Tag Archives: Parody

SHORT: FRANKENWEENIE (1984)

DIRECTED BY: Tim Burton

FEATURING: Barrett Oliver, Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern

PLOT: A young boy reanimates his recently deceased dog, but the undead pet is not a hit with

Still from Frankenweenie (1984)

the neighbors.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It’s not weird; in fact, it’s an extremely conventional, if awfully charming, Frankenstein parody.

COMMENTS: Tim Burton’s second effort is a surprisingly fluid and assured bit of storytelling that attracted some remarkable talent for a short film, most notably a post-Shining Shelley Duvall (who had some sort of sixth sense for locating and working for offbeat auteurs) as Mom Frankenstein.  Dad Daniel Stern was an established thespian who would go on to greater fame as a voice actor.  Actor/director (Death Race 2000) appears briefly as the science teacher who puts the idea of resurrecting the dog in young Victor Frankenstein’s mind when he demonstrates how to make an ex-frog’s legs jump by applying electrodes.  Despite the ability Burton demonstrated here to attract and manage top talent, Disney famously dropped the ball and fired him after seeing Frankenweenie, without letting him try his hand at a feature, complaining that the film was too scary and a waste of resources.  In hindsight, it’s difficult to see why shortsighted Disney execs thought that Burton was too weird and dark to work for the Mouse.  It’s hard to imagine anyone thought this childhood farce would give any but the most overprotected weenie kid nightmares.  (More likely, the studio believed that anyone who would voluntarily shoot a featurette in black and white was not to be trusted).  The subject matter is only mildly offbeat—it’s a cute, clockwork parody of Frankenstein, a acknowledged classic.  There are laughs that are mildly morbid—when stitched-together Sparky springs a leak the first time he laps from his water bowl, or when Dad Frankenstein muses, “I guess we can’t punish Victor for bringing Sparky back from the dead,” but nothing alienatingly weird.  The directorial style is utterly traditional: the musical cues come at the expected moments, and when you see Victor playing fetch with his dog Sparky by rolling a ball out onto the suburban street, you almost groan at the pedestrian foreshadowing.  That’s not to say the movie is bad; in fact, it’s charming in its familiarity.  Kids enjoy it, but not half as much as boomer grownups nostalgic for their “monster kid” days when they used to stay up late on weekends and watch Zacherley or Ghoulardi host a Frankenstein marathon.  It’s a droll adult view of a child’s eye view of a James Whale nightmare.

Burton has been promising to remake the short as a full-length, stop-motion animated feature for years.  A release date is tentatively set for 2012 but the project doesn’t appear to have progressed beyond the planning stages.  In the meantime the original short is available, together with the short Vincent, on the Nightmare Before Christmas DVD.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Frankenweenie captures perfectly the spirit of whimsy mixed with the grotesque that typifies the Burton oeuvre.”–Deeky Wentworth, Surfin’ Dead (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by reader “Maxwell Stewart.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

63. BRANDED TO KILL (1967)

Koroshi No Rakuin

“Showing these incomprehensible and thus bad films would disgrace the company.” –Nikkatsu studio representative’s explanation for refusing to authorize a 1968 Seijun Suzuki retrospective, immediately after the studio fired the director (presumably for making Branded to Kill)

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Annu Mari, Kôji Nanbara, Mariko Ogawa

PLOT: As the film begins, Hanada, an assassin with a yen for the smell of fresh boiled rice, is the Organization’s #3 killer.  He falls in love with a beautiful but suicidal woman whom he meets on a job, then botches a hit when a butterfly lands on his gun barrel and throws off his aim.  By slaying an innocent bystander by mistake, Hanada inadvertently breaks his killer’s code and becomes a wanted man, and finds himself hunted down by none other than the Organization’s mysterious #1 killer.

Still from Branded to Kill (1967)

BACKGROUND:

  • The story of Branded to Kill is a notorious example of film studio’s shortsightedness in valuing conformity over artistic innovation.  Suzuki was hired as a journeyman action director for the Nikkatsu studio, directing moderately successful B-movies in the yakuza (gangster) genre.  As the director’s career developed he gradually began adding absurd and surreal elements to his pictures; the studio chastised Suzuki for his artistic tendencies and tried to reign in his flamboyance by cutting his budgets.  Heedless of Nikkatsu’s demands, Suzuki delivered the phantasmagorical Tokyo Drifter (1966); as punishment, he was restricted to making black and white films.  Called in to salvage a faltering production called Branded to Kill, Suzuki rewrote the script to create his most surreal movie to date.  Nikkastsu responded by firing Suzuki on the grounds that the films he produced for them were “incomprehensible.”  Suzuki sued the company for breach of contract and eventually settled out of court, but was blacklisted by the Japanese film industry and did not make another movie for ten years.
  • Nikkatsu and Suzuki later made up.  Suzuki directed Pistol Opera, a loose sequel to Branded to Kill, for a revamped Nikkatsu company in 2001.
  • The script is credited to Hachiro Guryu, a pen name often used by Suzuki and seven collaborators (known informally as “the Group of Eight”).
  • Star Joe Shishido underwent “cheek augmentation” surgery in 1957 to gain his distinctive, chipmunk-like look.  This film was intended by the studio to be his first vehicle as a leading man after playing heavies.
  • Annu Mari has said that she was drawn to the part of Misako because she herself was experiencing suicidal thoughts at the time of filming.
  • Jim Jarmusch, a Suzuki admirer, lifted two famous scenes from Branded to Kill for his film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai: the shot where the assassin kills a man by shooting up a water pipe and the image of the butterfly landing on the killer’s rifle.  The Limits of Control also shows a strong Suzuki influence in the way it attempts to deconstruct and mythologize the spy genre in approximately the same way Branded to Kill splinters yakuza films into their basic story elements.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The repeated cardboard cutout butterflies and birds that unexpectedly swarm the screen as a confused and despondent Hanada leaves his latest attempted sex/murder assignation with Misako counts as a bizarre film’s strangest video, but it’s the simple image of Annu Mari’s alluring face impossibly materializing from a rain shower has stuck with me for a decade.  Misako is repeatedly associated with motifs of rain, birds and butterflies, and movie’s most bewitching images all revolve around her.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Seijun Suzuki scrambled a standard yakuza script into a stylized hash; in doing so, he existentialized the material, lifting it into the realm of the mysterious, mystical and mythic.  Branded to Kill‘s B-movie skeleton—made up of shootouts, gratuitous sex and macho showdowns—gives the movie its shape.  But the new flesh that hangs off the recognizable frame is strange, unsettling, and beautiful.


Japanese trailer for Branded to Kill

COMMENTSBranded to Kill is traditionally branded as “incomprehensible,” an inapt adjective.  Any one of the following would be a Continue reading 63. BRANDED TO KILL (1967)

BITCH SLAP (2009)

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DIRECTED BY: Rick Jacobson

FEATURING: Julia Voth, Erin Cummings, America Olivo

PLOT: Three chesty babes fight punk interlopers, each other, and the screenwriters’ over-infatuation with flashbacks while searching for a treasure in the desert.

Still from Bitch Slap (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s postmodern pretensions and post-Memento plotting show an ambition for the offbeat, but the producers ultimately understand that it’s cleavage shots and catfights that pay the bills. An absurdly overdeveloped plot, exaggerated B-movie archetypes, and crazy flashback set pieces staged before unconvincing but imaginative green screen vistas turn Bitch Slap a slightly weirder, but not weird enough, version of a late night cable jiggle-fest.

COMMENTS: A Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! homage made with a sub-Tarantino snarkiness, Bitch Slap plays fine if you go in with the right (i.e., low) expectations. The three actresses do well and tackle their roles with relish—Olivo is particularly memorable as Camaro, the pill-popping psycho—but the metaphysically threatening sexuality of a Tura Satana is missing from this batch of castrating Amazons. Great satire it is not, and at times too much winking self-awareness threatens to sink it, but in the end the correct spirit of silliness almost always  prevails. It’s one thing when a sleaze rock anthem starts playing and the camera goes slo-mo and split-screen while zooming  leeringly on the ladies’ sweaty bosoms and provocatively cocked hips as they shovel in the desert dressed in tank-tops or tattered evening gowns. It’s another level of goofiness altogether when the gals temporarily forget about the crime kingpin who’s hunting them down so that they can cool off by throwing jugs of ice water onto one another.

Back stories are revealed in frequent flashbacks, but these serve little function other than allowing the filmmakers to set up crazed green screen set-pieces.  There’s a magical realist scene where a sparkling angel-winged dancer takes stage as the strip club DJ improbably spins “Ave Maria,” a nunsploitation interlude, and a ridiculous shootout on the Las Vegas Strip (which plays even funnier when you realize that the characters, posed in front of scattered neon landmarks, must be firing their automatic weapons at each other from miles away with no possible lines of sight). Add into the mix a chick-fighting Japanese schoolgirl named Kinki wielding a flesh-rending yo-yo, and there’s enough craziness to keep weirdsploitation fans entertained.

In keeping with the post-feminist theme (a character conspicuously carries around a tome bearing the title “Slutty Bitches in Post-feminist America”), there’s no actual nudity from the leads. The bitch-goddess archetypes here keep their goodies conspicuously displayed on the shelf, but don’t give away free previews; their mammary charms are just bait. Men are of little use to them; the three prefer to make love (and war) with each other. The male cast are annoyances to be disposed with as quickly as possible, after they’ve been actually or symbolically castrated. This is empowering female iconography, though only to gorgeous lesbians with gigantic breasts. A major downside to the film is the fact that it goes on about twenty minutes too long; the spell the flick casts seeps away the longer it plays. This is the rare sexploitation case where drastically trimming down the lesbian love scenes and catfights would actually have helped the movie.

Another downer is the recycling of a well-known plot twist from a popular 1990s thriller; it’s not only embarrassingly obvious, but pointless, since twist endings aren’t really a feature of the genre they’re spoofing anyway. Still, if you can overlook those flaws, and the fact that the movie projects the sense that it believes it’s smarter than its Russ Meyer source material (it isn’t), you may find that Bitch Slap isn’t a total bust.

The director and producer previously worked on the syndicated television series “Hercules: The Legendary Adventures” and “Xena: Warrior Princess,” and Kevin Sorbo, Lucy Lawless and Rene O’Connor all show up in bit roles. Stunt coordinator Zoe Bell worked on “Xena” and also as a stunt double in Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Grindhouse.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“..despite these (and other) glitches, there’s a grungy vigor to Bitch Slap at its very best moments…there’s also just enough carnage, cans, and plain old weirdness to keep the wheels spinning throughout. (Every time I started to get bored with the flick, it threw something new and weirder into the mix. In B-grade jiggle-action homages, that kind of stuff can go a long way.)”–Scott Weinberg, FEAR.net

REV. DONALD WILDMON: MIGHTY MOUSE IS BACK TO SAVE THE DAY (FROM THE LIKES OF YOU)

Rev. Donald Wildmon is, thankfully a dinosaur, a dying breed of self-appointed “moral crusader” bullies who blasphemously oppresses in the name of a peasant Jew who hung out with hookers and derelicts, talked a theology of love, understanding, and peace, and was brutally butchered by Wildmon’s own type some two thousand years ago.  Wildmon bullies in the name of this Jew to masquerade his own ignorance.  Each year that passes it becomes increasingly apparent that the world will be better off when he and his type are extinct.

In 1988, Rev. Wildmon saw an episode of Ralph Bakshi’s “The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse.”  The show was imaginative, colorful, and witty.  Wildmon’s Methodist toupee did a double take and he screamed “The Devil” when he saw something he could not understand, let alone appreciate.  (Specifically, Wildmon saw Mighty Mouse happily sniffing a crushed flower, and presumed the scene promoted cocaine use).  So Wildmon cocked up his triple chin and let out a Tarzan styled yell to his fellow Neo-Nazi thugs.  Wildmon and the brown shirts started their march, taking it all the way to the faceless sponsors of “Mighty Mouse.”  It’s not surprising that Wildmon bedded with money to attack an imaginative kids show.  After all, that peasant Jew was killed because he messed with the money system.

The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse Flower SceneSo Wildmon and his silly cult bedded with the Pharisees and killed Bakshi’s child.  This was one of many offenses they perpetrated.  I am sure the good Reverend has several trophies on that triple chinned ego of his mantle.  With too few exceptions,”Mighty Mouse” was one of the last times in which television has shown any inclination for imagination, creativity and style.  In its place we have reality TV and trash TV that dumb down to the lowest common denominator.  Thank you, Rev.Wildmon, for your gift.  Yes, there might be a few clever television programs among the dreck, some worthwhile dramas, but aesthetically ground-breaking television, especially aesthetically ground-breaking children’s television, damn near died away when Bakshi’s “Mighty Mouse” went the way of Lenny Bernstein’s “Young People’s Concerts.”

But, that is not the end of the story, Now, finally, “Mighty Mouse” has re-emerged onto a DVD collection to save the day.  Hopefully, Wildmon and his worthless kin, who serve no purpose in life except as societal cancer, will go crawl into a hole and die away.  The rest of us can celebrate the resurrection of our fearless mouse.

Now, “The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse” is, admittedly, a somewhat mixed bag, Continue reading REV. DONALD WILDMON: MIGHTY MOUSE IS BACK TO SAVE THE DAY (FROM THE LIKES OF YOU)

SATURDAY SHORT: MARIKO TAKAHASHI’S FITNESS VIDEO FOR BEING APPRAISED AS AN “EX-FAT GIRL” (2004)

We’ll leave it to you to describe this… special… video for yourself. We’re just going to supply the background: this short film was created by commercial director and artist Nagi Noda for a short film compilation sponsored by Panasonic celebrating the Olympics. We haven’t seen the other nine films in the series (no one has for six years now), but we suspect that this poodle fitness video (a parody of fitness guru Susan Powter) was not quite what the corporate giant expected when they commissioned the project.

CAPSULE: SATAN HATES YOU (2009)

DIRECTED BYJames Felix McKenney

FEATURING: Don Wood, Christine Spencer, Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, Debbie Rochon, Michael Berryman, Larry Fessenden

PLOT: In this re-imagining of the “Christ-sploitation” films shown in churches and

Still from Satan Hates You (2009)

probably a few Southern gynecologists’ offices of the 60s and 70s, we follow a young man and woman who make all the wrong choices in a haze of drugs, alcohol, and rock music while unknowingly under the influence of two demonic imps.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Satan Hates You, while initially very jarring in its lack of self-explanation, is a satisfying experience in terms of its Troma-esque shock horror and its acute satirical edge.  But its freaky imagery leans too often on a bland naturalistic style that mars its individuality and chokes the weirdness out of the movie.

COMMENTS: Satan Hates You is a very hard film to place.  Being a satire, a dark comedy, and a horror film is no ordinary pedigree, and Satan Hates You maniacally shifts from one of these genres to the next every few minutes.  It is a wicked send-up of those fear-mongering Christian PSA films that pop into existence every generation about the dangers of doing ungodly things like having abortions and doing drugs.  But it honestly doesn’t hit you that way when you watch it if you don’t do your research.  The first time watching it, I felt this to just be a dark, meandering horror-comedy about two idiots who make a lot of bad choices.  Director James Felix McKenney doesn’t really go out of his way to make this idea pop out at the audience with staples of the “Christ-sploitation” genre, like cheesy acting, an oversimplification of right and wrong, and loads of self-righteous condemnation.  We are instead tossed quite objectively into these people’s lives, full of sex, murder, and self-sabotage, and don’t get dropped many hints that we’re supposed to be in on a joke.

Once one understands the idea, everything falls into place a little more, and it does Continue reading CAPSULE: SATAN HATES YOU (2009)

CAPSULE: UHF (1989)

AKA The Vidiot from UHF

DIRECTED BY: Jay Levey

FEATURING: “Weird Al” Yankovic, Michael Richards

PLOT:  Walter Mitty-style daydreamer George becomes manager of an independent television station, and his bizarre programming becomes a surprise hit.

Still from UHF (1989)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  I wouldn’t begrudge Al his weirdness, but he means something more juvenile by “weird” than we do.  UHF has an irreverent and independent spirit and takes a few turns into the decidedly offbeat, but it’s basically Al’s mildly skewed idea of mainstream comedy.

COMMENTSUHF saw pop-parodist “Weird Al” shift his gentle satirical sights from hit singles to movies and TV.  The framing plot is stock: likable ne’er-do-well comes to have responsibility for a failing enterprise and unexpectedly makes it a success, drawing the ire of soulless corporate powers who seek to crush him.  While you won’t be surprised to find out the Weird Al wins the day and gets the girl back, the plot is just a frame on which to hang a series of skits and parodies.  Al tackles movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, the facetious Gandhi sequel Gandhi 2, and Rambo.  Like his music videos, the satire is not exactly incisive (Conan the Barbarian becomes Conan the Librarian, for example), but that’s OK: Weird Al is in the business of making puns, not enemies.  Film nuts will enjoy the subtler nods to This Island Earth, Network, and a real groaner based on Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  The parodies of Eighties movies should have gone stale by now, but they haven’t, largely because Hollywood keeps recycling the same cliches twenty years later.  You don’t need to have seen the original Rambo to recognize what’s being lampooned when the musclebrained hero’s automatic weapon’s causes bamboo huts to randomly explode.  The TV skits, which for the most part stand on their own without requiring knowledge of long forgotten shows, are funnier and more inventive than the straight parodies; they allow Al to show off a more unique and absurd sense of humor.  “Wheel of Fish” is a memorably ludicrous game show, and “Raul’s Wild Kingdom” (hosted from his apartment, where he investigates his ant farm and teaches poodles to fly) is another highlight.  Squeaky Emo Phillips, improbably cast as a shop teacher (!), gets off the film’s darkest and most hilarious line after an accident with a table saw.  But the best of all is Michael Richards as a slow, mop-loving janitor whose children’s show (where the kid who finds a marble in a vat of oatmeal is rewarded by getting to “drink from the firehose”) becomes the station’s flagship hit.  Richards steals most of his scenes and demonstrates some of the herky-jerky physical comedy that would make him beloved as Seinfeld’s “Kramer” in a few years.  All in all, UHF is a meandering, light-hearted series of gags in an Airplane! vein that makes for a pleasant enough afternoon matinee.  The PG-13 rating is for some silly cartoon violence.  Other than that, it’s sweet, sex and swear-word fee, and appropriate for older kids, who will eat up the booger humor.

“Weird Al” sold millions of parody records in the 1980s (redoing Michael Jackson’s #1 hit “Beat It” as “Eat It” and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” as “Like a Surgeon.”) Hoping to cash in on Al’s already fading popularity,UHF was intended as a summer blockbuster by Orion studios, but the movie critically savaged and tanked at the box office.  Orion went bankrupt soon after.  The film later became a huge hit on VHS and DVD.  It’s not nearly as bad as the cold-hearted critics initially claimed (Roger Ebert called it “the dreariest comedy in many a month”), or as hilarious as the Weird Al cultists who made it one of the best-selling videos of all time would have it.  Instead, it’s diverting spoofery for the ten-year-old inside all of us that should keep you amused for 90 minutes.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“You look at his picture, you hear he’s called ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, you nod your head. The man, if nothing else, has the right name.” Desson Howe, The Washington Post (contemporaneous)

[(This movie was nominated for review by reader “Vooshvazool.” Suggest a weird movie off your own here.)]