Our weekly 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.


Walk Away Renee (2011): Filmmaker Jonathan Caouette takes a cross-country trip with his bipolar/borderline schizophrenic mother Renee; along the way she loses her medication and her behavior becomes erratic. After the trip, Caouette illustrates some of his mom’s delusions with trippy paranoid fantasy sequences in this indie documentary/fiction hybrid. Playing IFC Center in Manhattan this week, future venues uncertain. Walk Away Renee at IFC Center.


The Experiment: Who’s Watching You? (2012): A financially desperate stripper agrees to serve as a pharmaceutical company guinea pig and falls into what the press materials call a world of  “drug induced madness and surreal sensuality.” It looks like Ken Russell‘s grandson decided to shoot a Skinemax movie on a webcam, or something like that. Buy The Experiment: Who’s Watching You?

“Serial Experiments Lain: Complete Series”: An introverted girl follows a suicide classmate into a virtual reality world where anything can happen in this mind-blowing 13-episode cult anime series. This one is currently in our reader-suggested review queue. Only available in a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack. Buy “Serial Experiments Lain: Complete Series”.

Visions of Ecstasy: The Films of Nigel Wingrove”: Visions of Ecstasy (1989) was an 18-minute film interpretation of the visions of St. Teresa of Avila that brings the notorious erotic subtext of the mystics visions of the nun to unsubtle life (i.e. she has sex with Jesus). It’s mainly notable for being the only film ever to be banned in Britain solely on the grounds of blasphemy. Also included on this disc are Wingrove’s full-length softcore nunsploitation feature Sacred Flesh (2000) and the short Axel (1988) (about which we could find no information).  Wingrove later went on to direct the Satanic Sluts series, and, more importantly, to found Redemption Films (which restored and re-released the movies of and other Eurotrash auteurs). Buy Visions of Ecstasy: The Films of Nigel Wingrove.


“Serial Experiments Lain: Complete Series”: See description in DVD above. Buy “Serial Experiments Lain: Complete Series”.


Black Biscuit (2012): Experimental punk documentary focusing on… well… the director’s manifesto suggests he strives to make films that are “bewildering, vague, self-indulgent, plotless, risky, egotistical, limpid, raw, ugly, and imperfect.” If that aesthetic appeals to you, then by all means give this a chance. Watch Black Biscuit free on YouTube.

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.


*This is the second in a three-part series; here’s part one.

In regards to John Semper ((John Semper bio)), Patrick Greathouse asked the question, “Why partner with the Asylum House?”

I put this question to Mr. Semper. “I liked my conversations with both you and Pat,” he responded. “You dig deep into films and so do I. Pat seemed to enjoy comedy-horror and we bonded over that. I was impressed with all of the resources at hand. Pat prepared a video guided tour of your standing sets and props. I could begin to envision that with all of those resources, and also the makeup talent, we might be able to pull off a halfway decent film for very low dollars. The script was easy. I tried to keep it limited to the resources Pat had on hand. ”

Naturally, the script was not entirely limited to the Asylum House location. Six additional locations were required. We secured those locations over the course of a year in pre-production. We needed a restaurant and found one in Miss Betty’s Dinner Theater in Trafalgar, Indiana. It is run by a bona-fide golden girl named Betty Davis, AKA Miss Betty.

Still from CreeporiaThe Historic Hannah House, in Indianapolis, is a haunted attraction with which The Asylum House has a good working relationship. The Hannah House perfectly served the script’s needs for the “Mason Q. Arkham” wax museum scene. The equally historic Fountain Building in Fountain Square would be the home of our big dance number and laboratory scene.

“Creeporia” has been a blessed project in many ways.  It seemed for every setback we had, an opportunity opened. Clearly, the production was going to need a bigger budget than what we immediately had available on hand. A local businessman had expressed interest in investing in the project. Several months into pre-production, that potential investor backed out. Shortly after he did so, another source of capital opened for us. A year previous, The Asylum House had put in a bid in for an extensive mural job at the Veteran’s Hospital. Patrick and I worked several months fine tuning our bid package, submitted it, only to be told that the Hospital could not raise the needed budget at that time. A year later, our bid was accepted, and the income from that job would be beneficial for our post-production needs.

In addition to being a producer (mainly, a pre-production producer), I also had been assigned the position of casting director. John Claeys, an Asylum House veteran who has designed and built many of the attraction’s sets, was tapped for Art Direction, Assistant Director and the role of our Mad Genius Professor. Claeys, a true blue eccentric who channels the elder Peter Cushing when he acts, was aptly cast.

Over the year, Patrick and I began filming auditions for 47 monsters. For the pivotal role of antagonist Mason Q. Arkham, we landed another Asylum Continue reading BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA” PART 2


DIRECTED BY: , Aleksei Fedorchenko, Jan Kwiecinski

FEATURING: , Igor Sergeev,

PLOT: An anthology of three stories: a lecture by an American motivational speaker; a man invents a time machine but can only watch events through someone else’s eyes; and four Poles party in a town that’s been evacuated ahead of a flood.

Still from The Fourth Dimension (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The three tales are only mildly weird, and only mildly interesting.

COMMENTS: “Lotus Community Workshop,” the much-anticipated team-up between actor Val Kilmer and director Harmony Korine, is obviously the main draw in this triptych of timely tales, but unfortunately (and perhaps predictably, given the hype) it disappoints. Kilmer plays a motivational speaker whose nonsensical rhetoric nonetheless thrills a motley crowd of ordinary people at a neon-washed roller rink. In between inspirational snippets we see him contentedly riding a bicycle, piping on a flute, and playing a videogame with a girlfriend played by  (who would be too young for the fiftyish Kilmer even at her real age of 26—she looks and acts like a teenager here). Kilmer, who goes as gonzo as the limited space allows, gives some absurd and mildly amusing advice—he tells the assemblage about the time he encountered the mothership, advises them to stop riding horses and to bury gold under their bathtubs, and describes his vision of a world like cotton candy—but the satire seems more pointless than pointed, and the quiet scenes add nothing. This is Harmony Korine with all the shock value removed, and what remains is uninspiring. Putting Korine first gave film festival poseurs a chance to sneak out early, which is sad because the succeeding films are at least as interesting and might even be slight improvements. The second installment, “Chronoeye,” is the only short here that addresses the concept of “the fourth dimension” head on. It concerns a Russian genius who has built a time machine, but it only allows him to see events through someone else’s eyes, and he can’t pick his vantage point; so, for example, he goes back in time to view the execution of scientific martyr Giordano Bruno, but sees it through the eyes of a little girl who’s focusing on a ladybug. Meanwhile, a tax collector is trying to carve a pound of flesh out of him, while his upstairs neighbor is a beautiful dancer who keeps annoying him as she pounds on the floor practicing for an upcoming recital. The joke about focusing on insignificant details of major historical events is repetitive, but Igor Sergeev sells it with an expression of increasing frustration with every new failure. We in the audience become as frustrated as he is, because we see events from his past whose significance will never be clear to us. An abrupt but mysterious ending mixes up past, present and future. The finale “Fawns” follows a group of opportunistic young hipsters as they treat a town that’s been evacuated ahead of a flood as their own private playground. At close to forty minutes it’s longer than the other two offerings, but much of the opening is spent just watching the youngsters roam around the deserted suburbs whooping, playing on swings and looting soda shops. Eventually, a plot develops as one of the quartet wanders away without explanation and the remaining trio must decide whether to search for him or flee as the blare of sirens and rumble of helicopters, heralds of the encroaching floodwaters, increase in their insistency. Then, a chance encounter throws a moral monkey wrench into their plans for a clean escape. It ends, as expected, on an ambiguous note. Each of these offerings raise a mild degree of interest, but none of them truly succeed as standalone efforts, nor do they mesh well together. The “fourth dimension” theme is used as a joke by Korine and treated obviously by Fedorchenko, while Kwiecinski merely name-checks the concept. The Fourth Dimension doesn’t meet its lofty goal of “challenging our ideas of 4th dimensions,” unless, of course, your idea of the fourth dimension is that it’s inherently fascinating, in which case you can consider that notion shot down.

The idea for The Fourth Dimension was co-sponsored by Grolsch beer and Vice Magazine. Each of the three filmmakers were given a set of rules to follow; those we see quoted in the film include that each director’s segment “must contain more real life than anything else you have ever made” and “must blur the line between what is real and what is fake.” Other dogmas, reportedly, were that each director must direct one scene blindfolded. At the time of this writing, the film is exclusively available to watch (for free) on Vice‘s YouTube channel.


“…a tour de force of what seems to be improvisational lunacy from the behatted, bicycling Kilmer, whose performance has fewer concrete things to say about Los Angeles, con jobs or mass therapy than it does about the merits of watching a gifted actor walk a high wire.”–John Anderson, Variety (contemporaneous)





FEATURING: Dakota Fanning, Larry Pine

PLOT: Documentary on Henry Darger, the reclusive Chicago janitor who secretly wrote a slightly insane, 19,000 page fantasy novel about a child slave rebellion, illustrated by hundreds of incredibly detailed full size paintings.

Still from In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger (2004)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Outsider artist supreme, a devout Catholic with an innocently fetishistic obsession for little girls, Henry Darger is a persona every weirdophile should be acquainted with. The method behind this solid and respectful documentary isn’t itself weird enough to make this a candidate for the List, but if anyone ever attempts a literal adaptation of Darger’s opus The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, I suspect it will be a shoo-in.

COMMENTS: With one exception addressed below, In the Realms of the Unreal  uses only standard documentary tools to tell the tale of Henry Darger: interviews with people who knew him, readings from primary sources (his autobiography and his 15,000 page novel), still photographs of the places and people the poor janitor knew, and most significantly the man’s own paintings. The world Darger invented inside his head, a mixture of the Bible, the American Civil War, and children’s storybooks, populated by saintly little girl warriors in pigtails and frilly dresses bearing bayonets, is so inherently fascinating that the documentarian does best to get out of its way and let it speak for itself. The few facts that are known about the recluse’s life are given to us chronologically, followed by glimpses of events in the Realms that may have been inspired by his life experiences. Darger was orphaned at a young age. The bookish boy had trouble fitting in with his peers at the orphanage, and was sent to live at a “home for feeble-minded children,” where he was forced to labor on a work farm. After several failed escape attempts he was finally successful at fleeing the farm and made his way to Chicago where, after a short Stateside stint in the army in World War I, he settled into a lifelong routine of cleaning the floors at a Catholic hospital, attending Mass three times a day, and spending his evenings in his lonely room constructing the Realms of the Unreal. In this world, the evil Glandelinians (whose soldiers dress like Confederates wearing graduation caps) fight mighty battles against the Christian armies of Abbieannia. The conflict is sparked by a slave rebellion led by the seven Vivian girls, saintly children who occasionally exhibit magical powers throughout the epic war. The children are sometimes aided by winged Blengins, mythical creatures who can appear as dragons or butterflies with the face of children, or as children with rams’ horns. Darger himself appears in the story, summoned to help the Abbieannians due to his cosmic reputation as an enemy of all who hate and oppress children. Even more fascinating than the 15,000 page narrative supplemented by detailed lists of battle casualties, generals, and lyrics to the various military anthems were the hundreds of paintings Darger used to illustrate the Realms. Incredibly detailed landscapes full of odd folk beauty were  populated by angelic little girls whose faces had been traced or copied from newspaper advertisements. Disturbingly, the children are often naked, sometimes bound, and occasionally depicted as eviscerated or choked. Even more disturbing, and the weirdest aspect of Darger’s very weird opus, is the fact that he invariably drew his naked little girls with tiny penises. Theories for this odd conception of the female body range from the symbolic to the psychosexual to the commonly held notion that Darger was simply so sexually naïve that he had no knowledge of the anatomical differences between males and females. The apparently innocent, ambiguously erotic nature of these nude tableaux endow Darger’s work with a mysterious and intriguing artistic friction. When not working on his novel or paintings, Darger obsessed about the weather, carried on conversations with himself while speaking in different voices, tried to adopt a child, and wrote angry prose railing at God when the Church turned down his adoption petition. Henry Darger, the janitor from Chicago, was a very strange and sad man whose self-imposed loneliness, religious torment, and utopian longings found a secret outlet in art. Unspoiled by formal art training or by any sense of social shame, Darger created a hermetically sealed alternate universe, a world weird in the purest and noblest sense.

Although it is a conventional treatment overall, two criticisms have been levied against Jessica Yu’s documentary. One, often raised by film critics, is that the film fails to seek out experts in psychology and art history to help give us a deeper perspective on Darger. Of course,  only a critic would complain that a movie didn’t feature enough input from critics. The other, somewhat more serious objection, offered by Darger fans, is with Yu’s decision to crudely animate certain scenes from Darger’s action-oriented war paintings. In my view, the addition of occasional movement in the battle scenes (there’s probably only a minute or two of actual animation) does no real damage to the images, but nor does it add anything. One offended fan angrily asks whether we’d accept a documentary on Picasso or Gauguin that set their masterpieces in motion. Since that idea doesn’t bother me in the slightest, I may be the wrong person to ask.


“Was this simple man sick or was he genius? Yu leaves that to the viewer to decide, and in the end, that’s alright. In Darger’s apartment, the surreal became real, and a testament to the life’s work of a simple man.”–Greg Wilson, Film Threat (contemporaneous)


DIRECTED BY: Jordan Harris, Andrew Schrader

FEATURING: Peter Tullio, Philip Marlatt, Melanie Wilson

PLOT: Three young would-be occultists head to the woods to perform a Satanic ritual and (not surprisingly) get more than they bargained for.

Still from Fever Night AKA Band of Satanic Outsiders (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s got a few great psychedelic/Satanic sequences that wouldn’t be out of place in a black metal music video, but overall it’s not strong enough to contend as one of the best weird movies of all time.

COMMENTS: The soundtrack to Fever Night AKA Band of Satanic Outsiders is made up of grungy psychedelic garage rock rather than the black/death metal stylings the flick’s devil-worshiping premise would lead you to expect. This movie is full of small stylistic surprises like that, along with some big bombastic ones. Fever Night starts with a humorous mock disclaimer implying that you’re watching a videocassette, then segues to the words “BAD PEOPLE” spelled out in squirming worms, followed by voice-overs of the main characters as they argue over what is the most Satanic meat (“so, Satan’s a goat? I always thought Satan was a pig”). We then see our three occult protagonists and get our next shock: these are some clean-cut cultists. Warren wears a tie, Elliot sports a red letterman’s jacket, and cute Terry has a wholesome Katie Holmes thing going on. These are the best-groomed Satanic outsiders you’ll ever meet, Satanic outsiders you wouldn’t be afraid to bring home to Mom for dinner. It’s an intriguingly strange setup, but I’m afraid the rest of the movie can’t quite deliver on that promise. The three teens go into the woods, conduct their blood-drinking ritual, and then one of them falls into a coma; the next half-hour is composed of ersatz Blair Witch Project wanderings in the woods, with disappearing bodies, mysterious bird carcasses, and interpersonal squabblings. This is where Fever Night lost me. While it would be creepy to be caught out in the woods with unexplained spooky sounds and distant lights accosting you at every step, it’s not nearly as scary to watch the same things happen to amateur actors bathed in stage lights (that’s exactly why the aforementioned Witch Project put everything in the first person perspective). Fortunately, the discovery of a bleeding cow skull leads to an explosive psychedelic montage full of solarization effects and rapid-fire editing of full of flying animal skulls and pentagrams (and I swear I caught an almost subliminal still of the Devil from Häxan). The film’s next two acts are devoted to killing off the remaining two characters (although whether they remain dead is up for debate) via devilish tableaux that incorporate camping nymphettes, redneck rapists, animal-headed individuals, more fast-cutting music video audition interludes, revenants, and protagonists sucked into the sky and incorporated into nebulae. Psychologically relevant homophobia pervades the ironic horror denouements, making Fever Night especially uncomfortable for the target audience of young heterosexual males. Fever Night is a weak tab, but it does have detectable psychotronic activity. If I were looking for a lysergic campfire movie for the weekend, I’d drop a big dose of I Can See You instead.

Fever Night AKA Band of Satanic Outsiders (which, by the way, is the actual onscreen title, AKA and all) truly divides viewers. On the one hand, the average horror fan, the kind who post one to two sentence reviews on IMDB, Amazon or Netflix and favor the word “suck,” tends to hate the movie both for its slow opening and for the surreal confusion of its ending. The horror press, on the other hand, was effusive in its praise (given the dreck that passes for low-budget independent horror, you have to understand how fresh anything that’s even a little bit different will appear to anyone confined to the blood beat). Personally I didn’t enjoy Fever Night very much and even considered giving it a “Beware” rating, but I do see a lot of its strengths, and won’t recommend against it. Ironically, most of the positive reviews liked the structured first part of the movie the best, and thought that the flick went off the rails when the hallucinations and surrealism started taking over. My criticism was exactly the opposite: I wish the directors had moved more of the trippy goodies up front. My interest waned while the movie wandered around in the woods, jumping at every snapping twig, and the movie never really pulled me all the way back in.


“…like an acid trip riff on ’70s Luciferian classics like The Devil’s Rain and Race with the Devil… a fiesty, surprisingly funny, and very stylish offering that deftly sidesteps the usual pitfalls of boring camerawork and amateurish performances.”–Mondo Digital (contemporaneous)

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