SPECIAL THANKSGIVING DAY CAPSULTACULAR: TURKEY SHOOT (1982)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Olivia Hussey,

PLOT: Hapless free-thinkers are hunted for sport by a merciless regime in a dystopian future.

COMMENTS: Newsreel footage of chaotic societal collapse sets the backstory. The sanitized opulence of a knick-knack shop shows the good life. A helpless reprobate crashes onto the scene, pursued by fascist goons, to introduce the conflict. And the whaaaamming tones of the synth score let you know: this is Dystopian ’80s Country—in the bleak future year of 1995.

“Freedom is Obedience; Obedience is Work; and Work is Life”: remember that. And “the Program has been devised for your own good.” The re-education camps are bursting to full, as deviants continue to rebel against the benevolent authorities. Charles Thatcher (no relation) oversees his patch with effete tyranny, making life hard to hellish for his wards, particularly defiant manly-man Paul Anders and confused gentlewoman Chris Walters. But it’s not all bad at the camp: “promiscuity among deviants, while not encouraged, is permitted within reason.” But “Unbreakable” Anders won’t be taking his punishment lying down.

The man at the film’s helm is good, as evidenced by his snappy introduction to the world within and throughout. In the space of a few minutes he builds tension with style when the Radio Freedom DJ is surrounded, then apprehended, by the police state’s state police: a medium shot on a man with the microphone, speechifying on the abuses by the authorities, interspersed with low-height camera shots of the weapons and waistlines of the approaching enforcers, utterly dehumanizing the villains. The director fleshes out the world he has built with incidental dialogue, such as details concerning the oddly egalitarian punishment for pregnancy amongst the inmates: both responsible parties are sterilized. An odd touch that suggests this dystopia is at least gender-equitable.

Trenchard-Smith would go on to direct the better (and odder) Dead End Drive-In (which actually uses footage from Turkey Shoot), recycling the premise to craft a far more compelling and nuanced experience. Of course, he’d also go on to direct a fair number of straight-to-video movies of highly questionable quality. (*Ahem*, Leprechaun 3 and Leprechaun 4: In Space.) Above all else, Trenchard-Smith’s career is the story of a man who can ably execute whatever project is thrown his way,  and bring it in under budget. In this case, it managed both to recoup its outlay and become something of a cult favorite. It treads a fine line: campy premise with commendable execution, alongside hammy acting interspersed with suave performances. I recommend you dig in, as this movie ain’t no turkey.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“All in all though, the movie is a lot of fun… chock full of the kind of violence that exploitation fans know and love. Inmates are impaled with arrows and then run over, guards find themselves on the receiving end of some grisly battering ram type weapons, limbs are severed, torsos explode, and an implied lesbian rape scene is thrown in just for good measure.” -Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop!

CAPSULE: HUMAN NATURE (2001)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Miranda Otto

PLOT: A scientist and a woman cursed with hirsuitism discover a feral man living in the woods and train him to live in civilized society.

Still from Human Nature (2001)

COMMENTS: Human Nature feels a bit like—and was certainly interpreted by contemporaneous critics as—an unpublished script that was dusted off and polished up to capitalize on the unexpected success of Being John Malkovich (1999). In fact, the script had originally been optioned way back in 1996, when it was circulating together with Malkovich, although it’s not clear which screenplay Kaufman completed first. After his 1999 hit, passed on directing Human Nature; he served as a producer instead, and recommended the already-established music video/commercial director Michel Gondry for the job.

That partnership was also destined to bear fruit in the future, but the team did not immediately meet with success. Human Nature didn’t live up to its immediate predecessor in either the originality of its premise or in its bizarre humor; critics who loved the first movie were generally disappointed, while those who never bought in to Kaufman in the first place relished the opportunity to proclaim that the newly crowned Emperor had scanty clothing. Twenty years later, seen outside of Malkovich‘s immediate shadow, Human Nature looks much better: smart, easy to watch, and wispily Freudian in its depiction of sexual conflict between the superego and id.

Human Nature begins by divulging its three main characters’ eventual fates: Lila is imprisoned, Puff is testifying before a Congressional subcommittee, and Nathan has a conspicuous hole in his head. Flashbacks explain how we got here: Lila, cursed with simian body hair, becomes a famous nature writer but decides she needs a man and so undergoes extensive electrolysis before being introduced to Nathan, an inhibited prude of a psychologist who’s work involves using electrical shocks to train lab rats to use the correct salad fork. They form a desperate, co-dependent relationship until discovering a feral man (later dubbed “Puff”) in the woods, whom Nathan decides would make an even better test subject for his behavioral modification studies than the mice—unlike rodents, he can train the ape man to read “Moby Dick” and discuss Wittgenstein, and to refrain from humping every woman he comes across. Predictably, things go awry, with everything further confused when various competing romantic axes and rivalries start to develop between this threesome and Nathan’s assistant, Gabrielle.

Quirky highlights include an incongruous, Disneyesque strolling-through-nature song where Lila embraces her hairiness (“my new friends, these split-ends…”); early whimsical “Gondryeqsque” sequences of white mice seated at a dinner table (done with a combination of puppetry, stop-motion, and trained animals); and Gabrielle’s contextually inexplicable accent. These bits combine with the oddness of the comic scenario and the movie’s arch approach to sexual repression to create an intelligent and off-key chamber piece effectively poking fun at our civilized foibles (“apes don’t assassinate their Presidents, gentlemen!”), while falling well short of the existential weirdness of Kaufman’s debut. By conventional Hollywood standards, Human Nature is fairly odd; by Gondry/Kaufman standards, it’s an attempt at a completely mainstream movie.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Written by Charlie Kaufman (BEING JOHN MALKOVICH), this superficially surreal film is in fact a surprisingly straightforward fable… overall the film feels forced and awkward, as though it’s trying too hard to be weird, culty and profound..”–Maitland McDonagh, TV Guide

(This movie was nominated for review by Nick Gatsby, who said it was “perfect for this list. I’m deathly surprised it’s not on here already.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

PLANNING DECEMBER 4’S WEIRD WATCH PARTY

We’re ready to take suggestions and votes in the comments for our next Weird Watch party, scheduled for Saturday, December 4 at 10:15 PM ET.

Nominations are open for movies on any of the three platforms we’ve used—Netflix, Prime or Tubi/Kast. When making your nomination, simply say “I think we should watch Weird Movie on Netflix” or “I propose Strange Movie on Tubi” or “How about Weird Movie 2: Electric Boogaloo on Prime?”

If you’d like to attend our watch party, then the important thing is to RSVP in the comments, where you can make a screening suggestion, or just say you plan to be there. As always, we’re looking for five likely attendees before officially scheduling.

When the party is set to begin we’ll announce it in three places:

  • On this site (if you’ve signed up for regular email alerts via the sidebar you’ll also get a notice that way)
  • On our Facebook page
  • On Twitter

Make your nominations and/or RSVP in the comments below.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 11/19/2021

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Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs and Blu-rays (and hot off the server VODs), and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

I Was a Simple Man (2021): A dying Hawaiian man remembers his life in what amounts to a living ghost story. One of those poetic movies that is most likely a reach for “weird,” notable for its Hawaiian setting. I Was a Simple Man official site.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

Cryptozoo (2021): Read our North Bend Film Festival capsule. The remarkably hand-animated fantasy about the trade in mythological and cryptozoological curiosities comes to Blu-ray (only). Buy Cryptozoo.

“The Evil Dead: Groovy Collection”: This box set includes the original The Evil Dead (1981), the canonically weird Evil Dead II (1987), and the entire run of the TV series “Ash vs. the Evil Dead.” That’s right, no Army of Darkness–look for a separate release later. This set splits eleven discs between regular Blu-ray and UHD. Buy “The Evil Dead: Groovy Collection”.

Mulholland Drive (2001): Read the Canonically Weird entry! Videophiles who are also weirdophiles will want to upgrade their copy of the ‘s Mulholland Drive, now out on a 4K Ultra High Definition disc. Buy Mulholland Drive.

Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021): Read Giles Edwards’ Apocrypha Candidate review! See Sion Sono direct Nicolas Cage in a post-apocalyptic samurai western on Blu-ray, DVD, or in 4K. Buy Prisoners of the Ghostland.

The Singing Ringing Tree (1957): Read the Canonically Weird entry! The surreal East German fairy tale about a princess, a dwarf, and a nightmare goldfish is on Blu-ray for the first time ever (a European release, but an all-region disc). This came out in October but we missed it; to give credit where credit is due, it was Mondo Digital’s recent review that tipped us off to the oversight. Buy The Singing Ringing Tree.

Vanilla Sky (2001): Read Shane Wilson’s review. Paramount is out with a “limited edition” newly remastered Blu-ray of the popular psychological thriller that sees playboy rightfully questioning what’s real and what’s in his head. Buy Vanilla Sky.

CANONICALLY WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:

This section will no longer be updated regularly. Instead, we direct you to our new “Repertory Cinemas Near You” page. We will continue to mention exceptional events in this space from time to time, however.

FREE ONLINE WEIRD MOVIES ON TUBI TV:

Bronson (2008): Read the Canonically Weird review! A strange biopic of a strange man: ‘s profile of inveterate prison brawler Charles Arthur Salvador, who takes the “fighting name” Charles Bronson. It seems like we’ve been here before, but Tubi says Bronson is “leaving soon.” Watch Bronson free on Tubi.tv.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE: Join us tomorrow night, November 20th, at 10:15 PM as we descend into the spheres of retail with In Fabric (2018). We’ll be using Kast.tv to stream and chat, so be sure you have signed up for a free account there. The link to join will drop here, on Facebook, and on Twitter around 10 PM.

Another small note: new reviews going forward, and older reviews as we sporadically get around to it, will have updated information on streaming availability in the U.S., provided by integration with the Just Watch database. Links will appear at the bottom of each article. This is a small change but we hope it provides value going forward; finding out where you can watch some of the obscure movies we cover has often been a chore.

Next week, plans to give you his opinion on Human Nature, while uses the upcoming holiday as an excuse for a Turkey Shoot. Meanwhile, in the background, we are working on a slimmed-down (and accordingly cheaper) version of our annual Yearbook for a December release, as well as hoping to resume the final stages of work on our much bigger print volume covering the entire run of 366 movies (known colloquially as “the Big Book”). What with the holidays approaching, we should have lots of extra free time, right? Sigh. At any rate, onward and weirdward!

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that we have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

CAPSULE: MAYDAY (2021)

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DIRECTED BY: Karen Cinorre

FEATURING: Grace Van Patten, , Soko, Havana Rose Liu, Juliette Lewis

PLOT: Escaping a horrible day of work at a restaurant, Ana finds herself amongst girl guerrilla fighters in the midst of war.

COMMENTS: Though others may have said it better, few have said it with as much swagger and clarity as Queen: don’t try suicide. This is among the handful of messages littered around the intriguing mess that is Karen Cinorre’s feature debut, Mayday. In fact, every other line of dialogue seems to be some kind of advisement:

  • Getting dizzy? Of course you are: you’ve never seen that far before.
  • You’ve been in a war your whole life, you just didn’t know it.
  • Girls are better off dead, ’cause now we’re free.
  • A lot of girls just slip away. They deserve better.
  • He needs to learn what fear feels like.
  • Wars always get out of hand. Soon everyone will be in on it.

This last line bears dissection, as the gist of it perhaps makes some sense (the spiraling nature of violence), but the execution of the aphorism collapses under scrutiny. This is a difficulty that Mayday battles throughout. But despite nearly buckling under the weight of its own heavy-handedness, Mayday pulls off the sermonizing while remaining generally entertaining.

The film begins with an airman parachuting from a plane’s open hatch. The story begins with Ana (Grace Van Patten) waking up abruptly in her car. She is awoken by her friend and coworker Dmitri: they are grunts-in-arms at a fairly hellish venue, catering a wedding beset with freakish electrical episodes. Inside, the maitre d’ brushes past Ana, chiding her, “Clean yourself up! I have to look at that face.” The bride-to-be abruptly grabs her, and the two crash into the ladies’ room for a bridal meltdown. When Ana is then tasked with a trip to the basement to futz with the fuse box, things become increasingly jumpy. Flipping the main switch, she ascends the stairs to an empty kitchen and climbs into an oven only to emerge on some seaside rocks.

What follows is a girl-vs-boy fantasy adventure whose tone speedily careens toward a clunky patrio-normative finale. Marsha leads a partisan trio that somehow knew when and where to collect Ana upon her arrival. “Gert” is weapons-obsessed, “Bea” is the playful adventurer, and the now-complete gang of four hide out in a beached submarine. They spend their days frolicking and sending out distress signals, siren-style, to lure would-be rescuers (all men) into deadly storms.

Cinorre has chosen a compelling and (unfortunately still) topical premise to explore, but the experience is undercut with every Marsha-n diatribe. I am fully on board with criticizing male chauvinism, but have qualms about getting into bed with misandry. Mayday‘s ultimate acknowledgement of all genders’ capacity for ill-behavior, though welcome, isn’t enough when the plot clings to the “but you have a man who wants you” motivation for Ana to decide to carry on. Like Queen, Cinorre can swagger; unlike Queen, her message drowns in ambiguity.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“From ‘The Wizard of Oz’ to ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and beyond, the references are there in abundance, but Cinorre trusts in their familiarity so much that she ditches notions like logical world-building (yes, there needs to be some coherent and consistent logic even in fantasy), throwing the audience inside a barely-realized novel reality. If you don’t ask too many questions and just go with the flow, you might have a decent time in this dimension.”–Tomris Laffly, RogerEbert.com (contemporaneous)

Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!