Tag Archives: Absurdist

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE ADULT SWIM YULE LOG [AKA THE FIREPLACE] (2022)

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

The Adult Swim Yule Log is currently available for VOD purchase.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Andrea Laing, Justin Miles, Charles Green, Tordy Clark, Brendan Patrick Connor

PLOT: It begins as an ambient shot of a Yule log, but then the cleaning lady walks into the frame, and soon enough we’re dealing with serial killers, aliens, occultists, flashbacks, and the Little Man: is this log haunted, or are the edibles hitting early?

Still from adult swim yule log [AKA The Fireplace] (2020)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Considering the source, this prank probably caught no one off guard, but it is utter madness in seasonal horror. Don’t believe us? Read some responses on the Twitter thread.

COMMENTS: It would have been amazing if The Adult Swim Yule Log had managed to remain in that tight closeup on the crackling log for it’s entire 90 minute run time—a one shot, static found footage film—but that challenge exceeds even Casper Kelly’s ingenuity. He’s eventually forced to pull back and resort to a conventional omniscient third-person camera. Excepting a few haunted flashbacks, however, he does manage to stay locked into that perspective (with a small adjustment) for the entire first act.

But don’t be disappointed if you were looking forward to Yule Log pushing its fixed-camera conceit to the limit. The movie has plenty of other tricks up its sleeve. After a few minutes of a lightly orchestrated carols over hypnotic flames, the cleaning lady comes in tovacuum. Then there’s a knock at the door, and a couple of strangers arrive complaining of car trouble. A bit later, the couple who’s rented the cabin for a romantic weekend come in, and the film briefly turns into a relationship drama. And then some other visitors arrive with a dire warning, And then a quartet of attractive young podcasters arrive. And then things get… odd. The movie follows several threads at once, exploring a tragic backstory hearkening to the antebellum South, while introducing multiple inconsistent antagonists: serial killers, aliens, and the log itself, who puts in an inanimate performance nearly worthy of Robert the tire. And of course, there’s the dapper Little Man, who adds a real element of supernatural horror (and probably has a great recipe for fried chicken). What comedy there is arises naturally from the absurdity of the situation. But what impresses more is Kelly’s ability to create genuine unease and suspense amidst all the kookiness: a bit where a killer feeds a victim pimento cheese from a jackknife during a psychological cat and mouse duel, while another, more mentally-challenged killer selects a victim in the next room, creates horror tension worthy of a chef’s kiss. Then, of course, the scene resolves in the only way possible: through completely ridiculous deus ex machina. The unknown cast all competently enact slasher movie stereotypes, without ever winking at the camera. So accept your time privilege, grab a Nurse Nutmeg, and sit down by the fire to enjoy the soothing chaos of Adult Swim’s Yule Log. Yule like it.

Casper Kelly caught the world by surprise with his interminable viral sitcom introduction spoof “Too Many Cooks” in 2014. That success encouraged Panos Cosmatos to subcontract Kelly to direct the memorable “Cheddar Goblin” sequence in Mandy. Still, although Kelly continued to work on short projects for the edgy/surreal “Adult Swim” block on the Cartoon Network, his feature film debut was kept secret, coming as even more of a surprise than the fact that Adult Swim’s version of a Yule Log would go terribly awry. Now that Kelly’s broken out of the TV short game, it will be interesting to follow his career and see if he indulges his imagination with more conventionally distributed—if never conventional—material. For those who missed the original broadcast, Adult Swim’s Yule Log can be seen on HBO Max or purchased VOD (it’s a true bargain at $2.99 to own—not just to rent for the usual 48 hours). Here’s hoping it also receives the physical media release it deserves.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Adult Swim’s first fright flick is in the vein of schlocky ‘80s midnighters, where chaos trumps coherency. Maybe burn this hallucinogenic strain after you already have the munchies?”–Matt Donato, IGN (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE RED AND THE WHITE (1967)

Csillagosok, Katonák

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

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Miklós Jancsó

FEATURING: Krystyna Mikolajewska, József Madaras

PLOT: During the Russian Civil War (1918-1920), the Reds and the Whites battle over a monastery on the banks of the Volga that keeps switching hands.

Still from The Red and the White (1967)

COMMENTS: The Red and the White begins with a regiment of horsemen, sabres and rifles raised, charging in slow-motion directly at the camera as a martial trumpet fanfare plays. This stirring sight creates an expectation of an epic about proud Hungarian volunteers coming to the aid of their Soviet brothers against the meddling, foreign-sponsored counter-revolutionary Whites. And that was, indeed, the propagandistic picture producers envisioned for this Soviet-Hungarian co-production, commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution. But Miklós Jancsó instead delivered a virulent anti-war/anti-authority classic, with only the slightest ironic hints of patriotic sentiment. (Some accounts say the completed film was screened in Russia only in a severely edited form, while others report it was banned outright).

It’s hard to tell who is who in The Red and the White. The Whites’ officers have more elaborate uniforms festooned with medals and insignia, but that’s about it for distinguishing the two sides. Perhaps contemporary audiences were able to identify the rivals more easily, but there’s every reason to think that the lack of clarity is entirely intentional, and contemporary confusion only heightens the effect. The movie is told as a series of vignettes, which play out to an individual climax but then follow a new character into the next story (five years before The Phantom of Liberty). Sometimes, characters will return in later episodes, giving the movie a mild sense of narrative continuity, but the general effect is to immerse the viewer into the fog of war. Time often seems to expand within a single scene, and fortunes reverse in an instant: a Red officer goes to investigate why his sentry isn’t responding and is suddenly ambushed, and when the camera circles back the Whites now control the territory. The narrative style and lack of characterization is disorienting, but forces us to identify more with groups than individuals. Soldiers on both sides spend more time bullying civilians and prisoners of war than they do fighting each other. (At one point, POWs are set loose to play a round of “The Most Dangerous Game“). Jancsó particularly loves scenes where the ascendant side forces their captives to strip as a way of asserting dominance. (Although we see nothing, rape is suggested as an inevitable offscreen event.) Due to the lack of an identifiable protagonist, our sympathies are drawn to the innocent pawns in these power games as a group: local farmers, a band of nurses who tend the injured of either side, and the poor conscripts and Hungarian volunteers, who are constantly being captured and liberated in an endless reshuffling of pieces. The Reds play the same cards as the Whites, and Jancsó’s vision conveys an implicit message of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” that could not have been pleasing to Soviet authorities.

The scenarios are repetitive in their cruelty, but purposefully so.  Jancsó invests each anecdote with its own level of suspense (captives are arbitrarily toyed with and freed or toyed with and executed, so you can never be sure who will live and who will die). Occasionally the adventures travel into the absurd, as when one group of interrogees are led into a white birch forest to perform a waltz accompanied by a military band. The rest of the time, the audience enjoys the spectacular long tracking shots that brought Jancsó renown. The flowing camera reinforces the sense of constantly changing front lines on a battlefield where an individual soldier never knows what is happening meters away: one man is executed on the banks of the Volga, while we can see his comrade hiding nearby in the reeds. One battle sequence has the outnumbered Reds singing “The Internationale” before charging a superior White position, only to be mowed down. It’s a maneuver only slightly more effective than lining up against a wall to be shot, but it’s the type of scene that could be sold to the Soviet backers as a portrait of heroic sacrifice. In full context, however, it’s just another example of how the common man finds himself cast into a no-win situation in service to one camp or another of brutes more united by sadism than divided by ideology.

In 2022, Kino Classics re-released its Jancsó catalog on Blu-ray for the first time. The Miklós Jancsó Collection includes The Round-Up, The Red and the White, The Confrontation, Winter Wind, Red Psalm, and Electra My Love, along with a host of supplements and short films. About half of those had never been released on home video in North America, or were hard to find. If you just want the essential Jancsó, they released his two most popular films, The Round-Up and The Red and the White, in a separate 2-disc package, with the seven short films also included. Kino restored all six films in 4K for these releases.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

‘…both masterful and absurdist, using cutting-edge cinematic techniques to show the chaos and pointlessness of war.”–Christopher Lloyd, Film Yap (Blu-ray)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SIR HENRY AT RAWLINSON END (1980)

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

DIRECTED BY: Steve Roberts

FEATURING: Trevor Howard, Patrick Magee, Denise Coffey, J. G. Devlin, Vivian Stanshall

PLOT: As villagers descend upon the English estate of Rawlinson End to celebrate The Blazing, the eccentric lord of the manor Sir Henry is persuaded to bring in outside help to exorcise the ghost of his unfortunate brother, whom he shot in an unfortunate hunting accident and who is unable to pass on to the next plane without his trousers.

Still from Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (1980)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: The film incarnation of Vivian Stanshall’s spoken-word radio prattle series is a fitting adaptation. It’s a melange of relentless mockery of the English upper class, Dada-esque mishmash of characters and situations, full-bodied embrace of inappropriateness, inveterate wordplay, and plummy lost-up-its-own-duodenum narration, with a visual style that places one brow-raising tableau after another into a curiously nostalgic atmosphere. It’s nutty from the jump and never eases off.

COMMENTS: It seems that the first tale of the eccentric Sir Henry Rawlinson was a desperate improvisation, a last-minute creation of Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band leader Vivian Stanshall to fill out the too-short B side of a new album. Among the lovers of Britain’s penchant for absurdist, nonsensical humor, Sir Henry was a hit, and Stanshall created new – well, stories doesn’t seem like the right words – installments on John Peel’s radio show, and then released them as spoken-word albums. So a transition to the silver screen is maybe not a surprise, but it is remarkable how many of its most uncinematic traits have made the jump untouched.

Viewers of “Upstairs, Downstairs” or “Downton Abbey” might recognize the milieu, but the goings-on are something else entirely. Like a demented “Prairie Home Companion,” the “Rawlinson End” stories are meandering tales of a community filled from top to bottom with insane people doing insane things. Stanshall doesn’t look down on his creations, but he vividly reveals them for the defiantly venal, crude, and obnoxious people they are. The hoity-toity visitors could easily be renegades from ’s Upper Class Twit of the Year competition, while the help are no less mad, running miles from one end of the estate to the other and unspooling directionless monologues about the misfortunes of others. Happily, there is no tedious audience stand-in to remind you that these nutters are “not like us.” The only logic to be found here is the ill kind.

Barely a frame of film is allowed to flicker without a trace of absurdity: a man plays snooker while on horseback, a barbershop trio appears perched on the edge of a lake. Stilt walkers, vaudeville duos, Egyptian priestesses, all show up randomly and vanish as quickly. And if you long for consistency, well… so much flatulence. Every line of dialogue is overwrought; no ten-word sentence will be uttered when a 30-word polysyllabic phrase will do. Names are wonderfully absurd when they’re not blatantly vulgar. The wordplay is relentless and there’s nothing linear at all. You get the sense that if you chopped the film up into 5-minute segments and rearranged them, it wouldn’t make that much of a difference.

Sir Henry is at the center of all this madness, and he’s more than worthy of it. As portrayed by the esteemed actor (and proud drinker) Trevor Howard, Sir Henry is bonkers above all others. Howard supposedly relished the role (which afforded him the chance to spew such bon mots as “If I had all the money I’d spent on drink, I’d spend it on drink”); and it’s unlikely anyone else was going to offer him a part where he could don blackface and a tutu and pretend to unicycle down a country path. He’s precisely as rude and officious as a member of the English landed gentry ought to be: he belittles the staff (“If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth forcing someone else to do it”), shoots skeet with pretend paratroopers (when he’s not trying to gun down actual hang gliders), keeps his own personal German POW camp on the estate, and complains vociferously when the urine from a dead dog waters down his liquor. It’s a real credit to Howard that even amidst a film of crazies, he truly stands out.

Sir Henry at Rawlinson End is a triumph of nonsense. The hint of plot is immaterial to the proceedings; it’s about being batty. The closest the film comes to a mission statement arrives in the very last line of dialogue, a hint from the narrator about the action in a possible future tale: “There is considerable misunderstanding.”

Sadly, Sir Henry at Rawlinson End is unavailable on streaming platforms, and can only be found on a Region 2 DVD (which will not play in most North American players). Hopefully this situation will be rectified in the future.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Parts of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End could be described as being slightly Python-esque but such a comparison doesn’t really do this bizarre and determinedly unique and original film justice. While Sir Henry at Rawlinson End does contain its fair share of endearingly daft moments, it remains more than anything a genuinely surreal, uncompromising and biting social satire… If you can imagine a very English satirical comedy that just happens to quite naturally project the kind of intensely strange ambience that is more commonly associated with arthouse oddities like the Quay Brothers’ Institute Benjamenta, I guess you’re part way there.” – Lee Broughton, DVD Talk (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by maxwell Stewart, who called it perhaps the strangest film ever made” and added “Viv Stanshall was a true genius.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: GLORIOUS (2022)

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

DIRECTED BY: Rebekah McKendry

FEATURING: Ryan Kwanten, J.K. Simmons

PLOT: Wes finds himself unable to leave the company of a mysterious, genial stranger in rest stop bathroom.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Sam Beckett, eat your heart out. Glorious is a two-man show where no philosophy is too heavy and no fate for mankind is too abominable. Never before has such unspeakable horror emerged through a glory hole.

COMMENTS: Rebekah McKendry’s one set comedy leaves me hamstrung in a number of ways. First, it steals the word “glorious” from me. Second, and more important, it’s a movie best seen without any foreknowledge to speak of. But, as the director overcame the challenge of crafting a manic thriller set almost entirely in one dingy, four-walled room, I shall do my best to overcome my challenges of discussing the merits of this Glorious film.

The set-up can (and should) be revealed: Wes’ only traveling companion through the backwoods highways of Nowhere, Middle America is a teddy who utters “I love you bear-y much” at the squeeze of a paw. This cloying recorded-phrase could be enough to drive a man around the bend on its own, but Wes (oh, poor poor Wes) has other things on his mind. Among them, he’s lost his girlfriend, the “one” he had not been anticipating to be the love of his life. Stricken with grief, panic, and fatigue, he pulls off the road into the parking lot of a highway rest stop. While chugging his bottle of definitely-not-Jack Daniels, he blasts his car radio and burns most of his meager possessions—including his slacks. Waking up the next morning, he crashes into the men’s room, vomits copiously, and a kindly voice inquires if he’s feeling better.

It becomes clear later on that this cordial question is one of the few instances a stranger has expressed concern for Wes, and he latches on to it, indulging the eccentric conversationalist in the neighboring stall. This voice belongs to J.K. Simmons, so you know you are in for a treat. Simmons is a natural speaker: someone we can imagine—no, scratch that—someone we’d love to inquire after our health having heard us spent a solid minute puking our guts out. His voice is key to relieving much of the claustrophobic (but never static) anxiety that bubbles up and over as Glorious proceeds. Part historian, part therapist, and all-parts good humored, Simmons’ unnamed character is a perfect foil to Wes’ broken, scumbag beardo. One of the strangest things about the movie is how compelling discourse between two fellows in a rest stop bathroom can be. The other strange thing about this movie is [redacted].

Hmm. I suppose you’ll just have to trust me: you haven’t seen a conversation-core comedy like this once since requested of André Gregory, “Encore, mais avec une puissance cosmique ultime cette fois.”

WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:

“…one of the more unique movies I have seen come out of the Fantasia Film festival… While it can be a strange sit at times, for fans of cosmic horror, Glorious delivers in odd ways.”–Brendan Frye, CGM Backlot Magazine (fetsival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: ALL JACKED UP AND FULL OF WORMS (2022)

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

All Jacked up and Full of Worms is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Alex Phillips

FEATURING: Phillip Andre Botello, Trevor Dawkins

PLOT: Roscoe and Benny meet randomly one afternoon and then paint the town red whilst all jacked up and full worms; the bacchanal’s fallout isn’t pretty.

Still from All Jacked up and Full of Worms (2022)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: There’s lots of manic energy, lots of worms, and though there is only one of them, there’s still too much of filmdom’s creepiest baby doll. All Jacked Up and Full of Worms eschews most logic as its characters careen from mundane life into exhilarating highs, then crash into a third act full of death, violence, fluids—and the ubiquitous worms.

COMMENTS: “There’s only one wrong way to do worms,” Benny proclaims boisterously to a stranger whose motel room he’s just barged into. But the stranger, knowing what’s what, what’s cool, and what it’s all about, casually replies, “Not do worms?”

Bingo. Whatever madness this rundown Chicago milieu has seen, it hasn’t seen nothin’ until these ranks of riffraff find the ultimate high. The riffraff roster: Roscoe, unflappable motel janitor dabbling (also) in New Age-y energy transference; Samantha, girlfriend of Roscoe and insufferable hippie; Jared, interested third-party in Roscoe and Samantha’s relationship, also seen carrying a bucket of his own blood; a pair of possibly homeless worm-junkies, one of whom is never without clown makeup; Benny, a delivery man (?) with a big beard and great need to manifest a baby of his own (name tag reads: Call Me: DADDY); and Henrietta, a kindly prostitute and known addict whom Benny fails to fornicate with. Looming in the background television is a sometime pagan, now born-again Christian, whose soul seems somehow tied to an überworm with the mantra, “You must unlearn your shapes”.

All Jacked Up and Full of Worms unabashedly revels in its body horror roots, drawing much of its inspiration from Cronenberg‘s Naked Lunch. The hook here is worms (if you’ll pardon the bon mot). The film begins like an ensemble comedy, but proceeds mostly along the lines of absurdist-grossout-nightmare. The director introduces each cast member (including the worms) with their own vignette. The entire first act plays like a dingy madcap romp, its joyful madness peaking as Roscoe and Benny ride through a worm-fueled trip (and a concurrent literal one) on a motor scooter.

But as with a worm’s natural orientation, things go sideways, and Alex Phillips reveals his hand. Buried in the dirt of his character’s strange lives is a steadfast streak of seriousness. Roscoe is forced to come to terms with the reactive nature of his existence; and Benny’s trials with his new baby sex-doll (this… was disturbing) elicit far more empathy than perhaps even Todd Solondz could have thought possible. The exuberance morphs into viscera(l) tension, and amidst all the illogical craziness of the double ending, we find peace on one side, and rebirth on the other. And isn’t that what worms are really all about?

Listen to our audio interview with the crew who made All Jacked up and Full of Worms

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Watching this while actually on something is likely to lead to psychedelic crisis, while its wilfully wacky weirdness – all the unnerving body horror and basic worm puppetry – will leave the straights at best bewildered and at worst bored.”–Anton Bitel, Proijected Figures (festival screening)