Tag Archives: Dysfunctional family

CAPSULE: THE BABY (1973)

DIRECTED BY: Ted Post

FEATURING: Ruth Roman, Anjanette Comer, Marianna Hill, Suzanne Zenor, David Mooney [as David Manzy]

PLOT: A social worker becomes obsessed with a case involving a family with an adult son

Still from The Baby (1973)

with the intellect of a one-year old, who sleeps in a crib and wears a diaper.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Baby‘s infantilism premise, which is handled with an almost disconcerting matter-of-factness, is outlandish, but the film is fairly conventional in its execution.

COMMENTS: Although it has a minor cult following, for the most part The Baby is a fairly ordinary thriller with low production values.  Director Post had previously worked extensively in television, and his direction here shows it: it’s efficient, competent, but unexciting.  But the colorful material overcomes the pedestrian direction, and you can see why this one stuck in people’s memory: the film “stars” an actor in his twenties who sucks his thumb and sleeps in a crib, and no one in the movie seems to think this is the slightest bit odd.  His teenage babysitter even changes his adult-sized diapers without a second thought.  That The Baby is also filled with hints (and often more) of psychosexual perversity—infantilism, sadism, pathological possessiveness—doesn’t hurt its memorability quotient a bit.  And despite the movie’s made for TV feel, there are a couple of things that it does very well.  The acting is uneven, but Ruth Roman brings verve to her role as the bitter old matron who’s willing to do anything to keep her Baby.  She channels Joan Crawford’s looks, Suzanne Pleshette’s voice, and Shelly Winters’ orneriness; by the end, she’s become a Ma Barker-style family queenpin, masterminding plots and directing her two oversexed girls on kidnapping and rescue missions.  (Perhaps coincidentally, and perhaps not, the family’s “two sexually predatory sisters and a nonverbal idiot brother” sibling structure replicates the even weirder clan from Jack Hill’s Spider Baby [1968]). Roman provides so much bitchy fun that you wish she’d thrown all restraint out the window and gone into full bore Mommie Dearest histrionics (if she had, the film really would be the undisputed camp classic it claims to be).  The downside of Roman’s charisma is that she sets off the soap opera-level talents of the pretty but vapid actresses hired to play against her.  Speaking of bad acting, though, nothing beats David Manzy’s head-lolling, mouth-breathing performance as Baby.  His attempts at infantile mewling and babbling are embarrassing.  Maybe that’s why (some viewers report) in earlier television screenings of the film, Manzy’s voice was overdubbed with the cries of a real baby!  It’s hard to say Manzy’s performance is bad—we don’t really have any other adult infant characters like Baby to compare it against, and maybe this is exactly how a twenty-year old with the brain of a one-year old would act—but it is ridiculous-looking.  Besides Roman’s performance, the other thing that stands out about The Baby is the twist ending.  For most of its running time, the movie does the minimum necessary to keep you interested.  There will be long sequences of the social worker visiting Baby, lightly fencing with Roman and her daughters over the best interests of the child, and just when you start checking your watch and wondering whether this is all the movie’s got, bam—Baby will do something wrong and need to be punished, providing another kinky plot development that gives the film life again for a few more minutes.  The twist ending operates in the same way, coming after the movie has taken an unexpected but unsuspenseful detour into slasher movie territory for the climax, with characters being picked off one by one in a too-dark house.  Then, just as you’re about to yawn and put The Baby to bed, there’s a pleasantly perverse little jolt at the end that wakes you up and makes you look at the film with new eyes.

Severin Films re-released The Baby in 2011 in a widescreen version remastered from the original negative.  The movie had previously been available on DVD in a couple of inferior incarnations, one from Image Entertainment and in a no-frills full screen version from the now-defunct Geneon, a company specializing in anime.  Severin’s release  adds only a few extras—the original trailer and telephone interviews with director Post and “star” Mooney—but it’s the best presentation the film’s fans are likely to see for an almost 40-year old camp thriller.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a strangely interesting little curio. If you’re in the mood for something unabashedly off-the-wall, then it should be worth your while to check it out.”–porfle, HK and Cult Film News (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by our own Eric Gabbard,who called it “weird but well constructed.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: THE QUIET (2005)

DIRECTED BY:  Jamie Babbit

FEATURING:  Elisha Cuthbert, Camilla Belle, Edie Falco, Martin Donovan, Katy Mixon

PLOT: A deaf girl becomes ensnared in her adoptive family’s amoral dysfunctions.

Still from The Quiet (2005)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:   The Quiet is an artfully produced, comparatively non-formulaic independent film, but it’s not a dramatic enough departure from the thriller genre to constitute a truly weird viewing experience.

COMMENTS:  Strong sexual themes ground this strange tale of a family slowly going insane.  After her father’s untimely death, deaf-mute teenager Dot (Belle) is taken in by her godparents (Donovan, Falco) who from outward appearances have a conventional, affluently idyllic suburban life along with their cheerleader daughter Nina (Cuthbert).  Dot’s transition is derailed by increasingly disturbing conflicts and revelations. Her new family has dark secrets.

A sick, twisted dysfunctionality plagues the household.  Trapped between an opiate addict mother, licentious father, homicidal sister, and perverted new beau, Dot struggles to keep her perspective.  Unable to readily communicate, and with no outside party to turn to, Dot is at a disadvantage when her demented new family draws her into a sordid web of immorality and charade.  The line between spider and fly becomes blurred, however, when it turns out that Dot harbors her own eerie enigma.

The Quiet rips the facade from blissful, suburban tranquility in the tradition of movies such as American Beauty and The Safety Of Objects.  Less satirical than the former and not as convoluted as the later, The Quiet is a suspenseful drama with an hypnotic narrative tone reminiscent of One Day Like Rain and Make-Out with Violence.

The Quiet is a well produced film with a perverse story.  It does not set out to be a black comedy, or a sophisticated social indictment of suburbia, although it contains some elements of both.  Neither is it a movie with a message or mere exploitation.  The Quiet is a simple, racy, psychological thriller.  With some hauntingly memorable dialogue, it is arty yet lucid, brooding and visually dark.  While more twists and turns would have provided greater depth, it is structurally complete enough to be worthwhile for patrons seeking a departure from blockbusters, crowd-pleasers, and annoying Lifetime Network potboilers.

Feminist director Jamie Babbit’s other films include But I’m A Cheerleader and Itty Bitty Titty Comittee.  Viewers will recognize Cuthbert from the sensational The Girl Next Door.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…flirts with the trappings of exploitation cinema without going all the way. The director… suggestively crowds her two talented leads together, but can’t push them or the film into the fairy-tale surrealism to which she seems to aspire.”–Manohla Dargis, The New York Times (contemporaneous)


The Quiet trailer

74. VISITOR Q [Bijitâ Q] (2001)

“Some things are truly strange.”–Father from Visitor Q, preparing to commit an unnatural act

DIRECTED BY: Takashi Miike

FEATURING: Shungiku Uchida, Ken’ichi Endô, Kazushi Watanabe, Jun Mutô, Fujiko

PLOT: Father is a television reporter who was publicly humiliated when he was sodomized on camera by a gang of punks, Mother turns tricks to pay for her heroin habit, teenage Daughter is a runaway prostitute, and Son beats his mom with a riding crop when he’s not being bullied by his schoolmates. One day, a strange man conks Father on the head with a rock and moves in to stay with the family. Thanks to his influence Mother and Father gain confidence in themselves, and the family is drawn together, as corpses pile up in their home.

Still from Visitor Q (2001)
BACKGROUND:

  • Visitor Q was made as part of the “Love Cinema” project, where six independent Japanese filmmakers made direct-to-video movies to explore the possibilities of the ne digital video format.
  • According to Miike the film was shot for a mere seven million yen (about $70,000) and completed in one week.
  • There are several times in the film where boom mics are visible.
  • Miike’s  plot owes much to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema (1968), in which a mysterious, nameless visitor serially seduces members of a wealthy Italian family.
  • Besides acting, the multi-talented Shungicu Uchida (“Mother”) is also a manga artist, singer, and writer.
  • Visitor Q was one of two winners of the 2010 “reader’s choice” poll asking 366 Weird Movies’ readership to select one film that had been reviewed but passed over for inclusion on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: In a movie full of shock after shock, it’s the very last image, a scene of perverse family unity, that turns out to be the most affecting and haunting.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Visitor Q is a baffling parable of perversity.  What starts out as a depraved but unhappy family ends up as a homicidal and unified clan, thanks to the intervention of a mysterious, omnipotent stranger who cracks the father on the skull with a rock and teaches the mother to lactate. Along the way, Miike films the family graphically indulging in every act of sexual deviance he can think of, and even makes up some new ones.


Short clip from Visitor Q

COMMENTSVisitor Q is a confounding, bewildering movie, and not just because of the Continue reading 74. VISITOR Q [Bijitâ Q] (2001)

CAPSULE: GIRLY [AKA MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY AND GIRLY] (1970)

DIRECTED BY:  Freddie Francis

FEATURING:  Ursula Howells, Vanessa Howard, Michael Bryant

PLOT:  The four titular characters form a dysfunctional family living in a large, isolated house amidst rambling grounds.  Sonny and Girly regularly venture out to bring back lonely, homeless men as “friends” for the family. Each friend’s well being depends on his willingness to abide by the family’s bizarre rules and games. The latest friend adapts only too well, turning the family’s rules against them and revealing the sexual frustrations and power games simmering just below the surface gloss of nursery rhymes and tea parties.Scene from Girly (1970)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It just isn’t weird enough.  Whether you consider it weird at all probably depends on whether you grew up with this brand of self conscious black humour.  The British are traditionally fond of it, for reason’s best known to ourselves.  Murderous, nonsense-prattling dysfunctional families are as mother’s milk to us, so this really didn’t seem all that odd to me.  Pared down to basics this is a tale of four maladjusted people, who may or may not be related, who seem to be independently wealthy and are isolated from society.  They have formed a family unit and devised a set of perverse games and rules to pass the time.  Periodically they lure in a lonely outsider, subject him to their games and when he inevitably breaks a rule, they kill him and film the proceedings.  Certainly it’s a little off kilter, but  in the company of the Premier League weirdness on this site it just doesn’t measure up.

COMMENTS:  If you are charmed by the idea of adults chattering out nonsense in sing song voices and constantly referring to themselves in the third person then I’ve got good news for you… this film has it in spades!  I’m not entranced by it, so the first ten minutes were touch and go.  A brief cameo by character stalwart Michael Ripper was enough to distract me, though, and I gradually found myself becoming interested in what was developing.  The first fifteen minutes or so of the film are an introduction to the games and rules.  Sonny and Girly are out at the crack of dawn scouting out park benches and ferreting under newspapers in their search for a New Friend.  The last Friend has apparently proven himself unsatisfactory Continue reading CAPSULE: GIRLY [AKA MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY AND GIRLY] (1970)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: VISITOR Q [Bijitâ Q] (2001)

Due to popular demand, Visitor Q has been re-evaluated and certified weird, and the review has been updated to a full entry. This initial review is left here for archival purposes.

DIRECTED BY: Takashi Miike

FEATURING: Ken’ichi Endô, Shungiku Uchida, Kazushi Watanabe, Jun Mutô, Fujiko

PLOT: A bizarrely dysfunctional Japanese family—dad is a TV reporter on haitus after

Still from Visitor Q (2001)

being sodomized by interviewees on camera, mom is a heroin addict and part-time hooker, son is bullied at school and beats his mother at home—becomes even stranger and more antisocial after a mysterious stranger shows up in their home.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: It’s bizarre indeed, but Visitor Q is more interested in grossing out its viewers than it is in weirding them out.  It’s more a shock movie that’s incidentally weird than a weird movie that happens to be shocking.  The film doesn’t lack for surreality, or its own peculiar kind of quality within its type, but it seems to fit more comfortably into the shock genre than the weird genre.

COMMENTS:  Watching Visitor Q, I found myself wishing Miike had the courage to make the hardcore porn fetish movie that he really wanted to make, instead of pulling his punches by wrapping the psychological nudity in gauzily transparent strips of art and satire.  After all, the movie’s prime showpieces are father-daughter for-pay incest, sodomy by microphone, insanely copious lactation, rape, and necrophilia, all shown with as pornographic a level of explicitness as Miike could get away with (there is genital fogging, though unfortunately in a key scene there is no anal fogging).  In a virtually unshockable age, it would have been truly audacious for the bad-boy director to make an out-and-out porn film without artistic pretensions; as it is, by sprinkling his fetish video with a little redeeming surrealism, all Miike risked with the project was being hailed as the Japanese Passolini.

Visitor Q doesn’t lack either for weirdness or technical quality.  Starting with the latter, Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: VISITOR Q [Bijitâ Q] (2001)