Tag Archives: Cory McAbee


QUESTIONER: What are the most common comparisons to other films that you hear?

CORY MCABEE: There’ve been a few. Because it’s in black and white people sometimes say Eraserhead, but other than the fact that it’s in black and white I don’t really see much… [laughter]. I get a lot of “cross-betweens,” like “a cross between Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Grapes of Wrath.” [laughter]. That’s a very large area to cross between…

–Cory McAbee at an American Astronaut Q&A session


FEATURING: Cory McAbee, Rocco Sisto, Gregory Russell Cook, Annie Golden, Tom Aldredge

PLOT: Astronaut Samuel Curtis arrives on the asteroid Ceres, where he meets his old friend the Blueberry Pirate, enters a dance contest, and trades a cat for a Real Live Girl (who consists of cloned cells in a box). His commission requires him to go to Jupiter where he will swap the Real Live Girl for the Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman’s Breast, whom he will then take to the all-female planet Venus to exchange for the remains of an expired stud. Along his journey he is pursued by maniacal “birthday boy” (and film narrator) Professor Hess, a man who can only kill if he has no reason to do so.

Still from The American Astronaut (2001)


  • Writer/director Cory McAbee is the songwriter and lead singer of the band The Billy Nayer Show; the then-current lineup of the band (minus McAbee) appears in the movie in the Ceres dance contest sequence.
  • McAbee was working on a script entitled Werewolf Hunters of the Midwest when he got the idea for American Astronaut and decided it was the more interesting project. He completed the script for Werewolf Hunters in 2002, but negotiations with financiers fell through. Pre-production resumed in 2011, but the actor cast as the lead died, and the project is again on hold.
  • The American Astronaut got its limited theatrical release September 21, 2001, only a little more than a week after the 9/11 tragedy.
  • After our first viewing we declined to place The American Astronaut on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies immediately (read our shortsighted initial review), but the public decided this omission was one of our biggest oversights, as the movie won our third readers choice poll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman’s Breast dressed as the messenger god Mercury in an art-deco helmet and thick black eyeliner, raising the roughnecks of Jupiter’s morale by performing a song and dance number in a spotlight on a stage in a cavernous warehouse.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The fact that it’s an absurdist musical comedy space western, for one thing. The American Astronaut is an incredibly personal affair—Cory McAbee wrote, directed, starred, composed the songs, helped paint the backdrops, and probably sold the popcorn on opening night. McAbee brings a particular and peculiar set of personal preoccupations to the project: space operas, psychobilly, Monty Python, German Expressionism, cowboy movies, Lewis Carroll, film noir, , the wide-eyed innocence of childhood, Ed Wood, and Dadaism, among others. It’s a galaxy of influences with competing gravities, and whether they appear as a meaningful constellation or just a meaningless mass of lights may depend on where the viewer is standing. The movie probably makes the most sense when seen from Mars.

Original trailer for The American Astronaut

COMMENTS: Since it’s such a spaced-out movie, it’s appropriate that The American Continue reading 123. THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT (2001)


NOTE: By popular demand, The American Astronaut has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made! Please read the official Certified Weird entry. This initial review is left here for archival purposes.


FEATURING: Cory McAbee, Rocco Sisto, Gregory Russell Cook, Annie Golden, Tom Aldredge

PLOT:  A space pilot trades a cat for a “real live girl” whom he can exchange for the “Boy Who

Still from The American Astronaut (2001)

Actually Saw a Woman’s Breast,” whom he intends to swap in turn for the remains of a dead Venusian stud in order to collect a reward.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  Genrewise, The American Astronaut could be described as many things—space western, garage band musical, nonsense comedy—but the one thing it indisputably is is a cult movie.  That is to say, it’s a specialized and peculiar little flick that has a devoted group of followers, and a larger contingent of outsiders who are nonplussed by its popularity.  I have to admit that in this case I lean slightly towards the second group.  American Astronaut is very weird (it has a character named “the Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman’s Breast,” for goodness sake), but some of it is tedious, like ninety minutes spent watching a clan of hipsters swapping in-jokes you aren’t let in on.  I can sense the magic other people get from the pic without being able to directly experience it myself.  This is a movie on the cusp of being certified as one of the Best Weird Movies Ever Made, but it will require some reader acclaim to sway my opinion towards adding it to the List.  So get to promoting the movie in the comments, Astronaut fans.

COMMENTS:  How many movies can boast a line like “Gentlemen, the Boy Who Saw a Woman’s Breast has left our planet” or a musical number like “The Girl with a Vagina Made of Glass”?  How about a villain who is incapable of killing unless he has no possible grudge against his victim and a “real live girl” who (in this early stage of her development) is just a suitcase that plays a rock tune when you lift a slat on the casing?  The American Astronaut creates a unique, absurd, but consistent universe through a dry, deadpan DIY approach.  It’s set in a boy’s cosmos, where women are strange creatures who live on one planet while the men live on another.  The movie’s nonsense proclivities are a narrative film incarnation of the free-associative lyrics of writer/director Cory McAbee’s mildly punkish band, the Billy Nayer Show.  One song Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT (2001)



FEATURING: Katy Haywood, Sheila Scullin, , Rich Schreiber, Ken Byrnes, Kathleen Kennedy, Ivan Dimitrov,

PLOT: After her boyfriend goes missing a pregnant woman with dozens of sisters (all from

Still from The Guatemalan Handshake (2011)

different mothers) enters a demolition derby against her Guatemalan father… and that’s just one of many plot lines running concurrently in this bizarre rural community.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Although a Guatemalan Handshake sounds like something you’d have to pay extra for at a massage parlor, it’s actually a strange little indie movie that takes the concept of ‘quirky and stretches it way past the breaking point.  Think what would happen if Napoleon Dynamite’s had been hired to remake Gummo as a comedy and you’ll be somewhere in the stylistic neighborhood of this oddly conceived debut.

COMMENTS:  Though things sort themselves out in the end, there’s an excellent chance you’ll be totally lost within the first ten minutes of The Guatemalan Handshake.  The narrator, a spindly young girl named Turkeylegs, explains that her best friend, nerdy turtle-loving Donald, has gone missing, and introduces us to his father (who, like almost everyone else in town, doesn’t much care about his son’s disappearance) and his pregnant girlfriend Sadie, the daughter of a Guatemalan demolition-derby Lothario with dozens of (all-female) illegitimate children he drives around in a school bus.  While you’re still trying to wrap our minds around those details, all of which and more are delivered before the film’s title rolls, you see Donald’s last known appearance, watch a lapdog get electrocuted, and learn of a mysterious power failure whose aftermath is explained in spooky overlapping voiceovers.  More crazy characters appear, including a depressed older woman who wanders around in the background asking if anyone’s seen her missing dog, and Stool, a loser with a bowl haircut and a crustache who can’t hold down a job but nevertheless decides to romance Sadie.  And, as if Handshake‘s capriciously quirky characterizations and the way the story dips in and out of their lives weren’t disorienting enough, the film’s style also changes every few minutes.  Sequences are sped up, and we may suddenly find ourselves inside an unannounced flashback or watching an earnest freak-folk music video or taking in one of the many magical realist digressions, such as TV-personality Spank Williams’ unsuccessful public suicide or the tale of the woman who reads her own obituary in the morning paper.  Even dinner (which for Turkeylegs consists of a chocolate bunny filled with chocolate milk and covered in whipped cream) is an experiment in fast-cutting montage.  It’s winsome, it’s twee, and it annoyed the hell out of a lot of moviegoers who considered it pretentious hipster twaddle with no “real” characters; yet, it’s only fair to point out that all of the indie movie clichés Handshake displays are pushed so far that they become parody, and the film’s detractors may be missing part of the joke.  How seriously can we be intended to take a film that gives its characters with names like Turkeylegs, Stool, Ethel Firecracker and Donald Turnupseed?  Handshake works perfectly in its own conceptual stratosphere, but at ground level things sometimes falter: you can seldom relate to the bizarre characters, and the jokes are more awkward than funny.  And although the film is loosely tied together by the theme of loss—missing persons, lost dogs, and stolen cars—it doesn’t have much to say about its subject.  Handshake‘s only real passions are experimentation and eccentricity.  Whether that’s enough to carry the film is up to the viewer to judge.

The Guatemalan Handshake won the Slamdance special jury prize in 2006.  It didn’t receive theatrical distribution, but the DVD release was surprisingly elaborate: a two disc edition complete with commentary track, numerous behind the scenes features and six short films featuring Handshake‘s cast and crew.


“An understated, surrealist comedy that is more successful at being weird than funny, the film seeks to capture the ‘Napoleon Dynamite’-influenced tone of bizarre small-town quirkiness. It falls short of the mark, but not by much.”–Phil Villareal, Arizona Daily Star (contemporaneous)

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



FEATURING: Cory McAbee, Crugie, David Hyde Pierce

PLOT: Ex-con/lounge singer Stingray Sam grudgingly joins his former partner the Quasar Kid

Still from Stingray Sam (2009)

in a quest to save a little girl, with frequent musical breaks featuring songs by The Billy Nayer Show. David Hyde Pierce narrates intermittent segments of animated collage that explain their futuristic society.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: It’s a wacky, memorable space musical with western flair, crisp black and white visuals, and imaginative, nonsensical notions of the future, but all that can be found in slightly more intriguing form in McAbee’s earlier work The American Astronaut, which better serves The List by being a feature-length movie (Stingray Sam is an hour-long serial).  But it certainly contains enough of its own charm and inventiveness to stand alongside its predecessor, and it shouldn’t be wholly dismissed just yet.

COMMENTS: Conspicuously sponsored by the fictional “Liberty Chew Chewing Tobacco” and excitedly asking what our heroes will be up to next at the end of every episode, Stingray Sam is a fitting tribute to old-fashioned serials, keeping many of the western and sci-fi elements of such shows while incorporating a wealth of inspired new ideas. There are several weird inventions and convenient technologies to place it in the futuristic space setting, but the sets are wonderfully low-key and familiar. McAbee’s incredible charm seeps through the screen in everything from his performance to the silly dialogue, aided along by the excellent musical numbers and gorgeous animated collage sequences.

By the time the second episode’s explanatory animated piece details the upper class invention of gender-determining drugs, male-on-male baby-making, and a delightful portmanteau naming system, what started out as a fairly straightforward quest to rescue a maiden quickly evolves into a madcap journey through McAbee’s unpredictable imagination.  The layers of references, backstory, character, and pseudo-science wrapped up in a musical comedy-adventure are impressively nuanced.  David Hyde Pierce’s articulate and tongue-in-cheek narration (which delights particularly in the word “Durango”) offers a range of ideas, inventions, and happenings that don’t always make sense but never fail to spark interest.  The first time around some of this information goes by too quickly, as viewers are hit with so many novelties and humorous animation at once, but subsequent watches prove McAbee’s involved story and unique futuristic vision to be unavoidably successful, if preposterous.

With catchy tunes that probably sit somewhere in the rock and roll spectrum yet manage to remain without a definable genre classification, The Billy Nayer Show (who also comprise several main cast members) craft a fun soundtrack that usually leads to manic dancing and wide smiles.  Each episode contains one song, which never encroaches on the action or comedy (and often increases the latter), along with a curt opening theme that reminds us “Stingray Sam is not a hero, but he does do the things that folks don’t do that need to be done.”  They serve to make the strange story even more memorable, describing stingray babies, entertainment on Mars, and peg-legged fathers, and add an extra element of goofy joy to the work.

Looking past the wonky sci-fi premise and western trappings (complete with cowboy hats and “yes ma’ams”), the heart of Stingray Sam lies in the unbridled glee the entire project exudes. As Sam, McAbee swings his way into everyone’s hearts with his jerky dance moves, easy smile, and affable demeanor, while Crugie keeps his cool as the Quasar Kid, offers some gruffer tunes, and frequently betrays a weakness for olives.  Their intricate secret handshake is just icing on this lovable, quirky cake of a partnership.  The beleaguered faces of many supporting cast members seem somehow twisted and plasticine, suiting the off-kilter atmosphere perfectly as they help or hinder our heroes’ proceedings.  There’s not much else like Stingray Sam.

Stingray Sam is currently only available directly from director Cory McAbee at his personal site (click here to purchase).  If the film follows the marketing plan of The American Astronaut, it will eventually be released via normal distribution channels as well.


“Sounds weird? You bet your ass… Cory McAbee manages to cram enough story and song in to each episode, each more ridiculous than the other and still come out with a coherent story and structure.”–Swarez, Twitchfilm