Tag Archives: Black Comedy


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DIRECTED BY: Kevin Connor

FEATURING: Rory Calhoun, Nancy Parsons, Nina Axelrod, Paul Linke

PLOT: Out in Rural, USA, Farmer Vincent operates both the “Motel Hello” and a popular smokehouse; neither business is entirely kosher.

Still from motel hell (1980)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Quirky horror is always fun, and so is Motel Hell. However, the extra little touches added to Kevin Connor’s grinder make this a weird little morsel to ingest: psychedelics, home-spun folksiness, a human garden, and the left-field cameo from Wolfman Jack (as the local priest, no less)—all come together to make something strangely delicious.

COMMENTS: As Nietzsche didn’t quite say, “…if you gaze long enough into a sausage, the sausage will gaze back into you.” There is a strong philosophical undercurrent (casing, even) to Motel Hell. Our spiritual teacher is Vincent Smith: pig farmer, motelier, and all around stand-up country gent. Rustic affability courses through his veins, and cheery wisdom bubbles up through his placid surface. He treats his animals humanely; he is affectionate to his simple-minded sister; his guests are all graced with his decorum. And he has a plan to help God to save the world: through transforming sinful passers-by into the best damned smoked meat you can find.

Director Kevin Connor lays out his cards right quick, just in case you didn’t quite grasp the nuance in the film title. Meet Vincent. Meet Ida. Meat farm. Vincent and his sister are pranksters, spooking the twin girls of two guests. But later that night, he lays a trap for a passing motorcyclist and his far younger lover, harvesting the former and seducing-cum-adopting the latter. However, being so smitten as I am by Rory Calhoun’s charm, I’ve already gotten ahead of the game.

One of the delightful oddities in this B-movie blood comedy is just how Vincent and Ida prepare their meat. Sure, sure, there’s a smoking process and “secret spices” (as to be found in the smokehouse, labeled exactly as such), but there’s also the prep work. It involves holes in the ground, gunny bags, feeding funnels, and, when it is time to harvest the flesh-crop, some swirling spin rays, to give the harvest a “…radical, hypno-high. Heavier, but smoother than any trip [they’ve] ever had.” Beyond the groovy head-trips (chuckle along with me), Vincent brings a solemnity to his work. As he openly muses after a gathering, “Sometimes I wonder about the karmic implications of these acts.” His sister Ida, on the other hand, does not wonder. She just likes her work and, even more-so, the tasty snacks which ensue.

Motel Hell is a silly movie with cleverness, uneven acting, and a fun little chainsaw duel thrown into the mix. Connor and his team are obviously having fun, and are more than happy to provide the audience with blood, surprises, and some obligatory T&A. I enjoyed many a chuckle, and sounded an outright guffaw at Vincent’s scandalous confession at the climax. There are weirder movies, there are bloodier movies, and there are sillier movies, but Motel Hell, like Vincent’s secret blend, is a perfect balance of all these ingredients.


“It’s meant to be weird, campy and funny but settles for being tasteless, gruesomely awkward and moronic.”–Dennis Schwartz, Dennis Schwartz Reviews


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DIRECTED BY: Peter Greenaway

FEATURING: Anthony Higgins, Janet Suzman, Anne-Louise Lambert, Hugh Fraser

PLOT: At the finale of the 17th-century, the wife of a boorish aristocrat contracts with a draughtsman to contrive a series of drawings; unexpected pictographic clues appearing in the artist’s renderings suggest a deadly conspiracy.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Greenaway tackles his first feature-length narrative with such structure, symmetry, and formalism that it might conceivably collapse into its own pretentious confinement. However, regular spikes of ornate bawdiness and cryptic banter, alongside Nyman’s jaunty film score, render the whole affair so baroquely flippant that the inclusion of a living garden statue is merely the ultimate, strange garnish on this eccentric appetizer to Greenaway’s impending career.

COMMENTS: “It has been fancifully imputed that Mr. Neville saw you as a deceived husband.” If that withering—and scandalous—insult vexes you, I strongly recommend against attempting to endure Peter Greenaway’s high-falutin’ whodunnit. On the other hand, if you wish to pry, peep, poke, and peek at the behind-closed-doors (and at times, on-the-lawn-somewhat-obscured-by-a-parasol) doings of the sickeningly wealthy and witty, the droll and devastating—veritably, the very cream of late-17th-century excess—Greenaway’s soufflé of mannerisms, ostentation, lines, lists, longitudes, and lasciviousness baked into this country-house mystery will not only fit the bill, but fit it perfectly with a stretch of laced linen that will leave you petrified to touch it with your coarse peasant hands.

Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins), whose observations Mr. Noyes infers from prior insinuations and sketch-work, is a draughtsman by trade, and a haughty rake by inclination. On the eve of Mr. Herbert’s departure, Neville attends a soirée hosted by Mrs. Herbert, who wishes, she claims, to furnish her husband with a set of exterior drawings of their estate as a gift upon his return, in hopes of salvaging, at least, some civility in their marriage. Initially disinclined, Neville agrees only after much pursuit by Mrs. Herbert (and her daughter, Mrs. Talmann), and the inking of a curious contract which delineates recompense both financial and sexual. Mr. Herbert leaves for business, and Mr. Neville ensconces himself as he begins his work—and play.

I beg your indulgence for what is, even for me, an excess in flowery language; but such is the overwhelming effect of this strange matrix of conflicting impulses and shifting conspiracies. Greenaway kicks the door down for this one (doubtless because its vertical line displeased him) and comes swinging in full force with his painterly mise-en-scène and artful dialogue thronging the screen and speakers. Frames within frames, within frames; candlesticks joining and isolating conversers, sometimes positioned as an extension of a phallus-above-the-table (Neville’s, naturally); ordered chaos—there is nothing, it appears, left to ill-rendered whim nor faith in dreamscapes.

The “conflicting impulses” mentioned play out primarily between the pristine structure of the film (pacing, staging, scoring, framing, &c.) and the often-hilarious, invariably biting dialogue, which itself is masked with powder-splotched cosmetics and finery that could pass for a migraine. And Greenaway looooves sex on shameless display. As if imitating the outward prudish mien of its characters, The Draughtsman’s Contract conveys all manner of carnality, some of it extreme, while only ever exposing a single breast on screen. Anthony Higgins—witness to this breast, among other parts and places—is perfectly cast as the cocksure draughtsman, believing he is outwitting the conspiratorial axis of Mrs. Herbert and her daughter. Though doomed from the start, he careens toward his fate on a cloud of magniloquent artistry, wit, and lasciviousness.

As far as I could determine, the extras on Kino Lorber’s 40th anniversary, 4K release of The Draughtsman’s Contract were lifted straight from the preceding UK-only disc. Though they are scant, the included introduction from Peter Greenaway is a delightful and informative ten-minute essential, outlining the director’s intentions and providing a brief history of the film. The even briefer interview with Michael Nyman succinctly and charmingly relates how these two lovers of lists began their collaboration. Last, and by no means least, the video and sound are perfection in itself—and as Greenaway would observe, it is the deft combination of those elements that filmmaking is all about.


“Agatha Christie this ain’t, but it is weirdly wonderful… the film shows a unique talent getting to grips with narrative cinema to create something which is as engaging and alluring as it is baffling and perplexing.”–Mark Kermode, BFI


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“You get to the point where you’re, like, ‘I want someone to be sad, and I want to know that I’m responsible!’”– on living in New York City


FEATURING: Elliott Gould, Marcia Rodd, Vincent Gardenia, Elizabeth Wilson, Jon Korkes, John Randolph, Doris Roberts, Lou Jacobi, , Alan Arkin

Still from Little Murders (1971)

PLOT: A photographer beaten down by the cruelty and indifference of modern life meets the optimistic Patsy, who has a history of “molding” her romantic partners.

COMMENTS: If the movies are to be believed, New York City in the late 60s and well into the 70s was a nightmarish hellscape, a place where morality was absent, cruelty was commonplace, and the fundamental rules of life could gain no purchase. It was a labyrinthine trap for visitors (see Neil Simon’s original The Out-Of-Towners), a hotbed of insanity amongst the residents (witness ’s crude Where’s Poppa?), and just an ungovernable mess on the whole (Death Wish, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Dog Day Afternoon, among others). How much the city has improved since then is in the eye of the beholder, but this period does seem to have been New York’s nadir.

So it goes in the New York of Little Murders. Muggings occur in broad daylight. Calls to the police are placed on hold. Lewd phone calls find you, wherever you may be. Electricity gives out at random times. No one on the subway bats an eye at a man covered in blood. The psychic trauma of just trying to get through the day is overwhelming; who cares about Vietnam, when a war hero can come home to be gunned down on the Upper West Side? These Manhattanites just suck it up and soldier on, but a lot of people are beginning to crack under the pressure.

Our central couple presents two very different ways to deal with this world. Patsy is the kind of person who dusts herself off after every setback. She’s not an optimist, exactly, but she is persistent. She has a history of “fixing” men who are probably homosexual, and then ditching them when they become too pliant. (She tells Alfred of her dream mate: “I want to be married to a big, strong, vital, virile, self-assured man… that I can protect and take care of.”) When her apartment is looted and ransacked, Patsy automatically begins a mental checklist of all the things she’ll need to do to restore her home. The one thing she absolutely cannot do is give up. “If you don’t fight, you don’t feel,” she insists, “and if you don’t feel, you don’t love.”

Alfred, meanwhile, has chosen to disassociate from everything. When confronted by muggers, he lets them have their way and slips into pleasant daydreams. The market for his photographs shifts from beautiful things to actual pictures of excrement, so he readily goes along. He insists upon omitting God from his wedding vows, but when his prospective father-in-law tries to buy off the officiant, he’s indifferent. Not feeling anything is his only protection, so when Patsy cajoles him into letting down his guard, it’s about the cruelest thing that can happen to him.

There’s no model for how to behave under these circumstances, as demonstrated by the three authority figures who share their wisdom. Lou Jacobi’s judge is a disgusted back-in-my-day type who insists that his immigrant ancestors’ persecution was integral to his success. (Amusingly, his harangue against the young couple continues well into a court case over which he is presiding.) Gould’s M*A*S*H cohort Donald Sutherland appears as a man of the cloth with no convictions whatsoever. The lasting marriages over which he has presided are happy accidents, while the failures are just the cost of doing business, and he shares this fact in the course of his own homily. Finally, director Alan Arkin shows up as a police lieutenant who has slipped into madness. By turns quivering with undirected rage and cackling maniacally, he sees conspiracy everywhere, and is as suspicious and demanding of victims as he is of suspects. What none of these authority figures are is helpful. It’s everyone for themselves.

There’s undoubtedly a version of this tale that plays out like a witty New York comedy of the Neil Simon/Woody Allen variety, but events keep conspiring to kill the comic buzz. The little indignities of big-city life are compounded by crime and cruelty, culminating in the most appalling tragedy of all, which ultimately tells you which of the two leads the movie thinks is right. In the face of this disaster, Little Murders ultimately proposes another way to cope: hurting others. The only thing that brings joy to Alfred and his newfound family is the opportunity to direct all of the sadness and anxiety and rage at another human being, and the laughter that ensues is emblematic of writer Jules Feiffer’s pessimism. People will ultimately make hostile choices, but they’re just trying to get through the day. Would you deny them this little pleasure?


“Funny and frightening, Little Murders strikes a tone that few films attain. It certainly doesn’t look like many movie comedies… Godard at first expressed interest in the material, but ended up turning down the project. Even though he wasn’t involved with Little Murders, the film often suggests a kindred spirit with Godard’s late-1960s work.” – Ben Sachs, Chicago Reader (2017 revival)

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


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AKA The Black Lapp

DIRECTED BY: Erik Smith Meyer

FEATURING: Kingsford Siayor, Kjersti Lid Gullvåg, Eirik Junge Eliassen, Thor-Inge Gullvåg, Frank Jørstad, Guri Johnson

PLOT: In the furthest northern reaches of Norway, three young men fight to win the affections of pretty Anna: Peder, a strong-but-stupid man-child who is favored by Anna’s murderous father; Ante, a young Black man who was found on the beach as an infant; and Norman, a disaffected Sámi who longs to forsake his heritage and travel abroad.

Still from Svidd Neger (2003)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: Like an episode of “Maury” transplanted to a remote patch of Norwegian tundra, Svidd neger is shocking, inexplicable, and gleefully inappropriate. With an ever-shifting tone and an unflagging desire to push buttons, this is a movie that is happily gross, joyfully surreal, and takes deep pride in zigging where others zag.  

COMMENTS: There is something that unites every culture, every group of people on this planet: having someone to look down upon. Racism, sexism, bigotry of every shade are built upon the notion that those people over there are deeply inferior to us, with no regard to how appalling we might be ourselves. As proof of the pervasiveness of this mindset, look no further than the living paradise that is Scandinavia. Those medically socialized fjord-huggers would appear to have created an equitably minded, affordably furnished standard of living for their people. But despite receiving high marks for livability, they have still found a ready-made pariah in the Sámi, an ethnicity in the northernmost parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and northwest Russia with their own language and culture. Sometimes known as Laplanders (a term which is now deemed pejorative), the Sámi people lived quite independently until the 19th century, when aggressive governments sought to assimilate them and wipe out their distinctiveness. While these policies have been rolled back somewhat (especially in Norway, where the Sámi have their own parliament), the disdain and resentment never really goes away. And that seems to be the basic sentiment behind Svidd neger: no matter how trashy people get, they can always find someone else to crap on.

And my goodness, the residents of this isolated outpost are supremely trashy. The root of all nastiness is Karl, Anna’s drunkard father who opens the film by drowning his philandering wife and casting her mixed race infant into the sea. Impressively, he only manages to get worse as the film progresses, as we learn about how his violent ways have affected nearly every other character. Naturally, his only interest in his daughter is her ability to produce a male heir to secure his “kingdom.” It also follows that he would throw his support behind Peder, an impressively stupid hunk of meat whom we see attempt to rape Anna twice and who spends the rest of his time fruitlessly masturbating or hopping gleefully on a broken tractor like a four-year-old.

It soon becomes clear that the only decent people in the film are outsiders, but they’re no angels. Norman, the Sámi who wants out, is so disgusted with being an outsider that he’s willing to trade-in to become white trash in another country. (His dreams of “Ammrica” revolve around drinking lots of Coke and dressing like a biker, complete with Confederate flag patch.) Meanwhile, Ante is already the ultimate outsider (he is the subject of the film’s title, whose least offensive translation is “burnt negro”), but he seems determined to become even moreso, adopting the language and attire of the Sámi, indulging a deep and abiding love for Dolly Parton, and sending out bottled messages to prospective new fathers.

On top of all these wild characters, director Meyer piles on crazy plot twists, full-blown musical numbers, elaborate fight scenes, and a deux ex machina that starts building during the opening credits. Along the way, he peppers scenes with amusing quirks and curiosities, but then just as quickly drops in something dark and disturbing. For example, Peder’s deluded mother meets her end in a horrifying impalement, but then is left to flail about hilariously like a wind sock. The score often matches the schizophrenic tone of the movie, jumping from light pop to dramatic orchestration to tinges of bluegrass in rapid succession.

Somehow, despite the extreme circumstances and the extreme reactions to them, everyone seems to get roughly what they deserve, which says a lot about how well Svidd neger delivers its parade of the idiotic and the grotesque. Like its awful protagonists, the movie is easy to look down upon as crass and disgusting. Yet it somehow wins out in the end.


“This movie is not for everyone! It’s the sickest, most twisted and weird movie to ever have been made in Norway.”–Nordic Fantasy

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



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DIRECTED BY: Lee Won-suk

FEATURING: Lee Ha-nee, Lee Sun-kyun, Gong Myoung

PLOT: Erstwhile “It”-girl Yeo-rae will do anything to escape the clutches of her possessive husband—even if it means enlisting the aid of one of her bumbling super-fans to commit murder.

Still from Killing Romance (2023)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: A common grumble we have about Wes Anderson on this site is that he doesn’t go far enough. Lee Won-suk does, with maximal ridiculousness rendered in an Andersonian tint.

COMMENTS: During the audience chatter that immediately followed the film, it was mentioned that, in its native South Korea, Killing Romance is not much dissimilar from other films of its genre. I have no reason to doubt this—all the less-so for having a limited exposure to South Korean films in general, and their romantic comedies in particular—but even if Lee Won-Suk’s film were the most run-of-the-mill outing to found in that East Asian nation, it was unlike anything I have seen.

Framed as a storybook (possibly added to ground potential American audiences), Killing Romance tells the tale of Yeo-rae, famous for a staggeringly idiotic reason, but nonetheless someone who won the hearts of many fans. While recovering emotionally from a badly panned film performance, she meets mega-mogul environmentalist Jonathan “Jonny” Na. They wed, retreat from the world for seven years on a remote island, and then return to Seoul. There Yeo-rae meets a neighbor, lovable loser and fan club president Bum-woo, and Jonny’s darker side emerges.

This darker side manifests in the form of possessiveness, down-to-the-smile control freakery, and occasional beatings (of sorts) via tangerine. Amidst the randomness (when the murder schemes kick off, super sauna steam heat and countless bowls of bean soup are among the attempts at offing Jonny), musical numbers (spoiler alert: the film climaxes with a sing-off, in karaoke so the audience can join), and animal encounters (a throwaway joke about Bum-woo at the start manages to become a major plot point somehow) is the phenomenon of Jonny Na—a masterfully whimsical sociopath. He loves his wife, but she must be “just so”; he loves to be loved, and finds this “so gooooooood” (a running gag); and he seems genuinely confused that the world does not always bend to his wishes. Lee Sun-kyun’s performance nearly steals the show.

Except there is so much going on here. I’ll spare you further lists and sentences and wrap up with a brief anecdote. Over the course of the screening, a young woman in the audience removed her shoes and neatly placed them on the floor below; perched herself atop the edge of the fold-down theater seat; and proceed to sit in a state of grin-stricken happy tension throughout the feature. Killing Romance is a sheer delight, and one of the few “quirky” movies to turn that corner into weirdful wonderment.


“…weird, campy, hilarious, and actually offers a cathartic revenge for anyone who has lived with a horrible spouse.” —Kate Sánchez, But Why Tho? (festival screening)