Tag Archives: Flop

LIST CANDIDATE: THE APPLE (1980)

The Apple has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies ever made. Comments are closed on this post, please visit the Certified Weird entry to comment.

DIRECTED BY: Menahem Golan

FEATURING: Vladek Sheybal, Catherine Mary Stewart, George Gilmour

PLOT: An innocent pair of Canadian folk singers/lovers split up when the female falls under the spell of a Mephistophelean pop music promoter in this “futuristic” (set in 1994) musical fantasy.

Still from The Apple (1980)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: How do you solve a problem like The Apple?  This science-fictiony musical satire/religious allegory is an obvious attempt to cash in on the camp credibility of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but with the disco sensibility and glittery production values of Xanadu (also made in 1980).  The results are spectacularly uneven: the bizarre costuming, choreography, and psychedelic production numbers are actually pretty good in their deliberate excess, the songs range from annoying to quite hummable, and the rushed, out-of-nowhere messianic ending is an unforgettable cinematic disaster.  With RHPS already taking up a spot on the List in the “fantastical outré musical” category, I’m not sure that this similar (but less entertaining) movie is worthy of making it on the first ballot.  It’s more of a second tier midnight movie; but I wouldn’t rule The Apple out altogether.

COMMENTS: The Apple pulls you in many different directions: you’re never quite sure whether to tap your toes, roll your eyes, drop your jaw, or bring up your lunch. The plot, which mixes old MGM backstage musical themes with the Faustian corruption of show-biz innocents and a touch of dystopian literature, is familiar and easy to follow; it’s the production numbers that strangify things. The easiest way to simulate the insanity of The Apple is to take a track-by-track guided tour of the film.

“BIM’S on the Way.” (Representative lyric: “there ain’t no shame…”).  A full scale glam rock concert anthem, complete with dozens of backup singers, flashing multicolored lights, a disco ball, and a sheep-like chanting audience armed with green glowsticks, as two pop stars in sequined skullcaps screech out a propaganda ode to their corporate sponsor (B.I.M. Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE APPLE (1980)

LIST CANDIDATE: ARIZONA DREAM (1993)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Johnny Depp, Lili Taylor, Faye Dunaway, , Jerry Lewis

PLOT: Axel is a fish-tagger who reluctantly moves to Arizona to help his uncle run a car

Still from Arizona Dream (1993)

dealership; there, he becomes romantically entangled with an emotionally unstable older woman and her suicidal stepdaughter.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  The fish swimming through the desert past a Saguaro cactus and darting in and out of a Cadillac window certainly helps.  With intrusions of magical realism and pretentious pseudo-philosophizing by a cast of fish-counting dreamers, madwomen who dream of flying, suicidal turtle-loving accordion players and the comic tics of Jerry Lewis, Arizona Dream plays out like a European attempt to make a Coen brothers comedy.  It’s quirkiness magnified to a metaphysical level.  Considered scene-by-scene, the movie’s almost always interesting and funny, but it doesn’t stick together to create a satisfying vision, and its weirdness isn’t thorough enough to justify the lack of coherence.  It just misses making the List on the first ballot.  Mr. Kusturica need not sweat, however; even if Arizona Dream is ultimately denied admission to the Halls of Weirdness, he has plenty of other contenders on his resumé (Time of the Gypsies, Black Cat White Cat, and Underground) and he’s unlikely to be left out in the cold.

COMMENTS:I don’t want to completely false impression that Arizona Dream is a bad movie, but, given its considerable assets—a peak cast sinking their fangs into crazy characters, a visionary director, and some humdinger scenes—it’s fair to start out a review by defining what holds it back from being a great movie.  Arizona Dream is a movie that’s obviously eager to say something profound about the human condition, but has trouble spitting it out.  Instead, we get a parade of aphorisms that progress from “People think that fish are stupid, but I was always sure that they weren’t because they know when to be quiet and its people that are stupid, and fish that know everything and don’t need to think” to “even though I no longer felt like a fish, and realized I knew nothing, I was happy to be alive.”  There’s lots of talk about Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: ARIZONA DREAM (1993)

CAPSULE: DUNE (1984) [BLU-RAY]

DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING: , Kenneth McMillan, , Sean Young,

PLOT: As simply as I can put it: set in the year 10,191, inhabitants of three planets attempt to gain control of the “spice” Melange.  The substance extends life and allows space travel.  Whoever controls the spice controls the universe.  The planet Caladan, home of the House Atreides, is the main threat to the current emperor of the universe.  Duke Atreides son, Paul, appears to be the “chosen one” due to his special gifts of prophetic visions and skillfulness as a soldier.  Paul foresees the emperor’s plan to destroy the Artreides clan and sets out to take control of the spice and defeat their enemies.

Still from Dune (1984)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Dune is too confusing, an altogether jumbled mess, to give it any consideration for the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made.  There are too many characters, words, names and ideas that occupy the screen.  Overt weirdness does flit about many times, but is marred by cheap-looking special effects and poor acting.  Disappointing, considering who was at the helm of the picture.

COMMENTS: First off, being a new contributor, I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to cover three masters in the realm of weird cinema; Roeg, Cronenberg, and now David Lynch. Truth be told, Lynch is probably the greatest director in the pantheon of weird movies.  That said, this is the worst film David Lynch ever committed to celluloid.  I don’t think he would mind my saying so, as he too has publicly announced his hatred towards this film.  He refuses to talk about it in writings or interviews.  A production debacle, Lynch feuded bitterly with Dino de Laurentis to retain his artistic vision against the producer ‘s extravagance.  The film looks slapdash at times.  This problem likely stems from the complex source material: Frank Herbert’s 1965 cult sci-fi novel of the same name.  Lynch claimed  never to have read the book pre-production and to personally dislike the sci-fi genre.  For unclear reasons, he actually turned down the opportunity to direct Return of the Jedi to do this film.  I imagine Ewoks would have become much more menacing under the Lynchian lens.

Lynch came to direct only after several other directors bowed out due to differences and strife on the set.  One of the directors previously associated with the film was none other than Alejandro Jodorowsky, who planned on taking the film to new heights… a 14-hour epic!  Yeah, that didn’t fly.  What we are left with is a 137 minute hodgepodge of sci-fi jargon and mediocre direction.  Apparently different cuts exist; a 190 minute version has been aired in two parts for television.  The added material only caused more uproar with the legions of “Dune” fans, who thought the additional scenes and extended narration further stifled the already confusing flow of the theatrical cut.  Lynch has refused to release a director-approved cut, and demanded the pseudonym Jonas Booth replace his name on the extended television version.

There is way too much happening in this movie…all the time!  The multitude of characters, all with hard to pronounce names, come and go and never really make an impression.  The viewer is left wondering, “who is that?”, “are they important?,” and “what do they want?”  Ultimately, the answer to the last question is that they all want that damn spice.  Spice is cultivated on the planet Arrakis, or Dune, a desolate sand-covered planet; the only place where one can attain spice and thus total domination over the universe.  What protects the spice from any regular Joe-Schmoe getting at it?  Enormous man-eating worms, that’s what.  At least Lynch got to expand on his worm fixation.

I’ll refrain from putting in text the many characters that inhabit the different planets.  I will say the cast is fairly impressive and many went on to bigger and better roles.  The recognizable faces are: Patrick Stewart, Max von Sydow, Dean Stockwell, Sean Young, Virginia Madsen, and Eraserhead‘s own Henry, Jack Nance (almost unrecognizable without that pompadour).  The most impressive over-the-top performance comes from Kenneth McMillan as Baron Vladimir Harkkonen (see, I told you about the names).  He gets the chance to unspool some great weirdness in his role.  The disgusting pus-and-blood filled boils that crater his face; his ability to inflate his suit and hover around like a lumpy balloon; his crazed, madman line deliveries: he get props in the weird department.  He plays up his vileness quite nicely to cement his baddie status.

I don’t think Dune is complete garbage.  I’ve seen much worse.  The elaborate sets and ornate costumes are most impressive.  The Blu-ray picture quality is probably the best you’re ever going to get (is this the first Blu-ray film reviewed on this site?!?  Blu-ray is beautiful, and hopefully an expansion of weird titles is to come).  The colors are crisp and flaws are minimal.  Many of the set designs were created by the legendary H.R. Geiger of Alien fame (although he eventually dropped out of the production, many of his creations were still used).  Speaking of Alien, I saw many subtle similarities to other classic sci-fi films, with Star Wars leading the pack.  “May the force be with you” is changed to “may the hand of God be with you.”  Young Paul (MacLachlan) undergoes a training sequence very similar to the exercise blindfolded Luke Skywalker practiced on the Millennium Falcon; instead of a lightsaber, Paul uses some sort of laser gun to blast tips off harpoon spears that randomly thrust out of a fight simulator.

The action sequences and special effects are what bog this movie down to the depths of an over-blown ridiculous flop.  For as much money as this thing cost, it should have looked a whole lot better, even by 1984 standards.  The first action occurs when Paul trains in a battle simulation.  There’s a knife fight, but a force field shields the  combatants: it’s a box/cube that engulfs the person into something that looks straight out of Intellivision video games from three years earlier.  The final battle depicts heroic Paul in knife-combat with evil Harkkonen lackey Feyd, played by an insignificant Sting (looking like Sex Pistols-era John Lydon).  The fight is sloppily choreographed and lame.  Overall, a perfect descriptive term for this film… lame.

To get a final understanding of just how corny this movie can get, I’ll offer up three more tidbits in list form:

  1. A dog (a pug) features in several scenes.  Paul lovingly strokes its fur aboard a spacecraft.  His father, the Duke, carries it around like an ornament.  Most hilarious, though, is the scene in which Patrick Stewart’s character charges and screams in full-blown battle mode while cradling the mongrel in his arms.  Where’s a wookie when you need one?
  2. The guns that are controlled by screams and a certain pitch of voice.  A trigger needn’t be pulled.  Just yell.
  3. The potential effectiveness of the giant worms is completely squelched when Paul and his comrades mount, harness, and ride them into battle like horses.

I’m sorry David, your film is lame.  You know it.  I know it.  Still, you managed to get some devout followers.  I just can’t figure out why.

The Blu-Ray additional features include very rough deleted scenes that add nothing of significance.  Special features document the making of Dune and its sometimes cringe-worthy special effects.  There are also segments on the various models, miniatures, and costume designs, which I find to be the only saving grace of the film.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a brilliant mistake, misguided from the start but still aesthetically satisfying… Those who give it a chance…  will be rewarded with something surreal and strangely evocative…”–Bill Gibron, PopMatters (Blu-ray)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: SOUTHLAND TALES (2006)

DIRECTED BY: Richard Kelly

FEATURING: Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Justin Timberlake, Wallace Shawn, Miranda Richardson

PLOT: In an alternate-universe America controlled by a surveillance-happy government, the lives of several Los Angeles residents—including a disabled veteran, a police officer, an amnesiac movie star, and a cell of political revolutionaries—intersect on the eve of the apocalypse.

still from Southland Tales (2006)

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE:  Although its many subplots pile weird images and ideas on top of each other, many of them remain totally superfluous, and the film as a whole is a disappointing nexus of influences and half-baked premises rather than a cohesive work of art.  However, it does contain some moments of mesmerizing weirdness, and could have a chance of being certified weird in the future.

COMMENTS:  To follow up his impressive debut feature, Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly clearly wanted to challenge himself.  With Southland Tales, however, he bit off more than he could chew. All of Donnie Darko’s best and worst tendencies are on display (with an emphasis on the latter), but this time the showcase is twice as long, with enough intricate storylines and bizarre sci-fi subtexts to fill a dozen less ambitious movies.  With his second film’s epic size, Kelly lost the gently emotional touch that made Donnie’s coming-of-age so poignant; his fiery creative passion is still very perceptible here, but it’s obscured behind layers of apocalyptic razzle-dazzle, broad satire, and sophomoric humor.

In Southland Tales’ alternate timeline, Texas was struck by terrorist nukes in 2005, triggering World War III; this back story is filled in via a YouTube-style montage of video clips and hyperlinks.  It’s a genuinely original method of exposition, but alas, it’s a rare example of Kelly’s innovative spirit overcoming his love of non sequitur jokes and stunt casting.  While Donnie Darko just had Patrick Swayze’s unnervingly effective performance as a demagogic motivational speaker, Southland Tales crams in a disorienting array of surprise cameos and Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: SOUTHLAND TALES (2006)

LIST CANDIDATE: WHAT? [CHE?] (1972)

NOTE: In our December 2010 poll, readers decided we too hasty to dismiss What?, and voted to make it a candidate for the List.

AKA Diary of Forbidden Dreams

DIRECTED BY: Roman Polanski

FEATURING: Sydne Rome, ,

PLOT: An American hitchhiker in Italy loses her clothes and finds a Mediterranean villa full of oddball characters.

Still from What? (1972)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: What? is an absurdist sex comedy that’s highly absurd, mildly sexy, and not one bit comic.  It’s weird, all right, but also slapdash and frequently insufferable; in short, not good enough to make a List of the 366 Best Weird Movies.

COMMENTS:  Some films are ahead of their times, misunderstood on release, and are ripe for reappraisal years later.  And sometimes, the critics get it right the first time, as when they ran screaming from early showings of What?.  Sandwiched in between Roman Polanski’s intricately constructed classics Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974), What? seems like the improvised work of an overconfident director who believes he can do no wrong.  Polanski may be a genius, but light tone and full-out surrealism are a poor match to his talent for creating tension through subtly weird atmospheres.  The overarching concept is great, the assembled talent is impeccable, the Mediterranean setting is sublimely elegant, Sydne Rome is a perfect specimen of femininity… yet the script sucks all the life and fun out of the movie, delivering one scene after another that lands with a dull thud.  Heroine Rome, a hippie-esque ingenue, escapes a gang rape and flees to a villa inhabited by a cadre of eccentrics.  Foremost among them is Marcello Mastroianni, uncomfortably playing a dirty old man and ex-pimp.  Despite rumors of homosexuality and venereal diseases, Rome inexplicably falls for the lecher, and their trysts involve Mastroianni dressing in a tiger skin while she beats him or dressing like Napoleon while he beats her.  It’s a novelty to see an actor of Mastroianni’s status willingly degrade himself this way, but it’s neither as fun or as funny as it sounds.  Other poorly-sketched weirdos populating the mansion include a scuba diver (portrayed by Polanski) nicknamed Mosquito, a piano playing doctor, a dying patriarch who also turns out to be a dirty old man, a priest, and a naked woman wandering about the grounds.  Absurd gags fall flat: in one of the earliest, a housemaid sprays shaving cream in the air in an attempt to kill a fly.  Later, a workman will paint the back of Sydne’s appealing thigh blue, a rather uninteresting incident that the script insists on reminding us of over and over.  The biggest running gag is that someone keeps stealing Sydne’s clothes, although the thief doesn’t pilfer quite enough of them; there are long stretches of the movie where Rome runs around clothed. Not coincidentally, the movie then starts to drag.  A few clever ideas emerge, such as when certain scenes start to repeat themselves with slight variations, but in general the movie misses several golden opportunities to ratchet the absurdity up to truly entertaining levels.  Particularly disappointing is the dialogue; the potential for clever nonsense interplay between the innocent American and the depraved Europeans devolves into crude, uninteresting jokes.  A classical music score, references to Heraclitus, and paintings by Francis Bacon and Théodore Géricault in the background are deployed in an attempt to dress up the sleazy material in the clothes of high art.  What? isn’t recommended, but it can be viewed, and even enjoyed, as a novelty.  It’s unhinged, unpredictable, and full of that slightly naive and innocent late 1960s/early 1970s experimentalism that can be refreshing in this cynical age.  But it’s clearly a product of its time, not a work that transcends it.

The film that What? most resembles is the star-studded (Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, Ringo Starr) 1968 erotic misfire Candy, a doomed attempt to translate Terry Southern’s satirical porn novel to the screen.  The concept of an erotic version of “Alice in Wonderland,” with a wide-eyed innocent encountering a cast of sexual deviants, has great promise, but has never been executed properly on screen.   Alex de Renzy’s XXX feature Pretty Peaches (1978) is probably the movie that runs the farthest with that particular ball.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Polanski seems to be enjoying a weird, borderline-nonsensical joke at our expense, one without a punchline or a setup… a self-indulgent mess masquerading as a trippy free-for-all.”–Nathan Rabin, The Onion A.V. Club (DVD)

46. THE DARK BACKWARD (1991)

“The script was original, it had this carny/circus thing which I’ve always associated with Hollywood.  Let’s face it, it’s a freakshow out here, it’s a circus, we’re all on the merry-go-round.  And this cartoonish, kind of weird sensibility this film had, it was almost like a weird childhood memory of these local television shows I remember watching as a kid…”–Bill Paxton on why he was attracted to the script of The Dark Backward

DIRECTED BY: Adam Rifkin

FEATURING: Judd Nelson, , Wayne Newton, ,

PLOT: Marty Malt is a garbageman and aspiring stand-up comic with no talent and no confidence.  One day, a third arm begins to spontaneously grow out of his back.  Although his act hasn’t improved, the gimmick is enough so that greasy agent Jackie Chrome takes interest in him and his accordion-playing, garbage-eating buddy Gus.

Still from The Dark Backward (1991)
BACKGROUND:

  • The Dark Backward was the first script written by Adam Rifkin, who was only 19 years old at the time.  He would direct the film six years later at age 25.
  • The title was selected by opening the complete works of Shakespeare to a random page (the quote comes from “The Tempest,” Act I, Scene II: “How is it/That this lives in thy mind? What seest thou else/In the dark backward and abysm of time?”
  • James Caan reportedly agreed to appear in the film only after an insistent Rifkin called him at the Playboy Mansion.
  • Judd Nelson auditioned for the role by performing Marty Malt’s comedy routines, in disguise, at open-mike nights in Los Angeles.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Probably, one of the many images of Marty’s third arm, whether he displays it to the audience by mechanically spinning around after delivering another lame joke, or as doctor James Caan examines the embryonic fingers sprouting from the his back.  Individual viewers’ mileage may vary, however; you may be indelibly grossed out by the orgy with three morbidly obese women, or by Gus’ nauseating midnight snack of rotting chicken.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The premise alone—the world’s worst stand-up comic becomes a success after he sprouts a third arm from his back—immediately qualifies as weird.  For better and worse, director Rifkin doesn’t shy away from going whole hog into grotesquerie, churning out a first feature that looks like a technically polished version of an early John Waters film.

Clip from The Dark Backward

COMMENTS: If a therapist laid The Dark Backward down on a couch and psychoanalyzed Continue reading 46. THE DARK BACKWARD (1991)

28. THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975)

“You’ve seen all kinds of movies, but you’ve never seen anything like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is wonderfully weird. It’s fabulously freaky… The story is strange… the scenery is smashing… the cast is completely crazy!”–ad copy from the extended 3 minute trailer

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, ,

PLOT: In this musical, Brad and Janet, a very square, newly engaged couple, get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere in a rainstorm and seek shelter in a nearby castle. Inside, they find the building populated by a strange assortment of characters dominated by Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a “sweet transvestite from Transylvania.” Frank-N-Furter has created a blond bodybuilder named “Rocky Horror” for his own erotic enjoyment, and when the cast starts bedding each other jealousy rules the day—until a rival scientist in a wheelchair complicates matters even further when he arrives looking for his murdered son.

Still from Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

BACKGROUND:

  • The film was an adaptation of writer/actor Richard O’Brien’s hit stage show that began in London in 1973. The show also played Los Angeles with Tim Curry starring with a mostly American cast, including singer Meat Loaf as Eddie. The play opened on Broadway shortly before the film version debuted and was a flop, closing after a mere forty-five performances.
  • Fox Studios wanted to cast popular musicians of the day in the main roles (including Mick Jagger as Frank-N-Furter), but the producers accepted a lower budget in order to keep the cast from the stage production mostly intact. Meat Loaf had recorded a top 100 single years before, but would not become a major rock star until 1977 with the release of “A Bat Out of Hell”.
  • The film bombed on release, but gradually found cult audience through midnight screenings. As early as 1976 audiences had begun shouting their own dialogue back at the screen. This gradually developed into the unprecedented Rocky Horror audience participation ritual, where the audience is not only an active part of the movie experience, but the main attraction. Fans come to screenings dressed as their favorite characters, speak their own scripted counterpoint dialogue to the screen (being particularly rude to Barry Bostwick’s Brad) and bring along props (e.g., water pistols to simulate the rainstorm). In the more elaborate productions, amateur actors appear on a stage in front of the screen, dancing and pantomiming the lines during the musical numbers.
  • Rocky Horror has shown continuously in theaters since 1975, making it the longest running theatrical release of all time. The film has taken in almost $140 million in receipts, making it the 215th highest grossing film of all time (unadjusted for inflation).
  • MTV Networks has announced plans to remake the movie.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: No question; Tim Curry in full femme makeup and black leather and satin drag, dressed to make glam-era David Bowie look as macho as an NFL defensive lineman by comparison. The image will never leave your mind; for some, it will haunt your nightmares.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It’s a rock n’ roll musical inspired by old sci-fi and horror B-movies about an alien transvestite. From the moment Richard O’Brien conceived the idea, there was no doubt that it would be weird; the only question was whether he could mold it into something that was even mildly watchable.

Original trailer for The Rocky Horror Picture Show

COMMENTS:  Because we’re interested in weird movies here, not in weird sociological Continue reading 28. THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975)