Tag Archives: Obscure/Out of Print

LIST CANDIDATE: THE ADDICTION (1995)

DIRECTED BY: Abel Ferrara

FEATURING: Lili Taylor, Christopher Walken, Annabella Sciorra, Edie Falco

PLOT: An NYU grad student is bitten on the neck one night, leading her down a rabbit hole of moral and physical degradation.

Still from The Addiction (1995)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The Addiction strips away the clichés from the vampire formula, replacing bats and theatrics with a personal disintegration reminiscent of Repulsion.  What it lacks in weird imagery is more than made up for by its melding of Sartre, heroin addiction, and the supernatural, as well as the eerie atmosphere established by its chiaroscuro photography.

COMMENTS:  Throughout his career, Abel Ferrara has made New York-centric films with a grindhouse flavor and an aspiration to artistry.  In Ms. 45 (1981), he took on the rape-revenge film; with Bad Lieutenant (1992), he made a Scorsese-esque crime drama.  Similarly, The Addiction is a one-of-a-kind vampire movie, marrying urban realism, graphic horror, and several films’ worth of existentialist banter.  Although the latter attribute occasionally renders the film inaccessible, it also grants the characters’ neck-biting intrigues an unexpected gravity while making Ferrara’s serious cinematic intentions very clear.  This is The Hunger for the smart set.

I Shot Andy Warhol star Lili Taylor plays Kathy, who’s en route to getting her Ph.D. in philosophy when a late-night run-in with a mysterious seductress (Sciorra) leaves a bloody gash on her neck and spurs a metamorphosis from mousy student to loud-mouthed blood junkie. In a series of violent encounters, Kathy’s newfound aggression (coupled with severe photosensitivity) spreads like a virus to her friends, professors, and even the strangers who harass her on the street. Late in the film, she meets an elder vampire named Peina (Walken) who teaches her to control her addiction while quoting William S. Burroughs and Charles Baudelaire; the ending that follows is puzzling but weirdly suggestive, as orgiastic indulgence and Catholic guilt come into play.

The Addiction is shot in high-contrast black and white, bringing expressionistic shadows in conflict with a tendency toward naturalism, especially as Ferrara’s camera prowls the classrooms and hallways of NYU. Taylor gives a stand-out performance as a woman rotting from the inside out, matched by her poetically hard-boiled voiceover. When she enters a university library, for example, she growls, “The smell here’s worse than a charnel house.” These lurid monologues color our perceptions of Ferrara’s New York like the saxophones in Bernard Herrmann’s score for Taxi Driver, drawing us deep into Kathy’s dissipation. And Walken, as usual, is the voice of demented authority, cavorting around Kathy’s exhausted body with his slicked-back hair and daffy energy. He’s only in one scene, but he casts a long shadow across the preceding film.

At times, The Addiction teeters dangerously close to being unforgivably pretentious; it’s packed wall-to-wall with philosophical jargon, grandiose statements about hell and morality, and vampiric metaphors for sex, drugs, and genocide. But the film’s saved by its (and Taylor’s) sheer conviction that something intelligent and well thought-out is being said. Even when the film’s open-ended chronology and its abstract conception of vampirism threaten to make the plot totally incomprehensible, you can hold onto Ferrara’s sincere interest in spiritual redemption and moral culpability. In the end, this thematic integrity, when brought out through Taylor’s uncompromising performance, blasts away any doubts: this is a totally different species of vampire movie.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this is one wild, weird, wired movie, the kind that really shouldn’t be seen before midnight… Scary, funny, magnificently risible, this could be the most pretentious B-movie ever – and I mean that as a compliment.”–Time Out London

CAPSULE: HEADS OF CONTROL: THE GORUL BAHEU BRAIN EXPEDITION (2006)

BewareWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Pat Tremblay

FEATURING: Neil Napier, and amateurs who answered a newspaper ad

PLOT: Pharmaceutical molecules visualized as alien beings travel inside the mind of a

Still from Heads of Control (2006)

man afflicted with dissociative identity disorder and collect various “personalities,” who are examined as they perform monologues in front of surreal computer generated backgrounds.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It’s not released.  But even if it were released, it’s too uneven to qualify for a list of the 366 Best Weird Movies, although it would definitely have a shot at a list of the weirdest movies ever made regardless of quality.

COMMENTS: Before beginning the description of Heads of Control, I must explain why it earns a “beware” rating.  Normally, I reserve the “beware” badge for movies that are badly done, or even, in some cases, movies that are morally bad.  Heads of Control, however, meets neither of those criteria; although it’s cheap and uneven, it is quite competently mounted and the experimental impulse behind it is admirable.  Here, the rating is given due to the simple fact that this movie is so far out, so much like a performance art piece, that will only appeal to a very small slice of the most dedicated avant-gardists, or to those looking for the ultimate micro-budget drug trip film.  This experiment requires work on the viewers part to watch, and anyone looking for something remotely resembling a normal narrative movie is going to be hugely disappointed.

With that intriguing warning out of the way, just what is Heads of Control?  It begins with the protagonist, Max, being attacked by river zombies; it quickly appears that this is a hallucination, as we see Max in a mental institution being shot up with drugs.  Soon, we are inside Max’s diseased brain, watching a pair of hooded creatures.  The subordinate journeys into the patient’s psychedelically appointed neurons to fetch various two-dimensional rectangles from his tangled neural networks, which the superior creature places into a floating computer monitor.  The pair then watch the results, which consist

Continue reading CAPSULE: HEADS OF CONTROL: THE GORUL BAHEU BRAIN EXPEDITION (2006)

CAPSULE: NEKROMANTIK (1987)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Jörg Buttgereit

FEATURING: Daktari Lorenz, Beatrice M.

PLOT:  A necrophiliac who works for a corpse disposal service loses his job, his perverted girlfriend, and finally his mind.

Still from Nekromantik (1987)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Although Nekromantik is indisputably weird—not simply in its bizarre concept, but in its numerous nightmare digressions from linearity—it can’t be recommended as a viewing experience.  It’s a badly made, tedious parade of revolting and nihilistic imagery with no ambition other than to shock the viewer.  When the film does utilize weirdness, it does so shallowly and irreverently, solely in service of its intent to disturb.

COMMENTS:  Like sex, inherently shocking imagery in film can be used well, to explore the human experience, or (more commonly) it can be used badly and exploitatively.  The ironic celebration of evil in A Clockwork Orange disturbs the viewer deeply, but the purpose of the film isn’t to shock us; it’s to provoke us into thinking more deeply about the problem of evil by forcefully confronting us with the paradox of free will.

Too many artists, however, have noticed that offending huge numbers of people is a far easier way to draw attention to themselves than working hard at their craft and creating something thoughtful and meaningful.  Sometimes, artists get confused and adopt a simple logical fallacy: much great art, like Nabokov’s “Lolita” or Buñuel‘s Un Chien Andalou, has shocked and offended large numbers of people; therefore, the purpose of great art must be to shock people.  (This artistic disorder is commonly known as “John Waters Syndrome”).  Most shocking art, however, is made with a more cynical hand, made with the artistic integrity of a freakshow proprietor.  This is the category into which Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik falls.

Un Chien Andalou opens with a shot of a woman’s eyeball being slit by a straight razor, juxtaposed with a shot of a cloud passing in front of the moon.  The image is shocking but artistic, suggestive and numinous.  Nekromantik opens with a shot of panties dropping and urine streaming onto the grass; the image is banal, and, besides breaking Continue reading CAPSULE: NEKROMANTIK (1987)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: THE NIGHT WALKER (1964)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Robert Taylor, Irene Trent, Joyce Holland, Hayden Rorke. Written by horror master Robert (“Psycho”) Bloch.

PLOT: A woman has frightening, recurrent nightmares about being taken on surreal and horrifying nocturnal odysseys by an enigmatic stranger.

Still from The Night Walker (1964)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The film has an offbeat plot that has not been overused, and features bizarre scenes such as waxen animated mannequin entities conducting odd and sinister nighttime church services.  There are apparently illogical phenomenon such as the suspension of time.  The Night Walker is surreal due to the difficulty that the protagonist has in separating reality from fantasy.

COMMENTS:   After her covetous, jealous, and suspicious husband allegedly burns to death in a mysterious laboratory explosion, a wealthy widow (Stanwyck) has recurrent nightmares featuring an imaginary lover (Bochner).  He appears to her at night while she is dreaming and takes her on hellish journeys into the macabre.  She dreams repeatedly that she falls asleep and then “awakens” to this nightmare while still within a dream.

Each time, the nightmares begin with the lover awakening her at her bedside after she falls asleep.  Every night, her clocks indicate that she has awoken from her sleep into the recurrent nightmare at the same time that she went to bed.  Bochner eerily tells her, “Time stands still when you’re with me!”

The mysterious stranger drives her through a haunting Los Angeles nightscape to a a creepy, dilapidated chapel where sinister, animated wax figures play the organ and conduct a bizarre and puzzling wedding service.  One night she awakens from the recurrent nightmare, only to find Bochner again in her room.  She concludes that she has only dreamed that she has woken up, and is trapped in a nightmare from which there is no release.  Driven to the brink of madness by this ceaseless paradox, she dramatically screams over and over, “I can’t wake up!  I can’t wake up!”

Her scheming, apparently disbelieving lawyer attempts to help her unravel the mystery.  But does he know more than he is telling her?  Is everyone in her life really who they appear to be?  Is she going crazy?  Stanwyk’s character struggles to unravel the mystery of what she is experiencing as she attempts to retain her dwindling shreds of sanity.

William Castle employs no pedestrian gimmicks in this surreal, disturbing film.  By this point in his career he demonstrates that he has honed his skills as a competent director of horror.  Stanwyk carries herself with the same haunting presence with her role in this mysterious noir as she does in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and Double Indemnity.

Unlike most of William Castle’s films, The Night Walker is not currently available on DVD.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A few creepy touches—a cheaply surreal nightmare prologue and a scene that finds Barb sacred by a shish kebab—help relieve the tedium, but the self-styled ‘Master of Movie Horror’ is in far-from-top form here.”–Joe Kane, The Phantom of the Movies Videoscope

24. BEGOTTEN (1991)

“In BEGOTTEN, a time is depicted that predates spoken language; communication is made on a sensory level.”–E. Elias Merhige

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: E. Elias Merhige

FEATURING: Actors from the experimental theater group Theater of Material

PLOT:  A man sitting in a chair disembowels himself with a straight razor.  A woman materializes from underneath his bloody robes, and impregnates herself with fluid taken from the dead body.  She gives birth to a convulsing, full grown man, and mother and son are then seized and tortured by four hooded figures bearing ceremonial implements.

Still from Begotten (1990)
BACKGROUND:

  • Each frame of film was painstakingly manipulated to create the distressed chiaroscuro universe of the movie.  According to the technical production notes, after the raw footage was shot, “…optimum exposure and filtration were determined, the footage was then re-photographed one frame at a time… it took over ten hours to re-photograph less than one minute of selected takes.”
  • It has been reported that the film was inspired by a near death experience the Merhige had after an automobile accident.
  • Critics from Time, Film Comment, The Hollywood Reporter, The Christian Science Monitor, and New York Newsday each named Begotten one of the ten best films of 1991.  Novelist and photographer Susan Sontag called it one of the ten best films of modern times.
  • After Begotten, Merhige went on to direct the music video “Cryptorchid” for Marilyn Manson (which reused footage from Begotten) before landing a major feature, Shadow of the Vampire (2000)–a horror film about the making of Nosferatu, starring Willem Dafoe as Max Schreck and John Malkovich as Murnau.
  • Begotten is intended as part of a trilogy of films.  A second film, Din of Celestial Birds, which deals with the idea of evolution rather than creation, has been released in a 14 minute version that is intended as a prologue to the second installment.
  • After its brief run in specialty arts theaters, including stints at the Museum of Modern Art and Smithsonian, Begotten received a very limited video release, first on VHS and then on DVD.  Merhige explains that this is because he does not believe that these formats are truly capable of reproducing the look he intended for the film:

    There are so many arcane, deeply intentional uses of grain, light and dark in that film that it is closer to Rosicrucian manuscript on the origin of matter than it is to being a “movie”…. When I finished the film I never allowed it to be screened on video because of how delicately layered and important the image is in conveying the deeper mystery of what the film is “about”… this is why it is no longer available on DVD until I find a digital format that is capable of capturing the soul and intent of the film.  My experiments in BluRay have been promising.

     

  • Nevertheless, a (bootleg?) Begotten showed up again on DVD in 2018.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The painfully graphic image of “God disemboweling Himself” with a straight razor–shot in the grainy, high-contrast black and white–is not easily forgotten.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  A minimalist, mythic narrative of grotesque, ritualized suffering enshrouded in astonishing abstract avant-garde visuals and a hypnotic ambient soundtrack.  Love it, hate it, or admire the technique while criticizing the intent—everyone admits there is nothing else quite like it in our cinematic universe.

Original trailer for Begotten

COMMENTSBegotten is a difficult film to rate.  It does not set out to entertain, and it does not Continue reading 24. BEGOTTEN (1991)