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: BACURAU (2019)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:  Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho

FEATURING: Bárbara Colen, , Sonia Braga, Thomas Aquino

PLOT: A group of killers isolate a small Brazilian village intending to massacre the residents for recreation, but find the peasants are more resourceful than they anticipated.

Still from Bacurau (2019)

COMMENTS: Seeing the word “weird” used to describe a movie like Bacurau reminds us just how jaded we here at 366 Weird Movies are. The only unusual features of this Brazilian export are its slightly unconventional blend of art-house drama with ballsy genre filmmaking, along with some mild psychotropic visions and one quirky flying-saucer shaped drone. It may be a weird brew for general American audiences—the ones who would never go see a foreign or independent film anyway—or to professional critics who prefer to stick to the realist side of the art-house scene… but this sociological-study-cum-shoot-em-up isn’t exactly Let the Corpses Tan.

With it’s magnificent landscapes, including some local cacti that could pass for Saguaro, Bacurau evokes the mythic West of Sergio Leone: it could be Once Upon a Time in Brazil. The opening scene includes a litter of coffins spilled onto the road leading into town, which sure reinforces that connection. By the end, when the resourceful tribe defends their eerily deserted town from the better-equipped invaders, the Bacurau takes on the shape of The Seven Samurai.

The first forty-five minutes paint a portrait of the hamlet of perhaps one hundred souls, planted in the middle of nowhere. A matriarch, the ancestor of a large percentage of the population, has just died, and nursing student Teresa returns, bearing a suitcase of vaccines, to attend her grandmother’s funeral. The town has a teacher, a doctor, a whore, a DJ who serves as the town crier and local news anchor when not pumping out the jams, and so forth; it also has a rather large library and a museum devoted to the town’s history. Things get strange when Bacurau suddenly disappears from Google Maps, a UFO is spotted, and bullet holes are found in the tanker truck that supplies them with fresh water. The nature of the trouble soon becomes apparent; a tour group of American thrill-killers have paid a small fortune to hunt these forgotten people for sport. The killing starts in the final act, but although squibs are not spared and plenty of red stuff splashes around, it’s not the action-packed bloodbath you might expect. Steering away from exploitative spectacle as much as possible (given the scenario), the killings are spread out, as the invaders are picked off one by one. You might guess that Udo Kier, the oldest, evilest, and most famous of the bad guys is the last one to go. I’ll never tell.

Many note that with the sympathetic portrayal of the villagers’ “degeneracy” (casual nudity and free love, acceptance of homosexuality, and liberal use of ethnobotonicals)—and the presence of crooked con-man mayor Tony Jr., representing provincial corruption—the film takes its shots at homophobic, right-wing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. Capitalism itself also comes in for quite a thrashing. On the other hand, Bolsonaro might be pleased with the film’s xenophobia aimed at the stereotyped Western interlopers (Kier is not a Nazi, he insists, shooting a companion to prove his point). He might also approve of the derision heaped on the invaders’ big city Brazilian allies, traitorous globalist collaborators shamelessly manipulated by shadowy outsiders. The line between anti-colonialism and populist nationalism is thin indeed.

Pulled from American theaters early due to the Covid-19 crisis, Bacurau is currently streaming via Kino Now. They have thoughtfully set up a system whereby the independent theaters that were supposed to screen the film can share the streaming revenue (check here for the list of participating venues). Kino probably could have kept all the revenue to themselves, as Disney did with the digital release of Onward, so they deserve massive respect for this move. Bacurau is not only a quality film, it’s a good way to support small (and big) businesses in a dry season.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“’Bacurau’ is definitely weird, a quasi-Western mashed up with psychedelic sci-fi and political satire.”–Jeffrey Anderson, San Francisco Examiner (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: VEROTIKA (2019)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Glenn Danzig

FEATURING: Ashley Wisdom, Rachel Alig, Alice Haig, Scotch Hopkins

PLOT: Three tales of “violent eroti(k)a”: a woman’s albino spider kills when she sleeps, a stripper cuts off women’s faces, and a Countess bathes in blood.

Still from Veroitka (2019)

COMMENTS: I’ve got this crazy theory that heavy metal musicians should not be allowed to make horror movies as vanity projects. Sure, has directed a couple that weren’t totally embarrassing (and many more that were); after that, the field was slim… until Verotika comes along to (hopefully) put the final nail in the headbanger crossover coffin. You may have heard this film is bad. It’s worse than that. Watch it to the end and you’ll be begging for the sweet release of death.

Each of the three segments—adapted from Danzig’s horror comic series of the same name—is introduced by a nondescript goth chick, who’s comelier than the Cryptkeeper but has nowhere near the sense of humor (after gouging out a captive woman’s eyeballs in the opening, the best she can come up with is “Welcome, my darklings, this is Verotika.” Whatever happened to lines like “Welcome to our cornea-copia of horror, my pupils!”?)

The first story, “The Albino Spider of Dajette,” is the “best.” It features a French girl (Wisdom) with eyeballs on her nipples (a la Gothic). She also has an albino spider who turns anthropomorphic whenever she falls asleep and goes out and snaps hooker’s necks. Are these two freaky deformities related? No, it’s just an incredible coincidence that eye-nipple girl also owns a killer dream spider. The spider-man makeup is not bad, but he merely goes around killing random lingerie-clad women when his strawberry-shortcake-haired mistress dozes off at her S&M photoshoots or at the porn theater (where she goes to see a screening of Les Nue sans Visage to try to stay awake). By far, the funniest part is watching Wisdom try to express—well… any emotion—in a stereotypical Pepe le Pew accent. (Lines like “keeler… keeler… you… are a murderair!” are a lot funnier when delivered in a blasé French accent.)

Another plus is that “Albino Spider” is the only segment that has anything resembling a conclusion. If you wanted to stop watching after the first installment, you’d have my blessing. If you wanted to stop watching after the opening credits, even better. But if you soldier on, you’ll see that “Change of Face” is about a stripper who steals the faces of pretty girls with breast implants. It’s the kind of kink a serial killer might get up to in Psycho or Silence of the Lambs, but here, no reason is suggested for her actions. (Beat cop, standing over the bloody corpse of a face-stripped victim: “We’ve got nothing. Zero evidence, which means no leads or motive.” Detective: “There’s your motive. They wanted her face.”) The detective chases her, but she just moves to another gentlemen’s club and changes her stage name from “Mystery Girl” to “Mysteria.” Now, the heat will never catch up to her, and she will continue to de-face harlots for eternity.

After a while, we move on to the final story, “Drukija: Contessa of Blood.” Apparently threats of litigation from Elizabet Báthory’s estate made them change the protagonist’s name, but it’s the familiar old story of a decadent Eastern European noblewoman who buys up the local village virgins and bathes in their blood to keep up her youthful appearance (this was in the days before you could get two-day delivery on Pond’s Rejuveness Anti-Wrinkle cream from Amazon.hu). This Countess also indulges in jugular showers, enlists the help of a wolf, and pulls the beating heart out of a nude girl. She doesn’t, however, follow any kind of plot arc—she starts out bleeding virgins, continues to bleed virgins, and ends up bleeding virgins. None of the locals care, and neither will you.

Birth. Movies. Death. suggested crowd-watching this atrocity on Twitter. As far as I can see, the response was about as enthusiastic as Ashley Wisdom’s line-readings after discovering her best friend has just been killed by an anthropomorphic spider. This isn’t the metalhead horror movie version of The Room, folks. It’ s not even Sharknado. You’ve been warned. Avoid. Avoid. AVOID.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The inexplicable choices and illogical elements give the film a hypnotic vibe. Verotika is a thoroughly baffling work that has to be seen to be believed. And aficionados of movies that are crazy-town banana-pants absolutely should see it.”–Mike McGranaghan, Aisle Seat (festival screening)

HOW ABOUT A WEIRD NETFLIX PARTY FOR SHUT-IN WEIRDOS?

With Netflix parties all the rage in this season of quarantine, we bring you a modest proposal: how about a 366-based Netflix party of our own?

If you’re not aware, the Netflix party is an app via a Chrome extension that allows a group of invitees to simultaneously watch a video on Netflix, while chatting in a window.

It requires:

  • Access to Netflix (U.S. version only—everyone will be watching the same stream)
  • A Chrome browser on a desktop or laptop (apparently mobile is not supported yet)
  • The Netflix Party extension (available here: per the developers, you may want to wait until tomorrow to download the latest version,  1.7.7, which fixes a major bug)

We’re just floating the idea right now, but it might help to create a sense of community on 366. If successful, it could become a regular feature.

But what we want right now is suggestions for what to watch. It must be something in Netflix’s catalog. It could be a Canonically Weird movie, a list candidate, or something altogether different and unexpected. Weird (or at least pseudo-weird) would be best. We suggest limiting ourselves to individual movies rather than series, but we’ll bow to the consensus.

We’ll also need to know what time is convenient. We feel like most 366 offerings play best around midnight, so our preference would be starting at 11:00 PM EST on Saturday night.

G. Smalley will throw out the first suggestion: The Platform,  a Snowpiercer/High Rise style social satire that probably totters at the edge of weird without diving off the deep end. It’s gotten good reviews, and is something we might not investigate without a special excuse.

Feel free to add other suggestions (and best times for you to watch) in the comments below. If we get enough interest and nominees we’ll set up a poll, and schedule a time. If not, nothing was lost except the real estate this post takes up on the front page.

Chat logs may be posted, if they are amusing.

CAPSULE: ROBOGEISHA (2009)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Aya Kiguchi, Hitomi Hasebe,

PLOT: A pair of geisha sisters are abducted by an executive of an evil arms corporation, who plays on their sisterly rivalry to turn them into cyborg killing machines.

Still from RoboGeisha (2009)

COMMENTS: In 2008, Noboru Iguchi made a movie called The Machine Girl about a Japanese schoolgirl who installs a Gatling gun in her arm and goes on a murderous rampage of revenge. A year later, he came out with RoboGeisha, which is totally different. This one is about two geishas who install Gatling guns in their breasts and go on a murderous rampage of revenge.

There are other major differences between the two flicks, of course. RoboGeisha takes a (slightly) more serious stab at a plot than Machine Girl‘s bog-standard revenge template. It features two sisters with an unexpectedly complex love/hate dynamic (“sisters are… complicated,” says one, after the other appears to have been blown up during an assassination). Their relationship even comes with a minor twist at the end. RoboGeisha also favors comedy over the nonstop action and gore that marked Machine Girl. RoboGeisha‘s budget seems to be lower than its sister’s; nearly all of the special effects are rendered in CGI rather than through practical effects. The ludicrous sparkly gunshot effects from Machine Girl are carried over, but the sudden reliance on digitized blood spatters is especially disconcerting. The computerization sort of wastes the talents of special effects director , who’s at his best when building prosthetic limbs for Iguchi to lop off and hooking up hoses full of red karo syrup for him to direct onto the faces of his long-suffering actors and actresses.

I personally think that the tweaks Iguchi made to the formula result in an improved product. Many disagree. Gorehounds, in particular, may be disappointed by the paucity of severed heads and the bare trickle of scarlet bursting from neck-holes. And many complain that the focus on plot at the expense of action slows down the nonsense. To me, however, the relative restraint in the violence allows the movie to focus on the absurdity that is what I treasure in this trash. Acid breast milk, a folk protest song, fried shrimp eye-gouging, brain-caressing, and bleeding buildings are among the bizarro attractions to be found in this sleazy funhouse. And this is a movie  that doesn’t simply posit the existence of cybernetic butt-swords; it explicitly demonstrates how awkward a duel would be when the contestants have to crane their necks over their shoulders and backpedal into each to parry and thrust (while muttering, “how embarrassing”). That’s the kind of attention to detail Western B-movies tend to gloss over.

As was often the case with Japanese B-movies of this ilk and period, the DVD release contains a bonus “spin-off” short utilizing leftover sets, costumes and concepts. This one is called “GeishaCop: Fearsome Geisha Cops – Go to Hell” and is partly centered around a plot device requiring girl-on-girl kissing.  It includes a scene where members of the geisha army, still incognito as Kageno Steel Manufacturing workers, drink the blood of male captives during their lunch break, leading the protagonist to declare, with what some might view as understatement: “Something about this is strange. This is one twisted office.”

Unfortunately, the DVD is out of print in North America, and the available VOD version does not include the short, and offers only the English-dubbed version, to boot. It’s still worth a look if you like this genre.

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Reader review by “Cletus”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s not that I loved either of the team’s previous efforts… but at least each had moments of truly unique creativity and even beauty amongst all the strange and grotesque gore. ‘Robogeisha’, however, contains only concepts, weird ideas and a few moments of self-reflexive humour. Otherwise it was mostly a pretty big bore.”–Bob Turnbull, “Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind” (festival screening)

CAPSULE: TERROR FIRMER (1999)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Alyce LaTourelle, Trent Haaga, Lloyd Kaufman

PLOT: A serial killer picks off members of a film crew making a -style movie.

Still from Terror Firmer (1999)

COMMENTS: once said, “It’s easy to be shocking, but it’s hard to be witty and shocking.”

I’m not sure Terror Firmer, and Lloyd Kaufman’s Troma output in general, wants to be either shocking or witty. In a movie that begins with a baby ripped out of the womb inside the first minute, it seems easy to make a case for the former. But since everything is played as a joke in the very broadest terms possible—e.g., when a man’s hand is cut off, he takes a bite of his own bloody stump, for no conceivable reason—the impact of the shock scenes is greatly diminished. It’s not as taboo-busting as Pink Flamingos (although it does have a number of rape jokes, which, besides racist and homophobic jokes, are perhaps the last real taboos left in existence.) Troma may poke at political correctness, but they don’t really take a stand behind any of their offensive ideas, playing them off as toothless gags as quickly as possible. What they really aim at is not to be shocking so much as to be simply gross—thus, the rivers and rivers of bodily fluids and waste, from director Lloyd Kaufman blindly peeing all over a fornicating couple to the killer puking voluminously over a couple of Frenchmen. As a grossout spectacle, Terror Firmer reaches a pinnacle that even John Waters couldn’t have dreamed up (though a few frat parties I went to in the 80s might have approached it).

As for witty… I’m not sure that was a big point of emphasis in the script. Yes, there are a couple of clever film industry jokes at the expense of self-important targets like Stephen Spielberg, “Cahiers du Cinéma” and Penny Marshall; and, for fairness’ sake, jokes at the expense of Troma’s own lack of taste, quality, and continuity. But in general, Lloyd Kaufman’s instinct is to go lowbrow, and to go for quantity above quality. The comedy calculus seems to be: if they can fit in four jokes a minute, that’s almost five hundred gags in the movie, and at least three or four of them will land. Terror Firmer isn’t witty, but it’s busy. Take, for example, a random but representative scene involving the shooting of the movie-within the movie from the middle of the picture. It’s set at a vegetarian rally and in the space of a minute it brings in protesters in bikinis, a surly script supervisor with a mohawk, a honking crotch sound effect, a piece of liver on a string, and a man in a cow suit with a functioning udder that leaks greenish milk; it ends with a scatological eruption. The result of such scenes, packed with chaotic, trashy punk mise-en-scène, is a movie that’s better in its tiny details than it is in its grand design. The movie’s frenzied parade of freaks and outrageousness keeps you from getting bored even when the juvenile jokes aren’t carrying the lame plot. It’s a Tromatic as any movie has ever been.

Bottom line: Terror Firmer is gross and busy rather than shocking and witty. But you can’t say that a movie with prosthetic hermaphrodite genitals, a naked fat guy running through the streets of New York City, and a puppet crucifixion (complete with dangling severed hand) isn’t going all-out for your attention.

The cast is huge. Will Keenan, who also starred in Tromeo & Juliet (1996), may be the closest thing to leading man material to appear in a Troma film. He reminds me a little of a slightly less handsome with slightly better acting chops (his impression isn’t too bad). Alyce LaTourelle does a decent job as the only straight character in the madness, but was never seen again after this. Kaufman is as goofy as one would expect; his lack of comic timing is itself a running joke. Trent Haaga got this part (his film debut) by publishing positive reviews of Troma movies; he later wrote screenplays (The Toxic Avenger IV, Deadgirl) and fashioned a career as a character actor. supplies most of the eye candy. Ron Jeremy and Lemmy from Motorhead have cameo roles (Lemmy’s is funny).

Dedicated fans may want to pick up 2020’s “20th Anniversary” Blu-ray release, but it’s arguably no improvement over the original 2-disc DVD release, whose special features it mostly recycles. Troma’s grimy visual style doesn’t really scream out for high definition. This print has also been reformatted to a widescreen presentation, when the original was deliberately shot in a 4:3 ratio intended to fit 1999 television screens. A new introduction from Kaufman and a fifteen-minute reunion featurette are the only bonuses not found on the original release.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…pic wallows in bad puns and good bods and evinces a gung-ho approach that’s either refreshing or tiresome depending on one’s age and IQ.”–Lisa Nesselson, Variety (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: HORSE GIRL (2020)

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DIRECTED BY: Jeff Baena

FEATURING: Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, Matthew Gray Gubler

PLOT: A young woman with a family history of mental illness becomes paranoid that aliens are affecting her behavior.

Still from Horse Girl (2020)

COMMENTS: The title Horse Girl conjures up a specific archetype: not merely a girl who’s interested in horses (many girls are), but a girly-girl so relentlessly feminine that she makes people uncomfortable and ends up relating to steeds better than humans. Sarah (Brie) works at an arts and crafts shop selling beads and yarn, and won’t stop hanging out at the stable decorating Willow’s mane with her homemade lanyards, even though the owners hint that she’s not really welcome anymore. Other than a kind older lady at the shop (Shannon), she has no real friends, and spends most of her time watching the supernatural TV soap “Purgatory.” Her roommate tries setting her up with a friend-of-a-friend who’s on the rebound from a failed relationship. But Sarah’s social awkwardness takes a turn for the worse after she starts having dreams about a glowing ramp hanging over the ocean and a white-on-white room where she sees sleeping people whom she kind of recognizes…

What are we to think of a character who asks her ear nose and throat doctor, “Is there a test to see if I’m a clone?” Sarah has proto-schizophrenic fantasies about alien abductions and time travel, but the script never offers serious evidence that her theories are more than the ravings of a madwoman. Rather than suspecting and hoping (as we do with Donnie Darko) that there might be an alternate, plausible, high-stakes sci-fi explanation for our protagonist’s inner turmoil, we’re left watching a character’s sad decline into madness. Sarah’s total psychotic break happens abruptly, and the last act of the film is essentially a long hallucination broken up by a few conversations with her caseworker. The scenes are weird, yes, but we never get the psychological depth in her backstory that would make her delusions meaningful. We aren’t even explicitly told why she’s so attached to her horse—it’s left to us to put two and two together. Without a close emotional connection to Sarah, and without a narrative investment in her crazy clone theory, we can’t identify with her; we’re left to pity the poor horse girl rather than empathize with her. We watch Brie move through glowing white rooms; we watch her wrap herself (and her horse) in a homemade anti-alien suit. But it’s a depiction of madness rather than a submersion in madness. Despite it’s best efforts, Horse Girl keeps us on the outside of Sarah’s head, looking in.

Brie is very good in the role, socially stunted during the first half and dazed and terrified when her psychic dam breaks. Horse Girl is clearly a passion project for her (she co-wrote the script, basing Sarah on her own personal history, since Brie’s grandmother was a paranoid schizophrenic). This makes it all the more tragic that, despite her fervent portrayal, the story isn’t as gripping as it might have been.

Horse Girl comes with a tiny bit of controversy. The film has been accused of ripping off plot elements and story beats, and even lifting entire shots, from an earlier low-budget indie: 2017’s The God Inside My Ear. 366 Weird Movies is neutral on the question.

Horse Girl is currently a Netflix exclusive movie.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This is a dark movie that gets weird for no good reason, and it feels like the project becomes a victim of writers (Baena and Alison Brie) who can’t figure out the ending to their story so they take the weird route.”–Louisa Moore,  Screen Zealots (festival screening)

CAPSULE: DISAPPEARANCE AT CLIFTON HILL (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Albert Shin

FEATURING: Tuppence Middleton, Hannah Gross, Eric Johnson,

PLOT: Returning home to Niagara Falls after her mother’s death, a woman remembers a childhood incident that haunted her—witnessing a one-eyed boy being abducted in the woods—and decides to investigate.

Still from Disappearance at Clifton Hill (2019)

COMMENTS: Clifton Hill is a tourist trap street in Niagara Falls, Canada. Although a memorable scene in Disappearance at Clifton Hill occurs at Clifton Hill, the titular disappearance doesn’t occur there. Make of that bit of misdirection what you will.

The disappearance we’re concerned with occurs upriver, and about twenty-five years before Abby returns to Niagara Falls after her mother’s death. Abby wants to preserve Rainbow Inn, the old family business which has fallen into disrepair, from being bought up by the Charles Lake corporation; her sister wants to sell and move on with life. Browsing through mom’s old photographs turns up a picture that sparks Abby’s memory of the day she saw the boy abducted, and she begins investigating. Her followups bring her into contact with a podcaster and local historian who operates out of a UFO-shaped cafe and who knows where the bodies aren’t buried, a husband and wife magic act modeled on Siegfried and Roy, and the dashing Charles Lake III. Evidence of what might have happened to the boy builds slowly, while a series of glitchy, tiger-infected dreams that look like bad montages edited on third-generation VHS tapes liven things up (and provide the film’s sole weird moments).

The ultimate mystery has as much to do with Abby’s past, slowly revealed through her interactions with her sister and others, as it does with the disappearance she’s investigating. Abby’s backstory isn’t a twist, exactly; it’s more of a change of focus that turns Disappearance from a thriller into a character study. The movie’s eventual revelations about Abby do, however, illuminate a couple of incidents that might not have made complete sense otherwise (for example, why Abby’s parents never contacted the police after the incident in the woods). The switch of emphasis works; the script slowly (and purposefully) undermines its own narrative.

Full of psychological unease rather than jump scares, Clifton Hill plays well within its budget. Superior writing elevates it from merely a “modest thriller” to a “modest-but-clever thriller.” An ace performance from lead Tuppence Middleton carries the film, aided by an unnerving woodwind and synth score.

In some quarters, much is being made of David Cronenberg‘s small role as a podcaster (first seen in a wetsuit). While Old Croney holds his own against the more established actors, there’s nothing revelatory in his performance. The significance of his presence has more to do with his endorsement of the film, which is a major marketing point for a not-flashy indie that relies on a slow-burn to pull you in.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Shin isn’t shy about laying on quirky details and liberal oddball splashes to make his third film swing from bizarrely entertaining  to dark (helped by an excellent moody score from instrumental group BadBadNotGood).”–Linda Barnard, Original Cin (contemporaneous)