Tag Archives: Midnight movie

70. PERFORMANCE (1970)

PHERBER: What do you think Turner feels like?
CHAS: I don’t know. He’s weird, and you’re weird. You’re kinky.
PHERBER: He’s a man, a male and female man!

–dialogue from Performance

DIRECTED BY: , Nicolas Roeg

FEATURING: James Fox, Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg, Michèle Breton

PLOT: Chas, a sadistic associate gangster who terrorizes local businesses for London crime kingpin Harry Flowers, is forced to go into hiding when he kills one of his boss’ allies. He rents a basement from Turner, a former rock icon caught in creative doldrums, now living as a hermit in a luxurious town house with two beautiful live-in girlfriends and a never-ending supply of dope. Turner initially wants to get rid of Chas but gradually grows fascinated by him, sensing that the thug’s energy might help him break out of his artistic slump, and he begins to make over Chas in his own image.

BACKGROUND:

  • Donald Cammell, a former painter turned screenwriter, wrote the script and directed the actors. Nicolas Roeg, already a sought after cinematographer for his work on films such as The Masque of the Red Death and Fahrenheit 451, supervised the film’s visuals. It was the first directing credit for either.
  • Donald Cammell took his own life in 1996 with a bullet to the head.
  • Warner Brothers agreed to distribute the movie solely because rock star Mick Jagger was attached to the project.
  • The role of Chas was written with Marlon Brando in mind. Depending on whom you ask, Brando either declined the role, or the producers decided he could not play a convincing lower-class Brit. James Fox, a rising young actor known for his posh upper-class persona, studied actual London gangsters to get down the Cockney accent and criminal mannerisms.
  • Fox, in his acting prime at the time of Performance, suffered a nervous breakdown after filming (reportedly brought about by a the combination of his father’s death and smoking the powerful hallucinogen DMT with Jagger) and did not act again for 8 years after completing the movie.
  • Tuesday Weld and Marianne Faithfull were the original choices to play Pherber, but Pallenberg, a model and Rolling Stones groupie (then Keith Richards’ girlfriend), was brought in after Weld was injured and Faithfull became pregnant.
  • Nicolas Roeg recalls seeing members of the film development lab destroying “intimate” scenes of the film “with a fire axe,” apparently believing they had mistakenly been sent illegal hardcore pornography to develop.
  • Jack Nitzsche composed much of the score on the ninth Moog synthesizer ever built (the Moog probably belonged to Jagger: the Rolling Stones had beenone of the first rock groups to include a synthesizer on their 1967 album “Their Satanic Majesties Request”).
  • The movie was completed in 1968, but shelved for two years after a disastrous test screening at which audiences yelled at the screen and walked out of the theater. A studio executive’s wife reportedly vomited from viewing the graphic violence, and audiences were offered their money back. The movie’s eventual release was delayed for two years while the film was re-edited; much of the violence was trimmed, and Mick Jagger’s first appearance was moved forward in the film to appease Warner Brother executives. Roeg has already left for Australia to make Walkabout and was not involved in the final cut.
  • In order to compress the beginning of the film, partly so that Jagger would appear onscreen earlier, editor Frank Mazzola created the fast crosscutting montage that begins the film. “I knew I’d have to slide things back and forth or extend something to make it hit on a note or a frame,” the editor recalls. “I could do three or four or five of those cuts and bang!, it was perfect, like a beat… You could do anything to that film and it would work, because of the way it was happening. It was poetry, it was organic…”
  • Among the cuts later demanded by the British censors was a scene of Fox being flogged, intercut with a scene of him making love to a woman digging her fingernails into his back.
  • Performance was savaged by critics on its initial release, but its reputation has improved over the years. In 2009 Mick Jagger’s Turner ranked number one in Film Comment’s poll of top film performances by a musician.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Turner is dancing around with a large fluorescent tube before a stoned Chas when he suddenly howl and thrusts the glowing cylinder at the mobster’s ear; a tracking shot through his auditory canal reveals Chas’ mob boss imprinted on the tympanic membrane. The camera plunges past this barrier and suddenly Jagger replaces the crimelord in the scene; he launches into an taunting song aimed at Chas and assembled gang lieutenants.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Even before Anita Pallenberg feeds James Fox hallucinogenic amanita mushrooms on the sly near the climax, the crazed editing of the first half, which cuts back and forth across time and space without warning while setting up the tale of Chas’ fall from gangster grace, is so trippy that it’s almost completely disoriented us. Performance is almost exactly what you would expect to see if you matched a couple of smart, artsy, experimental directors to an eccentric half-amateur cast of drug addicts in 1968 and the set’s caterers fed the crew a diet of nothing but hash brownies and magic mushrooms for the entire shoot.


Original trailer for Performance (trailer contains brief nudity and sexuality)

COMMENTS: When you notice a bullet shattering a portrait of Jorge Luis Borges on the way Continue reading 70. PERFORMANCE (1970)

CAPSULE: BASKET CASE (1982)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Frank Henenlotter

FEATURING: Kevin van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner

PLOT: Duane checks into a derelict Times Square hotel carrying a wicker basket under his arm; inside is something about 1/4 the size of a person, that eats about 4 times the hamburgers a person would.

Still from Basket Case (1982)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Most people will go through their entire lives and never see anything as weird as the micro-budgeted cult shocker Basket Case.  A fine little offbeat exploitation shocker, the flick makes a late-in-the-game play for true weirdness with a strange dream sequence that sees Duane running naked through the streets of New York as a prelude to the film’s most shocking development.  To us, however, Basket Case shakes out as nothing more (or less) than a fine example of a unique, campy monster flick with only marginally weird elements.  That’s just how selective we are with our weirdness.

COMMENTS:  One of the secrets to Basket Case‘s success is that it positively oozes indecency and vice, but isn’t mean-spirited or sadistic.  Director Frank Henenlotter nails the aesthetic of sleaze, and for the most part keeps on the right side of the fine line between trash and crass, only crossing over briefly once or twice so that we know where the border is.  You emerge from a screening titillated and pleasantly shocked, but not feeling like you have to take a bath or go to confession.  The setting—the 42nd street red light district as it existed in Times Square in the early 1980s—creates an immediate atmosphere of moral and social decay.  Since renovated and Disneyfied, back then the neon-lit 42nd street was an avenue where you could walk past peep shows and marquees advertising “3 Kung Fu hits!” while being propositioned for weed, heroin and/or whores by strangers.  The scenes Henenlotter shot Continue reading CAPSULE: BASKET CASE (1982)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: DR. CALIGARI (1989)

Dr. Caligari has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made. Please visit the official Certified Weird entry.

DIRECTED BY: [AKA Rinse Dream]

FEATURING:  Madeleine Reynal, Laura Albert, John Durbin

PLOT:  The granddaughter of Dr. Caligari (of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari fame) performs illicit neurological experiments on patients in her asylum, focusing especially on a nymphomaniac and a shock-therapy addicted cannibal.

Still from Dr. Caligari (1989)

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: This is a good time to explain that the category “Borderline Weird” does not refer solely to a movie’s inherent strangeness, but to whether it’s both weird and effective enough to rank among the most recommended weird movies ever made. No doubt about it, Dr. Caligari is about as weird as they come, and would make a list of “weirdest movies regardless of quality” on first pass. The problem is that this movie is held back by amateurism in the production (especially the acting) and a lack of focus in the story.  I wouldn’t feel ashamed elevating it onto the official List of 366 films, but I wouldn’t want it to take the place of a more serious and professionally produced film, either, so Dr. Caligari will be locked up in the Borderline Weird asylum until I figure out what to do with this curious case.

COMMENTS: The origin and history of Dr. Caligari is almost as strange as the film itself. Director Stephen Sayadian is better known as Rinse Dream, the creator of arty avant-garde hardcore porn films with ambitions of crossing over into the mainstream. His Cafe Flesh (1982), the story of a post-apoclayptic future where most of the population consists of “sex negatives” forced to obtain erotic fulfillment vicariously by watching “sex positives” perform, was generally well-reviewed and very nearly the crossover hit Sayadian craved. It and was released in theaters in an R-rated version for those with tender sensibilities. Seven years later, the director again attempted to return to the mainstream with this, his only work aimed directly at an audience not wearing raincoats and sunglasses.  Intended as a midnight movie, Dr. Caligari had some limited success in LA theaters, and then gained a small but devoted following when released on video.

Dr. Caligari never got a proper DVD release, however, and fell out of the public eye; most Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: DR. CALIGARI (1989)

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)

22. ERASERHEAD (1977)

“He showed me this little script he had written for Eraserhead.  It was only a few pages with this weird imagery and not much dialogue and this baby kind of thing.”–Jack Nance

Must SeeWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY

FEATURING: ,

PLOT:  Henry is a factory worker living in a dingy apartment in a desolate urban nowhere. His girlfriend Mary’s mother informs him the girl has given birth to his child—although Mary objects, “Mother, they’re still not sure it is a baby!” Henry and Mary get married and care for the monstrous, reptilian, constantly crying infant until Mary can take no more and deserts the family, leaving Henry alone to care for the mutant and to dream of the oatmeal-faced woman who lives inside his radiator and sings to him about the delights of heaven.

eraserhead

BACKGROUND:

  • Eraserhead was started with a $10,000 grant from the American Film Institute while Lynch was a student at their conservatory. Initially, the 21 or 22 page script was intended to run about 40 minutes. Lynch kept adding details, like the Lady in the Radiator (who was not in the original script), and the movie eventually took five years to complete.
  • When Lynch ran out of money from the AFI, the actress Sissy Spacek and her husband, Hollywood production designer Jack Fisk, contributed money to help complete the film. Fisk also played the role of the Man in the Planet.
  • Lynch slept in the set used for Henry’s apartment for a year while making the film.
  • After the initial screening, Lynch cut 20 minutes off of the film. Little of the excised footage survives.
  • Eraserhead was originally distributed by Ben Barenholtz’s Libra Films and was marketed as a “midnight movie” like their previous underground sensation, El Topo (1970).
  • Based on the success of Eraserhead, Lynch was invited to create the mainstream drama The Elephant Man (1980)  for Paramount, a huge critical success for which he received the first of his three “Best Director” nominations at the Academy Awards.
  • Jack Nance had at least a small role in four other Lynch movies, and played Pete Martell in Lynch’s television series, “Twin Peaks.”  His scenes in the movie adaptation Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) were deleted. Nance died in 1997 after being struck in the head in an altercation at a doughnut shop.
  • Lynch has written that when he was having difficulty with the direction the production was heading, he read a Bible verse that tied the entire vision together for him, although he has refused to cite the verse and in a recent interview actually claims to have forgotten it.
  • Winner of this site’s 2019 Mad Movie Tournament as the most popular weird movie ever made.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The iconic image is Henry, wearing that expression permanently lodged between the quizzical and the horrified, with the peak of his absurd pompadour glowing in the light as suspended eraser shavings float and glitter behind him. Of course, Eraserhead is nothing if not a series of indelible images, so others may find the scarred man who sits by the broken window, the mutant infant, or the girl in the radiator to be the vision that haunts their nightmares.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Eraserhead is probably the greatest recreation of a nightmare ever filmed, a marvelous and ambiguous mix of private and cosmic secrets torn from the subconscious. Or, as Lynch puts it, it’s “a dream of dark and disturbing things.”


Clip from Eraserhead

COMMENTS:  When you tell people you are interested in “weird” movies, I’d wager at least half Continue reading 22. ERASERHEAD (1977)

7. EL TOPO (1970)

AKA The Mole (literal translation)

“Q: You’re creating this story right now.

A: Yes, this very moment. It may not be true, but it’s beautiful.”–Alejandro Jodorowsky in “Conversations with Jodorowsky”

Must SeeWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Alejandro Jodorowsky

PLOT: El Topo, a figure dressed in black and carrying his nude son on horseback behind him, uses his supernatural shooting ability to free a town from the rule of a sadistic Colonel.  He then abandons his son for the Colonel’s Woman, who convinces him to ride deep into the desert to face off against four mystical gunfighters.  All of the gunfighters die, but El Topo is betrayed, shot, and dragged into a cave by a society of deformed people, who ask the outlaw turned pacifist to help them build a tunnel so they can escape to a dusty western town run by degenerate religious fascists.

el-topo

BACKGROUND:

  • El Topo is considered to be the first “midnight movie,” the first movie to be screened in theaters almost exclusively after 12 AM.  Although the heyday of the midnight movie has past, it was a clever marketing gimmick that stressed the unusual nature of the film and positioned El Topo as an event rather than just another flick.
  • El Topo was famously championed and promoted by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
  • Due to an acrimonious dispute over ownership rights between Jodorowsky and Allen Klein, the film was withdrawn from circulation for 30 years, during which time it could only be seen on bootlegged VHS copies.  The scarcity of screenings vaulted El Topo‘s already powerful reputation into a legendary one.  Jodorowsky and Klein reconciled in 2004 and the film had a legal DVD release in 2005.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: El Topo is a continuous stream of unforgettable images; any frame chosen at random inflames the imagination.  My personal favorite is the lonsghot after El Topo kills third master gunfighter, where his body lies bleeding in his own watering hole while the rest of the landscape is littered with rabbit corpses.   The iconic image, however, is  El Topo riding off on horseback with a naked child sitting behind him, holding a black umbrella over his head.  This image is particularly representative because it shows not only Jodorowsky’s gift for composition, but his penchant for shamelessly borrowing from other sources of inspiration: the concept is pinched from the most surreal moment of Sergio Leone’s classic Spaghetti Western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  In the first scene, a man clad in black carrying an umbrella rides through an endless desert waste. Behind him in the saddle is a male child, naked except for a cowboy hat. The man stops his horse by a lonely hitching post in the sand, ties the umbrella to the post, and hands the boy a teddy bear and a locket and a photograph. The man says, “Today you are seven years old. You are a man. Bury your first toy and your mother’s picture.” He pulls out a flute and plays while the naked child follows his instructions. What makes El Topo weird is that this is the most normal and comprehensible thing that happens the film.

Trailer for El Topo

COMMENTS: In Judges 14, Samson (the Hebrew version of Hercules) is attacked by a Continue reading 7. EL TOPO (1970)