Tag Archives: 1982

SHORT: VINCENT (1982)

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DIRECTED BY: Tim Burton

FEATURING: Vincent Price

PLOT: A seven year old boy wishes he could be just like the Vincent Price he sees in old movies.

Still from Vincent (1982)

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  It’s not quite weird; more mildly macabre.  But it sure is cool.

COMMENTSVincent is a 5 minute poem, narrated by the mellifluous Vincent Price, about a morbid boy (also named Vincent) obsessed with emulating the horror icon’s tormented screen persona.  It’s told in a singsong, storybook cadence and given a superlative reading by Price (who was so flattered by the tribute that he proclaimed it a greater honor than a star on Hollywood Boulevard).  There are some specific references to Price’s work for the actor’s fans, though the short prefers to evoke their general atmosphere than to cite specific movies. Young Vincent’s daydreams involve dipping his aunt in wax, turning his dog into a zombie, and slowly being driven mad by his guilt over his unspeakable crimes.  A representative stanza: “Such horrible news he could not survive/For his beautiful wife had been buried alive!/He dug out her grave to make sure she was dead/Unaware that her grave was his mother’s flower bed.”  Vincent is visually impressive, deliberately shot in luminous black and white and drawing on the gloomy Gothic style of the old Universal horror movies with a powerful dose of German Expressionism.  (Burton denied being directly influenced by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but he’s the only one who doesn’t notice the similarity to the silent psychological horror classic in the geometrically warped sets).  The look and childishly ghastly tone bring to mind a lighter version of the macabre black and white lithographs of Edward Gorey (who once created a primer where each letter illustrates the death of a tot).  Burton’s visual sensibility is already fully formed here, and the elements of his classic style—his comic, cathartic synthesis of fresh childhood innocence and the must of the grave—are already in evidence.  In fact, there may be no better example in the director’s entire body of work of than this crisp five minute exhibition of his talent for mixing the chuckle with the shudder.

Disney has traditionally made Vincent and Burton’s other pre-fame short Frankenweenie as extras on all their editions of The Nightmare Before Christmas.  The film is also included on the anthology Cinema 16: American Short Films (buy) alongside  Maya Deren‘s “Meshes of the Afternoon” and works by Andy Warhol, Todd Solondz and Gus Van Sant, among others.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a pastiche of styles lifted from the writings of Dr. Seuss and Edgar Allen Poe, and a range of movies from B-horror films, German expressionist works and the films of Vincent Price.”–Michael Frierson, Animation World Magazine (DVD)

[(This movie was nominated for review by reader “Maxwell Stewart.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)]

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: LIQUID SKY (1982)

DIRECTED BY: Slava Tsukerman

FEATURING: Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas, Otto von Wernherr, Bob Brady

PLOT: Tiny aliens land their flying saucer on the roof of a New York City penthouse and begin sucking the brains out of sex-addicted New Wave beatniks.

Still from Liquid Sky (1982)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Tsukerman’s filming style is free-form and unconventional. Liquid Sky‘s visual footprint is every bit as avant-garde as its story about drug addicted extraterrestrials is bizarre.

COMMENTS: Aliens come to Earth in search of a heroin rush. It seems the little green, er, ah, terrestrially challenged ones don’t have the requisite opposing thumbs needed for handling a set of works, so they enjoy their smack the next best way: by telekinetically extracting the gray-matter of heroin addicts whose brains are flooded with opiates. Wonderful though it may be, heroin turns out to be only a gateway drug for the saucer-jockeys. While some human poppy-heads may find death to be the ultimate narcotic, the aliens soon discover that the endorphin rush in a juicy human brain during orgasm is the ultimate high, and they reset their priorities accordingly.

Now the gnarly little starmen seek out fornicators and harvest their orgasms for the best buzz. Still guided by the scent of smack, the space-meisters dock their star-buggy on the roof of a penthouse shared by a drug dealer and her lesbian fashion model lover. Their apartment contains a large amount of heroin, but better yet, is the locus of a lot of degenerate sex.

When the two gal pals aren’t waxing philosophic during their performance art exhibitions and dance routines at a local New Wave club, they are attracting a steady stream of addicted customers, androgynous jet trash, and depraved sex fiends back to their pad. The astral hop heads make the most of the situation and suck hapless guests dry when they sexually relieve themselves. Of course this kills each guest, but no matter. A few dead bodies are an almost normalizing factor at these two girls’ crazy, drug-addled, day-glo, non-stop New Wave penthouse party.

A Berlin scientist who has been studying the aliens makes the scene and tries to rescue the girls before the little neuron nibblers absorb their whacked-out noggins as well. The situation becomes a bit sticky when he discovers that the fashion model has plans of her own for the moonmen junkies.

Liquid Sky is a terribly dated, low budget film that is imaginatively colorful and oh so avant-garde. While it looks pretty campy now, 1980’s hipsters affirm that at the time of its release, Liquid Sky was considered to be the coolest thing by New Wave standards since “smart drinks” and those wraparound mirrored “spectrums” Devo used to wear.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one of the weirdest films you’ll ever see… The film redefines weirdness and randomness as it jumps back and forth between seemingly unimportant scenes in clubs where our characters, like deer stuck in headlights, dance away and fight off the advances of others.”–Ed Gonzalez, Apollo Movie Guide (DVD)

CAPSULE: BASKET CASE (1982)

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DIRECTED BY: Frank Henenlotter

FEATURING: Kevin van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner

PLOT: Duane checks into a derelict Times Square hotel carrying a wicker basket under his arm; inside is something about 1/4 the size of a person, that eats about 4 times the hamburgers a person would.

Still from Basket Case (1982)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Most people will go through their entire lives and never see anything as weird as the micro-budgeted cult shocker Basket Case.  A fine little offbeat exploitation shocker, the flick makes a late-in-the-game play for true weirdness with a strange dream sequence that sees Duane running naked through the streets of New York as a prelude to the film’s most shocking development.  To us, however, Basket Case shakes out as nothing more (or less) than a fine example of a unique, campy monster flick with only marginally weird elements.  That’s just how selective we are with our weirdness.

COMMENTS:  One of the secrets to Basket Case‘s success is that it positively oozes indecency and vice, but isn’t mean-spirited or sadistic.  Director Frank Henenlotter nails the aesthetic of sleaze, and for the most part keeps on the right side of the fine line between trash and crass, only crossing over briefly once or twice so that we know where the border is.  You emerge from a screening titillated and pleasantly shocked, but not feeling like you have to take a bath or go to confession.  The setting—the 42nd street red light district as it existed in Times Square in the early 1980s—creates an immediate atmosphere of moral and social decay.  Since renovated and Disneyfied, back then the neon-lit 42nd street was an avenue where you could walk past peep shows and marquees advertising “3 Kung Fu hits!” while being propositioned for weed, heroin and/or whores by strangers.  The scenes Henenlotter shot Continue reading CAPSULE: BASKET CASE (1982)

CAPSULE: CAT PEOPLE (1982)

DIRECTED BY: Paul Schrader

FEATURING: Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O’Toole, Ruby Dee,

PLOT: A young woman struggles with an ancient family curse while pursuing the purrfect mate.

Still from Cat People (1982)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Cat People, loosely based on the Val Lewton original, is a slightly atypical, high quality horror film.  It is a variation of the old werewolf theme, focused on felines rather than canines.  It is not quite unconventional enough to be weird, but it has a strange feel compared to other horror movies.

COMMENTS: Orphaned, beautiful Irena (Kinski) comes to live with her brother Alex (McDowell) in his creepy new Orleans home, after being separated from him for years by the mysterious death of their parents.  Alex is a pastor at an even creepier chapel and he carries the burden of some rather odd baggage.  It seems that he is taken to roaming and prowling at night, climbing trees, clawing things up, wolfing down prostitutes, and getting himself locked in zoo cages.  Worse, he unceremoniously demands sex from the mousy Irena, who isn’t exactly keen on the idea.  It never occurs to poor Alex to try sprinkling some catnip on his business areas and begging to have his tummy scratched.

Irena discovers that if she rubs up against anybody besides Alex, she will turn into a puma—a carnivorous puma with an insatiable lust for rich, red, raw human flesh.  To become human again herself, she must feast on the living.  This is of course, quite understandable.  Few things are as disappointing as a menu of Fancy Feast, when one could be munching on a delicious man like John Heard (C.H.U.D.) or his lusty girlfriend Annette O’Toole (Smile).  Heard’s zookeeper character certainly gives Irena aplenty to purr about.  Irena falls in love with Heard, but will she be able to resist his charms—and the savory goodness of his tender, meaty loins and chops?  Then there’s the matter of that pesky girlfriend with the hair like red yarn.  She caterwauls her concerns surrounding Irena, and Irena wishes a cat had her tongue.  Hopefully she’s nothing a hiss and a swat can’t take care of.

Irena explores the French Quarter and her blossoming desires, and experiences some very unsettling biological changes when she’s in heat.  She becomes embroiled in a murder case as her brother stalks her, she stalks the girlfriend, chases after Heard, and Alex plays cat and mouse with the police.  Meanwhile Heard is quickly beginning to realize that toying with the supernatural is not always the cat’s meow.

Cat People is a very arty film with a distinctive visual pawprint featuring Big Easy location cinematography and some striking, unusual shots. There are some interesting ultraviolet night sequences filmed from a werecat’s point of view that are innovative for the date of release, putting the simple thermal imaging used in Wolfen to shame.  An original score by David Bowie and Girogio Moroder (Midnight Express) compliments the avant-garde look and feel of the film.  Well acted, Cat People is a pleasing change of pace from mediocre, industry standard horror movies.  It boasts an unusual, well-structured plot and a bizarre ending which nicely balances out the heavy compliment of cat shots.  And by cat shots, I mean very solid thespianism on the part of a couple of beautiful and charming black leopards (in addition to all the of naked supple human breasts, and full frontal nude footage of the spectacular specimen of feline-esque femininity, Nastassja Kinski, captured in her prime. Rowwwr!)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The obscure proceedings are often ludicrous (especially in the orange-colored primal-dream sequences), yet you don’t get to pass the time by laughing, because it’s all so queasy and so confusingly put together…”–Pauline Kael, The New Yorker (contemporaneous)