CAPSULE: DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971)

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DIRECTED BY: Harry Kümel

FEATURING: Delphine Seyrig, John Karlen, Danielle Ouimet, Andrea Rau

PLOT: After marrying on a whim in Switzerland, Stefan and Valerie find themselves in a grand hotel where the mysterious Countess Báthory and her companion Ilona are the only other guests.

COMMENTS: It’s just as well that Olstend’s “Grand Hotel Thermes” is nearly empty during the off season—its cavernous hallways, regal stairways, and spacious suites can barely contain the thick layers of Eurotrash that pile up the moment Stefan, Valerie, the Countess, and her “secretary” come in from the rain. This gang of sex-dripping ’70s stereotypes jostle with one another for the title of Maximus Libidinosus. Is it the new bride, Valerie, often topless and presenting an innocence that belies her eagerness? Is it creep-hunk Stefan, who nearly loses it when recounting the sadistic methods of a medieval Hungarian noblewoman? Is it deer-in-headlights Ilona, when she lingers in the nude outside of Valerie’s window the first night she meets her?

No, no, and no. This is Countess Elisabeth Báthory’s party, despite the fact she doesn’t appear until the second act. Aged somewhere between twenty-five and one-hundred or more, this long-lived, ever-beautiful femme out-fatales all the wavy-haired blonde bomb-shells that came before her. With cryptic mannerisms and more-cryptic asides, Delphine Seyrig owns the screen whenever she graces it, for better or worse. The jalopy of a plot putters along with just enough horsepower to sustain its goings on, which themselves have just enough obligatory allusions to a story that it could be argued to have one. But Daughters of Darkness is allegory, and a very lesbian kind of allegory. The “V” of seduction (with the Countess at the hub) may just as well conjure the word “vaginal”… or, if one is so inclined, “vampyre.” This is a gloriously shameless exploration of sapphic love, layered thick with electronic musical cues, heightened acting, colored lighting, and, whenever the filmmakers remember it, arcane overtones.

It’s a good midnight movie, with an atmosphere you could hang a heavy jacket on. But it is a product of its time, and its budget. Amidst the array of sensuality, sex, and sadism, there is one item that stands out, and which remained, perhaps woefully, underexplored. A key plot point—and impending film spoiler—involves Stefan’s reticence in telling his mother that he has married a young woman in Switzerland. The excuse for this trepidation is that his family is very aristocratic, and his mother would be damned before recognizing such an off-the-cuff flight of matrimonial whimsy. However, we finally meet Stefan’s mother at the film’s halfway point, and find him to be not quite what we might expect. A middle-aged man, in a woman’s lounging dress, decorated in make-up, reclining on a hammock in the middle of a conservatory. He describes Stefan’s wedding gambit not so much as inappropriate as “unrealistic”. Who is this? What are he and Stefan? And how about that butler kneeling for a much-appreciated pat on the head upon delivering Mother the telephone? No matter. Within moments, we’re back to the gauzy layers of obvious questions weaving gracefully around this new and unexpected one. Class, discuss.

Blue Underground released a remastered special edition Blu-ray of Daughters of Darkness in 2022 with three separate commentary tracks and numerous special features.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Strange and beautiful, it’s a perfect cocktail of the weird, the horrible, and the oh-so-sexy. “–Cait Kennedy, But Why Tho? (2020 festival rerelease)

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)

PLANNING OUR NEXT WEIRD WATCH PARTY FOR ??? AT ???

The disappearance of Kast.tv and the Tubi library from our streaming options means that, unless a free replacement is found, we can only stream movies from subscription sites Netflix, Amazon Prime, or, (technically) Hulu for our watch parties.

Also, since we did not have the opportunity to host an afternoon party, that option is still open. And since we didn’t have a party last week, we could schedule one for next week.

So this week we’re polling to see what we should do. Besides nominating or supporting a movie, we’d also like to hear whether people would like to meet Saturday May 28 (afternoon), Saturday May 28 (evening), Saturday June 4 (afternoon) or Saturday June 4 (evening).

Add your input in the comments, please.

MAY 21’S WEIRD WATCH PARTY, “A CURE FOR WELLNESS” (2017), CANCELED

Apologies to anyone who was expecting a link, but Kast ended their free streaming option, and even after signing up for a free trial we were unable to get their newly designed service to cooperate. We’re canceling this afternoon’s watch party. We may try rescheduling for a week from today, but unless we can find another free service we’ll be limited to options from Netflix or Amazon Prime. Again, apologies to anyone who was looking forward to A Cure for Wellness.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 5/20/2022

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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.

IN THEATERS (WIDE RELEASE):

Men: directs Jessie Buckley as a woman who seeks refuge from trauma at a quiet rural retreat, only to find even worse nightmares lurking in the woods. The latest smart, weird-ish genre offering from A24, solidly in their wheelhouse. Men official site.

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. Like this one:

FREE (LEGITIMATE RELEASE) WEIRD MOVIES ON YOUTUBE:

Come and See (1985): Read the Canonical entry! A couple of weeks ago, Mosfilm put this Soviet classic up on YouTube; contemporary relevance aside, it’s perhaps the most intense (and one of the strangest) war films ever made. Watch Come and See free on YouTube.

Kyiv Frescoes (1966): This 14-minute short is composed of footage that shot after Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, eventually intended to comprise a feature. Looking at the silent, surreal footage Parajanov submitted, which included a spinning seashell and a tormented man who rises from a bench to seemingly worship a nude woman before grabbing an axe, Soviet authorities immediately shelved the project. The footage was only rediscovered in the 1980s. Kino Now has put it up for free for a short time with a scholarly introduction and post-film discussion; there is a link to donate to the Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre and Film Archive, a Ukrainian film preservation society. Watch Kyiv Frescoes free at Kino Now.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE:

Join us tomorrow at 4:00 PM ET (note the time change to the afternoon) for our next Weird Watch party, A Cure for Wellness (2107). If the Saturday matinee time slot proves popular, we may host more afternoon shows going forward. The movie’s on Tubi, and as always a free Kast.tv account is required for chatting and sunching. The link to join will drop here, on Facebook, and on Twitter around 3:45 PM.

Next week we’ll have a number of reviews up. From the reader-suggested review queue, Shane Wilson surveys the animated shipwreck that is In Search of the Titanic (2004). From the newly upgraded Blu-ray department, Giles Edwards sheds light on ‘s opus Daughters of Darkness (1971). And, in new theatrical releases,

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.

CHANNEL 366: “RUSSIAN DOLL,” SEASON 2

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Natasha Lyonne, , , ,

PLOT: Having escaped the time loop that imprisoned her in Season 1, Nadia now finds that she can visit her own past via the New York City subway system, and uses this power to try to salvage her family legacy of stolen Krugerrands—with troublesome and paradoxical results.

Still from Russian Doll, Season 2

COMMENTS: Just a few years after resolving the time loop that saw her killed nightly, Nadia steps onto the 6 train and finds herself transported back in time to 1982. Her smartphone is gone; in its place is a matchbook cover with a note scrawled telling her to meet one “Chaz” at the Black Gumball at 8. The Gumball turns out to be a go-go bar with a topless dancer gyrating on the counter, and when Nadia orders a bourbon, the bartender asks her if she’s sure. Launching into one of her typical raspy monologues, she responds, “It’s arguably the only thing I’m sure of. Basic concepts like time and space are suddenly eluding me. Last night this place was mayhem because the wi-fi went out, but in the new here and now, apparently gratuitous nudity is back in play. My past, your future. Begs the question: am I haunting you, or are you haunting me?”

Circumstances have changed, but Lyonne’s unflappable (or at least, very rarely flapped) Nadia—streaming’s quirky, acerbic breakout character of 2019—is a constant. She’s the kind of middle-aged arrested adolescent who grabs a cocktail first thing in the morning (after lighting a cigarette, of course), chooses both when offered a choice of uppers and downers, and impulsively sleeps with creeps from other eras she barely knows and likes even less. She acts drunk even when sober, but she’s grown into her identity: she’s permanently tipsy and supremely confident, with a mouth like Dorothy Parker if she been raised by a company of Jewish longshoremen. She’s a treasure, and the sole justification for reviving a series that successfully closed its loop back in 2019.

Lyonne puts her mark on the series, directing three of seven episodes this season (as opposed to only the finale of Season 1). She also becomes the only person credited with writing on every episode in the series: while the team of Lyonne and co-creators Leslye Headland and SNL-alum Amy Poehler wrote all of Season 1 together, Season 2 features a wider variety of scripters, with Lyonne the only constant. We suspect that her main contribution is Nadia’s dialogue, which remains as sharp as ever (“every time you compliment me, a cockroach gets its wings.”) Perhaps as a result of the larger writing staff, Season 2 is looser, almost reckless compared to the relatively tight focus of the debut season. The setting is no longer confined to modern day New York City, but ranges through time and space, from the crime-ridden city of 1982 (patrolled by red-bereted Guardian Angels) to Nazi-era Hungary and Cold War Berlin to an allegorical subway labyrinth of memory and regret.

Despite being as acerbic as ever, Nadia has become even more blasé about her dislocated realities, barely batting an eye (and definitely not dropping her cigarette) when she finds herself thrown backwards in time. This matter-of-factness reflects a thematic decision to never even hint why Nadia, and the similarly-situated but far more neurotic Alan, are the subjects of such wrenching temporal anomalies. This approach allows the story to focus purely on its symbolic meaning, which, in Nadia’s case, is coming to terms with her family’s dysfunctional past: she believes that if she can rescue the family Krugerrands, she can redeem her family’s legacy. Of course, things are never that simple, and in the series’ final two episodes the weirdness blooms as Nadia has created a series of paradoxes that throw her carefully laid plans into complete chaos.

It’s inevitable that Netflix’s “Russian Doll” will be compared to Amazon Prime’s “Undone“: two slightly trippy time-travel stories starring strong and sarcastic female leads, centered around the investigation of family histories. The main difference is cosmetic, if significant:”Undone”‘s uncanny valley rotoscoping versus “Doll”‘s traditional live action setting. “Doll” has more comedy (Nadia’s comebacks are a lot spikier than Alma’s); “Undone” takes its science fictional conceit more seriously, delving into time travel mechanics and hinting at some possible causes for the family’s gifts. I’ve tried, and I can’t pick a favorite between them. Stream them both, if you can.

The series’ nesting title is more apt this season (you’ll see why soon enough). Both seasons of “Russian Doll” stream exclusively on Netflix for the foreseeable future.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…manages to pack in big laughs, real emotional moments, and an effective time-traveling plot that fits right in with what happened during the show’s trippy first season.”–Joel Keller, Decider (contemporaneous)

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