Tag Archives: Anthology

366 UNDERGROUND: THE OTHER DIMENSION (1992)

L’altra dimensione

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DIRECTED BY: Fabio Salerno

FEATURING: Francesco Rinaldi, Maddalena Vadacca; Luigi Sgroi, Nadia Rebeccato, Piero Belloto; Marco Monzani, Giorgia Chezzi

PLOT: In this horror anthology, a man plots abduction of the woman who’s left him, another plots possession of a woman who’s leaving him, and a third plots incorporation of a woman who’s no longer living.

COMMENTS: Three short films await us, projected in a dingy, dark room. Dust-covered sound equipment, cobwebbed film reels, and a menacing tinge of green fill the narrow screen, as an unseen entity inquires, “How many of you have found yourself the subject of incredible stories?” The Other Dimension spools out like miniature theater event: two shorts preceding a near-feature.

Salerno kicks off with “Delirium”, a fun variant of the “Bluebeard” folktale. Simply constructed, the segment features clever lighting, with the unearthly sparkles of the protagonist’s whiskey and glass capturing the titular condition, and giallo greens exuding organic menace. The film’s frame is put to compelling use as our angular stalker’s and victim’s fates collide. Most troublingly, Salerno manages an abstract, and impressively brief visual metaphor for rape, whose beauty left me quite unnerved. Closing with a shot of three heads by a bottle of Pepsi, Salerno wraps up the action and we are quickly brought to the squabbling exes of “Mortal Instinct.” The title is a bit heavy-handed, but the second short (the weakest of the three) goes by quickly enough. But not before it makes some remarks on machismo by way of Black Magic—with a bodily destruction sequence that may not appear realistic, but somehow manages to be ickily convincing nevertheless.

The main course of The Other Dimension, “Eros e Thanatos (Love & Death)”, shows off Salerno’s talents about as far as his means could allow. Some fifty minutes in length, its story of decayed love rotting into aberrant obsession left me, against considerable odds, wishing for a happy ending to fall upon the quiet protagonist. Judicious montage, narration, and, once again, a keen eye for lighting simultaneously showed how cleverly this was made—and how inexpensively. The lead actor, Marco Monzani, never plays a note wrong, whether he’s awkwardly paying the cabbie to get his ex-girlfriend moving on her way, or taking her by the hand as she emerges from the grave. “Eros e Thanatos” lies somewhere between Angst and After Hours, and its action, though scant, floats by on gusts of a sickly-sweet breeze.

Stumbling into this experience with no information beyond “low budget”, “Italian”, “horror”, and the IMDb filmmaker overview’s sole blurb, “Died 1993 · Milan, Italy (suicide)”, I really didn’t know what to expect from this, but it was certainly not that The Other Dimensions would have such impressive flashes of on-screen poetry. To the best of my knowledge, Fabio Salerno is a name known only to a small subsection of horror buffs. This final offering, completed not long before his death at the age of thirty-one, clearly shows that the world of cinema lost a promising voice far too soon.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[I]t’s a heck of a wild ride if you love scrappy homemade horror.” — Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital (Blu-ray)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SHE IS CONANN (2023)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Claire Duburcq, Christa Théret, Sandra Parfait, , Nathalie Richard,

PLOT: Waking in the afterlife, Conann the barbarian recalls various stages of her life, and her relationship with the dog-faced demon who guides her destiny.

Still from She Is Conann (2023)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: She Is Conann lives up to its high weird premise—six gender-flipped incarnations of pulp hero Conan(n) the Barbarian—and then some. At this point, it seems likely that anything Mandico sets his hand to will merit candidacy.

COMMENTS: Bertand Mandico loves women. He cast women in all the male roles for The Wild Boys, then set his sophomore feature After Blue on an all-female planet, and now creates a distaff version of Robert E. Howard’s pulp warrior. There are a tiny number roles in Conann; the only major one is played by a female (and at least one female character is played by a male). Mandico also could be accused of having (or exploiting) a lesbian fetish, although it seems the main reason his women have sex with other women is because there aren’t many men around. But there isn’t much sex in Conann (although there is some graphic kissing). Mandico’s casting of actresses in typically male roles has become his auteurial signature, analogous to the non-acting that populated ‘ early movies. The feminine skew is simply part of his worldview.

Conann is essentially an anthology film, a fragmented hero’s journey, with each individual incarnation of the barbarian capable of standing alone: most kill the previous decade’s Conann, directly or indirectly, before embarking on their own story. The first two Conanns inhabit what is basically a high fantasy world, though one where the all-female barbarian tribes wear modified gorilla costumes with wicked nipple hooks. But the story expands after that, seeing Conann take a job as a contemporary stuntwoman, then a fascist officer, and then finally as a post-apocalyptic patroness of the arts. Conann’s character changes—you could argue she becomes increasingly barbaric—but what really ties everything together is Elina Löwensohn‘s demonic Rainier, who strides through the film nudging an obscure prophecy along, frequently taking flash photographs of Conann’s exploits for posterity. Her dog mask is surprisingly effective, leaving room for her eyes to hint at some sinister intelligence, but muzzling her overall expressiveness so that he/she remains mysterious.

The movie plays out entirely on indoor theatrical sets—mist-shrouded barbarian wildernesses, a sleazy urban snake pit where a wall of Conann’s apartment hangs in the air unfinished, a tin-foil-lined Hell. Shot mostly in black and white, it occasionally shifts to soft, faded color. There is an unusual amount of squirm-inducing (though black and white) gore, and more than one example of the ultimate act of barbarity, cannibalism. These elements distance the film from the tasteful art-house circuit, while the experimental plot and portentous dialogue (“You’ve killed Europe! You can’t do that!”) alienates the average genre audience member. In his “incoherent” manner, Mandico discombobulates the viewer between masculine and feminine, monochrome and color, melodrama and farce, art and trash. For most, his technique is off-putting; for us, it’s invigorating,

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The lo-fi production design is often wondrous, the midnight-movie vibe is fetching, but the film is ultimately probably too much of a good/weird thing to sustain its running time — although, for the French writer-director’s fans, such excess is the key to his success.”–Tim Grierson, Screen Daily (festival screening)

She Is Conann
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CAPSULE: PRAGUE NIGHTS (1969)

Pražské noci

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DIRECTED BY: Miloš Makovec, ,

FEATURING:, Milena Dvorská, , Lucie Novotná, Teresa Tuszyńska, Josef Somr

PLOT: An executive in Prague on business goes trolling for female companionship, which he finds in a mysterious woman who regales him with three macabre tales through the night, and who seems to desperately want something from him before sunrise…

Sill from Prague Nights (1969)

COMMENTS: The anthology or portmanteau film has been a staple of both foreign and domestic horror filmmaking.  Kwaidan and Spirits of the Dead come readily to mind, but there are more examples than you’d think, especially in the 1960s. Prague Nights did not do well when released in Czechoslovakia, and didn’t get much exposure internationally, so it’s not well known; a bit surprising, considering the pedigree of those involved: Jiří Brdečka (acclaimed director of animation and co-writer of Invention for Destruction, Baron Prásil, The Cassandra Cat,  Lemonade Joe, and The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians), Evald Schorm (known more at the time as a documentarian), and Miloš Makovec. Brdečka originated the project, although he only directed one segment, “The Last Golem”; Schorm handled “Bread Slippers,” and Makovec helmed the last story, “The Poisoned Poisoner,” as well as the framing episode “Fabricus and Zuzana.” Shot during the Prague Spring of 1968, the film has barely a whiff of the sort of political commentary/allegory that one might expect. This is light entertainment, and perhaps not as horrific as one might expect from the material—there aren’t any big scares here, although you might get some minor frissons during “Golem” and “Slippers.” If there’s any examination of politics, it’s sexual politics.

“The Last Golem” takes the legend of The Golem of Prague as its basis, featuring  Rabbi Loew as a main character. The Emperor and Rabbi Loew bash heads; the Emperor wants Loew to resurrect the Golem, and Loew refuses. Seeing an opportunity, Rabbi Naftali Ben Chaim (Jan Klusák, the actor and composer who provides the music for “Bread Slippers,” but who may be best known as a questionable clergyman in Valerie and Her Week of Wonders) will do the Emperor’s bidding, creating another Golem despite being distracted by a mute servant girl (Lucie Novotná) who arouses his lust.

“Bread Slippers” is a variation on The Red Shoes merged with “Faust.” A Countess (Teresa Tuszyńska) is self-centered, manipulative and very cozy with her maid. She’s stringing along her latest suitor, and makes a plan to attend a costume ball in slippers made from bread (after learning that amongst the poor, bread is worth its weight in gold). She arrives at the function, but unexpected guests also show up…

“The Poisoned Poisoner” is the shortest of the tales, with no spoken dialogue. It’s accompanied by songs that narrate the action. In a medieval setting, an innkeeping couple help make ends meet by poisoning wealthy suitors and looting their corpses, until the proprietress falls for a resourceful suitor—much to the chagrin of her partner.

The perfidy of woman is a running theme, set up in the framing “Fabricus and Zuzana.” Zuzana consistently warns Fabricus with lines such as, “Every beautiful woman is dangerous—but me even more than most.” “Be careful or you’ll regret it. What did he regret? He trusted a woman.” Notably, this “perfidy” always centers around true love, as the main characters in all the segments meet their fates as a result of romance revealing itself to be false. That, however, might just be a surface reading. As with most anthologies of this type, they’re essentially morality tales, and the downfall of the characters originates in betrayal, leading to a trip to Hell… literally, in this case.

Prague Nights ends up as a stylish, literate, and lighter version of the horror anthologies that studios like Amicus would begin to churn out in the near future.

HOME VIDEO INFO: In 2023 Deaf Crocodile released a Region A Blu-ray of a restoration of Prague Nights for its first U.S. release. Included is an audio commentary with Czech film expert/critic Irena Kovarova and critic/screenwriter Tereza Brdečková, the daughter of Jiří Brdečka. Brdečková also contributes an essay on the making of the film in the booklet and an interview on her father’s career. The set includes two of Brdečka’s animated shorts, “Pomsta” (“Revenge”) (1968, 14 min.), and “Jsouc na řece mlynář jeden” (“There Was A Miller On A River”) (1971, 11 min.).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There’s enough sinister material here for this to squeak by into the horror genre, though dark magical realism is probably a better way to approach the project as it also has a dreamy, whimsical attitude capped off by a wild flourish at the end.”–Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital (Blu-ray)

(This movie was nominated for review by MST68, who described it as having a “wonderfully creepy atmosphere.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: FOUR ROOMS (1995)

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DIRECTED BY: Alison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino

FEATURING: Tim Roth, , Valeria Golino, Madonna, Ione Skye, Lili Taylor, , , David Proval, Antonio Banderas, Tamlyn Tomita, Lana McKissack, Danny Verduzco, Kathy Griffin, Marisa Tomei, Paul Calderón, Quentin Tarantino, Bruce Willis

PLOT: On a particularly crazy New Year’s Eve at a rundown Hollywood hotel, a harried bellman’s first night on the job is highlighted by the wild goings-on in the various guestrooms, including a coven of witches, a dysfunctional married couple, a pair of disorderly children, and a film director’s sadistic game of chance. 

COMMENTS: Every now and then, someone gets the bright idea to assemble an anthology film, bringing together a unique roster of top-flight directing talent. They’re almost never a success, financially or critically, but they keep coming back, and every age gets their turn. In the mid-90s, it was time for the young guns of the new Hollywood to join forces for a project set in a crazy hotel, and Four Rooms is the result.

All four filmmakers were coming off big successes, and while few people would ever look for common ground between, say, Gas Food Lodging and Desperado, it’s not completely impossible that the common setting and diverse storytelling styles could combine to make for an interesting melange. Unfortunately, all four seem to have settled on “unbridled chaos” as a guiding principle for their segments. It’s comedy by way of breathlessness, which is typically more exhausting than amusing. In addition, they’re counting on Tim Roth to be a unifying element, providing his own brand of untethered mania. Alas, they don’t seem to have checked in with each other on how they were using Roth, which means we really get four (and arguably five or six) different versions of Ted the Bellboy, a character developed via exquisite corpse.

The first story, Anders’ “The Missing Ingredient,” is a joke with no punchline. A collection of witches, ranging from glamour queen Madonna to crunchy granola Taylor, have gathered in the Hotel’s honeymoon suite to resurrect one of their sisterhood, lost to a curse years ago. By turning the whirlpool tub into a cauldron and adding such items as blood and sweat, they can restore her, but the only thing missing is naive babe-in-the-woods Skye’s assigned contribution: semen. The solution? Seduce the bellboy. And this is exactly what happens. Roth goes full-on Hugh Grant here, stammering and sputtering his way through Skye’s come-ons. He poses exactly no obstacle to the Continue reading IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: FOUR ROOMS (1995)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: “THE END OF THE WORLD IN FOUR SEASONS” (1995) AND THE CANADIAN FILMS OF PAUL DRIESSEN

DIRECTED BY: Paul Driessen

PLOT: In “The End of the World in Four Seasons” small, repeating vignettes of life in each season play out in eight separate-but-interconnected frames; each ends with some sort of destruction, but by winter, all the settings are wiped out.

Still from The End of the World in Four Seasons" (1995)

COMMENTS: Paul Driessen first appears in the weird movie connoisseur’s consciousness as a hired hand; the Dutchman was enlisted to storyboard and animate on Yellow Submarine. But rather than trying to move up the ladder to features, he has resolutely stuck with his self-created shorts, establishing a personal style and inspiring plenty of others. Two movies created by Driessen’s students have won Academy Awards, while his own “The Killing of an Egg” allegedly inspired marine biologist Stephen Hillenburg to try his hand at animation. (Hillenburg would go on to create the cartoon juggernaut SpongeBob SquarePants.) 

In the early 1970s, the fabled patron of animation the National Film Board of Canada enlisted Driessen to come and work on the other side of the Atlantic, resulting in a series of unusual and subversive works. Six of these shorts were collected in an anthology entitled “Des histoires pas comme les autres” (“Stories Unlike Any Others”), and while we’re focused on one of those today, a quick glance at the full set can be instructive in assessing Driessen’s style and development.

Consider “Air” (1972), which presents multiple relationships with the title subject in less than two minutes. Flowers, fish, birds, and finally a being who seems to be in sheer terror of clouds all struggle to take in enough air to breathe. Of note is Driessen’s facility with the line, which does most of the work to define the space, transforming from the earthen bed of the flowers to the still surface of the sea in the space of a breath.

Cat’s Cradle”(1974) goes deeper into the idea of transformations, with objects consistently scaling up and shifting from predator to prey. The design here hearkens back to Yellow Submarine with its large, toothy creatures and optical illusions. The French title, “Au bout du fil,” is also a hidden commentary; it means “on the line”, which of course is Driessen’s whole M.O.

In 1975’s “An Old Box”, we get our first look at Driessen’s fondness for simultaneous narratives, as the title object unfolds and refolds itself to reveal changing tableaux on its sides. We also get some of his dark whimsy, such as a garbage truck that licks its lips after gulping down a healthy chunk of refuse.

So now we come to “The End of the World in Four Seasons,” which indulges Driessen’s penchant for minimal animation by making it minuscule. The screen is populated with eight tiny screens, each of which displays its own tiny repeating vignette, sometimes connecting across the gaps. The film cleverly demands repeat viewings to take in everything that’s going on. (With a new set for each season, there are about 30 stories to take in.) Driessen also demonstrates a slapstick master’s gift for stretching out a joke as far as it can reach; for example, a skier hurtles incessantly downhill for nearly three minutes until Driessen suddenly moves his camera and the athlete slams into the side of the frame. But that cleverness points to the biggest shortcoming of “The End of the World”: it’s not much more than its joke. Actions repeat until they don’t, creatures behave grotesquely until they meet grotesque fates themselves. The shifting of the seasons changes the milieu but not the method. And crucially, the film has no real point it wants to get across. The end of each world–by fire or by crumbling–isn’t instigated by the actions or behaviors of the characters within them. It’s just time to move on. Of all the movies in the Canadian collection, “The End of the World” is the most ambitious in its technique, but surprisingly empty when it comes to generating any sense of Driessen’s feelings about his creations.

This is decidedly not a problem in the next work, a movie Driessen would later call his favorite.  2000’s “The Boy Who Saw the Iceberg” is the Walter Mitty-like tale of a boy who dreams of a more interesting life. The twinned layout has fun juxtaposing fantasy against reality, right up until the moment when reality becomes far more intense. It owes a lot to the narratives of “An Old Box” and “The End of the World” with the way attention gently shifts between two competing storylines, but is far more mature in its content and tone. The gimmick is simpler, but allows for more focus on the details that lead to the haunting outcome.

The most recent film in the collection, 2003’s “2D or Not 2D”, begins in a rush of color and movement that looks positively decadent compared to his previous films, but hinges on the discovery of a bizarre two-dimensional barrier which feels solid and impenetrable until the camera pivots slightly along the z-axis, turning the barrier into doorways, trees, or even one of the protagonists. In other words, Driessen has come back to the line, only now it has far more depth and nuance.

All told, the collection of Driessen’s output for his Canadian producers provides an excellent snapshot of the filmmaker’s styles and mindsets. While “The End of the World” does capture him at his most adventurous, it also helps define the arc of  his career, marking the moment when mastery of technique became a means more than an end.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This is a bizarre cartoon…  I found this cartoon to be weird, slightly disturbing, and not entertaining in the least. But hey, I’m not complaining that they included it. The more the merrier.” – David Blair, DVD Talk (from a review of the IMAX feature Seasons, which includes “The End of the World in Four Seasons” as a DVD extra)

(This movie was nominated for review by Steven. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)