17. TIDELAND (2005)

“[Producer] Jeremy [Thomas] knew [raising money to make Tideland] would be difficult, particularly because the film is very, very weird.”–Terry Gilliam

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Terry Gilliam

FEATURING: Jodelle Ferland, Brendan Fletcher,

PLOT: Jeliza-Rose is a nine year old girl with an active imagination who is being raised by a pair of junkies. When her father spirits her away to a lonely, dilapidated farmhouse, then takes an extended “vacation” on heroin, Jeliza-Rose is left to her own devices. She retreats into an intricate fantasy world where her four doll’s heads are her closest companions, but reality is scarcely less bizarre than her imagination: her neighbors are a witch-like one-eyed woman with an unhealthy interest in taxidermy and a childlike mentally retarded man who also lives in his own fantasy world.

tideland


BACKGROUND:

  • Tideland was adapted from a critically praised novel by Mitch Cullin; ironically, this faithful movie adaptation was critically panned.
  • Gilliam made Tideland while on a six month hiatus from directing the big-budget commercial fantasy, The Brothers Grimm (2005).
  • Tideland was a commercial disaster, earning less than $100,000 in its initial domestic run.
  • According to Gilliam, the French distributor did not want to screen this film at Cannes because there is a scene involving farting, which the French find objectionable.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Many will remember Jeliza-Rose’s doll’s heads, who make memorably fantastic appearances in an underwater house and flying about inside a man’s ribcage.  But the more indelible image, because it’s repeated so many times, is the view of the broken down farmhouse in front of amber waves of grain.  The look was inspired by the Andrew Wyeth paining “Christina’s World,” and, though unacknowleged, also from the 1990 film The Reflecting Skin (which had an almost identical look as well as an eerily similarly child protagonist). Gilliam often emphasizes the tall gold grass towering over tiny Jeliza-Rose’s head, as if it were surf and she was living in an undersea world.  This ubiquitous aquatic imagery helps to explain the title “Tideland“.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Gilliam has described the movie as a cross between “Alice in Wonderland” and Psycho, which sounds weird enough on its own terms. He pushes the envelope of weirdness even further with his trademark visual flair for phantasmagorical set pieces, for example, with a gloriously imaginative sequences of Jeliza-Rose falling down a rabbit hole full of tumbling syringes. But even if the audience wasn’t planted firmly inside the skull of the 9-year-old heroine, peering out onto this grotesque world through her child’s eyes, the scenario would have been weird, as the world of Tideland is peopled by grossly exaggerated lowlifes who live out their lives on the lonely fringes of plausibility.


Original trailer for Tideland

COMMENTS: Tideland is a misunderstood film, which is not automatically the same thing Continue reading 17. TIDELAND (2005)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 4/2/09

A look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

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

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Alien Trespass:  A stylized spoof of 1950s drive-in sci-fi fare.  Reviewers have been unkind (only 27% positive at Rotten Tomatoes).  Alien Trespass official site.

C Me Dance:  Story of a teenage dancer who develops the ability to convert people to Christianity, which cheeses off the Devil and brings him to suburbia.  It seems sincere, which is the necessary substrate for camp.  It’s highly unlikely anyone will ever release a good movie that contains textspeak within the title.  C Me Dance official site.

Gigantic:  Self-described “funny, surreal love story” about a mattress salesman who dreams of adopting a Chinese baby and finds true love when a customer falls asleep on one of the mattresses.  This indie comedy looks more “quirky” than “weird,” but no one can know for sure without watching it.   With Zooey Deschanel and John Goodman.  Gigantic official site.

NEW ON DVD:

A Cat in the Brain (1990):  Everyday life is causing an Italian grindhouse director (director Lucio Fulci, playing himself) to flashback to scenes of cannibal orgies from his own movies.  He sees a psychiatrist who may be even nuttier and more depraved than the director.  Unapologetically ultraviolent. 

Cthulu (2007):  If you always wondered, “what eons-forgotten actress has the eerie, alien look which best evokes the Old Ones of H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos?” and came up with the answer “Tori Spelling,” then this just might be the movie for you.  Based on the Lovecraft story “The Shadow over Innsmouth.”    

Tehilim (2007):  Allegorical tale told in documentary style about an Israeli family who use various methods of coping when the father inexplicably disappears.  Nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes in 2007.

Tokyo Zombie (2005):  It’s been called a Japanese Shaun of the Dead, which suggests something gorier and more extreme in the violence department, and wackier and more unhinged in the comedy department.  Directed by Sakicho Sato, who scripted Ichi the Killer, so it has a weird pedigree. 

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Ghosts of Mars (2001):  From borderline weird cult director John Carpenter (Big Trouble in Little China) comes this unofficial remake of his earlier action classic Assault on Precinct 13, this time with the action happening on Mars.  This movie had few defenders even among Carpenter fans, and almost none elsewhere.  With Ice Cube.

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.

TOD BROWNING’S ‘DRACULA’ (1931): CHALLENGING THE REVISIONISTS

Guest review by Alfred Eaker

Tod Browning’s Dracula is often compared to Murnau’s unauthorized Nosferatu. It is an unfair comparison:the two are very different films, which merely happen to share the same literary inspiration.  (Neither are mere adaptations.  The only film to fairly compare to Murnau’s would be Herzog’s remake with Kinski and, indeed, it compares very favorably).  The vampire of Murnau and Schreck is an accursed, repulsive animal, the carrier of a dreaded plague and the beast fights fiercely to sustain its life, like a rodent in its death throes.  The Dracula of Browning and Lugosi is an outsider, a mesmerizing and intensely austere intruder, who comes to nourish on the aristocratic London Society, who he, paradoxically, yearns to to join (fittingly, for a genuine outsider, it is to no avail of course; he makes rather pronounced overtures and goes to extraordinary lengths to fulfill his ambition there).

Dwight Frye’s pre-bitten Renfield is nearly as strange an outcast as he is after his transformation, albeit in a far dracula1different light. Renfield is a bizarre, urban effeminate in an old meat, potatoes and superstition land. The villagers are outcasts too, but among them, Renfield is the doomed jester, misguidedly blinded by his foolhardy feeling of superiority over them and stubbornly oblivious to the peasants’ warnings.

The introduction to the inhabitants of Castle Dracula is among the most discussed in the annuls of Universal Horror and, to many viewers, it is also most perplexing. This is quintessential Browning. The static silence is punctuated with genuine dread, surreal humor, and the unnerving whimpers of a opossum. Karl Freund’s camera pans over a decidedly unreal set. The vampire brides slowly emerge as a bee scampers out of its little coffin. An opossum seems to be ducking for cover in its dilapidated coffin and its cries are the only living sounds we hear as we are introduced to Lugosi’s Count staring directly at the camera.

Renfield’s journey to Castle Dracula perfectly captures the sensory view of a crepuscular world. Indeed, no other Universal horror film would convey it as vividly and attempts to do so in later films proved pale imitations.

Renfield’s arrival to the castle, and state of confusion, is juxtaposed against the awkward but pertinacious emergence of Dracula. Lugosi’s emergence seems to partake of a genuine struggle and this echoes the delivery of his greeting which follows. This emergence sharply contrasts with the startling and confused appearance of armadillos scurrying in the ruins below, which also heightens Renfield’s confused state.

Critics have unfavorably compared this scene to Melford’s much more fluid shot of Villar’s Count appearance atop the stairwell in Dracula (The Spanish Version). Continue reading TOD BROWNING’S ‘DRACULA’ (1931): CHALLENGING THE REVISIONISTS

SHORT: やった (2001)

fivestar

DIRECTED BY: Unknown

FEATURING:  Greenl

PLOT:  Six bouncy naked men (whose genitals are tasteful disguised by fig

leaves) experience love and loss in modern Japan, eventually achieving artistic and financial success through music. 

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: やった is a hallucinogenic barrage of bizarre imagery.  A peppy musical score contrasts ironically with the magical mystery tour taken by the six naked men, whose travels through impossible landscapes consisting of fields of ostriches and giant sushi platters are shown in brief, almost subliminal flashbacks.  The six scantily clad principals appear delusional, and its is possible that the director intended this short film to be an expressionist depiction of a state of paranoid schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder, with each member representing a separate Jungian archetype.

COMMENTS:

On the surface the やった seems to be nothing more than shock cinema, weirdness for weirdness’ sake.  Closer examination will reveal it to be one of the saddest stories ever told, an entire universe of bereavement and nihilism encased in a devilishly hummable 4 minute disco montage.  The scene where a fig leaf wearing man brushes past a beautiful woman on a busy Tokyo street, looks back wistfully as she passes, and is immediately consoled by his five naked brothers (who magically emerge from a nearby alley), is perhaps the most melancholy romantic scene put to film since Bernstein told his tale of the girl with the white parasol in Citizen Kane.

Some have claimed that this short film is actually a satirical skit by a comedy troupe meant to poke fun at Japan’s eternal optimism in the face of economic and political woes.  Such reductionist interpretations miss the larger point, however.  やった tells a tale of the existential struggle to survive, forge an identity, and promote a boy band made up of naked middle aged men in an uncaring, absurd universe.  In a shot that seems almost to be a throwaway sequence, but actually is the key to interpreting  やった’s deeper meaning, a fig life springs to life from the crotch of one of the singers and rises in the air, finally transforming into the word “hope.”  American directors would do well to take heed of their Japanese counterparts willingness to express such deep emotional truths without the fear of looking silly.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY
“Irrational Exuberance gains its genius from the fact that it effectively translates the concepts in Yatta! to an American audience, who wouldn’t get the Snore! Snore! Pass! Pass! part, but can appreciate the way that commercialism dumbs down their society. Hey, as long as we’re happy, who cares if we’re dancing in our skivvies?”–Sekicho, Everything2.com

16. CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962)

“We hoped for the look of a Bergman film and the feel of Cocteau.”–variously attributed to screenwriter John Clifford or director Herk Harvey

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Herk Harvey

FEATURING: Candace Hilligoss, Sidney Berger

PLOT:  Mary Henry, a church organist, is the lone survivor of an accident when the car she’s riding in plunges over the side of an old wooden bridge.  Looking to start over, she takes a job as an organist at a new church in a town where she knows no one.  She finds herself haunted by the sight of a pale grinning man who appears to her when she is alone, and fascinated by an old abandoned carnival pavilion visible from the window of her boarding house that she senses hold a mysterious significance.

carnival_of_souls
BACKGROUND:

  • Carnival of Souls was made in three weeks for less than $100,000 (figures on the budget vary, but some place it as low as $33,000).  The film was a flop on its initial release, but gained a cult following through late night television showings.  The film was restored and re-released in 1989 to overwhelmingly positive reviews.
  • Director Herk Harvey, screenwriter John Clifford and composer Gene Moore worked together at Centron Corporation, an industrial film company, creating short safety documentaries such as Shake Hands with Danger and high-school propaganda/hygiene films such as What About Juvenile Delinquency? None were ever involved with a feature film again.
  • Mesmerizing star Candace Hilligoss acted in only one other feature film, 1964’s The Curse of the Living Corpse, before retiring to raise a family.
  • The movie has been very influential on other films, particularly low-budget horror films.  Director George Romero has said that the ghostly figures in Carnival of Souls inspired the look and feel of the zombies in The Night of the Living Dead (1968).  Other writers see a Carnival of Souls influence on films such as Eraserhead (in regards to its ability to evoke the nightmarish quality of everyday objects), Repulsion (disintegration of the mind of a sexually repressed woman), and even Apocalypse Now (the shot of Martin Sheen rising from the water mimics a similar scene involving The Man–thanks to Matthew Dessem of “The Criterion Collection” for the catch).
  • Carnival of Souls was “remade” in 1998, although the plot (about a clown killer and rapist) shared nothing with the original except the name and the final twist.  Wes Craven produced.  The remake went direct to DVD and was savaged by critics and audiences alike.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: What else, but the titular carnival? Ghostly figures waltz to an eerie, deranged organ score on what appears to be an old merry-go-round at the abandoned amusement park. The tableau recurs twice in the film: once clearly in a dream, and once near the end as a scene that may also be a dream, but may be another state of being entirely.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDCarnival of Souls is set in the ordinary, everyday world, but as seen through the eyes of an alienated, frightened woman. The world the film depicts is familiar, but made maddeningly strange, and its the subtle, grubby touches rather than ghostly apparitions that allow this creepy low-budget wonder to seep deep under your skin.


Trailer for Carnival of Souls

COMMENTS: Carnival of Souls is a minor film miracle. There was little reason to suspect Continue reading 16. CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

A full review of the classic 1962 microbudget horror, Carnival of Souls, should post tomorrow.

Next in the review queue is Terry Gilliam’s 2005 offering, Tideland.

Alfred Eaker has agreed to provide writing for the site on a weekly basis.  We’re looking forward to his critical re-evaluation of Tod Browning’s Dracula on Thursday.

In addition, we are working on moving the entire site to new hosting as soon as possible.  WordPress free hosting has been truly wonderful and we recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone looking to start a free blog.  We can offer more content and hopefully deliver some improvements to the site by moving it to our own domain, however.  This website will remain here indefinitely, but new content will be posted at the new domain once it’s up and running.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 3/27/09

A look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

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

IN THEATERS (WIDE RELEASE):

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009):  A DreamWorks 3-D adventure for children about a group of mutated monsters fighting an alien invasion.  The trailer begin with the phrase “The weird will save the world.”  Moderately interesting possibility to introduce kids to old b-movie tropes. Also screening in IMAX.  Featuring the voice of Reese Witherspoon.    Monsters vs. Aliens Official Site

That’s it this week!  Remarkably slim pickings for fans of the offbeat…

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.

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