14. BLOOD DINER (1987)

“I mean, I don’t know how to describe it. But I just did. It’s just an insane f***in’ movie with insane parts. You’re watching it, it gives these curves that you didn’t see coming, until probably I just told you and showed you in the review. But it’s just I don’t even know how else to review it, you know, the, it’s just insane. It’s an insane f****in’ movie. Uncle Bill, you’re insane for liking it, and I’m insane for liking it too. It’s just insanity incarnate. But it’s a lot of fun.”–youtube fan review of Blood Diner

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Jackie Kong

FEATURING:  Rick Burks, Carl Crew

PLOT:  At the direction of their uncle Anwar, a talking brain in a jar, two restaurateur brothers assemble a vessel composed of body parts harvested from immoral women to receive the spirit of the ancient Egyptian goddess Sheetar.  They are opposed by a pair of mismatched cops and the owner of a rival vegetarian restaurant intent on stealing their secret recipe.  After many bloody murders, they must complete only the last ritual, a “Lumerian feast” where Sheetar will take the life of a virgin, along with the attendees at the banquet.

Still from Blood Diner (1987)

BACKGROUND:

  • Blood Diner was originally intended to be a sequel to Herschell Gordon Lewis’ transcendently bad Blood Feast (1963), but when the collaborators could not agree on a scenario the project was changed to a black comedy tribute in the spirit of Lewis’ movie
  • Blood Diner was originally banned in some Canadian provinces and in Iceland, and was heavily cut for release in other countries.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  As drug-zombies rave and cultists in Egyptian dress attempt to channel the goddess into a stitched-together corpse, a punk band (composed of a singer in a Roman helmet, two backup singers in blue wigs, four sidemen dressed as Hitler and a pantomime horse roaming the stage) plays in the background.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Most movies featuring talking brains in a jar are weird, and Blood Diner is no exception.


Original trailer for Blood Diner

COMMENTS: There was little in female exploitation director Jackie Kong’s brief oeuvre to Continue reading 14. BLOOD DINER (1987)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 3/13/09

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):

Race to Witch Mountain (2009):  This remake of Disney’s popular 1975 fantasy Escape to Witch Mountain, about two orphan kids with supernatural powers and unknown origins, has been getting hammered by critics who think it’s shallow but action-packed.  With The Rock (Dwayne Johnson), whose presence provides another reason to be skeptical.   Escape to Witch Mountain Official Site.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

The Perfect Sleep (2009):  An existential film noir tribute about a retired assassin who returns to a nameless city to protect the only woman he has ever loved.  Sounds intriguing.  The Perfect Sleep Official Site.

Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America (2009):  This micro-budget, DIY film about two Vikings stranded in North America in 1007 AD has been savaged by critics who are unimpressed by its “independent spirit.”  With a black metal soundtrack, amateur production values, dialogue in Old Norse, rape and defecation, this appears to be a genuine el cheapo oddity of the sort that in years past might have played at the bottom third of a drive-in triple bill.   Severed Ways Official Site 

UPCOMING NEXT WEEK:

W the Movie (2008):  Politically charged, psychedelic assault on the presidency of George W. Bush.  From the trailer, it seems to have that NYC underground film spirit that has gone AWOL of late.  Premiering at the New York International Film Festival on March 20th, 10:00 PM, at the Village East Cinema.  Future dates to be decided.   W the Movie Official Site.

NEW ON DVD:

Ben X (2007): Under-the-radar Belgian fest-favorite about a mildly autistic boy who blurs the line between video game reality and high school reality.  Variety says it’s “a potential crowd-pleaser that could appeal to auds predisposed toward the likes of ‘Donnie Darko.'”

Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) (Special Edition): Disney is re-releasing the 70s children’s fantasy to coincide with the remake (see above).  Also receiving special edition treatment this week is the 1978  sequel, Return from Witch Mountain.

Groom Lake (2002):  All you need to know is that it’s a cheap “UFOs are out there!” movie written by, directed by, and starring the inimitable William Shatner. 

Howard the Duck (1986) (Special Edition):  This notorious George Lucas produced 80s kiddie fantasy bomb about a cigar-smoking duck from an alternate universe who winds up saving the universe from evil aliens in Cleveland is finally getting a long-awaited video release.  It’s your chance to judge for yourself whether it deserves its reputation as one of the worst big-budget pictures ever, or if its an underacknowleged masterpiece.

Let the Right One In (2008): Innovative Swedish movie about a 12 year old boy who falls in love with a neighbor girl who is a vampire.  A presumedly inferior Hollywood remake is already in the works for those too lazy to read subtitles.

Synecdoche, New York (2008):  The directorial debut by weird scriptwriter Charles Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is a typically twisty tale of a director who seeks to recreate a miniature New York City inside a giant warehouse. 

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Se7en (1995):  The visually innovative debut film from David (Fight Club) Fincher about a serial killer who models his crimes on the seven deadly sins became both a box-office and cult success despite its morbid and depressing nature.  The presence of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman certainly helped. 

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.

BORDERLINE WEIRD: GIRL SLAVES OF MORGANA LE FAY [MORGANE ET SES NYMPHES] (1971)

DIRECTED BY:  Bruno Gantillon

FEATURING: Mireille Saunin, Dominique Delpierre, Alfred Baillou

PLOT:  Two pretty young women travelling through the French countryside

Still from Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay [Morgane et ses Nymphes] (1971)

stumble upon the castle of an elegant witch attended by a bevy of beauties and a dwarf, who promises to keep them eternally young and pampered if they will give up their souls to her.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE:  With it’s hunchbacked dwarf in eyeliner, tokes off a hookah, and decadent, dreamlike atmosphere, Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay tries fairly hard to be weird.  But the film isn’t really as committed to creating a weird atmosphere as it is in filling the frame with as many tastefully hot lesbian sex scenes as it’s running time will allow.

COMMENTS:  Despite the acres of nude female flesh and Sapphic trysts, Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay is a serious attempt at art, albeit erotic art.  The cinematography and costumes are luscious, and the location shooting at a real French castle provides a sensuous, refined background for the ladies’ romps in the buff.  The setting is decadent, and so are the pleasure-obsessed slave girls and their mistress, who sip on wine and quote Baudelaire all day in between refined orgies and interpretive erotic dances.  It’s the kind of locale you might like to live in (especially if you’re a lesbian), but not one that’s especially interesting to watch.  The atmosphere is trance-like, but the actresses emote as if they were in a trance. Despite the high-stakes battle for the girls’ souls, everything is so sublimated and understated that little real drama emerges.  The sex scenes are of the tasteful sort where one girl carefully caresses or kissed the torso of her lover, but only briefly brushes a nipple by accident.  The ending to the film is surprisingly effective, although abrupt. 

The DVD presentation by Pete Tombs’ Mondo Macabro is really amazing for a film this forgotten.  Tomb’s writes exhaustive essays on the film, cast, crew, and even the Chateau de Val location, as well as including Gantillon’s short film, Un couple d’artistes.  It’s nice to realize that enthusiasts exist to give a film as obscure as Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay a release that’s as every bit as loving as Criterion Collection would if it were a respectable mainstream classic.  

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The first naughty scene… is potently erotic, and it sets the tone for the dreamlike stupor of lesbianism that permeates the rest of the film… Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay is classic soft-core exploitation, but it is done with such fun and gusto that nary a hint of coercion or negativity intrudes.”–Rob Lineburger, DVD Verdict

13. KUNG FU HUSTLE (2004)

AKA Kung Fu, Kung Fu-sion

“It’s good to go over the line.  It’ll be boring if it doesn’t.  Following reality is not refreshing for me.”–Yuen Woo-ping, fight choreographer for Kung Fu Hustle

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Stephen Chow

FEATURING: Stephen Chow, Qui Yuen, Wah Yuen, Siu-Lung Leung

PLOT: The Axe Gang, hatchet-wielding hooligans garbed in black-tie evening wear, terrorizes Shanghai in the 1930s. Only the poorest areas avoid falling under their thumb—neighborhoods like Pig Sty Alley, a tenement building where every other resident seems to have one-in-a-million kung fu powers.  When an incompetent ersatz gangster tries to extort protection money from the residents of Pig Sty Alley, he accidentally sets in motion a series of events that brings the Axe Gang into conflict with the poor fighters, with explosive results.
Still from Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director Stephen Chow worked his way up from the trenches of the Hong Kong film industry, starting in television (including a stint as a children’s TV host). He became one of Hong Kong’s most popular comedians, specializing in a verbal style of comedy called “mo lie tau” (roughly, “nonsense”), which relies heavily on puns, wordplay, incongruities and non sequiturs. He began directing in 1994.
  • Chow’s previous film, Shaolin Soccer (2001), was supposed to be his breakthrough film in the West, but distribution was botched by Miramax and the picture became only a small cult hit on DVD.
  • Chow coaxed many older actors from the kung fu’s heyday out of retirement to star in major roles in Kung Fu Hustle. Qui Yuen (who played the part of “Landlady”) was one of the few female martial arts stars of the 1970s and had a small non-speaking role in the Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun. Wah Yuen (“Landlord”) has over one hundred acting credits, mostly from the late 1970s and early 1980s, and was at one time Bruce Lee’s stunt double. Siu-lung Leung (“The Beast”) was at one time considered third only to Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan as a martial arts star, and had been retired from the film business since 1988.
  • Kung Fu Hustle was the most profitable feature in Hong Kong cinema history. In its US theatrical run it opened as the #5 movie in the country and became the highest grossing foreign language film of 2005.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: There are so many memorable images in Kung Fu Hustle that it’s impossible to determine a consensus favorite.  The vision of two harpist assassins who strum their instruments to summon swords and warriors is a strong candidate, because their poetic menace draws a strong contrast to the lighter and less serious tone of the rest of the film.  Other contenders include the Axe Gang’s Broadway dance number, the Landlady’s whirling Road Runner legs, and a beatific Buddha in the clouds.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Kung Fu Hustle begins with a brutal and atypically realistic gangland slaughter on the neon-washed streets of Shanghai, and to celebrate gaining control of the city, the Axe Gang breaks into a carefully choreographed Busby Berkeley style fox trot, waving their tomahawks in the air. From this moment, the viewer realizes that they are in the hands of a maestro for whom reality is almost infinitely malleable, and who’s willing to switch cinematic styles at the drop of a hatchet to produce the effect he needs. Chow’s direction drives the movie through numerous stylistic incarnations, from absurd visual comedy through a ballet of breathtakingly beautiful and unreal violence, while quoting everything from Wong Kar Wai to The Shining and The Untouchables to Warner Brothers’ “Looney Tunes,” yet never loses its grip on the story or alienates the viewer with its madcap diversions.

U.S. release trailer for Kung Fu Hustle

COMMENTS:Kung Fu Hustle is likely to be the most commercially successful, mainstream Continue reading 13. KUNG FU HUSTLE (2004)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 3/6/09

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):

Watchmen (2009):  The big-budget adaptation of the cult comic book series set in the late Cold War era, in an America where comic book superheroes are part of the normal fabric of society.  Visually impressive and violent, it looks headed to be a small blockbuster.  Watchmen Official Site

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Tokyo! (2008):  A suite of three fantastic, surreal short stories directed by three different international directors (Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Joon-Ho Bong), all set in Tokyo.  Not surprisingly, the stories appear to focus on the theme of urban alienation.  Tokyo! Official Site (in Japanese)

NEW ON DVD:

Ashes of Time Redux [Dung che sai duk redux] (2008):  Wong Kar Wai’s re-edit of his 1994 martial arts epic finally gets a proper DVD release, after a very limited (in the US, at least) theatrical run.  May not be strictly weird, but it’s a classic entry from an oft-weird genre (the wuxia film) by an occasionally weird director, and it’s something of a milestone in recent world cinema.

Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film, 1947-1986:  This 2 disc, 5 hour collection of avant-garde shorts (live action, documentary and animated) is a must for serious students of the subject.   Includes a film from the prolific and provocative George Kuchar (I, an Actress) and Andy Warhol (Mario Banana (No. 1)) alongside the work of many more obscure experimental filmmakers.

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.

CAPSULE: CORALINE (2009)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Henry Selick

FEATURING: Dakota Fanning (voice), Teri Hatcher (voice)

PLOT:  A petulant little girl finds a parallel universe behind a hidden door in an old house, a world where her parents are more attentive, her neighbors more fascinating, and the entire universe seems set up to pamper and delight her; she can stay there forever, but of course there’s a catch.

Still from Coraline (2009)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  I attended a screening with a ten-year old and asked him if he thought the movie was “weird.”  His answer: “Nah, not unless you think every fantasy movie is weird.”  Smart lad.

COMMENTSCoraline is a welcome dark fantasy for children, although its themes of evil Doppelgänger moms, frightening buttons, and implied eye-gouging are too scary for very little ones.  Since it’s from Hanry Selick, the director of the borderline weird Nightmare Before Christmas, we suspect going in that the art direction and stop-motion animation will be the real stars.   Selick does not disappoint, shuffling the viewer through three distinct visual styles: the dingy earth tones of real life, a brightly colored, eye-popping fantasy world, and a sinister, disintegrating universe with an insect trapped in a spiderweb theme.  The storyline, and the unexpected scares once the movie shifts from childhood fantasy to childhood horror in the third act, make Coraline more than just eye candy for the kiddies.

Presented in theaters in 3-D, but the novelty doesn’t add anything significant to experience: I would have been just as happy to watch the same moving pictures tell the same story on an unabashedly flat screen.  Though there’s nothing really weird to be found here, Coraline, in the best children’s’ movie tradition, is worth a trip even for adult fans of fantasy and pure escapism.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Coraline discovers a Wonderland filled with surreal characters and dark implications that make a kid grow up quick… those who tough it out with this twisted, trippy adventure in impure imagination will only be the better for it.”–Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 2/27/09

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

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Birdsong [El Cant dels Ocells] (2008):  Nearly silent, nearly plotless tale about the Three Kings journey to visit the newborn Jesus.  This minimalist approach won’t bring in the punters, but the critics believe it to be a work of high visual art.  No official site.  Birdsong IMDB link

Dillinger is Dead [Dillinger è Morto] (1969):  A sixties absurdist/existentialist/leftist drama about an engineer who discovers a gun that may have belonged to John Dillinger.   Art film archivists Janus films have given this film a belated American release, to play at very select theaters throughout the country this spring and summer, beginning this week in Brooklyn. Dillinger is Dead press release from Janus Films

NEW ON DVD:

Four Flies on Grey Velvet [4 mosche di velluto grigio] (1971): From Dario Argento, the master of stylish grue, comes this twisty early giallo about a rock musician who is blackmailed for killing a stalker. It’s described as one of Argento’s odder films. A very belated and highly anticipated (by Argento fans) DVD release.

Requiem for a Vampire (1971):  Another of Jean Rollins surreal, cheap, and unabashedly exploitative vampire sex films. 

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Akira (1988):  This mindblowing cyberpunk feature about a mystical apocalypse in Neo-Tokyo helped launch the anime cult in America.  Definitely weird stuff.

The Bird with Crystal Plumage (1969): Another early giallo by Argento (see the Four Flies on Grey Velvet entry). Many consider this straightforward thriller debut to be one of Argento’s best, although it’s not weird.

Vanishing Point (1971):  Another in the short-lived cycle of Western existentialist road movies (see also Two-Lane Blacktop) inspired by Antonini’s Zabriske Point (1970).

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!