PLOT: Guillermo del Toro curates eight short tales of supernatural horror, mostly from young directors.
COMMENTS: At the start of each episode, Guillermo del Toro waddles in from a pool of darkness and stands before his prop cabinet, pulling out a small item relevant to the plot of the upcoming feature and a figurine representing the episode’s director. In heavily-accented, hard-to-understand English, he chokes out a few stiff sentences about the story. Rod Serling or Alfred Hitchcock he is not; but fortunately, del Toro proves a much better curator than host.
Other than the esteemed Vincenzo Natali, del Toro and the producers choose mostly up-and-comers to script and direct the eight episodes. Although perhaps it shouldn’t, given del Toro’s Hollwyood pull, it comes as a small surprise that these short features are largely acting showcases. The series standout is Academy Award-winner F. Murray Abraham as a clever but understandably-weary coroner in “The Autopsy.” Tim Blake Nelson, lending an earthy believability and even a little sympathy to his bitter xenophobic caricature in “Lot 36,” is also worth a mention, while “The Outside” is entirely built around Kate Miccuci’s nerdy-but-secretly-sexy persona. Essie Davis, as a bereaved ornithologist, also carries “The Murmuring,” Jennifer Kent’s marital-drama-cum-ghost-story. Then, there are a couple of cameos to appeal to cult movie fans: Crispin Glover in “Pickman’s Model” and Peter Weller in “The Viewing.” The relative star power on display here lends respectability and brings in viewers from outside horror fandom: mainstream critics were particularly drawn to the “The Murmuring”‘s realistic depiction of a husband and wife tiptoeing around their issues while burying themselves in their studies of bird-flocking behaviors on a Bergmanesque island.
When we first saw the names attached to direct, we were salivating over the inclusion of Ana Lily Amirpour and (especially) Panos Cosmatos (as well as the prospect of Crispin Glover in an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation). Those two directors do deliver both weirdness and quality, but the other episodes are all worth watching. Even the least of them have something to offer, usually in the acting department. The Glover episode is “Pickman’s Muse.” As previously mentioned, it’s a Lovecraft adaptation of the “man is driven mad by peering into the Beyond” variety that is eerie and atmospheric, but Continue reading CHANNEL 366: GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S CABINET OF CURIOSITIES (2022)→
“And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revelers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall … and Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” –Edgar Allan Poe, “The Masque of the Red Death”
PLOT: A cult is passing through the forested countryside in 1980s Pacific Northwest where Red Miller, a lumberjack, lives peaceably with his love, Mandy. When she catches the cult leader’s eye, dark beings descend upon her and Red, robbing Mandy of her life and Red of his sanity. Red mercilessly exacts vengeance upon all who wronged him.
Mandy is Panos Cosmatos’ second feature film, and his second film to be Certified Weird. So far, all of his movies have been set in 1983.
Cosmatos originally wanted Nicolas Cage to play Jeremiah Sand, but Cage preferred the role of Red. Co-producer Elijah Wood smoothed things out and got the two to work out their disagreements, resulting in Cage playing the protagonist.
The character of Jeremiah Sand was based on cult-leader Charles Manson, another failed musician and acid head. Linus Roache, shortly before being cast as Jeremiah Sand, had dropped out of a cult after its leader had a meltdown.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Mandy provides a full menu for this indeed—even if you winnow your options down to just Nicolas Cage looking crazy-go-nuts. However, the choice becomes clear upon reflection of whom this movie is actually about: Mandy and Jeremiah Sand. Mid-acid-trip-speech, Jeremiah’s and Mandy’s faces fade in and out of each other, capturing both of their haunting visages in continuous oscillation between the poles of Mandy’s mystical innocence and Jeremiah’s mystical evil.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Demonic apocalypse bikers; The Cheddar Goblin; Heavy Metal death axe
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Described by the director himself as “melancholic and barbaric”, Mandy plays like a Romantic era poem that collides violently with one helluva nightmare. Mandy‘s signposts of color saturation guide the eye along the paths of love, wrong, and vengeance while the dirgy soundtrack cues the ear like a Greek Chorus. Mandy is almost a movie to be felt more than watched. And even putting aside all the artistry, a cursory look at its basic ingredients screams “weird” as forcefully as Red screams “You ripped my shirt!”
Original trailer for Mandy
COMMENTS: Mandy, in perhaps its only convergence with convention, follows the three-act structure to a “T”, going so far as to designate each act with a title card. The opening, “the Shadow Continue reading 358. MANDY (2018)→
From my vantage point on the less-esteemed side of the velvet rope, I saw my quarry, Panos Cosmatos, posing for innumerable photographs with various industry and festival bigwigs just before the Canadian premiere of his new movie, Mandy. I had been shuffled around no fewer than four times before being planted right underneath a bright spotlight a few feet from the director. Eventually, he came over—and I got my four minutes.
366: I’m with 366 Weird Movies, and we’re a big fan of your previous movie, Beyond the Black Rainbow. It beat out 63 contenders in a readers’ choice poll to be certified on our list–
PC: A list of “weird movies”? Nice.
366: Yup. We’re looking for 366 of best, weird movies we can find, one for each day of the year including leap-year.
PC: Love it.
366: I have a few questions for you. In Beyond the Black Rainbow, we saw some Kubrick and Ken Russell influences; I was wondering if you might remark on some of the directorial influences specifically for Mandy?
PC: Honestly, for this film, I felt more that I was just tapping into myself, just following my instincts a little bit more and seeing where that took me.
366: In Beyond the Black Rainbow, there’s a melancholic, sort of space-y feel. Obviously it’s a very different tone from Mandy.
PC: Yeah, it’s more “melancholic and barbaric”.
366: Nicely put. Now, tapping into yourself, I know that your father was involved in any number of motion pictures. I was curious personally in regards to your mother, who was a sculptor. Did she influence you artistically in any way?
PC: Very much so, yes. She nurtured my creativity from the beginning and had an incredible way of looking at the world, and that’s a big part of me.
366: Now your previous movie and this one, they both take place in 1983, and you’ve indicated in a number of interviews your reason for that. 1 Obviously it might be too early to ask about future projects, but do you think you’ll be sticking with the year 1983 in the future, or do you think you might eventually go forward or backward?
PC: *laughs* I think the next film will probably go forward — but never the present. Never the present.
366: Your previous film was largely self-funded–
366: –This was a larger production. Were there any problems with “strings attached”, or were you able to maneuver things?
PC:Amazingly I was given basically complete freedom, that’s why I got involved with SpectreVision, because they vowed to protect my vision and nurture it all the way through, and they lived up to that.
366: That’s excellent. I’m from the United States, and I’m fearful I might not be able to catch this movie again; do you know anything about wider distribution?
PC: I think it’s getting released on about 300 screens in the US on September 14th. Where in the US are you from?
366: Upstate New York.
PC: Cool! I always romanticize that area in my mind, having never been there. But I do have that romanticized version of Upstate New York in my mind.
366: Well, Upstate New York is very flattered.
366: In regards to Mandy specifically, where in Heaven’s name did that “folk song” come from?
PC: The lyrics were written by me and Dan Boeckner from the band “Operators”. He wrote the verses, I wrote the chorus. And then Milky Burgess wrote the instrumentation and Randall Dunn produced it and we kind of just threw it together in the recording studio in a day or two.
366: It is, in its way, a very good song–
366: –and it certainly conveys that fellow well. And one question I like to close all my interviews with, what’s your home town and do you have a restaurant you can recommend?
PC: Where I live now? Vancouver, and I would recommend “Kingyo”.
366: Thank you very much for your time. Fantastic movie, and I wish you the best of luck.
…and with that, mere minutes before the film’s start, he was summoned for further photographs.
FEATURING: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache,
PLOT: Red Miller is a lumberjack, but when a gang of cultists murder his girl, he’s not okay.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Oh-ho, there are lots of reasons. The first one that springs to mind is that it’s the only movie I’ve ever seen that requires Nicolas Cage to be utterly berserk just to keep apace with the surrounding madness.
COMMENTS: Word was that tickets had sold out within an hour of being made available. I heard it was a fulfillment of “a seven-year-long promise”. And the special press-only screening was fuller than many general screenings I’d attended at the Salle J.A. De Sève. Even after some hours of contemplation, I’m still processing what it was I saw. Obviously, I saw Mandy—but I imagine you get my meaning. The notes I took were more of a mess than is usual even for me, and halfway through, I stopped bothering. With Mandy, Panos Cosmatos has done nothing less than rip a crimson nightmare from the quintessence of vengeance and pour its spectacle into your eyes and ears.
The establishing shot, in which we learn about Red Miller (Nicolas Cage), a lumberjack in “the Shadow Mountains”, sets the grainy-dreamy visual tone. His wife, the titular Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), is a bookish death metal nerd. They have a pleasant life together of quiet love until Mandy catches the eye of some cultists who are passing through. Their leader, a failed folk singer Jesus-wannabe named Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), commands his minions to kidnap Mandy and make her his lover. A demonic biker gang is summoned to nab the girl. When the drugged Mandy ridicules Jeremiah’s advances, the cult leader exacts his petty revenge, setting Red on the path to vengeance against those who have wronged him. All of those who have wronged him.
It may have been the high volume, the sound mix, or my own increased awareness, but this was yet another movie where the score stood out. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s unsettling doom metal compositions complement the unnerving, red-soaked darkness. Cosmatos’ febrile images on the screen become audible with the music—which, in a film with this little dialogue, is key. A fellow reviewer was somewhat dismissive of Mandy‘s visuals, quipping “You’re really into “Twin Peaks“— I get it.” While there is a grain of truth in that, it does not do justice to what Cosmatos is up to. Mandy is unrelenting in its stylized nightmare, rarely giving the audience a breather in its first half, and virtually never in the second. Like the score, one would best describe the film’s tonal flavor as “Doom Lynchian”: as if Cosmatos caught the football thrown by Black-Lodge-Lynch and ran another sixty yards.
And finally there’s the star himself, Nicolas Cage. Mandy seems tailor-made for him as an actor, aware both of his range and his history. When he’s trying, few can compete with Cage for sheer mania. His performance is feral at times, but the intensity fits with its surroundings. Nothing other than a force of nature could hope to survive the infernal journey that takes place in Mandy. I’d go so far as to say no other actor could be relied on to make Red seem both reasonable and completely unhinged at the same time. Whether he’s armed with a box-cutter, a dueling chainsaw, or the sickest-looking axe this side of a bad dream, Nicolas Cage bloodily carries us through Cosmatos’ Bosch-Dante deathscape.
“I love popcorn movies just as much as I love bizarre art films. And my mother, she was an experimental abstract sculptor and there were these haunted pieces of sculpture [around the house] that I always really connected with. I always felt like my filmmaking sensibility is a weird hybrid of both of them.”–Panos Cosmatos
DIRECTED BY: Panos Cosmatos
FEATURING: Michael Rodgers, Eva Allen, Scott Hylands, Marilyn Nory
PLOT: Dr. Barry Nyle conducts experiments on Elena, a woman with telepathic powers who spends most of her time in a near-comatose daze, at the sparsely appointed “Arboria Institute” in 1983. A psychedelic flashback suggests that a bizarre ritual performed at Elena’s birth is responsible for her current condition. Elena decides to escape from the Institute, pursued by a transformed Nyle.
This was Panos Cosmatos’ first (and as of 2015, still only) feature film. He is the son of George P. Cosmatos, the director of Hollywood blockbusters Rambo (1985), Cobra (1986), and Tombstone (1993).
Cosmatos said the two main inspirations for Beyond the Black Rainbow were “hazy childhood memories of midnight movies and Saturday morning cartoons.” He also said that as a child he would look at the covers of horror movies at the video store which he was not allowed to rent, and that the movie is his grown-up realization of the kinds of stories he imagined were contained inside those boxes.
Beyond the Black Rainbow proudly admits to being a pastiche of the midnight movies that would be roughly contemporaneous to its 1983 setting. George Lucas’ THX 1138 (1971), John Carpenter‘s Dark Star (1974), Suspiria (1977), and Michael Mann’s The Keep (1983) are some of the moviess Cosmatos and others who worked on the project cited as visual and spiritual influences. The high-contrast black and white of the flashback sequence was explicitly modeled on Begotten (1990).
Beyond the Black Rainbow beat out 63 competitors in a reader’s poll to be officially named to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Although it’s far from the most stunning image in a movie filled with unforgettable visions, in some ways the bit that sticks with me most from Beyond the Black Rainbow is the slow low-angle pan down the Arboria Institute’s fluorescent corridor. The shot is replayed many times: with blood red tinting as Dr. Nyle first marches to interview Elena, a ghostly pan across the glowing white panels that slowly fade to industrial blue, a shot tracking the Sentionaut as he walks towards the sleeping Elena. Although this mysterious motif recurs often enough to be noteworthy, for an indelible image we’ll go instead with the fearsome appearance of “appliance-free” Dr. Nyle: bald, eyes permanently dilated, clad in skintight black leather fetish gear, and clutching his fang-shaped ceremonial dagger.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Shamelessly allusive, sinfully trippy, Beyond the Black Rainbow is a love letter to midnight movies of decades past, a hazy conjuration overseen by the guiding spirits of Stanley Kubrick, Ken Russell, and a thousand doped-up sci-fi dreamers that somehow manifests its own unique vision. It’s the kind of movie most of us here would make if we were handed a big bag of residuals from Tombstone and told we could do whatever we wanted with it.
FEATURING: Michael Rogers, Eva Allan, Scott Hylands, Marilyn Nory
PLOT: Within the depths of a mysterious, retro-utopian health clinic, a troubled psychologist attempts to treat a silent young woman with telekinetic powers, but she keeps trying to escape.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Weird story, weird characters, weird weird visuals: Beyond the Black Rainbow definitely has weirdness in spades. At times it is overly self-satisfied in its ambiguity, but overall it’s a strong psychological thriller that revels in the bizarre.
COMMENTS: Opening with a creepily soothing informational video reminiscent of something out of the Dharma Initiative, Beyond the Black Rainbow immediately sets a dark and cryptic tone. The kindly Dr. Mercurio Arboria believes he has created a center for peace, understanding, and mind-opening advancement of the human race. Years later, his haven seems deserted, with only the mute and magical Elena seen in its cells. She is quiet but tightly coiled, ready to burst both mentally and physically. She holds Dr. Arboria’s protégée Barry Nyle in deep sway, but her importance to the institution is unclear. Through a surreal and unforthcoming flashback sequence her connection to Dr. Arboria and Nyle is expressed, though her telekinetic abilities remain something of a mystery. Her eventual escape prompts Nyle to take serious action.
Writer/director Panos Cosmatos draws from trippy horror-thrillers of the 70’s and 80’s to create his mood, with flashes of Altered States, 2001, Scanners, and the like. The pace is measured, with asides to Nyle’s dreary home life paired with closer views into the stark, enigmatic complex of Arboria. White walls intersect in a maze of cells and hallways, black panels reveal hidden objects, colored lights and energy pyramids glow in the dark—all while eerie synthesizers pulse over the soundtrack. The close shooting style lends the film a claustrophobic, tense atmosphere that is increased as the visuals become stranger and more abstract. Psychedelic colors swirl and coalesce, while a cult ritual is acted out in severe black and white and uncanny slow motion. Mutants in latex suits roam the hallways, and, oh yeah, heads explode!
As supposed psychologist Barry Nyle, star Michael Rogers wears his own face like a mask—impenetrable and unreal. His manner is cool and calculated, whether he’s murdering his own mentor or talking to his confused wife. His sadistic, violent nature is fully revealed through physical transformation, resulting in a chilling slasher chase during the film’s climax as Nyle hunts down Elena. Elena herself starts off as a typical waifish victim, silent and impassive. As her anger and determination rise, she becomes more self-assured and by the end is definitely a character to root for, a new-age Final Girl who values her freedom more than her revenge.
Beyond the Black Rainbow is in some ways high-minded and inaccessible, but its gorgeous and dreamlike visuals combined with its haunting electronic score and intriguing premise make for an engrossing and all-around weird experience. Its horror-thriller undertones and 1980s influences are well-incorporated, though some of its actual story/script elements are messy.