A man and woman nervously stammer and tap their fingers until their eyes meet.
DIRECTED BY: David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry
FEATURING: Anessa Ramsey, Justin Welborn, A.J. Bowen, Scott Poythress
PLOT: A mysterious signal broadcast through television distorts people’s thinking and turns an entire city into a horde of homicidal maniacs.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Signal is a tough call, because does get increasingly weird (especially at the end). On the whole, however, its experimentation puts it more on the outer edges of the apocalyptic horror genre than firmly inside the weird movie genre.
COMMENTS: You might say that a movie looks like it was directed by three different directors to criticize its lack of continuity or coherence. In The Signal‘s case, however, it’s actually, literally true, and it’s an asset rather than a liability. Working from a script they co-wrote together, David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry, and Dan Bush each direct one of the movie’s three acts sequentially, with each section taking the perspective of a different character affected by the homicidal signal. Although the Atlanta-based trio has continued to work in the horror scene, none of them have achieved this level of success in their solo work.
Bruckner’s opening segment covers the advent of the mysteriously broadcast signal, which manifests itself as psychedelic fractals on TV that speak telepathically to viewers and prey on their weaknesses. It introduces protagonists Mya and Ben, who are having an adulterous affair but seem like basically good kids. When Mya returns home to the apartment she shares with her husband Lewis, she observes that everyone in the city is acting oddly. Their behavior gradually changes from eccentric to outright psychotic, as hubby Lewis flies into a fit of violent jealousy, while another neighbor is in the hallway outside killing people with gardening shears. It’s the most straightforward and conventional bit of filmmaking, which is the necessary approach to establish the premise. Gentry’s second act takes the movie into grisly black comedy territory, shot from the POV of people suffering from signal-induced delusions and hallucinations at the most awkward New Year’s Eve party/massacre ever. Although it contains some of the most gruesome horror moments, including dastardly uses for pesticide sprays, this segment is the best and most memorable. It features a couple of sly comic relief victims: a kitschy party hostess who doesn’t realize she’s killed her husband, and a horny male guest whose single-minded dedication to getting laid blinds him to the carnage around him. It’s fortuitous that this only a third of the film—there wouldn’t have been enough jokes for feature length, but a half hour of palette-cleansing comedy is about perfect. Bush wraps things up with a denouement that’s perhaps a bit weaker than the other three, focusing on Ben’s attempts to fight the signal off by sheer willpower. This section contains a lot of “is this really happening or is it just a hallucination?” montages and dream sequences.
Though generally innovative, The Signal settles for some horror movie clichés and credibility stretches. People take what should be fatal amounts of physical abuse and come back later brawling like Ali vs. Foreman. And I’m pretty sure you can’t kill someone by shoving a plastic balloon pump into their jugular. These lapses are partly covered up by the hallucinatory nature of the proceedings, but at times they feel like a typical horror cop-out. Nonetheless, The Signal is a successful experiment, one that leaves its message about media oversaturation implicit rather than hammering it into your poor skull.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“An outright horror film that nonetheless veers on occasion into surreal black comedy, The Signal (a favorite at last year’s Sundance and SXSW Film festivals) takes Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement ‘the medium is the message’ to extremes not explored since David Cronenberg’s seminal, frighteningly prescient Videodrome in 1983.”–Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by “bannanar,” who said ” that one blows my mind… good good stuff.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)
FEATURING: , , Adrian Brody
PLOT: Three brothers, each at a personal crossroads, reunite for a spiritual quest through India.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Darjeeling Limited comes from Wes Anderson’ mid-to-early period, where he flirted with stangeness in airy, slightly dreamy features like Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and this before floating back to Earth for the family-friendly Fantastic Mr. Fox and the Oscar-friendly The Grand Budapest Hotel. He never became quite untethered enough from the bounds of indie movie reality and character-based comedy to soar all the way to the vertiginous heights of the weird, though he did aim high enough to make movies of this period worthy of some scrutiny by fans of unusual films.
COMMENTS: “How can a train be lost? It’s on rails,” Jack sensibly asks after the trio of brothers have been asked to disembark from the title vehicle mid-trip. The “off the rails” joke seems intended a wry, self-aware comment from Anderson about the shaggy dog nature of his story, but it’s not really accurate. For better or worse—I’d say better—The Darjeeling Limited never deviates from the path it sets. This director is known for his tight formalism, revealed in his immaculate set design—every swatch of geometric wallpaper, every piece of matching luggage covered in palm trees suggesting a proper Old World elegance—and in the distant, detached stiffness he enforces on his actors.
The Darjeeling Limited is a quintessential Wes Anderson movie: carefully composed visuals (with a stunning turmeric and saffron color scheme), quirky characters with muffled emotions, a mildly absurd plot. It’s perfectly capable of absorbing you in its off-center but oddly believable universe. Owen Wilson (as the ringmaster brother swaddled in bandages from his recent near-death accident) and Jason Schwartzman (as the womanizing writer brother) are old hands for Wes; lanky Brody, not known at the time for his comic performances, fits into the ensemble surprisingly well., naturally, has an amusing sad sack cameo, and old hand turns up in a small role, too. These three brothers are allegedly off on a spiritual journey, but their quest turns out to be more about coming to grips with the legacies of their parents than discovering nirvana. A Wes Anderson protagonist is typically an upper-middle class (i.e., bourgeois) man focused on a peculiar obsession (Rushmore‘s Max and his crush on an older woman, Steve Zissou’s quest for vengeance), whose narcissism is deflated when he comes to realize that the universe will go its own way without yielding to his desires. These characters’ lenses gradually widen to compensate for their myopia, and they end up not with redemption, but with the resigned wisdom that comes from accepting disillusionment. Here, the realization comes in triplicate. Perhaps there is a legitimate spiritual lesson there, after all.
The Criterion disc includes “The Hotel Chevalier,” a short film starring Schwartzman (alongside) that describes an incident just before the beginning of Darjeeling Limited. It screened before the feature in some theaters. It carries the same sense of whimsical melancholy as the main feature, but, despite plot connections to the main story, it isn’t necessary to enjoy or understand Darjeeling.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
(This movie was nominated for review by “bill,” who said it was “not as overtly strange as some of the movies on this list however there is a certain surreal aspect to the story telling that makes this a masterful cinematic oddity .” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)
DIRECTED BY: Jeremy Saulnier
FEATURING: Chris Sharp, Kate Porterfield, Tess Porterfield Lovell
PLOT: On Halloween night on a whim, Chris collects an invitation to a “murder party” with no explanation and shows up in a cardboard costume; the party turns out to be more than he’d banked on, as his hosts are a collective of artists out to commit a murder to win a performance art grant.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Well, come on, it’s a black comedy/horror that never really strays into uncharted territory. Made on an impoverished budget, the premise is original and the characters are a raving cast of oddballs, but it only adds up to a fun diversion with chuckles and gore, not weirdness.
COMMENTS: Chris (Chris Sharp) plants his foot on a party invitation fluttering through the grimy streets of New York, and since the invitation isn’t directed at anyone in particular, he accepts it as his. It’s Halloween night, after all, and he just wants to party for once in his dull life. Woe betide Chris! His chakras are out of alignment, his lucky stars are in retrograde motion, and his karma is moldy. After fashioning a quick get-up, he sets out to find the party, attired as a cardboard knight. From the minute he arrives at a trashed warehouse in an industrial hell-zone, this party seems off-kilter. The other attendees scoff at the invitation and pounce on him, all but ignoring the pumpkin bread he baked for the potluck dinner.
Chris is tied up in a chair in the warehouse, and we get to know our hosts: Bill (William Lacey), a ghoulish baseball player who sullenly sits on the floor playing with his phone all night; Macon (Macon Blair), a drunk and insanely clutzy werewolf; Paul (Paul Goldblatt), a meek participant who has trouble living up to his aristocratic vampire costume; Lexi (Stacy Rock), in a gleefully deranged impression of Pris from Blade Runner; and Sky (Skei Saulnier), the closest thing to a normal person there, and also the most allergic to raisins. They’re soon joined by Alexander (Sandy Barnett), a purveyor of fine arts and hard drugs with a six-figure grant to hand out to an artist that impresses him. The gang of artists have decided that their art project will constitute committing a fully documented murder. But they needed to set a trap for a random victim, so they made this invitation—and they can’t believe it worked.
Now that we’re set up for a story, sit back and munch candy corn (no seriously, it’s featured prominently) and watch the festivities unfold. There will be lots of chaos, as none of these people, least of all Chris, are remotely capable at what they’re trying to do. Like any good horror movie, you will see lots of characters die, but this time most of them will be dismissed from this vale of tears by their own stupidity. Chris tries many desperate plans to escape, and what little success he has is by pure luck combined with a shocking lack of imagination. It’s a witty social satire for black comedy fans. It’s also the lowest-budget you could possibly have and still make a movie work. “Punk” is a perfect word to describe it; if you picture the people behind Repo Man making a Halloween movie that’s also a satire of pretentious artists—with an even smaller budget and no name stars—you’re pretty close to pegging it. The movie suffers from a lagging pace in a couple places, and some bits just plain don’t work. However, taken for what it is, Murder Party lives up to everything you’d expect from the title, just not much more.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“After an hour of entertainingly crass buildup, pic erupts in a riot of outrageous, quite funny violence that leaves almost no one alive. Punk/metal soundtrack is in keeping with gonzo tone.”–Dennis Harvey, Variety (contemporaneous)
“Look up the word ‘bizarre’ in the dictionary. It doesn’t mean dark. Was Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind a dark film? It was bizarre. No dictionary in the world says bizarre means dark or vice versa. This is the problem with Indians; they come with fixed notions. What is the definition of dark? Tell me!”– An exasperated No Smoking writer/director Anrag Kashyap in an interview
DIRECTED BY: Anurag Kashyap
FEATURING: John Abraham, Ayesha Takia, Ranvir Shorey, Kiku Sharda, Paresh Rawal
PLOT: K, an arrogant businessman and highly-addicted chain smoker, agrees to enter a smoking-cessation program after his wife threatens to leave him. Going to the address his friend gave him, K is led through a labyrinth and forced to sign a contract which specifies that his loved ones will be harmed in increasingly severe ways every time he smokes a cigarette. Naturally, K relapses into smoking and is caught, eventually winding up trapped in a nightmare world.
- The script (at least its early sections) bears some striking similarities to ‘s short story “Quitters, Inc.,” which was previously a segment of the 19865 anthology Cat’s Eye. The writer/director admits the story was an inspiration, although the credits do not mention King.
- No Smoking was Anurag Kashyap’s third movie, but the first one released in India. His debut, Paanch, was never released outside of international film festivals due to state censorship (for violence and drug use); his second film, Black Friday, a true crime story, was delayed while a court case was pending and released after No Smoking. He later achieved mainstream success with 2009’s Dev D, an adaptation of a popular novel.
- No Smoking was a colossal flop in its native India, where it baffled audiences with little exposure to psychological thrillers or surreal cinema.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The bathtub sitting alone on a snowy plain in Siberia, just in sight of what appears to be a Soviet-era gulag, which appears in dream sequences at the beginning and end of the movie.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Hitler’s Indian buddy; Fosse’s cigarette cabaret; banana peel suicide
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: No Smoking isn’t quite what would result if got a wild hair to direct a Bollywood film—but it’s a reasonable approximation. With it’s theme of bad men forced to forgo their vices against their will, a bit like a Hindi twist on A Clockwork Orange, as well, only with more elaborate musical numbers. With the tropes of Indian popular cinema colliding against a Western-style neo-surrealist narrative, No Smoking is neither fish nor fowl; it totally confounded Indian audiences used to simple stories with happy endings, and it will probably confound you, too.
Hindi trailer for No Smoking
COMMENTS: Anurag Kashyap’s Advice for How to Stop Smoking in Continue reading 295. NO SMOKING (2007)
DIRECTED BY: Jonathan Lewis
FEATURING: ” Mubia Abul-Jama,” Heather Murphy, Martin Boone
PLOT: A Black Panther, executed for the “rape and brutal murders of fifteen Caucasian women,” finds his soul transported into a ventriloquist’s dummy; he then resumes his evil ways.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Not need to get into a deep discussion here: Black Devil Doll is simply too silly, spoofy and self-aware to count as weird.
COMMENTS: First things first: Black Devil Doll isn’t an homage to the charmingly naive Black Devil Doll from Hell so much as it is an afro-remake of Child’s Play, with added interracial rape. Basically what we have here is a trashy soft porn feature starring zaftig strippers acting opposite a racial stereotype puppet: cheap, offensive trash, and proud of it. Anyone who’s not tolerant of gleeful overuse of the n-word, boundary-pushing racial humor or blatant misogyny will want to steer clear of this movie—it’s trying to trigger you. Among its bad taste stunts are X-rated cartoons, puppet sex scenes, copious puppet semen, lesbian Twister, an emasculated wigger, Bill Cosby seduction techniques, rape and killing (not necessarily in the order), vomiting, caustic diarrhea… you know, “can’t we all just get along?” kind of stuff. It ends with the strippers-cum-actresses giving the puppet a lap dance over the credits, and a post-credits sequence (by another director) and with the devil doll killing a delivery guy from “Oakland Fried Chicken,” the only fast food outlet with a genuine Sambo on the label. The actresses have names like “Natasha Talonz” and “Precious Cox,” and it was naturally “rated X by an all white jury.” It’s real woke.
Black Devil Doll comes awfully close to earning a “” rating, but has enough virtues to just barely skate by. The James Bond-esque opening credits, with voluptuous silhouetted ladies undulating across a landscape of fire and blood, are actually rather amazing, looking far more expensive than the rest of the movie. They are credited to cinematographer/editor John Osteen, who also inserts a couple of hip-hop montages during the doll’s, er, climaxes, which feature blazing fires, morphing effects and flashes of scenes from the civil rights movement (!) Osteen is more talented than anyone else on the cast and crew, although like the rest he was never heard from again. The funky vintage waka-waka instrumentals aren’t bad, either, although the sexy car wash rap is atrocious (deliberately so). Finally, there are just enough guilty-pleasure politically incorrect chuckles to counteract the painfully insulting ones: “Of course I love you, you dumb-ass ho!,” references to a “half-puppet mulatto baby,” and the classic feminist one-liner, “I’ll buy a dildo.” The final point in the movie’s favor is its brevity and brisk pacing: it has the good sense to keep its provocations to just over an hour, although probably for budgetary reasons rather than out of an abundance of good sense.
Black Devil Doll was made by a black director, because no white director could get away with it. The rest of the cast is all-white (although there may be some mixed blood in there), and the entire thing seems to be a side project of the “Boone brothers,” a pair of Confederate crackers who ran their own straight-to-video mini-empire of catfighting comedy videos called “Brawlin’ Broads” (directed by Osteen). The fact that this comedy about a stereotypical black rapist preying on topless white women seems to have been made by white producers aiming at a white trash audience makes it all the more uncomfortable. At any rate, director Lewis won’t be winning any Image Awards anytime soon.
The DVD contains a surprising number of special features, including two commentaries (one in-character by the devil doll, the other by the cast, neither very amusing or enlightening) and an audience reaction track from the premiere. There are also trailers, behind-the-scenes videos from the premiere and a convention appearance, a videotaped interview, and three (in)decent animations from Rich Moyer.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Part homage to the hilarious surrealism of Petey Wheatstraw and, to some, a respectful rip-off of Chester Novell Turner’s Black Devil Doll From Hell, this outrageous example of Joe Bob Briggs’ patented ‘three Bs – breasts, blood, and beasts’ is so insane, so silicon injected and silly that it’s almost impossible to take seriously.”–Bill Gibron, Pop Matters (DVD)
(This movie was nominated for review by “upgrayedd.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)
DIRECTED BY: Matt Maiellaro, Dave Willis
FEATURING: Voices of Carey Means, Dana Snyder, Dave Willis
PLOT: Animated TV characters based on fast food items (Frylock, Shake and Meatwad) accidentally assemble an apocalyptic exercise machine and discover their own origins.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Let’s face it: the Aqua Teens are lightweight, fast-food surrealism. We’re including this film mainly as a nod to the Cartoon Network’s influential “Adult Swim” programming, which brought a peculiar, hip-pop absurdism to the airwaves starting in 2001. Other, sometimes darker and weirder examples of this aesthetic are found in the work of awkward comedy duo and the standalone live-action experiments of and .
COMMENTS: “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” the TV show about animated fast food characters and their Italian-American stereotype neighbor interacting with 8-bit aliens from “Space Invaders,” has only been out of production for two years now, but it seems like something that should go into the “fondly remembered” bin. I think it’s because the show was so aggressively minor, going (often successfully) for the easy laugh, always settling for snark instead of satire, randomness instead of surrealism. It was the kind of thing that you used to catch flipping through channels at 1 AM, watch until the next commercial break, chuckle once or twice, then move on. Like any long-running series, however, it spawned a dedicated fan base, in this case one large enough to justify production of a widescreen movie “for theaters.”
Colon Movie doesn’t do much to orient newcomers to Aqua Teen‘s world—although to be fair, the series had little structure in the first place. There are three main characters: cool and competent Frylock, a flying pouch of french fries; Master Shake, an arrogant but stupid milkshake; and Meatwad, a wad of meat with low intellectual capacities but shapeshifting abilities. Their adventures are free-form, involving space travel, mad scientists, and other silliness. Colon Movie begins with a widely-praised prologue: a parody of the old “let’s go out to the lobby!” snack commercials with a heavy metal junk food band howling angry suggestions at viewers (“This is a copyrighted movie by Time Warner. If I find you selling it on E-Bay I will break into your house and tear your wife in half!”) We then begin the movie proper, which begins with a segment set in ancient Egypt, followed by a digression involving time-traveling Abe Lincoln. Yep, it’s sketch comedy a la an animated, with a stoner edge. The introductory tomfoolery fades out and the actual plot-based tomfoolery begins around the fifteen-minute mark with the introduction of the doomsday exercise machine and the crudely-drawn aliens (and a mohawk-wearing time-traveling robot) tasked with saving humanity from the machine’s destructive power. This plotline goes on for some time until it’s replaced by our heroes’ encounter with one Dr. Weird and flashbacks to several conflicting, inconsistent origin stories for the Aqua Teens. Along the way they encounter a giant poodle, more aliens (including a watermelon alien teamed up with a shrunken Rush drummer Neil Peart), a Space Ghost cameo, and other sporadically entertaining nonsense. It’s all over in a brisk 80 minutes, although with only an hour or so of actual story it still seems a little bit padded. Still, fans anointed it awesome, although newcomers would probably be better served with a shorter form 11-minute episodes as an introduction to the Force (although, with the cancellation of the series in 2015, that format may be harder to access).
Ultimately, Colon Movie will probably be remembered most for a bit of trivia: as part of a guerilla marketing scheme, LED boards featuring the “Mooninite” aliens were placed in several cities, including Boston. Unfortunately, the advertising was enacted during a period of high tension in Beantown (there had been a bomb scare earlier that morning) and the signs were mistaken for improvised bombs. Despite widespread criticism of the Boston Police Department for overreacting to the incident, the Cartoon Network’s parent company Turner Broadcasting agreed to pay the city 2 million dollars to release them from any liability in the matter.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Like the ATHF television show, Colon Movie Film seemingly delights in making as little sense as possible. Its absurdist scenarios serve as little more than a ramshackle frame for bizarre non sequiturs, stoned pop-culture riffing, and some of the weirdest gags ever to make it into a studio-released film… roughly equivalent levels of tedium and hilarity.”–Nathan Rabin, The A.V. Club (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by Caleb Moss [years before he became a contributor], who called it “unbelievably absurd, nihilistic, low budget animation filled with stony non-sequitors… I believe that it has weird potential all and all.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here).