All posts by Pete Trbovich

CAPSULE: THE FIFTH CORD (1971)

DIRECTED BY: Luigi Bazzoni

FEATURING: , Silvia Monti, Wolfgang Preiss, Renato Romano

PLOT: A newspaper investigative reporter is obligated to turn full detective as a series of murders seemingly tie together everybody in his life in a labyrinthine web of intrigue.

Still from The Fifth Cord (1971)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The only remotely possible way you could call this movie weird is if you had never seen a giallo before. It’s not just a giallo, it’s a stereotypical giallo just short of a scathing parody of the genre. It wouldn’t even make the list of the 366 mildly quirkiest movies.

COMMENTS: I have to break my usual mold with this one, because The Fifth Cord is just a special case. On the one hand, make no mistake, this is a good movie overall. It’s breathtakingly shot, handsomely mounted, beautifully scored, and is in fact a stand-out example of its genre. But when it comes to the plot… Italian giallo is a genre known for soap opera plotting that stretches credibility, but The Fifth Cord just takes that sucker to another level. It’s like twenty seasons of “Days of Our Lives” packed into a clown car. Giallo also has a reputation for being derivative, but this movie goes straight to the movie cliché Dollar Store and maxes out its credit card. This gives you two choices: try, in spite of the pumpernickel fruitcake structure, to follow the story (bring a notepad and a bottle of adderall), or ignore the yammering yarn and resign yourself to oohing and aahing at the pretty pictures and atmospheric scenes. Let us start down the first path and see how far we get into The Hyperthyroid Yarn From Hell:

Through the opening credits we witness a New Year’s Eve party at an Italian watering hole. Normally that’s movie-talk for “go ahead and get your drink, nothing important is happening yet.” But no, this is actually the most important New Year’s Eve party in film history, because everybody here is interconnected, and most of them are going to end up dead. At the party is one Julia, who takes her date under a bridge the next day, and Walter, a teacher who happens to be walking through a nearby tunnel at the same time. Walter is clubbed by a shadowy attacker, and Julia is first on the scene as the assailant flees. Walter ends up in the hospital. The main character, Andrea Bild (Franco Nero), is a newspaper reporter dispatched to cover this crime, although Bild is in fact more of a hardboiled detective straight out of a Dashiell Hammett novel. At the hospital Bild meets Dr. Riccardo Bini (Renato Romano), who stonewalls him, and the more helpful police inspector (Wolfgang Preiss), who directs him to Julia, who slams a door in his face.

Bild goes back to the home he shares with his cheesecake mistress Lu, but she checks out, so he visits his old flame Helene (Silvia Monti), who knows Walter, since they teach at the same school. While he’s following up on her leads, Dr. Bini is at home with his crippled wife Sofia. The doctor gets called out on an emergency that Continue reading CAPSULE: THE FIFTH CORD (1971)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: DARK STAR (1974)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Dre Pahich, Cal Kuniholm, Brian Narelle

PLOT: A tiny crew of astronauts is on a maintenance mission to wipe out unstable planets, while contending with beach-ball shaped aliens, megalomaniac AI smart bombs, toilet paper shoratges, and their own petty disputes.

Still from Dark Star (1974)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Dark Star explores just enough dark matter to make it a heavy contender for the List, given its narrow category of sci-fi-comedy. The main things holding it back are that it hasn’t aged well, it’s a shoestring budget production with a syrupy pace, and the fact that it really could have fit a few more ideas into its runtime. But some details demand its consideration, such as the theme song: still the only country-and-western quantum-physics love-ballad so far in cinematic history. And a damned catchy one!

COMMENTS: Dark Star is such an enduring and beloved cult film that nothing I could say here could dent its reputation. It marks the origin of two heavy-weight genre-film talents: director John Carpenter, of Halloween, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, and They Live fame, and Dan O’Bannon, who would go on to pen the screenplays for Alien, The Return of the Living Dead, Lifeforce, and Total Recall. This is about the film you’d expect if you gave these two juggernaut talents a camera and turned them loose when they were students on a dormitory budget. Dark Star is a sci-fi comedy and a clever satire on the Golden Age of science fiction. It cheerfully plunders your memory if you grew up munching “Analog” and “F&SF” magazines and pulpy sci-fi paperbacks from thrift store spinner racks (that’d be me!), in the same way plunders grindhouse cinema. This is all done with a relaxed, broken-in pace, giving it a unique tone even among sci-fi comedies.

The crew of the good ship Dark Star are on a 20+ year mission in deep space to detonate unstable planets around star systems wherever they may find them, to clear space for potential future colonization. They get pep talk video transmissions from Earth mission control with a ten-year delay; the crew has tenuous support at best and their mission is not particularly urgent. They’re a crew of expendable red-shirts. Indeed, Commander Powell is dead already, but kept as a meat popsicle able to telepathically counsel the crew. Morale is in the pits: Talby (Dre Pahich) has retreated to the observation bubble where he avoids as much responsibility as he can, Doolittle (Brian Narelle) escapes with daydreams of his good old days surfing in Malibu, Boiler (Cal Kuniholm) fitfully takes out his aggression with laser rifle target practice, and Pinback (Dan O’Bannon) has adopted a farting orange ball alien, whom he seems to identify with more than the rest of the team. In between, the crew’s intense boredom and frustration makes them lash out at each other with testy, passive-aggressive acts of random pettiness.

Outside of all that, there really isn’t much of a plot. We have a crew of burnouts who have allowed their beards and mustaches to grow into Freak Brothers‘ territory, surrounded by banks of computer monitors and endless colorful buttons and switches, earning this movie the well-deserved moniker of “hippies in space.” Everything electronic talks, from the ship’s guiding computer to each individual bomb (note that this movie predates “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”). The hilarious alien gets loose and Pinback has to chase it down, in an extended slapstick sequence that brings him to peril in an elevator shaft. Various computer and electronics malfunctions cause the sentient bombs to go haywire, creating a crisis where the crew must talk a bomb down from exploding with the ship still attached. Funny throwaway moments are all over; the crew tokes doobies in joyless resignation, and thumbs through D.C. Comics’ romance titles. And of course, numerous sci-fi works from the classics up to that year are referenced, including, without spoiling it, a Ray Bradbury short story—you’ll know it when you see it.

Dark Star‘s cult following today is at least halfway due to the intelligence at the core of its lightweight premise. It is a grand piss-take on the science fiction epic blockbuster, a genre at that time still in its salad days. Ironically, Carpenter and O’Bannon would go on from here to make some of the most definitive movies in that very genre. Dark Star counters the unfolding corridors of wonder reflected in David Bowman’s eyes with caustic pragmatism: space travel sucks when you run out of toilet paper. There are no Captain Kirks or Mr. Spocks here to deliver ringing speeches about the nobility of mankind’s quest for discovery. When new stars or intelligent lifeforms are discovered, Lt. Doolittle sneers “Who cares?” and “Find me something I can blow up!” Have Stephen Spielberg and his imitators given you the impression that our first contact with alien life forms will be a sweeping cosmic epiphany? Naw, it’ll probably be something like the orange ball with horrid clawed feet which has to be chased and corralled like a rowdy puppy. Dark Star pops our Atomic Age balloon to remind us that no matter what amazing things humans accomplish, most of our problems will still be with us just because we’re dumb monkeys who can barely get anything done through the choking bureaucracy that is our only form of self-governance. This makes Dark Star a contender for the very first cyberpunk movie. Ain’t it groovy?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“‘Dark Star’ is one of the damnedest science fiction movies I’ve ever seen, a berserk combination of space opera, intelligent bombs, and beach balls from other worlds.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Looking back at John Carpenter’s Dark Star – An in-depth review and tribute by Lawrence Brooks at “Den of Geek”

(This movie was nominated for review by “Roland Mangan.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

 

CAPSULE: ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (1972)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Sergio Martino

FEATURING: Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Ivan Rassimov, Nieves Navarro, Dominique Boschero, Carla Mancini

PLOT: Jane, a young lady haunted by her mother’s murder and her own traumatic miscarriage, seeks solace but ends up being sucked into a local Satanic cult; her problems then worsen.

Still from All the Colors of the Dark (1972)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While All the Colors of the Dark is a tasty ham of a thriller and peer to the top films in that genre, it doesn’t get any weirder than it has to be to tell its story—which is actually a straightforward story, right down to its dream sequences and some comparatively tame Satanic rituals. Other reviews of this movie confuse “psychedelic” with “using a diffraction camera filter for a couple scenes.” If anything, Colors apes Alfred Hitchcock at his most spartan. A great thriller, but we watch weirder Italian movies around here before our first Chianti of the day.

COMMENTS: Hi, I’m Giallo Man! I saw the Giallo Signal in the sky and got here as soon as I could. Gotta tell you, I am so heavy into the giallo, I mainline it off the nightstand. If one of those Twilight Zone episodes came along where a character gets to wish themselves into a movie forever, I’d probably pick a giallo. And what a choice plum we have here! All the Colors of the Dark comes with a keen pedigree, directed by Sergio Martino, whose name you may recognize from The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978) or perhaps Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)(#WhatATitle). That latter movie also shares the lead actress Edwige Fenech, whom you might recognize from Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975). That’s before we get to garlic-bread-and-spaghetti western star George Hilton, a supporting cast which reads like a compilation of names from the best of Italian genre films, and filmed-in-England cinematography that could make the cover of an early Black Sabbath album. But best of all is the vintage year of 1972. The Exorcist came out in 1973, so that makes this one occult Euro-horror movie that’s guaranteed not to be a cheap Exorcist knockoff—because it wasn’t even released yet! It doesn’t even kiss much of the dirt that Rosemary’s Baby (1968) trod. I’m almost too excited to watch this.

After a lurid opening nightmare sequence with a blue-eyed stabbing killer in a beige trenchcoat—what, no black gloves?—we meet Jane, who has recently suffered a prematurely terminated pregnancy in a car crash. She lives in a London flat with her boyfriend Richard, who fusses over her while she is plagued by trauma from both this event and nightmares of her mother’s death when she was a child. Jane’s sister Barbara urges her to see a shrink, who is, you guessed it, not much help. The blue-eyed stabber from her nightmares stalks her every waking moment—but is she hallucinating? Jane, towing this head full of psychological baggage, meets her new neighbor, Mary, and the two become fast friends, while Richard and Barbara meet Continue reading CAPSULE: ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (1972)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND (1981)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Steve Brodie, Cameron Mitchell, Katherine Victor, (?)

PLOT: A crew of hot air balloon travelers land on a remote desert island and encounter the great-grand-daughter of Dr. Frankenstein presiding over an assortment of natives and other random people.

Still from Frankenstein Island (1981)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: An extreme low-budget B-movie director of legendarily bad productions, Jerry Warren is no stranger to our pages here. Frankenstein Island stands out as his only color film, a movie he made after a 15-year hiatus, and his final film. In spite of all that, it manages to out-crazy everything else he ever done, not to mention being the most deranged film with the name “Frankenstein” in its title, a major feat in itself.

COMMENTS: Move over, Plan 9 From Outer Space, Manos: The Hands Of Fate, and even The Room:  we have a new contender for “so bad it’s hilarious!” If Frankenstein Island (1981) isn’t a candidate for “worst movie ever made,” that’s only because it’s too crammed full of jaw-droppingly bonkers scenes to be not-entertaining. As is typical for a Jerry Warren experience, count on muddled story structure, random stock footage inserted into the plot, extreme budget sets, abrupt day-night transitions, wooden acting, and new lows in filmmaking incompetence all around. What follows is a stalwart attempt to convey what’s going on, to the best of my ability; please be advised that in-movie continuity errors and contradictions make some details hard to pin down.

Four men and a dog fly in a pair of hot air balloons on a little-explained recon errand (later said to be a balloon race). They end up on a desert island because they ran out of stock balloon footage, and start exploring on a quest to build a raft to escape—despite leaning on a rubber dingy while discussing this plan. In due order, they encounter (1) a tribe of Amazon natives in leopard-print bikinis, (2) a cult of zombie-like/robot-like men in black shirts, who kidnap natives and get up to other mischief, (3) a mad prisoner in a cell who raves in Edgar Allan Poe references, (4) a jolly drunk in an eye-patch who can not stop laughing and acts as the men’s guide, while guffawing “HAR HAR HAR HAAAAAR,” and finally (5) a woman, Sheila (previously referred to as “Xira”), wearing a pile of wigs, who claims to be the great-grand-daughter of the original Dr. Frankenstein. Her invalid husband Dr. Von Helsing is there too. Sheila Frankenstein carries on some kind of mad science research in a suspiciously modern and well-furnished mansion and laboratory on an island where everybody else lives in shanties. The black-shirt thugs are her minions, the natives were there when she got there, she’s on a quest to cure Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND (1981)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: EATING RAOUL (1982)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Paul Bartel, Robert Beltran

PLOT: An urban middle-class couple notices they live in a world where they’re surrounded by expendable idiots—so they take to robbing and killing them in order to finance their modest dreams.

Still from Eating Raoul (1982)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Every weirdophile has seen this movie and remembers it as a satirical cannibal-comedy, quirky but not on the memorably weird end. It isn’t until you re-watch it fresh and recall all the throw-away details—the ketchup on the milkshake, the wine bottle plushie doll in Paul’s bed, the Doggie King dog food commercial—that you appreciate the weirdness bursting from the seams in this unique oddball masterpiece.

COMMENTS: Eating Raoul was too ahead of its time. You can hardly find a weird movie fan who doesn’t love this movie, and yet it still gets listed near the bottom of great black comedies. Now, we’re enthusiastic about and Matt Stone, the , and even the alumni getting recognized as the heralds of modern black comedy. But this movie opens with Paul Bartel getting bitched out by his liquor store boss for not selling the right wines. He is interrupted by an armed robber, shoots said robber dead (deadpan: “Mr. Cray, you killed him!”) and then goes right back to chewing out Paul Bartel’s ass. Next scene: Mary Woronov is a nurse who goads a horndog patient into finishing his pureed slop hospital food with the promise of hot nursey time, only to switch off with a burly male sidekick for an enema party. None of us filthy sinners love this golden apple enough, and that is why we are not worthy of it.

Our star couple is Paul and Mary Bland, two Hollywood middle-classers who are exasperated, stuck in the me-generation late-1970s swingers era while wanting nothing to do with them. They hate the disco party freaks almost as much as they hate being too broke to pay their bills and open the restaurant of their dreams. When one of these swingers ends up accidentally dead at their hands, a connection between the two issues takes shape, and the Blands decide to turn tricks, seducing swingers to their apartment. Said swingers are expecting a filthy payoff, only to meet the business end of a frying pan to the head. Tutored by “Doris the Dominatrix,” who shares her tricks of the trade in between spoon-feeding her baby, the Blands place an ad in the local kink mag, and the suckers bite right away. Might as well take the bread in their wallet, then. Just toss the bodies down the furnace chute, who’s going to miss them? It’s not like any of these tongue-waggling perverts had parents or anything.

But they do eventually meet one other individual with a clue, Raoul, who runs a suspiciously cheap locksmith service and moonlights as a Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: EATING RAOUL (1982)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: LEMORA: A CHILD’S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL (1973)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Richard Blackburn

FEATURING: Lesley Taplin, Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith, William Whitton

PLOT: An innocent tween-age girl navigates a nightmare vision of post-Prohibition America in a search of her long-lost father, running into danger at every turn.

Still from Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural (1973)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Lemora is a movie that will remind you of Night of the Hunter (1955) and Return to Oz (1985),  in exactly equal measure. It takes the formula of an innocent child wandering in not-quite-tamed roadside Americana and turns it into “Goldilocks and the Zombie Apocalypse.” By the time we get to the title character, the uncomfortable psychosexual tones are no longer just a subtext, and we’re still not done sliding down the pit of creepy childhood fears.

COMMENTS: Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural is often touted as “a fairy tale for adults,” and that devotion to this theme makes it too difficult to treat fairly and yet far too close to an unqualified masterpiece to just ignore. First we have to yell [TRIGGER WARNING] because there’s sex stuff, and it involves minors. We don’t mean “barely underage jailbait,” we’re talking thirteen! Remember how Labyrinth (1986) plays on the idea of Sarah being a woman-child heckled by a grown fantasy ruler? Take that, subtract two years, change “goblin king” to “lesbian vampire queen,” and you’re in the right neighborhood. Second, we have to hedge a minor [SPOILER] tag in here, because while the movie is coy with revealing its ultimate genre tags, and every review of it screams “lesbian” and “vampire” in the opening paragraph, this movie is in a completely different universe from the Jess Franco style one would normally expect given those keywords. You will not be titillated. You will squirm with discomfort at the squirrely games this movie plays with your psyche.

Lila Lee (the late Cheryl Smith) is a 13-year-old church choir girl famous in her small town for her gospel singing. Surreally innocent in her golden hair braids and Christian upbringing, she is a foster ward of the church, raised by the Reverend Meuller [sic] (played by director Blackburn) because her real father is a 1940’s style gangster on the lam for murder. The Reverend isn’t shy about touting her ascension to grace from such unsavory beginnings in his sermons, delivered to a peculiarly all-female congregation. But we barely have this backstory established when Lila gets a letter from a correspondent named “Lemora,” with news of her father. He is supposedly on his deathbed and ready to reconcile with Lila before slipping away, bidding her to come visit and cautioning her to come alone. Lila packs a suitcase and heads out the door post-haste, destination “Asteroth.” If you’ve brushed up on your demonology, you can take that as foreshadowing.

Lila is scarcely on the road before we’re confronted with the seedy Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: LEMORA: A CHILD’S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL (1973)

NORTH (1994): THE WEIRDNESS OF A COLOSSAL FLOP – A CASE STUDY

When the Wizard of Weirdness benevolently gave each of us regular contributors the opportunity to pitch one movie onto the List—with no veto—the Present Author got away with Nothing But Trouble (1991). It’s a controversial pick, for sure. My reasoning was, why pick a movie that was probably comfortably fated to end up on the List sooner or later? You get an opportunity, you take it. There were a few shocked gasps and Greg, notably, nearly lost his lunch. For what it’s worth, the Good Bad Flicks podcast recently vindicated my fanny right out of purgatory on that movie. Me, Good Bad Flicks, and everybody on the set but and Chevy Sourpuss Chase stand alone in our crusade, even if apologetically.

Still from North (1994)

But it could have been worse. Throughout my time in the Weird Vineyards, I’ve had a devil on my left shoulder digging his pitchfork into my clavicle, maniacally whispering the name of JUST ONE MOVIE into my ear. “Nominate it, it’ll be hilarious!” When that veto-proof list slot came up, the screaming from my sinister side became deafening, but I resisted. Since the List is now closed, and I finally feel it’s safe to mention the name of the movie that no one on this site has dared to utter…

Got your HazMat suits zipped up? Got your clothespins on your nose? Got your handy jug of brain bleach ready? I shall prepare to utter its vile name. This is going to be good. This movie had an identical budget to Nothing But Trouble, and fared even a little bit worse. It’s a one-word title. It’s even a monosyllabic title. In fact, it’s a title that just so happens to be the name of a pretty famous primary compass direction.

North (1994) is one of the most notoriously spectacular failures in box office history. And make no mistake, this is NOT a List recommendation! North is just too terrible.

Like Nothing But Trouble, North had a jaw-dropping line-up of splurged comedic talent, a runaway budget, and a high concept that was a unique take on a familiar structure. It should have been a hit. So should Skidoo or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but these things happen.

Yet when you think about weird movies, you can’t long avoid North. How can you ignore ’s tush on a billboard, Jason Alexander as a pants-obsessed haberdasher, Kathy Bates as the last person to appear in blackface and have her career survive, Dan Aykroyd and Reba McEntire as a mom-and-pop duo performing a Texas hoedown about the death of their son, a Citizen Kane homage with a kid school newspaper editor making Jon Lovitz his suck-up toady, Alan Arkin as a manic motormouth judge holding court in a furniture store, Abe Vigoda getting put out to sea on an iceberg, and in multiple roles playing… nah, you’ll never believe me. All this, directed by the man who gave the world beloved classics like This Is Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride.

The premise seems harmless enough: a kid divorces his parents and Continue reading NORTH (1994): THE WEIRDNESS OF A COLOSSAL FLOP – A CASE STUDY