Tag Archives: Apocalyptic

CAPSULE: THE RAZING (2022)

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The Razing is currently available for rental on Vudu.

DIRECTED BY: J. Arcane, Paul Erskine

FEATURING: Jack Wooton, Laura Sampson Hemingway, Logan Paul Price, Nicholas Tene

PLOT: Four friends from high school gather at Corey’s place for his birthday, as they have for years; this time around, it seems as if their world may be ending.

Still from The Razing (2022)

COMMENTS: There are some guidelines one should bear in mind when crafting film characters. If the characters aren’t entertaining, they should be relatable. If they aren’t relatable, they should be convincing. And if they aren’t convincing, they should be out of the way. In their film The Razing, directors J. Arcane and Paul Erskine never reach any of these levels, and so we’re left with a moody, stylized mess of melodrama.

The camera skulks around, centering the action (so to speak) in a vignette frame. Ostensibly it focuses on a stylishly open-plan home—the home of emotionally-addled rich boy Corey, to be precise—but it looks more like a gauchely decorated penthouse suite. Together with Ellie and Ray, he waits on Lincoln’s arrival. Ray’s brought his girlfriend, possibly against protocol; Lincoln eventually meanders in with his latest boy-toy. Together, the six sit down to an unpleasant dinner in which more scenery is chewed than food—an unimpressive feat given the scenery is merely a bougie dining room table. While some kind of apocalyptic incineration may be going on outside, the only action within these sprawling rooms is odd delivery of overblown dialogue about some past predicament illuminated through a series of flashbacks.

I will overlook the cinematographic decisions out of deference to the directors. While camera’s ooze-flow may not have been my cup of tea, it adequately fits the action’s (read: dialogue’s) lack of clarity: this story is rife with dangerous drugs and unreliable memories. However, I cannot bring myself to forgive the script. Lines like “I may have ended his life, but I wasn’t the one who stopped his heart”; “You sound like someone I used to know”; and “You can’t run from who you are” are among the ceaselessly unspooling rejoinders to ill-delivered outbursts of emotion. The Razing is peopled by characters all in desperate need of therapists, or perhaps just of a reminder that they really needn’t live like this.

It’s worth mentioning two elements in the film’s favor. First, despite everything, The Razing left me feeling contemplative afterwards. Second, I had never heard the nickname “Ellie-Belly” for someone named Eleanor before. But whatever guignol-flirting was going on here, I couldn’t buy it, no matter how hard I pulled on the rope which suspended my disbelief. It’s a muddled movie presented in a muddled fashion, and no one on the screen managed to rally a scintilla of concern on my part. As tragedy befell, I befelt it couldn’t befall fast enough.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Between the obnoxious, shouty characters and the distorted sound and visuals, the effect was more like dropping acid at a bad party than watching a horror movie.”–Jim Morazzini, Voices from the Balcony (contemporaneous)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE NINE LIVES OF TOMAS KATZ (2000)

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DIRECTED BY: Ben Hopkins

FEATURING: Tom Fisher, Ian McNiece, Will Keen, Tony Maudsley

PLOT: On the day of a rare solar eclipse, a stranger with the ability to switch places with others arrives in London. His identity-swapping and subsequent trouble-making have an immediate impact on the natural order of things. A police inspector suspects that the disappearance of the Astral Child That Represents Existence may be responsible for the strange happenings and interrogates the spirits in an attempt to stave off disaster.

Still from The Nine Lives of Thomas Katz (2001)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Combining stark surrealism, a heightened and aching sense of dread, and a heaping dollop of British absurdism, The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz has a profoundly distinctive point of view—there’s a perverse thrill in the way the film not only accepts its incongruities but relies upon a relentless commitment to them.

COMMENTS: Tomas Katz – whose name might in fact be “No” – has a ready answer to a casual question about what he does for a living: “I cut people open to find out where their dreams lurk.” What he doesn’t say is that he knows the ugly truth about most of those dreams: they are fractured or forever out of reach or consigned to the dustbin of memory. And this is the day when Tomas Katz will resolve all of those dreams by ending the world.

If The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz could be said to have a theme, it is that the world is simultaneously ridiculous and tragic. For a movie ostensibly about the end of everything, there’s not much concern about the actual end. It all seems pretty messed up, and usually in a pretty amusing way. We’ve got war, but it’s declared by the Minister for Fisheries against a country with a silly name. We’ve got financial calamity, but it’s brought about by an angelic choir. We even have the mass of humanity marching to Gehenna, but that just turns out to be the last stop on the London Underground. It’s nihilism with a smile, a sweet-smelling hangover.

The world into which No enters, which is primarily London as encompassed by the M25 motorway, is one where Britain’s famous stiff upper lip has metastasized into a blend of habit and ennui. Londoners are trained to silently endure the wait for their train, so when an announcement informs them that their trip will be delayed to accommodate the souls of the dead, there’s barely a perceptible change in tone. Similarly, the deployment of a tuning fork that kills all children on national television might seem destined to arouse anger and protest, but broadcasters know just how to smooth over the ruffled feathers: “The BBC would like to apologize for the widespread destruction and loss of infant life.” It’s not that the world will end with a whimper, but just that nobody wants to make a fuss.

There may be no better synthesis of the mood of Tomas Katz than a sequence where No encounters a boy bemoaning his fate: he has no friends, and his Tamagotchi died just that morning. The scene turns into a silent film, complete with wailing strings and ornate title cards. “The tamagotchis will be freed from their cages,” No assures the boy, “and all will be released.” Then he swaps places with the boy and experiences all the highs and lows of childhood, the joy and the cruelty, the pleasure and pain. It’s not too hard to understand why No feels tremendous pity for the doomed human race, and why he’s simultaneously content to burn it all down.

Tomas Katz is a genuinely funny movie, but it’s an especially English kind of funny, Britbox with bite. Consider the rabbi whom the BBC has called in to offer his wisdom to the nation despite the inconvenience of having been dead for two years. Or perhaps the police report of a window conspiracy, which is an amusing combination until we actually get to see it play out. In fact, the tone shifts so widely that the film could easily be called The Nine Films of Tomas Katz, yet it never loses its focus or its bleak humor.

For a small-scale, microbudget endeavor, Tomas Katz plays big. Huge credit goes to lead Tom Fisher, who embraces the chance to play multiple characters with a unique blend of sympathy and savagery. Kudos also to Ian McNiece, whose fearful police inspector manages to find drama and pathos in connections that make no logical sense. And a special shout-out to Dominik Scherrer’s diverse and adaptable score, which encompasses opera, techno, klezmer, Klaus Nomi, patriotic marches, and more.

Fittingly, it isn’t No who brings about the end of the world. He hands that honor to a security guard named Dave, whom he identifies as “the most vacuous being in the universe.” (Dave doesn’t seem too put out by this.) We will ultimately be the agent of our own demise, it turns out. The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz shows what that grand finale will look like if we all just keep calm and carry on.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This has to be one of the strangest films of the year, a weird apocalyptic vision shot in the most mundane of London surroundings, with all too obvious budgetary constraints pushed asunder by the sheer energy of the director’s imagination.” – George Perry, BBC (contemporaneous)

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

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: EVANGELION: 3.0 + 1.0 THRICE UPON A TIME (2021)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of , Fumihiko Tachiki, , , Yuriko Yamaguchi; , John Swaney, , , Mary Faber (English dub)

PLOT: Angsty teenage Eva pilot Shinji must cope with his guilt over inadvertently causing the Third Impact, and regroup to face NERV and his own father in a final apocalyptic battle.

Stiill from Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0 Thrice Upon a Time (2021)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: The movie garners significant weird credentials by being only the second anime ever made about emo teenagers piloting giant robots to stave off a psychedelic apocalypse that ends by blasting its protagonist into a surreal purgatory where he wrestles with the nature of reality that’s actually a metaphor for mental illness. In this case, it’s more of a question of what might keep Thrice Upon a Time out of the Apocrypha. The answer there is more difficult, but this alternate take on a story already enshrined in the canon of weird movies does come equipped with one big negative: just to follow the basics—which is a far cry from “understanding” the film—requires you to watch (at a minimum) the three previous movies in the “rebuild series” on top of this 3.5 hour epic.

COMMENTS: Evangelion: 3.0 + 1.0 Thrice Upon a Time concludes a one-of-a-kind epic anime journey with one of the unwieldiest titles ever slapped upon a major release. The “thrice” probably refers to the series’ three different alternate endings—the TV finale, 1997’s End of Evangelion, and this one.

Is this the definitive conclusion to the story, or merely the final one? That will be a matter of taste, but 3.0 + 1.0 boasts some advantages over previous finales. For one thing, it gives more closure to the supporting characters. In previous versions, the story arcs of Eva pilot Asuka and, to some extent, antagonist Gendo were suddenly abandoned to focus on Shinji’s solipsistic hallucinations. Here, these characters play a larger role—Gendo’s motivations are explored in much greater detail—which is, in a conventional narrative sense, more satisfying. The mysterious clone Rei also follows a completely new plotline, resulting in a deeper catharsis than before, when she functioned mostly as a plot device.

Structurally, 3.0 + 1.0 is an odd duck, as Anno tries to keep his many balls juggling with one hand while tying up loose ends with the other. It starts with a four-minute rebuild recap, too brief to orient newcomers but effectively refreshing the memories of series’ followers who waited nine years between the release of 3.0 and 3.0 + 1.0. This is followed by an extended action scene where the renegades of the Wille organization, assisted by Eva pilot Mari, liberate Paris from NERV; it’s superfluous, but supplies an opportunity for an big action sequence up front, and helps to re-establish the good guys and the bad guys.

After this prologue, the movie unexpectedly turns into a post-apocalyptic drama as Shinji, Asuka and Rei shelter in a small village of survivors of the Third Impact. This hour-long, character-based story detour is unexpected, but not as disruptive as you might think. It’s a space for Anno to enact the major change to his story. Shinji still suffers from catatonic melancholia, as in previous iterations; but here, he works his way through his guilt and grief and recovers, resolving to fight against NERV by the conclusion of his stay. This revision allows him to be a vital and active participant heading into the final showdown, which in previous installments had been about the sullen teen working through the nadir of his depression. Since the protagonist’s self-loathing whininess had always been one of the major obstacles to enjoying Evangelion, this alteration will be viewed as an improvement for many. (The out-of-story explanation for this change is that Anno, who recovered from his own bout of depression decades ago, no longer identifies with the whiny, paralytic Shinji, and in fact now has more in common with Gendo, who is a far more sympathetic villain this time around.)

The last hour and a half of the movie gives fans what they came for: robot/spaceship battles, bizarre sciento-mystical musings, and eye-popping visual fireworks (and even a touch of fanservice). The Wille crew, with the three surviving Eva pilots, plunge into the bowels of NERV headquarters in a hellish descent into a bottomless red burrow, with Evas fighting off hordes of enemies as they fall. As always, Anno’s dialogue is thick with poetic-sounding nonsense. “Gendo Ikari–you used the Key of Nebuchadnezzar and willingly abandoned your humanity?,” Maya accuses. “I merely appended upon my body information that transcends the Logos of our realm,” answers the villain in a robotic deadpan. Half the dialogue here sounds like Philip K. Dick was hired to do a rewrite of the Revelation of St. John. The final action sequences are pure visual mayhem, decidedly NSFE (not safe for epileptics), with cascading pixels in a constant chaotic dance. Every space within the NERV netherworld is constantly exploding into some kind of cosmic kaleidoscope, mandala, or fractal geometry. The film does end up exploring the same surreal psychological spaces as End of Evangelion, but spends less time there, and more in a more conventional conflict between Shinjii and his father (who at one point face off in mirror-image Evas battling across imaginary landscapes).

Overall, I preferred the way End of Evangelion launched straight into the crazy from the get-go, and the peculiarity of its fascination with the unappealing Shinji. But I didn’t feel cheated by this version, and I can see how many fans might find this to be the more satisfying—and indeed ultimate—conclusion to the tale. Not for newcomers, since a four-movie commitment is almost a necessity, but for anyone who’s dipped their toes into Anno’s deranged opus before, this will rate as must see anime. It’s the true End of Evangelion, and the end of an era.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Anno opens the film with crowd-pleasing action, delves into the psychological stuff, shifts to a skirmish set beyond all planes of reality and finds yet another psychological plane beyond those planes, and it’s all bedecked by wondrously detailed and tirelessly creative psychedelic imagery. Theoretically, one could ignore the almost impenetrably dense plotting and objectively watch the film for its visuals alone, from the elegant, Ghibli-esque simplicity of its Tokyo-3 scenes to the second half’s parade of hallucinatory sequences, each one crazier than the previous.”–John Serba, Decider (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: DAY OF THE BEAST (1995)

El día de la bestia

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Santiago Segura, Armando De Razza

PLOT: A priest decides he must become a great sinner as part of a scheme to summon the Devil and stop the Apocalypse; he enlists a death metal fan and a TV occultist to help him.

Still from Day of the Beast (1995)

COMMENTS: Cult favorite Day of the Beast builds its story around a trinity of characters, who become sort of the three anti-wise men at the nativity of the Antichrist. Having discovered the place and date of the Antichrist’s birth (typical of copycat Satan, it’s to be on Christmas Day), priest Angel enacts a plan to draw the devil’s attention by committing as many sins as possible. His apprentice crimes involve him stealing a beggar’s alms and assaulting a helpless mime (an act that shows how poor his grasp of the idea of “evil” really is). Angel knows he needs help to get that real, gnarly aura of wickedness, so he seeks out death metal records to play backwards; impressed with his musical taste, dimwitted and instinctually sinful record clerk Jose Maria agrees to tag along on the apostate’s adventures. Now, the duo need only recruit occultist television charlatan Cavan to teach them the necessary rituals to summon Old Scratch.

Of course, that requires them to convince a reluctant Cavan to join them… and to acquire the blood of a virgin and other items necessary for the ritual. Around the halfway mark, things get truly wild; de la Iglesia picks up the pace, sending his trio through an obstacle course that sees them fending off a matron with a shotgun and hanging off a neon billboard atop a skyscraper. Along the way there are a few genuinely weird scenes: a naked LSD-scarfing grandpa, and a trip to a convenience store where the staff has been dispatched by an anarchist murder cult. But mostly, the film is a series of black comedy hijinks and effective Satanic horror imagery (the devil is depicted both by a real goat and by a man in a goat costume). It’s quite a ride: subversive, but with comic characters you actually like and root for.

This was de la Iglesia’s sophomore feature and is typical of his output: genre pictures with strong characterizations, brutal violence, transgressive imagery, dark humor, and complex, fast-paced plots. They all have a / energy to them that might be best described more as “wild” than “weird.” Perhaps we should consider de la Iglesia’s work “weird-adjacent.” Whatever you call it, it’s well worth checking out.

El día de la bestia  was a big success in Spain, even notching a Best Director Goya (and five other awards, too, although not Best Picture). Unfortunately, other than a successful international film festival run, it did not screen much outside of its native land, and was poorly distributed on home video, not even scoring a region 1 DVD release. Severin rectified this absence in 2021 with a Blu-ray edition of Day of the Beast (along with another rarely-seen de la Iglesia movie, 1997’s Perdita Durango). Along with a newly restored print, the deluxe release contains a feature-length “making of” documentary, interviews with de la Iglesia and select cast and crew, and most substantially, de la Iglesia’s 1990 short film “Mirandas Asesinas,” an antique-looking B&W horror comedy featuring Álex Angulo as a literal-minded psychopath.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… appealingly unrefined, this serving of satanic excess and good-naturedly dumb humor should please young audiences with a taste for off-the-wall cult fare.”–David Rooney, Variety (contemporaneous)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: UROTSUKIDŌJI: LEGEND OF THE OVERFIEND (1987-1989)

超神伝説うろつき童子

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DIRECTED BY: Hideki Takayama

FEATURING: The voices of Tomohiro Nishimura, Hirotaka Suzuoki, Youko Asagami, Maya Okamoto

PLOT: The three realms—human, demon, and beast-men—are in for an apocalyptic reconfiguring once “the Overfiend” is born anew after a 3,000-year dormancy.

Still from UROTSUKIDŌJI: LEGEND OF THE OVERFIEND (1987-1989)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: It’s hard to establish a new film genre, much less one as famous as “tentacle porn,” but that’s only one of the reasons this gooey mind-blast deserves our attention. Beyond the fantastically grotesque violence, Urotsukidōji‘s features banal, “young adult” comedy stylings. By pairing these two extremes, Takayama has made a movie that constantly wrong-foots the viewer’s expectations, leading to plenty of mental whiplash throughout its epic length.

COMMENTS: In a case of life imitating art, the story of Urotsukidōji‘s various releases is nearly as convoluted as the story Urotsukidōji tries to tell. The cast of characters—all animated, of course, but all assuredly “at least 19 years of age” per one of the (half-dozen+) advisories on the DVD I watched—runs the gamut from dweeb school boy to jock school boy to jock school girl to sociopathic “beast man” to the son of Doctor Munchausen, giddy-Nazi scientist extraordinaire. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. That last character features in the possibly-non-canon followup, Legend of the Demon Womb.

Allow me to begin again. Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend is a three-part, adults-only “Erotic Horror” film released over a few years in the late 1980s. Stateside, it was published on VHS by the good people at Penthouse Video. Their intended market? I couldn’t begin to tell you. Takayama is doubtless a household name to some, but I imagine they’d be hesitant to admit it. Manga-based depravity (and I honestly don’t intend that designation judgmentally) is one thing; I know from hearsay (I swear) that there are countless volumes of “niche” comics. But giving life to the bodily explosions, demon/cheerleader rapes, energy-beam penises, and—naturally—invasive tentacles rips these otherwise static musings from the printed page and bombards the eyes with pulsating images that one will likely never be able to unsee.

Legend’s story is nothing short of epic, with each segment featuring an admonition against “arrogant humanity.” From the get-go, we know humanity is screwed. The agent of this enscrewment is the ominously (and unsubtly) named “Overfiend”, who will be incarnated in a human vessel. That vessel is Tatsuo, a lecherous whelp of a high school (?) student whom we first meet while he’s peering into the girl’s locker room and jacking off. Up in the rafters, there’s Amano, a sort of beast-faerie fellow who’s been prowling around the human world on the hunt for the Overfiend. There’s the spunky cheerleader, Akemi, the prime object of Tatsuo’s lust (and who becomes lamentably less spunky as the demonic madness builds). And last but not least, there’s Megumi, another faerie-beast thing and sister of Amano—though their familiality doesn’t prevent them from being rather… “open” with each other.

Urotsukidōji is impressive despite the narrative incoherence. The “young adult” comedy is cutesy, but often amusing. The apocalyptic imagery is wonderfully grand and desolate. The sex is graphic, but also erotic—though it becomes differently erotic at the drop of a hat. Whatever your views on the subject matter (young romance, demons, apocalypse, philosophy, cosmic renewal, tentacle rape), the result is a credit both to the writer of the original manga (Toshio Maeda certainly deserves this name drop) as well as Hideki Takayama. Tinto Brass had a vision of hardcore pornography becoming common-place in otherwise normal movies. Takayama must think that innocent yen to be rather quaint.

Purist warning: please note that the affordable DVD linked above (titled “Urotsukidoji: Legend Of The Overfiend: Movie Edition”) is, apparently, a condensed and censored cut of the film. Commercial copies of the uncut version (on DVD or VHS) are out-of-print and can go for several hundred dollars; if you’re still interested, you can try this search.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Imagine the convoluted interlocking relationships of a soap opera filtered through a World Wrestling Federation script… Oddly enough, the eventual Chojin comes off like a cyberpunk version of the demon from Fantasia‘s ‘Night on Bald Mountain,’ albeit hyped on steroids and speed.” -Richard Harrington, Washington Post (contemporaneous)