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.

SLAMDANCE 2019 REMOTE COVERAGE

We didn’t get to fly out to Park City this year for the Sundance festivities (our budget has never allowed for trips to Park City), the rival Slamdance Festival was kind enough to offer us a handful of digital screeners to create a virtual fest in the 366 Weird Movies home offices. So, while I didn’t get the full audience experience watching these underground films—chuckling with fellow patrons at the antics of these onscreen loonies while the scent of popcorn wafts through the darkened room—at least you won’t have to hear me complain about trekking through Park City’s sub-zero temperatures to see them (I watched them via Chromecast in front of a roaring gas fireplace clutching a glass of beer, thank you very much).

Obviously, we focused only on movies we thought sounded somewhat weird, ignoring the vanilla dramas and documentaries that make up the bulk of the programming. All of these films will have debuted by the time you’re reading this, but if you’re in Park City and you still want to catch them, Dollhouse and The Vast of Night play again on the 28th, while “Slip Road” can be seen on the same night in the “Anarchy Shorts” section.  A Great Lamp and “Finding the Asshole” play again on the 29th (and “Asshole” is also now available to everyone online), while “Butt Fantasia” encores on the 31st.

So, while “major” critics are salivating over Sundance’s latest dramas about attractive young white people grappling with their mommy and daddy issues, we’ll show you what’s going on in the underbelly of Park City, where the weirdos congregate to screen their latest experimental offenses about unattractive young white people grappling with much weirder mommy and daddy issues.

Speaking of weird mommy issues, first up in our queue is Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity in American Popular Culture (don’t worry, the scary pseudoacademic title is part of the joke). Using an aesthetic borrowed from “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story” and a sense of humor derived from “South Park,” Nicole Brending tells of the rise and fall of Junie Spoons, a child superstar a la Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus, entirely with children’s dolls. This project was a labor of love by Brending, who launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 that failed to reach its goal, but kept hope alive and managed to complete the film (for a reported budget of “no money”) five years later.

Still from Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity from American Popular Culture (2018)Even if it’s unpolished and uneven, that kind of personal passion usually results in something worth watching, and that’s the case here. Dollhouse provides steady chuckles and is frequently in very bad taste—especially considering that its mockumentary subject becomes a washed-up, drug addicted divorcee felon in her early teens. Among the -approved provocations are a pre-teen sex tape (with pixellated doll penis), dolls stuck with syringes, black men voiced by white women, Mapplethrope photos, and a vagina transplant/repossession. The Continue reading SLAMDANCE 2019 REMOTE COVERAGE

CAPSULE: STRAIGHT TO HELL (1987)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Joe Strummer, Dick Rude, Courtney Love

PLOT: Three gangsters, with a pregnant girlfriend in tow, blow an assignment, rob a bank, and hide out in a Central American village ruled by a band of coffee-addicted desperadoes.

Still from Straight to Hell (1987)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This silly, violent and absurd attempt at a Western comedy made by non-comedians doesn’t really work, except as a curio.

COMMENTS: The story behind Straight to Hell is that filmmaker Alex Cox had assembled a number of punk bands for a concert in Nicaragua, which had to be canceled due to political turmoil. With his schedule involuntarily cleared and time on his hands, he sat down with a guy named Dick Rude (!) and scratched out a movie script in three days, using the musicians and whoever was available on short notice as actors. The result is a silly spoof, made on the spur of the moment, with punk rockers trying to be comedians. There’s a party vibe, and it’s clear that the cast and crew had a blast farting around in the desert. It’s equally clear that you will never have as much fun watching it as they did making it.

Sy Richardson (whom Cox had worked with before on Repo Man and Sid and Nancy) was one of the few actual actors available for the project on short notice, so the prolific character actor gets a rare featured role here, and makes the best of the opportunity. (Because he’s cool, black, and wears a suit and tie while brandishing a gun, he’s often pointed to as a precursor to Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules in Pulp Fiction). The Clash’s Joe Strummer is second-in-command, while Rude takes the role of the youngest and jumpiest of the gang. Courtney Love is Sy’s shrill, preggo girlfriend, who’s so effectively annoying that they effectively write her out of the script after the setup. Besides the main cast, Eighties underground culture aficionados can keep an eye out for cameos by the Pogues, Elvis Costello, Grace Jones, , and even .

And yes, it is weird, although more in the vein of a spectacularly drunk Mel Brooks than of . The credits list a “sex and cruelty consultant” (a bit tongue-in-cheekly, since there’s not terribly much of either). What you do get it some attempted slapstick from musicians trying to be comics, scenes spoofing Once Upon the Time in the West and Cool Hand Luke, hard-to-understand accents (not only from the rotten-toothed Shane MacGowan), a Western hot dog vendor, a butler who serves coffee to desperate killers, a barrelhouse piano version of “Night on Bald Mountain,” a musical number (including “Danny Boy”) or two, and a long conclusory shootout to prune the cast (including a few extra bodies like Jarmusch who show up at the last minute to get mowed down). Perhaps the oddest touch of all are two brief shots of Ray Harryhausen-style animated skeletons: a wolf who howls at the moon and a human clutching a knife between its teeth. It’s like Cox bought a few seconds of unused footage from a Charles Band production and shoehorned them into his movie at random. Whatever charm Straight to Hell possesses comes from the fact that you seldom have any idea what will happen next.

The story is supposedly based on the Canonically Weird Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!—Cox went so far as to secure the adaptation rights—but the similarities between the two films are completely superficial. Remastered with new digital gore effects and re-released in a director’s cut in 2010, Straight to Hell is obscure, but Kino-Lorber’s 2018 edition with director’s commentary is actually its third appearance on DVD (it was released by Anchor Bay in 2001, and by Microcinema DVD under the title Straight to Hell Returns in 2010). The film is also available on Blu-ray or streaming outlets.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s a very weird vibe, and it requires one to not only accept, but also embrace, boredom. If the movie has one theory, it’s this: if you stare long enough at a certain spot, something weird and cool is bound to happen.”–Jeffery M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid (DVD)

APOCRYPHA

An administrative announcement, just so the review above makes sense: we have completed the List of 366 Weird Movies, which henceforth will be referred to as “Canonically Weird,” or “the Canon.”

As previously announced, we will be continuing to honor other films, at a slower pace; once officially confirmed, these supplemental entries will be listed as “Apocryphally Weird,” or “the Apocrypha.”  Therefore, Umbilical World counts as an “Apocrypha Candidate.”

We’ll be using this terminology from now on. You can consider all former “List Candidates” to be converted to “Apocrypha Candidates” automatically. Now we return you to your regularly scheduled weirdness.

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: UMBILICAL WORLD (2018)

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of David Firth, Paul MacKenzie, Christian Webb

PLOT: A remixed collection of David Firth’s absurdist flash animation cartoons, like “Salad Fingers” and “Health Reminder,” assembled into a stream-of-consciousness feature with some new material.

Still from Umbilical World (2018)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The nature of the project—an anthologized (though “remixed”) collection of previously published material as opposed to something originally conceived as a unified piece—makes Umbilical World somewhat suspect as an official List entry. There is enough bizareness here to merit the “” tag, however, and that will be more than enough endorsement for many folks.

COMMENTS: Umbilical World begins with “Salad Fingers,” the sweet green goblin with vegetable digits (and David Firth’s most popular creation) struck by lightning and dissolving into a puddle, out of which a glistening umbilical organ rises and glides into low Earth orbit, where it grows on to have relations with celestial objects.

It’s totally and delightfully surreal, of course, but this opening is also a way of implying connectivity between these shorts, although in reality there is no serious connective tissue between the segments. The absurdist miniatures here range from the silly tale of Salad Fingers adopting some sort of oil-soaked battered tin war surplus cylinder, to a skit with skinless gangsters using twisted Prohibition-era slang to order drinks, to straight-up satires of ads and public-service announcements, to a truly nightmarish bit involving a razor-taloned doctor puppet who wounds a horse and feasts on its blood. (Those who have only been exposed to Firth’s lighter, satirical side may be shocked by how terrifyingly dark he can go.) There is, at least, a unity of style and attitude, themes of insanity and death and despair and tubes suck through your skull, and a consistent vein of coal-black humor used to cope with these existential terrors. Extra-weird bits include a character vomiting scrabble tiles when questioned by a head sticking out of a tree stump—not to mention a baby-faced umbilicus entering a photograph of a vagina, emerging from a photograph of an anus, and vomiting eyeballs. There’s a new insane concept once every thirty seconds on average. And there are a surprising number of decapitations—usually not fatal—running throughout the work.

The transitions between the sequences are new material, with ideas like Salad Fingers taking place on a microscopic world on a piece of moldy bread. Characters also watch new cartoons on televisions embedded in the back of other characters heads. Stylistically, much of the animation remains true to Firth’s original flash versions, updated to HD; there are also segments dabbling in an ultra-grotesque form of cutout animation, with cross-eyed photorealistic heads bobbling unsteadily on animated bodies. One extended, trippy bit of digital manipulation, where 21st century  amoebas morph in pseudo-3D over the image before exploding into a fractal supernova and then turning into a stop-motion / homage with mannequin heads and a spinning plate of fruit and sundered body parts, ventures into brave new territory. The music—by Flying Lotus, the late Marcus Fjellström, and others—is eerie and well-matched to the mood. And while the individual pieces featured here may work better as shorts—there can be too much of a good thing, at least in one sitting—the experience is like leaving Firth’s YouTube channel on autoplay while waiting for the drugs to kick in, then checking in just when you’re peaking to find something on that plays like a collaboration between , , and a serial killer.

On a personal level, I was only familiar with the three Firth shorts previously published on these pages, plus a few more we screened and passed over for another day. I suspect someone like me may be in the best position to appreciate this collection. If you have too much familiarity with Firth’s work, you might be disappointed in how little new material is here, or be upset if your personal favorite was left out. If you have too little familiarity with Firth’s work, you might miss out on a bit of context or some of the umbilical connections, or simply be stunned by the mix of -style jokes with nightmares that would make bolt up in bed screaming. In any case, there is an obvious pitch to this work: Firth has worked hard publishing on YouTube to build a fan base, but paltry streaming advertising revenues don’t pay the bills for 99% of content providers. Like a Kickstarter reward, Umbilical World offers fans a chance to show him a little financial support, and to receive something new and exclusive in exchange. Umbilical World also immortalizes Firth’s work in a less ephemeral fashion. It’s available streaming (click here for options), or on DVD with a bonus “making of” documentary and director’s commentary.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“In terms of the vibe, think Bill Plympton crossed with Eraserhead.”–Joe Bendel, J.B. Spins

366. THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920)

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari

“Isn’t it true—it’s the Director who’s insane!”–The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Friedrich Feher, , Lil Dagover

PLOT: A young man, Francis, sits on a bench in the garden of an insane asylum; when a woman walks by in a trance, he explains to a bystander that she is his fiancée, and launches into the strange story of how she ended up here. He tells the tale of how a mesmerist, Dr. Caligari, came to his town with a sideshow, exhibiting a “somnambulist” who predicted the deaths of citizens who were later found murdered. After his best friend and romantic rival turns up among the victims, Francis launches his own investigation into Caligari, tracking him to the insane asylum where he discovers that the doctor, under a different name, is actually the director of the facility…

Still from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

BACKGROUND:

  •  The script was co-written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, two pacifists. Mayer had feigned madness to escape military service during World War I. Despite signing a contract allowing the producer to make whatever changes he deemed necessary, they strenuously objected to the addition (or the alteration; accounts differ) of the framing story.
  • discovered the script and was originally supposed to direct, until scheduling conflicts prevented his participation.
  • The early days of cinema were highly nationalistic. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was initially banned in France; not because of its content, but because it was German, and French distributors did not think they should have to face competition from a country they had just defeated in a war. But Caligari made such a sensation when film critic Louis Delluc arranged for it to be screened for charity that the French removed their ban on German pictures. The French even took to calling Expressionism “Caligarisme.” Caligari‘s release was also protested in the U.S. solely on the basis that it was a German production.
  • In screenings in the United States, Caligari was sometimes presented with a live theatrical epilogue explaining that the characters had fully recovered from their madness.
  • Among its many honors: ranked 235 in Sight & Sound’s critics’ poll of the greatest movies of all time; listed in Steven Schneider’s 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: There’s no really a single frame of Caligari that stands out; it’s the cumulative effect of its Cubist settings, the spiky windows and dark alleys winding at weird angles, that gets under your skin.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Slanted city; greasepaint somnambulist; you must become Caligari

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It’s arguably: the first classic horror movie. The first classic Expressionist movie. Cinema’s first twist ending. The first movie shot from a perspective of radical subjectivity. The godfather of Surrealist film. And it still creeps you out today. It’s the first weird movie. Caligari‘s blood still flows through everything we love.


Blu-ray trailer for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

COMMENTS: The entire plot of Cabinet of Dr. Caligari could be thoroughly summarized in one medium-sized paragraph. There is little Continue reading 366. THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920)

FROM 366 TO INFINITY: WHAT’S NEXT

I’d like a vacation.

For ten years now, I’ve tried to make sure that there’s been content on 366 Weird Movies every day. Even if someone else wrote it, I still had to format it, edit it, and introduce the embarrassing tpyos you’ve come to expect as part of the 366 Weird Movies experience. This means that I’ve usually done some work on the site every day for the past ten years, even if it was only an hour’s worth of editing. I have generally been able to take Thanksgivings and Christmases off, and work half-days or just a few hours on Christmas Eve. But I haven’t taken three consecutive days off in ten years.

I’d like a vacation. Even a three day one.

To answer the question everyone’s been asking for years now—yes, we’re going to keep going past #366. But you can expect a bit less content here in the coming year(s). With the 366 milestone achieved as of tomorrow, we’re going to be focusing more on new releases… but since older movies are always being re-released on home video, there will be a good sprinkling of vintage titles, too. And every now and then we’ll get a hankering to decrease that ridiculously-long reader-suggested review queue by one more title (although I expect it will continue to fill up faster than we can empty it, as long as we keep that suggestion page open).

This is a milestone, not a farewell, so I’m not going to get sentimental, except for a bit of personal revelation at the end. For one thing, I don’t have the time. I still have a review to write, then I have screeners I’ve committed to review, and then Sundance/Slamdance is upon us before you know it… I refer you to Alfred Eaker‘s fine not-farewell post, Reflecting on a Decade of 366 Weird Movies, for the sentimental stuff.

I echo his sentiments about every contributor listed in the sidebar, even the ones who got mad at me and stopped contributing because I said something silly or thoughtless. I’d like to thank each of you personally… although, let’s face it, that’s probably not going to happen. So all of you can fill in the blanks for yourselves: thank you, _____ _____, for your ____ contributions to 366 Weird Movies! Your writing was ____! _______ was my favorite; no one else would have come up with ______.

For readers, here’s what you can expect in a post-366 world in terms of recurring features:

  • As previously announced, Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema will now appear irregularly.
  • “Weird Horizon” will continue indefinitely on Fridays.
  • Cameron Jorgensen has agreed to continue curating Saturday Shorts for the foreseeable future.
  • Sunday’s “What’s in the Pipeline” will disappear as a separate column, but we’ll announce upcoming reviews as part of “Weird Horizon” instead.
  • Reviews will be published whenever they are submitted by our contributors. I personally plan to scale back to one capsule review a week, with the occasional longer article. We’ll see if I can restrain myself.
  • We plan to continue publishing print and digital copies of the Yearbook annually, although we reserve the right to tinker with the format.

And here are some new projects we may or may not be taking on, in Continue reading FROM 366 TO INFINITY: WHAT’S NEXT

WHERE’S THE WEIRDNESS?, PART 2: TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES NOT (YET) ON HOME VIDEO

Here’s a (long-awaited?) update on a list we first published in 2011, back when DVD was the king of vintage movie viewing. (At the time we published it, it was our most commented-on post, and actually contributed to this site’s growth). Now, in the Netflix binge age, changes in the movie market have made DVDs, and even their HD successor, the Blu-ray, less significant—although we don’t think they’ve yet fallen in status to “quaint.” Any movie most people can think of—Captain America: Civil War, Pulp Fiction, Casablanca—-can be bought on DVD; unavailability, or even restricted availability, in that format is a clear indicator of obscurity.

We prefer promote films that are readily available either on physical media, or at least on legitimate streaming platforms, to the List, and hold off on those that don’t have a release. There are a couple of exceptions where we’ve added films that are still to this day only available on used VHS copies (Toto the Hero and Marquis being prominent examples). In the early days of the site, there were a couple of times (The Reflecting Skin comes to mind) when we wrote a movie up, only to find a lavish physical disc released a few months or years later. Although there are some advantages to being an early champion of an unavailable film—like the satisfaction of receiving a pat on the back when it finally gets released (again, The Reflecting Skin) —we’d still rather spend a List spot on a movie people can easily find and own. It’s easier to review and select a List entry from the vast pool of movies we can actually buy, rent or stream. And holding off allowed us to add surprises like Belladonna of Sadness, the nearly-lost 1973 psychedelic Japanese rape-revenge witchcraft anime, to the List the minute they become available.

For that reason, we held off on a reviewing and/or approving a handful of movies that almost certainly could have ranked alongside their listed brethren, had they had a release. It’s not a 100% thing, but being able to be purchased is definitely an advantage for a weird film, in our minds. When you’re dealing with the very last items on a large list, and you’ve already selected the can’t-miss titles, that small advantage can make a difference to a movie making our final cut or not.

Yeah, we know: today, everything is available on the Internet. You can probably find all of these “unavailable” titles in digital format with the help of Google and the willingness to accept the risk of downloading a virus from a shady pirate website. Our preference for legitimate releases is legitimately old-fashioned, but we’re not ashamed of it. We like prints that have been restored to reflect the director’s original vision, extra features that expand our understanding of the film, permanent ownership of a real physical object we can actually touch, and the idea of money going into the pockets of the people who made the film and/or assembled the product. Sue us.

Just to show that all hope is not lost, five titles—Arrebato (1980), Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1968), Eden and After (1970), Death Laid an Egg [La morte ha fatto l’uovo] (1968), and Kin-Dza-Dza (1986)—showed up either on DVD or on streaming platforms since we wrote the first list way back in 2011. Four of those went straight to Certified Weird (the other one we have yet to see). We have tracked down five new obscuro titles to take their place.

These ten movies are all “honorable mentions” of a particular kind. Any of them could have made the List, but for the vicissitudes of distribution. And who knows: maybe the Criterion Collection will add Continue reading WHERE’S THE WEIRDNESS?, PART 2: TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES NOT (YET) ON HOME VIDEO