Tag Archives: Drug abuse

CAPSULE: VIDE NOIR (2022)

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DIRECTED BY: Ariel Vida

FEATURING: Victor Mascitelli, Ashleigh Cummings, Todd Stashwick

PLOT: When his fiancée leaves him for a mysterious music promoter, Buck leaves his hometown in an effort to get her back.

COMMENTS: From what I’ve read, “Vide Noir” is a Lynchian-cool jazz-lounge space album that was quite well received. From what I’ve seen, I am unsurprised that Ariel Vida, director of Vide Noir, is a professional music video director. From what’s on the internet, the little consensus there is about this film can be summarized thusly: Golly if it doesn’t look good, but what’s up with the hazy story and crummy performances?

A hazy story is not a problem—not for 366 at any rate. But something has bothered me since I watched the eighth chapter of this film, which covers the closing twenty minutes. Until this “Z’oiseau” segment (preceded by others titled “the Emerald Star”, “Whispering Pines”, and so on, depending upon the locale/character/artifact focused upon), I really didn’t care what was happening. Everything looked neat, if a little over-edited for the purposes of a motion picture (90+ minutes of music video-esque shot blending is a little distracting); the sound design was adequate (all the little scrapes, plinks, and peripheral noises fleshed things out nicely); and the plot was clear enough. The title, and main narrative hook, “vide noir” refers to an hallucinogen that, as explained by one of the dead characters (this was an added ambiguity that was neither explained nor pertinent), “comparing ‘Vide Noir’ to LSD is like comparing a space shuttle to a Greyhound Bus.”

The Z’oiseau character is referenced throughout in hushed, often frightened tones. He is Vide Noir‘s “Mister Big”, and he does not disappoint: calmly suave, marvelously mustachioed, and endowed with an erudition Buck lacks. That might be part of the problem, come to think of it. Buck is determined, and modestly resourceful, but, for whatever reason, he oozes corn-fed “charm,” despite being a Detroit native. Which finally brings to mind Vide Noir‘s primary problem: the heroine-femme-fatale-mystical-beauty. As heavy a weight of mystery and charisma is laid on Z’oiseau, a far greater weight of sheer mythic wonderment is laid on Lee, the fiancée. Buck is obsessed with and smitten by her, which might be excusable considering his simple nature. What makes less sense is the Lee-adoration from the incidental characters Buck encounters, and it makes even less sense from the villain of the piece. Lee’s reputation for desirability cannot merely be stated ad nauseum—the audience needs to see it (and believe) themselves.

On the topic of this noir femme, a second element (just barely) saves this film from any withering flippancy I would have otherwise been tempted into. As flawed (or, more accurately, pointless) as the opening and middle might be, the ending is refreshingly unexpected. Buck spends days-to-weeks pursuing the girl. He suffers humiliations, encounters ghosts, endures violence, and barely survives one nasty-looking overdose on his quest to find her and take her home. But the poor bastard never considered for a moment that he was not the hero of Lee’s story. While Ariel Vida would have done well to have kept her mysteries mysterious, Buck would be better off had he spent more time thinking through his own motives.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The band Lord Huron has produced, I guess, this trippy feature film inspired by their album ‘Vide Noir.’ And for the record, the music’s pretty cool, kind of twangy ‘Twin Peaks’ ethereal, unmoored in time, fitting for a pseudo-psychedelic film noir set in 1960s LA. The movie? It’s best summed up by the phrase ‘interesting failure.'”–Roger Moore, Movie Nation (contemporaneous)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: ALL JACKED UP AND FULL OF WORMS (2022)

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Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Alex Phillips

FEATURING: Phillip Andre Botello, Trevor Dawkins

PLOT: Roscoe and Benny meet randomly one afternoon and then paint the town red whilst all jacked up and full worms; the bacchanal’s fallout isn’t pretty.

Still from All Jacked up and Full of Worms (2022)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: There’s lots of manic energy, lots of worms, and though there is only one of them, there’s still too much of filmdom’s creepiest baby doll. All Jacked Up and Full of Worms eschews most logic as its characters careen from mundane life into exhilarating highs, then crash into a third act full of death, violence, fluids—and the ubiquitous worms.

COMMENTS: “There’s only one wrong way to do worms,” Benny proclaims boisterously to a stranger whose motel room he’s just barged into. But the stranger, knowing what’s what, what’s cool, and what it’s all about, casually replies, “Not do worms?”

Bingo. Whatever madness this rundown Chicago milieu has seen, it hasn’t seen nothin’ until these ranks of riffraff find the ultimate high. The riffraff roster: Roscoe, unflappable motel janitor dabbling (also) in New Age-y energy transference; Samantha, girlfriend of Roscoe and insufferable hippie; Jared, interested third-party in Roscoe and Samantha’s relationship, also seen carrying a bucket of his own blood; a pair of possibly homeless worm-junkies, one of whom is never without clown makeup; Benny, a delivery man (?) with a big beard and great need to manifest a baby of his own (name tag reads: Call Me: DADDY); and Henrietta, a kindly prostitute and known addict whom Benny fails to fornicate with. Looming in the background television is a sometime pagan, now born-again Christian, whose soul seems somehow tied to an überworm with the mantra, “You must unlearn your shapes”.

All Jacked Up and Full of Worms unabashedly revels in its body horror roots, drawing much of its inspiration from Cronenberg‘s Naked Lunch. The hook here is worms (if you’ll pardon the bon mot). The film begins like an ensemble comedy, but proceeds mostly along the lines of absurdist-grossout-nightmare. The director introduces each cast member (including the worms) with their own vignette. The entire first act plays like a dingy madcap romp, its joyful madness peaking as Roscoe and Benny ride through a worm-fueled trip (and a concurrent literal one) on a motor scooter.

But as with a worm’s natural orientation, things go sideways, and Alex Phillips reveals his hand. Buried in the dirt of his character’s strange lives is a steadfast streak of seriousness. Roscoe is forced to come to terms with the reactive nature of his existence; and Benny’s trials with his new baby sex-doll (this… was disturbing) elicit far more empathy than perhaps even Todd Solondz could have thought possible. The exuberance morphs into viscera(l) tension, and amidst all the illogical craziness of the double ending, we find peace on one side, and rebirth on the other. And isn’t that what worms are really all about?

Listen to our audio interview with the crew who made All Jacked up and Full of Worms

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Watching this while actually on something is likely to lead to psychedelic crisis, while its wilfully wacky weirdness – all the unnerving body horror and basic worm puppetry – will leave the straights at best bewildered and at worst bored.”–Anton Bitel, Proijected Figures (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: ARREBATO [RAPTURE] (1979)

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DIRECTED BY: Iván Zulueta

FEATURING: , Will More, Cecilia Roth

PLOT: A horror director whose work and relationships are in decline due to his heroin addiction receives a package from an eccentric acquaintance containing a mysterious short film.

Still from Arrebato (Rapture) (1979)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: The Spaniards in our audience would never forgive us if we simply disregarded this one.

COMMENTS: As we learn from Mike White’s informative commentary track to Arrebato, director Iván Zulueta was an experimental filmmaker (with one prior feature to his name)—and, at the time he made this movie, a functional heroin addict. This background may explain why the two main characters in Zuleta’s sophomore feature are a filmmaker who is working on his sophomore feature, but seeing his work sabotaged by his growing drug problem, and a younger experimental filmmaker who appears to seek advice from the established director, but actually has more to teach than his mentor. In Arrebato the “raptures” of filmmaking and of opiates become entwined to the point where it’s impossible to decide which serves a metaphor for the other. An oblique version of the Christian sense of “rapture”—being snatched from earthly existence and spirited away to paradise—may also be at play, further complicating matters.

The film’s structure is unusual. It begins with Pedro sending a mysterious audiotape and film strip to José; the tape will supply a running narration throughout the film that explains much of the backstory. Listening to the tape induces two flashbacks describing the characters’ previous encounters. We meet Pedro in the flesh in these flashbacks, and his portrayal by Will More is… curious. On tape, his voice affects an unnaturally raspy delivery; in person, it’s high-pitched, like a kid’s. We first meet him in his child-man persona, throwing a childish fit when an experiment in filming a tree is briefly interrupted. He then hangs around in the background silently, with a bug-eyed stare, or shows up holding a creepy doll. When he takes cocaine, however, the drug paradoxically slows him down and turns him into a coherent, if heavy-lidded, adult; his hairstyle even changes from an unkempt bushy mop to a slicked back greaser ‘do. Later, the script will give Pedro the chance to act in a parody of a motorcycle fetish film, and to languish as a strung-out junkie (in withdrawal not from heroin, but from the ecstasy of film). More’s crazy performance is sort of like a Spanish operating under a heavy dose of barbiturates. Some will find it adds pleasantly to the weirdness; I thought it was distractingly goofy.

It’s not always clear, without paying attention to contextual clues (i.e. the progression of José’s addiction), what time period we’re in; still, the movie’s reputation as “confusing” is greatly overblown. The narrative, in fact, is simple to follow; the real confusion is thematic. This is one of those movies that has too many ideas, and might have done better to focus on just one or two. To the central idea of a merger between drug and filmic rapture states, we have a series of inserts of Pedro’s experimental short films (mostly in the herky-jerky time-lapse style); philosophical excursions revolving around notions of rhythm and pause; coded homoeroticism (Pedro and José lounging together in bed); inconsistent references to vampirism; Pedro’s oscillations between childhood and adulthood; a female character voiced by a pre-fame Pedro Almódovar; the suggestion of Pedro and José  as a split personality; a Betty Boop-themed seduction; and all of the various senses of “rapture” constantly crowding each other out. These colliding ideas and gambits harmonize inconsistently: the exploration of José and Ana’s disintegrating relationship works well as a subplot, but some bits, like Pedro’s detour into depravity through a punk rock-scored rough-trade threesome in an elevator, don’t make much sense. It almost goes without saying that there’s no rational explanation for the ending. Arrebato is a mostly delightful, sometimes frustrating mess, best seen as Zulueta’s onscreen self-psychoanalysis, performed in a  post-Franco atmosphere of loosened censorship that encouraged ecstatic excess. Any meaning the tale suggests disappears into the spaces between frames.

Arrebato was beloved by many Spaniards (and championed by Almódovar), but was unavailable outside of Spain for many years— and rarely screened even there. That changed in 2021 with the release of a restored version of the film to U.S. theaters, followed by a DVD and Blu-ray from weird/queer distributor Altered Innocence, via their arty “Anus Films” (groan) imprint. Visually, the print is grainy rather than pristine, appropriate for a movie in which the physicality of celluloid is immanent: the shooting, editing and processing of film is central to the plot. The experimental soundtrack (by Zulueta, with a contemporary punk anthem thrown in) is exceptional. The only special feature is the aforementioned Mike White commentary track, which gives important background information assisting viewers in appreciating this odd and sometimes difficult film.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Arrebato is a blighted, frightened piece of work. You may want to back away from it sometimes, but its weird, nodding, incantatory pull keeps you hanging around for another fix.”–Nick Pinkerton, 4 Columns (2021 re-release)

(This movie was nominated for review by “squater,” who raved “I’m sure any weird movie lover will recognise Arrebato as one of the weirdest movies in the world.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

25*. SAINT BERNARD (2013)

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Weirdest!

“I proudly slam my flag in the sand that Saint Bernard is not for ‘them’— whoever ‘them’ is, but you and I know who ‘them’ are— and I don’t want ‘them’ seeing the film.” —Gabriel Bartalos

DIRECTED BY: Gabriel Bartalos

FEATURING: Jason Dugre

PLOT: An orchestra conductor travels through an increasingly bizarre milieux while carrying a dog’s severed head in a bag.

BACKGROUND:

  • Gabriel Bartalos only directed two features, the bizarro slasher film Skinned Deep (2004) and this one. He was, however, much in demand as a practical special effects and makeup expert, working on many popular horror movies (including several projects). He also provided effects and makeup ‘sCremaster” films (2, 3, and 4).
  • The film is dedicated to Benoît LeStang, a French make-up/special effects artist involved in, among many other projects, Brotherhood of the Wolf.
  • Saint Bernard was shot on 35mm film over the course of 10 days in a screen ratio of 1.78:1; standard dimensions in France—a country somehow on the hook for producing this.
  • The movie is only known to have screened once—at the San Sebastian Horror and Fantasy Film Festival—before being released to Blu-ray in 2019.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Seeing as this story is chock-full of unsettling and grotesque sequences, the whimsical emergence of young conductor Bernard from a sweet-dreams variant of the Něco z Alenky mansion stands out for its sunny magical surrealism. The smiling lad in a crisp white suit and bow-tie ably batons through a classical performance amplified from an iPod for a receptive audience of his peers.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Doggie bag; Uncle Ed the Music Monster

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDSaint Bernard is intensely cryptic, but always engaging—even as the symbolism (or, perhaps mere randomness) is slapped on without mercy. Our cursèd conductor endures the unfathomable: liberation by chainsaw-wielding Frenchman; a run-in with a deformed wino police chief; a would-be escape through a fecal puddle emitted by Static Boy. Is it all meaningless? Perhaps; but this is Goremeister Arthäus . It may waste your time, but it does so with gooey gusto.

Original trailer for Saint Bernard

COMMENTS: “Hey, um, I need help,” admits the film’s protagonist at Continue reading 25*. SAINT BERNARD (2013)

LIST CANDIDATE: DISCO GODFATHER (1979)

AKA Avenging Disco Godfather

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DIRECTED BY: J. Robert Wagoner

FEATURING:

PLOT: When a local business magnate begins selling Angel Dust, he’d better watch out for Tucker Williams: an ex-cop turned… Disco Godfather.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: This was a borderline case right up until the final minutes, its tone kept a bit off-kilter by recurring PCP-hallucination interludes. With the protagonist (unwillingly) dosed to the eyeballs for the climax, Disco Godfather grooves into avowedly bizarre territory, culminating in a strangely unsettling closing shot.

COMMENTS: “He’s alone. But how? That’s what I call balls!”

Rudy Ray Moore, as the Disco Godfather, does have balls—and a mission to “attack the Wack!” That’s right. This “wack” threatens to ruin the Godfather’s dance-loving city, and more personally, to ruin his nephew’s NBA prospects. From the opening disco dance sequence, to the later disco dance sequences, even to the climactic martial arts raid, there is a lot of disco. Quotable lines twang forth like a steady bass-line. Hair is tall, as are the shoes, with heels as elongated as the collars are wide. (Face it, you already know from the title whether you want to see this.)

After the opening number wheels out the titular hero (nearly always referred to as “Disco Godfather”, even by his former boss, police Lieutenant Whitey Hayes), it then introduces Bucky: swell guy and aspiring basketballer who has fallen in with the wrong crowd. Through Bucky, the Disco Godfather is made aware of a new scourge assailing the city’s youth. The subsequent action is fairly by-the-numbers: the Godfather visits a PCP ward full of swaying crazies; he hits up the police station to confab with his ex-partners; he’s targeted for a hit by evil business; and, of course, he jives through a “cleaning up the city” montage, laying down some righteous violence on the dope peddlers while on a hunt for information leading to Mister Big. (All of this being scored, of course, to disco.)

So, Disco Godfather has more than enough disco to live up to its name. The question becomes: does it have enough weird? This is a question it takes its sweet time answering. Bucky’s hallucination sequence on the dance floor—having puffed an Angel Dusted cigarette—is a hint of the weirdness to come. Bucky exhibits strange tics, spastic behavior (remember, disco is supposed to be all about the Smooth, with a capital “Smoo”), and strange exclamations. But we are also shown what Bucky is enduring: an odd dark-room madness with red-eyed demons, basketballers wielding six guns, and a recurrent nightmare dancer brandishing a machete. Every time we witness a PCPerience, it’s a different variation of this macabre theme, with the most elaborate and sustained trip being that suffered by the Disco Godfather himself. Fusing low-rent effects, sinister voice-over, karate chops, the boogying bopper “Shermanizing/One Way Ticket To Hell” blaring in the background, and a Wacked-out Godfather, things get way out there, man.

Part disco dance movie, part blaxsploitation, and part evangelizing, Disco Godfather is an uneven experience, but whenever the choreography stumbles, it instantly bounces back into stylish saunter.  It’s got too much funk to be sunk, too much soul to feel old, and enough velour to ensure that when Tucker comes calling, the baddies start falling.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…in the final 20 minutes or so, the story goes off the rails—in a good way, like off the rails onto another set of sturdier, glossier rails. If Rod Serling ever had a bad trip, it might look a little like the psychological hall of mirrors that Tucker finds himself in. “–Hunter Lanier, FilmThreat.com

20*. BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009)

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“No, it’s not a remake.” –Werner Herzog

DIRECTED BY: Werner Herzog

FEATURING: Nicolas Cage, , Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner,

PLOT: Terence McDonagh, a New Orleans cop, suffers a permanent spinal injury when rescuing a convict neck-deep in floodwater from Hurricane Katrina. Shortly thereafter he is promoted to the rank of police lieutenant and develops an opiate addiction, accrues massive gambling debts, and finds himself investigating the murder of five Senegalese immigrants. Over the course of the case, he teams up with local crime kingpin, “Big Fate,” in the hopes of keeping his head above water.

BACKGROUND:

  • made the cult film Bad Lieutenant, starring as a drug, sex and gambling addicted cop investigating the rape of a nun, in 1992. Port of Call: New Orleans is neither a sequel nor a true remake.
  • The original New York City setting was changed at Nicolas Cage’s request in order to help New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. (How the gesture would accomplish this is unclear.)
  • Director Werner Herzog claimed to never have seen Abel Ferrara‘s original, only signing on to the project because Cage requested him so to do.
  • It took nearly a decade for Werner Herzog and Abel Ferrara to bury the hatchet after Ferrara expressed his dismay at the project going forward without any input from him.
  • Adding to his list of “unlikely ingestibles”, Nicolas Cage inhaled baby powder every time his character snorted cocaine (or heroin).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: With the entire feature viewed from Lieutenant McDonagh’s perspective, its unreliability is a given—this is a man who loves his uppers, downers, and sleep deprivation. On the off chance the viewer considers taking his story at face value, this notion is disabused by a pair of phantom iguanas eyed suspiciously by McDonagh to the dulcet tones of “Please Release Me.”

TWO WEIRD THINGS: “There ain’t no iguana”; break-dancing soul

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Cram a police procedural through the esoteric whims of Werner Herzog’s brain, then project this mishmash of corruption, drugs, nostalgia, and iguanas onto the frantic gesticulation of Nicolas Cage as a chronic back-pain sufferer going through some really heavy shit right now, and you have Bad Lieutenant.

Trailer for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

COMMENTS: Werner Herzog, by an almost objective reckoning, is Continue reading 20*. BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009)