CAPSULE: MAD DETECTIVE (2007)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:  Johnnie To, Wai Ka Fai

FEATURING: Lau Ching Wan, Andy On, Lam Ka Tung, Kelly Lin

PLOT: An insane detective with psychic abilities comes out of retirement to help with the case of a missing policeman whose gun has been used in several murders.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: You’ll find the word “weird” thrown around a lot in regards to this movie; if you’re a longtime devotee of the genre, however, you’ll find Mad Detective resides at the low end of that scale. Once you get your feet under you and understand the rules of Detective Bun’s madness, you’ll find it to be little more than an entertaining police procedural/character study with a semi-supernatural gimmick.

COMMENTS: You would think that Detective Bun’s perfect record solving crimes using his psychic powers would make him an invaluable asset to the Hong Kong police department. Ultimately, however, his madman stunts, like attacking his fellow cops and cutting off his own ear as an impromptu present for a retiring superior officer, become too disruptive for the constabulary to tolerate, and he’s forcibly retired. But when a sticky case comes along, Bun’s preternatural sleuthing skills prove too great a temptation to resist, and a former partner tracks him down to pick his broken brain.

The underlying mystery in Mad Detective isn’t particularly convoluted; only the obscuring mist of Bun’s madness hides the solution. From the audience’s perspective, the confusing thing is that many of the characters that appear onscreen may only appear in Bun’s hallucinations, which can throw you off (at least momentarily, since the reality of the situation is almost immediately quickly resolved). You see, when Bun looks at someone, he sees not only their physical body, but also a manifestation of their personality made flesh. To add another twist, he also sometimes sees people who aren’t there at all. And his method of crime-solving requires him to spark his psychic abilities by recreating the crime in dangerous ways: if a victim was thrown down the stairs while packed in a suitcase, he zips himself up in a soft-sided luggage and has a partner throw him down a flight of stairs, emerging at the end with a “eureka!” Mad Detective works as a schizophrenic character study rather than a typical mystery or procedural—and it works exceptionally well. It even ends with a climax that manages to put a surreal new spin on the Lady from Shanghai-inspired hall-of-mirrors shootout. Good stuff.

Johnnie To (Drug War) is a prolific action director who’s one of the few remaining in Hong Kong to carry on the legacy of John Woo. Wai Ka Fai (who co-wrote the script) is better known as a screenwriter, but directs and produces films occasionally. I have no idea how the divided up the directorial duties here, but it seems likely that To handled the action-oriented set pieces. It’s a shame this movie didn’t start a franchise; To and Fai could have brought Bun back to solve an entire slate of bizarre cases (a la Detective Dee).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If the insanely inventive and entertaining ‘Mad Detective’ weren’t so weird — and in Cantonese — hordes of action geeks would be lining the block to see it.”–Manohla Dargis, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

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

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 9/27/2019

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):

The Death of Dick Long (2019): Bandmates try to cover up the demise of the title character in this offering from Swiss Army Mans . Fresh off Fantastic Fest, A24 gives it a quick theatrical release; if you can’t find it, it’s scheduled for video-on-demand a couple of weeks from now. The Death of Dick Long official site.

Sister Aimee (2019): The plot is (very) loosely based on a true story about a female faith healer from the 1920s who fled the spotlight and hid out in Mexico, with musical numbers. A long shot for this site’s readers, but Indiewire’s Kate Erbland does say it’s “occasionally weird.” Sister Aimee official Facebook page.

IN DEVELOPMENT (completed):

1000 Kings (2019): Logline: “In an artificial world of colors and shapes a beehive society strives for light.” It will have its festival debut at Montreal’s Festival de Nouveau Cinema in October. Definitely weird. 1000 Kings official Facebook page.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

Diamantino (2018): A Portuguese soccer star adopts an African lesbian immigrant, while his twin sisters are conducting secret genetic experiments. We have been waiting on this one for quite a while; it finally arrives on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD. Buy Diamantino.

In the Aftermath (1988): Here’s a real oddity: in 1988 ‘s New World Pictures bought the rights to ‘s surreal anime Angel’s Egg and wrote a new (live action!) story about an angel helping a couple of soldiers after the apocalypse. Arrow Video releases a deluxe Blu-ray of Aftermath with bells and whistles (including a documentary featurette about Oshii’s original)—and yet a decent and affordable version of Egg itself remains mysteriously absent from home video. Buy Angel’s Egg.

Jacob’s Ladder (2019): An Afghanistan war veteran returns home to find the brother he thought he’d lost in combat is still alive, and has been the subject of army-sponsored psychotropic drug experiments. A remake (of sorts) of the Canonically Weird 1990 psychological thriller. On DVD and VOD (no Blu-ray) after a super-brief run in theaters. Buy Jacob’s Ladder (2019).

Luz (2018): Read Giles Edward’s review. This low-budget supernatural hypnotism police procedural beat the odds to find distribution; after a brief theatrical run it’s out on DVD and VOD (a Blu-ray was announced but we didn’t find it on offer—one may show up later). Buy Luz.

Sleepy Hollow (1999): The story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman, as told in the whimsical Gothic style of . Not generally acknowledged as a weird movie, but it has at least one champion here. This is a “20th Anniversary” Blu-ray, but the only advertised special feature is an illustrated booklet with the original Washington Irving story (which is kind of cool). Buy Sleepy Hollow.

BOOKS:

“The End of the World”: A reprint of a sort-of graphic novel created (the press release tells us) from “abandoned ideas that were too strange to make it to the big screen.” The panels were originally dashed-off on post-it notes, and retain that aesthetic for 244 pages. Available via Kindle of hardcover (for weird coffee tables). Buy “The End of the World”.

DVR ALERT:

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) always broadcasts a fine creepy slate of Halloween offerings. This year, they’re screening some deep cut Canonically Weird films along with the usual classic suspects. On September 28 you can catch Belladonna of Sadness (1973) (!) at 2AM EST, followed by House [Hausu] (1977). We’ll try to keep you updated as October rolls along, but here’s the full month+ schedule courtesy of comicbook.com.

CERTIFIED WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). We won’t list all the screenings of this audience-participation classic separately. You can use this page to find a screening near you.

FREE (LEGITIMATE RELEASE) MOVIES ON YOUTUBE:

“MetropolisRemix: Metropolis (1927) Colorized & Dubbed” You read that right: ‘s seminal silent sci-fi classic Metropolis (1927), colorized and dubbed. We hardly think Metropolis needed to be colorized and/or dubbed, but it’s impossible not to admire the painstaking technical work involved.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE: Next week, G. Smalley gets back to that long-neglected reader-suggested review queue with a look at the Hong Kong psychic procedural Mad Detective (2007). And we’ll take a look at a pair of low-budget 2019 releases, as Simon Hyslop takes a trip to Bloodsucker’s Planet, while Giles Edwards considers whether The VelociPastor is the Second Coming of deliberate camp, or needs to say five Hail Marys. Onward and weirdward!

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

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SPACE NINJAS (2019)

DIRECTED BY: Scott McQuaid

FEATURING: Yi Jane, Damien Zachary, Briane Narelle, Dirk Benedict

PLOT: Five high schoolers are doomed to spend their Saturday night at school in detention, then doomed by an infiltration of space ninjas.

Still from Space Ninjas (2019)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Some movies are so bad that they’re good, some are so bad that they’re weird, and some suffer from the misconception that you can try to be that bad. I could not figure out which of these (or what combination) Space Ninjas falls into: suffice to say, I never lost my “WTF?” expression throughout this mash-up of The Breakfast Club, ’80s horror, and low-budget flair that seemed to oscillate between winking at the audience and accidentally tripping over itself.

COMMENTS: A big part of me wonders if this whole thing was just a massive set-up to allow Scott McQuaid (the writer and director of this gem) to slip the line, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead!” into a Teen-Sci/Fi-Horror movie. That’s the kind of picture this is. Slippery. Some poking around online suggests it may be doing what it’s doing on purpose, and I’m inclined to believe it. However, the whole exercise gives off the vibe that McQuaid & Co. only mostly know what they’re doing, using a charming kind of amateur ineptness as a crutch to carry them across the “self-aware” finish line. But hold on a second, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Enter five teenagers: the jock, the nerd (Damien Zachary), the prima donna, the punk (Yi Jane), and the Japanese exchange student. These archetypes find themselves, for various not-altogether-specified reasons, confined to a classroom for detention on a weekend—the only way, it appears to the school’s “Deputy Head,” Mr Hughes, to actually punish them. (I’m bothering to tell you his job title because, like so much of the rest of the plot, it’s established to set up a hack n’ slash joke later in the movie.) Quips fly, barbs are jabbed, and the lights go out. A dark figure appears from nowhere. And for the rest of the movie, our band of teenagers finds itself increasingly failing to escape the menace of… Space Ninjas!

Two questions came to mind about halfway through watching this movie. First, how does 366’s radar pick up this kind of nonsense? Second, what drives a man to make this kind of nonsense in the first place? The visual tone is thrown from the get-go, appearing to have been captured on digital film from the early ’00s (those who remember “mini-DV” tapes will know what I’m talking about). The dialogue was—probably—dubbed in after the fact. The gore shots were achieved with, once again, some early ’00s-looking CGI. In fact, the whole movie, on the surface, felt as if Mark Region had finally gotten a correspondence school degree in filmmaking and decided to do a horror movie to follow up his taut psychological thriller. This extends to the delivery of the dialogue, which in Space Ninjas hews somewhere between “realistic” and “high school film class” in quality, but is pretty regularly (and obviously intentionally) funny.

The movie is bookended by a campy Mysterious Mysteries-meets-Horkheimer’s “Star Hustler” television show, which sets up the premise (its host, “Jack ‘don’t-call-me’ Strange”, is played by B-movie stalwart Dirk Benedict, who is mysteriously omitted from the IMDb credits). Judging from how those scenes play out, I am inclined to suspect that McQuaid (probably) knows what to do. I’m impressed that he was somehow able to obscure this skill set for most of the movie. Had I not been given grounding, I’d have readily slipped Space Ninjas into the “” category. I consider it far more impressive a specimen for having (probably) pulled the wool over my eyes.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…fans of B-movie horror comedies will love this.”–JB, Talk Nerdy to Me

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: BEETLEJUICE (1988)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Tim Burton

FEATURING: , Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, , ,

PLOT: A milquetoast suburban couple find themselves dead and haunting their own house; when new tenants they can’t stand redecorate the place and prove themselves immune to haunting, they hire a “bio-exorcist.”

Still from Beetlejuice (1988)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The premise, following a couple of ghosts protagonists along their misadventures in the afterlife, is a good enough foundation, but could have been a ho-hum fantasy in different hands. It took this all-star crew to come up with a desert world populated by sand snakes, a brothel in model train scale, a dinner party becoming a Harry Belafonte singalong, and a million and one creepy/hilarious dead folk to round it up to an eye-popping experience. It’s the happiest movie about death ever made!

COMMENTS: Tim Burton has certainly provoked his share of discussion on our site. Had 366 Weird Movies been around when he started his career, he doubtless would have been keen to make our list. Don’t let him kid for you a minute: Tim Burton knows exactly what weird is. He has Danny Elfman around, he knows about Forbidden Zone. There’s no excuse. He also knows what money is, and the siren song of the almighty buck has proven a stronger lure than prestige as a true artiste and auteur of midnight movies. Hence has he ever aimed his output straight for the suburban outlet mall, right between Hallmark and Hot Topic, making sure he can be equally merchandised in both. It’s clear that his artistic muse struggles to insert weirdness into everything he does, but if the weirdness factor cuts into the box office factor, he’s not about to take a chance on leaving a single empty seat in that theater on opening weekend. He still sobs himself to sleep at night over the lost Happy Meal deal. His saving grace is that he got off a few riskier shots in his wild years before Hollywood tamed him.

Beetlejuice is definitely Tim Burton at his wildest. If you remove his name and the all-star crew from consideration and view Beetlejuice objectively as its own thing, it’s pretty jaw-dropping that it ever got made. It is the blackest of black comedy subjects, getting a laugh out of scenes like suicide cases showing off their slashed wrists. And how would you like to hang yourself, only to find out that in the afterlife you’re condemned to keep dangling from the same noose, which is running around on a track amid office cubicles, so you can deliver memos? And the daughter protagonist—who can see ghosts through her sheer magical goth pixie powers alone—writes her suicide note but ghosts talk her out of it because, basically, death sucks too, kid. And how about Juno, the social worker for our hapless couple, who chainsmokes and exhales through the slash in her throat, and yet the effect is so underplayed that you could blink and miss it?

I once griped about the Imagination Ceiling: writers who bring up supernatural characters with allegedly near-boundless powers, but then the writer can’t think of anything awesome enough for them to do to make it worth the while. Beetlejuice does the Imagination Ceiling right. It’s jam-packed with supernatural characters who warp reality with a thought, pulling off one crazy stunt after another. Beetlejuice, tasked with getting rid of an intruding couple, does so by turning himself into a carnival strong man mallet game topped by a malevolent merry-go-round, for no other reason than that’s the first idea that popped into his head. In the manic hour-and-a-half running time, we never get very much explained, but the fever-dream logic is internally consistent enough that it makes perfect sense for a guy to get munched by a sudden sandworm attack. Right after he got rammed in the foot by a toy car driven by an outraged hobbyist shrunken down and left for stranded in his own model town, of course.

The mortal characters would be hard pressed to match the supernatural ones, but they do a bang-up job regardless. From the impossibly prissy interior decorator turned medium to the hysterically neurotic sculptress who will eventually be held prisoner by one of her own creations, they match the dead half of the cast bonker for bonker. Nobody with more than two lines in this film is forgettable. Only now we can start talking about the cast and crew, a unique blend of quirky careers and offbeat talents. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis stand out by the magnitude of their vanilla Brad and Janet routine, lost in a different kind of Gothic funhouse. Winona Ryder plays the most Winona Rydery role of her career. Danny Elfman’s music is a haunted circus. And all I want is for Glenn Shadix to follow me around all day narrating every mundane thing I do in his dramatic purple ham voice, is that too much to ask?

Beetlejuice is Tim Burton’s weirdest movie, because it ranks four out of five bowls of sugary cereal on the Saturday Morning Cartoon scale of unfettered childhood imagination.

Warner Brothers re-released Beetlejuice in a collectible Blu-ray steelbook package in 2019, giving us the excuse we needed to finally review it. It has the original trailer and the three episodes of the “Beetlejuice” cartoon series that were included on the “20th Anniversary” Blu-ray, but doesn’t come with the isolated score or soundtrack CD bonus disc from that release.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Right off the bat, the whole premise is fucking weird, and it just gets weirder with each subsequent single scene. People pull their faces off, heads are shrunk, sculptures come to life, eyeballs become fingers, massive worms eat people—it really is a nonstop barrage of ‘what the hell?’ How someone sat down and gave Tim Burton millions of dollars to make this is almost incomprehensible.”–Germaine Lussier, Gizmodo

BEHIND THE REAL WORLD: JOHANESS NYHOLM ON KOKO-DI, KOKO-DA

Note: The following interview may contain slight spoilers for Koko-di, Koko-da.

Koko-Di Koko-Da Director Johannes Nyholm_sm
Johannes Nyholm (photo courtesy Fantasia Film Festival)

is a Swedish animator and filmmaker with two features under his belt: the humanistic fantasy The Giant [Jätten] (2016) and 2019’s horrific Koko-Di, Koko-Da (read Giles Edwards’ complete review).

Koko-di debuted at Sundance, won the “Camera Lucida” prize at Fantasia, and is currently playing at Austin’s Fantastic Fest (catch the final screening on September 26). Dark Star Pictures has acquired the movie for a November 15 U.S. theatrical release.

The title comes from a macabre children’s nursery rhyme (“my rooster is dead, he will never sing koko-di koko-da”). The story involves a married couple—once loving, now squabbling—who go on a camping trip in the woods four years after a tragedy ripped their lives apart. Once there, they wake in the middle of the night to find the same events repeating themselves. Three figures trudge out of the woods: an old man dressed in white, a tall female leading a vicious dog, and a unibrowed giant with a dead dog slung over his shoulder. The trio terrorize the campers; then, they wake up in their tent, as if from a dream, and the cycle repeats itself. The man becomes conscious of what is happening and futilely tries new strategies to avoid their fate. All the while there is also a mysterious white cat running around in the woods, and scenes from a bizarre shadow play where animal puppets reenact a peculiar fable that seems relevant to the couple’s personal history. Will they escape this treadmill of horror and recrimination?

Koko-d Koko-da Key art
(c) 2019 Johannes Nyholm Produktion

366 Weird Movies’ spoke with Mr. Nyholm via telephone.

366: Would you consider this a Swedish or a Danish film? According to IMDB both languages are spoken in the film.

Johaness Nyholm: Mostly Swedish. We shot most parts in Sweden, and most of the team was Swedish as well. But I have a Danish co-producer who helped a lot on the film, and there is quite a lot of Danish spoken, especially from one character in the film.

366: I think it’s fair to say that this is a mysterious movie, in many ways, and I wanted to know if you thought there were any cultural references that Scandinavian audiences might pick up on that people in other countries might not get.

JN: No, I don’t think so, actually… the music is a French lullaby.

366: I was wondering if the “Koko-di Koko-da” song was written specifically for the movie or if it’s a traditional folk song.

JN: No, it’s a traditional folk song. Of course, we made many different versions of it.

366: Peter Belli is a well-known Danish singer. Did you have him in Continue reading BEHIND THE REAL WORLD: JOHANESS NYHOLM ON KOKO-DI, KOKO-DA

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