Tag Archives: Naive Surrealism

FEAR CHAMBER (1968)

*This is the first part of “Karloff’s Bizarre and Final Six Pack,” a series examining Karloff’s final films.

A lot of people have expressed the wish that horror icon  could have ended his career with Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968).  But Karloff, on his last leg, pushed himself through six more movies, four of which were the Mexican films for producer  and director Juan Ibinez.  This last six pack of films is, by consensus, godawful.  Why did Karloff do it?  According to his biographers, the actor said that he wanted to “die with his boots on.”  And he nearly did just that.

This series is not going to be a revisionist look at those six films.  They are awful within the accepted meaning of the word.  Several of them, however, are downright bizarre products of their time, which now might be looked at as examples of .  The films are: House of Evil (1968), Fear Chamber (1968), Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968), Cauldron of Blood (1970), Isle of the Snake People (1971), and Alien Terror (1971).

Still from Fear Chamber (1968)Fear Chamber ranks as one of the weirdest of the lot, and that is saying much.  It begins with pseudo-torture of scantily clad women.  The scene is soaked in garish sixties colors and a “bleepy” soundtrack.  The various female victims are tormented by a goateed chap, wearing turban, sunglasses (in an underground cavern), white gloves, and black turtleneck.  With “all the macabre horror of  Edgar Allan Poe” these poor sixties chicks are subjected to hot coals and boiling cauldrons.

The scene shifts to the crevice of a volcano where two scientists are “worried about strange Continue reading FEAR CHAMBER (1968)

GLEN OR GLENDA: NAIVE SURREALISM’S ARK OF THE COVENANT

“Female has the fluff and finery, as specified by those who design and sell. Little Miss Female, you should feel quite proud of the situation! You of course realize it’s predominantly men who design your clothes, your jewelry, your makeup, your hair styling, your perfume!” – Ed Wood narration from Glen or Glenda.

Ed Wood is certainly the auteur saint of naive surrealism. Everything he touched had his indelible stamp of personality all over it. More accurately, everything he touched oozed with Woodianisms.

However, his zany enthusiasm was short-lived. Night of the Ghouls is a depressing example of a very fatigued Ed Wood. Even before that, both Jail Bait and Bride of the Monster seem sub-standard Wood, even if they do bear his mark and are manna for his enthusiasts.

Still from Glen or Glenda (1953)If  Ed was sadly showing early hints of what was to inevitably come in those two films, then he was at his inspired, bouncing off the wall zenith in both Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space.

It was stick-forever-up-his-ass film critic Michael Medved who unintentionally rose Ed and his magnum opus, Plan 9 from Outer Space from the shallow grave of obscurity into cult nirvana when he awarded Ed and his film as the worst film and director of all time.

Despite Medved’s smarmy condescension, he should be forever thanked for posthumously catapulting Ed into the spotlight.  Medved’s sole purpose for living was to play John the Baptist announcing Ed’s coming. All the crimes and misdemeanors of criticism that came after are (reluctantly) excused in light of this important moment in history (alas, Leonard Maltin has had no such redeeming moment for his crimes).

Still, Medved was slightly off. It’s Glen or Glenda, Ed’s directorial debut,that deserves the accolades, a mountain of raining ticker tape to propel this little tranny misfit into well deserved fame and fortune. There is much appreciated surreal irony in Medved’s accidental canonization of Saint Ed. It seems equally apt that ‘s very good, intentional homage, Ed Wood, lost every invested dime. If Burton’s film had been a box office hit, the cult of Ed Wood would have gone the way of all orthodox religions. Thank Ed, this was not to be.

For hardcore surrealists, it’s those unintentionally surreal gold nuggets that are the most valued, and Ed’s almost indescribable Glen or Glenda is the ark of the covenant for naive surrealism.  There are  several other choice gems: Ed’s own Plan 9 From Outer Space, Phil Tucker’s Robot Monster, the movies Live a Little, Love a Little ( with the groan-inducing Edge of Reality surreal dream sequence) and Easy Come, Easy Go (frogman Elvis doing yoga-is-as-yoga-does with Elsa Lanchester), Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and a legion of not-so-deserving camp classics, including Manos: Hands of Fate, which is indeed awful, but incredibly dull and does not deserve to be placed in the same category.

There is little point in attempting to describe Ed’s autobiographical opus, ‘s hammy, inexplicable presence, or the pretentious narrative pleas for acceptance.

Glen or Glenda is the  perfect, surreal toast to the Halloween season.

ALFRED EAKER’S 10 WEIRD MOVIES LIST: NAIVE SURREALISM‏

Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema will not appear this week.  In it’s place is Alfred’s list of his top 10 weird films in the genre he calls “naive surrealism.”

For 366 Weird Movies, the following is a list of “all the way under the radar” Weird Movies.

These are the films that would fall under the category of being either “Naturally Weird” or “Naive Surrealism.”  For instance, no film of David Lynch’s makes the list, mainly because Lynch is too self consciously aware and too clever to be called natural or naive.  Nothing against Lynch’s films, which are some of the most delightfully weird films ever made (well the earlier ones, at least).  The same could be said for the undeniably great Luis Buñuel, Ken Russell, David Cronenberg, Jan Svankmajer, and Guy Maddin, to name a few.  In the same vein, overtly “Experimental Films” (ie: Maya Deren, Jean Cocteau, Kenneth Anger, Daina Krummins) are excluded, regardless of the temptation.

* Also excluded is Donnie Darko which is good, but annoyingly overrated and oh so “trendy weird on the sleeve.”  The same goes for Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” which is not good at all and was 1980’s “trendy weird” (besides, that band really lost it’s genuine, honest to goodness weirdness with the departure of Syd Barrett).

  1. Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda. Cinema’s most celebrated outsider artist; Ed Wood.  Wood defines the meaning of “natural auteur.”  One always recognizes an Ed Wood film, even when accidentally stumbling upon it.  Wood stamped his honest, eccentric personality onto everything he touched and this is what separates him from the rest of the Z grade amateurs of his time.  Indeed, Wood is far preferable to both his peers and the mere “assignment” directors.  Anything from Wood’s oeuvre could fit, but it is Glen or Glenda, rather than Plan 9 from Outer Space, that is Wood’s most zany, personal unintentional masterpiece.
  2. Tod Browning‘s The Unknown & Freaks.  Browning, could hardly be called naive, but his attraction to the outcast and misfit was sincere as he had spent many years making his living in the carnival circuit.  Browning knew and spoke the freak language, which is what made his bonding collaboration with Lon Chaney possibly the most unique Director/Actor collaboration in film history.  Both The Unknown and Freaks were among Browning’s most personal films (a third would be 1927’s The Show with John Gilbert), but The Unknown (his greatest achievement) slightly trumps Freaks with a genuinely startling plot development that is absurd, dramatic and without drawing attention to itself.  The accomplished acting of Chaney certainly helped Browning pull this off (and, no question, Chaney’s acting ranks with Chaplin and Coogan as the greatest of the silent era).  Lesser artists would have done this with bells and horns, but with Chaney and Browning, it goes way under the skin.  Browning certainly knew Freaks was going to generate reactions, but was undoubtedly taken back and unprepared for the level of intense negativity unleashed, which destroyed his career.  Tragedy aside, the ensuing drama perfectly capped his legend.
  3. Charlie Bower’s Egged On. Not enough is known of Charlie Bowers to determine whether or not his surrealistic, independent shorts were intentionally surreal or knowingly experimental.  It is known Bowers was (and remains) the perennial outsider, unfortunately inept in areas of self-promotion, marketing and perseverance.  His best films were the ones that mixed live action with animation and included his character, even if that character lacked the charismatic personality of Keaton, Chaplin, etc.  His later, strictly animated films that did not include the live action mix and character lack the overall unique whimsical quality of the earlier shorts (although some of that eccentric whimsy is present). A Wild Roomer, He Done His Best, Now You Tell One, and It’s a Bird are some of the most idiosyncratic shorts of any era (and evoke a spirit similar to the much later Dr. Seuss).   Andre Breton understandably adored him.  Egged On has to be seen to be believed and involves a basket of eggs which hatch, giving birth to a litter of miniature Model T Fords!  It is almost heartbreaking that only 15 of his films survive, but one has to be forever grateful that those 15 were finally discovered and restored.
  4. Jack Hill’s Spider BabySpider Baby has earned it’s cult status.  Nothing else Hill did (which is very little) has quite this flavor.  It’s not a surrealist film, as some have claimed, but it is an enjoyably demented one of a kind.  Lon Chaney, Jr. actually gives a good performance (reportedly he laid off the liquor as he liked the script) and the rest of the cast match him.  This low budget film seems very much like a happy accident.  It sat collecting dust for four years, was horribly distributed under numerous titles, but eventually found it’s cult audience, which is a lucky thing.
  5. John Parker’s Dementia: Daughter of Horror.  Speaking of mini budget obscurities: nothing is really known of director Parker, if he did any other films, if this a pseudonym, etc.  For several years this was believed to be a non-existent film, then a copy turned up.  Good thing, this gem of a film (which has no dialogue) is a bridge between z grade horror and arthouse; outsider art meets surrealism head on.  It first made the circuits as Dementia and later under the different title Daughter of Horror.  Both versions exist now (Daughter has narration by Ed McMahon). Continue reading ALFRED EAKER’S 10 WEIRD MOVIES LIST: NAIVE SURREALISM‏