Tag Archives: 1990

CAPSULE: THE EXORCIST III (1990)

DIRECTED BY: William Peter Blatty

FEATURING: George C. Scott, , Jason Miller

PLOT: A seasoned police lieutenant notices details of a recent homicide case that are eerily similar to those of a dead serial killer’s 15 year-old murder spree.

Still from The Exorcist III (1990)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  If The Exorcist III was about 30 minutes long, consisting of the most oblique, intense moments in the theatrical version, it may very well have been one of the most terrifying and bizarre films to emerge from the ’90s. This 110-minute crawl, however, somehow manages to find the mundane in supernatural goings-on and ritual murder sprees.

COMMENTS: A serial killer is on the loose, preying on the weak and the innocent in Washington, D.C., mutilating their bodies in the same grotesque fashion as The Gemini, a psychopath who was convicted and executed for his crimes 15 years ago. It falls to veteran police lieutenant William Kinderman to stop this madman before he kills again. Can he unravel the mystery in time, or will Kinderman be the killer’s next victim?

Oh… and there’s an exorcism. Did I mention that?

One could easily imagine the origin of the THIRD entry in The Exorcist franchise sounding like that of other famous horror icons’ origin stories: “locked away in an asylum until one fateful Halloween night”, “summoned from Hell into this dimension by unwitting pleasure-seekers”, and, perhaps most appropriately, “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs.” The execution doesn’t sound too pleasant, either; a vacated director’s chair is filled by the writer of the original film’s source material, the focus turned from Regan MacNeil to Detective Kinderman (!), and several studio butcher-block decisions radically alter the final product. But The Exorcist III is actually a bit more inspired than anyone expected it to be, which is what makes its place in horror history so complicated and its ultimate failure so frustrating.

This inspiration comes from writer/director William Peter Blatty, Continue reading CAPSULE: THE EXORCIST III (1990)

CAPSULE: CRY-BABY (1990)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Amy Locane, , Polly Bergen

PLOT: A “drape” with the ability to cry a single tear on command falls for a “square” girl in 1950s Baltimore.

Still from Cry-baby (1990)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: If you stacked John Waters’ movies with the weirdest on top and most mainstream on the bottom, there’s a good chance Cry-Baby would be making up the foundation.

COMMENTS: John Waters’ first movie after the 1988 death of his muse continued his retreat from the trashy outrageousness of the Pink Flamingos era into the nostalgic PG-13 rated camp represented by this and Hairspray. Cry-Baby is a nostalgic, light-hearted parody of 1950s juvenile delinquent movies, with a couple of musical production numbers thrown in almost as an afterthought. The plot is a simple star-crossed riff on West Side Story/Grease, with sexy Amy Locane as the good girl longing to be bad and Depp as the type of sensitive hood that made teen girls in poodle skirts feel things they had never felt before.

As usual in a Waters movie, the casting is half the fun. At the time, Depp was a small screen teen idol whose career arc showed little promise. Although cast because of his heartthrob status—his campy line deliveries as Cry-Baby (which sometimes sound like Elvis acting at his best) don’t allow him to really stretch his talents—Depp’s presence in a John Waters movie did telegraph his intent to gamble on oddball roles, and made casting directors look at him in a different light. As far as supporting players and cameos go, look for real-life bad girl Traci Lords as a pouty teen; Susan Tyrrell and as Cry-Baby’s reprobate roadhouse grandparents; Troy Donahue, , , Joey Heatherton, and former brainwashed heiress Patty Hearst as the older generation of drapes; and as a “hateful guard.” Ricki Lake, as a 50s version of an unfit teen mom, is piggish (“I’m so happy all knocked-up!”), rather than sympathetic as intended, but little-known Kim McGuire (or at least her makeup) makes quite an impression as the aptly-named Hatchet Face. There are so many eccentric minor players jostling for time onscreen that there’s no time for real characterization, which keeps Cry-Baby faithful to the movies it’s parodying, at least.

As a lightly magical realist comedy, Cry-Baby is fairly successful, although of course many Waters fans will miss the nasty grit of the trashpile 1970s movies. In 1990 the Eisenhower-era satirical targets are stale, but there are some amusing moments in the script, topped by an orphanage that’s run like an animal shelter, with children behind glass waiting to be adopted. “She’s Caucasian,” drawls the patrician orphanage matron in regards to a darling eight-year-old girl playing house in her cell, “but that’s about all I can recommend.” In terms of oddnesses, look for a baby cradle festooned with deaths heads, an easily spooked cow, and a “helpful” sewer rat.

Like all of Waters’ post-Hairspray work, Cry-Baby lost money at the box office. Waters regained his “R” rating with his next film, 1994’s Serial Mom, and abandoned his brief experiment in family-friendly entertainment. Depp, of course, went on to greater weirdness, starring next in ‘s Edward Scissorhands before moving on to Certified Weird performances in Dead Man (1995) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“John Waters at his most accessible — which is still really odd.”–Rob Thomas, Capital Times

LIST CANDIDATE: EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Dianne Wiest, Anthony Michael Hall, Kathy Baker, , Alan Arkin, Robert Oliveri, Conchata Ferrell, Caroline Aaron, Dick Anthony Williams, O-Lan Jones

PLOT: Avon lady Peg (Wiest) finds a strange boy named Edward (Depp) with scissors for hands living in a Gothic castle next to her candy-colored suburban neighborhood. Since his father/creator (Price) has died, Peg brings Edward home with her. At first, the town embraces Edward’s landscaping and hairdressing skills, but when he falls in love with Peg’s daughter (Ryder), complications arise.

Still from Edward Scissorhands (1990)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Because it’s probably the most personal film directed by Tim Burton, arguably the weirdest filmmaker ever to achieve consistent, mainstream success within the Hollywood studio system. Burton never fully defines the film as either fantasy or science fiction; Edward is something like the Frankenstein monster, with Price as a benevolent mad scientist.

COMMENTS: This unlikely vehicle was really the film that turned the photogenic Johnny Depp into a movie star. (Intriguingly, Depp’s first starring role was actually in Cry-Baby, directed by another iconoclastic filmmaker, .) With his dead-white skin and rat’s nest hairdo, Edward Scissorhands vaguely resembles Robert Smith, lead singer of the rock group The Cure. Edward’s hair also looks something like Burton’s.  This was also the first of eight collaborations so far between Depp and Burton, who obviously see each other as kindred spirits. The film itself is a fabulously Gothic fairy tale, with an unexpectedly downbeat ending, a great deal of Burtonesque humor, and any number of haunting images, all backed up by Danny Elfman’s beautiful and mournful music. Both Burton and Elfman have called this their favorite of their own films. The film is set in a full-blown Burton universe, with all of his strange quirks and eccentricities (he wrote the story; Caroline Thompson penned the screenplay). After Edward, all of the live-action films directed by Burton have been based on material created by others (Mars Attacks, Alice in Wonderland, etc.), but this is unfiltered Tim Burton, melancholy and delightfully weird. Somehow, this director’s Disney-in-Hell vision has been palatable to mainstream audiences, unlike, say, the Surrealist nightmares of . (It’s amusing to compare Burton’s satiric portrait of suburbia here with Lynch’s terrifying town of Lumberton in Blue Velvet). The movie is obviously semi-autobiographical for Burton, with Edward being only one of his many white-faced protagonists–Pee-Wee Herman, Barnabbas Collins, Beetlejuice, etc.–and Edward definitely does not fit in the suburbs, which is the way Burton has always said he felt growing up in Burbank. (Ironically, Burbank is a place that Burton, in a way, never left, since most of his films have been for Disney or Warner Bros, which are both located in that city, though Edward was produced at 20th Century Fox.) If any Tim Burton film can make the List, this, his most personal picture, should be the one.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“One problem is that the other people are as weird, in their ways, as [Edward] is: Everyone in this film is stylized and peculiar, so he becomes another exhibit in the menagerie, instead of a commentary on it.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

 

CAPSULE: TWIN PEAKS (PILOT) (1990)

DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING: , Michael Ontkean, Ray Wise, , , James Marshall, Sherilyn Fenn, Jack Nance, Sheryl Lee

PLOT: The murder of a homecoming queen brings an eccentric FBI agent to a small Northwestern town seething with secrets.

Still from "Twin Peaks" pilot (1990)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite being among the best and tensest 90 minutes ever to air on American television, the pilot of “Twin Peaks” won’t make the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies for two reasons. First, it’s not weird enough; although future installments would supply some of the WTF-iest moments ever to grace the small screen, the opening installment of the epic series plays things very understated and close to the vest, merely hinting at the undercurrent of uncomfortable weirdness that would become the show’s dominant tone. Second, and more importantly, the “Twin Peaks” pilot is incomplete. It ends on a cliffhanger, and not only is nothing resolved, many of the main storylines have not even been introduced yet.

Both those objections are addressed in the alternate international version of the pilot, which added an additional twenty minutes of footage which solved Laura Palmer’s murder (differently than the series would in Season 2). This version was shot at the financing studio’s insistence (they hoped to recoup some of their four million dollar investment if the series was not picked up) and released as a theatrical feature overseas. The alternate ending includes the iconic “Man from Another Place” dream sequence which would later grace episode 2, which by itself scores enough weird points to get the international version into consideration. The ending also resolves the mystery and the story; unfortunately, it also ruins it. Because the pilot didn’t have time to explore the forest of suspects, red herrings and side plots the script hints at, to someone who had never seen the series before the solution comes out of nowhere and would makes you wonder what the point of introducing all the minor characters was. This out of place, tacked-on ending perhaps makes the international version play even weirder, but it destroys the pilot’s fragile beauty—an unforgivable sin.

COMMENTS: After having bottomed out with his confusing flop adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Continue reading CAPSULE: TWIN PEAKS (PILOT) (1990)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SINGAPORE SLING [Singapore sling: O anthropos pou agapise ena ptoma] (1990)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Nikos Nikolaidis

FEATURING: Meredyth Herold, Michele Valley, Panos Thanassoulis

PLOT: An alcoholic detective searches for a lost love, presumably dead, and ends up acaptive of two psychotic women. The women (a mother and daughter) ceaselessly torture the helpless and incapacitated victim. He remains mute as they participate in bizarre sexual practices and flaunt their derangement, sometimes literally in his face.

Still from Singapore Sling (1990)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Singapore Sling is one of the rare films where practically every frame is teeming with weirdness. The imagery, behavior, and even the strange nuances in the women’s dialogue are often over-the-top and perverse, yet even while the viewer is made to feel uncomfortable, there is an overwhelming desire to see what comes next. Just when you think it couldn’t possibly get any weirder it somehow manages to top itself.

COMMENTSSingapore Sling is one messed up film.  It is a twisted take on the film noirs that filled cinemas in the early part of the 20th century.  Specifically, it pays homage to Otto Preminger’s stylish classic Laura (1944).  I use the word homage very loosely here, however.  The original film’s music theme is used sporadically throughout, the detective’s lost lover is named Laura, and the nutcase daughter has a painted portrait of herself like Gene Tierney’s Laura character.  The similarities pretty much end there.  Deviance always played a central part in noirs, but not anywhere close to the degree that is on display here.  I have to smile thinking about a dolled up 1940’s socialite having a night out at the theater, dressed to the nines in her pearl necklace and pillbox hat, witnessing this vulgarity.  “What is she going to do with that kiwi fruit”?  Gasp!

Film noir translates to “black film” and Singapore Sling is the purest black possible.  Actually, the black and white cinematography is surprisingly lush and almost seems too perfect for a film with this subject matter.  The beautiful crispness works to its advantage and the film would not have the same impact if shot in color.  The contrast of the blacks and whites are stark and sets the mood perfectly.  If I have any quarrel with the movie it is with the decision to Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SINGAPORE SLING [Singapore sling: O anthropos pou agapise ena ptoma] (1990)

19. THE REFLECTING SKIN (1990)

“You been exploding frogs again?”–Ruth Dove

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Philip Ridley

FEATURING:  Jeremy Cooper, , Lindsay Duncan

PLOT:  Over-imaginative young Seth, growing up in post-World War II rural USA, comes to believe that his widowed neighbor is actually a vampire.  After his father dies in unexpected fashion, the older brother he adores returns from his military tour of the Pacific.  When the brother falls in love with the vampire widow, Seth tries to find a away to save him.

Still from The Reflecting Skin (1991)

BACKGROUND:

  • This was Philip Ridley’s first directorial effort, after breaking into the movie business by writing the script for The Krays. He is also an author of children’s books.
  • A top-billed, pre-fame Viggo Mortensen had just come off playing the role of the cannibal “Tex” in Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III.
  • The production company for the film (Bialystock & Bloom Limited) is jokingly named after Zero Mostel and Gene Hackman’s characters in The Producers.
  • This film, with its hyper-imaginative child protagonist roaming among golden fields of wheat, was an obvious inspiration for Terry Gilliam‘s 2005 film Tideland, which has a slightly different atmosphere but can be seen as a companion piece.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Seth cradling and asking advice from the petrified baby (which he believes to be an angel) that he found hidden in an egg-like box in a hayloft chapel.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Nothing that happens in The Reflecting Skin is literally impossible.  Much of the film’s bizarre effect comes from the characters, especially the weird widow Dolphin who is obsessed with decay and destruction and whose husband hanged himself after a week of marriage. Other characters who form the background of young Seth Dove’s weird world are his perpetually on the verge of tears, creatively abusive mother; a father who reeks of gasoline and hides a secret past; a drunken neighbor obsessed with his own sinful thoughts who dresses like a Puritan; the world’s unluckiest town sheriff, who has lost three body parts to animal attacks and who wears a slice of a colander for an eyepatch; and a hot-rod hearse full of juvenile delinquents that haunts the back roads of this Midwestern farm community.  Altogether, it’s a such an odd concoction of unlikely ingredients, told in a straightforward dramatic manner, that might earn the label “improbable realism” (as well as “Midwestern Gothic”).

Original trailer for The Reflecting Skin

COMMENTS: On it’s release in 1990-1991, The Reflecting Skin was frequently compared to Continue reading 19. THE REFLECTING SKIN (1990)

11. JACOB’S LADDER (1990)

“Something weird is going on here.  What is it about us?  Even in ‘Nam it was always weird.  Are we all crazy or something?” –line in original screenplay to Jacob’s Ladder

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Adrian Lyne

FEATURING: , Elizabeth Peña, Danny Aiello

PLOT:  Jacob Singer (nicknamed “Professor” by his army buddies due to his glasses and Ph.D.) is wounded in Vietnam after a harrowing, disorienting battle.  While he is on duty in Vietnam, his young son dies; years later, he works in New York City as a postman and has a sexy new girlfriend, Jezzie.  Jacob begins suffering flashbacks of the day he was wounded, along with hallucinations in which everyday people take on demonic forms—catching brief glimpses of tails, horns, and howling faces with blank features—and eventually discovers that the other members of his unit are experiencing similar symptoms.

jacobs_ladder

BACKGROUND:

  • The script for Jacob’s Ladder shuffled between Hollywood desks for years, impressing executives but not being viewed as a marketable project. The script was cited by American Film Magazine as one of the best unproduced screenplays.
  • Before he asked to direct Jacob’s Ladder, British director Adrian Lyne was best known for sexy, edgy, and profitable projects such as Flashdance (1983), 9 1/2 Weeks (1986) and Fatal Attraction (1987).
  • Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (who later wrote Ghost [1990] and other commercial properties) says that his script was partly influenced by The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
  • Adrian Lyne states that some of the hellish visual cues in the film, including the whirring and vibrating head effect, were inspired by the woks of grotesque painter Francis Bacon.
  • Lyne deleted scenes and changed the ending after test audiences found the film to be too intense.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  A blurred, whirring human head which shakes uncontrollably from side to side at tremendous speed, seen several times throughout the film.  The effect looks mechanical, as if the head were an unbalanced ball attached to an out-of-control hydraulic neck.  It was achieved by filming an actor casually shaking his head from side to side at four frames per second, which produced a terrifying effect when played back at the standard twenty-four frames per second.  The technique has been imitated in movies, video games, music videos, and even a porno flick since, but has never since been used to such fearsome effect.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Like many psychological thrillers, Jacob’s Ladder strives to keep the audience disoriented and off-balance, wondering what is real and what is false. The movie achieves this effect wonderfully, but what gives it it’s cachet as a weird movie are two intense hallucination sequences: one at an horrifically orgiastic party intermittently lit by a strobe light, and one where the protagonist lies helpless on a hospital gurney as he’s wheeled down an increasingly bizarre and alarming hospital corridor. Both scenes are difficult to forget, equal parts creepy surrealism and visceral body-horror.

Original Trailer for Jacob’s Ladder

COMMENTS: I can’t watch Jacob’s Ladder without comparing it to Alan Parker’s Angel Heart.   The similarities are obvious: both were psychological thrillers with supernatural Continue reading 11. JACOB’S LADDER (1990)