Tag Archives: Parody

47*. THE MYSTERIOUS CASTLE IN THE CARPATHIANS (1981)

Tajemství hradu v Karpatech

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“This story is not fantastic ; it is merely romantic. Are we to conclude that it is not true, its unreality being granted ? That would be a mistake. We live in times when everything can happen — we might almost say everything has happened. If our story does not seem to be true to-day, it may seem so to-morrow, thanks to the resources of science, which are the wealth of the future.”–Jules Verne, “The Castle of the Carpathians”

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Michal Docolomanský, , , , Evelyna Steimarová

PLOT: Despondent after a failed love affair, Count Teleke explores the Carpathians with his manservant in hopes of forgetting his misfortune. The pair discover a mysterious castle on a mountainside and a man half buried in the road, and make their way to the village of “West Werewolfston,” where they learn more legends about the stronghold. Accompanied by the buried man, a civil servant who’s also obsessed with the castle, Teleke decides to investigate the mysterious edifice, where an evil Baron and a mad scientist are developing a powerful weapon.

Still from The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians (1981)

BACKGROUND:

INDELIBLE IMAGE: For all the incredible gadgetry that appears in The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians, the most unforgettable one may be the tiny pistol, no larger than a thumb, that the count pulls out to protect himself at the first sign of danger. (The bullets would have to be about the size of water drops, and locating the tiny trigger would be a chore).

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Eyes and ears on a staff; desiccated diva

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians is the steampunk, slapstick Czech parody of Gothic literature you never knew you needed—until you heard it described in just those words.

Restoration trailer for Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians

COMMENTS: The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians is the last entry in a loose Czech trilogy parodying genres popular in the West: Continue reading 47*. THE MYSTERIOUS CASTLE IN THE CARPATHIANS (1981)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: RABBITS (2002)

“…scientists in Steve Heine’s lab at the University of British Columbia wanted to see if acetaminophen could also dampen those feelings of uncomfortable uncertainty that occur when our sense of the meaning of life is threatened — like when we think about our death or watch a surrealist film. To test their theory, they ran two experiments. First, they asked participants to write a few paragraphs about what will happen to their bodies when they die. In the second experiment, they showed participants a clip from David Lynch’s 2002 film ‘Rabbits.’”–The Los Angeles Times, April 18, 2013

DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING: Scott Coffey, , Naomi Watts, Rebekah Del Rio

PLOT: Lynch’s own tagline reads, “In a nameless city deluged by a continuous rain … three rabbits live with a fearful mystery.” These human-shaped bunnies occupy a bare living room, where they confirm the time, question whether there have been calls, and occasionally listen to the rantings of a demon, all to the accompaniment of canned applause and laughter. 

Still from "Rabbits" (2002)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: “Rabbits” goes pretty far toward weird on its overall theme of dread and foreboding. Absurd in their enormity, the titular animals nevertheless deserve empathy for their moments of uncertainty and terror. What takes the project to another level is the suggestion of a logic underpinning the enterprise. The dialogue is almost entirely non sequitur, but it hints at an order that remains just out of reach.

COMMENTS: To my knowledge, David Lynch has never directed a stage play. But he clearly has an affinity for performances on stages. Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and “Twin Peaks” are some of the selections from his oeuvre wherein everything stops and someone takes command of the scene to put on a show within the show. So the least surprising thing about “Rabbits” is that Lynch would create a work in which that style of performance was the entire show. 

Of course, David Lynch has a very different notion of what constitutes a compelling stage show than most of us. There’s little action. Most “Rabbits” episodes open with sorrowful train horns, a steady rain beating down,  and a baleful Angelo Badalamenti theme, while Suzie stands upstage in a dressing gown, ironing, and Jane stays seated on the couch. After a moment or two, Jack walks through the front door in the kind of entrance usually accompanied by a hearty “Hi, honey, I’m home” greeting. Enormous applause from an appreciative audience greets Jack’s entrance, as though he were a TV legend making a welcome return to the small screen. But the stage offers only disquiet. 

What follows is mostly disjointed dialogue: “I am going to find out one day.” “There have been no calls today.” “It was a man in a green suit.” There are enough common elements—secrets, lost things, the time of day—to make you feel that the dialogue could be reassembled into something approaching linear coherence, but no sense that doing so would bring clarity.

But that’s not to say “Rabbits” doesn’t mix things up. Two episodes are devoted to monologues, while a third features a haunting musical number. Periodically, the telephone rings ominously, the only event that occasions an insert shot. And on two separate occasions, the room turns dark and an unintelligible monster appears on the back wall. At one point, there is a piercing scream offstage. Two episodes conclude with all of the coneys huddled on the sofa, clinging to each other for whatever comfort they can find. Lynch is almost cruel in calling his creation “a sitcom.”

The production itself is plenty bizarre. Lynch built the stage in his backyard garden and filmed at the same time each night to ensure consistent lighting, much to the annoyance of his neighbors. It appears that it really is Harring, Coffey, and freaking Academy Award-nominee Watts inside those big bunny costumes. And there’s not even a single way to watch the show. It originally appeared on Lynch’s now-defunct website in eight installments. Portions were later incorporated into his next film, Inland Empire. (In fact, those wascally wabbits were our Indelible Image.) He has since reformatted it on his own “David Lynch Theater” YouTube channel as a four-part presentation, minus the installment showcasing Del Rio’s musical contribution. (You can find the pieces assembled into a single presentation, likely taken from Absurda’s out-of-print “Lime Green Box,” while another YouTuber has helpfully adapted the series into an ambient loop, in case LoFi Girl isn’t giving you the focus you need.) 

That we are watching something being performed is implicit in the static camera, the characters’ careful respect for the downstage fourth wall, and most notably by the presence of an audience—or at least a raucous laugh track seemingly imported from an episode of “Married… with Children.” The faux audience laughs uproariously at distinctly non-comedic lines, and bursts into effusive applause every time Jack enters the room. It’s unsettling, then oppressive, and ultimately terrifying.

“Rabbits” has remarkable stickiness for such a short and static production. It has the familiar feel of Lynch’s other works, but there’s something pure about the way he whittles away the decadence of his features, including such baubles as scene-setting, linear movement, or continuity. It’s all mood, and the mood is unsettling. It’s easily the grimmest show about rabbits this side of Watership Down. They’re doing their best to hold it together in the face of awful uncertainty, but just barely. And if the rabbits can’t stay strong, what hope is there for the rest of us? As Jane says, “I wonder who I will be.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“..this is Lynch at his most nightmarish, a bizarre and disconcerting series of disconnected moments that slowly builds in its weirdness towards a typically Lynchian moment of horror at the end.” – David Flint, The Reprobate

David Lynch The Lime Green Set [DVD]
  • A collection of his own films picked by director David Lynch, including the Lynch supervised hi def re-mastered edition of Eraserhead, a collection of The Short Films of David Lynch, Blue Velvet with brand new 5.1 sound mix supervised by David Lynch, Wild at Heart, Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Broken Hearted, and The Elephant Man, along with new Lynch produced extras and Lynch direc

(This series was nominated for review by panicalmechanical. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: KUNG POW: ENTER THE FIST (2002)

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DIRECTED BY: Steve Oedekerk

FEATURING: Steve Oedekerk, Jennifer Tung, Leo Lee

PLOT: The Chosen One, raised by rodents to become a talented martial artist, seeks revenge against the assassin who murdered his family when he was an infant.

Still from Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (2002)

COMMENTS: TV Tropes calls it a Gag Dub: take an existing film and record new dialogue to completely change the meaning of the film, ideally with amusing results. Comedy troupes from The Firesign Theater to the L.A. Connection have mined old movies for laughs, while more recently Bad Lip Reading and Brad Neely’s “Wizard People, Dear Reader” have conjured up demented versions of pop culture favorites. The Citizen Kane of such projects is certainly ’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, in which new dialogue turned a Japanese spy thriller into the hunt for the world’s best egg salad recipe. 

Steve Oedekerk—the storytelling mastermind behind such box office smashes as the Ace Ventura movies, Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor films, and Patch Adams—decided that he had something to contribute to this proud tradition, grafting a new script onto the 1976 Chinese martial arts flick Hu He Shuang Xing (Tiger & Crane Fists). Oedekerk adds a 21st century twist, however, inserting himself into the film through a combination of judicious editing, digital replacement, blue-screen insertion, and new footage featuring replicated sets and spot-on doubles for the original cast. That idea is the funniest thing about Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, and Oedekerk throws himself into the effort with gusto, gamely acting like a complete fool and enduring the indignities of both repeated punches and gushes of fluids in the pursuit of laughs. Beyond the initial concept, though, there aren’t many to be found.

The film certainly tries. Most of the characters have silly names, and groups of marching soldiers or fighters-in-training conduct inane conversations. Oedekerk does nearly all the voices, usually with an exaggerated accent as the entire joke: the narrator speaks with a Chicano vocal fry, a street vendor screams like Dick Vitale, henchmen range from Southern hick to , and the leading lady sounds like a bad impression of Miss Piggy and ends nearly every sentence with an off-putting “wee-oo-wee” noise. Meanwhile, random Easter eggs are thrown in for good measure, from a whale to a CGI alien to the RMS Titanic. It’s the kind of humor you would call “sophomoric,” only because there’s no word for freshman-level comedy. Or lower.

Every now and then, Oedekerk hits on an amusing idea, like a boombox-toting henchman whose tastes run from late-90s hip-hop to the glurgy ballad “The Morning After,” or a pair of speaking characters who never open their mouths but sing about their jobs as ventriloquists. But more often, Kung Pow is not content to let the joke speak for itself. For example, we could probably surmise that Oedekerk is going to fashion a set of nunchucks out of a pair of gophers, but the dialogue gives us a full play-by-play, refusing to leave it to chance that we’ll get it. Similarly amusing is a run of characters who have a touching dying moment only to be revealed as not quite dead—but once the joke is told, the scenes go on, stretching to fill time.  

Redubbed wuxia gets the audience in the seats, but Oedekerk doesn’t really have a plan after that. Rather than subverting the usual themes of the genre, Kung Pow adopts them with a plot centered around revenge for wrongs done long ago. The characters become clownish, but their stunts and expressions keep their original context. So after a while, Oedekerk has to invent other things to happen, culminating in a lengthy milk-drenched battle with a CGI cow that includes two separate parodies of The Matrix.

A central problem is Oedekerk himself. A fairly bland actor on his face (he looks like a blend of Ben Stiller and Scott Bakula), he becomes something else as the Caucasian hero in a film whose Chinese cast is turned into buffoons. He has no independent personality or history with an audience, so by literally replacing the hero with himself, he unwittingly strolls into a minefield of cultural appropriation. Kung Pow may not be actively offensive, but it definitely has issues to deal with.

Kung Pow is actually a technical marvel, with roughly half of the movie consisting of new scenes slotted into the original film seamlessly. But those skills are being applied to 3rd-grade-level jokes, which makes you wonder if you wouldn’t be better off just watching Tiger & Crane Fists. Part of the appeal of the Gag Dub is that the biggest part of the job—making the actual movie—has already been done. Kung Pow demonstrates that you still have to do the hard work of comedy in order for your new thing to stand on its own.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…there’s a raft of unfunny Matrix references and an ongoing battle to see who can perform the most bizarrely inappropriate dubbing job. It’s incongruously humorous to see the off-kilter lip-synching that dazzles the funnybone in some of those old Shaw Brothers’ semi-epics of the mid-Seventies that spawned the whole Hong Kong chopsocky market, chiefly because the erratic dubbing and clueless subtitles were unintentional mistakes. Parodying those golden moments successfully, however, is virtually impossible to do, as Oedekerk proves throughout this film’s 81-minute runtime.” – Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Andrew. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

40*. MODUS OPERANDI (2009)

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“The more beautiful, free-spirited women you can get into a low-budget film, the easier it is for the audience to forgive your script.”–Frankie Latina

DIRECTED BY: Frankie Latina

FEATURING: Randy Russell, Danny Trejo, Mark Borchardt, Barry Poltermann, Nikki Johnson, Michael Sottile

PLOT: CIA agent Stanley Cashay—the best in the business—is dragged out of retirement to recover a pair of stolen briefcases in exchange for the name of the operative who murdered his wife. A network of spies around the world assist him in his quest, while the cases repeatedly change hands in a bloodthirsty quest. When he discovers that they contain videos of sadistic ritual murders, Cashay is spurred to action.

Still from Modus Operandi (2009)

BACKGROUND:

    • Latina has described the movie as his attempt to make his own version of his favorite movie, Apocalypse Now.
    • The film is credited as being “presented by” adult film star Sasha Grey. Lending her name appears to be the extent of her involvement in the film.
    • Danny Trejo filmed all his scenes in a single eight-hour stint before he had to catch a plane back to Los Angeles. These were the only scenes in the movie that Latina shot with on-set sound.
    • Latina accomplished the Tokyo scenes by using the proceeds from his job at a casino to send actress Johnson and a cameraman to Japan to capture the footage.
    • Most of the film was shot in Latina’s hometown of Milwaukee, and he takes advantage of some of the region’s architectural wonders to serve as the backdrop for his globetrotting hero. Among the locations featured in the opening credits are the dramatic angles of Santiago Calatrava’s Milwaukee Art Museum, the Domes of the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, and the Infinity Room at the notorious House on the Rock.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It feels like half of Modus Operandi consists of people sitting around receiving phone calls. They’re just minding their own business, drinking cocktails or hanging out in a hot tub or drinking cocktails while hanging out in a hot tub, and then a phone call comes. This tic reaches its apotheosis when a man takes such a call while he is grooming himself and while his female companion is casually shaving her pubic region. She’s totally nude, her crotch is completely covered in shaving cream, and she’s right up in the guy’s face with it. It’s the most perfect example of this film’s unique blend of overt sex with zero sexiness.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Casey Thunderbird requests the pleasure of Black Licorice’s participation in a spy venture; you got your porn audition tapes in my spy movie

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Modus Operandi feels like the movie you would get if aliens were asked to make a James Bond movie and did all their research by asking a drunk at a bar. With its intense focus on crowd-pleasing violence and nudity (of both the male and female varieties), it’s the cinematic equivalent of all dessert/no veggies, except the desserts were created on Nailed It! The infectious joy of making the movie is paired with an extraordinarily high level of amateurism, making for a movie that knows it’s ridiculous and yet somehow manages to become even more ridiculous in the process.


Original trailer for Modus Operandi

COMMENTS: Frankie Latina sets the tone before a moment of Continue reading 40*. MODUS OPERANDI (2009)