366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.
“For Proust the concept of time is more important than time itself. For Russians that’s not an issue. We Russians have to plead our case against time. With authors who wrote prose based on childhood memories, like Tolstoy, Garshin, and many others, it’s always an attempt to atone for the past, always a form of repentance.” –Andrei Tarkovsky
FEATURING: Margarita Terekhova, Ignat Daniltsev, Filipp Yankovskiy, voices of Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy and Arseny Tarkovsky
PLOT: Alexei’s life story is told through jumbled flashbacks and dreams that mainly involve his mother. Abandoned by his father, he spent his youth in a remote cabin with his mother and siblings. He grows up to have a child of his own, but his relationship with the boy’s mother is only cordial, and he’s grown apart from his own mother.
Originally conceiving the film as a memoir about his own childhood memories of WWII, but gradually adding in elements from his later life, Tarkovsky began work on this story as early as 1964.
The poetry heard in the film is written and read by Arseny Tarkovsky, Andrei’s father. Andrei’s mother appears as herself in the film.
Tarkovsky reportedly made 32 edits of the film, complaining that none of them worked, before settling on this as the definitive version.
The Soviet authorities refused to allow Mirror to screen at Cannes.
Mirror ranked #19 in Sight & Sound‘s Critics’ Poll and #9 in the Director’s Poll in 2012.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Maria floating in a dream while a dove flutters above her.
TWO WEIRD THINGS: Apparition history lesson; levitating mom
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Mirror is an intensely personal, extremely diffused meditation on the meaning of life from one of cinema’s greatest artists. Although insanely difficult, many cinephiles find it intensely moving as an accumulation of individual images that flow like finely crafted verses of surrealistic poetry.
PLOT: Sister Maria is a nun at a convent whose tranquil life of devotion is disrupted by a seductive male stalker who claims to be Lucifer.
COMMENTS: Boy, where to start? Satanico Pandemonium is a Mexican mid-70s nunsploitation flick which exemplifies the very heart of grindhouse cinema. Once you see it, you know why Quentin Tarantino named Salma Hayek‘s one-scene character in From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) after this movie. Add to that one more credential: director Solares is said to have been inspired by Ken Russell‘s The Devils (1971), so at least he had some taste. For one more point in this movie’s favor, it came out two years after The Exorcist and did NOT try to copy it! Resisting the Devil’s temptations is peanuts compared to that kind of restraint.
Next, I have to say that this is an unexpectedly pretty movie! Filming in Eastmancolor brings out the baby blue nun outfits, the green foliage of the countryside of Mexico, and of course the cherry-red blood that will be spilled. The filming locations, several convents around Mexico including World Heritage site Dominico de la Natividad in Tepoztlán, are also a treat. The casting even has a visible plan, even if the acting lets it down. With her syrupy brown eyes and pouty face, Cecilia Pezet (Sister Maria) is very nearly the Winona Rider of her day, while Enrique Rocha (Luzbel) is just the right roguish kind of handsome rake for his role. If any face can melt the knickers off a nun, it’s Rocha’s. I’m so busy enjoying the eye candy in this film that it’s a shame to pay attention to the plot.
Oh yes, the plot. Sister Maria is a devout nun in a Mexican convent who is not only a spiritual leader second to Mother Superior, but the convent’s resident veterinarian and doctor, too. Seemingly everybody comes to her with their problems. Between a sick cow one minute or a sister coming to her to confess carnal desires for another woman the next, it’s all a gal can do to get in some topless self-flagellation kneeling at her prayer bench in her room. Bless her heart, she tries. But she has a problem of her own: a sinister man appears to her out of nowhere, symbolic offering of an apple in hand, insistently introducing himself as Luzbel/Lucifer/Mephisto. See, that’s the problem with the Devil, he can’t just pick one name and stick to it. Luzbel is trying to seduce Maria into sin through temptations of the flesh, and Maria’s gotta fight hard to stay in the Jesus club.
The film leaves us wondering how much of all this is real, whether it’s an actual Satanic manifestation, a symbolic telling of the real-life sexual tension between ordinary mortals, or something going on entirely in Maria’s head. We see almost the entire story from her point of view, which tends to be interrupted by visions, dreams, freak-outs, etc. We can be certain of two things: 1) the experience is corrupting Maria at a rapid pace, and 2) life at this convent is steadily going to Hell in a handbasket with every passing minute. Maria’s problems become everybody’s problems. Without spoiling it, let’s just say, “prepare to be jolted.” Especially in a cheap way.
Even the jolts don’t qualify Satanico Pandemonium as a weird movie. It is first of all a nunsploitation flick, with plenty of boob-fondling to make sure you don’t forget it. The one thing you learn from this movie is how to take off a nun outfit and put it back on and take it off again. It goes out of its way to be shocking in places, but as a grindhouse movie filmed in Mexico in the 1970s, the shocks come mostly from viewing it across a cultural divide over the border and a few decades’ time. Even though Satanico Pandemonium is well-crafted in visual appeal and pacing, it’s a fast and sloppy budget production that will leave many a plot hole uncorked if you think about it too hard. Except for a couple of brilliant scenes, weirdophiles won’t find much here, but it’s still a delight for its vintage grindhouse charm. Just remember, you could have watched another Ken Russel freakfest by now.
Mondo Macabro’s 2020 Blu-ray release is an upgrade of their 2005 DVD and comes with a surprising amount of extras, including audio commentary from film historians Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger and a featurette on the history of nunsploitation films.
366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.
DIRECTED BY: Miguel Madrid (as Michael Skaife)
FEATURING: David Rocha, Inma de Santis, Helga Liné, Rafael González Jr.
PLOT: Expelled from medical school because of his aversion to blood, Paul moves back home only to succumb to murderous impulses.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Dolls has more than a normal movie’s share of “WTF?” moments, but its overall tenor is more of poor (but enthusiastic) execution than weirdness.
COMMENTS: If there is one takeaway from Killer of Dolls, it’s that director Miguel Madrid really wanted to make something special. If there’s a second takeaway from Killer of Dolls, it’s that Miguel Madrid really liked his lead actor’s body. Alternating between being waifishly coy and flailingly bombastic, David Rocha’s performance as Paul, the would-be surgeon and definite-murderer, involves more shirtlessness and short-shorts than perhaps any movie I’ve ever seen. In fact, if there was any excuse to get Rocha nearly naked, writer/director Madrid took it.
This artistic choice’s bearings on the proceedings is at least nominally explained: Paul was his parents’ second child, born after his sister had passed away. His mother treated him as a little girl when he was quite young, going so far as to call him “Catherine,” the name of his erstwhile sibling. Grown up, Paul is too squeamish for medical school, to the point of being expelled. Moving home, he takes up some tasks at the public garden his father tends on behalf of the countess who technically owns the grounds (?–one of several unclear background points). While mincing around the plant life, he begins an altogether questionable friendship with a prepubescent boy while somehow simultaneously seducing the countess and her comely young daughter. However, he is haunted by his sister’s spirit (?), and despite his inability to cope with blood in a medical setting, he overcomes this difficulty by donning a woman’s mask and wig in order to kill various sexually precocious park visitors.
The movie begins with a doll being dismantled by a young fellow who goes on to explain the psychological nature of the feature to follow. This dalliance with feminine fetishization and psychological hokum goes unabated throughout as Paul has screaming-running fits when distressed, takes very strange showers (his writhing and vocalizations suggesting anguished arousal), wanders around his home in (short) shorts, towel, or y-fronts, or when he gears up to kill a traveling band of singing, dancing hippies who break into the park after hours for what seems like a musical intermission. It is somewhat grudgingly that I haven’t nominated this film for our Apocrypha, but in the end I had to ask myself if Dolls was any good. Alas, it falls into an awkward category; I could only screen this for someone as a lighthearted punishment, or to illustrate the kind of things 366’s reviewers are obliged to dive into. At least Rocha was easy enough on the eyes.
FEATURING: Willeke van Ammelrooy, Hans van der Gragt, Franulka Heyermans, Marja de Heer, Nelly Frijda, Marieke van Leeuwen, Serge-Henri Valcke
PLOT: Anton is sent by Barbara to pick up her friend Susan, who has exiled herself in the countryside; the errand goes awry when two of Susan’s housemates murder an American passing through their town.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though it is a perk, having professional opportunities to watch classic lite-porn isn’t the main reason I took up writing for this site. Pim de la Parra and producer Wim Verstappen once again limbo below the bar of “weird” to deliver a quirky, flesh-filled … thriller?
COMMENTS: It’s got a title Peter Greenaway would love (particularly the more thorough Dutch version), establishing shots ripped off from Alfred Hitchcock, and more carefree nudity than you could shake a stick at. (Being very careful, under the circumstances, in so doing.) In fact, other than breezing along a tad too quickly, I have no real complaints about this movie. Even the director’s introduction video for the blu-ray was disarming and convivial, “Please don’t forget: it’s a small movie from a small country, and I am also a very small man, as you can see.”
Our story begins with Sandra (Marja de Heer) and Olga (Franulka Heyermans) hucking rocks at some swans, stopping their mindless fun to flag down a car driven by an American. He’s smoking a big-honkin’ cigar, he’s wearing garish sunglasses, he’s blasting some kind of proto-R&B in his drop-top’s cassette deck (this is 1975, remember). Topping it off, he’s drinking “Bourbon, USA” brand whiskey. He’s an American—and he’s doomed1. Sandra lures him into some car sex while Olga looks on jealously. Smash goes the bottle, down goes the Yankee, and the story begins anew, with hunky-hunk Anton (Hans van der Gragt) zipping up to a farmhouse on his motorcycle on a mission to extract erstwhile model Susan (Willeke van Ammelrooy) at the behest of an unseen “Barbara” who wants Susan back in the city. All the non-Barbara ladies live together (not forgetting, of course, Julie—who is either asleep or helpfully wearing a t-shirt with her name written on it). In fact, there are others lurking about the farmhouse not included in the English-language title. More plot than can fit in eighty-five minutes gets sliced down further to allow for some “romance”.
The whole thing was so strangely whimsical and fun, I regret having put off watching it for as long as I did. As the final release of de la Parra’s and Verstappen’s “Scorpio” production label, it’s also a nice capstone for what was probably the end of whimsical soft-core mainstream-ism. AIDS lurked around the corner, and the Cold War was reaching its awkward, saggy middle. Scorpio goes out with a bang, figuratively, but with My Nights with Susan, Sandra, Olga & Julie it also crams in some psychodrama (just a smidge), a latter-day witch, and rounds out its lilting excess with some nice fiery vengeance for the delight of an audience of corpses. This little movie fills a void I didn’t know existed.
Andrei Tarkovsky is a staple at 366 Weird movies, so it’s only apt that we get around to what many believe to be his most personal film: The Mirror (1975). The title alone indicates as much. According to Tarkovsky’s memoir “Sculpting in Time” (an essential read), The Mirror began as a novella, reflecting on the artist’s years during the Second World War. He started the first of many script drafts a decade before filming commences, and with its pointed criticism of the Soviet Union, it’s remarkable that it was even produced, let alone distributed. Tarkovsky predictably found himself embroiled in intensive conflict with the Goskino film committee in pre-production, in production itself, and in post-production. The Mirror was given limited release in Moscow; Tarkovsky’s inevitable exile was a mere few years away. Post-production was reportedly a laborious process, going through approximately twenty extensive edits. Upon its release, both critical and audience assessments were sharply divided, with many finding it incomprehensible. Provoking much heated debate, The Mirror didn’t initially have the impact of Andrei Rublev (1966), Solaris (1972), or Stalker (1979). Yet, it has since become one of the most referenced Tarkovsky works among cineastes, and made Sight and Sound’s list of the top fifty films of all time.
Originally titled both ‘Confession” and “A White, White Day,” that changed when Tarkovsky brought his (divorced) parents and wife into the project. Arseny Tarkovsky (the father) reads from his own established poetry. Maria Vishnyakova (Tarkovsky’s tenderhearted mother) lends her visual presence to the film.
Although The Mirror vaguely covers bullet points from Tarkovsky’s childhood (the evacuation, Arseny’s abandonment of family, Maria’s influence on her son), it is a motion biography that metaphorically weaves through pasts that are past only compared to the more recent. Heightening the dissonance, actors are perpetually in motion, shifting roles: i.e. Margarita Terekhova plays both Tarkovsky’s mother and his wife Natalya. Her vanity is not blanketed, but it is as a maternal influence, educating her son in the arts and sheltering him from the threat of military service, that her portrayal becomes resplendently Orphic. The terminally ill narrator Alex (Innokenty Smoktunovsky)—never seen—is the film’s protagonist.
Tarkovsky’s childhood is represented as a bucolic pastoral disrupted by his father’s abandonment, symbolized in a building aflame. Tellingly, and with aching honesty, it is this betrayal, more than the war, that shatters and decimates Tarkovsky’s childhood. Abandonment by a loved one is the proverbial expulsion from a spiritual paradise. Yet, an undeniable supplemental element, born from the loss of innocence, is the latent political rage directed at a monstrously inhuman war.
The film imprints startlingly incandescent, fervent images that remain long after: Natalya washing her hair in a basin as a building collapses; the Soviet army crossing Lake Sivash; the juxtaposition of black and white with sepia and color imagery along with newsreel footage; the palm print of child dissipating into a lustrous surface; repeated mirror imagery; the arcane return of the prodigal father; a hot air balloon; the absurd training of cadets in a snowy (emotionally bankrupt) horizon; the loneliness of a dejected wife; an apparently arid day revealed in a window to be a transcendental monsoon. The personal and intimate are juxtaposed with a collective people. Time is indeed pliably sculpted.
The Mirror is possibly the closest cinema has come to evoking modernist poetry.
“If you accept a strange story told to you as true,
Then a certain enlightenment comes to you.”
—Hugo the Hippo theme “It’s Really True” (as sung by Marie Osmond)
DIRECTED BY: Bill Feigenbaum, József Gémes
FEATURING: Voices of Paul Lynde, Burl Ives, Ronnie Cox, Robert Morley
PLOT: The Sultan of Zanzibar kidnaps a herd of African hippopotami and relocates them to Arabia to defend his harbor from sharks. After the shark menace is ended and the city prospers, the citizens forget about the hippos, until one day the hungry herds’ excursion to eat local farmers’ crops leads the Sultan’s evil Vizier Aban-Khan to organize a slaughter of the beasts. Only the youngest, Hugo, escapes; he flees to Dar es Salaam and makes friends with the local children, but Aban-Khan continues to hunt him out of pure malice.
The story is inspired by an actual hippo nicknamed “Hugo”, who ate farmers’ crops before being adopted by the real Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam.
The film was a Hungarian/U.S. co-production. All of the animation was done on the cheap in Hungary. It was released dubbed into both languages.
Hugo the Hippo is co-writer/director Bill Feigenbaum’s only film credit. József Gémes went on to direct many Hungarian animated features.
Young Marie and Jimmy Osmond perform most of the songs on the soundtrack, along with two songs by Burl Ives and two numbers by jazz/funk session bands.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: It has to be something from the wild vegetable hallucination montage: the apple samurai? Jorma and Hugo climbing onto the space butterfly and sailing through the fruity cosmos? We selected the Dalí-esque shot of three massive monolith potatoes triangulating and transfixing our heroes with the magical beams that shoot from their literal eyes as our take-home image.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Cigarette-smoking shark; cloud massacre; sliced apple ninja
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Hugo the Hippo was released to widespread indifference. Contemporary reviewers were bored and strangely dismissive, failing to catch the undercurrent of weirdness here, but a generation of youngsters scarred by the hippopotamus massacre kept Hugo‘s underground legend alive. The combination of kitschy songs, psychedelic animation, bizarre plotting, tone shifts, hallucinatory episodes, and the inimitable Paul Lynde as an evil hippo-hating vizier blend to create a children’s film gone awry in all the most delightful ways.
In 1975, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws defined the idea of blockbuster as we now know it. Despite the epic career that followed, the director has never surpassed this early work. It’s really a full-throttle horror adventure about the trio of shark hunters Roy Schneider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss; a fact that amazingly eluded MCA when they produced numerous sequels (without Spielberg) that reduced Bruce (the shark) to an underwater Jason Vorhees.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show defined “cult classic” like no other film before or since. Although it was relatively slow to take off, it became the staple for audience participating midnight showings and undeniably the number one cult film of all time. It was stupidly remade by Fox (imagine that) in 2016 and deservedly flopped with both critics and its TV audience.
Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (directed by Don Edmonds) is one of the most notorious of cult films and made a bonafide 70s grindhouse superstar out of former exotic dancer and softcore porn actress Dyanne Thorne. The main role is loosely based on Ilse Koch—the “Bitch of Buchenwald.” The historical Ilse, wife of the camp’s commander, was known to have frequently flogged prisoners, including pregnant women. At one of her trials, witnesses were produced who testified that she chose Jews with unique tattoos for extermination so that she could keep their skin. After two trials, she was sentenced to life in prison in 1951 for crimes against foreigners, incitement to murder, and attempted murder. In the last few years of her life, she became paranoid that former camp prisoners were conspiring to kill her, and committed suicide in her cell in 1960.
Shot on the same sets as “Hogan’s Heroes,” the film is thoroughly a product of its time. Under that lens of horror/sexploitation/torture porn, it’s less offensive than either a TV series that makes light of the Holocaust or torture porn dressing itself up as sacred Easter pageant theology (2004’s Passion of the Christ). Still, one can question the entertainment value of a buxom blonde Josef Mengele conducting monstrous experiments, but 70s audiences had no qualms, flocking to see it in grindhouse theaters and making it enough of a hit that three sequels followed. Ilsa’s motive for torture is to prove that women can endure more pain than men and should therefore be allowed to fight on the front lines, which is about as convincing as the movie’s opening statement from the producers defending its historical accuracy. It’s unlikely to inspire contemporary viewers to go to do research on Wikipedia. There’s not much in the way of plot, but purely as exploitation, it’s resoundingly successful in accomplishing what it sets out to do.