Tag Archives: Australian

CAPSULE: THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS (1974)

AKA The Cars That Eat People

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Terry Camilleri, John Meillon

PLOT: Mild-mannered Arthur survives a car crash that kills his brother and finds himself stranded in the insular, automobile obsessed town of Paris, Australia.

Still from The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Like its director’s last name, this one falls just a little short of “weird.”  Park The Cars That Ate Paris in the oddity yard.

COMMENTS: You could look at The Cars That Ate Paris as a psychological horror, or a semi-surreal black comedy about a fish out of water, or as a satire of Australian car culture, or even as a dramatic character study of a broken, phobic orphan desperate for acceptance. The movie even starts, rather inexplicably, with what appears to be a cigarette commercial, for further confusion. Without revealing too much, the plot revolves around the town of Paris, New South Wales, an isolated burg with a junkyard barter economy based on salvaged car parts, and Arthur, an annoyingly meek wreck survivor with an automobile phobia who finds himself stranded in a community that insists on taking him in and teaching him their way of life. There are also out-of-control teenagers in roving automobile gangs and a hospital that, given the out-of-the-way hamlet’s low population, is surprisingly stocked with brain-damaged “veggies” (of the full, half and quarter varieties).

Cars zooms back and forth between understated comedy and looming horror, constantly grinding its gears. Scenes like the one where the town’s psychiatrist/surgeon slips disturbing photos into Arthur’s Rorschach-type test have a dark-alley-of-the-mind quality to them. At other times, the movie jaunts off in a different direction, suddenly rolling into a Sergio Leone parody. The ending, quite naturally, is a violent demolition derby, complete with growling cars, wherein the entire town is trashed while costumed loonies wander the street. Cars offers a bumpy ride, and goes pretty much nowhere, but the scenery out the window can be astonishing.

Understandably, The Cars That Ate Paris was a hard movie to market. In the VHS era, it was housed in the “horror” section (sometimes under the misleading alternate title The Cars That Eat People) with a box cover that stressed the cool spikemobile and copy that suggested it was something like an Australian version of Death Race 2000. The movie got bad word-of-mouth through this mismarketing when legions of teenagers rented it expecting a fast-paced horror movie about killer cars and instead getting a thoughtful, weird little arthouse drama. Its reputation changed for the better after the Criterion Collection picked up the film, repositioning it as a cult classic.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Effortlessly employing surrealist and fantasy tropes in a story that is, ultimately, never very far from the possible, Weir steers us on a dizzying journey through autophilia, survivalist politics, and the darker side of human nature.”–Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by the Awful Dr. Orloff, who believed it to be “much, much weirder” than Picnic at Hanging Rock. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SLEEPING BEAUTY (2011)

DIRECTED BY:  Julia Leigh

FEATURING, Rachael Blake, Ewen Leslie

PLOT:  A quiet but reprobate student blindly contracts for unconventional assignments with an enigmatic madam to cater to the peculiar perversions of the ultra-rich.

Still from Sleeping Beauty (2011)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LISTSleeping Beauty is not a sex-movie, but rather a tense, eerie multiple character study. The focused, unadorned manner in which it is shot, without a musical score, combines with the bizarre nature of its story to set an unusual mood which demands that we take it seriously. This atmosphere, and the choices the writer and director made in deciding what elements of its story to show us, to make Sleeping Beauty a weird and unusual viewing experience.

(Ignore the website and DVD jacket descriptions of this slick Aussie thriller; because US distributors don’t know how to present unusual efforts to a general audience, the synopses grossly mischaracterize this effort as some sort of racy potboiler. Sleeping Beauty is not a sex piece, even though Emily Browning looks just like a Real Doll sex doll in the trailer. Sleeping Beauty is not another Eyes Wide Shut. It is not designed to be racy or titillating. Nor is it a murky, confusing David Lynch-style movie, although fans of Lynch’s works will surely love it. Sleeping Beauty is in no way what I expected. It is unpredictable and although it declines to utilize a demented twist ending, I assure the reader he will never guess where it is heading).

For additional fun, be sure to look for an appearance by actor Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the crazed “Toecutter” in 1979’s Mad Max.

COMMENTS: Wow! What a gem! I was hoping for something different and creepy from the trailer. I was not disappointed! Yet I was surprised. I was expecting something sci-fi or horror, about turning girls into living sex dolls. Sleeping Beauty turns out to be so much more unsettling, sophisticated and subtle. From its opening frames, the somber cinematography and unabashed, close-in concentration on its characters makes it clear that you are watching a serious, high-quality effort crafted by a writer and director who know exactly what to do. There’s a controlling sensation that your impressions are being skillfully manipulated by the filmmakers. Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SLEEPING BEAUTY (2011)

108. BAD BOY BUBBY (1993)

“Christ, kid, yer a weirdo!”–Pop

DIRECTED BY: Rolf de Heer

FEATURING: Nicholas Hope, Carmel Johnson, Claire Benito, Ralph Cotterill

PLOT: With only a rudimentary vocabulary but a gift for mimicry, middle-aged Bubby has been raised by his mentally ill, abusive mother with no knowledge of the outside world inside what is essentially a fallout shelter. One day an interloper enters their underground hovel, shattering the only reality Bubby has ever known. Eventually he finds himself released into a modern Australian society he can hardly comprehend, but must learn to fit into somehow.

Still from Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

BACKGROUND:

  •  Partially as an experiment and partially for practical reasons, de Heer chose to shoot the film with thirty-two different cinematographers, essentially one for every location.
  • Bad Boy Bubby uses binaural sound: the film’s soundtrack was recorded and mixed from two microphones Nicholas Hope wore behind his ears, so that the audience would experience the sonic world exactly as it would be heard from Bubby’s perspective. On home video the effect is largely lost, with the end result being only that a few of the conversations in the film sound frustratingly muffled.  The director suggests that the theatrical experience can be reproduced by listening to the movie while channeling the sound through a pair of stereo headphones.
  • Originally, the underground scenes were to have the sides matted to create a narrow, claustrophobic aspect ratio, and the film was to expand into widescreen when Bubby surfaces into the outside world.  Director De Heer thought the effect was too intense and made the film “unwatchable” and dropped the idea.
  • Bad Boy Bubby won a FIPRESCI International Critics Prize, along with several less significant festival awards.
  • We initially passed Bad Boy Bubby over for inclusion on the List, declaring it to be only “borderline weird.” You can read the original review here.
  • A search for reviews of “Bad Boy Bubby” on the Los Angeles Times website yields no results, but offers the helpful suggestion, “Did you mean ‘bat boy’ bubbly?”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Bubby the punk rock front man performance artist, on stage in a priest’s collar, holding a blowup doll with enormous breasts wearing a gas mask, backed by a band whose heads are swaddled in cling wrap.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: In my original review of Bad Boy Bubby, I demurred adding the film to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies by noting that the movie “has a unique tone that’s hard to capture, but the first words I’d choose to characterize it are ‘relentlessly offbeat,’ rather than ‘weird’… for the most part de Heer chooses to tell his story using a straightforward, realistic narrative style that makes us believe bizarre Bubby is a real person in a real world.” The first words I’d use to describe it are still “relentlessly offbeat,” but on further reflection I’ve concluded that Bubby‘s offbeat moments come relentlessly enough that “weird” is a fine choice for the second word I’d use to describe it. I do not want to be in the business of denying the weirdness of movies that feature middle-aged feral children, cling-wrap murders and bizarre swings in tone, especially when they have rabid cult followings and excellent critical reputations.


Short clip from Bad Boy Bubby

COMMENTS: Bad Boy Bubby is a film that moves slowly from deep darkness into light. It is Continue reading 108. BAD BOY BUBBY (1993)

CAPSULE: MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Mark Hartley

FEATURING: Roger Corman, Eddie Romero, , Pete Tombs, , , ,  Marlene Clark, Judy Brown, R. Lee Ermey, Danny Peary,

PLOT: Documentary covering exploitation films made in the Philippines in the 1970s and 1980s, both by Filipinos and by American companies looking for cheap labor and exotic locations.

Still from Machete Maidens Unleashed!

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A few of the films mentioned (For Y’ur Height Only?) might be worthy of consideration for the List, but this documentary survey is a curiosity piece—and possibly a place to get ideas for your Netflix queue.

COMMENTS: There are two strands to Machete Maidens. One is the history of an enterprising but anarchic third-word film industry and the American carpetbaggers who flocked there to make cheap pictures, packed with war stories from those who were there. Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos (who loaned army helicopters to American filmmakers in the evenings after they’d spent the mornings strafing Islamic rebels) and notorious first lady Imelda (who allegedly ordered dead workers’ bodies to be left in the cement of the Manila Film Center so the project could be completed in time to host a film festival) remain in the background as villains throughout the entire epic. On the front lines, American filmmakers and actors relate stories of pistol-packing makeup men and cockroach-infested living conditions (at one point Sid Haig describes his accommodations by saying “I saw a rat carrying a kitten out the window”).

But as interesting as this backdrop might be, the main attraction is not the island’s political scenery, but the movies made there for export. These reflected the evolving shock aesthetic of the American drive-ins, not tropical politics. The scandalous profit margins of native filmmaker Eddie Romero’s “Blood Island” horror movies, with their cheap rubber-masked monsters menacing topless Filipino babes, were the proof-of-concept legendary low-budget producer Roger Corman needed to ship contract director Jack Hill off to the islands to produce his smash hit The Big Doll House.  This revolutionary sleaze introduced the world to the concept of women’s prisons as topless entertainment centers, and also to the enormous talents of burgeoning bust icon  Continue reading CAPSULE: MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! (2010)

SATURDAY SHORT: ITALIAN SPIDERMAN TRAILER (2008)

Since extended to feature length through ten mini-episodes broadcast on YouTube, the “Italian Spiderman” trailer was originally shot as a film school project by Dario Russo. If you’re one of the few who hasn’t experienced the “actione,” “velocita” and “romanza” of “Italian Spiderman” yet, get ready for a treat.

CAPSULE: MARY AND MAX (2009)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Adam Elliot

FEATURING: Voices of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Humphries,

PLOT: A lonely 8-year old girl in Australia picks a random address out of the New York Cityp hone book so she can ask where babies come from in America and begins a lifelong pen-pal relationship with Max, a middle-aged New Yorker with Asperger’s syndrome.

Still from Mary and Max (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It’s very good for a sentimental drama, but the crazy, damaged characters and intriguing stylized look still won’t rank it any higher than “offbeat” on the weird spectrum.

COMMENTS: The first figure you see in Mary and Max is a depressed, distressed carved koala bear clinging to a mailbox post; it sets the tone of solemn whimsy and announces Adam Elliot’s art style, a heaping dollop of cute cut with a tablespoon of the grotesque.  (When the action shifts from Australia to New York, the first figure you see is a glum and manly Statue of Liberty).  Mary, the little girl, is dowdy, with glasses and a “poo” colored birthmark, but Max is an ogre: a husky pinhead with ears on stalks, a dingy gray Shreck, magnificently voiced in a weary monotone by Hoffman.  The two main characters rarely speak, except in monologues when they read the missives they exchange; the tale is mostly narrated in a child’s storybook style, which gives the movie a literary flavor and a frequent undercurrent of irony (the narrator explains that Mary wishes she too had a friend to play piggyback with, as the lonely girl gazes out the window at a pair of dogs preparing to mate).  The story is sad—Mary’s ugly existence is particularly bleak, and made even worse by bursts of false hope—but the relationship between the two misfits is legitimately heartwarming.  The main characters are almost novelistically complex, and the first act, the most rewarding, is devoted to getting to know the Aussie girl and the overweight New Yorker who always wanted a friend who was not imaginary, a pet, or a figurine.  Quirky secondary characters include a Mary’s agoraphobic neighbor (who Mary thinks suffers from “home-a-phobia”), her “wobbly” sherry drinking mom, and Max’s half-blind neighbor Ivy, who smells like urine and cough drops.  Tiny details and running jokes are embedded in the claymation designs, like the series of rhyming epitaphs and the homeless man in front of Max’s tenement with a sign that changes over the years of the friends’ correspondence.  The Australian scenes are colored in a drab, rustic sepia, while New York is a noirish black and white; both locations have brilliant splashes of red representing the rare intrusion of joy into the character’s dim lives.  Humor—from the wry to the laugh-out-loud hilarious, as when Max explains where babies come from—is a near constant companion, at least for the first two thirds of the film.  The movie is intoxicating while it takes its time introducing the pen-pals, but once their characters are established, the plot hurtles through incidents as Mary grows up, loses her parents, goes to university, finds love and a career and many setbacks, and finally travels to New York to meet Max.  Ironically, the more that happens in the story, the more momentum it loses; it was more fascinating as a series of leisurely, anecdotal correspondences.  Further, as the story heads towards its climax, the humor drains out, as a series of personal disasters pile up on poor Mary and drive her to the psychic breaking point.  Although it scarcely ruins a great film, Elliot overplays the pathos in the climax, ending the story depressingly; the final ray of sunlight, though it brings a tear to the eye, can’t relieve the heavy, heavy clouds that cast the final act into darkness. This bittersweet animated feature isn’t kids’ stuff, or really weird stuff, but it’s worth your time if you have a sentimental old softie buried somewhere inside you, and he likes to laugh.

Mary and Max is the feature length culmination of a theme Elliot had worked on in a series of short films: the relationship between a “normal” person and an eccentric, disabled outcast (the cousin in “Cousin” suffers from cerebral palsy; the title character in the Oscar-winning short “Harvie Crumpet” is afflicted with Tourette’s syndrome). Having finally explored this terrain for a full ninety minutes, it will be interesting to see if the talented director tries something different next.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“I can’t remember seeing an animated feature so dark and funny and bizarre and sad, all at the same time.”–James Plath, DVD Town (DVD)

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

CAPSULE: THIRST (1979)

DIRECTED BY: Rod Hardy

FEATURING: Chantal Contouri, Shirley Cameron, Max Phipps, Henry Silva, Rod Mullinar

PLOT: A direct descendant of Elizabeth Bathory is kidnapped by vampires who want to make her one of their own.

Still from Thirst (1979)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While Thirst has an offbeat plot for a vampire movie, it doesn’t go that extra mile to make itself stick out from the bloodsucking crowd.

COMMENTS: All that charming and wealthy Kate Davis (Contouri) wants to do is live happily ever after with her handsome boyfriend.  Unfortunately, unbeknown to her, she is a direct lineal descendant of Countess Elizabeth Bathory.  You remember Liz, she was that Hungarian rich chick who drank and bathed in 600 or more gallons of blood from 600 or more beautiful young women in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s.

I might mention that Liz Bathory also sodomized the comely maidens first, then partially ate some of them alive, before torturing and murdering them and drinking, bathing, and masturbating in their blood.  But then gee golly gosh, what’s a bored aristocratic gal supposed to do for fun in the darned old dark and dusty 1500’s anyway?

So it turns out that there are 70,000 well networked, politically powerful vampires in the modern world, and some of them come from equally distinguished aristocratic families.  Unfortunately for poor Kate, a member of one wants to marry her, and probably do a few other things to her that we won’t go into here; suffice it to say that the hapless and desirable Kate is snatched away to a vampire “resort.” While there, she will become indoctrinated into vampire culture, get hitched, and.. and well, I suspect “get” other things as well, seeing as how her vamp suitor has been watching surreptitiously-filmed home movies of Kate getting her groove worked over by her boyfriend.

The resort also happens to be a human blood farm.  Kidnapped, tranquilized mortals are put out to pasture and herded in a couple of times a week to be “milked” for, you guessed it, rich, red, raw human blood!  They are referred to as “blood cows,” and they are drained of a pint or so each time via the latest technology in a huge row of sanitary stalls.  They don’t appear to be very happy about it either, but then that’s a good incentive to unionize.

The vampires hook a “direct-to-line vacuum pulsator” (dairy speak for the milking machine hose terminal that is supposed to fit around a cow’s udder) right into the helpless humans’ jugulars.  They then suck, pump, filter, pasteurize, homogenize, inspect and certify the blood as safe, just like at a real dairy (hey, vampires have a right to protect themselves from hepatitis too, you know).

Then, presto. They distribute the human Clamato juice world-wide in conventional milk cartons.  Makes you thirsty just thinking about it, huh?  It turns out that the facility gives consumer tours and everything.  It also has some nice amenities such as swimming pools, racket ball courts, and booze kiosks (vamps only!)  Unfortunately for Kate, since she’s on a special diet, the program for her consists of involuntary drug-induced hallucinations, coercive brainwashing and blood force-feeding, just to get her in the mood for her wedding night.

It works!  Well, sort of.  The problem is that the plan, like most in these hemoglobin flicks, doesn’t go very smoothly.  In fact after some initial difficulties, then apparent success, it blows up right in everyone’s faces with gruesome and disturbing results.  This is a solid Australian film and one of the best vampire movies from the 1970’s that I have seen so far.  If you like odd and twisted cinema, or hot and heavy bloodsucking action, I give it four and half stakes through the heart out of five.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one of the quirkier horror films in recent history… The movie comes off as one long dream sequence (which it is, as Kate goes through a long programming session) — it’s mood music for the eyes, and bloody music at that.”–Christopher Null, AMC Film Critic (DVD)