Tag Archives: Italian

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: IN SEARCH OF THE TITANIC (2004)

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Tentacolino

DIRECTED BY: Kim Jun-Ok

FEATURING THE VOICES OF: Jane Alexander (not that one), Anna Mazzotti, Francis Pardeilham, Gregory Snegoff

PLOT: Attacked while on an undersea exploration to find the wreckage of the Titanic (which evidently suffered no casualties following its run-in with an iceberg thanks to the intervention of an enormous doe-eyed squid), survivors Elizabeth and Don Juan, talking dog Smile and incorrigible talking rats Ronnie and Top Connors are rescued by the denizens of Atlantis, who ally with them in a battle against an army of rebellious rats, a group of shark inmates, and the evil human Lord Vandertilt, who wants the valuable shipwreck all to himself.

Still from In Search of the Titanic (2004)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: What ought to be a simple quick-buck exploitation to lure in dumb kids and their undiscerning parents by ripping off such entertainments as The Little Mermaid, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and ’s Titanic swims proudly into its own realm of insanity. Impossible to dismiss as merely incompetent, the unfolding story contains enough deliberate intentions to force its consideration as art. The choices are almost painfully strange, forcing you to question the very fabric of reality. It’s like if a Penrose triangle were a movie.

COMMENTS: If you decided to turn off In Search of the Titanic after two minutes (a reasonable desire)—having only watched the opening credits consisting of scene snips from this film’s predecessor in which a man dances with a dog, an enormous octopus forces the two broken halves of the Titanic back together, and a blue whale catches a couple after they have fallen from the mighty ship’s deck—you could still make a solid case for it as one of the weirdest movies ever made. Having taken this hiatus from the film, you might then take a moment to dig into the history of its animation studio, which is based in North Korea and which has handled outsourced work for The Simpsons Movie and Avatar: The Last Airbender, at which point you might feel as though you were losing your grip and start doing that thing where you try to read a book because supposedly you can’t read in your dreams. But at this critical juncture, let me encourage you to head back to the film. Stick around. Ride this out. Watch the whole movie. Because believe me, your descent into madness is just getting started. Go with it. Let the insanity rain down upon you like mighty waters.

Because even after you meet the talking dog and the sharks who work on an underwater chain gang and the CGI that came from a 1990s DVD menu, it still hasn’t gotten amazing yet. You see, you haven’t met the leader of the sharks. You haven’t seen him wearing the dress-whites of the Titanic’s captain. You definitely haven’t heard him start to rap. And you certainly haven’t heard his backup chorus of clams who also double as a telegraph machine. Only when you’ve gotten this far can you even begin to imagine the scale of the Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: IN SEARCH OF THE TITANIC (2004)

CAPSULE: L’INFERNO (1911)

DIRECTED BY: Francesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan, Giuseppe De Liguoro

FEATURING: Salvatore Papa, Arturo Pirovano, Emilise Beretta, Augusto Milla

PLOT: In the company of the poet Virgil, Dante Alighieri descends into Hell, where he discovers the variety of malefactors consigned to the netherworld by their misdeeds on Earth and the array of torments visited upon them.

Still from L'Inferno (1911)

COMMENTS: When the pioneers of the Italian film industry set about creating the country’s first feature-length motion picture (a format still in its infancy in 1911), they most decidedly did not screw around. No, they went straight for an adaptation of a foundational piece of literature, the one that did as much as anything to establish the language and the national identity. Without hesitation, they turned to Dante.

It’s an ambitious undertaking. “The Inferno,” the first part of Dante’s epic Divine Comedy, is a true horror story, a warning about the torture that awaits sinners in the afterlife. Part of what made Dante’s work so noteworthy was his willingness to name names. Various popes, Holy Roman Emperors, and other notable figures are depicted, along with their crimes and punishments. And his God is a harsh one: Julius Caesar’s assassins undergo perpetual torment, but Caesar himself was relegated to Limbo, an inferior paradise for those who made the terrible mistake of existing on Earth before Christ. It took a very pure life to stay out of Dante’s Hell, and he was only too happy to reveal the consequences of failure.

If all it took to get on our list was the “Indelible Image” category, L’Inferno would make the cut in a cakewalk. The limited practical and special effects of early cinema yield terrific results, conveying Hell as a real and horrible place in spectacular fashion. The harsh landscapes are difficult to navigate, and usually strewn with writhing bodies in some unholy mix of Hieronymous Bosch paintings and Spencer Tunick photographs. Multiple exposures conjure up rivers in the sky composed of thousands of the damned. Forced perspective brings the travelers into the realm of the mighty and rageful Pluto, and blackout techniques permit one doomed soul to carry his own head. The film’s climactic tableau combines these methods and more to present a three-mouthed Lucifer devouring some of history’s most notorious traitors; it resembles nothing so much as Goya’s grotesque classic “Saturn”. This appears simplistic to modern eyes but remains quite powerful in its effect. It’s as though the filmmakers carefully studied the magical techniques of Georges Méliès for the sole purpose of applying them to horror.

But alas, imagery alone is not enough to make a weird movie. The film of “The Inferno” suffers from the format that inspired it: it’s a travelogue. A travelogue through Hell, but a winding, episodic tour nonetheless. Dante visits a new circle of Hell, Virgil explains what the condemned did on Earth and what fate awaits them now, and we see that fate enacted. There’s not much more to it, so that this work of tremendous faith and contrition is reduced to a haunted house. Hell? It’s pretty bad, say the filmmakers. Rinse and repeat.

L’Inferno is a landmark film, and it creates dramatic and powerful screen pictures that most modern CGI-powered spectacles would be hard-pressed to match. Those pictures are often ugly and monstrous, and the rhythms are repetitive, which is probably why it hasn’t endured like more fantastical or pastoral works of the period. But it certainly deserves to be remembered. To abandon it to history would be a sin.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Anyone with an interest in the history of cinema should make an effort to seek this film out. Rightly famous, it is quite bizarre, unique and — in a way — haunting.” – Richard Cross, 20/20 Movie Reviews

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

23*. JULIET OF THE SPIRITS (1965)

Giulietta degli spiriti

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“I remember I had some exaltation about color. I see colors not like they are normally – we see colors in the object. In this case, I saw colors, just as they are, detached from the object. I had for the first time the feeling of the presence of the color in a detached way.”–Federico Fellini

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Mario Pisu

PLOT: Juliet, a wealthy housewife, has reason to suspect her husband is cheating on her. She has always been attuned to the spirit world, and after a seance she begins seeing visions and hearing voices; one of the whispering entities tells her that her neighbor, the strange, sexually liberated Suzy, will be her teacher. As her marriage disintegrates, her visions become harder to distinguish from reality, until Juliet snaps and banishes the spirits.

Still from Juliet of the Spirits (1965)

BACKGROUND:

  • Fellini’s first feature-length color film (although his short segment for the 1962 anthology film Boccaccio ’70 was in color.)
  • Fellini took LSD (in a clinical setting) for inspiration in making this film. He found it “a little disappointing.”
  • Some of the biographical details of onscreen Juliet’s stories come from Giulietta Massina’s own experiences in her marriage to Fellini. The house seen in the film is the couple’s real house.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Juliet of the Spirits parades a host of bizarrely costumed Felliniesque grotesques across the screen in its 130 minutes, but aside from the perpetually smiling eye-of-the-storm Masina, the one who makes the biggest impression is buxom, bodacious Suzy (Sandra Milo). In one of the movie’s unforgettable scenes, she disrobes (offscreen) in the blink of an eye to demonstrate one of the hedonistic accoutrements in her bordello-like haven: a slide winding directly from her bedroom to her personal post-coital swimming pool.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Hermaphrodite swami reception; faceless purple nuns

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Like his previous 8 1/2, Juliet of the Spirits is a Fellini trip where dreams and fantasies—the more baroque and colorful, the better—intrude into reality as a way to explore the psychology of the film’s protagonist.


Original trailer for Juliet of the Spirits (1965)

COMMENTS: Juliet of the Spirits is transitional Fellini—most obviously, in updating the director’s palette to the full color spectrum, Continue reading 23*. JULIET OF THE SPIRITS (1965)

CAPSULE: THE 10TH VICTIM (1965)

La decima vittima

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DIRECTED BY: Elio Petri

FEATURING: Marcello Mastroianni, Ursula Andress,

PLOT: To control violence and population, people are invited to participate in The Big Hunt, a sanctioned game of cat-and-mouse that ends in murder; complications ensue when two of the top assassins, Caroline and Marcello, fall in love, even as they are pitted against each other.

Still from The 10th Victim (1965)

COMMENTS: The term “bread and circuses” goes back to the end of the 1st century, a reference by the poet Juvenal (“panem et circenses”) to the willingness of the citizenry of the Roman Empire to be appeased by trifles and cheap entertainment. Because of the violent nature of the contests held at the Colosseum to pacify the populace, the term eventually became a catch-all for spectacles where human life takes a backseat to fun and amusement. In the modern world, the concept has become downright ubiquitous. Kicking off with Richard Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game” nearly one hundred years ago, writers and filmmakers have had a field day with the premise of a society that turns murder into a spectator sport. From the anti-intellectualism of Fahrenheit 451 to the crass commercialism of The Running Man, from the fear of age in Battle Royale to the fear of class in The Purge, mollifying the masses remains a pertinent subject over two millennia later. (And that’s not factoring in displays of masochism made for public consumption like “Fear Factor” or the National Football League.) Not for nothing is the bloodthirsty land of The Hunger Games called Panem.

All of which is to say that The 10th Victim wasn’t exactly breaking new ground when it adapted Robert Sheckley’s 1953 short story for the big screen. (A previous adaptation for radio was more faithful to the original.) But if you’re looking for the singular factor that sets this movie apart from the rest, it’s this: it’s swingin’, baby, yeah! This speculative future turns out to be only a couple years ahead of its time, from a visual standpoint. We’re treated to sleek, brutalist architecture, pop art on the walls, and costumes (courtesy of designer Giulio Coltellacci) that are giddily mod and gloriously over-the-top, with every female outfit sporting a backless cut. Before Carnaby Street or the Haight, the styles that would come to define the 60’s were clearly to be found along the Via dei Fori Imperiali.

All the proof you need that this film crucially contributed to the DNA of the Swinging Sixties can be found in the movie that proudly carries the banner for the era: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. The eagle-eyed will notice Ming Tea, Andress’ overeager sponsor, supplies the name of the groovy super-spy’s psychedelic rock band, while even the naked-mole-rat-eyed will recognize the brassiere-machine gun Andress uses to dispatch a pursuer.

All this groovy atmosphere is the foundation for a healthy dose of satire, which is ladled on like hearty Bolognese. Announcements blare out the glory of the Big Hunt like drop-off instructions at the airport. A flack for the contest proclaims that Hitler would have signed up for the Hunt and thereby obviated World War II. The uniformly ignorant public goes about their business as gunplay breaks out all around them. Mastroianni’s mistress shrieks in horror when a team of repo men reclaim her collection of comic books: “No, not the classics!”

But the jaunty vibe, accompanied by Piero Piccioni’s frothy, vocal-tinged score, means the film’s attitude is more droll bemusement than anger. The screenplay only occasionally hints at the bile that must have inspired it, such as when a hunter bitterly laments the rules that have limited his fun. “We can’t shoot anywhere anymore,” he complains, noting that even churches and nursery schools are now off-limits. Oh, to be in America: “Anyone can shoot where and when they want.”

The leads do a lot to sell it. Amidst all of the mayhem, Andress tries to go full mercenary, eagerly hoping to maximize her marketability as a global icon of murder. Meanwhile, Mastroianni is stricken with overwhelming ennui. He openly broadcasts his victim status, he laments the pointlessness of life and relationships, and cynically fakes tears for the cult of sunset-worshipers he leads. Even murdering a Nazi brings him no pleasure. So it’s genuinely charming to watch him discover pure joy in the effort Andress exerts to make his murder something special.

Despite the body count, The 10th Victim turns out to be a rather gentle dystopia. The violence is plentiful but cartoonish. The satirical targets are numerous: disregard for human life shares space with the absurdity of marriage, contempt for the elderly, and capitalism run amok. (The fact that Andress must delay her kill to appease her advertisers is one of the better solutions to the “why don’t they just kill them” dilemma.) The 10th Victim is not so irresponsible as to make you think for a moment that this is a better world than the one we live in. But it does seem a great deal more fun.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“As a licensed hunter-killer in a weirdly futuristic social state and with the statuesque Ursula Andress as his deadly adversary, [Mastroianni] is dishing up yet another brazen hero on the order of Bond… What is actually delivered in this peculiarly supergraphic film is a clever but patently self-conscious intellectual exercise, much on the order of that which Jean-Luc Godard gave us recently in ‘Alphaville.’ The cleverness is so insistent that it soon becomes excessive and absurd, and the gamesmanship of the satire becomes too cute, too much a bore.” – Bosley Crowther, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by the late Irene Gonchorova. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)