March’s Amazon Prime Weird Watch Party, which will start on Saturday, Apr. 24 at 10:15 PM ET. If you plan on virtually attending, please vote for the movie we’ll be watching below. We’ll screen the movie that get the most votes; your host, Gregory J. Smalley, will personally break any ties. Note that unlike our other polls, you can only vote once. Poll closes at midnight ET on Saturday, Apr. 17. You may vote for multiple movies, but not for every movie (because that would be pointless).

Now vote!


366 UNDERGROUND: 5000 SPACE ALIENS (2021)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Scott Bateman

FEATURING: 5,000 individuals, new and old

PLOT: None.

COMMENTS: Before diving into a brief review, let me say that this is one of the coolest things I’ve seen this year.

Wow.

Now, removing my fanboy hat, let me don my critical reviewer cap. Expanding on his 600 Space Aliens short from 2016, Scott Batemen enters “feature length” territory with this barrage of rotoscoped, scrapbooked, distorted, pigmented, animated images of 5,000 individuals1. According to the brief introduction, all entities on display have been determined to be “space aliens” according to the “Space Alien Commission” (which receives a special thank-you in the closing credits). Bateman advises us to “[w]atch carefully. Memorize all 5000 space aliens. After viewing, please dispose of this film by eating it.”

The introduction’s playful tone is maintained throughout the eighty-three-and-a-half minute run-time. (For our “physical and mental safety, each alien is shown for only one second.”) Each clip is altered in one way or another, sometimes simply (blurry black-and-white), sometimes elaborately (intricate underlays behind a stylized rotoscoping of the “alien” in the foreground). Random textual blurbs are scattered throughout in the form of three-to-six word phrases cropping up somewhere on the screen (a couple of my favorites being, “give thanks to our fetishes” and “science brain parts”).  A pulsing, power-pop synth score composed by the filmmaker drives the whole shebang, making 5000 Space Aliens an absolute must for your post-COVID art-dance house party.

Of the dozens (hundreds?) of word blasts, the most pertinent may be “text book on embalming.” I feel it distills the nature of this smilingly cryptic project. The torrent of humanity and movement Bateman captured is hypnotic; it isn’t often that I happily sit through over an hour of random images. The effect was pleasantly disorienting, so much so that when an un-doctored image of a young woman appeared, I was seriously thrown for a loop. (Mind you, the solid blocks of vermilion red streaming up from her coffee mug were probably added in post-production).

And on the topic of post-production, I shudder to think how long that took Scott (mind if I call you “Scott”?) to compile this. Every single second is bursting with life from his augmentations, be it kinetic line-o-grams or the overtly -esque animations utilizing black-and-white photographs of older “space aliens.” The second thank-you in the credits went to his cowdfunding backers, and with my brain joyfully glazed over by his efforts, I wish I could have helped him out myself. When you next have five-thousand seconds to kill, I advise you take up the challenge of observing and memorizing this barrage of human space-alien cinematographical wonderment.

OFFICIAL SITE:

5,000 Space Aliens – Official website providing plenty of  information (screening times, contact links, “About the Filmmakers”, etc.) as well as a sample from the soundtrack

APRIL AMAZON PRIME WATCH PARTY NOMINATIONS THREAD

Our next Weird Watch Party on Amazon Prime is scheduled for Apr. 24 at 10:15 PM.

As always, we’ll be looking for nominations from people who plan to attend. After we get the minimum five nominations and likely attendees, we’ll put up a poll. Management will break any ties. We’re open to suggestions for different starting times, dates, or methods of propagating the watch link.

Amazon Prime’s catalog of movies is larger (and less exclusive) than Netflix’s. Ed Dykhuizen’s availability spreadsheet is a good resource to check for Canonically Weird movies (look for ones marked “free w/ Prime” in the “Amazon” column). Or, do your own research and come up with a title from Amazon. Eligible movies will have a “watch party” button on their Amazon page. You must be a Prime subscriber; you don’t have to download an extension or additional software.

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 in the comments below.

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