All posts by Shane Wilson

48*. THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES (1971)

Le frisson des vampires; AKA Sex and Vampires, Strange Things Happen at Night, Terror of the Vampires, Thrill of the Vampire, Vampire Thrills

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

“A grandfather clock is of no interest – a vampire woman getting out of this clock at midnight, that’s me!”―Jean Rollin

DIRECTED BY: Jean Rollin

FEATURING: Sandra Julien, Jean-Marie Durand, Dominique, Marie-Pierre Castel (as Marie-Pierre Tricot), Kuelan Herce, Michel Delahaye, Jacques Robiolles, Nicole Nancel

PLOT: Newlyweds Isle and Antoine arrive at the castle of her beloved cousins, only to be told they died the day before. Isle soon discovers that the castle has become the domain of vampires, that her cousins were vampire hunters who were murdered and converted to the ranks of the undead, and that the lead vampire seeks to welcome the young newlywed into her coven. Antoine soon recognizes the threat to his bride, but he may be too late to prevent her from being seduced by the vampire’s call.

Still from shiver of the Vampires (1971)

BACKGROUND

  • This was the third of a quartet vampire movies that kicked off Rollin’s directorial career.
  • Marie-Pierre Castel, the blonde half of the pair of Renfield-like maids, is one of two cast members to return from Rollin’s previous feature, The Nude Vampire. She appeared in several of Rollin’s films, usually alongside her twin sister Catherine. (Catherine skipped this installment due to pregnancy).
  • Rollin shot the opening scene, in which the vampire slayers are entombed, in black-and-white as a nod to classic Universal horror films.
  • The director credited actors Delahaye (the other returning cast member) and Robiolles with improvising much of their dialogue, as they would often forget sections of their lengthy speeches during the extended takes.
  • Actress Nancel was widely disliked on the set, but she rose in the crew’s estimation when she volunteered to do a second take of a scene where her body is tossed into a moat, into water that was brackish and potentially toxic.
  • Explicit inserts were shot separately to turn this into a porno in some markets (a practice that was not infrequent in European horror movies in the early 70s).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Are you kidding? It can only be the clock. Isolde, the vampire queen with the ghastly pallor, has a knack for entrances, but none is grander or more surprising than her first appearance, climbing out from within a grandfather clock and immediately pawing at the naked young woman she finds standing there. Rollin himself was unable to shake the sight; he returned to it in later films. 

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Death by pointy pasties; cousins deliver exposition in-the-round

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Easily ranking among the most elegant grindhouse movies ever made, The Shiver of the Vampires is relentless in its pursuit of exceedingly tasteful presentations of tawdry material. Gothic fashions and decor coexist harmoniously with a summer-of-love psychedelic vibe, all for the ostensible purpose of setting up vignettes of softcore smut but really in pursuit of an air of erotic disquiet. The film knows what it wants, and does exactly what it intends to do to get there.

Scene from Shiver of the Vampires

COMMENTS: How frequently over the years have movies been Continue reading 48*. THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES (1971)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: JOHNNY AQUARIUS (1993)

Jancio Wodnik; AKA Johnnie the Aquarius, Johnny Waterman

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Jan Jakub Kolski

FEATURING: Franciszek Pieczka, Grazyna Blecka-Kolska, Boguslaw Linda, Katarzyna Aleksandrowicz

Still from Johnny aquarius

PLOT: An old farmer leaves his young wife and sets forth on a journey through the countryside to fulfill a higher purpose; along the way, he discovers that he possesses healing abilities, and he abandons his family in favor of the cult springs that springs up around him.

COMMENTS: You have to be a little forgiving of fables. They’re not to be taken literally, of course. If a character in a fable behaves badly, well, that’s the whole point; they will get their comeuppance, and we’ll all learn an important lesson. And if the story dabbles in fantasy, with magic or hints of the supernatural, that only magnifies the examination of humanity at the heart of the tale.

So it was with all my might that I tried to keep from getting unreasonably mad at the hero of Jańcio Wodnik, who turns his back on his family in search of deeper meaning and is soon corrupted by arrogance and obsequious adulation. After all, when we first meet poor Jańcio, he’s experiencing a spiritual crisis. His young wife has not managed to get pregnant, despite the fact that she has hung upside down 11 separate times in order to get his seed to the right spot. He’s beginning to lose his trust in gravity in other ways, too, having watched water flowing up a ladder to fill a bird’s nest. The only thing left to do is go out on a pilgrimage, bearing on his back nothing but a washing tub to keep his feet clean, which is a bit of an obsession for him. His devoted wife Weronka kindly lets him go, singing a song of sadness but understanding as he departs. If she’s not angry with him, what right have I to be?

It is curious how quickly Jańcio breaks bad. When he first meets Stygma, a roving motorcyclist who picks up extra cash here and there by piercing his hands with nails and showing up in local towns as the crucified Christ, he seems unimpressed with the blasphemy. But he also suspects that there’s something special in his foot washing, and when he offers to help the sick and the lame, the shocking thing isn’t that his ablutions work, or that Stygma will look for ways to capitalize on these gifts, or even that a small community of worshipers will descend upon him with gifts of money, sex, and adulation. No, what takes your breath away is how easily Jańcio succumbs to pride and hubris. He returns to his old home like a Roman emperor, telling his now-pregnant wife how utterly unimportant she is, and bestowing upon her the dubious gift of a car (which is carried on a litter by a phalanx of strongmen). It’s a striking sight, witnessing the simple man rendered cruel and haughty by his power. Surely his fall will be a sight to behold. 

The turn comes quickly, as his son is born with a tail and impervious to his ministrations. Indeed, all of his cures are quickly undone, and he is so dumbstruck by his folly that he sits motionless outside his house, unperturbed by the snow or the leaves or even the birds that nest upon his head. Years pass before a vision awakens him out of his stupor and returns him to face his wife and child. And the moral of this tale? Well, that’s perhaps the most unexpected twist of all, because it turns out that the cause of all this folly lies in a vignette that appears at the start of the film and is referenced once again before roaring to life in the final scenes: a sickly horse has been sent away from its farm to die alone, and in a truly strange bit of backfilling, Jańcio angrily confronts the horse’s owner (whom we have never seen before) to tell him that this bit of cruelty is single-handedly responsible for all of the misfortune that has followed. Jańcio Wodnik sets itself up to be a fable about gullibility or the dangers of taking on false holiness, and then out of nowhere hits you with Chekhov’s Horse.

Jańcio Wodnik is a light parable, charming but ultimately with no weight to it. A fable doesn’t have to be heavy-handed, but it feels like it should leave you wiser than you were before it began. Weronka does teach us to be steadfast and true, and Jańcio warns us against getting too big for your britches. But the lesson of “don’t turn out your sick horse or an old man will abandon his family and believe himself to be anointed by God” doesn’t exactly give Aesop a run for his money.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a slight but unusual charmer sustained by fine perfs and an inventive script… Recurrent joy of the pic is how all the crazy goings-on are treated as absolutely normal by the peasants.” – Derek Elley, Variety

(This movie was nominated for review by haui. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

Johnny Aquarius
  • Factory sealed DVD

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: MICKEY ONE (1965)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Arthur Penn

FEATURING: Warren Beatty, , Hurd Hatfield, Teddy Hart, Franchot Tone

PLOT: A small-time comedian in Detroit runs afoul of the mob and skips town, but remains drawn to the stage—and his longing for the spotlight finds him risking unwanted attention from his pursuers.

Still from mickey one (1965)

COMMENTS: A turning point in the annals of American cinema came when Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn teamed up to apply the iconoclastic stylings of the movement to a classic crime story of a protagonist on the run from a relentless pursuer. That legendary collaboration, of course, is Bonnie and Clyde. Which makes it interesting to discover that landmark film actually represents a second bite at the apple. Before Bonnie and Clyde could run, Mickey One had to crawl.

Ostensibly about a comic on the run from the mob, Mickey One is deeply uninterested in the details of its plot. (Beatty is never told explicitly what he’s done wrong, and his attempts to buy his way out of his troubles are not so much rejected as ignored.) Instead, we open with a montage of Beatty’s high-flying comedian living the high life, and then immediately descend into full-blown paranoia. He sets fire to all his identification, rips the satin piping off his tuxedo pants, grabs a seat in hobo first-class on the next train out of town, and quickly submerges himself in a series of the lowest-level jobs he can find, assuming the name that gives the film its title. 

At this point, Mickey One seems to be a story of a confident man forced to become weak but unable to pull it off. His fear is genuine; he immediately dashes out of a restaurant the moment he hears it might have mob connections, and he regards anyone who tries to interact with him with disgust and anger. And yet, watching his fellow hacks at the mic, he can’t deny the call of the limelight, and so he tries to walk the line between satisfying his need to perform and desperately trying to avoid sending up a signal flare to his pursuers. Trying to balance these contrary impulses is destroying him, and that’s the character study we’re here for. Beatty is all jittery energy and barely contained rage; he never really demonstrates any actual comic ability (a complaint Beatty lodged throughout the production), but he’s got the loose rhythms and the nervous energy of James Dean or young Paul Newman, never sitting still and chewing on his words like gum. He’s all exposed wiring.

But there’s a turning point when the film suddenly becomes about something else. In a tense sequence, Mickey is maneuvered into auditioning for an unseen impresario, a scratchy voice barking out orders from behind the harshest spotlight ever aimed at a stage. Mickey is utterly terrified that whoever it is in the darkness will end him permanently, but everyone else—his girlfriend, his agent, a persistent booker—all seem equally terrified of their fate if he doesn’t perform. And that’s when it starts to feel like Mickey One is an allegory. We’ve been treated to metaphor throughout the film. Car crushers devour tons of metal on the outskirts of town. The booking agent (played by Hatfield, who I can only describe as a poor man’s James Olson) has an office that’s entirely white and seemingly decorated exclusively in glass. Benevolent societies sing at street corners about the coming judgment day, while a street artist makes enormous mechanical constructions that are destroyed by the authorities at the merest hint of a malfunction. And then there are the voices, speaking to Mickey from behind blinding lights and through faceless cameras. It all hints at meaning something bigger, but this is the moment when Beatty seems to be dueling with nothing less than God itself. Small wonder that he would run at the first opportunity.

Mickey One feels like an ancestor to any number of future Warren Beatty showcases: the overconfidence of Shampoo, the raw paranoia of The Parallax View, the collision of crime and entertainment in Bugsy. And that’s no small accomplishment, to be a rough draft of a style of filmmaking and a type of character study that will be accomplished more successfully down the line. But it ends up being more of an augury than a film that stands on its own. In that sense, the film is very much like its hero in the final scene: eager to put on a show, but exposed to the elements and fearful of the reception that is destined to come.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“With its surrealistic, Felliniesque presence, ‘Mickey One’ is a stunning piece.”–Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle (1995 revival)

(This movie was nominated for review by Steve Mobia. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: TRACK 29 (1988)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Nicolas Roeg

FEATURING: Theresa Russell, Gary Oldman, Christopher Lloyd, Sandra Bernhard,

PLOT: Linda leads a boring existence in a small southern town, taken for granted by her model-railroad aficionado husband; she is roused from her stupor by the arrival of Martin, a volatile young Englishman who claims to be the child she gave up for adoption at birth.

Still from Track 29 (1988)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: If Track 29 were only about the taboo subjects at its heart – sexual assault, incest, adoption, infidelity – it might get our attention for that audacity. But those touchy subjects pale in comparison to the outlandish manner in which these characters behave, seemingly immune to any rational expectations of behavior. For what could have been (and once was) an intimate drama, it’s a lot.

COMMENTS: The pairing of a screenwriter with a message and a director with vision is a risky thing. Two strong points of view can sometimes coalesce, but they can just as easily result in conflict and confusion. Usually, one of those voices has to dominate the other. Now, I’m not 100% certain what happened when a Dennis Potter screenplay wound up in the hands of Nicolas Roeg, but I’m willing to hazard a guess: Roeg won.

Potter’s script is based upon his BBC teleplay “Schmoedipus,” and it’s instructive to watch both because you can see where expanding the material has taken it from a comparatively sedate affair to become hyperactive and exceedingly peculiar. Much of Potter’s dialogue makes the transition intact, but the whole tone of the piece changes significantly. Opening up the setting from a cramped suburban London rowhouse to a sun-kissed beach community in the Outer Banks changes the stakes, as does the creation of a more violent backstory for the child’s conception and the introduction of railroads as an unexpectedly prominent theme. (The title is a reference to the lyrical location of the Chattanooga Choo Choo.) The characters themselves have undergone an enormous transformation. The middle-aged Elizabeth becomes Russell’s youthful, childish Linda; her husband’s tedious office job becomes Lloyd’s doctor with a toy train fixation, and the quietly seductive stranger played by Tim Curry on television is a wholly different animal as embodied by Oldman, fresh off his portrayal of Sid Vicious and primed to play the angriest of young men. 

Oldman is fully schizoid, turning on a dime from deranged madman to bereft toddler. (There is no reason for his character to be British, except that it reverses Potter’s gambit in the teleplay, where the young mother’s child has been shipped off to Canada.) His unpredictability is magnetic, as he lures Linda in with sweetness and just as quickly turns antagonistic. Amazingly, though, Oldman shares the wackiest scene in the film with Lloyd’s appearance at a model train convention that unexpectedly turns into a rabble-rousing political rally. As Lloyd becomes more histrionic on behalf of (double-checks notes) toy railroading, the crowd gets increasingly amped up. This is intercut with Oldman’s full-blown assault on Lloyd’s personal track Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: TRACK 29 (1988)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: PERFECT SENSE (2011)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: David Mackenzie

FEATURING: Eva Green, Ewan McGregor, Stephen Dillane, Ewen Bremner, Denis Lawson, Connie Nielsen

PLOT: Epidemiologist Susan and chef Michael meet and begin to fall in love, but their romance is complicated by a slowly unfolding global pandemic that methodically strips the human race of its physical senses.

Still from Perfect Sense (2011)

COMMENTS: Hey, remember the COVID pandemic? Wasn’t that a ton of fun? We learned—and perhaps are continuing to learn—a whole lot about how our society would react to a worldwide health crisis, and the answers involve far more skepticism, selfishness, and general ignorance than we might have preferred. So there’s nothing quite like watching a movie in which the protagonists don masks to try and prevent the spread of an airborne virus that is threatening the entire world. Such happy memories come rushing back!

It seems that the cinema was prescient about such things about a decade before we got the real deal. Audiences had recently been treated to the horrors of outbreaks in films such as I Am Legend, Quarantine, Carriers, and (heaven help us) The Happening. One, Blindness, even focused specifically on a health crisis that deprived the populace of one of its senses. And in the year 2011, you had a choice: get a glimpse of the near-total failure of our public infrastructure in ’s thriller Contagion, or deal with the effects such a worldwide disaster would have on a budding romance in Perfect Sense, a love story suffused with foreboding and melancholy.

Diseases often propagate by preying upon our desire to help and comfort one another. But the contagion in Perfect Sense is unusually cruel, by turns capitalizing on our natural inclination to be kind toward one another, then exposing us at our most primal and emotional level, and finally stripping away that which allows us to interpret and enjoy the world. The film finds a particular power in images of the populace as a whole suddenly losing all control and self-possession, overcome by bouts of rage, despair, or even gluttony and pica. In each case, people try to pick up the pieces as best they can, and director Mackenzie and screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson envision these victims reaching out to each other to fill the ensuing losses with hope, which is a welcome grace note in a film about the encroaching end of the world. 

The story of this ever-evolving sickness is an odd counterpoint to the more intimate tale of two people who are rotten at love but find each other. Green and McGregor have terrific chemistry, impressive considering they are introduced to us as particularly poor romantic prospects: she’s an emotionally unavailable pessimist and he’s a frictionless cad. They have a genuinely effective, character-driven meet cute, and despite the obvious nature of their jobs—she works with diseases, his job revels in the senses of taste, smell, and sight—they act as worthy avatars for the damned human race. Just as their fellow humans find ways to go on, so do Susan and Michael keep after their mutual attraction, determined to hang on to their story even as the world falls apart.

The central figures in our story are so strong that it can be frustrating when the movie cuts away to share the ongoing collapse of the human race, complete with an omniscient narrator to explain “what it all means.” Unlike it’s cousin Contagion, which juxtaposes personal stories of survival against the global effort to defeat the pandemic, Perfect Sense works best at the micro level, with Susan and Michael navigating the crisis alongside their relationship with their friends and family. (McGregor also gets two reunions of a sort, with a fellow chef portrayed by his Trainspotting co-star Bremner, while his boss at the restaurant is none other than his own uncle Lawson, with whom he also shares a Star Wars pedigree.)

It’s only in the peculiar landscape of Perfect Sense that the closing moments of the film could be considered in any respect a happy ending: the world overtaken by a wave of unreserved euphoria, followed by Susan and Michael realizing the depth of their feelings and racing through the streets of Glasgow toward a heartfelt embrace—at the precise moment that their ability to see is snatched from them. Humanity won’t be long for this world, and all they will have is the sensation of this final, passionate embrace, but they will have that. It’s a dark but oddly hopeful conclusion regarding the one thing we learned for certain during the course of the pandemic: we humans are nothing if not persistent.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Perfect Sense is, to put it bluntly, a weird film… Overall Perfect Sense is a very strange and grim oddity that evokes the wrong reaction.” – Maxine Brown, Roobla (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Erin. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

Perfect Sense
  • DVD
  • Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • English (Original Language), English (Unknown)
  • 1
  • 92