Tag Archives: Lesbian

CAPSULE: MEMENTO MORI (1999)

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DIRECTED BY: Kim Tae-yong, Min Kyu-dong

FEATURING: Kim Gyu-ri, Park Ye-jin, Lee Young-jin, Gong Hyo-jin, Baek Jong-hak

PLOT: When Min-ah finds a diary written by two of her classmates, she is pulled into their story of romance, rejection, and retribution.

Still from Memento Mori (1999)

COMMENTS: From the first frame of the Korean horror/romance Memento Mori, we are immersed in girls’ school culture: imagine Lord of the Flies in a Michaels arts and crafts store. The entire film is embedded in this world on the brink between childhood and adulthood, equal parts bedazzled pink hearts and vicious social game play.

Within this microcosm, there are best friend duos and trios. Best friends are affectionate and vulnerable with each other, and these connections mean everything. For one pair—Hyo-shin and Shi-eun—this relationship goes further, and they become a romantic couple.

Even today, South Koreais not LGBTQ-tolerant. In 1999, having a lesbian relationship in a movie—especially a movie aimed at young people—led to government censorship. And made Memento Mori an instant cult classic.

Hyo-shin and Shi-eun create an ornate diary together, evidently something taken from real-life girl school culture. It is highly decorated, has hidden pockets, and possibly has the ability to cause hallucinations, or at the very least flashbacks. But mostly, the diary is full of confessions of their love for one another.

Min-ah, another student, finds the diary, and from that moment on, it will not let her leave it behind. She becomes possessed with it, if not by it, and the diary becomes the central storytelling device.

All does not go smoothly in Hyo-shin and Shi-eun’s relationship, not least because of their rejection by their peers, and Hyo-shin takes the breakup hard. She also might be pregnant by one of the teachers. Unable to bear one iniquity or the other, or both, she kills herself. Hyo-shin then comes back to haunt the school. Her supernatural view of her classmates is portrayed through a washed-out and yellowed film technique might have called “Ghost-O-Vision.”

Ghost Hyo-shin kills a couple people who were mean to her. Terror ensues. Mayhem follows. The cinematography and editing go a little nuts toward the end, and there are a few delightfully surreal moments. But all of this excitement is squashed into the last third of the movie.

Memento Mori has plenty of qualities besides government censorship that explain why it’s a Korean cult classic. It goes to great lengths to accurately portray a realistic courtship between teenage girls, and it doesn’t shy away from the terrible things that happen in adolescence (e.g., bullying and being groomed by a trusted adult). It also shows a teenage girl’s unhinged vengeance.

This is a fair-to-middling girls’ school horror movie with a few neat film tricks, a story told out of sequence, and a couple hallucinatory scenes. Beyond that, it is an early (especially in Korean cinema) and sensitive portrayal of a queer adolescent relationship, and for that it is important.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“On a horror/cult movie level, it combines the hallucinatory horro[r]s of Repulsion with Lynch-ian flourishes that reside in a Pandora’s Box where the past and the present are as one.”–Steve Langton, The Spinning Image (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by Micah, who said he was “oddly fond of [this] very very flawed movie” that is ” similar to Donnie Darko in feel and content…” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: AFTER BLUE (DIRTY PARADISE) (2021)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Paula-Luna Breitenfelder, Elina Löwensohn, Agata Buzek,

PLOT: On the all-female planet “After Blue,” an ingenue digs up a woman in the sand, who turns out to be the monstrous killer “Kate Bush”; she is tasked with killing it, under the supervision of her hairdresser mother.

Still from After Blue (Dirty Paradise) (2021)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: It may have its rough edges, but every post-apocalyptic sci-fi psychedelic lesbian acid western that comes down the pike gets automatic consideration as Apocrypha.

COMMENTS: Together with Katrín Ólafsdóttir, Bertrand Mandico has proposed a “Manifesto of Incoherence” for making films. If the notion of a set of rules designed to produce incoherence sounds a little, well, incoherent to you, then you’re not alone. After Blue (Dirty Paradise) is the kind of paradoxical work produced from a dogma of incoherence.

Incoherent, in Madnico’s sense, doesn’t necessarily mean inconsistent. The rules of the planet of After Blue may be insane, but the script adheres to them faithfully. There are no men on the planet because their hair grew inward, killing them. Shaving (of the neck and chest, with a glowing neon razor) is an important ritual for the women of After Blue; as a hairdresser, it’s part of Roxy’s mother’s regular duties. Outsider Kate Bush, by contrast, is known for her hairy arm. Is this making sense? Yes, and no. The shaving motif is a minor point, but it does illustrate how the world of After Blue operates according to its own dreamlike logic. The planet’s inhabitants, on the other hand, don’t always seem to act logically or consistently—at least not according to our understanding of human nature. Kate Bush promises to grant Roxy three hidden desires. In typical fairy tale fashion, these wishes rebound on the wisher; or maybe, her deepest desires Kate Bush grants are different than the wishes Roxy articulates. Or maybe Bush selfishly doesn’t grant them at all, but just does what she wanted to do anyway. It’s difficult to say. When you have a movie in which a blind manbot expels a goo-covered green marble through his nipple, normal behavioral rules may not apply.

The film’s surrealist assembly—part Barbarella, part live-action Fantastic Planet—is more consistent, providing the picture’s actual unity of purpose. We begins with shots of planets submerged in swirling rainbow nebulae, which dissolve into women’s faces as Roxy recites the history of the founding of After Blue to an unseen interrogator. Natural landscapes display After Blue’s strange geology and flora: penile crystals growing on the beach, giant fungi, coral growths, strange tentacled branches. Villages and other structures are built of stone in a ramshackle medieval style; despite the inhabitants’ professed disdain for high technology, they often feature neon lighting. Mandico shoots every scene through colored gels and filters: purples seem to be his go-to shade, but he cycles through oranges, greens, blues and yellows scene by scene. He also favors double exposures and other optical distortions. Oh, and the lithe women of his cast are frequently nude—and engage in a lot of flirtatious seduction, though no actual sex.

With such a lovingly created psychedelic playground to romp in, it’s a shame that Mandico gives his characters little of interest to do or say. After Blue is high on dialogue, low on action. The fairy tale quest structure mostly involves Roxy and her mother Zora traveling a lot, eventually encountering a mysterious character named Sternberg and her illicit cloned android (the only male on the planet). Sternberg seems vaguely threatening, but ultimately neither helps nor hinders our heroines. In fact, other than Kate Bush, the characters have little agency; the movie happens to them as they float through Mandico’s atmosphere. Zora trods through the film wearing a Navajo jacket and a constant expression of bewilderment, an emotion the audience can relate to. Since events on After Blue are self-contained, with no real relevance to concerns of the real world, the story begs for a dynamic and coherent self-contained presentation. Naming a character after an 80s cult songstress is not a strong enough joke to hold our interest for two hours. As it is, it’s like watching a beautiful surrealist slideshow; but your mind is likely to wander during the slow patches. This flaw makes it a missed opportunity for a crossover cult classic, but After Blue sports more than enough visual interest and general weirdness to make it a near-must-watch for this site’s readers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… a fantasia perched somewhere between Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics and the darkly surreal universe of William Burroughs’ books… there were moments when the fantasy locale Mandico conjures stopped giving me new things to look and marvel at, but the journey still crackles with a febrile excitement, a playfulness of moods and images that makes it easy to be lulled in all the bizarrerie.”–Leonardo Goi, The Film Stage (festival review)

CAPSULE: BLACK COBRA WOMAN [AKA EMANUELLE AND THE DEADLY BLACK COBRA] (1976)

Eva Nera

DIRECTED BY: Joe D’Amato

FEATURING: Laura Gemser, Jack Palance, Gabriele Tinti

PLOT: An exotic dancer moves in with the wealthy, snake-obsessed Judas Carmichael; a series of murders-by-snakebite follow—but is Judas responsible?

Black Cobra Woman aka Eva Nera

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: In spite of its herpetological conceit, Black Cobra Woman quickly turns into a run-of-the-mill revenge story—aside from one particularly memorable scene.

COMMENTS: The sexploitation film lives and dies on its perversity. The best of them, notably the works of and , create a sense of danger simply watching them. They disgust and arouse at the same time, lambasting any illusions the viewer may have about their own dignity or propriety. When the sexploitation film fails to offend and settles for titillation, it founders.

Black Cobra Woman climaxes in one of the cruelest, most gruesome acts of the sexploitation genre. This makes it all the more disappointing that the prior 80 minutes feel so lifeless. The sex is dull and tired, a series of sad-looking women stripping and touching each other’s thighs. There’s no thrill to any but the final two scenes, and the rest of the film is padded so heavily with travelogue footage of Hong Kong that the journey isn’t worth it.

The central conceit is promising. Amateur herpetologist Judas Carmichael, played by a weary Jack Palance, falls in love with Eva (Laura Gemser), a lesbian dancer who performs with a live cobra. Eva moves in with the wealthy Carmichael, who shows no interest in sleeping with her. Judas keeps Eva only as an object of fascination, like one of his many pet snakes.

Black Cobra Woman sets up Judas as Eva’s keeper, but it never pursues the implications of that relationship. Judas displays hardly any possessiveness or abusiveness towards Eva, and happily ignores the succession of women she brings back to his house from Hong Kong lesbian clubs. Black Cobra Woman’s villain turns out not to be Judas, but rather his brother Jules, who becomes obsessed with Eva. Using his brother’s snakes, Jules seduces and murders each of Eva’s girlfriends.

Gabriele Tinti plays Jules with appropriate sadism, but the character ultimately falls flat. His lust for Eva feels contrived, especially when Jack Palance’s character has such clearer motivation for jealousy. His murders are far too tame, as well. Sexploitation films eroticize murder, but despite the obvious phallic implications, all but one of the snake scenes come across as pedestrian. When Jules throws a venomous snake onto a naked woman, he comes off as a schoolboy teasing a girl with spiders, not a psychopath.

Black Cobra Woman aka Eva Nera

When Eva discovers that Jules is responsible for the killings, she arranges for his murder. Two hired thugs ambush Jules on the beach, beating him and tying him down on all fours. They sodomize him with a cobra while Eva taunts him. The scene is shocking and revolting, but surprisingly non-graphic. There’s no gore, only Jules’ anguished screams. This restraint might be admirable in a more exciting film, but Black Cobra Woman is so dull up to this point that the lack of any gore hurts.

Black Cobra Woman feels like a victim of bad casting. Laura Gemser spends nearly the entire film looking at the ground like a depressed prisoner. In theory this should make her eventual rebellion all the more satisfying, but that never happens. She murders Jules, not her captor Judas, and her suicide in the last scene feels less like an escape from her cage and more like an easy way to end the film.

Jack Palance disappoints even more. At the nadir of his career in the late 70s, Palance could still turn in sinister, hate-worthy performances even in pablum like Angels’ Revenge. Here he comes across as a doddering old man. The red cardigan he wears doesn’t help, making him look like a washed-up Mister Rogers.

Black Cobra Woman sets up an intriguing relationship between a snake-woman and her owner, but quickly turns into a routine murder and revenge story. The villain’s comeuppance is grotesque, the lead-up doesn’t earn it. One scene, no matter how shocking, can’t salvage a boring film.

Black Cobra Woman can be found on a newly-released Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber under the title Emmanuelle and the Deadly Black Cobra.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This bizarre curio from veteran European exploitation filmmaker Joe D’Amato is unexpectedly high on style and depressingly low on substance.”–Donald Guarisco, All Movie Guide

 

280. DESPERATE LIVING (1977)

“By the time I made Desperate Living, the era of midnight movies was over, so at the time it was the least successful of all my films. Weirdly enough, it now does really well on video and college campuses. And I’m not quite sure why.”–John Waters

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Susan Lowe, Liz Renay, Jean Hill, , , “Turkey Joe”

PLOT:  With the help of 400 pound maid Griselda, suburban housewife Peggy accidentally murders her deceptively bucolic husband and goes on the lam. A cop directs the fugitives toward a Pleasure Island for criminals called Mortville. Things go south with the village’s fascistic matriarch, until there’s a mutiny in the ramshackle town.

Still from Desperate Living (1977)

BACKGROUND:

  • was originally intended for the role of Mole McHenry (eventually played by Susan Lowe), but could not back out of an alternate commitment. Desperate Living is the only film Waters made during Divine’s lifetime in which the hefty transvestite did not appear.
  • Waters did not cast regular for the film due to the latter’s drug use. Lochary died soon after Desperate Living was released, either from a PCP overdose or from bleeding to death during an accident that occurred while he was tripping on PCP (reports differ).
  • The tagline was “It isn’t very pretty”—a radical understatement.
  • Budgeted at $65,000, this was Waters’ most expensive film to date. 1974’s Female Trouble had a budget of $25,000, while 1972’s Pink Flamingos cost a mere $10,000.
  • The extras of Mortville were homeless residents from the Baltimore skid row, bused in for a single day’s shoot.
  • According to Waters, lesbian groups in Boston protested the film, forcing its cancellation in Beantown.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The opening credit scene of a dead rat served on expensive china, salted, and eaten at a swank dinner party. It sets the table for what’s to come.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Cross-dressing cop; toddler in the fridge; scissors self-castration

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Waters outdoes Multiple Maniacs“cavalcade of perversion” in this grunge fairy tale that includes systematic lesbianism, cross-dressing, odious hippie sex scenes, cannibalism, necrophilia, bat rabies, copious facial warts, and gap-toothed queen Edith Massey sexually serviced by leather-bound Nazis.

Opening credits for Desperate Living

COMMENTS:  The finale in John Waters’ “Trash Trilogy,” Desperate Continue reading 280. DESPERATE LIVING (1977)

210. HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994)

“We realized why Debora and I have such extraordinary telepathy, and why people treat us and look at us the way they do. It is because we are mad—we are both stark raving mad!”–Pauline Parker, diary entry

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Melanie Lynskey, , Sarah Peirse

PLOT: Pauline, a socially awkward young teen, finds a friend in Juliet, a new arrival at her girls’ school in 1950s Christchurch, New Zealand. Juliet is witty and has traveled the world, and together she and Pauline invent a rich epic about the royal family of the fictional kingdom Borovnia, complete with stories chronicling the dynasty’s adventures and clay figurines Juliet molds to represent the main characters. As their relationship grows closer and develops a sexual component, the girls shut out the rest of the world, living out a fantasy of shared hallucinations and referring to each other by invented names, until their parents grow concerned and try to separate them.

Still from Heavenly Creatures (1994)
BACKGROUND:

  • The story is based on a real-life murder that shocked New Zealand in the 1950s. The film’s voiceovers are direct quotes from Pauline Parker’s diaries.
  • After being released from prison, Juliet Hulme became a successful writer of mysteries working under her new name, Anne Perry. She publicly revealed her identity as Heavenly Creatures was being produced. Pauline Parker did not wish to be found, but was later discovered working with handicapped children.
  • After the film was released Perry stated that the two girls had never had a lesbian relationship, as had been commonly supposed, although this denial was not public information when Heavenly Creatures‘ script was written. Pauline’s diary entries clearly hinted at a sexual relationship, but these could have been a young girl’s confused fantasies.
  • Heavenly Creatures was a totally unexpected arthouse outing from New Zealand director Peter Jackson, whose previous works had all been outrageous exploitation films: the gory Bad Taste, the transgressive puppet show Meet the Feebles, and the zombie comedy Dead-Alive [AKA Brain Dead].
  • Nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar (where it lost, understandably, to Pulp Fiction).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The plasticine Borovnians, particularly the homicidal Diello, who decapitates a homophobic psychiatrist, among his other crimes.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: The Fourth World; deflowering hallucination; hideous Orson Welles.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Adolescent melodrama blossoms into mature tragedy in the delirious Heavenly Creatures. Odd, overdramatic lighting schemes and a flighty camera track two young girls’ trajectory from obsessive daydreaming to outright madness. Peter Jackson’s stunning, surreal realizations of the girls’ fantasies about celebrity heartthrobs and a kingdom of killers sculpted from clay put the film over the top.


Trailer for heavenly Creatures

COMMENTS: In 1994, if you imagined Peter Jackson directing a Continue reading 210. HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994)