Tag Archives: 1981

CAPSULE: VISITORS FROM THE ARKANA GALAXY (1981)

 Gosti iz galaksije; AKA Visitors from the Galaxy

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Dusan Vukotic

FEATURING: Zarko Potocnjak, Ksenia Prohaska, Lucie Zulová

PLOT: An aspiring science fiction writer finds he has materialized the aliens from his long-gestating novel, including a space monster.

Still from Visitors from the Arkana Galaxy (1981)

COMMENTS: Visitors from the Arkana Galaxy is a curious artifact from nowhere. Or at least, from nowhere that exists anymore: a co-production between Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, two countries that have since splintered into bits, produced under a vanished political schema.

So perhaps its not entirely surprising that Visitors from the Arkana Galaxy is like a movie that might have been itself created by aliens. The conditions that produced it—Iron Curtain envy of Western science fiction spectacles like Star Wars, and a desire to put their own Slavic spin on the genre—evaporated decades ago. But with its mishmash of tones and the reckless absurdity of its plotting, Arkana was probably still an oddball even in its own day. Let’s examine the evidence….

It begins as a sort of sitcom, sans the laughs. Robert is an aspiring science fiction author who plots endlessly, dictating into his tape recorder while wearing a toy cosmonaut helmet. His wife Biba feels neglected, and she and his relatively wacky neighbors—a photographer, his overbearing mother, and their furball dog—constantly interrupt his attempts to work. He’s also obliged to spend time with Biba’s similarly wacky family, including a headphone-wearing pop-music obsessed little sister-in-law and a blind accordion playing grandpa. It’s not funny, but the setup does establish a tone as a gentle, G-rated comedy before the first plot development: the characters from Robert’s long-gestating novel, a female android named Andra (who looks a little like a sexy C3PO) and two blond space children, contact their author via tape recorder. You see, from childhood Robert has been able to materialize the things he imagines in his mind, an ability which barely surprises his physician (who diagnoses him with “tellurgy” after Robert explains how, as an infant, he gave his widowed father big boobs so he could breastfeed to his heart’s content).

From that revelation onward, Arkana accelerates the crazy: villagers decide the safest way to approach the aliens is for everyone to approach them in the nude. Robert and Andra engage in some weird android/human sex stuff in front of psychedelic green screens. A space brat uses his eye lasers to turns Biba into a pocket-sized metal cube, a development which does not seem to amaze or upset anyone as much as it probably should. Finally, the large-snouted, slithery-tongued, slime-and-flame-spewing alien space monster (designed by none other than Jan Svankmajer!) shows up at Biba’s family dinner and massacres most of the party while grandpa plays the accordion!

So there it is: a light, kid-friendly sci-fi satire with lots of gratuitous nudity and decapitated heads thrown into soup bowls. The effects are simple but abundant, with lots of glowing blue space balls and fingers shooting lime-green laser beams, scored to synthesizer noises the subtitle track helpfully describes as “science fiction sounds.” They resemble American TV shows of the period like “Battlestar Galactica” or “Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century.”

Despite all of this apparent madness, Arkana is not seriously weird; it’s not serious at all. There are no consequences, since anything bad that happens can be reversed by the push of a robotic panel accompanied by some helpful science fiction sounds. With its mixture of innocence, spectacle, and a little taste of naughtiness, it seems aimed at teenage boys: something that, with a little cultural translation, could have fit into the catalogues American B-movie outfits of the period like ‘s New World Pictures or ‘s Full Moon Pictures. Instead, it plays like a sci-fi sitcom made by actual aliens.

Deaf Crocodile’s 2023 Blu-ray release includes a commentary track by Samm Deighan and five fairly surreal animated shorts from director : Dusan Vukotic, including “Surogat,” which won the Short Animated Film Oscar in 1962.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The humor is ‘Absurdist Sitcom Weird’:  the people are cute and likable, and the emphasis remains on gentle Sci-fi satire.”–Glenn Erickson, Trailers from Hell (Blu-ray)

(This movie was nominated for review by Devon, who called it “a bizarro sci-fi comedy.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: GALAXY OF TERROR (1981)

aka Mindwarp: An Infinity of Terror

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

 DIRECTED BY: Bruce D. Clark

FEATURING: Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Robert Englund, , Taaffe O’Connell, , , Bernard Behrens

PLOT: On a mission to investigate the disappearance of a lost spaceship, the crew of the Quest confronts an alien monster that hunts them by preying upon their worst fears.

Still from Galaxy of Terror (1981)

COMMENTS: No one ever accused Roger Corman of failing to capitalize upon someone else’s success. Having seen Alien reap box office gold, he and his mercenary studio New World Pictures quickly put together a film based upon a simple principle: an alien hunts a space crew one by one. Of course, what Corman and his cohorts never seemed to consider (or, more likely, could not be bothered to care) was that Alien was much more than merely a slasher film transplanted into outer space. The earlier film used foreboding and patience in a way that its imitator couldn’t even contemplate. Where Alien carefully developed the complex interpersonal relationships of the crew of the Nostromo, Galaxy of Terror just spits out one-line motivations and outsized character tics and hopes that will generate some empathy. We’ve got the blueprint here, but the only parts that carried over were the alien and the dead crew.

Galaxy of Terror is cheap. After all, it’s a Roger Corman production. But amazingly, it doesn’t look cheap, and a great deal of credit goes to the production designer, a promising young fellow by the name of James Cameron. (He also served as second-unit director and took on other behind-the-scenes roles.) The spaceship milieu is rich and convincing – the set is allegedly supplemented with spray-painted McDonald’s containers – while a walk through the chambers of an alien pyramid is vividly unfamiliar. The visual style readily evokes Cameron’s future endeavors, such as The Terminator and Aliens, and it’s entertaining to see him deploying his talents early on.

The story is considerably less accomplished. That notion of an enemy that can exploit your worst nightmares is intriguing (and would later be explored extensively by co-star Englund), but is only haphazardly pursued here, usually by a character announcing their worst fear and promptly being confronted with it in the next scene. Moran is claustrophobic, but her particularly grim fate is sealed less by confined spaces than by the vicious tentacles that attack her. Haig’s demise at the hands of his own crystal throwing stars is one of the film’s most effective pieces of visual horror, but makes little sense when you realize his weakness isn’t fear, but faith. In most cases, one has to assume that what the victims fear most is a large-clawed, bloodsucking monster, because that’s what most consistently does them in.

Which leads us to the film’s most notorious sequence, in which Continue reading CAPSULE: GALAXY OF TERROR (1981)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: ROAR (1981)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

“The most dangerous film ever made.”–Roar promotional materials

“Never work with children or animals.”–

DIRECTED BY: Noel Marshall

FEATURING: Noel Marshall, , , Kyalo Mativo

PLOT: A family runs a wildlife conservation habitat for lions, tigers, leopards, and various exotic wildlife, struggling to coexist peacefully with the animals while maintaining a funding grant.

Still from Roar (1981)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Roar is a movie that breaks all the rules, including our standards here. The movie itself, on paper, isn’t weird at all. What’s bizarre is the extraordinary circumstances of its making. With a cast of dozens of untrained and barely-half-tamed big cats, unscripted scenes with actors actually getting attacked and bleeding real blood, and the shocking commitment of the crew beyond all limits of sanity, Roar earns its place next to vérité oddities like Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932). Nobody will be crazy enough to make another movie like this again, so there will always be exactly one Roar.

COMMENTS: Roar is the story of a wildlife refuge for exotic animals, particularly those from the African plains, tended by a family with a heavy “live in harmony with nature” message. If that was all we told you, you might expect this to be a specimen from the mid-1970s slew of mediocre G-rated theater spam of the same ilk, family pictures like The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams or The Adventures of the Wilderness Family (from Sunn Classic Pictures and Pacific International Enterprises, respectively). And that is probably the original intent behind Roar (1981), but then things went… wrong.

As the opening titles proudly remind us, no animals were harmed in the making of this movie. But seventy members of the cast and crew were. This only counts the injuries requiring hospital treatment; Hedren later admitted in interviews that the injury total was closer to a hundred or more. Highlights include cinematographer Jan de Bont (lion attack, 220 stitches to the scalp), Tippi Hedren (elephant attack, fractured leg and head injuries), Noel Marshall ( multiple feline attacks, numerous injuries, hospitalized with blood poisoning and gangrene), and John Marshall (lion attack, 56 stitches). Injuries or not, most of the takes with an attack in them ended up in the final film cut. Understandably, staff turnover was brisk, including one incident where twenty members of the production crew walked off the set all at once. Melanie Griffith also left at one point, telling her mother Hedren “I don’t want to come out of this with half a face.” She had a change of heart and returned to complete her role, whereupon she promptly almost lost half her face (lion attack, 100+ stitches and facial reconstructive surgery).

On paper, the story is a big yawn. Patriarch Hank (Noel Marshall) Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: ROAR (1981)

17*. SON OF THE WHITE MARE (1981)

Fehérlófia

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

“In my animated films the design of every frame is of great importance, as if it would be a painting. Most of the time, and particularly in a mythical, fabulous context, my human characters, even lead characters, are only a minor part of the whole thing.” —Marcell Jankovics

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Marcell Jankovics

FEATURING: Voices of György Cserhalmi, Vera Pap, Gyula Szabó, Ferenc Szalma, Mari Szemes, Szabolcs Tóth

PLOT: Fleeing hunters in a forest, a pregnant white mare takes refuge in a knot of the World Tree. For seven years plus seven she feeds her son, Treeshaker, before he embarks on a quest to destroy the three dragons that have captured the three princesses of the kingdom. Joined by his brothers Stonecrumbler and Irontemperer, he seeks the entrance to the Underworld in order to battle the monsters.

BACKGROUND:

  • The narrative takes its inspiration from around half-a-dozen variations of a folk legend (which itself exists in over fifty forms). The canonical version is “Fehérlófia” as related by the Hungarian poet László Arany, though Jankovics’ rendition often departs from this source.
  • Jankovics’ decision to adopt an experimental animation style proved to be a double-edged sword. The film’s singular appearance grew famous only after years of word-of-mouth percolation; it was unmarketable at the time of its release, and Jankovics found only fleeting acclaim (and no work whatsoever) outside of his native Hungary.
  • Jankovics discounts any assertions about having taken psychedelics, claiming instead he merely wished to respect the fantastical grandeur of the source material.
  • The titular White Mare takes on a warm, pinkish glow when near her son. This tonal effect was lost until the film’s recent restoration, the mare having appeared simply white in earlier washed-out prints.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Treeshaker striding confidently behind row upon row of modern buildings in silhouette as a horrible brown smog obscures the scene: a mythical hero boldly facing modernity.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Bubble-beard gnome; twelve-headed skyscraper monster

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It might be impossible to find another feature-length animation that is simultaneously so stylized while feeling so organic, or with such vibrant colors telling so heroic a tale. Every cel is a stunning piece of art that seamlessly morphs into the next jaw-dropper. The curious source material lends a further twist: ancient Central European folklore channeled through a 20th-century animator toiling behind the Iron Curtain.


Re-release trailer for Son of the White Mare

COMMENTS: Marcell Jankovics’ introductory dedication declares Continue reading 17*. SON OF THE WHITE MARE (1981)

CAPSULE: KAGERO-ZA (1981)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Yusaku Matsuda, , Katsuo Nakamura, , Eriko Kusuda

PLOT: A playwright gets caught up with a rich industrialist’s two wives, putting both his life and soul in mortal danger.

COMMENTS: After the success of Zigeunerweisen, Seijun Suzuki returned to the Taisho era for another morbid tale with supernatural undertones. Zigeunerweisen was often unfocused and difficult to follow, but Kagero-za is even more loosely structured, borderline incomprehensible at times. Its title refers to a haze seen on particularly hot days, which can play tricks on the eyes and create illusions. In keeping with this title, the film moves with the slow, languid pace of a dream. It’s never certain if what’s being seen is real or illusion.

The film begins, fittingly, with an illusion seen in a heat haze. Or was it an illusion? A young man (Yusaku Matsuda) meets a mysterious married woman, Shinako (Michiyo Okusu), who asks him to escort her to a nearby hospital, for fear of an old woman she saw selling bladder cherries at high prices—and also advertising them as women’s souls. When they investigate, the old woman seems to have vanished into the vapors that she came from, and the married woman ends up giving the man her soul instead. From this point onward, the man is repeatedly drawn to her, seduced by circumstance and seemingly doomed to commit double suicide with her when her rich husband (Katsuo Nakamura) finds out about the affair.

But all is not what it seems. The woman’s husband has another wife, Ine (Eriko Kusuda), who may or may not be dead. In the film’s most explicit commentary on the effects of Westernization in the Taisho era, the husband is said to have met Ine while studying abroad in Germany, captivated by her blond hair but also determined to make a Japanese woman out of her. The fact he studied abroad in Europe suggests that he is either an industrialist or a member of the new class of elites which led the charge of modernization in Japan at this time. Shinako, the other wife, is relegated to the shadows, barely noticed by her husband. However, she serves as a reminder of Japanese tradition in its purest form, repeatedly coming back to haunt her husband and her lover in an unending cycle which torments all involved.

Halfway through the film, Shinako portentously muses that “If dreams didn’t end, they wouldn’t be dreams anymore.” With this in mind, it might be best to take the world of Kagero-za as a dream which becomes its own reality. What begins as a fairly simple love triangle with Gothic undertones becomes progressively stranger in its second half, going off on feverish tangents which range from freemasons exchanging dolls with intricately carved sex organs hidden inside to a children’s kabuki theater which ominously reenacts the film’s central love triangles, while an unseen playwright gives directions from on high and the real-life characters look on with expressions of frozen alarm.

Of course, none of this makes much sense, but it wouldn’t be a Seijun Suzuki film if it did. It’s a dream journey not unlike ’s Eyes Wide Shut, except that it involves a man’s affair with a married woman and his subsequent internal and external crises, rather than a man struggling to come to terms with his wife’s real or imagined infidelities. Still, the pacing is interminably slow and the particulars of the central affair (which is more imagined than real to begin with) are rehashed to the point that they lose all sense of meaning or tension. It’s worth watching for its stunning cinematography and surreal depiction of cultural corruption in pre-WW2 Japan, but it’s a pretentious and muddled step down from the chilling and subtly supernatural Zigeunerweisen.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the wantonly eccentric narrative is set in 1926 Tokyo, though, given Suzuki’s contempt for coherence, it might as well take place in another planet… [T]here’s no denying Suzuki’s knack for ravishing disorientation even if you take one character’s description of ‘a too complicated game to enjoy’ to apply for the film.” – Fernando F. Croce, Slant Magazine (DVD)