The wretched world is run by ox and ass.
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Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs and Blu-rays (and hot off the server VODs), and on more distant horizons…
Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.
NEW ON HOME VIDEO:
Akira (1988): Read the Canonically Weird review! The 4K restoration of the seminal weird anime export about a telekinetic maniac wrecking neo-Tokyo is now available in a “limited edition” Blu-ray/4K Ultra disc set. Buy Akira.
CANONICALLY WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:
The pandemic rages and most of the few available cinema screens have been turned over to the new Wonder Woman movie. Yet, amid all of this, we have one ray of sunshine left in 2020. Here’s hoping 2021 sees the repertory theater industry bounce back.
WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE: The votes are in, and tomorrow night’s weird Amazon Prime screening will be—saints preserve us!—The Baby of Mâcon (1993). As always, the link to join and chat with the group will appear on our homepage, our Facebook page, and our Twitter page around 10 PM ET.
As far as new content goes, we press on, holidays or not. Giles Edwards will get back to the reader suggested review queue for our very-long delayed coverage of the 2007 anime anthology Genius Party. We’ll also put an official cap on 2020 with our year-end top ten lists, and we won’t rule out another pop-up review, either. Weird though it may have been, we’ll be as glad as you will to put 2020 behind us and look forward to a much improved 2021. Onward and weirdward!
And, seeing as how it’s Christmas Day, here’s a little gift to you from the asynchronous neural network. As Frank Sinatra says: it’s Christmas time, and you know what that means; it’s hot tub time!
What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that we have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.
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DIRECTED BY: Jalmari Helander
FEATURING: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Jonathan Hutchings
PLOT: On the Finnish/Russian border, an excavation crew disturbs an evil that has been buried for centuries—the real Santa Claus!
COMMENTS: Set in a chilly Lapland that’s eerily devoid of women (the fairer sex are, apparently, even rarer than Santa Claus), Rare Exports is a slow-burn horror marketed as a black comedy. It wears its coat of absurdity lightly, taking its outré premise about a monstrous Christmas spirit with, if not utmost seriousness, at least the same amount of gravitas that you’d expect from a B-movie about summoning a standard-issue Hollywood demon. It always helps an enterprise like this when you can get a good performance from a child actor. Young Pietari, whose father requires him to close his eyes when he enters the slaughterhouse so he won’t be traumatized by reindeer corpses, starts off still believing in a benevolent gift-giving Santa. The boy grows into (naturally) the only one who recognizes the danger posed by Santa, and eventually into the savior of his small village. Dressed for much of the movie in improvised armor—a hockey helmet and shoulderpads—young Onni Tommila, alternately quizzical and confident, outshines the older actors, who all play rustic stoics.
Despite a surprising amount of geriatric nudity, Rare Exports is not really a weird movie—but it was an original one when it was released in 2010. Aside from the similarly-themed but little-seen Santa’s Slay (2005), previous Christmas horrors had been almost exclusively slasher flicks about madmen obsessed with Santa Claus who dressed up like the jolly old elf for their killing sprees. Rare Exports instead identified Santa himself as evil—recalling his legendary Finnish origins as Joulupukki, the “Yule Goat.” This movie inspired other horror filmmakers to research the darker side of Yuletide legends, leading to the rediscovery of Krampus and a series of competing films about the Christmas devil. In other words, Rare Exports launched a sub-genre (the demonic Christmas spirit) inside a sub-genre (the holiday-themed horror).
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale derives from two short films from the same director, and serves as a sort of prequel. The shorts are presented as instructional videos, and are more obviously in the black comedy rather than the horror vein. Not to get too deep into spoiler territory, but the shorts suggest “Father Christmases” are a separate, feral species, without acknowledging the single demigod known as “Santa Claus.” The mythos described by the shorts is weirder than that in the feature, and the two don’t seem entirely compatible. In fact, the ending of the feature doesn’t make as much sense independently without seeing the shorts; for most of the film, we are asked to accept on faith the notion that possession of the original Santa Claus would be worth a lot of money, without a sense of how he could be commercially exploited. For my money, the universe of the shorts is superior—the problem being that it’s too much of a one-joke a premise to support an entire movie, which is why the expanded version leans into horror rather than comedy. For the best experience, watch the shorts and the feature in tandem for two different takes on the same basic idea. If you’re the kind of person who liked the Grinch better before his heart grew three sizes, Rare Exports may become a holiday staple at your house. It beats the 200th screening of the usual chestnuts, at least.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“You know a child is going to have a skewed concept of Christmas when his father works processing reindeer carcasses in a commercial butchery setup out in the garage. But that’s only the beginning of the yuletide weirdness in Finnish filmmaker Jalmari Helander’s dark-comic expansion on his cult Internet shorts, in which he crafts a back story for Santa that’s as black as stocking coal.”–Tom Russo, Boston Globe (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by “Paul Singleton,” who dubbed it “an excellent movie and very strange to say the least. This one will be certified weird by you guys at some point.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)
It’s Christmas Day, and we’re in the spirit of giving. This year we’re giving the gift every blogger wants—free traffic and backlinks—to WeirdChristmas.com (no relation). This site is light on weird Christmas movie content, but hosts a podcast describing weird Christmas traditions around the world (including a survey of Christmas pickles and the skinny on Frau Perchta, Krampus’ eviler cousin who rips out bad children’s guts and replaces them with garbage). There’s also a selection of weird Christmas music, and their specialty: weird Christmas postcards from the Victorian era. We’ve reprinted our favorites below, but if you like them be sure to give WeirdChristmas.com a seasonal visit. Then come back to us tomorrow for more weird movie reviews and news.
Santa’s worker kills the Christmas vibe by complaining that the elves need food.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky despised his own “Nutcracker Fantasy.” Forced into being a populist composer when careers in music were extremely rare in Russia, Tchaikovsky hated much of his own music, which masked a much darker personality: a self-loathing gay (it’s likely that he committed suicide) and a manic depressive. Yet behind that veneer of populism is an unorthodoxy. Leonard Bernstein found a soulmate in Tchaikovsky, conducting his music as if it was Mahler. When conductor Thomas Beecham arrived for orchestra rehearsal, he asked what was on the schedule. When someone answered “Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique,” Beecham quipped, “Let’s do what we can to cheer it up.”
When it comes to films with a Tchaikovskian theme, two come to mind in unmasking the dark-hued musician that classical fundamentalists prefer whited out. One is the infamous Black Swan (2010). The other is 1979’s criminally forgotten Japanese animated Nutcracker Fantasy (directed by Takeo Nakamura), which bypasses sugar plum fairies in favor of something spawned from a combination of , , and L. Frank Baum, along with slivers of Tchaikovsky and E.T.A. Hoffmann. The result is authentic bizarreness amplified by considerable beauty (and vice versa).
Young Clara (Melissa Gilbert) is visiting her Aunt Gerda (Lurene Tuuttle) and Uncle Drosselmeyer (), a clock maker and doll maker. Clara falls in love with uncle’s Nutcracker doll and requests it as a gift. Reluctantly, with his wife’s prompting, Drosselmeyer gives Clara the doll. We soon discover the reason for his reticence.
An army of rats prize the doll and steal it from Clara. Chasing the thieving rodents, Clara comes to blows with two-headed rat queen Morphia (Jo Anne Worley). Although the nutcracker comes to life to protect Clara, she still loses the battle and wakes up with a fever. She dreams again, entering the kingdom of the dolls by passing through Drosselmeyer’s grandfather clock; it is hardly a peasant trip, as the dolls are at war with Morphia.
The nutcracker is now Franz (), the captain of the guard, and he’s trying to restore the princess (who looks like Clara) back to her old self. The King’s wise men try to break Morphia’s curse, but they suck. So, Clara tracks down the Queen of Time (Eva Gabor) for assistance in breaking the evil spell. No problem, just destroy the “nut of darkness,” AKA Morphia’s heart. How the hell do you destroy a nut of darkness? With a pearl sword, of course, which Queenie happens to have handy.
A war breaks out, the enemy mice are slaughtered and, it turns out, they were children kidnapped by the creepy Ragman. A tad angry, the captain kills Morphia, but she curses him before croaking, turning him back into a nutcracker. Morphia’s rat son sets out for revenge, but Clara sacrifices herself, saving her nutcracker and thus breaking the evil spell.
That is as good as a synopsis as I can give, because if it sounds like a hodgepodge, it absolutely is. Characters like the Ragman are built up and dropped, and there are loopholes and inconsistencies aplenty. But who the hell watches something like this for coherency anyway? Yes, there are dull stretches, but you will not give hoot or a holler one, because the three-dimensional characterization of Clara, animation, music (which bizarrely includes animated ballerinas morphing into live action ballerinas and then disappearing), and superb voice acting across the board are dazzlingly impressive. Gilbert, Worley, and Gabor give what may be their most impressive performances, and Christopher Lee gets to sing (he actually voices several characters), sounding damned fine.
By, the way, I suppose I should add that it’s weird as hell, and far preferable to all the saccharine Nutcracker productions we’ve all been sadistically subjected to. Why would anyone ever want to watch another Nutcracker in the place of this one? I’d like to think Pyotr finally had his revenge.
Adam Buxton sings his own cheeky Christmas carol while eating ornaments and tickling a partially buried Santa Claus.