All posts by Gregory J. Smalley (366weirdmovies)

Originally an anonymous encyclopediast who closely guarded his secret identity to prevent his occult enemies from exposing him, a 2010 Freedom of Information Act request revealed that "366weirdmovies" is actually Greg Smalley, a freelance writer and licensed attorney from Louisville, KY. His orientation is listed as "hetero" and his relationship status as "single," but Mr. Smalley's "turn-ons" and "favorite Michael Bay movie" were redacted from the FOIA report. Mr. Smalley is a member of the Online Film Critics Society.

CAPSULE: GUTBOY: A BADTIME STORY (2017)

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Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Nick Grant

FEATURING: David Homyk, MaryBeth Schroeder, voices of Will Cooper, Nick Reed, Misty Foster, Megan Rosen, Anthony Herrera

PLOT: Goot is tricked into selling his skin to Besto, and seeks revenge with the help of a similarly skinless “mermaid.”

Still from Gutboy: a Badtime Story (2017)

COMMENTS: Gutboy is a strange little creature, and the star of a strange little movie that occupies an odd niche on this site’s recommendation spectrum. The movie is slight and casual and doesn’t feel weighty or significant enough to challenge for a spot on our list of the weirdest films ever; and yet, it’s so darn weird that nearly every serious reader of this site will find something to enjoy in it. The “” tag affixed here is, therefore, an attempt to bring attention to this worthy amateur effort, while acknowledging that it doesn’t fit alongside some of the more serious or professional titles honored here.

Not that the movie doesn’t actually earn that “weirdest!” designation. (In fact, some argue that it works too hard for it.) Framed as a story told by an emcee to a sick boy who’s wheeled out before an audience of insects, the plot involves a fisherman tricked into selling his skin, who then immediately hooks a “mermaid” (a similarly skinless woman given to lines like “you learn a lot of things on the ocean floor… like how to please a man”) who tires to seduce him, and also grants him a wish. Gutboy doesn’t think to ask for his skin back, but instead asks to marry the policeman’s daughter. And the story just keeps getting odder when skin-merchant Besto breaks out his giants (portrayed by a well-toned couple of real live humans spray-painted gold) to wrestle for his amusement. Oh yes, and there are also musical numbers, ranging from show tunes to rockabilly and lo-fi punk and pop.

So yeah, it’s pretty strange. The marionettes are appropriately crude and grotesque: Gutboy and his paramour (who, after a brain-swapping mishap, becomes known as “Sophieguts Prettybutts”) look genuinely bloody, and for some reason have exposed brains. The other puppets are all quite ugly, too, bulbous and vaguely resembling antique Eastern European dolls, with sunken wooden eyes covered in black mold. The puppeteering is not particularly accomplished, but it doesn’t matter, given the project’s insouciant attitude. Any movie in which a wooden hooker on strings sings the line “porking me ain’t easy, and diddling me ain’t fun” isn’t aiming for much beyond cheap amusement.

The kitchen sink approach often turns a would-be weird movie into a unwatchable mess, but here it works to Gutboy‘s advantage, with each new quirk catching your attention, but not completely derailing the loose worldbuilding efforts. The movie is also helped immensely by its economical runtime: take out the four-minute introduction and the ten-minute post-credits “Titus Andronicus”-themed bonus short, and it runs just under an hour. Any longer, and it might have started to try your patience.

It might not surprise you to learn that Gutboy was a crowdfunded project. It played well enough in limited screenings that picked it up for distribution. It can now be seen free on Amazon Prime for subscribers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a triplike piece of weirdness that defies all sorts of logic – and that’s exactly why it works so well…”–Mike Haberfelner, (re) Search My Trash

ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY 25TH ANNUAL AWARDS (WITH OUR VOTES)

The Online Film Critics Society awards for 2021 are out. Two weird films did reasonably well in the nominations this year: The Green Knight and Titane each received multiple nominations, including for Best Picture, although neither won. Although hurt by its distribution strategy, Memoria nevertheless won a special technical award for Sound Design.

As always, despite the occasional levity in my tone, I take my voting responsibility seriously. I do not put forward weird films at the expense of worthier mainstream candidates just because it’s “my thing.” Here is the list of this year’s winners, along with my choices and a touch of personal commentary for the major categories.

BEST PICTURE

The Power of the Dog Winner: The Power of the Dog

Also nominated (listed in ranked order of final votes): Drive My Car, Licorice Pizza, Dune, The Green Knight, Pig, The Worst Person in the World, Titane, West Side Story, Belfast

My pick: The Green Knight

Comments: Jane Campion’s semi-Western drama led the field with nine nominations, and was a kind of consensus pick: it was not clearly artistically miles ahead of the other contenders in a strong year, but it likely was the most widely seen (via Netflix) and had the fewest negatives attached. It was nothing too fancy or chancy, but above average in every respect, from technical aspects to screenplay to acting. I thought The Green Knight did surprisingly well in the voting considering its many negatives: it was released in July and not fresh on anyone’s mind, it was almost a genre picture (though with a literary pedigree and an art-house sensibility), and it had moments of alienating weirdness (talking foxes, random processions of giants). In this case, just being nominated was, indeed, a victory.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Winner: The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Also nominated: Encanto, Flee, Luca, Raya and the Last Dragon

My pick: The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Comments: This movie for the YouTube/Snapchat generation has it all: family drama, a cross-eyed dog, contemporary technological satire, robot-fighting action, a giant demonic Furby, subtle references to other movies, and multiple cat filters. A Sony Pictures Animation film that got shelved due to Covid—before getting snapped up by Netflix—beating out two Disney offerings: it feels like a major upset.

BEST DIRECTOR

Winner: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

Also nominated: , Licorice Pizza; Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car; Steven Spielberg, West Side Story; , Dune

Continue reading ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY 25TH ANNUAL AWARDS (WITH OUR VOTES)

WHY AREN’T HOLLYWOOD FILMS STRANGE ANYMORE?

At the Fantasia Film Festival in 2016, before a screening of the punk video art black comedy She’s Allergic to Cats, I recall programmer Mitch Davis declaring that “weird is hot” in the then-current climate. Having run 366 Weird Movies for 8 years at the time, I was skeptical. Sure, scrappy filmmakers managed to squeeze out a handful of weird movies every year, but I consistently had trouble identifying ten truly weird ones for our year-end lists. Were things about to change for the strange?

Later that night, I asked underground director for his opinion on whether weird movies were “hot.” He said that when he described his work, most people happily responded “‘I’m OK with weird movies,’ but then you show them the weird movie and they’re like ‘ahhh… I didn’t get anything,’ and they’re completely confused and they hate the thing, and I’m like, ‘Ah, I knew it.’”

Still from She's Allergic to Cats (2016)
She’s Allergic to Cats (2016)

The next day I asked Allergic to Cats auteurs and if they thought weird movies were “hot.” They said the concepts they pitched for music videos for local L.A. bands were always rejected for being “too weird.” Reich said things started to change around the time Tim and Eric became popular, but they still had issues. Pitching a webseries, potential producers told them to make it more mainstream; then, they complained it wasn’t weird enough. “We were so outraged, we’d never been accused of not being weird before,” Pinkney laughed.

The point being, I—and the people working on the ground producing weird videos—are always skeptical when outsiders and marketers proclaim that out-of-the-ordinary is currently in demand. Have things changed in the movie industry in the six years since I last asked these questions in 2016? Variety‘s chief film critic Peter Debruge thinks the answer is “yes,” and he wrote a column titled “Why Are Indie Films So Strange Now?” to that effect. But, while Debruge’s observations are optimistic, I think his conclusions don’t match specialists’ expectations for what a true revival of the weird would look like.

To give credit where credit is due, Debruge applauds this “trend,” praising “unapologetically odd and original creations, led by a gifted group of rebel auteurs who don’t kowtow to popular expectations” and suggesting that there is a viewing “appetite [that] in turn supports an indie-film environment where directors are motivated to be more original, more surprising and all around more creative.” So far, so good. But is this really much different than the situation in previous decades? We here at 366 are not noticing a greater concentration of strange films than in prior years. Our own survey of Canonically Weird films by year found that weird movie production peaked between about 1968-1971. 2006, which was just outside the decade-long  weird movie renaissance Debruge postulates, was also a good year for strange films, and there were some notable Continue reading WHY AREN’T HOLLYWOOD FILMS STRANGE ANYMORE?

CAPSULE: HANGER (2009)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Ryan Nicholson

FEATURING: Dan Ellis, Nathan Dashwood, Wade Gibb, Ronald Patrick Thompson, , Candice Lewald (as Candice Le), Alastair Gamble

PLOT: A deformed 18-year old who survived a coat hanger abortion teams up with a vigilante to hunt down the pimp who killed his hooker mom.

Still from Hanger (2009)

COMMENTS: Tastelessness is one of the very few weapons low-budget filmmakers have in their arsenal that their big-budget counterparts can’t match. That is, at least, an explanation for Ryan Nicholson’s Hanger, if not an excuse. There is not much a movie with this kind of budget and shooting schedule can do to set itself apart from the pack of cheap VOD horrors—which themselves have to compete for scarce viewing eyes against the huge glut of what most audiences consider “real movies”—except to try to show you what Hollywood doesn’t dare.

In simpler times, exploitation films could survive on nudity, sex and violence, but since the big studios now dominate these niches, too, the scum at the bottom of the entertainment bucket are nudged instead towards the scatological, the pornographic, and the nihilistic. Hanger exists as a string of shock scenes hung on a dull and talky narrative that leads nowhere. We get a graphic (if incredibly fake-looking) coat hanger abortion; penis grilling; grotesque prosthetic putty slathered on nearly every character; prostitutes murdered with car doors; misogyny and homophobia; yellowface and Asian stereotyping; fart torture; the N-word; an explicit female masturbation scene; a stoma rape with chocolate pudding prop; tampon tea; bad gore effects, bad sound, and bad attempts at comedy. And, because talk is cheap, lots of talking.

Half-assed is the aesthetic choice here. Like its title character, Hanger is an ugly, angry outsider, fated to be a loser and pissed off about it. Unlike its title character (but like its comic relief character), it believes itself to be funny. I think. I didn’t laugh once, but it does appear that parts were intended to be humorous: specifically, scenes of the intensely annoying Wade Gibb, in a prosthetic mask narrowing his eyes to slits, talking in a high-pitched sing-songy “Chinaman” squeal straight out of a WWII-era propaganda film about how he loves tampons and other unfunny topics that are difficult to discern due to a combination of fake buck teeth, a badly crafted accent, and abysmal sound. These scenes double as painful comic relief and interminable padding. The movie’s highlight is Lloyd Kaufman’s appearance as a “tranny” prostitute who gets his penis burned off; Lloyd flew in, learned his lines when he arrived, shot his scene, and (wisely) got the hell out of there. If you’re unfortunate enough to see Hanger, you’ll spend more time watching it than Kaufman spent filming it.

The DVD and (2 disc!) Blu-ray are filled with an unusually high number of extras. Kaufman’s 11-minute behind-the-scenes home video is more entertaining than the entirety of the feature.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If you like this sort of stuff, have a good sense of humor, a strong stomach, and a pad on your floor, (you’ll need it for the number of times your jaw drops) you’ll come away from this singular experience with a new red badge of courage.”–Kurt Dahlke, DVD Talk (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by jef t-scale, who advised “think street trash but more trash and more weird.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE ELEMENT OF CRIME (1984)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Michael Elphick, Meme Lai, Esmond Knight, Jerold Wells

PLOT: Under hypnosis, a detective recalls a case where he tried to catch a serial killer by retracing his steps using investigatory techniques pioneered by his mentor in his book “The Element of Crime.”

Still from The Element of Crime (1984)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: The Element of Crime tells a (literally) hypnotic story soaked in doom and moral decay, with the film looking like it’s lit by the smoldering embers of an immolated Europe.

COMMENTS: Although he had made a 57-minute student film previously, The Element of Crime is Lars von Trier’s first true feature and his first commercial work. Though the atmosphere is narcotic, the work shows the energy of youth—the bold choice of shooting in an almost entirely orange palette being the most obvious example of the youthful preference for style over substance. The film does not show many hints of the shock provocateur von Trier would later become, nor is his edge of Jacobean cruelty fully honed yet, but those qualities are not missed in this dreamy mood piece.

Von Trier leans on noirish motifs, putting his own strange spin on them: a monochrome palette (jaundiced instead of shadowy), voiceover narration (sometimes supplied by the hypnotist), rain (constant downpours of almost parodic quantities), a femme fatale, and moral slippage (our detective’s mentor, Osborne, has clearly gone mad, and we justifiably fear that our hero may really become the killer he emulates). Other concerns are new: as the detective becomes more obsessed with the algorithmic process of retracing the steps of the predator, the police establishment grows increasingly fascist—suspects are beaten, and the police shave their heads to resemble their leader, Kramer, who prefers issuing edicts through a bullhorn. The rise of brute force, as opposed to the failed intellectualism of Osborne’s system?

The hero, Fisher, splashes through a world of constant rain and puddles. He is submerged; in his memory, in his subconscious, and in the procedure of entering a psychotic killer’s mindset, a procedure that threatens to pull him under. It’s no wonder that Fisher’s last words in the film are “you can wake me up now. Are you there?” It’s the plea of a man drowning in his own mind, the fished who no longer believes himself the fisher.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…here’s a chance to catch a master of bizarre lighting and film stock experimentation at an early point in his career… Unsettling and odd, it’s the perfect film for a dreary, rainy day.”–Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle

(This movie was nominated for review by future 366 contributor Caleb Moss, who said the story “seems to be a mix between Naked Lunch and Brazil.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES OF 2021

After tomorrow, 2021 will be in the books. Despite starting off with an attempted coup and ending with a new superinfectious mutant virus, the past twelve months were actually a little better than 2020—and that shows you where we’re at. As long as we’re in the end times, with plagues and insurrections and heat waves at Christmastime and half of Facebook praying that a secret cabal is really directing all this chaos, we might as well enjoy a few weird movies along the way—even if they’re increasingly starting to look like documentaries.

Actually, for the purposes of weird movie accounting, we put 2021 to bed last month. Our annual movie calendar ends on the last day of November, to allow 366 Weird Movies Yearbooks to go out in December. We’re not missing out on much; usually, December releases are limited to extended universe entries and Oscar bait dramas.

Keep an Eye Out is Au Poste!As always, there were hard cuts at the bottom of the list. The penned surrealist noir The Show, in particular, caught us off guard with a late November Blu-ray drop. The conspiracy horror The Empty Man scored well with some of our staff, but came up empty in the end. The elegiac, absurdist sketches of ‘s About Endlessness were weighty and weird, but fell victim to more-of-the-same syndrome. ‘s eerily noisy Memoria certainly would have made this list, but it didn’t make it’s official debut until December. And of course, a couple of festival favorites bearing 2021 copyright dates—the whimsical dream auditing romance Strawberry Mansion and ‘s decades-in-the-making Boschian stop-motion hellscape Mad God—haven’t been distributed yet and will have to wait until a future year for consideration.

I personally finalize this list. The staff here has input, but I set the voting rules, create the universe of candidates, and break all ties. Therefore, if you feel that it’s a crime that Titane comes in at a lousy #4 instead of the #1 any idiot can see it so obviously deserves, I am the idiot to blame. When ranking, I use a secret proprietary formula that accounts for cinematic craftsmanship, the degree of surrealism/weirdness, and the perceived prestige in the weird movie community based on buzz and reader feedback, then I shuffle them into whatever arbitrary order I momentarily feel like without regard to any of that.

So, on to the official Weirdest Movies of 2021 List! As always, films are listed in random order—the weirdest of orders.

9. UndergodsTwo corpse collectors link tales—sometimes via Continue reading TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES OF 2021