Tag Archives: Horror/comedy

READER RECOMMENDATION: HOUSE [HAUSU] (1977)

The third submission in the June review writing contest: by Alex Kittle.

DIRECTOR: Nobuhiko Obayashi

FEATURING: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Yôko Minamida

PLOT: A group of fun-loving Japanese school girls plan to spend their summer at a

Still from House [Hausu] (1977)

beautiful, isolated mansion, but after experiencing some paranormal activity they eventually realize the house itself may want them DEAD!

WHY IT DESERVES TO MAKE THE LIST
:  “Weird” doesn’t even begin to describe this movie.  A floating head, a ravenous piano, sporadic animation, a laughing watermelon, a dancing skeleton, a glowing cat, gusts of wind that only affect one person, a host of aggressive, mobile objects, and a group of girls who REFUSE to acknowledge the weirdness: it defies explanation, really.

COMMENTS
House is a wondrous sight to behold, with delightfully trippy colors, spontaneous animated sequences, and experimental horror imagery; several sequences are reminiscent of home-made youtube music videos.  The effects are noticeably antiquated, but that just adds to the fun!  The entire film is really a collection of incredible, strange, and under-explained moments that left me as incredulous as I was tickled pink.  Cats fly, clocks bleed, mattresses, logs, and floating heads attack, skeletons dance, and a score of other ridiculous, unexpected things happen at every turn.

The bluntly-nicknamed characters are hilariously one-dimensional, each one relegated to her specific interest/trait.  Mac talks about nothing but eating, while Melody is only the focus when there’s a piano in the room (a very… hungry piano).  Fantasy is the only one who plays witness to most of the strange occurrences, and of course no one believes her for her overactive imagination.  Kung-Fu is by far the best character, handling every obstacle with badassery and no questions asked.  Also: she has the best hair.  Supporting characters include the girls’ heavily-sideburned teacher en route to the House but finding an impediment in bananas (that will make sense when you see it, I promise- well as much sense as it can make), a pudgy salesman with talking watermelons, and Gorgeous’s new step-mother, who literally cannot go more than 2 seconds without a gust of wind blowing romantically around her.  It’s a remarkable talent.

The dialogue oscillates between being frivolous and insanely over-dramatic, but the best part about it is its frequent insistence on completely ignoring what’s happening in its own movie.  Most of the weirdest scenes are just passed over by the characters without comment, and that just makes the “WTF?!” factor that much better.  House is a strange, strange, strange film and I absolutely loved it.   It’s hilarious, inventive, utterly unexpected, and lends no comparison to any other movie I’ve seen.  Look for it on Criterion in September 2010!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“You, my friend, lover that you are of the obscure, the grotesque, the inscrutable, and the just flat-out funky and awe-inspiringly eccentric, have never, ever seen anything like House (aka Hausu). Even by my permanently warped standards, House is beyond the pale: a surreal, indefinable piece of proto-Japanese horror/comedy that was made in 1977 (it was director Obayashi’s debut feature), only to find a second life at Austin’s Fantastia International Film Festival, Sitges, Fantasia Fest, and wherever connoisseurs of the outré, the outrageous, and the seriously freaky gather.”–Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle (rerelease)

CAPSULE: DEAD SNOW [DØD SNØ] (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Tommy Wirkola

FEATURING: Vegar Hoel, Charlotte Frogner, and other professional but fairly interchangable Scandinavian actors

PLOT: Eight medical students travel to a remote ski cabin for a little rest and relaxation,

Still from Dead Snow (2009)

only to find the snowbound retreat is haunted by pesky Nazi zombies.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  If it’s weird, it’s weird in a familiar way.  There’s a powerful “been there, done that” feel here that will satisfy those who just want to have another laugh in the face of the upcoming zombie apocalypse.

COMMENTS:  Despite garnering some minor praise after a successful midnight run at Sundance in 2009, Dead Snow is a derivative and dull affair—until a derivative but no-longer-dull final half hour, when it redeems itself with a nonstop, intestine spewing Nazi zombie slayathon that sweeps away all logical objections in a river of blood.  Even the key conceit of fascists as undead villains is nothing new—see Shock Waves (1977), Zombie Lake (1980), Oasis of the Zombies (1981)—it’s just that it hasn’t been done in quite a while.  The only thing that’s somewhat original about Dead Snow is the setting: I can’t remember a zombie movie that’s been played out in a winter wonderland (to better show the blood splatters on the virgin snow).  The setup seems to drag on forever, with eight medical students driving and hiking to a cabin in the scenic mountains, snowmobiling, listening to Scandinavian pop-metal, playing board games and drinking beer, and all of the time not making much of an impression as characters.  Eventually a grizzled old man from Oslo central casting wanders into the cabin to tell them the backstory about a unit of Nazis who hid some treasure in the region before the locals massacred them with farm implements.  Low-impact deaths of minor characters occasionally lighten the mood.  Dead Snow is a comedy, but mostly in the sense that it doesn’t take itself seriously, not in a way that makes you laugh.  The movie hits every possible horror movie cliche on its way to the final slaughter.  Instead of going to the trouble of thinking up some original Continue reading CAPSULE: DEAD SNOW [DØD SNØ] (2009)

CAPSULE: BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2003)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jeffrey Combs, Jason Barry, Elsa Pataky, Simón Andreu

PLOT: A brilliant young med school graduate gets himself assigned to the institution where Dr. Herbert West is imprisoned so that he can enlist the good doctor’s assistance in continuing his forbidden experiments in reanimating the dead.

Still from Beyond Re-animator (2003)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Beyond is a welcome third installment in the Re-Animator saga that continues the series’ tradition of going way over-the-top, but though it’s deranged, nonsensical fun, it’s not even the weirdest entry in its own franchise.

COMMENTS: Fans of the taste-challenged Re-Animator series should be pleased with this charmingly grotesque third sequel, which zips along briskly with a delightful disrespect for logic to a phantasmagorically bloody zombie prison riot finale.  Jeffery Combs, now middle-aged but still looking like a eternally perturbed boy genius, returns as Dr. Herbert West to inject his deadpan wit into the proceedings while the world goes mad around him.  A large part of Dr. West’s mad charisma comes from the fact that he’s constantly sowing seeds of chaos by pushing forward into realms where man was not meant to meddle, then staring at the carnage with a slightly befuddled frown as yet another reanimated corpse unexpectedly turns homicidal.  Obsessed and opportunistic, he’s a nerdy Dr. Frankenstein with an unabashedly amoral streak, who always emerges from his own foul ups unscathed while his unlucky companions end up in the charnel house.  West’s experiments on rats in prison have led him to believe that he can use electricity to restore the souls of re-animated corpses and keep them from killing off the nubile women who always happen to be standing around whenever a new zombie pops up.  This time around, it’s a Doogie Hauser-esque young prison MD who risks everything to help West better the lot of mankind by mixing up a new vat of glowing green reanimation juice, but through a long string of unfortunate occurrences ends up getting kickboxed about the head by a hot zombie dominatrix for his troubles.  Even though this entry aims more for comedy than horror, the atmosphere is eerie: what’s spookier than a half-abandoned post-riot prison, with sounds of massacres echoing in the background while burning toilet paper rolls cast the shadows of iron bars on gray stone walls?  The crazed climax gives us about as many zombie-hyphenates as any reanimated corpse fan could hope for: zombie-rats, zombie-girlfriends, a half-zombie, zombie-vision, zombie-fellatio.  There’s also a pill-popping prisoner who gets hooked on reanimation fluid, leading to the flick’s most bizarre and surreal gag, and a “cockfight” that must be seen to be believed.  All in all, Beyond Re-Animator should leave your lower jaw hanging reasonably close to the ground, which is all we ask for in any movie with “Re-Animator” in the title.

Technically inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, though not at all uncanny, Beyond Re-Animator is set in mythical Arkham, Massachucets.  To get that New England ambiance down perfectly, Yuzna hired a team of regional filmmakers—guys like screenwriter José Manuel Gómez and executive producer Carlos Fernández—guys with mucho dinero, who understand that an authentic Massachusetts prison looks exactly like something you’d find on the outskirts of Barcelona.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…leads to a wonderfully degenerate 30-minute final sequence that involves not only lotsa gore and f/x but also some genuinely surreal visual wit.”–Jonathan Holland, Variety (contemporaneous)

33. EVIL DEAD II (1987)

AKA Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn “What distinguishes Evil Dead II is that it isn’t a horror film with comic moments or a comedy with frightening moments. It is instead a true horror-comedy that taps into the fact that both comedy and horror rely on weirdness, incongruity, and shock.”–Victoria Large, Brattle Theater Film Notes

Must See

DIRECTED BYSam Raimi

FEATURING: Bruce Campbell

PLOT:  Young Ash takes his girlfriend to a deserted cabin in the woods for a weekend of romance; unfortunately, the hideout was the former abode of a deceased archaeologist who had discovered a “Book of the Dead” the ancients believed could call forth an evil spirit and allow it to possess the bodies of the living and the dead.  Ash plays an old tape by the professor in which he reads the magical words of summoning, and the spirit does indeed come and possess Ash’s girlfriend (whom he is forced to dispatch gruesomely).  That’s only the beginning of Ash’s troubles, however, as, trapped in the cabin, now must fight off a horde of demonic presences, at first all alone and later with the help of the professor’s daughter and her companions.

Still from Evil Dead II (1987)

BACKGROUND:

  • Evil Dead II is much more a remake of, rather than a sequel to, Raimi’s low-budget drive-in hit The Evil Dead (1981) (although that point is technically debated among fans). Where The Evil Dead was a straightforward horror movie, Evil Dead II is a comedy in a horror setting.  Actor Bruce Campbell reprises his role as Ash from the first film; it was this performance that made him into a cult actor.
  • This was Raimi’s third feature film, after The Evil Dead and the weird, Coen brothers scripted comedy Crimewave! (1985).  He would go on to mainstream success when he was tapped to direct the Spider-Man series.
  • Powerful horror novelist Stephen King, a fan of the first Evil Dead, introduced Raimi to Dino de Laurentiis and convinced the producer to fund Evil Dead II after Raimi declined an offer to adapt King’s story Thinner.
  • Followed by a sequel, Army of Darkness (1992).  Rumors of a fourth film in the series have circulated since the mid nineties; currently, an Evil Dead IV is listed as “in development” on the Internet Movie Database, although this is far from an assurance that a fourth film will be made.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Ash fighting his own disembodied hand: a scene that starts out creepy, but becomes a slapstick routine, ending up in a groan-inducing pun.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Oddly, Evil Dead II‘s credentials as a weird film are called into


Original trailer for Evil Dead II

question by its almost unqualified embrace by critics and gorehounds alike: can anything that is so widely beloved, anything that fails to alienate either the high or the lowbrow, really be authentically weird?  In fact, Evil Dead II is only slightly weird, but the events of the cabin feverish middle portion of the film—where the battered Ash seems to be hallucinating the horrific events—are just bizarre enough to make Evil Dead II eligible for inclusion on list of the weirdest films of all time.  Add to those scenes the over-the-top gore, slapstick and constant surprises of the film’s last half, and you get a lovable mish-mash of a movie with a one-of-a-kind comic tone that is too exhilarating to be left off a list of the weirdest movies of all time.

COMMENTS:  The quality and sheer fun of Evil Dead II don’t need a defense.  It’s hard to Continue reading 33. EVIL DEAD II (1987)

23. THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988)

“This fearful worm would often feed on cows and lamb and sheep,
And swallow little babes alive when they lay down to sleep.
So John set out and got the beast and cut it into halves,
And that soon stopped it eating babes and sheep and lambs and calves.”

–Lyrics to “The D’Ampton Worm” from Lair of the White Worm
Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Ken Russell

FEATURING: Amanda Donohoe, Hugh Grant, Catherine Oxenberg, Peter Capaldi, Sammi Davis, Stratford Johns

PLOT:  An archeology student visiting the British countryside digs up an elongated skull he assumes belongs to an dinosaur while excavating the site of a buried convent, now an English bed-and-breakfast run by two young sisters.  Lord James D’Ampton is the boyfriend of one of the sisters, and also the descendant of a legendary D’Ampton who reputedly slew a dragon (the “D’Ampton Worm”) that had terrorized the countryside.  After wintering in climes unknown, slinky and regal Lady March returns to her mansion and discovers the skull, after which strange events begin to transpire…

Still from Lair of the White Worm (1988)

BACKGROUND:

  • Russell’s script was very loosely based on Bram (“Dracula”) Stoker’s 1911 novel, although the similarity almost ends with the shared title.
  • This was Russell’s second horror film in three years after Gothic (1986).
  • Hugh Grant had roles in six films released in 1988, including portrayals of Chopin and Lord Byron.
  • This was Amanda Donohoe’s second starring role in a feature film.  She went on to greater fame when she joined the cast of the hit T.V. show “L.A. Law” in 1990.  Catherine Oxenberg, on the other hand, had made a name for herself on the hit T.V. show “Dynasty,” and this was her first feature role in a theatrical release.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: A 30 second hallucination sequence featuring Roman soldiers raping nuns before a cross on which a monstrous worm slithers over a crucified Jesus while a topless blue vampire woman looks on joyfully, waggling her tongue.  The scene is dressed up in lurid colors and performed in front of a deliberately cheesy looking blue-screen inferno.  So over-the-top and parodic that it’s not nearly as offensive as it sounds.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Ken Russell throws a handful of his typically excessive hallucination/dream sequences into what is otherwise a subtle horror parody, creating a minor masterpiece of deliberate camp blooming with ridiculously memorable scenes.

Original trailer for Lair of the White Worm

COMMENTS:  The one word that immediately comes to mind to describe Ken Russell’s The Continue reading 23. THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988)

14. BLOOD DINER (1987)

“I mean, I don’t know how to describe it. But I just did. It’s just an insane f***in’ movie with insane parts. You’re watching it, it gives these curves that you didn’t see coming, until probably I just told you and showed you in the review. But it’s just I don’t even know how else to review it, you know, the, it’s just insane. It’s an insane f****in’ movie. Uncle Bill, you’re insane for liking it, and I’m insane for liking it too. It’s just insanity incarnate. But it’s a lot of fun.”–youtube fan review of Blood Diner

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Jackie Kong

FEATURING:  Rick Burks, Carl Crew

PLOT:  At the direction of their uncle Anwar, a talking brain in a jar, two restaurateur brothers assemble a vessel composed of body parts harvested from immoral women to receive the spirit of the ancient Egyptian goddess Sheetar.  They are opposed by a pair of mismatched cops and the owner of a rival vegetarian restaurant intent on stealing their secret recipe.  After many bloody murders, they must complete only the last ritual, a “Lumerian feast” where Sheetar will take the life of a virgin, along with the attendees at the banquet.

Still from Blood Diner (1987)

BACKGROUND:

  • Blood Diner was originally intended to be a sequel to Herschell Gordon Lewis’ transcendently bad Blood Feast (1963), but when the collaborators could not agree on a scenario the project was changed to a black comedy tribute in the spirit of Lewis’ movie
  • Blood Diner was originally banned in some Canadian provinces and in Iceland, and was heavily cut for release in other countries.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  As drug-zombies rave and cultists in Egyptian dress attempt to channel the goddess into a stitched-together corpse, a punk band (composed of a singer in a Roman helmet, two backup singers in blue wigs, four sidemen dressed as Hitler and a pantomime horse roaming the stage) plays in the background.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Most movies featuring talking brains in a jar are weird, and Blood Diner is no exception.


Original trailer for Blood Diner

COMMENTS: There was little in female exploitation director Jackie Kong’s brief oeuvre to Continue reading 14. BLOOD DINER (1987)

CAPSULE: GRAVEYARD ALIVE: A ZOMBIE NURSE IN LOVE (2003)

Beware

PLOT: A dowdy nurse contracts an odd strain of the zombie virus which changes her into
a flesh-eating sex maniac.


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  There are plenty of weird elements in this low-budget B&W horror comedy, from slightly out-of-sync dubbing to deliberate overacting to Eraserhead-inspired dream sequences, but they seem forced and shallow, like an attempt by the filmmakers to distance themselves from the thin material they have to work with.

COMMENTS:  One of the hardest things to do in the movie universe is to make deliberate camp.  Yet, it’s a pitfall that beginning directors seem to fall into over and over.  They want the audience to realize that they are too talented to be making a silly zombie nurse movie, when what the audience really wants is to not notice the direction and enjoy a silly zombie nurse movie.  There is some talent on display here, especially in the black and white photography, but overall the humor is alternately too subtle and too broad to work.  It’s obvious that the filmmakers and the crew and actors (who worked for free) enjoyed themselves tremendously, and that do-it-yourself enthusiasm comes across on screen and makes the movie seem less of a failure than it might otherwise have been.

Parts of the movie are obviously inspired by the look and feel of the films of fellow Canadian Guy Maddin.  In fact, the movie was originally intended to be silent (which may help explain some of the mugging for the camera from the guy who played “handsome” doctor).  The dubbing was added later by different voice actors, after the director and producers decided Graveyard Alive didn’t work as a modern silent.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“You have to be able to master the genre you plan to mock, or your movie will die of shame… Merely parading bad actors spouting cretinous dialogue does not make a movie funny or effective. Striking a pose and chewing the scenery does not create a character on screen. Deliberately applying cheeseball makeup does not turn an actor into a campy horror zombie.” -Bruce Kirkland, Jam! Magazine