All posts by El Rob Hubbard


DIRECTED BY: Daniel Fawcett, Clara Pais

FEATURING: Christina Wood, Victoria Smith

Still from Savage Witches (2012)

PLOT: Two teenage girls, Gretchen and Margarita (Wood & Smith), want nothing more than to play games, dress themselves up and have all kinds of adventures, but they constantly find themselves in conflict with the world around them. So they set out to transform it and break free…

COMMENTS:  With a title like that and two teenage girls in the main roles, you might be expecting another grindhouse gem to assert itself onto the film scene. Not in this universe, however—in fact, Savage Witches is best served by throwing out all expectations and just going with the flow of images and sounds in this “motion picture exploration,” as it bills itself.  Savage Witches hearkens back to earlier days of experimental film—the makers cite the works of the Kuchar brothers and  as influences, and the film itself is a direct homage to the Czech film classic Daisies by , which also is about the adventures of two young women who decide to break out of their roles and have adventures by ‘being bad.’

Where Daisies was seen as an overt attack on society by the ‘bad’ behavior of its lead characters, Savage Witches is far less political, but it is still an aesthetic attack on the audience’s expectations of film as entertainment. There are no character arcs and not much in terms of action driving the plot forward. In fact, there’s only the barest hint of any sort of plot… instead, the action is mainly abstract, with the film changing from live action, to photo collage, to storyboards, to Super-8 as Gretchen & Margarita explore their freedom; although the real liberty is the freedom of cinema from the strictures that we commonly bring to it.

04_burning_0791_smallThe film begins with a myriad of colors across the screen, and a voice inviting the audience to join in on an exploration—a dream—through which the voice informs the audience, “we can go anywhere, see anything”. The colors coalesce into two faces, Gretchen and Margarita, and from here on they function as guides/proxies for the audience, as they move forward into adventure: an adventure of form and format, rather than any sort of plot or story that has to be followed in the service of ‘business’ or whatever. That is the only ‘savagery’ exhibited by these pair of “savage witches”: the refusal to conform to the typical structure of what we expect when we sit down to watch a film. It is perhaps for this reason that the “savage witches” are burned at the end (besides the fact it provides an exciting ending), and our last glimpse of them is of them resting in state, but even then, they continue to flout our expectations… in contrast to the heroines of Daisies, who are definitely punished at the end for their bad behavior. Of course the attack that the protagonists of the Czech film lead against their society is far more pointed and nastier than Savage Witches. Also, the girls of Witches are not as sexualized as the women in Daisies, who use their erotic appeal as a battle tactic.

For a 70 minute experimental feature film, Savage Witches is highly entertaining, which may come as a surprise to audiences in the U.S., whose exposure to experimental film is usually in short form and viewed as something to be endured, like a visit to the dentist. It doesn’t really qualify as weird, except perhaps to someone who has never viewed any sort of film that didn’t have a linear narrative, but that probably qualifies it as a good gateway for people to get into experimental films – its ‘weird’ factor isn’t quite high enough to alienate the General Viewer, but it’s just strange enough to be engaging to fans of weird film.  It’s also helped by the music of Fiona Bevan and sound design of Simon Keep, and the engaging performances of Christina Wood and Victoria Smith as the lead characters.

Savage Witches should continue to screen in film festivals in 2013, and DVDs should be available directly from the filmmakers from their website within a month or so. UPDATE 7/5/2013: Limited edition DVD’s now available through this link.

Savage Witches Facebook

DISCLAIMER: A copy of this film was provided by the production company for review.



Sanatorium Pod Klepsydra; AKA The Hour-glass Sanitorium; The Sandglass


FEATURING: Jan Nowicki, Jozef Kondrat, Irena Orska, Halina Kowalska, Gustaw Holoubek, Ludwik Benoit, Mieczyslaw Voit

Still from The Hourglass Sanitorium (1973)

PLOT: Adapted from several stories by Bruno Schulz, the movie follows Joseph (Nowicki) as he travels by train to a sanitarium to see his dead father. At this particular institution, time is altered, so his father can still be alive within, while in the outside world his death has already occurred; and while waiting for his father’s death to catch up, Joseph appears to go through incidents in his own past, as time curls in on itself.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Surreal and dream-like, this is probably one of the most artistically successful films of its type—a picturesque journey into death.

COMMENTS: Wojciech Jerzy Has’ two best known films are also the only ones readily available to Western audiences, that other film being The Saragossa Manuscript (1965). Both are challenging adaptations of literary works thought to be unfilmable. These two movies alone would make impressive bookends in any filmmaker’s career, yet these were made almost a decade apart, and Has’ other films reportedly retain a similar level of quality.

Sanitorium is visually sumptuous, due to the cinematography of Witold Sobocinski and the production design by Andrzej Plocki and Jerzy Skarzynski. Viewers who are attracted to the visual artistry of  will find much to like and admire here, though the similarity ends there—while Gilliam is no stranger to dark themes in his works, even in the darkest times, he leaves a small light on. Sanitorium doesn’t allow even that minor level of comfort.

The opening image of the film—a silhouette of a bird in mid-air flight, yet seemingly suspended in place–is probably the most potent metaphor for the journey that Joseph takes. Essentially it’s a metaphoric traverse through life to its inevitable end—death—and also an observation of the same journey of an entire culture, in this case the Jews in Europe prior to the start of World War II. While there is no explicit or obvious symbolism present, no swastikas or any mention of the rise of Nazism, the film supports that reading. As Josef goes through various incidents in his childhood, we see the rich life of the community in prosperous times, and as time and decay progresses, so does that community. The last glimpse we see is Joseph witnessing  an exodus of people from town—from what is never specified, although one can surmise, if one knows history.

Sanitorium doesn’t spell itself out for the audience, and that may be the biggest hurdle for viewers, who will either overcome it or throw up their hands in frustration. We go along for the mad journey with Joseph, and the movie makes no concession to the viewer whatsoever. It is the kind of film that yields rewards with multiple viewings, and it probably helps to know Bruno Schulz and something about his work.

Unlike The Saragossa Manuscript, Sanitorium never got an official Region 1 DVD release. The UK DVD company  Mr. Bongo has issued a restored version—“restored” in this context meaning a digital remastering under the supervision of cinematographer Sobocinski. The disc is a Region 0 PAL release, so it should be playable on most computers and some (hacked) DVD/Blu-ray players—check your specs.

Journey to the Underworld – an essay by Steve Mobia with an interpretation of the film, and mention of Has’ other films. – site featuring translations of Schulz’s stories and links.

Wikipedia entry

IMDb entry

MANTUA (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Jorge Delarosa, Wyl Price, Jim Johnson

FEATURING: Mike Akers, Hank Fiorini, Susan Martin, Lauren Ashley Carter

PLOT: FBI agent Stephanie Bellman—a man, by the way, and a sex addict—investigates some

Still from Mantua (2012)

very strange goings on in the sleepy burg of Mantua, Ohio, all of which seem to involve “The Organic Ones,” a murderous cult who are “harvesting” the earth’s “weeds,” i.e. the undesirable people polluting the planet.

COMMENTS: Mantua is the brainchild of the artist collective The Slow Mutants, based in NE Ohio. Comprised of 3 short films Black,” “Green,” and “Red,” with connective tissue added, the movie is fitfully entertaining in spots but the execution is just too amateurish to fully recommend. Which is too bad, because there’s just enough here to prove that there is some talent involved. The story suggests a variation on “Twin Peaks,” but even more tweaked and off-center. It’s not boring, and that’s the film’s biggest strength. What tries one’s patience, however, is the level of the performances and the backyard quality of the production which sandbag the ambitiousness of the project.

It’s not without merit—there’s no ineptness on display here. In my opinion, it’s more a matter of the filmmakers having bitten off more than they could chew at the time. As their craft improves, the final results will too—hopefully. In fact, I’d like to see them reboot this after they get a few more projects under their belts. Until that time, if you can sit through a comedic “Twin Peaks” variation with public access TV production values, give Mantua a try. But first, you might want to take a look at their upcoming punk rock documentary Gangrene, for some perspective.

Copies may be ordered via e-mail from the Slow Mutants Home Page.



FEATURING: , Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning, Ben Chaplin, Joanne Whalley, Alden Ehrenreich, David Paymer, Don Novello, Anthony Fusco, Tom Waits

PLOT: Horror writer Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) is in decline, hacking out formulaic product and going on book tours to nowhere places, like the town of Swan Valley. The local sheriff (Bruce Dern) tells him about an unsolved massacre that took place in the town years ago, suggesting a collaboration on a book, which Hall doesn’t take seriously—until he starts dreaming of a young girl, V (Elle Fanning), who may be connected with the murders, and may be either a ghost or a vampire; and of Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin), who becomes a spiritual muse the deeper Hall delves into the mystery.

Still from Twixt (2011)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: What gives the film an aura of weirdness is its visual style, elements of which recall earlier Coppola films (mainly the more experimental ones like Rumble Fish and One from the Heart), along with the elements of autobiography that thread through the film. While it may be a bit too early to declare this as Essential Coppola, there are rewards to be found here for the adventurous moviegoer.

COMMENTS: Twixt has had a tortured time getting out to an audience; originally scheduled for release in late 2011 after several festival screenings and Comic Con hype, the movie has been released in France and England and only recently made its domestic premiere in San Francisco, with no concrete word (as of this writing) as to wider release in the U.S. Which is not that surprising, considering that most of the domestic reviews pretty much ripped the film to shreds. To a certain extent, they have a point—most of those reviews have commented on the murkiness of the narrative, which Coppola has stated had its origins in a dream. Most of those reviewers probably think that Coppola’s best creative days are behind him, or that he needs to return to more commercial fare to be ‘relevant’ again. It’s probably very telling that what North American distributors and critics have seen as a problem, Europe has eagerly embraced (especially France, where critics have acclaimed the film).

Twixt is a messy concoction, and for most audiences who are used to storylines where everything is clearly presented and all the twistedness will eventually be straightened out by the time the end credits roll, it won’t be a fun ride. Coppola describes it as “one part Gothic Romance, one part personal film and one part the kind of horror film I began my career with,” which is a pretty packed sandwich—not everything will fit neatly there. However, those concerned with neatness will conveniently overlook good performances by Kilmer, Dern and Chapin and some intriguing autobiographical references.

Twixt is available on R2 DVD and Blu-Ray. Again, no word as of yet when it will be available on R1 disc.

UPDATE 12/28/2015: In 2013, Twixt was released on R1 Blu-Ray by 20th Century Fox with excellent picture quality and sound. It’s light on extras, but what’s included is very interesting – a documentary on the making of the film shot by Gia Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter, prior to her feature film debut with Palo Alto (2014).

Twixt official site



“…easily [Coppola’s] silliest work… a mishmash of absurd horror tropes with a gush of blood…”–Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)








DIRECTED BY: James Anthony Bickart

FEATURING: Jett Bryant, Madeline Brumby, Paul McComiskey, Olivia LaCroix, John Collins, Shane Morton, Nick Morgan, Rusty Stache, Nick Hood, Jim Sligh, Rachelle Lynn, Jim Stacy

PLOT: The Impalers are a vicious motorcycle gang rampaging across the land indulging in drug trafficking and other antisocial behavior, like rape and nun killing. After a shoot-out in a strip club, they top off the party with a home invasion, whereupon their paths cross with a mad scientist, his daughter and associate. They plan a night of fun, with humiliation, rape and murder on the menu… but the scientist has something unexpected in the basement. Meanwhile, there’s something in the woods that’s killing animals and quickly working its way up the food chain…

Still from Dear God No! (2011)

COMMENTS: Dear God, No! (official site) is another throwback to the grindhouse flicks of the 1970’s, when political correctness didn’t exist. It goes balls to the wall with the 5 B’s of Exploitation Movies – Bikers, Bullets, Boobs, Blood, Beer – all of which are in ample supply… and adds another ‘B’ to the party – Bigfoot. Like most of the neo-grindhouse films, there’s lots of loving homage on display, and most of it is done very well. Unfortunately, DGN! falls into the same trap as most other trash throwback films do, that of overkill… everything is intentionally over the top, way too much to take really seriously or to really get offended by. There’s no real sense of transgression, which most of the actual 70’s grindhouse features actually had; and, most of the comedy and acting here is really labored. That said, on the technical side of things it’s good, solid low-budget work. It’s a fun ride, and it looks like the real thing—arrested adolescents will bow down in praise, feeling ‘bad’ and ‘dirty’ for over an hour. Afterwards, they’ll be wanting something a bit more substantial. So will you, probably.