Tag Archives: Murder

366 UNDERGROUND: THE DARK SISTERS (2023)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

The Dark Sisters can be rented or purchased on-demand.

DIRECTED BY: Richard Bailey

FEATURING: , Edna Gill, Kristin Colaneri

PLOT: Two sisters reunite by a remote lake some time after a mutually-perpetrated crime.

COMMENTS: Thieves gonna thieve, amiright?

And whether you want him to or not, Richard Bailey is going to make his movies in his own way. Plenty of cryptic—or even patently incomprehensible—films cross our desk here, and we approach each title with an open mind and an eye on purpose. It was only during the final act of The Dark Sisters (and then, only after a politely brazen hint from the filmmaker) that I cottoned on to just what this movie is all about. Bailey is an ideas man, one who has things to say about life and mind, and he is keen to converse with the viewer.

On the surface, The Dark Sisters concerns two sisters attempting to bridge a gulf that has grown between them during intervening years of separation after a grisly experience. Kicking back lakeside for this reunion, things quickly become not what they seem, and even, if I may conjecture briefly, not even what they are. This is a story of two sisters; this is a story of vengeance; this is a story of redeeming the wicked; this is a story of reflections, doubles, synthesis, and the fusion between perception, reality, and memory. And it’s not even really about the sisters, for that matter.

With his poetic-essayical dialogue, lingering shots and scans of a delightful primordial lake, fractured plot structuring, and philosophical musings, Bailey tracks a number of things here. My own takeaway from this methodically furled string of musings and images is that The Dark Sisters is a story about the story—about the act of storytelling, touching on the facets of that that age-old phenomenon and attempting to present this nigh indescribable (and wholly human) pass-time (a designation I use with no sense of flippancy; time is what we have, and pass it we must). Through archetype, rumination, sonic cues, and honey-glazed nature, The Dark Sisters seeks the heart of what occurs when we gather to talk and make sense of ourselves and everything around us.

Listen to our interview with Richard Bailey about The Dark Sisters.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“In some ways The Dark Sisters reminds me of films like Mickey Reece’s Climate of the Hunter. Things aren’t normal, but they’re not full-blown weird or bizarre either. It’s as though everything simply shifted a few degrees away from what we expect them to be, and we have to figure out why.”–Jim Morazzini, Voices from the Balcony (contemporaneous)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: IDENTIKIT (1974)

AKA The Driver’s Seat

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Giuseppe Patroni Griffi

FEATURING: Elizabeth Taylor, Gino Giuseppe, , Maxence Mailfort

PLOT: Having been fired from her job after a nervous breakdown, Lise travels to Italy to find the man of her destiny.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: The fractured narrative, which freely jumps back, forth, and freeze-frames, disorients the viewer ceaselessly as we try to figure out just what Lise is up to as she has random and unlikely encounters in a version of Rome which appears to have been cast into the Uncanny Valley by a miffed deity.

COMMENTS: Elizabeth Taylor brings the goods full to the fore as Lise, pivoting between blasé tourist, unhinged pixie woman, and ferocious lioness—all while sporting a rainbow-seared traveling dress. This dress, which is quite the eye-catching sight among many eye-catching sights, somehow manages to get the jump on us. Identikit opens from the neck up, so to speak, as the camera follows Elizabeth Taylor’s famous face gazing around an undefined space filled with aluminum-foil-topped mannequins. Then, a medium shot, and we see the dress, a dress I suspect is one of the more famous in motion picture history. Lise loves it! The German saleswoman tells her it also has been rendered stain resistant. Lise hates it! A fit ensues, a senior clerk is summoned, Lise is calmed with an untreated dress, and so an ambiguous adventure begins.

Identikit‘s somewhat odd beginning shifts into full-blown ambiguity during a scene at the  Hamburg airport. Shortly after advising an elderly woman which dime-novel might be “more exciting, more sadomasochistic,” Lise retrieves her boarding pass. The frame freezes on Lise’s face (and wild ‘do, which veers between being free-spirited and crazy), and a voiceover breathlessly communicates an Interpol investigation. Throughout, the director doesn’t shy away from further still shots, as well as copious timeline-ambiguating interviews between those who interact with Lise—airplane passengers, porters, a nobleman played by Andy Warhol, because it’s 1974 and why not?—and even the Italian police, who are also neck-deep in a sub-sub-plot investigation into terrorists, bombings, and a Middle Eastern royal in hiding.

The story isn’t illogical in its progression, but doesn’t make clear its arc until the final scene involving a young, mild-mannered Nova Scotian who wears a size nine shoe. Countless such details are dropped into the dialogue as Lise spends a hectic day in Rome before her assignation at a park pavilion. There, a delightfully chaotic mountain of park chairs graces the otherwise orderly park-scape, mirroring Lise’s coif. And even when the story becomes clear (enough), the purpose remains something of a cipher—mirroring Lise herself.

Elizabeth Taylor’s dedication to this character is apparent: from her wild hair, to her dramatic makeup, and down the length of the psychedelic dress. As an exercise in dramatic storytelling, Identikit keeps the viewer on their toes, with promise of a crime (or crimes) to be unearthed. But it is more a character study, dissecting a single frenetic day in the life of a woman who has obviously been much put-upon, and who has decided to let go of everything in order to determine existence on her own terms.

Indentikit is available as part of the “House of Psychotic Women” box set (reviewed here), or can be rented on-demand separately.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…super-weird narrative… the star-power of Elizabeth Taylor drives this strange, yet fascinating project with remarkable verve.”–Eddie Harrison, film-authority (2023 Blu-ray)

35*. BUFFET FROID (1979)

AKA Cold Cuts

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

“The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd.”–André Breton

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Bertrand Blier

FEATURING: , Bernard Blier, Jean Carmet, ,

PLOT: Soon after telling a man in the Paris subway about his fantasies of committing murder, Alphonse discovers the man dying with Alphonse’s own switchblade in his chest. Rushing home, he teams up with a police inspector and a hapless criminal who confesses to killing Alphonse’s wife. The trio goes out into the world, confronting both a variety of people who wish to kill them or to be killed by them.

Still from Buffet Froid (1979)

BACKGROUND:

  • Writer-director Bertrand Blier won the César (France’s Oscar) for Best Writing for Buffet Froid. The film was also nominated in the cinematography, editing, and production design categories.
  • Buffet Froid feels very ian, even more so since Blier cast two actresses who had previously worked on Luis Buñuel films: Geneviève Page and Carole Bouquet.
  • Bernard Blier (Inspector Morvandieu) is the director’s father. It was his third appearance in one of his son’s films.
  • The role of the man harassed by Alphonse in the subway is played by an uncredited Michel Serrault, who is probably best known as Albin in the original La cage aux folles.
  • The opening scene is set in the Metro station at La Défense, which now sits directly underneath the monumental La Grande Arche building in the Parisian suburbs.
  • The film was not released in the United States until 1987. American critics were fiercely negative.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It’s tempting to select the terrific jump cut when the leading trio is informed that they need to relax, and suddenly find themselves convalescing in front of a rustic cottage in the woods. But for a singular image, there’s great spectacle in the moment when a policeman responds to an emergency call only to find that he himself is the victim. His wide-eyed horror at being ushered into his deathbed while a string quintet assembles to serenade him into the great beyond is unforgettably hilarious.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: The widow moves in; assassin gets a head start in the water

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Buffet Froid is epic in its underplaying. Forget consequences; it posits a world where crime doesn’t pay because it doesn’t matter. The body count wouldn’t be out of place in a Hollywood thriller, but a strange combination of fear of dying and reluctance to be caught underlies everything. It’s telling that Alphonse doesn’t lose his cool when he finds his own knife sticking out of a dying man, or even when he discovers his wife’s murder (and murderer). No, it’s only when a man tells him bluntly, “Accept your responsibilities and I’ll be on my way” that he stops dead in his tracks. Buffet Froid depicts a world gone mad, but in the most controlled way possible.

Trailer for Buffet Froid

COMMENTS: Buffet Froid lays out its premise almost immediately. Continue reading 35*. BUFFET FROID (1979)

CAPSULE: THE 10TH VICTIM (1965)

La decima vittima

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

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.)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: BUFFET FROID (1979)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

This movie has been promoted onto the supplemental Apocryphally Weird list. Please read the official entry.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Bertrand Blier

FEATURING: , Bernard Blier, Jean Carmet, ,

PLOT: A man in the Metro confesses his fantasies about killing strangers to a stranger; a surreal series of casual murders follows, most occurring over the course of a single long night.

Still from Buffet Froid (1979)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: This dreamlike and absurd black comedy about murder may be the most Buñuelian movie never made.[efn_note]The comparison is hardly diminished by the presence of actresses Geneviève Page (Belle de Jour) and Carole Bouquet (just off That Obscure Object of Desire).[/efn_note]

COMMENTS: “Don’t you ever get odd ideas?”, young and unemployed Alphonse (Depardieu) asks a stranger in the Paris Metro. Director Bertrand Blier has plenty of odd ideas, most of them revolving around murder and his characters’ blasé reactions to the ultimate crime. It turns out Alphonse may, or may not, have killed the accountant he met in the subway—but no one seems to care. His wife merely throws his bloody switchblade in the dishwasher.  He goes to his new neighbor, who just happens to be a police inspector, to report the death, but the man is off duty and can’t be bothered. Another murderer shows up at his doorway and Alphonse invites him in for dinner and a glass of wine. Then, through a series of dreamlike coincidences, the inspector and the killer join Alphonse on a murder spree—if such a laid-back, stumbling affair can be called a “spree,” and if some of the mysterious killings qualify as “murder.”

For the most part, the film’s events occur over one long, endless night—with perhaps a nap or two—before a sunlit epilogue in the French countryside. Characters never show up unless they are needed as killers, victims, or witnesses—there are no extras waiting for trains in the Metro, the Paris streets are deserted, and even the skyscraper that houses Alphonse’s apartment is totally uninhabited except for him, his wife, and the newly-arrived Inspector. Alphonse, and the other characters, also complain about the cold—they never seem to be able to get warm. Perhaps they are feeling the chill of the grave?

Alphonse is the dreamer who has an inkling that he might be dreaming—he is the only one who (occasionally) wonders what’s going on, who finds it odd that no one seems to care that he might be a murderer. Everyone else accepts the ever-shifting social dynamics with the calm acceptance of someone living in a dream. The acting is utterly deadpan and droll. A man is tortured by being exposed to a string quintet. Alphonse mentions that he has nightmares that last all night where he is wanted for murder and chased by the police. Perversely, in the nightmare script that plays out, the police don’t hunt him, but abet his ambiguous crimes. Some of it is a black satire on modern alienation, but the surrealism of the scenario speaks to deeper fears—death is the only sure constant in this movie where caprice otherwise rules the night.

Buffet Froid flopped (commercially) on its release, wasn’t screened in the U.S. for seven years, and is barely distributed today. It is reportedly a cult film in France, but that doesn’t do much for the rest of us. I was able to find it on the free-streaming service Kanopy (which requires membership at a a participating public or university library—and the catalog my differ depending on your supplier).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A blackly surreal procession of amoral and/or illegal acts…  producing a cherishably Buñuelian depiction of the far-from-discreet crimes of the bourgeoisie.”–Time Out London

(This movie was nominated for review by “Dwarf Oscar,” who called it an “an absurd and deadpan comedy that gained a cult status here in France.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)